Category Archives: Royal family

The Story of a Square 8: Soho Square

Soho Square was built in the 1680s by Richard Frith who had obtained a license indirectly from the landowner, the Earl of St Albans. The area had been farmland that had become a popular location for hunting and the most likely origin of the area’s name is that ‘So-Ho!’ was a hunting cry. By the 1670s building in the area was gaining momentum and it was popular with significant courtiers and aristocrats.

The Square had forty one houses by 1691 of which the most significant was Monmouth House on the south side, London home of Charles II’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth. The print of c. 1700 below looks south across the Square towards Monmouth House with its forecourt behind railings. Monmouth was executed after his failed rebellion against his uncle, King James II, in 1685. The house was eventually demolished in 1783. In John Evelyn’s Diary he records spending the winter of 1690 ‘at Soho, in the great Square.’

The Square was also known as King Square after Charles II. In 1720 John Strype wrote that the Square ‘hath very good Buildings on all Sides, especially the East and South, which are well inhabited by Nobility and Gentry.’ He described the garden in the centre as ‘a very large and open place, enclosed with a high Pallisado Pale, the Square within neatly kept, with Walks and Grass-plots, and in the midst is the Effigy of King Charles the Second, neatly cut in Stone to the Life, standing on a pedestal.’ It stood in a basin of water with figures representing the rivers Thames, Trent, Humber and Severn. The sculptor was Caius Gabriel Cibber. Stow’s view below looks north.

Soho or King’s Square, for ‘Stow’s Survey of London’, pub. 1754 by Nicholls, Sutton (fl.1700-40); hand coloured copper engraving; (out of copyright)

In 1748 a new wall and railings were erected. By 1839 the statues was ‘in a most wretchedly mutilated state’ and in the 1870s it was removed and sold, the last owner being  W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. A half-timbered tool shed was erected in its place. The statue was returned in 1938, but without its basin. The view is looking south to where Monmouth House once stood.

The most fashionable residents abandoned Soho Square in the 1770s and moved westwards towards Mayfair but the area remained respectable and desirable and many merchants and country gentlemen had houses there, with various foreign diplomatic missions as neighbours.

By the beginning of the 19th century the residents were mainly professional men such as lawyers, doctors, architects and auctioneers. On the corner with Greek Street is what is now the House of St Barnabas, a Grade I Listed house built between 1744-7 and leased in 1754 to Richard Beckford, an immensely wealthy Jamaican plantation owner. It is now a charity for the homeless – one wonders what the slave-owning Mr Beckford would have made of that.

In 1816 Trotter’s, or the Soho Bazaar, was opened at what is now 4-6, Soho Square.  John Trotter was an army contractor and had built numbers 4, 5 and 6 as a warehouse. Having made a vast fortune from the war he turned his warehouse into a bazaar, or indoor market, to offer an outlet for craftwork created by the widows and daughters of army officers. They could rent a counter or stall at a cost of 3d per day per foot and sold jewellery, millinery, baskets, gloves, lace, potted plants and books. There was also a druggist in the bazaar, as a charming children’s book entitled A Visit to the Bazaar (1818) shows. The little book was intended to explain the origins of such goods along with moral lessons and instructions on how to make some of them.

The highly successful venture was patronised by the royal family and lasted until 1885.

If you leave the Square today and go around to Dean Street you can peer through the iron gates at the back of the original warehouse.

The print of 1812 shows the south-west corner of the Square. Frith Street enters to the left and the entrance to Carlyle Street can be seen top right. A mixed herd of cattle and sheep are being driven towards Greek Street, perhaps heading for one of the butchers serving the numerous eating houses in the district.

Soho is a fascinating area to explore. You can find it in Walk 5 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks 5 and 6 in Walks Through Regency London and discover its treasures, even at this difficult time, with the help of StreetView.

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Queen Victoria’s Papa Designs a Clock Tower

In my last blog post I described my Canadian encounters with William, Duke of Clarence, destined to become William IV, and his beautiful, somewhat older lover, Mrs Frances Wentworth. Now to discover what his brother Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, was up to in Canada – and why he had cause to be grateful to Mrs Wentworth.

Edward (1767 – 1820) was the fourth son of George III and, like his older brother William, eventually married as part of the desperate race to produce a Hanoverian heir to the throne after the death of George IV’s daughter and only child, Princess Charlotte. Edward married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, widowed sister of Princess Charlotte’s husband Leopold. In 1819 Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born, destined to become Queen Victoria. But that was all in the future when Edward was in Canada.

Edward

Destined for a career in the army, all went well at first and in 1789 he was appointed Colonel of the 7th Regiment of Foot. However he returned home without leave and was sent to Gibraltar in disgrace on a much-reduced rank. He found the weather too hot for him, requested a transfer and was sent to Quebec in 1791. He was joined by his mistress, Julie St. Laurent (who eventually spent 28 years with him) and soon settled into Canadian society, although his military service did take him down to the West Indies where he served with distinction.

There are even rumours that Edward married Julie in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Quebec, but I cannot find any proof. It would have been invalid in any case as he needed the King’s permission to marry and a Roman Catholic ceremony would not have been accepted, even if, improbably, Julie had been.

Edward travelled widely in Canada and I encountered him in Annapolis Royal, a delightful historic town on the Bay of Fundy when I stayed in The Bailey House (shown in the photograph below). Edward was entertained here in the 1790s by the Totten family, refugee Loyalists from Westchester, New York. The house retains all its original 1770 features and it was a thrill to stay there.

Bailey House

From 1794 Edward was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, as Commander in Chief of Royal forces in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Halifax has a magnificent harbour and was the Royal Navy’s North American base. Towering above the harbour is the Citadel, a massively fortified military complex. I toiled up the hill in sweltering heat to view it and it is certainly impressive!

Edward brought Julie St. Laurent with him. She had been shunned by Quebec society so he must have been delighted to make the acquaintance the civilian Governor, Sir John Wentworth, and his wife Frances, who had been the lover of Edward’s brother, William.  They welcomed Julie, and the couples became close friends. Perhaps Frances understood the stresses of being a royal mistress!

Edward secured funding for the defenses of Halifax and was instrumental in many improvements in the city, including the building of the Round Church and the Garrison Clock which he apparently helped design. Unfortunately it is covered in netting and scaffolding for restoration at the moment, but it remains a significant landmark.

clock 2

Edward left Canada in 1800, still accompanied by Madame St. Laurent who remained with him until his marriage in 1818. They never returned to Canada.

 

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The Sailor Prince & the Society Lady – a Canadian Scandal

My surprise is down to my ignorance, obviously, but when I visited the Maritime Provinces of Canada last month I was intrigued to find myself bumping into two of George III’s sons at what seemed like every turn.

To begin with Prince William, (1765 – 1837), George III’s third son. He was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789 and succeeded his brother George IV to the throne as William IV in June 1830. I have to confess that I had always regarded him as a kind of stop-gap between the Hanoverian kings and his niece, Queen Victoria, who succeeded him. In contrast to George IV he appeared to be a much nicer character with good intentions. I knew he had a lively love life and had a mistress for twenty years – the actress Mrs Jordan who bore him ten children all bearing the surname FitzClarence. They split in 1811, apparently because of William’s money problems, and in 1818, after the death of his niece, and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, the fifty three year old prince married twenty five year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and joined the race to produce an heir, essential as it was clear that George IV would have no more children.

Against all the odds – their ages and his history of love affairs – this was a happy marriage and William stayed faithful, although it did not produce the hoped-for heir to the throne.

I also knew that William was a sailor. He joined the Royal Navy as a thirteen year-old midshipman and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. His naval career, culminating in his appointment by George IV as Lord High Admiral, led to his nickname, The Mariner King. The unkind caricature of 1827 below shows William in the centre and suggests that only the fool of the family is sent into the navy.

Dof C

William was the only member of the British royal family to visit America before or during the American Revolution and George Washington wrote to approve a plot to kidnap him: “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral…” Word of the plot reached the British and William suddenly found himself  with a large armed escort.

That was the extent of my knowledge of William, so I was surprised to come across him in the harbour town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. We were staying at the historic Mariner King inn, built in 1830, and there I discovered the history of William’s scandalous connection with the province.

William was captain of the frigate Pegasus and put into harbour at Halifax, further along the coast from Lunenburg, in 1786. He was twenty one, of an amorous disposition, and soon found himself in the bedchamber of Mrs Frances Wentworth, aged forty two.

Portrait_of_Mrs._Theodore_Atkinson_Jr._(Frances_Deering_Wentworth)Frances was the wife of the Governor of New Hampshire and, as Loyalists, they and many others had been forced to flee by the American forces. Apparently she was very unhappy in Canada, missed her son who was in London and fretted at her diminished social status. An affaire with a prince must have raised her morale considerably! However, her husband wrote to the King to complain and William was recalled to England. (In the painting above of 1765 by John Singleton Copley she was still married to her first husband, Theodore Atkinson. he was her cousin, as was John Wentworth whom she married withing a week of Theodore’s death. Image in public domain.)

It seems William returned to Mrs Wentworth’s company in 1787 and again in 1788, causing a scandal in Halifax society. She apparently brazened it out  “like a haughty Queen” and her husband John left the city to serve as H.M. Surveyor of Forests, a sinecure presumably organised by the King as a sweetener. He did receive some reward for his patient humiliation when, in 1791, he and Frances visited London. Frances renewed her acquaintanceship with the Prince and he helped secure the appointment of John as Governor of Nova Scotia. John was created a baronet in 1795. (He is shown in the undated portrait below. Artist unknown. Image in public domain.)

Governor_John_Wentworth

So, back to Lunenburg, founded in 1753. The second owner of what is now the Mariner King Inn was an enthusiastic supporter of the new monarch and named his brigantine, The William and so it must have seemed an appropriate name for an inn.

Lunenburg is a World heritage site, still laid out on the original grid pattern of 1753 by army surveyors and full of delightful, well-maintained, houses of the 18th and 19th century – it is well worth visiting if you ever find yourself in Nova Scotia. At the foot of this post is a glimpse of its colourful streets with 18th century houses, ‘updated’ in the 19th century.

In my next blog post I will explore the connection of William’s brother Edward with Canada – and we meet Mrs Wentworth again.

Lunenburg

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