King Street, SW1A

King Street ran parallel to a more modern street – Parliament Street – the southern end of Whitehall at Parliament Square

At the north end of the street was the Cockpit Gate. This was at the corner of what is now Downing Street and what was then the southern side of Whitehall Palace. It had four domed towers; on the south side were pilasters and an entablature enriched with the double rose, the portcullis, and the royal arms. At the south end of King Street was the High Gate, which is shown in one of Hollar’s etchings. The latter, which was taken down in 1723, was occupied at one time by the Earl of Rochester. Part of the land in King Street was conveyed by the Abbot of Westminster to Henry VIII when the king was enlarging Whitehall. In a side street – Gardener’s Lane – Hollar died in 1677.

King Charles I travelled down King Street on the way from Whitehall Palace to his trial at Westminster. He went back by the same route as a condemned man.

Oliver Cromwell gave his mother a suite of apartments in King Street where she lived until her death in 1654. She was devoted to her son, and lived in constant fear of hearing of his assassination. It was written in Ludlow’s Memoirs that she was quite unhappy if she did not see him twice a day, and never heard the report of a gun without calling out, “My son is shot.” The house occupied by Mrs Cromwell stood a little to the north of Blue Boar’s Head Yard, on the west side of the street.

Dudley, the second Lord North, had a house in this street about 1646, notable as being the first brick-built house on it.

Owing to its narrowness and the crowded courts by which it was hemmed in on either side, King Street was among the first parts of Westminster to suffer from the plague in 1665. On its appearance so close to the gates of the royal palace, Charles II left Whitehall for Oxford.

King Street was originally dangerously narrow. Pepys noted on 27 November 1660: “To Westminster Hall; and in King Street there being a great stop of coaches, there was a falling out between a drayman and my Lord of Chesterfield’s coachman, and one of his footmen killed.”

King Street was at one time noted for its coffee houses as Izaak Walton noted in “The Compleat Angler” (1676).

The southern end of King Street with “The Mitre And Dove” public house

At an inn in the street – the Bell Tavern – the October Club met. The club, which consisted of about 150 members, derived its name from being composed of High Church Tory country gentlemen, who when at home drank October ale. The large room in which the club assembled was adorned with a portrait of Queen Anne. After the break-up of the club, the picture was purchased by the corporation of the city of Salisbury, in whose council-chamber it may still be seen. Even in the mid-17th century the Bell tavern was regarded as an ancient establishment. The first known mention of the tavern occurs in 1465.

John Timbs states in his Curiosities of London: “near the southern end of King Street, on the west side, was Thieven (Thieves) Lane, so called as being the regular passage along which thieves were led to the Gate House prison, so that they might not escape into the Sanctuary and escape the law.”

After the burning down of Whitehall Palace, it was decided to make a broader street to the Abbey, and in course of time Parliament Street was formed. King Street remained at this time though its length was considerably curtailed at the northern end by the later erection of the India and Foreign Offices.

In the nineteenth century, nearby at no.20 Duke Street, were the offices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Dr Bray’s Institution for Founding Libraries, the Colonial Bishoprics’ Fund, the Ladies’ Association for Promoting Female Education in India.

The Treasury Main Building was designed by John Brydon following a competition. Construction took place in two phases. The West end was completed in 1908 and the East end was completed in 1917. HM Treasury moved into the building in 1940 but its construction obliterated all traces of King Street.

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