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The Custom House 1753

Thomas Bowles after J Maurer, 'A view of the Custom House with part of the Tower, taken from ye River Thames, London.'

Thomas Bowles after J Maurer, 'A view of the Custom House with part of the Tower, taken from ye River Thames, London.'

Customs duties were taxes on imports and exports, and were an important source of revenue for the king and the government. This building is where shipping agents would bring documents for customs officials. The first Customs House had been built around 1275, and rebuilt in 1378 and 1559. It was again destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, and rebuilt to a design by Christopher Wren. This building in turn suffered severe damage in an explosion of 1714 and was rebuilt to a design by Thomas Ripley (completed 1725). The building shown here burnt down in 1814.

The view is taken from London Bridge, looking east.


The Custom House 1820

Robert Havell, A View of London Bridge and Custom House. 1820.

Robert Havell, A View of London Bridge and Custom House. 1820.

London Bridge can be seen very faintly in the far distance. The viewpoint is from the north bank of the Thames looking east, with the Tower of London behind. 

The effect of the new technology of the steam engine can be clearly seen when comparing this with the previous illustration. Harmony with, and subservience to Nature, is being replaced by a relationship based on Force.

The following extract is taken from Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand; by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819

'This extensive and magnificent edifice has recently been erected, to obviate the great inconvenience arising from the inadequate size of the former building; and to concentrate various departments of this branch of the revenue which before were, for want of room, necessarily distributed in remote situations.

'The astonishing and rapid increase of the commerce of London, and the country in general, had long since called for the adoption of this measure, to afford the requisite facilities to the business of the revenue, and to accommodate the immense concourse of commercial men of all nations who are congregated at this spot; also to confer a suitable dignity on so important a branch of the public service, and keep pace with the rise of national opulence.

'After much deliberation on the expediency of altering and enlarging the old custom-house, the project was abandoned as impracticable, to the extent required; and the present structure, as designed by Mr. Laing the architect, was ordered to be erected on the adjacent ground towards Billingsgate dock, which was then covered with numerous streets, quays, and warehouses, chiefly belonging to the crown. It was thus proposed to have removed the business from the old building to the present one, with scarcely any interruption; but before the foundations were quite completed, the dreadful fire took place in Feb. 1814, by which this arrangement was entirely frustrated, and the absolute necessity of the present building rendered still more pressing and important.

'The first stone of the new building was laid on the 25th of Oct., 18l3, (being the 53d anniversary of his majesty's accession to the throne) on which occasion Lord Liverpool officiated, attended by some of his colleagues in the administration, and the Commissioners of the Board of Customs.

'In the stone was deposited a glass urn, containing the several current coins of the realm ; various medals, illustrative of the great events and personages of the present era; and one engraved with an elevation of the building, inscribed on the reverse with the names of the commissioners, secretary, and architect.—On a brass plate inserted in the stone, was also an inscription of the date, with the names of the founders, &c.

'The general character of this building is that of plainness and solidity, being chiefly designed for the convenience of business, which it so extensively comprises; but from its great magnitude, and the simplicity and just proportions of its parts, the effect is grand and imposing.'

The 'new' Customs House was opened for business in 1817. It is seen here in a modern photograph. The idea of planting trees in front of the building is no doubt pleasant for the occasional stroller of a summer evening, but, of course, does nothing for the building. Nor do the unhappy modern protruberances which can be seen marring the skyline. 

Contemporary view of the Custom House

The Adelphi

Benedetto Pastorini, View of the South Front of the New Buildings, called Adelphi.

'The estate of Durham Yard having become an unprofitable heap of ruins, was purchased by Messrs. Adams, four brothers, by whose labours the metropolis has been embellished with edifices of distinguished excellence. To their researches, we are indebted for many improvements in ornamental architecture, and for a style of decoration unrivalled for elegance and gaiety, which, in spite of the innovations of fashion, will prevail as long as good taste prevails in the nation.

'The front of the Adelphi, towards the river, on account of its extent, becomes one of the most distinguishing objects between the bridges of Westminster, Waterloo, and Blackfriars. The terrace is happily situated in the heart of the Metropolis, upon a bend of the river, which presents to the right and left every eminent object.'

Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819

The Adelphi (meaning brothers, from Greek adelphoi) Terrace comprised twenty four terraced houses occupying land between the Strand and the River Thames which were built between 1758 and 1762 and largely demolished in 1936. Robert Adam, sometimes together with his brothers James and William, was responsible for a great number of distinguished buildings including the facade of the Admiralty in Whitehall, Apsley House, Bowood House, Harewood House, Kedleston Hall, Kenwood House,  Mistley Towers, Osterley Park, Portland Place and Pulteney Bridge in Bath. The Adam style was a combination of the neo-classical and elements of the Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Baroque styles. Robert had spent the years 1754-1758 in Europe, and studied under the French architect Clérisseau and the Italian artist and archaeologist Piranesi. He also made extensive sketches of the ruins of the palace at Spalato (meaning little palace), which he published in 1764 as Ruins of the Palace of Diocletian. The design of the Adelphi took its inspiration in part from the ruins of the palace of Diocletian.

The Palace of Diocletian

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