Old County Hall (including site of Berkeley House)

Pages 66-68

Survey of London: Volume 20, St Martin-in-The-Fields, Pt III: Trafalgar Square and Neighbourhood. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1940.

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(i) Old County Hall

The offices erected by the Metropolitan Board of Works in Spring Gardens in 1860 and taken over by the London County Council in 1889 stand on the site of the triangular piece of the Wilderness in St. James's Park containing 1 rod 33 perches which in 1701 was granted (fn. 103) to George London for 50 years (see p. 70). London, master gardener of the Royal Gardens, and part author of "The Compleat Gardener," died in 1714, and his executors sold his interest in this ground and the house then erected on it to Samuel Llynn of Chiswick for £1,305. (fn. 104) In 1726 the following notice appeared in the Daily Courant: "To be sold to the best Bidder, on or before the 24th day of June next, Mr. Lynn's House in Spring Garden, lately rebuilt, adjoining to the Wilderness and St. James's Park. Together with the Garden, Yard, Stables, Offices, Outhouses and Conveniences." The property was bought by William Chetwynd in trust for James, 3rd Earl of Berkeley, the admiral, of whom a short account is given in the Dictionary of National Biography. He died in France in August, 1736, and his body lay in state at Berkeley House for two days in October on its way to Berkeley, Gloucester. Extensions of the crown lease were obtained by the 4th, 5th and 6th Earls of Berkeley who continued to use the house as a town residence until its purchase by the Board in 1858, although earlier efforts had been made to appropriate it for a government office. A water-colour drawing by T. H. Shepherd of Berkeley House just prior to its demolition in 1859 is reproduced here (see also Plate 49a).

Berkeley, Earl of Berkeley

One of the conditions of the Crown Lease to the Board was that a strip of ground on the east side of the premises should be used to widen the passage to the park, and that a portion at the southern end should be added to the Mall. (fn. 105) A slight alteration of the original southern boundary was made in 1911 in connection with the alterations to the Mall. (fn. 105) The Earls of Berkeley had obtained a right of way through what had formerly been Lord Rochester's stable yard (see p. 71) and Red Lion Inn Yard to Cockspur Street. This right of way was inserted in the lease to the Board and continued to be in use until a few years ago but has now been blocked up

Architectural Description. Old County Hall, which was erected from plans prepared by Mr. Frederick Marrable, Superintending Architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works, is on a corner site and has a symmetrical elevation faced with cement. The front is divided into equal bays each side of the wide, splayed corner which contains the main entrance. The ground storey is treated as a podium with rusticated courses. The first floor has details of the Ionic order, with the Composite order to the storey above, and the respective entablatures continuous. The surface of the top storey is divided by decorative pilasters and surmounted by a balustraded parapet. The whole effect is rather dwarfed by the monumental scale of the adjoining terraces of Nash.

The plan is well balanced, a satisfactory feature being the elliptical staircase leading out of the entrance hall and giving access to the principal floor. The original board-room shown on the plan on Plate 52a, was demolished and the Council chamber erected to afford the increased accommodation required by the creation of the new administrative body in 1889 (Plate 50b).

(ii) Nos. 10, 12 and 14, Spring Gardens

Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, Lord Treasurer of England temp. Charles II and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland temp. William III, had lodgings over the King's Gate at Whitehall and near the Cockpit. (fn. 106) At some date prior to 1699 he took possession of a strip of ground on the northern verge of St. James's Park (see plan on p. 71) for stabling and coach houses, obtaining a formal grant thereof in 1701. (fn. 103) Rochester died in 1711 and two years later his son sold the lease of this property to Gerrard Smith. A sublease of part of this ground near Spring Gardens had been granted to the Ministers of the French Church in the Savoy and a chapel was erected thereon in 1709, which was, however, burnt down in 1716. (fn. 107) It was rebuilt and the Huguenots continued to use it until October, 1753, when the Ministers were ejected by Gerrard Smith. They appealed to the Treasury for redress (fn. 108) but although they obtained a reversionary lease of the chapel building in 1757, it was never again used for its original purpose. Instead a sub-lease (fn. 109) was granted to David Cock, in whose hands the building was metamorphosed into the Great Room or Great Exhibition Room of Spring Gardens, the vaults underneath being let for wine cellars. For the next 50 years the Great Room was a fashionable rendez-vous being used for concerts and for exhibitions of all kinds. The Incorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain held their annual exhibition there from 1761 to 1772. This was visited in 1767 by the royal family and, perhaps on this account, a catalogue was issued with pungent comments on the pictures. On 5th June, 1764, the King's birthday, the child Mozart gave a public concert there.

In 1772 James Cox, a "Mechanician, Silversmith and Watchmaker," having failed to sell a collection of elaborate and expensive toys and contrivances in India and the East decided to show them to the public, at the same time applying to parliament for authority to dispose of them by a lottery. The collection was exhibited in the Great Room from 1772 until 1775, in which year the lottery was drawn at the Guildhall. A catalogue of "Cox's Museum," admission to which was by ticket, price a "quarter guinea" each, was issued in 1772. It describes the Room as "… fitted up in an elegant manner: on the cieling of the dome are fine paintings in chiaro obscuro, by a celebrated artist, as are the sides of the dome by the same. … In the center of the Room, and at each end, are five magnificent crystal lustres, finely cut; four lesser lustres are also suspended from the mouths of the dragons at the corners of the dome: other chandeliers and girandoles of crystal are also placed, wherever light is necessary to be transmitted; curtains of crimson are let down by machines to cover the pieces, which are also enclosed within a balustrade of white and gold: the doors also are white and gold, finely ornamented. A carpet covers the whole room, also the stairs; and by a very curious contrivance, warm air is introduced into the room at pleasure."

A later exhibition, advertised in 1783, consisted of an artificial flower garden "capable of admitting near a Hundred Persons to walk in it at one Time."

In 1780 the lease of the Great Room was bought by Charles Wigley, (fn. 110) hard-ware man, by whom the room was largely used for auctions. A view of it is given on Plate 49b. According to the plans the room was approximately 52 feet wide by 62 feet long, the northern side being built on a strip of freehold ground originally belonging to Thomas Pearce (see Volume XVI of the Survey.) In 1825 the Crown bought in the lease of the Great Room and the freehold of this strip of ground and two years later leased the whole to Decimus Burton, then a young architect who had made a reputation for himself by designing the Colosseum in Regent's Park and the improvements in Hyde Park.

Figure 20:

Nos. 10 and 12, Spring Gardens

Burton erected the present Nos. 10, 12 and 14, Spring Gardens on the site and for many years occupied the greater part thereof as a town house and office, though in later years he spent most of his time at St. Leonards-on-Sea.

In 1876–79 the Metropolitan Board of Works obtained sub-leases of these houses. (fn. 105) Communicating passages have been opened between them and the main offices and some other internal alterations have been made, but the buildings have not been substantially altered, a fact which accounts for the somewhat peculiar internal planning of these offices. For many years before the migration to New County Hall the old kitchens served as record and store rooms.

Architectural Description. These premises comprise a symmetrical front, four storeys in height faced with stucco, with the ground storey treated to represent stone jointings (Plate 48). The most important room was on the first floor at the back, and was known as the Grecian room on account of its decorative plaster frieze. The mantelpiece and overmantel are executed in Sienna marble. A range of dwarf cupboards round the room have mahogany fronts with Greek details and a Sienna marble top.


  • 103. P.R.O., L.R. 1/64.
  • 104. Middx. Reg. 1713, VI, 183.
  • 105. Deeds in the possession of the London County Council.
  • 106. Survey of London, XIV.
  • 107. Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum, IV.
  • 108. P.R.O., T 29/32.
  • 109. Middx. Reg. 1757, III, 42.
  • 110. Ibid., 1780, IV, 192.