General introduction

Pages 1-24

Survey of London: Volume 37, Northern Kensington. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1973.

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In this section

General Introduction

Queen Victoria was born at Kensington Palace in 1819. At that time the population of Kensington amounted to some 12,000 souls, and was already growing fast. During her childhood at the Palace it almost doubled itself, and by 1901, the year of her death, it exceeded 176,000, having multiplied itself over twenty times during the preceding century.

Urban growth on this scale was, of course, commonplace in nineteenth-century England, and particularly throughout the Victorian age. In London itself half-a-dozen other suburbs could stand comparison with Kensington in this respect, but Kensington could, and indeed still can, nevertheless claim a pre-eminent position in the hierarchy of the Victorian metropolis. This claim is founded not merely on the Queen's own personal association, even though that was reiterated at the close of her reign in her intention to confer the title of 'Royal' upon the newly formed Borough of Kensington, at the request of its Council. It rests, rather, upon the more durable foundations of the bricks, mortar, stone and stucco of the houses, churches, museums and other public buildings which arose here during her reign, and most of which still survive. Some of these Kensington buildings may be numbered among the foremost architectural monuments of the time: all of them exhibit for posterity, with a vividness unequalled anywhere else in the capital, both the social structure, habits and assumptions of their Victorian creators, and also the underlying grandeur of their formidable energy and strength. Kensington is indeed the very citadel of Victorian London.

This volume, the first of three projected for Kensington, describes the whole of the ancient parish to the north of Kensington High Street, together with those parts of Kensal New Town and Kensington Palace Gardens which were incorporated into the Royal Borough of Kensington on its formation in 1900. (fn. 1) This area, which will henceforth be referred to here as northern Kensington, measures about a mile or less in breadth and extends some two and a half miles north-westward to Kensal Green. Its eastern and northern parts are in general some fifty to a hundred feet higher than the flat plain to the west, the downward slopes, from Campden Hill and Notting Hill, for instance, being steep by London standards. Almost the whole area was drained naturally by the watercourse known as the Counter's Creek, whose tributaries flowed west and south to the lower ground, and thence along the borders of Hammersmith and Fulham to the Thames.

For centuries two roads, Roman in origin and following the lines of Kensington High Street and of Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park Avenue, provided the only important lines of communication here, their west-east course testifying to the overpowering presence of London. The narrow twisting lane now known as Kensington Church Street was almost the only ancient north-south highway, and connected the two small settlements which arose beside the two main thoroughfares, one around the parish church of St. Mary Abbots and the other at Notting Hill Gate, where extensive digging for gravel took place from at least the early seventeenth century. Beyond Notting Hill Gate, Portobello Lane (now Road) wound northward as far as Portobello Farm, and until well into the nineteenth century much of the northern extremity of the parish remained remote and inaccessible.

At the end of the sixteenth century most of northern Kensington belonged briefly to Sir Walter Cope, and consisted of the manor of Abbots Kensington and the so-called manors of West Town and Notting Barns. Within this area manorial courts are only known to have been held for Abbots Kensington, and even here part of the copyhold land was being enfranchised, for by about 1600 wealthy Londoners were beginning to buy estates and build houses in Kensington. Cope himself was one of the many members of James I's court who were knighted in 1603. His first 'capital messuage' was probably Campden House, which acquired this name through a later owner, Sir Baptist Hicks, first Viscount Campden, a City mercer: he, too, was one of James's new knights, and had made his fortune by supplying the court with silk. Meanwhile Cope was building 'Cope's Castle', later known as Holland House, and another courtier, Sir George Coppin, was living first at the mansion later to be called Sheffield House, on the east side of Kensington Church Street, and subsequently at what was to become Kensington Palace. Later in the seventeenth century Chief-Justice Sir Robert Hyde had another big house in Church Street (later called Craven House), and when William III bought Coppin's old house in 1689, by then in the possession of the Earl of Nottingham, Kensington's claim to be the 'Court suburb' of London was achieved.

In the half-century after the arrival of the royal court several ranges of houses were built in the vicinity of the parish church, chiefly in Kensington Church Street and Church Court and in Holland Street, a few of which still survive. The parish church itself was largely rebuilt between 1683 and 1704, a charity school was erected nearby in 1711–12 to the designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor, and in the 1730's twelve houses were built on the site of Craven House in Church Street (Nos. 128–142 and 152–168 even). By this time the maintenance of the two chief highways had been placed under turnpike trusts—Notting Hill Gate/ Holland Park Avenue (the Uxbridge road) in 1714, and Kensington High Street (the Hammersmith road) in 1726, the latter being the responsibility of the Kensington Trust, which in 1741 took over Kensington Church Street. (fn. 8) Several more substantial houses were also built in the vicinity of Campden Hill, one of which, later known as Aubrey House, achieved a short-lived fame through the discovery of a medicinal spring there. In general, however, the frequent residence of successive monarchs at Kensington had no great impact on building development in the parish, and when, after the death of George II in 1760 the Palace ceased to be used by the sovereign, Holland House, already in the occupation of the Fox family, became for more than a century the chief resort in Kensington of fashionable society.

In northern Kensington the first recognizably modern suburban building development began in 1788, the ground landlord being evidently prompted by the opportunities presented by mounting metropolitan pressures rather than, as often hitherto, by the fortuitous presence of the royal court. In that year William Phillimore agreed to lease some 750 feet of his land fronting Kensington High Street for ninety-nine years to two City building tradesmen, Samuel Gray, bricklayer, and John Schofield, carpenter, and in due course long terrace ranges of four-storey houses arose, designed by Phillimore's own surveyor, William Porden, who in 1792 himself agreed to take the remaining land on the estate fronting the High Street. Progress was, however, slow, the building of the whole range of sixty-three houses (only two of which, Nos. 98 and 100 Kensington High Street, now survive) being spread over some twenty-five years.

Speculations of this kind were taking place contemporaneously on many other of the principal highways around London. In northern Kensington this was, however, the only one to be commenced before the opening of the nineteenth century, during the course of which almost the whole area was to be developed for building. This transformation forms the principal theme of this volume, and we must now examine some of the principal factors in it.

Enormous increases of population, such as that which took place in Kensington, provided the basic stimulant to nineteenth-century suburban growth. Detailed demographic analysis cannot, however, find a place in this present study, and little more than a simple statement of the figures contained in successive censuses is given below.

Year London * %increase Kensington parish %increase Kensington Town %increase Kensington Town adjusted to exclude area south of High Street %increase
1801 958,863 8,556
1811 1,138,815 18.8 10,886 27.2
1821 1,378,947 21.1 14,428 32.5
1831 1,654,994 20.0 20,902 44.9
1841 1,948,417 17.7 26,834 28.4 17.369
1851 2,362,236 21.2 44.053 64.2 29,183 68.0 19.733
1861 2,803,989 18.7 70,108 59.1 51,910 77.9 39,860 101.0
1871 3,254,260 16.1 120,299 71.6 91,645 76.6 76,603 92.2
1881 3,815,544 14.7 163,151 35.6 120,141 31.1 103,879 36.9
1891 4,228,317 9.8 170.071 4.2 122.366 1.8 107.462 3.5
1901 4,536,267 6.7 176,628 3.3 128,037 4.4 115,149 7.2
* London is taken to mean the Metropolitan area as defined by the Registrar-General in the census of 1851. The figures for 1801–41 have been adjusted to cover the whole Metropolitan area.
† The enumeration sub-district of Kensington Town, first distinguished in 1841. comprised most of the area described in this volume but did not include the Southern Row area of Kensal New Town, which was formerly in a detached portion of the parish of Chelsea; Kensal Green north of the canal, now mainly occupied by the cemetery; and a large part of Kensington Palace Gardens, which was formerly in the parishes of Paddington and St.Margaret's Westminster. On the other hand the Kensington Town sub-district contained a considerable part of Kensington south of the High Street, including almost the whole area north of Cromwell Road and west of Exhibition Road, which is not described in the present volume.
‡ In producing this figure an estimate has had to be made for certain areas south of the High Street for which the enumerators' books are defective.

These figures show, for the whole of the parish, that in the first three decades of the nineteenth century the rate of increase was mounting steadily, but that this gathering momentum was checked in the 1830's, although at 28 per cent it still remained large. This deceleration was followed by a tremendous resurgence throughout the whole parish, but particularly in Kensington Town (see note † of table above), from the 1840's to the 1860's. Between 1841 and 1871 the population of Kensington Town grew from 17,369 to 91,645, the rate of increase within approximately the area covered by this volume reaching its maximum of over 101 per cent in the 1850's. The period 1841 to 1871 marked, in fact, the climactic years in the making of northern Kensington, and thereafter there was a substantial decline in the volume of growth, both here and throughout the whole of the parish.

Several elements contributed to this increase of population. Expectation of life was increasing, for in London as a whole the annual death rate fell from 25.4 per thousand living in 1846–50 to 18.8 in 1896–1900, while in Kensington it fell from 20.3 in 1861–5 to 16.3 per thousand living in 1896–1900. (fn. 9) In both London as a whole and in Kensington natural increase of the existing population, by excess of births over deaths, was proceeding in ever growing volume, (fn. 10) but in Kensington's most rapid period of development, in the 1860's, when the population of the parish rose by over 71 per cent, immigration was of course by far the most important source of growth. Of the 50,000 by which the population of the parish increased during that decade, about four fifths were immigrants, (fn. 2) and only about one fifth is accounted for by excess of births over deaths. In Kensington Town, where the building of the Hammersmith and City Railway opened up large tracts of hitherto relatively remote land, some 30,000 migrants settled in this area during the 1860's; and although the volume of increase throughout the parish was slightly lower in the 1870's (43,000, equivalent to a rise of 35.6 per cent), inward migration, at 26,000 for the whole parish (of which 14,000 came to Kensington Town), (fn. 2) still remained the largest source of growth. (fn. 11)

About half of the migrants who came to London between 1851 and 1891 had been born in either Middlesex, Surrey and Kent, or in the adjacent counties within about a hundred miles of the capital. As might be expected, however, the length of the migrant's journey to London was related to the depth of his pocket, distance presenting no difficulty for the rich. Thus in Phillimore Walk, in 1861 wholly working-class occupied, two thirds of all the householders born outside London had travelled less than a hundred miles from their birth-place, whereas in the thirty large mansions of Holland Park which by 1871 had been completed and fully occupied, mainly by merchants and fundholders, only three of the householders had been born in London, and only another six within a hundred miles of the capital. Five of the remainder were Scots by birth, and another five were foreigners.

Constant movement of population was also proceeding inside the metropolitan area from one district to another, and from the inimitably complex pattern of this internal migration, two distinct 'social gradients' (to quote Professor Dyos's phrase) may be discerned, 'one leading upwards and outwards; the other leading downwards, if not inwards'. (fn. 12) Kensington was, of course, a much-favoured destination for well-to-do Londoners moving upwards and outwards, as the following half-dozen examples chosen at random from among householders to be mentioned later illustrate. John Egg, a member of the West End family of gunmakers, came to Addison Avenue from Pall Mall in about 1850, while George Penson, a cheesemonger or provision merchant with a growing business in Newgate Street, came to Ladbroke Square from either the City or from Southwark at about the same time. R. R. Sadler, a lawyer with offices in Golden Square near Regent Street, moved his home during the 1840's first from Westminster to St.Pancras and then from St. Pancras to Norland Square. (fn. 13) The property speculator C. H. Blake came in 1854 to Kensington Park Gardens from St.Marylebone, and a few years later the portrait painter Henry Tanworth Wells came from the same parish to Upper Phillimore Gardens. But not all of Kensington's immigrants were well-to-do. Many of the working men who settled during the 1860's and 1870's in the new streets being laid out on the site of an abandoned brick-field adjoining the Potteries are said to have been displaced by clearances elsewhere, both in such central districts as St. Giles in the Fields, and also by those nearer at hand in Campden Place (now Clanricarde Gardens, Notting Hill Gate) and in Jennings's Buildings in Kensington High Street. In Acklam Road and St. Ervan's Road, close to the Great Western Railway, where small terrace houses were being built in the late 1860's, railway and building workers predominated, and most of them had come there from either St. Marylebone, Paddington or other parts of Kensington—suggesting that even within the metropolitan area the distance covered by working-class migrants was often extremely short. (fn. 14)

The growth of population was both a cause of and a response to building development. Unlike population-growth, however, which can only be measured at decennial intervals, the volume of building can, for part of the nineteenth century, be measured annually. The diagram reproduced on page 6 shows the fluctuations which took place between 1820 and 1885 within northern Kensington in the number of buildings erected each year, and between 1856 and 1885 within London as a whole. After 1885 building land was becoming scarce in northern Kensington, and the statistical returns of building become blurred by the inclusion of large blocks of flats.

During the building boom of the early 1820's two of the largest landowners in northern Kensington, the third Lord Holland and J. W. Ladbroke, began to develop their estates, and J. F. Hanson, a speculator who had previously been active at Brighton, started work at Campden Hill Square. All these operations were evidently premature, this part of Kensington being still well outside the urban frontier, and after the financial crash of 1825, which hit them with great severity, no new major enterprises were undertaken until the development of the Norland estate was begun in 1839 by Charles Richardson, a solicitor who had recently become the ground landlord.

Except on the Norland estate the upturn in building activity which seems to have begun in the inner suburbs of London in about 1837 did not reach northern Kensington until the early 1840's. Even then the peak of 1843 was largely the result of Richardson's activity, and his difficulties in attracting both investors and tenants to the Norland estate suggest that demand for houses so far out of London was still extremely limited. But the less remote parts of northern Kensington were beginning to establish themselves within the field of suburban speculation in the mid 1840's, and except in the crisis year of 1847 the upward movement of building which began after 1844 continued until 1852–3.

Much of this activity took place on the Ladbroke estate, where Richard Roy, a solicitor with previous experience of building speculation at Cheltenham, organized a spurt of activity in the Lansdowne Road area in the mid 1840's. In 1850–1 he was joined by Charles Henry Blake, a retired Calcutta merchant, and Dr. Samuel Walker, a clergyman 'of a most amicable disposition', both of whom, abetted by Roy, speculated on a very large scale in the vicinity of Stanley Crescent and Arundel Gardens. With cheap capital readily available it seemed impossible to build too many houses, (fn. 3) but when the Bank rate rose from 2 per cent to 5 per cent in 1853 the principal builder in this district, David Allan Ramsay, became bankrupt, and Blake and Walker were left with scores of empty or half-finished houses on their hands. Blake survived to continue his long and ultimately successful career as a speculator in northern Kensington, but Dr. Walker's fragile empire was totally shattered.

These graphs show the number of new buildings roofed or 'covered in' during each year in (a) London as a whole, and (b) in the area of Kensington covered by this volume (see page 1). 'Covering in' was the stage in building operations at which the district surveyor could charge a fee and at which building leases were usually granted. The chief sources from which the figures have been compiled are the Middlesex Land Register for 1820–45, the detailed monthly returns of the district surveyors for 1846–55 and 1871–85 (northern Kensington), and the annual summaries provided by the district surveyors based on the fees which they received for 1856–70 (northern Kensington and London) and 1871–85 (London). The annual summaries give the number of new buildings for which fees were paid promptly and the number for which fees were paid 'in arrears', i.e. buildings which had been covered in during previous years. For the purposes of these graphs the total for a particular year has been calculated by adding together the number of buildings for which fees were promptly paid and the number 'in arrears' in the following year.
The detailed district surveyors' returns, which are the most reliable source, are not available before 1845 or for 1856–70, and for London as a whole figures on a comparative scale are not available before 1856. From the nature of these sources the figures cannot be regarded as entirely precise, and they do not distinguish between different types of buildings (most of which in northern Kensington were houses or coach-houses and stables) or between the sizes of buildings.

In contrast with the period between the middle of 1848 and the end of 1852, when money in London had never been 'so cheap for so long', the period between the last quarter of 1853 and the beginning of 1858 was one in which credit was scarce and the Bank rate rarely dropped below 5 per cent. (fn. 15) In 1857The Building News attributed the depression in the building trades to 'the peculiarity of the finance system which, within the last few years, has run wild, and seeks to make money dear and credit impossible in trading operations'. A correspondent quoted in the same journal explained that 'Persons can now realise 5 to 6 per cent very readily upon loans, or merely by deposits at joint-stock banks, and, therefore, are not willing to be satisfied with 4 or 5 per cent from builders, encumbered with the business of mortgages and other securities.' (fn. 16) In northern Kensington there was a substantial fall in the volume of building in 1854–8, and considerable fluctuation from year to year at this lower level.

The rise in building activity which began in northern Kensington in 1859 and eventually reached its highest-ever peak in 1868 formed part of the general rise then taking place throughout the rest of London. But whereas in the metropolis the number of new buildings completed per year doubled between 1859 and 1868, in northern Kensington the number increased over sixfold in the same period, and in 1868 nearly 7 per cent of all new buildings in the metropolitan area were being erected in this part of Kensington. By 1859 the effects of the over-building of the early 1850's were diminishing; empty houses were being occupied for the first time, and half-finished shells were being completed, particularly on and near the Ladbroke estate, where Blake was able, early in 1860, to find reliable new financial backers. With confidence thus restored, the maintenance of the boom in northern Kensington was principally due to the re-opening of the West London Railway to passenger traffic in 1863 and the opening of the Hammersmith and City Railway, which traversed the fields of Notting Dale, in 1864. (fn. 4) In anticipation of these events Charles Chambers, a builder, agreed in 1862 to build 238 houses on the Holland estate near the West London Railway, while in Notting Dale, Blake, who was one of the directors of the Hammersmith and City Railway Company, contracted in the same year to buy all the remaining part of the Portobello estate, then consisting of some 130 acres, where he subsequently organized the building of several hundred houses, many of them being of the small terraced variety.

The sharp downward turn in building after 1868, which took place all over London, may have been partly a delayed reflection of the general loss of confidence engendered by the failure of the bill discounting firm of Overend and Gurney in May 1866. The diagram on page 6 suggests that this certainly had some immediate effect in northern Kensington, and a clergyman anxious to build a church in Holland Road, where large numbers of houses were in course of erection, wrote in November 1866 that 'had not the monetary panic . . . taken place, from 300 to 400 more houses would have been erected by this time'. A claim put forward later that the panic of May 1866 had caused negotiations for building on the parkland surrounding Holland House to be abandoned illustrates the probable longer-term effect of the crisis. It seems more likely, however, that after almost a decade of building growth, supply of houses had once again outrun demand—at an auction sale held by Blake in 1870, for instance, the reserve prices for thirteen houses in Ladbroke Grove were not reached—and that capital was being directed from building to more attractive investments, some of them abroad. (fn. 17)

In the 1870's the volume of building in northern Kensington fell by over half, reflecting a similar fall in inward migration, and with relatively little building land still available it ceased by 1885 to have any significant correspondence with the general pattern for the rest of London.

Between 1820 and 1885 some 13,000 buildings (most of them houses) were erected in northern Kensington. The monthly returns of the district surveyors show that a very large number of builders engaged in this prodigious operation, but that on average well over half of them built no more than six houses each (and usually less) over any two-year period. Even in the peak years 1852–3, (fn. 5) over a quarter of all the builders working in the area (30 out of 109) erected only one or two houses each. A few of them were firms of some size and metropolitan standing who undertook contract work for specific customers in Kensington, but the vast majority were involved in speculative building. Most of them described themselves as 'builder', and there is no evidence that men trained in the various constituent trades of the building industry (bricklayer, carpenter, glazier, plumber, etc.) joined together in the building of groups of houses, as had often been done in pre-Victorian times. Despite their large numbers, however, the small-scale builders' contribution to the total stock of new houses was comparatively small. In 1852–3, for instance, those builders erecting six or fewer houses each (some 60 per cent of all the builders in northern Kensington) were responsible for only 16 per cent of the new houses begun in those two years.

At the opposite extreme, builders operating on a very large scale were rare in northern Kensington. Even those few who did commit themselves to extensive undertakings usually confined themselves to one locality, and their careers were extremely brief. Both William Reynolds, who began work on 97 houses on the Ladbroke estate in 1845–6, and David Allan Ramsay, who began 72 on the same estate in 1852–3, became bankrupt before they could complete all of them. George Ingersent, who undertook to build 90 houses in the vicinity of Westbourne Grove, also in 1852–3, was in financial difficulty by 1854. Soon afterwards he was building a mere four houses in Palace Gardens Terrace, one of them being Mall Tavern, where he was living in 1856, having evidently exchanged building for the less frenetic trade of licensed victualler.

The mainstay of the building industry in northern Kensington was provided by the builders with establishments of moderate size who built a large number of houses spread evenly over one or more decades. Among the most successful of these firms was that of the Devon-born brothers, William and Francis Radford, who between 1848 and 1880 built over two hundred houses, mostly large detached villas, around Pembridge Square and in Holland Park. In 1871 they were employing some sixty men. Francis Radford became a prominent local resident, and at his funeral in 1900 there were ten mourning-coaches; (fn. 18) his effects were valued at £256,000. Another builder of this class was Jeremiah Little, who was born in Leeds (fn. 19) and came to Kensington from St. Marylebone. Between 1848 and 1873 he built some 150 houses in the Campden Hill area, and in 1861 he was employing sixty hands. At the time of his death in 1873 he owned freehold and leasehold property to the net value of £120,000. The career of James Hall, however, indicates the risks involved in larger speculative operations. He came to the Pembridge Villas area from St. Pancras in 1846 and in the course of the next eight years built some sixty substantial houses there. In the uncertain financial climate of the mid 1850's he entered into agreements to build over two hundred houses on the Holland estate, and by 1860, despite the general upturn in building, he was in difficulties which were acknowledged to 'have arisen from the too great extent of his undertakings'. In 1864 he was declared bankrupt.

Builders of this medium class often took several acres of land under agreement with a ground landlord, or even purchased land themselves. Sometimes they built only a proportion of the houses erected on the land, thus providing opportunity for other builders including the very small firms. William Chadwick, who also undertook large-scale contract work, became involved in speculation on the Ladbroke estate through not being paid for work done at the Hippodrome racecourse there. In 1840 he entered into an agreement to build on seven acres of the estate, erected a number of houses himself and later used other builders to whom he granted sub-leases. Jeremiah Little was partner in an agreement to build on most of Stephen Pitt's land in 1844, but he does not appear to have become directly involved in building operations until four years later. In the later years of his career he provided opportunities for his children by purchasing land on which they could build. Three of his sons, Henry, William and Alfred, followed him into the building trade and made sizeable contributions to the development of Victorian Campden Hill. In 1860 G. F. J. Tippett purchased seventeen acres in the vicinity of Powis Square and over the next fifteen years 250 houses were built on his land, some by Tippett himself, but the majority by other builders to whom he granted building leases. He also built on a large scale in Paddington, but this particular attempt to combine the roles of landowner, developer, builder, and even probably architect, was not successful, for in 1883 he was declared bankrupt with liabilities of £860,000.

The capital needed for the building of northern Kensington was supplied from a wide variety of sources. In order to get development under way, or to maintain its momentum, ground landlords such as William Phillimore or Felix Ladbroke often lent money to builders to whom they had previously granted building leases, and in 1853–4 Dr. Walker advanced £66,000 in this way. In order to make such loans, the ground landlords had sometimes had to borrow themselves; in 1826, for instance, Lord Holland had borrowed £6,000 from Coutts' Bank for the use of the solicitor who acted as the steward of his estate, while Dr. Walker was heavily indebted to the London and Westminster Bank. Private banks such as Coutts', however, only rarely lent money for use in building development, and among the joint-stock banks the London and Westminster on the Ladbroke estate and the Union Bank of London on the Holland estate were the most important. In 1859 John Beattie, the manager of the Temple Bar branch of the latter, lent £10,000 (presumably on behalf of the bank) to the builder James Hall on the security of thirty houses on the Holland estate, and after Hall's bankruptcy Beattie became one of the developers of a large part of the estate east of Holland Road.

Between the 1840's and the 1870's insurance companies made a small number of large loans in connexion with the development of northern Kensington. In 1847 the ground landlord Felix Ladbroke borrowed £25,000 from the Sun Fire Office, which he in turn evidently lent to his building lessees, but insurance company loans were more usually made direct to builders of substance, or supposed substance. William Reynolds, for instance, borrowed from the Sovereign Life Assurance Company in 1846 for his speculation in the vicinity of Lansdowne Road, while Thomas Goodwin and William White had £34,450 from the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Society in 1872–4 for building in Linden Gardens and Clanricarde Gardens. G. F. J. Tippett's large-scale building in both the vicinity of Powis Square and in Paddington in the 1860's was largely financed by four insurance companies—the County Fire Office, the Sun, the London Assurance Corporation, and ultimately the Law Life Assurance Society, to which in 1870 he owed over £125,000. Most loans by insurance companies were at 5 per cent interest for five to seven years, but the term was sometimes extended.

The role of the building societies and land societies is more difficult to determine, their individual life-cycles being often comparatively brief in the mid nineteenth century. Their activities in northern Kensington were confined to areas where land and property values were comparatively low. Between 1847 and 1851 five building societies were engaged in the northern part of the Norland estate, and in the 1860's and 1870's two land societies were developing extensive properties on the Portobello estate.

Capital was also provided by commercial men whose business lay elsewhere in London (often in the City), and for whom suburban building speculation was only an incidental activity. Thus, to cite a few examples, a woollen-draper of Covent Garden had an interest in Peel Street in the 1820's, a firm of hat manufacturers of Newgate Street in Campden Hill Square in the 1830's, a poultry salesman of Leadenhall Market in Ladbroke Gardens in the 1850's, and a cheesemonger of Newgate Street in the Ladbroke estate from the 1840's until his death in 1879; and there were numerous other investors who were vaguely described as 'merchant' of the City. Men of this class usually only lent money on security and took little or no part in the day-to-day hurly-burly of building development themselves. The career of Jacob Connop, a bill broker with extensive commitments on the London money market who in 1840 undertook the development of some fifty-eight acres of the Ladbroke estate, with dire results for himself and others, provides a rare exception. Direct dealings between the short-term money market and suburban speculators were, however, comparatively rare, the most notable example being a six-months' loan at an unrecorded rate of interest from the bill dealers Samuel Gurney and James Alexander in association with Sir Moses Montefiore and Lionel Nathan de Rothschild to the builder William Reynolds during the crisis of 1846–7—a costly device which quickly precipitated Reynold's bankruptcy. Land agents and auctioneers also occasionally made short-term loans to speculators, but they were evidently only resorted to when immediate financial collapse could not otherwise be avoided.

By far the most important channel for capital was, however, provided by the lawyers. In the early nineteenth century the attorneys had been one of the first of the ancient professions to reform themselves, and in the middle of the century, when much of northern Kensington was being developed, they still performed many of the functions which have since been taken over by the accountants, bank managers and building societies. Land owners, speculators and builders in need of borrowed money most commonly turned to their attorneys who, when the field of choice for investment offered by the stock market was still comparatively restricted, often had other clients with money to lend, or could tap other sources of capital, particularly at those times when gilt-edged securities offered low returns. The volumes of the Middlesex Land Registry record thousands of mortgages arranged by attorneys, a single example of which must suffice, that of the Radfords, whose building in the Pembridge Square area has already been mentioned. Their work there in the 1850's and 1860's was financed by a long series of private mortgages arranged by Stephen Garrard, a lawyer who was one of the former ground landlord's executors, and who was able to obtain money from such varied sources as a Member of Parliament, a barrister, a farmer from Southall, a Warwickshire clergyman, a publisher, a Brentford confectioner, and a hatter in St. James's Street.

With builders thus relying so greatly on lawyers for capital, the lawyers often themselves became involved in the business of building speculation. One such was Robert Furniss Long, who applied in 1851 to the London Assurance Corporation for a loan and was able to offer twenty-nine houses in St. Ann's Road as security. At that time he owned about 150 finished or unfinished houses, and in his application he stated that 'Several of my Clients are Builders to whom I lend a temporary assistance until the houses are completed and ready for sale or mortgage'. When they mortgaged through him they paid interest at 5 per cent, and 'effect a Policy on their lives which enables them to have more time to sell the property without submitting to a sacrifice by a forced sale'. (fn. 20) A 'rich lawyer' was, in fact, considered to be the ideal associate for a builder to have. (fn. 21)

In addition to the arrangement of mortgages, lawyers also often acted for ground landlords as the managers of estates—the Holland, Ladbroke and Jenkins estates are all cases in point. In each of these three examples the lawyer in question himself took leases of part of the estate in due course, and thus became personally involved in the fortunes of the speculation. Lawyers also became personally involved through the misfortunes of a client, and the opportunities for personal gain sometimes presented thereby. In 1840, for instance, John Duncan acquired a short-term interest, already heavily encumbered, in part of the Ladbroke estate after the failure of the racecourse there, which had been promoted by one of his clients. It was, however, much easier to enter the field of suburban speculation than to leave it without loss, and from Duncan's ill-judged opportunism stemmed the life-long involvement on the Ladbroke estate of his partner, Richard Roy. At first Roy was only Duncan's guarantor, but after the latter's bankruptcy he successfully took over the management of Duncan's property on behalf of a bevy of creditors, and ultimately speculated on his own account on other parts of the Ladbroke estate. Occasionally a lawyer even took on the role of ground landlord, as in the previously mentioned case of Charles Richardson, who in 1839 bought the Norland estate and subsequently organized its development under his own personal auspices.

We may now examine briefly such evidence as exists relating to the profits and losses to be made in the business of suburban development. The table below shows that in 1820, on the eve of the first ripple of building in northern Kensington, over two thirds of all the land in the area belonged to four owners, and 94 per cent of it to fifteen owners. High concentration of land-ownership in a few hands was not unusual at this time in the suburbs of London, but this area presents an unusually extreme example of it. All four of the largest proprietors had inherited their estates and so were not burdened by any recent large capital outlay. They therefore started with great advantages, and might be expected in the long run to have made considerable profit from their good fortune. The two who started to develop in the 1820's, however, failed to do so. These were the third Lord Holland, the extravagance of whose successors led by 1874 to the disposal of the estate, and James Weller Ladbroke, whose heir, Felix Ladbroke, seems to have died in comparatively reduced circumstances in 1869 after selling the greater part of his property. The other two principal proprietors, by contrast, made no attempt to develop their estates until the 1850's and even then were content to wait until the boom years of the 1860's for large-scale building to begin. These were Colonel Matthew Chitty Downes St. Quintin and his son, both absentees living in Yorkshire, whose Kensington property, developed solely by means of long leases, yielded an annual rental of £3,510 in 1885, and the two Misses Talbot, who in 1862 sold the 130 acres of their Portobello estate outright for £107,750.

THE STRUCTURE OF LAND OWNERSHIP IN NORTHERN KENSINGTON, 1820* acreges based on T.Starling's map of 1822
Land holdings
Size of estates Number of landowners Acreage % of area Cumulative total of estates as % of acreage of area
Over 200 acres 3 661 53.6 53.6
151–200 " 1 177 14.4 68.0
101–150 " none
51–100 " 3 163 13.3 81.3
31–50 " 1 50 4.1 85.4
11–30 " 7 112 9.1 94.5
6–10 " 2 16 1.3 95.8
1–5 " 8 24 1.9 97.7
remainder not known 28 2.3 100
* This table applies only to the part of the ancient parish north of Kensington High Street.
This consisted of copyhold lands, manorial waste and small freehold estates of less than an acre located in or near to the ancient centres of settlement and mostly already built over.

This seems to suggest that two of the most important ingredients required for success were patience and the ability to choose the right moment to act, whether by granting leases or by straightforward sale. The Phillimores seem to have realized this, for after the slow progress of their first attempts at development virtually no more building took place on their estate for some thirty years after 1825, although Charles Phillimore could (it may be presumed) have found willing builders at least during the 1840's; and when in 1855 he did agree to lease twenty-one acres, his patience was rewarded by a ground rent of £66 per acre—three times as great as that previously obtained by William Phillimore for adjacent land in 1808.

Land values throughout northern Kensington during the first half of the nineteenth century were, indeed, still relatively low. In the 1830's the Great Western Railway paid £112 per acre (fn. 22) and the General Cemetery Company £174 per acre, both for land at Kensal Green. In less remote areas the price of freehold ground usually varied in the first half of the century between about £250 and about £400 per acre. The higher prices which were occasionally paid can generally be explained by special circumstances. In 1809–10 the West Middlesex Water Works Company, for instance, paid £450 per acre for a very eligible site on the summit of Campden Hill, and during the hectic building boom of the early 1820's a piece of land near Kensington Church Street was sold twice in the same year, first for £560 and then for £750 per acre. In order to extend the burial ground of St. Mary Abbots Church the Kensington Vestry had in 1814 to pay no less than £2,100 for about one acre of ground.

Agricultural rents seem to have yielded about £4 or £5 per acre, but when a speculator took land on lease for building he generally paid between £18 and £30 per acre. This represented a useful improvement for the ground landlord, but even so rents of this order were still low, for Thomas Cubitt was generally paying around £50 per acre in the 1820's and 1830's for land in Pimlico. (fn. 23) As late as 1846 James Weller Ladbroke leased nine acres of his best land (now the site of Kensington Park Gardens) for only £30 per acre, and other parts at still lower rents—a fact which no doubt made possible the exceptionally lavish use of land in the layout of this estate.

Despite the inducement offered by such low prices and rents, the progress of building speculation in northern Kensington in the first half of the century was in general unsteady, and even when it was rapid (as on the Norland estate, where five hundred houses were built in the 1840's, or on William Reynolds's part of the Ladbroke estate), it was not financially successful for the developer. Except in the vicinity of Kensington Church Street, where Stephen Pitt was able to obtain a ground rent of £63 per acre in 1844, the area was still too far out to command full and continuous support from investors; the supply of capital was erratic, and there were many financial failures.

In the second half of the century most of northern Kensington was overrun by the advancing urban frontier, and after the uncertain period in the 'no man's land' of the 1850's increased confidence produced a less intermittent supply of capital—the third essential ingredient of successful speculation—and substantial fortunes were no doubt made.

On the Ladbroke estate during the brief boom of the early 1850's the price of land fluctuated violently, part of one piece of ground sold in 1852 (with the benefit of a number of building leases) for £1,333 per acre being re-sold in the slump of 1856 for only £795 per acre. The general price level was, however, far above that of earlier years, and the price of £829 per acre which C. H. Blake paid for the 130-acre Portobello estate in 1862 was by that time probably low. Only three years later, when the Hammersmith and City Railway had been opened, he was considering the sale of part of this property for £1,350 per acre, and in 1868 he actually did sell about one sixth of it for £1,816 per acre, followed in the course of the next four years by several other sales at prices ranging between £1,400 and £1,800 per acre. Within little more than twenty years land-prices had, in fact, increased four-or five-fold, and on leasehold land elsewhere in northern Kensington there were, of course, corresponding rises. In 1854 the vicar of Kensington secured a ground rent of £60 per acre from part of the glebe land around Palace Gardens Terrace, but in 1877 a rent of £425 for less than a single acre in the adjoining Vicarage Gate was offered; and at an auction in 1869 £520 per acre was bid for the site of Clanricarde Gardens.

During the boom years leading up to the peak of building in northern Kensington in 1868, when new houses could not be built fast enough to satisfy demand, the business of development evidently yielded a good return for landowners, speculators and builders alike. In marked contrast with previous decades, there are hardly any examples of failure or bankruptcy, even among the builders, (fn. 6) many of whom, particularly on the Portobello and St. Quintin estates, moved on steadily over a period of years from one street to another, providing steady work for the lawyers and safe investments at 4½ or 5 per cent for the lawyers' clients.

It would, however, be very misleading to imply that a profit could be made from suburban speculation as quickly and easily as a loss, and the one well-documented example known in northern Kensington suggests that this was far from being the case. This was C. H. Blake, who, as has already been mentioned, began to speculate actively on the Ladbroke estate in 1850. After ten years, during which he had been compelled to mortgage his entire estate, including even his furniture and plate, his excess of income over outgoings amounted to only about one half of one per cent of his total investment; and at the time of his death in 1872, after twenty-two years' incessant worry and work, this figure had only grown to about 3¼ per cent. A few years later, when all the outstanding charges had been paid off, the average annual return mounted to 6½ per cent and his children became the chief beneficiaries of his arduous career as building speculator. If Blake's history has any wider application, it shows that the profits of suburban development were not quickly or easily made, and not unduly great.

By the mid 1880's building development in northern Kensington had been largely completed. Except in the north-western extremity, where a few fields still remained, all the open country shown on Starling's map of 1822 Plate 1 had been covered with streets, crescents, squares and thousands of houses. This tremendous tide of building also included by 1900 sixteen Anglican churches and a large new parish church. The Roman Catholics had built six convents and two parish churches, most of them at the instigation of Dr. Henry Manning, who prior to his elevation to the Archbishopric of Westminster in 1865 had been superior of the Oblates of St. Charles and had concentrated the energetic missionary efforts of this small religious order upon this district. There were also some fifteen nonconformist chapels, most of them either Congregationalist or Baptist, one of the largest cemeteries in London, and numerous schools of all denominations.

Until the 1850's this whole complex process of building in Kensington had proceeded with a minimum of public control. The parish Vestry, which was of the open variety, was hardly concerned in the business of estate development, and the Kensington Improvement Commissioners, established by an Act of 1851 for the paving, repairing, lighting and cleansing of the highways, (fn. 24) were soon superseded under the terms of the Metropolis Management Act of 1855. Prior to the establishment of the Office of Metropolitan Buildings in 1844 there was no public supervision of buildings in Kensington, for the London Building Acts had hitherto not applied there. Until 1847 the administration of sewers had been the responsibility of the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers, but as most of northern Kensington was well drained by natural watercourses, no great harm had come from their leisurely management except in the Potteries. In this stagnant low-lying area the almost complete absence of public supervision resulted in the growth of one of the worst slums in London and the creation of social problems which led in recent years, after a century of incessant effort, to large-scale rebuilding. Between 1847 and 1855 the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers had to cope inter alia with the rapidly mounting volume of building in northern Kensington, but with the more immediate problems of successive visitations of cholera also on their hands little progress was made until the reorganization of the vestries and the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. The Board took over the regulation of buildings and the construction of main sewers, while the vestries managed the building and maintenance of local sewers and the regulation of nuisances. The foundations of a rational system of public administration were, in fact, only laid in the middle of the most rapid period of building development in northern Kensington (c. 1840–c. 1870), and a large part of the responsibility for this process was therefore still in the private hands of landowners and speculators.

On most of the larger estates the ground landlord employed an architect or surveyor to provide a layout plan, and in some cases these were at first men of some reputation William Porden on the Phillimore estate, Robert Cantwell on the Norland estate, or Thomas Allason on the Ladbroke and Pitt estates, for instance. But their plans were often modified to suit the exigencies of changing circumstances, their connexion with a particular estate was sometimes very brief, and their part in the business of estate development was relatively limited. With the notable exception of Thomas Allom, who provided designs for all the houses on C. H. Blake's property in the vicinity of Kensington Park Gardens, few houses seem to have been designed by the estate architects or surveyors, although the speculator-builder often had to obtain their approval for his own designs. Whatever their precise role may have been, it does, however, appear to have been declining in its importance, the surveyors of the 1860's and 1870's, such as J. C. Hukins on the Portobello estate, being in general men of markedly less substance than their predecessors of the previous generation. If any single group can be said to have been the principal progenitors of nineteenth-century northern Kensington, the ubiquitous and ever-busy lawyers have a far stronger claim than the architects or surveyors; and it is an odd quirk of fortune that their activities should have been so quickly and totally forgotten.

After the substantial completion of building development in northern Kensington in the mid 1880's, fresh building did not cease, for redevelopment had already begun. On the Pitt estate on Campden Hill, in Linden Grove (now Gardens) and in Campden Place (now Clanricarde Gardens), for example, the building of the Metropolitan Railway had already resulted directly or indirectly in partial or complete rebuilding in the 1860's and 1870's, while large houses with correspondingly large gardens, which had been surrounded by the advancing urban tide, were being demolished in the 1880's and 1890's for the building of large tall terrace houses or blocks of flats. Most of this early redevelopment was in the area between Kensington High Street and Holland Park Avenue, an early example of it, in the 1870's, being on the site of General Charles Richard Fox's house at the north end of Addison Road. The demolition of Elm Lodge and the building of nineteen tall terrace houses on its site, now called Airlie Gardens, in 1881–3, the erection of flats and houses in the grounds of Campden House in 1894–1900, and the commencement of the building of the flats known as Oakwood Court in Addison Road in 1899, all provide cases in point. Redevelopment is, indeed, a permanent feature of the urban scene, and in more recent years King's College for Women (now Queen Elizabeth College) and Holland Park School as well as more luxury flats have been built in the originally spacious surroundings of the Campden Hill area, while in the Potteries, Notting Dale and Kensal Green whole streets of cheap outworn terrace houses have been razed for the building of Council flats.

The inhabitants of Victorian northern Kensington included all ranks of society, ranging from the dukes on Campden Hill (sometimes called 'the Dukeries') and the great men of commerce in Kensington Palace Gardens ('Millionaires' Row') down to the pig-keepers of the Potteries and the laundresses of Kensal Green. The great majority of them belonged, however, to the middle classes, whose way of life in the Ladbroke locality of northern Kensington could provide Charles Marriott, writing in 1910, with 'a stronger impression of social stability than any other part of London I know . . . Ladbroke upholds the proper dignity of the English middle classes'. (fn. 25) Half-a-dozen samples of social and occupational structure, drawn chiefly from middle-class districts, are contained in later chapters. One general point may, however, be made here—namely, that the existence of a predominanatly middle-class suburb required many local services for its maintenance, and that these needs created a substantial amount of employment, much of it unskilled or semi-skilled, within the area from a comparatively early date. By far the largest source of such local employment was, of course, domestic service, which in London as a whole in 1851, provided work for about one in every eleven of the entire population. In Kensington Registration District more than one in every six of all women aged over twenty years were servants, the vast majority of whom 'lived in'. Next in importance, in the early years of large-scale development, came building, and there was also a substantial amount of brickmaking, chiefly to the south of Notting Hill Gate and around the Potteries. By 1876, however, the commercial section of the local directory contained over 2,500 entries for northern Kensington, made up of no less than 220 different trades. (fn. 26) (fn. 7) The public houses and the shops for the sale of food, clothing and household goods, which formed the largest groups, were distributed throughout the whole area, but there were also a number of other trades, such as those of launderer, cowkeeper, cab proprietor and job master, which were heavily concentrated in the poorer areas, chiefly around Golborne Road and (particularly in the case of the launderers) Bramley Road and Kensal Green. The Portobello and Bramley Road districts were both adjacent to the Hammersmith and City Railway, opened in 1864, but a count taken in 1882 showed that only about 560 workmen's return tickets (at 4d. each to the City) were issued daily at all stations along the line. In winter there was only one morning workmen's train, which left Hammersmith at 5.43 a.m., and many of the travellers on it lived in Hammersmith or Paddington, as well as in Kensington. (fn. 27) It is therefore evident that daily working-class travel by rail out of northern Kensington to jobs elsewhere was still small in scale, and that very large numbers of the workmen resident in the area lived within walking distance of their jobs. These daily journeys on foot no doubt took many workmen far outside Kensington (as the establishment of no less than 153 bootmakers within the area by 1876 perhaps implies), while other labourers and artisans were employed locally in the more exotic manufacturing industries not dependent only on local demand (e.g. the makers of pianos, umbrellas, hair, plumes, bird-cages and sound-boards for harmoniums, etc.). After reasonable allowance has been made for these various forms of employment, it nevertheless appears that a substantial residuum of local labour was engaged in providing the day-to-day services (chiefly in the fields of food, drink, clothing, household equipment, laundering, domestic service, jobbing building and transport) required for the maintenance of the middle-class residents who formed the majority of the population of northern Kensington. Pockets of cheap labour, such as those to be found in Kensal Green, Notting Hill Gate or the vicinity of the Potteries, were in fact a necessary adjunct of a predominantly middle-class Victorian suburb, and had a vital function to perform within it.

The Fabric

Aerial views of northern Kensington show the pattern of nineteenth-century estates laid out over moderately hilly terrain. The distinctive layouts of some of the larger estates stand out prominently, as do the lines of the two ancient roads from London and the recently completed motorway of the Western Avenue Extension. The parklands of Kensington Gardens and Holland Park are matched by Kensal Green Cemetery and the communal gardens of the squares, more particularly those of the Ladbroke estate with the seven acres of Ladbroke Square itself and the concentric bands of the gardens around St.John's Church—a total of fifteen large gardens on the one estate. The churches take their place amongst the estates which they were built to serve, and St. Mary Abbots marks the old village centre in Kensington High Street, from which Kensington Church Street pursues its twisting northward course to Notting Hill Gate. The great mansions of Kensington Palace Gardens and Palace Green stand clearly defined in their own grounds along the edge of Kensington Gardens close to the Palace. In the extreme north are the landmarks of the gasworks at Kensal Green and the complex of St. Charles Hospital with its central tower, whilst in the area to the south Campden Hill was until recently dominated by the stand-pipe tower of the former Grand Junction Water Works (demolished in 1970). Other prominent buildings include those of Queen Elizabeth College, Holland Park School, the borough library and a number of substantial blocks of flats built at various times over the last eighty years, but it is the Victorian family houses, ranged in their thousands along the streets of the estates, which provide the major architectural interest of the locality.

The development of the characteristic form of London house from the end of the Georgian period through to the last quarter of the nineteenth century is particularly well demonstrated in northern Kensington. Beginning with the typical terraced dwelling of three to five storeys above a basement, brick faced and dryly reticent in the manner evolved on the estates of Bloomsbury and St. Marylebone, the Kensington house became fully stuccoed and more architecturally ambitious as the nineteenth century advanced, with the terraced layout giving way to individual or paired villas in garden settings, particularly in those areas further from the centre of London where comparatively low land values permitted this less intensive use of sites.

The basic late Georgian Kensington house, such as that built along Kensington High Street on William Phillimore's land between 1788 and 1812, follows directly upon metropolitan precedent and makes no concession to its rural situation beyond the insertion of a small front garden between pavement and basement area. In the elevational view of the High Street in 1811 reproduced on Plate 44 the house fronts rise above low garden walls with small shrubs behind them, and through the breaks between the terraces pastoral views of Campden Hill may be seen.

The design of such houses varied only within the narrowest limits. The main structure can be represented as a stock-brick 'box', covered with a roof of Welsh slates either in the form of a mansard with dormers or concealed behind a neat brick parapet. The internal construction of all but the larger houses was timber framed, not only in the joisted floors which spanned between back and front walls, but also in the internal studded partitions from the ground floor upwards. The need to provide support for a stone wall-hung stair, or additional rigidity in a house of unusual size might, however, call for the sparing use of brick walls internally. A part from this, brick internal partitions were normally restricted to the basement.

The average sized house was some twenty feet wide and thirty feet deep, with three or four storeys above a basement (Plate 46a). Internally it was organized according to a fixed formula determined and developed during the eighteenth century. The basement contained the kitchen, scullery and pantries, and ample storage for beer and wine was provided, usually in the centre of the house between the back and front basement rooms. The kitchen premises were serviced through a doorway into the front area, which was stone paved and contained stone steps leading up to the small front garden or to a gate in the iron railings along the pavement. The basement doorway was normally situated under the stone bridge which spanned the area at street level to give access to the front door, and the service and social entrances to the front of the house were thus quite separate. Circular iron plates let into the pavement allowed the delivery of coal to be made directly from the merchant's cart into brick-lined vaults which communicated with the area. The low-pressure water supply commonly served a lead storage tank at kitchen level. The placing of the kitchen at this level kept the principal rooms well away from any rising damp in the brick walls. Floors were usually of stone in the basement passages, sculleries and stores, but frequently of suspended timber construction in the kitchens despite the vulnerability of wood to fungus attack—a danger which was also pronounced in the matchboarded dados covering the lower parts of much of the basement walls.

The ground storey contained the dining-room, at the side of a narrow entrance hall, and behind it a smaller parlour or morning-room. The dining-room might be a little deeper than the front rooms on the upper floors and was sometimes finished with a sideboard recess at its inner end. The rear parlour was usually narrower than the dining-room in order to accommodate the extra width of the stairs at the end of the hall.

On the first floor the principal living-room or drawing-room occupied the whole front of the house, its two or three windows usually extending down to the floor and frequently furnished with casements opening on to a balcony or series of balconettes. It became common to unite this room with the smaller room behind it through wide folding doors so as to make one large room for entertaining. The stairs might be in wood or stone according to the ambitions of the builder or speculator, or in stone with cast-iron balustrades to first-floor level, and in wood above.

The bedroom floors were usually similar in plan to the first floor but were sometimes subdivided into smaller rooms, particularly on the top floor. In larger houses the stair to the top floor might take the form of a small accommodation stair outside the main stairwell, and in such cases it was normally of timber construction. The owner's bedroom would usually be on the second floor, with provision for children's rooms and servants' rooms on this or higher floors in accordance with the scale of the house.

The windows, except for casements on to first-floor balconies, were all of the doublehung sash variety, with their cased frames and counter-weights recessed behind the brickwork so as to be invisible when viewed from outside. Windows up to the first floor were furnished internally with panelled shutters which folded back into cased reveals and could be secured across the opening with an iron bar.

The house front was the simplest natural expression of this practical scheme. Generally the brick work was of London yellow stocks laid in Flemish bond. Stucco was for the most part only sparingly used until the second quarter of the nineteenth century, although the lower part of the house façade up to the string marking the first-floor level might be stuccoed, sometimes with channelling to simulate stone-coursing—a practice still prevalent in the 1830's, as for instance at Nos. 9–11 Holland Street (Plate 38a). Where face brickwork was employed it was customary to apply a stucco rendering to the reveal of the window openings, whilst the heads of all rectangular openings were spanned by flat arches of finely gauged brick applied as a facing with a timber bressumer or lintel behind (Plate 42c, 42d). The balcony at first-floor level (where it occurred) was usually formed in stone with a cast-iron front in one of the manufacturers' standard patterns. The cornices and other horizontal members were commonly reduced to mere stone or stucco strings but the façades almost always adhered to a Palladian scheme of proportions in which the ground storey represented the base upon which a giant order of architecture might be raised to embrace the first and second storeys so as to support an entablature above the heads of the second-floor windows. This order was seldom present, but even in the most simple sorts of houses it is implied, its ghost regulating the shape and proportion of the house front. The back of the house could be, and commonly was, severely utilitarian. The placing of windows on the stair landings and sometimes small closet projections serving these landings made architectural regularity difficult to achieve.

The house building of the first three decades of the nineteenth century was characterized by a sparse refinement which made the ideal profiles of mouldings as slender as practicable and reduced projections to the minimum. Front doors were placed within round-headed arches without hoods and no more modelling was allowed in the façade than an occasional recession of half a brick to form a round-headed relieving arch or rectangular panel over the heads of the first-floor windows (Plate 38c). Architectural refinement dictated that rainwater pipes should be confined to the rear walls wherever possible, and the gutter behind the front parapet was frequently discharged into a lead-lined trough passing through to the back of the building, an expedient which was also employed to drain the centre valley of M-section roofs.

Gradually, however, the progress of taste led away from the self-effacing restraint of this standard house. Wider use of stucco, following the example of Nash's work in Regent's Park and Basevi's designs for Belgrave Square, made ambitious architectural display economically possible, and face brickwork became less common. An article on Roman cements in The Architectural Magazine in 1834 commented that 'In consequence of the discovery of cements of this kind, we are now enabled to erect buildings of brick, coated over with this material, which are as handsome as those of stone, and much stronger and more durable [sic] . . . By the aid of cement we are also enabled to display every kind of architectural form and ornament, in many cases at a fifth of the expense that similar ornaments would cost if formed either of moulded bricks or of stone.' Where brickwork was exposed after 1840 it was usually embellished with moulded stucco dressings in window architraves and cornices (Plates 40c, 41e), whilst from the later 1850's the yellow stock brick was largely abandoned in house-front work in favour of smooth gault bricks (white or grey Suffolk gaults). The effect either way was to produce a building of a more 'finished' and highly wrought appearance (Plate 60d).

The emergence of stucco as a material which made display of this kind possible went hand in hand with an increasingly felt need for enrichment, and these trends, occurring just at the time of the great domestic expansion of northern Kensington, gave the area a stuccoed homogeneity within which we can still nevertheless distinguish certain clearly defined architectural trends.

Firstly the standard Georgian terrace house previously described could be given a new stucco disguise. It had been so well suited to its use and was so adaptable to varying family and economic circumstances that it remained throughout the greater part of Kensington's development the orthodox type for the middle-size house. In the 1840's it is to be found with stucco dressings in Ladbroke Square (Plate 61e), and in full stucco dress in Royal Crescent (Plate 72a, 72b) and Norland Square (Plate 71b), while in the 1850's it became grander in Kensington Park Gardens and Stanley Gardens (Plate 64), where it appeared in extended compositions against a background of extensive communal gardens.

At the same time a desire to create more picturesque forms than the unbroken terrace of standard houses allowed had already begun to find expression in a number of ways. The example of Nash's layout in Regent's Park (1811 onwards) in particular had presented a new ideal for London developers. Its villas in landscaped settings and informal groups, the great terraces with their emphasis on variety and articulation, the circus plan for estate roads and the relationship between buildings and planting, all these made a deep impression on those concerned with the layout of lesser estates. In northern Kensington proposals for a radial layout made an early appearance in the planning of the Ladbroke estate and influenced the final layout of the crescents around Notting Hill (Plates 52, 54, 55, 57). On the same estate it is also possible to detect the influence of J. B. Papworth and his work at Cheltenham. James Thomson, one of the designers responsible for the Ladbroke layout, had been a pupil of Papworth and had also worked with Nash in Regent's Park. The semi-detached villa appears in large numbers and in various guises, sometimes bearing a close resemblance to Cheltenham examples (Plates 59, 63). Elsewhere the individual villa occurs in such outer streets as Addison Road and Holland Villas Road (Plate 50a, 50b), where intensive building was not favoured, and in the special circumstances of the Crown Estate in Kensington Palace Gardens, where the houses are of great size and ambitious treatment. The demand for detachment became, indeed, so strong that in the case of the rows of big detached villas in Pembridge Square and Holland Park (Plates 51d, 69), and even in parts of Oxford and Cambridge Gardens (fig. 79), the spaces between the houses are so narrow that the rows are almost terraces, but the architectural expression is nevertheless that of individual houses.

Where the economics of development did not permit the more extravagant use of land which the semi-detached or detached house required if it was to make its proper picturesque effect, it was still possible to employ devices which would break up the terrace into quasi-independent units and reduce the monolithic appearance of the traditional terrace. Since the latter part of the eighteenth century London designers such as Michael Searles (in his Paragon at Blackheath and elsewhere in South London) had experimented with paired houses connected by lower wings. These wings usually contained the entrances and might be recessed so that the main blocks appeared to be independent when viewed in sharp perspective. In the 1840's this form was employed on the Norland estate in Addison Avenue and St. James's Gardens (Plate 71a, 71c, 71d), while on the Holland estate in Addison Road rows in pinnacled Gothic and pedimented classical dress stand side by side (fig. 16).

These various departures from the old standardized terrace plan, whether in the form of individual or paired villas or in the 'articulated' terraces, involved wider frontages and were more extravagant in the use of land. Providing more accommodation on each floor, the houses were lower, and at the same time the excavation of the basements became shallower, giving more light to the kitchen and a greater elevation above pavement level to the ground floor (Plate 68a, b). The principal rooms were now frequently placed on this more imposing ground floor with only the bedrooms above. The old Palladian scheme of a giant order standing upon the ground-storey base was necessarily abandoned in such houses, although it was also being superseded in some of the taller houses for reasons of fashion. Superimposed orders became more common in the 1850's and 1860's in treatments providing that quality of overall enrichment which was becoming admired Stanley Gardens (Plate 66c, 66d), Ladbroke Gardens (Plate 65a) and Pembridge Square (Plate 69), for instance—whilst some of the more distinguished designs looked towards the astylar Italianate of Barry's club-houses (Plate 94a). In other cases the orders were so freely treated as to be scarcely recognizable, as in the pilaster strips of many of W. J. Drew's houses on the Ladbroke estate (Plate 62).

The stucco Gothic of the houses in Addison Road (fig. 16) is one of the rare exceptions where this style is employed, although Gothic also appears at Nos. 6–12 (even) Phillimore Place (Plate 48a) and, in a red-brick Elizabethan form with diapered brickwork and shaped gables, in the remarkable ranges of villas along St. Ann's Villas (Plate 72d, 72e). But the overriding character of the stuccoed houses built in the two middle quarters of the nineteenth century is classical-Italianate, expressed in a variety of manners. Designs may be highly sophisticated, as in the best of the villas in Kensington Palace Gardens (Plates 94, 95, 98, 106); picturesque as in Thomas Allom's work for C. H. Blake in Stanley Gardens and Kensington Park Gardens (Plates 64, 65, 66); or debased and perfunctory as in some of the later developments and on the more remote and less desirable sites (Plates 67a, 67b, 67c, 67d, 67f, 74a, 74b, 74c, 74d, 74e).

Towards the middle of the century constructional standards became more robust and there was a more prodigal use of building materials. Walls became heavier, structural timbers more massive, joinery sections and mouldings more lavish in windows and doors, and stone stairs became more common. Cast-iron balustrades replaced wooden ones and marble chimneypieces were more ornate. Damp-proof courses made an appearance in some of the best work. Due to improvements in both the quantity and the pressure of domestic water supplies, water-closets were gradually superseding earth closets during the first half of the century, and in 1855 the builders of new houses were obliged by statute to provide proper drainage and 'sufficient' sanitary conveniences. Thereafter water-closets soon came into more general use, and some houses were built with bathrooms.

It may be said in general terms that the hold of the traditional urban forms grew weaker and the blood of the Italianate movement thinner as the end of the 1860's was reached. The fine double-fronted stucco houses built in the parallel roads of Holland Park by the Radford brothers (Plate 51d) were still going up in the 1870's, but this was the last conservative continuation of a formula which had proved outstandingly successful in earlier years.

In 1864–5 Philip Webb, having designed the Red House at Bexley for William Morris some six years earlier, designed a house in Holland Park Road (now No. 14) for Valentine Prinsep, the painter, in the red-brick style of the new Domestic Revival (fig. 28). At the same time and in the same road George Aitchison was also designing a red-brick house for Frederic (later Lord) Leighton (figs. 26–7), and in 1867–8 the new style of Philip Webb's house for George Howard at No. 1 Palace Green (Plate 108) evoked prolonged antagonism from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and their classically-minded architect, (Sir) James Pennethorne. These revolutionary houses were to be followed by a number of other individual buildings representative of the advanced aesthetic ideals of the late 1860's and 1870's, most of which were situated on the Holland estate near to the houses of Prinsep and Leighton (Plates 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88 89, 90, 91). These houses in Holland Park Road and Melbury Road were all for eminent artists, including G. F. Watts who employed F. P. Cockerell, Marcus Stone and Luke Fildes, who both employed Norman Shaw, and the architect William Burges, who designed Tower House for his own occupation. Together they form a most important group demonstrating the force of the reaction against the Italianate stucco amongst the artistic community of the time. Leighton House and Tower House have interiors of great interest. The demolition of G. F. Watts's house in c. 1965, in spite of an attempt by the London County Council to preserve it, is very much to be regretted. The architecture of this artistic colony was an early manifestation of a highly influential movement, but it had little architectural progeny in northern Kensington, for by this time the development of the farmlands of the parish had been virtually completed.

The varied styles of the churches and chapels of northern Kensington (Plates 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28) provide a measure of contrast from the general background of the domestic buildings, but only in a few cases do they stand out in high relief. Some, such as St. James, Norlands, St. John the Evangelist, Ladbroke Grove, All Saints', Talbot Road, and St. Peter's, Kensington Park Road, are centrepieces of the domestic development, but in most cases, such as St. Mark's, St. Mark's Road, St. Michael and All Angels', Ladbroke Grove, and St. George's, Aubrey Walk, the churches do not dominate architecturally, only their spires and towers indicating their location when seen from a distance. In other instances, such as those of St. Clement's, Treadgold Street, St. Francis of Assisi, Pottery Lane, and St. Pius X, St. Charles Square, they are so modest in scale that they could easily be overlooked, and indeed merge self-effacingly with their surroundings. As would be expected, most of the churches are Gothic, although there are considerable variations of both style and form. The economical structures of Lewis Vulliamy's two churches, the Tudor Gothic St. Barnabas', Addison Road, and the Early English St. James, Norlands, are representative of an early somewhat utilitarian approach to church building, with few concessions to ecclesiological correctness. The church of St. John the Evangelist is a more conscious attempt to recreate a correct Early English building, while (Sir) George Gilbert Scott's great and ambitious church of St. Mary Abbots is representative of a fully developed and mature revival of that style. All Saints' Church, an earlier work by William White, found favour with the Ecclesiological Society, and indeed something of a medieval character was achieved that has not been entirely lost despite war damage and other vicissitudes. One of the most ambitious churches in the area, St. John the Baptist, Holland Road, by James Brooks, is an essay in early French Gothic and is completely vaulted in stone, but the grandeur of the church is now partly masked by later additions by J. S. Adkins.

Both of the churches designed by E. Bassett Keeling demonstrate the eccentricities of his individual interpretation of 'Continental Gothic', although both buildings are considerably mutilated. His particular use of cast-iron columns, the polychromatic brick interiors, and the extraordinary gallery fronts caused the ecclesiologists grave doubts, and Keeling's career as a church architect was brief, though spectacular. Although J. P. St. Aubyn's Church of St. Clement incorporates cast-iron columns, and is constructed of brick with a roof owing more to the vernacular traditions of timber craftsmanship than to stylistic correctness, the architectural effect is more composed and unified than that of the restless eclecticism and brash individuality of Keeling's work. Hard utilitarian design is encountered at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, a curiosity in the German Romanesque style by J. and J. S. Edmeston, while St. Columb, Lancaster Road, by C. Hodgson Fowler, owes much to Early Christian architecture. St. Peter's, by Thomas Allom, is a classical basilica, quite different from the mainstream of ecclesiastical architecture of the period and probably the last classical building for the Anglican church in nineteenth-century London.

Especially fine among Roman Catholic ecclesiastical buildings are the beautiful brick interior of the chapel of the Carmelite Monastery in St. Charles Square by F. H. Pownall; the chapel of the Dominican Convent, Portobello Road, by Henry Clutton; and the church of St. Francis of Assisi by Clutton and John Francis Bentley. The French influence of the thirteenth century is evident in both of Clutton's works, and the fittings, designed by Bentley, are exquisite examples of Victorian workmanship.

The dissenting chapels offer a characteristic array of preaching-boxes, although some concessions to the outward appearances of fashionable Gothic are found in the Baptist Chapel, Westbourne Grove (an extraordinary galleried building vaguely Early English in style), the Kensington Temple, Kensington Park Road, and the Notting Hill Methodist Church, Lancaster Road, but the stylistic insufficiencies are great.

At Kensal Green, in the extreme north of the area, the once much-favoured necropolis of the General Cemetery of All Souls possesses distinguished examples of the Greek Revival style of architecture in its chapels, entrance gate and lodges, and catacomb arcade. The cemetery itself provides an eloquent commentary on Victorian styles and tastes in the rich collection of sculptured memorials, mausolea and statuary (Plates 29, 30, 31 and 32).


  • 1. Neither Holland House, which may form the subject of a monograph at a later date, nor Kensington Palace, which was not within the ancient parish of Kensington, are included. In this General Introduction sources are not given for statements authenticated in the succeeding chapters.
  • 2. No allowance is made here for migration out of the parish, but in Kensington this was probably then relatively small.
  • 3. Something of the heady speculative atmosphere of these years is indicated by the district surveyor's returns for northern Kensington. Of 790 new houses for which notices were given in 1852, 90 were not begun and 195 more were 'suspended', 'abandoned' or were taken over by other builders. In some cases the builder was changed more than once.
  • 4. In 1868 the Metropolitan Railway was also extended from Paddington round to South Kensington, but its course was largely through areas already built upon.
  • 5. The monthly returns have not survived for the peak years of the 1860's.
  • 6. The case of James Hall, previously mentioned as bankrupt in 1864, provides an exception but this was due to the excessive commitments which he had undertaken in the 1850's.
  • 7. The most common trades were:
    Bootmaker 153
    Publican 121
    Greengrocer 100
    Grocer 93
    Builder 92
    Tailor 84
    Baker 76
    Butcher 75
    'General shop' Keeper 74
    Draper 69
    Dairyman 66
    Laundryman or laundress 65
    Dressmaker 57
    Tobacconist 55
    Confectioner 49
    Oilman 46
    Decorator 45
    Chemist 43
    Cheesemonger 42
    Stationer 42
    Fishmonger 37
    Carpenter 34
    Wardrobe dealer 32
    Upholsterer 29
    Milliner 29
    Gas fitter 29
    Cornmerchant 29
    China and glass dealer 28
    Hairdresser 28
    Ironmonger 28
    Fruiterer 27
    Plumber 27
    Dyer 24
    Cab proprietor 23
    Carver and gilter 21
    Coal merchant 21
    Sweep 20
    Watchmaker 20
  • 8. E. Ffooks, 'The Kensington Turnpike Trust' in Annual Report of the Kensington Society, 1969–70, pp. 34–45.
  • 9. M.O.H. Reports, passim; see especially for 1887, pp. 113–14.
  • 10. H. A. Shannon, 'Migration and the Growth of London, 1841–91', in The Economic History Review, vol. v, 1935, pp. 79–86.
  • 11. Migration figures for the 1860's calculated from the tables of births and deaths in 33rd Annual Report of the Registrar General (P.P., 1872, vol. xvii, pp. 280–1); those for the 1870's calculated from the figures contained in 35th–43rd Annual Reports of the Registrar General (P.P., 1873, vol. xx, p. 41; 1875, vol. xviii, pt. I, p. 41; 1876, vol. xviii, p. 41; 1877, vol. xxv, p. 41; 1878, vol. xxii, p. 41; 1878–9, vol. xix, p. 41; 1880, vol. xvi, p. 41; 1881, vol. xxvii, p. 41; 1882, vol. xix, p. 41).
  • 12. H. J. Dyos, 'The Slums of Victorian London', in Victorian Studies, vol. xi, 1967, p. 30.
  • 13. P.R.O., census returns of 1851; P.O.D.
  • 14. P.R.O., census returns of 1871.
  • 15. J. H. Clapham, An Economic History of Modern Britain, vol. ii, 1932, pp. 362–3.
  • 16. B.N. 3 April 1857, pp. 322–3.
  • 17. E. W. Cooney, 'Capital Exports, and Investment in Building in Britain and the U.S.A. 1856–1914', in Economica, new series, vol. xvi, 1949, PP. 347–54.
  • 18. Kensington News, 12 January 1900.
  • 19. P.R.O., census returns of 1851.
  • 20. Guildhall Library, MS. 8733/15, p. 34.
  • 21. P.P., 1886, vol. xii, Select Committee on Town Holdings, p. 356.
  • 22. The Railway Times, 13 February 1864, pp. 192–5.
  • 23. Hermione Hobhouse, Thomas Cubitt Master Builder, 1971, pp. 173–84.
  • 24. and 15 Vict., c. 116, local and personal.
  • 25. Charles Marriott, Now!, 1910, p. 28.
  • 26. The Kensington, Notting Hill, Brompton and Knightsbridge Directory for 1876, pp. 267–314 (copy in B.M., pressmark PP 2505 ye/23).
  • 27. P.P., 1883, vol. lxi, Major Mandarin's Report to Board of Trade on Workmen's Trains on the Metropolitan Lines, pp. 445–54.