Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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MARYLEBONE, NORTH: ITS HISTORICAL ASSOCIATIONS.
"Suburban villas, highway-side retreats,
That dread th' encroachment of our growing streets,
Tight boxes, neatly sash'd, and in a blaze
With all a July sun's collected rays,
Delight the citizen, who, gasping there,
Breathes clouds of dust, and calls it country air."—Cowper.
North Bank and South Bank—Rural Aspect of the Neighbourhood Half a Century Ago—Marylebone Park—Taverns and Tea-gardens—The "Queen's Head and Artichoke"—The "Harp"—The "Farthing Pie House"—The "Yorkshire Stingo"—The Introduction of London Omnibuses by Mr. Shillibeer—Marylebone Baths and Washhouses—Queen Charlotte's Lying-in Hospital—The New Road—The Paddington Stage-Coach—A Proposed Boulevard round the Outskirts of London—Dangers of the Road—Lisson Grove—The Philological School—A Favourite Locality for Artists—John Martin, R.A.—Chapel Street—Leigh Hunt—Church Street—The Royal Alfred Theatre—Metropolitan Music-Hall—Portman Market—Blandford Square—The Convent of the Sisters of Mercy—Michael Faraday as a Bookbinder—Harewood Square—Dorset Square—The Original "Lord's" Cricket-Ground—Upper Baker Street—Mrs. Siddons' Residence—The Notorious Richard Brothers—Invention of the "Tilbury."
The district through which we are now about to pass lies between Edgware Road and Regent's Park, and the St. John's Wood Road and Marylebone Road. At the beginning of the century, Cowper's lines quoted above might, perhaps, have been more applicable to it than now; but even to this day they are not altogether out of place when applied to those parts lying to the north of Lisson Grove, more especially towards the Park Road, and to the villas known respectively as North Bank and South Bank, the gardens of which slope down towards the Regent's Canal, which passes between them. Here we have "trim gardens," lawns, and shrubs; towering spires, banks clothed with flowers; indeed, all the elegances of the town and all the beauties of the country are at this spot happily commingled.
Of the early history of Marylebone, and of that portion of the parish lying on the south side of the Marylebone Road, we have already spoken; (fn. 1) but we may add here that at the beginning of the eighteenth century the place was a small village, quite surrounded by fields, and nearly a mile distant from any part of the great metropolis. Indeed, down to a much later date—namely, about 1820—we have seen an oil-painting, by John Glover, of Primrose Hill and the ornamental water in the Regent's Park, taken from near the top of Upper Baker Street or Clarence Gate, in the front of which are a party of haymakers, sketched from life, and there are only three houses dotted about near the then new parish church of Marylebone. Indeed, at the commencement of the present century Marylebone was a suburban retreat, amid "green fields and babbling brooks." A considerable extent of ground on the north side of what is now called the Marylebone Road, and comprising besides nearly the whole of what is now Regent's Park, was at one time known as Marylebone Park, and was of course attached to the old Manor House, which we have already described. (fn. 2) A reminiscence of the Manor House, with its garden, park, and environs, as they stood in the time of Queen Elizabeth, when her Majesty here entertained the Russian ambassadors with a stag hunt in the said park, is preserved in a drawing made by Gasselin in 1700, and re-published by Mr. J. T. Smith in 1800. Marylebone Park Farm and its cow-sheds, which covered the rising ground almost as far northward as Le Notre's Canal, has now become metamorphosed into a rural city. From 1786 to 1792, the additions and improvements in this neighbourhood were carried into effect in quick succession. Almost all of the Duke of Portland's property in Marylebone, except one farm, was let at that period on building leases, and the new buildings in the north-west part of the parish increased with equal rapidity. The large estates at Lisson Grove, in process of time, all became extensively and, in many instances, tastefully built upon.
A correspondent of "Hone's Year-Book" writes, in 1832, with an almost touching tenderness about "Marylebone Park," the memory of which name has long since passed away, confessing that it "holds in his affections a far dearer place than its more splendid but less rural successor"—referring, of course, to the Regent's Park. This, too, is the romantic district through which Mr. Charles Dickens, in the person of his "Uncommercial Traveller," must have descried at a distance in the course of his "various solitary rambles," which he professes to have "taken northward for his retirement," the West-end out of season, "along the awful perspectives of Wimpole Street, Harley Street, and similar frowning districts."
But the district in former times was made attractive for the pent-up Londoner by its public teagardens and bowered taverns. Of the last-named we may mention the "Queen's Head and Artichoke," which stood near what is now the southern end of Albany Street, not far from Trinity Church. "At the beginning of this century," says Mr. Jacob Larwood, in his "History of Sign-boards," "when Marylebone consisted of 'green fields, babbling brooks,' and pleasant suburban retreats, there was a small but picturesque house of public entertainment, yclept the 'Queen's Head and Artichoke,' situated 'in a lane nearly opposite Portland Road, and about 500 yards from the road that leads from Paddington to Finsbury'—now Albany Street. Its attractions chiefly consisted in a long skittle and 'bumble-puppy' ground, shadowy bowers, and abundance of cream, tea, cakes, and other creature comforts. The only memorial now remaining of the original house is an engraving in the Gentleman's Magazine for November, 1819. The queen was Queen Elizabeth, and the house was reported to have been built by one of her gardeners: whence the strange combination on the sign."
Mr. Larwood tells us an anecdote about some other public gardens in this neighbourhood, which is equally new to most readers, and interesting to the topographer and the biographer. "There was," he remarks, "in former times, a house of amusement called the 'Jew's Harp,' with bowery tea-gardens and thickly-foliaged snuggeries, near what now is the top of Portland Place. Mr. Onslow, the Speaker of the House of Commons in the reign of George II., used to resort thither in plain attire when able to escape from his chair of office, and, sitting in the chimney-corner, to join in the humours of the other guests and customers. This he continued to do for some time, until one day he unfortunately happened to be recognized by the landlord, as he was riding, or rather driving, in his carriage of state down to the Houses of Parliament; and, in consequence, he found, on the occasion of his next visit, that his incognito had been betrayed. This broke the charm—for him, at least; and, like the fairies in the legend, he 'never returned there any more again from that day.'" From Ben Jonson's play, The Devil's an Ass, act i., scene 1, it appears that it was formerly the custom to keep in taverns a fool, who, for the edification of customers, used to sit on a stool and play the Jew's harp, or some other humble instrument. The Jew's harp, we may add, was an instrument formerly called jeu trompe, i.e., toy-trumpet. There was another tavern, with tea-gardens, bearing the same sign at Islington, down to the end of last century.
Mr. J. T. Smith, in his "Book for a Rainy Day," under date of 1772, gives us the following graphic sketch of this locality at that period:—"My dear mother's declining state of health," he writes, "urged my father to consult Dr. Armstrong, who recommended her to rise early and take milk at the cow-house. I was her companion then; and I well remember that, after we had passed Portland Chapel, there were fields all the way on either side. The highway was irregular, with here and there a bank of separation; and that when we had crossed the New Road, there was a turnstile (fn. 3) at the entrance of a meadow, leading to a little old public-house, the sign of the 'Queen's Head and Artichoke;' it was much weather-beaten, though, perhaps, once a tolerably good portrait of Queen Elizabeth. . . . A little beyond a nest of small houses contiguous was another turnstile, opening also into fields, over which we walked to the 'Jew's Harp House Tavern and Tea-Gardens.' It consisted of a large upper room, ascended by an outside staircase, for the accommodation of the company on ball nights; and in this room large parties dined. At the south front of these premises was a large semi-circular enclosure with boxes for tea and ale-drinkers, guarded by deal-board soldiers between every box, painted in proper colours. In the centre of this opening were tables and seats placed for the smokers. On the eastern side of the house there was a trapball-ground; the western side served for a tennis-hall; there were also public and private skittle-grounds. Behind this tavern were several small tenements, with a pretty good portion of ground to each. On the south of the teagardens a number of summer-houses and gardens, fitted up in the truest cockney taste; for on many of these castellated edifices wooden cannons were placed; and at the entrance of each domain, of about the twentieth part of an acre, the old inscription of 'Steel-traps and spring-guns all over these grounds,' with an 'N.B.—Dogs trespassing, will be shot.' In these rural retreats the tenant was usually seen on Sunday evening in a bright scarlet waistcoat, ruffled shirt, and silver shoebuckles, comfortably taking his tea with his family, honouring a Seven-Dial friend with a nod on his peregrination to the famed Wells of Kilburn. William's Farm, the extent of my mother's walk, stood at about a quarter of a mile south; and I remember that the room in which she sat to take the milk was called 'Queen Elizabeth's Kitchen,' and that there was some stained glass in the windows."
At the top of Portland Place, close to the station on the Metropolitan Railway, stands the "Green Man" tavern. It occupies the site of the old "Farthing Pie House"—a sign not uncommon in the suburbs in the early part of the eighteenth century—of which we have already given an illustration. (fn. 4)
Farther westward along the Marylebone Road, nearly opposite Chapel Street and the entrance to Lisson Grove, is a house bearing the well-known sign of the "Yorkshire Stingo." This tavern is memorable as the house from which the first pair of London omnibuses were started, July 4th, 1829, by the introducer of that conveyance into London, Mr. John Shillibeer, having already, for several months, been adopted in the streets of Paris. They were drawn by three horses abreast, and were such a novelty, that the neighbours used to come out from their houses in order to see them start. They ran to the Bank and back, and were constructed to carry twenty-two passengers, all inside; the fare was a shilling, or sixpence for half the distance, a sum which included the luxury of the use of a newspaper. It is said that the first conductors were the two sons of a British naval officer. It was not till several years afterwards that the outside of omnibuses was made available for passengers, and the "knife-board" along the roof is quite a modern invention. Mr. Shillibeer is widely known in connection with the funeral carriages which bear his name; but the benefits which he conferred on living inside passengers as well ought not to be forgotten. There is "nothing new, however, under the sun," and the omnibus is little more than a modification or improvement of the old Greenwich stage of the time of George IV.
Nearly adjoining the "Yorkshire Stingo" on the east are the Baths and Washhouses for the parish of Marylebone, to which we have already had occasion to allude, in our account of Paddington. (fn. 5) These baths and washhouses were among the first of the kind erected in the metropolis; the building, which is a fine structure, was erected from the designs of Mr. Eales. As we learn from Weale's work on "London," these institutions, which have within the last twenty years rapidly increased in London as well as in the country, originated in a public meeting held at the Mansion House, in 1844, when a large subscription was raised to build an establishment to serve as a model for others which it was anticipated would be erected, when it had been proved that the receipts, at the very low rate of charge contemplated, would be sufficient to cover the expenses, and gradually to repay the capital invested. The committee then appointed partially completed the model establishment in Goulston Square, Whitechapel, in 1847, and opened forty baths to the public, the demand for which by the working classes has established beyond doubt the soundness of the principles which actuated the committee; and such was the attention attracted to the subject by its proceedings, that the Government, at the suggestion and instigation of the late Rev. Sir Henry Dukinfield, Bart., the then Rector of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, induced Parliament to pass an Act to enable boroughs and parishes to raise money on the security of the rates, for the purpose of building baths and washhouses in all parts of the country.
The New Road, connecting the corner of Lisson Grove with the village of Islington, was formed in 1757, not without great opposition from the Duke of Bedford, who succeeded in obtaining the insertion of a clause in the Act forbidding any buildings being erected within fifty feet of either side of the roadway. This accounts for the long gardens which extend in front of the rows of houses on either side, many of which have been converted into stonemasons' yards, though some few have been built upon. This thoroughfare was called the New Road, a name which it retained for a century, when the eastern portion was named the Euston Road, and the western part the Marylebone Road. This road, at the commencement of the present century, was the route taken by the Paddington stage-coach, which travelled twice a day to the City and back. Hone, in his "Year-Book," tells us that "it was driven by the proprietor, or rather, dragged tediously along the clayey road from Paddington to the City in the morning, performing its journey in about two hours and a half, 'quick time!' It returned to Paddington in the evening within three hours from its leaving the City; and this was deemed 'fair time,' considering the necessity for precaution against the accidents of night travelling." In order to explain the length of time occupied by the "Paddington stage" on its way into the City, it should be stated that, after winding its way slowly through the miry ruts of the Marylebone Road, New Road, and Gray's Inn Road, it waited an hour or so at the "Blue Posts," Holborn Bars. The route to the Bank by way of the City Road was as yet a thing unthought of; and the driver of the Hampstead or Paddington stage who first achieved that daring feat was regarded with admiration somewhat akin to that bestowed on the man who first "doubled the Cape" on his way to India.
This allusion to the Paddington stages is curious, in the preface to the Penny Magazine, in 1832:—"In a book upon the poor, published in 1673, called 'The Grand Concern of England Explained,' we find the following singular proposal:—'That the multitude of stage-coaches and caravans, now travelling upon the roads, may all, or most of them, be suppressed, especially those within forty, fifty, or sixty miles of London.' The evil of the stagecoaches is somewhat difficult to be perceived at the present day; but this ingenious author had no doubt whatever on the matter, 'for,' says he, 'will any man keep a horse for himself, and another for his man, all the year, for to ride one or two journeys, that at pleasure, when he hath occasion, can step to any place where his business lies, for two, three, or four shillings, if within twenty miles of London, and so proportionably into any part of England?' We laugh at the lamentation over the evil of stage-coaches, because we daily see or experience the benefits of the thousands of public conveyances carrying forward the personal intercourse of a busy population, and equally useful whether they run from Paddington to the Bank, or from the General Post Office to Edinburgh."
Mr. Loudoun, as far back as the reign of George IV., proposed the formation of a promenade or boulevard round what were then the outskirts of London, by combining the New Road westwards along this course to Hyde Park, thence crossing the Serpentine, and coming out opposite Sloane Street; then along this road and part of the King's Road to Vauxhall Bridge, and thence across Lambeth and Southwark to Blackheath, and through Greenwich Park, and on a high viaduct across the Thames; so by the City Road back to the New Road. The "northern boulevard," which it was intended to have planted with trees, was to have been extended westwards from the "Yorkshire Stingo" down the centre of Oxford and Cambridge Terraces; but difficulties intervened, and the road was never carried out according to the original design. Had this great work been carried out in its entirety, it is possible that the outlying districts of London might have been better protected from the depredations of footpads and highwaymen, which at one time would seem to have been the rule rather than the exception. That Marylebone, in the middle of the last century, was one of the worst neighbourhoods in this respect, numerous records will prove. We have already mentioned some instances in our account of Marylebone Gardens: (fn. 6) and we may add that we read in the papers of the time that "on the 23rd of July, 1763, one Richard Watson, tollman of Marylebone Turnpike, was found barbarously murdered in his toll-house; upon which, and some attempts made on other toll-houses, the trustees of the turnpikes have come to a resolution to increase the number of the tollgatherers, and furnish them with arms, enjoining them not to keep any money at the toll-bars after eight o'clock at night."
Lisson — or, more properly, Lileston—Grove, occupying the site of what was once Lisson Green, is thus mentioned by Lysons, in his "Environs of London:"—"The manor of Lilestone, containing five hides (now Lisson Green, in the parish of Marylebone), is mentioned in Doomsday-book among the lands of Ossulston Hundred, given in alms. . . . . This manor became the property of the priory of St. John of Jerusalem; on the suppression of which it was granted, anno 1548, to Thomas Heneage and Lord Willoughby, who conveyed it in the same year to Edward, Duke of Somerset. On his attainder it reverted to the Crown, and was granted, anno 1564, to Edward Downing, who conveyed it the same year to John Milner, Esq., then lessee under the Crown. After the death of his descendant, John Milner, Esq., anno 1753, it passed under his will to William Lloyd, Esq. The manor of Lisson Green (being then the property of Captain Lloyd, of the Guards) was sold in lots, anno 1792. The largest lot, containing the site of the manor, was purchased by John Harcourt, Esq., M.P."
In Marylebone Road, at the corner of Lisson Grove, is the Philological School, a handsome Gothic building, of red briek, with stone dressings. It was founded in 1792, and is now in union with King's College. Education is here afforded, almost free of cost, to a certain number of boys, the sons of professional gentlemen, who have suffered under the blows of fortune.
At a lonely public-house at the corner of this street, the tradition is that foot-travellers, at the end of the last century, used to collect their forces and examine their fire-arms before attempting the dangerous crossing of "Lisson Fields."
As the streets about were few, and the space to the north was an open field, Lisson Grove was a favourite neighbourhood for artists, especially on account of the excellence of the light. Not far off, along the New Road, lived John Martin, R.A., the painter of the "Deluge," the "Destruction of Babylon," and other sacred subjects, so familiar to most persons by the aid of the engraver's art. "Martin's pictures," says Dr. Waagen, "unite in a high degree the three qualities which the English require above all in works of art—effect; a fanciful invention, inclining to melancholy; and topographical historic truth." And at the hospitable table of a great lover of art, in Chapel Street, would assemble a goodly band of actual and future associates and members of the Royal Academy, the immediate predecessors of Landseer.
At one time this street contained a chapel of ease, which gave its name to the street, and of which the late Rev. Basil Woodd was the minister. The street connects the Edgware Road and Paddington with the New Road. In it are the Metropolitan Railway Company's Store Departments, and also the Locomotive Carriage and Permanent Way Departments, as we have already mentioned.
Leigh Hunt, the gossiping chronicler of the "Old Court Suburb," was for some time a resident in this neighbourhood. "When Leigh Hunt resided in the New Road," says Cyrus Redding, in his "Fifty Years' Recollections," "I spent many an evening with him, pleasant, informing, and varied by conversation on subjects that chance brought up, or association introduced stealthily."
In the Post Boy of January 1, 1711–12, mention is made of the "Two White Balls," as the sign of a school at Marylebone, in which "Latin, French, Mathematics, &c., were taught." The notice adds that "in the same house there lives a clergyman, who teaches to write well in three days!" The locality at one time had about it an air of quietude and seclusion; but of late years a number of small streets have sprung up in the neighbourhood of the Edgware Road and Lisson Grove, and altogether it has now become, for the most part, poor and squalid; yet it is certain that this parish is by no means the poorest in London, and by no means the worst in general sanitary arrangements of the houses of the poor. Yet even here there were till lately, and it is to be feared there still are, many houses which are not "fit for human habitation." Dr. Whitmore, the medical officer of the Board of Health for the parish, in his report in 1874, draws a terrible picture of the existing dwellings of the poor in that locality, showing the necessity of still more stringent powers than are possessed by the Artisans and Labourers' Dwellings Act, in order to compel the owners of such disgraceful property to do their duty by their tenants. Dr. Whitmore draws attention more especially to several tenements in Marylebone. "One of these," he then remarks, "contains nineteen rooms, which would appear to have been originally constructed with especial disregard to order in arrangement, uniformity, and convenience. Every part of this miserable abode is in a ruinous and dilapidated condition: the flooring of the rooms and staircases is worn into holes, and broken away; the plaster is crumbling from the walls; the roofs let in the wind and rain; the drains are very defective; and the general aspect of the place is one of extreme wretchedness. The number of persons living in this house is forty-seven." He adds that his first impulse was to condemn the house as unfit for human habitation, but that he hesitated to do so, fearing to drive the poor inhabitants into rooms more foul and squalid still. It will scarcely, we imagine, be believed by our grandchildren that such things could have happened in the thirty-eighth year of Queen Victoria's reign in so wealthy a district as this.
In Church Street, which connects the Grove and Edgware Roads, is the Royal Alfred Theatre. This place of amusement is celebrated for its sensational dramas and cheap prices. It was first opened in 1842, as a "penny theatre," under the name of the "Marylebone." It was enlarged in 1854 to hold 2,000 persons; and more recently the name has been altered to the "Royal Alfred." Many of Shakespeare's plays have been performed here. Close by, on the west side of the Edgware Road, another large establishment, where entertainment is nightly provided, is the Metropolitan Music Hall. In Church Street, between Carlisle and Salisbury Streets, is Portman Market, which was established many years ago for the sale of hay and straw, and also for butter, poultry, butchers' meat, and other provisions. It is largely frequented by the inhabitants of the surrounding streets of the artisan class.
On the east side of Lisson Grove we find ourselves once more among the "squares," but they are of modern growth, and consist, for the most part, of middle-class residences. They are named respectively Blandford Square, Harewood Square, and Dorset Square. In Blandford Square is the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, 'dedicated to St. Edward. This foundation owes its existence to the exertions of the late Rev. John Hearne, of the Sardinian Chapel, in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and his brother, the Rev. Edward Hearne, of Warwick Street Chapel. The community was established in 1844, and for a few years carried on their works of charity in the neighbourhood of Queen Square, Bloomsbury, where the convent was first founded. Their chief duties while there, as we learn from the "Catholic Hand-book," were the visitation of the sick poor and the instruction of adults. But possessing no means of carrying out the other objects of the institute—namely, the "education of poor children," and the "protection of distressed women of good character," they became desirous of building a convent, with schools and a House of Mercy attached to it. In 1849, the ground on which the present Convent of St. Edward stands was selected as an eligible site for the building required; and the sisters having opened a subscription-list and obtained sufficient funds to begin with, the erection was commenced early in the following year, from the designs of Mr. Gilbert Blount. In 1851, the community removed from Queen Square to their present home. School-rooms have since been erected in connection with the convent; and in 1853 the "House of Mercy," dedicated to "Our Blessed Lady and St. Joseph," was erected, at the expense of Mr. Pagliano. This house is for the admission and protection of young women of good character, who are intended for service, or who may be for a time out of employment. Girls of fourteen or fifteen usually remain here for two years, till trained for service; and those who have already been in service till they are provided by the sisters with suitable situations. While in the house, they are employed in needlework, housework, washing, ironing, &c. There is an extensive laundry attached to the House of Mercy, and the profits arising therefrom are the principal support of this institution.
In Blandford Street, Dorset Square, Michael Faraday, as we have already stated in our notice of the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, (fn. 7) was apprenticed to a bookbinder, named Ribeau, in a small way of business. Faraday was placed here by his friends when only nine years of age, and continued in the occupation till he was twenty-one. The circumstances that occasioned Faraday to exchange the work-room of the binder for the laboratory of the chemist have been thus forcibly related:—
"Ned Magrath, formerly secretary to the Athenæum, happening, many years ago, to enter the shop of Ribeau, observed one of the bucks of the paper bonnet zealously studying a book he ought to have been binding. He approached; it was a volume of the old Britannica, open at 'Electricity.' He entered into talk with the journeyman, and was astonished to find in him a self-taught chemist, of no slender pretensions. He presented him with a set of tickets for Davy's lectures at the Royal Institution: and daily thereafter might the nondescript be seen perched, pen in hand, and his eyes starting out of his head, just over the clock opposite the chair. At last the course terminated; but Faraday's spirit had received a new impulse, which nothing but dire necessity could have restrained; and from that he was saved by the promptitude with which, on his forwarding a modest outline of his history, with the notes he had made of these lectures, to Davy, that great and good man rushed to the assistance of kindred genius. Sir Humphrey immediately appointed him an assistant in the laboratory; and after two or three years had passed, he found Faraday qualified to act as his secretary." His career in after life we have already narrated.
In Harewood Square lived, for the last thirty or forty years, the self-taught sculptor, John Graham Lough, and here he died in 1876. Sir George Hayter, many years serjeant-painter to the Queen, and "painter of miniatures and portraits" to the Princess Charlotte and to the King of the Belgians, was for many years a resident in this square, and subsequently in Blandford Square. Sir George Hayter is perhaps best known as the author of the appendix to the "Hortus Ericæus Woburnensis," on the classification of colours. He subsequently removed into the Marylebone Road, and there died, at an advanced age, in January, 1871.
Dorset Square, as we have shown in the previous chapter, covers the site of what, in former times, was a noted cricket-field; and its present name is said to have been given to it "after the great patron of cricket, the Duke of Dorset." In our account of Lord's Cricket-ground (fn. 8) we have entered at some length into the history of the game of cricket; but as this spot was the original "Lord's," it may not be out of place to make here a few additional remarks. Cricket made a great start about the year 1774; and Sir Horace Mann, who had promoted the game in Kent, and the Duke of Dorset and Lord Tankerville, who seem to have been the leaders of the Surrey and Hants Elevens, conjointly with other noblemen and gentlemen, formed a committee, under the presidency of Sir William Draper. They met at the "Star and Garter," in Pall Mall, and laid down the first rules of cricket, which very rules form the basis of the laws of cricket of this day. The Marylebone Club first played their matches at "Lord's," when it occupied this site. It would be superfluous to say anything about the Marylebone Club, as the rules of this club are the only rules recognised as authentic throughout the world, wherever cricket is played.
Eastward of this square, and connecting the Park Road with Marylebone Road, is Upper Baker Street. In the last house on the eastern side of this street lived the tragic muse, Mrs. Siddons, as we are informed by a medallion lately placed on its front. The house contains a few memorials of the great actress; and among them, on the staircase, is a small side window of painted glass, designed and put up by her: it contains medallion portraits of Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Cowley, and Dryden. The dining and drawing-rooms, and also what was the music-room, have bow windows looking north, and commanding a view across the park to Hampstead. It is worthy of remark that, when the houses of Cornwall Terrace were about to be brought close up to the gate of the park, Mrs. Siddons appealed to the Prince Regent, who kindly gave orders that her country view should be spared. The house, which is still unchanged in its internal arrangements, is now used as the estate office of the Portman property.
Of her acting when in her prime, Cyrus Redding thus writes, in his "Fifty Years' Recollections":—"My very first sight of Mrs. Siddons was in "Queen Catherine." Never did I behold anything more striking than the acting of that wonderful woman; for, no heroine off the boards, she was the ideal of heroic majesty in her personations. I have seen real kings and queens, for the most part ordinary people, and some not very dignified, but in Siddons there was the poetry of royalty, all that hedges round the ideal of majesty—the ideal of those wonderful creations of genius, which rise far beyond the common images exhibited in the world's dim spot. It was difficult to credit that her acting was an illusion. She placed the spectator in the presence of the original; she identified herself with heroic life; she transferred every sense of the spectator into the scenic reality, and made him cast all extraneous things aside. At such times, the crowded and dense audience scarcely breathed; the painted scenery seemed to become one, and live with the character before it. Venice, Rome were there, not their representations. Another moment, and there was no object seen but that wonderful woman, because even the clever adjuncts vanished as if of too little moment to engross attention. If her acting were not genius, it was the nearest thing to it upon record. In 'Lady Macbeth' she made the beholders shiver; a thrill of horror seemed to run through the house; the audience—thousands in number, for every seat was filled, even the galleries—the audience was fearstricken. A sorcerer seemed to have hushed the breathing of the spectators into the inactivity of fear, as if it were the real fact that all were on the verge of some terrible catastrophe." Some one remarked once to Mrs. Siddons that applause was necessary to actors, as it gave them confidence. "More," replied the actress; "it gives us breath. It is that we live on."
We learn from "Musical and Theatrical Anecdotes," that Mrs. Siddons, in the meridian of her glory, received £1,000 for eighty nights (i.e., about £12 per night). Mrs. Jordan's salary, in her meridian, amounted to thirty guineas per week. John Kemble, when actor and manager at Covent Garden, was paid £36 per week; Miss O'Neill, £25 per week; George Cook, £20; Lewis, £20, as actor and manager. Edwin, the best buffo and burletta singer that ever trod the English stage, only £14 per week.
Mrs. Siddons' father, we are told, had always forbidden her to marry an actor, but, of course—like a true woman—she chose a member of the old gentleman's company, whom she secretly wedded. When Roger Kemble heard of it, he was furious. "Have I not," he exclaimed, "dared you to marry a player?" The lady replied, with downcast eyes, that she had not disobeyed. "What! madam, have you not allied yourself to about the worst performer in my company?" "Exactly so," murmured the timid bride; "nobody can call him an actor."
"I remember Mrs. Siddons," says Campbell, in his life of that lady, "describing to me the scene of her probation on the Edinburgh boards with no small humour. 'The grave attention of my Scottish countrymen, and their canny reservation of praise till they are sure it is deserved,' she said, had wellnigh worn out her patience. She had been used to speak to animated clay, but she now felt as if she had been speaking to stones. Successive flashes of her elocution, that had always been sure to electrify the south, fell in vain on those northern flints. At last, as I well remember, she told me she coiled up her powers to the most emphatic possible utterance of one passage, having previously vowed in her heart that, if this could not touch the Scotch, she would never again cross the Tweed. When it was finished, she paused, and looked to the audience. The deep silence was broken only by a single voice exclaiming, 'That's no bad!' This ludicrous parsimony of praise convulsed the Edinburgh audience with laughter. But the laugh was followed by such thunders of applause, that, amidst her stunned and nervous agitation, she was not without fears of the galleries coming down."
Mrs. Siddons retired from the stage in the zenith of her fame, in June, 1812, after appearing for the last time in her favourite character of "Lady Macbeth." She appeared, however, again on two or three particular occasions between that time and 1817, and also gave, about the same time, a course of public readings from Shakespeare at the Argyll Rooms.
By her will, which was made in 1815, Mrs. Siddons left her "leasehold house in Upper Baker Street" to her daughter Cecilia, together with her "carriages, horses, plate, pictures, books, wine, and furniture, and all the money in the house and at the banker's." She also left to her, and to her son George, the inkstand made from a portion of the mulberry-tree planted by Shakespeare, and the pair of gloves worn by the bard himself, which were given to her by Mrs. Garrick. Mrs. Siddons herself, as stated above, lies buried in Paddington Churchyard.
In this same street lived for some years Richard Brothers, who, during the years 1792–4, had much disturbed the minds of the credulous by his "prophecies." He had been a lieutenant in the navy. Among other extravagances promulgated by this man, he styled himself the "Nephew of God;" he predicted the destruction of all sovereigns, the downfall of the naval power of Great Britain, and the restoration of the Jews, who, under him as their prince and deliverer, were to be re-seated at Jerusalem; all these things were to be accomplished by the year 1798. In the meantime, however, as might be expected, Mr. Brothers was removed to a private madhouse, where he remained till 1806, when he was discharged by the authority of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Erskine. He died at his residence in this street in 1824, and was buried at St. John's Wood Cemetery, as already stated.
A little beyond the top of Upper Baker Street, on the way to St. John's Wood, is the warehouse of Messrs. Tilbury for storing furniture, &c. The name of Tilbury is and will long be known in London on account of the fashionable carriage invented by the Messrs. Tilburys' grandfather in the days of the Regency, and called a Tilbury, which was succeeded by the Stanhope. Each had its day, and both have been largely superseded by the modern cabriolet, though every now and then the light and airy Tilbury re-asserts its existence in the London parks.