Survey of London: Volume 41, Brompton. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1983.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER XIII - Stamford Bridge and the Billings Area
The small area (fig. 71) between the south side of Brompton Cemetery and Fulham Road consisted in the eighteenth century of a freehold estate in the possession of the Pettiward family and, at the south-western extremity, of half a dozen plots either in copyhold tenure or part of the waste ground of the manor of Earl's Court.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century the section of the Fulham Road west of what is now the southern entrance to the cemetery was sometimes, from its propinquity to Stamford Bridge, known as Bridge Street. (fn. 1) Stamford Bridge formerly traversed the common sewer known as Counter's Creek, a tidal tributary of the Thames which was one of the principal watercourses for the drainage of west London and which formed the boundary between the parishes of Kensington and Fulham. In 1824–8 the lower part of Counter's Creek was canalised and became known as the Kensington Canal; but after the canal had proved a commercial failure a railway line known as the West London Extension Railway was built along its course in 1859–63, the waters of the ancient sewer being diverted underground. The present brick Stamford Bridge was built in 1860–2 but has since been partly reconstructed.
In mediaeval times Counter's Creek had been known (with numerous variants) as Billingwell Dyche, which has been reliably thought to mean 'Billing's spring or stream'. (fn. 2) A map of 1694–5 in Kensington Central Library marks three fields beside the creek (all now part of Brompton Cemetery) as 'The Three Billins Wells', which may perhaps be identified with the 'medicinal spring at Earl's Court' mentioned by Thomas Faulkner in 1820 in his History of Kensington. Faulkner states that this medicinal spring 'still retains the name of Billings-well, from a former proprietor; this has been much frequented for its virtues, though now scarcely known in the parish'. (fn. 3) By the eighteenth century, however, the creek was known as Counter's Creek, this name evidently being taken from Counter's Bridge, which traversed the creek at the west end of Kensington High Street. The name, first recorded in the mid fourteenth century as Countessesbrugge, may have reference to Matilda, Countess of Oxford, who held the manor of Kensington at about that time, and who may have built or repaired the bridge. (fn. 4) 'Stamford Bridge' is evidently a corruption of 'Samfordesbrigge', several fifteenth-century examples of which are recorded, meaning 'the bridge at the sandy ford'. (fn. 5) The name is now widely used to denote the nearby Stamford Bridge Stadium, which stands on the west or Fulham side of the railway line and is the home of Chelsea Football Club.
The first building development within the area described in this chapter took place on the copyhold land at the south-western corner. In 1703 Matthew Child, who owned land at Earl's Court, was paying rates for a brewhouse (fn. 6) and in 1707 he was said to have a brewhouse at Little Chelsea. (fn. 7) This may refer to the brewhouse which stood somewhere on this copyhold land near Stamford Bridge and which was occupied from 1711 to 1719 by Mr. Nurse (or Nourse), from 1719 to 1724 by Mr. Turner, and thereafter for many years by Richard Osgood, brewer. (fn. 8) Between 1777 and 1784 the ratebooks show that another brewhouse known as Belchier's or Belcher's stood nearby, but neither of them is specifically mentioned after 1784, and by 1805 four houses had been built upon part of the site of Osgood's by John Jessopp of Waltham Holy Cross, gentleman. (fn. 9) These four houses may be those shown on Joseph Salway's drawing of 1811 (fn. 10) (Plate 102a), the site of which is now occupied by the glum five-storey red-brick blocks of flats built in the mid 1890's and known as Mentone Mansions (architect, Alfred Burr) and Hereford House. (fn. 11)
In 1789 the house at the west corner of what is now Billing Road was for the first time licensed as a public house, known as the Black Bull (or sometimes as the Bull or Bull's Head). (fn. 12) In 1830 it was bought by the owners of the Stag brewery, Pimlico, (fn. 13) whose successors, Watney's, still own it. The present three-storey brick building (Plate 102c) dates from 1874, (fn. 14) and contains vestiges of the original Victorian bar furniture.
The Billings Area
In 1658 Sarah Pettiward, wife of John Pettiward, esquire, citizen of London, inherited four and a half acres of freehold land in Kensington from her father, Henry White of Putney, baker. (fn. 15) This small estate, situated near the south-west corner of the parish, and abutting on the copyhold and waste ground described above, remained in the possession of John and Sarah Pettiward's descendants until 1812, when it was sold for £500 to Charles Foster of Angel Court, Throgmorton Street, auctioneer, (fn. 16) who had recently purchased two small pieces of adjacent waste ground from Lord Kensington, lord of the manor of Earl's Court. (fn. 17)
In 1828 the opening of the Kensington Canal along the lower course of Counter's Creek temporarily enhanced the value of the adjacent land, and on 29 May 1830 Foster's widow granted a ninety-nine-year lease of her estate (then in the occupation of Samuel Poupart, gardener) to the chairman and deputy chairman of the Equitable Gas Light Company. The lessees paid £500 for the lease and undertook within five years to spend at least £2,000 on building; the rent was to be £80 per annum. (fn. 18)
The Equitable Gas Light Company was a very recently formed association (not yet incorporated by Act of Parliament) established for the purpose of supplying Westminster and the western suburbs of London with gas. (fn. 19) In the previous November its leaders had signed an agreement with Mrs. Foster for the lease of her land, (fn. 20) but very soon afterwards they decided instead to build their works in Westminster, a little to the west of Vauxhall Bridge; (fn. 21) and by January 1831 the company secretary was advertising the land at Stamford Bridge as to be let or sold. (fn. 22)
The disposal of this prematurely acquired property was, however, to take over twelve years. In 1835 Mrs. Foster's heir threatened to take legal action against the company for failure to fulfill the covenant to spend £2,000 on building within five years of the date of the lease, (fn. 23) and in 1836 the company therefore bought the freehold for £2,000. (fn. 24) In 1838 the whole estate was unsuccessfully offered to the West London and Westminster Cemetery Company for the very high price of £5,000, (fn. 25) later reduced first to £4,500 and in 1842 to £4,000; but the cemetery company refused to pay what it regarded as an extortionate price, and even rejected the gas company's offer to sell a small part of the land for the formation of a central entrance to the cemetery from Fulham Road. (fn. 26) The best offer from other prospective purchasers was only £3,000, and in December 1842 the (now incorporated) gas company decided to put the whole property up for sale by auction in lots. (fn. 27)
The estate was divided into fifteen parcels, so arranged that only three, in the centre (now the sites of Nos. 330–342 even Fulham Road and the part of St. Mark's Grove behind them), had frontages to both the cemetery and to Fulham Road; and a very high reserve price of £1,300 was placed upon these three lots because it was thought that the cemetery company would have to buy them in order to obtain its much-needed access to Fulham Road. (fn. 28) In the event, however, the cemetery company outwitted the rapacious gas company, for at the auction in February 1843 one of its directors, John Gunter, had to bid only £475 to acquire the lot at the eastern extremity adjacent to Honey Lane, with a frontage of fifty-three feet to Fulham Road, and a piece of contiguous back land with a frontage to the cemetery. (fn. 29) Soon afterwards Gunter conveyed both parcels for the same price to the cemetery company, which thereby at last obtained an adequate, if off-centre, rear entrance from Fulham Road. (fn. 30)
Five other lots were sold at the auction. William Allen of Avery Row, St. George's, Hanover Square, plumber and glazier, paid £620 for four of them, now the site of Nos. 308–328 (even) Fulham Road. (fn. 31) The other lot, now the site of Nos. 350–356 (even) Fulham Road and Nos. 1–5 or 5a (consec.) Billing Road, was bought by Edward Gingell of Barrett's Court, St. Marylebone, appraiser, for £215. (fn. 32)
In May 1844 the unsold land was again put up for auction. Allen bought all the remaining ground east of Billing Road for £930 (now the sites of Nos. 330–348 even Fulham Road, all of St. Mark's Grove and the east side of Billing Road to the north of No. 5 or No. 5a). (fn. 33) To the west of Billing Road, where the parcel bordering on the canal had been advertised as 'peculiarly desirable for the construction of a Wharf, Joseph Ball of the Queen's Arms, Newgate Street, tavern keeper, bid £700 (below the reserve price, yet nevertheless accepted); but when he found that owing to the towing path being on this side of the canal, the Kensington Canal Company would not permit a wharf there, the gas company had eventually to accept a price of only £600. (fn. 34) Thus the total yield from the sale of the whole estate amounted to only £2,840 — hardly more than half the original asking price of £5,000.
Allen lost little time in developing his land. On the eastern part of the site a long, symmetrical terrace of old-fashioned-looking houses (originally called Devonshire Terrace and now Nos. 308–328 even Fulham Road, fig. 72) was built under eighty-year leases granted by Allen in the latter part of 1844. The lessees were Robert Gunter of Old Brompton, esquire (Nos. 312, 326, 328), (fn. 35) Thomas Johnson of Little Chelsea, corn dealer (Nos. 308, 310), (fn. 36) Thomas Pocock of Bartholomew Close, City, gentleman (Nos. 322, 324), (fn. 37) William Toby of King's Road, Chelsea, bookseller (No. 314), (fn. 38) and John Tout of Medway Street, Horseferry Road, builder (Nos. 316–320 even). (fn. 39)
Devonshire Terrace was soon followed by another range, consisting of ten houses (originally known as St. Mark's Terrace and now as Nos. 330–348 even Fulham Road), divided in the centre by a road (St. Mark's Grove) which provided access to the land at the rear. Nos. 330–344 are in the same general manner as Devonshire Terrace but have more stucco ornamentation and only one instead of two windows in the upper storeys. At Nos. 340–344 single-storey shops have been built over the front gardens. The leases, all granted in 1844–6, were to George Baker of St. Mark's Terrace, gentleman (No. 332), (fn. 40) Thomas Johnson (No. 330), (fn. 41) Frederick Nicoll of Battersea, esquire (No. 340), (fn. 42) and John Tout (No. 338). (fn. 43) (fn. n1) At Nos. 342 and 344 Edward Gingell, the appraiser who had bought the lot adjoining Allen's land to the west, was the lessee. (fn. 45) In the latter part of 1844 he had started to build a range of four three-storey shops on his own land (now Nos. 350–356 even Fulham Road). (fn. 46) These had no front gardens and were built flush with the pavement, as also were Nos. 346 and 348 (the westernmost two houses on Allen's land), where Gingell was Allen's lessee (fn. 47) (Plate 102b).
St. Mark's Grove, the land behind Nos. 330–348 Fulham Road, was divided by Allen into six large plots upon which three pairs of semi-detached houses (all now demolished) were built. Allen's lessees were William Simon of Brewer Green, Westminster, builder (two houses, lease granted in 1846), (fn. 48) Frederick Cooper of Paulton Square, Chelsea, gentleman (one, leased 1845), (fn. 49) William Toby (one, leased 1844), (fn. 50) and Edward Gingell (two, 1852). (fn. 51) Another house, Grove Cottage (also now demolished), was later erected by Gingell behind Nos. 340 and 342 Fulham Road. (fn. 52)
In 1938 Kensington Borough Council bought the whole of St. Mark's Grove for the building of working-class flats, and all the houses were demolished in the following year. The Council also contemplated purchasing the adjoining area, now generally known as 'the Billings', but after the outbreak of war both schemes were suspended, and in 1945–6 eleven temporary bungalows were erected in St. Mark's Grove. In 1959–60 three four-storey blocks of flats for the aged were built here by the Council, to designs by the Borough Engineer, H. Burleigh. (fn. 53) In 1973–4 four small private houses having their access from St. Mark's Grove and known as Nos. 51–54 were built in the back gardens of Nos. 326–338 Fulham Road. The architects were Harry Spencer and Associates. (fn. 54)
Edward Gingell also became the owner of the whole of the range of small two-storey brick-fronted houses without basements on the east side of Billing Road (formerly St. Mark's Place or Road), having built Nos. 1–5 or 5a on his own freehold land (fn. 55) and acquired the remainder under leases of 1846 and 1852 from Allen. (fn. 56) All of them were occupied by 1848. (fn. 57) The public house at No. 1 was originally known as the Prince of Wales, (fn. 58) but by 1861 it was called the Bedford Arms. In c. 1966 its name was again changed to the Fox and Pheasant. (fn. 59) The angle in its frontage is probably the result of a dispute between Gingell and Allen about the line on which Billing Road was to be laid out. (fn. 60) (During this dispute Allen was described by the gas company's surveyor as 'the most unreasonable and litigious man I have had to deal with for some time.' (fn. 61) ) At No. 5a there was originally a cowshed, used by the dairyman who occupied No. 5. (fn. 62)
Billing Road provided the only access to the little selfcontained estate bought by Joseph Ball. This was soon to be covered with rows of small two-storey terrace houses with basements and, facing the canal, a group of eight cottages. Within a few months of his purchase of the ground in 1844 Ball was having sewers built, but by February 1845 he had evidently disposed of all of his land under an agreement with Christopher Crew, a Chelsea bricklayer to whom or to whose nominees all Ball's building leases were subsequently granted. (fn. 63) The whole of this development, comprising some fifty-two houses, was completed by about 1856. (fn. 57)
The first range to be occupied (by 1848) was Nos. 1–8 (consec.) Stamford Cottages, whose tiny gardens fronted on the towing path of the canal. At Nos. 1 and 2 (which in 1982 are in course of having an additional storey built to designs by Anthony R. Harding), the lessee, nominated by Crew, was William Biscoe of Chelsea, gentleman: (fn. 64) at Nos. 3–5, the first of two groups of three cottages, the lessees (also nominated by Crew) were respectively Robert Cripps of Chelsea, gentleman, William Hooper, and John Ravenhill of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, gentleman; (fn. 65) and at Nos. 6–8 (all built by Crew), Henry Martin of Battersea Bridge Road, tailor, who was evidently financed by the West London and General Benefit Building and Investment Society. (fn. 66) At Nos. 9 and 10 Stamford Cottages it was originally intended to build a public house, (fn. 67) and in 1846 the site was let to James Collis of Pitfield Cottage, Eltham, Kent, an architect who specialised in public houses and shops. (fn. 68) But this idea was soon abandoned and in 1852 (Collis's lease having presumably been cancelled) Christopher Crew took the ground and built Nos. 9 and 10 here. (fn. 69)
In Billing Place (until 1938 known as North Street) James Wormsley of Chelsea, builder, was the lessee for Nos. 1–8, all occupied by 1850 (fn. 70) (Plate 103b) and William Tayler of Young Street, Kensington, builder, for Nos. 9–15, not all occupied until a little later (fn. 71) (fig. 73). Tayler also built the adjoining Nos. 15–17 Billing Road, while at Nos. 18–20 the lessees were respectively Thomas Gingell of Fulham Road, upholsterer, John Townsend of St. Mark's Terrace, and Joseph Stone, also of St. Mark's Terrace, grocer. All of these were occupied by 1852. (fn. 72) Further south, Christopher Crew took the sites of Nos. 21 (in 1849) and 22 (in 1855). (fn. 73)
In Billing Street (until 1938 known as South Street) all nineteen houses were occupied by 1854 (fn. 57) (Plate 103a, fig. 73). On the south side the lessees were the St. Marylebone and Paddington Joint Stock Building and Trading Company (Nos. 1–3 consec.), William Bundey of Stamford Cottages, builder (Nos. 4–6), and Christopher Crew (No. 11 and at least one other). (fn. 74) On the north side they were Crew (Nos. 12–15, 18 and 19) and Edward Foster of Chelsea, builder (Nos. 16 and 17). (fn. 75)
The census of 1861 shows that the inhabitants of this little enclave (including the east side of Billing Road) were almost all working-class. The largest group of heads of household comprised those engaged in the building trades (bricklayer, carpenter, etc.), 21, followed by labourers and transport workers (bus drivers and conductors, cab or engine drivers, etc.), 14 each, laundresses, 9, and gardeners, 8. Many of the houses were evidently let out in lodgings, with the absentee owner paying the rates: cases in point are the builders Wormsley and Tayler in Billing Place, and Gingell on the east side of Billing Road. The total number of inhabitants in the 66 houses involved was 550, giving an average per house of 8.3. The highest number in any single dwelling was 18, at No. 1 Billing Street. (fn. 76)
By 1881 the situation had not greatly changed. Heads of household included 26 labourers, 23 engaged in the building trades, 14 in transport and 12 laundresses; and there were also four policemen and three grave-diggers, the last no doubt employed at Brompton Cemetery nearby. The total number of inhabitants had fallen slightly to 529 (average per house, 8.01). The highest number in any single dwelling was 17, at No. 9 Stamford Cottages. (fn. 77)
In his survey of living conditions in London, Charles Booth in 1902 placed the inhabitants of this little area in the category of 'Poverty and Comfort (mixed)'. (fn. 78) In 1929–30 his successor categorised them as 'skilled workers and others of similar grades of income'. (fn. 79) In more recent years this social ascent has continued with increasing rapidity, and in the late 1950's 'the Billings . . . started to become fashionable.' In 1962 a number of houses were being modernised and three quarters of them had 'elected to lose their humble past . . . Douglas Fairbanks' daughter has lived there; a peer has been seen looking over one of the properties. The Billings can be said to have arrived.' (fn. 80)