Old Compton Street Area: Portland Estate, Romilly Street

Pages 202-205

Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1966.

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In this section

Romilly Street

This was named Church Street until 1937 when it was given its present name in reference to Sir Samuel Romilly's birth nearby, at No. 18 Frith Street.

The street was building in 1678 (fn. 2) and is first included by name in the ratebooks of St. Martin in the Fields in the following year, when nine ratepayers are listed. Twelve are listed in 1681, twenty-eight in 1683, and thirty-two in 1685. The ratebooks for 1686–90 are missing, but the street appears fully built with forty-one ratepayers in 1691.

In March 1677/8 Richard Frith was granting leases for fifty years from Lady Day 1678 to John Markham, a carpenter, of two houses in the street which were then unfinished. The ground rent for each was six pounds. Markham mortgaged them to a victualler and undertook to finish them by 1679. He is listed as a ratepayer for that one year. In 1680 he was also possessed of six houses, described as being in this street and Frith Street, which he was then building, and which were probably additional to the two already mentioned. He and Frith mutually agreed for the completion of the carpenter's and bricklayer's work respectively at the six houses. The difficulties in which he became involved with Frith and the victualler, leading to dispossession and imprisonment, are described on page 34.

Beyond this, nothing is known of the circumstances in which the street was built. In 1680 and 1685 a John Boniface is listed among ratepayers and may be the plasterer of that name, and c. 1683–94 the building speculator, Isaac Symball, was also rated as the owner of a house in the street.

The street seems not to have attracted aristocratic residents in any numbers. From 1703 to c. 1734 the parish charity school was situated here, probably at the south-west corner with Frith Street (see page 132). Among the ratepayers, the proportion of foreigners was about the same as in the neighbouring streets, and from the 1690's to the 1770's names seemingly of foreign origin constitute a quarter or a third of the whole. By the early nineteenth century, however, hardly any such appear among the ratepayers.

There was apparently no very extensive rebuilding here with the realization of the Portland freehold in the 1730's, and such of the fabric as survives from the eighteenth century seems to represent isolated rebuildings, often undertaken without the direct control of a Portland building lease.

In 1740 the total rateable value of the houses in the street was about £1,010, and the average individual assessment about £26. In 1792 the total was £1,125 and the average about £28. In 1844 the total was about £1,150 and the average about £32. The comparatively slight rise in the average assessment compared with neighbouring streets possibly reflects a less extensive reconstruction of the buildings for commercial purposes than nearby. The Portland estate map of c. 1792–3, (fn. 3) which includes most of the street, indicates fewer shop fronts than elsewhere. Of the twenty-nine houses shown, the majority had a ground-floor plan suggestive of a domestic house front.

The Post Office directory of 1850 lists the occupants of relatively fewer houses here than in the neighbouring principal streets, suggesting that Romilly Street retained more of its private character. Workers in wood and metal are listed, but few ordinary tradesmen.

The street now lies in the 'hinterland' of Shaftesbury Avenue, which is distinct in its atmosphere from the part of Soho north of Old Compton Street. The south side of Romilly Street is unattractive, being taken up by the backs of the Palace Theatre and other large buildings with frontages to Shaftesbury Avenue. The north side, however, where a number of restaurants are situated, retains much of its domestic scale and visual character (Plate 125b, 125c, 125d). A considerable proportion of the buildings on this side are of the eighteenth century, and one or two possibly contain some late seventeenth-century fabric, although all have been altered externally. Nos. 21 and 22 have interiors of some interest, and No. 34 has an early eighteenth-century wooden staircase that is unusual in having a second balustrade in the first flight, in place of the usual panelled dado.

In 1793–4 the former No. 11 was assessed for rates to the proprietors of the General (in 1793) or Westminster (in 1794) Penny Post Office.

The St. John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin was founded at the former No. 12 in this street in 1863, removing to Leicester Square in 1865. (fn. 4)

Residents and lodgers in houses in Romilly Street which are not described elsewhere have included: Madam Churchill, c. 1683–5; Lady Andore, c. 1685; Dr. Love, c. 1685; Nicolas Faccio, mathematician, c. 1704; (fn. 5) Captain St. Loe, perhaps Edward or George St. Lo, naval captains, c. 1707–12; Jonathan Smedley, Dean of Clogher, 1724–8; Samuel Drummond, portrait and historical painter, 1800–44; William Gibbs Rogers, wood-carver, 1823–40; Wilhelm Liebknecht, socialist, c. 1850. (fn. 6)

Some artists whose addresses are given as being in Romilly Street in exhibition catalogues and elsewhere, but whose names do not appear in the ratebooks, are listed below with the years in which they occur:

William Elliott or Elliot, landscape engraver, 1763–6; (fn. 7) John James Barralet, watercolour painter, 1770; William Groombridge, watercolour painter, 1777; William Craft, enamel painter, 1778; Edward Oram, landscape painter, 1778–81; Henry Edridge, miniature painter, 1789.

No. 4 Romilly Street

This much altered building was erected in 1735 under a sixty-one-year building lease made by Sir Thomas Crosse of Westminster, baronet, head-lessee from the Portland family, to Francis Drewitt, bricklayer, and John Moore, carpenter, both of St. George's, Hanover Square. Henry Crosse of St. Anne's, joiner, was witness to the building lease (which Drewitt signed with his mark). (fn. 8) In 1775 Thomas Rowlandson exhibited from this address. (fn. 9)

No. 19 Romilly Street

This house was built in 1763–4, (fn. 10) perhaps by Thomas Grantham of St. Anne's, builder, who in 1765 was granted a ninety-two-year Portland lease of the site. (fn. 11) The first ratepayer was an Anne Sherlock and from 1765 the painter, William Sherlock, exhibited from this address until 1774. (fn. 9) The rate assessment was increased in 1790.

The house has been greatly altered inside and its interest lies entirely in the canted bay window which projects from the second and third storeys of its four-storeyed front (Plate 125d). This may have been the addition responsible for the increased rating of 1790, and was certainly in existence by 1829. (fn. 12) Its present finish is wholly early or mid nineteenth-century. In each face is a window with a moulded architrave, the second-storey windows having in addition triangular pediments on enriched consoles and those in the third storey enriched bracketed sills. Beneath the secondstorey windows is a panelled pedestal with an enriched capping and a base of foliated C-scrolls, while at the head of the bay is a prominent cornice. An imitation Georgian shop window has been inserted in part of the ground storey, but the doorway has flanking pilasters incised with simple key-fret decoration of the early nineteenth century.

Nos. 21 and 22 Romilly Street

These houses were built in 1738–9, under two Portland leases neither of which was a building lease. No. 21 was built under a sixty-five-year lease to Thomas Cuthbert of St. Anne's, described as 'gentleman' but probably the tallow chandler of that name, and No. 22 under a thirty-five-year lease to Jane Allam of Paddington, spinster, a descendant of Joseph Girle, the early lessee of all Soho Fields. (fn. 13) The first occupant of No. 21 was Richard Stainsby, described as 'gentleman' and at one time nominal mortgagee of the Pitt estate. (fn. 14) The painter, George Clint, exhibited from the same house in 1805. (fn. 9)

The two houses are of closely similar proportions, each of them containing a basement and four storeys, and having a brick front three windows wide (Plate 125d). The fronts are now of little interest because that of No. 21 has been painted and that of No. 22 completely rebuilt in modern times. However, the original segmental gauged arches of the second- and thirdstorey windows can still be seen at No. 21, where the different character of the windows in the fourth storey shows this to be a later addition. The back wall of No. 21 is of purple-red brick, the windows with rough segmental arches and containing flush frames.

The houses have the standard plan of a single front and back room, the latter with a dog-legged staircase beside it on the east and a projecting closet-wing on the north. The interior finishings are not well preserved and much of what remains has been concealed by asbestos sheeting. At No. 21, which has the best surviving interior in the street, the entrance hall and the first two storeys of the stair compartment are lined with ovolomoulded panelling in two heights. This is finished with a moulded dado-rail and a boxcornice, the hall having a dentilled cornice and a pair of plain pilasters flanking the entrance to the stair compartment. The lower flights of the staircase have been completely boxed in, but those at the top of the house have moulded closed strings, turned balusters, and column-newels with big square heads. Box-cornices are still visible in the ground- and first-floor rooms, the groundfloor front room having a dentilled cornice and the room above fragments of ovolo-moulded panelling.

No. 22 has ovolo-moulded panelling in the hall and stair compartment, as at No. 21. The lower flights of the staircase have cut strings with shaped step-ends, turned balusters and column-newels.

No. 24 Romilly Street

This plain-fronted brick house (Plate 125b, 125d) was built, like the former No. 23 to the west and Nos. 37 and 38 Frith Street to the east, in 1781. (fn. 10) The building of No. 24 was evidently under a ninety-year Portland lease, made in 1760 and effective from 1769, to Timothy Goulding of Brewer Street, St. James's, upholsterer: the lease required the house to be rebuilt before 1799. (fn. 15)

Nos. 28–31 (consec.) Romilly Street and Nos. 37–39 (consec.) Greek Street

The ground plans of these houses, now Kettner's restaurant, are shown on the Portland estate map of c. 1792–3 (fn. 3) (Plate 9, fig. 50 on page 197).

The restaurant established by Auguste Kettner at No. 29 Romilly Street is first shown in the Post Office directory in 1868. It was probably the first foreign restaurant, other than the hotels of Leicester Square, to draw English gourmets to Soho, and its cabinets particuliers were especially favoured by those wishing to dine tête-à-tête. By the 1880's the restaurant had taken in all four houses in Romilly Street. (fn. 16)

The present building at No. 28 (Plate 125c) is probably that erected in 1734 (fn. 10) under a sixtyfive-year Portland lease (not a building lease) made to Peter Rowlandson (or Rawlinson), a victualler at the Coach and Horses public house, No. 33 Romilly Street. Before the rebuilding Rowlandson assigned his lease to Paul Griffin, also a victualler, who had hitherto occupied Nos. 29 and 30 and henceforward occupied Nos. 28 and 29. Witnesses to the transactions included Thomas Clark, glazier, and John Jackson, carpenter, both of St. Anne's, and Edward Hattam of St. George's, Bloomsbury, bricklayer. (fn. 17) The rate assessment was much increased in 1768.

The date of building of Nos. 29 and 30 (Plate 125c) is uncertain. No. 29 was perhaps reconstructed in 1769 (fn. 10) under a ninety-four-year Portland lease (not a building lease) made to James Paxon or Paxton of St. Alban's Street, St. James's, stonemason. (fn. 18)

At No. 30 some degree of rebuilding evidently took place in 1735 and 1768, at about the times of commencement of Portland leases (not building leases): the later lease was to Peter Rawlinson (or Rowlandson). (fn. 19) From 1770 to 1793 the ratepayer was the gold- and silversmith, Andrew Fogelberg, and in 1794 Fogelberg and his partner, Stephen Gilbert. In 1795–6 the ratepayer was the silversmith Paul Storr, who had been Fogelberg's apprentice, and who in the latter year moved to Air Street, Piccadilly (fn. 20) (see No. 75 Dean Street). The ground-floor plan of Fogelberg and Gilbert's premises gives little sign of workshops on the site (Plate 9, fig. 50 on page 197).

No. 31 Romilly Street (Plate 125c) and Nos. 37 and 38 Greek Street were built in 1735 under a sixty-five-year Portland building lease to Francis Tredgold of St. Marylebone, carpenter. (fn. 21) (fn. 1)

The date of No. 39 Greek Street is not known. It is perhaps a rebuilding of 1735, (fn. 10) possibly by Michael Le Marchand, joiner, who became a mortgagee of the site in 1736. (fn. 22)

Architectural Description

These seven brick-fronted terrace houses, now painted a uniform light grey, have been altered and adapted to form a single restaurant with an entrance at No. 29 Romilly Street (Plate 125c). In carcase, however, they probably date mainly from the early eighteenth century. Each house now contains a basement and four storeys, Nos. 28, 29 and 30 Romilly Street having fronts three windows wide, and Nos. 31 Romilly Street, 37, 38 and 39 Greek Street fronts two windows wide; No. 37 Greek Street also has a return front to Romilly Street two windows wide. The windows generally have flat gauged arches, except for segmental ones in the third storey of No. 31 Romilly Street, and all but No. 28 Romilly Street have raised bandcourses above one or all of the first three storeys; No. 29 Romilly Street has flush frames in the third-storey windows. The four houses in Romilly Street have area-railings with urn-finials to the standards, probably early nineteenth-century but with alterations around the restaurant entrance. The back walls have been entirely rebuilt.

Successive alterations have produced a labyrinthine interior of little architectural interest. The only early feature is part of a dog-legged staircase remaining in the fourth storey of No. 28 Romilly Street, probably early or mid eighteenth-century with moulded closed strings and slender turned balusters. The second floor of the three houses in Greek Street is occupied by a single long room of the Edwardian period, richly panelled in Jacobean style and with a moulded plaster frieze.

Nos. 37–39 (consec.) Romilly Street: The Scots Hoose Public House

This public house was built in 1898 to the design of H. M. Wakley, architect. (fn. 23) Until 1908 it was known as the George and Thirteen Cantons. A tavern on the site had borne this name since at least 1759, probably because of an amalgamation of two establishments, the George in Moor Street and the Thirteen Cantons in King Street. (fn. 24)

The present building is of three storeys with fronts of red brick and stone designed in a style that clearly owes something to the Flemish Early Renaissance. The site is triangular, with a flattened apex towards Cambridge Circus that provides an opportunity for some elaborate decoration. The second and third storeys towards the Circus are flanked by angle turrets topped with columned cupolas, and in the centre is a canted bay window with a steeply pitched triangular gable above it. This is flanked by griffins bearing metal standards inscribed 'The Cantons', and is finished with a broken pediment having an obelisk in its centre.


  • 1. In November 1775 and January 1776 the French revolutionary J. P. Marat addressed from Romilly (then Church) Street his Essay on Gleets and Enquiry into …A Singular Disease of the Eyes. The ratepayer for No. 31 from 1764 to 1767 was an 'Abraham Marot', succeeded by widow or Mrs. Marot until 1779, but it is not known whether it was here that Marat lodged.
  • 2. P.R.O., C8/252/13.
  • 3. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho estate plans.
  • 4. Brian Russell, St. John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, 1863–1963, 1963, pp. 1–2, 5.
  • 5. The London Gazette, 8–11 May 1704; F. J. Britten, Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers, 7th ed., 1956, p. 363.
  • 6. Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Marx, Biographical Memoirs, trans. E. Untermann, 1901, p. 169.
  • 7. The Universal Director … by Mr. Mortimer, 1763.
  • 8. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book; M.L.R. 1734/2/236; 1734/3/210; R.B.
  • 9. Graves.
  • 10. R.B.
  • 11. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book.
  • 12. T. H. Shepherd, London and its Environs in the Nineteenth Century, 1829, plate .
  • 13. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book; M.L.R. 1729/6/285; R.B.
  • 14. M.L.R. 1744/1/45.
  • 15. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book; M.L.R. 1761/2/413.
  • 16. P.O.D.
  • 17. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book; M.L.R. 1732/5/264; 1733/5/104; P.R.O., C103/172, deed of 23 March 1740.
  • 18. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book; M.L.R. 1765/1/369.
  • 19. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book; M.L.R. 1760/1/465; R.B.
  • 20. N. M. Penzer, Paul Storr, 1954, pp. 51–2, 55, 81.
  • 21. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho lease book; M.L.R. 1735/3/287; R.B.
  • 22. M.L.R. 1736/3/468.
  • 23. L.C.C. Minutes, 30 Nov. 1897, p. 1311; R.B.
  • 24. G.L.R.O.(M), LV(W)67/1/5; 67/3/3; 75/57.
  • 25. Reprint of Two Tracts by Jean Paul Marat, ed. James Blake Bailey, 1891.