XXXVII.—NOS. 55 AND 56, GREAT QUEEN
The United Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons
General description and date of structure.
The largest of the three sections into which Aldwych Close was
divided, when roads were formed thereon, was that lying to the south of
Great Queen Street, and east of Wild Street. In 1618 (fn. 1) Henry Holford
leased to John Ittery the southern portion of this section, and on 13th
August, 1629, Richard Holford sold the remainder to Sir William Cawley
and George Strode in trust for Sir Edward Stradling and Sir Kenelm
Digby. (fn. 2) A wall was erected parallel to Great Queen Street, and distant
from it 197 feet, dividing Stradling's part from Digby's. The later history
of Stradling's portion, lying to the south of the dividing wall, is dealt
with later. (fn. 3) Here we are concerned with that in the ownership of Sir
Kenelm Digby, forming the site of the houses and gardens on the south
side of Great Queen Street as far as Aldwych Close extended. The ground in
question (including that purchased by Sir Edward Stradling) is described on
13th August, 1629, as "late in the tenure of Richard Brett and John Parker," (fn. 4)
and a petition of the inhabitants of the district, dated (fn. 5) 1st September,
1629, states that Parker and Brett had "divers times attempted to build
on a little close called Old Witch, which has always lain open, free to
all persons to walk therein, and sweet and wholesome for the King and his
servants to pass towards Theobalds." It is further alleged that Parker and
Brett had been imprisoned for these attempts, "but now they have pulled
down the bridges and stiles, and carried great store of bricks thither, and
give forth threatening speeches that they will go forward." The petitioners
asked that the proposed buildings might be stopped, and expressed their
willingness to take a lease of the close and plant trees.
Parker and Brett seem in this latest instance to have been merely
acting for Sir Kenelm Digby, for the report (fn. 6) of the Commissioners for
Buildings, made only nine days later, definitely mentions the latter as
the person desirous of building. The Commissioners expressed themselves
as adverse to Digby's proposal, which for a time dropped.
On 27th March, 1630, both Digby and Stradling petitioned for a
licence for each "to build a house with stables and coach houses in Old
Witch Close." The Attorney–General was instructed to draw the licence,
but although Stradling in due course built his mansion (fn. 7) , there is no evidence
that Digby ever availed himself of the permission.
The ground seems to have been used as a garden (fn. 8) until 1635. On
13th April in that year Digby sold it to William Newton for building purposes. No licence to Newton to build can be traced, but on 7th May, 1636,
one was granted to Sir Robert Dalyell, (fn. 9) who probably assigned it to Newton.
From that document (fn. 10) it appears that the intention was to build "14 faire
dwelling houses or tenementes to conteyne in front one with another neere
40 (fortie) feete a peice fitt for the habitacon of able men." Permission to
build that number of houses "to front only towards Queene's Streete"
was granted, as well as "twelve coach howses and stables in some remote
part of the said ground," all to be built of brick or stone, "according to the
true intent and meaning of our Proclamations in that behalfe published."
Newton seems to have taken care that the houses erected on that
part of Great Queen Street which was on the site of Purse Field should
conform generally to the style of those built in accordance with the abovementioned licence on the site of Aldwych Close (fn. 11) . The houses as a whole
occupied 13 ground plots, having a total frontage of about 628 feet, and a
depth of 200 feet. Their general character was the same throughout;
the main cornices and front roofs were continuous, but the pilasters were so
arranged as to indicate the separate buildings without the usual expedient
of placing a pilaster partly on one plot and partly on another. (fn. 12) On the
middle house was placed a statue of Charles I.'s Queen, Henrietta Maria.
It has already been noticed (fn. 13) that Newton a few years later adorned the
central house in Lincoln's Inn Fields with a crowned female bust, and
there can be no doubt that this was also in honour of the Queen.
Signature of William Newton.
Various statements have been made as to the designer of the houses
on the south side of Great Queen Street. Horace Walpole, in his Anecdotes
of Painting (fn. 14) writes as follows: "Vertue says that Mr. Mills, one of the
four surveyors appointed after the fire of London, built the large houses in
Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, but this must be a mistake, as we have
seen in the preceding volume that Gerbier, a contemporary, and rival,
ascribed them to Webb." It is known (fn. 15) that Peter Mills built the original
houses on the site of Nos. 66 to 68, Great Queen Street, but there is no
evidence that he had any hand in the erection of other houses on the south
side of the street.
The reference concerning Gerbier [1591 ?—1667], to which Walpole
alludes as occurring in his previous volume, seems to be the following:
"He [Gerbier] ridicules the heads of lions, which are creeping through the
pilasters on the houses in Great Queen Street built by Webb, the scholar
of Inigo Jones." If this ascription could be found in any of Gerbier's
works it would be very valuable evidence, but it has not been discovered,
and the passage relating to the pilasters contains no mention of Webb. (fn. 16)
Bagford [1650–1716], writing somewhat later, says: (fn. 17) "He [Inigo
Jones] built Queen Street, also designed at first for a square, and as reported
at ye charge of ye Jesuits; in ye middle whereof was left a niche for ye
statue of Henrietta Maria, and this was ye first uniform street and ye
houses are stately and magnificent. … These buildings were ye designes
of ye Ld. Arundell, who was ye first that introduced brick building into
England (I mean for private houses)."
That some architect was commissioned by Newton to design the
facade, and possibly the principal internal features, is most probable;
but the above evidence is unfortunately not sufficient to enable him to be
Hollar's careful engraving (Plate 3) shows the long straight roof of the
road frontage, but the rear elevations show that the roofs were varied for
individual houses and were treated with gables. Whoever was the designer
of the façade to Great Queen Street, he was probably employed by Newton
as architect for the houses built on the west side of Lincoln's Inn Fields
three years afterwards. These show a distinct advance in design, being
treated as a single symmetrical composition, with a central feature composed of three houses of increased height, the side wings being of equal
lengths. (fn. 18)
The beautiful drawings by J.W. Archer (fn. 19) reproduced on Plate 16
exemplify the similarity of the two designs to a very marked degree, the
only important difference in detail being that in Great Queen Street the
Corinthian order was employed, in Lincoln's Inn Fields the Ionic.
A description of the exterior of the only remaining fragment of the
Great Queen Street houses, Nos. 55 and 56, will suffice for the whole. The
front is constructed mostly of brick, the ground storey having originally
formed a simple base for the Corinthian order of pilasters. These embrace
the height of the first and second stories, the bases and capitals being of
stone, the ornament of the latter boldly carved, and the volutes and abacus
spreading to an unusual extent. (Plates 18 and 19.)
The pilasters were ornamented, if, as seems probable, it is to these
houses that Gerbier referred when, writing about 25 years after their
erection, he criticised certain "incongruities" perpetrated by those
pretending knowledge in ornaments "by placing between windows pilasters
through whose bodies lions are represented to creep; as those in Queen
Street without any necessity, or ground for the placing lions so ill." (fn. 20) These
lions were probably of stucco, and affixed to the pilasters in a position
similar to that of the ornaments of the Tudor rose and fleur de lis on the
houses in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and those at the eastern end of the north
side of Great Queen Street. (fn. 21) Walpole, (fn. 22) writing in 1763, continued the
ridicule of these offending ornaments, but by 1783 they must have been
removed, for the engraving by Bottomley of the Freemasons' Tavern
(Plate 22) does not show them, nor can they now be traced on the brickwork of the pilasters.
Between the first and second floor windows is introduced a slightly
projecting ornamental device in brickwork, of somewhat Jacobean character,
which on the façade of the houses in Lincoln's Inn Fields was represented
by a band, formerly seen at No. 2, Portsmouth Street. The same
feature is also shown in the Wilton House picture of Lincoln's Inn Fields. (fn. 23)
Above the capitals the entablature has been much restored, and its
former beauty correspondingly diminished. The architrave appears to
have been of wood, with three fascias (Plate 19), and crowning this is the
bed mould of the cornice, which has large wooden modillions, shaped and
enriched with acanthus leaves.
The modillions support a cyma and fascia with panelled soffit, the
cyma forming the front of a leaden gutter.
Surmounting the cornice was the high pitched roof, shown by
Hollar, with hipped dormer windows, of one and two lights alternating.
Though none of them retain the whole of their original construction, the
two on the right of the illustration may possibly be in their original form.
The present Nos. 55 and 56 represent one half of what must have
been the largest of the houses. (fn. 24) This was the mansion of which one of
the earliest occupiers was the Earl of St. Albans (Marquess of Clanricarde).
The house may be identified in two ways. (1) The frontages of the
house of the Earl of St. Albans, and of the three houses to the east, are
stated to be 88 (fn. 25) , 44, 44 and 88 feet respectively, and the last mentioned
house is said to be bounded on the east by a gateway, which, from the
description, was obviously Middle Yard. The western boundary of the
four houses in question may thus be shown to correspond with the western
side of New Yard, i.e., the western boundary of No. 55. (2) On 23rd
January and 8th February, 1639–40, Newton sold certain plots of ground,
containing frontages of 41 and 45½ feet, having a depth of 190 feet, and
after 120 feet diminishing in width from 83 to 60 feet. These plots are
stated to be bounded on the east by the dwelling house and garden of the
Earl of St. Albans. From the shape of the property disclosed by the
above figures, and the actual frontages given, there can be no doubt that
the houses afterwards erected thereon occupied the sites of the present
Nos. 51 to 54. (fn. 26) The house of the Earl of St. Albans was therefore No. 55
The house was already in existence in January, 1637–8, (fn. 27) and as the
licence for building had only been obtained in May, 1636, the erection
of the house may, with practical certainty, be assigned to the year 1637.
In the 1638 deed it is described as "all that one new erected
double messuage or tenement with appurtenances, scituate in Queenes
Streete … contayninge in front towardes Queenes Streete aforesaid
88 feet … and sydinge eastwards upon the house in the tenure of the
Lord Leiger Embassador of Spayne, together with a gardyn plott lyinge
on the back side of the said messuage and adjoyninge thereunto."
The original mansion therefore occupied the site of the present Nos.
55 and 56, and adjoining property in New Yard, together with that of
the western block of the present Freemasons' Buildings.
The first division of the house took place in, or shortly after, 1684.
In that year Lord Belasyse purchased the property, and at the date of
his will, five years later, the house had for some time been in double
The division had, however, not been carried out in a very thorough
fashion. In 1718 it was stated that "there are severall roomes, chambers and
other apartments … which interfere or mix within each other very inconvenient for separate familyes to inhabit therein severally and apart
from each other." In that year, therefore, an arrangement (fn. 28) was made
whereby "the kitchen under a roome heretofore called … Mr. Stonor's
dressing-roome, (fn. 29) the larder backwardes next the garden under part of a
room … called Mr. Stonor's bedchamber … which were then
both used and enjoyed with the house in possession of … Henry Browne
… were to be added to the inheritance of the house of the said Thos.
Stonor in exchange" for "the cellar under the foreparlour next Queen
Street, and the uppermost room or garrett over the said parlour, the
lesser celler adjoyning to that last before mentioned cellar and the room
backwards next the garden up two pair of stairs over the back parlour,
and upper with drawing roome," structurally part of Browne's house, but
occupied as part of Stonor's.
Other alterations took place in 1732–3, when the western half was
divided, and probably portions of the present party wall, to the east of No.
56, date from this and the earlier period.
During the last century many further alterations and partial rebuildings were carried out. Shortly before 1816, the extensive grounds in the
rear were utilised for buildings, for in a deed (fn. 30) of that year reference is made
to "all those stables, coach houses and workshops and premises erected
… in New Yard … and which before the erecting of the said …
stables, coach houses, shops and other premises, was a garden ground."
Subsequently the external west wall was re-built, and the southwestern premises, extending over the entrance to the yard (see Plate 17)
The eastern half of the original mansion seems to have been demolished between 1840 and 1846, for J. Nash, in a sketch made in the
former year, gives the
whereas Archer in 1846
(Plate 16) shows a
commonplace building on the site of the
Nos. 55–58, GREAT QUEEN STREET IN 1840.
Having regard to
the many alterations
which the premises
have undergone, it is
not surprising that
very little of the
first building is
left. Of the original
walls remaining, that
to the street is the
Several of the chimney breasts, and parts
of the walls to which
they are attached, are
also original work, but
it is extremely doubtful if any of the external walls at the rear is
coeval with the erection of the house. This will account for the fact
that Evelyn's "long gallery" (fn. 31) no longer exists.
The notable feature of No. 55 internally is the staircase. Although
the treads and risers are modern, the deal balustrading between the ground
and first floors may date from the erection of the house in 1637, or from
its re-occupation by the Digby family after the Restoration, i.e., before
1664 (see p. 52). The staircase extends from the ground to the first
floor. It is constructed of straight strings, moulded and carved;
the centre moulding has a band of laurel leaves and berries alternating
with oak leaves, acorns and oak apples, while the upper member
is enriched with acanthus. The three newels are square. The
one at the ground floor level rests on the 19th-century floor, and
has a simple capping of mouldings similar to those on the handrail.
The newel at the half landing is of similar design to that below and
receives the strings of both flights. The newel at the first floor level has a
modern capping, but carries the original pendant below, the enrichment
taking the form of the open flower of a waterlily. The balusters are
turned as ornamental pillars, their capitals being floriated together with
the vase-like swellings included in their bases. Two of the base members
are also carved. The handrail of the lower flight is notched and fitted to
the string of the upper, the mouldings continue along the string downwards
to the newel, and a triangular panel fills the spandril space beneath
instead of diminishing balusters.
The simple character of the elliptical archway at the end of the passage leading from the street to the staircase may be noted.
On the second floor of No. 56, is a deal balustrade (Plate 21),
which doubtless formed part of the original staircase landing, but has
now been adapted to protect an opening in the floor. The detail is very
similar to that of the staircase formerly at No. 52, Lincoln's Inn Fields, (fn. 32)
which was erected shortly after this date.
The panelling of the room at the end of the ground floor passage is
apparently contemporary with the erection of the house.
The present front room on the second floor was at first two separate
apartments. Near the end of the 17th or early in the 18th century, a wide
opening was formed in the partition, the original door and doorway, and
part of the surrounding wall being, however, left. Probably at the same
time, the little lobby and powder closet were formed. The latter has a
small opening in its southern wall.
The small staircase in front of the opening leading to the attics
appears to have been erected about 1732–3, as also the portion of the staircases leading from the second to the first floors, and a short length of
balustrading (Plate 21) at the first floor level.
The front room on the ground floor was dismantled early in the
19th century and nothing of interest is left.
Condition of Repair.
The premises are in good repair.
The indenture (fn. 33) relating to the sale of the freehold by Newton on 26th
October, 1639, to Sir Henry Compton, Sir Lewis Dive and Thos. Brewer, refers
to the house as "late in the tenure of the Rt. Hon. Thomas, Lord Arundell, Baron of
Warder, now deceased."
Thomas Arundell, first Baron Arundell of Wardour, was born in 1560. He
greatly distinguished himself in the wars against the Turks in Hungary, and for his
valour, was, in 1590, created Count of the Holy Roman Empire. He was raised to
the English peerage by James I. in 1605, and died in 1639.
In the sale mentioned above, Compton, Dive and Brewer were acting on behalf
of the Marquess of Clanricarde, and the latter is referred to as actually in occupation
of the house in January, 1639–40. (fn. 34)
Ulick De Burgh, Marquess of Clanricarde, Earl of St. Albans, was born "in
Clanricarde House, Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London" (fn. 35) in 1604.
The exact position of this house is not known, but it must have been on the north
side of the street, as the south was not built on for many years afterwards. From
his father he inherited, together with the viscounty of Galway, vast estates and an
enormous influence in the south of Ireland. He sat in the Short Parliament, and
accompanied the King in his expedition against the Scots in 1640. His occupation
of the house on the south side was brief, for in September, 1641, he disposed of the
property to the Earl of Bristol. (fn. 36) In the summer of the latter year (fn. 37) he had taken
up his residence in Ireland. During the troublous times that followed the
outbreak of the Irish rebellion in that year, Clanricarde played a prominent
part. Although many of his relatives joined the Irish Confederation, he alone
among the Irish Roman Catholic nobility remained loyal to the king, kept Galway,
of which he was governor, neutral, and made "his houses and towns a refuge, nay
even a hospital, for the distressed English." (fn. 38) When the Viceroy, Ormonde, quitted
Ireland in 1650, Clanricarde was appointed his deputy, but his efforts against the
parliamentary forces were rendered fruitless by the distrust with which he was regarded
by many of the Irish royalists. In 1652 he received Charles's permission to make
the best terms possible with the parliamentarians, and articles were accordingly
concluded, by virtue of which he was able in the same year to withdraw from Ireland.
Though expressly excepted by statute from pardon for life and estate, he was enabled,
by permits renewed from time to time, to retire for the remainder of his life to his
seat at Summerhill, Kent, where he died in 1657. Though he was the object of
bitter denunciation by the native Irish faction, he has earned the commendation
of Hallam as being "perhaps the most unsullied character in the annals of Ireland." (fn. 39)
John Digby, first Earl of Bristol, who followed Clanricarde in the occupation
of the house in Great Queen Street, was the son of Sir George Digby, of Coleshill,
Warwickshire, and was born in 1580. He gained the favour of James I. and was
knighted in 1607. Four years later he was sent as ambassador to Madrid, and from
that time until 1624 was frequently employed on diplomatic missions of first-rate
importance. In 1618 he was raised to the peerage, and in 1622 was created Earl
of Bristol. In the following year, while engaged at Madrid in connection with a
project for the marriage of the Infanta Maria and Prince Charles, he managed to
offend bitterly both the latter and Buckingham, who had come to Spain on a surprise
visit. In 1624 he came home and found himself in disgrace. For the first few
years of Charles's reign, he continued to be an object of the king's resentment and
spent several months in the Tower. After 1628 he took no part in politics until the
war against the Scots in 1639. He was the leader of the Great Council held at York
in 1640. Though he came forward in the Long Parliament as a reformer of the
government, yet when it became necessary to take up a definite side in the civil strife
he threw in his lot with the king. He was with him at Oxford for some time
after the battle of Edgehill, removing thence to Sherborne, and subsequently, in
1644, to Exeter. On the capitulation of that city to Fairfax in 1646, he was given
a pass to go beyond the seas. He died in Paris in 1653, and by his will (fn. 40) bequeathed
to his second son, John, his house in Queen Street. This house had formed his residence at the most from September, 1641, to some time before the battle of Edgehill
in October, 1642. By the parliament he was regarded with peculiar abhorrence, due
partly, no doubt, to the acts of his uncontrollable son, and in August, 1644, an ordinance was passed providing inter alia that "the house of John, Earl of Bristol … in
Queen Street … with the gardens, stables, edifices and buildings thereunto belonging, with their appurtenances, heretofore the mansion house of the said Earl of
Bristoll," should be granted to Lady Brooke for her life, and after her decease to
her youngest son, Fulke Greville.
There is, however, no evidence that Lady Brooke (fn. 41) ever lived there, and the
next record that has been found as to the occupation of Bristol House is contained
in a deed (fn. 42) of 1654, by which Antony Wither purchased from the "Trustees for the
Sale of Estates forfeited for Treason, all that messuage or tenement … situate
in the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields … in a streete there called Queene Streete
… late in the tenure or occupation of Thomas, Lord Fayrfax, and now or late
in the tenure … of Sir William Paston, Knt., … which said premises … are
mentioned to have bin late parcell of the possessions of John, Earle of Bristoll …
whose estate hath bin and is thereby declared and adjudged to be justly forfeited
by him for his treason against the Parliament and people of England."
Thomas Fairfax, third Baron Fairfax, was the son of Ferdinando, second Lord
Fairfax, and was born at Denton, in Yorkshire, on 17th January, 1612. He served
in the Low Countries under Sir Horace Vere, whose daughter he afterwards married.
He held a command during the first Scotch war, and was knighted by the king in
January, 1640. On the outbreak of the Civil War he took up arms on behalf of the
Parliament and gained great distinction. In 1645, consequent upon the compulsory
retirement of officers who were members of either house (his father among others),
he was appointed to the chief command of the parliamentary forces. He arrived
in London on 18th February, accompanied by his uncle, Sir William Constable, (fn. 43)
and two or three officers, and took up his quarters at "the house in Queen Street,
Lincoln's Inn, which had been hired for the new general during his stay in London." (fn. 44)
During his absence in the field his house in Queen Street was occupied by his father,
with whom he kept up a constant correspondence. (fn. 45) In June, 1645, Fairfax amply
vindicated the Parliament's choice by his annihilation of the royal army at Naseby,
and on 12th November, 1646, having brought the first portion of the Civil War to a
successful close, he returned to London to receive the thanks of Parliament and of
the City. Accompanied by dense crowds, "he was conducted to his house in Queen
Street, Lincoln's Inn amidst deafening cheers and the ringing of bells; and was
received at the door by his wife and his father, the old lord, with his new bride." (fn. 46)
Two days later both houses of Parliament paid a congratulatory visit to Fairfax
in his house in Queen Street. His father died in March, 1648. In the second portion
of the Civil War, which began later on in the same year, Fairfax was at first principally
occupied with the siege of Colchester, and his execution of Lucas and Lisle on the
surrender of that town in July, 1648, though bitterly denounced, seems not to have
been without justification. In the events which led up to the death of Charles in
1649 he seems to have been an unwilling instrument of the army. In 1650 he
resigned the commandership-in-chief, to which he had again been elected, rather
than take part in the attack on Scotland, and during the whole of the remaining
period, until the death of Cromwell, he lived in retirement at Nun Appleton, in
Yorkshire. He took a leading part in bringing about the Restoration, but after that
was successfully accomplished he again retired to Nun Appleton, where he spent the
rest of his days in religious exercises. He died on 16th October, 1665.
As the house in Great Queen Street had been provided by Parliament for use
as his official residence, his occupation of it probably ceased on his resignation in
Of Sir William Paston's residence we have but little record. There is, however,
a letter from him, headed "Queen Street," and presumably written from this house,
dated 30th January, 1650–51. (fn. 47) The deed mentioned above leaves it uncertain whether
he was, in June, 1654, still in occupation of the house. (fn. 48) He had been high sheriff
of Norfolk in 1636, was created a baronet in June, 1642, and died in February, 1663.
He was the father of the first Earl of Yarmouth.
At the Restoration the house again came into the hands of the Digby
family. In a deed of 6th January, 1663–4, (fn. 49) it is referred to as "now in the
tenure of George, Earl of Bristol, or his assignes," and in the Hearth Tax Rolls for
1665 and 1666, the Earl of Bristol is shown as in occupation of the house. This
was George, the second Earl, who was born at Madrid, in October, 1612. When
only twelve years old he appeared at the bar of the House of Commons on behalf
of his father, who had been committed to the Tower, and his graceful person, gallant
bearing, and eloquent speech made a great impression. He enjoyed a distinguished
career at Oxford, and afterwards displayed some literary ability in the Letters between
the Lord George Digby and Sir Kenelm Digby, Knt., concerning Religion, written in
1638–9. He entered Parliament in 1640, where, although at first hostile to the Court,
he afterwards became one of its strongest adherents. He was responsible for the
proposal for the prosecution of the five members, and even suggested that they should
be followed into the City and taken by force. In February, 1642, he was impeached
of high treason and fled to Holland, but soon returned. In September, 1643, he
was appointed one of the secretaries of state, and as one of the king's chief advisers
did incalculable harm to the royal cause. In October, 1645, he was made lieutenantgeneral of the royal forces north of the Trent, and was defeated at Sherburn. The
next few years he spent chiefly in Ireland, whence, on its surrender to the Parliament,
he escaped to the Continent, gaining and losing favour in France, joining Prince Charles
at Bruges and accompanying him to Spain. In 1657 he became a Roman Catholic.
On the Restoration he returned to England. Being debarred from office on account
of his religion, his energy found vent in an unreasoning hostility to Clarendon, in which
he went so far that he provoked the keenest resentment on the part of the king, and
had to remain in concealment for nearly two years. He died at Beaufort House,
Chelsea, (fn. 50) in March, 1677, leaving behind him a reputation for brilliant but misdirected ability.
His residence in Great Queen Street seems to have terminated before 1671, (fn. 51)
for under date of 26th May in that year, Evelyn records: "The Earl of Bristol's
house in Queen Street was taken for the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations,
and furnished with rich hangings of the King's. It consisted of seven rooms on a
floor, with a long gallery, gardens, etc. … We then took our places at the Board
in the Council Chamber, a very large roome furnished with atlasses, maps, charts,
globes, etc." (fn. 52) Evelyn had only recently (see Diary for 28th February) been appointed
on the Council of Foreign Plantations, (fn. 53) and the above entry refers to the first occasion
on which he attended as a member, and gives no clue as to the date on which the house
had been taken for the use of either of the Commissions. (fn. 54) On 12th February,
1671–2, Evelyn records the determination of the Council to meet in future at
Whitehall. (fn. 55)
The Hearth Tax Rolls for 1673 and 1675 show the Earl of Devonshire as
then in occupation of the house. He would, indeed, seem to have acquired most
of the interests in the premises by or before July, 1667, (fn. 56) and it is quite possible that
his residence extended on both sides of the short occupation by the Boards of Trade
William Cavendish, third Earl of Devonshire, was born in 1617. He derived
his education in part from his father's old tutor, Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher,
in whose company he travelled abroad from 1634 to 1637. At the beginning
of the Civil War he embraced the royalist cause, and on being impeached by Parliament, refused to submit, and left the country. In 1645 he returned to England,
and on payment of a large fine received a pardon for his former delinquency. During
the remainder of the Commonwealth period he lived in retirement at Latimers,
in Buckinghamshire, and even after the Restoration he resided mainly in the country.
He was one of the original fellows of the Royal Society, and in 1669 was appointed
a commissioner of trade. (fn. 57) He died in 1684 at Roehampton.
In June, 1674, the Earl of Devonshire had sold the remainder of the original 99
years' lease of the house to the Earl of Sunderland, (fn. 58) who in the Jury Presentment
Roll for 1683 is shown in occupation of the house. He parted with his interests
in the property in April, 1684, and his occupation may therefore with reasonable
certainty be assigned to the period 1674–84. (fn. 59)
Robert Spencer, second Earl of Sunderland, the only son of Henry Spencer,
the first Earl, and "Sacharissa," was born in 1640, and succeeded to the earldom
only three years later. In 1665 he married Lady Anne Digby, younger daughter
of the second Earl of Bristol. In preparation for his future political career, he now
began paying court to the royal favourites, and in 1671 invited Mdlle. de Keroualle
(afterwards Duchess of Portsmouth) "to his town house in Queen Street, and lost
enormous sums to her at basset." (fn. 60) This can hardly have been Bristol House, for
the facts seem quite inconsistent with Sunderland's residence there so early as 1671.
More probably it was his mother's house at the eastern end of Great Queen Street.
From 1671 to 1678 he was employed on several diplomatic errands abroad. In 1679
he became secretary of state for the northern department, but in 1681 incurred
the king's displeasure, and consequently lost both his secretaryship and his seat on the
Privy Council. Afterwards he regained his place by the influence of the Duchess
of Portsmouth, and on the accession of James II. in 1685 he speedily ingratiated
himself with the new king, who made him Lord President of the Council. While
assiduously cultivating James's favour, he was also receiving a substantial secret pension
from Louis XIV. for the promotion of French interests, and through his wife's lover,
Henry Sidney, was furnishing William of Orange with particulars of the most secret
transactions of the English Court. By degrees his position became more and more
difficult and, although in 1687 he had embraced the Roman Catholic faith, not all
his duplicity could prevent the growing dissatisfaction with which James regarded
what he considered as his lukewarm service, and in 1688 he was dismissed and fled to
Holland. Though excepted from the Act of Indemnity, he was in 1691 permitted
to return to England. He declared himself again a Protestant, and his advice soon
became indispensable to William. His influence gradually grew until in 1697 all
the hatred and jealousy with which he was regarded came to a head, and he resigned
in a panic. The rest of his life he passed in seclusion at Althorp, and he died in
1702. "With the possible exception of Northumberland in Edward VI.'s reign, it is
doubtful whether English history has to show a more crafty and unprincipled
intriguer." (fn. 61)
In the course of 1684 all interests in the house in Great Queen Street were
acquired (fn. 62) by John, Lord Belasyse, (fn. 63) and the premises were now divided into two,
afterwards respectively Nos. 55–56, and Nos. 57–58. The later history of the latter
will come naturally under the head of the Freemasons' Hall, a part of which now
occupies the site.
As regards Nos. 55–56, we learn that prior to 1689 (fn. 64) this portion of the original
mansion had been occupied by the Duke of Norfolk.
Henry Howard, seventh Duke of Norfolk, was born in January, 1655, and succeeded to the title in January, 1684. He was noted for his staunch Protestantism.
He joined in the invitation to the Prince of Orange, and on the latter's landing brought
over the eastern counties to his interest. He died at Norfolk House. St. James's
Square, in 1701. His residence at Nos. 55–56, Great Queen Street must have fallen
in the period 1684–1689.
Subsequently the house was occupied by Thomas Stonor, who had married the Hon.
Isabella Belasyse, to whom her father, Lord Belasyse, had bequeathed this portion
of the original house. Stonor is shown in occupation in 1698, 1700 and 1703. In
1718 the house was sold (fn. 65) to Sir Godfrey Kneller, then already in occupation of the
Sir Godfrey Kneller (originally Gottfried Kniller) was born at Lubeck in 1646,
son of a portrait painter. He was at first intended for the military profession, but
his love for painting proved so strong that his father sent him to Amsterdam to study
under Ferdinand Bol. In 1672 he went to Italy, and soon acquired a considerable
reputation. Afterwards he visited Hamburg, and in 1675 came to England, where
his work attracted the notice of the Duke of Monmouth, by whose influence he was
in 1678 introduced to Charles II. He at once leaped into popularity, and after the
death of Sir Peter Lely in 1680 reigned supreme in the domain of portrait painting.
He acquired great wealth, and, though he lost heavily in the South Sea Bubble,
he left a large fortune. His residence at Nos. 55–56, Great Queen Street seems to
have commenced about 1703, (fn. 66) and here he lived until his death in 1723. By his
will (fn. 67) he left to his wife, amongst other property, "all that my messuage or house,
outhouses, stableyards and garden thereunto belonging in Great Queen Street …
in which I now dwell," as well as the next door house (Nos. 57–58), which he had also
purchased. He also mentions the "six pictures of mine and my wife's relations
painted by myself, and now in my great dining room in my said dwelling house in
Great Queen Street, and also the three pictures put up for ornament over the doors
in the said room."
The well-known interchange of wit between Kneller and Dr. Radcliffe is by
several authors (fn. 68) said to have taken place in Great Queen Street. Radcliffe, it appears,
was Kneller's next door neighbour, and there being great intimacy between them,
Kneller allowed the former to have a door into his garden where he had a fine collection
of flowers. On Radcliffe's servants picking the flowers, Kneller sent word to the
doctor that he would shut up the door. The latter replied that he might do anything
with it but paint it; whereupon Kneller rejoined that he could take anything
from the doctor but his physic. There is, however, no evidence that Radcliffe ever
lived in Great Queen Street. He settled in Bow Street, Covent Garden in 1684 (fn. 69) ;
he was still in Covent Garden in 1706 according to the Catalogue of the College of
Physicians; and the issues of the Catalogue for 1707 onwards show him at Southampton
Square. He died in 1714. Wheatley and Cunningham (fn. 70) appear to be right in
assigning the incident to the time when Kneller was living in the Piazza, Covent
No records concerning the occupation of the house are available between 1723
and 1730. It would seem, however, that prior to the latter year, the Earl of Bellamont had been resident there, (fn. 71) for the entry in that year consists of the name "Lord
Bellment," erased, and followed by the name of Robert Holdmay. In 1732 the
house is shown as empty, and on its re-occupation in the following year it was further
divided, as at present, into the two houses Nos. 55 and 56. The names of the residents, as given on the ratebooks, from that time until 1800 are as follows:—
|1746–48.|| (fn. 72) Lady Dinely Goodyer.|
|1767–70.|| (fn. 73) Godfrey Kneller.|
|1799–|| (fn. 73) J. Kneller.|
|1744.|| (fn. 72) Chas. Leivez.|
Bartholomew Dandridge obtained a considerable practice in the reign of George
II. as a painter of portraits; he also painted small conversation-pieces. (fn. 74)
Benjamin Wilson was born at Leeds in 1721. His father, Major Wilson, a wealthy
clothier, lost his money while Benjamin was still a youth, and the latter came to
London to earn a living. If his statements are true, the frugality which he exercised
must have been extraordinary. At all events, he managed to save, and obtaining
after a time a position with some little leisure, he resumed the artistic strudies
which he had been compelled to renounce. By degrees his perseverance and ability
made him known, and from 1748 to 1750 he was in Ireland executing commissions
for portraits. On his return he settled at No. 56, Great Queen Street. While here
his reputation steadily increased, and in 1761 he moved to Nos. 57–58, a larger house. (fn. 75)
In 1771 he again removed, this time to Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury.
In 1767 he was appointed painter to the Board of Ordnance. Wilson was
also a student of chemistry, and had a reputation for his knowledge of
electricity, receiving in 1760 the gold medal of the Royal Society for his electrical
experiments. He died at his house in Great Russell Street (fn. 76) in 1788.
John Hoole, translator, was born in Moorfields in 1727, the son of a watchmaker
and inventive mechanician. He obtained a position in the accomptant's office of the
East India Company, and rose to be successively auditor of Indian accompts and
principal auditor. He resigned about the end of 1785. His residence in Great
Queen Street seems to have commenced in 1782, and it lasted to April, 1786, when he
retired to the parsonage at Abinger, Surrey. He died at Dorking in 1803. His
chief works are the translations of Tasso and Ariosto. He also wrote the life of John
Scott of Amwell, which, as it was published in 1785, was probably composed in the
house in Great Queen Street, and three plays.
James Boswell, biographer, son of Alexander Boswell, Lord Auchinleck, was
born in Edinburgh in 1740. In 1760 he first visited London, and in 1762, with
much difficulty, prevailed upon his father to let him return there. On 7th May, 1763,
he was introduced by Davies the actor to Dr. Johnson. From August, 1763, to
February, 1766, he was on the Continent studying law at Utrecht, travelling in
Italy, and consorting with Paoli in Corsica, and returned with his head full of the
latter. The result was the publication in 1768 of An Account of Corsica; the Fournal
of a Tour to that Island. He now commenced work in earnest as an advocate at the
Scottish bar, and for some years visited London but seldom. In November, 1769,
he married his cousin, Margaret Montgomery. In 1773 he accompanied Johnson
on the journey which is described in the Journal of a Tour in the Hebrides; the indiscretions of the narrative produced a rapid sale when it was printed some years
afterwards. In June 1784, he met Johnson for the last time. In 1786 he was called
to the English Bar, and moved to London. In a letter, dated May, 1786, to Mickle,
the translator of the Lusiad, he writes (fn. 77) that he has the house of his friend Hoole
(who, as has been seen above, left No. 56, Great Queen Street in April, 1786), and
a later letter, (fn. 78) dated 9th February, 1788, to Bishop Percy, is headed "London,
Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields." In 1789 he removed to Queen Anne
Street West, and subsequently to No. 122 (formerly 47), Great Portland Street,
where he died in May, 1795. His fame rests upon his biography of Dr. Johnson,
one of the greatest books ever written. There can be no doubt that a portion of
the book was composed in No. 56, Great Queen Street. In 1905 the London County
Council affixed to the house a tablet of blue encaustic ware, commemorative of
Boswell's residence. (fn. 79)
In Wheatley and Cunningham's London, Past and Present (fn. 80) it is stated that after
the occupation of Hoole (whose residence is wrongly identified with that of Worlidge,
see p. 77) the house "was rented by Chippendale, the cabinet-maker, whose furniture has during the last few years been so eagerly sought after and imitated." Inasmuch, however, as Chippendale died in 1779, and Hoole's residence did not terminate
until 1786, this is impossible. The statement probably originated in the fact that
a person of the same name is shown in the ratebooks as an occupant of this house
(see above). But it is William Chippendale, not Thomas; the period of his occupation is from 1791 onwards; and he was not a furniture maker, but an attorney. (fn. 81)
In the Council's Collection are:—
(fn. 82) Ground, first and second floor plans (measured drawing).
Attic floor plan (measured drawing).
Elevation of houses in Great Queen Street by Sir J. Soane, preserved in the
Soane Museum (photograph).
(fn. 82) Sketch, by J. Nash in 1840 (print).
(fn. 82) "House called Queen Anne's Wardrobe," drawn by J. W. Archer, 1846
(fn. 82) "House of the Sardinia Ambassador," drawn by J. W. Archer, 1858 (photograph)
Elevation measured by J. Cooke (print).
(fn. 82) The exterior, May, 1906 (photograph).
The exterior, June, 1906 (photograph).
Staircase in No. 55—
(fn. 82) Ground to first floor (photograph).
First floor level (photograph).
(fn. 82) Archway from passageway to staircase in No. 55.
(fn. 82) Staircases in Nos. 55 and 56, details (measured drawing).