Going over to Milton’s house

by Nick

I am moving office this weekend and was pleased to discover that my new building is more or less on the site of the ‘pretty Garden-house in Petty-France’ which John Milton moved to in 1651. Here is a view of it from St James’s Park, which it adjoined:

John Milton's house

It was here that Milton’s second wife, Mary Powell, died in 1652; and here that his third wife, Katherine Woodcock, lived. It was here that Milton would have set out from to wander across the park to Whitehall for his duties as Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State. It was here that Milton finally lost his sight. And it was here that he began to dictate Paradise Lost.

In the early nineteenth century it was owned by Jeremy Bentham, who placed a small tablet on one of the walls with the inscription ‘Sacred to Milton, Prince of Poets’. Bentham later leased the house to William Hazlitt. Here is a description of the house during Hazlitt’s occupation in 1818 by a visitor:

On knocking at the door, it was, after a long interval, opened by a sufficiently “neat-handed” domestic. The outer door led immediately from the street (down a step) into an empty apartment, indicating an uninhibited house, and I supposed I had mistaken the number; but, on asking for the object of my search, I was shown to a door which opened (a step from the ground) on to a ladder-like staircase, bare like the rest, which led to a dark bare landing-place, and thence to a large square wainscotted apartment. The great curtainless windows of this room looked upon some dingy trees; the whole of the wall, over and about the chimney-piece, was entirely covered, up to the ceiling, by names written in pencil, of all sizes and characters, and in all directions – commemorative of visits of curiosity to “the house of Pindarus”. There was, near to the empty fire-place, a table with breakfast things upon it (though it was two o’clock in the afternoon); three chairs and a sofa were standing about the room, and one unbound book lay on the mantelpiece. At the table sat Hazlitt, and on the sofa a lady, whom I found to be his wife.

In 1873 the site was demolished and a massive block of flats, Queen Anne’s Mansions, were erected. These caused quite a stir at the time due to their size and appearance:

Queen Anne's mansions

This view is, I think, looking west from where Tothill Street is today. Famous residents of the mansions included Edward Elgar, the explorer Sir Harry Johnston and the essayist Eliza Lynn Lynton. After the war it was leased by the Ministry of Works.

In 1973 the building was demolished and replaced with 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, a Brutalist design by Sir Basil Spence that has now been refurbished and renamed to 102 Petty France.