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Recording the history of London's built environment since 1894


Archive for the 'South-West Marylebone' Category

Montagu House, Portman Square: the story of a lost Georgian town palace

By Survey of London, on 17 September 2021

This blog post was written for the Survey of London by Rory Lamb, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, who researched the history of Montagu House for the Survey this summer, during a two-month work placement funded by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities Doctoral Internship Programme. Rory’s research will contribute towards the Survey’s study of South-West Marylebone, scheduled for publication as volume 56 in the Survey’s ongoing series of area volumes. (Volumes 54 & 55, on Whitechapel, are the next volumes to be published, in June 2022.)

Until the mid-1950s, the site of the Nobu Hotel and Portman Towers at the north-west corner of Portman Square in Marylebone was occupied by Montagu House, a freestanding townhouse set in one of London’s largest private gardens. Latterly the town residence of the Portman Estate’s landlords, the Viscounts Portman, it was for a century occupied by the descendants of Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, the celebrated eighteenth-century writer and hostess for whom it was executed between 1775 and 1791. In Private Palaces of London (1908), Edwin Beresford Chancellor summed up her significance for the building:

Perhaps hardly another important mansion in London is so closely identified with a single individual as is the great house in Portman Square with its first owner. This is due to two reasons, one of which is the close and almost tender interest taken by Mrs Montagu in its construction and decoration; and the other the renown of the lady herself.

Mrs Montagu was the author of a famous essay on Shakespeare and a leading member of the Bluestockings, a group of men and women who met to discuss literature and philosophy at her London houses and those of her friends. Gambling and politics were banned from Mrs Montagu’s gatherings, which usually took the form of a sumptuous breakfast, tea or dinner followed by group conversations on intellectual subjects. From the 1750s her salon at No 23 Hill Street in Mayfair was attended by the likes of Edmund Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds and sought out by literary visitors to London from abroad. When her husband, Edward, died in 1775, Mrs Montagu inherited a large fortune and set about constructing a new house in Marylebone which would offer an expanded capacity and a more magnificent setting for her hosting. For her architect she turned to James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (not Robert Adam as has sometimes been claimed), whom Mrs Montagu had previously employed at Hill Street and whom she had assisted in publishing the Antiquities of Athens in the 1760s.

Elizabeth Montagu (née Robinson) by John Raphael Smith after Joshua Reynolds, 1776 (© National Portrait Gallery, London [reference: NPG D13746], shared without changes under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license). 

Leases for Montagu House and its gardens were purchased from William Selby, a speculative builder who had laid out the block between Upper Berkeley Street and George Street in 1773. He demanded large financial compensation for the loss of revenue from speculative building and Montagu initially only leased the southern half of the site, buying up the northern half as an addition to her garden in 1789. The exterior shell of the house was built in 1777, a red brick cuboid flanked by canted bay ends topped by Venetian windows, reminiscent of Stuart’s recent remodelling of Belvedere House in Kent. The plain exterior was relieved by Portland Stone string courses and cornices, pedimented Serlian windows on the piano nobile and a central Ionic doorcase. Several of the craftsmen, including the bricklayer Richard Norris and carpenter Charles Evans, accompanied Stuart from his project at 15 St James Square.

Montagu House, illustrated by T. H. Shepherd, 1851 (from Mrs Montagu, ‘Queen of the Blues’: Her Letters and Friendships from 1762 to 1800, Vol. 2, edited by Reginald Blunt [Boston and New York, 1923], p.110).

The interiors of the principal apartment were decorated over the next four years before Mrs Montagu was able to take up residence in December 1781. These comprised a ground-floor staircase hall rising to a circuit of four reception rooms: an antechamber, dining room, morning room (giving access into Montagu’s private apartment) and gallery. The antechamber was decorated in the Pompeiian style by Biagio Rebecca and Giovanni Battista Cipriani akin to the painted room of Spencer House, and the gallery featured paintings on Shakespearean subjects as the backdrop for Montagu’s literary gatherings. The ceilings offered delicate geometric and floral patterning in the hall and dining room, with more elaborate coffered coving in the morning room and an elliptical vault of interlocking fans and scrollwork with paintings by Angelica Kauffman in the gallery. ‘All the celebrated artists in England of the present times have done something towards embellishing my house’, wrote Mrs Montagu to Lord Kames in December 1781, ‘but its best grace is simplicity’. A small suite of three rooms had also been fitted up on the ground floor beneath Mrs Montagu’s bedroom for her friend Leonard Smelt, tutor to two of George III’s sons, and his wife during their visits to London. From 1780 Smelt had co-ordinated ticketed public visits to the new reception rooms in the final stages of their completion. Despite the craftsmen’s concerns that visitors would damage the paint and gilding, Mrs Montagu insisted tickets should be widely distributed so as to show off her new house to the whole of London society.

The dining room, 1904 (from A Later Pepys: the correspondence of Sir William Weller Pepys etc., Vol. 2, edited by Alice C. C. Gaussen [London, 1904], p.279).

The literary salon reconvened in the new Montagu House in the first months of 1782 following a grand opening dinner on 22 February. It was attended by Horace Walpole, who called it a ‘noble, simple edifice’, commenting on the lack of gilding or excessive decoration when compared with ‘all the harlequinades of Adam, which never let the eye repose a moment’. Such a comment set up Montagu House as a comparison to the Countess of Home’s house recently completed by Adam next door (Home House), and Mrs Montagu, the intellectual ‘Queen of the Blues’ as a rival to Lady Home, known in society as the ‘Queen of Hell’. This comparison may have been in the mind of Montagu herself, who wrote to her friend William Weller Pepys in 1781 of her conception of the new house as her Palace of Old Age, seeing it as her duty in old age to nurture the next generation with good company and conversation. She hoped that younger guests at Montagu House would find somewhere that ‘virtue, prudence & temperance should…keep open house, & show there is a golden mean [between the puritan and the glutton]’, especially in comparison with the many assembly halls and private houses where ‘every species of luxury & intemperance spread their snares’. Her ideas about the house as a place of virtue and intellectual pursuits make more significant her patronage of ‘Athenian’ Stuart, whose elegant antique interiors might deliberately evoke the purity and nobility of Ancient Greece. As in his other work, several motifs were taken directly from monuments recorded during his stay in Athens, notably a fluted frieze design in the ceiling cornices copied from the Incantada at Salonica, while his consistent use of the Ionic order throughout also helped recall the intellectual character of Montagu’s salon.

The morning room in 1894 (Historic England Archive, Bedford Lemere Collection, BL12699).

However, Stuart himself, and his unsatisfactory assistant, James Gandon, seem to have been dismissed some time in 1780-1, Stuart’s drunkenness and incompetence with the workmen sitting at odds with Mrs Montagu views of decorous behaviour and the close eye she kept on budget and efficiency in her affairs. He was replaced as architect by Joseph Bonomi, assisted by her head carpenter, Charles Evans. When Mrs Montagu moved in most of the ground-floor rooms and the great room of the first floor remained incomplete and work on these resumed between 1789 and 1791. During this period the first-floor morning room was transformed into her feather-room, celebrated in verse by William Cowper, with timber panels hung with tapestries of exotic feathers collected by Mrs Montagu’s friends over the preceding decade. The focus of the new work, however, was the decoration of the great room to a handsome Neoclassical design by Bonomi. This was a much richer interior than Stuart’s earlier rooms, dominated by fourteen scagliola Corinthian pilasters, with profuse gilding, marble chimneypiece and window architraves, and a segmental ceiling of elaborate plasterwork. Montagu intended the luxurious decoration as a ploy to rival worldlier London hosts with a set piece of similar magnificence that would attract younger members of society to her polite parties and away from more debauched venues elsewhere. Bonomi’s grand interior was opened in great state by members of the royal family and celebrated in the St James’s Chronicle. Although the intellectual heyday of the Bluestockings was seen to have been at Hill Street, Mrs Montagu’s entertainments continued at Portman Square to increased scale and grandeur until her death in 1800, with breakfasts and teas attended by several hundred people.

The great room in 1894 (Historic England Archive, Bedford Lemere Collection, BL12693).

The semi-rural location of the house originally attracted Mrs Montagu, with an urban front to Portman Square but a rear elevation giving views from the first-floor dining room over fields to the Hampstead Hills. By the time of her death in 1800 much of this open character still remained but as Marylebone spread north and obscured the view a considerable green space was preserved by the Montagu House garden, expanded in 1789 but originally laid out by Mrs Montagu’s friend George Harcourt, 2nd Earl of Harcourt, whose flower gardens at Nuneham Courtenay in Oxfordshire she had admired. These also had an intellectual bent, Harcourt’s garden designs being inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas of philosophical contemplation in nature. However, the gardens of Montagu House were best remembered for playing host to Mrs Montagu’s annual chimneysweeps’ dinner, held on May Day from 1789 in the forecourt to the square. The meal was open to all of London’s sweeps who were served roast beef and plum pudding by her footmen on trestle tables and became something of an annual society spectacle.

Montagu House and gardens with the new stable block in 1895 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland).

Montagu House remained in Elizabeth Montagu’s family until 1872, when Selby’s original 99-year leases reverted to the Portman family. It was then occupied by Mrs Montagu’s adopted heir and nephew, Matthew Robinson Montagu (latterly 4th Baron Rokeby), and his children, concluding with his younger son General Henry Montagu, 6th Baron Rokeby. In 1872 the general, a veteran of Waterloo now resigned to a wheel-chair due to gout and old age, was forced to vacate the family home for a house in Stratford Place. He was replaced by William Henry Berkeley Portman, MP, who had been living on the south side of Portman Square for several years. Before succeeding as 2nd Viscount Portman in 1888, Portman had already made considerable changes to Montagu House, possibly under the direction of the incumbent RIBA president, Thomas Henry Wyatt, who was commissioned for survey drawings in 1872. The Ionic doorway was extended into a large porte cochere of Portland Stone and matching bracketed balconies added to the first floor Serlian windows. An attic story with additional bedrooms and pedimented dormer windows was added to the garden front, and an early lift system was inserted into the void of the service stair. Portman also cut back the now mature gardens and gave over a large area of ground on the north side for a new courtyard stable block opening on to George Street.

Exterior view of 22 Portman Square, photographed in 1894 (Historic England Archive, Bedford Lemere Collection, BL12691).

The Portman family continued in occupation of the house until the Second World War, when it was gutted by an incendiary bomb during an air raid in 1941. It stood as an empty shell for about a decade before being demolished in the early 1950s along with the undamaged stable block. One of the last surviving features of Montagu House was a set of Stuart’s gate piers, which were relocated to Kenwood House in Hampstead. The site was briefly used for a car park before the construction of the present hotel and flats. Although the grand mansion has been lost, Mrs Montagu’s name is preserved in Montagu Street, west of the block on which the house stood, while her earlier house at Hill Street (now No. 31) was rediscovered in 2003 with intact interiors by Stuart and Robert Adam. Since then, the Bluestockings have been a popular subject for scholarship, Mrs Montagu remaining a central figure, with the result that her significance as an architectural patron is now better recognised alongside her intellectual achievements.

Will the real J. T. Parkinson please stand up? The architect of Bryanston and Montagu Squares in Marylebone

By Survey of London, on 21 August 2020

Long, narrow, leafy, and still to a large degree lined with elegant late-Georgian terraces of the 1800s–20s, Bryanston and Montagu Squares form a distinctive part of the grid of streets and squares making up the Portman Estate district of St Marylebone, south of Marylebone Road. While the aristocratic mansions of nearby Portman Square have almost all vanished, replaced before the Second World War by blocks of flats, the smaller scale of these two charming squares has helped ensure their survival, most of the losses there being the result of wartime bombing. Like many terraces of the day, the houses on the long sides of Bryanston Square were designed as complete Classical compositions, with pilastered end pavilions and centrepieces. Those in Montagu Square are plainer but more informal, with shallow bow windows on the ground floor, many of these carried up higher later on in the nineteenth century.

East side of Bryanston Square, looking south-east (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The architectural and town-planning qualities of these squares have long been recognized, but the architect who designed them, James Thompson Parkinson (d. 1859), has rarely been correctly acknowledged. Most sources, even some of the most reputable, attribute the work to the apparently unrelated architect and surveyor Joseph Parkinson (d. 1855). Other aspects of the two men’s careers have often been misidentified or conflated, and the confusion has even created a hybrid, Frankenstein’s monster of an architect, ‘Joseph T. Parkinson’, who never existed. This blog post attempts to disentangle the two Parkinsons, setting out their respective identities and some of their major commissions.

East side of Bryanston Square, looking north-east (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

James Thompson Parkinson was born in 1780 in Whitechapel to John Parkinson, a surgeon dentist, and his wife Elizabeth. The family moved to central London in 1787 or 1788, to Racquet Court, Fleet Street, an address which James sometimes used for his practice and where two of his brothers carried on their father’s business after his death in 1804. Howard Colvin, who attempted to separate the two Parkinsons and their work in his Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, records that J. T. Parkinson was apprenticed in 1795 to Richard Wooding (d. 1808), a London surveyor, and he seems to have been in practice on his own by the early 1800s. In 1805 he married Louisa Sophia Salter of Poplar at St Pancras Old Church. By this time he was based in Ely Place in Holborn.

In the Auto-Biography of an Octogenarian Architect (1870), George Ledwell Taylor recalled being articled in 1804, aged 15, to ‘Mr Parkinson of Ely Place’, having been passed on to him by the well-known architect-builder James Burton, who was then about to retire. Taylor gives little information about his employer, but does recount that he was a commander of the 1,000-strong volunteers corps raised by Burton in 1804, the Loyal British Artificers. Parkinson was involved with Burton in property development in the Tavistock Square area of Bloomsbury in the early 1800s, where both men lived, and he handled the sale of Tavistock House when Burton left there for a new country house, Mabledon House, that he built in 1805 near Tonbridge in Kent. For these reasons, it seems most likely that it was J. T. Parkinson who designed Mabledon House for Burton, not Joseph Parkinson, to whom it has often been attributed.

Mabledon House, near Tonbridge, Kent. Engraving by G. Cooke (from a drawing by J. C. Smith), c.1807. From J. Britton’s The Beauties of England and Wales (1801–15)

Marylebone was where J. T. Parkinson’s energies were to be concentrated in the ensuing decades. For some years he was architect and surveyor to the Portman Estate, which until the 1950s, when sales took place to meet death duties, extended from Oxford Street to well north of Marylebone Road. During this period he was working in partnership with David Porter, a chimney-sweep who built up a successful business from next to nothing and became a property developer and notable philanthropist. Much of the southern portion of the Portman Estate had already been built up by this time, but there remained a good deal of undeveloped ground ripe for building, and as well as Bryanston and Montagu Squares, Parkinson and Porter were engaged in development elsewhere on the estate during the 1810s–30s, including the Dorset Square area north of Marylebone Road. Parkinson also designed the new part-covered Portman Market for hay, fruit, vegetables, meat, and also pigs, erected in 1829–30 in Church Street off Edgware Road. Run by the agent to the Portman Estate, Thomas Wilson, the Portman Market was set up to match or eclipse Covent Garden, but never achieved this level of success. It was damaged by fire in the 1880s and subsequently rebuilt, and although the site has now been redeveloped, the market itself lives on in the form of the regular open-air market in Church Street, with stalls stretching from Edgware Road to Lisson Grove.

Montagu Square and environs, c.1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

One other identifiable work by J. T. Parkinson from this period is a chapel built by subscription at Bagshot Heath, Surrey, in 1819–21 (with the assistance of a small grant from the recently formed Incorporated Church Building Society), for which a plan and elevation by him survive at Lambeth Palace Library. But little else is heard of Parkinson after around 1830 until his death. Colvin suggests that in the 1830s Parkinson left London for Jersey, and it is possible that he spent the latter part of his life there and on the Continent. When he died in December 1859, at the house of his nieces in Holloway, aged 79, it was reported that he had latterly been ‘of Versailles’ as well as of Wyndham Place on the Portman Estate. A son, Rawlinson Parkinson (d. 1885), followed him into the architectural profession, and continued to use the Racquet Court, Fleet Street address for his practice. He was a resident of Highgate, and surveyor to Hornsey District Council, and buildings designed by him include: Fairlawns, a large classical villa of 1853 at 89 Wimbledon Park Side, Putney Heath; the Rainbow Tavern at 15 Fleet Street (1859–60); and new printing offices for the Standard newspaper in Shoe Lane (1871).

J. T. Parkinson’s pupils include the architect and civil engineer Edward Cresy (1792–1858), friend, travelling companion, brother-in-law and co-author of George Ledwell Taylor.

Fairlawns, 89 Wimbledon Park Side, Putney Heath (© Historic England Archive, IOE01/04345/22)

Joseph Parkinson was born in 1783, the son of James Parkinson (d. 1813), a land agent. A year after Joseph’s birth, his father acquired the well-known natural history collection of Sir Asthon Lever, which Lever had decided to dispose of by lottery. The collection had latterly been displayed by him in a museum at Leicester House, Leicester Square. James Parkinson took a substantial terrace house on the south side of Blackfriars Road, near Blackfriars Bridge, and in 1788–9 erected at its rear a spacious circular exhibition building, known as the Rotunda, to exhibit the Leverian Museum.

Frontage of Leverian Musuem, Blackfriars Road, 1805. Watercolour by V. Davis (Wellcome Collection, shared under an Attribution 4.0 International CC BY 4.0 licence)

Grand Saloon and Gallery in the Rotunda at the Leverian Museum, Blackfriars. Page from William Hone’s Every-Day Books, Vol 2, 1826–7 (© The Trustees of the British Museum, shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence)

In 1806 he sold the whole collection at auction, and the Rotunda was then converted by his son Joseph for the Surrey Institution, a new establishment aimed at spreading scientific and literary knowledge among the London public via lectures and exhibitions. Completed by 1808, Joseph Parkinson’s work was well received in the press, The Star stating that the manner of the conversion was ‘highly honourable … to the talents and ingenuity’ of its architect, and singling out the Lecture Theatre in the Rotunda as ‘one of the most complete and elegant of its size in the Metropolis’.

Surrey Institution, Blackfriars Road, 1809. From Pugin and Rowlandson’s Microcosm of London, plate 81 (Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum, New York)

As Colvin records, Joseph Parkinson was articled to the well-known Yorkshire-born architect and surveyor William Pilkington (1758–1848). From 1819 he was surveyor to the Union Assurance Society and for most of his career was based at 41 Sackville Street, Piccadilly. Perhaps his most notable commission came in the 1820s when he spent several years working on designs for new buildings and alterations at Magdalen College, Oxford. For some 30 years there had been proposals for a new building programme there involving such eminent figures as James Wyatt, John Nash, Humphrey Repton and the artist and architect John Buckler, but when this finally got under way in 1822 it was Parkinson who got the job. There are numerous plans by him in both Classical and Gothic styles, but the only major work actually carried out to his designs seems to have been the rebuilding of the north front of the cloisters in 1823, in a Tudor Gothic manner, and the restoration of the library. Parkinson was also involved in the 1830s in the speculative development of substantial villas in Grafton Place, Kentish Town, now part of Prince of Wales Road; and with a small square of houses in Lady Leake’s Grove (now Adelina Grove), in Mile End. When he died in 1855 he left his estate to his nephew and fellow architect Frederick Claudius John Parkinson, who had been assisting him in his office. John Raphael Brandon and Thomas Hayter Lewis were also pupils.

Rotherfield Park House, East Tisted, Hants (Wikimedia Commons, photo by Stephjeb, shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

A few uncertainties remain. Rotherfield Park House, a Grade 1 listed country pile of 1815–21 at East Tisted, Hampshire, Tudoresque Gothic in style, has long been attributed to Joseph Parkinson. The house was erected for James Scott, of the Fulham family of builders and contractors, who were thought to have been involved in the construction of Bryanston and Montagu Squares – though that is not the case. Colvin assigns the house to James Thompson Parkinson, and it certainly has some stylistic similarities with James Burton’s Mabledon House. That tenuous connection between James Scott and Joseph Parkinson has also led to an attribution to Parkinson of a row of semi-detached Italianate stuccoed cottages of the 1820s at 22–38 Rotherfield Street in Islington, which have Ionic pilasters with unusual ammonite volutes – simply because the estate on which they stand belonged to the Scott family. Finally, the ‘Mr Parkinson’ appointed by the Rector and Churchwardens at Streatham to rebuild the body of St Leonard’s Church in 1830–2 is usually given as J. T. Parkinson, though this has always been identified as Joseph rather than James. So for now there are still pieces of the puzzle that do not fit.

22–38 Rotherfield Street, Islington (© Historic England Archive, IOE01/15807/38)

Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution

By the Survey of London, on 1 November 2019

The Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution, which lasted from the 1830s to the 1860s, occupied a site on the south side of Wigmore Street, now covered by an office block backing on to Edwards Mews behind Selfridges. No trace of the building is left, but Grotrian Hall, the concert hall which originated as the institution’s lecture theatre, is still within living memory.

Marylebone in the middle third of the nineteenth century was firmly established as one of the richest, most fashionable parts of London, and with the Reform Act of 1832 became a Parliamentary borough with its own MPs. There was an extraordinary concentration of wealth, influence and talent in its streets and squares. So it is not at all remarkable that it should have started its own literary and scientific institution – such establishments were springing up in communities all over the country, middle and upper class counterparts to the equally popular working-class mechanics’ institutes. A little surprising, given its many distinguished members and supporters, and the high quality of its speakers, is that the Marylebone Lit & Sci should have flourished for such a relatively short time. The proximate cause of its failure was financial, but there seems to have been a general running out of steam in what began with a burst of energy, confidence and idealism at a time of some political optimism as well as ongoing technological and intellectual advance. At the start there was a strong emphasis on science, experimentation and discovery. Latterly the literary side came to dominate, comparatively unchallenging entertainment such as readings from well-known authors taking over from more demanding subjects. The original institution was always meant for both sexes, and an account of the inaugural meeting of 1835 refers to the biting asides of a learned but ‘ill-natured Bluestocking’ in the audience during Lord Brougham’s grandiloquent speech as patron.1 The final attempt to keep the institution going split it into two, one part nominally carrying on the original idea of learning and lectures (but literary not scientific), the other a conventional men-only club. Meanwhile the locality itself was changing in its social character, and the story of the institution and its building has links with this process, in particular with the redevelopment of one of the most notorious spots in Marylebone in the first half of the nineteenth century, Calmel Buildings, which stood behind Wigmore Street roughly where the western half of Edwards Mews now runs, more or less adjoining the institution itself.

Laid out and first built up in the 1770s, this end of Wigmore Street, west of Marylebone Lane, was originally named as two streets, reflecting landownership (link to Horwood’s plan of 1792–9). The western part, on the Portman estate, was Lower Seymour Street, and the rest was Edwards Street after the Edwards, later Hope Edwardes, family. This unnecessary distinction was eventually abolished in 1868, when the whole stretch became Lower Seymour Street, but it was not until 1923 that the further step was taken of merging it with Wigmore Street. As part of such an important thoroughfare connecting Portman Square and Cavendish Square, Edwards Street and Lower Seymour Street were good addresses, but the presence of Calmel Buildings must have been a continual nuisance to the residents on the south side. This court was an exclusively Irish, Roman Catholic enclave, possibly as far back as the late eighteenth century, and certainly by the early nineteenth century, when it was overcrowded, insanitary and violent. In 1810 a Frenchman staying in Orchard Street was kept awake all night by street-fighting in Calmel Buildings adjoining, and overheard two parish watchmen discussing whether to intervene – one saying ‘If I go in I know I shall have a shower of brick-bats’, the other replying ‘Well, never mind, let them murder each other if they please’.2 A few years later, giving evidence given to a Commons select committee on education, Montague Burgoyne, a well-off local resident who tried to set up a school in Calmel Buildings, referred to a recent murder there and described it as crowded with some 700 people in twenty-three houses and ‘upwards of a hundred pigs’.3 In 1831 it was recorded as consisting of twenty-six houses with a total population of over a thousand, and in 1845 investigators taking a census there witnessed two fights and a woman nearly beaten to death. When it was emptied for redevelopment in the winter of 1853–4, nearly 1,500 people were reportedly turned out into the streets.

In October 1833 Joseph Jopling, an architect and civil engineer, put forward a plan for the demolition of Calmel Buildings to make way for a public building with space for meetings, lectures and conversation, a library and reading rooms, recreation and refreshment rooms and even baths. The density of population there, he thought, ‘should not be permitted anywhere’ and the boxed-in site was in his view unfit for housing ‘even on an improved plan’. Jopling was living in Somerset Street, a now vanished street which ran just south of Calmel Buildings, where the painter George Stubbs had lived for most of his career, the site of which is now covered by Selfridges. Jopling’s paper4 opens with the statement that it had been selected to ‘commence a series of suggestions for the progressive improvement of Mary-le-bone’, and if this was not directly in connection with the actual Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution it must have been done in full knowledge of its formation, which extended over several years.

The first that is heard of a Marylebone literary and scientific institution is the report of a prospectus being issued in 1831, and the project took shape the following year under the leadership of John Hemming, an ‘experimental and operative chemist’, still remembered for his work on the industrial manufacture of soda, who already lectured at the London Institution and who became the new institution’s first president. As Hemming recalled, the project ‘first beamed forth its infant scintillations around the parlour fire of a scientific neighbour, the ravages upon whose Turkey carpet could well tell, in a short time, the increasing numbers of the lovers of useful knowledge in the borough of Marylebone’.5 Who this neighbour was was not revealed. In Lower Seymour Street around this time were James Hope, a pioneer cardiologist, and William Spence, a noted political economist and entomologist; a short walk away Charles Babbage was already established at his house in Dorset Street. Wherever it began, the new institution found its home at what was then 17 Edwards Street, which had been the residence until his death in 1815 of Viscount Wentworth, a personal friend of George III and the uncle of Byron’s wife Annabella Millbanke. The house had recently been occupied by the Count and Countess Morel de Champemant. A substantial library was accumulated, subscriptions to newspapers and journals were taken out, a reading room and a chess room were fitted up, and a museum and a laboratory were planned. In December 1833 the premises opened with a first public lecture, on astronomy, given by the well-known scientific writer and speaker Dionysius Lardner.

The inaugural meeting of the Institution in March 1835, by T. M. Baynes (City of Westminster Archives)

Next year the Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, a keen promoter and supporter of such institutions, and a close associate of their pioneer George Birkbeck, agreed to act as patron. Extensive alterations to the house were made and a lecture hall for 600 was built. Crowded for an opening concert in February 1835, this proved gratifyingly ‘well-adapted for sound’ but oppressively stuffy. At the formal inauguration the next month, the skylight windows were consequently left open. As the speeches got under way there was a sudden squall, hailstones showered down and there were grabs for cloaks and umbrellas. Brougham, dressed for the occasion in a green frock-coat, black velvet waistcoat and grey and black checked trousers, rose to his feet with ‘Shut down the windows, I say, and let every Lady and Gentleman who likes it put on their hats and bonnets sans ceremonie’. Brougham went on to entertain the listeners with a two-hour speech, in which he set out the history of literary and scientific institutions and the urgent need for the education of the middle and upper classes. Without it, they would find the working classes rightly treading on their heels, challenging their position. ‘It was always his Lordship’s wish and earnest hope that the working classes to the lowest grade should drink deep of the well of science and of letters. The days were gone when the progress of knowledge could be stopped. The days were gone, too, when Gentlemen merely read a stupid newspaper article and Ladies spelled their way through the fashions of the month… In such a time it was no wonder that the servant could read neither the one nor the other. It was laughable to look back at those venerated times when the majority of country Gentlemen knew very little more than the horses they rode or the wild animals they chased; and when, if the names of Bacon, or Locke, or such a one as Bentham, were mentioned in their baronial halls, it would be imagined that they were the names of so many horses’.6

The new institution fully reflected Marylebone’s elevated social and intellectual character, and was always aimed at the middle classes and above, for whom the annual subscription of two guineas was modest. Prominent names involved in its formation or early development included Edward Wedlake Brayley, the topographer; the distiller Sir Felix Booth, who financed his friend John Ross’s arctic explorations; the traveller and writer James Silk Buckingham; Sir Anthony Carlisle, surgeon and anatomist; James Copland, physician; Raikes Currie, the banker and politician; John Cam Hobhouse, the politician, Byron’s friend and executor; the lawyer Sir William Horne, Brougham’s associate and MP for the new constituency of Marylebone; the law reformer Basil Montague; and the surveyor and geologist Richard Cowling Taylor. Hemming was in time succeeded as president by the Oxford Street pharmacist and collector of Landseer’s paintings Jacob Bell, and Bell after his premature death by the Anglo-Jewish community leader Sir Francis Goldsmid. Sir Robert Peel, Lord Broughton and the art patron Henry T. Hope later became vice-presidents. Early lecturers included the antiquary and topographer John Britton on castellated architecture, Lardner on Babbage’s calculating engine, Benjamin Humphrey Smart on elocution, and Thomas Southwood Smith on ‘animal economy’, a melange of physiology and embryonic psychology. Subsequently, speakers included Peel, on poets, and the composer Charles Kensington Salaman.

Another well-received speaker in the mid-1850s was Cardinal Archbishop Wiseman, a resident of York Place (now part of Baker Street) who lectured on the effect of words on thought and civilization, and later on the collection and arrangement of paintings for a national gallery. A few years earlier, in 1851, Wiseman had stood on a platform in Calmel Buildings before an Irish crowd put at 3,000, denouncing the local non-denominational ragged schools. These and their associated social work were one response to the squalor and violence of not just Calmel Buildings but other impoverished courts and streets in the area. Nearby Gray’s Yard Ragged School, begun in 1836, was a particular success, carrying on well into the twentieth century, with a gospel hall and hostel.

Around the time Wiseman lectured at the institution, Calmel Buildings was finally being replaced – by the Anglican church of St Thomas, opened in 1858, a project which owed much to the efforts of John Pelham, the evangelical rector of Marylebone, subsequently Bishop of Norwich. The erection of this church, it was suggested, somewhat ludicrously given that they were Roman Catholic, might prove the reformation of the erstwhile inhabitants. The church was allocated a district extending from Portman Square to Cavendish Square, and offered such a good stipend that when the incumbent died in 1891 more than 600 applications for the post were received in a week. Schools were built in the 1860s, and a mission and soup kitchen set up near by for the local poor, and in time St Thomas’s became a rather fashionable church, known for high-society weddings. Churchwardens included the decorator J. D. Crace, and Florence Nightingale rented seats there for her servants.

The area c.1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

The Literary and Scientific Institution did not own 17 Edwards Street, but rented it from an Oxford Street upholsterer, John Balls, whose ‘liberality and philanthropy’ were duly acknowledged at the 1835 inauguration. It was responsible for repairs as well as rent, and in 1846 a fund was launched with the aim of building rent-free premises on a larger scale. Brougham gave £100, and others, including Sir Benjamin Hall and Sir Charles Napier, contributed. Although the plan did not succeed, in 1851 the existing lecture hall was enlarged and remodelled, with a gallery, so that there was now room for 1,000. Underneath were fitted up various ancillary rooms including class-rooms and retiring rooms for lecturers. The theatre opened with Macbeth read by the actress Isabella Glyn.

Finances fluctuated, with periods of debt and falling membership. Besides rent and repairs, the cost of getting top speakers was high. In 1852 Thackeray, who gave many talks at the institution, was paid £150 for six lectures on English humorous writers, already given at Willis’s Rooms, while in 1860 a too-high admission fee was blamed for empty seats at Louis Blanc’s lecture on Parisian fashions in the eighteenth century. A crisis of debt led to the institution’s reorganization in 1864 under new management as the Marylebone Literary Institute and Club. Referring to the great clubs of St James’s and the proliferation of working-men’s clubs, a supporter demanded, where were the clubs for the middle class? ‘They nowhere exist. But are they not needed?’ Membership of the ‘Literary Department’, as in the original institution, was open to ladies and gentlemen; the club, ‘of course’, was for men only. The lecture theatre was redecorated, and rooms were fitted up for smoking and billiards.7

The new regime did not last more than a few years, and the staging of readings from Scott by an obscure speaker indicates the level of decline. When the actress Fanny Stirling gave dramatic readings at the hall in 1870 it was for a new organization, the New Quebec Working Men’s Club, later the Quebec Institute, a self-improvement venture for men and women based on the Birkbeck Institution, with which Mrs Stirling, the Earl of Lichfield, Lord Lyttelton, and other local figures including the Presbyterian minister Donald Fraser and Oxford Street decorator Peter Graham were involved. Among the speakers in 1876 was Anthony Trollope, on reading. During this period the lecture theatre was hired out as Seymour Hall for public meetings and concerts – Father Ignatius the monk of Llanthony Abbey being one well-publicized turn. In 1878 the Quebec Institute closed or moved away, and the premises were taken over by the American piano makers Steinway as their first London Steinway Hall.

The area in the 1890s (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

Despite the clearance of Calmel Buildings, the area retained a considerable Irish Roman Catholic population, and several houses adjoining the hall became a convent and mission run by the Order of St Vincent de Paul. This was initiated by Mary Teresa, Lady Petre, wife of the 12th Baron Petre, whose London residence was then in Portland Place. Lady Petre had set up a French-style crèche near Marylebone High Street in the 1860s, and later a home for destitute girls off Marylebone Lane. In 1873 she conceived the idea of a ‘Night Home’ for working girls, to serve as a memorial to the pilgrimage that year by English and Irish Catholics to the shrine of the Sacré Coeur at Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy. The home was opened in 1878 by Cardinal Archbishop Manning in a remodelled house a few doors from the old Literary and Scientific Institution. More houses were annexed in subsequent years, including that adjoining the hall, occupied since 1858 by another charitable institution, the Samaritan Free Hospital for Women and Children. By this time the Catholic establishment included an orphanage and a school for girls and infants. Steinway Hall itself was eventually acquired, with plans to turn it into an assembly hall when Steinway’s lease ran out in 1920. Ultimately these plans were superseded, and in the 1938 the whole establishment moved into new purpose-built premises in Blandford Street, where the school remained until some years ago.

Steinway Hall was transformed in 1925 for new occupants, the piano makers Grotrian-Steinweg, ‘by the complete removal of several awkward architectural features, a number of which were an eyesore’.8 As Grotrian Hall, it was considered as comfortable as any music venue in London, and for certain ‘concerts of an intimate character’, the best.9 Its closure in 1938, the departure of St Vincent’s, and the demolition of St Thomas’s a few years before were all on account of Selfridges. Harry Gordon Selfridge had wanted to extend his store up to Wigmore Street and spent years piecing together the site, a patchwork of leasehold interests taking up the whole block from Orchard Street to Duke Street. After the war Selfridges decided the land was not all needed after all, and having acquired the entire freehold, sold off the Wigmore Street frontage for redevelopment. In 1955–7 three matching office blocks, designed by the architect Cecil Elsom, were built there for a consortium including Metropolitan Estate and Property Corporation, letting to such names as IBM and 3M. This was one of the biggest office developments London had yet seen. The whole site has been redeveloped again in recent years.


  1. Morning Post, 5 March 1835
  2. {Louis Simond}, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain during the years 1810 and 1811, vol. 2, Edinburgh 1815, p. 259
  3. Report from Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the education of the Lower Orders of the Metropolis, 1816, pp. 461–2
  4. City of Westminster Archives Centre, D. Misc 197
  5. Morning Post, 5 March 1835
  6. Morning Post, 5 March 1835
  7. Marylebone Mercury, 2 January 1864; 3, 10 September 1864
  8. Aberdeen Press and Journal, 1 October 1925
  9. News Chronicle, 8 April 1938

The Baker Street Bazaar

By the Survey of London, on 14 June 2019

The Baker Street Bazaar was a group of buildings hidden behind houses and shops on the west side of Baker Street, between Blandford Street and Dorset Street. It was a famous place in Victorian times and well into the twentieth century, but the name was going out of use before the Second World War and what now seem to have been the great days of the establishment were by then long over. Burned out in the Blitz, the Bazaar was demolished in 1941 and its site became an American military car-park. In the 1950s it was redeveloped with the head offices of Marks & Spencer, coincidentally the pioneers of Penny Bazaars half a century earlier. Marks & Spencer moved there in 1957 from scattered offices, including those across the road at 82 Baker Street, where the company had been for many years. This was a time when important sites in Baker Street and elsewhere in this part of the West End were being redeveloped with corporate headquarters. Marks & Spencer’s were the biggest, and there was space for part to be let at first to another corporation, Metal Box, for its own offices. The buildings, known until Marks & Spencer’s departure in 2004 as Michael House, are still there but hardly recognizable following enlargement and remodelling by Make Architects in 2005–8, as 55 Baker Street.

In their origins, the blitzed buildings were neither a bazaar nor even in Baker Street. When the district was first laid out in streets, two of the main developers were Abraham Adams, originally a carpenter, and Thomas Elkins, a bricklayer. In 1771 they entered into agreement with the landowner Henry Portman for one particularly large site, with a plan involving a market square on the east side of Baker Street. Ten years later, the market having failed to appear, most of the ground had to be handed back to Portman. But a certain amount of work had been done round about, including one development still under construction. This was a barracks for the Second Troop of Horse Guards, one of several cavalry barracks called into being by the Napoleonic wars and conveniently close to Hyde Park. It seems that in the end Adams and Elkins had to give up the barracks too, for in 1791 Portman leased it to George and John Elwes, sons of the financier and legendary miser John Elwes, who were able to relet it to the government on lucrative terms. By that time, the occupying troop had been reformed as the Second Regiment of Life Guards, with men of lower social background replacing the previous complement of ‘gentlemen troopers’.

Quadrangular in layout, with a central parade ground and a riding house at the north end, the barracks was entered by passageways from the street on the south side, then King Street and only redesignated as part of Blandford Street in 1937.

The Horse Bazaar (Westminster Archives)

In 1821 King Street Barracks was replaced by a new barracks in Regent’s Park, and in 1822 reopened as the Horse Bazaar, the latest venture by the businessman and politician John Maberly. He had managed to get the premises at half the rent the government had paid, but was pouring money into the place. Maberly’s was a coachmaking and leather-dressing family, and he had married the daughter of William Leader, the Marylebone-based coachmaker to the Prince of Wales. With a fortune inherited from Leader, he plunged into manufacturing, contracting and finance, setting up banks and a soapworks, acquiring textile mills and supplying the army with uniforms. As an MP from 1816, for Rye and then Abingdon, he was a vociferous advocate of tax reform. At Shirley House, his seat near Croydon, he maintained racing stables. Maberly’s businesses were largely sound enterprises, but he became heavily involved in stock-market speculations and risky overseas loans. In 1832 his bank John Maberly & Co. suspended payments, and within weeks he was bankrupt. Only a fraction of his debts was ever paid off. He died abroad in obscurity some time later, but his son William Leader Maberly was able to pursue a successful career in the army and civil service, running the Post Office before Rowland Hill took over and living near his father’s Bazaar, in Gloucester Place.

At first the Bazaar was just for sales of horses on commission, but soon the business expanded, as carriage sales were introduced, advances were made on horses and carriages brought for sale, and harness and saddlery was sold. When it opened, it was described simply as comprising 300–400 stalls, with a large riding house and high-walled exercise ground – much as it must have been as a barracks. But subsequently it is clear that a great deal was spent. Accounts vary, but it was in the tens of thousands of pounds. There were light and spacious galleries capable of displaying 500-plus carriages, and the auction room itself was a top-lit hall with an elegant viewing gallery. Most expensive, no doubt, was the vast and lavishly decorated ‘Subscription Club’ room built over the riding house. This was once thought to have been the former officers’ mess, but it was too grand even for a guards’ regiment. It proved too grand even for the Subscription Club.

Although the word bazaar had been in use from the start, it was only with the opening of the ‘New Bazaar’ in 1826 that the establishment took on the character of a general retail market, aimed at the most fashionable and affluent shoppers. Encouraged by sales of tack, Maberly launched this fresh development based on John Trotter’s Soho Bazaar. Applications for stalls were sought from independent traders, and provision was made for the sale of furniture, pictures and other articles on commission, on which, as with carriages, advances were offered. A vast range of goods was promised, ranging from watches and jewellery to perfumery and toys. The furniture department was at the King Street end, while dozens of stalls comprising the Ladies’ or Fancy Bazaar occupied the gallery floor of the long eastern range. A house in Baker Street was acquired to form the entrance, and so the site in due course acquired its memorably alliterative name. At the north end the former Subscription Club room, renamed the Great Room, was fitted up with more stalls. Ante-rooms included one displaying glassware, one for music, another serving as a dressing room for ladies buying millinery. Refreshment rooms, reading rooms and private subscription rooms completed the ambience of leisure and luxury, while the female stallholders had ‘a more than ordinary share of youth and beauty’. According to an old story, Thackeray based Becky Sharp on Tizzie Reeves, an adventuress whose mother was one of these girls. ‘When these alterations are completed,’ it was claimed, ‘there will be assembled, under one roof, the most extensive collection of the luxuries, necessaries, or conveniences of life, probably to be met with in Europe; presenting the nearest approach we have yet seen to that Eastern market, from which it has taken its title’. [1]

The auction room at the Horse Bazaar (Westminster Archives)

With Maberly’s bankruptcy, the Bazaar was bought by the auctioneer Matthew Clement Allen, proprietor of Aldridge’s Repository, the horse and carriage mart in St Martin’s Lane. Allen’s brother-in-law William Boulnois, a City wine merchant, became involved, and in time took over parts of the premises, including the carriage and furniture departments. Horse sales were transferred to Aldridge’s in 1838, after which Boulnois had the whole Bazaar to himself.

Born to a French emigré family, Boulnois became squire of Gestingthorpe in Essex, where he died in 1862. Thereafter the Bazaar was run in partnership by two of his sons, William Allen Boulnois, architect and surveyor, and Edmund, who became a  prominent figure in Marylebone as a businessman and in many public roles, including JP, Guardian of the Poor, LCC member and Conservative MP. Percy Boulnois, another brother, became the borough engineer of Portsmouth and a close friend of Arthur Conan Doyle. As Doyle’s biographer Andrew Lycett suggests, although the Bazaar never figures in the Sherlock Holmes stories, the Boulnois connection may have prompted the choice of Baker Street as Holmes’s address.

In 1840 William Boulnois announced the opening of an ironwork department, grandly called the Panklibanon. Manufactories on site were to permit the undertaking of contracts ‘of any magnitude’. [2] Unfortunately, all this was in breach of a covenant in the head lease against noxious trades. The new forges had to be dismantled and the manufacturing side of the business abandoned. Consequently the Panklibanon was reduced to showrooms only, with a range of goods from stoves and baths down to pans and tea trays. It passed through a succession of proprietors, before being taken over as the lighting and glassware showrooms of Apsley Pellatt.

The Bazaar’s use for exhibitions went back at least to 1827, when George Pocock’s experimental kite-powered carriage, the Charvolant, was put on display. After horse sales were given up it became an important venue. The Smithfield Club, founded in 1798 under the Duke of Bedford’s presidency to improve livestock standards, held its annual show there from 1839. Boosted by the development of the railways, which enabled animals to be brought from afar, this was a pre-Christmas extravaganza of grotesquely overfed cattle, sheep and pigs combined with displays of the latest advances in farm equipment, and it was enormously popular and prestigious.

Smithfield Club cattle show in 1843 (Westminster Archives)

At first it was makeshift, with a temporary canvas roof and the ground so filthy that ladies in their long skirts were unable to attend. Later, improvements were made including a permanent iron-framed roof built to W. A. Boulnois’s design. Prince Albert was a regular exhibitor, and he and Queen Victoria visited on several occasions; red sand was put down in the show-yard. But the show outgrew the Bazaar, and from 1862 was held at the new Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington.

More important even than the Smithfield show was the waxworks exhibition of Madame Tussaud and Sons, which moved in 1835 from the Royal London Bazaar in Gray’s Inn Lane to the Great Room at Baker Street, where it would remain for half a century. It reopened with ‘the splendid Golden Corinthian Saloon, and two new figures of the Duke of Sussex and Sir Walter Scott’. [3] Following the departure of Tussauds, their old premises at the Bazaar were briefly used in 1885–6 as the Baker Street Picture Galleries, for the sale of paintings on commission. They reopened in 1886 as a venue for hire called the Portman Rooms. Among the first activities were Miss Chreiman’s classes for the Hygiene and Remedial Physical Training of Girls. In 1889 refurbishment and redecoration was carried out by the famous Newman Street decorators Campbell, Smith and Campbell, under the joint supervision of the architects Sir Arthur Blomfield and J. S. Paul. It was a lavish transformation, involving mirrors, velvet, stained glass, embossed papers and anaglypta, stencilling and Classical sculpture, coloured in yellow, white, bronze, gold, indigo, cream and Pompeian red. The Great Room was remodelled as the Large Ballroom, with a new coved and moulded ceiling treatment, and other principal spaces were remodelled to provide a second ballroom and a supper room.

Madame Tussaud’s waxworks in the Great Room, probably 1880s (Westminster Archives)

The Portman Rooms became one of the best-known London venues for dances, concerts, charity bazaars, political, religious and social meetings of all sorts, including many events promoting women’s suffrage. An early form of cinema, the Anarithmascope, was exhibited there in 1896–7. But the place seems to have fallen on hard times after the death of the Boulnois brothers. In 1913 the main ballroom was declared structurally unsafe, and it was suggested by the authorities that the ‘inmates’ should be transferred to Marylebone workhouse. Repairs were carried out, and in 1916 the Portman Rooms were requisitioned as a military hospital and Royal Army Medical Corps barracks. After the war, Tussauds were keen to move back to their one-time premises, but found too many difficulties in meeting safety regulations and had to give up the idea. Instead, the Portman Rooms re-opened to the public in 1919 as the grand ballrooms and function rooms which they remained until the next war.

Over the years there were various temporary exhibitions. The big attraction of 1843 was the Glaciarium and Frozen Lake, a skating rink with painted Alpine scenery, employing a chemical ice-substitute. A ladies-only morning session was followed by general admission and after dark the lake was artistically lit – ‘the moon rises, stars glitter, and music enlivens the whole scene’. [4] It proved popular, and Prince Albert was among those who tried it out, before it was replaced by a bigger version set up elsewhere in 1844.

Carriage sales continued through the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth gave way to sales of motor-cars. In 1870 the Boulnois firm branched out into another venture, with specially built storage warehouses on the west side of the site in what is now Rodmarton Street. These were converted in 1922 into a social club for shopworkers, with its own dance floor, billiard rooms and restaurant.

Meanwhile, the furniture department grew into an important separate business following its acquisition in the 1840s by a Regent Street draper and upholsterer, Thomas Charles Druce. He died in 1864 but his family firm was eventually to take over the entire Bazaar site. Druce’s developed into a department store, though always specializing in furniture, took over the businesses of warehousing and sales from W. & E. Boulnois, and also branched out into undertaking and estate agency.

Plan of the Bazaar site, about 1900 (Portman Estate). Please click to expand. 

The name of Druce will be forever associated with the wild goose chase set off in the 1890s when T. C. Druce’s widow claimed that her husband had not died in 1864 but had been in reality the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, who died in 1879, and therefore that her son was heir to the Portland estates. The duke (briefly in the Second Life Guards, though not until shortly after the regiment left King Street) was alleged to have come and gone in disguise through a secret passage – his London residence was not far away, in Cavendish Square. Physically, the Bazaar was a warren, organic in its development, with little exterior presence on account of its being corseted by the houses and shops along the street frontages of the nearly two-acre block. Possibly this gave credence to a sense of mystery and fuelled Mrs Druce’s fantasies of double identity. The passage, however, was merely a fire exit, not actually installed until after T. C. Druce’s death. The celebrated but preposterous Druce–Portland case was not resolved until Druce’s coffin was opened to reveal his well-preserved body in December 1907.

In December 1940 almost the entire premises burned out in an air raid. Further damage followed. For five successive Sunday mornings traffic was diverted so that the ruins could be safely brought down. Thereafter, Druce’s continued to operate from more than one Baker Street address but the business contracted, with the closure in the 1950s of the department store and auction rooms, and the name is now just that of the estate agency.


1. Morning Chronicle, 17 March 1826

2. The Standard, 8 June 1840

3. Morning Chronicle, 26 March 1835

4. Bristol Mercury, 17 June 1843

Seasons Greetings from the Survey of London

By the Survey of London, on 21 December 2018

Thank you for reading the Survey of London’s blog posts over the last year. Here follows a selection of our favourite wintry photographs from our past and present studies of London. Happy Christmas and all good wishes for the New Year.

Oxford Street

As the longest continuous shopping street in Europe since the eighteenth century, Oxford Street is a unique phenomenon. Though it has witnessed almost continuous change, it has never lost its popularity. The character of Oxford Street is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. In 2015 we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street. Here is a selection of the photographs that she took, first published online in a blog post that considered the festive season on Oxford Street and its enduring traditions. The Survey’s work on Oxford Street is nearing completion, and the volume is expected to be published by Yale University Press, with support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, in 2020.

Boots at 385–389 Oxford Street, photographed in December 2015. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

West end of Oxford Street looking towards Marble Arch, with Marks & Spencers flagship store. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

The Toy Store at 381 Oxford Street, a Dubai-based chain which opened its first UK store in 2014 close to Bond Street Station. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)


Research is continuing in Whitechapel, a district with a long and rich history, currently in the throes of intense change. One of this year’s highlights for the Survey was the Whitechapel History Fest, which took place at the Whitechapel Idea Store in October. The festival marked the closing stages of the three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded research project, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’. Local experts, residents and historians convened to discuss the past and present of Whitechapel, with talks, film, poetry readings and panel discussions.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32–34 Whitechapel Road, in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Gee 8 Fashions, 14 New Road, Whitechapel, photographed in November 2018. (© Derek Kendall)

View into vehicle dispatch bay at the East London Mail Centre and E1 Delivery Office, Whitechapel Road, photographed in October 2018. (© Survey of London, photographed by Derek Kendall)

South-East Marylebone

In 2017, two volumes (Nos 51 & 52) were published on South-East Marylebone, covering a large swathe of the parish of St Marylebone. In November 2018, the Survey was honoured to received the prestigious Colvin Prize from the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain in recognition of the volumes as an outstanding work of reference on an architectural subject. The draft chapters are available to download via our website, pending a full online version. The Survey is following up these volumes with a study of South-West Marylebone, covering the area west of the boundary of the previous volumes as far as Edgware Road.

17–18 Cavendish Square, view from the east in December 2015. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Golden Eagle Public House, 59 Marylebone Lane, view from the north-east in January 2016. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nativity with six apostles on the lowest row of the reredos at All Saints Church, Margaret Street, South-East Marylebone. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)


The Survey completed its work on Battersea in 2013, with the publication of two volumes (Nos 49 and 50) by Yale University Press. The draft texts of all thirty-two chapters from the Battersea volumes are available via our website, prior to the release of a full online version.

Battersea Square, photographed in December 2012. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013. St Barnabas’s Church on Clapham Common North Side is within view in the distance, its pitched roofs adorned by a dusting of snow. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013, looking towards towards Clapham Common North Side. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)


Finally, 2018 saw the online publication of the Survey’s volume (No. 48) on Woolwich, first published in 2012 and now digitally available here.

Woolwich Covered Market, Plumstead Road, listed in 2018, photographed in 2007. (© Historic England, Derek Kendall)

Mosaic detail from St George’s Garrison Church, Woolwich, photographed in 2007. (© Historic England, Derek Kendall)

Mosaic and painted decoration, St Michael and All Angels Church, Woolwich, reconstruction. (© Historic England, George Wilson)

The French Chapel in Marylebone

By the Survey of London, on 7 September 2018

A reminder of the once notable French presence in Marylebone is the French definite article in the name. The old name was Marybone, a corruption of Maryborne, referring to the church of St Mary by the bourne built in the early 1400s. Although ‘Mary le Bone’ and variants were in widespread use throughout the eighteenth century, Marybone was still the most common name until the early nineteenth century, when it began to fall out of use, (St) Marylebone subsequently becoming the invariable form. But even today, there are alternative pronunciations, essentially English and French.

There was a French church off the High Street by 1709, perhaps earlier, and from the late seventeenth century French émigrés ran a well-known school near by, patronized by the nobility as a prep school for Westminster and Eton. The French population then was Protestant, part of the Huguenot diaspora particularly associated in London with Spitalfields. But a century after Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, prompting the main Huguenot exodus, the Revolution brought a new wave of French refugees to Britain, this time Roman Catholic and royalist, many of them priests, many of them aristocrats. A large number settled at least temporarily in the fashionable and still-developing district of south Marylebone, where the executed Louis XVI’s younger brother the Comte d’Artois (from 1824 to 1830 Charles X of France) held court in Baker Street. Consequently, Marylebone became a vital counter-revolutionary centre and it is likely that this association with France helped to bring about the dominance of the French-sounding form of the place name.

The French Chapel in 1890. Watercolour by Thomas G. Appleton. (© Westminster City Archives)

One of thousands to flee to Britain was the Bishop of St Pol-de-Léon, Jean François de La Marche (1729–1806), who landed in Cornwall from a smuggler’s boat in 1792. As the effective leader of the exiled French clergy, working with the Vicar Apostolic of London, Bishop John Douglass, de La Marche was behind the opening of several French chapels including that in Marylebone. There was already a Roman Catholic chapel there, recently opened in association with the Spanish embassy in Manchester Square, the forerunner of present-day St James’s, Spanish Place. But a makeshift French chapel was soon set up in Paddington Street, in a house on the corner of Dorset Mews East (now Kenrick Place), under the charge of the Abbé François Bourret of the Society of Saint-Sulpice.

Extract from the Ordnance Survey 25-inch map, 1875, showing the French Chapel in Little George Street, just south of King Street. (Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

In 1798 the site for a permanent chapel was found on the Portman estate in Little George Street, a now-vanished mews just east of Gloucester Place between King Street (part now of Blandford Street) and George Street. The street was as yet only half built up. Funds for building came from French exiles and English sympathizers, Protestant as well as Catholic, including the Marchioness of Buckingham who had converted to Catholicism in 1788. A substantial grant came from the Montreal branch of the Society of Saint-Sulpice. Much of the physical work was carried out by priests and their compatriots. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation, the chapel opened on 15 March 1799 with a grand service of consecration attended by French royalty and senior ecclesiastics. Over the following decades, the chapel saw many important services, attended by many of the leading members of the royal houses of Bourbon and Orléans.

Front elevation, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

In its original form, the chapel was exceptionally modest, externally plain and comprising a narrow space with a single aisle. In 1815, following the restoration of the monarchy, Louis XVIII formally granted it the status of Chapel Royal and a grant sufficiently large to allow pew-rents to be abolished. This led to the attendance of many poor Catholics, Irish and English as well as French, and the chapel had to be enlarged, resulting in a second aisle, gallery, and additional accommodation. Financial support from France stopped with the revolution of July 1830, but was later reinstated, finally ending under the Third Republic in 1881. Thereafter the chapel depended, as originally, on voluntary subscriptions and became effectively a private chapel. A fund-raising campaign for repairs and a new lease from the Portman Estate was set up under the leadership of Cardinal Manning, who rededicated the chapel to St Louis de France. Improvements to the building in 1886 were overseen by the architect Henry Petit of Welbeck Street (1847–1926), whose Paris-born parents had eventually settled in Marylebone. But when the new lease was obtained it was for only 25 years.

Ground plan, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

As described in 1886, the interior of the chapel was ‘scarcely larger than an ordinary drawing room’, with the main altar and ‘a diminutive stand for an American organ’ at the far end, facing the gallery, which was at one time set aside for royalty. There were windows only at the front, and the space was therefore dependent on toplighting. A winding staircase to the side of the gallery gave access to the priests’ living quarters and ancillary rooms.

Upper level plan, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

The chapel was to acquire a number of valuable furnishings and artefacts, but perhaps the most remarkable was the original altar painting of the Annunciation, the work of the Roman Catholic artist Maria Cosway, then living at Stratford Place in Oxford Street, with her husband the miniaturist Richard Cosway. This was destroyed in 1858, when velvet hangings over the altar caught light at the funeral of the Countess de Lavradio, wife of the Portuguese Ambassador.

Long section, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

By the end of the century, Marylebone was no longer a particular centre of the London French community and the building had largely been superseded by the church of Notre Dame de France in Leicester Place, opened in 1868. Closure followed soon after the death of the long-serving priest, the Very Rev. Louis Toursel or Tersel, in 1910, a final service being held on 12 February 1911. Soon afterwards the seating and other fittings were stripped out. The lease had only a couple of years to run and although there was some negotiation for a new one the unauthorized removal of the fittings caused difficulty and the building was surrendered together with a payment apparently for reinstatement. Later that year the London County Council decided to rename Little George Street after Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities.

Section, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

The chapel was used in 1912–14 by Anglicans as their Chapel of the Annunciation, while their church, the former Quebec Chapel on the corner of Bryanston Street and Old Quebec Street, was rebuilt. During the First World War it was used for training women and girls to make toys and gloves, items which until the war had been imported from Germany and Austria. Later it was used as a furniture warehouse, as an undertaker’s chapel and as a public hall, called Carton Hall. From 1946 until the completion of a new synagogue in Crawford Place in 1957 it was occupied as the Western Synagogue, housing a congregation bombed out of their old West End building. In 1958 it was acquired by Angus McKenzie, who employed the cinema architect Leslie C. Norton to turn it into the original Olympic Sound Studios. Recordings made there included Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’ in 1964. By that time redevelopment schemes for the whole block were being pursued. The building was demolished in 1969 and Carton Street itself ceased to exist.

Maria Cosway’s altarpiece painting. Mezzotint of 1800 by Valentine Green. (© Trustees of the British Museum)

The Survey of London, December 2017

By the Survey of London, on 29 December 2017

Recently we have been looking through our archive on the history of the Survey of London, which traces its beginnings to the 1890s. These large cloth-bound boxes brimming with letters, newspaper cuttings, photographs and pamphlets include detailed reports on the progress of the Survey.

A pamphlet recording the progress of the London Survey Committee, as the Survey was formerly known, at Midsummer 1929.

As it is customary during the festive season to reflect on recent achievements, current research, and plans for the future, we think it might be timely to share an update on the current progress of the Survey. 2017 has been an important year for the Survey of London, marked by the publication of Volumes 51 and 52 on South-East Marylebone by Yale University Press, supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. We are delighted that these volumes, which document a rich and varied part of the capital, have been received with glowing reviews:

  • “Superbly researched, well written and comprehensively illustrated…” – John Martin Robinson, Country Life, October 2017.
  • “These two [volumes] cover a chunk of the historic West End in unrivalled detail following years of rigorous research…” – Robert Bevan, Evening Standard, December 2017.

The draft chapters for these volumes have been made freely available online via our website.

Covers of Volumes 51 and 52 of the Survey of London on South-East Marylebone, published in Autumn 2017. 

The Survey is following up its two volumes on South-East Marylebone with a study of South-West Marylebone, covering the area west of the boundary of the previous volumes as far as Edgware Road. A comprehensive study of Oxford Street is also underway to produce a volume covering both sides of the street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch. As the longest continuous shopping street in Europe since the eighteenth century, Oxford Street is a unique phenomenon. Though it has witnessed almost continuous change, it has never lost its popularity. The traffic, the crowds and the modes of transport will be an equal part of the Survey’s study along with the buildings and shops of Oxford Street. Publication date is estimated as 2019.

View of Oxford Circus taken from the roof of Spirella House, 266270 Regent Street, looking north-west. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Research is continuing in Whitechapel, an area with a multifaceted history that is currently in the throes of intense change. In Autumn 2016 the Survey launched a public collaborative website, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’, with the involvement of the Bartlett Centre of Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL and supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This ongoing project is an experiment in the public co-production of research, which during the last year has encompassed oral-history interviews, walking tours, exhibitions, and film viewings, all in addition to the combination of rigorous research, field investigation and architectural drawings that is the mainstay of the Survey of London series.

View of Whitechapel Road in 2015, looking east towards the City. (© Survey of London, Derek Kendall)

As many of our readers will know, the Survey has been based at the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture since 2013. Research has recently begun towards an in-depth study of University College London for the Survey’s monograph series, which is devoted to buildings and sites of particular note. The forthcoming monograph will focus on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus, the historic core of the university’s estate. Publication date is intended as 2026, to coincide with celebrations for the bicentenary of the university’s foundation.

View of UCL’s main quadrangle from Gower Street, looking east towards the dignified Corinthian portico of the Wilkins Building. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

Areas covered by the Survey of London in 2017, including current studies in Oxford Street, Whitechapel and South-West Marylebone. Please click to extend the map and view a list of volumes.

The Survey of London’s favourite festive photographs

By the Survey of London, on 21 December 2017

Thank you for taking the time to read the Survey of London’s blog posts over the last year. Here follows a selection of our favourite festive photographs from our past and current studies of the capital’s built environment. Happy Christmas and all good wishes for the New Year.

Oxford Street

The character of Oxford Street is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. In 2015 we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street. Here is a selection of the photographs that she took, first published online in a blog post which considered the festive season on Oxford Street and its enduring traditions.

Oxford Street at dusk, looking east. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Christmas bauble decorations strung across Oxford Street in December 2015. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Boots, with understated decoration. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)


Last December it was announced that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry would close in May 2017, and this year has witnessed its closure and the end of what has been a remarkable story. Business cards claim the bell foundry as ‘Britain’s oldest manufacturing company’ and ‘the world’s most famous bell foundry’ – the first not readily contradicted, the second unverifiable but plausible. The business, principally the making of church bells, had operated continuously in Whitechapel since at least the 1570s. It had been on its present site with the existing house and office buildings since the mid 1740s. Derek Kendall’s wintry photographs of the bell foundry in 2010 provide an insight into its historic buildings and the preservation of traditional craftsmanship until its closure. If you would like to read the Survey’s full account, please click here to find the draft text on the Survey’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ website.

Shopfront at the east end of 32–34 Whitechapel Road in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Inner yard of the bell foundry, looking north-west in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Tuning shop in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

University College London

There is a Survey of London monograph on University College London in the offing. UCL’s first architectural expression was the grand neoclassical building constructed in 1827–9 to designs by William Wilkins, its portico and dome a prominent statement. Only the central range of this scheme was completed, yet successive wing extensions have formed a dignified quadrangle in Gower Street.

The Corinthian portico and dome of the Wilkins Building is instantly recognizable and has been adopted by UCL as its logo. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

View of the Wilkins Building from Gower Street, looking east. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

Even the railings in front of the Cruciform Building, formerly University College Hospital, received a generous helping of snow in February 2009. Alfred and Paul Waterhouse’s triumphant red-brick and terracotta hospital was built on a cruciform plan in 1896–1906. (© UCL Creative Media Services, photographed in 2009 by Mary Hinkley)


Clapham Common is one of London’s most-prized public spaces, notable for its wide-open character and the clear sense of definition and urbanity imposed by its boundaries. An essentially triangular and uniform area of some 220 acres, it has lost less ground to development than most metropolitan commons. Archery was a popular pastime in the eighteenth century, as were boxing and hopping matches, and occasional fairs which attracted larger gatherings. Today the common boasts a mixture of formal and informal planting, tree-lined roads, sports facilities, play areas, and broad open spaces. The ponds and the bandstand (1890) are notable remnants of improvements effected in the nineteenth century, when cricket, football, tennis, golf, horse riding, model yachting and bathing were all enjoyed on the common. If you would like to read the Survey’s full account of Clapham Common from the Battersea volumes (published in 2013), please click here to download the draft chapter on ‘Parks and Open Spaces’ from our website.

Clapham Common, the north-western panhandle under snow in 2013. St Barnabas’s Church on Clapham Common North Side is within view in the distance, its pitched roofs adorned by a dusting of snow. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Sledging on Clapham Common in 2013. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013, view towards Clapham Common North Side. (© Historic Englnad, Chris Redgrave)

South-East Marylebone

The brick church and lofty spire of All Saints, together with the twin clergy and parish buildings that front it towards Margaret Street, comprise a renowned monument to Victorian religion and architecture. Exuberant and compact, the group was built in 1850–2 by John Kelk to designs by William Butterfield, yet the interior of the church with its painted reredos by William Dyce was not completed and opened till 1859. Butterfield continued to embellish and alter All Saints throughout his lifetime, and it is always regarded as his masterpiece. Among decorative changes to the interior since his death, the foremost were those made by Ninian Comper between 1909 and 1916. Recent restorations have reinforced Butterfield’s original vision of strength, experimental colour and sublimity. A full account of this astonishing church has been published in the Survey’s volumes on South-East Marylebone, published in 2017. Please click here to read the account of All Saints’ Church in the Survey’s draft chapter on Margaret Street.

View of All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street from the west. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

North aisle, looking north-east. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nativity scene on the wall of the north aisle. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons in 1875–6. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)