Rivercourt House and the site of the Queen Dowager's House

Pages 74-80

Survey of London: Volume 6, Hammersmith. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1915.

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In this section


Ground landlords, leaseholders, etc.

The property is freehold, belonging to Messrs. Chamberlen.

The present tenant of Rivercourt House is Gerald Spencer Pryse, Esq.

General description and date of structure.

The grounds of Rivercourt House extended at one time from their present western boundary across Rivercourt Road and as far east as Kelmscott House. The house itself is the successor of an earlier building which probably dated back to the 17th century. On the same estate and on the site of Rivercourt Road was also another early house, that known as "the Queen Dowager's," of which very little information has come down to us.

In 1804 we find Ferdinand Anderdon in occupation of the western house, and from a memorandum of lease which he was negotiating from the copyholder, Uriah Hozier, in that year, he was to be allowed to make "such beneficial alterations as he shall think fit," and also to take down and rebuild the coach-house and stables which stood on the east side. In the following year the lease was effected, and in 1806 Anderdon also acquired a lease of the eastern (fn. 1) part of the property, the buildings on which are described as "in a ruinous condition." We may suppose that he then pulled down (fn. 2) the "Queen Dowager's House" and the adjoining cottage, which can be seen on the Boydell engraving of Hammersmith from the river (Plate 3), and threw their site into his gardens.

Whether Anderdon carried out any alterations to his house we cannot say, but it is evident that he soon made up his mind to rebuild, and in 1808 he bought the copyhold of the estate. The character of the present house supports the conjecture that it was built at this time, while certain earlier features which it contains suggest that they were perhaps utilized from the former house. The structure seems to have been entirely new, and its position, so much in advance of the frontage line of the other houses in the Mall, was probably due to a desire to gain a better view of the river. (fn. 3) The building is quite picturesque with its projecting wing and pleasantly treated stone balustrade above the parapet of its south front. The entrance and garden doorways are quite possibly of 18th-century date, the former having columns and pediment and being approached by a flight of steps. In the interior the chief feature of interest is a staircase, curved on plan, the handrail of which rises in one continuous sweep. The hand-rail, balusters and the stepped string with its carved brackets are of late 18th-century character, and would seem to be earlier than the house itself. The remainder of the internal decoration conforms to that in vogue at the beginning of the 19th century.

Turning to the other buildings which once stood upon the gardens of Rivercourt House, we can quickly exhaust the little evidence we have as to their appearance. The "Queen Dowager's House," so named from its occupation by Catherine of Braganza, is almost entirely obscured by the trees in Boydell's engraving, and the only illustration at present known is the drawing reproduced on Plate 73 from the extra-illustrated copy of Lysons' Environs of London at the Guildhall Library. The angle chimneystacks suggest a 17th-century house, to which the Georgian work is merely a later casing. It seems at first sight a little strange that this unpretentious building should have been "thought Magnificent enough to entertain Queen Katherine," as Bowack puts it, (fn. 4) but it is evident from the accounts of the Queen's expenditure here (which are preserved in the Record Office, and to which we refer below) that she was very much attracted by the place and spared no pains or expense to increase its beauty. She provided for a part of her household by leasing also the adjoining property, and her establishment must have resembled a miniature colony. Besides considerable alterations to the house, and the probable refashioning of the river wall, at the stairs of which she regularly alighted from her barge, the gardens received a large amount of attention. The four acres were carefully laid out and walls and buildings erected. A "bay-tree house" and a "green-house" are both constantly mentioned, and the former is no doubt the same as the beautiful orangery (often termed a Banqueting House) which remained until quite a recent date. (fn. 5) A fine illustration of this building is preserved in the Coates Collection of London drawings (Plate 74), where it is quaintly styled "an ancient mansion on the Upper Mall; Pavilion of Queen Katherine." According to a note in the supplement to Lysons' Environs of London (1811) the house had been taken down, "except the banqueting-house which has been converted into a grapery in the gardens of the present owner."

Historical and biographical notes.

Through the courtesy of the owners we have had access to the deeds of the property, which comprises about 5½ acres, and with the help of the Court Rolls of the Manor it is possible to follow with tolerable clearness the changes in ownership from about the year 1631. It was then in the possession of Thomas Hooker and was wholly or in part held by copyhold tenure of the Manor of Fulham, as appears from certain deeds (fn. 6) dated 15th April to 18th May. 1631, wherein John Hopkins, Benjamin Ager and Mary his wife renounce all claim to a cottage, an orchard, garden, and 10 acres of arable land in Fulham in favour of Thomas Hooker, who is put in seizin. These 10 acres were apparently not contiguous property, but they probably represented land between the highway and the Thames west of Hampshire Hog Lane, and the purchase by Hooker was for the purpose of further developing them as building land. The embankment wall of the Mall is not likely to have been erected before this date, while the land was still partly under the plough. It is improbable that there was even a pathway by the river, since not only is the towing-path on the opposite bank, but it is known that a public way existed formerly parallel with the river and midway between it and the highway. This path, which extended from Beavor Lane to the creek, was closed in the middle of the 17th century by Edward Trussell, (fn. 7) the owner of Seagreens, by a gift of £10 to the poor of the parish. It seems reasonable to conclude that this act would coincide with the opening of the new road by the river-side, but the subject is at present obscure (see pp. 80, 89).

In his will, (fn. 8) dated 4th May, 1632, Thomas Hooker, who directs that he shall be buried in the chapel of Hammersmith "near his pew as can be," leaves to his wife, Mary, his copyhold lands, 10 acres, in the common field of Hammersmith. In 1636 Joseph Hooker, the son and heir of Thomas, sells four acres of the property to Henry Box, the boundaries of which are thus described: (fn. 9) Situated between the highway there on the north, land of Witham, gent., on the east, land of the aforesaid Joseph, of which part is in the occupation of Henry Box on the west, and the river Thames on the south. The strip of land, lying west of the 4 acres, appears to have been freehold, and was sold by James Hooker and others to Henry Box in 1650. It is described (fn. 10) at length as follows: "All that tenement and piece or parcel of land with appurtenances containing one acre, as the same is now divided and used, lying in Hammersmith, between a copyhold tenement there of the said Henry Box and in his the said Henry's tenure on the east, and a copyhold tenement of the said Thomas Hooker in the occupation of Ralph Gregg gent. on the west, one head thereof abutting on the highway leading from the city of London to Brainford Middlesex of the North, and one other head thereof abutting upon the river of Thames on the South, Part thereof now in the occupation of the said Henry Box, and the other part thereof in the occupation of the said Ralph Gregg or their assigns, And which said Tenement and one acre do contain from East to West that is to say from the brick wall adjoining to the said copyhold tenement in the occupation of the said Ralph Gregg and dividing the same from the said bargained premises at that end thereof next the said River of Thames unto the said copyhold tenement in the occupation of the said Henry Box 65 feet and so containing the same breadth and proportion all along in a straight lane from the said highway to the said River of Thames as the same for a great or the most part thereof is now divided and set out." The description is quoted here in full as it makes it quite clear that the acre (or nearly 1½ acres, if we take the measurements) of freehold land was west of Box's copyhold property. This latter is referred to in all subsequent references in the Court Rolls (fn. 11) as containing 4 acres, but, as we shall see later, it is probable that the free land was really a strip cut off from these 4 acres, which had been enfranchised, possibly with the intention of making a road from the highway to the river. That it should still, though diminished in area, retain the same description and acreage will cause no surprise to students of the entries made under copyhold tenure.

We will now turn for a moment to the piece of land west of the freehold strip, referred to as in the occupation of Ralph Gregg. In 1650 there is a recovery, surrender and release by Thomas Hooker to Henry Box of a messuage and 1½ acres, and in 1654 the admission of Box on the surrender of John Hooker of a "messuage and two acres of land now in the occupation of Ralph Grigge." On 29th April, 1658, we find from an extract of the Court Rolls of that date that Henry Box is in possession of the two properties—(1) the so-called 4 acres (with Witham on the east and "other lands" of Henry Box on the west) and (2) 1½ acres "late in the occupation of Ralph Grigge." That these two plots were separated by the "other" or freehold land in the same ownership is placed beyond dispute by the following quotation from the Court Rolls under date 12th January, 1686–7: (fn. 12) "It is found by the homage that Henry Box and Mary his wife, customary tenants of the manor, held by copy of Court Roll 29 April 1658 a customary messuage situate in Hammersmith with garden and close of meadow-land or pasture lying on the north of the aforesaid messuage containing four [sic] acres situate between the Highway there on the North, the land formerly Thomas Witham's east, other land of Henry Box west and the River Thames south with stables workshops &c. then in the occupation of Henry Box, And all that other messuage and tenement (customary) with garden and orchard and 1½ acres pasture in Hammersmith late in the tenure of Ralph Gregge gent. abutting on the free lands of Henry Box east, on the land of Anne Billingsley widow west, on the King's Highway north and the Thames south." The house belonging to Anne Billingsley can be definitely identified with Hyde Lodge (q.v.), and this confirms the identification of Grigge or Gregg's house as the western part of the Rivercourt estate. This leaves 4 acres to be divided between the freehold land and the remaining copyhold tenement, which supports the view taken above.


The entry of 1686–7 records the death of Henry Box (fn. 13) and the admission of his son Ralph. Ralph Box is chiefly known from his having taken, in 1682, a prominent part in one of the stormiest elections to the shrievalty in the history of London. In the event Box himself was elected sheriff, but, refusing to accept the office against the wish of the citizens, managed to obtain his discharge but a few weeks after by the payment of a fine. (fn. 14) In 1689 he was master of the Grocers' Company, and as such had the honour of conferring the freedom of the company on William III. In return Box received the honour of knighthood. (fn. 15) His will, dated 13th March, 1693, is interesting, since it refers to the fact that his copyhold property would by custom revert to his youngest son, Ralph. He therefore directs that Ralph shall surrender his Hammersmith estate on his (the father's) death in favour of his elder brother Henry, Ralph receiving property in London in compensation. About the same time he vests the freehold land in trustees (fn. 16) (William Fawkner, Richard Buckby and Thomas Pitt), presumably also for the use of his son Henry. The deed refers back to the date of purchase (8th August, 1650) and makes the identification of the land quite clear.


The death of Sir Ralph Box occurred on 23rd March, 1693–4, in his 67th year, and Bowack (fn. 17) mentions his tomb in the floor of the chancel of Hammersmith Chapel. His son Ralph duly surrendered the copyhold lands, and the latter's brother Henry was admitted. (fn. 18) From this time, however, no entries relating to the property can be found in the records of the manor until 1748, when Sir Charles Peyton and his wife Ruth, only surviving daughter of Henry Box, came before the Court to establish their claim to the property held of the manor. It seems probable that at this time the fact that a portion of the land was freehold was lost sight of, the more so that it was still referred to as one portion of 4 acres and another of 1½ acres, which in fact it was if taken as a whole, the two parts being still probably divided by the brick wall mentioned in the deed of 1650. However this may be, the property was treated henceforth as two parcels of contiguous copyhold land, until it was enfranchised in 1872. It is difficult to account otherwise for the complete disappearance of the freehold strip bought in 1650, unless it had for some reason been resumed by the lord of the manor. On 9th December, 1761, Sir Charles Peyton surrenders to William Faulkner (Junior) the two parts of the estate "and all other hereditaments held of the said manor formerly of Henry Box and Eliza his wife." In 1767 William Faulkner sells the copyhold to Thomas Hozier, the two houses being described in the surrender and the agreement for sale as in the occupation of James Allen and Thomas Hozier.

In a memorandum of agreement made 11th October, 1804, Uriah Hozier, the youngest nephew and heir of Thomas Hozier, agrees to lease to Ferdinando Anderdon "all that brick messuage or tenement with the coach-house, stable, garden land and appurtenances thereto belonging and situate on the Upper Mall Hammersmith lately in the occupation of Mr. Searles and now of the said Ferdinando Anderdon . . . with liberty to make such beneficial alterations as he shall think fit and also to take down the coach-house and stable building adjoining on the east side thereof and to rebuild in a more convenient spot." The actual lease, dated 1805, describes this property as "containing 2 acres of land more or less, heretofore in the tenure of Richard Walmsley, afterwards of—Searle and now of the said Ferdinando Anderdon."

It seems evident that this refers to the western and smaller portion of the estate. The house stood apparently just behind the present building of Rivercourt, and the Boydell print (1752) which we reproduce (Plate 3) shows a glimpse of the house and the low line of the stables, projecting inconveniently forward towards the river. The rate-books of 1795 and 1796 corroborate by giving the name of Richard Walmsley in the house adjoining Hyde Lodge on the east, after which date it is marked empty.


On 29th January, 1806, Uriah Hozier lets to Ferdinando Anderdon the balance of the property (or the greater part of it), containing "by estimation 3 acres." It is described as "all that customary tenement and the small messuage adjoining with the garden or close of land lying behind the said messuages . . which messuages and close of land are next to and abut east upon that messuage and land thereto belonging and now in the occupation of Ferdinando Anderdon." If the words "abut east upon" be read "lie east of"—and it is difficult to construe the matter otherwise—the description of the property will be clear, and the "small messuage adjoining" would stand on what was formerly the strip of freehold. Indeed it may be that the mention of a tenement in the deed of 1650 actually refers to this cottage, which can easily be seen in the Boydell engraving. The lease of 1806 further describes the houses as "late in the occupations of Francis Plowden and Mr. Sandys, but have been for some time past untenanted and in a ruinous condition," and this again is borne out by the rate-books, which put "Sandes" in between the empty house of Mr. Walmsley (Rivercourt) and that of the widow of Mr. Jones, the schoolmaster, who occupied the house of the Queen Dowager (see below).

In 1808 Uriah Hozier surrendered the copyhold of the whole 5½ acres to Edmund Anderdon, and in 1872 Alexander Anderdon Weston enfranchised the property. In 1873 it was sold by Mr. Weston to Messrs. Chamberlen, and was described as having a frontage of 256 feet from Hyde Lodge on the west to The Retreat (now Kelmscott House) on the east.

Catherine of Braganza

The eastern house (forming, with the land attached, the part of the property referred to as of 4 acres) is traditionally associated with Catherine of Braganza, the slighted consort of Charles II. Bowack, writing in 1705–6, just about the time of the Queen's death, says: (fn. 19) "Amongst this Row of stately Houses [i.e. by the water-side] one was thought Magnificent enough to entertain Queen Katherine, now Queen Dowager, where she kept her Palace in Summertime," and he adds later: "In the House where Queen Dowager before Mention'd Liv'd, now Dwells Mr. Henry Nash, Gent." It is not possible from this evidence to identify the actual house, as no trace has otherwise been found of Mr. Nash. Lysons, however, in the first edition of his Environs of London (II, p. 406), states that the house was at that time (1795) an academy in the occupation of Mr. Jones, and the rate-books for 1795 and 1796 show that Mr. Jones's residence was between that of Col. Winwood, who lived at The Retreat (Kelmscott House), and that of Mr. Walmsley, which corresponded exactly with the western house of the Rivercourt estate. Moreover, a lease, (fn. 20) dated 22nd March, 1754, concerning "all that capital messuage, tenement or dwelling-house situate at Hammersmith . . . commonly called the Queen's House," and stated to be in the ownership of Sir Charles Peyton (who, as we have noted, was the son-in-law of Henry Box), is conclusive as to the Queen's residence having formed part of the Box property. Even without further evidence, therefore, it is impossible to accept the view of her biographer, Mr. L. C. Davidson, (fn. 21) that her visits to Hammersmith were confined to the convent which she had established in the Broadway, and who even ascribes to the convent the description of the Queen's garden at Hammersmith, given by a contemporary in 1691 (see below).

Further evidence, however, is not wanting, and is to be found in the bundles of Auditor's Memoranda contained in the Land Revenue documents kept at the Public Record Office, which preserve an immense number of details connected with the Queen Dowager's establishment at Hammersmith. (fn. 22)

The earliest reference to the house is contained in a note dated 6th September, 1686, in which Catherine instructs her treasurer "to pay unto Ralph Box for a Fine for his house near Hammersmith hired for our service the sum of £125" (Bundle 81). The rent paid was £60 a year. Certain adjacent property also was rented, for we find receipts for rent due (a) from Joan Hollick, "for a small piece of ground adjoyninge unto her Majestie House at Ham'smith" at £1 a year, and (b) from Richard Venner at £24 a year (Bundle 72), the latter being in respect of two houses—evidently the property now comprising Nos. 22, 24 and 26 Upper Mall (q.v.).

Catherine took possession at once, for allowance was subsequently claimed by "Harman Van Gaunt," the gardener, for a quarter's wages from Michaelmas to Christmas, 1686, and by Rose Petter for the same plus board-wages (Bundle 71). Before the house was ready for the Queen, however, a large number of works of alteration and repair had to be carried out, full details of which are given. Such were "takeing downe the chimneys and carrying them up againe att the Old House"; "levelling the ground where the stable was"; "carrying upp the nine-inch wall in the Old House next the Thames"; "pantyling the Dayry"; "makeing of a Drayne and putting in of 3 windows wch was altered 3 times"; "a carved Pedestal for ye Table to stand on in the Greene house"; "101 feet of coping next the Thames." On 5th April, 1687, John Povey, whose name frequently occurs in connection with the Queen's business, wrote to Sir Robert Southwell: "Spring Gardens is for this day removed to Hammersmith, where the Queen Dowager regales herself for the first time." (fn. 23)

The Queen's residence was intermittent, a considerable portion of her time being spent at Somerset House. Moreover, in March, 1691, she took over Euston Hall for a year, at a rent of £400 (Bundle 81). In 1692 she left England, never to return, but her establishment at Hammersmith continued to be maintained until after her death in 1705. The last receipt for the rent that can be certainly dated is in respect of the half year ending Michaelmas, 1706 (Bundle 69), but as Richard Hussey, "her said late Maties Porter at Hammersmith," successfully claimed a quarter's wages due at Midsummer, 1707, it would seem that the house was not vacated before that date.

Among the buildings mentioned in the Auditor's Memoranda as portions of the property at Hammersmith are: The Old House, the Great House, the Chapel, the Friary, the Dairy, the Banqueting House, and the Billiard Table Room. The gardens also are constantly referred to, and the greenhouse, containing, inter alia, "one marble cisterne, wrought in Italie." The bird-cage (for which 758 feet of wire-work was provided), and the Boy with the Dial are also mentioned, and the Queen kept sufficient pheasants to justify the employment of a "keeper of pheasants" (Bundle 71). The MS. of 1691 above referred to (fn. 24) thus describes the grounds: "The Queen Dowager's garden at Hammersmith has a good greenhouse, with a high erected front to the south, where the roof falls backwards. The house is well stored with greens of common kinds; but the Queen not being for curious plants or flowers they want of the mo. curious sorts of greens, and in the garden there is little of value but wall-trees; though the gardener there, M. Hermon Van Guine, is a man of great skill and industry, having raised great numbers of orange and lemon trees, by inoculation with myrtles, Roman bayes and other greens of pretty shapes, (fn. 25) which he has to dispose of."

Our information as regards other residents in the Queen Dowager's House is incomplete. Bowack's statement that in 1705 the premises were in the occupation of Henry Nash is difficult to reconcile with the known fact that the house continued to be utilised for the purposes of the Queen Dowager's establishment until some time after her death.

As regards previous residents in the house we can refer to the Hearth Tax Rolls for 1666 (fn. 26) and 1674, (fn. 27) where, between Gregg's house and Hyde Lodge, we find a large house, assessed at eighteen and nineteen hearths respectively, which may almost certainly be identified with the house afterwards occupied by Queen Catherine. In the former year the tenant was "Sir Thos. Bomfre," who had succeeded "Lady Whitmoor," (fn. 28) and in 1674 Sir John Pye was in occupation. The latter's residence there probably dates back at least to 1670, for Faulkner (fn. 29) mentions that the parish registers contain an entry of the baptism on 4th December in that year of Peter Pye, son of Sir John and Lady Rebeccah.

In 1753, Sir Charles Peyton leased the house for twenty-one years to the well-known author and traveller Edward Wortley Montagu. There is no proof that Montagu ever resided there, and in the following year he disposed of his lease to William Belchier, of Lombard Street. In the conveyance (fn. 30) the building is referred to as "commonly called the Queen's House or Great House," and his Excellency the Duke de Mirepoix is mentioned as a former tenant. The property is carefully described, including "the Greenhouse," "the building called the Large Kitchen," and the coach road leading to the "London to Brentford road," so that apparently carriages did not need to come along the Mall. (fn. 31) This seems to dispose of the suggestion that the bastions opposite Kelmscott House were formed to allow the Queen's coaches to turn in the roadway bordering the river, though certain references in the accounts suggest that she rebuilt "the wharf" or landing-stage for her barge which probably included the river wall. It remains only to mention the tradition that the fine elm-trees here were planted at the instance of the Queen.

Condition of repair.

Rivercourt House is in excellent preservation.

Old prints, drawings, etc.

(fn. 32) The Queen Dowager's House. Tinted drawing in Lysons' Environs (Guildhall copy).

(fn. 32) The Orangery, Queen Dowager's House. Water-colour drawing in the Coates Collection.

In the Council's ms. collection are:

(fn. 32) South front towards the river (photograph).

(fn. 32) Entrance doorway (photograph).

Another view of the same (photograph).

Detail of porch (photograph).

Garden doorway (photograph).

The staircase and detail of same (photographs).

(fn. 32) Balusters and carved brackets to stair (photographs).

Fireplace in the west room, ground floor (photograph).

Columns, etc., on first-floor landing (two photographs).

Internal columns and entablature (photograph).

The upper landing (two photographs).

Archway in studio (photograph).


  • 1. See Historical Notes below regarding an apparent discrepancy in the description of the property in the lease.
  • 2. Faulkner says (History and Antiquities of . . . Hammersmith, p. 322) that the house was demolished in 1808.
  • 3. Rocque's map of 1745 (Plate ) seems to indicate a projecting building somewhat in this position, but the Boydell view shows only low stabling, the old house itself being just visible behind.
  • 4. Antiquities of Middlesex, p. 43.
  • 5. Mrs. Cobden-Sanderson, who was staying at The Retreat (Kelmscott House) in 1875, tells us that she remembers seeing the Orangery from the back windows. It lay to the left on ground now occupied by the houses on the east side of Rivercourt Road, and had glazed walls and a flat roof.
  • 6. Fulham Court Rolls, 190/6.
  • 7. See p. 87.
  • 8. Somerset House Wills, 50, Audley.
  • 9. Fulham Court Rolls, 22 Chas. I (190/13).
  • 10. Close Rolls, 1650 (3555).
  • 11. There is one exception which, if accurate, bears out our contention. In an extract from a surrender to his will by Henry Box on 19th October, 1653, the description runs: "one messuage and 2½ acres of land in Hammersmith abutting S. on the Thames, N. on the Highway, E. on lands of one Thomas Witham and W. on other lands of the said Henry Box." We have not been able to verify this, but it fits in exactly with our hypothesis.
  • 12. Fulham Court Rolls, 1686–7, 171577.
  • 13. His death, however, had occurred more than twenty years previously. On 26th June, 19 Charles II, Ralph Box produced for enrolment an indenture between Henry Norman and Ralph and Mary Box, and stated that Henry Box died "about 16th June 1662" (Coram Rege Rolls, 19 Chas. II, Trin., 1890, 69).
  • 14. Sharpe's London and the Kingdom, II., pp. 473, 480, 483, 486.
  • 15. Ibid., II., p. 548.
  • 16. Indenture 15th January, 1694 (Close Roll, 6 W. III. (4777)).
  • 17. Antiquities of Middlesex, p. 41.
  • 18. Extracts from the Court Rolls in the Rivercourt deeds.
  • 19. Antiquities of Middlesex, p. 43.
  • 20. Middlesex Registry Memorials, 1754, I. 558.
  • 21. Catherine of Braganza, p. 458.
  • 22. We are indebted to Mr. J. P. Hore for calling our attention to these documents.
  • 23. De Clifford MSS.
  • 24. Archœologia, xii, p. 182.
  • 25. One of Hermon Van Geyn's (his name is variously spelt) bills included expenditure on "32 fourpenny potts for ye Baytrees, orange trees, mirtle trees and Je:samine trees" (Bundle 73). Van Geyn's salary was £60 a year.
  • 26. Lay Subsidies (Middlesex), 252/32.
  • 27. Ibid., 143/370.
  • 28. Probably Elizabeth, widow of Sir Thomas Whitmore, of Apsley, Shropshire. She died in 1666 (Burke's Extinct Peerage). Her town house was in Lincoln's Inn Fields (Survey of London, vol. iii, p. 71).
  • 29. History and Antiquities of . . . Hammersmith, p. 201.
  • 30. Middlesex Registry Memorials, 1754, I. 558.
  • 31. On the whole it appears unlikely that the Mall roadway was as yet in existence. See also under Linden House, p. 89.
  • 32. Reproduced here.