St. James's Square: No 5

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 5', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. 99-103. British History Online [accessed 23 April 2024]

No. 5

Architect, Matthew Brettingham, senior, 1748–9. Refronted in stone and porch and second storey added in 1854 by Messrs. Cubitt

The site of No. 5 was sold by the Earl of St. Albans and Baptist May to trustees for George Clisby on 1–2 April 1675, at the same groundrent, £15 8s. 4d., as the two houses (Nos. 6 and 7) to the west of it. (fn. 4) The conveyance seems not to have been enrolled. As at No. 3, it is not known who was immediately responsible for the erection of the house, which was completed by the following year, (fn. 5) but in December 1677 Clisby mortgaged the property to Abraham Storey who had built the adjacent house, No. 6. (fn. 6) Clisby and Storey appear in company with Robert Hooke, who was also concerned in the finishing and disposal of Nos. 6 and 7, at Garraway's coffee house, in February 1672/3. (fn. 7) It was presumably this George Clisby who in 1685 was asked to prepare a map of the parish (see page 30), and who, as Mr. Clysbee, was mentioned as an appropriate person to view the tottering steeple of St. James's Church in 1687. (fn. 8)

The ratebook of 1676, in which the house is first recorded, shows it occupied by Henry, second Earl of Clarendon, who inhabited the house during the early years of its existence. On 24–25 December 1684 Clisby sold the house to the Countess of Thanet, (fn. 9) who had already occupied the house in the previous year and who lived there until 1691, when a series of short tenancies followed. (fn. 5)

The Countess had mortgaged the house in 1688, and in 1704 she, with her mortgagees, sold it to Thomas Holt, presumably a trustee for Sir Richard Child of Wanstead. (fn. 10) Child occupied the house until 1711 when he and Holt sold it, on 15 November, to the soldier and diplomatist, Thomas, first Earl of Strafford (of the second creation), who was then ambassador extraordinary at The Hague. (fn. 11) The Earl's family still owns the house.

In letters to her husband from London the Earl's newly wedded wife expressed her pleasure with the house, although there was haggling to report over the purchase of Child's furnishings which included wall-glasses, marble tables, pictures over the doors and the fittings of one room 'hung with Giult Leathere the Handsomest I ever see'. Everyone agreed that the Straffords had obtained a very good bargain, and in the autumn, before the purchase was finally completed, the Countess was already arranging to provision the house with 'Sugar, Plumbs, Spice, etc.' (fn. 12)

During the following summer workmen cleaned and renovated the interior. (fn. 1) The work was not finished until the succeeding year but there were apparently no important structural or decorative alterations. A 'baithing Roome' is mentioned and a 'Greate Roome' with a carved cornice. At the front the ground- and first-floor windows had sashes, but the second-floor windows had casements, as at Lord Ossulston's house. A 'Large Mundillion Cornish' of wood ran across the façade. (fn. 13)

In August 1713 the Earl was considering the addition of a room at the back, as at Lord Portland's house in the square. His friend, Lord Berkeley of Stratton, advised against this, thinking it would darken the house 'and such a piece of ground as you have for a garden is such an advantage in a town crowded with buildings that it is a pity to lessen it'. Lord Berkeley obtained, however, the opinion of his own architect or builder, Nicholas Launce, a plasterer, (fn. 2) and together they recommended the construction of a picture-gallery like the Duke of Kent's at No. 4. Lord Berkeley transmitted 'a pretty plain draught' of the proposed building by Mr. Launce, but it is not known whether it was executed. (fn. 14)

December 1725 saw the house in great danger of destruction from the fire that burnt down No. 4 next door and which spread to the great wooden cornice of No. 5. Two letters to the Earl of Strafford from his brother, Peter Wentworth, describe without undue modesty the successful efforts by which, at the cost of a bruised shin and the ruin of his best periwig, he organized the preservation of the house, 'running from one Engine to another Incourageing the men'. The foreman of the firemen, being appealed to for more engines, said that all those belonging to the insurance office were present but that 'he had one of his own and if I wou'd promise he should be rewarded he wou'd make haste and fetch it'. Wentworth became involved in a 'scuffle' at No. 5 with another amateur helper, over the opening or closing of windows, and violence also broke out at Lord Palmerston's house, No. 3, on the other side of the fire, where his lordship fell to 'beating one of the Engine men to make him play upon his house'. But Wentworth countered this with a distribution of cash and reported that 'as soon as his back was turn'd I got that very Engine to play upon yours, getting Lord Bristols people of my side', out of fear for the safety of No. 6. (fn. 15) The newspapers reported that No. 5 had suffered damage to the value of a thousand pounds (fn. 16) but Wentworth's letters make it clear that in fact comparatively little harm was done, and the subsequent repairs were not extensive. (fn. 17)

In 1748–9 the house was rebuilt, substantially in its present form, for the second Earl, to the design of Matthew Brettingham the elder (Plates 150, 151, 152, figs. 13–15), who was at the same time building Norfolk House in the south-east corner of the square. The Earl was a man of cultivated taste and his friend Horace Walpole has recorded that he (the Earl) 'chose all the Ornaments' in the new house. (fn. 18)

Some incomplete estimates and bills for the rebuilding of No. 5 exist. (fn. 19) There are no records of the main carpenter's and bricklayer's work, which would have been the first to have been undertaken, nor of the smith's work.

The mason, George Mercer, gave an estimate totalling some £843 in March 1748/9. This is endorsed 'settled at £539', the total for which Mercer submitted another estimate in May. His work was to include 'a Balustrade in front', the main stairs in Portland stone, and 'Bremen paving' in the hall. (fn. 3) On the same day the plasterer, William Perritt, submitted an estimate of £630 which was 'settled at £570'. The first estimate from the joiner, Charles Ross, amounted to £2682 but this was also reduced, very drastically, to £1480. Ross, described as a carpenter, was responsible, with Thomas Nicholls, carver, for measuring the carver's work and was also, with Ralph Crutcher, signatory on the Earl's behalf of an agreement of April 1748 respecting the partywall of Nos. 5 and 6 (see page 104). He was later employed by the Earl in 1759 to design the south wing of Wentworth Castle. (fn. 20) Two carvers were employed, John Gilbert, whose bill of November 1750, including a good deal of decorative work, was settled at £130, and John Hawkins, whose bill, apparently for more utilitarian work, amounted to £200. The plumber, Edward Ives, was paid £46. Brettingham's own fee, for which he gave a receipt in March 1751, was £400 'in full for my trouble, drawings and attendance'.

Horace Walpole records that Clermont, the French painter of 'grotesques', decorated the walls of the 'eating-room' with a design derived from Raphael's 'Loggie in the Vatican', presumably at the time of this rebuilding. (fn. 21)

The interior of Brettingham's house has survived with remarkably little alteration. An additional storey was added by Cubitts in 1854, on the entry into the house of Lord Enfield, later second Earl of Strafford of the new creation. At the same time the front was refaced with stone instead of brick, (fn. 22) the new work being designed in a dignified and straightforward Italianate manner, perhaps re-using some of the existing stone dressings (Plate 150a). The ground storey is rusticated, with four square-headed window openings and a central, Roman Doric porch, now enclosed, consisting of a pair of columns with answering pilasters, supporting a full entablature with a triglyphed frieze and mutule cornice. Level with the cornice is a plain band with a blocking-course above it and the five first-floor windows rest on a pedestal moulding, each having a blind balustrade of waisted, stone balusters, a similar, open balustrade enclosing the area of the porch roof. The window openings are architraved with flanking margins and carved consoles supporting triangular pediments above plain friezes. The second-storey windows have a moulded sill-band, the sills themselves breaking forward on fluted brackets, and the openings are architraved with pulvinated friezes and moulded cornices, the third-storey windows having a slightly moulded sill-band and simple architraves. The façade is crowned with a bold modillion cornice and a balustrade with a plinth, plain dies and a moulded capping, the slated roof being practically invisible from ground level.

Figure 13:

No. 5 St. James's Square. Re-drawn from Bowles's view c. 1752

Bowles's view of the square published in c. 1752 (Plate 130, fig. 13) shows that the present first-floor window surrounds, with the balustraded aprons, are at least the counterparts of similar features in Brettingham's design. But Bowles is not necessarily accurate in his delineation of the rest of the front. Taking Norfolk House as a comparable design it seems more probable that the ground storey as well as the upper parts of the house were faced with brick, the ground-floor windows and the square openings to the second storey being quite simply dressed, and the crowning cornice being surmounted by a balustrade (mentioned in the accounts) partly concealing the three pedimented dormers in the pitched roof. Bowles shows columns or pilasters flanking the entrance door, so it is possible that the existing porch is an extension of the original doorway. The plain railings to the front area, with their spear heads and urn finials, probably also date from Brettingham's time.

The façade is only two-thirds of the actual width of the house which extends eastward to the north of No. 4, with three main compartments in front and a suite of three rooms at the rear (figs. 14, 15). The hall (Plate 151b) is entered in one corner and has a central door in the west wall to a small front room, a fireplace at the rear between a pair of doorways originally leading into the central back room, and an archway in the east wall leading to the main staircase with two flanking doorways, one false and the other opening into the secondary staircase behind. The hall is plainly fitted with a moulded skirting and chair-rail, architraved doorcases with pulvinated friezes and cornices, and a similar chimneypiece with lugged architraves flanked by long carved consoles. The opening to the main staircase has a semi-circular arch with a narrow, carved archivolt springing from an impost ornamented with a wave moulding, and there is a modillion cornice and a plain ceiling. The doors in this and the other groundfloor rooms are of mahogany with six fielded panels, some having carved mouldings. The decoration of the rooms is restrained in style but the quality of design and craftsmanship is high. The dados are panelled, generally with carved mouldings, and the main wall faces are hung with fabric and have enriched modillion cornices in plaster, the ceilings being plain. All the rooms have good marble chimneypieces, some dating from the early nineteenth century and others being original, that in the dining-room, the western room at the rear, bearing the date 1750. This room is lit by a tall, three-light window with a flat head, formed out of a Venetian window which is listed in the building accounts with another still existing in the eastern rear room, originally the library. This room has been considerably reduced in size and a corridor has been formed at the back of the central room giving direct access to the two others.

Figure 14:

No. 5 St. James's Square, ground-floor plan

The rectangular staircase compartment (Plate 152a) is lit from above and the stone stair rises only to the first floor with two long flights and one short one connecting the quarter-space landings. The wooden balusters are formed as plain Doric columns, with narrow blocks above and below them, and support a moulded mahogany handrail which is swept up at each corner and curtailed at the bottom with a single stout baluster. The walls are plain below first-floor level which is marked by a moulded band, the ornamented skirting and chair-rail being continued round the compartment. The main wall faces above have large panels enclosed by lugged frames with enriched mouldings and a guilloche band overlaid with Rococo ornament of shells and acanthus, the top breaking into a scroll pediment. On the two long walls the panels are flanked by ornamented brackets, presumably intended to support busts. Above an enriched moulding at the level of the second floor are pairs of circular panels with festoons and drops of foliage and flowers, not unlike the decoration on the staircase of No. 44 Berkeley Square by William Kent. The rich main cornice is modillioned and the coved ceiling rises to a rectangular roof-light surrounded by an unusual guilloche moulding.

The first-floor rear rooms are fitted in the same manner as those on the ground floor and the east room has been reduced in size like the library below. The middle room (Plate 151a) has a beamed ceiling in the Inigo Jones manner, with a large, central octagon containing a rosette, the soffits of the beams being decorated with guilloche moulding. The white marble chimneypiece has an enriched architrave to the opening flanked by female terms with panelled fronts containing drops and supporting baskets on their heads, the enriched cornice breaking forward above them and over a central tablet in the frieze carved with a mask of Apollo. The frieze on either side has a festoon with drops. In the dado are panels with quadrant corners, which, with flanking drops matching those to the terms of the chimneypiece, may be additions. The tall double doorway to the front room is certainly an alteration; the doors are painted instead of being polished mahogany, but the doorcase matches the others in the room with their carved architraves, enriched friezes with scrolled ends and carved cornices.

Figure 15:

No. 5 St. James's Square, first-floor plan

The front rooms do not correspond to those below, the larger compartment being to the west. They are connected by a double doorway matching that already mentioned, and although they retain their original doorcases, skirtings, chairrails and modillion cornices, the upper parts of the walls were enriched in the nineteenth century with elaborate panels in the French Rococo manner, executed in plaster, the white marble chimneypieces and the ceiling decoration being in the same style (Plate 152b).

The rear of the house is plainly built of yellow stock brick, the centre projecting slightly with a pair of windows flanking an architraved and pedimented doorway on the ground floor, and on either side the three-light windows already described, divided by plain Doric pilasters. The upper floors each have seven openings, with stone sills and flat heads, and the parapet is simply capped with stone.

Across the back of the courtyard was a twostoreyed stable building of brick (Plate 150b), answering the upper part of the rear elevation of the house. The first-floor windows were square and there was a timber cornice with a pediment over the central projection, the hipped roof being slated. The building had a frontage to Babmays Mews on the east. At some time in the nineteenth century, perhaps when the house was refronted, the courtyard was embellished with statues and balustrading, a flight of steps leading to a terrace across the east side in front of a low wing of approximately the same date.

As part of the scheme for the redevelopment of the site of No. 6, begun in 1958, the back premises of No. 5 have been demolished and the house is to be converted into flats, with additional accommodation in a new wing at the north-west corner. The four principal rooms on the first floor are to be kept as a state suite in connexion with the offices in No. 6, a doorway being cut through the party-wall, but most of the original decorations are to be preserved.


  • 1. William Wellbeloved, carpenter; Thomas Combes, plasterer; Joseph Lipsham, glazier; and James Turner, painter.
  • 2. Launce had bought a plot in Stratton Street from Lord Berkeley in 1689 (B. H. Johnson, Berkeley Square to Bond Street, 1952, p. 169) and in the same year had taken a building lease in the Old Artillery Ground, off Bishopsgate (Survey of London, vol. XXVII, 1957, p. 33).
  • 3. London in Miniature, 1755, pp. 202–3, describing Strafford House as a 'fine and regular Building', mistakenly says that it and Norfolk House had 'Fronts entirely of Portland stone', instead of brick dressed with stone.
  • 4. M.L.R. 1730/6/73–5.
  • 5. R.B.
  • 6. B.M., Add. MS. 22253, f. 21.
  • 7. The Diary of Robert Hooke, 1672–80, ed. H. W. Robinson and W. Adams, 1935, p. 27.
  • 8. W.P.L., D1756, 14 Feb. 1686/7.
  • 9. B.M., Add. MS. 22253, f. 21.
  • 10. Ibid., loc. cit., f. 22.
  • 11. M.L.R. 1711/1/128–9.
  • 12. B.M., Add. MS. 22226, ff. 3, 5, 17, 21.
  • 13. Ibid., Add. MS. 22254, ff. 3–11.
  • 14. Ibid., Add. MS. 22220, ff. 84, 88, 91, 93, 101.
  • 15. Ibid., Add. MS. 22227, ff. 50–5.
  • 16. The Daily Journal, 14 Dec. 1725.
  • 17. B.M., Add. MS. 22254, ff. 14, 16.
  • 18. Horace Walpole's Books of Materials in possession of Mr. W. S. Lewis of Farmington, U.S.A., vol. 2, p. 45.
  • 19. B.M., Add. MS. 22254, ff. 22–47.
  • 20. Colvin.
  • 21. Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, ed. R. N. Wornum, 1888, vol. ii, p. 332.
  • 22. Information supplied by Lady Elizabeth Byng; R.B.