SOUTH LAWN: (The house that Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly rented on Lord Street)

Emperor Napoleon III in 1862

Emperor Napoleon III in 1862. Image source:

The town of Southport has been given many appellations during its 230 year existence, my personal favourite being, ‘The Montpellier of England’ which was given by Dr Joseph Brandreth, at some time prior to his death in 1815. Later in the C19th and well into the C20th, Southport was known as, ‘Englands Seaside Garden City’. Not quite as well known, but equally as interesting was, ‘The English San Francisco’, thanks to S.P.B Mais in the 1930s. However, perhaps the most well known is ‘The Paris of the North’. But from where did this fanciful title originate?

It derives from the supposed visit or visits of Charles Louis Napoleon to Southport, which has been suggested, may have influenced him when Emperor during the remodelling of Paris with Haussmann between 1853 & 1870 . However, there appears to be a number of dates supplied for him potentially being in Southport ranging between 1838 to 1846/47 and furthermore, it must also be stated again, that Lord Street during the times mentioned, was a very different place to what it is today. There were very few trees on the ‘shop side’ of Lord Street, as is depicted on paintings from the time and photographs from the late 1850s & 1860s. Southport was still classed as a village up until 1846 and was very much a narrow strip of a place, bound by the Birkdale boundary, Haweside Lane and the Marshside Hills, which at that time began in the vicinity of Alexandra Road, with encroaching sandhills still very much evident in Hoghton Street & Chapel Street. However, the straightness & width of Lord Street was in place, due to the buildings along the ‘Broadway’, as it was once known, originally being established either side of a boggy marsh in a valley of sandhills. In 1825 the bathing village of Southport was developed further following the partitioning of former waste lands by the Lords of the Manor, later resulting in developing streets running off what became Lord Street at right angles.

Local historian Geoff Wright, published a two page article on the subject in the Southport Visiter in 2013. He discussed the various time frames that Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was in England, paying attention to a visit to Sir John Gerard at Garswood Hall, near Wigan in 1847. Sue Latimer has drawn my attention to accounts of him visiting Liverpool and Wigan in 1846 and that he attended races with Sir John Gerard. The Gerard family were well known early patrons of Southport, mentioned in Gimcracks Verses, as an ‘Ancient noble race’. Sir John was also responsible for bringing his Lancashire Hussars to Southport for the first time in 1850, when the Visiter reported that up to 10,000 people were present on the sands to witness them. These strong links may have led to part of Hampton Road originally being named Gerard Street in the 1870s.

Wright also discussed in his 2013 feature what he described as, ‘the most accurate version’, and that is what this blog will be mainly focusing on: the information provided on p178 of Francis Bailey’s, A History of Southport, looking at the history of South Lawn and where this source may have arose from.

Bailey, who was commissioned by Southport Corporation in 1944 to write a history of the town, gave reference to one account in his book. He discussed potential reasons for a visit, one being the friendship with Sir John Gerard, before arriving at what he describes as, ‘the sole tangible evidence for the visit’. This evidence was, ‘an old but undated manuscript, in a feminine hand, preserved among the papers of the former Southport historian C. H. Brown’. It reads as follows:

Napoleon at Southport. About 1838 Prince Napoleon was staying with Sir John Gerard and came to Southport. He took a house, South Lawn, Lord-Street, for some years occupied by the late Dr. McNicol (sic) and now made into shops. He paid rent for the house for some time, but did not live in it. It is said he hunted and shot in the neighbourhood with the Gerards.

Dr. McNicoll was David Hudson McNicoll, a member of the Royal College of Physicians and who served as Physician at the Southport sea-bathing infirmary. He was born in Aston, Birmingham in 1814, married in London in 1840 and one year later in 1841, he was listed as a surgeon, living in Liverpool on Richmond Row. A decade later in 1851 he was still in Liverpool, this time recorded as living at 42 Oxford Street. By 1857, I find him for the first time in a Southport directory, address South Lawn, Lord Street. The London & Provincial Medical directory of 1865 provides the following list of qualifications; MD Glasgow 1842, MRCS Eng 1838 and LSA 1836 (St. Bartholomew and Glasgow). He was also the author of, Handbook for Southport, first published in 1859, in which he signs off the preface as, ‘South Lawn, June 21, 1859’.

Section of McNicolls’ Handbook of 1861

In McNicoll’s second edition Handbook of 1861, he offers ‘special acknowledgments’ to Mr. Charles Henry Brown, ‘without whose aid, the list of shells would have been much less perfect’. But who was Charles Henry Brown? He was born in Bolton in 1831 and was the son of the hairdresser & perfumer, Henry Brown, who also later acted as a house & land agent. The Brown family start to appear in Southport directories on Lord Street from the late 1840s, also operating a hairdressers on Bold Street. From references mentioned by Bailey, it would appear that they actually moved to Southport from Bolton in the early to mid 1840s, as Charles Brown is still a boy in some of the accounts described.

On the 1851 census, Charles is listed as a salesman, aged twenty and living at home with his parents at 175 Lord Street. No.175 Lord Street at this time was on the shop side, in the vicinity of Bold Street. It is quite possible that during his time living on Lord Street in the late 1840s that he may have come into contact with another Lord Street resident, who is crucial in determining the exact location of South Lawn. The resident in question is Miss Eliza Meacock. Born (Elizabeth) in Chester c1788, she had found her way to North Meols by the time of 1841 census, recorded as living independently with two other women at ‘Sea View Villa’ on Peters’ Street, which is Albert Road today.

In his 1848 guidebook, Frank Robinson lists, ‘Miss Meacock, gentlewoman, South Lawn, Lords Street’. On the 1851 census, Eliza Meacock is recorded as being at 141 Lord Street, next-door at 139 is James Kershaw, the chemist. There is a painting in the Beattie collection that shows this stretch of Lord Street, heading NE from the corner of Nevill Street, where for many years James Kershaw had his shop and house. At closer inspection on the painting, an unknown annotator, at some point in the past has written in pencil above the prominent white building, ‘Mecock’ (sic). It is this building that was known as South Lawn by at least 1848. Eliza Meacock is still recorded as being there in Slaters 1855 directory and therefore Dr. McNicoll was the next resident after her by at least 1857.

Beattie painting showing section of Lord Street from the corner of Nevill Street. South Lawn has ‘Mecock’ (sic) written above in pencil. Image credit: Sefton Library Services

But who was there before Miss Meacock and how close can we get to the 1838-1840 time frame we are focusing on? In the directory section of the 1849 guidebook by ‘J.S.’, we find listed at 143 Lord Street is a Mrs. Andsell. In Robinson’s 1848 guide, Mrs. Andsell is recorded as living at Grindlow Cottage. Therefore Grindlow Cottage is also shown the Beattie painting, to the right of South Lawn. This building also has a name written above it in pencil, ‘Dr.Lee’, who could be one of two people; there was a surgeon called Charles Lee, listed in Slaters 1848 guide, which conflicts with the Mrs. Andsell entry in Robinsons guide of the same year. However, this is the only reference I can find for this Doctor in Southport, so it looks like the directories may have been recorded or published at different times of that year. In the 1845 electoral register there is a John Lee recorded at Grindlow Cottage. Could the unknown annotator have gotten these two Lee’s mixed up?

In Pigot’s directory of 1834 the resident of Grindlow Cottage is a Mrs. Sarah Watson, and on the 1841 census there is a Sarah Watson, aged 90, recorded on this stretch of Lord Street, which I think is highly likely to be Grindlow Cottage. Working back one building (in the direction from the named point of the Bold Arms Hotel), next-door to Sarah Watson in 1841 was a Mrs. Mary Holme, aged 70, also Frances Holme aged 55 plus five other females with different surnames, all aged between 25 and 15. Miss Frances Holme is recorded as being on Lords Street in Slaters 1848 directory, and I will suggest that Miss Meacock took South Lawn after the Holme family in this year.

By looking at E. H. Walkers excellent 1834 plan of Southport, we can clearly see Grindlow Cottage, but next to it is a building called Grove House, which I believe was the original name of what became South Lawn as it is the same location. The same building is present on the 1845 OS map and this shows that Grove House was extended on both sides after the 1845 survey was taken, therefore carried out by either Mary Holme or Eliza Meacock, to become the larger and perhaps renamed at this time, South Lawn, as is shown on the painting, dated 1849. Grove House/older portion of South Lawn stood where the Burlington buildings are today as shown on the overlay map.

Section of Walkers 1834 plan of Southport.

Section of 1845 OS map with modern overlay, showing site of Grove House/South Lawn on site of the Burlington Buildings. Reproduced with kind permission from Lancashire County Council.

Also on the 1834 plan, on the corner of Nevill St we have Upper Willow Cottage, so maybe someone at Wetherspoons had studied this map and combined the two names when naming the Willow Grove bar that stands where an extended part of Grove House/South Lawn once stood. Unfortunately, Pigot’s directories for 1828/29 & 1834 don’t list anyone as living at a Grove House, nor does Peter Whittle in his 1831 guide, but it does show a building present on the site on Walkers earlier 1830 map which is featured in Whittle’s guide. On Leigh’s 1824 plan, there are no buildings on the NW side of what became Lord Street past the Priory, which stood opposite to Christ Church.

We’re now going to get back to Charles Brown and Dr. McNicoll. In my blog, The Origins and Early History of the Union Club, I make a reference to Charles Brown as being on the committee for the Exchange News Room in 1859. This reading room was diagonally opposite London Square in the Assembly Rooms, (where Prezzo is today) to where Dr.McNicoll lived. Preserved amongst the archives in the Union Club’s library, is an old undated photograph album, containing past members of either the Exchange News Room or the Southport Club and amongst these pictures, is a photo of Dr. David McNicoll. As McNicoll’s Handbook shows, they were clearly friends and moved in the same social circles.

Photocard of Dr. David H. McNicoll. Image courtesy of The Union Club, Bath Street.

On the 1861 census Charles Brown is living on Hesketh Street, which today is Marlborough Road, with Robertsons’ 1864/65 directory confirming this as being No.30. In the 1870s he is recorded as being on Alexandra Street, later Road, at a house on the corner of Queens Road called ‘Lowwood‘ (sic). He had established a Drapery business based on London Street with his brothers. He was also interested in the arts as he wrote reports from various art exhibitions for the Southport Visiter. He moved to Southport as a boy in the 1840s and Bailey tells us that he held a manuscript history. He was obviously interested in shells and also wildflowers, probably keeping records of them to have been able to assist Dr. McNicoll with his second edition Handbook. Bailey also gave an account of Charles, ‘tracing the Nile to its source’, so clearly he had an inquisitive mind and enthusiasm for his new surroundings.

By 1861, South Lawn is recorded as two separate addresses, No’s 181 & 183 Lord Street. The resident at 181 was Richard Butcher, a dentist who removed from the premises in 1865 (Southport Visiter 1865). Dr. McNicoll died in 1868 and following this, the whole site of South Lawn was converted into shops as is shown in the 1869 directory and on the picture below, which I will date as late 1870s/early 1880s. Adolph Moritz Viener built his jewellers and fancy bazaar on the majority of the site of Richard Butcher’s No.181 (Willow Grove today), and next door was at first the Fountain Drapery Establishment, owned by Frederick Brown, a younger brother of Charles!

Lord Street, late 1870s/early 1880s. The Tower was known as The Rotunda. Image credit: The Atkinson, Southport.

Section of Johnson & Greens plan, published 1868. Courtesy of Martin Perry of Southport Civic Society.

Rare view of Lord St showing the Burlington Buildings actually under construction. Estimated at late 1890s.

The site of South Lawn today.

So the Brown family clearly knew the site very well, through their connections with Dr. McNicoll, but could it be possible, that Charles had chatted as a boy, fresh on the Lord Street scene in the 1840s, pondering questions to other residents such as Eliza Meacock or Mary Holme, listening to tales of when Napoleon visited?

Copyright David Walshe 2022.

Featured Image:

Emperor Napoleon III in 1862. Image source:

With thanks to;

  • Geoff Wright
  • Sue Latimer (Southport Townscape Heritage Project)
  • Gillian Morgan (Crosby Library)

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