A rather shabby pavement space in central London has been turned into a pocket park, with loads more planting and softer wooden seating replacing an ugly brick slab that used to dominate the area.
This is Princes Circus, a name that few people know applies to this patch of land which was once an isolated triangle-shaped roundabout, but later had one side pedestrianised, and now has had the other side pedestrianised as well.
What dominated the area though was a low concrete and brick slab of a structure which was mainly used as seating area for The Crown pub opposite, and pigeons.
There was an amusing incident in 2018 where a Rubik’s Cube coloured garden skip art installation was placed without permission on top of the slab, and there was a bit of a row about who had to pay to remove it – the council or the substation owner.
No such chance now, as the substation ventilation, which is what the slab was, has been substantially shrunk and now sits within the seating that’s been added around the space.
For a triangular space, albeit one that with the roads closed has lost its obvious triangleness — is still remembered in the very triangular planting areas. The raised beds also have rather pleasingly soft rounded ends on the seating.
Replacing the old dark grey paving with lighter brown infill also helps to massively lighten an area that always felt very dark and gloomy.
A particular oddity is the bollard that’s been added next to the water cover.
The redevelopment is part of Camden Council’s West End Project which is carrying out a number of streetscape improvements across the area, and was put in place in 2015. A number of sites have already been completed, and Princes Circus was the last of the major green spaces to be developed, creating an improved pedestrian route and seating area.
It wasn’t an easy project, as both of the bidders who applied to carry out the works offered bids in excess of the £1.6 million budget allocated. Following the cancellation of the tenders, the budget was raised to £2.2 million, and resubmitted, and even then the lowest bid came in at £2.32 million, so the budget was raised again last February.
Now that the road has been paved over, as it’s a shared space for pedestrians and cyclists, a new cycle crossing point has been installed opposite Coptic Street leading up to the British Museum.
There’s still work to be done at the southern end opposite the theatre, where the old fountain is also being restored.
There is a bit of a mystery about apostrophes though. The space is likely named after the theatre next to it — which today is the Shaftesbury Theatre, but opened in 1911 as the New Princes Theatre, or sometimes written as the New Prince’s Theatre.
The apostrophe seemed to be optional.
Likewise, what is today called Princes Circus was in the 1990s at least called Prince’s Circus.
So many apostrophes being scattered around or missed out — and no idea which Prince they are all talking about.