Soho Square Area: Portland Estate, Introduction

Pages 42-51

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

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Soho Square Area: Portland Estate

The site of Soho Square formed part of Kemp's Field or Soho Fields, which were leased on 6 April 1677 by Joseph Girle of St. Marylebone, brewer, to Richard Frith, citizen and bricklayer, for fifty-three and a quarter years from Lady Day 1677 (fn. 5) (fig. 2 on page 28). The general history of the descent of title and of building development in Soho Fields, including that in Soho Square, is described in Chapter II.

Some of the original leases of houses in the square, granted by Frith and his associate William Pym in the late 1670's and early 1680's refer to the square as Frith's Square, (fn. 6) but the first ratebook in which the names of inhabitants are recorded, for 1683, describes it as King Square. By this time the statue of Charles II had probably been erected in the centre of the square, which was evidently named in honour of the reigning sovereign. (fn. 1) The ratebooks continued to use the name King Square until the first decade of the nineteenth century, but both Rocque's map of 1746 and Horwood's of 1792–9 mark it as Soho Square. (fn. c1)

Frith's leasehold term from Girle (subsequently extended to 1734 by a grant direct from the trustees of the Earl of St. Albans, the head lessee under the Crown) expired at Midsummer 1730. The first recorded lease of a house in the square (No. 30) to be granted by Frith and Pym was in January 1679/80, to Cadogan Thomas, for fifty years expiring at Lady Day 1730. (fn. 7) Detailed information about the original leases has come to light for only eleven of the forty to forty-two original sites in the square, (fn. 2) but these show that Frith and Pym leased houses (often only partially completed) not virgin building sites, which implies that Frith himself, as a bricklayer, erected the carcases of the houses. The terms of these leases varied from forty-seven and a half years to fifty-one years, and the dates of expiry from Michaelmas 1728 to Lady Day 1730. The ground rents varied from £6 10s. for houses on the north side to £20 for those on the south side, and there was also an additional rent of ten shillings payable for the upkeep of the garden in the centre of the square. In most—but not all—cases the rent for the first year was a peppercorn, which again suggests that many of the houses were not finished when Frith and Pym leased them.

Nothing is known about the original leases of eleven of the houses in the square. There is detailed information about another eleven (as has been mentioned above), and fragmentary or indirect information about the remainder. Taken together, the evidence shows that Cadogan Thomas was involved in the building of at least sixteen, or almost half of the houses in the square. Other lessees included John Steele of St. Marylebone, yeoman, who owned a brick-field in Millfield nearby, (fn. 8) two houses, now both numbered 10 in the square ; William Marchant of London, merchant, Nos. 22 and 26; and Thomas Pitcher, citizen and fishmonger, No. 32 and at least one other unidentified house.

The ratebooks show that by 1683 fourteen houses in the square had been completed and occupied. (fn. 9) (fn. 3) In 1685 this number had increased to twenty-three, and by 1691 to forty-one (including Monmouth House, which was then vacant). All the houses in the square except Monmouth House were thus completed and occupied within fourteen years of the grant of Girle's lease to Frith in 1677.

A close comparative study of the north and south prospects of Soho Square, made during the early eighteenth century by Sutton Nicholls and an unnamed artist (fn. 4) (Plate 68), suggests that they combine to offer a faithful picture of the original buildings and layout of the square. Sutton Nicholls's north prospect shows very clearly the general uniformity of design that prevailed in the north, east and west rows, despite the adoption of a superior scale for the large houses flanking Sutton Row on the east side. The fronts, which are carefully delineated, were three storeys high and generally three windows wide, exceptions being No. 12, a single house having four narrow windows in each storey, and the four large houses on the east side, already referred to. Typical of their time, and hardly distinguishable from the many houses built in Barbon's developments, the simple and well-proportioned fronts were of brick, probably stocks dressed with red rubbing bricks, used for the jambs and flat arches of the window openings, and for the storey-bandcourses. Nicholls shows that the first-floor bandcourse was stopped short of the scrolled segmental pediments finishing the doorcases, of which single examples predominated in the north row and pairs in the east and west. The window openings generally contained sashes in exposed flush frames, although some of the houses are shown with mullionedand-transomed casements in the top storey. A modillioned eaves-cornice of wood extended below a forty-five-degree roof, containing triangular pedimented dormers, generally two to each house. While the roofs were continuous above the single houses, those of the larger and taller houses on the east side were hipped all round and finished with a balustraded flat.

The anonymous view (Plate 68b) shows the south side of the square, with Archer's Baroque façade to Monmouth House recessed in its screened forecourt between two large houses, both having fronts six windows wide to the square, and hipped roofs rising to balustraded flats. The east house had a pedimented doorway in the fourth bay, but the west house appears to have had its entrance in Frith Street. The house on the west corner of Frith Street is shown with a front six windows wide, while the corresponding house east of Greek Street has only five, although both appear to be of the same width. Both views show the houses with railed front areas and stoneflagged pavements separated by a line of stone bollards from the cobbles or setts of the roadway.

No ratebooks survive for the years 1686 to 1690 inclusive. This five-year gap has made it impossible to identify the names of the occupants recorded in the ratebooks for 1683–5 with the individual houses which they inhabited. The names of the residents for the years 1683–5 are therefore set out in full below, in the order in which they appear in the ratebooks. It may be noted that many of these inhabitants were prominent Whigs.

1683 (fn. 10) 1684 (fn. 11) 1685 (fn. 12)
King Square King Square Kings Square West
Mr. Thomas
Cadogan Thomas, timber merchant and building speculator
Mr. Thomas Lady Wiseman
? widow of Sir William Wiseman, baronet
Lady Russell
Coll Rumsey
Colonel Rumsey, supporter of the Duke of Monmouth
Mr. Watson
Broughton Esqr
Sir John Sumbark
Mr. Watson Colonel Rumsey
Lady Pawlett
Susanna, widow of the third Baron Poulett
Mr. Broughton
later Sir Thomas Broughton, second baronet
Mr. Broughton Esqr Gerrard
? later Sir William Gerard, fifth baronet
Mr. Pitcher
Thomas Pitcher, citizen and fishmonger, building speculator
Mr. Pitcher Lady Williams
? widow of Sir John Williams, baronet
Spencer Esqr
1683 (fn. 10) 1684 (fn. 11) 1685 (fn. 12)
King Square King Square Kings Square West North Side
Sir Hen: Ingolsby
Sir Henry Ingoldsby, baronet, parliamentarian
Sir Henry Inglesby Earle of Carlile
Edward Howard, second Earl of Carlisle, Whig M.P. 1666–79
Earle of Stanford
Thomas Grey, second Earl of Stamford, involved in the Rye House Plot
Earle of Stamford Sir Henry Ingolsby
Lord Lattimore
Mr. Wharton
? Thomas Wharton, later first Marquess of Wharton, a supporter of the Exclusion Bill
Mr. Wratten empty Sir Will: Jessey
? Sir William Jesson, knight
Esqr Howard
Lord Falconbergh
Thomas Belasyse, first Earl Fauconberg, son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell
Lord Falconbergh Lady Simney
Mr. Watson
Lord Grey
Forde Grey, third Baron Grey of Werk, later first Earl of Tankerville, supporter of the Duke of Monmouth
Lord Grey
Lord Falconberg
Codogan Thomas
Lord Latimer
Edward Osborne, Viscount Latimer, later in arms to support the Revolution of 1688
Lord Lattimer Esqr Wharton
Esqr Grayham ? Colonel James Graham
Lady Russell
? widow of Sir John Russell, baronet, of Chippenham, Cambridgeshire
Lady Russell
Esqr Grayham
Esqr Lybe Sir Henry Bellows
Mr. Howard
? Craven Howard of Revesby, Lincolnshire, esquire
Mr. Howard
Lord Crew Thomas Crew, second Baron Crew, a supporter of the Exclu-sion Bill
Lord Weymouth
Sir Thomas Thynne, first Viscount Weymouth, one of the four peers dispatched to invite William of Orange to England in 1688
Lord Weymouth Wheeler

In its early years, Soho Square was one of the most fashionable places of residence in London. On the east side stood the three large neighbouring mansions of Earl Fauconberg, Viscount Preston and the Earl of Carlisle. The whole length of the south side of the square was made up of five large buildings, the houses of Baron Crew and Viscount Granville of Lansdown, one on either side of the north corner of Greek Street, which were separated by Monmouth House (empty and still unfinished) from the houses of Sir Samuel Grimston and the Earl of Bolingbroke, one on either side of the north corner of Frith Street. These houses were all large and spacious, very different from the conventional narrow-fronted houses on the north and west sides of the square. The latter, though smaller, undoubtedly represented the acme of contemporary fashion. Their attractions were well known and in 1691 Thomas Shadwell, the dramatist, ridiculed the social ambitions of an alderman's wife who forced her husband to leave Mark Lane in the City for a new house in Soho Square. (fn. 13) More typical, perhaps, of the social complexion of the square at this time was Sir Richard Steele's famous 'Gentleman of Worcestershire of an antient Descent, a Baronet, his Name Sir Roger De Coverly', who 'When he is in town . . . lives in SohoSquare'. (fn. 14)

In 1698 the reversion of the freehold of Soho Square and of most of the rest of Soho Fields was granted by William III to William Bentinck, first Earl of Portland, subject to the Crown leases to the Earl of St. Albans, which did not terminate until Michaelmas 1734. (fn. 15) In 1713 the second Earl (later first Duke) of Portland began to grant reversionary leases from 1734 of houses in the square, often to the sitting tenants, on payment of substantial fines and small annual rents. The second and third Dukes continued to grant new leases, under some of which a number of the houses in the square were rebuilt or gradually improved. But in 1790 the third Duke began to sell the freehold of houses instead of leasing them, and by 1805 he had disposed of all his property in Soho Square except the garden. (fn. 16)

According to Strype, writing in 1720, the 'Square hath very good Buildings on all Sides, especially the East and South, which are well inhabited by Nobility and Gentry'. (fn. 17) At various times, three Speakers of the House of Commons had houses in the square. Sir Richard Onslow (Speaker 1708–10) occupied No. 9 from about 1691 to 1717, Sir Thomas Littleton (Speaker 1698–1700) was at No. 10 from 1706 to 1710, while the most celebrated Speaker of the century, Arthur Onslow (Speaker 1728–61), lived at No. 20 from 1753 to 1761.

The first house not to be used primarily for residential purposes was No. 1, where Martin Clare established the Soho Academy in 1717; the school removed in 1725–6 to No. 8, where it remained until 1805. More important were the number of foreign diplomatic missions occupying houses in the square. The Venetian envoy was at Nos. 31 and 32 from 1744 to 1747, at No. 2 from 1748 to 1771 and at No. 12 from 1772 to 1791. The Spanish ambassador lived at No. 7 from 1749 to 1761 and at No. 21 from 1772 to 1775. Monmouth House was occupied by the French ambassador in 1765–6 and by the Russian minister in 1768–9; the latter had earlier occupied No. 20 (Fauconberg House) in 1748. The Swedish minister was at No. 37 from 1772 to 1783.

By the 1770's most of the wealthier residents had moved away to newer houses in the more fashionable streets on the Burlington estate and in Mayfair, but Soho Square still retained many country gentlemen, Members of Parliament and dowagers. As late as 1758 Sir William Robinson, a wealthy Yorkshire baronet, built himself a new town house in Soho Square (No. 26), rather than in one of the newer districts to the west. In 1771–2 John Grant, a baron of the Scottish Exchequer and the owner of extensive sugar plantations in the West Indies, commissioned Robert Adam to embellish the large old mansion (once Lord Fauconberg's house, its site now No. 20) which he had recently leased in Soho Square. Sir Joseph Banks, then a very wealthy young man, purchased No. 32 in the late 1770's but he was more interested in finding a house big enough to accommodate his scientific collections than in the dictates of metropolitan fashion.

The world of fashion, though no longer resident, had not, however, entirely deserted Soho Square. In 1760 Mrs. Cornelys opened her assembly rooms in what had been the house of the Earls of Carlisle on the east side of the square and for the next decade drew all London society to her masquerades and concerts. With the opening of the new assembly rooms at Almack's (1765) and the Pantheon (1772) the popularity of her establishment rapidly declined.

Other large houses were turned into hotels, like Fauconberg House and No. 21. Others were subdivided, like the Earl of Bolingbroke's house in the south-west corner, which had been divided into two houses earlier in the century, and was now further subdivided between 1768 and 1778. The largest house of all, Monmouth House on the south side, was demolished in 1773, after an unsuccessful attempt to use it as a school. Two houses were built in its place, with a number of smaller dwellings behind. A similar development took place on the site of Carlisle House in 1791–4.

Thereafter the professional element amongst the residents of Soho Square began to increase. Dr. George Armstrong, a pioneer in the study of paediatrics, had opened a dispensary at No. 22 in 1772 and in the early nineteenth century a number of medical men had houses in the square, notably Sir Charles Bell, Sir Anthony Carlisle and Sir George Tuthill. Lawyers, dentists, auctioneers and architects lived in other houses. Thomas Barnes, the editor of The Times, was at No. 25 from 1837 to 1841. The rectors of the parish occupied No. 28 from 1862 until 1935, while the house next to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church has been used as a presbytery since 1893. Other houses were turned into offices. In the south-east corner No. 1 Greek Street was occupied by the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers from 1811 and later by their successors, the Metropolitan Board of Works, until 1861. Nos. 35 and 28 were successively the military recruiting office for the East India Company from 1817 to 1860, and No. 32 contained the library and rooms of the Linnean Society from 1821 to 1857. Several of the houses in the square were occupied by small hospitals in the second half of the century—the Hospital for Women at Nos. 29 and 30, the Dental Hospital of London and the National Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Paralysis, both at No. 32.

Figure 3:

Soho Square, west side

Figure 4:

Soho Square, north side.

Figure 5:

Soho Square, east side

Figure 6:

Soho Square, south side

The commercial element in the square also became gradually more important. Between 1801 and 1804 John Trotter, the army contractor, who had occupied No. 5 from 1785 to 1790 and No. 7 from 1793 onwards, rebuilt Nos. 4–6 as a warehouse. It may be noted that this first commercial incursion coincided with the Duke of Portland's disposal of all his freehold property in the square. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars Trotter converted his warehouse into the Soho Bazaar. Piano, harpsichord and harp makers were well represented in the square, and there have also been several booksellers and publishers, the latter including George Routledge at No. 36 from 1843 to 1858 and Adam and Charles Black at Nos. 4–6 since 1889. Other houses have been occupied by glass merchants, upholsterers, stationers and billiard-table makers. The firm with the largest premises in the square was that of Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell, which occupied No. 21 from 1840 and then extended northwards to include No. 20 (previously occupied by a firm of musical-instrument makers) in 1858 and No. 18 in 1884. Crosse and Blackwell also had a large bottling factory behind these houses, and other premises in the adjoining Sutton Row and Falconberg Mews as well as in Charing Cross Road.

The normal sequence of house rebuilding and renovation which had begun in the 1730's, when many of the houses built in the 1670's and 1680's were becoming dilapidated and oldfashioned, continued for the next one and a half centuries. After the 1880's the rate of change was considerably faster. Between 1880 and 1914 eleven of the thirty-eight old houses in the square were rebuilt or considerably altered. The majority of the new buildings provided office accommodation only and the residential, mercantile and manufacturing elements in the square declined. However, three of the eleven houses were demolished to make way for church buildings, Nos. 8 and 9 for a new French Protestant church in 1891, while the rebuilding of the existing Roman Catholic church in Sutton Row involved the demolition of the adjoining corner house in Soho Square to provide a site for the tower and a new entrance to the church. Two other of the eleven houses (Nos. 29 and 30) were partially rebuilt for the Hospital for Women.

After the war of 1914–18 the greatest visual change took place in 1924 when No. 20, a large house with a façade remodelled by Robert Adam in the 1770's, was demolished, to be replaced by new offices for Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell, who by this time had moved their bottling factory away from Soho Square. Their new building distorted the existing roof line and set a precedent for the 1930's, when several other high office blocks appeared in the square—Nos. 23–25 on the east side and Nos. 31–32 at the south-west corner. The rebuilding which has taken place since the war of 1939–45 continues to follow this trend (figs. 3–6).

Nevertheless a considerable number of the original sites are still occupied by single buildings. Two of the original houses (Nos. 10 and 15) erected in the late 1670's or early 1680's still stand (No. 10 considerably altered), while at No. 36 the existing fabric probably incorporates much of the original structure. Many of the remaining eighteenth-century buildings have been modernized and adapted for office use, while one (the presbytery of St. Patrick's Church) is still privately occupied. The best preserved house in the square (No. 1 Greek Street, now occupied by the House of St. Barnabas-in-Soho), erected in the 1740's and superbly embellished in 1754, is now open to the public at certain hours.

Inhabitants of note are mentioned below under the headings of the houses in which they lived. Some artists whose addresses are given as being in Soho Square in exhibition catalogues, but whose names do not appear in the ratebooks, are listed here, with the years in which they exhibited: Samuel Drummond, 1827–34, 1836–44; Francis Dubois, 1819; Edwin Ellis, 1880; William Denholm Kennedy, 1843–54, 1858–65; John King, most years from 1828 to 1845; Samuel Laurence, 1837–8; Frederick Newenham, 1838, 1844–5; James Arthur O'Connor, 1828; Samuel A. Rayner, 1864; Charles John Robertson, 1820; P. C. Wonder, 1824.


  • 1. The improbable suggestion that the square was named after Gregory King, who was employed by Frith in surveying and legal work, is discussed on page 33.
  • 2. In the square's early years several houses were divided and subsequently re-united, and it is therefore impossible to give a precise figure for the number of original sites.
  • 3. Another ratebook for the same year also records the Duke of Monmouth as a ratepayer, but his period of residence must have been very short (see page 107).
  • 4. Engravings of Sutton Nicholls's view were sold by John Bowles, whose catalogue, published in 1728, includes a view of Soho Square. The catalogue of the Grace Collection at the British Museum states, without citing a source, that the anonymous view was drawn by J. Bowles and published by Overton in 1727. This view must have been drawn after about 1719, for it shows Monmouth House with the facade built for the Batemans in 1717–19. Although neither view can be dated with certainty, it is evident that they were both drawn within a few years of each other.
  • 5. G.L.R.O., Harben deeds C181.
  • 6. P.R.O., KB27/2040/1186–7.
  • 7. Ibid., KB27/2040/1186.
  • 8. Survey of London, vol. XXXI, 1963, p. 250.
  • 9. W.P.L., F.411.
  • 10. W.P.L., F.411.
  • 11. Ibid., F.412.
  • 12. Ibid., F.413.
  • 13. Thomas Shadwell, The Scowrers, 1691, p. 6.
  • 14. The Spectator, Everyman ed., 1950, vol. I, p. 6.
  • 15. P.R.O., C66/3403, no. 1.
  • 16. Nottingham University, Portland MSS., Soho Square bundle.
  • 17. John Strype, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, 1720, vol. II, bk. VI, p. 87.
  • 18. Ibid., F.3673.
  • 19. A Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Books, and Books of Maps, which are Printed for and Sold by John Bowles, 1728 (copy in B.M., pressmark 11902 bbb 33).
  • 20. A Catalogue of Maps, Plans, and Views of London, Westminster and Southwark, collected and arranged by Frederick Crace, ed. John Crace, 1878, p. 543.
  • c1. For an early description of Soho Square ('Piazza Reale') see Gregorio Leti, Del Teatro Brittanico, 1683, p.74.