Westminster

It was Edward the Confessor who put Westminster on the map by moving his court there from the City.

There had been an abbey at Westminster since Anglo-Saxon times. William the Conqueror was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. Most monarchs since have been crowned there. The present Abbey was constructed by Henry III from 1245 onwards. Most kings, and many other famous people, are buried there.

Most well-known is the so-called Poets’ Corner where various literary giants have graves. Not many of them were actually buried here, because they were usually considered disreputable in their own lifetimes by the standards of the church. Ben Johnson is buried there, but when he asked for a grave in the Abbey, he said that two square feet would be all he needed, so they took him at his word and buried him upright.

Westminster itself was generally a disreputable area. Rich courtiers had their houses slightly further away. The court generally toured the country, so there was no fixed income for shop owners and businessmen in Westmister, and they had to make the most they could out of the short periods when courtiers were there. As a result, Westminster became plagued by thieves and muggers. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that the Abbey precincts were a sanctuary, and the sanctuary was extended north as evidenced by streets today known as Broad Sanctuary and Little Sanctuary.

Thieving Lane indicates the business most prominent in the area. The creation of Victoria Street in the mid-19th century led to many of the slums being removed. Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament were also constructed in the mid-19th century and further improved the area. Westminster only became a city in its own right in 1900 and is still called the City of Westminster, as opposed to a London borough.

Westminster the residential area is rather smaller than the administrative area know as the City of Westminster. Westminster above Victoria Street is mainly the seat of government and there are few private homes, but Whitehall Court, built in the 1880s, contains some flats.

In the area between Victoria Street and St James’s Park homes are mainly in the form of flats in mansion blocks, for example Vandon Court in Petty France. Some office buildings have been converted back to private houses, and period houses can be found in Queen Anne’s Gate, Old Queen Street, and Victoria Square.

In the area east of Victoria Station, in the angle between Victoria Street and Vauxhall Bridge Road, there are mainly mansion blocks, for example in Carlisle Place and Morpeth Terrace. Further towards the Houses of Parliament, in the area above Great Peter Street, there are flats to be found in streets such as Old Pye Street and Abbey Orchard Street. Further south, Marsham Court is a 1930s mansion block in Marsham Street. St John’s Gardens on the corner with Horseferry Road is another. More flats are to be found in the recently completed Westminster Green.

In Park Street there are Grosvenor Estate flats in Edwardian buildings designed by Lutyens. Towards Vauxhall Bridge Road is Vincent Square, with a central space so large it is used as playing fields by Westminster School. There are some new houses round the square. Regency Street contains more mansion blocks, such as Gladstone Court and the more modern Regency Court. Artillery Mansions is a courtyard development on Victoria Street itself.

Near the river is a 1960s block, Millbank Court, in John Islip Street. The Crown’s Millbank Estate is a recently created terrace of houses behind the terraces of Millbank itself, which have been converted into flats. The oldest homes in the Westminster area are in the Westminster Abbey area, where Georgian houses exist in Smith Square and surrounding streets such as Lord North Street, Barton Street, Gayfere Street and Cowley Street. There are mansion blocks and other flat developments in Great Smith Street and Greycoat Street.