Gerrard Street Area: The Military Ground, King Street

Pages 412-413

Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.

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King Street

Until the formation of Shaftesbury Avenue in 1883–6 part of its course was occupied by King Street, which extended from Wardour Street to Moor Street. This part of Shaftesbury Avenue was formed by setting back the line of frontage of the south side of King Street, all the buildings there being demolished, and by a minor re-alignment to the east of Greek Street (see fig. 73 on page 298). The buildings on the north side of King Street (except for those on the site now occupied by the Palace Theatre, which were affected by the re-alignment already mentioned) were not demolished, and some of them survived for many years after the opening of Shaftesbury Avenue.

King Street marked the course of an ancient highway which is clearly shown on sixteenth-century maps. The 'Agas' map (fig. 97) marks it, not very accurately, as a curved and tree-lined road extending from the cross-roads on approximately the site of Cambridge Circus to Colman Hedge Lane (now Wardour Street). The plan of 1585 (Plate 1a) marks it, much more correctly, with a gate on either side, leading into St. Giles's Field on the north and St. Martin's Field on the south, and shows how at its western end travellers leaving London turned left down Colman Hedge Lane and then right along the modern Coventry Street to Piccadilly, at that time the principal route to the west.

In the 1620's ground on the south side of the highway was enclosed for the formation of the Military Ground. Development began on this site in 1677 (see below) and the highway, named presumably as a conventional compliment to the sovereign, first appears as King Street in 1678. (fn. 1) Development of the north side followed shortly afterwards on the Crown land which was later to become part of the Portland estate (see page 205). Ogilby and Morgan's map of 1681–2 (Plate 2) shows the street half built. It was completed in c. 1691–2 when the north side west of Dean Street was built up on the rector's glebe land (see page 206). In 1720 Strype described King Street as 'a pretty good Street, but not so broad as most in these Parts; yet well inhabited'. (fn. 2)

Most of the ground on the south side of King Street was developed by Nicholas Barbon under the lease of the Military Ground which Charles, Lord Gerard, granted to him in 1677. Only one reference has been found to an original building lease of premises on the south side of the street. In a lawsuit of 1689/90 Richard Poycke of St. Anne's, bricklayer, related that some four years earlier he had taken a piece of land on the southwest corner of King Street and Macclesfield Street, where he had built a 'Large Double house with Clossetts'. (fn. 3) Others who may have built houses here were John Hooper, carpenter, George Bishop, bricklayer, both of St. Anne's, and John Stephens, gentleman, who were arbiters in Poycke's dispute with a neighbour. (fn. 3) Bishop paid rates for a house on the south side of King Street (fn. 4) and Stephens had a building lease of a house in Gerrard Street. (fn. 5)

Many of the original houses were demolished at the time of the redevelopment of the estate in the 1730's. Among the builders who erected new houses were Joseph Buckoke and John Meard. (fn. 6)

A watercolour drawing by J. P. Emslie, dated 1885 (Plate 67c), shows some of the houses on the south side of King Street shortly before they were pulled down for the formation of Shaftesbury Avenue. With the exception of the third house from the right-hand side, they were all built in the 1730's, the group on the left-hand side being part of Whetten's Buildings. They are numbered 12–23 (from right to left) on Horwood's map of 1792–9, the last house in King Street and the corner house in Macclesfield Street being amalgamated as No. 23. The first five houses from the east end of the row (Nos. 13–17) had uniform fronts, each three storeys high and two windows wide, with plain pilaster-strips marking the party walls, and a cornice surmounted by a plain parapet at roof level. They were generally similar to No. 2 Gerrard Place, which was also part of Whetten's Buildings. Erected in 1731, they were let on 18 August of that year, three to John Whetten of St. Anne's, bricklayer, (fn. 7) and two to Charles Carpenter of St. Margaret's, Westminster, carpenter. (fn. 8) West of the uniform group was a pair of houses (Nos. 18–19) sharing a plain front, which were being demolished in 1885. They were built in 1737, (fn. 4) replacing a house sold to Joseph Kendall of St. Anne's, gentleman, in 1735. (fn. 9) Each house was presumably three storeys high and three windows wide. One retained a doorway with a hood projecting on horizontal consoles. Next to the pair was a plain-fronted house of similar size (No. 20), having a shallow hood extending above the ground storey. It, too, was erected in 1737. (fn. 4) The adjoining house (No. 21), although only three storeys high and two windows wide, had a front of considerable elaboration. It was let on 11 July 1730 to John Whetten (fn. 10) and had the appearance of being the work of a master bricklayer. The ground storey had been stuccoed, its only ornament being the doorway hood projecting on horizontal scroll-consoles, but giant Doric pilasters with rusticated shafts flanked the upper face, where the flush-framed windows had prominent cornice-capped keyblocks, a bandcourse marked the second-floor level, and a boldly moulded cornice finished the front. Next was a fourstoreyed front of earlier character (No. 22), with two flush-framed windows in each storey but the top, where there was a single wide light. The last house in the row (part of No. 23), three storeys high and three windows wide, was built in 1730, (fn. 4) having been let on 15 July 1729 to Edward Scarlett. (fn. 11) It formed a pair with the house on the corner of Macclesfield Street, which was also let to Scarlett (see No. 9 Macclesfield Street, page 414).

On 10 May 1853 a young man attempted to blackmail W. E. Gladstone in King Street. Gladstone, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had been walking home from Covent Garden Theatre when he had been accosted by a young woman in Long Acre. Gladstone's active work in the redemption of prostitutes prompted him to accompany the girl to the entrance of her lodgings in King Street, followed by the blackmailer, who demanded money or a post in the Inland Revenue. The youth was subsequently sentenced to a year's hard labour, but after he had served half his sentence Gladstone asked the Home Secretary to release him. (fn. 12)

Residents in King Street included J. F. Lampe, musical composer, J. Parke, oboist, and John Pine, engraver. (fn. 13) Sir Ambrose Heal mentions twelve goldsmiths, jewellers or plateworkers here in the eighteenth century. (fn. 14)

Some artists whose addresses are given as being in King Street in exhibition catalogues are listed below, with the years in which they exhibited:

George Allen, architect, 1821–2; Jacob Bonneau, intermittently from 1765 to 1784; Robert Browne, architect, 1797–8; John Donaldson, miniature painter, 1775; J. C. Lochie (Lochée), artist or sculptor, 1776; John Milton, painter, 1770–1; Jacob More, painter, 1771; F. M. Piper, architect, 1780; Henry Spicer, enamel painter, 1777.


  • 1. 30 Car. II, c. 7, private.
  • 2. John Strype, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, 1720, vol. II, bk. VI, p. 86.
  • 3. P.R.O., C8/351/104.
  • 4. R.B.
  • 5. Ibid., C8/491/17.
  • 6. M.L.R. 1732/3/144–6; 1735/2/297–9.
  • 7. Ibid., 1731/3/313–15.
  • 8. Ibid., 1731/2/320–1.
  • 9. Ibid., 1737/3/137–9.
  • 10. Ibid., 1730/2/153.
  • 11. Ibid., 1729/6/196.
  • 12. Philip Magnus, Gladstone, 1954, pp. 107–8.
  • 13. D.N.B.; E. F. Rimbault, Soho and Its Associations, 1895, pp. 119–21.
  • 14. Sir Ambrose Heal, The London Goldsmiths 1200–1800, 1935, passim.