The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 3 Westminster

Broad Sanctuary

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The short thoroughfare leading from Parliament Square to the south west (leaving Great George St., on the right), is known as BROAD SANCTUARY, a name recalling the sanctuary or precinct to the north and west of Westminster Abbey, in which refugees were protected from the civil power by the sacred character of the Abbey. The gatehouse and prison, in which Richard Lovelace (died 1658) composed 'To Althea from Prison,' stood at the beginning of Tothill St., and near it was the Almonry, where the monastic alms were distributed, William Caxton (died 1491), the first English printer, had his printing-press at a house known as the 'Red Pale' in the Almonry. Edward V. was born in the Sanctuary in 1470, and his mother, widow of Edward IV., and his younger brother again sought safety here in 1483. Skelton, Harrington, and many others found the protection of the place convenient; but the privilege of sanctuary gradually came to be abused, Queen Elizabeth restricted it to the case of debtors, and it was finally abolished by James I. In this street, on the right, is the Middlesex Guildhall, or Sessions House, the legal tribunal for Middlesex (excluding the County of London). The present building (1906-13), by J. south Gibson, is in an elegant and ornamental Gothic style, and is profusely decorated with carved allegorical figures, heraldic symbols, etc., by H. C. Fehr. It occupies the site of the ancient sanctuary tower, pulled down in 1776. Westminster Hospital, adjoining, was founded in 1719 and opened on its present site in 1834. Immediately behind, in Princes St., is H.M. Stationery Office. At the corner of Tothill Street, which leads to St. James's Park Station, rises the large Wesleyan Central Hall, with a dome, the headquarters of the Wesleyan Methodist Church (admission free). Popular concerts take place on Saturday at 7 p.m. and free organ recitals on Wednesday at 1 p.m. from September to May. No. 25 Tothill Street is the headquarters and bookshop of the Fabian Society, a Socialist body founded in 1884. In The Sanctuary, near the west end of the Abbey, rises the Westminster Column, a Gothic memorial of red granite, by Sir Gilbert Scott, erected in 1881 in memory of Old Westminsters who fell in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny (1854-68). The statues represent Edward the Confessor and Henry III. (builders of Westminster Abbey), Queen Elizabeth (second founder of Westminster School), and Queen Victoria. It is surmounted by St. George and the Dragon. Close by, near the Dean's Yard archway, is the Vicar General's Office for marriage licences, removed from Doctors' Commons in 1924.