Sunrise at Seven Dials
Tony Aldous investigates a reconstructed 1694 column near Covent Garden.
The name Seven Dials is more familiar to many people than the place. Readers of Dickens' Sketches by Boz, Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery, and Claire Rayner's historical thriller Seven Dials may know the name but probably not the seven-street crossroads near Covent Garden, still less the reason why it is called Seven Dials. As from June 29th the answer looms large and clear on the actual spot.
For on that day, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was unveiling a 40ft-high pillar at the famous intersection with seven sundials at its head. The column is a careful reconstruction of one erected there in 1694, and removed by the authorities seventy-nine years later.
The original column was designed by Edward Pierce, a leading seventeenth-century architect, stonemason and sculptor, and commissioned from him by developer and member of parliament, Thomas Neale. Neale laid out the streets south of St Giles-in- the-Fields in an unorthodox way: the diarist John Evelyn reported in October 1694 'the building beginning near St Giles's where seaven streetes make a starr from a Doric Pillar plac'd in the middle of Circular Area'.