This grand mansion, which once stood on the south side of Soho Square (then called King’s Square), was built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and ill-fated illegitimate son of King Charles II) in the early 1680s during the early development of the square.

The duke only lived in the property briefly before he headed off to the Netherlands (and was later, in 1685, was executed on Tower Hill for his failed rebellion against the king).

The three storey brick house stood around three sides of a courtyard (some suggest it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren).

The house, which was left unfinished, stood empty for some time after the duke’s death before, in 1689, part of it was briefly turned into a chapel for Huguenot refugees, known as the L’Église du Quarré (they located in 1694).

The house was sold by the Duchess of Monmouth to Sir James Bateman, Lord Mayor of London and a Sub-Governor of the South Sea Company, in 1716, and subsequently remodelled, apparently to the designs of architect Thomas Archer.

Bateman died in 1718 and his eldest son, William (later 1st Viscount Bateman), lived here until 1739. The property was late let to a succession of dignitaries – including the French and Russian ambassadors – and briefly was under consideration for use as a boy’s school.

It was eventually demolished in 1773 and Bateman’s Buildings now occupy the site. A plaque identifies the site as the former location of the mansion.

PICTURE: An 18th century engraving of Monmouth House.

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Soho-Square

Originally named King’s Square in honour of King Charles II, Soho Square was laid out on what had been known as Soho Fields as a residential square with a garden at its centre in the late 1670s – part of the general demand for homes that came about after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

A fashionable place to live when built, among the early mansions was Monmouth House, a grand mansion originally built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II who lost his head after leading a rebellion against King James II) and later used by the French ambassador before it was demolished in the 1770s. Two of the square’s original homes are located at numbers 10 and 15.

A number of trees and shrubs were recorded as being planted here including cherry, peach and almond trees as well as lilacs, jessamine and honeysuckle – it’s suggested these may have been chosen by botanist Sir Joseph Banks who lived at number 32 from 1777 until his death in 1820.

King-Charles-IIThe square, which was opened to the public in 1954, is today at the heart of the West-End district of Soho, once synonymous with late night entertainment including the sex industry but also home to a growing number of film and media-related organisations (for a look at the derivation of the name Soho, see our earlier post).

Indeed, a number of media companies are based in the square itself – British Movietone, which was produced the Movietone news, was located here at number 22 for years while current inhabitants include Twentieth Century Fox (located in a building at number 31-32 where the botanically minded Linnean Society once met).

Other buildings of note in the square include the French Protestant Church, built in 1891-93 and located at numbers eight and nine and St Patrick’s Church, located at on the corner of Soho Square and Sutton Row. While a chapel was first consecrated here in 1792, the current building dates from the 1890s (reopened in 2011 after a £3.5 million restoration) and has catacombs which spread a considerable distance under the square. In a nod to less savoury aspects of the square’s past, the White House Brothel was also located here – at number 21 – in the late 18th century (the building is now known as Manor House).

The oldest statue in the square is that of Caius Gabriel Cibber’s King Charles II which dates from 1681 (pictured right) – a reminder of the square’s past name.  Originally part of a larger monument containing a fountain, it was removed in 1875 to make way for the distinctive half-timbered Tudor-style hut (pictured above) used by gardeners which, having been rebuilt in the 1930s, currently sits at the square’s centre and only returned to the gardens in 1938. There’s also a bench in the square which commemorates the late singer Kirsty MacColl, writer of the song Soho Square.

For more on London’s squares, see Gary Powell’s Square London.

A 17th century public executioner famed for his botched executions, Jack Ketch looms as an infamous figure in British history and a byword for brutality and executioners in general.

Ketch’s origins are unknown (he’s also known as John Catch) but he is believed to have received his appointment as a public hangman sometime in the early to mid 1660s – the first recorded mention of him in that role, in a pamphlet celebrating his handiwork, dates from 1678. Such was his self-importance that he apparently adopted the title Esquire and apparently asked for his letters to be addressed to Dr John Ketch.

Among those who died at his hand were those accused of involvement in the Popish Plot against the Crown – a Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II which was all apparently fabricated by Titus Oates. These included William Staley and Edward Coleman both of whom were hung, drawn and quartered in 1678 (Ketch was also charged with whipping Oates following his perjury conviction).

But Ketch’s most infamous executions, the only two beheadings he is known to have performed, became notorious because of the botched manner in which they were carried out.

It was reported that it took Ketch three blows to strike off the head of William, Lord Russell, when he was executed for treason on 21st July, 1683 (he had opposed the succession of James II and was accused of involvement in the Rye House Plot), although Ketch apparently denied suggestions he had turned up drunk and blamed Lord Russell for flinching.

The beheading of James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II), on 15th July, 1685 (pictured above in a print from the time), was apparently even worse – it took Ketch five blows to take off his head and he apparently finished the job with a knife after having almost given up halfway through. Monmouth had been captured following the Battle of Sedgemoor in July 1685 in which he led an army having declared himself king (more on that another time).

Ketch fell out of favor with the authorities later that year and was briefly gaoled in Bridewell prison. He was reinstated but his return to the job of public executioner was only short-lived for he died in 1686 and is believed to have been buried in St James’ in Clerkenwell on 29th November, 1686.

He was survived by his wife Katherine, who apparently stood by her man despite the public feeling against him, and is it generally assumed a girl Susanna who was baptised at the church in Clerkenwell in 1668 – some 18 years before his death – was his daughter.

Following his death, Ketch’s name was adopted by subsequent public hangmen – he even appeared as an ongoing character in Punch and Judy shows.

For more on Ketch, see Tim Wales’ article Jack Ketch in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (a subscription is required for access).

PICTURE: Wikipedia.

What’s in a name? – Soho

September 6, 2010

The first in an occasional series looking behind some of London’s place names. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the origins of the name of the inner metropolitan suburb of Soho.

The name was apparently taken from a hunting cry – ‘So Ho’  and is believed to have been first used to describe this area of London in the 1600s (the cry was also later used as a rallying cry by the James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth’s men when he tried to overthrow James II at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685).

The area was used as grazing lands before becoming part of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds and then in the later 1600s started to undergo development, becoming known as a refuge for immigrants from Greece and France (the French Protestant Church on Soho Square is indicative of the diverse population who have lived there).

It later morphed into a somewhat seedy and bohemian entertainment district and became home to some big name writers, artists, intellectuals and musicians. Over the years, famous residents have included everyone from Karl Marx to poet William Blake.

These days, while elements of entertainment industry remain – in particular the film industry as well as some seedier establishments – the area, bordered by Oxford and Regent Streets, Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus to the south, is also home to large numbers of trendy cafes, pubs and restaurants and still boasts a healthy nightlife.