Kaye's Walk, St Mary's Gate and Pilcher Gate

Plumtree House stood on the north side of Kaye's Walk and was demolished in 1853.
Plumtree House stood on the north side of Kaye's Walk and was demolished in 1853.

Kaye's Walk, which runs along the north side of St. Mary's Churchyard, is quite a modern footway. In olden days the churchyard came up to the walls or to the fence of the gardens of Plumtree House and other mansions, and it was not until the early part of the XIX. century that Kaye's Walk was constructed. It is called after the Rev. Sir Richard Kaye, Bart., LL.D., who was Rector of Marylebone, Prebend of Southwell, Archdeacon of Nottingham and Prebend and Dean of Lincoln. He died in 1809 and was buried at Lincoln. In Captain Cook's "Journal," under the date, May 11th, 1778, occurs the following entry: "I bore up for the island—I left a bottle with a paper in it on which were inscribed the names of the ships and the date of our discovery, and along with it I enclosed two silver twopenny pieces of his Majesty's coin of the date 1772. These, with many others, were furnished me by Rev. Dr. Kaye (now Dean of Lincoln), and as a mark of my esteem and regard for that gentleman, I named the island after him, 'Kaye's Island.'" The house at the corner of Kaye's Walk and St. Mary's Gate stands upon the site of a previous edifice which has a little interest attached to it. In 1812 it was occupied by a certain Mr. Trentham, who was a hosier in an extensive way of business. The times were out of joint, machine wrecking was going on on every hand, and law and order were with difficulty being maintained. Returning home one evening about 9.45, he was opening his front door when he was shot at by some miscreants who were hiding amongst the tombstones of St. Mary's Churchyard. Fortunately, although they wounded him they did not kill him. They escaped, and though a reward of a hundred guineas was offered upon their prosecution, and five hundred guineas more upon their conviction, they were never discovered and nothing more was ever heard of them. After Mr. Trentham's death in 1820 the house was taken by Mr. Daft Smith Churchill, who, amongst other things, was one of the original directors of the General Cemetery, and who lost his life in the wreck of the ship "Forfarshire," off Fame Lighthouse in 1837, despite the gallant efforts of Grace Darling and her father to rescue the crew. His co-directors set up a great monument to him in the General Cemetery which can still be seen near the entrance from Derby Road. Upon his death the house came into the hands of his son, who pulled it all down and he took to Peter-maritzburg, whither he migrated the beautiful fireplace of his father's old house.

On the opposite side of St. Mary's Gate will be found the front of the old Theatre Royal with its comparatively modern coat of roughcast. It was built by a man called Whitely in 1760, partly on the site of an older theatre and partly on land purchased from Alderman Fellows. It was closed in 1867 and immediately re-opened as a music-hall. Whitely was the proprietor of a stock company which made the circuit of theatres in this neighbourhood, and during his tenancy of the theatre some very strenuous scenes were there enacted. For example, in 1763 one of his actors named Wheeler was arrested at the instance of a narrow-minded town official for playing the part of "Portius" in "Cato." Wheeler was dragged off to prison, but his friends attempted his rescue and a general fracas and unpleasantness ensued. Again, in 1812 the theatre had to be closed, temporarily, on account of the conduct of the officers from the barracks. In those days loyalty was at a discount, and it was the custom of the officers to go to the theatre and to call for the National Anthem, which they insisted upon being played and then proceeded to assault such members of the audience as did not uncover. The theatre was used as a sort of concert-hall as well as for the production of drama, and in the year 1772 a musical festival was held under the direction of a Mr. Wise, at which "The Messiah," "Judas Macabeus" and "Samson" were performed. But the greatest day in this old theatre must have been in 1861, when Edmund Kean and his wife appeared in "Hamlet" and "Louis XI." Presumably to commemorate this visit, the old inn whose licence has now disappeared, but which stands almost opposite Kaye's Walk, was called "The Kean's Head.'

Pilcher Gate owes its strange name to the Pilchers or fur dealers, who made it their quarter, and it is a road of great antiquity. It is much widened nowadays, when compared to what it must have been in the olden days, for about 1888 the front area was taken from the old house which stands at the north side at its juncture with St. Mary's Gate. This was the old town house of the family of Sherwin, and some of its stately architecture still remains to enliven what is otherwise a rather dreary street. At the lower end of Pilcher Gate, at its juncture with Fletcher Gate, stands an old public-house which, altered and restored, is called "The Windmill," which is interesting as being a resort of the notorious Charles Peace. The landlord quite recently pointed to "Charlie's Corner" as the place where the miscreant was wont to sit in his hours of relaxation.

At the lower end of St. Mary's Gate will be found, on its western side, an old chapel which was erected in the year 1801 by the Independents after they had been turned out of their chapel in Halifax Place. There is nothing very much of interest attached to it.

A disaster occurred in St. Mary's Gate in 1725 when the office of Mr. Morris, the Town Clerk, was destroyed by fire, in which conflagration many important documents belonging to the Corporation were lost, and it is interesting to remember that so late as 1825 there lived in St. Mary's Gate a man called Doubleday, who was the proprietor of Sedan Chairs which he let out for hire.