James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick (August 21, 1670 – June 12, 1734) was an English nobleman, leading military commander in the pay of Louis XIV of France and illegitimate son of King James II. Brought up in France as a Roman Catholic, he returned to England in about 1687, coincidently the year work on this street got under way, where he had a brief stint as the governor of Portsmouth. A year later the king was exiled and FitzJames accompanied his father to Ireland and later the continent, where he joined in fighting to have him restored. In 1693 he accepted a commission as lieutenant general in the French army. His service in the Spanish wars for succession between 1701 – 1714 would ultimately earn him the title Marshal of France. In choosing its name the street’s builder James Pollett, a Roman Catholic, was seemingly stating his allegiance to the Catholic-friendly court of his king and patron. Pollett, a cook turned speculative builder, was among a consortium of builders who in 1685 acquired leases on parts of land owned by Sir Edward Wardour. Dan Cruickshank in his book Soho says: “As a catholic he had suffered the loss of certain rights and civil liberties, but the brief reign of James II offered him unprecedented business opportunities. In 1685 he started building in Edward Street, running west off Wardour Street – no doubt named in honour of Edward Wardour. But it was Berwick Street that was to be Pollett’s greatest achievement. It was planned as a fine and noble street, the houses at the centre of its east side being given arcaded ground floors in order to form one edge of a spacious and architecturally impressive marketplace, as at Covent Garden Piazza. Unlike most of his contemporary speculators Pollett was thinking big and was intent on giving the part of Soho a significant urban ornament that could also be a money-spinner. In 1687 he obtained from the king the rights to the hay market then held in nearby Haymarket Street, and the following year obtained a second royal grant allowing him to transfer the hay market to his leasehold in Soho, which would be ‘fitt to receive the…Carts, wagons or Waines of hay and straw and for the keeping of the said market.’ This gave Pollett a valuable monopoly and he wasted not a moment. He managed to get the south portion of Berwick Street under way the year he received the first royal grant, and by the choice of name made his allegiance most clear.” However, as Cruickshank goes on, “Pollett had made a big mistake. With the accession of the Protestant William and Mary he found himself persecuted for being a ‘professed papist’, and in 1690 both market grants from James II were cancelled. This, predictably, led to the collapse of the Berwick Street hay market.” The street was extended north in 1707, its original houses were rebuilt from 1731 – 1741 by which time the estate was in the hands of the Duke and Duchess of Portland. Before its development this had been a field called Colman Hedge Close, likely to have been owned by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, until 1455, when it was sold into private ownership.
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