Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1914.
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LXVII.—Nos. 100, 101 and 102, GREAT RUSSELL STREET.
General description and date of structure.
A plan of part of the manor in 1664–5, preserved in the British Museum and reproduced in Clinch's Bloomsbury and St. Giles, shows that the western end of Great Russell Street and the whole of Bedford Square (fn. 1) occupy the sites of two fields called Cowles Field and Cowles Pasture.
In Morden and Lea's map of 1682, the only buildings shown on the site of these fields are a few at the southern end of Tottenham Court Road. Great Russell Street had, however, already been formed, (fn. 2) and houses were in existence on the south side.
Nos. 100 to 102 formed originally one house, which in 1785–6 was in the occupation of John Sheldon. It would therefore seem that this was the house referred to by Elmes, who stated (fn. 3) that Sir Christopher Wren designed a fine mansion in this street which was afterwards occupied by his son, and "more recently by the celebrated surgeon and anatomist, Mr. Shelden."
The records of His Grace the Duke of Bedford, however, lend no countenance whatever to the suggestion that Wren's son occupied the house, and indeed show Stephen Wren as residing in a house, afterwards known as No. 32, on the south side of the street, in 1751, when he wrote the letters "headed Great Russell Street," on which Elmes apparently relied in making his statement. As regards the ascription of the design of the house to Sir Christopher Wren, the Bedford Estate records afford no direct evidence.
There is, however, no doubt that these premises were originally "Thanet House," the Earl of Thanet having taken a lease of the house for a term of 62 years from Michaelmas, 1693. It would seem, indeed, that the Earl was actually in occupation some years previously, if this was the mansion referred to in the statement that the Earl's eldest son was born "at Thanet House in Great Russell Street, on April 29th, 1686." (fn. 4)
After 1787 it was divided into two houses, and is thus shown in the illustration included in Parton's Hospital and Parish of St. Giles, a reproduction of which is given on the next page. A further division took place about 1820.
Writing in 1823, Elmes says: (fn. 5) "Sir Christopher's noble front, with its majestic cantaliver cornice, has now been taken down by a speculative builder, and common Act of Parliament fronts run up." The present elevation corresponds to this description, and the interiors of the houses are without any noteworthy features. It is interesting to note that the "speculative builder" is shown by the Bedford Estate records to have been Thomas Cubitt.
Condition of repair.
Thomas Tufton, 6th Earl of Thanet, was born in 1644, and died in 1729. (fn. 6) Parton (fn. 7) mentions that the autograph of the Earl, as a vestryman of St. Giles, occurs in the parish books between the years 1684 and 1690. The death of his eldest son at "Thanet House in Great Russell Street," in 1686 has already been referred to.
When the Bloomsbury Rentals of His Grace the Duke of Bedford begin in 1729 they show Sir Thomas Coke, Lord Lovel, in occupation of the house. Sir Thomas Coke, was a son of Edward Coke of Holkham. In 1718 he married Lady Margaret Tufton, daughter and co-heir of the 6th Earl of Thanet. In 1728 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Lovel, of Minster Lovel, and in 1744 was created Viscount Coke, of Holkham, and Earl of Leicester. He died in 1759.
In 1755, on the expiration of the Earl of Thanet's lease, he had obtained a reversionary lease of Thanet House, and the Countess of Leicester is shown by the parish ratebooks in occupation for 1759–60.
In 1765, until his death in 1767, the Marquess of Tavistock was in occupation. This was Francis, son of John, fourth Duke of Bedford, by his second wife, Gertrude, eldest daughter of John, first Earl Gower.
In 1771 the house was taken by Lord Apsley, afterwards Earl Bathurst. Henry Bathurst, second Earl Bathurst, was born in 1714. He was called to the Bar in 1736, and became King's counsel ten years after. From 1735 to 1754 he represented Cirencester in Parliament, and his attachment to the party of the Prince of Wales secured for him the offices of solicitor-general and attorney-general to the Prince. In 1754 he was appointed judge of the common pleas. In 1770 the great seal was entrusted to three commissioners, of whom Bathurst was one, and in the following year, to every one's surprise, he was created Lord Chancellor and raised to the peerage as Baron Apsley. In 1775 he succeeded his father in the earldom. He resigned the seal in 1778, but from 1779 to 1782 was again a member of the ministry as lord president of the Council. He died at Oakley Grove near Cirencester in 1794. "By a universal consensus of opinion Earl Bathurst is pronounced to hvae been the least efficient lord chancellor of the last century." (fn. 8) His residence at Thanet House lasted until 1778.
In the following year the Bloomsbury Rentals show that the Hon. Topham Beauclerk was in occupation. Topham Beauclerk, born in 1739, was the only son of Lord Sydney Beauclerk. A man of wide reading and sprightly conversation, he owes his fame principally to his great friendship with Dr. Johnson, and the space which he occupies in the latter's great biography. He married Lady Diana Spencer, eldest daughter of the second Duke of Marlborough, formerly wife of Lord Bolingbroke. Lady Diana was an amateur artist, whose abilities excited the enthusiasm of Horace Walpole. Beauclerk died at Thanet House on 11th March, 1780, and his library of 30,000 volumes, housed in a building "that reaches half way to Highgate" (fn. 9) was sold by auction in the following year. Lady Diana survived him for many years, dying in 1808.
In 1781 William Murray, first Earl of Mansfield took up his residence at the house. Particulars of his life have already been given in the previous volume of this series dealing with St. Giles-in-the-Fields. (fn. 10) His occupation of Thanet House dates from the destruction of his mansion in Bloomsbury Square by the Gordon Rioters in 1780. At Michaelmas, 1785, he removed to Nos. 57–58, Lincoln's Inn Fields.
The next occupant was John Sheldon, a distinguished anatomist, whose residence here was apparently confined to the period 1786–7. He was born in London in 1752. In due course he was apprenticed to Henry Watson and studied anatomy at the latter's private museum in Tottenham Court Road. From 1777 to 1786 (fn. 11) he maintained a private theatre at No. 70, Great Queen Street, where he taught and carried on research work. He died in 1808.
In the Council's collection are:—
No. 19, Great Russell Street—View of front (photograph).
(fn. 12) "Thanet House," Great Russell Street—Lithograph by G. Scharf (print).