Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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NOBLE MANSIONS IN PICCADILLY.
"Est via declivis."Ovid.
Clarendon HouseLord Clarendon incurs the Displeasure of the PopulaceExtracts from the Diaries of Evelyn and Pepys referring to Clarendon HouseThe Name of "Dunkirk House" given to the MansionIts DemolitionBerkeley House: Descriptions of the BuildingDevonshire House: Description of the BuildingThe Picture Galleries and LibraryThe Earl of Devonshire, and the Murder of Mr. Thynne of LongleatAnecdote of the First Duke of DevonshireDevonshire House as a "Pouting Place of Princes"The Mansion as a Rendezvous of the Whig PartyGeorgiana, Duchess of DevonshireWalpole's Compliment to the House and its OwnerFashionable Entertainments and Dramatic Performances at Devonshire HouseStratton StreetMrs. Coutts, afterwards Duchess of St. AlbansSir Francis Burdett: his Seizure, and Committal to the TowerPulteney HotelBath HouseAnecdotes of Lord Orford and Lord BathWatier's ClubThe Dilettanti SocietyGrafton House, now the Turf ClubEgremont House, now the Naval and Military ClubHertford HouseCoventry House, now the St. James's ClubThe RothschildsViscountess KeithHope House, now the Junior Athenum ClubJohn, Earl of EldonGloucester HouseThe Duke of Queensberry, "Old Q."Lord Byron's ResidenceLord Palmerston's HouseThe "Hercules Pillars"The "Triumphal Chariot"Historical Remarks.
Along the line of Piccadilly, when the district was more or less open country, besides Burlington House, stood some of the mansions of the nobility of the seventeenth century.
Westward of Burlington House, facing the top of St. James's Street, and on the site of what is now Bond Street, Stafford Street, and Albemarle Street, formerly stood Clarendon House. Pennant places the mansion as far to the north as Grafton Street; but the existing maps would seem to show that Stafford Street would mark more precisely the spot on which it stood. In a plan of London etched by Hollar, in 1686, it is evident that the centre of Clarendon House must have occupied the whole of the site of Stafford Street. No. 74, in Piccadilly, the publishing house of the late Mr. J. C. Hottennow Messrs. Chatto and Windusis said to be built of the old materials of the mansion. It was a heavy, high-roofed house, standing a little back from the street, with projecting wings; it had square-headed windows, including a row of attic windows which pierced the roof. A flight of stone steps led up to the door, which was in the centre.
Lord Clarendon, when Lord Chancellor under
Charles II., having built his magnificent house
soon after the sale of Dunkirk to Louis XIV.,
about the year 1664, found that he had incurred
in the eyes of the people the full blame of the
transaction, and that his mansion was called by
the public not Clarendon but Dunkirk House, on
the supposition that it had been built with French
money. No sane person can doubt the fact of
Charles II. having received large sums from the
Court of Versailles for purposes hostile to the
interests of his people; but there is no proof whatever that Lord Clarendon was privy to such transactions, much less that he derived any personal
profit from them. It was, in his case, the old story
"Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi."
A view of Lord Clarendon's house as it appeared during its brief decade of existence, may be found in the first volume of Charles Knight's "London," and there is also an engraving of it in the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1789.
From the Diaries of Evelyn and Pepys we learn something of the varying fortunes of Clarendon House during its brief existence. Under date 15th October, 1664, Evelyn writes: "After dinner, my Lord Chancellor and his lady carried me in their coach to see their palace now building at the upper end of St. James's Street, and to project the garden." Pepys, in January, 16656, makes this entry in his Diary: "To my Lord Chancellor's new house which he is building, only to view it, hearing so much from Mr. Evelyn of it; and indeed it is the finest pile I ever did see in my life, and will be a glorious house." Evelyn, about the same time, wrote to Lord Cornbury, the Chancellor's eldest son: "I have never seen a nobler pile . . . Here is state, use, solidity, and beauty, most symmetrically combined together. Nothing abroad pleases me better, nothing at home approaches to it." Besides the laying out of the gardens, Evelyn appears to have contributed to the internal adornment of this magnificent mansion, for in March, 16667, he sent the Chancellor a list of "pictures that might be added to the assembly of the learned and heroic persons of England which your lordship has already collected;" and on a subsequent occasion, in recording the fact of his dining here with Lord Cornbury, after the Chancellor's flight, Evelyn remarks that it is "now bravely furnished, especially with the pictures of most of our ancient and modern wits, poets, philosophers, famous and learned Englishmen, which collection I much commended, and gave a catalogue of more to be added." Pennant says it was built with the stones intended for the rebuilding of St. Paul's.
The whole place, according to Charles Knight, "would seem to have resembled in stately dignity the style of the 'History of the Great Rebellion.'" "The plague, the Great Fire, and the disgraceful war with Holland," says the above authority, "had goaded the public mind into a temper of savage mutiny; and the 'wits and misses,' to aid their court intrigues against the Chancellor, had done what in them lay to direct the storm against his head. The marriage of the Chancellor's daughter to the Duke of York and the barrenness of the Queen were represented as the results of a plot; the situation of Clarendon House, looking down on St. James's, and the employment of stones collected with a view to repair St. Paul's, were tortured into crimes." At length the storm of public wrath fairly burst over Clarendon House, as the following entry in Pepys's "Diary" will show. Under date 14th of June, 1667, he writes:"Mr. Harter tells me, at noon, that some rude people have been, as he hears, at my Lord Chancellor's, where they have cut down the trees before his house, and broke his windows; and a gibbet either set up before or painted upon his gate, and these words writ, 'Three sights to be seenDunkirk, Tangier, and a barren Queen.'"
In a volume of rare London ballads and broadsides in the British Museum is one entitled, "A
Hue and Cry after the Earl of Clarendon," dated
in 1667. Our readers may gather how strong was
the popular feeling against him on account of the
sale of Dunkirk from the opening lines:
"From Dunkirk House there lately ran away
A traitor whom you are desired to slay.
You by these marks and signs may th' traitor know,
He's troubled with the gout in feet below.
* * * * * * * * *
This hopeful blade being conscious of his crimes,
And smelling how the current of the times
Ran cross, forsakes his palace and the town
Like some presaging rat ere th' house fall down."
Evelyn mentions, in the following terms, a journey made by him in June, 1683, along Piccadilly, doubtless on the way to his residence in Dover Street:"I returned to town in a coach with the Earle of Clarendon, when, passing by the glorious palace his father had built but few years before, which they were now demolishing, being sold to certain undertakers [contractors], I turned my head the contrary way till the coach was gone past it, lest I might minister occasion of speaking of it, which must needs have grieved him that in so short a time their pomp was so sadly fallen."
"The sumptuous palace," writes Macaulay, "to which the populace of London gave the name of Dunkirk House, is among the many signs which indicate the shortest road to boundless wealth in the days of Charles II." The enormous gains then made by prime ministers, partly by salaries, and partly by the sale of posts and places, were the real secret of the tenacity with which men clung to office in those days.
Lord Clarendon seems to have been particularly fond of this mansion, though it was so offensive to the public. The day before his lordship's flight, Evelyn "found him in his garden at his new-built palace, sitting in his gowte wheel-chaire, and seeing the gates setting up towards the north and the fields. He looked and spake very disconsolately. Next morning I heard he was gone." His lordship, even in his exile, after writing that "his weakness and vanity" in the outlay he made upon it, "more contributed to that gust of envy that had so violently shaken him than any misdemeanour that he was thought to have been guilty of," confesses that, when it was proposed to sell it, in order to pay his debts and to make some provision for his younger children, "he remained so infatuated with the delight he had enjoyed, that, though he was deprived of it, he hearkened very unwillingly to the advice."
Under date of September, 1683, Evelyn thus writes in his "Diary:""I went to survey the sad demolition of Clarendon House, that costly and only sumptuous palace of the late Lord Chancellor Hyde, where I have often been so cheerful with him, and sometimes so sad. . . . The Chancellor gone and dying in exile," he continues, "the earl, his successor, sold the building, which cost 50,000, to the young Duke of Albemarle for 25,000 to pay debts, which how contracted remains yet a mystery, his son being no way a prodigal. . . . However it were, this stately palace is decreed to ruin, to support the prodigious waste the Duke of Albemarle had made of his estate since the old man died. He sold it to the highest bidder, and it fell to certain rich bankers and mechanics, who gave for it and the ground about 35,000; they design a new town, as it were, and a most magnificent piazza. . . . See the vicissitude of earthly things! I was astonished at the demolition, nor less at the little army of labourers and artificers levelling the ground, laying foundations, and contriving great buildings, at an expense of 200,000, if they perfect their design."
In Smith's "Streets of London" it is stated that "the earliest date now to be found upon the site of Clarendon House is cut in stone and let into the south wall of a public-house, the sign of 'The Duke of Albemarle' in Dover Street, thus: 'This is Stafford Street, 1686.'"
It is said by Isaac D'Israeli, in his "Curiosities of Literature," that the two Corinthian pilasters on either side of the gateway of the "Three Kings," on the north side of Piccadilly, are the only remains of the house built by the great Earl of Clarendon, whose name, however, has been perpetuated, at all events, down to the year 1870, in the Clarendon Hotel hard by.
Berkeley House, a little further to the west, according to Pepys, was built about the same time as Clarendon House. It was so called because it was built for Lord Berkeley, of Stratton, an able officer in the Royal army under Charles I., and whose name is still commemorated in the neighbourhood, by Berkeley Square and by Berkeley and Stratton Streets. Slightly at the rear, as it would seem, was a farm-house, from which Hay Hill, possibly, derives its name.
"Before the date of Burlington House," writes Pennant, "there was built here a fine mansion belonging to the Berkeleys, Lord Berkeley (of Stratton). It stood between the south end of Berkeley Square and Piccadilly, and gave the name to the square and an adjacent street (Berkeley Street). The misery and disgrace which the profligacy of one of the daughters brought on the house, by an intrigue with her brother-in-law, Lord Grey (afterwards engaged in the Monmouth Rebellion), is too lastingly recorded in our State Trials ever to be buried in oblivion."
Evelyn tells us that the mansion was "very well built," and that it had "many noble rooms; but," he adds, "they are not very convenient, consisting but of one corps de logis. They are all rooms of state, without closets. The staircase is of cedar; the furniture is princely; the kitchen and stables are ill placed, and the corridor worse, having no respect to the wings they join to. For the rest, the fore-court is noble, so are the stables, and, above all, the gardens, which are incomparable, by reason of the inequality of the ground, and a pretty piscina [a fish-pond]. The holly hedges on the terrace I advised the planting of. The porticos are in imitation of a house described by Palladio, but it happens to be the worst in his book, though my good friend, Mr. Hugh May, his lordship's architect, affected it."
In the "New View of London," published in 1708, Berkeley House is described as "a spacious building on the north side of Portugal Street, near Piccadilly, with a pleasant, large court, now in the occupation of the Duke of Devonshire. The house," it is added, "is built of brick, adorned with stone pilasters, and an entablature and pitched pediment, all of the Corinthian order, under which is a figure of Britannia carved in stone. At some distance on the east side is the kitchen and laundry; and on the west side stables and lodging-rooms, which adjoin to the mansion by brick walls, and two circular galleries, each elevated on columns of the Corinthian order, where are two ambulatories."
Independently of the beauties of the mansion and gardens, there is but little interest attaching to Berkeley House. Its founder is represented by Pepys as "a passionate and but weak man as to policy; but, as a kinsman, brought in and promoted by my Lord St. Albans." It was destroyed by fire on the 16th of October, 1733, soon after it had passed into the hands of William, first Duke of Devonshire.
"On the site of the house," continues Pennant, "fronting Piccadilly, stands Devonshire House. Long after the year 1700 it was the last house in this street, at that time the portion (sic) of Piccadilly." He means, no doubt, that the Piccadilly of that day formed only a portion of the present long street.
The old house, according to Pennant, was frequented by Waller, Denham, and many others of the wits and poets of the reign of Charles II.; and he speaks of it as containing, in his own time, an excellent library and a very fine collection of medals. He also enumerates the pictures, which are very much the same as now, adding, that the collection of specimens by the great Italian masters "is by far the finest private collection now in England."
The author of the "New Critical Review of the Public Buildings" speaks in very high terms of the former Devonshire House, the ruins of which were still standing in 1736, when he wrote. He attributes its destruction to the carelessness of the duke's servants, and their disregard of the family motto, "Cavendo tutus." He describes it as simple in plan, yet very elegant, and quite worthy of the master hand of Inigo Jones, its only fault being the great number of its chimneys, which he calls "a heavy Gothic incumbrance to the whole." He laments the loss of a fine statue of Britannia, which, having escaped the flames, was accidentally destroyed by a second act of carelessness.
The present Devonshire House is briefly dismissed by Mr. J. H. Jesse with the curt remark that, "except during the brief period when the beautiful Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, held her court within its walls, and when Fox, Burke, Windham, Fitzpatrick, and Sheridan did homage at her feet, little interest attaches to the present edifice." But we think that this remark is scarcely just; for the court of Georgiana, the beautiful duchess (of whom we have made mention in our account of the Westminster election at Covent Garden), was not a very "brief" one, nor does it deserve to be put aside out of memory after so summary a fashion.
The mansion, which for more than a century has divided with Holland House the reputation of being the head-quarters of the leaders of the great Whig party, was built about the year 1737, by William, third Duke of Devonshire, on the site of part of the property of Lord Berkeley of Stratton. The design of the house was by Kent; and it cost upwards of 20,000. The house recedes a little from the rest of the houses in this street. It has little or nothing in its exterior appearance to recommend it to particular notice, but its interior is richly stored with some of the finest works of art in any private collection.
The entrance to the house was originally up a double flight of stone steps, arranged as an external staircase, in the front, and leading straight into the reception-rooms on the first floor; but this arrangement was done away by the late duke, who made the entrance on the ground level into a hall of low elevation, beyond which he threw out on the north or garden side a semi-circular apse, containing a new staircase. The interior staircase on the north side, of marble and alabaster, with rails of solid crystal, was erected by the late duke. The ornamentation of the great staircase, and of most of the rooms in the house, is by Mr. Crace.
The picture-galleries in this house are scattered through the long range of rooms which passes all round it on the first floor. It would be impossible, in this work, to give a complete list of the art treasures that are to be found here, but we may mention a few of the most important. In the large north room hang "The Madonna and Child and St. Elizabeth," by Rubens; "The Prince and Princess of Orange," by Jacob Jordaens; and also "a Portrait," unknown, by Titian. In the greenroom adjoining is "Jacob's Dream," by Salvator Rosa, and "Samson and Delilah," by Tintoretto. In the blue drawing-room is "Moses in the Bulrushes," by Murillo. A small room on the north side is hung almost entirely with specimens of Van Dyke, including a noble portrait of the great Lord Strafford; in the same room is Lord Richard Cavendish, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In addition to the portraits mentioned above, the list also comprises John Hampden's friend, Arthur Goodwin, by Van Dyke, and his daughter Jane, wife of Philip, Lord Wharton; a head of the virtuous and accomplished Lord Falkland; Sir Thomas Browne (author of the "Religio Medici"), his wife, and daughters; a Jewish Rabbi, by Rembrandt; a head of Titian, by himself; Philip II., by the same; and the old Countess of Desmond. A list of some of the finest pictures to be seen in this mansion is printed in Dr. Waagen's work on "Art and Artists in England."
In the library here is kept John Philip Kemble's celebrated collection of old English plays, probably the finest in existence. It was made at the cost of 2,000, and was purchased by the sixth duke, after the collector's death. The library is very rich also in other departments of early English literature. The gardens in the rear of the house are mostly laid down in turf as lawns, and contain some fine elm-trees.
But to pass from the bricks and mortar of the house to the personal history of its owners. We have already mentioned the murder in Pall Mall of Mr. Thynne, of Longleat. The then Earl of Devonshire, as friend of Mr. Thynne, desired to avenge his death, and challenged the dastardly foreigner, who had plotted his assassination, to meet him in a duel. The Count (says Pennant) accepted the challenge, but afterwards his conscience (!) prevented him from meeting the Earl. It is some comfort to know that on returning to his own country the Count met with that fate which he so richly deserved here.
A good story is told in the "Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber" respecting the Earl of Devonshire, who was raised to the dukedom in reward for the leading part which he took in the Revolution of 1688. Being one day in the Royal Presence Chamber shortly before that event, and being known to be no friend of the Court or the Ministry, he was insulted by a person who trod purposely on his foot. The insult was returned on the spot by a blow, which brought the offender to his senses. But as the act was committed within the king's court, the striker was sentenced to a fine of thirty thousand pounds. Having, however, time allowed for paying it, he retired to Chatsworth, whither King James sent a messenger to him with offers to mitigate the fine if he would pay it promptly. The earl, knowing the "lie of the land," replied, that if his Majesty would allow him a little time longer, he would rather choose to play "double or quits" with him. The Revolution being near at hand, there was no time for any further parley; and the king speedily found himself in a position in which he might inflict, but could not enforce, the fine.
It is stated of the above nobleman, by Dr. W. King, in "Anecdotes of his Own Times," that he received, after the accession of George I., more than 200,000 in places and pensions, without having done any service to his country or his sovereign. Let us hope that this censure was not well deserved, or else that the money has since been recouped to the country by the services of his descendants.
Like Leicester House, already mentioned, (fn. 1) Devonshire House played for two years the part of a "pouting place of princes." From 1692 to the death of her sister Mary, Anne, Princess of Denmark, and her husband lived here, not being on the best of terms with their then Majesties.
For a century and a half this house has been one of the special rendezvous of the Whig party. "Three palaces in the year 1784," writes Sir N. W. Wraxall, "the gates of which were constantly thrown open to every supporter of the 'Coalition' (against Pitt), formed rallying-points of union." One of these was Burlington House, then tenanted by the Duke of Portland; the second was Carlton House, the residence of George, Prince of Wales; the third was Devonshire House, which, "placed on a commanding eminence opposite to the Green Park, seemed to look down upon the Queen's House, constructed by Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, in a situation much less favoured by nature."
At this time its leading spirit was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a lady whose character formed a perfect contrast to the indolence of her husband, and who, in respect of her beauty, her accomplishments, and the part which she played in the world of politics, may be compared with Anne Genevieve de Bourbon, Duchesse de Longueville, in the French annals. She is described by Sir N. W. Wraxall as "one of the most distinguished ladies of high rank whom the last century produced. Her personal charms," he adds, "constituted her smallest pretension to universal admiration; nor did her beauty consist, like that of the Gunnings, in regularity of features and faultless formation of limbs and shape; it lay rather in the graces of her deportment, in her irresistible manners, and the seduction of her society. Her hair was not without a tinge of red, and her face, though pleasing, had it not been illumined by her mind, might have been considered an ordinary countenance. Descended, in the fourth degree, lineally from Sarah Jennings, the wife of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, she resembled the portraits of that celebrated woman. In addition to the external advantages which she received from nature and fortune, she possessed an ardent temper, susceptible of deep as well as strong impressions, a cultivated understanding, illumined by a taste for poetry and the fine arts, and much sensibility, not exempt, perhaps, from vanity and coquetry."
In our account of Covent Garden, (fn. 2) and the
scenes witnessed there in former times in connection
with the elections for Westminster, we had occasion
to speak of the part taken by the Duchess of
Devonshire in securing the return of Mr. Fox in
1784. The following lines were written in consequence of her Grace's canvass on his behalf:
"Arrayed in matchless beauty, Devon's fair
In Fox's favour takes a zealous part;
But oh! where'er the pilferer comesbeware!
She supplicates a vote, and steals a heart."
The lines quoted above were, no doubt, intended
as complimentary to the duchess; she had, however, a more elegant compliment paid to her one
day at Chatsworth by a gentleman who, after viewing the garden and the library, applied to her the
words of Cowley:
"The fairest garden in her looks,
And in her mind the choicest books."
Towards the close of her life, however, the beautiful duchess would often say "that of all the compliments paid her, the drunken Irishman, who asked to light his pipe by the fire of her beautiful eyes, paid her the highest."
It was at Devonshire House, however, and not at Carlton Palace, that the procession of the multitude was brought to an end on the occasion of Fox's election to which we refer; and so great was the excitement that, according to Sir N. W. Wraxall, "on the procession entering the great court in front of the house, the Prince of Wales, who had already saluted the successful candidate from the garden wall on the side of Berkeley Street, appeared within the balustrade before the mansion, accompanied by the most eminent members of the Whig Coalition, both male and female, Fox dismissing the assembled mob with a brief harangue."
The Duke of Devonshire, if not a man of very great abilities, was a man of his word and the soul of honour. Dr. Johnson said of him that he was "a man of such 'dogged veracity,' that if he had promised an acorn, and not one had grown in his woods that year, he would have sent to Denmark for one!" A strong testimony to a Whig nobleman's honour from so staunch a Tory as the learned doctor.
William, the third duke, who is satirised by Pope for his meanness, as "dirty D," was a staunch Whig, like the rest of his family. Horace Walpole said of him, that "his outside was unpolished and his inside unpolishable."
It is said that one day, not long after the erection of the present mansion, the great Sir Robert
Walpole looked in to make a morning call on its
owner, and not finding him at home, left on his
table the following Latin epigram:
"Ut dominus domus est; non extra fulta columnis
Marmoreis splendet: quod tenet, intus habet."
A higher or more graceful compliment could hardly be paid to either the house or its owner, than to say that they were both "all glorious within."
George IV., as Prince of Wales, was a constant frequenter of the coteries and parties of Devonshire House, which was at that time the resort, not only of the Whig Opposition, but of all the wits and beaux esprits of the time. Among the rest were Sheridan, Grey, Whitbread, Lord Robert Spencer, Fox, Hare, Fitz-Patrick, and George Selwyn, all members of the society of bon ton in their day.
Mr. T. Raikes thus mentions Devonshire House in his "Journal:""In these entertainments, which many years ago engrossed all the wit and fashion of London society for a long period, since quoted as the era of refinement and pleasure, Lady Bessborough was a leading character. Even Lady Grenville now, when she meets an ancient votary of those days, illustrated by her mother, will say, 'He, too, remembers Devonshire House.'"
Here, in 1814, William, the sixth Duke of Devonshire, gave several splendid entertainments to the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia, and the other military personages who accompanied the Allied Sovereigns to England. Here the Prince of Orange was present at a grand ball on the evening before he returned to the Continent in the character of the discarded lover of the Princess Charlotte. Shortly before, Lady Brownlow tells us in her "Reminiscences," she had seen the royal affianced pair at a party given by the Prince Regent at Carlton House, when the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia were present. "At this party I well remember seeing the Princess Charlotte and the Prince of Orange sitting together and walking about arm-in-arm, looking perfectly happy and lover-like. What were the intrigues and influences that changed the princess's feelings and caused her to break off the marriage is a mystery, known, I believe, to few. There were many rumoursmany stories afloat, but none to be relied on; the only thing positive being the fact that the prince was dismissed."
The entertainments at Devonshire House have not been confined to balls and such-like aristocratic amusements, but have had a much wider range. Here the celebrated dwarf, Count Boruwlaski, was received by the Duke and the Duchess at one of their entertainments and presented by their Graces to the King, the Queen, and the Prince of Wales, and the rest of the nobility, with whom he became a "lion," and by whom he was fetd and caressed to an extent which would strike us as absurd and incredible if we did not remember the more recent visit of "Tom Thumb" to this metropolis and the fuss that was made with him.
But Devonshire House has its literary as well as its fashionable and political associations. As very many of our readers will remember, it was more than once, in the time of the late duke, the scene of amateur private theatricals given on a scale of magnificence which reminds us of the days when English actors were "the king's" and the duke's "servants." When, in 1850, Charles Dickens, in concert with Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, was endeavouring to set afloat the "Guild of Literature and Art" by the proceeds of a farce written by the former, and a comedy by the latter, the Duke of Devonshire, as Mr. Forster tells us in his "Life of Dickens," "offered the use of his house in Piccadilly for their first representations, and in his princely way discharged all the expenses attending them. A movable theatre was built and set up in the great drawing-room, and the library was turned into a green-room. Not so Bad as we Seem was played for the first time at Devonshire House on the 27th of May, 1851, before the Queen and the Prince Consort, and as large an audience as could be found room for. Mr. Nightingale's Diary was the name of the farce." The representation was a great success. It was repeated several times over at the Hanover Square Rooms, and continued at intervals both in London and in the country during that and the following year. Among the distinguished authors and artists who took part in the performance at Devonshire House, besides Lord Lytton and Dickens, were Douglas Jerrold, John Leech, and Mr. Maclise.
The western side of Devonshire House is bounded by a street without a thoroughfare, called Stratton Street, after Lord Berkeley of Stratton, by whom it was built in the year 1694. At No. 12 the gallant Lord Lynedoch died, at the age of ninetyfour, in 1843. This street, and also Berkeley Street, on the east side of Devonshire House, it would seem, were laid out after a design of John Evelyn, who thus writes under date June, 1684:"I went to advise and give directions about building two streets in Berkeley Gardens, reserving the house and as much of the garden as the breadth of the house. In the meantime I could not but deplore that sweet place (by far the most noble gardens, courts, and accommodations, stately porticos, &c., anywhere about town) should be so much straitened and turned into tenements. But that magnificent pile and gardens contiguous to it, built by the late Lord Chancellor Clarendon, being all demolished and designed for piazzas and buildings, was some excuse for Lady Berkeley's resolution of letting out her gardens, also for so excessive a price as was offered, advancing near 1,000 per annum, in mere ground rents; to such a mad intemperance was the age come of building about a city by far too disproportionate already to the nation."
In the corner house of Piccadilly and Stratton Street, noticeable for its fine bow windows, overlooking the Green Park, lived for many years the rich and benevolent Mrs. Coutts, widow of Thomas Coutts, the banker, originally Miss Harriet Mellon, the actress, and afterwards Duchess of St. Albans. As an instance of her benevolence, it is recorded that, in the year 1836, when a fund was set on foot for the relief of the Spitalfields weavers, she not only sent a subscription equal in amount to that of royalty, but also gave the weavers an order for a suite of damask curtains for her drawing-rooms, at the price of a guinea a yard, an example which was followed by other wealthy families.
Captain Gronow tells us, in his "Anecdotes and Reminiscences," an amusing story connected with this house. On the day after the coronation of George IV., Mr. Hamlet, the jeweller, came to the house, expressing a wish to see the wealthy banker. It was during dinner; but owing, no doubt, to a previous arrangement, he was at once admitted, when he placed before Mr. Coutts a magnificent diamond cross which had been worn the previous day by the Duke of York. It at once attracted the admiration of Mrs. Coutts, who loudly exclaimed, "How happy I should be with such a splendid specimen of jewellery!" "What is it worth?" immediately exclaimed Mr. Coutts. "I could not allow it to pass out of my possession for less than 15,000," said the wary tradesman. "Bring me a pen and ink," was the only answer made by the doting husband, and he at once drew a cheque for that amount upon the bank in the Strand; and with much delight the worthy old gentleman placed the jewel upon the fair bosom of the lady.
"Upon her breast a sparkling cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore."
The following anecdote of the early life of this lady, as related by herself, may be of interest:"When I was a poor girl," she used to say, "working very hard for my thirty shillings a week, I went down to Liverpool during the holidays, where I was always kindly received. I was to perform in a new piece, something like those pretty little affecting dramas they get up now at our minor theatres, and in my character I represented a poor, friendless orphan girl, reduced to the most wretched poverty. A heartless tradesman prosecutes the sad heroine for a heavy debt, and insists on putting her in prison unless some one will be bail for her. The girl replies, 'Then I have no hopeI have not a friend in the world.' 'What! will no one be bail for you, to save you from prison?' asks the stern creditor. 'I have told you I have not a friend on earth,' was my reply. But just as I was uttering the words I saw a sailor in the upper gallery springing over the railing, letting himself down from one tier to another, until he bounded clear over the orchestra and footlights, and placed himself beside me in a moment. 'Yes, you shall have one friend at least, my poor young woman,' said he, with the greatest expression in his honest sunburnt countenance; 'I will go bail for you to any amount. And as for you,' turning to the frightened actor, 'if you don't bear a hand, and shift your moorings, you lubber, it will be worse for you when I come athwart your bows.' Every creature in the house rose; the uproar was perfectly indescribable; peals of laughter, screams of terror, cheers from his tawny messmates in the gallery, preparatory scrapings of violins from the orchestra; and amidst the universal din there stood the unconscious cause of it, sheltering me, 'the poor, distressed young woman,' and breathing defiance and destruction against my mimic persecutor. He was only persuaded to relinquish his care of me by the manager pretending to arrive and rescue me with a profusion of theatrical banknotes."
The Duchess of St. Albans, who died in 1837, left her immense fortune, amounting, it is said, to 1,800,000, to Miss Angela Burdett, who thereupon assumed the additional name of Coutts. It was stated in the newspapers at the time, that the weight of this enormous sum in gold, reckoning sixty sovereigns to the pound, is 13 tons 7 cwt. 3 qrs. 12 lbs., and would require 107 men to carry it, supposing that each of them carried 298 lbs., equivalent to the weight of a sack of flour. This large sum may be partially guessed, by knowing also that, counting at the rate of sixty sovereigns a minute for eight hours a day, and six days, of course, in the week, it would take ten weeks, two days, and four hours to accomplish the task. In sovereigns, by the most exact computation (each measuring in diameter 17/20 of an inch, and placed to touch each other), it would extend to the length of 24 miles and 260 yards, or about the distance between Merthyr and Cardiff; and in crown pieces, to 113 miles and 280 yards. It may be noted that 1,800,000 was the exact sum also left by old Jemmy Wood, the banker and millionaire of Gloucester, who died in 1836. After inheriting the property in question, Miss Burdett-Coutts distinguished herself by furthering works of charity and benevolence, and in recognition of her largeheartedness she was, in the year 1871, raised to the peerage as Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
Close by, during his demagogue days, lived Sir Francis Burdett, the father of Lady Burdett-Coutts. The old baronet enjoyed the distinction of being the last political or state prisoner who was confined in the Tower of London. On April 6, 1810, a vote passed the House of Commons for his committal to the Tower, on account of a letter written and published by him in Cobbett's Register of a week or two previously, which was considered to "libellous and scandalous, and a breach of privilege." Sir Francis resisted the Speaker's warrant for his committal "upon principle," wishing, of course, to make political capital out of the affair, and to be regarded by the mob as a patriot. Accordingly that part of Piccadilly which lay opposite his house was blocked up by a mob from Westminster and the southern suburbs, who kept on shouting "Burdett for ever!" till the Guards were called out and rode up to the spot. They were received on their arrival with a volley of stones. The Guards charged the mob, whence they were nicknamed the "Piccadilly Butchers." The whole of the West-end of London was in uproar and confusion, and the windows of the chiefs of the party who had procured the warrant for his arrest were smashed. At length, on the third day, Sir Francis Burdett, believing further resistance vain, was taken prisoner in the king's name, and carried off in a glass coach; but, in spite of this being done with all possible privacy, the mob tried to stop the carriage on Tower Hill, and a conflict ensued between the soldiers and the people, in which one rioter lost his life, and others were wounded.
The riot arose out of the following circumstances, the account of which we abridge from Hughson:"On the 21st of February, a Mr. John Gale Jones, a well-known orator at various debating societies in the metropolis, was committed to Newgate by an order of the House of Commons for a gross breach of the privileges of that House. The breach complained of was contained in a bill issued from a debating society, called the 'British Forum,' of which Jones was president. The question in the bill was, 'Which was a greater outrage on the public feeling, Mr. Yorke's enforcement of the standing order to exclude strangers from the House of Commons, or Mr. Windham's recent attack on the liberty of the press?'
"On the 12th of March, Sir Francis Burdett moved in the House of Commons that John Gale Jones should be discharged on the ground of the illegality of the measure. This motion, however, was lost; and on the 24th of March there appeared in Cobbett's Political Register a letter inscribed, 'Sir Francis Burdett to his constituents, denying the power of the House of Commons to imprison the people of England,' accompanied with the arguments by which he had endeavoured to convince the gentlemen of the House of Commons that their acts in the case of Mr. Jones were illegal. On the 26th, the publication was brought before the House of Commons by Mr. Lethbridge, who desired the Speaker to ask Sir Francis Burdett whether he acknowledged himself to be the author of the letter, which Sir Francis did. The next day Mr. Lethbridge resumed the subject, and laid the number of Cobbett's Register before the House. Sir Francis Burdett made a short but very able defence; and after some further discussion the House adjourned till next day, March the 28th, and then to the 5th of April, when the resumed debate was continued till half-past seven in the morning; the House then voted that Sir Francis Burdett should be committed to the Tower, the letter in question being a libellous and scandalous paper, reflecting upon the just rights and privileges of that House. The sergeant-at-arms found great difficulty in serving his warrant; and it was not until the fourth day after he had received it from the Speaker, that Sir Francis was conveyed to the Tower, and only then by means of breaking into his house, attended by a posse of constables and soldiers."
On the prorogation of Parliament, June 21st,
the captive was set free, but he did not care to
return home with the same demonstrations. The
populace had planned a triumphal procession from
the Tower to Piccadilly; but Sir Francis contrived
to give his friends the slip, crossed the river in a
boat, and drove off in a carriage, which was waiting
for him on the south side of London Bridge, for
his country residence at Wimbledon. The story of
his committal to the Tower narrated above stands
out in strong contrast to the staunch Conservatism
which marked his later years; nevertheless he
"Through good and ill report, through calm and storm,
For forty years the pilot of reform."
Mr. J. H. Jesse identifies the house No. 80, one
door east from the corner of Bolton Street, as that
from which Sir Francis was carried a state prisoner
to the Tower, and he quotes the following jeu
d'esprit on the arrest:
"The lady she sat and she played on the lute,
And she sang, 'Will you come to my bower?'
The sergeant-at-arms had stood hitherto mute,
But now he advanced, like an impudent brute,
And said, 'Will you come to the Tower?'"
The house was subsequently occupied by the Duke of St. Albans, who, however, migrated two or three doors more to the east when he married the widow of Thomas Coutts, of whom we have spoken above.
Late in life Sir Francis Burdett, who was known among his constituents at Westminster as "Old Glory," changed his colours, abandoned his Radical allies, and died a most loyal and peaceable Conservative. About the year 1820 he had removed to St. James's Place, where he died, and as we have already seen in a previous chapter, (fn. 3) his death was as pathetic as his parliamentary life had been famous.
At the western corner of Bolton Street, facing
Piccadilly, stands Bath House, the residence of
Lord Ashburton. It contains a fine collection of
pictures, chiefly of the Dutch and Flemish schools,
formed by the builder of the mansion, Mr. Alexander
Baring, afterwards the first Lord Ashburton of the
present creation. Dr. Waagen gives a list of the
pictures to be seen here, in his work on "Art and
Artists in England." The house occupies the site
of the Pulteney Hotel, where many royal personages
were lodged during their visits to London; among
others the Emperor Alexander of Russia, during
the sojourn of the Allied Sovereigns in 1814. It
was so called because it had been formerly the residence of Pulteney, Earl of Bath, the great rival
and antagonist of Sir Robert Walpole. Pulteney,
who up to about 1741 had been, as a commoner,
the most violent and popular patriot of his day,
dwindled down, in 1742, into the Earl of Bath.
Sir Robert Walpole, when forced, about the same
time, to retire into the peerage, had laid this trap
for his antagonist, who readily fell into it. On
their first meeting, after what one of them called
their respective "falls up-stairs," Lord Orford said
to Lord Bath, with malicious good humour, "My
lord, you and I are now the most insignificant
fellows in England." A coronet, in fact, as well as
a mitre, has often proved an extinguisher, and this
fact well illustrates Pope's line with reference to
"He foams a patriot to subside a peer."
Walpole relates the following story concerning the earl, which appears almost too amusing to be true:"Lord Bath once owed a tradesman eight hundred pounds, and would never pay him. The man determined to persecute him till he did; and one morning followed him to Lord Winchilsea's, and sent up word that he wanted to speak with him. Lord Bath came down, and said, 'Fellow, what do you want with me?' 'My money,' said the man, as loud as ever he could bawl, before all the servants. He bade him come next morning, and then would not see him. The next Sunday the man followed him to church, and got into the next pew; he leaned over, and said, 'My money; give me my money.' My lord went to the end of the pew; the man too'Give me my money.' The sermon was on avarice, and the text, 'Cursed are they that heap up riches.' The man groaned out, 'O Lord!' and pointed to my Lord Bath; in short, he persisted so much, and drew the eyes of all the congregation, that my Lord Bath went out and paid him directly." Lord Bath died not long after the accession of George III.
At the opposite corner of Bolton Street stood, from 1807 to 1819, Watier's Gambling Club. Concerning the origin of this clubor rather, gaming house, for it was nothing morethe following anecdote is told by Captain Gronow:"Upon one occasion, some gentlemen of both 'White's' and 'Brooks's' had the honour to dine with the Prince Regent, and during the conversation the Prince inquired what sort of dinners they got at their clubs; upon which Sir Thomas Stepney, one of the guests, observed that their dinners were always the same, the eternal joints or beef-steaks, the boiled fowl with oyster sauce, and an apple tart. 'That is what we have at our clubs, and very monotonous fare it is.' The Prince, without further remark, rang the bell for his cook, Watier, and in the presence of those who dined at the royal table, asked him whether he would take a house and organise a dinner-club. Watier assented, and named the Prince's page, Madison, as manager, and Labourie, from the royal kitchen, as cook. The club flourished only a few years, owing to the night-play that was carried on there. The favourite game played there was 'Macao.'" The Duke of York patronised it, and was a member. Tom Moore also tells us that he belonged to it. The dinners were exquisite; the best Parisian cooks could not beat Labourie.
Mr. John Timbs, in his account of this club, remarks, with sly humour, "In the old days, when gaming was in fashion, at Watier's Club both princes and nobles lost or gained fortunes between themselves;' and by all accounts "Macao" seems to have been a far more effective instrument in the losing of fortunes than either "Whist" or "Loo."
Mr. Raikes, in his "Journal," says that Watier's Club, which had originally been established for harmonic meetings, became, in the time of "Beau" Brummell, the resort of nearly all the fine gentlemen of the day. "The dinners," he adds, "were superlative, and high play at 'Macao' was generally introduced. It was this game, or rather losses which arose out of it, that first led the 'Beau' into difficulties." Mr. Raikes further remarks, with reference to this club, that its pace was "too quick to last," and that its records show that none of its members at his death had reached the average age of man. The club was closed in 1819, when the house was taken by a set of "black-legs" who instituted a common bank for gambling. This caused the ruin of several fortunes, and it was suppressed in its turn, or died a natural death.
At the end of the last or early in the present century it was proposed that the Dilettanti Society, already mentioned by us in our account of the "Thatched House Tavern," should erect a permanent home for itself in Piccadilly, either near the Pulteney Hotel, or else near the foot of the descent, opposite the Ranger's Lodge; but the proposal was never carried out.
At the south-west corner of Clarges Street is the Turf Club. This club was originally established in Grafton Street. The building, formerly known as Grafton House, is dull, heavy, and ugly, probably the ugliest house in London. It was built, says Charles Knight, by the father of Mr. Michael Angelo Taylor, M.P., but others say by the duke himself, who forgot to insert a door, and who therefore had to buy the adjoining house in Clarges Street, in order to make an entrance. The house was taken by the Turf Club towards the close of the year 1875.
Passing along Piccadilly, we soon arrive at No. 94, the Naval and Military Club. The building, the site of which was once occupied by an inn, was originally erected for the Earl of Egremont, and called Egremont and afterwards Cholmondeley House. The house has a noble appearance; it is fronted with stone, and overlooks the Green Park. It has a small court-yard in front of it. For many years it was the residence of Adolphus, late Duke of Cambridge, who died here in 1850, and whose name it bore also when occupied by Lord Palmerston, whose body was brought hither from Brockett Hall, where he died, in 1865, the day before it was deposited in Westminster Abbey. Shortly after his lordship's death the house was purchased by the Naval and Military Club, who have greatly improved it.
Between White Horse and Engine Streets (No. 105) is a noble Italian mansion, called Hertford House, after the late Marquis of Hertford, who built it about the year 1850, from the designs of a Polish or Russian architect, named Novosielski. It was left by Lord Hertford to his natural son, Sir Richard Wallace, who sold it to one of the family of the Goldsmids. Though his lordship built the house, he chose, with his usual eccentricity, never to reside in it, because the parishioners of St. James's refused to allow him to pave the street in front of it after a fashion of his own. The house contained a very fine collection of works of art, purchased by Lord Hertford from the galleries of Cardinal Fesch, the late King of Holland, and Lord Ashburnham, and many others from the Saltmarshe collection.
The next house westward, at the opposite side of Engine Street, is Coventry House, now the St. James's Club. It was for a century the residence of the Earls of Coventry, one of whom procured, by his influence, the abolition of the "May Fair" in the rear of his mansion. It occupies the site of the old "Greyhound Inn," and, as Mr. John Timbs informs us, it was bought by the Earl of Coventry of Sir Hugh Hunlocke, in 1764, for 10,000 guineas.
The house adjoining the St. James's Club is the residence of the Baroness Meyer de Rothschild, widow of Baron Meyer Amschel de Rothschild, of Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, who was many years M.P. for Hythe, and who died in 1874. The house of another member of this wealthy family is situated further westward, next to Apsley House. The Rothschilds, who began by sweeping out a small shop in the Jews' quarter of the city of Frankfort, over which hung suspended the sign of the "Red Shield," whence they derive their name, have become the metallic sovereigns of Europe. From their different establishments in Paris, London, Vienna, Frankfort, St. Petersburg, and Naples they have obtained a control over the European exchanges which no party ever before could accomplish, and they now seem to hold the strings of the public purse. No sovereign without their assistance now could raise a loan. When the first Baron Rothschild was at Vienna, having contracted for the Austrian loan, the emperor sent for him to express his satisfaction at the manner in which the bargain had been concluded. The Israelite replied, "Je peut assurer votre Majest que la maison de Rothschild sera toujours enchante de faire tout ce qui pourra tre agrable la maison d'Autriche."
Nathan Meyer de Rothschild, the father of the two sons mentioned above, and himself the third son of the founder of the wealth and influence of this great commercial family, was a native of Frankfort; he was naturalised as a British subject by royal letters patent in the reign of George III., and subsequently was advanced to the dignity of a Baron of the Austrian Empire. He died in 1836, leaving a family of four sons, all Austrian barons. Ten years later, in 1846, an English baronetcy was conferred on his second son, Anthony, with remainder, failing his own male issue, to the sons of his elder brother Lionel. Sir Anthony died in January, 1876, when his English title accordingly passed to his nephew, Mr. Nathan Meyer de Rothschild, M.P. for Aylesbury.
A few doors westward, at No. 110, lived for many years Hester Maria, Viscountess Keith. She was the last remaining link between the present generation and that brilliant literary circle which congregated around Johnson at "the Club," and which thronged the hospitable mansion of her mother, Mrs. Thrale, at Streatham. During the first eighteen years of her life she was surrounded by Johnson, Reynolds, Garrick, Boswell, Beauclerk, and Bennet Langton. Johnson was her tutor, and Baretti her language-master. From her mother she learnt to value and to cultivate intellectual pursuits, while from her excellent father she derived those solid and sterling qualities which belong more especially to the true English character. On the death of Mr. Thrale, and the re-marriage of her mother to Signore Piozzia marriage highly disapproved by the Leviathan of literatureMiss Thrale retired to her late father's house at Brighton, where she applied her mind to several courses of severe study, and acquired a knowledge of many subjects rare in a woman at all times, and especially so in the less cultivated days of the last century. Here she remained until the time arrived for her to take possession of the fortune left her by her father, when she settled herself in a handsome mansion in London. In the meantime she had the misfortune to lose her valued friend and preceptor, the illustrious Johnson, whose death-bed she assiduously attended. A few days before his death the venerable philosopher addressed Miss Thrale in these words:"My dear child, we part for ever in this world; let us part as Christians should: let us pray together." He then uttered a prayer of fervent piety and deep affection, invoking the blessing of Heaven on his pupil. In 1808, Miss Thrale became the wife of George Keith Elphinstone, Admiral Viscount Keith, one of the most distinguished commanders by whom the naval honour of Great Britain was so greatly exalted during the war against the great Napoleon. Lady Keith was left a widow in 1823. For several years she held a distinguished position in the highest circles of the fashionable world in London, and was one of the original patronesses of "Almack's." Having lived to the advanced age of ninety-five, Lady Keith died in March, 1857.
The house standing at the south-east corner of Down Street is the Junior Athenum Club. This splendid mansion was built for the late Mr. Henry Thomas Hope, M.P., in 184950, from the designs of M. Dusillon and Professor Donaldson. The building has some remarkably handsome external decorations in stone and metal, in the modern French style. The decorations were executed chiefly by French artists, and the iron railing is particularly fine, both with regard to design and workmanship. The mansion was for some years known as Hope House, and during the time of Mr. Hope's occupation it was noted as containing one of the finest picture-galleries in London. The pictures were chiefly of the Dutch and Flemish masters, and of the very highest quality of art in these schools; they were obtained by Mr. Hope's ancestors (bankers at Amsterdam) principally from the painters themselves. A list of the principal of them is given in Dr. Waagen's "Art and Artists in England." Mr. Hope had also here a fine collection of ancient Greek sculpture. Mr. Hope, who was the owner of Deepdene, in Surrey, and was many years M.P. for Gloucester, &c., died in 1861, leaving an only daughter, who was married in the same year to Alexander, sixth Duke of Newcastle. Shortly after Mr. Hope's death his house was sold, and converted into a club.
The house at the corner of Hamilton Place, facing Piccadilly, was for many years the town residence of John, Earl of Eldon, the distinguished Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and Lord Chancellor of England, during the early part of the present century. He died in 1838.
Gloucester House, at the corner of Park Lane,
was formerly the residence of William Henry, the
last Duke of Gloucester, who purchased it on his
marriage with the Princess Mary, and who died
in 1834. In spite of being Chancellor of Cambridge, he was called "Silly Billy." Mr. Raikes
describes him as "a quiet, inoffensive character,
rather tenacious of the respect due to his rank, and
strongly attached to the ultra-Tory party." The
mansion was previously the residence of the Earl of
Elgin, at which time it was known as Elgin House.
Here, on their first arrival in this country, were
deposited the Elgin Marbles, previous to their
removal to Burlington House, whence they were
taken to the British Museum in 1816. It is in
allusion to this fact that Lord Byron, in his
"English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," calls Elgin
House a "stone shop," and
For all the mutilated blocks of art."
The houses now numbered 138 and 139, between Park Lane and Hamilton Place, were, at the beginning of the present century, one mansion, remarkable for its large bow window, and occupied by the eccentric and licentious Duke of Queensberry, better known to society by his nickname of "Old Q." In his old age, when sated with pleasures of the grossest kind, he would sit in sunny weather in his balcony, with an umbrella or parasol over his head, and amuse himself with watching the female passers-by, ogling every pretty woman, and sending out his minions to fetch them in, as a spider will draw flies into his web. The duke had an exterior flight of steps built to aid him in this sport. These steps were removed long subsequently to his death, in 1810.
Mr. T. Raikes, in his "Journal," under date of 1840, writes:"The late Duke of Queensberry, whom I remember in my early days, called 'Old Q.,' was of the same school as the Marshal Duc de Richelieu in France, and as great a profligate. He lived at the bow-window house in Piccadilly, where he was latterly always seen looking at the people who passed by; a groom on horseback, known as Jack Radford, always stood under the window to carry about his messages to any one whom he remarked in the street. He kept a physician in the house, and, to ensure attention to his health, his terms were that he should have so much per day while he lived, but not a shilling at his death. When he drove out he was always alone in a dark-green vis--vis, with long-tailed black horses; and during winter, with a muff, two servants behind in undress, and his groom following the carriage, to execute his commissions. He was a little, sharp-looking man, very irritable, and swore like ten thousand troopers: enormously rich and selfish."
The duke was one of the three individuals who were said to be the fathers of Maria Fagniani, afterwards Marchioness of Hertford, to whom he left a very large portion of his property; the title passing to a distant relative, the Duke of Buccleuch.
Of the two houses above mentioned, that numbered 139 maintained its celebrity by being at one time the residence of Lord Byron. Here he was living when the separation between himself and Lady Byron took place a year after their illstarred marriage; and here he wrote "Parisina" and the "Siege of Corinth." It was also from this house that Lady Byron left the poet, carrying with her his infant child, whom he commemorates so touchingly as "Ada, sole daughter of my house and heart." "The moment that my wife left me," he writes, "I was assailed by all the falsehoods that malice could invent or slander publish; . . . . there was no crime too dark to be attributed to me by the moral (?) English, to account for so common an occurrence as a 'separation in high life.' I was thought a devil, because Lady Byron was allowed to be an angel!" Poor man! bad as he may have been, he deserved to have met with a creature endowed with some small store of sympathy, and at least some little feminine weakness, in the woman whom he made his wife.
At No. 144, one of the mansions between Hamilton Place and Apsley House, Lord Palmerston was living about the time of the Crimean War, and shortly before his acceptance of the Premiership. His lordship removed thence to Cambridge House, of which we have already spoken as being now the Naval and Military Club.
Where Apsley House now stands, if we may accept the statement of Charles Knight, was the tavern called the "Hercules' Pillars," "the same at which the redoubted Squire Western, with his clerical satellite, is represented as taking up his abode on his arrival in London, and conveying the fair Sophia." The sign of the "Hercules' Pillars" was given to the tavern probably as marking, at that time, the extreme "west-end" of London. Its name is recorded by Wycherley, in his Plain Dealer, and is said to have been a haunt of the Marquis of Granby, and of other members of the titled classes. The character of the house in Fielding's time may be gathered from the following quotation from "Tom Jones," touching Squire Western's arrival in London:"The squire sat down to regale himself over a bottle of wine, with his parson and the landlord of the 'Hercules' Pillars,' who, as the squire said, would make an excellent third man, and would inform them of the news of the town; for, to be sure, says he, he knows a good deal, since the horses of many of 'the quality' stand at his door."
Mr. J. H. Jesse tells us that the tavern in question stood between Apsley House and Hamilton Place, and that, on account of its situation, it was much frequented by gentlemen from the West of England. Wherever may have been the exact spot on which the house stood, it seems at best to have been a comfortable but low inn on the outskirts of the town, where gentlemen's horses and grooms were put up, and farmers and graziers resorted.
In the reign of George II. all the ground to the west of Devonshire House up to Hyde Park Corner was covered by a row of small shops and yards of the statuaries; nor were the latter of the best and purest kind, if we may judge by the loud complaints against their design and execution uttered by the author of "A New Critical Review of the Public Buildings, &c.," at that date. In fact, the tasteless atrocities in sculpture there perpetrated could not well be exceeded now-a-days by the artists of the "figure-yards" of the Euston Road. On the site of the last remaining "figure-yard" in this neighbourhood was built, in the early part of the reign of George III., a house for the eccentric and notorious Lord Barrymore, but it was burnt down before it had been many years in his occupation.
Between the "Hercules' Pillars" and what now is Hamilton Place, instead of the magnificent houses of the Marquis of Northampton, and Barons Lionel and Ferdinand de Rothschild and others, long known collectively as Piccadilly Terrace, was a row of low and mean tenements, one of which bore conspicuously in the street before it the grand sign of the "Triumphal Chariot." Mr. J. H. Jesse suggests that "this was, in all probability, the 'pretty tavern' to which the unfortunate Richard Savage was conducted by Sir Richard Steele on the occasion of their being closeted together for a whole day, busy in composing a hurried pamphlet which they had to sell for two guineas before they could pay for their dinner," as Johnson tells us in his "Life of Savage." The tavern is stated to have been a "watering-house" for hackney-coaches, &c. Charles Knight says that "by the kerbstone in front of it there was a bench for the porters, and a board over it for depositing their loads;" and he gives a view of just such another "watering-house" still standing at Knightsbridge in 1841, answering in every minute detail to the above, except in the sign, for it is not the "Triumphal Chariot," nor a "chariot" at all, but "The White Hart."
The sign of the "Triumphal Chariot" was probably an allusion to the soldiery from the barracks, who were its chief supporters. Mr. J. T. Smith, in his "Antiquarian Rambles in the London Streets," tells us that, "in the middle of the last century, this and other public-houses were much resorted to by the red-coats on Sundays and review-days, when long wooden seats were fixed in the street before the doors for the accommodation of as many barbers, all busily employed in powdering the hair of these sons of Mars!"
Near the "Hercules' Pillars" and "Triumphal Chariot," there would appear to have been quite a cluster of other small inns, "convenient" to the wayfarer as he entered London from the western counties. Mr. Larwood enumerates among these the "Red and the Golden Lion," the "Swan," the "Horse Shoe," the "Running Horse," the "Barley Mow," the "White Horse," and the "Half Moon," of which the last has left the trace of its being in the name of a street running out of Piccadilly.
Thoughtful observers will note the slight but graceful bend of the roadway of Piccadilly, and will see in it with us a proof that the road itself was of ancient date. Modern streets are almost always driven straight; but the earliest roads follow the tracks of cart-wheels and pack-horses; and probably it was by the pack-horses or market-carts of five centuries ago that this road was first gradually worn. The only proof of its existence in the days of antiquity is to be found in the map of Ralph Aggas, where it forms but a continuation of the line marked out at the top of the Haymarket as "the way to Reading," just as what now is Oxford Street is marked "the way to Uxbridge." We find, however, a corroboration of the map in the narrative of the rebellion raised by Sir Thomas Wyatt and his Kentish followers on the unpopular marriage of Queen Mary with Philip of Spain, when it would seem that, in addition to a lower way running past the front of St. James's Palace to Charing Cross, there was also a "highway on the hill," along which some of the rebel forces and ammunition were brought up. This event is, indeed, the earliest matter of historical interest connected with Piccadilly. We read that, unable to effect the passage of London Bridge, Wyatt marched to Kingston, where he crossed the Thames, and so forced his way to Knightsbridge. In our account of Charing Cross (fn. 4) we have already given the narrative of Wyatt's advance on London, as told by honest John Stow, and therefore we need not repeat it here, further than to say that, in all probability, it was in Piccadilly that he "planted his ordenance," for the old chronicler tells us that it was upon a hill beyond St. James's, "almost over against the Park Corner, on the hill in the highway, above the new bridge over against St. James's."
How Wyatt passed on first to Charing Cross and then to Ludgate, how he was there captured, and how he was beheaded and afterwards quartered on Tower Hill, are matters well known to nearly every reader of English history. His head, as Stow further informs us, was set up on the gallows at Hay Hill, at that time almost if not quite in sight of the spot where he had left his "ordenance." The "new bridge" spoken of in Stow's narrative probably spanned the brook which ran in this direction down from Tyburn, giving its appellation to the Brook Fields, whence "Brook Street" derives its name, as we shall see in a future chapter.
It was near the western extremity of Piccadilly
that the citizens of London fortified themselves
against the threatened approach of Charles I. and
his army in 1642, when the citizens of the Westend, aided by the female population, and, indeed,
even ladies of high birth and blood, lent a helping
hand in the trenches, and in throwing up earthworks.
In this emergency, men, women, and even children,
assisted in hundreds and thousands, and speedily
a rampart of earth was raised, with batteries and
redoubts at intervals. The fort here was armed
with four bastions. The active part taken by the
women in this undertaking is described with much
graphic humour by Butler, in his "Hudibras." He
writes that they
"Marched rank and file, with drum and ensign,
T' entrench the city for defence in;
Raised ramparts with their own soft hands,
To put the enemy to stand;
From ladies down to oyster-wenches
Laboured like pioneers in trenches,
Fall'n to their pickaxes and tools,
And helped the men to dig like moles."
In spite of its proximity to the Court suburb, it would appear that Piccadilly was not a very secure thoroughfare, even during the reigns of the first Hanoverian kings. For instance, it is on record, that in 1726 the Earl of Harborough was stopped here, whilst being carried in his sedan chair, during broad daylight; we read that "one of the chairmen pulled a pole out of the chair and knocked down one of the villains, while the earl came out, drew his sword, and put the others to flight, but not before they had raised their wounded companion, whom they took off with them." Indeed, even a quarter of a century later, the neighbourhood of Piccadilly, and, in fact, all the western and northern suburbs of London, were infested with footpads and highwaymen; and, under cover of the darkness, favoured by the ill-lighted and ill-protected state of the streets, highway robberies continued to be committed with impunity, in the heart of London, up to a much more recent period than is generally supposed. Mr. Jesse tells us that about the year 1810 a near relative of his own, accompanied by a friend, was forcibly stopped in a hackney-coach in Piccadilly, opposite to St. James's Church, by ruffians, who presented their pistols, and forced them to give up their money and watches. He adds, that in this case the driver, in all probability, was in league with the highwaymen.
The modern history of Piccadilly may be soon told. In process of time the thoroughfare has undergone great alteration since buildings were first erected on its northern side. Bath House, of which we have spoken above, was the first mansion of any pretension erected to the west of Devonshire House; and down to about the year 1770, with the exception of the one just named, there were no houses more than one or two storeys high. Many years ago the pavement on the north side of all the middle portion was raised, and formed a terrace; and when the name of the terrace ceased to be used in this part of the street, it came to be applied to the larger mansions further westward and lying between Down Street and Apsley House. Now, however, it is restricted to the row of houses situated to the west of Hamilton Place.
About the end of the year 1825 the toll-gate at Hyde Park Corner, which narrowed the thoroughfare, interrupted the traffic, and gave a confined appearance to the street, was removed. Mr. Hone, in his "Every Day Book," published in the year 1826, thus records the sale by auction of this tollgate:"The sale by auction of the 'toll-houses' on the north and south side of the road, with the 'weighing-machine' and lamp-posts at Hyde Park Corner, was effected by Mr. Abbott, the estate agent and appraiser, by order of the trustees of the roads. They were sold for building materials; the north toll-house was in five lots, the south in five other lots; the gates, rails, posts, and inscription boards, were in five more lots; and the enginehouse was also in five lots." It is not stated what amount was realised by the sale, but Hone gives a graphic illustration representing the auctioneer raising his hammer and calling out, "Going, going, gone!" He adds, "The whole are entirely cleared away, to the great relief of thousands of persons resident in this neighbourhood," and then he moralises as follows: "It is too much to expect everything vexatious to disappear at once; this is a good beginning, and, if there be truth in the old saying, we may expect a good ending." At the same sale were put up and knocked down the weighing-machine and toll-house at "Jenny's Whim," of which we shall have more to say when we come to Knightsbridge, and also the toll-house near the "Original Bun-house" at Chelsea, with the lampposts on the road.
Thanks to the iron roads out of London, which steam has opened of late years, Piccadilly is no longer the great "coaching" thoroughfare which it was in the days "when George III. was King;" but still, "in the season," it is always lively and well filled, and there is no street in London where the miscellaneous character of London conveyances and "carriage folk," from the outside passengers on a lordly "drag," down to the city clerks on the knifeboards of omnibuses, and even to the donkey-driving costermongers, may be seen in greater variety. All ranks are jostled together in Piccadilly, if anywhere in this great metropolis.