II. (fn. 1) —WALPOLE HOUSE, PARADISE ROW.
(THE INFIRMARY OF THE ROYAL HOSPITAL.)
Ground landlord, etc.
General description and date of structure.
Walpole House was the first residence west of the Royal Hospital, on
the south side of Paradise Row. The whole of the external appearance of the
present building is from the design of Sir John Soane, and dates from 1810,
with the exception of the south-west extension, which has been made since. Sir
John Soane, as resident architect or, as he was called, "clerk of the works" to
the Royal Hospital, converted Walpole House into a new Infirmary for the pensioners, and he has left in his museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields several interesting
plans and sketches showing how this was done. The plan of the house, then
known as Lord Yarborough's, shows a long rambling building without any very
coherent arrangement. The front entrance was in the court of the Hospital
stable yard, which extended further west than the present stables, rebuilt by
Soane, and was approached through a gateway, not in Paradise Row itself but in
an extension of Smith Street, now within the gates of the Hospital. At that
time Paradise Row stopped short at the great court of the Hospital (Burton's
Court) and carriages had to turn to the left along Smith Street and so by the
King's Road to Westminster. It is curious that a house of the importance
of Walpole House should have had its principal entrance in the stable yard;
the fact, however, is quite clear from the Soane drawings, and we read in
Lysons that "Sir Robert Walpole became possessed of a house and garden in
the stable yard, Chelsea." The principal part of the building probably dated
back to 1690 when the site was first leased from the Crown, but it is almost
certain that Walpole made alterations or additions to it. Lysons says that "he
improved and added to the house, considerably enlarged the gardens by a purchase of some land from the Gough family, built the octagon summer-house
at the end of the terras and a large greenhouse where he had a fine collection
of exotics." Faulkner prints a letter from Sir John Vanbrugh to Walpole at
Chelsea in which he signs himself "your most humble architect." The letter
is dated October 27, 1725, and contains the following sentence: "I have made
an estimate of your fabrick, which comes to £270; but I have allowed for doing
some things in it in a better manner than perhaps you will think necessary; so
that I believe it may be done to your mind for £200." The letter does not
describe the work in hand, but it establishes the fact that Walpole employed
Vanbrugh as architect, and it is possible that he designed both the additions to
the house and the garden buildings. Of the latter nothing now remains. The
beautiful summer-houses on the river wall were destroyed when the embankmentwas made in 1876,and Lysons himself recorded the loss of the greenhouse
which adjoined the west end of the house "some years ago." The octagonal
summer-house which, with its quaint little pillared porch, figures in so many
views of the Royal Hospital, held at one time Bernini's statue of Neptune
which Sir Joshua Reynolds brought from the Villa Negroni at Rome and which
had passed into the hands of Mr. George Aufrere, the father-in-law of the Earl of
Yarborough, both of whom occupied Walpole House. There was another building
in Walpole's garden which should be mentioned, that marked "Pavilion" on
the plan (Plate 2) next to the "Whitster." The garden adjoined the laundry
and airing grounds of the Hospital, and these two buildings once formed the
residence of the "Whitster" or laundress. (fn. 2) But since the western portion
projected into Walpole's garden it appears that it was granted to him for his
own use, and further accommodation was provided for the laundry on the
Hospital side. (fn. 3) When the southernmost portion of the garden was leased in
1810 to Colonel Gordon for the building of the present Gordon House he
pulled down Walpole's pavilion, and Sir John Soane had several sketches made
in water-colour of the remaining part of the building, which are preserved in
the Soane Museum. From these it appears that the Whitster's house was
quite an attractive little building with all the characteristics of Wren's design.
It had a covered verandah with twin columns and being so near to the river
must have formed a delightful summer-house, probably much in use owing to
the fact that Walpole House itself was quite hidden away, and could scarcely
have boasted any prospect of the Thames. It seems that the original drawing
in the Guildhall copy of Lysons, which purports to be of Walpole House (Plate 6)
is really of this building, which from its important position might easily be
mistaken for the house, but if so it had undergone some alteration, or the
drawing may not be altogether accurate.
Walpole House, Plan.
Drawn by Walter H. Godfrey from Sir John Soane's
plans in the Soane Museum
Of the house as inhabited by Walpole, we have no views. Soane's
sketches of the Clerk of Works' house which stood between it and Paradise
Row do not throw any light upon it, although there are drawings of that part
of the stable yard which faced Walpole's front door. There is, however, in the
Soane collection, an interesting album of sketches, made by the architect's
pupils, of the new Infirmary buildings in course of erection, and it is there that
we have to look for any sign of the old house. It is evident from the drawings
that in order to make way for the new building it was at first dismantled, with
the exception of the extreme southern wing, which was left untouched until the
work was approaching completion. This is the wing that Soane incorporated
in his Infirmary and which tradition has called Sir Robert Walpole's Drawingroom—now known as Ward 7. From the sketches we can see that the wing was
two storeys in height and was roofed with a gable, treated as a pediment, and
turned towards the garden to face south-west, having on this side six windows,
three on each floor. The chimney stack was in the position of the present fireplace on the south-east wall, and there were no windows on that side, since it
overlooks the "drying ground" of the Hospital laundry. From the general
appearance it seems almost certain that this wing was an addition of Sir Robert
Walpole's, and that it was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh; the evidence of
the interior of the present ward confirms this view. It is a large and lofty room,
measuring about 32 by 24 feet, of thoroughly Georgian character, except for
the windows which introduce a somewhat unwelcome feeling of modernity. The
sketch on Plate 3 shows it in use as part of the Infirmary. The heavily-moulded
plaster ceiling and the marble mantelpiece, with its well-proportioned mouldings,
indicate an earlier hand than that of Soane, and are not inconsistent with
Vanbrugh's design, and they were evidently preserved with some care during
the alterations. It is not certain that the chimney-piece was originally in this
room, as the plans show that the fireplace opening was rebuilt; but there would
have been no object in inserting a mantel of earlier and different character if it
were not already in the house. Soane, of course, cased the outside walls in new
brickwork and altered the windows to match his general design, but in other
respects he left the room as he found it.
A glance at the plan on page 3 will show how far the new building
covered the site of the old, and wherever feasible Soane has incorporated the old
brickwork in the walls of the Infirmary. The basement, indeed, was largely
unaltered, and in this portion some 17th century brickwork may still be traced.
Here is perhaps one of the most interesting relics of Walpole's tenancy, in the
shape of a fine lead cistern (Plate 5) bearing his initials "R.W." and the date
"1721," the year when the house was being prepared for him. The cistern is
still in use and may possibly be in its original position. In the Soane collection
of views already cited there is one showing a fine lead tank in use for supplying
the bricklayers with water for their work, but this does not seem to have been
the one which is left as it is shown with three moulded panels instead of two.
But the Royal Hospital is very rich in lead cisterns, and it is possible the one
used by the builders did not belong to the house.
Condition of repair.
The building is in the care of H.M. Office of Works and is in excellent repair.
When the Royal Hospital was built at Chelsea certain portions of land acquired for
the new institution were leased, in the east to the Earl of Ranelagh and in the west to
William Jephson, Secretary to the Treasury. The latter obtained about 4½ acres, which
extended from Paradise Row to the River Thames. Towards the road, however, the
frontage was much reduced by the Hospital stable yard, which took up most of the
width. The plot was irregularly shaped, being very narrow for about half its depth, owing
to the intrusion of the Hospital laundry and drying grounds on the north-east. It had
its greatest width upon the river and adjoined the land sold later to the Earl of Carbery
on the south-west. Here was built the house which later became the home of Sir Robert
Walpole, and portions of which still exist in the Hospital Infirmary.
It is presumed that William Jephson built the house when he acquired a lease of the
land for 61 years, in or about the year 1690. His widow married Sir John Aubrey, Bart.,
and transferred the lease to Charles Hopson, who in his turn passed it to Edward Russell,
Earl of Orford, July 10th, 1696. His tenancy continued (according to the rate-books)
until 1711. From 1714 to 1719 Sir Richard Gough lived here, having already, perhaps,
acquired the adjoining property of the Earl of Carbery, who had died in 1713 (see Gough
House). He is assessed for the poor rate at £80, a figure which would more than cover
that of the two houses.
According to Lysons Sir Robert Walpole came to the house "about the year 1722,"
and, considering the date on the lead cistern (1721), it is probable that he resided here
quite as early as this, although other writers have made it later. Walpole lived in Chelsea
during the summer months until 1745, and both Lysons and Faulkner agree that he added
to the gardens by a purchase of land from his neighbours the Gough family. It seems that
Walpole was only a tenant up to the year 1730 when he purchased the lease from Thomas
Ripley, to whom it had been granted for 50 years a few days previously. The history of
Walpole's residence here, of the visitors he had, of the entertainment of Queen Caroline,
who dined in the celebrated greenhouse, of Lady Walpole's grotto, and of Horace Walpole's
allusions to "my poor favourite Chelsea" in his writings, has been told by such Chelsea
historians as Mr. Alfred Beaver and Mr. Reginald Blunt with much careful detail. In
his retirement, as Earl of Orford, Walpole lived here till his death, March 18th, 1745.
John Ranby, the surgeon to the Hospital, attended him during his illness, writing afterwards an account of it, which was published.
From a letter of Horace Walpole's in 1746 it appears that the Duke of Newcastle
was living here, but we find in 1748 that the Earl of Orford is still rated for the house,
from which we gather that he had not yet parted with the property, although he had
just acquired his celebrated residence at Strawberry Hill. However this may be, it is
known that on October 13th, 1749, Walpole House was leased to John, second Earl of
Dunmore, Governor of Plymouth, whose name appears in the rate-books from 1749 to 1751.
He seems to have let the house to Henry Temple, first Viscount Palmerstone (1754–1757),
and to the Duke of Norfolk in 1758. In the following year Mr. George Aufrere, of
Brocklesby Hall, Lincoln, took over the property (May, 1759), and obtained an extension
of the lease to the year 1825. During his tenancy the house became again celebrated for
its wonderful collection of paintings and other works of art: Walpole's collection, it will be
remembered, forms part of the Imperial Gallery at St. Petersburg (vide "Ædes Walpoliana").
Mr. Aufrere's name continues in the rate-lists till 1800, and in 1801 it is replaced by
Arabella Aufrere. "Upon the decease of Mrs. Aufrere," writes Faulkner "(September 1st,
1804) the house came into the possession of the Earl of Yarborough, who married
in 1770 Sophia, daughter and sole heir of the late George Aufrere, Esq." Lord Yarborough
lived here till 1808, when the Crown resumed possession, paying him £4,775 15s. as compensation for the unexpired term of the lease.
On the resumption of the lease by the Crown Sir John Soane was asked to prepare
plans for converting Walpole House into a new infirmary of the Royal Hospital. Against his
advice the best portion of the garden, towards the river, was granted on an 80 years' building
lease to Lt.-Colonel (afterwards General) Sir Willoughby Gordon, Bart., who at once built
Gordon House. Since the expiration of the lease this building has been appropriated to the
use of the Infirmary nursing staff, and the further history of the whole property lies within
that of the Royal Hospital.
It may be worth noting that the river-wall and two summer-houses were destroyed
when the Embankment was made in 1876. The official plans, copies of which are in the
Chelsea Miscellany at the Chelsea Public Library, show their exact position. The last
encroachment on the site of Walpole's garden took place when the buildings of Chelsea
Embankment gardens were erected a few years ago.
Rev. Daniel Lysons, Environs of London (1795).
Thomas Faulkner, Chelsea and its Environs (2nd edition, 1829).
Rev. A. G. L'Estrange, The Village of Palaces (1880).
Benjamin Ellis Martin, Old Chelsea (1889).
Alfred Beaver, Memorials of Old Chelsea (1892).
Reginald Blunt, Paradise Row (1906).
Gentleman's Magazine, Dec. 1734, Sept. 1804.
Monthly Chronicle, re Royal Visit, 27 Aug. 1729.
Horace Walpole, Letters (Ed. Cunningham, 9 vols.), 1891. Letter to Montagu,
Aug. 5, 1746.
Soane Museum, Plans, MSS. and copies of Parliamentary Papers.
Old prints, views, etc.
(fn. 4) Water-colour view of Summer-house in the graingerised edition of Lysons' Environs
(Guildhall Library, London), entitled "Mrs. Aufren's [Aufrere's] House in the Stable
Yard, taken from the opposite shore."
In The Committee's Ms. Collection Are—
|3125.|| (fn. 4) Plan of Lord Yarborough's house—traced from one in the Soane Museum.|
|3126.|| (fn. 4) Plan of Lord Yarborough's house and garden.|
|3127.||Infirmary Ward No. 7, Walpole's drawing-room. (Photograph.)|
|3128.|| (fn. 4) Infirmary Ward No. 7, Walpole's drawing-room. (Drawing.)|
|3129.|| (fn. 4) Fireplace in Ward No. 7 (photograph).|
|3130.||N.E. wing of Infirmary (photograph).|
|3131.||Vaulted corridor under covered walk (photograph).|
|3132.|| (fn. 4) Lead cistern (photograph).|