*― Agatha Christie, The Seven Dials Mystery (1929): “George Lomax has received a warning letter written on Seven Dials letterhead...Seven Dials is a seedy nightclub and gambling den…”
From seven dials.co.uk:
“Seven Dials was originally laid out by Thomas Neale, MP in the early 1690s, who cleverly laid out the area in a series of triangles to maximise the number of houses as rentals were charged per foot of frontage and not per square foot of interiors.
The names of the seven streets were chosen with the intention of attracting affluent residents, however some of the names have subsequently been simplified or changed because of duplication with other streets in London. They were originally: Little and Great Earl Street (now Earlham Street), Little and Great White Lyon Street (now Mercer Street), Queen Street (now Shorts Gardens) and Little & Great St. Andrew’s Street (now Monmouth Street). Some of the original street signs can still be seen attached to buildings in the area.
Neale commissioned England’s leading stonemason, Edward Pierce, to design and construct the Sundial Pillar in 1693-4 as the centrepiece of his development in Seven Dials. The Pillar was topped by six sundial faces, the seventh ‘style’ being the column itself. It was regarded as one of London’s ‘great public ornaments’ and the layout and identity of the area revolves around it.
Neale aimed to establish Seven Dials as the most fashionable address in London, following in the footsteps of the successful Covent Garden Piazza development earlier that century. Unfortunately, the area failed to establish itself as Neale hoped and deteriorated into a slum, renowned for its gin shops. At one point each of the seven apexes facing the Monument housed a pub, their cellars and vaults connected in the basement providing handy escape routes should the need arise.
In 1716 John Gray observed that the area was renowned for ballad printers and singers. Dickens, in “Sketches by Boz” wrote “The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…”
Later, his son Charles Dickens Junior further noted the poverty into which the area had descended: shops selling second and third hand goods, a unique cluster of shops selling “every rarity of pigeon, fowl and rabbit, together with rare Birds such as hawks, owls and parrots, love birds and other species native and foreign”.
The continuing influx of residents precipitated the development of the surrounding area, Endell Street was followed by Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1880s which gradually eased the pressure on the area and allowed gradual gentification as craftsmen and larger businesses moved in…”