Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area: Leicester Estate, Leicester Street

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. All rights reserved.


'Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area: Leicester Estate, Leicester Street', Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho, (London, 1966), pp. 476-480. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols33-4/pp476-480 [accessed 22 June 2024].

. "Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area: Leicester Estate, Leicester Street", in Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho, (London, 1966) 476-480. British History Online, accessed June 22, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols33-4/pp476-480.

. "Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area: Leicester Estate, Leicester Street", Survey of London: Volumes 33 and 34, St Anne Soho, (London, 1966). 476-480. British History Online. Web. 22 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols33-4/pp476-480.

In this section

Leicester Street

Leicester Street was built in 1682–3, at the same time as the western part of Lisle Street, also over the site of the garden of Leicester House. Near the south end of its west side a narrow street led through to Princes Street. This was originally called Sidney Street, later Sidney's Alley or Place. The houses in Leicester Street were of medium size except the one later numbered 10–11, the largest in the street.

Leicester Street was given as their address by several artists in exhibition catalogues. They included: William Davis, painter, 1855; Thomas Foster, painter, 1819; Thomas Hargreaves, miniature painter, 1798; Giles Firman Phillips, painter, 1831; Simon Pine, miniature painter, 1765–8; and Samuel John Stump, miniature painter, 1804–6.

Other occupants of note (fn. 2) are listed below.

(No. 1) (Sir) George Walter was rated for this house in 1727–32, 1736 and 1741. Karl Marx is said to have stayed in the German Hotel at Nos. 1–2 Leicester Street in 1850. (fn. 3) (No. 4) (Sir) George Walter, 1706–22; Henry Woodward, 1772, ? the actor; (fn. 4) Alexander Cozens, who moved from No. 12, 1780–5. (fn. 2) (No. 5) Lady Mouldsworth, 1691, probably the widow of Sir Hender Molesworth, governor of Jamaica, baronet, and formerly the widow of Sir Thomas Lynch, who lived in Leicester Square; (fn. 5) Lady Gascoyne, 1706–10 (see also Nos. 9–10 Lisle Street); Lieutenant-General Francis Palmes, 1712–13; (Sir) George Walter, 1714–22; Hugh Howard, 1724–7, ? the portrait painter and art collector. (fn. 4) (No. 6) Charles Lennox, first Duke of Richmond, 1709; Sir George Walter, 1737– 1742 or 1743; John Hamilton, painter, 1769–74; John Crosdale, 1776–80, ? John Crosdill, violoncellist, member of the Royal Society of Musicians. (fn. 4) (No. 8) Elias Martin, painter and engraver, and probably John Frederick Martin, engraver, his brother, (fn. 4) 1774–80; Richard Harvey Gedge, 1787–9, and Robert Harvey Gedge, from 1790 onwards, see page 459. (No. 10–11) see below. (No. 12: from 1726 to 1760 joined to and occupied with No. 10–11) Alexander Cozens, the watercolour artist, 'reputed son of Peter the Great', (fn. 4) 1764–80; he moved to No. 4. (No. 13) Lord James Cavendish, M.P., second son of the second Duke of Devonshire, 1709. (No. 15) Weltze, 1774, ? Lewis Weltje, the founder of Weltje's Club. (fn. 6)

No. 10–11 Leicester Street


This site, the largest in Leicester Street, was let on 1 December 1683, by Richard Frith's direction, to Robert Drinkwater of London, carpenter, for forty-one years from Lady Day at a peppercorn rent for the first year and for ten pounds a year thereafter. (fn. 7) Drinkwater assigned the lease in 1684 to Henry Burman, citizen and salter of London, who was probably one of his financial backers. (fn. 8)

The house was still unfinished at this time and Burman evidently failed to find a buyer. He mortgaged it, but became insolvent, and the carcase 'exposed to Wind and Weather' was valued at only £500. A London merchant, Michael Rolles, was then persuaded to accept the lease, and he paid off the mortgage and provided Drinkwater with £500 to complete the house. It was finished and assigned to Rolles in January 1687/8, together with a piece of land in the stable-yard at the rear, on which stables and coach-houses had been built. (fn. 8)

No illustration of No. 10–11 is known to exist, except as part of the stylized representation of the whole west side of Leicester Street in Sutton Nicholls's view of the square in c. 1727 (Plate 46a). This shows a uniform row of houses of late seventeenth-century appearance, three storeys in height with garrets in the roof, the fronts with bandcourses between the storeys and finished with eaves-cornices. A rough site plan attached to a deed of 1722 shows that the house had a frontage of thirty-six feet and extensive ground at the back with an opening into Princes Street. (fn. 9) Comparison with the estate map of 1788 redrawn on fig. 94 (page 417) indicates that this ground in fact occupied the whole centre of the island site bounded by Sidney Street (later Sidney's Alley), Leicester Street, Lisle Street and Princes Street.

When the house was first occupied is not known. The Earl of Manchester was rated for it in 1691 and he then moved to the Earl of Devonshire's house in Gerrard Street. Lord Manchester was succeeded by Thomas Grey, second Earl of Stamford, statesman, from 1691 to 1693 and by Lieutenant-General Thomas Tollemache, M.P., in 1694. (fn. 10) General Tollemache was living somewhere in Leicester Fields in December 1692 (fn. 11) so he may possibly have succeeded Lord Stamford earlier. He died of wounds incurred at Brest in 1694. In 1695 the occupant of this house is given as 'Mr. Fobert' or tenant, and in 1696–7 as 'Salam Vanberd'. These are probably references to Solomon de Foubert, fencing-and ridingmaster whose 'Academy in Leicester Fields' is mentioned in a document dated 23 March 1696/7. (fn. 12) The history of the academy is described in Survey of London, volume XXXI, 1963, page 179.

At the end of 1698 Michael Rolles sold his leases of the house and stables to Brigadier George Cholmondeley for £1,300. (fn. 13) Cholmondeley was appointed a major-general in 1702 (fn. 4) and occupied the house until 1709. (fn. 2) He let it in 1710–13 to the Danish envoy, Ivar Rosencrantz, (fn. 14) who had previously lived at No. 41 Lisle Street. George Cholmondeley, who was created Baron Newborough in 1715 and became second Earl of Cholmondeley in 1724, was again rated for the house in 1714–15 (the ratebooks for 1716 are missing) and in 1717–19 it was let to the Duchess of Leeds, wife of Peregrine Osborne, second Duke of Leeds. (fn. 2)

In February 1719/20 Lord Newborough let the house for seven years at a rent of £180 to John, Lord Gower, (fn. 8) who had recently given up Leicester House for the Prince of Wales, and later occupied a house in Lisle Street (Nos. 11–13). Having let the house Lord Newborough then sold it for £2,400 to George Walter. (fn. 8) In 1726 Walter granted Lord Gower an extension of his lease and a lease of the house next door (No. 12). Following an agreement between them, Walter then had the two houses joined together for Lord Gower. In February 1727/8 both houses were let by Lord Gower to the Hon. Arthur Onslow, recently elected Speaker of the House of Commons. (fn. 15)

A schedule of fixtures appended to Onslow's lease gives a fairly clear picture of No. 10–11. The rooms are separately listed, usually with the number of either their windows or shutters specified, and the different floors are distinguished by references to the 'one pair of Stairs', the 'two pair of Stairs' and the garrets. It is clear that Sutton Nicholls's view gives the correct number of storeys for the house at this period and that the front was five windows wide. This is more or less apparent from the description of the interior, but it is confirmed by a reference to 'In the Street Four large pair of shutters with eight long iron barrs and eight pins hung wth chains and Springs to Fasten them'. These must have guarded the four windows in the ground storey, the fifth bay being occupied by the doorway. Listed under the same heading are 'iron Pallisado's with two doors locks and keys thirteen bottom spikes lost out of them', evidently referring to the area-railing with two gates to the basement steps. There is also mention of 'A pair of Lamp irons', which must have been fixed to the railings at either side of the doorway.

The first- or principal-floor plan is the easiest to reconstruct. Evidently the whole of the front part was occupied by 'the Great room Forward', for it had 'five sash Windows glaz'd with the best Crown Glass'. Behind it lay a bedchamber with two windows, and a dressing-room with one. Next to these were the great staircase and the back stairs, each with one window, and these certainly adjoined each other, for there is reference to 'one door between the two Stairs'. There was also an unheated 'back closet' with one window, which was probably in the projecting closet-wing mentioned in a deed of 1688 as adjoining the house at its north-west corner. (fn. 16)

On the ground floor the front part appears to have been divided between the 'Porters Hall' and the 'Fore Parlour'. The former was clearly a large room functioning as an entrance hall, for it had a window in addition to the 'large outward door with a large lock and key', which must have opened on to the street. The room was heated, for there is mention of a stone chimneypiece, and it also had 'One pair of long double doors', perhaps leading to the parlour. Presumably the two staircases lay immediately behind the hall, but at least one of them cannot have been entirely partitioned off from it, as it also contained the back door. At the back of the house the larger room was used as 'the Withdrawing room', again with a dressing-room next to it, and there was an unheated 'back closet', evidently corresponding to that on the floor above. Apparently there was also a housekeeper's room, with two windows, on this level, but it cannot have been in the house itself and was probably in one of the buildings in the yard.

The second-floor rooms are not so carefully described, but at the front there was certainly a 'Bed Chamber Forward' with three windows and a 'Dressing room Forward' with two. Behind lay the 'Bed Chamber backward', with two windows, the 'first room on the right hand backward', with an unspecified number of windows, and the 'Housekeepers Bed Chamber' and another dressing-room, neither with any windows mentioned. Judging from the arrangement of the other floors, these four rooms probably had five windows, between them, for the projecting closet-wing appears to have finished on the first floor and so, almost certainly, did the great stairs. If, therefore, all the rooms were lit, the one with an unspecified number of windows can in fact have had only one, but it seems more likely that there was an unlit room, perhaps the dressingroom, somewhere in the middle of the house.

Eight garret rooms are listed, three 'fore' garrets (one of them 'on the Right hand'), and five 'backward' (three 'on the left hand', one 'on the Right hand'), and one 'over the Housekeepers Bed Chamber'. Doubtless they were occupied by the servants.

The schedule is much less informative about the manner in which the rooms were finished, apart from a brief concluding note—'the rooms both one and two pair of stairs wholly Wainscotted'. There is, however, brief mention of the chimneypieces, which were of marble in all the ground- and first-floor rooms except the hall. The 'Great room' on the first floor, for example, had 'A large blew and white vein'd marble Chimney piece', and the dressing-room at the back 'One intire India marble Chimney piece and Window Seat of the same'. An exceptional feature in the latter room was evidently a 'Stove Grate with a brass flap Coveing stone and set with Galley Tyles compleat'. On the second floor each room was fitted with 'a black Chimney piece', probably of wood, although this is stated only in the case of one room, and the chimneypiece in the 'Bed Chamber forward' seems to have been untypical in being 'set with Galley Tyles compleat'.

It is difficult to identify the rooms in the basement, but they may have included 'the Powder room under the Stairs' and 'the Pantrey in the Passage near the Vault under the Street'. Here also were probably the laundry, the steward's hall, the two larders and the kitchen, the latter with a coal vault leading off it, for there is mention of 'A double Kitchen door with an iron bolt and hook to lock the Coal Vault door'. This was not one of the vaults under the street, however, because another item is described as being 'In the Yard next the Kitchen'. Other rooms of less certain location included the stove room and the adjoining 'Charcoal room', but these may have been in the yard at the back.

Reference is made to the 'best Yard pav'd with purbeck stone with an iron Fence round the kirbs and a passage into the Stable Yard'. The 'best' yard, which had formerly been a garden, lay immediately behind the house, with the stableyard occupying the large area to the north of that, where it had direct access to Princes Street. (fn. 16) Probably the two yards were separated by a service or stable building with the passage through it; the passage was clearly enclosed, for there is an item 'In the Passage one door into the best Yard and one door into the Stable Yard'. The latter contained the stable, with accommodation for seven horses, a hayloft, and a coach-house for two coaches. In the same building or nearby must have been the 'Servants room', with fittings for hanging up harness, and in the yard itself 'One Pump with an iron handle and wooden Cap' and 'A horse Pond with a plug iron handle and ring to it to let out the water'; this last being large enough to be 'railed'.

The contents of the kitchen included 'A large Crane fitted in iron work to hang potts on', and a 'leaded Sinck with a brass cock for water'. This is one of the several references to the supply of running water. The laundry had a 'large leaden Cistern and a large Cock with a lead Pipe and brass cock', and in the yard 'next the Kitchen' was a 'large leaden Cistern with a leaden pipe round the Yard and one brass cock and one large brass cock in the Cistern'. More unusual is a reference to 'Two Water Closets Wainscotted plain about five feet high necessary seats with brass Cocks and Pluggs two doors with an iron lock and key to each and a leaden Cistern over the uppermost of the said Closets'. Their location is not stated, but from their place in the schedule they must almost certainly have been in the 'best Yard'. Possibly they were used by the higher ranks of the household, for there is a clear social distinction from a similar convenience in the stable-yard: 'A Necessary house with a Seat and cover of Deal A door and iron latch to it A long leaden pipe From the Pump to the Water Closet'. One other feature of the 'best Yard' was 'A large timber Funnell to convey the steam from the Stoves below', presumably, that is, from the stove room in the basement.

Throughout the schedule the adjoining house, No. 12, is distinguished as 'that part of the house which was the lesser house'. It is quite clear that this, too, was of three storeys with basement and garrets, but with a front three windows wide. Its plan must have been the standard one for a house of this size, with single front and back rooms, the latter with the staircase alongside it. For example, on the second floor the 'two pair of Stairs Forward' contained three windows and the only other room mentioned on the same floor was 'the back room adjoining'. A similar arrangement is described on the first floor, but here it is specified that the back room had 'one large sash Window', and there is mention of 'A sash Windo°. on the Staircase'. On the ground floor only one room, a parlour, is listed, and since this had three windows it must either have extended the full depth of the house or have taken up the whole frontage, which would of course imply that the front doorway had been blocked. The rooms on all three floors appear to have been wainscoted but only the parlour and first-floor front room had marble chimneypieces, the parlour also having 'a Chiminey glass in three plates'. In the remaining rooms the chimneypieces were of wood, that in the first-floor back room being 'moulded' and 'the Chimney set with Galley Tyles compleat'. The basement seems to have contained only a kitchen and a pantry, but the former was well fitted with a 'Floor pav'd with purbeck stone' and 'A lead sink with a lead pipe to the same from the tree in the Street with a brass cock to it'. There were three garrets in the roof, but their arrangement is not indicated.

Onslow's occupation of Nos. 10–12 lasted until 1752, (fn. 2) during which time he continued as Speaker, was chancellor to Queen Caroline, and treasurer of the navy. He moved in 1753 to No. 20 Soho Square.

After Onslow's departure William Perry and his wife Elizabeth, who was co-heiress to the Leicester estate after the death of the seventh Earl of Leicester, moved into the house. (fn. 2) William Perry was certified as a lunatic and in 1757 his wife was given custody of his estates. (fn. 17) She continued to be rated for No. 10–11 until her death in 1783, but gave up the northern house (No. 12) in 1760. (fn. 2)

At the end of September 1805 No. 10–11 was taken by (Sir) Charles Bell, 'the discoverer of the distinct functions of the nerves'. (fn. 4) Bell came to London from Edinburgh in 1804 and took lodgings in Fludyer Street, Westminster. (fn. 18) He himself recalled the despair he felt during these early months in London, and his resolve to return to Edinburgh; however, having made this resolution he went to the opera one evening, and being cheered by his outing decided the next morning to stay. He looked about for a house where he could lecture and take in pupils and chose the 'large ruinous house … formerly inhabited by Speaker Onslow'. Bell's surveyor frightened him about the state of the house, but he took it nevertheless. (fn. 19) He described how, on his first night there, when 'leaping into bed … the floor gave way under my foot … in the morning, I discovered a tube under the loose board—it was the house where the Invisible Girl exhibited!' (fn. 20) (fn. 1) Bell began slowly gathering pupils for his anatomical and surgical lectures and admitted painters, who drew in his 'great-room' from the skulls and skeletons he provided. He also gave public lectures in 'the little theatre which I have made to hold thirty-five'. He opened his museum to the public and his dissecting-rooms were open to students from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. In the back yard he kept chickens. (fn. 21)

Bell had begun his book The Anatomy of Expression before leaving Edinburgh but he completed it in the house in Leicester Street and published it in 1806. (fn. 4) His interest in the effects of gun-shot wounds (see page 122) led him to visit Plymouth at the beginning of 1809 to see the wounded from Corunna, but his questions to the soldiers showed that his concern was not coldly scientific and that his feelings were deeply touched by their sufferings. (fn. 22)

In 1811, shortly before his marriage, he moved from Leicester Street to No. 34 Soho Square. (fn. 23)


  • 1. Whether Bell was correct about the former use of his house is not certain. Tom Taylor quotes a bill advertising 'The Invisible Lady, or Delphic Oracle', not in Leicester Street but at No. 1 Leicester Square. The bill, which is undated, promised the visitor that from 'a small Temple, impossible for human being to enter, and unconnected with any surrounding object, will proceed a voice, supposed to be [the] manner in which The Ancients Communicated with their Gods'. A newspaper cutting of c. 1806 explains that 'A globe of glass is suspended by a ribbon, under which four tubes are adapted … by these, conversation is carried on with an invisible lady'—hidden in an adjoining room.
  • 2. R.B.
  • 3. B. Nicolaievsky and O. Maenchen-Helfen, Karl Marx, 1936, pp. 237–8.
  • 4. D.N.B.
  • 5. G.E.C. (Baronetage).
  • 6. Survey of London, vol. XXX, 1960, p. 462.
  • 7. G.L.R.O., Harben deeds X113.
  • 8. Ibid., Q/EV/48.
  • 9. De L'Isle deeds, bundle 554, deed of 1 Oct. 1722.
  • 10. R.B.; D.N.B.
  • 11. Cal. Treasury Books 1689–1692, p. 1951.
  • 12. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1696–1697, p. 432.
  • 13. G.L.R.O., Harben deeds X114.
  • 14. Cal. Treasury Books 1713, p. 481.
  • 15. De L'Isle deeds, bundle 554, deed of 28 Feb. 1727/8.
  • 16. Ibid., bundle 553, deed of 7 Jan. 1731/2.
  • 17. Ibid., bundle 552, deed of 20 April 1757.
  • 18. Letters of Sir Charles Bell, 1870, p. 54.
  • 19. Ibid., p. 69.
  • 20. Ibid., p. 70.
  • 21. Letters of Sir Charles Bell, 1870, pp. 66, 99–100, 111; Sir G. Gordon-Taylor and E. W. Walls, Sir Charles Bell, 1958, fig. 14 (opposite p. 41).
  • 22. Letters of Sir Charles Bell, 1870, pp. 138–40.
  • 23. Ibid., pp. 185, 187.
  • 24. Tom Taylor, Leicester Square, 1874, p. 441.
  • 25. W.P.L., Leicester Square Scrapbook, vol. I, p. 38.