Site of the Rookery

Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1914.

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'Site of the Rookery', in Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II, (London, 1914) pp. 145-146. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

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Included in that part of the Hospital property which fell to Lord Lisle's share was "one close lyinge before the greate gate there conteyninge by estimacion 16 acres, with appurtenances, nowe or late in the occupacion of Maister Magnus." (fn. 1) From this description Parton had some justification in assuming that the ground covered the site of Baynbridge Street, Arthur Street, etc. If this is correct, however, the close must have been split up by the early part of Elizabeth's reign, and that part which covered the sites of the streets in question was, in 1583, in the possession of George Harrison. On his death in that year it was found (fn. 2) that he was seized inter alia of "a close … called Le Church Close in the parish of St. Giles, containing by estimation five acres of pasture." He also owned 13 messuages with gardens on the north side of High Street, stretching westward from The Maidenhead, (fn. 3) which he had purchased from Lord Mountjoy, (fn. 4) but no record has been found which might enable the previous owners of Church Close to be traced. In 1632 John Barbor alias Grigge bought (fn. 5) a number of the houses, together with "all that close of meadow or pasture … called … Church Close alias Williamsfeild … conteyning 5 acres," and in 1649 the property was further transferred to Henry Bainbridge. (fn. 6)

Hollar's Plan of 1658 (Plate 3) shows the commencement of building on this area, and Parton (fn. 7) notes that Bainbridge Street and Buckridge Street were built on before 1672. These two streets, with Maynard Place and Dyott Street, obviously took their names from the persons mentioned in a fine of 1676, (fn. 8) from which it seems probable that Maynard, Buckridge and Dyott were the married names of Bainbridge's three daughters. Church Lane and Church Street had obvious reference to Church Close. The locality subsequently became one of the most disreputable districts in London, (fn. 9) a state of things which was finally put an end to by driving New Oxford Street (fn. 10) through the midst. At the same time several of the old streets were abolished, and some of those which remained had their names altered.

Prints, Water-Colour Drawings, Etc.:—

In the collection of water colour drawings by J. W. Archer, preserved at the British Museum are three of the Rookery, representing:
Entrance from High Street.
Part of The Rookery in 1844.
A cellar in The Rookery.
In the Heal Collection, preserved in the Holborn Public Library, are a series views illustrating The Rookery.


  • 1. Chancery Decree Roll, No. 3.
  • 2. Inquisitiones Post Mortem, II. Series, Middlesex, Vol. 200 (5).
  • 3. Formerly on the east side of Dyott Street, just outside the parish boundary.
  • 4. Close Roll, 9 Elizabeth (742).
  • 5. Close Roll, 8 Charles I. (2946).
  • 6. Close Roll, 1649 (31). Indenture, dated 20th March, 1648–9, between John Barber als Grigg and Henry Baynbrigge.
  • 7. Hospital and Parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, p. 152.
  • 8. Edmund Buckeridge and Henry Loverday querentes: and Jane Baynbrigge, widow; William Maynard and Mary, his wife; Nicholas Buckeridge, and Sara, his wife; and Simon Dyott and Jane, his wife, deforciantes; of 100 messuages, 200 cottages, 40 gardens and 10 acres of land in St. Giles, Mary, Sara and Jane renounce for their heirs. It will be seen that the property had grown, and it is known that Bainbridge had purchased more (see e.g., purchase from Sir John Bramston and others, Middlesex Feet of Fines, 1665, Trinity).
  • 9. "The Rookery," was a triangular space bounded by Bainbridge, George, and High Streets; it was one dense mass of houses, through which curved narrow tortuous lanes, from which again diverged close courts—one great mass, as if the houses had orginally been one block of stone, eaten by slugs into numberless small chambers and connecting passages. The lanes were thronged with loiterers; and stagnant gutters, and piles of garbage and filth infested the air. In the windows, wisps of straw, old hats, and lumps of bed-tick or brown paper, alternated with shivered panes of broken glass, the walls were the colour of bleached soot, and doors fell from their hinges and worm-eaten posts. Many of the windows announced, "Lodgings at 3d. a night," where the wild wanderers from town to town held their nightly revels." (Timbs' Curiosities of London (1867), p. 378.)
  • 10. Opened in 1847.