The ‘bijou’ or ‘dwarf’ houses of the Howard de Walden grid. Part 1: the Victorian and Edwardian periods
By the Survey of London, on 24 November 2017
The east–west streets at the northern end of the Howard de Walden Estate in Marylebone – Devonshire Street, Weymouth Street and New Cavendish Street – are notable for the prevalence of a particular building type: the so-called ‘bijou’ house fronting the main street at the corner of a mews, where established rights to light restricted building to two, or at most, three storeys. Sometimes detached, often double-fronted, these smaller houses made a major contribution to the streetscape where there had formerly been only the blank return walls of the big houses in the grander north–south streets like Harley and Wimpole Streets, or their lowly mews additions.
Though this was a predominantly turn-of-the-century phenomenon, there were antecedents. A little house facing Devonshire Street (now 117a Harley Street) had been partitioned out of a corner house on Harley Street (No. 117) by the mid 1840s. In 1855–6 a stuccoed, Regency-style two-storey house was added next door (now 21 Devonshire Street) on the site of a stable building at the corner with Devonshire Mews West, and was imitated twenty years later by a pair in like clothing on former mews plots on opposite sides of Weymouth Street (Nos 36 and 43, of 1870–4). But unlike the later examples, these do not appear to have been part of a conscious trend.
That trend began with Barrow Emanuel, partner in the successful London-Jewish architectural practice Davis & Emanuel. In 1886 he negotiated for a sublease of the old stable block at the rear of a corner house at 90 Harley Street, asking if the Estate would be happy for him to rebuild not with stables but with a small house facing Weymouth Street (now No. 32a). Its success encouraged Emanuel to do likewise in 1894–5 with the similar site opposite, at the rear of 88 Harley Street, where he built another new house (33 Weymouth Street); and he was disappointed in 1898 not to secure a further such plot on New Cavendish Street (No. 55), behind 67 Harley Street, but the fashion had by then caught on, and competition and prices were rising sharply. By that date Emanuel had built a comparable ‘bijou residence’ for his own use at 147 Harley Street (since demolished). No. 114a Harley Street, of 1903–4, erected facing Devonshire Street, seems to be the last of his creations of this type in the area.
The heyday of these mews-side houses was the early 1900s, up to the outbreak of war in 1914, during which period some dozen examples were erected in these three east–west streets. A few more were added in the late 1910s and 20s and then a remarkable group was commissioned by Bovis Ltd in the 1930s from three eminent modern architectural practices: 39 and 40 Devonshire Street (Burnet, Tait & Lorne, 1930–3), 22 Weymouth Street (Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and Adrian Gilbert Scott, 1934–6) and 39 Weymouth Street (G. Grey Wornum, 1935). This says much for the good taste and connections of the Gluckstein and Joseph families, who oversaw the Bovis firm’s rise to prominence in the 1920s and 30s. (These interwar examples will be discussed in more detail in a later blog.)
Stylistically, the red-brick and stone Emanuel-era houses of the 1880s and 90s can be viewed as part of the Queen Anne and neo-Jacobean domestic revival that had proved popular in Kensington for large residences, but here on a more intimate scale. The occasional use of bay windows, porches or asymmetry added to the interest of their façades. Greater variety arrived in the early 1900s when neo-Georgian or freer Flemish styles were also adapted to such plots, and sometimes a more severe Baroque stone-fronted neo-classicism. Such houses were necessarily compact in plan but often offered a more convenient and modern arrangement than the older, bigger terraced house types, all the reception rooms being gathered together at ground-floor level, leaving the upper floor for main bedrooms and bathrooms. As a result they were suited to fewer servants and relatively cheap to run from the domestic point of view. For many turn-of-the-century residents who still preferred a degree of privacy or separation, this was a more attractive alternative to the expensive big houses than the increasingly popular blocks of flats. Though sometimes referred to (inaccurately) as ‘maisonettes’, they were more commonly known at the time as ‘dwarf’ houses, on account of their comparative lack of height.
It has been suggested that this crop of stylish ‘dwarf’ houses was an attempt by the Howard de Walden Estate to reintroduce residential use in an area where commerce, medicine and institutions had all but taken over. But the process was driven more by speculators and developers than by the Estate; and though frequently proclaimed as ‘private’ residences, they were more often than not first taken by (and many seem always to have been intended for) medical practitioners as consulting rooms with living space above.
114a Harley Street dates from 1902 and was the last of the architect Barrow Emanuel’s effective mews corner houses – asymmetrical, partially gabled, in red brick and warm stone, and with a pitched red-tiled roof pierced by dormers. Its first resident in 1905 was Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson (d. 1943), daughter of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. She was in private practice here as well as working at the women’s hospital on Euston Road founded by her mother, whose social reform agenda she shared, establishing a Women’s Tax Resistance League at this house in 1909. Subsequent practitioners at No. 114a included the neurologist and psychotherapist Dr Hugh Crichton-Miller (d. 1951), founder of the Tavistock Clinic.
21 Devonshire Street, of 1855–6, appears to have been the first purpose-built ‘dwarf’ house in the area. It is a simple two-storey box, but with a subtly arranged, stuccoed front incorporating broad relieving arches to the ground-floor fenestration and a bowed central first-floor window. It was a speculation by the Norwich lawyer Merrick Bircham Bircham, who had recently taken on the lease of 117 and 117a Harley Street, in whose grounds it was built. But Bircham’s lease referred to it as a ‘dwelling and studio’, so it is possible that it was purpose-built for its first resident, the sculptor Joseph Durham, who lived here from 1856 until his death in 1877. Many of Durham’s best-known works would have been modelled here, including his monument to the Great Exhibition (unveiled 1863), now outside the Albert Hall. The iron-and-glass canopy to the entrance is an addition of 1910 by Claude Ferrier.
38 Devonshire Street is a double-fronted, red-brick mews corner house of 1902–3, given a neo-Elizabethan twist by double-height bays and heavy, stone-mullioned and transomed windows. The architects were Edward Barclay Hoare and Montague Wheeler. Always in medical use, it was recently refurbished by a private dental practice, who added basement seminar rooms. For over ten years in the 1950s–60s, Stephen Ward, the osteopath at the centre of the Profumo Affair, had his consulting rooms at No. 38. No evidence has come to light to support the repeated claim that his client Lord Astor (who gave him the use of a weekend retreat on the Cliveden Estate) bought the house so that Ward, then in financial difficulties, could continue to occupy it rent-free. There were complaints of noisy female guests in Ward’s apartment many years before the scandal erupted in 1963, by which time he had moved with Christine Keeler to a flat in Wimpole Mews, though he continued to practise at No. 38.
32a Weymouth Street, the first of the area’s late Victorian and Edwardian ‘dwarf’ mews corner houses, was designed by Barrow Emanuel and built in 1886–7 on a site formerly occupied by stabling in Devonshire Mews attached to Nos 90 and 90a Harley Street. Its vernacular Queen Anne Revival style, in red brick with stone dressings, and the two-storey, double-fronted design set the tone for many of the others that followed. Attractive sunflower panels enliven the brickwork and there are carved arabesques to the stone entrance porch and a small monogram (‘BE’) set into the front wall, commemorating the architect. The first residents in the later 1880s and 90s were the cigar importer Arthur Frankau and his wife Julia (née Davis) – better known for her popular novels of London-Jewish life under the pseudonym Frank Danby.
93a Harley Street (Harley Lodge) is another fine example of the double-fronted mews house rebuildings, this time of the early 1900s. Like its dourer stone-fronted equivalent at 90a Harley Street it was designed in 1911 for the developer Charles Peczenick by Sydney Tatchell, but on this occasion in a more playful red-brick and stone neo-Georgian manner, with a degree of asymmetry within the flanking pedimented end bays. In medical use from the beginning, it is now, like many of its type, a private dental surgery.
More of a Baroque air attaches to its neighbour of 1908–10 at 1a Upper Wimpole Street, the work of W. Henry White, with its prominent Flemish-looking gables and giant scrolls. The first-floor window shutters were originally painted green to complement the cherry-red brickwork. The house was a speculation for Samuel Lithgow, the Wimpole Street solicitor and Progressive LCC representative for St Pancras. Its first occupant from 1910 until at least 1937 was Peter Lewis Daniel, a senior surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital, who had a private practice here. Having been in medical use for some time, in 2012 the house was the subject of a high-tech conversion to a five-bedroom family home (by Urban Mesh Ltd).
55 New Cavendish Street is another of the area’s characteristic mews-side houses, with its stripey red-brick and stone gables, and bows to the front ground-floor drawing and dining rooms. It was built in 1901 to designs by W. Henry White, perhaps reusing an earlier design that he had published in 1888. The developer was the surgeon and cinema pioneer Dr Edmund Distin Maddick.
59 New Cavendish Street is a double-fronted ‘dwarf’ house, though here on a more lavish scale, being entirely fronted in Portland stone in a strong Baroque neoclassical style. Set behind a carriage sweep, it has a prominent central entrance porch with a pediment and heavily blocked columns. It was built in 1910 by Kingerlee & Sons to the designs of F. M. Elgood and was another of the speculations in the area funded by the solicitor Samuel Lithgow. The first occupants, there until the 1940s, were Reuben Goldstein Edwards and his wife Edith. He had made a fortune from Edwards’ Harlene hair restorer and colourant. Edith’s philanthropic work later earned her an MBE, and during the First World War their house was given over to the Red Cross Central Workrooms for the production of hospital garments for the wounded. Since the Second World War it has been predominantly in commercial or medical use.