Stories of the Streets of London

Baker, H. Barton


CHAPTER XIV: Temple Bar--The Strand


CHAPTER XIV: Temple Bar--The Strand




TEMPLE BAR is now but a memory of the past; a line as imaginary as the equator. But in olden times it was a very real boundary between city and court, between the privileges of London and " the liberties " of Westminster. When the sovereign approached in state the gates were closed; a herald sounded a trumpet; a second herald knocked; a parley ensued, which ended in the portals being flung open; the Lord Mayor then advanced and presented the city's sword to the monarch, who graciously returned it, after which royalty and its attendants were free to pass. Even in the reign of Queen Victoria this custom was religiously preserved, though it was then a ceremony, a survival and nothing more. But when Elizabeth halted at the Bar, on her way to give thanks for the victory over the Spanish armada, it indicated that the city fathers were so jealous of their rights that they would not have them infringed by a hair's-breadth, as they never knew how soon they might be called upon to defend them against the encroachments of the regal power. Everybody,


however, is not aware that Temple Bar was not a city gate, but belonged to Westminster.

Anciently the two cities were divided only by chains and posts, and Edward, afterwards first of that name, punished the London citizens for aiding Simon de Montfort by destroying these barriers. The earliest gate was erected in the reign of Henry VII.; it was entirely of wood. The funeral procession of his queen, Elizabeth of York, was the first pageant that passed beneath the archway. Then came the coronation procession of Anne Boleyn, of Edward VI., not long afterwards that of Mary Tudor, his sister; and then of Elizabeth. But all these were inferior in splendour to the entrance of Charles II. Evelyn stood close by and witnessed it. "A triumph of 20,000 horse and foote, brandishing their swords and shouting with inexpressible joy; the wayes strewed with flowers, the bells ringing, the streets hung with tapistry, fountaines running with wine; the Mayor, Aldermen and all the Companies in their liveries, chaines of gold, and banners; Lords and Nobles clad in cloth of silver, gold and velvet; the windows and balconies well set with ladies; trumpets, music, and myriads of people flocking even so far as from Rochester, so as they were seven hours in passing the city, even from 2 in the afternoon till 9 at night." The gloomy nightmare of Puritanism had been lifted from the soul of London. But, alas! that so splendid a promise should not have been fulfilled.

In 1670 a new stone gateway, designed by Wren,


took the place of the old. Fourteen years later it was surmounted by the ghastly heads of some of the Rye House Plot conspirators, and in the next century it bristled with the heads of the victims of the '45. Walpole says that men used to make a living by lending spy-glasses at a halfpenny a time to people who wished to have a good view of these horrible relics. Few regretted the disappearance of the grim, dingy old gateway, which had long been an anachronism; but could we have anticipated the griffin we might not have been so ready to part with it. The Strand is one of the streets of the world: it is the representative street of London. According to metropolitan boundaries it begins at Temple Bar; but the atmosphere of the Law Courts is more congenial to the City than to Westminster; thus I hold that the true Londoner's Strand starts from St. Mary's Church, and that it is only from that point you enter upon that region of theatres, clubs, taverns and famous restaurants, the genial influences of which have permeated the whole neighbourhood through so many generations. Coming from the east you find yourself in a new phase of London life the moment you pass Somerset House: you have left behind the feverish hurry, the terrible tension, the haggard eagerness of the Ixions and Sisyphuses of the great Temple of Mammon-the city; the pace is slackened; men loiter about book and picture shops, their minutes are not so precious; they lounge at their favourite bars, and sip instead of bolting their drinks; actors and


actresses, artists, journalists, men about town stroll and chat and laugh, or gather in knots, and the nobodies linger to observe them. Whatever there is of business is the business of pleasure.

The Strand is the pleasantest street promenade in all London; and the only one of which, perhaps, a Londoner does not sometimes weary. Yet, from the point I have started, it has not one single architectural feature to recommend it; nay, in its perversity of tall houses, short houses, narrow houses, broad houses, flat houses, and bulgy houses, dingy brick and glaring stucco, grimness and tawdriness, it is a positive offence to an artistic eye, and would not be tolerated in any other land than England. Yet so potent and delightful are its associations, that one not only forgives its faults and shortcomings but almost loves them: to the passe man about town it recalls some of the pleasantest hours of life; its very air is rejuvenescent; those old nights at the play, before satiety and the development of the critical faculty robbed us of half the power of enjoyment; those nights at the club, when " the lions" were still lions to us, and the good stories were not chestnuts, and the wit and repartee were fresh ; those dinners at -- (let each fill up the blank for himself), when we did not shirk the bottle or the menu. A saunter up and down the Strand recalls these memories, and many others to the old and middle aged; while to the young-for the old order, though it changeth in detail, varieth but little in form--the pleasures are in progress.


To the man who may contemplate vast crowds from the same point of view as Xerxes gazed upon his army, and think how soon all will be as if they had never been, the Strand is a weird spectacle when theatre and music hall are pouring forth their thousands into the semi-darkness of the night; a veritable human ant-hill swarms over the pavements; while along the roadway an endless procession of vehicles, cabs, carriages, omnibuses, packed as densely as the crowd, is moving east and west. Every diversity of London life is interwoven as inextricably as the threads of a many-coloured fabric: the peer and millionaire, looking for their carriages, jostle the coster dodging his way among the horses; my lady in sables and jewels is pushed aside by a city work girl; and the club man leisurely strolling towards the Savage or Garrick is nearly overturned by some suburban dweller frantically rushing after a fast-filling bus or to catch a last train. All sorts and conditions of men rub shoulders.

But it is yet more remarkable that all these heterogeneous individualities, as differentiated at all other times as though they were separate orders of creation, have, for a few brief hours, been united in community of thought and feeling, have been absorbed in the same ideas, moved by the same emotions, whether of laughter or of tears,--in fine, have been one common humanity. But now once more they are sundered as the poles: isolated atoms, each struggling for himself and his own in the great ocean of life; some return


to their garrets and crust, heavy with thoughts of the morrow, which the illusions of the stage have faded for a brief while; suburban snobbery retires to its jerry-built villa; Croesus to his luxurious mansion or club; and so on through all the grades and varieties of grades of the social scale. Night after night the Strand witnesses the same scene: this rush of the mighty river of London life, sudden, overwhelming as a torrent, then fast flowing away until it is lost in the midnight. A brief lull, with only a fitful ripple now and again passing over the silent stones; but as the strokes of the clock increase, the ripples come faster and faster with a murmurous sound of the approaching flood; then swell into waves and break into cross currents, growing, and swirling and roaring, ebbing and flowing until another day is ended. And each day some drops sink into the quicksands and are seen no more, but fresh fountains ever growing in volume, pour their streams into the tide and few miss the lost waters.

Mr. Loftie, in his Memorials of the Savoy, tells us that in the tenth century much of the Strand now covered by buildings was non-existent; that the Thames extended up to what is now Covent Garden, and even to Lincoln's Inn at high water, and was fed by streams from the northern hills that ran across the roadway. Little by little the foreshore was reclaimed and fell to the crown. In the reign of Edward III. three bridges were thrown across the Strand: two were known as Ivy and Strand Bridges; the name


of the third has not come down to us, but its remains were discovered near St. Clement Danes at the beginning of this century, buried deep in the soil. In a petition was presented to Edward II., in which it was set forth that the road from Temple Bar to Westminster was so overgrown with thickets and bushes, and in such bad condition, that it was ruinous to the feet both of horses and men. Imagine such a picture of the Strand, such a picture of desolation: the scrubby thickets and bushes, the rushing streams, the swampy, rutty ground, the broad, silent river, the almost houseless waste, across which a solitary horseman gingerly picks his way, or a few wayfarers plod, now the dwelling-place of thousands, traversed by countless human footsteps, and ringing with a ceaseless din and clatter of wheels and horses' hoofs day and night.

Even in the reign of Henry VIII., although the great nobles were building rapidly on both sides of the road, the Strand was still described as full of pits and sloughs and very noisome. Yet long before the close of the sixteenth century it must have been a stately thoroughfare, with its double line of imposing mansions, within courtyards or encompassed by pleasant gardens sloping down to the silver, winding Thames, with a vista of green meadows and the Surrey hills, while retinues of splendidly liveried lacqueys, passing in and out, would have imparted a colour and picturesqueness to the scene scarcely realizable in this dull, grey age. But, as I have


previously noted, in consequence of the badness of the roads, the Thames was the great highway, and each house had its water-gate and boats and sumptuous barges.

Less than a century ago the Strand between Temple Bar and the Church of St. Clement Danes was divided by a narrow thoroughfare of ancient, overhanging houses called Butcher's Row, which much resembled Holywell Street as it was five and twenty years ago; on the north side of it was a maze of courts and alleys, a refuge of vice and misery, that was not demolished until the ground was cleared for the new Law Courts.

It is nearly a thousand years since the first St. Clement Danes was built, a little to the north of the present church, marking the spot where, according to legend, lie the bodies of Harold Harefoot, the Danish king, and some of his followers. The St. Clement Danes of to-day is by Wren, and dates back to . It is associated with memories of Dr. Johnson, who worshipped here in the pew now marked by a brass tablet; of poor Otway and Lee, the dramatists, both of whom perished so miserably and sleep their last sleep in the churchyard, not far from Bishop Berkeley, who anticipated the transcendental philosophy.

Essex Street was built just two years later than Wren's Church, over the ruins of that great mansion which had been inhabited in turns by the Norfolk, who died in the cause of Mary Stuart, by Elizabeth's favourite, Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and by her other


less fortunate lover, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who gave his name to the house, and about whose brief career so much romance has gathered. Here the gentle Spencer was a frequent visitor. In his Prothalamion, after describing the Temple, he says:-

Next whereunto there stands a stately place

Whereof I gayned giftes and goodly grace

Of that great lord which therein wont to dwell.

The last of Essex House did not disappear until the middle of the eighteenth century.


In Devereux Court we have another memento of the hot-headed lord. There also stood the Grecian Coffee-house, celebrated in The Spectator as a chief resort of the wits of Queen Anne's days. Grim, ugly Essex Street has interesting memories. One of its old houses sheltered for a while the devoted Flora Macdonald, and Charles Edward was concealed


there during his brief visit to London in 1750. Dr. Johnson made the Essex Head, little altered interiorally since his time, the home of one of his many clubs.

Milford Lane-the ford by the mill (a mill stood there in the time of James I.)-divided the boundaries of Essex and Arundel Houses. The latter was the residence of the Howards, Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk. The Princess Elizabeth was for some time an inmate of Arundel House, then in possession of Admiral Lord Seymour, who had married the widow of the late king, Catherine Parr; and it was there my lord carried on his schemes against the person of the princess, which might have succeeded had not the headsman interposed in the nick of time. Probably she never re-entered the house until she was summoned, only a fortnight before her own death, to the deathbed of the countess of Nottingham, who was born a Howard, to hear the wretched woman confess that she had withheld the ring, the queen's pledge of pardon, which Essex, just before his execution, had entrusted her with to deliver to his royal mistress. "God may forgive you, but I never can!" cried the heart-broken Elizabeth. And from that hour she laid in no bed nor took any sustenance.

Old Parr was a guest in Arundel House when he came to London from his native Shropshire, to die of good living at the age of 152 (?). It was one of these Earls of Arundel that here collected the famous marbles. Arundel, Howard, Surrey and


Norfolk Streets now cover the ground of the great historic mansion.

Congreve, the dramatist, passed his last years in Surrey Street. Will Mountford and his clever wife, of whose acting Cibber has left us so vivid a picture in The Apology, lived in Norfolk Street, and Mrs. Bracegirdle and the great tragedienne Mrs. Barry in Howard Street.

On the 9th December, 1692, Norfolk Street was the scene of a tragedy, the counterpart of which was acted not long since in Maiden Lane. No actress was ever more pestered by importunate admirers than was Anne Bracegirdle.[1]  One of the most persistent of these suitors was Captain Richard Hill, who, finding that persuasions were useless, conspired with another villain, Lord Mohun,[2] to achieve his conquest by force. Hearing that his proposed victim was to sup with a friend in Drury Lane, he hired a carriage and six ruffians to carry her off that night. Just as she was passing Craven House they rushed upon her, but, thanks to the courage of her brother and a friend and her shrieks, which brought a crowd to her rescue, the attempt was baffled. Then my lord and the captain insisted on escorting her home. For some


reason, probably because they played lovers together upon the stage, Hill chose to suspect, though without the least foundation, that Mountford enjoyed the lady's favour, and all the way along uttered the most violent threats against him. As soon as Mrs. Bracegirdle reached her lodgings she sent a messenger round to Mrs. Mountford to warn her of her husband's danger. In the meantime the two ruffians, having procured a bottle of wine from a neighbouring tavern, walked up and down before the house with their swords drawn, and after some time Mountford was seen coming up the street. He had heard of what had passed, and came to ask an explanation of Hill's language and behaviour. Lord Mohun embraced him, and Mountford said that he hoped his lordship would not assist Captain Hill in his designs against Mrs. Bracegirdle. Upon which Hill struck the actor in the face, and before Mountford could draw his sword ran him through the body. He expired on the next morning. He was only thirtythree. The assassin fled the country, and there is no further record of him. Mohun was tried by his peers and acquitted--to do more villainy.

Mrs. Bracegirdle resided in the same house until her death at the age of eighty-five. A curious story is told by Cibber in connection with this lady, which shows the respect that could be won by chastity even in that dissolute age. One day, while sitting over their wine, my Lords Dorset, Devonshire, Halifax and other gentlemen were eulogising her virtue, which had withstood all their importunities, when Halifax remarked that


they might show their appreciation in a better form than words, and put down 200 guineas. Six hundred more were quickly added. And then my lords proceeded in a body to Howard Street and laid their offering at the feet of the fair actress. Walpole relates that my Lord Burlington sent her a love-letter and a present of splendid china. " You have made a mistake," said the lady to the servant who brought them; "the letter is indeed for me, but the china must be for your lady, the countess; take it to her at once."

What a transformation from the stately dignity of the House of the Howards, and even the quiet seclusion which formerly marked the streets that took its place, to the feverish bustle of the gigantic news emporium of Smith & Son. It is these wonderful contrasts, the unbroken continuity, the flawless links that connect the past with the present by the preservation of ancient names and landmarks, that render London so uniquely interesting, so superior to Paris, where every fresh revolution makes a tabula rasa of tradition. Over this same ground that now rattles with the perpetual din of the newspaper carts, carrying their countless reams of newspapers night and day for distribution through the length and breadth of the land, have paced Elizabeth "in virgin meditation fancy free," the dark plotter Seymour, injured Catherine Parr, and how many more illustrious ones whose doings are chronicled for all time. Nay, close at hand, in Strand Lane, is a memento of times to which those are but yesterday; for there in its entirety, still fed by the pellucid waters


of the " Holy Well,"[3]  is a Roman bath, in which men who gazed upon the face of Augustus or Nero, or may have talked with Pontius Pilate about the crucifixion of " the King of the Jews," have bathed.

Where the new Church of St. Mary-le-Strand now stands-the ancient church occupied a portion of the site of Somerset House-rose the famous Maypole, which at the Rebellion was destroyed by those bitter kill-joys, the Puritans. It was 100 feet high. But after the Restoration another, thirty-four feet longer, was raised in the same place, with much ceremony and drum and pipes and tabours and morris dancing, the Duke of York superintending its erection by twelve of his sailors. It was paid for by the subscriptions of the inhabitants round about, at the head of whom was one John Clarges, a farrier in the Savoy, whose daughter, Anne, became the wife of General Monk, and so Duchess of Albemarle; she was a coarse, ill-looking woman who never rose above her origin. Newcastle Street was then known as Maypole Alley. This Puritan's horror was finally taken down early in the next century, as it interfered with the new church. At the Maypole, in 1634, four hackney coaches plied for hire; this was the earliest coach-stand in the metropolis.

Much history gathered about Old Somerset House, built by that rapacious tyrant, Protector Somerset, out of the spoils of houses, Inns of Court, and the ancient


Church of St. Mary. He never inhabited it himself, for ere it was completed he was sent to the Tower for high treason. But Elizabeth, Anne of Denmark, Henrietta Maria--it was here the disputes raged over her papist household--and Catherine of Braganza in turns held their court within its walls.

Evelyn describes two notable funeral processions that he saw start from Somerset House. On 6th March, 1652, that of Ireton, Cromwell's son-in-law and the most implacable of his lieutenants; the body in a chariot canopied with black velvet and drawn by six horses, attended by four heralds and regiments of soldiers, and followed by my Lord Protector, parliament men and officers. Less than seven years afterwards (22nd October, 1658) he witnessed the obsequies of a far mightier man.

Though he died at Whitheall, it was in Somerset House that the body of Oliver Cromwell lay in state, and was carried thence on a velvet bed, lying in effigy in royal robes with crown and sceptre and globe, like a king, and drawn by six horses to the abbey. And there were imperial banners, a horse in housings covered with gold, a knight of honour, armed cap-a-pie, guards, soldiers, and innumerable mourners following. " It was," adds Evelyn, " the joyfullest funeral I ever saw, for there were none that cried but dogs, which the soldiers hooted away with a barbarous noise, drinking and taking tobacco in the streets as they went." The old house was pulled down in 1776, and the chef d'oeuvre of Sir William Chambers took its place.

The mansion of the Earls of Worcester, which was called Beaufort House, is kept in remembrance by Beaufort Buildings. And the old house of the Cecils, formerly marked by Salisbury and Cecil Street, is covered by the huge hotel, which has swallowed up the last-named thoroughfare, the date of which was

marked by a stone, as seen in the illustration above. It was from lodgings in Cecil Street that, hungry and almost shoeless, on a rainy, miserable winter's night, the poor stroller, Edmund Kean, started to make his first appearance at Drury Lane as Shylock. " The pit rose at me !" he cried, when he returned home after the performance, almost delirious with his


triumph. " You shall ride in your carriage, Mary; you shall go to Eton, Charles."

Both prophecies were fulfilled to the letter.

Most famous among Strand palaces was that erected by Peter, Earl of Savoy, the uncle of Henry III., in . John, the French king, taken prisoner at Poitiers, was lodged in the Savoy. Chaucer lived there, and drew an annuity from the revenues of the manor. Stow tells us that "in 1381 the rebels of Kent and Essex [this was the Wat Tyler and Jack Straw rebellion] burnt this house, unto the which there was none in the realm to be compared in beauty and stateliness. They set fire on it round about, and made proclamation that none, on pain to lose his head, should convert to his own use anything that there was, but that they should break such plate and vessels of gold and silver as was found in that house, which was in great plenty, into small pieces, and throw the same into the river Thames. Precious stones they should bruise in mortars, that the same might be of no use, and so it was done by them. One of their companions they burnt in the fire because he minded to have reserved one goodly piece of plate." (Verily a mediaeval mob was more virtuous and disinterested than a modern would be.) " They found there certain barrels of gunpowder, which they thought had been gold, or silver, and, throwing them into the fire, more suddenly than they thought, the hall was blown up, the house destroyed, and themselves very hardly escaped away.

" The house being thus defaced, and almost overthrown by these rebels for the malice they bore John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, of latter time came to the king's hands, and was again raised and beautifully built for an hospital of St. John the Baptist, by King Henry VII., about the year 1509, for the which hospital, retaining still the old name of Savoy, he purchased lands to be employed upon the relieving of a hundred poor people."

This was no other than an ancient casual ward, where the said hundred were received nightly, and the master and chaplain were obliged to take the first who came and not to choose "the most clean ". The charity was suppressed by Edward VI., but revived by Mary. It soon afterwards, however, fell into decay; the hospital was let out in rooms to fashionable people and the revenues malappropriated. In Queen Anne's time its inhabitants were utterly disreputable and no bailiff dared enter it. The chapel is supposed to have been built in the reign of Henry VII. The interior was burned in 1860; and was restored in accordance with the ancient model. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, William III. allowed many French Huguenots to settle there. In 1755 Strype described Savoy House as "a very ruinous dwelling," and adds that a cooper used a part of it as a storehouse for his hoops, and another part was converted into a prison. The last of the old Savoy was demolished in 1806 to make an approach to the new bridge, now known as Waterloo.

The Savoy was as notorious for illegal marriages, before the passing of the Marriage Act of 1755, as the Fleet, and in that year the Rev. Dr. John Wilkinson, chaplain of the Savoy, and father of the noted Tate Wilkinson, the actor, was condemned to fourteen years' penal servitude for these practices.

The nomenclature of the Strand streets is an unerring index to their history. Exeter Street indicates that thereabout stood the house of the Exeters. But it was originally known as Burleigh House, the residence of Elizabeth's great minister, who died within its walls. Being a great lover of gardening, he had in this garden the finest collection of plants in the kingdom ! It was one of his sons who was created Earl of Exeter, and so we get the name of two thoroughfares. The house extended over the site of Wellington Street, and thereupon, after its demolition at the end of the seventeenth century, was built the Exeter'Change. In Strype it is described as containing two walks below stairs, and as many above, with shops on each side for milliners, sempstresses, hosiers. There were upper apartments beside for general purposes, in one of which the body of Gay, the poet, lay previous to its interment in the abbey. During the earlier part of the nineteenth century it was chiefly famous for its menagerie. It bulked over the Strand in a most ungainly fashion, and was pulled down in 1830 for the new thoroughfare to Waterloo Bridge. The Lyceum Theatre stands upon a portion of the ground of the Cecils. It was originally built in 1765 for the Society


of Artists. Here, in 1802, Madame Tussaud first exhibited her waxworks in London. It was first used as a theatre by the burned-out company of Drury Lane in 1809.

Such was the volume of water that ran down the declivity, now known as Catherine Street, in olden times, that, as I have before noted, it was found necessary to throw a bridge across the roadway, which was called emphatically the Strand Bridge. Steele relates in The Spectator, No. 454, how he landed with " ten sail of Apricock boats" at Strand Bridge. This was in 1712. A little farther west was Ivy Bridge, at which commenced "the Liberties" of Westminster, and just beyond rose the great London palace of the Bishops of Durham.

Stow has bequeathed us a sumptuous picture of doings there in 1540, when Henry VIII. held at Westminster one of those splendid jousts for which his reign was famous. It had been formally proclaimed in France, Flanders, Scotland and Spain for all comers that would undertake the challengers of England and continued through six days; and at this mansion the king, queen and court held feast and open house, on the last day entertaining the Lord Mayor, the aldermen and their wives, knights and burgesses. The pale shadow of gentle Lady Jane Grey falls upon the memories of Durham House, for it was from those portals she was conducted to the Tower for her mock coronation. And the brilliant Raleigh, at the time when neighbour Cecil was spying upon him to


compass his destruction, was amongst its many dwellers.

When, in the reign of James I., a portion of Durham House facing the Strand was pulled down, a fashionable mart, called the New Exchange, frequently referred to by Restoration dramatists, was built on the site. The shops were raised upon a gallery, approached by an outside staircase, beneath which the gallants lounged attendance on their ladies. Here gathered milliners, dressmakers, perfumers, sempstresses, booksellers, jewellers. It was the Bond Street of its time, and at the back, overlooking the river, with a special water-gate, was a sheltered promenade, shaded by trees, as notorious for amorous assignations as a Westend modiste's is at the present day. [4]  Anne Clarges, thereafter Duchess of Albemarle, and her first husband, Ratford, sold wash-balls, powder and gloves, and did sempstress work here; and another duchess, the widow of that rapscallion, Tyrconnel, Viceroy of Ireland under James II., had a stall. She always wore a white mask to conceal her personality, and was known as the White Milliner. Coutts' Bank now stands upon the site of this once famous Vanity Fair. When Durham House fell into ruin, about 1768, the ground was bought by the brothers Adam, who, to celebrate the fraternal arrangement, christened the district the Adelphi.


[1] Dryden's epilogue to King Arthur, spoken by this actress, begins :-- I've had to-day a dozen billets doux From fops and wits and cits and Bow-street beaux; Some from Whitheall, but from the Temple more, A Covent Garden porter brought me four. She then proceeds to read the supposed contents of some of them.

[2] For more about Lord Mohun see the chapter on " Leicester Square "; for Mountford and Mrs. Bracegirdle, " Clare Market ".

[3] It is beneath a book shop in Holywell Street. The water is still of the purest, and about ten tons daily pass through the bath.

[4] "For close walks the New Exchange," says Alithea to Mrs. Pinchwife, in The Country Wife, one of the scenes of which, where Margery eludes her husband's jealous vigilance, takes place there.