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The Literary History of the Adelphi and Its Neighbourhood

The Literary History of the Adelphi and Its Neighbourhood
Title: The Literary History of the Adelphi and Its Neighbourhood
Release Date: 2018-06-22
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Terrace. York Buildings. 1796.
From a water colour by J. Richards R.A.







36-38 WEST 37th STREET


First Edition      1907
Second Edition      1908
(All rights reserved.)


This book is intended for the general reader, as well as for theantiquarian and the lover of London. To this end, the history of theAdelphi and its immediate neighbourhood to the west and on the southside of the Strand has been related in—as far as possible—narrativeform. At the same time, it need hardly be said, every care has beentaken to present the multitude of details correctly and as a truthfulpicture of one of the most interesting parts of the great metropolis.I should be ungrateful if I did not take this opportunity of again—asin the case of my chronicle of the Lyceum and Henry Irving—thankingMr. E. Gardner for so courteously placing at my disposal his unique andinvaluable collection of London records and engravings. The majorityof the illustrations were kindly lent by him; others were copied fromprints in the British Museum. I have also to thank the officials of St.Martin's Library for their ready help in enabling me to consult, at myleisure, some scarce books connected with the literature of historicalLondon.



"The Literary History of the Adelphi" has journeyed from one side ofthe neighbourhood to the other, from west to east. That is to say, itspublication has been acquired by Mr. Fisher Unwin, hence the removalof the book from York Buildings to Adelphi—originally called "Royal,"and still so marked on the old plans—Terrace. This peregrinationgives me the opportunity of supplementing the original work with someinteresting particulars which have just come into my possession.Who would think that within a short distance of the Strand, if notactually within the proverbial stone's throw, there are "cottages," andcottages, too, with trees and flowers and lawns, and a mighty river,for prospect? Yet such is the case, although it is no wonder that therate collector who is new to this part of London has much ado to find"Adelphi cottages." They belong to that mysterious region which liesunderneath the Strand level of the Adelphi and is vaguely known as the"arches." If the reader will glance at the illustration which facespage 32—"The Buildings called the Adelphi"—he will see, at the top ofthe arches and under the terrace, some fifteen semi-circular recesses.These are really capacious rooms, and from the windows thereof the viewof the Embankment Gardens and the Thames is considerable compensationfor the tediousness and deviousness of the approach. The "cottages"were originally attached to the houses on the terrace above, and, untilrecent years, they were inhabited. Now, however, the majority of themare let separately and are used as stores or workshops. One of them,however, is still occupied as a dwelling-place, and, whatever else itmay be, this habitation is certainly unique.

Underneath the "Adelphi cottages," and extending below the houses ofthe terrace, and John, Robert, and Adam Streets, are the famous arches,which few people, either Londoners, who know nothing of their own city,or Americans, who are versed in the lore of our ancient streets, haveever visited. Truth to tell, the expedition to the Adelphi arches isnot to be undertaken with too light a heart. The gloomy recesses do notconduce to joy, and, although the foot-pad has scant opportunity forindulging in his nefarious practices, he would be a venturesome person,a stranger to these parts, who would wander alone in this undergroundworld after the sun, which never enters these passages, had ceased toillumine the earth above. This very darkness and dismalness has itsadvantages at times. When Messrs. Coutts, for instance, moved fromtheir old premises in the Strand, there was much speculation as to themanner in which they transferred their immense stock of securities,deeds, and other valuables from one side of the road to the other.There was great talk at the time of armies of detectives and the use ofthe early hours of Sundays, and other vague suggestions were allowed tobe promulgated. It was assumed that the transference would take placefrom one side of the road to the other, and it was thought that theremight be some audacious attempts at robbery. In reality, the matter wasquite simple and there was not the slightest danger of any attack uponthe priceless possessions. Far removed from the noisy Strand—in regardto atmosphere and surroundings—there is an arch, dark indeed, and shutoff from the outer world by huge gates, which are some distance away.Here, many feet below the surface of the streets, is a secret entranceto the premises of the old bank. And here, in absolute security, neverdreamt of by the enterprising thief, the carts were loaded with theirtreasures.

The actual removal of these valuables was effected with great ease. Thecarts wended their innocent way through the dreary arches, in front ofthe "cottages," and passed out by a "right of way" underneath the HotelCecil, towards Blackfriars. Thus, the would-be thief was deluded of hisprey. This "right of way" marks the bottom of Ivy Lane, which is stillin existence. It runs from the Strand and denotes the boundary of theDuchy of Lancaster and the City of Westminster. Formerly, it was anopen thoroughfare, but there is now, at the Strand entrance as well asat the bottom, a gate. At the river end, there was, in olden times, abridge, or pier, called Ivy Bridge. But I think that there must havebeen, not only a bridge in the Strand, but that there was a streamwhich ran hence into the Thames. John Stow, in his "Survey of London,"first published in 1598, speaks of "Ivy Bridge, in the High Street,which had a way under it leading to the Thames, the like as sometimehad the Strand Bridge." Now, the Strand Bridge was over the stream ofSt. Clement's Well, and Strand Lane, like Ivy Lane, ran down to theriver, and, like it, there was a pier at the end. I am the more certainthat there must have been a river of sorts at the junction of Ivy Laneand the Strand, because to this day, as I found in the course of arecent investigation, a stream trickles under John Street and rendersuseless a large cellar. Nothing can stop it. It percolates now, justas it has done ever since the excavations made by the Brothers Adam in1768. It is drained away, but it is just sufficient to create a dampatmosphere which is detrimental to the storing of wine.

Hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine—chiefly port, claret, andburgundy—are in bins here, and a most admirable place for the purposeit is. The underground Adelphi is absolutely dry—save for the onespot mentioned—and the temperature does not vary five degrees in thecourse of a year. Here, also, are many hundreds of cases of champagne,and here the jaded Londoner—if he be sufficiently favoured—might comeand feast his eyes on some few dozens of bottles of "white port"—awine which is not in fashion in these degenerate days, but which, Irejoiced to learn, is still sent hence to a certain royal household.Strange as it may seem, there is a strong air of royalty about thesedimly-lit vaults. What between the secret entrance to the old premisesof the great bankers—Messrs. Coutts are the bankers for his Majestyand for the Queen[1]—and the "white port" which gives its benefitto illustrious persons of royal lineage, there is a distinct feelingthat one is moving on an exalted plane when, paradoxical as it mayseem, we are in this subterranean place. The distinctly regal airwhich pervades these caves of silence may have given rise to a certainstatement that hereabouts—half a dozen yards from the royal stock of"white port"—Lady Jane Grey was cast into a dungeon deep and carriedthence to the dreaded Tower, there to be beheaded. But the "Nine Days'Queen" knew only her gardens and her flowers when she lived in DurhamHouse—the predecessor of the Adelphi. Here, in May, 1553, the Duke ofNorthumberland married his son, Lord Guildford Dudley, to Lady Jane,in pursuance of his design for altering the succession from the Tudorto the Dudley family. The unfortunate girl of scarce seventeen summerscertainly left Durham House for the Tower—but it was with great pompand circumstance, in order to be proclaimed Queen. Her executionfollowed hard upon, but she knew not imprisonment in what is now theAdelphi. On the other hand, the haunt of a wretched woman is still tobe seen in this gloomy spot. "Jenny's Holes" figure on the plan to thisday, and are not likely to be obliterated therefrom. Into one or otherof these places—recesses by the main arches—the outcast came to sleepand, finally, to die; some say, indeed, that she was murdered here."Jenny" has no history, but the vague tradition of her misery stillhaunts these "dark arches." Nor is the story at all improbable. The"dark arches" are forbidding enough now, and, even in the day-time, thesparse gas jets only serve to make darkness visible. So recently as theearly seventies, when Mr. George Drummond came into the property, cowswere kept in the underground passages of the Adelphi.

Adelphi Terrace, Adam Street to the east, and John Street, which isparallel with the terrace and the Strand, and in between, still retainmuch of their old-world appearance. But at the western side of theAdelphi changes are afoot. There is a new building, facing the river,but stunted and barred from its proper height by that bugbear of themodern builder, "ancient lights." Then, again, the Caledonian Hotel,in Robert Street, has taken to itself a new storey, and has beentransmogrified into modern flats with—oh, shade of Adam!—bath-rooms.The searcher after the picturesque in London architecture might doworse than descend from the Strand, past the Tivoli. He will then be onthe site of one of the gateways of Old Durham House, and, turning tothe right, he will see a bridge of beautiful design. It was built, inorder to connect the Strand and Adelphi premises of the bank, by ThomasCoutts, who procured a special Act of Parliament for the purpose.

The entire Adelphi estate occupies a little over three acres and aquarter, divided as follows:—

Houses (only)78,400
Roadways, terrace, and areas45,400

The names of two more noted inhabitants of the Adelphi have to beincluded in this "History." The learned Vicesimus Knox (1752-1821), whois best known to fame as the compiler of "Elegant Extracts" (1789),lived at No. 1, Adam Street. The first floor of the same house wasthe place of retirement, for a score of years, of George Blamire,barrister-at-law, "of very eccentric habits, but sound mind." JohnTimbs, in his "Curiosities of London," states that "no person wasallowed to enter his chamber, his meals and all communications beingleft by his housekeeper at the door of his ante-room. He was found deadin an arm-chair, in which he had been accustomed to sleep for twentyyears. He died of exhaustion, from low fever and neglect; at which timehis rooms were filled with furniture, books, plate, paintings, andother valuable property." The eccentric habits are evident; but the"sound mind" is a little doubtful.

Finally, I may state that I have followed the fortunes of my book,and, after a brief excursion into the noisy part of the world on theother side of Charing Cross, have returned to the quiet and comparativesolitude of the Adelphi, where tubes do not trouble and motor buses donot annoy. "Sir," said Dr. Johnson, "when a man is tired of London, heis tired of life." And I think that there is no part of London of whicha man can be in less apprehension of tiring than the Adelphi. It is ofLondon, yet away from it; in the heart of the world, yet secluded. Toknow it is to love it.

Austin Brereton.

September, 1908.


[1] See page 212.



Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham—The Papal Legate and the OxfordClergy—Henry III. and

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