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.
St. James's Square: Individual Houses
Nos. 1 and 2 St. James's Square
Architects, Messrs. Mewès and Davis, 1954–6 (fn. c1)
The site of these two houses was originally, like that of Nos. 17 and 18 on the opposite side of the square, occupied by a single mansion on a corner site, with a long frontage to the square. Its site was the first to be disposed of by the Earl of St. Albans and his trustees, on 26/27 July 1665, when a grant of the leasehold interest was made to Henry Bennet, Lord Arlington, and of the freehold to Sir Thomas Clifford of Ugbrooke, Devon, and William Godolphin of the Inner Temple, as trustees for Arlington. The site had a front of 97 feet to the square and a depth of 200 feet along the north side of Charles (now Charles II) Street. Unlike later grants in the square, the deed described the site in reference to St. Albans's own grant, as reputedly a half of the northern plot on the east side of the intended square. Also unlike later grants, no ground-rent was reserved to St. Albans, Arlington covenanting merely to pay direct to the Crown a proportionate part of the ground-rent payable by St. Albans. (fn. 5) This amounted to £5 16s. 8d. per annum at 1s. 2d. per foot for a frontage of a nominal 100 feet. (fn. 6)
Arlington undertook to build within two years on the entire frontage 'one good and sufficient Pyatza house' to the scantlings, materials and height of storeys 'as are already agreed upon and appointed by Sir John Dynham [Denham] his Majesties Surveyor Generall of the Workes there and to be uniforme and according to the designe thereof made and agreed uppon as aforesaid'. (fn. 5) For an unknown reason the grant was repeated to Clifford and Godolphin, presumably as trustees, on 20 March 1665/6. (fn. 7) on 20 March 1665/6. (fn. 7)
The early history of the ownership of the site is nevertheless uncertain. In St. Albans's rent-roll of 1676 Lord Arlington appeared as owner by right of the grant of July 1665. (fn. 6) But it was Arlington's elder brother, Sir John Bennet, later Lord Ossulston, who had negotiated with a builder in March 1669/70 for the erection of a house and was its occupant until it passed, on his death, to his son, the second Lord Ossulston, later first Earl of Tankerville. No conveyance from Arlington to his brother is known to survive but presumably a family compact was in operation. In July 1663 Sir John had been granted a building lease by St. Albans of a site in St. James's market place. (fn. 5)
Despite the terms of the grant of 1665 it was not immediately followed by building, which finally took place on this site approximately at the same time as that in the rest of the square, in the 1670's. In March 1669/70 Sir John Bennet came to an agreement with John Downes of the parish of St. Martin in the Fields, bricklayer, for the building of a 'great messuage' in the 'piatzo' and also of adjacent houses on the north side of Charles Street. The agreement was subsequently the subject of Chancery proceedings which give the only evidence of its provisions. (fn. 8) Sir John claimed that, having 'little skill in building', he was persuaded by Downes, who pretended to 'a great skill in Architecture', to entrust him not only with erecting the buildings 'according to the plot and designe' agreed between them but also with 'provideing all brick, lyme, tyles and other materialls belonging to a bricklayers worke', for which he was allowed to dig sand on the property. Thus, according to Sir John, he 'did wholly comitt the care and management of the said building unto the said John Downes'. Any disputes over the charges for the work were to be referred to arbitrators, and, if they could not agree, to the Surveyor General, Wren. (fn. 1) Sir John agreed to pay Downes £200 when the articles were sealed between them, and then during the course of the work to pay for all bricklayer's work as each storey was completed. A year was allowed for the work, Downes covenanting, according to Sir John, to complete the brickwork before 24 March 1670/1 'if the weather did not hinder'.
The house was in existence by January 1673/4, when it was mentioned as the boundary of the site of No. 3. (fn. 9)
The quality of construction did not prove to be satisfactory to Sir John, who in May 1675 complained in what he called 'a friendly manner' to Downes of his 'slight or inartificiall building of the said houses', and had the dispute referred to arbitrators. In May 1676 Sir John petitioned the Court of Chancery. He complained that the brickwork had been made only four inches thick, 'by reason whereof the Chymnies of the said house when your orator came to use them and make fires therein would not carry smoake but the smoake did goe through the chimney backs and fill the roomes behinde the said chimnies with smoake so that it rendred the said chimnys and Roomes useless to your Orator and by reason of the thinness of the said chimnies the fire therein did burne off the pins and peggs that fastned the wainscott to the said chimnies and very much indangered the burning downe the said great house'. Bad workmanship and material had caused walls and chimneys to crack and fall, necessitating the expenditure of large sums on repairs and rebuilding.
Sir John seems to have claimed to have paid Downes at least £1850. In his reply Downes acknowledged receiving only £1814, and claimed that some £238 more was owed to him. Sir John further claimed that during a meeting of the arbitrators in 1675, 'whilest your orator was busied in makeing out and proveing' his complaint, Downes 'clandestinely and surreptitiously' took from him a receipt for £1800: Downes replied that he had simply retrieved a statement of his expenses. He asserted that the work was done 'well and substantially' and that as the quantity of work for which he was to be paid was to be 'reduced by measure to a brick and halfe thick' the method of calculating the extent of the brickwork made it advantageous for him to build thick walls. Any subsequent expenditure by Sir John on the house had been 'to alter or beautifie the same according to the plaintiff's fancy' and not to remedy defects. (fn. 8) Nevertheless, the history of the house in the square and of those in Charles Street suggests that the original construction may have been unsound.
The occupation of the house was thus delayed, and it was not until 1677 that it appears in the ratebooks, in the occupation of Sir John, who had previously lived on the south side of Pall Mall. (fn. 10) In January of that year, perhaps before it was fitted for permanent occupation, it was hired by Lord Purbeck, who himself had a house on the other side of the square, for a masked ball that set tongues wagging. (fn. 11)
Lord Ossulston seems not to have occupied the house regularly, sometimes being rated for that on the Army and Navy Club site, (fn. 10) and after his death it was used intermittently as an embassy for a quarter of a century. In February 1697/8 the second Lord Ossulston, who in 1714 was created Earl of Tankerville, leased the house to the Crown for two years, at £400 per annum, to be used to accommodate foreign ambassadors. (fn. 12) In April 1698 the Swedish ambassador was perhaps lodging here. (fn. 13) In February 1701/2 Lord Ossulston leased the house, at £360 per annum, to Nicholas Santiny, a merchant of London, who was evidently acting on behalf of the Venetian ambassador. (fn. 14) In March 1704/5 he granted another lease to Santiny but for a month only, (fn. 14) and by the summer of 1705 the division of the house into two parts was being effected by his workmen, Jeremy Delavall, carpenter, Thomas Anyon, bricklayer, and Francis Browne, painter. (fn. 15)
In March 1705/6 Ossulston let the smaller, southern, part of the divided building, occupying the corner with an entrance in Charles Street, to Thomas Brerewood, sometimes described as a merchant, of the parish of St. Clement Danes, who was an agent for clothing the Duke of Schomberg's and the Duke of Northumberland's regiments and who seems to have been involved in great financial difficulties. (fn. 16) The lease was for twenty-one years at £50 per annum, with a condition that Brerewood should spend £200 on the repair of the house. (fn. 17) Brerewood later claimed to have spent this and £500 more on new wainscoting, floors, staircase and chimneys, on a verbal understanding that Ossulston would reimburse him for the uncovenanted expenditure. (fn. 18) At about this time Ossulston was himself repairing the more northerly house which he occupied. (fn. 19) If Brerewood is to be believed, all the Ossulston property in the square and Charles Street needed repair, and in fact in April 1709 Ossulston granted a building lease of two houses in Charles Street, adjoining the house let to Brerewood, to his carpenter, Delavall, and an associate. (fn. 20) Brerewood subsequently complained that Delavall's activities caused the collapse of a chimney-stack, damaging Brerewood's house. (fn. 18) His assessment of the damage seems to have been much higher than that made in April 1711 by John James. (fn. 21) There was a collapse of No. 3, or part of it, at about the same time, in which Delavall was involved (see page 84) but it is not certain what was the causal relationship between these structural mishaps. The collapse at No. 3 may have been connected with further work on the house in Ossulston's own occupation which, at this time, was also, according to Brerewood, 'new building or repaireing'. (fn. 18) The end of 1710 and summer of 1711 saw disputes between Ossulston and Brerewood over the cost of repairing the damage to Brerewood's house, and Brerewood petitioned the Court of Chancery. (fn. 22) The matter was composed but in October 1712 Brerewood was again petitioning Chancery that Ossulston was trying to eject him because he had an opportunity to let both the divided houses 'to some foreign Ambassador'. According to Brerewood, Ossulston threatened to be 'a troublesome neighbour' to him if he did not comply. (fn. 18) The result of the dispute is not known but Brerewood remained in occupation of the corner house until nearly the end of his twentyone-year term. (fn. 10)
In September 1713 Ossulston was being offered £300 per annum by the Savoyard ambassador for his house, presumably the one in the square. (fn. 23) In September 1714 he let the more northerly house to Baron Bothmar, the minister of the new Hanoverian monarch by whom, in the following month, Ossulston was advanced in the peerage as Earl of Tankerville. The rent charged was only £275 per annum, with Bothmar undertaking to reimburse his landlord for any rates and taxes over £25 per annum, and to spend £500 repairing the coach-house and stables at the back. The term was seven years, renewable for a further seven.
A schedule appended to the lease gives some description of the house at this time. On the ground floor the 'Little Dining Room' and the 'Great Parlour' were both panelled with wainscot to the ceiling, which in the former room was painted. The chimneypieces were of marble, in black, white and blue-and-white. In the entrance hall, wainscoted with raised panels and bolectionmouldings, was a Portland stone chimneypiece, and a 'large Arch', carved, with fluted Corinthian pilasters. This probably gave on to the 'Great Staircase', with its carved brackets and 'iron folded and wainscot railes', lit by two stone-moulded sash windows and two lesser sash windows, and rising under 'a frett work Ceiling'. On the first floor, containing the 'Great Dining Room' lit by three windows, all the rooms were panelled to window or ceiling height, and had black or white marble chimneypieces. On these two floors all the windows had sashes, but on the second floor the windows, including those fronting the square, were casements. The rooms on this floor, all panelled window-high, had wooden chimneypieces. Above, the garrets contained a laundry. (fn. 14)
At about this time Ossulston was having a legal dispute with the executors of his bricklayer, Anyon, (fn. 23) and in 1718–20 he seems to have been similarly involved with Delavall and James. (fn. 24) He carried out no further building work in the square, although his subscription to Leoni's edition of Palladio (fn. 25) possibly indicates a more than utilitarian interest in architecture.
In May 1722 the first Earl died. Bothmar probably vacated the northerly house at about the same time. (fn. 26) Brerewood continued to occupy the southerly house (fn. 27) but the second Earl immediately began alterations to Bothmar's old house. In January 1723 work worth upwards of £334 seems to have been carried out, mainly in rebuilding the back of the house, by John Jenner, a bricklayer who was also employed at the Bennets' country house at Dawley. (fn. 28) (fn. 2) The ending of Brerewood's tenancy in 1726 allowed the work to be extended, under Jenner's supervision, to the southern house. In the summer of that year, into the following winter, the carpenter worked on a new roof, (fn. 3) and shored up the house for the rebuilding of 'ye two fronts', presumably to the square and to Charles Street. In January 1726/7 Jenner was 'pulling down the old Brick House' to 'Inlarge the great room', and the Earl was approving Jenner's 'contrivance of a Girder instedd of the Columns in the new designed great Room': the divided houses were thus reunited. (fn. 28) In April Jenner was being urged by Tankerville's steward 'to spurr the People on to Make an End of that Hows as fast as you can—It hangs shamefully long.'
The work was again attended with disputes. The bill for bricklayer's work carried out by a James Jenner amounted to some £503 at £7 per rod. In April 1729 Co[lin] Campbell gave his opinion that £6 per rod was a sufficient price, and the Earl further abated Jenner's bill in respect of the large proportion of old brick that had been reused. A lawsuit resulted and in February 1729/1730 arbitrators awarded John Jenner's executors £184 against the Earl. (fn. 28)
The exterior of the house after this rebuilding appears in Bowles's view published in c. 1752 (Plate 130, fig. 5). This shows a nine-window-wide front to the square, with a central entrance. The exterior, with eaves-cornice, bandcourse, rusticated quoins and garret windows, seems to have been unremarkable. The first-floor windows looking on the square were segmental-headed with keystones and the sills supported by brackets, but the Charles Street windows were straight-headed.
If the exterior was unassuming the interior was evidently elaborate. The house was still unoccupied in 1727 (fn. 10) and the decoration of the interior was not completed for some years. On 14 January 1728/9 the Earl, as an adherent of Prince Frederick, gave a ball in his honour: at No. 6 Lady Bristol reported to her husband that the square was 'full of mobb' and that the Earl had for a fortnight past employed a hundred workmen 'to finish and furnish his house for this great occasion'. (fn. 29) The most notable work still remained to be done, the painting of the hall and staircase by the Venetian, Jacopo Amigoni (or Amiconi), and his compatriot Brunetti, which was finished in March 1731. According to a contemporary newspaper this 'exquisite Piece of Workmanship' illustrated 'the Discovery of Achilles; the Preservation of Telemachus, with the Prophecy of the blind Tiresias'. (fn. 30) Amigoni made it clear to a prospective client attracted by this work that he had concerned himself only with 'ye Historicall parts' and had 'had a person to do ye ornaments', presumably Brunetti. (fn. 31) Vertue relates that Amigoni asked Lord Tankerville for only his expenses, amounting to about £90, finding 'the opportunity to show what he was capable of doing in so convenient a place' sufficient further remuneration, whereupon Tankerville, being 'well pleas'd' with the work, gave him £200. (fn. 32) The painting certainly succeeded in attracting favourable attention, the visitors including the Queen. (fn. 33) Horace Walpole thought his work insipid; 'yet novelty was propitious to Amiconi, and for a few years he had great business'. (fn. 34) By October 1731 he was able to discard this 'modest & obliging' demeanour in abortive negotiations with Hawksmoor, acting on behalf of Lord Carlisle, when he 'insisted upon [£]200 . . . and that if he did anything at a low price in one place it wou'd hurt him in another'. (fn. 35)
This decorative work, though much admired, was short-lived and Vertue had to record that the wall painting, 'esteemed one of the best & greatest performance of the works of Amiconi', had been demolished when Lord Tankerville's 'great house' was pulled down in 1752. (fn. 36) For despite the early eighteenth-century repairs and rebuildings the mid-eighteenth century saw a complete reconstruction of the site and the ending of the Bennet ownership.
In April 1750 the Earl mortgaged the house to secure £1050, and in July 1752 he sold it to Robert Andrews of St. George's, Hanover Square, esquire. (fn. 4) The price was £6000, including the discharge of the mortgage. Andrews was acting on behalf of three builders, William Timbrell and John Spencer, carpenters, and John Barlow, bricklayer, all of St. George's, Hanover Square. Immediately following his grant from the Earl, Andrews conveyed the property to a trustee, subject to a further trust in favour of the three builders, conditional upon their repayment of the £6000 to Andrews plus interest at four per cent by 22 January following. They had agreed with Andrews to pull down the house and build two houses in its place, spending 'a much larger Sum than the £6000 in the doing thereof'. (fn. 37) The old house was demolished by 1753. (fn. 10)
On 30 November 1754 a further £3000 lent by Andrews to the three builders was charged on the more southerly of the two new houses. The first occupant was rated from Lady Day 1756. This was the second Earl of Dartmouth, to whom the builders (Timbrell now figuring as 'esquire') had agreed in January 1756 to make a lease of the house from midsummer 1756 for seven years at £280 per annum. The builders undertook that they would 'compleatly wainscott the large Parlour which adjoyns next to Lord Falmouth's House' (No. 2). (fn. 38) Lord Dartmouth had recently married and the trustees of the marriage settlement had been empowered to spend £5000 on the purchase of a house in Westminster or the Middlesex Bills of Mortality. In June 1757 they contracted with the builders for the purchase of No. 1 for this sum. On 11 May 1758 the sale, to which Andrews and his trustee were also parties, was concluded. (fn. 39)
The ownership of the house by the Earls of Dartmouth lasted for eighty-seven years. For most of the period it was occupied by them, but from 1806 to 1830 was occupied on lease by the third Lord Grantham, who later, after three years in No. 13, moved to No. 4 on succeeding to the de Grey Earldom. (fn. 10)
On 30 April 1845 trustees for the fourth Earl of Dartmouth sold the house to the London and Westminster Bank for £10,000. (fn. 40) The Westminster Bank still own and occupy the site.
The lease of the house to Lord Grantham, at £630 per annum, in 1805 (fn. 41) had contained an inventory, from which it is possible to gain an idea of the internal planning at that time.
The house, which had a frontage of about forty-eight feet to the square and fifty-six to Charles Street, had its entrance in the centre of the Charles Street front. This opened into a 'front hall' which presumably occupied the south-east angle of the building. Immediately to the left, on entering, was the 'library' occupying the southwest angle, and having two windows (the inventory lists 'two morine window curtains to draw in festoon') looking on to the square. The remaining two windows in the front overlooking the square (there were 'two green worsted damask window curtains to draw in festoon') were those of the 'dining room' in the north-west angle. Behind it, in the north-east angle, was probably the 'back parlour', whilst the central portion of the eastern half of the plan, between this and the front hall, seems to have contained the 'backstairs', next to the back parlour, and the 'front stairs' adjacent to the front hall.
The first-floor plan must have been similar, with a 'front drawing room' to the north overlooking the square and a 'south-west dressing room', also overlooking the square, adjacent to it. There was a 'back bedchamber', probably on the south side of the building above the front hall, leaving the space above the back parlour for a 'back dressing room'. The front staircase appears to have finished, in the normal way, at the first floor, and must have been top-lit. The general arrangement of the two remaining floors must have been basically similar, though it is difficult, without further information, to place the 'middle room' mentioned as having existed on each of them.
Externally the house is shown in photographs taken between 1934 and 1938 to have been a composition of three storeys below the main cornice, with an attic storey above (Plate 164a). It was four windows wide on the St. James's Square front, and had six windows, grouped in pairs, to all except the lowest storey of the Charles Street front, where there was a central doorway. On both fronts the bottom storey appears to have been stuccoed at a date subsequent to that of Timbrell's original building, and certain other alterations were probably made at the same time. Before these alterations were made No. 1 appears to have been similar in character to No. 2 (also built by Timbrell) as shown in the same set of photographs. If this was the case, No. 1 was originally faced with brick on both fronts, and had, at the level of the first floor, a stone bandcourse above which was a vestigial brick pedestal capped by a continuous narrow stone band at the level of the first-floor window sills. Above the secondfloor windows the stone cornice was of the Ionic order, with dentils. A plain stone coping crowned the attic storey. All the windows, except those of the attic storey, which were plain, had stepped and moulded architraves. Those to the ground- and first-floor windows were eared, presumably on both fronts. The form of the principal doorway, in the centre of the Charles Street front, is unknown.
Later (possibly early in the period of the Westminster Bank's occupancy) the details of both fronts were altered, to their detriment. The bottom storey was faced with stucco, in imitation of a stone base with horizontal joints channelled. To the main entrance on Charles Street was added a projecting rusticated porch of the Tuscan order, also finished in stucco, with an arched entrance framed within a pair of attached angle columns and their entablature. This was surmounted by an open balustrade in front of the central pair of first-floor windows. Perhaps at the same time the remaining ornamental features were re-formed in stucco. On the Charles Street front the groundfloor windows were retained at about their original size, and were treated as plain openings in the rusticated base with straight-arched heads and projecting keystones. Those on the St. James's Square front were considerably increased in height and were given bracketed sills and eared architraves surmounted by cornice-hoods planted on to the original first-floor bandcourse. The original sizes of the first-floor windows were retained on the Charles Street front, but the sills of those overlooking the square were lowered to the bottom of the pedestal course and an iron balcony of the basket type was fixed to each one. On both fronts pulvinated friezes and cornice-hoods were added above the eared architraves. No apparent change was made to the second-floor windows, but the attic storey was given attic pilasters at the extremities of each front, and finished with an attic frieze and cornice.
In 1864 the Bank bought two adjacent houses in Charles Street (Nos. 2 and 3) and in 1875 four more houses in that street (Nos. 4–8). (fn. 42) Between 1870 and 1895 the Bank united the ground floor of No. 1 St. James's Square with that of the previous Nos. 2 and 3 Charles Street. (fn. 43) This eastern part of the building, in Charles Street, was renumbered No. 1A St. James's Square: in 1913 it contained an eighteenth-century wooden chimneypiece said to have been removed from the 'district of Bath'. (fn. 44)
No. 1 St. James's Square was demolished in December 1955–January 1956.
In August 1752 Timbrell, Spencer and Barlow came to an agreement with Hugh Boscawen, second Viscount Falmouth, to build him a house on the northern part of the site of the old house. (fn. 37) On 6–7 November 1754 this northern site, stretching back 200 feet, with a yard entrance running down to Charles Street, was sold, together with the new house, by Andrews, his trustee and the three builders, to Lord Falmouth for £8200, of which £6240 was paid to Andrews. (fn. 37) Lord Falmouth appears as occupier in the course of 1754. (fn. 10)
Until 1923 the house was owned, and for the greater part of the period occupied, by the Boscawen family. In that year it was sold by Viscount Falmouth to the Canada Life Assurance Company. The house was at that time substantially unaltered. (fn. 45) The house was destroyed in an airraid and the site sold in 1950 to the Westminster Bank. (fn. 46)
The front of No. 2 (Plate 164a), which was about equal in height and width with that of No. 1, was in all respects similar to it in its original state as described above, except that it retained its original doorcase, and had architraves surrounding the windows of the attic storey. The doorcase, which appears to have been of stone, had a square-headed architrave without ears, a pulvinated frieze and a cornice-hood carried on console brackets. The attic storey appears to have been rebuilt, and it is possible that the window architraves were added at the time of this rebuilding.
In 1818 the front of No. 2 was taken as a model for that of No. 6.
The present office block on the site of Nos. 1 and 2 in the square and Nos. 1–5 Charles II Street was built in 1954–6 to the design of Messrs. Mewès and Davis for the Westminster Bank Limited, (fn. 47) who have thus occupied part of the site for 115 years.