Street View: 50
Address: 52 Wigmore Street
A comment on the post for ironmonger Benham at 19 Wigmore Street led to this post on number 52 as the renumbering of house numbers in Wigmore Street at some point in the 1860s changed what was number 52 in Tallis’s time to number 19. If we compare Horwood’s 1799 map for the area, we can see that the house on the corner of Wimpole Street had no. 3, Wimpole Street, as its address and the first three houses from the corner were 51, 52 and 53, Wigmore Street. If we turn to the 1947 Ordnance Survey map, the corner house has become 23, Wigmore Street, and a larger building is depicted in Wigmore Street numbered 17 to 21 where numbers 51-53 had been. The number 19 that Benham occupied, by the way, had been across the road, a little more to the west than the modern number 19.
The index for the Street View booklet shows an empty space between the properties for Nicholls, the print seller, at number 51, and Robinson, the auctioneer, at number 53. Instead of the empty space after the number 52 one expects to find the name of a shopkeeper, and if the property had been empty, the word ’empty’ would be the more usual designation as Tallis describes properties without an occupant thus in other booklets. There is, however, an explanation for the omission of the name. From the 1840 Royal Kalendar and Court and City Register and The Edinburgh Almanack of the same year, we learn that number 52 was occupied by Sir James Colquhoun. He apparently did not fall into the category of citizens Tallis wanted to list, that is, shopkeepers and professionals such as surgeons, solicitors or bankers; private citizens seem to have been excluded from the Street View booklets.
A bit of research shows that Sir James had come to London because in 1837 he had been chosen the M.P. to represent the county of Dumbartonshire. Sir James, 4th baronet of Luss, a moderate Whig, won his seat in the election ahead of his conservative competitor Alexander Smollett, but the political landscape in Dumbartonshire changed soon after and at the next election, Smollett won without a contest.(1) Sir James does not seem to have been a very outspoken parliamentarian, at least, I have not found any great reforms or debates that can be put to his name, but he did handsomely convey the condolences of the Dumbartonshire assembly to Queen Victoria on the death of her uncle William IV and their congratulations on her own accession to the throne. The address of the noblemen etc. was published in The London Gazette of 22 August 1837.
The Morning Chronicle of 6 February, 1845, included an advertisement for unfurnished apartments “in the most preferable part of Wigmore-street, consisting of dining room, large and handsome drawing room, with three of four other rooms, or as many as may be required; large kitchen, stone hall and staircase”. The house overlooked the Duke of Portland’s grounds and the highest references could be given. For information, one was to apply at 52 Wigmore Street, which, by the way, does not necessarily mean that the apartment on offer was at number 52. The eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, however, did not like anyone looking into the garden of Harcourt House and it is said that “he had the garden enclosed with a gigantic screen of ground-glass, extending for 200 feet on each side and 80 feet high. His object in having this screen constructed was that the residents of Henrietta-street and Wigmore-street might be prevented from seeing into the garden and possibly catching a glimpse of his Grace when taking a stroll”.(2) Not sure when the screen was erected and whether Sir James Colquhoun had his view hampered by the screen, but the back of number 52 certainly overlooked the Duke’s garden. Harcourt House and garden stretched all the way from Cavendish Square to Wimpole Street and you can see it in the Horwood map above indicated by the number 15.
After his spell as M.P., Sir James returned to Scotland and led the not very remarkable life of a Laird, but he was not to die of old age. In December 1873, he led a hunting party to Inchlonaig, an island in Loch Lomond that was owned by the Colquhoun clan and which they used as a deer park. When the party returned from the island after the shoot, their fully laden boat was overturned in a sudden storm and Sir James and four of his attendants were drowned (see here for photos of the island). His only son, also James, dedicated the new parish church in Luss, built in 1875, to his father and a memorial stone can be found in the churchyard for the five victims of the tragedy.
The Colquhoun clan has its own website (see here) with lots of historical information about the clan members and about the coat of arms of the Colquhouns with the ‘Si Je Puis’ motto.
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