Urban landscape — 28 January 2011
Formerly Of Alley

This little alley close to Charing Cross Station commemorates York House which once occupied a 7-acre site overlooking the river Thames.

Originally owned until the Dissolution in 1536 by the Bishops of Norwich, Henry VIII then passed it on to an old friend the Duke of Suffolk and in 1624 the estate eventually came into the possession of George Villiers, The Duke of Buckingham.

Villiers restored the bishop’s old estate and built the magnificent York Watergate which survives marooned in Embankment Gardens.

Villiers was murdered in 1628 by a Puritan fanatic, but the Duke’s wife lived there until she lost the property in the Civil War. Her son, the second Duke, fortuitously fell in love with the daughter of York House’s new owner and on marriage regained his family’s home.

He had a better eye for heiresses than finance, for by 1672 he found himself in hoc up to his neck and sold the house to speculators to redevelop the site. The second Duke of Buckingham secured £30,000 for the house and gardens to repay his debts.

But one stipulation of the sale Buckingham insisted upon was that the developer Nicholas Barbon record literally every sound and syllable of his Grace’s name and title; Buckingham Street; Villiers Street; Duke Street and George Street still remain.

But unfortunately the Burgers of Westminster don’t possess the wit of Nicholas Barbon when he named the streets, for Of Alley has been given the rather prosaic title of York Place.

A footnote: George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham started the first foxhunt in England, The Bilsdale Hunt in 1668 and later started the Sinnington Hunt in 1680. He died from a chill after digging for a fox above Kirkbymoorside. At his death in 1687, the title again became extinct.

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