Wednesday 3 January 2024

St Martin's Round House, St Martins Lane.

Post under construction.

 St Martin's Round House, on The West Side of St Martin's Lane.

In 1697–8 the parish authorities obtained from the Crown a grant  of a small piece of ground, part of the Kings Mews fronting St Martin's Lane which had previously been used for the storage of coals, on which to build a parish watch house or round house. The ground was only 16 feet by 17 feet in extent and the building must have been very small. 

It was the scene of a horrible incident in July, 1742, when the parish constables having got drunk took up some five and twenty women and thrust them into the round house for the night. According to one account six of the women were stifled to death. For details see below.

The Engraving by Henry Fletcher (1710 -1750).

July 1742.

For Henry Fletcher and Furber's Twelve Months of the Year of 1732 see -

For his Furber's fruits engraved by Sam Smith  see -

For Fletcher's Rococo engravings probably the earliest engraved in England - Sixty Different Sorts of Ornaments invented by Gaetano Brunetti, Italian painter, very useful to painters, sculptors, stone-carvers, wood-carvers, silversmiths etc. - [London]: June ye 25. 1736.


The roundhouse was on St Martin’s Lane just south of Duke’s Court and opposite the parish church. It was made up of three floors, and a set of stocks, capped by an ornate wooden carving depicting one man flogging another, stood in the street outside. 

The lower ground floor contained two cells, one each for men and women. The women’s cell, or hole, was ‘about six Foot six Inches in Length, six Foot three or four Inches in Breadth’.

In 1742 a tragedy helped expose the failings of both the parishes and the magistrates who oversaw them, prompting a direct response from plebeian London.

 The paragraphs below have been copied or adapted from -

William Bird, keeper of St Martin in the Fields roundhouse, whom the vestry had unsuccessfully attempted to dismiss for his failure to collect the watch rate in 1740, continued in place. While he was not ‘properly a constable’, he was ‘deemed the officer’ responsible for the roundhouse by other parish employees.

On the evening of 15 July 1742, Bird, as usual, was sitting at a long table next to the constable of the night, overseeing the work of the parish’s forty-three watchmen.

On this particular hot Thursday, the roundhouse also hosted the constables of St Paul Covent Garden and the High Constable of Westminster, Booker Holden .

They were there to check in before setting out on a ‘midnight reformation’, which had been authorised by a warrant signed by Justices Thomas De Veil and John Bromfield to arrest ‘vagabonds, pickpockets, and other dissolute and disorderly persons’.


Holden and his assistants targeted a range of houses and streets. Sarah Bland and Mary Maurice were picked up in the street ‘just by the round-house’. Elizabeth Amey , a prostitute who had previously worked at a notorious brothel, The Rose in Oxenden Street just west of Leicester Fields, was arrested in a cook shop.

 Ann Norton was ‘taken out of … Bed from my Husband and carried to the Watchhouse’.In total, twenty-six women and nine men were arrested that evening.


The roundhouse was on St Martin’s Lane just south of Duke’s Court and opposite the parish church.88 It was made up of three floors, and a set of stocks, capped by an ornate wooden carving depicting one man flogging another, stood in the street outside.89 The lower ground floor contained two cells, one each for men and women. The women’s cell, or hole, was ‘about six Foot six Inches in Length, six Foot three or four Inches in Breadth’.90


By one o’clock in the morning, with almost twenty people in the women’s cell, the heat was intense, and the drunken camaraderie which had earlier greeted the women as they came down the stairs was gradually transformed into desperation. Stripped down to their shifts or completely naked, they began to struggle for breath, while their clothes became soaked in sweat. Mary Cosier later testified that her handkerchief was as ‘stiff as Buckram, with Sweat from the Heat of the Place’.91 They beat on the low ceiling of the cell with their shoes trying to attract attention and cried out that one of them was in labour and needed relief. But mainly they cried out for water: ‘for Christ’s Sake let us have Water; for the Lord’s Sake a little Water’.92 The next morning, when the cell door was opened William Anderson found the place ‘very nauseous, and the smell so strong, that I thought it would have struck me down’.93 At least four people lay dead or dying.


De Veil, who had signed off on the original warrant, was also responsible for examining the survivors, and gradually realising the seriousness of the situation, he dismissed all the prisoners.94 However, by the evening a crowd began to gather in St Martin’s Lane. Stones and bricks were thrown at the house and by midnight a riot was in full progress. It took Justice James Frazier at least two hours to restore order.95


The situation for De Veil, the most prominent signatory of the warrant, was a delicate one, and he was ‘greatly scared’ by the likely popular reaction to the disaster. A coroner’s inquest convened the following day brought in a verdict of wilful murder against William Bird for the suffocation of Mary Maurice and three others.97 De Veil attempted to deflect public outrage away from himself and the select vestries by publishing his own version of events early the next week. In his account, Booker Holden was named as the moving spirit behind the warrant, and De Veil went on to blame the constables (all appointees of the Court of Burgesses) for having ‘greatly misbehaved’ themselves, before offering up William Bird as a possible scapegoat.No mention was made of the legion of parish employees who had participated in the arrests that night.


Bird eventually stood trial at the Old Bailey on a charge of murder two months later. Counsel were just beginning to participate in trials, and four experienced attorneys were commissioned to make up the prosecution team. Bird’s attempt to find a barrister to represent him, however, met a wall of indifference. By the day of his first trial in mid-September, Bird had failed to locate anyone willing to act – two claimed to be out of town, two others ‘desired to be excused’, while a fifth simply returned the brief without explanation. Bird, whom the trial records describe as a ‘labourer’, was forced to defend himself.100 He was found guilty at his second trial and sentenced to hang.101


In the months after the disaster, the parish rebuilt the roundhouse at a cost of £83 15s., adding piped water and a new set of iron palings, five feet, eight inches high.102 But the roundhouse continued to be a target of regular popular attacks. The following year St Martin ’s spent a further £8 19s. repairing damage done to the house by a population that saw in it a continuing symbol of oppression, and in each succeeding year for the next decade a similar sum was spent on repairs.103 This was no doubt one reason why the parish strengthened its watch and revised its Watch Act.104 In addition, the role of the beadles was regularised, and they were given new uniforms at the cost of £36 17s.105 Despite all the Watch Acts, the denigration of the Court of Burgesses and the newly powerful position of the select vestries, magistrates and vestrymen found it impossible to secure more than the grudging consent of the wider population to their policies and were continually forced onto the defensive.

Image from British Museum.

For an excellent post on the Roundhouse and law and order in Westminster in the 18th Century etc. see -

Note the stocks and the date 1692 above the Parish stocks.

For more on the St Martin's Workhouse see -


The West side of St Martins Lane in 1825.

George Scharf.

No 1 The Barn public house 

Referring to his father, Nathaniel Smith an apprentice assistant to the sculptor Roubiliac JT Smith in Nollekens and his Times states 

"The Dons at the Barn, a public-house then so called, in St. Martin's-lane, nearly opposite to the church, invited him to become a member ; but all these temptations he withstood for the Arts, which he then studied with avidity. . The Barn for many years, was frequented by all the noted players of chess and draughts, and it was there that they often decided games of the first importance, played between persons of the highest rank living in different parts of the world.

The Society of College Youths - Bellringers - The Society practices appear to have centred on St Brides, Fleet Street in the early half of the 18th century. An influx of new members led by Benjamin Annable caused tensions in the Society though, with the older members appearing to be more interested in the social and ordinary ringing activities of the Society rather than peal ringing. This inevitably led to the first split in the Society in 1756 with the older contingent moving to St Martin-in-the-Fields. From 1776, and probably much earlier, they met at the house of Mr Hill, The Barn in St Martin's Lane on Thursday evenings between 7pm and 8pm before ringing at St Martins.

In 1786 The Freemason's Lodge of Unity met at the Barn Public House.

In 1788 Thomas Huggins of the Barn St Martins Lane was a subscriber to Clavis Campanalogia, Or a Key to the Art of Ringing: Dedicated to the Lovers ..

Drawing of the West side of the lower part of St Martin's Lane by George Scharf, dated 1825 with a man entering the alleyway into Duke's Court.

No. 6 is the Old St Martins Watch or Round House, with a man and child peering through the window.

There doesn't appear to be any access to the buildings illustrated above from St Martin's Lane.

 Buildings 1 to 6 in Scharf's drawing were all accessed from the Royal Mews behind.


An Excellent Survey - Plan of the Royal Mews and the West Side Southern End of St Martin's Lane - 1790's

Image from the British Library.

The resolution isn't great but is good enough for our purposes.

St Martin's Watch House /Round House is coloured pink on the plan showing a width of 17'6"

Plan cropped from a survey of the Kings Mews.

Drawn by Thomas Chawner of Guildford Street, 15 June 1796.

At this period The Barn Alehouse in the possession of Robt Atkinson - four doors down - could only be accessed from the Mews.


Horwood's Revised Map of 1819 showing the projected demolitions and improvements, around The Royal Mews and St Martin in the Field.

We must be thankful to George Scharf for recording some of the buildings before the destructions.

Drawings in the British Museum.

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