Survey of London: Volumes 31 and 32, St James Westminster, Part 2. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1963.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
In this section
- Warwick Street
The line of Warwick Street is marked on the plan of 1585 (Plate 1) as part of the lane which led (in terms of the modern layout) from Piccadilly to Oxford Circus. This lane formed the boundary between Gelding Close on the east and Mulghay Close on the west; in 1651 it was referred to as Dog Lane (fn. 4) and in the 1670's and 80's, when building began here, it was called 'Marrowbone' (i.e. Marylebone) Street or Lane. (fn. 5) On Ogilby and Morgan's map of 1681–2 it is described as Warwick Street, and in a deed of 1684 as 'Marylebone alias Warwick Street'. (fn. 6) The origin of the latter name has not been discovered.
By the partition of Gelding Close in 1675 Isaac Symball took all the ground at the south end of the east side of Warwick Street, and extending to the north side of the Roman Catholic church. The remainder was taken by James Axtell (fig. 18). All of the ground backing on to the houses on the west side of Golden Square was granted away as part of the curtilages of those houses, and much of it was occupied by coach-houses and stables. By February 1676/7 Symball had granted the southern part of his ground, backing on to Lower John Street, to John Wells of Marylebone, yeoman, probably for some nine hundred or more years, and the latter granted a sub-lease to John King of Wapping, merchant, and possibly another to John Norman, citizen and plumber. (fn. 7) In August 1684 Martha Axtell granted fifty-oneyear leases of the northern part of her ground on the east side of Warwick Street to Richard Tyler of St. Martin's, brickmaker, who had undertaken the development of her land bounded by Upper John, Silver (now Beak) and Warwick Streets. (fn. 8) The ground on the west side of Warwick Street formed part of Mulghay Close, and its history is described in Chapter XX.
In 1720 Strype described the south end of Warwick Street as 'a Place not over well built or inhabited', but 'at the upper End it hath some good Houses on both Sides; the chief of which is that where Sir Henry Goodwick dwelleth'. (fn. 9) The west side of the street is now very obviously the back of Regent Street, so that interest is largely confined to the buildings on the east side. Even here Nos. 7 and 8 are only the back of Holland and Sherry's building in Golden Square, while to the north of the church begins the long front of Dormeuil Frères' building, of Portland stone and in the same Louis XV Renaissance style as the principal front to the square. In Warwick Street, however, the composition is divided asymmetrically so that there are seven bays to the north of the entrance pavilion, and only one to the south. This brings the pavilion central with the axis of Regent Place, in order to be seen from Regent Street.
Nos. 1–4 (consec.) Warwick Street: Regency House
This building was erected in two stages. In 1909 Nos. 1 and 2 Warwick Street and the two adjoining houses in Brewer Street were demolished for the erection, in the following year, of a new corner building, built to the designs of George Vernon, of the architectural firm of Henry Metcalf and Thomas Greig of Great James Street, W.C. In 1911 the adjoining houses in Warwick Street, Nos. 3–4, were pulled down to allow for the northward extension of this new building. Messrs. Metcalf and Greig were the architects, and the builders (of both portions) Messrs. T. H. Kingerlee and Sons of Oxford. (fn. 10)
Regency House is a large building with a five-storeyed front of three bays to Brewer Street, a narrow splayed corner, and a front of three bays with a lower single-bay extension to Warwick Street. The ground storey is composed of shopfronts between piers of unpolished granite, and the upper face of Portland stone is treated as a giant arcade, the piers embellished with rusticated Doric columns, and each bay containing four tiers of three-light windows. The steeply pitched roof contains a series of large dormers. In its general composition and mannered neo-classical detail, this building recalls the later work of John Belcher.
Nos. 10 and 11 Warwick Street
The recessed front of No. 10 is three storeys high, stucco-faced and of early nineteenth-century character. A modern shop-front, flush with the street frontage, has recently replaced the original ground storey, but the upper part remains unaltered. It is divided into three bays, each one window wide, those in the slightly projecting centre being divided by mullions into three lights. The openings are plain and rectangular, and the front is simply finished with a narrow cornice surmounted by a pedestal-parapet. No. 11, three storeys high and two windows wide, has a plain front of stock brick above a modern stucco-faced ground storey containing two doorways. The upper face, with a raised bandcourse at first-floor level and flat gauged arches of yellow brick to the windows, appears to date from the late eighteenth century.
Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, Warwick Street
This church, which was built in 1789–90, is the sole survivor of the few Roman Catholic chapels which existed in London during the eighteenth century. Its erection was one of the earliest manifestations of the Roman Catholic resurgence which accompanied the gradual relaxation of the penal laws. A smaller chapel, belonging successively to the Portuguese and Bavarian envoys who lived in Golden Square, had stood on part of the site of the present church, probably since 1724, and this long tradition of faith gives the Warwick Street church its unique cachet.
In 1724 the Portuguese envoy moved into the adjoining Nos. 23 and 24 Golden Square (fn. 11) and it may reasonably be assumed that a Catholic chapel, to which his diplomatic privileges entitled him, was established there at about that time. Despite the penal laws against the celebration of Mass, his English co-religionists were evidently allowed to worship there unmolested.
The chapel must have been a small building. It was probably adapted from the existing outbuildings between the two houses in Golden Square and the legation stables fronting on to the east side of Warwick Street. A deed of 1700 which refers to the buildings behind No. 23 Golden Square mentions 'the room next the Garden' and an adjoining room containing 'a stove set with dutch tiles and wainscot over it'. (fn. 12) It may therefore have been these, or similar buildings behind No. 24, that were subsequently converted into the envoy's chapel. He and his family and staff probably had a private entrance from the houses in Golden Square but the public entry was through a narrow passage from Warwick Street (fn. 1) (see Plate 6).
The Portuguese legation remained in Golden Square until 1747. (fn. 11) Its most famous occupant was Don Sebastian Joseph de Carvalho, later Marquis of Pombal and dictator of Portugal who, soon after his arrival in London in 1739, issued a series of minute regulations governing the conduct of the services in his chapel. (fn. 13)
In 1747 the Portuguese legation moved to South Street, Mayfair. (fn. 14) The two houses in Golden Square, with the chapel and other outbuildings in Warwick Street, were then taken by Count Haslang, the Bavarian minister, (fn. 11) who remained there until his death in 1783; (fn. 15) the danger of the chapel being closed by the withdrawal of diplomatic patronage and immunity was thus averted. The priests who served the chapel were technically the minister's chaplains, but in practice they were evidently charged mainly with ministering to the English Catholics in the neighbourhood, of whom in 1780 there were nearly a thousand living in St. James's parish, as well as many more in St. Anne's, Soho. (fn. 16) Of the forty-four priests who are known to have served the chapel during its years under Bavarian protection, only three had foreign names. (fn. 17)
The statutory relaxation of the penal laws began in 1778 with the passing of Sir George Savile's Catholic Relief Act. This occasioned the formation of the Protestant Association to procure its repeal and eventually culminated in the acts of mob violence which took place between 2 and 13 June 1780 and which have since been known as the Gordon Riots.
Count Haslang's chapel was amongst the first to suffer. On the night of 2–3 June, while another mob was destroying the Sardinian envoy's chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields, a large party of rioters arrived in Warwick Street from Palace Yard, where the Protestant Association had gathered under Lord George Gordon. The rioters forced an entry and set about the despoilment of the chapel, most of the furniture and fittings being taken out into the street and burnt. (fn. 18)
The exact extent of the damage inflicted remains uncertain. According to Horace Walpole the chapel was 'broken open and plundered'; and in another letter, Walpole specifically excluded fire from the list of calamities which had befallen the chapel. (fn. 19) But the most reliable accounts of the damage are probably those written by Haslang himself to his government; these reports, written in French, are in the Staatsarchiv in Munich and have not hitherto been published. In a dispatch written only four days after the attack Haslang relates that on 2 June, having failed to obtain military protection, he had time to save only the altar plate and ornaments before the rioters broke in. The altar-piece, together with the organ, balustrades, awnings and pews were broken up and the Mass books burned in the street. The military then arrived and the rioters dispersed. The chapel itself was evidently not burned or de-roofed, for in a later report Count Haslang refers to the soldiers, who were still guarding the premises, as sleeping upon straw in the chapel. (fn. 20) The damages for which he claimed compensation against the British government amounted to £1300, but the only structural repairs required seem to have been to the entrance, and most of the sum claimed was evidently for the furniture, fittings, books and vestments 'detrué, pillé volé et Brulé'. (fn. 21)
Haslang's dispatches are also illuminating about the altar-piece, a 'tres beau morceaux' representing the Descent from the Cross, (fn. 20) for he stated that it was the work of the Chevalier Casali. This was the Italian painter Andrea Casali who worked in England between 1741 and 1766. He executed other altar-pieces (since removed) for the chapel of the Foundling Hospital and for St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. (fn. 22) However, later writers have attributed the Warwick Street altar-piece to Lo Spagnoletto and a similar work in the Sardinian envoy's chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields to Casali. (fn. 23) (fn. 2) Haslang's contemporary attribution is the most reliable, as indeed is his account of the whole incident.
There appears to be no record of the repair and reconsecration of the chapel, but it was evidently in use again in 1783, for after the death of Count Haslang on 29 May of that year (fn. 24) a solemn dirge was sung 'at the Bavarian ambassador's chapel in Warwick Street.' (fn. 15) (fn. 3) The chapel continued to be the Bavarian minister's chapel until Haslang's successor removed from Golden Square in 1788. (fn. 11)
With the withdrawal of diplomatic protection, some new arrangements were clearly necessary if the Warwick Street chapel was to remain open. Fortunately the animosities stirred up by the Gordon Riots had largely subsided and the position of English Catholics had become less insecure. It was no longer impossible to establish a permanent Catholic church in the West End of London which would be under the control of the bishop of the district and, though unprotected by diplomatic privilege, free from the uncertainties attached to an embassy chapel.
The bishop of the London district was at this time James Talbot. In 1787 he had made an abortive attempt to establish a church in York (now Duke of York) Street, behind No. 8 St. James's Square, where the Spanish ambassador had his chapel and which Bishop Talbot feared 'in case of rupture between this country and Spain must be immediately shut, and the public deprived of the benefit of it, perhaps for ever'. This scheme was never carried out, and by 1791, when a chapel adjoining the Spanish embassy in Spanish Place was opened, the York Street chapel had been closed. (fn. 25)
Bishop Talbot then turned his attention to the Bavarian chapel. At the time of the departure of the minister from Golden Square in 1788 the bishop obtained eight- and nine-hundred-year leases of the two vacant houses, together with the chapel and other outbuildings, and in September he assigned the ground behind the houses, measuring 42 feet 9 inches by 75 feet with a frontage to Warwick Street, to six trustees for the erection of a new church. (fn. 26) He also obtained the patronage of the Elector of Bavaria, (fn. 27) and in the latter part of 1788 he and a committee of twentytwo prominent Catholics appealed for funds for the erection of a new chapel. Building began in the spring of 1789 and the new church was opened on 12 March 1790, the feast of St. Gregory the Great, to whom it was dedicated (fn. 28) (Plates 12c, 13, fig. 21). (fn. c1)
In their appeal the committee had stated that by using the site of the old chapel the new building would 'probably pass unobserved by the Public in general' and the façade was therefore deliberately so unobtrusive as to be hardly distinguishable from any other small public building of the same period. The new church was for many years generally known as the Bavarian chapel, and the Electors (later Kings) of Bavaria continued to pay an annual subscription for its support until the incorporation of Bavaria in the German Empire in 1871. (fn. 29)
Relatively little restoration has since taken place. Several alterations were made to the interior in 1853, at about the time when the church first became known as the Church of the Assumption. A new altar-piece was installed, occupying the whole east end, which was now adorned with four Corinthian columns and six pilasters and sub-pilasters. (fn. 30) These columns are clearly visible in a contemporary drawing in The Illustrated London News of 24 December 1853. At the same time a fine bas-relief of the Assumption by the fashionable sculptor, John Edward Carew, was inserted over the altar, at a cost of about £1000. A new ceiling was also constructed and the seats in the body of the church rearranged. The architect was a Mr. Erlam and the builder a Mr. Holder. (fn. 31)
A more radical alteration, involving the remodelling of the church in the Byzantine style, was planned in 1875, but little work was actually carried out. John Francis Bentley, later the architect of Westminster Cathedral, was commissioned to prepare plans for improving what was then considered a mean old-fashioned little building. He designed a basilica of marble and mosaic with an eastern apse, side aisles and galleries. Work on an eastern extension began, the altar-piece erected in 1853 being removed and Carew's bas-relief placed over the sacristy door. But the discovery of two deep cellars entailed heavy unforeseen expense and only the apse was built. The side galleries (which then extended to the eastern wall) were shortened to their present length, and the floor of the sanctuary was raised and paved with marble mosaic. (fn. 32)
At about the same time a shrine was opened on the south side of the church and a statue of the Blessed Virgin which had been purchased by the rector, the Rev. and Hon. Gilbert Talbot, was placed there. (fn. 33) Bentley designed the altar for this shrine, and the 'frontal', depicting the Adoration of the Magi, is believed to be the first occasion on which he included the human figure in a mosaic design. The walls above and at the side of the altar were covered with what Bentley's biographer described as 'a truly appalling display of silver ex votos' in glass cases. (fn. 34)
In 1900 Bentley was consulted over the completion of the decoration of the apse. The lower walls were lined with marble, and after his death in 1902 the work was continued under the superintendence of his firm by J. A. Marshall. The mosaic in the semi-dome of the apse was executed in 1910 and represents the Coronation of the Virgin; Bentley had made sketches and, after his death, cartoons were prepared by George Daniels, the mosaic being executed by George Bridge. (fn. 35)
Bentley decorated the upper part of the apse wall by dividing the surface into nine panels with stone pilasters, which Marshall subsequently replaced with others of pavonazzo marble to carry a deep entablature of white marble. Mosaic figures by some other hand have been placed in six of the intervening panels. (fn. 36)
The church has a modest brick front that is almost domestic in character (Plate 12c, fig. 2l). It is designed in two stages each of five bays, the three centre bays forming a slight projection. The brickwork appears to have been dyed red, but it was probably yellow originally. The lower stage consists of a large round-arched doorway flanked by two tall flat-headed windows, the end bays being occupied by slightly smaller versions of the centre doorway. The doors themselves have raised-and-fielded ovolo-moulded panels, the centre one in four leaves, the outer ones in two, while above them are fanlights with radial glazing-bars. To all three doorways have been added new, and decidedly unsympathetic, stone surrounds. In the upper stage the windows are round-arched with continued sills of stone. The two end bays are glazed, but those in the centre are blind with recessed brick surrounds. Above this stage is a simplified entablature, the projecting centre being finished with a triangular pediment. The cornice and architrave mouldings are of stone, and above the end bays is a stone-coped parapet. The apex of the pediment is surmounted by a gilded cross, and in each of the three middle bays of the upper stage is a gilded eight-pointed star, the outer two having beneath them the figure of an angel. These ornaments, however, are very modern additions; the stars were added in 1952 and the angels in 1957.
The interior of the church (Plate 13) is a simple rectangle to which has been added Bentley's semi-circular eastern apse. At the west end is a deep sloping gallery which is continued along both sides of the church, although it has now been cut back a little way short of the east end. The gallery is supported by iron columns cased in wood, the capitals consisting of acanthus leaves tightly moulded around the top of the column. The gallery-fronts are designed in the form of dentilled coved cornices, surmounted by patterned iron railings which are broken at intervals by panelled pedestals. The south gallery has four round-arched windows and the north gallery six, two of the latter being placed at the east end beyond the gallery while the western two are blocked by the adjoining building. At the back of the west gallery is the organ, originally erected in the 1790's and rebuilt several times, most recently in 1960. The ceiling is coved, the flat centre part being divided into rectangular compartments of varying sizes by enriched ribs. At the east end a series of broad steps leads up to the altar, which is contained in the apse. This is designed in three sections. The lower section, finished with a moulded marble cornice, is decorated with a pattern of inlaid coloured marbles, while the second stage is divided into compartments by pavonazzo marble pilasters supporting an enriched marble entablature. Within the compartments are mosaics depicting the Virgin and Child flanked by St. Gilbert, St. Gregory, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, St. Edward the Confessor and St. Cecilia. The topmost section comprises the domed head of the apse, an enriched marble archivolt framing a mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin in Heaven. Carew's plaque is now set high up in the wall face north of the apse. It depicts the draped figure of the Virgin being carried to Heaven by winged cherubs, the lower part of the plaque being filled by a radiant five-pointed star. The oblong frame breaks into a slight curve at the top over the head of the Virgin and is supported at the bottom by two carved brackets. The font is said to be 'probably of c. 1788', (fn. 37) and was originally placed against the south wall beside the confessional; it now occupies the south entrance lobby. It is of stone, and simply designed with an oval bowl resting on a bulbous baluster-shaft having a moulded base.
Beneath the north gallery is an altar, now dedicated to St. Gregory, which was brought from Foxcote House, Warwickshire, in 1958. It is of multi-coloured marble with large panels of green marble set into the sides. In the centre panel is fixed a round plaque of white marble, carved in high relief with the figure of a pelican in her piety.
Alterations to the interior of the church were being made early in 1963, when this volume was in the press. In the eastern apse the mosaic depicting the Virgin and Child was being replaced by a large crucifix attached to a panel of red marble, and the Lady Chapel on the south side of the church was being refitted, all to the designs of Douglas Purnell.
Nos. 18–19 Warwick Street
This building was erected in 1900. (fn. 11) It has an interesting late Victorian Renaissance front of stone, four storeys high, each finished with a bold entablature or a cornice. The upper three storeys are divided into three bays, with three windows in the middle and two on either side. All the windows are framed with moulded architraves and those in the middle of the first and second floors are dressed with pediments, triangular, segmental and serpentine.
No. 20 Warwick Street
This building was erected in 1906–7 to the designs of J. W. Randall Vining of Chancery Lane. (fn. 38) It is the most attractive building in the street, with a distinguished art nouveau front of stone. The ground-storey shop-front is finished with a simple entablature, and the main face of three storeys, each with a four-light window, is formed as a segmental bow recessed between splay-sided piers. On the piers are well-wrought lead rainwater-heads and pipes, and at the head of each pier projects a scrolled bracket, supporting a flat-soffited balcony that has a stone balustrade broken by panelled dies, between which the cornice-rail dips in segmental curves. In the gable end is a three-light window, the middle light round-arched and dressed with a cornice-label.