By 1809 Mr Benjamin Hornby had completed No 1 Mecklenburgh Square, and No 3 was nearing completion. Mr Hornby was an angry man. When the original building plot leases were arranged in 1796, the Foundling Estate had said that the Square would be made up in ﬁve years. Nothing had been done. How was he to sell houses in a wasteland? The Building Committee tumed from its problems on the west side of the estate to Mecklenburgh Square and resolved that the ‘Brickwork of the Iron Railing of the Intended Square be erected forthwith.’ Mr Hornby was given the task of getting things started.
Forming and levelling
The areas behind the railings of London’s Georgian townhouses are misleadingly deep. The foundations have not been dug out to that extent, they are quite shallow. The apparent depth is because the pavements, streets and gardens if any in front of the houses have been raised up several feet. Back gardens usually remain at the original ground level. This required a great deal of shifting of earth. Workmen employed by the Trustees of the New Road from Paddington to Islington (then a bypass out in the ﬁelds, now Marylebone, Euston and Pentonville Roads) were already on the east of the site, digging out a deposit of gravel. An arrangement was made with the foreman Mr Smith for the ﬁrst stage of earth shifting. He was paid Cash for Digging and Wheeling Brick Earth, Ballast &c, by June 28 1809, £380.l3.3.
Mr Homby’s men took over, ‘digging and wheeling Brick Earth and gravel, separating and sifting the same, moving Gravel into Area of Square & levelling and forming the Walks.’ The bill for £499 does not appear on the ﬁnal Square accounts. It was offset by sales of gravel, or charged to the sewer. Sewer charges were passed on to house builders who leased plots and were not put to the trouble of building their own.
The layout of the garden paths remains almost as it was in 1810, although the central area with its barbeques has been enlarged.
The Stone Kirb
Mr Homby also saw to the brick foundation of the stone kirb surrounding the garden:
The Iron Railing
Came from Messrs Neile, Fowler, Jones, Files & Co., of the King’s Arms Iron Works, Cupar Bridge, Lambeth. They were Smiths, Anchor Smiths and Founders to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, HM Corporation of London, East India Company, &C. They supplied gates, pallisades and all other wrought and iron work ‘in the completest Manner, and at the shortest Notice.’ The bill dated August 1810 was for:
Extras? Did someone forget the need for workmen’s gates? Once installed, Mr Helling did ‘Painter’s work to Railing &c,’ three times in Oil at 10 pence a yard.
Sadly the iron railings were cut down in 1942 as part of the WWII war effort (they were never used). After decades of vainly hoping someday to be able to afford a replacement, the present high privet hedge was planted. The stone kirb is still there, outside the hedge, where railing stumps and stump holes may be seen.
On the 6″‘ of May 1810 Mr Smith of Bedford Nursery sent in his bill, together with his original planting list. He wrote:
Having planted as much of Mecklenburgh Square as the season could admit of l have if meet your approbation to sollicit the payment of Eighty Pounds being the cost of labour, Plants, Turf, Grass ﬂower seeds, sowed thereon.
Planting list: NB Italics = illegible or guess. No amendments made. Prices of individual items were also given.
Interim period and cost of the garden
Normally the garden would have been handed over to the estate’s Paving Commission (a group of residents elected to see to the paving, lighting, watering and watching of the estate’s streets, and the removal of rubbish) as soon as it was completed. Because the Square took so long to complete, the handover was delayed until 1816. At the handover, the cost of setting up the garden was given as £1817.0.2.
To use the garden, Square residents had to pay an annual subscription, which was used to cover garden maintenance. On payment, subscribers were issued with a key. In 1813, the subscription was £2.2.0. Initially residents of nearby estate streets were allowed to subscribe, but this was discontinued after the Square acquired enough subscribers of its own to cover the garden’s maintenance costs.
By 1814 the need for a few rules was felt. The rules already in use in Brunswick Square were adopted, and ‘fairly painted on a Board and ﬁxed at the Southern entrance.’
‘By order of the Committee appointed to superintend the Management of the Square, none but Subscribers and their Families are to be permitted to walk in the Garden or Area of the Square unless in Company with Subscribers.
The Female servants of Subscribers are not to be admitted unless with some part of the Family, and are not to let in, or hand her Key to the Servants or Children of non-Subscribers.
Male Servants are not to be admitted under any pretence whatsoever.
No Dogs are to be taken in by any Person.
It is particularly requested that the Flowers and Shrubs may not be plucked or injured, and that every person going in and out will take care to lock the Gate.’
The Garden Committee
After it took over in 1816, the Paving Commission set up a committee of governors and residents to manage the garden and make the day-to-day decisions on maintenance. A residents’ committee still runs the garden, its members elected from and by the Square’s permanent residents at an Annual General Meeting held every June.
The Heathcote Street gate and lodge
Throughout the decade 1810-20 the land north and east of the garden was either field or building-site. Subscribers found themselves ‘exposed to insult’ by ill-mannered persons invading from Gray’s Inn Lane. A Beadle was appointed to patrol the east side of the Estate during the day (cost of his hat £2.15.0). In 1814, newly laid out Heathcote Street was provided with a gate across it, and a lodge and lodgekeeper, on the Estate boundary with Gray’s Inn Lane. The gate had to come down in 1895, when gated streets were no longer permitted. A metal plate in the pavement now marks the spot.
Shed — Pavilion – Summer House
‘It appearing desirable that the Gardner should have a secure place to lock up his Tools, Seeds &c &c in the Square’ observed the Committee’s minutes of April 1814:
Resolved That Mr Kay be desired to furnish the Committee with a Sketch of an ornamental Shed – which will at once suit the Gardener, and afford Sitting, Shelter and Shade for the Subscribers.’
The Hospital’s General Committee authorised the provision of ‘such covered seat for the Centre of the Square as they might think proper,’ but estimates were not received until late summer, the number of Subscribers was fewer than was hoped, and nothing was done that year.
By April 1815 there were 42 Subscribers, and the Paving Commission’s surveyor Mr Wright produced a Plan combining Tool-house and covered Seat in one, at a cost of £85. Estate surveyor Mr Kay approved, but ‘suggested the propriety of covering the Tool-house in the Centre of the Pavilion for the Area of Mecklenburgh Square with milled Lead instead of cloth.’
The roof of such a building is often a problem, and this appears to have been no exception. On the 15”‘ June 1828 it was:
Resolved unanimously that the Summer House in the Centre of the Garden Area be repaired with a Copper Covering of 16 oz to the foot agreeably to an Estimate delivered by Messrs Cubitt of £40.15 — which includes a few repairs to the Wood Work, but not the Painting…
The Caroline Place Well
In the late 1990s a forgotten well was discovered, next to the Hospital wall at the junction of Mecklenburgh (formerly Caroline) Place and Mecklenburgh Square. The New River Company provided a domestic water supply to the estate, with its mains under Guilford Street. The Estate’s wells were used principally to provided water for watering the streets in the summer months, a responsibility of its Paving Commissioners.
The Caroline place well was dug in 1804, and supplied with a pump engine removed from a well in the Colonnade, which had not been sufficiently powerful for the needs of that end of the estate (geology may have been against it too).
AUGUST 18th 1805
Ordered that a Kirb of York Stone inclose the Pump in Caroline Place to be forthwith laid, and a receiving Stone Bason made to the Pump, under the direction of the Paving Committee; and that the said Committee be requested to agree with a Smith to place an lron Railway (with an lron Gate and Lock) thereon, similar to that in Brunswick Square, and provide such a number of keys for the Gate as the Committee shall think necessary
April 24th 1806
“Henry Hammett having agreed at the last Board Day to provide at his own expence a sufficient number of hands for watering Guilford Street Landsowne Place Caroline Place Guilford Place and Lamb’s Conduit Place with a Horse and Cart and Water Tub together with Scoops Shields Brooms Stop pls And all other implements used on such occasions and to raise the water from the Pumps in the Colonnade and Caroline Place and sufficiently to spread and water the said places every weekday in the Morning……..
A thank you to Coram Family.
Coram Family and in particular Ms Rachael Corms kindly gave permission to quote from the Foundling Hospital Archives.
Coram Family is the Foundling Hospital in its 21st century guise, continuing the long tradition of pioneering and innovative work with vulnerable children and young people. Its premises are next door at 49 Mecklenburgh Square and occupy the northern part of the former Foundling Hospital grounds.