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Coventry House, 29 (now 106) Piccadilly, London: designs for unexecuted alterations to the house, and for executed interior decoration, for the 6th Earl of Coventry, 1764-70 (57)

1764-70
George William, 6th Earl of Coventry (1722-1809), was the second son of the 5th Earl, and he succeeded his father in 1751. Coventry was considered a great leader of fashion, most notably from his patronage of French decorative arts, including the Gobelins tapestries that he purchased for his country house at Croome Court. In 1752 Coventry married his first wife, the famous Irish beauty, Maria Gunning (d1760), by whom he had two children, and in 1764 he married his second wife, Barbara St John (d1804), the daughter of the 10th Lord St John of Bletsoe. This second marriage brought a considerable amount of money to Coventry, and in that same year he purchased a new townhouse at 29 Piccadilly. Coventry was already in possession of townhouses on St James's Square and Grosvenor Square, and it has been suggested by Gordon that the motivation to purchase a third townhouse was to provide Barbara with a London home unconnected with Coventry's first wife, Maria.

29 Piccadilly was built on the site of an old inn called The Greyhound for Sir Henry Hunloke, 4th Baronet, of Wingerworth Hall, Derbyshire, in 1759-62. The house was built to the designs of an unknown architect, possibly Matthew Brettingham (1725-1803). Sir Henry had purchased a 99-year lease of the plot from the Earl of Bath, and in 1764 the remaining 94 years on the lease were transferred to Coventry for 10,000 guineas. Coventry immediately commissioned Robert Adam to remodel the principal (first) storey. We can see from the extant drawings that alterations to the fabric were also considered, although these were unexecuted, and further to this Adam also made improvements to the service rooms in the basement. Coventry's selection of Adam as his architect is unsurprising, as he was already working for Coventry at Croome Court. Moreover, Coventry employed various craftsmen at 29 Piccadilly who had already worked for him under Adam at Croome Court. These craftsmen included the sculptor Sefferin Alken (1717-82), the plaster Joseph Rose (1745-99), and the carpenter John Hobcraft (1720-1802).

In 1810-11 the 7th Earl of Coventry commissioned repairs to his father's house, as well as a cast-iron balcony for the principal front, and the heightening of the top storey. This work was executed to designs by Thomas Cundy (1765-1825). Apart from Cundy's early nineteenth-century balcony, and heightening work, the original fa├žade survives. The house remained the principal London residence of the Earls of Coventry until 1848 when it became the home of comte de Flahault de la Bellarderie, Napoleon III's ambassador to Britain. Then in 1868 it was purchased by George Warren, Baron de Tabley, a trustee of the St James' Club, who gave the house over to the club almost immediately. 29 Piccadilly remained the location of the St James' Club for over a century, until it merged with Brooks's Club in 1978. During the tenure of St James' various alterations were made, including the demolition of the stables to accommodate a rear extension. In this area a card room was added by Edward Robert Robson (1836-1917) in 1880, and a further extension was made to the east of the building in 1912 by Albert Palser (ND), of Messrs Maple and Co., including two domed billiard rooms. Number 29 Piccadilly (now number 106) was recently the location of International House, a language school, but in 2007 it was acquired by Limkokwing University.

See also: Croome Court

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, index pp. 44, 67; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 57, 67, 68, 86, 93-94; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 44-45, 91, 107-8; H. Hayward, and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell: eighteenth-century London furniture makers, 1980, Volume I, pp. 103-106; T. Murdoch, 'A mirror designed by Robert Adam: an Adam mirror for Coventry House returns to London', National Art Collections Fund Annual Report, 1992, pp. 44-47; C. Gordon, The Coventrys of Croome, 2000, pp. 2, 102, 133-35, 148; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, chapter 3; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 307, 309; S. Bradley, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: London 6: Westminster, 2003, p. 564

Frances Sands, 2012
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