GREAT GEORGE STREET.
Early History of the Site.
Up to the middle of the 18th century the site of Great George Street (fn. 1)
was occupied by Antelope Alley, Blue Boar's Head Yard, George Yard
and Bell Alley, all running east to west, that portion of the western side of
King Street which lay between Antelope Alley and Bell Alley, and part of
Delahay Street (Plate 13).
Antelope Alley was so called from The Antelope Inn, the first mention
of which (Le Antelope) has been found in 1443. (fn. 2) A document dated 13th
March, 1447–48 (fn. 3) refers to a transaction between Richard Saxilby and
Richard Walsh on the one hand and William Norton on the other, concerning
a messuage formerly called "Le hert on the hoop," but now "Le Antelope
super le hope," in the street called "Le Kyngestrete," between "Le Boreshede" on the south and a messuage belonging to Westminster Abbey on the
Further references occur in 1491 (fn. 4) and 1567. (fn. 5) On the latter occasion
it was still a single "mesuage and tenement comonly called 'The Antylloppe,' "but when next met with (fn. 6) (in 1624) it had become a "greate mesuage
"or tenemente or inne comonly called … 'The Antilop,' now divided
"into severall mesuages or tenementes" in eighteen occupations, abutting
on "The Blewboare" on the south and a house of Thomas Johnson on the
north. This appears to mark the origin of Antelope Alley, which continued
in existence until purchased by Samuel Cox, under the title of 14 messuages
in King Street, for the purposes of the formation of Great George Street.
South of Antelope Alley lay Blue Boar's Head Yard. A reference
to "le Borishede" also is found in 1443. (fn. 7) In 1539 the Abbot of Westminster let (fn. 8) on lease for 40 years to William Jennings a tenement or inn
called "Le Boreshed" lying between King Street on the east, the (fn. 9)
towards the tenement called Caleys (fn. 10) on the west, The Antelope on the north
and The George on the south.
It has been commonly stated that Oliver Cromwell once resided in
a house in Boar's Head Yard, but the statement is incorrect. (fn. 11) Walcott,
in mentioning the alleged residence, (fn. 12) states that the house in which Cromwell resided had only recently been pulled down when he wrote (in 1849).
It is, however, quite certain that The Boar's Head of Cromwell's time,
as well as every house in old Boar's Head Yard, was demolished soon after
1756, for the new buildings on the north side of Great George Street completely covered the site. The later Boar's Head Yard was situated over
70 feet north of the old yard.
George Yard was a thoroughfare running out of the western side of
King Street. The eastern half of this thoroughfare formed the yard attached
to the George Inn; the western half was wider, and entered Delahay Street
by two branches (Plate 13).
Two centuries earlier, when Delahay Street was not yet in existence,
the site was in the possession of Sir Hugh Vaughan. (fn. 13) On his death in
August, 1536, most of his property, including "one messuage with thappurtenaunces called … the George, scituate and beinge in or neere
Kyng Streete in Westminster" and "two other messuages scituate and
being in or neere Kynge Streete aforesaid," came into the possession of his
son Francis, who in 1600 devised it to Francis Townley. (fn. 14) On 12th December,
1668, Nicholas Townley sold (fn. 15) to Sir William Boreman a portion of the estate
consisting of a piece or parcel of ground with buildings thereon "in George
Yard on the west side of King Streete" extending on the "south side of
the way or passage leadeing from by and through the George Inne in
King Streete … unto Long Ditch (fn. 16) from the middle of the gate
stumpe goeing into the long stable yard belonging to the said George
Yard … and abutts upon the east side of the said yard of the
long stable there east, and extends from the said gate stumpe straight
over and through the middle of the said stable yard unto the common sewer
south, and extends out the north side of the said way or passage leading
from by and through the George Inne unto Long Ditch, and abutts upon
one messuage … commonly called the Two Brewers east, and upon
another messuage … commonly called the Boares Head north,
and upon the common sewer west." The description makes it clear that
the property conveyed was only the western portion of the estate. On
8th June, 1670, Boreman transferred (fn. 17) his interest to Peter Delahay. Five
years later Delahay acquired the greater portion of the remainder of the
estate from Townley. (fn. 18)
The nine years which elapsed before Delahay's death saw the laying
out of the property on the lines which were to last until the complete reconstruction of the area in the middle of the 18th century. The outstanding
feature of this was the extension northwards of Longditch under the name of
Delahay Street. The first year in which the street appears under that name
in the ratebooks is 1725, but houses in that street are given under the heading of "George Yard" at least as early as 1686. Delahay himself (and
after his death, his widow) lived in a house on the west side. (fn. 19)
On Delahay's (fn. 20) death in 1684–5 (fn. 21) his property fell to his five daughters,
none of whom had attained her majority. They were: (i) Mary, who
married Sir John St. Aubin, of Clowance, Cornwall; Martha; Lady Elizabeth Glanville; Judith, who married John Langley; and Eleanor, afterwards wife of Thomas Morice. (fn. 22) In 1701, when presumably Eleanor, the
youngest, came of age, a partition of the estate was made, but in the course
of this investigation no copy of the deed of partition (25th July, 1701) has
been found. Practically the whole of the estate was, half a century later,
acquired, for the purpose of the formation of Great George Street, by Mallors
(the builder of that street) and Cox (his mortgagee).
South of George Yard was a messuage described in 1546 (when it was
granted by the King to Sir Thomas Pope (fn. 23) ) as in "le Kinges Strete" abutting
on the tenement of the Fraternity of St. Mary in Westminster called "le
Sonne" on the south, the tenement of Sir Hugh Vaughan called "le George"
on the west and north, and the high street on the east. Among the properties purchased in connection with the formation of Great George Street
was one in the occupation of John Williams which, from the similarity
in description, was obviously identical with that mentioned above. It is
described (fn. 24) as "all that messuage, tenement or dwelling-house …
in Kings Street… formerly in the tenure … of Edward
Martyn, afterwards of Sir Erasmus Dryden … abutting upon the
tenement appertaining to the late Brotherhood of the Blessed Mary in
Westminster… called the Sun on the south part, and upon
a messuage, tenement or inn … in the occupation of …
Ball, widdow, called … the George (fn. 25) on the west and north parts."
The ratebooks confirm the statement that this house was the residence of
Erasmus Dryden. (fn. 26)
The Sun lay to the south of Dryden's house. It is mentioned as early
as 1464. (fn. 27) In the time of Henry VIII it belonged to the Fraternity of St.
Mary within the Church of St. Margaret, (fn. 28) and on the abolition of the
chantries, etc., in 1547 came into the hands of the Crown. (fn. 29) In 1555 it
was in the possession of Richard Castyll alias Casteler, who left to his wife
Katherine his tenement called "the Sonne, wherein now inhabyteth one
"John Horner, … in the Kinges high streate," for life, with reversion to Christ's Hospital. It came into the possession of the Hospital in
1566, (fn. 30) and so remained until pulled down in connection with the formation
of Great George Street. (fn. 31)
Bell Alley was so named of The Bell inn, which is mentioned as early
as 1465. (fn. 32) About 50 years later it is referred to as "a tenement called the
"Bell wt a medowe and all the tenementes perteynyng … to the
same sett in the Kynges strete of Westminster." (fn. 33) It is several times mentioned in Pepys' diary. (fn. 34) A reference of a different character is the following: (fn. 35)
Thursday night Mr. Hill, an attorney of Lyons Inn, was killed in the Bell
Tavern in King Street, Westminster, by Lieutenant Collonel Cornius of
the militia, who made his escape."
In Anne's reign The Bell was the headquarters of the October Club.
In the Journal to Stella Swift writes (10th February, 1710–11): "We are
plagued here with an October Club, that is, a set of above a hundred
Parliament men of the country, who drink October beer at home, and meet
every evening at a tavern near the Parliament."
Formation of Great George Street.
In 1750 Westminster Bridge was completed and Bridge Street, its new
western approach, opened out into Parliament Street and King Street
directly in front of George Yard. The continuation of Bridge Street westwards seemed a quite obvious improvement, but it was left to a private
individual to carry it out as a speculation. In 1752–3 James Mallors
(the builder of Nos. 43 and 44 Parliament Street) obtained an Act of Parliament (fn. 36) authorising him "to open a street from the west side of King Street
"… to the back part of the houses, gardens and yards on the west
side of Delahaye Street." The preamble states that the making of such
a large, spacious and publick new street … would be not only
extremely conducive to the benefit of the said parishes of Saint Margaret
and St. John the Evangelist, but highly advantageous and convenient to
the publick in general, as well as a great ornament to the antient City of
Westminster, more especially if such houses only as are fit for the habitation of persons of fortune and distinction, were erected and built on each
side of the said street."
Mallors, therefore, was empowered to acquire ground and houses on
a site bounded roughly by King Street, Gardener's Lane (western portion),
St. James's Park and Bow Street (Thieving Lane) (fn. 37) (see Plate 13) and was
authorised to carry out exchanges of property with the Dean and Chapter of
Westminster, who owned portions of the site. Provision was made for the
new street to have a width of 60 feet at the least, and for "good and substantial houses" to be built on each side of the street, each with a frontage of
not less than 25 feet. In place of the old Delahay Street it was enacted
that "a free and open street or passage, of the breadth of 26 feet 6 inches
at the least, shall be laid out, made, preserved and kept open at all times
for the use of the publick, and extending from that part of the north end
of a street called Long Ditch, which is opposite or near to Princes Court,
as far as and unto the south end of Duke Street."
On obtaining his parliamentary powers Mallors promptly mortgaged
them to Samuel Cox of the New Temple. (fn. 38) Subsequent financial arrangements are too complicated to be detailed.
The acquisition and clearing of the existing buildings seem to have
taken about three years. In the ratebook for 1757 Great George Street
appears for the first time, and with the great majority of the houses built.
In accord with this is the evidence afforded by deeds, which show that most
of the houses were in existence by November, 1755. Some, however, seem
not to have been built until a few years later. Only six were inhabited in
1757. They do not seem to have let very quickly, and there is evidence
which suggests that some of them remained partially or entirely built some
years before they were occupied.
The premises thus erected comprised a series of four-storey terrace
houses above a basement. They had plain brick fronts, relieved by flat bands
at the first and second-floor levels, and a modillion cornice at the third-floor
level, with plain brickwork above. An architectural treatment to relieve
the general exterior was adopted in the design of Nos. 11 and 29, the centre
houses on each side of the street. These projected slightly beyond the
frontage line, and were furnished with a pediment containing an oval window.
The entrance doors generally had semicircular brick openings with sidelights and ornamental fanlights, while others were flanked by wood columns
which supported a pedimented hood. A front area afforded light to the
basement storey, which had iron railings with vase terminals to the main
standards. Some of the houses at the time of their demolition still retained
their old lamp-brackets.
The Soane Museum contains a few sketches of internal details by Robert
Adam for premises in Great George Street, but there is no evidence that these
designs were ever carried into effect. There are, however, distinct traces
of Adam's influence in the houses in this street, and it is possible that he was
directly concerned in some of these. The absence of records in no way
conflicts with such a supposition, for only a very small portion of his designs
is extant. On the other hand, the features referred to may be due to the
employment of craftsmen who had come in contact with Adam's ideas and
were influenced thereby in their workmanship. This would help to explain
the variation in the style of the interior decorative treatment of some of the
houses in the street.
The interiors generally contained some good decorative plaster work,
and tastefully designed and delicately executed marble mantelpieces. Some
of the rooms had wood panelling with carved chimney-pieces and enriched
joinery details, while the staircases had wrought-iron balustradings with
scroll panels. Some of the decorative features were preserved when the
houses were destroyed, and are now on view in various London museums,
chiefly at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Only a few of the original houses in this street are now left. In the
early part of the 19th century the eastern portion of the south side was swept
away as a part of a large improvement scheme authorised by an Act of
Parliament in 1806. (fn. 39)
In 1910 the whole of the buildings on the north side were pulled
down to make room for Government Offices, and on the south side Nos.
2 to 7 were demolished and the site utilised for the new premises of the
Institution of Civil Engineers.
In the Council's Collection are:—
(fn. 40) plan of part of the Parish of St. Margaret's showing the improvement of Gt. George
Street from Westminster Bridge to the Park. Taken between 1734 and 1748 (Pub. J. T.
Smith, 1807) (engraving).
A plan of part of St. Margaret's Parish, Westminster, showing the improvements of
Parliament Street and George Street. Taken between 1734 and 1748 (Pub. J. T. Smith,
A plan of part of the Ancient city of Westminster … on which are
the new streets laid down and intended to be built by Order of … the Commissioners
for Building a bridge at Westminster. 1740. T. Lediard, Jun., del., Fourdrinier, sc.
A plan of the Improvements to Westminster Bridge, 1748. From an engraving in the
Crace Collection (photograph).
A plan of part of the Ancient City of Westminster, from College Street to Whitehall,
and from the Thames to St. James's Park, in which are laid down all the new streets that
have been built and other alterations made since the building of Westminster Bridge. (Pub.
C. Fourdrinier and Co., 1761.) From an engraving in the Crace Collection (photograph).
(fn. 40) Examples of joinery details, chair-rails and skirtings presented to the London County
Council by H.M. Office of Works and on exhibition at the Geffyre Museum (measured
(fn. 40) Example of plaster cornices and friezes (measured drawing).
(fn. 40) View of Storey's Gate and George Street, Westminster, towards the Bridge. From
a water-colour drawing by T. H. Shepherd, 1814, in the Crace Collection (photograph).