St. James's Square: No 14

Pages 139-142

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

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No. 14

Architect, J. Osborne Smith, 1896–8

This, described by Dasent before the present Library building was erected as 'admittedly the worst house in the Square', was, if not the 'worst', certainly the smallest on the three main sides of the square, with a frontage of only twenty-seven feet. Even more noticeably than No. 13 it was associated with no one period of continuous family occupation long enough to bring about elaborate rebuilding. One ambitious scheme was planned, but not executed.

The site, together with a plot of ground in Mason's Yard, was granted at a rent of £9 5s. per annum by the Earl of St. Albans and his leasehold and freehold trustees to John Grosvenor and Richard Hayb(o)urne in trust for Richard Frith on 13–14 June 1673, (fn. 6) the same day on which Frith was granted the adjacent site to the south, of No. 15.

In January 1674/5 Frith sold the site to Sir Fulke Lucy (fn. 6) who appears as occupant of the newly built house in 1676 (fn. 7) and lived here until 1678. In March 1679/80 he sold the house to Sir John Williams of Minster Court, Thanet, Kent. (fn. 8) The ratebooks, followed by Dasent, (fn. 9) seem to place the Williams at the adjacent No. 13 between 1678 and 1683. This must, however, be the result of an irregularity in the sequence of the entries (which seem badly disordered for Nos. 13– 15 c. 1678–86) as a lawsuit makes it clear that the Williams' house had an east-west axis and was therefore (as the evidence of the sale of 1680 would suggest) No. 14, which faces east, and not No. 13, which faces south. Sir John Williams died in the autumn of 1680 but the house was occupied by the family for a year or two longer. Sir John had employed a carpenter, John Day, of the City of London, to make some alterations and additions to the house. This resulted in a dispute in Chancery between Day and Sir John's widow, Lady Susannah Williams, (fn. 10) the records of which give a few details of the work. Sash windows are mentioned in the dining-room, where Day made a 'Nitch or Arch' over the door; there were casements in a back room. Day worked on the stables and a 'backhouse' and also made a 'garden room' which contained a 'bathing place'. (fn. 1)

Day claimed that he had been responsible for the payment of other workmen on Sir John's behalf: workmen whose names are mentioned are John Brandis, glazier; Robert Meades, plasterer; and Jos. Britten, smith: William Parker, bricklayer, was paid a small sum for making the bathingplace and putting in a copper. Payments were made and agreements witnessed by Sir John's servant, Baldassare Artima, an Italian, who was ordered from Court as a papist in January 1680/1 when a servant of Lady Williams. (fn. 11) Day's dispute with Lady Williams possibly had an element of sectarian faction: the receipts signed by Day which were recited in evidence by Lady Williams and which were presumably phrased by Day, are suggestive of emphatic Protestantism in their omission of the 'Saint' from 'St. James's Square' and their qualification of the pagan month-names with a 'so-called'.

In July 1698 the representatives of the Williams family sold the house to Lady Crew (fn. 12) who in 1704 married Admiral the Earl of Torrington. In June 1716 the house was sold by the Dowager Countess to Samuel Trotman (fn. 12) of Bucknell, Oxfordshire, (fn. 2) perhaps the member of that family who won the designation of 'the mad Trotman' by his eccentricities, which seem to have extended to a curious reconstruction of his Oxfordshire home. (fn. 13) The month before the sale a prospective purchaser of No. 14 was told 'it is in ruinous condition. The last inhabitant, Mr. Temple, fled out of it for fear it should fall on his head.' (fn. 14) Sutton Nicholls's view of c. 1722 (Plate 128) seems to show the exterior of the house still in the style of the original houses in the square, but unlike Kip's view of c. 1714–22 (Plate 4) it shows an attic storey which raised the height of the façade above its neighbours. There may thus have been some degree of reconstruction, perhaps designed to make the most of a narrow site. (fn. 3)

In January 1725/6 the Duke of Kent took a lease of No. 14 while his own house was rebuilding. (fn. 15) The lease contains an inventory of the house which seems to indicate that, whether or not a complete rebuilding had then taken place, the interior had recently been renovated in early eighteenth-century taste. The impression given is of a house in good condition and completely fitted out. A folding street-door with a two-light window over it opened on to a hall paved in Purbeck and panelled head-high. An arch with Corinthian pilasters led to the great staircase of 'wainscot' woodwork lit by a large 'compass' or round-headed sash window. At the head of the stairs the dining-room door was surmounted by a plaster-of-Paris bust of Cleopatra's head, possibly in the niche made by Day. All the rooms and passages, including those on the second floor, were panelled, mainly in oak, except where space was left for hangings, or for paintings over the chimneypieces. These were throughout of white, red-and-white or black-veined marble, or of Portland stone, with the exception of one of plaster of Paris on the second floor. A 'fine plaster fret-work ceiling' in the dining-room, and plaster cornices in other rooms are mentioned. On each side of the diningroom chimneypiece were Corinthian pilasters, and over it two 'death's heads' (probably cherubs' heads). The windows were all sash-hung. In the garden were walks of Purbeck stone, laid 'in tarris', (fn. 4) and a leaden cistern dated 1700. A 'porch' or garden pavilion containing a seat is mentioned, with high panelling, a sash window, four oval windows on top, and a deal door into the garden. The sides were slated and the top leaded. This was perhaps Day's 'garden room', and the 'baithing place' mentioned among the 'back buildings' was probably that made for the Williams.

In 1729 Samuel Trotman, son of the purchaser of the house, conveyed it to his brother Thomas, of Siston, Gloucestershire. (fn. 12) For the years 1730 to 1732 the house was empty and between 1732 and 1734 the rates were reduced. From 1749 to 1767 Peter Ducane of Braxted, Essex, who had hitherto had his town house in Pancras Lane, occupied No. 14 at a rent of £140 per annum (fn. 16) and began his tenancy with a renovation of the interior of the house, between 1748 and 1750, probably costing about £1100. (fn. 17) (Sir) Robert Taylor was paid some £267 for a marble chimneypiece with a wooden overmantel, and two gilded marble tables in the drawing-room, together with repairs to other chimneypieces in the house. (fn. 18) The cabinet-maker, William Hallett, of Great Newport Street, was paid about £100 for mahogany furniture, (fn. 19) and the upholsterer, Thomas Burnett, £413 for crimson or yellow damask hangings and mahogany chairs covered in black Spanish leather. (fn. 20) John Whitehead, a 'stucco man', repaired the 'fret work ceiling' and cornice in the dining-room. (fn. 5)

In February 1772, two vendors, Samuel Trotman, senior and junior, sold the house to the retired merchant, Sir William Mayne. It was then said to be let to Mayne or his under-tenant, Sir Charles Asgill, who in fact occupied the house from 1768 to 1773, for £195 per annum. (fn. 12) From 1774 to 1777 Mayne himself occupied the house. In 1776 he was created Lord Newhaven and in that year the design for a new house was made for him by Robert Adam. (fn. 21)

Although designed for a relatively narrow site, Adam's plan (Plate 190b) shows all his usual regard for convenience combined with fine spatial effects, with axial vistas through rooms of varying shapes. The front hall is a deep oblong on the south side of the front parlour—a circle with niches—linked by a semi-hexagonal ante-room to the eating-room, a deep oblong at the back. Beyond the hall is the principal stair, rising round the walls of an almost square compartment, with a door on the north side opening to the ante-room, and a door on the west leading to the service stair and a water-closet beyond a small light-area. In the long and narrow back wing, reached from the service stair or from the eating-room through a lobby, is the study, lined with bookcases. Beyond the study is the 'gentleman's dressing-room' with a powdering-closet and a private stair leading to the bedroom above. Adam also shows a possible extension on the north side of the house, with a large bed-chamber and a dressing-room served by a passage entered from the main ante-room.

In his sketch-design for the front (Plate 190a), Adam avoids competition with James Stuart's large-scaled Ionic temple front next door, and is content to make his effect with an ingenious, small-scaled and delicately detailed composition. His plan required that each of the principal floors should have only two windows, with a wide pier between them. These windows, and the doorway, are each divided into three lights by slender columns, supporting a straight entablature in the ground storey, where the piers are rusticated, but forming Ionic Venetian windows, set with fan tympana in the two arches of the second storey. Each of the two upper storeys has two plain window openings, but the third storey is underlined with a frieze-band composed of oblong panels between festooned draperies, and it is finished with a moulded cornice below the attic, which is treated as a high pedestal. The duality produced by the fenestration pattern is to a large extent resolved by introducing ornamental panels into the pier between the windows. In the second storey is a tall panel with a relief of a candelabra on a tripod, and a roundel above. The third storey has a similar panel with a relief of a vase on a tripod, and in the attic is sketched an arabesque panel.

This design was not executed, and during the years 1777–80, before Lord Cadogan entered into occupation, the house was given the plain front that survived substantially unaltered until 1896. (fn. 7) The comparatively low floor levels of the original house, with an attic storey, were retained.

In 1845 the London Library, which had been founded in 1841 at No. 49 Pall Mall (see page 331), hired No. 14 from Edward Foster of No. 54 Pall Mall, and in 1879 bought the freehold from C. J. Foster and Frederick Janson for £21,000: (fn. 22) in its early years the Library shared the house with the Statistical Society and other societies. (fn. 23) In 1896–8 the premises were rebuilt with the present façade to the square by J. Osborne Smith of Old Queen Street, Westminster, at a cost of £23,000. (fn. 24) Further extensions were carried out in 1920–2 when a bookstore was built at the back by Osborne Smith at a cost of £26,555, and in 1932–4 when the back premises were rebuilt with an extension northward, by Messrs. Mewès and Davis at a cost of £43,828. (fn. 25) By the beginning of the war of 1939–45 the total number of books in the Library was approximately half a million. (fn. 26)

In 1913 the freehold of No. 8 Duke Street had been purchased for £18,000, 'since money was fairly abundant', and by further purchases in 1923 and 1931 in Mason's Yard, 'any question of encirclement from enterprising builders and landlords was rendered impossible. Above all, the Library was free to make windows on every side.' (fn. 27)

Considerable damage was done to the bookstacks in February 1944 when a bomb fell in Mason's Yard. (fn. 28)

The front of the London Library is a curiously eclectic design, carried out in Portland stone. The ground storey has a round-arched doorway, framed in an Ionic doorcase and placed on the left of two windows, each divided by stone mullions and transoms in the Elizabethan fashion. The second storey is mildly Georgian, with three sashed windows, the three-light middle window being dressed with a pediment and enclosed by a round-arched recess, and the side windows have oblong panels above them. The lofty third storey is again Elizabethan, with three tall windows, wide between narrow, each divided by mullions and transoms below round-arched heads, but a triangular pediment provides a Georgian finish to the front.

The Prevest Room contains a fine chimneypiece designed by Robert Adam for Shelburne (later Lansdowne) House and presented to the Library in 1933 in memory of Henry Yates Thompson. (fn. 26)


  • 1. In large and middling town houses it was customary to screen the stables and terminate the garden with an architectural feature, generally containing what Isaac Ware described as 'the needful edifice, that cannot in London be removed farther off; and something of similar shape and little service opposite to it. An alcove with a seat is a common contrivance in the space between, but it is a strange place to sit in for pleasure.' Ware gives a plan of such a building, containing a plunge-bath behind an open colonnade, and Day's structure was probably of this type but with a room over the bath.
  • 2. His grandfather and family had probably been one of a Pall Mall landlady's 'good Lodgers' at £3 a week in the 1670's.
  • 3. It was probably a mistake by Sutton Nicholls to show four windows to a storey in so narrow a front.
  • 4. Tarras, terrass, or tarrace was 'a kind of coarse Plaister, durable in the Weather', or 'a strong mortar or plaster, of great use in aquatic works'.
  • 5. Other workmen were Richard Filewood, carpenter; Robert French of Wardour Street, bricklayer; Thomas Heafford, plasterer; Anthony Nicholls of Gloucester Street, Red Lion Square, painter; John Devall, plumber; Messrs. Sparke and Brydges, braziers; William Bayley, brazier; William Smith, blacksmith; and Henry Hurt, silversmith.
  • 6. L.C.C.R.O., B.R.A. 633/1; B.M. Add. MS. 22063, item 371.
  • 7. R.B.
  • 8. L.C.C.R.O., B.R.A. 633/1; P.R.O., C5/470/76.
  • 9. Dasent, op. cit. (53 above), p. 235.
  • 10. For following see P.R.O., C5/470/76.
  • 11. H.M.C., 11th Report, Appendix part ii, MSS. of the House of Lords, 1678–1688, 1887, p. 267.
  • 12. L.C.C.R.O., B.R.A. 633/1.
  • 13. Dunkin, loc. cit.
  • 14. H.M.C., Downshire MSS., vol. i, part ii, 1924, p. 909.
  • 15. Bedfordshire Record Office, L1O26/2/1.
  • 16. Essex Record Office, D/DD c, A.18.
  • 17. Ibid., D/DD c, A.12, f. 73.
  • 18. Ibid., D/DD c, A.80, bill of Robert Taylor, statuary. This reference is owed to Mr. Rupert Gunnis.
  • 19. Ibid., bills of William Hallett, cabinet-maker.
  • 20. Ibid., bill of Thomas Burnett, upholsterer.
  • 21. Soane Museum, Adam drawings, vol. 8, No. 112; vol. 20, Nos. 100–1; vol. 30, Nos. 100–4.
  • 22. London Library deeds.
  • 23. London Exhibited in 1851, ed. John Weale, p. 585.
  • 24. R.I.B.A. Journal, 11 Feb. 1928, p. 275; C. T. Hagberg Wright, The London Library, 1926, p. 14.
  • 25. B.A. 46628; Sir C. Hagberg Wright, The London Library, A Survey 1913–40, 1941, p. 6.
  • 26. Sir C. Hagberg Wright, op. cit., p. 8.
  • 27. Isaac Ware, The Complete Body of Architecture, 1756 ed., p. 346.
  • 28. P.R.O., C8/336/182; John Dunkin, Oxfordshire (Hundreds of Bullington and Ploughley), 1823, pp. 200–1.
  • 29. John Aheron, A General Treatise of Architecture, Dublin, 1754.
  • 30. Peter Nicholson, The Architectural Dictionary, 1812–19.