• Westminster
  • Westmestre

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from London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions, by Henry Benjamin Wheatley and Peter Cunningham (1891)

Westminster, a city, constituted by royal charter and by many public privileges, but since swallowed up in the general vortex of modern London. It extends as far as Kensington and Chelsea westward, to the City of London boundary (Temple Bar) eastward, to the Thames southward, and to Marylebone northward. It therefore embraces the whole of St. Paul's, Covent Garden; St. Clement's Danes; St. Mary-le-Strand; the precinct of the Savoy; St. Martin's-in-the-Fields; St. James's, Westminster; St. George's, Hanover Square; St. Margaret's, and St. John the Evangelist. Here was a Benedictine monastery (Westminster Abbey), from which it derives its name, and here the Kings and Queens of England, from Edward the Confessor to Queen Elizabeth, had their principal palace (Westminster Palace).

Thorney may be defined as an island lying off the coast of Middlesex in the estuary of the Thames. It was very scientifically described for us about half a century ago by William Bardwell of Park Street, Westminster, one of the architects of the "Westminster Improvement Company." He says it is about 470 yards long and 370 yards wide, and is washed on the east side by the Thames, on the south by a rivulet running down College Street, on the north by another stream which flows or flowed through Gardener's Lane, the two being joined by the "Long Ditch" which formed a western boundary, as nearly as possible where Prince's Street is now. Within the narrow limits thus described stand both the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and other familiar buildings.—Loftie's Westminster Abbey (Portfolio, 1889, p. 21).
Three hundred years before Domesday Book (1086) the extent of the rural manor of Westminster was mentioned in a Charter of Offa King of Mercia dated 785. ... In the 6 Henry III. (1222) a decree of Cardinal Archbishop Langton and certain Bishops and Priors, who appear to have sat in arbitration on some difference which had arisen on the question, curtails from the east side of the parish all the precinct of the Savoy, the entire area of St. Mary le Strand and St. Clement Danes, and ... parts of St. Giles and St. Andrew Holborn ... St. Margaret Westminster as thus left comprised the present parishes of St. Paul Covent Garden, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. James Piccadilly, St. Anne Soho, St. George Hanover Square and St. John the Evangelist, Westminster, and as if in compensation for the detachment of the east side, three manors were added to the parish on the west and north-west. Paddington had also been confirmed as an appendage of Westminster by Stephen (1135) and Henry II. (1154). By a charter of 17 Richard II. (1393) the parishes of St. Mary le Strand and St. Clement Danes, together with that of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, then newly formed, were declared to be possessed by the Abbot as part of the manor of Westminster. Further changes were also made by Letters Patent in the reigns of Henry VIII. (1534) and James I. (1604).—Report of the Vestry of the United Parish of St. Margaret and St. John the Evangelist, 1889, pp. 3, 4.

Though a city Westminster has no municipality, but is governed by a High Steward, elected by the Dean of the collegiate church of St. Peter's, Westminster (Westminster Abbey), and by a High Bailiff, also elected by the Dean, and by sixteen burgesses and the like number of assistants. Henry VIII. made it the seat of a bishop, who was called the Bishop of Westminster, but only one person received that distinction, Thomas Thurleby, or Thirlby, afterwards Bishop of Ely. Westminster returned two members to Parliament since the time of Henry VIII. until the Reform Act of 1885, and was long almost a nomination borough of the Court, but for nearly a century was notorious for generally returning radical members to Parliament after contests so severe that the Westminster elections of Mr. Fox and Sir Francis Burdett are points of importance in the history of the British Constitution.1

By the last Reform Act it was divided into St. George's, Hanover Square, Strand, and Westminster, each division returning one member. From being the seat of the Courts of Law the name of Westminster became at an early date synonymous with the law itself.

Not much unlyke the bargayne that I herd of late shoulde be betwixt two fryndes for a horse. ... Thus thys bargayne became a Westminster matter: the lawyers gote twyse the valewe of the horse.—Bp. Latimer's First Sermon, p. 28.

The very valuable report of the Vestry already quoted from in this article contains notes on local government in Westminster from pre-Reformation times to the present day. The compiler (Mr. John Edward Smith, Vestry Clerk) writes, "Several Charters, each under the Great Seal of the Monarch of the time, the earliest dates from 1256 (40 Henry III.), have been brought to light during the past five years. The parish muniment room at the Town Hall also contains thousands of manuscript books and records of parochial affairs from the year 1464 (3 Edward IV.) to the present day, in addition to the Vestry Minutes dating from 1585."

1 Some curious particulars concerning early Westminster Elections will be found in the correspondence of Secretary Vernon, vol. ii. pp. 135–137, and vol. iii. p. 159. Vernon (who sat for Westminster), speaking of the opposition of Sir Harry Colt, observes—"We had a mighty appearance against him in the field, both of horse and foot, who run down his men at a strange rate, and cudgelled him into ditches full of water, and yet we say they were the aggressors." The poll was taken in Covent Garden Church porch for the first time in November 1701. The election generally lasted forty days.

from A Topographical Dictionary of London and Its Environs, by James Elmes (1831)

Westminster, the City of, is the western portion of the British metropolis and derives its name from its abbey or minster, being situated to the westward of the city of London, and also to distinguish it from the Abbey of Grace on Tower-hill, called Eastminster. It was called by this name as early as 1066, in a charter of sanctuary granted by Edward the Confessor. Westminster owes its best privileges to Henry VIII., who erected it into a bishoprick, and conferred several other honourable distinctions upon it.

The City of Westminster consists of two parishes, namely, St. Margaret's and St. John the Evangelist; and its Liberties of seven, namely, those of St. Martin in the Fields, St. James, St. Anne, Soho, St. Paul, Covent Garden, St. Mary-le-Strand, St. Clement's Danes, St. George, Hanover-square, and the Precinct of the Savoy.

The government of Westminster is under that of the Very Rev. John Ireland, D.D. Dean of Westminster; Viscount Sidmouth, High Steward; Edward Robson, Esq., Deputy Steward; Arthur Morris, Esq., High Bailiff; Francis Smedley, Esq., Deputy Bailiff; fifteen Burgesses; and fourteen Assistants for the several parishes; John Robson, Esq., Town Clerk; William Lee, High Constable; William Wilson, Court Keeper; Griffith Rowland, Crier and Mace Keeper; Samuel Farley, Sealer of Weights and Measures; H. Reynell, Printer to the Court.

Publications associated with this place

  • Proposals humbly offer'd to the consideration of this present Parliament. Being a soft and easie way for the raising of money, in order to the perpetual maintaining and defending of this kingdom. Licensed, and entered according to order, 1689. [London: printed for W. Pardoe, in Westminster, 1689]. ESTC No. R219579. Grub Street ID 94093.
  • A true and exact copy of Mr. Robert K-----t's letter to the S--s-- D----rs. Dated Sunday January the 22d, 1720. [London]: printed for Jo Pope, at Westminster, [1720?]. ESTC No. N52766. Grub Street ID 36756.
  • The form of the proceeding to the royal coronation of their Majesties King George II. and Queen Caroline, ... on Wednesday the 11th of this instant October, 1727. [London]: Printed by John Stagg, bookseller in Westminster, 1727. ESTC No. T10414. Grub Street ID 157695.
  • Gentleman of the law.. The case of Mary Edmondson. By a Gentleman of the Law. [Westminster]: printed for A. Touchit, in Westminster, MDCCLIX. [1759]. ESTC No. T20073. Grub Street ID 232289.
  • Humfrey, John. The association for K. William, or, an entire loyalty to His present Majesty, by satisfaction given to the Jacobites, in regard to their most conscientious scruple, and scandal taken, promoted. London: printed for John Littleton, in Westminster, 1696. ESTC No. R178381. Grub Street ID 70116.