BRIEF HISTORY DURING THE SNOW ERA (1813-58)
The land surrounding Leicester Square was acquired in 1630-48 by the Second Earl of Leicester who built his house on the northern section and developed the southern section as Leicester Square. While only homes at first were permitted on the Square, The Third Earl of Leicester allowed booths to be built, which eventually developed into shops. The Square remained a fashionable residential location throughout the 18th century, but changed in the mid-19th century as residents moved out and made way for shops, hotels, exhibition centers, museums and cultural institutes.
William Green's Pistol Repository and Shooting Gallery was upstairs in a rebuilt section of the old Savile House on Leicester Square from 1836-1855. The run-down building had been leased to Mary Linwood and associates at the turn of the century, and subsequently rebuilt and refurbished. Linwood was a needlework artist who displayed her work in a long gallery on the first floor from 1809 until her death in 1845. Upstairs in the Shooting Gallery, 18-year old Edward Oxford had practiced his skills before attempting to assassinate Queen Victoria on June 20, 1840. Oxford fired two pistols but missed with both. He was caught and tried at the Central Criminal Court, found guilty of treason, sent to Newgate Prison, but later transferred to a criminal lunatic asylum.
The Sans Souci Theater opened next to the Square on Leicester Place in 1796 with major theatrical productions. Eight years later the Theater changed ownership, and was then used mainly by amateurs. By 1830, it was converted to a warehouse, soon became part of a hotel, and was eventually demolished in 1898.
Painted panoramas were featured at the Barker/Burford Panorama in a large circular building erected just off Leicester Square in 1792. The originator of the panorama was Irish artist, Robert Barker, who upon his death in 1806, turned the facility over to his son, Henry Aston Barker. The son successfully managed the circular Panorama until 1826 when he retired and passed ownership to his assistant, John Burford. A year later, Burford died and the Panorama was deeded to his brother, Robert Burford, who carried on until 1865 when the building was converted to a French Catholic church and school. During Robert Burford's reign, the Panorama featured exhibits such as city views of New York and Jerusalem, and sieges of Sebastopol and Lucknow.
French cooking and conversation where always evident at the Sabloniere Hotel, located on the east side of Leicester Square from 1788 to 1867. The front was plain, but featured an iron-railed balcony on the second floor.
Among the most colorful additions to the Square was the Great Globe of James Wyld (see picture) (1812-1887). Wyld was a member of Parliament, distinguished geographer, and publisher of atlases. When the Great Exhibition was planned for 1851, Wyld wanted an exhibition of his own in the center of Leicester Square. His edifice featured a global map of the world, 60 feet in diameter and surrounded by exhibition rooms. The map on the inner surface of a large globe was viewed from four landings. Wyld's Great Globe was built in 1851. After the expiration of the ten year lease, it was removed in 1862, and center garden of Leicester Square was recreated.
Another occupant of the Square, the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art, had a short and unsuccessful lifespan. The Royal Panopticon was intended to serve as an institute for scientific exhibitions and for promoting discoveries in the arts and manufacturing. When built on the east side of Leicester Square in the early 1850s, the Panopticon had a frontage of 104 feet with a Moorish style out of character with the neighborhood. The facility was opened in 1854, had limited financial success, and was sold in 1857 for conversion to the Alhambra Music Hall.
On the West side of Leicester Square was the Western Literary and Scientific Institute, founded in 1825 by a group of professionals and scientists to diffuse useful knowledge among persons engaged in commercial and professional pursuits. Included among the founding members was Francis Place (1771-1854), the English radical and reformer, and Dr. George Birkbeck (1776-1841), physician and founder of London Mechanic's Institution (later renamed Birkbeck College). The organization was open to members only, and included a library, classes, and lectures on topics in literature and science. President for a while was Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), the prominent Scottish poet. The facility at Leicester Square opened in 1828 and remained until 1852 when the site was taken over by other commercial occupants, including Charles Goodyear (of the tire company) from 1856-59.
For locations of the establishments cited above, go to the 1870 map below and click on the appropriate sections.
Barker F, Jackson P. London -- 2000 Years of a City & Its People, 1974.
Sheppard FHW (ed.), Survey of London. The Parish of St. Anne Soho, Vol. 34, 1966.
Tames R. Soho Past, 1994.
Weinreb B, Hibbert C (eds). The London Encyclopaedia, 1993.