St Giles-in-the-Fields

Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'St Giles-in-the-Fields', in Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878) pp. 197-218. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section



"On Newgate steps Jack Chance was found,
And bred up near St. Giles's Pound."—Old Song.

St. Giles, the Patron Saint of Lepers—The Lepers' Hospital founded here—The Village of St. Giles in the Time of the Plantagenets, Tudors, and Stuarts—Executions at St. Giles's—The "Half-way House" on the Road to Tyburn—The Cage and the Pound—St. Giles's Church—Church Lane—Monmouth Court and the Catnatch Press—The Seven Dials—Shaved by a Woman—The Prince and the Beggars.

St. Giles, the patron saint of this and of so many other outlying parishes in English towns and cities, is said, by Alban Butler in his "Lives of the Saints," to have been of noble birth at Athens. He flourished in the seventh and eighth centuries, and combined with his piety a marked love of solitude. Quitting his own country he found a retreat in France, and passed many years of his life in the recesses of a forest in the neighbourhood of Nismes. It is said that the French king and a troop of hunters pursued a hind, which fled for protection to the saint. An arrow, intended for the hind, wounded the saint, who, however, continued his devotions, and refused all recompense for the injury done to his body. The hind, it appeared, had long nourished him with its milk, and had strayed into danger in one of the glades. This incident made him a great favourite with the king, but nothing could induce him to quit his forest for the atmosphere of a court. Towards the end of his life, however, he so far abandoned his solitude as to admit several disciples and found a monastery, which afterwards became a Benedictine abbey. The saint is commemorated in the Martyrologies of St. Bede and others, and St. Giles and the hind have often afforded a subject for the artist's pencil. St. Giles is the patron saint of lepers, and is styled in the calendar of the Roman Church "Abbot and Confessor."

It is very doubtful whether this manor and village, of which we now come to treat, was dedicated to St. Giles before the erection of the lepers' hospital by Queen Matilda, for there is no mention of it by any such name in "Domesday Book." The hospital consisted of a house or principal mansion, with an oratory and offices, but the "oratory" appears to have been only a chapel, added on to the village church. "Private charity, however," says Newton, "augmented it in after times, and the brotherhood seem to have become subsequently possessed of other lands, as the Spital croft, consisting of sixteen acres, lying on the north side of the highway, opposite the great gate of the hospital, and also two estates called Newlands and Lelane, the exact situations of which, though probably contiguous, we are unable to point out."

According to existing records, the earliest notice of this district tells us that a hospital for lepers was founded here, about the year 1118, by Queen Matilda, the good wife of Henry I., and that it was attached as a "cell," or subordinate house, to a larger institution at Burton Lazars, in Leicestershire, then recently founded. Grants of royalty were confirmed by a bull of Pope Alexander VI. (1240). The hospital here stood on land belonging to the Crown, and not very far from the present parish church. The grounds were enclosed with a wall, and formed almost a triangle, embracing between seven and eight acres. On the north it was bounded by High Street, on the west by Crown Street, and on the east by Dudley (formerly Monmouth) Street. The conventual buildings do not appear to have been of any great size, and, so far as we know, there is no print of their extent. The foundation, however, as we happen to know, was for "forty lepers, one clerk, and one messenger, besides matrons, the master, and other members of the establishment." Mr. Newton tells us that the grant from the Crown expressly stipulated that the hospital should be built "on the spot where 'John, of good memory,' was chaplain;" and hence he argues that the village church formed part of the grant along with the ancient manor.

Carew, in his "Survey of Cornwall," says that leprosy was common in the far west in his own day (James I.), and attributes it to the "disorderly eating of sea-fish newly taken, and principally the livers of them, not well prepared, soused, pickled, or condited." St. James's, St. Giles's, and Burton Lazars, in Leicestershire, were the three oldest houses for lepers in the kingdom.

At the Reformation St. Giles's Hospital was dissolved, and granted by Henry VIII. to John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, whom the king graciously allowed to alienate it to John or Wymond Carew, in 1547. Belonging to the hospital was a Grange at Edmonton (Edelmston). At the time of this alienation (1547) Dr. Andrew Borde, "the first of Merry Andrews," was the tenant of a messuage, with an orchard and garden, adjoining the said dissolved hospital. Mr. Parton identifies this with the site of the residence afterwards given to the rector by the Duchess of Dudley, and now known as Dudley Court. The hospital was endowed with lands at Feltham and Isleworth, and by an annual rent from St. Clement's parish. Lord Lisle fitted up the chief part of the building, and lived here two years. Mr. Parton publishes the list of masters and wardens of the hospital, with accounts, &c. Cotterell Garden, in St. Giles's parish, was confirmed to the hospital in 1186.

The hospital chapel and the parish church of St. Giles would appear to have been two distinct structures under a single roof, much like the arrangement still to be seen in St. Helen's Church, Bishopsgate. Before the high altar in the chapel burnt St. Giles's light. There was a second altar and chapel of St. Michael.

SEVEN DIALS. (From an Original Sketch.)

The chief part of the village of St. Giles, in the days of our Plantagenet kings, was composed of houses standing on the north of the highway which led westward from Holborn to Tyburn, and whose gardens stretched behind them to St. Blemund's Dyke. In Ralph Aggas' map it figures as a small village, or rather a small group of cottages, with their respective garden-plots nestling around the walls of the hospital. In 1541 an Act of Parliament was passed, ordering the "western road" of London, from "Holborne Bars" to St. Giles-inthe-Fields, to be paved, "as far as there was any habitation of both sides of the street." The village of St. Giles had its ancient stone cross, which seems to have stood near what is now the north end of Endell Street.

In 1413 there was in London a conspiracy of the sect called the Lollards. They met in the fields adjoining St. Giles's Hospital, headed by Sir John Oldcastle, who afterwards was executed on the spot, being hung in chains over a slow fire.

In the days of Elizabeth it was not so easy either for lepers or for ordinary people to find their way from St. Giles's to St. James's, as there were no continuous rows of houses in that south-west direction. But at the point where Tottenham Court Road now intersects Oxford Street, there was a notice, at the top of a narrow lane running across where is now Soho, "The Road to Reading." It led, however, by a somewhat singular bend, no further than the top of the Haymarket and a narrow lane parallel to it, which bore the rural name of Hedge Lane, not far from the corner of Leicester Fields.

The first era of building began a little before 1600, at which date Holborn and St. Giles's were nearly connected together. On the wall of the hospital being pulled down, houses began to be built on the east, west, and south sides of the church, and on both sides of St. Giles's Street new dwellings multiplied. Ten years later saw the commencement of Great Queen Street, and a continuation of the houses down both sides of Drury Lane. And so great was the increase that in 1623 no less than 897 houses were rated. Indeed, in Elizabeth's time, the parish was very largely built on, and distinguished by the rank of its inhabitants. (Both Elizabeth and James, it will be remembered, forbade building in the suburbs.) At the end of Charles II.'s reign there were more than 2,000; in Anne's, more than 3,000; in 1812, nearly 5,000 houses rated in the parish books.


A second great era of building came in with the Restoration. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, large numbers of poor French took up their quarters about this part.

In this parish, unfortunately, the earlier volumes of the rate-books have perished, so that it is not possible to obtain such accurate information as to its inhabitants in the Tudor and Stuart times as we find in those of St. Martin's, and of St. Paul's, Covent Garden.

Although the parish of St. Giles is reckoned, as indeed it is, a poor and third-rate neighbourhood, and its very name has passed into a by-word as the very antipodes of fashionable St. James's, still it is richer in its materials for history than many districts inhabited by a class higher in the social scale. It is observed in "Haunted London" that "the story of St. Giles's parish should properly embrace the whole records of London vagrancy."

When criminals ceased to be executed at the Elms in Smithfield, or, as some say, at a much earlier date, a gallows was set up near the northwest corner of the wall of the hospital; and it soon became a regular custom to present every malefactor, as he passed the hospital gate in the fatal cart on his way to the gallows, with a glass of ale. When the hospital was dissolved, the custom was still kept up; and there is scarcely an execution at "Tyburn Tree," recorded in the "Newgate Calendar," in which the fact is not mentioned that the culprit called at a public-house en route for a parting draught.

The memory of this last drink given to criminals on their way is still preserved by Bowl Yard or Alley, on the south side of the High Street, "over against Dyott Street, now George Street;" and Parton, in his "History of the Parish," published in 1822, makes mention of a public-house bearing the sign of "The Bowl," which stood between the end of St. Giles's, High Street, and Hog Lane.

"A like custom," writes Pennant, "obtained anciently at York, which gave rise to the saying, that the saddler of Bawtry was hanged for leaving his liquor: had he stopped, as was usual with other criminals, to drink his bowl of ale, his reprieve, which was actually on its way, would have arrived in time enough to have saved his life."

The "Bowl" would appear to have been succeeded by the "Angel," or to have had a rival in that inn. At all events, in 1873, the City Press reported that another memorial of ancient London was about to pass away, namely, the "Angel" Inn, at St. Giles's, the "half-way house" on the road to Tyburn—the house at which Jack Ketch and the criminal who was about to expiate his offence on the scaffold were wont to stop on their way to the gallows for a "last glass." Mr. W. T. Purkiss, the proprietor, however, was prevailed upon to stay the work of demolition for a time.

When Lord Cobham was executed at St. Giles's, it is said that a new gallows was put up for that special occasion. But Lord Cobham was not the only distinguished person who here paid the last penalty of the law. St. Giles's Pound is also memorable as the scene of the execution of some of the accomplices in Babington's plot against Queen Elizabeth, though Babington himself suffered at Lincoln's Inn Fields, "even in the place where they used to meet and conferre of their traytorous practices."

The Cage and the Pound originally stood close together in the middle of the High Street, but they were removed in 1656 to make room for almshouses. The Pound, too, occupied, as we learn casually, a space of thirty feet near the same site, but it was removed about the same time to the corner of Tottenham Court Road, where it stood till 1765 on the site of the isolated block of houses opposite the entrance to Messrs. Meux's Brewery.

The immediate neighbourhood of this Pound bore none of the highest characters, if we may draw any inference on the subject from the word of a popular song by Mr. Thompson, an actor a Drury Lane Theatre, which we have prefixed as motto to this chapter.

In the High Street, on the left-hand side going towards Tottenham Court Road, the late Mr. J. T Smith remembered four large and handsome house, "with grotesque masques on the key-stones above the first-floor windows." He also tells us that jut where Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Rod meet there was a large circular boundary-stone let into the pavement. "When," he adds, "the charity boys of St. Giles's parish walk the boundaries, those who have deserved flogging are whipped at this stone, in order that when they grow up they may remember the place, and be competent to give evidence should any dispute arise with the neighbouring parishes."

Mr. Smith also tells us, in his "Book for a Rainy Day," that he remembered a row of six small almshouses, surrounded by a dwarf brick wall, standing in the middle of High Street. They were pulled down about the year 1780, and rebuilt near the coal-yard at the eastern end of Drury Lane. There was formerly a vineyard here, as there was on the slope of the hill near to Hatton Garden.

It is remarkable that in almost every ancient town in England, the church of St. Giles stands either outside the walls, or, at all events, near its outlying parts, in allusion, doubtless, to the arrangements of the Israelites of old, who placed their lepers outside the camp.

St. Giles's Church stands on the south side of High Street, at the junction of Broad Street, and was erected between the years 1730 and 1734. It is a large and stately edifice, built entirely of Portland stone, and is vaulted beneath. The steeple, which rises to a height of about 160 feet, consists of a rustic pedestal, supporting a range of Doric pilasters; whilst above the clock is an octangular tower, with three-quarter Ionic columns, supporting a balustrade with vases, on which stands the spire, which is also octangular and belted. The interior of the church is bold and effective; the roof is supported by rows of Ionic pillars of Portland stone, and the semicircular-headed windows are mostly filled with coloured glass.

There was here a previous structure of red brick, consecrated by Laud, whilst Bishop of London, in 1623, and towards the building of which the poor "players of the Cockpit," so cruelly persecuted by the Puritan party, gave £20. This church was pulled down to make room for the present edifice, which was opened for worship in 1734. It had for its architect one Henry Flitcroft, the same who built the church of St. Olave, Southwark; and Mr. Peter Cunningham draws attention to the fact that it bears a close resemblance to that of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. The first church of all on this spot appears to have had a round tower, not unlike those to be seen in the small parishes in the eastern parts of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Strype gives an account of several of the monuments in the church and churchyard, but we shall notice only a few. There is, or was, near the south-west corner, one put up in 1611, by John Thornton to his wife, who died in childbed. He probably was the builder of Thornton's Alley, and that he was from the north country is more than probable from the legend round the family tomb:—
"Full south this stone four foot doth lie,
His father John and grandsire Harvey;
Thornton of Thornton in Yorkshire bred,
Where lives the fame of Thornton being dead."

A stone in the churchyard against the east end of the north wall of the church records the death of one Eleanor Stewart, an old resident in the parish, who died in 1725, at the age of 123 and five months, an age which we venture to bring here under the notice of Mr. Thoms.

In the churchyard are tombs to the memory of Richard Pendrill, to whom Charles II. owed his escape after the fatal battle of Worcester, and of George Chapman, the earliest translator of Homer's "Iliad;" the latter is said to have been the work of Inigo Jones. The following bombastic epitaph on Pendrill's tomb will amuse our readers:—
"Hold, passenger, here's shrouded in his hearse,
Unparallel'd Pendrill through the universe;
Like whom the Eastern star from heaven gave light
To three lost kings, so he in such dark night
To Britain's Monarch, toss'd by adverse war,
On earth appear'd, a second Eastern star;
A pole, a stem in her rebellious main,
A pilot to her royal sovereign.
Now to triumph in heaven's eternal sphere
He's hence advanced for his just steerage here;
Whilst Albion's chronicles with matchless fame
Embalm the story of great Pendrill's name."

Chapman deserves more particular mention here, as the intimate friend of Ben Jonson, who thus speaks of his translation of Homer:—
"Whose work could this be, Chapman, to refine
Old Hesiod's ore, and give it thus, but thine,
Who hadst before wrought in rich Homer's mine?
"What treasure hast thou brought us, and what store
Still, still dost thou arrive with at our shore,
To make thy honour and our wealth the more?
"If all the vulgar tongues that speak this day
Were asked of thy discoveries, they must say,
To the Greek coast thine only knew the way.
"Such passage hast thou found, such returns made,
As now of all men it is called the trade;
And who make thither else, rob or invade."

He translated Hesiod's "Works and Days," as well as Homer, and was even better known as a play-writer; and was more than once imprisoned, along with Ben Jonson, for the freedom of his pen. Chapman and Fletcher, indeed, were Jonson's most intimate friends. He told Drummond of Hawthornden that he loved them both, and that "next to himself, they were the only poets who could make a masque." Chapman died in 1634, at the age of nearly eighty.

On the very verge of the churchyard, overlooking the busy traffic of Broad Street, lies a flat stone, having upon it some faint vestiges of what was once a coat of arms and some appearance of an inscription; but the most expert of heralds would fail to describe the one, and eyes, however penetrating, may be baffled to decipher the other. Yet this is a grave without its dead—a mockery of the tomb—a cheating of the sexton; for hither were brought the decapitated remains of one who was among the brightest and most popular young noblemen of his time, and hence were they afterwards disinterred and privately conveyed to Dilston, in Northumberland, where they moulder in the family vault, amid the ashes of his forefathers. Here, in fact, was first deposited the body of the amiable and unfortunate James Radcliffe, Earl of Derwentwater, whose fatal connection with the fortunes of the Pretender, and untimely death on Tower Hill, are matters of history, and reveal a sad tragedy, in which he was at once the hero and the victim. The body of the earl was again removed from its grave in Northumberland, and carried to Thorndon, Lord Petre's seat in Essex, for re-interment, in October, 1874.

In the church and in the churchyard adjoining repose several other persons known to history. Among them Lord Herbert of Cherbury; Shirley, the dramatic writer; Andrew Marvell, of whom we have already spoken; the notorious Countess of Shrewsbury; Sir Roger L'Estrange, the celebrated political writer; Michael Mohun, the actor; and Oliver Plunkett, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, who was executed at Tyburn on the charge of high treason in 1681.

The only monument of interest in the church is to be seen in the first window in the north aisle. It is a recumbent figure of the Duchess of Dudley, who was created a duchess in her own right by Charles I., and who died in 1669. "This monument," Mr. P. Cunningham tells us, "was preserved when the church was rebuilt, as a piece of parochial gratitude to one whose benefactions to the parish in which she had resided had been both frequent and liberal." Among other matters, she had contributed very largely to the interior decoration of the church, but had the mortification of seeing her gifts condemned as Popish, cast out of the sacred edifice, and sold by order of the hypocritical Puritans. The duchess, who was also in other ways a benefactor to the parish of St. Giles, was buried at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.

The gate at the entrance of the churchyard, which dates from the days of Charles II., is much admired. It is adorned with a bas-relief of the Day of Judgment. It formerly stood on the north side of the churchyard, but in 1865, being unsafe, it was taken down and carefully re-erected opposite the western entrance, where it will command a prominent position towards the new street that is destined sooner or later to be opened from Tottenham Court Road to St. Martin's Lane.

Mr. J. T. Smith, in his "Book for a Rainy Day," speaks of this "Resurrection Gateway" as being of red and brown brick: he says of the carving above it that it was "borrowed, not from Michael Angelo, but from the workings of the brain of some ship-carver." Rowland Dobie, in his "History of St. Giles'," states that "the composition is, with various alterations, taken from Michael Angelo's 'Last Judgment.'" Mr. E. L. Blanchard, in his "London Guide Book," informs us that the carving is "an elaborate and curious specimen of bronze sculpture," and that it was "brought from Florence." But a better authority, Canon Thorold, tells us, in his "Yearly Report on the Parish, in 1865," that "it is carved in oak, of the date of 1658."

The lich-gate was erected from the designs of William Leverton, Esq., and cost altogether the sum of £185 14s. 6d., as may be seen in the parish records. Out of this sum "Love, the carver," received the miserable stipend of £27, showing the estimation in which sacred art was held under our Stuart kings. At the time of the removal of the gate, the tombstones were levelled in the churchyard, young trees were planted, the footway outside widened, and an ornamental railing placed by the kerb-stone instead of a dead wall.

Of all the dark and dismal thoroughfares in the parish of St. Giles's, or, indeed, in the great wilderness of London, few, we think, will compare with that known as Church Lane, which runs between High Street and New Oxford Street. During the last half century, while the metropolis has been undergoing the pressure of progress consequent upon the quick march of civilisation, what remains of the Church Lane of our early days has been left with its little colony of Arabs as completely sequestered from London society as if it was part of Arabia Petræa. Few pass through Church Lane who are not members of its own select society. None else have any business there; and if they had, they would find it to their interest to get out of it as soon as possible. Its condition is a disgrace to the great city, and to the parish to which it belongs.

The mansion house inhabited by Lord Lisle, and afterwards by the Carews and the Duchess of Dudley, stood a little to the west of the church. It was demolished in order to build Denmark Street. Its site is marked by Lloyd's Court.

In a small court known as Monmouth Court, leading out of Dudley Street into Little Earl Street, is the celebrated printing and publishing office named after the late Mr. James Catnatch, by whom it was founded, in 1813. From it has been issued by far the largest store of ballads, songs, broadsides, "last dying speeches," &c., that has ever appeared in London, even in this most prolific age. He was a native of Alnwick, in Northumberland, and, coming to London when a lad to fight the battle of life, was apprenticed as a compositor in the office of the Courier newspaper. He deserves the credit of having been the first who, availing himself of larger capital and greater mechanical skill than his precursors and rivals, substituted white paper and real printer's ink for the execrable tea-paper, blotched with lamp-black and oil, which had marked the old broadside and ballad printing. He also first conceived and carried out the idea of publishing collections of songs by the yard, and giving for one penny (formerly the price of a single ballad) strings of poetry. He was the patron of much original talent among the bards of St. Giles's and Drury Lane; and in the quarter of a century which elapsed between the establishment of his press and his death, he had literally made a name in literature—of a particular kind. Among the events of the day which he turned to the best and most profitable account, were the trial of Queen Caroline, the Cato Street conspiracy, and the murder of Weare by Thurtell. On the lastnamed occasion, when the excitement about the execution was about to die out, he brought out a second penny broadside, headed "WE ARE alive again," which the public read as "WEARE." The public did not like the trick, and called it a "catchpenny;" hence arose the set phrase, which for a long time afterwards stuck to the issues of the Seven Dials' press, though they sold as well as ever. All sorts of stories are told to show the fertility of Catnatch's resources. He received such large sums in coppers, that he used to take them to the Bank of England in a hackney-coach; and when his neighbours in Seven Dials refused to take them, for fear of catching a fever which was said to have spread through their contact with low cadgers and hawkers, he boiled them en masse with a decoction of potash and vinegar, to make them bright, and his coppers recovered their popularity. He had also a knack of carving rough and rude illustrations on the backs of music-blocks, which he nailed on to pieces of wood. Probably through his connection with Northumberland, he next fortunately picked up some of the wood blocks of Thomas Bewick, which raised at once the character of his printing-press. His next step was to increase the quantity which he gave for a penny, embodying his generosity to the public in a phrase which soon was in everybody's mouth, "Songs, three yards a penny! Songs, beautiful songs!" He next employed his talents on cheap Christmas carols and broadsheets of a higher class; and having realised something more than a competency, retired, in 1839, to the neighbourhood of South Mimms, on the borders of Hertfordshire, where he died about two years afterwards. The business of the "Seven Dials' Printing Office" he left to his sister, Mrs. Ryle, by whom it was carried on for a time, in conjunction with a Mr. Paul. It is now managed by Mr. W. S. Fortey, who, as a boy, was employed by Mr. Catnatch. The press is still as busy as ever, and though rivals have arisen, it enjoys a literary prestige which will not soon pass away, if we may judge from the fact that it still turns out and sells yearly no less than a million of cheap fly-sheets of the various kinds mentioned above.

Some idea of the Catnatch literature may be formed from the two items here following, taken from the catalogue of a second-hand bookseller:—

"Broadsides—A Collection of 9 Curious Old Broadsides and Christmas Carols, printed at Seven Dials and elsewhere. On rough folio paper, and illustrated with quaint and rude woodcuts, in their original condition, with rough edges, neatly mounted on white paper and bound in half roxburghe. Contents:—Letter written by Jesus Christ—6 Carols for Christmas—Messenger of Mortality, or Life and Death Contrasted—Massacre of the French King, by which the unfortunate Louis XVI. suffered on the scaffold, with a large woodcut of his execution.

"Old Songs and Ballads—A Collection of 35 most Curious Old Songs and Ballads, printed at Seven Dials, on rough old straw paper, and illustrated with quaint and rude woodcuts or engravings. In their original condition with rough edges, very neatly mounted on fine paper, and bound in half roxburghe. This collection embraces a most varied series of old Ballads, commencing with the Wanton Wife of Bath, Woful Lamentation of Mrs. Jane Shore, Unhappy Lady of Hackney, Kentish Garland, Dorsetshire Garland, or Beggar's Wedding, Faithless Captain, and similar pieces. It next has 16 ballads with large engravings, illustrative of the pieces, bacchanalian, humorous, &c. &c.; and concludes with Liston's Drolleries (with a character portrait), the Paul Pry Songster (with woodcut of Liston as 'Paul Pry'), and the Harp of Ossian, &c."

The central space in this neighbourhood, called Seven Dials, was so named on account of the plan upon which the neighbourhood was laid out for building, seven streets being made to converge at a centre, where there was a pillar adorned with, or, at all events, intended to be adorned with, seven dial faces. Till this column was put up, it was called "the Seven Streets," according to the "New View of London," which tells us that at the time of its publication (1708) only four of the seven streets had been actually built. The locality is built on what was formerly known as the Marshlands, and also as Cock and Pie Fields. These were surrounded by a ditch, which ran down to St. Martin's and so into the Thames, but was blotted out when the Seven Dials was built. Evelyn thus mentions the work in his "Diary," under date 5th October, 1694:—"I went to see the building near St. Giles, where seven streets made a star, from a Doric pillar placed in the middle of a circular area, said to be built by Mr. Neale, introducer of the late lotteries, in imitation of those at Venice." Gay, in his "Trivia," sings:—
"Here to seven streets Seven Dials count their day,
And from each other catch the circling ray."

It appears that the dial-stone had but six faces, two of the seven streets opening into one angle. The column and dials were removed in June, 1774, to search for a treasure supposed to be concealed beneath the base; they were never replaced, but in 1822 were purchased of a stonemason, and the column was surmounted with a ducal coronet, and set up on Weybridge Green as a memorial to the late Duchess of York, who died at Oatlands, in 1820. The dial-stone formed a stepping-stone at the adjoining "Ship" inn. The angular direction of each street renders the spot rather embarrassing to a pedestrian who crosses this maze of buildings unexpectedly, and frequently causes him to diverge from the road that would lead him to his destination.


The business carried on in Seven Dials seems to be of a very heterogeneous character. It is the great haunt of bird and bird-cage sellers, also of the sellers of rabbits, cats, dogs, &c.; and as most of the houses, being of an old fashion, have broad ledges of lead over the shop-windows, these are frequently found converted into miniature gardens, which help, in some degree, to counterbalance the squalor and misery that is too apparent in some of the courts and lanes hard by. In Dudley Street (formerly Monmouth Street) the shops are devoted chiefly to the sale of old clothes, second-hand boots and shoes, &c.; ginger-beer, green-grocery, and theatrical stores. Cheap picture-frame makers also abound here. In many of the houses, in some of these streets, whole families seem to live and thrive in a single room. In Charles Knight's "London" we read that "cellars serving whole families for 'kitchen, and parlour, and bed-room, and all,' are to be found in other streets of London, but not so numerous and near to each other. Here they cluster like cells in a convent of the order of La Trappe, or like onions on a rope. It is curious and interesting to watch the habits of these human moles when they emerge, or half emerge, from their cavities. Their infants seem exempt from the dangers which haunt those of other people: at an age when most babies are not trusted alone on a level floor, these urchins stand secure on the upmost round of a trap-ladder, studying the different conformations of the shoes of the passers-by. The mode of ingress of the adults is curious: they turn their backs to the entry, and, inserting first one foot and then the other, disappear by degrees. The process is not unlike (were such a thing conceivable) a sword sheathing itself. They appear a short-winded generation, often coming, like the otter, to the surface to breathe. In the twilight, which reigns at the bottom of their dens, you can sometimes discern the male busily cobbling shoes on one side of the entrance, and the female repairing all sorts of rent garments on the other. They seem to be free traders: at certain periods of the day tea-cups and saucers may be seen arranged on their boards; at others, plates and pewter pots. They have the appearance of being on the whole a contented race."

QUEEN ANNE'S BATH. (From a View taken in 1851.)

"On one occasion," says Mr. J. Smith, in his "Topography of London," "that I might indulge the humour of being shaved by a woman, I repaired to the Seven Dials, where, in Great St. Andrew's Street, a slender female performed the operation, whilst her husband, a strapping soldier in the Horse Guards, sat smoking his pipe. There was a famous woman in Swallow Street, who shaved; and I recollect a black woman in Butcher Row, a street formerly standing by the side of St. Clement's Church, near Temple Bar, who is said to have shaved with ease and dexterity. Mr. Batrick informs me that he has read of the five barbaresses of Drury Lane, who shamefully maltreated a woman in the reign of Charles II."

Considering the class of the inhabitants, it is not surprising that many lodging-houses are to be met with. Mr. Diprose, in his "Book about London," tells us that perhaps the most celebrated and notorious of those in St. Giles's was kept by "Mother Cummins."

It is related that Major Hanger accompanied George IV. to a beggars' carnival in St. Giles's. He had not been there long when the chairman, Sir Jeffery Dunston, addressing the company, and pointing to the then Prince of Wales, said, "I call upon that ere gemman with a shirt for a song." The prince, as well as he could, got excused upon his friend promising to sing for him, and he chanted a ballad called "The Beggar's Wedding, or the Jovial Crew," with great applause. The major's health having been drank with nine times nine, and responded to by him, wishing them "good luck till they were tired of it," he departed with the prince, to afford the company time to fix their different routes for the ensuing day's business. At that period they used to have a general meeting in the course of the year, and each day they were divided into companies, each company having its particular walk; their earnings varied much, some getting as much as five shillings per day.

Monmouth Street, it may be remembered, is the street to which the Nonconformist minister, Daniel Burgess, referred when preaching on the subject of a "robe of righteousness." "If any one of you, my brethren," he said, "would have a suit to last a twelvemonth, let him go to Monmouth Street; if for his lifetime, let him apply to the Court of Chancery; but if for eternity, let him put on the Saviour's robe of righteousness."



"Rure ego viventem, tu dicis in urbe beatum."—Horacc.

The Poor of St. Giles's—Curious Parish Regulations—"Old Simon," the Beggar—Denmark Street—Etymology of Brownlow and Belton Streets—Endell Street—Queen Anne's Bath—British Lying-in Hospital—Baths and Washhouses—French Protestant Episcopal Church—Bloomsbury Chapel—Bedford Chapel—Outbreak of the Plague of 1665—Lewknor's Lane (now Charles Street), and its Character in the Reign of Queen Anne—Nell Gwynne's Birthplace—St. Giles's Almshouses—The Old Round House, and Jack Sheppard's Escape—The Cockpit and Phœnix Theatres—The "White Lion" in Drury Lane—"The Flash Coves' Parliament"—Great Queen Street and its Fashionable Residents—The Gordon Riots—Opie's Popularity—James Hoole's Residence—The Freemasons' Hall and Tavern—The Wesleyan Chapel—The Marriage Register of David Garrick—Benjamin Franklin's Printing-press—Gate Street—The Great and Little Turnstiles—Tichborne Court—Religious Persecutions.

The parish of St. Giles, with its nests of close and narrow alleys and courts inhabited by the lowest class of Irish costermongers, has passed into a byword as the synonym of filth and squalor. And although New Oxford Street has been carried straight through the middle of the worst part of its slums—"the Rookery"—yet, especially on the south side, there still are streets which demand to be swept away in the interest of health and cleanliness. And yet, as Peter Cunningham remarks, "the parish could show its pound, its cage, its round-house and watch-house, its stocks, its whipping-post, and at one time its gallows," as our readers are already aware. The locality, nevertheless, is not without its historic or romantic interest, for "a redoubt with two flanks near St. Giles's Pound," and a small fort at the east end of Tyburn Road, are mentioned among the forts ordered to be raised round London by the Parliament in 1642.

According to the "London Spy" (1725), St. Giles's was in the days of the first Georges a most wealthy and populous parish, and one "said to furnish his Majesty's plantations in America with more souls than all the rest of the kingdom besides." It was also remarkable for producing the "Jack Ketches" of that day, as well as a fair proportion of the malefactors who suffered at Tyburn. The same authority quotes an old saying—
"St. Giles' breed,
Better hang than seed."

They were a noisy and riotous lot, fond of street brawls, equally "fat, ragged and saucy;" and the courts abounded in pedlars, fish-women, newscriers, and corn-cutters.

Parton, in his "History of St. Giles's," tells us that in remote times this parish "contained no greater proportion of poor than other parishes of a similar extent and population; the introduction of Irish mendicants, and other poor of that description, for which it afterwards became so noted, is not to be traced further back than the time of Queen Elizabeth." Strype, too, remarks that "when London began to increase in population, there was observed to be a confluence here out of the countries of such persons as were of the poorer sorts of trades and occupations; who, because they could not exercise them within the jurisdiction of the City, followed them within the suburbs; therefore the Queen, as well as forbidding the further erection of new buildings, ordered all persons within three miles of the gates of the City to forbear from letting or settling, or suffering any more than one family only to be placed in one house."

In 1637 it was ordered that, "to prevent the great influx of poor people into this parish, the beadles do present every fortnight, on the Sunday, the names of all new-comers, under-setters, inmates, divided tenements, persons that have families in cellars, and other abuses." "This," says Parton, "is the first mention of cellars as places of residence, and for which the parish afterwards became so noted that the expression of 'a cellar in St. Giles's' used to designate the lowest poverty, became afterwards proverbial, and is still used, though most of these subterranean dwellings are now gone."

Speaking of the beggars of St. Giles's, we should not omit to mention Simon Edy, who lived there in the middle of the last century. "Old Simon," as he was commonly named, lodged, with his dog, under a staircase in an old shattered building called "Rat's Castle," in Dyot Street. (fn. 1) He is thus described by Mr. J. T. Smith in his "Book for a Rainy Day:"—"He wore several hats, and suffered his beard to grow, which was of a dirty yellowwhite. Upon his fingers were numerous brass rings. He had several waistcoats, and as many coats, increasing in size, so that he was enabled by the extent of the uppermost garment to cover the greater part of the bundles, containing rags of various colours, and distinct parcels with which he was girded about, consisting of books, canisters containing bread, cheese, and other articles of food; matches, a tinder-box, and meat for his dog; cuttings of curious events from old newspapers, scraps from Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs,' and three or four dogs'-eared and greasy-thumbed numbers of the Gentleman's Magazine. From these and suchlike productions he gained a great part of the information with which he sometimes entertained those persons who stopped to look at him." This eccentric character (perhaps the original of the "Simple Simon" of our nursery rhymes) stood for many years at the gate of St. Giles's Church, and a portrait of him is to be found in Mr. J. T. Smith's well-known book, "Sketches from the London Streets."

Denmark Street is described by Strype as "a fair, broad street, with good houses, and well inhabited by gentry." Near it is Lloyd's Court or Alley, to which Hogarth has given a celebrity by making it and the adjoining Hog Lane the scene of one of his series of sketches, "The Four Times of the Day." Lord Wharton's residence stood at the corner of this thoroughfare.

In Brownlow Street died, in 1684, Michael Mohun, the actor. The street, and the adjoining one of Belton (now Endell) Street, derived their names from Sir John Brownlow, Bart., of Belton, whose name occurs constantly in the parish ratebooks as a resident in the reign of Charles II. His town mansion and gardens stood on this site, but the former was pulled down before the year 1682. The noble estate of Belton, in Lincolnshire, passed by marriage to the Custs, the head of whom is now Earl Brownlow.

At No. 3, Endell Street (formerly Old Belton Street), in the rear of the premises occupied by Messrs. King, ironmongers, is an ancient bath, said by local tradition to have been used by Queen Anne, which for the most part has escaped the notice of antiquaries. It was fed by a fine spring of clear water, which was said to have medicinal qualities. Whether it was the favourite bagnio of Queen Anne or not, it certainly is a curious relic of other days, though shorn of its ancient glories. Descending a dark and narrow staircase, we find ourselves in a low apartment, about twelve or fourteen feet square, its walls inlaid with Dutch tiles, white, with blue patterns—clearly of the sixteenth century. It once had "a lofty French groined dome roof," but the upper part of the chamber is now cut off by a modern flooring, and formed into a blacksmith's forge.

In a "View of Old London" published in 1851, the bath is said to be "supplied direct from the spring, which is perpetually running; the water," adds the writer, "is always fresh, and is much used in the neighbourhood, where it is considered a good cure for rheumatism and other disorders. It is a powerful tonic, and evidently contains a considerable trace of iron." Some of the Dutch tiles have been taken away, and the lower part is now filled with lumber and rubbish instead of clear water, and the spring no longer flows; in this respect presenting a marked contrast to the "old Roman bath" of which we have spoken in our account of the Strand. (fn. 2)

There are one or two buildings in Endell Street deserving of mention, not only on account of their architectural merits, but for their beneficial effects on the humble class of the inhabitants for whom they are specially intended. The first of these is the British Lying-in Hospital, a picturesque Elizabethan structure, erected in 1849, with all the improvements of modern science. This institution was originally established in Brownlow Street, in 1749, but was removed in the above year to its new quarters. It is the oldest lying-in hospital in London. It is solely for affording medical and surgical treatment to married women, who are either admitted into the hospital as in-patients, or are attended at their own homes. Down to the year 1874 upwards of 47,000 in-patients have received the benefits of this institution. The hospital is supported by voluntary subscriptions and donations. The number of patients annually admitted is about 750, and the yearly receipts amount to about £1,500.

Then there are the Baths and Washhouses, a handsome edifice of Italian architecture, erected in 1852, not far from the site of Queen Anne's Bath; and close by is Christ Church, a large building of Early English architecture, erected in 1845.

In Bloomsbury Street, between Broad Street and High Holborn, and nearly in a line with Endell Street, are three chapels side by side. The first is the French Protestant Episcopal Church, built in the Early Pointed style, in 1845, by Poynter, the architect. This church was founded by Charles II., in the Savoy. Next is Bloomsbury Chapel, built by Sir Morton Peto for the Baptists. Adjoining this, at the junction of Bloomsbury Street and New Oxford Street, stands Bedford Chapel. It was built, or at all events remodelled, in 1844, and here for some time the late Rev. J. C. M. Bellew officiated as incumbent.

St. Giles's Parish enjoys the distinction of having originated the Great Plague of 1665. It is on record that the first persons seized were members of a family living near the top of Drury Lane, where two men, said to have been Frenchmen, were attacked by it, and speedily carried off. The havoc caused by the plague in this parish alone, in the above-named year, amounted to 3,216 deaths, "its malignity," as Dr. Sydenham observes, "being mostly discovered among the poorer sort of people in St. Giles's." The parish registers and rate-books contain many curious entries relating to this sad year; amongst them, the receipt of £50 from Sir Edmundbury Godfrey, and of nearly £500 from Lord Craven, for visiting and relieving the poor.

Lewknor's Lane, opposite Short's Gardens, at the top of Drury Lane, now styled Charles Street, derived its name from Sir Lewis Lewknor, who owned property here in the reign of James I. From an early date it bore a bad character, and in it Jonathan Wild kept "a house of ill-fame." Constant allusions to its residents occur in the plays of the time of Queen Anne; and Gay, in the Beggar's Opera, alludes to it as one of the three places in which ladies of easy virtue might be found. If we may judge from a passage in "Instructions how to find Mr. Curll's Authors," published in Swift's and Pope's Miscellanies, it was also the residence of hack-writers for the press. "At Mr. Summer's, a thief-catcher, in Lewknor's Lane, a man that wrote against the impiety of Mr. Rowe's plays." The thoroughfare (called Lutner's Lane by Strype) is, as it was two hundred years ago, "a very ordinary place." It is to be hoped that its morality is higher now than it was in the time of Samuel Butler, who speaks—satirically, of course—of
"The nymphs of chaste Diana's train,
The same with those of Lewknor's Lane."
To which passage Sir Roger L'Estrange adds a note to the effect that it was a "rendezvous and nursery for lewd women, first resorted to by the Roundheads." It is said that in the time of Henry III. the north-west corner of Drury Lane was occupied by a smith's forge.

In the Coal or Cole Yard, on the eastern side of Drury Lane, near the Holborn end, Nell Gwynne is said to have been born. The Coal Yard is now a row of miserable tenements, at the end of which there is a turning to the south, by which we enter the Almshouses belonging to this parish and St. George's, Bloomsbury. A part of these has been formed out of the old "Round House," in which highwaymen and other dangerous personages were confined until they could be brought before the sitting magistrates and formally committed to prison. Although the outside of this not very inviting building is modernised, the old cells in which the prisoners were confined may still be seen; some of them are underground, and others in the attics. In one of them, it is said, Jack Sheppard was ordered to be confined for a night, but before the morning he had made his escape. Other prisoners, however, remained here long enough to cut their names or initials on the walls and window-sills, as may still be seen.

The old "Round House" was converted into almshouses about the year 1780. They are surrounded with buildings on every side, to which fresh air can scarcely penetrate; and though the interior is comfortable, they are sadly "cribbed, cabined, and confined" in their position. In fact, the Almshouses should without delay be removed to "fresh fields and pastures new," and a thoroughfare opened up through this crowded district.

A part of Oldwick Close, between Lincoln's Inn Fields and Drury Lane, was in possession of the celebrated Sir Kenelm Digby. In 1632 it was bounded on the western side by a ditch and a mud wall, intermixed with a few scattered buildings, among which was the Cockpit Theatre, which stood in a narrow court called Pitt Place, running out of Drury Lane into Wild Street. It was erected about 1615, but pulled down by the mob in 1617, and all the apparel of the players torn to pieces. On its site arose a second theatre, called the Phœnix, but this again, after a few years, gave way to Drury Lane Theatre, of which we shall have more to say presently. In 1651 most of the property had passed into the possession of the ancient and worthy family of the Welds, of Lulworth Castle, Dorsetshire, the head of which, Mr. Humphrey Weld, built here a handsome residence, the site of which is marked by Wild (formerly Weld) Court and Little Wild Street.

In Parker Street, or Parker's Lane, were formerly situated the premises and stables of the Dutch ambassador.

The "White Lion," in Drury Lane, in former years, was a place of resort late at night for "swells" of the upper class, and also for market-gardeners and other persons, who resorted to the neighbouring market. As may be imagined, it bore no very good reputation.

At the "Crown Coffee House," in this lane, was held, in former times, an evening assembly called "The Flash Coves' Parliament"—a loose sort of gathering of members of the bar, small tradesmen, and "men about town," each of whom bore the title of some member or other of the Upper House of Parliament: e.g., one would be "Lord Brougham," another "the Duke of Wellington," another "Lord Grey," and so forth. This, however, has long since passed away.

Great Queen Street, which connects Drury Lane with Lincoln's Inn Fields, in a line with Long Acre, was so named in honour of Queen Elizabeth, and stands on the site of the common footpath which anciently separated the south part, or Aldewych Close (properly so called) from the northern division—latterly termed White Hart Close—which extended to Holborn. In the reign of Elizabeth this footpath appears to have become a roadway, but no houses were built on it up to that time. In a map of Westminster, by Norden, dated 1593, no houses are shown eastward of Drury Lane; but building must have commenced very shortly after this, for in Speed's Map of Westminster, in his "Great Britain," the commencement of Great Queen Street is indicated, together with a continuation of the houses on both sides of Drury Lane. In 1623 only fifteen houses appear to have existed on the south side of Great Queen Street, which was then open to the country, and the north side is of later date. Shortly after the Restoration, a new era of building having set in, the houses were finished on the south side of the street, from the designs, it is said, of Inigo Jones and his pupil Webbe. It was at one time called Henrietta Street, in compliment to Henrietta Maria, Queen of Charles I.

"According to one authority," says the author of "Haunted London," "Inigo Jones built Queen Street at the cost of the Jesuits, designing it for a square, and leaving in the middle a niche for the statue of Queen Henrietta. The 'stately and magnificent houses' begun on the north side, near Little Queen Street, were not continued. There were fleurs-de-luce placed on the walls in honour of the queen."

"Great Queen Street, in the time of the Stuarts," says Leigh Hunt, "was one of the grandest and most fashionable parts of the town. The famous Lord Herbert of Cherbury died there. Lord Bristol had a house in it, as also did Lord Chancellor Finch, and the Conway and Paulet families." Mr. Parton, the author of a topographical work on St. Giles's, published in 1822, mentions Paulet House, Cherbury House, and Conway House among the fine mansions still standing in this street.

The house of Lord Herbert of Cherbury—"the Sir Edward Herbert, the all-virtuous Herbert" of Ben Jonson—was a few doors from Great Wild Street. Here he wrote a part of his celebrated treatise, "De Veritate," and here he died, in 1648, aged seventy-seven, and was buried in St. Giles's Churchyard. The Lord Chancellor Finch mentioned above was the famous Royalist, Sir Heneage Finch, afterwards Earl of Nottingham, who died in 1682. He presided at Lord Stafford's trial, in 1680, and pronounced judgment on that unfortunate nobleman in a speech of great ability. He was the "Omri" of Dryden's "Absalom and Achitophel"—
"To whom the double blessing does belong,
With Moses' inspiration, Aaron's tongue."

Many other distinguished personages lived here about this time; "but," says Parton, "the appropriation of each house to its respective inhabitant is, however, a matter of uncertainty, no clue whatever being to be found among our parish records, nor, indeed, any mention made of them to guide our inquiries."


Sir Thomas Fairfax dated a printed proclamation from Great Queen Street, February 12th, 1648, and is supposed, on that account, to have lived in the street. George Digby, second Earl of Bristol, lived in Great Queen Street, Evelyn says (1671); his house was taken by the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations. The Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Lauderdale, Sir John Finch, Waller the poet, and Colonel Titus (author of "Killing no Murder"), were among its new occupants. At Conway House, in this street, lived Lord Conway, an able soldier, defeated by the Scotch at Newburn. In the year 1733 the Earl of Rochford lived in Great Queen Street; here, too, about that time, lived Lady Dinely Goodyer, and Mrs. Kitty Clive the actress. It would be difficult, at this distant date, to fix upon the exact house in which any of these notabilities resided, for the practice of numbering was not in use till 1764; Burlington Street having been the first and Lincoln's Inn Fields the second place in London where it was adopted. Sir Martin Ffolkes, an eminent scholar and antiquary, was born in Great Queen Street in 1690. He was a great numismatist, and the first President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries. He died in 1784.


In 1780 the Gordon Riots may be said to have had their rise in Great Queen Street, the first meeting in favour of the petition presented by Lord George Gordon to Parliament, asking for the repeal of a measure of relief granted to the Roman Catholics, having been held in Coachmakers' Hall, in this street, on the 29th of May. On the rejection of the petition, on the 2nd of June, the mob burnt the Roman Catholic chapels in Duke Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and Welbeck Street. On the following days they proceeded to further excesses, and on the 6th of June the house of Mr. Justice Cox, in Great Queen Street, was burned, together with the houses of other magistrates who had become obnoxious. The rest of the story of the Gordon Riots has been told in its proper place.

It is recorded that in 1735 Ryan the comedian, whose name was well known in connection with "Bartlemy Fair," was attacked in this street at midnight by a footpad, who fired a pistol in his face, severely wounding him in the jaw, and robbed him of his sword. He was hurt so badly that a performance was given at Covent Garden for his benefit, when the Prince of Wales sent him a purse of a hundred guineas.

No. 51 in this street is now the office of Messrs. Kelly and Co., the well-known printers and publishers of the "Post Office London" and "County Directories." Messrs. Kelly removed here from Old Boswell Court, St. Clement Danes, on the demolition of that neighbourhood in order to clear a space for the new Law Courts.

In this street is one of those Homes for Homeless and Destitute Boys which have done, of late years, such good service to the State. It was commenced in St. Giles's, in a loft over a cow-shed, about the year 1852, its originator being a Mr. Williams. It then gradually grew into a school, and was located for a time in Arthur Street, St. Giles's, whence it was removed hither in 1860. The premises which are occupied by the boys were formerly a carriage-maker's; they hold from 120 to 130 boys, most of whom are gradually drafted off to the Chichester and Arethusa training-vessels, or to farm-work in the country, chiefly with a view to emigration, the rest being taught various trades and employments. Some of the boys are employed in wood-cutting, others in cooking, others in tailoring, shoemaking, and making mats and brushes. We understand that the boys' industry suffices to supply the inmates of the Home, and also the farmboys and those on board the ships, with all the shoes that they require.

At No. 52 lived Sir Robert Strange, the eminent historical engraver, and adherent of Prince Charles Edward, "the Young Pretender." Strange died in 1792, and here his widow resided for some years afterwards.

Another artist of renown who resided in this street was Opie. He was living here in 1791, when his popularity was at its highest. In Opie's "Memoirs" we get a glimpse of the condition of Great Queen Street, when the roadway was sometimes blocked up with the carriages of his sitters. The great painter removed in 1792, and by the end of the century the street was no longer fashionable, the polite world having migrated westward.

At No. 56 in this street, in a large house, part of which is over the entrance to New Yard, lived James Hoole, the translator of Tasso, Metastasio, and Ariosto, who died in 1803. Born in London in 1727, he devoted his leisure hours to literary pursuits, especially to the study of the Italian language, of which he made himself a perfect master. He was the author of three original tragedies—Cyrus, Timanthes, and Cleonice—which were acted at Covent Garden, and also of some poems, and of a life of John Scott, of Amwell, the Quaker poet. With Hoole lived Hudson the painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds' master.

This house, now a steam pencil-factory, is the only one in the street which retains its original architectural features, all the rest having been either rebuilt or modernised. Worlidge, an artist of some celebrity, who was famous for his etchings in the manner of Rembrandt, died in this house in 1766. Richard Brinsley Sheridan lived in it for some years; many of the letters in Moore's "Life" are addressed to him here. How long Sheridan remained is not known, but it is related that he passed the day in seclusion at his house in Great Queen Street on the occasion of Garrick's funeral, in 1779. The "beautiful Perdita," Mrs. Robinson, the unfortunate favourite of George IV., appears to have lived in this same house shortly after her marriage in 1773; she describes the house in her "Memoirs" as "a large, old-fashioned mansion, the property of the widow of Mr. Worlidge."

Like the seven towns which claim to have given birth to Homer, Great Queen Street is claimed by some writers to have been the locality of the "scene" between Sir Godfrey Kneller and Dr. Radcliffe, which we have already described in our account of the Royal College of Physicians; (fn. 3) others, however, fix the abode of the great physician and Sir Godfrey in Bow Street, Covent Garden.

The most important buildings in Great Queen Street are the Freemasons' Hall and Tavern. These stand on the south side of the street, and present a noble and elegant appearance. The Hall was first built by an architect named Sandby—one of the original members of the Royal Academy—in 1775–6; as its name implies, for the purpose of furnishing one central place for the several lodges of Loyal Masons to hold their meetings and dinners, instead of borrowing, as up to that time had been the custom, the halls of the City companies. Freemasons' Hall, as we are told by Hunter, in his "History of London," was "dedicated" in May, 1776. The Tavern was built in 1786, by William Tyler.

The original Hall, at the back of the Tavern, was built at a cost of about £5,000, which was raised by a tontine. "It was the first house," says Elmes, "built in this country with the appropriate symbols of masonry, and with the suitable apartments for the holding of lodges, the initiating, passing, raising, and exalting of brethren." It was a noble room, although not so large as the present hall. Above the principal entrance was a gallery, with an organ; and at the opposite end was a coved recess, flanked by a pair of fluted Ionic columns, containing a marble statue of the late Duke of Sussex, executed for the Grand Lodge by Mr. E. H. Baily, R.A. Here very many public meetings—political, charitable, and religious—were held; but the last-named have mostly migrated to Exeter Hall, in the Strand.

Among the most important public meetings held at Freemasons' Tavern was one in June, 1824, at which Lords Liverpool, Brougham, Sir J. Mackintosh, Sir Robert Peel, Sir Humphrey Davy, Mr. Huskisson, and Mr. Wilberforce, bore public testimony to the services of James Watt as the inventor of the steam-engine, and resolved that a national monument should be erected in his honour in Westminster Abbey. It was on this occasion that Peel frankly and generously acknowledged the debt of gratitude which was due to Watt from himself and his own family, as owing to him their prosperity and wealth. Here public dinners were given to John Philip Kemble, to James Hogg ("the Ettrick Shepherd"), and to many others who, either in the ranks of bravery, science, or literature, have won a name which shall last as long as the English language is spoken.

Of late years the Freemasons' Hall and Tavern have been considerably altered, and in part rebuilt, and now occupy a very much larger area than the original erection. The work was carried out, about the year 1866, under the direction of Mr. F. P. Cockerell, son of the late accomplished Professor of Architecture in the Royal Academy, and the illustrator of the Æginetan Marbles. The Grand Lodge buildings and the Freemasons' Tavern are now entirely separate establishments, although they join; the former, which stands on the west side of the Tavern, contains offices for all the Masonic charities, Grand Secretary's office, and lodge-rooms entirely for the use of the craft. These rooms, as it were, form the frontage of the large hall—a magnificent room, of noble proportions, which, from its internal fittings, may be truly termed the temple of Masonic rites. The room is beautifully decorated, and lit from above. Here are now held the balls and dinners of the Royal Scottish, Humane, Artists', and other benevolent societies and institutions.

Mr. Timbs, in his "Curiosities of London," tells us how that St. Paul's, in 604, and St. Peter's, Westminster, in 605, were built by Freemasons; that Gundulph, Bishop of Rochester, who is said to have built the White Tower, governed the Freemasons. Peter of Colechurch, architect of Old London Bridge, was Grand Master. Henry VII., in a lodge of master Masons, founded his chapel at Westminster Abbey. Sir Thomas Gresham, who planned the Royal Exchange, was Grand Master; as was also Inigo Jones, the architect. Sir Christopher Wren, Grand Master, founded St. Paul's with his Lodge of Masons, and the trowel and mallet then used are preserved; and Covent Garden Theatre was founded, in 1808, by the Prince of Wales, in his capacity as Grand Master, assisted by the Grand Lodge. For some reason or other, however, Freemasonry has latterly been under the ban of the Roman Catholic Church.

Two doors eastward of Freemasons' Tavern is a Wesleyan Chapel; and it may be interesting to record here the fact, "not generally known," that at a place of worship on or near this spot on the 22nd of June, 1748, one "David Garrick, of St. Paul's, Covent Garden," was married by his friend, the celebrated Dr. Franklin, to "Eva Maria Violette, of St. James's, Westminster, a celebrated dancer." According, however, to her own statement to Mr. J. T. Smith, when within a few months of her death, Mrs. Garrick was married at the parish church of St. Giles's, and afterwards in the Chapel of the Portuguese Ambassador, in South Audley Street. She also said that she was born at Vienna, on the 29th of February, 1724. If so, at her death she must have been only three months short of entering on her hundredth year. She was buried beside her husband, in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Although Mrs. Garrick's maiden name (apparently) is given in the above record of her marriage, there has always been a mystery about her birth. Lee Lewis asserted that she was a natural daughter of Lord Burlington. When Mrs. Garrick heard this, she replied with indignation, "Lee is a liar; Lord Burlington was not my father: but still, I am of noble birth." It was also said that Lord Burlington gave Garrick £10,000 to marry her. This, too, she denied, adding that she had only the interest on £6,000, which was paid to her by the Duke of Devonshire. She died at an advanced age, in October, 1822, in her arm-chair, in the front drawing-room of her house in the Adelphi, having survived her husband forty-three years. She had just ordered her servants to put out on chairs two or three dresses, in order to choose one in which to appear that evening at Drury Lane, it being a private view of Elliston's improvements for the coming season. Mr. J. T. Smith, who knew her personally, speaks thus of her in his "Book for a Rainy Day:"—"Perhaps no lady in public or private life held a more unexceptionable character. She was visited by persons of the first rank; even our late Queen Charlotte, who had honoured her with a visit at Hampton, found her peeling onions for pickling. The gracious queen commanded a knife to be brought, saying, 'I will peel some onions too.' The late King George IV. and King William IV., as well as other branches of the royal family, frequently honoured her with visits." In addressing her servants, however, she was in the habit of using more expletives than would now be thought ladylike in any circle, high or low.

Great Queen Street seems to have been a favourite locality for the residence of actors. Miss Pope, a celebrated actress of the last century, lived for forty years "two doors west of Freemasons' Tavern." She died at Hadley, in 1801. In a house on the south side, occupied before 1830 by Messrs. Allman, the booksellers, died Lewis, the comedian; and at No. 74, now part of Messrs. Wyman and Sons' premises, and known in these days as the "Lincoln's Inn Steam Printing Works," died, in 1826, Edward Prescott Holdway Knight, the comedian, commonly called "Little Knight." Within the walls of Messrs. Wymans' establishment (then Messrs. Cox and Co.'s) Laman Blanchard discharged the duties of a printer's reader side by side with his friend, Douglas Jerrold, who at that time (about the year 1825) was the editor of a periodical called La Belle Assemblée; and many other interesting literary traditions cling to the place.

Benjamin Franklin has been described by some writers to have worked at Messrs. Wymans' printing-office as a journeyman printer. This is an error, Franklin having been employed at Mr. Watts's, which was on the south side of Wild Court, a turning out of Great Wild Street, near the western end of Great Queen Street. The press which Franklin recognised as that at which he had worked as a journeyman pressman in London in the years 1723–6, stood in Messrs. Wymans' office, however, for many years. In course of time it was taken down, and passed into the hands of Messrs. Harrild and Sons, who in 1840 parted with it to Mr. J. V. Murray, of New York, on condition that he would secure for them in return a donation to the Printers' Pension Society of London—a highlydeserving institution (its object being the support of aged and decayed printers and widows of printers), and of which they were active members. By Mr. Murray the press was exhibited in Liverpool, and afterwards taken to America. So great was the interest excited by the exhibition of the press, that it was ultimately arranged to have a lecture delivered on "The Life of Benjamin Franklin" during its exhibition. This was accordingly done, and with such success as to enable the committee of the Printers' Pension Society to initiate the "Franklin Pension," amounting to ten guineas per year; and it is interesting to record that one of the early recipients of this small bounty was a very old servant of the firm in whose office he and the press had so long done duty together.

The following inscription is engraved upon the plate affixed to the front of the press:—

"Dr. Franklin's Remarks relative to this Press, made when he came to England as Agent of the Massachusetts, in the year 1768. The Doctor at this time visited the Printingoffice of Mr. Watts, of Wild Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and, going up to this particular Press (afterwards in the possession of Messrs. Cox and Son, of Great Queen Street, of whom it was purchased), thus addressed the men who were working at it:—'Come, my friends, we will drink together. It is now forty years since I worked like you, at this Press, as a journeyman Printer." The Doctor then sent out for a gallon of Porter, and he drank with them—


"From the above it will appear that it is 108 years since Dr. Franklin worked at this identical Press.

"June, 1833."

In 1863 the authorities of the South Kensington Museum of Patents, being engaged in collecting some early memorials relating to the art of printing, made application to Messrs. Wyman for the loan of a companion press to that above described, and which was then in daily use. After being photographed in situ, the press was removed to the Museum of Patents, it having been presented to the trustees by Mr. Wyman. This press, of which we here give an engraving, is a fac-simile of the Franklin press, and there is strong reason to suppose that the celebrated American philosopher worked at it as well as at that which is now a venerated relic in the public museum of Philadelphia.


It may be added that at this printing-office in Great Queen Street, for nearly a century, was executed all the printing relating to our possessions in the East, for the once famous East India Company; and that, in addition to the high reputation which this office has always enjoyed for its Oriental printing, may be noted its connection with the periodical press of modern times, in which the Builder takes a prominent place; and we might also specially mention a very useful and interesting annual, published by Messrs. Wyman, called Everybody's Yearbook, to which we are indebted for the particulars here given concerning the Franklin press.

At the eastern end of Great Queen Street is Gate Street, the name of which is equally significant of its origin, as being at the top of a lane out of which the horses would have strayed into the high road towards St. Giles's if it had not been for a gate. This thoroughfare leads to a narrow passage called Little Turnstile, which, with another known as the Great Turnstile, at the north-east corner of Lincoln's Inn Fields, open up communications with High Holborn.

The Great Turnstile, according to Strype, in 1720 was "a great thoroughfare, and a place inhabited by sempsters, shoemakers, and milliners, for which it is of considerable trade and well noted."

Of Whetstone Park, the connecting thoroughfare between the two Turnstiles, we have already spoken in our chapter on Lincoln's Inn Fields. We may, however, add that it was a resort of profligate persons some two centuries since, and that its character at that time is commemorated in the plays of Shadwell, Dryden, and Wycherley:—
"Where ladies ply, as many tell us,
Like brimstones in a Whetstone alehouse.
But, if we may believe Strype, its infamous and vicious inhabitants had been banished previous to the year 1720.

One of the small courts between Lincoln's Inn Fields and Holborn, near the eastern end of Whetstone Park, is called Tichborne Court; over the Holborn entrance are the arms of the Tichbornes, with the date; the last figure is scarcely legible. This property came to the Tichborne family early in the seventeenth century, by the marriage of White Tichborne, Esq., of Aldershot (grandfather of the sixth baronet), with Ann, the daughter and heiress of Richard (or James) Supple, Esq., a member of the Vintners' Company.


Among the more celebrated inhabitants of the parish of St. Giles's are, Andrew Marvell, whom we have already mentioned, and the profligate Countess of Shrewsbury, concerning whom Horace Walpole tells us that she held the horse of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, while the latter killed her husband in a duel.

Among the old families in St. Giles's, Parton names the Spencers, or De Spencers, after whom the great ditch which ran along the southern side of the parish was called Spencer's Ditch or "Dig." The name of this drain in more recent times was Cock and Pie Ditch.

The "History of St. Giles's-in-the-Fields," by Mr. Parton, contains a variety of curious and interesting matter, and we have drawn largely upon it in these pages. But we have not adopted all his statements, having our confidence in him as a topographer and historian a little shaken by the fact that he gives in it a plan or map of the parish as it was in the thirteenth century—in other words, two centuries and a half, at the least, earlier than the map of London by Ralph Aggas, which is the oldest authority known to antiquaries, and from which, it is clear, on a close inspection, that he has borrowed many of his details. It is, indeed, made out so minutely as to show each man's possession in the parish, and every garden-plot delineated, with flower-beds, parterres, and bordered walks, just as if the gardener of William III. or Queen Anne had been alive in the Wars of the Roses! Mr. Parton gives no authority for these details; and it is to be feared that he allowed his antiquarian zeal to carry him in this one matter—like Herodotus of old—out of the domain of fact into the airy regions of fiction. In other respects, however, he would appear to have been a trusty chronicler, and his work from first to last is full of interest.


We may conclude our notice of St. Giles's with the following paragraph from a publication which does not often mislead, or misrepresent facts:—


"As lately as the year 1767," says a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, "another mass-house was discovered in Hog Lane, near the Seven Dials," and the officiating priest was "condemned to perpetual imprisonment"—simply for saying mass and giving the communion to a sick person. After four years' imprisonment his sentence was "commuted into exile for life." At the end of the last century, if not early in the present, Dr. Archer, a well-known Roman Catholic divine, and the author of several volumes of sermons, said mass in the garret of a small public-house in St. Giles's, kept by an Irishman who was not ashamed of his religion. This sounds strange in our ears in the present state of general toleration and liberty; but more than a century before, in 1663, Pepys records the fact that "a priest was taken in his vestments officiating somewhere in Holborn the other day, and was committed [to prison] by Mr. Secretary Morris, according to law."


  • 1. This street has long since disappeared, and George Street is built on its site.
  • 2. See above, Chap. XII., p. 77.
  • 3. See Chap. XXI., p. 143.