Victorian London - Districts - Streets - Barton Street and Great College Street

"I have seen, and I suppose almost everyone else has, the plans for the Victoria-embankment extension and the St. John's, Westminster, improvement scheme. But I confess it is only within the last two or three days that the shameful nature of the bill put by this latest committee of building promoters has been made clear to me. Who cares for Westminster, or who knows parish of St. John's' Who has penetrated into Cowley-st or Barton-st, or Great College-st? The cabman knows not this little corner, and therefore it does not exist. Why should it be spared? But some day--and some day soon—if you have time, pass through the great black archway in Victoria-st, in front of the towers of the Abbey. It will bring you, to your surprise, into a quiet green—quiet, that is, when the Westminster boys are not playing in it - the green of a cathedral town. Beautiful as it is and though you had no idea it was there, and had clever seen it before, and though there are endless adventures to be had by wandering up dark passages and through inviting doorways, follow the side-walk around to  the left, and at the bottom of the close — Dean's-yard it is called—you will come to a large gateway, carefully closed, and a small doorway beside it defended by iron posts, between which you can just squeeze. Before you pass through, however, look back, and you will see Wren's towers in all their beauty. Yes, beauty! They are not beautiful, the elect say. But still they are! The minute you have passed this black archway, you find yourself at the dividing of two streets. Turn to the left again. There is only one side-walk. Opposite the street is monopolised by the Abbey grooms and stables. You have left London. You are in the precincts of a cathedral town. There is the little sweet shop where the Westminster boys get their sweetstuff, and the little boot shop where their footballs are made. There are little bow-windows in the little houses. And there is not a sound to be heard. When you reach the next corner, with 'Barton Street' and the date decoratively let into the wall in a fashion which has been rendered obsolete since we have become artistic, you have another little vista of little houses, of little shops, of bow windows, all leading up to a great man- sion at the end. Looking down Great College-st., between the trees which hang over the Abbey wall and throw beautiful shadows on the softly- toned house-fronts, you note that these are all of the seventeenth or eighteenth century, that there is scarcely a modern brick in the street. Almost each door has its protecting hood, almost every house its protecting lamp with the never-absent extinguisher. There is nobody, or at most only a stray person in the street. The people who live there are busy people. They do not hang about the corners. They have something else to do: they are literary and artist fellows. Nobody cares what becomes of them. . . . If you go down Barton- st. you will find the same beautiful old houses, and so you will in Cowley-st., too, while North-street, which diverges from the middle of the latter, gives you a vista, so rarely to be had in London, looking towards the quaint St. John's, the over- turned foot-stool of the neighbourhood. But who, save a few artists and architects, know the churches, or, for that matter, Westminster? Although almost every house in every street might be decorated with one of the Society of Arts' plaques, if the society were conscious of its existence, it is pro- posed now to sweep away entirely this beautiful, this unobtrusive, this all but unknown quarter of London. And why? Simply to put money in the pockets of a lot of company promoters. It is true there are slums back of the quiet little streets. But the little streets themselves are monopolised by the coming and the waning professional man, and so are of no account. If you go into the houses you will discover that, with few exceptions, they are panelled, a few in oak, but more in pine; that they have fine old halls and charming fireplaces and quaint corner cupboards and capacious win dow seats; and that before these fires have sat, and out of these windows have looked some of the best- known poets and prose writers of the century."

Grant Richards, Memories of a Misspent Youth, 1932