St. James's Square: No 15

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 15', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 142-154. British History Online [accessed 4 March 2024]

No. 15

Architect, James Stuart, 1764–6. Balcony added in c. 1791 by Samuel Wyatt

The site of this house was agreed to be granted by the Earl of St. Albans and Baptist May to John Grosvenor, citizen and goldsmith, and Richard Hayburne, citizen and carpenter, in trust for the builder, Richard Frith, on 13–14 June 1673, the same date as the agreement respecting No. 14. A ground-rent of £13 5s. 2d. per annum was reserved. (fn. 9) The house was built by 1676 (fn. 10) but was not occupied in that or the following year. (fn. 1) In May 1677 one of Frith's trustees, Grosvenor, was replaced by two new trustees, John Shorthose, citizen and mason of London, and Thomas Meads, citizen and plasterer. (fn. 9) In May of the following year Frith and the trustees sold the site, nominally for the rather low price of £2850, to Sir John Dawnay (later Viscount Downe) (fn. 9) after Sir John had submitted an apparently formal Chancery petition to obtain a statement of the mortgages and encumbrances on the property. (fn. 11)

In the same and following year, 1678–9, the house was occupied by Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond. For the first few years of the house's history it seems to have been occupied only for short terms, and was probably occupied by Viscount Downe only in the year 1686. (fn. 2) In the summer of that year he sold the house for £3000 to Sir Thomas Clarges in trust for the Marchioness de Gouvernet and her daughter, Lady Eland. (fn. 9) The Marchioness lived here until 1722.

A deed of February 1717 (? 1717/18) refers, unlike earlier deeds, to the house as 'new', (fn. 9) but Sutton Nicholls's view of c. 1722 (Plate 128) seems to show the house still to have possessed its original external appearance.

In April 1748 the house was bought by the admiral Lord Anson, from the Earl of Clarendon. (fn. 12) In November 1751 Matthew Brettingham, senior, surveyed the house and made a plan of it for Lord Anson but little, if anything, seems to have been done. Bowles in his view published in c. 1752 (Plate 130) shows the old seventeenth-century front. In 1752–3 the rating of the house was reduced. (fn. 13) Brettingham also sent 'a Book of the Earl of Leicesters House at Holkham . . . to Lord Anson's house' at an unknown date, for which he was apparently paid by Lord Anson's heir, Thomas Anson, in February 1764 whilst the house was rebuilding. (fn. 14)

For when in 1762 Lord Anson had died, leaving the house and a fortune to his elder brother, Thomas Anson of Shugborough, (fn. 15) a bachelor of sixty-six and a man of taste, the new owner undertook a rebuilding which embodied the more delicate, self-conscious and matured taste of the 1760's. It also almost certainly gave the square, perhaps to its detriment, its first stone façade, the elements of which were rigorously organized into a unified and self-contained composition. The architect chosen was James Stuart, whose Antiquities of Athens, making familiar the details if not the spirit of ancient Greek architecture, had appeared in the year of Lord Anson's death, and who was presumably acquainted with Thomas Anson through their membership of the Society of Dilettanti.

The old house was pulled down in the summer of 1763 and the new house was probably occupied by the end of 1766. (fn. 13) Some letters written in a familiar tone by Stuart to Anson which survive for the period from about June 1764 to September 1766, and a few others of 1769–70, give an idea of the mainly easy relations of architect and patron, (fn. 16) but no accounts survive to indicate the expense of the work (fn. 3) and only one or two workmen's names are known. The chief mason was Alexander Rouchead (fn. 4) of North Audley Street who was presumably the mason of that name who had worked on Norfolk House (see page 192). Another workman was named Evans.

In June 1764 the house had reached first-floor level. The achievement of each stage was evidently attended with jollification: Stuart wrote that 'the grand function of wetting the first floor was performed last Saturday when upward of 50 men had their bellies full of Beef pudding and Ale and your health was drank with very cheerfull huzzas, the Masters treated themselves and I had the honor of being president'. Later in the summer he reported that the pediments of the first-floor windows were being put in position and that he was himself busy designing the capital of the Ionic columns which run through the two upper storeys of the façade. These capitals occupied much of Stuart's attention. In them, he wrote, 'I do for the honour of Athens interest myself very much.' Later in the autumn, when they were still unfinished, he confessed 'I shall not know how to quit London till I see a Capital completed . . . my inspection and instruction is continually necessary till one of them is finished, they must not murder my Capitals the greatest grace and ornament of the building.' Stuart had the satisfaction of reporting that the sculptor, [Peter] Scheemakers, who was working with him for Anson at Shugborough, had 'taken two of the Volutes into his Care'. Stuart's antiquarian taste, and doubtless Anson's also, was gratified by the circumstance that these capitals 'are most exactly of the same dimensions with those of the portico of Minerva Polias': Stuart remarked complacently of this happy chance, 'I knew that they would be nearly the same size with the originals but was not aware that there is not a hairsbreath [sic] of difference in their Diameters.'

The masons were thought dilatory, and all the workmen were troubled by want of cash. But by December 1764 the front of the house, though uncompleted, with none of the capitals yet 'out of hand', was being covered, and Stuart was able to say that 'the House advances apace'.

There is a gap in the correspondence from December 1764 to September 1766, when Stuart was writing to Anson about the glazing of the lower part of the windows in the first-floor front room with plate glass. A receipt is mentioned from 'Rose', possibly the plasterer, Joseph Rose; it was, perhaps, for work here. Another gap in the correspondence follows, until 1769–70, when the building of the house was no longer being discussed. (fn. 5) Thomas Anson appears as ratepayer for the house in 1766, and by April 1768 Lady Shelburne could note in her diary that she had attended a 'breakfast and concert' in honour of Mrs. Montagu, another of Stuart's patrons, at Mr. Anson's, 'a very fine house, built and ornamented by Mr. Stuart'. (fn. 17) As late as April 1770 some payments to the mason were still outstanding. His total claim was £2682 2s. 9d.

Lady Shelburne's good opinion of the house was doubtless fully shared by its architect, who had told Anson while it was building that it was 'a topic of much conversation among the Connoisseurs in Architecture'. Stuart's pleasure in the contemplation of his own skill found outlet in the flattering references to the house by the author of the anonymous Critical Observations on the Buildings and Improvements of London of 1771 if, as seems probable, the author was Stuart himself, (fn. 6) This author points to No. 15 and two of Samuel Tuffnell's houses as demonstrating the excellences possible in the 'street house':

'These sort of fabricks then, are incapable of much grandeur; but they admit of beauty in any degree. It is therefore this last which ought principally to be aimed at. An unity of order enriched with ornament, in fair and highly polished materials, is all that seems required. Nor are models of this sort wanting among us. The two houses lately erected by Mr. Tuffnell, in Cavendish square, are fine examples; as is also that of Mr. Anson, in St. James's square. When once this last is compleated according to the plan, the public will be more able to do justice to the classic taste which directed it. In its present state, it is wonderfully beautiful, and will serve to convey the idea of what is here meant.'

Despite the suggestion that the house was outwardly uncompleted it must be presumed that the façade to the square was finished at this time and that what remained to be carried out was either inside the house or an architectural treatment of the courtyard and buildings at the rear, perhaps with some intention to carry this back to include a façade on Duke Street.

Figure 28:

No. 15 St. James's Square, plans

Figure 29:

No. 15 St. James's Square, elevation

The house is of three storeys and a basement, each with three openings in front (Plate 165, fig. 29). The Portland stone façade has a rusticated ground storey supporting a pedimented engaged tetrastyle Ionic portico resting on pedestals and rising, in the Palladian manner, through the two upper storeys. At each end of the façade is a strip of plain walling, wide enough for all the mouldings, including those of the cornice, to be returned on to it, thus separating the composition from its neighbours on either side.

The stonework to the basement is vermiculated and the windows have segmental heads, the level of the ground floor being marked by a plain band. The ground-storey windows are round-headed and are set in arched recesses with a moulded impost-band. The window openings have simply moulded surrounds and the doorway may originally have been formed in a similar manner but now occupies the whole width of the arched recess with a pair of Roman Doric columns supporting a frieze and cornice, the tympanum above being glazed: there is some evidence of alteration to the stonework.

Figure 30:

No. 15 St. James's Square, section B-B

Stuart has already been quoted as saying that the capitals of the main order were of identical dimensions with those to the temple or shrine of Minerva Polias, which forms part of the Erechtheum. (fn. 18) This, however, does not apply to the order as a whole: at No. 15 as in the Erechtheum the columns are fluted and have a necking of anthemion ornament, but the architrave has only two fascias instead of three, the frieze is undecorated and there is a simple dentil cornice. The first-floor windows between the columns have architraves with plain friezes and pediments. It is probable that their sills were originally in line with the capping to the pedestals of the columns but they are now level with a stone balcony which must date from Samuel Wyatt's alterations of 1791–4 (see below). There is a band of wave ornament below the second-floor windows, which have slightly shouldered architraves. The ends of the pediment carry low parapets which are returned back from the face of the building.

There is nothing exceptional about the plan (figs. 28,30–1). The ground storey has been considerably altered but formerly an entrance hall led through an inner lobby to a large rectangular toplit staircase hall, the stair rising in the normal way to the first floor only. There was a front and back room, and behind the stair hall a long wing containing, probably from the first, a service stair flanked by a lobby, with two rooms beyond. A return wing existed at the rear of the courtyard at a later date but it may have been an addition. The plan of the first floor was a repetition of that below with a single room across the front.

Figure 31:

No. 15 St. James's Square, section A-A

The rear wing, which is the same height as the main part of the house, and five windows wide, is faced with pinkish-yellow stock brick with Portland stone dressings (fig. 30). What was originally a central projection in which the middle three windows in each storey were grouped somewhat closely together, is now no longer central to the courtyard owing to the addition of a twostoreyed bow to the main block. This addition is joined to the rear wing by a convex-curved projection and returned back to the original east end of the court by means of a similar convex curve on the south side. Broad stone bands mark the level of the ground and first floors and there is a narrower moulded band at the level of the second-floor window-sills. The whole is surmounted by a stone cornice with a stone-coped brick parapet above and brick frieze beneath, the latter separated from the main wall surface by a narrow stone moulding.

The ground storey is faced with rusticated brickwork and has a central rusticated round-arched window with plain stone imposts continued on each side, first as bands, next as lintels over the narrower square-headed windows on either side, and lastly as an impost to a round-arched window in the wide single bay to the south of the central projection.

Four pairs of plain stone Doric pilasters, rising directly, without bases, from the bandcourse marking the level of the first floor, divide the lower part of the second storey into three bays of the same widths as those below. The pilasters support an entablature consisting of stepped architrave, plain frieze and dentil cornice, this last being interrupted somewhat clumsily by the stone archivolt of the central round-arched window. In the flanking bays the windows finish square under the entablature, above which nearly half the storey consists of blank walling. The whole forms a motif derived, in all probability, from the RomanoGreek Aqueduct of Hadrian. (fn. 19) A segmental-bowed oriel window framed in a stone surround and opening on to a bowed wrought-iron balcony in the wide single bay to the south appears to be an addition of a later date.

The windows in the third storey of the rear wing itself are all of equal width, though centred over those now, or formerly, below. They are without architraves but have square stone lintels crowned by a stone cornice-hood.

A considerable part of Stuart's interior decoration survives and is described below with the later work executed by Samuel Wyatt. It has a distinctive character, many of the details being taken from Greek and Romano-Greek sources recorded in the various volumes of The Antiquities of Athens. It is quite unlike the interior work which was being carried out at Shugborough at about the same date and with which Stuart's name has been connected. (fn. 20)

In 1785 Thomas Anson's nephew and heir, George Anson, bought the old house next door, No. 16. (fn. 21) In 1789 he died and in the following year his son Thomas (who was created Viscount Anson in 1806) pulled No. 16 down, (fn. 13) immediately before embarking on elaborate embellishments to No. 15. The adjacent site remained vacant and part of it was taken into the back premises of No. 15: in 1804 Thomas Anson disposed of the vacant site at a small profit (see page 154).

The improvements to No. 15 in the years 1791–4 were carried out at considerable expense by craftsmen working under the direction of Samuel Wyatt, who was similarly modifying and adding to Stuart's work at Shugborough.

No correspondence is known to survive which would, like Stuart's, tell something of Wyatt's attitude to the work. But unlike the earlier work, Wyatt's activities are recorded in an (incomplete) collection of bills (fn. 22) and a probably complete summarized account (fn. 16) which gives the names of some of the craftsmen and indicates the large sums then spent.

A summary of 'S. Wyatt's Bills' totals about £9763. This list includes coppersmith's and slater's work, 'Ironmongery and Composition Enrichments', stonemason's work totalling only some £55, and large bills for carpenter's work (some £4925) and bricklayer's work (some £3210). Appended to this is another list of twenty-six 'Sundry Tradesmen's Bills' amounting to some £17,907. Only one class of work is represented in both totals: the second list starts with the summary of the bill of John Devall, stonemason, totalling some £1514. Bills of the plumber, smith, and glazier are included in the second list. Most of the bills in this list are for internal work, including furnishings. Scagliola columns in 'Verd Antique' and 'Yellow Antique' in the former library and dining-room respectively were provided by 'Domn Bartoli'. The chief embellishments were on the first floor, where 'friezes' and 'pilaster pannels' were painted by Cornelius Dixon. Some of the pictorial decorative paintings set into the ceiling of the first-floor front room were painted by Biagio Rebecca (Plate 169), as were some others which have since disappeared. (fn. 23)

Wyatt's alterations to the front of the house included the provision of a copper railing to the first-floor balcony costing some £112 out of a total coppersmith's bill of £474. It is likely that the stone balcony is also his work and that he lowered the sills of the first-floor windows and made the alterations to the entrance doorway already suggested (Plate 165, fig. 29). (fn. 7)

At the rear there was a greater change; a flat D-shaped bow was added to the main block, engaging a smaller segmental bow added to the lobby in the rear wing, both rising to the level of the sills to the second-storey windows and forming the projection at the east end of the court already referred to. The stone mouldings of the existing work were continued, and at ground- and first-floor level is a large three-light window to the main rear room, that on the first floor having a balcony, with a metal railing, and a segmental relieving arch above it. Plain single windows light the lobby, and the first-floor window at the far end of the wing was replaced by the tall bowed oriel, already mentioned. These alterations by Wyatt largely destroyed the formal character of Stuart's design. The return wing at the rear of the courtyard may have been entirely the work of Wyatt but it is known only from plans in the Soane Museum (see below). These plans, and some old photographs in the possession of the Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society, provide information about many parts of the house which have been altered.

The front door led into a hall of two parts, the inner of which has been removed. The part which remains has a coffered barrel-vault springing from an impost decorated with a band of leaf ornament, and on either side there are plain doorways, that on the left being blocked and that on the right serving a cupboard. The inner compartment of the hall was square in plan and groin-vaulted. The front part may be by Stuart but the date and character of the inner compartment is not known except that the chimneypiece which survives in the right wall is evidently by Wyatt. It is of white marble, and the plain opening is flanked by panelled pilasters delicately carved with bowls of fruit and drops of hops and barley. The frieze, which is defined by a minute band of guilloche ornament, is decorated with festoons and drops of vine, tied by ribbons, and there is a plainly moulded cornice-shelf. The hall opened to a small lobby, consisting of a square groin-vaulted compartment flanked by apses, the south containing the door to the front room. A wide opening led into the staircase hall.

The staircase was removed in 1928, when the staircase hall and the inner parts of the lobby were thrown open to the two principal ground-floor rooms, which had themselves been opened to each other at an earlier date. The architects for the alteration were Messrs. Curtis Green and Partners. The stair formerly rose against the left-hand wall to a half-landing, beneath which were doors to the lobby and service stair in the rear wing with a niche between them. Similar niches flanked the opening from the entrance vestibule and at the foot of the stairs was a door to the main front room, paired by another below the landing which may always have been false.

The front room now contains very little of interest, but the small enriched cornice and the frieze, decorated with anthemion and wreaths containing vases, is probably Stuart's work. The ceiling has roundels of vine and smaller ones of rose, which appear to be original though some at least are not in their original positions. Wyatt must have been responsible for the tall narrow panels beside the window openings and he may have inserted the double doorway formerly existing between this and the back room, for the columns which flanked it, in antis, were those of 'Yellow Antique' scagliola provided under his direction by 'Domn Bartoli'.

The rear room retains another enriched cornice and a frieze decorated with ewers and paterae resembling one used by Stuart in two rooms on the first floor of Spencer House. The ceiling is decorated with large loosely related circles formed by intertwined naturalistic foliage and containing wreaths of vine overlaying crossed spears and crooks, tied with ribbons. These two ground-floor ceilings are similar in character but are unlike Stuart's other work. The bow added to the rear room by Wyatt is semi-circular internally and the large flat window is flanked by curved mahogany doors with carved architraves, one leading only to a cupboard and the other to the lobby beside the service stair. A chimneypiece now in the library was formerly in this room (Plate 170b): it is of white marble and has an eared architrave to the opening, with carved mouldings, flanked by long thin consoles enriched with acanthus leaves and terminating in ornamented oval paterae. The frieze has an excellently carved relief of a pair of panthers drinking from bowls, with an urn containing grapes and foliage between them, which may be derived from a fragment found by Stuart 'built into the front of a house at Pola'. (fn. 24) At either end of the frieze is an enriched circular patera and, above, a dentil cornice which appears to have been altered by Wyatt.

The service stair and the lobby beside it have been remodelled to allow for the installation of a lift. Formerly the stair had rounded ends and was cut off from the lobby, which can have been little more than a passage before the addition to it of the segmental bow. What must be the original doorways remain at either end, with carved mouldings to the architrave and cornice but no frieze. The latter may have been removed when a low gallery was introduced overhead by Messrs. Curtis Green and Partners. The six-panelled doors themselves are of mahogany and have carved egg-and-dart mouldings. The rest of the decoration in the room must date from the time of Wyatt's alterations. The bowed wall is pierced by two openings containing a window and a door to the main rear room: both have architraves with carved leaf decoration, and level with their heads is a band of anthemion and lotus bud ornament. A flat chairrail is carved with a wave moulding and above the two openings are rectangular panels enclosed by narrow enriched mouldings with a circular panel between them. The small cornice is dentilled and has an enriched cymatium.

What must have been two separate rooms in the rear wing were formed into a library by Wyatt, the columns and pilasters of 'Verd Antique' scagliola provided by Bartoli taking the place of the dividing wall (Plate 168b). The main part of the room is lit by a group of windows comprising a central round-arched one with lower ones on either side. The window shutters and the soffits of the squareheaded openings have raised-and-fielded panels, the architraves are plainly moulded and the archivolt is carved. The doorcase is similar to the pair in the lobby but has a deep frieze carved with scrolls of acanthus leaf. All this work is probably Stuart's but the library fittings and the ceiling decoration must be by Wyatt. Beside the doorway and on either side of the chimneypiece (which is that removed from the principal rear room) are large bookcases of painted pine, partly recessed into the walls. They are divided by thin pilasters decorated with leaf ornament into a wide central section flanked by narrower ones. The flat enriched chair-rail is continued across the bookcases. Below it the shelves are closed by flush doors and above, by tall narrow doors, each with three panels. The frieze to the bookcases has fluting above the side doors and scroll decoration in the centre, separated by a roundel containing an urn above each pilaster. The cornice is enriched and there is a blocking-course over it with a central break forward. The frieze to the room has the same scroll pattern as the doorcases and the cornice has an enriched bed-mould and cymatium. There is a broad margin to the ceiling decorated with a string of small circles and ovals containing paterae and anthemion. The central area is enclosed and divided into three by bands of intricate guilloche ornament, the end sections containing elliptical wreaths and paterae, and the square central compartment a circular wreath with arabesque ornament at the corners, enclosing a square panel containing smaller circles and a central rosette. The dividing colonnade consists of two widely spaced Ionic columns with answering pilasters or antae supporting a small enriched architrave which is recessed behind the main wall face. The bases are of white marble and the capitals, which have a necking of anthemion ornament, appear to be of plaster. The soffit of the beam is panelled, with enriched mouldings.

The smaller, inner, part of the library, which is now partitioned off, was decorated and fitted in a manner similar to that already described. It ended in a segmental apse containing a bookcase flanked by doorways, but all this has been removed and a mid nineteenth-century chimneypiece of white marble, formerly in the main part of the library, has been inserted in the right-hand wall in what was the central compartment of a second bookcase. The decoration on the ceiling has been extended to fit the new shape of the room.

In the return wing at the back of the courtyard, which was rebuilt early in this century by Messrs. Dunn and Watson, there was a room with rounded ends which was approached from the apse of the library through a tiny, nearly elliptical, lobby, lit by a small window contrived in the angle between the two blocks. A third door from this lobby led to a D-shaped secondary staircase of stone, which still exists although considerably altered. Behind the stair there was a small room with a closet and at the back of the room with the rounded ends was the upper part of the laundry. Nothing is known of the appearance of this wing but the form of the plan suggests that it was the work of Wyatt.

The main staircase of the house, rising to the first floor, was constructed of stone with a wrought iron balustrade of rather complicated trellis form, divided by narrow panels containing scroll and anthemion ornament, and supporting a delicate mahogany handrail. The first floor was marked by a plainly moulded band, the skirting and chairrail also being continued round the compartment (Plate 166a). The doorway to the front room was nearly opposite the head of the stairs and a similar doorway at the end of a cantilevered gallery led to the rear lobby. Two doors, one at each end of the south wall, opened to the main rear room. The doorway to the front room survives but the present gallery is new, re-using the old balustrade. The whole compartment has a rich dentil cornice above a frieze decorated with anthemion and other ornament and a narrow enriched architrave. In the ceiling two ornamented beams are introduced, forming a square central space between the narrow end compartments, each decorated with a band of intersecting octagons containing square sunk panels and rosettes. There is a shallow dome in the centre supported on pendentives and rising to a circular roof-light (Plate 166b). The tympana are decorated with plaster drapery and a central oval plaque bearing a figure set in a garland of husks. The pendentives contain eagles with outstretched wings, holding wreaths, and above them festoons and drops of husks are suspended from the base of the dome. This has diagonal coffering containing rosettes and a band of anthemion ornament beneath the shallow decorated drum which rises to the rooflight. Some of this decoration could be by Stuart but it seems more likely that it is all the work of Wyatt.

In the front room (Plate 168a) the doorway from the staircase is balanced by another leading to the main back room and between them is the chimneypiece. The skirting and chair-rail have carved mouldings, the latter being fluted, and the rich architraves to the doors and windows have a cyma moulding in place of the usual flat face, probably inspired by a similar detail found by Stuart in a 'ruin at Salonicha called the Incontada'. (fn. 25) The two-leaf doors are of mahogany and date from the late eighteenth century. The chimneypiece (Plate 170a) is of white marble and is very like one formerly in the 'great room' at Spencer House. The opening has an eared architrave, carved with an egg-and-dart moulding, flanked by a pair of fluted Corinthian pilasters with female masks in their capitals supporting an architrave and a dentil cornice having enriched mouldings. Between the capitals runs a frieze carved in low relief, with nude male figures copied from a section of the frieze of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, (fn. 26) and two draped female figures. Over the chimneypiece is a tall mirror in a gilt frame formed by fluted pilasters rising to carved consoles which support an enriched cornice and enclose a fluted frieze: it could well have been designed by Stuart. The room has a small enriched architrave and cornice and a very deep frieze with loose scroll decoration. The ceiling (Plate 169) is reduced to a square by shallow beams, incised with fret ornament, the narrow compartments at either end being decorated with long hexagonal panels and smaller square ones set diagonally. Within the square portion is a large octagon containing hexagonal coffers with rosettes which diminish towards the centre where a smaller octagon frames a low coved dome, ornamented with arabesque and palm leaf decoration radiating from a central rosette. The surround to the main octagon is divided by bands of guilloche ornament into rectangular and long hexagonal panels, with small triangles at the corners. The panels are filled with arabesque decoration and contain rectangular and oval compartments for paintings. The design of the ceiling, cornice and frieze is very similar to that executed by Stuart for Lord Holdernesse in the drawing-room of what is now Londonderry House in Park Lane.

The alterations carried out in this room by Wyatt, apart from the lowering of the window-sills which has already been discussed, are of a superficial nature. The bills list 'friezes' and 'pilaster panels' painted by Cornelius Dixon on the first floor. The friezes no longer exist but there are pilaster panels, presumably by Dixon, painted with arabesque ornament in brown monochrome. They and the whole of the upper part of the wall surface are enclosed by narrow, reeded, gilt mouldings with rosette stops, and at either end of the room are triple mirrors, similarly framed. The wooden curtain boxes, carved with acanthus leaves and imitation drapery, may also date from Wyatt's time although they do not appear in the accounts. The eight painted panels in the ceiling are by Biagio Rebecca (Plate 169) and represent classical figure subjects, well executed in light clear colours. Rebecca charged twelve guineas each for the oval paintings and five for the smaller rectangular ones. (fn. 27)

The rear room (Plate 167a) which was at first a simple rectangle with a coved ceiling retains a great deal of Stuart's decoration. The one original doorway is similar to those in the front room, the skirting has enriched mouldings and the chair-rail is carved with a wave moulding. The chimneypiece (Plate 170d) of white marble has an eared architrave, enriched with egg-and-dart moulding round the opening, and strip pilasters on either side running up to carved consoles which support the cornice-shelf. This has carved mouldings and below it is a fluted frieze of cyma section. The frieze of the room itself is ornamented with paterae and there is a small enriched cornice. The cove rises to a flat ceiling (Plate 167b) surrounded by a band of fret ornament with similar bands dividing the cove into sections. At either end there is a row of three small panels, the corner ones containing octagons with concave sides and the middle one being further subdivided. The central square compartment contains an enriched circle enclosing a large octagon, again with concave sides, a smaller figure of the same shape in the centre and eight round-headed panels containing paintings. The whole of the ceiling is decorated with arabesque ornament.

Wyatt's addition of a bow to the room necessitated the removal of one side of the cove, the bow being covered by a shallow semi-dome with decoration copied from the existing ceiling and containing four painted roundels. The spandrels left between the segmental section of the new ceiling and the coved section of the old are filled in with plaster drapery resembling that in the dome to the staircase. The big three-light window is flat, as in the room below, and the curved doors on either side match the third one in the room. The painted roundels in the ceiling to the semi-dome contain standing figures against a background of sky and are probably the '4 Round [pictures] in Colours' listed in Rebecca's bill, for which he charged four guineas each. The eight panels in the centre of the ceiling, containing similar figures, are thought to be by another hand. (fn. 23) They could perhaps be the 'eight small circles' [sic] for which Rebecca charged £3 8s. 'to changing the ground and touching the figures'.

The ceiling in this and the front room, and also that over the staircase, are painted in shades of pink, green and blue with touches of red and a considerable amount of gilding. Whether this represents a survival of Wyatt's original colour scheme is not certain for A. T. Bolton in 1917 refers to 'the present sombre effect' of the front room. (fn. 28)

The lobby in the rear wing has been altered but retains some plain late eighteenth-century fittings and a chair-rail carved with anthemion ornament. Projections in the dado on either side of the two openings in the bowed wall may have formed pedestals to pilasters over the rectangular portion of the room only. The ceiling has a small cove decorated with elongated hexagonal coffers and rising to a narrow band of guilloche ornament above a small enriched cornice. The flat central panel bears two circular plaques with standing figures in relief. The ceiling over the bow is entirely plain and it might be supposed that the decorated portion is a survival from Stuart's rectangular lobby but for the existence of a nearly identical cove to the ceiling of the saloon at Doddington Hall in Cheshire, which is the work of Samuel Wyatt.

The principal room in the rear wing, above the main part of the library, is lit by the three middle windows, their reveals being lined with raised-and-fielded panels with carved mouldings. There is a fluted chair-rail and the other fittings are similar to those in the two rooms already described. Above a diminutive enriched cornice and a frieze decorated with anthemion, the ceiling rises in a cove to a flat panel enclosed by a band of guilloche ornament and decorated with octagonal coffers, containing rosettes, arranged diagonally. In the centre is another rectangular panel divided into narrow end compartments, with anthemion and arabesque ornament, and a square central compartment decorated with intersecting curves and arabesques in the corners. This may well be by Stuart but the decoration of the cove, with small paterae and thin festoons and drops tied by ribbons, must be an addition by Wyatt. The chimneypiece (Plate 170c), of white marble, consists of a carved and fluted architrave flanked by narrow margins rising to finely carved winged horses, holding scrolls, which support a shelf only separated from the top of the architrave by two narrow mouldings. The edge of the shelf is decorated with a minute band of guilloche ornament and this part of the chimneypiece, at least, must be by Wyatt.

The inner room is similarly decorated but with a different frieze. It ends in a broad segmental apse, like that which formerly existed below, but containing two single doorways. The chimneypiece is modern and the room is lit by the bowed oriel window already described. The ceiling was destroyed by bombing during the last war and the design of the present one is an adaptation of that in the room below.

The first floor of the return wing was similar in plan to the ground floor but over the kitchen was a large room with a bed-recess flanked by closets.

On the second floor the rooms are plainly finished with simply moulded woodwork, friezes decorated with fluting and other ornament, and small moulded cornices. The chimneypieces consist of plainly moulded wooden architraves with marble slips and cornice-shelves above, only the pair in the large front room having any enrichment.

At the time of Wyatt's alterations a garden or 'shrubbery' was formed at the back of the house, under the superintendence of Charles Sandys. (fn. 22)

After these improvements had been carried out Thomas Anson settled the house in September 1794 on his intended bride in a marriage settlement. (fn. 21) Between April 1798 and November 1800 Samuel Wyatt did some further, small, repairs to the house. (fn. 16) Despite their expenditure there the Ansons do not seem subsequently to have lived in the house at all continuously (fn. 13) and contemplated selling it. Lord Eliot considered taking it in 1804 when Soane surveyed the house and was asked £30,000 for it by Wyatt. (fn. 29) In 1806 the house was let to the Duchess of Gordon at a rent of £525 for six months. In 1809, when the Marquis of Abercorn occupied the house, Soane made further plans of it and was sent another valuation at £34,500 by Lord Anson. (fn. 30)

In 1818 Lord Anson was succeeded by the second Viscount, who in 1831 was created Earl of Lichfield, the house being thereafter generally known as Lichfield House. As Postmaster-General Lord Lichfield was responsible for the introduction of penny postage and his residence in the square made it the scene of a quaint annual parade of mail coaches on the Queen's birthday. (fn. 8) His extravagance compelled the sale of the contents of the house and of Shugborough in April 1842. (fn. 31) The sale of the house itself, described as 'a Princely Habitation' on the 'west and preferable side of St. James's Square' was also attempted but not effected. (fn. 32)

After the sale of the furnishings, the house stood empty until the end of 1846 (fn. 13) when it was taken by the Army and Navy Club until 1850. The house again stood empty from 1851 to 1853 although it was used for a display of paintings during the summer of the Great Exhibition. (fn. 33) From the last quarter of 1854 until midway through 1856 the house was again occupied by a club, the Junior United Service, whose club-house in Charles Street was being rebuilt (see page 292) and who, on vacating No. 15, bought and removed some mirrors. (fn. 34) Meanwhile, in July 1854, the Earl had come to an agreement for the sale of the house to William Sedgwick of Regent Street for the comparatively modest sum of £15,300, and in October 1854 Sedgwick had agreed to lease the house to the club at £1080 per annum, (fn. 21) which presumably provided the title under which they occupied it. But Sedgwick went bankrupt and the Earl's sale to him did not proceed, (fn. 21) and in April 1856 the Earl, Sedgwick and others sold the house for only £12,750 to the General Medical Society (now the Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society) which had previously thought of acquiring No. 2. (fn. 35) The purchase price was said by Dasent in 1895 to have been 'probably by far the cheapest transfer of freehold property which has occurred in the Square during the last half century'. (fn. 36) Alterations, costing perhaps some £2490, were carried out for the Society by the architect Charles Fowler, of Furnival's Inn, (fn. 37) and executed by Messrs. Cubitt. (fn. 34)

The back premises were rebuilt in 1928 by Messrs. Curtis Green and Partners who also made major changes on the ground floor, where the partitions were removed to form a large office: the staircase was also taken away. The interior was damaged when a bomb fell on Mason's Yard in February 1944, but has since been carefully restored. (fn. 38) The Society continues to occupy No. 15, having enjoyed a longer continuous tenure or the same building than any other business house in the square.


  • 1. The high rating of Lord Purbeck at No. 16 in 1676 suggests that he may, at least in that year, have been assessed for both that house and No. 15.
  • 2. But the sequence of entries in the 1676–87 ratebooks for Nos. 13–15 seems to be badly disordered, and he may have lived at No. 15 from 1680.
  • 3. In 1895 Dasent wrote that the house 'is said to have cost £60,000 to build'.
  • 4. Also called Rovehead, Rouchard or Ronchart and perhaps of French extraction.
  • 5. The letter of September 1766 includes a complaint from Stuart of his treatment by Anson's servants: 'the insolence of your people is insupportable'. The letters of 1769–70 seem friendly and familiar in tone and in 1773 Anson left £100 per annum to Stuart by his will.
  • 6. The work is attributed to Stuart in the British Museum catalogue and in William Upcott's Bibliographical Account of Works relating to English Topography, 1818. A correspondent of Notes and Queries in 1864 said he had seen a presentation copy from the author, James Stuart, to a friend.
  • 7. Ackermann is probably mistaken in omitting the balcony from his view of the square in 1812 (Plate ).
  • 8. Described on p. 174 of the Memoirs of Anna Maria Wilhelmina Pickering (1903): 'There was an immense number of coaches, all freshly painted, and looking very bright: the horses spick and span, and some of them very fine animals: the coachmen and guards had all new scarlet coats, and new hats: and the reins, also, were new. They all drove, one after the other, round St. James's Square, blowing their horns, and, as they passed Lord Lichfield's house, which was in the corner of the Square, the coachman and guard of each took off their hats.'
  • 9. Hertfordshire County Record Office, Cowper (Panshanger) Collection.
  • 10. B.M., Add. MS. 22063, item 372.
  • 11. Hertfordshire County Record Office, Cowper (Panshanger) Collection, C.4247–8; P.R.O., C6/227/27.
  • 12. M.L.R. 1748/1/122–3.
  • 13. R.B.
  • 14. P.R.O., C108/362 (Matthew Brettingham's account book).
  • 15. P.C.C., 230 St. Eloy.
  • 16. Anson MSS.
  • 17. Diary of Lady Shelburne, 13 April 1768, quoted by A. T. Bolton, 'Lichfield House, No. 15 St. James's Square', in Country Life, 12 May 1917.
  • 18. James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of Athens, vol. ii, 1787 (published 1789), chapter 11.
  • 19. Ibid., vol. iii, 1794, chapter IV, Plate .
  • 20. Christopher Hussey, 'Shugborough, Staffordshire', in Country Life, 25 Feb., 4, 11 March 1954.
  • 21. Deed of Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society.
  • 22. MSS. of Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society.
  • 23. Edward Croft-Murray, Lecture on 'Biagio Rebecca and No. 15 St. James's Square', given at No. 15 in 1952 (copy at No. 15).
  • 24. The Antiquities of Athens, vol. iv, 1816, headpiece to chapter 1.
  • 25. Ibid., vol. iii, 1795, chapter IX.
  • 26. Ibid., vol. i, 1762, chapter IV.
  • 27. Rebecca's bill, 16 June 1794, in possession of Clerical, Medical and General Life. Assurance Society.
  • 28. A. T. Bolton, 'Lichfield House, No. 15 St. James's Square', in Country Life, 12 May 1917.
  • 29. Soane Museum, Soane notebook transcript, vol. v, pp. 81–2; plan in Soane drawings, drawer 36, set 7, No. 1.
  • 30. Ibid., Soane notebook transcripts, vol. vii, p. 53; journal No. 5, f. 128; Soane drawings, drawer 36, set 7, Nos. 2–4; plans of town houses, ff. 102–3.
  • 31. Christopher Hussey, 'Shugborough, Staffordshire', in Country Life, 11 March 1954.
  • 32. Sale catalogue in possession of Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society.
  • 33. The Builder, 31 May 1851, p. 353; 28 June 1851, p. 411; 30 Aug. 1851, p. 545.
  • 34. Correspondence of Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society.
  • 35. Correspondence and deeds of Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society.
  • 36. Dasent, op. cit. (53 above), p. 125 n.
  • 37. P.O.D.
  • 38. One Hundred Tears at Lichfield House 1856– 1956 (brochure of Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society).
  • 39. R.B.; Dasent, op. cit. (53 above), p. 24.
  • 40. Dasent, op. cit. (53 above), p. 125 n.
  • 41. Colvin, p. 515.
  • 42. P.C.C., 144 Stevens.
  • 43. Notes and Queries, third series, vol. vi, 2 July 1864, pp. 71–2.