Great George Street, Westminster

July 16, 2014 at 11:56 pm (books, chutes of the vyne, estates, london's landscape, research) (, , , , )

I have been living in the 18th century lately, and in looking for the Smiths at No. 29 Great George Street, Westminster, came across this Newspaper advertisement in 1802, when No. 15 (across and a bit up the street from the Smiths) was for sale:


To be Sold by Private Contract, by Mr. CHRISTIE,

A Singularly elegant LEASEHOLD HOUSE, with two coach houses, roomy four-stall stable, &c. … with views from the balcony into St. James’s Park and Westminster-bridge, from which a most perfect free circulation of air rendering the premises chearful, airy, healthy, &c.  The premises have, on the parlour floor, a library, dressing room, and elegant dining parlour, spacious entrance hall, with folding doors, paved with marble; first floor, a suit [sic] of three spacious apartments, the two principal ones laid together occasionally by folding doors, the windows of the front room opening down to the floor into balconies; four spacious bedchambers and patent water closet on the second floor; five excellent bedchambers on the attics, principal staircase of easy ascent, and back staircase; basement story, butler’s pantry, housekeeper’s room, store room, and excellent wine cellars, servant’s hall, detached kitchen, wash house, and laundry, capital arched vault for pipes of wine. the premises have been recently put into the most elegant and complete repair, fit for the immediate reception of a large family. The locality of the premises to both Houses of Parliament, St. James’s Park, Westminster Bridge, and within one shilling fare of Court, Places of Amusement, &c renders the premises particularly eligible. — To be viewed with tickets, and further particulars known in Pall Mall.”

george street

No. 29 is prominently marked “XIX”; No. 15 is the first on the right, right below the letter “T” in Street. Reading letters from the 1790s, when three men were living at No. 29 — Joshua Smith and his sons-in-law Charles, Lord Compton (of Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire) and William Chute (of The Vyne in Hampshire) — were ‘bunking together’ you get the impression of it being a NO PLACE FOR LADIES! Too little room? too many additional servants? Hard to tell the exact reason why. All three men were in Parliament; and a ‘bachelor establishment’ was probably just not the most conducive place to be!

In the mid-1790s, “the Ladies” would have included:

  • Sarah Smith – Joshua’s wife
  • Lady Compton – Charles’ wife (Joshua’s eldest daughter)
  • Spencer and Elizabeth – the two Compton children
  • Eliza Chute – William’s wife (Joshua’s second eldest daughter)
  • Augusta Smith (Joshua’s third daughter)
  • Emma Smith (Joshua’s fourth and youngest daughter)

That’s SEVEN more people, never mind maids and nursery staff.

From such a list, how could one possibly pick and choose?

I’ve long looked at the excellent series of BRITISH HISTORY ONLINE, but have also looked at the book SURVEY OF LONDON (from 1926) online at the University of Toronto (Great George Street is in vol. 10), which has many in the series. Must confess, it gives the entry an entirely different “feel” to see the BOOK!

“DEMOLISHED” is such a horrific word to see…

I sure hope the bits & pieces said to be “preserved” in the Victoria and Albert Museum still exist!

* * *



  1. Charlotte Frost said,

    Love the map. Where is it from please?

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Charlotte — isn’t the map exquisite?! What is NOT included in my “snap” of it is the bit just to the south – Gosh! so close to Parliament &c.

      It is the front of the Survey of London, vol. 10 — follow the link to the University of Toronto.

      Thanks for writing!


  2. Cat Bichi said,

    Hello. May I ask a quick question? Please excuse my ignorance. Do we know for certain that Eliza Chute resided at Great George Street? It wasn’t by any chance George Street, Marylebone? George Street runs parallel to Upper Berkeley St, where Jane Austen would stay I believe with her sister-in-law… ( and also where I live myself!) When the 2011 BBC ‘Austen Portrait Discovery’ was aired here in the UK, we very much wondered how secure was that placing of Eliza Chute in Great George Street, by the Abbey.

    Many thanks for any kind reply.

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Cat —

      The address at Great George Street was owned by Joshua Smith, Eliza’s father. A member of Parliament, Joshua inhabited the place until the l810s. British History Online, citing rate books, puts him in the residence from 1774 to 1812.

      Although I’ve not heard much lately about the portrait, Paula Byrne (its owner) seemed to go off the idea of Eliza as artist. I would be more inclined to think it a portrait by Eliza Chute, but of someone other than Jane Austen. Or, at least the famous Jane Austen. The handwritten identification really doesn’t look at all contemporaneous. Was an artist studio ID’ed, as being nearby? I’ll have to refresh my memory about that.

      Eliza Chute is down as the artist of a portrait of her sister, Maria Lady Northampton. I’ve not tracked down a LOT of her work, although her flower drawings are around. That she loved drawing, and was talented at what she drew, is known — but what genre she drew in (other than those flower pictures) is at present unknown. Her sister Emma Smith drew portraits; and I’ve seen a couple of hers – they are quite good.

      If you are in Marylebone, you are close to Portland Place! More addresses associate with Eliza Chute (later, after Joshua gave up his George Street residence).

      Many thanks, to you, for your interest – and inquiry!


      • Cat Bichi said,

        Hello! Thanks for your reply. I soon realised what a daft question I’d asked the further I read around the website. Great George St it was.

        It was the Paula Byrne programme which had me wondering. I remember her scampering across to the modern Great George St and grasping at more straws to identify her curious image as Jane Austen. After viewing the programme, like many others I considered the problem of it a while. I do have expertise in art history and costume. This ‘portrait’ belongs to the Westminster Sanctuary or its environs – Westminster School. I quickly arrived at the Smedley family, who lived there for many decades, and were known as the Sanctuarians. In particular the Austen afficionado Edward Smedley (who even died still living at the Sanctuary). It has recently been stated online that the inscription on the portrait is precise match for Smedley’s own handwriting… but graphology can be so subjective an exercise.

        It seems Paula Byrne soon bedizened her Austen biography with her Austen ‘portrait’. Although many of us in the UK were highly amused by her process of finding precisely what she wanted to find in the image, she certainly had a keen eye to the commercial aspect of her heartfelt conviction. I hope ‘Miss’ Austen and Mr Smedley viewed the programme too, on some Elysian HD television; both had a sense of humour to relish its proposition.

        When my partner first saw the ‘portrait’, his reaction was memorable. “It looks like Napoleon in drag.” Ah, but he has no expertise in art history or costume dating! However…

        What do we make of the striking resemblance between its sitter and Edward Smedley?

        I would post comparison images but don’t know how :-)

        For my own money, I’d say we’re seeing a depiction of a Smedley BY a Smedley. The fretted plumbago question is consonant with an amateur hand but also some amateur’s plan to have an engraving produced from it. Edward’s brother Henry was a keen amateur artist. Edward did have sisters, for what it’s worth.

        The costume is in fact a few years later than “1814-1816” – where Ms Byrne needed it to be, biographically. It’s also too opulent for Austen – as Dr Roy Strong mused, more Catherine De Burgh, for social register. Intriguingly, it’s too fancy for the Smedleys’ social placing, too.

        Here’s a contemporary account of Edward Smedley:

        ‘He possessed, too, those personal advantages which can make even childhood more engaging; his complexion was clear and brilliant, his hair of a beautiful brown, his forehead noble, and his mouth femininely small and delicate. Coleridge says, that all men of genius have something in their countenances which reminds one of a woman; and, if not in feature, certainly in disposition, there was much in Mr. Smedley, at every age, of that gentleness and tenderness which are supposed to be almost peculiar to the female sex…’

        Hm. I say, hm…

        The author speaks too of his ‘woman’s deep affection for those he loved…’ while seeing the need to highlight his ‘manly instinct to conceal tender emotions’. We hear too of ‘the sportiveness belonging to his character.’

        I am very sure Edward Smedley had this image made. Of someone in the improbable garb of an authoress and seated at work in his own chambers. It may be Smedley himself who writes ‘Miss Jane Austen’ on the reverse. At a later date. The costume does however suggest it belongs some short time after Austen’s death in 1817. The one question to answer is why the sitter is given Smedley’s own features.

        Yep. Smedley in drag. Heroine-worship. ‘Miss’ Austen will laugh out loud. And even though I’m in earnest here, it IS funny.

        Oh… The residence in Portland Place – that is indeed the original build, I would say. When our Georgian brickwork is chemically cleaned it turns this sandstone colour. Most buildings have uncleaned brick – darkened by nineteenth century soot.

      • Cat Bichi said,

        The curious Edward Smedley – himself a talented author but lacking in application – and a man whose entire life and livelihood derived from his father’s privileged position at Westminster School and Abbey….Here he is writing about himself:

        “You did not know him, Sir — nor indeed did you, Madam; they were not many whom he knew, and from the bottom of my heart, I do not think anybody but myself knew him. Not that he shunned society, or affected reserve; but there was about him a certain constitutional waywardness and irregularity, which distanced common sense as effectually as solitude or artifice could have done. From the time he was fifteen, the wise shook their heads, and declared that no good would ever come of him. His friends sometimes believed that Nature had not been a harsh or sparing mother, but they always good-humouredly added, that he managed to throw away whatever talents he might possess; and, for himself, he never cared to disprove their assertion.”

        I have an image of Smedley which will make you rub your eyes, so identkit is it with Byrne’s “new” portrait of Jane Austen. Could any kind person tell a Cat on her new iPad how to post images?

  3. Cat Bichi said,

    PS – A word about plumbago. It has been spoken of as a “technique” and in the BBC Byrne program the issue was used to somehow strengthen the case of her portrait depicting Jane Austen. We were told how the “technique” was no longer in use by professional artists in the nineteenth century.

    Plumbago simply means… graphite on vellum. Rather than a “technique” it’s a question of materials. So the only singular element is the vellum. Artists by and large ceased to draw on vellum, understandably. Even so, some still did, on occasion. No lesser an artist than Ingres for example.

    Edward Smedley was a minister. If anyone had vellum to hand towards 1820 it would be ministers of the Church. The Church and the Law used vellum. The other thing to mention about plumbago is it was heavily favoured when an image was intended to be used to make an engraving. In reverse, that is.

    The figure in Paula Byrne’s image is writing in reverse. A pendant watch hanging at the breast also suggests an eye to the image being reversed. Heaven knows what happens once we get to the view outside the window! St Margaret’s clock-face seems to match the time on the pendant, at any rate.

    We have still extant many examples of Smedley’s handwriting and indeed one where he writes ‘Mi[istre]ss Jane Austen’ – still using the old-style character around 1830. To my own eyes his hand is not a match with the written inscription on the Byrne image, which surely is a later addition.

  4. Cat Bichi said,

    PPS, before I close in shame my utterly off-on-a-tangent chatter…

    Did no-one else notice how ‘Miss Austin’s’ modish headgear appears to have begun representational life as a crown of laurel-leaves?

    If the art-experts did, perhaps their comment was cut from the edit. A crown of laurel belongs to posthumous worship, not portrait from the life :-)

  5. Janeite Kelly said,

    Hi, Cat — thanks so MUCH for a well-written laying out of Smedley ‘evidence’. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the TV show, but if I remember correctly there was a comment or two about what made the show’s cut… and what didn’t.

    As to the portrait – having looked for portraits of the Smiths & Goslings, how – on an inscription alone – could the picture EVER be identified as THE Jane Austen? It’s not like there’s even evidence (say, in a letter) of her sitting for such a picture. At least THAT sort of slim mention would give a “there once was a portrait…” trail to follow.

    And I’m really skeptical about the writing. Even if the ‘Miss’ were added later, why ID it as ‘Jane Austin’?? (remember the spelling!) It makes more sense that someone at a far later time ID’ed it – possibly even for the means of taking possession of it, or gifting it to someone.

    If the artist COULD have been ID’ed as Eliza Chute, there would have been a chance…; once that was out the window, any real claim to being “the” Jane Austen went out the window too. There’s just no way to know, never mind prove.

    As to your fascinating discussion of Smedley – hmmm, indeed! If you wish to put out there any kind of photos and theory, feel free to email everything and I’ll post it (smithandgosling [at] gmail [dot] com).

    Certainly, it is possible that something was produced to accompany a printed book – a frontispiece. I remember once finding a book (of sermons) which was accompanied by a portrait of the author – relatives alive today had never seen an image of him! that was a neat *find*.

    Was just reading about Smedley, to see if ANY discussion of his personal life — he actually has a slight connection to my research!! The Marquess of Northampton who edited for publication in 1837 various poems was Emma’s cousin, Spencer (2nd Marquess).


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