Our pioneering Seven Dials Renaissance Studies were carried out by a multi-disciplinary team. Francis Golding (above left holding a Camden Report) chaired the Trust's Environment Committee from 1994 and in particular chaired the Monitoring Committee which brought the last edition of the Seven Dials Renaissance Study to fruition. His consummate skills and experience had a great influence on the successful outcome, and his laconic style and pithy wit were much appreciated. Francis died from injuries sustained whilst riding his bike home in November 2013 – tragic news for all those who knew and worked with him.
The first stage – lighting the dial faces – has now been implemented. Camden has removed the ugly lamp columns from around the Dials and replaced them with three elegant 'Brompton' style columns which feature the crest of the old Borough of Holborn. These now provide support and power for the brackets holding the spotlights as well as lighting the Dials.
The Seven Dials template of multi-coloured dressed setts and York Stone has now been copied throughout the West End and has become the standard template for the Covent Garden Area adopted by Westminster City Council in their ‘Westminster Way’ and used by Capco in King Street and TfL in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Our Street improvements have been a partnership - initially between the Trust, Camden and the Kleinwort Benson Property Fund and latterly with Shaftesbury PLC, the area’s major freeholder. They have been based on the template set out in the Renaissance Study which is intended to ‘set high standards for street improvements’ (Camden Design Awards) where London has lagged behind many European cities.
A community partnership project initiated and led by the Trust, with Camden Council, the Corporation of London (advisory), Historic England, Westminster City Council, the Mercers’ Company and Shaftesbury PLC. This home-grown project saw the replacement of all lamp columns (except the few remaining historic gas columns) by bespoke façade-mounted lanterns from Shaftesbury Avenue down to Long Acre (the largest area in the West End with façade lighting).
The Trust's street name plates, installed in the summer of 2014, incorporate the Golden Hind symbol of the ancient parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields and feature the historic names of Seven Dials' streets. The project involved a great deal of attention to detail, walkabouts and a long ladder to measure each position before the signs could be ordered. They were manufactured by A.J. Wells in the Isle of Wight - manufacturers of London Underground's signage. The quality is exceptional and they make a handsome addition to the area.
"Without any accompanying signage, fluorescent blue rings have appeared on three of London's most prominent columns - in the City, in Covent Garden and just off the Mall. They could be mistaken for those ultraviolet fly zappers popular in kebab shops. But this clever installation marks sea level some thousand years hence. The science is not available to make accurate forecasts on this time frame, so Pinsky's premise that the sea will rise 28 metres is an imaginative one. but imagining a world where St Paul's Cathedral, the Donmar Warehouse and the Athenaeum are all underwater powerfully makes the climate change point."— Giles Fraser, The Guardian.
The Trust took the opportunity of the Sundial Pillar being scaffolded for restoration and cleaning in 2011 to create four 30’ high history banners. They featured: Thomas Neale MP – The Great Projector and creator of Seven Dials; Edward Pierce – the greatest mason and sculptor of the seventeenth century and creator of the Sundial Pillar; Neale’s lotteries and the 1694 Lottery Box and Why Build Seven Streets? – Rents in the seventeenth century were by frontage. Using the novel ‘star’ layout meant that Neale could fit in 311 houses, maximising his land value and making another fortune.
It is not generally known that the Trust, rather than the local authority, owns the Seven Dials Sundial Pillar and is therefore responsible for its upkeep. High level inspections in 2009 revealed an alarming amount of damage to the dial faces and other carved areas and we embarked on a fund-raising exercise to implement restoration works and re-gilding of the dial faces and orb. Legal & General Property, the joint developers of nearby Central St. Giles, kindly enabled these works, with assistance from the Heritage of London Trust, Shaftesbury PLC and Camden’s Community Chest.
The fist People's Plaque to be unveiled in Seven Dials was that commemorating the 'fifth Beatle', the legendary pop impresario and manager Brian Epstein. The plaque is sited at 13 Monmouth Street, where Epstein had an office in 1963-64. Sponsored by Shaftesbury PLC, it was unveiled by another of Epstein's proteges, Sixties pop royalty, Cilla Black, in September 2010. The unveiling received attention from the national and international press.
In 2002, the Trust re-established its partnership with Camden, this time working with Shaftesbury PLC who had become the area’s main freeholder. Monmouth Street was chosen as the next thoroughfare for improvement. A major change to the earlier template was the use of dressed setts (flat cobbles) which have numerous advantages over raised ones, including less vehicular noise and an easier walking surface for pedestrians. This format proved extremely popular with both residents and retailers and has been visited by officers from many other local authorities.
Knight’s London (1842) described Seven Dials as the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon". The wide shop entablatures (the ‘shelves’ above the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century shop fronts), provide perfect sites for window boxes. Taking its cue from this, The Trust offered local residents and businesses ready-planted window boxes at subsidised prices. The scheme was well-received with excellent take up.
One of the most innovative features of the Seven Dials Renaissance Study is its building-by-building section. Each facade in the area is described in detail and illustrated. Recommendations for improvements are included. Major freeholder Shaftesbury PLC has followed this as guidance on all their properties, many of which are listed. They have invested around £3.5m in these works which range from total refurbishment, to replacing shopfronts and re-glazing, to reinstalling awnings and soot washing brickwork. We are delighted that the Seven Dials Renaissance Study has assisted the private sector in maintaining and enhancing the area.