Great George Street

Pages 7-14

Survey of London: Volume 10, St. Margaret, Westminster, Part I: Queen Anne's Gate Area. Originally published by [s.n.], [s.l.], 1926.

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In this section


Early History of the Site.

Up to the middle of the 18th century the site of Great George Street (fn. n1) was occupied by Antelope Alley, Blue Boar's Head Yard, George Yard and Bell Alley, all running east to west, that portion of the western side of King Street which lay between Antelope Alley and Bell Alley, and part of Delahay Street (Plate 13).

Antelope Alley was so called from The Antelope Inn, the first mention of which (Le Antelope) has been found in 1443. (fn. n2) A document dated 13th March, 1447–48 (fn. n3) refers to a transaction between Richard Saxilby and Richard Walsh on the one hand and William Norton on the other, concerning a messuage formerly called "Le hert on the hoop," but now "Le Antelope super le hope," in the street called "Le Kyngestrete," between "Le Boreshede" on the south and a messuage belonging to Westminster Abbey on the north.

Further references occur in 1491 (fn. n4) and 1567. (fn. n5) On the latter occasion it was still a single "mesuage and tenement comonly called 'The Antylloppe,' "but when next met with (fn. n6) (in 1624) it had become a "greate mesuage "or tenemente or inne comonly called … 'The Antilop,' now divided "into severall mesuages or tenementes" in eighteen occupations, abutting on "The Blewboare" on the south and a house of Thomas Johnson on the north. This appears to mark the origin of Antelope Alley, which continued in existence until purchased by Samuel Cox, under the title of 14 messuages in King Street, for the purposes of the formation of Great George Street.

South of Antelope Alley lay Blue Boar's Head Yard. A reference to "le Borishede" also is found in 1443. (fn. n7) In 1539 the Abbot of Westminster let (fn. n8) on lease for 40 years to William Jennings a tenement or inn called "Le Boreshed" lying between King Street on the east, the (fn. n9) towards the tenement called Caleys (fn. n10) on the west, The Antelope on the north and The George on the south.

It has been commonly stated that Oliver Cromwell once resided in a house in Boar's Head Yard, but the statement is incorrect. (fn. n11) Walcott, in mentioning the alleged residence, (fn. n12) states that the house in which Cromwell resided had only recently been pulled down when he wrote (in 1849). It is, however, quite certain that The Boar's Head of Cromwell's time, as well as every house in old Boar's Head Yard, was demolished soon after 1756, for the new buildings on the north side of Great George Street completely covered the site. The later Boar's Head Yard was situated over 70 feet north of the old yard.

George Yard was a thoroughfare running out of the western side of King Street. The eastern half of this thoroughfare formed the yard attached to the George Inn; the western half was wider, and entered Delahay Street by two branches (Plate 13).

Two centuries earlier, when Delahay Street was not yet in existence, the site was in the possession of Sir Hugh Vaughan. (fn. n13) On his death in August, 1536, most of his property, including "one messuage with thappurtenaunces called … the George, scituate and beinge in or neere Kyng Streete in Westminster" and "two other messuages scituate and being in or neere Kynge Streete aforesaid," came into the possession of his son Francis, who in 1600 devised it to Francis Townley. (fn. n14) On 12th December, 1668, Nicholas Townley sold (fn. n15) to Sir William Boreman a portion of the estate consisting of a piece or parcel of ground with buildings thereon "in George Yard on the west side of King Streete" extending on the "south side of the way or passage leadeing from by and through the George Inne in King Streete … unto Long Ditch (fn. n16) from the middle of the gate stumpe goeing into the long stable yard belonging to the said George Yard … and abutts upon the east side of the said yard of the long stable there east, and extends from the said gate stumpe straight over and through the middle of the said stable yard unto the common sewer south, and extends out the north side of the said way or passage leading from by and through the George Inne unto Long Ditch, and abutts upon one messuage … commonly called the Two Brewers east, and upon another messuage … commonly called the Boares Head north, and upon the common sewer west." The description makes it clear that the property conveyed was only the western portion of the estate. On 8th June, 1670, Boreman transferred (fn. n17) his interest to Peter Delahay. Five years later Delahay acquired the greater portion of the remainder of the estate from Townley. (fn. n18)

The nine years which elapsed before Delahay's death saw the laying out of the property on the lines which were to last until the complete reconstruction of the area in the middle of the 18th century. The outstanding feature of this was the extension northwards of Longditch under the name of Delahay Street. The first year in which the street appears under that name in the ratebooks is 1725, but houses in that street are given under the heading of "George Yard" at least as early as 1686. Delahay himself (and after his death, his widow) lived in a house on the west side. (fn. n19)

On Delahay's (fn. n20) death in 1684–5 (fn. n21) his property fell to his five daughters, none of whom had attained her majority. They were: (i) Mary, who married Sir John St. Aubin, of Clowance, Cornwall; Martha; Lady Elizabeth Glanville; Judith, who married John Langley; and Eleanor, afterwards wife of Thomas Morice. (fn. n22) In 1701, when presumably Eleanor, the youngest, came of age, a partition of the estate was made, but in the course of this investigation no copy of the deed of partition (25th July, 1701) has been found. Practically the whole of the estate was, half a century later, acquired, for the purpose of the formation of Great George Street, by Mallors (the builder of that street) and Cox (his mortgagee).

South of George Yard was a messuage described in 1546 (when it was granted by the King to Sir Thomas Pope (fn. n23) ) as in "le Kinges Strete" abutting on the tenement of the Fraternity of St. Mary in Westminster called "le Sonne" on the south, the tenement of Sir Hugh Vaughan called "le George" on the west and north, and the high street on the east. Among the properties purchased in connection with the formation of Great George Street was one in the occupation of John Williams which, from the similarity in description, was obviously identical with that mentioned above. It is described (fn. n24) as "all that messuage, tenement or dwelling-house … in Kings Street… formerly in the tenure … of Edward Martyn, afterwards of Sir Erasmus Dryden … abutting upon the tenement appertaining to the late Brotherhood of the Blessed Mary in Westminster… called the Sun on the south part, and upon a messuage, tenement or inn … in the occupation of … Ball, widdow, called … the George (fn. n25) on the west and north parts." The ratebooks confirm the statement that this house was the residence of Erasmus Dryden. (fn. n26)


The Sun lay to the south of Dryden's house. It is mentioned as early as 1464. (fn. n27) In the time of Henry VIII it belonged to the Fraternity of St. Mary within the Church of St. Margaret, (fn. n28) and on the abolition of the chantries, etc., in 1547 came into the hands of the Crown. (fn. n29) In 1555 it was in the possession of Richard Castyll alias Casteler, who left to his wife Katherine his tenement called "the Sonne, wherein now inhabyteth one "John Horner, … in the Kinges high streate," for life, with reversion to Christ's Hospital. It came into the possession of the Hospital in 1566, (fn. n30) and so remained until pulled down in connection with the formation of Great George Street. (fn. n31)

Bell Alley was so named of The Bell inn, which is mentioned as early as 1465. (fn. n32) About 50 years later it is referred to as "a tenement called the "Bell wt a medowe and all the tenementes perteynyng … to the same sett in the Kynges strete of Westminster." (fn. n33) It is several times mentioned in Pepys' diary. (fn. n34) A reference of a different character is the following: (fn. n35) Thursday night Mr. Hill, an attorney of Lyons Inn, was killed in the Bell Tavern in King Street, Westminster, by Lieutenant Collonel Cornius of the militia, who made his escape."

In Anne's reign The Bell was the headquarters of the October Club. In the Journal to Stella Swift writes (10th February, 1710–11): "We are plagued here with an October Club, that is, a set of above a hundred Parliament men of the country, who drink October beer at home, and meet every evening at a tavern near the Parliament."

Formation of Great George Street.

In 1750 Westminster Bridge was completed and Bridge Street, its new western approach, opened out into Parliament Street and King Street directly in front of George Yard. The continuation of Bridge Street westwards seemed a quite obvious improvement, but it was left to a private individual to carry it out as a speculation. In 1752–3 James Mallors (the builder of Nos. 43 and 44 Parliament Street) obtained an Act of Parliament (fn. n36) authorising him "to open a street from the west side of King Street "… to the back part of the houses, gardens and yards on the west side of Delahaye Street." The preamble states that the making of such a large, spacious and publick new street … would be not only extremely conducive to the benefit of the said parishes of Saint Margaret and St. John the Evangelist, but highly advantageous and convenient to the publick in general, as well as a great ornament to the antient City of Westminster, more especially if such houses only as are fit for the habitation of persons of fortune and distinction, were erected and built on each side of the said street."

Mallors, therefore, was empowered to acquire ground and houses on a site bounded roughly by King Street, Gardener's Lane (western portion), St. James's Park and Bow Street (Thieving Lane) (fn. n37) (see Plate 13) and was authorised to carry out exchanges of property with the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, who owned portions of the site. Provision was made for the new street to have a width of 60 feet at the least, and for "good and substantial houses" to be built on each side of the street, each with a frontage of not less than 25 feet. In place of the old Delahay Street it was enacted that "a free and open street or passage, of the breadth of 26 feet 6 inches at the least, shall be laid out, made, preserved and kept open at all times for the use of the publick, and extending from that part of the north end of a street called Long Ditch, which is opposite or near to Princes Court, as far as and unto the south end of Duke Street."

On obtaining his parliamentary powers Mallors promptly mortgaged them to Samuel Cox of the New Temple. (fn. n38) Subsequent financial arrangements are too complicated to be detailed.

The acquisition and clearing of the existing buildings seem to have taken about three years. In the ratebook for 1757 Great George Street appears for the first time, and with the great majority of the houses built. In accord with this is the evidence afforded by deeds, which show that most of the houses were in existence by November, 1755. Some, however, seem not to have been built until a few years later. Only six were inhabited in 1757. They do not seem to have let very quickly, and there is evidence which suggests that some of them remained partially or entirely built some years before they were occupied.

The premises thus erected comprised a series of four-storey terrace houses above a basement. They had plain brick fronts, relieved by flat bands at the first and second-floor levels, and a modillion cornice at the third-floor level, with plain brickwork above. An architectural treatment to relieve the general exterior was adopted in the design of Nos. 11 and 29, the centre houses on each side of the street. These projected slightly beyond the frontage line, and were furnished with a pediment containing an oval window. The entrance doors generally had semicircular brick openings with sidelights and ornamental fanlights, while others were flanked by wood columns which supported a pedimented hood. A front area afforded light to the basement storey, which had iron railings with vase terminals to the main standards. Some of the houses at the time of their demolition still retained their old lamp-brackets.

The Soane Museum contains a few sketches of internal details by Robert Adam for premises in Great George Street, but there is no evidence that these designs were ever carried into effect. There are, however, distinct traces of Adam's influence in the houses in this street, and it is possible that he was directly concerned in some of these. The absence of records in no way conflicts with such a supposition, for only a very small portion of his designs is extant. On the other hand, the features referred to may be due to the employment of craftsmen who had come in contact with Adam's ideas and were influenced thereby in their workmanship. This would help to explain the variation in the style of the interior decorative treatment of some of the houses in the street.

The interiors generally contained some good decorative plaster work, and tastefully designed and delicately executed marble mantelpieces. Some of the rooms had wood panelling with carved chimney-pieces and enriched joinery details, while the staircases had wrought-iron balustradings with scroll panels. Some of the decorative features were preserved when the houses were destroyed, and are now on view in various London museums, chiefly at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Only a few of the original houses in this street are now left. In the early part of the 19th century the eastern portion of the south side was swept away as a part of a large improvement scheme authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1806. (fn. n39)

In 1910 the whole of the buildings on the north side were pulled down to make room for Government Offices, and on the south side Nos. 2 to 7 were demolished and the site utilised for the new premises of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

In the Council's Collection are:—

(fn. n40) plan of part of the Parish of St. Margaret's showing the improvement of Gt. George Street from Westminster Bridge to the Park. Taken between 1734 and 1748 (Pub. J. T. Smith, 1807) (engraving).

A plan of part of St. Margaret's Parish, Westminster, showing the improvements of Parliament Street and George Street. Taken between 1734 and 1748 (Pub. J. T. Smith, 1807) (engraving).

A plan of part of the Ancient city of Westminster … on which are delineated the new streets laid down and intended to be built by Order of … the Commissioners for Building a bridge at Westminster. 1740. T. Lediard, Jun., del., Fourdrinier, sc. (engraving).

A plan of the Improvements to Westminster Bridge, 1748. From an engraving in the Crace Collection (photograph).

A plan of part of the Ancient City of Westminster, from College Street to Whitehall, and from the Thames to St. James's Park, in which are laid down all the new streets that have been built and other alterations made since the building of Westminster Bridge. (Pub. C. Fourdrinier and Co., 1761.) From an engraving in the Crace Collection (photograph).

(fn. n40) Examples of joinery details, chair-rails and skirtings presented to the London County Council by H.M. Office of Works and on exhibition at the Geffyre Museum (measured drawing).

(fn. n40) Example of plaster cornices and friezes (measured drawing).

(fn. n40) View of Storey's Gate and George Street, Westminster, towards the Bridge. From a water-colour drawing by T. H. Shepherd, 1814, in the Crace Collection (photograph).


  • n1. The site, that is, not only of the actual thoroughfare, but also of the houses on each side.
  • n2. Westlake's St. Margaret, Westminster, p. 8.
  • n3. Close Roll, 298.
  • n4. Final concord between Thomas Randyll, Sir Richard Gylford, John More, Stephen Jenyns, Henry Castell, and Simon Lynche, quer: and William Averey and Joan his wife deforc: of a messuage called "Le Antelope" in Westminster (Easter 6 H. VII).
  • n5. Indenture, 12th November, 1567, between William Meredith, and William Burde and John Fitzwilliams. (Close Roll, 766.)
  • n6. Indenture 28th April, 1624, between John Newet and Abraham Colly. (Close Roll, 2594.)
  • n7. Westlake's St. Margaret, Westminster, p. 8. See also document of 13th March, 1448, quoted above.
  • n8. Augmentation Office, Conventual Leases Westminster, No. 117.
  • n9. "fossam super le Sh…(?)"
  • n10. Among the lands belonging to Westminster Abbey, which were intermingled with those attached to the Hospital of St. James, and which, together with the latter, were acquired by Henry VIII. for the formation of St. James's Park, was a "greate mesuage or tenement called Petye Caleys" (Ancient Deeds, A. 213). Its situation is roughly determined by the description of the southern part of the lands going to form the Park as lying on the north side of a line joining the lands called "Rosamundes" to the "land lately a parcel of the great messuage or tenement called Pety Cales" (Patent Roll, 659, 23rd December, 23 Henry VIII.). "Rosamundes" was at the south-western angle of the park, and Petty Calais was therefore probably within the southeastern angle. At the time of its acquisition by Henry VIII. it was held by John Bourchier, second Baron Berners, deputy of Calais (is this the origin of the name of Petty Calais ?), and two letters from him to Cromwell on the subject of the premises are preserved. (State Papers, Domestic, Vol. 69, pp. 173– 4 and Vol. 70, p. 209.) According to him they comprised more than 20 acres.
  • n11. Walcott (Memorials of Westminster, p. 70) says: "At the Boar's Head, in the court of that name, Oliver Cromwell lived while Member of Parliament: there is a notice in the Overseers' Books of a collection made for the poor from him here as General Cromwell." Wheatley and Cunningham (London Past and Present, II, p. 338) quote a MS. communication of Geo. H. Malme which goes more into detail. "Shortly before the great trial in 1833 between the Parish of St. Margaret and the Inhabitants of Privy Gardens, a very rigid examination of the old parochial ratebooks took place, and in one of them Lieut.-General Oliver Cromwell was found rated for a house in King Street, which was ascertained, with as much certainty as the extensive alterations in the vicinity would admit, to be one of two very ancient tenements lying between the north side of the gateway entrance to Blue Boar's Head Yard and the wall of Ram's Mews." The precision of the identification is staggering, for a careful examination of the ratebooks shows the "certainty" to be far from justified. The facts are as follows, it being premised that the ratebooks give the names for King Street in order, starting from the south end on the west side, going northwards as far as the King Street Gate (in the neighbourhood of the modern Downing Street) and thence proceeding southwards along the east side. No ratebook gives the name of Cromwell anywhere on the west side of the street. That for 1649, however, after giving the whole of the west side of the street, has a side heading "King Street East," and immediately following are the names: Colonell Whalley Captaine Middleton Lieutenant GenII Cromwell Mary Harper This by itself is fairly conclusive evidence that Cromwell lived at the north end of King Street on the east side. In the book for 1650 Cromwell drops out, and in that for 1651 Whalley also disappears, but Middleton and Harper persist for many years, and in all cases where side-headings are given they follow that of King Street East. They (and consequently Cromwell's residence also) were therefore on the east side. There is moreover other, and decisive, evidence for the east-side position of the houses of Whalley and Harper. In one of the surveys of Crown property, made in 1650 (Parliamentary Surveys, Middlesex, No. 48) is given the description of a house "now in the "occupacion of Collonell Whalley," bounded on the south by the house of Harper, and "con"tayninge by admeasurement from King-streete west to Whitehall orchard east 82 feet." It may, therefore be said quite definitely that Cromwell's house was on the east side of King Street, and near the north end.
  • n12. Memorials of Westminster, p. 70.
  • n13. He owned the Manor of Astlam and other property in Littleton, Laleham, Shepperton, etc., and had been "captaine" in the isles of "Garnesey and Jarnesey" (Suit of Francis Townley, C. II., Eliz. T. 3/60). He was buried in the chapel of St. Michael in Westminster Abbey with his first wife Anne, daughter of Henry, Earl of Northumberland and widow of Thomas Hungerford. His second wife Blanche (née Castell) lies in Littleton Parish Church.
  • n14. See suit of Townley (C. II., Eliz., T. 3/60) against Mary Clynch, granddaughter of Sir Hugh Vaughan's eldest son, Antony. The story contained in Townley's plaint of how Arthur Bedolph, on behalf of Mary Clinch, assaulted Townley's servant in the open street and carried off the deeds of the premises, is not without interest.
  • n15. Close Roll, 4255.
  • n16. Now Princes Street.
  • n17. Close Roll, 4290.
  • n18. Final concord between Peter Delahay, gentleman, quer: and Nicholas Townley, senior, Esq., Nicholas Townley, junior, Esq., and Janet his wife def: concerning 12 messuages and 5 stables in St. Margaret, Westminster. (27 Charles II. Mich). A portion of the property in King Street had already been disposed of.
  • n19. It was purchased in 1727 by Sir Jermyn Davers. (Midd. Memorials, 1727, V. 380–1.)
  • n20. He married, at St. Giles in the Fields, on 12th December, 1667, Eleanor Tooth "of St. Martin's in the Fields, spinster, [aged] abt 28." He himself is described as a widower, and his age is given as "about 40." (Marriage Allegations in the Registry of the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, p. 142.)
  • n21. His will (Peculiar Court of Westminster, C. VII., 65) was dated 9th December, 1684.
  • n22. The order in which the names are given is that in which they always appear in deeds mentioning the five together, and presumably is that of age. Peter Delahay's will, however, mentions his daughters in the order, Martha, Elizabeth, Mary, Judith, Eleanor.
  • n23. Patent Roll, 23rd September, 38 Henry VIII.
  • n24. Indenture of 12th April, 1754, between James Mallors (1), Elisha Biscoe (2) and Samuel Cox (3). C.P. 43/684, f. 26.
  • n25. In the same year Cox purchased "all that messuage or tenement or inn commonly called "… the George … in the tenure … of … Ball widow." (Middx. Memorials, 1754, I, 576.) It is said in the indenture to have belonged to "Dame Elizabeth Glanville at the time of her decease." Lady Glanville was one of the daughters and coheirs of Peter Delahay who purchased this part of Sir Hugh Vaughan's Westminster estate in 1670–5 (see p. 9). The parallelism of the two descriptions is therefore complete.
  • n26. Erasmus Dryden, younger brother of the poet, was born in 1636. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Martyn, of Westminster (Barber's Northamptonshire, II., p. 7), who, as may be seen above, was his predecessor in the house. "He was churchwarden in 1687, and carried on business as a grocer in King Street until he succeeded to the baronetcy." (Westminster Records, p. 99.) He is referred to as "of Westminster" … grocer" in an indenture of 23rd November, 1676. (Between Michael Arnold, etc., and Erasmus Dryden and Richard Farthing, Close Roll, 4460.) He succeeded his nephew, Sir Erasmus Henry, son of the poet, in the baronetcy and died in 1718.
  • n27. In the expenses of Sir John Howard, under 26th March, 1464, occurs: "Item, the same day at dyner at Westemenstyr at the taverne of the Sonne, when my mastyr dynyd wyth mastyr Stanley ijs.," and on 3rd September, 1468, is a reference to a payment "to the godewife at the Sone in the Kings strete at Westmynster for vj pipes [of wine]." (Manners and Household Expenses of England in the 13th and 15th centuries, Roxburghe Club, pp. 251, 515.)
  • n28. For an account of this gild see Westlake's The Parish Gilds of Mediæval England, pp. 84 ff.
  • n29. xRolls, 3 Edw. VI., X, m. 24–8. It is described as the messuage called "the Sonne" in the tenure of Agnes Russell, in "the Kinges Strete," which belonged to the Fraternity of St. Mary.
  • n30. For details, see p. 79.
  • n31. Pepys visited The Sun tavern on many occasions. See, e.g. entry under 3rd August, 1668: "Up, and by water to White Hall and St. James's, where I did much business, and about noon meeting Dr. Gibbons, carried him to the Sun taverne, in King Street, and ther made him and some friends of his drink."
  • n32. Among the expenses of Sir John Howard are several references to the Bell, e.g.: "Item, the iij day of Feverer [1464–5], paid mastres Ysbelles costes at the Belle at Westemenster, xxjd." (Op. Cit., p. 487.)
  • n33. See reply of Alice Laurence to the suit of Roger Smyth (Court of Requests, General Series, 17/45) in which she complains that he "wolde holde and occupie the said tenementes … at his pleasure agenst the wyll of the said Alice, paying such rent as hym wolde lyst to pay agenst thorder of all justice and goode conscience."
  • n34. E.g. under 2nd July, 1660: "Met with purser Washington, with whom and a lady, a friend of his, I dined in the Bell Tavern in King Street, but the rogue had no more manners than to invite me and to let me pay my club."
  • n35. Luttrell's A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs under date of 21st January, 1698–9.
  • n36. 26 Geo. II., c. 101 (Local).
  • n37. The limits were: "In a line beginning at the south-east end of Bow Street, otherwise Thieving Lane … and going northwards along the west side of King Street to the southeast angle of Brown's Alley, and then going westward to the south-west angle of the said alley, including the whole thereof; from thence proceeding northward along the west side of the party wall dividing the freehold estate of John Wiseman, Esquire, from certain other premises belonging to the Provost and Fellows of Eton College and Humphreys Ram, now in the tenure of Joseph Waring, to Gardener's Lane; and then proceeding westward along the south side of the said lane to the north-west corner thereof next to Duke Street; then proceeding southward along the east side of Duke Street and the east and south-east sides of Delahaye Street, as far as the party wall dividing two houses situate at the north end of Long Ditch; one whereof is now in the occupation of Richard Turner, apothecary, and the other in the occupation of John Snow, bricklayer, not taking in the said house now occupied by the said John Snow, or any part thereof; then proceeding eastward 140 feet along the north side of the wall which parts the garden of the said Richard Turner from the yard and garden of the said John Snow, and from thence returning southward 50 feet to a break dividing the ground of … Duvall from other land in the tenure or occupation of Henry Cheere Esquire; and then going from the said break eastward 100 feet to the west side of Rose Alley, situate on the north side of Bow Street, otherwise Thieving Lane, aforesaid; then beginning at the south-west angle of Rose Alley aforesaid, and going eastward along the north side of Bow Street … as far as the south-east angle thereof next King Street; secondly, beginning at the south-east corner of Prince's Court … and going northward along the east side of St. James's Park wall 140 feet in length, then going eastward to Delahaye Street, along the south side of the party wall of the house now in the tenure of … Streach Esquire, but not including the same, then going southward along the west side of Delahaye Street, as far as and unto the south-east corner of Prince's Court aforesaid."
  • n38. Middlesex Memorials, 1754, II., 171.
  • n39. Geo. III., c. 89. By the provisions of this Act the southern portion of King Street, as well as all Thieving Lane, and Broad and Little Sanctuaries were demolished.
  • n40. Reproduced here.