Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
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Early Development of Rutland Gate, 1836–c. 1847
In January 1836, as Rutland House was being demolished, the first of several agreements was made with Elizabeth Manners, as de facto freeholder, for developing the estate, and by the end of the following year much of the northern half of the ground had been let as building plots. (fn. 7)
Development had been in mind for some years, and in 1832 a plan of the Brompton road area had shown the southern part of the ground marked out for building along lines similar to those subsequently adopted. (fn. 8) The scheme eventually drawn up by Mrs Manners' surveyor, the architect Edward Cresy the elder, is shown on a rather perfunctory plan which he submitted with an application to build sewers in October 1836. (fn. 9) Cresy's scheme was for a wide road through the middle of the ground, divided into two carriageways by a central communal garden running its full length, and lined on either side by continuous terraces of houses. Short terraces were to occupy the frontages to the Kensington road. At the south end, side roads were planned so that the estate could be linked up with developments present or future on adjoining properties. The central roadway, following the alignment of the ground, took an offset bend which, together with the nearness of Hyde Park, presumably suggested the original name of the development: Serpentine Terrace.
The first prospective builder on the scene was George Crowne of Foley Place, Marylebone, who undertook to construct a dozen houses on the north-eastern sector of the ground. But at the end of 1836, having built nothing, he sold his interest to the architect (Sir) Matthew Wyatt. (fn. 10) Nine houses were ultimately erected under Crowne's agreement, some on widened plots, together with coachhouses and stabling in Upper Rutland Gate Mews (now Gate Mews). Three of these houses, Nos 3–7, were leased jointly to Wyatt and his partner John Howell in December 1837. Leases of six more houses, Nos 1 and 9–17, were granted to Howell almost exactly two years later. (fn. 11) (fn. 1) A party to these latter leases was John Tombs, who was by then under agreement to build houses on ground south of No. 17, and on the west side of Serpentine Terrace. He was, very likely, the executant builder of all nine houses, which had been completed and occupied by 1840. (fn. 12)
Tombs's address was then in Church Street, Millbank, but he had been in business for some years previously in Southwark, initially in partnership with Thomas Tombs: they had described themselves variously as bricklayers, builders and timber merchants. Another member of the family, George Tombs, a plasterer, was living at No. 18 in 1841 and was presumably involved in the building work. (fn. 13) In 1840–1 John Tombs was the ratepayer at No. 12 Rutland Gate, which was probably being occupied as a site office. (fn. 14)
On the north-western sector of the ground, building was largely carried out under two agreements, dated May 1836 and October 1837. The first was made with Thomas Ross esquire, of Blackheath (who developed much of Blackheath Park in the 1820s and '30s). (fn. 15) Ross undertook to build four houses (Nos 2–8) fronting the Kensington road. Two of these houses were subsequently leased to him, and the others by his direction to George Ross, possibly Thomas's brother, a surveyor based near Tombs's old home in Southwark. (fn. 16) As with the corresponding eastern range, the site had originally been earmarked for five houses. The second agreement, taken out by Tombs, covered the sites of Nos 12–20 on the west side of the new road, and a large plot, for eight houses, on the east side, just on the bend. (fn. 17) Leases of Nos 12–18 were taken up by Tombs in May 1838 and immediately mortgaged to Cresy, who, at the same time, himself took the lease on No. 10, which may be presumed to have been built for him by Tombs. (fn. 18) In September, Tombs took the lease of another new house, No. 20. (fn. 19) Like Howell, Tombs financed his venture through the London Assurance Corporation, to which he was able to report, in July 1840, that four of his houses were finished, and two of them let. (fn. 20) Apart from No. 10, which remained empty until 1845, the houses were soon occupied. (fn. 21)
Although Tombs's involvement with Rutland Gate continued for some years, he did not build the intended houses on the east side of the road. By August 1839 he had made only a small incursion into his site there, in the form of a coach-house and stables at the north-east corner, for Thomas Ross. (fn. 22) The remainder of the plot was made over to William Jones, a rich Monmouthshire landowner and art collector, as the site for a big detached mansion known as Clytha House which was leased to him in 1840. Early in the following year Jones took two building plots on the other side of the road (the sites of Nos 22 and 26, and Rutland Gate Mews). They were separated by a larger plot already under agreement to another art collector, John Sheepshanks, also for a detached house. (fn. 23) The building of these two free-standing houses (separate accounts of which are given below) was the first important departure from Cresy's original development plan.
Jones's Clytha House and Sheepshanks's future house strongholds of dissimilar artistic tastes – might have faced each other across the neutral zone of the communal garden, but within a few weeks of acquiring the plots of Nos 22 and 26 Jones obtained a sweep of additional land to the west and south of Clytha House, taking a large bite out of the eastern roadway and the garden. (fn. 24) The upshot was a further modification of the layout, constricting the middle portion to a single roadway with no garden 'reservation', and giving the development its distinctive hour-glass shape (fig. 56). It was now in effect two garden squares, with the large houses standing in their own gardens forming a 'buffer zone' between them. The northernmost square was already more or less complete; its intended counterpart was slightly recast to have a semi-circular south end, with terrace-houses or detached villas occupying the two quadrant sites on either side of the entrance into a mews. (fn. 25)
It was at about this time that the name Serpentine Terrace – having thus become less apt – was changed to Rutland Gate. With its aristocratic connotation this had a grander sound. The entrance to the development was now railed and gated (the original plan had been for an open junction with the main road), and provided with a gatekeeper's or gardener's lodge, but a hoped-for entrance across the road into Hyde Park did not materialize. (fn. 26) (fn. 2)
The lodge, a stuccoed building, with an attached order of palm-headed columns similar to those on the porticoes of Tombs's houses in Rutland Gate, stood in the upper garden slightly forward of the general building line (Plate 73a). It was demolished in 1969, having been allowed to become semi-ruinous. (fn. 29) (fn. 3)
In 1841 the northernmost of William Jones's two plots on the west side of Rutland Gate was leased to the Hon. Edward Villiers, a brother of the 4th Earl of Clarendon, who occupied the new end-of-terrace house there (No. 22) until his death in 1843. (fn. 31) Jones's other plot was partially laid out by Tombs as Rutland Gate Mews, but apart from a stable for Villiers it was not built up until about 1845. (fn. 32) Tombs, by then resident in Chelsea, followed this in 1846–7 with a substantial, and to all intents and purposes detached, house (No. 26), partly overlooking the planned new church on the Kingston House estate. It seems to have been Tombs's last work at Rutland Gate. The house was evidently built speculatively, for, writing to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in January 1847, Tombs stated that it would be of the full size for a second-rate house, 'and will therefore be occupied by a family of the first respectability'. Although large, it had no garden, unlike Clytha House and No. 24. The lease was taken in due course by a City solicitor, Frederick Pratt Barlow, previously the first occupant of No. 17. (fn. 33) In the 1920s and '30s No. 26 was the London residence of Lord Redesdale, the father of the celebrated Mitford sisters. During Lord Redesdale's day the house was little-used, the rooms dust-sheeted for months on end. It was requisitioned for housing evacuces from the East End during the Second World War, and fell into disrepair before being restored by Patrick De Laszlo, son of the society portrait-painter Philip De Laszlo, who made the ballroom available for Conservative party meetings. In the late 1960s the ballroom was transformed into a private cinema, as part of a Hollywood-style remodelling of the interior carried out for Richard Gangel, the American friend and business associate of the financier Bernie Cornfeld. When their company Investors Overseas Services collapsed and Gangel went bankrupt, the house was put on the market for a then record sum, attracting some attention for the extravagance of its decorations and fittings. (fn. 34)
South of Clytha House, the development had continued in 1842 with a pair of plain semi-detached villas set back from the originally intended building line (see Plate 7). Who built them is not known. These modest houses, then numbered 21 and 23, were first occupied in 1843, by the artist and (later) royal drawing-master Edward Henry Corbould, and an architect, John Forbes Hardy, Corbould's house, No. 21, like its bigger neighbours Clytha House and No. 24, incorporated a 'gallery' – in his case, probably more a working studio. (fn. 35) The pair was rebuilt by John Elger in 1857–8 as Nos 23 and 25 (see below).
The architecture of upper Rutland Gate
As built, upper Rutland Gate presented two contrasting faces to the passer-by. At the north end, overlooking the park, were two showy ranges with fully stuccoed palazzastyle façades, ultimately deriving from Nash's Regent's Park terraces (fig. 57, Plates 34a, 73a, 74a, 77a). By contrast the houses behind were much plainer, with predominantly brick facades (Plate 74b). There were, in addition, comparatively minor differences in treatment between the two northernmost ranges and between the two ranges to the south. The estate surveyor, Edward Cresy, must have approved of the contrasting styles, but who was responsible for the actual designs is not known.
Matthew Wyatt, as a prominent architect who is known to have designed the houses on his own development at Victoria Square, is an obvious candidate. George Ross, the surveyor who took the leases of Nos 2 and 4, may himself have made some architectural contribution. The northeastern range, Nos 1 7, which Wyatt developed jointly with John Howell, had the more sophisticated façade of the two terraces fronting the Kensington road, but its design may have been his improved version of that at Nos 2–8 rather than an original concept of his own. Certainly, the decision to make the north-western range of four not five houses (the wider frontages making it possible to erect houses on a somewhat grander scale) had been taken by the time of Thomas Ross's building agreement in May 1836. Wyatt is not known to have had any involvement in the development of the estate until December 1836, when he bought out George Crowne's interest on the as yet virtually untouched north-eastern corner. He too proceeded to build a row of four houses facing the Kensington road, rather than the five stipulated in Crowne's agreement. Wyatt's houses at Nos 1–7 were distinguished from Nos 2–8 by the varied shapes of window used, the greater degree of stucco enrichment, and the breaking forward of the end houses to give the effect of pavilions.
The plainest of all the houses were those comprising the eastern range, Nos 9–17, of which only Nos 9 and 11 survive. These houses all had the comparatively narrow frontages indicated on Cresy's original development plan. Although here too fewer houses were built than first intended, the plots were not enlarged, the spare ground being taken for coach-houses in what is now Gate Mews. On the opposite side of the road, Nos 10–22 are built on wider plots and have a more ornamental treatment, with string-courses and stuccoed window surrounds (Plate 74b). The bow window at No. 14 is a 1920s addition, and it is probable that No. 22 in its original form was not very different from the rest. A feature common to the houses on both sides of the road is a pillared portico with distinctive palm capitals.
Whether Cresy's role of estate surveyor included architectural design in any detail is not known. Possibly he designed the porticoes of the east and west ranges, and it seems likely that he was responsible for the planning of No. 10, of which he was the lessee (though not the occupant). While conforming in elevation to its neighbours, this house is distinguished by a semi-circular staircase (fig. 58). The design of contemporary staircases was a subject on which Cresy developed strong views – dismissing those in most English houses as too much like stepladders, but also criticizing the French taste for radial plans on the grounds of safety and convenience. (fn. 37)
The plans of the other houses, on both sides of the road, seem to have been entirely unremarkable, with conventional dog-leg staircases. (fn. 38)
The detached houses at the southern end of the development show a greater diversity. Of the three, No. 24, while lower in height and alone in having a bow at the front, was originally closet in appearance to its northern neighbours, with a brick front and the standard portico. Clytha House was wholly stuccoed with a symmetrical plan, semi-circular bays and a grand Ionic portico. No. 26, Tombs's last house, also originally stuccoed, was angular and asymmetric with a Doric portico. It has, apart perhaps from the treatment of the windows, no particular stylistic resemblance to his other houses. The balconies at Nos 24 and 26 have similar cast-iron balustrading, with plain supports at No. 24 and ornate brackets at No. 26.
Clytha House, No. 19 Rutland Gate (demolished)
Built around 1840 for William Jones (later Herbert), a Roman Catholic landowner and art collector, this neo-classical mansion was the largest house in Rutland Gate. Named after Jones's Monmouthshire estate, it stood well back from the road, in the centre of a large plot on the east side of the street originally allocated for a row of eight houses (fig. 56). Latterly the building was screened from view by trees. The site is now occupied by an inter-war block of flats called Eresby House.
Little is known about the construction of Jones's mansion, first occupied by him in 1841, and the only illustrations appear to be some distant glimpses in general views (Plates 6b, 7). From these, and written sources, it emerges as a stucco-faced house of two storeys plus an attic, square on plan, with a full-height tetrastyle Ionic portico on the north front and a picture gallery with bowed ends at the back. (fn. 39) In certain respects the house seems to have been modelled on Jones's neo-classical country seat, Clytha, which had been rebuilt for him in the 1820s by Edward Haycock, the Shropshire-based architect. There is, however, no documentary evidence to connect Haycock, or any other architect, with the Rutland Gate house.
The principal rooms were all on the ground floor. Arranged en suite for the reception of company, they comprised 'a handsome entrance paved with variegated marble opening to a vestibule', two drawing-rooms 'uniformly and superbly embellished by a celebrated foreign artist', 'a noble saloon or picture gallery with embayed ends and costly parquetrie floor' and a 'grand eating room'. (fn. 40) The unidentified foreign artist could have been Jones's friend Ludwig Grüner, the Dresden-born painter and engraver. Grüner seems to have been living at Clytha House when in October 1842 he witnessed Jones's signature, signing himself 'Lewis Gruner of Rutland Gate, engraver'. (fn. 41) (fn. 5)
The accommodation on the upper floors comprised a lady's morning room and seventeen bedrooms and dressing-rooms. The 'ample and convenient' domestic offices and servants' apartments included a separate stable and coach-house at the south-east corner of the site. (fn. 43)
Jones's occupation of this expensive house was relatively brief. In 1852 he withdrew to Monmouthshire, put Clytha House on the market, and disposed of the paintings and other contents at auction. (fn. 44) The lease was bought in June 1853 by Lord Edward Howard, another Catholic landowner, who in 1869 was created Baron Howard of Glossop. (fn. 45) Lord Howard occupied No. 19 (the name Clytha House fell into disuse) until his death there in 1883, and the house remained in the hands of his descendants until c.1912. (fn. 46)
The succeeding owners were an American couple, Dr Fred Stark Pearson and his wife, Mabel, on whose behalf it was purchased in 1914 by a trust company. Dr Pearson was an electrical engineer and entrepreneur, who had made his fortune through a series of public works enterprises including the electrification of the tramcar systems in New York and Boston, and the construction of hydroelectric-power stations around the world. He also had interests in mining, railways, forestry and irrigation.
With Thomas Henry Smith as their architect, the Pearsons embarked on an expensive modernization and enlargement of the by-then rather shabby and old-fashioned house. Smith raised the height of the building, which he extended on three sides, leaving only the north front unchanged. In the process Jones's bow-ended gallery was subsumed into a large oblong music-room-cum-drawingroom, at the east end of which there was to have been a grand organ with its pipe-chamber in the basement below. (fn. 47)
The Pearsons never lived here, however. In May 1915, while work was still in progress, they were lost when the liner Lusitania, on which they were returning to England from New York, was torpedoed off Ireland. After some delay their representatives decided to complete the 'rebuilding' with a view to selling the house, which was bought in 1916 by the 2nd Earl of Ancaster. (fn. 48) The earl lived here until 1931, during which time No. 19 was known as Eresby House, after one of his titles. By April 1931 plans were already afoot to build a block of flats on the site (see Eresby House below) and the old house succumbed to the demolition contractors in 1932. (fn. 49)
No. 24 Rutland Gate: Park House
Distinguished by a conspicuous bow rising through four storeys, this is the house, now much extended, built in 1841 for John Sheepshanks, the art collector and former Leeds cloth manufacturer, who occupied it until his death in 1863 (fig. 59, Plate 74c). (fn. 50) After retiring early from business, Sheepshanks had settled in London, in Bond Street and later at Blackheath. In the 1830s, having built up and disposed of an unrivalled collection of Dutch and Flemish prints, he began acquiring contemporary British paintings, which his new house in Rutland Gate, with its integral picture gallery, was designed in part to display. In 1857 he presented this collection, which included several Constables and Turners, to the nation.
When new, No. 24 was fully detached and had fewer storeys, as is shown in a bird's-eye view of the area in 1851 (Plate 7). The present top storey and, almost certainly, the second storey are later additions. Justifying his reluctance to admit visitors to the collection, Sheepshanks, a bachelor, explained that the house was 'of limited dimensions' with 'only a very small establishment of servants'. (fn. 51) One visitor whom Sheepshanks did not discourage was Henry Cole, the future first Director of the South Kensington Museum, to which the collection was entrusted in 1857. On one of his regular trips there, in February 1845, Cole was accompanied by Turner.
The house was originally faced in brick, yellow malms being specified in the building agreement for the front elevation (now mostly stuccoed) and grey stocks for the remainder. (fn. 52) Even with a brick façade, No. 24 must always have stood apart from its northern neighbours on account of its bow and, originally, its much lower height. That it has the standard pillared porch may be due to the estate surveyor, Edward Cresy, to whom the plans had to be submitted for approval, rather than to Sheepshanks's (unknown) architect. A possible candidate for this role is the surveyor George Ross. As has been seen, Ross and his relation Thomas Ross, a developer in Sheepshanks's former home district, Blackheath, were both involved in the early development of Rutland Gate.
All the principal rooms are on the ground floor. In Sheepshanks's day these comprised, besides the entrance hall, a drawing-room, dining-room and breakfast-room, and, in a single-storey wing to the south, the 'well-lighted' picture gallery. Sheepshanks's paintings were not confined just to the gallery, but hung in all the principal rooms. (fn. 53)
After Sheepshanks's death, the house was occupied by Eric Carrington Smith, a prominent banker and notable patron of the Vernacular Revival architect George Devey. It was presumably Smith, a family man with seven children and a large domestic staff, (fn. 6) who had the extra storeys built: a substantial increase in the rateable value of the house in 1864 doubtless reflects this addition. (fn. 55) The main staircase, still in the house today, was extended in matching style: early Victorian in character, with restrained iron balusters, it rises seamlessly from the hall to the top floor. Soon after taking up residence Smith laid a path across his garden to All Saints' Church in Ennismore Gardens, with gates which he opened for a short time before and after services for the convenience of local churchgoers. (fn. 56) Smith's successor here in 1885 was William Sheepshanks MP, a greatnephew of the original owner.
The next occupant, from 1899, was Baron Frédéric d'Erlanger of the well-known international banking family, some other members of which, including his father, were already living in Rutland Gate. Baron Frédéric successfully combined the careers of banker and composer. No less a virtuoso than Fritz Kreisler premiered his violin concerto, and his operas, though now sunk without trace, were heard at Covent Garden and in opera houses across Europe and in America.
The present appearance of No. 24 owes much to the alterations and additions carried out for d'Erlanger in 1899–1900 by Green & Abbott of Oxford Street, a decorating firm. (fn. 57) At the southern end d'Erlanger built a large single-storey dining-room next to Sheepshanks's gallery, which became his music-room, and at the northern end he added a four-storey extension, closing the gap between No. 24 and No. 22. The stuccoing of the front elevation up to third-floor level probably also dates from this time. Jalousies and some faintly Art-Nouveau-style windows in the old gallery and new dining-room testify to the Parisianborn d'Erlanger's essentially French taste. Internally this is exemplified in the plasterwork and panelling of the principal rooms, latterly painted white but originally gilded. (fn. 58)
D'Erlanger lived at No. 24, which he named Park House, until his death in 1943. Post-war occupants have included Frank T. Sabin, the fine-art dealers (1948–63), and the Accademia Italiana delle Arti e delle Arti Applicate (1989–94). During the Accademia's time the ground floor was regularly used for exhibitions.