Gerrard Street, W1D


The heart of today’s Chinatown was in the early 17thCentury a walled exercise ground for enthusiastic amateur soldiers. The site was acquired on lease from the Crown by Baron Gerard of Brandon, hence the name, who started building these streets, including a fine house for himself, the eponymously named Gerard House, at numbers 34 and 35. Dan Cruickshank in his book Soho says: “The Military Company of Westminster founded in 1615, which exercised here was modelled on the Artillery Company based at Spitalfields and which now exists as the Honourable Artillery Company. By the mid 1650s the Westminster Company was in debt and by the early 1660s in negiotiation with a former Royalist officer, Baron Gerard of Brandon, Suffolk, who wanted to acquire the two acres of ground for building. Gerard’s dealings were long and complex: the freehold of the ground was owned by the Crown and at one point Charles II had an interest in it. By 1676 Gerard obtained not a lease but a grant of the freehold of the ground and the following year leased it to the ever-voracious speculative builder Dr Nicholas Barbon.” Barbon and his partner John Rowley soon let building plots to various tradesmen and the area started being built up. When it was first laid out in the mid-1670s the street was called Gerard Street and it ran roughly east-west across the centre of the ground. Things ran smoothly up until late 1685 when Gerard was outlawed for his part in the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion against James II. Gerard fled the country and his property was seized by the crown. Barbon however was allowed to continue building, while Gerard’s son, Lord Brandon, was later able to claim back some of his father’s estates from James II despite his own involvement in the 1683 Rye House Plot to kill King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York. Gerard returned to London in 1688 and as a member of the bodyguard of the future William III, rose rapidly in royal favour. However the wheel of fortune turned once again. Gerard died in 1694 and his son – heirless – in 1701. In 1728 John Jeffreys bought the freehold of the estate, and most of its houses were rebuilt. Macclesfield Street was named in honour of the fact that Gerard was created the Earl of Macclesfield in 1679. The form Gerrard came into use during the 19thCentury.




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