Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
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The area discussed here is the narrow triangle of ground extending from just south of the site of White Horse Gate in Hyde Park to Albert Gate (fig. 9). Historically, the greater part comprised the site and grounds of the Knightsbridge lazar-house. No. 1 Albert Gate, the French Embassy, which occupies the site of the lazar-house itself, latterly the White Hart tavern, is treated below with the Albert Gate development generally, as is its extension at No. 58 Knightsbridge.
The name Park Side was formally abolished in 1903, when the buildings were renumbered as part of Knightsbridge.
Old Park Side
Although development in Park Side dated back to the Middle Ages, with the establishment of the lazar-house, very little old building survived far into Victorian times. Trinity Chapel, which belonged to the lazar-house, had been reconstructed twice already since the early seventeenth century when it was rebuilt in 1860–1 as Holy Trinity Church. The old hospital buildings, and the Queen's Head tavern, which stood just east of the chapel and bore the date 1576, were all pulled down at or soon after the time of the Albert Gate development early in Queen Victoria's reign. (fn. 1)
East of the Queen's Head, the houses pulled down in 1904–5 for the Parkside flats development were probably of eighteenth- or nineteenth-century date. Further east, beyond the lazar-house estate, the sites of Nos 2–26 Knightsbridge had, in the eighteenth century, been occupied by a smithy and a few cottages; near the east end, as late as 1805, stood the village stocks. By the 1830s the smithy and cottages had given place to a row of shops. Those at the east end were single-storey lock-ups only, the last, latterly a sweet-shop, not six feet square; they were used by W. Stocken as offices for his 'Knightsbridge Bank'. (fn. 2)
Most prominent of the buildings in this row was the tall stuccoed structure at Nos 10–14 Knightsbridge, the upper part of which had been the studio of the photographer H. Walter Barnett (Plate 22). The former Hyde Park Dairy at Nos 22–24 Knightsbridge was a pair of old houses refaced front and back in about 1880 (architect Robert Griggs). No. 26 had been rebuilt in 1897, to designs by M. C. Meaby, surveyor to the United Kingdom House Purchase and Investment Society Ltd. (fn. 3)
No-one seems to have seen anything remotely picturesque in old Park Side. As far back as the 1850s unfavourable comments were made about the meanness of the buildings, and in the early 1870s a proponent of a grand boulevard along Knightsbridge wrote of Park Side's 'paltry and antiquated shops'. The existing houses, it was said in 1904, 'interpose an unwelcome and purposeless interruption to the magnificent prospect which is London's chief asset of beauty, and their intrusion is almost as great a nuisance to the traffic as it is a blot upon the scenery'. (fn. 4)
Old Park Side may have lacked architectural distinction, but it housed a great assortment of shops and businesses, ranging from jewellers' and art dealers' to a bird fancier's and a fishing-tackle shop (Plate 20d), and, more prosaieally, makers and menders of boots and umbrellas. Knightsbridge's association with horses and riding was reflected in Colin Sleep's driving-glove shop, a branch of his big Oxford Street store. (fn. 5)
Park Side's most distinguished known resident was a Lancashire-born scientist and maker of mathematical instruments, John Read (1726–1814). He lived in Knightsbridge for nearly sixty years, and carried out research into atmospheric electricity at his house there, No. 10 Park Side, using an electrometer mounted on the roof. In Victorian times, Park Side was occupied almost entirely by shopkeepers and tradespeople and their lodgers. (fn. 6)
The building of the Parkside flats at Nos 28–56 Knightsbridge left the ultimate fate of the rest of Park Side — Nos 2–26 Knightsbridge — uncertain. The freehold had been broken up, and the shallow plots offered little scope for redevelopment. Plans for rebuilding No. 20 as a shop and apartments were drawn up by the architect Leonard Martin for the owner, the builder Mark Bromet, in 1917. However, fearing inflated building costs after the war, and reluctant to pay for a Crown licence for windows and balconies overlooking the park, Bromet abandoned the scheme. (fn. 7)
Nos 2–26 survived until 1959 when they were pulled down for road-widening in connection with the Hyde Park Corner to Marble Arch improvement scheme, which turned Park Lane into a dual carriageway: this widening permitted the making of an additional tunnel for the new Piccadilly underpass. Although themselves of no special architectural interest, these buildings were almost the last vestiges of the old pattern of development along the north side of Knightsbridge, and with them finally disappeared any lingering sense of Knightsbridge as a 'village' street.
The Lazar-house (demolished)
The date of foundation of the lazar-house is not known, and the earliest reference to come to light is quite a late one. This is a deed of 1473, granting an eighty-year lease of the 'lazercotes' property to Thomas Clowgh and Richard Thomson, yeomen of Knightsbridge. Although the hospital had presumably been set up specifically to accommodate lepers, by this time leprosy had largely disappeared from England and most existing lazar-houses were turned to other purposes: in the London area several, including that at Knightsbridge, became 'outhouses' for the chronic sick from the main hospitals. The Knightsbridge lazarhouse was receiving patients from Bart's and St Thomas's certainly by the 1590s. A petition of the Commonwealth period refers to 'the curing of Lazars and poore cripled persons according to the use and Custome of the said Hospitall' at Knightsbridge. (fn. 8)
From Elizabethan times until about 1660, the lazarhouse was particularly associated with a family named Glassington, and in 1654 a member of the family claimed that his ancestors had held the property time out of mind. This may have been an exaggeration, but several surgeons named Glassington were among the successive governors (or 'guiders') and lessees of the hospital. (fn. 9)
From just nineteen residents in 1570 (including the governor and his wife), the number of patients grew, so that by the mid-1590s there were about three dozen 'diseased, lame and impotent' poor at any time, who might stay for as long as three years. In two surviving annual reports, for 1595 and 1596, the governor, John Glassington, lists by name 55 and 78 people who, along with 'divers others', had been 'cured' in those years. As well as taking cases from the London hospitals, the lazar-house seems to have received patients from all over the country. Some were nominated by the governors of Westminster Abbey almshouse and school, while others were sent there by the parish of St Margaret, Westminster. (fn. 10)
Glassington outlines the inmates' regime: work in the mornings for those able to do any, according to their calling, with prayer in the chapel between eight and nine o'clock; dinner of warm meat and porridge served between ten and eleven, then back to work with a break between three and four for evening chapel, followed by supper, late chapel and bed. On Sundays and feast-days they were joined for morning and evening prayer by the local people. (fn. 11)
The hospital had no endowment, relying entirely on 'the charity of good people', which by the 1590s was 'much decayed from that it was wont to be'. There had, said Glassington, been some land, but this had been taken away and enclosed into Hyde Park. Leases of the hospital, however, included some ground to the east, originally orchard or garden, where the chapel and eventually houses were built, about a third of an acre on the south side of Knightsbridge (later the site of Knightsbridge Terrace), and a little plot on Knightsbridge Green. Two nearby fields, now occupied by Lowndes Square and Lowndes Street, were known as the Spittlefields and probably therefore once belonged to the hospital. (fn. 12)
When Glassington came to the lazar-house, it was 'reddy to fall downe', and its dilapidated state is confirmed by a survey carried out in 1570 by Robert Penythorne and Thomas Fowler. Fowler's report refers to an old house, 40ft high, with a roof in two unequal spans and a penthouse. (fn. 13)
In 1605 an order was made by James I for water to be piped to the hospital from a nearby spring in Hyde Park. (fn. 14)
The chapel was rebuilt twice during the seventeenth century, first in the early 1630s, and again in 1699. James Winter, a surgeon-governor, carried out building work at the hospital which was noted in a report made about 1653 by Adam Browne, the surveyor to Westminster Abbey:
'I find that hee hath lately built there two Tenements with brick which he letts, And hee hath built up three of the rooms in his owne house now with brick, and eight Bed Rooms he hath made for the poore two of which are used already … And the house now standing is old decayed ready to fall & must be suddenly built.' (fn. 15)
Winter was succeeded by another John Glassington about 1655, a former governor who was praised by the local people for his healing skill, but in 1668 the premises were let to a London goldsmith, Nicholas Birkhead, and seem never again to have been under the control of a medical man. According to a local tradition the hospital was used for the isolation of victims of the Great Plague, those who died being buried at Knightsbridge Green. The plot belonging to the hospital at the Green may have been the actual burial-place. (fn. 16)
Birkhead was probably a relation of the Glassingtons, for a later lessee of the lazar-house estate, the Rev. John Gamble, stated in 1809 that the property had been in his family's hands for more than two hundred years: Gamble himself was a descendant of Nicholas Birkhead's wife's niece, Ann Soley. From Birkhead's coming, the hospital continued in some form for half a century, but by 1718, when a new lease was granted to Mary Birkhead, the goldsmith's widowed daughter-in-law, it was defunct. (fn. 17)
Glassington's reports do not specifically refer to any children at the lazar-house, but 'poore Innocents' were kept at the hospital in the 1630s and '40s, according to the parish accounts of St Margaret's, Westminster. An orphanage or school at the lazar-house, for six boys and six girls, continued until at least 1720, when Mary Birkhead complained that reduced collections at the chapel had left her unable 'to Cloth ye twelve Children this year'. (fn. 18)
The old hospital buildings appear to have survived as a public house, the White Hart, and a ramshackle collection of low tenements, until the development of Albert Gate (Plate 5a, 5b).
Trinity Chapel and Holy Trinity Church (demolished)
In 1629 the inhabitants of Knightsbridge petitioned William Laud, Bishop of London, for permission to rebuild the ruinous chapel at the lazar-house, their usual place of worship, at their own expense. A licence was granted, with the proviso that they must attend their respective parish churches (St Margaret's, Westminster or St Martin's-in-the-Fields) at least once a quarter and also at Easter. By 1634 the chapel had been rebuilt. It was hoped that pew-rents would provide sufficient income for repairs and the cost of maintaining a curate. (fn. 19)
During the Commonwealth, and in the face of local opposition, Parliament appointed as minister Henry Walker, a former ironmonger turned anti-Royalist pamphleteer and newspaper editor or 'writer of weekly Newes'. In about 1658, after Walker's departure, the chapel began to acquire a reputation as a place for clandestine marriages and baptisms, and this continued until 1752, shortly before such marriages were outlawed. (fn. 20)
According to the Rev. Hibbert Binney, minister of the chapel from 1833, the lessees of the lazar-house estate sold leases on the chapel 'to the highest bidder', but the position was perhaps less scandalous than he claimed. Pew-rents over the years had been inadequate to pay the minister's stipend. Indeed, a decline in local affluence by the time of the Interregnum is suggested by a petition to Parliament from the people of Knightsbridge asking for money for the chapel from the proceeds of the sale of Dean and Chapter lands. Most of the sixty-eight or so Knightsbridge families were then 'very poore laboringe people' with many children, and 'Those that formerly were good Benefactors are many dead and the rest have left us … many of us anceyent lame and feeble'. At all events, effective control over the chapel had passed from the Bishop of London to the lessees, who sub-let the chapel, and the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey, who routinely accepted the under-tenant as minister. (fn. 21)
In 1699 the chapel was rebuilt by the lessee, Nicholas Birkhead, goldsmith, and this building was enlarged and re-fronted in 1789, presumably for Dixon Gamble, of Bungay, Suffolk, who had succeeded Ann Soley as lessee in 1788 (Plate 19a, 19b). (fn. 22)
The extended chapel, containing 300 seats, was arranged conventionally, with galleries along three sides, reached by stairs near the street entrance. H. G. Davis, the Knightsbridge historian, records that the organ was built by Hancock in 1770. The bell too, which hung in the cupola at the front of the building, predated the enlargement, having been given by Mary Birkhead in 1733. (fn. 23)
A charity school, housed in a room at the rear, gave elementary education to boys and girls. It was set up in 1783, largely on the initiative of John Read, the scientist and mathematical-instrument maker, who lived near by. (fn. 24)
When Binney became minister he found the chapel so dilapidated and uncomfortable that it was difficult to keep a congregation during the winter, but his efforts to regularize its status, obtain an endowment and rebuild on a bigger scale came to nothing. It was not until 1859 that effective steps were taken to provide a new building, when a committee was set up headed by William Tite MP. By that time pressure of population on local churches was such that the chapel was 'constantly full'. (fn. 25)
The new church, a building in the Early Decorated style with seating for 600, was designed in competition by Raphael Brandon and Henry M. Eyton (Plate 19c, 19d). S. S. Teulon and Charles Gray were among the unsuccessful competitors. (fn. 26) The central entrance was flanked by two tiers of blind arcading; above was a large 'west' window, and, at the south-east corner, a bell-turret with a spirelet. Inside, the chief feature of interest was a hammer-beam roof with foliated spandrels. The old schoolroom was incorporated into the site, but hopes, briefly entertained, that land beyond in Hyde Park, little frequented at this point, might be obtained to make a larger overall site were not realized. As it was, the narrow, hemmed-in situation made galleries and a clerestory necessary. To avoid hanging rods inside the church, access for opening and shutting the clerestory windows was provided along outside passageways. (fn. 27)
Building work began in February 1860, and the church was completed a few days before its consecration by the Bishop of London on 30 March 1861, the entire cost, £3,600, being met by subscription. The contractors were Dove Brothers. (fn. 28)
Both the neighbouring houses were pubs: the Queen's Head to the east, and the White Hart, rebuilt eastwards of its old site following its demolition for Albert Gate. This situation gave rise to the soubriquet 'the heaven between two hells'. In fact the pubs seem to have been quite respectable, and one landlord of the White Hart was a highly regarded churchwarden. (fn. 29)
The building had a fairly short life. Proposals were put forward in 1899 which, despite local protest, led to a new Holy Trinity Church being built on ground provided by the 1851 Commissioners in Prince Consort Road. The old church was pulled down in 1904 and its site, along with much of Park Side, was redeveloped with shops and flats (Parkside). (fn. 30)
Large-scale redevelopment of the remnants of the Westminster Abbey estate in Knightsbridge began in 1902–3 when the houses in St George's Place between Wilton Place and William Street were rebuilt (see page 28). Once that block was completed, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners invited selected developers to tender for an 80-year building lease of a large site on the north side of the road comprising Nos 28–54 Knightsbridge and Holy Trinity Church. (A comparatively small site immediately west of the church had recently been redeveloped on a long lease from the Commissioners as the French Embassy extension.) Holy Trinity was pulled down in September 1904 and by May the following year the rest of the site had been cleared. (fn. 31)
The requirements were that the new building was to cost at least £50,000 and be the work of an architect 'of high standing': it was also to be no higher than the French Embassy at No. 1 Albert Gate (a condition which seems to have been either relaxed or not strictly adhered to). The lessee would be liable to the Commissioners of Works for an annual charge of ten shillings for each window overlooking Hyde Park. Occupying tenants of the old shops on the site were offered premises in the new development, but, as with St George's Place, there was no compensation for those higher up the leasehold chain, some of whose families had held the properties for generations. (fn. 32)
Henry Bailey, whose London Estates Company Ltd made the best bid, subsequently managed to negotiate himself a 90-year term, but did not undertake the development himself. After mortgaging his interest to the former Chelsea MP Sir Charles Dilke, Bailey entered into agreement with Sir Thomas Henry Brooke-Hitching, who carried out the work on an 80-year underlease. (BrookeHitching had been a tenant of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in St George's Place, but in the delay over its redevelopment he let slip his chance of a building lease by sub-letting his premises.) In 1907 the head lease of the new block, known as Parkside, was acquired by the Clerical Medical & General Life Assurance Society. (fn. 33)
Parkside was designed by A. H. Hart and Leslie Waterhouse and erected in 1906–7 by the Waring White Building Company Ltd. It is built of red bricks, supplied by T. Lawrence & Sons of Bracknell, with dressings of Hartham Park stone. The stonework was carved by H. H. Martyn & Company of Cheltenham (Plate 35b, 35c). (fn. 34)
The new building comprised twelve shops and fortyodd flats, the block being divided vertically into three parts, each with its own entrance and lifts, and divided into individual apartments running the full depth of the building (fig. 10). Dining-rooms and staff accommodation were placed on the Knightsbridge side to allow — trees permitting — park views from the principal bedrooms and reception rooms. (fn. 35)
Externally, the building is adequately summed up by Brooke-Hitching's own description: 'expensive and dignified' (Plates 35a, 115d). In the 1900s it seemed a considerable intrusion on the view across Hyde Park. King Edward VII complained that it was too high, and the park authorities refused to cut back some old poplars near by which made the flats so dark that they were at first difficult to let. (fn. 36)
Immediately west of Parkside is the French Embassy extension, a three-storey stucco-fronted building erected in 1899–1902 (see page 50).