Hemmings Row and Castle Street

Pages 112-114

Survey of London: Volume 20, St Martin-in-The-Fields, Pt III: Trafalgar Square and Neighbourhood. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1940.

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Prior to the formation of Charing Cross Road in 1886, Hemmings Row formed the eastern end of Orange Street between Castle Street and St. Martin's Lane. The whole of the east side of Castle Street was pulled down in 1886 and the site of Hemmings Row became part of St. Martin's Place.

On the plan of 1585 (see p. 2) the ground south of the site of Hemmings Row is marked as "The Mewes Close." King James I granted the eastern part to the parish (see below). The western part became the Green Mews (see Modern and Lea's map, Plate 1) and later the site of St. George's Barracks. A brief history of the parish properties in Hemmings Row and Castle Street is given below.

(i) The New Churchyard. In 1606 the king granted (fn. 176) to the parish an acre of ground on the west side of St. Martin's Lane between the Mews and Swan Close for a new churchyard, the old one on the east side, which was already cramped, having been made still smaller by the enlargement of the church (see pp. 20, 21). The greater part of this ground was consecrated on 8th June, 1608, but a strip along the north side 30 feet wide and 332 feet long and a strip, 32 feet in depth, abutting on St. Martin's Lane, were retained by the parish for secular purposes, part being let out in building plots. (fn. 177) In due course this misappropriation came to light and in 1633 Charles I, while confirming the grant of the original acre to the parish, ordered that the remainder of the ground which had remained unconsecrated and which had not already been built over should be added to the churchyard.

The "Agas" map (p. 115) shows a footpath crossing St. Martin's Field north of the Mews. This was probably the "foote way" lying between the New Churchyard and Swan Close which the Vestry decided in July, 1622, to enlarge into a road 15 feet wide, "the taking doune and setting up any Walls, placeing any posts or making any gates" to be done at the cost of William Ashton (a tenant of Sir Henry Maynard (see p. 5)).


In 1653 the Vestry closed the lane with two posts but allowed Henry Oxenden and his tenants at the Blue Mews to use the lane for coaches and horses on payment of a rent of six pounds a year. In 1661 the Vestry again treatened to close the lane since the traffic was disturbing the foundations of the churchyard wall. In 1670 the Earl of Leicester was granted a 500 years' lease of the lane in order that he might improve the communications of the ground he was then developing in the centre of St. Martin's Field, i.e. Leicester Square etc. He undertook to pave the roadway and to put in strong posts along the footway "for the safety of passengers."

The lane is marked on Morden and Lea's Map (Plate 1) as Dirty Lane. It was sometimes referred to as New Churchyard Lane and later as Churchyard Lane or England's Street.

In 1700, when the Vestry applied (fn. 35) to Parliament for an Act to enable them to enlarge the churchyard, improve the houses there belonging to the parish and widen the lane, they referred to the latter as "Heming's Row." John Heming, apothecary, described by Burnet in 1688 as "a very worthy man," occupied a house on the north side of the lane. In 1711 James, Earl of Salisbury, granted (fn. 178) a lease of several houses there to Dorothy, widow of John Heming, the largest being described as a "great messuage with a courtyard in front and a garden behind late in the possession of the Honble Henry Broune Esqr." This was probably one of the original houses built by Robert, Earl of Salisbury, on Swan Close (see p. 5). It was pulled down shortly afterwards and a row of houses was erected in its stead.

(ii) The Workhouse. The minutes of St. Martin's Vestry for 20th July, 1664, contain the entry "The Earle of Newport wth Sr Hugh Cartwright and Edmd Godfrey Esqr came and Propounded to have a work house for ye poore built in the new Church yeard." The workhouse was built soon after. The parish authorities were guilty of the "scandalous offence" of letting the vaults as wine cellars (fn. n1) and in 1672 the Bishop of London ordered that this "prophane use" should cease and that in future the vaults should be "solely made use of for the burying and interring of Dead bodies." (fn. 35) Perhaps the poor did not appreciate this care for their spiritual welfare or perhaps there was a temporary lack of poverty in the parish, but for whatever reason the workhouse was little used and in 1683 it was decided to let it, on condition that "if at any time hereafter there shall be occasion, another convenient Workhouse shall be provided at the charge of the parish." Occasion arose in 1724, when the vestry passed an estimate of £607 10s. for a new workhouse with an extra charge of £10 "for making sash windows instead of leadwork."

In 1772 a new and larger workhouse was built (fn. 179) extending into Castle Street and this building appears to have remained in being until its demolition in 1871 for the extension of the National Gallery. (fn. 180) Part of the workhouse building is shown in the view of Hemmings Row reproduced on Plate 100b

(iii) Archbishop Tenison's Library and School. There is an entry in Evelyn's Diary for 15th February, 1683–84: "Dr. Tension (Vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields 1680–92) communicated to me his intention of erecting a Library in St. Martin's parish, for the public use, and desired my assistance, with Sir Christopher Wren, about the placing and structure thereof." The library was erected in 1685 on the east side of Castle Street (Plate 99a). The founder at first suggested that the ground floor should be used to house the parish fire engines, but in 1687–88 the vestry agreed that it should be adapted for the use of the parish charity school "with Seates to be taken downe, and Planks to be taken up, upon any occasion of Burialls." Dr. Tenison endowed the school in 1697.

In the middle of the 19th century the finances of the foundation were in a precarious state and in 1861 the trustees, with the approval of the Charity Commissioners, sold the library and invested the proceeds for the benefit of the school. The school site was acquired by H.M. Commissioners of Woods and Forests under the National Gallery Enlargement Act of 1867 and the school was moved to a building erected on the site of Hogarth's house in Leicester Square.

(iv) St. Martin's Girls' Charity School. This school was built in 1796–97 on part of the burial ground on the south side of Hemmings Row to accommodate girls of the charity school founded in 1699 and originally housed in a room in Hungerford Market. In 1868, when the Hemmings Row site was acquired for the enlargement of the National Gallery, the school was reorganised as a secondary school and was moved to a site in Charing Cross Road as the St. Martin's Middle School for Girls.


  • n1. Probably in connection with the King's Head alehouse in St. Martin's Lane, which was parish property.
  • 35. St. Martin-in-the-Fields Vestry Minutes.
  • 176. P.R.O., C 66/1711.
  • 177. Ibid., 2632 and Vestry Minutes.
  • 178. Middx. Reg. 1711, IV, 85.
  • 179. Act 12 Geo. III, c. 35.
  • 180. Strand Union Board Minutes, 1871.