Drawing from Brit Mus Add.MSS 5238 
f 56, said to be Montagu House


M.I.Batten, 'The Architecture of Dr. Robert Hooke F.R.S.', Walpole Society (London) 25, 93 - 96 (1936-7)



Between August 1674 and September 1680 Hooke, in his Diary, makes nearly a hundred and fifty references to Montagu House. The following have been selected as being the most interesting and showing the progress of the work.



September 2nd, With Mr, Montacue to Southampton Fields. September 12th, At home all day about Mr. Montacue plat. September 13th Completed Designe. October 12th. At Mr. Montacues with Mr Fitch and agreed upon setting out ground etc, At the Ground and drank with Mullett and Fitch. December 13th, Drew upright of Wings for Montacue. December 15th, With Mr. Montacue, Mr. Sidley, Fitch, Davys here. Saw module approved. Orderd all haste to be made.
1675 March 5th Finisht estimate for Mr Montacue. March 17th. Mr. Fitch here, Before he went to Mr. Montacue. Davys men brought in Module. Directed carpenter about the Ceeling of the stairs and partition and shoring plate of dining room  May May 22nd in Bloomsberry with Mr. Montacue Mr. Russell, Leak, etc, Measurd out Ground to a square June 29th. Set out Mr Montacues front. July 6th Set out foundations. July 24th Fell out with Mr. Fits about the stock bricks in the front of the house. September 1st. Saw the chimneys set out.  November 13th.  Mr. Montacue agreed with Davys. Italian painter Plaisterer and hanging maker.
1676 April 28th. to Mr. Montacues. The west half of his Roof up. Resolved on the height of the wings, the rooms to be only 14 foot in the cleer.  May 2nd.  With Mr. Fitch at Bloomsberry    Directed the placing the chimneys in the garrets. May 10th . Mr. Povey to board the upper part of the Roof.  May 24th, At Mr. Montacues. Saw his new bought picture some good. Much discourse with him about high roof. To Bloomsberry. Discoursd Hayward he demanded £30 for higher roof, stair, stairhead, chimneys etc. June 29th. Scarborough here about mending chimney it was crackd and setled  June 30th. Scarborough here, Newland asked £4 for new fitting chimneys. Orderd Scarborough to have them proceeded with. July 1st.  With Mr. Montacue about covering chimneys…. To Bloomsberry. At the top of the new flat. Directed covering and trussing chimneys. He orderd Copper guilt balls and
iron work for pavilion chimneys 1. I directed moulding at the bottom of the chimneys. July 3rd. Directed the top of chimneys at Thomsons. July 4th. With Waters about chimney pieces. July 8th. To Thomsons and Bloomsberry. Irons for chimney done. July 24th At Mr Montacues. Discoursd about Portico and cupelos. August 17th.  Spoke with Mr. Montacue . . about altering the chimneys on the pavilions. September 12th, At Mr. Montacues. He allowed to leave out turret of  wings. September 21st To Mr. Montacues. With him to Bloomsberry. Pleasd chimneys. Cupelos over gateways 1, etc. . . Discoursd with Thomson about gateway and Stepps.

1 The illustration does not show that these balls are the finials of the pavilion roofs, the chimneys standing forward in the plan of the end walls.

1677 June 13th.  Set out garden. August 28th. At Bloomsberry orderd Norris £40 on chimney pieces. November 24th. Waited on Mr.  Montacue and Sidley then read over Fitches demand of overwork. November 28th. With Scarborough to Mr. Montacue with him to his house and into his Garden. Deliverd Fitches papers to Mr. Scowen. December 5th. Discoursed with Mr. Montacue, He seemd well satisfyd in all things…..     Desird me to send him the agreements, Designes and Estimates. December 6th. Mr Montacues account ended, wherein he is made Debtor to Mr. Fitch £8oo.
1678 January 5th.  Directed Thomson about stairs with corbells etc. February 4th. With Norris bespake chimney pieces and agreed for £6o. March 8th.. at Bloomsberry directed passages, stairs, struck stove, wainscoting, staircase.
1679 January 21st. With Hayward to Montacue house. Ballisters on top 2 of house and raile on court stairs, February 28th.  at Mr. Montacues with Hammond about widening stairs.

2 See illustration from Add.MSS 5238

1680 February 2nd. to Mr Montacue. Looke with Scowan sash windows 3 blown down. July 7th. At Mr. Montacues, spake to him for money he promised me. Speedily viewed the cracks. None but that in the turret at the east of the Cloyster.

3 This is a very early use of sash windows.

Illustrations and References.

Aubrey states that Hooke was the architect of Montagu House.

Evelyn in his Diary has a good deal to say about Montagu House. The first entry is in May 1676, ‘went to see Mr. Montagu's new palace near Bloomsberry built by Mr.

Hooke, of our Society,4 after the French manner', but according to Hooke's Diary this would he before the roof was finished. In November 1679 Evelyn goes there again and writes, ‘it was most nobly furnished, and a fine, but too much exposed garden'. He makes his final visit in October 1683 and has left a description:  'to see Montagu House,

4 The Royal Society.

a palace lately built by Lord Montagu 5    It is a stately and ample palace. Signor Verrio's fresco paintings, especially the funeral pile of Dido, on the staircase, the labours of Hercules, fight with the Centaurs, his effeminacy with Dejanira, and Apotheosis or reception among the Gods, on the walls and roof of the great room above, - I think exceeds anything he has yet done, both for design, colouring, and exuberance of invention, comparable to the greatest of the old masters, or what they so celebrate at Rome. In the rest of the chamber are some excellent paintings of Holbein, and other masters. The garden is large, and in good air, but the fronts of the house not answerable to the inside. The court at entry, and wings for offices seem too near the street, arid that so very narrow and meanly built, that the corridor is not in proportion to the rest, to hide the court from being overlooked by neighbours; all which might have been prevented, had they placed the house further into the ground. of which there is enough to spare. But on the whole it is a fine palace, built after the French pavilion-way, by Mr Hooke, the Curator of the Royal Society.'

On January 19th, 1686, Evelyn writes 'This night was burnt to the ground my Lord Montagu's palace in Bloomsbury, than which for painting and furniture there was nothing more glorious in England.’  There is reason to suppose that 'burnt to the ground'  was an exaggeration, and that 'gutted' would have been more nearly correct.

Campbell illustrates it in Vitruvius Britannicus, vol. i,  with three plates - the facade, the entrance gates, and the plan (see illustrations).  He writes 'This great House was built by

The Principal Floor of Montagu House
From Vitruvius Britannicus

the late Duke of Montagu in the French manner; the Apartments are very noble arid richly adorned. Here Monsieur la Fausse, Mr. Rousseau, and Mr. Baptist have express’d the Excellence of their Art. The Architecture was con­ducted by Monsieur Puget 1678.'  It is to be noted that Campbell has made a muddle and given the date of the Hooke building. The house as illustrated by Campbell subsequently became the British Museum and engravings of it are frequent. In vol. vii of Early Science in Oxford is an illustration (frontispiece) purporting to be Montagu House by Hooke, but careful study of the plan in Vitruvius Britannicus shows it to be the reverse side of the usual view of the British Museum and also of the illustration given by Campbell. No authentic engraving of Montagu House as built by Hooke has been found and it seems probable, considering how short was its existence, that none exist. A further difficulty arises in the discrepancies between the various engravings of the British Museum, the proportions of the house varying considerably and even such details as string courses being omitted or inserted according, apparently, to the whim of the artist. But the suggestion is here put forward that Evelyn was incorrect in stating that the first Montagu House was burnt to the ground, and that the exterior of the British Museum was intrinsically the same as Hooke's building. This theory is supported by a colour wash drawing in Add. MSS. 5238 which is identical in many respects with engravings of lie British Museum, the supposition being that the colour wash drawing was either an early or the final scheme by Hooke for Montagu House. Whether the portico on the second floor was ever carried out is a problem; but Evelyn's reference to the ‘great room above' suggests that the principal rooms may have been on that floor. Hooke mentions 'ballisters on top of house'. That the gates to the British Museum were Hooke's original gates seems positive, for the burning of the house would not necessarily destroy the gates, and Hooke's reference to copper balls and iron work for the pavilion chimneys seems to put the question beyond doubt.


Waters, Miller, Norris, Thomson. Bricklayers; Fitch, Samuels. Carpenter: Hayward. Joiners: Davies, Avis. Smiths: Bird, Lever, Hayes. Marbler: Povey. Plaisterer: Sherwood. Glasier: Goodchild. Carter; Russel. Valuer: Tasker. Unidentified: Sidley, Leak, Coomb, Newland.

5 Ralph Montagu succeeded as 3rd Baron Montagu in 1684. Created Earl 1689, and Duke 1705.
Hooke was of course dealing with him before his succession to the barony, hence 'Mr' Montagu, whereas Evelyn has 'My Lord Montagu'..

Images     Batten introduction    Architecture introduction   Site contents   Home Page

email: webmaster