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200 pages
Library of Alexandria
The word Westminster used in the title does not mean that city which has its boundaries stretching from Oxford Street to the river, from the Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, to Temple Bar. A city which embraces the parishes of St. George's, Hanover Square; St. James's, Piccadilly; St. Anne's, Soho; St. Paul's, Covent Garden; St. Clement Danes; St. Mary le Strand, etc.; and which claims to be older even than London, dating its first charter from the reign of King Edgar. But, rather, Westminster in its colloquial sense, that part of the city which lies within the parishes of St. Margaret and St. John. When anyone says, 'I am going to Westminster,' or, 'I am staying in Westminster,' it is this district that he means to indicate. The parishes of St. Margaret and St. John include the land bounded on one side by the river; on another by a line running through the Horse Guards and diagonally across St. James's Park to Buckingham Gate; and on the third by an irregular line which crosses Victoria Street to the west of Carlisle Place, and subsequently cuts across the Vauxhall Bridge Road near Francis Street, and, continuing at a slight angle to the course of the Bridge Road, strikes the river at a spot beyond the gasworks between Pulford Terrace and Bessborough Place. There is also another piece of land belonging to St. Margaret's parish; this lies detached, and includes part of Kensington Gardens and the Round Pond; but it is only mentioned to show it has not been overlooked, for the present account will not deal with it. The triangular space roughly indicated above is sufficient for one ramble. Within this space stand, and have stood, so many magnificent buildings closely connected with the annals of England that Westminster may well claim to occupy a unique place in the history of the nation. The effects of two such buildings as the Abbey and Palace upon its population were striking and unique. The right of sanctuary possessed by the Abbey drew thieves, villains, and rogues of all kinds to its precincts. The Court drew to the Palace a crowd of hangers-on, attendants, artificers, work-people, etc. When the Court was migratory this great horde swept over Westminster at intervals like a wave, and made a floating population. In the days of "touching" for "King's evil," when the Court was held at Whitehall, vast crowds of diseased persons gathered to Westminster to be touched. In Charles II.'s time weekly sittings were appointed at which the number of applicants was not to exceed 200. Between 1660-64, 23,601 persons were "touched." Later, when the roads were still too bad to be traversed without danger, many of the members of Parliament lodged in Westminster while the House was sitting. Therefore, from the earliest date, when bands of travellers and merchants came down the great north road, and passed through the marshes of Westminster to the ferry, until the beginning of the present century, there has always been a floating element mingling with the stationary inhabitants of the parishes.