Survey of London: Volume 16, St Martin-in-The-Fields I: Charing Cross. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1935.
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CHAPTER 25: SITE OF NOS. 13 TO 20, COCKSPUR STREET
The triangular piece of ground lying between Cockspur Street and Warwick House Street was, when first met with in the early part of the seventeenth century, the freehold of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. Situated as it was on the north side of the ancient way from Charing Cross to St. James's, there is no reason to suppose that it was acquired by Henry VIII when making his extensive purchases in the neighbourhood, (fn. n1) and it may have belonged to the Abbey from time immemorial. At some date before 1600 it had been secured by the Vestry of St. Martin-in-the-Fields at a nominal rent, and had been used as a site for the parish pound. In the early years of the seventeenth century the pound was removed and the site used for the erection of the parish almshouses.
The earliest leases by the Dean and Chapter to the Vestry have not been traced, the first discovered being that granted on 4th December, 1611, (fn. n2) for 40 years. The ground is therein described as "contayning by estimacion one Rood … lyinge on the South side of the Kinges highwaie leadinge from Charing Crosse towardes Knightesbridge, and on the North side of the Common waie … leadinge from Charing Crosse … towardes the Mannor house of St. James … and adjoyneth to the Ditch of St. James Fieldes on the west parte, and upon a common passage betweene both the said waies on the east parte." The dimensions are said to be 200 feet on the norths 160 feet on the south, 120 feet west and 22 feet east.
At this time the almshouses had already been erected, the work having been carried out in 1603 and succeeding years. (fn. n3) On 23rd September, 1613, it was ordered that "every poore parson that from henceforth shall be admitted to dwell in any of the roomes of the Almeshouses shall before he or she shall be admitted to dwell there and to Receyue any pencion or exhibicion of the parishe shall (sic) make a due conveyance of all his or their goods to the Churchewardens and overseers of the poore for the tyme beeing wch they shall be possessed of at the tyme of the decease of him or hir to the use of the poore of the said parishe." (fn. n4) The nature of the conditions attached to admission may be further gathered from an instance on 10th July, 1614. (fn. n5) "It is agreed … that Thomas Puttrell' and Alice his wyfe shalbe admitted into the roome in the almeshowse wherin the widdow Turner lately dwelled & dyed, Upon condition that they behave themselves quietly, soberlye & honestly & that shee shall from henceforthe execute the place of a Searcher for suche as it shall please God to visit wth sicknes wth in the parishe of St. Martens." On 18th November, 1624, the Vestry appointed (fn. n6) certain persons to be joined with the churchwardens for the space of three years to "order the Almeshouses and the Almesfolks according to their discretions, examining their Conversations from tyme to tyme, and Reforming their disorders by suche meanes as they shall thinke fitting, and during that tyme have power to displace and place, as they shall finde iust cause."
That part of the ground which lay to the south of the almshouses was sublet by the Vestry to Sir Gregory Fenner, (fn. n7) who built a house there, and whose name appears in the ratebooks from 1623 to 1647. Lady Fenner remained at the house until 1655, when she was succeeded by Sir George Penruddock, who stayed until 1661. On 12th February, 1666–7, the Dean and Chapter granted to Francis Smith a lease (fn. n8) of "all that greate Messuage, Mansion house or Tenement heretofore erected … by Sr Gregory Fenner Knt deceased, abutting uppon the streete leading from Chareing crosse to Sr Phillip Warwicks house and the Mannor house of St. James's on the south parte, and abutting as well uppon the Almeshouses and other Tenemts adioyning there as uppon … the Pall Mall on the north parte." The house was subsequently pulled down, and in 1713 the site was occupied by four houses, with a 65-feet frontage in Warwick (now Warwick House) Street. (fn. n9)
The remainder of the ground (to the east of the almshouses) was let by the Vestry to various tenants, (fn. n10) and the rents applied to the use of the poor. In 1659 these rents (after an abatement of one-fifth had been made) produced nearly £96 a year. (fn. n11) The Dean and Chapter had renewed the Vestry's lease in 1628 (fn. n12) for 40 years, but in August, 1666, granted a lease to Richard Whittle of one of the Vestry's houses. (fn. n13) This indication of policy alarmed the Vestry, who on 22nd October took into consideration (fn. n14) "how to prevent ye letting of Leases by ye D: & Chaptr to straungers over ye heads of the old tennts yt built the houses by ye Almse houses." In the course of 1667, however, further leases were granted, (fn. n15) and on 15th September 1668, the question of the "bad usage of or poore by the Deane & Chapter … Concerning their takeing away all ye Rents of the houses neere unto ye Almshouses, being 96li per annum" was again discussed, and it was resolved that a petition to the King should be prepared. (fn. n16) Nevertheless the Dean and Chapter prevailed. Henceforth all the houses lying to the east of the almshouses were subject to leases granted direct by them, and the new lease (fn. n17) granted to the Vestry on 13th November, 1683, comprised only "those their buildings … commonly called the Almeshouses and the Round house," with a frontage to Cockspur Street of 83 feet 10 inches. The lease contained a provision that "for as much as parte of the said demised premisses being now used as a Round house hath, by reason of the leud people therein putt, and in time of Contagion by reason of the disseased people therein bestowed, greately annoyed and preiudiced the neare Neighbours being Tenants and undertenants of the said Deane and Chapter," the Vestry should "within the space of one yeare … cause the said Round house or prison with the Stocks and whipping post there to be removed from the place where they now stand, and to bee placed in some other place, att such convenient distance That the said Neighbours being Tenants of the said Deane and Chapter … may not thereby bee annoyed." Not only was this done, but the almspeople also were removed (fn. n18) and the almshouses let to William Powell "to be built into Tenemts." Powell erected three houses (Nos. 13–15, Cockspur Street) on the site. The westernmost, at the corner of Pall Mall and Cockspur Street, was acquired in 1825 by H.M. Commissioners of Woods and Forests for the improvement of the street, and rebuilt after the widening had been effected. The freehold of Nos. 14 and 15 was purchased by the trustees of the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Almshouse and Pension Charity from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1871. (fn. n19)