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Piccadilly Circus


Feature: Lizzie Guilfoyle

PICCADILLY Circus, with its famous statue of Eros, stands at the junction of five busy London streets - Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue, Upper and Lower Regent Street and Haymarket.

But how did it get its name, surely a strange one? Would you believe from a clothing accessory, called a picadil - a frilly collar that was very popular in the 17th Century?

It was, in fact, in such demand that the dressmaker who designed it became so rich making them, that she could afford to have a house built in the vicinity.

Although universally accepted as Eros, the pagan god of love, the figure - a winged archer - is actually the Angel of Christian Charity.

Made of aluminium, a rare and innovative metal in 19th Century England, it rises above a bronze fountain, decorated with an inter-mixture of fish and crustaceans.

The work of sculptor, Sir Alfred Gilbert , it was unveiled in 1893 and was then called the Shaftesbury Monument, in honour of Lord Shaftesbury, a philanthropist of the day.

Unfortunately, it wasn't initially well-received. In fact, it was so unpopular that Gilbert left the country permanently, of his own volition.

Vandalism was also a problem. In less than a year, the site had been 'permitted to be used as a playground for dirty and squalid children'.

And so it went on, right up until as recently as 1994, when a drunken visitor climbed aloft and actually bent the figure.

Since then, it has undergone extensive renovation and can now be seen in all its former glory.

Piccadilly Circus is seldom, if ever, quiet.

By day, it throbs with tourists, shoppers and even business people, while at night, when it's bright with neon illuminations, clubbers, diners and theatre-goers take over.

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