Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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RUSSELL AND BEDFORD SQUARES, &c.
The Site of Russell Square at the Beginning of the Present Century—Statue of Francis, Fifth Duke of Bedford—General Appearance of the Square—Bolton House—A Pair of Eccentric Peers—Lord Chancellor Loughborough—Other Distinguished Residents—Bedford Place—Montagu Place—Keppel Street—Bedford Square—Lord Eldon and the Prince Regent—The "Princess Olivia of Cumberland"—Gower Street—The Toxophilite Society—Jack Bannister, the Actor—The Eccentric Henry Cavendish—University College—Flaxman's Models—The Graphic Club—University College Hospital—Dr. Williams' Library.
On the demolition of Bedford House, the adjoining lands were laid out for building purposes, and Russell and Bedford Squares were erected about the year 1804, and were named after the Russells, Earls and Dukes of Bedford. For some time previously—as we have already shown in our account of Bloomsbury Square, Great Ormond Street, and other places in the locality—many of the houses in the immediate neighbourhood were very extensively inhabited by judges and successful lawyers; and on the building of the above squares the houses were so largely taken up by members of the legal profession, on account of their nearness to Lincoln's Inn, that in course of time the epithet of "Judge-land" came to be applied to this particular part of Bloomsbury, in much the same manner as in late years Pall Mall and its neighbourhood came to be called "Club-land."
Russell Square, which we enter at the western end of Guilford Street, occupies part of what in 1720 was called Southampton Fields, but what in later times became known as Long Fields. At the beginning of the present century, Long Fields lay waste and useless. There were nursery grounds northward; towards the north-west were the grounds of the Toxophilite Society; Bedford House, with its lawn and magnificent gardens planted with limetrees, occupied the south side; whilst Baltimore House, long the residence of Lord Chancellor Loughborough, stood on the east side, at the corner of Guilford Street. This square is one of the largest in the metropolis; in fact, it is the next largest to Lincoln's Inn Fields. The houses are of brick, with the lower part in some cases cemented. Something of an architectural character is given to a block on the west side, between Montagu Place and Keppel Street, but the majority of the houses are better inside than out. On the south side of thecentral enclosure, looking down Bedford Place, and facing the monument to Fox in Bloomsbury Square, is a statue which recalls to mind one of those illustrious statesmen of ancient Rome, whose time was divided between the labours of the Senate and those of their Sabine farms. The statue represents that eminent and patriotic agriculturist, Francis, the fifth Duke of Bedford, with one hand resting on a plough, while in the other he holds some ears of corn. There are four emblematical figures at the corners of the pedestal, which is adorned in bas-relief with various rural attributes. The statue—a very fine specimen of Sir Richard Westmacott's best style—was erected in 1809.
A writer in the St. James's Magazine thus speaks of this locality: "Russell Square is, under ordinary circumstances, a very nice place to walk in. If those troublesome railway vans and goods wagons would not come lumbering and clattering, by way of Southampton Row, through the square, and up Guilford Street, on their way to King's Cross, 'La Place Roussell' would be as cosy and tranquil as 'La Place Royale' in Paris. It has the vastness of Lincoln's Inn Fields without its dinginess."
The handsome mansion on the south-east side of the square, at the corner of Guilford Street, was built, in 1759, for the eccentric and profligate Lord Baltimore; and, as we have already stated, it was at first called Baltimore House. Hither his lordship decoyed a young milliner, Sarah Woodcock, and was prosecuted for having caused her ruin, but acquitted. He died in 1771 at Naples, whence his remains were brought to London, and lay in state, as we have mentioned, at Exeter Change. The house was subsequently occupied by the equally eccentric Duke of Bolton, whose name was then given to it. Northouck remarks, wittily and truly, that "it was either built without a plan, or else has had very whimsical owners; for the door has been shifted to different parts of the house, until at last it is lost to all outward appearance, being now (1776) carried into the stable-yard!"
The Duke of Bolton, who was, of course, known as Lord Henry Powlett during his elder brother's life, served in early life in the navy, in which, however, if we may believe Sir N. W. Wraxall, "he had gained no laurels." He was supposed generally to be the Captain Whiffle so humorously described by Smollett in his "Roderick Random." His mother was Miss Lavinia Fenton, an actress in her day (well known for her impersonation of "Polly Peachum").
On the 21st of June, 1799, George III., with the Queen and several members of the Royal Family, assembled at Bolton House, when occupied by Lord Loughborough, and after partaking of a cold collation, proceeded to view the Foundling Hospital. Lord Loughborough, though an Erskine by birth, was a "paltry and servile politician," according to Lord Holland. He died soon after his elevation to the Earldom of Rosslyn, and George III. pronounced his funeral oration by declaring that "he had not left a greater rogue behind him."
When the square was laid out for building, Bolton House was the only mansion standing, and this was incorporated into the rest of the square, though somewhat incongruously; and though it is now divided into two large residences, it still retains its name of Bolton House.
Passing to the other mansions in the square, we may state that Sir Samuel Romilly lived and died (by his own hand) at No. 21; Chief-Justice Abbot (Lord Tenterden) at No. 28; Mr. Justice Holroyd at No. 46; Mr. T. (afterwards Lord) Denman at No. 50; and at No. 12, Mr. W. Tooke, F.R.S., the writer on currency and political economy, M.P. for Truro in 1835–7.
At No. 67 lived for some time the lawyer, poet, philanthropist, and man of letters, Sir Thomas N. Talfourd, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, who died suddenly, in 1854, in the court-house at Stafford, while addressing the grand jury.
A person no less distinguished, though in quite another way, Sir Thomas Lawrence, the courtly painter, and President of the Royal Academy, resided at No. 65 for a quarter of a century. He died there in 1830, after a very short illness. Concerning the residence of Sir Thomas Lawrence, there is a note in the Gentleman's Magazine for January, 1818, by the Rev. John Mitford, which says:—"We shall never forget the Cossacks, mounted on their small white horses, with their long spears grounded, standing as sentinels at the door of this great painter, whilst he was taking the portrait of their general, Platoff."
Bedford Place, connecting Russell Square with Bloomsbury Square, was built between 1801 and 1805 on the site of Bedford House. Here, at the house of Mr. Henry Fry, died, in 1811, Richard Cumberland, the author of The West Indian. In Upper Bedford Place, on the opposite side of Russell Square, in 1826, and for some years later, lived Mr. Richard Bethell, afterwards Lord Chancellor and Lord Westbury.
At No. 4, Montagu Place, between Russell and Bedford Squares, in 1841, lived the late Sir John T. Coleridge, father of Lord Coleridge; he had previously resided in Torrington Square, and afterwards in Park Crescent, Regent's Park. To the north-west of Russell Square are Woburn and Torrington Squares, in the latter of which was the residence of Sir Harris Nicolas, editor of Nelson's Despatches and Letters, and a distinguished antiquary and genealogist. He died at Boulogne in 1848.
Bedford Square, on the west side of the British Museum, stands on a part of the Bedford estate, and covers some considerable portion of the old "rookery" of St. Giles's; it is about six acres in extent, or exactly half the size of Lincoln's Inn Fields. In the reign of George IV. and William IV. it was extensively occupied by lawyers who had climbed to the top of their profession, and also by very many of the judges, among whom were Chief Justice Sir Nicholas Tindall, Sir John Richardson, Mr. Justice Burrough, Mr. Justice Bayley, Mr. Justice Littledale, Baron Graham, Baron J. A. Park, and Mr. Justice Patteson. No. 7 was for many years occupied by Sir Robert Harry Inglis, the venerable M.P. for Oxford University.
At No. 6 lived Lord Chancellor Eldon from 1804 down to 1816; and here occurred the memorable interview between his lordship and the Prince Regent, afterwards George IV., which has been so often told, though it will bear telling here again in the words of Mr. Peter Cunningham:—"The Prince came alone to the Chancellor's house, and upon the servant opening the door, observed that as his lordship had the gout, he knew he must be at home, and therefore desired that he might be shown up to the room where the Chancellor was sitting or lying. The servant said he was too ill to be seen, and that he had also positive orders to show ïn no one. The Prince then asked to be shown the staircase, which he immediately ascended, and pointed first to one door and then to another, asking, 'Is that your master's room?' The servant answered 'No,' until he came to the right one, upon which he opened the door, seated himself by the Chancellor's bedside, and asked him to appoint his friend Jekyll, the great wit, to the vacant office of Master in Chancery. The Chancellor refused—there could be no more unfit appointment. The Prince, perceiving the humour of the Chancellor, and that he was firm to his determination not to appoint him, threw himself back in the chair and exclaimed, 'How I do pity Lady Eldon!' 'Good God!' said the Chancellor, 'what is the matter?' 'Oh, nothing!' answered the Prince, 'except that she will never see you again, for here I remain until you promise to make Jekyll a Master in Chancery.' Jekyll, of course, obtained the appointment."
In March, 1816, during the riots at the Westend on account of the rejection of the Corn-Law Alteration Bill, some portion of the mob proceeded to Bedford Square, and broke the windows of the house of the unpopular Tory Lord Chancellor.
In Alfred Place, Bedford Square, was living in 1820 Olivia Serres, née Wilmott, when she came forward before the world to claim royal rank and precedence as "the Princess Olivia of Cumberland," declaring that she was the legitimate daughter of Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, youngest brother of George III., who had created her, by a somewhat informal document in his own handwriting, Duchess of Lancaster. Her claim to this title was discussed more than once in the House of Commons, and was revived after her death by her children; but it was finally negatived by a decree of the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, in June, 1866. The "Princess" died in 1834, and was buried in the churchyard of St. James's, Piccadilly.
Gower Street, which runs from the north-east corner of Bedford Square into the Euston Road, is a broad thoroughfare, nearly a third of a mile in length, but dull and monotonous in appearance. Mr. James Grant, in his "Travels in Town," is not far from the mark when he describes this as "a street which scarcely exhibits any signs of being an inhabited place. . . . . Here and there," he writes, "you see a solitary pedestrian, or perchance a one-horse chaise. The stranger in passing along this street feels an emotion of melancholy come over him, caused by its dulness and unbroken monotony, and wonders how people can betray so entire a disregard of the truth as to represent the metropolis as a place of business and bustle, of noise and din."
"This street," observes a writer in Once a Week, in 1867, "was still so perfectly free from smoke forty years ago that grapes were ripened by the sun in the open air in the garden of one at least of the houses. Lord Eldon used often to speak of the fine fruit which he raised in his garden here, and also mentioned in Court the sad effect of the smoke upon it. A still more extraordinary fact is that even so late as the year 1800, Mr. William Bentham, of Upper Gower Street, had nearly twenty-five dozen of the finest and most delicious nectarines, all fit for the table, gathered off three trees in his garden, and that the same plot of ground continued, even long after, to produce the richest-flavoured celery in great abundance."
In 1791 the Toxophilite Society began to hold its meetings in grounds on the eastern side of Gower Street, under lease from the Duke of Bedford; and they continued here till 1805, when they were driven away westwards, the land being "required for building purposes." We shall meet with them again when we come to the Regent's Park.
Gower Street in its time has numbered among its residents a few remarkable men. At No. 65, Jack Bannister, the actor, lived and died. "In the drama," as we learn from a memoir in the Mirror, "he was affecting, because he was natural and simple; in society, he was distinguished by the same characteristics. His unaffected hilarity in conversation, the flexibility of his mind in adapting itself to every subject which arose, and the almost puerile good humour with which he recalled and recited the incidents of his earliest life and observation, formed altogether a picture equally singular and interesting. In these moments he showed himself to the greatest advantage; his animated countenance displayed at once the intelligence of a man, the sweetness of a woman, and the innocent sportiveness of a child. His social virtues will never be forgotten; they assured to him the respect and the esteem of all; he enjoyed upon earth full reward of his talents and good qualities, while his hopes of an hereafter were cherished with a warmth and confidence resulting from a true and lively faith."
A house at the corner of Montagu Place and Gower Street was for some years the town residence of the eccentric philosopher, the Hon. Henry Cavendish, who was well known for his chemical researches. Few visitors were admitted there, but some found their way across the threshold, and have reported that books and apparatus formed its chief furniture. For the former, however, Cavendish set apart a separate mansion in Dean Street, Soho. Here he had collected a large and carefully-chosen library of works on science, which he threw open to all engaged in research; and to this house he went for his own books, as one would go to a circulating library, signing a formal receipt for such of the volumes as he took with him. Cavendish, it is asserted, lived comfortably, but made no display; and his few guests were treated on all occasions to the same fare, and it was not very sumptuous. A Fellow of the Royal Society reports that "if any one dined with Cavendish he invariably gave them a leg of mutton and nothing else." Another Fellow says that Cavendish "seldom had company at his house, but on one occasion three or four scientific men were to dine with him, and when his housekeeper came to ask what was to be got for dinner, he said, 'A leg of mutton!' 'Sir, that will not be enough for five.' 'Well, then, get two,' was the reply."
Dr. Thomas Thomson writes of Cavendish:—"He was shy and bashful to a degree bordering on disease. He could not bear to have any person introduced to him, or to be pointed out in any way as a remarkable man. One Sunday evening he was standing at Sir Joseph Banks's, in a crowded room, conversing with Mr. Hatchett, when Dr. Ingenhousz, who had a good deal of pomposity of manner, came up with an Austrian gentleman in his hand, and introduced him formally to Mr. Cavendish. He mentioned the titles and qualifications of his friend at great length, and said that he had been particularly anxious to be introduced to a philosopher so profound and so universally known and celebrated as Mr. Cavendish. As soon as Dr. Ingenhousz had finished, the Austrian gentleman began to speak, assuring Mr. Cavendish that his principal reason for coming to London was to see and converse with one of the greatest ornaments of the age, and one of the most illustrious philosophers that ever existed. To all these high-flown speeches Mr. Cavendish answered not a word, but stood with his eyes cast down, quite abashed and confounded. At last, spying an opening in the crowd, he darted through it with all the speed of which he was master, nor did he stop till he reached his carriage, which drove him directly home."
Sir Humphry Davy, in addition to the eloquent eulogium passed on Mr. Cavendish soon after his death, left this less studied but more graphic sketch of the philosopher amongst his papers:—"Cavendish was a great man, with extraordinary singularities. His voice was squeaking, his manner nervous, he was afraid of strangers, and seemed, when embarrassed, even to articulate with difficulty. He wore the costume of our grandfathers; was enormously rich, but made no use of his wealth. He gave me once some bits of platinum for my experiments, and came to see my results on the decomposition of the alkalis, and seemed to take an interest in them; but he encouraged no intimacy with any one. … He lived latterly the life of a solitary, came to the club dinner, and to the Royal Society, but received nobody at his own house. He was acute, sagacious, and profound, and, I think, the most accomplished British philosopher of his time." He died in 1810.
On the east side of Gower Street is University College, which was founded in the year 1826, for the purpose of affording "literary and scientific education at a moderate expense;" divinity being excluded. The credit of the idea of a university for London, in which the ancient languages should be taught, free from those artificial restrictions which bound Oxford and Cambridge so tightly, has generally been given to Lord Brougham and the other Whig politicians of his time. Cyrus Redding, however, in his "Recollections," claims the praise for Tom Campbell, the poet, who certainly took an active part in its foundation, and even journeyed—indolent as he was by nature—to Berlin in order to observe with his own eyes the professional system of Prussia, and to mature a plan for the government of the university. Testimony to the same effect was eventually borne by Lord Brougham himself.
The foundation-stone of the college was laid on Monday, the 30th of April, 1827, by H.R.H. the Duke of Sussex, who had long been associated with the leaders of the Whig party. The architect was Mr. William Wilkins, R.A., the designer of the National Gallery. The Duke of Sussex, on laying the stone, said, "May God bless this undertaking which we have so happily commenced, and make it prosper for honour, happiness, and glory, not only of the metropolis, but of the whole country." He also expressed a hope that the undertaking would excite the old universities to fresh exertions, and force them to reform abuses. An "oration," or prayer, was then offered up by the Rev. Dr. Maltby, afterwards Bishop of Durham. The ceremony was followed by a dinner at Freemasons' Hall, nearly all the chief Whigs of the day being among the guests.
The building was opened on the 1st of October in the following year, under the title of the University of London. Its constitution then was that of a joint-stock company, and the original deed of settlement provided for a dividend not exceeding four per cent. on the share capital—a dividend which, as a matter of fact, was never paid, inasmuch as from the first the expenditure of the college absorbed all that portion of the receipts in which it was supposed the dividend would be found. Thomas Campbell, then in the height of his celebrity, was appointed Lecturer on Poetry on the first opening of the institution. As the title of "University" was nothing more than a title, conveying with it none of the privileges we are accustomed to associate with the name, not even the power of granting degrees, the House of Commons in 1836 prayed for a charter of incorporation conferring such privileges and power. In answer, the Government of the day founded what is now known as the University of London, and proposed to the old institution to take the name of University College. To this proposal the proprietors, on the recommendation of the council, agreed, only stipulating that their college—as they had hoped would be done for their university—should be incorporated by royal charter. The idea seems to have been that by this means would be extinguished all the pecuniary rights of the proprietors. As this, however, was not effected, the charter, indeed, not referring to the subject at all, and as it was thought that from these rights there might at some future time arise inconvenience to the college, a private Act of Parliament was applied for with a view to settle the matter once and for all. This was obtained in 1869, and had not only the result desired, but also the effect of considerably enlarging the powers of the institution in several directions—among others, in the education of women, and instruction in the Fine Arts.
The governing body of the college consists of a council, elected by its members, who in their turn comprise the Governors, the Fellows, and the Life Governors, the first of whom, as representing the registered proprietors of the original shares, although, as we have said, all their pecuniary rights have been abolished, retain the privilege of nominating their successors. The Council itself consists of a President, Vice-President, and Treasurer, and not more than twenty-one or less than sixteen other members, six of whom, eligible to re-election, retire every year. The powers of this body are very wide—comprising, indeed, the sole and entire management of the college, both in the financial and educational departments, and also the government of the hospital to the same degree. There is, however, a subordinate body known as the Senate, and consisting of the professorial staff, which, having no voice in the government of the College, and no existence, indeed, under the Act of Parliament, is yet empowered to advise with the council on various subjects of management, especially of the libraries and museum, and has, moreover, a good deal to say to any contemplated addition or alteration in its own numbers. In connection with the larger establishment is a school, which stands to it in the light of a feeder, a considerable number of well-instructed pupils yearly passing up into the ranks of its students. The head master stands in all respects on the same footing as the professors of the college, and, like them, is subject to the regulations and control of the council. There are three faculties in the college—of arts and laws, of science, and of medicine—besides a department of civil and mechanical engineering. In the first two faculties are numbered thirty-one professorships, and of the eleven scientific chairs therein included, but one is endowed, the chair of physiology, although the professor of geology receives a yearly sum of £31 from the Goldsmid Fund.
The college comprises a central façade and two wings, and has a total length of about 400 feet. In the centre, which looks to the west, is an immense Corinthian portico, formed by twelve columns supporting the pediment, and elevated on a lofty plinth, approached by numerous steps effectively arranged. Behind the pediment is a cupola, with a lantern light, and in the great hall beneath it are placed on view the original models of the principal works of John Flaxman, which were presented to the institution some ten years after the death of the sculptor by his sister-in-law, Miss Denman, to whom, with the late Miss Flaxman, belonged the remaining works of the great English sculptor—in the shape of drawings, models in plaster and wax, and other interesting relics—which were disposed of by public auction in April, 1876, and realised a sum of more than £2,000. In the vestibule of the college is Flaxman's restoration of the Farnese Hercules; beneath the dome is his grand life-size group of "Michael and Satan;" and around the walls are his various monumental and other bas-reliefs. In an adjoining room was placed Flaxman's "Shield of Achilles" and other works.
In the ground-floor are lecture-rooms, cloisters for the exercise of the pupils, two semi-circular theatres, the chemical laboratory, and museum of materia medica. In the upper floor, besides the great hall above mentioned, are museums of natural history and anatomy, two theatres, two libraries, and other rooms set apart for the purposes of the college. The principal library is richly decorated in the Italian style; it is large and valuable, containing upwards of 68,000 volumes and 16,000 pamphlets, to which has lately been added a fine collection of works on mathematics, physics, and astronomy, the gift of the late Mr. J. T. Graves. The laboratory, completed from the plan of Professor Donaldson in 1845, is stated to combine all the recent improvements of our own schools with that of Professor Liebig, at Giessen.
At University College the Graphic Club, composed of artists, painters, and engravers, used to hold their monthly meetings for the purpose of interchange of thought on matters connected with the fine arts. The club was originally established by the late Mr. John Burnet and his friends; and it numbered among its members J. M. W. Turner, Prout, Landseer, Clarkson Stanfield, and other departed worthies.
On the opposite side of Gower Street, facing the college gates, is the North London, or University College Hospital. It was founded soon after the college itself, under the presidency of Lord Brougham, for the relief of poor sick and maimed persons, and the delivery of poor married women; and also for furthering the objects of the college, by affording improved means of practical instruction in medicine and surgery to the medical students of the college under the superintendence of its professors. The building, which was erected from the designs of Mr. Alfred Ainger, affords accommodation for 150 beds, fourteen of which, in two separate wards, are devoted exclusively to the use of children under twelve years of age. The total number of persons relieved yearly is about 15,000, at the cost of £11,000; whilst the income from subscriptions and other sources amounts to not quite half that sum, thus leaving a yearly deficit of nearly £6,000 to be provided for.
In Grafton Street East, and nearly opposite the hospital, is the Dissenters' Library, which was originally founded in Cripplegate, (fn. 1) in the year 1711, by Dr. Daniel Williams, a Presbyterian minister, for the use of the Presbyterian, Independent, and Baptist persuasions, with a salary for a librarian and housekeeper. In pursuance of his will, a building was erected in Redcross Street, with space for 40,000 volumes (though the original collection did not comprise more than 16,000 volumes), and an apartment for the curator. In the library was also a register in which Dissenters might record the births of their children. When the premises in Redcross Street were required for the extension of the Metropolitan Railway, in 1865, the library was temporarily transferred to a hired house in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, where it remained for eight years, until a home was found for it here. The site of the new library cost £4,000, and the new building in which it is lodged £7,000 more. It is a plain and substantial Gothic building. The basement includes, besides offices, strong rooms for the custody of manuscripts. On the ground floor are the entrance-hall, committeerooms, waiting-rooms, &c. The library occupies the whole first floor, which is lofty and well lighted. The upper portion of the building is occupied by the librarian. The architect was Mr. T. Chatfield Clarke, and the structure is as nearly fireproof as possible.
The library, a very rich collection of theological works, and especially of Nonconformist literature, was first actually opened in 1729, and the new library was completed and opened in September, 1873. It now comprises about 30,000 volumes, among which are various editions of the Bible, also the first folio edition of Shakespeare; but there are no Caxtons or Wynkyn de Wordes. The library is open to respectable persons of every class daily throughout the year, excepting during the month of August and in Christmas week; on Good Friday and Whit Monday it is also closed. Books are allowed to be taken out under proper restrictions. Upon the walls of the library are portraits of Richard Baxter, by Riley; of Matthew Henry, of Wm. Tyndale, of Joseph Priestley, by Fuseli; of John Milton, and of Isaac Watts. The trustees, twenty-three in number, must all be Presbyterians; and it may be added that each trustee makes a present of books to the library.
Of Dr. Williams's ministerial career we have already spoken in our account of Redcross Street; but it may be added that he was one of the friends and fellow-workers of Baxter, and an advocate of what was known as "occasional conformity." He lived very frugally, but having married two rich wives, was able to lay by money towards his favourite scheme. He bequeathed money to the University of Glasgow for the support of eight students for the ministry, besides other sums in aid of the maintenance of poor ministers and their widows. He took care that his library should be open to persons of all denominations. Dr. Williams was among those who urged the Nonconformist body to refuse the concessions offered to them in conjunction with the Roman Catholics, and became one of the firmest supporters of the House of Brunswick.
A portion of Dr. Williams's estates, bequeathed for 2,000 years, was appropriated to the following objects:—The formation of a library; exhibitions at Glasgow University, and divinity scholarships; also to the establishment of schools for poor children in various parts of England and Wales; to the payment of poor Dissenting ministers; Christian teachers in Ireland, the West Indies, and New England; and to the distribution of the Doctor's own works among suitable persons.