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Street View: Suppl. 5
Address: 20 Langham Place

Although Tallis just described James Fergusson as Esquire, he was much more than just a gentleman retired from active business. He was heavily involved in various building committees and the history of architecture on which he wrote several books. I have therefore given him the occupation of ‘architect’, although he was not a practising architect as such. Fergusson had made his money in India as an indigo planter, but sold up in 1840 or thereabouts and came back to England. In June 1842, he acquired the leases of four properties in Langham Place(1) and proceeded to build a block of houses to his specifications on what had been the front of Marks’ coach repository. Henry Stacy Marks, in his Pen and Pencil Sketches of 1894 wrote “the old premises were sold to Mr. Fergusson the architect, who had them entirely rebuilt and reconstructed”. “The Langham Place frontage was displaced by a new row of handsome houses … in the centre of which was an entrance to the new business premises, entirely remodelled, and if less picturesque, more convenient”.

Fergusson used number 20 (mistakenly numbered 25 by Tallis) as his own residence, which was larger than numbers 3, 19 and 21 as he also had the section above the new entrance to Marks’ coach repository (see illustration below; red line under Fergusson’s residence). See for the illogical numbering of the houses the post on Alfred Markwick who occupied number 19, and for the changes to the coach repository the post on Marks & Co.

The houses were not designed by Fergusson himself, but by David Mocatta. A sketch of the plan is held in the RIBA collection.

The third edition of Fergusson’s The History of Architecture was published after his death and included a ‘Sketch of his Life’ by William H. White, who said that Fergusson had always intended to come home from India as soon as possible and that “having known the pleasures as well as the discomforts of a planter’s life, he kept a tolerable stable”, whatever that is supposed to mean. He was certainly in England in 1841 when the census was taken and then living with his parents in New Windsor, Berkshire. According to White, he returned to India several times in the period 1843-1845 for lengthy tours that culminated in several books. But when he came back from these tours, it was to live at Langham Place for the rest of his life. In 1851, his mother, his sister and a niece were living (or just staying?) with him, but in later censuses, he is found on his own with just two servants. Lots has been written about Fergusson himself and the books he wrote, so I will not repeat all that, but suggest two websites with more information: Clan Ferguson and The Victorian Web.

Fergusson’s carte-de-visite by McLean, Melhuish, Napper & Co, ±1860 (© National Portrait Gallery)

Fergusson died in January 1886(2) and the leases of Hayne’s Livery Stable (behind number 21), of the Portland Bazaar (behind number 20), and of 20 and 21 Langham Place themselves were acquired by Francis Ravenscroft who agreed with the Crown for the building of a concert hall, designed by Thomas Edward Knightley.(3) The hall became known as Queen’s Hall and was from 1895 until 1941 the home of ‘The Proms’, the promenade concerts founded by Robert Newman, the Hall’s manager, and conductor Henry Wood. The Hall stood proudly on the extensive corner plot until May 1941 when the fire caused by a German incendiary bomb destroyed it completely.

Goad’s insurance map of 1889 with the plots acquired by Ravenscroft outlined in red. The arrow points towards number 20

Photograph copied from Robert Elkin, Queen’s Hall 1893-1941, 1944.

More information about the end of Queen’s Hall can be found on the West End at War website, and more about the Hall itself on the Wikipedia page. All that now remains is a green plaque.

(1) Appendix no. 1 of the Twentieth Report of the Commissioners of her Majesty’s Wood, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings, 21 August 1843.
(2) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1886. The estate was valued at just under £43,000.
(3) Robert Elkin, Queen’s Hall 1893-1941, 1944, pp. 14-15.

Neighbours:

<– 21 Langham Place 20 (was 3) Langham Place (Marks) –>
19 Langham Place (Markwick) –>
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