Schomberg House — Part Three

Though the second part of the Schomberg House saga may have covered the most risqué and certainly the most glamorous part of its history, there are still a couple of curious tales to be told about that building before its ultimate demise. Finally will be told when it acquired its Coade stone porch and who occupied the three sections of the divided building during the Regency. Schomberg House survived the decade of the Prince Regent’s rule intact, but this splendid seventeenth-century town home began to be slowly pulled apart, beginning a score of years after the passing of George IV and continuing, on and off, for the next century.

And so, the last part of the saga of Schomberg House, including its almost total destruction in the last century …

When we left the Schomberg House story last week, it was 1791. Richard Cosway had just vacated the central section and moved with his infant daughter, Louisa, to Stratford Place, while awaiting his wife’s return from the Continent. His erstwhile landlord, John Astley, had passed away in 1787, during the Cosway’s tenancy, but the Crown leasehold remained in the Astley family. The central section of Schomberg House, No. 81, was leased later that year to Thomas Goddard, the principal representative of the Polygraphic Society, a most curious institution which would continue the connection of Schomberg House with the arts, particularly painting.

In 1784, Joseph Booth, an English artist and inventor working in Dublin, published his book, A Treatise Explanatory of the Nature and Properties of Pollaplasiasmos; or, The Original Invention of Multiplying Pictures in Oil Colours, with All the Properties of the Original Painting Whether in Regard to Outline, Size, Variety of Tints etc.. Booth believed that many people who could not afford fine paintings were eager to have good quality works of art to adorn their homes. Thus he set himself to find a method by which superior oil paintings could be copied chemically and mechanically and made available at reasonable prices to those of good taste but limited means. Booth used the term "Pollaplasiasmos" for his new chemical and mechanical technique of making multiple copies of oil paintings. However, when the concept took hold in London, the group which promoted his invention decided to call themselves the Polygraphic Society.

The members of the Polygraphic Society shared Joseph Booth’s opinion that copies of fine works of art, made available at reasonable prices to those on a limited income, would raise the level of refinement and taste among the people of these classes. They also believed that multiple copies of superior paintings, particularly works by English artists, could be distributed around the world, thus doing " … Honour to our Age and Country." They intended that the sale of copies of paintings would also help to supplement the income of the artists who painted them, yet another way to encourage the arts in England. In their new rooms in Schomberg House, the Polygraphic Society planned to mount public exhibitions two or three times a year to display their chemically and mechanically produced color paintings, which they called "Polygraphics," alongside the originals from which they were copied. The society purchased all of the paintings which they copied, giving the artists some income, even if the copies of their works did not sell. Occassionally, the Polygraphic Society commissioned paintings from major English artists expressly for copying and wide distribution for the honor of England.

Though Mrs. Coade opened her artificial stone manufactory in Lambeth in 1769, the same year in which John Astley acquired Schomberg House, there is no evidence that Astley chose to use Coade stone to embellish the facade of his new property at that time. The first record of the use of Coade stone at Schomberg House was in 1791, when the Polygraphic Society commissioned a grand porch for the front door of their new premises in the central section. The entablature of the porch was supported by a pair of columns in the shape of classical male figures which tapered to square shafts resting on high plinths. Above these columns was a plain dentil cornice, a blocking course and a balustrade with molded capping. In the center of the front balustrade was a large stone tablet on which stood out in high relief a reclining female figure, draped in classical costume and holding an artist’s palette and several brushes.

Apparently Mrs. Coade was very pleased with the design of this porch and kept the molds which had been made for it. In 1799, when she was preparing to open her own gallery of Coade stone objects in Lambeth, she cast the components for her porch from the same molds as those used for the Polygraphic Society porch at Schomberg House. However, she used two columns on each side of her grand doorway, rather than the single pair used for the porch at Schomberg House. In addition, in place of the tablet with the relief of the reclining paintress, the porch of Mrs. Coade’s gallery was surmounted by a Coade stone representation of John Bacon’s design of "the Attempts of Time to destroy Sculpture and Architecture, defeated by the vitrifying aid of Fire." Though Mrs. Coade’s artificial stone gallery was demolished more than a century ago, the columns, cornice and balustrade which she copied for her gallery entrance can still be seen at Schomberg House.

After completing their renovations of Schomberg House, the Polygraphic Society held their first public exhibition at No. 81 Pall Mall in 1792. One report stated, " … the selection is exquisite, and the copies so near the original, that nice attention is requisite to avoid deception." Various periodicals also commended the Polygraphic Society for " … endeavoring to bring forward an art which is so truly deserving public patronage." The Polygraphic Society was indeed purchasing some very fine works of art from which to make their copies. However, though little is known of the process by which copies were made of these superior paintings, the process was clearly not equal to the art which it was used to copy. After the initial positive reviews, public opinion of the "Polygraphics," on display in the Schomberg House gallery soon began to wane. Within the year, one wag described the Polygraphic Society gallery as being used " … for the exhibition of their wretched copies of good pictures." Thomas Goddard, the principal representative of the Polygraphic Society, died in 1795, at which time the society seems to have dissolved. All of the paintings which were still at No. 81 Pall Mall at that time were removed to Christie’s Auction Rooms, next door to Schomberg House. Like the collections of John Astley, Thomas Gainsborough and Richard Cosway before them, they went on the auction block, while yet another tenant was sought for the central section of Schomberg House.

Though the gallery of the Polygraphic Society was no more, No. 81 would continue to be a venue for the display of fine art, for the lease on the central section of Schomberg House was next taken by Michael Bryan, the connoisseur and art dealer. Bryan lived in Flanders for several years prior to 1790, at which time it is assumed that he acquired his initial knowledge of art and its history. In 1784, he married Juliana Talbot, the sister of the Earl of Shrewsbury, by which he gained a wide circle of noble social connections. He continued to travel across Europe in search of fine art, and in effect, became a broker for the sale of important works of art by one aristocrat to another. He was detained in Rotterdam in 1794, when the French government ordered the apprehension of all English citizens in Holland. Bryan was back in London by 1796, at which time he took the lease on No. 81 Pall Mall for use as his gallery of art. It was well-suited to the purpose, having recently been vacated by the Polygraphic Society. Bryan’s gallery, however, was not open to the general public. Rather, admittance to this art gallery was by appointment, and was invitation-only. It was here that Bryan gave private tours to his wealthy patrons who were seeking to add to their collections of fine art from the many works of art which he had acquired from across Europe.

It was in the central section of Schomberg House, in 1798, that many of the paintings of the once immense, yet still quite fabulous Orleans Collection were put on display, prior to the final dispersal of the collection under Bryan’s direction. A decade previously, a Schomberg House neighbor, James Christie, had organized a syndicate to negotiate the sale of the paintings which made up this extremely important art collection, for Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. Though the scion of one of the wealthiest families in France, the Duke’s gambling losses soon out-paced his income. In 1787, he had sold the illustrious collection of engraved gems from his family’s massive collection to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. In 1788, still in need of funds, he negotiated with the syndicate headed by James Christie to sell the paintings. However, the price upon which the Duke and Christie had agreed was 100,000 guineas, but the only subscribers to the syndicate were the Prince of Wales, at £7000, and his two eldest royal brothers, the Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence, at £5000 each. Since no one else was willing to subscribe at such exorbitant amounts, Christie’s syndicate collapsed. One English banker, Dawson Turner, was of the opinion that there were no other subscribers since it was generally assumed that the royal brothers would take their pick of the best of the collection, leaving only the lesser paintings to everyone else.

Desperate for money, the Duke of Orléans sold his entire painting collection to a Brussels banker, who almost immediately sold it on to a wealthy French art connoisseur, Jean-Joseph, the Marquis de Laborde. A French aristocrat, de Laborde was soon in danger from the Reign of Terror, and was forced to sell his vast collection the following year. In that same year, 1793, the Duke of Orléans was sent to the guillotine, and the Marquis de Laborde followed him in 1794. The bulk of the magnificent Orleans Collection of paintings was taken to London in 1793. At one point, King George III, with the support of his Prime Minister, William Pitt, had hoped to buy the collection as the foundation of a British national art gallery. Unfortunately, there was no support for this purchase in Parliament and it came to nothing. Though a few of the paintings were sold off individually over the course of the next few years, by 1798, the majority of the Orleans painting collection was still intact and still in London. Once again, a syndicate was organized to purchase the remaining paintings. This time, it was led by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, with the assistance of his nephew, George Leveson-Gower, who would eventually become the 1st Duke of Sutherland and the wealthiest man in England. Some art historians speculate that Earl Gower, as he was then styled, had become familiar with the Orleans Collection when he served as British ambassador in Paris from 1790 to 1792, and was therefore the driving force behind the syndicate. Regardless of its true power structure, the Bridgewater-Gower syndicate was successful and purchased the Orleans painting collection for the grand sum of £43,500 in early 1798.

Once they had taken possession of the paintings, the Duke of Bridgewater, Earl Gower and the other members of the syndicate took their pick of the best of the collection for themselves. Records show that of the 305 paintings purchased, 94 paintings were retained by syndicate members. Many of those paintings still remain in the possession of the families of those members to this day. The Bridgewater-Gower syndicate then engaged Michael Bryan, of No. 81 Pall Mall, to sell off the remaining 211 paintings for them. Bryan decided to split the collection, exhibiting the largest paintings in the Lyceum Theatre, in the Strand. Admission here was 2s, 6d, more than double the usual one shilling admittance price for such events. The smaller paintings went on display at Bryan’s gallery in Schomberg House. Though there is no record of the amount which was charged for admission there, it is assumed that it was comparable to that charged at the Lyceum. The paintings of the Orleans Collection remained on display for several months, through most of 1798. Though many came to see the exhibition of paintings from this famous collection, sales were not brisk, as the true gems of the collection had already been taken by syndicate members. Some of the remaining paintings were sold at auction near the end of 1798, with additional auctions taking place in 1800 and 1802. Ultimately, even with the cost of the exhibitions and the auctions, balanced by the sales of paintings and the admission receipts, the syndicate realized a total of £42,500 on their investment. Though on paper they, they lost £1000, in reality the syndicate members had each acquired several important paintings by the great masters at very little cost. Perhaps one of the most remarkable bargains in the history of art.

Michael Bryan remained the tenant at No. 81 Pall Mall until his retirement from the art business in 1804. Though he gave up his lease on the center section of Schomberg House, he continued to pursue his interest in art, publishing the first volume of his book, Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, in 1813, the second volume of which was published in 1816. This two volume work remained the standard reference on art history throughout the nineteenth century. The friendly and sociable auctioneer and poet, Peter Coxe, was the next tenant in the center section of Schomberg House, thus maintaining its connection with the arts. However, he had his premises there only from 1805 to 1806. Coxe would not come to fame as a poet until after the Regency, with his beautifully illustrated poem in four cantos, The Social Day, published in 1822.

In 1792, the year the Polygraphic Society held their first exhibition at No. 81 Pall Mall, just next door, Mrs. Margaret Gainsborough, who was still living at No. 82, passed away. The following year, 1793, the west section of Schomberg House was leased to another artist, Robert Bowyer. In 1789, Bowyer’s standing in the English artistic community noticeably increased when he was appointed Miniature Painter in Ordinary to King George III and Queen Charlotte. However, the cachet of a royal appointment had little effect on Bowyer’s income. He therefore decided to engage in the publishing and selling of prints, a typically profitable business, beginning with his own work. But Bowyer, not content to sell only single prints, planned to publish an illustrated edition of the Holy Bible, as well as an illustrated edition of The History of England by the Scottish philosopher and historian, David Hume, a pro-Tory history which had been first published three decades before.

Bowyer commissioned a number of the illustrations for The History of England from various artists both in England and on the Continent. Then, as had other print dealer’s located along Pall Mall, Bowyer decided to put the original artwork he had acquired for The History of England on display. By doing so, he expected to help defray his acquisition costs with the admission fees he would charge the public to view the originals from which the book’s illustrations would be made. So, in 1793, Bowyer opened what he called his "Historic Gallery" at No. 82 Pall Mall. Benjamin West and other noted artists contributed more than sixty works of art to Bowyer’s Historic Gallery at Schomberg House. Initially, attendance was good at the Historic Gallery, but admission receipts were not enough to off-set the costs of the publication of the extensively illustrated volumes of The History of England. In 1803, Robert Bowyer vacated his Schomberg House premises and by 1805, it is estimated that he had lost £30,000 on the illustrated edition of The History of England. Bowyer petitioned Parliament for permission to hold a lottery by which to sell off the contents of his Historic Gallery. Permission for the lottery was eventually granted and a year later the lottery was held and the collection was dispersed.

The departure of Robert Bowyer’s Historic Gallery from Schomberg House marked the end of the long association of that building on Pall Mall with the fine arts, which began with John Astley’s acquisition of the leasehold in 1769. After 1803, there would never again be another art gallery or artist in residence in any part of Schomberg House. From that time, there were various private individuals who leased the rooms at No. 82 Pall Mall either as retail premises, offices and/or as a residence. But none of these subsequent tenants had even a tangential connection with any of the arts. Coincidentally, James Christie, who maintained his auction rooms just next door to Schomberg House, died in 1803, at which time his son, James Christie, II, took over the management of Christie’s auction house. Christie’s would remain in their Pall Mall premises until 1823, when still under the management of James, II, they moved to 8 King Street, St. James’s, which would become, and remains to this day, Christie’s London headquarters.

By 1806, Harding and Company, silk-mercers and furriers, who had occupied No. 80 Pall Mall, the east section of Schomberg House, since 1796, had acquired the lease for No. 81 from John Astley’s heirs. They in turn leased the center section of Schomberg House to Thomas Payne, Jr., son of the well-known London bookseller "Honest" Tom Payne. Thomas, Jr. had taken over his father’s business in 1790, when Thomas, Senior retired. Payne was seeking larger premises than those he occupied at the Mews Gate, where the National Gallery stands today. Payne’s father had begun selling books in London in 1750 and though his shop was rather small, he had always maintained a substantial selection of books. By 1806, when the firm moved to Schomberg House, they had a wide selection of valuable old and rare books. The book shop was very popular with discriminating bibliophiles and book collectors throughout Britain. As had been the case when Tom the elder had run the shop, many among London’s literati gathered at Payne’s book shop in Schomberg House on most days to enjoy a cup of coffee and join in lively discussions with fellow patrons on a wide range of subjects. The younger Payne also maintained the same integrity and honorable business practices as had his father, so that his new shop was still often called "Honest Tom Payne’s."

A few years after moving into the center section of Schomberg House, Thomas Payne, Jr. made his apprentice, Henry Foss, his partner in the book shop. Though the exact date of the beginning of this partnership is unknown, it does seem to have been in place by the time the Prince of Wales became Regent. Throughout the Regency, one of the most well-known book shops in London, with what is described as a "matchless" collection of old and rare books, did business under the name of Payne and Foss, at No. 81 Pall Mall. In 1823, when Thomas Payne, Jr. retired, Henry Foss took as his new partner his former partner’s nephew, also called Thomas Payne. Thus, Messrs. Payne and Foss continued as eminent sellers of fine and rare books at No. 81 Pall Mall until the last Thomas Payne’s retirement, in 1850.

There are suggestions that a haberdashery firm was located in the west section of Schomberg House for the duration of the years of the Regency. However, no definitive records are extant, and even the name of the firm is unknown. In 1830, the architect, Decimus Burton, is recorded as having made alterations to a house on Pall Mall which is believed to be No. 82. New chimney-pieces were installed as were a number of cast-iron window guards. This work is believed to have been carried out for Sir John Kirkland, the General Recruiting Agent for the British army, who was then living in that part of Schomberg House.

Upon the departure of Payne and Foss from No. 81, Harding and Company, still located at No. 80, moved into the center section of Schomberg House. They had the interior of the east section demolished, in preparation for a complete renovation for the use of the Ordnance Office. However, the demolition compromised the stability of the east wall, at which point the Ordnance Office refused the site. Harding and Company had it rebuilt in an Italianate style for their own use, and occupied that space until 1857. In December of that year, the Secretary of State for War entered into negotiations with the Crown. Ultimately, he was able to come to an agreement by which the Crown leasehold on the entire property which comprised Schomberg House was transferred to the Office of Works. In 1859, the Office of Works gave the War Office full use of the whole of Schomberg House and so it remained, for nearly a full century, until 1956.

Wikipedia has a page for Schomberg House, which should, perhaps, be called "Schomberg Wall." Though Schomberg House survived the London bombings of World War II, it would not long survive in peace-time. The War Office relocated to new quarters and between 1956 and 1958, all of Schomberg House, with the exception of the front facade, was demolished. The missing eastern portion of the facade, which had been demolished in 1850, was reconstructed to match that of the western section. A new office block was then constructed behind the restored seventeenth-century facade. Today, all that remains of the Duke of Schomberg’s grand London town home is two-thirds of its front wall running along the south side of Pall Mall. In the center of that wall also remains the porch commissioned from Mrs. Coade, the components of which she used to embellish the front door of her own Coade Stone Gallery.

During the Regency, Schomberg House had no glamorous tenants, nor even any which might have been considered at all indiscreet. The eastern section was the shop of Harding and Company, silk-mercers, furriers and warehousemen to Queen Charlotte and the Royal Princesses. The center section was one of the most well-known book shops in all of London, Messrs. Payne and Foss, which was entered through the elegant Coade stone porch which had been erected by the Polygraphic Society. In the western section an unknown haberdasher offered their fashionable wares for sale. Gone were the Gainsboroughs, Dr. Graham’s Temple of Hymen, the Cosways, the Polygraphic Society, Michael Bryan’s elite gallery of art and Bowyer’s Historic Gallery. But they would not have been forgotten by many of those who were living during the Regency. Dear Regency Authors, what tales might one or more of your older characters tell of their youthful adventures which might be triggered by the sight of Schomberg House while walking or driving along Pall Mall?


About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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2 Responses to Schomberg House — Part Three

  1. Pingback: Schomberg House — Part Two | The Regency Redingote

  2. Kathryn Kane says:

    For those who might be interested, Schomberg House saw another milestone in the history of London. On 28 January 1807, Frederick Albert Winsor provided the first demonstration of the lighting of public streets with gas in Pall Mall. The many elm trees which had been planted along that thoroughfare in the seventeenth century had mostly been cut down, and in the nineteenth century, their place was taken by the gas lamp posts which would soon multiply across the metropolis.



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