Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
'Gerrard Street Area: The Military Ground, Introduction', in Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho, (London, 1966) pp. 380-384. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols33-4/pp380-384 [accessed 29 February 2024]
Gerrard Street Area: The Military Ground
This chapter deals with the area south of Shaftesbury Avenue which at the time of its development in the 1670's and 1680's was called the Military Ground, or sometimes the Military Garden or Yard (fig. 86). It owed this name to its use by the Military Company, one of the many bands of volunteer soldiers which were formed in several parts of the country during the reign of James I and which received direct encouragement from the King through the Privy Council. During the reign of Charles II possession of the Military Ground was obtained by Charles, Lord Gerard, (fn. 1) and its development for building undertaken by Dr. Nicholas Barbon.
The Military Company in Westminster was founded in 1615 and modelled on the Artillery Company which exercised in Spitalfields. (fn. 8) Both were praised by Richard Elton in The Compleat Body of the Art Military, first published in 1650: 'The great delight in handling of Arms in Military Exercises, makes the City of London and the Suburbs thereof famous through the whole world, by reason ... of those two great Nurseries or Academies of Military Discipline, the Artillery and Military Gardens, from whom . . . all other our Private Meetings (as of Townsditch, and Cripplegate, etc.) are derived. The Artillery Garden deserves the first place . . . The Military Garden is famous likewise for the great improvement of diverse worthy persons of quality daily thither resorting'. (fn. 9)
The two companies were sometimes confused. (fn. 2) This confusion may account for the false tradition that Prince Henry, the eldest son of James I, founded the Military Company. An old member of the company affirmed in 1669 that he had heard that Prince Henry was 'in his life time Captaine of ye said military Company' and Prince Charles (Charles I) after him. (fn. 10) John Bagford (fl. 1650–1716) repeated the tradition—'Prince Henry caused a piece of Ground near Leicester fields to be walled in, for ye Exercise of Arms, wch. he much delighted in.' (fn. 11)
However, the Westminster company was founded in 1615, some two years after Prince Henry's death. In December 1615 certain inhabitants of the City of Westminster, St. Martin in the Fields, St. Clement Danes, the Savoy, Holborn and St. Giles in the Fields petitioned the Privy Council that 'such as are inrolled upon the trayned baundes, as others whoe beinge furnished with good armes, are fitt to bee exercised in the use and practize thereof', should be allowed to train and exercise 'at their owne charge'. The Privy Council approved the company's formation and gave permission for it to exercise 'in anie place neere the suburbes of the cittie' under the direction of the Commissioners of Musters for Middlesex. The Council also appointed a professional soldier, Thomas Holcrofte, to be captain. (fn. 12)
The land acquired by the company for its exercises lay in the north-west part of St. Martin's Field (Plate 1). It consisted of two parcels, one held by lease, consisting of two acres, and the other freehold, consisting of one and a half acres.
The two acres, which made up the western parcel, had come into the possession of Henry VIII in 1536 by exchange with the Master of the Hospital of Burton Saint Lazar, who was custodian of the Hospital of St. Giles in the Fields. (fn. 13) The freehold remained in the hands of the Crown until 1676, being leased to successive tenants (fn. 3) as meadow land within St. Martin's Field. In 1610 these two acres, described as being part of the Bailiwick of St. James, were leased with many other properties for security to a group of London financiers who had lent £67,000 to James I. (fn. 14) This group included William Angell of London, esquire, who in 1616 sub-leased the two acres to the Military Company, but for what term is not known. Even the parliamentary surveyors of Crown lands reported in 1652 that 'wee cannott learne what lives or yeares are now in being in the premisses'. (fn. 15)
The one and a half acres which made up the eastern portion of the Military Ground were in the possession of the Company by 1616 and the freehold was purchased in 1619 from Susan Lamb, widow, and Thomas and Elizabeth Garland. (fn. 16) (fn. 4)
The company's exercise ground was enclosed with a brick wall nearly nine feet high; (fn. 17) (fn. 5) it followed the existing field boundary on the west and north sides and the boundary of what was later the Leicester estate on the south (Plate 8a). On the east it abutted on a piece of waste ground, the origin of which is uncertain (see page 383).
The accounts of the Military Company for 1616 record payments to bricklayers amounting in all to £294. (fn. 18) This sum probably included the cost of building the armoury house (Plate 8a), which stood on the eastern (freehold) parcel of land. (fn. 19) There are two descriptions of the house, one dated 1652 (fn. 15) and the other 1661. (fn. 17) It was a two-storeyed brick building with two wings and a tiled roof. The measurements given in the surveys differ slightly, the earlier one stating that the house was 120 feet long and 36 feet wide, the later one stating that it was 104 feet long and 30 or 33 feet wide. A conflation of both sources shows that the centre part of the building was occupied by the hall or armoury; one wing accommodated a library or parlour with a dining-room or meeting-room over it, and in the other wing was a kitchen with two small rooms over it.
An inventory of the contents of the house mentions four dozen leather chairs, four tables, a long table, a large press, two chimneypieces, a great trunk, the King's arms, carved and gilded, a chained bible, a large 'Table' painted with the names of benefactors, a large iron grate 'to Runn on wheeles', painted and gilded branches for candles, several 'Statues of Emperors heads' and 'Painted Glass'. (fn. 10) (A Mr. Leigh had been paid £2 1s. 6d. for a window in the armoury in 1618). (fn. 18) Among the military equipment were colours, ensigns, banners, drums, halberds, 'Spanish Javelyns', suits of armour, 'Granado' shells, 'clothes for Pyoneeres', war saddles and 'two Brass pieces of ordinance called drakes' allegedly given by Charles I. (fn. 10) The company also possessed a sundial and a well, and employed a mole-catcher. As in the case of the Artillery Company in Spitalfields, there was evidently an annual feast, at which musicians played. Treasurers were appointed to manage the company's income, which was apparently made up of entrance fees of ten shillings per head, augmented by occasional gifts. In the first year receipts totalled nearly £400 but had dropped to £50 in 1621 and 1622. (fn. 18)
When the company was first formed it had been placed under the direction of the Commissioners of Musters but in 1617 the Privy Council gave orders for its continuance under the newly appointed Lieutenants for Middlesex. Later in the same year the Council gave the company permission to choose its own captain, provided he was presented to the Council for approval. (fn. 20)
Hardly anything has come to light of the company's military activities. Occasionally it appears to have been called on as a 'policing' force on Shrove Tuesday, 'the day of liberty' for apprentices, (fn. 21) but its activities as a company during the Civil War are unknown.
In 1656 the company was in debt, and the Military Ground was let for eleven years to Edward Haines or Haynes, a cook, who re-leased a part of it back to the company for an exercise ground. (fn. 10) Haines apparently occupied the armoury house, or part of it, and his name appears in the ratebooks from 1658 to 1661. He sub-let part of the ground to a gardener, Thomas Browne, (fn. 22) who also appears in the ratebooks from 1659 to 1662.
In 1661 Haines and certain members of the company were paid £500 for their interest in the Military Ground (fn. 6) by Charles, Baron Gerard of Brandon in Suffolk. (fn. 10) Gerard had trained as a soldier in the United Provinces and had served in the royal army during the Civil War. (fn. 23) After the Restoration he was given a pension of £1,000 for life and several grants of lands. (fn. 24) He was at this time a gentleman of the bedchamber and Colonel of the 1st Life Guards. (fn. 24)
Gerard's attempts to gain full possession of the Military Ground were frustrated for many years. Shortly after he had made the purchase, he petitioned the King, unsuccessfully, for a lease of the two acres of Crown land. (fn. 25) Browne, the gardener, still had some years of his lease to run in 1661, but Gerard ordered him to quit, (fn. 22) and threatened that 'hee would Cutt the Members of the said Millitary Company in peeces if ever they came on the said Ground.' (fn. 10) He used troopers under his command to force an entry into a house in Tothill Street where he thought some title deeds were hidden, pulled down part of the armoury house, and had the library violently dismantled, carrying the most valuable books and other objects away to his houses in the country and Covent Garden. (fn. 10)
Gerard's name first appears in the ratebooks in 1662. In 1665 he offered to sell the whole of the Military Ground to the King, but although Charles agreed to consider this proposal, the offer was not accepted. (fn. 26) Gerard's title was still insecure and in 1668 he sought to establish it in the Court of Chancery. (fn. 10) In the following year he again petitioned the King to accept the whole ground or to give him a lease of the Crown's part, alleging that he had been acting on the King's behalf from the beginning. (fn. 27) Eventually, in 1676, having evidently established his title, Gerard obtained not a lease, but a grant of the freehold of the two acres of Crown land. (fn. 28)
The grant also included three roods of waste land between the Military Ground and the garden wall of Newport House. The exact extent of this waste land is not known and it is marked by broken lines on fig. 86. A clause in the Crown grant to Gerard—'Notwithstanding the not reciting or misreciting of any demise Guift or grant made of the premisses or any of them by us or any of our predecessors'—suggests that even then there was some doubt about the origin of this ground. (fn. 29)
The westward growth of London at this time was causing concern and many restrictions on building were being imposed, (fn. 30) but Gerard's grant included a permissive clause giving 'full power and authority att any tyme or tymes hereafter to erect and build . . . in or upon all or any part or parts of the said . . . military Ground . . . any houses or buildings whatsoever . . . leaveing a convenient way and passage for Coaches and Carriages'. (fn. 29)
On 5 July 1677 Lord Gerard leased the whole of the Military Ground, with the three roods of waste land, to Dr. Nicholas Barbon (fn. 7) and to John Rowley (the latter variously described as a timber merchant, of Bridewell precinct, and as a citizen and skinner of London) for sixty-one years from Lady Day 1677. (fn. 31)
Two years later Gerard was created Earl of Macclesfield and both his family name and his title are commemorated in the streets laid out over his estate. He himself took a lease of one of Barbon's houses in 1682 (see page 396).
Barbon's development of the Military Ground was partly determined by the fact that it already had existing road frontages on the north and west, to King Street and Colman Hedge Lane. On these two sides the boundary wall which had enclosed the ground was demolished and houses built along both frontages. On the south side the wall was left standing to mark the limits of the curtilages of the houses on the south side of Gerrard Street (fn. 32) —a continuous range between Colman Hedge Lane and the piece of waste ground on the east of the boundary wall. On its north side Gerrard Street was given direct communication via Dean Street with the Tyburn road by means of a short link—Macclesfield Street— connecting it with King Street. On either side of Macclesfield Street two stable-yards called the East and West Military Mews were built. The Earl of Devonshire's house, Hayes Court, and the south side of King Street between Moor Street and Litchfield Street were laid out on part of the waste ground between the Military Ground and Newport House, the rest of the waste ground being left open as a 'square' which still exists as part of Newport Place.
Barbon's method in developing the Military Ground is illustrated by a Chancery lawsuit of 1682/3 which is described on page 386. From the evidence of this case it appears that Barbon sometimes let houses in part payment to workmen whom he employed, but the granting of a lease to a workman did not necessarily mean that the workman had been engaged on that particular house.
Lord Macclesfield's estates, including the Military Ground, became forfeit in 1685 when he was outlawed for his part in the plots which revolved around the Duke of Monmouth. He escaped before he could be arrested and fled the country. His son Charles, Lord Brandon, had been implicated in the Rye House plot, convicted of treason and attainted. (fn. 24) In 1687 his attainder was reversed and his father's estates granted to him. (fn. 33)
Lord Macclesfield returned to England in the bodyguard of the Prince of Orange. With the accession of William and Mary both father and son rose again in royal favour. Macclesfield died in 1694 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. After the death of the second Lord Macclesfield in 1701 a series of complicated lawsuits ensued, and ultimately the estates descended to one who had no blood relationship with the Gerards at all.
The second Lord Macclesfield's heir, named in his will, was Charles Mohun, fourth Baron Mohun, whose first wife was a niece of Lord Macclesfield. In 1712 Mohun quarrelled with another claimant, the Duke of Hamilton, who had also married a niece of Lord Macclesfield. They fought a duel and were both fatally wounded. Mohun had meanwhile remarried since Macclesfield's death and in 1715 his widow, Elizabeth, obtained possession of his estates, now heavily encumbered with debts. (fn. 24)
In 1721 the Military Ground (but not Gerard House, which Lady Mohun still occupied) was sold to Robert Knight, (fn. 34) the cashier of the South Sea Company. When the company collapsed Knight fled abroad (fn. 35) and in 1728 the freehold of the Military Ground was purchased by John Jeffreys of West Sheen. (fn. 36) Jeffreys already owned the leasehold interest which had been granted to Barbon and Rowley, having inherited it from his father. (fn. 37) At some time before 1687 John Jeffreys, senior, a well-to-do merchant of St. Mary Axe and a member of the Jeffreys family of Brecknockshire, (fn. 38) had lent £5,000 on the security of the leasehold interest of the Military Ground. (fn. 39) The mortgage was evidently never redeemed, and the senior Jeffreys received a confirmation of his leasehold interest in the property from Lady Mohun shortly before his death in 1715. (fn. 40) As the leases granted by Barbon expired, John Jeffreys junior renewed them or granted new building leases. Many of the houses on the estate were rebuilt at this time and some were demolished for the formation of a new street, called Nassau Street.
Having granted the new leases, Jeffreys sold all the estate piecemeal between 1735 and 1738. The Earl of Leicester took sixty-two properties, (fn. 41) and John Cooke and Elizabeth Gramer, both of Leytonstone, took twenty-two jointly. (fn. 42)
Occasional rebuilding took place in the area during the early nineteenth century but the biggest single alteration was occasioned in 1883–6 by the formation of Shaftesbury Avenue, which entailed the removal of all the houses on the south side of King Street (see fig. 73 on page 298). Most of the buildings now standing on the site of the Military Ground are of late nineteenth-century date, but a few remnants of the original fabric and some eighteenth-century rebuildings remain.
With the exception of Gerrard and Macclesfield Streets, the names of all the streets on the Military Ground site were subsequently changed; King Street disappeared in Shaftesbury Avenue, Princes Street became part of Wardour Street, Nassau Street became Gerrard Place, Hayes Court is now part of Newport Place and the two stable-yards are now called Dansey Place (formerly George Yard) and Horse and Dolphin Yard.