St. James's Square: No 6

Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.

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'St. James's Square: No 6', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 103-109. British History Online [accessed 23 April 2024]

No. 6

Architects, Fitzroy Robinson and Partners, 1959–60

On 24 June 1673 the Earl of St. Albans made an agreement with Abraham Storey, the mason and builder, whereby Storey was to erect 'a Great building' on the site of No. 6. On the same date as the 'assurance' of the site of No. 5 to George Clisby, 1–2 April 1675, the Earl and his trustees sold the leasehold interest in No. 6 to Storey and the freehold interest to Thomas Fellows of Islington, gentleman, and William Hamond, citizen and freemason of London, in trust for Storey. The same ground-rent, of £15 8s. 4d. per annum, was reserved as at No. 5. (fn. 5) By August 1676 Storey had built a house which he mortgaged for £1200. (fn. 6) On 25–26 June 1677 he sold the house and site for £5100 to John Hervey, treasurer of the household to Queen Catherine of Braganza, (fn. 7) who was already concerned in the area as one of the trustees for the leasehold interest of his kinsman St. Albans. Hervey's descendants retained the property until its sale to the owner of No. 5 in 1955, at which time their tenure had lasted longer than that of any other owner in the square.

The purchase in 1677 was carried through on Hervey's behalf by Robert Hooke, who was also concerned in the sale of the adjacent house, No. 7. In January 1676/7 Hooke viewed the 'new house' with Storey and also looked at the other newly built houses in the square. In March, after a number of meetings, Hooke negotiated the purchase and in April drew up drafts for the sale. After this was concluded he was presented with fifty guineas by Hervey, probably for his services here, although he also worked for Hervey at his property in the Strand, where he designed five houses for him. Hooke perhaps had a hand in finishing the house in the square: in May he 'directed about the stairs down into the cellers' and in August was 'at Mr. Harvey's about his Library'. (fn. 8)

Hervey occupied the house for less than two years, until his death without issue in 1679/80 when it passed to his widow. (fn. 9) From 1683 to 1695 the house was evidently let, first to Lord Dartmouth and then to the Earl of Radnor. From 1695 to 1698 it stood empty (fn. 10) but from December of the latter year it was occupied by Hervey's nephew, also John, later Lord Hervey and Earl of Bristol, (fn. 11) who inherited the property on his aunt's death in 1700, and for most of the remaining half-century of his life used it as his town residence.

During the years 1708–10 repairs to the house and stables were carried out (fn. 1) and in December 1709 'new sash windows' were put in. (fn. 12) (fn. 2)

On more than one occasion in the early months of 1712 Hervey entertained the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene at his house, and his adherence in 1714 to the interests supporting the Hanoverian succession brought him both a visit from George I in November and a step in the peerage with his elevation from the Barony of Hervey to the Earldom of Bristol.

In January 1728/9 'a great part of the Roof of the Stables' fell down. (fn. 13) In June, bricklayer's work, apparently extensive, was begun, perhaps consequent upon this damage. (fn. 14) The Earl paid £42 to 'Mr. Roger Morris ye surveyor in full for surveying and measuring ye work of my new building' in April 1731 and at the same time the Earl paid £355 to William Frith, carpenter, £240 to William Blakesley, bricklayer, and some £50 apiece to Francis Sanders, plasterer, and James Collishaw, painter: a year later 'Christopher Cass & Co.' were paid £145 for mason's work, perhaps on the interior. (fn. 15)

In the autumn of 1741 the Earl gave his eldest son, the memoir writer, John, Lord Hervey, the use of the house. Hervey employed forty workmen to make the house 'ready to receive' him, and spent there, 'well lodg'd', the last two years of his life. (fn. 16)

The rebuilding of Lord Strafford's house in 1748 caused a dispute between him and the Earl of Bristol's grandson, Lord Hervey, who acted on his grandfather's behalf, over the ownership of the party-wall. It was concluded by an agreement signed in April 1748 on behalf of the Herveys by Robert Morris, kinsman of Roger Morris, and by John Spencer, 'partner with Mr. Timbrell', who was shortly afterwards concerned with his partner in the development of the site of Lord Tankerville's house (see page 81). Lord Hervey had apparently considered employing as his representative in the negotiations Henry Flitcroft, who was building a house for Hervey's widowed mother in St. James's Place (see page 539), but was evidently dissuaded by his grandfather's 'hint by way of caution . . . that you will find Flitcroft as extravagant an overvaluer of his skill and time as any of his brother pickpockets'. (fn. 17)

Bowles's view of the square published in c. 1752 shows No. 6 still to have had substantially its seventeenth-century appearance, like Nos. 7 and 8 to its west. An internal reconstruction is apparent, however, in the removal of the front door from the left-hand to the right-hand end of the façade since Sutton Nicholls's view of c. 1722 (Plates 128, 130).

Repairs were carried out in about 1771 by James Nelson, mason, and Arthur Edwards, painter, to a value of some £180, under the direction of the builder, Henry Holland. (fn. 18)

There is no evidence that the fourth Earl, the Bishop of Derry, extended his notorious passion for building to his town residence. But with the coming of peace after the Napoleonic war the fifth Earl (later the first Marquis of Bristol) undertook the rebuilding of the house. Undated elevations of a new house were prepared for him by George Dance, the younger. (fn. 19)

At least five designs were made by Dance, all of them brilliant but even less sympathetic to the general character of the square than Stuart's and Adam's fronts at Nos. 15 and 20 had been. Monumental and almost devoid of domestic character, they reflect Dance's admiration for the highly original French neo-classical architecture of his time, and they would not look out of place in the pages of Krafft.

The five drawings are preserved in Sir John Soane's Museum (fn. 19) and they have been numbered 9 to 13 although they are not dated and were not necessarily produced in that sequence. All appear to have been intended to fit the same plan, unfortunately not preserved, which must have been for a house of three storeys and an attic, each having two rooms of equal width in front, not unlike No. 6 as it was subsequently built by John Field.

Design No. 9 has a ground storey coursed with channel-joints and containing two almost square openings, each framing a window of three roundheaded lights, the middle light of the right-hand window being the doorway. The upper face embraces two storeys and is divided into three bays, the narrow middle bay flanked by plain-shafted Corinthian pilasters, and the wide side bays terminated by plain piers. Each side bay contains two superimposed three-light windows, but the middle bay is blind and decorated with a niche below a panel. The entablature breaks forward over each end pier and across the middle bay where a triangular pediment is surmounted by a large carving of the Bristol arms and supporters, rising against the pedestal attic which has an oblong window in each side bay.

No. 11, a variant of No. 9, has a plain ground storey, and Corinthian pilasters flank each bay of the upper stage. The pediment is raised above the attic, where the Bristol arms are placed on a plinth above the entablature of the middle bay.

No. 10 shows the ground storey divided by plain pilasters, and each storey of the narrow central bay contains a blind window-panel. The wide side bays have large semi-circular lunette windows in the attic stage, each divided by stone mullions into three lights like the windows below. The Bristol arms surmount the pediment of the middle-bay entablature.

No. 12 is virtually the same design as the last, except that the three bays are equal in width. No. 13 (Plate 194a) also has three bays of the same width, divided by panelled pilasters in the ground storey, by plain-shafted Corinthian pilasters in the two-storeyed upper stage, and by plain pilasters in the attic, where each bay contains a semi-circular lunette window of three lights. The side bays have a three-light window in each storey, but in the middle bay the first two storeys are filled with channel-jointed masonry courses, and in the third storey is a panel carved with a relief of the Bristol arms and supporters.

In the end, however, the Earl employed, not Dance, but a virtually unknown man, John Field, whose address was in Bennet Street, off St. James's Street. (fn. 3) The rebuilding took place in 1819–20, with further work on the back premises in 1821 (Plates 194b, 195, 196, figs. 16–19).

The tone of Field's letters to the Earl suggests that he was working under close direction and instruction, although the Earl was abroad for much of the period. (fn. 20) In the outcome the owner seems to have been better pleased with his builder's work than some earlier owners of houses in the square had been. (fn. 4)

A letter of September 1818 from Field shows that he was directed to model the façade on the mid eighteenth-century front of No. 2. The letter contains earnest assurances that the bricks would be of the best quality, the walls especially thick, and every part executed with careful regard to quality. Another letter declared that no American timber had been used, only Baltic fir and English oak.

The contents of the old house were sold off in January 1819, realizing some £565, and the new building was completed in substance by March 1821, when the Earl was sufficiently pleased with the work to promise an earlier discharge of the account than he had intended. His satisfaction was avowed as his reason for making a final payment in 1825 beyond the sum to which Field was strictly entitled.

A few names of craftsmen who worked on the house are known, but it is not quite clear how far they were independently engaged by the Earl and how far sub-contractors for whom Field was financially responsible. The carpenter, named Carpenter, had recently provided timber flooring at the Bristols' house on Putney Heath, where his work had not been altogether satisfactory. Nevertheless, Field, who throughout sounds anxiously conscious of his responsibilities, warmly recommended Carpenter's continued employment and vouched for his integrity and skill, confessing that he himself would ultimately be accountable for the quality of the work. He suggested that the first instalment of Carpenter's money should be paid to him direct, and the remainder by Field himself out of the money paid to him: his tone indicates that the Earl was in fact free to choose his own method of paying for the work. When Field's own account was finally discharged in 1825 he expressed a voluble gratitude to the Earl for thus relieving him from 'the weight of anxiety which long pressed hard upon me' and from 'Mrs. Stewart's and Mr. Carpenter's claims'. Mrs. Stewart had executed the main painting and gilding. A Mr. Blore made a 'chimney piece and figures' which were completed by September 1818, but in October 1821 he was still refusing to deliver the work to Field by the Earl's order, being willing to do so only after the discharge of the account which he had sent direct to the Earl.

Figure 16:

No. 6 St. James's Square, plans

Figure 17:

No. 6 St. James's Square, elevation

The original estimate for rebuilding the house had been £27,559 but by the time of Field's first surviving letter in September 1818 the fall in the price of materials allowed Field to reduce this to £25,892, which was evidently the figure accepted by the Earl. In March 1821 Field reported that prices had again fallen in the past year or two, but that wages had remained the same. It was estimated in October 1821 that rebuilding the stables would cost an additional £1972. The final total was nevertheless higher than the sum of the estimated costs, amounting to £34,542 9s. 8d., which was finally paid off without demur in June 1825, an event which occasioned an outburst of 'gratitude and veneration' from Field. In the following year he was paid £581 for additional work on the back premises.

The house built by Field was substantially that which was pulled down in 1958. It was three storeys in height with a basement and a garret in the roof, and the front had four openings to each floor, the entrance being at the east side. The plain but distinguished façade (Plate 194b, fig. 17) was faced with a fine yellow brick and dressed with Portland stone. Two stone bands occurred at ground-floor level and another marked the first floor with a sill-band above it, the simple entablature having paterae in the frieze and a plainly moulded dentil cornice with a blocking-course. The window openings were rectangular with moulded stone architraves, those to the first floor being lugged and tapered at the sides. The original Doric entrance doorway, with very plain pilasters and a triglyphed frieze, had been replaced in 1914 by an Ionic porch, designed by Arthur Blomfield, (fn. 21) with a round-arched doorway and segmental pediment. The fine cast-iron railings to the front area had five, narrow, round-topped panels with anthemion and other ornament, and the guards to the first-floor windows and the simpler and more conventional ones at secondstorey level were probably original. The roof was slated with four round-arched dormer windows lighting the garret.

The plan of the house (figs. 16, 18, 19) was somewhat muddled. From the square entrance hall a broad passage led past a service stair and a small, unlit room to the staircase hall at the rear. Between the deep front room and a much shallower back room was a secondary stair with a closet, and behind the main staircase a passage connected with a wing across the back of the courtyard containing several small rooms and two more staircases, one going up and one down.

On the first floor a large top-lit ante-room, to the south of the staircase, gave access to the two front rooms which corresponded to those on the floor below, and the rear room was approached through a lobby with a small ante-room beside it. The wing at the back of the courtyard contained one large room, a lobby and a secondary stair.

The decoration of the interior was crude in its pseudo-Grecian detail but undoubtedly grand in effect with boldly modelled plasterwork and panelled mahogany doors to the principal rooms. The entrance and staircase halls were not elaborate but the connecting passage was decorated with paired Doric pilasters, the frieze to the entablature ornamented with wreaths, and all three compartments had patterned marble floors. The main staircase (Plate 195a) was of stone with single balusters and ornamental panels of cast metal supporting a mahogany handrail.

The first-floor rooms had rich cornices and small coves to the ceilings, the walls generally being plain but for a moulded skirting and chairrail. At the head of the main staircase, which rose only to the first floor, was a shallow segmentalarched recess flanked by round-headed niches, and the top-lit ante-room had two semi-elliptical arches supporting a shallow dome on pendentives, with a large circular lantern. The richly decorated front drawing-room with Corinthian pilasters above a pedestal dado, framing plaster panels and large mirrors, had a shallow segmental ceiling (Plate 196a). The caps of the pilasters were linked by a band of wave ornament and the cornice had enriched mouldings and lion masks, with a cresting of scrolls and rosettes increased in size to fill the tympanum at either end of the room. The ceiling was divided into three parts by pairs of cross-bands and had two, wider, longitudinal bands wreathed with oak leaves, and three large rosettes. The doorcases (Plate 195c) had plainly moulded architraves and panelled margins rising to large trusses, carved with acanthus, supporting a plain cornice above a frieze with scrolled acanthus and ivy. Above the cornice was some very strange carved decoration, of anthemion and lotus flowers. The white marble chimneypiece (Plate 196b) has been removed to Ickworth where there is in the library a practically identical chimneypiece, which is stated to be by Canova. (fn. 22) But the former is identical with another at Cobham Hall, perhaps made for J. Wyatt by T. Vardy in 1774. The opening has a narrow, flat surround carved with leaf decoration, and above is a long panel with a relief of naked boys harvesting grapes, and an enriched dentil cornice-shelf. On either side are groups of lovers, on pedestals, carved in the round and framed by Roman Doric columns and halfcolumns, their flutes partially filled, supporting an entablature with triglyphs and carved metopes in the frieze and a cornice which continues that above the central part.

The passage leading to the rear wing had an apse with a coffered semi-dome at either end containing a corniced doorway with carved consoles. The central part had a groined ceiling, the segmental head of the window following the curve above it (Plate 195b).

The courtyard of the house was faced with a yellow brick, inferior to that used for the principal façade, and there were no stone architraves to the windows (figs. 18, 19). The ground-floor level was marked by a broad stone band which supported a round-arched arcade on each long side containing the square-headed window openings, with plinth blocks to the piers and moulded stone imposts. Each end wall was set forward to contain a similar but segmental-arched recess, and a stone band at first-floor level was continued as a capping to the screen wall against No. 7. The upper windows were also square-headed, except the round-arched ground- and first-floor windows lighting the main staircase, which may have been altered, and that to the connecting corridor, its segmental head springing from plain stone impost blocks. Beneath the second-floor windows ran a sill-band and the parapet to the roof was finished with a small cornice and a blocking-course.

The house was demolished in 1958 and an office block is being built by Fitzroy Robinson and Partners fronting the square and extending northward and eastward into the former Babmays Mews. It is to communicate with the surviving Brettingham house at No. 5.


  • 1. By Robert Clark, bricklayer, Robert Baddum, plumber, and William Dissell, painter.
  • 2. By John Smallwell, joiner, and Isaac Elles or Eeles, glazier.
  • 3. A John Field appeared at that address in commercial guides from 1817, when he was designated 'carpenter and builder'. In directories of 1830–8 the description was 'architect', and in those of 1842–53 'architect and surveyor'. It is not known whether this represents the same person throughout.
  • 4. In 1827 Field was at Ickworth where he was presumably concerned in the completion of the unfinished mansion begun by the fourth Earl. The ceiling over the main staircase there, which was built at that time, is a little reminiscent in its segmental section of the ceiling of the front drawing-room at No. 6.
  • 5. Ickworth MSS., S3, 1–2 April 1675.
  • 6. Ibid., 25–26 June 1677.
  • 7. Ibid., and P.R.O., C54/4484, No. 21.
  • 8. Walpole Society, vol. 25, 1937, M. I. Batten, The Architecture of Dr. Robert Hooke, F.R.S., pp. 107–8; The Diary of Robert Hooke, 1672–1680, ed. H. W. Robinson and W. Adams, 1935, pp. 290, 308.
  • 9. Ickworth MSS., R2, will of John Hervey of Ickworth.
  • 10. R.B.
  • 11. The Diary of John Hervey, First Earl of Bristol, . . . ed. S. H. A. H(ervey), 1894, for 22 Dec. 1698.
  • 12. Ickworth MSS., Diary of John Hervey, first Earl of Bristol, 24 Dec. 1708, 24, 31 Dec. 1709, etc.; The Diary of John Hervey, First Earl of Bristol, ut supra, p. 134.
  • 13. Ickworth MSS., Letters and Verses between the Earl and Countess of Bristol, 1721–37, 14 Jan. 1728/9, quoted in Letter-Books of John Hervey, First Earl of Bristol, ed. S. H. A. H(ervey), 1894, vol. iii, p. 35.
  • 14. Ickworth MSS., op. cit., 10, 14, 28 June 1729.
  • 15. Ibid., Diary of John Hervey, first Earl of Bristol, 19–22 April 1731, 5 April 1732; The Diary . . ., etc., pp. 135–6.
  • 16. Ickworth MSS., bound vol. 2, Letters from John Lord Hervey to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and his Mother, etc., 1722–43, 12 Sept. 1741, 4 April 1743.
  • 17. Ibid., bundle S3 ; B.M., Add. MS. 22254, ff. 17–19; Letter-Books of John Hervey, First Earl of Bristol, etc., vol. iii, pp. 348–9, 351–2, 355.
  • 18. Soane Museum, Holland price book 1767–72, pp. 46–50.
  • 19. Ibid., Dance cabinet, slider 3, set 7, Nos. 9–13.
  • 20. For following see Ickworth MSS., Letters from John Field to the Earl of Bristol.
  • 21. B.A. 40570.
  • 22. The History and Treasures of Ickworth, Suffolk, pub. Pitkin Pictorials Ltd., p. 8 (information supplied by Mr. Douglas Davidson, Jan. 1960).
  • 23. Johnstone's Commercial Guide, 1817; Robson's Directory, 1820, 1830, 1835, 1838; P.O.D., 1842, 1850, 1853.