Survey of London: Volume 22, Bankside (The Parishes of St. Saviour and Christchurch Southwark). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1950.
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CHAPTER 2: NEWCOMEN STREET
Newcomen Street forms the southern boundary of St. Saviour's parish on the east side of Borough High Street. The street still retains its narrow 18th century contours and kerbside posts. Like many of the streets and alleys of Southwark it developed from an inn yard, the yard of the Axe, later the Axe and Bottle.
The Axe is not shown on the map of 1542 (Plate 8) but it is mentioned in the Court Leet minutes of the manor of Southwark in 1560. The first extant Token Book (circa 1575) contains the entry "Alle thes ffowloynge wtin the Axe" and a list of fifteen names beginning with that of Humffry Water (2 tokens), and ending with that of John Payne (8 tokens).
In the 17th century, the whole of Axe Yard, now Newcomen Street, came into the hands of two charities, John Marshall's and Mrs. Newcomen's and, with some minor exceptions, have remained in their possession until the present day.
John Marshall's Charity
John Marshall, gentleman, the founder of Christ Church (see p. 101), lived in Axe Yard during the last few years of his life. His wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Taylor, Doctor of Physic, died before him, (fn. 55) leaving no children, and at Marshall's death in 1631, the bulk of his property, including his moiety of Axe Yard, passed to trustees for various charities. In his will he desired his trustees to "finish and perfect the building and furnishing of the house in Axe-yard, wherein he then dwelt" and to see that "the pumps, jacks, cisterns and bedsteads, then in and belonging to the said house" should go with it as heirlooms. The house was to be let to the lecturer of St. Saviour's for twenty-one years, if he so desired, and the rent applied towards providing a residence for the minister of the new church (Christ Church). (fn. 56) Marshall's property in Axe Yard comprised the sites of Nos. 6–23 and 46–61 (formerly 2–9, 14–24, 46–56 and 61–65) Newcomen Street, all of which still remain in the hands of the trustees of his charity.
Mrs. Newcomen's Charity
During the reign of Elizabeth, part of Axe Yard was the property of the Emerson family. William Emerson, senior, died in 1575. His monument in Southwark Cathedral (Plate 6) has the succinct epitaph, "he lived and died an honest man." His son, Thomas (d. 1595), founded one of the parish charities and gave his name to Emerson Street. Thomas's son, Henry, sold his property in Axe Yard to William Richardson, (fn. 57) who lived there with his wife, Grace, until his death in 1630. In a list of owners and lessees of divided tenements in Axe Yard, dated January, 1636/7, Mrs. Grace Richardson is stated to be "cheife Landlady of . . . 23 poore tenemts" and John White, and other feoffees of John Marshall . . . Landlordes of aboute 24 tenemts more." (fn. 58)
Mrs. Newcomen, widow of Jonathan Newcomen, mercer, died in 1675, and was buried in St. Saviour's. By her will, dated 12th December, 1664, she left her property in the parish of St. Saviour's upon trust for "the clothing of poor boys and girls with a suit of linen and woollen once a year, whereof two-thirds . . . [were to] be out of the Borough side, and the other third . . . out of the Clink Liberty . . . and for . . . teaching them to read and write and cast accounts, and for . . . putting forth boys apprentice at 5l a piece, at their age of 14 years." Her property consisted of three messuages in Borough High Street valued at £24 a year, a messuage near Axe Yard in the tenure of Sarah Marson, rented at £7 a year, the house called the Bottle then divided into three tenements, rented at £10 a year, and a tenement in Axe Yard in the tenure of George Jennings, rented at £7 a year. The bequest was subject to the condition that the rents and profits thereof should be paid to her nephew, Thomas Lant, and to his eldest son (if he had one) for their lives, but should subsequently be vested in the parish. (fn. 56) Sir Edward Bromfield was appointed guardian to Thomas Lant and his name is associated with Lant's in several leases of the property.
A rebuilding lease of the Axe and Bottle was granted to George Bannister in 1677, (fn. 59) from which it appears that the old building lay on either side of the entrance to the yard, the second storey being over the gateway. The other houses in the Newcomen gift were rebuilt in the 1680's in brick, William Gray, carpenter, and Joseph Arthur, of Bermondsey, being responsible for the erection of most of them. An order in the Vestry Minutes in 1704 for the rebuilding one storey higher of "the house blowne downe by the late Storme in Ax and Bottle Yard" suggests that the buildings were very flimsy.
In 1736, another speculative builder in the person of William Sone, carpenter, came along. He obtained a lease (fn. 59) from the Wardens of all the Newcomen property in Axe and Bottle Yard for seventy-one years, on condition that he covenanted to build within ten years "a Street consisting of Twenty good brick Houses" expending at least £100 on each house, the street to be 26 feet wide and "well and sufficiently paved." Sone did not keep to his bargain, for, in 1746, the Vestry Minutes state that he had built only fifteen houses on which he had expended £1,200 and that he had allowed the other houses demised to him to fall into "great decay" or to tumble down altogether. In spite of this, Sone applied for a new lease from the wardens in 1759, giving as a reason that he wished to make a continuation of Axe and Bottle Yard through to Snow's Fields. He obtained a lease of all the Marshall ground in the yard in that year, together with 3½ acres of ground in St. George's Fields on condition that he laid out £2,000 in repairs and buildings. (fn. 56) No. 65 was among the houses rebuilt at this date and into it was incorporated the royal coat of arms in stone removed from the gateway at the southern end of London Bridge. The arms probably dated from 1728 when a new gateway was built to replace the one destroyed by fire in 1725. (fn. 60) The arms are those used by George II during the early years of his reign, though the inscription has been altered to "George III." They were reerected on No. 65, the King's Arms, when it was rebuilt. A modern stone panel with the wording "King's Arms, 1890" has been added. A view of the old house and a photograph of the coat of arms are reproduced on Plate 26.
Some time before 1750, the house at the entrance to Axe and Bottle Yard was renamed the Sun and this fact, together with the greater importance of the road after it was made a thoroughfare to Snow's Fields, and the presence of the royal arms on No. 65, probably account for its new name of King Street, which was adopted in 1774. (fn. 32) It was renamed Newcomen Street in 1879. (fn. 61)
Nos. 66–69 (formerly 4–1) on the south side of the street are Newcomen property and bear the Mrs. Newcomen mark. No. 67 has a Royal Insurance fire mark. They were built circa 1830. (No. 69, formerly 1, was described as a "newly erected brick built messuage" in 1831.) They are three-storey buildings in yellow stock brickwork and have early 19th century shop fronts. They have been in use for commercial purposes ever since they were built. Nos. 67 and 68 were for many years in the mid-19th century in the occupation of George Mansell as a printing works. Apart from Nos. 65–69, the houses at the Southwark end of the south side of the street have been demolished as a result of enemy action, though the shells of Nos. 46–48 (built in the late 18th century) survived until 1948. They were of two storeys in yellow stock brickwork and had a mansard roof with dormer windows behind the front parapet. A brick string course continued across the front above the first floor windows. No. 48 had a good staircase of contemporary date with solid strings, moulded handrail and spiral-turned balusters.