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Adam Dant’s London Squares

February 24, 2021
by the gentle author

As an antidote to the current loneliness of the empty streets, Adam Dant sent me these drawings of celebrated London squares teeming with life.

Click to enlarge and explore Soho Square

If any part of London is entitled to bandy around the phrase ‘… has a reputation for…’ it is probably Soho. Beyond its reputation for vice and debauchery, it has many other reputations to uphold, some of which are embodied here in living form at its apex in Soho Square.

At the time this panorama was created, Soho Square was the biggest, noisiest, most disruptive construction site in London. Crossrail was busy demolishing, excavating and tramping mud through all through Theatreland to build the Elizabeth Line. Meanwhile, Berwick Street Market was being eviscerated by high-end apartments.

Those responsible for Soho’s ‘seedy’ reputation – the addicts, sex-workers, tooth-picking pimps, louche club proprietors, as well as the occasional artist, devotee of Hare Krishna and terrified-looking tourist – continued to scamper around the raucous rat run of Soho’s streets during all these ‘renovations,’ in search of illicit pleasures still to be found at every corner.

Click to enlarge and explore Leicester Sq

‘There is nothing a Londoner relishes more than spending a spare hour or two whiling away time in their beloved Leicester Square’ is a statement somewhere near the top of that famous list of lies to tell tourists about London.

Aside from scurrying at pace to lunch at The Beefsteak, or (when it was still there) picking up ski passes for Val d’Isère from the Swiss Centre, the sticky, gum-spotted, tallow-fumed, Puffa jacket congested environs of Hogarth’s former residence are no more than a convenient cut through from the bookshops of Piccadilly to the bookshops of Cecil Court.

Many of the reasons for this state of affairs are depicted here in a view from the south-east corner, where at the famous Ticket Booth one can snaffle cut-price seats to be entertained by serious actors singing whilst dressed in big furry cat suits or else eulogising their slutty youth through the medium of song and dance on the quayside of a Greek fishing village.

As a curriculum of what is on offer to dislike about the world in general, Leicester Square goes all the way past PhD level, ranging from trivial annoyances such as… people standing vacantly in the way, the reek of burning sucrose, pepperoni slices in your path, being mistaken for a tourist, cellophane-wrapped single rosebuds, the eternally tiresome phenomena of gambling as a supposedly glamorous pursuit, vexatious religious press gangs, cooked-from-frozen short-order pasta, and portraiture in which the sitter will always look like Leonardo deCaprio.

The dubious reputation of Leicester Square in this sense may be part of a continuum as the location of dubious activities throughout history, such as being the best site to conduct a duel, being a de-facto rubbish dump during a bin men’s strike, and hosting the premieres of Tom Cruise movies.

Viewed from the terrace of your luxury Theatreland Citybreak hotel – as in my picture – the scene may have you opting for a round of special lychee-daiquiris to enjoy a pleasant night watching the action from afar, unlike the average Londoner who must wade through this awful fray while pretending that none of it is even happening.

Click to enlarge and explore Berkeley Square

The salubrious plains of Berkeley Square are best viewed in this panorama from south to north, as if from the prestigious Lansdowne House, whose gardens would have provided the original prospect of this perennially desirable London address.

On the west side, a ‘nameless thing’ closely resembling some kind of octopus by those who have had the misfortune of encountering this resident of London’s most haunted building, slithers from the doorway of the former HQ of Maggs’ bookshop. Young rakes who have accepted the challenge of staying in the house overnight as a wager have been discovered in the morning, dead from heart failure.

Further north, the latest incarnation of Annabel’s, the super-trendy hangout for the nouveaux riche, Ukranian asset managers wives,  the O.P.M wranglers and the generally ‘leisured louche,’ is  guarded by liveried doormen in ‘peaky blinder’ flat caps and the lurid tweeds of celebrity ‘ratters.’

Speeding round the corner to Farm St is an e-type jag from the recent ‘Man from Uncle,’ no doubt en route to Guy Ritchie’s pub ‘The Punchbowl.’ Shops on Mount Street are indicated by their products on the street corner, such as a Porsche outside their dealership and a fountain pen and envelope for ‘Mount Street Stationers’ .

On the north side is Phillip’s auction house who are hosting a sale of Barry Flanagan’s hare sculptures, which a couple of porters are having trouble coaxing through the big glass doors. Next door is Morton’s, the private club most famously patronised by the dashing early lovers of speed and the internal combustion engine, where two ‘Bentley Boys’ vehicles are parked outside.

The south end of the square is where the locals leave their rubbish for collection, this is comprised of a skip full of unwanted banknotes and a couple of wheelie bins labelled for surplus sushi.

Inside the square, care-worn by retail therapy on Bond Street or striving for wealth creation in the Georgian townhouses of Curzon Street, the Berkeley Square types depicted in the border of the map relax and enjoy the arts committee’s sculptural offerings, including the return of the equine statue of George lll as Marcus Aurelius. It had been removed when, due to faulty bronze casting, the legs of the horse started to bow.

The two elegantly-clad ladies from the thirties entering the gates on the south side have stepped straight out of a painting of the square by Stanislawa De Karlowska. Their presence is redolent of more genteel times in Mayfair as captured in the song which made it famous throughout the world and, hanging on the railings is a poster for “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ as performed tonight by Judy Campbell” (muse of Noel Coward and mother of Jane Birkin).


Click to enlarge and explore St James’ s Square

Unlike many other public squares in London, St James’s Square is in possession of a certain aloof, upper crust aura in keeping with the private finance offices and gentlemen’s clubs that hide behind its well attended facades.

Dirty, smelly dogs are no more permitted into the gardens here than they would be in The London Library, The East India Club or the headquarters of British Petroleum, although my own dog is welcomed as a regular visitor at the nearby Christie’s auction house, possibly by dint of his diminutive size, impeccable manners and Scottish heritage.

Whilst sketching from a bench in the square beneath the statue of King William III, I noticed that not very much appeared to be going on in this square. Such an atmosphere of restraint in a public arena prompts all manner of fanciful notions as to the real identities, activities and motivations of passers-by. Much in the same vein as a novel by London Library habitué Grahame Greene, visitors to St James’s square assume the mantle of the Russian spy visiting a dead letterbox, the covert couple conducting an illicit love affair or the minor royal jogging incognito. The real action here has to be invented as nobody is giving anything away.

Secrecy is the order of the day at The Royal Institute of International Affairs, better known as Chatham House whose famous ‘Chatham House Rules’ guarantee speakers at their events the requisite anonymity to encourage the sharing of sensitive information. Until recently, the church of Rome managed to keep their ownership of a handsome townhouse in the square under wraps, having purchased it with money from Mussolini.

It is in the same spirit that this topographical depiction of the square prompts the viewer to speculate as to the general goings-on of the characters portrayed and animate their stories, according to the roster of St James’s ‘types’ shown around the border.

Click to enlarge and explore Sloane Square

Within seconds of exiting Sloane Square Underground Station, one will be able to spot a group of impossibly tall girls, a pack of over-groomed, small yappy dogs, an elderly gent in flaming red corduroy trousers, or all three, and many more ‘types’ who circle this trottoir of London’s beau monde daily.

In Sloane Square, everything appears to happen on cue, as if all were part of a deftly-choreographed Mary Poppins type movie number. It feels like a slightly cosmetic, faux-nostalgic, self-conscious spectacle, and is best viewed from the terrace of Cafe Colbert with a kir and a notebook.

The denizens of the most expensive postcode whom we ogle in the glossy advertorial pages of How to Spend It or the Tatler, are less Made in Chelsea more ‘Made for Chelsea.’


Click to enlarge and explore Hoxton Square

Whether you celebrate it as an exuberant libertarian paradise or whether you condemn it as the nadir of unpleasantness is a matter of mere opinion, but there is no doubt that in recent years Hoxton Square has become a phenomenon – a crowded playground where those who so desire are may lose their inhibitions and their wallets with ease. 

Hoxton Square is the East End’s Garden of Earthly Delights, peopled with Dog Walkers, Art Collectors, Art World Dilettantes, Art Dealers, Haircuts, Cycle Couriers, Trustafarians, Hen/Stag Nights, Estate Ped-Heads, Bengali Boys, Postcode Gangstas, Shrouded Girls, Eccentric Designers, Foreign Students, Smartphone Addicts, Vertical Drinkers, Light Industry Dregs, VVV Stupid Fashions, Scruffy Journos, Graffiti Tourists, Lost Travellodgers, Italian Anarchists, Polish Labourers, Polish Benchdwellers, Homeless/Drugs, Homeless/Dogowners, Homeless/Chirpy, Hoxton Elderly, Fast Food Barons, Hippy Circus Parents, Shh! Lesbians, Brooklyn Hipsters, Tribally Tattooed Folk, Out of Place Parents, Trashy Waitresses, A.D.D. Children, Ladettes, Japanese Stylists, Drunk Bankers, General Dickheads, Clowns, Sanctioned Graffitists, Fixi Bores, Rentokill Workers, Ukranian Pole Dancers, Strip Club Patrons, Media Nodes, Screwtop Rosé Girls, Interns, Coffee Bores, BBC Drama Shoot Participants, Tamagotchi Billionaires, Fashion Shoots, Nigerian Shoe Vendors, Incongruous Joggers, Plain Clothes Cops, Fried Food Schoolkids, Flash Restaurateurs, Pissers, Sterodial Bouncers, Flower Shoppers, Sticky Tape Artists, Performance Artists, Tai Chi Beginners, Architecture Students, Council Planning Officers, Bicycle Thieves, Drugs Vendors – and Joseph Markovitch, and Martin Usborne and his dog Moose.





Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND is a mighty monograph collecting together all your favourite works by Spitalfields Life‘s Contributing Cartographer in a beautiful big hardback book.

Including a map of London riots, the locations of early coffee houses and a colourful depiction of slang through the centuries, Adam Dant’s vision of city life and our prevailing obsessions with money, power and the pursuit of pleasure may genuinely be described as ‘Hogarthian.’

Unparalleled in his draughtsmanship and inventiveness, Adam Dant explores the byways of London’s cultural history in his ingenious drawings, annotated with erudite commentary and offering hours of fascination for the curious.

The book includes an extensive interview with Adam Dant by The Gentle Author.

Adam Dant’s  limited edition prints are available to purchase through TAG Fine Arts

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Ian Silverton permalink
    February 24, 2021

    Somebody put this up on my Twitter account, and replied to you via yours, very interesting both visual and written, Stay well GA.

  2. February 24, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for sharing again those fabulous renderings of London’s famous squares by Adam Dant.
    I am particularly fascinated with St. James Square. Being a lover of British history, especially the Victorian period, I have read so much about those discreet gentlemen’s clubs.

    Two places I would love to access someday are the London Library and Chatham House also in the neighborhood. Both so ultra.

    Missing London today…

  3. February 24, 2021

    I so enjoy having the baronial-sized “Maps of London and Beyond” in my art library.
    Highly recommended! The large size of the book is ideal, given the uncanny amount of detail; but I also thought it was a sly reference to the old-fashioned Atlases and Gazetteers of yore
    that were always the largest books in the bookcase. They did not “behave” like the other books; maybe an explanation why they were constantly pulled down and inspected — usually on the floor of the living room. I can still recall turning the huge pages, while propped up on my elbows; the family dog also snooping and seemingly curious. Good map memories!

    GA, perhaps one day you will do an in-depth artist talk with Adam Dant? Specifically, I think it would be fascinating to learn how an expert map-maker BEGINS to plot the work, and how he conquers all the design challenges, etc. He includes a lion’s share of images, words, icons, banners, captions, etc in his work — and I suspect that many drafts would be necessary before the work is finalized. I’ve always suspected that his studio was literally
    elbow-deep in tracing paper. Inquiring minds want to know.

    Stay safe, all.

  4. Derek Bailey permalink
    February 24, 2021

    So when do the less fashionable Swedenborg and Arbour Square’s make the cut ?

  5. Lizebeth permalink
    February 24, 2021

    I wonder if Mr. Dant has done a sketch of Covent Garden Piazza?

    Stuck in California since the pandemic started, I have seen some photos of various London squares — all looking so sadly deserted. Can’t wait until they fill up again — SAFELY — with life.

    Enjoy all your articles so much. Stay safe.

  6. Adam Dant permalink
    February 24, 2021

    Don’t worry Derek, Swedenborg and Arbor are much further up the waiting list than ‘Great Guildford Business Square’

  7. February 24, 2021

    Another absolutely amazing and fascinating Adam Dant Extravaganza!
    Love it, thank you.

  8. February 24, 2021

    Love the Squares, Loved the write-up

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