Salisbury House

Pages 120-123

Survey of London: Volume 18, St Martin-in-The-Fields II: the Strand. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1937.

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Prior to the Reformation another episcopal mansion, that of the Bishop of Carlisle, occupied the site west of Durham Place on the opposite side of Ivy Lane. Early in the fifteenth century the Bishop granted out the Strand and Ivy Lane frontages to the Prior of Carlisle, and shops and small houses were built there which became known as Carlisle Rents. In 1539 an exchange took place by which Carlisle Inn passed into the possession of John Russell, afterwards Earl of Bedford. (fn. n1) Francis, the 2nd Earl of Bedford, who died in 1585 at Russell Place (sometimes called Bedford House), left that house to his twin grand-daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, and his stables and ground on the north side of the Strand to his grandson, Edward Russell, (fn. 325) who became the 3rd Earl of Bedford, and who built the second Bedford House there "over against the olde." (fn. 301) The old house was renamed Worcester House, for it became vested in Anne Russell, who married Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert, afterwards 1st Marquess of Worcester. (fn. n2) In the reign of Henry VIII Thomas, Lord Dacre, built himself a house in Carlisle Rents and in 1527 his successor, William, 3rd Lord Dacre, obtained a lease thereof from the Bishop of Carlisle. (fn. 288)

Bishop of Carlisle

Elizabeth, granddaughter of the 3rd Lord Dacre, married Lord William Howard, who rebuilt this house and used it as his London residence. (fn. 327) In 1598 it was occupied by Sir Thomas Cecil, Lord Burghley, who afterwards leased it to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst (afterwards Earl of Dorset). In 1599 Sir Robert Cecil, afterwards Earl of Salisbury, bought the house (fn. n3) from Lord Herbert, together with the tenements on the north-west corner of Ivy Lane, (fn. 327) and proceeded to pull them down and erect a new house on the site. The ground proved too restricted for his plans, and he therefore purchased Durham Rents on the west side of the lane from William Fortescue, (fn. 328) (fn. n4) and all that part of Durham House garden which lay to the south of the Rents from the King, who had obtained a surrender thereof from Toby Matthew, Bishop of Durham. (fn. 329) (fn. n5) He also enclosed a strip of ground four feet in width along the Strand front of his new house, and closed up Ivy Lane, which was "verie narrow, foule, and solitarie," and built a new lane farther west, broader and "more commodious" than the old, with a footpath fenced off from the horse-way with "faire and stronge Timber Railes and Postes." For this he afterwards obtained sanction by Act of Parliament. (fn. n6) (fn. 330)

Simon Basil, Surveyor of the Works, superintended the building of Salisbury House, the main part of which was finished by the end of 1602, for in December of that year the Queen was "verry royally entertained" there and was "marvelous well contented" with her reception, though "at hir departure shee strayned hir foote." (fn. 332) Building operations, probably mostly in connection with Little Salisbury House, which occupied part of the ground bought by the Earl on the west of the original site of Ivy Lane, were going on until 1610. (fn. 333) Thomas (afterwards Sir Thomas) Wilson, who was in the Earl's employment and in residence at Salisbury House, complained that the labourers crept "about their business like snails." (fn. 201) There seems to have been some difficulty in getting building materials, and stone was brought from such diverse places as Berwick, Oxford and Canterbury. (fn. n7) Little Salisbury House was let to various tenants. William Cavendish, 3rd Earl of Devonshire, who married Elizabeth, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Salisbury, occupied it for a time and made a home there for his former tutor, the philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Aubrey relates in his Life of Hobbes that when, two or three days after his restoration, Charles II "was passing Salisbury House in his coach, he saw Mr. Hobbes, who was then living there with his patron. The King called Hobbes to come to him, offered him his hand to kiss and enquired after his health and welfare." (fn. n8) A view of the river front of Salisbury House by Hollar is given in Plate 2c.

In 1672 James, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, obtained permission by patent to build on his ground west of Great Salisbury House. (fn. 334) A copy of Sir Christopher Wren's plan of the ground dealt with in this patent is given here, the area to be newly built on being indicated by the thick line. Accordingly, in Strype's words, Little Salisbury House "was pulled down and made into a Street called Salisbury-street; which being too narrow, and, withal, the Descent to the Thames too uneasy, it was not so well inhabited as was expected. Another Part, viz., that next to Great Salisbury-house and over the long Gallery, was converted into an Exchange, and called the Middle Exchange, (fn. n9) which consisted of a very long and large Room, with Shops on both Sides, which, from the Strand, run as far as the Water side, where was a handsome Pair of Stairs to go down to the Water side to take Boat at; but it had the bad Luck to have the Nick-name given it of the Whores-nest; Whereby few or no People took Shops there, and those that did, were soon weary and left them: Insomuch that it lay useless, except three or four Shops towards the Strand."

Figure 34:

Plan copied from the letters patent granting permission for the formation of Salisbury Street

By 1690 most of the large houses along the south side of the Strand had disappeared, and James, 4th Earl of Salisbury, decided to pull down Great Salisbury House and put up shops and houses on the site. The enabling Act (fn. 335) did not, however, become law until after his death in 1694, when the guardians of his infant son carried out his intentions, and Cecil Street, "having very good houses fit for persons of repute," was built.

Salisbury Street was rebuilt in 1783, the architect being James Paine. (fn. n10) The general street façade was treated as a comprehensive architectural composition in brick. The middle blocks were carried up a storey above the general height of the houses and their fronts were slightly advanced, forming thereby a central feature. The houses at the southern end were also similarly carried up and their fronts treated in a more decorative manner (Plate 110a). A plan is here reproduced which indicates the general lay-out of the street.

Figure 35:

Plan showing the position of Salisbury Street circa 1870.

The whole of the Salisbury estate in the Strand was sold in 1888. Shell-Mex House now occupies the greater part of the site.


  • n1. The Bishop of Carlisle was compensated with the Bishop of Rochester's house in Lambeth, while the latter bishop obtained Russell's house in Chiswick.
  • n2. In 1616–17 the Earl of Bedford guaranteed that water should be supplied to Worcester House from the conduit in or near Bedford's ground called "Fryers Pyes" (see p. 12).
  • n3. Described in the deed as lying "betweene the highe Streete on the North and the Ryver of Thames on the Southe and the messuage … called Russell house … on the East and … Ivey lane on the weste."
  • n4. William Fortescue was the son of Nicholas Fortescue, groom porter, to whom Henry VIII originally granted this property (see p. 87). His son Nicholas, afterwards Sir Nicholas, was in 1618 made Chamberlain of the Exchequer. Fortescue had leased out his houses in Durham Rents and Salisbury bought them piecemeal as opportunity arose. In December, 1601, Fortescue wrote: "I understand you desire two other of my houses for enlarging your late building.… Your many favours to myself and my son bind me to give satisfaction to your demands, beseeching you, nevertheless, to consider that houses are not to be valued by their present rents." The final purchase was not concluded until 1606. In 1601 Sir Anthony Cope wrote to Sir Robert Cecil: "No man could have procured my removing from Cecil House (east of Burleigh House on the north side of the Strand) had it not been your desire. … I beseech you, therefore, that I may be bold to put you in mind whether you promised not in the parting from it that if Rutland House came into your hands I should not fail to have it of you ?" Rutland House was the most westerly house in Durham Rents, the Earl of Rutland being Fortescue's tenant there.
  • n5. The ground taken from Durham House garden was said to be about seven perches in width and sixteen perches in length. These measurements are not reconcilable with the facts as obtained from later plans unless a very big margin of error be allowed for. If a perch be taken as 5½ yards, then the ground would measure 115½ feet by 264 feet. In the plan of Salisbury's property in 1672 (p. 122) the width between the garden of Salisbury House and the second Ivy Lane is about 127 feet. The distance between the parish boundary (the site of old Ivy Lane) and Ivy Bridge Lane at the present day is about 150 feet. The whole distance between the Strand and the river in 1672 was only about 320 feet, and of that 108 feet was included in the purchase from Fortescue.
  • n6. It seems probable from the records of the transactions with Fortescue that the lane at its first removal had a bend part way down, being farther west at the lower end than at the top, but that it was straightened after Salisbury purchased the more westerly of Fortescue's tenements.
  • n7. On 14th August, 1601, Basil wrote to Cecil: "Commanded by your Honour to proceed with the front of your house, I have made Mr. Coape therewith acquainted, who likes very well of it, if so be that the new addition in the court were correspondent; the which, if your Honour's pleasure were to have performed, is impossible, the season of the summer being so far spent; but that side next the court may be coloured like unto bricks, and being done at such time as the plaster is green, it will retain his colour very well. Touching the front, I have conferred with the masons and bricklayers what more speedy course may be had. I likewise have caused our purveyor to provide at Oxford thirty tons of stone for tables, crest and piers; other some we will borrow here that is the Queen's. And for that we are to make the front with two fair returns of square windows, the one proportionable to the breadth of your gallery and the other answerable next my Lord Herbert's house, I am to entreat you not to assure yourself of the furnishing thereof by the beginning of October."
  • n8. John Pell, mathematician, records his meeting with Hobbes in the Strand, who "led me back to Salisbury House, where he brought me into his chamber and there showed me his construction of that Probleme, which he said he had solved, namely the Doubling of the Cube."
  • n9. The Strand end of the Middle Exchange was built before the rest, for it is mentioned in March, 1670–1, when Palmer, the bookseller, was "set in the pillory over against" it. The London Gazette for 24th-28th April, 1690, contains an advertisement concerning a collection of paintings which was "to be sold by Auction at the Middle Exchange, otherwise called Salisbury Change in the Strand." The Life of Colley Cibber, published in 1740, mentions "a famous Puppet-shew" which was formerly to be seen in Salisbury Change.
  • n10. James Paine gained a reputation for his designs for country mansions, Kenleston Hall, completed by the brothers Adam, being one of his most important works. He also designed Richmond, Chertsey and Walton bridges and old Kew Bridge (the latter has since been rebuilt).
  • 7. Cal. of L. and P. Henry VIII.
  • 93. Cal. of S.P.Dom.
  • 180. Hist. MSS. Comm., MSS. of Duke of Rutland.
  • 201. Hist. MSS. Comm., MSS. of Marquess of Salisbury.
  • 288. Hatfield MSS.
  • 301. Stow's Survey, 1618 edn.
  • 325. P.R.O., C. 142/211/183.
  • 326. P.R.O., C. 54/2346/32.
  • 327. P.R.O., C. 54/1713.
  • 328. P.R.O., C. 54/1746.
  • 329. P.R.O., C. 54/1763 and C. 54/1862.
  • 330. Private Act, 3 James I, c. I.
  • 331. P.R.O., D.L. 44/635.
  • 332. Manningham's Diary (Camden Soc).
  • 333. P.R.O., S.P. 14/57/49.
  • 334. P.R.O., C. 66/3153/4.
  • 335. Private Act, 2 William and Mary, Sess. II, c. 18.