Montagu House, after which the street takes its name, was formerly on the site of the British Museum. It was built for Ralph Montagu (baptised December 24, 1638 – March 9, 1709), later the Duke of Montagu, a courtier of Charles II, to the designs of Robert Hooke in about 1670. Montagu married Elizabeth Wriothesley, a wealthy widow whose family owned Bloomsbury, and the couple had the property built on the north side of Bloomsbury Square next to Southampton House, the Wriothesley family’s town house. Within 10 years however Montagu House had burnt down, but was immediately rebuilt to the designs of French artists. The cost of renovating it was so huge that after Elizabeth’s death Montagu married another wealthy widow, Elizabeth, the eccentric 2nd Duchess of Albemarle, who he wooed disguised as the emperor of China. This unusual charade – or straight forward con – was necessary after she reputedly declared that she would marry no one but a crowned head. In the role of “empress”, the Duchess, as Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names, explains: “Reigned in imperial splendour at Montagu House and was never disillusioned.” The Government bought the house in 1753 after the death of the 2nd Duke of Montagu, and it was rebuilt and enlarged to house the British Museum collections. This street and the adjoining Montague Place were both laid out in the early 19thCentury, and mark the original boundaries of the grounds to the house.
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