Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1914.
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XXXII.—GREAT QUEEN STREET (General.)
The eastern part of Great Queen Street was formed upon Purse Field, but the western and larger portion, together with Wild Street and Kemble Street, occupies the site of the field known in Elizabethan times as Aldwych Close. The boundaries of this close, which had a reputed area of eight acres, were in the year 1567 described (fn. 1) as "the close nowe the quenes majesties called Dalcona Close (fn. 2) on the easte parte, … the lane leading frome the Strond towardes the towne of Saynt Gyles aforesaid of the west parte, … the close of Sir Willm. Hollys and the gardyn belonginge to Drurye House of the southe parte, and the close nowe the Quenes Majesties called the Rosefelde on the north parte." Of these boundaries the northern is represented by the line dividing the houses on the south side of Parker Street from those on the north side of Great Queen Street, (fn. 3) and the eastern by the line of the court between Nos. 6 and 7, Great Queen Street, continued to meet Sardinia Place, (fn. 4) while the southern corresponds with the old parish boundary.
Aldwych Close was included in that part of the property of the Hospital of St. Giles which eventually came into the hands of Lord Mountjoy, through his wife, Katherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Legh. (fn. 5) On 20th January, 1566–7, it was purchased of the Mountjoys by Richard Holford, who was at the time actually in occupation of the field. (fn. 1) Holford died on 12th January, 1569–70, leaving the property to his son Henry, then aged 20, (fn. 6) during whose ownership the field began to be cut up for building. In 1600 only two houses were in existence on the close. (fn. 7) At about this time Holford began to mark out the close and let portions on lease for building. There is no complete record of these leases, but the largest transaction of the kind was effected on 28th April, 1607, when Holford granted to Walter Burton, who has already been mentioned in connection with the development of Rose Field, a lease, for 51 years from the previous Christmas, of "that peece or parcell of grounde latlie taken out of the north side of the close of the said Henry Holford called Oldwych Close … as the same ys severed and divided ffrom the residue of the same close with a pale latelie erected, and all that mesuage or tenemente latelie erected uppon a parte of the said peece or parcell off ground by one Henry Seagood, and nowe in the occupacion of the said Henry Seagood, and alsoe twoe other mesuages or teñts with the gardens, backsides, and garden plottes to the same adioyninge or belongeinge in the tenure or occupacion of Humfrey Grey or his assignees scituate on the west parte of Oldwych Close aforesaid, and lately alsoe enclosed out of the said close. … And alsoe all that other peece or parcell of ground which was then agreed and staked out to be enclosed of and from the west side of the said close … next adioyninge unto Drewrie Lane. … By the name of three mesuages and three acres of pasture with the appurtenances." (fn. 8)
The three messuages in question can easily be identified. Henry Seagood's house occupied the site of Nos. 36–37, Great Queen Street, (fn. 9) and the houses of Humphrey Grey (which no doubt were the two houses in existence in 1600) are identified later (fn. 10) as The White Horse, in Drury Lane, opposite Long Acre, and another house (divided between 1635 and 1658 into two houses) adjoining it on the north. The "three acres of pasture" was the remaining portion of the triangular piece of ground now bounded by Drury Lane, Wild Street and Kemble Street. (fn. 11)
From the foregoing it will be evident that by the year 1607 there were the merest beginnings of building on the Drury Lane frontage of the close. The first two streets to be formed were those now known as Kemble Street and Great Queen Street, the former being probably an old public way leading across Aldwych Close and Purse Field to Holborn, the route of which was afterwards marked by the archway on the west side of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the latter being in its origin a royal private way through the fields, (fn. 12) used as the route to Theobalds, in Hertfordshire, James I.'s favourite residence. Kingsgate Street (formerly existing nearly opposite the northern termination of Kingsway), where there were two gates (fn. 13) into the fields on either side of Holborn (see Plate 2), and Theobald's Road mark the continuation of the royal way. There was also at first probably a gate (fn. 14) at the street's western entrance, (fn. 15) which was very narrow, and the first mention we have of the street seems to refer to this. In a petition to the Earl of Salisbury, undated, but evidently belonging to the period 1605–1612, (fn. 16) the "inhabitantes of the dwellinges at the newe gate neere Drewry Lane" state that they have petitioned the Queen (obviously Anne of Denmark, the consort of James I.) "to gyve a name unto that place," and have been referred to him; they therefore request him to give it a name on her behalf.
It seems reasonable to conclude that it was as the result of this application that the name "Queen Street" (or "Queen's Street") (fn. 17) was given to the thoroughfare. Blott, indeed, states this as a fact, but no entry in confirmation has been found in the Domestic State Papers. Assuming, therefore, that the petition above mentioned had reference to this street, and having regard to the probability, amounting to practical certainty, that the plan of Purse Field reproduced in Plate 2 dates from 1609, (fn. 18) it follows that the title "Queen Street" must have been given during the period 1605–1609. The name "Great Queen Street" used to distinguish it from "Little Queen Street" does not seem to have been in common use until about 1670. (fn. 19)
The earliest buildings erected in Great Queen Street were, contrary to the usual statements made in the matter, (fn. 20) on the north side of the street. The dates at which this took place cannot, unfortunately, be determined with certainty. Clanricarde House was in existence in 1604. (fn. 21) Henry Seagood's house (occupying the site of Nos. 36–37) was built before April, 1607. (fn. 22) The site of Nos. 38–45, which in 1597 contained only a forge, was built on by May, 1612. (fn. 23) The site of Nos. 7–13 was leased for building purposes to Thomas Burton on 7th May, 1611. These facts, fragmentary though they are, seem to point to the north side of the street, so far as it was situated in Aldwych Close, being built during the period 1603–1612. (fn. 24) In this connection it is interesting to note the statement made, on unknown authority, by Dobie, (fn. 25) that the house on the south side of the street in which Lord Herbert of Cherbury died (fn. 26) was "one of the fifteen built in the third year of James I. (1603)." The third year of James I. was actually 1605–6, but it is quite certain that no houses were built on the south side of Great Queen Street for over thirty years afterwards. The date seems, however, to fit in well with the facts concerning the north side of the street.