CHAPTER 18 - WESTMINSTER BRIDGE ROAD
[See plates 44, 45 and 46.]
For the formation of the bridge approach on the Surrey side the
Commissioners of Westminster Bridge, between 1740 and 1746, purchased
a strip of land from the Archbishop of Canterbury and just over an acre of
ground in Lambeth Marsh from the Lord Mayor and Commonalty of the
City of London. (ref. 154)
At the time of the purchase the ground near the river, part of Float
Mead, was in lease to Gilbert East and sublet to a number of tenants, one of
whom, Andrews Jelfe, was a contractor for the stonework of Westminster
After the formation of the road there was left surplus a strip of land
on each side of the road west of Narrow Wall and a long strip on the north
side east of Narrow Wall, which were sold or let on building leases. A plan
made in 1785, by Thomas Hardwick, of the leasehold property of the
Lawton family south of Westminster Bridge Road (fn. a) shows that on neither
side was the road fully built up at that date.
There was a turnpike known as Marsh Gate at the junction of Lower
Marsh with Westminster Bridge Road and tolls were collected for the upkeep
of the road until 1844. (ref. 73) In 1847 the Illustrated London News recorded
that “the materials of upwards of twenty houses, on the west side of Westminster Bridge Road, near the old Marshgate, were sold for the extension
of the South Western Railway to the proposed new terminus in the York
Road” (i.e. from Nine Elms to Waterloo).
The houses on the bridge approach, formerly Nos. 1–7 Bridge
Street, including the Coronet Inn at the riverside, were pulled down in 1910–11 for the erection of County Hall (see p. 62).
The ground between Pedlar's Acre (Belvedere Road) and the New
Inn was in 1798 let on building lease to Eleanor Coade, (ref. 155) and houses, known
as Coade's Row, were built there, that at the corner of Belvedere Road,
No. 102 (later No. 266) being used as a gallery or showrooms for products
of Coade's Artificial Stone Factory. It bore a tablet inscribed “Coade's
Row, 1798,” (ref. 156) until 1908, when it was demolished for the widening of
The ground east of Coade's Row, with a street frontage of 360 feet,
was leased by the Commissioners in 1751 to John Lambert. (ref. 155) In 1785 the
New Inn occupied most of this ground. (ref. 157) The entrance to York Road was
cut through the eastern end of it circa 1824. Nos. 240–234 (even), formerly
Nos. 89–86, were built in 1823. No. 234 bears a tablet inscribed “Tunbridge
Place 1823.” The freehold of these houses was sold by auction in 1855. (ref. 158)
They have probably had ground floor shops from the time of their erection.
No. 240, with the house next to it at the corner of York Road, was in 1855
used as a furnishing warehouse. (ref. 159)
The remaining 390 feet of frontage to Westminster Bridge Road
was leased in 1766 to Mr. Wyatt and Mrs. Brent. (ref. 155) This ground with the
houses on it (Nos. 83–64 afterwards Nos. 228–184) was also sold by auction
The Westminster Lying-in Hospital, the predecessor of the General
Lying-in Hospital, was established by Dr. John Leake in 1765 (see p.
41) on the site of Nos. 214–218, while Nos. 212 and 214 (described in
1855 as “newly erected”) (ref. 74) and 216 formed the entrance to Gatti's Music Hall
which occupied the space between the Westminster Bridge Road houses and
Addington Street. Gatti's was badly damaged during the 1939–45 war and
was demolished in 1950 to form a new roadway through to Addington Street.
St. Thomas's Church and Vicarage, at the corner of Pearman Street,
were built in 1856, the designs like that of St. Andrew's, Coin Street, being
prepared by Samuel Sanders Teulon. The church was demolished by enemy
action during the 1939–45 war. From 1788 to 1798 this site was occupied
by the Apollo Gardens and the “Great Room” (ref. 160) of Mr. Crispus Claggett,
the proprietor of the Pantheon in Oxford Street.
The piece of ground on the south side of the bridge approach was
let on building lease by the Commissioners of Westminster Bridge in 1741
to James King, (ref. 155) who had the contract for carpenter's work on the bridge.
On this ground Nos. 7–13 Bridge Street were erected (No. 7 being duplicated on the north side of the road). These houses were pulled down in
1860 (ref. 48) to form part of the approach to the new Westminster Bridge.
There were houses on the Westminster Bridge Road frontage east
of Stangate in 1788. The present Nos. 217–223 date from the early 19th
century. The entrance to Astley's Amphitheatre was on the site of the present
No. 225 (see Plate 46a).
Philip Astley, the founder of Astley's Circus, was born at Newcastle
under Lyme in 1742. (ref. 161) He began his career as a showman after he left the
army in 1768 by giving performances in an open field “near Glover's Halfpenny Hatch, at Lambeth.” (ref. 88) This lay behind the site of St. John's Church,
Waterloo Road. Having amassed a little capital as a travelling showman,
Astley in 1769 “took a large piece of ground, of a timber-merchant, near
Westminster Bridge, on the Surrey side, … and, inclosing it circularly
with boarding, erected seats for an audience, with a pent-house roof, covered
with canvas,” (ref. 88) and started having regular performances there. By 1778
the enterprise had prospered sufficiently for Astley to erect a partially roofed
building which was opened in 1779 as the Amphitheatre Riding House (fn. a)
The entertainments consisted chiefly of equestrian feats, conjuring and
fireworks. At Michaelmas 1783, having obtained a licence from the Surrey
Justices, (fn. a) he erected a stage and started stage performances in opposition to
the Surrey Theatre. In 1794 the theatre (then known as the Royal Saloon)
with all its properties was burnt down. It was rebuilt on the same site and
was opened in the following year as the Amphitheatre of Arts, altered later
to Astley's Royal Amphitheatre, under the direction of Philip Astley and
his son John. (ref. 161) On 2nd September, 1803, the theatre was again burnt down,
the horses being saved, as they had been on the previous occasion, by Mr.
Searle the boat builder of Stangate. (ref. 88)
The theatre was rebuilt in 1804 from Astley's own designs, and
circus and equestrian performances continued to be successful under Andrew
Ducrow who succeeded the Astleys. Dickens described it in 1841 in Master
Humphrey's Clock “with all the paint, gilding, and looking-glass, the vague
smell of horses suggestive of coming wonders, the curtain that hid such
gorgeous mysteries, the clean white sawdust down in the circus ….” (ref. 163)
It was in the summer of this year that Astley's was burnt down for the third
time. The shock was too great for Andrew Ducrow who lost his reason
and died a few months later. (ref. 75)
The site of Astley's was bought by William Batty, the owner of a
travelling circus, and Astley's New Royal Amphitheatre of Arts was opened
there in 1843. Ten years later it was let to William Cooke on condition that
he kept open all the year round. By dint of novel attractions, of which
Shakespeare on horseback, was one, Cooke kept his audiences, but after
his departure Astley's rapidly lost its popularity. It was in very low water
when in 1871 George Sanger bought it from Batty's widow for £11,000. (ref. 161)
Sanger pulled down the greater part of the building and enlarged
and modernized it, installing a ring, half before and half behind the curtain,
with a stage to be lowered into position when the scenes in the circle were
done. His showmanship restored prosperity to Astley's for the next twenty
years. At the close of that time Sanger was under pressure both from the
London County Council, who had tightened the licensing regulations and
from the ground landlords, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and in March,
1893, he gave up possession of the premises.
Astley's Amphitheatre stood on the triangle of ground bounded by
Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth Palace Road and Stangate. It was
almost entirely surrounded by houses but the entrance from Westminster
Bridge Road had a portico extending to the verge of the pavement (Place
46a). In 1826 Brayley described it as follows—
“The general form of the interior is that of an elongated
lyre …. The prevailing decorations are white, lemon colour, and
gold, and the private boxes have hangings of rich crimson. There
is one full tier of boxes, and two half tiers at the sides, which range
evenly with the front of the gallery: over the half tiers are the gallery
slips… The equestrian circle, or ride, which is bounded by a
boarded inclosure about four feet in height, painted as stone-work,
is forty-four feet in diameter; the area is covered with pulverized
saw-dust: the curve of the ride, next the stage, forms the outline
of the orchestra, and the remainder that of the pit, which contains
fourteen rows of seats, and has a spacious lobby, and a bar for refreshments… The stage, which is probably the largest and most
convenient in London, is provided with immense platforms, or
floors, rising above each other, and extending entirely across. These
are of great strength: the horsemen gallop and skirmish over them,
and carriages equal in size and weight to a mail coach may be driven
along them. They are so constructed as to be placed and removed,
in a short space of time, by manual labour and mechanism. During
exhibitions they are masked by romantic scenery, bridges, forts,
mountains, and other objects.” (ref. 88)
The amphitheatre was pulled down in 1893; part of the site is now
covered by a block of flats.
Hercules Hall and Hercules Road
In 1550 Edward VI made a grant of land to the City of London
which included a close of land in Lambeth Marsh purchased by Henry VIII
from Charles, Duke of Suffolk. (ref. 19) In the 18th century this ground was
known as Brick Close and was stated to contain six acres. (ref. 164) When Kennington Road was made it divided the close into two triangles which were let in
1752 to Daniel Ponton. (ref. 165) On the southern triangle, between Hercules Road
and Westminster Bridge Road, Philip Astley built himself a house which he
named Hercules Hall after the acrobatic feat called “La Force d'Hercule,” (ref. 161)
and in which he lived from 1788 (ref. 45) onward. He was still living there in
December, 1804, when he dated a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth from
“Hercules Hall, Hercules Buildings.” (ref. 166) In 1831 the house was occupied
by Thomas Barton Lawrence, a “malleable zinc manufacturer.” (ref. 165) It was
pulled down in 1841. (ref. 167)
City of London
The Ponton family built a number of houses in Hercules Row (now
Hercules Road). No.23 was from 1793 to 1800 the residence of William
Blake; (ref. 168) there “Flaxman used to come and see him and sit drinking tea in
the garden under the shadow of the grape vine.” (ref. 169) The site is now covered
by blocks of dwellings.
The Female Orphan Asylum And Christ Church
In 1758 a group of “Noblemen and Gentlemen” decided to carry
out a project proposed by Sir John Fielding for making a home for orphan
girls living within the Bills of Mortality whose settlement under the poor
Law could not be established. A house, probably one of those erected by
Daniel Ponton, “near the second turnpike on the Surry side of Westminster
Bridge” (ref. 170) was found suitable. Girls between the ages of 9 and 12 years were taken and trained for domestic service; they were also taught to read
and write and “understand the four first rules in arithmetic.” (ref. 171) An aquatint
showing the interior of the dining room in 1808 is reproduced on Plate 43b.
The premises were rebuilt in 1824 from the designs of L. W. Lloyd.
James Elmes enthusiastically proclaimed it “one of the prettiest productions”
of his day with its“porch, of the Ionic order, selected from a choice example
of the purest Grecian elegance” (Plate 43a).
In 1866 the institution was moved to Beddington in Surrey and it
is now at High Wycombe. (ref. 172)
Part of the site of the asylum was taken over in 1873 by J. Oakey &
Sons, and the Wellington Mills for the manufacture of emery paper were
established there and still remain. The remainder of the site was purchased
in 1876 by the trustees of the Surrey Chapel Centenary Fund. This fund
had been raised in 1849 to commemorate the centenary of the birth of
Rowland Hill, the first pastor of the Surrey Chapel in Blackfriars Road.
Hawkstone Hall in Waterloo Road, which had been bought out of the fund,
for day and Sunday schools, was acquired by the London and South Western
Railway Company in 1867 under compulsory powers, and a new lecture
hall (also called Hawkstone Hall), chapel and other buildings were subsequentlybuilt on the Westminster Bridge Road site. The church was
completed in 1876, the architects being H.J. Paull and Alfred Bickerdike. (ref. 173)
The Lincoln Tower and spire, named after the American president,
were built out of funds collected by the Rev. Newman Hall in America. The
buildings received extensive damage during an air raid in 1940 and the top
of the steeple was subsequently removed.
The church has an octagonal plan with four transept arms. Enclosed
between the west and north arms, and standing almost detached, is a bold
tower and spire, soaring to a height of over two hundred feet.
The tower, like the body of the church, is built in Kentish ragstone
with Portland stone dressings, and is designed in the Early English style;
it has two buttresses to each face and is capped by pinnacles at each corner.
Above the pinnacles rises an octagonal spire whose masonry is relieved by
two groups of inwrought red stone bands interspersed with rows of stars
(symbolic of American Stars and Stripes).
The church has galleries and is roofed with wood groined vaulting.
The rooms for teaching and recreation are separated from the tower and
church by an open cloister. The asymmetry of the whole is emphasized by
the multiplicity of roofs and gable ends.
Nos.65–75, illustrated on Plate 45b, formerly known as Mead Place,
were built before 1788, when they were shown on a plan made by Thomas
Hardwick of lands held by Thomas Griffiths and James Hedger on lease
from the Archbishop. (ref. 160) They have been demolished.
No. 61. The Yorkshire Society's School and Morley College
This school, for the education and maintenance of boys born in
Yorkshire or of Yorkshire parents, was founded in 1812 in a house rented
from the Magdalen Hospital (ref. 174) and standing on ground belonging to the
City of London. It was substantially altered in 1885 (see Plate 45a).
The school was closed in 1917 and the premises were for a few years
occupied by the Britannia Club for Soldiers and Sailors (ref. 174) until 1923 when
Morley College for Working Men and Women was transferred there from
the Old Vic Theatre (see p. 38). (ref. 48) The building adapted and extended to
meet the new requirements stood until October, 1940, when it was destroyed
by enemy action.