Leicester Square is best known nowadays for hosting world premiers. Yet famed cinemas are just the natural result of a rich literary history tied to theatre and spectacle. It has long been a London hub for entertainment and here are some of the most notable literary ways to engage with Leicester Square beyond what your tourist map might lead you to.
Charing Cross Road bookshops
Running alongside Leicester Square all the way to Trafalgar Square is the bustling Charing Cross Road. But running north between Leicester Square Tube station and Cambridge Circus is a renowned array of second-hand and specialist bookshops. Foyles is the largest, and while not independent, this flagship store makes an effort to standout. You can find specialist bookshops Quinto and Bookmarks which sell antiquarian books and socialist titles respectively, as well as general all-round second hand bookshop Any Amount of Books, that boasts over 55,000 books, also available online.
William Shakespeare statue
Shakespeare sits at the centre of the English canon, just as he sits at the centre of Leicester Square Gardens. The statue was restored in 2013 and bears an inscription from Twelfth Night. Based on the 18th-century monument to Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, the scroll the bard rests his weigh on reads: ‘There is no darkness but ignorance’. Don’t leave yourself in the dark – visit it!
A Conversation with Oscar Wilde
Is this a bench or a statue? Whatever it is, enjoy it. A Conversation is the first public monument dedicated to the flamboyant Anglo-Irish writer. A committee including Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Seamus Heaney was brought together to think up the best way to pay tribute to Wilde, and in 1998 it was unveiled on Adelaide Street.
Plaques: Edmund Burke | Robert Adam, Thomas Hood, John Galsworthy & Sir James Barrie | Herman Melville
When you see a blue or brown plaque in London, you know the person on it was probably a big deal. In-keeping with the Anglo-Irish trend, Edmund Burke’s residence at 37 Gerrard Street is one of the most notable in the area. The author turned philosopher turned statesman lived in what is now Chinatown while he was a member of parliament.
Burke would have known of Robert Adam, the neoclassical architect who resided at 1-3 Robert Street. This address is notable perhaps not for one inhabitant in particular, but for the many artists who have stayed there over the years including the three literary figures of Thomas Hood, John Galsworthy and Sir James Barrie.
The last of our plaque recommendations (there are many more!) for the area is Herman Melville’s on 25 Craven Street. Though Melville only stayed here for two months in 1849, it was around this time that he would have begun work on Moby Dick.
The Adelphi as it stands now is the fourth incarnation of the theatre on this site. The first building was opened in 1806 and called the Sans Pareil, changing to the Adelphi in 1819. Since it’s most recent art deco incarnation re-opened in 1930, the Adelphi has been home to a rich musical theatre heritage. The longest running show at the Adelphi is Chicago, which is also the longest West End run of an American musical. There are many ways to find reasonable tickets for the Adelphi, so if you want to be one of the 1,500 looking on in the audience, you shouldn’t have too much of a hard time trying to do so.