Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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ST. JAMES'S SQUARE AND ITS DISTINGUISHED RESIDENTS.
Character of the Square in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries—Patriotism of Dr. Johnson and Savage—Ormonde House—The Duke and the Irish Peer—Romney House—The Fireworks at the Peace of Ryswick—Distinguished Residents—Norfolk House—"Jockey of Norfolk"—"All the Blood of all the Howards"—A Duke over his Cups—The Residence of the Bishop of London—The Bishop of London's Fund—Allen, Lord Bathurst—The Roxburgh Club—The Windham Club—The London Library—The "Lichfield House Compact"—The Residence of Mrs. Boehm—Receipt of News of the Victory of Waterloo—The East India United Service Club—Lady Francis and Queen Caroline—"Jack Robinson" and Lord Castlereagh—The Copyhold, Inclosure, and Tithe Commission.
Standing as it does so near to "our palace of St.
James," St. James's Square was for many years the
most fashionable square in London, and though
fashion is now fast migrating—perhaps has already
migrated—to Belgravia, still it retains much of its
long-established character. In the last century
its claim was undisputed, as may be gathered from
some lines which were favourites of Dr. Johnson—
"When the Duke of Leeds shall married be
To a fine young lady of quality,
How happy that gentlewoman will be
In his Grace of Leeds' good company!
She shall have all that's fine and fair,
And ride in a coach to take the air,
And have a house in St. James's Square."
This square is mentioned in the comedies of the time of George I. as the ne plus ultra of fashion. Thus Shadwell, in his Busy Fair, writes, "We call it London, and it outdoes St. James's Square and all the squares in dressing and breeding."
This square is built on the site of the old "St. James's Fields," and the surrounding streets were named, with the usual loyalty of the time, after King Charles II. and his royal brother, the Duke of York (afterwards James II.), namely, King Street, Charles Street, Duke Street, and York Street. On account of their central situation, most of the houses in these side streets are occupied as hotels, or let out in furnished apartments for gentlemen who live mainly at their clubs.
There was a time, however, when the square was not as yet known to the leaders of fashion. "St. James's Square," says Macaulay, "in 1685 was a receptacle for all the offal and cinders, and for all the dead cats and dogs of Westminster. At one time a cudgel-player kept the ring there. At another time an impudent squatter settled himself there, and built a shed for rubbish under the windows of the gilded salons in which the first magnates of the realm, Norfolk, Ormond, Kent, and Pembroke, gave banquets and balls. It was not till these nuisances had lasted through a whole generation, and till much had been written about them, that the inhabitants applied to Parliament for permission to put up rails and plant trees."
It would appear, by the few notices of the time that can be found, that the central area of the square was but little cared for even in the last century; indeed, it may be justly remarked that it must have presented in 1773 much the same appearance which all London noticed in Leicester Square as lately as 1873. The Chevalier David in 1721 endeavoured, but in vain, to collect a sum of £2,000 towards erecting in its centre an equestrian statue of George I., which, most disinterestedly of course, he hoped to be commissioned to execute; but an adequate sum was not collected, and the project fell through. Four years later, according to a statement laid before Parliament, the surface of the interior of the square was still a "common laystall for dust, and for the refuse of kitchens and dead animals;" and, worse than all, because less easily dispossessed, we are told that a coachmaker had the audacity to put up a shed some thirty feet in length, and to pile a stack of wood in the area. Under these circumstances, at last it became necessary "to do something;" and accordingly the courtly and, for the most part, titled personages who lived on the north, east, and west sides of the square asked, and obtained, permission to tax themselves for the common benefit, in order to cleanse and improve the square.
From Sutton Nichols' print of the square, published in 1720, it appears that there was in the centre of the area a small lake or reservoir, and a fountain which played to about the height of fifteen feet; as also that there was a pleasure-boat on the water, and that numerous posts were placed at a small distance from the houses all round the square. Another print dated 1773 shows the enclosure of iron rails to have been octagonal, and the interior of it to have been still occupied by a circular pond, edged round with stone. It is described by Northouck, who wrote at the same date, as "the most pleasing square in all London;" and he instances as an example of "true taste" the contrast between the square formed by the houses and the circular nature of the enclosed area. He says, however, that the houses in it are grand individually rather than collectively, each being built on a scale and plan of its own. He writes: "The largest house is Norfolk House, at the southeast corner, a building which gives great offence to a late critic, who observes that in such mansions we expect something beyond roominess and convenience, the mere requisites of a packer or a sugarbaker. Would any foreigner, beholding an insipid length of wall broken with a regular row of windows, ever figure from thence the residence of the first duke of England?"
In a like spirit the author of "A New Critical Review of the Public Buildings, &c.," observes, too, that this square is superior in grandeur of appearance to any other, though it has not in it a single "elegant" house; he bitterly complains of the irregularity of the southern side, and the want of a statue or obelisk in the middle of the large oval basin of water which, as we have said, then occupied the centre. This sheet of water, which was six or seven feet in depth, had subsequently placed in its centre a fine equestrian statue of William III. According to Lambert's "History of London," the basin was 150 feet in length. Into the water in this lake the mob in the "Gordon Riots" of 1780 threw the keys of Newgate, which they had broken open and burnt. They were not found for several years afterwards. Mr. John Timbs tells us that "a pedestal for the statue was erected in the centre of the square in 1732; but the statue, cast in brass by the younger Bacon, was not set up until 1808; the bequest in 1724 for the cost having been forgotten, until the money was found in the list of unclaimed dividends."
Such must have been the appearance of the square at the time that Dr. Johnson and his friend Savage, in early life, when friendless and penniless, spent a summer night walking round the enclosure, now and then resting on a stray cart or friendly bench, and bellowing out all sorts of wild denunciations of the then Government. To use Boswell's own words, "They were not at all depressed by their situation; but in high spirits, and brimful of patriotism, they traversed the square for several hours, inveighed against the Minister, and resolved that they would stand by their country." By prudence and perseverance, and the help of friends, Johnson lived to rise above this obscurity; whilst Savage, although perhaps endowed with even more genius, only sank lower and lower. When he was employed upon his tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbury, "he was," says Johnson, "often without lodgings and often without meat, nor had he any other conveniences for study than the fields or the streets allowed him. There he used to walk, and form his speeches, and afterwards step into a shop, beg for a few moments the use of pen and ink, and write down what he had composed upon paper which he had picked up by accident."
In 1684, the Duchess of Ormonde died at her residence, Ormonde House, on the north side of the square. The Duke of Ormonde, who was living here in the reign of Queen Anne and George I., was said to have been the best bred man of his day. He entertained largely and liberally, but he allowed the bad practice of his servants taking money from his guests. Dr. King tells the following story in his "Anecdotes of his Own Times:"—"I remember a Lord Poer, a Roman Catholic peer of Ireland, who lived upon a small pension which Queen Anne had granted him: he was a man of honour, and well esteemed; and had formerly been an officer of some distinction in the service of France. The Duke of Ormonde had often invited him to dinner, and he as often excused himself. At last the duke kindly expostulated with him, and would know the reason why he so constantly refused to be one of his guests. My Lord Poer then honestly confessed that he could not afford it; 'but,' says he, 'if your Grace will put a guinea into my hands as often as you are pleased to invite me to dine, I will not decline the honour of waiting on you.' This was done; and my lord was afterwards a frequent guest in St. James's Square."
From the Post Boy, No. 411, published in 1698, it appears that the house was taken for the Count de Tallard, the French ambassador. The rent paid by the Count is stated to have been no less than £600 per annum, a large rental in those days, even for a house in the very centre of the fashionable world. Ormonde House stood on the east side of James Street, in the north-east corner of the square. In the rear of the houses which at present cover its site is Ormonde Yard, now a mews. Romney House was also on the north side of the square; and here in 1695 and again in 1697, as we learn from the Flying Post, the Post Boy, and the Post Man—the fashionable papers of the day—King William III. visited the Earl of Romney to witness the fireworks in the square; and in 1697, on the conclusion of the treaty of peace of Ryswick, the Dutch Ambassador made before his house a bonfire of 140 pitch-barrels, and wine was "kept con tinually running among the common people." We learn accidentally, from an anecdote in Joe Miller's "Jest Book," that the author of these fireworks being in company with some ladies, was highly commending the epitaph just then set up in the Abbey on Mr. Purcell's monument—"He has gone to that place where only his own harmony can be exceeded." "Well, Colonel," said one of the ladies, "the same epitaph might serve for you by altering one word only: 'He has gone to that place where only his own fireworks can be exceeded.'"
In 1708 the following noblemen resided in this square—namely, the Dukes of Norfolk, Northumberland, and Ormonde; and Lords Ossulston, Kent, Woodstock, and Torrington. The Earl of Sunderland (one of the Chief Secretaries of State), the Duke of Kent, and Lord Bathurst were living there in 1724. No. 2 is still Lord Falmouth's town residence. "The street-posts," Mr. John Timbs tells us in his "Curiosities of London," are made of cannon captured by Lord Falmouth's ancestor, Admiral Boscawen, off Cape Finisterre."
In one of the houses in this square, in the reign of Queen Anne, was living Lord Pembroke, whom Pope celebrates as a connoisseur in such matters as "statues, dirty gods, and coins." The house No. 6, on the north side, the town-house of the Marquis of Bristol, has been the residence of his ancestors, the Herveys, since the first laying out of the square in the reign of Charles II. It is not often, however, that the family of any nobleman, except of a Duke like their Graces of Norfolk and Northumberland, owns one and the same town-house for two centuries without a break. It was of this "noble family"—who are stated to have produced so many eccentric characters—that the Dowager Lady Townshend remarked, a century or more ago, that "God had created three races of bipeds—men, women, and Herveys!"
The Earl of Radnor—the handsome Sydney of De Grammont's Memoirs—who died in 1723, had his mansion enriched with paintings by Vanson over the doors and chimney-pieces; the staircase was painted by Laguerre, and the various apartments hung with pictures by many of the celebrated masters. An advertisement in the Postman, of August, 1703, offers a reward of two guineas for the detection of a thief who had mischievously cut down and carried off one of the trees in front of Lord Radnor's house. Here afterwards lived Josiah Wedgwood, and here his stock of classic pottery was dispersed by auction. The building was afterwards converted into a club, called the Erectheum; it was established by Sir John Dean Paul, Bart., the banker, and became celebrated for its good dinners. About 1854 the club was joined to the Parthenon in Regent Street, and the house was taken as the offices of the Charity Commissioners.
Among the other notable personages who have lived here at various times may be mentioned Lewis, Earl of Faversham; Lawrence Hyde, Earl of Rochester; Arabella Churchill, the mistress of James, Duke of York, and mother by him of the Duke of Berwick; Sir Allen Apsley, at whose house the Duke of York put up on his sudden return from Brussels; Barillon, Ambassador from the Court of France, the same (says Mr. P. Cunningham) "whose despatches to Louis XIV. revealed the bribes received by Charles II. and his ministers, and even by a patriot so professedly pure as Algernon Sydney;" Aubrey de Vere, the twentieth and last Earl of Oxford of the old line of that illustrious name; Lord Chancellor Thurlow; the Countess of Warwick, 1676; and Lord Halifax, 1676.
The west side of the square, when first built, does not appear to have been very respectably tenanted. At all events, in 1676, we find the houses occupied by three titled personages, Lord Purbeck, Lord Halifax, and Sir Allen Apsley, and by two notorious ladies, "Moll Davis," one of the King's mistresses, and Madame Churchill, mistress of James, Duke of York, the mother of the Duke of Berwick. In later times, however, and more especially within the last century, some of the houses on this side have got a little better reputation, having been held by different members of the aristocracy; one being the residence of the Duke of Cleveland, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Bart., and another the town residence of the Bishop of Winchester. The latter was offered for sale in 1875, for the purpose of raising a sum for founding the proposed Bishopric of St. Albans.
In the house of the Duke of Cleveland is the well-known original portrait of the beautiful Duchess of Cleveland, by Sir Peter Lely; and the mansion of the late Earl De Grey, afterwards that of the Dowager Countess of Cowper (No. 4), is mentioned by Dr. Waagen as containing a fine gallery of portraits by Vandyke, Salvator Rosa, Titian, Vandevelde, and other foreign masters.
The large house in the south-eastern corner of the square has been since 1684 the residence of the Dukes of Norfolk, who migrated hither from the Strand. The old house which they occupied, which was tenanted by Frederick, Prince of Wales, and in which George III. was born in 1738, is still standing in the rear of the present mansion, which was built by Mr. R. Brittingham, and dates from 1742. The portico was added in 1824. The old mansion—which occupies part of the site of the residence of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans—formerly had in front of it a court-yard. It is a plain, dull, heavy building, of no architectural pretensions, and is now used as a lumber-house and a laundry. The room in which the future king was born is on the first floor. It is a spacious apartment with a roof slightly arched, and divided into compartments or panels, on which some remnants of the ornamental colouring are still visible.
The house of Norfolk has stood for nearly four centuries at the head of the peers of England, since its ancestor, "Jockey of Norfolk," who fell at Bosworth Field, was raised to the dukedom by Richard III., and during that time its members have held or still hold no less than twenty-five patents of creation to separate peerages, such as the Earldoms of Surrey, Suffolk, Northampton, Stafford, Effingham, and Carlisle. Though its founder was only a lawyer, it has produced statesmen, generals, admirals, and also poets, including that flower of chivalric grace, the Earl of Surrey. With one or two temporary breaks, its head and most of its members have adhered steadily to the Roman Catholic religion; and Henry, Earl of Surrey, the only son of the third duke, had the honour of laying his head on the block and seeing an attainder passed upon his coronet by the tyrant, Henry VIII.
Charles, the eleventh duke, finding himself excluded on account of his hereditary faith from his seat in the Legislature, professed himself a member of the Established Church, and sat in Parliament first as Earl of Surrey in the Commons, and afterwards in the Upper House as Duke. Sir N. W. Wraxall, who comments in terms of surprise at the spectacle, new to the House of Peers—namely, a Protestant Duke of Norfolk taking an active part in the legislative proceedings of that body—describes him as "cast in Nature's coarsest mould, and with a person so clumsy that he might have been mistaken for a grazier or a butcher." He tells about him many anecdotes, which show that he could play to perfection the part of a Tribune of the People. He lived mainly in clubs and coffee-houses, and was never so happy as when dining at the "Beefsteaks" or the "Thatched House," or breakfasting or supping at the "Cocoa Tree," in St. James's Street. When under the influence of wine, he would say that, "in spite of his having swallowed the Protestant oath, there were, at all events, three good Catholics in Parliament, Lord Nugent, Gascoyne, and himself;" so little store did he set on religion. This duke, who really deserved the title of a "Jockey" far more than his ancestor, was remarkable for the amount of wine which he could swallow. He would spend the whole night in excesses of every kind. Sir N. W. Wraxall, who knew him well, and constantly met him at his midnight revels, tells us that "when drunk he would lie down to sleep in the streets or on a block of wood." For personal uncleanliness he was nearly as remarkable as for his drunken habits, "carrying his neglect of his person so far that his servants were accustomed to avail themselves of his fits of intoxication for the purpose of washing him, and to strip him as they would a corpse in order to perform the necessary ablutions. Nor did he change his linen more frequently than he washed himself. One day he complained to Dudley North that he was a martyr to the rheumatism, and had ineffectually tried every remedy for its relief. 'Pray, my lord,' was North's reply, 'did you ever try a clean shirt?'" It is to be hoped that such a specimen of humanity must not be regarded as a fair sample of our hereditary legislators a hundred years ago; and it is only right to add that the duke had many good and amiable qualities to compensate for his follies and vices.
Very naturally, his Grace was proud of his undisputed headship of "all the blood of all the Howards." When sitting at breakfast with him at the "Cocoa Tree Coffee-house" one day, his Grace told Sir N. W. Wraxall that he purposed in the year 1783 to commemorate the "ter-centenary" anniversary of the creation of his dukedom by giving a dinner at his house in St. James's Square to every person whom he could ascertain to be descended in the male line from the loins of the first duke. "But having discovered already," he added, "nearly six thousand persons sprung from him, a great number of whom are in very obscure or indigent circumstances, and believing, as I do, that as many more may be in existence, I have abandoned the design." It is to be feared that even the hall and long suite of rooms in Norfolk House would scarcely have contained such a "family party."
The above-mentioned duke, whose name figures so prominently in the political history of the reign of George III., and who was so frequent a speaker at public meetings at the "Crown and Anchor Tavern," and was deprived of his command of a militia regiment for proposing as a toast, "The People, the Source of Power," was the first member of the House of Lords who laid aside the "pig-tail" and hair powder, which remained so long in use as a relic of the old court dress. His Grace's object, no doubt, was to identify himself with the principles of the French encyclopaedists. It was probably this duke who is the hero of a ludicrous story told as follows in the pages of Joe Miller's "Jest Book:"—"Mr. Huddlestone, whose name was admitted to be a corruption of Athelstone, from whom he claimed descent, often met the Duke of Norfolk over a bottle, to discuss the respective pretensions of their pedigrees; and on one of these occasions, when Mr. Huddlestone was dining with the duke, the discussion was prolonged till the descendant of the Saxon kings fairly rolled from his chair upon the floor. One of the younger members of the family hastened by the duke's desire to re-establish him; but he sturdily repelled the proffered hand of the cadet. 'Never,' he hiccuped out, 'shall it be said that the head of Huddlestone was lifted from the ground by a younger branch of the house of Howard.' 'Well, then, my good old friend,' said the good-natured duke, 'I must try what I can do for you myself. The head of the house of Howard is too drunk to pick up the head of the house of Huddlestone, but he will lie down beside him with all the pleasure in the world;' so saying, the duke also took his place on the floor."
Next to Norfolk House is the official town residence of the Bishops of London. It was rebuilt about the year 1820. Here was started by Bishop Tait, in 1863, the "Bishop of London's Fund," for providing for the spiritual wants of the metropolis. The raising of this fund is entrusted to a board, with the Bishop of London as its president, with authority to direct its investment, and co-operation with the Church of England societies for the relief of the spiritual destitution of the metropolis, and to distribute the fund through such agencies and in such manner as may be deemed desirable, as well as by sending earnest and active men to labour among the masses, by opening new churches and schools, and, where necessary, by originating efforts of a strictly missionary character.
In St. James's Square was residing the French ambassador, Barillon, during the autumn of 1688, when the popular frenzy broke out against the Catholics, and in which the representatives of the great Catholic powers of Europe were insulted and assaulted by a mob that showed but slight respect for the law of nations. Macaulay tells us in his "History" that though an excited multitude collected before his doors, yet Barillon fared better than some of his brother ambassadors, "for, though the Government which he represented was held in abhorrence, his liberal housekeeping and exact payments had made him personally popular. Moreover, he had taken the wise precaution of asking for a guard of soldiers, and, as several men of rank who lived near him had done the same thing, a considerable force was collected in the square. The rioters, therefore, when they were assured that no arms or priests were concealed under his roof, left him unmolested."
In this square resided Pope's friend, Allen, Lord
Bathurst, who was created a peer by Queen Anne
in 1711, and who, living for sixty years longer, was
the last of that great knot of men of wit and genius
who rendered illustrious in one way the short but
inglorious ministry of Oxford and Bolingbroke.
Pope addressed to him the Third Epistle of his
"Moral Essays;" and it is to him, in conjunction
with the famous architect, Lord Burlington, that
the poet alludes when he asks—
"Who then shall grace, or who improve the soil?
Who plants like Bathurst, or who builds like Boyle?"
Lord Bathurst lived to a patriarchal age, in possession of all his faculties, passing the evening of his life among those woods and in those shades which he had reared with his own hand, at Oakley, near Cirencester, and which Pope has immortalised, and enjoying the rare felicity of seeing his son raised to the peerage as Lord Apsley, and seated on the woolsack as Lord High Chancellor of England.
The house No.11, in the north-west corner of the square, now the Windham Club, was formerly the residence of John, third Duke of Roxburgh, the bibliophilist (not to say biblio-maniac) of his time. After his death the sale of his books in May, 1812, occupied no less than forty-two days. Many rare specimens of printing, an early Shakespeare, a few Caxtons and Wynkyn de Wordes, wonderful and unique editions of works on theology, poetry, philosophy, and the drama, were fought for with spirit and even recklessness, as one by one they fell beneath the hammer of the auctioneer, Mr. Evans. At last, what Dr. Dibdin calls "the Waterloo of book battles" commenced when Boccaccio's "Decameron," printed at Venice in 1471, was put up. The volume had been bought by the duke for a hundred guineas, and, after a fierce and spirited competition with Lord Spencer, it was knocked down to the Marquis of Blandford for £2,260. Seven years later, the noble purchaser was glad to part with his treasure for £918, and it now forms one of the treasures of the library of his old antagonist, Lord Spencer, at Althorp. It may be added, that on the evening after the sale of the duke's library, some sixteen of the leading bibliophilists or "biblio-maniacs" of the day dined together at the "St. Alban's Tavern" to celebrate the battle. Lord Spencer, the defeated bidder, occupied the chair, and Dr. Dibdin acted as croupier. At this dinner was originated the Roxburgh Club. This Club may justly be said to have suggested the publishing societies of the present day; as the "Camden," "Shakespeare," "Percy," &c. Among the club were several noblemen, who, we are told, in other respects, were esteemed men of sense. Their rage was to estimate books not according to their intrinsic worth, but for their rarity. Hence any volume of trash, which was scarce merely because it never had any sale, fetched fifty or a hundred pounds; but if it were only one out of two or three known copies, no limits could be set to the price. Books altered in the title-page, or in a leaf, or in any trivial circumstance which varied a few copies, were bought by these soi-disant maniacs at one, two, or three hundred pounds, though the copies were not really worth more than threepence per pound. Specimens of first editions of all authors, and editions by the first clumsy printers, were never sold for less than £50, £100, or £200. To gratify the members of this club, fac-simile copies of clumsy editions of trumpery books were reprinted; and, in some cases, it became worth the while of more ingenious people to play off forgeries upon them. This mania after a while abated, and in future ages it will be ranked with the tulip mania, during which estates were given for single flowers.
The Roxburgh Club, however, became less celebrated for its publications than for its dinners, which were held at Grillon's, at the St. Alban's, and at the Clarendon Hotels. Some particulars of these feasts, with their bills of fare, were published in the Athenæum, from an account of one of its members. On one occasion the bill was above £5 10s. per head, and the list of toasts included the "immortal memory" not only of John, Duke of Roxburgh, but of William Caxton, Dame Juliana Berners, Wynkyn de Worde, Richard Pynson, the Aldine family, and "the cause of Bibliomania all over the world." In one year, when Lord Spencer presided over the feast, the account above mentioned thus records the fact: "Twenty-one members met joyfully, dined comfortably, challenged eagerly, tippled prettily, divided regretfully, and paid the bill most cheerfully."
The mansion of the Duke of Roxburgh had previously been the residence of William Windham; after the death of the duke it was occupied for some time by Lord Chief-Justice Ellenborough, and at a later date by the Earl of Blessington, who possessed a fine collection of pictures. The Windham Club, which was afterwards established here, was founded by the late Lord Nugent for gentlemen "connected with each other by a common bond of literary or personal acquaintance."
Adjoining the Windham Club is the mansion once tenanted by Lord Amherst, when Commanderin-Chief, and formerly known as Beauchamp House. It is now the London Library. This library, which dates its origin from 1840, is conducted upon the subscription and lending plan, and its books may be borrowed by subscribers and taken to their homes. It embraces every department of literature and philosophy. The library was opened on the 3rd of May, 1841, with a collection of about 3,000 volumes, which, by the following March, when the first catalogue was published, had increased to 13,000. "The additions of subsequent years," as we learn from the report published in 1870, "have raised the number of volumes in the library to more than 80,000. Purchased on the most advantageous terms, there has been brought together in the course of thirty years, by the expenditure of little more than £20,000, a noble collection of books, offering to members of the library a choice of standard works in all the various departments of literature." It may be added that its contents have since continued to increase. A striking proof of the success with which the library has fulfilled and continues to fulfil the purpose for which it was created, will be found in the names of the many illustrious writers which appear in the various published lists of its members, and in the use they have made of its treasures. In addition to this silent testimony to the usefulness of the institution, may be quoted the opinion of M. Guizot, given in evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons on Public Libraries in 1849, an opinion which is supported by that of many other participants in the benefits of the library. "If the London Library," says M. Guizot, "had not existed, I should have felt great inconvenience. It is a very useful library: there are a great many excellent books about English history which I have found there. It is a great inconvenience to me to be obliged to go to the British Museum, and not to be able to work in my own room with my own books; that is a great part of the pleasure of working."
The house No. 13, formerly the residence of the Earl of Lichfield, when Postmaster-General in Lord Melbourne's Ministry, was the scene of the "Lichfield House Compact," as the friendly understanding between the Whigs of that day and Daniel O'Connell was often jestingly styled.
The house two doors beyond the London Library, in the direction of King Street, was at the beginning of the present century in the occupation of Mrs. Boehm. Here the Prince Regent, Lord Castlereagh, and many of the leading politicians of the day, were dining, on the 21st of June, 1815, when the news was brought of the victory of Waterloo, thus putting an end to and confirming the rumours by which London had been kept in suspense for more than twenty-four hours. The scene is thus described by Lady Brownlow in her "Reminiscences of a Septuagenarian:"—
"Never shall I forget that evening. … I was sitting quietly alone at Lord Castlereagh's, when suddenly there came the sound of shouting and the rush of a crowd; and on running to the window to discover the cause of all this noise, I saw a post-chaise and four, with three of the French eagles projecting out of its windows, dash across the square to Lord Castlereagh's door. In a moment the horses' heads were turned, and away went the chaise to Mrs. Boehm's."
It was, of course, the work of a few minutes for Lady Brownlow to dress and join Lady Castlereagh at Mrs. Boehm's house. She continues thus:—"The ladies had left the dining-room, and I learnt that Major Henry Percy had arrived, the bearer of despatches from the Duke of Wellington, with the intelligence of a glorious and decisive victory of the Allies over the French army, commanded by Buonaparte in person. The despatches were being then read in the next room to the Prince, and we ladies remained silent, too anxious to talk, and longing to hear more. Lord Alvanley was the first gentleman who appeared, and he horrified us with the list of names of the killed and wounded. … What I heard stupefied me; I could scarcely think or speak. The Prince presently came in, looking very sad, and he said, with much feeling, words to this effect: 'It is a glorious victory, and we must rejoice at it; but the loss of life has been fearful, and I have lost many friends;' and, while he spoke, the tears ran down his cheeks. His Royal Highness remained but a short time, and soon after the party broke up."
With reference to Mrs. Boehm, Captain Gronow, in his "Anecdotes and Reminiscences," says:—"This lady used to give fashionable balls and masquerades, to which I look back with much pleasure. The Prince Regent frequently honoured her fêtes with his presence. Mrs. Boehm, on one occasion, sent invitations to one of her particular friends, begging him to fill them up, and tickets were given by him to Dick Butler (afterwards Lord Glengall) and to Mr. Raikes. Whilst they were deliberating in what character they should go, 'Dick Butler'—for by that name he was only then known—proposed that Raikes should take the part of Apollo, which the latter agreed to, provided Dick should be his 'lyre.' The noble lord's reputation for 'stretching the long bow' rendered this repartee so applicable that it was universally repeated at the clubs."
The next house (No. 15) was once the property of Lady Francis, the widow of Sir Philip Francis, to whom the "Letters of Junius" are usually attributed. Lady Francis lent this house to the unfortunate Queen Caroline, in the month of August, 1820; and it was from its doors that her Majesty proceeded every day in state to the House of Peers during the progress of the attempted Bill of "Pains and Penalties."
In this square lived Mr. Robinson—"Jack Robinson"—the Secretary of the Treasury, under Lord North. He is described by Sir N. W. Wraxall as knowing the secrets of ministerial and political affairs better than any man of his day.
Lord Castlereagh was residing at No. 16 in December, 1813, when dispatched abroad to enter into negotiations with Napoleon. In March, 1816, during the riots at the West-end, on account of the rejection of the Corn-Law Alteration Bill, his lordship's house was attacked by the mob, together with that of Mr. Robinson, from the parlour window of which shots were fired, which proved fatal to two innocent persons. The cavalry appearing, the rioters desisted and retired, to vent their fury by damaging the mansions of Lord Bathurst, Lord King, &c. The riots continued more or less to the latter end of the week.
Lady Brownlow records an instance of the coolness and self-possession of Lord Castlereagh. One night, when an excited mob attacked his house in this square, and paving-stones were being thrown at his windows, he quietly mixed with the crowd outside, till some one whispered to him, "You are known; you had better go in." He did so, and then went to the drawing-room, and, with the utmost composure, closed the shutters while a shower of stones fell all around him. "When I called next day," adds her ladyship, "I found him on the point of walking out, and as I knew that he would have the mob to encounter, I with difficulty persuaded him to let me take him in my carriage."
Lord Castlereagh was always unpopular with the mob. In 1819, Mr. Rush, in his "Diary of a Residence at the Court of London," speaks of several official interviews which he had here with Lord Castlereagh, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and describes the mansion as having lately suffered much, especially in its windows, from the effects of the violence of the mob in a late Westminster election.
Lord Castlereagh played a foremost part in effecting the union of Ireland with England, and in 1801 entered the first Imperial Parliament as member for County Down. He held the post of President of the Board of Control during Mr. Addington's administration, and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in the ministries of Mr. Pitt and the Duke of Portland. In 1809, the year of the Walcheren expedition, occurred his duel with Canning, then Foreign Secretary. In this affair Canning was wounded, and both the duellists resigned their offices. Before the end of the year, however, Lord Castlereagh succeeded his antagonist as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, an office which he retained till his death, in 1822. His remains were buried in Westminster Abbey, between Pitt and Fox. Mr. Rush, in the work above mentioned, avers of him that "no statesman ever made more advances, or did more in fact towards placing the relations of England and America on an amicable footing;" and in his description of the funeral he adds, "Nor did I ever see manly sorrow more depicted on any countenance than that of the Duke of Wellington, as he took a last look of the coffin when lowered down into the vault."
Near the north-east corner of the square are the offices of the Copyhold, Inclosure, and Tithe Commission. The Tithe Commissioners for England and Wales were appointed in 1836 to provide the means for an adequate commutation and compensation for the tithes payable to the clergy of the Established Church. The Copyhold Commissioners were appointed in 1841, and the Inclosure Commissioners some four years later. The duties of the commissioners are "to facilitate the enclosure and improvement of all lands subject to any rights of common whatsoever, and the exchange of lands inconveniently intermixed or divided; and to provide remedies for the incomplete execution of powers of enclosure made under local and general Enclosure Acts."
Nearly the whole of the south side of the square is occupied by an uneven row of houses, the fronts of which face Pall Mall; and a considerable part is taken up by the back of the Junior Carlton Club, which we have already described in our chapter on Pall Mall.