The Parish and Vestry of St. James

Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'The Parish and Vestry of St. James', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 29-30. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]

In this section


The Parish and Vestry of St. James

In April 1664 the inhabitants of the Bailiwick of St. James petitioned the House of Commons that the bailiwick might be constituted a separate parish from St. Martin in the Fields, with its own church. Leave was granted to Edmund Waller, who lived in St. James's Street, to bring in a Bill, (fn. 1) but neither this nor another Bill for the same purpose which was considered in November 1664 proceeded further than the second reading stage. (fn. 2) Other Bills introduced in 1668 and 1670 were equally unsuccessful, (fn. 3) the chief opponents being Dr. Harding, the incumbent of St. Martin's, and members of the vestry of the parish of St. Martin in the Fields. (fn. 4) It was said that Dr. Harding would give way to the new church 'as a chapel-ofease belonging to his parish, but not to be a distinct parish of itself'. The Bill of 1670 was referred to as 'the Earl of St. Alban's Bill'—the first mention of his name in connexion with the proposal. (fn. 4)

After the consecration of the church of St. James in 1684 the formation of a new parish could no longer be successfully resisted, and in 1685 Sir Thomas Clarges introduced a Bill for making the new church 'and the Precinct adjoining' parochial; (fn. 5) members of the committee to whom the Bill was referred included Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. (fn. 6) The vestry of St. Martin's maintained its previous opposition and paid twelve shillings to 'severall Inhabitants, in Scotland Yard, who came to attend Sir Christopher Wrenn . . . to make out their Allegacons', (fn. 7) but the Bill nevertheless was passed rapidly through Parliament and at the end of June 1685 (fn. 8) the Act 'for erecting a new Parish, to be called the Parish of Saint James within the Liberty of Westminster' was passed. (fn. 9)

To the south of Piccadilly the new parish included the whole of the area described in these volumes (see index map); to the north of Piccadilly and Coventry Street the parish was bounded (approximately) on the west by Bond Street, Conduit Street and Regent Street, on the north by Oxford Street and on the east by Wardour Street.

The Act also established a select vestry of thirty-four, including the rector and churchwardens. After the adoption of Hobhouse's Vestry Act the select vestry was replaced in 1832 by an elected vestry of thirty-six. Twelve additional vestrymen were authorized by the Metropolis Management Act of 1855. (fn. 10)

The secular duties of the vestry were regulated by both public and local Acts of Parliament and the most important of these which affected St. James's parish as a whole are mentioned below. The Act which applied only to St. James's Square is mentioned in Chapter IV; those regulating the management of the poor will be included in the volume dealing with the workhouse, which was built in the northern part of the parish; those affecting the New Street (i.e. Regent Street) will also be included in a future volume.

Paving, Cleansing and Lighting

An Act of 1761 established commissioners for paving, cleansing and lighting the streets of Westminster and certain adjoining parishes. (fn. 11) In 1762 the vestry of St. James obtained statutory power to cleanse its own streets and raise a separate rate for this purpose. (fn. 12) By an Act of 1771 the Westminster Paving Commissioners' powers were considerably diminished, each vestry being authorized to elect a committee to supervise newly paved streets, except the so-called 'optional' streets where the occupants preferred to remain under the authority of the commissioners. (fn. 13) In 1790 the optional streets in St. James's were transferred to the parish paving committee, (fn. 14) but they continued to be rated by the commissioners until 1819. (fn. 15) They were Bury, Charles (II), Vine and Little St. James's Streets, Thatched House Court and Paved Alley (now Crown Passage).

In 1835 the application of the existing Act to St. James's and certain other Westminster parishes was repealed and the St. James's vestry was required to appoint its own commissioners to pave, clean, light and rate the streets of the parish, except the New Street, Golden Square and the north, east and west sides of St. James's Square. (fn. 16)


Although the parish had been provided with a watch house from the time of its constitution in 1685 (see page 54), the vestry lacked the revenue to maintain a proper watch. An Act of 1735 enabled the vestries of St. James and St. George, Hanover Square, to collect a rate for the maintenance of a regular watch in each parish. The occupiers of the north, east and west sides of St. James's Square were exempted from payment of this rate. (fn. 17) Some fifty watchmen were employed at first, but the number varied from year to year in relation to the length and number of the watchmen's beats. (fn. 18) In 1774 an extra ten patrolling watchmen were appointed and equipped with rattles, carbines and cutlasses. (fn. 19) More patrolling watchmen were appointed in 1793 to combat 'the alarming Increase of a most daring and desperate Set of Thieves, who are harbored in and nightly infest this parish'. (fn. 20) In January 1797 the watch committee reported that no 'Burglary or Street Robbery' had taken place since the reorganization of the watch in the preceding June, and that the offer of rewards for 'apprehending offenders' had put an end to the stealing of iron railings. (fn. 21)

In 1829 the parish watch came under the jurisdiction of the new Commissioners of Metropolitan Police, and some of the watchmen were recommended for recruitment into the new police force. (fn. 22)

Maps and Surveys

In 1685 George Clysbee (Clisby) and Jonathan Wilcox undertook to prepare a map of the parish for the vestry, and in the same year £1 15s. was paid for measuring the parish 'in order to the Mapping it'; (fn. 23) this map does not appear to have survived. The map by Richard Blome (Plate 3), 'taken from the last Survey', is based on one published in 1681–2 and surveyed by Ogilby and Morgan (Plate 2); (fn. 24) it is inaccurate in the delineation of the parish boundary, the area between Park Place and Cleveland Row, which Blome excludes, having always been within the parish of St. James. The map by William Rhodes of Great Marlborough Street, surveyor, was made in 1770 for the information of a committee of the House of Commons which was considering amendments to a paving Act. (fn. 25) In 1777 Rhodes sold his survey to the parish for £50 and in the following year one hundred copies were engraved by Faden. (fn. 26)

In the Public Record Office there are two large-scale maps (fn. 27) of Pall Mall Field and the areas between Green Park and St. James's Street and between Pall Mall and St. James's Park. These two maps are evidently based on a survey made by Matthew Wren in 1767 and closely resemble each other. They were made on the orders of Zachary Chambers, 'Register of His Majesty's Lands', and are both dated 10 April 1769. They contain the names of all the occupants or lessees of Crown property, and the larger of the two also contains the names of owners or occupants of houses not owned by the Crown. In the Crown Estate Office there is a manuscript numerical register (in book form) relating to these two maps; it contains particulars of the leases of all the Crown property within the area covered by the maps.

The Westminster Public Library contains a detailed plan of the parish showing all the buildings. This plan, which was prepared by Charles Mayhew, the parish surveyor, was measured in 1831–2 and corrected up to 1836. (fn. 28) There is also a supplementary volume of plans showing alterations and new buildings added between 1836 and 1848. (fn. 29)


  • 1. Journals of the House of Commons, vol. viii, p. 544.
  • 2. Ibid., vol. viii, pp. 558, 570, 572.
  • 3. Ibid., vol. ix, pp. 96, 165.
  • 4. Ibid, vol. viii, pp. 558, 572; C. Robbins, The Diary of John Milward, 1938, p. 298; W.P.L., F2004, 3 April 1677; the Hon. A. Grey, Debates of the House of Commons, vol. i, 1667–71, p. 300.
  • 5. Journals of the House of Commons, vol. ix, p. 120.
  • 6. Ibid., p. 727.
  • 7. W.P.L., F42, 18 June 1685.
  • 8. Journals of the House of Commons, vol. ix, pp. 742, 746, 753–4.
  • 9. 1 Jas. II, c. 22, public.
  • 10. The Builder, 18 May 1861, p. 343.
  • 11. 2 Geo. III, c. 21, public.
  • 12. 2 Geo. III, c. 58, public.
  • 13. 11 Geo. III, c. 22, public.
  • 14. 30 Geo. III, c. 53, public.
  • 15. 59 Geo. III, c. 23, public.
  • 16. 5 William IV, c. 18, local.
  • 17. 8 Geo. II, c. 15, public.
  • 18. W.P.L., D1760 passim.
  • 19. Ibid., D1763, 6 Oct. 1774.
  • 20. Ibid., D1766, 7 Dec. 1793.
  • 21. Ibid., D1766, 2 June 1796, 26 Jan. 1797.
  • 22. Ibid., D1771, 10 Aug. 1829.
  • 23. Ibid., D178.
  • 24. London Topographical Record, vol. v, p. 117.
  • 25. W.P.L., D1764, 27 April 1776.
  • 26. Ibid., D1764, 1 March 1777, 12 Feb. 1778.
  • 27. P.R.O., MR271, 872.
  • 28. W.P.L., D1835A.
  • 29. Ibid., D1836.