A Stroll Down Piccadilly

From Walks in London by Augustus Hare (1894)

Turning eastwards (out of St. James’s Street and onto Piccadilly), we find, on the right, St. James’s Church, built by Wren, 1684. Hideous to ordinary eyes, this church is still admirable in the construction of its roof, which causes the interior to be considered as one of the architect’s greatest successes—probably his best interior, except St. Stephen’s, Walbrook.

The marble font is an admirable work of Gibbons: the stem represents the Tree of Knowledge, round which the Serpent twines, offering the apple to Eve, who stands with Adam beneath. The organ was ordered by James II. for his Catholic chapel at Whitehall, and was given to this church by his daughter Marj’. The carving here was greatly admired by Evelyn.

‘Dec. 10, 1684.—I went to see the new church at St. James’s, elegantly built . The altar was especially adorned, the white marble inclosure curiously and richly carved, the flowers and garlands about the walls by Mr. Gibbons, in wood: a pelican, with ber young at her breast, just over the altar in the carv’d compartment and border invironing the purple velvet fringed with richly embroidered, and most noble plate, were given by Sir R. Geare, to the value (as is said) of £200. There was no altar anywhere in England, nor has there been any abroad, more richly adorned.’—Diary.

The Princess Anne of Denmark was in the habit of attending service in this (then newly built) church, and it was one of the petty insults which William and Mary offered to the Princess (after her refusal to give up Lady Marlborough) to forbid Dr. Birch, the rector, to place the text upon the cushion in her pew, an order with which the rector, an especial partisan of the Princess, refused to comply.
Among the illustrious persons who have been buried here are Charles Cotton, the friend of Izaak Walton, 1687; the two painters Vandevelde, 1693 and 1707 ; Dr. Arbuthnot, the friend of Pope and Gay, the slouching satirist, of whom Swift said that he could ‘do everything but walk,’ 1735; Mark Akenside, the harsh doctor who wrote the ‘Pleasures of Imagination,’ 1770; Michael Dahl, the portrait-painter, 1743; Robert Dodsley, footman, poet, and bookseller, 1 764; the beautiful and brilliant Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, the beloved and honoured friend of George III. and Queen Charlotte, 1788; William, the eccentric Duke of Queensberry, known as’ Old Q.,’ 1810; James Gillray, the caricaturist, 1815; and Sir John Malcolm, Governor of Bombay, 1833.i In the vestry are portraits of most of the rectors of St. James’s, including Tenison, Wake, and Seeker, who were afterwards Archbishops of Canterbury.

On the other side of Piccadilly, nearly opposite the church, are the Albany Chambers (above), which take their name from the second title of Frederick, Duke of York, second son of George II., to whom the principal house (first known as Melborne, then as York House) once belonged. ‘The Bachelor of the Albany’ was a character well known at the beginning of the present century.
‘In the quiet avenue of the Albany (Albany court Yard), memories of the illustrious dead crowd upon you. Lord Byron wrote his “Lara” here, in Lord Althorpe’s chambers, afterwards (1837) occupied by Lord Lytton; George Canning lived at A. 5, and Lord Macaulay in E. 1; Tom Duncombe in F. 3; Lord Valentia, the traveller, in H. 5, and Monk Lewis in K. 1.’—Blanchard Jerrold.

Sackville Street, which opens on the north, has the distinction of no standard lamps, retaining the first form of gas-lamp, projecting from the walls of the houses.

On the right, in returning, is Burlington House (now the Royal Acadamy of Arts, above), built from designs of Banks and Barry, 1868-74. The inner part, towards the courtyard, is handsome; that towards the street, and the sides of the building, are spoilt by the heavy meaningless vases by which they are overladen. In the construction of this commonplace edifice one of the noblest pieces of architecture in London was wantonly destroyed—the piazza, of which Sir William Chambers wrote as ‘one of the finest pieces of architecture in Europe,’ and which Horace Walpole said ‘seemed one of those edifices in fairy-tales that are raised by genii in a night-time.’ Its stones were removed to Battersea Park, but London, which has spent £10,696 on the Temple Bar Memorial, has never been able to afford the sum necessary for their reconstruction!
The old house (the second on the site) was built from the designs of Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington, but the portico has been attributed to Colin Campbell. Burlington House was bought by the nation in 1854. The central portion of the modern buildings is devoted to the Royal Academy, which was founded in 1768, with Reynolds as President. It consists of forty Academicians and thirty-one Associates. Their first exhibitions took place in Somerset House, but, from 1838 to 1854, they were held in the eastern wing of the National Gallery. How great was their early mediocrity may be seen from the cuttings in vellum and paper, landscapes in human hair, and devices in shell-work described in Exhibition catalogues of the last century, though these were interspersed with great works by Reynolds and Flaxman.
In Cork Street, facing the back of Burlington House, General Wade’s house was built by Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, a house which was so uncomfortable as to make Lord Chesterfield say that the owner could not be at his ease in it, and so intended to take the house over against it and loot at it. The famous tavern of the ‘Blue Posts’ in this street has been recently rebuilt.

From the end of Savile Row, an archway and passage lead into Conduit Street, through what was once the two-winged garden
pavilion of Burlington House, the countrified position of which in the seventeenth century was chosen by its founder ‘because he was determined that no one should build beyond him.’ All the streets in this neighbourhood—Cork Street, Old and New Burlington Street, and Boyle Street—record the names and titles of the Boyle family. In Boyle Street still stands the school founded by Lady Burlington, on the edge of her gardens, for the maintenance and education of eighty poor girls.

Hard by, in Savile Row (named from Dorothy Savile, wife of the architect Earl of Burlington), at No. 12, George Grote, the historian of Greece, died, June 19, 1871; at No. 17 Richard Brinsley Sheridan (above) died, July 7, 1816. His so-called friends suffered him to be arrested by a sheriff’s officer upon his death-bed, and he would have been carried off, in his blankets, to a spunging-house, if his physician had not threatened the officer with the responsibility of his dying on the way; yet seldom has there been such an array of rank as when he was borne hence to his grave in Westminster Abbey!

The Burlington Arcade (above) was built from designs by Ware for Lord George Cavendish in 1815, and is ‘famous,’ as Leigh Hunt says, ‘for small shops and tall beadles.’ Just beyond, in Piccadilly, was the little underground newsvendor’s, whither Louis Napoleon Bonaparte ‘would stroll quietly from his house in King Street, St. James’s, in the evening, with his faithful dog Ham for his companion, to read the latest news in the latest editions of the papers.’

In old times this was the celebrated ‘White Horse Cellar,’ where might be seen what Hazlitt calls ‘the finest sight in the metropolis,’ the starting of the coaches in Piccadilly. Latterly there has been a revival of the love of the road, and a number of coaches (frequently with amateur drivers) in Northumberland Avenue attract the enthusiasm of a little crowd on their morning departures and their evening arrivals. Bond Street, Albemarle Street, Dover Street, and Grafton Street occupy the site of Clarendon House and its gardens, built by the Lord Chancellor Earl of Clarendon, who laid out the gardens at a cost of £50,000.

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