Survey of London: Volume 20, St Martin-in-The-Fields, Pt III: Trafalgar Square and Neighbourhood. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1940.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
The parish boundary of St. Martin-in-the-Fields has undergone several alterations in the course of its history. The first of which we have any knowledge was carried out by Henry VIII, who wrought far-reaching changes in the parish. He was probably responsible for the alteration by which the Mews became used as stabling for horses. Between 1530 and 1536 he bought up nearly all the ground in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and the northern part of the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, and proceeded to build St. James's Palace on the site of the leper house of St. James, to transform York Place, the former residence of Wolsey, into the royal palace of Whitehall, and to lay out St. James's Park on ground much of which had previously been arable land belonging to the Abbey of Westminster and St. James's Hospital. Up to this time the parish of St. Margaret had extended northward to Charing Cross and beyond, and eastward along the Strand to Ivy Bridge. In order to avoid the spread of infection to the Court by the passage of corpses through Whitehall Palace (which extended on both sides of the roadway) to the church of St. Margaret, Henry VIII ordered (fn. 1) that the parish boundary should be altered so that all that part of the parish of St. Margaret which lay north and east of Whitehall should be included in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It is possible that it was the increase in the number of parishioners resulting from this change which was the cause of the substantial alterations carried out to the church of St. Martin in the later years of the regin of Henry VIII. In 1645 the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden, was carved out leaving a fringe of St. Martin's parish round its north, east and south sides. The parish of St. Anne, Soho, was constituted in 1678 and that of St. James's, Westminster, in 1685, leaving the somewhat awkwardly shaped area which remained the civil parish of St. Martinin-the-Fields until its abolition by the Westminster City (General Powers) Act, 1921.
The village of Charing owed its existence to its position at the junction of the Strand, the road to the City, with the road to Westminster Abbey and Palace and, probably, with a road to the west. Until the reign of Henry VIII it consisted only of a very small church with a few houses clustered round it. At least two of the inns which formerly stood at the bottom of St. Martin's Lane dated from mediaeval times. The rest of the parish consisted of open fields which were mainly the property of religious houses.
The property bought by Henry VIII north of Charing Cross, and not required for the royal palaces was re-let and in most cases re-sold by the king and his successors. The vague terms in which these properties were described and the repetition in later deeds of earlier descriptions long after they had become entirely anachronistic, often resulted in confusion as to the actual ownership of specific pieces of ground. The law-suit waged circa 1585 concerning Geldings Close and described by C. L. Kingsford in his Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Soho provides a good example of this. The actual property concerned lies outside the scope of the present volume but part of the plan drawn in connection with the suit is reproduced here since it is of value in showing the disposition of the ground in the neighbourhood of the Mews temp. Queen Elizabeth. The confusion in the Ministers' Accounts concerning the "3 acres near the Mews" owned by John Golightly is referred to in Chapter 13, but perhaps the most complicated instance is that of St. Martin's Field.
St. Martin's Field was, prior to the reign of Henry VIII, a large common field stretching from the Mews up to St. Giles-in-the-Fields and from Hedge Lane (now Whitcomb Street) to St. Martin's Lane. It was divided among several owners, St. Giles' Hospital (Burton Lazar Lands (fn. n1) ), Lord Beaumont, the Abbey of Abingdon and Westminster Abbey (? 3 acres), the Mercers' Company (2 acres), the Monastery of Vale Royal in Cheshire (5 acres) and Sir John Digby (Swan Close). These lands were sub-let to various tenants but the parish possessed lammas rights over them and the whole field was supposed to lie open after harvest.
The Burton Lazar land lay north of the present parish boundary. Two acres of it were granted by Henry VIII to William Wilkinson and subsequently became the Military Garden, the site of Lord Gerrard's house.
Beaumont's lands were scattered in different parts of Westminster. In 1538, being then in the hands of the king by the death of the Countess of Oxford, the late wife of William, Viscount Beaumont, Beaumont's lands were leased to William Jenyns. (fn. 2) In subsequent grants only one acre of pasture in St. Martin's Field was referred to as Beaumont's land, but three acres adjoining it, which had belonged to the Abbey of Westminster and previously, in all probability, to the Abbey of Abingdon, were always granted with it. In 1630 (fn. n2) these four acres became the property of Robert, Earl of Leicester, and formed the site of Leicester House and garden and the western part of Leicester Square.
In 1536 the Abbot and Convent of Vale Royal granted to Hugh Lee (fn. 9) "fyve acres of medow and pasture … in … St. Martyns feeld … two acres parcell of the said fyve acres lying … between the landys belonging to the house of Burton Lazer on the Est part and the lands of John Stow on the West part and St. Martin's Lane on the South part and Colmanhedge lane on the North part, and one half acre of the residue of the said fyve acres lyeth between the lands of the said John Stow on the Est part and Colmanhedge lane towards the Mewes on the west part and the lands late belonging to the Abbot of Abington on the North Part and the lands in the holding … of John Lawrence on the South part and twoe acres and an halfe residue of the said fyve acres lyen between the lands now in the holding of the said John Stow on the Est part and Colmanhedge lane towards the Mewes on the West part and the lands now in the occupacion of the said John Lawrence on the North part and the lands now in the occupacion of the said John Stow on the South part." These boundaries are incomprehensible even allowing for the fact that the compass directions had become misplaced in the description of the first parcel of ground. We know from later descriptions that the Earl of Leicester's ground adjoined the Blue Mews on the south and the Military Garden on the north and there does not therefore appear to be any space for the Vale Royal five acres to abut on Colmanhedge Lane (i.e. Whitcomb Street) on the west.
The property came into the king's hands at the dissolution of the monastery. In 1572 it was reported, (fn. 10) under the same description as in 1536, as a "concealed land" and a lease (fn. 11) of it for 21 years was, in 1583, granted to Ann Farrant, who sold (fn. 12) it to Robert Wood of Islington. In 1589–90 it was included in a large grant of land to John Wells and Henry Best, (fn. 13) who promptly disposed (fn. 14) of it to Roger Wood, sergeant-at-arms, son of the Robert Wood who held the leasehold interest. Roger Wood sold the property to Robert Carr of Hillingdon whose son, Sir Edward Carr, left it to his nephew, also named Sir Edward Carr. In 1634 Sir Edward Carr the younger with Jane his wife and Sir Robert Wood of Islington sold (fn. 15) the Vale Royal property, under the description of the corner close of St. Martin's Field containing four acres, to the Earl of Newport and it became the garden of Newport House. The Wood family had retained an interest in the property owing to the marriage of Roger, Sir Robert's father, with Rose, a daughter of Robert Carr. Sir Edward Carr the elder and his sister Elizabeth must be the Edward and Elizabeth Carr shown on the plan of 1609, reproduced here, as the occupants of the ground north of Swan Close. (fn. n3)
In a suit heard in the Court of Augmentations temp. Henry VIII (fn. 16) it was stated that John Stow held the two and a half acre parcel of Vale Royal land. John Stow also held the Swan (fn. n4) and its appurtenances and two acres of land thereto belonging granted to him by John Digby. Deeds relating to Swan Close prior to its acquisition by the Earl of Salisbury do not suggest that it exceeded two acres in extent but in the plan of it preserved at Hatfield and reproduced here it is shown in two parts each of which contained more than two acres, while adjoining it and granted with it was a close of over three acres. It is therefore possible that Stow's portion of the Vale Royal property became permanently attached to Swan Close.
Salisbury bought the northern part of Swan Close and the close containing 3 acres 3 roods 35 perches adjoining it from John Kyme and William Minterne in 1609–10. (fn. 17) The descent of the property to them can be clearly traced in the records. (fn. n5) The southern part of Swan Close, which was stated to have been previously in the tenure of Richard Darloo (fn. n6), Salisbury bought from Sir Henry Maynard in 1608–9. (fn. 17) Maynard appears to have acquired some rights over Swan Close but attempts to determine the nature of those rights have proved unsuccessful. Salisbury obtained effective possession of the five acres of Swan Close (stretching from Hemming's Row on the north side of the new churchyard, shown on the plan, to Newport Street). This property he and his successors developed. (fn. n7) The area between Bear Street and Newport Street was developed by the Salisburys circa 1670–180, Cranborne Street being named after Viscount Cranbourne. This area roughly corresponds in position and shape with that of the Close shown south of Scavengers Close on the Hatfield plan, though it is considerably smaller. In 1629 William, Lord Maynard, son of Sir Henry Maynard, granted a lease of ground described as "conteyninge by estimacion three acres … commonlie called … Swan Close lyinge … behind the Muse" to William Ashton and in 1640 he sold it to the Earl of Northumberland. It was then described as abutting on "ground conteyning four acres late in the occupacion of Richard Kiffin towards the west and upon a piece of ground of … William Earle of Salisbury towards the north and upon a ditch without the walls of the gardens belonging to the messuages … of the said Earle of Salisbury in St. Martin's Lane towards the East." This ground ultimately came into the possession of the Earl of Leicester and formed the site of part of Leicester Square and of Green Street, Bear Street, Castle Street, etc. The earlier history of this ground has not been discovered.
After the Restoration building proceeded rapidly over the whole district, one of the biggest changes being, perhaps, the removal of the pall mall alley southward into St. James's Park and the formation of the present street called Pall Mall. There was during the eighteenth century a con siderable deterioration in the character of most of the area dealt with in this volume. By the beginning of the nineteenth century "Porridge Island" south of St. Martin's Church had gained an evil reputation and the buildings in the neighbourhood of the Mews, in Suffolk Street, Whitcomb Street, etc., were badly in need of reconstruction. Rebuilding would probably have been carried out piecemeal had it not been for the foresight of John Nash and other architects associated with him; to them we owe the vigorous piece of town-planning which produced Regent Street and Waterloo Place, Carlton Gardens and Carlton House Terrace, Suffolk Street, Pall Mall East and Trafalgar Square.