The following text comes from the author’s "History Notes: Seven Dials, in the Parish of St. Giles, London." Preston Pages. Web. 24 April 2017. — Philip V. Allingham]

Dudley Street, Seven Dials by Gustave Doré from Douglas Jerrold's London, a Pilgrimage (1872). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

SEVEN DIALS. An open area in the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, on what was once "Cock and Pye Fields", from which seven streets, Great Earl-street, Little Earl-street, Great White-Lion-street, Little White-Lion-street, Great St. Andrew's street, Little St. Andrew's-street, Queen street, radiate, and so called because there was formerly a column in the centre, on the summit of which were seven sun-dials, with a dial facing each of the streets. — Cunningham, 445.

In the Middle Ages, the land on which Seven Dials is situated belonged to the Hospital of St. Giles, a leper hospital, which was taken over by Henry VIII in 1537. The Crown subsequently let the hospital land on a series of leases. In 1690, William III granted Thomas Neale, freehold of the land known as 'Marshland' or 'Cock and Pye Fields' (named after a public house on the site) in return for his raising large sums of money for the Crown. This was a substantial financial commitment for Neale and he had to find a way to lay out a development that would maximise profit. His solution was imaginative; by adopting a star shaped plan with six radiating streets (subsequently seven were laid out), he dramatically increased the number of houses that could be built on the site. Plans submitted in 1692 to Sir Christopher Wren, the Surveyor-General, for a building licence showed at least 311 houses and an estate church.

Construction started in March 1693 and as soon as the seven streets had been laid out, sewers installed and the initial corners developed, Neale commissioned Edward Pierce to design the Sundial Pillar to be placed at the very centre of the site. Six sundial faces (the seventh style being the column itself) topped the Doric pillar with a dial facing each of the streets — Great Earl Street, Little Earl Street, Great White Lion Street, Little White Lion Street. St Andrew's Street, Little St Andrew's Street and Queen Street. Neale aimed for the site to be popular with respectable, well-off Londoners, following the successful development of the nearby, fashionable Covent Garden Piazza area. The first inhabitants were, indeed, respectable gentlemen and prosperous trades people, but unfortunately this did not last. From 1695, when Neale disposed of his interest in the site, the area started to deteriorate, becoming increasingly commercialised as the houses were sub-divided and converted into shops, lodgings and factories. At one stage, each of the seven apexes facing the column housed a pub.

Related material


Bance, M. "History Notes: Seven Dials, in the Parish of St. Giles, London." Preston Pages. Accessed 24 April 2017.

Cunningham, Peter. "Seven Dials." Hand-Book of London. London: J. Murray, 1850. Pp. 445.

Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing. New Haven and London: Yale U. P., 2009.

Sajjo, Takao. "T. W. Hill and ‘Tom King and the Frenchman'." Accessed 23 April 2017.

Related Material

Last modified 11 May 2017