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GOWER STREET takes its name from Lady Gertrude Leveson-Gower, whose husband was the 4th Duke of Bedford. Lady Gertrude supervised the development of this section of her husband's estate when Gower Street was abuilding in the 1790s. Until the present numbering was adopted in the 1860s, No.69 Gower Street was known as No.52 Lower Gower Street.
The first occupant of the house, here by 1792, was John Payne, late a member of HM Indian Civil Service. Although modern opinion tends to look upon the Victorian administrators of Empire as languid upper class youths, ill-fitted for anything other than an easy life in a temperate climate, the truth was very different. The Civil Service Entrance Examination was ten times more difficult than that for the Universities. It was spread over almost a hundred and fifty hours and twenty- one consecutive weekdays. The papers required applicants to have a good working knowledge of Latin, of Sanskrit, of Persian, both classical and vernacular, science, practical engineering, book keeping, as well as arms and weaponry. Those, like John Payne, who passed were then on probation in England for a further two years, during which time they were 'regularly examined for progress'. Only then were they sent out to India. Although, on their arrival, they were often no more than twenty-four or twenty-five years of age, their thorough training had been essential because they would often be called upon to wield life and death powers over a native population of several hundred thousand souls almost as soon as they set foot in the country. Some members of the CSI joined from a desire for adventure, others from a sense of patriotism and duty. Most, however, did so because the opportunities for acquiring a fortune rapidly were quite staggering. It was probably just such opportunities that enabled John Payne to aqcuire the kind of capital necessary to purchase a house such as this.

By 1796 Payne was dead, and No.69 was in the occupation of his widow. When she died about 1832 it passed to William Keene, a barrister who specialised in cases before the Court of Chancery, the most protracted of the three divisions of the High Court of Justice. Cases here took so long to resolve that the phrase 'to get a man's head into Chancery' became a popular Victorian saying. Dickens alluded to the exhausting nature of Chancery proceedings in Bleak House, citing the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce based on a true dispute which lasted 80 years.

In 1837 number 69 Gower Street became the home of the mathematician Augustus De Morgan [1806-1871] who came here on his marriage to Sophia Elizabeth, the daughter of Willian Friend. De Morgan and Frend had been neighbours when the former had lived at number 5 Upper Gower street. Augustus De Morgan was born at Madura where his father 'a man of strict evangelical principles' was a Colonel in H.M. Indian Army. The son, 'a fine stout boy', lost an eye while still an infant. At school this exposed him to 'cruel parctical jokes' until he administered 'a sound threshing to his tormentor'. He was a born mathematician and 'read algebra like a novel'. Instead of paying attention to the sermons, 'he pricked out equations on the school pew, some of which remained after his death...' He declined to gratify his mother's wish for him to enter the church, and in February 1828 was unanimously elected the first Professor of Mathematics at the newly founded University of London, which afterwrads became University College. Apart from a short period at the outset of this appointment, he retained the office for the next 30 years. 'He loved the town and had a humorous detestation of trees, fields, and birds'. His income as a professor 'never reached £500' but he had an 'original genius, a quaint humour and a thorough contempt for sham knowledge and low aims in study'. A pioneer of the principal of decimal coinage, he was a man of great simplicity of character, loved puns and paradoxes, and all forms of ingenious puzzles.

On 16th of November 1839 the eldest of De Morgan's seven children, William Frend De Morgan [1839-1917] the artist, inventor, author and potter, was born in this house. Both his father and his mother were 'remarkable personalities, at once brilliant and unworldly, and the boy grew up in a home circle full of happy and varied interests', although these were soon overshadowed by the untimely deaths of brothers and sisters. [William was the only one of this large family who lived to old age.] In the early 1860s he made the acquaintance of Burne-Jones, Rosetti, William Morris, and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with which his name is so indelibly associated. Early experiments in tile and stained-glass window making by means of kilns connected to the chimney of an ordinary house 'led to the roof being burned off'. He later removed to No.30, Cheyne Roww, Chelsea, where he developed 'the magnificent thickly glazed blues and greens' that helped to make famous the pots, fireplace tiles and panels which emanated from his pottery. Ironically, the business never made him much money.

He died in London on the 15th of January 1917 'of a sudden attack of trench fever'. A portrait by his wife, Mary, is in the National Portrait Gallery. It shows him full face, clasping an iridescent jar made by himself.

In 1844 when De Morgan's parents moved to Camden town, No.69 Gower Street passed to the barrister Francis Whitmarsh Q.C. who commuted each working day by private carriage between this house and his chambers at No.3, Serle Street, Lincoln's Inn. Before 1862 Whitmarsh disposed of his interest to Isaac Jacobs, a Jewish Mercer. The London Post Office Directories for 1872 place the house in the occupation of Lewis Schryver, 'gentleman'. A directory of 1882 lists the owner as Charles Morris Woolf, who a year earlier had humorously described himself to the census enumerator as a 'merchant sailor'. [He was actually a merchant and a ship owner].

By 1886 No.69 had passed into use as a lodging house with a Welshman named Enoch Thomas. By 1925 No.69 had graduated from boarding house to private hotel run by Miss Lucy Willman. From the late 1930s it was run by the Misses Rachel and Margaret Evans. In the 1950s the business was acquired by the Arnold Family, whose successors run it yet.

THE GARTH HOTEL Garth Hotel, 69 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6HJ
Call us free on 0800 634 0294 From Outside the UK ☎Tel : +44 207 636 5761
International Freephone from the U.S.A 1866 548 8653
mail : master@garthhotel-london.com
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