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Story Of London

Westminster in 1731: Part 5


“London in 1731” is a wonderful guide book to the city which was penned sometime in the early 18th century and subsequently brought up to date. The author is supposed to be a Portuguese merchant named Don Manoel Gonzales but the internal evidence demonstrates that this is almost certainly a nom de plume. It is more likely that our author was an accomplished native of London. The guide was edited by Professor Henry Morley and published by Cassell as part of their wonderful little National Library series in 1888. In the final section on Westminster we learn how the City is governed and how different it is from the City of London.

Westminster in 1765The city of Westminster at this day consists of the parishes of St. Margaret and St. John the Evangelist, and the liberties of Westminster, viz., St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields; St. Mary le Savoy; St. Mary le Strand; St. Clement’s Danes; St. Paul’s, Covent Garden; St. James’s, Westminster; St. George’s, Hanover Square; and St. Anne’s, Westminster; all under the government of the dean and chapter of Westminster, and their subordinate officers; or rather, of a high steward, and such other officers as are appointed by them; for since the Reformation, the dean and chapter seem to have delegated their civil power to such officers as they elect for life, who are not accountable to, or liable to be displaced by them, nor are they liable to forfeit their offices, but for such offences as a private man may lose his estate, namely, for high treason, felony, &c., as happened in the case of their high steward, the Duke of Ormond, upon whose attainder the dean and chapter proceeded to a new election.The next officer to the high steward is the deputy steward, appointed by the high steward, and confirmed by the dean and chapter, who is usually a gentleman learned in the law, being judge of their court for trial of civil actions between party and party, which is held usually on Wednesday every week. They have also a court-leet, held annually on St. Thomas’s Day, for the choice of officers, and removal of nuisances. The deputy-steward supplies the place of sheriff of Westminster, except in the return of members of Parliament, which is done by the high bailiff, an officer nominated by the dean and chapter, and confirmed by the high steward. The high-bailiff also is entitled to all fines, forfeitures, waifs and strays in Westminster, which makes it a very profitable post.Temple Bar, the gate between the Cities of London and Westminster.The high constable, chosen by the burgesses at their court-leet, and approved by the steward or his deputy, is an officer of some consideration in this city also, to whom all the rest of the constables are subject.The burgesses are sixteen in number, seven for the city and nine for the liberties of Westminster, appointed by the high steward or his deputy, every one of whom has his assistant, and has particular wards or districts: out of these burgesses are chosen two chief burgesses, one for the city, the other for the liberties. The dean, high steward, or his deputy, the bailiffs and burgesses, or a quorum of them, are empowered to make bye-laws, and take cognisance of small offences, within the city and liberties of Westminster. But I look upon it that the justices of peace for Westminster have in a great measure superseded the authority of the burgesses (except as to weights, measures, and nuisances), by virtue of whose warrants all petty offenders almost are apprehended and sent to Tothill Fields Bridewell; and for higher offences, the same justices commit criminals to Newgate, or the Gatehouse, who receive their trials before commissioners of oyer and terminer at the Old Bailey, as notorious criminals in the City of London do; and so far the two united cities may be said to be under the same government.The precinct of St. Martin’s-le-Grand, in London, is deemed a part of the city of Westminster, and the inhabitants vote in the elections of members of Parliament for Westminster.The ecclesiastical government of the city of Westminster is in the dean, and chapter, whose commissary has the jurisdiction in all ecclesiastical causes, and the probate of wills; from whom there lies no appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury or other spiritual judge, but to the King in Chancery alone, who upon such appeal issues a commission under the Great Seal of England, constituting a court of delegates to determine the cause finally.