The western suburbs: Knightsbridge

Pages 15-28

Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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"Cubat hic in colle Quirini,
Hic extremo in Aventino: visendus uterque:
Intervalla vides humanè commoda."—Horace.

Derivation of the Name of Knightsbridge—Early History of the Locality—The Old Bridge—Insecurity of the Roads, and Bad Reputation of the Innkeepers—Historical Events connected with Knightsbridge—The Old "Swan" Inn—Electioneering Riots—An Eccentric Old Lady—The "Spring Garden" and the "World's End"—Knightsbridge Grove—Mrs. Cornelys as a Vendor of Asses' Milk—Albert Gate—The "Fox and Bull"—The French Embassy—George Hudson, the "Railway King"—The Cannon Brewery—Dunn's Chinese Gallery—Trinity Chapel and the Lazar House—"irregular" Marriages—Knightsbridge Barracks—Smith and Barber's Floor-cloth Manufactory—Edward Stirling, the "Thunderer" of the Times—Kent House—Kingston House—Rutland Gate—Ennismore Place—Brompton Oratory—Brompton Church—Count Rumford and other Distinguished Residents—New "Tattersall's"—The Green—Chalker House—The "Rose and Crown" Inn—The "Rising Sun"—Knightsbridge Cattle Market.

In the early Saxon days, when "Chelsey," and "Kensing town," and "Charing" were country villages, there lay between all three a sort of "No Man's Land," which in process of time came to be called "Knightsbridge," although it never assumed, or even claimed, parochial honours, nor indeed could be said to have had a recognised existence. It was a district of uncertain extent and limits; but it is, nevertheless, our purpose to try and "beat the bounds" on behalf of its former inhabitants.

The name of Knightsbridge, then, must be taken as indicating, not a parish, nor yet a manor, but only a certain locality adjoining a bridge, which formerly stood on the road between London and far distant Kensington. There is much difficulty as to the derivation of the name, for in the time of Edward the Confessor, if old records are correctly deciphered, it was called "Kyngesburig;" while some hundred years or so later we find it spoken of as "Knightsbrigg," in a charter of Herbert, Abbot of Westminster. A local legend, recorded by Mr. Davis, in his "History of Knightsbridge," says that: "In ancient time certain knights had occasion to go from London to wage war for some holy purpose. Light in heart, if heavy in arms, they passed through this district on their way to receive the blessing awarded to the faithful by the Bishop of London at Fulham. For some cause or other, however, a quarrel ensued between two of the band, and a combat was determined upon to decide the dispute. They fought on the bridge which spanned the stream of the Westbourne, whilst from its banks the struggle was watched by their partisans. Both fell, if the legend may be trusted; and the place was ever after called Knightsbridge, in remembrance of their fatal feud."

Another possible derivation of the name is quoted from Norden, the topographer, by the Rev. M. Walcott, in his "Memorials of Westminster:"—" Kingsbridge, commonly called Stonebridge, near Hyde Park Corner, [is a place] where I wish no true man to walk too late without good guard, as did Sir H. Knyvett, Knight, who valiantly defended himself, there being assaulted, and slew the master thief with his own hands." However, in all probability the name is of older date than either of the above events; therefore we may be content to leave the question for the solution of future topographers, merely remarking that whether it was originally "Knightsbrigg," or "Kyngesbrigg," King Edward the Confessor held lands here, and possibly may have built a bridge for the use of the monks of Westminster, to whom he devised a portion of his acres. That such was the case we learn from a charter preserved in the British Museum, which conveyed to the monks of Westminster, along with the manor of Chelsea, "every third tree, and every horse-load of fruit grown in an adjacent wood at Kyngesbyrig, as heretofore by law accustomed."

"Knightsbridge," observes Mr. Davis, in his "History," "is not mentioned in Domesday Book, neither are Westbourne, or Hyde, or Paddington, these places being probably included in the surrounding manors." Moreover, we read that "Knightsbridge lies in the manor of Eia or Ea, formerly a portion of Cealcyth (Chelcheth or Chelsey), and now known as Eabury or Ebury." The manor of Ea, as confirmed to the Abbey of Westminster by the Conqueror, seems to have included all the lands lying between the Westbourne on the west, and the Tyburn on the east, from the great road which ran from Tyburn towards Uxbridge down to the Thames. Yet, curiously enough, as Mr. Davis tells us, though given thus early to the Abbey, the manor was not included in the franchise of the city of Westminster, though Knightsbridge, which lay partly, at least, beyond it, was so included. The fact is the more strange, as a large part of Knightsbridge belonged for many centuries, and indeed still in theory belongs, to the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster.

In the course of time the monks of Westminster appear to have claimed and exercised further rights over this district, including the holding of market and a fair, the erection of a gallowstree, and those of imprisoning evil-doers, and of seizing the goods of condemned persons and runaways. They further appropriated sundry lay fees in "Knythbrigg, Padyngton, Eya, and Westbourne, without licence of the king." In 1222 the Tyburn stream was laid down as the west boundary of that parish, excepting the hamlet of Knightsbridge, which lay beyond it.

The manor of Ea, or Eabury, was afterwards included in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, when the latter was cut off from St. Margaret's; but when St. George's, Hanover Square, was carved out of St. Martin's, in 1724, both Knightsbridge and Eabury were assigned to the parish of St. George's. The rivulet, however, being made the western boundary between St. George's parish and Chelsea, it came about that Knightsbridge stands partly in all the three parishes above mentioned. When the bounds of St. Margaret's and other parishes were beaten, the parochial authorities passed through one part or other of the hamlet; and we may be sure that many a Knightsbridge urchin was whipped at the frontiers in order to impress the exact limits indelibly on his memory. Indeed, in the parish books of St. Margaret's there are several entries of sums spent by the beadles, &c., at Knightsbridge, on the "perambulation." Knightsbridge was, at all events, cut off, at a very early date, from St. Margaret's parish. It would appear, therefore, that only a portion of the hamlet was within the manor of Ea, including, as nearly as possible, all that now forms the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square. In Domesday Book it is given as ten hides; it was afterwards divided into three manors—viz., Neyte, Eabury, and Hyde. The first-named manor was near the Thames; and Hyde, with certain lands taken from Knightsbridge, formed Hyde Park. All these manors belonged to the Abbey till the Reformation, when they "escheated to"—i.e., were seized by—the king. They were afterwards exchanged by his most gracious and rapacious majesty for the dissolved Priory of Hurley, in Berkshire.

Somehow or other, however, though the time and the way are not known, Knightsbridge reverted to its former owners, the Abbey of Westminster, in whose hands it has since remained, with the exception of the few years of the Puritan Protectorate, though the outlying lands about Kensington Gore passed into lay hands, as also did the manor of Eabury, in which it would seem that there was abundance of game, and large portions of waste land laid open to them for the pasturage of their cattle. Be this as it may, however, the manor passed into the hands first of the Whashes, or Walshes, and then into those of a family named Davis, the last male of whom, Alexander Davis, left an only daughter and heiress, Mary, who, in 1676, was married, at St. Clement Danes' Church, to Sir Thomas Grosvenor, into whose hands she carried the manor, as already stated. Her lineal descendants, it is almost needless to state, are the present Duke of Westminster and Lord Ebury.

The bridge which spanned the Westbourne, and gave its name to the hamlet of Knightsbridge, is described by Strype as of stone, and probably is the same which lasted down to our own day. It stood where now is Albert Gate, and probably portions of it are still embedded in the high road a few yards south of that entrance, and opposite to Lowndes Square. The stream is now little more than the surplus water of the Serpentine, which passes here in a covered drain under the high road; but Mr. Davis tells us that, as lately as 1809, it overflowed its banks so much that the "neighbourhood became a lake, and that foot-passengers were for several days rowed from Chelsea by Thames boatmen."

As far back as the reign of Edward III. (1361), we find Knightsbridge spoken of as "a town;" for during the plague in that reign a royal edict was issued from the Palace at Westminster, to the effect "that all bulls, oxen, hogs, and other grass creatures to be slain for the sustenance of the people, be led as far as the town of Stratford on the one side of London, and the town of Knightsbridge on the other, to be slain."

In Thornton's "Survey of London," published in 1780, Knightsbridge is described as "a village a little to the east of Kensington, with many publichouses and several new buildings lately erected, but none of them sufficiently remarkable to admit of particular description." Indeed, it was not till quite the end of the last century, or, perhaps, early in the present, that Knightsbridge became fairly joined on to the metropolis. A letter, in 1783, describes the place as "quite out of London." And so it must have been, for as late as that date, writes Mr. Davis, "the stream ran open, the streets were unpaved and unlighted, and a Maypole was still on the village green. It is not ten years [he wrote in 1854] since the hawthorn hedge has disappeared entirely from the Gore, and the blackbird and starling might still be heard . … Few persons imagine, perhaps, that within the recollection of some who have not long passed from us, snipes and woodcocks might occasionally be found. Forty years since there was neither a draper's nor a butcher's shop between Hyde Park Corner and Sloane Street, and only one in the whole locality where a newspaper or writing-paper could be bought. There was no conveyance to London but a kind of stage-coach; the roads were dimly lighted by oil; and the modern paving to be seen only along Knightsbridge Terrace. Till about 1835 a watch-house and pound remained at the east end of Middle Row; and the stocks were to be seen, as late as 1805, at the end of Park-side, almost opposite the Conduit."

The high road which led through Knightsbridge towards Kensington, and so on to Brentford, was, two centuries ago, very badly kept and maintained, as regards both its repairs and the security of those who passed along it. There was no lack of inns about Knightsbridge, but the reputation of their keepers would not bear much inquiry, as it is almost certain that they were in league with the highwaymen who infested the road. As a proof of the former part of our assertion, it may be mentioned that when Sir Thomas Wyatt brought up his forces to attack London, this was the route by which they came. "The state of the road," we are told, "materially added to their discomfiture, and so great was the delay thereby occasioned that the Queen's party were able to make every preparation, and when Wyatt's men reached London, their jaded appearance gained them the name of 'Draggle-tails.'" In this condition, however, things remained for more than a century and a half; for, in 1736, when the Court had resided at Kensington for nearly fifty years, Lord Hervey writes to his mother thus, under date November 27th:—"The road between this place (Kensington) and London is grown so infamously bad, that we live here in the same solitude we should do if cast on a rock in the middle of the ocean; and all the Londoners tell us there is between them and us a great impassable gulf of mud. There are two roads through the park; but the new one is so convex, and the old one so concave, that by this extreme of faults they agree in the common one of being, like the high road, impassable."

As to the danger from footpads to which travellers were exposed on the high road between Kensington and London, we will quote the following proofs. In the register of burials at Kensington is the following entry, which speaks for itself:—"1687, 25th November.—Thomas Ridge, of Portsmouth, who was killed by thieves almost at Knightsbridge." John Evelyn, too, writes in his "Diary," November 25th, 1699:—"This week robberies were committed between the many lights which were fixed between London and Kensington on both sides, and while coaches and travellers were passing." Lady Cowper, too, has the following entry in her "Diary," in October, 1715:—"I was at Kensington, where I intended to stay as long as the camp was in Hyde Park, the roads being so secure by it that we might come from London at any time of the night without danger, which I did very often."

It is clear, from the Gentleman's Magazine for April, 1740, that about a quarter of a century later matters were as bad as ever. "The Bristol mail," writes Sylvanus Urban, "was robbed, a little beyond Knightsbridge, by a man on foot, who took the Bath and Bristol bags, and, mounting the postboy's horse, rode off towards London." Four years later three men were executed for highway robberies committed here; and in another attempted highway robbery, a little westward of the bridge at Knightsbridge, we read of a footpad being shot dead.

This being the case, we need not be surprised to find, from the Morning Chronicle of May 23, 1799, that it was necessary at the close of last century to order a party of light horse to patrol every night the road from Hyde Park Corner to Kensington; and Mr. Davis, in his work already quoted, states that persons then (1854) alive well remembered when "pedestrians walked to and from Kensington in bands sufficient to ensure mutual protection, starting on their journey only at known intervals, of which a bell gave due warning." It would, however, be unfair to suppose that Knightsbridge, in this respect, was worse than any other suburb of London at that time, as we have already shown in our accounts of Marylebone, Tottenham Court Road, and other parts.

In proof of the bad character of the innkeepers of Knightsbridge, we may mention that Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, tells us that when about to be engaged in a duel with the Earl of Rochester, he and his second "lay over-night at Knightsbridge privately, to avoid being secured at London upon any suspicion;" adding, that he and his friend "had the appearance of highwaymen, for which the people of the house liked us all the better." So also in The Rehearsal, written to satirise Dryden, we find the following dialogue, the drift of which is obvious:—

Smith: But pray, Mr. Bayes, is not this a little difficult, that you were saying e'en now, to keep an army thus concealed in Knightsbridge?

Bayes: In Knightsbridge? No, not if the innkeeper be his friends.

The "wood at Kyngesbrigg," of which we have spoken, and which modern topographers identify with the spot where now stands Lowndes Square, may give us some clue to the character of the neighbourhood six or seven hundred years ago. No doubt, it formed a portion of that forest with which, as we learn from Fitz-Stephen, London was surrounded on almost every side. "It owned no lord," says Mr. Davis, "and the few inhabitants enjoyed free chase and other rights in it. It was disafforested by order of Henry III.; and in the reign of his son, Edward I., if we may trust Mr. Lysons, Knightsbridge was a manor belonging to the Abbey. To their lands here, in the course of the next half century or so, the monks added others at Westbourne, and both were jointly erected into a manor—that of 'Knightsbridge and Westbourne'—a name still retained in legal documents." Mr. Davis adds that "the whole of the isolated parts of St. Margaret's parish—including a part of Kensington, its palace, and gardens—are included in this manor."

THE SPRING GARDEN, "WORLD'S END." (From a Drawing in Mr. Craces Collection.)

As we have already related, Knightsbridge was the last halting-place of Sir Thomas Wyatt and his Kentish followers, before his foolish assault on London in the reign of Queen Mary; and there is every reason to believe, both from local tradition, and also from the helmets, swords, &c., which from time to time have been dug up in the neighbourhood, that it was the scene of more than one encounter between the Royal and Parliamentary forces in the time of Charles I. Here, too, was the house occupied by the "infamous" Lord Howard, of Escrick, by whose perjured evidence so noble a patriot as Algernon Sidney was sent to the block. Roger North, in his "Examen," tells us that when the Rye House Plot became known, the king commanded that Howard should be arrested, and that accordingly his house was searched by the Serjeant-at-Arms, to whom he surrendered at discretion. He saved his own life by despicably turning round upon the partners of his guilt. Many allusions to his conduct on this occasion will be found in the satires and ballads of the day, of which the following may be taken as an average specimen:—

"Was it not a d— —thing
That Russell and Hampden
Should serve all the projects of hot-headed Tory?
But much more untoward
To appoint my Lord Howard
Of his own purse and credit to raise men and money?
Who at Knightsbridge did hide
Those brisk boys unspy'd,
That at Shaftesbury's whistle were ready to follow,
But when aid he should bring,
Like a true Brentford king,
He was here with a whoop and there with a hollo !"

(From a Drawing in Mr. Crace's Collection.)

Through Knightsbridge passed the corpse of Henry VIII., on its way to its last resting-place at Windsor. The fact is thus recorded in the parish books of St. Margaret's:—"Paid to the poor men that did bere the copis (copes) and other necessaries to Knightsbridge, when that the King was brought to his buryal to Wynsor, and to the men that did ring the bells, 3 shillings."

The next historical event connected with this neighbourhood is the intended assassination of William III. by two Jacobite gentlemen—curiously enough, named Barclay and Perkins—in 1694. Their plan was to waylay the king on his return to Kensington from some hunting expedition, and to shoot him. The plot, however, was revealed by one of their accomplices, who met at the "Swan Inn," Knightsbridge, to arrange the time and place; and the two principals were hung at Tyburn, though they never carried their plot into execution.

The "Swan," two centuries ago, was an inn of so bad a reputation, as to be the terror of jealous husbands and anxious fathers, and is often alluded to as such in some of the comedies of the time; as, for instance, in Otway's Soldier of Fortune, where Sir David Dance says: "I have surely lost her (my daughter), and shall never see her more; she promised me strictly to stay at home till I came back again. … For aught I know, she may be taking the air as far as Knightsbridge, with some smooth-faced rogue or another. 'Tis a bad house, that Swan; the Swan at Knightsbridge is a confounded house." The house has also the honour, such as it is, of being mentioned by Tom Brown in his "School Days," and also by Peter Pindar.

More recently, Knightsbridge has gained some celebrity, as the scene of one or two passing riots, as, for instance, in the year 1768, on the election of Wilkes for Middlesex. "It was customary," writes Mr. Davis, "for a London mob to meet the Brentford mob in or about Knightsbridge; and as Wilkes' opponent was riding through with a body of his supporters, one of them hoisted a flag, on which was inscribed 'No Blasphemer,' and terrible violence instantly ensued." Again, in 1803, another election riot, in which one or two lives were lost, took place in the High Street, Sir Francis Burdett being the popular favourite. Another riot took place here in 1821, at the funeral of two men who had been shot by the soldiers at the funeral of Queen Caroline.

It should, perhaps, be mentioned here, in illustration of the strongly-marked character of the inhabitants of the locality, that in the days of Burdett, when politics ran high, the people of Knightsbridge were mostly "Radicals of the first water." At that time "Old Glory," as Sir Francis Burdett was called before his conversion to Toryism, was in every respect the man of their choice as member for Westminster. And it was in compliment to the inhabitants of Knightsbridge, and in acknowledgment of their support, that he and his colleague, Sir John Hobhouse, on one occasion, when "chaired," chose to make their start from the corner of Sloane Street.

From a chance allusion in Butler's "Hudibras" to this place, it may be inferred that in the Puritan times it formed the head-quarters of one of the hundred-and-one sects into which the "religious world" of that day was divided; for the dominant faction are there accused of having—
"Filled Bedlam with predestination
And Knightsbridge with illumination."

As stated in the previous chapter, the commencement of the Knightsbridge Road is about fifty yards west of the Alexandra Hotel. Here, at the corner of the main road and of Wilton Place, stood formerly a tobacconist's shop, which very much narrowed the thoroughfare, and was not removed till about the year 1840. It was occupied by an eccentric old woman, a Mrs. Dowell, who was so extremely partial to the Duke of Wellington, that she was constantly devising some new plan by which to show her regard for him. She sent him from time to time patties, cakes, and other delicacies of the like kind; and as it was found impossible to defeat the old woman's pertinacity, the duke's servants took in her presents. To such a pitch did she carry her mania, that she is said to have laid a knife and fork regularly for him at her own table day by day, constantly expecting that the duke would sooner or later do her the honour of dropping in and "taking pot luck" with her. In this hope, however, we believe we may safely assert that she was doomed to disappointment to the last.

At the back of the above-mentioned house was in former times one of the most noted suburban retreats in the neighbourhood of London, called the "Spring Garden," a place of amusement formed in the grounds of an old mansion which stood on the north side of what is now Lowndes Square. Dr. King, of Oxford, mentions it in his diary as "an excellent spring garden;" and among the entries of the Virtuosi, or St. Luke's Club, founded by Vandyck, is the following item:—"Paid—Spent at Spring Gardens, by Knightsbridge, forfeiture, £3 15s." Pepys also, no doubt, refers to these same gardens in his "Diary," when he writes:—"I lay in my drawers and stockings and waistcoat [at Kensington] till five of the clock, and so up; and being well pleased with our frolic, walked to Knightsbridge, and there ate a mess of cream; and so on to St. James's." Again, too, on another occasion:—"From the town, and away out of the Park, to Knightsbridge, and there ate and drank in the coach; and so home." It is probable that the sign of the house in this Spring Garden was the "World's End," for the following entry in Mr. Pepys' "Diary" can hardly refer to any other place but this:—"Forth to Hyde Park, but was too soon to go in; so went on to Knightsbridge, and there ate and drank at the 'World's End,' where we had good things; and then back to the Park, and there till night, being fine weather, and much company." And again, the very last entry in his "Diary," under date of May 31st, 1669:—"To the Park, Mary Botelier and a Dutch gentleman, a friend of hers, being with us. Thence to the 'World's End,' a drinking-house by the Park, and there merry, and so home late."

The "World's End," it may be added, figures in a dialogue in Congreve's Love for Love, in a way which implies that it bore no very high character.

The house to which this garden was attached, having been successively occupied as a museum of anatomy, an auction-room, and a carpenter's workshop, was pulled down about the year 1826, in order to lay out the ground for building. Lowndes Square, however, was not begun till about 1838, or completed till 1848 or 1849. The stream which ran along the west side of Spring Gardens had along its banks a path leading down to Bloody Bridge, and thence to Ranelagh. On grand gala nights this path was protected by a patrol, or by the more able of the Chelsea pensioners. It only remains to add that various relics of the Civil War have been discovered upon this site, such as swords, spurs, and bits, and other relics telling of more modern and more prosaic encounters, such as staves and handcuffs, tokens of successful or unsuccessful struggles between footpads and constables.

A little west of Wilton Place, a narrow roadway, called Porter's Lane, led into some fields, in which stood an old mansion, known as Knightsbridge Grove, and approached from the highway by an avenue of fine trees. This is the house which, about 1790, was taken by the celebrated Mrs. Cornelys, under the assumed name of Mrs. Smith, as a place for company to drink new asses' milk. After the failure of all her plans and schemes to secure the support of the world of fashion for her masquerades and concerts at Carlisle House, in Soho Square, as we have already seen, (fn. 1) and not cast down by the decree of the Court of Chancery, under which her house and furniture were sold by auction in 1785, here she fitted up a suite of rooms for the reception of visitors who wished to breakfast in public. But the manners of the age were changed, and her taste had not adapted itself to the varieties of fashion. After much expense incurred in the gaudy embellishment of her rooms after the foreign fashion, she was obliged to abandon her scheme, and to seek a refuge from her merciless creditors. A former queen—or rather empress—of fashion, she closed her eccentric and varied career a prisoner for debt in the Fleet Prison, in August, 1797. The house was afterwards kept by a sporting character, named Hicks, under whom it was frequently visited by George, Prince Regent, and his friends.

The entrance into Hyde Park, opposite Lowndes Square, is named Albert Gate, after the late Prince Consort; the houses which compose it stand as nearly as possible on the site of the old bridge over the Westbourne, which gave its name to the locality. We gave a view of this old bridge in our last volume, page 402. Mr. Davis, in his "Memorials of Knightsbridge," tells us that there was also another bridge across this brook, just inside the park to the north, erected in 1734. At the west end of the former bridge stood, at one time, a celebrated inn, known as the "Fox and Bull," traditionally said to have been founded in the reign of Elizabeth, and to have been used by her on her visits to Lord Burleigh at Brompton. The house is referred to in the Tatler, No. 259, and it is said to be the only inn that bore that sign. "At the 'Fox and Bull,'" writes Mr. Davis, "for a long while was maintained that Queen Anne style of society where persons of 'parts' and reputation were to be met with in rooms open to all. A Captain Corbet was for a long time its head; a Mr. Shaw, of the War Office, supplied the London Gazette, and W. Harris, of Covent Garden Theatre, his play-bills." Among its visitors may be named George Morland, and his patron, Sir W. W. Wynn, and occasionally Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted its sign, which was blown down in a storm in 1807. The "Fox and Bull," it may be added, served for some years as a receiving-house of the Royal Humane Society, in Hyde Park. Hither was brought the body of the first wife of the poet Shelley, after she had drowned herself in the Serpentine; and here the judicial business of the locality was conducted, a magistrate sitting once a week for that purpose. The old house was Elizabethan in structure, and contained rooms and ceilings panelled and carved in the style of her day, and with large fire-places and fire-dogs. The house stood till the year 1835. The skeletons of several men were found beneath it in the course of some excavations in the early part of the present century, these were supposed to have been those of soldiers killed here in the Civil War.

On the east side of the old bridge was a low court of very old houses, named after the "White Hart Inn," but these were swept away about 1841. The stags on the side pedestals of the gate, we learn from the "Memorials of Knightsbridge," were modelled from a pair of prints by Bartolozzi, and formerly kept watch and ward in Piccadilly, at the entrance to the Ranger's Lodge in the Green Park. (fn. 2)

When this entrance was first formed, the late Mr. Thomas Cubitt designed and built two very lofty mansions on either side, which were sneeringly styled the "Two Gibraltars," because it was prophesied that they never would or could be "taken." Taken, however, they were; that on the eastern side was the town residence of the "Railway King," George Hudson, before his fall; it has since been occupied as the French Embassy. Queen Victoria paid a visit to the Embassy in state in 1854, and the Emperor Louis Napoleon held a levée here, on his visit to London, in the summer of the following year.

"The career of George Hudson, ridiculously styled the 'Railway King,'" writes Mr. J. Timbs, in his "Romance of London," "was one of the ignes fatui of the railway mania of 1844–5. He was born in a lowly house in College Street, York, in 1800; here he served his apprenticeship to a linendraper, and subsequently carried on the business as principal, amassing considerable wealth. His fortune was next increased by a bequest from a distant relative, which sum he invested in NorthMidland Railway shares. Mr. Smiles describes Hudson as a man of some local repute when the line between Leeds and York was projected. His views as to railways were then extremely moderate, and his main object in joining the undertaking was to secure for York the advantages of the best railway communication. … The grand test by which the shareholders judged him was the dividends which he paid, although subsequent events proved that these dividends were, in many cases, delusive, intended only to make things pleasant. The policy, however, had its effect. The shares in all the lines of which he was chairman went to a premium; and then arose the temptation to create new shares in branch and extension lines, often worthless, which were issued at a premium also. Thus he shortly found himself chairman of nearly 600 miles of railways, extending from Rugby to Newcastle, and at the head of numerous new projects, by means of which paper wealth could be created, as it were, at pleasure. He held in his own hands almost the entire administrative power of chairman, board, manager, and all. Mr. Hudson was voted praises, testimonials, and surplus shares alike liberally, and scarcely a word against him could find a hearing.

"The Hudson testimonial was a taking thing, for Mr. Hudson had it in his power to allot shares (selling at a premium) to the subscribers to the testimonial. With this fund he bought of Mr. Thomas Cubitt, for £15,000, the lofty house on the east of Albert Gate, Hyde Park. There he lived sumptuously, and went his round of visits among the peerage.

"Mr. Hudson's brief reign soon drew to a close. The speculation of 1845 was followed by a sudden reaction. Shares went down faster than they had gone up: the holders of them hastened to sell in order to avoid payment of the calls; and many found themselves ruined. Then came repentance, and a sudden return to virtue. The golden calf was found to be of brass, and hurled down, Hudson's own toadies and sycophants eagerly joining in the chorus of popular indignation; and the bubbles having burst, the railway mania came to a sudden and ignominious end."

The rest of the site now covered by Albert Gate was occupied by the Cannon Brewery—so called from a cannon which surmounted it—and was surrounded by low and filthy courts with open cellars. The celebrated Chinese collection of Mr. Dunn was located here in the interval between the removal of the brewery and the erection of the present sumptuous edifices.

It is not a little singular that among all the changes as to the limits of parishes, it should have been forgotten that, from time immemorial, there was a chapel in the main street of Knightsbridge which could very easily, at any time, have been made parochial. This edifice, known as Trinity Chapel, still stands, though much altered, between the north side of the main street and the park; it was, in ancient times, attached to a lazar-house, of the early history of which little or nothing is known. No doubt it was formed before the Reformation, though the earliest notice of it in writing is in a grant of James I., to be seen in the British Museum, ordering "the hospital for sick, lame, or impotent people at Knightsbridge" to be supplied with water by an underground pipe, laid on from the conduit in Hyde Park. Lysons, however, tells us, in his "Environs of London," that there is among the records of the Chapter of Westminster a short MS. statement of the condition of the hospital in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, from which it appears that it generally had about thirty-five inmates, and that it was supported by the contributions of charitable persons, being quite unendowed. The patients, it appears from this document, attended prayers mornings and evenings in the chapel, the neighbours also being admitted to the services on Sunday. The inmates dined on "warm meat and porrege," and each one had assigned to him, or her, a separate "dish, platter, and tankard, to kepe the broken for the whole."

A few notes on the disbursement made on behalf of the poor inmates, taken from the parish books of St. Margaret's, will be found in Mr. Nichols' "Illustrations of the Manners and Experiences of Ancient Times." The latter history of the hospital is almost as uncertain as its earlier chapters. We know even the names of a few of the "cripples," and other inmates—mostly wayfarers—who were discharged from it, after having been relieved; but although it was certainly in existence when Newcourt was collecting materials for his "Repertorium," in the reign of George I., no further trace of its existence or of its demolition can be found. It is traditionally asserted, however, that in the time of the Great Plague of 1665, the lazar-house was used as a hospital for those stricken by that disorder, and that such as died within its walls were buried in the enclosed triangular plot of ground which was once part of Knightsbridge Green. A writer in the first volume of Notes and Queries states that in the case of leprosy arising in London, the infected persons were taken off speedily into one of the lazarhouses in the suburbs. "The law was strictly carried out, and where resistance was made the sufferers were tied to horses, and dragged thither by force."

The chapel, being "very old and ruinous," was rebuilt by a subscription among the inhabitants of Knightsbridge, and opened as a chapel of ease by the authority of Laud, then Bishop of London, who licensed a minister to perform service in it. During the Commonwealth it was served by a minister appointed by the Parliament, and afterwards passed into lay hands. In the end, however, it was given back to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster; this body still appoints the incumbent, who is supported by a small endowment and the pew-rents.

The present chapel, now called the Church of Holy Trinity, was entirely restored and remodelled in 1861, from the designs of Messrs. Brandon and Eyton. It is a handsome Gothic building, with accommodation for about 650 worshippers, and was erected at a cost of about £3,300. The principal peculiarity about it is the roof, which is so constructed as to have a continuous range of clerestory lights the whole length of the church. These are accessible from the outside, so as to regulate the ventilation.

The chapel possesses some good communion plate. In the list of its ministers occur no names of note, unless it be worth while to record that of the Rev. Dr. Symons, who read the funeral service over Sir John Moore at Corunna.

In the registers of the chapel is recorded only one burial, under date 1667. It is probable that those who died in this hamlet were buried at St. Margaret's, Westminster, or at Chelsea, or Kensington. Mr. Davis, however, mentions a tradition that the enclosure on Knightsbridge Green was formerly used as a burying-ground. If this be so, the records of the fact have long since been lost. The statement, however, may have reference to the victims of the plague, as stated above.

The registers of baptisms are still in existence, and so are those of the marriages solemnised here—some of them, as might be expected, rather irregular, especially before the passing of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act in 1753, which seems to have put an extinguisher on such scandals. With reference to these irregular or "stolen" marriages, a writer in the Saturday Review observes:—"This was one of the places where irregular marriages were solemnised, and it is accordingly often noticed by the old dramatists. Thus in Shadwell's Sullen Lovers, Lovell is made to say, 'Let's dally no longer; there is a person in Knightsbridge that pokes all stray people together. We'll to him; he'll dispatch us presently, and send us away as lovingly as any two fools that ever yet were condemned to marriage.' Some of the entries in this marriage register are suspicious enough—'secrecy for life,' or 'great secrecy,' or 'secret for fourteen years,' being appended to the names. Mr. Davis, in his 'Memorials of Knightsbridge,' was the first to exhume from this document the name of the adventuress, 'Mrs. Mary Ayliss,' whom Sir Samuel Morland married as his fourth wife, in 1687. The readers of Pepys will remember how pathetically Morland wrote, eighteen days after the wedding, that, when he had expected to marry an heiress, 'I was, about a fortnight since, led as a fool to the stocks, and married a coachman's daughter not worth a shilling.' In 1699, an entry mentions one 'Storey at ye Park Gate.' This worthy it was who gave his name to what is now known as Storey's Gate. He was keeper of the aviary to Charles II., whence was derived the name of the Birdcage Walk. In the same year, Cornelius Van der Velde, imner, was married here to Bernada Van der Hagen. This was a brother of the famous William Van der Velde, the elder, and himself a painter of nautical pictures, in the employment of Charles II."


Among those who were married here, with more or less of secrecy or privacy, not mentioned in the above extract, were Sir John Lenthall, son of the Speaker of the House of Commons under Cromwell; the widow of the second Earl of Derwentwater—this lady was the youngest natural daughter of Charles II., by the actress, Mrs. Davis, known before her marriage as Lady Mary Tudor; and lastly, the great Sir Robert Walpole, to a daughter of the Lord Mayor of London, by whom he became the father of Horace Walpole. Many of the marriages here solemnised were runaway matches, and, as such, are marked in the registers with the words "private" and "secresy."

Of the barracks at Knightsbridge, facing the Park, usually occupied by one of the regiments of the Guards, there is little to say, except that they are badly placed, and an eyesore to the neighbourhood. They consist of a range of dull heavy brick buildings, and were erected in 1794–5. They will accommodate about 600 men, and there is stabling for 500 horses. In the centre of the building is an oblong parade-ground, around which are apartments for the private soldiers. At the west end is a riding-school, and a wing cut up into residences for the officers. The removal of these barracks has often been discussed in Parliament, and it is to be hoped that some day they will be reckoned among things of the past.

At the corner of South Place and Hill Street, nearly opposite the barracks, stands the celebrated floor-cloth manufactory of Messrs. Smith and Barber. It was established as far back as the year 1754, and is said to be the oldest manufactory of the kind in London. The first block used for patterns was cut by its founder, Mr. Abraham Smith, and is still preserved in the factory. An illustration of it is given in Dodd's "British Manufactures," where the process of the manufacture will be found minutely described. In the adjoining house, No. 2, lived the Rev. Mr. Gamble, one of the incumbents of Knightsbridge Chapel; and after him Mr. Edward Stirling, known as the "Thunderer" of the Times, from whom it passed to his son, the gifted and amiable John Stirling, whose early death was so much lamented. There he used to receive among his visitors Professor Maurice, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Carlyle; and here Sir Colin Campbell took up his residence for a time between his Crimean and his last Indian campaign.


Kent House, so called after the late Duke of Kent, who for a short time resided in it, and added considerably to its size, stands only a few yards to the west of South Place. It was for many years the residence of a brother of the late Earl of Clarendon, and afterwards of his widow. Lady Theresa Villiers (author of "The Friends and Cotemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon"), who married as her second husband Sir George C. Lewis, M.P., some time Chancellor of the Exchequer. He died here in 1863. Next door to it is Stratheden House, so named after the wife of Lord Chancellor Campbell, who wrote here his "Lives of the Chancellors." He died here suddenly in June, 1861. The mansion had previously been owned by Lord De Dunstanville.

It was at Kingston House—situated some little distance westward of Kent House—that, on the 26th of September, 1842, the eminent statesman, the Marquis Wellesley, died, at the age of eighty-two. He was the elder brother of the "great" Duke of Wellington. Mr. Raikes tells us, in his "Journal:" "He had in his time filled various offices in the State at home, had been Governor-General of India, and twice Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. He was a man of considerable talent and acquirements, particularly in the Latin and Greek languages. His first wife was a French lady—a Madame Roland—formerly his mistress. His second wife was an American—Mrs. Patterson."

Rutland Gate, a row of houses standing a little westward of the barracks, on the south side of the road, was built about 1840, and was so called from a large mansion which formerly stood on the site, belonging to the Dukes of Rutland. Here was the picture-gallery of Mr. John Sheepshanks, bequeathed by him to the nation, and now housed in the Sheepshanks Gallery at the South Kensington Museum. It was rich in works by Mulready, Leslie, and Landseer.

Ennismore Place, close by Prince's Gate, is so called from the second title of the Earl of Listowel, to whom the ground on which they stand belongs or belonged.

Brompton Road is the name given to a row of houses built about the year 1840, on what was the garden of Grosvenor House. At a house here, then numbered 45, Brompton Row, but now 168, Brompton Road, lived the celebrated philanthropist and philosopher, Count Rumford, and afterwards his daughter Sarah, Countess Rumford. The count had come to England as an exiled loyalist from America, and having risen to high employ in England, had been sent, in 1798, as Ambassador to London from Bavaria. Here he entertained Sir William Pepperell, and other American loyalists. Owing to George III.'s opposition to his appointment as a diplomatic representative of Bavaria, he lived in a private capacity. He died in France in 1814. The house is minutely described, in 1801, by M. Pictet, an intimate friend of the count, in a life of Count Rumford, published in 1876. It is still full, from top to bottom, of all sorts of cleverlycontrived cupboards, writing-desks, &c., fixed in the walls, and with fireplaces on a plan unlike those in the adjoining dwellings. It remains very much in the same state as in the count's time, though a stucco front appears to have been added. "The house had been let by Count Rumford to the Rev. William Beloe, the translator of Herodotus, who quitted possession of it in 1810. The countess, his daughter, lived in it and let it alternately, among her tenants being Sir Richard Phillips and Mr. Wilberforce. She disposed of the lease in 1837 to its present owners."

On the south side of Ennismore Place is Brompton Square, which consists of houses open at the south end to the Brompton Road, and terminating at the northern end with a semi-circular sweep, with a gateway leading to Prince's Terrace and Ennismore Gardens. At No. 22 in this square died, in 1836, George Colman "the Younger," the author of John Bull. Here also lived Mr. Luttrell, the friend of Sam Rogers, and the most brilliant of conversationalists temp. George IV. In consequence of the salubrity of the air in this neighbourhood, Brompton Square has long been a favourite abode for singers and actors. Behind the west side stands Brompton Church, a poor semiGothic structure, dating from about 1830. It was built from the designs of Professor Donaldson, and has a lofty tower and stained-glass windows of ancient design and colour. The church is approached by a fine avenue of lime-trees, and its churchyard contains a very large number of tombs; all, however, are modern, and few are of interest to the antiquary. John Reeve, the comic actor, who died in 1838, is buried here. Adjoining the parish church stands a building in the Italian style, known as the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, consisting of a large chapel, of no architectural pretensions, and a fine residence in the Italian style. They cover the site of a country house standing in its own grounds, which as lately as the year 1851 was used as a school. The clergy attached to the Oratory are secular priests, living voluntarily in a community, but not tied by religious vows. The first rector, and indeed the founder of this community in London, was the Rev. Frederick William Faber, formerly of University College, Oxford, and well known as the author of "The Cherwell WaterLily," and other poems. He died in 1863.

Knightsbridge, however, has in its time numbered many other distinguished residents. Among them, Lady Anne Hamilton, the faithful friend and attendant of the Princess Caroline of Brunswick; the artist Chalon; Paul Bedford, the actor; McCarthy, the sculptor; and Ozias Humfrey, the Royal Academician (the friend of Reynolds, Dr. Johnson, and Romney), who is thus celebrated by the poet Hayley, when abandoning miniatures for oil portraits:—
"Thy graces, Humfrey, and thy colours clear,
From miniature's small circle disappear;
May thy distinguished merit still prevail,
And shine with lustre on a larger scale."

Here died, in 1805, at the age of upwards of eighty, Arthur Murphy, the author, who was a friend of Johnson, Reynolds, Burke, and others. Boswell thus relates the manner in which an acquaintance first commenced between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy:—"During the publication of the Gray's Inn Journal, a periodical paper which was successfully carried on by Mr. Murphy alone, when a very young man, he happened to be in the country with Mr. Foote; and having mentioned that he was obliged to go to London in order to get ready for the press one of the numbers of that journal, Foote said to him, 'You need not go on that account. Here is a French magazine, in which you will find a very pretty Oriental tale; translate that, and send it to your printer.' Mr. Murphy having read the tale, was highly pleased with it, and followed Foote's advice. When he returned to town, this tale was pointed out to him in the Rambler, from whence it had been translated into the French magazine. Mr. Murphy then waited upon Johnson, to explain this curious incident. His talents, literature, and gentleman-like manners were soon perceived by Johnson, and a friendship was formed which was never broken."

Here, at a farm-house which supplied the royal family with milk, the fair Quakeress, Hannah Lightfoot, is said to have resided, after she had captivated the susceptible heart of George III., in the first year of his reign; but the story is discredited.

At the junction of Brompton Road with the main road through Knightsbridge, and near to Albert Gate, stands the great sporting rendezvous and auction-mart for horses, "Tattersall's." It was removed to this spot in 1865 from Grosvenor Place, where, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, it was originally established. The building occupies a site previously of comparatively little value, and has before its entrance a small triangular space planted with evergreens. The building in itself is arranged upon much the same plan as that of its predecessor, which we have already described. Immediately on the right of the entrance is the subscription-room and countinghouse, both of which are well designed to meet their requirements; whilst beyond is a spacious covered court-yard, with a small circular structure in the centre, in which is a pump, surmounted by the figure of a fox; the dome which covers it bears a bust of George IV. The fox, it is presumed, belongs to the poetry of Tattersall's, suggesting, as it does, breezy rides over hill and dale and farstretching moorlands. The royal bust above refers to more specific facts of which the establishment can boast; it is a type of the lofty patronage that has been acceded to the house from its earliest days. The bust represents the "first gentleman of Europe," as he has been, absurdly enough, called, in his eighteenth year, when the prince was a constant attendant at Tattersall's. The yard itself is surrounded by stabling for the horses, and galleries for carriages which may be there offered for sale. The great public horse auction is on Mondays throughout the year, with the addition of Thursdays in the height of the season. The subscription to the "Rooms," which is regulated by the Jockey Club, is two guineas annually; and the betting at Tattersall's, we need scarcely add, regulates the betting throughout the country.

The Green, as the triangular plot of ground in front of Tattersall's, mentioned above, is called, was once really a village-green, and it had its village may-pole, at all events, down to the end of the last century. It was larger in its extent in former days, several encroachments having been made upon its area. At its east end there stood, till 1834, a watch-house and pound, to which Addison refers in a very amusing paper in the Spectator (No. 142). Pretending, by way of jest, to satisfy by home news the craving for foreign intelligence which the late war had created in 1712, he writes: "By my last advices from Knightsbridge, I hear that a horse was clapped into the pound there on the 3rd inst., and that he was not recovered when the letters came away." A large part of what once was the Green is now covered by some inferior cottages, styled Middle Row; on the north side was an old inn, which rejoiced in the sign of the "Marquis of Granby," with reference to which we may be pardoned for quoting Byron's lines:—

"Vernon, the 'Butcher' Cumberland, Wolfe, Hawke,
Prince Ferdinand, Granby, Burgoyne, Keppell, Howe,
Evil and good, have had their tithe of talk,
And filled the sign-posts then as Wellesley now."

The small portion on the north side, fenced in by rails, is probably the old burial-ground belonging to the Lazar House, already mentioned.

Of Knightsbridge Terrace, now a row of shops, old inhabitants tell us that, when Her Majesty came to the throne, it consisted wholly of private houses. Here was Mr. Telfair's College for the Deaf and Dumb, and here lived Maurice Morgan, one of the secretaries to Lord Shelburne when the latter was Premier, and honourably mentioned by Boswell in his "Life of Johnson." Close to the corner of Sloane Street, too, lived Rodwell, the composer.

Among the oldest dwellings in this hamlet are some of the irregular houses on the south side of the road, between the Green and Rutland Gate. Mr. Davis, writing in the year 1859, in his "History of Knightsbridge," mentions Chalker House, built in 1688, now a broker's, and for many years a boarding-house. "Three doors beyond it," he continues, "is an ancient inn, now known as the 'Rose and Crown,' but formerly as the 'Oliver Cromwell,' but which has borne a license for above three hundred years. It is the oldest house in Knightsbridge, and was formerly its largest inn, and not improbably was the house which sheltered Wyatt, while his unfortunate Kentish followers rested on the adjacent green. A tradition, told by all old inhabitants of the locality, that Cromwell's body-guard was once quartered here, is still very prevalent: an inscription to that effect was till lately painted on the front of the house; and on an ornamental piece of plaster-work was formerly emblazoned the great Lord Protector's coat of arms." Mr. Davis does not guarantee the literal truth of this tradition, though he holds that nothing is more certain than that Knightsbridge was the scene of frequent skirmishes during the Civil War. This was natural enough, considering that the hamlet was the first place on the great western road from London. We know for certain that the army of the Parliament was encamped about the neighbourhood in 1647, and that the head-quarters of Fairfax were at Holland House; and the same was the case just before and after the fight at Brentford. It was on the strength of this, and other traditions, that Mr. E. H. Corbould made this inn the subject of a painting, "The Old Hostelrie at Knightsbridge," exhibited in 1849. "He laid the scene as early as 1497. Opposite the inn is a well, surmounted by a figure of St. George; while beyond is the spacious green, the meandering stream, and the bridge over it, surmounted by an embattled tower; further off appears the old hospital and chapel . . . . . The house of late," continues Mr. Davis, "has been much modernised, and in 1853 had a narrow escape from destruction by fire; but enough still remains, in its peculiar chimneys, oval-shaped windows, its low rooms, its large yard and extensive stabling, with galleries above and office-like places beneath, to testify to its antiquity and former importance." It was pulled down about the year 1865. Another hostelry in the main street was the "Rising Sun;" though a wooden inn, it was an ancient house, and its staircase and the panelling of its walls were handsomely carved. On the spot now occupied by the Duke of Wellington's stables, there was also, in former times, an inn known as the "Life Guardsman," and previously as the "Nag's Head."

We may mention that a market for cattle was held at Knightsbridge every Thursday till an early year in the present century, and that the last pen posts were not removed till 1850.

The air of this neighbourhood has always been regarded as pure and healthy. Swift brought his friend Harrison to it for the benefit of pure air; and half a century later it maintained the same character, for we read that Lady Hester Stanhope sent a faithful servant thither, with the same object in view. In sooth, "Constitution" Hill at one end, and "Montpelier" Square at the other, both derive their names from this peculiarity. The fact is that the main street of Knightsbridge stands on a welldefined terrace of the London clay, between the gravel of Hyde Park and that of Pimlico, resting on thick layers of sand, which cause the soil to be porous, and rapidly to absorb the surfacewater.

The water-supply of Knightsbridge has always been remarkably good, being drawn from several conduits in and about Park-side and to the south of Rotten Row. One of these, known as St. James's, for the Receiving Conduit, supplied the royal palaces and the Abbey with water.


  • 1. See Vol. III., p. 188.
  • 2. See Vol. IV., P. 180.