Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
On 17 February 1681/2 Richard Frith and his partner Cadogan Thomas of Lambeth, timber merchant, in association with Benjamin Hinton, citizen and goldsmith, and William Nutt of London, merchant (the latter being a trustee of Hinton), leased a large site on the south side of Soho Square and the east side of Frith Street to James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of Charles II's illegitimate sons. The site measured 76 feet to the square, and had a depth of 280 feet on the east and west sides. On the west side there was also an additional strip of ground providing a frontage to Frith Street of 126 feet. (fn. 3)
The cash required to build the house was to be provided in the first place by Hinton, for the Duke paid him £400 on the day of the lease and covenanted to pay a further £6,600 later, and Frith and Thomas subsequently borrowed from Hinton in connexion with the building of Monmouth House. (fn. 4)
On the same day, 17 February 1681/2, Frith and Thomas entered into a building agreement with the Duke of Monmouth to build him 'a fair Messuage' and stables. Annexed to the agreement, though now missing, was a 'Modell' (i.e., plan) of the house, which was to be 'well and trucly firmely and without deceipt soe built'. The agreement also provided that Frith and Thomas were to complete the house before the following Christmas. In return, the Duke covenanted that within six months of the date of the agreement he would convey his leasehold interest in his stables (which stood on the site of the modern Orange Street, near his existing house at the south end of Colman Hedge Lane) to Frith and Thomas. He also agreed to pay them, in instalments extending to Christmas 1686, such further sums as two persons 'indifferently chosen' should decide. (fn. 5) It is not clear whether these payments were additional to the £6,600 for which he had already covenanted.
Frith and Thomas 'did make some contracts with diverse workmen to build and finish' the Duke's house. (fn. 6) These included Alexander Fort, later master joiner in the Office of Works, (fn. 7) Nicholas and John Young, masons, Alexander Williams, bricklayer, Richard Campion and John Heyward, carpenters, Thomas Young, slater and carver, James Atlee, plumber, Augustine Beare, glazier, John Combes, plasterer, and Robert Streeter and Thomas Morter, painters, who jointly 'proceeded to build the same at their own proper costs and charges'; (fn. 8) and in January 1682/3 a brickmaker named Allen was fined thirty shillings by the Tylers' and Bricklayers' Company for defective bricks which he had supplied to Frith and which had been found upon 'the Duke of Monmouths ground'. (fn. 9) Building work had probably begun before the grant of the lease to Monmouth, (fn. 8) who was certainly living in part of the house in January 1683/4, (fn. 10) and had possibly been there in the summer of 1683. (fn. 11) He was rated for the house in April 1683 (fn. 12) but he cannot have spent much time here in this, the year of the Rye House Plot. Later evidence mentioned below makes it clear that the house was still unfinished, and his residence in it must have been both intermittent and short, for in the spring of 1683/4 he retired to the Netherlands and (apart from a secret visit in November 1684) did not return to England until the start of his abortive rebellion in June 1685. (fn. 13)
Building work at Monmouth House probably stopped shortly after the bankruptcy in July 1683 of Benjamin Hinton, who had advanced large sums of money to Frith and Thomas; and by January 1684/5 the Duke of Monmouth's estates had been forfeited to the Crown. Frith and Thomas had spent over £4,000 on building this house in Soho Square, (fn. 14) but the Duke of Monmouth had only reimbursed them £1,700, probably from his wife's money. In February 1684/5 Charles II granted the property to his old friend, Sir Stephen Fox, who had helped him escape after the battle of Worcester and to whom Monmouth had granted power of attorney in 1679, and to Nicholas Fenn, sergeant of the King's wood yard, in trust for the Duchess of Monmouth. (fn. 15) They were to hold the property until the trustees or administrators of the estate of Benjamin Hinton, who by now was bankrupt, had paid £1,200 (part of the £1,700) to the Duchess, and were then to convey it to Hinton's administrators for the benefit of his estate. (fn. 16) Both the Duke and Duchess's interest in the house would thus have been ended.
Monmouth was executed on 15 July 1685, and Frith and Thomas were subsequently described as 'very great loosers by the misfortune of the said Duke'. (fn. 6) In November 1686 the Duchess of Monmouth (now usually referred to by her Scottish title of Duchess of Buccleuch) and her two sons were living at the Duke's former house in Colman Hedge Lane, (fn. 17) and the unfinished house in Soho Square stood empty. After two unsuccessful attempts had been made to sell it in 1687 (fn. 6) the Duchess, who evidently despaired of ever being repaid her £1,200, petitioned James II for a grant of the freehold of the house.
In his report the Deputy Surveyor General of Crown Lands, who evidently favoured the Duchess's request, stated that a large sum 'still must be expended before they [the house and ancillary buildings] can be made habitable or fit for sale', and he did not 'see how this 1200 l. is like ever to be raysed out of these houses, in ye Condicon they are in' without some enlargement of the Duchess's interest. (fn. 14) In March 1687/8 James II granted her, not the freehold, but an extension of the current lease of the house from Michaelmas 1734 (when the Crown leases of all Soho Fields expired) to 1786. (fn. 18)
The numerous financial claims on the property were now so complicated that no progress was made for several years; meanwhile the house was 'goeing into Decay'. (fn. 19) In May 1693 William Heyward, carpenter, executor of John Heyward, carpenter, one of the tradesmen who had worked on the house, exhibited a bill in Chancery complaining inter alia that Frith and Thomas (who was now dead) still owed him £779, as well as other debts to his colleagues. Frith and Thomas had meanwhile assigned their interest in the property to the creditors of the bankrupt Hinton, to whom they were heavily in debt. This assignment was subject to the payment of £1,200 to the Duchess (who by this time had married Lord Cornwallis) and £1,700 to the building tradesmen, who were to share this sum according to the quantity of their respective debts. Fox and Fenn still held the property on trust, for the Duchess insisted that she should be paid interest on the £1,200 which was due to her under Charles II's grant of February 1684/5. (fn. 4)
In July 1693 the Court of Chancery ordered that the house should be sold, and that the proceeds should be used firstly to pay the Duchess £1,200 plus interest and secondly to pay the building tradesmen £1,700; the remaining surplus, if any, was to be paid to Hinton's creditors. (fn. 19) In September of the same year 'the great house in Soho Square, known by the name of Monmouth House' was advertised in The London Gazette as for sale, (fn. 20) but evidently no purchaser presented himself. The deadlock was not broken until 1698, when the Duchess of Monmouth decided to buy the house herself. On 16 August all the parties concerned joined to convey it to Huntley Bigg (or Humphrey Bigge), scrivener, for £1,750. A declaration of trust of the same date stated that Bigg's name had been used in trust for the Duchess, and that she had provided the purchase money. (fn. 19)
Although now freed from all legal entanglements, the house still remained empty for a number of years, and the only use to which it is known to have been put between 1684 and 1713 was as a chapel. In 1689 some small part of the house, probably a room in one of the back buildings, was fitted up for the use of one of the congregations of Huguenot refugees, who were then settling in Soho in large numbers. This chapel became known as L'Église du Quarré, or Le Quarré de Sohoe. In 1691 a gallery had to be erected, after a union with three other Huguenot churches, but in 1694 the congregations moved to another building in Berwick Street, taking with them their pulpit, pews and the gallery. (fn. 21) The congregation remained in Berwick Street, still known as Le Quarré, until 1767–9, (fn. 22) when it removed to Little Dean Street (now Bourchier Street, see page 141).
In November 1711 the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches were looking for a site for a second church in the parish of St. Anne's and asked the Duchess of Monmouth what interest she had in Monmouth House 'and what price she demands for the same'. Her price of £3,000 was rejected as excessive, and the commissioners then considered the possibility of erecting a church in the centre of the square, for in December they resolved that 'Sohoe Square is the properest Scite for a Church, if there be not a Ring of Bells or Church Yard therein'. They decided to 'enquire who are the Proprietors of the said Square', but the proposal was evidently abandoned. (fn. 23)
Eighteen months later, the Duchess found a temporary tenant for Monmouth House. This was William Comyns of St. James's, gentleman, who in June 1713 took the property as a yearly tenant at the significantly small rent of £15 per annum. The still unfinished state of the house is indicated by a provision in his lease forbidding him from taking away any of the timber, boards, bricks, lead, iron and other building materials lying around the premises. He was, however, allowed to use any of these to 'support' the existing structure. (fn. 24) Comyns evidently shared the premises with a Mr. Singar, whose name appears as the ratepayer from 1714 to 1716. According to Horace Walpole 'The collection of pictures, by himself and others, of Mr. Comyns, was sold by auction at Monmouth-house, Sohosquare, Feb. 5, 1717'. (fn. 25)
In February 1716/17 the Duchess of Monmouth finally disposed of the lease of Monmouth House for £3,000. The purchaser was a City financier, Sir James Bateman, then Lord Mayor of London and Sub-Governor of the South Sea Company, who bought the house with the intention of completing it for use as his own residence. (fn. 24)
The completion of Monmouth House has often been attributed to Thomas Archer's hand, but no documentary evidence to this effect has been found. It may, however, be noted that there was some personal connexion between Bateman and Archer. The latter's second wife was Anne Chaplin and both the Batemans and the Chaplins were prominent City families. In 1705 Bateman had purchased Shobdon Court in Herefordshire from (Sir) Robert Chaplin, an uncle of the future Mrs. Archer. Chaplin was also left £20 for mourning in Bateman's will and his daughter subsequently married Bateman's second son. (fn. 26)
As well as the erection of the new façade and the completion of the interior, Bateman's improvements included the erection of new stables behind the house, in place of those on the east side of Frith Street where five new houses (Nos. 6–10 consec.) were erected, in accordance with a ground plan and elevation supplied by Bateman. There is no evidence linking the designs for the Frith Street houses with Thomas Archer (see page 154). The builder of these houses was allowed to use all the materials of the existing buildings, with the exception of the stonework of the 'great gateway', formerly the entrance from Frith Street to the yard behind Monmouth House. (fn. 24)
Work on the fabric of the main house was under way by May 1718 but was interrupted by the death of Sir James Bateman on 10 November. (fn. 27) Shortly before this John Ozell, a City accountant, related that Sir James had shown him 'his magnificent House in Soho, and several Plans and Schemes of his own Drawing in order to the Completion of it'. (fn. 28) It is, however, almost inconceivable that Sir James Bateman, with no known architectural experience, could have been responsible for the remarkable design of the new front then being grafted on to the original building.
On Sir James Bateman's death in November 1718 Monmouth House was inherited by his eldest son William (later first Viscount) Bateman. (fn. 29) By the following March, the latter had completed most of the building work and had insured the house and new stables for £3,300 with the Hand in Hand Insurance Company. (fn. 30)
The pictorial and descriptive records of Monmouth House are few and of debatable accuracy, but taken together they serve to build up a fairly convincing picture of the building. To begin with there is the well-known plan in the collection at All Souls College, Oxford (Plate 72a). This is almost certainly not a plan for a projected building, but a fully dimensioned survey of the cellar storey in an existing house. That the original carcase of Monmouth House survived is made clear by comparing this survey with a lease plan, dated 1769, which was drawn in the Surveyor General's office when the second Viscount Bateman petitioned for a renewal of the 1687/8 lease (fn. 31) (Plate 72b). This shows the house in an outline fully conforming with that of the earlier survey, but with the new offices and houses erected by Sir James Bateman.
The façade and forecourt are shown with a fair degree of clarity, and in relation to the rest of the square, in the engraving reproduced on Plate 73a. This view of the house is amplified by the Crowle-Pennant drawing entitled 'Lord Bateman's House in Soho Square 1764' (fn. 32) (Plate 73b), probably the one prepared by the father of J. T. Smith, who engraved it for his Antiquities of London (1791) (Plate 73c). Despite its obvious crudities, the Crowle-Pennant drawing appears to have been made from notes taken on the spot, and it therefore provides the most trustworthy record of this remarkable front. As for the interior of the house, the only evidence is a group of designs for painted decoration by Sir James Thornhill, and J. T. Smith's description (quoted below), the latter, based on his recollections of a visit to the half-derelict house made at an early age in company with Nollekens.
There seems to have been nothing remarkable about the way in which the house was planned. The All Souls survey shows a symmetrical layout, with two large oblong rooms in the middle, one facing north, the other south, placed between two suites of four smaller rooms ranging from north to south and forming far-projecting wings on the south side, facing each other across an open court and ending with closet or staircase projections. What is interesting, however, is the siting of the house, set well back from the frontage line of the flanking houses in the square, so that a deep forecourt is provided, and all the rooms have adequate day-lighting, some from windows overlooking the gardens behind the flanking houses. This siting gave the house a palatial appearance, suggesting the classical French arrangement of the corps des gardes pavilions flanking the recessed corps de logis. As the plan must have been settled in the early 1680's it can certainly be regarded as the prototype followed when Cavendish Square was laid out around 1720, with two great houses of similar arrangement on the west and north sides.
Although the plan of the house is so lacking in individuality that it fails to suggest the name of its author, the façade is so striking that it positively attributes itself to Thomas Archer. It is not surprising to find that Arthur Bolton and Marcus Whiffen both name him as the architect, (fn. 33) although the dates which they suggest for his work are much too early. This stylistic attribution to Archer is strengthened by his personal connexion with Bateman (mentioned on page 109).
Recognising Smith's drawing of the front as something of a travesty of Archer's design, it is possible by referring to other related buildings and designs, to reconstruct the original appearance of Monmouth House as finished for Sir James Bateman soon after February 1716/17. Compared with Archer's authenticated house fronts of similar size, it comes in date about midway between Roehampton House of 1712 and Harcourt House of about 1722, and shares its most striking features with both. If the rusticated ground storey of Harcourt House is subtracted there is left an upper stage of two storeys which is almost identical with the two-storeyed principal stage of Monmouth House. Both designs feature a relatively plain centre having three archheaded windows in the upper storey flanked by slightly projecting wings each of two bays, dressed with giant pilasters supporting a rich bracketed entablature. In both designs the pilasters have pedestals, plain shafts, and composed capitals, with Borromini's in-turned volutes at Harcourt House and, according to the CrowlePennant drawing, of Ionic-Corinthian type at Monmouth House. But whereas Harcourt House was intended to be finished with a modest balustrade, broken only by a lunette window beneath a small segmental pediment, Monmouth House surpassed in fantasy the broken skyline designed for Roehampton, having the beginnings of a giant triangular pediment placed above each end bay of the attic storey and linked by short balustrades to a heightened central attic, with three arch-headed windows below a small and plain triangular pediment. In this Monmouth House was closer than Roehampton to Della Porta's Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati, the building which must have influenced Archer in these two houses, as well as in his designs for St. John's Church, Smith Square. It remains to add that the attic storey of Monmouth House was dressed with curious pilasters resembling terminusstands, having tapered shafts and concave shoulders decorated with fluting. The entrance doorway was approached by a short flight of steps, leading up to a porch having paired Composite columns supporting a bracketed entablature, finished with a balustrade. The All Souls plan shows the front as a straight wall with seven openings, and as Archer's front had the same fenestral arrangement it seems probable that he retained and refaced the existing wall, creating an illusion of depth by dressing the two bays at each end with a giant order of pilasters and so producing the effect of slightly projecting wings.
The forecourt was screened from the square by a wrought-iron clairvoyée of three bays, presumably gates hung from stone piers having panelled shafts, the outer pair supporting urns, and the inner pair having the Bateman crest, a Muscovy duck. At either end of the screen was a short brick wall, finished with stone quoins and containing a niche over which the coping was arched.
J. T. Smith's Nollekens and his Times (first published in 1828) contains a long description of Monmouth House as it stood when Smith, then a child aged seven, visited it with Nollekens in 1773. The demolition of the house had already begun. 'It was on the south side, and occupied the site of the houses which now stand in Bateman's buildings; and though the workmen were employed in pulling it down, we ventured to go in. The gate entrance was of massive iron work supported by stone piers, surmounted by the crest of the owner of the house; and within the gates there was a spacious court-yard for carriages. The hall was ascended by steps. There were eight rooms on the ground floor: the principal one was a dining-room towards the south, the carved and gilt panels of which had contained whole-length pictures. At the corners of the ornamented ceiling, which was of plaster, and over the chimneypiece, the Duke of Monmouth's arms were displayed.
'From a window, we descended into a paved yard, surrounded by a red brick wall with heavy stone copings which was, to the best of my recollection, full twenty-five feet in height. The staircase was of oak, the steps very low, and the landing-places were tesselated with woods of light and dark colours, similar to those now remaining on the staircase of Lord Russell's house, late Lowe's Hotel, Covent Garden, (fn. 1) and in several rooms of the British Museum.
'As we ascended, I remember Mr. Nollekens noticing the busts of Seneca, Caracalla, Trajan, Adrian and several others, upon ornamented brackets. The principal room on the first floor, which had not been disturbed by the workmen, was lined with blue satin, superbly decorated with pheasants and other birds in gold. The chimneypiece was richly ornamented with fruit and foliage, similar to the carvings which surround the altar of St. James's Church, Piccadilly, so beautifully executed by Grinling Gibbons. In the centre over this chimneypiece, within a wreath of oak leaves, there was a circular recess which evidently had been designed for the reception of a bust. The beads of the panels of the brown window shutters, which were very lofty, were gilt; and the piers between the windows, from stains upon the silk, had probably been filled with looking-glasses. The scaffolding, ladders, and numerous workmen, rendered it too dangerous for us to go higher, or see more of this most interesting house.
'My father had, however, made a drawing of the external front of it, which I engraved for my first work, entitled Antiquities of London.' (fn. 34)
Apart from J. T. Smith's description the only evidence relating to the interior of Monmouth House is a small group of drawings for painted decoration, prepared for Bateman by Sir James Thornhill, who had had previous associations with both Archer and Sir James Bateman. Thornhill had worked with Archer at Roehampton House, while Bateman had been his patron at Greenwich. (fn. 35) The most important of these drawings is a scheme for the great staircase compartment (Plate 74). The dimensions figured on this drawing (which is now in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, California) are 21 feet 7 inches by 24 feet 8 inches, conforming with those of the north-west front room of the All Souls survey plan, after due allowance is made for the difference in thickness between the cellar-storey walls and those of the ground floor. Thornhill's drawing shows the staircase rising in three flights against the north, west and south walls of the two-storeyed compartment, the east side of which is formed by an Ionic colonnade of three bays on the ground floor, and an arcade on the first floor. The trompe l'æil architecture of the scheme seems to recall Greenwich in the great elliptical arches flanked by paired columns that frame the architectural landscapes on the west and south walls. The north wall, containing two first-floor windows, is treated more formally with a long bas-relief panel below, and pendant trophies between the windows. In the ceiling panel, a square with incurved corners, is a vivid illusionist scene of Ariadne's apotheosis. While this design is almost certainly intended for the staircase at Monmouth House, there is no evidence of its execution. It is not mentioned by Smith, who writes only of Nollekens noticing the busts on ornamental brackets, objects which would hardly fit in with Thornhill's trompe l'œil painting.
The other related drawings by Thornhill include an allegorical group for the ceiling of a closet, a trompe l'œil niche with a statue (Plate 75), probably for the same closet (these drawings are now in the Art Institute of Chicago), and two mythological scenes for painting on the glass of sash windows to be executed by Joshua Price (Plate 76). This drawing is now in the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island.
The only known contemporary description of the newly finished house dates from 1734, some fifteen years after the improvements described above were completed. This was by Ralph who, in his Critical Review of the Publick Buildings In and About London and Westminster, wrote that 'My Lord Bateman's house … is built at a good deal of expence, and was meant for something grand and magnificent; but I am afraid the architect had a very slender notion of what either of them meant: there is nothing very shining in any part of this structure; but if the lower order could boast of beauties ever so exquisite, the upper is so Gothique and absurd, that it would destroy them all, and invective would get the start of approbation'. (fn. 36)
William, first Viscount Bateman, lived at Monmouth House until 1739, (fn. 2) but the ratebooks record that from 1740 until his death in 1744 there were tenants. He was succeeded by his son John, second Viscount, who lived here until 1756. From 1757 to 1763 the occupant (evidently another tenant) was Daniel Finch, eighth Earl of Winchilsea, who was succeeded by the French ambassador, 1765–6. (fn. 37) A newspaper paragraph of April 1764 states that 'a new chapel is erecting for the use of his Excellency the Count de Guerchy, the French Ambassador, in Queen-street … Soho'. This chapel stood at the rear of Monmouth House on the north side of Queen (now Bateman) Street and is marked on the plan of 1769 reproduced on Plate 72b. After the ambassador's departure it is said to have been rented by a congregation of French Protestants. (fn. 38)
The Russian minister occupied Monmouth House in 1768–9. The last occupant, for a few months in 1771–2, (fn. 39) was John Reney, who in the latter year published a prospectus entitled Proposals for erecting an Academy on a New and Extensive Plan in Monmouth-House, SohoSquare. (fn. 40) Reney's school was to be for one hundred and fifty sons of gentlemen, who were to pay one hundred guineas a year, and for thirty sons of clergymen, who were to pay nothing. The amenities of the school included a large chapel and a cold bath, and each boy was to be 'taught agreeable to his natural inclination, without being forced'. In December 1772 Josiah Wedgwood, whose showrooms were then in Great Newport Street, considered taking a lease of Monmouth House from Lord Bateman, but decided that the rent of £400 per annum was too high. (fn. 41)
In May 1770 the second Viscount Bateman had obtained a new Crown lease which extended his interest to 1819. (fn. 42) Owing to the decline of Soho Square as a place of fashionable residence Monmouth House had by this time become a white elephant, and in April 1773 he agreed with Thomas Bannister of St. Clement Danes, bricklayer, and Charles Cole of Southwark, carpenter, for the redevelopment of the whole site. Bannister and Cole covenanted to demolish Monmouth House and stables and to erect in their place two large houses fronting on to the square and other much smaller houses behind. They were to use hard place bricks faced with good grey stocks of uniform colour, Portland stone coping-stones, Crown glass, the best Westmorland slates and the best Memel or Riga timber. The floors of the new houses were to be of good yellow seasoned whole deals, free of sap. In each of the two houses fronting Soho Square there were to be at least four marble chimneypieces and the parlour and principal floors were to be wainscoted. For his part Lord Bateman undertook to grant the two builders, or their nominees, leases of the new houses as each was covered in. (fn. 19)
By June 1773 Monmouth House and its ancillary buildings, extending from Soho Square to Queen Street, had been demolished. (fn. 37) A new passageway was laid out down the length of the empty site between the two sites set aside for the erection of houses in Soho Square, extending back to Queen Street. The small houses flanking the new passage and those in Queen Street were roofed in and sub-leased by Lord Bateman in 1774 and the two larger houses (Nos. 28 and 29 Soho Square) in 1775. By 1776 the building work was complete and all the new houses occupied. (fn. 37) Other tradesmen besides Bannister and Cole who are known to have worked on Bateman's Buildings (as the new houses were collectively called) were Thomas Gibson of St. James's, John Stevens of Warwick Street, Golden Square, and James Gibson of St. Anne's, all carpenters, and Edward Hammond of St. Anne's, painter and glazier, who were all paid for their work by the grant of sub-leases of individual houses. (fn. 43) Some of the little houses erected in Bateman's Buildings were exceptionally small, about thirteen feet six inches wide and about nineteen feet deep.