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    The Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel: part one

    By the Survey of London, on 10 June 2016

    The first church on the site that is now Altab Ali Park was built in the mid thirteenth century, dedicated to Mary and from the outset identified as ‘de Matefelun’. This, which became Matfelon, may derive from a family name; Richard Matefelun, a wine merchant, is said to have been present in the area in 1230. If this is the derivation (matfelon as meaning knapweed is the least preposterous of numerous suggested alternatives), it was presumably in recognition of a pious benefaction, maybe prompted by local need. There was significant population growth in the area, and the existing parish church of St Dunstan, Stepney, was distant.

    Archaeological evidence indicates that the church was of clunch or white chalk rubble. It thus, no doubt, came to be known as the ‘white chapel’, an appellation in use by 1344. Clunch was not uncommon in medieval churches, especially east and north of London, but it is friable so was often mixed with other materials. The church was reportedly wrecked in a storm and restored in 1362 thanks, it is said, to a papal Bull negotiated by the absentee rector, Sir David Gower, a Canon of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that promised sinners a remission of penance for visiting Whitechapel with an offering. There were four priests in 1416 indicating a large congregation or at least a prospering parish. Documentation of legacies and archaeology both point to fifteenth-century improvements, to doors and windows if not more. Exceptionally, there were no chantries at the Reformation, when, in 1548, there were 670 communicants.

    View of the 1670s church (Reproduced by kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives).

    View of the 1670s church (Reproduced by kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives). If you are having problems viewing images, please click here.

    Little is known of the form of this medieval church. It appears to have had a four-bay nave to which a three-stage tower and a north aisle and porch might have been fifteenth-century additions. A south ‘aisle’ was added in 1591. This was, it seems, separately roofed, and almost as tall as the nave. More a room than an aisle it would have generated not just more seating for a growing congregation, but also a more auditory and less processional interior. That would have been in keeping with the Calvinist conventions of the late sixteenth century that were strongly represented in east London, where Protestantism sparked early. These norms were firmly upheld by Richard Gardiner, Whitechapel’s rector from 1570 to 1617. Prominent among Elizabethan puritans, Gardiner was embroiled in high-level religious–political controversy in the immediate run up to the extension of his church in 1591. Tellingly, during his time the vestry sold off the church organ.

    In 1618 William Crashawe, another outspoken and leading London puritan, became Whitechapel’s rector. He oversaw the insertion of a gallery in the south aisle which suggests that capacity was already again stretched. It bore a panel to celebrate the failure in 1623 of the Spanish Match. Crashawe died in 1626, preceded by 1,100 of his parishioners in the plague year of 1625. His successor in what his will called the ‘too greate Parishe’ of Whitechapel was John Johnson, another puritan, but one who married the daughter (Judith Meggs) of a wealthy parishioner in 1627 and trimmed thereafter to align with the anti-Calvinist tide headed by Bishop William Laud. Johnson moved the communion table to the east end of the church, and undertook beautifying repairs in 1633–4 with £300 raised from parishioners and more from the Haberdashers’ Company, which in making the grant took into account the relative poverty of the parish.

    Laud had strong local opposition and Johnson was among the first London clergy to be deprived of his living in 1641. Thomas Lambe’s General Baptists, formed in Whitechapel at this time, were ‘easily the most visible and notorious of all sectarian congregations in London’. [1] After contested elections for parish overseers and violent confrontations in the church in 1646, Whitechapel’s Independents gained control and gathered under a new rector, Thomas Walley. When the tables turned at the Restoration in 1660 Johnson was reinstated and a schism resulted, most of the congregation departing to a meeting house in Brick Lane. In 1662 Walley was arrested preaching elsewhere in Whitechapel; he soon after emigrated to New England. Johnson was revealed as corrupt and deprived of his living in 1668, chiefly through the agency of his son-in-law, Ralph Davenant, who became Whitechapel’s next rector. A fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and a descendant of Bishop John Davenant, the moderate Calvinist who had represented the English church at the synod of Dort in 1618, he was also a cousin to the historian Thomas Fuller.

    Plan of the Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, as rebuilt in 1672-3.

    Plan of the Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, as rebuilt in 1672-3 (© Historic England).

    Under Davenant the largely medieval church was rebuilt in 1672–3. The principal benefactor was William Meggs, who had the parish’s largest house where Johnson, his brother-in-law, had lodged in the 1650s. Meggs had been a member of Johnson’s vestry from 1660. These links with Johnson notwithstanding, Crashawe’s panel of 1623 was relocated onto the new south gallery and a monument to Crashawe himelf was conspicuously re-erected on the north wall. Puritan inheritance was not obscured.

    In its architectural form the new brick-built church represented a rapprochement with moderate Nonconformity. It reused some old footings and lower parts of the tower, but in its regular cross-in-rectangle plan with shallow transept projections, it closely followed pre-Restoration Calvinist models at Westminster Broadway and Poplar (now the Church of St Matthias). While architects and builders remain unknown, there are circumstantial reasons for suspecting involvement on the part of Robert Hooke. The assuredly, if impurely, classical auditory interior was light and spacious. Though centralized, it had an east-west axis emphasized by three ribbed cross vaults supported by Portland stone Corinthian columns. There was a step up to the chancel, otherwise only articulated by the inclusion of flanking vestries. Shallow north and south galleries were probably original.

    Davenant was succeeded in 1681 by Dr William Payne, a latitudinarian, fellow of the Royal Society and leading Whig among London clergy who was keen to embrace dissenters. The liturgical politics of Whitechapel changed dramatically in 1697 with the appointment of the Rev. Richard Welton, a high-church Tory and Jacobite. Welton attacked Nonconformity and spurned the area’s recent Huguenot immigrants: ‘This set of rabble are the very offal of the earth, who cannot be content to be safe here from that justice and beggary from which they fled, and to be fattened on what belongs to the poor of our own land to grow rich at our expense, but must needs rob us of our religion too.’ When this was quoted by G. Reginald Balleine in 1898 he added ‘how blind this prejudice was … May we learn the obvious lesson for ourselves!’. [2] Harking back to the Laudian spirit, Welton made beautifying alterations, moving the font and altering pews, and attracted controversy in 1713 when he placed a painting of the Last Supper by John Fellowes in the church as an altarpiece. Judas was prominently represented as a likeness of Bishop White Kennett, an antagonist of Welton’s. Through the Bishop of London, Kennett saw to the altarpiece’s removal in 1714. The same phase of works included an organ by Christopher Schreider, perhaps also the west gallery in which it stood. The organ case was later described as ‘carved and gilt, with carved oak trusses and gilt cherubim, surmounted by four richly-carved and gilt figures’ [3] The gallery front sported a finely carved wood panel depicting King David playing the harp flanked by musical instruments. This survives close by in the church of St Botolph Aldgate. Refusing to swear loyalty to the Hanoverian succession, Welton was deprived of his position in 1715.

    A few fragments from the churches survive, including this carved wood panel of King David with music instruments that was made to grace the front of an organ gallery in 1713-15, now close by in St Botolph Aldgate

    A few fragments from the church survive, including this carved wood panel of King David with musical instruments that was made to grace the front of an organ gallery in 1713-15, now close by in St Botolph Aldgate.

    Under a succession of latitudinarian rectors Whitechapel’s church appears to have steered clear of further controversy making it a quieter but duller place. It was repaired and beautified in 1735 and again repaired, in what was a wealthy parish, with funds raised through an Act of Parliament in 1762–3 when the tower, possibly unstable, was to have been cased in Portland stone – it was probably rendered instead. The clock stage gained aedicules and a large cupola took the place of a small bell turret. Similarities with the exactly contemporary St George’s German Lutheran Church on Alie Street suggest that the carpenter–architect Joel Johnson may have been in charge of this project. He had property, perhaps a home, round the corner on what is now Whitechurch Lane.

    There were further expensive repairs in 1805–6, with James Carr as surveyor. Structural rescue involving iron tie rods followed in 1825–6, with John Shaw (the elder) the surveyor this time. Even so, the tower became dangerous. James Savage acted as surveyor for yet further repairs in 1829–30. In 1839 Edward Blore reported on the state of the church and recommended rebuilding. Discussion was adjourned for a year, but not resumed, the notion presumably deemed too costly.

    From 1837 to 1860 the Rev. William Weldon Champneys was Whitechapel’s rector. An evangelical, he started with a congregation of about 100, in a population of 36,000, and by 1851 had built attendances up to more than 4,000 across three services on a Sunday. He brought numerous reforms to Whitechapel, from a Sunday School and Mothers’ Meeting, to a Coal Club and Shoe Black Brigade, attempted to convert Whitechapel’s many Jews, and battled cholera and house farmers. Champneys also divided the parish, founding three new churches.

    The tower was again and for the last time repaired in 1865. The subsequent history of the church will follow in a second post.

    References

    [1] Murray Tolmie, The triumph of the saints: the separate churches of London, 1616–49, 1977, p.76

    [2] G. Reginald Balleine, The Story of St Mary Matfelon, 1898, p.22

    [3] The Builder, 30. Jan. 1875, p.93

    Cavendish Square 4: No. 20 (the Royal College of Nursing)

    By the Survey of London, on 29 April 2016

    This is the fourth instalment in an occasional series of posts about Cavendish Square. Outward appearance belies the fact that there is a substantial early Georgian house at 20 Cavendish Square. It is enclosed within a shell of the 1930s that was part of an extensive redevelopment of a larger corner site as premises dedicated to the nursing profession.

    P_1_34 Cavendish Square

    20 Cavendish Square (to centre), c.1910 (Royal College of Nursing Archives).

    The plain brick-fronted three-storey house was built in 1727–9 by George Greaves, a Clerkenwell carpenter. Its first resident was Francis Shepheard, a former MP who had moved from the Whigs to the Harleyite Tories. He was a wine trader and East India merchant in the steps of his father Samuel, who had been Robert Harley’s financier and was Deputy Governor of the South Sea Company from 1713. Francis inherited a fortune when his father died in 1719.

    Plans

    Plans of the ground floor and first floor of 20 Cavendish Square, showing the layout of the eighteenth-century house and later extensions of 1921-6 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones) Please click here to download a pdf version of the plans.

    A broad five-bay front permitted a central entrance, but in an almost square plan there is an unusual layout. The house’s finest feature, a painted staircase, among the best of its kind in London, is oddly situated in the south-east corner. The great expense of such decoration may have obliged Shepheard to avoid an open-well entrance-hall form in favour of a dog-leg stair walled off from the entrance hall. This meant orienting the stair to rise from back to front, forcing a landing against the front wall and so causing irregular fenestration. The town-house aesthetic was evidently, and even more than usual, internal. The main staircase walls display two large architectural capricci, attributed by Edward Croft-Murray to John Devoto, the principal scene painter at the Drury Lane Theatre at the time. There are also trophies and grisaille figures of the Arts on the landing and of Music below the southern capriccio, these more in the style of James Thornhill. The ceiling, in contrast, is painted in the manner of William Kent, with gilded hatching and grisaille caryatids supporting a trompe-l’oeil dome.

    Howard de Walden Project. Royal College of Nursing, 1a Cavendish Square, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail of stair. View from east.

    View of the painted staircase at 20 Cavendish Square, showing the southern capriccio attributed to John Devoto (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

     

    Howard de Walden Project. Royal College of Nursing, 1a Cavendish Square, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail of stair. View from west.

    View of the painted staircase at 20 Cavendish Square, looking north-east from the first-floor landing (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    The next most impressive space in the house, to the north-west on the ground floor, is a fully pilastered room. The quality of this room, and the fact that its Ionic pilasters are sunk at the corners, hint at involvement on the part of James Gibbs, who was stationed just around the corner on Henrietta Street at the time. An imposing marble chimneypiece has a swagged frieze with a Medusa-like mask, plaits tied under her chin, a type widespread in the 1730s. However, flanking eagle-headed terms suggest the fireplace could be datable to the 1750s as double-headed eagles featured in the coat of arms of William Wildman Barrington, 2nd Viscount Barrington. He moved in when he became Secretary at War in 1755. During his tenure the house became known as a place for parties. The Barrington family continued to occupy the house up to 1888.

    Chimneypiece

    Measured drawing of the central part of the east side of the pilastered room (marked lounge on the plan) at 20 Cavendish Square (© Survey of London, Helen Jones).

    In 1894 Sir Charles Tennant bought the property as a wedding present for his daughter, Margot, and the Liberal politician Herbert Henry Asquith. The couple lived here with their children and servants before and after Asquith served as Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916. Margot Asquith was a political hostess with a reputation for extravagance. On departing for 10 Downing Street she noted, ‘All the colour, furniture, grates, curtains, and every chair, table, and rug in Cavendish Square I had chosen myself.’ This precedes the disarming admission that ‘It is a constant source of surprise to people of moderate means to observe how little a big fortune contributes to Beauty.’ (The autobiography of Margot Asquith, ii, 1922, pp.103 and 106) After their wartime return, their income much diminished, the Asquiths were obliged to sell in 1920, marketing the property as suitable for ‘a nobleman, embassy or family of distinction’ (Royal College of Nursing Archives, RCN/28/3).

    But Annie Pearson, Viscountess Cowdray, bought 20 Cavendish Square to be a clubhouse for nurses. She followed up in 1921–2 by funding rebuilding along Henrietta Street to form a headquarters building for the College of Nursing, established in 1916 in an office on Vere Street as a response to wartime exigencies, to support and advance the nursing profession. This was part of a phased campaign of redevelopment with Sir Edwin Cooper as architect throughout. The first phase included some internal remodelling of the house; Cooper’s neo-Georgian detailing is hard to distinguish from the eighteenth-century work.

    20 Cavendish Square (left), as refaced and raised in 1932-4 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    20 Cavendish Square (left), as refaced and raised in 1932-4 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    The last rebuilding phase in 1932–4 followed the acquisition and demolition of a corner house. Cooper refaced and, through the ingenious introduction of bridging structural steelwork, heightened No. 20, which was used as the Cowdray Club up to 1974. The RCN has since carried out three refurbishments, the most recent of which in 2012–13 saw the opening on Henrietta Street of a public heritage centre with retail and museum elements.

    The Langham Hotel

    By the Survey of London, on 18 March 2016

    The Langham Hotel of 1863–5 was London’s largest hotel when new, and among London’s largest buildings, a prime example of what were dubbed ‘monster’ hotels, more kindly ‘grand’. Following the railway-station hotel boom of the 1850s the Langham was a significant novelty for being dissociated from a terminus. The Langham Place site in a smart district was thought right for a hotel for its openness, therefore healthfulness. Distance from a railway station could be marketed as a virtue, but this was still a bold speculation that looked to American rather than local precedents.

    The Langham Hotel (by The Langham, London, reproduced with a Creative Commons licence via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])

    The Langham Hotel (by The Langham, London, reproduced without changes under a Creative Commons licence via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    The Langham Hotel Company Limited set out to build a hotel ‘on a scale of comfort and magnificence not hitherto attained in London’. [1] Its ‘very respectable’ directors were a solid bunch of mercantile men, headed by two aristocrats stooping to trade – Henry Chetwynd-Talbot, 18th Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot, as president, William Coutts Keppel, Lord Bury, as vice president. Among the directors was Peter Graham of Jackson & Graham, a high-class Oxford Street furnishing firm. The adjacency of several embassies including the American consulate inspired hope of accommodating diplomats. Imminent completion of the Metropolitan Railway with its station at the top of Great Portland Street would, it was claimed, make up for the absence of a main-line terminus.

    A design competition was won by John Giles, a novice architect. He was persuaded to work with the more experienced James Murray, whose designs for the interiors were regarded by the competition committee as especially good – the forced partnership ended up in court over ownership of the drawings. Giles was probably responsible for the floor plan and exterior, Murray for details of the internal layout. Lucas Brothers, who had recently finished the London Bridge Railway Terminus Hotel, were contractors and major shareholders. Jackson & Graham supplied furniture and brought in Owen Jones to design interiors.

    The hotel opened in June 1865 with the Prince of Wales and 2,000 others in attendance to see London’s most splendid hotel, spread over ten floors including basements and attics, and overall half again bigger than the Grosvenor Hotel of 1862. It aimed ‘to suit all from princes to the middle-classes’. [2]

    The Langham Hotel, drawn from measured survey. Please click to download a high resolution version of the drawing (© Survey of London, Helen Jones with Andy Crispe).

    The Langham Hotel, drawn from measured survey. Please click to download a pdf version of the drawing (© Survey of London, Helen Jones and Andy Crispe).

    Plans of the ground floor and first floor of the Langham Hotel (© Survey of London, Helen Jones and Andy Crispe)

    Plans depicting the layouts of the ground and fifth floors of the Langham Hotel in 1907. Please click to download a pdf version (© Survey of London, Helen Jones).

    The report of the opening in the Illustrated London News neatly summarizes how the hotel was received:

    The style of architecture would be called Italian; it is, however, plain, simple, and substantial, and singularly free from meretricious ornament. It includes large drawing-rooms, a dining-room, or coffee-room, 100 feet in length, smoking-rooms, billiard-rooms, post-office, telegraph-office, parcels-office, &c., thus uniting all the comforts of a club with those of a private home, each set of apartments forming a ‘flat’ complete in itself. Below are spacious kitchen, laundry, &c., and water is laid over all the house, being raised by an engine in the basement. Some idea of the extensive nature of the establishment may be formed when we add that its staff of servants number about two hundred and fifty persons, from the head steward and matron down to the junior kitchenmaid and smallest ‘tiger’. The ‘Langham’, on an emergency, can make up as many as 400 beds. The floors are connected with each other by means of a ‘lift’ which goes up and down at intervals. It is as nearly fire-proof as art can render it. [3]

    Giles’s exterior, yellow Suffolk bricks (commonly known as “Suffolk Whites”) with Portland stone dressings, is heavily indebted to the Grosvenor. It is Italianate, but picturesquely so, with consciously eclectic Gothic elements and an eventful skyline with French pavilion roofs. The shape of the site was a gift, allowing, even forcing, some break-up of the cuboid massing to the east, the locus for an asymmetrical parti with a pointily domed tower and a big two-storey bow. The building was praised – ‘The points which call forth admiration are the union of regularity with picturesqueness, so desirable in town architecture; the subordination, at least in the side, of detail to general effect, and the reserve and simplicity which are manifest in a great part of the work.’ [4] Many have since disagreed, but a century later Henry-Russell Hitchcock judged the building ‘a rich and powerfully plastic composition, most skilfully adapted to a special site, and more original than most of what was produced in the sixties in Paris’. [5]

    Monster Mash

    The rich sculpture which adorns the eaves cornice and imposts of the lower-storey window arches (© Survey of London, Derek Kendall, 1988).

    The sculptural detail repays close examination. Below the heavy eaves cornice there are griffins and sphinxes, some addossed and seated, others rampant yet bovine, made of moulded cement on slate armatures. Livelier and lither stone-carved creatures, more griffins, lions and lizards, grace the imposts of lower-storey window arches. These ‘semi-Gothic Grotesques’ were harshly judged – ‘Their antics … have an artificial and done-to-order look about them, very different from the grim humour of ancient work.’ [6] Hitchcock, who suspected the influence of Viollet-le-Duc, saw ‘elephantine playfulness’, which seems fairer.

    In December 1940, bombing destroyed the building’s north-east corner and, with consequent flooding, the hotel closed. The BBC took up occupation from 1941, using the premises as offices and studios to 1986. Reconversion to hotel use in 1987–91 was by Hilton International.

    Reference

    [1] Morning Post, 30 June 1862, p. 2

    [2] The Times, 12 June 1865, p. 9

    [3] Illustrated London News, 8 July 1865, p. 12

    [4] Building News, 20 Oct 1865, p. 72

    [5] Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1958, p. 16

    [6] Building News, 20 Oct 1865, p. 727

    Cavendish Square 3: Nos 15 and 16 (with 2–14 Harley Street)

    By the Survey of London, on 19 February 2016

    This is the third in an occasional series of posts about Cavendish Square. At the corner of Cavendish Square and Harley Street is ‘les 110 de Taillevent’, a recently opened branch of a Parisian restaurant. This is the latest twist in the convoluted history of a building that despite serial alterations stands as a remnant of the square’s aristocratic origins.

    16 Cavendish Square, Marylebone, Greater London. View from the south west. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Nos 15 and 16 Cavendish Square on the corner with Harley Street, from the south-west in 2014 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    After Cavendish Square was laid out in 1717–18, the Duke of Chandos intended to build himself a palace across the whole of its north side. He was obliged to back-pedal after the South Sea Bubble burst, and in 1724–5 began building a pair of houses at either end of the frontage, to designs by Edward Shepherd. Dilatory and indecisive, Chandos left the carcasses incomplete. He eventually decided to take that to the west for himself, and returned to complete it in 1733–5. Entered from Harley Street, the house had a painted imperial staircase, expensively decorated by Gaetano Brunetti and Jacopo Amigoni.

    by Herman van der Myn, oil on canvas, 1725 or before

    James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, by Herman van der Myn, c.1725 (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London).

    by Philip Mercier, oil on canvas, 1733

    ‘The Music Party’ by Philip Mercier, 1733, depicting (from left to right) Princess Anne, Princess Caroline, Prince Frederick and Princess Amelia reading from Milton. In the background is a depiction of the Kew Palace, or the Dutch House at Kew Gardens (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Potrait Gallery, London).

    From 1762 Princess Amelia, George II’s second daughter, lived here and there was it seems a decline from Chandos’s opulence. After she died in 1786, The Times (21 Feb 1787, p.3) reported, ‘Of all the ill-furnished houses – perhaps that of the late Princess Amelia was the worst. With the exception of one large glass, it was much of the same sort as might have been expected at a plain Esquire’s in the country.’ James Hope, the 3rd Earl of Hopetoun, then undertook substantial improvements with Robert Adam as his architect. The entrance moved northwards within a tetrastyle stone porch (now gone) and under a pedimented aedicule (extant) and the north wing was much enlarged. In 1795 in moved Henry Hope, a distant cousin, Europe’s pre-eminent merchant banker, a great art collector and a refugee from Amsterdam. Poussins faced the front door and the front drawing room was graced by a Titian, two Veroneses and several Van Dycks. The last occupant of the whole house from 1816 to 1824 was George Watson Taylor MP, another art collector and, as an heir to a Jamaican fortune, a defender of Caribbean vested interests in Parliament.

    by Charles Howard Hodges, published by John Boydell, published by Josiah Boydell, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, mezzotint, published 1 January 1788 (1787)

    Henry Hope by Charles Howard Hodges, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, c.1787 (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London).

    by Pieter Christoffel Wonder, oil on canvas, 1826-1830

    Study for ‘Patrons and Lovers of Art’ by Pieter Christoffel Wonder, 1826-1830, depicting George Watson Taylor kneeling in front of Titian’s ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’ (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London).

    Such a vast house in this location was no longer tenable and in the later 1820s Thomas Hardwick oversaw the separation of the capital mansion from its back parts with remodelling that included a top-lit staircase that is still extant. Hardwick added what is now 15 Cavendish Square and, on the garden, 6–14 Harley Street. The largest dwelling, on the corner, was taken by William Carr Beresford, Viscount Beresford, a hero of the Peninsular campaign. Dr Henry Herbert Southey, an eminent physician and younger brother of the poet Robert, took what became 4 Harley Street. Further division and alterations followed in 1863 and further eminent doctors and merchants moved in. The last private resident of the corner property was Edward Berman, a German button importer. No. 15 saw Beaux Arts alterations for the Jockey Club in 1913 and the corner block was converted with ground-floor rustication in 1926–7 to be a branch of Coutts Bank that closed in 2012.

    (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    Phase plans of Nos 15 and 16 Cavendish Square and 2-4 Harley Street. Please click on the picture to expand (© Survey of London, Helen Jones).

    Cavendish Square 2: Nos 11-14

    By the Survey of London, on 8 January 2016

    This is the second in what will be an occasional series of posts about Cavendish Square. The north side of Cavendish Square has symmetry about its centre. This reflects the prominence of the elevation in relation to the square’s common axis along Holles Street to Hanover Square, a coherent piece of town-planning across two landholdings that is unusual for early eighteenth-century London. But the axis was the extent of the coherence then achieved. The Duke of Chandos’s plans for a full-width palace across Cavendish Square’s north side fell by the wayside when much of his fortune evaporated. Instead he built two big houses at either end and left the middle of the square’s show frontage empty save for use as a rubbish dump. This failure was excoriated by James Ralph in the Critical Review in an account of the square in 1734:

    ‘… there we shall see the folly of attempting great things, before we are sure we can accomplish little ones. Here ’tis, the modern plague of building was first stayed, and I think the rude, unfinish’d figure of this project should deter others from a like infatuation. When we see any thing like grandeur or beauty going forward, we are uneasy till ’tis finish’d, but when we see it interrupted, or intirely laid aside, we are not only angry with the disappointment, but the author too: I am morally assur’d that more people are displeas’d at seeing this square lie in its present neglected condition, than are entertain’d with what was meant for elegance or ornament in it.’ [1]

    Howard de Walden Project. General view of Cavendish Square, Marylebone, Greater London. View from south.

    Cavendish Square in 2013, with a view through the trees to Nos 11-14 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    Extract from the Ordnance Survey First Edition map of Middlesex XVII, showing Cavendish Square and Hanover Square c. 1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

    Extract from the Ordnance Survey First Edition map of Middlesex XVII, showing Cavendish Square and its environs, including Hanover Square, c. 1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

    So things rested until the Society of Dilettanti acquired the site. Famously bibulous but seriously antiquarian, the Dilettanti began here in 1753 to build an academy for the improvement of painting, sculpture and architecture, shipping in Portland stone for what would have been an important public building and an early essay in neo-classicism, based on the Temple of Rome and Augustus at Pola in Istria, and designed by a sub-committee, Robert Dingley, Sir Francis Dashwood and Col. George Gray. Competition and want of money caused the project to be abandoned and the stone was sold to John Spencer. The columns on the Green Park front of Spencer House of 1755–9 are those intended for Cavendish Square in recycled and cut-down form.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The north side of Cavendish Square in 2014, showing Nos 11-14 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Detail

    Detail of the Corinthian portico at Nos 13-14 Cavendish Square, photographed in 2012 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Cavendish Square’s embarrassing gap mouldered and it was not until 1768–70 that the present buildings went up. Their Portland stone fronts with what Sir John Summerson called ‘magnificent Corinthian porticos’ appear to be a conscious if somewhat mysterious reflection of the abandoned Dilettanti project. [2] This was no academy, merely two pairs of semi-detached houses, a speculation for an MP, George Forster Tufnell, whose family gave its name to Tufnell Park – that’s another story.

    11-14 Cavendish Square from the LCC GLC Historic Building Survey drawings collection (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    Plans of 11-14 Cavendish Square, adapted from a Greater London Council survey of 1966 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    The inner houses were entered from a central dividing roadway that led to a stable yard to the rear. At the end of the nineteenth century three of the houses were adapted for the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, a Roman Catholic institution, to be a convent school. After war damage, repairs that included a linking bridge over the road were topped off with Jacob Epstein’s Madonna and Child, erected in 1953. The buildings are now the headquarters of the King’s Fund health charity.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Jacob Epstein’s Madonna and Child of 1953, commissioned by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, a Roman Catholic institution. The Society moved to and took the freehold of No. 11 in 1888-9, added No. 12 in 1891, and then No. 13 in 1898. Photographed in 2014 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    For a fuller account of the eighteenth-century history of this site, see: Peter Guillery, ‘Cavendish Square and Spencer House: Neo-classicism, opportunity and nostalgia’, in The Georgian Group Journal, vol. 23, pp. 75-96.

    References

    [1] James Ralph, A Critical Review of the Publick Buildings, Statues and Ornaments in and around London and Westminster, 1734, p. 106

    [2] John Summerson, ‘The Society’s House: an architectural study’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 102, Oct 1954, p. 924

    Cavendish Square 1: No. 1A

    By the Survey of London, on 27 November 2015

    This is the first in a short series of posts about hidden or obscure features from the early years of Cavendish Square, a place that has more than its share of surprises for those with an interest in eighteenth-century architectural and art history.

    Cavendish Square was laid out in 1717–18 with palatial aristocratic habitation a primary intention. As landowners, the Harley family sought to capitalize on top-echelon contacts to give development of its Marylebone estate the lustre of wealth. Plans were set tolerably fair, but went awry with the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1720. Money vanished and so did most of the aristocrats. By 1730 only two aristocratic town houses had been completed; one (Bingley House, to the west) has wholly gone, the other survives in forgotten part at the south end of the square’s east side, as No. 1a or Flanders House, where the Flemish representation of the Belgian Embassy has been housed since 2003.

    No. 1A Cavendish Square in 2013 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    No. 1A Cavendish Square in 2013 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having difficulty viewing images, please click here.

    This building is the southern third of what went up in almost cubic form in 1720–6 as Harcourt House, for Simon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt and a former Tory Lord Chancellor, who, suffering cataracts, was all but blind. This fact as much as short money might explain why richly Baroque first designs by Thomas Archer [1] were pared down by Harcourt’s first executant architect, Edward Wilcox; he died and in 1721 was succeeded by Francis Smith of Warwick. In 1724 Harcourt was three months a widower before marrying Elizabeth, née Vernon, the widow of a former friend, Sir John Walter. Lavish furnishing of the house, including Genoese damasks patterned with leopards, suns and elephants, was attributed to her influence. The internal fit-out was overseen by George I’s cabinet-maker James Moore. Harcourt did not enjoy the house long, dying in 1727.

    3D Reconstruction of Harcourt House

    Reconstruction of the former Harcourt House, as in 1827 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    His grandson, Simon, 1st Earl Harcourt, enlarged a middle back parlour with a canted bay in 1758 and gave it an interior by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. This was Stuart’s first London commission and an important early ‘Greek’ neoclassical work. It was not universally liked – ‘God Damn my Blood My Lord is this your Grecian Architecture what villainy what absurdity If this be Grecian, Give me Chinese give me Gothick, Any thing is better than this, For Shame My Lord Pull it down & Burn it . . . not to expose your own ignorance for it is the most Wretched miserable affair ever was seen by Mortal.’ [2] This round deprecation by Lord Delaware was famously relished by Robert Adam and Paul Sandby. The more stolid Stiff Leadbetter was responsible for plainer alterations in the early 1760s, including the addition of a room to the south-east along Margaret Street.

    Detail from plan of Cavendish Square, showing Nos 1-2

    Detail from plan of Cavendish Square showing Nos 1 and 2, c.1810 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    The house was divided into two dwellings in 1825–7 and remodelled with new stucco facing by Sir Jeffry Wyatville. Sir Claude Scott, who had made a fortune as a wartime government grain contractor, bought the southern section and enlarged the Margaret Street room to be a banking hall, which, extended again in 1873, survives as a NatWest branch. Further works in 1928 that were overseen by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie gave the surviving part of the building its current appearance. The last aristocrats departed from the five-bay northern dwelling during the First World War. In came Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild and then, in the 1920s, the Mixed Arbitral Tribunals set up by the Treaty of Versailles to settle disputes arising from the war. Demolition and replacement with an explicitly commercial building followed in 1933–4.

    Sources

    1. In the British Library – King’s Maps xxvii.6
    2. As quoted by Richard Hewlings in ed. Susan W. Soros, James ‘Athenian’ Stuart 1713–1788: the rediscovery of antiquity, 2006, pp.195–7