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HISTORY OF LONDON.
From hence we may that antique pile behold
Site, local divisions, and government of the City of West minster;
history of the Abbey. Coronation Ceremonies ; and lists of the Abbots and Deans.
The history of Westminster is involved in that of the venerable abbey from which it derives its name. To the zeal and taste of English monachism, are we indebted for some of the finest remains of pointed architecture, and one of the most ancient and interesting edifices in Europe ; but, unfortunately, like all other similar relics of the piety, taste, and skill of our forefathers prior to the Reformation, the iconoclastic zeal and mistaken policy of a purer faith, have involved much of its earliest history in obscurity. The furor of two state ecclesiastical reformations has lessened the evidence of its former magnificence, by ravaging its archives, and committing to the flames, as records of popery, many documents which are now required in the elucidation of its history.
This city, as above noticed, received its name from the abbey, or minster, situated to the westward of the city of London, which, according to several historians, was thus denominated, to distinguish it from the abbey of Grace on Tower-hill, called Eastminster; but Mr. Maitland proves this to be a mistake, by showing that the former is called Westminster, in an undated charter of sanctuary, granted by Edward the Confessor, who died in 1066, and that ihe latter was not founded till 1359; he therefore supposes, that the appellation of Westminster was given to distinguish it from St. Paul's church, in the city of London.
In ancient times, this was a mean, unhealthy place, remark: VOL: iv.
able for nothing but the abbey, which was situated on a marshy island, surrounded on one side by the Thames, and on the other by what was called Long Ditch. This ditch was a branch of the river, which began nearly where Manchester-buildings now stand; and crossing King-street, ran westward to Delahay-street, where it turned to the south, and continued its course along Princes-street, until it crossed Tothill-street, from whence it passed along the south wall of the abbey-garden, to the Thames again. It has, however, been arched over for many years, and is at present a common
Mr. Nightingale, however, presumes this island was of greater extent. •From the roof of the northern tower of Westminster-abbey, he says, the eye may distinctly trace the ancient isle of Thorney. Following the winding of the Thames round Mill-bank, we perceive it ends in a marsh, filled with reeds and aquatic plants, at the extremity of Ranelagh gardens. From that place to Chelsea waterworks is equally low and wet, exclusive of the creek, or canal for barges. This brings the eye almost to the gates of St. James's park, where a valley, nearly in a line with the marsh, contains the canal. Allowing these probabilities, and for filling inequalities in the streets, an angular line is formed.
But a question naturally occurs: whence was made the embankment, known by the name of Milbank? And where would highwater mark be found, supposing it away? It is to be feared ihe island of Thorney would be reduced to a very narrow compass. Possibly the tide passed, in very ancient times, across Parliamentstreet, ihrough the park, and over all the ground south-west of the abbey, leaving on its return the whole a mass of filth. Such, generally, are the observations and conjectures of an antiquary to whom I have before been frequently indebted. The necessity of thus endeavouring minutely to ascertain the situation and boundaries of the little island of Thorney arises from the ancient assertion that the abbey of Westminster was erected on this real, or imaginary insulated spot of ground, which was called the Island of Thorns, or Thorney Island, on account of its being overspread with thorns.
After all, however, much is left to conjecture on this subject, and as much to the inagination, in support of this ancient tradition concerning Thorney Island,'*
In the course of time a few houses were erected round the monastery, which, at length, grew into a small town, called in ancient books, · The town of Westminster. But the principal cause of the increase of Westminster, was the continual jealousy of the government against the privileges and immunities claimed by the citizens of London. To this cause must be attributed the establishment of the woolstaple, at Westminster, in preference to London, which occasioned a great resort of merchants thither. Another
• Beauties of England and Wales, vol. x, part 4, p. 11,