22 June 2015

The truth unveiled about Picadilly Circus, and why we've been telling lies for years

We've all been living a lie about one of the most iconic bastions of London life. Lotharios have used it as an assignation point with their mistresses since the early 1900s, millions of tourists over the years have arranged to meet friends on the steps before they explore the city, and thousands of bloggers have used it to rendezvous for afternoon tea.

Things to see in London Picadilly Circus  - Adventures of a London Kiwi

Eros, the boy statue armed with a bow and arrow, hovers protectively over the bustling heart of Picadilly Circus (or it was until city planners shifted slightly over to make way for traffic lanes to be added to) ready to sink his arrow into any miscreants up to mischief. Soaring a-top the bronze Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, this nubile young god lies in wait for any passerbys and umpteen selfie stick situations.

Eros Picadilly Circus - Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

But we've all been living a lie.

His name isn't Eros or Cupid, the mischevious frivolous cherubic "tyrant of seductive love", but Anteros (his twin brother), the "The God of Selfless Love" deemed to represent the philanthropic 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.

Eros Picadilly Circus - Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

With subsequent outcry once erected at the naked form sculpted by Alfred Gilbert and the general public thinking that the statue was of mischevious Eros (therefore considered an unfit memorial for the Earl) the statue was renamed the 'Angel of Christian Charity'. Because that's easier than Anteros. Apparently.

Where the bow was originally pointed is the subject of two urban myths; The first that the archer is aiming his arrow to bury itself Shaftesbury Avenue (ostensibly to commemorate the Earl), the other is that the arrow is pointing to the Earl's country seat in Wimborne Saint Giles, Dorset. According to research however the statue originally pointed towards Lower Regent Street, towards the UK Parliament. 

Eros Picadilly Circus - Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

 The Magazine of Art described it as "...a striking contrast to the dull ugliness of the generality of our street sculpture, ... a work which, while beautifying one of our hitherto desolate open spaces, should do much towards the elevation of public taste in the direction of decorative sculpture, and serve freedom for the metropolis from any further additions of the old order of monumental monstrosities.

Picadilly Circus by rainfall Friday figments and photos

As years have passed, Londoners have misnomered the aluminum cast as Eros, and as Eros the statue will stay forever more, a victim often remembered in pub quiz question gathering. It isn't the only famous grammatical piece of London history - Covent Garden, arguments about St James' Station and the legendary mangling of tube station names to name but a few.

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