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Guest post by LH Member Laurence Scales. This article first appeared in LH Members’ Newsletter of July 2019. 


Dean Street in Soho was probably named after a dean but sources disagree about which one. In this article I shall brandish for your casual admiration some deans whose names are commemorated in the streets of central Westminster. Regular readers of my articles will not expect me to fuss about ecclesiastical history but this little collection of deans includes a number notable in other ways.
Victoria Street, an unlovely main thoroughfare running south west from Westminster Abbey, was a Victorian invention, the clue is in the name, and its birth flattened a large area of mean and decayed housing, including Dickens’ “Devil’s Acre” for which the slang word slum was brought first into general use. This and follow-on improvements around central Westminster, and a weeding of duplicate street names to help the postman, resulted in a number of new streets in the area named after deans.

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Victoria Street, 1854.

Not being part of the diocese of the Bishop of London, there is no Bishop to house or commemorate at Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is a Royal Peculiar, or church under the direct control of the monarch, and the highest ranking divine of that shrine is the Dean. After Victoria Street ploughed across the cityscape Dean Street, running south outside Westminster Abbey, was subsumed into Great Smith Street. Concealed hard by Westminster Abbey there is also Dean’s Yard, named for the deanery there.
I became interested in the topography of central Westminster named after specific deans having noticed several, and then been surprised to find one of them named for the Victorian Dean Farrar whom I recognised from the historical back catalogue of lecturers at the scientific Royal Institution of Great Britain. But I will come to him later.

Before we consider the Victorian deans in the new wave of streets christened after the First World War, we should perhaps note briefly some of the other divines name-checked in the streets of the vicinity. John Islip (1464–1532) was abbot of the monastery of Westminster shortly before Henry VIII’s dissolution. (There has been a connection down the centuries between the Abbey and the village of Islip in Oxfordshire, and Dean Buckland died there.) John Islip street runs south towards the Tate Britain. Then Atterbury Street, which contains the new entrance to the Tate, was named for a Dean of Westminster appointed in 1713.

Vincent Square is named after Dean William Vincent (1739-1815), once also the headmaster of the ancient Westminster School which has a discrete frontage in Dean’s Yard. The school has the green centre of Vincent Square for its games. Vincent displayed an intriguing mania for researching the particulars of the trading voyages of the ancient Greeks extending into the Indian Ocean. (Vincent’s father was a merchant.) He compared the Greek’s anecdotal accounts of their travels with current knowledge in The Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients in the Indian Ocean (1807). Here is a taster.

“We shall have reason to observe as we proceed, that fish is almost the only means of supporting life, or furnishing the conveniencies of life, such as they are, to the natives; that their houses are constructed with the larger bones of fish, and thatched with the refuse; that their garments are of fish-skins; that their very bread is a fishy substance, pounded and preserved; and that even the few cattle they have, feed on fish.”

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Dean William Vincent. National Portrait Gallery, London.

His publications on this subject included the contribution of the previous Dean of Westminster, Samuel Horsley, who provided an astronomical appendix on the rising of the Pleiades constellation above the horizon in classical antiquity, but who did not (apparently) merit a street being named after him.

Apart from the loose canon (pun intended) of Dean Farrar, whose street leads off to the north of Victoria street, the other named Dean Streets are around or close to Smith Square. In that square, the architectural oddity of St John’s Church of 1728 lies, according to Dickens, “On its back with its legs in the air.”

Dean Trench was Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886). Dean Trench Street, west of Smith Square, was roughly a replacement for Little Tufton Street, which could otherwise be confused with its grown-up neighbour, Tufton Street. His address of 1857 On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries at the London Library to the Philological Society is regarded as launching the 80-year effort to produce the Oxford English Dictionary. The complete OED, distinctively, charts the changes in the meanings of words over the centuries, by example. The murderer William Minor and polymath John Lubbock were among many contributors of illustrative quotations.

Dean Stanley was Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-1881) who enjoyed a particularly good relationship with Queen Victoria. Dean Stanley Street, east of Smith Square was formerly Church Street of which London already had a few namesakes. Refreshingly, for a cleric in the Church of England, in which music plays such a large part, Stanley was apparently “incapable of distinguishing one tune from another.” He had a favourable opinion of the Quakers and saw Christians for what they had in common rather than what divided them. Notably, this made for his key role in university reform – as secretary to a royal commission of 1850. This commission urged removal of the requirement for students to subscribe to the 39 articles of faith of the Church of England in order to attend universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, and be awarded a degree. University College London had already broken with the practice but London had promptly founded a new Christian college, King’s. Previously, some of the most distinguished scientific minds in the country had been denied a university education, through being nonconformists. But the other side of the coin was that their thinking had been novel and untrammelled by the natural philosophy routinely taught at the ancient universities. Earlier reform might have denied the country many a celebrated savant.

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Dean Arthur Stanley. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Dean Bradley was George Granville Bradley (1821-1903), and his claim to inspiring the name of a street is, to me, obscure. Dean Bradley Street, south of Smith Square, was new. His main claim to fame is as the author of a number of Latin textbooks, on which subject I shall leave my next Dean to comment more eloquently than I ever could.

Frederic William Farrar (1831-1903) was an archdeacon at Westminster but a Dean at Canterbury. He was also a schoolmaster at Harrow and eager for educational reform. I must admit to cheering at his remarks that I found in his Royal Institution lecture, so unexpected in Victorian Britain, although the first below is perhaps unlikely to find favour with London Historians’ chief executive today.

‘We commonly see boys ready to sacrifice everything to cricket… they talk cricket, think cricket and dream cricket, morning, noon and night… This mania of muscularity has its share in the hunger-bitten poverty of our intellectual results.’

‘I must avow my distinct conviction that our present system of exclusively classical education… is a deplorable failure… Classical Education neglects all the power of some minds, and some of the powers of all minds.’

Farrar, published his views in Essays on a Liberal Education and sanctioned the burial in 1882 of the atheistic Charles Darwin in Westminster Abbey as deserving of that honour. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who famously attempted to ridicule Darwin’s ideas in debate with Thomas Huxley at Oxford in 1860 was, himself, formerly a Dean of Westminster. No street was named for him!

Remembrance of the unknown warrior was a concept born of mass slaughter beyond reckoning in the mud and chaos of no-man’s-land in the First World War and it found public expression first in memorials in Westminster and in Paris. Herbert Edward Ryle (1856-1925), Dean Ryle, was responsible for taking for Westminster the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dean Ryle Street, south of Smith Square and Horseferry Road was a new creation.

My favourite dean, Dean William Buckland (1784-1856), was a cracking eccentric, significant in the history of geology, zoology and gastronomy, who included in his adventures a minor dalliance with cannibalism. But unfortunately, he is still waiting for a Westminster street to be named after him.


Laurence Scales is a specialist guide and lecturer interested in the history of science, invention, engineering and medicine in London. He is a volunteer at the archives of the Royal Institution and Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

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