Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.
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(fn. c1), 1726–8. First-floor windows lengthened and balcony added later
The site of this house, which had a frontage of fifty-two feet on to the 'piazza', and also three adjacent plots in Babmays Mews, were granted, under a reserved ground-rent of £28 12s. 8d., on 29–30 April 1675 by the Earl of St. Albans and Baptist May to Nicholas Barbon, who 'was Building and had Built one great Messuage or Mansion house and other Edifices and Buildings' on the site. (fn. 9) The house appears, with Barbon as ratepayer, in the ratebook for 1677. (fn. 1) In the spring of that year Anthony, eleventh Earl of Kent, was said to be thinking of buying the house. (fn. 10) By November Barbon was negotiating with the Earl for the sale. Some of the means by which he sought to further this piece of business are revealed in a Chancery petition which he submitted in April 1679. According to Barbon's version of the affair, 'one William Combes, gentleman, who was then a servant to the said Earle' informed Barbon that he 'had a very Considerable Interest with the said Earle' and could render Barbon 'Considerable Kindness and service in relacion to the dispatch and compleating of the bargaine'. Barbon represents himself as having been 'forced to make some shew of Complying with him' for fear lest Combes might do him a disservice with the Earl. In Barbon's version the arrangement was sufficiently formal for the parties to agree to refer to arbitrators the payment to be made by Barbon for Combes's services. Barbon is not very clear about the details of the arrangement but he admitted to being obliged, subject to the arbitrators' judgment, to pay Combes £200 and to have given Combes's sister 'a Note in writing' for £200 in trust for Combes.
The chronology of the purchase was disputed. According to Combes, by November 1677 the Earl had contracted to buy the house and paid a deposit of £500. But Barbon claimed that when in June 1678 he gave Combes's trustees bonds for £75 he did so 'being unwilling to fall out with him being come neere to a Conclusion with the said Earle', and did not come to 'a perfect Agreement' with the Earl until August 1678. He asserted that this had taken six months longer than Combes had promised, and claimed a consequent loss of nearly £200, being half a year's interest on the purchase price, evidently at 6 per cent. The conveyance of the house and site from Barbon and his trustees to trustees for the Earl of Kent appears to confirm Combes's version, for the deeds are dated 31 January–1 February 1677/8. (fn. 11) Combes claimed the residue of the £200, Barbon apparently offered only partial payment, and Combes brought a legal action. Barbon countered with his Chancery petition, and in answer to this Combes asserted that he had become entitled to the £200 simply because he 'did procure the said Earle to give the Complainant a meeting', and denied that there had been any agreement to refer the valuation of his services to arbitrators. (fn. 10) The outcome of the dispute is not known.
This corner site had over much of its depth a greater width than the frontage to the square suggests, and the price paid was the comparatively large sum of £6600. Two further plots fronting Babmays Mews, making a compact block of property, were bought by the Earl of Kent in 1682 from the Earl of Clarendon and by the Earl's successor, later the first Duke, in 1702/3, from William Stanton, a mason. (fn. 12)
The ratebook for 1678 is not available for use. The Earl of Kent appears as occupier in 1679 and his descendants continued to own and occupy the house until 1908.
Kip's view of c. 1714–22 (Plate 4) shows the house as first built. Sutton Nicholls's view of c. 1722 (Plate 128), however, seems to show a different façade with an attic storey. If this represents a rebuilding it was short-lived, as on the night of Sunday, 12 December 1725, the house, then owned by the eleventh Earl's son, the Duke of Kent, was burnt down. (fn. 13) The fire attracted the Prince of Wales who hurried from Leicester House, with a detachment of Foot Guards to restrain looters, and was active in encouraging efforts to fight the fire. The house was said in contemporary newspapers to have been burnt to the ground and most of the 'rich Furniture' to have been destroyed. It was, however, reported that 'the Duke's Gallery of fine Pictures' was saved: this was probably the building as well as its contents, since the preservation of 'the fine Gallery that lay backward' was reported in another newspaper. In a letter of the following January (see below) the Duke's daughter referred to the 'Galery' but the significance of the reference is obscure. The survival of some of the back premises is suggested by the continued existence in the early nineteenth century of a building at the rear 'very much older and much lower and meaner in its proportions than that part which fronts the Square', described by Earl de Grey in 1846 as having been 'only pulled down and re-built of late years', (fn. 14) probably to form the present eastward extension of the return wing.
In March 1725/6 the Duke took from Samuel Trotman a lease of No. 14 to run until Michaelmas 1728, at £200 per annum. (fn. 15) He was rated for No. 14 during the four years 1726–9, but the rebuilding of No. 4 was probably being completed in 1728. (fn. 16)
Only a few entries in the surviving account books of the Duke seem possibly to refer to the house, and almost all might alternatively refer to work at his country residence, Wrest House in Bedfordshire. Workmen paid small sums at this time, perhaps for work in the square, were Woodall, mason; Churchill, bricklayer; (fn. 2) Daval, plumber; (fn. 3) Webb, joiner; and Minns, glazier. The brazier, Sparks, was paid for grates in the new house in September 1727. (fn. 17)
It is not known who designed the house rebuilt after the fire, which is substantially that standing today (Plates 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, figs. 8–12). Dasent (fn. 18) suggests that Lord Burlington had some share in the design but there appears to be no evidence of this. (fn. 4) The catalogue of the sale of Nicholas Hawksmoor's library in April 1740 included twelve designs 'for the Duke of Kents House in St. James's-Square' by Hawksmoor. (fn. 19) There is no other evidence connecting Hawskmoor with the house although if Hawksmoor designed No. 3 (see pages 84–5) his employment in 1726 at No. 4 would not be surprising, as the manner in which the structure of No. 3 had resisted the fire attracted admiration, and Lord Ashburnham, the client for whom No. 3 had been built in about 1712, had recently become a member of the Duke of Kent's family by his marriage to the Duke's daughter in March 1723/4. (fn. 5) The appearance of No. 4 does not, however, indicate that Hawksmoor designed it. The suggestion has been put forward tentatively in Some Notes on the History of No. 4 St. James's Square (fn. 20) that Giacomo Leoni may have been associated with the design of the house. He dedicated to the Duke of Kent a manuscript essay on the theory and practice of building which the Duke had in his library in 1713, and speaks of being in the service of the Duke, for whose intended rebuilding at Wrest in 1715 he made 'draughts'. No positive evidence of Leoni's having worked at No. 4 has been found, although his residence in Charles Street in May 1726 (fn. 21) when the rebuilding would have been beginning is consistent with his having had a part in the work. That the Duke himself may have taken a positive interest in the design, another possibility touched on in Some Notes on . . . No. 4, is hinted at not only by Leoni's flattering reference to his encouragement of the arts but perhaps also by the statement in his memorial inscription at Flitton that 'His Taste and Magnificence are still conspicuous in the Elegant House, which he erected for the Town-residence of his Family.' (fn. 22) Letters written to the Duke by his son-in-law and daughter, Lord and Lady Glenorchy, after the fire carry the same suggestion of a lively interest on the Duke's part in the rebuilding. (fn. 6)
From 1744 to 1790 the house was occupied by the Duke of Kent's granddaughter, suo jure Marchioness Grey and Baroness Lucas, and her husband, Philip Yorke, Lord Royston, who in 1764 succeeded as second Earl of Hardwicke. In 1761 Horace Walpole visited the house and described the pictures. On the 'noble staircase' he observed the 'whole length statue of Inigo Jones, modern, in a niche', which still survives (Plate 137b, fig. 12). He mentions 'The Great Room', also still in existence (Plate 138b), and 'good bas reliefs in marble' over the chimneys in the first-floor rooms, which have disappeared. (fn. 23) In May 1767 Lord Hardwicke asked Sir William Chambers to call at the house in order to 'settle with Him' before going into the country, but this may have related to work at Wrest. (fn. 24)
In the summer of 1790, after the Earl's death, his widow had some alterations made to the interior by George Byfield. He apparently constructed a long narrow 'area' on the north side and new 'back stairs', which still survive, flanking the main staircase. An undated 'particular' of the work, to an estimated total of some £532, mentions the painting white of woodwork in various rooms where the doors and skirtings were previously chocolate-colour. The stucco on the upper part of the east and west sides of a staircase (presumably the main staircase) was to be taken down 'and new stuccoed plain'. The 'hall and staircase' were to be painted 'a fancy colour' and the ornaments and mouldings a 'dead white', and the handrail was to be grained to simulate mahogany. The balusters were to be painted white and gilded. (fn. 25) Letters from Byfield to the Marchioness in August 1790 indicate, however, that she had decided against this alteration of the balusters. They speak also not of a 'fancy colour' but of 'some very faint colour' for the hall and staircase, and show By field's preference for ornament to be whitened, not coloured or gilded. He suggested new mahogany sideboards to replace the unfashionable marble-topped side-tables in the 'eating room', and introduced a 'new statuary marble chimney-piece and slab for the Drawing room'. (fn. 26)
Little is known of the later architectural history of the house from documentary sources, although alterations were carried out, some damaging to the house's appearance. From 1834 to 1859 the house was occupied by Earl de Grey, who as the first President of the (Royal) Institute of British Architects gave here 'his large and charming soirées which no one who assisted at them will forget'. (fn. 27) The Earl is said to have been responsible for the design of his country house at Wrest. (fn. 28) Whether so or not, it may be that he had some hand in the nineteenth-century alterations at No. 4. (fn. c3)
From 1912 to 1942 the house was owned and occupied by the second Viscount Astor. In 1942 it was requisitioned, and from 1943 to 1945 it was used as the London headquarters of the Free French forces. From September 1947 it has been occupied by the Arts Council of Great Britain: in 1948 Lord Astor sold the house to the Ministry of Works at a low price on condition that it should be restored and preserved as the headquarters of the Arts Council. (fn. 29)
The front of the house (Plate 134, fig. 10) is five windows in width and three storeys in height, the second storey being exceptionally tall and the third storey being treated as an attic. The facing material is a fine, pale yellow brick with stone dressings which are now painted. The groundand first-floor levels are marked by broad bands with narrower sill-bands above them and the ground-floor windows have eared architraves, pulvinated friezes and cornices, the entrance doorway, in the second bay from the left, having a porch with an exactly similar entablature, at the same level, supported on free-standing Ionic columns with answering engaged columns flanked by half pilasters. The oak door, with eight raised-andfielded panels and a rectangular light above it, is enclosed by a narrow, plainly moulded architrave. The front area is guarded by spear-headed railings of an early nineteenth-century character, the urn finials being of a standard late eighteenth-century pattern. The architraved first-floor windows have pulvinated friezes and pediments supported on carved brackets: their sills have been lowered to a stone balcony apparently of early nineteenthcentury date with a simple iron railing and iron supports beneath it. The main entablature has carved mouldings and the windows above have lugged architraves, the attic being capped with a small plainly moulded cornice and a blockingcourse. The hipped, slated roof is hardly noticeable from the square. The front is remarkable in that the 'order' embraces a single storey only. There are several features of the design, notably the porch, which are not in accord with strict Palladian principles. (fn. 7)
The rear of the main part of the house and the return wing (Plate 135b) are built of pink stock brick without dressings. Each part is four windows wide and there is a broad band marking the level of the first floor with a sill-band above it. The main block now has a balcony at first-floor level and the sills of three out of the four windows have been cut down, two of the openings having been increased in width. Above the second-floor windows is a projecting frieze with a flat, moulded cornice and a low parapet. The north side of the house, facing the former mews-yard, is even plainer and has suffered many alterations and additions, but a projection housing the rear staircase has circular windows which appear to be original. A nineteenth-century extension projects about five feet into the garden but continues, in yellow stock brick, the main lines of the earlier work.
Across the end of the garden, recently repaved at a slightly higher level than previously, is a low, three-storeyed building apparently dating from the second quarter of the eighteenth century, constructed of pink stock brick with painted stone dressings (Plate 135a). It is crowned with a plain modillion cornice, the projecting centre being pedimented, and the upper storeys have three main windows with narrow ones in the sides of the central projection. There is a broad sill-band at first-floor level and a narrower band above the ground floor on the middle part only. The somewhat over-large central doorway is architraved, with a keystone rising into the pulvinated frieze, and is flanked by plain, narrow margins with carved consoles supporting a broken, segmental pediment. The style of the doorway suggests a late seventeenth-century date and it may have come from the original house on the site or have been imported from elsewhere. Various alterations have been made to the front of this building, including the insertion of large lunette windows to the basement, but without destroying its character. The interior, however, has been changed beyond recognition. In the 1830's it was used as stables. (fn. 30)
The plan of the house (figs. 8, 9, 11) is unusual owing to the shape of the site, which extends northwards for thirty feet behind the flank wall of No. 5: it is possible, also, that some parts of the original Barbon house were incorporated into the new building. The entrance hall is flanked by a front room with three windows overlooking the square: an inner hall and another room of equal size look into the garden, and the main staircase, with a service stair beside it, is situated behind No. 5. A wing beyond the stair contains a large room with a passage on its north side giving access to the secondary stair and the nineteenth-century block at the rear. On the first floor one very large room occupies the whole of the front but otherwise the ground-floor plan is repeated with little alteration. The second storey is occupied by the upper part of the front room and by bedrooms at the rear, and the top storey extends across the front of the house only.
The entrance hall is stone paved and is panelled for half its height with tall, narrow, ovolomoulded panels with a plain skirting and moulded capping. There is a full Doric entablature with a triglyphed frieze and mutule cornice: the ceiling is plain. The window has panelled shutters and is architraved and at the rear of the hall are three round-headed openings with carved mouldings to the archivolts which spring from above the panelling. All three have plainly panelled double doors and simple, glazed fanlights. The left-hand opening probably led to the staircase hall but is now blocked: it has enriched diagonal coffering, and the other two openings with plainer panelling of a more recent date, give access to the inner hall. The chimneypiece (Plate 139b) is of heavily veined white marble and consists of a broad, lugged architrave, a curiously fluted frieze, swept in at either end, and a plainly moulded corniceshelf which sets back and returns at the sides of the shallow chimney-breast. The appearance of the hall is at present marred by a large draught lobby designed as a continuation of the existing panelling. A jib door leads to the plain service stair which is of stone with an iron balustrade.
The inner hall (Plate 135c), which is not on the same axis, has an identical entablature but panelling only to the level of a moulded chair-rail. The other fittings are similar but the skirting is more substantial and the window shutters are carved. The two arched openings from the entrance hall are matched by a third without a fanlight, containing a door to the front room. There is a heavy bolection-moulded chimneypiece of grey marble (Plate 139c), the upper part containing a large white marble panel, carved in relief with a scene of Mercury before Jupiter and Juno, flanked by carved consoles, also of white marble, terminating in satyr masks. The chimneypiece is finished with a broken pediment and a small section of cornice above each console. There can be little doubt that this room was formerly separated from the staircase hall by a wall containing a door or an opening, opposite the fireplace and central in the staircase hall. This wall has been replaced by a pair of fluted Corinthian columns on pedestals, with answering pilasters, supporting the Doric entablature.
The front room retains its original timber fittings with carved mouldings. The walls are lined with alternately wide and narrow panels with a moulded chair-rail and skirting. The window openings are architraved and have panelled shutters; the six-panelled doors, with a central staff bead, are also architraved and have cyma friezes carved with acanthus leaf, and enriched dentil cornices. The main entablature to the room has enrichment to the architrave and to the modillion cornice: the ceiling is plain. The chimneypiece dates from the early nineteenth century and is a chaste design in black marble veined with gold and white. Broad pilasters, with the simplest of moulded bases and caps, support a plain frieze with blocks above the pilasters bearing rosettes. The thin shelf has rounded corners and rests on a small bed-moulding.
The rear room (Plate 139a) is similarly fitted but the walls above the chair-rail are now plain and the panel mouldings below are uncarved: the doorcases are merely architraved and the main cornice to the room is enriched with dentils. The white marble chimneypiece is of the same period as that in the last room: the simple architrave has beadmouldings and is flanked by panelled margins. The frieze has two tight festoons of laurel tied by ribbons to the stems of pineapples, with a pair of amphorae above them and acanthus decoration over the pilasters: the cornice-shelf is plainly moulded. The large room in the rear wing which may formerly have included the area of the passage to the north of it, as on the floor above, was redecorated by Messrs. O. P. Milne and P. Phipps at some time before 1924, (fn. 8) when it was used as a dining-room. The passage contains imitation eighteenth-century decoration but the stone secondary staircase has a simple iron balustrade and mahogany handrail of nineteenth-century dale.
Although the approach to the main staircase has been very much altered and the staircase compartment considerably embellished, probably in this century, the main lines of the original work remain (Plates 135c, 136, 137). It has already been stated that the doorway from the entrance hall to the stair compartment has been blocked and that a Corinthian colonnade has taken the place of the wall which must formerly have existed between the stair and the inner hall. An exactly similar colonnade was inserted beneath the first-floor landing, whether for structural or aesthetic reasons is uncertain, and the Doric entablature has enriched metopes on the side towards the staircase. The character of the original cornice or entablature beneath the first-floor landing is not known. The stair is of stone with a moulded soffit to the lower flights, but the upper flight has been greatly increased in thickness, perhaps to hide reinforcing beams, and the underside is divided into large panels with enriched mouldings which cannot date from before the nineteenth century. The partitions enclosing the space beneath the lower flights are unlikely to be original and the decoration on them is certainly modern. The balustrade to the stair is formed by fluted Corinthian columns of carved pine supporting a heavy mahogany handrail probably copied from the pine original. The columns have blocks beneath their bases but none above their caps, which are formed on the skew, the angle of the neckings being more acute than that of the abaci which appear to have been adjusted. Presumably there was some intention of making the stair steeper than it now is. Where the handrail is swept up at each landing the caps are inevitably grossly distorted.
All the wall decoration below a band marking the level of the first floor is modern, including the plaster enrichment to the skirting which was formerly plainly moulded. The band itself is original and is ornamented with groups of three acanthus buds and festoons with drops: it forms the sill to the two round-arched windows in the north wall which have an impost-band decorated with a wave moulding and archivolts with enriched mouldings (Plate 137b, fig. 12). Between them is a niche, framed by an egg-and-dart moulding, with an arched head containing a shell above an ornamented impost. In the niche stands a version of the statue of Inigo Jones by Rysbrack, at Chiswick Villa: it is not an exact replica but is said to be of plaster and to be from the sculptor's workshop. (fn. 31) Above the main impost-band is a large rectangular panel, framed also by an egg-and-dart moulding and containing a shell with two festoons and drops tied by ribbons.
Further modern decoration was added to the upper part of the stair compartment, presumably at the same time as that already described. The two windows and the round-arched openings at either end of the landing were flanked by fluted Ionic pilasters and the impost-band was continued round the compartment by a crudely decorated cornice. Enriched panels were formed on the walls and beneath the entablature festoons were introduced with drops and cartouches decorated with female masks. The new work was obviously intended to be in keeping with the old and to some extent replaced what may be presumed to have been removed in 1790 (see above), but it has considerably reduced the scale of the compartment.
The ceiling decoration (Plate 137a) is original and is in the Inigo Jones manner with a large oval compartment enclosed by a heavy guillocheornamented beam with the rich modillion cornice continued on either side of it. Short lengths of similar beam connect the oval to the walls leaving four spandrels decorated with shells and scroll ornament, the central compartment being plain but for a rosette. Beneath the modillion cornice there is a plain frieze and an enriched architrave.
The approach to the front drawing-room is through a small rectangular lobby which has been enlarged at one side. The drawing-room (Plate 138b), with its high coved ceiling, is nearly a double cube and despite mid nineteenth-century alterations which have considerably changed its character, is still essentially an early eighteenthcentury room. The alterations cannot have been made before 1846 when Earl de Grey was commenting on the plainness of the room: (fn. 14) it is not known who was responsible for the alterations. The remaining original work includes the panelled dado, with its carved mouldings, and also in part the lugged architraves to the doorways, carved with wave ornament and other enrichment. The openings have been increased in height and width, however, and the wooden overdoors are of nineteenth-century date, consisting of an acanthusornamented frieze and pairs of putti flanking carved oval frames, containing oil paintings on canvas. These are of figure subjects and are thought to be derivative works of the early eighteenth century. The double doors must date from the time of the alterations as do the architraves to the window openings, although the carved shutters, now set at an angle, are probably original.
The wooden chimneypiece, which is painted and gilded, is entirely of mid nineteenth-century date. The opening is flanked by huge, richly carved trusses hung with garlands of fruit. There is no cornice-shelf but merely a carved moulding and a concave surface above, carved with a rich wave pattern, sweeping up to the gadrooned base of a tall mirror. This has a shaped top and is enclosed in a rich frame carved with oak leaves and other ornament. Some of its embellishments have gone, however, and also a pair of putti which formerly sat at either corner of the chimneypiece holding candelabra. The main entablature to the room is original and has enriched mouldings and pairs of modillions in the cornice which are continued by acanthus-ornamented brackets through the frieze and architrave. The frieze is decorated with lion masks between the brackets and also with festoons and drops. Above the entablature there was formerly in each corner of the coved ceiling a plaster putto supporting a shield of arms. They were of nineteenth-century date and were removed shortly after the Arts Council took over the building. The cove is now plain and the flat portion of the ceiling is enclosed by a richly decorated beam with elaborate fret ornament beneath it, the central panel being decorated at either end by further beams forming intersecting curves and by two rosettes which are probably additions.
Other fittings in the room which date from the nineteenth century are the very large festooned panels on the walls, though these have been slightly altered, the tall pier glasses between the windows with the marble-topped tables beneath them and the huge gilt wood chandeliers which formerly had many branches for candles. The large amount of gilding was probably originally executed at this time. A photograph of the room, as it was in the late nineteenth century, is reproduced by Dasent. (fn. 32)
The second doorway, exactly balancing the first, leads to a back drawing-room which is now the conference room of the Arts Council. This retains its original enriched dentil cornice, and dado panelling and window shutters similar to those in the front room, one window having been cut down to give access to the rear balcony. The room has been redecorated in the French Rococo style involving the addition of a band of plaster decoration and a central rosette to the ceiling and the division of the upper part of the walls into panels enclosed by gilt mouldings, of composition, applied on top of a wooden lining probably made up from the old panelling. There is a mirror set in the centre of each wall and the carved chimneypiece is of a dark red marble with white veining.
The other rear room, to the north of this, has been little altered and the walls are lined with wide and narrow panels in the same manner as in the front room on the ground floor, with a similar modillion cornice (Plate 138a). At the rear of the room is a bed-recess flanked by fluted Corinthian antae, the recess being ceiled above the architrave. The doorways have been increased in width but the architraves and the doors themselves are probably in part original or follow the original design. The window openings have also been widened and their sills lowered to the level of the balcony. The chimneypiece, of white marble, is modern.
The large room in the rear wing, approached from the landing through a second lobby, was redecorated in the nineteenth century in an unusually tasteless version of the Louis XVI style, the walls being panelled in carved wood. The ceiling is a meagre version of an early eighteenthcentury design with a large rectangular compartment, framed by a shallow enriched beam, enclosing an octagon with three small panels at either end. The white marble chimneypiece does not belong to the main scheme of decoration and although in its present form it cannot date from before the nineteenth century, there are some characteristically eighteenth-century elements in its design. The opening, which has a plainly moulded architrave, is flanked by draped and bearded male terms, set at an angle: they are excellently carved in a somewhat Baroque style recalling the work of John Bacon the elder. There is a plain frieze, with a coat of arms surrounded by acanthus leaves, and a plainly moulded corniceshelf. The room is flanked by passages on its north and west sides, the area of the latter having very likely been taken from that of the room itself.
On the second floor the woodwork is simply moulded and the walls are now plain, the small cyma cornices having slightly enriched bedmouldings. In the room above the main staircase is a bolection-moulded chimneypiece of white marble with a keystone following the same, rather flattened, outline. It is probably contemporary with the house but the shelf above is later. The southern rear room contains another bolectionmoulded chimneypiece, probably of marble but now painted, with a wooden cornice-shelf of later eighteenth-century date.
The rooms on the third storey are fitted in a very plain manner.