10 Historic London Garden Squares…3. Soho Square…


Originally named King’s Square in honour of King Charles II, Soho Square was laid out on what had been known as Soho Fields as a residential square with a garden at its centre in the late 1670s – part of the general demand for homes that came about after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

A fashionable place to live when built, among the early mansions was Monmouth House, a grand mansion originally built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II who lost his head after leading a rebellion against King James II) and later used by the French ambassador before it was demolished in the 1770s. Two of the square’s original homes are located at numbers 10 and 15.

A number of trees and shrubs were recorded as being planted here including cherry, peach and almond trees as well as lilacs, jessamine and honeysuckle – it’s suggested these may have been chosen by botanist Sir Joseph Banks who lived at number 32 from 1777 until his death in 1820.

King-Charles-IIThe square, which was opened to the public in 1954, is today at the heart of the West-End district of Soho, once synonymous with late night entertainment including the sex industry but also home to a growing number of film and media-related organisations (for a look at the derivation of the name Soho, see our earlier post).

Indeed, a number of media companies are based in the square itself – British Movietone, which was produced the Movietone news, was located here at number 22 for years while current inhabitants include Twentieth Century Fox (located in a building at number 31-32 where the botanically minded Linnean Society once met).

Other buildings of note in the square include the French Protestant Church, built in 1891-93 and located at numbers eight and nine and St Patrick’s Church, located at on the corner of Soho Square and Sutton Row. While a chapel was first consecrated here in 1792, the current building dates from the 1890s (reopened in 2011 after a £3.5 million restoration) and has catacombs which spread a considerable distance under the square. In a nod to less savoury aspects of the square’s past, the White House Brothel was also located here – at number 21 – in the late 18th century (the building is now known as Manor House).

The oldest statue in the square is that of Caius Gabriel Cibber’s King Charles II which dates from 1681 (pictured right) – a reminder of the square’s past name.  Originally part of a larger monument containing a fountain, it was removed in 1875 to make way for the distinctive half-timbered Tudor-style hut (pictured above) used by gardeners which, having been rebuilt in the 1930s, currently sits at the square’s centre and only returned to the gardens in 1938. There’s also a bench in the square which commemorates the late singer Kirsty MacColl, writer of the song Soho Square.

For more on London’s squares, see Gary Powell’s Square London.

Lost London – King Edward III’s Thames-side manor house…

The remains of one of the lesser known former royal residences in London, King Edward III’s manor house, sit amid a grassy park on the south bank of the Thames at the corner of Bermondsey Wall East and Cathay Street in Rotherhithe.

Believed to have been built in about 1350 during the reign of the king (1312-1377), the 14th century property – which consisted of stone buildings arranged around two courtyards – was originally built on what was then an island surrounded by marshes.

The premises was surrounded on three sides by a moat – the fourth side opened directly to the river, allowing the king to travel to the property by boat.

Among the buildings in the complex were a hall with a fireplace as well as private chambers for the king and utility spaces like kitchens (pictured below is a reconstruction of the property as depicted on an information plaque located at the site).

The function of the building remains somewhat a mystery – with no nearby royal parks it is unlikely it was a conventional hunting lodge although documentary evidence does point to falcons being house there so perhaps it was a place where the king hunted with falcons.

As the Thames riverbank was pushed northward over the following centuries, the residence became completely surrounded by a moat. It was eventually sold into private hands.

The site was apparently used as a pottery in the 17th century and warehouses occupied it in the 18th and 19th centuries (in fact a 14th century wall was incorporated into one of these and was still standing in 1907).

The warehouses were demolished in the 1970s and the remains of the palace confirmed on the site during an excavation by English Heritage 1985 (they also found a lot of Delftware on the site apparently related to its days as a pottery).