Adam Street rather than Downing! This road can be found just round the back of The Strand. No 10 Adam Street, WC2 has become something of a tourist hot-spot for photos due to its similarity to a certain famous address.
This area is known as the Adelphi district (Adelphi from the Greek adelphoi meaning “brothers”). The names of some streets in this area such as Adam Street, Robert Street and John Adam Street are dedicated to the Adam brothers, constructors of the original Georgian houses on the site.
Robert Adams’ inspiration for the buildings was the ruined palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian at Sapalto (modern day Split in Croatia) which he surveyed in 1755 as part of his Grand Tour.
Looking right from No 10 you get a view up towards The Strand towards the grade II listed Adelphi Theatre. The first theatre on this site was opened in 1806 and called The Sans Pareil. It was built by John Scott a local businessman who made his fortune from a laundry product called ‘True Blue’. The theatre was built for his daughter to display her many talents and act as Theatre Manager. The Sans Pareil changed its name to the Adelphi in 1829. The current building was opened is the fourth on this site and was opened in 1930.
Turing left from No 10 you come to No 8 Adam Street which was the home of inventor of the spinning-frame and industrialist Richard Arkwright from 1732-1792 who was described by the writer Thomas Carlyle as “a plain, almost gross, bag-cheeked, pot-bellied Lancashire man, with an air of painful reflection.” Arkwright began his working life apprenticed to a barber in Bolton eventually progressing to the trade of hair buyer (after his discovery of a method of preparing and dyeing hair for a wig-maker). Through his hair buying activities in cotton spinning districts he became aware of talk of the need for a more efficient means of spinning and it is said that on his travels he saw a spinning jenny that could spin 8 threads at once and decided to adapt the process to cotton. He became the first manufacturer of cotton goods on a large scale through the use of water power and later of steam.
Continuing down Adam Street on the right you can see a side view of the art deco Portland stone Adelphi Building completed in 1938 and refurbished in 2015 (now office space). The building was constructed on the site of the great riverfront terrace of Adelphi (constructed by the Adams brothers) which was demolished to make way for the building. Photos show carved coats of arms of various UK cities. The end of Adam street runs down to Adelphi Terrace.
Walking back up Adam Street and turning left into John Adam Street there are more impressive views of the Adelphi building.
The artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson who lived a house on the site of no 16. Rowlandson studied at the Royal Academy and in Paris. He was described as a promising student but inherited £7,000 after upon the death of his Aunt and embarked upon a gambling frenzy sometimes sitting for 36 hours at a time at the table. Falling into a life of poverty, Rowlandson took to caricature to fill an empty wallet. Maybe the people he met at this time were an inspiration for his work as he created many memorable comedic street life characters such as the antiquarian, the blowsy barmaid, the Grub Street hack and was said to be responsible for the development of the personification of the United Kingdom into the character of John Bull (also depicted by other caricaturists at the time).
Rowlandson’s patron and friend Matthew Michell collected hundreds of his paintings which Michell displayed at his country residence, Grove House in Enfield, Middlesex. After Michell’s death his nephew, Sir Henry Onslow, sold the contents of Grove House at an eight-day sale in November 1818.
Turning left into Buckingham Street at the end of the road you can find the site of a house lived in by The Father of Geology – William Smith – who created the first nationwide geological map.
Smith was a man of humble education who became a surveyor involved in the construction of canals up and down the UK. From his studies as a surveyor, Smith was able to put together a record of where certain minerals/rocks and soil – such as coal, iron and clay – could be found. Invaluable information to fuel the age of the industrial revolution!
At 0:41 of the video below showing a sketch of the 19th century map you can see clearly see The County of Middlesex. Perhaps the green shown on the surrounding counties represents the chalk deposits in the soil of these regions?
Through the ages, a succession of notable people lived on the site opposite William Smith’s House including diarist Samuel Pepys from 1633-1703 (who lived at no 12 and then at no 14). A blurred, smiling Pepys ghost was claimed to have been seen several times on the staircase of this building in 1953.