Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.
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Carlisle House, Soho Square
Until 1791 the ground comprising the site of St. Patrick's Church and the adjoining presbytery was occupied by Carlisle House, a large mansion at the south corner of Soho Square and Sutton Street, with back buildings in Sutton Street and stables in Hog Lane, now Charing Cross Road.
The first certain occupant of the house, in 1685, was Edward Howard, second Earl of Carlisle, who had succeeded to the title in that year. The Howard family occupied the house until 1753, (fn. 1) when the fourth Earl sold his lease from the second Duke of Portland to George Smith Bradshaw and Paul Saunders of Greek Street, upholsterers. (fn. 6) Bradshaw and Saunders retained the stables and coach-houses in Hog Lane as their own workshops, but they evidently sub-let the house in Soho Square and some of the back buildings in Sutton Street to the envoy of the King of Naples, who occupied the premises from 1754 to 1758. (fn. 7) During this period part of the buildings in Sutton Street (on the site of the present St. Patrick's Church) was fitted up as a Roman Catholic chapel for the use of the envoy and his staff. (fn. 8)
In the summer of 1759 Carlisle House was occupied by three special envoys who had been sent to London by the Dutch government to settle various shipping disputes arising from the war then being fought between England and France. (fn. 9) After their departure Carlisle House was vacant until April 1760, when Saunders let the house to Mrs. Cornelys, its most celebrated tenant. (fn. 7)
Theresa Cornelys (née Imer), an opera singer, actress and adventuress, was born in Vienna (fn. 10) in 1723. She embarked upon a successful career as an entertainer and courtesan and eventually married a dancer called Pompeati. She first came to England in 1746 to sing at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, using the name Pompeati. She did not meet with the success she expected and returned to the Continent within a few months. During the following years she toured other European courts and opera houses, encumbering herself in the process with two children, for one of whom Casanova claimed paternity. During this period of her career she called herself Madame de Trenty, which, so she affirmed, was the name of her family estate. In 1759 she was living in Rotterdam as the mistress of a certain Cornelis de Rigerboos, whose Christian name she later used in England. She still sang at public concerts, at one of which she made the acquaintance of a fellow performer, a 'cello and double-bass player, then calling himself John Freeman. He persuaded her that he was a beneficed clergyman in the Church of England and that if she followed him to England they would both make their fortunes. (fn. 11)
Calling herself Mrs. Cornelys, Theresa arrived in England in October 1759, her friend the musical cleric passing himself off as 'John Fermor esquire'. With his money she recommenced her London career with a series of concerts at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. The concerts were not a success, but Fermor had 'an Apprehension that a Concert and Assembly furnished out in an elegant Manner and carried on by Subscription in some commodious house for that purpose would probably meet with Encouragement and be a profitable undertaking'. By this time Mrs. Cornelys had made the acquaintance of the notorious Elizabeth Chudleigh (later the bigamous wife of the second Duke of Kingston) who promised her patronage for such a project. (fn. 10)
In the winter of 1759–60 Carlisle House was vacant. It was probably already furnished and, with a suite of large reception rooms, provided an admirable setting for the entertainments envisaged by Mrs. Cornelys. With Fermor acting as her agent (owing to her ignorance of the English language), she came to an agreement with the second Duke of Portland's lessee, Paul Saunders, in April 1760, to rent Carlisle House at £180 per annum, with an additional charge for the use of Saunders's furniture. She took possession on 17 May and the entertainments began in October or November. (fn. 12) At first these consisted of dancing and card-playing, though later, after she had extended the premises, operatic concerts and extravagant masquerades were given. Admission was limited to members of a 'Society' of subscribers, that is to persons of wealth and fashion to whom she had previously sold tickets. (fn. 13)
Her initial success convinced Mrs. Cornelys that she had at last found a way of making a fortune and plans were immediately set on foot for enlarging and refurbishing Carlisle House. With Fermor again acting as her agent, she first purchased the lease of the house from the assignees of Paul Saunders in May 1761 for £1,950. (fn. 14) In the following month she entered into a building agreement with Samuel Norman, of Sutton Street, a cabinet-maker, who now occupied Saunders's former workshop in Hog Lane. The agreement provided for Norman to erect for her a new building in Sutton Street to contain a concert hall or ballroom on the first floor with a supper room below. This was to adjoin Carlisle House and to be built partly on the site of the existing back buildings in Sutton Street, one of which had been the Neapolitan minister's chapel, and partly on the garden behind Carlisle House. The work was estimated to cost £1,800, half to be paid when the building was roofed in and half on completion. Building work began at once and was complete by December 1761. (fn. 15) A small copper plate was built into the foundations on Mrs. Cornelys's instructions. This was inscribed 'Not Vain but Grateful In Honour of the Society [of her first subscribers] and my first Protectress Ye Honble Mrs. Elizabeth Chudleigh is Laid the First Stone of this edifice June 19 1761 by me Teresa Cornelys'. (fn. 16) The building tradesmen employed by Samuel Norman included William Grantham of Oxford Street, carpenter and joiner, Thomas Clark of Wood Street, plasterer, Peter Beaton of Wardour Street, slater, and Mr. Lee, bricklayer. The work was superintended by Jacob Leroux of Dean Street, surveyor, (fn. 15) who may be presumed to have designed the building.
The building added to Carlisle House for Mrs. Cornelys appears to have been very plain externally, presenting to Sutton Row a brick front of three storeys with seven windows in each (Plate 26b). The ground- and second-floor windows were almost square, and those of the first floor very tall, all having sashes recessed in plain openings with segmental arched heads. There were two bandcourses, a wide one extending above the arches of the first-floor windows, and a narrow one below the parapet. The first-floor room was splendidly decorated and furnished, and something of its general appearance can be deduced from the crude engraving reproduced as Plate 26a. At one end, presumably the east, was an apse for the musicians, its coffered semi-dome framed by a moulded archivolt rising from Doric columns. On either side of this apse were tall and elaborately framed mirrors. The tall windows in the side walls were draped with heavy curtains hanging from shaped valances, and the walls were finished with festooned garlands depending from the entablature. The flat ceiling appears to have been decorated with Rococo stucco-work arranged in oval panels flanking a central circle within a square frame. A large central chandelier was supplemented by smaller ones hanging from the corners of the ceiling, and another in the musicians' apse.
Samuel Norman was paid partly in cash and partly with fourteen hundred subscription tickets for future entertainments at Carlisle House, at five guineas each. Additional works on the new building, and on improvements to the old house, were to be paid for by Mrs. Cornelys with three notes of hand for £210 payable in October 1762. The rest of Norman's account was to be settled by an umpire. Mrs. Cornelys also hired from Norman a considerable quantity of new furnishings, chiefly seats and benches, chandeliers, mirrors and girandoles, all manufactured 'in an Elegant and Grand Manner' and valued at £1,209. The furniture hired for the grand concert-room alone was valued at £730. For all these Norman charged an annual rent equal to fifteen per cent of their total value. (fn. 15)
In June 1762 Mrs. Cornelys returned most of the furniture to Norman (fn. 15) but he probably lost the remainder when some of the contents of Carlisle House were seized under distress warrants by other creditors of Mrs. Cornelys in February 1762 and August 1763. (fn. 10) She also tried to avoid payment of his other bills and employed 'Mr Payne and Mr Chippendale' (presumably James Paine the architect and Thomas Chippendale the furniture maker) to examine the new building. She complained that they found many defects and valued the work at only £1,400 (i.e., £400 less than Samuel Norman's price). (fn. 15) These complaints do not seem to be borne out by later evidence, for in 1891, when the building erected in 1761 was being demolished, the good workmanship and 'splendid material' were still discernible. (fn. 17)
With the opening of her new rooms, Mrs. Cornelys enjoyed a period of great success. The entertainments were well advertised and admission eagerly sought. Even Horace Walpole was attracted, despite the fashionable crush inside the house and the mob obstructing the arrival of the chairs and carriages outside. In Humphry Clinker, first published in 1771, Tobias Smollett referred enthusiastically to 'Mrs. Cornelys' assembly, which for the rooms, the company, the dresses, and decorations, surpasses all description'. (fn. 18) Mrs. Cornelys opened Carlisle House once or twice a month, chiefly during the winter season. For the concerts which she promoted, many of the most celebrated foreign musicians then in London were engaged, including John Christian Bach, Karl Abel, Stephano Storace and Karl Weichsell. (fn. 19) The refreshments for some of the entertainments were provided by 'Mr Welcher', probably Lewis Weltje, who subsequently kept Weltje's Club at No. 64 St. James's Street and was in the domestic service of the Prince of Wales (later George IV). (fn. 20) It was, however, the extravagant masquerades staged at Carlisle House which created the greatest stir. The numerous contemporary accounts of these, with elaborate descriptions of the company and their costumes, all testify to the impact made by Mrs. Cornelys on London society in the 1760's and early 1770's. (fn. 21)
In addition to her financial difficulties, Mrs. Cornelys had also to contend with the attractions of rival establishments. Her first serious competitor was William Almack, who opened his assembly rooms in King Street, St. James's, in February 1765. (fn. 22) Horace Walpole, writing in December 1764, says that 'Mrs. Cornelis, apprehending the future assembly at Almack's, has enlarged her vast room, and hung it with blue satin, and another with yellow satin; but Almack's room, which is to be ninety feet long, proposes to swallow up both hers'. (fn. 23) (fn. 2)
Despite this competition and despite the clamour of her creditors, Mrs. Cornelys continued to open Carlisle House once or twice a month for balls or concerts. She endeavoured to retain the favour of the fashionable world by re-embellishing her rooms and by frequent advertisements. In June 1765 she caused a report to be printed in the newspapers that 'the alterations and additions to Carlisle House in Soho Square, performing by Messrs. Phillips and Shakespeare, (fn. 3) together with all the new embellishments and furniture adding thereto by Mrs. Cornelys, will this year alone, amount to little less than 2000 l. and that, when finished, it will be, by far, the most magnificent place of public entertainment in Europe.' A few months later she announced that 'amongst her other elegant alterations [she] has devised the most curious, singular, and superb ceiling to one of the rooms that ever was executed or even thought of. In January 1769 a new gallery for dancing and a suite of new rooms adjoining were opened. (fn. 24) These later improvements may have included the redecoration of two of the rooms in the Chinese manner and also the erection of 'the Chinese bridge', which connected the house in the square with the principal rooms at the back and may have been the work of the cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale, who was one of her creditors. (fn. 25)
Between 1767 and her bankruptcy in 1772 Mrs. Cornelys is said to have spent £5,000, chiefly on 'the appartments known by the name of the Gallery and China Room'. (fn. 25) With these added attractions, she was able to retain the favour of the fashionable world and her rooms became more crowded than ever. In 1770 the young Fanny Burney, visiting Carlisle House for the first time, found that 'The magnificence of the rooms, splendour of the illuminations and embellishments, and the brilliant appearance of the company exceeded anything I ever before saw. The apartments were so crowded we had scarce room to move, which was quite disagreeable, nevertheless, the flight of apartments both upstairs and on the ground floor seemed endless … The Rooms were so full and so hot that nobody attempted to dance … I must own this evening's entertainment more disappointed my expectations than any I ever spent; for I had imagined it would have been the most charming in the world'. (fn. 26)
In January 1771 a new form of entertainment was introduced at Carlisle House when Mrs. Cornelys began to stage a successful series of operatic performances. Such public entertainments were illegal without royal licence, and she soon became involved in a succession of vexatious court proceedings, instigated by her rivals, the proprietors of the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. Horace Walpole sent an account of the whole affair to Sir Horace Mann, in a letter dated 22 February 1771. 'In the meantime our most serious war is between two operas. Mr. Hobart, Lord Buckingham's brother, is manager of the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. Last year he affronted Guardagni, by preferring the Zamperina, his own mistress, to the singing hero's sister. The Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Harrington, and some other great ladies, espoused the brother, and without a licence erected an Opera for him at Madame Cornelys's. … She took Carlisle House in Soho Square, enlarged it, and established assemblies and balls by subscription. At first they scandalized, but soon drew in both righteous and ungodly. She went on building, and made her house a fairy palace, for balls, concerts, and masquerades. Her Opera, which she called Harmonic Meetings, was splendid and charming. Mr. Hobart began to starve, and the managers of the theatres were alarmed. To avoid the Act, she pretended to take no money, and had the assurance to advertise that the subscription was to provide coals for the poor, for she has vehemently courted the mob, and succeeded in gaining their princely favour. She then declared her masquerades were for the benefit of commerce. I concluded she would open a bawdy house next for the interests of the Foundling Hospital, and I am not quite mistaken, for they say one of her maids, gained by Mr. Hobart, affirms that she could not undergo the fatigue of making the beds so often. At last Mr. Hobart informed against her, and the bench of justices, less soothable by music than Orpheus's beasts, have pronounced against her. Her Opera is quashed.' (fn. 27)
From the accounts of the various court proceedings taken against Mrs. Cornelys, it is clear that operas were staged at Carlisle House on 24 and 31 January 1771 (fn. 28) and that, at least on the latter occasion, Thomas Arne's Artaxerxes had been given, with Guardagni singing in one of the main roles. (fn. 29) By 12 February Mrs. Cornelys had been fined £50 for allowing the unlicensed 'exhibition of a dramatic performance in her house', (fn. 30) and on 13 February Guardagni was also fined £50 at Bow Street for appearing in an opera at Carlisle House on 31 January. (fn. 29) The imposition of these fines and the prospect of further penalties did not deter Mrs. Cornelys from putting on another opera on 12 February, her patrons having 'agreed to subscribe an additional crown towards the payment of the 50 l. penalty, as often as the Justices think proper to exact it'. (fn. 28) On 20 February Mrs. Cornelys was charged at Bow Street on information laid by Peter Crawford (one of the managers of the King's Theatre) that she had caused 'to be Acted Represented and performed for hire gains and reward a certain Opera and Entertainment of the Stage in the Italian Language called Artaserse' without licence on 31 January. Hobart, giving evidence against her, testified that he had bought tickets for the performance openly and that he had seen the opera at Mrs. Cornelys's house on a stage with scenery, with an orchestra and the singers dressed in character. Mrs. Cornelys was again fined £50. (fn. 29) Later in the month a report appeared in The Universal Magazine that two bills of indictment had been preferred to the Grand Jury 'against a certain Lady not far from Soho. —That she does keep and maintain a common disorderly house, and did permit and suffer divers loose, idle, and disorderly persons, as well men as women, to be, and remain, during the whole night, rioting, and otherwise misbehaving themselves. —That she did keep and maintain a public masquerade, without any licence by her first had and obtained for that purpose; and did receive and harbour loose and disorderly persons in masks, in the said house; and did wilfully permit and suffer the last mentioned persons in masks to make a great noise and tumult'. (fn. 31) No such indictment has been found in the Middlesex or Westminster Sessions records for these months.
It was therefore as her 'dernier resort' that Mrs. Cornelys submitted a formal petition to the Crown for a patent for 'the Exhibition of musical dramatic Entertainments, by Private Subscription'. Her memorial stated that on arriving in England and discovering 'that the most extensive, most opulent, and most important City in Europe was the only one of note that had not a settled Entertainment for the select reception and amusement of the Nobility and Gentry', she successfully established such an institution with great labour and expense; but 'after struggling with a Siege of Troubles during a longer Period than the Siege of Troy' and producing for the nobility and gentry 'a species of a more elegant dramatic musical Amusement than any they had ever had before', she had become involved in 'vexatious and expensive Prosecutions, as interestedly litigious, as innocently incurred'. Her petition for the patent was not granted. (fn. 32)
The opening of the Pantheon in Oxford Street in January 1772 proved a more serious blow. Compared with this splendid new building, Carlisle House and its proprietress seemed tawdry and tarnished. By October 1772 she had been arrested at the suit of her creditors and incarcerated in the King's Bench prison. (fn. 33) In November she was declared a bankrupt and Carlisle House and its furniture was assigned to four of her creditors, Samuel Spencer of St. Giles, gentleman, Thomas Chippendale of St. Martin's, cabinet-maker, James Cullen of Greek Street, upholsterer, (fn. 4) and Augustus Lesage of Suffolk Street, jeweller and goldsmith. In the following month the four assignees and nine other creditors agreed amongst themselves that Carlisle House and its contents should be sold by auction as one lot and that they would bid for it jointly. They decided to offer up to £15,000 for the whole property and appointed John Cates and Simon Lesage, close relatives of two of the assignees, to act for them. (fn. 25) The house was advertised as 'All that extensive, commodious and magnificent House in Soho-Square, lately occupied by Mrs. Cornelys, and used for the Public Assemblies of the Nobility and Gentry. Together with all the rich and elegant Furniture, Decorations, China, etc. thereunto belonging, too well known and universally admired for their Aptness and Taste to require here any publick and extraordinary Description thereof'. (fn. 34) This advertisement did not, however, attract many prospective purchasers. Cates and Lesage were the only bidders at the auction on 22 December 1772 and they were able to purchase the lease of Carlisle House and all Mrs. Cornelys's furniture for £10,200. Her other creditors had not been consulted over these hasty proceedings and tried unsuccessfully to nullify the sale. (fn. 25)
For the next few years the group of creditors who had purchased the lease used Carlisle House for concerts, masquerades and other entertainments. (fn. 35) From 1773 to March 1777 Samuel Spencer, the leader of this group, is recorded as the ratepayer, although on two occasions there are marginal notes 'apply to Mr. [James] Cullen' (another member of the group), but in May and June 1777, and again in May 1778 Mrs. Cornelys paid the rates. (fn. 7) Contemporary newspaper advertisements show that in 1776–8 she held several masquerades at Carlisle House, (fn. 35) but at one of them, in July 1777 'there were not however above Fifty Persons in the Rooms till Twelve, and the whole Company did not exceed Three Hundred, many of whom were in their modern Cloaths, with Masks, and some without'. (fn. 36) In 1779 there was a series of masked balls sponsored by Mr. Hoffman, (fn. 16) 'a celebrated confectioner of Bishopsgate Street', (fn. 37) but none of these entertainments recaptured the former popularity of the place. (fn. 5)
In 1780 the proprietors attempted to establish 'an Academy of Sciences and Belles Lettres' at Carlisle House. There was to be a library 'for ladies and gentlemen, where new books, from the beginning of the year 1780, specimens of improvements in the arts, newspapers, periodical publications, will be found, for a subscription of three guineas a year'. Instruction was to be provided, principally for foreigners, by 'professors of several sciences' in the 'language, constitution and customs of England'. On Wednesday evenings, there were to be public debates at what the proprietors called 'the School of Eloquence' on such subjects as 'Whether the art of oratory be or be not of any utility and importance?' and 'Is Pride in the Class of the Virtues, or of the Vices?' The proprietors were evidently not optimistic about the chances of success for the Academy, for they continued to advertise that 'the usual rooms' might still be hired 'for respectable assemblies, concerts, and all other purposes, not inconsistent with the perfect decorum, which is to [be] preserved in every thing respecting Carlisle House'. (fn. 16)
On Sundays the rooms were open for public receptions which seem to have been popular because other places of entertainment were closed on that day. There is a description of these Sunday evenings at Carlisle House and also of the house itself in the journal of Samuel Curwen, an American loyalist then a refugee in London. On 12 November 1780 he described how he 'After tea, called on Mr. Dalglish; whom, with his friend, I accompanied in a coach to "Carlisle House", at a Sunday evening entertainment, called the promenade, instituted in lieu of public amusement … The employment of the company is simply walking through the rooms; being allowed tea, coffee, chocolate, lemonade, orgeat, negus, milk, etc.; admission by ticket, cost, three shillings; dress, decent, full not required; some in boots; one carelessly in spurs happening to catch a lady's flounce, he was obliged to apologize and take them off. The ladies were rigged out in gaudy attire, attended by bucks, bloods, and maccaronies, though it is also resorted to by persons of irreproachable character: among the wheat will be tares. The arrangement of the house is as follows:—From the vestibule where the tickets are received, the entrance is through a short passage into the first room, of a moderate size, covered with carpets, and furnished with wooden chairs and seats in Chinese taste; through this the company passes to another of a larger size, furnished and accomodated as the former; passing this, you enter the long-room, about eighty feet by forty; this is the largest, and lighted with glass chandeliers and branches fixed to side walls, against which stand sofas covered with silk,— floors carpeted. Hence tending to the left, you cross the hall, and enter the wilderness or grotto, having natural evergreens planted round the walls; the centre, an oblong square, about twenty-five feet long and fifteen broad, fenced with an open railing, a few shrubs interspersed, flowering moss and grass; in one of the angles is a natural well, with a living spring, which the attendant told me is mineral. Fronting the entrance, in the centre, at the further end is a cave cased with petrifications, stones artificially cut into resemblance of the former, and spars, with here and there a dim lamp so placed as to afford but an imperfect sight of the surrounding objects. To the top of the arch leading to the cave, is an ascent of two flights of steps on each hand, and over it a room not unlike in form the cave below, painted in modern style in oval compartments, containing hieroglyphics and ancient stories; on the same elevation is a narrow gallery, continuing on either side to about half the length of the room, fronting near three feet high with an open Chinese fence or railing:—this room is about fifty feet deep by thirty wide, lighted as the others with variegated lamps, but rather dim; next enter into two tea rooms, each with tables for forty sets or parties.
'So far for my imperfect description of this house, wherein the well-known Mrs Cornelys used to accomodate the nobility, etc., with masquerades and coteries. Dress of the ladies differed widely; one part swept their track by long trails, the other by enormous size of hoops and petticoats. The company usually resorting there about seven hundred, as the ticket receiver told me;—this evening the house was thronged … it was full two hours before I could procure a dish of tea … and when served, it was in a slovenly manner on a dirty tea-stand. I never saw a place of public resort where the company was treated with so little respect by servants.' (fn. 38)
Concerts and masquerades were still being held at Carlisle House in 1781 and 1782, (fn. 16) but in September 1783 the whole property was advertised as 'To be let and entered on directly, with all its elegant furniture', (fn. 39) and from March 1784 the ratebooks record it as empty.
By June 1789 Carlisle House was in the possession of Thomas Jefferys, a music publisher, and in 1791 it was demolished. (fn. 40) The adjoining buildings in Sutton Street, which comprised the main assembly rooms, remained standing, but two new houses with frontages to the square were erected on the site of Carlisle House. These were completed and occupied by 1794 and can be seen on Tallis's view on fig. 5. In 1891 the northern house, at the corner of Sutton Street, was demolished to make way for the tower and entrance of St. Patrick's Church, but the southern house still survives.