Just north of the piazza on the other side of Long Acre at Shelton Street, Covent Garden passes from Westminster into the Borough of Camden and the Seven Dials district of St. Giles, which has quite a different feel to it, especially around Neal’s Yard.
Seven Dials was a concept dreamt up by Thomas Neale MP in the early 1690s. The idea was to have streets radiating out from a sundial pillar in the centre, and it wasn’t just to make it look good, but also to maximize his profits from the venture by charging rents on per foot of frontage rather than per square foot of interior space.
He commissioned the respected stonemason Edward Pierce to design the pillar with six sundial faces, but he added a seventh road to the scheme after the pillar was constructed in 1694. His aim was to make the area the most fashionable in London, but by the 19th century it had ended up as one of the most notorious slum areas in the city and renowned for its gin palaces: At one point, each of the seven apexes around the monument consisted of pubs, only one of which still remains – The Crown, on the apex of Monmouth Street and Short’s Gardens.