Great Ormond Street, WC1N

Place Name

Today synonymous with the children’s hospital established here in 1852, it comes from James Butler (October 19, 1610 – July 21, 1688), 1st Duke of Ormonde, the Irish solider and statesman who led Royalist forces in the fight against the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Despite hailing from a long line of Catholics whose ancestry can be traced back to Edward I, Butler was raised a protestant, something that would inevitably set him at odds with his family. At 13 years old, following his father’s death at sea, his mother remarried and with his grandfather Walter Butler (known as Walter of the Beads on account of his devout Roman Catholicism) in jail after losing a litigation case against King James I, he was placed under the care of George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury. However, no sooner had his grandfather been released from jail than Abbot discharged himself of his duties and the teenager went to live with his relative on Drury Lane. At 18, he fell in love and married his second cousin Elizabeth Preston. His political career started in 1633, when Thomas Wentworth, the future Earl of Strafford put in a good word with the king, who was planning large-scale confiscations of Catholic land. In 1640 he was made Commander in Chief of forces in Ireland, and later, on account of his successes, the king’s viceroy in Ireland. When Charles I was executed, Butler pledged allegiance to his successor Charles II and in the 1650s lived in exile with him on the continent. At the restoration in 1660, Ormond became a major figure in English and Irish politics, with many titles and high government offices heaped upon him. He was appointed a commissioner for the treasury and the navy, made Lord Steward of the Household, a Privy Councillor, Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, High Steward of Westminster, Kingston and Bristol, chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, Baron Butler of Llanthony and Earl of Brecknock in the peerage of England; and on March 30, 1661 he was created Duke of Ormonde in the Irish peerage. He died shortly before this street was laid out during a period of rapid expansion in the capital. It was built on land owned by Rugby School by the unscrupulous physician and speculative property developer, Nicholas Barbon. It appears on John Rocque’s 1746 map between Queen Square and Red Lyon Street (today, Lamb’s Conduit Street). Its eastern continuation, developed slightly later between 1710 and 1720, to Millman Street was Little Ormond Street at first and later New Ormond Street before the two were amalgamated in the 1880s. It started as a very desirable address, with sizeable houses with long gardens backing onto open country, however Nikolaus Pevsner in The Buildings of England, says the houses were built to different standards and styles by different builders, and some had become unsafe by the mid-20thCentury.


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