History of site and area
In 1792, the famous architect Robert Adam was commissioned by Charles Fitzroy, Lord Southampton, to develop an area of land bordered by Oxford Street to the south, Euston Road to the north, Great Portland Street to the west and Tottenham Court Road to the east. This was on the borders of the city, and there were fields within a short distance to the north.
Adam planned a square – Fitzroy Square – at the centre of the development with streets radiating out from it. Fitzroy Square would have first rate houses, the streets leading off it would have second rate houses, and the spaces in between would be filled in with houses of lesser quality. Adam himself designed the houses on the square, but leased the others in the area out to developers.
The house which became Miranda House was built on one of the streets leading off Fitzroy Square, at 27 Grafton Street (now 58 Grafton Way). Miranda House and five others were designed and built by Clement Mead, originally a carpenter who had worked for Robert Adam for many years. Mead received a lease from Adam for the site of the six houses in April 1792, and work began at once. Mead may have received advice from Adam and certainly had absorbed many lessons from his former employer.
The construction and the design of the house are traditional for the period. This is what was known in the Georgian period as a 'second rate' house, with five floors. The kitchen and scullery would have been in the basement, with a Front and Back Parlour on the ground floor. The Front Parlour was used as the main dining room. On the First Floor was a Front Drawing Room and a Back Parlour, possibly used as a Library. The Second Floor had the Master Bedroom and a smaller bedroom for guests, while the Third Floor contained storerooms and servants' bedrooms.
Timeline for Miranda House 1792–1970
1794–8 Captain John Mands lives in the house
1799–1801 William Augustus Skinner or Skynner lives in the house
1803–10 Francisco de Miranda and his family live in the house
1816–1847 Sarah Andrews continues to live in the house after Miranda's death, initially with her children; for several years between 1832 and 1842 "L. Miranda," Colombian Minister, is recorded as the main inhabitant of the house – this is Miranda's son
1862 Lord Southampton – whose family had originally developed the area – sells the freehold to William Crane Wilkins and others; in the same year it is sold on to a merchant called Edward Tomkins Sturage
1870 A tenant who works as a 'brass beader' builds a workshop at the rear of the house
1898–9 The inhabitants of Miranda House and the neighbouring properties are classified as 'Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings' in Booth's Poverty Map of 1898-9
1930s Miranda House is turned into flats
29 Sept 1942 Lord Robert Cecil unveils a plaque on the front of Miranda House in the presence of representatives from Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador
Purchase & Restoration of the house 1980s
By the 1970s, Miranda House was in a poor condition and was vulnerable to being bought by developers and demolished. In 1978, the Embassy of Venezuela bought Miranda House and three adjacent buildings. In the early 1980s, the houses were extensively refurbished and re-modelled by architect Boyd Auger with the advice of the Victoria & Albert Museum. At the back of houses 52-56 a large shed was demolished and a two storey extension was built to house the Bolivar Hall. The complex was re-opened in 1983.
58 Grafton Way, 2013– 2014
With ongoing concerns for the condition of Miranda House, Studio Downie Architects LLP (SDA) led the preparation of a feasibility study with a strategy for conservation, upgrade and refurbishment of the building. This was to create a more welcoming and inclusive museum. The key principles were to protect the fabric of the building while making it more accessible both physically, through improved disabled access and facilities, and in terms of the exhibition elements by appealing to a more diverse audience.
After consultation with the London Borough of Camden, English Heritage and the Georgian Group, work began on site in June 2013. In April 2014, Miranda House re-opened to the public, sensitively upgraded to reflect both its importance in Latin American history and its architectural significance as a rare surviving London Georgian town house.
Light touch conservation
Analysis of the layers of work previously carried out on the house highlighted the difficulties of establishing the extent of the original historical fabric. Our approach was a light touch for the existing with conservation rather than full restoration, contrasted against a contemporary remodelling of the rear extension including the glass lift enclosure.
Key to this was retaining the sense of visitors leaving the house and passing through the former back courtyard to reach the extension and integrating existing brickwork and stone paving within the new interiors. Our brief development also led to encouraging visitor access to the fine first floor drawing room and the placing of the large image of General Miranda by Arturo Michelena as a powerful first encounter when entering the museum.