After a 16-month refurbishment project, Leicester Square reopens today with four days of free events including zombie-themed games, film quizzes and an appearance from stuntman Vic Armstrong. To celebrate, here’s our top five things that you probably didn’t already know about the famous square…
1 The Great Globe – This non-theatrical Globe was constructed in the square by James Wyld between 1851 and 1862. It was a hollow, spherical structure, housed in a purpose-built hall, and its interior was covered with a plaster-of-Paris modelling of the Earth’s surface, complete with scale mountain ranges and rivers. Visitors could climb up and view the model more closely from a series of elevated platforms.
2 Public laundry – In one of the earliest maps of the area (the Civitas Londinium, which was created between 1570 and 1605), the site of what is now Leicester Square is shown as a drying ground for clothes. A woman lays out garments on the grass, cattle graze in the next field and standing nearby is a pail-carrying milkmaid.
3 Pistols at dawn The square was a famous duelling spot at the end of the seventeenth century. One participant was Richard Coote, the first Earl of Bellomont, who in 1699 is known to have killed a man in a duel for the affections of a young lady. Bellomont later went to America and became the colonial governor of the provinces of Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire and New York.
4 Sir Isaac Newton The physicist resided at 35 St Martin’s Street, on the south side of the square, now home to the Westminster Public Library, in 1710. He regularly entertained guests such as the playwright William Congreve and writer Jonathan Swift.
5 Red square Karl Marx lived here for a short while after the failure of a series of German revolutions in 1848. He settled with his family in the German Hotel in Leicester Street, one of the small passages off the square. It was a squalid existence, and apparently fellow revolutionaries would frequently visit him and comment on his sordid abode.