Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
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CHAPTER XXII - Domestic Buildings after 1851: The Italianate Tradition
In this chapter will be discussed the other South Kensington—not the feet-aching museums and the great buildings devoted to the pursuit of art, music and science but the hardly less forbidding residential area lying mainly to the west and south. (fn. 1) It is a territory of very big houses now for the most part transformed, one senses somewhat against their will, from the homes of single wealthy families to flats, apartments and hotels. The area under discussion extends clockwise from Princes Gate Mews to the top of Queen's Gate. Here some 670 houses were built of which almost 600 were raised on the four estates of the Earls of Harrington (some 232), the Alexander family (some 161), the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 (some 156), and the Trustees of Mills' Charity (some 48): additionally some 480 coach-houses or stables were built in mews, with living accommodation above. The detached area developed in rather special circumstances by a building firm in Palace Gate is chiefly discussed in Chapter III and despite its relevance the greater part of the east side of Exhibition Road has had to be excluded from detailed examination in this volume as essentially part of the development of Princes Gate in Knightsbridge.
Most of the area consists of terraces built between 1855 and the early 1880's in a variety of more-or-less Classical styles, their street fronts faced either wholly in stucco or in grey gault bricks with extensive stucco dressings. Some individual houses and block of flats were erected after 1870 in the modes of the red-brick domestic revival and its aftermath but these were predominantly towards the northern part of the area where many demolitions have since occurred and visually the area is still dominated by the older form of terrace house. Overwhelmingly the impression is of a prevailing Italianate manner (Plates 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92).
This was the creation of a comparatively small number of builders, all with some BelgraviaPimlico background and doubtless very much aware of one another's work. Their operations were on a fairly large scale. Within this area the firm of Charles Aldin, for example, built more than 200 houses, William Douglas at least 108, (Sir) Charles Freake at least 91 and William Jackson at least 79. All four (and others) worked—usually as building lessee—on more than one of the freehold estates: Charles Aldin and his successors worked on at least three.
The role of the estate surveyors is difficult to assess. They did not stamp a clearly distinctive character on any of the estates (one comparatively minor differentiation being noticed, however, on pages 310–11). When they collaborated, as they must have done in some aspects of the development, the documents do not reveal the details or show how far they went. Some architects' names occur, but for much of the area it is impossible to state the architect certainly or to know whether the presence of certain features is evidence of the direct employment of a particular architect or of a builder's exploitation of a successful motif. Charles Aldin's firm was especially inclined to use some of its various house-designs indifferently on more than one estate, and also seems to have employed watereddown versions of architects' designs in the neighbourhood.
Intensely Victorian as it is, this area still shows essentially the Georgian practice of building terraces of largely identical houses for the rich. Inside the houses their planning preserved much of Georgian practice. The street layout is largescaled and severely rectilinear.
Today the mews at the back are at least as much favoured for residence as the now subdivided houses, and are in some ways pleasanter and quieter (Plate 83c). Formerly they must have been livelier than the streets, and at certain times of day a noisy hustle of activity as the carriages were brought out. Their provision and location doubtless occupied much of the developers' thoughts but no record of this has been found. The overall ratio of mews-units to houses seems (on the basis of a count from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map) to have been about 1 to 1.4. In the 'best' residential parts the numbers probably approached equality: on the 1851 Commissioners' estate the numbers were approximately 148 and 156.
The place of the Great Exhibition in the impulses that led to this estate-development was widely acknowledged at the time and the ambitions of Prince Albert and his Exhibition Commissioners for the central part of the estate they acquired in c. 1852–3 came to be important for surrounding owners. But essentially the development was not initiated by the Great Exhibition or its Commissioners' subsequent activities. In the years immediately before 1851 biggish—sometimes very big—houses for the rich were appearing all around the area under discussion. Thurloe Square, Onslow Square, Hereford Square, Hyde Park Gate and (most recently) Kensington Gate had already been built or begun. So too—and perhaps most significantly of all in terms of the house-type involved—had two stretches of Princes Gate looking across the Kensington Road to Hyde Park. In some of these developments names occur that are met later. In Thurloe Square the Alexander family were the developers and freeholders, and in Onslow Square C. J. Freake was the building lessee. In the summer of the Great Exhibition the latter was already negotiating for further important pieces of land—Mary Plummer's estate and, in the area under discussion, the big block of land then owned by Baron Villars (figs. 1, 18 on pages 2, 53). The intentions of the Prince can hardly have been widely known but in August a Royal Commission's recommendation of the south side of the Kensington Road to the Government as a site for the National Gallery was made public. The actual negotiations of the Government and, later, of the 1851 Commissioners for land seem to have been successfully kept secret, but they were, of course, not wholly secret to the builders and entrepreneurs like John Kelk and Freake himself who were employed as agents, and it is difficult to judge how far, from August 1851 onwards, knowledge of these enquiries may have leaked out more widely. But in any event no elaborate explanation is needed for the interest of estate developers in this area.
Building in fact proceeded roughly at the same time on the three main estates (and approximately in step with the completion and extension of Princes Gate down the east side of Exhibition Road). The story seems to be best told in terms of builders rather than estate owners. But by a small margin it was the estate of the Earl of Harrington that was the first to move, and that estate's architect, C. J. Richardson, was the designer of the first houses to be built. Thereafter he gave something of his own rather fluid artistic personality to the subsequent developments, and in 1870 a local newspaper went so far as to call him 'the Architect of independent [that is, nonofficial] South Kensington'. (fn. 18) He was an architect with a great interest in such matters as the design of stoves and chimney-flues to control the emission of smoke, and claimed that houses of his in Queen's Gate needed none of the 'tallboys' or cowls that disfigured most London chimneypots. (fn. 19) His other enthusiasm, for the domestic architecture of Old England, was repressed on his streetfronts but sometimes broke out in his interior confections here.
The first building agreement: Lord Harrington and William Jackson
The fifth Earl of Harrington had succeeded to the title in March 1851, and in September the partition of the estate with Baron Villars was finally concluded (see page 7). In the first half of 1852 there were indirect approaches to Lord Harrington from the 1851 Commissioners through Freake for the purchase of part of his property here, but Lord Harrington's advisers were, or affected to be, unwilling for him to sell (see page 56), and in June 1852 Lord Harrington forestalled the Commissioners by concluding a building agreement for his whole forty-six acres with an individual entrepreneur.
This was William Jackson, a 36-year-old builder born in Ireland. He had a business address in Parliament Street, Westminster, (fn. 20) but had bought a house at Isleworth, Worton Hall, in 1850, for £1,700. (fn. 21) His brother Thomas was a railway contractor with a .substantial builder's business in Pimlico, (fn. 22) and William soon acquired a wharf there too, (fn. 23) being described as 'of Pimlico' in 1854–60. (fn. 24) By 1861, however, he had a workshop and yard covering some one and a half acres at what is now the northern corner of Stanhope Gardens and Gloucester Road. (fn. 25)
Jackson's brother Thomas joined with the big contractor (Sir) Samuel Morton Peto in a bond for £10,000 to guarantee William's performance of his contract. (fn. 20) By this, Jackson was to build three hundred houses within nine years, a third of them first class to the value of at least £1,000 each and the remainder of at least £700 in value (much lower, in fact, than the value of the houses which were actually erected under the agreement). The ground rent was to be £1,200 in the first year, rising to £4,600 (or £100 per acre) in the tenth and subsequent years. Leases from the Earl to Jackson or his nominees were to be for ninety-nine years from 24 June 1852, and before any lease was granted four houses were always to be completed in carcase, or two completely fitted out.
By March 1853, however, an agreement had been reached (but not concluded until November 1858) for the sale of seventeen acres to the 1851 Commissioners, who were also to give Jackson nearly £8,000 in compensation for the loss of that much building land. A sale to Brompton Hospital of land outside the area of this volume further reduced the area in the Earl's ownership to about twenty-five acres, in three separate pieces. The contract of 1852 was therefore modified. The number of houses to be built was reduced to 163, of which 55 were to be first class, and the time limit extended to 1867, but the ultimate ground rent of a little over £2,500 still corresponded to £100 per acre. (fn. 26)
The other estates
Meanwhile the 1851 Commissioners had been assembling the other constituent parts of their estate by purchase or exchange. Their intentions here were declared in their Second Report of November 1852, and the establishment of the main outlines of their property more or less concluded by the agreement with the Earl and Jackson in March 1853. The main roads were begun under the direction of the Commissioners' adviser, Thomas Cubitt, in 1854. The Earl's architect, Richardson, later claimed to have helped Cubitt with the layout. (fn. 27) Jackson seems to have done the work in Queen's Gate and Cromwell Road at least, and probably also in Queen's Gate Terrace, partly in his capacity as adjacent building owner. Cromwell Road was open by September 1855. (fn. 28)
On the south side of that road and on the west side of Queen's Gate lay the third major estate. Its owner, H. B. Alexander, a solicitor, was fully alerted to its potentialities, not only by his family's recent practice nearby but by the approaches made to him on behalf of the 1851 Commissioners from 1852 onwards. As their secretary commented, 'There can be no doubt that Mr. Alexander is a very shrewd lawyer, and quite understands the real value of his property'. (fn. 29)
Virtually nothing appears in the records of the three main estates so far as they have been examined to throw light on the detailed discussions that must have accompanied the precise determination of the lines of the chief roads and the exchanges of pieces of property that were made by the Inclosure Commissioners to facilitate these arrangements. Lord Harrington's representative would have been Richardson. Jackson had his own surveyor, (Sir) Henry Hunt, who succeeded J. W. Higgins as the 1851 Commissioners' surveyor also early in 1854, although Thomas Cubitt was the important figure here until his death in 1855. Alexander's surveyor was George Pownall of Wigg and Pownall, who had also acted for Baron Villars before the latter sold out to the Commissioners, and produced for him a suggested layout of conventional 'squares' in 1852. (fn. 30) (Pownall also acted for Freake.) Perhaps Hunt and Pownall were personally acquainted: at any rate, Hunt's son married Pownall's daughter. (fn. 31) As will be seen, there is a suggestion in the records that Richardson proposed the layout west of Queen's Gate on the Alexander as well as the Harrington estate. If so, the indication seems to be that the formidable master of the adjacent Commissioners' estate, Prince Albert, was not appraised of it until building had begun (see page 275). But the reality behind all this is obscure.
William Jackson in Queen's Gate and Hyde Park Gate: the Harrington estate
Jackson began on the west side of Queen's Gate near its northern end with a terrace of houses designed by C. J. Richardson, who showed a view of them, 'now being erected', at the Royal Academy in 1855. (fn. 32) No trace appears of the quasi-Tudor attributes Richardson had given to Lord Harrington's own new house in Kensington Palace Gardens, but an elaborate 'classical' frontispiece adorned each house (fig. 63 on page 309). These were sufficiently completed to be leased individually to Jackson by the Earl from July 1856 onwards. (fn. 33) By November 1856 they were given their first puff by The Land and Building News, (fn. 34) a periodical that, as The Building News, henceforward carried under the guise of reportage a good deal of propaganda for Jackson's, Aldin's and Freake's houses hereabouts.
Originally the terrace design was to embrace only fifteen houses, the present Nos. 5–19 (consec.) Queen's Gate, and Richardson fitted them up with a central accent by linking the porches of Nos. 11–13 in a colonnade. But the terraces of this part of South Kensington abound in symmetrical compositions that have miscarried, or lost such value as they ever had by changes of plan, and here the sequence of houses was by spring 1857 being extended to the present Nos. 1–4. (fn. 35) In March of that year a tempting lithographic view of Queen's Gate and its new houses from Hyde Park was prepared (no doubt based on the Royal Academy exhibit of 1855), and was submitted by Jackson for approval by Prince Albert (Plate 82a), Being, with Freake's houses on the east side of Exhibition Road, the first to be newly built looking on to the Commissioners' main rectangle their character was important to that body. Fortunately, as the Prince's secretary, Charles Grey, said, 'there can be no doubt that these handsome buildings will assist the Commissioners' views materially'. (fn. 36)
Of five tall storeys over a basement, the houses are twenty-five or twenty-eight feet wide. The average depth of each plot is eighty feet, almost entirely occupied at ground level by rooms—originally described as dining-room, breakfastroom and 'gentleman's business room'—that left little space for a yard or area (fig. 44). (fn. 37) In some of the houses the service area on the ground floor was carefully screened-off. There were nine bedrooms and the first floor was largely taken up with a grand double drawing-room separated into front and back parts by an elliptical arch, and with a total length of fifty-seven feet. (fn. 38) At the rear, between the ground and first floors, was a conservatory, so common in South Kensington, 'lighted by a curved roof entirely of glass, and its sides glazed with glass in diaper pattern, having amber-coloured borderings'. All the chimneypieces were of marble. (fn. 39)
The houses were said to have been built "under the practical superintendence of Mr. John Walls' (fn. 34) who, as an 'estate agent', appears in the Post Office Directory in 1859–62 in one or other of these houses, probably used as an estate office. To help sales, Jackson adopted the unusual expedient of finishing the houses decoratively himself. In April 1857, in the five houses nearly finished, 'the cornices and centre flowers of the dining-rooms and breakfast-rooms are being tastefully etched in gold. The walls are papered in oblong panels, with lightly ornamented margins'. In the double drawing-room on the first floor the stucco cornices were also 'etched in gold' and the walls had 'richly-gilded paper in panels'. Jackson had had the woodwork painted 'French white', with gilding, and had papered the bedrooms. (fn. 39)
In February 1858 Jackson received leases of two new houses, Nos. 20 and 21 Queen's Gate, which extended the row to the southern boundary of Lord Harrington's property. (fn. 40) The insignificance of these boundaries compared with those of the building lessee's territory is, however, shown by the fact that Jackson did not continue the architecture of Nos. 1–19 but instead adopted an even richer façade-design, probably not by Richardson, that he was also applying to the five houses, Nos. 22–26 (consec.), which he was building immediately southward on the Commissioners' land (see below).
Richardson later estimated that the cost of building each of Nos. 1–19 was about £4,000 for those with twenty-five-foot frontages and £5,000 for the wider houses. (fn. 41) An approach to the London Assurance Corporation for an advance of up to £40,000 on his entire holding under Lord Harrington as building progressed proved unsuccessful, (fn. 42) and Jackson at first raised money by private mortgages, arranged largely through a solicitor, Dalton Haskell Serrell of Gray's Inn, among whose clients were other members of the Serrell family. (fn. 43) (He was also acting as Richardson's solicitor in 1863. (fn. 44)) Within a short time, however, Jackson was turning to other insurance companies and banks, the principal ones being apparently the Provident Life Office, the Commercial Bank of London and the Western Bank of London. (fn. 45) Some of the houses were let at rack rents for comparatively short terms (No. 13 and a coach-house at the rear being leased in 1858 for twenty-one years at a rent of £510 (fn. 46)). But Jackson, like his rival builders, preferred sales to provide himself with cash. Usually he sold the houses subject to a fairly high ground rent, giving him both a capital sum and an improved ground rent. No. 19, for instance, was sold in 1859 for £5,000 at a ground rent of £65 per annum, representing a surplus of £40 on the £25 which had to be paid to Lord Harrington. (fn. 47) These improved rents were usually then mortgaged by Jackson. (fn. 46) Occasionally he sold his lease outright at the original ground rent, as in the case of No. 11 and its coach-house, for which he obtained £7,738 (out of which sum £6,500 went to mortgagees). (fn. 48)
These houses were quite successful with potential occupants. The first took up residence in 1857 (fn. 49) and in 1858 five appear in the Post Office Directory. All twenty-one were listed in 1862, when the residents included the Earl of Dundonald and three 'Sirs'. In 1863 H. A. Bruce, Home Secretary from 1869 to 1873, began his long residence at No. 1. (fn. 50)
The five houses at the north-west corner of Queen's Gate extending along Kensington Road, and now numbered 1A Queen's Gate and 1–4 Hyde Park Gate, were more expensive to build (Plate 83a, 83b; fig. 45). On the lithograph of March 1857 they are shown as five houses facing Kensington Road, obviously intended to be designed by Richardson. By December they were sufficiently completed to be leased by Lord Harrington to Jackson, but as four, not five, houses and were correspondingly bigger. (fn. 51) As was probably the case at Nos. 20 and 21 Queen's Gate, Richardson's design was, for an unknown reason, not used and these grandiose houses were designed by the architect John Tarring, normally a practitioner in chapel-building. He superintended their erection with the assistance of a 'practical foreman', Mr. Thwaites. (fn. 52) They rose through six storeys to a height of eighty-five feet—amply sufficient to kill a workman who fell from the top in November 1859. (fn. 53) The Building News publicized them as they neared completion in 1859–60. 'These buildings', it stated, 'may be fairly classed with the best specimens of domestic architecture around London, both in respect to their artistic treatment, and workmanship. No expense has been spared by Mr. Jackson to make them thoroughly sound and durable.' (fn. 52) The journal was particularly enthusiastic about the corner building, originally intended as only one house. This 'enormous mansion' has a hundredfoot tower in Queen's Gate (where early alterations to allow the subdivision of the house into No.LA Queen's Gate and No. 1 Hyde Park Gate have confused the composition of this front), and its spacious interior was intended to have thirtyfive rooms, including a dining-room fifty feet long. (fn. 54) That Jackson had, indeed, spared no expense on the five houses is indicated by the sum he could raise on these houses in mortgages, which by May 1859 amounted to £35,000 with an option for £5,000 more. (fn. 55)
By the early summer of 1859, however, Jackson was in very serious financial difficulties. A seemingly satisfactory deal with another builder had relieved him profitably of his liabilities on part of Lord Harrington's estate (see below). But he had, in effect, exchanged this commitment for one at least as exacting on the Commissioners' property, and his troubles were doubtless compounded by those of his brother Thomas, who was bankrupt by the autumn. (fn. 56) Perhaps, also, the outlay on Tarring's big houses was ill-judged. Some years later Richardson said that it was 'in the completion' of those houses that Jackson had 'failed', and in the early summer of 1859 Richardson tried to persuade a client of his, James Whatman, to buy the unfinished houses, alter and improve them, and dispose of them at 'a great profit'. Whatman preferred an alternative enterprise of the same kind lower down Queen's Gate. (fn. 57) Jackson did not in fact become bankrupt, but may nonetheless have welcomed intervention by William Tarte, the lead merchant who had previously been responsible for the building of Nos. 5–16 Hyde Park Gate. (Nos. 14–16 had been built for him by Thomas Jackson, see page 35.) In 1861 Tarte took an assignment of the original lease of the corner house, already subdivided (probably at his behest) and surrendered it to the Earl of Harrington in return for two new leases, which were granted directly to him. (fn. 58)
Tarring's houses did not attract residents very quickly. The four houses fronting on Kensington Road were first occupied between 1863 and 1866. (fn. 49) The first occupant listed at No. 3 Hyde Park Gate was, briefly, Lord Feversham. At No. I it was one of South Kensington's comparatively few industrialists—a sixty-seven-year-old selfmade ironmaster from Middlesbrough, John Vaughan, whose company had 'gone public' with a capital of three and a half million pounds. (fn. 59) The other half of the divided corner house, No. 1A Queen's Gate, first appears in occupation in 1870.
Jackson also built stables and coach-houses in the part of Queen's Gate Mews on Lord Harrington's land. Additionally he built here one of the few public houses in this part of South Kensington, the Queen's Arms, which he let in 1859 for thirty years at £130 per annum. (fn. 60) Its site had been transferred from the Commissioners to Lord Harrington in the previous year for no very apparent reason. (fn. 61) Just possibly, if the dedication of the site to drinking was already decided upon, the Commissioners preferred not to be the ground landlords.
Jackson's 'deal' with another builder referred to above had concerned the part of the Harrington estate lying on the south side of Queen's Gate Terrace. Perhaps in consequence of his failure to obtain a big mortgage-loan from the London Assurance Corporation in June 1855 (fn. 41) Jackson evidently decided to reduce his liabilities temporarily and in August 1856 agreed that this area of about six acres should be developed by Charles Aldin, a builder working in Clapham. Aldin was to pay Jackson about £200 per annum per acre, or roughly twice the rate of ground rent which Jackson had originally agreed to pay for the land. The transaction was soon known in the office of the Commissioners, where the enhanced price Jackson was getting gave satisfaction and was doubtless borne in mind when they began their own building enterprises through Jackson himself a year later. (fn. 62)
William Jackson and others in Queen's Gate and Queen's Gate Terrace: 1851 Commissioners' estate
The circumstances of this development from the Commissioners' point of view have been indicated earlier (see page 62). Liking Jackson's work in Queen's Gate it was natural they should make their initial building agreement with him, in the late summer or autumn of 1857. With a frontage to Queen's Gate at Nos. 22–26 (consec.), and a long frontage on the south-facing side of Queen's Gate Terrace (as well as a frontage to Gloucester Road) it is not surprising that Jackson should pay a higher ground rent than Aldin was paying to him to the south: in fact, it was very much more, and under a ninety-nine-year lease was to rise in four years (not ten as on Lord Harrington's estate) to £1,500 per annum for some three and a quarter acres, or about £460 per annum per acre. The houses were all to be 'first class'. As elsewhere on the Commissioners' estate, separate leases of each house-site were to be granted when the houses were built and one house left undemised until the whole ground was covered. (fn. 63) Perhaps the fact that Aldin's range on the south side was already nearly completed encouraged Jackson, but his agreement was an example of the unusually favourable return the Commissioners succeeded in obtaining as ground landlords, and fairly soon it seems to have helped to get him into his difficulties. But he started quickly and received his leases of Nos. 22–26 Queen's Gate in June and November 1858. (fn. 64) It seems inherently probable that they and Nos. 20–21 should have been designed by Richardson, but the fact that he neither claimed nor received credit for them is negative evidence of some weight, and it was another architect and surveyor, Thomas Cundy III or 'the younger', who applied to the parish vestry on Jackson's behalf to make sewers behind them and (later) in Queen's Gate Mews. (fn. 65) Cundy did cultivate some merely speculative or business interests in the neighbourhood (and by 1861 had in fact bought No. 22 Queen's Gate from Jackson (fn. 66)); but there are resemblances between these Queen's Gate houses and Queen's Gate Mews on the one hand and houses and mews lower down Queen's Gate on the other, where the developers (the Commercial Bank of London) were associated with Cundy in his role as architect (see page 298), and it is therefore possible that he was the architect of Nos. 20–26 Queen's Gate (figs. 54, 65 on pages 286, 309). (fn. 2)
On the north side of Queen's Gate Terrace Jackson received his leases of Nos. 2–44 (even) between January 1859 and February 1860. (fn. 69) Perhaps because Jackson felt the need for caution they were not as large as Aldin's houses, but formed an over-extended centre-and-wings composition (Plate 83d; fig. 66 on page 310). The elevation and plans had been approved by Prince Albert in July 1858. (fn. 70) The Building News said in 1859 that the bouses were 'under the general special management of Mr James Matthews, architect', (fn. 54) who applied on Jackson's behalf to make a sewer. (fn. 71) No 'architect' of that name appears in the London Post Office Directory, unless he is identifiable with a 'builder and house agent' of Bishopsgate. (fn. 3)
During 1859 Jackson was mortgaging his houses for unknown amounts to various private individuals, (fn. 73) but also to the Commercial Bank of London mentioned above: in 1860, for example, he mortgaged to them Nos. 2–12 Queen's Gate Terrace and No. 26 Queen's Gate, which were already security for £18,000 borrowed from an insurance company. (fn. 74) As has been seen he was by then in trouble and although he was saved from actual bankruptcy, seemingly by his connexion with the Commercial Bank, he had to discontinue his building work here with his houses unfinished and the five westerly sites in Queen's Gate Terrace unbuilt. There he was supplanted by another builder, William Watts of Motcomb Street, Belgravia, to whom the Commissioners granted leases of Nos. 46–54 (even) in January 1863, (fn. 75) and whose houses adhere to and complete the overall composition.
Jackson's embarrassment seems to have given opportunities to other men in the property business. In 1860 he sold his interest in the unfinished No. 36 Queen's Gate Terrace to Thomas Cundy (fn. 76) who also, as has been seen, bought No. 22 Queen's Gate, probably when it was auctioned, together with Nos. 23 and 24 Queen's Gate and No. 4 Queen's Gate Terrace, in 1860. The Queen's Gate houses went for an average of c. £5,050: the other two were seemingly bought by Lewis Cubitt. (fn. 77) The auctioneers themselves had bought two houses in Queen's Gate Terrace from Jackson's mortgagees, (fn. 78) and Henry Hunt, Jackson's own surveyor as well as the Commissioners', bought four others at the same time, August 1860. (fn. 79) None of these houses was bought for the purchaser's residence. Cundy and his brother C. F. Cundy also took leases of coach-houses and stables in Queen's Gate Mews in 1863. (fn. 80)
Nos. 22–26 Queen's Gate were first occupied in 1862–3 and Nos. 2–54 Queen's Gate Terrace in 1860–5, with people of title among the first residents. (fn. 49)
At Nos. 56 and 58 Queen's Gate Terrace (the latter now also No. 15 Gloucester Road) and at No. 13 Gloucester Road Jackson was supplanted by Charles Gray, an architect with a liking for prominent corner sites, who received his leases from the Commissioners in August 1863 and February 1864. (fn. 81) Gray showed a 'first design' for, and photographs of, Nos. 56 and 58 at the Architectural Exhibitions in Conduit Street in 1864 and 1865, and The Builder commented on them repeatedly and favourably. In 1865, however, it noted that 'the talk of the neighbourhood is against this house (sic), and decidedly prefers the houses close by, which are of the speculativebuilders' sort of Italian, repulsive in their sootbegrimedness as they might be to us'. (fn. 82)
The first resident of No. 56 Queen's Gate Terrace was a barrister with a house at Twickenham, and of the corner house, No. 58, a 'gentleman' with a country house at Caterham. (fn. 50) This bold block (Plate 84a, 84b) has lost its distinctive roof and chimney-stacks, illustrated in The Builder (and restored on fig. 46).
No. 13 Gloucester Road was first occupied in 1865 by Richard Noble, a builder with a Pimlico address also. (fn. 50) Gray had evidently disposed of his lease to Noble, who probably built No. 13 (in a stucco style very different from Gray's). If so, Noble presumably built the similar Nos. 1–11 (odd), which were, however, leased by the Commissioners in 1863 either to Jackson's mortgagees, the Commercial Bank, or to an auctioneer. (fn. 83)
Charles Aldin's work, Queen's Gate Terrace to Queen's Gate Place: the Harrington estate
The builder who had taken Jackson's place on the other side of Queen's Gate Terrace was at least equally resilient, and more successful. Charles Aldin was, according to a descendant, the grandson of an Uxbridge carpenter and appears to have begun his building career in a small way in 1845 on one of Thomas Cubitt's developments in Pimlico. (fn. 84) He was to become the building lessee also on parts of the Alexander and Commissioners' estates. He and his sons were eventually responsible for building over two hundred large houses and almost as many mews dwellings, mainly in the rectangle bounded by Queen's Gate Terrace, Gloucester Road, Cromwell Road and Queen's Gate. In 1859 Aldin was stated to have upward of four hundred men working in the various branches of his building operations. (fn. 85) By 1861 he had a workshop and yard at what is now the eastern corner of Queen's Gate Gardens and Cromwell Road where he continued until his death in his early fifties in 1871. (fn. 86) He then employed five hundred men and lived in a spacious house in Clapham which he had built himself, with seven members of his family (including his sons, Charles, junior, and William, who were also builders), three domestic servants, and a coachman who lived in his own quarters. (fn. 87)
Aldin's solicitors were Mayhew and Salmon of No. 30 Great George Street, Westminster. An undated layout plan showing the houses built by Aldin on the south side of Queen's Gate Terrace and on the east side of Gloucester Road southward to the southern arm of Queen's Gate Gardens is signed by W. J. Mayhew, architect, who, as architect and surveyor, had the same professional address as Mayhew and Salmon. (fn. 88) As will be seen, however, some of these houses—those in Queen's Gate Terrace—are definitely credited to another architect. It seems probable, therefore, that W. J. Mayhew was employed by Aldin as surveyor rather than architect, particularly as C. J. Richardson was also extensively employed as architect by Aldin hereabouts.
By his agreement with Jackson of August 1856 Aldin was to pay him £1,200 per annum for about six acres, bounded (in modern terms) approximately by Queen's Gate Terrace, Gore Street, Elvaston Mews, Petersham Mews and Gloucester Road. Aldin was to receive direct leases from Lord Harrington for ninety-nine years from 1852, until the total sum in ground rent due to the Earl under his agreements with Jackson had been secured, after which the leases were to be granted by Jackson. Sixty first- or second-class houses were to be built on the land within seven years 'in conformity in all respects with the Ground plans, elevations and specifications already agreed upon and signed by the said William Jackson and Charles Aldin except as to any variations or modifications thereof which might be mutually agreed upon between the said parties'. (fn. 90)
In 1856 Aldin began building the great range of houses, now Nos. 11–43 (odd), on the south side of Queen's Gate Terrace between Gore Street and Petersham Lane (Plate 83e; fig. 64 on page 309). Originally intended to consist of twenty houses of five main storeys above a basement, the terrace displays, like Richardson's designs, an overall stuccoed richness but with greater emphasis on the whole mass united by its big cornice. Here the architect was named in contemporary journals as William Harris of Park Street, Mayfair. (fn. 91) Little is known about Harris besides the fact that he died in 1863 at the age of sixty-six: it was stated at that time that he had been a pupil of A. W. N. Pugin, (fn. 92) but in view of their relative ages (not to mention the character of Harris's design) this was probably a mistake for A. C. Pugin. It is not known if there is any significance in the fact that Aldin had a partner called Henry Harris in his Pimlico building firm in the early 1850's. (fn. 93) Several of the motifs used in the façade reappear on other houses built by Aldin in Queen's Gate and Queen's Gate Gardens, most, if not all, of them begun well after Harris's death.
Each of these houses contained a dining-room, breakfast-room, and billiard-room on the ground floor, a thirty-seven-foot drawing-room with a conservatory on the first floor, and nine bedrooms, excluding servants' bedrooms in the roof. The Building News noted that Aldin provided main staircases of stone, and servants' staircases projected at the backs of the houses. (fn. 94) The construction of these extremely large houses required capital from various sources. Before any leases had been granted Aldin mortgaged his agreement with Jackson for an unknown amount to William Hallows Belli, a retired Bengal civil servant, who then lived in Princes Gate and was shortly to move to a house here at No. 11 Queen's Gate Terrace. (fn. 95) Aldin also arranged private mortgages through his solicitors, Mayhew and Salmon. Another firm of solicitors, Dupasquier and Tremlett, introduced him to potential mortgagees among their clients. (fn. 96) His principal source of finance for Queen's Gate Terrace, however, was the County Fire Office, which offered him a loan of £50,000 on the security of the twenty houses. (fn. 97) Leases of all of them were granted to Aldin by Lord Harrington in 1857 at annual ground rents of £25 each. (fn. 98)
Like Jackson, and contrary to usual practice, Aldin decorated these houses at once (unless The Building News deliberately made a 'show house' seem more typical than it was). He also liked gold on white. In the drawing-rooms he used enrichments in relief on the ceilings, and panelled walls, and placed 'immense lookingglasses' over the white marble chimneypieces of 'quite unique' design. The dining-rooms were decorated in George Jackson and Sons' papier mâché. (fn. 99)
The houses 'went' quite well. Some were already occupied in 1858. (fn. 100) Six appear in the Post Office Directory in 1860 and all between Nos. 11 and 33 were in occupation in 1861, when the residents included Viscountess Strangford. (fn. 101) Nevertheless, in 1862 Aldin, who had been involved in the previous year in abortive negotiations to build a large hotel on the Alexander estate, conceived the idea of floating a company to convert some of the houses here for the same purpose. Lord Harrington subsequently consented, for a 'consideration' of unknown amount. (fn. 102) With the help of Aldin's solicitors a company was formed in 1862 but was under-subscribed. Another company, introduced in 1863, proved more successful in attracting investors, and six houses towards the western end of the terrace—conflated in their numbering to 37–41 (odd)—were converted into the South Kensington Hotel, which was later extended to the corner house. An extra storey was added, to the detriment of Harris's symmetry (Plate 83e).
Aldin already had mortgage commitments of £21,500 on the houses, and besides meeting these the company paid him about £16,000 in money and £20,000 in shares, as well as discharging his interest payments, so that it was estimated that he received altogether the equivalent of £62,000 for the property. In addition he was paid an improved ground rent of £150 on the sub-lease he granted to the company. Presumably in return he undertook the conversion as well as the original construction of the houses. The hotel opened in October 1864. (fn. 103)
A puff in The Builder announced that the hotel was 'divisible into larger or smaller suites' and was designed 'to suit the occasions of families visiting town for a lengthened séjour as well as the tastes of single or more limited parties. . . . The peculiar characteristic of this hotel is, that families can live as in a private house, and enjoy the advantages which community only can insure, in the use of a perfect kitchen, and the discipline of a complete staff of waiters and attendants, at comparatively moderate charges'. (fn. 104) Its first year or two were unprofitable, (fn. 96) but it was, and for more than forty years remained, the only residential hotel of its kind in the immediate neighbourhood, and it survived until c. 1954. (fn. 50)
Along the Gloucester Road frontage southward from Queen's Gate Terrace Aldin early built a symmetrical terrace of shops (Nos. 17–35 odd), with a public house, the Harrington Hotel, forming the centrepiece (Plate 84b). The carcases were leased to him in 1857 (fn. 105) and the shops occupied by 1860. (fn. 50) The Building News reported that all the lintels and shop-bressummers were of wrought iron. (fn. 99)
On the rest of his site in the early 1860's he built Nos. 1–20 and 32–46 (consec.) Elvaston Place, as a parallel road to Queen's Gate Terrace (initially closed at its eastern end, where the Commissioners' estate separated it from Queen's Gate), and No. 2 Queen's Gate Place, as well as coach-houses and stables in Petersham Place and Petersham Mews. The leases of the houses to Aldin were dated 1861–3. (fn. 106) In the early 1860's, however, sales of houses hereabouts went slower than before: the south-facing north side of Elvaston Place filled up between 1863 and 1867, but the south side only between 1865 and 1872. No doubt partly for this reason, and perhaps because of uncertainty about Elvaston Place's eastward termination, Nos. 26–31 Elvaston Place, No. 3 Queen's Gate Place, and Elvaston Mews were built later (leases 1866–8). The residents were of good standing (and included the solicitor who helped Jackson to his mortgages, Dalton Serrell, at No. 20 Elvaston Place). (fn. 107)
In this part south of Queen's Gate Terrace Aldin abandoned wholly stucco facings. Possibly the latter road, like Queen's Gate and Cromwell Road, was felt to demand stucco whereas Aldin preferred where he could to employ the facings of gaults or white Suffolk bricks, with cement or stucco dressings, that he was using nearby. He employed an interesting variety of façades. Including the Gloucester Road shops and the two double-fronted houses in Queen's Gate Place five main types occur. On the north side of Elvaston Place, for example, there are differences of height, frontage-line and style within a continuous terrace which was all leased to Aldin at virtually the same time. (The central 'build' of the terrace, at Nos. 8–13, seems to have been by a year or two the slowest to 'go' with prospective buyers.) The most elaborate houses, at Nos. 14–16, are reminiscent of Jackson's 'terminal pavilions' in Queen's Gate Terrace and were, no doubt, intended in Georgian fashion to close the vista up Queen's Gate Place. The types are identical with those Aldin had used or was to use on the Alexander estate—Nos. 8–13, for example, at Nos. 37–43 and 53–59 (odd) Gloucester Road, and Nos. 14–16 at Nos. 5–21 Queen's Gate Place (fig. 73 on page 312), while Nos. 2 and 3 Queen's Gate Place form half of a quartet of similar houses spanning the estate boundary.
In this area Aldin's work is also characterized by his rather distinctive use of arched and battered party walls, evidently to carry flues up at the rear of his houses, giving an effect equally noticeable in aerial photographs and from the lowly mews at the back (Plates 82c, 88c; fig. 47: see page 317).
At Nos. 17–35 Gloucester Road, where the symmetry was approved by The Building News, (fn. 99) the range looks a little like an essay in builder's architectonics. The leases to Aldin were witnessed for Lord Harrington and Jackson as lessors by Richardson. This may have been as the former's surveyor rather than as architect, but Richardson later said that Aldin had been one of his chief employers on the Harrington (as well as the Alexander) estate, (fn. 108) and if so it would seem that Richardson's hand must be visible in this part of Gloucester Road or in Elvaston Place as well as immediately to the south. Whether, alternatively, W. J. Mayhew played any part as architect is unknown.
Aldin, Richardson and Whatman: the Alexander and 1851 Commissioners' estates
Adjacent to the property just discussed lay parts of the Alexander estate (south) and of the 1851 Commissioners' estate (east). Aldin became involved in both quarters; so, also, did Richardson; and the development of those two estates on their adjacent frontages to Queen's Gate was further brought into connexion by the intervention of a Member of Parliament of entrepreneurial instincts, James Whatman. Under their auspices some of the first phase of building in the area took place, at Nos. 44–52 (consec.) Queen's Gate. For these reasons, as well as the architectural continuity of Aldin's work across the boundary of the part last discussed, this Alexander—Commissioners' territory will be reviewed before passing to the more southerly piece of the Alexander estate, where other important early developments were taking place.
H. B. Alexander was busy negotiating with potential building lessees for both these pieces in January 1857. His man of business was the surveyor, George Pownall, who was employed here seemingly in preference to John Blore, Basevi's successor as estate surveyor in 1845: Blore, however, was still acting for Alexander in the 1860's in matters relating to the older Thurloe Square property. (fn. 109) On the piece under review a bidder was evidently William Jackson, then completing his first commitment on the Harrington estate in Queen's Gate. These dealings proved abortive, however, and Alexander and Pownall concentrated on an offer by C. J. Freake for the southern part. (fn. 110) Jackson eventually found an opening on the Commissioners' land (see above), and in December 1857 Alexander concluded an agreement with Aldin instead. (fn. 111) As Aldin was already building immediately to the north this was a natural arrangement.
The land in question consisted of three fields, then being used for nursery or market gardens, with abutments on Gloucester Road, Cromwell Road and Queen's Gate. The area was fourteen and a half acres.
Aldin was to take the ground for ninety-nine years from Midsummer 1857 and to pay an annual rent rising from £75 in the first year to £2,300 in the twelfth and subsequent years, equivalent to about £159 an acre. He was to lay out the ground for building in accordance with an annexed plan, and build roads, sewers and paths which had to be finished by 25 March 1860. The plan provided for the laying out of a large square with a central garden (sometimes called Prince's Gardens c. 1858 but soon named Queen's Gate Gardens (fn. 112)): the road pattern was designed to fit in with already-existing roads on adjoining estates. A total number of 127 houses and 51 stables was envisaged by the plans, Aldin undertaking to build at least 10 houses and 5 stables every year. The houses facing Queen's Gate had to be the equal of Freake's houses 'now erecting' in Cromwell Road, that is, Nos. 13–19, and the rest were not to be inferior to those on the east and west sides of Thurloe Square. Plans and elevations of the houses had to be submitted for approval to Alexander's surveyor before building began. When the houses were covered-in leases would be granted to Aldin or his nominees at ground rents which were to be not less than £5 per annum and not more than one sixth of the estimated rack-rental. The time-schedule was fairly realistic and the whole development was to be completed by 25 March 1871. (fn. 113)
The layout featured the type of variant upon the 'square' that occurs in Ladbroke Square of the 1840's and, with further variation, in Onslow Gardens and which became so characteristic of Kensington. By this arrangement—usually (as here) given the designation 'Gardens'—the row of houses on one side of the square was turned to face outward to a road 'behind' that side, sometimes being numbered in that road and sometimes not. The houses presented their backs to the square and opened more-or-less directly onto its communal garden, which on that side was not separated from the houses by a foot-or carriageway.
The author of Alexander's layout may have been Richardson rather than his surveyor Pownall. The squares in Pownall's scheme of 1852 for the Villars estate had been conventional, and although Richardson himself did not specifically claim credit for the layout he said in 1868 that in and before 1859 he had 'acquired an extensive practical acquaintance . . . especially in connexion with the laying out and improvement of new squares and mansions in the neighbourhood of the site on which the buildings of The Great Exhibition of 1862 were subsequently erected', (fn. 114) and it is not obvious what other 'square' than Queen's Gate Gardens this may refer to. In 1860 Richardson's client Whatman, as will be seen, sent Richardson's elevation for Nos. 44–52 Queen's Gate to Prince Albert. Whatman reported to Richardson that it had been well received on the Prince's behalf by Sir Charles Phipps, 'and he wishes to know where I procured the plan of the ground as the Prince has not seen any so advanced. With your elevation and my letter of explanation I sent the tracing of the adjacent rows etc which you gave me in July [that is, 1859] and in reply I have said that you did so and that I believed the respective proprietors in letting their land a year or two before had fixed the number of houses to be built on them and the amount of ground rent to be paid to them for each house and I added that if I found on enquiry that I was mistaken I would inform him (Sir C. Phipps).' The 'adjacent rows' may have referred to the 1851 Commissioners' land in Queen's Gate, immediately north of Nos. 44–52, but the reference to the 'respective proprietors' makes it sound as if the tracing showed a wider area. (fn. 115) As it happens, there is a summary plan by Richardson in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects that may date from c. 1859, which shows this part of the Alexander estate as on the Alexander—Aldin agreement plan of 1857 and the Harrington and Commissioners' estates northward. The part of the Commissioners' estate then unbuilt is shown not quite as realized. (fn. 116) Conceivably this is, or is closely related to, the plan Whatman sent to the Prince.
Aldin began promptly by building a row of houses at Nos. 37–59 (odd) Gloucester Road, originally called Petersham Terrace (a placename 'borrowed' from the estate of Lord Harrington, whose son and heir was styled Viscount Petersham). He used the white Suffolk brick with Portland cement dressing that he was to employ extensively hereafter. The architectural form of the façade, which he repeated in Elvaston Place, was a simple late Georgian that gave the basic pattern on which houses in Queen's Gate Gardens and elsewhere were elaborated. Possibly it represents Richardson's hand, at his plainest, unless, indeed, W. J. Mayhew had some part in it.
They contain five storeys over a basement, with a clear room-height of thirteen feet six inches on the first floor. All had conservatories at the back. (fn. 117) Most of the houses were leased to Aldin in October 1858, (fn. 118) and all were occupied by 1860. (fn. 49) The mixed bag of comparatively youthful first occupants included two doctors, a future Lord Mayor of London, a daughter of Lord De L'lsle and Dudley, and a grandson of William IV and Mrs. Jordan. (fn. 119) (fn. 4)
Aldin next built a row of ten larger houses further south in Gloucester Road. The leases were granted to him in March 1859, (fn. 121) and the houses filled up, with some well-known family names, between 1859 and 1863. The first occupants included Sir James Outram and another grandson of William IV, the Earl of Munster.105 These houses, the site of which is now occupied by Campbell Court, were not numbered in Gloucester Road, but as Nos. 1–10 Queen's Gate Gardens (Plate 84c). Their small private gardens backed directly on to the communal garden.
Aldin then moved across to Alexander's Queen's Gate frontage. There he started work, probably early in 1859, on nine important houses—three to the north and six to the south of Queen's Gate Place, at Nos. 44–52 (consec.) Queen's Gate. But by the summer, when only the southern group was above ground and only one of those as high as the first floor, he had suffered the same misfortune, at about the same time, as Jackson (and other Kensington builders). He had, as Richardson said, 'overbuilt' himself, and ran out of cash. Obtaining credit from his suppliers became very difficult. (fn. 123)
Where Aldin had hitherto raised the capital he needed on the Alexander estate is not clear—some of it, certainly, by mortgages to private individuals, for example Nos. 55 and 57 Gloucester Road to a gentleman of Brentwood in January 1859. (fn. 124) He seems to have borrowed quite extensively from two gentlemen of Ledbury in Herefordshire, but his most important early backer appears to have been Major-General Lord William Paulet, from whom he had obtained at least £18,000 by October. (fn. 125) But virtually none of the twenty-two recently built houses in Gloucester Road had yet been occupied in the summer of 1859, and his other expenses had been heavy. Compared with the properties largely fronting on the roads made by the 1851 Commissioners this part of the Alexander estate imposed on the builder a relatively heavy burden of roadmaking and garden layout in its 'hinterland'. This had to be completed by March 1860 and alone cost Aldin £20,000. (fn. 126) Aldin was thus in the position, so common with his fellow builders, of being unable to finish his houses.
Nos. 44–52 (consec.) Queen's Gate (the Albert Houses), and northward to Queen's Gate Terrace
Aldin was saved by Richardson and Richardson's client, James Whatman (for whom Richardson had recast his country house at Vinters Park near Maidstone as well as altering his town house in Carlton Gardens). In the early part of 1859 Richardson was looking out, on Whatman's behalf, for signs of builders in difficulties, whose uncompleted house-carcases could be bought, finished, and disposed of at a profit. Failing to interest Whatman in Jackson's Hyde Park Gate houses, in July 1859 he persuaded him to relieve Aldin of these nine houses in Queen's Gate. Ten years later this trouble-laden decision issued in a Chancery case brought by Richardson against Whatman that gives an abundance of information (and perhaps misinformation) about these and adjacent houses. Because of this detail, because the nine houses are some of the most conspicuous in the area, and because Aldin by no means disappeared from the scene, this development will be noticed before returning to Aldin's other activities on the Alexander estate (Plates 31a, 85, 86a; figs. 49–52, 68 on pages 278–81, 310; and pages 315–16). (fn. 127)
Aldin agreed to sell his interest in the nine sites in return for £8,775, a sum calculated on the basis of improved ground rents to him of £40 or £45 for the individual sites (that is, over and above the £20 he paid to Alexander) at twentytwo and a half years' purchase. He had put £3,000-worth of work on the sites for which he had wanted compensation at cost price, but probably he had to make do with his improved ground rents. He required to be employed himself to finish the houses at an agreed rate by 'measure and value'. (fn. 128)
Whatman was initially looking for a gross profit of the order of £25,000, and seems (though all the arrangements between them were later called in question) to have agreed to pay Richardson as architect a reduced commission of 2½ per cent on cost, plus 20 per cent of the profit: that is, it was partly a speculative venture between them. Richardson thought three of the houses could be finished for £16,000 and, evidently, the nine for a corresponding amount of about £48,000. He anticipated a profit of £10,000 plus an improved ground rent (perhaps making £12,372 in all) from three houses, or £30,000 (perhaps £37,116 in all) from nine, and thought that they would all be sold in a year or two. It seems that Whatman wanted to sell for seventy-five years, leaving some fifteen years reversion for rack-renting by his heirs. (fn. 129) In the end, finishing all nine probably cost some £64,000, or perhaps even 'half as much again as you maintained they would', as Whatman told Richardson. (fn. 130) The roofed-in houses were leased by Alexander to Whatman in 1860, (fn. 131) but the first house was not disposed of until 1864. By 1863 Whatman was complaining that his profit was 'an ignis fatuus always in the distance and always unobtainable'. Richardson agreed—'I regret extremely having induced you to enter upon this building business'. (fn. 132)
Originally Richardson had thought the speculation 'a certainty'. (fn. 132) The Horticultural Society's ornamental garden was in prospect opposite, and generally his expectations were kept up by the knowledge of Prince Albert's interest in the locality—'it was his district'. (fn. 133) The failure Whatman and Richardson attributed to the ugliness and (from their point of view) belated removal of the 1862 Exhibition building (Plate 36a), to the effect of the American civil war, and to the Prince's death at the end of 1861. (fn. 132) This last had the immediate effect of curbing their expenditure on the houses, but a further cause of their difficulties was the inordinately high outlay that had already taken place. Richardson claimed that the internal fittings of the southern six were as good as those of Whatman's country house. (fn. 134) At over £7,000 a house it was difficult to recoup the cost when the early sixties saw a lull in the demand for houses here.
The blame for the extravagance was of course bandied between Richardson and Whatman. The former admitted to pressing the work on hastily 'to keep Aldin on his legs', (fn. 135) but chiefly blamed Whatman's indulgence of an ambition 'to illustrate and carry into effect certain designs and a style of architecture of his own creation'. (fn. 136) He said Whatman sent him more than one hundred and fifty letters with 'directions' and, often, sketches. (fn. 137) 'If, he wrote to Whatman, 'the exteriors are a little too ornamental it was owing to you always urging me to do something better than usual'. (fn. 138) And again, 'You were really the architect, myself simply the draughtsman', and 'you looked at the houses as an architectural hobby'. (fn. 139) He complained that Whatman resented the need to cut expenditure on Nos. 44–46, 'and—excuse me saying—have been in a bad temper since'. (fn. 135) Whatman refused to use a standard chimneypiece: 'Your objection to this was, that it was a great pilaster without either frieze architrave or cornice, quite true, but I was obliged to make a design of a very superior and expensive character to meet your wishes and criticism. Now the public care nothing about taste. So long as they have plenty of room, light, air and water closets all matters of taste are looked at with suspicion even dislike'. (fn. 140)
Whatman replied that he had suggested the introduction of 'French balconies', whereupon Richardson 'magnified them no doubt with good taste but clearly at a great and as it turned out an unknown cost'. Otherwise he had merely suggested improvements in the internal convenience of the houses—a lift, for example, which Richardson rejected as impracticable. Whatman claimed in fact to have tried to restrain Richardson's decoration. (fn. 141)
Richardson quotes a letter from Whatman in 1860 that shows how pleased the latter was with the elevations (Plate 85b; fig. 68 on page 310). 'It is a great advance on anything that I have heard of in France and I intended it to be so when I suggested the idea. To you, to me, and, I believe, to everybody else it is a new style of architecture or of building which is what I wished and aimed at in explaining my idea to you. I was satisfied you could carry it out well and I therefore explained to you my aim and object in suggesting it. Had you not adopted it I should have done it myself and certainly I should not have done it so well.' So pleased was Whatman that he suggested the design should be patented. (fn. 142)
This proposal understandably defeated Richardson, who instead had an illustration and puff inserted in The Builder, announcing Whatman's aim 'to improve and render more lively the street elevations ... by making the ironwork a principal feature in all the stories' (fig. 51). The balconies or window-guards at four levels give a distinct air of the Continental boulevard to these houses and The Builder commented that they were 'more like modern French houses than those usually seen'. (fn. 143) The Athenaeum liked the elevations and described them at some length. (fn. 144)
Richardson attributed Whatman's excessive zeal largely to his falling victim of a desire to gratify Prince Albert's ambitions for the area. Richardson's interest was in the profitableness of the undertaking but he said that Whatman now told him 'he did not mind losing £60,000 provided his aim was gained, that aim being the finishing the road to the Prince's satisfaction, with a view to certain personal objects of his own in which [Richardson] had no interest'. (fn. 136) Whatman denied this, but did have the elevations of Nos. 44–52 approved by the Prince in January 1860, although the estate of the Commissioners was, of course, only adjacent. (fn. 115) He obtained the Prince's leave to have them called the 'Albert Houses'—a courtly gesture promptly quashed by the Metropolitan Board of Works, which disliked subsidiary street names. (fn. 145)
In this spirit Whatman, with Richardson's encouragement, extended his holding in the summer of 1860 by taking the adjacent property of the Commissioners, extending north to Queen's Gate Terrace (called in the Chancery case, 'Plot A'). Jackson had previously agreed to take this, but being prevented from building by his financial difficulties had been dispossessed at the beginning of the year. Whatman had, like Jackson, to pay the exceptionally high ground rent of £1,500 for some two and a half acres (or £600 per annum per acre), but Richardson urged the acquisition partly because it gave the option to buy the freehold at thirty-one years' purchase of the ground rent. He also adduced the fact that Whatman would have the right to make a road continuing Elvaston Place to Queen's Gate. He estimated the value of this to Aldin, as the proprietor of the already laid-out part of Elvaston Place, at £10,000, and evidently thought this a factor manifestly to Whatman's advantage. (fn. 146)
According to Richardson, Whatman had wanted the style of Nos. 44–52 extended northward. The Prince approved, and when (in Richardson's version) he told Whatman 'he [the Prince] could not enforce this upon the royal commissioners, [Whatman] took the plot A himself to carry it out'. (fn. 115)
Richardson's calculations at that time, which he himself admitted might seem 'visionary', were that half Plot A could be built up with seventeen houses and eight stables at a cost of just under £80,000 to sell for £116,000. The improved ground rents would exceed the Commissioners' by £480 per annum, and the whole profit could be estimated at £47,400. (fn. 147) The difficulties in disposing of the 'Albert Houses' induced caution, however, and with the market sluggish Whatman obtained an extension of building-time from the Commissioners. (fn. 148) Richardson evidently toyed with the idea of putting up a cheap 'exhibition room' (in a meagre North Italian Romanesque) on the site for the period of the 1862 Exhibition, rather as Freake did in fact in Exhibition Road, but did not do so. (fn. 149) In early spring 1862 building began on Plot A, but only with five comparatively inexpensive houses not at all resembling the 'Albert Houses' and fronting on Queen's Gate Terrace at Nos. 1–9 (odd, fig. 74 on page 312). They were built by a tradesman called Bird at a contract price of £11,414. (fn. 150) The final total cost was said to be £15,500. (fn. 151) (The cost included three guineas for a 'Venetian book', possibly for Mr. Bird's guidance in detail or decoration. (fn. 152)) Nos. 3–9 were leased to Whatman in 1865 and No. 1 in 1867. (fn. 153) These conventional-looking houses were designed by Richardson, and although he recorded a compliment Whatman paid him in the Reform Club upon his drawings for them in 1861 he again complained of hindrance—'Your wish for a large window last week put aside 30 of these drawings. Your alterations yesterday put aside the whole set and gives me another three months' work'. (fn. 154) They also wrangled about the plans: Whatman said that prospective tenants objected to Richardson's planning which had to be altered to make the houses let: Richardson replied that the one house still unlet in 1869 was the one where Whatman would not allow him to provide a third room on the ground floor. (fn. 155)
They disagreed about 'marketing' methods. Richardson, who came to live in Kensington Square, and set up an 'office' at No. 47 Queen's Gate, wanted to sell or let houses cheaply at first, like most developers, to get some occupants in. Whatman, who in Richardson's view combined 'architectural fastidiousness' with 'excessive calculation of interest common and compound', (fn. 156) was more inclined to hold out for a price. For example, Richardson says No. 45 Queen's Gate cost £6,499 to finish but Whatman refused £8,000 for it: in 1869 he was asking £9,000. (fn. 157) Richardson would have sold No. 48 for £8,000 at 'a small sacrifice'. It was the 'show house' (and evidently had one fixed bath). Whatman asserted that it had cost £9,000, and eventually the sale was lost. (The prospective buyer had wanted 'two Sienna columns in the drawing rooms'.) (fn. 158) Richardson says Whatman rejected one offer because the applicant was a Jew. (fn. 108)
Some of the 'Albert Houses' were boarded up for five or six years, latterly with 'labourers' families' in occupation and the water cut off to save rates, until, in Richardson's opinion, 'in warm weather no lady could be taken into them'. (fn. 159)
In 1864 the 'Albert Houses' began slowly to let, but Richardson's and Whatman's disappointment was sharpened by the success of Freake in disposing of his houses in Princes Gardens (fn. 160) and caused a disagreement at law between them on the question of Richardson's rate of commission or share in the profits (if any) at the 'Albert Houses' and Plot A. This matter had reached such a state of confusion that Whatman thought his own solicitors had failed to apprehend the meaning of the 'very long and involved' correspondence about it. (fn. 161) Whatman accused Richardson of spending money he was not entitled to—a charge that threw him into a state of painful excitement. ('I have shown your late letters to my wife, she agrees with me that if they mean anything at all, they mean that you will dismiss me ignominiously on a charge of fraud . . . I will not bear the charge. I know that dismissal on such a charge would be ruin to myself and my innocent family, a sentence to me to follow Q. C. James to Yankee Land, where I won't go).' (fn. 162) (fn. 5) Richardson, who had told Whatman originally that 'I am ambitious of doing a good piece of business for my employer and getting the reputation of it', found the dispute becoming notorious and was, he says, 'publicly insulted by a leading member of his profession'. (fn. 164) By 1865 Whatman was employing Pownall as his surveyor, and using another house agent.
Through Pownall, not Richardson, he in that year effected a measure that Richardson had envisaged. This was to disembarrass himself of the rest of Plot A. Charles Aldin's finances were reviving (partly, no doubt, because of a big loan from the London Assurance Corporation, and partly because of the floatation of the South Kensington Hotel Company): he seems to have been a flexible strategist and not afraid to give someone a profit if it would pay him to do so. Having sold out of Queen's Gate in 1859 he now bought himself back in again on the Commissioners' frontage, where he could open Elvaston Place into the major road. If Richardson is correct Aldin gave Whatman in rent £200 per annum more than the £ 1,500 per annum due to the Commissioners for the whole plot. Calculating that the five houses Whatman retained could be sold on lease (evidently at about cost price) to yield an improved rent of £50 per annum Richardson decided that Whatman had made a profit of £450 per annum by the sale or (at twenty-two and a quarter years' purchase) £10,000. (fn. 165) Whatman, however, denied this.
He had himself by 1863 borrowed £60,000 from the Royal Exchange Assurance on the security partly of the 'Albert Houses'. The Queen's Gate Terrace houses became security later, and by the late 1870's he owed £95,000, but in these mortgages he was pledging other large properties as well, in London and Kent. (fn. 166)
Aldin called in the William Watts who had built Nos. 46–54 Queen's Gate Terrace, and, as there, Watts built to another's overall scheme. (He, also, borrowed money from the Royal Exchange Assurance. (fn. 167)) Watts received his leases of Nos. 31–34 Queen's Gate from the Commissioners (Whatman and Aldin being parties) in June 1867. (fn. 168) Aldin received leases of Nos. 27–30 and 35–41 Queen's Gate and of Nos. 21–25 (consec.) Elvaston Place, as well as of sites in Elvaston Mews and Gore Street, from the Commissioners in April-May 1868. (fn. 169) (fn. 6)
In a reviving market Richardson persuaded himself that Plot A now had a selling value of £150,000 (as he said in 1868) or £250,000 (1869 and 1870). (fn. 170) In 1869 he asserted that Aldin had already sold two houses freehold, one for £14,500 and one for £16,000. He thought the five Queen's Gate Terrace houses worth at least £35,675 freehold but asserted that Whatman was in fact asking about £45,000. Both agreed that the asking-price for the nine 'Albert Houses' was at least £87,000 leasehold plus improved ground rents amounting to £2,362 more. (fn. 171)
For these prospects of wealth (some, of course, rather 'visionary') Richardson thought he had 'laid the foundation' (fn. 172) and in 1868 he submitted a Bill of Complaint in Chancery against Whatman. Judgment was given in April 1870, by which time the case was evidently attracting attention. (fn. 173) The Master of the Rolls found Richardson entitled to commission at 2½ per cent on the cost of all fourteen houses (and back buildings), and to 20 per cent of any profits arising from them and also from the sale of Plot A. He ordered the houses to be sold with liberty for Whatman to bid for them. (fn. 174) Presumably he did so, as he still owned some of them in the 1880's. (fn. 175) The watchful Thomas Cundy III also picked up at least one small lot. (fn. 176)
Both Richardson and Whatman claimed a victory. (fn. 173) But for Richardson the case had had an unfortunate consequence. Aldin was naturally 'very sensitive', as Richardson said, on the subject of his commercial credit. In 1868 Whatman had quoted in his printed answer to Richardson the latter's reference to the reluctance of builders' merchants in 1859–60 to supply Aldin except through Richardson. (fn. 7) Thereupon Aldin ceased to employ Richardson as architect. Both died in 1871—the latter in reduced circumstances. (fn. 178)
The 'Albert Houses' continued to fill up with residents only very slowly. Six of the nine were still empty in 1870 (fn. 49) and it was c. 1876 before they were filled, with the seeming exception of No. 47 which does not appear in the Post Office Directory until 1887. Short leases of seven to twenty-one years seem to have attracted rents of between £400 and £545 per annum. (New leases in the 1880's were at lower figures of £350–£400 per annum.) (fn. 175)
Nos. 27–41 Queen's Gate were occupied relatively quicker, between 1868 and c. 1876. The first occupants included the Archbishop of York at No. 38. (fn. 122) The houses somewhat resemble those that Aldin was to build on the south side of Queen's Gate Gardens. Richardson says he had made many drawings for this part of Plot A, (fn. 179) but he does not say that they were used and the inference is therefore that they were not. There seem to be recollections of William Harris's range in Queen's Gate Terrace, and this was perhaps the nearest these two rather dull blocks came to having an architect.
Charles Aldin in the Queen's Gate Gardens area: the Alexander estate
The development of Queen's Gate Gardens which had begun with Aldin's leases of 1859 on the west side, in Gloucester Road, continued in piecemeal fashion until the last lease was granted in 1875 to Aldin's heirs after his death.
At an unknown date (but on paper watermarked 1851) Richardson made a set of plans for an unspecified house in Queen's Gate Gardens. (fn. 180) Richardson said in 1869 that Aldin had until the previous year been one of his chief employers on the Alexander estate. (fn. 108) He must therefore have had considerable responsibility for the appearance of the Queen's Gate Gardens area, though perhaps not of its south side or southward of that.
The lack of overall regularity shows, however, a falling away under Pownall's surveyorship in the standard of development on the Alexander estate since Basevi in the 1840's. (Pownall himself was living in Onslow Square by the time of his death in 1893, when he left some £25,000. (fn. 162))
Comparison with what was built indicates that Richardson's plans probably related to the north side of Queen's Gate Gardens. They were perhaps for the guidance of prospective tenants rather than the builder. Intended for a house to sell at £5,000 they show five storeys over a basement. On the ground floor was a twenty-two-foot dining-room at the front opening to a parlour which overlooked a light-well, and at the back was a twenty-fourfoot library (with a 'strong-room' off it), lit from a yard beyond. On the first floor a front drawingroom occupied the width of the house and opened to a back drawing-room with a balcony on to the light-well. In a rear wing over the library was a boudoir. This wing rose to a mezzanine between the first and second floors, containing a bedroom with a fixed bath and an adjacent water closet. On the second floor were two bedrooms and a dressingroom, and on two upper floors five more bedrooms, three with dressing-rooms. A secondary servants' stair rose from the basement to the mezzanine. There were two water closets (on the ground floor and mezzanine) and the one fixed bath. (The storey in the roof, with the female servants' bedrooms, is not shown.)
There is no elevation among the drawings that can be compared with Queen's Gate Gardens as built, to show whether Richardson was responsible for the façade. On the north side a careful symmetry was achieved, despite the fact that the houses were some six years completing and the leases were being granted to Aldin from 1860 until 1866 or later (Plate 88a; fig. 70 on page 311).164
Between 1861 and 1863 Aldin had also received leases of Nos. 24–28 at the northern end of the east side, (fn. 182) where the design is similar but the appearance different because of the mainly brick front (Plate 86b; fig. 71 on page 311). At Nos. 27 and 28 (leased to him in 1862–3) he used lotus-leaf capitals in the porches like those Richardson had designed for Nos. 47–52 Queen's Gate. By 1865 Aldin had also built some houses in Queen's Gate Place and was starting others there.
Early in that year he obtained an important advantage when he persuaded the London Assurance Corporation to advance £20,000 to him on a mortgage of sixty-one house-plots and forty-one stable-plots on this part of the Alexander estate. Few houses beyond those on the west side of Queen's Gate Gardens (Nos. 1–10) had residents in occupation by then, but those occupants were, as the Corporation's surveyor, R. Hesketh, said, people 'of wealth and distinction', and the South Kensington house market was evidently looking up again. Hesketh valued the prospective improved ground rents at £20,417 plus £14,880 for four houses in Queen's Gate Place then in building. His obviously conservative estimate was that the houses in Queen's Gate Gardens would let for £350 per annum, and elsewhere for £250 per annum, and he usually gave unfinished houses a prospective value when completed of about £3,700 leasehold. When, later in the year, Nos. 14 and 15 Queen's Gate Place were finished and let, however, he noted that the rents were £320 per annum, and valued them leasehold at £5,460 and £5,140 respectively. (fn. 183)
Over the next four years Aldin was able to free some of his houses from this mortgage when the value as security of those that were completed increased. The redeemed houses he often remortgaged to individuals, and succeeded in maintaining the essential cash-flow.
In 1866 the number of houses leased to him on completion, which had fallen to one in 1864, rose to thirteen and although fluctuating remained generally higher than before. By the time of his death in 1871 he had built his houses in Queen's Gate Place (being completed in 1868) and Gloucester Road (Nos. 61–69 leased to him in 1868, Plate 84c), and also in Queen's Gate Gardens (south side leased to him in 1869, fig. 78 on page 314) except on the east side south of No. 28. But in Cromwell Road he had built only two houses, Nos. 68 and 88A. (At No. 88 the little single-storeyed National Provincial bank was built under the supervision of the bank's architect, John Gibson, on back premises in c. 1882.) (fn. 184)
Aldin had died aged between fifty-one and fifty-two. His effects were valued at 'under £160,000'. (fn. 185) His elder son, Charles the younger, was aged about twenty-six, with a young son of his own, Cecil, who later recalled him as 'an enthusiastic amateur artist' (and himself became well known as a sporting artist and master of hounds). (fn. 186) Charles carried on the business, however, with his younger brother William (aged about twenty-one), and a trustee of his father's will. Alexander gave them an extension of time to complete the layout, (fn. 187) which they did by 1875. In Queen's Gate Gardens they built Nos. 29–39 (leased to them in 1872 and 1874, Plates 86b, 86c, 87), approximately in the style of the other houses on that side, and in Cromwell Road virtually all the two similar stuccoed blocks, Nos. 54–66 and 68–86 (even, leases 1870–4), that augmented the patchwork of the firm's styles by carrying the canted bay windows up to the second floor. In 1874 they set up in an office on their old site at the newly built No. 39A Queen's Gate Gardens: (fn. 188) in 1878 they had a stone-merchant's wharf in Chelsea.
As elsewhere in South Kensington, the proximity of unbuilt house-sites seems in itself to have been little deterrent to prospective occupants, and despite its piecemeal development the Aldins' houses around Queen's Gate Gardens attracted people of title among their first residents—the Earl of Strathmore, for example, at No. 41 there (1871), or the Countess de Salis at No. 65 Gloucester Road (by 1873, fig. 75 on page 313). Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth was the first occupant of No. 68 Cromwell Road in 1874. (fn. 50)
Hesketh's assessment of leasehold values here seems to have been more than borne out by the £5,800 Aldin obtained for No. 28 Queen's Gate Gardens in 1863 and the £6,800 his successors obtained for No. 64 Cromwell Road in 1875. (fn. 189)
In Queen's Gate Place the quartet of doublefronted houses at Nos. 1–4 (leased to Aldin on their completion in 1862, 1862, 1866 and 1864 respectively) are notable for their almost institutional severity, rather like taller and sternly revised versions of C. H. Blake's house of 1853 in northern Kensington. (fn. 190) The two on the Alexander estate were first occupied by a director (and son of a Governor) of the Bank of England, Bonamy Dobree, at No. 4, and a successful 'company lawyer', William Burchell, at No. I (fig. 55). (fn. 191) As solicitor to the Metropolitan Railway, whose most crucial Bill he steered through Parliament, Burchell seems a very suitable occupant of a big plain house here in South Kensington.
The rest of Queen's Gate Place was in one of the 'Elvaston Place' styles (Plate 89d; fig. 73 on page 312). When moving into No. 8 as its second occupant in 1876 Walter Bagehot felt the need to summon William Morris and Company to redecorate it. Morris took part of the work in hand himself, 'composing the drawing-room as he would an ode'. There were De Morgan tiles, and the inner hall was 'treated as a special feature'. Morris's slow progress meant that the work was unfinished when Bagehot died in 1877. (fn. 192)
(Sir) Charles Freake's work in Cromwell Road and Cromwell Place: the Alexander estate
From 1852 onwards there had been intermittent approaches to buying Alexander's land by the 1851 Commissioners (page 58) but by November 1856 Pownall was deeply involved in negotiations for an agreement with the builder Charles James Freake. (fn. 193) Alexander himself took an active personal interest in its preparation and was not content merely to leave things to Pownall. It was Alexander who insisted on some stiffening of the specifications to avoid giving the impression 'that a less substantial style of building than in Thurloe Square will be tolerated'. Such specifications, he argued, really benefited the builders, who knew how to make good use of 'the substantial style of building they were restricted to' as a selling point in discussions with prospective purchasers. (fn. 194)
In March 1857 Freake signed an agreement for the development of the Grove House site, including the terrace of eight old houses on the north side of Old Brompton Road called King's Head Row. He was to take the ground (less Cromwell Road itself) for a ninety-nine-year term, from 25 March 1857, at an annual ground rent rising from £200 in the first year to £850 in the fifth and following years (that is, more than £200 per annum per acre). An appended plan (probably made by Pownall) provided for the construction of a new north-south street (Cromwell Place) between Cromwell Road and Old Brompton Road, and the building of rows of terraced houses along the frontages of this new street and of Cromwell Road. A total of fortyeight houses was envisaged, considerably more, in fact, than were built. Before any houses could be erected Freake had to obtain the approval of Alexander's surveyor for the plans and elevations. Along the Cromwell Road frontage the houses were to be the equal of No. 63 Onslow Square, and elsewhere they were not to be inferior to the houses in Cranley Place, both examples being drawn from Freake's own building development on the Smith's Charity estate in South Kensington. Individual houses would be leased to Freake or his nominees at ground rents (to be determined by Alexander's surveyor) which were not to exceed one-sixth of the estimated rack-rental or be less than £5 a year. At least ten houses had to be built every year and the entire development had to be finished by Christmas 1864. (fn. 195)
Enough for more than enough) stables were provided for every one of the thirty-one houses that Freake actually built. These were mostly in Cromwell Mews, which Freake laid out behind the houses on the west side of Cromwell Place. Two of the houses in Cromwell Road (Nos. 31 and 35) had stables in their back gardens—both approached through Cromwell Mews—and a few of the houses on the east side of Cromwell Place were provided with stables on the west side of Thurloe Place Mews. (fn. 8)
Charles James Freake (1814–84) was undoubtedly one of the most important builders operating in London during the middle years of the nineteenth century, employing, in 1867, nearly four hundred men. (fn. 196) The surveyor, Sir Henry Hunt, described him to his and Hunt's friend (Sir) Henry Cole as 'the Cleverest of all the speculating Builders' who 'never departed from his word'. (fn. 197) Like Cubitt, with whom he was frequently compared, he made a great fortune out of speculative building, leaving on his death an estate worth some £718,000. (fn. 198)
Part of Freake's early life had been spent in Belgravia, where his father, a coal merchant turned publican and wine merchant, ran the Royal Oak in Elizabeth Street. (fn. 199) It was indeed in Belgravia, on the Grosvenor estate, that Freake appears to have begun his career in 1839 as Seth Smith's nominee for leases of houses in Chester Terrace. (fn. 200) But his most important work was in Princes Gate and Exhibition Road and elsewhere in South Kensington, particularly as building lessee on the Smith's Charity estate, around Onslow Square, from the 1840's to the 1870's. (fn. 201) Freake's houses seem often to have been taken, both formally and informally, as a standard of comparison for other builders' work. At the time of his death it was possible for an obituarist to claim that 'Sir Charles . . . "made" the neighbourhood of South Kensington, raising it from a neglected suburb to the rank of a second Belgravia'. (fn. 202)
His ambitions were social as well as commercial, and after 1849 he had disappeared from the 'commercial' section of the Post Office Directory and continued as an 'esquire' in the 'Court' section (where he had been listed since 1846). (fn. 9) In the census of 1851 he described himself as an architect as well as a builder, (fn. 203) and from 1853 he also appears as 'architect' in the directories at some professional address in South Kensington near wherever he was living. The notices of his house-building in periodicals, presumably inspired by him, imply (rightly or wrongly) that he was his own architect. In 1869 the Post Office Directory shows his chief assistant, James Waller, replacing Freake, under the same designation of 'architect', at Freake's office in Onslow Gardens.
From about the same time Waller (presumably the 'gentleman' of Putney who was made a trustee of Freake's will) is named in the district surveyors' returns as 'builder' of most of the houses erected under Freake's auspices. No doubt this was, as in the building of the National Training School for Music, a fiction (see page 219), but Freake was probably withdrawing from day-to-day business. In 1868 he stood unsuccessfully as one of the Conservative candidates for the Parliamentary constituency of Chelsea which included most of his property in South Kensington. (fn. 204)
Freake lived in a grand town house of his own building (Plate 91a). In the eyes of commentators he seems to have been set apart from his rivals by the fact that he owned the freehold of some of the properties on which he built. (fn. 205) His house, however, was leasehold, on this part of the Alexander estate at No. 21 Cromwell Road, where he lived from 1860. (fn. 49) In 1871 he was occupying it with his wife and daughter, three female relations, a butler, two footmen and seven other servants. (fn. 206) He became one of Sir Henry Cole's circle, and the latter's diary records attendances at the musical or theatrical performances staged by the Freakes, doubtless in the great ballroom at the back of their house: sometimes the Prince of Wales was present. (fn. 207) Freake's career culminated in the baronetcy given him in 1882, chiefly in recognition of his erection at his own cost of the National Training School for Music (Plate 71a) in 1874–5. The School was an object of interest to the Prince who, in the opinion of Gladstone's political secretary, had 'persistently and somewhat questionably (if not "fishily")' pressed Freake's name on the Prime Minister. But the secretary admitted that of all that clutch of baronets-designate Freake was the one who was 'known to ordinary fame'. (fn. 208)
From the 1850's Freake also had a house in Twickenham: by 1872 he was able to buy Fulwell Park there for £69,500, and in 1877 he built Twickenham Town Hall on a site he owned. At his death he possessed extensive estates in Twickenham and Kingston-upon-Thames. (fn. 209)
The first houses to be built by Freake on the Alexander estate under the agreement of March 1857 were Nos. 13–19 (odd) Cromwell Road (Plate 91c). They were started in about June of that year, and leased to Freake early in 1859. (fn. 210) Henry Cole looked them over at the time, without comment, but The Building News (a journal evidently sympathetic to Freake), which had reported the erection of these four houses, claimed to find a 'considerable amount of picturesque beauty displayed in their design'. (fn. 211) The treatment of the façades was more elaborate than in some of the other large houses already built by Freake in Exhibition Road, and The Building News especially admired the raising by an attic storey of the two end houses in the group (Nos. 13 and 19), thereby avoiding what it called 'the ordinary monotonous horizontal street outline "against the sky" '. (This effect is now diminished by the addition of an attic storey at No. 15.) Each house had a forty-one-foot dining-room and a library or morning-room on the ground floor, two drawing-rooms and a boudoir on the first floor, and eleven bedrooms. There was also a bathroom. (fn. 212) The houses were successful, all being in occupation by 1860. The first residents were a general, a colonel, a major and an admiral. (fn. 49)
In Cromwell Place Freake reverted to building houses with much plainer façades, that were equally successful (Plate 91b, 91c; fig. 67 on page 310). Those on the east side were all leased to him or his nominees in May 1859, and were occupied by 1860. (fn. 213) There were originally only four houses properly so called on this side, the two buildings at the northern end, described in the leases as consisting only of 'a basement and one square storey over', being first occupied as studios. (fn. 214) One has been heightened and united with the adjoining house, No. 4, probably in 1867, during its occupancy by the artist Sir Coutts Lindsay. (fn. 215) (fn. 10)
Studio-building became a feature of Kensington developments in the last quarter of the nineteenth century but its occurrence here is perhaps a sign of Freake's perceptiveness, and Cromwell Place attracted some artists who could pay his rents.
On the west side of Cromwell Place all the houses north of the entrance to Cromwell Mews were leased to Freake in May 1861, (fn. 216) except for No. 6, which was not leased to him until August 1862. One of the witnesses to that lease was Lewis Cubitt, the architect, though in what capacity he was acting is not known. (fn. 217) The first occupant of No. 7, in 1861, was Millais, who remained here until 1878. George Godwin, the editor of The Builder, lived at No. 6 from 1874 until his death in 1888. (fn. 122)
Work on the four houses south of the entrance to the mews (Nos. 15–18) was interrupted by the construction of the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways and they were not completed and occupied until between 1872 and 1874. (fn. 218)
So far Freake had followed fairly closely the agreed plan, his total of twenty-three 'houses' being only five fewer than originally envisaged. But along the Cromwell Road frontage, west of Cromwell Place, there was a considerable departure from the agreed plan. For the twenty houses in a terrace or row Freake was allowed to substitute eight very large double-fronted houses of which four were detached and the rest semidetached. (fn. 219) Originally called Nos. 1–8 Cromwell Houses, they were later renumbered as Nos. 21–35 (odd) Cromwell Road: Nos. 31–35 have been demolished (Plates 50b, 90c, 90d, 91a; figs. 56–57).
No. 33 was being roofed-in in September 1858, when the surveyor to the 1851 Commissioners was already referring to it as 'the Duke of Rutland's new House in Cromwell Road' and rejoicing in the 'character and value' his residence here would give to adjacent properties. (fn. 220) It was not until 1860 that the Duke moved from Princes Gate into the house (which was not in fact leased to Freake and sold by him to the Duke until 1861) (fn. 221) but the surveyor's remark seems to confirm, what might be conjectured, that Freake secured at least one worthwhile potential customer before proceeding far with this change of plan. The first house to be leased to Freake, however, was No. 35, in May 1859, (fn. 222) followed by Nos. 31 and 33 in May 1861. (fn. 223) Photographs taken during the erection of the building for the 1862 Exhibition on the opposite side of the road show No. 21 finished (and occupied) in October 1861 and Nos. 23 and 25 in carcase in March 1862, when Nos. 27 and 29 were not even begun. (fn. 224) In February 1863 the leases for Nos. 21 to 29 were all granted to Freake. (fn. 225)
As has been mentioned, Freake was not afraid of the effect of his taking one of the first houses himself and occupied No. 21 in 1860, when the only other resident in this row was the Duke. (fn. 122) Freake remained there until his death. These houses were not occupied quite so promptly as Freake's earlier ones. A reason was doubtless the Exhibition building on the other side of the road. In March 1861 he had told the Exhibition's instigator, Henry Cole, that 'he was reconciled to the building opposite'. (fn. 226) Freake must have known that the house-builder and contractor, John Kelk, had attributed his own slow sales in Princes Gate to the presence of the Crystal Palace of 1851 opposite, but perhaps he did not expect the 1862 building to be so oppressive to Cromwell Road or to survive until the autumn of 1864. Before and during the Exhibition itself a formidable congestion of traffic was generated in Cromwell Road (Plate 90d), (fn. 224) from which the smaller houses in Cromwell Place were saved by a bar across their road, which was then still private. (fn. 227) (fn. 11)
The Duke of Rutland left No. 33 quite soon, in 1865. (fn. 49) (A champion of the Exhibition building gossiped that Lord John Manners's animus against that structure in the House of Commons had derived from his brother's dislike of it.) The other houses filled up between 1863 and 1868. Their first occupants included the Earl of Durham, Lord Cairns and Lord Blantyre. (fn. 49)
Freake liked to sell the leases of these big houses, and obtained a high price and a high improved ground rent. He sold Nos. 23–29 between 1864 and 1870 at prices ranging from £9,500 to £11,000, for terms of seventy-six to eighty years, and reserved ground rents of £85 per annum at No. 23 and of £140 per annum at Nos. 25–29. At each his own ground rent to Alexander was only £18, so that at No. 25, for example, he was obtaining (on the usual basis of twenty-two and a half years' purchase for the capital valuation of an improved ground rent) the equivalent of £13,745, for a seventy-six-year lease with a ten-year reversion for his heirs at the end of the term. (fn. 229) By 1913, however, the asking price for a thirty-year lease of Nos. 31 or 35 was down to £5,000–£5,500, and for a forty-year lease of No. 33 to £6,500. (fn. 230)
In Cromwell Place Freake sold No. 8 in 1861 for £3,915 at the original ground rent for the rest of his term, No. 4 in 1865 for £4,700, and No. 17 in 1872 for £3,150. He granted a lease of No. 1 in 1860 for £214 10s., himself paying a ground rent of £24: the lessee at No. 3 sub-let at £254 in 1865. It was presumably a sign of the decline in the status of this part of South Kensington that in 1887 the lessor of this last house could obtain only £173 per annum. (fn. 231)
Freake's own balance-sheet is unknown. Between 1857 and 1861 he raised very large sums of money (certainly £80,000 and perhaps £140,000) from the County Fire Office on the security of his property in Princes Gate, (fn. 232) and also borrowed some £126,000 from the Royal Exchange Assurance, (fn. 233) but it is not known how he financed his undertakings on the Alexander estate in particular.
It is not only by their size that Freake's 'Cromwell Houses' are distinguished from most of the surrounding houses. Unlike those, the 'Cromwell Houses' were provided by Freake with quite large back gardens (Plates 1, 31a). Freake also showed unusual restraint in their architecture, whoever was the designer (Plate 90c; fig.56). The principal decorative features are the segmental and triangular pediments to the firstfloor windows, which have balustraded balconies, a heavy bracketed cornice with a deep floral frieze, and long and short quoins. The backs of the houses are plain almost to a fault, relieved only by a colonnaded terrace at ground-floor-level with steps down to the gardens. (The ground level at the front of the houses was about ten feet above the level of the gardens at the back.) In 1868 The Building News could look back regretfully to the 'greater taste' displayed in these houses 'than is to be seen elsewhere in South Kensington', and recommended them to its readers as 'worthy of especial notice in these days when nothing is supposed to go down with the public but French roofs, Gothic gables, Italian parapet balustrades with vases, forsooth, atop, parti-coloured materials, and polished granite'. (fn. 234)
Although the houses were not all alike even when first built, evidence relating to Nos. 25, 27, 29 and 35 suggests that most or all had the same simple and rather Palladian plan (fig. 56). On entering No. 35, for example, a large staircase compartment lay on one side. Ahead, a corridor led through to a door on to the terrace. Opening off this corridor, beyond the staircase compartment, was a square library lit from the garden. On the other side of the house a 'noble dining-room' extended its full depth, but was subdivided by a pair of columns (probably, as elsewhere, Ionic in scagliola). The first floor was wholly occupied by a suite of two (or three) intercommunicating drawing-rooms and a spacious staircase-landing. The three upper storeys (one at No. 35 being an early addition) contained eight main bedrooms, a bathroom, boxroom, housemaid's closet, cistern room, and five servants' bedrooms. The usual domestic offices were in the basement, from which a servants' staircase rose behind the main staircase. (fn. 235)
Astonishingly, Freake's houses, big as they were, were not always big enough. No. 35 was the one house to remain a long time without a permanent occupant, and perhaps for that reason had been raised a storey between 1861 and 1868, before any resident appears there in the Post Office Directory. (fn. 236) An extra storey was added to No. 27 in 1872 (fn. 237) and to No. 15 in 1876. (fn. 238)
In 1873 Richard Norman Shaw prepared designs for an internal remodelling of No. 23 for a new occupant, C. L. Norman (a partner in Baring Brothers), but it is uncertain whether they were carried out. (fn. 239) Alterations and extensions were made at No. 25 for Gottlieb Jacobson by George and Peto in 1880 and some of this work seems to survive. (fn. 240)
Freake's lead in Cromwell Road had meanwhile been followed very shortly by the building of other houses immediately to the east. These were raised on the 1851 Commissioners' estate by another builder of Pimlico-Belgravian provenance.
John Spicer in Cromwell Road: 1851 Commissioners' estate
In September 1858, when Nos. 13–19 Cromwell Road were under construction, the 1851 Commissioners invited tenders for a building lease of the triangular piece of ground to the east, between (in modern terms) Cromwell Road and Cromwell Gardens on the north and Thurloe Place on the south. (The circumstances of this from the Commissioners' point of view are indicated on page 62.) By January 1859 an agreement had been concluded with John Spicer of Denbigh Street, Pimlico. (fn. 241) According to his obituary in The Builder in 1883 he had begun his activities in Pimlico in 1845, and in 1856 had taken a large quantity of building land in South Kensington on the Gunter estate. He continued until the end of his life with building operations in parts of South Kensington to be discussed in a future volume, but, like Freake, made his home in a house he built in this area—although not on Freake's scale of grandeur. After giving his address for a time as 'Park Lodge, Thurloe Square' (probably the house on his triangle visible in early photographs and a former appendage of Brompton Park), he moved in 1867 into his new house, the comparatively moderate-sized No.1 Cromwell Gardens (Plate 92b; fig. 58). There he remained until (or nearly until) his death in 1883. His wife, his son (a solicitor) and three daughters lived with him, but very unusually in this neighbourhood he had only one 'general servant'. The Builder, whose editor was in a good position to know, remembered him with respect. 'Thoroughness was with Mr Spicer a first consideration. Few men have given more thought or care to their business, and his desire always was that whatever he undertook should be done in the best manner.' (fn. 242) Evidently this paid: he left nearly £300,000. (fn. 243)
Spicer agreed to take the land—little more than one and a quarter acres—for ninety-eight years from Michaelmas 1858 at a ground rent rising in four years to £650 per annum. The ground had a high proportion of road frontage and Spicer was paying a very high annual rent of some £520 per acre. At that time Exhibition Road did not continue southward of Cromwell Road, and the whole of the main frontage from Freake's houses eastward nearly to what is now the apex of the triangular public garden in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum was intended to be covered by nineteen or twenty houses, with seven more on the southern frontage. Spicer was required to build five houses in the first two years and cover the whole ground in four. The houses fronting Cromwell Road should be architecturally 'not less important than those then already erected', that is, Freake's Nos. 13–19. Each was to cost not less than £2,000 to build. (fn. 244) In May 1859 Prince Albert's secretary said that the Prince thought Spicer's plan for the houses 'will do very well' (the Commissioners' secretary endorsed this as being approval of 'designs' for the houses). The Prince, however, had recurrent doubts how Spicer would cram so many houses on the site. (fn. 245) The Kensington Vestry rather diffidently expressed regret that the site was to be built over at all, as it would prevent 'an additional improvement in this very important locality'. But their objections were brushed aside, (fn. 246) and by 1860 Spicer had built seven houses at the west end of his frontage, which were leased to him in August and October. (fn. 247) In 1861 he assigned three of the seven to another builder, John William Sanders of Guilford Street, St. Pancras, who also took leases of stables in Thurloe Place Mews. (fn. 248)
Spicer later claimed that the seven houses had each cost him on average £5,000 to build. (fn. 249) Of the seven four survive as Nos. 1–7 (odd) Cromwell Road (fig. 69 on page 311). They were not very rapidly occupied, perhaps because of the uncertainty about the location of a railway station hereabouts. They first appear in the ratebooks in 1864–6, when the first occupants included Viscount Walden and Elizabeth Bowden, an important benefactress of Brompton Oratory. (fn. 12)
The applications to the local authorities on Spicer's behalf in connexion with these houses were made by an architect, William Scurry, of Scurry and Wright, Salisbury Street, Strand (the firm that later, in 1872, remodelled the elevation of the Adelphi Terrace. (fn. 251)) Scurry was referred to in 1862 as 'Mr Spicer's Architect': (fn. 252) probably, therefore, he designed these houses.
Photographs of 1861–2 show the still-unbuilt eastern part of Spicer's triangle walled-off, with his board visible in one, advertising 'first-rate' houses to be built upon the site (Plates 4b, 6a, 7a, 36b). (fn. 253) But two developments prevented the full execution of Spicer's programme, and realized some of the vestry's hopes. Early in 1860 inhabitants of Thurloe Square had approached Henry Cole as secretary of the Department occupying the site on the other side of Spicer's triangle, to have the eastern apex kept free of building. (fn. 254) The Commissioners were not now unsympathetic, provided the inhabitants and the Department found the funds to compensate Spicer. (fn. 255) Negotiations finally succeeded in March 1865, when he assigned the ground in question back to the Commissioners, who granted occupation of it to the Department so long as the Government held the Department's main site for purposes of science or art. Spicer was paid compensation of £4,104, a sum that the Department supplied for the purpose by selling a piece of ground in Exhibition Road to Freake, (fn. 256) who subsequent to April 1867 (fn. 257) built three houses upon it (Nos. 70–72 Princes Gate). In 1866–7 Spicer made the road on the west side of the ground that leads to the west side of Thurloe Square, inhabitants of which contributed to the cost. (fn. 258) The open space, the maintenance of which was transferred in 1936 from the Office of Works to the Borough Council, (fn. 259) is kept as a public garden. Secondly, at about the same time, the establishment of the South Kensington Station caused Exhibition Road to be extended across a more westerly part of Spicer's triangle. The Metropolitan Railway Company bought out Spicer's interest in the site of the road for £7,500, agreed to pay £150 of his ground rent to the Commissioners, and pulled down the easternmost of his new houses (Plate 36b), which lay in the path of the road. In 1865 Spicer began to build seven houses on the island site, optimistically called Cromwell Gardens, left between the intended new road on the west and the other new road bounding the open triangle on the east. Later that year he agreed to buy the reversionary freehold from the Commissioners for £1,900 and it was conveyed to him or his solicitor in March 1867, subject to the continued use of the ground for domestic residential purposes only. (fn. 260)
The houses were finished by 1867 and Spicer promptly moved into No. 1. (fn. 261) But perhaps because of nuisance caused by the slow progress of the railway company in making the Exhibition Road extension the other houses took ten years to fill up.
Spicer claimed, truthfully or not, that the two houses facing Exhibition Road together cost him £16,000. (fn. 262) The arrangement of the seven demonstrates the willingness of Spicer to pack a site closely that alarmed the Prince (fig. 58). It was ingeniously done, with each of the five larger houses being given three rooms on the ground floor (a dining-room, morning-room and study) and a separate servants' staircase. (fn. 263) The main front of the range was orderly and quiet, the flank fronts more complicated and lively (Plate 92a, 92b). The architect, by his own account, was the assistant district surveyor for this area, Alfred Williams, who in 1868 said he had 'for several years' acted as Spicer's 'architect and surveyor'. In his official capacity he also inspected their construction. (fn. 264)
The houses soon became unattractive as private residences owing to the growth of heavy traffic. They were bought by the Office of Works in 1912 for some £38,500 and among various uses proposed for the site was to house a new Royal College of Art in c. 1913 (see page 260). Instead, the houses were leased from 1920 for occupation by the Institut Francais until the site was sold in 1937 to the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee. The houses were then demolished and it was proposed to build a National Theatre here. Sir Edwin Lutyens made designs in 1937–8 (fn. 265) but nothing was done and in 1974 the site remained vacant.
William Douglas in Queensberry Place, Cromwell Road and Queen's Gate: 1851 Commissioners' estate
On the other side of Freake's holding in Cromwell Road lay the 1851 Commissioners' third and largest detached piece of property. Of some five and a quarter acres it was taken, at the same time as Spicer's and Jackson's plots, by a builder whose work in this area was to be extensive, prolonged and, in the end, spectacularly unsuccessful.
William Douglas's ground had relatively more 'hinterland' than Jackson's or Spicer's on the Commissioners' estate, with correspondingly more need of roadmaking. He paid relatively less per acre than they, although his ground rent rose in four years to the still high figure of £1,250 per annum, or some £238 per annum per acre. (fn. 266)
Although born in Scotland Douglas had come to London in 1837 while in his early twenties and began business in Lowndes Street as an upholsterer in 1841. (fn. 267) By 1858 he described himself also as an auctioneer and house- and estateagent, and it was in this last capacity that the Commissioners' surveyor thought of him. (fn. 268) But from 1859 he called himself builder instead of upholsterer in the Post Office Directory, with a 'Hans Town works' off Sloane Street, as well as his Lowndes Street office, although in the census of 1861 he still declared himself an upholsterer, with forty employees. His private residence was then in Fulham: (fn. 269) later he moved to Barnes.
In October 1859 Prince Albert was toying with the idea that Douglas should be encouraged to build a hall for the removal to South Kensington of the 'Smithfield shows' of the Agricultural Society, for which the requirement to build houses only would have been waived. (fn. 270) But nothing came of it and by December 1860 the Prince approved Douglas's plans for a layout of terrace-houses, after requiring him to widen the road he was proposing to make. (fn. 271) This was probably Queensberry Place although by 1862 Douglas had also made an abortive road joining Queensberry Place to Queen's Gate. A drawing of 1862 (Plate 31a) suggests that the Commissioners may have hoped to carry the line of the road eastward across Freake's holding from Alexander. (fn. 272) But by 1868 the building of Nos. 8 and 10 on the west side of Queensberry Place is evidence that the road had been abandoned. (fn. 273)
The Commissioners' surveyor, Hunt, found Douglas troublesome—'the only Tenant on the Commissioners' Estate who treats all my expostulations with defiance and contempt' (fn. 274)—and Douglas seems to have gone to work rather leisurely, perhaps because of the depressing prospect of the Exhibition building opposite. In Queensberry Place (which he named after a mountain of his native Dumfriesshire (fn. 275)) Douglas was finishing his first four houses early in 1862: (fn. 276) north of Queensberry Mews West and Queensberry Way he received leases of newly covered-in house-sites in 1863–5 (east side) (fn. 277) and 1867–8 (west side), (fn. 278) and south of that crossing he received leases in 1869. (fn. 279) Until at least 1895 the southern end of Queensberry Place was separated from Harrington Road by a small planted area. (fn. 280)
In Cromwell Road Douglas built Nos. 37–41 (odd), east of Queensberry Place, by 1868 (fn. 281) (leases dated 1863, 1870 (fn. 282)), when he had also built the first three west of Queensberry Place (fn. 281) (leases 1866 (fn. 283)). The remaining leases westward to the corner of Queen's Gate and southward to No. 123 in that road were granted to him in 1870–2 (figs. 72, 81 on pages 312 and 315). (fn. 284) The bricks for these houses probably came from Douglas's own brickworks near Southend, having been barged up the Thames to Chelsea. (fn. 275)
In 1859–66 the Scurry and Wright who evidently acted as Spicer's architects were acting as Douglas's surveyors and may therefore have designed at least the earlier of his houses. (fn. 285)
Douglas's houses in Queensberry Place (Plate 114b) appear in occupation in the ratebooks and Post Office Directory between 1865 and 1873. From 1866 to 1870 he himself had an office in the small house originally called 'the Lodge' at No. 1 A that is now conspicuous by rebuilding in red brick. (fn. 286) The first private occupants of what was then a cul-de-sac included people of title, six army officers, Prince Murat at No. 15 in retreat from the Commune, and that centrally SouthKensingtonian figure, Lyon Playfair, at No. 4. The last bought the freehold from the Commissioners in 1869 before moving in. (fn. 287) Perhaps encouraged by the occupation of Queensberry Place, Douglas, who in the 1871 census called himself a builder employing some two hundred men, (fn. 288) bought the freehold of almost all his ground from the Commissioners in 1874 for an unknown sum, the conveyance of most of the plot being evidently made to his solicitor. (fn. 289) The greater part was promptly mortgaged to two barristers of Lincoln's Inn but the sum for which it was security is not known. (fn. 290)
It is known that in 1879 he sold a seventyseven-year lease of No. 41 Cromwell Road to a doctor for £6,900 at a ground rent of £75 per annum. (fn. 291) But Douglas also let houses furnished, evidently retaining his early interest both in house-agency and in furniture-making. (fn. 292)
Nos. 37–41 (odd) Cromwell Road had been first occupied in 1869–71, (fn. 49) but Nos. 43–57 appear in the Post Office Directory only from 1874 onwards. In Queen's Gate occupants appear even later, between 1877 and 1888, and unlike in Douglas's other ranges included no people of title. The canopies and shutters (now removed) that are shown in old photographs were probably added as an afterthought of Douglas's, perhaps to constitute a selling-point in a dull market (Plate 89c). He himself dated the decline in the value of his properties to about 1878. (fn. 293) By the 1880's this end of Queen's Gate was moving into the doldrums (and at No. 122 nearby the first use was actually as a private hotel (fn. 50)). Douglas himself had occupied the corner house, No. 57 Cromwell Road, as his office from 1878, and his daughter recalled in the 1950's how the fast horses that he chose for his yellow-and-black carriage brought him in from their big house at Barnes in a quarter of an hour. When he moved out c. 1885 No. 57 was turned into flats. (fn. 294) The evidence of surviving features inside the houses on this part of the Commissioners' estate is that the relatively limited success of Douglas's work with potential private residents in the 1870's was not due to any skimping of the interiors, where the joinery (perhaps because of his experience as an upholsterer) was quite ingenious (fig, 59) and well made.
Douglas's story is continued later (see page 305). Meanwhile, on the west side of Queen's Gate the range of houses opposite Douglas's had been built earlier and occupied more promptly, as part of the development of the largest piece of the Harrington estate. Many builders were involved (including Douglas himself), and with one exception work had begun about 1865.
The Commercial Bank of London in southern Queen's Gate and around Stanhope Gardens: the Harrington estate
Most of this area was developed under the direction of the Commercial Bank of London. This rather unusual state of affairs stemmed from the bank's involvement with William Jackson as his mortgagee at the time of his near-bankruptcy in 1859. His position was saved by the bank's willingness to continue to advance him money, but this led eventually to its taking the management of his building operations out of his hands. The bank itself had failed in 1861, when It was found that a ledger-keeper had embezzled a considerable sum, and, in order to prevent a run on the bank, its customers' accounts were transferred to the London and Westminster. (fn. 295) It continued in existence, however, in order to realize its assets, which were largely tied up on the Harrington estate, to provide a return for its shareholders. This process took over fifteen years, in the course of which, according to its chairman, the Commercial Bank virtually changed its character from a banking concern to a property company. (fn. 296)
By 1863 the Commercial Bank's directors had decided to foreclose on Jackson, but entered into an agreement with him whereby he would not oppose the decree of foreclosure, receiving back in return (in 1865) some land on which he was to build at least twenty houses. At first he obtained only the frontage to Gloucester Road between Crownwell Road and the east-west arm of Stanhope Gardens, where he had his own builder's yard. Later, however, part of the west side of Stanhope Gardens was also made available to him. (fn. 297) Jackson, in turn, secured new financial backers in Ransom, Bouverie and Company, the bankers, of Pall Mall, (fn. 298) and continued building in various parts of South Kensington well into the 1870's. (fn. 301)
In their development of the land the directors of the Commercial Bank had the services of Thomas Cundy III as architect and surveyor. Cundy succeeded both his father and grandfather of the same name as surveyor to the Grosvenor estate and is chiefly noted as the architect of domestic buildings in eastern Belgravia and of several churches in the West End of London. (fn. 299) This was not the Cundy family's first association with the area. Charles Fishlake Cundy, his brother, (fn. 300) was a solicitor who took assignments of some leases and was involved in several other transactions in his professional capacity, particularly those of the County Fire and Provident Life Offices. (fn. 301) He was also Freake's solicitor, (fn. 302) and both he and Thomas Cundy held shares in the County Fire Office. (fn. 303) As has been seen, in 1860 Thomas Cundy had purchased an unfinished house in Queen's Gate Terrace from Jackson, (fn. 304) and had applied to the Kensington Vestry for permission to build sewers in Queen's Gate Mews. (fn. 305)
When the bank took over Jackson's building land in 1863 the time limit specified in Jackson's agreements with the fifth Earl of Harrington was shortly due to expire, and some houses needed to be built quickly to fulfil the agreements. At first the estate refused to extend the limit and the bank's directors decided to build several houses, for which Cundy provided the designs, under contract. (fn. 306) In 1866, however, an agreement was concluded between the seventh Earl on the one hand and Herbert Taylor and Jonathan Hopkinson, two of the bank's directors, on the other. (fn. 307) Although the terms of the agreement are not known, they presumably allowed the directors to proceed in a more leisurely fashion and the land was developed partly by contract and partly by letting to speculative builders.
One partial exception to the general pattern was the house, No. 52 Cromwell Road (now demolished). As early as 1859 this was leased by Lord Harrington, on Jackson's nomination, to Edward Potts, a solicitor, and was occupied by 1860. (fn. 308) It differed in architectural character, and in its possession of a sizeable garden, from houses of the neighbourhood. The house was unique in being built in single isolation (as can be seen on Plate 31a), and remained so for ten or more years. It was in fact probably the house of which Frank Fowke tells an anecdote—that it was built where it was because its owner thought he had discovered the intended line of the underground railway and hoped to be compensated for disturbance. (fn. 309) (fn. 13)
The only other houses on this part of the Harrington estate to be built north of Cromwell Road were the big terrace-houses at Nos. 53–67 (consec.) Queen's Gate. The leases were granted by Lord Harrington between 1866 and 1869. Those of Nos. 53–57 were made to the builder William Watts, and those of Nos. 63–67 to another builder, George Smith of Cathcart Road, South Kensington. The intervening Nos. 58–62 were evidently built by or for H. W. Marler of Charles (now Seville) Street, Lowndes Square, variously described as estate agent, auctioneer and surveyor. (fn. 310) Nevertheless the range originally formed a symmetrical composition. This can never have been easily discerned and has lost its southern terminal feature with the demolition of Nos. 65–67. The architectural treatment is similar, in simpler form, to that of the earlier Nos. 20–26 Queen's Gate. Whoever was the architect was presumably responsible for the unusual and picturesque arrangement of Nos. 9–37 (odd) Queen's Gate Place Mews at the rear, which also seems foreshadowed in the earlier Queen's Gate Mews. His identity is uncertain but it is perhaps significant that Thomas Cundy III had had some active role at the earlier site (see page 268).
South of Cromwell Road, Stanhope Gardens (Plate 89a) was probably laid out to a design of Cundy's of c. 1862. Some substantial changes, however, seem to have occurred thereafter, as both a plan on a deed of 1863 and the Ordnance Survey of 1865 strangely show a rather smaller central garden already laid out within boundaries inconsistent with the house-building that was shortly to follow: by 1872 the present extent of garden was established. (fn. 112) Although Cundy almost certainly did not design all of the houses built under the Commercial Bank's auspices, several can be confidently attributed to him. Nos. 1–18 Stanhope Gardens, on the east side (now demolished, Plate 89b), were built to his designs by William Higgs, the notable Lambeth-based contractor, (fn. 313) who in 1865 submitted the lowest tender, at £52,789 (or some £2,933 each). (fn. 314) Nos. 19 and 20 (also now demolished) were not erected until about 1874 when building leases of them were granted to William Douglas, (fn. 315) although whether they were erected to Cundy's designs is not known. The delay in building these final two houses in what was originally a twentyhouse terrace was no doubt caused by the construction of the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways (now the Circle and District lines), which run in a tunnel to the south of No. 20. (fn. 15)
Nos. 32–43 Stanhope Gardens, on the south side, appear also to have been mostly built under contract, and their close similarity to the now demolished houses on the east side leaves little doubt that they were designed by Cundy (fig. 79 on page 314). Leases of these houses were granted by Lord Harrington either to the first occupants or to Herbert Taylor, with the exception of Nos. 33 and 34 which were leased to John Wilkins of Pimlico, builder. (fn. 317)
Cundy was also the architect of Nos. 68–87 Queen's Gate. Henry Jeffery, another builder who had been working in Pimlico, undertook to build the first six of these houses, Nos. 68–73, as a speculation, and when he applied successfully to the London Assurance Corporation in 1866 for a loan of £15,000 to enable him to complete the houses he stated that they were being built 'under the plans and supervision of Mr. Thomas Cundy'. (fn. 318) The cost of building each house was estimated by the company's surveyor to be £3,000, and Jeffery had also to pay on each a ground rent of £7 to Lord Harrington, and an improved ground rent of £23 (presumably to the Commercial Bank), which he proposed to buy at twenty-three years' purchase for £3,174 for the six houses. The surveyor estimated that the leasehold value of the six houses when completed would be nearly £30,000 and that they provided ample security for the loan. (fn. 319) (fn. 16) The builder of most of the other houses in this terrace is not known, but two leases were granted to the H. W. Marler who was also involved further north in Queen's Gate. (fn. 321) The two southernmost houses, Nos. 86 and 87, were built under leases granted to Freake in 1870, (fn. 322) but he adhered to Cundy's designs. The Queen's Gate houses filled up in 1868–75. Lord De L'lsle and Dudley was a first occupant, and the others included a number of army officers. The Herbert Taylor at No. 84 was perhaps the bank director. (fn. 122)
The main characteristic of the houses south of Cromwell Road which are known to have been designed by Cundy is a restraint in the treatment of the stuccoed façades which contrasts sharply with the ornate style favoured further to the north and is more closely related to the simpler Italianate of Belgravia. Undoubtedly, however, these houses in the vicinity of Stanhope Gardens were intended to be more modest than those nearer the Park, and the directors of the bank probably required Cundy to produce designs for houses which would be sufficiently competitive with those of other developments nearby. On the whole Cundy's sense of display was reserved for bringing out the rhythm of his terraces. At Nos. 68–87 Queen's Gate, for example, where the articulation can be discerned, albeit with difficulty, through the leaves and branches of the trees in front, a successful composition has been created by the projection and recession of its parts and subtle variations in the use of dressings, particularly pediments.
The remaining houses in Stanhope Gardens were erected by various speculative builders under leases granted by Lord Harrington with the consent of Herbert Taylor, on behalf of the Commercial Bank, between 1870 and 1876. On the south side Nos. 21–23 were leased to Freake, (fn. 323) and Nos. 24–31 and 44–45 to Douglas. On the west side Nos. 46–56 (fig. 83 on page 315) were also leased to Douglas, (fn. 324) Nos. 52 and 53 being separated by a garden over the line of the underground railway. The lessee of Nos. 57–62, together with Nos. 81 and 83 Cromwell Road, was Jackson, (fn. 325) Nos. 59–79 (odd) Cromwell Road, which back on to Stanhope Gardens, were originally intended to be built by the George Smith who had earlier built some houses in Queen's Gate, but Smith's interest was assigned to Charles Aldin, probably by mortgagees, in 1869, and Aldin proceeded to build this orderly terrace (figs. 76–77 on page 313). (fn. 326) The rear elevation facing Stanhope Gardens is fully stuccoed with canted bays rising to the third floor, and the houses at the ends and centre are singled out for more elaborate treatment to give a unified composition to the whole façade. Canopies were later added over the first-floor windows of alternate houses. On the Cromwell Road front both the elevational treatment and the articulation of the terrace are similar to those in other terraces known to be by Cundy, and he may well have provided the designs for Aldin here. Aldin's successors are known to have let one house, No. 67, to its first occupant, a naval captain, for £360 per annum, in 1873. (fn. 327)
Stanhope Gardens seems to have attracted occupants fairly readily, most houses filling up between 1868 and 1875. Obviously very respectable, few, however, were people of title. (fn. 50)
In Gloucester Road Jackson was the building lessee in 1866–9 of Nos. 71–85 (odd), which were designed in the restrained manner of Thomas Cundy in Stanhope Gardens, and of Nos. 97–117. (fn. 328) Nos. 119–123, south of Stanhope Gardens, were built by Douglas under leases of 1876. (fn. 329) The shops at Nos. 87–95 were built in 1891 (George Edwards, architect). At No. 101 the shop front in brown and cream faience (fig. 60) was put up by J. Kinninmont and Son for Chard and Sons, butchers, in 1893. (fn. 330)
The three houses at Nos. 88–90 Queen's Gate on the Harrington estate south of Stanhope Gardens were built under leases to Freake in 1870. (fn. 331) If the plan of No. 89 in 1903 is representative they had the double reception rooms on the ground and first floors that Freake favoured elsewhere. (fn. c4) He sold a seventy-three-year term in that house for £5,100 in 1875, and the purchaser resold the residue of the term for £6,750 in 1879: by 1903, however, the price for a fortyfive-year term was down to £1,850. (fn. 332)
Freake, Douglas and others in the Queen's Gate—Harrington Road—Old Brompton Road area
Queen's Gate, when first laid out in 1854–6, had ended at a point some one hundred feet south of the present intersection with Harrington Road and Stanhope Gardens. The continuation southwards to Old Brompton Road took place in 1870–1 when Freake, who himself was freeholder of some land in the area, entered into arrangements with neighbouring landowners to enable him to construct the extension and build on the land on either side (fig. 3; plans B, C in end pocket). Freake's freehold included a strip of land on the east side of Clareville Street to the south of the site now occupied by Our Lady of Victories School: he had acquired this land, which had at one time been part of the Lee estate, in 1861. (fn. 333) Adjoining this was a detached piece of the Alexander estate which included the curtilage of the Swan Inn in Old Brompton Road. Further to the east lay the four-acre estate of Mills' Charity, and to the south of this was another small piece of land belonging to Freake which fronted on to Old Brompton Road and where a group of cottages had stood for several years. Freake surrendered his land in Clareville Street to H. B. Alexander and in exchange the latter gave up sufficient land for the roadway and conveyed a small plot on its east side to Freake. The trustees of Mills' Charity provided the remaining ground necessary for the roadway and also exchanged land on its east side for Freake's strip fronting Old Brompton Road, which was thrown into a widened roadway when building took place. (fn. 334) As a result of these exchanges Freake acquired the freehold of the site on which he later built Nos. 108–112 (consec.) Queen's Gate.
In 1870 Freake entered into building agreements with both H. B. Alexander and the trustees of Mills' Charity. (fn. 335) Under these agreements, on the west side of Queen's Gate Freake built Nos. 91–99 (consec.) on the Charity's land (fig. 80 on page 314), and Nos. 100–107, together with Manson Mews and Nos. 2–6 (even) Clareville Street, on the Alexander estate, the line of the backs of Nos. 91–99 following the boundary between the two estates. On the east side, apart from his freehold houses, Freake was responsible for the building of Nos. 113–116 Queen's Gate, all Manson Place (fig. 82 on page 315), Nos. 62–92 (even) Old Brompton Road and the western side of Reece Mews, all on the Mills' Charity estate. For his building land from Alexander, amounting to about one acre, Freake paid an ultimate yearly ground rent of £450, and for that on the Charity's lands, about three acres in extent, he paid £500, for ninety-nine-year and ninety-seven-year leases respectively. (fn. 336) Although all the leases were granted to Freake, notification of the commencement of building operations was usually given to the district surveyor by James Waller, who used the same professional address as Freake—No. 48 Onslow Gardens (see page 288).
Freake's houses at Nos. 91–116 Queen's Gate filled up fairly quickly, appearing in the Post Office Directory between 1872 and 1879. The first occupants included the same sprinkling of titled people, M.P.'s and army officers as further north, although the area went down rather sooner. (fn. 50)
To the north of No. 116 Queen's Gate is St. Augustine's Church, the site of which had been conveyed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners by Mills' Charity in 1869. (fn. 337) Further to the north were Methwold's Almshouses, then in the ownership of the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways; they were demolished by 1874, when the land on which they had stood was sold to the builder William Douglas (Plate 77b, 77c). (fn. 338) Between the sites of the church and the almshouses lay a tiny triangular plot belonging to Mills' Charity on which No. 117A Queen's Gate was built; this plot was leased to Freake in 1876. (fn. 339) Nos. 118–122 (consec.) Queen's Gate were built on part of the almshouses' site, presumably by Douglas, by 1880. (fn. 201)
Apart from Bute Street, which had been laid out in the 1840's (see page 17), the development of the triangular area bounded by Reece Mews Harrington Road and Old Brompton Road followed shortly after the building of the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways. The decision to form a wide street (the present Harrington Road) over the tunnel carrying the railway lines in continuation of the southern arm of Stanhope Gardens (then called Harrington Road) was made by (Sir) John Fowler, who was engineer to both companies, in order to provide better access to the new South Kensington Station. At the same time, and for the same reason, Exhibition Road was extended c. 1867 southwards to the present Thurloe Street. (fn. 340)
In 1874 the railway companies sold the land on each side of Harrington Road, which was now surplus to their requirements, to various builders. William Douglas secured all of that lying on the north side. (fn. 341) For the most part this was only a narrow strip which he was able to add to land he purchased from the 1851 Commissioners in the same year to provide a usable frontage to the new road. (fn. 342) Although he began building houses and shops here almost at once, (fn. 201) the development of the north side of Harrington Road extended into the late 1880's.
On the south side, the land between Reece Mews and the backs of houses in Bute Street, extending southwards as far as Old Brompton Road, was sold to Matthew Scott of Earl's Court Gardens, builder. (fn. 343) He, in turn, sold a small piece of land to Freake to enable the latter to build the east side of Reece Mews. (fn. 344) Scott built houses in Harrington Road (now demolished), stables in Kendrick Mews and the grim terrace with ground-floor shops now numbered 48–60 (even) Old Brompton Road (Plate 81c), which, in 1875, replaced the mid-eighteenth-century Prospect Place. (fn. 201)
To the east of Bute Street several builders were involved. John Cawley of Kilburn built the west side of Glendower Place, (fn. 345) while the remaining sites were divided between George and Joshua Gregory of Paddington, Thomas Thompson and Thomas Smith, also of Paddington, George Stevens of Notting Hill and George Colls of Bayswater. (fn. 346) The initial development of this small area took place quite rapidly after 1874 (fn. 201) but there has been some redevelopment since.
Save for the southern end of Queen's Gate (where the house-styles follow the grand, stuccoed manner established further north, Plate 118b) and St. Augustine's Church and Vicarage (see pages 349–53), there is virtually nothing of note in the area. The north side of Harrington Road near Queen's Gate is perhaps a partial exception. The former Queen's Gate Hall, now a Christian Science church, is at least curious both at front and back, with an obscure buildinghistory probably dating from c. 1881–6. (fn. 347) The hall itself, whose meagre 'Gothic' windows can be seen from Queensberry Mews West, has no frontage to Harrington Road and is approached (like some eighteenth-century theatre) through the ground and first floors of the house at No. 42 Harrington Road (Plate 101e; fig. 61). This, however, is in an idiosyncratic red-brick-andstone domestic Baroque style formerly represented also in houses built at Nos. 12–26 Harrington Road by William Douglas, the original freehold owner of the hall site. No. 42, like the hall behind, blocks what had been intended as an entrance to Queensberry Mews West, which accounts for the splayed corners of the slightly earlier flanking houses at Nos. 40 and 44. (fn. 348) Inside, the entrance hall and staircase are mainly R. A. Briggs's work of c. 1889, executed by Douglas's son John, and the single-storeyed stone street-front, though different from Briggs's drawing of that year, may be largely his work. (fn. 349) Between Nos. 40 and 42 are the vestiges of an external liftshaft of ornamental iron and glass added in 1897 by J. A. J. Keynes, architect, for use by a photographer's patrons. (fn. 350) Westward, Nos. 44 and 46 appear to have suffered the unusual misfortune of a collision.
Apart from Nos. 48–60 Old Brompton Road the houses erected here in the 1870's are mostly sad representatives of the last phase of the Italianate tradition, especially those with groundfloor shops, for which the most debased varieties of that style appear to have been especially reserved, while later piecemeal redevelopment has added little of interest.
Although many of the buildings consisted of ground-floor shops with living accommodation above, there were also several terraces of houses with their own porches and bay windows on the ground floor. Difficulties seem to have been encountered in disposing of these and in 1894 a valuation report on three houses at the corner of Glendower Place and Harrington Road stated that if they were put up for sale it was unlikely that any buyers would be forthcoming. (fn. 351) Many became hotels or boarding houses within a few years of building, and by the beginning of this century others were converted into, or replaced by, blocks of flats. The tendency towards the proliferation of hotels, which is now one characteristic of the area, began at an early date. The present Egerton Court, Nos. 2–12 (even) Old Brompton Road, was built as an hotel, the 'Princes Gate Hotel', in 1874 (J. G. Hall of Hammersmith, architect), (fn. 352)and the erection of the Norfolk Hotel on the north side of Harrington Road in 1888–90 (W. H. Scrymgour, architect) (fn. 353) brought the larger establishment to the area. More typical, however, were the hotels formed by joining terrace houses together.
Freake in Exhibition Road
Until the building of the Mormon church in c. 1960–1 a terrace of nine houses numbered 64–72 (consec.) Princes Gate, extended between the entrance to Princes Gate Mews and the Huxley Building on the east side of Exhibition Road (Plate 58a). Four of them, Nos. 69–72, remain. The nine were built by Freake on freehold land that he acquired in two pieces. Originally it formed part of the 1851 Commissioners' estate, but, as has been seen, the northern part, including the site of Nos. 64–69 and of Princes Gate Mews, was taken by Freake in 1856 in exchange for other land (see page 57) and the southern part, including the site of Nos. 70–72, was acquired from the Science and Art Department in 1865 (see page 294 and fig. 18 on page 53). Freake first used the land for the spacious layout of Princes Gate Mews in 1859 (Plate 2b). The houses came later and first appear in the Post Office Directory between 1868 and 1872. They continued (with Nos. 59–63, occupied in 1867–73) the sequence of Freake's houses down Exhibition Road (but numbered in Princes Gate) and clockwise round Princes Gardens, that were already in occupation. The first residents included Viscount Bury, Lady Clinton and Lord Methuen. Lord Acton appears at the still surviving No. 72 from 1877 to 1890 (fn. 50) (and on moving in seems to have wanted Sir Henry Cole to obtain access for him through the Museum grounds as a short cut to Brompton Oratory (fn. 354)). Joseph Chamberlain was his tenant here for a year or two c. 1880–2. (fn. 355) Like most of Freake's undertakings these houses were a success, at least in the eyes of their occupants, who did not very readily move out of them (see page 319).
In contrast, the last development of the 'stucco classic' mode to be noted, on the 1851 Commissioners' estate at the north-east end of Queen's Gate, shows this tradition of house-building becoming untenable.
Douglas and others in Queen's Gate, north of Prince Consort Road: 1851 Commissioners' estate
The year 1872 was in some ways the heyday of old 'South Kensington', with its central garden and array of great new display-buildings; and the big private houses had, after a lull, been rapidly filling again. In circumstances indicated on page 67 the Commissioners decided to lease part of their main rectangle for building, and by 1874 had agreed to dispose of all of the east side of Queen's Gate north of the present site of Prince Consort Road (plans b, c between pages 54–5). They obtained extremely high ground rents averaging some £2,000 per annum per acre.
At the corner of Queen's Gate and Kensington Gore a site of less than a quarter of an acre was, in the summer of 1873, informally agreed to be let for £745 per annum to E. L. Samuel, a Liverpool banker, who had two houses built here, No. 200 Queen's Gate and No. 25 Kensington Gore (Plate 92c, 92d, 92e). (fn. 356) The latter was intended for his own occupation. The builders of these oldfashioned-looking houses were Thorne and Company of Chelsea, (fn. 201) and the architect the rather elderly S. W. Daukes (1811–80), who had successfully used various styles in the 1840's, in Gloucestershire and elsewhere. (fn. 357) He submitted his plans to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1873 on behalf of Hunt, Stephenson and Jones, the firm of surveyors headed by the Commissioners' own surveyor, Sir Henry Hunt. (fn. 358) What bearing this has on the choice of Daukes is obscure, but an imprimatur of some kind by Hunt seems implied. Not everybody approved (see page 67).
The corner house, No. 25 Kensington Gore (now the Yugoslav Embassy), which in Daukes's design had its corner turret finished by a dome that probably remained unbuilt, (fn. 359) was leased in 1875 to Samuel and occupied by him until his death in 1877. (fn. 360) His widow assigned it in 1878 to Sir Albert Sassoon, who lived here until his death in 1896. (fn. 361) In aid of his conspicuous hospitality he had internal and external alterations made in 1878 by J. Macvicar Anderson (and other alterations later). (fn. 362) The library disappeared and the dining-room grew larger, being, rather aptly, fitted up with Messrs. Gillow's Jacobean woodwork from the Prince of Wales's pavilion at the 1878 Paris Exhibition. (fn. 363) Much of the elaborate interior survives.
No. 200 Queen's Gate was leased to its first occupant after Samuel's death, in 1879. (fn. 366) Nos. 197–199 (consec.) were built in 1874 by George Trollope and Sons: in 1875 Trollopes themselves took the leases of Nos. 197 and 199, and the first occupant of No. 198 the lease of that site. (fn. 367) The stylistic uniformity with No. 200 seems to show that Daukes was the architect (Plate 98a). In plan his houses followed established precedent.
Nos. 186–195 (consec.) were agreed for in 1873 by Sir Henry Hunt's old bête noire William Douglas (then about to buy the freehold reversion of his first holding from the Commissioners), but Douglas was perhaps just a little slower to build, and had very different success. He had been joined in the business by his eldest son, also William, and was probably about to retire when in 1876 his son died, aged only about thirty-two. Obliged to continue in business William Douglas senior never really succeeded in adapting himself to the changing requirements of the time. (fn. 368) He received leases of Nos. 186–188 Queen's Gate at the southern end of his plot, south of the newly laid out Bremner Road, in 1876, and then, evidently building southward from No. 196, received leases of Nos. 195 to 189 between 1877 and 1880 (Plate 88b). (fn. 369) Douglas was then, as he afterwards claimed, 'a very wealthy man'. (fn. 370) He employed on these houses, which he named Albert Gotha Mansions, the architect R. A. Lewcock of Stoke Newington, later a publichouse practitioner. Lewcock used a plan of the standard type for each house, varied only at the corner sites (figs. 87–88 on page 327). The fronts, originally canopied at first floor, were given more plasticity than earlier and the skyline rather more animation (fig. 62, house on left). But although less conservative than Daukes's houses their stucco dressing made these seem still to be essentially the same terrace houses as before, and they evidently just missed their market. By that time The Building News was damning 'the dismal and insufferable barrack-like monotony that pervades these parts', (fn. 371) and, whether or not for that reason, Douglas had the utmost difficulty in disposing of the houses. This was perhaps increased by their greater proximity than Nos. 196–200 to the Exhibitions held in 1883–6 in the Horticultural Society's garden. (fn. 370) Nos. 186–188 had to be turned into flats in 1888 and Douglas's other houses only filled up between 1892 and 1898, after some, like Nos. 191 and 192, had actually been refaced and otherwise altered to make them acceptable (see page 342 and fig. 62).
In 1888 Douglas, described as builder, contractor, and furnished house proprietor, was adjudicated bankrupt. (fn. 372) He was then working as a builder also in Chelsea (Lots Road, Elystan Street and Sprimont Place), and living, he said, at a rate of £1,000 to £1,200 per annum; this was in his house at Barnes with a music room, and employing a coachman apiece for himself and his wife. (fn. 373) One of the two trustees appointed to administer his estate was an obscure architect Richard Tomlinson who, if himself a creditor, may be conjectured to have supplied Douglas with some of his designs. (The creditors, it was said, 'heartily sympathized' with Douglas: in the end their best prospect was 6d. to 1s. in the £.)
The Official Receiver accepted that Douglas kept the books usual in the building trade but Douglas said that he maintained no running profit and loss account. 'From time to time he drew conclusions in his own mind as to the value of his property, but there was no formal balance sheet made out.' Douglas attributed his failure simply to the depreciation in the value of his house property from about 1878, and the burden of his mortgage payments. 'The bankrupt said that last year he had a successful year, but the year before he had no sales, and his bills becoming due, some confusion occurred which brought on the disaster.' Even so, and although it was said that his principal creditors had had long business relations with him, it seems necessary to postulate some desperate eleventh-hour borrowing to explain the growth of his liabilities to the total of £657,156.
William Douglas died in 1893. But the family connexion with Kensington continued. His son, John Douglas (1862–1928), took over the builder's yard in Chelsea, and set up an office in 1888 at No. 12 Exhibition Road, where a builder's and estate agent's business was carried on under his name until 1939. (fn. 374) He built some of the last residences in Queen's Gate and was, in fact, the contractor employed to reface and alter some of his father's houses. He became a Kensington Borough Councillor, as did his own son, Quentin, who was Mayor in 1952–3.
On the occasion of William Douglas's bankruptcy the Official Receiver reported that the builder's perfectly usual book-keeping 'did not sufficiently disclose his business transactions and financial position'. (fn. 370) In no case has it in fact been possible to ascertain much about the real financial or economic history of the builders passed in review above. Perhaps Douglas merely continued in his trade too long, into the period of overbuilding large houses in this part of London already noticed in the Estates Gazette in 1878. (fn. 375) The extreme disparity in the builders' fortunes is striking. Back in 1859 The Building News had celebrated 'the fearless speculative energy' of Freake, Jackson and Aldin, (fn. 376) and the unlovely streets they built are a monument at least to nerve, grit and resilience.
Perhaps if Aldin had lived he would have put up a public building at cost price, and become a baronet. As it was, it was only Freake who attained the heights more commonly reserved for public-works contractors like Kelk and Lucas.
The ground landlords' rewards can be partially assessed by the sum of their ground rents, remembering, however, that these or the freehold reversions were being sold off piecemeal and, on the 1851 Commissioners' estate at least, from an early period. Excluding the Commissioners' main rectangle, the four chief landowners (the Commissioners themselves, the Earls of Harrington, the Alexander family and Mills' Charity) received, by agreements concluded between 1852 and 1870, £11,500 per annum in ground rents for some sixty acres, or about £191 per annum per acre. The Commissioners obtained a much better rent than anyone, averaging £400 per annum per acre (and, on their main rectangle, much more still). The Alexander family received on average £182, Mills' Charity £166 and Lord Harrington £100.
At the rule-of-thumb factor of thirty-one years' purchase of ground rents, these sixty acres outside the rectangle acquired, by the process of leasing them for ninety-nine years, a nominal capital value of, perhaps, £356,500 or some £5,940 per acre. On the Commissioners' estate, the land acquired by freehold purchases had cost on average some £3,100 per acre, and by the same rule of thumb the part outside the rectangle acquired a nominal value of some £12,400 per acre.
The cost of building only a very few of these 670 houses or so can be known even conjecturally. The successful contractors' tender for Nos. 1–9 Queen's Gate Terrace in 1862 averaged £2,283 each, and that for Nos. 1–18 Stanhope Gardens in 1865 averaged £2,933: the five Queen's Gate Terrace houses seem to have averaged £3,100 for final cost when finished. These houses, especially in Stanhope Gardens, were comparatively moderate-sized. The surveyor for prospective mortgagees in 1866 thought Nos. 68–87 Queen's Gate would cost about £3,000 to build. Richardson thought Jackson's houses at Nos. 1–19 Queen's Gate cost between £4,000 and £5,000 each or a little less, 'allowing him his 25 per cent.' (The significance of the gloss is not clear as Jackson was, of course, not working there by contract but as the building lessee.) (fn. 377) Less disinterestedly, Spicer said in 1867 that his Cromwell Road houses had cost him £5,000 each and two of his Cromwell Gardens houses £8,000 each. Nos. 47–52 Queen's Gate seem to have cost about £7,100 each to finish from a little over ground level.
The selling prices, of course, varied with the nature of the interest sold but some figures indicate their range. Various long leases of normal houses in Queen's Gate and Queen's Gate Place in the 1860's were sold at 'improved' ground rents for between £4,500 and £5,500, or were estimated by mortgagees at this value. But some £7,740 was obtained for a Queen's Gate house with a coach-house at the rear at its original ground rent in 1859, Freake's big houses in Cromwell Road sold for £9,500–£11,000, and Whatman at least asked similar prices for his 'Albert Houses' in Queen's Gate. Not disinterestedly, Richardson said in 1869 that Aldin had sold two houses in the same road for £14,500 and £16,000.
On the other hand by 1894 the value of three houses in Harrington Road was down to little more than £2,800 each, (fn. 378) and other instances occur of an apparently real decline in the value of the standard South Kensington house by the nineties.
The sources of the builders' capital cannot be quantified comparatively. Institutional lenders such as banks and insurance companies were obviously important, but so also were private individuals. As elsewhere, the solicitor played an important role, like G. J. Mayhew who advanced 'thousand of pounds' to Aldin. (fn. 379) Sometimes the solicitor was channelling loan capital from various sources among his clients, but not always.