Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
King Street, which was presumably named in honour of Charles II, first appears in the ratebooks of the parish of St. Martin in 1673: it had previously been known as Charles Street like the street on the other side of the square (see page 157,157n.). The ground on the south side of the street formed part of the freehold granted by the Crown to the Earl of St. Albans's trustees in 1665, as did the ground on the north side between St. James's Square and Duke Street. The remainder on the north side was part of the land leased in 1661 by Henrietta Maria's trustees to the Earl of St. Albans's trustees for thirty years; subsequent grants extended this term to 1740. This part of the street is still the freehold property of the Crown.
Between 1670 and 1672 the Earl of St. Albans's trustees granted eleven leases of land in King Street for terms of forty-two to forty-five years. (fn. 8) The ratebook of the parish of St. Martin for 1673 records thirteen names in King Street; that for 1676 records twenty-seven occupants (some of whose property may have been in the courts leading out of the street), and that for 1686 in the newly formed parish of St. James records twenty-four. Ogilby and Morgan's map (Plate 2) shows that the building of houses along both sides of the street had been almost completed by 16812. Only the western extremity of the garden of Cleveland House (now No. 19 St. James's Square) still remained open ground, and subsequently became the site of Cleveland Yard. In 1720 John Strype described King Street as 'a good handsome Street'. Some of the older houses, now demolished, are shown on fig. 55.
Ogilby and Morgan's map also shows that as originally laid out King Street came to an abrupt end a few yards west of Bury Street, and that the only access to St. James's Street was through a narrow alley (later Gloucester Court) leading out of what is now called Crown Passage. To the west of King Street stood a large house and stables fronting St. James's Street. In 1684 Thomas Lord Jermyn assigned his leasehold interest in this house to Thomas Ellyott, (fn. 9) who by 1689 had demolished it and formed a passage some twelve feet wide connecting King Street with St. James's Street (see Blome's map of 1689, Plate 3). Along this passage, which was later known as Little King Street and was described by John Strype in 1720 as 'an open paved Alley', (fn. 10) a number of small houses were built. (fn. 9) Little King Street subsequently became 'a disgraceful rookery' (fn. 11) and in 1826 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests obtained statutory authority to widen it. (fn. 12) The freehold of all the land required on the north side already belonged to the Crown, but most of the land on the south side formed part of the freehold grant of 1665 to the Earl of St. Albans's trustees and had to be re-acquired by the Commissioners. (fn. 13) The widening of the street was carried out in 182930 at a cost of slightly less than 20,000. (fn. 14) In 1831 the Commissioners obtained statutory authority to stop up the greater part of Gloucester Court, which connected Crown Passage and St. James's Street. (fn. 15) The St. James's Bazaar was subsequently erected on the south side of the new line of King Street and on the site of Gloucester Court (see page 438).
On the south side of King Street there were (and still are) a number of courts or yards. Crown Passage, which leads through to Pall Mall, is marked on Ogilby and Morgan's map of 16812 as Golden Lion Court, on Blome's of 1689 as Crown Court, and on Rocque's of 1746 as Old Pav'd Alley; Zachary Chambers's map of 1769 (fn. 16) marks the south end as Old Pav'd Alley and the north end as Crown Court. Angel Court has been so called since at least 16812. Pall Mall Place is marked on Rocque's map as Binham's Yard, and on Zachary Chambers's of 1769 as King's Place or Binham's Yard; Rose and Crown Yard and Cleveland Yard are both so marked on Rocque's map. In 1844 King's Place was said to be a 'low den of infamy'. (fn. 11)
A list of distinguished residents in King Street whose names are not mentioned below is contained in the Appendix.
Nos. 1a, 1b and 1c King Street
The three houses share a four-storeyed front, stucco-faced and designed in the Italianate style to accord with the much grander front of No. 18 St. James's Square. The ground storey has been greatly altered but each house retains its shallow porch, with Doric columns attached to the screen walls, and narrowside lights in the flanking rusticated wall face. Each porch is surmounted by a modern ironwork railing which is returned and continued across the front balcony of each house. The upper storeys are two windows wide, but in Nos. 1b and 1c, which have mirrored plans, the second window is widened with side lights. The tall second-storey windows are dressed with architraves and segmental pediments on consoles, and the third-storey windows have modern ironwork guard-rails on moulded sills projecting on consoles, as well as cornice-hoods on consoles. A moulded stringcourse underlines the attic, where the windows are plain but for their moulded sills. The crowning entablature, composed of a wave-scrolled frieze and a cornice with dentils and modillions, is surmounted by a pedestal-parapet.
No. 1 King Street
See page 309.
Nos. 57 King Street And No. 49 Duke Street
Formerly Nos. 5 and 6 King Street and Nos. 49 and 50 Duke Street
In October 1896 the Office of Woods and Forests granted a building lease of the sites of Nos. 5 and 6 King Street and 49 and 50 Duke Street to Edwin Bratt, the licensee of the Feathers, an old-established public house at No. 50 Duke Street. The old houses were demolished by February 1897 and the new block was completed by the late summer of 1898. The architect was Robert Sawyer of Craig's Court, Charing Cross, and the builders were W. H. Lorden and Son of Upper Tooting. The building re-housed the Feathers, the remainder of the space being occupied by two shops and by flats. The interior of the new public house was lavishly fitted up; (fn. 19) the Daily Mail of 5 May 1899 commented that although public houses had 'developed exceedingly of recent years', the Feathers was 'the latest and the highest development in public-house decoration that has so far been reached'.
In 1920 the lease of the whole building was sold to Messrs. Spink and Son, the fine-art dealers. The premises formerly occupied by the public house and No. 5 King Street were redesigned for their use by William Woodward and Sons, of Great James Street, Bedford Row. (fn. 20) No. 49 Duke Street appears to have been incorporated into Messrs. Spink's premises in c. 1929. (fn. 21)
The building received severe air-raid damage both by blast and fire in February 1944. It has since been repaired, and Messrs. Spink and Son now occupy the whole of the lower part. The upper floors are used as flats.
The exterior is a bold and brash design of a free Renaissance character, well suited to the original purpose of the building. Built, presumably, of stone but now painted, the two fronts differ in length but are generally uniform in treatment, being five storeys high with the windows paired in bays, four to King Street and five to Duke Street. The refaced ground storey has a simplified Doric entablature of little projection, and an iron-railed balcony projects from the third storey which is finished with a Doric entablature, its frieze carved with festoons and paterae above the paired windows. The fourth and fifth storeys are combined in an arcaded face, finished with a deep entablature, its frieze ornamented with vases carved above the piers of the arcade. Over the King Street front rise three dormers, the middle one being an elaborate affair of three arches with a pedimented centre flanked by scrolled consoles. Each side dormer has an arched opening, framed by pilasters and an entablature with a scrolled pediment. Similar dormers are centred over the five bays of the Duke Street front. At the corner of the building projects an octagonal tower, rising above the main entablature with two diminishing stages, the upper being arcaded and crowned by a dome.
No. 8 King Street: Christie's
From the middle of the eighteenth century St. James's has attracted a number of fine-art dealers, and ever since London became an important centre of the fine-art trade after the French Revolution, many famous sales have taken place in the area. Among the fine-art businesses which flourished in St. James's during the eighteenth century one of the best known was, and still is, Christie's.
The history of the firm has been related elsewhere (fn. 22) and the following account is therefore confined to the buildings occupied by the firm since 1767. The name of the firm has been altered at various times to include new partners, but for the sake of brevity the firm has been called Christie's throughout this account; no member of the Christie family is now a partner in the company.
The antecedents of the auctioneer, James Christie, who founded the firm, are not welldocumented, (fn. 23) but it is certain that he was in business on his own by 1766. In December of that year he issued catalogues from his premises in Castle Street, Oxford Road (now Great Castle Street) for a sale which he conducted at 'the Auction Room, in Pallmall'. (fn. 24) The whereabouts of this auction room is not known, but it may have been in the house on the south side of Pall Mall (pocket, drawing B) opposite Market Lane which had been let to Richard Dalton in 1765 and which was then described as lately occupied by George Hobbs, auctioneer. (fn. 25) The site of this house is now occupied by part of the United Service Club.
Between 1 June and 15 June 1767 Christie removed from his premises in Castle Street to Pall Mall and from the latter date issued his catalogues from the 'Great Room' or the 'Great Auction Room' in Pall Mall. (fn. 26) The first sale which he conducted there in 1767 was on 8 July. (fn. 27) The position of this 'Great Room' is not certain. There are two possibilitiesthe house later known as No. 84 (the site of which is now occupied by part of the Royal Automobile Club), or the house (mentioned above) opposite Market Lane on the site of the United Service Club.
In 1768 James Christie took a lease of two houses, later Nos. 83 and 84, at the rear of which he had already erected a large auction room. He occupied No. 84 from 1768 until his death in 1803 (see page 368). In 1771 Richard Dalton assigned his lease of the house opposite Market Lane, previously occupied by George Hobbs, auctioneer, to Christie, who covenanted not to allow any art exhibitions there, save those of the Royal Academy (see page 348).
Christie had been associated with the Free Society of Artists since at least 1769. This rival society to the Royal Academy exhibited at the 'Two New Rooms', Pall Mall, in 1767, the 'Great Room', Pall Mall, in 1768, and at 'Christie's', Pall Mall, in 176975. (fn. 28)
In view of the restrictive covenant in Christie's lease from Dalton, it seems reasonable to assume that the Free Society exhibited in the auction room at the rear of Nos. 83 and 84 Pall Mall from 1771, and probably from 1769. The 'Two New Rooms' and the 'Great Room', where the Society exhibited in 1767 and 1768, may also refer to these premises, since the auction room was built by Christie in 17678 and may have replaced two older roomsnew to the society, which had previously held its exhibitions elsewhere.
If this hypothesis is accepted, it follows that No. 84 Pall Mall was Christie's first permanent home in the St. James's area.
How long Christie held the rooms opposite Market Lane is not known, (fn. 1) since he does not appear in the ratebooks at all for these premises, but he continued to occupy No. 84 Pall Mall until his death in 1803. He was succeeded by his son, James Christie the second, who appears in the ratebooks until 1810 (see page 368). Between 1810 and 1823 Christie apparently had the use of the auction room at the rear of Nos. 83 and 84 Pall Mall and the ground floor of No. 83 as an office. In April 1823 agreement was reached for a new Crown lease to the Board of Ordnance, and Christie vacated these rooms. (fn. 39) He moved to King Street in 1823 (fn. 30) and, except for a short period during and after the war of 193945, Christie's have been there ever since.
The premises to which Christie moved in 1823 had in 1816 been leased by the Crown for seventy years from 1809 to John Wilson, gentleman. They consisted of two houses (Nos. 8 and 9) fronting King Street, 'lately erected', and at the rear a building 'now [used] as and for an Exhibition Room for Pictures'. (fn. 31) This was the European Museum (fn. 32) where were 'exhibited, for sale, a number of costly pictures'. Admission to view cost one shilling, and the museum was established, probably by John Wilson, about 1793. (fn. 33) The frontage to King Street of these two houses was forty feet and the site extended back as far as Princes Court (now Place). (fn. 31) Christie's did not obtain a direct lease of these premises from the Crown until 1880. (fn. 34)
In 1864 Christie's purchased the former Nos. 12 and 13 Great Ryder Street. Here they built a block of residential chambers with an entrance on the ground floor leading to their King Street premises. The firm's present Ryder Street entrance was built to the east of the original one in 19001 (see page 319).
By 1878 the original premises had also been extended to include a smaller, second, gallery which had been rebuilt for Christie's in 1859 on land at the rear of No. 5 Bury Street. In addition the firm had acquired property in Duke Street. (fn. 35)
In 18845 the old houses and stable yard on the Duke Street site (which then comprised Nos. 45 48 Duke Street and Nos. 23 Princes Place) were rebuilt in two parts, with a block of premises for separate letting fronting the street, and a third, additional, gallery for Christie's at the rear. The architect was E. A. Gruning of Old Broad Street. (fn. 36) In 1889 Christie's were granted a lease of property in Bury Street, No. 5 and part of the former No. 4, immediately adjoining their second gallery. Here in 188990 they built a block of residential chambers and shops, from the designs of W. H. Crossland, of Upper Bedford Place. The second gallery was retained unaltered. (fn. 37) The firm's main premises at Nos. 8 and 9 King Street were rebuilt in 18934 and extended eastward in 18967 by the addition of a further two bays on the site of the former No. 7 King Street. The architect was J. Macvicar Anderson (Plate 272b). The original great gallery at the back was, however, not rebuilt. (fn. 38)
Christie's premises were destroyed by incendiary bombs on the night of 1617 April 1941. The firm moved to temporary quarters at No. 16a St. James's Street and later to Spencer House. When the King Street premises were rebuilt in 19523 the main faade of the old building, which had escaped destruction, was retained and reconstructed as part of the new work. No. 5 Bury Street was rebuilt in 19545 and Nos. 4748 Duke Street in 19567.
The Portland stone front of Christie's is at once the most distinguished and the most orthodox of the late nineteenth-century buildings in King Street, with all the qualities to be expected in the work of so scholarly an architect as J. Macvicar Anderson. The style is Renaissance with a strong flavour of Baroque in the ground storey, and the treatment is astylar. There are four well-defined storeys below the main entablature with an attic above, and vertical breaks form a central feature projecting slightly from wings, all of similar width. All storeys contain two windows in each wing and a three-light window in the centre, except for the ground storey where the porch projects between two windows. The Baroque Doric porch is formed by two piers faced with rustic-banded pilasters, supporting a rich entablature and a segmental pediment broken to admit a vase on a pedestal. This Doric treatment is extended to the rest of the ground storey, with triple pilasters between the windows, which have mask-keystones. The face of the lofty second storey is coursed with channel-joints, and the tall windows are dressed with enriched architraves and cornice-hoods on consoles, with a triangular pediment to emphasize the middle light of the central window. A narrow cornice underlines the plain face of the third storey and forms a sill to the windows, which have enriched architraves and console-supported pediments, triangular in the wings and segmental in the centre. The fourth storey also has a plain face and is underlined by a narrow frieze-band and cornice, the last breaking forward on consoles to form sills to the windows which have enriched architraves only. The main entablature consists of an architrave, a plain frieze terminating in console profiles, and a dentilled cornice. The attic storey, its windows framed in moulded architraves, is finished with a smaller entablature and a balustraded parapet, the dies at each break in the frontage supporting tall-necked urns.
Nos. 1012 (consec.) King Street and Nos. 23 Bury Street
When the leases of Nos. 1012 (consec.) King Street and Nos. 23 Bury Street expired in October 1889, the Office of Woods and Forests immediately arranged to demolish the existing buildings and let the sites. (fn. 39) Early in 1890 the Office accepted the tender of Edwin Levy, who planned to erect a building for a new social club, to be called the Glaucus Club. It was to be on a lavish scale, with a concert auditorium. The style of both the faade and the interior was to be 'Pompeian', presumably in allusion to the club's name, which was taken from Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii. The architect was Arthur Green of Suffolk Street, Pall Mall. He prepared a series of plans and elevations during the first half of 1890, and work on the building seems to have been put in hand. Early in 1891 the club-house scheme was abandoned in favour of a block of shops and residential chambers. Arthur Green submitted a fresh set of drawings, incorporating the work which had already been completed on the site. (fn. 40) His designs were approved in September 1891 and the new block was finished in the following year.
The building was severely damaged by enemy action in April 1941; it was reconstructed between 1945 and 1947 as an office block. The roof was carefully rebuilt on the lines of its predecessor, but with blue in place of the original green slates.
The exterior of the building as executed is in no way Pompeian, its design, though classical, being confused and rather nondescript with mullions and transoms in the upper storey windows. It contains five storeys and a garret, and has fronts of six and five windows respectively to King Street and Bury Street linked by a six-storeyed angle tower, the top storey of which is blind with a lunette in each face and a projecting crowning cornice. The ground storey of reddish-brown granite is filled with large display windows, while the upper storeys are of Portland stone, having little ornament other than a series of carved panels at secondfloor level. In the centre of the King Street front is a three-window feature with three-quarter columns between the windows in the ground storey and tall pilasters above, the pilasters rising to support a prominent cornice at fifth-floor level. The sixth-storey windows have ornate pediments, and before them and the windows of the fifth storey are elaborate iron-railed balconies on big brackets. Above the top cornice stands a single dormer window, monumentally designed in stone, its two round-arched lights flanked by a pair of pilasters and crowned with a tall, pedimented superstructure. The ground storey of the tower has a curious feature with flanking pilasters arranged in two stages and a cornice-hood on consoles above. In the lower stage is a window with a four-centred arch and a keystone, and in the upper stage a lunette containing a clock-face.
No. 22 King Street
The freehold of this site remained in the hands of the Earl of St. Albans's trustees and of their eventual successors, the family of Bunbury of Mildenhall, Suffolk, until 1783, when the site and the existing house were sold by Sir Thomas Bunbury to James Dodsley, the Pall Mall bookseller and publisher, for 1400. (fn. 41) Presumably it was bought by Dodsley as an investment, for he continued to live in Pall Mall. (fn. 30) He died in 1797, and in 1806 the house was sold by his trustees to Richard Hermon, a painter and glazier, (fn. 41) whose family occupied the premises until 1882. (fn. 21) They were builders and probably erected as a warehouse or workshop the large one-storey building which is shown in later plans at the back of No. 22. (fn. 41)
Various other tradesmen occupied the premises until 1923, when Messrs. Goddard and Smith, the auctioneers and estate agents, moved into the building. (fn. 21)
No. 22 King Street has a plain brick front of early nineteenth-century character, with a modern stone shop-front of two bays. In each of the upper three storeys are two windows, all equal in width but decreasing in height with each successive storey. They have stone sills, flat arches of gauged brickwork, and plastered reveals; all are furnished with barred sashes, and in the third and fourth storeys with guards of trellis-patterned ironwork. The front is finished with a stucco entablature of Doric character, and a plain blocking-course.
Demolished in 1835 to make way for the St. James's Theatre
John Nerot established his hotel in 1776 in one of the principal houses in King Street, which had formerly been inhabited from 1695 to at least 1707 by Richard Jones, first Earl of Ranelagh. (fn. 30) Nerot's became one of the most fashionable hotels in the West End, and patrons included Edmund Burke in 1795 (fn. 42) and Lord Nelson, who met his wife and his father there after his return in 1800 from the Battle of the Nile. (fn. 43) In 181011 Nerot's Hotel was removed to Clifford Street (fn. 44) and in 1830 the house in King Street was described as a 'Ware Room'. (fn. 30) In 1835 it was purchased by John Braham and immediately demolished.
The St. James's Theatre
John Braham, the founder of the St. James's Theatre, was born in Goodman's Fields in about 1774; his parents, who died soon afterwards, were German Jews. Through an introduction to Leoni Lee, a celebrated singer of the time, he became known for the beauty of his soprano voice, and in 1787 he appeared as 'Master Abram, pupil of Leoni' at the Royalty Theatre in Wellclose Square, Stepney. As a tenor he first appeared at Drury Lane in 1796; after several years on the Continent he returned to England in 1801 with his reputation as a singer already secure. He subsequently amassed enough money to enable him in 1831 to purchase a share in the Colosseum, Regent's Park. (fn. 45) (fn. 2)
In 1835 Braham obtained royal approbation for a new theatre in King Street and purchased the freehold of Nerot's Hotel for 8000, which he admitted was 'more than double its real value'. (fn. 46) The proprietors of Covent Garden, Drury Lane, the Lyceum and the Haymarket theatres all petitioned against the grant of a licence to Braham, (fn. 47) as also did a number of owners of property adjoining the proposed theatre. (fn. 48) The licence as finally granted was dated 25 July 1835 and was to run from Michaelmas 1835 to Easter 1836. (fn. 49)
Owing to difficulties in the completion of the purchase of the ground and (in Braham's own words) to 'the opposition of certain individuals who had taken an erroneous view of the nature of my hazardous enterprize', (fn. 50) there was some delay before building work could begin. The theatre was built in the autumn of 1835 in 'the almost incredibly short space of thirteen weeks, six days of which were so wet as to cause the work to be suspended'. The architect was Samuel Beazley, and the contractors Messrs. Grissell and Peto (Plates 40, 41, figs. 523). (fn. 51) The theatre was opened on 14 December 1835 with a performance of Agnes Sorel, which was described as 'a Grand New Original Operatic Burletta'. (fn. 48)
The design and decoration of the new building attracted mixed comment in the press, (fn. 52) but financially the theatre was a failure. In a petition to the Crown praying for an extension of his licence, Braham stated in February 1836 that he had already spent over 40,000 'in the erection of a Structure which I flatter myself will not disgrace the quarter in which it is placed', but that 'the temporary dread of damp from a new Building prevented my receiving at first, that Patronage from the Public with which I have since been honored. So that up to last Month, the Receipts were quite inadequate to my expenditure.' (fn. 50) The exterior of the building was not completed until the summer of 1836. (fn. 51)
Braham's connexion with the theatre lasted until the end of the season of 1838, when his financial resources were exhausted. (fn. 3) He was succeeded in the management by a Mr. Hooper, whose programmes included the presentation of performing lions, monkeys, dogs and goats. (fn. 53) At the time of Queen Victoria's marriage in 1840 Alfred Bunn presented a series of German plays and operas and for a short time the theatre was known as 'The Prince's'. In 1841 John Mitchell, a Bond Street bookseller and ticket agent, became the lessee and presented a series of seasons of French operas and plays. (fn. 54) In 1844 the freehold of the theatre was put up for auction by order of a second mortgagee, but was bought in at 9400. It was stated at the time of the sale that the building was mortgaged for the total sum of 14,500, and that Beazley had estimated its value at from 28,000 to 30,000. The lessee (presumably Mitchell) paid a rent of 1200 per annum. (fn. 55)
The St. James's Theatre had to wait many years for its first lasting success. In 1869 The Building News reported that the theatre was to be pulled down and rebuilt with an entrance from Pall Mall. (fn. 56) In October of that year it was taken by Mrs. John Wood, an actress-manageress, who redecorated it at considerable cost (fn. 57) and for two years enjoyed some success. After her departure the theatre was empty for three years. (fn. 58)
The theatre's first long period of prosperity began in 1879, when John Hare and Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Kendal took it over. (fn. 59) The theatre was redecorated, the dress circle enlarged and the approaches remodelled. The Times stated that 'for splendour and completeness' the appearance of the theatre was 'greatly in excess of anything of the kind that has as yet been seen'. The Builder was critical. Playgoers would still 'find the wretched old rococo, and the original fronts of the boxes and amphitheatre', and the new proscenium clashed with the old work; the use of the foyer for the exhibition of pictures for sale was also deplored. (fn. 60)
The Hare-Kendal partnership at the St. James's lasted until 1888. After an interval of three years the theatre began its second long period of prosperity in 1891 under the management of (Sir) George Alexander, whose reign lasted until his death in 1918. His productions included the first performances of Lady Windermere's Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. (fn. 61)
In 1899 the theatre was thoroughly renovated for the first time in its history. The adjoining houses on the east were remodelled as part of the theatre, and the glass canopy running along the full length of the front of the building was probably erected at this time (Plate 40). The stage was lowered and its depth increased, and the orchestra, which had sometimes obstructed the view, was sunk below the level of the stalls. The seating capacity of the house was increased, and all but two of the boxes were removed. The architect for these alterations was Blomfield Jackson (formerly a partner of C. J. Phipps), assisted by Emblin Walker. The decorations were designed by Percy Macquoid and were carried out by Messrs. Morant and Co. A new act-drop was described as a reproduction of a tapestry entitled 'Pastoral Scenes' in the South Kensington Museum, and was painted by D. T. White and H. Telbin. The total cost of the work exceeded seven thousand pounds. (fn. 62)
The distinguished tradition established by Alexander was continued in the 1920's and 30's by Gilbert Miller. The theatre was damaged by enemy action in the war of 193945. Between 1950 and 1954 it was the scene of a number of successful productions by Sir Laurence Olivier. (fn. 63)
The first rumours that the theatre was to be sold and demolished began in January 1955, when Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables was enjoying a successful run. (fn. 64) The controversy over the ultimate fate of the theatre lasted for two and a half years, and evoked a government defeat in a debate in the House of Lords and a vigorous campaign led by Miss Vivien Leigh for the preservation of the building. The theatre had, however, made no profit for its owners during the previous twenty-five years, and when it became known that some half a million pounds would be needed to save the theatre, all hope of preservation was abandoned. The last performance took place on 20 July 1957, and demolition began shortly afterwards.
Samuel Beazley was the most proficient theatre architect of his time, and the St. James's Theatre was planned with his usual skill, on symmetrical lines (figs. 523). Two short flights of steps rose through the front portico into a spacious square hall, at a level half-way between the pit and the front tier, giving easy access to both. Above the hall was a large saloon, level with the back row of the second tier. The steppings of the three tiers were set out in a semi-oval formation, and the raking girders were supported by slender cast-iron columns, the front of the first tier being cantilevered 5 feet, and that of the second tier 2 feet 6 inches, in front of the columns. The stage was large in relation to the rest of the building, and deep enough to permit the later installation of a revolving platform. The plans suggest that an older house was incorporated in the dressing-room range along the east side of the auditorium.
The stucco-faced front (Plate 40) was a charming design in a restrained Baroque style, composed of two well-defined stages each with a three-bay centre between wide wings. The lower stage was dominated by the three-bay portico of Ionic plain-shafted columns, forming the main entrance and projecting between the wings, each of three narrow bays and two storeys, the lower containing doors and plain windows, and the upper having segmental-headed windows between scrolled consoles supporting the dentilled cornice. The upper stage was underlined by a pedestal, with balustrades below the segmental-pedimented window in each wing, matching the balustrade above the entrance portico. In the centre was a three-bay colonnade of Corinthian plain-shafted columns, forming a loggia in front of the three round-arched windows of the saloon. In each wing was an upper window of oblong form, richly framed and finished with a scrolled pediment, just below the level of the bracketed main entablature. The wings were finished with balustraded pedestal-parapets, but in the centre rose an attic of three bays, each containing a shallow niche, between Corinthianesque pilasters.
Originally decorated by Crace (fn. 65) in the 'Louis Quatorze' style then in fashion, the auditorium underwent successive structural and decorative transformations, finally acquiring an early French Renaissance finish from no less an expert than Percy Macquoid, the collector and authority on English furniture (Plate 41). In general the walls were plain, forming a ground for the richly ornamented proscenium frame and the balcony fronts, the last being faced with an elaborate arabesque pattern of foliage-scrolls with amorini and grotesque birds and beasts. The proscenium frame was a monumental affair composed of two giant Corinthian columns, with fluted and cabled shafts, supporting a deep panelled frieze modelled with an arabesque decoration of scrolls, sphinxes and amorini, and a triangular pediment, broken to admit a large group composed of a winged female figure representing Fame, flanked by winged and scroll-tailed lions. Above the stage boxes was an elliptically arched ceiling, the main ceiling being flat and enclosed by a horseshoe-shaped cornice. Its surface was decorated with thin moulded ribs, forming a pattern of interlaced quatrefoils, replacing a more elaborate ceiling of Macquoid's designing, destroyed in the last war. (fn. 66)
No. 25 King Street: The Golden Lion Public House
There has been a Golden Lion public house on this site since at least 1732. (fn. 4) In that year Richard Haines of King Street was granted a licence for a public house called the 'Golden Lyon', (fn. 67) which stood on the south side of King Street, immediately to the east of the entrance to Angel Court. (fn. 30) There were then two houses between Angel Court and Pall Mall Place, the public house occupying the western one. They were rebuilt as one, probably in 1763. (fn. 68) This building appears to have survived until 1897. (fn. 69)
In 1893 the then lessee, William John Purser, obtained an extension of his lease for the purpose of rebuilding the premises. Nothing seems to have come of the project until 1896, when Purser assigned the lease of No. 25 King Street to Maria Hewitt, who was to carry out the rebuilding. According to the agreement, work was to start during the summer of 1897 and was to be completed within a reasonable time. (fn. 69) The rebuilding seems to have proceeded according to plan, and the present premises were probably completed during the first half of 1898. (fn. 21) The name of the architect is not known.
The predecessor of the present Golden Lion is shown in a view of Almack's Rooms (Plate 51a). Three storeys high, the stucco-faced front of simple classical design was formed as a canted bay. An Ionic order dressed the ground storey, where double doors flanked the central window over which projected a great lamp. The sash windows in the two upper storeys were framed with architraves, the middle window of the second storey having, in addition, a cornice-hood on consoles. A bandcourse underlined the third storey and above the dentilled main cornice was a pedestal-parapet, lettered with signs.
The present Golden Lion is five storeys in height and has a garret in the roof. Designed in a grotesque imitation of the Jacobean Baroque, its narrow stone front bulges with projecting windows and carved ornament on a scale quite out of keeping with its size. The ground storey has a bow window decorated with columns of black marble, and above it runs a tall fascia surmounted by a ponderous stucco balustrade moulded in a 'ram's horn' pattern. At either side of the bow is a pair of carved pilasters, and above each of these is a huge bracket-stop completing the fascia. The next three storeys have a slightly raised feature consisting, in the second storey, of a wide segmental-headed window with a rusticated architrave and, in the third and fourth storeys, of an oriel window carved with arabesque detail. Flanking the three storeys are tiers of broad pilasters, and at either side of the oriel and between its lights are narrower pilasters, all of them rising to a prominent cornice, with supporting consoles, at fourthfloor level. Resting on the cornice, at either side of the fifth-storey window, are two big scrolls and a pair of lions clutching shields, while over the window is a triangular pediment broken by a small obelisk rising from the keystone.
Almack's Assembly Rooms
Later known as Willis's Rooms. Demolished: site now occupied by Almack House
The success of William Almack's establishment on the north side of Pall Mall in the early 1760's (see page 327) evidently prompted him to further speculation in the field of fashionable amusement. In September 1764 and March 1765 he was granted leases of four small houses on the south side of King Street. Two of these houses were on the west side of Rose and Crown Yard and two were on the east; their total frontage, including the entrance to the mews, was some seventy-three feet. (fn. 70) He also acquired the lease of the stables and coach-houses on the west side of the mews. (fn. 71) Finally on 25 September 1765 John Phillips, carpenter, granted him a 993-year lease of the ground to the west of these houses; this plot, which formed part of the ground acquired by Phillips from the Bond family in 1759 (see page 328), had a frontage of some sixty feet, and abutted King's Place (now Pall Mall Place) on the west side. (fn. 72)
The assembly rooms were erected on the site (fig. 59) with great haste between May 1764 (fn. 73) and February 1765; the architect was Robert Mylne, who also advised Almack on the 'bargain' which the latter struck with his aristocratic patrons (Plate 51). (fn. 74)
On 5 April 1764 Mrs. Elizabeth Harris wrote to her son (later the first Earl of Malmesbury) that 'Almack is going to build some most magnificent rooms behind his house [in Pall Mall], one much larger than that at Carlisle House' in Soho Square. (fn. 75) On 30 May Mylne wrote in his diary 'Attended Mr. James and Crewe for Club in Kings Street. Attended Mr. Almack on bargain between him and club in Kings Street.' (fn. 74) Mr. James was perhaps Haughton James, a West India proprietor (fn. 76) and a member of Brooks's from 1764 to 1813. (fn. 77) Crewe was probably John Crewe, member of Parliament for many years after 1765 and a member of Brooks's from 1764 until his death in 1829; he was created Baron Crewe in 1806. (fn. 78)
On 30 September Mylne noted 'Gave a plan of Assembly Rooms in King Street for Duke of York to Mr. Almack.' (fn. 79) (fn. 5) On 14 November Mylne 'wrote an advert, for Mr. Almack' (fn. 80) which was inserted by the latter in The Public Advertiser on the following day. It was addressed to 'the Ladies and Gentlemen, Subscribers to the Assembly in King street St. James's,' whom it informed that 'the Building already erected, and now finishing for the Purposes of your Meeting, is in such Forwardness, that every Thing will be done by the Time proposed; and that at any Rate, there will be more than sufficient Time for the Number of Balls, which are to be given in the latter End of this Winter. Conscious of this Truth, I also beg leave to mention, that the work in Point of Strength, Convenience, and Elegance, is, and shall be executed in the best, most neat, and richest Manner.' The advertisement then described the rules of the new establishment. 'Seven ladies' had 'each of them opened a Subscription Book', each of which was 'to contain the Names of 60 Subscribers'. Each subscriber was to pay ten guineas for admission to the twelve balls which were to be given each season. 'The Entertainment of each Night to consist of a Ball, in a Room 90 Feet long, 40 Feet broad, and 30 Feet high; Tea and Cards in separate Rooms; and a Supper in a Room 65 Feet long, 40 Feet broad, and 20 Feet high, with a Concert of Music from a separate Orchestra.' (fn. 81) These rules show that a number of fashionable patronesses provided Almack with the indispensable initial support which he needed for his venture; they therefore had some right to the despotic powers of admittance to the assemblies which they later exercised over the fashionable world.
The assembly rooms were opened on 12 February 1765, although they were not finally completed until 1767. (fn. 82) The tickets of admission were designed by Robert Mylne. (fn. 83) Despite its aristocratic patronage, the project appears to have been a risky venture. Almack only held a twentyone-year lease of part of the ground on which the building was erected, (fn. 84) and the new assembly was a direct challenge to Mrs. Cornelys's entertainments, which had been established at Carlisle House in Soho Square since 1760. In December 1764 Horace Walpole noted that Mrs. Cornelys, 'apprehending the future assembly at Almack's', was already enlarging and redecorating her rooms, (fn. 85) while Mrs. Harris thought that 'As there is already so commodious a place, [Almack's] seems an unnecessary piece of extravagance.' (fn. 75)
In a letter of 14 February 1765 to Lord Hertford, Horace Walpole described the opening of the new rooms. 'The new Assembly Room at Almack's was opened the night before last, and they say is very magnificent, but it was empty; half the town is ill with colds, and many were afraid to go, as the house is scarce built yet. Almack advertised that it was built with hot bricks and boiling waterthink what a rage there must be for public places, if this notice, instead of terrifying, could draw anybody thither. They tell me the ceilings were dropping with wet, but can you believe me, when I assure you the Duke of Cumberland was there? . . . There is a vast flight of steps, and he was forced to rest two or three times.' (fn. 86)
Despite this unpropitious start the assembly rooms soon became firmly established. In a letter of 22 February 1765 Gilly Williams refers to the 'three very elegant new-built rooms' in which Almack provided the twelve weekly balls. (fn. 87) There were already between three and four hundred subscribers; the ladies could lend their tickets, (fn. 75) but 'The men's tickets are not transferable, so, if the ladies do not like us, they have no opportunity of changing us, but must meet the same persons for ever.' (fn. 87) In the following month Gilly Williams reported that 'Our female Almacks flourishes beyond description. . . . Almack's Scotch face, in a bag-wig, waiting at Supper, would divert you, as would his lady, in a sack, making tea and courtseying to the duchesses.' (fn. 88) The great room is said to have been completed in 1767. (fn. 89) In a letter dated 15 January 1768 George Selwyn refers to dancing 'in the new blue damask room, which by the way was intended for cards'. (fn. 90)
The initial prosperity enjoyed by Almack's assembly rooms was probably checked by the opening of the Pantheon in Oxford Street in 1772. William Almack died on 3 January 1781, (fn. 91) bequeathing his house in Pall Mall to his widow and the residue of his property, including the assembly rooms, to his son William. (fn. 92) On 28 February 1781 his only other surviving child, Elizabeth, married Dr. David Pitcairn, (fn. 93) the famous Scottish physician. (fn. 94) (fn. 6)
William Almack, the son, was a barrister; (fn. 95) the short leases of part of the ground on which the assembly rooms stood were renewed to him (fn. 96) and he appears to have managed the business until 1792. (fn. 30) Towards the end of the eighteenth century the prosperity of the rooms declined, and William Almack was compelled to mortgage them. (fn. 97) He died unmarried and intestate on 27 October 1806 (fn. 95) and his property passed to his sister Elizabeth Pitcairn. (fn. 98) Her husband, Dr. David Pitcairn, paid off the mortgages, (fn. 99) and died in 1809. (fn. 100) Elizabeth Pitcairn appears as the ratepayer from 1809 to 1817, and she may have managed the rooms during this period. (fn. 30) In her will, which was proved in 1844, she left a large fortune, and the residue of her estate (including the assembly rooms) was bequeathed to her grandniece and adopted daughter, Elizabeth Campbell. (fn. 101) The latter married Edward Calvert of Thurstonbury (fn. 102) and their descendants retained the freehold (which had been acquired at an unknown date) until 1920. (fn. 103)
In 1792 the ratebooks show James Willis as the occupant or manager of the rooms. James Willis had been the proprietor of the Thatched House Tavern in St. James's Street since 1770 (fn. 30) and on 18 August 1768 he had married Elizabeth Tebb, niece of William Almack, senior; he was then described as of the parish of 'Wingleham' in Surrey. (fn. 104) At the time of his death in 1794 he held a twenty-one-year sub-lease of the assembly rooms. (fn. 105) His descendants continued to manage the rooms (except perhaps for the years 1809 to 1817) until 18867. (fn. 106) For the whole of this period the Willis family were tenants of Almack's descendants. In the nineteenth century the rooms were often referred to as Willis's Rooms.
In his will, which was proved in 1794, James Willis described himself as a tavern keeper and vintner; his wife and two eldest sons, James and William, assisted him in the business, James as a waiter, which was evidently a profitable occupation. (fn. 105) Elizabeth and James Willis, junior, managed the two businesses at the Thatched House Tavern and the assembly rooms until 1797 ; in the following year Elizabeth Willis was succeeded by her second son, William. (fn. 30) The two brothers continued in partnership in the management of both businesses until the death of William Willis in 1839. (fn. 107)
During the second and third decades of the nineteenth century the assembly rooms reached the peak of their reputation. To obtain from the lady patronesses a 'voucher of admission to this exclusive temple of the beau monde' was 'the seventh heaven of the fashionable world'. (fn. 108) In 1826 a novel entitled Almack's was published, (fn. 109) whose story was 'neither more or less than the struggle of fashionable folks to attend these assemblies'. (fn. 110) The only tolerable character in this work was Lord Glenmore, who considered that the system at Almack's was 'altogether the most unnatural coalition that ever existed in any society. A set of foolish women caballing together to keep the rest of the world in their trammels, who have no kind of right to do so but what they choose to arrogate to themselves, is a very curious state of things, certainly; but that they should have found hundreds of independent people silly enough to bend to their yoke, is the most extraordinary part of the story.' (fn. 110) (fn. 7)
James Willis, junior, died on 2 January 1847 at his house in Somers Place, Hyde Park Square. (fn. 111) The two businesses at the Thatched House Tavern and the assembly rooms were then managed jointly by James Willis's son, Frederick, and William Willis's son, Charles. (fn. 112) The Thatched House Tavern appears to have come to an end in 1861. (fn. 21) The assembly rooms were managed by Frederick and Charles Willis until 1869, when Frederick appears to have become sole proprietor.
The decline of the rooms as a centre of fashion appears to have begun about 1835. They were redecorated by Mr. Kuckuck in 1860; (fn. 113) the assemblies are said to have come to an end in 1863, and for the next thirty years the rooms were used for dinners, concerts, balls and public meetings. (fn. 114) In 18867 the business was purchased by a company, Willis's Rooms Limited, (fn. 115) and in 1892 the building was considerably altered and the whole of the King Street front was refaced in cement. (fn. 116) From 1893 part of the building was occupied by a firm of auctioneers, Messrs. Robinson and Fisher, and on the ground floor there were shops, often occupied by fine-art dealers. Other parts of the building were occupied by a restaurant and a succession of clubs; from 1915 to 1922 Horatio Bottomley, M.P., had rooms there. (fn. 21)
The building was destroyed by enemy action in the war of 193945; the site is now occupied by a block of offices called Almack House, erected in 194950.
Evidence bearing on the appearance of these celebrated rooms is, unfortunately, very scanty. There is the reliable water-colour view of the exterior (Plate 51a), which was so plain as to prove that all the interest of the building was within. More utilitarian in effect than many a nonconformist meeting-house, the front was of plain brickwork, with the great room expressed by the six round-arched windows of the second storey, and the entrance dressed with a pedimented Ionic doorcase. Two passages penetrated the ground storey, in the east part of which were two shops with a mezzanine over, and at the west end there were three storeys of accommodation, with a mezzanine over the ground floor.
There are two sources of information about the interior, one being the view of 'The Ball Room, Willis's Rooms' in Old and New London, (fn. 117) and the other being Cruikshank's lively illustration in Life in London (1821) (Plate 51b). (fn. 118) Different as they are in spirit, the two representations are not incompatible, in fact, interpreting the first by the second, a fair idea of Mylne's interior can be formed. The illustration in Old and New London almost certainly shows the great room after its redecoration by Kuckuck in 1860, but under the heavy Victorian overlay can be seen the elegance depicted, rather vaguely, by Cruikshank. It seems clear, therefore, that the walls were divided into bays by a Composite order, with paired pilasters between the windows or panels of the long side walls, and single columns between the five bays of each end wall. Cruikshank suggests that the unfluted shafts were marbled or of scagliola. Between the capitals the bays were decorated with a frieze of festoons and paterae, and below these were oblong panels with relief subjects. In Cruikshank's time the windows were furnished with elegant scrolled pelmet-heads of gilt wood supporting swagged draperies, and Rococo lookingglasses filled some of the wall panels. He shows the orchestra playing in a balcony with a gilt trellised railing, but in a position it can hardly have occupied, and two-tiered crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. In the Old and New London view, these have been replaced by huge lustres of cut glass, hanging from a flat ceiling with a shallow segmental cove, the general form of which was probably original.