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Westminster in 1731: Part 1
Posted on Sep 13, 2006 - 06:02 PM by Bill McCann

"London in 1731" is a wonderful guide book to the city which was penned sometime in the early 18th century and subsequently brought up to date. The author is supposed to be a Portuguese merchant named Don Manoel Gonzales but the internal evidence demonstrates that this is almost certainly a nom de plume. It is more likely that our author was an accomplished native of London. The guide was edited by Professor Henry Morley and published by Cassell as part of their wonderful little National Library series in 1888. Here is his description of Westminster. In part 1 we visit St James' Park and learn the origin of the notorious Sanctuary.



The city of Westminster, the western part of the town, comes next under consideration which received its name from the abbey or minster situated to the westward of London. This city, if we comprehend the district or liberties belonging to it, lies along the banks of the Thames in the form of a bow or crescent, extending from Temple Bar in the east to Millbank in the south-west; the inside of this bow being about a mile and a half in length, and the outside two miles and a half at least; the breadth, one place with another, from the Thames to the fields on the north-west side of the town, about a mile; and I am apt to think a square of two miles in length and one in breadth would contain all the buildings within the liberty of Westminster. That part of the town which is properly called the city of Westminster contains no more than St. Margaret's and St. John's parishes, which form a triangle, one side whereof extends from Whitehall to Peterborough House on Millbank; another side reaches from Peterborough House to Stafford House, or Tart Hall, at the west end of the park; and the third side extends from Stafford house to Whitehall; the circumference of the whole being about two miles. This spot of ground, it is said, was anciently an island, a branch of the Thames running through the park from west to east, and falling into the main river again about Whitehall, which island was originally called Thorney Island, from the woods and bushes that covered it; the abbey or minster also was at first called Thorney Abbey or minster, from the island on which it stood.

St. James's Park is something more than a mile in circumference, and the form pretty near oval; about the middle of it runs a canal 2,800 feet in length and 100 in breadth, and near it are several other waters, which form an island that has good cover for the breeding and harbouring wild ducks and other water-fowl; on the island also is a pretty house and garden, scarce visible to the company in the park. On the north side are several fine walks of elms and limes half a mile in length, of which the Mall is one. The palace of St. James's, Marlborough House, and the fine buildings in the street called Pall Mall, adorn this side of the park. At the east end is a view of the Admiralty, a magnificent edifice, lately built with brick and stone; the Horse Guards, the Banqueting House, the most elegant fabric in the kingdom, with the Treasury and the fine buildings about the Cockpit; and between these and the end of the grand canal is a spacious parade, where the horse and foot guards rendezvous every morning before they mount their respective guards.

On the south side of the park run shady walks of trees from east to west, parallel almost to the canal, and walks on the north; adjoining to which are the sumptuous houses in Queen Street, Queen Square, &c., inhabited by people of quality: and the west end of the park is adorned with the Duke of Buckingham's beautiful seat. But what renders St. James's Park one of the most delightful scenes in Nature is the variety of living objects which is met with here; for besides the deer and wild fowl, common to other parks, besides the water, fine walks, and the elegant buildings that surround it, hither the politest part of the British nation of both sexes frequently resort in the spring to take the benefit of the evening air, and enjoy the most agreeable conversation imaginable; and those who have a taste for martial music, and the shining equipage of the soldiery, will find their eyes and ears agreeably entertained by the horse and foot guards every morning.

The Sanctuary, or the abbey-yard, is a large open square, between King Street and the Gate-house, north-west of the abbey, and was called the Sanctuary, because any person who came within these limits was entitled to the privilege of sanctuary--that is, he was not liable to be apprehended by any officers of justice.

This privilege, it is said, was first granted to the abbey by Sebert, king of the East Saxons, increased by King Edgar, and confirmed by Edward the Confessor, by the following charter:-

"Edward, by the grace of God, king of Englishmen; I make it to be known to all generations of the world after me, that, by special commandment of our holy father Pope Leo, I have renewed and honoured the holy church of the blessed apostle St. Peter of Westminster; and I order and establish for ever, that what person, of what condition or estate soever he be, from whencesoever he come, or for what offence or cause it be, either for his refuge in the said holy place, he is assured of his life, liberty, and limbs: and over this, I forbid, under pain of everlasting damnation, that no minister of mine, or any of my successors, intermeddle with any of the goods, lands, and possessions of the said persons taking the said sanctuary: for I have taken their goods and livelode into my special protection. And therefore I grant to every, each of them, in as much as my terrestrial power may suffice, all manner of freedom of joyous liberty. And whosoever presumes, or doth contrary to this my grant, I will he lose his name, worship, dignity, and power; and that with the great traitor Judas that betrayed our Saviour, he be in the everlasting fire of hell. And I will and ordain, that this my grant endure as long as there remaineth in England either love or dread of Christian name."

This privilege of sanctuary, as far as it related to traitors, murderers, and felons, was in a great measure abolished by a statute of the 32nd Henry VIII.: and in the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, every debtor who fled to sanctuary, to shelter himself from his creditors, was obliged to take an oath of the following tenor, viz.:- That he did not claim the privilege of sanctuary to defraud any one of his goods, debts, or money, but only for the security of his person until he should be able to pay his creditors.

  • Parliament rolls beginning anno 5 of Edward II. and ending with the reign of Edward IV.
  • That he would give in a true particular of his debts and credits.
  • That he would endeavour to pay his debts as soon as possible.
  • That he would be present at the abbey at morning and evening prayer.
  • That he would demean himself honestly and quietly, avoid suspected houses, unlawful games, banqueting, and riotous company.
  • That he would wear no weapon, or be out of his lodging before sunrise or after sunset, nor depart out of the precinct of the sanctuary without the leave of the dean, or archdeacon in his absence.
  • That he would be obedient to the dean and the officers of the house.
  • And lastly, that if he should break his oath in any particular, he should not claim the privilege of sanctuary.
  • And if any creditor could make it appear that he had any money, goods, or chattels that were not contained in the particular given in to the dean and the church, the sanctuary man was to be imprisoned till he came to an agreement with his creditors.
  • That he would give in a true particular of his debts and credits.
  • That he would endeavour to pay his debts as soon as possible.

  • That he would be present at the abbey at morning and evening prayer.

  • That he would demean himself honestly and quietly, avoid suspected houses, unlawful games, banqueting, and riotous company.

  • That he would wear no weapon, or be out of his lodging before sunrise or after sunset, nor depart out of the precinct of the sanctuary without the leave of the dean, or archdeacon in his absence.

  • That he would be obedient to the dean and the officers of the house.

  • And lastly, that if he should break his oath in any particular, he should not claim the privilege of sanctuary.

  • And if any creditor could make it appear that he had any money, goods, or chattels that were not contained in the particular given in to the dean and the church, the sanctuary man was to be imprisoned till he came to an agreement with his creditors.


 

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