Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
Army and Navy Club
The northernmost forty-three feet of the site of the Army and Navy Club, fronting St. James's Square, was occupied until 1847 by a private house surviving from the 1670's. By present numbering it would have been 22.
The site of this house was granted on 24 March 1672/3 by the Earl of St. Albans and Baptist May at a rent of £13 5s. 2d. per annum to trustees for Edward Shaw of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, gentleman, (fn. 2) who later obtained a grant of the site of No. 3 (see page 83). In October Shaw and his trustees sold the site and the house built on it to Charles II's mistress, Mary Davis, for the comparatively small sum of £1800. (fn. 3) 'Madam Davis' first appears here in the ratebook for 1675, and remained until 1687, although in 1686 and perhaps at other times she probably sub-let the house to a tenant. (fn. 4) Nothing is known of the building of the house, although the fact that it survived with little structural alteration longer than any other of the original houses in the square suggests that it was solidly built, and in this possibly shared a characteristic of the houses in the square's south-western corner.
In May 1749 Thomas Brand of the Hoo, Hertfordshire, bought the house for £4500 from the Earl of Buckinghamshire (fn. 5) and from 1751 to 1777 the house was occupied in succession by him and his son, also Thomas Brand. (fn. 6)
In 1771 the younger Thomas Brand employed Sir William Chambers, who had worked for the elder Brand at the Hoo, to carry out work on the house in the square. He evidently suggested to Chambers that the front of the house should be coloured with a yellow wash, but in May 1771 Chambers, while reporting that work was going on expeditiously, advised against concealing the brick front. 'Upon Examination I find it is a very neat piece of Brickwork like Marlborough house; it would therefore be better only to clean it and point the Joynts as any Colour that can be laid upon it will wash off in a few Years and will even at first look but very indifferently whereas the red brickwork is very perfect in its kind and will be kept in Countenance by the Queens house Marlborough house etc., etc.' (fn. 7) In June Chambers reported that the greater part of the work was done, (fn. 8) but it was not in fact completed until December, when Chambers thought it looked 'vastly well'. (fn. 9) It is difficult to determine what was done at this time. Sums of £400, £500 and £800 owed to workmen are mentioned in Chambers's letters, but it is not clear whether they were exclusive of one another. Chambers's comment in December shows that the appearance, external or internal, was significantly modified, but plans of 1799 and a water-colour of 1815 (Plate 133) make it apparent that the original house was structurally unaltered at those dates. It may be that Chambers satisfied Thomas Brand's desire for the concealment of the brick front and his own objections to a 'wash' by covering the brick piers of the front with the stucco shown in the 1815 watercolour and which was certainly in place by 1799. (fn. 10) If so, the house was probably one of the first in the square to be stuccoed.
In March 1799 the house was bought by Samuel Thornton, a director of the Bank of England, (fn. 11) who had evidently come to some firm agreement to make the purchase in the previous year. (fn. 12) The sale was negotiated by Soane, who was already associated with Samuel Thornton in his work at the Bank of England and who also altered his country residence at Albury in Surrey. (fn. 13) By February 1799 the Thorntons had moved in, hopeful of 'the Divine blessing . . . for the next and many succeeding years', and 'found it sufficiently comfortable to order it to be repaired and painted against the ensuing winter'. (fn. 12) This was done, including the painting of the stucco on the front, by the autumn of 1799, at a cost of a little under £500. (fn. 14) In the course of the summer Soane had made plans of the house which show its seventeenth-century character and had produced designs for an alteration which would have included the removal of the entrance to the southernmost bay of the front and of the staircasewell to the back of the house. (fn. 15) This was not, however, carried out, and the house retained its original structure until its demolition.
The ground-storey plan made by Soane (Plate 133b) shows an almost square house with the staircase hall south of a large room in front, and two smaller rooms flanking the secondary stairs at the back. A large closet projected from the south back room, and smaller closets and lobbies were formed in the thickness of the massive cross-wall, containing the fireplaces of the back rooms and dividing the front rooms from the back.
The front (Plate 133a) seems to have been designed to conform with the general appearance of the houses in the square, although it may have been more elaborately treated than most of them. Each of the three storeys contained four evenly spaced windows, uniformly dressed with wide architrave and cornice, and linked by plain aprons to form vertical features of dressed stonework projecting from the piers of fine red brickwork, admired by Chambers but destined to be covered with mock-jointed stucco. The top-storey windows had no cornices as their architraves reached the underside of the modillioned eaves-cornice of wood, above which rose the tiled roof with its four segmental-pedimented dormers. Stone steps rose to the doorway in the opening left of the middle pier, the two-leaved door being framed in a moulded architrave, below a cornice-hood resting on consoles.
After the death of Samuel Thornton's daughter from a fever in May 1802 he was 'induced by an apprehension of infection to remove immediately from the house in St. James's Square', (fn. 16) but he later returned, and in 1815 further repairs and renovations were carried out, costing some £390. (fn. 17) In October 1818 Samuel Thornton and his trustees, having received 'a favourable offer', (fn. 18) sold the house for £11,000 to the Hon. W. S. Ponsonby, later Lord de Mauley. (fn. 19) In October 1846 Lord de Mauley and his trustees and mortgagees sold the house to the Army and Navy Club for £19,500 10s. (fn. 19) and it was demolished in 1847. (fn. 4)
History of the club
In 1837 Sir Edward Barnes and a few officers recently returned from service in India, finding from the number of candidates on the waiting list of the Junior United Service Club that there was little chance of a young officer being admitted to that club for some years, proposed to establish an army club to which all officers on full or half pay in Her Majesty's Army should be eligible. The Duke of Wellington, whose patronage was sought, declined to become either a patron or a member unless membership of the club extended to officers of the Navy and Marines. This suggestion was accepted (fn. 20) and on 28 August 1837 a meeting of officers of both services was held to elect a committee of management and to form rules and regulations. The Oxford and Cambridge University Club was then about to leave its temporary home at No. 18 St. James's Square and move into its new home in Pall Mall. A lease of No. 18, which stood at the north corner of St. James's Square and King Street, was obtained, and there the Army and Navy Club was opened for its members early in 1838. (fn. 21)
Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Barnes (1776– 1838), the founder of the club, had served in the Peninsular War and been wounded at Waterloo. He was Governor of Ceylon from 1824 to 1831 and Commander-in-Chief in India from 1831 to 1833. He died on 19 March 1838, two weeks before the first general meeting of the club. (fn. 22)
By 1844 the club was well established and in 1846 it moved to larger premises at Lichfield House, now No. 15 St. James's Square. The search for a site for the erection of a permanent house had begun in 1843, and in 1846–7 six freehold houses forming a compact block at the west corner of Pall Mall and George Street (fn. 1) were purchased for the total sum of £48,770. The most important of these was Lord de Mauley's house on the west side of St. James's Square. (fn. 23)
In January 1847 The Builder reported that the club intended to hold an open competition for the design of the new building and that prizes of £200 and £100 would be awarded for the two best plans. (fn. 24) In the following month, when printed particulars of the competition were evidently in circulation, The Builder urged the committee of the club to 'exhibit the designs for a certain time before coming to a decision', and to have the benefit of professional advice in the selection of the best design. (fn. 25) Unfortunately this sensible advice was not followed, for the committee made its own choice, which was subsequently confirmed in April by a ballot of the entire club, and the designs were not publicly exhibited until after the decision had been made. The successful architect was George Tattersall of St. James's Street, followed by Messrs. F. Fowler and Fisk of Sackville Street. (fn. 26)
The competition attracted sixty-nine entrants but the general standard was probably low, and such famous club architects as (Sir) Charles Barry, Decimus Burton and Sir Robert Smirke do not appear to have competed. According to The Builder, the best plan was that of Messrs. Fowler and Fisk, but the most remarkable elevations must surely have been the two flamboyant Gothic designs sent in, one by George Truefitt and the other by George Gilbert Scott, and the Moorish design by Owen Jones, of which The Builder tartly observed that 'the plan generally seems to have been neglected, the mosaic pavements excepted'. Truefitt's exterior (illustrated in The Builder, 22 May 1847, p. 242) resembled a Flemish town hall, whereas Scott's design was said to have been based on the Palais de Justice at Rouen and featured a great oriel window. (fn. 27)
Tattersall's winning design was much more orthodox. A drawing preserved in the London Museum (Plate 116a) shows a rather pompous building of two storeys in a brash classical manner. The lower storey has simply dressed windows in a rustic face, with a Doric portico of three bays to mark the entrance, and the upper-storey windows are set in arched recesses between Corinthian columns. The angles of both storeys are emphasized and adorned with statues in niches, while the crowning balustrade ends with martial trophies and is broken over the entrance by a pedestal adorned with bas-reliefs, surmounted by lions and a large group, apparently symbolizing Britannia and Neptune.
The Builder deplored the absence of professional advice in the choice of a design and pointed out that in Tattersall's plan 'the space devoted to the purposes of the club is very meagre, indeed quite insufficient'. (fn. 27) This view appears to have been shared by the club, for at an extraordinary general meeting on 11 May 1847 it was decided to enlarge the site by the purchase of another house in Pall Mall, and to hold another competition limited to the six architects who had received the largest number of votes at the ballot in April. This time professional advice was to be taken by the committee before making their decision. (fn. 28)
The six architects in this second competition were George Tattersall, Messrs. Fowler and Fisk, Messrs. C. O. Parnell and A. Smith, H. B. Richardson, A. Salvin (who was invited after the withdrawal of G. S. Clarke due to an accident) and Sydney Smirke, who had entered for the first competition but had withdrawn his design before the exhibition. The committee selected Parnell and Smith's design, and submitted it to John Shaw, one of the official referees employed by the Office of Metropolitan Buildings, for a report. His opinion was favourable and by the end of July 1847 the architects had been commissioned to proceed. (fn. 29)
Parnell and Smith submitted the same plans in both competitions, and their success in the second was probably due to the striking appearance of the Venetian exterior which promised to rival the east wing of Sydney Smirke's new Carlton Club, then nearing completion on the opposite side of Pall Mall, and whose elevations were based on Sansovino's Libreria di San Marco at Venice. (fn. 30)
The building of the club-house began in March 1848, the contractor for the erection of the carcase being William Trego, whose tender was for £19,656. (fn. 31) In the absence through illness of the Duke of Cambridge, the president of the club, the foundation stone was laid on 6 May 1848 by the chairman of the committee of management, Lieutenant-Colonel H. Daniell. (fn. 32) In August 1849 the tender of Messrs. Smith and Appleford for the completion of the building for £15,671 was accepted, (fn. 33) and the club-house (Plates 116, 119) was opened for members' use on 25 February 1851. (fn. 34) The ceiling enrichments in carton pierre and papier mâché were executed by Messrs. Jackson (fn. 34) and the smoking-room was painted by Frederick Sang and Signer Romoli. (fn. 35) The total cost of the building, exclusive of 'excavations, concrete etc.' and of the furnishings (£10,000), was £54,000. It may be that Alfred Smith played a more important part in the design of the clubhouse than his partner C. O. Parnell, for Smith was elected 'Honorary Visitor' to the club. (fn. 20)
The club was now in a prosperous position, with a membership in 1851 of 1600 and a waiting list of 834 candidates. (fn. 36) Within a few years of its inception it had established itself on equal terms with the older Service clubs, and its many distinguished members included Prince Louis Napoleon, who in 1848 lived in King Street, and who after his return to France presented the club with the Gobelin tapestry which still adorns the staircase of the inner hall. (fn. 37) Commenting on the success of the club The Illustrated London News remarked that 'the admission of friends constitutes a leading feature in this Club, and to which it owes much of its rise and popularity, having been the first military club wherein such an indulgence was permitted'. (fn. 35) A more important and lasting advantage which the club enjoyed over all its great neighbours on the south side of Pall Mall was the possession of the freehold of its site.
In 1857 a window commemorating those members who had been killed in the Crimean War was erected on the west side of the inner hall. (fn. 38) It was 'composed of the "Brilliant-cut Glass" invented by Messrs. Mark Bowden and Co. of Bristol', by whom it was made. It exhibited a number of tablets bearing the arms of the club and the names and dates of battles; the architraves were of Siena marble with panels of black marble, on which were inscribed in letters of gold the names of the fallen officers. (fn. 39) The window was removed during the rebuilding in 1925, and was re-erected in a different part of the hall in 1927. (fn. 38)
In 1864 it was found that the Caen stone with which the exterior of the club was faced had decayed badly; the cornice was restored and the balustrade renewed at a cost of £475. Decay continued and in 1886 the bad stone was cut out and replaced with Portland, and the whole face treated with a preservative wash—a treatment which was repeated in 1892. (fn. 40) It is worth noting that the Caen stone which was used on the façade of the Carlton Club also proved unsuitable in the London atmosphere, and was finally completely replaced in 1923–4.
The first important interior renovation of the club-house took place in 1878–9 under the superintendence of H. R. Gough, when the smoking-room was enlarged and a new house dining-room was constructed. (fn. 41)
In 1883 and 1893 the club had rejected opportunities to enlarge its premises by purchasing the two adjoining houses in Pall Mall. In the early years of the twentieth century the demand for bedroom accommodation for members increased considerably, and in 1919 the club purchased Nos. 46, 46a and 47 Pall Mall for £56,011. These houses did not immediately adjoin the club on the Pall Mall front, but were connected with the back of the club at the western end of the smoking-room; they were bought subject to the existing short-term leases. (fn. 42) In 1924 No. 7 Rose and Crown Yard, immediately to the north of No. 47 Pall Mall, was purchased for £2025. (fn. 43)
Building operations began in the winter of 1924–5, the architect in charge being C. W. Ferrier and the contractors Messrs. Higgs and Hill; the club was closed to members from August 1925 to July 1926. At the old house the work included the demolition of the old smoking-room and the building of a new one, the overhaul of the exterior stonework and the rebuilding of much of the kitchen. The new house provided chambers, bed-sitting-rooms, bedrooms, a ladies' drawing-room and dining-room and a squash court, as well as shop premises on the ground floor. The total cost of this enormous building programme was £167,471, and work was not completed until March 1927. (fn. 44)
The entrance arcade, central in the east front, opens to a shallow loggia of three bays (the middle one now glazed in to form a lobby) and thence into a vestibule, 26 feet wide and 16 feet deep. Two doorways, flanking a glazed arch, lead to the stair hall, a lofty oblong apartment measuring 26 by 40 feet (fig. 35). On the south side is the large morning-room, 71 feet long and 27 feet 6 inches wide, entered from the vestibule, and on the north side is the coffee-room, 81 feet 6 inches long and 30 feet 6 inches wide, plus a recess 8 feet 9 inches deep, forming an ante entered from the stair hall. The back wing, extending west behind the coffee-room, contained a servery, the strangers' coffee-room, and the house dining-room, both later absorbed by conversion into a smoking-room and now rebuilt as a cloakroom. On the first floor is the library, 49 feet by 28 feet 3 inches, which, with the library annexe, is above the morningroom. (fn. 45) Other rooms on this floor are the committee-room (or Nelson room) over the vestibule and the writing-room (now a luncheon-room) over the east part of the coffee-room. On the second floor are the rooms, mostly top-lit, for billiards, cards and smoking, and servants' dormitories.
Externally, the club-house is a whole-hearted essay in the Venetian Renaissance style of the early sixteenth century—Sansovino seen with Victorian eyes (Plates 116b, 117). In fact, the lofty ground storey is nearly a direct copy of the 'sea storey' of the Palazzo Corner della ca' Grande, the chief difference being that the lower windows are less salient and lack the flat segmental pediments of the original. The upper storey recalls the Corinthian third storey of the same building, as well as the second storey of the Libreria di San Marco. The faults of the building under review are obvious—it is garish where its prototypes are rich, and coarse where they are delicate—but it masses splendidly and forms, with the well-related Junior Carlton Club, an effective counterpoise to the great club-houses on the south side of Pall Mall.
The two elevations differ in length but are uniformly treated, each having a lofty ground storey of a Doric order, divided into bays by rustic piers, and an upper storey where the arch-headed windows are placed between engaged Corinthian columns, these sustaining a richly decorated entablature proportioned, not to the columns, but to the full height of the front. The entrance front, on the west side of St. James's Square, is nine bays long with an accented centre of three, and the return front to Pall Mall has six equal bays. The area balustrade—with plinth, square-section balusters and pedestal-die panels of vermiculated stone, and handsome cast-iron flambeaux-standards rising from the pedestals—largely conceals the plain plinth of the ground storey. The tall piers dividing the bays are formed of smooth-faced stones, laid in wide and narrow courses alternately, with channelled horizontal and vertical joints (the latter occurring only in the narrow courses), and they finish with Doric caps below an unbroken mutule cornice. Vermiculated stones are used for the four piers in the middle of the entrance front, which are united by arches to form a triple arcade, emphasizing the entrance. The arches rise from plain imposts and have heavy keystones each carved with a mask—the middle one a bearded male (? Neptune), that on the left a female (? Bellona), and that on the right a male (? Mars). All the other bays contain two windows, one above the other. The lower is a tall light in a rustic Doric frame, and the upper is almost square and flanked by enriched scroll-consoles. (Here, the upper window is merely a clerestory light, whereas in the prototype building it serves a mezzanine floor). The engaged plain-shafted Corinthian columns of the upper storey rest on plain pedestals, linked by the projecting balustrades in front of the first-floor windows. These columns are arranged in pairs along the Pall Mall front, with pilasters at each end, but on the St. James's Square front paired columns flank only the middle four bays, and single columns divide the three bays on either side. Each bay contains a tall round-arched window (its lunette glazed but blind) in an arch formed by plain pilaster-jambs with Doric imposts, and a moulded archivolt broken by an enriched scroll keystone. The huge crowning entablature comprises a moulded architrave, a deep frieze carved with putti riding dolphins, and military trophies on a groundwork of acanthus scrolls, and an enriched cornice with dentils and scroll-modillions. The front is finished with an open balustrade, appropriately divided into bays by panelled pedestals.
The stair hall and the principal ground- and first-floor rooms are decorated in a style best described as Louis Quinze revival, although much of the ornament, which is modelled in carton pierre and papier mâché, is naturalistic and seems to anticipate the 'art nouveau' manner. The general effect, however, is rather cold—gilding is entirely absent and there is little colour—the influence of Stafford House (now Lancaster House) is apparent, but the work under review hardly compares with that masterpiece of French Rococo revival. The most noteworthy features are the stair hall, the morning-room and the coffee-room.
The stair hall (Plate 118) is oblong in plan and rises through the two lofty storeys to a flat laylight ceiling, surrounded by a deep cove. The stone staircase begins with twin flights, rising on the long east-west axis to meet at a low-level landing. From this a single flight rises south, on the short axis, to a second landing where the stair divides into two branches, cantilevered from the wall, these continuing, with intermediate landings, to the first-floor landing, a gallery cantilevered out from the long north wall. The soffit of each step is moulded to a bracket profile, as in eighteenth-century work; the stairs are railed with an elaborate balustrade of cast iron; and the landing gallery has a coved soffit and a serpentinecurved front. The lower part of the walls is simply panelled, but each face of the upper stage is divided into three bays—one wide between two narrow—by panelled pilasters with consoles merging into atlantes which support the forward breaks in the main entablature. The three bays on the east side are open to a gallery landing, but the others are closed by plain wall faces. The cove is divided by enriched ribs and in each angle is a Baroque cartouche amid scrolls and palm-branches. One curious feature to be noticed is the arched fireplace let in to the front of the first low landing, the flue following the rake of the stairs; another is the almost makeshift approach to the library, by means of a quadrant landing in the south-east angle of the stair hall, the corresponding landing in the south-west angle being merely a respond.
The morning-room (Plate 119a) is the most successful of the interiors, its great height (some twenty-two feet) being effectively reduced by the use of a quadrant cove, broken by groined intersections, surrounding the flat ceiling which is modelled with three large panels, an oval flanked by circles. The coffee-room (Plate 119b) has a flat ceiling of three sections, each divided by ribs into a simple geometrical pattern of compartments, those in the raised middle section being glazed to form a lay-light. The walls are divided into bays by plain pilasters finished with elaborately modelled console-brackets which support the cross-beams and lateral ribs of the ceiling. In each bay is a round-headed panel, those over the three fireplaces being filled by large plate mirrors, and most of the others containing uniformly framed full-length portraits. The library is lined for most of its height with satinwood bookcases, linked by pedimented features which frame the large mirrors above the two chimneypieces.
Most of the chimneypieces in the principal rooms are of Baroque or Rococo inspiration, and were carved in white marble by Alfred Brown, (fn. 46) but in the committee-room on the first floor is a white marble chimneypiece of refined design, probably late eighteenth-century, with female terminal jambs and a large frieze tablet of Adam character, to which had been added an overmantel of white marble framing a Vauxhall plate lookingglass, which must date from the early eighteenth century. There is also a French Empire chimneypiece of white marble, said to have come from Malmaison, and now gracing the ladies' coffeeroom in the new annexe. Besides an interesting collection of painted portraits and a fine marble bust of Queen Victoria by Alfred Gilbert, the club contains some remarkable furniture, massive and highly ornate but of impeccable craftsmanship, which was specially made, and presumably designed, by Messrs. Gillow.