Survey of London: Volume 4, Chelsea, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1913.
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LIII.–LVII.—Nos. 7, 9 (LITTLE DANVERS HOUSE), 11, 13, 15, DANVERS STREET, ON THE SITE OF DANVERS HOUSE.
Ground landlord, leaseholders, etc.
General description and date of structure.
The original house built for Sir John Danvers in 1623, occupied a position which was roughly central with the present Danvers Street, its western wing being on the site of the houses mentioned above. In excavating for the foundations of Crosby Hall, remains were discovered of walls of considerable thickness, but the ground had been disturbed by the later buildings, and it was not possible to trace them for any distance. (See A-A, plan below).
Danvers House was apparently condemned in 1696 (the date of the tablet described on p. 8) and new houses were commenced immediately on each side of the main approach, which now forms the southern end of the new street. The first houses to be erected seem to have been those at the south-west corner, and of these No. 7 was probably the only survivor. It had, however, been refronted and was in a very mutilated state before demolition and there was no feature which could be dated with certainty to the 17th century. It was distinguished from the other houses by its coat of plaster, both back and front, and was picturesque from the western or garden side.
Nos. 9—15 appear to have been built some years later, probably about 1720, when Danvers House itself was demolished. (fn. 1) No. 9, which was called Little Danvers House, was the most interesting, and its fittings were of more elaborate design than those of Nos. 11–15. The street front was of three storeys beside a basement, the top floor being lighted by dormer windows at the back. The elevation was symmetrically designed with three windows to each floor, the front door taking the place of one window at the ground level, and the north window on the second floor being blocked. The windows had their original frames and the sashes were of early date. There was an excellent hood on shaped brackets over the front door, and an interesting, though imperfect, wrought iron panel in the railings in front, which were evidently contemporary with the house.
The plan was of the usual type of the early 18th century, each floor having two rooms, back and front, the space for staircase and a "powder room" projection at the rear. The ground and first floors were panelled throughout, the lower rooms and staircase having panels with a small ovolo moulding only. The back rooms on the first floor also followed this detail, the front room alone having raised panels. There were fine heavily moulded wood cornices throughout, dado and architrave mouldings of good section, and stone chimney-pieces of simple design. The staircase had a continuous moulded string, the newels being shaped like Doric columns and capped by the handrail, which was supported by turned balusters. The basement retained much of its original joinery, including the shaped laths which were fixed above the cupboards for ventilation. The whole house was a most complete and unspoiled example of its date.
No. 11 was similar to No. 9 in its back elevation, and was also furnished with a similar staircase and panelling. Its front, however, was a modern re-modelling, each floor having but one window—a recent insertion—and the door being of no interest. Nos. 13 and 15 retained their original features, with the exception of their entrance doors, which were circular-headed and modern. Otherwise their elevations, both back and front, corresponded with No. 9. Their internal features and fittings were also in the main similar to those described above.
When Nos. 7 to 13 were pulled down, the whole of the joinery (exclusive of windows), the old wrought-iron railings, the fireplaces and some 18th-century grates were preserved by the University and City of London Association. A large proportion of the old material thus saved has been adapted and fixed in the basement beneath Crosby Hall.
Condition of repair.
The property on which Danvers House stood was formerly part of the estate of Sir Thomas More, and was given by him to his son-in-law, William Roper, as his daughter's dowry. A later owner of the rest of More's estate here, namely, Henry, second Earl of Lincoln, re-purchased the site, but left it separately to his son, the third Earl, while the other land passed to Sir Arthur Gorges. It may be of interest to quote the following from an article contributed by the writer to the Architectural Review of May, 1911. "This parcel of the estate … is specified in the grant of Chelsea, to William Paulet, after More's attainder as 'the house and one pightell or close of land.' Evidently, therefore, there was already a building upon it, and Mr. Randall Davies confirms a suggestion of Mr. Horne that this was the 'place called the new buylding wherein was a chappell, a library, and a gallerie, which Roper tells us More built a good distance from his mansion house.' To this I would add that it seems extremely probable, since the high terrace from the Great House (see Beaufort House Plates 21 and 22) to this site was not a natural one, but apparently built of brick and stone, that it formed a covered way communicating with the 'new building.' However this may be, the association of the name of More was so strong that it is mentioned by Aubrey as 'the very place where was the house of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England,' and Aubrey adds that 'he had but one marble chimney-piece, and that plain, but indeed very good if it be not touch, which remains there still in the chamber that was his lordship's.' These remarks are not inconsistent with the conclusions arrived at above, but so fixed was the tradition as to this being the site of More's home, that even the clear evidence proving the latter to have been the Great House was assailed. The misapprehension was probably strengthened by the name 'Moorhouse,' perhaps bestowed upon it by Ropet and his wife and mentioned in a letter of 1618. The property was sold by the third Earl of Lincoln to Sir John Danvers in 1622–3."
The plans of Sir John Danvers' house and a rough sketch of its elevation are preserved among the collection of the Elizabethan architect, John Thorpe, in the Soane Museum. Mr. J. A. Gotch reproduces them in his Early Renaissance Architecture in England, and comments on the Italian character of the design, with its large central hall and staircase. The notes on the plan "kyt [kitchen] below" and "all cellared" serve still further to differentiate it from the usual contemporary plans, and account to some extent for the depth of the foundations already referred to as discovered during the building of Crosby Hall, and for the fact that the houses on the east side of Danvers Street have sub-basements. John Aubrey, in his notes on the Natural History of Wilts (Bodleian MSS.) has inserted a description of the house and garden at Chelsea, together with a rough plan of the latter, which largely corroborates Kip's view. To quote again from the article referred to above: "Aubrey says, 'Twas Sir John Danvers of Chelsey, who first taught us the way of Italian gardens. He had well travelled France and Italy and made good observations … He had a very fine fancy, which lay chiefly for gardens and architecture." There is no doubt that the plan of the house was greatly in advance of its time. Pepys "found it to be the prettiest contrived house that I ever saw in my life," and Aubrey describes it as "very elegant and ingeniose." He adds that "as you sit at dinner in the Hall you are entertained with two delightful vistos: one southward over the Thames and Surrey, the other northward into the curious garden. Above the Hall is a stately Roome of the same dimension wherein is an excellent organ of stoppes of cedar." … Again of the garden he tells us of "its boscage of lilies," its "syringas," its "long gravelled walks margented with hyssop" and "several sorts of thyme." "Sir John was wont on fine mornings in the summer to brush his beaver hat on the hyssop and thyme, which did perfume it with its natural essence and would last a morning or longer." Aubrey mentions the stone figures of the gardener and his wife which Nicholas Stone, the King's mason, carved, according to his diary for 1622. He describes the pavilions at the four corners and the curious planting, together with the dimensions of the garden, 8 chains 9 yards long and 4 chains 9 yards wide. Faulkner tells us (fn. 2) that "considerable remains of this house were discovered in Mr. Shepherd's garden in the year 1822, consisting of the foundation of walls, the remains of the great bath, as seen in Kip's View, and various fragments of stone pillars and capitals, the whole covering a great space of land, but being considered by the proprietor as too extensive to take up, they were again covered with earth." These probably still lie under the south end of Paulton's Square.
Aubrey's description of the "neat little chappele or oratorie finely painted" on the east side of the Hall, the drawing room next to it "whose floor is chequered like a Chesse board of Box and Ewgh panels of about six inches square" corroborates Thorpe's plans and the elevations are borne out by his remark that "at the east and west end of the House (without) are two high fastigiated turrets, the Fans whereof are the crests of Danvers sc., a golden Wyvern volant."
Sir John Danvers, who was numbered among the regicides, died in 1655. Mr. Randall Davies, (fn. 3) has given interesting details about the family. Danvers married, as his first wife, Magdalen, daughter of Sir Richard Newport, and widow of Sir Rchard Herbert. She was mother of George Herbert, the divine and poet, and of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. She died in 1627, and was buried at Chelsea, Dr. Donne, her great friend, preaching a commemorative sermon. Danvers married secondly, Elizabeth, daughter of Ambrose Dauntsey, and, thirdly, Mrs. Grace Hewes. Two daughters, by his second marriage survived him:—Elizabeth, "Viscountess" Purbeck, who was buried at Chelsea in 1709, and Anne, who married Sir Henry Lee. Lady Lee had two daughters, Anne and Eleanor, who inherited the property. Anne married Thomas, son and heir of Philip, Lord Wharton, and Eleanor's first husband was James, son of Montague, second Earl of Lindsey, whose brother, the third Earl, we shall find later on at Lindsey House. In 1660 a tenant was found for the house in the person of John, Lord Robartes, afterwards Earl of Radnor, and lord lieutenant of Ireland. It remained in his possession until his death in 1685, and was the scene of many brilliant assemblies, as when he entertained King Charles II. here, soon after the Restoration. This was the time of Pepys' visit, when he thought so highly of it. We have already referred to Letitia, the Earl's second wife, who survived him and married Lord Cheyne, giving her name to Radnor House in Paradise Row (see Survey of London, Vol. II. Chelsea, Part I., pp. 31, 32). There are in the Parish Register numerous entries relating to the Earl of Radnor's family.
On his death, the house was occupied by Thomas, fifth Baron, afterwards Marquis of Wharton, the statesman, who inherited the property in the right of his wife. Lady Wharton was a writer of verse, including a metrical paraphrase of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.
Danvers House was, as we have seen, demolished about 1720, but part of the garden was leased in various parcels to Benjamin Stallwood for building. The property was conveyed by Wharton's nephew, Montague, Earl of Abingdon, to William Sloane in 1717, and this included the park, formerly Sir Thomas More's, which is seen in Kip's view and which is now almost completely built over, the last relic—the Vale—being in process of demolition.
Mr. Randall Davies, to whom we are indebted for much of the foregoing information, has made a careful study of the rate books in connection with the houses which were erected on the site of Danvers House, and it was he who discovered that Dean Swift lodged on the west side of Danvers Street in 1711, and penned there many of his letters to Stella. As the identification of the house, which Mr. Davies believes to have been one of the five standing during the period of our survey, is of importance, I will quote from his own MS. which he has kindly lent for the purpose:—"Thanks to the existence of the rate books for this year  we can not only suppose him [Swift] at Chelsea, but can place him with certainty on the west side of Danvers Street, and with probability in a house which up till now  has escaped destruction. At that date there were but five houses on the west side of Danvers Street and three on the east. Some years later four more were built on the west side, which are still standing, but the one to the south of them is the only one left of the older ones, in one of which he certainly must have lodged to have been 'just over against Dr. Atterbury's.' Now Atterbury's house was the most northerly of the three on the east side, therefore Swift's was more likely to have been the one most northerly on the west side, which in 1711 was the one which happens to be now most southerly—four houses having been added to the north of it, and four pulled down to the south of it. Of these four last mentioned, the corner one was the largest, being rated at £16, and its occupiers were not likely to have let lodgings. The next two were very small indeed, being only rated at £6 and £7 respectively. The fourth was rated at £14, the same as the one now left, and it is pretty certain that Swift's lodging was in one of the two houses last named. May we not assume that it was the one which is still standing ?" This house was No. 7, and as stated above, it was pulled down in 1909, together with Nos. 9, 11, and 13, when Crosby Hall was rebuilt on the site.
John Thorpe, MS. plans in the Soane Museum.
Nicholas Stone, Diary.
Aubrey, MS Notes for the Natural History of Wilts. (Bodleian Library.)
Isaak Walton, Life of George Herbert.
Verney MSS., Editon Edited by Lady Verney.
Thomas Faulkner, Chelsea and its Environs, (2nd Ed. 1829).
Alfred Beaver, Memorials of Old Chelsea (1892).
J. A. Gotch, Early Renaissance Architecture in England (1901).
Randall Davies, Chelsea Old Church (1904).
Randall Davies in the Pall Mall Gazette, 4th Sept., 1906.
The Architectural Review, March and May, 1911.