Percy Street, W1T

Place Name

Sir Hugh Smithson (about 1714 – June 6, 1786), who after his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Seymour, granddaughter of Josceline Percy, the 11th and last Earl of Northumberland, became Sir Hugh Percy and inherited the vast lands and fortunes of the Percy family. Lady Seymour, or Baroness Percy, was the inheritress to the House of Percy, an old English noble family descended from the Norman William de Percy, who came to England from the town of Percy in Normandy (hence the name) after the Norman Conquest, and appears in the Domesday book as a great landowner. The Percys became one of England’s most powerful and leading landowning families, its members having held the titles of Earl of Northumberland or Duke of Northumberland, in addition to Baron Percy and other titles, to this day. The Percy surname twice died out in the male line but was readopted by the husband of a Percy heiress and their descendants, once in the 12thCentury, and again by special remainder to Sir Hugh in 1750 when he was created Earl of Northumberland following the death of Lady Seymour’s father. He also became Duke of Northumberland in 1766. Distinguished in his own right, Sir Hugh was a grandson of Sir Hugh Smithson of Tottenham, 3rd Baronet, from whom he inherited the Smithson Baronetcy in 1740, the same year he married the baroness. In 1745 he was one of the founding governors of the First Middlesex Hospital, named after the county of Middlesex where Sir Hugh held property, in nearby Windmill Street. In 1755, as the hospital’s president, he laid the foundation stone for the second Middlesex Hospital in Mortimer Street. In 1762 he became Lord Chamberlain to Queen Charlotte and Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex. He took a somewhat prominent part in politics as a follower of Lord Bute, and was one of George III’s confidential advisers. He held the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1763 to 1765, and that of Master of the Horse from 1778 to 1780. He was also a major patron of Canaletto. The street itself was built in 1764 – 70 mainly by William Franks, on land owned by Francis and William Goodge, who also developed much of Charlotte Street and Rathbone Street. Until its development the area had been fields called Crab Tree Field and Walnut Tree Field belonging to the ancient manor of Tottenhall held by Abraham Dudley of Gray’s Inn, a quaker, who died in 1703. His son leased 16 acres to William Beresford, yeoman, who died in 1718, leaving his property to his wife Ann, who married John Goodge, carpenter, and the latter proceeded to carry out the building development. The leasehold interest remained in the possession of his family until the 19thCentury. John Goodge died in 1748 and left his estate to his two nephews, Francis Goodge and William Goodge. By the late 18thCentury, the area had been fully developed, as seen on Richard Horwood’s plan published in 1792. Alternatively, Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names suggests that the street took its name from the Percy Coffee House which once stood on the corner of Rathbone Place and Percy Street, where James Boswell used to meet this friends in the 1760s.


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