Soho Square Area: Portland Estate, No. 22 Soho Square

Pages 81-82

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

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No. 22 Soho Square

In 1680 William Marchant of London, merchant, who was possibly one of Richard Frith's mortgagees, leased this house for twenty-one years to Thomas Wharton, later first Marquess of Wharton and a prominent Whig politician. The rent was £90 per annum for the house and £4 per annum for the coach-house and stables behind it in George (now Goslett) Yard. (fn. 1)

The ratebooks record Wharton as living here in 1683, but in October 1686 he assigned the house to Susanna Lady Powlett (or Poulett), who lived here until her death in about 1693. (fn. 2)

The house subsequently passed to Sir Robert Rich, second baronet, as the result of a complicated Chancery lawsuit. Rich's claim to the property was derived from his mother-in-law, Dame Elizabeth Rich. She had married, as her second husband, one John Berners or Barners, to whom William Marchant was said to have assigned the house. Thomas Wharton's counterclaim, though based on an earlier sub-lease from Marchant, was unsuccessful. (fn. 3)

Sir Robert Rich was one of the Lords of the Admiralty and occupied the house in 1695–6, when he moved to an official residence and let his own house in Soho Square. Referring to the many abuses perpetrated by the Admiralty, the Secretary of State, Robert Harley, complained that this official house had cost the King £3,000 'at a time when there was an extraordinary scarcity of money'. (fn. 4) Later inhabitants of No. 22 included Sir Robert Rich, fourth baronet, M.P. and Field Marshal (younger son of the second baronet), 1716–26; Captain Paule, 1738; Sir Henry Coltrop,? Sir Henry Calthorpe, K.B., of Elvetham, Hampshire, 1739–46, and Captain Jennings, 1748–50. (fn. 5)

Alderman William Beckford, Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1769, lived at No. 22 from 1751 to 1770. The rateable value of No. 22 during most of these years was £68, considerably less than the rental of £90 per annum paid by Thomas Wharton, the first tenant of the house, nearly a century before. Unlike his brother Richard at No. 1 Greek Street (now the House of St. Barnabas, in the south-east corner of Soho Square), Beckford did little to improve the house. Instead, he spent his energy and money in ceaseless political activity, most of which must have emanated from his house in Soho Square. He was a prominent supporter of John Wilkes, whose release from prison in April 1770 he celebrated by decorating the front of the house with a banner described by Horace Walpole as being 'embroidered with "Liberty" in white letters three feet high. Luckily the evening was very wet, and not a mouse stirred'. (fn. 6)

Alderman Beckford died at No. 22 Soho Square in June 1770. His only legitimate son, William Beckford the younger, later celebrated as the author of Vathek and as the builder of Fonthill Abbey, had been born here in 1759. (fn. 7)

After Alderman Beckford's death the house was taken in 1772 by Dr. George Armstrong as premises for his Dispensary for Sick Children, which had outgrown its previous home near Red Lion Square. Armstrong was a pioneer in paediatric treatment and teaching. He strongly deprecated putting the sick children of the poor into the public hospitals and so parting them from their parents. Instead, with the help of a number of charitable subscribers, he provided them with free medical treatment at his public dispensary. (fn. 8)

The opening of this institution in Soho Square was announced on 9 October 1772 in The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser. 'On Tuesday next the 13th instant the Dispensary for the Relief of the Infant Poor will be removed from East lane to Soho-square, the house last occupied by the late Mr. Alderman Beckford—Dr. Geo[rge] Armstrong over the door. The Doctor attends constantly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from eleven to one o'clock, to administer advice and medicines gratis to such poor children as are brought to the Dispensary. He gives advice to private Patients on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at the same hour. N.B. The poor are desired to come the back way to the Dispensary, that is, by George-yard'. (fn. 9)

Financial difficulties forced Armstrong to remove the dispensary from Soho Square in 1780, when it was stated that 'The number of Patients relieved by this humane Institution from its Commencement in April 1769 [near Red Lion Square] to the present Time, is near Thirty-five thousand'. The dispensary moved to King Street, Seven Dials, but closed in 1781 when Armstrong had a stroke. (fn. 10)

The existing nondescript seven-storey block of showrooms and offices on this site was erected in 1913–14 to the designs of F. Taperell and Haase (fn. 11) (Plate 71b, fig. 5).


  • 1. P.R.O., C7/379/41.
  • 2. Ibid., C8/556/38; R.B.; G.E.C.
  • 3. P.R.O., C7/379/41; C8/556/38.
  • 4. H.M.C., Portland MSS., vol. VIII, 1907, p. 59.
  • 5. R.B.
  • 6. The Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Mrs. Paget Toynbee, vol. VII, 1904, p. 375.
  • 7. D.N.B.
  • 8. William J. Maloney, George and John Armstrong of Castleton, 1954, pp. 59, 68; A General Account of the Dispensary for . . . The Infant Poor, N.D. (B.M. pressmark T 54(12)).
  • 9. B.M., Burney Newspaper Collection, The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 9 Oct. 1772.
  • 10. Maloney, op. cit., pp. 80–5; B.M., Burney Newspaper Collection, The Public Advertiser, 5 July 1780.
  • 11. E.S. 70543; deeds in possession of Dunsmark Investment Ltd.