Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
The Gore House Estate
The Gore House estate was the name given to some twenty-one and a half acres on the south side of Kensington Road for which the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 paid £60,000 in August 1852, the first of their land purchases in the area. (fn. 1) The name seems, however, to have been first used, merely for convenience, during the negotiations for the sale. Gore House, although the largest and best known, was only one of several houses standing on the land, and its own grounds amounted to little more than three acres. Until 1852 less than half of the twenty-one and a half acres was freehold, most being held under copyhold tenure. John Aldridge, a barrister, was the owner of the freehold land and also the tenant of the copyhold; he also owned other property in the vicinity of Gore Lane and Kensington Gore, which was likewise acquired by the Commissioners at later dates. (fn. 2)
In the mid seventeenth century both the freehold and copyhold land had formed part of a larger holding belonging to Sir Robert Fenn, who was Clerk of the Green Cloth in Charles I's household and an active royalist during the Civil War. (fn. 3) Fenn's estate consisted of some fifty acres, of which forty-four acres were copyhold of the manor of Knightsbridge with Westbourne Green, and stretched in terms of modern topography from the Albert Hall in the west to Ennismore Gardens in the east. In 1668 Humphrey Tomlinson, citizen, milliner and blacksmith of London, (fn. 4) bought the freehold land from one of Fenn's descendants (fn. 5) and six years later he also acquired one third of the copyhold land, amounting to slightly over fourteen and a half acres. (fn. 6)
Humphrey Tomlinson died in 1684 or 1685, leaving his estates to his daughter, Anne Busby, for her lifetime and afterwards to his grandson, Tomlinson Busby. (fn. 4) The land remained in the possession of the Busby family until the death of the Reverend William Beaumont Busby, Dean of Rochester, in 1820. In his will the Dean left his freehold and copyhold property at Kensington Gore to Robert Aldridge, esquire, of Cork, under the condition that Aldridge adopted the name of Busby in addition to his own surname. (fn. 7) Aldridge, or Robert Aldridge Busby, as he was thereafter known, complied, and on his death in c. 1837 his son, John Aldridge, inherited the estate. (fn. 8)
At the beginning of the eighteenth century all of the land which was later called the Gore House estate had been leased to Henry Wise as part of his vast Brompton Park Nursery. (fn. 9) Some of it continued to be used as nursery ground until its purchase by the Commissioners in 1852, while about six acres were then in the occupation of market gardeners, (fn. 10) and the grounds of several houses which had been built near to the road from Kensington to Knightsbridge in the mid eighteenth century spread over several acres more. The most important of these houses, Grove House and Gore House, are described separately below. The others, to the east of Gore House, formed an irregular terrace along the frontage to the road. They underwent many alterations and, occasionally, rebuildings, while sometimes two houses were joined together to form one or one house divided into two. (fn. 11) Nevertheless they were described by Leigh Hunt in 1855 as having 'an air of elegance, and even of distinction. They look as if they had been intended for the out-houses, or lodge, of some great mansion which was never built.' (fn. 12) By the mid nineteenth century there were four such houses and their ancillary buildings on the Gore House estate, and these survived until the 1870's. A fifth house, which adjoined them on the east, stood in the extreme north-west corner of the curtilage of Eden Lodge.
Grove House, Kensington Gore
This house, which stood on the site now occupied by the Albert Hall and is not to be confused with the Grove House on the Alexander estate, was apparently erected shortly before 1750, although an earlier house stood on the same site. (fn. 13) The garden (south) front of the house is visible in a drawing made by John Aldridge's wife in the 1850's (Plate 77a) and was photographed in 1856 (Plate 78c). (fn. 14) The earliest part of the building appears to have been a rather austere five-bay structure, three storeys in height, with a protruding central bay, but by then substantial alterations and additions had destroyed the original symmetry. An extension at the west end incorporated a first-floor veranda and among several additions to the east was a curious topstorey canted oriel.
Grove House was occupied by (Sir) Caesar Hawkins, the surgeon, from approximately 1749 until 1764. (fn. 15) In 1765 Anne Pitt, sister of the Earl of Chatham, took the house. Horace Walpole immediately christened it Pit(t)sburg and wrote about it in typically astringent terms: 'They ask me a thousand questions about Pitsburg; I tell them it is a vile guinguette, that has nothing but verdure, and prospect, and a parcel of wild trees that have never been cut into any shape, and as awkward as if they had been transplanted out of Paradise.' (fn. 16) Anne Pitt determined to improve the house and commissioned Robert Adam to provide designs. His drawings for one room, dated 1766, are preserved in Sir John Soane's Museum. (fn. 17) That some alterations were carried out is indicated by a comment of Mrs. Delany, who referred to 'Mrs. Anne Pitt's little improvements' and added that 'out of a very ugly odd house . . . she has made an uncommon pretty place', (fn. 18) but whether the works were by Adam is uncertain, for Anne Pitt also sought designs in the French style through Horace Walpole. (fn. 19) The fact that in 1770 Adam designed a frame for a chimney glass for Grove House suggests, however, that he may have executed the alterations of 1766. (fn. 20)
The next occupant, in 1773 or 1774, was Dr. (later Sir) John Elliott, physician to the Prince of Wales. He was perhaps best known for his errant wife, who under the nickname of Dolly the Tall became one of the most notorious courtesans of her day. (fn. 15) A later occupant was Lady Elizabeth Whitbread, the widow of Samuel Whitbread, the politician. She lived at Grove House from 1816 until her death in 1846. (fn. 11) John Aldridge then lived there himself until 1852 when he sold the Gore House estate to the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851. The house was used as the Commissioners' office for a short while and was demolished in 1857. (fn. 21)
Built in the 1750's for Robert Michell of Hatton Garden, esquire, (fn. 22) Gore House became widely known in the nineteenth century through its famous inhabitants, but even in the eighteenth century it attracted some notable occupants. Among those listed in the parish ratebooks were the sixth Earl (later first Marquis) of Drogheda in 1775–6, and, in 1784–9, Admiral Lord Rodney. (fn. 23)
In 1808 the house, then in a state of some neglect, was taken by William Wilberforce, and during his occupancy, which lasted until 1821, the mansion was often visited by many leading members of the evangelical movement. (fn. 24) Some fifteen years later the house once again became celebrated for its salons, although of a very different kind, when it was the home of the Countess of Blessington, the society beauty and writer, and Count D'Orsay, one of the foremost dandies of his time. D'Orsay, who was married to, but separated from, Lady Blessington's step-daughter, lived for a while in one of the smaller houses to the east of Gore House until, in 1839, he moved in with the countess. In 1849 the pressure of debts forced both of them to leave England, and the subsequent sale of their effects, which was held in Gore House over several days, attracted an estimated twenty thousand visitors to the mansion. (fn. 25)
The next tenant was no less flamboyant. In December 1850 Alexis Soyer, the former chef of the Reform Club, took a lease of the house to provide a fashionable restaurant near to the Great Exhibition. The result was the Gastronomic Symposium of All Nations, which consisted of the house itself, garishly transformed, and in the grounds, a Baronial Banqueting Hall and a four-hundred-foot-long Pavilion of All Nations. In the five months of its existence—from May to October 1851—the restaurant earned £21,000, but it had cost £28,000 to establish and manage. (fn. 26)
The final years in the life of the house were, by contrast, very sober. After being purchased by the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, it was used by the schools of the Science and Art Department, and for occasional exhibitions, until its demolition in 1857. (fn. 27)
Gore House was a compact three-storeyed Georgian mansion which was remodelled when an additional wing was built on to the west end. The original core had a centrally placed canted porch with a balcony above on its street front, and two flanking segmental bays to its garden front. This carefully composed symmetry was effectively destroyed by the later addition. Of the interior the most impressive room must have been the library created by Lady Blessington. Formed out of what had originally been two separate rooms, it extended through the full depth of the house to the west of the entrance. It was lit by the windows on the north and south fronts and was furnished in green with white and gilt book shelves. It was deliberately designed as the social focus of the house and was used as both a sittingroom and a library. (fn. 28)