Survey of London: Volumes 31 and 32, St James Westminster, Part 2. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1963.
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Golden Square Area: Gelding Close
Until its surrender to the Crown in 1536 for the formation of the Bailiwick of St. James the site of Golden Square and the adjacent streets (fig. 18) had formed part of the lands belonging to the Mercers' Company, and were then in the tenure of Thomas Raye. (fn. 2) In 1548 this part was leased by Edward VI to Sir Anthony Denny, (fn. 3) but in January 1559/60 it was included in Queen Elizabeth's freehold grant of some sixty acres in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields (together with other lands elsewhere) to William Dodington of London, gentleman. By 1561 the freehold of the sixty acres had come into the possession of Thomas Wilson of St. Botolph without Aldgate, brewer (fn. 2) (see page 24). By 1585, when the plan reproduced on Plate I was made, the windmill from which Great Windmill Street takes its name had been erected, and the site of Golden Square formed part of the wide area loosely referred to as Windmill Fields.
After Thomas Wilson's death in 1590 his lands in St. Martin's passed to his son Richard, (fn. 4) who in January 1618/19 sold some twenty-two acres, including the site of Golden Square, to Robert Baker, tailor, the builder of Piccadilly Hall (fn. 5) (see fig. 1). Baker died in 1623 (fn. 6) and prolonged disputes over the possession of his lands ensued (see page 37). By 1670 the two chief claimants, John Baker, usually described as of Payhembury, Devonshire, and James Baker of Evercreech, Somerset, who were great-nephews of Robert Baker, had both granted away their pretended and mutually conflicting rights in Gelding Close (as the part of Windmill Fields shown on fig. 18 was now known), the former to John Emlyn, (Emlin, Emblin), brickmaker, and the latter to James Axtell, variously described as a bricklayer or a carpenter. (fn. 7)
Gelding Close was presumably so-called through its use as pasture for geldings, while the name Golden Square, which was in use before the end of the seventeenth century, was evidently a refined corruption. (fn. 1) By 1670 it had become valuable as building land, for houses were already going up to the south and east of it after the extension of Sir William Pulteney's Crown lease in 1668. Moreover its freehold was privately owned, and some of the plots or houses were therefore granted in leases of upwards of nine hundred years which encouraged the erection of larger buildings on a more elaborate layout than was possible on the adjoining Crown land, where tenants were reluctant to build substantial houses on the limited security of the comparatively short leases usually granted at that time.
Both John Emlyn and James Axtell intended to build on Gelding Close, which they considered to be 'situate in A good Ayre and very comodious'. (fn. 8) By February 1670/1 they had settled the rival claims which they had respectively purchased from John and James Baker, each accepting an undivided moiety of the whole. (fn. 9)
In the following month, March 1670/1, Sir Christopher Wren, as Surveyor General of His Majesty's Works, reported to the Privy Council his concern at the number of unlicensed buildings in 'Dog Fields, Windmill Fields and the Fields adjoining to So Hoe', (fn. 10) and in April a proclamation against unlicensed building there was published (see page 7). (fn. 11) Shortly afterwards Emlyn and James Long (a nominee of Axtell) addressed a petition to the Privy Council for a building licence. They set forth that they desired to build in Gelding Close 'such houses as might accommodate Gentry, and not being the least Charge upon the Parish, but be an advancement to the Poor', but had desisted in obedience to the royal proclamation against new buildings. They further pleaded that they would be able to raise and pave the adjoining highway to Tyburn (the present Warwick Street). This, they claimed, had become impassable in winter and market people travelling that way were in danger of being lost in 'the great waters perpetually lying there all the Winter Season'. In November 1671 this petition was referred to Wren. (fn. 12)
Their first application was unsuccessful and after some unaccountable delay, possibly caused by continued disputes between the two joint owners of Gelding Close, a further petition was submitted in 1673. This was in the names of Emlyn and of Barnabas Holley (another nominee of Axtell), whose name was used for reasons of 'interest and favour', James Axtell being perhaps a relative of Daniel Axtell, the regicide. At the same time £200 was paid to a Mr. Wright, presumably a Chancery official, to obtain the necessary patent. (fn. 13)
This second petition was also referred to Wren, who was required to ascertain whether the sewers designed by the petitioners might be built without annoyance. This concern with drainage was probably occasioned by fear that building in Gelding Close might endanger the water supply to the royal palaces of Whitehall and St. James. Wren and his assistants viewed the ground and found 'that the foule water of the petitioners buildings may be carryed off Without annoyance to the Conduits or the Publique Sewers already made', provided that the petitioners obeyed his directions. On 4 September 1673 the King therefore granted to Emlyn and Holley by letters patent licence 'to frame, erect and build' such houses and buildings in the said close 'according to the modell and forme … designe draught mapp or Chart' annexed to the patent. The new buildings were to be of brick or stone, and the petitioners were to maintain them in repair. There were to be 'substantial pavements' and 'sufficient sewers', and 'noysome and offensive trades' were forbidden. (fn. 14)
The 'modell' or plan is still in existence and (except for the modification of the line of frontage which was made at the north-west corner in 1930) is identical with the present layout of Golden Square. (fn. 15) The plan bears Wren's signature, but the patent does not state whether it was submitted by the petitioners or whether it originated in Wren's office (Plate 9).
Within a few months of the grant of the licence to build in September 1673 Axtell and Emlyn jointly granted a parcel of Gelding Close to William Partridge of St. Martin's, blacksmith, at a fee farm rent of £19 16s. (fn. 16) This ground was later occupied by Nos. 17–19 Golden Square, and probably extended back to Brewer Street (fig. 18). No building took place there for some years.
Shortly after the grant of the licence Emlyn's half-share in Gelding Close passed to Isaac Symball, another building speculator who had advanced considerable sums of money to meet Emlyn's debts and legal costs, including the £200 paid to Mr. Wright, the Chancery official. (fn. 9) Symball, variously described as a yeoman, brickmaker or corn chandler of St. Martin's, was a man of ingenuity and enterprise. In addition to being involved in the development of Gelding Close, Conduit Field and Soho he was busy at various times between 1670 and 1675 in cowkeeping, cattle-dealing and brickmaking. (fn. 17) In 1689 he was described as a person 'of no reputation' when he tried unsuccessfully to avoid arrest for debt by becoming the servant of Lord Morley who, as a Papist, was not entitled to sit in the House of Lords, and was therefore not privileged to protect his servants from arrest. (fn. 18) Symball died in January 1694/5. Narcissus Luttrell relates that 'One Mr Raneer, a gentleman of Lincolns Inn, being at cards with one Mr Symball, an eminent builder, at his house in So ho, they quarrelled, and the latter was wounded in 3 places, of which he instantly dyed, and the other made his escape'. (fn. 19)
The means by which Symball acquired a halfshare in the freehold of Gelding Close may well have been questionable, for he based his interest upon an indenture which he claimed to be an outright conveyance of one undivided moiety for £1150, but which John Emlyn had intended to be only a mortgage. (fn. 20) Nevertheless Symball maintained his right, so that by the autumn of 1674 the legal and actual possession of Gelding Close was shared equally between him and James Axtell.
The exact demarcation of each share of the area had not yet been settled and gave grounds for fresh disputes, which were now complicated by the liability of both parties to lay out their buildings in conformity with the 'modell'. There was also a long-standing quarrel between them over the damage caused by the great number of gravel and brick-earth pits dug by Emlyn on Gelding Close. (fn. 21)
In November 1674 Axtell brought a suit in Chancery against Symball to force a division of their joint property, and in December Symball replied with a similar suit against Axtell. (fn. 21) Both parties came to a settlement in the early months of 1675, and the various building sites into which Gelding Close was to be divided were partitioned between them. (fn. 22)
Each party obtained all the building land on one of the two shorter (north or south) sides of the intended square, half of each long (east and west) side and also half of the land on the northern part of the close which bordered on what was to be Silver (now Beak) Street. Symball agreed to take all the land on the north side of the square, the northern half of the eastern range, the southern half of the western range and also the eastern half of the sites bordering the north side of Silver Street. The remaining building sites, including that part of the south side of the square which had already been jointly granted to William Partridge, fell to Axtell. The division between the two contending parties is illustrated on fig. 18.
After this partition both Axtell and Symball proceeded separately with their own plans for the development of Gelding Close. Axtell staked and set out his land for building but died in the autumn of 1679 before leasing out any of his property. (fn. 23)
Symball was initially more successful, and began by disposing of his land in the south-west corner of Gelding Close—i.e. the sites of Nos. 19A–24 Golden Square and of the houses on the west side of Lower John Street. The site of the present No. 24 was 'in building' by April 1675, and in the same month Symball granted the residue of a thousand-year term in two adjoining sites (Nos. 22 and 23) to Cadogan Thomas of Lambeth, merchant, who in the following October leased them for building to Andrew Laurence of St. Martin's, esquire. (fn. 22) By March 1674/5 John Wells, variously described as gentleman (fn. 24) or as of St. Giles in the Fields, cow-keeper, and possibly one of the speculators who had previously built houses in Wells (now Babmaes) Street, St. James's Square, had taken a lease of some nine hundred and ninety-nine years from Symball of the remaining two sites (Nos. 20 and 21), (fn. 25) and also (at an unknown date) a similar lease for adjoining land on the west side of Lower John Street. (fn. 24) Nos. 20 and 21 were built under sub-leases granted by Wells in 1683 to William Gray. (fn. 26) These and Nos. 22–24 were all in occupation by 1686. (fn. 27)
The unfashionableness of the neighbourhood and the death of James Axtell in the autumn of 1679 without issue were probably the causes of the slow progress of building. Axtell's real property passed to two nieces, Elizabeth and Frances, the daughters of a deceased brother and both under age. Being minors they were unable to grant leases of their property, which had already been staked out for building. It lay open and unfenced, useless for any other purpose and producing no income. (fn. 28)
This difficulty was surmounted in February 1683/4. Martha Axtell, their widowed mother and guardian, came to an agreement with four 'undertakers', Francis Batten, citizen and leatherseller, William Partridge of St. Martin's, blacksmith, Enoch Crosby of the same, bricklayer, and Richard Tyler, of the same, brickmaker, who jointly undertook the development of all the Axtells' sites. Batten took up the sites on the east side of Golden Square (Nos. 5–12) and the adjoining sites in Lower James Street, Brewer Street and Bridle Lane; William Partridge took the eastern part of the south side of the square (Nos. 13–16)—he already possessed the western part where the land fronted south on Brewer Street; Crosby took the sites on the west side of the square (Nos. 25–31); Tyler took the parcel adjoining to the north which fronted on to Upper John Street (excluding No. 31 Golden Square), Silver Street and Warwick Street, together with the Axtells' parcel on the north side of Silver Street. Martha Axtell covenanted that when they came of age her daughters would make good all the building leases, which were for fifty-one years except in the case of the ground to the north of Silver Street. (fn. 29) During the next six months the four 'undertakers' engaged other builders and tradesmen to take some of the vacant sites and in the autumn of 1684 Martha Axtell formally leased all her daughters' property in Gelding Close to these four or to their nominees. Crosby engaged other tradesmen for all his seven sites, and he himself was not granted any leases.
Martha Axtell succeeded in obtaining tenants for all her daughters' property at rents which were higher than either those which Symball had earlier obtained for his plots or those for which her deceased brother-in-law, James Axtell, had treated five years previously. Moreover her leases were only for fifty-one years, whereas in 1675 Symball had had to grant terms in the region of a thousand years to attract builders. Only in Silver Street, 'a narrow back street incomodiously situated', was she compelled to grant long leases, for nine hundred years. (fn. 28)
After the grant of these leases there was some acceleration in the rate of building, for houses began to go up on the Axtells' sites on the east and west sides of the square almost immediately. The western range (Symball's half of which was already built) was complete by 1689, (fn. 27) but the houses on the east side do not seem to have been finished until some ten years later. On the south side Nos. 15–19 were built by 1689 and the two other houses completed by 1692.
The other sites in the square were all Isaac Symball's property and mostly vacant. Unlike Martha Axtell, he was unable to attract tenants so that his property in the east range (Nos. 1–4) remained undeveloped at his death in 1695. (fn. 30) Here the houses (Nos. 1–4) were probably erected around 1700, though it was not until 1706 that all four houses were occupied. The sites on the northern range of the square (Nos. 32–38) had been easier to let and the houses were built there between 1685 and 1698.
By the early 1700's, the four ranges of Golden Square were complete. They formed a slightly irregular quadrangle measuring some 250 feet from north to south and east to west. There were two entering streets on the north side, responding to two on the south, all being originally placed some 20 feet in from the unbroken east and west sides. The re-entrant angles thus formed made it possible to include four houses with a narrow entrance front towards the square, although their main fronts faced the entering streets. All four ranges presented a certain degree of uniformity, but the visual consistency successfully achieved at the same period in St. James's Square and Soho Square was less apparent.
In the first few years little care had been taken to achieve conformity of style. Of the first five houses to be built in the square (Nos. 20–24, all on Symball's land) only two (Nos. 20 and 21) had similar fronts, probably because they were both built under the same lease. Nos. 22 and 23, although both leased to Andrew Laurence, have differing heights, the latter having the same number of storeys as its other neighbour, No. 24, which was the first house to be built in Golden Square.
Subsequent building was more uniform. When the four 'undertakers' agreed to take up all the Axtells' building sites in 1683/4, they bound themselves to erect continuous rows of dwellings 'with heights of storyes, ornaments to the fronts, scantlings and goodness of timber and substantialness in Brickwork answerable to the buildings neere thereunto and of the second rate of building', (fn. 31) presumably as specified in the Act of 1667 for the rebuilding of the City (see page 8). The result was that the houses erected on the Axtells' ground all maintained a higher degree of uniformity than had previously been required. This is particularly noticeable in the houses on the south side of the square (Plate 120a,) which were all probably built by William Partridge. The contrasting diversity of style between the houses built in the 1670's on Symball's land (Nos. 20–24) and those erected five years later on the Axtells' adjoining sites (Nos. 25–30) further underlines this change.
Following the Axtells' example, Symball's leases granted in 1685 to William Pye of St. James's, carpenter, for the sites of Nos. 32–34 contained covenants binding the lessee to erect houses 'uniform in front to the best of the houses of [William] Gray fronting the said Square … with a height of stories, ornaments to the front, scantlings and goodness of timber and substantialness of brickwork answerable to the said buildings designed for the pattern thereof'. (fn. 32) The engravings reproduced on Plate 120 show that as built Nos. 32–34 were similar to Nos. 20 and 21, of which William Gray was the lessee. Similar covenants evidently also governed the erection of Nos. 37 and 38.
Sutton Nicholls's views of the north prospect of the square, published in 1731 and 1754, differ from each other only in their treatment of the layout of the centre of the square. The later version is reproduced on Plate 120b and shows the whole of the west, north and east sides, while a similar engraving (fn. 33) by another artist of a view looking east includes the south side (Plate 120a). They show that, with a few exceptions, the houses had typical late seventeenth-century fronts, three storeys high and three windows wide, built of brick with raised bandcourses between the storeys, and a modillion eaves cornice of wood below the steeply pitched roof. The flush-framed sashes, which probably dated from the first erection of the houses, were set in plain openings with flat gauged arches, and most of the houses had doorcases with scrolled broken pediments. In the roof of each house were three casement dormers, finished with triangular pediments. Exceptions to this general uniformity were Nos. 23 and 24 on the west side, No. 36 on the north, No. 1 in the north-east angle, and Nos. 2 and 10 on the east side. The two lower storeys of No. 23 matched with those of No. 22, built by 1684, but the upper part of the four-storeyed front was probably later and finished with a cornice and a panelled parapet of brick, partly concealing the two dormers in the roof. At least the front of No. 24 had been rebuilt, probably in the 1720's, for Sutton Nicholls shows it with four storeys of segmental-arched windows, and having a bandcourse at first-floor level and a cornice below the attic storey which finished with a panelled parapet. Both of these house-fronts survive, altered and without their original doorcases. No. 36, on the north side, was also evidently a rebuilding or refronting of about 1720, with four storeys of segmental-arched windows having lugged aprons. Nos. 1 and 2 were four-storeyed houses of late seventeenth-century date, but the fourth storey was probably added, for No. 1 matched in all other respects the threestoreyed No. 31, at the opposite end of the north side. Both houses had long-and-short quoins on the outside angle, raised bandcourses between the storeys, and a modillioned eaves cornice of wood below the roof. The front of No. 10 also appears to have been heightened by substituting an attic storey for the roof garret.
The Later History of Golden Square
Golden Square had been designed to contain 'such houses as might accommodate Gentry', (fn. 34) and for the first sixty or seventy years after its completion, this intention was fulfilled. By the time all thirty-nine houses had been completed and occupied in 1707, there were living in the square a duchess, six peers or future peers (including a future duke), a bishop, six army officers and a number of other residents of title. This was the heyday of Golden Square as a political and social centre. Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, lived at No. 7. James Brydges, the future Duke of Chandos, but in 1707 Paymaster of the Forces, lived at No. 20 and had his office at No. 19A. Next to him lived Henry St. John, later Viscount Bolingbroke, the leading Tory politician of the day, whose house was frequently the scene of the convivial assembly of his political and literary associates.
With the westward expansion of London in the eighteenth century, this social and political distinction declined. Using the residence of the peerage as a gauge of fashion, there were still six peers living in Golden Square in 1720, only two in 1730 and one in 1740. Many of the more fashionable householders had moved to the new houses which were going up on the Burlington estate in the 1720's and 1730's. Lord Masham moved from No. 21 to Cork Street in 1724–5 and Governor Henry Worsley (from No. 7) and Lord Middleton (from No. 21) to New Burlington Street in 1737–8. Even so, a few baronets, knights and their relicts continued to live in Golden Square throughout the eighteenth century, with an occasional Irish or Jacobite peer and widowed peeress.
In the middle years of the eighteenth century the foreign diplomatic envoys formed a notable group of residents. From 1724 to 1788 there was at least one legation in Golden Square and from 1732 to 1734 there were three simultaneously. The Portuguese minister was the first to move into the square. He lived at Nos. 23 and 24 from 1724 to 1747 and was followed by the Bavarian minister who remained there until 1788. No. 19A housed the Brunswick envoy from 1728 to 1734 and No. 30 the Genoese envoy from 1755 to 1759. It is an interesting comment on the relative importance of Russia in western Europe at this date, to find amongst these representatives of minor powers the name of Prince Cantemir, the Tsarina's envoy in London, as resident at No. 6 from 1732 to 1737.
The cosmopolitan element in Golden Square was accentuated in the later eighteenth century by the residence there of a number of foreign artists. This connexion with the arts had originated in 1710 with Anastasia Robinson, the singer, who lived at No. 35. One of the first foreign artists to live in Golden Square was the dancer Elizabeth Gamberini, who lived at No. 13 from 1753 to 1763, but the most celebrated was Angelica Kauffmann, the painter, resident at No. 16 from 1767 to 1781. Another was the singer Caterina Gabrielli, who appeared in London for only one season from November 1775 to May 1776 and took a house in Golden Square. Despite the shortness of her stay she had a brass plate marked 'Mrs. Gabrielli' put up on her street door. (fn. 35) Native artists who were attracted to the square included the painter Prince Hoare (at No. 16 following Angelica Kauffmann); the miniaturist Samuel Finney; (fn. 36) Andrew Plimmer, another miniaturist (who lived at No. 28 from 1789 to 1794 and at No. 8 from 1794 to 1805); and the future President of the Royal Academy, (Sir) Martin Archer Shee, who occupied No. 13 from 1796 to 1798. (fn. 37)
There were also a number of harpsichord and piano makers living and working in Golden Square—Joseph Mahoon (at No. 38), William, Matthew and Edward Stoddart (No. 1), Rice Jones (No. 11) and Messrs. Broadwood, who had their offices in Great Pulteney Street and used No. 9 Golden Square as a warehouse.
By 1839 Golden Square had become 'a great resort of foreigners' according to Charles Dickens, who made a dismal house there the home of Ralph Nickleby. He went on to describe some of the other inhabitants—'Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer's night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy mustachio'd men are seen by the passer-by lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices practising vocal music invade the evening's silence, and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins, and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square, and itinerant gleesingers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.' (fn. 38)
To accommodate this foreign population there were a number of hotels and boarding houses in the square, many of them being kept by foreigners. In the early 1860's there were as many as eight, some of which remained in business into the early years of this century, when the woollen trade or demolition displaced them. In the 1870's the French nuns of the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament occupied No. 23, while at No. 10 were the Huguenot children of the French Protestant school. There was also a fencing school at No. 10, well known as the Salle Bertrand, while in later years No. 31 was occupied by the School of Japanese Self Defence.
Side by side with the growth of this foreign element and with the flight of the wealthier residents to more fashionable quarters elsewhere, many of the houses came to be occupied by professional men and later by commercial firms. As early as 1728, there was a doctor of medicine living in Golden Square (at No. 33). From then until the 1870's, at least one of the houses in Golden Square was occupied by a medical man, there being nine resident or practising there in 1840. (fn. 39) John Hunter, the anatomist, who had lived at No. 31 from 1765 to 1768, was the most celebrated of these medical residents. In the nineteenth century this professional element was greatly enlarged by the advent of solicitors, architects, engineers and parliamentary agents. In 1870 there were sixteen solicitors practising in the square, (fn. 39) but today only one firm survives.
The first commercial resident seems to have been the harpsichord maker, Joseph Mahoon, who moved into No. 38 in 1742. In the 1770's there was an army agent at No. 2, a tailor at No. 12 and the firm of Jephtha Galliard and Company at No. 15. This number rapidly increased in the nineteenth century to include a wide variety of commercial enterprises so that by 1840 none of the houses remained entirely in private occupation. They were all lodging houses or else split up between professional and commercial tenants.
The next half-century saw a remarkable change in both the visual and commercial character of Golden Square. Although a few of the houses had been rebuilt in the eighteenth century, many of the original late seventeenth-century buildings remained structurally little altered. It was a backwater 'not exactly in anybody's way to or from anywhere' (fn. 38) and the houses remained brick-built, narrow, and residential in aspect if not in occupation. But in the last quarter of the nineteenth century Golden Square rapidly developed as the centre in London of the woollen and worsted trade. This change was reflected in the demolition before 1914 of nineteen of the thirty-nine domestic buildings in the square and in the subsequent erection of large new office and warehouse blocks.
The woollen manufacturers and merchants had opened offices and warehouses in Golden Square to be near the best market for their goods—the London tailors. Since 1777 there had been a tailor in one or other of the houses in the square, and there were others in the adjoining streets and many more west of Regent Street. Gagnière's, a French merchant house dealing in silk and wool, had opened a London office at No. 21 as early as 1844 and in 1856 moved to larger premises on the north side of the square.
The first firm dealing solely in wool to take premises in the square was Messrs. Farr and Jones, who moved into No. 12 in 1868. After 1870 the number of woollen manufacturers and merchants with offices in Golden Square quickly rose. By 1880 there were ten such firms, by 1890 forty and seventy by 1900. In 1914 only four of the buildings in the square had no occupants connected with the woollen trade, two of these being the Throat Hospital and the Roman Catholic Presbytery. Since then, with the coming of the television and cinema companies, the importance of the woollen trade in Golden Square has declined.
Golden Square now presents a sorry contrast with its original appearance (Plate 121). The central area, with its anaemic paved garden, seems much reduced in size by being enclosed by buildings that vary greatly in width, height and scale, and affect a wide range of styles and a medley of materials. With a few notable exceptions, they jostle and vie with each other, and the south end, in particular, presents a jagged skyline of ill-assorted gables, a nightmare Grande Place effect.
The four surviving domestic buildings—Nos. 11, 21, 23 and 24 are described below under their individual headings, as are also the three later buildings which call for comment—Holland and Sherry's warehouse in the south-west angle, Nos. 25–29 by Mewès and Davis, and Nos. 34–36 by Leonard Stokes.