Abbey Orchard Street, SW1P

Place Name

Literal. After a former orchard supplying fruit to the attached St Peter’s Abbey – today better known as Westminster Abbey – from medieval times. The area was built up in the second half of the 17thCentury following the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is suggested that this may have been laid out along an existing path which Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names says was “trodden out by the Abbey’s local peasant tenants on their way to labour in the orchard.” It is said that shortly after Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1558, she sent for the abbot John Feckenham, known for his saintliness, to offer him the archbishopric of Canterbury and let the abbot and his monks stay at Westminster if they conformed to the Church of England. On arriving at the abbey the messenger sent to summon him found him in the orchard planting elm trees. Ignoring the messenger’s entreaties the abbot finished his task before heading to greet the monarch. The story has little basis in fact, for as it is pointed out that elms are not grown in orchards. As for the abbot, according to Thomas Fuller in his History of the University of Cambridge the new abbot “like the Axiltree stood firme and fixed in his own judgement, whilst the times like the wheels turned backwards and forwards round about him.” And although he sat in Elizabeth’s first parliament, and was the last mitred abbot to do so. He consistently opposed all the legislation for changes in religion, and he refused the Oath of Supremacy. He spent most of the rest of his life in prison.

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