Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
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The Harrington-Villars Estate
In 1850 some eighty-seven acres of the area covered by this volume were owned jointly by two aristocratic families, one of English and the other of Swiss and French extraction. One moiety was then in the possession of the fourth Earl of Harrington and the other in the ownership of the Baron and Baroness de Graffenried Villars. Additionally they owned a detached eight-acre piece of land between Old Brompton Road and Fulham Road to the west of Brompton Hospital. This joint estate was divided into two separate portions in 1850, and the partition was confirmed by the Inclosure Commissioners in the following year.
The core of the Harrington-Villars estate was the much smaller holding which had originally been attached to Hale House (or Cromwell House as it was later known) in the early seventeenth century. This house, which is described in greater detail below, stood on a site now occupied by the roadway of Queen's Gate, immediately south of the intersection with Cromwell Road. In 1606 the house and some adjoining copyhold land was acquired by (Sir) William Blake, citizen and vintner of London, (fn. 1) who later obtained further property in the area and at his death was the owner of an extensive estate in Brompton and Knightsbridge. (fn. 2) When Sir Walter Cope purchased the manor of Earl's Court in 1610, Hale House and up to thirty acres were specifically excluded from the lands which passed into Cope's possession. (fn. 3) Within a month of the sale of the manor the fee simple (in effect the enfranchisement) of this property was sold for £80 to four men who were presumably acting as trustees for Blake. (fn. 4)
Blake died in 1630 (fn. 5) and, after the death of his widow several years later, the Hale House property was purchased in 1645 for £841 by William Methwold, a City merchant and director of the East India Company. The acreage involved was not specified in the conveyance. (fn. 6) Methwold had been president of the East India Company's factory at Surat from 1633 to 1638 at the handsome salary of £500 per annum, and from 1643 until his death in 1653 he was Deputy Governor of the Company. (fn. 7) Methwold's second wife was a sister of Sir William Blake, (fn. 8) and during his ownership, and later during that of his widow, the Hale House estate was evidently extended by the acquisition of copyhold land, chiefly from the Blake family. (fn. 9) Shortly before his death Methwold built a group of almshouses on his land (see below), and by his will he charged the upkeep of these on sixteen acres of freehold land which he had purchased from John Grant. (fn. 10) It is possible that these sixteen acres were included in the conveyance of 1645, for Grant was not only a party to the sale of Hale House, but also received the bulk of the purchase money, perhaps as a mortgagee of the Blakes. (fn. 6)
When in 1754 William Methwold's great-grandson, Thomas Methwold, sold the estate the acreages specified in the deed amounted to fifty-two acres of freehold and twenty-two acres of copyhold land. (fn. 11) The purchaser was (Sir) John Fleming of St. George's, Hanover Square, who came from a military family and had himself served as a captain a short while previously. (fn. 12) His commanding officer had been a mortgagee of Thomas Methwold and in his will had bequeathed the mortgage interest to Fleming, who later contracted with Methwold to buy the estate. The purchase price was £8,312, but Methwold secured only £2,500 after the mortgage debt had been deducted. (fn. 11)
In January 1763 Fleming bought an adjoining twenty-eight acres to the north. This land, for which he paid £3,640, consists in modern topographical terms of the northern part of Queen's Gate, Queen's Gate Terrace and Elvaston Place. It was then in the ownership of a William Lloyd of Beaconsfield, who had inherited it from a cousin, John Milner. (fn. 13) In the early seventeenth century it had formed part of the holdings of the Muschamp family and had passed through various hands before being purchased by John Milner's uncle in 1699. (fn. 14)
Fleming was created a baronet in April 1763, but he died in November of the same year. He had no male heirs and under his will his property passed into the joint ownership of his four daughters. (fn. 15) Two of these died in childhood, however, and the two surviving daughters, Seymour Dorothy and Jane, acquired a moiety each. (fn. 16) After a survey made in 1772 the extent of their lands was found to be approximately ninety-five acres. (fn. 17)
In 1775 Seymour Dorothy Fleming married Sir Richard Worsley, baronet, a Member of Parliament, Privy Councillor, and from 1793 until 1797 Minister to the Republic of Venice. (fn. 18) Worsley died in August 1805, apparently without leaving any surviving children, and within two months Seymour Dorothy, who had been separated from her husband for some time, had married again. Her second husband was Jean Louis Cuchet, a native of Geneva who had long been living in England. (fn. 19) Both husband and wife changed their names to Fleming, Cuchet becoming known as John Lewis Fleming. He also acquired British nationality in order to enable him to own property in England. (fn. 16)
In 1818 Seymour Dorothy Fleming died in Paris, (fn. 20) and under the terms of their marriage settlement her moiety passed to her second husband. (fn. 16) Although the couple had occupied a house on the estate since shortly after their marriage, (fn. 21) they may, in fact, have made Paris their principal home after the Bourbon Restoration, and in 1821 Fleming was created a baron by Louis XVIII. (fn. 20) In the previous year he had married the daughter of a French count, and he died in Paris in 1836. (fn. 22)
By his will John Lewis Fleming left his English property to the daughter of his second marriage, Césarine Amable Louise Fleming, who, in 1841, married Denis Bernard Frédéric, Baron de Graffenried Villars of Switzerland. (fn. 23) It was thus by this complex series of marriages and settlements that one moiety of Sir John Fleming's estate passed to Continental aristocrats living in Paris who were not related to him by kinship.
The descent of the other moiety was quite straightforward. In 1779 Jane Fleming married Charles Stanhope, third Earl of Harrington, and her share of the estate afterwards passed to successive Earls. (fn. 24)
In 1835, while the estate was in the joint ownership of the fourth Earl of Harrington and John Lewis Fleming, the twenty-two acres of copyhold land were enfranchised for £1,600 by Lord Kensington, who was lord of the manor of Earl's Court. (fn. 25) Thus when the land was eventually divided in 1850–1 it was held in fee simple in its entirety.
For over a century and a half before 1850 the estate had been occupied chiefly by nurseries and market gardens, including the famous Brompton Park Nursery, described in 1715 as 'the noblest Nursery of the World'. (fn. 26) It was founded in 1681 by four prominent gardeners, of whom George London became the best known. (fn. 27) Within a few years Henry Wise, one of the most famous of English gardeners, had become associated with the nursery, and by 1692 he was London's sole partner. (fn. 28) During the reigns of William and Mary, William III, and Anne Brompton Park Nursery was the principal supplier of plants, shrubs and trees, as well as expertise in planning, for the royal gardens, and for the outstanding private gardens laid out or remodelled during these years, including that at Blenheim. (fn. 29) London died in 1714 and in the same year Wise sold the nursery for £6,000 to two of his assistants, Joseph Carpenter and William Smith. (fn. 30) He remained overseer for the royal parks, however, until 1728. He died in 1738. (fn. 31) Although the main part of the nursery was on the estate belonging to the Methwold family and was held under long lease, (fn. 28) other lands around were added to it from time to time and at its greatest extent its size was estimated to be over one hundred acres. (fn. 32)
Hale House, which was demolished c. 1853 for the laying out of Queen's Gate, when its site was wholly swallowed up by the roadway immediately south of the intersection with Cromwell Road, can be identified with a tenement referred to as Haull House, with two yards and one acre of land attached, to which a Basil Turbevyle or Troblefield was admitted copyhold tenant in 1579. (fn. 33) A drawing made shortly before the demolition of the building shows what was apparently the garden front. It was a symmertrical composition of three storeys in height with a flat roof. The projecting centre bay contained a glazed doorway flanked by Doric columns supporting a broken pediment, with a Palladian window above. This elevation evidently dated from the eighteenth century, but there are indications on the drawing of an earlier gabled building incorporated into the structure and Faulkner noted a seventeenth-century doorcase surmounted by a bust of Charles II on the principal front. (fn. 34) The name Cromwell House, which has been perpetuated in street names in the area, owes its origin to a tradition that Oliver Cromwell lived there. No evidence has been found to support this tradition, although the Protector's fourth son, Henry, was married in Kensington in 1653. (fn. 35)
Both Sir William Blake, who acquired the house in 1606, and William Methwold, who purchased it from Blake's son, apparently lived in Hale House, but later owners generally let the house to tenants. In the 1680's it was occupied by Francis, fifth Lord Howard of Effingham, whose sons Thomas and Francis, later sixth and seventh Barons, were born there. (fn. 36) A later tenant was not only required to pay a rent of £50 per annum, but also to provide one fat goose, two fowls and twelve quarts of best French or Portuguese wine at Christmas each year. (fn. 37) In 1794 Edmund Burke, the philosopher and statesman, rented the house because he thought the air of Kensington might cure his ailing son, who nevertheless died there in that year. (fn. 38)
By his will, proved in 1597, Thomas Goodfellow, who had owned Hale House and its adjacent lands, bequeathed to the poor of Kensington twenty shillings per annum, to be paid out of his copyhold lands. (fn. 39) Shortly after acquiring the Hale House estate William Methwold improved on this charitable bequest by building, in c. 1650, almshouses for six poor women, to each of whom he paid an annual pension of £4. (fn. 40) The almshouses were ranged around an open courtyard facing north on to Cromwell Lane at a point which now forms the south-east corner of Harrington Road and Queen's Gate. They were of a common seventeenth-century type with their upper storey partly contained within the roof space and lit by four symmetrically placed gabled windows. The gable ends of both return wings were decorated with a blank arch, that on the west wing incorporating a plaque which no doubt commemorated the foundation and the donor.
In his will, made in 1653, Methwold settled sixteen acres of land for the maintenance of the almshouses, and appointed the owner for the time being of Hale House to be the guardian of the hospital. (fn. 41)
In the mid eighteenth century disputes about the obligation to pay the pensions were ultimately resolved in 1758 by a Chancery decree. The duty of the owner of the estate, then (Sir) John Fleming, to pay the pensions, now slightly reduced, was confirmed, and the Kensington Vestry was ordered to fill the vacancies which had arisen in the almshouses during the dispute. Through their purchase of the Villars' portion of the HarringtonVillars estate in 1853, the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 became responsible for the payment of the pensions. (fn. 42)
In the mid 1860's part of the site of the almshouses lay along the course chosen for the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways, and by an Act of 1867 the Metropolitan Railway Company was required to pay £3,750 to the Kensington Vestry for possession of the buildings. No new almshouses were to be built, but the Vestry was required to establish a scheme for the use of the compensation money, the income of which now provides for the payment of small stipends to poor women resident in Kensington. The Commissioners were discharged from all further liabilities. (fn. 43)
In the event the almshouses did not have to be demolished for the construction of the railways but they were vacated in October 1873 and pulled down shortly afterwards. In 1874 the site was sold by the railway companies as part of their surplus lands to the builder, William Douglas. (fn. 44)
Brompton Park House
This house, which was situated near the southwest corner of the site now occupied by the Victoria and Albert Museum, was the London home of Henry Wise, the famous gardener, for over forty years before his death in 1738. From here he superintended the business of the surrounding Brompton Park Nursery which he owned in partnership with George London, and when he sold the nursery in 1714 he retained the house as his own residence. A plan attached to the conveyance of 1714 (but not itself necessarily of that date) (fn. 45) shows the house, which apparently already existed when the nursery was founded in 1681, (fn. 46) as half-H shaped in plan with the main block facing south and short return wings to the north. In a photograph taken in c. 1872 (Plate 4c) showing the back or north side of the complex of buildings into which Brompton Park House had by then been transformed the original house can still be discerned amid later additions. The most important of these additions was a large block on the west side which can also be seen in the foreground of Plate 4a, and which on stylistic grounds probably dates from Wise's occupancy of the house. It does not, however, appear on the plan referred to above, on which only a small addition to the west is shown.
In 1784 a lease was granted to three 'architects and copartners', Joseph Andrews, William Horsfall and John Johnson the younger (probably the son of John Johnson, the architect of the County Hall, Chelmsford (fn. 47) ), who converted the extended mansion and an adjoining building on its east side into an irregular terrace of three houses. (fn. 48) The large western addition and the west wing of the old house made one house, the remainder of the original house another, and the adjoining building to the east a third (see fig. 1). The effect of this division can be seen in Plate 4a, where the centre house and the easternmost house (by then partially demolished) have conventional mid-Georgian fronts no doubt added at the time of conversion.
Seymour Dorothy Fleming and her second husband John Lewis Fleming lived in the westernmost house for several years shortly after their marriage in 1805, and during their occupancy it was known as Fleming Villa. (fn. 49) Other ratepaying occupants of this house were the Dowager Countess of Warwick from 1785 to 1790 and Sir Cresswell Cresswell, a judge, from 1834 until 1850, while the third Earl Talbot (later eighteenth Earl of Shrewsbury) lived in the easternmost house from 1845 to 1852. (fn. 50) The third Lord Holland was living 'at BromptonPark' with his future wife, Lady Elizabeth Vassall, when their illegitimate son, Charles Richard, was born in 1796, but at which house is not known. (fn. 51) Shortly after the 1851 Commissioners acquired the freehold, the buildings were turned over to the Science and Art Department for use in connexion with the South Kensington Museum. They were demolished in 1899.
From the surviving graphic evidence the most interesting part of Brompton Park House architecturally was the large western addition which appears stylistically to date from the early eighteenth century. Its principal elevation which faced south and extended over part of the old house (Plate 4a, foreground) had simple segmental arched windows and a plain bandcourse in place of a cornice. The continuous iron balcony supported on consoles was doubtless added at a later date and the upper-storey windows lengthened at the same time. The dominant feature of this elevation was a bold frontispiece consisting of a tall arch embracing the central entrance and the first-floor window above and capped by a broken pediment which framed the keystone of the arch. The same motif was repeated on the west front although here the arch was wider and apparently served the functional purpose of carrying the flues from two fireplaces to a common chimneystack which was placed rather uncomfortably astride the pediment. The use of a giant arch with a broken pediment was a characteristic feature of many of the early buildings of the English Baroque style of Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh. It was employed by Hawksmoor for the north front of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, of the late 1690's, and for the unexecuted tower proposed for the centre of the street front of the Queen's College, Oxford, in 1708–9, (fn. 52) and Vanbrugh used it in a more elaborate form for the entrance to the Model Room at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, built in 1719. There is no documentary evidence to associate either Hawksmoor or Vanbrugh with Brompton Park House, however, and, despite a general resemblance to Hawksmoor's Kensington Charity School of 1711, (fn. 53) certain inconsistencies in the design, such as a change in the roof line of the south front where the new addition joined the old house and the chimneystack on the west front make a stylistic attribution doubtful. Certainly Wise was acquainted with Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh and had worked with them at Blenheim and elsewhere, but he was also associated with other less accomplished men who moved in their circle. His father-in-law was Matthew Banckes, a master carpenter in the Office of Works and one of a family of builders, (fn. 54) while the appointment of the young Henry Joynes as clerk of works at Blenheim was on Wise's recommendation, (fn. 55) and Joynes continued to enjoy Wise's confidence for many years. (fn. 56)
Gloucester Lodge, which was demolished shortly after 1851, was situated on the east side of Gloucester Road approximately opposite the present underground railway station. It was built for Maria, Duchess of Gloucester, George III's sister-in-law, at the end of the eighteenth century and occupied part of the site of a pleasure garden called Florida Gardens. This had been managed by a German gardener, Rudolph Heim, who, according to Faulkner, introduced the Grafton cherry into England. (fn. 57) Heim's venture failed, however, and his lease was procured in 1797 on behalf of the Duchess. (fn. 58) The architect of the house was William Tyler, who exhibited his design at the Royal Academy in 1800. On the death of the Duchess in 1807, her daughter Princess Sophia Matilda lived there for a short while, but by 1809 she had sold the villa to George Canning, the statesman, who retained it until 1825. (fn. 59)
The house was of an unusual design, consisting of two blocks which were both four bays wide and two storeys high, linked by a single-storey connecting unit, with a conservatory attached to the east end of the easternmost block. The architectural decoration was concentrated on the single-storey range, which had a colonnade of eight Ionic columns surmounted by a balustrade on its south or principal front.
The use of the name Gloucester Road instead of Hogmore or Hogmire Lane was suggested by the Kensington Turnpike Trustees at the time of the Duchess's death and became current shortly afterwards. (fn. 60)
The Partition of the Estate
By the mid 1840's several speculative building developments were taking place around the nurseries and market gardens of the HarringtonVillars estate. Thurloe Square on the south, Hereford Square on the west and Hyde Park Gate on the north were all in process of erection at that time. Although the estate yielded a relatively high rental of over £2,600 per annum (fn. 61) (equivalent to almost £28 per acre), its owners no doubt considered that this could be much improved by taking advantage of the current building boom. The fact that the land was in joint ownership posed difficulties for the granting of long-term building leases, however, and it was decided to divide it into two separate estates. In 1846 a friendly suit was brought in Chancery by the Baroness de Graffenried Villars against the fourth Earl of Harrington in order to obtain the Court's authority for the proposed partition. (fn. 16) An auditor, John Gaunt Lye, valued and divided the land, and then (according to Charles James Richardson, surveyor to the fifth Earl of Harrington) cards representing each portion were drawn from a hat. (fn. 62) An agreement confirming the arrangement was presented in 1850 to the Court of Chancery, which gave leave for an order of partition to be made by the Inclosure Commissioners. (fn. 63) The formal order, dividing the estate, was granted on 24 September 1851. (fn. 64) By this time Leicester Fitzgerald Charles Stanhope had succeeded his brother Charles as fifth Earl of Harrington. (fn. 65)
The actual division of the property was complex, the lands of each new estate being interspersed with those of the other. In the event this had very little effect on the subsequent street layout because the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 purchased the whole of the Villars' portion and all of the Earl of Harrington's portion to the east of Queen's Gate.
Within a short time of the division plans had been drawn up for building on the land. In June 1852 the fifth Earl of Harrington entered into an agreement with William Jackson, a builder with an address in Parliament Street, Westminster, and a wharf in Pimlico, to develop the whole of his share, amounting to forty-six acres, at a ground rent rising from £1,200 in the first year to £4,600 in the tenth and subsequent years (equivalent to £100 per acre). (fn. 24) This was a high ground rent for such a large amount of land, and the interest being shown by builders in the locality made negotiations for the purchase of land by the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 considerably more difficult. In the event seventeen of the fortysix acres agreed to be leased to Jackson were sold to the Commissioners, and another four acres adjoining Fulham Road (outside the area described in this volume) to the Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, but Jackson's ground rent for the remaining land was still calculated at the rate of £100 per acre. (fn. 24)
Building development was also projected for the land belonging to the de Graffenried Villars, and William Jackson appears to have been one of the speculators involved. (fn. 66) Before any agreement had been formulated, however, arrangements were made by the Commissioners to purchase the whole of the Villars estate. In 1853 they concluded the purchase for £153,793, and in the same year they agreed to pay £54,716 for the seventeen acres required from the Earl of Harrington, some £8,000 also being paid to Jackson as compensation for the loss of part of his building land. (fn. 67)
Of the twenty-five or so acres remaining in the ownership of the fifth Earl of Harrington after these various transactions, slightly under half, chiefly in the vicinity of Stanhope Gardens, are still owned by his descendants today (1973).