Survey of London: Volume 37, Northern Kensington. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1973.
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CHAPTER II - The Sheffield House and Glebe Estates
The Sheffield House estate
The house known as Sheffield House in the first half of the nineteenth century was a late-Georgian mansion on the east side of Kensington Church Street opposite to Sheffield Terrace. It stood on the site of an earlier house of the same name, which had belonged to the Sheffield family during part of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In 1603 Sir Walter Cope sold a house, which appears to have been in almost exactly the same position as the Georgian house, and two acres of land (fn. 1) for £700 to Sir George Coppin, who, like Cope, was an influential figure at the Court of James I.. (fn. 3) By 1613 Coppin had sold this house, presumably moving on to the house which was built for him and later enlarged to become Kensington Palace. The purchaser was Lady Jane Berkeley, widow of Henry, seventh Baron Berkeley. In 1613/14 Cope sold a further one and a half acres of land to Lady Berkeley to provide a total holding of three and a half acres (fn. 4) (fig. 6). In her will, proved in 1618, she left the house to her grandson, Sir Roger Townshend, but by 1646 it was in the possession of Edmund Sheffield, first Earl of Mulgrave. (fn. 5)
The mansion remained in the hands of the Sheffield family until the death of Robert Sheffield, a grandson of the Earl, in 1724 or 1725, and was then known as either Sheffield House or Mulgrave House. (fn. 6) Robert Sheffield had no surviving male heirs, but a grand-daughter married Sir John Robinson, baronet, and, after litigation, the estate passed to him. (fn. 7) In 1744 he sold or leased the house and its grounds to John Barnard, a builder, and Thomas Callcott, a bricklayer, both of Kensington, who used the grounds as a brickfield and demolished the house. They also built a group of almshouses, possibly on the site of Melon Place, in lieu of an annuity of £10 which Lady Jane Berkeley had left to the poor of Kensington. (fn. 8)
In 1791 the Vestry noted that a Thomas Robinson, esquire, had purchased the Sheffield House estate. (fn. 9) There is no evidence that he was related to Sir John Robinson, and he is described by Faulkner as gardener to George III. (fn. 10) Little is known about him, but at his death he left bequests of over £3,000 as well as his real estate. By 1798 he had rebuilt Sheffield House as a large, if rather plain, brick-faced three-storey house. (fn. 11) He demolished the almshouses, no doubt because he did not like their presence so close to his new mansion.
On his death in 1810, Robinson left the house to his wife for her lifetime, with reversion to his nephew Alexander Ramsay Robinson, who already owned other property elsewhere in Kensington. (fn. 12) He died in 1824, leaving the house to his eldest son, another Thomas Robinson, (fn. 13) who, in 1854, entered into agreements for the demolition of his great-uncle's house and the development of its grounds and of a substantial part of the adjoining glebe land, which he held on a long lease, by speculative building.
The land which constituted the glebe of the parish until 1954, when most of it was sold to the Church Commissioners, belonged to successive vicars of Kensington from at least 1260, and possibly earlier. In that year a composition made between the Abbot of Abingdon and the vicar of Kensington recited the bounds of the land reserved to the vicar, and these correspond with the recent boundaries of the glebe in most respects. (fn. 14) The northern boundary appears, however, to have originally been the King's highway (now Notting Hill Gate) and one seventeenth-century vicar advanced the theory that after some of the glebe land had been dug for gravel the pits so formed had been incorporated into the waste of the manor. (fn. 15) The extent of the glebe in the nineteenth century was about thirteen acres (fig. 6), a close approximation to the half a virgate which was mentioned in Domesday Book as the area of the priest's holding in Kensington, and the correlation is even more exact if the land between the glebe and Notting Hill Gate is included.
At least four vicarage houses have been recorded, not all in the same position. By 1610 there was a 'dwelling House for the Vicar' at the south end of the glebe, its site being now occupied by the roadway of Vicarage Gate at its junction with Kensington Church Street. (fn. 16) In c. 1774 this was rebuilt as a three-storey Georgian house, although parts of the earlier fabric may have been retained. (fn. 17) In 1877 a new red-brick vicarage in a Gothic style was built on the south side of the cul-de-sac of Vicarage Gate to the designs of William White. The Builder had mounted a campaign several years previously for a better line of communication between Notting Hill Gate and Kensington High Street and had recommended the demolition of the Georgian vicarage so that Kensington Church Street could be continued in a straight line to the north. The site of the old vicarage was, indeed, given up to the Vestry for the formation of a road (now the southern arm of Vicarage Gate), but ironically the main thoroughfare to Notting Hill Gate from the south is still along the old course of Kensington Church Street. (fn. 18) The vicarage designed by White was recently demolished and a new vicarage and parish hall, designed by Antony Lloyd, were built at the eastern end of the cul-de-sac of Vicarage Gate and opened in 1968. (fn. 19)
Another building which has often been confused with the vicarage was a large house known in the sixteenth century as the Manor House or Parsonage House. This stood between the parish church and Holland Street, and its history is discussed in Chapter I. The fact that it was known as the Parsonage House indicates that it may at one time have been occupied by incumbents of St. Mary Abbots.
The development of the Sheffield House and Glebe estates
In 1853 Thomas Robinson, the owner of Sheffield House and leaseholder of most of the glebe land, arranged with Archdeacon Sinclair, the vicar of St. Mary Abbots, that he would surrender his lease, which had forty years outstanding, in return for a building agreement enabling him to develop both his freehold and leasehold property simultaneously. He had threatened to erect 'objectionable' buildings on the glebe if he was not allowed the extension of his term which was necessary to undertake a successful speculation. In April 1854 the vicar entered into an agreement with Robinson whereby the latter was to build houses on the glebe and would be granted leases for terms equivalent to ninety-nine years from March 1854. The elevations of the houses were to be approved by the architect of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, (fn. 2) and the leases were to contain the usual covenants requiring the occupiers to keep their houses in good repair and decoration. No trade or business was to be carried on that would prove 'hazardous noisy noisome or offensive', including those of bagnio-keeper and sheriff's officer. It was found later that this agreement had not received the consent of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners or the Bishop of London, even though several leases had been granted under it, and a more formal agreement was entered into in 1860. (fn. 20)
The tables on pages 47–8 give the basic details of the speculation undertaken by Robinson. The author of the layout plan for the development was probably the architect David Brandon, who submitted applications to the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers in 1854 for permission to construct over three thousand feet of sewers in the new streets about to be formed. (fn. 21) There is, however, no evidence that Brandon provided any house designs. With the exception of Nos. 106–124 (even) Kensington Church Street, which have stock-brick façades with stucco dressings over ground-floor shops, all of the houses built under Robinson's auspices have stucco façades with an extensive use of ornament and consist of three or four main storeys over basements. They are arranged in terraces, but variations in design, usually reflecting the work of different builders, relieve the monotony. The houses built by William Lloyd Edwards of Paddington are interesting for the Mannerist treatment of the decorative features, which include Doric friezes over Ionic columns or half-shafts in the porches or doorways, pediments perched at the top of bays, and several narrow windows, sometimes set in niches between paired entrances (Plate 41c, d). The same treatment is given to the façades of Nos. 42–58 (even) Palace Gardens Terrace, where the lessee was Jeremiah Little, but it is likely that Edwards also built these houses for he made the application to the Vestry for permission to connect drains from them to the sewer in Palace Gardens Terrace. (fn. 22) Jeremiah Little, who built Nos. 60–102 (even) Palace Gardens Terrace, was a major builder in Kensington from the 1840's until his death in 1873 (see page 53), and these houses are very similar in style to Nos. 9–55 (odd) Argyll Road, which he built on the Phillimore estate at approximately the same time. The only builder who does not appear to have used a distinctive style of his own was Thomas Huggett, a local builder, who was granted sub-leases by Robinson. Nos. 21–33 (odd) Palace Gardens Terrace are very similar to Little's houses on the other side of the street, and the other houses of which he was the sub-lessee, Nos. 22–32 (even) Brunswick Gardens, display some of the decorative features associated with Edwards's houses.
Building operations began on the site of Sheffield House, but instead of granting building leases of the land which he held in fee simple, Robinson sold most of it between 1854 and 1857, retaining only the freeholds of Nos. 1–19 (odd) Brunswick Gardens. The price which he received for the land is not known, but he may have used the money to pay for the construction of roads and sewers, and for the erection of some houses under contracts instead of building leases. Courtland Terrace, now Nos. 35–49 (odd) Brunswick Gardens and No. 55A Palace Gardens Terrace, appears to have been built in this way for Robinson by Jeremiah Little and his son Henry in 1856, Robinson himself not being granted leases by the vicar (the houses were on glebe land) until 1858. (fn. 23) These houses are similar to Nos. 3–9 (odd) Pitt Street on the Pitt estate, also built by Jeremiah Little.
Jeremiah Little purchased most of the former Sheffield House estate and granted leases of the majority of the houses erected on the land to his sons Henry and William, both also described as builders, for ninety-nine years from Midsummer 1854 or equivalent terms. In the case of some houses in the terrace originally called Sheffield Gardens, now Nos. 68–102 (even) Kensington Church Street, it was stated later that Henry and William Little had only been acting as trustees for their father, who had built the houses at his own expense. (fn. 24) Whatever the extent of the co-operation between the members of the Little family, Henry Little, at least, built up a flourishing business of his own, which in 1861 employed fifty-four men and thirteen boys. (fn. 25)
A piece of ground to the south of the Sheffield House estate, called the Melon Ground (fig. 6), was also purchased by Jeremiah Little. The vendors were Lucy Margaret and Robert Tetlow Robinson, sister and brother of Thomas Robinson; they had inherited the land under the will of their father Alexander Ramsay Robinson and it may, therefore, have once formed part of the Sheffield House estate. (fn. 26) Melon Place was laid out across the centre of the site and three houses were built facing Kensington Church Street, of which Nos. 62 and 64 survive, together with four cottages and a builder's yard in Melon Place. All were leased to Henry Little in 1858. (fn. 27) Three houses facing Vicarage Gate were erected in place of the builder's yard in 1880–1 by Joseph Mears of Hammersmith, who purchased the site from Little. (fn. 28)
The last houses to be built in the first stage of Robinson's development were Nos. 38–46 (even) Brunswick Gardens and Nos. 35–43 (odd) Palace Gardens Terrace. In the agreement of 1854 the ground on which these houses were built had been reserved for a church which Archdeacon Sinclair was planning to build to replace the temporary iron church of St. Paul, Vicarage Gate, but a provision was written into the agreement that if a reasonable time elapsed without the church being built Robinson could demand a building lease of the ground. As the roadways on each side were still awaiting completion, Robinson asked for a lease of the site in 1863 and the legal advisers to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners recommended the vicar to grant his request. (fn. 20)
The northernmost part of the glebe (to the north of Nos. 57 and 90 Palace Gardens Terrace) still remained undeveloped, however. The street called The Mall extended southward to this point and on its east side were three old houses and a cottage. These buildings, and the ground on the opposite side of the street, had been included in the long lease granted to the elder Thomas Robinson in 1794, but Alexander Ramsay Robinson had bequeathed this part of his leasehold possessions to Lucy Margaret and Robert Tetlow Robinson. They assigned the ground to Thomas Robinson in order that it could be included in the area to be developed under his agreement with Sinclair. He was granted a lease by the vicar in 1858 at a ground rent of £5 per annum, but four years later he sub-let the plot to his brother and sister at the same rent so that they would secure the benefit of any improved ground rents created by development. (fn. 29) Building did not take place until 1868–70 when Jeremiah Little built Strathmore Gardens and Nos. 92–102 (even) Palace Gardens Terrace. (fn. 30)
The total ground rent secured by the vicar from Robinson's development was slightly over £540 per annum for about nine acres of land. (fn. 31) This figure, which is equivalent to approximately £60 per acre, compares favourably with those received for mid nineteenth-century developments on the Pitt and Phillimore estates. Robinson, however, secured a handsome profit in improved ground rents through the sub-leases which he granted to builders. For instance, he was granted one lease of the sites of Nos. 45–53 (odd) Palace Gardens Terrace and Nos. 48–56 (even) Brunswick Gardens at an annual ground rent of £5, but he sub-let the individual houses to William Lloyd Edwards at a total in improved ground rents of £110 per annum. (fn. 32)
When the building of a new vicarage in 1877 necessitated the formation of a new street (the culde-sac of Vicarage Gate), the opportunity was taken to develop a further part of the glebe to the west of the iron church of St. Paul. Tenders were invited for the highest ground rent offered for the erection of not more than fourteen houses under ninety-nine-year leases. At least £30,000 was to be spent on the construction of the houses. Joseph Mears submitted an offer of £425 per annum which was accepted, and he built Nos. 1–14 (consec.) Vicarage Gate under an agreement made in October 1877. (fn. 33) Less than an acre of ground was involved, and the substantial amount which Mears was prepared to offer in ground rent demonstrates the considerable increase in the value of building ground in this part of Kensington since 1854, when the agreement had been made with Robinson. Most of the houses built by Mears were sold leasehold shortly after completion at prices varying between £4,000 and £4,500.
In the 1930's a further part of the garden of the vicarage was appropriated for building when the block of flats called Vicarage Court was built on the east side of the southern arm of Vicarage Gate under a ninety-nine-year lease granted in 1934. (fn. 34)
In 1954 the Church Commissioners purchased the developed portion of the glebe, (fn. 35) the vicar of St. Mary Abbots retaining the vicarage and its still extensive grounds. When the new vicarage and parish hall were built in 1966–8, the site of the old vicarage was used for the erection of the block of flats known as Hamilton House.
The Church of St. Paul, Vicarage Gate
Plate 19. Demolished
After concluding the agreement of 1854 for the development of a large part of the glebe land, Archdeacon Sinclair, the vicar of St. Mary Abbots, had a temporary iron church built in the grounds of his vicarage at the southern end of Palace Gardens Terrace, the longest of the new streets being formed. The church, which was constructed by Hemming and Company of Bow of corrugated galvanized iron, was completed by September 1855 (Plate 19a, b). It was the first iron church in the metropolis. (fn. 36) The building was paid for out of pew rents over several years, Sinclair indemnifying the contractors against any failure to meet the costs of construction. (fn. 37)
The provision of a permanent structure became a pressing necessity when the fabric of the iron church began to deteriorate, and an appeal for funds was launched in 1885. The vicar of St. Mary Abbots at that time, the Honourable Edward Carr Glyn, recognized that the site on which the temporary church stood was by no means ideal, for it was hemmed in by the houses of Vicarage Gate on the west and Palace Gardens Terrace on the north, but he thought that it would be virtually impossible to secure another site in view of the steep rise in the value of land in Kensington over the past two decades. He therefore conveyed the site as a free gift to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1886.
A limited competition was organized for the design of the new church. The vicar felt that 'a good, well-ordered, and beautiful church is the limit of our ambition' and placed a ceiling of £10,000 on the cost. The assessor was Ewan Christian, and the winner was Arthur Baker, whose motto was 'Hope'. The building committee was not entirely convinced, however, and asked for modified designs from Baker and two other competitors. Eventually a considerably modified design by Baker, who lived in Kensington and had worked as an assistant in Sir George Gilbert Scott's office, was selected (Plate 19c, d). The builders were E. C. Howell and Son of Bristol and Lambeth, and construction began in July 1887. The first service was held in November 1888, and the church was consecrated on 25 January 1889. It was designated a chapel-of-ease to St. Mary Abbots. The total cost, including Baker's fee and other expenses, was £11,000, which had been entirely defrayed by the date of consecration. (fn. 38)
The church was built of brick with a very sparing use of stone dressings and the roofs were tiled. The style was French Gothic of the thirteenth century, although the chancel owed much to Early English prototypes. A copper-covered flèche placed over the crossing gave the church a vertical emphasis above the tall terraced houses which dominated its setting, and Baker's amended design provided for two porches flanking an apsidal baptistry at the western end of the north side of the nave, which was the only part of the exterior abutting on to a public highway. The westernmost porch led to a covered atrium beyond the west wall of the nave.
The church was severely damaged during the war of 1939–45 and was not rebuilt. Its site was sold to the Distressed Gentlefolks' Aid Association (fn. 39) and is now occupied by a nursing home.
CONVEYANCES AND LEASES ON THE SHEFFIELD HOUSE ESTATE
Except where indicated otherwise, the dates refer to the years in which the conveyances and leases were made: these are not always the date of actual building. The chief sources are the Middlesex Land Register in the Greater London Record Office at County Hall and the Minutes of the Vestry Sewers Committee in Kensington Public Library.
Berkeley Gardens, north side
Berkeley Gardens, south side
|2–7||consec.||Ground sold by Thomas Robinson, esquire, to Jeremiah Little of Sheffield Terrace, builder, 1854–7. Houses built by Little in 1857–8.|
Brunswick Gardens, west side
|1–19||odd||Leased by Robinson to Henry Little of Vicarage Gardens, builder, 1858–9.|
|21–33||odd||See Nos. 106–124 even Kensington Church Street below.|
Kensington Church Street, east side
Vicarage Gardens, north side
|2–8||consec.||Ground sold by Robinson to Jeremiah Little. Houses leased by Jeremiah Little to Henry Little, 1856–8.|
Vicarage Gardens, south side
|9–16||consec.||Ground sold by Robinson to Jeremiah Little. Houses leased by Jeremiah Little to William Little, except for No. 10 to Henry Little, 1856–8.|
LESSORS AND LESSEES ON THE GLEBE ESTATE
Except where indicated otherwise, the dates refer to the years in which the leases were granted: these are not always the date of actual building. All leases granted by vicars of Kensington were with the consent of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Bishop of London. The chief sources are the Middlesex Land Register in the Greater London Record Office at County Hall, the records of the Church Commissioners and the Minutes of the Vestry Sewers and Works Committees in Kensington Public Library.
Brunswick Gardens, east side
Brunswick Gardens, north side
|1–8||consec.||Vicar of Kensington by direction of Thomas Robinson to William Lloyd Edwards, builder, 1860. Nos. 7 and 8 rebuilt after destruction in war of 1939–45.|
Palace Gardens Terrace, east side
|2–40||even||Vicar of Kensington by direction of Thomas Robinson to William Lloyd Edwards, builder, 1859.|