St. James's Square: No 3

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 3', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 83-88. British History Online [accessed 23 April 2024]

No. 3

Architects, Messrs. A. and D. Ospalek, 1933–4

The site of this house, having a frontage of fifty feet to the square, was conveyed, together with a detached piece of ground in Babmays Mews (now Babmaes Street), by the Earl of St. Albans and his surviving trustee, Baptist May, on 13–14 January 1673/4 to Edward Shaw of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, gentleman, and his trustees, Sir Theodore Deveaux and Robert Grayden, gentleman, both also of that parish. (fn. 1) The freehold was conveyed but a perpetual ground-rent of £23 4s. 4d. was reserved. (fn. 8)

The early history of the house built on this site is derived from a Chancery petition of Shaw and his trustees. (fn. 9) By August 1675 Shaw had almost completed a brick house. On the 21st of that month the anti-Court politician, William, Lord Cavendish, son of the third Earl of Devonshire and himself later first Duke of Devonshire, agreed, according to Shaw, to buy the house for £3800. The conveyance (of the freehold by Shaw's trustees, and of certain leasehold terms by Shaw himself) was to be made to Lord Cavendish's trustees by 29 November, on the previous payment of £1300. The remaining £2500 and interest was to be paid in stated instalments, and to secure the payment of this outstanding sum Lord Cavendish was said to have undertaken that his trustees would re-convey the premises in mortgage. Shaw in turn undertook to finish the house. Some final carving, painting and oak wainscoting was to be executed, the outbuildings completed, the stable and back yard paved with Dutch bricks and the kitchen paved with Purbeck stone. The plan of the house is not clearly apparent from the specification of uncompleted work, but mention is made of the garret storey and of eight rooms in the storey below it. The internal divisions below this level included a dining-room, a drawing-room, a great and lesser bedchamber each with a dressingor withdrawing-room, the great and lesser staircases, two great parlours, a 'drawing roome next the garden', three other rooms on the same floor as this last drawing-room, the 'entring roomes' and the 'lowermost roomes'.

The dealings of builder and owner led to dispute here, as at the adjacent house of Lord Ossulston. This arose over the completion of the conveyance from Shaw to Lord Cavendish. According to Shaw articles of agreement had been drawn up which erroneously provided for the conveyance to be made to Lord Cavendish instead of to trustees for him, and for the securing of the outstanding purchase money by bond instead of by mortgage. Lord Cavendish was said by Shaw to have agreed to observe the original conditions but subsequently to have refused to sign the conveyance, occasioning a petition to Chancery in May 1676 by Shaw, who claimed to have been thus prevented from disposing of the property. (fn. 9)

The dispute was evidently quickly settled and Lord Cavendish appears to have arranged for the conveyance to be made to his father, the Earl of Devonshire. On 31 July and 1 August Shaw and his trustees conveyed his freehold and leasehold to trustees for the Earl of Devonshire, in consideration of £3600. (fn. 10) On the following two days the Earl's trustees made the mortgage to Shaw's trustees to secure the outstanding £2500. (fn. 11) The final discharge of the mortgage was acknowledged by deeds of 7–8 March 1678/9, which also recorded the surrender of Lord Cavendish's interest in the premises by right of the 'treaty or contract' with Shaw which 'did not proceed'. (fn. 12)

The memorandum in the rent-roll of 1676 against Shaw's name that the possessor was 'now my Lord Cavendish' probably originates from the time when the agreement was in force. (fn. 13) In the 1677 ratebook Shaw appears as occupier. It is, however, Lord Cavendish, not the Earl of Devonshire, who is indicated as occupier in ratebooks from 1679. (fn. 2)

It is clear that after 1684 when Lord Cavendish succeeded to the Earldom of Devonshire he did not regularly occupy the house, although there is no positive evidence that, as Dasent suggests, (fn. 14) the house was, like Lord Ossulston's, let to foreign ambassadors. The Earl's building enterprises at Chatsworth and his engagements overseas with William III probably left the house often unoccupied by him. From 1685 to 1696 the Earl of Ossory, the Count Du Roy, the Duchess of Grafton, the Earl of Bridgwater, the Duke of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Carlisle appear successively as occupants. (fn. 3) From 1698 to 1707 the rates were paid sometimes by the Duke of Devonshire and sometimes by the Hanoverian envoy, Baron Schutz, who probably occupied the house throughout, and presumably continued to do so until 1710, as Dasent indicates on the evidence of ratebooks no longer surviving. (fn. 14)

In July 1710 the second Duke of Devonshire sold the house for £3700 (including £1000 to pay off a mortgage interest held by the Countess of Essex) to John, third Baron (and later first Earl of) Ashburnham. (fn. 15) Lord Ashburnham's important ownership of this site is not noted by Dasent, as the series of ratebooks is defective for this period.

At about the time of this sale the house, or part of it, collapsed, and some of the first work on the house recorded in the account books of Lord Ashburnham's steward, in November 1710, was the provision of timber shoring, the surveying of the damage, and subsequent repairs, not very extensive in scale, by two joiners in partnership, Joseph Duxon and Edward Johnson. (fn. 16) Lord Ossulston's carpenter, Jeremiah Delavall, was paid a small sum in connexion with this work, and the collapse was probably associated in some manner which cannot now be determined with the work Delavall was then carrying out on Lord Ossulston's property and the damage Mr. Brerewood claimed to have suffered at the same time (see page 79).

In November 1711 Richard Saunders, a carver, was paid £50 for work on the house. It is not clear whether Lord Ashburnham occupied the house regularly. He seems to have paid a caretaker, but on at least one occasion made use of the house when in January 1712 he, like other grandees living in the square, entertained Prince Eugene at his house. (fn. 16)

In 1712 Lord Ashburnham began to rebuild the house. The architect is not definitely known, but the new house can certainly be associated with Hawksmoor. When the adjacent house, No. 4, was burnt down in December 1725 Sir John Vanbrugh commented to Lord Carlisle that No. 3, then occupied by Lord Palmerston, 'did not receive one Shillings damage, nor was it found necessary So much as to remove any goods. This is owing to the advice Mr. Hawksmoor & I gave my Lord Ashburnham at the Building of it.' (fn. 17) That Hawksmoor's advice was sought is confirmed by Lord Ashburnham's account books which record that in May 1712 his steward accompanied 'Mr Hawksmore' to the square, and a few days later went with him to Lord Ashburnham's lawyer. A public advertisement by the Sun Fire Office after the 1725 fire at No. 4 also drew attention to the preservation of No. 3 and attributed this to Hawksmoor. It pointed to the similar preservation of Mr. Child's house in Lincoln's Inn Fields (fn. 4) and of houses in Spring Garden next to the French chapel, (fn. 5) and went on to say that 'the Houses in the three above-mention'd Places, which so well resisted the Fire, were directed by Mr. Hawksmoor, who in all his publick as well as private Buildings, has always had a particular Regard to fence against that terrible Calamity'. (fn. 18)

The names of various workmen appear in Lord Ashburnham's accounts. (fn. 6) The period of the work is not easy to determine as some of the debts to workmen seem to have been contracted retrospectively, but most of the work was probably done between July 1712 and the autumn of 1714, with the carpenter's activity (perhaps not all on the house) continuing into 1716. By August 1713 the carcase was sufficiently advanced for Lord Ashburnham to insure it for £1000 and the back premises for £500. (fn. 19) In September 1714 a lease of the adjacent house could refer to Lord Ashburnham's house as 'new built'. (fn. 20)

Some of the payments made at this time may possibly have been for other property of Lord Ashburnham, but probably much the greater part if not all of the building operations at this time were in the square. The accounts include some £3100 spent on building, to which may probably be added some £923 owed to plasterer and painter. Lord Ashburnham paid separately for at least some of the material used. Between August 1712 and August 1714 he paid £430 to two brickmakers, John Bowtell and James Barrett, £68 8s. to a timber merchant and £29 for lead.

In November 1712 Mrs. Tijou was paid £109 'in full of my Lord's Note for the Iron Balosters and Railes for the staire case made by her Husband'. It is uncertain whether this was for the house in the square, or, as is more probable, a final payment for work carried out by Jean Tijou for Lord Ashburnham's father, the first Baron, at Ampthill in 1706–7. (fn. 21)

The front of the rebuilt house is prominent among the houses of the square in Kip's panoramic view of c. 1714–22 (Plate 4, fig. 6), by reason of its being bounded with pilasters and carried up with an attic storey, breaking the continuity of the eaves-cornice and dormered roof common to the adjacent houses in the square, which do not have their party-walls expressed externally. If Kip's evidence is to be trusted, the front was a design with affinities to Hawksmoor's simpler domestic style, containing a central doorway dressed with a pediment, and four tiers of five windows. All have plain segmental-arched openings, but those in the first two storeys have sills projecting on consoles, and those in the third storey have panelled aprons. The attic is shown underlined by a stringcourse, stopped against the pilasters, and is finished with a cornice and parapet breaking round the pilasters. Bowles's view published in c. 1752, however, shows the front with its main cornice below the attic storey, breaking round the pilasters and more or less level with that of No. 4 (Plate 130).

Figure 6:

No. 3 St. James's Square. Re-drawn from Kip's (c. 1714–22) and Sutton Nicholls's (c. 1722) views

Lord Ashburnham did not occupy the house for any length of time. In 1716 it was inhabited by Edward Harley, later second Earl of Oxford, the collector. In 1717 the house was taken over by Henry Temple, who in 1723 became first Viscount Palmerston. He apparently owned the freehold by May 1730 when the ground-rent was conveyed to him (thus extinguishing it) by representatives of the Jermyn family, (fn. 22) but it is not known when he bought it from Lord Ashburnham. Lord Palmerston remained here until his death in 1757, when he was succeeded in the house by the second Viscount until 1759 and by Lady Palmerston until 1762. (fn. 23)

From 1762 to 1799 the house was occupied by the fifth Earl and first Marquis of Donegall, who bought it from Lord Palmerston in May 1770 for £12,000. (fn. 24) The house was perhaps altered during Lord Donegall's ownership of it, but there is no documentary evidence of this: the house was unoccupied in 1772. (fn. 23) If an alteration was made in that year it may have been carried out by 'Capability' Brown, who was then building Lord Donegall's country house, Fisherwick Park.

On the Marquis's death in 1799 the house descended to his younger son, Lord Spencer Chichester. He evidently determined to dispose of it. In July 1800 the house was surveyed by John Soane, on behalf of Philip, the third Earl of Hardwicke, for whose father he had worked at Wimpole in 1791–3. A plan was made and Soane reported that the premises were extensive and substantial, with 'very large and low' back rooms. He suggested that the 'common staircase', being 'steep and confined', should be altered, and that, as there was room for further building, dressing-rooms should be added to the library and to the chamber over it. He thought the house worth £11,500 as it stood, though a purchaser might have to go to £12,500, and that needful repairs and additions would cost a further £3500. (fn. 25) From 1801 the Earl of Hardwicke appears as ratepayer for No. 3 but his purchase of the house was delayed, perhaps by his appointment in March 1801 as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, until February 1805. The purchase was in the end made for only £10,500. (fn. 24)

In June 1815 Soane again viewed the premises and plans were made, apparently for alterations to the offices, but nothing was done at this time. (fn. 26) The additional buildings were finally erected to Soane's design between October 1818 and May 1819, but apparently on a less extensive scale than those originally proposed, at a cost of £2062 18s. 1d. (fn. 27) Soane seems to have excogitated his main plans in two weekends overshadowed by an oppression of spirits, induced by the recollection of his wife's death in the month of 'black November' three years before. The plans were finally settled on 4 November. (fn. 28) By December the new buildings were roofed, (fn. 29) and in February Soane was settling plasterwork details. (fn. 28) Soane showed Lord and Lady Hardwicke over the house in March, when they were 'greatly pleased' with what he had done. (fn. 28) In April he took views of two of the new rooms to Lord Hardwicke (fn. 30) and in June the completed work was measured for the making out of Soane's account. (fn. 31)

In August Lord Hardwicke agreed conditionally to the performance of further work on the kitchen passage and back court. (fn. 32) In October he was still intending to have the work done, although he expressed to Soane polite dismay at the amount by which the bills exceeded the £1200 which he had hoped would cover the cost: 'it only proves the heavy expense of executing any plan of building even upon a contracted scale; for I have no doubt you have endeavoured to keep the expense within bounds, and for this I must of course rely entirely upon you'. (fn. 33) No further work is, however, recorded among Soane's papers. The account was finally discharged in January 1829. (fn. 27) (fn. 7)

Work had been carried out on the staircase, Lord Hardwicke's old study, the basement and storeroom, and the extension of the back to include a new dressing-room and study for Lord Hardwicke, a dressing-room for Lady Hardwicke and a maid's room. The party-wall between the back premises of Nos. 3 and 4 was lowered, with Lady de Grey's consent, to give more light to the library, the excellence of whose contents drew a subacid comment from William Cobbett. (fn. 34)

No contemporary plans or drawings of the work are known. Lady Hardwicke's dressing-room had a lantern and a domical ceiling, evidently in a slated domical roof. (fn. 35) The windows of Lord Hardwicke's study were 'splayed'. (fn. 29) The work also included a 'waggon headed ceiling' and '3 Large Venetian Sash frames'. (fn. 36) Beyond Soane's own records, there is no contemporary evidence of the character of his work, although plans and elevations dating from the early twentieth century (fn. 37) suggest that he did not alter the façade to the square.

The house remained in private occupation until 1852. Then, after a year as a club-house, it became the office of the Copyhold, Inclosure and Tithe Commission, later the Board and Ministry of Agriculture, until 1922. (fn. 38) But it was probably in substance the house as altered in 1820 that was demolished in 1930. (fn. 39)

The fabric was not inspected before its demolition, but some evidence of the building survives in survey drawings of the basement, ground-, firstand second-floor plans (fig. 7), in a cross-section and in a crudely drawn front elevation.

The basement was divided into two equal parts by a transverse corridor, each part consisting essentially of three rooms or compartments. The front and middle compartments were square and equally large, and they were ceiled with groined vaults rising from arches against the walls and from a central pier in each compartment. The back rooms, however, were not vaulted and this suggests that they may have been added to the original basement which was, no doubt, that of the 1712–14 house and indicated its original plan and extent.

Figure 7:

No. 3 St. James's Square, plans. Re-drawn from survey in London County Council collection

Each storey of the reconstructed or partially rebuilt house had two rooms in front, divided by a massive cross-wall from the deep back part which had one large room on the north of the principal stairs, rising round the curved face of a D-shaped wall, the service stairs, and a lobby which gave access to the south-east wing. This wing probably consisted of one room before it was lengthened by Soane and the original ground-floor wing room, with splayed window-reveals, was probably Lord Hardwicke's new library.

The drawing of the front elevation shows a composition four storeys high and five windows wide that in its scale and disposition of parts could well have dated from the 1770's, and the details, though crudely implied, could be matched in work of that period, but the basement, with a roundarched door between two pairs of segmentalarched windows, suggests the 1712–14 building. The ground-storey windows, three to the left and one to the right of the doorway, were framed with moulded architraves, rising from a sill-band and finished each with a cornice. The principalstorey windows were underlined with a plain pedestal, its die of brickwork, and each was dressed with a moulded architrave, a frieze decorated with fluting between paterae, and a cornice with triangular pediments above the middle and each end window. The chamber-storey windows, and those of the attic, were completely framed with moulded architraves, and there were cornices above and below the attic.

In July 1929 application was made to rebuild the property as a bank on the ground and first floors with flats above, to a height of 104 feet 6 inches. Consent was given by the London County Council (fn. 40) but the scheme was abandoned and the site remained vacant for three years. In the course of 1932 applications were made for the erection of an office block to a height of some 100 feet. Permission to build higher than the limit of 80 feet imposed by the London Building Act of 1930 was granted in January 1933, Partly because the building faced on to an 'open space'. Appeals from neighbouring owners against the height of the building were subsequently withdrawn. (fn. 40) In February 1933 The Times reported that the executors of the late Sir Frederick Hall, M.P., had agreed to grant a building lease of the site for the erection of 'a stately block of offices'. (fn. 41) In September it noted, under the heading 'New Houses in St. James's Square, Lack of Unity', that building was proceeding: it regretted that 'separate ownerships and rebuilding on sites that have to be dealt with one by one as soon as they change hands, are resulting in a conglomeration of types that will, at the best, leave the square to be regarded as an example of redevelopment without the guidance of a master-mind'. (fn. 42) By the end of 1934 the building was completed and was formally opened on 5 December with a luncheon at No. 3 under Lord Astor's presidency.

The architects were Messrs. Alfred and David Ospalek, and the stone panels representing London street-criers were carved by Mr. Newbury Trent.

The Times commented: 'the interest of the property today is not its record as the home of notable personages, but as an acceptable example of modern design of offices, meeting the requirements of amenity, while introducing a new type of structure into a historic spot where many fine old houses survive. It is an instructive achievement in putting on a costly site such premises as promise to remunerate the promoters of the scheme.' (fn. 43)


  • 1. A further piece in Babmays Mews, perhaps uniting the plots previously granted, was subsequently conveyed to Shaw on 20 June 1675.
  • 2. The poor-ratebooks for 1678, 1682 and 1685 are lost or damaged and incapable of use. In the highway-ratebooks of 1682 and 1684 'Lord Cavendish' appears at No. 3. In the poor-ratebooks of 1678–81 and 1683–4 he is listed as if he was then living at No. 33 and No. 3 is not shown at all. This is, however, probably the result of some peculiarity in the arrangement of items in the ratebooks, and Dasent, who seems not to have known of Lord Cavendish's dealing with Shaw, beyond the reference in the rent-roll of 1676, which he printed, was probably mistaken in listing him as an occupant of No. 33. What is known of the house also refutes Dasent's statement that 'previous to 1686 Lord Ossulston seems to have been possessed of No. 3 as well as of Nos. 1 and 2'.
  • 3. An inventory of Lord Ossory's furniture as it stood in the twenty-four rooms of the house in 1685 is in the Nationa Library of Ireland in Dublin. 'A large piece of a battle of Rubens' on the great stairs belonged to Lord Devonshire.
  • 4. No. 42, on the later site of the Royal College of Surgeons. It was occupied by Francis Child in February 1724 when the adjacent Cardigan House was burnt down.
  • 5. Burnt down in 1716.
  • 6. In addition to the joiners, Duxon and Johnson, the following occur: Edward Bosingham or Bodingham, carpenter; Thomas Yeomans, bricklayer; Thomas Davies, Alexander Green and Robert Kidwell, masons; Francis Fry, plumber; George Barnes, slater; Richard Minnes, glazier; and Benjamin Timbrell and Robert Sparkes, braziers. No plasterer or painter is mentioned in the accounts down to June 1716 but a schedule of Lord Ashburnham's debts contracted before July 1714 includes sums of £267 14s. owed to Thomas Highmore, painter, and £655 16s. owed to David Launce, plasterer, probably for work in the square.
  • 7. The workmen employed were: Thomas Poole, bricklayer; Thomas Grundy, mason; Thomas Martyr and W. Lane, carpenters; John and Josh. Bayley, plasterers; Lancelot Burton, plumber; Michael O'Brien, painter and glazier; James Mackell and Co., smiths; W. and D. Bailey, ironmongers. James Cook was clerk of the works. The suggestion that Michael O'Brien should be employed as a plumber was made by Lord Hardwicke who withdrew it on learning that Soane had already engaged another.
  • 8. P.R.O., C54/4384, No. 17; L.C.C.R.O., B.R.A. 328/2/2.
  • 9. P.R.O., C10/494/114.
  • 10. L.C.C.R.O., B.R.A. 328/2/5–6.
  • 11. Ibid., B.R.A. 328/2/7–8.
  • 12. Ibid., B.R.A. 328/2/10–12.
  • 13. B.M., Add. MS. 22063, item 370.
  • 14. Ibid., p. 225.
  • 15. L.C.C.R.O., B.R.A. 328/2/15–16.
  • 16. East Sussex Record Office, Ashburnham MS. 3000.
  • 17. The Letters of Sir John Vanbrugh, ed. Geoffrey Webb, 1928, pp. 171–2.
  • 18. The Daily Post, 18 Dec. 1925.
  • 19. Guildhall Library, MS. 8674/12 (Hand-inHand Fire Insurance Society, Policy Register).
  • 20. P.R.O., deed in C104/150.
  • 21. East Sussex Record Office, Ashburnham MSS. 3000, 4190.
  • 22. M.L.R. 1730/5/96.
  • 23. R.B.
  • 24. L.C.C.R.O., B.R.A. 328/2/21.
  • 25. Soane Museum, Soane drawings, drawer 36, set 7, ff. 8, 9; private correspondence, division XIII, G No. 2.
  • 26. Ibid., drawer 36, set II, f. 30; B.M., Add. MS. 36278, L.
  • 27. Soane Museum, abstract book No. 5.
  • 28. Ibid., Soane notebooks.
  • 29. Ibid., private correspondence, division XIII, G No. 22.
  • 30. Ibid., journal No. 6, 1813–30, p. 399.
  • 31. Ibid., notebook of work done for the Earl of Hardwicke, 1818–19.
  • 32. Ibid., private correspondence, division XIII, G No. 54.
  • 33. Ibid., loc. cit., No. 33.
  • 34. G.E.C.
  • 35. Soane Museum, notebook of work done for the Earl of Hardwicke, 1818–19; bill book H, 1814–20.
  • 36. Ibid., bill book H, 1814–20.
  • 37. Ministry of Works, Historic Plans, GD/BA:1.
  • 38. P.O.D.
  • 39. Notes and Queries, 21 June 1930, p. 439.
  • 40. B.A. 64605.
  • 41. The Times, 11 Feb. 1933.
  • 42. Ibid., 26 Sept. 1933.
  • 43. Ibid., 6 Dec. 1934.
  • 44. B.M., Add. MS. 22063, item 373.
  • 45. A. I. Dasent, The History of St. James's Square, 1895, p. 221.
  • 46. National Library of Ireland, MS. 2522, ff. 151– 188.
  • 47. Survey of London, vol. iii, The Parish of St. Gilesin-the-Fields, Part I, 1912, pp. 48–56.
  • 48. Ibid., vol. xx, The Parish of St. Martin-in-theFields, Part III, 1940, pp. 67–8.
  • 49. East Sussex Record Office, Ashburnham MS. 4190.
  • 50. Ibid., loc. cit., No. 17.