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
This Week in London – Gothic literature at the British Library; founder of War Graves Commission honoured; and, New Year’s Eve tickets on sale…
October 2, 2014
• The UK’s largest exhibition of Gothic literature opens at the British Library in Kings Cross on Saturday (4th October), marking the 250th anniversary of the publication of the breakthrough book, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will feature manuscripts and rare and personal editions of Gothic classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist as well as the work of contemporary writers like Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake. There will also be Gothic-inspired artworks by the likes of Henry Fuseli and William Blake and modern art, photography, costumes and movies by the likes of Chapman Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. A range of literary, film and music events will accompany the exhibition which runs until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/gothic/. PICTURE: Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma, Henry Fuselli. © Tate.
• The founder of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, Sir Fabian Ware (1869-1949), has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Marylebone. Sir Fabian lived at the early 19th century Grade II-listed terraced house at 14 Wyndham Place between 1911 and 1919. It was during this period that he served with the British Red Cross in France and first began recording the graves of soldiers killed in battle. In 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was formed with the task of reburying the war dead in permanent cemeteries in France. Knighted in 1920, Sir Fabian was to be director of graves registration and enquiries at the War Office during World War II and it was at this time that he extended the war graves scheme to civilians killed in the conflict. The commission changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960. Today it cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• New Year’s Eve in London will be a ticketed event for the first time this year with 100,000 tickets being made available to the public with each costing a £10 administration fee – the entire sum of which will apparently be used to pay for the ticketing system. Making the announcement last month, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s, office, said the growth in numbers of those who have gathered to watch the fireworks on the Thames – from around 100,000 in 2003 to an estimated 500,000 last year – has put an enormous strain on transport and safety infrastructure and meant people have had to turn up earlier and earlier to get a good view, facing hours waiting in cold and cramped conditions, or risk being among the “hundreds of thousands” unable to get a good view or even see the display at all. Booking tickets – people may secure up to four – will guarantee “good views of the celebrations and a better visitor experience”. To book tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.
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