Munster Square

Page 139

Survey of London: Volume 21, the Parish of St Pancras Part 3: Tottenham Court Road and Neighbourhood. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1949.

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(formerly York Market and York Square)

Munster Square, which is now destroyed, is shown as York Market on Cary's Plan of London (1818) and was the southernmost of the three markets laid out by Nash to serve the Regent's Park district. The leases of the sites date, however, from 1823 and 1824. It was surrounded by stuccofronted houses of three storeys (and basement) designed with fastidious care. Osnaburgh Street cut through it obliquely from north to south but did not disturb its continuity. The storeys were divided by plain horizontal bands and above the second floor was a moulded cornice and parapet. The ground floor was rusticated by deep channelled joints which also marked the voussoirs and key-blocks to the arches over the doors and windows, one of each to each cottage. There was only one window to each dwelling on the upper floors, that on the first being framed in a bold architrave, with mitred ears above and the jambs battering outwards towards sill level, and having a balcony of a standard type common at the period. Each window had a pair of casements reaching to the floor and the second-storey windows, also with architraves and casements, rested on the upper string-course at sill level. This further enhanced the importance of the first storey in the elevation. The areas to the basements were protected by well-designed cast-iron railings with spearhead tops and cast vases to the standards. The roofing was in a series of hipped units, the valleys being over the centre of the dwellings and the party walls and chimney-stacks marking the ridges. (Plates Plate 71, Plate 78.)

The above treatment was continuous except the house on the north side at the western corner of Osnaburgh Street. Here, coupled pilasters with ornate anta-capitals, the height of the two upper floors, were introduced, and the return elevation in the street repeated the pilasters between two pairs of windows, but with panelled pilasters at each end. This return treatment included the corner house and two others with a range of eight pilasters supporting an entablature as fascia. The parapet was here carried higher with balustrading between pedestal blocks having circular wreaths, the spacing of the blocks being carried out independently of the pilasters on the return front.

The architectural qualities of Munster Square never received the attention they deserved while the square was in existence, but they were very remarkable. We quote here an extract from a letter (fn. n1) written by a Polish officer who resided near the square during the war of 1939–45.

"I saw [Munster Square] in the Blitz, and in the black-out: in rain and snow, in sunshine and in the shade of street-lighting. Maybe it is not an architectural jewel . . . but I loved its square entity, the harmony of its small fronts, the delicate ironwork of its balconies . . . and it gives the peculiar feeling of an immense room, with the skies as the roof: the same feeling you have in evenings on the Piazza San Marco in Venice: a ballroom."

The eastern part of the southern section is occupied by the Church of St. Mary Magdalene (see next section).


  • n1. Written 19th June, 1946, by Capt. S. Reychan, M.B.E., to Mr. John Summerson, who has contributed this extract with Capt. Reychan's permission.