York House c1800 by Samuel Rawle

Rooms at Albany

small black and white graphic of Albany House Albany began its existence as Melbourne House built in 1770 to the design of Sir William Chambers for Peniston Lamb (1748-1828) the 1st Viscount Melbourne. The Duke of York wanted the residence as his London house after his marriage to Princess Frederica Charlotte Ulrica of Prussia (1767-1820) in 1791. He wrote to his brother the Prince of Wales from Berlin asking him to persuade the Melbournes to sell the house to him. Prinny spoke to the Viscount and his wife and a swap was arranged for the Whitehall mansion the Duke of York already owned. The Duke and Duchess of York took possession of the house in early 1793. They resided at the house when in London for the next eight years. By the end of this time not only was the house mortgaged to Thomas Coutts, the banker, the Duke had incurred heavy debts in other directions. He decided to dispose of the property in 1800. The principal mortgagor, Thomas Coutts, consulted with Henry Holland and the builder Alexander Copland. Copland had carried out work for Holland elsewhere, and was later to enter into a partnership with the architect's nephew, Henry Rowles. Several plans for development of the property were considered. Ultimately, Copland announced the intention of "building in part of the said premises and converting the Building into and selling the same in separate Lots of Apartments and of letting part of the ground on Building Leases." It was agreed that this proposal could be put into execution as soon as the second installment of the 37,000 pound purchase money had been paid on September 29th, 1802. Holland had drawn up plans for "dividing and disposing of the Mansion House and Premises lately occupied by His Royal Highness the Duke of York," and a set of plans in the Crace Collection is endorsed "H.H. Sloane Place Mar. 1802."

The upper part of the original house was divided into separate apartments. The ground floor provided a dining room managed by a maitre d'hotel, a bar, and hot and cold baths for the use of the residents. On the site of the garden to the north of the mansion, two long ranges of apartments opening off a Portland stone staircase were built on the lines of college rooms. These chambers were laid out as four attached blocks on either side of the covered walkway. Each block was three stories plus a basement and attic. The basement accommodated kitchens for the ground floor chambers and the attics accommodated kitchens for the upper chambers. In general the accommodations consisted of two rooms in the front, with entrance hall and a smaller room at the back. There were plaster cornices in the Principal Rooms with the walls either stuccoed or papered at one shilling per yard. Chimney-pieces were veined marble. The Vigo Street entrance was flanked by two larger residences and two small shops and the approach was under a covered walkway that became known as the Rope Walk. The Chinoiserie character given to the Rope Walk by its up-swept boarded roof on painted timber posts with diagonally braced railings was originally reflected also in the small shop facing Vigo Street. A record of their appearance is preserved in a drawing at the Soane Museum. It shows rectangular windows surmounted by a roof swept back to the main walls, set in walls painted with panels of mottled green bordered with yellow against a gray ground. On the main roof were poised little dolphin-like creatures.

Rope Walk

On the south side of the original house, the flanking buildings in the forecourt were retained, but two shops with an apartment above were built on either side of the entry in place of the old screen wall to Piccadilly. The new building flanking the Piccadilly entrance were three story brick buildings with an unusually tall shop window on the ground floor composed entirely of panes of glass in astragals set between lofty stone piers at the angles and between the shops each supporting a stone eagle. The eagles in turn carried a continuous balcony with plain iron railings. Between the balconies and the tall shop fascias were tiny windows lighting a mezzanine. The first occupants of the shops were a linen draper, a druggist, a pastry cook and a manufacturer of gold and silver lace. Across the street from Albany on Piccadilly is Fortnum and Mason's shop and Hatchard's bookstore.

A prospectus of 1802 announced that any one of the sixty-nine "elegant and convenient sets of independent Freehold Apartments" could be acquired at prices ranging from 350 to 800 pounds. By July of that year eighteen subscribers were on the list for accommodations. It had been agreed with the Duke of York that the development of his former home should take the name of his second title, Duke of Albany, hence the apartments became know as Albany. Residents of the bachelor apartments include: Henry Holland himself, Lord Brougham, Palmerston, Sir Robert Smirke, George Canning, "Monk" Lewis, and Byron.

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