Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.
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This house was the last in the square to be granted away by the representatives of the St. Albans interest, being owned by the Earl's heirs until 1721. The earliest evidence of its existence is in 1676 when it was occupied by the French ambassador, Honoré Courtin, on a yearly tenancy from the Earl of St. Albans at £400 per annum. (fn. 3) It first appears in the ratebooks in the following year, and until 1684 was occupied by Sir Cyril Wyche, the Earl of St. Albans, or the French ambassador for whom St. Albans seems usually to have paid the rates. It was here that in July 1684 Henry Compton, Bishop of London, received from the representatives of the deceased Earl the title-deeds of the site of St. James's Church and took sustenance during an interval in the ceremony of consecrating the church (see page 33). In 1685 the Earl of Pembroke occupied the house and from 1686–8 the French ambassador was rated as occupant. (fn. 1) From 1689 to 1693 the house was inhabited by the Earl of St. Albans's nephew, Henry, Lord Dover.
In June 1721 (fn. 4) Lord Dover's executor and heirs sold the house to Sir Matthew Decker, a banker, who lived here until his death in 1749, after which his widow continued to occupy the house until 1759. Bowles's view published in c. 1752 compared with Sutton Nicholls's shows that the house then still retained its original appearance except for the insertion of a new doorway of round-headed form (Plates 128, 130).
In 1768 Sir Sampson Gideon, later Lord Eardley, bought the house from the trustee and heiresses of Lady Decker, (fn. 5) and soon afterwards the house was altered or perhaps rebuilt for him by the firm of Henry Holland, senior. A record of the work of the mason, Joseph Dixon, survives (fn. 6) and includes work to the value of some £374 on the house, stables and street paving: old chimneypieces were cleaned and reset and plain mason's work carried out. It was perhaps at this time that the entrance to the house, which in c. 1752 was still in the square, was moved to York (now Duke of York) Street as shown on a plan of 1793 by John Soane.
Sir Sampson left the house in 1784 and for twelve years it stood empty. (fn. c1) Towards the end of this period Soane surveyed it. (fn. 7) In 1795 the house was bought by the younger Josiah Wedgwood for £8500, and a further £7000 is said to have been spent on the house, (fn. 8) the showroom here in 1809 being illustrated in a plate in Ackermann's Repository of the Arts, and the plain exterior in the Ackermann view of the square in 1812 (Plate 131). Wedgwood and his partner, Thomas Byerley, used the premises until, trade apparently becoming depressed, they were given up in 1830. (fn. 9) In August 1830 the property was sold by Wedgwood to the Earl of Romney. (fn. 10) Until 1839 the house was occupied by the Earl as a private residence but was not again used as a private residence alter that date, being usually occupied as a club-house. From 1840 to 1854 it housed the Erechthcum, a club of a literary and scientific character. From 1855 to 1876 it was occupied by the Charity Commissioners. (fn. 11) During the period 1877–9 the house was given a new stucco façade, and the entrance moved back again from York Street to the St. James's Square front. (fn. 12)
A photograph In the Westminster Public Library of the house in its altered state shows a fairly orthodox 'palazzo' front of six bays to St. James's Square, the basement storey being rusticated with horizontal channelling and the two smooth-faced upper storeys finished with raised quoins and a bracketed cornice (Plate 201b). In the basement storey the four outer bays contained windows framed by flat architraves, each one with a keystone stretching up to a small cornice at firstfloor level, while the two middle bays were occupied by a group of three round-arched openings consisting of a doorway with low, narrow sidelights. These openings had moulded archivolts springing from pilasters, and before them was a wide Doric porch supported on paired rusticated columns, the outer column of each pair being square. It was a slightly eccentric porch in that the columns were rusticated with plain narrow bands only slightly raised and the frieze had triglyphs only above the columns. The second storey had tall windows with moulded architraves and over them were placed enriched pulvinated friezes and pediments supported by small brackets, the pediments all being triangular except for a segmental one over the second window from each end. Beneath the windows ran a pedestal-course which broke into a balustrade under each of the four outer windows and was continued round the top of the entrance porch to form a balustraded balcony before the two middle windows. A small cornice underlined the windows of the third storey, which were adorned only with moulded architraves, and the bracketed cornice above them was finished with a parapet having half-concealed behind it the five pedimented dormer windows shown in Ackermann's view of 1812.
Between 1879 and 1892 the Junior Oxford and Cambridge, the Vine, the York and the Junior Travellers' Clubs occupied the building. (fn. 11) In 1893 the Sports Club took over the premises, which they subsequently bought. In 1937 a proposal by them for rebuilding with accommodation for offices on the upper floors was submitted for planning approval and accepted, (fn. 13) but this was not proceeded with, and in 1938 the club moved across the square to the East India United Service Club, with which it had amalgamated. In the same year Robert Angell and Curtis submitted a proposal to rebuild No. 8 and its back premises for office use, on behalf of Messrs. G. E. Wallis and Sons of Maidstone who had acquired the property. (fn. 14) After refusal by the London County Council to permit the erection of a building higher than eighty feet and the rejection by the Minister of Health of an appeal by other developers against a similar refusal at the site of Norfolk House, a revised application was submitted in January 1939, and permission was given for the erection of the present office block, which was built in the course of that year. (fn. 13) The building is now occupied by the Ministry of Labour.
York Street Chapel
During much of the history of No. 8 St. James's Square its back premises contained a chapel fronting York Street (in 1937 renamed Duke of York Street) and forming part of the freehold site of No. 8. The ratebooks mention the 'French chapel' in York Street in 1676 and 1677, when the French ambassador was occupying No. 8. Henceforward, all mention of the chapel disappears from the ratebooks until the end of the eighteenth century. From December 1689 until April 1694 the building, despite the tenure of the adjacent house by the Catholic Lord Dover, was occupied at a rent of £45 per annum by a French church of the Protestant persuasion. This was a daughter church of that in Jewin Street, and afterwards moved to Swallow Street. On its departure, Lord Dover presented it with the flooring, gallery and pulpit. (fn. 15) Dasent (fn. 16) says that the Spanish ambassador fitted up the chapel again during his occupancy of Ormonde House from 1716 to 1718: no evidence of this has been found, but it is likely enough that he would have been able to do this with the consent of the owner of the site, his coreligionist, the Dowager Lady Dover.
For most of the eighteenth century no evidence has been found that this chapel site was used as such. Strype does not mention a chapel in his description of York Street in 1720, nor does the deed by which the site of No. 8 was sold by Lord Dover's executor and heirs in 1721 (see above). Mid eighteenth-century lists of London chapels do not include it and it is not shown on Rocque's map of 1746. It is, again, not mentioned in the deed conveying the site in 1768 (see above), and Zachary Chambers's map of 1769 appears to show this part of the York Street frontage as a vacant site. The absence of any reference to the building might be consistent with its occult use as a Catholic chapel, but the disposal of the freehold by representatives of the Catholic Jermyns in 1721 makes this the less likely.
There was apparently no Catholic chapel on this site in 1782, but in 1786 a chapel was being established here by Dr. Thomas Hussey, senior chaplain to the Spanish Embassy and afterwards first President of Maynooth and Bishop of Waterford. The chapel was probably run in connexion with the Spanish Embassy. (fn. 17) (fn. c2) A Solemn High Mass for George III's recovery from insanity was celebrated here in the spring of 1789, and a requiem service for Bishop Talbot in February 1790. (fn. 18) In the previous month it had been announced that 'The Chapel in York-street, St. James's square, is to be purchased and appropriated to the very different purpose of a place of polite amusement under the direction of the Chevalier St. George.' (fn. 19) In 1791 the chapel reappears in the ratebooks but as an empty building. Its closing was presumably connected with the opening of the chapel adjoining the Spanish Embassy in Spanish Place by Dr. Hussey at the end of 1791. (fn. 20)
The empty chapel building is shown on Soane's plan of December 1793 (fn. 7) and also on Horwood's map of 1794; for the years 1792–4 inclusive, it is shown empty in the ratebooks. In 1795 it was bought, together with No. 8 St. James's Square, by Josiah Wedgwood (see above) who is said to have paid one-third of the total purchase price of £8500 in respect of the chapel. (fn. 8) From 1795 to 1797 the Rev. James Tuffs was rated for the chapel; in 1798 it was empty again (fn. 11) but in the following year a seven-year lease was taken by a community of Swedenborgians who had previously occupied a church in Cross Street, Hatton Garden, under the Rev. Joseph Proud. He began his ministry at the 'larger and more elegant Chapel' in York Street in October of that year. In 1806 the lease was renewed at an increased rent. The congregation is said to have been 'very numerous and respectable', and to have attracted the interest of the Duke of Sussex. On the expiry of the second lease in 1813, a further intended increase in rent persuaded the congregation to move to Lisle Street. (fn. 21) The Swedenborgian community is said to have rebuilt the chapel, described in 1810 as 'a large handsome square building . . . the principal place belonging to this sect in London'. (fn. 22) The Swedenborgians were succeeded by a congregation of Baptists under the Rev. John Stevens, who had previously worshipped in Grafton Street, and in 1824 moved to Meard Street. (fn. 23) They were succeeded by a congregation of Unitarians, for whom William Agar took a lease in September 1824 (fn. 24) and who opened the chapel under the Rev. S. W. Browne in December 1824. (fn. 25) In 1832 it was said (fn. 26) that the Unitarians had 'erected a beautiful chapel', but a contemporary Unitarian said only that the chapel was 'fitted-up' by 'a gentleman educated in the principles of the Established Church', perhaps the first minister. The same contemporary commented that 'The influence of fashion and the dread of censure' retarded the growth of the church, but that its departure was caused by the congregation's 'being unexpectedly called upon to relinquish the Chapel'. The lease had been due to expire in the autumn of 1831: there was some provision for its renewal but this was perhaps prevented in consequence of the change of ownership of the site, which had been sold in August 1830 by Wedgwood to the Earl of Romney (see above). Rumour among the Unitarians was that 'some little jealous feeling on the part of influential persons of the English communion was mingled with this transaction, and that the removal of such an establishment from the immediate neighbourhood of an episcopal palace [London House, No. 32 St. James's Square] and a national Church was a consummation devoutly to be wished'. The Unitarian occupation of the chapel ended in 1832 or 1833, and in the latter year the congregation opened a church in Little Portland Street. (fn. 27)
The premises were henceforward used as an Anglican proprietary chapel until 1876. (fn. 2) In 1865 Lord Carnarvon, who had bought the back premises of No. 8, considered converting the chapel into a warehouse, but instead granted a lease to the Rev. A. Stopford Brooke, whose Life and Letters of F. W. Robertson, published in that year, had brought him notoriety as a spokesman of Broad Church principles. (fn. 28) At that time the chapel seems not to have enjoyed a prosperous reputation, a fact which Stopford Brooke attributed to the practice of 'having fools in occupation of the Chapel', but under his ministry, which commenced in April 1866, the chapel attracted a large and fashionable congregation. In February 1867 Brooke wrote, 'These Tories haunt me. They take pews, they write me letters, they put their daughters under me, and all my radicalism goes down their thrapple without a wry face.' (fn. 29) Here Brooke preached in 1872 his course of sermons on 'Theology in the English Poets'. During the latter part of his ministry the exterior of the chapel was described as being 'exactly after the model of old Dissenting meeting-houses. But the interior is neat and even elegant.' (fn. 30) On the expiry of the lease in 1875, Brooke moved to Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury, and the chapel in York Street was then closed. (fn. 31)