St. James's Square: No 33

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 33', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 206-210. British History Online [accessed 13 April 2024]

No. 33

Architect, Robert Adam, 1770–2. Eastern part of Charles II Street front by Sir John Soane, 1817–23 (altered). Attic storey and main cornice nineteenth century. Ground storey refronted in stone, and porticoes, balcony and garret storey added in 1911 by Messrs. Edmeston and Gabriel

As at No. 32 very little is known of the history of the house first built on this site. Like that of No. 32, the site formed part of the plot granted by the Earl of St. Albans and Baptist May in March 1669/70 to trustees for Lord Belasyse, and the house appears with its neighbour in the ratebooks in 1673. The first occupant was Aubrey, twentieth and last Earl of Oxford of the de Vere family. Lord Belasyse himself occupied the house during the last year of his life, being succeeded by his son, the second baron, but from 1692 No. 33 was, like No. 32, held for short-term tenancies. The house stood empty from 1732 until 1734 when it was occupied by John, Lord Hobart, later first Earl of Buckinghamshire, whose family inhabited the house intermittently until 1805.

During the three years 1770 to 1772, immediately before the Hon. George Hobart, later the third Earl of Buckinghamshire, moved into the house, it was empty. (fn. 3) It was at this time that the original house, which was still standing in c. 1752, (fn. 4) was demolished and a new house built by Robert Adam. His plans are in the Soane Museum (Plates 186a, 186c, 186d, 187a, 188, 189a). (fn. 5) An elevation of the house is inscribed 'Earl of Buckinghamshire for Mr. Hobart', (fn. 6) which may indicate that the design was made at the instruction of George Hobart's half-brother, the second Earl. Adam's plans and Soane's later survey drawings show that the house was roughly L-shaped, with an almost square body, two rooms deep, towards the square and a short wing, one room deep, fronting to Charles Street. There were two rooms in front, almost equal in size, the north being 'Mr. Hobart's dressing-room', and the south being the entrance hall where two doors, flanking a niche, led to the service stairs, against the south party-wall, and to the 'Great Stair'. This was an oblong two-storeyed compartment, where the stairs rose against the west, south and east walls to stop at the first-floor gallery, which extended across the north and west sides of the stair hall. The north gallery was behind a two-storeyed screen of columns, three bays wide, and the body of the hall was lit by a large Venetian window in the east wall. North of the stair hall, on the ground floor, were two small rooms—a powdercloset and a valet's room—linked with Mr. Hobart's dressing-room. The wing towards Charles Street contained a large parlour, which must have served as an eating-room. On the first floor (fig. 40), the north gallery landing gave access to an ante-room serving a drawing-room on the east and another on the west, each with three windows. South of the west drawing-room was an apseended dressing-room, presumably for Mrs. Hobart. The two upper floors contained bedrooms, nurseries and staff-rooms.

As rebuilt by Adam, the exterior of No. 33 was rather plain, both elevations presenting a brick face containing three tiers of evenly spaced windows, proportionate to the various floors but with no dressings other than narrow stone sills and flat arches of gauged brickwork. The St. James's Square front had four windows in each storey, and the Charles Street front had seven, two at the west end being blind. The first-floor level was marked by a simple pedestal-course, the second-floor level by a bandcourse—enriched with a guilloche on the square front only—and the simply moulded main cornice was surmounted by a plain parapet.

In February 1805 the house, then occupied by the fourth Earl of Buckinghamshire, was surveyed by John Soane on behalf of a prospective purchaser, Lord Eliot, for whom Soane was working at Port Eliot in Cornwall. (fn. 7) Lord Buckinghamshire asked for £12,000, but the sale was made in April 1805 for £11, 100. (fn. 8) In the same month Soane began extensive work on the house which was not concluded until February 1807. (fn. 1) Several drawings, dated April 1805, present Soane's suggestions. (fn. 9) In one scheme, eventually carried out, the entrance was to be moved from St. James's Square to Charles Street, with a new entrance hall replacing the powder-closet and valet's room. Half of the original hall was to form an anteroom serving an enlarged eating-room (formerly Mr. Hobart's dressing-room). Another proposal was to divide the original hall and form a waitingroom on its south side. The stairs were to be removed from the stair hall which was to become a single-storeyed inner hall, and a new principal staircase was to replace the powder-closet and valet's room. The documentary evidence of the work carried out at this time indicates some extension or rebuilding at the back: a 'new room' is referred to, and also the slating of the east end of the house and of the new building: work on a 'green house' is also mentioned. Soane made designs for and views of Lady Eliot's sitting-room. In correspondence he speaks of a 'Round Room' and 'columns on the staircase', and the accounts include payments for oval and square skylights and for the provision of coloured glass borders and engraved ground glass in doors and in a fanlight. The cost was £4355, including Soane's commission at five per cent. (fn. 10)

In 1813 the construction of Waterloo Place involved Soane in protracted negotiations on Lord Eliot's behalf with Nash and S. P. Cockerell, the architect for Lord Eliot's neighbour, the Bishop of London, over the provision of new stables for Lord Eliot (as also for the Bishop at No. 32) by the New Street Commissioners. In July a plan was settled. (fn. 11) The matter seems to have been taken up again only in April 1814, perhaps partly because of some incapacitation for work suffered by Soane, (fn. 12) and the negotiations lasted until 1817. April 1815 saw the parties 'quite at Sea' following some misunderstanding (fn. 13) and by May 1816 the Earl of St. Germans (as Lord Eliot had become) was finding the negotiations a 'long and tedious business'. (fn. 14) Nash, however, attributed the delay to the Earl's own suspiciousness and hard bargaining, and evidently resented the Earl's apparent unreadiness to recognize that he was dealing with a gentleman. In October 1816 Nash was apologizing to Cockerell for delay in building the Bishop's stables caused by the Earl's reluctance to make the necessary conveyance of land, and enclosed what purported to be the copy of a characteristically jaunty and disrespectful letter to Soane in which he rallied him for his failure to extract a suitable decision from his employer or to show initiative of his own. (fn. 15) The letter actually sent to Soane, however, was a little more subdued and diplomatic in tone than the 'copy' sent to placate Cockerell. (fn. 16) In the end, new stables were built for the Earl not at the back of No. 33 as had originally been intended but north of Charles Street in Market Lane (now St. Alban's Street) where the foundations were begun by November 1816 and the building completed, to Soane's design, by May 1818. (fn. 17) In reference to some aspect of this final arrangement (probably the inclusion of an extra piece of land, shown on plans of April 1817) Nash wrote to Soane that it was equivalent to giving the Earl £320 'for making his stables better then they were to have been. . . . I have no power to consent or refuse and between ourselves I am disgusted with the subject.' (fn. 18)

The stables in Market Lane are shown in drawings in Sir John Soane's Museum; they were of two storeys and enclosed a courtyard on three sides with a screen wall to the street. They were apparently constructed of yellow brick with slight stone dressings, and the hipped and slated roofs were partly concealed by a parapet with a simple brick cornice and stone coping. The ends of the wings had shallow round-arched recesses containing lunette windows, with rectangular panels between the stone sills and another band which reappeared as the capping to the screen wall. The wall was pierced by two round-arched doorways flanking a gateway with a similar wider opening, and having above its brick cornice a blockingcourse with each end set forward to support pairs of typical Soane acroteria. The door and window openings to the courtyard had semi-circular heads on the ground storey and segmental heads above with a continuous sill-band. The side blocks had round-arched arcades, one containing the stables and the other two coach-houses with a second entrance gateway, the shallower rear wing having a central arched recess and a triple chimney-stack centrally above it.

An earlier scheme dated May 1816, and not unlike Soane's stable block at Chelsea Hospital, had the screen wall at the rear of the courtyard and a plainer treatment of the ends of the wings with a triple arcade between them, pierced only by the entrance gateway with its panelled stone lintel. Above it was a blocking-course with two pairs of acroteria, as in the executed design, and also the triple chimney-stack, brought right to the front of the building.

By May 1816 the Earl, when writing to Soane about walls to be built by the New Street Commissioners at the back of No. 33, was suggesting the adjustment of the work to accommodate a 'proposed addition to my House' fronting on to Charles Street. (fn. 14) In February 1817 he ordered Soane to execute part of the intended addition. (fn. 19) By October the carcase of the new building was finished but letters and plans relating to the interior were exchanged between Soane and the Earl until at least the summer of 1819. The work proceeded from early in 1817 until the autumn of 1823, and cost, with Soane's fee, some £7532 in all. (fn. 2) The new work included a domed ceiling, probably containing the six frames of stained glass mentioned in the accounts. (fn. 20) Soane also inserted new sashes in the first-floor windows facing the square. (fn. 21)

The new building contained two storeys above a basement, and for the front to Charles Street Soane produced a typical design, individual in expression but showing regard for the existing building. The window openings, the first-floor pedestal-course, and the second-floor bandcourse of the Adam front were repeated in a composition of three bays, one wide between two narrow, formed by plain brick pilasters, breaking the pedestal-course but stopping against the upper bandcourse, above which was a plain parapet and, over the middle bay, an elaborate chimney-stack. One design for this shows a group of four square shafts, closely spaced like pillars to support a plain lintel from which the pots emerge, and flanked by panelled stelae, placed over the pilasters and finished with half-round acroteria. In an alternative design, the parapet is raised above a frieze ornamented with fret panels, and Soane echoes Vanbrugh by linking the four shafts, here more widely spaced, by curtain walls pierced with doubly recessed arches. The fourth, easternmost, bay of the front contains a high carriage-archway leading to the Bishop of London's stables at the back of No. 32.

Soane's addition provided a large eating-room on the first floor, reached through an ante-room adjoining the east drawing-room. This new room had three tall windows in its south side wall, looking into the court, and none in its north wall, but both sides had a curious arrangement of clerestory windows with the light percolating through long oval openings in the segmental ceiling. There are two designs for decorating the room, the earlier one all light and elegance, the later (dated 2 June 1819) plain and sombre. The walls were to be marbled in shades of brown, the windows draped in red with swagged pelmets, and the ceiling patterned with delicate bronzed ribs. (fn. 22)

Further alterations to the building were made during the course of the nineteenth century, mostly affecting the back premises. Another staircase, serving all floors, was formed in the court behind the 'Great Stair', and an elaborate verandah of florid cast ironwork was erected round the ground storey to support a first-floor balcony. Soane's extension lost its chimney-stack when the whole building was raised to an uniform height, with an attic storey added above a new and more prominent main cornice.

In 1910 the house was sold by the Earl of Derby for £54,000 to the English and Scottish Law Life Assurance Association, by whom the building was let as offices. (fn. 23) Internally, it appears to have been then much as Adam and Soane left it. In 1911, however, Edmeston and Gabriel, of Old Broad Street, acting for the Assurance Association reconstructed the basement and ground floor for offices, and adapted the upper storeys to serve the Caledonian Club, with a garret storey added in place of the low-pitched roof. The original staircases were taken out, walls were removed, and some old back premises were demolished (fig. 40). The cast-iron verandah was removed, and the ground storey received its present facing of stone. A continuous first-floor balcony and three Ionic porticoes were added, one of two bays on the St. James's Square front, and two, each three bays wide, on the Charles Street front, the design apparently based on the nineteenth-century portico and balcony added to Norfolk House (Plate 186b). The central portico in Charles Street served the offices and that at the east end was the club entrance, opening to a large hall with the principal and service stairs at the back. In 1931–2 the house was united with No. 32 (see page 204). Fortunately, the fine Adam features in the first-floor rooms have been preserved. These give the house its present value and interest.

The west drawing-room and the ovoid dressing-room are now one. The dressing-room, small and elegant, retains its apses, one with a window and the other with a doorway, both flanked by niches. On the south wall is a wood and compo chimneypiece (Plate 189a, 189b), originally in the west drawing-room. Its enriched and fluted architrave is flanked by ram-headed scrolled consoles, supporting a cornice-shelf above a frieze of diaper pattern, with a central tablet ornamented with a figure medallion flanked by altars. (fn. 24)

The ceiling (Plate 188a) is of radial pattern, with a large oval medallion in the centre, surrounded by husk festoons and diagonal pendants, the latter supporting small circular medallions. (fn. 25)

The west drawing-room is oblong in plan, with three windows overlooking the square. In the opposite wall are three doorways, that on each side original and the middle one replacing the fireplace. All have fine doorcases of Adam design, almost certainly original. The walls have a pedestal dado, the face above being formed into panels by raised fluted mouldings, probably modern. The frieze, cornice, and very rich ceiling are certainly original. (fn. 26) The ceiling (Plate 187) is divided by guilloche bands, stopped with paterae, into panels, a large square between two series of small panels—square, oblong, and square. The latter contain circular or oval medallions, and the large middle panel is of radial pattern with a central medallion surrounded by husk festoons and diagonal pendants, the latter supporting small circular medallions. In each corner is a fan motif and between these are lunette panels adorned with griffins and vases.

The east drawing-room, which is similar in size and form to the west drawing-room, contains the third authenticated Adam ceiling (Plates 188b, 189c). (fn. 27) This is of radial pattern, a larger and more elaborate version of the one in the dressingroom, having a central oval medallion fringed with anthemion ornament. A larger concentric oval is formed by a band of paterae which is surrounded with husk festoons and pendants, the last ending with shields or ornaments composed of sphinxes and altars resting on tablets with festoons and pendants below. This room also contains a fine Adam chimneypiece of white marble, but there is no related drawing in the Soane Museum.

All of these ceilings are now whitened or coarsely gilded, but originally they were painted in Adam's favourite Etruscan colours of pink and green, with white and gold ornaments, and the medallions contained figure subjects on grounds of brilliant blue or red.

Soane's new eating-room is richly decorated in the Adam manner, with a fine ceiling which must, however, be regarded as modern. The white marble chimneypiece is of Adam character and may well have been moved from another room.

Nothing of interest appears to have survived on the ground floor except in the present front southern room. This was originally part of the Adam entrance hall, and it retains a simple frieze of paterae alternating with roundels modelled with the Hobart 'bull statant'. The chimneypiece is also probably original, with scrolled consoles supporting a cornice-shelf, and a frieze broken by a tablet bearing a bull's skull in high relief.


  • 1. The workmen employed were Monday and Co., bricklayers; Thomas Seymour, carpenter; James Nelson, mason; Tyson and Sharp, slaters; William Rothwell, plasterer; Lancelot Burton, plumber; William Hopkins, smith; William Hewlett, and William Stevens, ironmongers; William Barber, painter and glazier; and William Tarle, glazier only. Metal sashes were supplied by Underwood and Doyle.
  • 2. The workmen employed were Joseph Drown & Co., and Thomas Poynder & Son, bricklayers; John Smith of Vine Street, Piccadilly, carpenter and joiner; Thomas Grundy and William Turner, masons; W. and J. Sharp, slaters; William Rothwell and John and Joseph Bayley plasterers; Lancelot Burton of New Castle Street, Strand, plumber; James Mackell & Co smiths; Stevens Wedd & Co, and W. & D. Bailey, ironmongers; and William Watson, painter and glazier. James Cruikshanks provided metal sashes.
  • 3. R.B.; Dasent, op. cit. (53 above), p. 221.
  • 4. Bowles's view of c. 1752.
  • 5. Soane Museum, Adam drawings, vol. 12, Nos. 38–40; vol. 22, Nos. 278–9; vol. 44, Nos. 14–18; vol. 53, Nos. 13–14.
  • 6. Ibid., Adam drawings, vol. 44, No. 14.
  • 7. Ibid., journal 4, 1797–1804, f. 451.
  • 8. M.L.R. 1805/2/773.
  • 9. Soane Museum, miscellaneous drawings F.5, Nos. 85, 87, 88; drawer 34, set 2.
  • 10. Ibid., letter book 1802–1 5, p. 61; journal No. 5, 1804–12, ff. 32–4; bill book D, 1801–6, ff. 418–48; abstract book No. 3, ff. 141–2.
  • 11. Ibid., journal No. 6, 1813–30, f. 58; correspondence, cupboard 1, division VII, F.14; drawings, drawer 7, set 1.
  • 12. Ibid., correspondence, cupboard 2, division XIII, D.1, No. 1.
  • 13. Church Commissioners, file FP 132, 16 April 1815.
  • 14. Soane Museum, correspondence, cupboard 2, division XIII, D.I, No. 24.
  • 15. Church Commissioners, file FP 132, 9 Oct. 1816.
  • 16. Soane Museum, correspondence, cupboard 2, division XIII, D.I, No. 37.
  • 17. Ibid., loc. cit., No. 39; abstract book No. 5, f. 11; drawings, drawer 7, set 1.
  • 18. Ibid., correspondence, cupboard 2, division XIII, D.I, No. 46.
  • 19. Ibid., loc. cit., No. 41.
  • 20. Ibid., bill book H, 1814–20, ff. 171–91, 197–9; book I, 1819–20, ff. 182–215, 346–80, 553–5; book K, 1820–6, f. 97.
  • 21. Ibid., Soane notebook, 27 July 1821.
  • 22. Ibid., drawings, drawer 34, set 2.
  • 23. Deeds of Prudential Assurance Co. Ltd.; B.A. 35106.
  • 24. Soane Museum, Adam drawings, vol. 22, No. 278.
  • 25. Ibid., vol. 12, No. 38.
  • 26. Ibid., vol. 12, No. 39.
  • 27. Ibid., vol. 12, No. 40.