Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
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The Rutland House Estate
The site of Rutland Gate was formerly two adjoining three-acre fields known as Wellfields. The lower or southern field lay directly behind the upper field, but slightly offset, and this 'displacement' is preserved in the shape of the development. In the seventeenth century Wellfields belonged to the extensive estate of William. Muschamp of Kensington. By 1752, when John Manners, 3rd Duke of Rutland, built Rutland House there, they were owned by John Milner, whose uncle had bought them in 1699, and they formed an independent freehold estate. The duke's lease covered the whole property, the upper field being the site of the house and gardens, while the lower was used as a paddock. (fn. 3)
A Chancery suit following Milner's death led to a public auction in 1771, when the freehold was bought by Jacob Whitbread, who ten years later sold it to Edward Manners of Goadby Marwood in Leicestershire, believed to have been the 3rd Duke of Rutland's illegitimate son. (fn. 4) Manners died in 1811, leaving the property for life to Ann Stafford, and on her death to the ten children he had fathered by her. A complex legal dispute after she died was not resolved until 1836–7, when the entire freehold effectively passed to Elizabeth Manners, the widow of the eldest son, Fursan. By drastically reducing the number of parties required to be involved in any legal transaction concerning the estate, this greatly facilitated its development on building leases. (fn. 5)
The Manners family retained the freehold of the entire estate until 1853, when the southern half was sold to the developer John Elger. The northern half was in the possession of Cubitt Estates before the First World War.
Rutland House (demolished)
Rutland House was built in 1752–3 by John Manners, 3rd Duke of Rutland, as a residence for himself, his companion Mrs Elizabeth Drake, and their son Edward Manners, then aged about seven. (fn. 1) The middling-sized mansion was among the earliest of the string of detached houses erected in the mid-eighteenth century along the south side of the Kensington road, between the older Powis House to the east and Kensington House to the west. It was also one of the first to disappear, being pulled down in the 1830s.
Doubtless the irregular nature of Mrs Drake's relationship with the duke, a widower in his mid-50s, was a factor in the choice of an out-of-town location. Nevertheless, there was nothing particularly clandestine about the arrangement. The duke's eldest son and heir, the famous Marquess of Granby, Commander-in-Chief of land forces in Great Britain, was a regular visitor. One of his daughters was born in the house in 1772, and the marquess himself, who predeceased his father, died there in 1773.
The site was taken by the duke on an 80-year lease from John Milner in March 1752. Building work began immediately and the house was substantially complete by the summer of 1753. It cost just under £4,432, of which £1,771 was paid to the bricklayer, Richard Stanton, and £1,317 to the carpenter, John Wright. (fn. 2) Extras included payments to a watchman for 440 nights at is a night (and £15s for meat for his cat), and £78s 3d for a 'raising dinner' given to the men. (fn. 6)
Nowhere in the building accounts is there a mention of the architect, who is thought to have been John Vardy. The evidence for his involvement is a sheet of drawings, unsigned and undated but endorsed 'John Vardy 1763' (Plate 72b). (fn. 7) The date is puzzling, and raises the question whether the endorsement is contemporary. Vardy's absence from the accounts might be explained if he did no more than provide a draught of the house. A 'Mr Morris', perhaps the surveyor and architectural writer Robert Morris, was responsible for measuring the builders' work.
Rutland House was built of red brick, with some Portland-stone dressings. It was a squarish building, five bays wide with a pedimented centre, flanked by lower service wings and linking arcades – the classic Palladian disposition. At the time of its demolition the house had three full storeys plus an attic (Plate 72a), but both the 'Vardy' drawing and Rhodes's map of 1766 (Plate 2a) show a two-storey building. The elevations were plain, embellished only with simple bandcourses and a central stone frontispiece embracing the pedimented and columned doorcase and the window surround on the floor above. The mason was paid extra for altering the frontispiece 'from what was first intended'.
The interior was conventionally planned (Plate 72b). On the ground floor was a large entrance hall, dining-room, drawing-room, and another room called the library in a later survey. The staircase, a wooden one, was relegated to a compartment behind the hall. On the first or principal floor were four bedrooms and several closets. According to the Vardy plan only the western of the two single-storey 'arcade' rooms communicated directly with the house itself. The stables were in the east service wing, the kitchens in the west wing.
The building accounts do not convey the impression of an elaborately decorated interior. In the principal rooms the walls appear to have been mostly hung with fabric, above wainscotted dados, and there were enriched plaster cornices. Stone and marble chimneypieces, carved by James Whittle & Son, were installed in the dining – and drawing-rooms and in the first-floor rooms, the most expensive decorated with carved tablets – 'Diana's head & her Trophies' (dining-room), and 'Apollo's Head in Glory' (drawing-room).
After the death of the duke in 1779, the property and most of its contents passed to Elizabeth Drake, (fn. 8) who seems to have gone on living there until she died, about 1800. For much of that time the rates were paid by her son, Edward Manners, by then the freehold owner of the estate. He succeeded his mother as the occupant, and on his own death in 1811, the house passed to his common-law wife Ann Stafford, who shared it with her eldest son, Fursan Manners. (fn. 9)
Following Ann Stafford's death in 1827, Rutland House stood empty for several years while the estate languished in the limbo of litigation. Then in 1833 it was put on the market, and George Robins, the auctioneer, issued particulars balancing some eye-catching views of the house (Plate 72a) against a frank assessment of the problems and potential of the property: (fn. 10)
A few years since … it had the misfortune to be visited with a fearful attack from the Court of Chancery, which on the outset paralyzed almost every limb … It is now happily convalescent, but it would be uncandid to deny that there are 'outward and visible signs' that a termination of this protracted suit was most devoutly to be wished.
In its present condition the 'house would be inadequate to the high pretensions of a Nobleman without encountering a large outlay'. On the other hand, a 'Minister of State would find it difficult to resist this expenditure, or adopting the alternative to crect a more splendid habitation, when it is remembered that all the agrémens of a Town and Country abode are contained at a distance of ten minutes drive from the Great Offices of State'.
Alternatively, the site offered an opportunity for development on an 'extended Scale', being 'suitable for an Immense Square of First-Rate Houses or a group of detached Villas'.
For all the auctioneer's blandishments, Rutland House failed to attract a buyer. Empty and unwanted, the neglected mansion survived until January 1836 when it was pulled down for redevelopment, Robins being called in again to sell the materials. (fn. 11)