Inventory Site Record

Westminster Cathedral Piazza (Westminster)

Brief Description

The site of Westminster Cathedral was marshland known as Bulinga Fen in medieval times, reclaimed by Benedictine monks and used as a market, with the annual St Mary's Fair held on 22 July. Later a pleasure garden, in 1826 the Middlesex County Prison was built here. In 1884 it was purchased as the site for the new RC cathedral, with money raised following the death of the first Catholic Archbishop of Westminster in 1850, but the Cathedral was not completed until 1903. The piazza in which the Cathedral is sited is hard-landscaped and has a cross erected for Cardinal Basil Hume, who was Archbishop of Westminster from 1975 until his death.

Practical Information
Site location:
Victoria Street Westminster Cathedral Piazza, Westminster
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Tube: Victoria (District, Circle, Victoria), St James's Park (District, Circle)
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.westminster.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Cardinal Wiseman became the first Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster in 1850 after whose death money was raised for a cathedral and a site was eventually purchased in 1884. The area had once been marshland known as Bulinga Fen in medieval times, which Benedictine monks reclaimed. It was used as a market, and St Mary's Fair was held here annually on 22 July. After the reformation the land largely remained as waste land but at various times became a maze, a pleasure garden, and a bull-baiting ring. In 1826 the Middlesex County Prison was built here. The architect who was initially appointed for the new cathedral was Henry Clutton, who began preparing designs for a Gothic building from 1867, although the second Archbishop, Cardinal Manning delayed building until further funds were secured. These were provided in 1882 by Sir Tatton Sykes but he stipulated that Baron von Herstel should be appointed as architect, but after von Herstel's death in 1884 the project was put on hold although the site was purchased. The third Archbishop, Cardinal Vaughan, appointed John Francis Bentley as architect in 1892, Clutton's plan being too costly. The foundation stone was laid in 1895 and Bentley's Early Christian Byzantine style building was opened in 1903, dedicated to the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus. However, a lack of finances meant that not all the proposed interior decoration could be realised, although large sections of the mosaic have since been added.

The Cathedral was the venue for the first London performance of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'. The piazza in which the Cathedral is sited is hard-landscaped and has a cross erected for Cardinal Basil Hume who was Archbishop of Westminster from 1975 until his death. The space is predominantly open for events and ceremonial processions connected to the cathedral that take place throughout the year. A subtle stone step and ramp feature was recently added to the front of the cathedral, which provides both the required disabled access to the cathedral and an appropriate approach to the entrance of the cathedral.

Sources consulted:

Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 6: Westminster', (Yale University Press, 2003); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993);

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ292791 (529250,179150)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Site management:
? Parks Service
Early C20th
Elmsom Pack & Roberts
Listed structures:
LBI: Westminster Cathedral
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Westminster Cathedral
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

Westminster Cathedral Piazza

Photo - Pamela Paterson (1995)

Click a photo to enlarge.

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.