As the first Fashion Feast takes place in Seven Dials, celebrating the neighbourhood’s bohemian spirit with pop-up stalls and gardens, there is now even more reason to visit, says Emma Levine
Visit Seven Dials, one of London’s prettiest districts, for independent boutiques and a shopping festival.
When the influential MP Thomas Neale laid out the Seven Dials neighbourhood in the 1690s, it was cannily done with a series of star-shaped street patterns to maximise the amount of rental money he could get; as houses were charged per area of frontage, rather than interior.
He wanted a fashionable district to attract affluent residents, and created glorious street names such as Great Earl Street and Queen Street. He commissioned leading stonemason Edward Pierce to construct the Sundial Pillar, which was built as the centrepiece of the seven roads, radiating like spokes in a wheel. But in the years that followed, the area deteriorated and became a slum and a haven for mobs; even Pierce’s pillar was demolished in 1773.
More than two centuries later, Seven Dials has been declared a conservation area, and the Sundial Pillar was resurrected. Today it has an air of fashionable, streetwise bonhomie and a village-type ambience. Its street names have altered over the years – you’ll now see the likes of Monmouth Street and Earlham
Street – but the area has a buzzing vibe of independent shops, and is adorned with original architecture and Dickensian history.
Seven Dials comes alive even more with the first FashionFeast (10 Jun; noon-5pm). It’s a celebration of shopping and food, where the neighbourhood’s boho spirit is there to be sampled. The seven streets – traffic-free for just one day – are filled with pop-up events, entertainment and special offers at more than 100 shopping stalls, bars and restaurants.
Peruse haircare advice and beauty tips from skincare experts at Neal’s Yard Remedies, where you’ll find organic treatments and feel-good remedies. In fact, the cosy and quirky courtyard here has been home to alternative medicine – and even occultism since the 1600s, when occultists were attracted to the streets’ symbolic star layout.
Nearby Neal Street is transformed into a catwalk showcasing local brands, and Shorts Gardens is turned into a relaxing Zen garden, where Japanese tea specialist My Cup of Tea hands out free iced teas for everyone to enjoy.
Even the central Sundial monument gets in on the act, as it’s transformed into a delightful urban garden with deckchairs. Top London steakhouse Hawksmoor gives out free gin and tonics, the marking of a true English summer event. Edward Pierce, and no doubt Thomas Neale, would have been delighted.