Great Queen Street (general)

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

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'Great Queen Street (general)', in Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II, (London, 1914) pp. 34-37. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]


The eastern part of Great Queen Street was formed upon Purse Field, but the western and larger portion, together with Wild Street and Kemble Street, occupies the site of the field known in Elizabethan times as Aldwych Close. The boundaries of this close, which had a reputed area of eight acres, were in the year 1567 described (fn. 1) as "the close nowe the quenes majesties called Dalcona Close (fn. 2) on the easte parte, … the lane leading frome the Strond towardes the towne of Saynt Gyles aforesaid of the west parte, … the close of Sir Willm. Hollys and the gardyn belonginge to Drurye House of the southe parte, and the close nowe the Quenes Majesties called the Rosefelde on the north parte." Of these boundaries the northern is represented by the line dividing the houses on the south side of Parker Street from those on the north side of Great Queen Street, (fn. 3) and the eastern by the line of the court between Nos. 6 and 7, Great Queen Street, continued to meet Sardinia Place, (fn. 4) while the southern corresponds with the old parish boundary.

Aldwych Close was included in that part of the property of the Hospital of St. Giles which eventually came into the hands of Lord Mountjoy, through his wife, Katherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Legh. (fn. 5) On 20th January, 1566–7, it was purchased of the Mountjoys by Richard Holford, who was at the time actually in occupation of the field. (fn. 1) Holford died on 12th January, 1569–70, leaving the property to his son Henry, then aged 20, (fn. 6) during whose ownership the field began to be cut up for building. In 1600 only two houses were in existence on the close. (fn. 7) At about this time Holford began to mark out the close and let portions on lease for building. There is no complete record of these leases, but the largest transaction of the kind was effected on 28th April, 1607, when Holford granted to Walter Burton, who has already been mentioned in connection with the development of Rose Field, a lease, for 51 years from the previous Christmas, of "that peece or parcell of grounde latlie taken out of the north side of the close of the said Henry Holford called Oldwych Close … as the same ys severed and divided ffrom the residue of the same close with a pale latelie erected, and all that mesuage or tenemente latelie erected uppon a parte of the said peece or parcell off ground by one Henry Seagood, and nowe in the occupacion of the said Henry Seagood, and alsoe twoe other mesuages or teñts with the gardens, backsides, and garden plottes to the same adioyninge or belongeinge in the tenure or occupacion of Humfrey Grey or his assignees scituate on the west parte of Oldwych Close aforesaid, and lately alsoe enclosed out of the said close. … And alsoe all that other peece or parcell of ground which was then agreed and staked out to be enclosed of and from the west side of the said close … next adioyninge unto Drewrie Lane. … By the name of three mesuages and three acres of pasture with the appurtenances." (fn. 8)

The three messuages in question can easily be identified. Henry Seagood's house occupied the site of Nos. 36–37, Great Queen Street, (fn. 9) and the houses of Humphrey Grey (which no doubt were the two houses in existence in 1600) are identified later (fn. 10) as The White Horse, in Drury Lane, opposite Long Acre, and another house (divided between 1635 and 1658 into two houses) adjoining it on the north. The "three acres of pasture" was the remaining portion of the triangular piece of ground now bounded by Drury Lane, Wild Street and Kemble Street. (fn. 11)

From the foregoing it will be evident that by the year 1607 there were the merest beginnings of building on the Drury Lane frontage of the close. The first two streets to be formed were those now known as Kemble Street and Great Queen Street, the former being probably an old public way leading across Aldwych Close and Purse Field to Holborn, the route of which was afterwards marked by the archway on the west side of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the latter being in its origin a royal private way through the fields, (fn. 12) used as the route to Theobalds, in Hertfordshire, James I.'s favourite residence. Kingsgate Street (formerly existing nearly opposite the northern termination of Kingsway), where there were two gates (fn. 13) into the fields on either side of Holborn (see Plate 2), and Theobald's Road mark the continuation of the royal way. There was also at first probably a gate (fn. 14) at the street's western entrance, (fn. 15) which was very narrow, and the first mention we have of the street seems to refer to this. In a petition to the Earl of Salisbury, undated, but evidently belonging to the period 1605–1612, (fn. 16) the "inhabitantes of the dwellinges at the newe gate neere Drewry Lane" state that they have petitioned the Queen (obviously Anne of Denmark, the consort of James I.) "to gyve a name unto that place," and have been referred to him; they therefore request him to give it a name on her behalf.

It seems reasonable to conclude that it was as the result of this application that the name "Queen Street" (or "Queen's Street") (fn. 17) was given to the thoroughfare. Blott, indeed, states this as a fact, but no entry in confirmation has been found in the Domestic State Papers. Assuming, therefore, that the petition above mentioned had reference to this street, and having regard to the probability, amounting to practical certainty, that the plan of Purse Field reproduced in Plate 2 dates from 1609, (fn. 18) it follows that the title "Queen Street" must have been given during the period 1605–1609. The name "Great Queen Street" used to distinguish it from "Little Queen Street" does not seem to have been in common use until about 1670. (fn. 19)

The earliest buildings erected in Great Queen Street were, contrary to the usual statements made in the matter, (fn. 20) on the north side of the street. The dates at which this took place cannot, unfortunately, be determined with certainty. Clanricarde House was in existence in 1604. (fn. 21) Henry Seagood's house (occupying the site of Nos. 36–37) was built before April, 1607. (fn. 22) The site of Nos. 38–45, which in 1597 contained only a forge, was built on by May, 1612. (fn. 23) The site of Nos. 7–13 was leased for building purposes to Thomas Burton on 7th May, 1611. These facts, fragmentary though they are, seem to point to the north side of the street, so far as it was situated in Aldwych Close, being built during the period 1603–1612. (fn. 24) In this connection it is interesting to note the statement made, on unknown authority, by Dobie, (fn. 25) that the house on the south side of the street in which Lord Herbert of Cherbury died (fn. 26) was "one of the fifteen built in the third year of James I. (1603)." The third year of James I. was actually 1605–6, but it is quite certain that no houses were built on the south side of Great Queen Street for over thirty years afterwards. The date seems, however, to fit in well with the facts concerning the north side of the street.


  • 1. Close Roll, 9 Elizabeth (748)—Indenture, dated 20th January, 1566–7, between Lord and Lady Mountjoy and Richard Holford.
  • 2. From other documents it is quite obvious that this must be another name for Purse Field, but the name has not been met with elsewhere.
  • 3. The deeds show that all the western portion of Parker Street, both south and north sides, was in Rose Field, and all the western part of Great Queen Street was in Aldwych Close.
  • 4. This was the line of the sewer, or open stream, which formed the western boundary of Purse Field. In later deeds relating to the central portion of Aldwych Close, the latter is described as extending to the common sewer on the east side towards Lincoln's Inn. (See e.g. Recovery Roll, 1633, 9 Chas. I., Easter (201).)
  • 5. See p. 124.
  • 6. Inquisitiones Post-Mortem (Middlesex), 18 Eliz., vol. 174 (32).
  • 7. I.e., according to a deed referred to in the inquisition on Henry Holford (16th June, 1624) (Ibid., 22 Jas. I., vol. 428 (87)). There was also, however, or there had been three years before,"a little howse, forge or shedd" on what was afterwards the north-west corner of Great Queen Street (Close Roll, 40 Eliz. (1597)—Demise by Henry Holford to Henry Foster, Margaret Foster and Henry Warner).
  • 8. Recited in lease of 30th April, 1607, by Walter Burton to Thomas Burton, in possession of the London County Council.
  • 9. See p. 40.
  • 10. See indentures between Richard Holford and Robert Stratton and Edward Stratton respectively, dated 28th July, 1635, and 24th April, 1658. (Close Rolls, 11 Chas. I. (3060) and 1658 (3984)).
  • 11. This triangular piece, and the ground on which the houses on the south side of Kemble Street are built, both originally being portions of Aldwych Close, have recently been taken out of the Parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields.
  • 12. "The private way in Oldwitch Close for the King and Councell to passe through leading from St. Giles his lane in the feildes east towardes Holborne." (Close Roll, 22 James I. (2601)—Indenture between Jane and Richard Holford and Jeoffery Prescott.)
  • 13. The two gates are referred to in the petition (ascribed to March, 1632), of the Surveyor-General of His Majesty's Ways, who complained that on the day before the King and Queen went last to Theobalds, he warned Richard Powell, the scavenger for High Holborn, to cleanse the passage between the two gates in Holborn, where many loads of noisome soil lay stopping up the way; but Powell neglected to do this, and at the time of the Royal passage a cart laden with soil stood in the passage blocking the way. (Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1631–3, p. 298.)
  • 14. On 31st October, 1617, a warrant was issued to Thos. Norton, "Surveyor of His Majesty's Wayes and Passages," calling attention to the fact that in spite of the King's commands, "sundry persons have gotten and used false keyes for opening the lockes and gates of His Majesties private passages through the feildes neere the Cittie of London, and that divers unruly coachmen, carters, and others, have and doe use with great hammers and other like tools to breake open the said gates." (Privy Council Register, XXIX., 153.) This warrant seems almost too late to refer to Great Queen Street, and yet the fact that it also deals with the steps to be taken against "one Holford and his tennantes" for their default in allowing "the streete in Drury Lane in his Maties ordinary way" to be very noisome, seems to point to the Theobalds route. Perhaps the fields north of Holborn are referred to.
  • 15. The entrance became known as "Hell Gate" or "Devil's Gap." The widening of the street to its present measurements is said to have been carried out in 1765 (Blott's Blemundsbury, p. 370).
  • 16. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1611–18, James I., vol. 69 (36). Robert Cecil was created Earl of Salisbury in May, 1605; he died in May, 1612.
  • 17. This from of the name occurs frequently.
  • 18. See p. 14.
  • 19. In January, 1669–70, references occur to "John Jones, the master of the White Swan in Queen Street, Drury Lane," and "John Jones, victualler, at the White Swan in Queen's Street" (Historical MSS. Commission, Ho. of Commons Calendar, App. to 8th Rep. I., 155b, 157a). As late as 8th April, 1677, a letter was addressed to "Don Manuel Fonseca, Queen Street" (Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1677–8, p. 82). On the other hand, the title Great Queen Street is found in 1667 as the address of Viscount Conway (Ibid., 1667, p. 535), and occurs even in a passage which must have been written at least fifteen years earlier (see p. 50).
  • 20. See, e.g. Wheatley and Cunningham's London, Past and Present, III., p. 135: "The houses in the first instance were built on the south side only"; Heckethorn's Lincoln's Inn Fields, p. 171; Parton's Hospital and Parish of St. Giles, p. 133.
  • 21. See p. 50.
  • 22. See p. 35.
  • 23. Lease to Edward Fort of 18th May, 1612, quoted in indenture of 10th February, 1625, between Jane and Richard Holford and Jeoffery Prescott (Close Roll, 22 Jas. I. (2601)).
  • 24. In the absence of deeds relating to the early history of Nos. 14–35, it is impossible to be more precise. There may, of course, have been gaps in the north side (excluding Nos. 1–6) even later than 1612. In the Subsidy Rolls of 21 James I. (1623–4) and 4 Charles I. (1628–9), preserved at the Record Office, thirteen names of occupiers of houses in the street are given, and the assessment in 1623 for the rebuilding of St. Giles' Church gives fifteen housekeepers in the street (Parton, Hospital and Parish of St. Giles, p. 136n). No adequate idea of the number of houses in the street can, however, be gained from these facts, for the subsidy rolls certainly do not give all the occupiers, and, as the assessment was not compulsory, it is improbable that every householder made a contribution.
  • 25. History of . . . . . . St. Giles in the Fields and St. George, Bloomsbury, p. 58.
  • 26. No evidence has come to light in the course of the investigations for this volume whereby Lord Herbert's house might be identified. In his will, dated 1st August, 1648, proved 5th October, 1648, he refers more than once to his "house in Queene Streete" (Somerset House Wills, Essex, 138).