CHAPTER 17: ADAM STREET
At the time when the Adelphi was built the custom of numbering
houses was just coming into general use, and the Adelphi houses though they
were at first referred to according to their position in the street (see e.g. the
lottery particulars quoted on p. 100) were soon given numbers. The
intersecting streets seem, however, to have caused the numerators some
difficulty, and most of the corner houses were numbered in two streets. In
Adam Street the east side was numbered consecutively 1–11 from south to
north, but Nos. 12–15 appear to have been assigned to the houses at the
corners of the Strand. Nos. 16 and 17 were on the west side between the
Strand and John Street. They were pulled down circa 1920. No. 18 was
also numbered in John Street. No. 19 lay between John Street and Adelphi
Terrace and was demolished with the rest of the island site in 1936. No. 20
was renumbered as 1A, Adelphi Terrace, in 1845.
Nos. 1 and 2.—These premises correspond in position and design to
those at the south-west corner of Robert Street. The south front has the
characteristic ornamental pilasters, while the attic storey has on the return
face a shallow pediment containing a cartouche bearing the arms of Adam
At some time during the nineteenth century a one-storey building was
erected on the southern forecourt (see Plate 71a), thereby impairing the
general appearance of the front. Since 1906 a second storey has been added
(Plate 71b). The entrance to Nos. 1 and 2, which, during the greater part
of their existence, have been combined, has a wood casing with carved
pilasters and frieze. On each side are interesting cast-iron lamp standards
similar to those of No. 13, John Street, illustrated on Plate 100a.
The entrance hall has a screen of Doric columns and beyond it the
main staircase continues by a series of oak winders to the first floor (Plate 75b).
The landing has an arched recess enclosing Ionic columns and responds
supporting a blocked entablature, and double mahogany doors with carved
mouldings to the panels. The staircase well, semicircular on plan, continues
to the top floor and is provided with a skylight. The passage way continues
across the side of the well to the upper floors while a decorative band indicates
the floor levels. The north room on the first floor has a ceiling with a circular
design enclosing a painted panel, and there is also a good carved pine
mantelpiece, which was originally in Adelphi Terrace (see Plate 84a).
No. 3.—With the exception of a decorative ceiling to the front room
on the principal floor, the premises are devoid of any internal features of
interest. The ceiling has a circular device with small panels containing painted
classical subjects, but is not on the whole a very successful composition.
Nos. 4 and 5 have a carved doorcase forming a common entrance and
stairs screened by a glass enclosure. On the first floor the front room to No. 4
has the ceiling decorated with a broad oval band containing a series of
medallions between vases and swags (Plate 106a). The front room on the first
floor of No. 5 is well proportioned. It has a ceiling of geometrical design and
a painted central panel. The mantelpiece is of carved pine which has been carefully pickled. There is also a good contemporary cast-iron grate (Plate 106b).
No. 6.—The front room on the principal floor has an ornamental
ceiling consisting of a central panel surrounded by eight plaster medallions
containing classical subjects interspaced with radiating foliated bands and scrolls.
No. 7.—The front of these premises is more ornate than that of the
adjoining houses, as it forms the climax of the vista from the western end of
John Street (Plate 92). The exterior is divided into three vertical bays by
ornamental pilasters while the attic storey terminates with a shallow pediment
containing a cartouche similar to that on the southern front of No. 1. The
windows still retain their cast-iron balconies. The entrance has a semicircular
fanlight with radiating bars, and carved pilasters and frieze to the door case.
The front room on the chief floor has an ornamental ceiling with a painted
No. 8.—Nothing of special interest except a good entrance doorcase
similar in character to those at Nos. 7 and 9.
No. 9.—The front room on the first floor has a good ceiling with
a painted oval centre panel and a handsome statuary marble mantelpiece
which was formerly in No. 4, Adelphi Terrace (Plate 79a). The cellars
under the roadway parallel with the front of this house are known locally
as Fagin's kitchen and have been recently fitted up as a board room, etc.
They make very good
design of the ceiling of
the front room on the
principal floor consists
of an oval band of
ornamentation representing vases and
wreaths similar to that
in No. 4 (see Plate
106a). The wood mantelpiece conforms to the
curved face of the wall
of the room.
No. 19 (demolished).—The chief
rooms in No. 19 had
carved wood mantelpieces and decorative
ceilings with painted
No. 19, Adam Street. Ceiling from front room on first floor
The staircases in most of the houses are top lighted and of wood
construction with plain bar balustradings.
Condition of Repair.
Nos. 1 and 2—Institution of Naval Architects; No. 3—Messrs. Hardisty, Rhodes &
Hardisty; Nos. 4 and 5—Mr. George Gee; No. 6—Actors' Benevolent Institution; No. 7—The Lancet; Nos. 8 and 9—Russell House (Adelphi) Ltd.; No. 10—Captain Alan Dower, M.P.
Nos. 1 and 2.— The first occupant of No. 2 was John Arnold, one of the earliest makers of
marine timekeepers and the first to give them the name of chronometers. He made several
improvements on the instruments with which John Harrison had won the reward offered by
Parliament for a method of finding the longitude at sea. He also perfected a standard model which
could be produced in comparatively large quantities by skilled workmen. His contemporary,
Thomas Earnshaw, was working along much the same lines, and there was considerable rivalry
between the two men. In 1780 Arnold published a book at No. 2, Adam Street, which contained
"An Account of the Going, during Thirteen Months, at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich of
a Pocket Chronometer Invented and Made by John Arnold." Arnold's son, John Roger Arnold,
afterwards had a clockmaker's shop at No. 84, Strand.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Nos. 1 and 2 were in the same occupation. The
Rev. Vicesimus Knox, miscellaneous writer, took these houses in 1812, when he resigned his post
as head master of Tonbridge, a position which his father of the same name held before him, and
which his son, Thomas, occupied after him. His original writings soon fell into oblivion, but his
Elegant Extracts, of which he published several volumes, retained their popularity for a considerable
number of years. After his death, in 1821, his elder son, Vicesimus, continued to reside in Adam
The New Zealand Colonisation Company and its secretary, John Ward, the diplomatist,
occupied these premises in 1840–1.
William Bridges Adams, the inventor of the fish-joint for railway rails, and his wife,
Sarah Flower Adams, the hymn writer, were here for a short time in 1844.
The Palestine Exploration Fund had its offices here in 1881, the year in which Walter,
afterwards Sir Walter, Besant, then its secretary, edited the Survey of Western Palestine.
Sir John Scott, judicial adviser to the Khedive of Egypt, 1891–8, had his London residence
at Nos. 1 and 2, Adam Street, in 1899.
No. 3.—The Spanish Consul occupied part of this house from 1851 until 1863.
Nos. 4 and 5.—In 1805 these two houses were taken and fitted up for the Commissioners
for Auditing Public Accounts.
William Butterfield, architect, had his office at No. 4 from 1844–56, and his more famous
son of the same name from 1854–89. The latter, among other works, designed the churches of All
Saints', Margaret Street, and of St. Alban's, Holborn.
No. 6.—William Adam, the youngest of the four "Adelphi," occupied this house when it
was first built. He seems to have looked after the financial and business dealings of the brothers. The
only part of the Adelphi buildings which has been definitely ascribed to him is the bridge over
William Street, built for Thomas Coutts, but that he had architectural ability is proved by his
designs for the Houses of Parliament preserved in the Adam Collection at the Soane Museum. He
died in 1822, having outlived the rest of the family by more than 20 years.
No. 7.—Alderman Christopher Smith, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1817–18,
occupied this house from 1814 until his death in 1835.
Sir Culling Eardley Eardley, who spent a great part of his life working for religious freedom
in different parts of the world, used this as his London house from 1859 until his death in 1863.
His son, Sir Eardley Gideon Culling Eardley, succeeded him at the house.
No. 8.—Sir Richard Arkwright was rated for No. 8, Adam Street, from 1788 until his
death in 1792. He was described by Carlyle as "a plain, almost gross, bag-cheeked, pot-bellied
Lancashire man, with an air of painful reflection," and was the inventor of the spinning-frame and the
first manufacturer of cotton goods on a large scale through the use of water power and later of steam.
During the last 10 years of his life Arkwright was constantly engaged in lawsuits concerning his
patents and had frequently to visit London in connection therewith, and it was probably for this
reason that he took the house in the Adelphi.
Sir Richard Arkwright
Thomas Brassey, railway contractor, who was responsible for the erection of railways in
many parts of the world, had his office in this house in 1848, and Thomas Roger Smith, architect,
who designed a number of public buildings in Bombay and London, was there in 1859.
No. 11.—Joseph Locke, civil engineer, who had been articled to George Stephenson in
1823, and was responsible for the construction of many miles of railway in the British Isles and
abroad, occupied No. 11, Adam Street, in 1848–51, when he was M.P. for Honiton.
No. 16.—Thomas Stewardson, portrait painter, occupied this house from 1813 until
1826, and much of his best work was done here.