Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.
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No. 75 Dean Street
The house formerly on this site, demolished in 1923, possessed a dignified exterior and a fine interior with a well-known painted staircase hall (Plates 102a, 103a, 104, 105, 106, 107, figs. 54–56). These paintings were often falsely attributed to Sir James Thornhill or, with no more apparent authority, to his son-in-law, Hogarth. This partly spurious reputation for historical importance helped to give the house a further genuine historical interest in 1914, when it was the object of an unsuccessful attempt by the Commissioners of Works to secure parliamentary confirmation of the first Preservation Order to be made under the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913.
It was the largest of a block of four similar houses, Nos. 74–77: some details of the building of these houses are given in the table on page 250. All four sites had been taken on building leases by the carpenter, Thomas Richmond, and were first assessed for rates in 1735. In that year No. 75 was briefly inhabited by its first occupant, Bulstrode Peachey Knight (hitherto resident at No. 5 Lisle Street), who had taken an assignment of Richmond's building lease in May 1733. The carcase of the house then already existed. (fn. 3)
Knight, for whom the house was presumably given its fine interior finishing, was a landed proprietor in Sussex and Hampshire. He was the son of William Peachey of New Grove, Petworth, Sussex, and had taken the additional surname of Knight on his marriage to the widow and heiress of William Knight of Chawton, Hampshire: his wife also brought him her maternal estate at West Dean near Chichester, Sussex. (fn. 4) Knight was Member of Parliament for Midhurst, and left his brothers, Sir Henry and John Peachey, his burgage tenements there 'and all the votes to be gained by the same'. (fn. 5)
Nothing is known of the identity of the craftsmen employed to decorate the house or of the painter of the staircase hall. The staircase painting was, however, very similar to that still surviving at No. 44 Grosvenor Square, a house built about 1727–8. The building lessee of that site (as of others in the square) was Thomas Richmond. (fn. 6) The first occupants, until 1746, were Oliver St. George, M.P. for Dungarvan, and his widow. (fn. 7) They seem not to have been connected with the Knights, and if the two staircases were decorated by the same hand it seems probable that the choice of painter was made, at least in part, by Richmond.
It may be noted that there is also a close resemblance between some features of the first-floor front room in the Dean Street house (Plate 107c) and in the former No. 63 Berwick Street, St. James's, the dwelling house of Francis Jackman, a timber merchant. (fn. 8) Jackman is not known to have had any direct connexion with No. 75 Dean Street. Evidently, however, he supplied building materials to the carpenter, John Sanger, who witnessed a mortgage of No. 75 in 1733 and who worked nearby in association with Richmond. This appears from the fact that Sanger's assignees in bankruptcy in the 1740's were Jackman and another timber merchant, Isaac Eeles. (fn. 9)
Knight's tenure of the house was short, as he was dead by February 1735/6. (fn. 5) His widow occupied the house until her death in 1738, when she was succeeded here by her late husband's brother, Sir John Peachey, baronet (d. 1744), and Sir John's son, also Sir John. The occupation of the house by the Peachey family ended in 1750. (fn. 10)
In 1748–9 the occupant had been entered in the ratebooks as the 'Earl of Seaforth': this was perhaps James Ogilvy, second Earl of Seafield, as the Earldom of Seaforth had been extinguished by the attainder of the fifth Earl in 1716. (fn. 11) Subsequent occupants were Colonel (Peter?) Soulegre, 1751–60; Thomas Hall, succeeded by Hugh Hall, esquires, 1761–74; William Tod, succeeded by Mrs. Tod, 1775–1801; Sir Edward Knatchbull, eighth baronet, M.P., in 1802; and the 'Reverend Wyvill', perhaps Christopher Wyvill, sometime secretary of the Yorkshire Association, in 1803.
From about this time the premises seem always to have been at least partly in commercial occupation, although in 1806–7 the house was evidently in part privately occupied, by A. Hamilton Rowan, the Irish patriot. (fn. 12) In 1801 an assignment of Richmond's original lease had been taken, for £1,008, by Philip Rundell, (fn. 13) a partner in the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, of Ludgate Hill, the gold- and silversmiths who were to design and make much of the royal plate for George IV. (fn. 14) 'Rundell' appears in the ratebooks in 1804–7, and by 1807 the former garden at the back of the house contained recently built workshops, (fn. 15) which may be those that survived in 1912 (Plate 135c). In August 1807 Philip Rundell and his partners assigned Richmond's original lease, for £1,880, in trust for the newly constituted firm of Storr and Company. (fn. 16) This consisted of the working silversmith, Paul Storr, then of Air Street, St. James's (who held more than half the shares), the designer and modeller, William Theed, senior, (fn. 17) and (it would seem) the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, for which Storr and Theed worked and of which their company appears to have been a subsidiary. (fn. 14) Storr and Company occupied the premises (and No. 76 also from 1811) until 1819. (fn. 18) The house was probably retained as a dwelling, perhaps for Theed, whose address is given here in 1809– 1817. (fn. 19) Storr and Company removed to Harrison Street, St. Pancras, in 1819. (fn. 18) Thereafter the ratebooks show (Cato) Sharpe and Company at Nos. 75 and 76 until 1833, and Josiah Sharpe in 1833–4. This evidently represents another subsidiary of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, who continued to use the Dean Street addresses as well as that on Ludgate Hill. (fn. 20) The house at No. 75 evidently continued in use as a residence, (fn. 21) perhaps by E. H. Baily, who worked for the latter firm from 1815, being chief designer and modeller from 1826 (fn. 17) (see page 229).
In 1833 John Bridge, then the chief figure in the firm, bought the freehold of No. 75 from the Crown for £2,650. (fn. 22) He also bought No. 76, but the two premises were thenceforward separated. (fn. 23) In the following year he died, and Rundell, Bridge and Rundell's use of the premises came to an end.
From 1836 to 1842 the occupant was Isaac Mott, who coupled a distiller's business here with a harp- and piano-maker's in Pall Mall. (fn. 24) Mott became bankrupt in 1840 (fn. 25) and in 1844–5 the premises were occupied by the British Watchmaking Company. This was succeeded by Allison and Allison, piano-makers, until 1857–8. (fn. 18) In 1858 the freehold was bought by Robert and William Wilson of 92 Wardour Street, tinplate workers and bath manufacturers, (fn. 26) who used the house as a store or showrooms and the workshops latterly for japanning, (fn. 27) until the early years of this century.
During a hundred years of ownership by commercial firms the house had survived without very radical alteration. At an unknown time the front and back ground-floor rooms had been opened into each other and Greek Ionic columns of early nineteenth-century character placed in the opening (Plate 106a). On the exterior, the dressings of the first-floor windows had (like those at No. 76) been stuccoed, and a window made into a secondary door (Plate 102a). In 1848 Allison and Allison made some structural alterations (fn. 28) but it is not known how much was done at that time.
The preservation of the staircase wall paintings (Plates 104, 105) had, it seems, excited some official concern as early as 1865. They were examined by Richard Redgrave, inspector general for art at South Kensington, who is said to have considered their transference to canvas impracticable. He thought them 'in a good condition, and though the browns have a little broken up, the work is, on the whole, remarkably fresh and pure'. (fn. 29) In 1898 the paintings were said to be 'in a good state of preservation' and to be valued by the owners. (fn. 30)
By 1906 the house was for sale and remained on offer for the next six years. (fn. 31) It was inspected for the London County Council in 1906 and 1908, when the wall paintings were thought to need only cleaning. (fn. 32) In 1910 the house was inspected for the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was giving some consideration to the possible preservation of decorative features if the house was demolished. It was said the paintings 'are complete and are not seriously damaged, although they have obviously suffered from neglect'. (fn. 33)
In March-April 1912 a third, careful inspection was made for the London County Council, when the photographs were taken which are reproduced on Plates 102a, 104a, 104c, 104d, 105a, 105b, 106a, 107 and 135c. The house had suffered some despoliation since 1908. With demolition in prospect it was reported to a sub-committee of the Council that the destruction of the staircase paintings would be 'an irreparable loss to the history of British domestic art'. (fn. 34)
In July 1912 the preservation of the house seemed probably secured when it was bought, for some £9,500, by H. H. Mulliner, the connoisseur and director of the firm of decorators, Lenygon and Company. (fn. 35) Dangerous Structure Notices were soon served upon him (fn. 36) and he later claimed that the staircase painting was now found to be in poor condition: 'it was very black and a considerable part of the painting, the front plaster work, was off'. (fn. 36) But the new owner had the house carefully restored by Lenygons at a cost of some £4,000. (fn. 37) He then sought a suitable purchaser or tenant. Some £700–£750 per annum was asked in rent, (fn. 38) or, later, £15,000 for the freehold. (fn. 39) The preservation of the house was a condition of tenancy, and negotiations were pursued for its leasing to the Art Workers' Guild, or to antique-furniture dealers. (fn. 40) Among possible uses canvassed in the press was its acquisition as a unit of the London Museum. (fn. 41)
By January 1914, however, the owner had failed to find an occupant and was negotiating the disposal of the house for demolition, with provision for the transference of decorative features to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The lessee was to pay £750 per annum and spend £15,000 on a new building. (fn. 42) A vigorous newspaper agitation to save the house was then raised, particularly in The Times. The owner's anxiety to preserve the house, and the difficulty in finding a purchaser, were acknowledged, but The Times condemned the projected demolition as 'inexcusable vandalism'. (fn. 43)
Some five months earlier, section 6 of the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913 had given the Commissioners of Works the power to make, on the advice of the Ancient Monuments Board, a Preservation Order initially valid for eighteen months on certain classes of building whose retention was thought to be of 'national importance'. In cases of 'immediate urgency' the Commissioners could act unadvised. (fn. 44) This they now did, and No. 75 was the object of the first Order under the Act, on 16 January 1914. (fn. 45) Leading and news articles in The Times applauded the action and reported widespread approval. (fn. 46) In February the First Commissioner of Works introduced in the House of Lords the Bill which, under the 1913 Act, was necessary for the confirmation of the Preservation Order. (fn. 47) The owner seems at first to have welcomed the Order, but on realizing that its confirmation did not involve either compensation for loss of sitevalue or purchase by the Government, petitioned against the Commissioners' Bill. A two-day hearing of evidence was given in a select committee of the House of Lords on 21–22 May. (fn. 48) Early in the hearing the spokesman for the Office of Works said the Commissioners thought that if the Order was not confirmed it would be 'exceedingly difficult if not absolutely impossible to apply the Act at all'. (fn. 49)
The Commissioners' case was made to depend in part on the proposition, supported by reference to The Dictionary of National Biography and Peter Cunningham's Handbook of London (1849), that the house had been the residence of Sir James Thornhill (1675–1734). The date of building makes this virtually impossible, and the spokesman for the Office of Works, acknowledging that the ratebooks gave no support to this belief, urged only that 'tradition has handed it down from time immemorial'. (fn. 50) The associated proposition was advanced that the staircase hall was painted by Thornhill or (as is at least chronologically feasible) by his son-in-law, Hogarth. This belief had been current as early as 1833, (fn. 21) but no specific evidence of Hogarth's having worked here was produced. To the intrinsic beauty and interest of the house various witnesses were called. (fn. 1) While doubtful of the attribution of the paintings to Hogarth, the witnesses drew attention to their value as an example of the influence of Venetian decorative art in England, and the quality of the house as a whole was stressed. The witnesses joined in emphasizing the harmony of its detail and larger elements. They also remarked on the effect of stateliness produced by the skilful management of plan, scale and proportion.
Despite their sense of the house's character, the witnesses, like all the parties to the dispute, dated the house appreciably earlier than its actual period, generally by as much as forty years, although some four months previously the true date of building had been known, as a strong probability, to the officers of the London County Council. (fn. 51)
The owner's argument against the Bill challenged the supposed association with Thornhill or Hogarth, and stressed the amount of renovation by Lenygons: the spokesman for the Office of Works seems to have conceded a suggestion by the owner's counsel that the pre-restoration front shown on Plate 102a was that of 'a modern 19th century house'. (fn. 52) The greatest and repeated stress was, however, laid by counsel on the apparent unfairness of an Order which, without governmental compensation or purchase, reduced the value of a site burdened with a seemingly unusable house. The provision for compensation in comparable Italian enactments was brought into discussion. These questionings of the justice of the 1913 Act were allowed to figure largely in cross-examination, and succeeded in eliciting from the spokesman for the Office of Works that 'Acts of Parliament every day inflict injustice of this sort'. (fn. 53)
The select committee allowed Mulliner's petition against the Bill. It also awarded him his costs, despite a plea by the Commissioners' counsel that the implication that the Order was not merely unjustified but unreasonable would be 'a most undeserved slur' on the Commissioners. (fn. 54) (fn. 2)
At the select-committee hearing Mulliner had offered to sell the house for his out-of-pocket expenses, to any proper authority interested in its preservation. (fn. 55) In July 1914, when the unconfirmed Preservation Order had a year to run, a sub-committee of the London County Council, which had earlier received a report from the Clerk favourable to purchase, decided to wait on any action to be taken by the Office of Works. (fn. 56)
In May 1919 The Times reported the dismantling of the house. The mural paintings had been carefully removed 'and except that they have had to be cut into sections about two feet square have come by no harm'. They and decorative features had been bought by dealers who said that 'every thing would be done to prevent them from following other British national treasures abroad'. (fn. 57) A sub-committee of the London County Council was told a few days later that attempts to secure the external doorcase for the Geffrye Museum had been unsuccessful. (fn. 56) By December 1920 all the interior of the house was removed, (fn. 58) and the house itself was being demolished in 1923. (fn. 59)
In 1921 the interior features of the house were being offered for sale by a New York dealer, and were subsequently bought by Mr. and Mrs. Crane of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The staircase hall and ground-floor rooms are now re-erected in the Art Institute of Chicago as the Richard T. Crane, Jr., Memorial (Plates 104b, 106b). It was found, however, that the state of the dissected paintings did not permit their re-erection. Other rooms are said to be in the former Crane home, Castle Hill, Ipswich. (fn. 60)
No. 75 Dean Street was notable as one of the finest and least altered of Soho's early eighteenth-century houses, and had fortunately been fairly well recorded by drawings and photographs before demolition. These show that in plan and internal finishings it was very similar to the still existing No. 76.
The plan of No. 75 mirrored that of No. 76, so that the principal staircase hall, the service stair, and the small back room were placed to the south of the large rooms on the ground and first floors (figs. 54, 57). The front, which generally matched with that of No. 76, even to the added rustics round the first-floor windows, was about 36 feet 6 inches in width between the party-wall pilasters, and had five windows evenly spaced in each upper storey (Plate 102a). A handsome Ionic doorcase gave prominence to the entrance, which was in the second opening from the south end of the front (Plate 103a, fig. 55). This doorcase of painted deal consisted of two engaged three-quarter columns, with fluted shafts and diagonally voluted capitals, supporting an entablature having an enriched architrave, a plain pulvinated frieze, and a cornice with an egg-and-dart ovolo, dentils, and bracket modillions. This entablature projected above each column and was surmounted by a segmental pediment, the bedmouldings of the curving cornice being returned inside the plain tympanum to conform with the recession of the straight entablature below, while the corona and cymatium were unbroken. As at No. 76, the doorway lining was simply treated, with one sunk panel on each face, and the front door was heavily modelled with eight mouldedand-fielded panels in ovolo-moulded framing.
The most important feature inside the house was the two-storeyed entrance hall, 21 feet deep and 15 feet wide on both levels, with the principal staircase rising in three flights, short, long, and short, against the west, south, and east walls, to arrive at a landing gallery on the north side (Plate 104). Basically, this staircase hall had much in common with that in No. 76, but here the finishings were generally finer. The floor was paved with squares of figured white marble, the staircase balustrade of oak was more elaborate, and the decorative paintings were altogether superior. As for the staircase, the raking architraves and carved step-ends to the cut strings were identical with those at No. 76, but the newels were formed as fluted Corinthian columns, and the balusters were turned as Doric columns with twisted shafts resting on urns with spirally fluted bases.
Constituting the house's chief claim to fame, the painted decoration of the stair hall, though so long attributed to Thornhill, was in point of fact in no way typical of a Thornhill scheme, being derived from Kent's treatment of the King's Staircase at Kensington Palace (Plate 104, 105). The spandrel spaces between the staircase dado and the first-floor level were simply painted to resemble plain masonry courses. These formed a base to trompe l'œil decorations designed to give the principal storey of the stair hall the appearance of being surrounded by an arcaded and balustraded loggia, with groups of people, including a Turk and a Chinese, conversing or gazing into the stair hall, and with the sky visible through the further arcade of the loggia. While the painted architecture was convincingly rendered, the perspective was much less assured than in Kent's work at Kensington. There were two arches on the wide south wall and one on the west, each arch being flanked by Ionic pilasters with fluted shafts, leaving narrow intervals of wall face decorated with architectural ornament in panels, below and above the continued impost of the arches. These had moulded archivolts broken by scrolled keystones, and coffered soffits. Balustrades extended across the arches and the interval bays, with plain pedestals below the Ionic pilasters. There were trifoliate acanthus ornaments in the spandrels, and the crowning entablature had a laurel-garland frieze and an enriched modillioned cornice, the latter being painted on the coved junction of walls and ceiling. The ceiling was flat and painted to represent a shallow oval dome, its large oculus surrounded by a balustrade and revealing a cloudy sky.
Except that the chimney-breasts in the principal rooms were more elaborately treated, the deal wainscoting throughout No. 75 was generally of the same quality and design as that existing in No. 76. There, however, the narrow recessed flanking faces of the chimney-breasts are simply panelled or left plain, whereas at No. 75 they were dressed with engaged columns or pilasters. A Doric order was used in the two ground-floor rooms, the shafts of the engaged pilasters being fluted, and the entablatures, which extended unbroken across the chimney-breasts, having triglyphs (Plate 106, fig. 56). In the first-floor rooms the order was Ionic, the columns in the front room and pilasters in the back having fluted shafts and diagonally voluted capitals (Plate 107, fig. 56). In the back room was the only original chimneypiece surviving in 1912, one of figured white marble, consisting of a wide stepped architrave, eared at the head and flanked by inverted profile-consoles carved with acanthus. The plain pulvinated frieze and the outer fascias of the architrave were broken by a tablet carved with a festooned garland of laurel leaves, and the chimneypiece was finished with a simple corniceshelf (Plate 107b). Some early nineteenthcentury ceiling borders in the Grecian taste were removed by Lenygons, but they retained an Ionic screen of the same period that had replaced the original recess and doorways between the front and back rooms on the ground floor (Plate 106a).