Survey of London: Volume 37, Northern Kensington. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1973.
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CHAPTER VIII - The Crown Estate in Kensington Palace Gardens
The Crown Estate in Kensington consists primarily of Kensington Palace Gardens, a spacious private avenue over a half a mile in length which extends from Kensington High Street on the south to Bayswater Road on the north, and which was laid out in the 1840's, mainly on the site of the former kitchen gardens of Kensington Palace. Large Victorian and Edwardian mansions were subsequently built along the avenue, and are now mostly occupied by the representatives of foreign governments. (fn. 1) The estate also includes the barracks in Kensington Church Street, which occupy a part of the former palace gardens called the old forcing ground, and some properties in Kensington High Street which were purchased by the Crown in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (fig. 31). Until 1900, when it was all incorporated into the Borough of Kensington, the estate was situated in three separate administrative parishes—those of Kensington, Paddington and St. Margaret's, West-minster.
Most of the area described in this chapter was constituted Crown Estate in 1841, when, by an Act of Parliament, some twenty-eight acres were detached from the grounds of Kensington Palace and handed over to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, to be laid out for building. Kensington Palace and its grounds had, of course, belonged to the Crown since William III purchased the property (then called Nottingham House) from Daniel Finch, second Earl of Nottingham, in 1689. But as a royal residence it was administered by the Lord Steward's department, whereas since 1810 the Crown Estate (i.e. those lands belonging to the Crown whose revenues had been surrendered by the sovereign in exchange for the Civil List) was managed by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests (the forerunners of the Crown Estate Commissioners). By the Act of 1841 the revenues from building at Kensington were to be used to pay for improvements to other royal gardens. (fn. 15)
The land appropriated included all the palace kitchen gardens. These consisted of the old forcing ground (which appears to have been in continuous use as a kitchen garden since the seventeenth century) and an area to the north (now occupied by Nos. 1–26 consec. Kensington Palace Gardens and Palace Gardens Mews) which was formed in the early nineteenth century. This latter had previously been part of the 'wilderness' which Queen Anne laid out to the north-west of the palace in c. 1705, and before that it was a gravel pit. The rest of the area (now the site of Nos. 1–10 consec. Palace Green) was taken out of some open ground on the west side of the palace called Palace Green. (fn. 16)
The plan to build over the kitchen gardens at Kensington Palace had originated in the recommendations of a committee, appointed by the Treasury in January 1838, to inquire into the management of the royal gardens. (fn. 2) In their report, completed in March, the committee proposed, as part of an extensive reorganization, that several gardens, including the kitchen gardens at Kensington, should be abolished, and the ground converted to 'purposes of public utility'. By this the committee seem to have meant development as building land, for although it did not offer any specific suggestions for financing the improvements at the remaining gardens, its account of the funds that would become available for that purpose included a valuation of the gardens at Kensington which could only be realized if the ground was let for building. (fn. 17)
The Treasury received the report with characteristic caution: their Lordships 'were disposed to concur generally in the opinions expressed by the committee', but they wished to be satisfied that the funds that would be thus obtained would be sufficient to finance the general reorganization proposed. They therefore called for a report from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. (fn. 18)
The Commissioners' report was not completed until September 1840, and it contained recommendations based not only on the report of the 1838 committee but also on proposals for improving the management of royal gardens which had been submitted to the Treasury by the Lord Steward in March 1840. (fn. 19) These had been forwarded by the Treasury to the Commissioners with the request that they should consider whether immediate measures might not be taken to transfer the kitchen gardens and forcing ground at Kensington from the Lord Steward's department in order to facilitate 'the disposal of the sites of those gardens on building leases'. (fn. 20)
The Commissioners accepted that the various improvements recommended by them should be paid for by letting the site of the kitchen gardens at Kensington for building, and a plan of a suggested layout, drawn up by one of their surveyors, Thomas Chawner, accompanied the report. This shows the area of the old garden on the north side of Palace Green divided into plots for ten detached and ten semi-detached houses. The Commissioners were confident that the ground would be let without difficulty and therefore proposed that a sum equal to the total estimated ground rental should be released from Land Revenue funds to enable the proposed improvements at other royal gardens to proceed. (fn. 21)
On 6 October 1840 the Treasury authorized the Commissioners to take the necessary steps 'forthwith' to let the site of the kitchen gardens at Kensington on building leases. There was, however, some public opposition to the plan led by J. C. Loudon, who wrote to The Times urging 'those who disapprove to employ every means in their power to prevent Woods and Forests from carrying their intention into effect'. (fn. 22) (fn. 3)
Towards the end of October 1840 the Treasury, at the request of the Commissioners, ordered the Lord Steward to start running down the gardens at Kensington. But before the ground could be let for building, control of the gardens had to be formally transferred by Act of Parliament from the Lord Steward's department to the Office of Woods, and in July 1841 the Commissioners' solicitors began to draft the necessary Bill. By this time, however, the Treasury had approved a plan by which the revenue from building at Kensington would be used to lay out a new kitchen garden at Frogmore for the supply of Windsor Castle, and this required additional powers to be drafted into the Bill. Another Bill was also needed to transfer the Frogmore site to the Lord Steward. (fn. 24)
In August 1841, before either Bill had been presented to Parliament, Lord Melbourne's Whig administration resigned, and his First Commissioner of Woods, Lord Duncannon, ordered that the work which had already started on the new garden at Frogmore should stop. (fn. 4) Evidently he was anticipating a change in policy for he told the Queen that work had had to be suspended until a new administration took office. The succeeding Conservative Government under Peel did not, however, oppose the proposed improvements and in September Sir Thomas Fremantle introduced both Bills into the House of Commons. Each received the royal assent on 5 October. (fn. 25)
Fremantle then asked the Commissioners for a plan of their projected layout at Kensington, and for a report on the conditions proposed by them for letting the ground. The Commissioners' two surveyors, Thomas Chawner and (Sir) James Pennethorne, had been working on this report since October 1840, but did not complete it until November 1841 and it was not submitted to the Treasury until January 1842. (fn. 26)
The principal feature of their plan was the broad straight avenue, 70 feet wide, called The Queen's Road (now Kensington Palace Gardens), connecting Kensington High Street with the Uxbridge road. A subsidiary road across the site of the forcing ground was to join The Queen's Road to Church Street. As the Crown did not at this date own any property along Kensington High Street, the Commissioners would have to purchase two of the old houses there, including The Grapes public house, in order to make the necessary opening at the southern end of The Queen's Road. At the north end it was proposed to straighten the Uxbridge road frontage and set it back several feet. Two small roads, one to the east of the present No. 4 Kensington Palace Gardens, and the other slightly to the north of the present No. 15, gave access to the palace from the Uxbridge road and the east side of The Queen's Road respectively. (fn. 27)
All the ground not laid out for roads, except for the area now occupied by Nos. 1–3 Palace Green, was divided into building plots. Of the total number of thirty-three plots, sixteen were on the west side of The Queen's Road, ten on the east, four along the Uxbridge road (excluding the two corner plots) and three on the forcing ground. The plots in The Queen's Road were intended for detached houses and those along the Uxbridge road for semi-detached pairs. (fn. 27) 'There is no intention of making a continuous row of houses', Duncannon had earlier written to the Treasury, 'the Buildings will all be separate like Camden Hill with small plots of ground of near an acre to each'. (fn. 28) On the sites now occupied by Nos. 1–3 Palace Green there already stood three houses of late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century date. The northernmost of these (No. 3), which was usually occupied by the surveyor to the palace, survived until 1969. (fn. 29)
The Commissioners proposed to let the plots on ninety-nine-year leases from Lady Day 1842, and for each they had apportioned a minimum annual ground rent, which for those in The Queen's Road worked out at about 16s. per foot of frontage. If all thirty-three plots were let at the minimum rents proposed the estate would have yielded an annual revenue of over £2,300. On all the plots except the three on the forcing ground lessees would have to spend not less than £3,000 per plot on their houses, whose plans and specifications had first to be approved by the Commissioners. Lessees were not obliged to erect the type of house indicated on the plan and would be allowed to build a single house occupying more than one plot provided that the expenditure on that house and the rent payable for the site were not less than the minimum expected if each plot had been let separately. Houses in The Queen's Road were to be built sixty feet from the front of the plot. Leases would be granted when the carcase was completed and roofed over, and each house had to be finished ready for habitation within two years of the lessee taking possession of the ground. Lessees would also have to lay out an ornamental garden to each house, build boundary walls around the plots, and provide carriage entrances and iron gates. (fn. 28)
The work of clearing the site, laying out the roads, constructing the sewers, and building a lodge and gates at each end of The Queen's Road to keep the houses 'select and private', was to be undertaken by the Commissioners, but the lessees would reimburse the cost of this work, estimated at £14,185, by payment of a lump sum to be apportioned to each plot in relation to its size and position. The lessees would also have to pay the Commissioners a rate for the maintenance and upkeep of the road and another rate in lieu of land tax, which the Commissioners were to redeem. (fn. 28)
On 14 January 1842 the Treasury authorized the Commissioners to proceed with these arrangements for laying out and letting the ground. (fn. 30) They began with the construction of the sewers. Early in February six builders of 'known means and stability usually employed in the construction of sewers' were invited to submit tenders. The contract was awarded, at £4,825, to George Bird of the Edgware Road, one of two builders usually engaged by the Commissioners of Sewers in this district. Work began in April and was expected to take five months. The construction of the roadway, which was also undertaken by Bird, was begun in September 1843 but not completed until 1845. Bird's tender amounted to £1,633. (fn. 31)
The length of time taken to lay out the road was due mainly to the delay in removing some of the buildings which stood in the way. Chief among these had been the old brick barracks on Palace Green, built in 1689–90 to house the palace guard, which were not vacated until May 1845. At the southern end the two houses in Kensington High Street which did not belong to the Crown and which blocked the opening of The Queen's Road into the High Street were not demolished until late in 1845. (fn. 32)
Other old buildings on Palace Green were also demolished including two water towers built to supply the palace, and the little octagonal 'enginehouse' near the barracks. (fn. 33) One of the water towers was the castellated brick and stone structure, illustrated by Faulkner and others, which stood slightly to the north of the old surveyor's house (now the site of No. 3 Palace Green) and on the line of the proposed road across the forcing ground. This tower had probably been built in 1716–17, and according to an account published in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1815 was designed by Vanbrugh, who was Comptroller of Works at Kensington Palace at the probable time of building. (fn. 34) Stylistically it has affinities with Vanbrugh's own 'medieval' house at Greenwich, which was also built in about 1717. One modern authority, however, attributes the design to Henry Joynes, the clerk of works at Kensington after 1715 and an associate of Vanbrugh who owed his appointment to the latter's influence. (fn. 35) The other water tower stood on the site of No. 6 Palace Green. It was built before 1728, probably to replace the Vanbrughian tower, which is known to have been situated too low to provide a satisfactory supply. (fn. 36)
At first the Commissioners proposed to restrict letting to thirteen plots at the north end. These were considered 'the most eligible & likely to be taken by a superior class of tenants', and it was hoped that when these had been let the value of the remaining plots would be increased. Preference was to be given to persons applying to build houses for their own occupation. (fn. 28) This condition ruled out most of the applications already received, and in order to encourage others the Treasury allowed the Commissioners to advertise the plots in the daily press. (fn. 28) (fn. 5) These advertisements, which appeared in February 1842, invited tenders for plots to be sent to the Commissioners before 8 March. (fn. 37) But this method of letting was not, in the Commissioners' own words, 'attended with successes', for, as they later reported to the Treasury, 'in reply to the advertizements issued by us, for Tenders, we did not receive any offer which we felt ourselves at liberty to entertain'. (fn. 38)
The main reason why none of the plots were let at this time appears to have been that the minimum prices fixed by the Commissioners for rents and building expenditure were excessively high. One applicant, the architect William Herbert, described the Commissioners' valuation of the ground as being 'very much above what I consider it is likely to produce'. (fn. 37)
The first tender to be accepted by the Commissioners was submitted in July 1842 by Samuel West Strickland of Bayswater, a 'land holder'. Strickland applied for the three adjoining plots along the Uxbridge road, for which he offered rents which were somewhat below those of the Commissioners' apportionment. The Commissioners nevertheless decided to accept his offer, and on these three plots Strickland erected one detached and two pairs of semi-detached houses (Nos. 1–5 Kensington Palace Gardens), of which only two (Nos. 4 and 5) now survive. (fn. 39)
The Commissioners did not receive another acceptable offer until September 1843, when John Marriott Blashfield of Upper Stamford Street, Blackfriars, submitted a tender to lease no less than twenty plots (the area subsequently occupied by Nos. 6–14 and 16–26 Kensington Palace Gardens, and Palace Gardens Mews), for which he offered a rent rising to a maximum of £1,870 a year. He proposed to complete the whole undertaking within the first three years of the lease and he hoped that the Commissioners would not oblige him to build the houses exactly according to the 'sites & sizes' marked on the plan. (fn. 40)
Blashfield, who is described in the Commissioners' files as 'of the firm of Wyatt and Parker' and in the Post Office Directory as an 'artist', was probably better known as a manufacturer of inlaid and tessellated pavements. For more than ten years he had been experimenting in the production of tesserae and he had recently been successful in applying a method of compressing porcelain material to their manufacture. It was in order to exploit this discovery 'on an extensive scale' that he associated himself with Wyatt, Parker and Company, the important manufacturers of Roman cement, plaster and scagliola as well as of tessellated pavements. (fn. 41)
After the previous difficulties experienced in letting any of the plots it is not surprising that Chawner and Pennethorne should have recommended Blashfield's offer to the Commissioners, for, as they stated in their report, 'were the Board to determine to let the ground to various individuals, it is probable that all the twenty plots would not be disposed of under three years, and that the rents to be derived from them would not exceed the graduated scale proposed'. Moreover the maximum rent offered, which Chawner and Pennethorne described as 'fair and liberal on so large an undertaking', exceeded the minimum rental hoped for from the twenty plots by more than £200. On 25 September the Commissioners informed Blashfield of the terms upon which they would recommend to the Treasury that leases should be granted to him, and two days later Blashfield accepted these conditions. (fn. 40)
The preparation of the agreement between Blashfield and the Commissioners occupied the lawyers for several months and it was not signed until July 1844. Under its terms Blashfield contracted to erect twenty-one houses at a cost of not less than £63,000, and to complete them all ready for habitation within the first five years. (fn. 6) Six houses had to be covered in during the first one and a half years and thirteen more within the first three years. The designs for each house had to be submitted to and approved by the Commissioners. (fn. 42) In effect this meant that it was Chawner and Pennethorne—or, after Chawner's resignation in October 1843, Pennethorne alone—who decided whether any particular designs would be allowed, for the Commissioners always adopted their recommendations. Pennethorne, however, rarely allowed his own taste to intrude into his reports, which are mainly concerned with whether the design would meet the requirements expected of a house that was to cost not less than £3,000 to build.
The outside walls of the houses had to be faced either with cement coloured and jointed to imitate stone, or with best malms or other facing bricks dressed with stone or cement. Blashfield also had to lay out ornamental gardens to the houses, enclose the plots with iron railings on a dwarf wall and set up iron gates at the entrances. (fn. 42)
As soon as any house was completed in carcase and covered the Commissioners would grant a lease of the plot to Blashfield or his nominees for a term of ninety-nine years from 10 October 1843. The ground rents for each plot (totalling, of course, £1,870) were specified in a schedule attached to the agreement. The first year of the term was to be at a peppercorn rent. (fn. 42)
Blashfield had not, however, waited until July 1844 before starting to build. On 6 October 1843, only a few days after he had written to accept the Commissioners' terms, he submitted for their approval the plans, elevations and specifications of his first house, No. 8 Kensington Palace Gardens, now demolished. (fn. 40) This was designed by Owen Jones, whom Blashfield had recently employed to produce a pattern book of designs for mosaic and tessellated pavements. (fn. 43) (fn. 7) Jones's designs for No. 8 included a considerable amount of internal and external ornamentation in the 'Moresque' style, to which the Commissioners' architects did not object in principle, though they evidently disliked it. Blashfield himself even suggested stripping away the ornament which Jones intended for the windows; 'The design will then be strictly Italian', he wrote, 'and as I wish.' (fn. 40)
Besides designing this house Jones appears to have acted as Blashfield's architect in a more general capacity. (fn. 45) But Blashfield was evidently not committed to employing Jones to design all his intended houses, and of a total of six designs approved by the Commissioners for houses built or intended to be built by Blashfield, only two were by Jones.
In March 1844 Blashfield submitted for approval the plans of four more houses, two detached and two semi-detached, which were designed jointly by Thomas Henry Wyatt and David Brandon. The two detached houses were intended for the two large plots at the east and west corners of The Queen's Road and Bayswater Road (subsequently occupied by Nos. 6 and 7 and Nos. 25 and 26 Kensington Palace Gardens respectively), and the semi-detached pair for a site between the north-west corner plot and the western boundary of the estate. The Commissioners approved the designs, but in execution this plan was considerably modified. The plot intended as the site of the two semi-detached houses was divided in two: half of it was appropriated to the adjoining corner plot, where Blashfield built two detached houses (Nos. 25 and 26, both now demolished), and the other half was absorbed into a mews which Blashfield laid out along the western edge of the estate (now Palace Gardens Mews). (fn. 40)
This mews was a departure from the original plan, where the stables, arranged in semi-detached pairs, occupy the same plots as the individual houses. Chawner and Pennethorne recommended the change to the Commissioners, as they considered that the great size of Blashfield's houses made it essential for the stables to be as far removed from them as possible. Altogether Blashfield erected twelve stables in the mews, and each was leased to him for a term expiring in 1942. The annual ground rents ranged from £4 to £7 10s. (fn. 46)
In addition to the four house plans submitted in March 1844 Blashfield also presented a design by the same architects, Wyatt and Brandon, for a set of gates and a lodge at the north end of the road (Plate 92a). He proposed to erect these (and another set at the south end) at his own expense, provided that the Commissioners would allow him to sell the gravel he excavated while digging the foundations of the houses. The Commissioners agreed to this proposal and approved Wyatt and Brandon's designs. (fn. 40) The construction of the lodge and gates at the north end (fig. 32) was undertaken for Blashfield by the well-known building firm of Thomas Grissell and Samuel Morton Peto, whose contract (excluding the ironwork) amounted to £1,200. (fn. 47) The Illustrated London News praised the 'correct [Italianate] style' of the lodge. (fn. 48) Grissell and Peto also erected the decorative iron railings (fig. 32) designed by Wyatt and Brandon, with which Blashfield enclosed the plots leased to him. (fn. 47) Very little of this railing still survives; it is best preserved around No. 11. (fn. 8)
Only one other house was begun by Blashfield in 1844. This was No. 17, an Italianate villa designed by Henry E. Kendall, junior. (fn. 49)
Blashfield, however, had never intended to undertake the whole development by himself. As early as December 1843 he had published a prospectus in which he invited offers for his building plots, to be sent to his architect, Owen Jones. (fn. 45) Nothing acceptable was evidently received, for by June 1844 he was complaining to the Commissioners that 'There is scarcely a London Builder of any eminence to whom I have not offered plots of ground, at a rent in many instances as low as that which I shall have to pay; but from the uncertain state in which matters stand relative to the opening of the road and the very stringent covenants contained in my agreement none of them will have anything to do with it.' (fn. 47)
The first person to take a plot from Blashfield was Joseph Earle of Brixton, a timber merchant, who in July 1844 agreed to buy the north-east corner plot, where he erected a pair of semi-detached houses (now Nos. 6 and 7) from a design by Wyatt and Brandon. (fn. 50)
In 1845 another five plots (two on the east and three on the west side) were taken by Grissell and Peto, who built four houses (one of the plots being laid out as an extra garden) and stables for them in the adjoining mews. (fn. 51) The designs for these houses (now Nos. 12, 18, 19 and 20) were obtained from (Sir) Charles Barry, whose new Palace of Westminster Grissell and Peto were then building. Although a large number of drawings for the houses survive in the form of tracings made by Barry's pupils, the contemporary evidence for Barry's personal authorship is equivocal, and the wording of Pennethorne's report to the Commissioners, that the designs for Nos. 12 and 20 'emanate from Mr Barry', would seem to suggest that his office staff may have had a hand in them. (fn. 52) Moreover R. R. Banks, who was in charge of the office at this time, was actually named as the architect of No. 12 in a published account. (fn. 53) But this evidence must be judged in the light of Barry's almost invariable practice of taking the whole responsibility for the design of his commissions upon himself. (fn. 54) In March 1846, while work was in progress, but before any leases had been granted, Grissell and Peto's partnership was dissolved, Peto taking the railway contracts while Grissell retained the building contracts. (fn. 55) The leases were therefore granted to Grissell alone.
Only two other houses were begun in 1845: one was No. 24, designed by Owen Jones and built by Blashfield, and the other was No. 21, designed and built by Charles F. Oldfield of Bayswater. The Commissioners also approved plans and elevations submitted by Blashfield for a house designed by T. Hayter Lewis which was never built. (fn. 56)
Blashfield's houses were, on the whole, on a much larger scale than those shown on the original layout plan, and they cost considerably more to build than the £3,000 minimum required by the Commissioners, his first house alone having cost nearly five times that sum. (fn. 57) It was Blashfield's opinion that houses large enough to attract purchasers willing to pay the heavy ground rents would have had to be 'showily and slightly' built if they were to cost no more than £3,000. (fn. 58) But no purchasers could be found, (fn. 9) and in 1846 the mounting mania for railway shares was creating severe financial difficulties for him and many other London building speculators. In May of that year he wrote to the Commissioners claiming to have sustained 'a very serious loss . . . by the outlay I have made on the Queen's Road' and that in consequence he was obliged to suspend payment of the ground rent. Altogether he had spent over £60,500, but not one of his five houses had been sold (although one, No. 26, was occupied, probably on a short lease), and he had contracted a mortgage debt of £42,600 with interest repayments which could not be maintained solely out of the proceeds (less than £4,000) from the sale of plots. (fn. 40) (fn. 10)
Blashfield also complained about the Commissioners' long delay in finishing the road, which deterred prospective customers from buying houses there. (fn. 40) They found the old barracks particularly offensive, for, as he stated in November 1844, 'the back front faces the Queen's Road. On this back front are places of common convenience for the men—The pavement here is used as a place for the men to wash—These and other circumstances connected with the Barracks are remarked upon by all applicants for residences'. (fn. 47) He had also lost money on the building of the lodge and gates at the north end, for they had cost over £2,000 to erect, but the gravel which he had been allowed to excavate in exchange had realized only £1,000. (fn. 40)
In spite of these difficulties and the 'unprofitable character of the undertaking up to this period', Blashfield expressed the 'fullest confidence' in its ultimate success, and in consideration of the very large sums which he had invested in it he asked the Commissioners for an extension of the peppercorn term, without which he would be unable to continue, his credit being exhausted. (fn. 40) The Commissioners agreed to help and extended the peppercorn term from October 1844 generally to October 1845 and on the unlet plots to 1846. With this concession, equivalent to a remission of rent of £1,500, Blashfield was able to dipose of two more plots (the sites of Nos. 10 and 16), and he also found purchasers for two of his houses (Nos. 17 and 26). (fn. 59)
But these sales were apparently 'effected at a loss . . . compared with the cost of the works', and by April 1847, when the Bank of England reversed its indiscreet policy of cheap money, he was again in financial difficulty. On account of the 'depressed state of the funds' he was unable to raise any more mortgages, and in a desperate attempt to find the money needed to make a large repayment due in early May ('which if not paid will be my ruin'), he asked the Commissioners to buy some of the improved ground rents arising from his unsold houses. 'Nothing short of some such assistance', he wrote, 'can save me from Bankruptcy'. (fn. 58) Two days after his letter was written a docket in bankruptcy was issued against him, and on 14 May he was declared bankrupt. (fn. 60) In June his entire estate was assigned in trust to two of his principal creditors, Joseph Sutton of Southwark, an 'upright and respectable' sailmaker and ship's chandler, and William Naylor Morrison of Streatham, a brickmaker. Among the creditors who approved the choice of assignees were the architects David Brandon and T. H. Lewis, and the builder Thomas Grissell. (fn. 61)
There is insufficient evidence to calculate the extent of Blashfield's loss on his undertaking, but it must have been above £40,000. By April 1847 he had spent £67,300, and at the time of his bankruptcy he and his nominees (who themselves had spent another £69,000) were engaged on work expected to cost about £20,000. On the credit side Blashfield had sold two of his five houses and nine plots: the houses realized probably no more than about £20,000, and the average price of plots appears to have been in the region of £700. He had only been able to sustain these losses by drawing off the profits 'of upwards of £3,000 a year' from his cement-making business, which had also been jeopardized, and without the support of which, so he claimed, he would 'never have embarked on the works' in the first place. (fn. 58)
Although Blashfield was unable to continue his speculation at Kensington, his career as a cement manufacturer appears to have been little affected by his bankruptcy. In 1849 he was listed in the Post Office Directory as a cement manufacturer with an address in Commercial Road, Lambeth, and in the following year he had addresses in Praed Street, Paddington, and Millwall, Poplar, as well. (fn. 62) It was at about this time that he took up the manufacture of terracotta and in 1858 he moved to Stamford in Lincolnshire, where he soon established himself as the principal terra-cotta manufacturer in the country. (fn. 63)
The responsibility for completing the building at Kensington passed to the assignees of Blashfield's bankrupt estate, who inherited his agreement with the Commissioners, five vacant plots (the sites of Nos. 11, 13, 14, 22 and 23), three houses (Nos. 8, 24 and 25), of which one (No. 24) was unfinished, and some stables in Palace Gardens Mews. In August 1847, when the national financial crisis was nearing its peak, they put up the whole property for sale at a public auction, but no bids were received for the vacant plots, and, according to Pennethorne, the prices offered for the houses were much below their estimated value. In fact only one house, No. 24, appears to have been sold, and Nos. 8 and 25 subsequently passed into the hands of Blashfield's original mortgagees. Pennethorne saw little prospect of the assignees being able to dispose of any of the vacant plots while the money market remained generally depressed, and on his advice the Commissioners agreed to relax some of the conditions in the building agreement. Both the time allowed for building the houses and the peppercorn term were extended as required, and the assignees were relieved of the responsibility for erecting the lodge and gates at the south end. (fn. 55)
The Commissioners, under pressure from the Treasury to restrict their expenditure, delayed building the southern lodge and gates until 1849, when a modified version of a design by Wyatt and Brandon was used. (fn. 47) (fn. 11) The contractor was Robert Hicks of Stangate, whose tender, at £747, was only £1 below the final cost. (fn. 65) In 1903–4 the lodge was rebuilt and the gates (fig. 32) set back to allow for the widening of Kensington High Street. (fn. 66)
Even with the Commissioners' relaxation of the terms of the building agreement, the assignees were unable to dispose of any more of the vacant plots. The Commissioners' solicitors wanted to institute proceedings against them, but Pennethorne advised against this and two months later, in April 1849, the assignees offered to surrender their interest in the estate. This offer was accepted by both the Commissioners and the Treasury, and a deed of surrender was executed on 31 December 1849. (fn. 67)
The only plot not surrendered at this time was the site of the present No. 9. Blashfield had mortgaged this plot to Joseph Sutton in 1846 for nearly £2,000, and after the settlement of Blashfield's affairs Sutton had taken full possession and begun to excavate the gravel. By September 1849 Sutton wanted to surrender the plot, which the Commissioners were unwilling to allow. A long-drawn-out dispute ensued, which was finally resolved in 1851 by the Commissioners agreeing to accept a surrender. (fn. 58)
By this time the general economic situation had greatly improved, and in the more buoyant market of the early 1850's the Commissioners had little difficulty in disposing of the six surrendered plots. By May 1852 they had received acceptable tenders for all of them, mostly from applicants wishing to build houses for their own occupation. (fn. 68) The first was Edmund Antrobus of the Strand, a tea merchant, who built No. 14. He offered a slightly lower rent than Blashfield had paid (equivalent to 15s. a foot instead of 16s.), but Pennethorne advised the Commissioners to accept, 'considering the damp which has been thrown on the whole undertaking and the altered circumstances since Mr Blashfield took the ground'. (fn. 69)
All six plots were let for terms expiring in October 1942. The first year was at a peppercorn rent and the second year usually at half the maximum rent offered. In addition to the rent the lessees had also to pay 5s. a year in lieu of land tax. The lessees each undertook to spend not less than a specified sum, still usually £3,000, in building a first-class house which had to be covered in within one year. The date by which the house had to be completed ready for occupation was also laid down. Leases were granted when the carcase of the house was completed. In other respects the conditions on which the plots were let were identical to those in Blashfield's agreement. (fn. 70)
During the laying out of Kensington Palace Gardens Pennethorne prepared annual statements of expenditure for the Commissioners and in 1852 his report showed that at the end of March 1851 nearly £25,000 had been expended here and nearly £45,000 on the new kitchen garden at Frogmore. The cost of the new garden at Frogmore exceeded the estimated value of the plots already let for building at Kensington by nearly £3,800, and in order to make up the deficit the Commissioners decided to release more plots. They selected two, one on the east now occupied by No. 15 and its former stable block No. 15B, and one on the west side, now occupied by No. 15A. Both were let on the same terms as the plots surrendered by Blashfield's creditors. (fn. 71)
After the completion of Nos. 15 and 15A in 1854 and 1855 respectively no more plots were let for house-building during the nineteenth century. Some further building did, however, take place: No. 12A was erected in the garden of No. 12, and two of the old houses in the south-west corner of Palace Green (now Nos. 1 and 2) were rebuilt. The unlet plots on the west side of the road to the south of No. 15A were leased on a quarterly tenancy to the occupant of that house for use as a paddock, and the forcing ground was let to the War Department as the site for a new barracks (see page 192).
The planting of trees began in 1850. In response to a request from some of the residents, who had complained of the 'neglected' appearance of the road, the Commissioners planted 'occidental plane trees' on both sides between the southern end and the plots let for building. Unfortunately most of these trees were planted not on the foot-way but further in on grounds then let to a local butcher, for grazing cattle and sheep, and notwithstanding the measures taken to protect them, many of the trees were soon destroyed. In 1862 the Commissioners rejected a suggestion from a resident that trees should be planted along the edge of the footpaths, but when, in 1870, the residents repeated the request ('so as to give an appearance of a Boulevard to the Gardens') the Commissioners consented, provided that the undertaking was organized by the residents themselves, who were to bear both the initial and the maintenance costs. Altogether the residents planted fifty occidental plane trees in 1870, twenty-five on each side, between the southern end of the road and Nos. 15 and 15A. The trees at the north end, between Nos. 15 and 15A and Bayswater Road, were also planted by the residents, in about 1879. (fn. 72)
The final phase in the development of Kensington Palace Gardens took place between 1902 and 1913 when seven substantial houses (Nos. 4–10 Palace Green) were erected on the paddock opposite the palace and hitherto leased with No. 15A.
In spite of the disastrous start in the 1840's all the houses were eventually occupied, and by 1860 Kensington Palace Gardens could be said to have fulfilled the expectations of The Illustrated London News, which in 1846 had predicted that from 'its great breadth, imposing aspect, and the correct taste displayed throughout [this road] bids fair to become a most aristocratic neighbourhood'. (fn. 48) But in general it was an aristocracy of wealth rather than of birth that was attracted to the road, its social character being aptly summed up in the nickname 'Millionaires' Row'.
By building large and expensive houses Blashfield had virtually excluded anyone who was not very wealthy from living there, but few of the early inhabitants were particularly distinguished. Leigh Hunt wondered 'why anybody should live there, who can afford to live in houses so large', as in his opinion none of them had 'gardens so to speak of'. (fn. 73)
Thirteen householders were listed in the census of 1851 and of these five were merchants, two landed proprietors, two builders, one a bookseller and publisher, and one a Member of Parliament. By 1861 the three largest groups were merchants (five), fundholders (five) and landholders (four). The returns of the 1871 census continue to show the predominance of merchants and fundholders.
Prominent among the residents of the first thirty to forty years was the successful industrialist and businessman. Both Grissell, the builder, and Peto, his former partner turned railway contractor and civil engineer, lived there, and so did another civil engineer, James Meadows Rendel, the builder of docks and harbours. Rendel's house (No. 10) was subsequently occupied by Ernest Leopold Benzon, the steel manufacturer, and Peto's first house (No. 12) was bought by Alexander Collie, a cotton merchant, whose firm crashed resoundingly in 1875 with liabilities of £2,000,000. Peto's second house (No. 12A) was taken over after Peto himself had encountered financial difficulties by the builder and contractor Thomas Lucas. George Moore, the lace manufacturer, lived at No. 15, and Stuart Rendel, the armaments manufacturer, at No. 16.
The census returns of 1851, 1861 and 1871 give some indication of the social composition of the households during this period. In 1851 the average size of each household (including servants) was slightly over ten persons, and the average number of servants per household, six. The largest household, consisting of sixteen persons in all, was John Leech's at No. 18, which included eight servants, and the largest number of servants in any household was nine, at Thomas Grissell's (No. 19). By 1861 the average size of household had risen to slightly over twelve, and the average number of servants to slightly over seven. In that year Sir Morton Peto's household at No. 12 was both the largest in total (twenty-eight), and contained the largest number of servants (sixteen). By 1871 the average size of household had declined to slightly over eleven, while the average number of servants remained at slightly over seven. The largest household then was Lady Harrington's at No. 13, where twenty servants were employed to look after only two people (Lady Harrington and her daughter). (fn. 12) Three other households contained ten or more servants, Don José de Murrietta's (No. 11), Thomas Lucas's (No. 12A) and Isaac M. Marden's (No. 23).
Towards the end of the nineteenth century bankers and financiers were prominent among the residents. In November 1890 The Metropolitan commented that although the social composition of the road was less aristocratic than that of Mayfair or Belgravia, Kensington Palace Gardens was second to none in the attractiveness of its surroundings and 'hence it is facile princeps in the estimation of our merchant princes, bankers and other leaders of the world of finance'. (fn. 74) (fn. 13)
Today Kensington Palace Gardens is better known as a diplomatic enclave than as the haunt of millionaires. Of the countries now represented, Russia was the first to establish an embassy here. In 1930 the Soviet Government approached the solicitors of Lady Richardson, the widow of the lessee of No. 13, to acquire the property for the ambassador's residence. As the proposed use of the house 'solely and exclusively' for this purpose did not constitute a breach of convenant, the Commissioners would not intervene to prevent the sale, despite protests from other residents. 'To permit the transfer of a lease to the representatives of a defaulting country', wrote one of them, 'is a disregard of the interest of leaseholders in the vicinity.' The residents' committee foresaw that if the ambassador committed a breach of covenant his diplomatic immunity would protect him from proceedings. One resident complained directly to the Foreign Secretary: 'The Bolshevist Government say that they will have sixteen clerks there . . . this will infringe the convenants but the Crown Estate Office say they can do nothing about it and it is quite clear that these people are not going to observe the covenants. They say they are going to have entertainments five out of seven nights a week—a pleasant outlook for Rothschild who lives just opposite.' The Foreign Secretary declined to intervene and the Russians secured the lease of No. 13. (fn. 75) The Russian Government now (1972) occupies five houses in the road. Since the war of 1939–45 most of the houses have been taken over for use as embassies or diplomatic residences and in 1972 only three houses in Kensington Palace Gardens and three in Palace Green are privately occupied.
None of the surviving Victorian houses has been left unaltered, either internally or externally—a natural if perhaps unfortunate result of the great wealth of successive owners. In some houses the alterations have been so extensive that the original design is now hardly distinguishable. Most of these changes are recorded in great detail in the files of the Crown Estate Office, but in the following accounts only the more important have been noticed. (fn. 14)