Survey of London: Volume 36, Covent Garden. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1970.
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Nos. 23–31 (odd) and 18–26 (even) Wellington Street
Of the present Wellington Street only the part north of Exeter Street lies within the area described in this volume. Of this part, only the short section between Exeter Street and Tavistock Street was made at the same time as the more southerly portion leading up from the Strand: north of Tavistock Street was an existing street of which the name was only subsequently changed from Charles Street to Wellington Street (see pages 195–6).
Wellington Street from the Strand to Tavistock Street was made in 1833–5 by the Commissioners of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues under an Act of Parliament of September 1831. (fn. 3) Its construction had been made feasible by the burning down in February 1830 of the English Opera House, which had stood athwart this line (Plate 8). The street linked the Strand, opposite the northern approaches of Waterloo Bridge, to Long Acre: the widening of the north end of Bow Street was carried out by the Commissioners at the same time (see pages 186–7). The new line of communication was beneficial to the proprietors of Waterloo Bridge, who offered to contribute £5,000 to its cost. (fn. 4)
The property involved belonged to a number of owners. South of a line running along the northern boundary of the present No. 18 Wellington Street it belonged to the Marquis of Exeter, and north of that line to the sixth Duke of Bedford (on the west side of the street) and to Captain Richard Clay and other individuals (on the east side). (fn. 5) The land required for the roadway from the Marquis of Exeter was obtained mainly by exchange for land fronting on its west side, where the new English Opera House or Lyceum Theatre was built by Samuel Beazley for Lord Exeter's lessee, S. J. Arnold. (fn. 1) The Duke of Bedford's land was obtained from him for a 'nominal sum', (fn. 6) and Captain Clay's smaller piece of land apparently by exchange for a piece of newly created frontage at the corner of the intended street and York Street. (fn. 7) Most of the remaining cost of acquiring the land was in the purchase of the various leasehold interests. (fn. 8)
Only the minimum ground necessary for the line of the street itself was acquired by the Commissioners, with hardly any ground fronting on the street. Where the properties purchased necessarily included some of the new street frontages these parts were almost all immediately sold or exchanged back to the landlords, together with any leasehold interests acquired by the Commissioners in such parts. (fn. 9) Thus the buildings along the new street were erected under leases from the old landlords. (fn. 2)
The plan of the proposed street, by the Commissioners' architects, Thomas Chawner and Henry Rhodes, was deposited with the Clerk of the Peace for Westminster in December 1831. (fn. 11) Houses in the Strand were being demolished in September 1833. (fn. 12) The southern part of the roadway was sufficiently complete for the Lyceum Theatre to be opened in July 1834. (fn. 13) The rest of the street was opened early in 1835. (fn. 14)
The street was at first generally called Wellington Street North (fn. 15) to distinguish it from the existing Wellington Street (now Lancaster Place) which extended from Waterloo Bridge to the south side of the Strand.
In 1840, soon after the street was completed, (Sir) James Pennethorne, one of the architects then employed by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, gave evidence before a Select Committee of the House of Commons on improvements to the metropolis. He was concerned to argue that the Commissioners should purchase sufficient ground on both sides of the proposed Coventry Street-Cranbourn Street extension, and not merely the ground for the roadway itself. The contrary policy followed in the northern part of Wellington Street had been, he considered, 'a complete failure'. (fn. 16)
The length of time that it had taken to open the street since the passing of the requisite Act had certainly caused dissatisfaction. In December 1834 the Committee of Management of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, had sent to the First Commissioner of Works an outspoken complaint at the slow rate of progress. Since 1830 'the neighbourhood has been in a most deplorable state, and many of its Inhabitants have been severe sufferers. . . . Instances have but too recently occurred where housekeepers have been driven to the Workhouse and the Gaol. This picture is not overdrawn.' More recent street improvements in the City were already completed 'whilst the short opening from Exeter Street to Charles Street—scarcely 200 yards in length—remains month after month and year after year without much visible progress towards completion'. (fn. 17) The Companion to the Almanac for 1835 commented that 'upon the whole, this improvement has not been carried forward with the spirit which has marked other things of the same kind'. (fn. 18) The need to arrange compensatory exchanges of pieces of land did not help the work forward, and in July 1834 Chawner and Rhodes were attributing the delay in completing the street northward of the Lyceum Theatre to Lord Exeter's failure to settle the ground rents of frontages with his lessees. (fn. 19)
Despite Pennethorne's strictures the buildings fronting on the new street between Exeter Street and Tavistock Street did not stand unoccupied for an exceptionally long period. The houses on the west side were first assessed for rates in 1835 and on the east side (except for the site of the present No. 18) in 1836. All the houses (with this exception) were occupied in 1836–7. (fn. 20) The shop and factory at No. 18 was built in 1839 (see below). Pennethorne's complaint of 'complete failure' perhaps refers to the unsatisfactory nature of the tenants: by 1840 nine of the houses had had a change of occupant, and three of these occupants had become insolvent. (fn. 20)
The degree of architectural control exercised over this short extent of street by the Commissioners is difficult to assess. They evidently claimed a right to approve the elevations in the interest of visual uniformity. (fn. 21) How far their control was effective there is insufficient evidence to say, as four of the five houses on the west side have been pulled down. The east side north of No. 18, consisting of frontages belonging to Captain Clay (Nos. 20, 22, and 24) and a corner site (No. 26) bought from the Commissioners by a builder, Stephen Bird of Kensington, did achieve uniformity. (fn. 22) This is probably attributable to Samuel Beazley, who was acting as Captain Clay's surveyor in respect of Nos. 20, 22 and 24 (and in the rebuilding of No. 6 York Street, now No. 32 Tavistock Street). (fn. 23) Stephen Bird, as well as being the purchaser of the corner site, was the Commissioners' contractor for laying the sewers in the street, (fn. 24) and was the Duke of Bedford's building lessee at the sites of Nos. 27, 29 and 31 on the west side. The Duke's surveyor here was Thomas Stead. (fn. 25)
Of the three buildings erected by lessees of the Marquis of Exeter one remains, the Old Bell public house at the north-west corner with Exeter Street, built in 1835. (fn. 26) The most attention, however, was attracted by the last building to be erected in this part of the street, in 1839, at the north-east corner with Exeter Street, on the present site of No. 18. This was C. F. Bielefeld's papier-mâché works, erected under a building lease from the Marquis dated October 1839. (fn. 27) Journalists found it 'too conspicuous and remarkable an object for us to pass it by unmentioned', and noted the disharmony of a design that expressed the conjunction of ground-floor shop and upper-storey workrooms in harsh brick and stone. (fn. 28) The lofty first stage was raised above a basement plinth and contained the ground storey and mezzanine, lit by a series of large windows recessed between massive piers of channeljointed stone courses. The upper face of three storeys was of red brick, with quoins and entablature of stone. This contained one tier of mullioned-and-transomed windows dressed with stone in a Jacobean fashion, but over these were two low tiers of three-light windows more suggestive of the building's function (fig. 41). The architect was Sydney Smirke, (fn. 29) a fact provoking Fraser's Magazine to remark that 'that gentleman is far from being so strait-laced in his taste as his brother'. As well as tainting the neighbourhood with its smoke, the factory was an insufferable nuisance by reason of the 'hordes of vagabond boys' employed there. (fn. 30) By 1861 Bielefeld was bankrupt and had given up the site. (fn. 31) This is now occupied by the building lately the Victoria Club-house.
No. 18 Wellington Street
This building was erected in 1863–4 for the Victoria Club, a social and sporting club which had been founded in 1860 by a consortium of bookmakers in Blackfriars, and it was here that the call-over of odds before important horse-races was conducted. The architect of the club-house named in The Builder when the tender was published in August 1863 was 'Mr. Parnell', presumably Charles Octavius Parnell, architect of the Army and Navy Club-house and Whitehall Club-house. The builders were Jackson and Shaw, whose tender was accepted at £7,198. (fn. 32)
The Victoria Club-house (Plate 67c) shows a marked decline from the standard of Parnell's earlier essays in the opulent Venetian Renaissance style. While poverty of invention is all too evident in the street elevations, vulgar ostentation pervades the three-bay entrance feature on the curved corner. Here the lofty arched doorway is recessed in a face dressed with a rusticated and enriched Ionic order; the second storey expands forwards with a bowed Venetian window, flanked by round-arched windows; the thirdstorey windows are dressed with pedimented architraves, segmental between triangular, and the crowning cornice is enriched with dentils and modillions.
The entrance hall is a small rotunda, with the doors and windows recessed in bays between plain-shafted Doric columns. These support entablature-blocks, providing the springing for the groined arches of the bays, and for the enriched ribs dividing the domed ceiling into compartments. North of the rotunda is the staircase, rising from ground to first floor in a compartment of flat-sided oval plan. The principal rooms are on the ground and first floors, each with a range of windows on to Exeter Street. In both rooms the ceilings are divided by transverse beams into deeply recessed compartments with coved surrounds, those in the upper room retaining a decoration of large acanthus leaves.