The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 9 Squares

Soho Square

Previous - Next

Soho Square was another of the fashionable squares of London, now gloomy and deserted by its former aristocratic residents. The gardens are kept up for the benefit of those living in the Square only, and are not enjoyed by the masses, like Leicester Square. Maitland describes the building and consecration of St. Anne's, Soho, or, as he calls it, St. Anne's, Westminster, which was in 1685 separated from St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and a new parish created, just in the same way as scores of parishes have to be treated nowadays, to meet the needs of the much more rapidly-growing population. Of the new parish, he says the only remarkable things were "its beautiful streets, spacious and handsome Church, and stately Quadrate, denominated King's-Square, but vulgarly Soho-Square." Various suggestions have been made as to the origin of the name, and the most popular explanation is that it was a hunting-cry used in hunting hares, which sport was indulged in over these fields. The word Soho occurs in the parish registers as early as 1632. When first built the Square was called King Square, from Geoffrey King, who surveyed it, not after King Charles II. But the old name of the fields became for ever attached to the Square, to the entire exclusion of the more modern one, after the battle of Sedgemoor. Monmouth's supporters on that occasion took the word Soho for their watchword, from the fact that Monmouth lived in the Square. In 1690 John Evelyn notes that he went with his family "to winter at Soho in the Great Square." Monmouth House was built by Wren, when the Square was begun in 1681, and it was pulled down, to make room for smaller houses on the south side of the Square, in 1773. There are some fine old trees in the garden, and a statue of Charles II. used, till the middle of last century, like the one in St. James's Square, to stand in a basin of water, with figures round it, emblematic of the rivers Thames, Severn, Tyne, and Humber, spouting water. Nollekens, the sculptor, who was born in 28 Dean Street, Soho, in 1738, recalled how he stood as a boy "for hours together to see the water run out of the jug of the old river-gods in the basin in the middle of the Square, but the water never would run out of their jugs but when the windmill was going round at the top of Rathbone Place." The centre of the Square was in 1748 "new made and inclosed with iron railings on a stone kirb," and "eight lamp Irons 3 ft. 6 in. high above the spikes in each of the Eight corner Angles": the "Channell all round the Square" was paved with "good new Kentish Ragg stones."