The early Stuart period witnessed a startling transformation in the physical environment of the royal court. At James I's accession, Whitehall and the great courtier's palaces along the Strand still lay in an essentially rural landscape. To the south, Westminster was a compact town of perhaps 6,500 people, while to the north and east, the three Strand parishes of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, St. Mary le Savoy, and St. Clement Danes contained another 6,000, mostly concentrated in a narrow ribbon along the Strand itself. North of the Strand, the landscape remained open except for a thinner ribbon along High Holborn. Covent Garden was a pasture and orchard, containing a number of fine timber trees, St. Martin's church was still literally “in the fields“ and Lincoln's Inn Fields comprised over forty acres of open land. Dairying and market gardening were going concerns over much of what soon became the West End. Only a few years before, St. Martin's parish had experienced an enclosure riot.
On the eve of the Civil War, a continuous urban landscape extended from Temple Bar as far as Soho, and ribbons of development spread along both sides of St. James's Park, as far as Knightsbridge and Picadilly. The population of old Westminster had increased by about 250 percent, while the Strand area grew even more rapidly, with St. Martin's-in-the-Fields experiencing more than a fivefold increase to as many as 17,000 people. Had they been independent settlements, all three of the large West End parishes of St. Margaret's Westminster, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and St. Clement Danes would have ranked among the half dozen largest English provincial cities. In all, the western suburbs' population probably stood between 40,000 and 60,000.