Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1931.
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CHAPTER 9: DOWNING STREET (HAMPDEN HOUSE)
From what follows in this chapter it will be seen that (speaking generally) Downing Street occupies the site of Hampden House, demolished towards the end of Charles II's reign. As regards the earlier history of this site, there are two lines of evidence which show that it was formerly occupied by a brewhouse, belonging to the Abbey of Abingdon, called The Axe.
(i) In 1650 Hampden House is described (see p. 109) as adjoining on the south "a house or Inn heretofore called the Peacocke," and the same boundary is mentioned in earlier descriptions of the property. The Peacock belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, who on 30th April, 1605, leased (fn. n1) to Sir Thomas Knyvet "all that their tenement called the Peacock … in Kinge Street … between the tenement of the said Deane & Chapter … on the south parte, and the tenement sometymes apperteining to the Abbott and Covent of Abington on the north part." The site of Hampden House was therefore occupied by the property of the Abbey of Abingdon, and it has been shown (see p. 9) that, so far as this was situated in King Street, it corresponded with the brewhouse called The Axe, owned by Elizabeth Palle, the abbot's lessee.
(ii) In the grant of what was afterwards Hampden House to Sir Thomas Knyvet in 1604 (see below), the premises are said to have formerly been in the tenure of Everard Everard, goldsmith. With this information it is possible to identify them with a tenement, for which a rent of £7 was paid, late in the tenure of John Carter, lying near the new gate [the King Street Gate] of the palace of the Lord King, granted to —Everard. "goldesmythe" for the term of his life. (fn. n2) Carter's £7 tenement can, in its turn, be identified, by an entry in the Ministers' Accounts, (fn. n3) with a tenement formerly called The Axe and afterwards the King's Head. (fn. n4) We thus again reach the identification of the site with that of The Axe. This was, no doubt, the brewhouse of that name which, according to the deed of 1531, formed the southern boundary of the property of the Abbey of Westminster required for Whitehall Palace, on the west side of King Street. (fn. n5)
How long The Axe, with its name now altered to the King's Head, continued to be used as a brewhouse, it is impossible to say, but such use must have come to an end before the death of Henry VIII in 1547, for we are told that that king granted the tenement to Everard Everard, "Goldsmythe et Jueler," for him to work there, and use the same for a storehouse for his art during his life, without paying anything therefor. (fn. n6)
On 3rd April, 1581, Elizabeth granted the premises to Thomas Knyvet, the Keeper of the Palace, for life without rent. (fn. n7) On 9th May, 1604, James I, in consideration of the expenditure which Knyvet had incurred in the repairs of the house, granted (fn. n8) him a lease of the premises for a term of 60 years to commence at his (Knyvet's) death. In this document the boundaries of the property are given as: on the south, a house or inn called "le Pecocke" and the common sewer; on the north, the gate called "le Newegate" leading to "Kingestreete," an old passage leading to a court called "le Phesaunte le Courte," and another passage leading from the great garden [i.e. the Privy Garden] to St. James's Park; on the east, "Kinges streete"; and on the west, St. James's Park wall. The two passages were no longer used as such, and their sites were included in the grant, the former being 47 feet by 10 feet, not covered over, and the latter 53 feet by 9 feet, arched over like a vault. (fn. n9) The premises are said to have been formerly in the tenure of Everard Everard, goldsmith, and afterwards in that of John Baptist Castilian, (fn. n10) and to have lately been in the separate tenures of Dame Abigail Digby, widow, (fn. n11) and Thomas Cardell. According to the overseers' accounts Castilian succeeded Everard in the occupation of the house some time between 1562 and 1565, and he was there until at least 1593. (fn. n12) His name seems to have clung to the house for some years later, for in a document (fn. n13) of not earlier date than 1600 (fn. n14) occurs the following statement: "Sr Thomas Knevitt hath under neathe his keepershipp of Whitehaull dyvers Howsses, as Hawnces and Baptistas."
Lady Digby's name appears in the overseers' accounts for 1598 and continues until 1602. Cardell's name is first given in 1590, and it would, therefore, appear that he was for a year or two in joint occupation with Castilian. He died in 1621, (fn. n15) but his widow remained at the house until her death, in 1624. (fn. n16)
A reference to the premises occurs in the inquisition (see p. 46) of 1611 concerning the rights of the Keeper of the Palace. In the answer given to one of the items of enquiry which concerned a certain house alleged to be one of the Keeper's perquisites, it is stated that the messuage in question lies next "le Brake" or "le great Tennys Courte," is now or late in the possession of Lord Knyvet, extends in width from the "great Tennys Courte" as far as the house called by the sign of the "Peacocke," and in length from "the Kinges Streete" as far as the wall of St. James's Park, and was formerly in the occupation of a certain "Baptiste Castillian."
On 27th July, 1622, Knyvet died, leaving the residue of his property, after payment of debts and legacies, to his "best deservinge and most dearely beloved wife." (fn. n17) The latter survived her husband only a few weeks. By her will, dated 4th September, 1622 (she died on the following day), she left the whole of her property, after payment of debts and some legacies, to her "welbeloved Neece, Elizabeth Hampden, Widdowe." (fn. n18)
The fact that Elizabeth Hampden was Lady Knyvet's niece, and the mention in her will of her four grandsons, Richard Hampden, Sir Robert Pye, Sir John Hobart and Sir John Trevor, show that she was the mother of John Hampden, the statesman, and aunt of Oliver Cromwell, the Protector, and Col. Whalley, the regicide. (fn. n19) She is shown in occupation of Hampden House in the overseers' accounts for 1623, and thus was apparently for a time in joint occupation with Mrs. Cardell. (fn. n20) As she lived there until her death in 1665, her residence lasted for over 40 years.
An interesting description of the house in this period is contained in a Survey made by the Parliamentary Commissioners in 1650. (fn. n21) It runs as follows:—
"All that Messuage or Tenemt scittuate in King streete … built parte wth Bricke and Part wth Tymber and Flemish walle and covered wth Tyle, consistinge of a Large and spacious hall, Wainscoted round, well Lighted, and Paved wth brick Pavemts, two parlrs wherof one is Wainscoted round from the seelinge to ye floore, one Buttery, one Seller, one Large Kitchen well paved wth stone and well fitted and Joynted and well fitted wth dresser boords; Alsoe one Large Pastery Roome paved and ioynted as aforesaid. And above stayres in the first story one Large and spacious dyneinge Roome, Wainscoted round from the Seelinge to the floore, well flored, Lighted and seeled, and fitted wth a faire Chimney wth a foote pace of Paynted Tyle in the same. Alsoe 6 more Roomes and 3 Closetts in the same flore all well Lighted and seeled. And in the second story 4 garretts. And in annother Rainge of buildinges called the old buildings Two Chambers and one Closett and a stoole house there, and one Rainge of old buildinges standinge on the left hand comeinge in at ye gate, consistinge of 9 roomes belowe stayres and above stayres. And on the Right hand of ye gate at the comeinge in to the said house one other buildinge standinge next to the streete, consisting of one Hall, one Kitchen, and a Closett, all well paved wth stone, and above stayres 3 Chambers and a Closett, whereof one is parte wainscoted, the other parte fitted for hangings. Alsoe one Court and two Large entryes or passages, & one large garden contayninge 252 feete of assize in length and 100 feete in breadth, the sd Large garden beinge fitted wth variety of Walle fruite & divers fruite Trees, Plants, Rootes and flowers, very pleasant to the Eye and profitable for use. Alsoe severall handsom delightfull Gravelly Walkes, seats & arbors. the ground whereon th'aforesaid houses stand, together wth the Courts and garden, cont' by estimac[i]on 397 feete of assize in Length, and ye garden 109 feete in breadth, & ye house 49 feete in breadth, abuttinge on Kinges Streete on the East, and St. James Parke walle on ye west, and adioyninge north on the New gate house leadinge into King streete, and south on a house or Inn heretofore called the Peacocke. now in ye occ. of Mrs. Hampden, and is worth per annum xx/iiij x li [£90]."
George Downing, (fn. n22) whose name was henceforth to be inseparably associated with the site of the house, now appeared on the scene. On 24th June, 1651, the Parliamentary Commissioners sold the Crown's interest in the property to Robert Thorpe and William Procter, and on 24th November, 1654, Downing acquired the interest from Thorpe, the survivor. (fn. n23) At the Restoration the transaction, of course, became void, but Downing was not minded to let the matter drop. In 1662 he petitioned the King, stating that he had been forced for a sum of money due to him to take a tenement of the King "in King Street … in the possession of one Mrs. Hamden," reminding the King that he had been pleased to say that he would have a care of his (Downing's) estate, and asking for a reversionary lease of the premises to enable him to rebuild. (fn. n24) "His Maty, being graciously Pleased to gratify the Petr in this his humble request," directed the Lord Treasurer to arrange for a grant, with sufficient provision for "the handsome and Graceful building of the said house … the same standing so neere his Rll Pallace." On 23rd February, 1663–4, accordingly, a lease of the property in reversion was given to Downing to make up the remainder of the existing term to 99 years, (fn. n25) with liberty to build, provided that he did not build beyond the west part of the King's house called the Cockpit. The grant contains a description of the property practically word for word as in the grant to Knyvet, and in addition gives the perfectly accurate but rather misleading information that the premises were parcel of the possessions lately acquired of the Abbot of Westminster and other persons.
Meanwhile Mrs. Hampden was still at the house. She died in February, 1664–5, (fn. n26) and was buried on the 21st of that month at Great Hampden. (fn. n27) The residue of her estate (including the unexpired term of the Knyvet lease) was left to her four grandchildren named above.
Information as to the occupiers of the house for the next few years is scanty. A letter, (fn. n28) however, dated 1st September, 1672, and written by Sir Robert Clayton, stating that he had received a summons to wait upon the Duke of Buckingham at Hampden House, would seem to justify the inference that the duke was then living there. If so, his residence must have been quite short, (fn. n29) for his name does not occur in that portion of King Street as given in the overseers' accounts. In the following year Sir Thomas Osborne, Viscount Latimer (afterwards Earl of Danby), seems to have stayed for a short time at the house. (fn. n30)
A careful comparison of the overseers' accounts for the years 1665 to 1682 has been made with a view to seeing if it is possible to connect any names with Hampden House, but the results are too uncertain.
In 1682 the Knyvet lease came to an end, and Downing entered into possession. (fn. n31) His intention all along had been to rebuild. In the report which the Lord Treasurer ordered to be made on his petition in 1663 attention was called to the fact that "the houseing … are in great decay and will hardly continue to be habitable to the end" of the Knyvet lease, and it was suggested that Downing might even buy in the estate for rebuilding before the completion of the term. Whether Downing acted on this suggestion and entered into negotiations with Mrs. Hampden, there is nothing to show. If he did, he was unsuccessful. On 10th February, 1681–2, he obtained a further patent (fn. n32) modifying the provision in the document of 1664 that his new buildings should not extend beyond the west part of the house called the Cockpit. In this, after mentioning that "the said Cockpitt or the greater part thereof is since demolished," the King granted permission to Downing to build new and more houses further westwards, provided they were not erected nearer than 14 feet to the park wall, and to cope the wall with free stone and set flowerpots and statues thereon.
Both Knyvet and Mrs. Hampden had leased (fn. n33) from the Dean and Chapter the ground immediately to the south of Hampden House, comprising the Peacock and its appurtenances. The property is described in Knyvet's lease as 23 feet 2¼ inches wide at the King Street end, 41 feet wide at the west end and 189 feet in length. Downing took a lease of these premises on 12th February, 1680–1. (fn. n34)
Certain portions at least, and probably the whole, of the Hampden House and Peacock sites were let out by him on building leases for 40 years from 25th March, 1682, (fn. n35) and the overseers' accounts for the next few years (1683–6) show Downing Street in course of formation. It may be added that there is no evidence (or likelihood) that Downing himself (he died in 1684) (fn. n36) resided in the street. (fn. n37)
Of the Downing Street thus formed, the north side and west end, together with a narrow triangular strip at the east end of the south side, were on the site of the Crown property; the remainder was on the ground leased from the Dean and Chapter.
A description of the street in 1720 (fn. n38) runs as follows:—
"Downing Street, a pretty open Place, especially at the upper
End, where are four or five very large and well-built Houses,
fit for Persons of Honour and Quality; each House having
a pleasant Prospect into St. James's Park, with a Tarras Walk."
Downing's lease would naturally expire in 1763, but in 1751 Sir Jacob Garrard Downing (his grandson) sought and obtained (on 5th February, 1751–2) an extension to 1803 in respect of the greater portion of the property, (fn. n39) and a further extension to 1820 was afterwards granted to trustees on behalf of Dame Margaret Downing.
The first alteration in the form of the street took place in connection with Soane's building of the Board of Trade and Privy Council Offices, when the Downing Street frontage was set back and arranged at a different angle to King Street. The southern side of the street and the large open area at the western end (known as Downing Square) remained unaltered for several years, but on the erection of the new Government offices on the south side the street attained its present shape and size.