In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.
Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.
In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.
Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.
“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”
He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.
“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.
Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.
The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).
PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0
March 15, 2017
There’s no number for this property in the book so the actual house remains something of an unknown but it was on The Regent Park’s Outer Circle that a “young married couple of humans”, Mr and Mrs Dearly, lived along with their “owners”, a married couple of dogs named Pongo and Missis Pongo.
Yes, they’re all characters in Dodie Smith’s 1956 book, The Hundred and One Dalmatians. And the house? Well, Mr Dearly worked in the City where he was something of a “wizard of finance” and having done the government a “great service” – described in the book as “something to do with getting rid of the National Debt” – he had, as part of his reward, been lent a “small house” on the Outer Circle where he and his wife lived with their dogs and two nannies.
While living there Missis gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies, the kidnapping of which by the dastardly Cruella de Vil, sets Pongo and his wife off on a journey to rescue them. They do so and manage to save more than 80 other puppies from de Vil (the 101 figure comes when the whole lot return to the Dearly’s home and, along with a few others including Pongo and Missus, take the total family to that number).
The Regent’s Park, of course, plays a key role in the book and subsequent films (see below) – it was in the park, for example, that Pongo engaged in the communication system of “twilight barking” to find out where his puppies were.
The book has, of course, been made into a film several times including a Disney animated version in 1961 and a Disney live action film starring Glenn Close in 1996 (although the plot has been altered somewhat) as well as a musical.
Meanwhile Smith (who based Pongo on her own Dalmatian of the same name), did go on to write a sequel to her book. Titled The Starlight Brigade, it tells a story of intergalactic proportions with the dogs of the world – led by Pongo – being offered the chance to leave the Earth and escape the threat of nuclear war. They decide to stay.
PICTURE: Looking across the Boating Lake in The Regent’s Park to the Outer Circle. Phil Russell/The Royal Parks
This notable Marylebone Street contains the home of Henry Higgins, the professor of phonetics who attempts to help Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle pass for a duchess as part of a bet in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.
Written in 1912, the play which gives Professor Higgins’ address as 27A Wimpole Street was in 1964 adapted into the film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.
The choice of Wimpole Street as the address of Professor Higgins – both for his home and “laboratory” – was apparently not co-incidental. Articles in The Telegraph and Daily Mail last year talk about the fact that 27a lies not far from a grand Georgian (Grade II-listed) townhouse (then on the market for £15 million) in Upper Wimpole Street which was formerly the home of a Professor Horace Hayman Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University in the early 19th century.
The articles say that while the “real-life academic ‘model'” for Higgins was Henry Sweet – an early 20th century Oxford professor of phonetics who is named in the preface to the play, the basis for Professor Higgins’ rather grand lifestyle was that of Professor Wilson.
They also suggest that the connection between Professor Higgins and Professor Wilson makes sense considering one of the mysteries of Pygmalion – how a humble phonetics professor could afford consulting rooms on a street known for wealthy private medical practices.
The answer lies in the Professor Wilson’s history – his father, a doctor, bought a house in the street in 1806 and subsequently bought a neighbouring property for his son who initially pursued a medical career before moving into academia where he specialised in languages. Splitting his time between Wimpole Street, Oxford and Calcutta in India, Professor Wilson’s lifestyle, straddling high society and academia, formed a prototype for that of Professor Higgins. Or so the story goes.
PICTURE: Looking down Wimpole Street; number 27 is second on the left. PICTURE: Google Maps.