This fascinating map (blog) really caught my imagination and when I found myself bombarding a friend with details I clearly had to explore the area in more detail, if only to protect his sanity! I was excited by the prospect of seeing the past in the present, but of course very little remains static and I was to be disappointed.
Westminster Abbey continues, but without a central tower, and the Chapel of Henry VII remains awe-inspiring.
Inside the Abbey the three gardens are in their original situations: the Garth inside the Great Cloister, the Little Cloister, and the College Gardens. Despite two visits, checked on the Abbey website, the latter remain firmly closed to me, and unvisited.
Adjacent to the Abbey is another, original, open space, Dean’s Yard.
Inside Dean’s Yard, on the left of the picture above and looking towards the two gateways into Great College Street, the buildings on the left accord with the 1523 map, and form the barrier to Westminster School. The ‘yard’ remains to the right.
The Gateways from Dean’s Yard into Great College Street can still be seen, and the photograph below is taken from Great College Street, looking into Dean’s Yard.
Outside the Abbey walls, looking down Great College Street, could the doorway below be the same doorway in the middle of the wall of the 1523 picture?
Great College Street leads down to the Thames, and the wall on the left of the photograph, around the Abbey, was built by Abbott Litlington around the Infirmary Garden, now known as the College Garden. Nicholas Litlington, (1316?–1386), became Prior in 1352, and then Abbot of Westminster Abbey in 1362. He was an extraordinarily energetic man who carried out many building works in the Abbey. He died at his manor at Neate, (or Neyte) which is beyond the houses at Horseferry Road, in the countryside, or perhaps near to the current Kensington Palace – I can’t find a definitive location at this point.
The map shows only one gateway, but there are two gateways now, on the turn of the wall as it curves towards the Jewel Tower.
The wall continues around the College Garden, towards the Jewel Tower, part of the old Palace of Westminster.
Where the map shows a continuation of the outer wall, enclosing a garden, there is now an open green between The Jewel Tower and the Chapel of Henry VII.
But behind this open space the old wall is still in place, protecting the Little Cloister.
This is a good time to look towards the site of the old Palace of Westminster, now the Houses of Parliament, and below is another interesting image of the Palace and the Abbey. The Palace was destroyed by fire in October 1834, and only Westminster Hall, the undercroft of St Stephen’s Church, and the Jewel Tower remain. And another image, showing the changing neighbourhood appeared in Collins’ Illustrated Guide to London and Neighbourhood, 1873, of which I have a copy, once owned by Mr Alfred Westley.
Moving to the other side of the Henry VII Chapel, the area on the north side of the Abbey is all changed, and there is no enclosure. Storey’s Gate, ‘..named after Edward Storey, Keeper of the Kings Birds at the time of Pepys, was originally the gate at the eastern end of Birdcage Walk: the name is now applied to the street leading from the eastern end to Westminster Abbey, which was formerly called Prince’s Street..’.
The disappointment is that the area to the west of the Abbey changed dramatically in the mid 1800s. But did I really want to find ‘..the worst slums in London..’? Slum clearance began in 1845, and Victoria Street was driven through in 1850. Victoria Station was built in 1861. The Devil’s Acre and The Rookeries were cleared, the Peabody Estate was built, and the Tothill Fields Prison, also known the Bridewell Prison, was demolished to be replace by the Penitentiary near Vauxhall Bridge. A little further away a tranquil reminder of Abbey life – the sportsground of Westminster School in Vincent Square.