From St George’s Church to Booth’s London and CrossRail; rebuilding Hanover Square and Mayfair

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When Alice Lisle married Edward Montague Balmerino Lisle at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, little did she suspect that her marriage would be so short lived. Within a month of marrying him Lisle had disappeared, not to be seen again until his dead body was dragged from the Thames 30 years later.

St George’s, Hanover Square is one of London’s most charming places of worship and Alice was in good company in holding her nuptials there. In 1814 Harriet Westbrook had married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at the church, and in 1839 Benjamin Disreali used the venue to marry Mary Lewis. In the previous century Sir William Hamilton married the lowly born Emma Hart who went on to become more famous (or infamous) as the mistress of Horatio Nelson. Seven years later Europe’s most famous clown, Joseph Grimaldi, married Maria Wells, whose father ran the theatre at Sadler’s Wells that still bears his name.

There were other ‘celebrity’ weddings: in 1880 Mary Lewes (better know to us as the novelist George Elliot) married John Cross and in 1886 Theodore Roosevelt (not yet the 26thpresident of the USA) married Edith Carrow. In the twentieth century the church also witnessed the marriages of Guglielmo Marconi (1905) and Amy Johnson (1932). Amy Johnson married her fellow aviator Jim Mollison, a Scot, but she too vanished after her plane supposedly crashed into the Thames near Herne Bay in early January 1941.

In the late 1890s when Charles Booth revisited Hanover Square to reassess his earlier definition of the area as mostly red (for ‘comfortable’ commercial property) he found some change, but not to the overall character of the area. George Street (which today is home to Sotherby’s auction house) was made up of ‘4 and 3 story houses, offices; shops (a few)); chambers etc.’ He noted that fewer people actually lived here any more. There was a resident vet on New Bond Street, and a few helpers but in general this was fast becoming a commercial area of the capital, not a residential one.

He noted the rebuilding that had gone on in nearby Maddox Street, where the core business was tailoring. It was still quite Red on the map, and a hotel and restaurant had been established at number 51, a new development that presumably served the growing commercial streets nearby. Brook Street followed the same pattern of change, being increasingly focused on business and trade rather than residential. There were ‘two or three doctors left’ but no one else lived there. In and around Hanover Square the buildings, if not businesses, had become private members’ clubs and societies such as ‘The Zoological’, ‘St George’s Club, the Oriental Club, and the New County Club, for ladies’. As a result of the change of use Booth noted that Hanover Square ‘could go from yellow to red’.

St George’s Church had been built in 1725 as part of an expansion of 50 new churches authorized by Parliament to meet the needs of the growing Hanoverian capital. The design of St George’s was undertaken by John James, who had worked with Sir Christopher Wren. Construction took three and a half years and cost £10,000 (about £1,000,000 at today’s prices). Today Hanover Square, which once hosted such famous guests as Prince Talleyrand, the archetypal crafty diplomat who managed to survive both the French Revolution and Napoleon, is dominated by a modern construction project. imagesCrossrail is a 73-mile railway line which will (one day) link East and West London with a new over and underground line and modern stations. It should have started running at the end of 2018 but is now set to be delayed until autumn 2021.

Costs have escalated from £14.8bn to a possible £18.25bn but I wouldn’t be surprised if London was still blighted by construction work and dozens of high-viz wearing workmen well into the 2020s. There is simply too much money to be made from infrastructure construction projects like Cross Rail and HS2 for there to be any sense of urgency in actually finishing them. Meanwhile London continues to look like one huge building site, to the detriment of his historical built environment. One wonders what John James and, later, Charles Booth, would have thought.

In the next post I’ll share some of my photos of the modern view of Hanover Square and the area Booth mapped in the late 1800s.

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