The Haymarket

Pages 95-100

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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Early History

What is now known as the Haymarket is marked on the plan of 1585 as "the waye to Charinge Crose from Colb(roke)". When it first became a market is a matter of doubt. It is probable that the adaptation of the Mews as Royal Stables stimulated the formation of an unofficial market for hay and straw near Charing Cross. Suckling's Ballad upon a Wedding written before 1640 contains the lines—

"At Charing Cross, hard by the way,
Where we (thou know'st) do sell our hay."

In August, 1660, Robert Kilvert applied (fn. 36) to the king for the office of "Weigher of Hay and Straw at Charing Cross Market" since "for want of such an officer, the hay and straw sold above London Bridge are brought to market very short in weight."

Nothing came of Kilvert's request but his contention was apparently correct for in January, 1660–1, a grant (fn. 36) was made to William Careless and two others of the "office of surveying all hay and straw brought by land and water to Westminster, making searches to rectify abuses therein, etc., taking 6d. a load for hay and 3d. for straw." In 1661 Sir John Denham, Surveyor of the Works, asked that the market might be discontinued since loose hay and straw washed down by the rain frequently caused stoppages in the drains at the Palace of Whitehall. (fn. 144) The market was not abolished but in 1662 an Act (fn. 145) was passed providing for a toll to be charged on every load of hay and straw sold in certain streets about St. James's Palace including the street "beginning from the Mews up to Pickadilly" and for the money to be used for the repair and paving of these streets. The name Haymarket was first applied to the street in the ratebook for 1657. (fn. n1) By 1681 when the 1662 Act had expired the street was in a bad condition and several applications were made for a grant of the tolls in return for the repair of the roadway. A grant (fn. 147) on these terms was made in 1687 to Charles Clutterbuck and James Pawlett, but the matter was by no means settled. Pawlett obtained Clutterbuck's share in the grant and permission from the Crown to transfer the market to Soho. On the advent of William and Mary he was denounced as a professed papist and his grant being annulled a fresh one was made to Dorick Storke. Even then the farmers refused to pay the tolls until forced to do so by an Act (fn. 148) passed in 1690 which laid down definite regulations for the conduct of the market. The Act provided for the setting up of toll posts opposite Coventry House at the northern end of the street, and opposite the Phoenix Inn at the southern end, to mark the limits of the market, and ordered the Justices of the Peace for Westminster to appoint commissioners for paving the Haymarket out of the money raised by tolls. The paving work was afterwards leased out to John Mist, whose executors tried (fn. 149) in 1730 to improve on his contract by moving the northern toll post further south, a measure which provoked effective protests from residents at the northern end of the street whose frontages would thus have been left unpaved. For the next 150 years hay carts continued to block the Haymarket and neighbouring streets three days a week to the ever increasing inconvenience of the inhabitants. It was finally abolished in 1830.

Only the east side of the Haymarket lies within the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Shaver's Hall, or "the gaming house" as it is called on Faithorne's map, was built at the northern end in 1634 (see p. 102), and houses were built on the southern half when the ground of Suffolk stables was developed circa 1664 and on the northern half by Colonel Panton circa 1674. The rates charged indicate that most of these houses were comparatively small and it is probable, in view of the market in the street, that they were from the first used as shops. Only at the northern end were there any substantial houses, and these were probably the Shaver's Hall premises converted to residential purposes, the corner house being from 1673 to 1686, the home of Henry Coventry, secretary of state in 1671–80, and uncle of the Sir John Coventry who lived in Suffolk Street (see p. 90). Coventry's residence gave the adjoining street its name, Coventry Street, while Shaver's Place (formerly Arundel Place and Coventry Court) at the top of the Haymarket probably defines the boundary of his house. Coventry House was pulled down circa 1690 (fn. n2) and smaller houses were erected on the site by Richard Campion, nine being in the Haymarket. (fn. 151) In 1720 Strype described the Haymarket as "a large spacious street with well built houses, especially on the east side. … It is a great through-fare into Piccadilly, and so to the Western Road, and much resorted unto, by reason of the Market there kept every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for hay and straw there sold."

The new Street Act of 1813, under the provisions of which the appearance of the neighbourhood was so radically changed, also affected the Haymarket. The lease of the southern part of the east side granted in 1692 to Edward Russell fell in at Michaelmas, 1819, and the whole of the ground from and including the site of the theatre down to Cockspur Street was, after some deduction being made for the formation of Pall Mall East, relet on building leases.

No. 3.—This house was designed by Nash as the return treatment to the architectural composition of the façade to Suffolk Place, a similar effect being produced with No. 2 on the opposite south corner, now demolished. The treatment of the shop windows between the columns to both fronts is very satisfactory.

No. 4.—These premises have a stucco front and had their counterpart in No. 1 on the southern portion. Nos. 1 and 2 and the adjoining premises comprising the whole island site were demolished for the erection of new bank premises.

The sites of Nos. 3 and 4 were included in the general building lease of the north side of Suffolk Place to John Godsman dated 28th November, 1821 (fn. 43). The houses were leased in 1824 to Thomas Lindsay Holland.

No. 18 (now demolished).—These premises stood at the corner of Orange Street and comprised three storeys over a shop. The shop front returned along the side street. A projecting fascia carried a cast iron balcony to the first floor windows. The building probably dated from the end of the 18th century (Plate 89b).

No. 25 (now demolished).—These premises were situated at the corner of Panton Street and comprised a plain brick front of four storeys with horizontal bands at the second and floor levels. The lower storey was divided by pilasters into a series of bays of shop windows. The building probably dated from the end of the 18th century (Plate 88b). The eastern end of the return front to Panton Street had an arcaded treatment to the shop front which may originally have been similar to the Haymarket front.

Figure 31:

Plans of Nos. 33 and 34, Haymarket

Nos. 33 and 34.—These two houses appear to date from the middle of the 18th century, and it is probable that they were built by John Maidman, carpenter, who in 1741 obtained a 51 years lease (fn. 152) of the houses (20 in all) on the site of Coventry House. (fn. n3)

The exterior of No. 34 comprises a brick front of four storeys with a stone modillion cornice at third floor level. The ground storey consists of a delightful double-fronted bow-shaped shop window with a side entrance to the private quarters over the shop. There is a screen of the Adam period dividing the back portion of the shop (Plate 93). On the second floor is a wood mantelpiece of the same period with a contemporary iron grate (Plate 92). The staircase has spiral balusters with a close moulded string and is original. In the basement is an ornamental lead cistern as shown on Plate 91.

Peter Fribourg, the original member of the present firm of Fribourg and Treyer, is first entered as the occupant of No. 34 in the 1751 ratebook. The earliest account book now in the possession of the firm commences in 1764. (fn. n4)

No. 33 was taken over by the firm in 1912. Occupants of the premises from 1741 to 1800 as given in the ratebooks were:

No. 34.—James Emon (1740–43), Catherine Barber (1744–45), Thomas Robinson (1746–47), John Robertson (1748–50), Peter Fribourg (1751–85), G. A. Treyer (1786–1809).

No. 33.—Christopher Gough (1741–42), James Emon (1743–78), Philip Emon (1779–85), John Amick (1786), Moses Hugnanin (1787– ).

The Haymarket Theatre

The First Haymarket Theatre or Little Theatre was built in 1720 by John Potter, carpenter, (fn. 153) on the site of an inn in the Haymarket (fn. n5) and a shop in Suffolk Street kept by Isaac Bliburgh, a gunsmith, and known by the sign of the Cannon and Musket. (fn. 154) It lay a little to the north of the present theatre, two houses south of James Street, and was, in fact, at the north-west corner of the original Depon's Close or Suffolk Stable ground (see p. 89). The theatre opened on 29th December, 1720, with a French play La Fille à la Morte, ou le Badeaut de Paris performed by a company later known as "The French Comedians of His Grace the Duke of Montague." In 1730 it was taken over by an English company, and its name changed to the "Little Theatre in the Haymarket." Among the actors who appeared there before 1737 when the theatre was closed under the licensing Act of 10 Geo. II cap. 28 were Aaron Hill, Theophilus Cibber and Henry Fielding. From 1741 to 1747, Charles Macklin, Theophilus Cibber, Samuel Foote, and others sometimes produced plays there either by use of a temporary licence or by subterfuge; one advertisement runs "At Cibber's Academy in the Haymarket, will be a Concert, after which, will be exhibited (gratis) a Rehearsal, in the form of a Play, called Romeo and Juliet." (fn. 153)

In 1754 John Potter, who had been rated for the theatre since its opening, was succeeded by John Whitehead. In 1758 Theophilus Cibber obtained from the Lord Chamberlain a general licence under which Samuel Foote tried to establish the Haymarket as a regular theatre. With the aid of the Duke of York he procured a royal licence to exhibit plays during four months in the year from 10th May to 15th September during his life; he also bought the lease of the theatre from Potter's executors and, having added to the site by purchasing adjoining property, he enlarged and improved the building which he opened on 14th May, 1767, as the Theatre Royal. (fn. n6) Several successful seasons followed, but Foote finally got himself into difficulties by his custom of caricaturing well-known persons on the stage and this, combined with increasing ill-health, resulted in his selling both theatre and patent to George Colman on 16th January, 1777. (fn. 28)

During the season of 1793–94 when Drury Lane Theatre was being rebuilt, the Haymarket was opened under the Drury Lane Patent. The season was notable for a "Dreadful Accident" which occurred on 3rd February, 1794, "when Twenty Persons unfortunately lost their lives, and a great Number were dreadfully bruised owing to a great Crowd pressing to see his Majesty, who was that Evening present at the Performance." (fn. 155)

George Colman senior died in 1794 and the theatre descended to his son. George Colman junior, though successful both as playwright and manager, dissipated his gains by his extravagance. For a time he lived in a room at the back of the theatre and he was finally forced to sell shares in the latter to his brother-in-law, David Morris. (fn. 28) Monetary difficulties increased and for a while Colman managed the theatre from the King's Bench Prison where he was confined for debt. The old theatre was pulled down in 1820.

The second Haymarket Theatre. All the buildings on the east of the Haymarket from the theatre southward were rebuilt circa 1820 in connection with John Nash's schemes for the improvement of the neighbourhood. Nash persuaded the proprietors of the theatre to rebuild on a site a little south of the old one so that the portico should close the vista from Charles Street. A lease dated 20th June, 1821, was granted to David Edward Morris of "a plot of ground on the east side of the Haymarket and west side of Great Suffolk Street with a Theatre and a Messuage thereon" for 99 years at a rent of £356 9s. 6d. (fn. 156) The theatre was opened on 4th July, 1821, with The Rivals. (fn. n7)

The main front feature of the elevation to the Haymarket comprises a pedimented portico of six Corinthian columns (fn. n8) which extends in depth to the edge of the pavement and includes the whole frontage with the exception of an entrance doorway on each flank. (fn. n9) The back of the portico is in two stages, the lower being occupied by arched entrances and the upper by windows agreeing with the intercolumniations. To the main wall of the front above the pediment is a series of nine circular windows with iron frames and radiating bars—the whole being treated as a panelled frieze with the main cornice continuing the whole width of the building and acting as a tie to the main façade (Plate 86a).

The elevation to Suffolk Street is in stucco similar to the Haymarket front with the lower stage rusticated. A group of five arched windows masks the back of the stage, while above the main cornice is an attic with elliptical windows interspaced by pilasters (Plate 88a).

Until recently, when the premises on the north side of the theatre were rebuilt, the front wall of the old theatre was retained (see Plates 85a, 86a).


  • n1. In 1663 the Earl of St. Albans, was granted "a market for all manner of beasts and cattell on Teusday and Thursday in every weeke in the way commonly called Haymarket Streete."
  • n2. An Act of Parliament was procured to enable this to be done as Henry Coventry's heir, his nephew Henry Coventry, was only 4 years old. Coventry House was described as "a capital messuage with divers outhouses, Gardens, Yards. … capable of being greatly improved."
  • n3. Previous owners were Gerard Van Heythusen of Hackney and Peter Deline of Grosvenor Square. No definite proof of a rebuilding at this date is forthcoming but the suggestion is supported by an almost complete change of personnel in the 1741 ratebook for these and the neighbouring houses.
  • n4. An interesting account of the premises was published in 1921 by a modern representative of the family who suggests that the firm was established there in 1720, but no evidence is adduced in support of this date.
  • n5. Brayley states that it was called the King's Head. An inn of this name is shown on the plan of St. Martin's parish given in the 1720 edition of Strype's Stow on a level with the north end of Great Suffolk Street.
  • n6. It is sometimes stated that he rebuilt the theatre entirely, but this seems unlikely. Fitzgerald states that he "incorporated a house in Little Suffolk Street with the theatre, removed two shops which were in front, in the Haymarket, built a portico, increased the number of avenues and added a second gallery to the auditory."
  • n7. For the later history of this theatre and an account of the plays produced there the reader is referred to Allardyce Nicoll's History of Early 19th Century Drama and Cyril Maude's The Haymarket Theatre.
  • n8. Mr. John Summerson is of opinion that the columns are of brick construction covered with "Hamelin's Patent Mastic." In view of the fact that Nash was partial to the use of cast iron columns the practice here adopted is interesting; probably the scale was too great for the columns to be made in one piece.
  • n9. The small circular window in the tympanum of the pediment is a modern insertion.
  • 28. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • 36. Cal. of S.P. Dom.
  • 43. Entry Books of H.M. Commissioners of Woods and Forests, preserved in the Crown Lands Office.
  • 67. John Summerson, John Nash.
  • 144. P.R.O., P.C. 2/55, p. 365.
  • 145. Act 14 Chas. II, c. 2.
  • 146. P.R.O., S.P. 29/71, No. 52.
  • 147. P.R.O., C 66/3304/14.
  • 148. Act 8 & 9 Wm. III, c. 17.
  • 149. Minutes of Commissioners for the Haymarket. At the Middlesex Guildhall.
  • 150. Act 2 Wm. & Mary, c. 2.
  • 151. Minutes of the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers. In the possession of the London County Council.
  • 152. Middx. Reg., 1741, II, 269.
  • 153. E. W. Brayley, London Theatres, 1826.
  • 154. Middx. Reg. 1729, VI, 379.
  • 155. Contemporary Pamphlet.
  • 156. Appendix to Fourth Report H.M. Woods and Forests.