Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.
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The Development of Soho Fields
The area shown on fig. 2 belonged in the Middle Ages to the Master of the Hospital of Burton Saint Lazar as custodian of the Hospital of St. Giles. In 1536 these lands, described as pasture in St. Giles's Field in the township of St. Giles, and other lands outside the area covered by this volume, were surrendered by the Hospital to the Crown for the formation of the Bailiwick of St. James. (fn. 13)
On 19 July 1606 James I leased the area shown on fig. 2 together with other lands elsewhere, to Francis Bristowe for forty years, (fn. 14) and in 1627 Charles I, at the nomination of Robert, Earl of Monmouth, granted the same lands to James Elliott and William Loving for thirty-one years from the expiry of the forty-year term. (fn. 15) The whole of the Bailiwick of St. James was subsequently given by Charles I to Queen Henrietta Maria as part of her jointure, and on 27 March 1661 she and her trustees granted the lands now under discussion, and others elsewhere within the Bailiwick, to the trustees of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans, for twenty-one years from Michaelmas 1660. (fn. 16) In 1672 the surviving trustees of Queen Henrietta Maria (who had died in 1669), by authority of a warrant directed to them by Charles II, extended St. Albans's interest for thirty-three years from Michaelmas 1681—i.e., to Michaelmas 1714. In September 1674 Charles II granted St. Albans a final twentyyear extension, prolonging his term to Michaelmas 1734. The area shown on fig. 2 was then described as twenty-two acres of land divided into several parcels and called Kemp's Field and Bunch's Close. (fn. 16) (fn. 1) Towards the end of the seventeenth century the whole of the twenty-two acres was often referred to as Soho Fields, and this name is used hereafter.
In 1650 the area discussed in this chapter was described as three parcels of pasture ground. No buildings are mentioned, but one of the more northerly pieces was dug for brick-earth. They were valued at £60 12s. 6d. per annum. (fn. 17) No buildings are shown on Faithorne and Newcourt's map of 1658 (Plate 1b). (fn. 2)
On 28 August 1673 St. Albans and his trustees leased nineteen of the twenty-two acres to Joseph Girle of St. Marylebone, described as a brewer, for thirty-one years from 19 July 1677, when the lease granted in 1627 to Elliott and Loving would expire. (fn. 18) The rent reserved was £3 8s. 6d., but Girle paid £1,500 for the lease. (fn. 19) The remaining three acres were at the southwest corner of Soho Fields, bounded on the west by Hedge Lane (now Wardour Street) and on the south by the highway later King Street and now Shaftesbury Avenue. On 1 July 1674 St. Albans and his trustees leased the eastern part of these three acres to trustees for the parish of St. Martin in the Fields. (fn. 18)
In September 1674 St. Albans's own interest in Soho Fields was extended from Michaelmas 1714 to Michaelmas 1734 (see above), and shortly afterwards, on 29 January 1675/6, he and his trustees extended Girle's term from 19 July 1708 to 19 July 1730. This latter grant, for which Girle paid £833, also included the western part of the three acres at the south-west corner of Soho Fields. (fn. 20)
As well as his brewhouse, Joseph Girle had a house at Westbourne Green and also owned lands and houses in St. Marylebone. (fn. 21) Probably these lands yielded brick-earth and Girle joined to his other activities the supply of bricks to builders. (fn. 22) His object in paying St. Albans two large sums for the two leases of Soho Fields was to develop the area for building as soon as the leases to Elliott and Loving expired on 19 July 1677, and on 21 November 1676 he obtained letters patent granting him 'full and free lycence, power and authority' to build in Soho Fields 'such and soe many' houses and other buildings as he should 'from time to time thinke fitt'. (fn. 23) The grant, to which a plan of the area was attached (fn. 24) (Plate 8b), stipulated that the houses should be built of brick or stone, and that proper drainage should be provided, but no conditions controlling the street layout were imposed. (fn. 23) (fn. 3)
On 6 April 1677 Girle granted 'the benefit and advantage' of the letters patent to Richard Frith, citizen and bricklayer, to whom he also on the same day granted a lease of Soho Fields. Frith's term was for fifty-three and a quarter years, from Lady Day 1677 to Midsummer 1730 (i.e., for the whole of Girle's own term save the last twenty-five days) at a rent of £300 for the first year and thereafter at £400 per annum. There was also a proviso that if Frith paid Girle £4,000 on 25 March 1679, plus the rent then due, Girle would convey to Frith his rights in the rest of the rent (thus in effect cancelling it). He would also convey to Frith his rights in the last twenty-five days of his term. Subsequently, on 7 August 1677, St. Albans and his trustees leased Soho Fields direct to Frith for three and a half years from 19 July 1730 (the date of expiry of Girle's term). (fn. 18)
On the following day, 8 August 1677, the trustees of the parish of St. Martin in the Fields assigned their eastern portion of the three acres at the south-west corner of Soho Fields to Frith, who, together with Girle, assigned in exchange to the trustees the western portion of this ground and a site on the west side of Hog Lane (later Crown Street, now Charing Cross Road). (fn. 19) The former became the site of St. Anne's Church (described in Chapter X) and the latter the site of the Greek Church and St. Martin's almshouses (Chapter XI). Thus Frith was possessed of leasehold interests in the whole of Soho Fields (except these two small sites) ending on 19 January 1733/4, but with a break of twenty-five days in 1730. To obtain the full benefit of the final term of three-and-a-half years and disencumber the estate of a large rent it was therefore necessary for Frith to raise £4,000 payable to Girle by March 1679. (fn. 4)
The four men primarily responsible for building development in Soho Fields in the years immediately after 1677 were Frith and Cadogan Thomas, both large-scale building entrepreneurs, and William Pym and Benjamin Hinton, who were concerned in the financial side of the business. Frith was a member of the Tylers' and Bricklayers' Company and in the 1670's and 1680's carried on building operations in the western suburbs of London on a very large scale. In 1673 he built two houses at the corner of St. James's Street and Cleveland Row, and between 1673 and 1675 he bought three building sites in St. James's Square, where he had a temporary lien on a fourth. (fn. 25) From 1677 to about 1682 he was probably mainly engaged in the development of Soho Fields, which was in area his largest speculation, but in the latter year he was concerned with Cadogan Thomas in building on part of the garden of Leicester House (see page 460), and with Thomas and Pym he was also working in the area of Arlington and Bennet Streets. (fn. 26) Beginning in 1683 he was, again with Thomas, one of a syndicate which redeveloped the site of Clarendon House as Dover, Albemarle and Old Bond Streets. (fn. 27) He also built houses in Brooke Buildings, Greville Street, Holborn, (fn. 28) held land with Cadogan Thomas in Hampden Garden, which formed part of the site of Downing Street, (fn. 29) and probably worked in Bow Street. (fn. 30)
Frith appears to have been in financial difficulty as early as 1680, (fn. 18) and about that time was said to be 'declined in his Estate'. (fn. 31) A few years later he was in prison, probably for debt, and he eventually died, still in debt, in 1695, and was buried at St. Clement Danes. (fn. 32)
Cadogan Thomas is variously described as of London, merchant, (fn. 18) or of Lambeth, timber merchant. His association with Frith appears to have started in the spring of 1679 when he became involved in the development of Soho Fields, (fn. 19) and it was continued elsewhere in the early 1680's. Thomas was described as 'a great trader and dealer by way of merchandise in buying and selling of timber deale boards and other commodityes for building', and 'a great undertaker and improver of buildings'. (fn. 33) In Soho Fields he supplied Frith with many thousands of pounds worth of building materials on the security of a mortgage of the estate, and he also built a number of houses there himself, on land leased to him by Frith. (fn. 20) Like Frith he too became involved in financial difficulty and died in debt in January 1689/90. (fn. 32)
William Pym, variously described as of St. Martin in the Fields, St. James's, Clerkenwell, or St. Andrew's, Holborn, gentleman, was probably a relatively young man at the time of his association with Frith and Thomas in Soho Fields and the Arlington Street area, for he was married in 1679. (fn. 34) The money which he advanced to Frith in 1677 was repaid to him in September 1681 and by the time of the bankruptcy of the fourth member of the quartet, Benjamin Hinton, in July 1683, Pym had ceased to have any direct involvement with Frith and Thomas, though retaining property in the area. (fn. 18) He seems to have been equally wary in his dealings with them in the Arlington Street area, and no record of his ever having been financially embarrassed has been found. (fn. 26) At the time of his death in 1716 he was living at Nortonbury, Hertfordshire, and owned lands there and in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire as well as in Arlington and Bennet Streets. (fn. 34)
Benjamin Hinton, a goldsmith at the Flowerde-Luce in Lombard Street, who 'grew into Great Esteeme and Creditt with very many Noblemen, Gentlemen and others', (fn. 35) had 'very great dealeings whereby he not onely gained great Credit . . . but had alsoe many great and considerable debts'. (fn. 36) Hinton's connexion with the development of Soho Fields did not begin until 1680, when Cadogan Thomas mortgaged ground there to him for £16,000. (fn. 18) A little later he also advanced money to Frith and Thomas in connexion with their work on the site of Clarendon House. (fn. 30) In 1682 or 1683 many of Hinton's creditors did 'suddenly and violently call in their said debts', and although he 'did for severall monethes together pay Ten Thousands pounds a day amongest the said Creditors, Yet it onely served to cause others . . . to presse the harder'. (fn. 36) At the time of his bankruptcy in July 1683 he had interests in property in Southgate, St. James's, Hampden Garden, Bunhill Fields, Greenwich, Thames Street and several other places in or near London, as well as in Soho Fields, where his failure had disastrous financial effects on the fortunes of Frith, Thomas and other builders. In 1692/3 Hinton was said to be 'dyeing in the Rules of the King's Bench prison', (fn. 37) but the proceedings in his immensely complicated bankruptcy were still continuing in 1729. (fn. 38)
The development of Soho Fields began immediately after Girle's lease to Frith on 6 April 1677, particularly in the east-to-west streets at the southern end of the fields. Girle had, however, previously granted shorter leases of part of the ground (notably Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close or Croft, which are marked on the plan attached to his licence of 1676, Plate 8b) to sub-tenants for agricultural use, (fn. 5) and Frith therefore did not yet have possession of the whole area. By February 1677/8 he had 'marked and trenched out what part of the sayd fields was in his present possession into streets for buildings', and had tried to purchase the sub-leases of the remainder of the ground. (fn. 39) One existing tenancy, 'patridges', at the north-west end of Old Compton Street, which is marked on the plan of 1676, seems to have been reconcilable with Frith's plans (see page 193) but elsewhere he met difficulties.
Before the lease of Soho Fields had been granted to Frith in April 1677, Dr. Nicholas Barbon, the famous building speculator, had unsuccessfully negotiated with Girle for the grant of the lease of the same land. When he saw Frith trenching out the ground for building Barbon attempted 'to crosse the designe' by purchasing the sub-leases of Thomas Cooke and William Billson, yeomen (in Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close) and of two or three other sub-tenants. He found it worth while to pay Cooke to act as his intermediary in treating with the others. Frith had already dug trenches across Cooke's and Billson's ground, although he had no right to do so, but after Barbon had acquired the sub-leases Frith was compelled, for the time being at least, to 'alter all the sayd streetes and trench and marke them to be placed in the other part of the sayd field'. (fn. 39) The line of the street chiefly liable to alteration from this cause, that is, Dean Street, seems, however, ultimately to have followed an uninterrupted course.
The ill-fated measures to obtain financial backing for the development of Soho Fields began on 13 December 1677, when Frith mortgaged his lease and the building patent to William Pym for £5,000, (fn. 40) which was subsequently increased to £6,520. (fn. 18) In the spring of 1679 Cadogan Thomas became involved when Frith and Pym granted him leases of eight houses, probably still unfinished, which he had built at the north end of the east side of Greek Street. Thomas's capital outlay was provided by Benjamin Hinton, to whom Thomas mortgaged the eight houses for £1,600. (fn. 19)
Meanwhile Joseph Girle, from whom, as is noted above, Frith had leased the ground at a substantial rent, had died on 1 November 1677. As well as leasing the ground to Frith, Girle had supplied him with bricks (often bad) from his own land, and his death did not end the interest of his heirs in this aspect of the building-up of Soho Fields. One of his sons-in-law and executors, Philip Harman, citizen and draper of London, actively maintained the brick-making business, and in September 1678 Frith and Pym arranged (on the security of the lease of Kemp's Field) to buy bricks from Girle's executors up to the value of £2,000. (fn. 41) By the autumn of 1679 the bricks had been delivered and paid for. (fn. 18) But Pym was 'desirous to unclogg the premisses' of the rent of £400 per annum payable to Girle's heirs. (fn. 40) As has been seen, Girle's lease to Frith of 6 April 1677 had provided that by the payment of £4,000 the rent could be redeemed and the final twenty-five days of Girle's term from St. Albans purchased, thus providing Frith with continuity of tenure to January 1733/4. The date for payment had been March 1679. In September, however, Frith and Pym obtained the redemption and purchase by the payment of this sum, partly by the sale of the ground rents of certain houses on the estate to Girle's executors. (fn. 42) One of these houses was No. 2 Soho Square; the others, which were 'called Blackmore Pyle and Cheynyes Pile', (fn. 43) were probably in Old Compton Street and Greek Street. (fn. 6)
In 1679 and 1680 Frith and Pym granted a number of leases to Thomas of houses which the latter had built on the west, north and south sides of Soho Square. (fn. 20) Frith became indebted to Thomas for building materials supplied by the latter, who by September 1680 had himself become indebted to Benjamin Hinton for £16,960. (fn. 18)
In 1679 Frith's interest in Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close was sold to Pym's father-in-law, Henry Crosse of St. James's, Clerkenwell, gentleman. Crosse was acting on behalf of Pym, to whom these parcels of ground were conveyed in February 1682/3. (fn. 44) Pym thus obtained, like Girle's executors, property in the area which was to remain to him after the other early developers had failed. (fn. 7)
Pym's involvement with Frith and Thomas ended in September 1681, when he sold his interest as mortgagee in Soho Fields to Benjamin Hinton for £7,165. (fn. 18) His property in Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close was, however, excluded from this sale. (fn. 45) It is likely that Pym also re-acquired an interest in other parts of Soho Fields from Frith, for in 1691 the ground rents of houses in (Old) Compton Street and Milk (now Bourchier) Street were said to be payable to him. (fn. 46)
On 24 March 1682/3 Pym leased the greater part of Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close to George Bradbury, esquire, for a term of fortysix years expiring on Lady Day 1729, at a rent of £14 per annum. Bradbury, a lawyer of the Middle Temple and subsequently a judge of some note, was acting in trust for Nicholas Barbon (who had previously possessed himself of the sub-leases), and covenanted 'to build thereon substantially'. (fn. 47) This estate consisted of a large parcel on the west side of Dean Street (including almost all of Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close on that side of the street) and a very much smaller one on the eastern side. It subsequently came into the possession of the Pitt family and is described in Chapter IX.
In 1684 Pym leased part of Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close on the east side of Dean Street to the building speculator, Isaac Symball, (fn. 48) and himself retained another plot. (fn. 49) Other property on the east side of Dean Street he had leased back to Frith at an unknown date: it is uncertain whether this was in Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close or was the ground to the south of them which by 1682 had evidently passed to Frith's brother Matthew, also a bricklayer. (fn. 50)
In September 1681 Frith and Thomas owed Hinton over £30,000, (fn. 18) and the latter's bankruptcy in July 1683 involved them in ruin too. Hinton's estate in Soho Fields passed to three of his creditors, John Hill, Obadiah Sedgewick and George Sittwell, all of London, merchants, who were to administer it as trustees for the benefit of all the creditors. On 26 December 1684 Frith and Thomas assigned all such rights as they might still possess in Soho Fields to Hinton's trustees. (fn. 20) So far as is known this assignment ended Frith's and Thomas's connexion with Soho Fields. Their combined debts to Hinton then amounted to £60,000. (fn. 51) (fn. 8)
At the time of Hinton's bankruptcy in July 1683 many houses in Soho Fields (probably more than half) (fn. 52) were still in course of erection, and in some cases building work appears to have ceased for a time, as, for example, at Monmouth House. Some houses were probably completed by new building tradesmen working for new employers—No. 30 Soho Square is a case in point. Other parts of the estate had not yet been leased for building, and in May 1685, for instance, the trustees of Hinton's creditors granted a lease of a large plot at the north-west end of Dean Street, measuring some five hundred feet from north to south. The lessees were Edward Roydon, turner, and Job Bickerton and William Webb, carpenters, all later described as of St. Anne's, and the rent a peppercorn for the first year and thereafter twenty pounds per annum. (fn. 53) They built Carlisle House and the western part of Carlisle Street. But Philip Harman, who (as has been seen) had continued Girle's brick-making business, became their mortgagee, and it was he who was reponsible for the development of most of this north-west corner of Soho Fields. It may be noted that when in 1685 thirty commissioners were appointed by the Bishop of London to complete St. Anne's Church and constitute the first vestry of the future parish Harman was, as a resident within its boundaries, the only one of those who have been mentioned in this chapter to be included in the commission.
Unfortunately the gaps and imperfections in the series of parish ratebooks make it impossible to follow the development of Soho Fields with precision. Builder's work had already begun in the summer of 1677, (fn. 22) and by the autumn of 1678 work was at a stage that made Soho Fields serviceable as the setting, actual or fictitious, for an infamous night's work. In Prance's narrative of the supposed murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey his corpse was transferred from sedan chair to horseback at the Greek Church and the chair left concealed in 'one of the new unfinished Houses' until the murderers' return from Primrose Hill (fn. 54) (see page 280).
The initial development began at the southern end of the estate, and King Street, Romilly (formerly Church) Street and (Old) Compton Street appeared in the 1679 ratebook. By 1683 Greek Street was the most and Dean Street the least advanced of the three main north-to-south streets. By about 1691 almost all the area, including Soho Square, was built, with the main exception of the north-west end of Dean Street and the courts off its western side, which were built (save for Fareham Street) in the 1690's. Manette Street and the glebe land in King Street were also built up in the 1690's.
In 1684 the Lords of the Treasury had reported to the Crown on the condition of property including Soho Fields, and commented on the development there since 1679–80. Soho Fields had at that time been only half built but now 'are almost all built and many good Houses thereupon and inhabited by a great many persons of good quallity'. (fn. 55) In 1694 the Surveyor General of Crown Lands made a valuation of the area, together with the five-and-a-half acres of Doghouse Close in St. James's. By then about 550 houses stood on the 12,200 feet of street frontage, of which much the greater part must have been in St. Anne's. (fn. 56) The property was said to produce a revenue (certainly including house rents as well as ground rents) of £12,400 per annum. (fn. 57)
With the growing number of houses in occupation, the total rates payable in Soho Fields rose from about £133 in 1691 to about £216 in 1697. In 1721 the total was about £295 from about 715 houses.
The design of the layout of the area has been attributed to Gregory King, the genealogist, map engraver and statistician, on the sole authority of some autobiographical notes written by King and subsequently published in 1793. (fn. 58) Writing in the third person, King states that 'He also now and then was Employed in Surveying, particularly Soho Fields whose Streets and Square were all projected by him, and most of the first Articles for building thereof drawn up by him also'. (fn. 58) No other reference to King's connexion with Soho has been found. His employer must have been Richard Frith, who as the prime mover in the development of the area can be assumed to have had also a decisive part in the design of its layout. (fn. 9)
Despite the difficulties and delays described above, this layout was straightforward, with no perceptible marks of contorted development (fig. 2). Little if any sign of the previous field- or property-divisions survived. On the Ordnance Survey map of 1869–74 (Plate 6) probably only the north-eastern, oblique boundary of Billson's Close can be detected, in an insignificant propertydivision north of No. 21 Dean Street. The layout included no features calling for comment, except that so far as is known no provision was ever made for a market.
In the development of his property it appears that Frith's usual practice, after obtaining possession of a piece of ground, was to mortgage it in order to raise capital for the purchase of building materials. He then parcelled it out in plots, arranged for some of the work himself, and subcontracted the rest to other tradesmen. The latter were either paid in cash or by the grant of leases of sites. In Soho Square and elsewhere these often had half-finished houses on them which probably represented Frith's own work on the brick carcase. At least one builder, John Markham, a carpenter, represented himself in a lawsuit as possessing a site (probably held from Frith) upon which he determined to build houses, and as then making mutual agreements with Frith for the performance of the carpenter's and bricklayer's work respectively. His words, however, are those of a disputant with Frith, and the doubtful history of their transaction is discussed below. Elsewhere Frith paid builders with the lease of completed houses. An example of this procedure is to be found in a Chancery suit brought in 1685 by Nicholas Pollentine of St. Martin in the Fields, joiner, who stated that 'haveing so undertaken the whole worke he [Frith] did for ye Carrying on and Compleateing the same Employ diverse other Artificers or Workemen in their Severall Trades different from his owne, as Carpenters Joyners Glasiers and such like other Tradesmen as he had occasion to make use of from tyme to tyme'. (fn. 59) Pollentine had been thus employed to do 'divers parcels of joiner's work in divers buildings'. At first he had been paid in cash, but later he worked 'without any perticular Agreement or Contract for any certaine Rate or price', and by October 1682 Frith owed him over a hundred pounds. A written agreement was then signed whereby Pollentine undertook to continue working to Frith's direction until the value of his services should 'amount unto the purchase of a Messuage or tenement . . . in King Street', on the south side of Soho Fields. The contract was to be concluded by the grant of a lease of the house by Frith to Pollentine. Some eighteen months later Frith granted this lease, but difficulties which occasioned the lawsuit arose when his lawyer refused to deliver the lease to Pollentine. (fn. 60)
Another suit, brought in 1682 by George Taylor of St. Martin in the Fields, scrivener, illustrates the scale of the 'office work' which Frith's operations in Soho Fields entailed. In May 1679 Frith had employed Taylor to make engrossments of the large number of leases and other legal documents which were required at that stage of the development. In return for one year's legal work Frith promised to build Taylor a house, and in June 1679 assigned him a plot in Greek Street for fifty years, this 'being a customary thing with him [Frith] to pay or satisfy other tradesmen as carpenters, Bricklayers, Painters, Joiners, masons, Glaziers, and such other tradesmen in such manner of payment and satisfaction by way of Building them houses'. By November 1682 very little progress had been made in the building of Taylor's house, (fn. 61) which was on the west side of Greek Street, probably on the site of No. 58, and the ratebooks record the site as still unbuilt upon in 1697.
Only some of the building tradesmen who worked in Soho Fields in the early years under the aegis of Frith and his associates can be named. (fn. 10) At least some of these continued to work in Soho Fields after Hinton's bankruptcy but other names are then also encountered. (fn. 11)
Of the builders active in the first years of development, Richard Campion, a carpenter, and Augustine Beare, a glazier, are found working in a number of streets; Alexander Williams and Martin Heatley, both bricklayers, also worked at more than one site. Campion and Beare were the two first churchwardens of St. Anne's parish, and had been among the commissioners appointed in 1685 to supervise the completion of the church. Both had worked on its construction and it is of interest that Campion, although his trade is always given as carpenter, 'did performe the greatest part of the Brick Work' at the church (see page 259). Campion died in 1691 possessed of a number of properties, including houses in Soho, St. James's, and St. Martin in the Fields. (fn. 62) (fn. 12)
Campion and Beare (whose widow evidently owned the biggest house in Greek Street) seem to have been successful in their trades. But the difficulties in which the builders of Soho Fields could involve themselves are exemplified in the troubles of the carpenter, John Markham. (fn. 63) In February and March 1677/8 Frith leased to Markham a house on the south side of Old Compton Street and two houses in Romilly Street, all unfinished. The terms were fifty years from Lady Day 1678. At an uncertain date before April 1680 Frith also leased to Markham four other houses in Old Compton Street, and by the same period Markham was possessed of six houses, identifiable as being in Romilly Street and Frith Street, which were probably additional to those already mentioned. The lease of the house on the north side of Old Compton Street was at only a peppercorn rent, but at some or all of the other sites a ground rent was reserved.
On receiving the leases of the three houses in February and March 1677/8 Markham entered into commitments to William Hall, a victualler. Markham subsequently claimed that these were only in respect of food and drink supplied to his workmen and himself. Hall, however, while agreeing that he had supplied victuals, was able to show that in the same months of 1678 Markham had mortgaged the leases of the three houses to him, to secure £220 needed to finish the two houses in Romilly Street. Markham undertook to perform this by Lady Day 1679, when the second of the two instalments of the loan was to be paid. A dispute arose when, as Hall claimed, Markham failed to complete the houses or to accept Hall's bill for victuals as partial cancellation of the loan. In the autumn of 1679 Hall had Markham arrested. Negotiations between them were subsequently reopened, but in the meantime Markham became embroiled with Frith (who called him 'a very troublesome man'). This dispute related to the six houses in Romilly Street and Frith Street. Probably their sites had originally been leased to Markham by Frith or his associates, and Markham had certainly entered into a bond to one of these, Cadogan Thomas; its significance is not known but was perhaps to ensure Markham's completion of his work on the houses by Midsummer 1680. Whatever the circumstances of Markham's tenure, he represents himself as being 'minded to build' six houses on his property, and says that he and Frith then made mutual agreements to perform the carpenter's and bricklayer's work respectively. Frith, however, implies that Markham was merely employed by him. In April 1680 it proved necessary for them to go to arbitration. The award in May was that by Midsummer Frith should provide all the materials and do the brickwork and tiling at the six houses, and Markham the carpenter's work; Frith should pay Markham £35 owed to him and should also have Markham's bond to Thomas delivered to Markham for cancellation. In fact, neither party performed his agreement to the satisfaction of the other. Frith accused Markham of preventing Frith's tiling the houses and completing the brickwork by his failure to perform the necessary carpenter's work, and Markham accused Frith of causing him the loss of £500 by continued neglect of the bricklayer's work. According to Markham, he had to employ others to perform this, and being unable to pay them his goods were seized.
The statements made in Chancery in the dispute of Markham and Frith do not mention Hall, but it was Hall who, by August 1680, had had the bailiff of Westminster take possession of Markham's dwelling house (probably in Old Compton or Romilly Streets) and claimed to have acquired his lease of the three houses by a forced sale. The chronology of Markham's dispossession and his whereabouts at this period do not emerge very clearly from the conflicting accounts given in the two suits, but it seems that in September 1680 Hall had him arrested again and imprisoned in the Marshalsea for failing to pay for the victuals. At about this time Markham was himself bringing suits at common law against Frith (partly concerning another bond) and by November, seemingly freed from forcible confinement, retired to a grateful obscurity. In Frith's words, Markham had 'withdrawn himselfe into places where your Oratour [Frith] cannot without danger of his life or the lives of others prosecute him at Law . . . sculking and absconding himselfe amongst desperate persons and in places which such persons conceive are priviledged'. Markham admitted only to absconding to 'secrett places' to avoid the 'fury and vyolence' of Frith, 'a powerfull and rich man'. In November, the houses in Romilly and Frith Streets being still unfinished, Frith petitioned the Court of Chancery against Markham. By December Markham was evidently available once more to be arrested for the third time, which he was, at the instance of Hall. He returned to the Marshalsea, came out, and was again forcibly dispossessed by Hall of his three houses in Old Compton and Romilly Streets, in January 1680/81. In June 1681 he petitioned the Court of Chancery against Hall, and with this our knowledge of his affairs comes to an end. He had been listed as a ratepayer in Romilly Street in the ratebook for 1679 and in Old Compton Street for 1680 and 1681, but thereafter disappears from the lists. Perhaps significantly a William Hall appears as ratepayer in Romilly Street in 1683 and in Old Compton Street from 1685 onwards.
Markham's troubles show how a builder's assumption of commitments greater than he could discharge might leave houses standing uncompleted. Some light is incidentally thrown on Markham's remuneration of his own workmen. He claimed that his obligations to Hall for victuals supplied by the latter were inconsiderable 'in as much as all or most part of the said workmen and labourers were paid at a certain rate of soe much a weeke . . . and were not on an allowance of him the said John Markham'. (fn. 64)
The quality of the work done by these seventeenth-century builders was probably variable but for the most part not high. In 1694 the Surveyor General of Crown Lands seems to have thought the houses in Soho Fields somewhat less well built than in Pall Mall Field in St. James's. (fn. 65) The search books of the Tylers' and Bricklayers' Company contain a number of references to the use of bad bricks and mortar by Frith and others in Soho Fields from 1677 onwards: Girle and Richard Tyler were often the suppliers. (fn. 66) Perhaps for this reason little of the early work survives. The original fabric is probably recognizable at only two or three houses in Soho Square and at a dozen houses or so elsewhere in Soho Fields (chiefly in Frith Street and Greek Street). The leases which could be granted to builders before the expiry of St. Albans's head lease from the Crown were never very long and in those parts of the area where development was delayed until the 1690's were sometimes for only forty years, and this may have occasioned perfunctory work.
With the approach of the area to completion in the 1690's the Crown was petitioned for the grant of reversionary interests from the expiry of St. Albans's lease in 1734. Such a request was made in 1690 by the Whig politician, John Grubham Howe, vice-chamberlain to the Queen, (fn. 67) and in 1695 by the second Duke of Ormond, but neither was successful. (fn. 68) In 1697 and 1698, however, two separate reversionary interests from 1734 were acquired from the Crown. In 1697 the part of Cooke's Croft and Billson's Close previously leased to Bradbury and Barbon was acquired by Thomas ('Governor') Pitt under a reversionary lease from the Crown expiring in 1833. This part of Soho Fields, in and adjacent to Dean Street, was almost completely rebuilt about 1734, and its history as the Pitt estate is discussed in Chapter IX: the Crown disposed of the freehold to various purchasers between 1830 and 1833. In 1698 the greater part of Soho Fields (excluding the Pitt estate and the sites of St. Anne's Church, churchyard and glebe, the Greek Church and St. Martin's almshouses, and Monmouth House) was granted as a freehold in reversion from 1734 to William Bentinck, first Earl of Portland (see fig. 1 on page 21). The rebuilding that took place gradually around the 1730's was neither complete nor (seemingly) systematic, but it was extensive, and the great majority of the pre-nineteenthcentury buildings described in Chapters IV-VIII are rebuildings under Portland ownership of houses originally built in Soho Fields by Frith and his associates or supplanters. In the last years of the eighteenth century and first years of the nineteenth the Portland estate in Soho was broken up and virtually all of it disposed of by sale to a large number of purchasers. The general history of the estate is discussed in the following chapter.