Adam’s London: Then and Now – 33 St James’s Square
For the next in her series discussing Robert and James Adam’s work in London Dr Frances Sands will focus on number 33 St James’s Square.
To read about the other townhouses in this series, please see the 'Looking At Drawings' section of our blog.
Across Pall Mall from St James’s Park, St James’s Square had been the brain child of Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, the great politician who served as Lord Chancellor to King Charles II following the Restoration in 1660. Owing to its proximity to St James’s Palace, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries St James’s Square became one of the most fashionable and aristocratic addresses in the city. Little is known of the original seventeenth-century house at number 33, on the east side of the square, although it first appeared in the rate book in 1673. In 1770-72 the house was entirely rebuilt and decorated for the Hon. George Hobart (1731-1804) to designs by Robert Adam. Adam created a three-storey, four-bay house, facing the square, and with a seven-bay north side on Charles II Street.
George Hobart was the fourth son of the 1st Earl of Buckinghamshire. Despite a lengthy political career, during which he served as MP for St Ives, Cornwall in 1754-61, and Bere Alston, Devon in 1761-80, he held aspirations to a career in the diplomatic service. Hobart travelled to St Petersburg in 1762 to work as secretary to his half-brother John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire’s Embassy to Catherine the Great. This was not a successful posting however, as Hobart found the Moscow climate too bleak, and returned to Britain only a year later. Further to these public works Hobart was also a great lover of opera, and on his return to Britain he became the manager of the King’s Theatre in Haymarket, even going so far as to purchase a half-share in the theatre in 1769. Hobart transformed the Haymarket Opera House into a viable commercial enterprise, and maintained his personal financial stake in the theatre until 1773 when he retired – according to the Dictionary of National Biography – possibly because of ‘financial strain’.
Plan of the ceiling for the first drawing room, as executed, 1770. This ceiling survives in situ on the first floor of the house, although the connecting wall between the first drawing room and adjacent dressing room has been removed (SM Adam volume 12/39)
One may wonder, therefore, how Hobart could afford to rebuild his townhouse, especially considering the financial burden of his famously obese wife Albinia, the daughter of Lord Vere Bertie, the third son of Robert, 1st Duke of Ancaster, whom he had married in 1757. After producing nine children, the couple largely lived separately, but she was a gambler, opening her house, Nocton Hall on Ham Common (inherited by Hobart from a distant relative in 1766) twice a week for games, and she entertained lavishly. Moreover, Hobart’s financial difficulties were not alleviated when he succeeded to his half-brother John’s Earldom in 1793, as this inheritance did not include the family estates which John had divided between his daughters.
A clue as to how the house was funded can be found on one of Adam’s surviving drawings, where an inscription reads: Earl of Buckinghamshire for Mr Hobart / House St James's Square in the hand of William Adam. This suggests that 33 St James’s Square was rebuilt for Hobart at the behest and cost of his brother John. The truth of this is unknown, but most of Adam’s surviving designs for the house were executed, including his three ceilings on the first floor of the house which survive in situ.
Elevation of the principal front of the house, as executed, 1770 (SM Adam volume 44/14)
The house was inherited in 1804 by Hobart’s son, Robert Hobart, 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire, and sold a year later for £11,100 to the 2nd Lord Eliot (later 1st Earl St Germans). Eliot commissioned substantial alterations and extensions at the rear to designs by Sir John Soane (1753-1837) which were carried out intermittently between 1805 and 1823. In 1855-69 the house belonged to the 14th Earl of Derby, Prime Minister in 1852, 1858-59 and 1866-68, and a fourth storey was added to Adam’s original house in the 1870s by his son, the 15th Earl of Derby. Derby then sold the building to the English and Scottish Law Assurance Association in 1910 for £54,000, who, a year later undertook further works, including the addition of a stone balcony, stone facings to the ground storey, a mansard roof, and various alterations to the interior, all to designs by Messrs Edmerton and Gabriel. The house was remodelled in 1999 resulting in the loss of the Soane interiors, which were demolished in favour of reproduction Adam interiors. The building is now used as offices.
Photograph of the principal front of 33 St James’s Square, taken in September 2013
Dr Frances Sands, Catalogue Editor (Adam drawings project), has been working on a project to make 8,000 drawings from the Adam collection available to view online.
As part of the Museum’s programme of digitization and improved access to collections the Adam drawings will also be amongst the 50,000 – 60,000 works of art, books and drawings, plus the Soane Archive to be transferred into the Collections Index+ Collections Management System (CMS) that will for the first time ever allow the Museum to store and sort records of all the items in the Museum’s collection. This has been made possible with thanks to funding from the HLF and an additional year’s funding by the Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund for the collections information to become available to the public.