Princes Gate and Princes Gardens:
The Freake Estate
The streets and buildings discussed in this chapter were
originally developed between the mid-1850s and the mid1870s by (Sir) Charles James Freake, one of the most
successful speculative builders in Victorian London of the
generation after Cubitt.
Building on land which was partly his own freehold and partly leasehold, Freake erected
ninety-five houses here, comprising the western end of
Princes Gate (Nos 26–31) and its long return to Exhibition
Road (Nos 32–72), together with the square called Princes
Gardens. In addition to the houses he also built the substantial complex of stables and coach-houses making up
Princes Gate Mews.
Even by Freake's standards, these were large houses,
intended for the top end of the market, and as usual Freake
seems to have been a shrewd judge of what that market
would bear. The cautious pace of development, spread over
almost twenty years, and Freake's deserved reputation as a
sound builder, ensured that the houses let readily.
Within a couple of generations, however, such big
houses were in little demand for private occupation. Redevelopment pressures, first manifest in the late 1930s
when five houses in Princes Gate were replaced by a block
of flats, re-surfaced after the Second World War. A scheme
for rebuilding Princes Gardens as a campus for Imperial
College, begun in the late 1950s, has yet to be completed.
Almost two-thirds of Freake's original houses have now
been demolished, and those that remain are all either subdivided or in institutional use.
As is often the case, the mews properties have fared
rather better than the houses they were built to serve, being
transformed into attractive and sought-after dwellings.
The area before development
The ground on which Freake's houses were built (figs
86–7) had been part of the celebrated Brompton Park
Nursery, founded in 1681.
(ref. 2) By the mid-nineteenth century
the greater part of this ground had come into the possession of Mary Plummer, through inheritance from a descendant of one of the nursery's proprietors. At that time it was
occupied in two parts. The larger portion, covering 11
2 acres and still used as a nursery until 1851, was connected
to the Kensington road by a long, narrow strip on its west
side. The other piece, on the east side of this strip and with
a much wider frontage to the road, had been occupied since
1753 by a substantial mansion, latterly called Park House,
and its two-acre garden. Both pieces were copyhold of the
Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, and enfranchised on the eve of development.
Park House was built in 1753 by John Swinhoe, who had
taken over the nursery in the early 1740s.
(ref. 1) Set back from
the road, it was a two-storey building with an attic and side
wings. At the rear, the garden was formally laid out with
parterres and an ornamental lake (Plate
). Swinhoe does
not seem to have lived at the house. The ratepayer for about
ten years was a Mrs Harrison, presumably the proprietress
of the Brompton Park Boarding School, under which name
the house appears on Rhodes's map of 1766. Between 1785
and 1822 it was the residence of James Vere, banker. The
last occupant, from 1839 until 1855, was William Evans
MP, of Allestree Hall near Derby.
(ref. 4) Its final use, however,
was as a site office for Freake's clerk of works.