Wednesday 9 May 2018

Looking for Ross Poldark's London Home

Ross Poldark, London
Winston Graham is well known for giving more than a passing nod to real life people, places and events in his novels so, with some of the action for Poldark series four moving to London, I thought I'd check out the streets Ross, Caroline and George are said to live in in Warleggan and The Angry Tide to see if they ever existed. To my delight I was able to track them all down.  Caroline's Aunt Sarah's house was the easiest to find and Hedge Lane the hardest but let's start with the house Ross Poldark lives in when he comes to Westminster as a Member of Parliament.

Romantic London: Horwood's Plan  1792-99 (9)
Ross lives at 6 George Street, just off  the Strand.  We know this because in The Angry Tide Book 3 Chapter 3, Caroline takes Demelza to buy a new gown: "But before price could be discussed it was arranged that the gown should be finished and delivered to No. 6 George Street 'at this hour tomorrow'".

Earlier in The Angry Tide (Book 1 Chapter 3 III) Ross describes the rooms to Demelza: "They were good rooms. Mrs Parkins is a tailor's widow. George Street is off the Strand, near the Adelphi Buildings, and quiet after the noise of the main streets. Eighteen shillings a week I paid."

Ross Poldark, 6 George Street
No. 6 York Buildings  Photos by Evie Bowman for Poldarked
Today, George Street is known as York Buildings (Its name changed c.1852).  It is a small street that slopes down from John Adam Street to Victoria Embankment Gardens and, as I walk down it, I feel a twinge of excitement at the prospect of seeing  Ross Poldark's London home. I know the house exists from British History Online  (1) which describes it as a three storey building dating from the late 17th or early 18th century.  And, halfway down the hill, there it is in front of me. Painted white with grey windows, it does not disappoint!

George Street is less than a mile from Westminster although Ross says: "It's a way from Westminster, but there were always ferries at the foot of the steps to take me there," so I guess he was missing his horse!  The photo top right shows the entrance from York Buildings to what is now Victoria Embankment Gardens which, in Ross's time, would have been where the landing stages for the ferries were. One additional snippet:The Angry Tide covers the years 1798-1799 and in real life at this time a woman called Jane Moore resided at No. 6 (3).

George and Elizabeth live in a different part of town. The Angry Tide Book 3 Chapter 3 II says: "The Warleggans had arrived in London only two days before and taken up residence at No. 14 King Street, just near Grosvenor Gate, having brought Valentine with them, since scarlet fever was so rife in Truro that he was unlikely to be  at greater hazard in London, with the fresh fields of Hyde Park on his doorstep."

Romantic London: Horwood's Plan  1792-99 (9)
There were several King Streets in London in the early 1800s but Grosvenor Gate identifies this King Street as the one off Grosvenor Square. King Street became Northop Street in 1886 and then Culross Street in 1899 according to British History Online (2) but Horwood's Plan of 1799 (9) shows there was no No.14. However, in 1914, all the houses were renumbered and No.11 became No.14 so this may be the house Winston Graham was thinking of. With this in mind I knew, as I walked towards Culross Street, I would not be able to identify the Warleggan's with certainty. As it turned out,  this wasn't the only obstacle! Culross Street backs onto what was, until this year, the US Embassy and, as such, is in a restricted area with gates and security! George would have loved it! In 1914 there were plans to demolish the houses on the north side of Culross Street but the outbreak of war led to the plans being put aside and, after the war, the need for smaller houses meant the properties were renovated instead.

I did my best to get a couple of shots of the houses and the current No. 14 (centre left).

Warleggan, Culross Street, King Street
The Warleggans live in King Street, now Culross Street

Caroline, Hatton Garden
Caroline stays at 5 Hatton Garden
Caroline Penvenen lives with her Aunt Sarah when she visits London, which is where Ross finds her when he comes to thank her for clearing his debt and to talk to her about Dwight. Warleggan Book 4 Chapter 4 says, "It was snowing the following day when Ross set out to find Caroline. Her address was No.5 Hatton Garden, which he knew to be a superior residential district."
Romantic London: Horwood's Plan  1792-99 (9)
This was the easiest of the addresses to find as Hatton Garden is an area of London well known for it's fine jewellery shops and is the centre of the UK diamond trade.  I was not surprised to find then, that No. 5 now houses Premier Jewellers. The grey building, which is just off busy Holborn, has a plaque to the Italian political activist Giuseppe Mazzini on the wall, as Mazzini founded the first Italian school here (1841) during his exile in London (4).

At the end of the chapter in Warleggan, Ross tells Caroline where he is staying."If  you should change your mind before Thursday, you'll find me at the Mitre in Hedge Lane. It is just off Leicester Fields." Although this is just a lodging for Ross I thought it worth looking up. I could find references to Hedge Lane being near Suffolk Street, close to what is now Leicester Square, but couldn't quite pinpoint it until I looked on a map from 1746 (5). It then became clear that it was what is now known as Whitcomb Street and I was able to find it in British History Online (6).

Ross Poldark, Mitre, Hedge Lane
Map: Locating London's Past (5)
Present day Whitcomb Street (Hedge Lane)

Unfortunately, I could not find any reference to the Mitre in Whitcomb Street in (7) There was, however,  a Mitre on the other side of Leicester Square in St Martin's Lane (8), although this is no longer standing.

I had great fun tracking down all these places and it was such a thrill to see Ross's house.  Here are the references I used in case you want to find out more.

(1.) 'York Buildings', in Survey of London: Volume 18, St Martin-in-The-Fields II: the Strand, ed. G H Gater and E P Wheeler (London, 1937), pp. 81-83. British History Online [accessed 10 April 2018].

(2) 'Park Street and Culross Street: Culross Street east of Park Street, and Blackburne's Mews', in Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings), ed. F H W Sheppard (London, 1980), pp. 259-262. British History Online [accessed 25 April 2018].

(3)  Appendix B BHO     

(4) Giuseppe Mazzini's Houses in London

(5) Locating London's Past

(6) 'Whitcomb Street', in Survey of London: Volume 20, St Martin-in-The-Fields, Pt III: Trafalgar Square and Neighbourhood, ed. G H Gater and F R Hiorns (London, 1940), pp. 104-105. British History Online [accessed 5 May 2018].



(9) Romantic London: Horwoods Plan 1792-99

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