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.
The encroachment of building over the village green at Knightsbridge (part of the manorial ground belonging to Westminster Abbey) took place over a long period, reaching approximately its present-day extent by the 1850s. Some of the old rural character of the green survived into the early nineteenth century, when a cattle-market was still held and there was even a maypole. An inn, then called the Sun, and later the Marquis of Granby, had been built on part of the green by the seventeenth century. The open land was much diminished in the 1720s by the building of Middle Row. This was later renamed Middle Row North when houses fronting the Brompton road were built over the gardens, forming Middle Row South. (fn. 4)
King's Row was built in 1784–5 over a garden behind the Sun, reducing the open space to little more than a broad tree-lined strip running north to the Kensington road. (fn. 5) Plans put forward in 1836 for a railway terminus and covered market at Knightsbridge Green having come to nothing,' a piece of this strip was taken for the building of parochial schools in 1839.
By 1851 the northern part of Knightsbridge Green had been further reduced, by the erection of various wooden sheds along the east side, to the narrow footway that exists today (Plate 50c). In that year Chrisostome Mouflet, a victualler, replaced the sheds with a row of lean-to shops, at the same time building a short-lived 'Crystal Palace Hotel' adjoining, just north of All Saints' School. An attempt by the vestry to widen the passageway in 1899 failed, owing to the difficulty of obtaining the ground on either side. (fn. 6)
On the west side of the Green, towards the south end, formerly stood two substantial houses – the Moreaus' residence, later the site of Tattersalls, and Dr Buissière's house, converted into the Pakenham Tavern in the 1840s. Northwards of Dr Buissière's house, several houses were built in 1736–7 on the ground adjoining Martin Basil's old house (No. 13A High Road, otherwise Chatham House). (fn. 7) The sites of these houses (a short row fronting the Green and Nos 12 and 13 High Road), together with that of Chatham House, are now occupied by the former Normandie Hotel.
The undeveloped southern remnant of the Green was let to successive occupiers of the old Moreau residence, and in 1857 was acquired with it – on lease – by Tattersalls. Apparently treeless, the small plot was then surrounded by a wall and iron railings. Plans by Westminster Vestry to plant the 'vacant' ground with trees in 1879 met with an angry response from local traders and cabmen, who saw the improvement as likely to interfere with their business and filled in the holes dug in preparation. However, by 1908 trees had been planted on the enclosure, which was then being looked after by Tattersalls. After the Second World War Tattersalls undertook a restoration of the enclosure, creating a 'Temple Garden' with a bronze figure. Intended as a contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain, this project was carried out by Ralph Hancock & Son, landscape architects of Park Mansions Arcade, under the direction of Tattersalls' architects, Stone, Toms & Partners. (fn. 8)
Today the 'Green', as popularly understood – the triangular remnant of open space off Brompton Road – is a nondescript traffic island, occupied by a couple of plane trees and a forlorn drinking fountain. There is a long tradition that this piece of ground was used for a plague pit. What is known is that from 1640 a small strip immediately to the north-east (now occupied by the shops of Nos 16–22 Brompton Road) belonged to the Knightsbridge lazarhouse property – also part of the Westminster Abbey estate – on the north side of Knightsbridge. It is possible that this strip, which in about 1784 was taken to provide gardens for the new houses of King's Row, was used to bury plague victims dying at the lazar-house. Human bones found in 1808 on the site of William Street were reinterred at the Green, as this was felt to be the most appropriate place. (fn. 9)
Grosvenor House (demolished)
The old mansion owned by Sir William Blake (see page 77) was occupied after his death in 1630 by, among others, Katherine, Viscountess Ranelagh, the sister of the scientist Robert Boyle. About 1740 it was rebuilt by Philip Moreau's son and heir, Captain James Philip Moreau. Eventually to become known as Grosvenor House, Moreau's new house was a substantial brick building, sashed and slated, squarish in plan with four rooms and two closets to each floor, 'all wainscotted and floored in the best Manner, and compleatly fitted up with marble and other Chimney Pieces'. There was a stable wing and outbuildings to the side and a large garden behind, laid out with gravel walks, 'Grass Plats, Seats, Espalier Hedges, Wilderness and Shrubbery, all enclosed with a Brick Wall, and well planted with Fruit Trees in great perfection'. (fn. 10) Salway included a view of the property in his 1811 survey of the Brompton road. (fn. 2)
The Moreaus seem not to have lived at the house after the death of Captain Moreau's widow in 1753, but it was purchased by a member of the family at the sale in 1759. It soon passed, however, via Admiral Thomas Broderick, to the Rev. Martin Madan. A Methodist, Madan was chaplain of the Lock Hospital in Grosvenor Place, and the author of a controversial book advocating polygamy, published in 1780. Later owners included Nathaniel Gosling, of the prominent banking family. (fn. 11)
In 1857 Grosvenor House and its grounds, together with a lease of the remaining part of the old Green in front of it, were bought by Tattersalls to replace their Hyde Park Corner auction yard. It had been pulled down by 1863.
For more than seventy years Knightsbridge Green was home to Tattersalls, the renowned horse and bloodstock auctioneers and one of the great institutions of the equine world. The firm moved here in 1865, to newly built premises on the west side where a stone archway, flanked by ancillary buildings, gave access to the large covered auction yard (Plates 48b, 49, fig. 26). Between 1865 and 1939 Tattersalls' yard was the scene of regular weekly, and in the season twice weekly, horse sales, events as much social as commercial where the bluest-blooded of aristocrats rubbed shoulders with the shabbiest of sporting 'characters'.
Since it was founded in the early 1770s by Richard Tattersall, a former groom and trainer to the Duke of Kingston, the firm had occupied pleasant, almost rural, premises behind St George's Hospital, close to Hyde Park Corner (see Plate 5c). But this was a leasehold property, on which the leases ran out in 1865, and the Marquess of Westminster, who owned the land, would not extend the firm's tenure because the site was required to complete the building of Grosvenor Crescent. (fn. 12) That Tattersalls would eventually have to move must have been apparent as far back as 1832, when the line of Grosvenor Crescent was settled. In 1853 it was reported that they were planning to open new premises on the site of the old Fishmongers' Almshouses at the Elephant and Castle; nothing came of that scheme and izn 1857 Tattersalls bought Grosvenor House on Knightsbridge Green. Adjoining Fulham Bridge Yard, where horse-dealing had been a well-established tradition, and only a short distance from Hyde Park Corner and the beau monde, this was a freehold property, and at two acres at least as large as the old, if not slightly larger. (fn. 13)
Construction work at Knightsbridge Green began in the summer of 1863 and the new buildings were completed in the spring of 1865, the first sale there taking place on 10 April. (fn. 14) Planned by the two partners, Richard and Edmund Tattersall, great-grandsons of the founder, and erected under their general supervision, the new establishment was designed by the architect Charles Freeman, who according to his obituary was 'probably best known as surveyor to the Sun Fire Assurance Company'. (fn. 15) He does not appear to have had any special expertise in designing buildings for equine purposes. (fn. 3) The contractors were Holland & Hannen.
Architectural display, of a fairly modest order, was concentrated on the street front. Here, a stone archway with iron gates, flanked by lower entrances for pedestrians, formed the centrepiece, framed by a matching pair of buildings in yellow-grey brick with stone dressings and balustrade which screened the back part of the premises from public view (Plates 48b, 49c). The Sporting Review was unimpressed: 'plain and unpretending enough' it might have been the front of 'a bazaar or some well-conducted manufactory'. (fn. 17)
The building to the south of the gateway was a subscription room for off-course betting, a long-standing custom at Tattersalls which the promoters of the 1853 Betting Act had been unwilling to disturb for fear of offending its aristocratic patrons. (fn. 18) Apart from providing a room, Tattersalls themselves had no direct involvement with the betting, which was under the control of the Jockey Club. The entrance, on the north side, was railed off 'so as to preserve to its frequenters the utmost privacy'. Inside, the subscription room was decorated with green and gold panelled walls, and an encaustic-tile floor worthy of 'a Genoese palace, so rich and harmonious are its colours' (Plate 49b). Two glass domes boosted the natural lighting, while a third dome contained a large gas 'sunburner'. At the west end folding doors, flanked by two stone lions from the old premises, opened on to a paved courtyard which was used for outside betting and had a telegraph-office adjoining. (fn. 19)
The corresponding building to the north comprised the manager's house, offices, a private room for the partners, and, on the upper floor, accommodation for the 'Rhadamanthuses of the Jockey Club'. (fn. 20)
Between the offices and the subscription room a granite roadway led to the auction yard, the heart of the whole complex. Enclosed within a large but plain two-storey building, this was a rectangular galleried court, 60ft by 108ft, covered by a soaring glass roof with deeply coved sides (Plate 49a, fig. 26). The roof was carried on iron girders and glazed with panes of Hartley's patent glass, which could be opened for ventilation. A fully covered yard was an innovation for Tattersalls, perhaps suggested by the iron-and-glass roofed yard at Aldridge's, a rival establishment in St Martin's Lane, rebuilt in the early 1840s. (fn. 21)
In the middle stood the drinking-fountain known as the Fox, which had been the centrepiece of the old yard. Housed within a classical stone cupola, the fountain was surmounted by the figure of a fox with raised paw, and the cupola by a bust of George IV. The latter was said to symbolize the firm's royal connections, the fox its links with hunting, which went back to the early days of the firm when hunters and hounds rather than racehorses were the mainstay of the business.
The auctioneer conducted the horse sales from a wooden rostrum in the north-west corner facing down the ride or 'long trot', where the horses showed their paces. Carriage and harness sales were held in the arcaded gallery, another feature probably suggested by Aldridge's, where carriage sales took place in a gallery along one side of the auction yard. At Tattersalls the carriages were raised to first-floor level on a hydraulic lift supplied by Easton Amos & Sons. Popular with spectators, the gallery also provided a useful vantage point for buyers 'who do not care to encounter the busy throng below'. (fn. 22)
Surrounding the auction yard at ground-floor level, but only partially covered by the main roof, was the stabling – originally comprising 95 single stalls, and 20 loose-boxes for stallions and mares with foals. Spacious and properly drained, with water and gas laid on, the stalls were constructed of wood, iron and polished grey marble, and had patent asphalt floors. The generously proportioned looseboxes, top lit by ventilating louvres, occupied separate single-storey ranges on the west wall of the auction yard and the northern boundary of the site.
While there was some regret at the passing of the old 'Corner', with its lawns and gravel walks, the press found much to praise at the Green. The new yard 'is as superior to that at Hyde Park Corner as the Agricultural Hall is as a show-place to the Baker-street Bazaar' was the verdict of the Sporting Review, one of the more critical journals. The Illustrated Times was pleased to find the ambience little changed: 'still the same dealing for horses on one side and laying of wagers on the other: the same motley assemblage of characters who have made the place belonging to the firm their head-quarters for the last century'. (fn. 23)
Auction sales continued to be held at Knightsbridge Green up to the outbreak of war in September 1939, when they were transferred to Newmarket, never to return. The Fox too was taken to Newmarket for safe-keeping, fortunately, for in August 1944 a flying-bomb severely damaged the auction yard and stabling. After the war Tattersalls sold the buildings to Oetzmann & Company, home furnishers, who occupied the old subscription room and the patchedup auction yard as furniture galleries; Tattersalls themselves retained their offices in the north wing. When, in 1955, the old premises were demolished for redevelopment, the entrance arch was saved and, like the Fox, reerected at Newmarket. (fn. 24) The entire site is now covered by part of Caltex House, but the name of Tattersalls lingers on in an eponymous, though modern, public house on Knightsbridge Green.
Former All Saints' School, Knightsbridge Green
In 1839 a piece of the Green was given by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey to the Rector and Churchwardens of St Margaret's, Westminster, as the site for parochial schools. Designed by the Knightsbridge architect W. F. Pocock, these were erected in 1839–40 on what was effectively an island site, as traffic had to be free to pass round on all sides (fig. 22). Construction costs were largely met by an anonymous benefactress. (fn. 25)
By 1851 St Margaret's Schools had been transferred to the Ecclesiastical District of All Saints, Knightsbridge, becoming All Saints' National School. In 1875 it was rebuilt to designs by Robert Hesketh, an architect with considerable experience of educational buildings, who produced a simple red-brick 'three-decker' in the Board School manner (Plate 50a, 50b). The contractors were T. H. Adamson & Sons. (fn. 26)
All Saints' School closed in 1900 and narrowly escaped demolition for a proposed extension of Park Mansions. Eventually, in 1908–9, the site was purchased by the owners of Park Mansions, who converted the old building into shops, workshops, showrooms, and accommodation for servants employed in the flats, to which it was connected by a glazed iron staircase; the architects were T. H. & A. M. Watson. The building is now numbered 24–26 Brompton Road and 15–17 Knightsbridge Green. (fn. 27)