From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
Thomas Jefferson's only visit to London, the largest city in the western world, lasted from March 12 to April 26, 1786. He stayed in lodgings in Golden Square but must have spent a great deal of time at the residence of John and Abigail Adams in Grosvenor Square. During his five weeks in London, Jefferson explored bookshops in Piccadilly, viewed the Magna Carta at the British Museum, dined on beefsteak and ale at Dolly's Chop House, saw tumblers and tightrope dancers at Sadler's Wells, and paid to watch two performers of almost equal renown - Mrs. Siddons in the role of Lady Macbeth at Drury Lane, and the Learned Pig, a popular attraction in Charing Cross.
Jefferson's impressions of London were not entirely favorable. Its architecture "is in the most wretched stile I ever saw," while "both town and country fell short of my expectations." Besides seeing the sights and mixing in Whig society, Jefferson was a mighty shopper, haunting the bookstores and optical shops in particular (he thought the mechanical arts in London were carried "to a wonderful perfection"). He spent £12 on tools, £20 on saddlery, £56 on scientific instruments, and £60 on books.
The following list may help evoke Jefferson's London, much of which has disappeared and about which he wrote almost nothing.
Ranelagh Gardens: The main feature was a Rotunda, where an orchestra played and people promenaded about or took refresments. Jefferson attended on Easter Monday (April 17), the opening day of the season.
Grosvenor Square: The first American legation in London, residence of the Adams family from 1785 to 1788, was at the northeast corner.
Golden Square, No. 14: Site of lodgings Jefferson rented from a Mrs. Conners. He paid £11-18 for his stay.
Marks and Spencer, Oxford Street: Site of the Pantheon, a sumptuously decorated hall for concerts, masquerades, and assemblies. Jefferson heard "some favorite glees" there on March 23.
Buckingham House/Queen's House (Buckingham Palace): Jefferson visited on April 18.
St. James' Place: Used by George III for ceremonial purposes only, this palace was the site of Jefferson's "ungracious reception" by the king. According to his Memorandum Book, he was presented on March 17; newspaper reports indicated he had also attended the King's Levee and Queen's drawing Room on the two previous days.
Haymarket: Thomas Jefferson saw a Salieri opera on March 18 (present day Her Majesty's Theatre). At the Haymarket shop of the Dollond family, Jefferson bought an achromatic telescope, solar microscope, and hydrometer, among other articles.
British Museum: Jefferson attended on April 24 with the Adamses, guided by Edward Whitaker Gray, keeper of the collections of natural history and antiquities. Objects included the Magna Carta, Queen Elizabeth's prayer book, the 4th-century Codex Alexandrinus, and Hans Sloane's collections.
Covent Garden and Strand: Jefferson attended William Congreve's The Mourning Bride (at the site of the present-day Royal Opera House) on March 19. He saw Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Macbeth at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Tower of London: Jefferson visited the Tower on April 13. One of its major attractions was a menagerie.