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The Survey of London


Recording the history of London's built environment since 1894


‘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



The Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street

By the Survey of London, on 17 March 2017

The present synagogue was built to designs by C. Edmund Wilford & Sons in 1956–8, replacing its bomb-damaged predecessor of 1869–70.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland street, Marylebone, Greater London. Exterior view from north east. Taken for the Survey of London.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Exterior view from north east. Taken in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

Jewish West Enders were obliged until well into the nineteenth century to attend long-established places of worship in the City of London, notably the Great Synagogue in Duke’s Place, Aldgate. In 1842 the Reform congregation broke this tradition with a modest synagogue in Burton Street, Bloomsbury, moving to Margaret Street in 1849. Fearing loss of worshippers to this convenient address, the Committee of the Great Synagogue agreed in 1850 to fund a new branch synagogue in the West End. The site selected lay behind 43–47 Great Portland Street, but the building there soon proved too small and could not be extended. In 1866 a Great Synagogue subcommittee headed by Sir Anthony de Rothschild was appointed to find a new site near by and build afresh for 800 worshippers, with two ministers’ houses attached. They promptly secured the houses at 133–141 Great Portland Street. The budget was ample, as the synagogue was prospering; Messrs Rothschild had promised £4,000. The committee decided against a competition and chose as architect Nathan Solomon Joseph, son-in-law to Nathan Marcus Adler, Chief Rabbi and creator of the United Synagogue, the federation to which the Central, as the congregation was by now called, adhered from 1870. Joseph presented a Moorish design in 1867, arguing that Gothic and Classical styles were both unsuitable, whereas the Moresque was well adapted to an ‘ecclesiastical’ building yet had advantages of ‘elasticity’ and economy. He was asked to present an alternative Italianate version, but the original was preferred, with modifications. That design was built in 1869–70.

Survey of London (Marylebone). 40-36 Hallam Street, Westminster, London. View from west.

40-36 Hallam Street, Westminster, London. View from west. Photographed in 2014 by Lucy Millson-Watkins for the Survey of London © Historic England

The Central has been described as the first thoroughly Oriental-style synagogue, not just in Britain but beyond. The Great Portland Street front was an eccentric confection in brick and two types of stone, culminating at the north end in a tower-like feature over an entrance porch with a horseshoe arch. The interior, spacious, high and light, faced south like the present building, culminating in a richly decorated apsidal space for the ark. Windows and arches were round-headed, with an orientalizing horseshoe profile above the arches over the galleries, and round clerestory lights incorporating Star-of-David tracery. Cast-iron columns, painted at first, marble-clad from 1876, carried the galleries and roof, which was divided by ribs. The rabbis’ houses at the back along Hallam Street (Nos 36–40) survive, their two-tone brickwork and Moorish detail having a hint of the Great Mosque at Cordoba. Embellishments took place over the years, the grandest being the replacement of the central almemar with an elaborate new one in marble, presented in 1928 by the 2nd Lord Bearsted in memory of his parents; Joseph’s original almemar (or bimah) was relegated to the Margate synagogue. But the building was burnt out by a fire bomb on 10 May 1941, the congregation returning to a temporary building on the site in 1948.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London, Interior view from south east.Taken for the Survey of London.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Interior view from south east. Photographed in 2013  for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

Meanwhile plans for a full rebuilding were hatching. The architects Shaw & Lloyd worked up a radical proposal in 1947, with the synagogue turned across the axis from Great Portland Street to Hallam Street, set over social space and flanked by narrow courts, with a taller block at the back facing Hallam Street, presumably for letting. Having done all the war-damage costings and negotiations, in 1954 S. John Lloyd presented a fresh scheme for a 1,028-seater, to be built of reinforced concrete with a Portland stone front to Great Portland Street.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. Detail of theTebah from north east. Taken for the Survey of London.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail of the Tebah from north east. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

There were tensions at this juncture, as the United Synagogue authorities were pressing for a fresh place of worship at Marble Arch and the abandonment of the Central. Isaac Wolfson and his son Leonard, resident in Portland Place, resolved things by offering £25,000 towards rebuilding the Central, which meant that, with war-damage compensation, rebuilding would cost the congregation little. The United Synagogue sent a long list of possible architects to the building committee, who shortlisted three, not including Shaw & Lloyd. At Leonard Wolfson’s request they added an outsider, C. Edmund Wilford. It seems that Wilford had shown him some sketches which, United’s president Ewan Montague agreed, showed ‘a most interesting approach to the theme of Synagogue architecture which hitherto in our experience has tended to be somewhat hackneyed’. But when Wilford was confirmed and met the building committee, he was told that the external elevation ‘should be on traditional lines’. [1]

Wilford had made a name with cinemas before the war. He had no known connection with the Jewish community, but may have worked for the Wolfsons’ company, Great Universal Stores. He and his assistants were directed to look at synagogues in London and perhaps also Venice. The result, built by Tersons Ltd in 1956–8, was a conventional, dignified building with close correspondences to its predecessor but an internal touch of cinematic glamour.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing Torah Ark. Taken for the Survey of London.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing Torah Ark. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

The Great Portland Street façade is mainly clad 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 clad in gold mosaic. There is also a subsidiary entrance from Hallam Street. The galleried interior gives a powerful impression of height and restrained opulence.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. View of east windows. Taken for the Survey of London.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. View of east windows. Taken for the Survey of London in 2013 by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

The focus is on the ark at the south end, which stands in an outer surround of red mosaic embellished by flanking lions on tall pillars of gold and an inner frame of Sienna marble. The bronze metalwork to the ark doors and elsewhere, made by the Brent Metal Company, is strong, spiky and characteristically 1950s. The other main feature is the almemar, clad in red marble, with attached panels carved in low relief.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing east stained glass window. Taken for the Survey of London

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing east stained glass window. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave.  © Historic England

After completion, the synagogue windows were filled over a fifteen-year period with colourful glass made by Lowndes & Drury to designs by David Hillman. There is a hall below the worship area, and the circulation spaces including the stairs to the galleries are generous.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. View of stair. Taken for the Survey of London.

Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. View of stair. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England


[1] London Metropolitan Archives, ACC/26712/15/2334

The Langham Hotel

By the Survey of London, on 18 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monster Mash

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Former General Medical Council offices, 44–50 Hallam Street

By the Survey of London, on 4 March 2016

(© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

Former General Medical Council offices, 44-50 Hallam Street, from the south-west in 2015 (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

The southern part of this building (to the right in the picture above) was erected in 1915 to house the General Medical Council (formally the General Council of Medical Education & Registration of the United Kingdom). The Council had begun to investigate a move to larger premises from its offices at 299 Oxford Street in 1903, during the presidency of Sir William Turner. The initiative was seen through a decade later by Sir Donald MacAlister, the Council’s President from 1904 to 1931 and a physician and administrator renowned for his great intellect, probity and firmness. In 1912 a committee was formed to oversee the move. MacAlister was joined by Dr (Sir) Norman Moore, representing the Royal College of Physicians, (Sir) Charles Sissmore Tomes, the Council’s treasurer and chairman of its dental committee, Sir Henry Morris, a recent past President of the Royal Society of Medicine, and Sir Francis Champneys, an eminent obstetrician. 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, always intended, was not added until 1922–3. The Dentists Act of 1921, seen through by the Liberal politician Francis Dyke Acland, had established the Dental Board of the United Kingdom to take on the GMC’s oversight of dentists and to deal with the scourge of unqualified dentistry. To maintain good communications with the Council, the new Board, chaired by Acland, built the interconnected premises next door.

(© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

Detail of the bas-relief over the entrance, by Frederick Lessore, depicting the cult of Asklepios and his extended family (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

(© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

Detail of sculptural ornament at the centre of the bow, with the bowl of Hygieia between the windows (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

The architect at both stages was Eustace C. Frere, of South African origins and Beaux-Arts trained, and the builders Chinchen & Co., of Kensal Green. Robert Angell had prepared plans in 1914, but Frere was preferred, probably because of family connections. The building is distinctive in Hallam Street for its clean Portland stone elevation – Frere was able to steer the Council away from a cheaper brick alternative by saving money in other areas. It is more widely unusual for its synthesis of neo-Georgian form and proportion with Neo-Grec ornament. Above the original entrance in what was at first an otherwise symmetrical front elevation, a once fine but now weather-worn lintel bas-relief by Frederick Lessore follows the suggestions of Dr Richard Caton, a member of the council, in depicting the cult of Asklepios (seated, left) and his extended family whose members represent aspects of medicine. This ‘frieze’ has a Greek-fret continuation across a full-height bow bearing more relief sculpture by Lessore and his assistants. Diminutive caryatids grace the tops of mullions, symbolising the Council’s functions, and the bowl of Hygieia is at the centre of the bow between the upper storeys where a council room was placed under a dining room. These spaces were laid out between separate staircases for members and the public and in front of committee rooms. The extension has similar external detailing, its tall windows lighting a board room. A second entrance was formed in its south bay around 1960 when the Medical Protection Society took the building’s northern parts. Since 2010 No. 44 has been a conference centre, Nos 46–50 three duplex apartments.

(© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

Radiator casing in former committee room (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

(© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

Council room internal windows (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

(© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

Public staircase (© Historic England, Lucy Millson-Watkins).

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

The Queen’s Hall, Langham Place

By the Survey of London, on 12 February 2016

Queen's Hall roundels

Portrait busts of great composers lying amidst rubble after the Queen’s Hall was hit by an incendiary bomb in 1941 (Photograph by Larkin Brothers Ltd., reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Academy of Music). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

Handel, Haydn and Weber lying with other great composers’ names and profiles amidst ruin and dereliction: this poignant photo, taken around 1954, shows remnants of the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, Marylebone, at the time of its final demolition. The building had been gutted by an incendiary bomb on the night of 10 May 1941, but like many blitzed buildings in London its shell lingered on into the 1950s.

The Queen’s Hall was the perfect concert hall for London’s musical life, something which now only a very few can remember. Famously, it was the first home of the Proms. Everyone who played or sang or went to concerts there recalled its intimate atmosphere and acoustics with great affection. Before it was built in 1890–3, large-scale orchestral or choral concerts and recitals were held in multi-purpose halls like St James’s Hall, Piccadilly, with few facilities for performers and little by way of outward architectural show.

exterior view of queen's hall seen from langham place queen's hall opened in 1893 as a concert hall and was designed by architect t e knightley. it was later destroyed by an incendiary bomb in 1941. queen's hall greater london city of westminster westminster

The Queen’s Hall seen from Langham Place, photographed in 1894 by Bedford Lemere and Co. (Reproduced by kind permission of Historic England).

The Queen’s Hall was different. Projected on a prominent site between All Souls, Langham Place and another forgotten musical venue, St George’s Hall, it was built at the sole expense of Francis Ravenscroft, who had made a great deal of money from the Birkbeck Bank. Ravenscroft seems to have had no special interest in music, but his lawyer J. S. Rubinstein did, and it is a fair bet that the idea to invest his client’s money in a modern concert hall for London came from him. Once that decision had been taken, Ravenscroft did not stint, giving his main architect, T. E. Knightley, the chance to design not only a grand concert hall to a horseshoe plan with a smaller recital room on top, but also a spectacularly lavish monumental frontage in stone on a curve, with a deep colonnade and lashings of carving. It was there, tucked into niches, that the composers featured, some as complete busts, others in high profile.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.10.49

Extract from the 2nd-edition OS map, published 1895, showing Langham Place with the Queen’s Hall next to All Soul’s church and opposite the Langham Hotel (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland).

The photograph at the top of the page shows only some of the abandoned composers in profile (the complete set consisted of Brahms, Gluck, Handel, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Weber). By then the full busts (Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Purcell and Tchaikovsky) had probably been rescued by the St Marylebone Society with the aid of the Royal Academy of Music. For years they adorned the garden of a cottage in Olney, Buckinghamshire, shared by the violinist and teacher Rosemary Rapaport and Sir Thomas Armstrong, former Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. They were returned to the Academy in 2001 after restoration, and can now be seen in its museum on the Marylebone Road. They are the sole physical reminders of a famous and much-loved London institution, where leading musicians from all over the world played and many famous meetings were also held. The best evocation of the Queen’s Hall and its atmosphere can be found in E. M. Forster’s Howards End, including a nicely sarcastic description of its French ceiling painting showing ‘attenuated Cupids … clad in sallow pantaloons’. That had been painted out well before the fatal bombing of 1941.

(© Survey of London and Historic England, Andy Crispe)

Plans of the main hall and small hall of the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place. Please click on the picture to expand (© Survey of London and Historic England, Andy Crispe).

Mews Views

By the Survey of London, on 5 February 2016

Back in Marylebone, the subject of today’s post is the numerous mews that are significant hyphenations of the great regular grid of streets that is bracketed by Wigmore Street, Marylebone High Street, the Marylebone Road and Portland Place – the core, that is, of the Howard De Walden Estate. It is an irony that the latter-day charm of these places, which were designed in effect for the parking of coaches and horses, rests largely in their residential calm and relative freedom from vehicles.

Laid out with the streets in the later decades of the eighteenth century, they were characteristically sett-paved and originally lined by low (almost invariably two-storey and plain stock brick) rows of stables and coach-houses with living space above for associated servants. If there was architectural finesse, it faced the gardens of the houses, not the mews. There were piecemeal early rebuilds, but change appears to have been humble and in keeping until the 1890s (Thomas Woolner’s studio of 1862 in Marylebone Mews being an interesting exception). Around then a new type appeared, a variation where access to the upper living space was made separate by virtue of external stairs across the front, facilitating occupancy by those who had nothing to do with the horses. Soon after, motor garages appeared, as conversions and in some cases as purposeful rebuilds.

The early and middle decades of the twentieth century saw increasingly ambitious and concerted interventions, more expressly residential if always above parking. A good deal of this was due to two property developers, William Willett and Henry Brandon, who insinuated stronger elements of architectural style, ranging from variations on the Neo-Georgian to the Neo-Tudor.

After the Second World War residential and gentrifying conversions that began to diminish ground-floor vehicle cover led to gradual prettification through paint, stucco, glazing bars, carriage lamps and window boxes. Through the same post-war decades there were a few substantial Modernist redevelopments, occasionally for office or institutional use. Residential use remains the rule and basements are being excavated. The most recent replacement buildings are yet more self-consciously architectural than any of their predecessors.

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Devonshire Mews West, Nos 27 to 36 on the east side from the south, showing a frontage that has its origins in the 1820s, the London Clinic beyond (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

29 Devonshire Mews West, a rare unreconstructed garage (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

37-38 Devonshire Mews West, 1956–7, Basil Hughes and Bonfield, architects, garages under two flats for the Howard De Walden Estate (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

39 Devonshire Mews West, 1908–9, with independent access to an upper-storey flat by means of an external staircase (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Devonshire Close, showing Neo-Georgian brick at No. 15 (left), 1924 for William Willett with Amos Faulkner, architect, and Neo-Tudor black-and-white at Nos 12 and 14, 1935-9 for Henry Brandon with Alfred and Vincent Burr, architects (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

30-35 Devonshire Close, rebuilt for clients ranging from Major H. A. Wernher at No. 30 in 1922-3 (right) to Vincent Gluckstein in 1926 at No. 34. Willett and Faulkner were responsible for the gabled profiles of Nos 33 (1910-12) and 32 (1920), Moore-Smith & Colbeck, architects, for No. 31 in 1930-1 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Devonshire Mews South, sett paving and two-storey rows that have their origins in the 1780s, with the London Clinic again looming up to the north (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

107 Devonshire Mews South, a 1900ish rebuild with external stairs, altered in 1954 and since (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

34 Devonshire Place Mews, another stabling rebuild with a former forage-store opening to an attic that has been converted. Mansard roofs are fairly ubiquitous (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Wimpole Mews, the east side from the south, showing No. 6 (right) of 1904 with shaped parapet, built for Walter Hamilton Hylton Jessop, an opthalmic surgeon of 73 Harley Street, with William Henry White as architect. For No. 8 beyond, see below (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

No. 8 Wimpole Mews,  rebuilt in 2011–12 for the Howard De Walden Estate to plans by Urban Mesh Design Ltd (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

33 Weymouth Mews, 1898, by and for Waterhouse & Son, the architects Alfred, then elderly, and his son and partner, Paul, who were based in an adjacent New Cavendish Street property (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

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.


[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 2: Nos 11-14

By the Survey of London, on 8 January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

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


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

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

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

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

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

(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

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

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


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

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

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