Cubitt, Thomas 1788-1855, builder, a son of Jonathan Cubitt, who died in 1807, was born at Buxton, near Norwich, on 25 Feb. 1788. In early life he worked as a journeyman carpenter, and with a view to improve his circumstances he made one voyage to India as a ship-carpenter. Returning to London about 1809, he commenced business as a master carpenter. In 1815 he erected the London Institution in Finsbury Circus, and shortly afterwards built for himself large workshops at 37 Gray's Inn Road. Here he was the first person who undertook house-building in all its various branches. The difficulty of finding constant work for his men led him to take ground for building, a species of speculation which afterwards became the employment of his life, for as these engagements became greater, they absorbed his capital and attention until he finally relinquished the business in Gray's Inn Road to his brother, afterwards the well-known Mr. Alderman William Cubitt. His first undertaking was at Highbury, and the villas which he there built being a success, he next raised rows of houses near Newington Green. He then purchased six acres of ground at Barnsbury Park; this land he planned out for streets and squares, and erecting a few houses as examples let out the remainder to other builders. About 1824, having taken a lease from the Duke of Bedford of a tract of land in St. Pancras parish, he built the houses of Upper Woburn Place, Woburn Buildings, Gordon Square, Tavistock, Gordon, and Endsleigh streets, and part of Euston Square. Perceiving the tendency of the fashionable world to move westward, he proceeded, in 1825, to lease the Five Fields, Chelsea, on which he erected Belgrave Square, Lowndes Square, Chesham Place, and other ranges of houses. He subsequently executed even larger undertakings, covering with mansions the vast open district lying between Eaton Square and the Thames, and since known as South Belgravia. He also carried out similar operations at Clapham Park, a large tract of land 250 acres in extent, four miles south-west of London. At a later period he was consulted by the queen upon the alterations to be made at Osborne, where he designed and constructed the new marine residence. He was also employed to build the east front of Buckingham Palace, and other works of magnitude connected with the crown. He felt a deep interest in the question of the sewage of the metropolis, and in 1843 wrote a pamphlet advocating the views on the subject which have now become general. He took great pains to stop the smoke nuisance from large chimneys, and completely effected this object at his own extensive factory at Thames Bank. He was one of the originators of the Battersea Park scheme, and when Mr. Disraeli as chancellor of the exchequer opposed the plan, he offered to purchase the land and the bridge from the government at the sum they had expended upon it. In the embankment of the Thames above Vauxhall Bridge he was the principal mover, and constructed about 3,000 feet at his own expense adjacent to South Belgravia. He was frequently examined by committees of the House of Commons, and took a leading part in the preparation of the Building Act. He gratuitously undertook the negotiation for the purchase of the property at Brompton on behalf of the commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and he was one of those who guaranteed a sum of money to carry on the exhibition when its success was doubtful. When his premises at Thames Bank were burned down, 17 Aug. 1854, and 30,000l. worth of damage was done, his first words on hearing of the loss were, Tell the men they shall be at work within a week, and I will subscribe 600l. towards buying them new tools. He was a liberal patron to churches, schools, and charities, and built the church of St. Barnabas, Ranmore, near Dorking, at his own cost. He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1839, and contributed two papers to its proceedings: Experiments on the Strength of Iron Girders, and Experiments on the Strength of Brick and Tile Arches. His career was very eventful, and he was decidedly the pioneer of the great building establishments of the metropolis, and in the principal provincial cities and towns. He died at his seat, Denbies, near Dorking, on 20 Dec. 1855. His will, the longest on record, extended to 386 chancery folios of ninety words each, and covered thirty skins of parchment. The personalty exceeding one million, the probate duty was 15,000l. His widow, Mary Anne, by whom he had a large family, died 19 Nov. 1880, aged 78. Cubitt left two brothers: William Cubitt (1791-1863) [qv.], and Mr. Lewis Cubitt, the architect of the Great Northern railway terminus.
Minutes of Proc. of Instit. of Civil Engineers, xvi. 158-62 (1857)
Gent. Mag. xlv. 202-5, 382 (1856)
Annual Register, 1854, Chronicle, pp. 145-6
Builder, 29 Dec. 1855, pp. 629-30.
Contributor: G. C. B. [George Clement Boase]