This walk can be printed from our blog, or viewed on your tablet computer or mobile phone. We hope that you enjoy this short self-guided tour, please leave us some feedback and photos about your experience. We will add new photos and interesting aside notes and stories every few days in August, so keep your eyes peeled for changes!
This walk starts at the City of Westminster Archives Centre, 10 St Ann’s Street, London SW1P 2DE and ends at Broad Sanctuary, close to the west front of Westminster Abbey. It should take you around thirty minutes to complete and if you have not explored this part of the City of Westminster before, we do hope that you will enjoy discovering the quiet streets and squares of the area, each having its own stories to tell. Of course, even quiet streets can be hazardous at times so we would ask you to be very careful of your own safety when walking around and especially when crossing roads.
We’ll begin our walk by turning left from the Archives Centre and, on the right hand side of St Ann’s street, noting part of St Matthew’s School and its associated church of St Matthew whose entrance is in Great Peter Street ahead. The school and church both date from the 1850s, the church being the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott, architectural champion of the Gothic revival style, and the school the work of W.R. Gritten. In the 1850s, the district around the church was poor, where slums abounded and many were disadvantaged. St Matthew’s brought High Church Anglo-Catholic worship into this sea of poverty and developed a strong presence of mission work in the community bringing Christianity closer its inhabitants’ everyday lives. Once you have completed this walk and have a better knowledge of the heart of Westminster, you’ll find that the church interior is well worth a subsequent visit.
Great Peter Street
The end of St Ann’s Street brings us into Great Peter Street named for the Abbey of St Peter better known as Westminster Abbey. Ahead and on its south side you’ll see a Green Plaque commemorating the fact that the Gas Light and Coke Company once maintained its gasworks in and around this location. The City of Westminster has often been in the forefront of new technology and the first public gas lighting in the country was installed on Pall Mall in 1807. Although this was only a temporary experiment, within a few years the Gas Light and Coke Company had been founded with the world’s first functioning gasworks established on a site covering parts of Great Peter and Marsham Streets. The company continued its presence in the area until the nationalisation of the gas industry in 1948.
The building on which the plaque is placed is part of the Home Office Building with its main frontage on Marsham Street. Let’s continue into the left-hand side of this street now.
The street takes its name from Sir Robert Marsham, a local landowner of the late seventeenth century related to the Earls of Romney, and on the right-hand side (west side) of the street there is a stone plaque dating from that era embedded into a wall in front of the Home Office Building. This bears the wording “This is Marsham Stret 1688” and is one of the earliest known London street signs.
The Home Office Building dates from 2005 and is the work of the architect Sir Terry Farrell. The structure with its rooftop awning of coloured glass has been very well received by architectural critics and the public alike and is spread over three office blocks, two of seven stories and one of five. Continuing on the left-hand side of the street you’ll find the Emmanuel Centre, home to the Emmanuel Evangelical Church. This building was constructed 1928-1930, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and was originally the Ninth Church of Christ Scientist in London.
Turning into the narrow Bennett’s Yard will bring us to Tufton Street. Bennett’s Yard is a reminder of a hop yard once situated in this area and the fact that beer once played such an important part in Londoners’ lives. After all, it was often much safer to drink beer than drink from the public water supply!
Tufton Street, in the aftermath of the WWII Blitz
As we enter Tufton Street and walk down the left-hand side in a northerly direction, No 54 displays a Green Plaque dedicated to the poet and writer Siegfried Sassoon who once lived at this address. Sassoon served at the Front during the First World War and his poems of this period are full of compassion for his fellow soldiers and what he perceived as the futility of the slaughter around him. Next of interest is part of Mary Sumner House dating from 1925 with its entrance in Great Peter Street. This is the headquarters of the Mothers’ Union founded by Mary Sumner in the 1880s to offer fellowship to those women wishing to deepen their spiritual lives.
Crossing to the other side of the street and heading back in a southerly direction, there is a Blue Plaque, on Tufton Court, commemorating the fact that the pioneer of the idea of family allowances, Eleanor Rathbone, once lived here. Further on, numbers 57 and 57a are twin houses designed by E E Williams and dating from 1926. On the façade of 57a is a Blue Plaque dedicated to Sir Michael Balcon who lived here from 1925 until 1939. Sir Michael was a renowned British film maker who founded Gainsbrough Pictures, in the late 1920s, and who was Head of Production at Ealing Studios in its heyday when its comedies such as “Passport to Pimlico”, “Whisky Galore”, “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and “The Ladykillers” enjoyed huge success. He is the maternal grandfather of the Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
On 2nd July, 1944 part of Tufton Street was damaged by a V2 Flying Bomb – one of many bombing incidents in the City of Westminster during the Second World War.
Now turn into Dean Trench Street and walk into Smith Square.
Smith Square, circa 1750
Smith Square, circa 1828
Smith Square is named for a local landlord and land developer, Henry Smith, and is dominated by what was once the church of St John the Evangelist or more simply St John’s, Smith Square. Since the late 1960s this has been one of London’s finest concert venues but, as a church, it dates from the early 1700s being built by Thomas Archer between 1713 and 1728. Rebuilding, after fires and Second World War bomb damage has left this fine building, with its four towers, as you see it today. Not always looked on kindly, Charles Dickens described it as “some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic on its back with its legs in the air” in “Our Mutual Friend” but some say that when early discussions about the design of the church were being made, Queen Anne, who suffered great ill health and much pain, kicked over her four-legged footstool thereby implying that her wish was for a church with four towers. Whatever the truth of this story, the church was, and is, often referred to as “Queen Anne’s Footstool”.
If you walk around the square, in an anti-clockwise direction, you’ll note that the only traces of the eighteenth century, apart from the church, still on the square are the houses on the north side one of which, No 5, dates from as early as 1726. Passing by these houses will lead us into Lord North Street.
Lord North Street
Dating from 1725, the street was simply known as “North Street” until a decision was taken, in 1936, to rename it Lord North Street in order to distinguish it from other “North Streets” in London.
Its proximity to the Palace of Westminster makes Lord North Street a popular home for many politicians and the houses along the street where they live are almost entirely from the early Georgian era. For example, Anthony Eden, British Prime Minister 1955-1957 lived at No 2 in 1924 and Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister 1964-1970 and 1974-1976 lived at No 5 between 1970 and 1976.
As you enter the street you’ll find a Green Plaque dedicated to a one-time resident, W T Stead a very successful newspaper editor who edited the influential “Pall Mall Gazette” during the later nineteenth century and led its crusades against prostitution, white slavery and what it perceived as London’s moral squalor. He lived at No 12 which now has its entrance on No 5 Smith Square. On 15th April, 1912 he was one of the hundreds drowned when the “Titanic” sank on its maiden voyage to the United States where he was to give a series of lectures. Interestingly, there is a link between No 6 and 57a Tufton Street – the home of the filmmaker Sir Michael Balcon – as the author of the novel “Whisky Galore”, one of his most successful Ealing comedies, Sir Compton Mackenzie, lived at this address in 1913.
Look for large, faded “S” signs on the walls of Nos 8, 10 (right-hand side) and 16 and 17 (left-hand side) of the street. These date from the Second World War and indicate where people could take shelter in underground vaults during air raids. Coincidentally, Sir John Anderson, one-time Home Secretary after whom a very well-know type of domestic air raid shelter was named, lived at No 4 Lord North Street during the Second World War so these shelters must have been used by him on occasions too. During these he must have been comforted to know that over two and a quarter million of his “Anderson Shelters” had been erected throughout the country, mainly in back gardens.
Now cross over Great Peter Street to:
Like Lord North Street, this is another early Georgian gem and takes its named from Cowley, near Uxbridge in Middlesex, which was the location of the country home of its developer the well-known actor of the era, Barton Booth. Where the street meets Barton Street – named for Barton Booth – lies Salutation House on the wall of which is a Blue Plaque dedicated to Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC, who lived here between 1924 and 1930. Reith established the public service ethos of BBC radio from its infancy and before leaving the Corporation in 1938 oversaw the introduction of the world’s first daily, high definition television service in 1936. High on the same wall you can see the original street sign “Cowley Street 1722”.
Just before moving into Barton Street, where the entrance to Reith’s former home lies at No 6, do look at No 19 Cowley Street with cone-shaped link snuffers on either side of its gate posts. These hark back to the days when street lighting was a rarity and so link boys, as they were known, would be paid to light the way for those travelling after dark. Once the destination was reached, the torches would be extinguished by placing them into the link snuffers.
Another fine example of early Georgian architecture but No 2 dates from a much later period, 1897. Note the friendly message over the door greeting those walking by it – “Peace on Thy House Passer-By”. Over at No 14 there is a Blue Plaque commemorating the fact that T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia”, once lived here for a short period. Lawrence lodged over the offices of the architect Sir Herbert Baker, in a simply furnished attic, between March and August, 1922 after returning from the Middle East. It was here that he worked on the final draft of his “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.
We’ll now walk into Great College Street, turn left and on reaching an archway on the right hand side, move through this into:
This has all the appearance of a cathedral close but is not associated with a cathedral as it is part of the Westminster Abbey complex. The Yard is bounded by buildings belonging to the Abbey and Westminster School, one of the country’s leading public schools numbering such famous people as Ben Jonson, the seventeenth-century playwright, Sir Christopher Wren, architect of St Paul’s cathedral, Charles Wesley, the divine and hymn wrier and Sir John Gielgud, the actor among its former pupils.
The south side is dominated by Church House, built 1936-1940 as a national headquarters for the Church of England. The main architect was Sir Herbert Baker who, as already seen, lived very close by in Barton Street. Opened by King George VI in June, 1940, the building was damaged by bombing later that year. After the bombing of the Palace of Westminster in May, 1941, both the House of Lords and the House of Commons met here at times and in January, 1946, when the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nations met for the very first time, the Security Council held its meetings here while the General Assembly used nearby Methodist Central Hall.
Walking out of Dean’s Yard will bring us into:
This covers the area between Westminster Abbey and what was once Middlesex Guildhall, now the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and takes its name from the long-vanished Sanctuary Tower where fugitives could find sanctuary under the protection of the Abbey. It also includes the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre dating from 1986 and built on some the area once occupied by Westminster Hospital. When the latter opened, on this site, in the 1830s, “The Saturday Magazine” reported that “its interior arrangements, and the ventilation, are considered to be excellent”.
The tall granite column immediately in front of us, surmounted by a statue of St George and the Dragon, is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott whose church of St Matthew we encountered at the start of this walk. The inscription on its base reads “To the memory of those educated at Westminster School who died in the Russian and Indian Wars, AD 1854-1859”.
This is where our walk ends close to numerous bus routes, on Victoria Street, and nearby Underground Stations such as St James’s Park and Westminster.
If you have enjoyed this walk and would like to know more about Victoria Street and Methodist Central Hall, for example, do think about trying another of our self-guided tours entitled “A Short Walk through Queen Anne’s Gate and Vicinity”.
Many thanks for taking part today!
You will find further information available at:
City of Westminster Archives Centre
10 St Ann’s Street
Telephone: 020 7641 5180
(Walk designed and compiled by David Evans, Registered City of Westminster Guide and Member of the City of Westminster Guide Lecturers’ Association)