The Fascination of Chelsea: Ranelagh Gardens

By G. E. MITTON (1902). Edited by Sir Walter Besant.

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Article · Chelsea · SW3 · Contributed by The Underground Map

By G. E. MITTON (1902). Edited by Sir Walter Besant.

The site of Ranelagh Gardens, which in their zenith eclipsed even the Vauxhall Gardens as a place of entertainment, is now included in the grounds of the Royal Hospital.

Richard, Earl of Ranelagh, Paymaster-General of the Forces in the reign of James II, was a thoroughly unscrupulous but an able man. He was three times censured for appropriating the
public money to his own private use, and was finally expelled from his office in the fourth year of Queen Anne’s reign. Notwithstanding this, he obtained a grant of some land belonging to the Royal Hospital in 1690, when the building was nearly completed. This land lay to the south of the burial-ground, and between the Hospital and what is now known as Bridge Road. This was leased to him for sixty-one years at an annual rent of £15 7s. 6d. He built a house on it, and soon after obtained fifteen acres more at £30 4s. per annum, and finally a third grant, which in 1698 was confirmed to him with that portion he already held, to be held in fee on condition of his paying an annual rent of £5 to the Hospital. This
Earl, described by Swift as the ’vainest old fool ever saw’ seems to have had great delight in landscape-gardening. He laid out his land with fastidious care - and thus paved the way for the public gardens of the future. His grounds are described in " Views of the Gardens near London, December, 1691," by Gibson:

" My Lord Ranelagh’s garden being but lately made, plants are but small ; but the plats, borders, and walks are curiously kept and elegantly designed, having the advantage of opening into Chelsea College walks. The kitchen-garden there lies very fine, with walks and seats, one of which being large and covered was then under the hands of a curious painter. The house here is very fine within, all the rooms being wainscoted with Norway oak, and all the chimneys adorned with carving, as in the Council Chamber in Chelsea College."

Lord Ranelagh died in 1712, and with him the earldom became extinct. The Ranelagh property passed to his unmarried daughter. Lady Catherine Jones. In 1715 King George I was entertained by her at Ranelagh House, together with a great number of lords and ladies. In 1730 the property was vested in trustees by an Act of Parliament ; the greater part of it was bought by Swift and Timbrell, who afterwards leased it to Lacey, the patentee of Drury Lane Theatre. They proposed to turn it into a place of public amusement, but soon abandoned
the idea, and relet it. In 1744 one Crispe, who then held the lease, became bankrupt, and the property was divided into thirty-six shares of £1,000 each.

It was in the time of Crispe that the great rotunda was built. This rotunda was 150 feet in interior diameter, and was intended to be an imitation of the Pantheon at Rome. The
pillars which supported the roof were of great magnificence, painted for half their height like marble, and the second half fluted and painted white ; they were crowned by capitals of plaster of Paris. The orchestra was at first in the centre, but was afterwards removed to one of the porticos, and the centre was used for a fireplace, which, if the old prints are to be trusted, was large enough to roast half a score of people at once. We have " A Perspective View of the Inside of the Amphitheatre in Ranelagh Gardens," drawn by W. Newland, and engraved by Walker, 176l ; also "Eight Large Views of Ranelagh and Vauxhall Gardens," by Canaletti and Hooker, 1751. The roof of this immense building was covered with slate, and
projected all round beyond the walls. There were no less that sixty windows. Round the rotunda inside were rows of boxes in which the visitors could have refreshments. The ceiling was decorated with oval panels having painted figures on a sky-blue ground, and the whole was lighted by twenty-eight chandeliers descending from the roof in a double circle. The place was opened on April 5, 1742, when the people went to public breakfasts, which, according to Walpole, cost eighteenpence a head. The gardens were not open until more than a month later. The entertainments were at first chiefly concerts and oratorios, but afterwards magnificent balls and fetes were held.

Walpole, writing to Sir Francis Mann, says; " Two nights ago Ranelagh Gardens were opened at Chelsea. The Prince, Princess, Duke, and much nobility, and much mob besides, were there. There is a vast amphitheatre, finely gilt, painted, and illuminated, into which everybody that loves eating, drinking, staring, or crowding, is admitted for 1 2d. The building and disposition of the gardens cost £l 6,000. Twice a week there are to be ridottos at guinea tickets, for which you are to have a supper and music. I was there last night, but did not find the joy of it. Vauxhall is a little better, for the garden is pleasanter and one goes by water." The doors were opened in the evening at six, and until the time of the entertainment, some hours later, people seem to have had nothing better to do than to walk round and stare at each other - a method of passing the time described by the poet Bloomfleld, in a poem which has been often quoted in fragments but seldom in entirety. It appeared in The Ambulator (London and its Environs) in 1811, at full length, as follows :

" To Ranelagh once in my life
By good-natur’d force I was driven ;
The nations had ceased their long strife,
And Peace beamed her radiance from heaven.
What wonders were there to be found
That a clown might enjoy or disdain ?
First we traced the gay ring all around -
Ay, and then we went round it again.

" A thousand feet rustled on mats,
A carpet that once had been green ;
Men bow’d with their outlandish hats.
With comers so fearfully keen !
Fair maids who at home in their haste
Had left all clothing else but a train
Swept the floor clean as slowly they paced,
And then walk’d round and swept it again.

" The music was truly enchanting !
Right glad was I when I came near it ;
But in fashion I found I was wanting,
’Twas the fashion to walk and not hear it !
A fine youth, as beauty beset him,
Look’d smilingly round on the train ;
’ The King’s nephew !’ they cried, as they met him,
Then we went round and met him again.

’* Huge paintings of heroes and Peace
Seem’d to smile at the sound of the fiddle,
Proud to fill up each tall shining space
Round the lantern that stood in the middle.
And George’s head, too - Heaven screen him !
May he finish in peace his long reign ;
And what did we when we had seen him ?
Why, went round and saw him again.

" A bell rang announcing new pleasures,
A crowd in an instant pressed hard ;
Feathers nodded, perfumes shed their treasures,
Roimd a door that led into the yard.

Twas peopled all o’er in a minute,
As a white flock would cover a plain ;
We had seen every soul that was in it,
Then we went round and saw them again.

" But now came a scene worth the showing.
The fireworks, midst laughs and huzzas ;
With explosions the sky was all glowing,
Then down streamed a million of stars.
With a rush the bright rockets ascended,
Wheels spurted blue fire like a rain ;
We turned with regret when ’twas ended,
Then stared at each other again.

" There thousands of gay lamps aspir’d
To the tops of the trees and beyond ;
And, what was most hugely admired.
They looked all upside-down in a pond.
The blaze scarce an eagle could bear
And an owl had most surely been slain ;
We returned to the circle, and there -
And there we went round it again.

" ’Tis not wisdom to love without reason.
Or to censure without knowing why ;
I had witnessed no crime, nor no treason ;
’ Oh, life, ’tis thy picture,’ said I.
’Tis just thus we saunter along ;
Months and years bring their pleasure or pain.
We sigh midst the right and the wrong ;
And then we go round them again !"

Though Bloomfield’s metre can be scarce held faultless - yet his power of detailed description has preserved us a living picture of Ranelagh in the height of its glory. Balls and f6tes succeeded each other. Lysons tell us that ’’for some time previously to 1750 a kind of masquerade - called a Jubilee Ball - was much in fashion at Ranelagh - but they were suppressed on account of the earthquakes in 1750."

The masked balls were replaced by other festivities. In 1775 a famous regatta was held at Ranelagh - and in 1790 a magnificent display of fireworks, at which the numbers in attendance reached high-water mark - numbering between 3,000 and 4,000 exclusive of free admissions. In 1802 an aeronaut ascended from the gardens in a balloon, and the last public entertainment was a ball given by the Knights of the Bath in 1803. The following year the gardens were closed. Sir Richard Phillips, writing in 1817, says that he could then trace the circular foundation of the rotunda, and discovered the broken arches of some cellars which had once been filled with the choicest wines. And Jesse, in 1871, says he discovered, attached to one or two in the avenue of trees on the site of the gardens, the iron fixtures to which the variegated lamps had been hung. The promenades at Ranelagh, for some time before its end, were thinly attended and the place became unprofitable. It was never again opened to the public after July 8, 1803.

In 1805 Ranelagh House and the rotunda were demolished, the furniture and fittings sold, and the organ made by Byfield purchased for the church of Tetbury, in Gloucestershire. Lysons adds that the site was intended to be let on building leases.

This plan was, however, never carried out, and the ground reverted to the Royal Hospital. The gardens are now quite differently planned from what they were originally. The public is admitted to them under certain restrictions. One or two massive elms, which must have seen the Ranelagh entertainments blossom into life and fade away, are the only ancient relics remaining.

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The 1750 Rocque map is bounded by Sudbury (NW), Snaresbrook (NE), Eltham (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1750 map does not display.

The 1800 mapping is bounded by Stanmore (NW), Woodford (NE), Bromley (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1800 map does not display.

The 1830 mapping is bounded by West Hampstead (NW), Hackney (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Chelsea (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1830 map does not display.

The 1860 mapping is bounded by Brent Cross (NW), Stratford (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Hammermith (SW).
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The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.


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Chelsea is an affluent area, bounded to the south by the River Thames.

Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above Sloane Square tube station. The modern eastern boundary is Chelsea Bridge Road and the lower half of Sloane Street, including Sloane Square, along with parts of Belgravia. To the north and northwest, the area fades into Knightsbridge and South Kensington, but it is safe to say that the area north of King’s Road as far northwest as Fulham Road is part of Chelsea.

The word Chelsea originates from the Old English term for chalk and landing place on the river. The first record of the Manor of Chelsea precedes the Domesday Book and records the fact that Thurstan, governor of the King’s Palace during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–1066), gave the land to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. Abbot Gervace subsequently assigned the manor to his mother, and it passed into private ownership. The modern-day Chelsea hosted the Synod of Chelsea in 787 AD.

Chelsea once had a reputation for the manufacture of Chelsea buns (made from a long strip of sweet dough tightly coiled, with currants trapped between the layers, and topped with sugar).

King Henry VIII acquired the manor of Chelsea from Lord Sandys in 1536; Chelsea Manor Street is still extant. Two of King Henry’s wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, lived in the Manor House; Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I – resided there; and Thomas More lived more or less next door at Beaufort House. In 1609 James I established a theological college on the site of the future Chelsea Royal Hospital, which Charles II founded in 1682.

By 1694, Chelsea – always a popular location for the wealthy, and once described as ’a village of palaces’ – had a population of 3000. Even so, Chelsea remained rural and served London to the east as a market garden, a trade that continued until the 19th-century development boom which caused the final absorption of the district into the metropolis.

Chelsea shone, brightly but briefly, in the 1960s Swinging London period and the early 1970s. The Swinging Sixties was defined on King’s Road, which runs the length of the area. The Western end of Chelsea featured boutiques Granny Takes a Trip and The Sweet Shop, the latter of which sold medieval silk velvet caftans, tabards and floor cushions, with many of the cultural cognoscenti of the time being customers, including Keith Richards, Twiggy and many others.

The exclusivity of Chelsea as a result of its high property prices has historically resulted in the term Sloane Ranger to be used to describe its residents. From 2011, Channel 4 broadcast a reality television show called Made in Chelsea, documenting the ’glitzy’ lives of several young people living in Chelsea. Moreover, Chelsea is home to one of the largest communities of Americans living outside of the United States, with 6.53% of Chelsea-residents being born in the United States.

Burton Court:   
Chelsea:   Chelsea is an affluent area, bounded to the south by the River Thames.
Cremorne Gardens:   Cremorne Gardens, with a vestige existing today, was in its prime between 1846 and 1877.
Ranelagh Gardens:   
River Westbourne outflow:   The River Westbourne flowed into the Thames at this point.
Sands End:   Sands End was a close knit working class community.
The Boltons:   The Boltons name derives from William Boulton who bought land in the area in 1795.
The Fascination of Chelsea: South of the King’s Road:   By G. E. MITTON (1902). Edited by Sir Walter Besant.
The Fascination of Chelsea: The Royal Hospital:   Written by G. E. MITTON in 1902. Edited by Sir Walter Besant.

Battersea Bridge:   Photo of Battersea Bridge, taken from Chelsea in the 1860s by James Hedderly.
Beaufort Street:   Photo of the streets of Chelsea, taken in the 1860s by James Hedderly.
Cheyne Walk, 1860s:   Photo of Cheyne Walk, Chelsea in the 1860s by James Hedderly.

A3220, W11 · A3220, W12 · Adrian Mews, SW10 · Albert Bridge, SW3 · Alexander Square, SW3 · Alpha Place, SW3 · Althea Street, SW6 · Anderson Street, SW3 · Ann Lane, SW10 · Antiquarius, SW3 · Ashburnham Road, SW10 · Ashcombe Street, SW6 · Battersea Bridge, SW10 · Beaufort Street, SW10 · Beaufort Street, SW3 · Billing Road, SW10 · Billing Street, SW10 · Blacklands Terrace, SW3 · Blantyre Street, SW10 · Bloomfield Terrace, SW1W · Bolton Gardens Mews, SW10 · Bourne Street, SW1W · Bramerton Street, SW3 · Bray Place, SW3 · Bridge Studios, SW6 · Bridges Place, SW6 · Britten Street, SW3 · Broughton Road, SW6 · Bull’s Gardens, SW3 · Bunhouse Place, SW1W · Burnaby Street, SW10 · Burnsall Street, SW3 · Bury Walk, SW3 · Byam Street, SW6 · Bywater Street, SW3 · Cadogan Pier, SW3 · Cadogan Square, SW1X · Cadogan Street, SW3 · Cale Street, SW3 · Callow Street, SW3 · Camera Place, SW10 · Carlyle Square, SW3 · Cathcart Road, SW10 · Cavalry Square, SW1W · Cavalry Square, SW3 · Cavaye Place, SW10 · Caversham Street, SW3 · Chapel Walk, SW10 · Charles II Place, SW3 · Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W · Chelsea Bridge, SW1W · Chelsea Cloisters, SW3 · Chelsea Crescent, SW10 · Chelsea Embankment, SW1W · Chelsea Embankment, SW3 · Chelsea Manor Gardens, SW3 · Chelsea Manor Street, SW3 · Chelsea Manor Studios, SW3 · Chelsea Park Gardens, SW3 · Chelsea Reach, SW10 · Chelsea Square, SW3 · Chelsea Studios, SW10 · Chelsea Towers, SW3 · Chelsea Wharf, SW10 · Cheltenham Terrace, SW3 · Cheyne Court, SW3 · Cheyne Mews, SW3 · Cheyne Place, SW3 · Cheyne Row, SW3 · Cheyne Walk, SW10 · Cheyne Walk, SW3 · Chipperfield House Sutton Estate, SW3 · Christchurch Street, SW3 · Christchurch Terrace, SW3 · Circle n6, SW6 · Clabon Mews, SW1X · Clover Mews, SW3 · Colebrook Court, SW3 · Coleherne Mews, SW10 · Coleherne Road, SW10 · Coulson Street, SW3 · Cranbury Road, SW6 · Cremorne Road, SW10 · Crescent Place, SW3 · Cresswell Gardens, SW10 · Cresswell Place, SW10 · Culford Gardens, SW3 · Damer Terrace, SW10 · Danube Street, SW3 · Danvers Street, SW3 · Dartrey Tower, SW10 · De Morgan Road, SW6 · Denyer Street, SW3 · Dilke Street, SW3 · Donne Place, SW3 · Dovehouse Street, SW3 · Draycott Avenue, SW3 · Draycott Place, SW3 · Draycott Terrace, SW3 · Drayton Gardens, SW10 · Dudmaston Mews, SW3 · Duke Of York Square, SW3 · East Road, SW10 · East Road, SW3 · East Terrace, SW10 · Ebury Bridge Road, SW1W · Edith Grove, SW10 · Edith Terrace, SW10 · Edith Yard Edith Grove, SW10 · Egerton Crescent, SW3 · Egerton Terrace, SW3 · Elbe Street, SW6 · Elm Park Gardens, SW10 · Elm Park Lane, SW10 · Elm Park Mansions, SW10 · Elm Park Road, SW3 · Elm Place, SW3 · Elswick Street, SW6 · Elystan Place, SW3 · Elystan Street, SW3 · Embankment Gardens, SW3 · Evelyn Gardens, SW7 · Farrier Walk, SW10 · Fawcett Street, SW10 · Fernshaw Close, SW10 · Fernshaw Road, SW10 · Finborough Road, SW10 · Finborough Road, SW5 · First Street, SW3 · Flood Street, SW3 · Flood Walk, SW3 · Foulis Terrace, SW3 · Franklins Row, SW3 · Fulham Road, SW10 · Fulham Road, SW3 · Furness Road, SW6 · Gatliff Road, SW1W · Gertrude Street, SW10 · Gilstead Road, SW6 · Gilston Road, SW10 · Glebe Place, SW3 · Glenrosa Street, SW6 · Glynde Mews, SW3 · Godfrey Street, SW3 · Graham Terrace, SW1W · Greaves Tower, SW10 · Grosvenor Road, SW1W · Grove Cottages, SW3 · Gunter Grove, SW10 · Gurney Road, SW6 · Halsey Street, SW3 · Hamble Street, SW6 · Harcourt Terrace, SW10 · Harley Gardens, SW10 · Hasker Street, SW3 · Hazlebury Road, SW6 · Heliport Estate, SW11 · Hilary Close, SW6 · Hobury Street, SW10 · Holbein Mews, SW1W · Holbein Place, SW1W · Holly Mews, SW10 · Hollywood Mews, SW10 · Hollywood Road, SW10 · Holmead Road, SW6 · Hortensia Road, SW10 · Ifield Road, SW10 · Imperial Crescent, SW11 · Imperial Crescent, SW6 · Ives Street, SW3 · Ixworth Place, SW3 · Joubert Mansions, SW3 · Jubilee Place, SW3 · Justice Walk, SW3 · Kilkie Street, SW6 · King’s Road, SW3 · Kings Road, SW10 · Kings Road, SW3 · Lamont Road, SW10 · Langford Road, SW6 · Langton Street, SW10 · Lawrence Street, SW3 · Lennox Gardens Mews, SW1X · Lennox Gardens, SW1X · Lewis Estate, SW3 · Limerston Street, SW10 · Lincoln Street, SW3 · Lindrop Street, SW6 · Lower Sloane Street, SW1W · Lucan Place, SW3 · Mallord Street, SW3 · Maltings Place, SW6 · Manresa Road, SW3 · Marinefield Road, SW6 · Markham Square, SW3 · Markham Street, SW3 · Marlborough Street, SW3 · Milborne Grove, SW10 · Milmans Street, SW10 · Milner Street, SW3 · Moore Street, SW3 · Moravian Place, SW10 · Mossop Street, SW3 · Mozart Terrace, SW1W · Mulberry Walk, SW3 · Munro Terrace, SW10 · Netherton Grove, SW10 · Nightingale Place, SW10 · Oakley Gardens, SW3 · Oakley Street, SW3 · Old Church Street, SW3 · Ormonde Gate, SW3 · Ormonde Place, SW1W · Ovington Square, SW3 · Ovington Street, SW3 · Owen Close, UB4 · Paradise Walk, SW3 · Park Walk, SW10 · Park Walk, SW3 · Passmore Street, SW1W · Paultons Square, SW3 · Paultons Street, SW3 · Pavilion Road, SW1X · Pearscroft Court, SW6 · Pearscroft Road, SW6 · Petyt Place, SW3 · Petyward, SW3 · Phene Street, SW3 · Pimilco Walk, N1 · Pimlico Road, SW1W · Plaza, SW10 · Pond Place, SW3 · Pont St Mews, SW1X · Porters Lodge, SW3 · Priory Walk, SW10 · Queens Elm Parade, SW3 · Querrin Street, SW6 · Radnor Walk, SW3 · Ralston Street, SW3 · Ramsay Mews, SW3 · Ranelagh Grove, SW1W · Rawlings Street, SW3 · Redburn Street, SW3 · Redcliffe Gardens, SW10 · Redcliffe Gardens, SW5 · Redcliffe Mews, SW10 · Redcliffe Place, SW10 · Redcliffe Road, SW10 · Redcliffe Square, SW10 · Redcliffe Square, SW5 · Redcliffe Street, SW10 · Rich Lane, SW5 · Riley Street, SW10 · Robinson Street, SW3 · Rosebury Road, SW6 · Rosetti Studios, SW3 · Rossetti Studios, SW3 · Royal Avenue, SW3 · Royal Hospital Road, SW3 · Seymour Walk, SW10 · Shalcomb Street, SW10 · Shawfield Street, SW3 · Slaidburn Street, SW10 · Sloane Avenue, SW3 · Sloane Court East, SW1W · Sloane Court East, SW3 · Sloane Court West, SW3 · Sloane Gardens, SW1W · Smith Street, SW3 · Smith Terrace, SW3 · Snowbury Road, SW6 · South Parade, SW3 · South Walk, SW10 · Sprimont Place, SW3 · St Andrews Church, SW10 · St Barnabas Street, SW1W · St Catherine’s Mews, SW3 · St Loo Avenue, SW3 · St Lukes Church Hall, SW10 · St Lukes Street, SW3 · St. Leonard’s Terrace, SW3 · St. Loo Avenue, SW3 · Stadium Street, SW10 · Stamford Gate, SW6 · Stephendale Road, SW6 · Stevendale Road, SW6 · Stewarts Grove, SW3 · Swan Walk, SW3 · Sydney Street, SW3 · Tadema Road, SW10 · Tedworth Gardens, SW3 · Tedworth Square, SW3 · Terrace Walk, SW3 · Tetcott Road, SW10 · The Boltons, SW10 · The Boltons, SW5 · The Courtyard, SW3 · The Gateways, SW3 · The Little Boltons, SW10 · The Plaza, SW10 · The Vale, SW3 · Thorndike Close, SW10 · Tite Street, SW3 · Townmead Business Centre, SW6 · Townmead Road, SW6 · Tregunter Road, SW10 · Trident Place, SW3 · Tryon Street, SW3 · Tynemouth Street, SW6 · Upcerne Road, SW10 · Upper Cheyne Row, SW3 · Uverdale Road, SW10 · Walpole Street, SW3 · Walton Street, SW3 · Wandon Road, SW6 · Wandsworth Bridge Road, SW6 · Watermans Quay, SW6 · Watermeadow Lane, SW6 · Wellington Buildings, SW1W · Wellington Square, SW3 · West Road, SW10 · West Road, SW3 · West Road, SW5 · Westgate Terrace, SW10 · Whistler Walk, SW10 · Whiteheads Grove, SW3 · Whittaker Street, SW1W · William Morris Way, SW6 · Wiltshire Close, SW3 · Woodfall Street, SW3 · World’s End Passage, SW10 · Worlds End Place, SW10 · Yeomans Row, SW3 ·

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Engraved map. Hand coloured. Insets: A view of the Tower from London Bridge -- A view of London from Copenhagen Fields. Includes views of facades of 25 structures "A comparison of the principal buildings of London."
Chapman and Hall, London

Environs of London (1832) FREE DOWNLOAD
Engraved map. Hand coloured. Relief shown by hachures. A circle shows "Extent of the twopenny post delivery."
Chapman and Hall, London

London Underground Map (1921).  FREE DOWNLOAD
London Underground map from 1921.
London Transport

The Environs of London (1865).  FREE DOWNLOAD
Prime meridian replaced with "Miles from the General Post Office." Relief shown by hachures. Map printed in black and white.
Published By J. H. Colton. No. 172 William St. New York

London Underground Map (1908).  FREE DOWNLOAD
London Underground map from 1908.
London Transport

Ordnance Survey of the London region (1939) FREE DOWNLOAD
Ordnance Survey colour map of the environs of London 1:10,560 scale
Ordnance Survey. Crown Copyright 1939.

Outer London (1901) FREE DOWNLOAD
Outer London shown in red, City of London in yellow. Relief shown by hachures.
Stanford's Geographical Establishment. London : Edward Stanford, 26 & 27, Cockspur St., Charing Cross, S.W. (1901)

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