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Fitzroy Square, London, preliminary designs and finished drawings for the east and south sides of Fitzroy Square, c1790, as executed (3)

Charles Fitzroy (1737-1797) was a direct descendant of Charles II through Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton, the King’s illegitimate son. Born on 25 June 1737, Charles was the third son of Lord Augustus Fitzroy (d. 1741) and his wife, Elizabeth Cosby, the daughter of Colonel William Cosby. In July 1758 Charles Fitzroy married Anne Warren (d. 1807), the daughter of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, with whom he had sixteen children. He and his family resided at Fitzroy Farm in Highgate, a property he inherited from his mother.

Principally an army officer, Charles Fitzroy began his career in 1752, with a commission as Ensign in the Foot Guards. During the Seven Years war he served under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, and by 1762 was Colonel of the 19th foot. At this time Charles was dismissed from his court position by Lord Bute for his refusal to support peace with France.

In October 1775 Charles openly refused to support his older brother Augustus Henry, 3rd Duke of Grafton in his opposition to Lord North’s American policy. As a result he was eventually awarded with the title Baron Southampton in 1780, when he was also appointed groom of the stole to George, Prince of Wales.

On 21 March 1797, Charles Fitzroy died at his London residence in Stanhope Street and was buried in St James’s burial ground, Hampstead Road.

In 1790 Charles, Lord Southampton commissioned the Adam office as part of a speculative project to develop Fitzroy Square, with the Adam brothers sold the very first of the 99 year leaseholds.

Building began in 1790, with the eastern block constructed first and the original leaseholds for this side of the square granted in 1792. Immediately following on from this, work began on the southern block, with the first houses completed by January 1794. In total, forty townhouses were built in Fitzroy Square, but the north and west blocks were not completed until the 1830s, a significant interlude having occured due to the outbreak of war and likely compounded by the deaths of Robert and James Adam in 1792 and 1794 respectively.

Fitzroy Square was to be one of the Adam office’s final projects and, as King notes, it is one of the few later schemes to be executed outside Scotland. It is considered one of the office’s finest street schemes and King highlights the comparison with the contemporary designs for Charlotte Square in Edinburgh. Fitzroy Square is ultimately considered the most impressive of the street designs for its sheer scale and the sense of movement. When comparing the scheme to the Adelphi and Mansfield Street, Bolton notes a contrast with these earlier designs. Where as their plain exteriors concealed a wealth of elaborate interiors, the reverse is true of Fitzroy Square, and Bolton suggests that Robert Adam’s death in 1792 meant very little thought was given to the internal ornamentation.

It is possible that work was also begun on the western block of Fitzroy Square, and King suggests that the office intended to repeat their designs for the earlier east and south blocks. Bolton notes a contemporary account involving a carriage accident which seemingly points to deep excavations on the western side of the square, possibly the result of foundations which were dug and subsequently abandoned. The north side of the square was eventually constructed c1827 and the western side was completed c1832.

Significantly, James and William Adam were sold a majority of the leaseholds for the east and south blocks, all for a period of 99 years with the first beginning at Michaelmas 1789. For the eastern block this included all the houses except for no.1, which was leased to David Piper. The same is true of the south block, with the exception of no. 33, which was leased to the carpenter Thomas Bert at the request of the Adam brothers. In their later years, following financial difficulties, the office frequently resorted to creative means by which to pay their craftsmen. A similar method was employed at Portland Place with leaseholds of the speculative buildings granted to the Rose family in lieu of payment for their plasterwork interiors.

The first inhabitants of Fitzroy Square seemed particularly conscious of preserving the Adam legacy, and as a result The Frontagers Committee was formed at the beginning of the nineteenth century with the purpose of preserving the square. There survives from the committee a letter to William Adam addressing the residents particular concerns, and the minute books for the group date back to 1806.

The two blocks designed by Adam are four storeys in height, with the eastern block extending for 230 feet and the south block for 215 feet. The design is ingenious for the sense of movement created across the facades, and King notes the use of the five part arrangement. The composition divides the long facades into five parts with elaborate detail applied to the central and terminating portions. Set in between this there is a relatively plain treatment which provides balance. King notes further use of the technique for the Royal Terrace at the Adelphi, at Portland Place and in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. At the ground storey level, creating further movement, Adam introduced arched windows which King compares to the scheme for Frederick’s Place. Both the south and east blocks were faced in Portland stone, with additional stucco elements rendered in the troublesome Liardet’s plaster. At the beginning of the twentieth century Bolton noted that the fine friezes and stucco roundels were falling away. Along the roof-line, Adam’s designs include a number of ornaments, but King suggests that these were never executed.

The internal layouts for the houses in the east and south blocks of the Square were typical of the Adam townhouse form. Designed as two rooms deep, a number of the properties also have a bowed rear front. To the rear of each house there is a stone staircase with wrought iron balusters and mahogany handrails. Very little remains in the way of internal ornament. There are a small number of friezes and cornices which survive and a number of eighteenth-century chimneypieces, majoritively executed in wood. In several of houses the original internal doors also survive.

During the nineteenth century the facades were heavily plastered and painted in a bid to conceal the flaking stucco.

In the 1970s the square’s Frontagers committee undertook a voluntary programme to restore the facades to their original scheme. At a later date, dormer windows were inserted in the roof of the eastern block and the south end of this block was struck by a bomb in 1940, destroying the interiors of the southern-most house. However the eastern block remains the best preserved of the two Adam blocks. The south block was more significantly damaged during World War II with all of its interiors destroyed and only the façade preserved. The south block is now primarily used for office space and the internal townhouse format does not survive. A number of the original fanlights for the front doors also remain in situ, although some are later replacements.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, pp. 112-116, Index, p.37; ‘Fitzroy Square’, Survey of London: Volume 21, the Parish of St Pancras Part 3: Tottenham Court Road and Neighbourhood, eds. J.R. Howard Roberts and W.H. Godfrey, 1949, pp. 52-63; Fitzroy Square: Frontagers and Garden Committee, 1992; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 9, 11, 77, 97-9, 413, pls. 123-5; A. Youens, ‘Rediscovering Fitzrovia’, Country Life, Oct 6 2010, p. 110; The Times, Oct. 8 2010, p. 14; R.T. Cornish, ‘Fitzroy, Charles, first Baron Southampton (1737-1797)’, 2004, www.oxforddnb.com (accessed December 2020)

Anna McAlaney, 2020
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