The Montague on the Gardens provides us with a distant echo of the activities of the rascally Ralph, Duke of Montagu, who came by this land in a very devious manner. The story begins not with Montagu - an ancestor of the present Lord Montagu of Beaulieu - but with a ‘crack-brained, addle-pated fellow’ named Christopher Monck, 2nd Earl of Albemarle. Christopher’s father, George Monck, 1st Earl of Albemarle, had been the chief mover in restoring Charles II to the throne of England in 1660.
Christopher Monck lacked the qualities of his father. He invested what little fortune he possessed in an expedition to discover sunken treasure. The wits made light of his chances but against all the odds the expedition succeeded. Unfortunately, but true to character, Christopher died on the very day the discovery was made. His Duchess, whom Horace Walpole described as ‘more mad with pride than any mercer’s wife in Bedlam’, was possibly not as silly as she was made out to be because although she believed herself to be the Empress of China, she somehow contrived to get all the treasure for herself, the other investors never seeing a penny.
The Duchess of Albemarle used her ill-gotten gains to live in almost Imperial splendour, surrounded by a host of retainers, all of whom were required to serve her on bended knee. She swore that unless the Prince of Tartary himself were to come to her door and beg her to be his wife by throwing himself at her feet, she would never remarry. Hearing of this, the unscrupulous Duke of Montagu dressed up as the Prince, prostrated himself before her and thus acquired both her hand and her fortune. He appropriated his wife’s ‘galleon money’ to construct for himself a vast mansion, Montagu House, in Great Russell Street. The land of Montague Street formed part of its ten-acre garden, thus confirming that the Montague on the Garden is well-named.
Six years after it was finished, Montagu House burned down in just five hours. His Grace promptly had it rebuilt and lived on here until his death in 1709. Old and New London records that he left the bulk of his fortune to his pets and that while he was writing his will: ‘one of his cats jumped on his knee. “What?” says he, “have you a mind to be a witness too? You can’t, for you are a party concerned and therefore interested”.’ Montagu House afterwards went to form the core of what is today the British Museum.
The houses of Montague Street were constructed between 1803 and 1806 by W.E. Allen, builder, to designs by James [Halliburton] Burton [1761-1837] over the gardens of Montagu House. Almost every house in the terrace, including No.15, is listed Grade II by English Heritage as a building of ‘architectural and/or historic interest’. Burton possessed enormous energy and flair. Between 1785 and 1823 he was responsible for the erection of two thousand three hundred and sixty-six houses in London with an estimated value of £1.8m, the equivalent in modern money of perhaps £110m. He also played a major part in the London building projects of John Nash, taking many of the leases for the proposed terraces around Regent’s Park, and for a number of the villas within it. His final major development was the creation of the coastal resort of St. Leonards-on-Sea. He lies buried in the town’s churchyard, beneath a pyramid memorial.
The first occupant of No.15 Montagu Street was a widow-lady named Susannah Day, whose will was proved 24 September 1810, the year George III irrevocably lost his reason. Mrs. Day desired that she be laid to rest ‘beside my late husband’. She left all her ‘rings, trinkets and jewels’ to her unmarried daughter, Catherine. The rest of her estate was to be sold and the money ‘laid out on government security’ to provide capital which was to be equally divided between her three children. In 1814 her former home was acquired by John Crawford, a prosperous East India merchant. This was an era when the world anticipated making a financial killing in Asia - from the Court of Directors of the East India Company sitting in their ornate offices in Leadenhall Street, to the company’s network of military and civil servants out East. One might add to this every member of the army [regardless of rank] the numerous independent merchants living in the three British Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay - and the whole array of native Indian rulers ranging from Moslem sultans and Hindu rajas, to hordes of freebooters scouring the villages.
‘John Company’ had long-established trading stations in India. It served as the agent of British Administration there, despite the unfitness for political power of a company formed for trade. It used its private army to police the area and to enforce its edicts. This force, which exceeded those of most sovereign states, was afterwards incorporated into the British army. The East India Company was a national institution. It had grown from a loose association of Elizabethan merchants into ‘the Grandest Society in the Universe’. As a commercial enterprise it came to control half the world’s trade and as a political entity it administered an embryonic empire. A tenth of the country’s revenue derived from duty on East India Company imports. Without it there would have been no British India and no British Empire.
John Crawford left his interest in No.15 Montague Street to his unmarried daughter, who features for the property in Boyle’s Court Guide for 1828. It then passed to Charles Frederick Cock, a gentleman of independent means, who owned property at Colchester, Essex. By 1837 it had become the home of George Harding, a partner in the firm of Bray, Warren, Harding & Warren, solicitors, who would probably have walked over to his office most working days at No.57 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. The 1861 census shows him living here, aged fifty-nine, with his wife, Ellen 50, and with his widowed mother-in-law, Mary Ann Comyer 82, who claimed to have been born in 1779 within the precincts of the Tower of London.
George Harding died about 1864 when No.15 passed to the surgeon, George Dancer Thane [1829-1905] Professor of Anatomy at University College, London. In 1881 Thane’s domestic staff included a 14-year-old page-boy, Henry Trigg. Only the grandest and most formal of London town-houses emploed page boys ... although one suspects that when not called upon to ‘make a leg’ and conduct visitors to the drawing-room Master Trigg doubled as the boots’-boy and as resident tease to the maid-of-all work, Rose Wignall 15.
About 1896 Professor Thane sold No.15 to his colleague and fellow surgeon, Anderson Henderson Richmond. Before 1901 the property passed into use as a lodging-house, a use to which almost all the houses of Montague Street were then put. The proprietor was Mrs. Alice Constance Macfarlane. One suspects her business was a prosperous one although if it was typical of such establishments the decor would by modern standards have been very gloomy. Writing of just such lodgings in The Last Chronicle of Barset, Anthony Trollope noted:
Lodgings in London are always gloomy. Gloomy colours wear better than bright ones for curtains and carpets, and the keepers of lodgings in London seem to think that a certain dinginess of appearance is respectable. I never saw a London lodging at which any attempt at cheerfulness had been made, and I do not think that any such attempt, if made, would pay. The lodging-seeker would be frightened and dismayed, and would unconsciously be led to think that something was wrong.
Mrs Macfarlane was succeeded in the business by her unmarried daughter, Christine. About 1928 the property became known as the Montague Hotel. An advertisement from The Times of 2nd September 1930 records that bed and breakfast terms were seven shillings and sixpence [about 38p] a night. Weekly terms full-board could be had for three guineas. The hotel continues to feature in the directories well into modern times under various proprietors, many of them spinsters or widow-ladies, and presently forms part of the London portfolio of Red Carnation Hotels.
Red Carnation took over the Montague Hotel in 1996 and transformed it into a four star deluxe property complete with garden facing conservatories, wood deck, terrace and 11 individually decorated suites.
Over recent years, the hotel has undergone various refurbishment programmes. In 2007 we proudly added a 2-bedroom apartment, The Guv'nor's Suite, which epitomises design chic with its marble corridor, faux suede walls and under-floor heating.