Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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GOLDEN SQUARE AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD.
"Fallentis semita vitæ."—Herace, "Epistles."
The Neighbourhood of Golden Square Two Centuries ago—Great Windmill Street—Piccadilly Hall—Noted Residents—Anatomical School—Argyll Rooms—St. Peter's Church—Golden Square—Lord Bolingbroke—Mrs. Cibber—Angelica Kauffmann—The Residence of Cardinal Wiseman—Chapel for French Refugees—Wardour Street—Dr. Dodd's Residence—Princes Street—The "Star and Crown" and the "Thirteen Cantons"—Berwick Street—St. Luke's Church—Bentinck Street—Sherwin, the Engraver—Broad Street—William Blake, the Poet and Painter—"The Good Woman"—Warwick Street—Roman Catholic Chapel of the Assumption—Carnaby Street—The Pest Houses—Great Marlborough Street—Distinguished Inhabitants—Argyll Street—Northcote the Painter—Madame de Staël—The "Good" Lord Lyttelton—Argyll House—Argyll Street Rooms—Chabert, the "Fire King"—The Harmonic Institution—Oxford Street—The Panthcon—Miss Linwood's Exhibition of Needlework—The "Green Man and Still"—The "Hog in the Pound"—The "North Pole"—The "Balloon" Fruit-shop.
In the second year after the Restoration orders were issued for the paving of the way from St. James's northwards, which was a quagmire, and also of the Haymarket "about Piquadillo." The Piccadilly line of road is said to have formed at its eastern end the line of demarcation between the courtly mansions then in the course of erection in "St. James's Fields," and the mean and small dwellings which, in Sir C. Wren's words, "will prove only a receptacle for the poorer sort, and for offensive trades, to the annoyance of the better inhabitants, the damage of the parishes already too much burdened with poor, the choking of the air of his Majesty's palace and park and the houses of the nobility, and the infecting of the waters." These dwellings were some lately erected in Dog's Fields, Windmill Fields, and the fields adjoining Soho. This is the first mention that we find of the neighbourhood of which Golden Square and Wardour Street now form the western and eastern limits. The property in this vicinity of old belonged to Lord Craven, who erected the famous pest-house here for the reception of those struck by the plague. The lazaretto itself consisted, we are told, of thirty-six small tenements; and near it, at the lower end of Marshall Street, was a common cemetery, in which some thousands of poor persons found a last resting-place during the continuance of that pestilence. "Out of Wardour Street," we are told by Strype, in 1720, "goeth Peter Street, which crosseth Berwick Street, and falleth into waste and unbuilt ground; a street not over-well inhabited. Here is a small court, but the right name is not given. Further northward is Edward Street, which also crosseth Berwick Street, and falleth into waste and unbuilt ground; nor is this street over-well inhabited." Berwick Street, mentioned as running on the west of Wardour Street as far to the north as "Tyburn Road," is described as a "pretty, handsome, straight street, with new well-built houses, much inhabited by the French, where they have a church." About the middle of the street was a place designed for a hay market, and a great part of the low ground raised, with some of the houses built piazza-wise. "Westward of this," adds the annalist, "is a large tract of waste ground, reaching to the wall of the pest-house builded by the Earl of Craven, which runneth from the back side of Golden Square to a piece or close of meadow ground which reacheth to Tyburn Road."
Passing northward from Coventry Street, in a direct line from the Haymarket, is Great Windmill Street, so called from a mill which stood there till the reign of Charles II.; it was designed at one time to be made the main thoroughfare from Charing Cross and the Haymarket to Oxford Street; the removal of Carlton House, however, deflected this to Swallow (now Regent) Street. At the corner of Great Windmill Street formerly stood a noted gaming-house, called Piccadilly Hall, mentioned by Lord Clarendon, in his "History of the Rebellion," under date 1640. Referring to himself, Clarendon says: "Mr. Hyde going to a house called Piccadilly, which was a fair house for entertainment and gaming, with handsome gravel walks and with shade, and where were an upper and a lower bowling-green, whither very many of nobility and gentry of the best quality resorted for exercise and conversation."
In explanation apparently of this incidental mention, Pennant tells us that "at the upper end of the Haymarket stood Piccadilla Hall, where piccadillas, or turn-overs, were sold, which gave name to that vast street called from that circumstance Piccadilly." This street was completed in 1642 as far westwards as Berkeley Street. The explanation, however, does not solve the mystery which surrounds the word, unless we suppose that the "fair house for entertainment" mentioned by Lord Clarendon derived its name from the articles sold in the neighbouring houses. The tenniscourt attached to the hall was not pulled down till our own day. Its last owner was the celebrated and successful gamester, Colonel Panton. The gaming-house itself figures in Faithorne's plan of London, published in 1658, as almost the only house standing in this locality.
In Great Windmill Street lived Colonel Godfrey, whose wife, Arabella Churchill, sister of John, Duke of Marlborough, had been the mistress of James II., when Duke of York.
Here, in the early part of the present century, was the great Anatomical School of the metropolis, in which nearly all the most distinguished surgeons of the last two generations taught as lecturers and professors. This school of surgery owed its establishment to Dr. William Hunter, who erected the building, and in whose "Medical Commentaries" will be found a full account of its origin and progress. Its lecturers were chiefly members of the staff of St. George's Hospital. The list included such names as Sir C. Bell, Sir B. Brodie, Dr. Baillie, and Dr. Wilson. Some interesting details respecting the introduction of Sir Charles Bell to it, and his long connection with it, will be found in a work entitled "Extracts from the Correspondence of Sir Charles with his Brother, Mr. George Joseph Bell." After flourishing with great prestige for half a century or more, it began to decline, mainly owing to the establishment of other schools of the same kind in connection with University and King's College Hospitals. It may be added that the fine museum in which Sir Charles Bell used to lecture, with its miscellaneous collection of curiosa, which the Government refused to buy, was sold to the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh. The house occupied by the Medical School became afterwards a printingoffice, and is now a foreign restaurant's.
On the site of the tennis-court of Piccadilly Hall now stand the Argyll Rooms, which are opened nightly for promenade concerts and dancing, and, doubtless, prove a source of great attraction for the habitués of the Haymarket and its immediate neighbourhood. The rooms originally bearing the name of "The Argyll" stood, as we shall presently see, at the corner of Little Argyll Street; they, indeed, were aristocratic and bad. The present Argyll Rooms, it is to be feared, are equally vicious, but not equally aristocratic.
Adjoining the above-mentioned rooms is St. Peter's Church, an edifice of Gothic design, erected in 1861, from the designs of Mr. Raphael Brandon. The church owes its origin mainly to the Rev. J. E. Kempe, the Rector of St. James's, Piccadilly; the money for the work, amounting to some £12,000, having been chiefly obtained through his influence among his wealthy congregation.
Golden Square, which is connected with Windmill Street by two narrow thoroughfares, called respectively Denman and Brewer Streets, though so close to Regent Street, still lies out of the beaten path, and few Londoners know it, unless business happens to call them in its direction. It has been said of it that it is "not exactly in anybody's way, to or from anywhere." Even in the summer time it wears a dull and dingy look, and seems as if it had seen better days. And yet it stands immortalised, not only in Charles Dickens's "Nicholas Nickleby," but in the older and more venerable pages of "Humphrey Clinker" by Tobias Smollett, whilst the authors of the "Rejected Addresses," in their imitation ot Crabbe, speak of "bankrupts from Golden Square and Riches Court." It is said to have derived its name from the person by whom it was laid out for building, and Hatton describes it in the reign of Queen Anne, within a few years of its erection, as a "very new and pleasant square." Pennant, however, says that the name was derived from a neighbouring inn, the "Gelding," which the good taste of its inhabitants changed gradually into "Golden"—a change, it must be owned, for the better, if true in fact. Pennant dismisses it with the remark that it is "of dirty access;" and certainly none of the thoroughfares which lead into it can be accused of being broad or clean. This square, which was at one time surrounded with wooden rails, was built a little before the Revolution of 1688, as is clear from its being mentioned by that name in an advertisement in the Gazette of that year.
One of its earliest inhabitants was the great Lord Bolingbroke, Pope's friend, when holding the office of Secretary-at-War, in the beginning of the last century; and Mrs. Cibber, the singer, whose name is so well known in connection with that of Lord Peterborough, was living here in the reign of George II. The small and very common-place statue of George II., in the centre of the square, was brought from Lord Chandos's seat at Canons, near Edgware.
In the centre house on the south side of this square resided, for many years, Angelica Kauffmann, one of the original members of the Royal Academy, and who lived till 1807. Of this lady a very amusing story is told, illustrative of female folly and vanity. She was a great coquette, and pretended to be in love with several gentlemen at the same time. Once she professed to be enamoured of Nathaniel Dance; to the next visitor she would divulge the great secret that she was dying for Sir Joshua Reynolds. However, she was at last rightly served for her duplicity, by marrying a very handsome fellow who pretended to be "Count Horn," an adventurer of the type of the Duc de Roussillon of more recent times. With this alliance she was so pleased, that she made her happy conquest known to Queen Charlotte, who was much astonished that the Count should have been so long in England without coming to Court. However, the real Count's arrival was some time afterwards announced at Dover; and Angelica Kauffmann's titled husband turned out to be no other than the real Count's valet de chambre ! He was prevailed upon subsequently to accept a separate maintenance. After this man's death she married an Italian, named Zucchi, and settled in Rome, where she spent her declining years. There is a portrait of Angelica, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, engraved by Bertolozzi.
The large house in the centre of the north side was for many years the residence of the Roman Catholic vicars-apostolic of the London district, as the heads of that communion in England were designated previous to the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850. Here, in 1835, were living Bishops Bramston and Griffiths, who successively held that office; and the house was the residence of Dr. Wiseman, when he obtained, in 1850, the honour of the archiepiscopal mitre, and the red hat of a cardinal, in spite of Lord John Russell's ineffective opposition.
In 1875, Childs, an old servant of Lord Byron, and the last survivor of his personal attendants, was still acting as a beadle in this square.
In Glasshouse Street, close by the south side of the square, was founded, in 1689, a chapel for one of the French refugee congregations; but it was removed before long to Leicester Fields.
From what we have said, it is evident that the whole of this district was covered with small buildings towards the beginning of the eighteenth century, though here and there on the north there were a few open spaces left. A piece of stone, let into one of the houses in New Street, on the north side of the square, bears the date 1704. Thirty years before, as already stated, Sir C. Wren complained of the small streets which were being run up, and of the poverty of their inhabitants, as if he could foresee the day when St. Giles' and St. James' would be placed in close and painful contrast; and Fielding, in the reign of George II., describes the mob, whom he calls the "fourth estate of the realm," as "encroaching upon people of fashion," and driving them fast from their seats in Leicester, Soho, and Golden Squares, to Cavendish Square and other spots in that more distant locality, where there was more light and fresher air, as the breezes blew across the green lanes of St. Marylebone.
The streets to the north and east of the square were the scene of a very violent outbreak of cholera in the year 1853, on account of the overflowing of cess-pools into a well whence the inhabitants drew their supply of water.
To the east of the square lies Wardour Street, renowned as the head-quarters of the dealers in old furniture, and other curiosities, and which serves as a line of demarcation between this district and the parish of Soho. Here, we may add, lived Dr. Dodd in 1751, when, a little over age, he had married a penniless girl, and had not even yet taken orders. We shall have more to say of his career when we come to Tyburn.
"A large fort with four half bulwarks across the road (now Oxford Street), at the corner of Wardour Street," is mentioned among the fortifications ordered to be set up around London by the Parliament in 1642.
Wardour Street, with Princes Street, opens up a direct line of communication between Oxford Street and Leicester Square. In Princes Street was, in 1785, the "Star and Crown," the sign of a fashionable haberdasher, who, amongst other articles of female luxury, dealt in "dress and undress hoops." Branching off on the east from Princes Street is King Street, where there is a tavern called "The Thirteen Cantons." This sign was put up in compliment to the thirteen Protestant cantons of Switzerland, or more strictly speaking, to the numerous natives of those districts who were settled in the neighbourhood of Soho.
Parallel with Wardour Street, and opening into Oxford Street, is Berwick Street, which is described by Hatton (in 1708) as "a kind of a row;" whilst "the fronts of the houses, resting on columns, make a small piazza." The appearance of the houses in the present day, however, is very much changed. This street was a haunt of artists of little note, and of trades subservient to an artist's requirements. Mr. Peter Cunningham records the fact that Sir Joshua Reynolds's portrait of Sheridan was engraved by a resident in this street, John Hall, a man of some little fame in his day. The only building in this street which merits special mention is St. Luke's Church. This edifice serves as the church of a district cut off from St. James's Westminster. It was built in 1838–9; from the designs of Mr. Blore, and in the Gothic style of architecture; but it has, nevertheless, a somewhat poor and mean appearance. The cost of the building and the site on which it stands amounted to about £14,000.
In Bentinck Street, which runs out of Berwick Street, was the studio of Sherwin, the engraver. Mr. J. T. Smith tells the following anecdote of this place, which brings up the remembrance of one of the most famous actresses of the last century:—"The Bishop of Peterborough (Dr. Hinchliffe), one of my father's patrons, prevailed on Sherwin to let me in at half-price; and under his roof I remained for nearly three years. Here I saw all the beautiful women of the day; and being considered a lively lad, I was noticed by several of them. Here I received a kiss from the beautiful Mrs. Robinson.
"This impression was made upon me, nearly as I can recollect, in the following way:—It fell to my turn that morning, as a pupil, to attend the visitors, and Mrs. Robinson came into the room singing. She asked to see a drawing which Mr. Sherwin had made of her, which he had placed in an upper room. When I assured her that Mr. Sherwin was not at home, 'Do try to find the drawing of me, and I will reward you, my little fellow,' said she. I, who had seen 'Rosetta,' in Love in a Village, the preceding evening, hummed to myself as I went upstairs, 'With a kiss, and a kiss, I'll reward you with a kiss." I had no sooner entered the room with the drawing in my hand, than she imprinted a kiss on my cheek, and said, 'There, you little rogue.' I remember that Mrs. Berby, her mother, accompanied her, and had brought a miniature, painted by Cosway, set in diamonds, presented by 'a high personage,' of whom Mrs. Robinson spoke with the highest respect to her last hour. The colour of her carriage was a light blue, and upon the centre of each panel a basket of flowers was so artfully painted, that as she drove along it was mistaken for a coronet."
In Broad Street, a little to the north-east of this square, where his father kept a hosier's shop, was born, in 1757, William Blake, the gifted poet and painter, the author of "Songs of Innocence," "Songs of Experience," &c. Here, too, after his marriage, in 1784–7, he established himself as a print-seller and engraver. In the latter year he removed into Poland Street, hard by, and after many wanderings he died at Fountain Court, in the Strand, in 1827. In this street there was a most ill-natured sarcasm levelled against the fair sex on a sign-board, representing a headless female figure, and styled "The Good Woman." No doubt this sign was older than the Reformation, and represented St. Osyth, the Saxon martyr, who is said to have been beheaded. The legend runs that where her head fell a spring of clear water bubbled up. The same sign—said to be the only good woman in Essex—curiously enough, still exists at Widford, near Chelmsford, a parish in which the Priory of St. Osyth formerly held lands. But we are in danger of wandering from our subject.
But to return to Golden Square. On its west side, running parallel with Regent Street, and forming a communication between Glasshouse Street and Great Marlborough Street, is Warwick Street, on the eastern side of which stands the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Assumption, long known as the Bavarian Chapel, from having been originally erected, in the time of the penal laws, under the shelter and protection of the Bavarian Embassy. It is probable that it was founded under the later Stuarts, though its registers go back only to 1747. To it most of the noble Roman Catholic families, during the last century, when this was a fashionable quarter of the town, resorted for the celebration of divine service, and of marriages and baptisms. It was burnt down in the Gordon riots of 1780, and not rebuilt, or, at all events, re-opened till eight years afterwards, so great and so real was the panic caused by that outbreak of fanaticism. According to the trust deed, the chapel was built as a sanctuary, not for the Westend of London only, but for the whole Roman Catholic body of England. In 1839 the Auxiliary Catholic Institute was established in connection with this chapel. Here, it is said, the first modern "mission service" was held; and within its walls the first English pilgrimage to Paray le Monial was projected, organised, and sent forth in September, 1873, in honour of the Sacred Heart, a devotion first taught in England very near this spot by F. Colombiere, chaplain to Queen Mary Beatrice, wife of James II.
The chapel, when rebuilt, stood a little back from the line of the street, being made so to retreat in order to avoid attracting notice, as is or was till lately the case with Roman Catholic chapels even in Dublin. It is a poor, shapeless, and unsightly edifice, built after the commonest type of Nonconformist chapels of the time, with heavy galleries and round-headed windows. The decorations of the interior, especially about the altar, redeem it to some extent from the charge of being hideous; and in 1875 a large subscription was entered into by the Roman Catholic body for the enlargement and adornment of the structure, the old walls being retained as memorials of a state of things which happily has long since passed away.
This chapel, it may be added, serves as a centre of ministration for a very large number of Roman Catholics of the middle classes about the southern parts of Soho. The residence of the priests who officiate in this chapel is in Golden Square, with which it has a communication in the rear. The schools attached to the chapel are among the most efficient in the Roman Catholic "arch-diocese of Westminster."
Carnaby Street, which extends from the north side of the square to Great Marlborough Street, is thus described by Strype:—"An ordinary street which goes out of Silver Street, and runs northward almost to the bowling ground. On the east side of this street are the Earl of Craven's pest-houses, seated in a large piece of ground, inclosed with a brick wall, and handsomely set with trees, in which are buildings for the entertainment of persons that shall have the plague, when it shall please God that any contagion shall happen."
Maitland, in his "History of London," mentions the Pest Field in the following terms:—"The site whereon Marshall Street, part of Little Broad Street, and Marlborough Market are now erected, was denominated the Pest Field, from a lazaretto therein, which consisted of thirty-six small houses, for the reception of poor and miserable objects of this neighbourhood that were afflicted with the direful pestilence of 1665. And at the lower end of Marshall Street, contiguous to Silver Street, was a common cemetery, wherein some thousands of corpses were buried that died of that dreadful and virulent contagion." When Carnaby Street and other streets were built, a "field on the Paddington estate" was assigned as a pest-field in place of that which we have described.
The parish authorities of St. James's do not appear to have been very popular with the poor in the reign of the first Georges, if we may take literally the following paragraph which occurs in the St. James's Evening Post, of August 4, 1726:—" Some days since, while the officers of the parish of St. James, Westminster, were making merry at a tavern, the workhouse in the Pest-Fields (nearly finished) for the reception of the poor was blown down by a sudden gust of wind, to the no small satisfaction of the lazars, who testified their joy by loud acclamations, bonfires, and other illuminations in the evening."
Great Marlborough Street, which we now enter, runs parallel with Oxford Street, extending from Poland Street to Regent Street. If we may believe the author of the "New Critical Review of the Public Buildings of London," in 1736, this street was then "esteemed one of the finest in Europe." The writer adds, however, that its only claim to such a character lies in its length and breadth, "the buildings on each side being trifling and inconsiderable, and the vista ending either way in nothing great or extraordinary." To the eyes of persons in the nineteenth century, the street will, we fancy, present little ground for admiration, even of this limited kind: it is a broad, heavy, dull street, and that is all.
A century or so ago the appearance of the street must have been very different to what it is in the present day; for, as we learn, it formed one of the principal promenades for the belles and beaux of the day, when the piazza in Covent Garden had become deserted by them, and the shady walk along the Mall in St. James's Park had lost for a time its attraction. Its chief literary note arises from the fact that a house on the north side was for many years the publishing office of the late Mr. Henry Colburn, to whom we are so much indebted for cheap light literature. After his death his business passed into the hands of Messrs. Hurst and Blackett.
That talented but unfortunate genius, B. R. Haydon, in the earlier part of his career, had lodgings on the southern side of this street, which at that time had not quite lost its fashionable character. Cyrus Redding tells us, in his "Autobiography," how he breakfasted with Haydon and Wilkie at the "Nassau Coffee House" at the corner of Nassau and Gerrard Streets, close to the home of John Dryden, which we have already mentioned, between Leicester Fields and Soho.
This street had also another distinguished inhabitant, in the person of the miser, John Elwes, who, on one occasion, had a narrow escape of his life here. The story is thus told:—It was the custom of Mr. Elwes, whenever he went to London, to occupy either of his houses that might be vacant. On one occasion when he had come to town, and, as usual, had taken up his abode in one of the empty houses, Colonel Timms (his nephew), who wished much to see him, in vain inquired at his banker's and at other places. Some days elapsed, and he at length learned from a person whom he met by chance in the street that Mr. Elwes had been seen going into an uninhabited house in Great Marlborough Street. The colonel proceeded to the house, knocked very loudly at the door, but could obtain no answer. Feeling alarmed, he sent for a person to join him, and they entered the house together. In the lower part all was shut and silent, but on ascending the stairs they heard the moans of a person seemingly in distress. They went to the chamber, and there on an old palletbed they found Mr. Elwes, apparently in the agonies of death. For some time he seemed quite insensible, but on some cordials being administered he recovered.
At the western end of the street, near the Argyll Baths and Argyll Street, is the Marlborough Street Police Court.
Argyll Street, which here branches off from Great Marlborough Street, and forms the connecting link between its western end and Oxford Street, runs northwards parallel with Regent Street. Here Sir Joseph Banks was born, as already stated by us, in the reign of George II. Here, too, Northcote the painter lived and died. Of him Cyrus Redding writes in his "Recollections:"—"I used to visit Northcote before I went abroad, and often sat in Argyll Street talking to him about the West country, while he was painting. He was a vain man, of a contracted mind, an excellent small storyteller, not over good-natured. He owed to the assistance of others all the attempts he made in literature, and to no one was he so deeply in debt as to Hazlitt. His offence with that writer was pretended. When he died he left him a hundred pounds as a memento of their intimacy—rather an odd mode of exhibiting his wrath!"
In 1811 Madame de Stael, that brilliant and learned woman, was living in lodgings here; and here she put in force and exercised the prerogative of intellect, by actually making even the Prince Regent pay her a visit, before she would wait on him at Court. But we need not wonder at her boldness or her success, for she was the only human being before whom the great Napoleon quailed, and whom he owned that he could not conquer.
The house which was occupied by Madame de Staël is to be identified by the description of it in Mr. Cyrus Redding's " Fifty Years' Recollections." It was about the middle of the western side of the street, "nearly opposite to Lord Aberdeen's." Madame de Stael has been so often described, that it is difficult to say about her anything that is fresh. Redding records the fact that when he called, between one and two o'clock, he was long before her time of seeing visitors, as she spent her mornings in reading and writing in bed, and never left her room till after two o'clock. She was plain and unattractive in her appearance, and was so conscious of the fact, that she told him, as well as others, that "she would willingly exchange her literary reputation for personal beauty." And yet she was so far from aiming at what is generally thought a woman's empire, that she professed herself especially fond of men's society, on the ground of their being less disposed than women to frivolous conversation. She was seen, he tells us, at her best in a small circle, where her good sayings secured attention, though she was "fond of a large company in her drawing-room, on the ground, perhaps, that an actor likes to see a full house." He adds—"Madame de Staël's drawing-room in Argyll Street was a daily levée. All the world went to see her, and she to see all the world. If she had some little vanity, she had a just claim to be excused that fault. It would be difficult to find any female writer since to approach her in ability. She thus gained a precedence she never used ungracefully. Her critical remarks on Teutonic literature, her extensive acquirements and reading, and the aim she had in her writings of fiction, always elevated, and never downward or mean in tendency, showing the worthiest aspirations, made me, as I still am, one of the admirers of that renowned lady."
It is of Madame de Staël,—
"Necker's fair daughter, Staël the Epicene,"
that the story is told that, when she first came to London, she had hardly reached her lodgings when she inquired of the servant of the house if he could direct her to the tomb of Richardson. The man knew nothing of poems or comedies, and sent her to a tavern-keeper at Covent Garden, of that name, who had lately lost his father; but, of course, that was not the Richardson whom she wanted. At last, after sundry adventures, which took her to Cornhill and to Paternoster Row, she learned that Richardson lay buried in St. Clement Danes Churchyard. Off she packed at once, dark and drizzly as the evening was, in quest of the tomb of her favourite English writer, and, when she had found it, prostrated herself upon the cold and mudsprinkled stone with such reverence and zeal that on returning to Argyll Street, it took her landlady and servant the whole evening to brush her dress, and make her presentable.
In this street lived George, Lord Lytteltonthe "good" Lord Lyttelton—the friend of Pope,
Thomson, and Mallet. To him Pope alludes in
"Sometimes a patriot, active in debate,
Mix with the world and battle for the State,
Free as young Lyttelton her cause pursue,
Still true to virtue, and as warm as true."
Lord Lyttelton's "Poems," "Dialogues of the Dead," "History of Henry II.," and " Dissertation on the Conversion of St. Paul," have given him a respectable rank in literature. It appears from his "Correspondence" that he wrote his treatise on St. Paul's conversion chiefly with a view to meet the case of Thomson, who, in that sceptical age, was troubled with doubts. Lyttelton was anxious that the amiable poet should unite the faith to the heart of a Christian, "for the latter he always had." The circumstance is highly honourable to Lyttelton, and is another instance of that warmth of friendship which Thomson inspired.
About the centre of this street, on the eastern side, there formerly stood a dull, heavy mansion of no architectural pretensions, called Argyll House, after the Dukes of Argyll, to whom it had originally belonged. It had a small paved court-yard before it, with a wall and gates of the approved pattern. Early in the present century it became the property of "the travell'd Thane, Athenian Aberdeen," as Lord Byron calls the late Earl of Aberdeen, who resided here both previously and whilst Premier at the beginning of the Crimean war. His lordship was the last nobleman who lived on the eastern side of Regent Street, showing how thoroughly fashion's tide, like that of empire, sets to the westward amongst us. The house was pulled down about the year 1865, and the site was used for building. In its place arose an edifice which has been used for various purposes, being at one time the Corinthian Bazaar, and at another as Hengler's Circus.
At the corner of Little Argyll Street formerly stood the Argyll Rooms. The establishment was founded under the auspices of Colonel Greville, a noted sportsman and "man about town" under the Regency, who purchased a large house and turned it into a place of entertainment, as a rival to the Pantheon. The fashionable world worshipped at Colonel Greville's shrine, and its balls, masquerades, and amateur balls soon became part of the recognised amusements of West-end society.
In 1811 Lady Margaret Crawford, a lady of eccentric and individual character, gave a ball here "to all her friends, or rather her enemies." It is made a matter of complaint by a French gentleman of fashion in London, in 1823, addressing an English friend, "The wives and daughters of your most respectable country gentlemen no sooner arrive in London than, forgetting all high feelings of conscious virtue and hereditary pride, they seem anxious to purchase, at any price, the honour of belonging to 'The Argyll Street Rooms,' and of frequenting the Wednesday balls at 'Almack's.' Even mothers of families, who have gone through life with untainted reputation, if unable to gain the envied distinction themselves, will condescend to court the 'patronage' of women of very different characters, and to entrust their fair young daughters to the care of peeresses, whose 'indiscretions' would long since have banished them from all association with the best of their own sex, had not their lords been conveniently blind to their failings. No costs or pains are spared to propitiate these deities of fashion—the 'lady patronesses.'"
In 1818 the rooms were rebuilt in a handsome style, by Mr. John Nash, the architect. Here the contralto singer, Velluti, gave a concert in June, 1829. In the same year, M. Chabert, who rejoiced in the title of the "fire king," here exhibited his power of resisting the effects of poisons, and withstanding extreme heat. Among other things, we are told that he "swallowed forty grains of phosphorus, sipped oil at 333° with impunity, and rubbed a red-hot shovel over his tongue, hair, and face unharmed; that he swallowed a piece of a burning torch; and then, dressed in coarse woollen, entered an oven heated to 380°, sung a song, and cooked two dishes of beef-steaks!" "These performances," it is added, "were suspected of being a chemical juggle."
The building was burnt down in 1830. On this occasion, Mr. Braithwaite first publicly applied steam-power to the working of a fire-engine; and we are informed that "it required eighteen minutes to raise the water in the boiler to 212°, when the engine threw up from thirty to forty tons of water per hour to a height of ninety feet."
Adjoining the Argyll Rooms was a long range of buildings, formerly known as the "Harmonic Institution" of Messrs. Welsh and Hawes. It was originally a species of joint-stock company, associated for the publication of musical compositions, and other objects connected with that art. But from about the year 1828 it was conducted entirely by the two eminent musical professors whose name it bore. It had a portico, with capitals formed of female heads.
Oxford Street, the south side of which we now enter, has always been a street of shops, and for the most part of good shops also, as was eminently fitting for one of the two great westerly thoroughfares of the city of this "nation of shopkeepers." Less fashionable than Regent Street, because further from the court and courtly influences, and less devoted to pleasure than the Strand, owing to its greater distance from the theatres, it has always preserved the happy medium of respectability. It seems strange, indeed, now that we are bowled at the rate of nine or ten miles an hour in a hansom cab over the level pavement of Oxford Street, or at a slower rate in an omnibus, to learn that, within the memory of the antiquary Pennant (who died in 1798), it was little better than a quagmire, dangerous on account of its roughness, and on account of the "cut-throats" who frequented it, malgré the "Charlies" and the night-watch. But so it was. In spite of its containing the Oxford Music Hall, the Soho Bazaar, the Princess's Theatre, and the old Pantheon, it has, on the whole, steered clear of fashionable dissipation; and it now is content to be the chief thoroughfare in which the well-to-do, but not over-rich, classes purchase the necessaries and comforts of life, in the way of clothing, dresses, haberdashery, domestic wares, and generally those articles which form the delight and the comfort of the British matron.
Of the Soho Bazaar we have already spoken in the previous volume, and of the Oxford Music Hall we shall have to speak when describing the northern side of this great thoroughfare; but of the Pantheon, which may now (except in name) be reckoned among the places that have been, we may here state that it occupied a large space of ground between Argyll Street and Poland Street, and that it extended from Oxford Street back into Great Marlborough Street. The building, with a portico projecting over the pavement, is still called the "Pantheon," and was formerly known under that name as a bazaar. Its exterior has few pretensions to architectural beauty; but a guide-book of London, published in 1851, assures us that at that time "the interior, in point of extent, design, convenience of arrangement, and beauty of execution united," was "unequalled by anything of the kind in London, or even in Europe." Perhaps this may have been the case; but its interior beauty, and that of its fair bevy of marchandes, did not prevent it from running to the end of its career as a bazaar. About the year 1870 it was closed, and converted into wine stores.
The Pantheon, a century ago, was celebrated for its masquerades. In the London Magazine for 1773, we read: " The play-houses, the operas, the masquerades, the Pantheon, Vauxhall, Ranelagh, Mrs. Cornelys, the London Tavern, &c., are all crowded. . . . . The money squandered at the last masquerade was computed to be £20,000, though tradesmen go unpaid, and the industrious poor are starving." We are sorry to read this remark of a cotemporary, who could scarcely be ignorant of facts, or have been allowed to pervert them uncontradicted; but hitherto we always supposed that such extravagances were defensible, mainly on the ground that they were "good for trade."
The Pantheon was originally built in 1770–1, as a place of public amusement, including concerts, balls, promenades, &c., with the view of cutting the wind out of the sails of Mrs. Cornelys, whose successes at Soho Square (as already recorded) roused feelings of jealousy in her rivals, the more strongly, perhaps, because she was a foreigner. The building was erected from the designs of James Wyatt, and was opened early in 1772. It was intended by its founders to be a sort of winter Ranelagh in London, and it cost £60,000. It was destroyed by fire in 1792; rebuilt on the same plan, and pulled down in 1812, the Oxford Street front being preserved from the original building. Having served as a place of amusement of various kinds, in 1834 it was remodelled, and made into a bazaar, similar to its rival in Soho Square.
The original Pantheon is immortalised by Sheridan, in one of his comedies, and is thus described by gossiping Horace Walpole, in May, 1770, in a letter to his friend, Sir Horace Mann:—"The new winter Ranelagh in the Oxford Road is nearly finished. It amazed me myself. Imagine Balbec in all its glory. The pillars are of artificial giallo antico. The ceilings even of the passages are of the most beautiful stuccos in the best taste of grotesque. The ceilings of the ball-rooms and the panels are painted like Raphael's loggias in the Vatican: a dome like the Pantheon glazed. It is to cost fifty thousand pounds."
In the year 1783, a masquerade took place here in honour of the coming of age of the Prince of Wales; it was got up by a noted clown of the period, named Delpini, and a charge of three guineas was made for each ticket. In the following year, a concert in commem oration of Handel was performed here, which was attended by the king, queen, and royal family.
Here, in September and October, 1784, was exhibited the balloon in which Lunardi had made his first successful ascent (September 15) from the Artillery Ground at Moorfields. He gained a large sum by the exhibition, and became the lion of the season, being presented at Court, to receive the king's and queen's congratulations on account of his achievement; although, if the truth must be told, the very first ascent in Great Britain had been made about three weeks before by a poor man at Edinburgh.
In 1788, after the destruction of the King's Theatre, the Pantheon was fitted up as an operahouse by Mr. O'Reilly, at a rent of £3,000. After that, in 1812, a lease of these premises was taken by Mr. Cundy, the builder, and some other persons, and the interior was reconstructed as a theatre, on a plan analogous to that of the Great Theatre at Milan, for the performance of Italian comic operas, burlettas, &c. The boxes, 171 in number, were disposed into four regular tiers, besides the upper or slip boxes. They were supported by gilt columns, furnished with curtains and chairs, and illuminated by chandeliers. The pit would accommodate about 1,200 and the gallery 500 persons. The stage was 56 feet wide and 90 feet deep. The devices and designs before the curtain were by Signio; the scene-painter was Marinari. A saloon, measuring 49 feet by 21 feet, was appropriated to the boxes, and a refreshment-room was attached to the pit. It was opened on the 25th of February, 1812, at opera prices, with T. Dibdin's opera of The Cabinet. In 1814 everything movable was sold, in which state it remained many years, only the bare walls being left. Several applications were made by Mr. Cundy for a renewal of a lease to open it again as a winter theatre, but failed.
In 1736–8 Miss Linwood's collection of needlework was exhibited at the Pantheon, previous to its establishment at the Hanover Square Rooms. Miss Linwood died in 1845, at the age of ninety, seventy-six years after working the earliest of her pictures. "The designs," says Mr. Timbs, "were executed with five crewels, dyed expressly for her, on a thick tammy, and were entirely drawn and embroidered by her own hand."
The Pantheon has also its political recollections. Here, in 1806, Gale Jones, and other Radicals of the time of Pitt and Fox, used to meet and discuss the necessity of Parliamentary Reform, in spite of informers.
Close to the corner of Argyll Street, near Regent Circus, is a noted booking-office for heavy goods and parcels, called the "Green Man and Still." "This is," says Mr. Larwood, "a liberty taken with the arms of the distillers, the supporters of which are two Indians. The latter were transformed by the sign-painters into wild men, or green men, and the green men, again, into foresters; and then it was said that the sign arose from the partiality of foresters, as such, for the produce of the still!" In all probability, however, the reference is really to a "green man"—that is, a seller of green herbs and other produce of what used to be called a physic-garden, in which case the still would be easily understood as an adjunct.
The "Hog in the Pound" was the name of an inn in this street, commonly known as " The Gentleman in Trouble." It was a great starting-point for coaches to the western parts, and it gained notoriety by a murder committed by its landlady. Catherine Hayes. Having formed an improper acquaintance, she was induced by her paramour to murder her husband, after which she cut off his head, put it in a bag, and threw it into the Thames. It floated ashore; and being set up in the churchyard of St. Margaret's at Westminster, it was recognised, and by a train of events the murder was brought home to its perpetrators. The man was hanged, and Mrs. Hayes was burnt alive at Tyburn, in the year 1726.
The "North Pole" inn, which stands near Wardour Street, commemorates one of those expeditions which have been sent out to explore the Arctic regions, from the days of Frobisher to those of Franklin, M'Clintock, and Nares.
It may here be mentioned that a house in this street, near Soho Square, known as "the Balloon" fruit-shop, was the first in London to commemorate on its sign the conquest over nature, which was thought to have been achieved in September, 1783, when the first "air-balloon" ascended at Versailles, in the presence of Louis XVI. and his family.