Sir Edward Grey

New Houses of Parliament,

New Houses of Parliament

 So many of our streets have commemorations to the great and the good, but some are more recognizable than others. If Edward Grey is not someone you know then read on! 

Britain’s Foreign secretary at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Grey’s great ancestor, Earl Grey, had been Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. He entered the House of Commons in 1886 and by 1892 was Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office. In 1905 he became Foreign Secretary and his appointment broke with the normal convention that the office holder sat in the House of Lords without having to fight elections and serve a parliamentary constituency.

Establishing better relations with Russia and especially France were extremely important to him and in the summer of 1914, as Europe moved towards armed conflict, his personal feeling of obligations of honour to the latter and the possibility of German violation of Belgian neutrality put the country on a war footing.

In July 1916 he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Grey of Falloden but resigned from the coalition government in December of that year, probably due to extreme overwork and continuing problems with his vision. However, in 1919 he visited Washington in the capacity of special ambassador in an attempt to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to compromise with the Senate and thus bring the United States into the new League of Nations. In this he failed but he remained actively involved in the affairs of the League of Nations from its inception. He died in 1933 for ever more associated with the idea that the lamps were going out all over Europe in early August, 1914.    


As we walked our first walk through the heart of Queen Anne’s Gate we noticed so many things of historical interest we thought we would give them a little more thought to brighten up your walk. 

First on our list is the Sedan chairs….

These made their first appearance on London streets in the 1630s and it is thought that the name originates with the town of Sedan, in the Ardennes region of northern France, where this mode of transport made its début.

Consisting of what was basically an enclosed seat and with metal fittings attached through which two poles could be inserted and the passenger carried around, the sedan chair was advantageous in two ways – the passenger could enter the chair in his or her own house and then be carried on either pavement or road thus avoiding other traffic and some of the animal and human detritus often found in London’s streets in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Chairs could be hired from inns and pubs, like “The Two Chairmen”, and at night when travel through London’s ill-lit streets was often dangerous, linkmen could be hired who would carry their lighted links, or torches, before the chair to its destination. These could then be extinguished by means of the link snuffers often situated outside houses. The exterior of No 26 Queen Anne’s Gate has a good example of these.


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 Street2

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

Smith Square 1750

Smith Square, circa 1750

Smith Square 18282

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:

Cowley Street

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.

Barton Street

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:

Dean’s Yard

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:

Broad Sanctuary

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)



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 on the corner of Tothill and Victoria Streets, facing the west front of Westminster Abbey, and ends in Christchurch Gardens on Victoria Street. It should take you around thirty minutes to complete and we do hope that you will enjoy discovering something of what the area has to offer visitors. Before starting off, we would ask you to be very careful of your own safety, especially when crossing roads.

Broad Sanctuary 2

Broad Sanctuary, 1913

Westminster Hospital

Westminster Hospital, 1912

Surrounding the area where you are standing there are a number of points of interest. For example, almost directly facing you is a tall granite column surmounted by a statue of St George and the Dragon, the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott. 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”. Today, we are more likely to refer to this period as the Crimean War and the dedication reflects the closeness of Westminster School to this monument. Moving your eyes in an anti-clockwise direction away from the west front of Westminster Abbey, you will find the Church of St Margaret, Westminster. This dates from the late fifteenth century and is the only pre-Reformation church, apart from the Abbey, in the City of Westminster. Some years after designing the column just described, Sir George Gilbert Scott undertook the last major restoration to the interior of this church which is filled with numerous monuments, one, on the east wall, to William Caxton the man who set up England’s first printing press, in Westminster, in the 1470s. It dates from 1820 although Caxton had been buried in St Margaret’s in 1491. Since 1614, this has been the parish church of the House of Commons and its associations with parliamentarians are many – most notably Winston Churchill who was married here, to his bride Clementine Hosier, in 1908. Continuing your gaze in an anti-clockwise direction you will find the rear of the United Kingdom’s new Supreme Court situated in what was built as Middlesex Guildhall between 1912 and 1913. Since then it has housed the Middlesex Quarter Sessions and a Crown Court before becoming home to the newly-established Supreme Court in 2009. Again, continuing your gaze, you will find the façade of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre opened by Her Majesty in 1986. This made good use of an area in which the buildings of Westminster Hospital and the Stationery Office were once to be found. Lastly, a view of the south side of Methodist Central Hall which is arguably the most impressive of the central halls built by the Methodist Church, in major cities, around the turn of the twentieth century. This dates from 1911 and is built in what is widely held to be Viennese style. Between 10th January and 14th February, 1946 the very first meeting of the United Nations’ General Assembly took place in Methodist Central Hall with its Security Council meeting nearby. A plaque on the south side (Tothill Street) commemorates this fact. At the time, the feeling was that the UN should be headquartered in London but the financial situation of the United Kingdom, after the Second World War, would not allow for this. The Hall was built on the site what was known as the Royal Aquarium, opened as a place of edifying entertainment, much like the Crystal Palace in south-east London, in 1876. Concerts, other music and exhibitions were to provide this and there was an aquarium in the main hall. As this approach proved unsuccessful moves were made to provide more popular entertainment such as variety and circus acts, exotic dancers and even the occasional “human cannonball” but by the 1890s what had been originally thought of as a place of family entertainment had developed a rather louche reputation where unaccompanied ladies would often mingle with visiting gentleman and where no family would readily set foot. Closure came in 1903 with the site being sold to the Methodist Church for the construction of the building you see today. If you now cross in front of Methodist Central Hall and into:

Storey’s Gate

Probably named for its seventeenth century builder – you will find Old Queen Street on your left. Old Queen Street The name of this street – originally just Queen Street – is somewhat puzzling as when it was constructed in 1697 there was no Queen Regnant or Queen Consort of England, Mary II having died in late 1694. However, Number 11 is a very fine example of a house from this period with the plaque on its façade confirming its origins from around1690 to 1700.The plaque also informs passers-by that this was once the home of the Beaverbrook Foundation which was established by Lord Beaverbrook in 1954 and is devoted to the support of a variety of causes in the United Kingdom and Canada. It is now located on Dover Street in Mayfair. Lord Beaverbrook, 1879-1964, was an Anglo-Canadian politician, writer and press magnate. At one time he owned the Daily and Sunday Express along with the London Evening Standard and during the Second World War he held important ministerial posts. Just before No 11 is No 9 which was once the home of Thomas, third Earl Rivers in the seventeenth century. The plaque outside is dedicated to his son Richard, the fourth Earl who once found himself in desperate need of money. His father, a notoriously mean man, refused any loan so when he and the household were at church, Richard forced open a cabinet in his father’s room and stole the cash he found there. Thomas was persuaded not to bring charges and his son, one described as a handsome, unscrupulous rake but also a fine soldier, went on to become Governor of the Tower of London. Old Queen Street now leads into:

Dartmouth Street

At the corner of Old Queen and Dartmouth streets are the Cockpit Stairs which led to the Royal Cockpit to the left of these. Built in 1689, it was home to cockfighting, a pastime which had been banned during the Commonwealth era of Oliver Cromwell. The Cockpit was pulled down in 1810 giving James Boswell, the biographer and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, the opportunity to write in his journal in 1762 “resolved today to be a true-born Englishman. I went at five o’clock to the Royal Cockpit in St James’s Park and saw cock fighting for about five hours to fulfil the charge of cruelty.” His description of himself as a “true-born Englishman” must be facetious as he was, of course, a Scot. The artist William Hogarth produced an engraving of the cruelties of this “sport” at the Cockpit in 1759.

Hertford Street

 Sedan Chair at the “Two Chairman Pub”,  Hertford Street, circa 1960

The “Two Chairmen” pub, opposite the stairs, was established in the 1750s and is a reminder that those requiring a sedan chair could hire this from outside the establishment as two chairmen would have been required to carry it and the occupant to his or her destination. Sedan chairs, a very popular mode of London transport for short journeys as passengers were carried above the filth and mud of the city’s streets, were introduced into London during the early years of the reign of King Charles I . Turning right will lead us into the very heart of our walk:

Queen Anne’s Gate

As you walk along it, you will find that this street is lined with outstanding examples of eighteenth century houses – at first from the later eighteenth century and then from the very early part of the 1700s when Queen Anne was monarch. This reflects the fact that the street was originally made up of two closes divided by a wall. The part where you are now standing was called Park Street, dating from 1774, with the part beyond the wall being called Queen’s Square and dating from 1704. The wall was removed in 1873 and the new name adopted. To the left , Nos 1 to 3 stand behind a good example of a remodelled 1930s façade. Over the large doorcase is the coat of arms of one of the builders responsible for this work and to the right of this there is a Blue Plaque dedicated to a former resident, Sir Edward, later Viscount Grey of Falloden who was Britain’s Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War. As the country moved towards war in early August 1914, Grey is reputed to have said to a friend “the lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” Opposite, No 14 was once the home of the noted eighteenth century antiquary and collector Charles Townley. Much of his collection is now in the British Museum. In 1783 the artist Johan Zoffany painted Townley surrounded by classical statues in his library in what was then Park Street. Next to this is No 16 which was once the home of Admiral Lord Fisher who was First Sea Lord, 1905-1910, when Britain’s Royal Navy was the world’s premier maritime force. By the time of the First World War it represented an invincible element in the country’s defence. The Blue Plaque outside No 20 records the fact that Henry John Temple, later third Viscount Palmerston was born here in 1784. As Foreign Secretary and later Prime Minister he oversaw the introduction of such matters as the Great Reform Bill and Britain’s participation in the Crimean war of the 1850s. As Foreign Secretary he established a network of treaties with various European governments to intercept ships still plying the slave trade. Interestingly, William Smith (1756-1835) who was a great supporter of William Wilberforce’s earlier campaign to abolish slavery once lived at No 20 too.



Print showing a” Link man” at work, circa 1811

By the time you reach No 26, the change in architectural style of this and other houses around it, underscores the fact that we are now in the earlier part of the street once known as Queen’s Square. Here, all the houses are of a fairly uniform design with ornate wooden door canopies and early eighteenth century sash windows. Note the link snuffers outside the entrance to No 26. These would have been used to snuff out torches carried to light people through the unlit street in an era before public street lighting. Those who carried these torches were known as linkmen. Attached to the wall of the house is a very well-preserved Alliance Fire Insurance plaque. In the days before there was any such thing as a public fire brigade, various insurance companies would provide assistance but only if the house was insured with their company – hence the plaque as proof of this. If you were not insured, the house just burnt down. To the left, at No 28, there is also a faint trace of a painted “S” on the wall indicating that in the Second World War when fire was very much a hazard, passers-by could take shelter in the area under the house during an air raid. Standing across the street and on a pedestal placed against the wall is a fine statue of Queen Anne overlooking the area which bears her name. Above, and to the left can be seen a faded street sign for Park Street and Queen’s Square which until 1873were divided from each other by a wall. Note the ornate keystones above her head, too, matching others on the north side of the street. Anne, who reigned from 1702 until 1714, is depicted wearing a small crown and is holding the orb and sceptre in her hands. On the plinth are carved the words “Anna Regina” The statue, by an unknown artist and here since at least 1708, is somewhat flattering to the monarch as she was afflicted by very poor health throughout her life. By 1708 she was in constant pain and riddled with gout, arthritis and dropsy, the latter meaning that her body retained large amounts of fluid. In addition, all her seventeen pregnancies resulted in either stillbirths or very early death with her longest surviving child, William Duke of Gloucester dying at the age of eleven in 1700. During her reign she was known to have been called “Brandy Nan” on occasions but if she did take the odd drink or two then surely her sad life and painful medical conditions would excuse this. Nevertheless her reign saw famous victories over the France of Louis XIV and the Union of Scotland and England as Great Britain. If you should be near her statue late at night on the anniversary of her death on 1st August 1714, local legend has it that she comes down from her pedestal and walks up and down the street three times. Why not return, around midnight on that date, and see whether the legend is true or not? No 19 is one of the earliest houses to have been built and was occupied by William Paterson from 1705 until 1718. Paterson, a Scotsman, founded the Bank of England in the reign of William and Mary in 1694. This, of course, developed into today’s Bank of England the central bank of the United Kingdom. The ornate wooden canopy over this house and others at this end of the street are unique in their design and it has been suggested that former ships’ carpenters were responsible for the carvings on them. The interesting architecture continues as you turn the corner where No 42 was once home to Lord Simon Harcourt who in 1761 stood in for for King George III at his proxy marriage to Princess Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz , the actual ceremony, with both parties present, taking place at St James’s Palace later that year. Following a distinguished diplomatic career, Lord Harcourt died in 1777 when he fell into a well as he tried to rescue his favourite dog which had fallen into it before him. Across from this there is a Green Plaque which has been placed on the side of the Ministry of Justice to let passers-by know that the great philosopher, jurist and reformer, Jeremy Bentham, once lived in a house on this site. Ahead at the junction of streets known as Broadway and Petty France lies the headquarters of London Underground designed as the head office for London Transport, by Charles Holden, and dating from 1929. When first opened, this was the tallest office building in London and people came from far and wide to look at such a fine example of modern architecture. Known as “55 Broadway”, the building is made up of a cruciform group of office blocks so arranged as to afford them as much natural lighting as possible. In its day, the large sculptured groups on the south and north sides of the exterior were somewhat controversial. Entitled “Day” (south side) and “Night” (north side) they are the work of Jacob Epstein whose “Day”, a mother and child grouping, attracted particular criticism over the length of the child’s exposed penis. After shortening this by one and a half inches, criticism abated… Now, let’s walk into the street known as:

Petty France

As its name implies, this area once had connections with France although what these were is not entirely clear. Possibly French wool merchants settled here, in medieval times, as wool was then one of England’s most important exports. If so, “Petite France” became corrupted to “Petty France” over the centuries.   If you turn right on to the street, you will find that Petty France is dominated by the Ministry of Justice, a fourteen-storey building dating from 1976 and designed by Sir Basil Spence and the Fitzroy Robinson Partnership. Originally home to the Home Office Department (1976-2004), the Ministry moved in when the Home Office moved to Marsham Street although this was not until 2008 as the building needed considerable refurbishment. Before this, the site was occupied by another fourteen-storey building known as Queen Anne’s Mansions, a block of mansion flats dating from the 1870s. When it was damaged in an air raid in September 1940, some Londoners showed little concern as it had the reputation for being a rather plain, if not of rudely bare, building made up of just doors, windows and brick walls. To the left, on the corner with Palmer Street is the “Adam and Eve” public house, a typical example of a pub dating from the 1880s. We’ll move up Palmer Street to:

Caxton Street

The street is named for William Caxton who brought the printing press to England, circa 1476. Rather than settling in the City of London he chose to establish his press in Westminster close to the court and administrative centre of the country and it is through these small beginnings that English became the world language it is. On the corner of Palmer and Caxton Streets lies the red brick Caxton Hall dating from 1880 and built for the parishes of St Margaret and St John, Westminster. It became Westminster City Hall in 1900 but was usually still known as Caxton Hall probably due to the fact that its Register Office was the Register Office for central London and became the venue for many celebrity weddings well into the 1970s. Those married here include Joan Collins, Diana Dors, George Harrison, Yehudi Menuhin, Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles and many others. The front of the building has been converted into luxury flats with a new circular office complex on the site of much of the rear of the building where the building’s public meeting halls once stood. In 1938 Caxton Hall was noted for having the first municipal air raid shelters in the country and in that year Alliance House – No 12 Caxton Street – was opened. This is on the right-hand side of the street and is a fine example of late 1930s office building. Continuing up the left-hand side Caxton Street leads you to:

The Blewcoat School

Built in 1709 – before uniform spelling in the English language – the Blewcoat or Bluecoat School was opened as a charity school for poor boys, and later girls, of the parish of St Margaret, Westminster. Surrounded by today’s tall office blocks, this is a remarkable survivor of what many Westminster buildings would have looked like in the reign of Queen Anne and over the doorcase there is a statue of one of the charity boys wearing the blue coat after which the school was named. From 1954 until 2013 this was used by the National Trust organisation as a gift shop and information centre. They have now moved out and at present, March, 2014, the building is unoccupied. If we now turn the corner into Buckingham Gate, this will lead us to:

Victoria Street

On the corner of Buckingham Gate and Victoria Street stands the four-storey “Albert” public house dating from the early 1860s and named for Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, the Prince Consort. This is now the only surviving building of the first generation of development on Victoria Street and is a favourite haunt for locals and tourists alike. Victoria Street dates from the late 1840s but was not completed until the 1890s and owes its origins to concepts first put forward in the 1830s by a body named the Westminster Improvement Commissioners. Unlike today’s street, it was lined by buildings of between five and eight storeys in height which replaced a great deal of slum property in the area. One of the most popular and frequented of these buildings was the Army & Navy Stores, the 1970s survivor of which stands across the street to the right. Today it is a House of Fraser store but retained its original name until 2004 although its original purpose – serving members of the services and their families only – ceased in 1918. The façade of the original was completely redesigned by Sir Aston Webb in 1920 and this, along with rest of the store, was replaced by the current building between 1973 and1977. Turning left on to the north side of Victoria Street will bring you to an open space known as Christchurch Gardens. Before exploring this site, look across to the south side and Artillery Mansions now, apart from the “Albert” public house, the oldest surviving building on the street. Built as what was known as a mansion block and made up of luxurious apartments its plain red brick Gothic design with an arched entrance and fountain in its forecourt evokes the Victoria Street of a bygone era.

Christchurch Gardens

These provide a haven of peace andquiet from theultra-busy Victoria area and owe their name to a church which once stood on part of the site – Christ Church, Victoria Street. This dated from the 1840s and was built to the Gothic Revival design of Ambrose Poynter although there had been a small chapel – the Broadway Chapel – on site since the 1640s. The church was badly damaged in an air raid on 17th April, 1941 but the church wardens were able to save some of the altar-pieces and a Bible as the roof became a blazing inferno. As in many parts of London affected by the Second World War, the ruins remained here until well into the 1950s and were finally demolished in 1954. This provided space for the Gardens you see today with a 1960s telephone Exchange at the rear of these. Within the Gardens are two monuments with two entirely different dedications. To the left is a rather light and airy fibre glass structure designed by Edwin Russell dating from 1970 and dedicated to those who fought so bravely for female suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Behind this monument lies Caxton Street and what was once Caxton Hall where many “votes for women” meetings were held at that time. To the right, on the Broadway side of the Gardens, there is a strikingly large bronze head with flowers adorning its late 17th century periwig. This is by Glynn Williams and celebrates the flowering of Baroque music under one of its greatest creators, the English composer Henry Purcell. It is apt that the monument should be placed here as Purcell was born, in 1658, on nearby long-vanished St Ann’s Lane and died, in 1695, at his house on equally nearby Marsham Street where there is a street sign dating from a few years before this. Although only 37 at the time of his death he had achieved huge renown and is now regarded as one of the greatest and most individual of English composers whose works ranged from religious anthems such as “Thou Knowest Lord”, operas such as “Dido and Aeneas”, “The Fairy Queen” and “The Indian Queen” to the music he composed for the funeral of Queen Mary II in 1695, the year of his death. We do hope that you have enjoyed this walk especially if you have made a discovery or two in an area you might have known quite well before. You are close to bus routes on Victoria Street and Underground stations such as St James’s Park and Victoria. Should you wish to know more about some of the places you have visited, you will find further information available at the:

City of Westminster Archives Centre 10 St Ann’s Street London SW1P 2DE Telephone: 020 7641 5180 e-mail:

(Walk designed and compiled by David Evans, Registered City of Westminster Guide and Member of the City of Westminster Guide Lecturers’ Association)