Above: Map of Westminster shaded to show the approximate times at which the land was first laid out with streets and squares.
The history of many of England’s ancient cities (like Canterbury, Lincoln and also the City of London) is often very similar. Their origins lie with the Romans who established a settlement, often adding a surrounding wall. From those early times, the whole of the city area was constantly being redeveloped – first by the Saxons and then throughout the following centuries until the present day. The history of the City of Westminster does not follow that pattern. There was no Roman settlement at Westminster, apart from a few Roman roads that crossed the land. Its earliest settlement was in Saxon times and that was around the road we now called the Strand – both on the south side and to the north.
Whether the Saxon development influenced any of the buildings that appeared in Norman times is not clear. The above map is an attempt to show when the land was developed. In general terms, it should be assumed that, apart from a few exceptions, the land was just open fields before the dates stated. Putting the map into words, a few areas will be described.
Pre-1600 • The only developed land was around Westminster Abbey, along what is now a street called Whitehall and land on the south side of the Strand (between Strand and the River Thames).
1600-60 • During this time land on the north side of the Strand was laid out with large houses and streets, including Covent Garden.
1660-1710 • This was a time when the land that is now Leicester Square was developed, including parts of what is now called Soho. Further west the land in the St James’s area was being laid out with streets and St James’s Square. To the south of Westminster Abbey, land like Smith Square was also developed.
1710-50 • This was when the remaining parts of Soho were developed. All the land now known as Mayfair was laid out with streets and squares.
1750-1815 • Land north of Oxford Street was developed which extended north to what is now called Regent’s park. Further south, all the southern part of Westminster – now known as Pimlico and Belgravia – was laid out.
1815-55 • Additional parts of Belgravia were developed. North of Hyde Park most of the land now known as Paddington was developed.
1855-1900 • the NW part of Westminster was finally developed.
It will be realised this map sets the context for the laying out of Soho, Mayfair and Knightsbridge which make up this year’s area of study called ‘Piccadilly’.