London – Ely House

As you come out of the Tube station, the view of Dover Street with its irregular skyline is a very modern one. It looks a rather dull, uninteresting place, given over to commerce and clubs, but like most of the Piccadilly and Pall Mall quarter, it is very reminiscent of the Stuart period. The history goes back to the respectable date of 1642, when the Clarendon estate was cut up into Dover, Albemarle, Bond and Stafford streets.

Out of Peckham, that haunt of the prosperous City man of those times, had come Sir Thomas Bond, the forerunner of the Messrs. Cubitt of 1921, with his syndicate, dealing death to historical associations and possessing none of the delicacy of feeling that made John Evelyn turn his head the other way when he drove by with Lord Clarendon the late owner.

Evelyn himself lived here, close to the house of Lord Dover, whose name was given to the street. Pope’s friend, Dr. Arbuthnot, and Lady Byron, both lodged in Dover Street, but by far the most interesting house is No. 37, a brick building of unobtrusive, classic simplicity, that has a story connecting it with the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

You might pass up and down Dover Street many times without noticing the significant bishop’s mitre, carved in stone halfway up the middle of the facade. This was once the distinguishing mark of the town house of the bishops of Ely that they bought in 1772 from the Government in exchange for all claim on their Hatton Garden property in Ely Place. Nowadays one thinks of diamond merchants in connection with Hatton Garden, but in Elizabeth’s day it was the Naboth’s vineyard that she coveted on behalf of her handsome Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton. The bishops were forced to grant him a lease for the rent of a red rose, ten loads of hay, and ten pounds, the right to walk in their rival’s gardens whenever they chose, and to gather twenty baskets of roses every year.

The bone of contention brought no luck to anyone. Hatton was imprudent enough to borrow the money for improvements from his queen. She insisted on the bishops conveying the property to her till the sum should be repaid, and when one of them jibbed at carrying out the terms of this settlement, the Queen wrote him an Elizabethan epistle:

Proud prelate! I understand you are backward in complying with your agreement: but I would have you understand that I, who made you what you are, can unmake you; and if you do not forthwith fulfil your engagement, by God, I will immediately unfrock you, Elizabeth.

Sir Christopher Hatton was never able to repay his mistress’s loan. It broke his heart, says an old chronicler, and though the queen relented at the end, and came to visit him, “there is no pulley can draw up a heart once cast down, though a Queen herself should set her hand thereunto.”He died disconsolate, in his coveted palace of Ely, in 1591.

After all these vicissitudes, the diocese got back its property at the Restoration, but in 1772 they gave up all claim to it in exchange for the mansion in Dover Street.

The latter is a stately house, with a long marble hall and staircase, and the bishops of Elizabeth’s day would doubtless be mildly surprised if they knew that it is now used by the men and women belonging to the Albemarle Club.