Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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LEICESTER SQUARE AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD.
Leicester Fields—Formation of the Square—Famous Duels fought here—Leicester House—Anecdote of George III.'s Childhood—Sir Ashton Lever's Museum—Saville House—Miss Linwood's Exhibition of Needlework—Destruction of Saville House—Residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds—Hogarth's House—The "Pic-nic Club"—John Hunter's Museum—The Alhambra—Burford's Panorama—The Church of Notre Dame de France—Wyld's "Great Globe"—Downfall of the Statue of George I.—Renovation of the Square by Mr. Albert Grant—Residence of Sir Isaac Newton—Cranbourn Street and Cranbourn Alley.
There are, perhaps, few places in the metropolis remaining at the present day that combine the characteristics of "Old and New London"—rolled into one as it were—to a greater extent than Leicester Square. It dates from the time of the second Charles, to whose reign we are indebted for many of those open spaces in the metropolis which tend so necessarily towards its salubrity. Down to the very last days of the Protectorate, Leicester Fields—as the place was then, and even more recently, termed—was entirely unbuilt upon. The north side of the Leicester Square of to-day was the only place occupied in the vicinity, and this was taken up by Leicester House and its gardens, at the back of which was a large open common which was used for many years as a place for military exercise.
The history of the square, in fact, begins with Leicester House, which was built between 1632 and 1636, by Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, whose voluminous correspondence, preserved among the "Sidney Papers," is a history, in little, of his time, and of whose sons, Philip and Algernon Sidney, Leicester Fields hold many memories.
In Aggas' map there are no houses either north or west of the mews enclosure. St. Martin's Lane is represented with hedgerows, and the site of Leicester Square is a drying-ground for clothes. A woman is laying out sundry garments on the grass, and in the next field are cattle, and a milkmaid carrying her pail. Stow, in his "Survey" of 1598, says of the mews—"And this is the farthest building west on the north side of that High Street." From Faithorne's map, compiled between 1643 and 1647, and published in 1658, we know that, just before the Restoration, St. Martin's was literally "in the fields," a windmill and a few scattered houses stood where Windmill Street now is, and Leicester House was still in grounds not surrounded by buildings.
Of Aggas' map of London, so far as it concerns this region, Mr. Tom Taylor remarks:—"There is so much in the map which brings Shakespeare to mind, that one is surprised not to find the Globe, and the Red Bull, the Fortune, and the Curtain playhouses as conspicuous as the 'Bull and Bear' Gardens."
In this map all the country to the north of Charing Cross and west of Chancery Lane is still entirely devoted to country life and uses, and the Hospital for Lepers, dedicated to St. Giles, stood in the fields, with nothing between it and the spot where now stands Leicester Square. The line of St. Martin's Lane was, however, occupied by buildings on both sides as far as St. Giles's Church. Soon after the Restoration increasing prosperity led to a rapid increase of dwellings. The parish of St. Martin had so enlarged its population that "numerous inhabitants were deprived of an opportunity of publicly celebrating the divine offices," and the result of an application to Parliament was that a separate parish was formed, and a new parish church was built, dedicated to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin. Around this (in what is now known as Dean Street, Soho) buildings clustered, and within fifty years the parish contained 1,337 houses, according to Maitland. He adds the following information about the prosperity of the parish:—"There are of persons that keep coaches seventythree," and there "is a workhouse for the reception of the poor;" and then he goes on:—"The fields in these parts being lately converted into buildings, I have not discovered anything of antiquity in this parish;" many parts so greatly abound with French that it is an "easy matter for a stranger to fancy himself in France." This is a characteristic of the parish that has not altered. Strype, in 1720, speaks of the "chapels in these parts for the use of the French nation, where our Liturgy turned into French is used, French ministers that are refugees episcopally ordained officiating; several whereof are hereabouts seen walking in the canonical habit of the English clergy. Abundance of French people, many whereof are voluntary exiles for their religion, live in these streets and lanes, following honest trades, and some gentry of the same nation."
From John Overton's map, published in 1706, it is easy to see how the buildings surrounding Leicester Square lay at that time. The grass in the centre is marked as enclosed. Cranbourn Street and Bear Lane give access by the north-east corner, and "Dirty Lane," or Green Street, by the south-east. Panton Street, viâ "Slug Street," opens the south-west corner, but the north-west side is completely closed. Later maps show the communication via Sidney Alley, a narrow footway still existing; but the route by which carriages from the west now drive to Drury Lane or Covent Garden was then blocked by a line of houses. Though we cannot trace the building of the square with any accuracy, we have a slight sketch of it by Strype in 1720, which could not have been more than some forty or fifty years after its completion. He says it is "a very handsome square, railed about and gravelled within. The buildings are very good, and well inhabited, and frequented by the gentry. The north and west rows of buildings, which are in St. Anne's parish, are the best; and especially on the north, where is Leicester House, the seat of the Earl of Leicester, being a large building with a fair court before it for the reception of coaches, and a fine garden behind it; the south and east sides being in the parish of St. Martin's."
Rocque's map of 1737 shows how rapidly buildings spread north and west. Leicester House was no longer in the country, as up to Oxford Street the ground was filled with houses. The Country Journal of Craftsmen, under the date of April 16, 1737, contains the following statement:—"Leicester field is going to be fitted up in a very elegant manner: a new wall and rails to be erected all round, and a basin in the middle, after the manner of Lincoln's Inn Fields." Northouck, in 1773, writes:—"This is a handsome square, the inner part of which is enclosed by iron rails, and adorned with grass plats and gravel walks. In the centre is an equestrian statue of his present Majesty, gilt." This statue was really of George I., modelled by C. Buchard for the Duke of Chandos, and brought from Canons in 1747, when it was purchased by the inhabitants of the square. It was finely gilt, and in 1812 was re-gilt. Of its later history we shall have more to say presently.
Between the Restoration and the Revolution, Leicester Field, as it was then called, had become surrounded by houses and streets, and had assumed nearly its present dimensions. Before the end of the seventeenth century the centre, as shown above, had been railed round, and was as famous for duels as the ground behind Montague House in later times. Here it was that the famous duel occurred, in 1699, between Captains French and Coote, in which Coote was slain on the spot at night, and French and Lord Warwick wounded. In it, too, was implicated Lord Mohun, of duelling notoriety, but who, by all accounts, on this occasion did his best to arrange the difference between the two hot-headed Irishmen. Thackeray has described in "Esmond" how Lord Mohun and Lord Castlewood, with their respective friends, went to the Duke's playhouse and saw Mrs. Bracegirdle in Love in a Wood, then to the "Greyhound" in Charing Cross to sup, where the two lords quarrelled, according to previous arrangement, and it was agreed to take chairs and go to Leicester Field. Colonel Westbury, second to Lord Castlewood, asked, with a low bow to my Lord of Warwick and Holland, second to Lord Mohun, whether he should have the honour of exchanging a pass or two with his lordship. "It is an honour to me," said my Lord of Warwick and Holland, "to be matched with a gentleman who has been at Mons and Namur." Captain Macartney, the second second, if we may so say, of Lord Mohun, asked permission to give a lesson to Harry Esmond, who was then fresh from Cambridge, and destined for holy orders. Chairs were called, and the word was given for Leicester Field, where the gentlemen were set down opposite the "Standard" Tavern. It was moonlight, and the town was abed, and only a few lights shone in the windows of the houses, but the night was bright enough for the purpose of the disputants. All six entered the square, the chairmen standing without the railing and keeping the gate, lest any persons should disturb the meeting. After Harry had been engaged for some two minutes, a cry from the chairmen, who were smoking their pipes, and leaning over the railing as they watched the dim combat within, announced that some catastrophe had occurred. Lord Castlewood had received a mortal wound, and he was carried to the house of Mr. Aimes, surgeon, in Long Acre, where he died.
Besides Leicester House, there were now other great houses in the square. To the west of it stood a mansion belonging to Lord Ailesbury, inhabited in the year 1698 by Lord Carmarthen, the eccentric son of the Duke of Leeds, an enthusiastic amateur sailor and shipbuilder, as well as drinker and rough customer, to whom William III. confided the care of the Czar Peter. In Lord Carmarthen the latter found a congenial spirit, and his great delight while in England was to sail all day with him in his yacht, the Peregrine, and drink brandy spiced with pepper with him all night in Norfolk Street, or Leicester Field. Before going to the theatre, it is recorded that the Czar, besides a pint of brandy and a bottle of sherry, "floored eight bottles of sack after dinner." To the Czar, in January, 1712, succeeded, as a great foreign visitor, Prince Eugene, "a little, ugly, yellow wizened man, with one shoulder higher than the other." He was the hero of the populace, for the English people were eager to carry on the war, and the Prince was against the impending peace which the new Tory Government were just about to patch up. On the 14th of March the Prince left London, having entirely failed in his warlike mission; and the same month brought the Mohocks, "a race of rogues," Swift writes to Stella, "that play the devil about the town every night and slit people's noses—young Davenant telling us at Court how he was set upon by them, and how they ran his chair through with a sword. It is not safe being in the streets at night for them. The Bishop of Salisbury's (Burnet's) son is said to be of the gang. They are all Whigs." Thus writes the great Tory champion of the Whig bishop's son. He, too, had his abode in Leicester Field in 1712, the year of his greatest literary activity.
As we have already mentioned, Leicester House was the first element of the "square," and as buildings gradually grew up around, it formed the boundary on the north side. The house itself stood well back, having a spacious courtyard in front as well as an extensive garden in the rear. Northouck describes the house in 1773 as "a large brick building, with a wide courtyard before." There is extant a drawing of Leicester House by George Virtue, taken in 1748, showing the sentries at the gates of Saville and Leicester Houses. Leicester House was of brick, two storeys, and an attic, and with a range of nine windows in front. In 1788 the house was taken down, and maps of 1799, such as Horwood's and Edward Waters', show the building along the north side completed as now. The enclosure had two rows of trees round it, and was laid out with cross walks; various maps exhibit different arrangements of trees and walks.
Leicester House was the abode of the Sidneys—that noble family of which, in the sixteenth century, Sir Henry Sidney, "the wisest, greatest, and justest Lord-Deputy Ireland ever had," and his more famous son Philip, were the great ornaments. In the year 1632, Sir Henry's son, Robert, then Earl of Leicester, built Leicester House, having derived the ownership of the Lammas-land of St. Giles's through the grant of Henry VIII. to his ancestor, Lord Lisle. This Lammas-land was the tract of ground lying between Charing Cross and Oxford Road, or St. Giles's Road, and over it the citizens of Westminster had right of common, though the fee-simple was in St. Giles's, St. James's, and other hospitals. Before another century had elapsed those common rights had passed away, before that determined progress from east to west, which building in London has made in generation after generation.
At Leicester House the Sidneys dwelt all through the troublous times of the Commonwealth to the end of the century, their leading spirit being the unhappy Algernon Sidney, the pure patriot and impracticable politician who was persecuted both by Cromwell and Charles II. until he died on the scaffold after the iniquitous trial for the Rye House Plot, in 1683. It was not till near the close of the eighteenth century that the Sidney property of Leicester Fields passed to the Tulk family for £90,000, which went to pay off the incumbrances on Penshurst; and from the representatives of the Tulks their rights over the enclosure now called the square, were in the year 1874 acquired by Mr. Albert Grant for £13,000, and made over to the Metropolitan Board of Works.
Leicester House was for a short time the residence of the Princess Elizabeth, only daughter or James I., the titular Queen of Bohemia, to whom Lord Craven devoted his life and labours, and who, in 1662, here ended her unfortunate life. Besides the Queen of Bohemia—the "Queen of Hearts," as she was called by all who came under the magic of her influence—Leicester House was inhabited in the last century by other royal and noble personages. In 1668 we find lodging in Leicester House the French ambassador, Charles Colbert, Marquis de Croisay. Pepys tells us in his "Diary," under date October 21st, 1668, that he paid a visit to the French ambassador, Colbert, at Leicester House. Evelyn records a dinner he had at Leicester House with the grave and gay Anne, Countess of Sunderland, when she sent for Richardson, the famous fire-eater, to exhibit his prowess before them. In 1708, the house was let to the Imperial ambassador, who, in 1712, there received Prince Eugene as his guest, when "on a secret mission to prevent peace from being arranged between Great Britain and France," as we have already noticed.
At Leicester House, in the year 1721, was born William, Duke of Cumberland, the hero of Culloden. There, between 1717 and 1760, lived the Princes of Wales, when a Prince of Wales was always at deadly feud with the head of his house. George II., whilst Prince of Wales, there fed his grudge against his father, which Mr. Taylor, in his "History of Leicester Square," tells us had its deepest root in the sympathy with his hapless mother, Sophia Dorothea, doomed to life-long imprisonment at Zell, on a charge of an intrigue with Count Philip Königsmark, the younger brother of the man who contrived the assassination of Thomas Thynne, of Longleat, of which we shall have more to say hereafter. In his day life in Leicester House was as dull as ditch-water, and not much purer; and when he succeeded to the throne in 1727, Frederick Prince of Wales (though he lived for a short time in Norfolk House, in St. James's Square, where George III. was born in 1738) became the tenant of Leicester House the year after Sir Robert Walpole's downfall in 1742, and that mansion became again, as Pennant happily called it, "the pouting place of princes" till the somewhat sudden death of Frederick, in 1751. The king never visited his son during his illness, and received the news when playing cards with the Countess Walmoden with the cool expression, "Fritz ist todt."
An amusing story relating to the childhood of George III. is told in connection with Leicester House. A foreigner, named Goupée, an artist of some note in his day, and a favourite with Frederick Prince of Wales, was a frequent visitor there. One day the prince said to him, "Come, sit down, Goupée, and paint me a picture on such a subject. But Goupée perceiving Prince George (afterwards King George III.) a prisoner behind a chair, took the liberty humbly to represent to his royal patron, how impossible it was for him to sit down to execute his royal highness's commands with spirit, while the prince was standing, and under his royal displeasure. "Come out, George, then," said the good-natured prince, "Goupée has released you." When Goupée was eighty-four years of age, and very poor, he had to nurse and maintain a mad woman, who was the object of his delight when young; he therefore often put himself in the king's sight at Kensington, where he lived. At length the king stopped his coach, and called to him. "How do you do, Goupée?" said the king, and after a few other questions asked him if he had enough to live upon. "Little enough, indeed," replied Goupée; "and as I once took your majesty out of prison, I hope you will not let me go to one." His majesty ordered him a pension of a guinea a week, but he did not live to enjoy it more than a few months.
Here, as we are reminded by Peter Cunningham, the Princess of Wales was waited upon by the wife of the unfortunate Earl of Cromartie, who was so deeply involved in the fatal Scottish rising of 1745. She came leading in her hand her four little children, the sight of whom ought to have roused a feeling of sympathy in a maternal heart. "The princess saw her," says Gray, in one of his letters, "but made her no other answer than by bringing in her own children and by placing them by her."
On the 26th of October, 1760, George III. was proclaimed king before Saville House, in Leicester Square; and on the 29th it was crowded with the mob, assembled to see the courtiers thronging to Leicester House to kiss the hand of the new king. The Dowager Princess of Wales continued to live in Leicester House till 1766, when she removed to Carlton House; and about the same time occurred the last incident connected with royalty in Leicester Fields—the death, at Saville House, of Prince Frederick William, the youngest brother of the king, aged sixteen. While tenanted by the Royal family, the evenings at Leicester House were often enlivened by private theatricals, in which it is recorded that the future king of England and his brothers acted their childish parts with ability and spirit.
Leicester House subsequently became occupied by private persons, and was at one time used by Sir Ashton Lever as a Museum of Natural History. In 1784 Sir Ashton presented a petition to the House of Commons, praying to be allowed to dispose of his museum by a lottery, as Alderman Boydell had done with his gallery. On this occasion it was stated by his manager that it had been brought to London in the year 1775; that it had occupied twelve years in forming, and contained upwards of 26,000 articles; that the money taken for admission amounted, from February, 1775, to February, 1784, to about £13,000, out of which £660 had been paid for house-rent and taxes. Sir Ashton proposed that his whole museum should go together, and that there should be 40,000 tickets at one guinea each, but of this number only 8,000 tickets were sold. However, the proprietor allowed the lottery to take place, and although he held 28,000 tickets, he lost his museum, which was won by a Mr. Parkinson, who only held two. The house was finally pulled down in 1806, and the site is now bounded on the west by Leicester Place, a wide thoroughfare leading to Lisle Street. New Lisle Street was built in 1791 on the site of the gardens of Leicester House.
Adjoining Leicester House, on the west, stood, until very recently, a large mansion, called Saville House, formerly the residence of the patriotic Sir George Saville, who was many years Knight of the Shire for the County of York, ancestor of the Earls and Marquises of Halifax, and who introduced the Catholic Relief Bill, which led to the Gordon riots in 1780. Saville House, it is well known, occupied nearly the centre of the northern side of the square. It has been, however, as Mr. Timbs remarks in his "Romance of London," frequently confounded with Leicester House, which it adjoined. The latter house, however, stood at the north-eastern extremity, and to this mansion was added Saville House, a communication being made between the two houses for the children of Frederick, Prince of Wales. Saville House was likewise called Ailesbury House, and here Thomas, third Earl of Ailesbury, entertained Peter the Great, when he visited England in the year 1698; and here, too, in all probability, the Czar enjoyed his pet tipple with his boon companion, the Marquis of Carmarthen, as we have already stated. The house passed into the Saville family through the marriage of Lord Ailesbury's son and successor, Charles, third and last Earl of Ailesbury of that creation, who married Lady Ann Saville, eldest daughter and co-heir of Sir William Saville, second Marquis of Halifax. At any rate, Sir George Saville, Bart., M.P., who owned the house in 1780, was the male heir of the Savilles and of the Marquis of Halifax, and the inheritor of the baronetcy. The house, in the Gordon riots, was stripped of its valuable furniture, books, and pictures, which the rioters burnt in the square; and the iron rails were torn from the front of the house and used by the mob as weapons.
Saville House was rebuilt early in the present century, and soon became a sort of "Noah's Ark," for exhibition purposes. Here Miss Linwood exhibited her needlework, from the year 1800 until her death in 1845; and here, too, the National Political Union held its reform meetings, recalling the storms of the previous century. Then came a succession of prodigies of nature and art. Amongst the latter were a large moving panorama of the Mississippi River, and a series of views of New Zealand; concerts and balls, and exhibitions of too questionable a shape for us to detail. "Through some sixty years of the showman's art, flaring by night and by day, Saville House lasted unharmed until the catastrophe of 1865, when the royal babyhouse and the cheap pleasure-haunt were burnt in the short space of two hours."
Part of the house, on being refitted after the Gordon riots, was occupied by a carpet manufacturer, and subsequently by Messrs. Stagg and Mantle, drapers and silk mercers; and also by Messrs. Bickers and Bush, extensive booksellers. The eastern wing of it was for many years the show-room of Miss Linwood's exhibition of needlework, as mentioned above, which enjoyed a popularity second only to that of Madame Tussaud's exhibition of wax-work in Baker Street. This exhibition gave a new name to Saville House, it being known for nearly half a century as the Linwood Gallery. It comprised about sixty copies of the best and finest pictures of the English and foreign schools of art, all executed by the most delicate handicraft with the needle, the tapestry "possessing all the correct drawing, just colouring, and light and shade of the original pictures from which they are copied." The entrance to this exhibition was up a flight of stone steps, leading to a large room.
After enjoying half a century of popularity, the exhibition came to an end in 1844, and the pictures were sold by auction, realising only a comparative trifle. No less than 3,000 guineas had been refused for the chief work, viz., "Salvator Mundi," after Carlo Dolci, and Miss Linwood bequeathed it to the Queen; but so reduced was the value of these works at her death, that when Messrs. Christie and Manson sold the collection by auction, all the pictures, except a few which were reserved, did not realise more than £1,000. The rooms which they occupied were then turned into a concert and ballroom, and made use of for entertainments of a very questionable character; but they were burnt down in February, 1865, the Prince of Wales being among the spectators of the destruction of the house once inhabited by his ancestors. The house has never since been rebuilt. The outer walls remained standing, displaying a placard-board styling the dreary place as the Denmark Theatre, and thus hinting that it belongs to some company, limited or otherwise, which never passed beyond the embryo state.
Underneath Saville House are some extensive apartments, to which we gain descent by a flight of a few steps from the street. The chief room, often called the "theatre," has been used for various exhibitions from time to time, including "Miller's Mechanical and Picturesque Representations," consisting of seven views of cities, "the figures of which," says a prospectus in 1814, "are impressed with movements peculiar to each, so as to imitate the operations of nature." The passage leading to this theatre, Mr. Britton tells us, in 1815, "has been lately opened as one of those singular establishments called bazaars." The "theatre" was changed into an extensive billiard-room, fitted with foreign as well as English tables; and the entrance was fitted up as a refreshment bar.
A large house, No. 47, on the western side of the square, was for many years the residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Here duchesses and marchionesses, ladies and fair daughters of the aristocracy sat to the monarch of the world of art, to be immortalised by his brush. Here Burke and Foote, Goldsmith and Dr. Johnson, Garrick and Boswell, and most of the celebrated men of the last century, were in the habit of assembling, and of dining almost every week at the hospitable board of the great portrait painter. His house here, we are told, was magnificently proportioned; it possessed one of the finest staircases in London; it was fitted up with exquisite taste, and it was the rendezvous of the literary world. Here Sir Joshua worked with the greatest assiduity until the last, and only ended his laborious toil, which was, however, to him a labour of love, with his life.
Of Sir Joshua Reynolds (who died here in 1792) it would be presumptuous to say a word of praise, beyond quoting the words of Edmund Burke:—"Sir Joshua Reynolds was, on very many accounts, one of the most memorable men of his time. He was the first Englishman who added the praise of his elegant arts to the other glories of his country. In taste, in grace, in facility, in happy invention, and in the richness and harmony of colouring, he was equal to the great masters of the renowned ages. In portrait-painting he was beyond them, for he communicated to that description of the art in which English artists are the most engaged a variety, a fancy, and a dignity derived from the higher branches which even those who professed them in a superior manner did not always preserve, when they delineated individual nature. In painting portraits, he appeared not to be raised upon that platform, but to descend to it from a higher sphere. His paintings illustrate his lessons, and his lessons seem to be derived from his paintings. He possessed the theory as perfectly as the practice of his art. To be such a painter, he was a profound and penetrating philosopher. In full affluence of foreign and domestic fame, admired by the expert in art, and by the learned in science, courted by the great, caressed by sovereign powers, and celebrated by distinguished poets, his native humility, modesty, and candour never forsook him, even on surprise or provocation; nor was the least degree of arrogance or assumption visible to the most scrutinising eye in any part of his conduct or discourse. His talents of every kind, powerful from nature, and not meanly cultivated by letters, his social virtues in all the relations and all the habitudes of life, rendered him the centre of a very great and unparalleled variety of agreeable societies, which will be dissipated by his death. He had too much merit not to excite some jealousy, too much innocence to provoke any enmity. The loss of no man of his time can be felt with more sincere, general, and unmixed sorrow."
Sir Joshua Reynolds' handsome house was next held by the Earl of Inchiquin; then by a society as the Western Literary and Scientific Institution; and it was subsequently taken by Messrs. Puttick and Simpson, the eminent auctioneers, who removed hither from Piccadilly. The actual apartment used as their auction-room was Sir Joshua's studio.
"His study was octagonal, some twenty feet long by sixteen broad, and about fifteen feet high. The window was small and square, and the sill nine feet from the floor. His sitters' chair moved on castors, and stood above the floor about a foot and a half. He held his palettes by the handle, and the sticks of his brushes were eighteen inches long. He wrought standing, and with great celerity; he rose early, breakfasted at nine, entered his study at ten, examined designs or touched unfinished portraits till eleven brought a sitter, painted till four, then dressed, and gave the evening to company."
The first London residence of Sir Thomas Lawrence, the pupil and successor of Sir Joshua Reynolds as the fashionable portrait painter of the day, was over a confectioner's shop, at No. 4 in the square, a house which was subsequently incorporated in Saville House when the latter building was enlarged.
Bell (afterwards the far-famed Sir Charles Bell) lived in Leicester Square, in the house where Mr. Speaker Onslow had resided. He, in turn, was succeeded by Cruikshank, Sir Joshua Reynolds' medical attendant, the same who succeeded to Hunter's Medical School.
At the south-eastern corner of the square stood the house in which the inimitable George Hogarth lived and worked for many years. It was in 1733 that Hogarth settled here with his young wife, whom he had carried off from the house of her father, Sir James Thornhill, three years before. The house bore the sign of the "Golden Head," and in it most of Hogarth's finest works were engraved and sold; and there, after his death, his widow lived till 1789. In April, 1790, "the pictures and prints of the late Mrs. Hogarth" were sold by auction by Mr. Greenwood, at the "Golden Head," Leicester Square. Though the catalogue contained numerous pictures by Hogarth's own hand, by Sir James Thornhill, and a variety of portraits of the artist, his wife, sister, and other relatives, the entire sale realised only £255. It must raise a smile to read that on this occasion a "parcel of Academy figures and studies by Mr. Hogarth" fetched only eleven shillings and sixpence! After this sale the connection of the Hogarths with Leicester Square ceased.
With reference to the sign of the "Golden Head," Nichols, in his second edition of "Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth," says, "Hogarth made one essay in sculpture. He wanted a sign to distinguish his house in Leicester Fields, and thinking none more proper than the "Golden Head," he, out of a mass of cork made up of several thicknesses compacted together, carved a bust of Vandyck, which he gilt and placed over his door. It is long since decayed, and was succeeded by a head in plaster, which has also perished; and is supplied by a head of Sir Isaac Newton" (since taken down). "Hogarth also modelled another resemblance of Vandyck in clay, which is likewise destroyed." Hogarth's house, or, at all events, part of it, was afterwards converted into the "Sablonnière Hotel," which was kept by an Italian named Pagliano, and largely frequented by foreigners. The building was pulled down in 1870, and on its site was erected the new school-house and library of Archbishop Tenison, which were removed thither from their old quarters at the back of the National Gallery, to which we have referred in the preceding chapter.
At some public rooms in this square, kept by a foreigner, M. de Texier, as Lord William Lennox tells us, the first "Pic-nic Club" was organised in London, by the aid of Lady Albinia Cumberland, and Colonel (afterwards Sir Charles) Greville. Individuals of either sex belonged to it, and took their chances in a strange lottery, being bound to supply whatever dish, or other eatable or drinkable, they might draw. To this concerts and amateur dramatic entertainments were added; but the club did not prosper, being probably "in advance of the time," and much opposed by parents of the old-fashioned, straight-laced school. It was also attacked by the caricaturists, who, by driving the ladies away, succeeded in staying it outright. There was a rival Pic-nic Society at the Pantheon in Oxford Street, but it shared a like fate.
Almost in the centre of the eastern side, nearly on the site of the Alhambra, stood the Anatomical Museum of John Hunter, the celebrated surgeon, where was formed the nucleus of the Hunterian Museum, now at the College of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn Fields. It was in the year 1783 that John Hunter became owner of No. 28, on the east side of the square, and at the back of it, on ground leading to Castle Street, he built his famous Museum of Comparative Anatomy. In 1785 the erection was complete, and one of the first acquisitions of its owner was the skeleton of O'Brien, the Irish giant, which may still be seen, as we have already said, in the College of Surgeons. Foote tells us that Hunter held, on Sunday evenings, during the winter months, regular receptions of his friends or public medical levees, for which he sent out cards of invitation; he "regaled them with tea and coffee," and "treated them with medical occurrences." Having raised the science of surgery to a height never believed to be possible, and thus benefited the whole human race, Hunter died of disease of the heart, aggravated by an angry discussion in the Board-room of St. George's Hospital, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, "without an equal in the world in his combined character of surgeon and naturalist." He was buried in St. Martin's Church, and his widow would gladly have raised a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey, but he died poor, and she could not pay the Dean and Chapter their fees. Thus he remained without a statue till Mr. Albert Grant selected him as a fit subject for one of the busts in the new enclosure in Leicester Square.
The building now known as the Royal Alhambra Palace Theatre is a place of amusement where music and dancing form the chief features of attraction. It was built in the Moorish or Arabesque style, and opened about the year 1852–3 as a place of popular instruction, somewhat after the plan of the Polytechnic, and bore at first the name of the "Royal Panopticon of Science and Art." It was got up under the auspices of several philanthropic individuals as a joint-stock undertaking. But the speculation did not answer, and after a few years the company broke up. The building was closed for a time, and then re-opened under the name by which it is at present known. It is at once a theatre and a music-hall. It consists of a spacious auditorium, with three tiers of galleries, and a stage particularly adapted for the representation of burlesque and other pieces requiring scenic effect, Architecturally, it is one of the most elegant places of entertainment of the kind in London. The facade of the building is flat, with lofty minarets at the corners; and the dome in the centre, together with the coloured decoration, make it a striking object. The chief feature of the interior is the rotunda, formed by tiers of galleries, and horseshoeshaped arches supporting the several galleries. The great organ, built for the Panopticon, was purchased for St. Paul's Cathedral, but has since been removed to Clifton.
In this square, towards the close of the last century, Charles Dibdin built and opened a theatre of his own under the name of Sans Souci. Mr. J. T. Smith tells us, in his "Book for a Rainy Day," that "for many years the back parlour of the 'Feathers' public-house—which stood on the side of Leicester Fields, and which was so called in compliment to its neighbour Frederick, Prince of Wales, who inhabited Leicester House—had been frequented by artists, and several well-known amateurs. Among the former were Stuart, the Athenian traveller; Scott, the marine painter; old Oram, of the Board of Works; Luke Sullivan, the miniature-painter, who engraved Hogarth's picture of 'The March to Finchley,' now in the Foundling Hospital; Captain Grose, the author of 'Antiquities of England,' 'History of Armour,' &c.; Mr. Hearne, the draughtsman of many of England's antiquities, Nathaniel Smith, my father, &c. The amateurs were Henderson, the actor; Mr. Morris, a silversmith; Mr. John Ireland, then a watchmaker in Maiden Lane, and since editor of Boydell's edition of Dr. Trusler's work, 'Hogarth Moralised;' and Mr. Baker, of St. Paul's Churchyard, whose collection of Bartolozzi's works was unequalled. When this house, the sign of the 'Feathers,' was taken down, to make way for Dibdin's theatre, several of its frequenters adjourned to the 'Coach and Horses' in Castle Street, Leicester Fields; but in consequence of their not proving customers sufficiently expensive for that establishment, the landlord one evening venturing to light them out with a farthing candle, they betook themselves to Gerard Street, and thence to the 'Blue Posts,' in Dean Street, where the association dwindled to three members, and died a natural death."
The building known as the "Panorama" stood in the north-east corner of the square, and was an exhibition of ancient reputation. Here Burford's celebrated panoramas were exhibited for several years. Part of the building was subsequently used as a "penny news-room," and as a sort of Red Republicans' Club; but it was finally converted into a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to "Notre Dame de France," under the ministration of the Marist Fathers. The mission was established here in conjunction with Les Sœurs de Charité Françaises, or the establishment of the Sisters of Charity in Leicester Place. Some idea of the benefits resulting from this combined force may be gathered from the address of Archbishop Manning at the consecration of the mission in April, 1874. After alluding to the manner in which the structure had been raised and embellished, and to the resources for the mission, he said, "With such a church on one side of Leicester Place, and the many establishments of the Sisters of Charity on the other, not only the street itself, but the entire foreign colony around it, enjoys advantages which any other portion of London might envy. We have said 'establishments,' for though there are only eight Sisters of Charity at Leicester Place, they carry on a hospital, a dispensary, a girls' school, an infants' school, a crêche, a patronage for young girls, a system of out-door relief, and, with the assistance of a master, a boys' school. Since the foundation of the hospital and the dispensary in 1867, relief has been given to 1,400 in-patients, and 19,000 out-patients; while in relief to the poor souls, 20,000 pounds weight of bread are distributed each year by those 'ministering angels' in human form. In this crêche they have an average of twenty-five babies of poor mothers who have to go out and work for their daily bread; in their infant school eighty lisping little ones; in their girls' school seventy pupils; and in their boys' school thirty-six. The patronage numbers from fifty to sixty young girls on its books. If we reflect for a moment on the heterogeneous elements of which the French population of Soho is composed, the work undertaken by the Marist Fathers and the Sisters of Charity will at once appear to be what it really is, simply appalling."
We have already referred to the central enclosure of Leicester Square in the early stages of its existence, and it now remains to add that shortly after the commencement of the nineteenth century, its glory began to fade. The square gradually became deserted by the gentry who had previously resided within its limits, and its houses having become untenanted, the enclosed garden fell into equal neglect. In 1851 the area was occupied by a large, circular, domed building, in which was exhibited Wyld's "Great Globe." This representation of the world we live in was sixty-five feet in diameter, and comprised a surface of some ten thousand square feet. Galleries encircled the interior of the building at different heights from the ground, by which means visitors were enabled to walk round and inspect every portion of the globe, an attendant, staff in hand, pointing out its principal features; lectures were likewise delivered at intervals during the day. In addition to the "Great Globe," Mr. Wyld introduced, in 1854, a well-executed model of the Crimea, and as this had the positions of the different armies of the Allies and of the Russians correctly laid down from day to day, according as news arrived in England from the seat of war, it was soon the chief object of interest to the thousands who flocked to Leicester Square every day. In 1859 a curious Oriental Museum was exhibited here, illustrative of life in Turkey, Armenia, and Albania, with life-like models of the interiors of palaces, harems, bazaars, offices of State, and courts of justice, with priests, soldiers, and janissaries, &c., much after the fashion of Madame Tussaud's.
On the removal of Wyld's "Great Globe," after occupying the square for about ten years, the enclosure became exposed once more in all its hideous nakedness. From that time down to the middle of the year 1874, its condition was simply a disgrace to the metropolis. Overgrown with rank and fetid vegetation, it was a public nuisance, both in an æsthetic and in a sanitary point of view; covered with the débris of tin pots and kettles, cast-off shoes, old clothes, and dead cats and dogs, it was an eye-sore to every one forced to pass by it. As for the "golden horse and its rider," the effigy of George I., which had been set up in the centre of the enclosure when Leicester House was the "pouting place of princes," besides having suffered all the inclemencies of the weather for years, it had become the subject of every species of practical joke by almost every gamin in London. The horse is said to have been modelled after that of Le Sœur at Charing Cross; whilst the statue of George I. was considered a great work of art in its day, and was one of the sights of London, until after a quarter of a century of humiliations, after being the standing butt of ribald caricaturists, and the easy mark of witlings, it gradually fell to pieces. The effigy of his Majesty was the first to be assailed. His arms were first cut off; then his legs followed suit, and afterwards his head; when the iconoclasts, who had doomed him to destruction, at last dismounted him, propping up the mutilated torso against the remains of the once caracolling charger on which the statue had been mounted, and which was in nearly quite as dilapidated a plight. It would be almost impossible to tell all the pranks that were played upon this ill-starred monument, and how Punch and his comic contemporaries made fun of it, whilst the more serious organs waxed indignant as they dilated on the unmerited insults to which it was subjected. One night a party of jovial spirits actually whitewashed it all over, and daubed it ignominiously with large black spots.
The disgraceful state of Leicester Square became such that it attracted the attention of Parliament, and innumerable were the discussions that took place upon it, with, however, little amelioration in its actual condition. In the year 1869 it was reported that the enterprising proprietors were about to sell the land for building purposes, but upon a communication being sent to the Board of Works, informing them of the fact, it was resolved that the Board would "do all in its power" to prevent the open space from being swallowed up by bricks and mortar. The owners of the fee-simple in the land had all along, in a sort of dog-in-themanger spirit, not only refused to reclaim the square themselves, but had resisted every effort, or refused every offer of other more beneficent persons, who were willing and eager to undertake a work which it should have been their first duty to accomplish. At length, after an immense amount of litigation, it was finally settled by a decision of the Master of the Rolls, in December, 1873, "that the vacant space in Leicester Square is not to be built over, but will be retained as open ground, for the purposes of ornament and recreation." A "defence committee" was established, and owing to their initiative Mr. Albert Grant was led to make an offer of purchasing the square. Early in 1874 that gentleman set measures on foot which finally resulted in his obtaining possession of the square, on the payment of a large sum for purchase-money to the proprietors. He had determined to present it, as a people's garden, to the citizens of the metropolis; and the purchase having been effected, steps were immediately taken to carry out the intentions of the donor. In laying out the ground, nothing pretentious was attempted. The central space was converted into an ornamental garden, and adorned with statuary, &c. The principal ornament of the new square is a white marble fountain, surmounted by a statue of Shakespeare, also in white marble, the figure being an exact reproduction by Signor Fontana of the statue designed by Kent, and executed by Shumacher, on the Westminster Abbey cenotaph. The water spouts from jets round the pedestal, and from the beaks of dolphins at each of its corners, into a marble basin. Flower-beds surround this central mass, and the enclosure—so long a squalid and unsightly waste—is now a gay and pleasant garden of flowering shrubs, green plots, inlaid with bright flower-beds and broad gravelled paths. In each angle of the garden is a bust of white marble on a granite pedestal. To the southeast stands Hogarth, by Durham; to the southwest, Newton, by Weekes; to the north-east, John Hunter, by Woolner; and to the north-west, Reynolds, by Marshall.
The ceremony of transferring the ground to the Metropolitan Board of Works for the enjoyment of the public, took place on the 9th of July, 1874. The sum expended by Mr. Albert Grant in purchasing the property and laying out the grounds, &c., amounted to about £30,000.
Close by Leicester Fields in St. Martin's Street, on the east side, lived, in the year 1710, after his removal from Jermyn Street, Sir Isaac Newton, Master of the Mint and President of the Royal Society, then, perhaps, better known by those official titles than by his imperishable astronomical works. Though now dingy and dreary, St. Martin's Street in 1710 was good enough for envoys and high officials, and thither Newton drew all that was scientific to his entertainments. At the same time, most of the wits of the day flocked thither to see the philosopher's charming niece, Catherine Barton, who kept house for him for sixteen years, from 1710 to 1727. In this famous house in St. Martin's Street afterwards lived Dr. Martin Burney, the author of the "History of Music" and other works, the father of a still more famous daughter, Fanny, authoress of "Evelina," the petted friend of all the blues and wits of her generation, and the writer of a diary second only to Boswell's "Life of Johnson" for its vivid pictures of the life and manners of the time of George III. In this house Dr. Burney lived between 1770 and 1789, when he removed to Chelsea Hospital. The study and library of Sir Isaac Newton, where so many of the mysteries of Nature were solved, has heard the sound of the billiard balls, and is now part of Bertolini's Hotel, at the corner of Orange Street.
It was here that the antiquary, Dr. Stukely, called one day, by appointment. The servant who opened the door said that Sir Isaac was in his study. No one was permitted to disturb him there; but, as it was near his dinner-time, the visitor sat down to wait for him. In a short time a boiled chicken under a cover was brought in for dinner. An hour passed, and Sir Isaac did not appear. The doctor then ate the fowl, and, covering up the empty dish, desired the servant to get another dressed for his master. Before that was ready, the great man came down. He apologised for his delay, and added, "Give me but leave to take my short dinner, and I shall be at your service. I am fatigued and faint." Saying this, he lifted up the cover, and without emotion, turned about to Stukely with a smile, "See," he said, "what we studious people are! I forgot that I had dined."
In the last century, as now, the neighbourhood of Leicester Fields was the favourite resort of foreigners. Green Street, Bear Street, Castle Street, and Panton Street, formed a district called, as was a purlieu in Westminster too, near the Sanctuary, "Petty France." The dwellers in Leicester Fields' slums, and in the adjoining district of Soho, it would seem, were mainly Catholics, frequenting the Sardinian ambassadors' chapel in Duke Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields. The French hairdressers and perfumers lived mostly under the Piazza in Covent Garden, in Bow Street, and in Long Acre; and very few contrived to live east of Temple Bar.
Cranbourn Street, or, as it was formerly called, Cranbourn Alley, which runs out of Leicester Square at the north-east angle, dates from about 1677, when it was simply a footway for passengers, and named after the family of Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, whose second title was, and is, Viscount Cranbourne. The alley was formed into a street by the pulling down of the whole of one side in 1843–44, thus forming a continuous roadway from Coventry Street, along the top of the Square, into Long Acre. In this alley, Hogarth was apprenticed to a goldsmith named Gamble, in order to learn the art of silver-plate engraving. Mr. Peter Cunningham remarks that "a shop-bill engraved for Gamble by his eminent pupil is the envy of every collector of Hogarth's works." At one time Cranbourn Alley was a celebrated mart for cheap articles in the way of straw bonnets and millinery. To such an extent was this the case, that a Cranbourn Alley article then bore the same meaning which we now are in the habit of affixing to "Brummagem" goods.
Cranbourn Alley, it would seem, was in 1725 a place where the street-songs, broadsides, &c., of the day were hawked and cried. "I never pass through Cranbourn Alley," writes the witty author of the "London Spy," "but I am astonish'd at the remissness and lenity of the magistrates in suffering the Pretender's interest to be carry'd on and promoted in so publick and shameful a manner as it there is. Here a fellow stands eternally bawling out his Pye-Corner Pastorals, in behalf of 'Dear Jemmy, lovely Jemmy,' &c. I have been credibly inform'd that this man has actually in his pocket a commission under the Pretender's great seal, constituting him his Ballad Singer in Ordinary in Great Britain." Of course this is badinage; but no doubt the ballad-monger was one of the institutions of the alley, though close to the gates of Denmark House.
A famous shop in old Cranbourn Alley was the silversmith's, Hamlet's—a long, low shop, whose windows seemed to have no end, and not to have been dusted for centuries, with dim vistas of dishcovers, coffee-biggins, and centre-pieces. Hamlet's stock-in-trade is said to have been worth millions. Seven watchmen kept guard over it every night, and half the aristocracy were in his debt. Royalty itself had gone credit for plate and jewellery at Hamlet's. The proprietor of the establishment in the end took to building, and came to grief. His shop is now no more, and his name in the neighbourhood almost forgotten. "Very curious is it to mark," says a well-known writer, "how old trades and old types of inhabitants linger about localities. They were obliged to pull old Cranbourne Street and Cranbourn Alley quite down before they could get rid of the silversmiths, and even now they are seen sprouting forth again round about the familiar haunt—one of the latest examples being in the shop of a pawnbroker, the owner of which suddenly astonished New Cranbourn Street with plate-glass windows overflowing with plate, jewellery, and trinkets, buhl cabinets, gilt consoles, suits of armour, antique china, Pompadour clocks, bronze monsters, and other articles of vertu."