Survey of London: Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl's Court. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1986.
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CHAPTER III - Colby House, Kensington House and Kensington Court
This chapter considers Colby House and Kensington House, a pair of major houses which formerly stood next to one another on the south side of Kensington High Street at its eastern extermity; their short-lived successor, the second Kensington House, lavishly built by Baron Grant in 1873–6 but never permanently occupied; and Kensington Court, a development of houses and flats which replaced Kensington House and its grounds between 1882 and 1901. The three stages of building on these sites are of peaculiar and varied interest.
In addition, some account is given of the complicated relation between the ownership of the old houses on these sites and that of the area to the south and east. A plan of this relationship appears as fig. 18 on page 57, while a modern map of the area discussed in detail in the chapter is shown as fig. 22 on page 68.
The Colby family and the Muschamp Estate
For most of the seventeenth century the sites of Colby House and Kensington House (figs. 18, 20), together with a large but indefinable area of land to their south and east, were in the tenure of the Colby family. The particular Colbys to own property in Kensington came from the Beccles branch of an old-established Suffolk family of whom one, Sir Huntington Colby, had been knighted at Newmarket by James I in 1616. The core of their holdings here had probably come to them through the marriage in 1636 of Philip Colby to Rebecca Turbervile. The Turberviles were prosperous Kensington residents in the early seventeenth century and leaseholders of the important Red Lion Inn (see page 78) adjacent to the west, to the possession of which asset the Colbys succeeded, retaining it until 1729. Another thirteen and a half acres south of the present line of St. Alban's Grove seem also at this period to have been the freehold property of the Colbys, probably in succession to the Turberviles. By 1650 Philip Colby was also tenant of over forty acres of land, chiefly west of the present line of Palace Gate and Gloucester Road. The freehold owners of most of this land were the Muschamp family, but some property close to the Red Lion had already been sold by them to Colby. This was probably the site of Colby's own house, the predecessor of what came to be known as Colby House. (fn. 1)
Philip Colby died in 1666. An inventory taken six and a half years after his death shows that he had lived in some style, his house (presumably that at Kensington) including a great and little parlour, a dining-room, ‘Mrs Coleby's chamber and closett’ and several further chambers and garrets. The house was generously endowed with furnishings and hangings. The dining-room (for instance) being ‘hung with flander and quilt leather’. There were framed portraits of James I, Charles I, Prince Henry, ‘Prince Charles’, Sir Huntington Colby, Philip Colby himself and others, and copies of the works of Luther, Calvin and William perkins—a combination redolent of protestant loyalism. Colby's household effects were valued at nearly £510, a sum which included ‘hay in barn’, ‘leases at Kensington’, a small debt due from Samuel Turbervile and a larger one (£67 4s.) due from the King. (fn. 2)
Philip Colby had two surviving sons, here called Philip Colby junior (1638–92) and Thomas Colby senior (1650–1719). In 1675 Philip Colby junior acquired a fresh long lease of the surrounding property owned by the Muschamps, and he continued living in the first Colby House until his death in 1692. In the last three or so years of his life he supplied clothing on a vast scale to regiments of William III's army, particularly for the Irish campaigns of the period; this activity must have much amplified the family fortunes. (fn. 3)
By this time Thomas Colby senior, alert to the accession of Kensington to fashion and favour after 1689, appears to have built Kensington House, a larger house and with more extensive grounds than his brother's on the portion of land bought or leased from the Muschamps immediately east of Colby House. But he never lived in it, perhaps because of his brother's death. Instead, he lived until his own death in 1719 in Colby House together with his nephew and heir Thomas Colby junior, the son of Philip Colby junior. (fn. 4) During this period Colby House was rebuilt, most probably in about 1713, as explained below.
In April 1720, less than a years after his uncle died, Thomas Colby junior was raised to a baronetcy. During the 1720s Sir Thomas Colby enjoyed a reputation for great wealth, invested mainly in stocks. William King, a Jacobite don and satirist, cited Sir Thomas as an example of avarice in an anecdote repeated by Faulkner and then enlarged upon by Leigh Hunt. He was Navy Commissioner, and M.P. for Rochester in 1724–7. He died a bachelor in 1729, and was buried with considerable pomp in the family vault in the parish church: ‘Five Coaches and Six follow'd the Hearse‘ containing Sir Thomas's cousins and heirs, and another fifteen coaches and six brought the pall bearers and ‘other gentlemen of Kensington’. (fn. 5)
Sir Thomas was thought to have died intestate and a newspaper predicted (rightly as it turned out) that ‘there is like to be a Great Controversy about his Estate, said to be near 200,000’ (fn. 6) In fact Colby had drafted a will bequething his house and property in Kensington to his ‘Kinsman and namesake Thomas Colby late Clerke of the Cheque of His Majesty's Yard at Portsmouth’, but he left it unsigned, unwitnessed and undated. Its provisions were therefore ignored and the administration of the estate was granted to Sir Thomas's cousin Fluellin Apsley, to be divided among his heirs. (fn. 7) Like Apsley these were all cousins of Sir Thomas, who left no direct descendants. The settlement of their claims took some twelve years during which time the estate lay in the limbo of Chancery. (fn. 8)
The Descent of the Colby Properties
The ensuing history of the land hereabouts is somewhat intricate. As far as it concerned property in Kensington, the litigation which followed Sir Thomas Colby's death was over four main holdings: the freehold of Colby House and its relatively small garden; the freehold of the thirteen and a half acres to the south of this garden (separated from it by a strip not in the Colby' ownership); a short-term lease of the Red Lion; and an undivided ‘moiety’ or half-share in an entirely separate holding next to Earl' Court Lane, the history of which is given on pages 109–10. Any leasehold interests the Colbys had in the neighbouring Muschamp properties expired in 1736, during the period of litigation. (fn. 9)
The most important of the claimants was Admiral Sir George Saunders, like Colby himself an M.P. and a Navy Commissioner. Saunders died in 1734, and when eventually a partition was agreed Saunder's share had to be sub-divided at law between his daughter and three grand-daughters. (fn. 10) The upshot was that Colby House and its garden passed into the absolute ownership of Sir George's second grand-daughter, Henrietta Egerton. Although she never lived there herself the house remained in her possession until her death; (fn. 11) the later history of this house's ownership is given on page 59 below. In addition, Henrietta Egerton also acquired Sir Thomas's share in the land next to Earl's Court Lane (see page 110). But the thirteen and a half acres south of the present line of St. Alban's Grove passed into the hands of Saunder's eldest grand-daughter Jane Revell. From her it descended to her In comparison with these awards, Fluellin Apsley's acquisition of the lease of the Red Lion was a small and dwindling asset. (fn. 13)
In due course the thirteen and a half acres south of the line of St, Alban's Grove were sold by Lady Bulkeley to H. L. Vallotton in 1824, (fn. 12) and laid out after 1841 as the southern portion of the Vallotton estate. It is now occupied by Eldon Road, Stanford Road, Cottesmore Gardens, Kelso Place and the south part of Victori Road; its later history is to be found in Chapter VIII.
The Descent of the Muschamp Estate
Turning now to the forty acres of Muschamp freehold land leased to the Colbys in 1675, perhaps including the site of Kensington House, the date at which these passed out of the Muschamp family is unknown. It is likely, but not certain, that they were sold outright to the Colbys some time before 1700, and by them in turn sold to one of the earliest inhabitants of Kensington House. At any rate, by about 1710 the freehold of Kensington House was in the hands of its then occupant, Lady Belasyse, together probably with substantial lands adjoining to the south and east of Kensington House and Colby House. (fn. 14) After her death they passed into the ownership of one of her executors, the fourth Lord Berkeley of Stratton, who in 1714 sold some small pieces of land to the Colbys, perhaps to adjust the boundaries of Kensington House and Colby House. In 1731 Lord Berkeley sold Kensington House together with an unspecified acreage of land to its south and east for £4,000 to Mary Edwards of Welham, Leicestershire. (fn. 15) Like her predecessors Lady Belasyse and Lord Berkeley, Mary Edwards lived at Kensington House, but her descendants did not. (fn. 16) After her death her interests in the properties here were inherited successively by her son Gerard Anne Edwards and her grandson Gerard Noel Edwards (1759–1838).
On the death in 1798 of his maternal uncle, the sixth Earl of Gainsborough, the younger Edwards succeeded to most of the Gainsborough estates and took the name Gerard Noel Noel. At this point he seems to have decided to sell the Kensington properties inherited from his father. The process began in 1801 and proceeded by degrees over the following decade, thus bringing some half-drozen small new freehold estates into being north of the line of St. Alban's Grove. The earliest purchaser was the nurseryman Daniel Grim wood, who in 1801 bought some four and three-quarter acres at the east corner of Kensington Road and Love Lane (Victoria Road), which had been under cultivation as a nursery garden since the early eighteenth century. (fn. 17) This site (a on fig. 18) is now occupied by De Vere Gardens (see Chapter VII). Next, in 1802, Thomas Wetherell of Hammersmith bought Kensington House itself, along with two acres of garden (b on fig. 18); (fn. 18) and Samuel Drewe bought an acre and a half at the west corner of Love Lane and Kensington Road, formerly also part of the gardens of Kensington House (c on fig. 18). (fn. 19) This latter site is now mostly occupied by Prince of Wales Terrace (see Chapter VI).
Between 1802 and 1808 Noel sold over seven of the remaining acres of his property to a local builder and carpenter, Jonathan Hamston (d, e on fig. 18). (fn. 20) This area is now represented by Kensington Court Place, originally developed by Hamston, and the whole district north of St. Alban's Grove between Kensington Court Place and Victoria Road. Most of this land became part of the Vallotton estate in 1827; its later history is discussed in Chapter VIII.
On the easternmost part of Noel's freehold (f on fig. 18), a plot of some three and a half acres now covered by the houses and roadway of Palace Gate, a detached villa called Noel House was built in 1804 by George Aust, Secretary to the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. Aust took a long lease from Noel in 1804 and eventually purchased the freehold in 1811, a transaction which extinguished Noel's last remaining interest in the area. (fn. 21) (fn. n1)
Colby House and Kensington House
Colby House to 1852
As has been said above, a house on this site was in the occupation of the Colby family from the seventeenth century. But the house usually known as Colby House (Plate 24d, figs. 19, 20) appears to have been a complete rebuilding of the early eighteenth century. According to the Kensington historian Thomas Faulkner, Colby House was built in about 1720 by (Sir) Thomas Colby for his own residence. (fn. 22) But the insurance records of the house, which begin in 1713 with a new policy taken out by Thomas Colby senior, and renewed by Sir Thomas in 1720 and 1727, seem to rule out any rebuilding during this period, for the valuation and description of the house remain unchanged throughout. (fn. 23) It seems likely, therefore, that the house was built by Thomas Colby senior probably in about 1713. The insurance policy of that year describes it as a brick building with a stable, kitchen, brewhouse and other offices, standing on the south side of Kensington Road ‘over against the Queen's Gate’.
The uncertainty about the date of building is increased rather than diminished by a plan of ‘Colbany House’ in the Crace Collection, identified as being in the hand of Nicholas Hawksmoor, and alleged to date from 1722. (fn. 24) (fn. n2) This shows a similar type of house to that which survived until 1872, with a central block flanked by projecting wings enclosing a front courtyard. But as can be seen from fig. 19, Hawksmoor's plan was for a wider and deeper house that would have extended on the west beyond the boundaries of Sir Thomas's property. The plan must therefore represent a proposal that was not executed in precisely that form, if at all.
Only two illustrations of Colby House are known, neither of them very satisfactory. The earlier is a little bird's-eye view on Joshua Rhodes' plan of 1762–4, (fn. 25) showing the south front as seven windows wide with a pedimented centre. The other illustration is a rather obscured photograph of the south front taken in about 1870 (Plate 24d). This shows an unremarkable plain brick façade with segmental-headed window-openings. There is no sign of any pediment. Leigh Hunt's description of the house in 1853 suggests that the north front was probably more characterful: ‘A sturdy good-sized house, a sort of undergrown mansion singularly so for its style of building, and looking as if it must have been the work of Vanbrugh … It is just in his “no nonsense” style; what his opponents called “heavy;” but very sensible and to the purpose, built for duration.’ (fn. 26)
The house was only two storeys high above a basement, but because of the slope of the ground from north to south it appears in the photograph as a three-storey house, the lowest rank of windows being those of the basement. The principal apartments were on the ground floor, whose plan was evidently similar to that shown on the Hawksmoor drawing (fig. 19). At the front was the entrance hall and what Faulkner calls the front drawing-room, and at the back, overlooking the garden, the principal drawing-room and the dining-room. The staircase compartment was elaborately decorated with painted walls and ceiling, the latter, according to Faulkner, ‘in imitation of the ceilings discovered at Herculaneum’ and therefore not earlier than about 1750. The ceiling was divided into four compartments containing ‘beautiful’ landscapes and the four seasons ‘with their several emblems’. At its centre was a figure of Apollo with his lyre. On the walls were six ‘female deities with their various attributes’ and a whole-length figure of Justice. (fn. 25)
The first occupant of the house was presumably Thomas Colby senior, who died in 1719. By his will the house then passed to his ‘dear and loving’ nephew Thomas Colby junior (from 1720 Sir Thomas Colby, baronet) who lived there until his death in 1729. After Sir Thomas's death the house seems to have been occupied for a few years by his cousin Fluellin Apsley, who had been appointed the administrator of the Colby estate. (fn. 27) Nothing more is known about its inhabitants until 1760 when it was in the occupation of James Cressett, esquire, Comptroller of Army Accounts, who in that year moved to No. 5 The Terrace, at the west end of Kensington High Street. The next occupant, from 1762 to 1780, was a Lady Ann Browne. (fn. 28) She was followed in 1782 by Alexander Baxter, a member of the Russia Company and, since 1773, the Russian Consul in Britain, who had previously lived at Cressett's old house in The Terrace. Baxter used his wide contacts both in the City and throughout industrial Britain to further Russian commercial interests in this country, and it was he who dealt with Josaih Wedgwood over the famous ‘Frog’ dinner service for Catherine that Great's new palace at Chesmenskii. (fn. 29) Faulkner noticed that a portrait of Catherine the Great painted in Russia and evidently a present from the Empress was still hanging in the front drawing-room when he visited the house. (fn. 30)
In 1807 Baxter purchased the freehold of Colby House from the heirs of Henrietta Egerton, who had inherited the property in the partition of the Colby estate (see above). (fn. 31) But not long after he died, and in 1808 his own heirs sold the house to one of his former next door neighbours in the Terrace. This was William Mair, esquire, merchant, landowner, magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for Middlesex. (fn. 32) Mair lived at Colby House until his death in 1823, Mrs. Mair remaining there until 1847. (fn. 33) At the time of the 1851 census Colby House was occupied as an all-female boarding house. (fn. 34) In the following year it became the private residence of Dr. Francis Philip, proprietor of the lunatic asylum next door at Kensington House. (fn. 35)
Kensington House to 1852
Kensington House appears to have been built between about 1688 and 1692 by Thomas Colby senior. There is some difficulty about an exact date. Foot Onslow, esquire, a minor member of an eminent parliamentary family and a Commissioner of Excise under William III, is shown as the ratepayer for a house here from 1688 until 1698, and in 1691 his son Arthur (for many years Speaker of the House of Commons) was born at his father's house in Kensington. A document of 1696 describes this house as belonging to Thomas Colby but in the occupation of Onslow. (fn. 36)
The doubt about the date arises from the existence of a Chancery suit brought in 1691 by a carpenter, Joseph Warden of Soho, who was owed money for building work at a new house ‘in ye town of Kensington’. According to this case Thomas Colby, ‘being minded to build a house’, showed a ‘draught’ of it to the bricklayer Henry Webb, who undertook to build it according to the draught and to supply and pay all the workmen. After work had started ‘Colby's mind altered’ and he asked Webb to make the house ‘two squares’ bigger. It was almost finished by Christmas 1691, but was still not complete when in January 1692 Webb, who had been unwell, died. The job of finishing it seems to have been taken on by Webb's two principal creditors, Matthew Child of Kensington, brickmaker, and William Perrin of St. Margaret's, Westminster, joiner. (fn. 37) If this case is taken to refer to Kensington House, it must be hazarded that the dispute was over minor matters of finishing a house that had been in essentials built a good deal earlier than 1692. Alternatively the case may refer to some smaller, unlocated house. A third possibility is that Colby undertook in about 1691–2 the rebuilding of a house already for some short time past tenanted by Onslow here.
The earliest views of Kensington House (Plate 24a, 24c) show the original building to have been plain, of seven window's width and there full storeys above ground, rigidly defined by continuous stringcourses. At both front and back the centre projected modestly, but there was no pediment or anything ostentatious about the architecture. The windows were of the narrow late-seventeenth-century type, with straight heads. Of the planning almost nothing is known, but the house seems to have been quite shallow and in all likelihood followed the ‘double-pile’ type of arrangement then so common.
Foot Onslow remained at Kensington House until about 1698. (fn. 16) He was succeeded in 1699 by George Davenant, an officer in the Royal Bodyguard and son of Sir William Davenant, the playwright and Poet Laureate. George Davenant lived at Kensington House until at least 1706, and he continued as the ratepayer until his death in 1710, by which time he was living in St. Martin-in-the Fields. (fn. 38) Kensington House was then, it seems, in the occupation of his son's godmother, Lady Susan Belasyse (Baroness Belasyse of Osgodby), a long-standing resident of Kensington whose charms had in former years attracted the Duke of York (later James II). The antiquarian John Bowack speaks of the house as hers in 1705, and she succeeded Davenant as the ratepayer from 1710 until her own death in 1713. (fn. 39)
Whether Onslow or Davenant had owned the freehold of the house is not known, but it is certain that Lady Belasyse did. Its next owner was William Lord Berkeley (fourth Baron Berkeley of Stratton) who was one of the beneficiaries of Lady Belasyse's will and joint executor with her nephew Sir John Wodehouse, baronet. ‘The executorship proves very considerable,’ wrote Berkeley in 1714, ‘and was so very little expected that it is in a manner fallen from the clouds’. Kensington House was conveyed to him by his fellow executor and other heirs of Lady Belasyse by deeds of 1714 and 1716. (fn. 40)
Lord Berkeley was the ratepayer and doubtless the occupant at Kensington House from 1714 to 1716. (fn. 16) He was succeeded until at least 1725 by the Right Honourable Lady Berkeley; this was his widowed sister-in-law, who had in 1718 been appointed governess to the daughters of the future George II. (fn. 41) The house remained in the ownership of the fourth Baron Berkeley until 1731 when he sold it for £4,000 to the Mary Edwards of Welham, Leicestershire, mentioned above. Included in this sale were stables, coach-houses, a barn, a pigeon house, a brewhouse, a greenhouse, a little summer house, a water house and a garden enclosed with a brick wall, the whole containing just over three acres, as well as other unspecified lands in Kensington. This apparently included all or most of the old Muschamp freehold west of the line of Gloucester Road and Palace Gate formerly leased to the Colbys (see above). (fn. 42)
Kensington House remained in the ownership of Mary Edwards and her descendants for the following seventy years, but although she herself lived here in the 1730s her descendants did not. (fn. 16) For a few years in the middle of the eighteenth century the house was occupied by Count Petr Grigorevich Chernyshev, the Russian Ambassador in London from 1746 to 1755. (fn. 43) Chernyshev was accompanied to London by his wife and two young daughters, one of whom, Natalia, lived to the age of ninety-six and achieved immortality as the prototype of the Countess in Pushkin's Queen of Spades. (fn. 44)
A plan of c. 1754, made while Kensington House was still in Chernyshev's occupation, shows the formal layout of the gardens (Plate 1), which at that time covered an area of some ten acres extending eastwards to Love Lane (Victoria Road) and southwards almost as far as the line of the modern Douro Place. From the centre of the south front of the house an avenue or path nearly 700 feet long led to an alcove or some such architectural feature at the southern end of the garden. To the south-east of the house was a large circular ornamental pool with a central fountain supported by a winged figure seated astride a prancing horse (Plate 24a), and beyond this, to the south, a wilderness intersected diagonally with walks.
By then an extension had been built on the house's east side. This tall but narrow wing, whose three storeys are unrelated in height to the original house, had a wellfenestrated south front but to the north presented a plain facade almost windowless except for two prominent oriels façade almost windowless except for two prominent oriels at third-floor level (Plate 24a, 24c). These lit an apartment, later described as a ‘ponce elegant ballroom’, which occupied the whole of the top floor. (fn. 45)
Chernyshev probably remained at Kensington House until he left Britain in 1755. By 1756 the building was being used as an academy or school for boys run by the Scottish educationalist, spelling reformer and translator of Martial, James Elphinstone. (Elphinstone's translations were said by his friend Garrick to be more difficult to understand than the originals.) Dr. Johnson was another friend, and on at least one occasion (in 1773) he and Boswell dined with Elphinstone at Kensington House. Elphinstone gave up the academy in March 1776 and left the house in the same year. (fn. 46)
It is possible that the house remained in institutional use fairly continuously after Elphinstone's time. In 1802 Mary Edward's grandson Gerard Noel Noel sold the property (along with a mere two acres of the garden) to Thomas Wetherell of Hammersmith. (fn. 18) At this date the tenant was one John Nicholas Soilleux, gentleman, who had been there since 1789. (fn. 16) Soilleux now obtained a new long-term lease but immediately sub-let the house for £250 a year to a French émigré nobleman and cleric, Prince Charles Victor de Broglio, for the use of a French Jesuit school. (fn. 47) The school, of which de Broglio was the head, may then already have been in occupation. It was intended to cater for the children of French aristocrats living in London in exile from the Revolution, and numbered among its ushers the future King Louis Philippe. On one occasion the boys were visited by the future Charles X. But it was also popular with French West Indian planters, who sent their children over to learn English, although all the teaching was in French. The Irish politician and dramatist, Richard Lalor Sheil, who was a pupil in 1802–4, described the difference which separated the boys in wealth and class—‘the French West Indians being all rich roturies, and the little emigrants having their veins full of the best blood of France, without a groat in their pockets’. But he noticed that ‘they all concurred in hating England and its government’. (fn. 48) The school probably continued here until 1813 when the Rev. Monsieur de Theil, who had succeeded de Broglio as ratepayer in 1806, was himself succeeded by one Melchier Strickler. (fn. 16)
From 1815 to 1825 Kensington House was occupied as a Catholic boarding establishment under the proprietorship of Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Salterelli. The artist Richard Cosway and his artist wife Maria stayed there for a few months while house-hunting. Another resident was the actress and author Elizabeth Inchbald, who stayed there from April 1819 until her death in August 1821. She found the society of Kensington House ‘extremely genteel and cheerful, changing however too frequently for perfect cordiality and the formation of intimacy’. During the early part of her residence Mass was regularly celebrated in the house chapel by the Archbishop of Jerusalem. (fn. 49)
After being vacated by the Salterellis in 1825 the house stood empty until 1830, (fn. 16) when it passed into its last use—as a private lunatic asylum. The founder and proprietor was William C. Finch, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, who, having gained experience in his father's private asylum in Silisbury, already had an establishment of his own in the King's Road, Chelsea. (fn. 50) In 1837 William Kinch together with a relative, Charles H. M. Finch, bought the freehold of Kensington House from Thomas Wetherell, (fn. 51) and in the following year they had the architect John Turner carry out alterations. Externally these probably amounted to no more than decking out the north front with up-to-date Italianate dressings, as can be seen from T. H. Shepherd's mid-nineteenth-century water-colour (Plate 24e). That view also shows the bayed extension on the west side of Kensington House which Turner added in 1843, and which was originally occupied as a private house (doubtless by the proprietor). (fn. 52)
In 1838–41 Kensington House Asylum found itself the object of unwelcome publicity by the revelations of Richard Paternoster, a 35-year-old former member of the Madras Civil Service who had been forcibly confined there for forty-one days in 1838. In a series of articles which first appeared in The Satirist and were afterwards gathered together in a book called The Madhouse System, Paternoster exposed a regime which bore little resemblance to the benign conditions prescribed in the prospectus of 1830. (fn. 53) There Finch had promised ‘an enlightened and effective moral and mental treatment’. All symptoms of returning reason were to be sought and encouraged with the aid of a ‘well selected’ library, daily papers, periodicals, a billiard-room and music. The benefits of religion were not to be neglected, Finch being ‘so thoroughly convinced of the good effects likely to result from its judicious introduction’, that he had refitted the ‘elegant and spacious’ chapel for the performance of Divine Service. Other amenities offered included warm and cold vapour and shower baths ‘contiguous to the apartments’, and extensive pleasure grounds, ‘considerably improved and beautified”, with a grass plot for bowls, cricket and gymnastic exercises. The accommodation available for patients ranged from ‘comfortable apartments with single beds, board, working, medical and other attendance’ at twenty-one to thirty shillings a week, to a ‘distinct suite of apartments, appropriate attendants, horse, carriage, etc’ from five guineas a week over fifty feet in length. (fn. 54)
Instead, Paternoster experienced an overcrowded, badly ordered institution in which the inmates were at the mercy of their often brutal keepers, some of them exconvicts. ‘Occuption there was none, amusement none, music none, books none, newspapers none, baths none! cleanliness none, medical treatment none, friends none, food scanty and bad.’ Paternoster details several examples of violence against patients, one of whom was beaten up for throwing a small bone over the wall into Sir John Scott Lillie's garden. (fn. 55)
At the time of Paternoster's confinement the asylum contained thirty-seven male patients and twenty-five female patients. Paternoster lists the former (among whom was the deputy-astronomer at Greenwich) but he was not able to name the latter because of the strictly enforced segregation of the sexes. In this respect, at least, Finch lived up to his prospectus where such an arrangement was deemed ‘too obvious to need remark’. It even extended to ‘the piece of ground, miscalled garden’, which was divided down the middle by a high brick wall, the eastern half being reserved for the men and the western part for the women. When the weather was fine enough the patients, having nothing else to do, would spend almost the whole day sauntering up and down this garden, ‘forlorn and wretched’. (fn. 56)
In 1840 Dr. Francis Philip, who was subsequently to become the sole proprietor of the asylum, joined the establishment. At first he seems to have had only a third share in the institution, the other two-thirds being held by Finch and another doctor, William Maddocks Bush. But in 1846 Philp bought Finch's and Bush's shares, thereby becoming not only sole proprietor of the institution but also the freehold owner of the property. (fn. 57)
Under Philp's direction the asylum prospered, and at the time of the 1851 census it held sixty-seven patients who were looked after by a living-in staff of twenty. Later censuses show a falling-off in the number of patients: forty-nine in 1861, thirty-five in 1871. The inmates are not named, but their initials and occupations are given, the profession of clergyman being usually well represented. In 1861 one of the patients was an architect identified only as G.A.N.B. (fn. 58)
Kensington House and Colby House 1852–1872
The history of the two houses, in their last twenty years, is most conveniently dealt with together. Dr. Philip's move to Colby House in 1852 (see page 59) evidently marks the end of his professional association with the asylum at Kensington House. This continued for a time under the joint direction of other doctors. But Philip retained the freehold, and in the 1860s he was receiving £700 a year in rent for the lease of Kensington House. (fn. 59)
By this time Philp had acquired the freehold of Colby House, thereby bringing the two properties again into a single ownership (fig. 20). (fn. 60) He may well have had in mind the development potential of the site, particularly after the building of Prince of Wales Terrace on land immediately to the east in 1862–5. By 1868 the two houses represented ‘An Extent of Undeveloped Ground unparalleled in this Position’, and an attempt was made in that year to sell them for building. Printed particulars extolled the property as ‘Almost the only remaining Site in this centre of fashion and haut ton Available for the Erection of Patrician Mansions‘ or, alternatively, ’the only available spot which could be secured as freehold in this part of town for the erection of a cathedral or public building’. But the accompanying layout plan shows only a fairly pedestrian scheme for a north-south cul-de-sac with sites for forty-five houses and a mews to both east and west. (fn. 61)
The sale did not go ahead, no doubt because the lease of Kensington House still had four years to run. In 1872 Philp again offered the houses for sale, this time with vacant possession of both, (fn. 62) and they were bought by Baron Albert Grant, who wanted to build a large new mansion for himself on the site. Colby House and Kensington House were conveyed to Grant in August 1872 and the old buildings were pulled down in October. (fn. 63)
The Second Kensington House
From 1872 a new figure was to transform the chronicle of Kensington House into high drama by erecting one of the most conspicuous yet short-lived monuments to social ambition in British building history. This was Albert Grant (1830–99), often known as Baron Grant from an Italian title conferred upon him by Victor Emmanuel I.
As a financier of egregious ambition, Grant already in 1872 enjoyed some notoriety. Born Albert Gottheimer in Dublin to a British mother and a German father, he was brought up in London and Paris. His father was partner son was married, living in comfort at No. 6 Bedford Villas, Dingwall Road, Croydon, and running Albert Gottheimer and Company, City merchants with offices in Fenchurch Street and later in Lombard Street. (fn. 65) In 1859–61 he was general manager, at £2,000 per annum, of the Mercantile Discount Company and was living in Maida Vale. (fn. 66) This enterprise soon foundered, and it was due to revelations following its demise (his enemies alleged) that Gottheimer in 1863 changed his name to Grant and his own firm became Albert Grant and Company. (fn. 67)
By 1864 Grant had paid his creditors off, was buoyant again, and began a series of company promotions, the skill at which he excelled. (fn. 68) The most important of these was the Credit Foncier & Mobilier of England, of which Grant became managing director; based on a French company of similar name, it became central to all Grant's later activities as the supplier of ‘seed’ capital for the many other companies that he was to promote. By July 1865 Grant was rich enough to have moved to Roseau House, No. 86 Addison Road, Kensington, (fn. 64) and to emerge at the eleventh hour as the ‘Liberal Conservative’ candidate for Kidderminster in the general election of that month. By dint of very heavy spending (the Kidderminster Shuttle later claimed he had charged £15£20,000 of election expenses to the Credit Foncier company) Grant secured a narrow and unexpected victory. (fn. 66) But his career as an M.P. was interrupted by the consequences of ‘Black Friday’, the collapse of the bankers Overend and Gurney in May 1866. Grant now prudently retired overseas for a period and did not contest the general election of 1868. (fn. 70) In Italy his reputation remained unblemished, for in 1868 he acquired his Italian barony for services rendered through the City of Milan Improvements Company, a British flotation of 1865 which sponsored large works in Milan, notably Mengoni's celebrated Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. (fn. 71)
In 1870 Grant was back in England and prosperous again. There ensued his period of greatest ambition and activity, marked by a wide-ranging series of company promotions, many unscrupulous. (fn. 71) The usual pattern of these schemes was to purchase a foreign asset or concession of uncertain value through a company in which Grant's share was paramount, to publicize it heavily through prospectuses, and then sell it at an enhanced price to a newly floated company whose capital derived from small shareholders. Typical examples were the Lisbon Steam Tramways Company, formed in 1871 to develop and run what turned out to be an unworkable route between Lisbon and Sintra; (fn. 72) and the California Mining Company, which in the same year bought and sold what proved to be worthless silver mines at Mineral Hill, Nevada. (fn. 73) Besides these, Grant through the Credit Foncier company and his personal firm (now called Grant Brothers and Company) had interests in manifold foreign investments of widely varying value. His English property interests were not extensive, but in 1874 he did buy The Echo newspaper. (fn. 74)
Until the autumn of 1873, when the market fell abruptly, Grant was riding high and generally enjoyed public confidence. In this period he resolved to build a vast house in its own grounds close to Kensington Palace, on the combined sites of the previous Kensington House, Colby House, the slums of Jennings Buildings and associated plots. In 1872 he proceeded to buy the freeholds of Kensington House and Colby House and to demolish them. (fn. 75) Next year he purchased the freeholds of Jennings Buildings and other properties on and behind the east side of Kensington Square. Here the prices are known: £14,000 for one tract including Nos. 2 and 3 Kensington Square, £11,000 for another, and £2,000 for a ragged school run by the parish. (fn. 76) Commentators of the time marvelled that Grant did not resort to law to eject the tenants of Jennings Buildings. He simply paid them off as necessary and let them carry off any woodwork they wanted, so accelerating the work of destruction. (fn. 77)
By May 1873 Grant was in a position to commence his mansion. For architect he chose James Knowles junior, well-known as editor of the Contemporary Review and as the designer of Tennyson's country house at Aldworth in Sussex. Grant, who had cultural pretensions, probably first met Knowles over a speculative development at West Brighton (1871–3) in which both were involved. (fn. 78) As a financier close in spirit to those of Second Empire Paris and to the American buccaneers of the Gilded Age, Grant's tastes were luxuriously French. Knowles was well acquainted with modern French styles of architecture and therefore able to supply the kind of house which his client desired. The style also cohered with the mansarded houses of Prince of Wales Terrace, built close by to the east in 1862–5.
The mammoth new house, built by J. T. Chappell (who had worked under Knowles at West Brighton), rose slowly between 1873 and 1875 on the part of the site closest to Kensington Road. Because of its elaborate interior decoration, it took a further year to finish. Behind it and to its west were planted elaborate gardens under the supervision of John Gibson junior, a reputable landscape architect best known for his work at Battersea Park. (fn. 79)
Meanwhile Grant's position was starting to deteriorate. In early 1874 he was still sanguine enough to make the grand public gesture of restoring the gardens in Leicester Square (to Knowles's design) and handing them over to the Metropolitan Board of Works as a gift. (fn. 80) He also stood once more for Kidderminster in the election of January 1874, dumbfounding derisive local Liberals when he again narrowly succeeded. But this time his flamboyance and largesse had gone too far, and in July he was unseated after a petition alleging countless irregularities. (fn. 81) (fn. n3) In the interim, suspicions concerning the Mineral Hill Silver Mine, long simmering, led to a first court judgement against Grant, and at much the same time his conduct over a similar American enterprise, the Emma Silver Mine in Utah, also became public. (fn. 83) Henceforward Grant was probably struggling to retain his house.
Grant's expenditure on buying the land and building his new Kensington House was estimated to have been about £300,000. (fn. 84) This figure is roughly confirmed by the sums he was able to raise on its strength. The firm from which he obtained these loans almost exclusively was the Land Securities Company, eventually the freeholders and developers of the site following Grant's failure. This property company was very active in supplying mortgage finance to builders and others in Kensington during the 1870s and 1880s, before being wound up unexpectedly in 1894. Its managing director was Granville R. Ryder, nephew of the second Earl of Harrowby and for a time M.P. for Salisbury.
In 1873 Land Securities advanced £34,000 to Grant, in 1874 £38,000 and in 1875 a further £42,000. When they consolidated their mortgages at the end of 1875, they were also owed £4,000 on the offices of The Echo, £8,000 on No. 41 Queen's Gate Terrace (the hotel in which Grant was then living), £53,333 on the premises of Grant Brothers and Company in Lombard Street, and £3,000 on a villa, Aldwick Place outside Bognor, Sussex. A year later after two further advances, Land Securities were still owed £234,000 on these properties, mostly founded on Kensington House. (fn. 85) By now there was little hope of Grant maintaining liquidity. He had ceded control of the Credit Foncier Company; he had lost the first round in the long-drawn-out test case brought against him, Twycross v. Grant; and a host of other suits impended. (fn. 86)
At this point, public interest in Grant's great white elephant reached its climax. As access became easier in 1876–7, detailed descriptions of it appeared in the press. (fn. 87) What observers saw was a huge and rather out-of-date house of Bath stone with Portland dressings, with an interior elaborate beyond measure and a secluded garden of several acres. On the whole they were not impressed; Augustus Hare succinctly dismissed it as ‘a pretentious and frightful mansion’. (fn. 88) Nevertheless its design merits some description.
Knowles's house was precisely symmetrical, forbiddingly formal but well proportioned (Plate 25, fig. 21). The design was broken up on both sides into a high central Corps de logis and pavilion wings, connected by a single storey above ground. The roofs throughout were of the high mansard type with scaled slates and ornamental crestings favoured by Knowles. The entrance front was particularly tall and overbearing. Behind a brown-and-gilt iron screen facing the road was a carriageway leading to a portico with Ionic columns in pink granite, on either side of which broad bay windows rose through all the main storeys. At the back, the basement was concealed by a massive terrace leading down to the garden. Projections and recessions were stronger on this front, the centre being marked by a domed conservatory sandwiched between the two drawing-rooms.
Symmetry was also respected in the plan. The entrance led into a 90-foot hall paved in marble mosaic, with Sicilian marble staircases at either end. Both these stairs were supported at landing level on caryatids supplied by Giovanni Fontana (sculptor also of the Shakespeare statue installed by Grant in the centre of Leicester Square). Beyond those on the east, representing Spring and Summer, were the long top-lit picture gallery and the ballroom or music-room, beyond those on the west, representing Autumn and Winter, a lobby led to a library, a billiard-room, and a pair of dining-rooms which could be joined together as a single banqueting-room. Also on the ground floor were the blue and yellow drawing-rooms, east and west respectively of the conservatory; and, on either side of the entrance, a gentlemen's morning-room or study and a ladies' morning-room (fig. 21).
All these rooms were highly finished. Most had strong plain colours on the walls and coved plasterwork on the ceilings, but the dining-rooms were panelled and ceiled in oak and walnut. There was much decorative painting, commonplace in theme, contributed by Frederick Sang and Joseph F. Sang. The music-room ceiling depicted Apollo and the Muses and, over the projecting bow window forming a tribune for musicians, cupids playing pan pipes, the lyre and ‘instruments unknown to the ancients—the fiddle and the violoncello’. (fn. 89) Here too the walls were decorated with what The Builder judged ‘indifferent copies of indifferent pictures’ (fn. 90) showing leading ladies of the old French and English courts, while the doors displayed vignettes of Versailles, Rome, Venice and Richmond. On the ceilings of the blue and yellow drawing-rooms, oval panels contained cupids at their customary activities; in the dining-room, the ‘Loves’ made bold to ‘tread the wine-press, fish among the water-lilies and carry feathered games home’. (fn. 89) From the library ceiling the figures of Chaucer, Bacon, Milton and Shakespeare looked on. The picture gallery, augmented by two small water-colour galleries at the ends, contained Grant's large collection of modern English paintings and enjoyed quiet dark green walls. Of the decoration as a whole The Builder opined: ‘the colouring, as a whole, is overdone, but several of the rooms are very satisfactory’. (fn. 90)
The upper storeys of Kensington House were ungenerous for so large a mansion (fig. 21). The first floor offered only seven bedrooms, but these were plentifully serviced; eight fixed baths and a further ‘douche bath’ are shown on the plans of the upper storey. In the west wing Knowles had to juggle to get in three storeys in what appeared to be two. The huge basement reminded one journalist of the ‘interminable passages under the Houses of Parliament’; another thought it ‘large enough to contain half the cellars in Harley-street’. (fn. 91)
John Gibson's gardens earned more general approbation. They included a skating rink, an ornamental lake, an ‘American bowling alley’, an orangery, glasshouses and other attractions. Sinuous paths wound about the grounds, and there was thick planting to block out views from neighbouring Prince of Wales Terrace. The Times pronounced the result a ‘veritable rus in urbe. (fn. 91)
By one means or another Grant was able to complete Kensington House, but he never lived there. By the summer of 1874 the main contractor, Chappell, was being supplemented by another, Thorne and Company, who built the stables and orangery; another firm, W.J. Nixon and Sons, erected the bowling alley in 1875. (fn. 92) Trouble broke out after Knowles gave up supervising the job in that year. Early in 1876 Walker, Emley and Beall, marble merchants of Gateshead, sued one of the subcontractors for payment, and in July Chappell obtained a judgement for costs of nearly £10,350 against Grant. (fn. 93) The financier paid off some debts; Knowles, for instance, received all his claim in about October 1876. (fn. 94) The house was now finished but remained untenanted for six long years, until its demolition in 1882.
The long-running case of Twycross v. Grant, which proceeded intermittently through 1876 and 1877, destroyed what was left of Grant's moral reputation. In spring 1877 he was obliged to sell his pictures and put Kensington House on the market. The paintings, including valuable items by Landseer, Frith, Millais and Stanfield, fetched £106, 262, but in July the house failed to find a purchaser, though allegedly £300–350,000 was offered. (fn. 95) Another auction in February 1878 did no better. (fn. 96) Buyers were also sought privately; optimistic as ever, Grant wanted the government to buy the house as a national palace for receiving foreign visitors. (fn. 89) But when negotiations with John William Mackey, an American with a reputed £2,000,000 a year from Nevada silver-mining, fell through early in 1878, ‘the last chance of letting the unwieldy mansion as a private residence was felt to be over’. (fn. 97) Next, commercial clients were courted. In September 1878 Charles Best ‘of the Horseshoe Hotel, Tottenham Court Road’ was said to be about to turn Kensington House into a club and first-class restaurant, but the claim was hotly denied by Grant. (fn. 98) In April 1879 Grant Brothers and Company went into liquidation ‘by arrangement’ and at about this time Land Securities gained possession of the freehold. (fn. 99) But this did not expedite arrangements for the house's future. At a third auction of October 1879 the reserve was not reached, only £179,000 being offered; and by the end of the same year the City and Guilds of London Institute had declined to take the site for their new college. (fn. 100)
In May 1880 a last chance came for Kensington House when a committee offered £195,000 to turn it into a high-class suburban club, tentatively to be named the Palace Club and run on the lines of Prince's, the Orleans, or Hurlingham. A large three-sided block of ‘club chambers’, approached from a new entrance drive, was to be built south of the main house to very banal elevations by John Whichcord; the reduced grounds were to be used for recreation, ‘Garden Parties, Flower Shows, and spectacles of the like nature’. (fn. 101) In anticipation of this scheme the house and grounds were several times opened during the summer of 1880. (fn. 102) But for some reason the project foundered, as did an alternative proposed by H.W. Spratt, architect, to supplement Whichcord's chambers with thirty-three houses, thus entirely destroying the grounds. (fn. 103)
Thereafter demolition and speculative redevelopment of the whole site became inevitable. One such proposal, put forward by Richard B. Grantham and Son in November 1881, to join Charles Street (now Kensington Court Place) to Kensington Road by way of two new streets, came to nothing. (fn. 104) But early in 1882 Land Securities found more promising clients and the dismantling of the mansion began. In June the first sale of materials occurred; portions of the marble stairs were acquired for installation at Madame Tussaud's, and the iron railings were disposed of to the proprietors of Sandown Park and there reerected. Altogether the materials fetched about £10,000, in contrast to the alleged £180–250,000 which Kensington House took to build. (fn. 105) By the end of 1882 the mansion had been razed to the ground. According to W. J. Loftie, ‘all good inhabitants of Kensington rejoiced’. (fn. 106)
The only surviving remnants of the project are the Italianate Nos. 2 and 3 Kensington Square, which Grant had rebuilt as the entrance to his stables behind (page 12). The stabling itself, with a tower attached, survived the building of Kensington Court but has since been demolished.
In 1882 a personality hardly less intriguing succeeded Baron Grant as protagonist in the affairs of the Kensington House Estate, as the site and grounds were now briefly called. This was Jonathan T. Carr (1845–1915), best known as the promoter of Bedford Park, Chiswick, the model suburb for persons of aesthetic inclination.
Despite some attempts to document his career, Carr remains an elusive figure. His background was in the wholesale cloth trade; his father's firm, Carr and Sons, woollen warehousemen, had premises in Warwick Street off Regent Street. Carr had modestly radical interests in politics (he had helped John Stuart Mill in his election campaign of 1865) and the arts, which he attempted to reconcile with forays into enlightened property development. His fame and fortune did not escape unblemished from this balancing act. ‘It may be’, observes Mark Girouard, ‘that the description of him as “genial and optimistic” is a euphemism for “specious and not altogether honest” (fn. 107) His various promotions brought him publicity but no lasting profit or security. Kensington Court, the development he was to father on the site of Kensington House, was no exception.
Of Carr's ventures in property speculation Bedford Park, begun in 1875, was the largest and the earliest of importance. Here with the help of fashionable architects Carr promoted an ‘advanced’ community within commuting distance of London for the artistic and liberal middle classes. By 1881 the core of Bedford Park, including Tower House, a large house designed by Norman Shaw for Carr himself, was complete. Carr now sold the 113-acre estate, encumbered with a large mortgage, to a newly constituted company, Bedford Park Limited, of which he became managing director but in which he had no financial stake. (fn. 108) Possibly therefore he had free capital which was to be directed into two new enterprises, Kensington Court (1882–5) and Whitehall Court (1883–6).
By agreement of 18 May 1882 the Land Securities Company, which by virtue of foreclosure had become freeholders of Albert Grant's property, came to terms with Jonathan Carr for development of the Kensington House Estate. By this arrangement Carr contracted to buy the freehold, nominally for £210,000; but the individual plots were to be conveyed to him or his nominees as and when development proceeded, and then mortgaged back to the company. (fn. 109)
The seven acres which Carr thus acquired were irregular in shape and awkward for development (fig. 22). There was a frontage of about 250 feet to Kensington Road, a broader expanse widening to about 600 feet behind, but at the south end the land tapered down to a narrow neck Where Charles Street (Now Kensington Court Place) offered egress from the site. On the east side, the angles formed by previously existing developments in Prince of Wales Terrace, Cambridge Place and Albert Place greatly restricted possibilities. A reasonable conception might have been a somewhat irregular square, but the requirements of financial return probably ruled that out. The uninspiring layout, made no later than March 1882, squeezed in no less than seventy-seven individual plots, of which sixty-three were to occupy the edges of the site but fourteen were sited in the centre, bisected by a central roadway. (fn. 110) Apart from some cramped communal space attached to these central plots, the houses were to have only minimal back yards and few were to exceed twentyfive feet in width. Blocks were reserved for stabling in the north-west and south-east corners.
Carr set about making something of this situation by his former expedient of bringing in an architect of repute. At Bedford Park he had employed several advanced architects, most successfully Norman Shaw, but by 1881 Shaw and he had parted ways, probably over fees— or the lack of them. For Kensington Court (as the development was known by November 1882)Carr turned to J.J. Stevenson, another acknowledged leader of the ‘Queen Anne’ movement. (fn. 111) Stevenson had made his mark as one of the earliest purveyors of individual London houses in the Queen Anne style, like No. 8 Place Gate, close to Kensington Court. But he had also turned to making speculative desings in a similar idion (as at Nos. 42–58 Pont Street of 1877–8), so that the task proposed to him by Carr was familiar. A block plan of the estate signed by Stevenson in March 1882 suggests that the layout may have been his. (fn. 112)
A more remarkable departure made by Carr so as to attract householders to Kensington Court was in the arrangements for servicing. Reasoning perhaps that these conventional. houses needed something to set them apart, he had the roads made with large subways beneath, a little over five feet in height and three feet in width, allowing room for men to work in. Within these were installed gas, water, and hydraulic mains, and provision was made for future electric wiring. The most unusual feature was the hydraulic supply. This was to power the lifts which took the place of back stairs in all the speculative houses. The source of supply was a specially built pumping station on a site next to that of the stables on the south-east corner of the estate, built by E. B. Ellington's London Hydraulic Power Company in 1884i. The Kensington Court system represents the first use in Britain of hydraulic mains for supplying domestic consumers. Electric lighting followed on two years later. By another projected innovation, the pockets of open space in the centre of the development were not to be turfed but ‘stocked with plants grown elsewhere, such as orange trees and rhododendrons in flower, and it is also proposed, under the same general contract, to have the fronts of the houses adorned with flowers’ (Plate 26a, 26b). (fn. 113)
These provisions augured well for Kensington Court. Yet from the start ‘take-up’ seems to have been slow. House-building started only in 1883, at which date Can concluded a revised agreement with Land Securities concentrating initial development on the east side of the estate. By this arrangement, Jonathan Carr and his brother Richardson Carr bought and mortgaged back the plots of thirty houses only, covering approximately the sites of the present Nos. 3–15 and 22–25 on the east side and of Roxburghe mansions and Cornwall Mansions on the west side. If the houses on all these plots were finished by September 1885, Carr was to receive from Land Securities the freehold of the five plots facing the main road west of the approach road (the sites of No. 1 Kensington High Street and of Cumberland House). (fn. 114)
On this basis development proceeded. Stevenson's original brief seems to have been to design and build terraces for the eastern site, at Nos. 3–15 and 22–25, and to propose a solution for the short southern frontage connecting these (Now Nos. 16–21), where the abuttal of properties behind in Cambridge Place caused problems for all these sites the builder was Henry Lovatt of Wolverhampton, then in the midst of erecting the City and Guilds College in Exhibition Road. (fn. 115) The choice led the Building News to remark: ‘it is not improbable that we may see a further development of large old-established country builders taking work in London, thus filling the gap caused by the retirement from business lately of several of the more prominent London builders'. (fn. 116)
With the rest of the development Stevenson and Lovatt were not necessarily to be connected, since the plots were to be sold freehold and purchasers allowed to use their own architects. But at this stage Carr was assured of only two such sales. One was the double-plot site at No. 1 Kensington Court, bought in November 1882 by Mrs. Anne Marie Lucena, who employed Stevenson to build here the large ‘Chenesiton House’; the other, next door, was agreed for in February 1883 by Athelstan Riley, who was to build a handsome corner house, No. 2 Kensington Court, to designs by Stevenson's ex-colleague from Gilbert Scott's office, T.G.Jackson.
In May 1883 Carr floated a company, Kensington Court Limited, to take over his interests in the development. It was intended presumably as a device to limit his liability, involvement in Kensington Court may already have been waning, for by the end of 1883 he was immersed in a more ambitious speculation at Whitehall Court. Here too he formed a company, but with an initial capital of £700,000 as against a mere £50,000 for its Kensington Court equivalent. (fn. 118) This venture was to land Carr in very grave difficulties, leading him in 1886 to sell up many of his property interests and escape bankruptcy by only a hair's breadth. These problems affected Kensington Court, where the company established in 1883 seems to have played no important role. By 1888 many of Carr's shares in Kensington Court Limited had been taken over by West Yorkshire manufacturers and merchants, doubtless creditors of his textile business. (fn. 117)
By the beginning of 1886 the first phase of building activity at Kensington Court was nearing a close. The best houses, Nos. 1 and 2 Kensington Court facing the park and the main road, were finished, and Stevenson's three sided range Nos. 3–25 was well advanced. In addition a portion of the central area had been conveyed to Jonathan and Richardson Carr in March 1884; (fn. 119) here Lovatt had built a square block of four houses, Nos. 26–29, which were among the largest in the development and may firmly be attributed to Stevenson. The gabled stabling in the south-east corner was also under way, compactly arranged for economy of space, with quarters for grooms and other out-servants above the horses. Only one further plot had been sold, at No. 1 Kensington High Street, the westernmost site on the estate facing the main road. Here the London and County Bank in 1884–5 raised premises in a handsome late French or Burgundian Gothic style in tenor with the rest of the development, their architect being Alfred Williams. All these buildings are separately described below.
Hereafter Carr disappeared from the history of Kensington Court; Land Securities were left to make what they could of the remaining sites, amounting to more than half of the estate. Why the initial scheme was unsuccessful does not emerge. The housing market in the mid 1880s was not buoyant; nor perhaps were the professional classes sufficiently beguiled by the modern conveniences of servicing on offer at Kensington Court to forget that the houses were mainly small and crammed together. A contributing reason may have been difficulties with title, consequent upon the tangled affairs of Baron Grant. Of the twenty seven speculative houses erected by Carr, Stevenson and Lovatt, only two appear to have been conveyed by 1886, despite the promoters' announced intention of selling all the plots freehold (fn. 120) two further houses were sold in 1889, but at No. 27, for instance, the title was not confirmed until 1900. (fn. 121) In 1884 King's College, London, after considering a large site in Kensington Court for a new building to house their Ladies' Department (see page 20), gave it up on grounds that Carr's conditions were objectionable and that the title was ‘confused’. (fn. 122)
The most interesting development on the estate after Carr had bowed out was the establishment in the northwest corner of the Kensington Court Electric Lighting Company under the auspices of R. E. Crompton, firstly with temporary premises (1886) and later with a permanent station designed by J. A. Slater (1888). South of this station Slater built a house for Crompton, now No. 48 Kensington Court (1888–9). These buildings are discussed in further detail below.
The remainder of Kensington Court was taken up by orthodox houses and middle-class flats of no particular note. They were erected probably under the general supervision of Arthur Garrard of V. Buckland and Garrard, surveyors, who lived at No. 8 Kensington Court and from 1888 at the latest until 1894 was acting on behalf of Land Securities as freeholders of the estate. (fn. 123) The earliest of these buildings was on the central site west of Nos. 26–29, where Kensington Court Mansions was erected in three stages between 1886 and 1890 for a timber merchant, Frederick Baynes, to designs by J. T. Perry and F. H. Reed. (fn. 124) Next, a smaller block of flats, Palace Place Mansions (No. 36 Kensington Court) and some business premises (now No. 47 Kensington Court) were built in 1889–91 on the west side of the passage facing Crompton's house and generating station; these were designed by Alfred Burnell Burnell and constructed and owned by J. W. Duffield, a local builder who had his works here. These floats were unsuccessful at first, many remaining unlet in 1898. (fn. 125) In 1890–2 the north face of Kensington Court east of Crompton's house was developed, largely with innocuous Queen Anne houses (Plate 28a) erected by one Oliver Cromwell, a Chislehurst builder (Nos. 49–60). (fn. 126) But the estern corner house, No. 61, was reserved for an individual design in an odd, retardataire Italian taste, made by W. W. Gwyther for Joshua Michael Joshua and built by Holloway Brothers in 1891–2 (Plate 29d). (fn. 127) North of this, the remaining large gap facing the main road east of the London and County Bank was filled in 1892–3 by Cumberland House, a prosaic six-storey block of flats designed by R.J. Worley and built by E. Lawrence and Son. This building fell foul of London County Council regulations on height but, after a court case, was allowed to remain. (fn. 128)
This left only the west side of Kensington Court between Place Place Mansions and Thackeray Street to be developed. In 1894 the Land Securities Company (for reasons which are far from clear but do not appear to have involved any serious failure) went into voluntary liquidation. It continued in nominal existence for several years while its assets were gradually sold off by the accountant Edwin Waterhouse and the company's solicitor, R.C. Ponsonby. The remaining five blocks of flats in Kensington Court, dating from between 1896 and 1902, were all built on the freeholds of the purchasers. The most striking of these were Kent House and Kensington House (Nos. 34 and 35 Kensington Court), Built in 1896–7 by John Grover and Son. Designed by R.J. Worley in the bigboned Tudoe manner that marked his contemporary Sicilian Avenue, Holborn, with crenellated parapets and liberal terracotta dressings (Plate 29c), these two blocks were to be complemented by a third to the south, which would have made the composition symmeteical, but the southern block did not go forward. (fn. 129) Also built in 1896–8 was Roxburghe Mansions, No. 32 Kensington Court, a fussy block in Queen Anne taste (Plate 29a); here the architect was Paul Hoffmann and the builders Bywater and Son, working on behalf of A. J. Barker, for whom Hoffmann had just built St. Alban's Mansions in Kensington Court Place nearby (see page 147). (fn. 130) The remaining gaps were filled by Cornwall Mansions, No.33 Kensington Court, also designed by Hoffmann and erected in 1902, and by Durward House, No. 31 Kensington Court, at the corner of Thackeray Street, built in 1901–2 with elevations in a crude Queen Anne style by Durward Brown. (fn. 131) Durward House belongs to the development of Thackeray Street, treated more fully on pages 51–3.
No. 1 Kensington Court
‘Chenesiton House’, so named after one of the ancient spellings of Kensington, occupies what were originally ment to be two plots overlooking Kensington Road. The freehold of both was bought by Mrs. Anne Marie Lucena of Stanhope Gardens in November 1882 and a large house, over fifty feet in frontage with six-stall stables behind, was built here in 1883–4. Holland and Hannen were the builders, with J.J. Stevenson as architect and william McGill as clerk of works. The florid ironwork of the balconies and railings was supplied by A. Newman and Company. (fn. 132)
The front of Chenestion House (Plate 26c) is one of Stevenson's ornater contributions to the street architecture of London, inspired by late-seventeenth-century houses of Central Europe. Built of pink brick and buff terracotta, it has strongly shaped gables, decorated hoods over the windows, and an attractive angular tourelle with lead capping over what was once the entrance to the stables. An unusual feature for its date is the strongly rusticated, square headed porch. Inside, the ground floor included a library, dining-room and morning-room, while the first floor boasted not only a large drawing-room and a boudoir but also the principal bedroom and dressingroom. On the mezzanine floor above this, at the back, was a top-lit billiard-room. The staircase was of pitchpine, but with a mahogany handrail. There was also a back stair instead of the hydraulic service lift installed in other contemporary houses on the estate.
No. 2 Kensington Court
This, the most striking house to be built at Kensington Court, was designed by T. G. Jackson and raised in 1883–4. The contractor was Albert Estcourt of Gloucester, who built widely for Jackson at this time, and Robert Edwards was clerk of works. It is Jackson's only London town house. The client was John Athelstan Laurie Riley (1858–1945), a twenty-five-year-old bachelor at the time of building. (fn. 133)
Riley, the son of a barrister and grandson of the founder of the Union Bank, concerned himself much with Anglo-Catholicism, Near-Eastern travel, music and the arts, and was for some years a keen proponent of religious education upon the London School Board. (fn. 134) As he was ‘not called upon to put his hand to the plough’, Jackson was able to provide him with an individual house with some unusual features, costing upwards of £7,800. In exterior style the house (Plate 27a) is among the first in Kensington to manifest the enthusiasm of artistic architects in the 1880s for Flemish buildings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, being contemporary with George and Peto's more fanciful essays in this manner at Harrington Gardens. However Jackson, an architect not commonly susceptible to foreign influence, may have been thinking equally (as W. J. Loftie suggested) of early Tudor houses like Sutton Place and Layer Marney Towers as the source for a brick-and-terracotta building of this sort. (fn. 135) The front facing Kensington Road has a tall shaped gable, blank panels of cut-brick tracery over the second-floor windows, and reliefs of winged putti in terracotta below them. (During the London School Board election of 1894 Riley is said to have had this front ‘literally plastered with bills and manifestoes … All passers-by were attracted by the sight of one of the finest mansions in Kensington being utilised as a bill-poster's station’. (fn. 136) ) The long return front to Kensington Court contains an inset entrance porch but is quieter, relying for its effect on pilaster strips of brick. But it was enlivened soon after the house was completed by a pretty ground-storey bay window to the library, capped by a vigorously sculptured group in terracotta with entwined sea monsters, ‘the idea being taken from the spire of the Exchange at Copenhagen’ (fig. 24). (fn. 137) Probably at the same time, the rear of the house was raised by a storey and a half and given a small gable with a statue of St. Lawrence in a niche. These additions were perhaps among alterations to the house made by Estcourt in 1890, three years after Athelstan Riley's marriage to Andalusia, daughter of Viscount Molesworth. (fn. 138) All round the exterior run ornamental stringcourses bearing Riley's initials, delicately modelled like the rest of the buff terracotta detailing by Farmer and Brindley from Jackson's designs, and made by Doultons.
The interior accommodation (fig. 23) included a library, study, dining-room and a tiny cedar-panelled oratory on the ground floor, all now much changed. An inlaid door between the dining-room and chapel, specially commissioned for the house from one Gregory, son of Demetrios, while Riley was visiting Mount Athos in 1883, does not survive. The chapel had an old sculpted reredos framed and elaborated by J. N. Comper (now in Cavendish Church, Suffolk), and cedar panelling installed in 1894 by C. E. Kempe, who also designed a sideboard in the dining-room. (fn. 139) As at No. 1 Kensington Court, there was a main staircase and a back staircase but no lift. The main stair is oak-panelled and survives in good condition, as do the drawing-room and music gallery on the first floor. The drawing-room, a large apartment overlooking the park, retains a small corner chimneypieace in oak with inset De Morgan tiles. On the other side of the stairs, originally separated from the landing only by an arch, is the curved and cantilevered small music gallery, with a low plaster relief of putti (originally on a blue ground) across its width, made by the sculptor George Frampton in 1893. (fn. 140) Behind this lay the small drawing-room, with a handsome plaster ceiling incorporating Riley's initials and the gridiron of St. Lawrence. This in 1887 became Mrs. Riley's sitting-room and was equipped with French furniture which had belonged to her grandmother, the Marchesa di Vinchiaturo. (fn. 141) Elsewhere the house was copiously supplied with antique furniture and objects acquired by Riley on his travels, especially in the Near East. But the pièce de resistance was a Broadwood grand pianoforte, with a green-stained case designed by Jackson in 1890 and inlaid by C. H. Bessant with satinwood, ebony, tortoiseshell and mother of pearl. This stood in the drawing-room and remains in the possession of the Riley family. (fn. 142)
No. 2 Kensington Court was widely and on the whole favourably noticed in architectural circles. Architecture in 1897 called it ‘the admiring cynosure of the many wayfarers who pass along this thronging route’. (fn. 143) C. E. Mallows, reviewing Jackson's work for the rival Architectural Review, was severer, contrasting its style with the more familiar Jacobethan buildings he had designed for Oxford and Cambridge: ‘Mr. Jackson has thought well, like many another lover, to flirt, in a careless moment, with his own true love's coquettish cousin from Flanders, with the result that his temporary perfidy is written large upon the building, and tends to lower it, for this reason alone, to a level below that of his other work’. (fn. 144)
The house was until recently (1985) part of the Milestone Hotel and has been considerably altered within. In 1978 the elevations were partly covered with rendering, but the Greater London Council's Historic Buildings Board intervened and the roughcast was smartly removed. ‘The cheering sight which greets the passersby is of a bevy of workmen busily employed scraping the whole thing off again’, remarked the Architects' Journal. (fn. 145)
Nos. 3–25 Kensington Court and stables
These twenty-three houses were designed by J. J. Stevenson as the original speculative element in J. T. Carr's scheme for Kensington Court, and were built by Henry Lovatt of Wolverhampton in 1883–6. They fall into three groups: Nos. 3–15, commenced in July 1883, Nos. 19–25, begun in March 1884, and the intervening Nos. 16–18, not started till July 1885. (fn. 146)
The design of Nos. 3–15 (Plates 27b, 28a) consists of a straightforward Queen Anne terrace of red brick, with buff terracotta dressings supplied by Gibbs and Canning of Tamworth, who were simultaneously making terracotta for Lovatt to fix at the City and Guilds College nearby. (fn. 147) The arrangement is symmetrical. The houses at the ends and two nearer the middle break forward slightly and have full stepped gables while the others have two storeys of dormers in the roofs, which are of tile in the front and slate at the back. A frieze runs along the whole front over the first-floor windows, whose balconies are carried on shallow arches of some depth to give vigour to the composition in profile.
The houses provided, in the words of The Builder, ‘the usualy reception-rooms, eight bedrooms, two dressing-rooms, bath-rooms, servants' hall and offices’. (fn. 34) Hydraulic lifts, supplied from the nearby station of the London Hydraulic Power Company, substituted for back stairs behind the main staircase (fig. 25). With the interior fittings and decorations of the houses (Plate 28b) Stevenson may not have had much to do. These, at least after Carr had backed out of the scheme, were entrusted to another architect, W. A. Rolfe, who was described in 1887 as ‘resident architect to the estate’. (fn. 148)
Nos. 18–25 follow the same pattern of architecture, with differences to allow for the corner site. But Nos. 16 and 17, which could be built only after extra land was secured at the back of Cambridge Place early in 1885, (fn. 149) differ. No. 16, occupying the corner site, is L-shaped, has only four storeys above ground, is faced wholly in brickwork and exhibits few foreign touches of style. By contrast No. 17 unexpectedly reverts to the style of Jackson's No. 2 Kensington Court, with a tall crow-stepped gable, stone dressings and Flemish Gothic detailing (Plate 26a). This appears to be Stevenson's only executed building in this manner and the only survival from the scheme illustrated in 1883 for this front of Kensington Court, when the plots were differently arranged and such a house was scheduled to appear on the site of No. 20 (Plate 26b). (fn. 150) As far as is known these houses (excepting No. 16) followed the pattern of Nos. 3–15 in plan; most of them have now been converted into flats. The one early resident of note here was Paris Eugene Singer, playboy heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune; he bought Nos. 19 and 20 in 1889 when aged only twenty-two and lived at No. 19, for which he procured ceiling designs in that year from J. D. Crace. (fn. 151)
South of No. 25 Kensington Court is Stevenson's and Lovatt's stable block for the development. It bears the date 1886 and has two pretty Queen Anne gables facing the roadway on either side of a yard. The original arrangement comprised coach-houses on the ground floor, stables on the first floor reached up an inclined plane, and coachmen's quarters above this. (fn. 152) The buildings have been converted into flats and are known now as Kensington Court Mews.
Nos. 26–29 Kensington Court
This isolated clump of four houses in the centre of Kensington Court was erected in 1884–6 by Henry Lovatt to designs attributable to Stevenson. (fn. 153) They differ from a first idea for this site, which was for a terrace of five houses. Instead, this substantial, four-square block, generally weightier than Stevenson's other houses, was built. The houses have raised basements, two main storeys and further accommodation in the roofs, which as elsewhere in the development are of tiles in front and slates behind. The materials are again brick with detailing of terracotta, but No. 27 has banded stone dressings to the windows. Angled bays, tourelles and broad gables add incident to the composition (Plate 27c, fig. 27).
No. 28, one of the larger houses here, was inhabited from 1901 until his death in 1927 by Louis Samuel Montagu, from 1911 the second Lord Swaythling. Until its recent conversion into flats, its handsome, angular reception rooms showed many signs of an expensive Edwardian remodelling. The doorcase, which stands within a recessed porch, was in the Art Nouveau taste. No. 27, a smaller house, was altered internally for Gerald Montagu, a brother of the second Lord Swaythling, by William Flockhart, probably in about 1910–11. (fn. 154) The houses of this group were the most elegant of the speculative dwellings erected at Kensington Court and were well inhabited. Like Nos. 3–25, they from the first had hydraulic lifts instead of service staircases.
Nos. 46 and 48 Kensington Court (including Electric Lighting Station)
Though electric lighting was anticipated when the subways of Kensington Court were built, (fn. 116) no wiring or source of supply was at first forthcoming, probably because the Electric Lighting Act of 1882 was so restrictive. However in June 1886 the Kensington Court Electric Lighting Company was established under the direction of R. E. B. Crompton, then emerging as one of Britain's foremost early electrical engineers. (fn. 155) Crompton had since 1883 been engaged in installing electric lighting at the Ring and Burg Theartes in Vienna, where his leading engineer was Hew Stevenson, nephew of J. J. Stevenson. He thus came to hear of the Kensington Court development and was shown round the estate by J. J. Stevenson, probably in 1885. It seems that no progress was made till Carr and Stevenson had disappeared from the scene. Crompton was busy in Vienna at the time, and much of the preliminary work for the Kensington Court scheme was entrusted to his assistant H. M. Miller. When the company was set up, the principals in it were Granville Ryder, Chairman of the Land Securities Company which owned the freehold of the estate, Sir Richard Webster (later Lord Alverstone), Sir Frederick Bramwell, the engineer, and Francis Bolton, supplier of copper strip for wiring. (fn. 156)
Work on a temporary generating station, in the north-west corner of the estate where stables had been previously intended, commenced in September 1886 and direct current was supplied from January 1887. (fn. 157) The building was at first a wooden shed with an adapted locomotive boiler and a Willans engine coupled to a dynamo, generating current at 100/140 volts. The current was transmitted at first to houses in Kensington Court only, on bare copper mains resting on porcelain insulators fixed to brackets on the sub-way walls. The houses had batteries or accumulators which were charged before dusk each day, but the supply could be supplemented direct from the dynamo if necessary.
The machinery was quickly improved as demand increased. In March 1888, in anticipation of the less restrictive Electric Lighting Act passed in that year, the company was expanded into the Kensington and Knights-bridge Electric Lighting Company and, in preparation for supplying a wider area, the present station was erected to designs by J. A. Slater, an architect who already had some experience of electrical installations. (fn. 158) The new permanent station consisted principally of a large basement nine feet below street level, equipped (in 1890) with three Babcock and Wilcox boilers linked to seven Willans-Crompton generating sets, of which three supplied current at 100/120 volts and four at 200/240 volts. The station continued to generate until 1900, when it was converted to alternating current and became a sub-station to the company's main source of power at Wood Lane, Shepherd's Bush. (fn. 159) The building was stripped out, leaving little but the front, in 1985.
Immediately south of the generating station, Slater designed a house for Crompton himself, ‘Thriplands’, No. 48 Kensington Court, built in 1888–9 by Kirk and Randall of Woolwich. (fn. 160) In style this house, which is faced in orange brick with stone dressings, is in the same unexceptional Tudor that characterizes the station, but the construction manifested Crompton's interest in structural as well as electrical engineering. ‘My house’, recollected Crompton in 1928, ‘was, I believe, one of the earliest to be built in England on the modern principle of framed steel girders on which the outer and inner brickwork is supported.’ (fn. 161) Precise details are lacking, but visitors from the Architectural Association in 1889 noted the use of ‘Lindsay's steel decking’ for the ground floor, and observed that one of the main girders spanned twenty-six feet and carried 120 tons. (fn. 162) The topmost two floors were arranged as a laboratory, which could be supplied with heavy current from the station behind; here Crompton carried out many of his most important experiments. Heating, unusually for this date, was supplied by gas, which was also used for cooking. Nor did Crompton neglect the arts in his house. Having assisted when in Vienna in the revival of the Nuremberg tradition of decorative ironwork, he procured from a designer who had worked on the Burg Theatre ‘some extremely beautiful iron tracery which supports the railing of the main staircase’. (fn. 163)
Hydraulic Power Station (No. 35 Kensington Court Place)
A plain brick building with a small tower at the back (in which Georgian-style windows have recently been inserted) lies south of the old stables to Kensington Court, opposite the end of Thackeray Street. Now a private house, it was constructed in 1884 as the supply station of the London Hydraulic Power Company. The introduction of hydraulic power to work the lifts of houses at Kensington Court was an important early feature of Jonathan Carr's plan for the estate and represented a striking innovation. Hydraulic mains had long been technically possible and independently powered hydraulic lifts were becoming common, but no centralized system to speak of existed in London before 1882, when Edward Bayzand Ellington set up the London Hydraulic Power Company. By an Act of 1884 this company secured a wide area of operation for its system of mains, but its early network was centred upon the commercial riverside districts, where lay the largest consumers of hydraulic power. (fn. 164)
The Kensington Court station was at first entirely independent of this system and evidently was an experiment on Ellington's part. Built by Henry Lovatt and equipped by the firm of Ellington and Woodall, it housed horizontal pumping engines, boilers, and a large ‘accumulator’ contained in the tower. From here water at 400–450 pounds per square inch was supplied via ‘pressure’ and ‘return’ pipes in the subways to the lifts of the houses, which took the place of service stairs. The lifts, made at Chester by Ellington's Hydraulic Engineering Company, were on the direct-acting ram principle; they had cases of ash and walnut and were fitted with self-locking doors for safety. (fn. 165)
Though the station expanded its supply as flats proliferated in Kensington Court and the neighbourhood, it proved too small to run economically and in 1892 it was annexed to the growing network of London Hydraulic Power Company mains. The pumping plant was then shut down and a charging valve installed to convert mains pressure from 750 pounds to 450 pounds. In 1928 some of the lifts still worked hydraulically, but all are now powered by electricity. (fn. 166) (fn. n4)
Nos. 1 and 1A Kensington High Street
This striking Gothic building (Plate 30a, 30c) stands on the westernmost part of the Kensington Court estate to front upon the high road, at the point where Kensington Road becomes Kensington High Street. It was built in 1884–5 for the London and County Bank to designs by the local architect Alfred Williams, probably with help from his son F. E. Williams. The contractors were T. Rider and Son, their tender being for £12, 428. (fn. 167)
The building, doubtless meant as a showpiece for the bank, is in a pungently Burgundian late-Gothic style and is built of narrow Fareham bricks with dressings of red Mansfield stone. There is much good carving, supplied by W. Seale and Son; the angular tourelle and crow-stepped dormer are prominent features. Within, the banking hall has a floor of marble mosaic and a dado of American walnut. Formerly there was also a modelled plaster ceiling, but this was taken down in 1984 when the bank was converted for use by a building society. The upper floors (originally Bank Chambers) are reached by an entrance (No. 1A) under No. 3 Kensington High Street. This replaced an open arch here which previously led through to the back premises.