Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.
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Nos. 83–84 Pall Mall: Lady Ranelagh's house: Christie's: Board of Ordnance
Occupied part of the site of the Royal Automobile Club
In or about 1664 the Earl of Warwick assigned two houses on the south side of Pall Mall to Katherine, Lady Ranelagh, who occupied them both. (fn. 1) Lady Ranelagh was the wife of Arthur Jones, the second Viscount, (fn. 2) and sister of the Hon. Robert Boyle, the philosopher and chemist. (fn. 3) Boyle left Oxford in 1671 to live with his sister in Pall Mall. There he was frequently visited by Robert Hooke who had assisted him in his experiments at Oxford and with whom he had formed a warm friendship. In 1676–7 Hooke busied himself on a 'Designe' or 'draught' for altering Lady Ranelagh's house, employing 'Bates' to carry out the work, which included a laboratory at the back for Boyle. (fn. 4)
Lady Ranelagh and her brother both died in 1691 (fn. 5) and the house was again divided into two. (fn. 6) The pair of houses shown in Coney's elevation (pocket, drawing B) and in an anonymous view (Plate 50a) have an early eighteenth-century character and must have been built, or at least refronted, at that time. Each house had a decorative doorcase, and in each of the three upper storeys were three tall segmental-arched windows. Raised bandcourses marked each floor level, and the fronts were finished with a plain parapet ramped up at each end.
The two houses formerly occupied by Lady Ranelagh, or two which replaced them on the same sites, were let in 1768 by Philip Elias Turst, the Crown lessee, to James Christie, the auctioneer. (fn. 7) It was probably in these two houses that Christie's first connexion with St. James's began. He had spent £1000 in altering the property, (fn. 7) erecting in the gardens at the rear a 'spacious and lofty' auction room (Plate 50b) which was approached by a passage between the two houses. (fn. 8)
The easternmost house was occupied by Christie and the other was sub-let. (fn. 6) James Christie the elder died in 1803 and was succeeded in his business by his son. (fn. 3) In 1807 James Christie, junior, tried to obtain a renewal of the Crown lease of both houses, (fn. 8) but his application was unsuccessful and in 1809 the lease was surrendered to the Crown, the premises having been purchased by the Board of Ordnance. (fn. 9) In the following year both houses were taken over by the Board for use as offices, (fn. 10) although Christie was allowed to use the auction room and the ground floor of No. 83 as an office until 1823 (see page 297).
In 1846 both houses were in a decayed state and the Board of Ordnance offered to rebuild them if a new lease could be obtained. (fn. 11) Both houses were demolished in 1850, and the new office building, designed by (Sir) James Pennethorne and built by William Holland, was completed in 1851 (Plate 271c). (fn. 12) Of all the buildings in Pall Mall occupied by the staffs of the Board of Ordnance and the War Office, this was the only one to be specially built for their use.
Pennethorne's Ordnance Office had a striking front in the Florentine Renaissance manner, carried out in brick and stone. There were four storeys, each strongly defined by a stringcourse and bounded by wide straight quoins. In each storey were three equally spaced windows, those of the ground storey being recessed in rather squat roundarched openings framed by heavy architraves. The stringcourse below the second storey was carved with a fret-band, and the windows were dressed each with a moulded architrave, plain frieze, and a cornice resting on scroll-consoles. A moulded cornice underlined the third-storey windows, which were similar to those below except that the consoles were omitted. A plain band defined the attic storey, where the oblong windows were framed in eared architraves, and the front was finished with a bold cornicione having a moulded architrave, plain frieze, and a heavy modillioned cornice, from the front of which rose the shallowpitched roof of lead, with its secret gutter. The front area was guarded by railings recessed between massive console-pedestals on which stood cast-iron standards carrying lanterns of typically Florentine design.
The Ordnance Office and its successor, the War Office, continued to occupy this building until 1906. (fn. 13) Between 1907 and 1910 it was occupied by the Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues whilst its new office in Whitehall was being built. (fn. 14) It was demolished in 1911–12 to make way for the Royal Automobile Club extension. (fn. 15) The stone balustrade which surmounted the building was sold to Lord Carrington. (fn. 16)