|Soho Square Garden||Westminster|
Soho Square was built in the late 1670s, originally called King Square after Charles II. It is possibly the earliest London square to be built around a purposely laid out and enclosed garden. It was laid out in 1680-81 on the site of Kemp's Field, or Soho Fields. A statue of Charles II by Caius Gabriel Cibber of 1681 was placed in the centre of the Square but removed c1875 and replaced by a timbered building, part tool-shed, part arbour, and only returned during 1938. The garden was first opened to the public in 1954 when Soho Square Gardens Committee leased it to WCC. The current railings and gates were provided by the Gardens Committee and the City of Westminster in 1959.
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The Soho area was largely developed from the late C17th onwards as London expanded following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Soho Square was also known as King Square after Charles II and was possibly the earliest London square to be built around a purposely laid out and enclosed garden, which was created in 1680-81. It was formerly the site of Kemp's Field, or Soho Fields, in the parish of St Anne Soho (q.v.). Soho Fields covered the parish land east of Wardour Street and in the late C17th was a single estate then owned by the Earl of St Albans until 1734, and thereafter by the Earl of Portland. The streets of the estate were laid out by the mid C18th with Soho Square as the main focus. Grander houses were generally built near the square and it remained a fashionable residential area well into the C18th. According to Strype in 1720 the garden was 'a very large and open Place, enclosed with a high Pallisado Pale, the Square within being neatly kept, with Walks and Grass-plots, and in the Midst is the Effigies of King Charles the Second, neatly cut in Stone, to the Life, standing on a Pedestal.' Until the mid-C18th the area was a fashionable residential quarter. It subsequently declined in prestige and the gardens were 'improved' frequently from the C18th onwards. According to records of the 1790s the garden was planted with almond, peach, cherry, lilac, rose, laburnum and honeysuckle.
The statue of Charles II, by Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber and dated c.1681, was replaced in 1876 by a garden building. The present half timbered, jettied structure in the centre of the square dates from c.1925. It was built by Messrs J. Strutt & Co for the Charing Cross Electricity Company as a disguise for an electricity substation and re-used floor beams of pre C17th. It was refurbished in 2009 and is now used by the gardeners. The statue of Charles II was returned to the square in 1938, although without the depictions of the English river gods of Severn, Thames, Tyne and Humber that previously were around the fountain basin.
During World War II air-raid shelters were built beneath the grass areas of the square and were used by local residents during the London Blitz. The buildings around the square present a piecemeal appearance but include the fine French Protestant Church by Sir Aston Webb, John Kelly's red brick Roman Catholic Church of St Patrick and the C18th House of St Barnabas (q.v.). A bench commemorating the late singer Kirsty MacColl, who wrote the song 'Soho Square' for her album Titanic Days, was placed in the garden by her fans, with an inscription reading: 'One day I'll be waiting there / No empty bench in Soho Square'.
John Stow, 'A Survey of the cities of London and Westminster . . .' Corrected, improved and enlarged by John Strype, 1720; Survey of London, St. Anne, Soho, vol. xxxiii, p.42 & 51-53; E.Beresford Chancellor, The History of the Squares of London, (1907), p.108-129; N. Pevsner, rev. by B. Cherry, London I, 1989, p. 653; Westminster City Council, The Living Heritage of Westminster, European Architectural Year 1975; R Benjamin 'Critical Observations' (1734); Thomas Fairchild, 'The City Gardener' (1722); WCC, Soho & Chinatown Conservation Area Audit, 2006