The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4

Allen, Thomas


Somerset House.


On the site of this extensive pile of buildings formerly stood the elegant palace, built about the year , by Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, uncle to Edward VI. and protector of England; who, to make room for it, besides demolishing , and the inns and town residences of the bishops of Chester and Worcester, sacrificed part of the conventual church of St. John of Jerusalem, Clerkenwell, the tower and cloisters on the north side of , with the charnel houses and adjoining chapel, to furnish materials for the new structure; even the beautiful pile of was only rescued from the sacrilegious dilapidations by immense contributions. No recompense was made the owners for these robberies; and, strange as it may appear, among the numerous articles exhibited on the duke's attainder, not accused him of sacrilege; his accusers and judges were deeply involved in the rapacious plunder, and therefore forbore to tax him with what must have recoiled on their own seared consciences. The architect of the fabric is supposed to have been John of Padua, who was termed


of buildings to Henry VIII. It seems that he was the cause of introducing regular architecture into these realms, about the same period as Hans Holbein, and his allowance was the grant of a fee of per diem. The architecture of Somerset-house was of the earliest specimens of the Italian style in this country; and displayed a mixture of barbarism and beauty. The back front, and the water-gate leading from the garden to the river, were of a different character, and erected from the designs of Inigo Jones, about the year , together with a chapel, intended for the use of the infauta of Spain, when the marriage between her and prince Charles was in contemplation.



Somerset-house had devolved to the crown by the protector Somerset's attainder; and queen Elizabeth often resided here. Here also Anne of Denmark, queen of James I. kept her court. As Charles II. did not find it compatible with his gallantries that his queen should be resident at , he lodged her during some part of his reign in this palace. This made it the resort of the Roman catholics; and possibly, during the fanatic rage of the nation at that period against the professors of her religion, occasioned it to have been made the pretended scene of the murder of sir Edmondbury Godfrey, in the year . Queen Catherine remained here after Charles's decease, till her return to Lisbon. The buildings were afterwards appropriated to be the residence of the queen dowager, and very often appointed for the reception of ambassadors: the last who staid here any considerable time were the Venetian residents, who made their public entry in .

Although the ancient building and garden occupied a considerable space, they did not, by any means, comprise the intended ground plan of the new erections. This palace had a large addition made to it, which contained all the apartments fronting the garden dedicated to the purposes of the royal academy, the keeper's lodgings, those of the chaplain, the house-keeper, &c.; these, with the chapel, screen, and offices, were the works of Inigo Jones, though they probably rose upon the ruins of a magnificent part of the old fabric. At the extremity of the royal apartments, which might be termed semi-modern, large folding doors connected the architecture of Jones's with the ancient structure; these opened into a long gallery, on the floor of a building which occupied side of the water garden; at the lower end of this was another gallery, or suite of apartments, which made an angle forming the original front toward the river, and extending to . This old part of the mansion had long been shut, when sir William Chambers wishing, or being directed, to survey it, the folding doors of the royal bed-chamber (the keeper's drawing-room) were opened; a number of persons entered with the surveyor. The of the apartments, the long gallery, was lined with oak in small pannels; the heights of their mouldings had been touched with gold; it had an oaken floor and stuccoed ceiling, from which still depended part of the chains, &c. to which had hung chandeliers. Some of the sconces remained against the sides, and the marks of the glasses were still to be distinguished upon the wainscot.

From several circumstances it was evident, that this gallery had been used as a bed-room. The furniture which had decorated the royal apartments had, for the convenience of the academy, and perhaps prior to that establishment, with respect to some of the rooms, been removed to this and the adjoining suite of apartments. It was extremely curious to observe thrown together, in the utmost confusion, various articles, the fashion and forms of which shewed that they were the production of different periods. In part


there were the vestiges of a throne and canopy of state; in another curtains for the audience chamber, which had once been crimson velvet fringed with gold. What remained of the fabric had, except in the deepest folds, faded to an olive colour; all the fringe and lace, but a few threads and spangles, had been ripped off; the ornaments of the chairs of state demolished; stools, couches, screens, and fire-dogs, broken and scattered about in a state of derangement which might have tempted a philosopher to moralize upon the transitory nature of sublunary splendour and human enjoyments.

In these rooms, which had been adorned in a style of splendour and magnificence creditable to the taste of the age of Edward the , part of the ancient furniture remained; and, indeed, from the stability of its materials and construction, might have remained for centuries, had proper attention been paid to its preservation. The audience chamber had been hung with silk, which was in tatters, as were the curtains, gilt leather covers, and painted screens. There was in this, and a much longer room, a number of articles which had been removed from other apartments, and the same confusion and appearance of neglect was evident. Some of the sconces, though reserved, were still against the hangings; and of the brass gilt chandeliers still depended from the ceiling. The general stale of this building, its mouldering walls and decaying furniture, broken casements, falling roof, and the long ranges of its uninhabited and uninhabitable apartments, presented to the mind in strong, though gloomy colours, a correct picture of those dilapidated castles, the haunts of spectres, and residence of magicians and murderers, that have, since the period alluded to, made such a figure in romance.

Somerset-yard, on the west side of the palace, extended as far as the end of . Latterly, in this yard, were built coach-houses, stables, and a spacious guard-room. Mr. Pennant observes, that

possibly the founder never enjoyed the use of this palace, for in


, he fell a just victim on the scaffold.

Mr. Pennant is wrong: the duke did reside at his palace in ; for his recommendatory preface to the

Spiritual Pearl,

is concluded in these words:

From oure house at Somerset-place, the VIth day of May, anno



Short, however, was the term for which he enjoyed his residence. The duchess after his death appears to have resided chiefly at Hanworth, where she died, at the age of , in the year .

To this palace queen Elizabeth was in the habit of resorting, as a visitor to her kinsman, lord Hunsdon; to whom, with characteristic frugality, her majesty lent, not gave, Somerset-place Anne of Denmark, (consort of king James I.) kept her court here. Wilson says,

that the queen's court was a continued mascarado, where

she and her ladies, like so many sea-nymphs, or nereides, appeared in various dresses, to the ravishment of the beholders.

The front of Somerset--place, next , was appointed by his late majesty to the use and accommodation of literature and the sciences, and is occupied by the Royal and Antiquarian societies, and the Royal Academy. The Royal Society was begun in the chambers of bishop Wilkins,

then no more than a member of Wadham-college, Oxford, about the year


. In


the members hired an apartment in Gresham college, and formed themselves into a body under lord Brounker, their


president. Their reputation was so well established at the Restoration, that king Charles II. incorporated them by a charter, in which his majesty was pleased to style himself their founder, patron, and companion, which gave them the name of the Royal Society. By that charter the corporation was to consist of a president, a council of


, and as many fellows as should be found worthy of admission; with a treasurer, secretary, curators, &c. From this time benefactions flowed in upon them;

three thousand two hundred and eighty-seven

printed books, in most languages and faculties, chiefly the


editions after the invention of printing; and

five hundred and fifty-four

volumes of M.S. in Hebrew, Greek, Turkish, and Latin, part of the library of the once kings of Hungary, and purchased by the earl of Arundel, ambassador at Vienna, were given to the society's library in


, by the hon. Henry Howard, afterwards duke of Norfolk. In


this library was augmented with

three thousand six hundred

books, chiefly in natural and experimental philosophy, by Francis Aster, esq. &c. A museum was founded by Daniel Calwall, esq. in


, containing an excellent collection of natural and artificial curiosities; which has been considerably increased by generous benefactions. In the year


the society removed from Gresham college to Crane-court,



Vide ante, vol. iii. p. 678.

In the year


, king George I. enabled the Royal Society, by letters patent, to purchase


in mortmain: and in the number of their members appear king George II. and many of the greatest princes in Europe. The officers chosen from among the members are the president, treasurer, and


secretaries. The curators have the charge of making experiments, &c. Every person to be elected a fellow of the Royal Society, must be propounded and recommended at a meeting of the society, by


or more members, who must then deliver to


of the secretaries a paper, signed by themselves with their own names, specifying the name, addition, profession, occupation, and chief qualifications; the inventions, discoveries, works, writings, or other productions of the candidate for election; as also notifying the usual place of his abode, and recommending him on their own personal knowledge; a plain copy of which paper, with the date of the day when delivered, is fixed up in the common meeting-room of the

society, at


several ordinary meetings, before the nomination of the candidate is put to the ballot;

but it shall be free for every of his majesty's subjects who is a peer, or the son of a peer of Great or Ireland, and for every of his majesty's privy council of either of the said kingdoms, and for every foreign prince or ambassador, to be propounded by any single person, and to be put to the ballot for election on the same day, there being present a competent number for making elections. And at every such ballot, unless -thirds at least of the members give their bills in favour of the candidate, he cannot be elected a fellow of the Royal Society; nor can any candidate be ballotted for unless members at least be present. After a candidate has been elected, he may at that, or the next meeting of the society, be introduced and solemnly admitted by the president, after having previously subscribed the obligation, whereby he promises,

that he will endeavour to promote the good of the Royal Society of London, for the improvement of natural knowledge.

When any is admitted he pays a fine of guineas, and afterwards a quarter as long as he continues a member, towards defraying the expences of the society, and for the payment thereof he gives a bond; but most of the members on their admittance chuse to pay down guineas, which discharges them from any further payments. Any fellow may, however, free himself from these obligations, by only writing to the president that he desires to withdraw from the society. When the president has taken the chair, and the fellows their seats, those who are not of the society withdraw, except any baron of England, Scotland, or Ireland, any person of a higher title, or any of his majesty's privy council of any of the united kingdoms, and any foreigner of eminent repute, may stay, with the allowance of the president, for that time; and upon leave obtained of the president and fellows present, or the major part of them, any other person may be permitted to stay for that time; but the name of every person thus permitted to stay, that of the person who moved for him, and the allowance, are to be entered in the journal book. The business of this society, in their ordinary meetings, is to order, take account, consider and discourse of philosophical experiments and observations; to read, hear, and discourse upon letters, reports, and other papers, containing philosophical matters; as also to view and discourse upon the rarities of nature and art, and to consider what maybe deduced from them, and how far they may be improved for use or discovery. No experiment can be made at the charge of the society, but by order of the society or council. And in order to the propounding and making experiments, the importance of such experiments is to be considered with respect to the discovery of any truth, or to the use and benefit of mankind. The meetings of the Royal Society are weekly, on Thursday evening. The members of the council are elected out of the fellows on St. Andrew's day, before dinner. of the old council are chosen for the ensuing


year, and are elected out of the other members. Out of these are elected the president, treasurer, and secretary, &c.

The Antiquarian Society was formed in London about the year , by some of the most eminent literary characters in the country, at the head of which was the learned and benevolent archbishop Parker.- Their meetings were held weekly, at the house of sir William Dethick, knight, garter king at arms, in the College of Heralds. The society had increased to such magnitude in the course of years, that archbishop Whitgift, in , proposed, though unsuccessfully, to queen Elizabeth, to form a college of English antiquaries. A similar attempt was made under James I.; and, though these applications were equally unsuccessful, the society had frequent though not stated meetings, to discuss curious points in their profession, till their revival in , since which they have met without interruption, preserving and publishing valuable antiquities belonging to the British empire. The society obtained a royal charter on the d of , by which they were incorporated

The Society of Antiquaries of London,

consisting of a president, council, and fellows; who, on day annually elect of their number to be council for the ensuing year. Out of this council the president is elected, who nominates vice-presidents to act in his absence. The subordinate officers are a treasurer, directors, secretaries, &c.; their meetings are on Thursday evenings.

The Royal Academy. The history of this establishment comprises, in a great measure, the history of the fine arts in Great . This society was formed by some artists, who, by a voluntary subscription among themselves, established an Academy in , Charing-cross.

In the year the exhibition of the artists was made, under the sanction of the Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. The success of these exhibitions, and the harmony which at that time subsisted among exhibitors, naturally led them to the thoughts of soliciting an establishment, and forming themselves into a body: in consequence of which, his majesty king George III. granted them his royal charter, incorporating them by the name of

The Society of Artists of Great



this charter bears date . A division afterwards taking place among the members, was the cause of establishing the Royal Academy in ; which has continued in a flourishing state, whilst the Society of Artists has dwindled into obscurity. The Royal Academy consists of those members who are called Royal Academicians, Associates, and Associate Engravers, who are not to belong to any other society of artists established in London. No associate can be admitted a royal academician, except approved by the king, and depositing a picture, bas-relief, or other specimen of his abilities, to the council, before the next ensuing his election. The associates must be artists by profession, that is to say, painters, sculptors, or


architects, to be at least years of age, and not apprentices. The associate engavers are not to exceed ; they are not to be admitted into any of the offices of the academy, nor have any vote in their assemblies; but, in other respects, to enjoy all the advantages of academicians.

There are professors, of painting, architecture, anatomy, and ancient literature. The business of these gentlemen is to instruct the students by lectures, &c. in the principles of composition, to form their taste, and strengthen their judgment; to point out to them the beauties and imperfections of celebrated works of art; to fit them for an unprejudiced study of books, and to lead them into the readiest and most efficacious paths of study. The professors continue in office during the king's pleasure, and have a small annual salary. The schools are furnished with living models of both sexes, plaister figures, bas-reliefs, and lay-men, with proper draperies, under certain regulations.

The library consists of books, prints, models, &c. relating to architecture, sculpture, painting, and the relative sciences; and is open to all students properly qualified. The annual exhibition of the artists commences in May, and continues open to the public weeks, or longer, at the discretion of the council; and the money received, after payment of the annual and contingent expences, is placed out to increase the stock in the per cent. consolidated annuities, to be called

the pension fund,

and appropriated to the support of decayed members and their widows. The academy also distribute prizes to the students who have excelled in the science of design, under proper regulations,

all students (painters, sculptors, or architects,) having obtained gold medals, shall have the privilege of becoming candidates (by rotation), to be sent abroad on his majesty's pension, which allows the successful candidate


l. for his journey there,


per annum for


years, and


for his journey back.

The library of the Royal Academy is ornamented with a coved ceiling, painted by sir Joshua Reynolds and Cipriani. The centre, by Reynolds, represents the theory of the arts, formed as an elegant and majestic female sealed in the clouds, her countenance looking towards the heavens; holding in hand a compass, and in the other a label, inscribed,

Theory is the knowledge of what is truly nature.

The compartments, by Cipriani, are distinctive of Nature, History, Allegory, and Fable. The council-room is richly stuccoed, and the ceiling exhibits paintings from the pencil of West. The centre picture represents the Graces unveiling Nature, surrounded by pictures of the Elements, from which the imitative arts collect their objects, under the description of female figures attended by


genii. Large oval pictures adorn the extremities of the ceiling, the work of Angelica Kauffman, representing Invention, Composition, Design, and Colouring. In the angles, or spandrils, in the centre, are coloured medallions, representing Appelles, the painter; Phidias, the sculptor; Appallodarus, the architect; and Archimedes, the mathematician: and smaller medallions held up by lions round the great circle, represent in chiaro-oscuro Palladio, Bernini, Michael Angelo, Fiamingo, Raphaello, Dominichino, Titian, and Rubens, painted by Rebecca.

At the commencement of the reign of his late majesty George directions were given to sir William Chambers, master of the board of works, for the designing and superintending the new building of Somerset-house. After a design of sir William's the building was begun; and though never entirely completed, it must certainly be allowed, in many respects, to redound to the credit of his taste and ingenuity. Somerset-house occupies a space of feet in depth, and nearly in width. This astonishing extension of site is distributed into a quadrangular court, feet long, and wide, with a street on each side, lying parallel with the court, feet in length, and in breadth, leading to a terrace ( feet in width) on the banks of the Thames. is raised feet above the bed of the river, and occupies the entire length of the building. front of the building is no more than feet long. This division of the building consists of a rustic basement, supporting Corinthian columns, crowned in the centre with an attic, and at the extremities with a ballustrade. large arches compose the basement; the in the centre are open, and form the entrance to the quadrangle; the at each end are filled with windows of the Doric order, and adorned with pilasters, entablatures, and pediments. The key-stones of the arches are carved in alto-relievo, with colossal masks, representing Ocean and the chief rivers of Great , viz. Thames, Humber, Mersey, Dee, Medway, Tweed, Tyne, and Severn, all decorated with suitable emblems. Above the basement rise Corinthian columns, on pedestals, with regular entablatures correctly executed. floors are comprehended in this order; the windows of the interior being only surrounded with architraves, while those of the principal floor have a ballustrade before them, and are ornamented with Ionic pilasters, entablatures, and pediments. The central windows have likewise large tablets, covering part of the architrave and frieze, on which are represented, in basso-relievo, medallions of the king, queen, and prince of Wales, supported by lions, and adorned respectively with garlands of laurel, of myrtle, and of oak. The attic extends over intercolumniations, and distinguishes the centre of the front. It is divided into parts by colossal statues placed over the columns of the order; the centre division being reserved for an


inscription, and the sides having oval windows, enriched with festoons of oak and laurel. The statues represent venerable men in senatorial habits, each wearing the cap of liberty. In hand they have a fasces, composed of reeds firmly bound together, emblematic of strength derived from unanimity; while the other sustains respectively the scales, the mirror, the sword, and the bridle, symbols of Justice, Truth, Valour, and Moderation. The whole terminating with a group, consisting of the arms of the British empire, supported on side by the Genius of England, and on the other by Fame, sounding her trumpet. The open arches form the only entrance; they open to a vestibule, uniting the street with the back front, and serving as the general access to the whole edifice, but more particularly to the Royal Academy, and to the Royal and Antiquarian Societies, the entrances to which are under cover. This vestibule is decorated with columns of the Doric order, whose entablature supports the vaults, which are ornamented with well-chosen antiques, among which the cyphers of their majesties and the prince of Wales are intermixed. Over the central doors in this vestibule are busts, executed in Portland stone by Mr. Wilton; that on the Academy side represents Michael Angelo Bonarotti; that on the side of the learned societies, sir Isaac Newton. The back front of this part of the building, which faces the quadrangle, the architect was enabled to make considerably wider than that towards . It is near feet in extent, and is composed of a , with projecting wings: the style of decoration is, however, nearly the same; the principal variations consist in the forms of the doors and windows, and in the use of pilasters instead of columns, except in the front of the wings, each of which has columns, supporting an ornament composed of sphinxes, with an antique altar between them, judiciously introduced to screen the chimnies from view. The masks on the key-stones are intended to represent Lares, or the tutelar deities of the place. The attic is ornamented with statues of the quarters of the globe. America appears armed, as breathing defiance; the other are loaded with tributary fruits and treasure. Like front, the termination of the attic on this side is formed by the British arms, surrounded by sedges and sea-weeds, and supported by marine gods, armed with tridents, and holding a festoon of nets filled with fish and other marine productions. The other sides of the quadrangle are formed by massy buildings of rustic work, corresponding with the interior of the principal front. The centre of the south side is ornamented with an arcade of columns, having pilasters on each side, within which the windows of the front are thrown a little back. On these columns rests a pediment; in the tympanum of which is a basso-relievo, representing the arms of the navy of Great , supported by a sea-nymph riding on sea-horses, and guided by Tritons blowing conches. On the corners of the pediments are military trophies, and the whole is terminated by


elegant vases placed above the columns. The east and west fronts are nearly similar, but less copiously ornamented. In the centre of each of these fronts is a small black tower, and in that of the south front a dome. All round the quadrangle is a story, sunk below the ground, in which are many of the offices subordinate to those in the basement and upper stories. Directly in the front of the entrance, and in the great quadrangle, is a bronze cast of the Thames, by Bacon, lying at the foot of a pedestal, on which is placed an elegant statue of his late majesty, also in bronze.

The front next the Thames corresponds with the south front of the quadrangle, and is ornamented in the same manner. Before it is a spacious terrace, supported by arches resting on the artificial embankment of the Thames. These arches are of massy rustic work, and the centre, or water-gate, is ornamented with a colossal mask of the Thames, in alto-relievo. There are arches on each side of the centre; the of which, on both sides, is considerably more lofty than the others, and serves as a landing-place to the warehouses under the terrace. Above these landing-places, upon the ballustrade which runs along the terrace, are figures of lions couchant, larger than life, and well executed.

The principal offices held in Somerset-house are those of the privy-seal, and signet; the navy; navy pay; victualling, and sick and wounded seaman's: the stamp; tax; hawkers' and pedlars'; the surveyor-general of crown lands; the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster; the auditors of imprests; the pipe; the comptroller; legacy duty, and the treasurer remembrancer's.

In the streets on each side are dwelling-houses for the treasurer, paymaster, and commissioners of the navy; commissioners of the victualling-office, and their secretary; a commissioner of stamps, and of sick and wounded.

It appears from the papers laid before the house of commons, that the architect's estimate of the probable expense of the projected structure was comparatively trifling: on Somerset-house, however, has already been expended more than half a million of money.

The considerable difference between conjecture and reality, with regard to the expense of this undertaking, is not to be entirely attributed to the natural disdain of restraint, invariable with the practitioner of the fine arts. The building was commenced when the nation was plunged in its destructive war with the colonies. When it is recollected that Portland stone is brought by sea upwards of miles, from the island of that name in Dorsetshire; that Purbeck stone is likewise conveyed by water upwards of miles, from Sandwich; and Moor stone upwards of miles, from Devonshire or Cornwall, the effect that a state of national hostility must have on the charge and convenience of removing so many tons as were required for Somerset-house, must be allowed to operate materially, producing the alleged disproportion.


On the spot now occupied by Doiley's linen warehouse, was formerly


[] Moser's Vestiges, in Europ. Mag.

[] Vide Some Account of London, p. 129.

[] During the occupancy of this queen, the building was called Denmark-place.

[] Why this restriction should extend to such useful and respectable artists as the body of engravers, is not for us to examine. Trifling distinctions, where great objects are in view, appear invidious, and too often give the vulgar an opportunity of depreciating the whole fabric.

This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 Title Page
CHAPTER I: Site, local divisions, and government of the City of Westminster; history of the Abbey; Coronation Ceremonies; and lists of the Abbots and Deans
CHAPTER II: Westminster Abbey, and Description of the Tombs and Monuments
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of St. Margaret's Parish
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of St. John's Parish, Westminster
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields, Westminster
CHAPTER VI: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. James, Westminster
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Anne, Westminster
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Mary-le-strand
CHAPTER X: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. Clement Danes
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of the parish of st. George, Hanover Square
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of the Precinct of the Savoy
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of the Inns of Court
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of the Precincts of the Charter-house and Ely Place, and the Liberty of the Rolls
 CHAPTER XV: Historical Notices of the Borough of Southwark
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Olave, Southwark
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of the parish of St. John, Southwark
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Thomas, Southwark
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. George's, Southwark
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of St. Saviour's Parish
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of the parist of Christ-church in the County of Surrey
 CHAPTER XXII: A List of the Principal Books, &c that have been published in Illustration of the Antiquities, History, Topography, and other subjects treated of in this Work
 Addenda et Corrigienda