Survey of London: Volume 4, Chelsea, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1913.
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LIX.—THE SITE OF BEAUFORT HOUSE.
In the whole history of Chelsea,—a history which is indeed famous, so many notable men and women has this little village known—the chief interest has centred about Beaufort House. From those early days in the 16th century, when it was the well-loved home of Sir Thomas More, until the 18th, when it was the seat of the Duke of Beaufort, it yielded to no other house in importance, not to King Henry VIII's manor house in Cheyne Walk, nor to the Earl of Shrewsbury's mansion, nor to the old manor house with which it shared the dignity of a proprietary chapel in the old Church. It did not carry with it the lordship of the manor, but its property was extensive, including practically the frontage of the Thames between Milman Street and Church Street, and its gardens stretched northwards as far as the King's Road.
The house stood across the line of the present Beaufort Street and rather nearer King's Road than the river. Between it and the way along the waterside were two large courtyards, and opposite was a quay. The remainder of the estate, south of the present King's Road, was laid out in gardens and orchards, with the exception of the stable buildings, where now is the Moravian Burial Ground, and the farmhouse and barns on the site of Lindsey House. The situation, attractive as it is now, was far lovelier then, when across the Surrey bank was a view of undisturbed wood and pasture.
Sir Thomas [More lived here for some fourteen years until his attainder in 1535. He loved to escape from London and from the Court, and to give himself up to his family and his own literary pursuits in his Chelsea home, and here he entertained many friends, among whom were Erasmus and Holbein. The latter may well have designed the beautiful capitals in the More chapel, in the old church (dated 1528), which show his hand as plainly as the ceiling of the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace, which was executed in 1540.
More's estate (fn. 1) was granted to Sir William Paulet (fn. 2) (first Marquess of Winchester): it was inherited by his son the second Marquess, and in 1575 (fn. 3) passed to Gregory Fiennes, Lord Dacre of the South, and his wife Anne—the foundress of those charming almshouses, Emmanuel Hospital, Westminster, now destroyed—who was a daughter of the Marchioness of Winchester by her former husband, Sir Robert Sackville. Lady Dacre, who died in 1595, left the house to Lord Burleigh, who is said to have lived here, and he was followed by his youngest son, Sir Robert Cecil, afterwards Earl of Salisbury, who took possession in 1597. It is to Cecil's passion for building, which was not exhausted until he had parted with his fortune in completing Hatfield, that we owe the earliest representations on paper of the house at Chelsea. In his Chelsea Old Church Mr. Randall Davies published a reproduction of a beautiful plan of the Chelsea Estate, preserved among the Hatfield papers, and the present writer in some further research among Lord Salisbury's MSS. found five plans to a larger scale, all of which have reference to Cecil's schemes for rebuilding Sir Thomas More's house. For a detailed examination of these plans, the reader is referred to the Architectural Review of March and May, 1911, but by the courtesy of the proprietors of the Review, the reproductions are included here.
This set of plans is of remarkable interest in its bearing on the architectural methods of the time, but their chief historical value lies in the fact that two of them, those on this and the following page, seem to represent the actual ground and first floor of Sir Thomas More's house, before it was touched by Cecil. These two plans are signed by J. Symonds (the author of the valuable measured drawings of Aldgate Priory, also in the Hatfield collection), and they not only represent an older or Tudor type of house, but the figured dimensions are given in fractions of feet or with inches, unlike the schemes for rebuilding,—which is pretty sure evidence of the measurement of an actual building. The eastern wing of the plan, with its covered arcade and long gallery above, may have been added by Lady Dacre—it is certainly later than the time of More. The little chapel should be noticed (with a cross showing the altar) and the room above it, having an opening in the floor, so that those above could share in divine service—the forerunner of the elaborate galleries shown in Cecil's later plans. Note also the inner stair near the chapel, leading to a door which communicates with a long eastern terrace. There is, I think, sufficient evidence to prove that this was built by Sir Thomas More; it appears on both Cecil's estate plan and Kip's view of Beaufort House and is further described in the conveyance to Sir Hans Sloane in 1737.
The plans prepared by Spicer for Cecil show the ground and first floor of one scheme (pp. 22, 23) and the first floor only of a second (p. 24). The site plan is inspired by yet another idea, but it does not seem that any of these were carried out, although some alterations were made; for Dr. King, the rector of Chelsea, to whom we owe so much local information, has stated from his own observations how "in divers places [in the house are] these letters, R. C. and also R. C. E. with the date of the year, viz., 1597; which letters were the initials of his [Cecil's] name and his lady's; and the year 1597, when he new-built or at least new-fronted it." Cecil does not seem to have carried out his larger schemes and he sold the house to Henry Clinton, second Earl of Lincoln, in 1599.
There is a plan (see p. 25) in the collection of drawings by John Thorpe in the Soane Museum, which Mr. J. A. Gotch has identified with tolerable certainty as Beaufort House. Not only does it agree with Kip's view, but it shows the curious little lodges, set anglewise between the two forecourts. Now Thorpe was not necessarily the designer of all the plans in his collection; he seems to have measured up houses as he came across them, and sometimes he failed to give all the particulars with accuracy. However, it seems certain that he was in Chelsea about 1623, when Danvers House was built (the plans of which were also made and perhaps designed by him), and it appears that he took the opportunity of measuring Beaufort House. Although his plan is very unlike the Hatfield schemes, it may well be that it shows more accurately the alterations effected by Cecil, or perhaps begun by him and completed by the Earl of Lincoln. It may be noted that Kip shows Dutch gables on the great house, similar to those on Gorges House, which was built by Lincoln, while Cecil's house at Hatfield is crowned by a level parapet.
Lincoln settled the estate (fn. 4) on Sir Arthur Gorges, who had married his daughter. He lived in the house just mentioned, adjoining the great house, built for him by his father-in-law, and some four years after the latter's death in 1615, he sold Sir Thomas More's house to Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex. (fn. 5) The new owner purchased several additions to the property, including "Brick Barn Close" and "The Sandhills," both north of the King's Road. These he converted into the Park, which is shown in Kip's view and was not built upon until after 1717. Cranfield fell under the displeasure of the King, and in consequence forfeited his property, which Charles I. granted in 1627 to George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham. After the Duke's assassination, the family continued to reside here until the outbreak of the Civil War, when the house was seized by the Parliament, and Mr. Randall Davies (fn. 6) has referred to the record in the Perfect Occurrences of the petition in 1646 of the Duchess of Lennox, Buckingham's daughter, for leave to come to London, or to her house in Chelsea, to be under Dr. Mayerne's hands for her health. The great physician was then living at Lindsey House, the old farmhouse belonging to the estate.
In the account in the Architectural Review (May, 1911) I have summarised the later history of the house as follows:—"After the great house had been occupied during the Commonwealth by the Parliamentary Commissioners, Sir Bulstrode Whitlocke and John Lisle, the second Duke of Buckingham regained possession. Lost to him, through his debts, the house ultimately passed (1674) into the hands of the trustees for George Digby, Earl of Bristol, and his Countess sold it in 1682 to Henry, Marquess of Worcester, afterwards Duke of Beaufort, the house remaining in his family until 1720. It was during this period, about the year 1699, that Kip's beautiful view of the mansion (Plate 22)—now called Beaufort House—was published, a priceless record of the property, so ruthlessly defaced and destroyed by Sir Hans Sloane after he purchased it in 1737. Mr. Randall Davies, whom I have followed in the account of the occupants of the house, has printed the interesting conveyance of the property to Sloane, and if its description is carefully collated with the information in Kip's view, one is struck by the wonderful accuracy of the latter. Here is the great house as shown by Thorpe, its lodges and its forecourts, the wharf, with its brick towers east and west, the orchard and 'one garden environed with brick walls … and a terrace on the north end, with a banqueting house on the east end of the terrace,' as well as 'one great garden … extending from the terrace and banqueting house into the highway on the north.' This banqueting house is alike in detail to the sketch of 'a summer house, Chelsea,' in the Smithson collection of seventeenth-century drawings, now in the possession of Colonel Coke. But valuable as is the representation of the great house, the print has much more information to give us. The great park is there shown in all its original beauty; the Duke of Beaufort's stables and yard, since converted into the historic chapel and burying ground of the Moravians is to the west; and nearer the river the beautiful Jacobean house of Sir Arthur Gorges (our sole evidence of its character and design) and the house and gardens of the Earls of Lindsey. And to the east, below the wide area of Dovecote Close, laid out as a huge kitchen garden, are the fine pleasure grounds of Danvers House, which had been destroyed but three years before the drawing was published."
An interesting description of the work of demolition is given in the MS. autobiography of Edmund Howard, who supervised the pulling down of the house for Sir Hans Sloane in 1739–40. The MS. is in the Chelsea Public Library, but it has been printed by Mr. J. H. Quinn in The Friends Quarterly Examiner (1906).
The remains of Beaufort House are little enough, and consist chiefly of some part of the garden walls, in which a large amount of good Tudor brickwork is to be seen. The long wall running north and south, which divided the gardens of Beaufort House from Dovecote Close and Danvers House still exists, more or less completely, midway between Beaufort Street and Danvers Street, and in it is a blocked Tudor doorway. Part of the wall which bounded the western side of the forecourts is to be found in the Moravian burial ground, and a portion further south, behind the houses on the west side of Beaufort Street.
One other relic there is, which is now at Chiswick—the stone gateway, designed by Inigo Jones, probably the one shown in Kip's view as
opening on to King's Road. It was transferred to its present site on the
destruction of Beaufort House, when it occasioned the following lines by
Oh gate, how com'st thou here ?
I was brought from Chelsea last year,
Battered with wind and weather;
Iaigo Jones put me together,
Sir Hans Sloane
Let me alone,
Burlington brought me hither.
Old prints, drawings, etc.
In the Council's ms. collection are:—
Several photographs of Tudor brickwork (garden walls).
(fn. 7) Photograph of the gateway, now at Chiswick.
Another photograph of the same.