76 Dean Street is recorded as having been built by Thomas Richmond ca.1730. The first occupant entered in the parish ratebooks was James Hamilton, 7th Earl of Abercorn,1 a Fellow of the Royal Society and author of a work on magnetism who lived in the building from 1735 until 1742. Christopher Hussey suggested that an occasional occupant was the Earl’s second son, the Hon. John Hamilton for whom the mural on the staircase may have been executed. This features seascapes viewed as though through a loggia.
This very capable naval officer was promoted Lieutenant in March 1735/6, and distinguished himself later that year at the wreck of the H.M.S. Louisa. He was appointed captain of H.M.S. Deal Castle in 1741 and of H.M.S. Kinsale in 1742. His profession probably explains the presence of an eighteenth-century battleship among the fantastic seascapes painted on the walls of the staircase hall.
A number of people are known to have lived in the house throughout the rest of the eighteenth century. From 1798-1800 ‘it was intermittently occupied by ‘300 women at work for the Army’, and then it accommodated ‘poor children removed from their workhouse’. The lease was sold to Philip Rundell of the firm of goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell in 1810, together with No.75. After the freehold was bought from the Crown in 1833, ‘in 1835 the premises were let to George Marley and Joseph Clark, formerly of nearby Bear Street, curriers and leather cutters, by whom the freehold was bought in 1847.’
Writing in 1947, Hussey states that ‘the mid-Georgian front and panelled interior are well preserved.’ However, most of the original interior was subsequently lost during a fire which broke out on 10th July 2009.
Miraculously the painted walls of the stairwell largely survived. However, there had been a substantial loss of plaster from the ceiling.
I was asked to examine the ceiling to look for evidence of a painted surface coeval with the seascape mural of the walls. I discovered that the second scheme related to the mural and it is thought that this would have been executed when the house was occupied by the Hon. John Hamilton. ‘Sky’ ceilings had been employed on later occasions.
The building has now reopened as a private members’ club – Soho House, 76 Dean Street.
A number of colleagues had worked on the building and I am indebted to the work undertaken by Catherine Hassall, Richard Ireland, Paine & Stewart and Hare & Humphreys in particular.
1 As with so many of my projects there are connections with earlier ones that I have worked on. In this case Bentley Priory had been built for John Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Abercorn. The Marquess was a son of Captain James Hamilton the owner of 76 Dean Street. This had been the fourth project that I had worked on in Dean Street.