History

A Georgian Square and Garden

Mecklenburgh Square and its garden were part of the Foundling Estate, a residential development of 1792 — 1825 on fields surrounding and owned by the Foundling Hospital. The Square was named in honour of King George IIl’s Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburgh-Strelitz. It was begun in 1804, but for various reasons was not completed until 1825. The garden was made up and planted in 1809/10.

The Foundling Hospital

The Hospital occupied the site of the present green all-weather playground to the west of the Square from 1745 — 1926. The dogged determination of an open-hearted, plain-speaking old mariner and shipwright called Thomas Coram was responsible for its foundation. When he retired from the north Atlantic trade in 1719, he was shocked and distressed to find infants abandoned in the streets of London, or murdered and flung on dunghills. He knew that their mothers were either to poor to be able to feed another hungry mouth, or too likely to be cast out of respectable society and the chance to earn a living because the children were illegitimate.

Journalist Joseph Addison had already written about foundling hospitals in the more enlightened cities of Europe, where mothers unable to cope could take their children instead of abandoning them. Thomas Coram set about persuading Londoners to do the same. He needed a sufficient number of Persons of Quality and Distinction willing to support his cause and sign a petition he could present to the King in order to obtain a charter for his hospital. It took him seventeen persevering years, but in the end he succeeded. The charter was granted in 1739.

Roque’s Map of London Environs. 1769 version

A temporary Hospital was opened in 1741 in a house in Hatton Garden. A site was then found for a permanent building in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, immediately north of Great Ormond Street. At the time Great Ormond Street formed the northernmost limit of London, and was a very fashionable address. The Earl of Salisbury owned 56 acres of land there which he was willing to sell, but only if the Hospital governors bought all of it, not just the part they required for their Hospital. In the end the governors agreed, thereby acquiring extra fields that would eventually be turned into the residential estate.

Hospital governor Theodore Jacobsen produced a serviceable, economical design for the building, of brick with two wings separated by a chapel. Building began in l742. The west wing was opened in 1745, the east wing and chapel were completed in 1752. The finished Hospital could provide for about 400 children.

Brick earth and all that

London’s good building land was River Terrace gravel, a mixture of gravel and sand deposited on top of heavy London Clay by the river Thames when it was much wider and shallower than it is today. There were three terraces; it is the Middle Terrace that concerns us here.

The presence of River Terrace gravel shaped the growth of early London. Great Ormond Street was built on the northern limit of the Middle Terrace at the beginning of the 18th century. At this point London’s northward expansion halted (see map), and development in the mid-18″‘ century was to the west, on the good building land around St James’s and Oxford Street.

The Middle Terrace was fringed by a further deposit of a loamier soil called brick earth, so named because it made excellent bricks. Deposits of brick earth were particularly marked near the tributaries of the Thames, such as the river Fleet. The Fleet was not far from the Foundling Hospital’s Lamb’s Conduit Fields, which had as their eastern boundary Gray’s Inn Lane (now Road), a track running along the top of the river’s west bank. There was a notable deposit of brickearth in Lamb’s Conduit Fields near Gray’s Inn Lane, consequently the raw material for building the Hospital was already on site.

A brick manufactory

Thomas Smith was awarded the contract for making bricks for the new Foundling Hospital. For the first 400,000 bricks, his workers used the field to the east of the proposed Hospital wall, where Mecklenburgh Square now stands. For the next decade, the future Mecklenburgh Square was a brick manufactory. ‘

They dug out the brickearth with picks and shovels. They prepared it, which included mixing it with ashes from the City’s rubbish heaps. This practice dated from just after the Great Fire, when it was noticed that the earth from ash-covered fields adjacent to the City provided bricks that burnt more thoroughly, and used less fuel, than bricks made from ash-free earth. They put it through pugmills, primitive blenders turned by horses.

Moulding teams then took over and shaped the blend into bricks. London’s moulding teams used a characteristic base to their moulds called a stock-board, hence the bricks of most eighteenth century London buildings are ‘London stocks.’ Finally the bricks were burnt in clamps, unpleasantly smoky piles of bricks which Mr Smith was required to confine to the northeast comer of the field.

The Foundling Estate

The Foundling EstateThe Hospital’s finances were in sorry state in the later 18th century. The Hospital fields brought in a small income, but this could be greatly increased by ground rents if the land were let for building. By the late 1780s the governors had decided to turn all their fields into a residential estate. First they had to draw up a plan of the streets and building plots for houses, then interest speculative builders in taking leases on the plots and building the houses.

The Estate plan had the Hospital itself as the high point. The chief features were a main road across the estate passing the Hospital’s front gates, and two large squares, one on each side of the Hospital, to provide it with a dignified setting.

 Names

The Squares were named after Charlotte of Mecklenburgh-Strelitz, wife of the reigning King George III, and his daughter-in-law Caroline of Brunswick. The main road, Guilford Street, was named after the Hospital’s President and former Prime Minister Lord North, Earl of Guildford. Somehow a discrepancy in spelling crept in, but by the time this was pointed out the street name was established usage, and no change was made.

The Squares were planned to have buildings on three sides, houses of the first and second class only. There was no building on the fourth, the side adjacent to the Hospital. Instead, the square gardens extended right up to the wall of the Hospital grounds. In this way the foundling children playing there would still be surrounded by plenty of open space and greenery, even if no longer in the country.

Mecklenburgh Square

The east field between the Hospital wall and Gray’s Inn Lane was the last part of the estate to be developed. Houses crept up Caroline Place (now Mecklenburgh Place) from Guilford Street towards the Square from 1800. In 1804 builder Benjamin Homby began work on the comer house, No.1, Mecklenburgh Square.

South side

The Building Committee had got into difficulties on the west side of the estate when trying to save money by allowing the builders to make up their own sewers. They did not repeat their mistake here. Mr Homby was contracted to build good sewers first on the southside and then on the east side of the square. The houses on the south side, Nos 1-10, were completed by 1810.

No original houses remain. They were badly damaged in WWII, and replaced by the north wing of London House, itself now a listed building by architect Sir Herbert Baker.

East side

The Hospital governors were concerned that Mecklenburgh Square with its first class houses would not attract the well-to-do families they wanted to buy and occupy them. Fashionable London had moved west to St James’s, and the Hospital itself cut off the Square from easy communication with the west end. They commissioned their surveyor Joseph Kay to produce a design for the east side that was not just plain brick and would provide added attraction.

Kay used the ornamental cement known as stucco to design a palace facade (one which, if you half close your eyes and don’t inspect too carefully, looks like a single splendid palace instead of a row of separate houses), with masticated stucco at ground floor level and three decorative stucco blocks separated by plain brick above. The governors were delighted, builders were found to take the leases, and the east side was completed between 1810-20.

WWII took its toll. No. 15 was gutted by incendiaries and rebuilt in 1964. Nos 27-34 were bombed flat. Together with 26, they were rebuilt as a single modem block of flats, but with the facade restored, in 1963. The rest are the original houses.

North side

There were two main reasons for delay in building the north side. The first was the perceived need for a road linking the north side with Brunswick Square. Unfortunately this would reveal two burial grounds next to the Hospital land and the doleful processions that continuously came and went. As late as 1811 the governors asked Joseph Kay to try again to find a design that included a screening terrace of houses and the road while not compromising the privacy of the Hospital’s own buildings. It was impossible, in the end there was no road.

The other problem was a governor and member of the Building Committee who wanted the end plot nearest the Hospital for himself. An enterprising young builder Thomas Cubitt made an offer for the whole terrace, and there was a lot of stalling around, but in the end, the govemor got his plot. There was a fuss because normally Hospital affairs were conducted with transparent probity. This was felt not to have been quite right. And the Square missed having the earliest Cubitt terrace in London.

WWII again. Except for No. 37, Nos 35—42 were either gutted or badly damaged. They were replaced in 1957 by William Goodenough House. Nos 43-47 are original.

 THE GARDEN

 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:

Stone Kirb Mr Spiller’s bill for Masons’s work was presented in 1809:

Mason's bill

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:

Iron railings

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.

Stone KirbSadly 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.

Planting.

On the 6th 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.

Planting The total bill was £81.7.0

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.

Rules.

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.

Well-Known Residents, 19th Century

William Roberts, barrister, author, and evangelical friend of reformers William Wilberforce and Hannah More, occupied No. 2 from 1815-25. He edited the ‘British Review,’ which was critical of the poet Byron’s work.

For fear some prudish readers should grow skittish’ was Byron’s revenge in ‘Don Juan ’:

I’ve bribed my Grandmother’s review, the British.

I sent it in a letter to the Editor

Who thanked me duly by return of post –

I’m for a handsome article his creditor…

Henry Thomas Buckle (1857)Henry Thomas Buckle, author of a ‘History of Civilisation in England,’ lived at No 35 from 1825-40. This successful work was concerned with social and intellectual history, innovative and empirical in its approach. Son of a Tory father and a Calvinist mother, he became a radical and a free thinker, and his work caused some controversy. ‘Governments do no intrinsic good, at best they only correct evils previously imposed by governments’ was the kind of comment that did not please everybody. He was also a top chess player.

Samuel Parkes (chemist)Samuel Parkes, at No. 30, where he died in 1825, began as a soap boiler and became a distinguished experimental and manufacturing chemist. His manuals of chemistry brought renown and the gift of a valuable ring from the Tsar of Russia. A paper on kelp and barilla brought him a silver inkstand from the Highland Society, and another on the uses of salt in gardening a silver cup from the Horticultural Society of Scotland.

Peregrine Bingham, at No. 34 from 1832-2, was a police magistrate at Great Marlborough Street, a legal writer, an ardent supporter of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham and a principal contributor to the radical ‘Westminster Review’.

William CubittWilliam Cubitt at No. 43, 1832 – 44, civic-minded brother of Thomas (builder) and Lewis (architect of King’s Cross station), ran the firm’s large building yard nearby in Gray’s Inn Road, built Cubitt Town in Docklands and became Lord Mayor of London. He started the tradition of a Lord Mayor’s charitable fund with his fundraising for Irish famine relief.

(n.b. not to be confused with engineer Sir William Cubitt, who engineered the tunnels out of King’s Cross and who was knighted for erecting the Crystal Palace in record time so that it was ready for the Great Exhibition in 1851)

Richard Beard employed chemist John Goodard to reduce the exposure times needed to produce a daguerreotype so that the method could be used for making human portraits. In 1841 he opened England’s first photographic studio in the Polytechnic Institute in Regent Street. He lived in No 31 Mecklenburgh Square from 1849-53, and started a chain of licensed studios, one of which was in Millman Mews.

Lewis Foreman Day at No 13 from 1873 — 1892 had little competition from the camera. His early training was in stained glass, his later work extending into pottery, carpets, wallpaper and other branches of manufacture. He belonged to the same school of craftsmen as William Morris and Walter Crane. He was a founder member and master of the Art Workers Guild, now in Queen Square, and a strong promoter of the decorative arts when working for the Board of Education.

James Hayllar at No 15 from 1865-75, painter of portraits, landscapes, genre especially including children. Friend of Frederick Leighton, with whom he went to Italy in 1851, and stayed on for 2 years. Several of his paintings can be seen on the web at the time of writing this. He had nine children and three of his daughters also painted, Jessica being the best known. She exhibited at the R.A. from 1880-1915.

Mary Elizabeth Maxwell (née_Braddon) by William Powell FrithMary Elizabeth Braddon, writer of bestsellers, lived at 26 Mecklenburgh Square from 1862 until 1868. She was the common law wife of publisher of Temple Bar and St James ’s Magazine John Maxwell, who already had five children, and a wife in a Dublin lunatic asylum. They added another six children to the family while she wrote ‘the perfect circulating library novels, well plotted and well written’. Her first major success, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) was followed by Aurora Floyd.

Sampson Low, at No. 41 from 1869 until his death in 1886, published books. He began as a bookseller and stationer at 42 Lamb’s Conduit Street in 1819. In 1844 he met Fletcher Harper of New York, became his literary agent in London, and specialised in American books. He retired from business in 1875, but his name lives on.

George Augustus Henry SalaGeorge Augustus Sala, journalist — probably the most celebrated journalist of his day -and bon viveur, was at No 46 from 1877 — 1886. He described his new house to a friend as:

under the friendly wing of the Governors of the Foundling Hospital, northwest comer, no – thoroughfare, nice garden in rear, one of the oldest and greenest of full-bottom wigged Squares in front, and a shilling cab fare to one’s offices and one’s club.’

Sala set out to be an artist, but became interested in journalism. Dickens gave him his first opening in Household Words, also his first job as a foreign correspondent, in Russia. In 1857 he became foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, writing on average 10 articles a week. He was a collector of china, glass and rare books, and No 46 filled with his high Victorian treasures is described in a contemporary art magazine. He wrote several till very readable books on his travels, of which the library has Paris (1880) where he was arrested at one time as a spy.

Hon. Lewis Strange Wingfield, No. 47 from 1881-7. Traveller, the first Englishman to explore the interior of China. Qualified as a surgeon. Was a successful actor at the Haymarket, designed costumes for the likes of Lily Langtry, painted pictures good enough to be hung at the Academy, wrote novels, reported on the Siege of Paris from a balloon…

Robert Lush, Vanity Fair - 31st May 1873Sir Robert Lush. No. 34, 1845-50. Called to the Bar 1840. Q.C. and Bencher of Gray’s lnn 1857. Judge, 1865. He was a member of the Judicature Commission and of the Commission on the Penal Code in 1878, and of the Privy Council in 1879. In October 1880 he became Lord Justice in the Court of Appeal. Several legal publications.

Lots of barristers, solicitors, physicians, surgeons, a smattering of architects and a bevy of reverend gentlemen. Among the latter, Rev. James Augustus Hussey, No. 1 1857-64, was Headmaster of Merchant Taylors School during a period of notable reform, and Rev Alexander Mackonochie, No. 31, 1867-72 taking refuge from trouble at Anglican St Alban’s, where there was a row about his ritual being more Roman than Rome itself.

Only 1 M.P., John Benbow, No. 26, 1847-51 (probably longer – the previous occupant was also John Benbow – his father?)

Well-Known Residents, 20th Century

In 1909 No 34 was taken by a group of organisations that named it Reform House. Virginia Stephen (later Woolf) did some voluntary clerical work here. ‘The office with its ardent but educated young women, and brotherly clerks, is just like a Wells novel,’ she wrote in a letter to a friend.

The People’s Suffrage League was concerned with disenfranchised men, workmen lodgers, as well as women. The executive secretary Margaret Llewellyn Davies was the niece of one of the founders of Girton, Emily Davies. The PSF moved the following year to Westminster.

Mary MacarthurThe Women’s Trade Union League and its secretary Mary Macarthur promoted individual Unions in every trade in which women were engaged, and was involved with organisation, protective legislation and social work, including club nights and social evenings.

The National Federation of Women Workers was militant. Mary Macarthur and Gertrude Tuckwell founded it in 1906 for women in unorganised trades or excluded from relevant male unions. From its early days, the organisers were out arranging mass meetings and strikes against wage cuts. J.J. Mallon wrote of the youthful Federation:  “… the employers would not take it seriously. A Trade Union of men moved them to anger. A Trade Union of women moved them to mirth. The Organisers of the Federation were laughed at as often as rebuffed. A strike was often the only demonstration that the Federation could give of its power and resolution”.

The Anti-Sweating League was concerned with sweated labour, where women worked all hours of the day and night at home or in appalling workplaces, and were paid perhaps, the equivalent of today’s 1p. an hour. Minimum subsistence was considered at the time to be 75p. a week.

J.J.Mallon was the secretary, and Miss Macarthur and Miss Tuckwell tireless campaigners. Their first major success came in 1909 when the Trade Boards Act was passed by the Government, modelled on legislation in Victoria, Australia, which fixed minimum wages in some of the worst trades, chain-, lace— and box-making, and ready-made clothing. The minimum was still only about 2p an hour in today’s money, but for many it was a huge rise. Mary Macarthur and Gertrude Tuckwell both lived on the Square

The Industrial Law Committee and Indemnity Fund and its secretary Irene Cox completed the group of reformers in No 34.

Leading suffragettes Annie Kenney, her sister, Jessie, and Rachel Barrett are former Square residents. They occupied 19 Mecklenburgh Square in 1913. On the morning of 30th April police raided the flat. Papers regarding the militant bombing campaign were found and featured in the June 1913 conspiracy trial in which a number of suffragettes and a chemist were found guilty

220px-Jane_Ellen_HarrisonJane Ellen Harrison was at 11 Mecklenburgh Street from 1922 —-1928 (included because the house was pulled down in 1961 to complete the northeast corner of WGH, the site is the comer with the No. 2 buttery). She was a formidable classical scholar and archaeologist who caused a lasting stir with her reinterpretation of Greek myths. Her works include Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), Tltemis (1912), Ancient Art and Ritual (1913). She has been described as heretical, humanist and feminist. When she retired from lecturing at Newnham, Cambridge, she and companion Hope Mirrlees moved to Mecklenburgh Street and spent their time doing translations from the Russian.

William Nicholson 1908Sir William Nicholson and son Ben, artists, at No.38, 1906-11 Sir William began his career as a book illustrator and poster designer, but switched to woodcuts and soon became known for his outstanding skill and innovation. His portrait of queen Victoria became one of the most famous prints ever made. He was knighted in 1936. Abstract painter son Ben formed part of a triumvirate of artists, together with Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, which put British art on the map in the mid-20th century.

John Masefield, Poet Laureate from 1930 -, No 18 from 1932-5. Author of Salt Sea Ballads (Sea Fever probably the mot famous), Reynard the Fox, etc.

Dorothy L Sayers, 1928Dorothy L Sayers, scholar (translator of Dante’s Divina Comedia) and murder mystery writer, inventor of sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. At No 44 in 1920-21. She moved to a house in Great James Street on the proceeds of her successful sleuth, where there is a blue plaque.

Ernest Pooley 1930s. As Sir Ernest Pooley, launched the Arts Council in 1946 and took it up to and including the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Virginia WoolfLeonard and Virginia Wolf — No. 37, with the Hogarth Press in the basement — August 1939 until bombed out in Sept. 1940, officially to 1942. See Virginia Woolf’s diaries.

Wednesday 18 September. “We have need of all our courage’ are the words that came to the surface this morning; upon hearing that all our windows are broken, ceilings down, & most of our china smashed at Meck. Sq. The bomb exploded. Why did we ever leave Tavistock? – whats the good of thinking that? We were about to start for London, when we go on to Miss Perkins who told us. The Press – what remains – is to be moved to Letchworth. A grim morning. How can one settle into Michelet & Coleridge? As I say, we have need of courage. A very bad raid last night on London. Waiting for the wireless. But I forge ahead with PH all the same.

John Lehmann, author, publisher, partner in the Hogarth Press — No 45, ca. 1938 — bombed out in 1940. His autobiography gives a vivid account of the air raid that took out the old Byron Court, and left the unexploded bomb that eventually did explode and damage the Woolf’s house.

Eileen Power, historian. Girton and LSE. Joined the staff of the LSE in 1921, became Professor of Economic History in 1931. Co-founder with neighbour R.S.Tawney of the Economic History Society and the Economic History Review. Beautiful and charismatic — “well of course we all loved Eileen’ as well a first-class academic.

Tancred Borenius. No. 29, 1917-.20. Finnish diplomat and art historian. He was secretary to the diplomatic mission proclaiming the independence of Finland, then temporary Finnish representative in England. In 1922 he became Professor of the History of Art at University College.

Eric de Maré. No. 44, 1938 — 40. ‘The best architectural photographer of the mid-20th century’. Known for the Regent’s canal to famous studies of St Pancras station at night, and east coast windmills. His other works included Bridges Of Britain (1954), London’s Riverside and The Functional Tradition In Early Industrial Buildings (both 1958), City Of Westminster: Heart Of London (1968), and Wren’s London (1975). In 1957, de Maré published his (frequently reprinted) classic Penguin handbook, Photography, which was followed by the masterly Photography And Architecture (1961) and Architectural Photography (1975). Seems to have come into contact with the square is association with a grand ball held in the garden to protest the plans of the College’s architect Sir Herbert Baker to replace the Georgian terrace on the south side of the square with the north side of London House — a Dutch-tiled roof and dormers in a Georgian Square? Shock-horror!

D H Lawrence, passport photographD.H.Lawrence, 2-4 months in No 44 in 1917 with his wife Frieda — guests of Dorothy Yorke, mistress of writer Richard Aldington who was away on active WW1 service at the time. His wife poet Hilda Doolittle was recovering from a miscarriage in another apartment in No. 44 at the time.

A Georgian Square

Mecklenburgh Square and its garden were part of the Foundling Estate, a residential development of 1792 — 1825 on fields surrounding and owned by the Foundling Hospital. The Square was named in honour of King George IIl’s Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburgh-Strelitz. It was begun in 1804, but for various reasons was not completed until 1825. The garden was made up and planted in 1809/10.

The Foundling Hospital

The Hospital occupied the site of the present green all-weather playground to the west of the Square from 1745 — 1926. The dogged determination of an open-hearted, plain-speaking old mariner and shipwright called Thomas Coram was responsible for its foundation. When he retired from the north Atlantic trade in 1719, he was shocked and distressed to find infants abandoned in the streets of London, or murdered and flung on dunghills. He knew that their mothers were either to poor to be able to feed another hungry mouth, or too likely to be cast out of respectable society and the chance to earn a living because the children were illegitimate.

Journalist Joseph Addison had already written about foundling hospitals in the more enlightened cities of Europe, where mothers unable to cope could take their children instead of abandoning them. Thomas Coram set about persuading Londoners to do the same. He needed a sufficient number of Persons of Quality and Distinction willing to support his cause and sign a petition he could present to the King in order to obtain a charter for his hospital. It took him seventeen persevering years, but in the end he succeeded. The charter was granted in 1739.

A temporary Hospital was opened in 1741in a house in Hatton Garden. A site was then found for a permanent building in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, immediately north of Great Ormond Street. At the time Great Ormond Street formed the northernmost limit of London, and was a very fashionable address. The Earl of Salisbury owned 56 acres of land there which he was willing to sell, but only if the Hospital governors bought all of it, not just the part they required for their Hospital. In the end the governors agreed, thereby acquiring extra fields that would eventually be turned into the residential estate.

Hospital governor Theodore Jacobsen produced a serviceable, economical design for the building, of brick with two wings separated by a chapel. Building began in l742. The west wing was opened in 1745, the east wing and chapel were completed in 1752. The finished Hospital could provide for about 400 children.

Brick earth and all that

London’s good building land was River Terrace gravel, a mixture of gravel and sand deposited on top of heavy London Clay by the river Thames when it was much wider and shallower than it is today. There were three terraces; it is the Middle Terrace that concerns us here.

The presence of River Terrace gravel shaped the growth of early London. Great Ormond Street was built on the northern limit of the Middle Terrace at the beginning of the 18th century. At this point London’s northward expansion halted (see map), and development in the mid-18″‘ century was to the west, on the good building land around St James’s and Oxford Street.

The Middle Terrace was fringed by a further deposit of a loamier soil called brick earth, so named because it made excellent bricks. Deposits of brick earth were particularly marked near the tributaries of the Thames, such as the river Fleet. The Fleet was not far from the Foundling Hospital’s Lamb’s Conduit Fields, which had as their eastern boundary Gray’s Inn Lane (now Road), a track running along the top of the river’s west bank. There was a notable deposit of brickearth in Lamb’s Conduit Fields near Gray’s Inn Lane, consequently the raw material for building the Hospital was already on site.

A brick manufactory

Thomas Smith was awarded the contract for making bricks for the new Foundling Hospital. For the first 400,000 bricks, his workers used the field to the east of the proposed Hospital wall, where Mecklenburgh Square now stands. For the next decade, the future Mecklenburgh Square was a brick manufactory. ‘

They dug out the brickearth with picks and shovels. They prepared it, which included mixing it with ashes from the City’s rubbish heaps. This practice dated from just after the Great Fire, when it was noticed that the earth from ash-covered fields adjacent to the City provided bricks that burnt more thoroughly, and used less fuel, than bricks made from ash-free earth. They put it through pugmills, primitive blenders turned by horses.

Moulding teams then took over and shaped the blend into bricks. London’s moulding teams used a characteristic base to their moulds called a stock-board, hence the bricks of most eighteenth century London buildings are ‘London stocks.’ Finally the bricks were burnt in clamps, unpleasantly smoky piles of bricks which Mr Smith was required to confine to the northeast comer of the field.

The Foundling Estate

The Foundling EstateThe Hospital’s finances were in sorry state in the later 18″’ century. The Hospital fields brought in a small income, but this could be greatly increased by ground rents if the land were let for building. By the late 1780s the governors had decided to turn all their fields into a residential estate. First they had to draw up a plan of the streets and building plots for houses, then interest speculative builders in taking leases on the plots and building the houses.

The Estate plan had the Hospital itself as the high point. The chief features were a main road across the estate passing the Hospital’s front gates, and two large squares, one on each side of the Hospital, to provide it with a dignified setting.

 Names

The Squares ware named after Charlotte of Mecklenburgh-Strelitz, wife of the reigning King George III, and his daughter-in-law Caroline of Brunswick. The main road, Guilford Street, was named after the Hospital’s President and former Prime Minister Lord North, Earl of Guildford. Somehow a discrepancy in spelling crept in, but by the time this was pointed out the street name was established usage, and no change was made.

The squares were planned to have buildings on three sides, houses of the first and second class only. There was no building on the fourth, the side adjacent to the Hospital. Instead, the square gardens extended right up to the wall of the Hospital grounds. In this way the foundling children playing there would still be surrounded by plenty of open space and greenery, even if no longer in the country.

Mecklenburgh Square

The east field between the Hospital wall and Gray’s Inn Lane was the last part of the estate to be developed. Houses crept up Caroline Place (now Mecklenburgh Place) from Guilford Street towards the Square from 1800. In 1804 builder Benjamin Homby began work on the comer house, No.1, Mecklenburgh Square.

South Side

The Building Committee had got into difficulties on the west side of the estate when trying to save money by allowing the builders to make up their own sewers. They did not repeat their mistake here. Mr Homby was contracted to build good sewers first on the southside and then on the east side of the square. The houses on the south side, Nos 1-10, were completed by 1810.

No original houses remain. They were badly damaged in WWII, and replaced by the north wing of London House, itself now a listed building by architect Sir Herbert Baker.

East Side

The Hospital governors were concerned that Mecklenburgh Square with its first class houses would not attract the well-to-do families they wanted to buy and occupy them. Fashionable London had moved west to St James’s, and the Hospital itself cut off the Square from easy communication with the west end. They commissioned their surveyor Joseph Kay to produce a design for the east side that was not just plain brick and would provide added attraction.

Kay used the ornamental cement known as stucco to design a palace facade (one which, if you half close your eyes and don’t inspect too carefully, looks like a single splendid palace instead of a row of separate houses), with masticated stucco at ground floor level and three decorative stucco blocks separated by plain brick above. The governors were delighted, builders were found to take the leases, and the east side was completed between 1810-20.

WWII took its toll. No. 15 was gutted by incendiaries and rebuilt in 1964. Nos 27-34 were bombed flat. Together with 26, they were rebuilt as a single modem block of flats, but with the facade restored, in 1963. The rest are the original houses.

North side

There were two main reasons for delay in building the north side. The first was the perceived need for a road linking the north side with Brunswick Square. Unfortunately this would reveal two burial grounds next to the Hospital land and the doleful processions that continuously came and went. As late as 1811 the governors asked Joseph Kay to try again to find a design that included a screening terrace of houses and the road while not compromising the privacy of the Hospital’s own buildings. It was impossible, in the end there was no road.

The other problem was a governor and member of the Building Committee who wanted the end plot nearest the Hospital for himself. An enterprising young builder Thomas Cubitt made an offer for the whole terrace, and there was a lot of stalling around, but in the end, the govemor got his plot. There was a fuss because normally Hospital affairs were conducted with transparent probity. This was felt not to have been quite right. And the Square missed having the earliest Cubitt terrace in London.

WWII again. Except for No. 37, Nos 35—42 were either gutted or badly damaged. They were replaced in 1957 by William Goodenough House. Nos 43-47 are original.

 

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.

A Georgian Garden

THE GARDEN

 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:

Stone Kirb Mr Spiller’s bill for Masons’s work was presented in 1809:

Mason's bill

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:

Iron railings

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.

Planting

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.

Planting The total bill was £81.7.0

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.

Rules

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.