The Russell Institution & Thomas Cubitt

The Russell Institution & Thomas Cubitt

Thomas Shepherd’s 1828 engraving of The Russel Institution, Great Corham Street. By kind permission of the Wellcome Collection.

 

The ground floor plan of the Russell Institution building. An engraving sadly cut from from “Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London: With Historical and Descriptive Accounts,” John Britton, Augustus Pugin, London, 1825. OLBC Collection

 

Text concerning the Russell Institution building. An engraving sadly cut from from “Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London: With Historical and Descriptive Accounts,” John Britton, Augustus Pugin, London, 1825. OLBC Collection.

The founding of the Russell Institution

It was first proposed that the Russel Institution be formed at a meeting held on 8th January 1808 modelled on the Royal Institution and the London Institution to make use of a building that had been erected by the developer, architect and builder James Burton. Burton had a 99 year lease on the site and erected a building called the Russell Rooms for entertainments – this was not a financial success and so Burton looked for another use for his building.

In An Account of the Proceedings, with a Prospectus of the Russell Institution, S. Gosnell, London [seemingly published around 1808, no publication date is stated] a detailed account of the formation of the Russell Institution is given including the compensation to Burton of two hundred shares for the building [page 6] and implicitly the lease for it from the Duke of Bedford.

One of the founders of the Russell Institution was Sir Samuel Romilly who was a good friend of Jeremy Bentham. Romilly was a well know judge and lawyer. He wrote a three volume memoir: however, the Russell Institution does not rate a mention in volume 2 which covers the period of interest.

From the advert in The British Press 21st May 1808, below, it is likely that the Institution’s bankers were Marsh & Co – Berners St or Langston & Co – Lombard Rd or Praed & Co of Fleet St. We have checked the Praed & Co, Alphabet [customer lists] but there is no listing for The Russell Institution. However, the account could well have been in a person or persons names, rather than the insitution, at that point in time.

Russell Institution Bankers
Advert in The British Press, 21st May 1808 which names the likely bankers for the Russell Institution.

A new roof?

According to Holland & Hannen And Cubitts Ltd, The Inception and Development of a Great Building Firm, Cubitts, 1928 putting a new roof on the Russell Institution was the first major piece of work that Thomas Cubitt undertook.

Extract from Holland & Hannen And Cubitts Ltd, The Inception and Development of a Great Building Firm, Cubitts, 1928 Page 19. OLBC Collection.

According to The Sphere, Saturday 13th December 1958 [which gives no source for the assertion] “….in 1815 he signed his first contract to carry out the re-roofing of the Russell Institution in Great Coram Street …..”

The general running of the Institution

The librarian from 1825 to 1854 was Edward Wedlake Brayley and complied several catalogues of Institute’s collections. In the catalogues there is a forward that set out the history of the formation of the Institution. The interesting thing is that it does state that the spacious cellars are let to sub tenants. It was suggested, by others, that the fact that these had been let in the 1870’s indicated that the Institution had fallen on hard times, whereas it appears that this had been the case from early on.

Extract from, A Catalogue of the Library of the Russell Institution classed and arranged by Edward Wedlake Brayley, London, 1826. Google Books.

In the amazingly modestly named, ‘The Manual of Dates: A Dictionary of Reference to All the Most Important Facts and Events in the History of the World, George Henry Townsend [ed Frederick Martin], London 1877″, sets out the the Russell Rooms had a complex genesis. The dates need to be treated with some circumspection as the date of the granting of the lease doesn’t give either 98 or 99 years from the end date cited in the various law reports at the foot of this page. That aside, construction started around 1802 and there was, seemingly, a fire that interrupted works. With the assembly rooms opening in 1804.¹

The Manual of Dates: A Dictionary of Reference to All the Most Important Facts and Events in the History of the World, George Henry Townsend [ed Frederick Martin], London 1877 Pg 831. Google Books.
In, Saint Pancras, Past and Present, Frederick Miller, London, 1874 gives a description of the Russell Institution was given that has been frequently cited.

This states that James Burton sold his interest in the Russell Institution for £2,700 not seemingly for the 200 shares others stated. Or it might have been that he sold his 200 shares for a consideration of £2,700?

The putative 98/99 year lease granted in 1802 [thus expiring in 1900/01] is inconsistent with lease expiry date of 29th September 1897 that is cited in The Law Reports: Chancery Division….., Volume 2 reproduced at the foot of the page. Hopefully the deed itself or the Bedford Estate deeds ledger has survived.

It is far more likely that the lease was granted 1798 prior to Bedford House being torn down and the demolition was a part of James Burton’s bargain with the Bedford Estate intertwined as it was with the bargain between the Bedford Estate and the Founding Hospital with respect to land swaps to allow boundary alignments leading to sensible sized plots to develop.

The Russell Institution
Extract from, St Pancras Past and Present, Frederick Miller, London, 1874 Pp 183-9. Google Books.

 

The demise of the Russell Insitution

Webber’s Directory lists the Russell Institution in 1897. This is contrary to most authorities who suggest that it had disappeared by 1891 as it was not in the Post Office [Kellys] directory – this is a categorically erroneous supposition as is made clear below.

However, we can be quite certain of the final date of the dissolution of the Russel Institution as it as the subject of a test case, under the Literary and Scientific Institutions Act 1854 Section 30,  to determine the distribution of assets when such and institution was dissolved. There is a report of the proceedings in The Times Law Reports.

Times Law Reports Vol 14
Times Law Reports, Volume 14 edited by William Frederick Barry. Pages 406 & 7 concerning the dissolution of the Russell Institution.

There is also a fuller report in The Law Reports: Chancery Division….., Volume 2, which makes it clear that the demise of the Russell Insuttion was to do with the ending of the 98 year lease granted to James Burton and [presumably] reassigned to the Russell Institution. Which states

The Law Reports: Chancery Division….., Volume 2, 1898, Pages 72-82.

Both of these reports state, perhaps erroneously, that the 200 shares had been given to the Duke of Bedford in respect of the lease. Hopefully the lease documents will come to light and settle the matter.

We had hoped that the fate of the Russell Institution’s library might give a clue to where its records ended up. Of the five volumes that we have found on the second hand market with the Russell Institution stamp on them none of them have any other institutional markings at all. This suggests that the collection was sold off piecemeal or given to the shareholders in lieu of payment. So this has proved, so far, a research dead end.

The Russell Rooms / Russell Institution occupied 55 Great Coram Street [now Herbrand Street] at the junction with Little Coram Street. This site is now occupied by Witley Court, a block of flats.


¹ We are trying to track down any records of the lease that may be extant in the Duke of Bedford’s archives – although it is quite puzzling that it is stated a Duke of Bedford as Coram Street was clearly on the lands of  The Foundling Hospital – which should be pretty clear from the name as Thomas Coram was it’s founder – the answer may well be in The Foundling Hospital’s archives held at LMA likely A/FH/A/16/017/001 which is the agreement between James Burton and The Foundling Hospital or A/FH/A/16/015/002 which is the index for the actual leases granted. It could well be that. There is another explanation in that The Foundling Hospital could not sell lands and only exchange them so it is possible that this parcel of lands was exchanged with The Duke of Bedford.