Gordon Square and Tavistock Square

Pages 572-576

Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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"Lucus in urbe fuit mediâ, gratissimus umbrâ."—Virgil, Æn., i.

Gordon Square—The "Catholic and Apostolic Church"—A Scene in the Chapel of the "Irvingites"—Memoir of the Rev. Edward Irving—University Hall—Tavistock Square—Dickens' Amateur Theatricals at Tavistock House—Tavistock Place—The "Building in which the Earth was Weighed"—Great Coram Street—The Russell Literary and Scientific Institution—Thackeray and Dickens—Burton Street and Crescent—John Britton, the Topographer—Robert Owen, the Socialist—Major Cartwright, the Champion of Parliamentary Reform—Mr. Burton, the Builder—Judd Street—Sir Andrew Judde—Regent Square—Argyle Square—The New Jerusalem Church—Liverpool Street—The Cabinet Theatre.

Gordon Square was so called after Alexander, fourth Duke of Gordon, whose daughter, the Lady Georgiana Gordon, married, as his second wife, John, sixth Duke of Bedford, whose first wife was a daughter of the noble house of Torrington.

The south-west corner of Gordon Square is occupied by a very large and noble Gothic building, the Metropolitan Church or Cathedral of the "Catholic and Apostolic Church," as the followers of Edward Irving style themselves. It was built about the year 1850, from the designs of Mr. R. Brandon and Mr. Ritchie. The exterior is of Early-English design, and the Decorated interior has a triforium in the aisle-roof, after the manner of our early churches and cathedrals. The ceilings are highly enriched, and some of the windows are filled with stained glass; the northern doorway and porch and the southern wheel-window are very fine. A beautiful side chapel has been added on the south, styled a "Lady Chapel;" but the name is inappropriate, as devotion to the Virgin Mary forms no part of the Irvingite creed. Grouped around the church are some Gothic houses, with projections and gables, pointed-headed windows, and traceried balconies.

Previous to the building of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the "Irvingites" had their headquarters for some years in a chapel in Newman Street, which, as we have already stated, had previously served as Benjamin West's studio.

"The scene in this chapel," writes Mr. James Grant, in his "Travels in Town," "was one which might well have made angels weep. I myself have repeatedly, in the course of one morning's service, witnessed no fewer than from four to seven exhibitions, in the way of speaking with tongues [he means, of course, 'unknown tongues']. There was one young lady who … spoke three different times in this way in less than an hour; and sounds more wild or more unearthly than those she uttered it has never been my lot to hear." The writer, however, whilst regretting Mr. Irving's novel and strange views, defends him zealously from the charge so frequently brought against him in his life-time, of aiding in an imposture, certifying to his single-heartedness and honesty. He adds that the late Mr. Henry Drummond, of Albury, M.P. for Surrey, and a son of the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, were among those who frequented this chapel, and that Mr. Irving himself, as the "minister" of it, was styled its "angel."

Irving first propounded or exhibited the strange doctrine which became associated with his name in the parish of Row, and the town of Port Glasgow, in Scotland; but afterwards settled in London, preaching first in a chapel in Hatton Garden, and afterwards in the Scotch Church in Regent Square, which was built expressly for him. Here, we are informed, "the religious services were interrupted by the harangues of the inspired; women started up and in strange tones poured forth a jargon of words which none could understand, but which were assumed to be inspired by the same power that had imparted the gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost; even the lame were commanded to walk, and the dead to rise to life by those confident thaumaturgists, who were astonished at the non-compliance of their patients, and in whom, want of faith alone, they declared, had been the cause of the failure. And of all the deluded none exceeded Mr. Irving himself, whose morbid intellect it inspired with fresh activity, and to whose eloquence it furnished a new and exciting theme. The latter days, he declared, had come; the miraculous powers of the Church were restored; the millennium itself was at hand. But the Church of Scotland could no longer tolerate the unsoundness of his preaching and the extravagant displays of his congregation; and in 1830 he was deposed from his local cure, as minister of the Scots Church in Regent Square, by the presbytery of London, and finally, in the year 1833, from his standing as an ordained minister, by the presbytery of his native Annan. For these exclusions, however, Mr. Irving cared little, surrounded as he was by prophets and prophetesses, who were of higher account with him than presbyteries and general assemblies; and on his expulsion from Regent Square he betook himself to a building in Newman Street, which his people had fitted up as a place of worship, and where he organised his congregation into a separate and distinct Church. They were now placed under a fourfold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors, Mr. Irving himself being ordained as the 'angel' of the Church in Newman Street. In 1834 he died, at the age of forty-two, worn out by a life of intellectual excitement and by the feverish labours of his latter years in supporting and propagating the doctrines of his new system." (fn. 1)

Irving's oratorical powers, and the novelty of the doctrines promulgated by him, "drew" immense congregations, and he became the "observed of all observers." We are told that his figure, air, costume, and uncapped head attracted the gaze, if not the admiration, of the young and old. He was a tall, gaunt figure, with dress of unusual cut, with his hat generally in his hand; a head of black hair, starting in all directions like the projecting quills of the "fretful porcupine;" lank cheeks, and eyes apparently directed to the two sides of the street rather than to his pathway, which was usually in the middle of the road.

Mr. Grant, in his "Travels in Town," tells us that the Irvingite body, in spite of having diminished in numbers since the death of its founder, has seven churches in the metropolis besides its central place of worship, in allusion, doubtless, to the "Seven Churches" of the Book of Revelation.

On the west side of Gordon Square, and in the rear of University College, is University Hall. It was designed by Professor Donaldson in 1849, and was built for the purpose of instructing such young men as chose to reside there in theology and moral philosophy, subjects which are excluded from the college curriculum. The architecture is Elizabethan or Tudor, in red brick and stone, and the grouping of the windows is effectively managed.

Tavistock Square, which lies on the east side of Gordon Square, is named from the Duke of Bedford's second title, Marquis of Tavistock. Tavistock House, long the residence of James Perry, editor of the Morning Chronicle during its palmiest days, became in later times the abode of Charles Dickens, who took possession of it in October, 1851, having removed hither from Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone. Here he almost immediately set to work upon the first number of "Bleak House," which he had long been meditating. Here his children's private theatricals were commenced on Twelfth Night in 1854, being renewed annually till the actors ceased to be children any longer. They were often aided by Mr. Mark Lemon, Douglas Jerrold, and Mr. Planché, and among the audience were Sir Edwin Landseer, Clarkson Stanfield, and the other friends of "Boz" in his early days. But it was not only at Christmas that Dickens delighted in his private theatricals. In the summer of 1855, for instance, he threw open his little theatre to several gatherings of a larger and outer circle of friends, amongst whom were Lord Campbell, Peter Cunningham, Lord Lytton, William M. Thackeray, and Thomas Carlyle. He described himself on his play-bills as "Lessee and Manager, Mr. Crummles;" his poet was Wilkie Collins, "in an entirely new and original domestic melodrama;" and his scenepainter was Clarkson Stanfield. The performances included "The Lighthouse," by Mr. W. Collins; and it may be recorded here that the scene of the Eddystone Lighthouse in this little play, afterwards carefully framed, and hung up in the hall at Gad's Hill, near Rochester, Dickens' last home, fetched a thousand guineas at the sale of the great novelist's effects. It was at supper, after one of these performances, that Lord Campbell told the company that he would rather have written "Pickwick" than be Lord Chief Justice and a Peer of Parliament.

"The best of the performances," writes Mr. John Forster, "were 'Tom Thumb' and 'Fortunio,' in 1854 and 1855, Dickens himself now first joining in the revel, and Mark Lemon bringing into it his own clever children, and a very mountain of child-pleasing fun in himself. Dickens had become very intimate with him, and his merry, genial ways had given him unbounded popularity with the young ones, who had no such a favourite as 'Uncle' Mark. In Fielding's burlesque he was the giantess Glumdalea, and Dickens was the Ghost of Gaffer Thumb, the names by which they appeared respectively being the 'Infant Phenomenon' and the 'Modern Garrick.' But the youngest actors carried off the palm. There was a Lord Grizzle, at whose ballad of Miss Villikins, introduced by desire, Thackeray rolled off his chair in a burst of laughter that became absurdly contagious. Yet even this, with hardly less fun from the Noodles, Doodles, and King Arthurs, was not so good as the pretty, fantastic, comic grace of Dollalolla, Huncamunca, and Tom. The girls wore steadily the airs which are irresistible when put on by little children; and an actor, not out of his fourth year, who went through the comic songs and the tragic exploits without a wrong note or a victim unslain, represented the small helmeted hero." There is, it may be added, a most amusing paper in Macmillan's Magazine on these "Amateur Theatricals at Tavistock House," written by one who had been a member of the juvenile company. In the getting-up of these amusements Dickens was happy to secure the help of Mr. J. R. Planché in costume, and the "priceless help" of Clarkson Stanfield in his scenery.

Southward of the square is Tavistock Place, which has had among its residents some men of note in their day. At No. 9 lived John Pinkerton, the historian. "Here," says Mr. Peter Cunningham, "his depraved mode of life was the cause of continual quarrels with abandoned women." No. 34 was for some time the residence of Francis Douce, the antiquary, the author of a "Dissertation on the Dance of Death," and "Illustrations of Shakespeare and of Ancient Manners." John Galt afterwards resided in the same house. Here he wrote his autobiography and many other literary works, including a "Life of Byron." As editor of The Courier, he lived a stormy life, being involved in repeated controversies. No. 37 in this street, more recently the residence of Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt, is worthy of a note, as having been the residence of Francis Baily, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and also the spot where, in 1851, the weight of the world was ascertained by him as the result of mathematical computation. An account of it is to be found in John Timbs' "Year-Book of Facts" for 1851. With reference to this building, Sir John Herschel writes: "The house stands isolated in a garden, so as to be free from any material tremor from passing carriages. A small observatory was constructed in the upper part. The building in which the earth was weighed, and its bulk and figure calculated, the standard measure of the British nation perpetuated, and the pendulum experiments rescued from their chief source of inaccuracy, can never cease to be an object of interest to astronomers of future generations."

Parallel with Tavistock Place, on the south side, and extending from Woburn Place to Brunswick Square, is Great Coram Street, so named after Captain Coram, the founder of the Foundling Hospital. In this street is a building of some architectural pretensions, the centre having a handsome portico with four pillars. It is called the Russell Literary and Scientific Institution, and is somewhat similar in plan to the London Institution, though on a smaller and less ambitious scale. The house was erected on speculation for the purpose of holding assemblies and balls, and was purchased in the year 1808 from Mr. James Burton, the builder, by the managers of the institution. There is here an extensive and valuable library, consisting of the most useful works in ancient and modern literature; and the reading-room is well managed and attended.

In 1837, Thackeray, then newly married, took up his residence in this street, where he lived for two years, occupying himself with his literary contributions to Fraser, and an occasional illustration. It was while residing here that he one day called on Dickens, with an offer to illustrate "Pickwick"—an offer which was "declined with thanks," and possibly turned the course of his life into a different channel. Had his offer been accepted, he probably would have become an artist, and possibly an R.A.; but "Vanity Fair" would never have been written.

On the north side of Tavistock Place are Burton Street and Burton Crescent. In the former, at No. 15, lived Mrs. Davidson, who, as Miss Duncan, attained high repute on the stage by her performances in The Honeymoon and other dramas, but who lived to see her fame decline. Often would she walk to and from the theatre twice a day, to rehearsal and performance, in wet and cold weather, whilst her husband was either in bed or at a gaming-table.

In this street, as Mr. Grant tells us in his "Travels in Town," there was formerly one of the chapels of the sect founded by Emmanuel Swedenborg, called the New Jerusalem Church.

At Burton Cottage, Burton Street, lived John Britton, F.S.A., the topographer, antiquary, and man of letters, who has already been briefly mentioned in our account of Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell. (fn. 2) John Britton was a native of Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, where his father was a small farmer and kept a village shop. At an early age he came to London, and, as we have said, was apprenticed to a wine-merchant. At that time, and even on reaching manhood, his education was very imperfect; he, nevertheless, formed the acquaintance of various persons connected with the humbler walks of literature, and was induced to embark in a small way on authorship himself, by compiling some common street song-books, &c. Becoming acquainted with Mr. Wheble, the publisher of the Sporting Magazine, for which he had prepared some short notices, he obtained his introduction into the career which he so long and honourably pursued. Wheble, whilst residing at Salisbury, had issued the prospectus of a work to be called the "Beauties of Wiltshire," but was not able to carry it on; but now, finding that Britton was a native of that county, Wheble proposed to him to compile the work he had announced. Among Britton's acquaintances was a young man named Brayley, of about his own age, but somewhat better taught; they had assisted each other in their studies, and they now entered upon a sort of literary partnership. In due time the "Beauties of Wiltshire" was completed, and at the invitation of the publishers the joint authors immediately afterwards set to work on the "Beauties of Bedfordshire." Eventually the "Beauties" of all the other counties of England were published, in twenty-six volumes, but only the first nine were written by the original authors. In 1805, Mr. Britton produced the first part of a more elaborate work, the "Architectural Antiquities of England," which in the end formed five splendid volumes. From this time Mr. Britton's course was one of laborious and persevering authorship in the path which he made for many years in a special manner his own—that of architectural and topographical description. Of the many works of this character which he produced, the most important is the "Cathedral Antiquities of England." Mr. Britton died in 1857, at an advanced age.

No. 4, Crescent Place, which intersects Burton Street, was for some years the home of Robert Owen, the Socialist. Like Mr. Britton, Owen was of humble origin. He was for some time a successful cotton-spinner at Lanark, in Scotland, during which period he attended with benevolent care to the welfare of the persons employed and to the education of their children. He here introduced many improvements, since adopted in other schools, so as to make instruction at once attractive and useful; and founded, if not the first, one of the earliest of the infant schools. About this time he published his "New View of Society, or Essays on the Formation of Human Character," and subsequently a "Book of the New Moral World," in which he developed a theory of modified Communism. In 1823, this eccentric philanthropist went to North America, where he attempted, but unsuccessfully, to found a settlement. The latter years of his life, which were spent in England, were devoted to various objects, all more or less visionary, "the foretelling of the millennium on earth; the establishing of a system of morality, independent of religion; and a vindication of his claims to be able to hold conversations with the spirits of the dead, particularly with the late Duke of Kent." He died in 1858, at his birthplace in North Wales.

Burton Crescent is only noticed in the "Handbook of London" as containing "a statue of Major Cartwright, by Clarke, of Birmingham, which is a disgrace to art." This Major Cartwright was one of the earliest advocates and champions of Parliamentary reform. In "A Book for a Rainy Day" it is stated that he was born at Marnham, Nottinghamshire, in 1740. "In the year 1758 he entered the naval service, under the command of Lord Howe; was promoted to a lieutenancy in September, 1762, and continued on active service until the spring of 1771. Then retiring to recruit his health, he remained at Marnham till invited by his old Commander-in-chief, in the year 1775 or 1776; but not approving of the war with America, he declined accepting the proffered commission. About the same time he became major of the regiment of Nottinghamshire Militia, then for the first time raised in that county, in which he served seventeen years. When George III. arrived at the year of the Jubilee, a naval promotion of twenty lieutenants to the rank of commanders took place, and the name of J. C. standing the twentieth on the list, he was commissioned as a commander accordingly. In the year 1802 he published 'The Trident,' a work in quarto, having for its object to promote that elevation of character which can alone preserve the vital spirit of a navy, as well as to furnish an inexhaustible patronage of the arts." The major, who often distinguished himself at the Covent Garden hustings, lived to a ripe old age, and was much esteemed by all who knew him. He died at his residence in Burton Crescent in the year 1824.

Burton Street and Burton Crescent preserve the name of the builder, who may be regarded as the creator of all this district, James Burton, of whom Mr. Britton thus writes in his "Autobiography:"—"The career of Mr. Burton was like that of many other ardent and speculating persons. In his first undertaking of building Russell Square, Bedford Place, Upper Bedford Place, &c., he was eminently successful, and might have retired from the working world with a handsome fortune; but he was tempted to embark in further speculations by engaging to cover a large tract of ground belonging to the Skinners' Company: this proved a failure, and he sustained serious losses. During this time he became connected with John Nash, the sycophant architect and companion of the Prince Regent and after King. That architect, like Mr. Burton, was an active, speculating man; and among other plans for the improvement of London, his designs for Regent Street, the Regent's Park, St. James's Park, and Buckingham Palace, were accepted and acted upon. Mr. Burton was intimately connected with Nash in carrying into effect much of the New Road, and also the Regent's Park, in the latter of which he built a handsome villa for himself, where he resided some years. At a previous time he had embarked in gunpowder works in Kent, and built a country seat near Tunbridge. Soon afterwards he ventured on the perilous task of building and forming the new town of St. Leonard's; to convey occupants to which he established coaches to run between that place and the metropolis. These were hazardous and losing schemes, and the very worthy but daring builder was, consequently, involved in ruin. Amongst a large family, his son, Decimus Burton, has been eminently successful as an architect, and has designed many handsome buildings in London.

To the east of Burton Crescent, and connecting Brunswick Square with the Euston Road, is Judd Street. Sir Andrew Judd, or Judde, after whom the street was named, was a native of Tunbridge in Kent, and was Lord Mayor of London in 1551. He bequeathed a large part of his wealth towards founding and endowing a public school in his native town. Among the lands so bequeathed were certain "sand-hills on the back side of Holborn," then let for grazing purposes at a few pounds a year, but now covered with houses, and bringing in an income of several thousands a year. Sir Andrew Judde lies buried in St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, and his school now flourishes among the best grammar schools in the kingdom.

On the east side of Hunter Street, behind the Foundling Hospital, is Regent Square, which is chiefly noticeable for containing the Scotch Presbyterian Church, where, as we have already stated, the Rev. Edward Irving and his peculiar doctrines and "tongues" attracted large and fashionable congregations in the early part of this century. The church, which stands at the corner of Compton Street, is Gothic in style, and was built in 1824–25, by Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Tite, the architect, who adopted as his model the principal front of York Minster; the twin towers are 120 feet in height. On the east side of the square is St. Peter's, commonly called Regent Square Church. Here, too, is a charitable institution, wholly dependent upon voluntary contributions; it is called the Home of Hope, and has been established "for the reception of such young women, before they become mothers, as are unfitted, from their previous good character and position, for the general wards of a workhouse."

Passing in the direction of King's Cross, by a few streets of little or no importance, we arrive in Argyle Square, which, with its trees and greensward, has quite a refreshing appearance after escaping from some of the narrow streets which surround it. Here is the New Jerusalem Church, which was opened in 1844 for the followers of Swedenborg, whom we have mentioned above. The church is in the Anglo-Norman style of architecture, and was built from the designs of Mr. Hopkins; it has two towers and spires, each terminating with a bronze cross; the intervening gable has a stone cross, and a wheel-window over a deeply-recessed doorway. The interior of the church has a vaulted roof; the altar arrangements are somewhat peculiar, and there is an organ and choir.

Liverpool Street, Sidmouth Street, and a few others in the neighbourhood, were named after the Ministers in office at the date of their erection. In Liverpool Street, a little to the eastward of Argyle Square, is a small building which has been occasionally used for amateur theatrical performances. It was originally an auction-room, but has since been turned into the King's Cross, or, as it is sometimes called, "Cabinet Theatre."

Having now arrived at King's Cross, which has been already fully described in these pages, (fn. 3) we shall in the succeeding chapters travel over the outlying portions of London, on the south-west and west frontier of the great metropolis, commencing our journey anew at Hyde Park Corner.


  • 1. "Comprehensive History of England," vol. iv., p. 769.
  • 2. See Vol. II., p. 323.
  • 3. See Vol. III., p. 539.