Tag Archives: Soho Square

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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Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Employment, Royal family, Shopping, Walks

The Road to Waterloo: Week 17. The Battle is Fought, The Tourists Arrive, Napoleon Flees, The Regent Weeps

So much has been written – and is being written – about the battle of Waterloo itself that this post is not going to go into any details but will concentrate on what was known to be happening in London. (The detail below shows the fighting on the left wing of the battle.)
Waterloo left wing bottom strip
On the 18th Londoners were going about their normal Sunday business – attending church, followed, for the gentlemen, by reading the papers which had no up-to-date news from Flanders.

Readers could safely turn to lighter matters such as the report in t Marriages column: “Some days ago, at Gretna Green, Capt. Bontein, of the Life Guards, son of Sir G.B. to the daughter of Sir E. Stanley. The parties rode out from Lady Bontein’s to take an airing before dinner; they took post-chaise and four at Barnet, and proceeded to Gretna Green, wither they were unsuccessfully pursued by Lady Stanley. The only objection to the match, was, it is said, the age of the bride, who is under fourteen and has a handsome fortune. The parties have since been re-married in London.” Where, presumably, Captain Bontein was enjoying the company of his child bride and her handsome fortune while his comrades plunged into battle.

Elopementcattle on street
A glimpse into the state of the London streets, with vast herds of livestock being driven through them daily, is captured in the report that, “On Friday-forenoon, a large bullock that ran from a drove in Newgate-street, ran into the shop of Messrs. Baldwin & Co. booksellers, and the parlour door being open, he walked in, where there were three or four ladies sitting who were very much frightened…they were at length rescued… by a drover…all the furniture had to be piled in one corner to make room for the animal to turn around: he then walked out very deliberately.” The picture shows a detail from a print of Soho Square (Ackermann’s Repository 1812)
By Monday 19th there was still nothing in the newspapers, but rumours of three days’ fighting around Brussels were beginning to spread by word of mouth from the Channel couriers.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, the first tourists had arrived from Brussels, despite the desperate needs of the wounded in the city and on the battlefield, the state of the roads and the appalling scenes. In his Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, Kept through the Campaign of 1815, Cavalié Mercer, who commanded G Troop Royal Horse Artillery during the battle, records some of the very first tourists. On the morning of the 19th he recalls surveying the field, helping get water to the wounded and seeing his men were fed, surrounded by mangled corpses and the wounded. “We had not yet finished our meal, when a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field. As they passed near us, it was amusing to see the horror with which they eyed our frightful figures; they all, however, pulled off their hats and made us low bows. One, a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, in a high cocked-hat, came to our circle, and entered into conversation with me on the events of yesterday. He approached holding a delicately white perfumed handkerchief to his nose; stepping carefully to avoid the bodies (at which he cast fearful glances en passant), to avoid polluting the glossy silken hose that clothed his nether limbs…With a world of bows my man took leave, and proceeded, picking his steps with the same care as he followed the route of his companions in the direction of Hougoumont.”

Waterloo after battle0001
Finally some hard news reached the London papers on Tuesday 20th June, albeit four days out of date. Under the headline, “Commencement of Hostilities” the Morning Post reported, “Yesterday afternoon an Officer arrived with dispatches from the Duke of WELLINGTON, announcing the important fact of BONAPARTE having, soon after his arrival on the frontiers, put his army in motion, and attacked the Prussian outpost at Givet. This took place on the morning of the 16th, on the evening of which day a Prussian officer arrived in Brussels to communicate the intelligence to the Duke of WELLINGTON. His Grace lost not a moment in putting his whole army in motion…A general battle has in all probability ere taken place. In Heaven we trust that our confident hopes in regard to it will be speedily and completely realised.”
The Morning Post on the 21st reported rumours of a great battle and stated that, “an Officer was on the road to London with the official accounts, and in the meantime the report brought by MR SUTTON, the Packet Agent [ie in charge of the mail boats] was sufficiently circumstantial to prove its authenticity.” The article repeated the news about the 16th and stated that Wellington had brought Bonaparte into “a sanguinary contest” on the 17th. News of the death of General Picton was given, but all the details were unclear.
By now Napoleon had reached Paris and late that same evening Wellington’s exhausted aide Henry Percy arrived in London, having started out a few hours after the battle with the Duke’s dispatches and two captured eagles. He travelled day and night, with the eagles poking out of the chaise window, and reached Horse Guards between eleven and midnight. He found no-one in authority but eventually tracked Lord Liverpool down who insisted they go immediately to tell the Prince Regent who was dining with the Duke of York at Mrs. Boehm’s house (now no.14) in St. James’s Square.
Lord Liverpool, followed by footmen carrying the eagles, announced to the Prince Regent, “I have brought Major Percy, who comes with the news of a great victory for your Royal Highness.”
“Not Major Percy, but Lieut.-Colonel Percy,” said the Prince as Percy knelt and kissed his hand. ” We have not suffered much loss, I hope.”
“The loss has been very great indeed,” replied Percy and the Regent burst into tears. Major Percy was finally to escape and go to bed for the first time since the battle.
The second edition of the Morning Post on the morning of the 22nd carried “Official Bulletin of the Complete Overthrow of Bonaparte’s Army With a List of the British Officers Killed or Wounded.” The dispatch was brief and to the point, the list of casualties very long – and that was just the officers. Londoners would have been left in no doubt that a great victory had been won at enormous cost. The Morning Post wrote, “With hearts gratefully elate (sic) and all thanks due to Heaven for the event, we have this day the supreme happiness of announcing one of the most complete and comprehensive victories ever attained, even by British valour…While Bonaparte… coward at heart…narrowly effected his escape.”
As Londoners were reading the news, in Paris Napoleon was abdicating in favour of his son.

The first tourists were soon to be followed by a positive flood – the grieving, the curious, the poetic, the patriotic – and the souvenir hunting. You can meet a selection here.

New cover

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Filed under Accidents & emergencies, Agriculture, Battle of Waterloo, Love and Marriage, Napoleon, Prince Regent, Waterloo, Wellington