Updated date:

Visiting Leicester Square, London, England: An Historic Greening of a Hogarthian Locale

Author:
Flag of England

Flag of England

Leicester Square in 1750, looking north. The large house set back behind a forecourt at the north east corner is Leicester House, then the residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1750

Leicester Square in 1750, looking north. The large house set back behind a forecourt at the north east corner is Leicester House, then the residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1750

The stirrings of a Hogarthian twilight

To confess, having visited Leicester Square, London, England a number of years ago, and being no expert on films and cinemas — for which this London address is well known — I have purposed to write a little about the Square's history and landscaped environment.

In the title of this hubpage I have used the term 'Hogarthian', and, indeed, the 18th century artist William Hogarth actually lived on Leicester Square. As a matter of fact, while today a statue of 'Bard of Avon' William Shakespeare stands in the middle of the Square (1), there also used to be a statue of Hogarth in the Square, recalling the author of the etchings of 18th century London life, which have become famous and have given rise to an adjective expressive of the entertainments and pursuits which were much in vogue in the English metropolis during that century which was both sedate and tumultuous.

Facing Leicester Square was Leicester House (demolished in 1791). During a short part of the 18th century Leicester House was the residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), who was heir to the Throne, expecting to succeed his father King George II. He never succeeded, however, because he died several years before King George II's death in 1760.

Leicester House's prominence came about partly because Frederick was actually banished from the Royal Court. Known for his liking for gin, he allowed himself for various reasons to become badly in debt, and his repeated demands for more money from the public purse were never wholly satisfied. At a time when alcoholism was rife in England's capital, Frederick notably opposed the Gin Act, which sought to curb the worst excesses of the grave problems associated with this beverage. (Perhaps in this sense also the word 'Hogarthian' is not inappropriate.)

Another of Frederick's noted interests was gambling. He was closely identified with The Hon. Mrs. Vane, mother of Cornwell Fitz-Frederick Vane, who is noted also as having sat as a model for Hogarth's depiction of Anne Boleyn. Frederick was notably a close associate of John, 2nd Baron Hervey, courtier and prolific writer and, with Frederick, the author of a less than successful play performed at Drury Lane.

Centuries back, Leicester Square was actually much bigger than it is today; indeed, many centuries ago the term 'Leicester Fields' was used. Once constituting lammas land (or common land) where livestock would graze, the Square's character was influenced by moneyed and titled interests, which succeeded in making it a highly sought after built environment, overlooked by properties with this prestigious address.Leicester Square was built in 1670. While in the 18th century the Square was a spacious area with a Renaissance layout (see the photo of a contemporaneous drawing, above), it is now a tree-filled Square, the shadows of which can make the locale seem quite dark at night, even when the surrounding buildings are lit for the many pedestrians which typically congregate.

Leicester Square Gardens is one of 116 parks within the City of Westminster, and arguably among the best known (2). The Square was re-landscaped for The Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. In the Gardens, a mature collection of the famous London plane tree species provide a canopy through which light and darkness are refracted, day and night.

April 15, 2021

Notes

(1)) The endowment of the gardens by Irish-born Italian peer Albert, Baron Grant included the supply of this statue of Shakespeare sculpted by Giovanni Fontana, and dates from 1874 . An inscription reads:

THIS ENCLOSURE/ WAS PURCHASED, LAID OUT/ AND DECORATED AS A GARDEN/ BY ALBERT GRANT ESQ[UI]RE M.P./ AND/ CONVEYED BY HIM ON THE 2ND JULY 1874/ TO THE/ METROPOLITAN BOARD OF WORKS/ TO BE PRESERVED FOR EVER/ FOR THE FREE USE AND ENJOYMENT/ OF THE PUBLIC

(See also: Ward-Jackson, Philip (2011), Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster: Volume 1, Public Sculpture of Britain, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press)

(2) See also: https://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens/leicester_square_gardens ; https://londongardenstrust.org/conservation/inventory/site-record/?ID=WST055 ; https://www.trfihi-parks.com/en/park-details/7627-Leicester-Square-Gardens

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

NB: In these blog articles with accounts of past travel at localities, often described within their historical context, I am pausing from including suggestions for travel conveyances and carriers because of the existence of travel advisories and sanitary regulations which may greatly differ from one jurisdiction to another.

...

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

Britannia mourning the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, c. 1751, St. James's Factory, London, glassy soft-paste porcelain - Gardiner Museum, Toronto

Britannia mourning the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, c. 1751, St. James's Factory, London, glassy soft-paste porcelain - Gardiner Museum, Toronto

Other of my hubpages may also be of interest

Related Articles