Wondering which ‘great’ Queen this street name is referring to? Perhaps Queen Victoria, our own Queen Elizabeth or even her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I?
None of the above – the West End thoroughfare which runs between Drury Lane and Kingsway, is named for Queen Anne (of Denmark), consort of King James I (and the ‘great’ in Great Queen Street, we imagine, refers to the size of the thoroughfare and not the ‘greatness’ of the Queen).
Originally a residential street dating from the first half of the 17th century (one of which apparently sported a statue of another queen, Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, on its facade), the houses were gradually replaced over the years but some early 18th century abodes do remain.
Famous residents include everyone from Civil War Parliamentarian General Thomas Fairfax and 18th century composer Thomas Arne to late 17th and early 18th century portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller and James Boswell, biographer of Samuel Johnson.
Freemason’s Hall, home of the United Grand Lodge of England, is located on the corner with Wild Street and the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms next door stand on the site of the former Freemasons Tavern where, in 1863, the Football Association was founded.
PICTURE: View down Great Queen Street with the edifice of Freemason’s Hall on the right. (Google Street View)
Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?
It was the Stuart king Charles II who first starting using the road’s course as part of his route to Hampton Court which meant it was closed to the public.
Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.
King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.
The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.
The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.
Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.
PICTURE: Secret Pilgrim/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0