Category Archives: Architecture

Just the Thing For the Garden

Now the drought is over I am returning to the garden in an attempt to rescue the parched remains and thinking it might be time for a makeover. And where better to turn for landscaping tips than Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts?

Of course, it does help if one has several acres and significant financial resources, to say nothing of strapping young men with spades and wheelbarrows…

Pyne 10002

But I will not be put off by the lack of acres and wheelbarrows (the one on the left is by W H Pyne) because the issue for February 1800 informs me that “Great diversity of surface may, in general, be obtained at no objectionable expense, if the labour be discreetly governed. To sink the valley and raise the hill is a good rule, when properly applied; in which case, the advantages produced are so immediate and striking, as amply to compensate for every exertion for every exertion: hence plants and trees obtain the appearance of several growths, as they are situated on greater or lesser elevations and produce varieties of incident, and opposition of light, shadow, form and colour, that cannot be effected on level ground.”

Apparently, once I have excavated and elevated I will have created something ideal for “garden seats, temples and alcoves… suited to retirement and study.” I don’t think a temple would work, but Ackermann helpfully illustrates an “alcove” that might fit in. It would certainly startle the neighbours.

Gardening

 

“The style of this little building is light and elegant, but of no specific architectural character; and from its arrangements and design, should be rather splendid in its furnishings than otherwise. The pillars are of iron, and from them are suspended china pattera, of rich colours: the chains are gilt, as is the terminal of the roof. The scale-like forms of the roof-covering are of thin lead, and might be richly painted: indeed the whole should be so decorated as to become highly ornamental, and be in splendid harmony with the accompanying parterres and flower-beds.”

Somehow I think this might be more the scale of project that my resources will run to – another Ackermann print, this time from September 1820

1820 gardening001

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Taking A Cold Plunge

In 1702 Sir John Floyer wrote A History of Cold Bathing, promoting immersion in cold water as a cure for just about any disease then known, from scurvy to cancers. Hot springs had never entirely gone out of fashion – the heat must have been a great benefit for all kinds of aches and pains – but bathing of any kind had fallen victim to the displeasure of the church after the Reformation. Partly this was because of the connection with bathing in ancient holy springs and partly because washing the body, let alone taking all one’s clothes off and engaging in a pleasurable activity, suggested sin.

Some bathing houses and plunge pools survive from the 17th century, so the pleasure of bathing, or the belief in its benefits, had never entirely gone away, but it was the 18th century that saw the explosion of the cold bathing craze.

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEBAs I found when I was researching for my book The Georgian Seaside: The English Resorts Before the Railway Age, sea bathing did not really take off until the mid-18th century, but the same aristocrats who visited spas began to build bathing houses and plunge pools on their own estates decades earlier.

The country was stable under the Hanoverians, there was money to indulge in improvements in their grounds and, as well as the health benefits, an architecturally interesting bathing house made an attractive ‘eye-catcher’ in a landscaped park.

I was lucky enough to stay in one of these delightful buildings at the beginning of the month – The Bath House bathhouse-exterior-main-600x400at Walton in Warwickshire, now a Landmark Trust property.

Sir Charles Mordaunt of Walton Hall ordered the bathing house which was completed in 1755. It sits on a hillside in woodland with a glorious view in front and the romantic gloom of the trees behind. The spring-fed plunge bath is approximately 3.5 metres square and deep enough to come up to my shoulders. The chamber is deliberately rustic to appear as though it is a natural cave with a rugged ceiling, vast blocks of stone and a precipitous stair to the room above. Apparently Sir Charles was not averse to people assuming it was of Roman origin – the Fosse Way runs close by.

Bath pool

One of the diseases supposedly cured by cold water bathing was gout and as a sufferer, Sir Charles may have hoped this would help. But he was also undoubtedly influenced by fashion and an element of competition with the many wonderful houses and parks in the area, such as Compton

Bath House entrance

Bath House deerVerney.

The water from deep in the hill, was absolutely icy, the sort of cold that makes your bones ache. But it is also perfectly clear and the flow is strong enough to keep the pool constantly refreshed. The wildlife appreciate it too – there are bats in the ceiling, the Landmark Trust thoughtfully provides a net for frog-removal, and the fallow deer, like these two twin fawns, come to the outfall on the lawn below to drink.

The approach to the Bath House is from the back, through the woods, so there is an element of surprise as you walk in to the incredible drawing room above the bathing chamber.

In contrast to the rough-hewn basement the drawing room is an elegant jewel box with a high ceiling, wide widows and fabulous decoration. Great swags of seashells, each almost 3 metres across, decorate the walls and the ceiling has a mass of thousands of plaster ‘icicles’.Bath House Interior 2

Sir Charles was very fortunate to have the advice and practical help of Mrs Mary Delaney, famous for her exquisite flower pictures created in cut paper. She was also an expert in shell-work, then very fashionable for grottos, summer houses and follies and she sourced shells for the Bath House from the West Indies, Naples, Ireland and the Channel Islands. The swags were mounted in boards by Mrs Delaney herself helped by her sister and Sir Charles’s two daughters.Bath House interior

When the building was taken over by the Landmark Trust it had been severely damaged by vandals and the swags and icicles had to be re-made. The interior is now restored to its former Georgian glory and staying there is a wonderful experience. We slept with the shutters open so that when we woke we could look up into the gorgeous ceiling before tip-toeing to the window to see if the deer and their fawns were on the grass below. I have to confess that one dip in the pool was enough and it was fortunate that there were no neighbours – the screams of anguish were so loud!

Bath House swags

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Living In History

For those  who are fascinated by the past, or who write about it or who just want to reach out and touch history – I have a recommendation for you – The Landmark Trust.

I’m just back from a stay in one of their properties – Calverley Old Hall in the village of the same name just outside Leeds. This ancient manor house is now stranded in the middle of 20th century development which only added to its air of faint melancholy and mystery.Calverley exterior

The part of the building we were staying in was built at the time of the English Civil War, so we spent our evenings beside the massive hearth dating from about 1640 (see below) or enjoying a bottle of wine at the long table under the beams. But that’s not the best bit – part of the building goes back to 1300 and there’s a 15th century Great Hall and chapel (seen above) and a heart-wrenching story about a father who, in 1604, lost his mind and killed his two sons (and came to a dreadful end). True, the older parts are only viewable from the outside and through the windows, but the entire place was priceless for firing this writer’s imagination.

Calverley interior

The Landmark Trust specialises in saving historic buildings which have lost their purpose and, in some cases, almost their hold on existence. They restore what they can and convert, with integrity, the building as holiday accommodation. There is no TV or radio, phone or wifi, just peace, atmosphere and a well-stocked library relevant to the location. The decoration and furnishing is true to the building as well, with a seemingly endless supply of characterful antiques and near-antiques from their store.

Calverley Old Hall was our 6th Landmark and we are already looking forward to number seven, The Bath House, a mid-18th century folly near Stratford on Avon, built over a bathing pool formed from a natural spring. (One half of the party is completely unimpressed by my remarks that 18th century gentlemen would have splashed happily in the pool in a state of nature and is refusing to assist with my researches into this.)

Pigsty exteriorThe others? There was The Pigsty (above) overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay – a miniature Classical temple with a spectacular view built by an eccentric farmer in 1891 for some very pampered pigs. You can see the view below:

Pigsty view

Lock Cottage (below), built 1790/1815 on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, has a wheelbarrow provided to transport luggage and provides all the entertainment of watching the passing holidaymakers negotiating the flight of locks with various degrees of skill (and colourful language).

Lock Cottage

Iron Bridge House (about 1830) is right at one end of the famous Iron Bridge. It is the building right in the middle of the picture.

Ironbridge exterior

There were lovely glimpses of the river and close-ups of the bridge itself  as you can see through the right-hand living room window.

Ironbridge interior

Then there was Beckford’s Tower overlooking Bath with spectacular views from the top of the tower, all 276 feet of it.

Beckfords tower exterior

Built by eccentric connoisseur and collector William Beckford it was later given to a Bath church as a graveyard, so one could lie in bed, or in the bath on the ground floor (middle window), and virtually read the gravestones. A little macabre perhaps, but no ghosts were encountered. The living room (below) has been decorated in a colour scheme true to Beckford’s Regency taste.

Beckford's tower interior

Finally we enjoyed the Prospect Tower, built in 1808 near Faversham by General, later Lord, Harris of Seringapatam as a folly and tea house. In the Edwardian period it became a changing room for the 4th Lord Harris who was an enthusiastic cricketer. It still overlooks the cricket pitch of his home, Belmont Park.

Prospect Tower exterior

There is something very special about living in ancient buildings, I find. Partly it is the tranquility and the lack of modern distractions so my mind can wander freely, part is the thrill of imagining the past inhabitants who looked out of this window, or huddled round that fire in flickering candlelight or gazed out over that view. Why not give it a try?

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The Story of a Square 6: Queen Square

Today I’m visiting Queen Square, built in the first decades of the 18th century and named for Queen Anne. The first image shows it in 1786 in a painting by Edward Dayes. [Yale Center for British Art. Public domain image, US]. This is the view from the south.

The second image is from Ackermann’s Repository for September 1812 and the artist is standing in Guilford Street on the northern, open edge.

Now there are buildings on the plot of land enclosed by the iron railings but, according to the text with this print, The north side formerly commanded fine views of Hampstead and Highgate. This view can be clearly seen in the Dayes painting and on Roque’s map of 1738 with, to the north-east, Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital. Fanny Burney, the novelist, playwright and diarist, lived in the square 1771/2 with her father and wrote of,  A beautiful prospect of the hills ever verdant of Hampstead and Highgate. Dr Burney was visited here by Captain James Cook, just before his second voyage.

By the time of the 1812 print, Richard Horwood’s map (below) shows the extensive development over what had been Lamb’s Conduit Fields to the north and the private garden in the foreground of the image. Originally the site was an ancient reservoir, part of the waterways that formed the water source for Lamb’s Conduit and which supplied water to the Greyfriars in Newgate Street. If you look at the paved area at the southern end on StreetView you can see a black iron water pump, the late Victorian replacement for the original, which taps into the same source.

Number 31 (east side), now replaced by the Royal Homeopathic Hospital, was a school for young ladies, sometimes referred to as “the ladies’ Eton”. Deportment was clearly of great importance and the young ladies would travel by coach to attend the church of St George the Martyr, just a few metres away on the south-west end of the square. This meant they could practice getting in and out of a carriage in the correct manner and, according to the London Encyclopedia, when the carriage became too ancient to move it was installed in one of the schoolrooms so they could use it there.

St George the Martyr was built at the same time as the square as a chapel of ease, a subsidiary of St Andrew, Holborn. As London expanded these chapels sprang up in all the fashionable new developments and this one was created when (to quote Ackermann’s) several of those who resided at the extremity of the parish [of St Andrew] having proposed to erect a chapel for religious worship, Sir Streynsham Master [a prominent member of the East India Company] and fourteen other gentlemen were appointed trustees for the management of the building. Along with two houses it cost £3,500 and it was intended to recoup the cost by the sale of pews. However, by 1733 the density of new building was such that a new parish was created and the church, bought from the trustees, was named St George’s in honour of Master’s governorship of Fort St George in Madras (Chennai). Originally it was a plain brick building without steeple, and destitute of any pretensions to elegance, though convenient and well lighted. It was remodeled twice in the 19th century, a bell tower was added and the original exterior brickwork covered up, presumably adding some much-needed elegance. The 1786 painting at the head of this post shows the church in its original brick in the left foreground.

When George III first became unwell in 1788 he stayed for a short time in Queen Square with Doctor Willis before being treated at the White House at Kew. The King’s apparent recovery made Willis famous, fashionable and rich. Coincidentally, the statue of George’s wife, Queen Charlotte, that still stands in the square, was erected about 1775.

[Photograph by Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10043271%5D

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The Story of a Square 5: Golden Square – or ‘Do Come Up & See My Etchings, Miss Austen.’

Today Golden Square is a pleasant area to sit – paved, planted, shaded by trees and liberally supplied with benches. It sits just South of Carnaby Street, East of Regent’s Street, a good place to rest from shopping and sightseeing, surrounded by corporate buildings housing mainly media companies.

It is a late 17th century construction, still showing as fields on William Morgan’s map of 1682. The London Encyclopedia suggests that its name is a genteel corruption of ‘gelding’ because Gelding’s Close, a field in the area, was used to graze geldings. It seems more likely to me that it was owned by a Mr Gelding – a genuine, if unfortunate, surname. However it began, by the early 18th century it was a popular place to live for aristocrats including the Duchess of Cleveland, the Duke of Chandos and Viscount Bolingbroke. By about 1715, however, the aristocrats seem to have moved out and professional men such as surgeons and artists of the top rank moved in. It was still very respectable. and in 1720 in his Survey of London John Strype described it as “a very handsome place railed round and gravelled with many very good houses inhabited by gentry on all sides.” None of the 17th century houses remain but four of the 18th century replacements do. (Numbers 11, 21, 23, 24). Below is a detail from Roque’s map of 1747. Warwick Street, to the left, remains, but Great and Little Swallow Streets vanished under Regent’s Street

Anastasia Robinson (c.1692-1755), was a singer for whom Handel created many pieces, beginning in 1714 when he wrote Ode For the Birthday of Queen Anne for her. Her father owned a property in Golden Square and that was where her first private recitals were held. She was the secret wife of the Earl of Peterborough, unacknowledged until shortly before his death. Another performer of Handel’s works was Elisabetta de Gambarini (1731-65) who was also a composer, conductor and skilled keyboard player on a range of instruments. She lived at number 13 from 1753 to 1763.  Artist Angelica Kauffman, a leading Society painter and one of the two female founding members of the Royal Society, lived at number 16 between 1767 and 1781. Artist Martin Archer Shee, later President of the Royal Society, lived at number 13 between 1795-6. Mrs Jordan the actress who became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, had three daughters by Edward Ford who lived at number 4. In 1803 she took number 30 to house the girls.

Diplomats also moved into the Square with the legations of Genoa, Russia, Bavaria, Brunswick and Portugal. A Blue Plaque on number 23 marks the location of the Portuguese Embassy, occupied 1739-44 by the eminent statesman the Marquess of Pombal. The Bavarian Legation took over 23 and 24 and both houses were bought in 1788 by Bishop James Talbot so that the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory could be built in the gardens. Number 24 became the presbytery. The church can still be seen with its entrance on Warwick Street.

Doctor James Stanier Clarke, Domestic Chaplain and Librarian to the Prince Regent, lived at number 37. He had met Jane Austen on November 13 1815 when she had visited Carlton House by invitation of the Prince Regent. Doctor Clarke’s role was to hint, heavily, that Miss Austen should dedicate her next work to his employer. Jane was no fan of the Regent, being a supporter of his estranged wife, Princess Caroline, and tried to wriggle out of it. Two days later she wrote to Doctor Stanier Clarke asking for clarification – had she received a suggestion, a request or an order? “I shd be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or Ungrateful.” Eventually her publisher, John Murray, and her family persuaded her that she had no option and a presentation set of Emma, respectfully dedicated, was dispatched to Carlton House in December 1815.

Doctor Stanier Clarke (portrait c.1790 left) proved to be not just a fan of Miss Austen, but also a rather annoying groupie. He so irritated her with suggestions for plots and characters (“to delineate in some future Work the Habits of Life and Character and enthusiasm of a Clergyman—who should pass his time between the metropolis & the Country . . . Fond of, & entirely engaged in Literature—no man’s Enemy but his own”) that she eventually wrote the satirical Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from Various Quarters in 1816. In December 1815 Doctor Stanier Clarke invited  Miss Austen to visit his house in Golden Square to use his personal library. This was a quite shocking thing for an unmarried gentleman to do, although he assured her that a maid would be in attendance. Whether he was simply too star-struck to care or too insensitive to realise the impropriety or whether this was an invitation along the lines of, “Come up and see my etchings,” Jane did not accept.

One feature of the Square that Doctor Stanier Clarke would recognize today is the battered statue at the head of this post. It is a full-length standing figure in Roman military garb, generally considered to be George II  (although some insist it is Charles II). In the quote from Dickens below it is described as “mournful” and is reputed to have come from the roof of the Duke of Chandos’s seat at Canons Park.

By the mid 19th century the Square had gone down in the world and Dickens described it in Nicholas Nickleby:

“Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden Square, it is not exactly in anybody’s way to or from anywhere. It is one of the squares that have been; a quarter of the town that has gone down in the world, and taken to letting lodgings. Many of its first and second floors are let, furnished, to single gentlemen; and it takes boarders besides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The dark-complexioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards, and bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colonnade, and about the box-office in the season, between four and five in the afternoon, when they give away the orders, all live in Golden Square, or within a street of it. Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer’s night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices practicing vocal music invade the evening’s silence; and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.”

You can take in Golden Square in Walk 5 (Soho to the British Museum) in my Walking Jane Austen’s London

 

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Story of a Square 4: Leicester Square – From Common Land to Fashionable Residence to Popular Entertainment Centre

For Jane Austen the Leicester Square area was the location of some of her favourite shops. Until 1630 it was Leicester Fields, common land available for parishioners of any class to dry clothes and to pasture their livestock after Lammas Day (12th August). But London was moving out from its old centres and the Earl of Leicester acquired the area in 1630 in order to build Leicester House. That occupied, more or less, the area between today’s Lisle Street and the Northern edge of the Square. To the East it finished more or less where Leicester Place is and to the West on a line where the edge of the Empire cinema stands. Lisle Street ended at the Western edge of its gardens.

The parishioners were, naturally, unhappy about this incursion on their land and rights and Charles I had to appoint a Privy Council committee to arbitrate. His lordship was ordered to make compensation and he had a high brick wall built along the Southern boundary (the current pavement line, more or less) and, in accordance with the committee’s instructions, had the rest of the land – the present Square – turned ‘into Walkes and planted with trees along the walkes and fitt spaces left for the Inhabitantes to drye their clothes there as they were wont, and to have free use of this place.’ As the other sides of the open area were built on the contractors railed off the centre and planted elms. The map at the top is a detail from Roque’s map of 1740.

In 1670 Leicester Square was laid out for ‘the benefit of the family, the advancement of their revenue, and the decency of the place before Leicester House.’ This was an indication that fine houses were being built around the Square. By the early 18th century there was a brick wall with iron railing and in 1784 a statue of George I in armour and on horseback was moved from the garden of the Duke of Chandos’s house to the centre. The gardens gradually deteriorated and so did the statue which lost a leg. It was finally sold for scrap for £16 in 1872.

Part of the Leicester estate, including the Fields and surroundings was acquired by the Tulk family in 1808. By this time all four sides of the Square were built up with fine houses and no commercial development had been permitted although by 1782 there was a linen draper by the name of Gedge operating at the corner with Cranbourn Street (running from the top Eastern corner of the Square). Six earls had residences in the Square and several artists, writers and men of business lived there. Hogarth created Marriage à la Mode, Rake’s Progress, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane at no.30 and Joshua Reynolds lived at no.47 from 1760 to 1792. All the fine 17th and 18th century houses have gone now, replaced by buildings of the late 19th century onwards.

By the end of the 18th century the area had become rather less select and had taken on the form shown in the second map above. The Earl of Rockingham had lived at no.27 until his death. It became a bagnio – technically these were bathhouses, but more usually were brothels. This was the location for the great hoax of 1726, the place where anatomist Nathaniel St Andre brought Mary Tofts, a poor women from Surrey whom, he claimed, had given birth to a litter of 15 rabbits after being frightened by one when walking through a field. The story attracted George I’s surgeon who was taken in and claimed to have delivered her of part of another rabbit. Sir Hans Sloane, President of the Royal Society arrived to view the birth of yet more rabbits. Eventually she was caught buying rabbits and the scam was exposed.  The bagnio and the sensational hoax perhaps mark the beginning of Leicester Square as a centre for popular entertainment, although as this print of 1812 (from Ackermann’s Repository) shows, it was still a very smart area.

The view is from Leicester Place down to the North-East corner of the Square. If you stand there today you can still see the indentation in the street on the right hand side – I love how landholdings like this are reflected years later in the modern building line.

Jane Austen came to the area to shop, especially when she was staying with her brother Henry in Covent Garden. Prices were slightly lower than those in the Mayfair area and she patronised Isaac Newton the linen draper in Leicester Place whose unimaginative approach to window dressing can be seen in this print. Next door is a doorway with a sign over it “Rome Malta” which was the entrance into Barker’s Panorama, opened in 1793. It was a rotunda of 27 metres in diameter. It’s two rooms, one above the other, displayed perspective views of famous scenes and locations which could be viewed ‘in the round’ from the centre

of each room. Jane Austen also shopped for bonnets and caps in Cranbourn Alley.  On a snowy day in March 1814 she wrote to her sister Cassandra,

‘Here’s a day! The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us? We were to have walked out early to near Shops, & had the Carriage for the more distant… Well, we have been out, as far as Coventry St; Edwd escorted us there & back to Newtons, where he left us, & I brought Fanny safely home.’ On that snowy shopping trip she saw, ‘A great many pretty Caps in the Windows of Cranbourn Alley! I hope when you come, we shall both be tempted.’ Intrigued, I set out to find Cranbourn Alley which runs between Cranbourn Street and Bear Street. It is still there – and a horrible little passageway it is now. I wouldn’t want to walk down it in daylight, let alone at night!

By the mid 19th century the ‘garden’ in the centre of the Square was so derelict that it had the Great Globe, a vast ball-shaped panorama built on it in 1851. Later it became a wasteland with occasional circuses, poor quality stalls and was used as a waste tip. It was surrounded by high wooden hoardings covered in advertisements  until in 1873 the Master of the Rolls had them removed and ordered that the area be returned to use as a garden. It was rescued in 1874 when it was bought by the flamboyant, and very rich, MP for Kidderminster, Albert Grant, who was created a baron by the King of Italy. He had the garden laid out much as it is today with a fountain and bust of Shakespeare in the centre. It was refurbished in 1992.

It seems difficult to see anything of the Georgian and Regency periods in Leicester Square today with its vast crowds of tourists queuing for theatre and cinema tickets, its souvenir shops and its endless food outlets. However, when I researched the area for Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks Through Regency London I found plenty of fascinating reminders within a short distance. There’s Freibourg & Treyer’s shop, the oldest surviving in London,  in Haymarket. In Gerrard Street you can climb the stairs that Doctor Johnson and Joshua Reynolds would have used in the days when no.9, now a Chinese supermarket, was the famous Turk’s Head coffee house. The area has numerous Regency-era shopfronts too, especially in Lisle Street. Then you can have a drink and sandwich in Tom Cribb’s pub on Panton Street and escape the crush around the Square!

 

 

 

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Lighting Up St James’s Square

Yesterday I was reading The Courier (as one does) for September 23rd 1817 and discovered that two hundred years ago, almost to the day, St James’s Square was being renovated and lit by gas.

St. JAMES’S SQUARE

“No expense is spared, that can render the area of this assemblage of noble dwellings delightful to the taste of its inhabitants. The wall on which the iron railing of the new inclosure is to be placed, having been found so high as to obstruct, in some measure, the view of the intended greensward, it has been lowered, although the coping had been laid on, and great part of the iron railing fixed. Besides this provision for the pleasantness of the square by day, care has been taken, not only for its security, but for its splendour by night. The gas-lights will be scarcely more than twenty paces distant from each other, raised upon handsome iron stands, through the hollow of which the gas will ascend. The form of these is nearly that of a cannon, as far as three feet from the ground; afterwards, they become slender tubes, of a figure not unlike the stalks of some plants. The lamps they are to bear will be large; and not curved but angular, according to the present fashion. The east and west sides are to have seven each; the northern side six. It may be hoped that the improvement, which will be made here by the introduction of these lights, will lead to their use in St. James’s Park, where they are still more necessary.”

(The reference to the Park is presumably to its notorious reputation as a location for nocturnal sexual activity!) The rather small image at the top of the post is a version of Ackermann’s print and shows the Square in 1812 looking northwards towards St James’s church standing opposite the top of Duke of York Street (formerly Duke Street). The statue of William III in the centre and the covered seat on the far left still remain.

St James’s Square has always been the location of some very smart houses, but its central area has had a somewhat chequered past. The area was developed on open fields shortly after the restoration of Charles II by Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans. He laid out a square which had fine new houses on three sides, but which, on the fourth, southern, side, consisted only of the backs of the houses already facing onto Pall Mall.

The central area though, was a problem and, for some reason, no-one seemed to take control of the ground and landscape it. At first it was simply a bare area decorated by ash heaps, rubbish, dead cats and dogs and a storage shed erected as a timber store. There is even a record of a man who ‘kept the ring in St James’s Square for cudgel playing.’! It was also the site of occasional grand firework displays. One of the most spectacular must have been to celebrate the Peace of Ryswick in December 1697 when 1,000 skyrockets, 2,400 ‘pumps with stars’, 15,000 ‘swarms’ 7,00 ‘reports’ and 22 rocket chests each with 40 rockets, were let off.

In February 1726 a petition was presented to the House of Commons complaining that the Square ‘had lain and doth lie rude and in great disorder.’ There were individuals ready to spend money on improvements but they needed an Act to be able to do so. It proceeded with great speed (presumably due to the exulted status of the local inhabitants of the area) and the Trustees were enabled to clean up and ‘adorn’ the Square. Things then proceed slowly until in February 1727 the decision was made to dig a ‘bason’ to be surrounded by an octagonal five foot high iron railing incorporating eight stone obelisks with lamps. This must be the work that is shown in Horwood’s map of 1795.

There were also plans for a statue of William III in brass, showing this very Protestant king ‘trampling down popery, breaking the chains of bondage, slavery etc.’ Nothing came of that, although it was discussed by the Trustees endlessly. Meanwhile the Trustees had to wrestle with the problems created by the fountain in the middle of the octagonal pond which stopped working . In 1778 its surrounding plinth was removed which produced  correspondence from a gentleman ‘who had some interest in the ducks’ that roosted on it. Whether he was a naturalist or a lover of roast duck is not clear. Finally the statue was erected, on a plain plinth, in 1807.

For some reason, in 1799, the Trustees were considering changing the octagonal enclosure to a round one and the Ackermann view of 1812 appears to show that this was done. A Committee for Lighting the Square was set up and it is, presumably, its preparatory work that The Courier was reporting on. However, the number of lamps was exaggerated – in the end twelve lamps were set up, plus one on the South side which was supplemented by four more paid for directly by the residents. The installation of these lamps makes St James’s Square the first public area to be lit by gas. Demonstration lights had been used in Pall Mall 1808-10, but they were not permanent until 1820.

Having routed, they hoped, streetwalkers, pickpockets and undesirables with their new lighting, the Trustees turned their attention to upgrading the centre of the Square and secured the services of John Nash, architect of Regent’s Street. Nash’s scheme included an iron fence around the pond and plantings of shrubs with paths weaving through them. The pond continued to be a nuisance with the need to keep cleaning it out and it was finally filled in during 1854. During the Second World War the railing were removed for scrap metal and the gardens converted to allotments. The present railings and gates date from 1974, the Square having narrowly escaped a proposed underground car park (1953) and a cost-cutting exercise by Westminster Council that would have fenced it with plastic-covered chain-link.

It is still possible to walk along gas-lit streets in the St James’s area, although now the gas lamps are on a timer system, not requiring a lamp lighter, except to change the timer seasonally. The photograph shows gas lamps in Crown Passage which cuts between Pall Mall and King Street.

 

 

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