Spring Gardens

Pages 58-65

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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The Spring Garden

Spring Gardens, the little thoroughfare which lies behind the southwest frontage to Charing Cross, derives its name from the Spring Garden, formed, probably, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth in the north-east corner of St. James's Park as an addition to the pleasure grounds of Whitehall Palace.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives as one meaning of "spring", "a plantation of young trees, especially one inclosed and used for rearing and harbouring game," and it seems probable that it was in this sense that the Spring Garden was first so called. (fn. n1) It is shown on the "Agas" view (p. 115) as a little copse enclosed with a fence, and there are later references to pheasants and other "wild fowl" being preserved there. (fn. n2) In 1580–1 an account (fn. 87) was rendered "for digginge and levellinge the Springe garden and casting oute alleys and borders and settinge roses in the same," and it seems probable that the garden was extended at this date. The works accounts, (fn. 88) temp. James I, also refer to a bowling green, butts for the prince, the birdhouse, a paved pond or bathing pool, and the planting of orange trees and other foreign fruits there.

In 1590 a commission (fn. 89) was appointed to inquire into the encroachments committed by the tenants of houses abutting on Spring Garden in building outhouses and breaking doors and window lights through the wall. Nothing effective seems to have been done, and complaints of such encroachments crop up continually during the next 200 years. The garden had become a semi-public pleasure ground before the end of James I's reign. In 1620 Robert Hollowaye of London, "merchant taylor," deposed in the Star Chamber (fn. 90) that "having bene lately daungerously sicke … he was … advised to walke foorth of London into some fresh and sweet ayer. Whereuppon (he) and his wiffe togeather with some fewe of his honest naighbours and their wives—uppon the Eleaventh daye of June being the saboth daye … betweene the howers of Fower and Five of the clocke in the afternoone, and after they had orderly bene att Evening prayer in their owne parrish Church presumed to walke into your Mats garden commonlie called the Spring Garden neere to Whitehall." Unfortunately Hollowaye encountered a debtor, Sir Thomas Littleton, who was also taking the air with his friends in the garden and who had not expected to see men of Hollowaye's "vocation admitted to come thither." A scuffle ensued for which both parties were summoned before the court of Star Chamber, since the garden was within the verge of the palace.

In 1631 Simon Osbaldeston was granted (fn. 91) the keepership "of the Springe Garden and of the Bowling Greene there." (fn. n3) Four years later we hear that an "ordinary" was kept there "of six Shillings a Meal (when the King's Proclamation allows but two elsewhere) continual bibbing and drinking Wine all Day long under the Trees, two or three Quarrels every Week … Lord Digby being reprehended for striking in the King's garden, he answered, that he took it for a common Bowling Place, where all paid Money for their coming in." (fn. 92) In 1635 the garden was ordered to be closed and soon after a "new Spring Garden" was "erected in the Fields behind the Meuse" (see p. 102).

After the outbreak of the Civil War the Spring Garden again became, if indeed it had ever ceased to be, a place of public resort. In 1646 the House of Lords upon complaint "of the great Disorder in suffering Company to walk and resort to The Spring Garden on the Lord's-day and Fast-days" ordered that the Earl of Pembroke (fn. n4) should permit no entry there on such days. Later when puritan zeal was at its height the garden was entirely closed (fn. n5) though in 1658 John Evelyn was again able to "collation" there.

There was at least one house in Spring Garden as early as 1635 (fn. n6) and building went on during the Commonwealth period, e.g. on 31st October, 1656, the Council discussed an account for nearly £2,000 for work done at a house in Spring Garden "where Gen. Desborow lives." (fn. 36) At the Restoration the "garden" ceased to be such except in name, for the greater part was divided up into plots and let on lease. In May, 1661, the plot at the northern end was leased (fn. 93) to Sir Charles Cotterell; a long narrow strip running north and south was granted (fn. 94) to Sir Edward Nicholas; and a more compact plot to the east which had previously been in the possession of General Desborough went to Sir William Morice. (fn. 94) Sir Charles Cotterell had been appointed Master of the Ceremonies in 1641; he fled to Antwerp in 1649, but at the Restoration returned to England to take up his old post at the court of Charles II. He built himself "a fair brick house" on his ground in Spring Garden but apparently soon tired of it for before 1675 he sold it to William, Lord Crofts. (fn. 43) In 1664 the plot west of Morice's was granted (fn. 95) to Sir Henry Bennet, afterwards Earl of Arlington. Bennet was secretary of state and a member of the Cabal at this time. He lived at Arlington House, on the site of Buckingham Palace and used the ground in Spring Garden only for stables. He also disposed of his property there to Lord Crofts before 1674.

William, Lord Crofts, was one of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber to Charles II. He died in 1677 without issue, and in the following year his sister, Katherine Crofts, obtained a reversionary lease of his two plots of ground in Spring Garden. Between these two plots was an open stable yard with a horse pond which until 1720 was used in common by the lessees of Spring Garden. In that year "Mr. Secretary Craggs" applied for a reversionary term in the ground formerly belonging to Mrs. Crofts whose title he had bought, and a lease of the open stable yard and of a long triangular strip of ground abutting on St. James's Park on the west "late in the possession of the officers of His Majestyes Ordnance." (fn. 96) Craggs seems to have obtained his lease solely as a speculation, for in 1723 he disposed of his interest to Sir Edward Southwell. (fn. 97)

Sir William Morice, M.P. for Plymouth and secretary of state, had played some part in bringing about the Restoration, and the Spring Garden grant was a return for services rendered. The old Court party were hostile to Morice and in 1668 he resigned the secretaryship and retired to Devon, where he devoted himself to theology. In 1669 he let his house to Sir Robert Southwell who had just returned from a diplomatic mission to Portugal. The latter obtained a reversionary lease of the house in 1673 (fn. 98) and continued to reside there until his death in 1702 when his title passed to his son Sir Edward Southwell.

Later History of the Site

When Southwell died, in 1730, he was in possession of the greater part of the Spring Garden and had begun to consider plans for its redevelopment. The whole character of this quarter had changed during the preceding fifty years. In 1694 the bowling green at the southern end, which until then had remained an open space though several times petitioned for as a building plot, had been enclosed to form a garden to the Admiralty Office. (fn. 43) Towards the close of the 17th century the other part of Spring Garden, being within the verge of the court, had become a refuge for debtors, one of the most notorious being Sir Edward Hungerford, and the Board of Greencloth had finally to allow creditors to serve processes on persons living there. (fn. 99)

Whitehall Palace was burnt in 1698 and not rebuilt. Government offices replaced the royal apartments, and ground in the neighbourhood was in demand for the residences of officials. As will be seen from the plan inset on the opposite page, the lay-out of Spring Garden in 1730 was unsatisfactory; the different plots of ground were very irregular in shape and size and were difficult of access from the street. At the southern end a strip of the garden had in 1665 been granted (fn. 43) to Roger Higgs for inclusion in the tenements facing Charing Cross with the condition that a roadway 34 feet broad should be left open behind them. A passage and gate at the west end connected this roadway with the street, but even this passage was several times encroached on to the detriment of the inhabitants.

Edward Southwell, the younger, between 1730 and 1755 replanned the remainder of the Spring Garden site. Development was for a time retarded on account of the strip of ground in the possession of the descendants of Sir Edward Nicholas but in 1752 Southwell bought (fn. 100) up the lease of this ground from the nephew of William Nicholas, and New Street, Spring Garden, was extended westward to the park. Plots of ground on either side of New Street and along Spring Garden Terrace were granted (fn. 101) on building leases in 1753–55 to John Lambert, builder, who was also responsible about this time for the development of Northumberland Street on the other side of Charing Cross.

Figure 15:

Plan of Spring Garden in 1730.

From plan in the possession of H.M. Crown Lands Office

For close on a century Spring Gardens, as it came to be called, remained a fashionable quarter inhabited mainly by politicians and civil servants. Among the many well-known residents may be mentioned Sir Roger Newdigate, the antiquary and founder of the Newdigate prize for English verse, Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, Lord Frederick Campbell, Patrick Delaney, D.D., the friend of Sheridan and Swift, George Canning, the 1st Earl of Malmesbury, diarist, and Henry Addington, Lord Sidmouth. (fn. c1) The Commissioners for the first Westminster Bridge had their office there, as did the Auditors of the Land Revenue for many years. In 1731 Sir Edward Southwell built a chapel at the corner of New Street, for the use of the inhabitants, (fn. 102) and he and his heirs retained the right of presentation until 1828 when, as a result of several disputes which had arisen, the chapel was granted to the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and was formally consecrated. (fn. 43)

The Crown Lease of the whole Spring Garden property was several times renewed to the Southwell family but on each occasion the plots into which it had been divided temp. Charles II were specified separately and granted for different periods. Subsequent developments had cut right across these old divisions so that in many cases houses stood on two or more plots. The position was further complicated by the fact that Edward Southwell, grandson of the first Sir Edward, and 20th Baron de Clifford, who died in 1777, left a life interest in the property to his wife Sophia; and their son, Edward, the 21st Baron de Clifford, by his marriage settlement made in 1789 granted his reversionary interest in part of Spring Garden to trustees for his wife. (fn. 43) In 1794 the baron tried to raise some ready money by auctioning his interest in the property but the monetary result cannot have been great, for, beside the incumbrances already mentioned, in some cases the original building leases granted by the first Sir Edward Southwell had not run out and on some of the houses mortgages had been granted. Most of the lots were taken up by the actual tenants of the houses and when the de Clifford leases expired circa 1828 they were not renewed, the tenants treating direct with the Crown. (fn. 43)

Figure 16:

Plan of Spring Garden in 1778.

From plan in the possession of H.M. Commissioners of Crown Lands

By the middle of the 19th century the Admiralty Office was needing additional accommodation and from 1853 onward more and more of the Spring Garden houses were acquired for Admiralty purposes.

The Public Offices Site Act of 1882 authorised the acquisition of practically the whole Spring Garden site by the Commissioners of Works for the purpose of erecting new Admiralty Offices. The total cost of the ground was close on £500,000, and the original plan involved the rebuilding of the old Admiralty. This plan was revoked in favour of retaining the old building and erecting an annexe on the Spring Garden site, in spite of the protests of the Royal Institute of British Architects and others who considered that the old Admiralty would soon be unfit for further use, and that the proposed new annexe was unworthy in design. Provision was also made for the opening of the Mall to Charing Cross. Most of the site was cleared in 1885 but for the next three years the work was held up pending an enquiry by a Select Committee. The Admiralty new building was completed in 1891, and a further block, designed by Sir Aston Webb, R.A., which included the Admiralty Arch, was opened in 1910.

Figure 17:

No. 28, Spring Gardens (No. 1, New Street)

Description of New Street, Spring Gardens

The houses generally were of three storeys with a basement and attic. The fronts were in brick with a stone cornice, the ground storey in some cases being rusticated and finished with a plain band. No. 28 had a stone modillion cornice at the third floor level and wrought iron balcony fronts to the windows of the principal floor. The entrance doorway was set in an arched recess with a radiating fanlight. The iron railings to the front areas had ornamental iron brackets which originally contained oil lamps. Some of the houses contained panelled rooms but most of the interiors had undergone alteration. A plan of No. 28 is given on p. 63. Staircase details from several of the houses are shown on Plate 47. No. 18 (formerly No. 8), was a house of a more substantial type with a spacious garden overlooking the park. The exterior is shown as covered with stucco but it was probably originally brick; with its deep pedimented porch and stone quoins it presented a residence of some character. A view of the garden front is shown on Plate 42b. No. 14, New Street, the residence of John Drummond, the banker, was rebuilt in 1795, the old house having been almost entirely destroyed by fire. A design submitted to H.M. Commissioners of Woods and Forests for the elevation of the new house is reproduced on Plate 41.

Figure 18:

St. Matthew's Chapel

Spring Gardens (St. Matthew's) Chapel

This chapel was built in 1731. The plan of the building was of interest owing to the irregular shape of its site. The chancel was placed at the south-eastern end within a segmental alcove divided from the main body by an elliptical arch. At the back of the altar was an arched window with plaster decorations comprising laurel festoons surmounted by a shell (Plate39b ). On the north and west sides was the gallery with a panelled front supported on slight square pillars. The ceiling to the main body of the chapel was flat with a deep cove to the sides. The exterior was of brick with stone quoins to the south front and a moulded cornice. At the northern end on the east side was a pedimented porch with quoins similar in character to the front. This porch probably formed the main entrance, an additional entrance being made later on the south front by the substitution of a doorway for one of the windows. The head of the window was however retained, as will be seen by reference to Plate 39a. A delightful little domed cupola with Doric columns contained the bell.

Figure 19:

Plan of St. Matthew's Chapel, Spring Gardens

It is possible that Sir Robert Taylor may have had some influence on the design of the building, as he lived in Spring Gardens.

The chapel contained seating accommodation for 300 persons. It was included in the compulsory purchase by the Commissioners of Works, and from 1885 onwards was used as a storehouse for Admiralty records. It was demolished in 1903.


  • n1. No reference has been found to a fountain in Spring Garden before 1614. Hentzner's "Jet d'eau" "in a Garden joining to the Palace" must have been in the Privy Garden or the Orchard on the east side of Whitehall; there are many early references to the fountains there in the works accounts. In 1603 Florio used "Spring Garden" as a translation of Montaigne's "péinière," meaning a nursery of young trees. When the Spring Garden became a public pleasure ground the name developed that connotation and was applied to the new pleasure ground opened near the Mews and to later gardens of the same sort, e.g. Vauxhall. There were "jets d'eau" somewhat of the type described by Hentzner in the famous water garden at Chatsworth, but no evidence has been found of the term "spring garden" being used in respect of it.
  • n2. E.g. In 1610 John Browne of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, brickmaker, had to answer "for receaving and eating 2 pheasantes which were stolen forth of the Spring Garden at Whitehall being the kinges Pheasantes."
  • n3. His predecessors had been George Johnson and William Walker.
  • n4. Keeper of Whitehall Palace, an office which included the supervision of the Spring Garden and St. James's Park.
  • n5. "Cromwell and his partisans having shut up and seized on Spring Garden, which till now, had been the usual rendezvous for the ladies and gallants at this season." Diary of John Evelyn, 10th May, 1654.
  • n6. A letter of Viscount Conway dated 31st October, 1635, states that he "has taken two chambers in the Spring Garden, but must furnish them."
  • 36. Cal. of S.P. Dom.
  • 43. Entry Books of H.M. Commissioners of Woods and Forests, preserved in the Crown Lands Office.
  • 84. B. M. Egerton MSS. 2221.
  • 85. Hentzner, Journey into England, 1598.
  • 86. Middx. Sessions Rolls 11, p. 68.
  • 87. P.R.O., E 351/3215.
  • 88. P.R.O., S.P. 14/53.
  • 89. P.R.O., L.R. 1/44.
  • 90. P.R.O., Star Chamber Proc. 8/176/9.
  • 91. P.R.O., C 66/2567/4.
  • 92. Letters and Dispatches of Thomas, Earl of Strafford, ed. W. Knowles.
  • 93. P.R.O., C 66/2964/15.
  • 94. P.R.O., T 1/LXXXVI/75.
  • 95. P.R.O., L.R. 1/61, fol 330.
  • 96. P.R.O, T 54/26, p. 47.
  • 97. Middx. Reg. 1723, II, 120.
  • 98. Cal. of Treas. Books.
  • 99. P.R.O., L.S. 13/173, p. 121.
  • 100. Middx. Reg. 1752, II, 148.
  • 101. Ibid., 1753, III, 224, etc.
  • 102. Read's Weekly Journal, 25th Sept., 1731.
  • c1. For the house being built here in 1754 for Dr and Mrs Delaney by Mr Lambert see Autobiography and Correspondence of Mrs Delaney [1st ser.], 1861, vol.III, p.294