Seven Dials renaissance: Historic London street to rival great European cities

Londoners will be presented with a historic street to rival those of other great European cities, when a high quality refurbishment of Monmouth Street in Seven Dials (near Covent Garden) is complete.

Camden Council, in partnership with the Seven Dials Monument Charity, has put together a comprehensive package of improvements to upgrade Monmouth Street, either side of the historic Seven Dials. The project represents an investment of approximately £800,000 in the Seven Dials area. The first phase of the work, to the northern side of the street, drew to a close in December and the second phase starts this week (30 January), with the work expected to end by June 2006.

The Seven Dials were created in the 1690s, when an enterprising landholder created a street system based on a six-pointed star to maximise the amount of housing he could rent. But over the next three hundred years, the fortunes of the area rose and fell. Once home to affluent merchants and lawyers, by the end of the 18th century it had become one of London's most notorious slums (see notes for full history).  Monmouth Street forms two arms of Seven Dials. 

Now, this ambitious scheme is the latest step in the Seven Dials Renaissance Project, part of Camden Council's Clear Zones initiative.  Designed and jointly funded by Camden Council and the Seven Dials Monument Charity, the Monmouth Street improvements build upon the considerable - and ongoing - heritage façade improvements by freeholders of local buildings based on the charity's Renaissance Studies.

The historic character of Monmouth Street will be enhanced by re-paving the roads and pavements at both ends of the street. This means that the whole length of the street will be repaved from one side to the other. Pavements will be in York Stone with multi-coloured granite 'setts' being used for the road. Granite setts give a 'cobbled' appearance but the setts are individually machine cut and hand-laid to provide a level surface. This means the setts are safer for pedestrians and reduce road noise from passing vehicles.

The street improvements in Monmouth Street have been promoted and designed by Camden Council's in-house Clear Zones team, with the Seven Dials Monument Charity. It is one of a number of projects to make the borough cleaner, safer and greener. The scheme increases pavement space and the number of informal crossing facilities for pedestrians. It also aims to reduce the speed and amount of motor traffic using Monmouth Street. This should improve the quality of life for residents and businesses in this area, by making the pavements and streets safer, less congested and less polluted in the Clear Zone.

Specially designed heritage lanterns, based on historic gas lamps, will be installed throughout the area. The existing lamp columns will be removed from the pavements to reduce street clutter for pedestrians, and new heritage lanterns will be fixed to buildings in a traditional style.

There will also be a new lighting scheme for the Seven Dials Sundial Pillar. The original sundial was demolished in 1773, when the area was in decline, to prevent ne'er do wells from using it as a meeting point. The Seven Dials Monument Charity restored the sundial in 1989 and it will be illuminated via a scheme drawn up for the charity by Philips Lighting UK.

Cllr John Thane, Executive Member for Environment, Camden Council said: "Seven Dials is an important Camden landmark and this refurbishment will enhance it. Working in partnership with local people and the Seven Dials Monument Charity, we aim to make this historic precinct rival those of other great European cities. The improvements to Monmouth Street will make the area cleaner and safer for pedestrians by improving the quality of the pavements and reducing the amount of motor traffic. The new lighting schemes will help people feel more confident at night, as well as making Seven Dials a more attractive place."

David Bieda, Chair of the Seven Dials Monument Charity, said: "These works are an important part of the vision set out in the Seven Dials Renaissance Project which aims to provide a coherent action plan for the enhancement of all aspects of the built heritage from facades to streets and lighting. This project should transform the appearance of Monmouth Street both during the day and at night and make a positive contribution to this unusual conservation area in the heart of the West End. The charity is pleased to be working in partnership with Camden Council and with residents and businesses."

The improvements are jointly funded by Camden Council and the Seven Dials Monument Charity.

For more information on the Seven Dials Monument Charity please contact David Bieda, Chairman, on 020 7437 5512 or email info@sevendials.com or db@sixty8.com

Notes to Editors

The Seven Dials can be found to the north west of Covent Garden Market, and just to the south of Shaftesbury Avenue. The Dials comprise Earlham Street, Monmouth Street, Mercer Street and Shorts Gardens. The area now known as Seven Dials also includes Neal Street and Neals Yard.

The Seven Dials area first came into being when in 1690, William III granted Thomas Neal MP freehold of the land, then known as 'Marshland' or Cock and Pye Fields' after a pub in the area. Thomas Neal was given the land by William and Mary for his services in raising over £1m for the Crown via England's first lottery. This was on the condition that Neal purchase the remainder of the lease for the hefty sum of £4000 and pay rent of £800 per annum.

To cope with this financial burden, he designed a street system based on a six-pointed star (the seventh point was added later) which dramatically increased the amount of housing he could build and rent. (Rents were then charged per foot of frontage.) The Seven Dials were laid by Thomas Neal MP in 1692/3 and built between 1693 and 1714. At the centre of the star, he had a 40' sundial Pillar erected, made by Edward Pierce, the leading stonemason of his generation.

However, the over the next century, the area declined in affluence and went from being home to merchants and lawyers, to one of London's most notorious slums. In 1773 the sundial was removed by the Pavement Commissioners in an attempt to stop gatherings of ne'er do wells.

Further attempts to clear the slum came in 1889, when Shaftesbury Avenue was driven through the heart of the area. Covent Garden Market moved in and little changed for decades until the Market moved out in the early 70s. In 1974, Seven Dials was declared a conservation area and since then, many sympathetic efforts have been made to upgrade the area.  This latest package of improvements from Camden Council and the Seven Dials Monument Charity is the next step in achieving this aim.

Above information taken from: http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/home_feat_local_sevendials_history.asp.
 
For a full history of the area, log on to http://www.sevendials.com/seven_dials.php

Ongoing heritage façade improvements carried out by freeholders have been guided by the 'Seven Dials Renaissance Study' - the Seven Dials Monument Charity's vision for the area, which can be purchased from the charity.

Contact info

Alison Birtwell

020 7974 5719

alison.birtwell@camden.gov.uk

Reference code: 06/026
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