Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1914.
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XXVIII–XXIX. Nos. 181 and 172, HIGH HOLBORN (Demolished).
General description and date of structure.
The land at the eastern corner of Drury Lane and High Holborn may perhaps be, either wholly or in part, identified with certain land held of the Hospital of St. Giles by William Christmas in the reign of Henry III. "with the houses and appurtenances thereon, situate at the Cross by Aldewych." (fn. 1) Aldewych was Drury Lane, (fn. 2) and the Cross by Aldewych would almost certainly be situated at the junction of the two roads. The indentification of the western corner as the site of Christmas's land seems to be excluded by the fact that this was occupied by property of John de Cruce, (fn. 3) who was certainly a contemporary of William Christmas. (fn. 4) It is possible that the land in question was situated on the north side of Broad Street, but as it is known that Christmas owned land on the south side of the way, some of which may even possibly be the actual land referred to, the identification suggested above seems reasonable. Whether in Christmas's time there was at this spot an inn, the forerunner of the later White Hart, is unknown. (fn. 5) Blott's suggestion that the sign of the White Hart was adopted in honour of Richard II., whose badge it was, even if correct, does not necessitate the assumption that no inn was there before that king's reign (1377–1399). The sign might possibly have been changed in Richard's honour.
The first mention of The White Hart does not, however, occur until a century and a half later. In 1537 Henry VIII. effected an exchange of property with the Master of Burton Lazars, as a result of which there passed into the royal hands "one messuage called The Whyte Harte, and eighteen acres of pasture [Purse Field] to the same messuage belonging." (fn. 6) In 1524 "Katherine Smyth alias Katherine Clerke" was living in The White Hart. (fn. 7) She was apparently succeeded as tenant by William Hosyer, (fn. 8) but there is no evidence whether he actually resided in the inn. (fn. 9) In 1567 the occupant of the inn is said to be Matthew Buck, and in 1582 it was Richard Cockshott. (fn. 10) In 1623 Hugh Jones is mentioned as barber and victualler, at Holborn end, next Drury Lane. (fn. 11) The survey of Crown Lands taken in 1650 describes the premises as follows:—
"All that inn, messuage or tenement commonly called … The White Harte scituate … in St. Gyles in the feildes … consistinge of one small hall, one parlour and one kitchen, one larder and a seller underneath the same, and above stayres in the same range, and over the gatehouse, 9 chambers. Alsoe over against the said halle and parlour is now settinge upp one bricke buildinge consistinge of 6 roomes, alsoe one stable strongly built with brick and fflemish walle, contayninge 44 feete in length and 37 feete in breadth, lofted over and covered with Dutch tyle; and two other stables next adjoyninge, built as aforesaid, and 2 tenements or dwelling houses over the same. Alsoe one large yard contayninge 110 feete in length and in breadth 46 feete. Now in the occupation of one Anthony Ives, and is worth per annum £38.
"All yt tenement adjoyninge to ye north side of the abovesaid house, being a corner shopp, consisting of one seller and a faire shopp over the same; alsoe one kitchin, and above stayres two chambers. Nowe in the occupation of Richard Raynbowe, a grocer, and is worth per annum £12."
It would seem that at the time of the transfer of The White Hart to Henry VIII. there were no buildings to the east of the inn. The fact that no such premises are mentioned in connection with the exchange is not, indeed, conclusive, and it is more to the point to observe that no mention of the buildings is contained in any of the grants of the property, during the 16th century, which have been examined. Moreover, on 13th November, 1592, a certificate was returned by the Commission for Incroached Lands, etc., (fn. 12) to the effect that four cottages, with appurtenances, on the south side of the highway leading from St. Giles towards Holborn, opposite certain small cottages built on the Pale Pingle, (fn. 13) were possessed without any grant, state or demise from the sovereign. Plate 2 shows the cottages in question, occupying the site of the buildings to the east of The White Hart.
It may be taken therefore that these four cottages were the earliest buildings on the site, and that they were erected probably not long before 1592, when their existence was first officially noticed.
"All that range of buildinge adjoyninge to thaforesaid inn called The White Hart, abuttinge on the high way on the north, with two tenements on the south side of The White Hart, lyenge uppon the way leadinge into Drury Lane, all which said buildings are now divided into xxj severall habitacions in the occupation of severall tenants, and are worth per annum £24."
The whole property, including The White Hart, the courtyards and gardens, is said to "contayne in length from Drury Lane downe to the first [tenement] 96 feete, and in breadth 76 feete; the other length backward from the stables to the lower side of the garden 125 feete and 93 feete in breadth, bounded with the highway leadinge from St. Gyles into Holburne on the north and Drury Lane on the west." The entire site therefore had a length of 221 feet, and a width of 76 feet along Drury Lane, increasing to 93 feet behind the inn. Allowing for the subsequent widening of High Holborn at this point, it is clear that the area is represented at the present day by the sites of the houses from the corner as far as and including No. 181, High Holborn, while the southern boundary runs to the north of Nos. 190–191, Drury Lane, then turns to the south a little beyond the eastern boundary of those premises, and thence runs in a slightly curved line as far as the eastern boundary of No. 181, High Holborn. (fn. 14)
A reference to the map in Strype's edition of Stow (Plate 5) will show that in the 18th century both High Holborn and Drury Lane were very narrow at this spot. Moreover, in course of time, the large courtyard of the inn became used as a public way, and grew crowded with small tenements. In 1807 the leases of the property expired, and an arrangement was come to between the Vestry of St. Giles and the Crown, by which the latter and its lessees gave up sufficient land to enable the frontage line both to High Holborn and Drury Lane to be amended, with the result that the west end of the former and the north end of the latter were widened by 15 feet and 7 feet respectively. On its part the Vestry consented to the stopping up of White Hart yard and the building thereon of the Crown lessess' new premises. (fn. 15)
Plate 9 shows the distinctive early 19th-century shop front, which was attached to No. 181. The design embodied a large, slightly bowed window with segmental head, flanked by two doorways. The window was fitted with small panes of glass, having bars forming interlacing segmental panes above the transom. The doors were of quiet and refined design, with excellently treated side posts, having brackets, carved with acanthus ornament, supporting the entablature. The whole exhibits a distinctly Greek feeling.
Another interesting early 19th-century shop front existed at No. 172, and is illustrated on Plate 10. The door to the house and that to the shop adjoined one another in this case, and were slightly recessed. The rounded angles to the window added interest to the design. The general treatment, though simple, possessed much distinction.