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Covent Garden & Urban Regeneration

The Seven Dials Trust

The History

The Exhibition

Completing The Renaissance

How you can help the Trust

Sponsors and Supporters

Contact Information

The Exhibition


The Exhibition was sponsored by English Heritage and local companies. It is available for loan for a small fee (to cover insurance) and we are keen for it to be seen as widely as possible.

It consists of 36 display boards, size 29" x 30½", and falls into ten sections which illustrate the principal characters who created Seven Dials and the Sundial Pillar, a brief history of the area itself and the geneology of Sundial Pillars and gnomonics (the art of time keeping). These sections are followed by a series of boards explaining the problems in 'designing' the Pillar, how we calculated the orientation of the Pillar and the hour lines on the dial faces, how the foundations were designed and built to straddle the mass of services beneath the streets, as well as the construction and erection of the Pillar by youth trainees. There is a diary of the Charity's fundraising events and a section on the Unveiling by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. The last two sections detail the work of the Environmental Study, how to look after a conservation area, traffic management and street improvements .


  1. A Monumental Success
  2. People that made the Place

Seven Dials was created by Thomas Neale MP, known as 'The Great Projector' and is his only surviving London project. Neale chose Edward Pierce to build the Sundial Pillar, which for a time, was one of London's great public ornaments.


  1. Change and Continuity
  2. A Brief History Lesson
  3. A Quick Look Back
  4. Voices from the Past
  5. Voices from the Past

Neale planned Seven Dials as a fairly up-market development, probably for City Guildsmen and traders. However, he sub-divided his development out to individual builders, who in turn further sub-divided the houses. This sub-division and the form of leases granted led to the area's decline and, by the middle of the 18th century, the area had 'declined' to the extent that 39 night-watchmen were needed to keep the peace. By the early 19th century the area became famous, together with St. Giles to the north, as the most notorious rookery (slum) in London.

This section of the Exhibition has numerous black and white photographs of the Seven Dials area over the centuries with quotations from many sources, including Charles Dickens. (nb include b/w photos)


  1. A Time for Sundials

A brief explanation of how they arose and where some of them stood and still stand. As you will see, they were not uncommon, and another one stood in the Piazza Covent Garden. They were a development of the medieval 'market cross' but with religious symbols eliminated and a sundial substituted. These sundials were often erected in public places to regulate the number of growing clocks, which though popular were still unreliable and inaccurate.

This piece in the Athenian Mercury of 1692/3 (iv, No 4) the year before the erection of the Sundial Pillar, provides a graphic illustration of the need for sundials:

"I was walking in Covent Garden where the clock struck two, when I cam to Somerset-house by that it wanted a quarter of two, when I came to St Clements it was half past two, when I came to St Dunstans it wanted a quarter of two, by Mr Knib's Dyal in Fleet-street is was just two, when I cam to Ludgate it was half an hour past one, when I came to Bow Church it wanted a quarter of two, by the Dyal near Stocks Market it was a quarter part two, and when I came to the Royal Exchange it wanted a quarter of two: This I averr for a Truth, and desire to know how long I was walking from Covent Garden to the Royal Exchange?"


  1. Pieces of Pierce's Puzzle

Architect Red Mason was confronted with an unusual problem in designing the new Pillar. Pierce's original 1693 drawing in the British Museum conflicted with the remains at Weybridge and the drawing itself is contradicted by the measurements on it in Pierce's own handwriting!


  1. Orientating for Sundial Time

The art of Gnomonics (the construction of Sundials). As you will see, there is a symmetrical relationship between the position of the base and the Dialstone and the exhibition board shows how we established the exact position of the South Face, which was essential for the Dials to work accurately.


  1. Carving and Craftsmanship
  2. All that Glitters is Gold

The work of the designer/letter carver in creating the faces at her studio in Wiltshire is illustrated through the various stages of design: tracing, initial cutting, painting and gilding. Caroline Webb, in carving the faces had to be 100% accurate for each Dialface to tell the correct time.


  1. A Firm Foundation

The greatest problem we faced was the question of foundations for the 28 ton Pillar. As you can see, underneath the Dials, there are water mains, sewers, gas mains, and telephone and electricity cables criss crossing each other. How could foundations be designed and built to accommodate all these Authorities and their various requirements? The ingenious answer is set out in the Evening Stand article and the illustrations in this section.

An added problem was the main sewer and what should happen if it ruptured. The ingenious solution was to sit the Pillar on top of a giant concrete stool, so that the Dials could be dug up and the Pillar remain intact.


  1. Carving their Work with Pride
  2. Raising the Column
  3. Build up to Completion

The Pillar is made from many sections and this work was largely carried out by youth trainees at Vauxhall College of Building and at Ashby & Horner Stonemasonry Ltd (the main contractors).

The process of erection required a complicated scaffold and the one tonne Dialstone had to be lowered and manoeuvred by hand, into a position where the South Face was exactly due South. This process took 3 days with our astronomer and architect in attendance. In the end, each Dialface read time to within 30 seconds; an extraordinary feat from astronomical calculations to drawings, cutting the Dialface, carving and erecting it. Each stage had to be absolutely accurate.


  1. Landmark Events
  2. A Royal Unveiling

The Sundial Pillar was spectacularly unveiled on 29th June 1989 and these photographs show the events of the day, attended by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and her husband Prince Claus as the finale of the year long William & Mary Tercentenary celebrations.


  1. How to Look After a Conservation Area
  2. Snapshots of Today
  3. What makes a Place
  4. Modern Times
  5. A Guiding Handbook
  6. A Step by Step Process
  7. Finding out more

This section outlines aspects of the Environmental Study aimed at encouraging accurate restoration of the historic fabric of the area.


  1. A Planned Strategy
  2. Restoring the Streets
  3. Transforming the Townscape
  4. A new look at the Circus
  5. Restoring Mercer Street
  6. An old look for Earlham Street
  7. A new future for Monmouth Street
  8. Monmouth Street (North) looks up
  9. Improvements in Shorts Gardens
  10. Renewal in Neal Street
  11. Slowing the pace of Shelton Street

Finally, we set out our proposals for completing the Renaissance Project which would see the completion of the model street improvements carried out in Shorts Gardens and Earlham Street (East), so as to restore this magical space in Central London.

The exhibition can be borrowed for a small fee to cover insurance.

In addition, there is an educational slide pack and a large scale model of Seven Dials illustrating the traffic management proposals.


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