Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
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Development in Northern Ennismore Gardens, 1869–85
Elger and his associates, and then the Thorn brothers, developed much of the Kingston House estate in the timehonoured manner of the grander speculative builder, covering their large 'takes' with regular terraces of houses and spacious communal gardens. By contrast the remaining portion, comprising Kingston House, its large private garden and the L-shaped strip to the east and south, was developed somewhat differently. The most important factor here was Kingston House. While Lord Listowel and his family remained in occupation any development was effectively restricted to the ground beyond the garden wall. In the late 1860s Lord Listowel allowed a piece of this ground, immediately east of Kingston House, to be used for the building of a large detached residence, Alford House. At this stage, however, there was no master-plan for dealing with the remaining vacant ground, let alone Kingston House itself.
Pressure on Lord Listowel to release more land for development grew in the early 1870s, when the builder Alexander Thorn, who was then on the verge of finishing his houses in southern Ennismore Gardens and keen to take on more speculative work in the area, made more than one offer for the vacant ground. (fn. 3) Perhaps as a consequence, an outline plan for building over the whole of the northern portion of the estate was drawn up in 1874, presumably by Listowel's surveyor, W. F. Meakin. (fn. 4) This showed a terrace of houses on the site of Kingston House itself, another along the eastern ground, south of Alford House, a mews on the west, and some large detached houses along the north side of Ennismore Gardens, opposite the Thorns' houses at Nos 1–9.
In July 1874 Thorn renewed his offer of a 'fair price' for the vacant land, promising that any building would be carried out 'with as much spirit and energy as the houses we have just completed'. (fn. 5) But he was to be disappointed and his only contribution to the development of this northern area was as a contract builder. The 1874 scheme was largely set aside and Kingston House and its garden survived for another half century. Further building was confined to the extra-mural strip, which was covered in stages with large detached houses and a mews during the late 1870s and early 1880s (fig. 64). Some of these houses were the work of a speculative builder. The others were designed by leading architects for wealthy individuals and were of outstanding architectural quality. Not one of them is still standing, the whole of this phase of development having been swept away for a comparatively undistinguished collection of flats and town-houses (see fig. 82).
Alford House (demolished)
Building on the strip of ground next to Kingston House garden began with the construction of a large detached residence at the corner of the Kensington road (fig. 64). This was Alford House, built in 1869–71 by Lady Marian(ne) Alford, the artistically inclined elder daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Northampton and, from 1851, widow of Viscount Alford, eldest son of the 1st Earl Brownlow. (fn. 1) Since 1853 Lady Alford's London home had been No. 11 Princes Gate, on the opposite corner to the future Alford House (Plates 7, 83b).
Negotiations for the site, immediately to the east of Kingston House, may have opened as early as 1866. But Lord Listowel seems to have prevaricated, and it was not until October 1868, after Lady Alford had personally asked him for a 'decisive reply' before she went abroad for the winter, that he finally agreed to let her have the ground. By early January 1869 both the site and the basic shape of the new house had been settled. In June the Metropolitan Board of Works approved the line of the frontage, and in August the building agreement was signed. Lord Listowel undertook to let her have the ground for 80 years, from 1869, at an annual rent of £400 (raised to £535 in 1873, when an extra piece of land to the south was added). He would not allow any on-site stabling and in 1870 she bought the lease of the newly built stable and coach-house at No. 9 Ennismore Gardens Mews. (fn. 6)
The architect of Alford House was Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt, hardly a surprising choice, since he had been regularly employed by both Lady Alford's own family and her husband's for important commissions at their country seats – Ashridge, Compton Wynyates, and Castle Ashby. Wyatt's first designs were for a very large house in a style seemingly influenced by the younger Thomas Cundy's Grosvenor Gardens, with a square tower at the north-east corner, capped by a soaring pyramidal roof in the New Louvre manner (Plate 86a). Probably too big for Lady Alford, this design would almost certainly have been rejected by Lord Listowel, who made it a condition that the building should be no taller than Kingston House. The revised design was towerless and considerably reduced in size. Still Second Empire in feeling, with a steep-pitched French roof, it was given a veneer of 'Queen Anne' by the use of deep-red brick for the elevations, and tawnycoloured terracotta for the copious ornamentation (Plate 86b). When Wyatt exhibited a perspective in 1872 (Plate 86c) the Builder questioned what was to be gained from having 'such an array of great carved festoons under the cornice', but praised the ornamental ironwork. (fn. 7)
The latter, as it happened, had been designed by Lady Alford herself, aided by Wyatt's loan of 'the two French iron works books you need'. (fn. 8) An accomplished draughtswoman and amateur painter, she was regularly consulted by Wyatt, and personally devised some of the interior decoration. But the claim advanced by the Dictionary of National Biography that the house itself was built mainly from her own designs appears to be an exaggeration. (fn. 9)
There was also some slight contribution from her friend Harriet Hosmer, the American sculptress, whose proposal for a moulding may have been for the fountain room, where the centrepiece was one of Hosmer's own works (see below). (fn. 10)
Although designing for a largish site, with two road frontages, Wyatt was constrained by Lord Listowel's concern for his privacy and the fact that the northern part of the site abutted the Kingston House stable-yard. Prevented by Lord Listowel's conditions from having any important windows in the west elevation, Wyatt located most of the principal rooms on the east side and at the north end (fig. 78). Only the dining-room was on the west side, and his inclusion there of two high-level bull's-eye windows was initially objected to as likely 'to be an annoyance to Lord L by admitting the sound of what passes in the room to be overheard in his garden'. (fn. 11)
The most unusual feature of the plan was the siting of the kitchen and scullery on the first floor, directly over the dining-room. They were completely walled off from the rest of the first floor and could only be reached from the floors above and below by enclosed staircases. Both were top lit, and although the kitchen had two windows in the south wall, these had fixed sashes with ground-glass panes, to frustrate any servant tempted to steal a glimpse of Lord Listowel's garden.
A public drinking-fountain proposed for the Kensington road corner of the site (see Plate 86c) did not materialize, perhaps because of the problems foreseen by Wyatt: the possible annoyance of having 'children etc "larking" and "squalling" as they generally do in the neighbourhood of a drinking fountain', and the difficulty of obtaining the consent of the 'Parochial Authorities – "Bumble" and others'. (fn. 12)
Building began in 1869, and the house was substantially finished, except for some interior decoration, in 1871. The builders were Peter and Alexander Thorn, the developers of Ennismore Gardens and Ennismore Gardens Mews, who were paid between £15,000 and £17,000 for their work. J. M. Blashfield of Stamford provided all the terracotta, which included chimneypieces as well as external mouldings and decorations.
The interior decoration was evidently lavish and ornate, as is indicated by numerous queries on the subject in Wyatt's letters to Lady Alford, but the only record of the interior as executed appears to be a few meagre photographs of about 1931.
In both the drawing-room and the boudoir the walls were hung with silk under highly embellished plaster ceilings with 'hand painted' panels, perhaps executed by Lady Alford herself. The drawing-room ceiling contained a central octagonal panel 'depicting Seraphs and Cherubim in an ethereal setting'. In the boudoir, where the ceiling was vaulted, the spandrels were painted with angels and idealized views. The dining-room ceiling was based on one at Castle Ashby. In the library the walls were hung with silk, and the doorway to the inner hall was framed by an elaborately carved wooden doorcase, with female terms and baskets of fruit and flowers.
Most of these rooms contained carved chimneypieces; that in the inner hall was oddly Mannerist in design and reminiscent of Wyatt's work in the India Office (Plate 87b). Sculptural plaques and reliefs decorated the walls of the main staircase and first-floor landing. The stairs themselves were of stone, with stone balusters and a marble handrail.
That this was a new house did not preclude the use of architectural salvage, and the first floor was 'for the most part' panelled in 'old woodwork with a good deal of carving'. This may have been the pine panelling with a carved cornice which Wyatt had brought to Lady Alford's attention in May 1870, when it was being offered for sale cheaply with two Spanish mahogany chimney pieces. Wyatt recommended white paint for the panelling; for the doors he advised varnish, enlivened by 'a few lines of bright colour on the panels'. In Lady Alford's own bedroom and dressing-room the white paint was offset by gilding. (fn. 13)
At the northern end of the ground floor was the fountain
room, a single-storey apartment with an octagonal glass
dome containing the ornate fountain commissioned by
Lady Alford from Harriet Hosmer while wintering in
Rome in 1860–1 (Plate 87a). Hosmer wrote of this commission to a friend:
It is the Song of the Siren & while she sings the Amorini on their Dolphins stop to listen to her – the water falls from the three shells which form the vase so that they will be seen as it were under the water. (fn. 14)
Intended for the conservatory at No. 11 Princes Gate, but probably never installed there, the fountain was over seven feet tall and executed in three different shades of marble. Although it was said to be nearly finished in the spring of 1862, Lady Alford was still awaiting delivery when Queen Victoria visited No. 11 in March 1867, and had asked 'but where is Miss Hosmer's fountain – I want to see that Fountain'. (fn. 2) After the Queen's visit, Lady Alford told the sculptress, 'When I get it I am going to exhibit it and invite the Queen'. (fn. 16)
The walls and floor of the room were lined with marble, the floor being paved with an inlaid pattern, executed from Lady Alford's own designs by Henry Poole & Sons. (fn. 17)
Lady Alford took up residence in 1872, and occupied the house as her London home until 1887. In December of that year, less than two months before her death, she sold it to James Williamson (from 1895 Baron Ashton), the Lancastrian linoleum magnate and Liberal MP, who still owned the house at the time of his death in 1930. Ashton is known to have made some alterations, but the illustrated catalogue issued when the house was auctioned in 1931 suggests that both externally and internally it had not been significantly changed. It failed to sell and was bought in for only £5,250. (fn. 18)
Moncorvo House (demolished)
In 1874 the builder Alexander Thorn was negotiating on behalf of a client for the easternmost of the plots earmarked for large detached houses on the north side of Ennismore Gardens. (fn. 19) Nothing came of this, but only a few years later Albert George Sandeman, who had secured the site under a leasing agreement in August 1877, employed Thorn to build a substantial mansion there. Sandeman, a wealthy member of the family of port and sherry shippers and a future Governor of the Bank of England, was then living across the road at No. 5 Ennismore Gardens. Building began early in 1878, the plot having been extended northwards to allow for stables, and the new house was substantially finished the following year. (fn. 20) First occupied about 1880, it was named in honour of Mrs Sandeman's family, her father, sometime Portuguese ambassador in London, being the Visconde Da Torre de Moncorvo.
Moncorvo House was one of the earliest works in London of the Scottish architect John Macvicar Anderson. (fn. 21) Resembling a modest French Renaissance chàteau (Plate 88a, 88b), it was built of red brick, with plentiful stone dressings, and had a steeply pitched pavilion roof, which was interrupted by dormer windows trimmed with elaborate stone pediments, both triangular and segmental. The long east front was punctuated by a central bow, and on this side the corners were opened out to form projecting splays. The principal entrance was at the south end of the sloping site, sheltered by a bulky stone carriage-porch (fig. 79).
The surviving contract drawings include only one for interior work – a single sheet of details for the hall – and some of the décor shown in later photographs may represent the taste of more recent owners. Several of the main rooms were decorated in neo-Georgian style, with Adamesque ceilings and eighteenth-century chimneypieces (Plate 89b, 89c). What is evidently Anderson's original décor can be glimpsed in the dining-room, and in the great saloon (later a ballroom), which had a coffered ceiling (Plate 89a). In the dining-room the dado was embellished with a floral frieze of decorative tiles above which the walls were hung with panels of stamped or embossed leather.
The Sandemans left Moncorvo House in 1886, and that September it was purchased, reputedly for £45,000, by the Due D'Aumale, fourth son of King Louis Philippe, who had recently been exiled from France for protesting against being struck off the French army list. The due brought with him from his chàteau at Chantilly the greater part of his famous library, and favourite pictures and items of furniture 'avec lesquels il aime à vivre'. One visitor to Moncorvo House reported seeing Gerard's Bonaparte, a self-portrait by Ingres, Mignard's Molière and Raphael's Three Graces. (fn. 22)
Some months after taking up residence D'Aumale installed electric lighting, powered from a private generator supplied by Edison & Swan. (fn. 23)
The due was famed for his hospitality and on one occasion in 1887 the guest-list for dinner included the kings of Greece and Denmark, two future kings of England, and assorted members of various European royal houses. (fn. 24)
D'Aumale returned to France in 1889 and the following year he sold the house to John Gretton of the Burton-onTrent brewers Bass, Rateliff & Gretton. (fn. 25) Some at least of the due's furnishings seem to have been included in the sale, for an Aubusson carpet which had been made for him found its way to the drawing-room of the Grettons' Leicestershire house, Stapleford Park. (fn. 26) After Gretton's death in 1899, his son, the 1st Baron Gretton, inherited the property and lived there until 1921, except during the war, when it was used as a rest home by Canadian nurses. (fn. 27)
The last private occupant, from 1922 to 1941, was the American engineer and industrialist Arthur Graham Glasgow, co-founder in 1892 of the gas-engineering firm Humphreys & Glasgow. (fn. 28) After the Second World War Moncorvo House was variously occupied as ATS billets (1947), the London Headquarters of the Canadian Joint Staff Establishment (1951–63) and the Moroccan Embassy (1963). It was demolished in 1964. The eastern block of Kingston House South now stands on the site, but the name is perpetuated in the adjacent 1960s terraces called Moncorvo Close.
Bolney House (demolished)
The ground immediately to the south of Alford House, designated for terrace-houses in 1874, remained vacant until the building of Bolney House in 1883 5 for the bibliophile and connoisseur Alfred Henry Huth. The delay is perhaps explained by an unconfirmed story told many years later by the historian of All Saints' Church, Ethel Richardson. She recalled how an uncle of hers had himself intended building a house here but died before work began, leaving his family to pay the architect £1,000 for plans. (fn. 29) Huth's house, built by Perry & Company, and held on a 90year lease, was named after the Sussex village where his father had a country seat. The architect was Richard Norman Shaw, whose work at Bedford Park had brought him into contact with Huth, a director of the development company. Huth may have employed Shaw to design some stables at his house in Kensington Square in 1881. (fn. 30) Bol ney House was intended in part to provide accommodation for the famous collection of incunabula and other rare books which Huth had inherited from his father in 1878, and the plans included two separate libraries, the larger occupying an entire wing (fig. 80). (fn. 31)
Bolney House was Shaw's first uncompromisingly 'Georgian' town-house and the reserved red-brick front, with some stone dressings, closely imitated the genuine article (Plate 87c, 87d). The absolute regularity of the design was broken only by the off-centre front door, and by the library wing on the north side, a single-storey extension with a Venetian window. The front doorcase was one of several details altered after the contract drawings had been signed, and its final form was not settled until February 1884, both versions of the design being in the hand of Shaw's assistant, William Lethaby. (fn. 32) In another change the library wing was lengthened and turned through several degrees so that its front to Ennismore Gardens was slightly oblique to the rest of the house.
The Georgian character of Bolney House reflected Alfred Huth's preference for English domestic architecture of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a taste which can be inferred from his occupation since 1874 of No. 17 Kensington Square, a well-preserved house of the 1680s. Shaw may even have been influenced by No. 17 in designing Bolney House, where the ground and firstfloor plans (less the library wing) mirror those of the older house. The drawings suggest the interior was quite simply decorated, with straightforward wooden panelling. An inspection of the property in 1914 mentions mahogany panelling in the dining-room and a tessellated floor in the hall. (fn. 33)
After Huth's departure in 1899, Bolney House was occupied by another Shaw client, Henry Tate junior, a son of the sugar magnate and arts benefactor, for whom Shaw had designed Allerton Beeches, Liverpool (1883–4). Both Tate, and, after his death in 1902, his widow, made alterations, including the addition of an iron-and-glass canopy leading up to the front door. (fn. 34) While this did nothing to enhance the appearance of the doorcase, it was a practical appendage retained by subsequent occupants. A more substantial addition came in 1926, when Sydney Martineau, the then occupant, had a two-storey rear extension built on part of the flat roof of the former library. Designed by E. P. Warren, it contained bathrooms, and bedrooms with bay windows overlooking Kingston House garden. (fn. 35)
Martineau's widow was the last occupant of Bolney House, which in later years became covered in a blanket of Virginia creeper. It was demolished in the mid-1960s, unrecorded, for the building of the row of houses called Bolney Gate.
Nos 67–69 Ennismore Gardens and Ennismore Gardens Mews North (demolished)
The development of the remainder of the strip of ground on the north side of Ennismore Gardens west of Moncorvo House, formerly the site of an ornamental lake, was to prove a troublesome enterprise. (fn. 36) Work on the construction of Moncorvo House had not long begun when, in March 1878, the first of several unsuccessful proposals for a mews street here was made to the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), by Lord Listowel's surveyor W. F. Meakin. There was concerted opposition from nearby householders. (fn. 37) Eventually, approval was given to a revised plan, submitted in November 1879 by the builder William Radford, who had entered into an agreement with Lord Listowel to develop the whole strip. (fn. 38)
William Radford (c.1850–1939), then of Courtfield Gardens, was the son of Francis Radford, one of the two Devon-born brothers who built the grand Italianate villas of Pembridge Square and Holland Park in the 1850s and '60s. (fn. 39) Like his father and uncle, he was his own designer, styling himself architect as well as builder.
At Ennismore Gardens Radford undertook to build a closely spaced row of five large double-fronted houses along the street, with stables and coach-houses hidden in a through-road at the back. Although modified to satisfy the MBW, this layout was in its essentials a less spacious version of the arrangement proposed in 1874 in the outline development plan for the northern part of the estate. (fn. 40)
The mews buildings and the first three houses were scheduled for completion in 1883. However, by then the development was not going well and Radford had to ask Lord Listowel for more time. He had finished only one house (No. 67), together with the stables. Another house (No. 68) was in carcase, and in due course he finished it, but he only built one more house – No. 69, completed in 1884. The adjoining plot he sold to a private buyer, who erected his own house there (No. 70), and he used the westernmost plot to build more stabling and coach-houses with an ornamental façade along the return to Ennismore Gardens. This was not much to Lord Listowel's liking; for Radford, however, the change of plan must have been necessary damage-limitation. (fn. 41) Perhaps because of their exceptional size, his three houses, erected at a time when demand for new houses throughout London was falling, proved virtually unlettable.
While not forming a uniform row, all three houses kept to the same basic double-fronted format and were faced chiefly in red brick. None seems to have been of any particular architectural pretension or originality. In general terms, they resembled the Radford brothers' double-fronted villas in northern Kensington, updated in style and materials in an attempt to meet changing tastes.
No. 67, the earliest, was of three storeys plus basement and attic. It was ornamented with quoining and banding and other dressings in Portland stone, and had a conventional classical portico with paired pillars. The return front to the mews street was given an ornamental treatment, as required by covenants in the Moncorvo House lease, which also restricted the height of the building (Plate 88b). No. 68 was more up-to-date, closer to the 'Queen Anne' style, and had an extra storey to the back addition. Both houses had mansard roofs with dormers, round-arched at No. 67, double-pitched at No. 68, on either side of a pyramidroofed 'turret'. At No. 69, unlike the others, the main storeys were all of equal height, and there was also a full fourth floor (Plate 85b).
The architect Robert Griggs, a pupil of H. Saxon Snell, applied on Radford's behalf to the MBW in connection with the building of No. 68, but it is not known if he had any role in the designing of this or the other houses. (fn. 42) The only architect named on the original sales particulars for Nos 67 and 68 is Radford himself.
In the early 1890s, with Nos 67–69 still on his hands, Radford proposed converting them into a private hotel in an attempt to recover some of his losses. This Lord Listowel would not have, but he did agree to allow No. 69 to be turned into flats, which was done in 1893. By 1913 No. 67 had still not been taken; occupied only by a caretaker, it was said to require at least £2,000-worth of work to make it fit for letting. (fn. 43)
In 1904 No. 68 was at last let, to the Marquess of Breadalbane, who had the house (the only one to be occupied by a single tenant) fitted out under the superintendence of the architect Alfred Williams. (fn. 44) The marquess lived there until about 1922. In the mid-1920s Radford converted this house and No. 67 to flats. (fn. 45)
A resident at No. 68 from the 1940s to the 1960s was the literary hosless, and mistress of H. G. Wells, Moura Ignatevna, Baroness Budberg, Gide, Graham Greene, Hemingway, the Huxleys and Somerset Maugham were among the visitors to her second-floor salon here. (fn. 46) Edith (Baroness) Summerskill, the politician and writer, was a post-war occupant of a flat in No. 69.
The greater part of Ennismore Gardens Mews North was pulled down in the 1930s, along with No. 70 Ennismore Gardens, for the building of Kingston House South (Nos 1–32). Radford's houses at Nos 67–69, and the eastern remnant of the mews (renamed Ennismore Place in 1939) survived until the 1960s, when the site was cleared for the construction of Moncorvo Close.
No. 70 Ennismore Gardens (demolished)
In 1884, with the extent of the failure of his development becoming apparent, Radford was fortunate in being able to dispose of his one remaining house-plot to a private buyer. This was Gustav Natorp of Palace Gardens Terrace, a Hamburg-born dilettante, connoisscur and gastronome, who wanted to build an unusual house there for his own occupation. (fn. 47)
Natorp's architect was Basil Champneys, a follower of T. G. Jackson, and his eclectic neo-Jacobean façade, in red Fareham brick and Portland stone, contrasted sharply with Radford's stodgier work next door (Plates 85b, 88c). Champneys' design, published in 1886, differed from his other houses of this date, which were more 'Queen Anne' in style, and perhaps reflected the tastes of the owner. (fn. 48) The front elevation was enlivened by shaped gables, oriel windows and, appropriately for a client who had trained as a sculptor under Rodin, a mass of exuberant stone carving (although not all that shown in the published engraving was executed).
The intended builder was Albert Estcourt of Gloucester, then working close by on No. 2 Kensington Court, another house of individual character designed (by T. G. Jackson) for a client of refined tastes and a long purse. But within two months of starting work in February 1884 Estcourt was replaced by Mark Manley of St George's Road, Regent's Park. (fn. 49) The house was completed by November 1885, when it was photographed for Champneys by Bedford Lemere. (fn. 50)
Planned for a wealthy bachelor with overweening artistic and social pretensions, No. 70 was dominated by an enormous galleried studio occupying half the first floor and presumably needed for entertainment as much as for work. There was a smaller 'open-air' studio, or glasshouse, at the back (to the north), and a dining-room and a drawing-room at the front (fig. 81). Oak was extensively used, for floors, ceilings, panelling and other fittings, and there were various painted decorations, doubtless by Natorp himself. A painted panel which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892 was probably created for the house. Intended as a frieze to go above oak panelling, it formed part of a decorative scheme on the theme of 'The Three Ages', and depicted 'Youth, the Toilers and the Idlers'. (fn. 51) Carved oak panelling and a painted frieze were features of the diningroom at No. 70 noted in 1914. (fn. 52)
Natorp took up residence in 1885 and remained there until c. 1909. His successor, Ernest George Hawkings, converted the ground-floor front rooms to a full-sized billiardroom and a morning room. By 1931, when the house was offered for sale at auction, Natorp's studio had become a ballroom – 'probably one of the most beautiful Ball Rooms in London' – with an organ in the gallery. (fn. 53) No. 70 was demolished c. 1936, along with the western section of Ennismore Gardens Mews North, for the building of Kingston House South (Nos 1–32).