Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
High Row was the name generally used until the late nineteenth century for the buildings fronting the north side of Knightsbridge on the belt of land between the Westbourne (the site of Albert Gate) and Knightsbridge Barracks. The greater part of this ground was unbuilt on until the 1720s and '30s, when a terrace of houses was erected over most of its length. High Row was subsequently numbered as two sequences, High Row and High Row West, and in 1843 part of High Row West (Nos 1–16) was, 'in an absurd spirit of sycophancy', renamed Albert Terrace. The remainder of High Row West, Nos 17–30, retained its old name until c.1860, when it too was incorporated into Albert Terrace. The names High Row and Albert Terrace were abolished in 1877, when the properties there were renumbered as 4–44 Albert Gate. Under a further renumbering in 1903 they became 62–124 (even) Knightsbridge.
Included among the buildings discussed here are the principal redevelopments of parts of High Row carried out prior to the Albert Gate scheme. Later redevelopments, including all the present-day buildings westwards of Albert Gate to the barracks, are described further below, where a sketch of the history of the Park Close area at the west end of High Row is also given.
High Row: John Clarke's Estate
In 1719 John Clark(e) of St Martin-in-the-Fields, baker, acquired the two properties — one leasehold, the other freehold — lying between the Westbourne and a cluster of buildings in the vicinity of what is now Park Close. (He also acquired some leasehold land on the south side of Knightsbridge, near Hyde Park Corner). (fn. 1)
The eastern (leasehold) property, a one-acre close belonging to Westminster Abbey, had been bought by Henry VIII with other lands for enclosing into Hyde Park, but was in the event excluded as it would have 'brought the pale out of square'. Restored to the Abbey, it was let during the latter part of the sixteenth century successively to Robert Hatfield and William Muschamp of Kensington, and in 1607 was leased to Sir William Cecil (whose father and grandfather were in succession High Stewards of the Manors of Westminster Abbey). (fn. 2)
In 1612 a new lease was made out to Edmund Hooper, the composer and organist, in recognition of his long service at the Abbey. The lease — a lifehold secured on three of his children — required him to build a house within two years. However, no house seems to have been built, and the covenant was repeated when a new lease was granted to one of his daughters in 1670. It was repeated again in further grants, to Nicholas Birkhead, goldsmith, in 1673, and Edward Billings, tobacconist, in 1700. Billings, evidently, was the man responsible for building the Fox alehouse there, in about 1702. (fn. 3)
Clarke's freehold, three acres in extent, comprised the site now occupied by Bowater House. At one time the property of Sir Hugh Vaughan and then of Edmundishaw Muschamp, it too had come into the possession of the Billings family, Clarke acquiring it from James Billings, carpenter, of Boston in Lincolnshire. The ground then consisted of pasture, with the Swan inn at the west end. (fn. 4)
In 1722 Clarke began granting building leases on both his freehold and leasehold fields, and by the end of the decade there were more than forty new houses here, including cottages in a court called Park Prospect. At the Swan (which he let on a long lease to Edward Billings' widow) tenements had been built or portioned out of the old premises. Work continued until by the late 1730s the whole of this stretch of Knightsbridge had been built up (Plates 2b , 3 , 4 , 5a , 21 ). (fn. 5)
Among the lessees and other parties to the leases granted by Clarke was William Grant, a carpenter, who took several houses on the eastern one-acre piece. On Clarke's freehold, the lessees included the West End carpenterbuilder Benjamin Timbrell, who took at least one houseplot — at 25ft, wider than most of those on the freehold ground, which averaged about 18ft. Plots on the leasehold ground were generally narrower, and at the east end the buildings seem to have been of a significantly lower order. H. G. Davis (not writing from first-hand knowledge) describes the houses there, demolished for the Cannon Brewhouse, as having been 'a row of mean dwellings, with open cellars at the front, and at the west end a filthy court [Park Prospect]'. (fn. 6)
In 1764, after the death of Clarke's widow, the leasehold property was split up. (fn. 7)
Later history of High Row
High Row, for most of its existence, was not obviously fashionable, but there was a sprinkling of rank and title among the ratepayers throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the secession in 1843 of Nos 1–16 High Row West — all private residences or lodging-houses — to form 'Albert Terrace' is doubtless indicative of social aspiration. (fn. 8)
It was at about the time of the naming of Albert Terrace that the architects Thomas Chawner and James Pennethorne inspected the area for the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who were troubled by the growing number of encroachments on Hyde Park — such as unauthorized windows overlooking the park, and trellises on the park wall. They found the High Row houses 'very unsightly'. A number had notices of apartments to let on display, and it was evident that some of the residents were in the habit of throwing their rubbish into the park. (fn. 9)
In the second half of the nineteenth century and in Edwardian days the former Albert Terrace became increasingly smart. Many of the houses were extensively modernized and improved, if not largely rebuilt, with rear extensions, bay-windows, verandahs and covered ways (Plate 21). In the back gardens, summer-houses of varying degrees of sophistication were built or re-built, sometimes bringing owners into conflict with the park authorities.
As far back as the late eighteenth century, the park authorities had expressed concern over such encroachments as the cutting of windows and hen-holes in the park wall all along High Row and Park Side, and in the 1840s a system of licences was introduced. By the late nineteenth century encroachments typically involved the installation of guttering and flashing to deflect rainwater from garden buildings close to the park wall. (fn. 10)
Personal access to the park was in theory out of the question, but, extraordinarily, in 1865 Lord Henry Gordon Lennox managed to obtain it. With special permission from the Ranger, the Duke of Cambridge, Lennox had a doorway made in the wall behind his garden at No. 13 Albert Terrace; recognizing a fait accompli the Commissioners of Woods and Forests issued him a licence. More remarkably, after Lennox moved and the doorway was stopped up in 1870, a later occupant of the house, Florence Adamson, not only managed to get permission from the Ranger to open it up again so that she could take her dogs into the park, but contrived to get permission for a personal gate in the railings along the carriage road in the park, so as to avoid the indignity of climbing over them. Mrs Adamson enjoyed this unique privilege until her departure some years later. (fn. 11)
The novelist and playwright Charles Reade lived at No. 2 Albert Terrace (later No. 19 Albert Gate and eventually No. 70 Knightsbridge) from 1867 until the early 1880s (Plates 1, 21b, 21c). The house, apparently bought with the proceeds from The Cloister and the Hearth, he had extended to provide a 'palatial apartment' opening on to the garden, which served in turn throughout the day as breakfast-room, study, reception room, dining-room and drawing-room. The arrangement was described by Reade in A Terrible Temptation, published in 1871. From a long room at the front of the house, decorated in scarlet, white and gold with green velvet curtains and upholstery, glass folding-doors gave on to 'a small conservatory walled like a grotto, with ferns sprouting out of rocky fissures, and spars sparkling; water dripping'. Beyond, through another set of folding-doors, was a large room lined with mirrors from floor to ceiling and opening through French windows to the garden, with a view of trees in the park. This mirrored room was furnished with highly polished oak and marquetry and a 'gigantic' writing-table, and decorated with rubber trees and one or two 'masterpieces of painting'. (fn. 12)
Reade was greatly attached to the house, which he defended spiritedly against the property developer Lord Beaumont (see page 54). (fn. 13)
The east end of High Row was redeveloped in 1804 with the Cannon Brewhouse, itself pulled down in 1841 for the Albert Gate development. The remainder of John Clarke's former leasehold ground was cleared for Lord Beaumont's 'Empress Gate' scheme in the 1870s, staying vacant until the late 1880s, when the construction of Hyde Park Court began (Plate 30c). The remaining High Row houses were bought up for redevelopment in the 1930s and despite various schemes stood empty until their demolition in December 1942. Bowater House was built on the site in the 1950s. (fn. 14)
Some residents of High Row
Before Charles Reade came to live at Albert Terrace, his nephew, William Winwood Reade, author of The Martyrdom of Man, lived at No. 8. The Tory politician Sir Henry Drummond Wolff occupied No. 8 (by then No. 25 Albert Gate) in the late 1870s.
Among several theatrical residents of High Row was Paul Bedford, the comedian — famous for the catch-phrase 'I believe you, my boy' — who lived at No. 18 High Row in the 1850s and afterwards at No. 16 Albert Terrace.
In the late 1820s Lady Ann Hamilton, the friend and former lady-in-waiting of Queen Caroline, and the author of the Secret History of the Court of England, lived immediately west of the Cannon Brewhouse at No. 11 High Row, a house rebuilt around 1813. Later occupants included George White, naturalist and dealer in animals, who kept a menagerie there, and Mr Woodburn, an authority on 'ancient art' — probably Samuel Woodburn, the picture dealer who helped put together several important art collections, including that of John Sheepshanks of Rutland Gate.
A 'Matthew Brettingham Esq.', perhaps the Norwich architect Matthew Brettingham junior (1725–1803), was the ratepayer of a house in High Row (later No. 72 Knightsbridge) in 1778–83. Another architect, Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, who was involved in the design of Princes Gate, was living at No. 15 High Row West in 1841. The sculptor Hamilton MacCarthy, who with his brother Carlton specialized in modelling racehorses and was associated with Tattersalls, lived at No. 17 Albert Terrace with his family (including his son, Hamilton Plantagenet MacCarthy, who also became a sculptor).
Several artists were residents of High Row, the most distinguished of them being Sir Edward J. Poynter, who lived for many years at No. 28 Albert Gate (later No. 88 Knightsbridge). The painter Ozias Humphry lived at No. 13 High Row for some years until his death in 1810. Charles Hancock, artist, was living at No. 21 High Row in 1841; Captain Charles Mercier, artist and portrait painter, lived at No. 12 Albert Terrace in the 1870s; and Henry S. Watkins, landscape painter, was living at No. 34 Albert Gate in 1881. (fn. 15)
The Fox and Bull (demolished)
The Knightsbridge chronicler H. G. Davis described the Fox and Bull as 'a celebrated inn … traditionally said to have been founded in the time of Elizabeth, and used by her on her visits to Lord Burleigh at Brompton'. With its panelled and carved rooms, 'immense' fireplaces and ornamented ceilings, it was, Davis insisted, 'undoubtedly of Elizabethan build' — though if he himself had recollections of the place, they can only have been those of a small child, as he was about six years old when it was demolished. In this inn artists and others are said to have gathered in a sort of informal club, Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Morland among them; Reynolds once painted the inn-sign. (fn. 16)
However, it does not seem that the Fox and Bull possessed such a long a history as Davis supposed. The site had been subject to repeated building leases since 1612 (see above), but rate books indicate that the tavern was built on hitherto vacant ground about 1702; a deed of 1707 describes the building as 'new'. It is referred to by name in deeds from 1719, as the Fox Alehouse. There was, however, a tavern in Knightsbridge called the Fox some years before 1702, and mention was made in 1710 of an 'Old Fox' at Knightsbridge in Steele's Tatler. (fn. 17)
Salway's survey shows the Fox to have been a fair-sized, unromantic-looking house, standing some fifteen or twenty feet from the Westbourne (Plate 5a).
The body of Shelley's first wife, Harriet Westbrook, is said to have been taken to the Fox, through a doorway in the park wall, after it was recovered from the Serpentine in December 1816. (fn. 18)
In 1818 the Fox was acquired by the brewer Thomas Goding and renamed the Fox and Bull. It was rebuilt in 1836, presumably to the designs of Goding's architect Francis Edwards, its site shifted a little eastwards, as far as the plot would allow, to the bank of the Westbourne, apparently to make way for an extension to the Cannon Brewhouse. The new building, taller and narrower than its predecessor, had only a short existence, being pulled down in 1841 along with the brewery for Thomas Cubitt's Albert Gate. The 'Royal Harmonic Hall' at the Fox and Bull tavern, for which a playbill dated March 1841 survives, was possibly a temporary conversion of part of the brewery during its last days.
Cubitt replaced the building with another on the western, part of the brewery site. This third Fox and Bull — a 'staring compoed public-house' as it was brusquely referred to in 1856 — was licensed for public entertainments from the late 1840s to the late 1850s, and survived into the 1880s when it was demolished for the London and County Bank (see below). (fn. 19)
Cannon Brewhouse (demolished)
The Cannon Brewhouse was built for Thomas and James Goding, wine merchants and brewers, in 1804. The site, with a road frontage of over 95ft and formerly on lease to Jonathan Clarke, was one of the portions into which John Clarke's leasehold estate had been split up in 1764. The architect was George Byfield, estate surveyor to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, the freeholders. (fn. 20)
H. G. Davis remembered the brew house as an 'unsightly' edifice: on the other hand the impression given by Salway is of a not unhandsome building with a classical though windowless façade (Plate 5a). A tall range on the western side, of warehouse-like appearance, was built about 1812 on the site of Park Prospect. Goding further enlarged the premises, obtaining in 1818 a new lease of the expanded site, which included the Fox alehouse adjoining (thereafter the Fox and Bull). (fn. 21)
Additions were made about 1835 by Francis Edwards, a former assistant of Byfield's partner in his late years, H. H. Seward. These appear to have included an extension partly on the site of the Fox and Bull, which was itself rebuilt around this time, presumably to Edwards' design. (fn. 22)
A few years later the brewery's 'eternal smoke' became the bugbear of Lady Sydney Morgan — recently arrived in the district — and Thomas Cubitt, the co-proponents of a scheme for a new entrance into the park close by, ultimately realized as Albert Gate. Together they plotted the brewery's removal, and in 1841 Cubitt bought and demolished both the Cannon Brewhouse and the Fox and Bull. Before being pulled down, the brewery housed bricklayers and their families, probably Cubitt's employees working on the Lowndes estate or the new Fox and Bull at the western end of the site. The wooden cannon which had stood on the parapet of the brewhouse was removed to adorn a pub in Warwick Street, Pimlico. The remainder of the site was left undeveloped until the building there in 1851 of a temporary structure for the Chinese exhibition (see page 52). (fn. 23) This was replaced a few years later by Hyde Park House, itself pulled down in the 1960s for the building of the present No. 60 Knightsbridge.
The Swan (demolished)
The Swan inn stood at the west end of the site now occupied by Bowater House. There was a Swan inn at Knightsbridge as far back as the 1630s, when it was mentioned in a rhyme by the 'water-poet' John Taylor. The Swan made further literary appearances in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, notably in the work of the satirists Thomas Brown and 'Peter Pindar', and in Thomas Otway's Soldier's Fortune, in which Sir Davy Dunce asserts 'tis a damned house, that Swan; that Swan at Knightsbridge is a confounded house!'. Traditionally, Knightsbridge inns did not have a good reputation, and as well as being apparently a rendezvous for illicit liaisons, the Swan was used by the ringleaders of a Jacobite plot to assassinate William III in 1694; in 1723 it was the scene of a murder. (fn. 24)
In 1756 the landlord built a new Swan inn on the south side of Knightsbridge, at the top of Brompton Road. The old Swan remained standing until about 1776, when it was acquired for redevelopment by Ralph Mills. (fn. 25)
Mills's Buildings and Park Row (demolished)
In 1776 Ralph Mills, a Knightsbridge carpenter-builder, took a long lease of the old Swan inn and adjoining tenements from John Clarke's heirs, and proceeded to redevelop the site. Over the next dozen years twenty-six houses were built there, comprising Park Row, Mill's or Mills's Buildings, and eight houses in High Row, subsequently Nos 17–24 Albert Terrace, and eventually Nos 100–114 Knightsbridge (see fig. 9). The new houses in High Row were all inhabited by 1777, and the dozen houses in Mills's Buildings were first rated in 1779. Three houses in Park Row followed in 1781, but it was several years before they were inhabited; three more appeared in 1787, and the entire row was occupied by 1789. (fn. 26)
Most of Mills's High Row houses were shops by the seeond decade of the nineteenth century (Plate 4c), and one was a pub, the Queen's Arms (later No. 108 Knightsbridge). Rebuilt in 1894 (Plate 20b), the Queen's Arms closed in the early 1930s, when it was converted into two shops, with offices and flats above. (fn. 27)
The houses in Mills's Buildings, though small, were superior to the cottages often found in such courts, with elegant doorcases (Plate 20a). It is possible that a surveyor, Godfrey Wilson the younger of Bryanston Square, may have had a hand in their design; he was among the first lessees of the houses. (fn. 28)
Whatever its original status may have been, Mills's Buildings was of lowly character by the late 1820s when several ratepayers there were described as 'poor' or 'very poor and aged'. The houses seem to have been in multioccupation by working-class tenants throughout the Victorian period, before undergoing some gentrification after the First World War. (fn. 29)
Henry George Davis (1830–57), much of whose short life was devoted to the compilation of The Memorials of the Hamlet of Knightsbridge, published posthumously under his brother Charles's editorship, was born at No. 4 Mills's Buildings. (fn. 30)
In Park Row (renamed Hyde Park Row in 1939) the houses were larger than those in Mills's Buildings, with segmental bays facing the park. (fn. 31) They probably always had a higher social status, and the first occupants included a doctor of divinity, the Rev. John Trotter. Two notable occupants in the 1820s were the author, publisher and vegetarian Sir Richard Phillips, and Olive Wilmot, who styled herself 'Princess Olive' and claimed to be married to the Duke of Cumberland. According to the writer John Timbs, Phillips and Princess Olive were next-door neighbours, but in fact they both seem to have lived at No. 4, Phillips moving in after Olive's departure in 1829. (fn. 32)
The Chartist, poet and lecturer Thomas Cooper lived at No. 5 — 'the pleasantest house I had ever had in my life'— from 1848 until 1855:
The access to it was through 'Mill's Buildings,' a 'long square' tenanted chiefly by workpeople and washerwomen, and, therefore, not likely to attract fashionables. But the houses forming 'Park Row,' though somewhat old, were large and roomy, and must have been tenanted by 'considerable' sort of people, formerly. We had no access to Hyde Park, but we looked into it from our really beautiful parlour; and had daily views of the Guards, and Royalty, and great people, passing by, in the Park. (fn. 33)
Several years before Cooper's arrival, the residents of Park Row had included clerks, a secretary, and a young practising barrister, and there were on average only half-adozen people to each house (compared to fourteen in Mills's Buildings). Park Row retained a preponderance of middle-class residents (often lodgers) throughout the Victorian period; from the 1860s to the 1880s, No. 6 was occupied as lodgings, mostly by Swiss and French governesses and ladies' maids.
Jerome K. Jerome lived at No. 5 from the mid-1890s until the early 1900s. Other residents of Park Row at various times include: Frank Matthews, actor; George Henry Francis, editor of the Morning Post and other newspapers (No. 5, 1861); Charles Bruce Allen, architect (No. 6, 1861); George Kenyon, architect (No. 1, 1891); James H. D'Egville, watercolour artist (No. 3, 1861); George Mears, marine painter (No. 3, 1871); John Rogers, composer (No. 5, 1871); Sara Nelson, dramatic and illustrative artist (No. 4, 1881); (Sir) George Alexander, actor-manager (No. 6, 1891). (fn. 34)