CHAPTER 26: NELSON SQUARE
Nelson Square was laid out circa 1807 on land, previously demesne
land of the manor of Paris Garden, belonging to Sir Francis Lindley Wood,
ancestor of Lord Halifax. (ref. 258) The houses on the north side were completed
and occupied by 1808, but the square was not fully tenanted until 1814. (ref. 248)
William Hansard (ref. 250) seems to have built most of the houses in the square and
it seems likely that Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who was certainly concerned
with several of the houses there, designed the whole.
Nelson Square. Plan based on Ordnance Survey
The houses are of stock brickwork with a few ground floor fronts
stuccoed. The east and part of the north sides are of three storeys with
segmental headed dormers in a slated mansard roof above a parapet, but those
on the south side, together with some on the north, are of four and five
storeys without dormers.
The front doors, with their surrounds and patterned fanlights, are of
varied design. Many of the ground floor window heads retain their original
curved sash bars. The majority of the houses have iron balconies of varying
patterns at first floor level. The railings to the basements are of plain spearhead type, some with iron lampholders over the gateways.
No. 43 Nelson Square
The upper window openings have gauged brick arches and plain
reveals, those on the first floor, in a number of cases, being set in gauged
brick semicircular arched recesses. The ground floor openings are generally
Nos. 31–35 Nelson Square
Nos. 1–6 have been replaced by a commercial building and many of
the houses in the square have been badly damaged or destroyed by enemy
action. The whole square is being acquired for a housing scheme by the
Southwark Borough Council.
A sketch of the pump, which used to stand in the square and is now
in the churchyard of St. Mary Newington, is reproduced on p. 132.
Few of the inhabitants of Nelson Square have attained eminence. The outstanding
exception was Percy Bysshe Shelley who took lodgings at No. 26 as a tenant of Thomas Lillo on
9th November, 1814. Shelley's fortunes were at a very low ebb at this time and his anxieties were
increased by the ill-health of Mary Godwin and the difficult temperament of "Claire" (Mary
Jane Clairmont), both of whom were living with him. (ref. 255) In January, 1815, his grandfather died
and Shelley was able to find relief from his financial worries by selling his reversionary interest in the
Shelley estates to his father. He moved to Hans Place on 8th February, 1815. In 1932 the London
County Council erected a memorial tablet on No. 26, Nelson Square.
Nos. 17 and 56 Nelson Square. Doors. Measured drawings by R. G. Absolon
William Hansard, the builder of the square, lived at No. 1 from 1808 to 1814, and
Augustus Applegarth, brother in-law and partner of Edward Cowper, inventor of printing machinery,
was at No. 24 from 1813 to 1818.
Messrs. Lincoln & Bennett, hat manufacturers, occupied No. 24 from 1862 to 1932 and
for some years they also tenanted the houses on either side.
In 1891 the Women's University Settlement took over No. 44. They now occupy Nos.
Thomas Barnes, editor of The Times, was at No. 48 from 1826 to 1831 and at No. 49
from 1832 to 1835.
Sir Charles Aldis, surgeon, lived at No. 57 (formerly 53) from 1808 to 1812 and at
No. 49 from 1813 to 1830, being the first occupant of both houses. He was for a time surgeon to the
parish of Christ Church. A short account of him is given in the Dictionary of National Biography.
His wife died in Nelson Square in 1822.
Old pump originally in Nelson Square. Sketch by F. A. Evans