Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for WESTMINSTER

WESTMINSTER, a city in Middlesex; forming main part of the metropolis. It adjoins London city on the E; it is bounded by Oxford-street on the N, and by the Thames on the S; it extends beyond Kensington palace and to Chelsea hospital on the W; it measures about 3½ miles from E to W, and from ½ mile to 2 miles from N to S; it stands compactly, all round, with other parts of the metropolis; it contains St. James' park, the Green park, Hyde park, and 16 squares; and, except for including these open places and some minor ones, it is all completely edificed. It took its name from a great minster, founded in the early part of the 7th century, and called West-Minster in distinction from the original St. Paul's of London, which was called East-Minster; it grew slowly around that edifice, on a marshy spot, designated Thorney Island, adjacent to the Thames; it ranked as merely a "lordship" or a "manor" in 1088; it became the seat of the sovereign, the parliament, and the courts of law; it, nevertheless, has never acquired any municipality, but is simply an adjunct of the municipality of London city; it was constituted a parliamentary borough, with two representatives, in the time of Edward VI.; it comprises the parishes of W.-St. Margaret and W.-St. John, and the extra-parochial tract of W.-Abbey or the close of the collegiate church of St. Peter, constituting Westminster-proper; and it comprises further the parishes of St. Anne-Soho, St. Clement-Danes, St. George-Hanover-square, St. James-West-minster, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. Mary-le-Strand, and St. Paul-Covent-Garden, and the precinct of St. John-Baptist-Savoy, constituting Westminster liberties or borough. It contains very numerous post-offices‡ and postal pillar-boxes under London W and London SW; it contains also the central railway stations of Charing-Cross and Pimlico or Victoria and it commands, from these points, and from other near ones, immediate railway communication with all parts of the kingdom. Its history, its topography, many of its public buildings, and most matters relating to its general structure, its institutions, and its statistics, have been noticed in the article London, and in the articles on its own several parishes; so that we require to do no more here than supplement these articles with notices of such topics as they omit, and chiefly of edifices distinctive or characteristic of Westminster.

W. proper, comprising the parishes of W.-St. Margaret and W.-St. John, and the extraparochial tract of W. Abbey, forms a registration or poor-law district. Acres, 917; of which 78 are water. Poor rates in 1863, £34,898. Pop. in 1851, 65,609; in 1861, 68,213. Houses, 6,798. Marriages in 1863, 645; births, 2,333, -of which 128 were illegitimate; deaths, 1,936,-of which 891 were at ages under 5 years, and 21 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 5,342; births, 21,967; deaths, 17,720. The places of worship, in 1851, were 20 of the Church of England, with 16,389 sittings; 4 of Independents, with 3,514 s.; 3 of Wesleyans, with 1,030 s.; 1 of Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, with 200 s.; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 58 attendants; and 1 of Roman Catholics, with 500 at The schools were 34 public day-schools, with 6,698 scholars; 81 private day-schools, with 1,775 s.; 19 Sunday schools, with 3,736 s.; and 4 evening schools for adults, with 76 s. The districts containing the other parts of the city are Strand. St. James-Westminster, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and St. George-Hanover-square; and have been separately noticed. The electors, in 1833, were 11,576; in 1863, 12,624. Amount of property and income tax charged in 1863, £701,040. Pop. in 1851, 241,611; in 1861, 254,623. Houses, 26,286. The manor belonged, at Domesday, to Geoffrey de Mandeville; passed to the Davieses and the Grosvenors; and gives to the Grosvenors the title of Marquis. Much of the ground, particularly about Grosvenor-square and Belgrave-square, belongs to the Marquis; and Grosvenor House, in Upper Grosvenor-street, is his town residence.

The Minster, now called W. Abbey, is said to occupy the site of a Roman temple to Apollo; was erected, in 604-16, by Sebert, King of the East Saxons; was, as then constructed, an edifice of timber; suffered demolition by the Danes; was rebuilt, as a Benedictine abbey, in 958, by King Edgar; was restored, in 1050, by Edward the Confessor; was rebuilt, in 1245 and following years, by Henry III. and Edward I.; suffered much injury by fire in 1297; was restored, in 1376-86, by Abbot Langham; underwent repairs, restorations, and additions, at subsequent periods, by various Abbots; acquired a splendid new Lady chapel, in 1502-20, by Henry VII.; underwent reconstruction of its western towers, in 1715-35, after designs by Wren; retains, as it now stands, portions from 1050 till 1735; and was extensively restored, in various parts, during a series of years up to 1869. The pile comprises two western towers; a nave of twelve bays, with aisles; a constructive choir of four bays, with a semi-hexagonal apse and aisles, with three converging chapels on each side; a north transept of three bays, with aisles, the eastern divided into chapels; a south transept, with an east aisle called the Poet's corner, and with a chapel to the south; a Lady's chapel of five bays, with aisles, and with a semi-hexagonal apse; cloisters, on the south side of the nave; and an octagonal chapter-house, on the south side of the choir. The western towers are 225 feet high; the nave is 166½ feet long, 71¾ feet wide, and 101½ feet high; the choir is 155¾ feet long, 38¼ feet wide, and 101 feet high; the transepts are 203 feet long, 84½ feet wide, and 105½ feet high; the Lady chapel is 103¾ feet long, 53 feet wide, and 60½ feet high, and is surmounted by turrets 101 feet high; the cloisters are 137 feet by 141, and have buttresses striding across them; the chapter-house is 80 feet in diameter, has massive buttresses, and stands over a Norman crypt; and the entire pile is 511½ feet long. Most of the structure is very fine early English, of different dates; numerous minor portions show features of transition or advance from period to period; the Lady chapel is exquisite later English; the great west window was rebuilt in 1715, and is of three orders; and the two western towers are a debased mixture of Gothic and Grecian. The monuments are so multitudinous that a mere list of them would be too long for our pages, and so choice, from those of kings and princes downward through all ranks of illustrious persons, as to be almost an epitome of English chronicles; and they are so arranged in all parts, and stand out in such magnificence, as to render the pile, in no inconsiderable degree, a mausoleum of the magnates of England.

The abbey was mitred and of second rank in the Romish times; was made a secular college by Henry VIII.; became the seat of a diocese from 1541 till 1550; was re-constituted an abbey by Mary; and was made a collegiate church by Elizabeth. The kings and queens of England, from Edward the Confessor to Victoria, were crowned in it; and the mortal remains of many of them were interred within its walls. The property belonging to it once included lands from the Thames to Oxford-street and from St. Mary-le-Strand to Knight's Bridge, 216 manors in other parts, rights in upwards of 100 towns and villages, and jurisdiction over the Thames from Staines to Gravesend; and the revenue amounted, at the Reformation, to £3,471,-and in 1852, to £30,657. The collegiate establishment, or chapter, includes a dean, with an annual income of £2,000, six canons, and six minor canons. Among eminent members have been Berkyng, Crokesley, Colchester, Mylling, Estney, Florilegus, Richard of Reading, Richard of Cirencester, Fleta, Nowell, Hakluyt, Thorndike, South, Horneck, Barrow, Milman, Deans, Ireland, Vincent, Buckland, and Stanley, Bishops Cox, Andrews, Pearce, Atterbury, Horsley, and Wilberforce, and Archbishops Neile, Williams, and Trench.

W. Palace stood between W. Abbey and the Thames, partly on the ground now occupied by the New Houses of Parliament; was built, in the 11th century, by Edward the Confessor; was, from its origin till the time of Henry VIII., the official residence of the sovereign; was rebuilt or greatly enlarged, by William Rufus; acquired then the stately hall, which still exists, and will afterwards be noticed; suffered great devastation by fire in 1263; was repaired by Richard II., and very greatly enlarged by Edward II. and Edward III.; covered eventually the entire area of Old Palace Yard and New Palace Yard; was partly destroyed by fire, and the rest relinquished from royal occupancy, in the time of Henry VIII.; suffered further and sweeping destruction by fire in 1834; is now represented chiefly by the great hall, and by an ancient crypt; and has bequeathed both these relics and its name to the New Houses of Parliament.-Whitehall Palace was long the residence of the Archbishops of York, and called York House; passed to Henry VIII. on the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, and then took the name of Whitehall; was the residence of the sovereigns from Henry VIII. to William III.; had originally a character akin to that of Hampton Court, with a series of galleries and courts, a large hall, a chapel, a banqueting-house, a tennis-court, a cockpit, and an orchard; extended from the Thames to St. James' park, and from the present Admiralty to Parliament-street; and was designed, both by James I. and by Charles I., to have been entirely and magnificently rebuilt. The banqueting-house was the only portion actually rebuilt; was erected in 1619-22 by Inigo Jones; was converted into a chapel by George I., and restored by Smirke in the time of William IV.; is a very fine specimen of Palladian architecture; forms interiorly a double cube, 111 feet long, 55½ feet wide, and 55½ feet high; and is notable for the execution of Charles I. on a scaffold in its front.-St. James' Palace, on the N side of the Mall, opposite St. James' park, was originally an hospital, founded before 1190, for 14 leprous maidens and 8 brethren; was purchased, and converted into a palace, by Henry VIII.; was the town residence of the sovereigns from Anne to William IV.; is an irregular brick edifice, denuded of most of its quondam Tudor portions; suffered destruction of its east wing, and damage of other parts, by a fire in Jan. 1809: is still used for drawing-rooms and levees; and possesses more stateliness of interior than could be supposed from the appearance of its exterior.-Marlborough House, adjacent to the E side of St. James' Palace, was built in 1710, by Wren, for the great Duke of Marlborough; went by sale, in 1817, to the Crown; was occupied by the Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold; became the residence of the Dowager Queen Adelaide; and is now the town-house of the Prince of Wales.-Buckingham Palace, at the W end of St. James' park, occupies the site of Buckingham House, the town residence of the Dukes of Buckingham; was commenced in the time of George IV., and completed in the time of William IV., but never inhabited by that sovereign; underwent alterations and additions at the accession of Victoria; was first entered by the Queen in July 1837; acquired a new east front 360 feet long, at a cost of £150,000, in 1846; acquired also a magnificent new ballroom, on the south side, in 1856; presents a very imposing long-façade, decorated or surmounted by emblematical sculptures and statues; is approached through gates of elaborate beauty; contains a green drawing-room 50 feet long and 32 feet high, a throne-room 64 feet long, a picture-gallery 180 feet long, a chapel of 1843, a grand soloon and a state ball-room, all in splendid decoration; and has gardens of 40 acres, with an ornate octagonal summer-house.

The old Houses of Parliament were in the part of W. Palace which survived the fire in the time of Henry VIII., and were destroyed by the fire of 1834. The new Houses of Parliament occupy the same site, and extend along the bank of the Thames, southward from the line of W. Bridge. They cover an area of nearly 8 acres; they form an oblong, with some saliencies and other diversities of outline, 900 feet in length from north to south; they confront W. Abbey a little S of the centre of their W side; they have three great towers, and a number of smaller towers; and they contain 11 courts, 100 staircases, 1,100 apartments, and more than 2 miles of corridors. They were founded in April, 1840; and, excepting details in the W front and in a few other parts, they were completed about 1860. They are in the late perpendicular or early Tudor style, after designs by Sir Charles Barry; they present resemblances to the town halls of Ypres, Ghent, Louvain, and Brussels; and they blend, not incongruously, with W. Hall and W. Abbey. The external masonry is of magnesian limestone, from Anston in Yorkshire; the river terrace is of Aberdeen granite; the roofing-slates are from Valentia, in Ireland; the main beams and joists are of iron; and the interior masonry is chiefly of Caen stone. The east or river front is divided into five principal compartments, panelled with tracery, and decorated with rows of statues and shields of arms of the sovereigns of England from William I. to Victoria; the north front shows stately windows, statues of the Saxon kings from Hengist to Harold, hexagonal angle-turrets, and a grand clock-tower; and the west .front exhibits great variety of outline, richly decorated porches, and a fine array of statues, and was so designed as to excel the other fronts in both beauty and picturesqueness, but was considerably modified from the original designs, and was only in progress towards completion in 1868. The clock tower abuts on W.-Bridge-street; is 40 feet square, and 316 feet high; and has a richly-decorated belfry-roof, a great bell of 16 tons in weight, and a clock with four dials, each 23½ feet in diameter. The central tower surmounts a grand central octagonal hall; rises on an exquisitely groined stone vault, without any pillar support; is 60 feet square, and 300 feet high; and presents a singularly light and elegant appearance. The Victoria tower stands at the south-west angle; includes the royal entrance archway, 65 feet high, and richly decorated with niches and statues; is itself 75 feet square, and 340 feet high; was constructed by slow degrees on to 1857, to avert the risks of settling; and exhibits, over all its surface, a tasteful and diversified series of sculptured stone. The Norman porch is entered through the archway of the Victoria tower; and takes its name from fresco-illustrations of Norman history, and figures of the Norman kings. The Victoria gallery is entered from the Norman porch; measures 110 feet in length, 45 feet in width, and 45 feet in height; and was designed for 106 statues and 18 frescoes, illustrative of English history from ancient till present times. The Prince's chamber, or Peers' robing-room, is entered from the Victoria gallery; and is lined with wood-carving and portraits of the Tudor and the Stuart sovereigns. The House of Lords is entered, on the south, from the Prince's chamber,-on the north, from the Peers' lobby; measures 97 feet in length, 45 feet in width, and 45 feet in height; presents a coup d'œil of the utmost magnificence; and was first opened in April 1847. The Peers' lobby communicates north-ward, through a corridor, with the great central octagonal hall; measures 30 feet square; and is adorned with a rmorial bearings and badges of all the English royal families from the Saxon to the Brunswick. The central octagonal hall communicates westward, through St. Stephen's chapel, with the principal public entrances from Old Palace Yard and Westminster Hall; measures 60 feet in diameter, and 75 feet in height; and is adorned with 68 niches for statues, and with an elaborately carved roof. The House of Commons is entered, through a corridor, from the central hall; measures 69 feet in length, 45 feet in width, and 44 feet in height; and is much less imposing than the House of Lords, but has a ceiling of nearly equal beauty.

W. Hall, as we have already stated, was part of W. Palace. It was built by William Rufus; was restored and re-roofed in 1397-9; was incorporated, by Sir Charles Barry, in the new Houses of Parliament; underwent repairs and changes to place it in harmony with that magnificent pile; stands now at a projection on the northern half of the west side of that edifice; is noted for the ingenious design and stately grandeur of its roof; measures 239 feet in length from north to south, 68 feet in width, and 90 feet in height to the apex of the roof; and includes, in abutting spaces, the courts of Chancery, Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer. It was the scene of the coronation-feasts of the sovereigns, from Edward I. to Victoria; the meeting-place of the early parliaments; the scene of the celebration of numerous victories; the place of the inauguration of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector; and the scene of many remarkable trials, including those of Sir William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Protector Somerset, the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Strafford, King Charles I., the Seven Bishops, the rebel Lords of 1745, and Warren Hastings.-New Law Courts were projected in 1860, to be built on a site bounded on the north by Carey-street, on the south by Pickett-street and the Strand, on the east by Bell Yard, on the west by Clement's Inn. The sum of £700,000 was voted in 1865, for purchase of the ground, compensation, and other preliminary expenses; and notices were served, in the same year, on the owners and occupiers of the houses that required to be removed. Two designs, by respectively Mr. Barry and Mr. Street, were selected in 1867, to be harmonised into one design; they comprehended provision, not only for the courts at Westminster, but also for those at Chancery-lane, Guildhall, and Doctors' Commons; and they were to include about 24 courts, all distinct from one another, suites of chambers for all classes of officials and attendants, altogether more than 1,300 apartments, besides ambulatories, corridors, central halls, and other public rooms. The area is about equal to that covered by the Houses of Parliament; the frontage toward the Strand is 700 feet; the style is late first pointed, of a Continental type; the most important internal feature is a central hall, 190 feet by 57, in the form of a rich and beautifully vaulted chapel; and the cost, as provisionally named, was set down at £750,000, but may probably amount to twice that sum. The clearance of the ground for the erection was well advanced at the beginning of 1869.

The Government Offices are in Whitehall, or adjacent to it, and a short distance north of the Parliament Houses. The Treasury is a range of building 296 feet long, extending from Downing-street to the Horse Guards; ranges in date from the time of Ripley in the reign of George I to the times of Kent and Soane; has a street-front of 1846-7, after designs by Sir Charles Barry; presents an elegant appearance, with Corinthian pilasters, bold cornice, and Attic superstructure; and contains, not only the Treasury offices, but also those of the Home department, the Board of Trade, and the Privy Council. The Foreign, the India, and the Colonial offices, are a large new block of building between Downing-street and Charles-street, with principal facade toward St. James' park; they are in the palatial Italian style, Tuscan in the basement, Corinthian in the principal story; they have decorations in polished granite, coloured marbles, and other polychromatic materials; they form three quadrangles, for respectively the three offices; they present, toward St. James' park, a somewhat broken outline, with both recessed and slightly projecting portions; and they are surmounted there with two towers, 50 feet square and respectively 150 and 160 feet high. The Foreign office was founded in 1863, and nearly completed in 1868; encloses a court 250 feet by 170, richly decorated; and cost £89,000 for the site, and about £250,000 for the structure. The India office was built simultaneously with the Foreign office; encloses a court 120 feet by 60, with profusion of polished marble shafts, delicate carvings, and majolica plagues; and was paid for out of the Indian revenue. The Colonial office was not founded till 1868. A new Home office is to be built on the space south of the Colonial office. The old Foreign office, the old Colonial office, and the Exchequer office are plain or even shabby houses in Downing-street. The War office is practically identified with the Horse Guards, but has its apartments at the Old Ordnance office in Pall-Mall. The Horse Guards occupy an extensive area between Whitehalland St. James' park; were erected in 1751-3, after designs by Kent; and present a handsome elevation of centre and wings to Whitehall, and an imposing yet faulty elevation toward St. James' park. The Admiralty adjoins the Horse Guards on the north; occupies the site of Wallingford House, of the time of James I.; was built mainly in 1726, partly in 1776; measures 200 feet in length, and contains some large rooms; yet is so inadequate that many important departments of its business are located at Somerset House. That edifice is situated in the Strand; was erected in 1776-86, on the site of the palace of Protector Somerset; shows a front elevation of good proportions, with some very elegant details; forms a quadrangle, with wings added by Smirke and Penne-thorne; presents a fine terrace-elevation toward the Thames; and contains the Audit office, the Registrar-General's office, the Inland Revenue office, and the Admiralty branch offices, together with King's College, and with the apartments of various learned institutions, noticed in our article on London.

St. James' park was attached to St. James' palace by Henry VIII.; received much improvement from Charles II.; was arranged into nearly its present condition by George IV.; comprises 91 acres; has an outline not un- like that of a boy's kite; and contains highly picturesque gardens and a fine sheet of water, with a pedestrians' chain bridge constructed in 1857. The Green park adjoins the NW side of St. James' park; was formerly called Upper St. James' park; comprises 60 acres; and, a few years ago, was newly planted and improved. Hyde park begins at the W extremity of the Green park, but on the opposite side of Piccadilly; goes westward into continuity with Kensington gardens, and northward to the line of Oxford-street and Uxbridge-road; was formed and enclosed in 1536, by Henry VIII.; took its name from having belonged to the ancient manor of Hyde, held by Westminster abbey; was a royal hunting-ground in the time of Elizabeth, and a place of foot, horse, and coach races in the time of Charles I.; underwent improvement by Charles II., and by Caroline the queen of George II.; comprises 388 acres; contains part of the Serpentine, noticed in our article on Kensington; contains also, to the S of the Serpentine, the highly fashionable bridle-road called Rotten Row, a name corrupted from Route du Roi, signifying "the king's drive;" is all elsewhere traversed, all directions, by pleasant walks and carriage drives; and is entered by several gates, chiefly Albert gate, Victoria gate, Hyde-Park-Corner gate, and the Marble Arch. The Hyde-Park-Corner gate is the entrance from Piccadilly; was erected in 1828, at a cost of above £18,000; and consists of 3 fine arches, connected by an elaborate iron screen. The Marble Arch is the entrance from Oxford-street, at the north-east angle of the park; was originally erected at the entrance of Buckingham palace, in the time of George IV., at a cost of about £80,000; was placed on its present site in 1851, at an additional cost of £11,000; has a south front by Baily, a north front by Westmacott; and appears to have been modelled from the triumphal arches of the Romans. A monument to Wellington, and to his companions in arms, stands within the park near Hyde-Park-Corner gate; was erected in 1822, at a cost of £10,000, subscribed by ladies; and consists of a colossal statue, termed the Achilles, modelled by Westmacott from a famous antique at Rome, and cast from the metal of twelve French guns captured at Salamanca, Vittoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo. A monument to the late Prince Consort also is in Hyde park; stands nearly in the centre of the site of the Crystal Palace of 1851; was projected in 1863, and slowly constructed in years thence till 1869; is computed to have cost about £130,000,-one half or more defrayed by the Queen; is a highly elaborate structure, in the mediæval style, after designs by G. G. Scott; includes a statue of the prince, and numerous historical sculptures, mosaics, and other decorations; forms a vast tabernacle-like canopy, supported on four groups of quadrupled columns; and rises to a finial height of 176 feet. The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences, on the opposite side of the road, was founded by the Queen in May 1868; is a vast edifice, somewhat in the form of an amphitheatre, with terracotta decorations; and is estimated to cost about £200,000.

W. old bridge was built in 1739-50, at a cost of £218,800; had 15 arches, the middle one 76 feet wide; measured 1,223 feet in length, and 42 feet in width; was surmounted by lofty parapets; suffered severely from a scour in the river's bed, occasioned by the removal of old London bridge; and was extensively repaired and propped in 1846, with the view of being made again substantial, but still proved so insecure that it had to be taken down. W. new bridge occupies the site of the old one; was constructed in 1856-62, at a cost of £216,000; consists of seven low segmental arches of wrought and cast iron, resting on solid granite piers; is 1,160 feet long, and 85 feet wide; rises only 5 feet from the ends to the centre; and, at the top of its central arch, is only 22 feet above high water.-Covent Garden, originally called Convent Garden, was anciently the herb garden of Westminster abbey; became the place of a fruit and vegetable market about 1656; has a market house, built in 1830, at the expense of the late Duke of Bedford; and has long been the scene of vast traffic in fruit and vegetables, insomuch that in 1849, its market was rated to the poor at £4,800. Theatres, schools, scientific institutions, hospitals, and other objects of interest, are noticed in the article on London or in other articles.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

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Feature Description: "a city"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Westminster MetB       Middlesex AncC
Place: Westminster

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