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The Survey of London


Recording the history of London's built environment since 1894


Staircases in South-East Marylebone

By the Survey of London, on 9 November 2018

Earlier this week, the Survey of London team was honoured to receive the prestigious Colvin Prize from the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, for two volumes (Nos 51 and 52) covering south-east Marylebone. This blog post follows an earlier exploration of doorcases in that area, which has remarkable richness and variety in its history and architecture. We would now like to present an assortment of staircases, photographed by Chris Redgrave and Lucy Millson-Watkins as part of the study.

Dignified Edwardian blocks designed for entertainment and shopping such as the Wigmore Hall (1900–1), the Berners Hotel (1905–11) and the former Debenham & Freebody store (1906–7) contain luxurious staircases in marble-clad halls. More variety is to be found in buildings designed as private residences, including an original decorative scheme by Arthur Beresford Pite at 37 Harley Street (1897–9), and sleek interwar glamour and high-quality materials at 39 Weymouth Street (1936). The architect there, G. Grey Wornum, oversaw the design of the new RIBA headquarters at Nos 66–68 Portland Place (1933–4), which has a dramatic staircase dominated by giant fluted marble columns.

Practicality and economy are in evidence at the Western District Post Office in Rathbone Place (1956–65, demolished), which had a staff of more than a thousand. The metal staircase of the Central Synagogue in Great Portland Street (1956–8) is also utilitarian, but with a touch of glamour in its angular detailing. The staircase of 99 Mortimer Street, a converted terraced house occupied by stringed-instrument dealers since the 1940s, is modest in its size and pretensions.

Staircase at former Debenham & Freebody store, 33 Wigmore Street. The south side of Wigmore Street offers a sudden change in scale and monumentality with the silvery bulk of No. 33, built as headquarters for the drapery business of Debenham & Freebody in 1906–7 to designs by architects William Wallace and James G. S. Gibson. Internally, the decorative scheme for the building was unusual but luxurious, with grey and green marble setting the tone in the entrance hall and room above – in the columns framing the staircase, the stair treads, ceiling ribs, floors and walls. The bronze work was by Singers of Frome: balusters, handrails, gallery railings and the capitals to the columns supporting the vast showrooms. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

39 Weymouth Street is one of the 1930s rebuildings in the area by Bovis Ltd, in this instance the work of G. Grey Wornum, the architect of the new RIBA headquarters on Portland Place. That commission won him renown for spatial dexterity and commitment to high-quality fittings, qualities apparent in this interesting house. Wornum’s involvement is not readily discernible from the rather staid Georgian-style frontage, but his hand was to the fore inside. Although the house is not listed and has been modernized on several occasions, its interior retains much of the character and some of the features of his original design, such as this curved staircase in the hallway. The first resident from 1936 until the 1950s was Thomas Lyddon Gardner, chairman and managing director of the Yardley Perfumery and Cosmestics Company, and it is possible that the house was designed specifically for him through Bovis. Pictures of it newly finished were reproduced in the Architect & Building News in 1936. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

37 Harley Street is one of the major surviving works in Marylebone by the versatile architect Arthur Beresford Pite, and exhibits his powerful originality. Dating from 1897–9, it was one of several commissions of that period in Marylebone where Pite was associated with the local builders Matthews Brothers. A small iron bay window, projecting into the internal area, was added to the first-floor landing at the suggestion of Matthews Brothers. Pite ornamented the window with decorative leaded lights in coloured glass. For a fuller account of 37 Harley Street in an earlier blog post, please click here. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Western District Post Office (demolished), Nos 35–50 Rathbone Place. This was planned soon after the Second World War to replace two of three existing West End offices, connected with the Post Office Underground Railway. Designs for the building were reworked in 1960 by Alan Dumble, a senior architect in the Ministry of Works, and the new office was opened on 3 August by the Postmaster-General, Anthony Wedgwood Benn. The new postal office was among the most mechanized in Europe, with chain conveyors in the sorting halls and spiral chutes to despatch mail down to the railway, and its opening coincided with the introduction of both postcodes and electro-mechanical sorting machines. Even so, the fourth-floor canteen and other facilities served a staff complement of more than a thousand. A reconfiguration in 1974–6 provided a bar, games room and lounge, and incorporated stained glass and war memorials salvaged from other post offices. For a full account of the Western District Post Office in an earlier blog post, please click here. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Central Synagogue, Nos 131–141 Great Portland Street, was built to designs by C. Edmund Wilford & Sons in 1956–8, replacing its bomb-damaged predecessor of 1869–70. Wilford had made a name with cinemas before the war. He and his assistants were directed to look at synagogues in London and perhaps also Venice. The result, built by Tersons Ltd, was a conventional, dignified building with close correspondences to its predecessor but an internal touch of cinematic glamour. The Great Portland Street façade is clad mainly in Portland stone, but the plinth and the columns flanking the high and hooded windows are of red Swedish granite. At the north end the entrance doors are set back in a high frame covered in gold mosaic. The galleried interior gives a powerful impression of height and restrained opulence, with a focus on the ark at the south end. For more photographs of the Central Synagogue in an earlier blog post, please click here. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

7 Cavendish Square replaced a nineteenth-century successor to the original early eighteenth-century house. In 1908 Frederick John Dove negotiated an 80-year rebuilding lease, undertaking to erect a ‘mansion’. This was done through his family firm, Dove Brothers Ltd, but he was probably acting on behalf of Alfred Ridley Bax, FSA, the first occupant of the new house. It was built in 1909–11 to designs by the architect James G. S. Gibson, a vice-president of the RIBA when he took the job. Bax, a wealthy non-practising barrister, local historian, homeopath and father of the composer Sir Arnold Bax and writer Clifford Bax, moved here from Hampstead and died in 1918. As a domestic building, No. 7 is a rarity in Gibson’s work. It has more classical or Beaux Arts restraint than his usual Baroque Revival manner, perhaps a nod to the context of the square. Inside, the house was given fireproof floors and roofs and a mahogany-panelled lift. A shapely cedar-panelled staircase sweeps up the hallway in curves reminiscent of the stairs in Gibson’s contemporary Middlesex Guildhall. It rises to the second floor with intricately patterned, open-work balustrade panels carved by Dove Brothers. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

19 Portland Place was one of several houses in the street to be leased to the plasterer Joseph Rose. The Rose plasterwork extends to the stairwell, where there are scallops and garlands around the skylights, as well as guilloche bands and wall arabesques containing moulded plaques of dancing bacchantes and other classical figures. Early residents here in the 1780s and 1790s included Lord Lisburne and Lady Templeton. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

63 Harley Street is one of the street’s few inter-war houses, having been built in 1933–4 to designs by Wimperis, Simpson & Guthrie for the ophthalmic surgeon Sir Steward Duke-Elder and his wife Lady Phyllis. The façade is understated, blending the proportions and classical elegance of the Georgian house it replaced with Art Deco touches. The interior was a tour de force of thirties design, all sinuous curves and sumptuous wood panelling, brilliantly illuminated by lighting designed by Waldo Maitland. The bespoke fittings included much furniture, from fixed umbrella stands in the hall to desks, filing cabinets and bookcases by Betty Joel. There was also a circular rug designed by Marion Dorn, then at the peak of her career in London. Overall the impression was of a chic American or central European clinic. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Stairs and balcony over the foyer at the Wigmore Hall, Wigmore Street. Tucked away behind the street frontage of Nos 36–38 lies the small but sumptuous Wigmore Hall, built in 1900–1 as Bechstein Hall for Carl Bechstein & Sons, whose showrooms were by then at No. 40. As at the showrooms, the architect was T. E. Collcutt. The entrance passage and foyer were paved in black and white marble and featured, along with the staircase and balcony, dadoes of Numidian marble with red Verona marble edging. With the opening concert on 31 May 1901, the hall was acclaimed as ‘unquestionably the handsomest in London’. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

44 Hallam Street was erected in 1915 to house the General Medical Council. The council had begun to investigate a move to larger premises from its offices at 299 Oxford Street in 1903, but the initiative was not taken forward until a decade later. An enquiry to the Howard de Walden Estate in 1914 elicited the offer of a development site at 44–48 Hallam Street. The northern part of the building was not added until 1922–3. The architect at both stages was Eustace C. Frere, of South African origins and Beaux Arts trained, and the builder Chinchen & Co., of Kensal Green. For a fuller account of the former General Medical Council headquarters in an earlier blog post, please click here. (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

23 Queen Anne Street. The Howard de Walden Estate office was built in 1937 to designs by Ernest Joseph, working in conjunction with the Estate’s in-house architect V. Royle Gould. The exterior of the building, stripped-Classical in style and faced in Portland stone, was designed to blend with 35 Harley Street adjoining. The interior is fairly understated and conservative in taste; its best feature is the staircase, with dark wood handrails and newels, and pale terrazzo treads. Trollope & Colls were the main contractors. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

RIBA headquarters, Nos 66–68 Portland Place. In the entrance hall, it is the staircase that is G. Grey Wornum’s tour de force. It is a dramatic space, dominated and held together by four giant fluted columns of green Ashburton marble, star-shaped in plan and without bases or capitals, that rise nearly 30ft to the coffered glass ceiling. Within them are the enormous stanchions of the steel frame, the elegant proportions of which provided one of the aspects of Wornum’s design greatly admired at the time. As elsewhere in the building, fine materials and craftsmanship contribute to the overall effect, with walls lined in limestone; risers and treads of black Derbyshire and blue Demara marble respectively; and, above all, Jan Juta’s etched-glass balustrade, lit by concealed tubular lights in its base. For more photographs of the RIBA headquarters in an earlier blog post, please click here. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Berners Hotel, Berners Street. The Berners Hotel is a rare instance of continuity in this area. The hotel can be traced back to 1826. In the following year, The Times recorded that a ‘fine double house’ at 6–7 Berners Street had been converted into the Berners Hotel. It was rebuilt on a much enlarged site in stages between 1905 and 1911, under the superintendence of Slater & Keith. To read a full account of the Berners Hotel in an earlier blog post, please click here. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

J. P. Guivier & Co. Ltd, 99 Mortimer Street. This dignified little building of 1899–1900 owes its remarkable state of preservation to its occupancy since the 1940s by J. P. Guivier, stringed-instrument dealers. It was built by Antill & Co. for Charles Kempton, tailor, probably to the designs of the architect A. J. Hopkins, who dealt with the Portland Estate on Kempton’s behalf. J. P. Guivier & Co. Ltd took part of the building around 1947 and have slowly expanded into all floors. Joseph Prosper Guivier, son of Jean Prospere Guivier, an exponent of the ophicleide, had begun his career in London in 1863, importing violin strings. The shop and first-floor front room are showrooms for stringed instruments and accessories, the back extension and upper floors offices and repair shops. (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Bradley’s Spanish Bar at Nos 42–44 has long been one of Hanway Street’s most colourful establishments. The house itself was built in the mid 1860s, and the first commercial occupiers were sewing-machine makers. In 1869 the premises were fitted up as a ‘first class eating house’ with a wine licence, and remained a wine house under successive proprietors for well over a century. By the mid 1890s it was run by Long & Co. and described as ‘a cut above the public house’, serving biscuits and sandwiches with wine. Long’s came into the ownership of Robertson Brothers and Company, port merchants, and in the 1950s of an associated company, Williams & Humbert, one of the leading sherry shippers. Williams & Humbert opened a Spanish bar here (together with an English bar and cellar) around 1959. They sold up in 1966 or 1967 and the wine house continued under Short’s Ltd, being taken over at some point by the Milo twins. By the late 1970s it was known officially as Bradley’s Bar, taking the name of a former patron, William Bradley, a decorative glass-cutter in Hanway Place, who apparently ran a social club for his employees here. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

‘Portland House’: Robert Adam’s unexecuted designs for the Duke of Portland’s London residence

By the Survey of London, on 7 April 2017

The Adam brothers’ celebrated street improvements at Mansfield Street and Portland Place, carried out from the 1760s on the Marylebone estate of the Dukes of Portland, are among the many significant buildings covered by the Survey of London’s forthcoming volumes on South-East Marylebone. Less well-known, however, is the detached mansion that Robert Adam designed around 1770–2 as a new London residence for the 3rd Duke, to stand on a large site on New Cavendish Street, looking down Mansfield Street. Though it was never built, its story can be pieced together from designs in the collection of Adam office drawings at Sir John Soane’s Museum – the principal resource today for anyone wishing to study the work of the Adam brothers.

William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. An engraving of 1785 after Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of the Duke. British Museum, Prints & Drawings Dept (museum no. 1902,1011.3545) © Trustees of the British Museum

William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738–1809), had recently married Lady Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of the 4th Duke of Devonshire, and was already embarked upon a career as a statesman that would see him appointed 1st Lord of the Treasury (the equivalent of today’s prime minister) on two occasions, in 1783 and 1807–9. But although he had succeeded to his father’s title in 1762, the 3rd Duke did not immediately inherit all his estates. By the terms of his father’s and grandmother’s wills, the Duke’s mother, Lady Margaret Cavendish-Harley Bentinck, the Dowager Duchess (1715–85), retained a life interest in the family’s lucrative Cavendish lands, and she also held on to her husband’s house in Whitehall – leaving her son short of funds and without a London residence. The situation was exacerbated by strained relations between the two. They argued over country seats, in the end engineering a ‘house swap’ (she favoured Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire, he preferred Welbeck, Nottinghamshire), and failed to see eye to eye on politics as well as family finances. The Duke was a Rockingham Whig, intent on curbing what he perceived to be an increase in royal powers under George III; she numbered the king and queen among her friends, and was especially close to John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, the royal favourite and prime minister in 1762–3, a man whom her son vehemently distrusted. The Duke complained to anyone who would listen that he was required to pay rent for a London house when he should have had access to the ducal residence in Whitehall. And so a new, Adam-designed townhouse at the head of Mansfield Street would suit his intended station as a leading politician and also act as a focus for his fast-improving Marylebone estate.

Portrait busts of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland, at centre, his wife Lady Margaret Cavendish-Harley at left, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu at right, in ovals, with coats of arms below, allegorical objects between, curtains at left and above, in ornamental frame. From a drawing by Vertue after a painting by Zincke, 1739. British Museum, Prints & Drawings Dept (museum no. 1849,1031.70), © Trustees of the British Museum

In its size and scale the house that Adam designed, intended to be known as Portland House, was more like a country pile than a townhouse. In this and in certain elements of its internal planning it shared similarities with Lansdowne House, Adam’s first big private London commission, designed initially for Lord Bute but finished after his fall from favour in 1763 for his rival, another future prime minister, William Petty Fitzmaurice (1737–1805), 2nd Earl of Shelburne, later Marquess of Lansdowne.

Adam’s designs for Portland House were for a rectangular, two-storey block set within extensive grounds, with a garden to the rear and an entrance courtyard in front. The house itself would have been a fairly standard neo-Palladian affair, with seven central bays recessed behind projecting three-bay end wings. The entrance front was marked by a central portico with columns of what look like Adam’s favourite ‘Spalatro’ order – an invention of his own, based on a late-Roman capital he had seen in the Peristyle of the Emperor Diocletian’s Palace at Spalato on the Dalmatian coast (now Split, Croatia).

‘Principal Front of a House for His Grace the Duke of Portland’. Adam office elevation of c. 1770–2. Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 29/2. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the Soane Museum

Portland House was to have had a lower ground floor given over mostly to servants’ rooms and storage, but with a gentleman’s library in a bowed room at the rear, and a bedchamber for the Duke and ‘Book room’ alongside. The principal state rooms were placed centrally on the floor above, with dressing rooms for the Duke and Duchess to either side. These connected with the little single-storey bays shown in shadow at each side of the mansion in the elevation, where there were to be powdering and retiring rooms, privies and water closets. There would have been further rooms on the first floor and in an attic within the hipped roof.

One of a pair of Adam office plans shows a proposed design for the house’s lower ground floor, with a rectangular courtyard in front, lined with coach-houses and stables on one side, kitchens, sculleries and more service buildings on the other. This plan matches the elevation, and shows how the portico served as a porte-cochère, with a curved ramp for coaches leading up to the main entrance. Also, in this plan an entrance screen wall and gateway is set quite a way back from the road, with more stabling and coach-houses in front.

Plan of the Ground Story of a House for His Grace the Duke of Portland’. Adam office design of c. 1770–2. Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 29/4. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the Soane Museum

A first-floor plan offers an alternative arrangement, for a far more dramatic circular courtyard, surrounded by a roofed and colonnaded walkway. An accompanying section shows how this colonnade connected directly to the house, dispensing with the portico. This arrangement required further alterations to the design of the house, with windows at a higher level on the piano nobile, to allow light to enter the main rooms above the courtyard structure. Apparently this was the design chosen by the Duke.

‘Plan of the Principal Story of a House and Offices, For His Grace The Duke of Portland’. Adam office design of c. 1770–2. Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 29/5. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the Soane Museum


‘Section through The Gateway, Circular Court and Body of the House, For His Grace The Duke of Portland, Fronting Mansfield Street’. Adam office design of c. 1770–2. Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 29/3. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the Soane Museum

The Adams had been experimenting with colonnaded courtyards in house designs since the 1750s. Although their prime inspiration was always Italy, and in particular ancient Rome, there is a heavy debt to French plan-types, particularly Parisian hôtels, in their mansion schemes of the early 1760s. An unexecuted house of c.1764, intended for Lord Shelburne near Hyde Park Corner, was set behind a large front court, as was another design of the same date for a house for Lord Holland at The Albany, Piccadilly. Also, an early Adam brothers’ plan of around 1767 for the house they built for General Robert Clerk at the south end of Mansfield Street, facing Duchess Street, had the lower part of the house arranged in a curve and fronted by a semicircle of columns forming a carriage-way, in a similar manner to Portland House.

‘Gateway for Portland House’, Adam office design of c. 1770–2. This worked-up office version, with doors in the centre of the curved linking walls rather than windows, probably matches the rectangular courtyard plan for the house as shown in the ground-floor plan reproduced above. Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 29/6. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the Soane Museum

Other surviving drawings include an office elevation of a screen wall and gateway to stand on New Cavendish Street in front of the courtyard, in the form of a triumphal arch, closing the vista up Mansfield Street. A second version, in pen and pencil, apparently in Robert Adam’s own hand, has detailed measurements added to it, in preparation for drawing up estimates.

Design for a gateway for Portland House. This rendition in pen and pencil, in Robert Adam’s own hand, has had measurements added to help with working out an estimated cost, as mentioned in Robert Adam’s letter of February 1772 to the Duke, quoted above. Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 51/98. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the Soane Museum

As the Duke was both short of funds and overindulgent in his spending, a house on such a scale was evidently beyond his means. Unfortunately, the scheme also coincided with a reversal in the Adam family’s own fortunes, brought on by their attempts to develop the Adelphi and Portland Place at the same time. The Portland House project was still in hand in February 1772, when Robert Adam wrote to the Duke with a price for the ‘great gate’, porter’s lodges and some of the circular walls, and he sounded hopeful of further progress:

as Your Grace was so good as say, you would do every thing that should be necessary, to finish the end of the street, towards Your Grace’s House. I have therefore got an Estimate made of the great gate & porter’s lodges, with the circular walls that form the Entrance, & now take the liberty to send it enclosed, that Your Grace may consider it & if approved of, it will be of great Service, both to your Grace’s estate & to us, to be allowed to proceed with it this Season. [1]

But within a year the project had been dropped and the Duke was happy to let part of the site to the builder–developer John White for houses on the east side of Harley Street. The ground fronting New Cavendish Street was then leased by the Duke and the Adams to the architect-builder John Johnson, who erected the present Nos 61–63 there in 1775–6 (these will be the subject of a future blog post).

For a time around 1773–4 the Adams seem to have considered re-siting their ‘hotel’ for the Duke of Portland to the west side of Portland Place, where they had been planning at least two other very large aristocratic houses, for the Dukes of Kerry and Findlater, but this plan also failed to materialize, and the Duke of Portland when in London continued to live mostly at Burlington House, courtesy of the Duke of Devonshire. In 1807, when he was made 1st Lord of the Treasury for the second time, the Duke moved to 10 Downing Street, which was then as now the official residence of the 1st Lord of the Treasury (not the prime minister, though in modern times the same person has usually occupied both posts).

The Adams must have remained on reasonably friendly terms with the Duke, as they were allowed to continue to work on Portland Place, even though its completion was delayed until the 1790s by unfavourable economic conditions and the Adam brothers’ own financial problems; by then both Robert and James Adam were dead. Their cause may have been aided by the Duke’s friendship with their nephew, the Rt Hon William Adam of Blair Adam, the son of Robert and James’s older brother John Adam. A lawyer and advocate by training, and later a judge, he was one of the 3rd Duke’s great allies in the Whig party when it came to boosting party morale and raising funds in preparations for the general election of 1790.


Special thanks are due to Dr Frances Sands, Curator of Drawings at Sir John Soane’s Museum, for supplying the images of the Adam designs for the Duke of Portland’s house; these are reproduced here by courtesy of the Trustees of the Soane Museum. The catalogue entries for these drawings in the Adam office collection at the Soane can be found by following this link. A discussion of the designs also features in Fran’s book Robert Adam’s London, published to accompany the exhibition of that name recently held at the museum. See here for further details.


1. University of Nottingham, MSS and Special Collections, PwF 35



South-East Marylebone Old and New

By the Survey of London, on 24 February 2017

In 2017 the Survey of London will publish two volumes (Nos 51 and 52) covering a large swathe of the parish of St Marylebone, an area comprising much of the West End north of Oxford Street, otherwise bounded by Marylebone High Street and the Marylebone Road, west and north, and Cleveland Street and Tottenham Court Road to the east. Like many of London’s place-names, Marylebone means different things to different people. To some it connotes the Marylebone Road and its penumbra, scarred by grinding traffic, to others the area adjacent to the two Marylebone Stations, main-line and underground, while those with a sense of civic history may call to mind a once-proud parish stretching from Oxford Street through St John’s Wood to the edge of Kilburn. By far the most famous association is with Lords, and the Marylebone Cricket Club founded in 1787. But the enduring image of Marylebone as a district is of the grid of alternating streets and mews, leavened by the occasional square, that picks up the West End’s uncertain structure beyond Oxford Street and shakes it into order and urbanity.

The aura of south-east Marylebone is various. Time-honoured medical connections have bequeathed cosmopolitanism and gravity to the central grid. Here patients for private clinics or guests at serviced apartments and hotels alight at the kerbside, chauffeurs linger on the qui vive for parking attendants, and pedestrians scurry rather than saunter, pressed forward by the rhythm of the streets. A mundane mews behind may be disrupted by a vision of nurses on tea-breaks clad in overall green, or a lorry backing in with oxygen canisters. Marylebone High Street and its boutiques draw their constituency of well-heeled shoppers and loafers. Yet Paddington Street Gardens and Marylebone Churchyard close by convey an air of ease, with old people reflective on benches or gaggles of schoolchildren on the grass. Lunchtime sprawlers in Cavendish Square are different – a mélange of shop assistants, office workers and tourists taking their breaks. On the fringes of Fitzrovia, the livelier portions of Great Titchfield Street and its surroundings exude conviviality, mixing pubs, small shops and cafés even now not all gentrified, patronized by the copious media businesses that have spread outwards from the BBC and taken over the premises of the dwindling garment trade.

Parts of south-east Marylebone have resisted change during the last century. The following photographs taken by Bedford Lemere & Co. at the turn of the nineteenth century are shown alongside recent photographs by Chris Redgrave.

Debenham and Freebody department store during construction, 27–37 Wigmore Street, in 1907 (Historic England Archive)

Former Debenham and Freebody department store, Wigmore Street, Marylebone, Greater London. View from north west.

Former Debenham and Freebody department store, 27–37 Wigmore Street, in 2013 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The south side of Wigmore Street offers a sudden change in scale and monumentality with the silvery bulk of No. 33, built as headquarters for the drapery business of Debenham & Freebody in 1906–7. A public offer was made in 1907 to help pay for a grand reconstruction of the Wigmore Street premises, ‘rambling and incoherent’ after 90 years of piecemeal development. The London Scots architects William Wallace and James Glen Sivewright Gibson were chosen to design the new building. The frontage was conceived as symmetrical across the whole of the block, but because of the bank there is an extra bay at the west end, devoted originally to a discrete fur shop. A giant arcade runs across the ground and first floor, with plate-glass windows to what were originally single large shops either side of the entrance, their semi-circular tops lighting the first-floor showrooms. Three segmental pediments top three bays set slightly forward with paired giant-order Corinthian columns of grey-green Truro marble forming a vestigial screen to the third and fourth floors. Decoration is mostly channelled ‘stone’ work to the first floor, applied garlands, and two seated female figures within the central pediment, all executed in Doulton’s Carrara Ware. Crowning all is a columned lantern-turret on an octagonal plinth.

46 and 48 Portland Place in 1903 (Historic England Archive)

Howard de Walden Project. General view with 46 & 48 Portland Place, Marylebone, Greater London. View from north west.

46 and 48 Portland Place in 2013 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nos 34–60 is the best run of surviving Adam-period houses in Portland Place, still with its eye-catching stuccoed and pedimented central pair at Nos 46 and 48, with their ingenious mirrored angled entrance doors. It is here that one gets the strongest sense of the Adam brothers’ original palace-front design concept. Various alterations have changed the appearance of the middle pair at Nos 46 and 48, marring though not completely obliterating the powerful original composition. Its crowning balustrade has gone but for once, when the upper floor was extended around 1870, rather than building up the front wall as elsewhere in the street, the builders left the central pediment in situ, with an enlarged mansard roof and dormers rising behind. Like its partner opposite (No. 37, now demolished), this façade was faced entirely in stucco and decorated with a frieze, pilasters, roundels and characteristic Adam panels of griffins and urns of the same material. Unusually the rusticated ground floor has the windows flanking the entrance set within relieving arches. Particularly elegant is the shared entrance within a shallow apse under a segmental arch, with the two doorways set at an angle.

28 Portland Place in 1903 (Historic England Archive)

28 Portland Place in 2013. (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

28 Portland Place in 2015 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

No. 28 Portland Place retains its Adam pediment and Ionic pilasters (though both were raised in the nineteenth century to accommodate an extra storey), as well as a later Doric entrance porch. Despite many changes it still exudes an aura of old-world elegance. Though it was sold by the Goslings to the Institute of Hygiene in 1928 and has been in institutional or corporate use ever since, No. 28 is still a first-rate example of a London society townhouse adapted and added to over time by one family. The interiors have survived well, of which the most notable is an exceptionally fine ballroom, comprising a suite of linked first-floor drawing rooms fitted out in an elaborate late-Victorian Adam Revival style, with an abundance of painted and gilded plaster decorations and a figurative front-room chimneypiece in the manner of Wyatt.

11 Harley Street in 1903 (Historic England Archive)

Howard de Walden Project. Harley Street, Marylebone, Greater London. View from.

11 Harley Street in 2013 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

9 and 11 Harley Street are tall red-brick rebuildings, of 1891 and 1886 respectively, in similar styles, with plentiful stone dressings and pediments. No. 9 was designed by F. M. Elgood as a speculation for W. H. Warner (of Lofts and Warner, estate agents). Elgood was also involved in the design of No. 11, one of his earliest works in the area, whilst still in partnership with Alexander Payne (to whom he was articled) as Payne & Elgood. Their client was the physician and surgeon William Morrant Baker. The building was extended to the rear in 1906 for another doctor, the dermatologist J. M. H. McLeod. Stone figures on the gable were removed in 1937.


Bedford & Co. offices at 24 Wigmore Street in 1894, No. 22 to the right (Historic England Archive)

18–20 Wigmore Street in 2014. (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

18–24 Wigmore Street in 2014 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nos 18–22 Wigmore Street were built by Holloway Brothers in 1892–3 to the designs of Leonard Hunt, as showrooms and offices for the piano manufacturer John Brinsmead & Sons. The business, founded in 1837, moved to No. 18 (then 4) in 1863 and subsequently expanded into 20 and 22. The works moved from Charlotte Street to Kentish Town in 1870, and by 1893 produced around 3,000 pianos a year. Hunt’s building, expensively finished with mahogany panelling and leaded glass, was ‘one of the sights of fashionable London’. The ground floor was given over to display space, divided by a hallway with pavement lights illuminating basement showrooms, the upper floor comprising offices and chambers. In 1895 a recital room was added at the back of the basement, seating 130. Lit from two sides with leaded windows, it had mirrored columns and fully-tiled walls. Bedford & Company, surveyors, had offices next door at No. 24. Brinsmeads went out of business in 1922, but was re-established at 17 Cavendish Square in 1924. Lloyds Bank acquired the Wigmore Street building, creating a strong room within the former recital room, and subletting the western shop, which retains a 1928 neo-Georgian bronze shopfront fitted for the opticians Curry & Paxton. The upper floors were converted to flats in 1933.

34 Weymouth Street in 1910 (Historic England Archive)

34 Weymouth Street in 2014. (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

34 Weymouth Street in 2014 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

On the other side of Upper Wimpole Street, of 1908 in a strong, shaped-gable style, is 34 Weymouth Street, by F. M. Elgood for the developer W. H. Warner. Here the gables have oculus windows with attractively sculpted stone surrounds and festoons beneath, the work of A. J. Thorpe, who was also responsible for the carved stone consoles to the door surround.

30–31 Wimpole Street in 1917 (Historic England Archive)

30 wimpole street and New Cavendish Street corner 8 bit

30–31 Wimpole Street (left) and 30a and 30b New Cavendish Street (right) in 2014 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Though treated as one architectural piece, this large and imposing Portland stone corner block of 1910–12, extending round the corner into New Cavendish Street, appears to have been a joint redevelopment and was built as four separate ‘houses’, each originally comprising doctors’ consulting rooms on the lower floors and residential accommodation above. The two properties facing Wimpole Street (originally numbered 30 & 31) were designed by F. M. Elgood, working for the developer Samuel Lithgow. But the two houses fronting New Cavendish Street (30a & 30b) were by Banister Fletcher & Sons, acting for Dr James Lennox Irwin Moore, who had consulting rooms at 30a – and it was these two ‘doctors’ houses’ that attracted attention in the architectural press. The style is a muscular free Jacobethan, with mullioned and transomed windows, and a stone balcony resting on decoratively carved console brackets, all topped off by pedimented gables with deep modillion eaves  – offering a strong contrast to Wimpole House opposite, with its dressing of florid salmon-pink terracotta. The composition is stylistically dissimilar to most of the Edwardian buildings on the Howard de Walden estate (and is none the worse for that) but there are a few oddities about the design. For instance, above the deep modillion cornice on the New Cavendish Street elevation, instead of gables as elsewhere, broad dormers flank a flat-roofed pavilion with a concave façade in what appears to be Bath stone but is probably coloured render. In terms of their construction, the buildings made use of expanded-steel reinforced concrete, with interiors awash with oak panelling and polished oak to the floors and staircases.

In advance of the publication of Volumes 51 and 52 of the Survey of London, on South-East Marylebone, in 2017, the draft chapters have been made freely available online.

The Rise and Fall of the Adelphi

By the Survey of London, on 13 January 2017

Although little of it survives today, the Adam brothers’ innovative town-planning experiment at the Adelphi, off the Strand, of 1768–74, remains one of their best-known and admired works. Colin Thom of the Survey of London will give an evening talk on the theme of ‘The Rise and Fall of the Adelphi’ at Sir John Soane’s Museum on Monday 23 January 2017 – the first in a series of events to accompany the museum’s Robert Adam’s London exhibition. Here Colin provides a brief account of the Adelphi, which the Survey recorded at the time of its demolition in 1936. The results were published in Survey of London, volume 18, St. Martin-in-The-Fields II: the Strand (1937).

1 The Adelphi and the Thames riverside, looking east. Engraving by Benedetto Pastorini, reproduced in the third (posthumous) volume of the Adam brothers’ Works in Architecture (1822)

The Adelphi and the Thames riverside, looking east (engraving by Benedetto Pastorini, reproduced in the third (posthumous) volume of the Adam brothers’ Works in Architecture (1822)

The Adam brothers’ concept at the Adelphi is immediately striking for its monumentality and ambition. Here was an unprecedented attempt to create a large and entirely new district of elegant housing, raised up by some extraordinary engineering on a series of vaulted warehouses above the River Thames, on what had been an unfashionable, run-down stretch of ground known as Durham Yard.

Robert Adam’s genius lay in his ability to take and adapt elements of antique architecture and create from them something that was uniquely his own. At the Adelphi, his principal inspiration was the ruined palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian at Spalato (modern-day Split, in Croatia), which he surveyed in 1755 as part of his Grand Tour and which formed the subject of a detailed monograph, published by Adam in 1764.

2 The remains of the sea front of Diocletian’s Palace at Split. Engraving by Paolo Santini, Plate VII from Robert Adam’s Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia (1764)

The remains of the sea front of Diocletian’s Palace at Split (engraving by Paolo Santini, Plate VII from Robert Adam’s Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia, 1764)

The similarities were evident. Both sites sloped down to the waterfront, hence both required embanking and the construction of vaults to create an even ground level above. The grouping of the long continuous frontage of the palace at Split along the shore, flanked by projecting towers at either end, is immediately recognizeable in Adam’s massing of the Adelphi blocks when seen from the river, with the central range of the best terraced houses – ­the Royal Terrace (later renamed Adelphi Terrace) – flanked by the ends of the lesser blocks of housing in the side streets leading to the Strand. In a characteristic Adam act of self-publicity most of the streets were named after the brothers – Adam Street, John Adam Street, Robert Street, &c.

3 Adam office design for the riverfront elevation of the Adelphi development. Sir John Soane’s Museum (Adam vol. 32/10)

3, 4 Adam office design for the riverfront elevation of the Adelphi development (Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 32/10), and elevations of the sea wall of Diocletian’s Palace (Plate VIII from Adam’s Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian)

Adam office design for the riverfront elevation of the Adelphi development (Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 32/10), and elevations of the sea wall of Diocletian’s Palace (Plate VIII from Adam’s Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian)

Robert Adam had been captivated by the transformation of the palace at Split into a bustling modern city, as well as by its Roman remains. This aspect he reinterpreted for London as a mixed environment of houses of several sizes and classes arranged in a grid of streets, along with shops, coffee houses, a tavern, hotel, Coutts’ bank, and a new Adam-designed headquarters for the Royal Society of Arts on John Adam Street – all underpinned by the cavernous wharves and warehouses. There was something undeniably Picturesque about the Piranesian sequence of dark vaults beneath the urbane streets of housing above.

5 The Adelphi vaults in 1936. Historic England Archive photograph (AA65/00065)

The Adelphi vaults in 1936 (Historic England Archive photograph, AA65/00065)

As originally built, the Adelphi houses showed the fine balance between ornament and plain surface at which Adam excelled, with relatively simple brick façades enlivened by ornamental stucco pilasters (emblazoned with honeysuckle motifs), entablatures, string courses, decorative doorcases and pretty iron balconies.

6, 7 David Garrick’s House, Royal Terrace (Adam office elevation in Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 42/60), and a typical Adelphi doorcase at No. 9 Adam Street (Historic England Archive photograph, AA65/06112)

David Garrick’s House, Royal Terrace (Adam office elevation in Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 42/60), and a typical Adelphi doorcase at No. 9 Adam Street (Historic England Archive photograph, AA65/06112)

Though built as a speculation, the houses were decorated inside in the distinctive ‘Adam style’ familiar from his bespoke country and town house commissions, with decorative plasterwork to the walls and ceilings, and carved chimneypieces. The house at the centre of the Royal Terrace, taken by the actor David Garrick, a friend of the Adams, was especially fine, with painted panels by Antonio Zucchi incorporated into its main drawing-room ceiling, and a staircase with attractive bronze balustrading.

8 Adam design for the front drawing-room ceiling in David Garrick’s house. Sir John Soane’s Museum (Adam vol. 13/30)

Adam design for the front drawing-room ceiling in David Garrick’s house (Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 13/30)

The Adelphi was begun at a time when Robert Adam’s star was in the ascendant. With a flourishing London practice and a succession of spectacular country house commissions behind him, he was Britain’s most fashionable architect; his Diocletian monograph had affirmed his status as a leading expert in the antique and in antique-derived Neoclassicism; and with his three brothers, John, James and William, he had recently established a London-based contracting and building supplies company – William Adam & Co. (which built the Adelphi) – echoing the family’s wide-ranging business interests in Scotland. But bold though the Adelphi was in its architecture and engineering, as a financial venture it was risky and impetuous, coming uncomfortably soon after the Adams had agreed with the Duke of Portland to build Portland Place on his estate at Marylebone ­– another ambitious town-planning commitment. They also had difficulty selling houses at their full valuation. Badly overstretched and with many properties unfinished, the Adams were forced to mortgage houses or sell them cheaply in order to raise capital to finish the development. Then a Scottish banking crash in the summer of 1772 tipped them to the verge of ruin. Though the sale of their assets by a private lottery saved them from bankruptcy, the brothers’ reputation had been tarnished, and they were never able to regain the heights of their earlier successes. The name Adelphi, chosen to immortalize the Adam ‘brotherhood’, also became a byword for over-reaching ambition.

The Adelphi survived in relatively good condition into the nineteenth century, though its immediate connection to the riverfront – such a fundamental element of the design – was lost when the Thames was pushed back and the Victoria Embankment and Gardens were created in front of it in 1864–70. Then in 1872, shortly after the lease had been renewed, heavy Victorian window dressings and a lumpy pediment were added to the Adelphi Terrace façade, disrupting its careful proportions. Also, by then the vaults beneath had become infamous as a haunt of the poor, the homeless and other outcasts of society.

9, 10 Adelphi Terrace in the 1790s (from Thomas Malton’s A Picturesque Tour Through the Cities of London and Westminster, 1792–1801), and in 1901 (Bedford Lemere photograph in Historic England Archive, BL16618/001)

Adelphi Terrace in the 1790s (from Thomas Malton’s A Picturesque Tour Through the Cities of London and Westminster, 1792–1801), and in 1901 (Bedford Lemere photograph in Historic England Archive, BL16618/001)

In 1927 the Adelphi estate was sold at auction, and in 1936 many of the houses, including the great riverfront terrace and its underground vaults, were torn down and a new Art Deco Adelphi building (designed by Collcutt & Hamp) erected in their place.

11 The remains of the demolished Adelphi Terrace, 1936 (buildings in John Adam Street beyond). Historic England Archive photograph (AA65/00065)

The remains of the demolished Adelphi Terrace, 1936, with buildings in John Adam Street beyond (Historic England Archive photograph, AA65/00065)

Today only a few runs of houses remain from the Adam development, in Robert Street, Adam Street and John Adam Street­, including the beautifully proportioned Royal Society of Arts building, designed by Robert Adam.

12, 13 Surviving houses in Adam Street, 2016 (Historic England photograph by Chris Redgrave) and Robert Adam’s pencil design for the elevation of the Royal Society of Arts building, John Adam Street (Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 30/28)

Surviving houses in Adam Street, 2016 (Historic England photograph by Chris Redgrave) and Robert Adam’s pencil design for the elevation of the Royal Society of Arts building, John Adam Street (Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam vol. 30/28)

Other fragments survive here and there, particularly in the Victoria and Albert Museum, including David Garrick’s front drawing-room ceiling, now incorporated into the British Galleries.

14 The ceiling from Garrick’s front drawing room in the V&A British Galleries. Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum

The ceiling from Garrick’s front drawing room in the V&A British Galleries. Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum

You can read the Survey of London’s 1937 account of the Adelphi on British History Online here

30 Portland Place: London’s Guggenheim Museum that never was

By the Survey of London, on 26 February 2016

In the summer of 1939 plans were almost complete for the wealthy American heiress and socialite Peggy Guggenheim to open an Institute of Modern Art in London, in a house at 30 Portland Place specially rented for the purpose from Sir Kenneth Clark, who had been living there for some years with his family and his own remarkable collection of paintings and furnishings. The art historian and critic Herbert Read was already lined up as museum director on a five-year contract and Ms Guggenheim had left for Paris to acquire more artworks, with a list of desiderata drawn up by Read. But then war broke out…

30 Portland Place, view from the north-west (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

30 Portland Place, view from the north-west (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

No. 30 was one of a block of fashionable terraced houses, built in the 1770s–90s as part of the Adam brothers’ development at Portland Place. With the neighbouring properties to its south at Nos 26 and 28 it forms an elegant trio of period houses, all with good Adam interiors. In plan the house was straightforward, though typical of the care Robert Adam took in varying room shapes, with partitioning used to introduce curves at the far end of the rear ground-floor breakfast parlour and at both ends of the second drawing room, echoed by other shallow curves in the rear closet wing – features that are still traceable in the house today. Several Adam office designs for chimneypieces, friezes and ceilings for No. 30 survive in the collection at Sir John Soane’s Museum, but only the drawing-room ceilings remain in situ. [1] Much of the eighteenth-century décor was lost during a comprehensive refit in 1901 for the Liberal politician and merchant banker William Charles Heaton-Armstrong, who lived there with his family from 1898 until around 1911, when the failure of his bank forced him to move. His successor in 1911, Lady Margaret Jenkins, spent heavily reversing much of this, reintroducing ‘correct’ Georgian panelling and mantelpieces and stone hall flooring which she thought more in keeping with the date of the house. [2]

In 1934 No. 30 was taken by Sir Kenneth Clark, then newly appointed as Director of the National Galley and Surveyor of the King’s Pictures, and his wife Jane. Clark remembered the house as being ‘far too big’, and the piano nobile of Adam rooms as ‘completely unnecessary’, but he and his wife made use of the space to display artworks and to entertain on a grand scale. Photographs now in the RIBA show the house during their residence, with curtains, rugs and other fittings that the Clarks commissioned from contemporary artists and friends like Marion Dorn, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell; the painter Graham Bell lived for a while in an upstairs room. [3]

Kenneth Clark by Howard Coster, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Kenneth Clark by Howard Coster, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London).

30PP Kenneth Clark's house RIBA72130

The dining room at 30 Portland Place in 1938, during Kenneth Clark’s residence, with curtains designed by Duncan Grant, and George Seurat’s Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp (now in the National Gallery) above the chimneypiece. (Photograph by Alfred Cracknell, © RIBA)

30PP Kenneth Clark's house RIBA72131

The sitting room at 30 Portland Place in 1938, with a rug designed by Marion Dorn, and what appears to be one of Paul Cézanne’s studies of Château Noir above the chimneypiece. (Photograph by Alfred Cracknell, © RIBA)

But by the summer of 1939, with war looming, the Clarks were keen to move their children out of London, and Sir Kenneth informed the Howard de Walden Estate that a ‘Mrs Goggenheim’ [sic] had expressed an interest in taking his house on a five-year lease to establish an Institute of Modern Art. By this date Peggy Guggenheim had closed her short-lived commercial gallery in Cork Street, Guggenheim Jeune, and was turning her attention to establishing a museum of modern art in Europe, preferably in London. [4]

The choice of Herbert Read as museum director was a canny one. As editor of the leading art magazine Burlington Review, he was at the time probably Britain’s best-known advocate of modern art. But it took the offer of a five-year contract from Ms Guggenheim to persuade him to relinquish his editorship. With such a large house intended for what, initially, would be a small museum, the plan was for Read and his family to reside on one upper floor, Guggenheim on another, though apparently they quarrelled about who should have which floor. There seems to have been genuine affection in their relationship: she regarded Read as a bit of a father figure, later reminiscing: ‘he treated me the way Disraeli treated Queen Victoria’. For his part, Read often signed letters to Ms Guggenheim as ‘Papa’. [5]

Herbert Read by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London).

Herbert Read by Howard Coster, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London).

With everything decided, towards the end of July 1939 Peggy Guggenheim began to make plans for a trip to Paris to buy suitable works for the new museum. Read gave her a list of possible loans and acquisitions, and had already told the press that the opening show would trace the development of modern art since 1910, beginning with Matisse. The collector and gallery owner Roland Penrose, later a co-founder of the ICA, offered to lend some of his Picassos for the first show. The exact content of Read’s list is not known, but Matisse was one of the names that Peggy Guggenheim crossed off as being not ‘modern’ enough for her tastes; others to suffer the same fate included Cézanne and Rousseau.

But the outbreak of war early in September put paid to the project, even though the lease to the Portland Place house had been agreed (but not signed). Sir Kenneth Clark later suggested letting it rent-free as a centre for artists to meet and exhibit their work, but it was requisitioned in 1940 and damaged by bombing in 1941, since when it has seen a variety of commercial uses. Herbert Read was dismissed, never having held office. Once the dust had settled, Read rather ungenerously wrote to the artist Ben Nicholson about the Guggenheim affair: ‘Never in business matters rely on a single patron particularly if that patron is a woman and an American’ – this despite the fact that he had already been paid and allowed to keep an advance of £2,500, half his five-year salary.

The aborted Portland Place museum did, however, have one lasting legacy. Peggy Guggenheim held on to Read’s ‘shopping list’, which she later revised with the aid of artist friends such as Marcel Duchamp and Theo van Doesburg’s widow, Nellie; and the works that she then acquired – including masterpieces by Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Piet Mondrian and Man Ray, were to form the basis for her now world-famous private collection of abstract and Surrealist art.


[1] Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam drawings, vol. 13/122–3; vol. 24/139–44; vol. 53/64

[2] Much of this and the succeeding paragraphs is based on correspondence files belonging to the Howard de Walden Estate Archive

[3] Kenneth Clark, Another Part of the Wood. A Self Portrait, 1985 edn, pp. 238–9, 251, 276

[4] Howard de Walden Estate Archive, property files for 30 Portland Place

[5] This and the succeeding paragraphs are largely based on Mary V. Dearborn, Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim, pp. 158–63: Peggy Guggenheim: A Celebration, exhibition catalogue, 1998/1999, pp. 47–9: http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/inglese/museum/peggy.html

Chandos House

By the Survey of London, on 1 January 2016

Chandos House is the high point of the Adam Brothers’ Portland Estate Development. Though named after its first resident in 1774, the Whig politician and courtier James Brydges, 3rd Duke of Chandos, it was not designed and built for him, as was previously thought, but was an unusually lavish building speculation on the part of the Adams.

Chandos House, 2 Queen Anne Street (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The façade of Chandos House, 2 Queen Anne Street, built of Craigleith stone with a porch of Portland stone (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

The full story surrounding its construction is not entirely clear but recent research has brought more facts to light. Like the southern half of Portland Place and Mansfield Street, the ground here was included in James Adam’s building agreement with the Duke of Portland in 1767 and was part of Robert’s and James’ master-plan for developing the area. It was constructed around 1769-72 by the Adam contracting and builders’ supplies firm, William Adam & Company, in which all four brothers held equal shares.

Its purpose was twofold: as a showcase for the brothers’ design talents, and as a lure to entice a big-name aristocratic purchaser, who in turn might help draw fashionable metropolitan society to the new housing they were planning in the surrounding streets. But there was a third reason why it was thought worth William Adam & Company undertaking the construction of this and several of the best houses in Mansfield Street and Portland Place as a ‘company’ speculation – and that was in order to promote the company’s business interests. In a later letter to his brother John in Scotland, William Adam explained that when builders first began taking ground at Marylebone, it was decided ‘a very eligible Speculation to build some Houses there on our own Accot… especially as it helped greatly to extend our Connections in the Brick & Timber business’. [1]

The Doric porch at Chandos House (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The entrance porch at Chandos House, with typically unconventional Adam order capitals atop the fluted columns. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Detail of the porch at Chandos House, carved of Portland stone (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Detail of the porch, carved of Portland stone. The frieze is decorated with rams’ heads linked by swags (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Adams, as was their wont, expected great things of the house. A company financial statement of January 1772 noted that by then they had received but refused an offer of 11,000 guineas for it. However, their increasing financial problems, which were exacerbated by the Scottish banking crash in the summer of 1772, the cessation of work at the Adelphi and a general downturn in the building trade, made it difficult for them to find a purchaser, and the house was added by the brothers, along with two properties in Mansfield Street, to the top prize valued at £50,000 in the Adelphi lottery sale held a year later.

By then it had been mortgaged two or three times over to the banker and international financier Sir George Colebrooke. It is not clear what happened to the house at or immediately after the Adelphi lottery sale but it was back in the Adams’ ownership by June 1774 when the Duke of Chandos agreed to buy it from them for £11,000. This was less than they had already turned down, and less than they owed Colebrooke, but in their situation was too good an offer to refuse. As part of the deal they were required to pay interest on Chandos’s loan, as well as ground rents and all other taxes and charges until all outstanding building work was done to his satisfaction – indicating that even then the house was still unfinished. [2]

A view of the stairwell at Chandos House (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

A view of the top-lit stairwell, showing the ceiling with central oculus. The ceiling suffered bomb damage in the Second World War and was restored in the 1950s (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Detail of the stair rail at Chandos House (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Detail of the wrought-iron balustrade on the staircase. The balustrade incorporates Adam’s favourite anthemion motif, picked out in gilt. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

In terms of its architecture, Chandos House is notable for several reasons. Most immediately obvious is its unusual use of Craigleith stone as the facing material for its rather austere, stripped-down façade. The plainness is relieved by a crisply carved porch of Portland stone and elegant wrought-iron railings and lampholders.

The fireplace in the front room of the ground floor at Chandos House (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The marble chimneypiece in the front dining room. The central relief panel depicts the bull being led to sacrifice. The roundel above is John Bacon’s Aeneas Escaping Troy originally in 53 Berners Street when it was occupied by the Royal Society of Medicine, and moved here when the RSM acquired Chandos House. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Chandos House was the first of Robert Adam’s four great masterpieces of central London townhouse design – the others being 20 St James’s Square; Derby House, Grosvenor Square; and Home House, Portman Square – and it prefigures their achievement in bringing together sophisticated sequences of rooms of varying size and shape, for both public and private use, as well as services, on a central London house plot. Although not as lavish in its interiors as the other three, which were commissioned by very wealthy private clients, its rooms nonetheless form a very important surviving example of Adam’s decorative style – in this case designed with enough flexibility to appeal to a wide range of potential purchasers.

A view of the ceiling in the ground floor reception room at Chandos House (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

A view of the ceiling in the front dining room, from the door to the back parlour. The delicate fluted  columns are in a version of Adam’s ‘Spalatro’ Order.  (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Detail of the ceiling in the front room on the first floor of Chandos House (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Detail of the ceiling in the principal drawing room on the first floor, painting of ‘Nymphs decorating a Herm’ attributed to Antonio Zucchi (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

As part of a major restoration for the Royal Society of Medicine in the 2000s, stolen chimneypieces were substituted with replicas and the Adam ceilings were restored and carefully repainted in tones based on the Adam office drawings at Sir John Soane’s Museum. New carpets were made based on a variety of Adam designs.


[1] Blair Adam Muniments
[2] Middlesex Deeds Register 1770/1/381; 1770/2/40; 1772/6/378: Blair Adam Muniments, NRAS1454/4/16/18: Public Advertiser, 23 May 1772; 13 March 1773; 26 July 1773: Journals of the House of Commons, 13th Parliament of GB: 6th Session (26 Nov 1772 – 1 July 1773), p. 339