Thomas Cubitt – from his own records

Thomas Cubitt – from his own records

Thomas Cubitt [1788 -1855] was a good businessman as well as being a renowned builder. The quality of his record keeping is enviable.

Cubitt built large tracts of Belgravia and all of Pimlico as well as estates in Brighton, Clapham and various other parts of London.

Thomas and William were sons of Jonathan Cubitt and Agnes (Scarlett) Cubitt.

Thomas set up in business, initially, with his brother William – the Norfolk Records Office has plenty of Cubitt related family records. Cubitt is a reasonably common name in Norfolk but is an interesting attempt to disambiguate the various branches and clans Cubitt [Collection for a History of the Family of Cubitt, of Norfolk, Walter Rye, Pub Samuel Miller & Co, 1873 Pg16] in which Thomas’ branch is termed The Cubitts of Frettenham.

Part of the section on the Cubitts of Frettenham extract from Collection for a History of the Family of Cubitt, of Norfolk, Walter Rye, Pub Samuel Miller & Co, 1873 Pg16 – Google Books

The usual story told, is that Thomas was a ships carpenter and he did a major roofing job, these days we would call it a contract, to such a high standard that he secured various other very substantial and profitable works.

It is suggestive that he was quite well educated and that he understood calculating commercial margins and managing workforce from these early successes. His education is a mystery.

In amongst these early works was the building of The London Institution, the predecessor of University of London & UCL and it was here that Cubitt would have met Robert Smith, 1st Lord Carrington, The Institution’s president from 1812 – 1827. The chair of the first two meetings of the putative Institution was Sir Francis Baring, of the banking dynasty. The Baring clan was to re-emerge when Cubitt was working in Brighton on Kemp’s town which was owned by Thomas Read Kemp who had married Frances Baring, daughter of Sir Francis.

Then Cubitt moved onto, what for a better expression we are terming for a better expression, his ‘Royal’ phase working on Osbourne House and Buckingham Palace. The specification for Osbourne House agreed via Anson with Prince Albert survives [RA PPTO/PP/OSB/MAIN/OS/2].

Cubitt rated eleven entries in Queen Victoria’s Private Journal.¹

On Cubitt’s death, Queen Victoria wrote in her Private Journal: Entry of Monday 24th December 1855 [link takes you to PDF image of the entry – click on page 2];

“Have been much grieved by the death of that excellent & worthy man, Mr Thomas Cubitt, which occurred on the 20th. Shortly after returning from Scotland, we had heard that he was very ailing, & he rapidly became worse. Fortunately his sufferings were not so great at the last. In his sphere of life, with the immense business he had in hand, he is a real national loss. A better, kinder hearted or more simple, unassuming man, never breathed & Osborne must ever be bound up to us with the memory of this excellent man, who executed & aided in carrying out all my beloved Albert’s plans, & he was so truly devoted to us. He used to come very frequently during the actual building of the Pavilion, & the other part of the house. We feel we owe much to him for the way in which he carried out everything.”

The full text and scanned/photographic image of Queen Victoria’s Journal entries is on The Queen Victoria’s Journals microsite. Text only version on our site is here.

Cubitt’s final letter in of 29th November 1855 is concerning the works to Buckingham Palace – reproduced below.

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Cubitt’s final letter in of 29th November 1855 is concerning the works to Buckingham Palace. Thomas Cubitt’s, wet ink copy, Letter Book, Vol5, covering 1855 Apr 28 – 1859 Mar 12 , Pgs 89 & 90. By kind permission of London Metropolitan Archives LMA/4608/01/01/005.

Thomas Cubitt’s will [England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 13841858 for Thomas Cubitt, PROB 11: Will Registers 1855-1859 Piece 2225: Vol. 1, Quire Numbers 1-50 (1856) pages 101 – 124]

was, at the time, the longest will

Our Research Focus

Our starting point for this series of pieces on Thomas Cubitt is Hermione Hobhouse‘s substantial book on Thomas Cubitt [Thomas Cubitt: Master Builder (1971, revised 1995)]. It is worth bearing in mind the times [1960’s] when this initial research was undertaken: catalogues were not electronic and the deposits in archives were very often catalogued only to box level.² Access to bank archives was extremely limited and by personal introduction only. These were formidable barriers to research and it says much for her perseverance and determination that a very substantial volume of work eventuated.

There is very little point in rehashing such a substantial work, the majority of which has stood the test of time so well.

So our focus has been:

  1. on previously unknown documents that we have come across in our searches; and
  2. imaging and sharing some of the beautiful surviving documents; and
  3. how the first two points taken together can change our approach to interpreting the life and works of Thomas Cubitt.

The Curious Story of the Surviving Records of Thomas Cubitt

The early company records were recorded as ‘destroyed’ in Hermione Hobhouse‘s book on Thomas Cubitt [Thomas Cubitt: Master Builder (1971, revised 1995) Chapter II, endnote 10]  and Hobhouse references the loan of notes from Sir John Summerson, taken in 1946, to cover for the lack of these records. In a personal oral communication around 2007 she told one of our directors that this was as a result of a fire.

The sole surviving record for the early phase of Cubitt’s career related to The London Institution – the contract for the building of The London Institution and the minutes book of tThe London Institution are examined in some detail on this page [currently password protected until the rights for the images are resolved].

appears to be in The London Metropolitan Archives even though it does not cite Cubitt in the catalogue reference.

In 1883 the Cubitt business was acquired by Holland & Hannen, a leading competitor, which combination became known as Holland & Hannen and Cubitts, later Holland, Hannen & Cubitts. The company was acquired by Drake & Gorham Scull in 1969 and then by Tarmac in 1976 and subsequently integrated into Tarmac Construction. The records ultimately ended up in Tarmac Construction’s archives from where the records up to 1855 mysteriously disappeared.³ Tarmac Construction was ultimately acquired by the ill fated Carillion.

In amongst all of this archival chaos, it appeared, judging by the references in Hermione Hobhouse‘s book on Thomas Cubitt [Thomas Cubitt: Master Builder (1971, revised 1995)], that the lease books and six of the letter books (they are specifically listed as Primary Sources in the text) had been accessable.

Then mysteriously, what appeared to be a substantial set of records [up to 1855 – Thomas Cubitt’s death], reemerged at auction in 2012. They duly sold for £17,000. Sadly London Metropolitan Archives, who were trying to acquire them, didn’t have the budget to acquire the whole set. However, three of the lease books and the six of the letter books were left to LMA – the catalogue merely records that they were ‘Gifted to London Metropolitan Archives in January 2010 and received May and June 2012’.

26 volumes of papers from Holland, Hannen & Cubbits, some from 1856 onwards but none from pre  1855, were deposited in the Wolverhampton City Archives [ref DX-912] in 2003 by Tarmac Construction.

Cubitt’s Surviving Financial Records

Cubitt’s financial history can probably be grouped in four phases

Firstly, the London Institution phase of which nothing is know.

Secondly, the informal arrangements that he had with Robert Smith, 1st Lord Carrington (1752-1838) and its intermingling with Smith, Payne & Smith.

Thirdly, the more formal arrangements from 1833/4 onwards with Smith, Payne & Smith.

Fourthly, the Osbourne House era when he had royal patronage and ongoing royal contracts as well as an endorsement.

Cubitt’s Early Bankers

Thomas Cubitt banked with Smith Payne & Smith (subsumed via various acquisitions and mergers into the NatWest Group).

Robert Smith, 1st Lord Carrington (1752-1838) was a banker and co-founder of Smith, Payne and Smith and partner in several smaller banks and business enterprises. Five of his six sons became partners of one or other of the Smith banks. He financed Thomas Cubitt from the 1820’s in rebuilding the streets around Westminster and Belgravia in London and there is a remarkable set of correspondence and papers revealing the financing of that enterprise in The Buckinghamshire Archives D-CN.

Draft signed by Thomas Cubitt, drawn on Smith, Payne & Smith for the sum of £3,500 dated 12th December 1827. By kind permission of Buckinghamshire Country Archives D/CN/20/2/9/9/6.

Initially, Robert Smith, 1st Lord Carrington (1752-1838) provided Thomas Cubitt with credit/loans personally, via his family and through Smith, Payne and Smith up to about 1834.

In an articles of agreement [click here for full PDF] and a separate agreement to deposit deeds [click here for full PDF] and agreement of April 1828 George Smith agrees to led Cubitt £7,000 on security of specific deeds deposited.

Land Purchased from Earl Spencer

Cubitt had purchased lands in The Earl Spencer land sales of the 1830’s [full PDF here]  – particularly around Battersea. But his name does crop up a few times in the auction receipts ledgers. This is relevant to understanding Cubitt’s finances as it shows the resources that he could deploy, at that time.

2nd Auction on 30th October 1835 receipts page (below) lists – Lots 13 – £230; 23 – £115; 56 – £610 ; 2&3 of the first sale – £1,350 [auction catalogue plan for the 2nd auction below].

But what is very interesting is that it appears that the payment was made there and then as there is no note of later payment or of interest. Note the lack of entries on the columns to the right for deferred payments or interest.

Thomas Cubitt purchases lands in Battersea from Earl Spencer
Thomas Cubitt purchased lands in Earl Spencer’s 2nd land sale of 30th October 1835. By kind permission of the Northampton County Records Office [SOX 278-1].
Cubitts' Battersea Land purchases from Earl Spencer
Auction plan for Earl Spencer’s 2nd land sale of 30th October 1835 covering plots 1-31. The plots that Cubit bought are ringed in red. By kind permission of the Northampton County Records Office [SOX 278-1].
5th Auction on July 1836 receipts page lists – Lots 20 & 21 £650 – [auction map/plan click here]

Again it appears that the payment was made there and then as there is no note of later payment or of interest in the ledger.

19th July 1837 Lots 1, 2, 3 & 6 £1280 [auction catalogue plan below].

Again it appears that the payment was made there and then as there is no note of later payment or of interest in the ledger. So this provides evidence of consistent and substantial liquidity over a period of time.

Cubitts' Battersea Land purchases from Earl Spencer
Auction plan for Earl Spencer’s 2nd land sale of 19th July 1837. The plots that Cubit bought are ringed in red. By kind permission of the Northampton County Records Office [SOX 278-1].

Cubitt’s Banking Relationship(s) Evolve To Become More Formal

In his beautifully expressed letter of 13th October 1883 written at Deal Castle, Robert Smith, 1st Lord Carrington points out to Thomas Cubitt that he is getting approaching 83 years of age and that when he dies his executors would be forced to pay his daughters £40,000 and they would be forced to seek repayment of the loans to Cubitt to  satisfy this. So Cubitt is forced onto a slight different path.

 

House renovations Belgravia and Eaton Square

Belgravia's original financier draws the arrangement to a close

Belgravia's original financier draws the arrangement to a close
Letter from Carrington to Cubitt – signalling the necessity of drawing down the financial relationship – 13th October 1833. By kind permission of Buckinghamshire Country Archives D:CN:20:9:10:33

Cubitt initially seems to do ‘more of the same’ type of borrowing, this time with George Smith as the 1835 letter, below, from Thomas Cubitt to Samuel George Smith acknowledging the loan of seven thousand pounds would appear to indicate.

Cubitt Master Builder of Belgravia, Eaton Square and Pimlico
Letter from Cubitt to Samuel George Smith – acknowledging the loan of £7,000 at 5% interest and promising to deposit deeds within 21 days – dated 9th January 1835. By kind permission of NatWest Group [SPS/168]. All rights reserved.
Things appear to have moved onto a very different footing by 1838 with a very large number of deeds deposited by Smith, Payne & Smith with a very substantial value. This can only have been to secure something akin to a revolving credit facility. This sheds a very different light on how Thomas Cubitt was able to finance his day to day activities and the already very substantial asset levels that he was able to deploy to secure this facility.

Sadly the agreements that went with this ‘List of Deeds Deposited by Thomas Cubitt’ doesn’t survive but the conjecture of a more overarching form of lending facility would appear to be reasonable.

Thomas Cubitt Master Builder Belgrave Square, Eaton Sqaure, Elizabeth Street

Thomas Cubitt Master Builder, Belgrave Mews, Wilton Crescent, Chester Street and Lowndes Place
Schedule of Deeds Deposited by Thomas Cubitt, with Smith Payne & Smith dated 28th August 1838 – Listing Lowndes Street, Wilton Road, Cadogan Place, Eaton Place, Eaton Square amongst others. By kind permission of NatWest Group [SPS/168]. All rights reserved.
This appears to have been a very dynamic deposit of deeds as the next in the series shows a very different list of deeds and even more substantial total!

Thomas Cubitt Master Builder Wilton Terrace, Motcombe Street, Chesham Place, Ebury Mews & Chester Square
Schedule of Deeds Deposited by Thomas Cubitt, with Smith Payne & Smith 25th September 1838. Eaton Place, Belgrave Mews, Lowndes Mews, Lowndes St, Lowndes Sqaure Cadogan Place, Eaton Square are all in amongst the now illustrious addresses listed. By kind permission of NatWest Group [SPS/168]. All rights reserved.

The Post Osbourne House & Buckingham Palace Era

It is no easy task to try and track down Cubitt’ bankers around the time of his death in 1855. It is possible that he kept his banking separated from his business letter books but this doesn’t make a lot of sense as you can see occasional letters to bankers. It is more than likely, given the many bank failures of the 1820’s, that Cubitt kept his deposits in more than one bank. Given that, by this phase of his career, he was a serious wealthy man, it is hard to understand how his banking arrangements are so obscure.

We have tried to following approaches

Cubitt’s final letter book covering 1855 Apr 28 – 1859 Mar 12 [LMA/4608/01/01/005] appears an obvious place to start an investigation. What is curious is that his solicitors, Messr Palmer, Palmer & Bull, rate around forty six letters in that one letter book. We would have expected to see a similar number to a banking partner but none of the other name even have a fraction of the number of entries against them. There are however, some names that are banking related. The other letter books [1-4] are not currently available as they are undergoing restoration and in a fragile state.

So we made a PDF copy of the index and shared it with the major banking archives and received some interesting responses – summarised below.

The letter book contains entries for Manchester and Sheffield [which sounded to us like a bank – but doesn’t appear to be one] Payne, Smith and Payne, London & County Bank, G. Barclay [the entry on page 11 is about a packet of drawings so does not appear to be relevant], Sir Walter Farquhar [one letter in which Cubitt wants to meet – below] and W. Lechmere [the last having a goodly volume of letters at around seven – which do appear to concern finances but the role is obscure].

The proposed meeting between Cubitt and Sir Walter Farquhar could have been to do with the estate at Polseden Lacey.

“The Sheridan family purchased the estate in 1797 and the house was in ruins by c 1814, when Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright and politician, pulled most of it down with the intention of rebuilding it. However it was left to Joseph Bonsor, a stationer and bookseller, who purchased the estate in 1818, to rebuild the house to the designs of Thomas Cubitt. Bonsor was also responsible for planting thousands of trees, and renovating the garden, park, and estate. Sir Walter Farquhar purchased the estate in 1853 from the Bonsor family, and he enlarged the house between 1853 and 1870, preserving most of Cubitt’s structure. Farquhar’s house was in turn rebuilt in 1903-5 by Ambrose Poynter for Sir Clinton Dawkins, a civil servant and financier, who owned Polesden Lacey between 1902 and his death in 1906”

Grosvenor Master Builder and Restorer
Letter from Thomas Cubitt to Sir Walter Farquhar revealing a keenness to meet but there is no further correspondence. Maybe he was fishing for a new banker? Thomas Cubitt’s, wet ink copy, Letter Book, Vol5, covering 1855 Apr 28 – 1859 Mar 12 , Pg1. By kind permission of London Metropolitan Archives LMA/4608/01/01/005 Pg1.

The letters to W. Lechmere do appear to show that there was a financial relationship but it is hard to figure out if it was a personal or commercial one from the contents.

Letter from Thomas Cubitt to William Lechmere seemingly asking for a delay in an interest payment.  Thomas Cubitt’s, wet ink copy, Letter Book, Vol5, covering 1855 Apr 28 – 1859 Mar 12 , Page 79. By kind permission of London Metropolitan Archives LMA/4608/01/01/005 Pg 79.
Letter from Mr Waller(?) to William Lechmere enumerating a payment and asking for a receipt. Thomas Cubitt’s, wet ink copy, Letter Book, Vol5, covering 1855 Apr 28 – 1859 Mar 12 , Page 91. By kind permission of London Metropolitan Archives LMA/4608/01/01/005 Pg 91.

We got the following helpful responses from the various archivists:-

NatWest Group Archivist, personal communication May 2024

“I can confirm that Manchester & Salford Bank (later Williams Deacon’s Bank Ltd) has not operated under the name Manchester and Sheffield Bank. I am not aware and have not been able to find reference to a bank operating under that name. As you say it is possibly a misnaming unique to the document you have.

The archives have been searched and Cubitt does not appear to have banked with either Drummonds or Child & Co. 

London & County Bank to Kemp Town was its Brighton branch on North Street (later on Castle Square) which opened in 1837. There are no surviving customer ledgers for this branch. There are some minute books for the branch, which discuss some individual customer transactions, but there are only 2 from before 1855 and Cubitt is not mentioned in either volume.

I have searched our catalogue for Thomas Read Kemp and haven’t been able to find anything. He doesn’t seem to have had an account with Drummonds or with Child & Co.”

 

Lloyds Group Archivist, personal communication May 2024

“I have had a quick look through your index and two names which jumped out were Farquhar and Lechmere – from the private banks Herries Farquhar and Berwick, Lechmere & Co. Herries Farquhar was a West End bank and Berwick Lechmere had its roots in Worcestershire.

We have a huge number of constituents which had changes of partnerships frequently over their histories so there could well be many that I am missing in your index. I might suggest that you take a look at the constituent list on this page in case some of these names might be familiar to you.”

Herries Farquhar looks promising regarding translations with Sir W Farquhar and the signature books survive so can be checked for Cubitt.

There are entries concerning 60 Lowndes Square and 11 Belgrave Square

HSBC Group Archivist, personal communication May 2024

As the brothers managed their business from London, they might have been associated with a small number of banks that feature in our archive, as follows:

 London Joint Stock Bank was founded in 1836 and operated from Coleman Street, before moving to Princes Street and later Pall Mall. In 1840 it acquired Wright & Co, gaining a branch in Covent Garden. This was followed by the purchase of Albion Bank (est. 1864) in 1871, which increased the branch network to include West Smithfield and Islington; and Imperial Bank (est. 1862) with offices in Lothbury, Fenchurch Street, Marylebone, South Kensington and Waltham Abbey

It is worth pointing out we do not have customer records for each of these operations, and in some cases it would require searches through un-indexed board minutes, which can be quite time-consuming. However, I assume that if you are looking for the bank the Cubitts were associated with from 1840 onwards, the London Joint Stock Bank will be the only one within the right time period. So it might be possible to whittle the search down.”

Barclays Group Archivist, personal communication May 2024

“I have checked our records of the London bank Goslings and Sharpe of Fleet Street, to see if any account for Thomas Cubitt appears in the ledgers – sadly, there is no account in that name in the ledgers. I have also checked our general catalogue and cannot find any references to him.”

Santander

This may seem like an odd target. However, one of the constituents that formed Alliance and Leicester was Brighton & Sussex Equitable Building Society.

Cubitt was involved in the construction of Kemp’s Town in Brighton so it is just possible that there is a connection there.

Unfortunately the Santander archives are not currently accessible.

Barings

We are exploring if the many links to the Barings family might have resulted in some banking interactions. Including Sir Francis Baring [London Insitutions] and Thomas Read Kemp [Kemp’s Town] and his marriage to Frances Baring.

“I have located the following items in our database relating to the name Cubitt:
  1. SDM/12 – Brunnow, Baron de, re Chesham House (18/04/1853) – Copy of draft lease of Chesham House by Thomas Cubitt to Baron Brunnow; with insurance policy for 5,000 on the furniture.
  2. SDM/14 – Winans, William L, re Brighton Property (05/12/1865) – Lease by the trustees of will of Thomas Cubitt dec to WL Winans of a stable and coach house at 4 Sussex Mews, Kemp Town, Brighton.
  3. HC1/084 – Great Yarmouth: Elizabeth Cubitt to Thomas Baring (May 1842-June 1842) – Complaining about the treatment of her son, Frederick Goddard, by Captain Hale aboard the Alexander Baring, to which ship he was apprenticed, after service in the Falcon (Captain Mitchell); with statements by Goddard and Captain Hale of what occurred.
  4. SDDBO/5 – Bishopsgate 8 (12/04/1880) – Schedule of prices [signed] by William Cubitt for rebuilding part of 8 Bishopsgate.”

Hoare’s

We are exploring if payments to Thomas Cubitt left any trace in Hoare’s ledgers.

Current work

The letters listed in the index of the final letter book: for Manchester and Sheffield [which sounded to us like a bank] Payne, Smith and Payne, London & County Bank, G. Barclay, Sir W. Farquhar and W. Lechmere (the last having a goodly volume of letters at around seven).

To that end we are tracking down payments from The Royal Household to Cubitt re Osbourne and to which bank they went. The ledgers are extant but they are not OCR’d or searchable.

Track down Sir John Summerson’s notes from the early Cubitt archives [destroyed] probably in RIBA @ V&A maybe part of the unpublished works on the development on Victorian Building – SUJ/33-39 – “Research material, including drafts, for “Victorian London” (an unpublished work), undated.

The curious Mr W. Cundy

Mr W Cindy's signature
Mr W. Cundy’s signature showing an address of Belgrave Wharf, Pimlico against it. From – Signature book of Herries, Farquhar and Company (alphabetical arrangement) 1821-1842.  By kind permission of Lloyds  Group Archives – A/26/b/19.

Whilst hunting for Thomas Cubitt’s bankers we came across W Cundy’s signature. However, what first caught our attention was the address against the signature, ‘Belgrave Warf, Pimlico’: this was the adress of Cubitt’s works.

What is curious is that Thomas Cundy was surveyor to the Duke of Westminster who was dealing with Cubitt extensively. What is also more than odd is that what looks like a personal account has an address at Cubitt’s works.

Tempting as it is to speculate about this there is, currently, no further data to hand as the Herries, Farquhar and Company ledgers do not survive.

Sir William Cubitt

Sir William Cubitt had an account at Bland, Barnett and Hoare. There are references to his account in the quarter reports [Lloyds Group Archives A12/1/b/series] in the volumes we sampled spanning  1843 – 1864. These show relatively modest balances

1843 – £421:15:7

1847 – £3,027:16:11

1850 – £2,022:2:9

1852 – £2,327:2:7

William Cubitt’s, Bland, Barnett and Hoare, account balance for 1847. By kind permission of Lloyds  Group Archives – A/12/1/b/series for 1847.

 


¹ Entries for Thomas Cubitt in Queen Victoria’s Private Journal

² This is specifically a reference to the Buckinghamshire County Archives collection relating to the 1st Lord Carrington where there are 18 archive boxes listed and that they were only catalogues at item level in 2008-12. Searching through this volume of materials would be a substantial project in itself. “The Carrington Collection (ref D-CN) was deposited at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies in the 1960’s. Initially box listed it was recatalogued between 2008 and 2012, with funding provided from Ca[r]rington Estates Limited, and a few documents were added.”

³ When we first researched this, around 2007, there was note on the Tarmac Construction Archives contact web page stating to the effect that they no longer has the Cubitt archives materials and that they were either lost of mislaid.