Smart's Buildings and Goldsmith Street

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

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'Smart's Buildings and Goldsmith Street', in Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II, (London, 1914) pp. 18-22. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

In this section


At the time of the survey of 1650 Newton Street (i.e., the old Newton Street, north of the stream which crossed it where Macklin Street now joins, and separated it from Cross Lane), was fully built, and the remaining frontage of Purse Field to Holborn, between Newton Street and the site of the Holborn Public Library, was apparently occupied by nine houses, held by Thomas Farmer and Henry Alsopp, to whom Francis Cornwallis had assigned his lease so far as concerned that part of the field.

The yard, formerly Green Dragon Yard, at the side of the Holborn Public Library, marks the site of the ancient stream which formed the western boundary of Purse Field. The stream seems to have remained open in this part of its course until about 1650, as a deed dated 7th November in that year, (fn. 1) in view of the fact that Thomas Vaughan and his wife Elinor "are to be att greate cost and charges in the arching or otherwise covering over the sewer or wydraught under mencioned, by meanes whereof the inhabitants there adjacent shall not be annoyed as formerly they were thereby, as for divers other good considerations them hereunto moving," provides that the said sewer "as the same is now severed, sett out and fenced, scituate … on the backside of a messuage of the said Thomas Vaughan commonly called … by the name or signe of The Greene Dragon" shall be demised to the Vaughans.

The land immediately to the west of the yard in question originally formed part of Rose Field, and was probably developed at the same time as the rest of that estate. In 1650, William Short, the owner of Rose Field, in conjunction with John De La Chambre, sold to Thomas Grover 4 messuages, 12 cottages, 12 gardens and one rood of land with appurtenances, in St. Giles. (fn. 2) The precise position of this property is not mentioned, but there does not seem to be much doubt that the premises are identical with, or a portion of, those which Grover sold to Edmond Medlicott in 1666, (fn. 3) and which consisted of 16 houses in Holborn, including the "messuage commonly known by the name or signe of The Harrow," and also the "lane or alley called Wild boare Alley alias Harrow Alley, with all the severall messuages, tenements, edifices and void peice or plot of ground in the said alley." The property is said to front upon Holborn on the north, and to have for its eastern boundary a way or passage leading from Holborn to the house and garden of Mr. Braithwait. The dimensions are given as: "In depth from north to south at the west end, one hundred fourscore and ten foote, and throughout the whole range and pile of buildings besides from north to south fower score and seven foote, and in breadth from east to west sixty and three foote." The last figure is certainly wrong, for even if half of the sixteen houses in Holborn were lying behind the rest (as indeed was probably the case) this would only admit of an average frontage of 8 feet to a house. A probable emendation is "six score and three" which gives a 15 feet frontage to each house.

The land behind these premises, reached by the path along, and afterwards over, the stream, was leased by William Short in 1632 to Jeremiah Turpin for the remainder (20 years) of a term of 36 years, (fn. 4) and then consisted of garden ground upon which Turpin had recently built a house. It seems most probable that this (fn. 5) is the place referred to in the petition, (fn. 6) dated 17th June, 1630, of the inhabitants of High Holborn, calling attention to the fact that there was a dangerous and noisome passage between High Holborn and St. Giles Fields, by reason of a dead mud wall and certain old "housing," which lately stood close to the same, where divers people had been murdered and robbed, and praying for leave for building to be erected thereon. In their report (fn. 7) on this petition, the Earls of Dorset and Carlisle refer to it as "concerning the building of Jeremy Turpin," and recommend the granting of leave to build.

It may therefore be concluded that the house was built between 1630 and 1632. A full description (fn. 8) of the property as it was in 1640 is extant, and is interesting as giving an idea of the private gardens of that time. Reference is made, among other things, to the arbour formed of eight pine trees, the "sessamore" tree under the parlour window, 13 cherry trees against the brick wall on the east of the garden, 14 more round the grass plot, rows of gooseberry bushes, rose trees and "curran trees," another arbour "set round about with sweete brier," more cherry trees, pear, quince, plum and apple trees, a box plot planted with French and English flowers, six rosemary trees, one "apricock" tree and a mulberry tree.

The ground on which Smart's Buildings and Goldsmith Street were erected at one time formed part of Bear Croft or Bear Close, so called, no doubt, because it was used as pasture land in connection with The Bear inn, on the south side of Broad Street, St. Giles. (fn. 9)

At about 1570 there were, immediately to the south of the White Hart property at the corner of Drury Lane, eight houses. The three most northerly abutted on the east upon "a close of grounde called the Bere Close, late belonging to Robert Wise, gentilman" (fn. 10); while the five others, with the close itself (of 2½ acres) are described as "adojynynge to the Quenes highe waye … leadinge from Strande … to thest end of the said towne of Saint Giles on the west parte, and abuttinge upon the close nowe our said soveraigne ladye the Quenes Majesties, called the Rose feilde, on thest and south partes, and abuttinge upon the messuage or tenemente nowe or late in the tenure of one William Braynsgrave, (fn. 11) and the tenement called The White Harte, late in the tenure … of one Matthewe Bucke, and nowe in that of one Richarde Cockshoote, and the Quenes highe waye leadinge from Holborne towardes the est end of the said towne of Saint Gyles on the north part." (fn. 12)

The boundary line between Bear Close and Rose Field is nowhere described. It is known, however, (fn. 13) that Rose Field reached as far north as the line bounding the rear of the buildings in Macklin Street, and there is reason to believe that this line marks the actual division between the two fields. As regards the eastern boundary a line starting from High Holborn between No. 191 and No. 192 (fn. 14) and running along the western side of the southerly spur of Goldsmith Street, seems to fulfil all the conditions. It is not known what was the depth of the eight houses and gardens fringing Bear Close on the west, but allowing 60 feet, the area of Bear Close, defined as above, amounts to two acres. It is hardly possible, therefore, to limit its boundaries any further. It seems probable that the quadrangle shown in Agas's map (Plate 1) at the north-east corner of Drury Lane was Bear Close, and it will be observed that, according to the map, the houses south of The White Hart stretched along the whole of the Drury Lane frontage of the close.

Bear Close formed a part of that portion of the property of the Hospital of St. Giles which, after the dissolution, came into the hands of Katherine Legh, afterwards Lady Mountjoy. With the five southernmost of the houses separating Bear Close from Drury Lane, and other property, it was purchased of the Mountjoys by George Harrison, from whom by various stages it came into the possession of James Mascall. (fn. 12) The latter died on 11th May, 1585, (fn. 15) leaving the whole of his property to his wife, Anne, who subsequently married John Vavasour. From her the whole of the property above mentioned (fn. 16) seems to have come into the hands of Olive Godman, younger daughter of James and Anne. A portion of this, including "all the ground or land lying on the backside of [certain] messuages towards the east, contayning two acres, now or late in the occupation of … Thomas Burrage" was settled on her daughter, Frances, on the marriage of the latter with Francis Gerard in 1634. (fn. 17) There seems little doubt that the land in question was Bear Close.

It was apparently soon after this that the close was laid out for building, the planning taking the form of a cross, the long and cross beams being represented respectively by the present Goldsmith Street and Smart's Buildings. The former street was, up to 1883, known as The Coal Yard, in consequence it is said, "of the place being used for the storage of fuel." (fn. 18) The tale has a somewhat suspicious look. The fact, too, that "Mr. Francis Gerard," the owner of Bear Close, and "Bessitt Cole, Esq.," are found living in two adjoining houses in Drury Lane close by in 1646 rather suggests that "Cole Yard" is so called because of the name of its builder. (fn. 19)

The date at which Bear Close seems to have been built upon favours the above suggestion. The Hearth Tax Roll for 1666 gives 41 names which are apparently to be referred to Coal Yard, while Hollar's Plan of 1658 shows the area by no means covered. The Subsidy Roll for 1646 gives only five names definitely in respect of "Cole Yard," but there are 15 more which probably must be assigned thereto.

At some time before 1666 the eight houses fronting Drury Lane had given way to the present number of twelve. In the case of the four northernmost, this happened shortly after 1636, when a building lease of the sites of the houses was granted to Richard Brett. (fn. 20)

Built in the brick wall of an 18th-century tenement (No. 27, Goldsmith Street) was a stone tablet, dated 1671. The premises have lately been demolished, and at present the site is vacant.

Figure 3:

Stone Tablet (1671), formerly on No. 27, Goldsmith Street

Smart's Buildings is a comparatively modern name for that part of Coal Yard which runs north into High Holborn. Hatton's New View of London (1708) does not mention Smart's Buildings, but refers to "Cole Yard" as "on the N.E. side of Drury Lane, near St. Giles's, a passage into High Holbourn in 2 places"; Strype (1720) states that "the Coal Yard … hath a turning passage into Holborn"; and Rocque's Map of 1746 definitely names it "Cole Yard."

In a deed of 1756 (fn. 21) it is referred to as "the passage leading into the Coal Yard called Smart's Buildings." Which of the three Smarts, grandfather, father and son (William, Lewis and John), mentioned in the same deed, it was who gave his name to the street, there is nothing to show. No record of the purchase of the property by any person of the name has, so far, been discovered, but the deed of 1756 certainly suggests that the ownership of the houses on the eastern side of the passage originated with William, who is, moreover, described as "carpenter," (fn. 22) and in that case would date from the beginning of the 18th century.

The Council's collection contains:—

(fn. 23) No. 27, Goldsmith Street. Stone tablet in front wall (drawing).
Smart's Buildings. General view of exterior (photograph).


  • 1. Close Roll, 1650 (3510)—Indenture between William Short, Gregory Short and William and Magdalen Curtis and Thomas and Elinor Vaughan.
  • 2. Middlesex Feet of Fines, 1650, Easter.
  • 3. Close Roll, 18 Chas. II. (4195).
  • 4. Exchequer Pleas 582 (2)—Suit of William Bell (Easter term, 18 Chas. I.) against Sir Samuel Somaster.
  • 5. Blott's suggestion (Blemundsbury, pp. 201–2) that the place referred to was Little Turnstile, has nothing to recommend it.
  • 6. Calendar State Papers, Domestic, 1629–31, p. 284.
  • 7. Ibid., pp. 321–2.
  • 8. Exchequer Pleas 582 (2), cited above.
  • 9. See p. 107.
  • 10. Close Roll, 9 Eliz. (742)—Indenture, dated 1st February, 1566–7, between Lord and Lady Mountjoy and Edward Kingston.
  • 11. The southernmost of the three northerly houses mentioned above.
  • 12. Close Roll, 24 Eliz. (1129)—Indenture, dated 30th July, 1582, between Jas. Briscowe, etc., and Jas. Mascall.
  • 13. See p. 27.
  • 14. It will be remembered that the houses, including, and for a little distance west of, No. 198, High Holborn (the Public Library), are on the site of Rose Field (see p. 18).
  • 15. Inquisitiones Post Mortem, Middx., Series II., vol. 208.
  • 16. Together with a moiety of the three northernmost of the 8 houses and of other property on the north side of High Holborn, acquired by Mascall of Edward Kingston.
  • 17. Close Roll, 11 Chas. I. (3057)—Indenture between Thos. Godman and Olive his wife and Francis Gerard and Frances his wife.
  • 18. Blott's Blemundsbury, p. 381.
  • 19. As showing the connection between the Gerard and Cole families attention may be drawn to the fact that Philip Gerard, successor of Francis Gerard in Drury Lane, and probably his son, was associated with Salomon Cole in a deed relating to property at King's Gate. (Close Roll, 1658—Indenture between Sir Thos. Fisher, Gerard and Cole and John Plumer).
  • 20. Close Roll, 1655 (3857)—Indenture between Chas. Lovell, etc., and Philip Wetherell.
  • 21. Middlesex Registry Memorials, 1756, II., 325–6—Indenture between John Smart and John Higgs.
  • 22. Middlesex Registry Memorials, 1717, II., 272.
  • 23. Reproduced here.