Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
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Hyde Park Corner to Wilton Place
Before the Second World War the buildings along this part of Knightsbridge were predominantly of nineteenth-century date, the exceptions being the original Hyde Park Corner underground station at Nos 11–13 and the 1930s flats at Nos 37–39, both of which survive. In the main they belonged to two phases of building: late 1820s at the east end, on the former Warner estate, and early to mid-Victorian on the former Cole estate. Nothing now remains of the first phase, and of the second the only vestige is the pair of early 1870s houses at Nos 15 and 17.
The Cole Estate
Part freehold and part leasehold, the Cole estate extended from the site of No. 15 Knightsbridge nearly as far west as William Street. The leasehold of this entire strip was acquired in 1793 by Francis Burton, a distinguished lawyer and MP, partly as trustee for his mother and sister. Burton himself lived in a house near the entrance to the footguards barracks, and his mother a few doors away. In 1800 he had the opportunity to purchase the freehold from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey. Challenging their valuation, he argued that most of the existing houses were too old to last more than a few decades, that the ground was insufficiently drained, and that the plots were too shallow to allow rebuilding 'to much advantage'. (fn. 3)
In the event, because of a troublesome undertenant whose consent to the arrangement was required, Burton bought only part of the freehold (as far west as the site of Wilton Place), and he continued to lease the remaining property further west, where his underlessee was the brewer Thomas Goding. At the same time, Goding acquired from Burton the freehold of two of the houses towards the east end (the site of the present No. 25 Knightsbridge), which he had also been holding as Burton's tenant, thus splitting the estate in two. Two of Burton's leasehold houses were pulled down in 1827 for the creation of Wilton Place (another house, on the east corner of Wilton Place, went in the mid-1840s to widen the junction). (fn. 4)
After his death in 1832, Burton's estate passed in quick succession to his nephews Francis Burton Cole and Owen Blayney Cole (fn. 1). The Coles were a well-connected Anglo Irish family, with property in Meath and Monaghan; they also owned the Cole Brewery in Twickenham, which had public houses in various parts of London. Whether or not as a consequence of the Cole property interests here, St George's Place as far west as Old Barrack Yard attracted a large number of well-off residents with Irish connections during the nineteenth century. (fn. 6)
O. B. Cole's mental state made it impossible for him to handle business matters, and it was left to his family and advisers to manage the property. (fn. 7) The remaining leasehold houses were given up in 1834, (fn. 8) and the estate was further reduced in size in 1846 by the sale of the freehold of two houses at the east end (on the sites of Nos 15 and 17 Knightsbridge). But from 1847 a fairly systematic redevelopment was carried out, and by the early 1860s most of the houses on the estate had been rebuilt. The architect for all this rebuilding was F. R. Beeston senior, who at the beginning of this period had his office very near that of O. B. Cole's friend and solicitor, Gilbert Stephens, in Northumberland Street. (fn. 9)
Redevelopment on the Cole Estate, 1847–61
The improvement of the estate began following the closure of the Chinese Collection in 1846. During the next couple of years, a terrace of six houses with shops– the easternmost occupying the site of the pagoda forming the entrance to the exhibition–was built immediately west of the turning into the old barracks (Old Barrack Yard). The lessees of this row (originally Nos 22–27 St George's Place, later Nos 33–43 Knightsbridge) included William Dear, a local upholsterer and auctioneer, his partner George Rogers, and John Phillips, lessee of the old barracks. Beeston's design was Italianate in style. The terrace was brick-faced with stucco or stone dressings, the end houses emphasized by the addition of an attic storey (Plate 10a, 10c). (fn. 10)
Dear then proceeded to redevelop the row of houses belonging to Cole just east of Old Barrack Yard (Plate 9a). The first of these–the easternmost (No. 15 St George's Place, later No. 27 Knightsbridge) – was rebuilt in 1849–50, but it was not until 1856–8 that the reconstruction of the rest, including the White Horse inn on the corner of the entrance to Old Barrack Yard, was undertaken. The completed range consisted of six houses, all leased to Dear, and a hotel, replacing the White Horse and leased to its last landlord, Martin Wallace. (fn. 11) The first house was probably built by H. W. Cooper, whose tender, the lowest received, was £2,879; the five following, on somewhat narrower frontages, were built by S. S. Wilson on a tender of £10,745. The hotel, tendered for at £7,189, was erected by Isaac Wilkinson & Son. Beeston's son supervised the construction. (fn. 12)
For these buildings, occupying a frontage of nearly 166ft, Beeston designed a unified palace façade, executed in cement stucco and Portland stone, with a centrepiece surmounted by a pediment and statues and urns on the skyline (Plate 10a). In the tympanum of the pediment was a sculptural group of St George and the Dragon, flanked by cornucopias of fruit and flowers, 'modelled expressly' by Dominico Brucciani of Covent Garden, who also supplied figures and urns for the parapet. There was a railedoff private carriageway along the front of the buildings. The Building News found the ensemble 'one of the most successful examples of street architecture that has been produced in London'. (fn. 13)
Prospective tenants, however, do not seem to have been so impressed. Most of the houses did not attract long-term residents, and two stood empty for some years. The easternmost house remained a private dwelling (it was used as a club-house before the Second World War), but in time the others became part of the Alexandra Hotel, as Wallace's hotel became in the 1860s (see below).
While building was in progress, F. R. Beeston senior installed himself a few doors away at No. 11 (later No. 12) St George's Place– his son is listed in the directories at the same address from 1859. Moving from there to one of the new houses, Beeston rebuilt the old place on a 99–year lease in 1860–1. (fn. 14) No. 21 Knightsbridge, as it later became, was a tall, French-looking house, stucco-fronted with shallow bows and fancy ironwork (Plate 11b). The house was a private residence until the 1930s, when it was made into service flats; it was used as offices from the 1940s. (fn. 15)
Next door, No. 19 Knightsbridge, designed by Beeston in the late 1840s or 50s, and later raised in height, was demolished in the early 1960s (Plates 11b, 12a).
The only buildings on the estate left untouched by the redevelopments overseen by the Beestons were the houses and shops immediately eastwards of Wilton Place, Nos 45–53 Knightsbridge, which were pulled down in the 1960s for the Berkeley Hotel development.
Nos 23 and 25 Knightsbridge (demolished)
The freehold of the sites of these two houses (Plate 11b) was bought in 1800 by the brewer Thomas Goding from Francis Burton (see page 21). Much the grander of the two, No. 23 (formerly No. 13 and originally No. 12 St George's Place) was rebuilt for Goding to the designs of Francis Edwards in 1837, replacing the double-fronted house indicated on Salway's plan of 1811. The house was occupied by the Godings until the mid-1880s; its large garden was mostly obliterated in the late nineteenth century by the creation of Grosvenor Crescent Mews. Later, it was the town residence of successive Earls of Lovelace, the Dowager Countess of Lovelace having moved there from the present No. 17 Knightsbridge in the 1890s. In its latter years the house was used commercially for receptions and banqueting. (fn. 16) It was demolished in the early 1960s, along with the two houses to the east, when the present No. 21 Knightsbridge was built.
No. 25, a plainer three-bay house, of uncertain date, was from 1928 until 1939 the London showroom of the furniture manufacturers Betty and David Joel. The architect H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, who regularly employed Betty Joel Ltd to make up furniture, designed a Modernistic shopfront for the building in plate glass and coursed slate. This, together with metal 'shiprails' to the first-floor windows, was installed by Pollards of Clerkenwell in 1937. (fn. 17) That same year the Joels divorced, and the business was subsequently wound up. (fn. 18)
At the rear of the shop was a gallery for exhibitions of paintings, drawings and carpets. Badly damaged in the Second World War, the house was demolished in the 1950s for the building of Agriculture House.
Alexandra Hotel (demolished)
The Wallace Hotel, opened in 1858 on the site of the White Horse inn, at the eastern corner of the entrance to Old Barrack Yard, soon established itself as a first-class residential hotel, patronized by the nobility. The accommodation comprised a ground-floor apartment, 30ft by 20ft and almost 20ft high, a 'splendid bar', and a first-floor coffeeroom 30ft square and 15ft high; the upper floors were divided into bedrooms with en suite dressing-rooms. Wallace soon found it necessary to expand the premises, taking over the house next door and the house on the opposite corner of Old Barrack Yard. (fn. 19)
In 1863 the hotel was acquired by the specially formed Alexandra Hotel Company Limited, with which Wallace himself seems to have had no connection. The original board, drawn entirely from Establishment ranks and rewarded with salaries of £1,500 a year, included the diplomatist Sir William Gore Ouseley, Vice-Admiral Sir George Lambert, and Lieut.-Col. Sir Charles Du Plat, a former equerry to Prince Albert. Shares in the new company were subscribed for, however, by a much wider range of people, including local and other tradesmen, and even servants, many, presumably, having business or employment links with the hotel. As well as the original Wallace Hotel, the company acquired the leases of the five houses adjoining to the east, and stabling at the rear. (fn. 20)
After initial alterations, probably designed by the architect Francis E. H. Fowler, the vastly enlarged establishment re-opened in the spring of 1864 as the Alexandra Hotel (Plate 10a). (fn. 2) That August it was reported that since the commencement of the London season every room had been occupied, and the manager 'overwhelmed' with applications for apartments. Further improvements, costing £20,000, were put in hand, to Fowler's designs. They included a new entrance portico with banded columns (Plate 22). It was probably at this time that a passenger-lift or 'ascending room' to all floors was installed. (fn. 22)
With its 'magnificent' premises and excellent location— 'one of the most cheerful, healthy, and pleasant' in London — the Alexandra achieved a high reputation. (fn. 23) In 1883 it acquired the services of a new manager, Joseph Gams, who had worked at Delmonico's in New York, and had managed the Imperial Hotel in his native Vienna before running his own hotel in Marienbad. (fn. 24)
But despite the arrival of Gams, with his cosmopolitan sophistication, the real control of the Alexandra remained in the hands of George Bolton, who had, briefly, been the first manager, and later became company secretary and eventually managing director. Bolton's reign ended in 1897 when he was revealed as a fraudster. The scandal came to light following the discovery of a systematic overcharging racket at the Grosvenor Hotel in Victoria, organized by Richard Collins Drew, a butcher in St George's Place (whose customers included the Queen and other members of the royal family). The Grosvenor revelations, which led to a Board of Trade inquiry, caused questions to be asked about Drew's role as 'principal purveyor' to the Alexandra. Drew and Bolton turned out to have been working in collusion for years to defraud the hotel, and other serious malpractices by Bolton were discovered. The entire board of management was ultimately forced to resign, and effective control of the hotel passed into the hands of (Sir) Henry Kimber MP, who had exposed the Grosvenor scandal, and a fellow Grosvenor Hotel shareholder, Russell Spokes, an accountant. (fn. 25)
The hotel's finances were perhaps never fully restored, though its high reputation was undimmed. It was said in 1907 that almost every European royal house was represented in its guest lists, together with innumerable statesmen, diplomats and celebrities. Although it was taken over by a chain, the North Hotels, in the late 1920s, it seems to have retained its old ambience. Writing in the late 1940s, the journalist James Bone recalled 'that prim hotel of suites in Knightsbridge with its stiff, frail Ouidaesque air . . . probably the last hotel where country people still came up "for the season"'. (fn. 26) By then the Alexandra Hotel was largely a blitzed shell. It was finally demolished in the early 1950s, along with No. 27 Knightsbridge, to make way for Agriculture House.
Knightsbridge Foot-Guards Barracks (demolished)
The northern portion of Old Barrack Yard is all that remains of a large, irregularly shaped enclosure which was once the outer parade ground of an infantry barracks for some 500 men. (fn. 27) The barracks itself stood to the south of the yard, its inner courtyard being aligned more or less along what is now the eastern arm of Wilton Place (fig. 3). Immediately south of the buildings was a garden for the soldiers' use (see Plate 5c).
This establishment, though said to date from as early as 1758, seems to have originated with stabling erected here under a lease of 1760 from Sir Richard Grosvenor, the ground landlord, to Samuel Thresher and Thomas Fisher.
These stables had been completed by November 1762, when they were in the occupation of the 2nd Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards (later reformed as the 2nd Life Guards), on a sub-tenancy. (fn. 28)
By October 1780 the buildings had been converted and newly fitted out for use by foot soldiers, and were in the occupation of the Coldstream Guards. So good was the revamped barracks—'a treat to any military man'—that it was to have been used as a model in a proposed countrywide barrack-building campaign. (fn. 29) (Though no such scheme was implemented at this time, the principal building at Knightsbridge cavalry barracks near by, erected in 1792–3 for the Life Guards, may well have been designed with the foot-guards barracks in mind.)
The driving force behind this model establishment was probably George III's son Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, who had been colonel of the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards since 1782 and colonel of the Coldstream Guards since 1784. The duke, who showed throughout his career a particular interest in the well-being of his men, is known to have been responsible for two works connected with the barracks put forward early in 1790. These were the opening of a new gateway immediately opposite the barracks, for the soldiers to march into Hyde Park, and the acquisition and demolition of buildings adjoining the barrack-yard to improve ventilation. (fn. 30)
The barracks was given up by the military in the mid1830s, and the old buildings let as tenements. (fn. 31) They were largely demolished in the early 1840s, when St Paul's Church was built on the site of the southern range and the soldiers' garden, and a hall for exhibiting the Chinese Collection was erected on the northern part of the barracks site, just behind the houses in St George's Place (see below). Any remains of the barracks were doubtless swept away when the site was redeveloped in 1857–9, with houses and a school fronting the eastern arm of Wilton Place. (fn. 32) The five houses (Nos 32–36 Wilton Place) were all built by Thomas Phillips, son of John Phillips, the longtime lessee of the barracks site. They, and the school to the east built in 1859 in connection with St Paul's Church, were pulled down for the construction of the new Berkeley Hotel, opened in 1972.
A plausibly military-looking building in the south-east corner of Old Barrack Yard has been assumed to be part of the old barracks, but is of later date. It was probably erected as livery stables, and belonged formerly to the Alexandra Hotel. (fn. 33)
The Chinese Collection and St George's Gallery (demolished)
In the summer of 1842 the Illustrated London News reported that
'towards the extremity of St George's-place, a grotesque erection has lately sprung up with all the rapidity which distinguishes building operations of the present day. As work proceeded, many were the guesses at the purpose for which it was intended; and, to feed the suspense, the work was covered with canvass until just completed.' (fn. 34)
The mysterious structure which had attracted such curiosity was a replica of a Chinese summer-house or 'pagoda' at the corner of the way in to Old Barrack Yard (Plate 6a). This arresting object was the entrance to an exhibition of Chinese art and artefacts known as the Chinese Collection, which had opened to the public on 23 June. (fn. 35) The exhibition itself was in a new building back from the main road, and the pagoda, designed after a model in the collection, served both as a ticket-office and way in to the exhibition hall, which was reached up steps and through a vestibule or covered walk at the rear (Plate 11a).
The Chinese Collection had been amassed by an American merchant, Nathan Dunn (1782–1844), during his twelve years in Canton, and exhibited by him from 1838 at the Philadelphia Museum. In 1842—'at the suggestion of many of the most influential, scientific, and learned persons of the British metropolis and kingdom' (fn. 36) — Dunn brought the collection to England and opened it to the public in the specially constructed hall in Knightsbridge, which occupied part of the site of the former foot-guards barracks. With Dunn came William B. Langdon, the London-born curator of the collection and the author of a descriptive catalogue, who had known him in China. (fn. 37)
Both the hall and the pagoda were erected by the publicworks contractors Grissell & Peto, the pagoda at a cost of £800. (fn. 38) The pagoda stood about 19ft square, a 'somewhat squatly proportioned' wooden building with a single room to each of its two storeys. It was decorated in gold and bright colours— green roofs, and vermilion pillars with white capitals—and ornamented with brackets in the form of dragons. Over the doorway was a Chinese inscription signifying 'Ten Thousand Chinese Things'. (fn. 39) The hall, 225ft long and 50ft wide, was a plain affair externally (Plate 6a). Inside, it was largely taken up by a single lofty 'saloon', top lit and lined with pillars: 'a sort of Brighton Pavilion with permanent fittings'. (fn. 40) In Langdon's words:
'The rich screen-work, elaborately carved and gilt, at either end . . . the many-shaped and varied-colored lanterns suspended throughout the entire ceiling; the native paintings which cover the walls; the Chinese maxims adorning the columns and entablatures; the embroidered silks, gay with a hundred colours, and tastefully displayed above the cases containing the figures, and the multitude of smaller cases crowded with rare and interesting objects, form a tout ensemble, possessing a beauty entirely its own.' (fn. 41)
The 'figures' were life-size mannequins, made of fine clay and said to be portrayals of actual individuals drawn from many different classes of Chinese society, set in 'scenes and furnished dwellings'. Among the exhibits were a twostorey house from Canton and various shops from the city's streets. (fn. 42)
The Collection was well timed to capture the public imagination, opening just weeks before Britain's peace treaty with the Chinese at Nanking brought the first Opium War to a triumphant close. For a few years it was something which 'every one went to see as one of the duties of the London season' –a peak of success which its revival at Albert Gate in 1851 signally failed to regain. (fn. 43) The Duke of Wellington assured Dunn of its 'stature and real importance', and Queen Victoria, who with the Prince Consort was given a private view, felt that 'one could have almost fancied oneself in China'. (fn. 44)
A contributory factor in the exhibition's success may have been that it was, ostensibly at any rate, run for cultural and educational and not merely commercial reasons. Dunn was reported as wishing only 'to cover the current expenses', and the Queen was given to understand that any profits would go to charity. (A Quaker, and unmarried, Dunn made generous provision in his will for charitable and educational purposes in America and Britain.) (fn. 45)
At half-a-crown, the price of admission was much higher than at most London exhibitions, and drew some criticism. Dunn said he had fixed the charge after consulting his royal and noble visitors. In 1843 it was cut to the usual shilling. To maintain public interest, gaslighting was laid on, the better to bring out 'the splendour of the gilding and decorations of the gallery', and new attractions were introduced, including two Chinese youths as live exhibits, and a 'Fête of the Dragon', when an enormous illuminated dragon was suspended from the roof. (fn. 46)
After Dunn's death in 1844, an attempt was made to sell the collection to the British Museum. This was unsuccessful and the exhibition, now under Langdon's direction, continued in Knightsbridge until 1846. It subsequently toured Britain, (fn. 47) returning briefly to America before reopening at a new site in Knightsbridge in 1851 (see page 52).
With the departure of the Chinese Collection, John Phillips, the lessee of the old barracks property, put the pagoda up for sale as a garden building, 'well worthy the attention of noblemen & gentlemen for country seats'. In 1847 it caught the eye of James Pennethorne, architect to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who purchased it for 100 guineas to ornament a lake island in Victoria Park, Hackney, which he was then laying out, and where it survived until demolished in 1956. (fn. 48)
The main building, which eventually became known as St George's Gallery, housed various exhibitions until the mid-1850s. They included the second and third annual shows of the Institution for the Free Exhibition of Modern Art (later the National Institution of Fine Arts), held in 1848 and 1849. Among the works shown in 1849 was Rossetti's The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, the first painting with the PRB monogram to be displayed in public. Another exhibitor in 1849 was Ford Madox Brown with The Young Mother and Lear and Cordelia. (fn. 49)
In 1850–2 a South African show was held by the Etoneducated lion-hunter Roualeyn George Gordon-Cumming, whom Livingstone described as 'a mad sort of Scotsman'. His collection of trophies made the gallery look like 'a combination of a baronial hall and a furrier's shop'. A 'Hottentot boy' was on hand to explain the exhibits: he spoke good English, but an American visitor detected the 'odor of gin about him'. (fn. 50)
Dioramas, running in tandem with the other shows, though presumably in another part of the building, were popular in the early 1850s. Queen Victoria's visit to Ireland was the subject of a 'moving diorama' painted by Philip Phillips in 1850, and a diorama of Jerusalem and the Holy Land (claimed to be the largest yet on this popular theme) was displayed in 1851–3. Based on sketches by W. H. Bartlett, author of Walks about Jerusalem, the latter was 'cleverly painted' under the direction of William Roxby Beverley of the Lyceum and Princess's Theatres, with lifesize figures and 'objects of corresponding magnitude and grandeur'. There was a spoken commentary and an accompaniment of sacred music. (fn. 51)
In 1853 a display of 'Kaffir' life was held, with a native group from Natal to enact scenes such as a wedding, a hunt and an inter-tribal fight, against a moving panorama painted by Charles Marshall. After seeing the show, Charles Dickens was moved to conclude that 'if we have anything to learn from the Noble Savage, it is what to avoid. His virtues are a fable: his happiness is a delusion; his nobility, nonsense'. (fn. 52) The Kaffirs were followed in 1854 by a diorama of the Duke of Wellington's funeral and a Turkish exhibition of wax figures arranged in tableaux showing, as well as more prosaic scenes of middle-eastern life, a slave market and a sultan's harem. In 1855 this exhibition—the final show at the St George's Gallery — transferred to the Great Globe in Leicester Square. (fn. 53)
The exhibition hall, rated a 'Museum', lingered on in the ratebooks until the early 1860s, (fn. 54) though the bulk, if not all of the building, must by then have been pulled down for the redevelopment along the eastern arm of Wilton Place in the late 1850s. If anything of the hall survived, as part of the commercial premises between the houses in St George's Place and Wilton Place, it would have succumbed to the Berkeley Hotel development in 1966–72.
No. 1 Knightsbridge. This office block, completed in 1991, was designed by the Fitzroy Robinson Partnership and built by Bovis for the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Plate 16b). Its outstanding features are the undulating Post-Modernist façade, faced in Williamson Cliff's Stamfordstone brick and Indiana buff limestone, and a 'spectacular' atrium extending the full depth of the building. The interior is finished in Comblanchian limestone and polished black (nero assoluto) marble. (fn. 55)
Nos 11–13 Knightsbridge. The Pizza on the Park restaurant at Nos 11–13 occupies the former Hyde Park Corner underground station, opened in 1906. The upper storeys, now offices, were opened a few years later as a hotel (Plate 10b).
In the late 1890s and early 1900s there was a flurry of schemes to build an electric tube railway through Knightsbridge to the West End, all with plans for a Hyde Park Corner station at the east end of St George's Place. The one to come to fruition was the earliest, the Brompton & Piccadilly Circus later Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton) Railway, financed by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd. Terms for the compulsory purchase of the two houses on the station site, then numbered 6 and 7 St George's Place, were agreed in January 1903, (fn. 56) and in December 1906 the new railway, the core of the present-day Piccadilly Line, opened.
Hyde Park Corner Station was designed by Underground Electric's architect Leslie Green, and follows the pattern devised by him for the company's stations throughout London, on what are now the Piccadilly, Northern and Bakerloo Lines: a steel-framed structure clad in ox-blood faience, with large round-arched openings, intended as the podium for a multi-storeyed building. Inside, the walls of the ground floor were tiled in cream with a green dado. From the ticket-hall a corridor led to a staircase and lifts to the platforms, where the original brown, green and yellow tiling can still be seen today.
The central opening, which initially housed a branch of W. H. Smith & Son, (fn. 57) soon became the entrance to the new Hyde Park Corner Hotel. This comprised most of the first floor of the Leslie Green building, together with five storeys added in 1908–9. The developer was F. J. Coxhead, builder, of Leytonstone. Delissa Joseph, who had already designed several buildings above London underground stations, and who worked elsewhere for Coxhead, was the architect. He gave the building a strong French flavour, with an ornate façade of Portland stone and a high mansard roof. (fn. 58)
The Hyde Park Corner Hotel was soon renamed Sartori's Park View Hotel, after its new proprietor Felix Roneo Sartori, who moved there from the Hotel Andre in Jermyn Street, and was later known simply as the Park View Hotel. It closed in the 1950s. (fn. 59)
By that time the rest of the building had long ceased to be a station. The ticket-hall and lifts were closed in 1932, when a new below-ground ticket-hall and escalators, approached by pedestrian subways, were opened nearer Hyde Park Corner. (fn. 60) In March 1935 the old station reopened as a Lyons teashop. The interior of this 258th Lyons had some novel features. As well as air-conditioning, it had a modernistic décor with tinted mirrors and coloured Vitrolite, a scheme which was used generally in new Lyons teashops between then and the Second World War, in place of the usual marble. (fn. 61)
At the time of writing a statue of the jazz musician 'Duke' Ellington, by the sculptor Nicholas Dimbleby, stands in the forecourt, erected in connection with the 1999 Soho Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Nos 15 and 17 Knightsbridge. These are the only survivors from the nineteenth-century rebuilding of St George's Place. (fn. 62) They were erected in 1870–1 for Mrs Helen Blake, widow of General Robert Blake, who had bought the freeholds of the old houses on the site from O. B. Cole's trustees in 1846. (fn. 63) The Blakes were then occupying the eastern of the two houses, No. 8 St George's Place; the other (No. 9) was occupied by James Goding, of the brewing family. The old houses - dismissed by the Builder as 'the disfigurement of one of the finest spots of the locality' (fn. 64) - were double-fronted (Plate 9b) and wide enough to allow rebuilding on a fairly large scale, each house having a frontage of 39ft.
The new Italianate-style houses (Plate 12a) were designed by George Legg, the Belgravia and Pimlico District Surveyor, and erected by Hill & Sons for something above £14,000. (fn. 65) They are built of white brick with stone dressings and red-granite columns to the porches. The original railings, with a gateway at each end to the shared carriage-drive, no longer exist.
The first occupant of No. 17 was Byron's son-in-law, the 1st Earl of Lovelace. It was later occupied by members of the Sassoon and Ezra families, and from 1948 until 1971 was used by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents as an exhibition and training centre. (fn. 66)
No. 15 remained untenanted until 1876, shortly before Mrs Blake's death, when it was let to Henrietta BadenPowell, widow of the Reverend Baden Powell, Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford. Five of her six children lived here with her: Warington, sailor and barrister; George, diplomat and MP; Frank, painter and sculptor; Baden, soldier and inventor; and Agnes, who became the first president of the Girl Guides. Robert, hero of Mafecking and founder of the scouting movement, stayed here when on leave from overseas service. When news of the relief of Mafeking reached London on 18 May 1900, Mrs BadenPowell came out on to the balcony to acknowledge a cheering crowd. (fn. 67) Plates 12, 13 show the house during the Baden-Powells' occupation: the internal finishing and decorating was all carried out for them. Frank designed the Gothic-style fireplace in the inner hall bearing the family monogram and crest. The pipe-organ in the double drawing-room was installed for Agnes. (fn. 68)
After Mrs Blake's death, intestate and without known heirs, her property passed by escheat to the Crown. Both Lord Lovelace and Mrs Baden-Powell subsequently tried, without success, to obtain the freeholds of their houses. In the late 1890s proposals for a tube railway with a station in the vicinity, which at one time threatened the houses with demolition, reduced the desirability of the location for Mrs Baden-Powell and she left in 1902. From 1906 until 1936 No. 15 was occupied by Robert Sauber, painter and newspaper illustrator; it was later used in connection with St George's Hospital. (fn. 69)
The interior today retains its original staircase, with a balustrade of a pattern very similar to one also found in C. J. Freake's houses in Princes Gate (see fig. 90 on page 197): there is an identical balustrade at No. 17. Very little of the Baden-Powells' decorative scheme is left, the main rooms having been redone in a Baroque classical style, with much ornamental plasterwork. In the back room on the ground floor is a painted ceiling in a pastiche eighteenthcentury allegorical manner.
No. 21 Knightsbridge Designed by Julian Keable and Partners for the Knightsbridge Comprehensive Property Investment Company, this block of offices and flats was built in 1962–3 by Firmin & Collins. It is faced in Britts Blue granite and dark, heat-absorbing glass (Plate 16a). (fn. 70)
Nos 25 and 27 Knightsbridge. These replace Agriculture House, which was built in 1954–63 on the site of the Alexandra Hotel and the two adjoining properties to the east as a headquarters for the National Farmers' Union (Plate 10c). Designed by Ronald Ward & Partners and built by Trollope & Colls, Agriculture House was a doublemansarded block with a 'Bankers' Georgian' façade given some distinction by a centrepiece of four recessed columns in Lutyens's New Delhi order. It was demolished in 1993. (fn. 71)
The present buildings are Post-Modernist office blocks of unequal size, designed by Hunter & Partners and built by Trollope & Colls in 1993–5 (Plate 16a, 16c). The smaller building, No. 25, faced in brick and Portland stone, was intended as the NFU's new headquarters, and originally had two bronzes, The Sower and The Reaper, by Mark Richardson, on its forecourt; these were removed when the NFU let the building to Carlton Television. No. 27, the headquarters of Dunhill International, is faced in Portland stone and pale grey granite, and has a bowed front and central atrium. (fn. 72)
The Berkeley Hotel development. The whole block between Old Barrack Yard and Wilton Place was acquired in the 1960s by the Savoy Hotels Group as the new site for the Berkeley Hotel, which had outgrown its premises in Piccadilly. It was almost entirely rebuilt in 1966–72, to designs by Brian O'Rorke. The main contractors were Beaufort Construction Ltd and Harry Neal Ltd. (fn. 73)
Of the old buildings on the site only Nos 37–39 were retained. This block of flats and shops, designed by Mitchell & Bridgwater for Robert Heath Ltd, hatters (long established at No. 37), was erected in 1935–6. It is faced in greyish-brown bricks supplied by the Yorkshire Brick Company, with Portland-stone 'cornices'. But the stylish façade (Plate 10c) has been much disfigured by the replacement of the 1930s metal-framed glazing, and the original Travertine shopfronts have been re-faced. (fn. 74)
The new buildings fronting Knightsbridge — a block of flats at Nos 33–35, completed in 1967, and the flank of the new Berkeley (Plate 17a) - to some extent take their cue from the 1930s building, with projecting windows and similar facing materials (Stamfordstone buff bricks and Portland stone). They are of reinforced-concrete construction. Commercial premises on the ground floor of the hotel block include a cinema, the 68-seat 'Minema', at No. 45.
The hotel itself, opened in 1972, fronts Wilton Place, a rather plain neo-Georgian block, faced in Clipsham limestone, which the Architectural Review found 'a lugubrious and puddingy pile'. The conservatism and craftsmanship evident in the exterior were carried on inside, where a team of interior designers, including O'Rorke, Michael Inchbald, and Bridget D'Oyly Carte re-used panelling, fireplaces and other fittings from the old Berkeley, including the Grill Room designed by Lutyens in 1913, and materials from the houses demolished to make way for the hotel.