Thomas Cubitt (1788–1855), born Buxton, Norfolk, was the leading master builder in London in the second quarter of the 19th century, and also carried out several projects in other parts of England.
The son of a Norfolk carpenter, he journeyed to India as ship’s carpenter from which he earned sufficient funds to start his own building firm in 1810 on Gray’s Inn Road, London where he was one of the first builders to have a ‘modern’ system of employing all the trades under his own management.
Cubitt’s first major building was the London Institution in Finsbury Circus, built in 1815. After this he worked primarily on speculative housing at Camden Town, Islington, and especially at Highbury Park, Stoke Newington (now part of Islington).
His development of areas of Bloomsbury, including Gordon Square and Tavistock Square, began in 1820, for a group of landowners including the Duke of Bedford. Having built much of Tavistock Square in the 1820s, Cubitt later extended Tavistock House for Dickens. He also oversaw the installing of a soundproof study at the top of Carlyle’s house in Chelsea. Both Dickens and Carlyle praised Cubitt’s efforts. In his journal (Carlyle Letters, 25 July 1850), Carlyle described Cubitt as “A hoary modest sensible-looking man.”
He was commissioned in 1824 by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster, to create a great swathe of building in Belgravia centred around Belgrave Square and Pimlico, in what was to become his greatest achievement in London. Notable amongst this development are the north and west sides of Eaton Square, which exemplify Cubitt’s style of building and design. The scale of Cubitt’s work is astounding. In Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain, Reginald Turnor says of Cubitt, “Pimlico and Clapham, terrace after terrace and square after square, were later ventures in which Cubitt improved upon all the speculative building which had ever done before, or, one supposes, will ever be done again.”
Cubitt was also responsible for the east front of Buckingham Palace. He also built and personally funded nearly a kilometre of the Thames Embankment. He was employed in the large development of Kemp Town in Brighton, and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, completed in 1851. Cubitt’s public works included the provision of public parks, including being an organiser of the Battersea Park Scheme.
In 1827 he withdrew from the management of the business he had established at Gray’s Inn Road leaving such matters to his brother William Cubitt; the firm of Cubitts still carried out the work of Thomas Cubitt and the change robbed neither of the partners of the credit for their work.
He died in 1855 and was taken from Dorking for burial at West Norwood Cemetery on 27 December 1855. After his death, Queen Victoria said “In his sphere of life, with the immense business he had in hand, he is a real national loss. A better, kindhearted or more simple, unassuming man never breathed.
Another statue of Cubitt can be seen in Dorking, opposite the Dorking Halls, as he was favoured there for his architecture on his Denbies estate. Cubitt had built himself a country house in Surrey. Prince Albert visited him there. On the main road into town is a memorial showing Cubitt’s image standing on a raised platform, hidden by a stack of uncovered bricks and a brick measure in his hand. The plaque reads, “Thomas Cubitt – MasterBuilder. Born 1788 – Died 1855 at ‘Denbies,’ Dorking. ‘A GREAT BUILDER AND A GOOD MAN.'”
In 1883 the business was acquired by Holland & Hannen, a leading competitor, and the combined business became known as Holland & Hannen and Cubitts and subsequently as Holland, Hannen & Cubitts.
Cubitt had two brothers, the contractor and politician William and the architect Lewis who designed many of the houses built by Thomas.
His son by his wife Mary Anne Warner, George, who was created Baron Ashcombe in 1892, was the great-great-grandfather of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.