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The Moon Under Water

Discover the history of one of London's film première hot spots.

28 Leicester Square, West End, London, WC2H 7LE

The name of this Wetherspoon free house recalls the ideal pub described by George Orwell. The writer called his fictitious pub ‘Moon Under Water’. This famous square was laid out in 1670 by Lord Leicester. The first house on the site of this pub was occupied, in turn, by a Lord Chancellor, two princes and the famous Scottish surgeon John Hunter. ‘Hunter’s House’ was demolished in 1892 and replaced by the present building.

A framed drawing of Leicester Square, c1897.

Framed drawings and text about Leicester Square.

The text reads: In 1839 numbers 24-27 on this (the east) side of Leicester Square were empty. They were demolished to allow the building of a concert room, then a new theatre, then a circus, until in 1851 the site was leased by the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art – “An Institution for Scientific Exhibitions and for Promoting Discoveries in Arts and Manufactures”.

Designed in a Sarcenic style, intended as “a new era in street architecture” and “an enchanting palace in a city of sternest realities”, it opened in March 1854. Having cost over £80,000, it failed and was sold as auction two years later for £9,000 to E.T. Smith.

In 1858 Smith opened the Alhambra with spectacular circus, and followed up with ballet and variety. William Wilde bought the Alhambra in 1861, and Frederick Strange became manager in 1864. Strange inaugurated the lavish ballets that featured at the Alhambra until 1912, when revue became the rage. Diaghilev brought ballet back to the Alhambra in 1919 and 1921. In 1936 Oscar Deutsch bought and soon demolished it, to build the Odeon Cinema. 

Framed photographs and text about The Empire Theatre.

The text reads: The Empire Theatre, Leicester Square opened on 17 April 1884 as a venue primarily for ballet and opera. The theatre was designed by Thomas Verity and had a capacity of about 2,000 seats. In 1887, the theatre reopened as a music hall named the Empire Theatre of Varieties. The venue prospered and over the next few decades did much to revive the popularity of ballet in the capital.

In March 1896, the Empire screened the first commercial film to be shown in the UK. However despite embracing this new form of entertainment it was the emergence of motion pictures that spelt the end for the original Empire theatre. In 1927, the venue was taken over by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who demolished it and replaced it with a 3,000 seat cinema designed by Thomas Lamb.

A framed photograph of a film première at Leicester Square.

A framed photograph of a Harry Potter première at Leicester Square.

External photograph of the building – front.

If you have information on the history of this pub, then we’d like you to share it with us. Please e-mail all information to: