Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: Nos 85-87 (consec.) Pall Mall, Cumberland House

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

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'Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: Nos 85-87 (consec.) Pall Mall, Cumberland House', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 364-367. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

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Nos. 85–87 (consec.) Pall Mall: Cumberland House

Formerly York House. Occupied part of the site of the Royal Automobile Club

York House was built for Edward Augustus, Duke of York and Albany (1739–67), younger brother of George III. It was renamed Cumberland House when it passed to his brother, the Duke of Cumberland, and was later numbered 86. The two adjoining houses, one on the west and the other on the east, which were subsequently added to Cumberland House, were numbered 85 and 87 respectively (Plates 50a, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220).

In 1760 the Duke of York purchased the lease of three houses with a total frontage of 80 feet on the south side of Pall Mall; the most easterly of the three had been occupied by the Cocoa Tree chocolate house until 1756 (see page 461). (fn. 3) They were demolished in 1761 (fn. 4) and on their site a 'town residence' with a courtyard facing Pall Mall was erected for the Duke to the designs of 'Brettingham, Archt.' (fn. 5) (fn. 1) This was Matthew Brettingham, senior (1699–1769), who was probably assisted by his son of the same name (1725–1803). (fn. 6) The senior Brettingham's notebook records that in 1760 he and his son and a clerk made a journey into Oxfordshire to negotiate for the purchase of the three old houses on behalf of the Duke of York. He appears to have conducted all the legal business for the Duke, but apart from 'Making Several Plans' the notebook records nothing of the erection of York House, (fn. 7) which was completed by 1763. (fn. 4) Contemporary writers described it variously as 'elegant and substantial', (fn. 8) 'lofty and regular' (fn. 9) and 'void of any architectoric Excellence'. (fn. 10)

The Duke of York died in 1767, leaving York House to his brother, the Duke of Gloucester. (fn. 11) The ratebooks show, however, that the next occupant of the house was another brother, Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (1745–90, nephew of the victor of the Battle of Culloden Moor), who took up residence in 1768, (fn. 4) and to whom the Duke of Gloucester assigned the Crown lease in 1772. (fn. 3)

Between his marriage in 1771 and his death in 1790, the Duke of Cumberland altered and redecorated the house. His intention was to enlarge the courtyard fronting Pall Mall by the removal of the adjoining houses on either side, which projected considerably beyond Cumberland House, and to rebuild them as slightly projecting wings (Plate 211b). He had inherited the house on the west from the Duke of York, whose treasurer had purchased it in 1761. (fn. 3) It was pulled down and rebuilt further back shortly after 1773. The house on the east side was purchased by the Duke in 1788 but his intention to rebuild it to match the west wing was not realized until after his death. (fn. 12) Robert Adam was engaged to prepare schemes for refurbishing in 1780–2 and 1785–8; these are described below.

After the Duke's death in 1790 the Duchess of Cumberland continued to occupy the house until 1793. Lady Elizabeth Luttrell lived in the west wing in 1793 but otherwise it appears to have stood empty between 1793 and 1801. (fn. 4) At the time of the Duke's death the house was heavily encumbered and in 1800 the Duchess conveyed her lease to the mortgagees, Messrs. Brick, Chambers and Hobbs, bankers. (fn. 13) (fn. 2) In January 1801 they sold the house to Francis Gould of King Street, Portman Square, for £20,000. (fn. 14) Gould was acting on behalf of the Union Club (fn. 15) which occupied the central portion and the west wing from 1801 to 1806. The old house on the east was occupied by a Colonel Dewar between 1802 and 1804. (fn. 4)

In 1806 the lease of all three sections of the house was acquired by the Board of Ordnance, (fn. 16) which from 1807 occupied the central part. In 1809 the eastern wing was rebuilt and from 1811 the Board occupied both this and the western wing. (fn. 4) In 1855 the duties of the Board were vested in the Secretary of State for War, and the War Office continued to use the whole of the house until shortly before its demolition in the early years of the twentieth century.

A survey of the premises made in 1842 shows that the two wings were used as official residences, No. 85 then being occupied by Sir Frederick Trench, secretary to the Master General, and No. 87 by R. Byham, secretary to the Board. The central portion was 'furnished and fitted up in a costly manner' and was occupied by the Board and 'superior officers'. (fn. 16) The height of both wings was raised in 1851, and the stone balustrades were re-erected on top of them (Plate 209). (fn. 17)

In 1864 permission was given to erect in the courtyard of Cumberland House a statue of Sidney Herbert, Baron Herbert of Lea, the former Secretary of State for War who died in 186l. (fn. 18) The statue was erected by public subscription in 1867. The sculptor was J. H. Foley and the founders Messrs. H. Prince and Co. A description of the statue is to be found in The Builder for 8 June 1867, page 413. In 1906 the statue was removed to the present War Office (fn. 14) and has since been re-erected in Waterloo Place.

Cumberland House was vacated by the War Office staff in 1906, (fn. 19) and the eastern half was demolished in 1908 for the erection of the Royal Automobile Club. (fn. 20) The western half was occupied between 1907 and 1910 by the Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues (fn. 21) and was pulled down in 1911–12 for the Royal Automobile Club extension. (fn. 22) Lord Carrington acquired the iron railings, stone curbs and carriage gates in front of Cumberland House, (fn. 23) and some of the internal fittings, together with others from the rest of the old War Office buildings, were re-used in buildings maintained by the Office of Works.

Architectural description

The two plans, cross-section and north elevation of 'the Duke of York's Palace in Pall Mall', published in volume IV of Vitruvius Britannicus (fn. 5) (Plates 210a, 210b, 212a), show that the house erected in 1761–3 was a typical Matthew Brettingham design, highly competent but perhaps rather dull. The building was set back some 50 feet from the front building line of Pall Mall, to provide a generous forecourt, and the ground-floor plan shows an almost square block measuring 80 feet from east to west, and 73 feet north to south. The symmetrical rectangular rooms were arranged round a central oblong stair hall, two rooms on the east, one north and south, and two on the west with a service stair, an ante-room, and a watercloset between them. This arrangement was repeated on the first or principal floor, but with one large room in place of the middle and west rooms on the south front. The cross-section, which omits the basement, shows that there were three storeys, the third being lower on the north front to admit a garret within the roof. A library is shown in the third storey of the south front.

The Pall Mall front (Plate 210b) was markedly similar to Norfolk House and No. 5 St. James's Square, being a simple Palladian composition carried out in brick with stone dressings. The ground-storey windows, three on either side of the doorway, were each dressed with a moulded architrave and cornice, the doorway being similar but having a pulvino-frieze and consoles to support its cornice. A plain pedestal underlined the upper stage of the front, with blind balustrades below the seven windows of the principal storey, each of these being dressed with a moulded architrave, pulvinofrieze and an angular pediment, the central window being slightly emphasized by the addition of shaped jambs, with consoles to support the pediment. The seven windows of the chamber storey were square and completely framed with moulded architraves, and the front—which was quoined at each end with long-and-short stones—was finished with a modillioned cornice and an open balustrade. The low roof was unbroken by dormers, those lighting the garrets being on the inside slope.

To judge from photographs (fn. 24) and the section in Vitruvius Britannicus, the interior was finished by Brettingham in the conservative Palladian taste, looking back to Holkham rather than to his recently built Norfolk House, with its elaborate display of Rococo ornament within a Palladian framework. The oblong entrance hall (Plate 213a), closely resembling those of Norfolk House and No. 5 St. James's Square, had plain walls below a Doric entablature, with alternate metopes of paterae and bucrania, and a plain ceiling. The long south wall contained three arches, the middle one opening to the stair hall, the others framing niches. Generally, the rooms had wooden pedestal dadoes and plain walls, probably hung with figured silks, velvets or wallpapers to provide a rich background for paintings and glasses, the symmetrically placed doorcases of carved woodwork, either pedimented or cornice-headed, the enriched architraves and panelled shutters of the windows, and the fine marble chimneypieces (Plate 217b, 217c). All the rooms on the principal (first) floor were finished with entablatures and ceilings of modelled plasterwork.

In the first (north-east) drawing-room, the entablature had an anthemion frieze and an enriched cornice with dentils and modillions. The ceiling was modelled with a moulded band (its wide soffit ornamented with formal flowers and acanthus buds) enclosing a large oval panel containing an acanthus-boss within a chain of four garlands linked by ribbon-knots. The oval was enclosed, together with spandrel panels of foliage arabesques, in an oblong frame formed by an enriched architrave, eared at each corner (Plate 217a).

The entablature in the second (south-east) drawing-room had a frieze of interlacing foliagescrolls, and a dentilled cornice surrounding a simple compartmented ceiling in the style of Inigo Jones, with garlanded ribs forming a central oval bordered by long and short oblongs (Plate 214b).

By far the most splendid ceiling was that in the large third (south-west) drawing-room, with richly decorated ribs (their soffits modelled with acanthus-scrolls) interlacing to form a geometrical pattern of compartments, a central circle enclosed by an octagon and flanked by two squares predominating over the surrounding hexagons, oblongs and smaller squares. The entablature had a richly modelled frieze of griffins, vases and candelabra, and a modillioned cornice (Plate 216).

In the state bed-chamber (an almost square room in the north-west angle) a deep quadrant cove patterned with graduated octagonal coffers surrounded a flat centre modelled with foliage ornaments, framed in a circular panel and four spandrels (Plate 215b). The adjoining ante-room had a simple compartmented ceiling where a large central oblong, with re-entrant angles, was bordered with L-shaped and square panels (Plate 215a).

Perhaps the richest of Brettingham's interiors was the large south-east room on the ground floor, the music-room (Plate 213b), where the walls were decorated with shaped panels, some containing pendant medallions and crossed palm branches, the others having inset oval looking-glasses in rich frames, appearing to hang by ribbons from musical trophies. Smaller panels above the doorcases contained ribboned foliage-festoons and paterae, and the walls were finished with an enriched modillioned cornice. The ceiling was divided by wide ribs into a pattern of compartments, with a large central oval flanked by semi-circles, the design being very similar to the Kent-Desgodetz ceiling in the state bed-chamber at Holkham.

In the lofty oblong stair hall, the walls of the first stage formed a plain background to the rich wrought-iron balustrade of the staircase and gallery landing. The upper stage, underlined with a pedestal, was panelled in plaster with an arrangement of tall and narrow plain panels flanking an enriched frame—eared at each corner and crested with foliage-scrolls—on each wall but the north, where there was a pedimented doorway. An upper range of small panels contained wreaths or portrait medallions with crossed palm branches. This stage finished with an entablature having a frieze decoration of bay-garlands festooned between paterae, and an enriched modillioned cornice (Plate 214a). A plain quadrant cove rose to a rich band framing the opening to the lantern stage, which had a lunette window in each face.

The Adam alterations

Among the Adam drawings in Sir John Soane's Museum there are some fifty-five items relating to Cumberland House, dated from 1780 to 1788, but many of them are for unexecuted work. (fn. 25) In 1780–1 the two smaller ground-floor rooms on the south front were replaced by the 'Great Diningroom' designed by Adam (Plate 211b). This was an oblong room with five windows in its south wall, each end window lighting a bay divided from the body of the room by a three-bay colonnade screen. Photographs show that the ceiling was carried out in full accordance with the Adam drawing (Plate 218b, 218d), which was a geometrical design with a large circular panel enclosed by a square and flanked by narrow oblong panels filled with a repeating pattern. Oval medallions and pendants broke the moulding enclosing the circular panel composed of fan ornament and husk festoons, which was intended to frame a painted medallion. At the same time, Brettingham's ceiling in the adjoining music-room was Adamized by providing fields for painted medallions in the oval and semi-circular compartments, the oval medallion being fringed with husk festoons and pendant musical trophies. The breaks in the side compartments were linked by wide bands of acanthus scrollwork, and musical trophies were placed in the double-spandrel panels (Plate 218a, 218c).

It is probable, but by no means certain, that the west wing of the house was rebuilt shortly after 1773 to an Adam design. (The east wing which matched the west was built in 1809.) The exterior, designed to accord with Brettingham's front, might well have been Adam's work, and the 'triumphal arch' frontispiece, decorating the exposed side wall of Christie's premises, certainly was (Plate 50a). The east and west 'lodges', threebay Doric pavilions flanking the forecourt, were Adam, added probably about 1785, (fn. 26) and to give a more monumental appearance to Brettingham's front Adam suggested his stock device of dressing the three middle bays with an engaged Ionic portico, crowned with an angular pediment and raised above an arcaded ground storey, but even the drawing for this is unfinished (Plates 209, 210c, 211).

Around 1785 Robert Adam prepared some elaborate schemes for remodelling and redecorating most of the remaining Brettingham rooms, including the refurbished music-room. On the principal floor he proposed to open up the two east rooms, forming a screened ante by erecting a three-bay colonnade across the entrance end of the north-east room (Plate 220b). The large southwest drawing-room was to have been magnificently redecorated, the walls divided into panels of rich arabesque and painted medallions, and its great length reduced by the formation of a segmental apse at each end (Plate 219). The ante-chamber to the state bed-chamber was to have been transformed into an oval boudoir, with four semidomed apses containing sofas (Plate 220c). Although much time and thought must have gone into the preparation of these schemes, nothing materialized.


  • 1. In the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects there is a drawing (Plate 212b) signed 'Section of York House W. Chambers 1759.' There is no other evidence that Chambers was asked to prepare a design for the Duke of York.
  • 2. In 1833 Cumberland House was unsuccessfully claimed as her 'hereditary estate' by Olive, 'Princess of Cumberland', then living at No. 17, The Polygon, Somers Town. She claimed to be the daughter of the Duke of Cumberland by a marriage to Olive Wilmot contracted before he married Anne Horton in 1771.
  • 3. P.R.O., LRRO60/714.
  • 4. R.B.
  • 5. Vitruvius Britannicus (ed. Woolfe and Gandon), vol. iv, 1767, Plates 5–7 (Plate 6 has 'Brickingham').
  • 6. Colvin.
  • 7. P.R.O., C108/362.
  • 8. Ibid., LRRO63/66, pp. 230–4.
  • 9. W. Harrison, A . . . History . . . of London, etc., 1776, p. 531.
  • 10. The London and Westminster Guide, 1768, p. 34.
  • 11. P.C.C., 398 Legard.
  • 12. P.R.O., LRRO63/66, pp. 230–4; LRRO63/82, pp. 130–5.
  • 13. Ibid., LRRO63/82, pp. 329–31; C.E.O., file 11340.
  • 14. Ibid., file 11340.
  • 15. J. P. Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum, 1807, vol. iv, p. 317.
  • 16. C.E.O., file 11341.
  • 17. The Builder, 15 Feb. 1851, p. 100.
  • 18. C.E.O., file 11341; D.N.B.
  • 19. The Builder, 29 Dec. 1906, p. 747.
  • 20. C.E.O., files 11849, 15526; building agreement book 4, pp. 33–40.
  • 21. The Times, 24 March 1908; C.E.O., file 11776.
  • 22. C.E.O., building agreement book 4, pp. 166–70.
  • 23. Ibid., file 11849.
  • 24. L.C.C. Photograph Library.
  • 25. Listed in A. T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, vol. ii, Topographical Index, p. 43.
  • 26. Soane Museum, Adam drawings, vol. 49, No. 14.
  • 27. C.E.O., file 10445.
  • 28. D.N.B.