The Seven Dials Conservation Area is a bustling, tightly packed, dynamic and extremely interesting commercial and residential area. It was laid out in the 1690s by Thomas Neale, whose star shaped plan and central column remain today and from which the Conservation Area takes its name. The Conservation Area has a strong and well-defined special character. Similar to many areas of its ilk, it was initially built as a residential area, but ground floors were gradually converted into commercial premises, and now these premises, mainly interesting independent companies, dominate the character of the area. Despite its name not being so well known, it is extremely popular with tourists. After becoming a notorious slum during the Victorian Era, The Seven Dials Trust have succeeded magnificently in restoring the area to its former glory, and have received national acclaim for their work.
Threat Level: Low
The Conservation Area has been curated and protected outstandingly by The Seven Dials Trust, whose work over decades has been nationally recognised as significant.
History of Designation
The Seven Dials Conservation Area was inaugurated on 1st June 1974, following a backlash after plans to demolish the entire area. Seven Dials had been in a state of dereliction – inherited from the Victorian era – for decades, with 90% of the housing stock having been empty for more than 40 years. The initial designation covered the seven roads forming the Seven Dials, along with Neal Street in the north east. Over time, the Conservation Area grew further towards the north east to meet up with the Bloomsbury and Kingsway Conservation Areas, the latest addition coming in 1998.
Seven Dials was initially intended as a high density residential area for the newly expanding London and its aspiring middle classes, with construction beginning in 1692. Initially exciting the public with its novel design, the death of the developer, and difficulties filling the housing stock and completing work as early as 1710, led to the area falling into commercialisation and disrepute throughout the Georgian period. By the Victorian Era, Seven Dials and the wider area of St Giles and Covent Garden became a notorious slum and red light district, becoming one of the most run-down and dangerous areas of London, immortalised in Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’. This character continued throughout the twentieth century, to a lesser extent, until the threat of ‘redevelopment’ loomed large over an area in which only 10% of housing stock was occupied. The Seven Dials Trust was formed in 1977 which with the aid of Camden managed to restore the character and vitality of the area to what it is today, largely a reflection of its early Georgian character.
The special interest of a place comprises both its appearance and its character, and can be historic or architectural in nature.