Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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SOHO SQUARE AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD.
"Soho's busy Square."—Wordsworth.
Noted Residents in Soho—Appearance of the Square in Queen Anne's Reign—Proposal for the Restoration of the Square—Monmouth House—Lord Bateman—Carlisle House and the celebrated Mrs. Cornelys' Masquerades—St. Patrick's Chapel—Humorous Description of an Irish Wake—The White House and its Fashionable Patrons—Soho Bazaar—The Residence of Sir Joseph Banks—Origin of the Linnæan Society—Frith Street—Sir Samuel Romilly—Compton Street—Dean Street—The New Royalty Theatre—Greek Street—The House of Charity—Wardour Street—"The Mischief" in Oxford Street—Hog Lane (now Crown Street) and the Little Chapel founded by Nell Gwynne.
Soho Square, as shown in the previous chapter, was originally called the King's Square, and dates from the reign of Charles II. Evelyn, as he tells us in his "Diary," visited at a house in this celebrated vicinity, and spent the winter of 1690 "at Soho, in the great Square." It must not be forgotten, of course, that Sir Roger de Coverley is described, in the beginning of the Spectator, as living, when he is in town, at Soho Square. Shadwell, too, in one of his comedies, written in 1691, uses terms which imply that it was a fashionable quarter of the town, for he represents an alderman's wife as having "forced" her husband out of Mark Lane "to live in Soho Square." And no doubt it was the centre of fashion when Grosvenor and Cavendish Squares were not yet in existence.
The building of the Square was only begun in 1681, and at that time it contained no more than nine inhabitants, among whom were the Duke of Monmouth, Colonel Ramsey, Mr. Pilcher, Mr. Broughton, Sir Henry Ingleby, and the Earl of Stamford, as the rate-books of St. Martin's attest.
Pennant says, though erroneously, that its original name was Monmouth Square, but that it came to be called after the king. Mr. Peter Cunningham, with his usual diligence, has sifted the question out by consulting the parish rate-books, ground leases, and other original documents, and so far as it is possible to prove a negative, he shows that it never was called Monmouth Square. It is possible, however that, from the Duke of Monmouth living in it, it may have been called "Monmouth's Square"—i.e., the square in which Monmouth lived—and that this may have misled Pennant. The Duke of Monmouth lived in a large house with two wings on its southern side. It stood back, with a court before it.
The Duke of Monmouth was a natural son of Charles II., by Lucy Walters. His defeat at Sedgemoor, in 1685, and his subsequent execution, are matters of history.
Pennant mentions, as we have noticed before, a tradition to the effect that on the death of the Duke of Monmouth the name of the square was changed by his friends and admirers to Soho, that being the watchword of the day at the battle of Sedgemoor; but Mr. Cunningham has settled this question too in the negative, for he shows, by reference to contemporary documents, that whereas the battle of Sedgemoor was not fought till 1685, this district was called "Sohoe," or "Soho," nearly fifty years previously. For instance, the rate-books of St. Martin's, in 1636, speak of people living at "the Brick-kilns, near Soho;" and in 1650 the Commonwealth Survey describes "Shaver's Hall," or "Piccadilly Hall," as "lying between a roadway leading from Charing Cross to Knightesbridge West, and a highway leading from Charing Cross towards So Hoe." In the face of such evidence, it would seem impossible not to set aside the derivation propounded by Pennant as wholly untenable. It is far more probable that the duke borrowed his "watchword of the day" at Sedgemoor from the neighbourhood in which his home was situated, just as Nelson might have chosen "Burnham" or "Merton" as his watchword at the Nile or Trafalgar. Mr. Peter Cunningham writes—"I never saw it called Monmouth Square in any map, letter, or printed book, or anywhere, indeed, but in Pennant. It was called King Square, certainly, but not Monmouth Square." This, it appears to us, settles the question.
Soho Square is described by Allen, in his "History of London," even so lately as 1839, as presenting a very pleasing and somewhat rural appearance, having in the centre a large area within a handsome iron railing, enclosing several trees and shrubs." We should, however, certainly venture to assert that the expressions are scarcely any longer applicable to the square. "In the centre," adds Allen, "is a pedestrian statue of Charles II., at the feet of which are figures emblematic of the rivers Thames; Trent, Severn, and Humber. They are now," he continues, "in a most wretchedly mutilated state, and the inscriptions on the base of the pedestal are quite illegible."
London was brightened in Queen Anne's reign by numbers of public conduits and fountains. Most of them have been removed or destroyed, but are now in some measure replaced by drinkingfountains, which are certainly of great benefit to thirsty wayfarers. We add a description of the ancient fountain in King's Square, Soho. In the centre was a fountain with four streams. In the middle of the basin was the statue of Charles II., in armour, on a pedestal, enriched with fruit and flowers; on the four sides of the base were figures representing the four chief rivers of the kingdom—Thames, Severn, Tyne, and Humber; on the south side were figures of an old man and a young virgin, with a stream ascending; on the west lay the figure of a naked virgin (only nets wrapped about her) reposing on a fish, out of whose mouth flowed a stream of water; on the north, an old man recumbent on a coal-bed, and an urn in his hand whence issues a stream of water; on the east rested a very aged man, with water running from a vase, and his right hand laid upon a shell. The statue is now so mutilated and disfigured, and the inscription quite effaced, that it is a difficult matter to distinguish whose it really was; some antiquaries, in fact, are of opinion that it is the effigy of the Duke of Monmouth. Its existence, however, is well nigh forgotten, as scarcely any persons now enter the enclosure. It stood originally in the middle of the basin of a fountain, which has long been filled up and converted into a somewhat unattractive flower-bed.
For several years past the inhabitants of Soho Square have been vainly endeavouring to obtain power to throw open this square to the general public, but it was found to be impracticable. The fee-simple of the property was supposed to be vested in the Duke of Portland, and all attempts to gain either an interview on the subject or the surrender of his lordship's rights having proved futile, a meeting of the inhabitants was convened in 1874, and a committee formed. Mr. Albert Grant, to whom the public are indebted for the transformation of Leicester Square, as described in a preceding chapter, generously offered to lay out and develop the grounds at an estimated cost of £7,000, and to endow it with an annual income of £150 in the names of a committee to be appointed by the inhabitants.
Alderman Beckford, whom we have already mentioned as a resident of the square, made here a collection of works of art which subsequently were sold by public auction. This did not, however, deter him from beginning de novo, in order to decorate his new Wiltshire toy, Fonthill, which was destined in the end to share the same fate. Here also the shipwrecked remains of Sir Cloudesley Shovel lay in state in 1707. Bishop Burnet, the historian, lived in Soho Square before his removal to Clerkenwell, and here he had his curiosities, including the supposed "original Magna Charta," with part of the great seal remaining attached to it.
Monmouth House, as shown in an illustration on page 187, was a lofty brick building of three storeys, comprising a centre with slightly projecting wings. Each wing was adorned with three pilasters, with enriched capitals, rising to the level of the third storey, and each floor was lighted with large semicircular-headed windows. The doorway in the centre was approached by a broad flight of steps, and protected by an ample porch supported by double columns on each side.
The house was built by Wren for the Duke of Monmouth, and after his death it was purchased by Lord Bateman, whose family occupied it for a time; but, as the stream of fashion was setting westwards, they travelled along with it, and, pulling down the mansion, let out the site on building leases. This would seem to be the irrevocable fate of all the great houses in London either sooner or later. The house, in 1717, was converted into auction-rooms, but was demolished in 1773. The name of Lord Bateman is still kept up here by a row of narrow houses called Bateman's Buildings, connecting the south side of the Square with Queen Street. But the unfortunate duke has not been so lucky: for a time his name lived on in "Monmouth" Street, St. Giles's; but since it had obtained a bad name as the resort of Jew dealers in rags and old clothes, the thoroughfare was re-christened Dudley Street; the old clothes, however, have not passed away along with the unsavoury name. Of this Lord Bateman, Horace Walpole tells the story that George I. created him an Irish peer to avoid making him a Knight of the Bath; "for," said his majesty, with the wit of Charles II., "I can make him a lord, but I cannot make him a gentleman." Before Lord Bateman's house was pulled down, it was let by him to various persons in the higher ranks of society. Among others, the French ambassador was residing in it in 1791–2.
In Carlisle Street we have perpetuated the name of the Howards, Earls of Carlisle (a branch of the ducal house of Norfolk), the head of whom was living, in the middle of the last century, in a house on the east side of the square. The mansion, which was built in the reign of James II., originally stood in the midst of a garden, the extent of which it would be difficult to define at the present time. The lower walls of the house were of red brick and on the lead-work of the cisterns was the date 1669. The mansion in its original condition must have had a magnificent appearance, with its marblefloored hall, its superbly decorated staircases, and its large and lofty rooms with enriched ceilings.
Towards the close of the last century it was tenanted by the celebrated Mrs. Cornelys, who turned it into a place of resort for masked balls and other fashionable amusements. Her assemblies were at one time the rage of the town, but she was in the end ruined by her extravagance. Hither "the quality" repaired in large numbers, although the morality of the place was rather questionable. Among the lady's chief patrons were the eccentric Duke of Queensberry ("Old Q.") and the notorious Duchess of Kingston, who appeared here in other characters, and especially on one occasion in that of Iphigenia, "in a state almost ready," as Horace Walpole slily remarks, "for the sacrifice." There is a scarce print of the duchess in this character, which shows rather a deficiency of dress. It was at one of Mrs. Cornelys' masquerades that the beautiful daughter of a peer wore the costume of an Indian princess, three black girls bearing her train, a canopy held over her head by two negro boys, and her dress covered with jewels worth £100,000. It was at another that Adam, in fleshcoloured tights and an apron of fig-leaves, was to be seen in company with the Duchess of Bolton as Diana. Death, in a white shroud, bearing his own coffin and epitaph; Lady Augusta Stuart as a Vestal; the Duke of Gloucester, in an old English habit, with a star on his cloak; and the Duke of Devonshire, "who was very fine, but in no particular character"—all these, and others, passed through her rooms; yet before many years had gone by Mrs. Cornelys was selling asses' milk at Knightsbridge, and in 1797 she died in the Fleet Prison, forming schemes to the very last for retrieving her broken fortunes. Attempts were unsuccessfully made to keep up the festivities of Carlisle House; but "Almack's" drew away the great, and the square gradually declined in the world—from fashion to philosophy, from artists to tradesmen, from shops to hospitals—until at length its lowest depth seems to have been reached.
Into the promenades at Mrs. Cornelys' house gentlemen were requested not to enter "with boots;" and in satire the manager of a rival amusement is said to have given this notice:—"The New Paradise.—No Gentlemen or Ladies to be admitted with nails in their shoes." Of the morality of Mrs. Cornelys and of Carlisle House, Northouck had no high opinion; but he throws the blame on its aristocratic patrons. He says, "Here the nobility of this kingdom long protected Mrs. Cornelys in entertaining their masquerade and gaming assemblies, in violation of the laws, and to the destruction of all sober principles."
It is clear, from the advertisements scattered up and down the files of the London newspapers, that, beginning with the winter of 1762–3, Mrs. Cornelys contrived to secure for some ten or twelve years the almost undivided patronage of the world of fashion, keeping the West End, and especially the neighbourhood of "Soho Fields," alive with a succession of balls, concerts, masquerades, "subscription music meetings," &c., and securing her interest with the families of "quality" by giving balls to their upper servants. Her advertisements are by themselves a study in the art of puffery, and occasionally throw light on the condition of life in London: as, for instance, when she "begs the chairmen and hackney-coach drivers not to quarrel, or to run their poles through each other's windows." On one occasion, when it was rumoured that the enterprising lady was about to open a sister institution in Bishopsgate Street, half the City was up in arms to oppose her on the ground of morality, and the lady was defeated. On several occasions as many as 800 persons of "quality" were present at her masquerades, the Duke of Gloucester, and even the King of Denmark, being of the number. At one time she was threatened with proceedings under the "Alien Act" by a rival in the same line of business; but by a judicious use of "soft sawder" she circumvented her opponents whilst appearing to give way to them, and thus she prolonged her lease of popularity. At length, however, by instituting a harmonic meeting, Mrs. Cornelys placed herself in an attitude of direct hostility to the Italian Opera House, whose managers applied to the magistrates to stop her entertainment. They were so far successful that Sir John Fielding ordered Guardini, the chief singer at Carlisle House, to be arrested. This was the first instalment of ill success which befell her; the next was the establishment of a rival house of entertainment at the Pantheon, in Oxford Street; and in spite of a desperate effort to prop up her falling fortunes by a new amusement, called a "Coterie"—the details of which have not come down to us—in July, 1772, there came a "smash," and in the November following the whole contents of Carlisle House, with its sumptuous decorations, were brought to the hammer. A graphic account of this sale will be found in the Westminster Magazine for January, 1773, under the title of "Cupid turned Auctioneer."
But the irrepressible Mrs. Cornelys was not destined to be crushed by a single failure. The "Circe" and "Sultana" of Soho gathered her aristocratic friends and patrons around her; and her name again appears, in 1774, as manager and conductress of a new series of concerts. These, however, would appear to have turned out profitless, for in August, 1775, Carlisle House was advertised for sale by Messrs. Christie "with or without its furniture." She still, however, seems to have fought on against fate, for as late as 1777 we find Mrs. Cornelys still organising masques at Carlisle House, though "the whole company did not exceed three hundred." The exact date of her last effort to amuse the fashionable world on this spot is unknown. In 1779, the establishment appears to have been under the management of a Mr. Hoffmann, who tried a variety of experiments in the way of "masked balls," and "benefit concerts," but with a like result. With the year 1780 we find a great change in the amusements of Carlisle House, for it was devoted to the meetings of a debating society, called the "School of Eloquence:" its meetings being presided over by a clergyman as "moderator;" on other evenings the rooms being devoted to "the reception of company previous to the 'masqued ridotto,' " at the Opera House. On Sunday evenings also there was a "public promenade," the admission to which was by a three-shilling ticket, which included refreshments of "tea, coffee, capillaire, orgeat, and lemonade." These various attractions were held out, but with inferior success, for several years, a Mr. William Wade officiating as master of the ceremonies. In vain did he open a "morning suite of rooms" supplied with the newspapers and periodicals of the day "gratis to subscribers;" in vain did he organise courses of "scientific lectures," and advertise concerts by the Polish dwarf, Count Borawlaski, with tickets at half-a-guinea, "entitling the purchaser to see and converse with that extraordinary personage." In 1785 the property was in Chancery, and the house sold under a decree of the court, and Mrs. Cornelys retired into private life at Knightsbridge, where we shall find her again.
What was once the music-room of Lord Carlisle's mansion, and afterwards the grand saloon of Mrs. Cornelys' establishment, was subsequently altered and turned into a Catholic chapel. It is now known as "St. Patrick's, Soho," and is largely frequented by the poor Irish of the neighbourhood. The entrance to the chapel is in Sutton Street.
The property was purchased in 1792 by the exertions and influence of the celebrated Catholic preacher and controversialist, Dr. O'Leary, who died in 1802, and to whose memory there is a mural tablet with his likeness on the south side of the building.
Over the high altar is a painting of the Crucifixion by Vandyke, said to be the finest specimen of a sacred painting by his hand in England, and equal to any in Belgium. It is, however, placed in an alcove or recess, in which the light is most unfavourable to the display of its beauty.
This chapel was formerly much frequented not only by the poor Irish who lived round Soho and St. Giles's, but also by Catholics of the wealthier class residing about Russell and Bedford Squares. It long divided with the Sardinian Chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields the administration of the chief Roman Catholic charities; and the leading Roman Catholic bishops, Dr. Milner, Cardinal Wiseman, and Archbishop Manning have frequently advocated from its pulpit the cause of charity. The priest's residence, at the corner of the square, formed also a part of Mrs. Cornelys' premises.
Prior to the foundation of St. Patrick's Mission in Sutton Street, mass was said at No. 13 in the Square, in the house of the Neapolitan ambassador, and also, though by stealth and secretly, at a small house in Denmark Street, where some French priests had taken up their abode on the commencement of troubles in France.
The Irish live in various parts of London, apart
and amongst themselves, carrying with them the
many virtues and vices of their native land, and
never becoming absorbed in the nation to which,
for years, they may be attached. Swindlers, thieves,
and tramps may surround them, but do not in
general affect them. Tom Malone still renews
upon English ground his feuds with the O'Learys,
commencing not within the memory of man; and
some Bridget O'Rafferty pays Ellen O'Connor for
evidence given by her grandfather against the rebels
of '98. "It would be a curious investigation,"
says Mr. Diprose, in his "Book about London,"
"for the philosopher, how far the interest and progress of this most gallant and interesting nation
have been affected by what, in the absence of a
better definition, we shall designate the absence of
merging power. Nor is it less curious, that whilst
the Irish preserve their national characteristics as
steadfastly as do the Jews, they have the quality
of absorbing other nations, for we find that the
English who settle in Ireland, not merely acquire
the brogue, but become more Irish than the Irish
themselves. Ipsis Hibernis Hiberniores is as true
now as it was in the days of the poet Spenser.
The 'Irish Hudibras' (1682) thus humorously
describes an Irish wake:—
" 'To their own sports (the masses ended)
The mourners now are recommended.
Some sit and chat, some laugh, some weep,
Some sing cronans, and some do sleep;
Some court, some scold, some blow, some puff,
Some take tobacco, some take snuff.
Some play the trump, some trot the hay,
Some at machan, some at noddy play;
Thus mixing up their grief and sorrow,
Yesterday buried, killed to-morrow.' "
The house which stood at the northern angle of Sutton Street was celebrated in the last century, and the beginning of the present, as "the White House," and was a place of fashionable dissipation to which only the titled and wealthy classes had the privilege of admission. Its character may be inferred from the fact that it was one of the haunts of the then Prince of Wales, the old Duke of Queensberry, and the Marquis of Hertford; and the ruin of many a female heart may be dated from a visit within its walls. It is said by tradition that its apartments were known as the "Gold," "Silver," "Bronze" Rooms, &c., each being called from the prevailing character of its fittings, and that the walls of nearly every room were inlaid with mirrored panels. Many of the rooms in this house, too, had a sensational name, as the "Commons," the "Painted Chamber," the "Grotto," the "Coal Hole," and the "Skeleton Room"—the latter so styled on account of a closet out of which a skeleton was made to step forth by the aid of machinery. The "White House," as a scene of profligacy, lived on into the present century, and having been empty for some years, was largely altered, and to some extent rebuilt, by the founders of the present occupiers—Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell, the well-known pickle manufacturers.
We shall not attempt to describe in detail the White House, which enjoyed such an unenviable reputation from the scenes which it witnessed in the days when George III. was King, and George Prince of Wales was living. The "White House" retained much of its bad character till it was pulled down in 1837–8, to make room for the warehouse which now covers its site.
No. 21 in this square, which adjoined the "White House," and was afterwards Messrs. D'Almaine's musical repository, is now absorbed into the pickle warehouse of Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell. Though considerably modernised, it still retains one magnificently-carved mantelpiece and ornamental ceiling; and the grandly-proportioned rooms are the same as when the mansion was the town-house of the Lords Fauconberg.
In the north-west corner of the square is the celebrated Soho Bazaar, one of the haunts most frequented by sight-seers, especially at Christmas, New Year's Day, and other gift-seasons. It was first established in 1815, and for many years was a formidable rival to the Pantheon. It is a fashionable lounge for ladies and children, and especially attractive to "country cousins." It has now an entrance in Oxford Street also, one of the houses on the south side of that roadway having been added to it. It is scarcely necessary to explain here that the word "bazaar" comes to us from the East, denoting a group of shops in which dealers in some one commodity or class of commodities congregate in one place, much to the gain of both purchasers and sellers. Yet, as Mr. Chambers remarks, "a stranger may do well to bear in mind that in London … some approach is made to the system. For instance, coachmakers congregate in considerable numbers in Long Acre, watchmakers and jewellers in Clerkenwell, tanners and leatherdressers in Bermondsey, bird and birdcage sellers in Seven Dials, statuaries in the Euston Road, furniture-dealers and clothiers in Tottenham Court Road, hat-makers in Bermondsey and Southwark, dentists around St. Martin's Lane, and booksellers and publishers in Paternoster Row."
Soho Bazaar, the first of its kind in England, was established, according to Allen, by John Trotter, Esq., to whose family it still belongs. It was originally designed by Mr. Trotter as a depôt for the sale of articles in aid of the widows and orphans of those who had fallen in the long war against Napoleon; but the Government of the day did not entertain the proposal, and accordingly Mr. Trotter started the bazaar as a private speculation of his own. The institution was opened by Queen Charlotte, in 1816, and was extensively patronised by the royal family. The building, which does not present any architectural features, covers a space of 300 feet by 150, and extends from the square to Dean Street on the one hand, and to Oxford Street on the other. It consists of several rooms, conveniently fitted up with mahogany counters. The bazaar occupies two floors, and has counter accommodation for upwards of 160 tenants. The rent of the counters, which are mostly for the sale of fancy goods, is very moderate; and to obtain a tenancy, it is requisite that a certificate, signed by eight respectable persons, be presented to the managers of the bazaar. The bazaar has been frequently patronised by royalty; the Princess of Prussia honoured it with a visit in 1868.
Entering from Oxford Street, the visitor will find a rare assortment of ivory goods, not only finished articles, but others being designed and made on the spot. Further on are china articles, and stalls for sewing-machines. Up a small staircase to the left is an extensive picture-gallery, with some 600 stereographs, water-colour and oil paintings. Other rooms close by are filled with a variety of fancy goods, or devoted to the purposes of photography. The two principal rooms in the building are about ninety feet long, and in them the visitor may find almost every trade represented. One large room is set apart for the sale of books, another for furniture; and another for birds, cages, &c.; and at one end of the latter room is a large recess, occupied with a rustic aviary, through which runs a stream of water. Connected with the bazaar are spacious and well-appointed refreshment-rooms, and also offices for the registration of governesses and the hire of servants, &c.; and the scene that here presents itself during business hours is one well worthy of a visit.
During the latter part of the eighteenth and the earlier years of the present century, Soho Square attained some celebrity as the residence of the learned and accomplished philosopher, Sir Joseph Banks, so bitterly and caustically satirised by "Peter Pindar." He lived in the house, No. 32, now the Hospital for Diseases of the Heart, and here he used to hold his receptions, at which nearly every man eminent in science was a frequent attendant. Sir Joseph Banks, who was descended from an ancient Yorkshire family, was born in Argyle Street, in the parish of St. James's, Westminster, in 1743, and was educated at Harrow and Eton, whence he removed as a gentleman commoner to Christ Church, Oxford. His love of botany increased at the university, and there his mind warmly embraced all the other branches of natural history. In 1766 he was chosen into the Royal Society, and in that year went to Newfoundland, for the purpose of collecting plants. The Royal Society having made a proposition to the Government to effect a general voyage of discovery in those parts of the ocean which were still wholly unknown, or only partially discovered, and especially to observe the transit of Venus at Otaheite in 1769, Banks was appointed, in conjunction with Dr. Solander, naturalist to the expedition, which sailed from Plymouth Sound, under the command of Captain Cook, in August, 1768. After an absence of three years the expedition returned to England, the specimens which Banks had brought, at so much risk and expense, exciting much interest. In 1777, on the retirement of Sir John Pringle from the presidency of the Royal Society, Mr. Banks was elected to the vacant chair. In 1795 he was invested with the Order of the Bath, and he was afterwards sworn a member of the Privy Council, and chosen a member of the National Institute of France. His life was devoted to the prosecution of scientific researches, and the general diffusion of useful knowledge. In fact, he largely anticipated the Humboldts and Owens of our own day. Sir Joseph Banks died in June, 1820.
His house in Soho Square has also had other distinguished inhabitants; Sir J. E. Smith and Mr. Robert Brown, for example, both eminent naturalists. The Linnæan Society was founded in 1788, and held its meetings in Gerrard Street, until its establishment in Soho Square. Here it continued to flourish till its removal to Burlington House, Piccadilly, in 1855.
The Linnæan Society, it would appear, like many another great institution, had its origin in an accident. The late Sir John E. Smith, then a medical student, was breakfasting one day with Sir Joseph Banks, when the latter told him that he just had an offer of the memoranda and botanical collections of the great Linnæus for a thousand pounds, but that he had declined to buy them. Young Smith, whose zeal for botany was great, begged his father to advance to him the money, and at length persuaded him to do so, though not without difficulty. It may appear strange that Sweden should consent to part with the treasures of her far-famed naturalist; and indeed the king, Gustavus III., who had been absent in France, was much displeased, on his return, at hearing that a vessel had just sailed for England with these collections. He immediately dispatched a vessel to the Sound, to intercept it, but was too late. The herbarium, books, MSS., &c., arrived safely in London in 1784, packed in twenty-six cases, and cost the purchaser £1,088 5s. In the following year Smith was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and devoted himself more to botanical studies than to his profession as a physician. In 1792 he had the honour of being engaged to teach botany to Queen Charlotte and the princesses, and he was knighted by the Prince Regent in 1814. At his death, in 1828, the celebrated collection, with Sir J. E. Smith's additions, was purchased by the Linnæan Society, and still remains in their possession.
The house of Sir Joseph Banks was kept for many years by his sister, a learned lady, who had as great a passion for collecting coins as her brother had for botanical researches. Her appearance is thus described by the author of a "Book for a Rainy Day:"—"Her dress was that of the old school; her Barcelona quilted petticoat had a hole on either side, for the convenience of rummaging two immense pockets, stuffed with books of all sizes. This petticoat was covered with a deep stomachered gown, sometimes drawn through the pocket-holes, similar to those of many of the ladies of Bunbury's time, which he has produced in his picture. In this dress" (writes Mr. J. T. Smith) "I have frequently seen her walk, followed by a sixfoot servant with a cane almost as tall as himself. Miss Banks, I may add, when she wanted to purchase a broadside in the streets, was more than once taken for a member of the ballad-singing confraternity. And yet this same lady, when she was in the prime of life, had been a fashionable whip, and driven a four-in-hand in the Park."
In the south-east corner of the square lived, for many years, the late Mr. Barnes, the responsible editor of the Times; and it was here that, when waited upon by some of the leading politicians of the time, he laid down the terms on which that paper would support the ministry of the Duke of Wellington, in 1828.
Among the other noted residents of Soho Square we may mention George II., when Prince of Wales; and also Field-Marshal Conway, Walpole's correspondent and friend.
In Frith Street, on the south side of the square, in the year 1757, was born one of England's celebrated advocates and philanthropists, Sir Samuel Romilly. He was descended from a Protestant family, who left France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. His father was a jeweller, carrying on business in this street; and he was sent to the French Protestant School close by, where he received but an indifferent education; but as soon as he had left it he applied himself to self-culture, and his diligence in the acquisition of learning was largely rewarded in after life.
Placed as a lad with a solicitor, whom he left for a merchant's office, which he also resigned, eventually he was articled to one of the sworn clerks of Chancery. At the expiration of his articles he qualified himself for the bar, but had to wait long and patiently ere he was rewarded with any practice. When briefs did at last fall to his lot, it very soon became manifest that they were held by a master, and the result was that a tide of prosperity set in, and "success came upon him like a flood." His income rose to about £9,000 a year, and in his diary he congratulated himself that he did not press his father to buy him a seat in the Six Clerks' Office. Romilly now rapidly rose to distinction in the Court of Chancery, where he was distinguished for his profound learning and forcible eloquence; and to him Lord Brougham has paid the following tribute:—"Romilly, by the force of his learning and talents, and the most spotless integrity, rose to the very height of professional ambition. He was beyond question or pretence of rivalry the first man in the courts in this country."
Romilly entered the House of Commons in 1806—the electors of Westminster having returned him to Parliament without the expenditure of a shilling on his part; a great thing in those days of bribery and corruption—and during the short administration of Mr. Grenville he was appointed Solicitor-General, and knighted. Nor was he distinguished professionally only; but during his political career he was listened to with rapt attention, and a passage in one of his speeches in favour of the abolition of the slave-trade received the singular honour of three distinct rounds of applause from the House.
But Romilly's grand claim to remembrance rests upon his humane efforts to mitigate the Draconic code of English law, in which nearly three hundred crimes, varying from murder to keeping company with a gipsy, were punishable with death. The first bill which he succeeded in getting passed was to repeal a statute of Elizabeth, which made it a capital offence to steal privately from the person of another. He next tried a bolder stroke, and introduced a bill to repeal several statutes which punished with death the crimes of stealing privately in a shop goods to the amount of five shillings; and of stealing to the amount of forty shillings in a dwelling-house; or in vessels in navigable rivers. But this bill was lost. Romilly, however, did not despair, but kept on agitating session after session, and cleared the way for the success which came when he was no more.
In his forty-first year Sir Samuel Romilly married Miss Garbett (a protégé of the Marquis of Lansdowne), a lady of rare talents and moral excellence. But after twenty years of happy married life, her health began to decline, and on the 29th of October, 1818, she died. This was a dreadful shock to Romilly, and produced such mental anguish, that delirium followed, and in an unwatched moment he sprang from his bed, cut his throat, and expired almost instantly—and this at a time when worldly honours were being heaped upon him! It is related that the following morning, when Lord Eldon took his seat on the bench and Romilly's place was vacant—iron man though he was—he exclaimed, "I cannot stay here!" and rising in great agitation, broke up the court. The bodies of husband and wife were buried in one grave, at Knill, in Herefordshire. In Frith Street, too, William Hazlitt, the essayist, died of cholera in 1830; he was buried, as we have stated, in St. Anne's Churchyard.
Compton Street was built in the reign of King Charles II., by Sir Francis Compton; and New Compton Street was first called Stiddolph Street, after Sir Richard Stiddolph, the owner of the land on which it was built. Both New Compton and Dean Streets were named after Bishop Compton, Dean of the Chapel Royal, who formerly held the living of St. Anne's, Soho. In this street, on the west side, at No. 75 (now the warehouse of Messrs. Wilson, wholesale tin-plate workers, of Wardour Street), lived Sir James Thornhill, the painter, whose daughter married Hogarth. The house, which is still unaltered in its main features, has several handsome rooms, and a magnificent staircase; and the panels of the walls are adorned with a series of paintings by the hand of its former master.
At No. 33 in this street lived Harlowe, the painter of "The Trial of Queen Katherine." He died here in 1819, at an early age.
The small theatre in this street, now called the Royalty, was built in 1840, by Miss F. Kelly (an actress who had made herself a reputation in light comedy and domestic melodrama on the boards of Drury Lane and the Haymarket) as a school for acting, but she reaped little profit from the enterprise. It was for many years used chiefly for amateur theatricals, but has of late years become popular by its spirited performance of operetta and burlesque entertainments. Miss Kelly, who was the daughter of a retired military officer, was destined for the stage from her birth, and was familiar with the boards of Old Drury at ten years of age as a chorus-singer. Her début as an actress was at Glasgow, in 1807, she being then in her seventeenth year. She rose to great eminence in her profession, and was equally successful as a vocalist and an actress, succeeding to many of the parts which had been filled by the celebrated Madame Storace. For several years she was an extraordinary attraction at Drury Lane, and while performing one evening at that theatre, received a striking proof of the power of her charms. A pistol was fired at her from the pit, the ball passing directly over her head; and as the terrified lady fell insensible on the stage, it was at first thought she had been killed, and a scene of wild confusion ensued. The assailant was secured, and proved to be a lunatic who had for some time persecuted Miss Kelly with incoherent letters, expressive of his attachment. A similar attempt was made upon her life in Dublin, but happily with no greater success.
In the fiftieth year of her age, by which time
she had acquired a handsome competence, it occurred to Miss Kelly to establish a school for
acting, for which purpose she purchased an extensive freehold property in Dean Street, Soho, in the
hope of improving the condition of dramatic art.
The school was a success. A number of pupils
hastened to enrol themselves under the banner
of so accomplished a teacher, for few ever equalled
Miss Kelly in the art of—
"Making the laugher weep, the weeper smile;
Catching all passion in her craft of wile."
Unfortunately her ambition did not stop here, but inspired her with the wild idea of building a new theatre on her own extensive premises. Encouraged by the lavish promises of support and subscriptions from her numerous patrons among the aristocracy, foremost of whom was the Duke of Devonshire, who especially interested himself in her hazardous undertaking, Miss Kelly converted the large yard and stabling attached to her house into the Theatre Royal, Dean Street, Soho, by which title, however, it was seldom known, generally passing under the name of "Miss Kelly's Theatre." The entrance to all parts of this toy playhouse was through Miss Kelly's private residence, a peculiarity of construction which had, at all events, the advantage of novelty.
Heralded by many a flourish of trumpets on the part of the newspapers, Miss Kelly opened her tiny theatre on the 25th of May, 1840, with a new piece by Mr. Morris Barnett, entitled Summer and Winter, in which the author and Miss Kelly sustained the principal parts, supported, as the announcement went, "by an efficient company." The result was as disastrous as it was speedy. The distinguished patronage, from which so much had been expected, proving more select than numerous, the theatre, after being open five nights, on two of which the actors outnumbered the audience, was closed abruptly. In November of the same year Miss Kelly announced herself At Home, at the Theatre Royal, Dean Street. The performance was monological, and similar to some entertainments which she had given a few years previously at the Strand, with but moderate success. The result was again a complete failure, and Miss Kelly retired into private life, a loser of more than £7,000 by her unlucky speculation.
In 1850 the little theatre, which had so long languished in obscurity, made a desperate rally, and presented itself to the public as the "New English Opera House," opening with, as the playbills announced, "a grand opera in three acts, entitled The Last Crusade, by Alexander Mitchell, the blind composer." This opera had been originally represented with great success at the Grand Ducal Theatre, Brunswick, but, possibly from the inefficiency of the company, proved a total failure at the Soho theatre, and the "New English Opera House" was speedily closed.
In 1861 it was entirely re-constructed, with great improvements, and re-opened on the 12th of November under the name of the "New Royalty," since which time it has enjoyed its fair share of success. Miss Neilson made her successful début as "Juliet," in 1865. In 1866 Miss M. Oliver assumed the management, and during the reign of herself and her successor the Royalty has maintained its prestige.
Greek Street, which runs from north to south, parallel to Dean Street on the east, dates from the year 1680. Pennant considers that its name is a corruption of "Grig" Street, but it was more probably derived from a colony of merchants from the Levant, for whose use a Greek church was built hard by it in Crown Street.
The last house on the east side of Greek Street, now devoted to a Jewish school and synagogue, was the residence of Sir Thomas Lawrence for the first four years of the present century; and during the last century Josiah Wedgwood made it the head-quarters of his London business. It had previously been a dissecting-room, for Soho Square and the adjoining streets were frequented by the faculty; but Wedgwood, on making it his showroom, named it "Portland House." Here he exhibited the magnificent service which he made for the Empress of Russia, and Queen Charlotte was among those who came hither to inspect it. A great artistic interest belongs to the premises, for, as Miss Meteyard remarks in her "Life of Wedgwood," "it was here that his fame culminated in the greatest of his works—the jasper tablets, the medallion portraits and busts, the cameos, and the Barberini Vase." Time, fire, and alterations, however, have so changed Portland House, that little of what was Wedgwood's Gallery is now standing except the outer walls; though Miss Meteyard tells us that the name of the great potter was till recently to be seen here cut with a diamond on a windowpane.
Among the many charitable institutions to be found in Soho, none perhaps are more worthy of public support than one at the corner of the Square and of Greek Street, called "The House of Charity." It occupies the house which formerly belonged to Alderman Beckford, who lived here in princely splendour. The institution, which is under the patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was founded in 1846; but the present building and fitting-up of the premises dates only from 1863, when they were taken at a cost of upwards of £3,000. "It is the only Home in London gratuitously afforded to such distressed persons as are of good character, upon a recommendation from some one who knows them. Thus many deserving persons are saved from the sufferings and privations which precede an application to the casual ward or nightly refuge, as well as from the degradation consequent upon their reception into such promiscuous places of resort. Among the various classes of distress relieved by this House are patients discharged from hospitals before they are sufficiently recovered to take situations; these find here a comfortable lodging and ample diet, and are generally successful in obtaining situations. Orphan or friendless girls who have unadvisedly come to London in search of employment, or have accidentally lost their places, meet here with protection, counsel, and, in general, with situations. Widows, who have been reduced to the necessity of seeking a subsistence for themselves, are here recommended to places of trust or domestic service. Emigrants, while breaking up their homes and converting their effects into money, wait here until they embark. Out-patients of hospitals, excluded, through want of room, or by regulations, from admission into them, are enabled to derive benefit, while here, by attending the hospitals for medical advice and treatment. In short, the House of Charity is," says the Council of the Institution in their report, "a home for every kind of friendlessness and destitution which is not the manifest offspring of vice and profligacy."
Wardour Street, which runs from north to south, parallel to Dean Street on its western side, was named after the Lords Arundell of Wardour, one of whom married the daughter and heiress of one of those rare personages, successful gamesters—Colonel Thomas Panton, of St. Martin's-in-theFields, a gentleman whose name is still perpetuated in Panton Street, Haymarket.
Wardour Street, as a stone at the corner of Edward Street informs us, was built in 1686. Flaxman was living here in 1784 at No. 27. In this street also lived the once celebrated Tom Hudson, the comic song-writer and singer. He carried on business as a grocer, and every week he wrote a comic song, which he had printed upon his "tea-papers," and presented to his customers on the Saturday.
During the last half-century the name of this street has passed into a by-word and a proverb, as the head-quarters of curiosity-shops, antique and modern, genuine and fictitious. Leigh Hunt tells us in his "Town" that it was a favourite haunt of Charles Lamb, and that he had often heard the author of the "Essays of Elia" expatiate on the pleasure of strolling up Wardour Street on a summer afternoon.
The shops occupied by brokers and dealers in old furniture, pictures, prints, china, &c., are above a score in number, forming thus almost a bazaar or mart, and constituting a class apart from the rest of the locality. Here the late Lord Macaulay might be seen trudging home with a second-hand book, or packet of ballads, or broadsides; and here Mr. Gladstone himself, even when Prime Minister, would often take a stroll, picking up a specimen of old-fashioned china for his superb collection in Carlton Terrace.
We read in old documents of "Old Soho, alias
Wardour Street." To this street, no doubt, Pope
really alluded when he wrote, in imitation of
"And when I flatter, let my dirty leaves
Clothe spice, line trunks, or, fluttering in a row,
Befringe the rails of Bedlam and Soho."
On the south side of Oxford Street, No. 414, a few doors to the east of Charles Street, is an inn called "The Mischief." In its windows is still kept and shown a curious sign which used to hang over the entrance, representing a man with a "load of mischief" on his back; the said load consisting of a shrewish-looking wife, a monkey or ape; and hard by are most suspicious-looking pawn-shops and gin-shops. The design, of which we give a copy on page 193, is worthy of Hogarth's pencil.
The narrow, winding lane running southwards from the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, now known as Crown Street, but in former times as Hog Lane, forms the boundary between the parishes of St. Giles and St. Anne, Soho. Its narrowness and its windings alike serve to show its antiquity; and, no doubt, it derived its first name from the pigs that fed along its sides when it had green hedges and deep ditches on either side. In 1762 it came to be dignified by its more recent appellation from the "Rose and Crown" tavern. Rose Street runs out of Crown Street, on the west connecting it with Greek Street. In it was a Greek church, built for the use of "merchants from the Levant," dating from the time of Charles II. This edifice helped to give its name to Greek Street adjoining. It does not appear, however, to have remained long in the hands of these oriental Christians, but to have been given up to the use of the French Protestants who settled in this neighbourhood in large force. As such it is immortalised by Hogarth. The Greek inscription still remaining over the door, however, points plainly to its original destination.
The poor little chapel which belonged in succession to the Greeks and to the French refugees, stood on the western side of Crown Street, adjoining some almshouses, which are said to have been founded by Nell Gwynne. Part of the chapel and one side of the old almshouses have lately been removed, in order to give place to a lofty and handsome Independent chapel with schools attached.
In Hog Lane Hogarth has laid the scene of one of the best of his smaller pictures, "Noon." Mr. Peter Cunningham notes a curious fact with respect to this picture, namely, that it is "generally reversed in the engravings, and thus made untrue to the locality, which (he adds) Hogarth never was." The background of the picture gives us a view of the then newly-built church of St. Giles'sin-the-Fields.