Survey of London: Volumes 31 and 32, St James Westminster, Part 2. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1963.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
Poland Street Area: Little Gelding's Close
Until its surrender to the Crown in 1536 the area to be considered in this chapter (fig. 46) had evidently formed part of the estate of the Mercers' Company, which in January 1559/60 was granted in fee by Queen Elizabeth to William Dodington. In June 1561 it was acquired, together with the other lands formerly belonging to the Mercers' Company, by Thomas Wilson of St. Botolph without Aldgate, brewer (see page 24). Between 1561 and 1575 Wilson's tenant enclosed this area and used it as a horse pasture, from which it and a small piece of land to the west later known as Pawlett's Garden acquired the name of Little Gelding's Close. (fn. 2) (fn. 1) In c. 1580 James Bristow, the tenant in occupation of much of the surrounding Crown land, unsuccessfully claimed Wilson's part of the close (see pages 24–5) and it was in connexion with the ensuing litigation that the plan reproduced on Plate 1 was made.
In January 1618/19 Thomas Wilson's son, Richard Wilson, sold Little Gelding's Close and some nineteen other acres in the vicinity to Robert Baker, the builder of Piccadilly Hall. (fn. 3) In or shortly before 1671 James Baker, who was Robert Baker's great-nephew, and his wife Grace, sold the freehold of Little Gelding's Close to John Collens of St. Giles's, brewer. The latter leased the close in January 1671/2 to John Allen, brickmaker of Soho, for sixty-two years from Christmas 1671. In April 1679 Collens, together with his son William, sold the freehold to Sir Benjamin Maddox, who already owned other land nearby, for £400. Maddox's interest was subject to Allen's sixty-two-year lease, which between 1679 and 1683 became vested in James Pollett or Pawlett. (fn. 4) By his will, dated February 1714/15, Sir Benjamin Maddox bequeathed the freehold of Little Gelding's Close to his grand-daughter, Mary Rudyerd, while his other freehold estates in St. James's passed to his daughter, Mary Pollen. (fn. 5)
James Pollett was a former cook who turned property speculator and became closely involved in the development of the land in the north-eastern corner of St. James's parish. In the 1680's he acquired separate long leases of the three adjoining fields (Little Gelding's Close, Doghouse Close and Colman Hedge Close) in the angle between Oxford Street and Wardour Street (then Tyburn Road and Colman Hedge Lane). Together these lands covered an area of about thirteen acres (fn. 6) (fig. 2).
There was therefore an opportunity to create in this north-east corner of the parish a better integrated street layout than would have been possible had the three fields been each in separate ownership. The elongated shape of Little Gelding's Close and its abuttal at the south-east on Colman Hedge Close, made it possible to link up a longitudinal street extending south from Tyburn Road (i.e. Poland Street), which was laid down the middle of Little Gelding's Close, with a lateral street running west from Colman Hedge Lane (i.e. Broad, now Broadwick Street), which extended through Colman Hedge Close into the lower part of Little Gelding's Close.
In July 1683, probably with this plan for the layout of his estate in mind, James Pollett entered into an agreement with Adam Pigott, citizen and cutler of London, who owned another parcel of land elsewhere in St. Martin's parish known as Currance's Bowling Green, for the joint development of their two properties. Pigott died shortly afterwards and the agreement was cancelled. (fn. 7)
In 1690 James Pollett began granting building leases of plots of land in Little Gelding's Close 'in a new street designed to be made of thirty foot wide from the house or inn called by the sign of the King of Poland in Tyburn Road'. (fn. 8) Poland Street first appears by name in the ratebooks in 1689 but it then applied only to the six houses on either side of the inn on the south side of Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street) between Wardour and King (now Kingly) Street. (fn. 9) This inn, from which Poland Street evidently takes its name, stood on the site of No. 161 Oxford Street, at the north-west corner of Poland Street, and was probably so called in commemoration of the victory of John Sobieski, King of Poland, over the Turks in 1683. By 1749 the inn was known as the Wheatsheaf, and in 1925 its name was changed to the Dickens Wine House. Fifteen years later the building was destroyed by a bomb, and the site is now used for other purposes. (fn. 10)
The erection of the houses in Poland Street was delayed for some years, possibly because of James Pollett's financial troubles, for shortly after his death in 1703 his executors James Alexander, John Rokeby, Joseph Collens and Matthew Hopkinson speedily implemented the original building scheme. They began by building sewers in Poland Street, having first obtained the permission of the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers. At the same time one of the executors, Joseph Collens, was separately engaged in a similar project for the layout and development of Great Marlborough Street on the adjoining Millfield (fn. 11) (see page 250).
The first seven houses built in Poland Street were rated in 1705, and stood on the west side between Nos. 50 and 63. In the following year fifteen other houses were completed on the west side and eighteen on the east side of the street, then described as 'new ground'. The whole street seems to have been completely built up by 1707. (fn. 12) Lessees included Thomas Edmonds, William Nurse, Benjamin Bly, Joseph Stare, John Campion, Henry Hathwell, William Barber, John Blackman and Richard Stacey. Of these, the last five were all bricklayers. (fn. 13)
Poland Street has suffered a great deal of lowquality rebuilding and the few original houses that remain are sandwiched between late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century office and warehouse blocks, only one or two of which are worth a glance in passing. Besides these there are some very plain early or mid nineteenth-century houses which, though they appear to be entirely of that date, may incorporate part of the fabric of earlier buildings. Nos. 7, 11, 23, 24, 48 and 54 have all been identified as original houses. It is clear, despite the heavy alterations made to them, that when built they varied considerably in quality, ranging from No. 24, which is very plain, to Nos. 7, 48 and 54 which give evidence of having been among the best houses in the north-eastern part of the parish.
Although many of the houses were small, especially those towards Oxford Street, Poland Street was for the first half century of its existence a place of fashionable residence with a number of peers, titled widows and military officers living there. Three of the houses there were, for a time, foreign legations. Monsieur Zamboni, the resident of Hesse-Darmstadt in London, lived at No. 60 from 1728 to 1740, the Sicilian envoy was at No. 11 from 1754 to 1756 and the Polish ambassador at No. 49 from 1786 to 1788. (fn. 14)
The architect Giacomo Leoni lived at No. 52 (now demolished) from 1744 to 1746 and possibly died there. Dr. Charles Burney, the musicologist, lived at No. 50 (now demolished) from 1760 until 1770. (fn. 15) His daughter Fanny, later Madame D'Arblay, the novelist, was then a child. In a memoir of her father published in 1832 she wrote:
The new establishment was in Poland-street; which was not then, as it is now, a sort of street that, like the rest of the neighbourhood, appears to be left in the lurch. House-fanciers were not yet as fastidious as they are become at present, from the endless variety of new habitations. Oxford-road, as, at that time, Oxfordstreet was called, into which Poland-street terminated, had little on its further side but fields, gardeners' grounds, or uncultivated suburbs. Portman, Manchester, Russell, Belgrave squares, Portland-place, etc. etc., had not yet a single stone or brick laid, in signal of intended erection: while in plain Poland-street, Mr. Burney, then, had successively for his neighbours, the Duke of Chandos, Lady Augusta Bridges, the Hon. John Smith and the Miss Barrys, Sir Willoughby and the Miss Astons; and, well noted by Mr. Burney's little family, on the visit of his black majesty to England, sojourned, almost immediately opposite to it, the Cherokee King. (fn. 16)
There is no sign of these titled residents in the Poland Street ratebooks for the years when Dr. Burney lived in the street, but it is possible that they occupied furnished houses and did not pay rates.
Other notable residents not mentioned below under individual houses include the architect, Sir William Chambers, and Paul Sandby, the painter and engraver, who both lived at No. 58, the former from 1758 to 1766 and the latter from 1767 to 1772; Thomas Malton, senior, the architectural draughtsman, who in 1772 moved into No. 58 and lived there until 1780; (fn. 9) Gavin Hamilton, the painter, who is said to have lived in the street in 1779, after his return from Italy; (fn. 17) and William Blake, who lived at No. 28 from 1785 to 1791. (fn. 18)
In the nineteenth century Poland Street was mostly inhabited by small tradesmen and craftsmen, particularly manufacturing jewellers, engravers and carvers. (fn. 19)
The houses at the east end of Great Marlborough Street were also built on part of Little Gelding's Close. Persons of note who occupied these houses included: No. 58, John Murray, second Earl of Dunmore, 1716–21; the Bishop of St. David's, 1732–5; Thomas Sandby, architect, brother of Paul, 1760–5; and John Henry Hurter, enameller, 1779–95; No. 60, Dr. Underwood (? Michael Underwood, man-midwife), 1780–91; William Kent, brush-manufacturer, 1805–9. (fn. 15) The West London Dispensary (later the British Hospital) for Diseases of the Skin, was at No. 60 from 1867 to 1883 and at No. 61 from 1884 to 1896. (fn. 19)
Broadwick Street traverses the southern portion of Little Gelding's Close from east to west. Six houses were built on the north side of this section of the street, of which Nos. 42–46 (even) Broadwick Street still survive, and on the south side there were seven houses, whose site is now occupied by Colquhoun House, a modern block between Lexington Street and Ingestre Place. The first houses were built here in 1703 and 1704, at the same time as the houses began to go up in Poland Street, (fn. 9) and were probably erected by the same building tradesmen.
Nos. 1–5 (consec.) Poland Street
This office and warehouse block was erected in 1902–3 for a motor car company. (fn. 19) The architects were Messrs. Bartlett and Ross of Chancery Lane (fn. 20) (Plate 141b). It has a three-storeyed front of brick dressed with stone or terra-cotta, the whole now painted cream. The composition is a classical one in six bays, but the detailing has a strong art nouveau flavour. In the ground storey each bay is filled with a large segmental-headed window, the divisions between the bays being marked by rusticated pilasters with a pronounced entasis. Upon the pilasters stand enriched pedestals which narrow at the bottom and these support an enriched pulvinated cornice. In the second and third storeys there are three plain windows to a bay, the third-storey windows having round heads and continued sills, and between the bays are plain pilasters supporting a second pulvinated cornice, this one ornamented with brackets. Each pilaster has attached to it a foliated cartouche surmounted by a crown, and bearing alternately the monogram E.R. or the date 1902.
Nos. 7 and 11 Poland Street
No. 7 was erected in 1706 and first occupied by the Countess of Sandwich. (fn. 9) It was then one of the largest houses in the street; from 1789 to 1792 it was occupied by Jacob Schnebbelie, the topographical engraver. (fn. 15)
The house comprises a basement and four storeys. The front, which is two windows wide, has been refaced in yellow brick; in the back wall, however, the original dull-pink brick survives. The interior, consisting of a single front and back room on each floor with a closet projecting beyond the back room, has lost most of its panelling, but the entrance passage is complete with raised-andfielded ovolo-moulded panelling finished with a moulded dado-rail and a box-cornice. At the end of the passage, flanking the entrance to the staircase compartment, are two panelled Doric pilasters from which spring a slightly pointed arch with a moulded archivolt, but both the pilasters and the arch are probably later additions or replacements. The staircase is built round a very narrow well, the first six flights having cut strings with carved step-ends, turned and twisted balusters, and a moulded handrail, the latter ramped up at the landings over column newels with Corinthian capitals. In the last two flights the strings are closed and moulded with simpler turned balusters, but the newels are heavy twisted ones of a quite unusual pattern. Up to the half-space landing above the first floor the compartment is fully panelled like the entrance passage, and with boxcornices at the landings, but above that the panelling is entirely plain.
No. 11 is very similar in plan and outward appearance to No. 7, and it also has been refronted. The interior finishings, however, are on a slightly more modest scale, the dog-legged staircase having only moulded closed strings, although in the lower flights the balusters are twisted and there are fluted column newels. On the first floor fragments of raised-and-fielded ovolo-moulded panelling remain in the front room, and in the back room sunk panelling similarly moulded.
No. 15 Poland Street
The first house on this site was probably built in 1707 and in 1716 was in the occupation of the Earl of Suffolk. (fn. 21) The poet Shelley found lodgings here in March 1811 after being sent down from Oxford; he remained at No. 15 until reconciled with his family in mid May. (fn. 22)
This is a much altered house, probably of late eighteenth-century date. The front, four storeys high and three windows wide, is of yellow stock brick, the upper part rebuilt. The windows, those in the two top storeys retaining barred sashes, are recessed in plain openings, proportioned to the storey-heights, with stone sills, plastered reveals and gauged flat arches. A wooden shopfront fills the ground storey, and a stucco tablet, lugged at each end, covers the apron space between the first- and second-floor windows. There is nothing of interest inside. The north side of the house is now supported by shoring, the adjoining houses having been demolished in 1913 for the formation of an opening between Noel Street (in Doghouse Close) and Poland Street.
No. 23 Poland Street: Ye Old King's Arms Public House
This house was built and occupied by 1706 and though periodically repaired and altered, has probably not been completely rebuilt. (fn. 9) It has been a public house since at least 1718 when the name of Edward Creusdon or Crusdon, the first occupant known to have been an innkeeper, appears in the ratebooks. The inn was known as the King's Arms from at least 1739. (fn. 23) A plaque on the front of the house is inscribed 'In this Old King's Arms Tavern The Ancient Order of Druids was revived 28th November 1781. This commemorative plaque was placed here on the 150th anniversary By the A.O.D.'
The house contains a basement and three storeys with a stuccoed front three windows wide. The ground-storey front appears to date from the middle of the nineteenth century, but in the upper storeys the windows are segmental-headed with exposed sash frames, while above the second storey is a raised bandcourse. The interior has been completely altered.
No. 24 Poland Street
This house was probably built and occupied by 1707. (fn. 12) It is the same height as No. 23, but its front, probably rebuilt in the early nineteenth century, is only two windows wide. The interior has the same plan as Nos. 7 and 11, but without a projecting closet. The panelling in the entrance passage is very plain with a moulded dado-rail and a small wooden cornice, while the cramped doglegged staircase has moulded closed strings, simple turned balusters and column newels. There are portions of sunk ovolo-moulded panelling in the first-floor front room, but the back room at this level has plain panelling.
Nos. 47 and 48 Poland Street
No. 48 comprises a basement, four storeys and a garret, the fourth storey and the garret being additions of a considerably later date. The front is three windows wide, being built of brick that has been resurfaced a light grey. The windows in the second and third storeys have flat gauged arches, those in the second storey having continued sills. Above the second storey is a stone bandcourse and above the third storey a block-cornice of stone, the north end of it being returned but not the south end. The exterior of the former No. 47 (fn. 24) was exactly similar to this house, except that there was no bandcourse above the second storey and the doorcase had survived, the moulded wooden architrave being surmounted by a cornice on carved consoles. Both these fronts seem advanced in style for houses of 1703–5, and it is possible that they were refaced in about 1750. (fn. 9) The interior of No. 48 is said to have been completely altered, but a description of 1946 (fn. 25) shows that some of the original, early eighteenth-century work survived until that date. The first-floor front room had raised-and-fielded panelling carved with egg-anddart and the cove of the ceiling was ornamented with eagles and foliated human heads. The lower flights of the staircase had cut strings with shaped step-ends and turned balusters, the newels being heavy and twisted, presumably similar to the ones already noted at No. 7.
Nos. 52 and 53 Poland Street
This building formed part of a rigidly uniform range extending over the sites of Nos. 49–53 which was erected in 1871–2 by the Board of Guardians of the Westminster Union as an extension of the adjoining workhouse; the northern portion of the range has since been rebuilt as part of a garage. The architect was William Lee and the contractors Messrs. Hill, Keddall and Waldram (fn. 26) (Plate 140a). The part that remains has an austere five-storeyed front of grey brick that attracts attention in the context of modern Poland Street. It is in the late nineteenth-century 'workhouse style' that can also be seen in Brewer Street and Ingestre Place, the windows having arches of red gauged brick with keystones; the front is divided into bays by rusticated pilaster-strips.
No. 54 Poland Street
This is one of the larger houses in the street. It was also one of the earliest to be built and occupied, for it was first rated in 1705. It was occupied from then until 1739–40 by Captain Defour or Defaux, possibly Paul Dufour who developed Dufour's Court (see page 214). From 1788 to 1792 the house was the home of Elizabeth Billington, who is described in the Dictionary of National Biography as 'the greatest singer England has ever produced'. On account of her generous and amorous disposition Mrs. Billington was known as the 'Poland Street man trap.' (fn. 27) She was married to James Billington, a doublebass player whose name appears in the ratebooks. The house contains a basement, three storeys and a garret, the latter now reconstructed (Plate 140a). The resurfaced and painted brick front is three windows wide with a blind half-window at the north end of each storey, the ground storey having been stuccoed and the doorcase altered. The windows have flat gauged arches, and above the ground storey is a stuccoed bandcourse which may be original. The back wall is of purple-red brick with bandcourses of red brick between the storeys. The windows have segmental arches of red brick and contain recessed box-frames. The interior has the standard plan already noted at Nos. 7 and 11, but the original finishings have been entirely removed except for the staircase. This is built round a narrow well, the first four flights having cut strings with carved step-ends, turned balusters and a moulded handrail, the latter ramped up at the landings over square newels. The newels are unusual in having a threequarter-round moulding attached to each angle. Under the half-space landing above the first floor is a shell-shaped recess which may once have held a plaster scallop-shell like that at Nos. 42–44 Broadwick Street. Above the second floor the staircase has moulded closed strings, balusters of a less elaborate turning and plain square newels.
Nos. 62 (The Star and Garter Public House) and 63 Poland Street
No. 62 was one of the earliest sites to be developed in Poland Street; there has been a public house here since at least 1825 when its name, the Star and Garter, appears in the Westminster victuallers' records. (fn. 28)
No. 62 is outwardly an early nineteenth-century building with a three-storeyed front. In the ground storey is a contemporary wooden public-house front having narrow pilasters which support a fascia, the latter finished with carved bracket-stops. The upper storeys each have two flat-headed windows, but the brickwork has a much later cement facing with window-surrounds of the same date. No. 63, rebuilt in 1829, (fn. 9) has a front the same height as No. 62, but with only one window in each upper storey. The plain wall face is of yellow brick with flat gauged windowarches of the same colour.
Nos. 42–46 (even) Broadwick Street
Nos. 42 and 44 were originally one house, built by 1704 and first occupied by Lady Lee (1704–7). Later inhabitants of note include the first Earl Grandison (1721–6) and William Baker, Bishop of Norwich (1731–3). (fn. 29)
No. 46 was built and rated by 1706, the first occupant being Richard Callow (1706–7). Lady Stapleton lived here from 1717 to 1723. (fn. 9)
These are the only surviving houses in Broadwick Street which date from the 1703–6 period of its development. Nos. 42–44 have five and No. 46 four storeys, with fronts of pale yellow brick four and two windows wide, but it is clear that they were heightened and refaced during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Originally they must have been three-storeyed with garrets, the fronts, to judge from the unaltered back walls, being of purply-red brick with bandcourses between the storeys and segmental arches to the windows. The ratebooks suggest that there were originally stables behind Nos. 42–44 on the site now occupied by No. 63 Poland Street.
Inside, Nos. 42–44 have been much altered, but the earlier, and probably original, arrangements are recorded in a plan of 1910. (fn. 30) On the first and second floors the front part of the house was equally divided into two rooms while at the back were two smaller rooms with an open-well staircase between them, a large closet projecting beyond the western room. There were fireplaces in all four rooms and in the closet, all but those in the front rooms being corner ones. The ground floor was similarly arranged except that the east front room was reduced in width to allow for a narrow entrance passage which led from Broadwick Street to the staircase compartment. No original work remains on the ground floor since it has been remodelled to accommodate three shops, the entrance to the upper floors now being in Poland Street, from where a modern flight of stone steps leads up to the first half-space landing of the original staircase. However, the first floor, despite the removal of the partition walls, retains in the two back rooms and the closet substantial portions of original raised-and-fielded, ovolomoulded panelling finished with a moulded dadorail and a box-cornice. The fireplace in the eastern back room, which is partly concealed, has above it a moulded wood cornice and a frieze with shaped ends. The staircase is of wood, having in the first two storeys cut strings with carved step-ends, turned balusters and a flat moulded handrail, the latter ramped up at the landings over newels composed of four clustered balusters. The well is curved at the first- and second-floor levels and on the second floor has small ovolo-moulded panels below the gallery-balustrade. On the half-space landing between the ground and first floors, contained under the half-space landing above, is a plaster semi-dome moulded in the shape of a scallop-shell. Above the first floor the newels are plain and square with flat moulded caps, and from the second floor upwards the strings are closed and moulded, and the handrail is not ramped.
No. 46 has the standard plan of a single front and back room to each floor, the back room having a dog-legged staircase beside it and a small closet projecting at the back. The entrance passage and the first-floor rooms are lined with fairly complete raised-and-fielded ovolo-moulded panelling finished with a moulded dado-rail and a box-cornice, the panels over the fireplaces being raised on bolection mouldings. At the staircase end of the entrance passage are two moulded brackets of a heavy, and possibly original character, supporting a beam with a panelled soffit. The wooden staircase has moulded closed strings with twisted balusters and a flat moulded hand-rail which is continued over thick square newels. Some of the windows at the back have original sashes with thick glazing-bars.
Nos. 27–37 (odd) Broadwick Street and 52 Lexington Street
A water-colour of 1878 (fn. 31) (Plate 122b) shows the seven houses which formerly stood on the south side of this section of Broadwick Street, on the site now occupied by Colquhoun House. The six houses numbered in Broadwick Street were probably original, although with some alterations to the ground storeys and the roofs. Each contained a basement and three storeys, except for No. 27 which had a fourth storey, probably added. The fronts appear to have been of brick and three or, in the case of No. 37, two windows wide, but with little semblance of uniformity otherwise. The windows were flat-headed with barred sashes in flush frames, but at No. 35 two second-storey windows were replaced by a large Venetian window. No. 27 had bandcourses above each storey, No. 33 above the third storey only and Nos. 35 and 37 above the ground and third storeys, No. 33 having in addition recessed panels between the second and third storeys. No. 31 had an original doorcase with a moulded architrave and a cornice on carved consoles. Probably No. 52 Lexington Street was also original, but with an added fourth storey. The front was two windows wide with flush-framed sashes in flat-headed window-openings, the ground storey having an early nineteenth-century shop-front with roundheaded windows divided into small panes by the glazing-bars.
No. 1 Great Marlborough Street: the Coach and Horses Public House
A public house of this name has stood on this corner site since at least 1739. (fn. 28) The existing building probably dates from the early eighteenth century, but is very much altered. It has a four-storeyed front finished in cement with quoined angles.
Nos. 163–167 (odd) Oxford Street: the Academy Cinema
This building at the corner of Poland and Oxford Streets was erected in 1911–13 to the designs of Horace Gilbert and Stephanos Constanduros of Finsbury Square. (fn. 32) The entrance, below an office building, has a scalloped tilted canopy in a 'Festival of Britain' style, the entrance and the interior having been redesigned in 1954 in what was termed the 'English Empire' mode. (fn. 33)