Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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THE STRAND:—SOUTHERN TRIBUTARIES (continued).
"Here Essex' stately pile adorned the shore; There Cecil's, Bedford's, Villiers'—now no more."—Gay.
Beaufort Buildings—Fielding, the Novelist—Worcester House—Carey House—The "Fox-under-the-Hill"—Beaufort House—Salisbury House—The Middle Exchange—Cecil Street—The Arundel Club—Ivy Bridge Lane—Durham House—The New Exchange—The Duchess of Tyrconnel, the "White Milliner"—A Singular Tragedy and Curious Dénouement—Coutts's Bank—The Adelphi—Garrick's House—The "Shades"—The Society of Arts—Buckingham Street—York Stairs—Buckingham Water Gate—Villiers Street.
Proceeding still westward on our pilgrimage along the Strand, we next arrive at Beaufort Buildings, where in the last century resided Fielding, the novelist, of whom an interesting anecdote is told in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1786:—"Some parochial taxes for his house in Beaufort Buildings being unpaid, and for which he had been demanded again and again, or, in the vulgar phrase, dunned de die in diem, he was at last given to understand by the collector, who had an esteem for him, that he could delay the payment no longer. In this dilemma the author of 'Tom Jones' called a council of his thoughts to whom he should apply for a temporary accommodation, on the pledge of the embryos of his own brain. Jacob Tonson was his usual resource on these occasions. To him, therefore, he addressed himself, and mortgaged the coming sheets of some work then in hand. He received the cash—some ten or twelve guineas. Full freighted with this sum, he was returning home, when lo! fate, in the guise of friendship, had determined to intercept him in his passage, and to prevent him reaching his destination with his pecuniary cargo. When within a few doors of his own house he met an old college chum, whom he had not seen for many years, and finding he had been unfortunate in life, gave him all the money he had just received. On reaching home he was informed that the collector had called twice for the taxes. Fielding's reply was laconic, but memorable:—'Friendship has called for the money and had it; let the collector call again!" The reader will be glad to hear that a second application to Jacob Tonson enabled him to satisfy the parish demands." At the corner house, No. 96, Strand, now occupied by Eugene Rimmel, the perfumer, formerly lived another of the same profession, Charles Lillie, whom Steele has commemorated in the pages of the Tatler, and whose name is also embalmed in the Spectator.
On the site of Beaufort Buildings, between the Savoy and Durham Place, stood Worcester House, the town mansion of the Earls of Worcester, and previously the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle. Its gardens extended to the river-side. The great Earl of Clarendon occupied this house before his own mansion was built, and paid for it the annual rent of £500.
In the Strand, near the Savoy, was a house known as Carey and afterwards as Stafford House. It is casually mentioned by Pepys as "a house now of entertainment, next my Lady Ashly's, where I have heretofore heard Common Prayer read." Dryden, too, in his "Wild Gallant," speaks with evident delight of "the sack at Cary House with the apricot flavour." We must also mention another house of some repute which stood close by this spot down to a recent date, namely, the tavern known as the "Fox under the Hill," the entrance to which was at No. 75 in the Strand. This inn has been shut up since the erection of the Thames Embankment, and, along with the rest of the dilapidated tenements between the Savoy, the Adelphi, and the Embankment Garden, will doubtless soon be swept away. We have preserved a representation of the old inn on page 97.
Concerning the old house of the Earls of Worcester, afterwards called Beaufort House, honest John Stow tells a story to the effect that "there being a very large walnut-tree growing in the garden, which much obstructed the eastern prospect of Salisbury House, near adjoining, it was proposed to the Earl of Worcester's gardener, by the Earl of Salisbury or his agent, that if he could prevail with his lord to cut down the said tree, he should have £100. The offer was told to the Earl of Worcester, who ordered him to do it and to take the £100; both which were performed to the great satisfaction of the Earl of Salisbury, as he thought; but, there being no great kindness between the two earls, the Earl of Worcester soon caused to be built in the place of the walnut-tree a large house of brick, which took away all his prospect." The house was burnt down in 1695.
The building adjoining, Salisbury House, gave place to Cecil Street and Salisbury Street, the latter of which, before the construction of the Thames Embankment, led to Salisbury Stairs. Salisbury House—or, as it was sometimes called, Cecil House—was built by Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, a son of the great Lord Burghley, and was a "large and stately" mansion. In 1678 a great part of it was pulled down, and Cecil and Salisbury Streets were built on its site. A portion of Cecil House, consisting of one large room, was subsequently fitted up with shops on both sides, and opened as "the Middle Exchange." This building extended to the river, where there was a flight of steps for the use of passengers by water. The place seems to have borne anything but a good reputation—being called the "Whore's nest"—and in the end going to ruin it was pulled down, with the remains of great Salisbury House, about the year 1696. Upon the site was built Cecil Street, of which Strype speaks as a "fair street with very good houses, fit for persons of repute," so that it is to be hoped that the former tenants of the "nest" were put to flight.
Of Cecil Street we have little or nothing to remark, as its annals appear to be a blank of late years, except that in the last century it was inhabited by the Lord Grey, the Archbishop of York, and Dr. Wollaston. Of Salisbury Street the same may be said, except that it was pulled down and rebuilt in the middle of the last century.
At the bottom of Salisbury Street, on the left hand, in a house overlooking the Embankment and the river, has been established, since 1865, the Arundel Club, so called from its original abode in Arundel Street. It consists mainly of members of the newspaper press and of the dramatic profession, together with a few artists. Over the fireplace in the principal room is a fine portrait of Marinarni, many years scene-painter at Drury Lane, painted by the late Mr. Clarkson Stanfield, R.A., and presented to the club by his son, Mr. G. C. Stanfield.
The next turning westwards of Salisbury Street, down to what once was the river-side, was called Ivy Lane, leading to Ivy Bridge, or Pier—the same which in our own memories was used as the landing-stage of the halfpenny steamboats that used to ply between the Strand and London Bridge, but were discontinued shortly after the disastrous explosion of the Cricket at the "Fox" pier, in August, 1847. The place is mentioned by both Stow and Strype. The former says that the lane "parted the Liberty of the Duchy (of Lancaster) and the city of Westminster on the south side," and that the "bridge" had been lately taken down. Strype adds that the road was very bad and almost impassable, which was not improbable, considering its narrowness and its steep descent.
Near this spot, Pennant tells us, the former Earls of Rutland had "a house at which several of that noble family breathed their last." He does not, however, say anything which can enable us to identify its situation.
Adjoining Ivy Bridge Lane on the west was Durham House, the "Inn" of the Bishops of Durham, one of the most interesting of the old Strand palaces. According to Pennant, its original founder was Anthony de Beck, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Bishop of Durham in the reign of Edward I. It was rebuilt by Thomas Hatfield, soon after his nomination to that see, in 1345; he was Secretary of State to Edward III., and lived here till he was old. Even from the rough sketch of it in Aggas's map, Durham House would seem to have been an "Inn" of some importance; but from Hollar we gather a more correct idea of its appearance, when viewed from the river. It is described by Norden as "high and stately, supported with lofty marble pillars;" but it would appear to have been dull and heavy, as well as grand, like many of its neighbours on the banks of the river. Henry VIII. obtained this house by way of exchange from Cuthbert Tonstall, the bishop whose name is so well known in English history. It is to be hoped that in this case the "exchange" was really not a "robbery." Durham House, after it passed out of the hands of the Church into those of royalty, became celebrated as a gay scene of chivalric entertainment on many occasions. In the year 1540, for example, as Stow informs us, a magnificent tournament was held at Westminster. It had been proclaimed in France, Flanders, Scotland, and Spain, for all comers that would undertake the challenge of England, which were Sir John Dudley, Sir Thomas Seymour, Sir Thomas Poynings, and Sir George Carew, Knights, and Anthony Kingston and Richard Cromwell, Esquires. The old chronicler then gives a vivid picture of the tournament in detail, and adds, "That day, after the jousts performed, the challengers rode into Durham House, where they kept open household, and feasted the king and queen, with their ladies and all the court." On one day the Lord Mayor of London and the aldermen, with their wives, were entertained with a display of jousting, and there was a merry dance in the evening.
Young Edward, on reaching the throne, gave Durham House to his sister, the Princess Elizabeth, and she in her turn, when she became queen, bestowed it on Sir Walter Raleigh. On his attainder, however, the property was restored to the Bishops of Durham, but soon after sold to the Earl of Pembroke. In Edward's reign a royal mint was established at Durham House, under the direction of the Lord High Admiral Seymour. It was at Durham House that, in May, 1553, the Duke of Northumberland, who then inhabited it, beheld the accomplishment of the first act of his plan for placing his niece, Lady Jane Grey, upon the throne—namely, her marriage with his son, Lord Guildford Dudley. Two months later, and within four days of the death of the king, the Lady Jane was conducted from Durham House to the Tower with great pomp and ceremony, and openly proclaimed queen. The result is but too well known to every reader of English history.
In the reign of James I. the thatched stables of the mansion, fronting the Strand, were pulled down, and a large building, called the "New Exchange," erected in their place. It was opened in 1609 in the presence of the king, the queen, and Prince Henry, when his Majesty bestowed upon it the name of "Britain's Burse." A rich banquet was served on the occasion, at the expense of Lord Salisbury.
The New Exchange consisted of a basement, in which were cellars; the ground-floor, level with the street, a public walk; and an upper storey, in which were stalls or shops occupied by milliners and sempstresses, and other trades that supply dresses. The building did not attain any great success till after the Restoration, when it became quite a fashionable resort, and so popular that there is scarcely a dramatist of the time of Charles II. who is without a reference to this gay place. The shops, or stalls, had their respective signs, one of which, the "Three Spanish Gipsies," was kept by Thomas Radford and his wife, the daughter of John Clarges, a farrier in the Savoy. The farrier's daughter, as we have stated in a previous chapter, ultimately became Duchess of Albemarle. She died within a few days of the duke, and was buried by his side in Henry VII.'s Chapel, at Westminster Abbey.
But she was by no means the only duchess associated with the New Exchange. The Duchess of Tyrconnel, wife of Richard Talbot, Lord Deputy of Ireland under James II., after the abdication of the one and the death of the other, is said to have supported herself for a short time in one of the trades of the place; and she is commemorated by Horace Walpole with his usual piquancy. Pennant speaks of her as "a female suspected to have been his duchess," adding that she "supported herself here for a few days, till she was known and otherwise provided for, by the trade of the place, for she had delicacy enough to wish not to be detected." She sat in a white mask and a white dress, and was known as the "White Milliner." This anecdote was dramatised by Douglas Jerrold, and produced at Covent Garden Theatre in 1840, as "The White Milliner." She died in 1730 in the Convent of the Poor Clares in Dublin.
It was here, too, that a certain Mr. Gerard was walking one day, meditating how he should best carry into execution a certain plot in which he was engaged—the assassination of no less a person than Oliver Cromwell—when he was insulted by Don Pantaleon, brother of the Portuguese ambassador, and resented it so warmly that the latter, in revenge, the next day sent a set of ruffians to murder him. His murderers mistook their victim, and killed another man. The dénouement is curious, as well as tragical. Don Pantaleon was tried, found guilty, and condemned. On the scaffold he met the very man whom he had intended to destroy, Mr. Gerard, whose plot in the interim had been discovered, and the two suffered in company.
The New Exchange was a long building running parallel with the Strand, and its site is now occupied by the houses Nos. 54 to 64, the bank of Messrs. Coutts being the centre. It stands on the court garden front of Durham House, and, next to Drummond's, is the oldest of the West-end banks. It was founded by one George Middleton, and originally stood in St. Martin's Lane, not far from St. Martin's Church, but was removed to its present site by Mr. Thomas Coutts, an enterprising Scotchman, the story of whose rise is thus narrated:—His father was a merchant at Edinburgh, who had four sons, the two youngest of whom, James and Thomas, were brought up in the paternal countinghouse. James, at the age of twenty-five, came to London, and first settled in St. Mary Axe, as a Scotch merchant, but from that business, however, he subsequently retired to become a banker. He took a house in the Strand, the same in which the firm still exists; and he was joined here, some years after, by his brother Thomas, as a partner. On the death of James soon afterwards, Thomas continued to carry on the banking business, and with such an energetic spirit, that he soon gained many friends, and found himself on the sure road to success. Mr. Lawson, in his "History of Banking," tells a story concerning Mr. Coutts' shrewdness and enterprise which will bear repeating:—"In the early part of his career Mr. Coutts, anxious to secure the cordial co-operation of the heads of the various banking-houses in London, was in the habit of frequently inviting them to dinner. On one of these occasions, the manager of a City bank, in retailing the news of the day, accidentally remarked that a certain nobleman had applied to his firm for the loan of £30,000, and had been refused. Mr. Coutts listened, and said nothing; but the moment his guests had retired, about ten o'clock in the evening, he started off to the house of the nobleman mentioned, and requested the honour of an interview with his lordship the next day. On the following morning the nobleman called at the bank. Mr. Coutts received him with the greatest politeness, and taking thirty one-thousand pound notes from a drawer presented them to his lordship. The latter, very agreeably surprised, exclaimed, 'But what security am I to give you?' 'I shall be satisfied with your lordship's note of hand,' was the reply. The 'I.O.U.' was instantly given, with the remark, 'I find I shall only require for the present £10,000; I therefore return you £20,000, with which you will be pleased to open an account in my name.' This generous—or, as it may more truly be called, exceedingly well-calculated—act of Mr. Coutts was not lost upon the nobleman, who, in addition to paying in within a few months £200,000 to his account, the produce of the sale of an estate, recommended several high personages to patronise the bank in the Strand. Among new clients who opened accounts there was King George III." Most members of the king's family, the late Duke of Wellington, &c., banked here, and so did Dr. Johnson and Sir Walter Scott.
Mr. Coutts had not only many friends, but even real admirers, among the nobility, and he is said to have been an object of attraction to not a few designing matrons, who had marriageable daughters. But all these aristocratic matrimonial speculations were somewhat rudely dispelled and frustrated, and Mr. Coutts in the end "took unto himself a wife," in the person of one Elizabeth Starkey, a domestic in his brother's service. The union, it is affirmed, was productive of great happiness to the banker, and he was blessed with three daughters, each of whom became married to men of title—namely, the Marquis of Bute, the Earl of Guildford, and Sir Francis Burdett, Bart. After the death of his first wife, Mr. Coutts gave his hand to Miss Harriet Mellon, the celebrated actress. On this second marriage, both Mr. and Mrs. Coutts were made the constant subjects of unworthy ridicule, which, however, had no other effect than that of strengthening the confidence of the husband in his wife, a confidence which was displayed in a remarkable manner in the will made by Mr. Coutts shortly before his death, which happened in 1821. By this will he left the whole of his fortune, amounting to some £900,000, to his widow, "for her sole use and benefit, and at her absolute disposal, without the deduction of a single legacy to any other person." Mrs. Coutts subsequently (1827) married the Duke of St. Albans; but under the marriage settlement wisely reserved to herself the whole control of the immense fortune left to her by her first husband. On her death, in 1837, she bequeathed her vast property to the favourite granddaughter of Mr. Coutts, Miss Angela Burdett, the youngest daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, the estimable and beneficent lady, founder of so many churches, schools, and other buildings for ameliorating the condition of the working classes, on whom the Queen has been pleased to confer the title of Baroness, and who is now well known as Lady Burdett Coutts.
The partners in "Coutts and Co." (1874) are Messrs. William M. Coulthurst, E. Marjoribanks, Hugh L. Antrobus, E. Coulthurst, the Hon. H. Dudley Ryder, G. Robinson, and Lord Archibald Campbell. Lady Burdett Coutts had till recently a considerable interest in it. It is supposed that Messrs. Coutts' is the largest private bank, and has the most extensive connection among the nobility and landed gentry of any existing firm.
We learn from Mr. Peter Cunningham's "HandBook of London," that the interior of the house occupied by Messrs. Coutts is very handsome and well decorated, containing, inter alia, some "good marble chimney-pieces of the Bacon and Cipriani school." He adds: "The dining-room is hung with Chinese subjects on paper, sent to Mr. Coutts by Lord Macartney, whilst on his embassy to China, in 1792–5. In another room is a collection of portraits of the early friends of the wealthy banker, including the portrait of Armstrong, the early poet, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The strong rooms and vaults of the house will repay an endeavour to obtain a sight of them. Here, in a succession of cloister-like avenues, are stored, in boxes of all shapes, sizes, and colours, the patents, titledeeds, plate, &c., of many of the nobility and gentry; and the order in which the place is kept is perfectly wondrous."
The estate of Durham Yard, having become an unprofitable heap of ruin, was purchased by Messrs. Adam, four brothers, architects by profession, who built upon it, in 1768, parallel with the river, the noble terrace known as the Adelphi, and also two or three streets running at right angles with it, and communicating with the Strand, in which they have preserved their respective Christian names, as well as family name—as Adam Street, John Street, Robert Street, &c.
The following account of the brothers Adam we take from "Pilgrimages in London:"—
"Robert Adam was the eldest brother; he had travelled much, had visited Palmyra and Baalbec, and in all his architectural works there is a peculiar style, which displays itself in the ornamental portions of the Adelphi buildings—the introduction of an exuberance of delicate ornament. Scotchmen are proverbially fond of their country, and the immense building speculations into which the Messrs. Adam had entered afforded them an opportunity of giving employment to their countrymen, as well as of obtaining their services, when engaged in Scotland, at a lower rate of wages than was demanded by English bricklayers and labourers. Some hundreds were, therefore, imported from Scotland, and came attended by half-a-dozen bagpipes, for the purpose, as was asserted, of keeping up the national feeling. These pipers played daily while the embankments were formed and the foundations laid; and as the sweet chords of the classic lyre of Orpheus are said to have moved inanimate objects, so arose the Adelphi to the squeak of the Scotch bagpipes. But the charms of music to soothe the savage breast were, in this instance, vainly tried, as the workmen soon discovered that they were paid less than the London market price of their labour, and they consequently very speedily relinquished what they called "the curse of Adam," for more pay and less work, as an extra hour had been stipulated for. What was to be done? The undertaking could not be allowed to stand still, but it was impossible to comply with the advance of wages and the diminution of time demanded. In this state of things Ireland was thought of, and a similar bargain to that which had been made in Scotland was made there, with the exception of the bagpipers whose national melodies had produced so little harmony. It was this importation from Ireland, I believe, that first opened the channel for the export of labourers and hodmen to England, and which stream of emigration has flowed regularly from the same source down to the present hour. But as nothing of importance long remains secret, the Irishmen, although satisfied to abide by their bargain of hard work and small pay, felt displeased that they had been deprived of the music enjoyed by their predecessors, and vented their humour in a coarse joke, upon which I have remarked that Scotchmen of all ranks are, even to the present moment, peculiarly sensitive; for Pat, with a knowing wink of his eye, asserted that if his employers had deprived him of the drone of the bagpipes by day, their honours had given him instead, both day and night, the lively amusement of the fiddle."
We ought not, and indeed we cannot forget to record here the fact that in the centre house of Adelphi Terrace died, in 1779, no less a man of note than David Garrick, within a few hundred yards from the scene of his professional triumphs. He had been an inmate of it for the last seven years of his life. In the same street lived Topham Beauclerk, the wit, politician, and friend of Johnson, of whom it is recorded by Boswell that as he stood one day here gazing on the river below, he lamented in one breath the loss of both.
The author of "Haunted London" tells us an interesting story connected with this part of the Strand. "When the Adelphi was building, Garrick applied for the western corner house of Adam Street on behalf of his friend, Andrew Beckett, the bookseller, and obtained it, promising the brothers, if the request was granted, to make the shop, as old Jacob Tonson's shop once was, the rendezvous of the first people in London." He went, indeed, so far as to promise to pay it a personal visit twice every day. "In his letter on this subject," adds the writer, "Garrick calls the architects the dear Adelphi (brothers), and the western corner house the 'corner blessing.'"
Mr. Timbs remarks that "the Adelphi arches, many of which are used for cellars and coal-wharves, remind us, in their grim vastness, of the Etruscan cloaca of ancient Rome. Beneath the "dark arches," as they were (and are) called, the most abandoned characters used to lurk; outcasts and vagrants came there to sleep; and many a streetthief escaped from his pursuers in those subterranean haunts, before the introduction of gas-lights and a vigilant police. Even now tramps prowl in a ghastly manner down the dim-lit passages." The piers on which the Adelphi arches rest having shown symptoms of insecurity, the whole of the structure was gradually underpinned, and otherwise strengthened, in the years 1872–4.
Garrick died in the back room of the first floor of his house in the Adelphi. The ceiling of the drawing-room, if we may believe Mr. J. T. Smith, the author of "A Book for a Rainy Day," was painted by Zocchi, the subject being "Venus attired by the Graces;" and the chimney-piece of the same room is said to have cost £800.
The "Shades"—or, as the place was called in slang terms, the "Darkies"—was in former days one of the places of bad reputation with which the neighbourhood abounded; but the name and the reality have both passed away.
In John Street, at No. 18, is the building designed and erected for the Society of Arts. This society has a history of its own, and has not been without its influence on the world of art and science in England. It originated, in 1753, through the public spirit of William Shipley, a drawing-master, and brother to the then Bishop of St. Asaph. Mr. Shipley first obtained the approval and concurrence of Lord Folkestone, Lord Romney, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr. Isaac Maddox, and a few other friends, and in 1754 the first meeting was held at Rawthmell's Coffee House. The object of the society was the encouragement of art in connection with manufacture, &c. In 1755 the society met at Peel's Coffee House. The Royal Academy is said to have sprung from the Society of Arts, and in 1776 the latter proposed to the Academy—which had been instituted in 1768—that they should paint the great council-room at the Adelphi, and be remunerated by the public exhibition of their works therein. The Academy, with Sir Joshua Reynolds at its head, refused this proposal; but in the following year James Barry, who had signed the refusal with the rest, volunteered to decorate the room without any remuneration at all. The "Handbook of London" states that when he made his offer he had but sixteen shillings in his pocket. His offer was accepted, and the result was the production of six great pictures, which occupied him seven years in painting. The subjects are so connected as to illustrate this great maxim of moral truth: "That the attainment of happiness, individual as well as public, depends on the development, proper cultivation, and perfection of the human faculties, physical and moral, which are so well calculated to lead human nature to its true rank and the glorious designation assigned for it by Providence."
There are here a few other pictures and minor works of art and ingenuity, and they are open to the inspection of the public, free of charge, during the months of March, April, and May, from ten till four. It is worthy of note that in 1844 Sir William Fothergill Cooke, who was at that time a member of the Council, and Vice-President of the Society of Arts, originated at a council-meeting his scheme for an International Exhibition of Industry, which was eventually carried out in 1851. Lectures are given every Wednesday evening, from November to May. The terms of membership are two guineas annually.
Buckingham Street, our next turning in passing westward along the Strand, and Villiers Street, a thoroughfare running parallel with it, mark the site of York House, a building so named from having been the town residence of the Archbishop of that see, after the fall of Wolsey and the loss of their former and more magnificent palace at Whitehall, which has passed irrevocably into the hands of the Crown. It had been in ancient times the house or "inn," as it was termed, of the Bishops of Norwich, who, however, exchanged it for an abbey in Norfolk in the early part of the reign of Henry VIII. The next owner, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, obtained it in exchange for his own residence, Southwark House, across the river. In the reign of Queen Mary it was purchased by Heath, Archbishop of York, who called it York House; but the name did not long continue, as his successor, Archbishop Matthew, under James I., exchanged it with the Crown for certain manors in the far North. It was afterwards inhabited by Lord Chancellor Egerton, also by Sir Nicholas Bacon, the philosopher's father, as Keeper of the Great Seal; and subsequently by Bacon himself, on his attaining the dignity of Lord Chancellor, and it was here that he was deprived of the "Great Seal," on his degradation. York House then passed, as we have said, into the hands of the Crown, and was granted a few years later to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who rebuilt it in a style of great magnificence. In the year after the execution of Charles I. the Parliament bestowed it on General Fairfax, whose daughter and heiress marrying Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham of that line, it reverted to its rightful owner, who resided here for several years after the Restoration. He was, however, a man whose taste and extravagances led him into pecuniary difficulties, and to pay his debts he sold it for building purposes, bargaining, however, that his name and titles should be kept in memory by the streets built upon it, and which were called, respectively, George, Villiers, Duke, and Buckingham Streets. These are all that now remain to tell the antiquary of the nineteenth century the story of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, his rise at Court, and his fall.
His mansion never lost its name of York House, and the water-gate at the foot of Buckingham Street continued to be known as "York Stairs." The water-gate is the only vestige now remaining of this once splendid mansion.
On the side next the river appear the arms of the House of Villiers, and on the north side is their family motto, "Fidei Coticula Crux" (the Cross is the Touchstone of Faith).
At York House, within a few yards of the spot where he first saw the light, Lord Bacon kept his sixtieth birthday. How much he loved the place may be gathered from his answer to the Duke of Lennox, who had urged him to sell his mansion. "In this you will pardon me: York House is the house where my father died, and where I drew my first breath; and there I will yield my last breath, if it so please God and the King." He did not, however, return to the house after his imprisonment in the Tower.
The old mansion was pulled down, as we have already noticed, by the Duke of Buckingham, who erected in its place a modern fashionable residence, the state apartments of which were fitted up with large mirrors, and other costly pieces of luxury. Between the house and the river he carried a long terrace with an embattled wall, in the middle of which was the water-gate above mentioned. After the duke's death, in the year 1628, York House was let on lease to the Earl of Northumberland. "Here was," says Mr. Timbs, "a fine collection of paintings, among which is supposed to have been the lost portrait of Prince Charles, by Velasquez." Here also was the collection of sculptures which belonged to Rubens, and in the garden was John de Bologna's "Cain and Abel." The "superstitious" pictures were sold by order of the Parliament in 1645, and the house was given by Cromwell to General Fairfax, by the marriage of whose daughter and heiress with George, second Duke of Buckingham, as we have already said, it was re-conveyed to the Villiers family. The duke resided here for a time, but in 1672 he sold the estate for £30,000.
Not far from the gate stood formerly a high and not very shapely tower of wood, erected in 1690–5, for supplying the Strand and its neighbourhood with the water of the then silvery Thames. Happily both the tower and the water-works, and also the water so supplied, have long been things of the past. In a print published in 1780, representing York Stairs and the Water-gate, the wooden tower of the water-works close by is shown. It was an octangular structure about seventy feet high, with small round loopholes as windows, to light the interior.
The two houses at the bottom of Buckingham Street, facing the river, have each an association of its own with the past. That on the west side was the residence of Samuel Pepys, from whose amusing "Diary" we have drawn so largely; but it has been entirely remodelled, if not rebuilt, since his time. At the last house, on the opposite side of the street, lived Peter the Great during part of his stay in this country. And among the other celebrated persons who have made Buckingham Street their home, for a time at least, are the witty Earl of Dorset, Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, John Henderson, the actor, and William Etty, the painter. The latter lived at No. 14, occupying chambers and a studio at the top of the house, from 1826 down to a few months before his death in 1849. In the lower rooms of the same house Mr. Clarkson Stanfield had chambers, when commencing his career as a scene-painter, and before he became known by his noble sea-pieces. At Hampton Court there is a very good view of Buckingham Street, taken from the river, about the year 1756, which shows the houses of Peter the Great and Pepys.
In Villiers Street John Evelyn was living in 1683–4, as he tells us in his "Diary." "I took a house in Villiers Street, York Buildings, for the winter, having many important causes to dispatch, and for the education of my daughters." Here, too, as Mr. Peter Cunningham reminds us, lived Sir Richard Steele for the first two or three years after the loss of his wife in 1721.
Mr. Timbs identifies the site of the house in which Lord Bacon was born with that of No. 31, in the Strand, at the west corner of Villiers Street. It was for many years the shop of Messrs. Roake and Varty, and contained a portion of the old ceiling of the house once inhabited by Bacon. The house was pulled down in 1863 to form the approach to the railway station.
"In former times," writes Allen, in his "History of London," "the banks of the Thames, from Whitehall to Somerset House, were ornamented with numerous palaces of the nobility, many consisting of two and three courts, and fitted up in the most sumptuous manner. Even as late as the time of Edward VI. elegant gardens, protected by lofty walls, embellished the margin of our great river, from Privy Bridge to Baynard's Hall. The gardens appended to the sumptuous buildings of the Savoy, and York, Paget, and Arundel Palaces." Each intervening spot was still guarded by a wall, and frequently laid out in decorative walks, a most pleasing contrast to the present state of the same district. On the Strand side of the original Somerset Place the lapse of two centuries has worked wonders in improvement. There was no continued street here till about the year 1553. The side next the Thames then consisted of distinct mansions, screened from the vulgar eye by cheerless extensions of massive brick wall. The north side was formed by a thin row of detached houses, each of which possessed a garden, and all beyond was country. St. Giles's was a distant country hamlet.
It was on account of these numerous palatial residences, no doubt, and not on account of the magnificence of its shops, that Middleton, the dramatist, styles the Strand "luxurious." These, it would seem, were, for the most part, far from being "luxurious," consisting mainly of fishmongers' stalls and sheds, against the erection of which the authorities were often forced to protest, and sometimes to take even stronger measures. For instance, Howes writes: "For divers years of late certain fishmongers have erected and set up fish-stalls in the middle of the street in the Strand, almost over against Denmark House; all which were broken down by special commission this month of May, 1630, lest in a short space they might grow from stalls into sheds, and then to dwelling-houses."
It has been often remarked that out of the mansions which lay crowded between the Strand and the Thames, a very large number appear to have belonged to prelates of the Church in proportion to those of the titled aristocracy—the Howards and the Cecils. And if a reason is asked, it may be found in the "Table Talk" of John Selden, who observes that "anciently the noblemen lay within the City for safety and security, but the bishops' houses were by the water-side, because they were held to be sacred persons whom nobody would hurt." In consequence, we are told by Mr. Peter Cunningham as many as nine bishops possessed inns or hostelries in this district previous to the Reformation.
As an instance of the insecurity of life—for the laity, at least—in the neighbourhood of the Strand, in the reign of George I., we take the following from a newspaper of the year 1720:—"Last night a gentlewoman returning late from the Court at St. James's, was stopped a little before she came to her lodgings, in Cecil Street, in the Strand, by one Captain Fitzgerald, who would have taken her out of her chair by force; but upon her making an outcry, the chairmen were about to pull out the poles, in order to secure her from his violence; which seeing, the captain drew his sword, and sheathed it in the body of an unfortunate watchman, just come to their assistance, who instantly dropped down dead. The captain was secured for that night in St. Martin's Roundhouse, and the next day committed to the Gatehouse."