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    St Peter’s, Vere Street

    By the Survey of London, on 15 January 2016

    The small brick church that is St Peter’s, Vere Street, stands just north of Oxford Street, tucked away behind department stores, as inconspicuous as its larger sibling, St Martin-in-the-Fields, is prominent. This modest place of worship was built in 1721–4 as the Oxford Chapel, a private undertaking for the 2nd Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, Edward Harley, who, through marriage to Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles, had inherited extensive lands north of Oxford Street that were then just beginning to see building development. The architect of the estate chapel was James Gibbs, otherwise associated with the Harley family, and resident across what was then Henrietta Street (now Place) in a new house of his own devising from 1732.

    St Peter's, Vere Street from the north-west (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    St Peter’s, Vere Street, from the north-west (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    The interior of the chapel, while indebted to Christopher Wren for its basic forms, was in its particulars what John Summerson termed a ‘miniature forecast’ of St Martin’s. [1] Corinthian arcades carry an elliptical nave vault to cross-vaulted aisles, and once private galleries overlook the chancel. In 1734 Edward and Henrietta’s only child, Lady Margaret Harley, married the 2nd Duke of Portland in the chapel. From that marriage the valuable landed estate descended to and took its name from subsequent Dukes of Portland, later passing to Lord Howard de Walden.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The chancel from the south-west (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The proprietary chapel was acquired by the Crown in 1817, part of a peculiar arrangement to divest the Portland Estate of surplus ecclesiastical capacity. After a general overhaul it was dedicated to St Peter in 1832. Victorian alterations were of a generally high calibre, and included stained-glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones, all made by Morris & Co., that remain in place. The window at the centre of the south aisle gallery commemorates James Golding Snelgrove, a son of John Snelgrove (co-owner of the Marshall & Snelgrove department store on Oxford Street), who died aged sixteen. Below gallery level is a smaller companion window showing the ‘Reception of Souls into Paradise’. Burne-Jones noted the job in an account book, laden with mock outrage:

    ‘Large cartoon of Christ entering Jerusalem – for church of SS Marshall & Snellgrove [sic] – another masterpiece charged on so mean a scale of remuneration that I am reluctant to put on record so disgraceful a piece – nothing is so injurious to art as these contemptible prices – they keep alive the dishonest tendencies of the time more than can easily be said.’ [2]

    The twentieth century saw gradual decline and after a protracted period of dry rot, de-Victorianizing and muddle, the church was adapted in 1982–3 for office use by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, which continues in occupation.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The Burne-Jones stained-glass window at the centre of the south aisle gallery, depicting ‘The Entry into Jerusalem’, dates from 1883 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    One of a pair of windows on the north side of the church, on the theme of Faith, Hope and Charity. The window was dedicated to John Snelgrove and made following his death in 1903 by Powells, possibly to designs by Henry Holiday (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The photographs for the Survey of London’s account of the south-eastern parts of the historic parish of St Marylebone are by Chris Redgrave, of Historic England. As an additional complement to our investigations, Andy Crispe, also of Historic England, has prepared a fly-through visualization of St Peter’s. We are pleased now to be able to make this publicly available.

    Oxford Chapel 3D reconstruction by Andy Crispe from Survey of London on Vimeo.

    References

    [1] John Summerson, Georgian London, 2003 edn, p. 99

    [2] Douglas E. Schoenherr, ‘Edward Burne-Jones’s Account Books with Morris & Company (1861-1900): an annotated edition’, Journal of Stained Glass, vol. 35, 2011

    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