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.
No. 71 Pall Mall: Sir Edward Walpole's house
Occupied part of the site of the Oxford and Cambridge University Club
In December 1726 Thomas Ripley, Comptroller of the King's Works, petitioned the Crown for a lease of a plot on the south side of Pall Mall on which stood three small houses, one fronting the street and the other two at the back. (fn. 2) Shortly afterwards he was granted a reversionary lease from 1740 to 1776, and in about 1737 he received a further extension to 1786. After this second extension he rebuilt the three small houses as one, which may be identified in Coney's strip elevation (pocket, drawing B). In 1740 this new house was said to be in the possession of (Sir) Edward Walpole, (fn. 3) second son of Sir Robert Walpole. A draft or copy of an assignment of the house, dated 1738, from Ripley to Sir Robert Walpole survives at the Public Record Office. (fn. 4) Sir Edward Walpole occupied the house until about 1778, when he was succeeded by his natural daughter Laura, widow of the Hon. Frederick Keppel, bishop of Exeter. She and subsequently her son, Frederick Keppel, continued in occupation until the death of the latter in 1830. (fn. 5) The house was demolished shortly afterwards to make way for the Oxford and Cambridge University Club building, the western part of which stands upon its site (see page 419).
The house had an L-shaped plan, being narrow in front towards Pall Mall and wide at the back. Coney's drawing shows a simple but dignified Palladian front that could, quite reasonably, be attributed to Ripley. The central doorway was dressed with a doorcase of Ionic columns supporting a triangular-pedimented entablature, and on either side was a window. The upper part, underlined by a pedestal, contained two storeys, each with two widely spaced windows, and was finished with a large triangular pediment having a lunette window in its tympanum.
It has often been alleged that Sir Robert Walpole possessed himself of this house in order to frustrate the wishes of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, to acquire direct access to her house from Pall Mall. This story, which is probably true, appears to have originated in a statement in London and Its Environs Described, which was 'Printed by R. and J. Dodsley in Pall Mall' in 1761. There it is stated that 'The late Duchess of Marlborough . . . intended to have opened a way to it [Marlborough House] from Pallmall, directly in the front, as is evident from the manner in which the court yard is finished; but Sir Robert Walpole having purchased the house before it, and being upon no good terms with the Duchess, she was prevented in her design.' (fn. 6)
In 1725 the Duchess complained to the Treasury, where Sir Robert Walpole was then First Lord, about encroachments which had been made along the entrance to her house. (fn. 7) At about that time she had been refused her long enjoyed privilege of going from Marlborough House through St. James's Park in her coach. (fn. 8) There is no known documentary evidence that in consequence of this refusal she tried to obtain access from Pall Mall, but the northern wall of the courtyard on the north side of Marlborough House (fn. 1) was built with a gateway (never used) in the centre, and an entrance through the site occupied by No. 71 Pall Mall was clearly intended.
When Ripley submitted his petition to the Treasury for a reversionary lease of this site in December 1726, the Duchess's relations with Walpole were particularly bad. (fn. 9) Ripley had no existing interest in the site as occupier or lessee, yet his request was nevertheless granted—a most unusual proceeding—Walpole, as First Lord of the Treasury, being the principal signatory of the warrant for the lease. (fn. 10) Ripley was moreover a protégé of Walpole, one of whose servants he had married. (fn. 11) At the same time he was also granted a reversionary lease in identical circumstances of the site later numbered 69 Pall Mall (fn. 12) (see page 381) and by 1740 he had possessed himself of the intervening site later numbered 70 Pall Mall (fn. 13) (see below). If the Duchess had intended to form an entrance to the north of her house, her wishes were thus effectively baulked.
In 1729 her trustee was granted a Crown lease of four old houses at the western extremity of the south side of Pall Mall. These houses were subsequently taken down by the Duchess and an entrance way was formed upon their site. (fn. 14) The poky entrance which Marlborough House thus acquired probably reflects the defeat by Walpole of the more ambitious schemes previously put forward by the Duchess.