The Adelphi area lies to the south of the Strand which developed as the link between the settlements of the City of London and Westminster/Thorney Island. By the 12th century the Strand was lined with large palaces with gardens running down to the Thames. Within the area were York House (later Buckingham House) and Durham House. Durham House was redeveloped in the 17th century to provide the New Exchange on the Strand and the remainder of its site and garden was redeveloped in the 18th century by the Adam brothers. They built a series of residential terraces on vaults high above the Thames, one of the first great riverside compositions in London, which gives the Conservation Area its name. The development ran into financial problems, in part due to its relative distance from the West End; in order to complete the project, an Act of Parliament to permit a lottery to raise the money was necessary.

The river-facing terrace was much altered in the 1870s and the unique decoration by Adam was destroyed. In 1936 the centre of the Adelphi complex was redeveloped when the river frontage terraces were demolished and the Adelphi office block built (Collcutt and Hamp, architects). Buckingham House was redeveloped in the 1670’s. The only surviving part of the original mansion is the York Water Gate (1629) which provided access to the river and now stands in Victoria Embankment Gardens. The redevelopment by Nicholas Barbon resulted in an estate owned by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. The streets laid out on the estate bore all parts of his name including George Street (now York Buildings) and Of Alley (now York Place). The whole area was transformed in 1864-70 when the embankment wall was constructed by Bazalgette and gardens created between the wall arid the original shoreline.

This subject is covered here in the blog in the Streets of Westminster posts.

This subject is also covered by two eBooks published in the 19th century:

The following entry appeared in the Victorian publication Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis; with nearly sixty years personal recollections by John Timbs, John (1801-1875).

Publication date: 1867
Publisher London : J. C. Hotten


A series of streets in the rear of the houses on the south side of the Strand, reaching east and west from Adam-street to Buckingham-street, and facing the Thames on the south—a grand commencement of the architectural embankment of the river, in 1768. It is named Adelphi from its architects, the four brothers Adam, who built vast arches over the court-yard of old Durham House, and upon these erected, level with the Strand, Adam-street, leading to John, Robert, James, and William-streets ; the noble line of houses fronting the Thames being the Adelphi-terrace. The view from this spot is almost unrivalled in the metropolis for variety and architectural beauty : from Waterloo Bridge on the east, with the majestic dome and picturesque campanili of St. Paul’s, to Westminster Bridge on the west, above which rise the towers of Lambeth Palace and Westminster Abbey ; the massive entrance and lofty clock-tower, and pinnacled and bristling roofs of the Houses of Parliament : beneath lies the river, spanned with manifold bridges. The prospect is, however, partially disfigured with huge and shapeless railway buildings.

In passing through Parliament the Bill for the Embankment of part of the Thames adjoining Durham-yard, a violent contest arose between the City and the Court. The Lord Mayor, as Conservator of the river, considering the rights of the citizens exposed to encroachment, they were heard by counsel in Parliament. They produced a grant of Henry VII. of all the soil and bed of the river, from Staines Bridge to a place in Kent, near the Medway ; and showed a lease granted by them, sixtysix years before this period, of a nook of the river at Vauxhall, under which they still continued to receive rent. On the other side a charter of Charles II. to the City was produced, in which he reserved the bed of the river ; and it was contended that the City, by receiving the latter grant, abandoned the former ; that the charter of Henry VII. extended only to the soil of the river within the City and suburbs. The lease of Vauxhall was said to be a mere encroachment, and the right of the City was utterly denied. These arguments prevailed : the Bill passed both Houses: and the magnificent pile of buildings called the Adelphi was erected on the site. The brothers Adam were chosen the Court architects, through the influence of the Earl of Bute, and did not escape the satire of the day :

” Four Scotchmen, by the name of Adam,
Who keep their coaches and their madam,”
Quoth John, in sulky mood, to Thomas,
” Have stole the very river from us.”
Foundling Hospital for Wit, vol. iv.

In the centre house of the Terrace, No. 4, David Garrick lived from 1772 till his death, Jan. 20, 1779 : the ceiling of the front drawing-room was painted by Antonio Zucchi, A.R.A. ; the white marble chimney-piece cost £300. Garrick died in the back drawing-room ; and here his remains lay in state, previous to their interment in Westminster Abbey, Feb. 1. Johnson says : ” His death eclipsed the gaiety of nations but Walpole, ” Garrick is dead ; not a public loss ; for he had quitted the stage.” There were not at Lord Chatham’s funeral half the noble coaches that attended Garrick’s ; Burke was one of the mourners, and came expressly from Portsmouth to follow the great actor’s remains ; and Lord Ossory was one of the pall-bearers. Walpole writes to the Countess of Ossory :

” Yes, madam, I do think the pomp of Garrick’s funeral perfectly ridiculous. It is confounding the immense space between pleasing talents and national services. What distinctions remain for a patriot hero, when the most solemn have been showered on a player ? . . . Shakspere, who wrote when Burleigh counselled and Nottingham fought, was not rewarded and honoured like Garrick, who only acted.”—Letter, Feb. 1, 1779.

Garrick’s widow also died in the front drawing-room of the same house, in 1822, at the Adelphi-terrace. The floor is now the chambers of the Royal Literary Fund Society. In another of the Terrace houses lived Sir Edward Banks, one of the builders of Waterloo, Southwark, London, and Staines bridges, over the Thames. He was one of the earliest railway “navvies,” and worked on the Merstham Railway, in Surrey, about the year 1801 : by natural abilities and the strictest integrity, he raised himself to wealth and station : he died July 5, 1835.

At the north-east corner of Adam-street, No. 73, Strand, Becket, the bookseller, kept shop,—the rendezvous of Garrick, who never went to taverns, seldom to coffeehouses.

At No. 1, Adam-street, lived Dr. Vicesimus Knox, one of “the British Essayists .” In the first floor of the same house resided, for twenty years, in almost total seclusion, George Blamire, barrister-at-law, of very eccentric habits, but sound mind. No person was allowed to enter his chamber, his meals and all communications being left by his housekeeper at the door of his ante-room. He was found dead in an arm-chair, in which he had been accustomed to sleep for twenty years. He died of exhaustion, from low fever and neglect ; at which time his rooms were filled with furniture, books, plate, paintings, and other valuable property.

At Osborne’s Hotel, John-street, in 1824, sojourned Kamehameha II., King of the Sandwich Islands, and his sister the Queen, with their suites : at this time was written the song of ” The King of the Cannibal Islands.” The Queen died here of measles, July 8 ; and the King died of the same disease at the Caledonian Hotel on the 14th. Their remains lay in native pomp at Osborne’s, and were then deposited in the vaults of St. Martin’s Church, prior to their being conveyed in the Blonde frigate to the Sandwich Islands for interment. The poor King and Queen were wantonly charged with gluttony and drunkenness while here ; but they lived chief!y on fish, poultry, and fruit, and their favourite drink was some cider presented to them by Mr. Canning.

In John-street also, on the north side, is the house built for the Society of Arts by the Adams, and extending over part of the site of the New Exchange, Strand. In the second-floor chambers at No. 2, James-street, lived, for nearly thirty years, Mr. Thomas Hill, the ” Hull ” of Theodore Hook’s novel of Gilbert Gurney. Hill died  here December 20, 1841, in his eighty-first year, and left a large collection of curiosities, including a cup and a small vase formed from the mulberry-tree planted by Shakspeare at Stratford-upon-Avon. Neither of these, however, is the Shakspeare Cup presented to Garrick by the Mayor and Corporation of Stratford at the time of the Jubilee. This celebrated relic was bought on May 5, 1825, for 121 guineas, by Mr. J. Johnson ; and by him sold, July 4, 1846, for £40Z. 8s. 6d., to Mr. Isaacs, of Upper Gower-sbreet.

The Adelphi vaults, in part occupied as wine-cellars and coal-wharfs, in their grim vastness, remind one of the Etruscan Cloaca of old Rome. Beneath the ” dry arches,” the most abandoned characters have often passed the night, nestling upon foul straw and many a street-thief escaped from his pursuers in these dismal haunts, before the introduction of gas-light and a vigilant police.


The following entry appeared in the Victorian publication London, Past and Present  by Henry Benjamin Wheatley (1838-1917)

Publication date: 1891
Publisher London : John Murray, Albemarle Street

Adelphi (The). A large pile of building (” the bold Adelphi ” of the Heroic Epistle) with dwellings and warehouses, erected in the early part of the reign of George III., on the site of Durham House, and called the Adelphi, from the brothers Adam, the projectors and architects.

Robert and James Adam were architects of repute natives of Scotland, patronised by the Earl of Bute, for whom they built Lansdowne House, in Berkeley Square, and by Lord Mansfield, for whom they built Caen Wood House, near Hampstead. When in July 1768 the Adelphi Buildings were commenced, the Court and City were in direct opposition, and the citizens were glad in any little way in their power to show their hostility to the Court. The brothers Adam were patronised by the King, and having in their Adelphi Buildings encroached, it was thought, too far upon the Thames, and thus interfered with the rights of the Lord Mayor as conservator of the river, the citizens applied to Parliament for protection, but lost their cause through the influence of the Crown, as Walpole asserts. The feeling was greatly aggravated by the brothers coming from the wrong side of the Tweed.

In order to make the necessary encroachments on the river, a special Act of Parliament was obtained (2 Geo. III. c. 34, 1771). Durham yard was occupied by a number of small low-lying houses, coal-sheds, and lay-stalls, washed by the muddy deposits of the Thames. The property then was in the possession of the Duke of St. Alban’s, from whom the Adams leased it for ninety-nine years, from Lady-day 1768, at a yearly rent of ^1200. The leases expired in 1867, when the whole property came into the possession of Messrs. Drummond, who obtained the estate from the trustees of the Duke of St. Alban’s. The change effected by the brothers was extraordinary : they threw a
series of arches over the whole declivity allowed the wharves to remain connected the river with the Strand by a spacious archway, and over these extensive vaultings erected a series of well-built streets, a noble terrace towards the river, and a house with a convenient suite of rooms for the then recently established Society of Arts. But the
architecture was not without its critics:-

What are the Adelphi Buildings ? Warehouses, laced down the seams, like a soldier’s frill in a regimental old coat. Walpole to Mason, July 29, 1773.

Adam Street leads from the Strand to the Adelphi and its Terrace, and the names of the brothers, John, Robert, James, and William, are preserved in adjoining streets.

When the scheme was first set on foot, Mr. Coutts, of the Strand, being anxious to preserve the fine prospect over the Kent and Surrey hills, which the back windows of his banking house then afforded, purchased a share of the Durham Gardens property, and arranged with the Messrs. Adam that the streets should be so laid out as to preserve their vista, and Robert Street was accordingly so planned as to form a frame for the wealthy banker’s landscape. The piece of land between William Street and John Street was at that time occupied by his strong rooms, connected underground with the office, and built up only to the level of the Strand. When it became necessary to enlarge his premises he procured a special Act of Parliament for throwing an arch over William Street. It was recognised as a good omen that, on the day of opening these improvements, Nelson sent to Mr. Coutts for security the diamond aigrette which had been presented to him by the Sultan.

Eminent Inhabitants. David Garrick, in the centre house, No. 5 (now No. 4), of the terrace, from 1772, when he removed here from Southampton Street, till his death in 1779. The ceiling of the front drawing-room was painted by Antonio Zucchi, A.R.A., an artist introduced by the Messrs. Adam to decorate their buildings. A chimneypiece of white marble in the same room is said to have cost £300. But the back rooms were dark and gloomy, and only the front drawing-room could be called a fine room Note to Garrick
Correspondence. Garrick died in the back room of the first floor ; and his widow in the same house and room in 1822. It is now the office of the Literary Fund. Topham Beauclerk (Johnson’s friend).

He [Johnson] and I walked away together ; we stopped a little while by the rails of the Adelphi, looking on the Thames, and I said to him with some emotion, that I was now thinking of two friends we had lost, who once lived in the buildings behind us: Beauclerk and Garrick. “Ay, Sir,” said he tenderly, “and two such friends as cannot be supplied.” Boswell, by Croker, p. 687.

The Earl of Beaconsfield was said to have been born in the Adelphi on December 31, 1803. During his last illness Lord Barrington one day asked him where he was born. ”
I was born in the Adelphi,” he replied, ” and I may say in a library. My father was not rich when he married. He took a suite of apartments in the Adelphi, and he possessed a large collection of books, all the rooms were covered with them, including that in which I was born.” Times, April 20, 1881.

This, however, appears to be a mistake. Isaac D’Israeli lived in James Street until his marriage, and then moved to King’s Road, Bedford Row. The notice of Mr. Disraeli’s
marriage stood as follows: “loth January 1802 Isaac D’Israeli Esq of the Adelphi to Miss Basevi of Billiter Square.”

When the Adelphi was building, Becket, the bookseller in the Strand, was anxious to remove his shop to the corner house of Adam Street leading to the Adelphi ; and Garrick was an applicant by letter to the ” dear Adelphi,” for this east ” corner blessing,” as he calls it, for his friend. “Garrick to Adam,” Hone’s Every Day Book, vol. i. p. 327. The application was successful, Becket obtaining the house, No. 73, north-east corner of Adam Street. It was burnt down (June 28, 1822) and rebuilt on the same plan as before.

Adelphi Hotel, August 8, 1787. Intelligence extraordinary. This day (August the seventh) the celebrated E. G. arrived with a numerous retinue (one servant). We hear that he has brought over from Lausanne the remainder of his History for immediate publication. Gibbon to Lord Sheffield.

In Osborne’s Hotel, in John Street, the King ot the Sandwich Islands (Rhio-Rhio, son and successor of Tamehameha, who placed his kingdom under the protection of England) resided while on a visit to this country in the reign of George IV. The King died there, September 14, 1824 ; his Queen the week before. The son and biographer of Crabbe the poet mentions that, in 1813, his father and mother had occupied the same apartments. Isaac D’Israeli stayed at this hotel on his return from his wedding tour, and before settling in King’s Road. Dr. Thomas Munro, the early patron of Turner, and other young artists. Rowlandson died here April 22, 1827. Mr. Thomas Hill, the supposed original of Paul Pry, died at No. 2 James Street. The architectural effect of the Adelphi Terrace has been greatly altered by the formation of the Thames Embankment in front of it. In the Adelphi arches a battery of guns was quietly stowed away, ready for use if required, on the memorable tenth of April 1848.

The arches under the Adelphi were open for many years, and formed subterranean streets leading to the wharves on the Thames. About thirty years ago these dark arches had a bad name, on account of the desperate characters who congregated there and hid themselves in the innermost recesses, but now they are mostly enclosed and form extensive cellarage for wine merchants.

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