Survey of London: Volume 37, Northern Kensington. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1973.
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CHAPTER XIII - Kensal Green
Despite its favourable topographical situation, on high, well-drained ground overlooking most of North Kensington, the area now known as Kensal Green and Kensal Town has suffered from a long series of misfortunes. Until 1900 some 144 acres of it formed a detached portion of the parish of St. Luke's, Chelsea, from whose distant Vestry Hall it had hitherto been administered. When the London Government Act of 1899 provided that this locality should be annexed in part to the new Borough of Kensington and in part to that of Paddington, the Kensington Vestry, in the last weeks of its life, offered strenuous, though unsuccessful, opposition to this sensible rationalization of boundaries. (fn. 7) The area then known as Kensal New Town, bounded on the north by the canal, was incorporated into the Borough of Kensington, to be administered from the Town Hall in Kensington, High Street, which was not much nearer than that of Chelsea.
By this time the isolation of this remote district had been greatly increased by the construction of the Paddington branch of the Grand Junction Canal, opened in 1801, and of the Great Western Railway, opened in 1838. These two barriers, each for many years traversed from north to south by only one public bridge, (fn. 1) extended in approximately parallel courses across the neighbourhood of Kensal Green, and effectively segregated the area between them. Both the landowners of the detached portion of Chelsea—All Souls College, Oxford, and William Kinnaird Jenkins, esquire (fn. 8) were in 1845 absentees, who took no direct personal interest in their properties, and so too were the owners of the adjoining lands in the parish of Kensington, the Talbot and St. Quintin families. Further west the General Cemetery Company had in 1831 bought fifty-four acres of land (fn. 9) for use as a burial ground, which had not increased Kensal Green's social cachet as a place of residence; and in 1845 the Western Gas Company had opened a gasworks on land (previously the property of Sir George Talbot) with frontages to both the canal and the railway. When building development on a significant scale began in the early 1840's, several of the ingredients for the making of a slum were, in fact, already present.
The earliest building was on Jenkins's land. Since at least 1838 W. K. Jenkins had been speculating in Paddington in the vicinity of Hereford and Garway Roads, and in 1844 he acquired the interest of his kinsman, W. H. Jenkins, in twenty-eight acres of the Ladbroke estate in Kensington around Pembridge Villas (see page 260). In all these speculations Jenkins acted through his solicitors, Budd and Hayes of Bedford Row, and under their aegis West Row, Middle Row, East Row and part of Southern Row were laid out between 1841 and 1851 with small two-storey cottages, many with small front gardens. (fn. 10) The sole survivors of this phase of development are a few workshops in Southern Row, whose pantiled roofs can still be seen from the railway line, and the small chapel in MiddleRow, which was built by Michael Puddefoot in 1852. (fn. 11) Laundry work provided the principal source of employment for the inhabitants, many of the men being comfortably supported by the labours of their wives, while others worked at the gasworks. Rustic pursuits and disorders still prevailed in the 1850's and 1860's, and gipsies sometimes wintered here. (fn. 12)
Except in the case of the gasworks, whose premises were gradually expanded westward until they eventually occupied all of the land to the west of Ladbroke Grove between the railway and the canal, little more building took place until the mid 1860's, when C. H. Blake's purchase of the Portobello estate from the Misses Talbot (see page 306) included some sixteen acres to the north of the railway. This was in the vicinity of Bosworth Road, Hazlewood Crescent, Edenham Street and Southam Street, where the building of tightly-packed ranges of small narrow houses proceeded rapidly in the 1860's and 1870's, every room being occupied as fast as the houses were completed. Access to this new quarter was greatly improved by the extension of Golborne Road north-eastward over the railway by another bridge, (fn. 2) and by the early 1880's building development had been substantially finished. Many of the residents were railwaymen, while others were migrants whose previous homes in the central districts of London had been demolished. There were no front gardens here, and the social climate of this area was evidently always wholly urban in character. (fn. 15)
With the establishment of schools, mission halls, chapels and churches (St. Andrew and St. Philip in 1870, Our Lady of the Holy Souls in 1882 and St. Thomas in 1889) Kensal Green gradually acquired the usual adjuncts of a Victorian suburb. In 1903, however, Charles Booth, evidently referring only to the area developed by Jenkins, could still state that Kensal New Town 'retains yet something of the appearance of a village, trampled under foot by the advance of London, but still able to show cottages and gardens; and gateways between houses in its streets leading back to open spaces, suggestive of the paddock and pony of days gone by'. Over 55 per cent of the inhabitants were, nevertheless, classified as 'in poverty', (fn. 16) and when Emslie J. Horniman presented an acre of ground between East Row and Bosworth Road to the London County Council in 1911 for recreational purposes he stated that there was then 'no place within a mile or more where children could play, except in the streets, nor anywhere for the mothers and old people to rest'. (fn. 17) (fn. 3) (fn. c1)
Severe overcrowding had long prevailed in and around Southam Street, where in 1923 some 140 houses contained 2,500 inhabitants. (fn. 18) In 1925 the Kensington Borough Council acquired two derelict houses in Bosworth Road and converted them into twelve flats, (fn. 19) and in 1928–9 the common lodging house for men in Kensal Road was renovated and reopened as a refuge for women under the auspices of Mrs. Cecil Chesterton. Large-scale redevelopment did not, however, get under way until 1933, when the Borough Council, acting in response to a circular issued by the Minister of Health, adopted a five-year programme of clearance and improvement. (fn. 20) Five clearance areas were declared in Kensal Town, (fn. 21) and by 1938 ninety-nine new flats had been built or were in course of building (thirty of them by the Kensington Housing Trust) (fn. 22) plus another sixtyeight by the Gas Light and Coke Company on land fronting Ladbroke Grove. (fn. 23) (fn. 4) Fifteen acres in and around Southam Street had also been declared an improvement area. Here 5,818 people lived at a density of 390 to the acre, mostly in the four-storey terrace houses built under C. H. Blake's auspices in the 1860's and 1870's. By 1935 all of the 778 basement rooms had been closed and vacated, and 1,802 of the inhabitants of the area had been removed, many of them to the new flats in course of building at this time in Dalgarno Gardens. The population of the Southam Street area was thus reduced by 29 per cent, and the houses were thoroughly renovated. (fn. 25)
During the war of 1939–45, however, housing conditions in the Southam Street area again deteriorated very rapidly, and after slum clearance work had been resumed in 1950, some twenty acres bounded by Bosworth Road, Kensal Road and the railway were scheduled for clearance. The eleven acres between Bosworth Road and Golborne Road were redeveloped by the Borough Council to the designs of Sir William (now Lord) Holford, (fn. 26) the last of the 549 flats provided there being opened in 1969. (fn. 27) To the east of Golborne Road the remainder of the twenty scheduled acres is now (1972) in course of redevelopment by the Greater London Council to the designs of Erno Goldfinger and Associates. The only parts of Kensal Town which are still of recognizably nineteenth-century origin are the area between Bosworth Road and Ladbroke Grove and the thin strip between Kensal Road and the canal.
The Cemetery of All Souls, Kensal Green
During the 1820's, when the population of the whole of London increased by some 20 per cent, the insanitary and indecent conditions which prevailed in the already grossly overcrowded graveyards of the metropolis first began to attract public attention. Some of these ancient burial grounds contained over 3,000 bodies per acre, and the average number of new burials sometimes exceeded 200 per acre per year. Often the rate of new interments exceeded the rate of decay, the level of the ground rose, and hideous means were employed by the grave-diggers to provide space for new intakes. (fn. 28) It was in order to alleviate this situation that Parliament, between 1832 and 1847, authorized the establishment of eight commercial cemetery companies in the vicinity of London. The first of these new cemeteries was that of the General Cemetery Company at Kensal Green.
The leader in the public demand for reform was George Frederick Carden, a barrister, who first concerned himself in the matter in 1824. (fn. 29) In the following year he issued a prospectus for the General Burial Grounds Association, in which he advocated the establishment of a cemetery on the lines of that of Père-Lachaise in Paris, and stated that a suitable site (at Primrose Hill) was available. Although the public meeting which he had intended to hold was cancelled owing to the financial crisis of 1825, (fn. 30) Carden was doubtless soon encouraged by the growing interest displayed by architects and men of business. In 1824 Thomas Willson had exhibited at the Royal Academy designs for a 'Pyramid Cemetery for the Metropolis', a multi-storey affair very economical in its use of land, (fn. 31) which Carden did not support, and in 1827 A. C. Pugin (in association, it is said, with Marc Isambard Brunel) exhibited more orthodox plans in the Gothic manner. (fn. 32) At about this time, too, a new cemetery was established in Liverpool, which within two years was paying a dividend of 8 per cent. (fn. 33)
In February 1830 Carden convened a meeting at his chambers at which a provisional committee was formed. (fn. 30) In April an exhibition (almost certainly prompted by Carden) was held in Parliament Street, conveniently close to the House of Commons, of plans by Francis Goodwin for a cemetery equipped with temples, mausolea, cloisters and catacombs, 'a very magnificent display of architecture' all set within forty-two acres of garden; (fn. 34) and in May one of Carden's supporters, Andrew Spottiswoode, M.P., presented a petition to the Commons on Carden's behalf praying for the removal of the metropolitan graveyards 'to places where they would be less prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants'. (fn. 35) This was immediately followed up by the issue of another prospectus, this one being for an intended General Cemetery Company. (fn. 30)
In the following two months, June and July 1830, Carden held two public meetings at the Freemasons' Tavern. Resolutions were passed by which the intended General Cemetery Company was established and officers and a provisional committee appointed; aristocratic patronage for the project was also secured by the election of a bevy of titled vice-presidents. Subscriptions were invited at £25 per share, and in order to prevent unseemly speculation in a matter concerned with Christian burial, it was decided that the shares should not be transferable until three fifths of their value had been paid up by the original subscriber. Carden himself was elected treasurer. (fn. 36)
One of the members of the provisional committee was Sir John Dean Paul, partner in the firm of Strahan, Paul, Paul and Bates, bankers of the Strand, who was soon to come into collision with Carden. (fn. 37) It was he who found and conditionally purchased fifty-four acres of land at Kensal Green for the 'moderate' price of £9,500 (i.e.£174 per acre), and at the proprietors' meeting held in July 1831 this initiative was confirmed. It was also decided to apply to Parliament for an Act of incorporation for the company. (fn. 38)
This was an unusually propitious moment to make such an application, for in October 1831 England began to experience its first cholera epidemic, and many people thought that cholera was propagated by the evil miasmas which arose from the decaying matter present, among other places, in overcrowded graveyards. In July 1832 the Bill 'for establishing a General Cemetery for the Interment of the Dead in the Neighbourhood of the Metropolis' received the royal assent. It incorporated the General Cemetery Company, authorized it to raise up to £45,000 in shares of £25, buy up to eighty acres of land and build a cemetery and a Church of England chapel. To obviate the opposition of the metropolitan clergy, many of whom depended in substantial measure for their incomes upon the revenues from burial fees, the Act also provided that for each burial in the cemetery a fee ranging from 1s. 6d. to 5s. (depending on the type of grave) should be paid to the incumbent of the parish in which each body originated. (fn. 39)
By this time the infant company was already deeply involved in the architectural squabbles which eventually culminated in the triumph of Sir John Dean Paul and the dismissal of G. F. Carden. Their quarrel seems to have centred round the rival merits of the Grecian style, advocated by Paul, and the Gothic, championed by Carden; but no doubt there was also a conflict of personalities, as well as an embarras de richesse in the sheer number of architects anxious to design the cemetery.
To start with, at least three of the shareholders were architects—A. C. Pugin and Thomas Willson, whose interest in this field has already been mentioned, and John William Griffith, surveyor to the parish of St. Botolph, Aldersgate, and to the London estates of St. John's College, Cambridge, (fn. 31) who was probably supported by Paul and who was ultimately to be the author of the executed designs for the two chapels and the principal entrance gateway. At the time of its formation in February 1830 the provisional committee had nevertheless invited Benjamin Wyatt to act as architect, but he had declined, and recommended Charles Fowler instead. This proposal was not taken up, however, and in June both Francis Goodwin and Thomas Willson were drawing the committee's attention to their respective designs. It was at this time that the committee accepted Carden's view that the cemetery should follow the example of that of Père-Lachaise, and that the public should be 'at liberty to erect what description of monuments they please'. (fn. 40)
Thereafter the committee was for some months engaged in finding and provisionally purchasing a site. The land ultimately acquired was, indeed, extremely suitable. It enjoyed a high, welldrained situation, 'surrounded by beautiful scenery', and with good access to London both by road along the Harrow Road and by water along the Grand Junction Canal, which extended across the site. (fn. 38) (fn. 5)
The next problem before the committee was the layout of its new property. In September 1831 it was resolved to consult John Nash, and shortly afterwards Sir John Dean Paul presented a sketch 'drawn under the eye of Mr Nash' by Mr. Liddell, who had worked in the office of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests under Nash. J. W. Griffith was, however, instructed to prepare plans and sections of the ground, and shortly afterwards Liddell withdrew. In October Griffith produced working drawings for a boundary wall, and building tenders were invited. Later in the year he, Paul and Pugin were all concerning themselves in the planting of trees, and it might therefore be conjectured that Griffith had become responsible for the general layout. But in August 1832 (? John) Hanson, architect, was reporting to the directors about the execution of Liddell's plan, which was then adopted. The precise authorship of the design for the layout therefore remains in doubt. (fn. 41)
In the meantime the committee had decided that for the design of the buildings a competition should be held, and in November 1831 a premium of one hundred guineas was offered for the best plans for a chapel with ample vaults and for an entrance gateway with lodges. The total cost was not to exceed £10,000 for the chapel and £3,000 for the gateway. (fn. 42)
Griffith did not enter the competition, for he was appointed one of the judges, but he was nevertheless constantly strengthening his position with the company. In January 1832 he was negotiating on its behalf with Robert Stephenson, engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway, over that company's intention to build a tunnel under the northern extremity of the site of the cemetery; and in March he was instructed to proceed with the erection of the brick wall to enclose the cemetery. William Chadwick of Southwark was the builder of this wall, and Sir John Soane, for whom he had previously worked, was asked to supply a testimonial as to his capability. (fn. 43)
There were forty-six entrants for the competition, and in March 1832 the judges (Griffith, Paul, Pugin, Carden and two others) awarded the premium to H. E. Kendall, senior, for his Gothic design, which included a water-gate from the canal. (fn. 44) This verdict was, however, contested at the next meeting of the committee, when one member (probably supported by Paul) stated that he would press for it to be rescinded. Eventually it was decided to leave the matter to the directors who would be appointed shortly after the Bill (then still in progress through Parliament) had received the royal assent. (fn. 45)
At the shareholders' meeting held immediately after the incorporation of the company in July, Paul was elected treasurer in place of Carden, who was reduced to the position of registrar. (fn. 46) Prolonged architectural discussions evidently ensued among the directors, and in October the views of Cockerell, Pennethorne, Smirke and Wyatville were all solicited, (fn. 47) Kendall meanwhile busying himself with the publication of his Gothic designs. (fn. 44) The Gothic faction was, however, probably greatly weakened by the death of Pugin in December 1832, and the matter was finally decided in February 1833 when Carden was suspended from the board of directors for making statements prejudicial to the company. In June he was also deprived of his position as registrar. (fn. 48)
After Garden's suspension the victory of the Grecian faction, led by Paul, was at once celebrated by the adoption of Griffith's plans (prepared some months previously) for a nonconformist chapel. (fn. 49) By this time the cemetery had been consecrated, on 24 January 1833, by the Bishop of London, and a small temporary Anglican chapel had been erected. The first burial took place on 31 January. (fn. 50)
By March 1834 the building of the nonconformist chapel, the entrance gateway and lodges, and the great enclosing wall had all been completed to Griffith's designs, Chadwick being the builder. (fn. 6) The idea for the colonnaded 'catacombs' which were built along part of the north wall was apparently borrowed from a new cemetery at Frankfurt. (fn. 51)
In June 1834 Francis Bedford exhibited at the Royal Academy a model for a chapel for the General Cemetery Company, (fn. 52) but it was Griffith who in 1836 received the directors' request to design the cemetery's principal monument, the Church of England chapel and its catacombs. This he did, again in the Grecian style beloved by Paul, and by June 1837 the building had been completed, Chadwick again being the contractor. The temporary chapel was demolished in the following year. (fn. 53)
Cemetery companies had by now become generally accepted, and Griffith's precocious son, William Pettit Griffith, also an architect, was anxious to set himself up as an expert in this new and doubtless lucrative field of professional practice. In 1836 he published a design for a cemetery chapel (very similar indeed to that of his father), accompanied by a knowledgeable commentary which concluded with the advice that, in cemeteries where two chapels were required, 'each chapel should be constructed in a different style of architecture: it would gratify the tastes of all parties, and, at the same time, add to the ornament of the cemeteries'. (fn. 54)
The two chapels are, however, both distinguished essays in the manner of the Greek Revival, and are built mainly of Portland stone (Plates 29b, c, 30). They are prostyle tetrastyle, the Anglican chapel being Doric, while that of the nonconformists is Ionic. Both porticoes have flanking colonnades, those on the nonconformist chapel being curved, and both have brick vaulted catacombs underneath, with stone coffin racks and cast-iron protective grilles of similar detail to balconies of the period (Plate 30b, c, d). In the dark vaults, hundreds of coffins, many once clothed in rich-hued velvets secured to the wood by brass studs, lie in their loculi. An interesting innovation in the Anglican chapel was the hydraulic lowering device by which coffins were taken down into the catacombs at the end of the committal service. This chapel was damaged by enemy action in 1940, and restored by E. R. Bingham Harriss in 1954.
The gateway, flanked by single-storey lodges and an office, is on the Harrow Road, and is basically a triumphal arch with a giant Doric order applied to its two storeys (Plate 29a). An attic storey rises above the central arched entrance.
During the first nineteen years of its existence over 18,000 burials took place in the cemetery, (fn. 55) and in the latter part of the nineteenth century it was enlarged by the acquisition of more ground to the west. A crematorium was built here in 1938.
The monuments erected at Kensal Green cemetery display the whole range of Victorian taste, from early classical tombstones to the strangest eclecticism of the latter part of the century (Plates 31–2). Contemporary opinion of most of them was in general very low—'What a rendezvous of dreary inanities it is!' exclaimed The Builder in 1854, and Ducrow's Egyptian mausoleum of 1837 was singled out in particular as an example of 'ponderous coxcombry'. (fn. 56) A few monuments were, however, approved, including those to Thomas Hood, the poet, by Matthew Noble, to James Ward, the painter and engraver, by J. H. Foley, and to General Forester Walker by Edward Blore. (fn. 57)
Immediately in front of the Anglican chapel are several tombs of distinguished design, among them that of Princess Sophia (d. 1848), daughter of George III, which consists of a beautiful quattrocento sarcophagus set on a podium (Plate 32a). The design was by L. Grüner of Dresden, and the sarcophagus was carved in Carrara marble by the Signori Bardi, the podium being by Edward Pearce. Nearby is the simple slab covering the grave of the Duke of Sussex, who was so shocked at the confusion at the funeral of King William IV that he declared that he would not be buried at Windsor. His nephew, the second Duke of Cambridge (d. 1904), lies in a tomb of a simplified Egyptian style. Mention may also be made of the octagonal monument of 1866 to the Molyneux family (Plate 31d), by John Gibson, a spectacular example of High Victorian Gothic, very much in the style of Scott, with rich polished granites and finely carved detail, and having a somewhat French appearance when seen among the surrounding leafy arbours. The original squat spire has been removed.
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Harrow Road
This cemetery, which is entirely separate from that of All Souls, Kensal Green, and is outside the parish of Kensington, was opened on 10 May 1858. The chapel and the lodge were both erected in 1860 to the designs of S. J. Nicholl. During the first eight years of its existence some 12,500 burials took place, many of the Irish migrants of the Great Famine years finding their last resting place here. The surplus revenues from the burial fees are used for the support of invalid priests. (fn. 58)
The Church of St. Thomas, Kensal Road
The original church here was built in 1889 to the designs of Demaine and Brierley of York, J. Demaine being described as 'Diocesan Surveyor'. The site was purchased by the trustees of the Bishop of London's Church Building Fund for £800, and a large part of the building expenses was provided from funds which had accrued from the amalgamation in 1886 of the benefice of St. Thomas in the Liberty of the Rolls with that of St. Dunstan in the West. The builders were Thomas Gregory and Company of Clapham, and the total cost about £5,500. The church was consecrated on 28 October 1889. (fn. 59)
During the war of 1939–45 it was severely damaged by enemy action. In 1951 the benefice was united with that of St. Andrew and St. Philip, Golborne Road, and in 1967 St. Thomas's was completely rebuilt to the designs of Romilly B. Craze.