The Ladbroke estate: The 1850s

Pages 220-235

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

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In this section

Development by Phillips in Clarendon Road area, 1848–62

It will be recalled that after the great surge of building in the Lansdowne Road area between 1842 and 1846 Roy (still acting on behalf of the creditors of Duncan's estate) became entitled to, and in June 1846 received, leases at peppercorn rents from J. W. Ladbroke of the remaining lands to the north of Lansdowne Rise. (fn. 4) He could now raise capital on this undeveloped land, and in April 1848 he disposed of some ten acres of it, in the north-western extremity of the estate (see fig. 45), to the first of the new developers, Stephen Phillips, merchant, of New Broad Street, City, who during the financial crisis of 1847 had lent large sums of money to Messrs. Roy, Blunt and Johnstone. (fn. 5)

Phillips was a large-scale speculator with extensive building interests in Islington and on the St. Stephen's estate at Westbourne Park, Paddington; he was also the owner of some sixty leasehold houses in Brompton, and probably had interests in the timber trade. (fn. 6) The development of Phillips's ten acres on the Ladbroke estate (of which he acquired the freehold from Felix Ladbroke in 1850) (fn. 7) was evidently only a subsidiary part of his activities, and it is worth noting that several of the builders to whom he granted leases were from Islington or Paddington, and had probably already worked with him there. The site was poor—as yet remote, but close to the Potteries and the adjacent brickfields—and he therefore proceeded cautiously, the houses here being of less pretension than on the adjoining parts of the Ladbroke estate. In 1849 William Reynolds, now apparently credit-worthy again, became the lessee of several paired houses on the west side of Clarendon Road, (fn. 8) but on the rest of Phillips's land further north almost all the other houses were built in unremarkable terraced rows. The layout plan of c. 1846 (Plate 55b) was adhered to in the formation of Cornwall Crescent, but Clarendon Road was curved north-westward to join with the adjacent estate of James Whitchurch. H. W. Smith, the surveyor who was acting on Phillips's behalf in 1852, may have been responsible for this diversion. (fn. 9)

The principal building lessees working here between 1852 and 1865 were J. V. Scantlebury, who built most of Camelford Road, and Charles Thompson, formerly of Paddington and Islington, who built much of the north side of Cornwall Crescent. Thomas Pocock, a solicitor who has been previously mentioned as active elsewhere on the Ladbroke estate, was the lessee for some thirty houses on the west side of Clarendon Road. Some or all of these houses may have been designed by William King of Canonbury Park, Islington, architect, who acted on Phillips's behalf in the building of sewers in the Talbot Grove area. (fn. 10)

By 1861 Phillips had created improved ground rents of £646, (fn. 11) and at his death in 1862 his personal estate was valued at around £35,000. (fn. 12) The development of the small remaining parts of his Ladbroke estate property was completed soon afterwards by his executors.

Land purchase and development by Blake and Dr. Walker, 1850–3

The straightforward uneventful progress made by such an experienced developer as Phillips was in marked contrast with the feverish activity surrounding the far larger and more risky speculations of Richard Roy and his two principal clients on the Ladbroke estate, C. H. Blake and Edmund Walker's son, the Reverend Dr. Samuel Walker. The ground landlord, Felix Ladbroke, also involved himself in these operations, and the activities of all four speculators were concerted by a fresh plan for the lands east of Ladbroke Grove which was drawn up by Thomas Allom. The principal building lessee was David Allan Ramsay, a nurseryman of Brompton, who in 1848 had been one of William Reynolds's assignees in bankruptcy (fn. 13) and who had himself subsequently turned builder.

The business relationships which existed between the various members of this group are somewhat obscure. Until about 1855 Roy acted as Blake's solicitor, and paid a small part of Allom's professional fees, (fn. 14) the rest of which were (so far as is known) paid by Blake; but there is no reason to think that Roy had any share in the profits and losses of Blake's speculation. Roy also acted as Dr. Walker's solicitor, and managed the day-to-day business of his client's estate, but here he may have participated in the profits and losses as well, for their speculation is referred to as a 'joint undertaking'. (fn. 15) On behalf of Duncan's creditors he and his firm were concerned for very many years in the administration of the area already developed by Reynolds, the firm itself, to which, it will be recalled, Duncan had owed £45,000, being the principal creditor. Roy was also involved, apparently on his own account, in speculation in Portland Road, Ladbroke Gardens and the northern half of Stanley Crescent. Felix Ladbroke had his own solicitor, Edward Western, and his own surveyor, Allason, and apart from his evident involvement with Allom in the preparation of the layout plan, acted independently of Blake, Roy and Dr. Walker. Ramsay was granted building leases by all four speculators, upon whom he depended for capital; he seems, indeed, to have occupied much the same position as that of Reynolds in earlier years, and eventually he met the same fate.

Blake was (as has already been stated) the largest and ultimately the most successful speculator in the development of Notting Hill and Notting Dale, his activities eventually extending from Lansdowne Road and Kensington Park Gardens on the Ladbroke estate in the south through the St. Quintin and Portobello estates as far as and even beyond the Great Western Railway in the north. He was born in Calcutta in 1794, the son of Benjamin Blake, a master mariner and sea captain who had been plying on the route to India since 1775. Shortly after C. H. Blake's birth his father left the sea, settled in Bengal, and became an indigo planter. At first C. H. Blake followed his father and an older brother into this business. In the 1820's, however, he left India for England, returning at about the time of his brother's death in 1830, under whose will he inherited over £5,000. Later he gave up indigo planting to become a rum and sugar manufacturer, an occupation which he continued to pursue until leaving India for good in either 1842 or 1843, and the profits from which, no doubt, provided the basis for his speculations in Notting Hill. (fn. 16) On arrival in England he acquired, in 1843, William Chadwick's interest in the Ladbroke lands to the west of Ladbroke Grove. (fn. 17) But when in 1850 he bought twenty acres of land there from Roy (then acting as trustee on behalf of Duncan's creditors), (fn. 18) he ceased to be merely an investor and at the age of fifty-five began his twenty-year career as an active speculator.

These lands consisted of all but five acres of the ground to the north of Lansdowne Rise and Crescent which were still in Roy's trusteeship after the sale of the north-western portion to Phillips in 1848. The price for the unencumbered leasehold interest was £22,580 (equivalent to £1,129 per acre), all of which was used to pay some of the existing creditors, including the London and Westminster Bank, a firm of auctioneers and Blake himself. (fn. 18) This price included the benefit of six building leases already granted by Roy, (fn. 14) but it evidently represented, nevertheless, a substantial increase in land values since 1846, when Roy had signed an abortive agreement to sell the same land, though without the benefit of six building leases, for £800 per acre. (fn. 19) In the same year, 1850, Blake also bought the freehold reversion from Felix Ladbroke for £4,200, (fn. 14) bringing his total outlay on these twenty acres up to £1,339 per acre. In 1851 he acquired both the leasehold and freehold of the remaining five acres. (fn. 20)

By September 1851 Blake had granted building leases of Nos. 49 and 51 Lansdowne Road (fig. 54), Nos. 68–78 (even) Clarendon Road, and Nos. 153–117 (odd) Elgin Crescent, most of these houses being occupied by 1854. Nos. 145–117 were taken by David Allan Ramsay. (fn. 21)

In 1851, however, the strategy of land speculation acquired a new form in response to an unexpected turn of events elsewhere on the estate. Martin Stuteley, to whom James Weller Ladbroke had agreed in 1846 to lease twelve acres, now the site of Ladbroke Square and the south side of Kensington Park Gardens, and William Sloane, to whom he had agreed to lease nine acres, now the site of Stanley Crescent and Gardens and the north side of Kensington Park Gardens, had both failed to fulfil the terms of their agreements, Sloane having died in 1848. By 1852 Felix Ladbroke had recovered possession of all these lands, (fn. 22) which from their situation at or near the summit of the hill were among the most valuable on the whole estate, and resolved to develop part of them himself.

Figure 54:

Nos. 49 and 51 Lansdowne Road, plans, elevation and details.

It was at this moment that Dr. Walker appeared, hungry for land and able and willing to pay handsomely for it. It has already been mentioned that in 1842 his father, Edmund Walker, a Master in the Court of Chancery, had acquired an interest in Duncan's lands. In marked contrast with his son, Edmund Walker was evidently an extremely wily investor, and by 1845 he had sold his interest in the Ladbroke estate, (fn. 23) and thereafter confined his speculations to mortgages in Paddington and Camberwell, acting through the family firm of solicitors, Rickards and Walker of Lincoln's Inn. (fn. 24) After his death in 1851 his son, Dr. Samuel Walker, had inherited his 'very large fortune, said to be a quarter of a million'. Since 1841 Dr. Walker had been rector of St. Columb Major in Cornwall, the richest living in the county, worth £1,600 per annum. There he had rebuilt the rectory at considerable personal cost, hoping that it would become the palace of the bishopric of Cornwall which it was his dearest wish to see established. He had even offered his living as an endowment for this great object, but years elapsed without his proposal being definitely accepted, and it was apparently in order to improve the value of his offer that he began to speculate in building, at first successfully at Gravesend, and then on a very large scale at Notting Hill. Here he had thought that his operations would, when completed, earn him £60,000 per annum, but being 'of a most amicable disposition, regardless of all selfish interests, sincere in the views he took, and truly religious in heart and life', he proved ill-equipped for the hurly-burly of suburban speculations. Within four years of his father's death he had lost very large sums of money; his living in Cornwall was sequestered, and after 1863 he lived abroad for several years until shortly before his death in 1869. (fn. 25)

Very soon after Edmund Walker's death in July 1851 consultations must have taken place between Felix Ladbroke, Roy, Blake and Dr. Walker about the future development of the remaining parts of the estate. In 1847 Ladbroke had borrowed £25,000 from the Sun Fire Office, (fn. 26) and in 1849 his surveyor, Allason, had designed two ranges of houses to be built in the future Kensington Park Gardens (Plate 56). Shortly afterwards Ladbroke had made agreements for the building of Nos. 1–9 (consec.) there with W. J. Drew, (fn. 27) to whom he lent £3,000. (fn. 28) Allason had previously been associated with Drew in the building of houses in Ladbroke and Clarendon Roads, and his designs for Kensington Park Gardens would almost certainly have been implemented (though in altered form) had he not died in April 1852. Shortly afterwards Ladbroke completed his arrangements for the repossession of the land to the north of Kensington Park Gardens, (fn. 29) and this required the revision of Allason's scheme. Thomas Allom, who had acted as Blake's architect since 1850 in the making of 'surveys and plans' for the lands to the west of Ladbroke Grove, (fn. 14) now took Allason's place, and by June 1852 he had, with Ladbroke's concurrence, and probably with that of Roy and Dr. Walker as well, prepared the executed layout plan for Stanley Gardens, Stanley Crescent and the north side of Kensington Park Gardens. (fn. 29)

By this time the pattern of land ownership in the area was already being transformed by the arrival of Dr. Walker. In March 1852 he had bought Blake's twenty-five acres of freehold land to the north of Lansdowne Rise. (fn. 30) Roy acted as Dr. Walker's solicitor in this purchase, the price being £32,000, (fn. 31) equivalent to £1,333 per acre virtually the same rate as Blake had previously paid in 1850. For this sum Dr. Walker also acquired the benefit of the building leases successively granted there by both Roy (before the sale of 1850 to Blake) and by Blake, and of the roads and sewers which they had built. After having himself paid such a high price, Blake was no doubt relieved to get rid of this expensive investment without loss. Elsewhere in the vicinity Dr. Walker was making other purchases, and between 1852 and 1855 he acquired in all some fifty-six acres of freehold ground in Kensington Park and Notting Dale, besides contracting to buy another thirty-four acres, all in Kensington, and adjacent lands of unknown extent in Paddington (see fig. 55). For his land on the neighbouring Portobello estate, much of which was then still remotely situated, he agreed to pay £1,000 per acre, (fn. 32) compared with £828 per acre which Blake was to pay for the same land in 1862, when the impending construction of the Hammersmith and City Railway was no doubt already enhancing land values there. (fn. 14) By 1855 Dr. Walker's total contractual liabilities for the purchase of land in Kensington must have amounted to well over £90,000.

In June 1852 Blake bought the unencumbered freehold of part of the land of which Felix Ladbroke had recently repossessed himself. This comprised the sites now occupied by Stanley Crescent, Stanley Gardens and the south side of Ladbroke Gardens, some three and a half acres in all, for which he paid only £1,575, or £450 per acre. (fn. 33) This extremely low price can, perhaps, be explained by supposing that Ladbroke wished to ensure the development of this site in accordance with the plans prepared by Allom. In the following year, 1853, Blake also bought the freehold of the sites of the future No. 24 Kensington Park Gardens and 36–40 (even) Ladbroke Grove, for which he paid £600. (fn. 1) All of the rest of the ground on the north and south sides of Kensington Park Gardens, formerly held under leasehold agreements by Sloane and Stuteley respectively, was retained by Felix Ladbroke for development on his own account.

Figure 55:

Lands in Kensington which Dr. Walker bought or contracted to buy in 1852–5. Based on the Ordnance Survey of 1863–7

In all these dealings Roy acted as solicitor for Blake, and as he had also acted for Walker in the purchase of Blake's twenty-five acres it is hard to resist the conclusion that it was he who had arranged them all. This conjecture is strengthened by the fact that in August 1852 Roy himself bought part of Blake's new estate, the land later to become the northern half of Stanley Crescent and the south side of Ladbroke Gardens, and in October he bought the whole of the north side of Ladbroke Gardens and the south side of Arundel Gardens from Dr. Walker. (fn. 34) Whatever the relationship between Roy and Blake may have been, the outcome was that they had each acquired a small compact estate on the top of the hill at a very low price, while the unworldly Dr. Walker had burdened himself with a vast sprawling holding on the still remote slopes and dales to the north, and at an enormous cost.

These transactions coincided with and were no doubt prompted by a rapid upsurge in the total volume of building in northern Kensington, the number of houses commenced there having risen from 170 in the crisis year of 1847 to 350 in 1851. (fn. 35) As soon as they were able to do so Ladbroke, Roy, Blake and Dr. Walker all started to take advantage of this boom by granting building leases. Roy had started on his leasehold land on the western extremity of the Ladbroke estate, where between 1851 and 1853 he granted over eighty building leases in Portland Road and Heath field Street to David Allan Ramsay. We have already seen that Ramsay was also at this time Blake's principal building lessee for houses in Elgin Crescent, but he was quite willing to oblige Dr. Walker as well, and of the 120 building leases which Dr. Walker granted in November and December 1852 on his lands to the west of Ladbroke Grove, Ramsay or his relative Henry Malcolm Ramsay took 37, most of them on the north-west side of Elgin Crescent (Nos. 58–120 even). (fn. 36)

But it was on the best land at the summit of the hill that Ramsay undertook his largest commitments. Here Blake had decided to develop his freehold estate by direct contract instead of by the normal building lease procedure, and in 1853 he signed a contract with Ramsay for the building of forty houses (Nos. 1–11 consec. Stanley Crescent and 1–29 consec. Stanley Gardens) for some £64,000. Nos. 12 and 13 Stanley Crescent were subsequently included in this contract, at an extra cost of £4,000. (fn. 14) Close by on the north side of Kensington Park Gardens, where Ladbroke was the freeholder in possession, Blake took building leases of all twenty-three plots (Nos. 25–47 consec.), and in 1852–3 sub-leased eighteen of them to Ramsay, or to Ramsay's business associates (Nos. 26–31, 36–47). (fn. 37) In 1853 Blake also granted building leases to Ramsay for the adjacent Nos. 36–40 (even) Ladbroke Grove. (fn. 38) Finally in 1853 Ladbroke himself granted Ramsay the remainder of his lands on the south side of Kensington Park Gardens for the erection of thirteen houses, Nos. 10–22 consec. (see fig. 45). (fn. 39)

Designs by Thomas Allom, 1850–5

Almost all of the houses which now began to go up in this vicinity were designed by Thomas Allom. Besides having trained as an architect and been a founder member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he was also famous as an artist, and in 1853 he exhibited at the Royal Academy a picture entitled 'Stanley Crescent, (fn. 2) Kensington Park Terrace etc. now building at Kensington Park Notting Hill for Charles Henry Blake esq from the designs and under the supervision of T. Allom'. (fn. 40) This may probably be identified with the very fine lithograph reproduced on Plate 64a. Allom's principal client was certainly Blake, but the incomplete surviving accounts show that he also made 'plans and surveys' for Roy, (fn. 14) and Dr. Walker may have been involved as well, for Allom's design for the long range on the north side of Ladbroke Gardens had certainly been settled in October 1852, when Walker sold this land to Roy. (fn. 41) Ladbroke, however, is not known to have employed Allom, but a building agreement of 1852 between Ladbroke and Ramsay for Nos. 10–22 (consec.) on the south side of Kensington Park Gardens makes it perfectly clear that Ramsay was required to build in accordance with Allom's designs. (fn. 39)

All of Allom's houses still survive (see Frontispiece, Plates 64 5 6, figs. 56–60 and elevational drawing between pages 234–5). They are Nos. 24–47 (consec.) on the north side of Kensington Park Gardens, No. 24 at the north corner of Ladbroke Grove being Blake's own house (Frontispiece), where he lived from 1854 until 1859; Nos. 10–22 (consec.) on the south side of Kensington Park Gardens; Nos. 1–13 (consec.) Stanley Crescent and 1–29 (consec.) Stanley Gardens, being the forty-two houses built under Blake's contract with Ramsay, for which Allom provided 'surveys, valuations, plans, elevations, sections, specifications'; Nos. 36–40 (even) Ladbroke Grove, and Nos. 1–23 (consec.) Ladbroke Gardens. In 1855 Allom also supplied Blake with drawings for Nos. 14–21 (consec.) Stanley Crescent (Roy having sold this and the land on the south side of Ladbroke Gardens back to Blake), (fn. 14) but the houses eventually built here were not by Allom. On the east side of Kensington Park Road he was the architect for St. Peter's Church (Plate 13), built in 1855–7, Blake having acquired the site of the church and of other adjacent land from Thomas Pocock in 1855. (fn. 42)

Figure 56:

Kensington Park Gardens, gateway into Ladbroke Square

In addition to designing the houses, Allom was also responsible for the new layout plan for the area between Kensington Park Gardens and Ladbroke Gardens. The idea of a broad straight street (Kensington Park Gardens) leading eastward from St. John's Church to Kensington Park Road was taken from Allason's plan of 1849 (Plate 56), and the idea of communal gardens was, of course, borrowed from earlier precedents to the west of Ladbroke Grove. By the formation of Stanley Crescent and Stanley Gardens he provided three more such enclosures, and all but two of his 105 houses abutted either directly or via a small private garden on to either one of his three new enclosures or on to Ladbroke Square or the enclosure between Ladbroke and Arundel Gardens.

Figure 57:

No. 20 Kensington Park Gardens, details

Figure 58:

Nos. 20 and 24 Kensington Park Gardens, details

But while the layout owned much to the example of earlier developments, the architectural forms on this part of the Ladbroke estate changed completely from those previously employed elsewhere. The last threads of the old Georgian traditions, which had been apparent in the terraces of Ladbroke Square, Kensington Park Road and some of the paired villas built by Reynolds and Drew, were now abandoned in favour of a grand display in the latest taste. Allom's early reputation was made as a landscape painter and his compositions appear to have been designed with scenic effect uppermost in his mind. The design of houses, streets, gardens and tree-planting is seen with a painter's eye, so that each turn and every vista is composed in a picturesque manner. Blake's own house (Frontispiece) forms a suitably impressive approach to the splendours of Kensington Park Gardens, and frequent glimpses of grass and trees relieve the stucco façades, which are designed in a freely treated Italianate manner with occasional introductions from Empire and other sources.

It says much for Allom's brilliant scenic display that his strange sort of grandeur is still evident in spite of all the damage that the twentieth century has done. He adopted a more flexible, more romantic approach than the architects of South Kensington or Bayswater. His skill was to make use of the terrace ends, the junctions and the curves in the streets, to introduce special emphasis with great bowed projections, turrets, columnar screens and houses of curious plan forms. His predilection for paired houses placed side by side on the terrace ends, thrusting out bows on all sides, is apparent over and over again.

In the details of the designs, too, the contrast between this work of the 1850's and the traditions surviving in the earlier decades of the century is equally marked. Where the late Georgian buildings had been characterized by restraint, elegance and structural economy, Allom's houses typify the new ideals of grandeur and display. The detail becomes less refined although it is disposed with professional assurance to gain the maximum effect. Not only is the ornament profuse but the use of materials—stucco, timber, iron and stone—is lavish. Where earlier builders had reduced the sections of timber members and mouldings to produce the slenderest and most refined effects, these houses, characteristic of the middle years of the century, employ materials in a manner which reflects the growing material prosperity of the nation as well as a growing tendency towards ostentation. Their construction makes widespread use of stone in hallways, landings and stairs—always to the first floors and sometimes higher. Structural timbers in floors and framed partitions are substantial, there is a free use of cast iron and plaster enrichment internally, and the extensive stucco ornamentation to garden fronts as well as the principal façades must have added considerably to constructional costs as well as subsequent maintenance. Houses in Stanley Gardens at least appear to have been provided with slate damp-proof courses.

Many of the houses display more than usually ambitious interiors for this class of building. For example Nos. 1 and 2 Stanley Crescent and 12 Stanley Gardens all have lavish entrance halls and open-well staircases, whilst No. 24 Kensington Park Gardens has a rich interior in the French taste (Plate 66b). Both inside and out the scale is as large and the enrichment as profuse as the social status of the development could support.

Along the northern side of the great sevenacre garden of Ladbroke Square, which formed the south side of Kensington Park Gardens, were ranged very large houses with frontages in excess of thirty feet (Plates 64c, 66a). They are of four main storeys above a basement, completely stuccoed back and front with great segmental bows to the south, facing the garden. In the principal range (Nos. 10–22 consec.) we find in the façades that all-over richness which the Victorians admired so much. The design is really a study in terrace articulation of the same kind as that to be found in St. James's Gardens on the Norland estate, but far more complicated and now, thanks to later additions and mutilations, extremely difficult to analyse. On careful inspection, however, it resolves itself into the formula:

AB1A — AA — AB2A — AA — AB1A

The B type house in the centre of each block has a colonnade with paired columns and pilaster responds in the ground storey. The order is Tuscan in the wings and Corinthian in the middle.

Figure 59:

No. 24 Kensington Park Gardens, details

Figure 60:

Kensington Park Gardens and No. 2 Stanley Crescent, details

The other houses on the south side of Kensington Park Gardens (Nos. 1–9 consec.), are by contrast entirely different, and are not Allom's work. They consist of three four-storey groups, each of three houses, and were all built under building agreements of 1849–50 between Felix Ladbroke and W. J. Drew, (fn. 43) whose work elsewhere on the estate has already been discussed. Nos. 1–3 (Plate 62f), which have segmental bowed fronts and a double order of stucco pilasterstrips each rising through two storeys, are amplifications of the smaller design previously executed by Drew, probably in conjunction with Thomas Allason, at Nos. 12 and 14 Clarendon Road. Nos. 4 and 6–9 are more Italianate in manner, but the pilasters favoured by Drew and/or Allason are again used. No. 5 has been completely rebuilt in obtrusive brick and terra-cotta.

On the north side of Kensington Park Gardens (Plate 64b and elevational drawing between pages 234–5) Allom placed two palace facades flanking an arched entry to the communal garden. This entry was set on an axis with the northern gate to Ladbroke Square so that the two gardens were closely related.

The backs of all of Allom's houses facing the gardens were treated with as much care as the fronts. In some cases they were even more ambitious—on the south side of Stanley Gardens, for Instance, where the most lavish display is retained for the southern elevations facing the gardens (Plate 66c, d). These facades are enlivened by segmental bow windows of two and three storeys. The stucco of the ground floor is banded and grooved to resemble ashlar work, and a continuous balcony is carried on ornate consoles at first-floor level. The bows and architraves of the windows on the first floor are ornamented with a freely adapted version of the Corinthian order, and the bows are surmounted by stucco balustrades. Where the bay is three storeys high, however, the central window at first-floor level is crowned by a segmented pediment carried on consoles, whilst the Ionic order is introduced on the second floor of the bow only, the window opening normally having plain architraves and cornices.

Allom's connexion with Blake seems to have ended in 1855. (fn. 14) An obituary notice published after his death in 1872 refers vaguely to his 'covering the Kensington Park Estate with mansions, for the late Mr. C. H. Blake, at a cost of nearly £200,000'. (fn. 46) In his later speculations, which were all in areas of less ambition, both socially and architecturally, Blake contented himself with the professional services of an undistinguished local man, J. C. Hukins of Westbourne Grove, architect and surveyor. (fn. 14)

Building boom and collapse in the early 1850's

In 1852 the number of new houses commenced in northern Kensington reached a peak figure of 700 (fn. 35) though many of them were not completed until some years later. This great spurt of building involved a large amount of capital, most of which was supplied to the builders by the developers. In Kensington Park Gardens Felix Ladbroke, despite the heavy mortgages which he had himself already made, (fn. 47) raised money to enable him to lend £12,000 to D. A. Ramsay for his building on the south side, (fn. 48) while on the north side Blake also lent large sums to Ramsay, besides paying for the contract building in Stanley Crescent and Gardens, all apparently out of his own resources, for there is no evidence yet of Blake's having had to borrow. (fn. 49)

But by far the largest single source of capital was the unfortunate Dr. Walker. In 1853–4 he advanced over £66,000 to builders on the security of building leases which he had himself granted, (fn. 50) Ramsay being the largest borrower. He also lent money to builders working on Roy's land, notably in Portland Road and Arundel Gardens, (fn. 51) and in the case of Ramsay he made additional loans on the security of building leases in Kensington Park Gardens which were already mortgaged to Ladbroke. (fn. 52) He seems to have had difficulty in converting his own great inherited wealth into ready cash, and in the spring of 1853 he had to assign a number of his own mortgage loans, some to a group of City men, and others to a group in Edinburgh, including one banker. (fn. 53) In September Blake, who needed money to pay for the Stanley Crescent building contract with Ramsay, began to press him for payment for the lands to the west of Ladbroke Grove which he had bought from Blake in 1852, a large part of the full price of £32,000 being still outstanding. (fn. 14) And in December Dr. Walker in turn began to press Ramsay, who was at that time clamouring for more money to enable him to pay for the timber needed to complete the large number of houses in course of erection on Roy's land in Portland Road. Dr. Walker was now so deeply involved that he had no option but to plunge still further in, and he lent Ramsay another £5,500, secured chiefly by Ramsay's building leases on the north side of Kensington Park Gardens, which had already, of course, been mortgaged to Blake. (fn. 14)

In February 1854 the whole of Dr. Walker's short-lived, precarious empire collapsed when Ramsay was declared bankrupt. (fn. 14) (fn. 3) Between 1852 and 1856 there was a steep decline in the total volume of house building throughout West London, and in northern Kensington the number of new houses commenced fell from 700 in 1852 to 225 in 1854. (fn. 35) Excessive building had far outstripped demand, which in this area continued to be relatively limited until the building of the Hammersmith and City Railway in the mid 1860's.

This collapse gave large parts of Notting Hill a notoriety from which they did not recover for some ten years. The whole of Dr. Walker's property, extending from All Saints' Church on the Portobello estate in the east, to Clarendon Road in the west, was affected. At All Saints' Church, the citadel of the whole disastrous enterprise, building was suspended from about 1855 to 1859, and even in 1861 The Building News could still record that throughout the whole area 'The melancholy vestiges of the wreck . . . are not yet wholly cleared away. The naked carcases, crumbling decorations, fractured walls, and slimy cement-work, upon which the summer's heat and winter's rain have left their damaging mark, may still be seen on the estate. Courageous builders have occasionally touched them and lost heart and money by the venture . . . With misfortune came insult, and the opprobrious epithet of "Coffinrow" was fixed upon the dead street, where the windows had that ghastly form [Ladbroke Gardens]. The "Stumps" was a term given to another range of what was intended to be gentlemen's residences. The whole estate was as a graveyard of buried hopes.' (fn. 55)

On the north side of Kensington Park Gardens, where Ramsay had been heavily involved, the original leases granted by Ladbroke in 1852 were surrendered, and in the autumn of 1854 new ones were granted to Blake and Dr. Walker as creditors. (fn. 56) Blake also acquired the freehold of five houses here, (fn. 57) and all his houses were probably completed by contract. Four of Dr. Walker's were evidently finished by J. D. Cowland, a local builder to whom a sub-lease was granted in 1856. (fn. 58) The whole street appears to have been completed by about 1858. (fn. 59)

In the complicated process of sorting out Ramsay's disordered affairs, which extended over several years, Dr. Walker appears to have been the principal loser, for by 1856 Ramsay himself had changed his role once more and set up as an auctioneer in the City. (fn. 60) In February 1855 Dr. Walker was still buying land (to the east of Ladbroke Grove, between Elgin Crescent and Westbourne Park Road), but he was unable to pay in cash for it, (fn. 61) and he already owed large sums to the London and Westminster Bank for which Blake was (through transactions in bills of exchange) also responsible. He still owned Blake £12,000 for the lands to the west of Ladbroke Grove, which in January 1855 he was obliged to mortgage to Blake subject to repayment within six months, (fn. 14) and another £25,000 was due for payment in September on a mortgage of his lands on the Portobello estate. (fn. 62) In March 1855, when his total mortgage debts (including the items already mentioned) amounted to some £90,000, he handed over the management of all his estate in Kensington to three trustees, H. M. Kemshead, a West India merchant, E. Robins, an auctioneer, and the solicitor who had acted for him in all his dealings, Richard Roy. (fn. 63) It was only four years since he had inherited his great fortune.

Blake's financial arrangements, 1854–60

If Dr. Walker was the principal loser in the confusions of the mid 1850's, Blake was in the long run the principal beneficiary. But first he had to overcome the immediate problems caused by Ramsay's bankruptcy, and then to weather the threat of total disaster in 1858–60. Under the terms of the contract for building Nos. 1–11 Stanley Crescent and 1–29 Stanley Gardens, he had paid Ramsay rather more than half the total price of £64,000 and was left with forty unfinished houses on his hands. He at once invited builders to tender for completing the work, and the eleven houses on the north side of Stanley Gardens were finished by Messrs. Locke and Nesham. Thomas Allom, the architect, offered to undertake the rest of the work himself, but ultimately Blake allowed himself to be persuaded to employ his own clerk of works, Philip Rainey, on all the other twenty-nine houses, plus Nos. 12 and 13 Stanley Crescent and Nos. 36, 38 and 40 Ladbroke Grove. The result was not a success. It was evidently through Blake's decision to employ Rainey as a contractor that his connexion with Allom came to an end in the autumn of 1855. Rainey submitted extortionate bills to Blake, and when all the work was finally completed in 1858 the total cost amounted to some £11,000 more than the original contract with Ramsay. (fn. 14)

These operations were financed by substantial mortgages made from November 1854 onwards by Blake through various firms of solicitors, including the firm employed by J. W. Ladbroke until his death in 1847 to manage the whole Ladbroke estate. (fn. 64) With ready money available Blake was therefore able to profit from the complex situation arising from the general slump in building in 1853–4. In January 1855 he extended his operations to the east side of Kensington Park Road, where he bought from the solicitor, Thomas Pocock, all of the freehold land between Westbourne Grove and the backs of the houses on the north side of Chepstow Villas. (fn. 65) This acquisition enabled him to present the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (and the inhabitants of his estate) with a site for a church, St. Peter's, designed (as we have already seen) by Thomas Allom, (fn. 66) and well placed to close the vista along Stanley Gardens (Plate 64d). The houses to the south of the church, Nos. 76–90 (even) Kensington Park Road, were built in 1859–61 by Philip Rainey to the designs of Edward Habershon, architect. (fn. 67) The land to the north of the church was sold by Blake in 1861 to Joseph Offord, gentleman. (fn. 68)

By 1856, however, Blake's liabilities were mounting rapidly. (fn. 69) Although fourteen of the twenty-three houses on the north side of Kensington Park Gardens were now occupied, only one in the whole of Stanley Crescent and Stanley Gardens was yet inhabited, (fn. 59) and money was needed to pay Rainey's bills. The debt of £12,000 due from Dr. Walker for the lands to the west of Ladbroke Grove could no longer be left unpaid, and after allowing him a whole year's grace, Blake foreclosed and in July 1856 some ten of the twentyfive acres which Dr. Walker had bought from Blake in 1852 were put up for sale by auction. But no bidder appeared, and so three months later Blake bought them back himself, for about £795 per acre. (fn. 14)

Kensington Park Gardens, plans and elevations

This was no doubt a good bargain if he could afford to wait for the next building boom for a return on his money, but the purpose of the foreclosure had been to obtain ready money, not to extend the scope of his speculations. Through his new solicitors, Messrs. H. and G. Lake and Kendall of Lincoln's Inn, to whom he had recently transferred all his legal business, he was able in June 1856 to add another £6,000 to his mortgage commitments, (fn. 14) but by April 1858 he was falling in arrears over payments of interest, some of them now at six per cent. In 1857–8 he sold two newly completed houses in Stanley Gardens, (fn. 70) but he was also negotiating more loans through Lake and Kendall, (fn. 71) and his affairs were in a very precarious state, with his mortgagees pressing for payment, when the great crisis of his career beset him.

Since its incorporation in 1853 Blake had been a director of the Portsmouth Railway Company, of which Richard Roy was the solicitor. After investing heavily in this company Blake had had a dispute with one of his co-directors, Francis Mowatt, about the purchase of shares, and in 1854 he had filed a bill of complaint in Chancery. Blake also considered that Roy had deceived him in these transactions, and this was evidently the cause for his removal of his legal business from Roy to Lake and Kendall. The railway did not prove successful, and nor did Blake's lawsuit, for the verdict of the court, given in July 1858, was that Blake must pay Mowatt £20,520, plus interest and costs, by 3 November. (fn. 72) After an unsuccessful appeal to a higher court Blake failed to raise the money, and on 1 November Mowatt grudgingly granted him another six months in which to pay. (fn. 14)

According to his own calculations, Blake's total assets, including the house in St. Marylebone where he had formerly lived, his furniture and plate and his railway shares, now amounted to £172,000, and his mortgages to £100,000. His attempts to raise more money through a stockbroker and then through the London Assurance Corporation were, however, rejected, and he was therefore compelled to grant an option to sell all his property at Notting Hill to a firm of land surveyors and auctioneers, Messrs. Farebrother, Clark and Lye of Lancaster Place, Strand. According to their surveys, the cost price of his property there amounted to £116,000, and their own valuation of it to £99,090, which they estimated would eventually yield an annual rental of £5,525. They nevertheless agreed to lend him £25,000 at five per cent interest, subject to his selling enough of his property to procure repayment by the end of May 1859. Blake was to execute a mortgage to Clark and Lye of his entire estate, including his railway shares, subject to the existing encumbrances, and if the auction sale did not yield enough to provide for repayment, and if Blake did not within one month thereafter repay all the money due, Clark and Lye were to be at liberty to sell everything without the safeguard of reserve prices. (fn. 14)

The debt to Mowatt was quickly paid off with the loan from Clark and Lye, but when the fortysix freehold and five leasehold houses and the building land were offered for sale in individual lots in May 1859, only two lots were bought, Nos. 6 and 7 Stanley Crescent, for prices slightly lower even than Clark and Lye's own valuation. Unexpectedly, the fall in the value of Blake's estate saved him. It was no use for the creditors to press their claims at a time when demand was low. Fifteen of the houses were still unoccupied, and four (Nos. 12–15 Stanley Gardens) were still unfinished; it was clearly more advantageous to wait for better times. During the next few months several more houses were sold privately, and after the railway shares had been sold £13,000 of the debt to Clark and Lye were repaid. To reduce his own personal expenditure Blake removed from his fine house at No. 24 Kensington Park Gardens to the much less eligible No. 21 Stanley Gardens. In September the largest single creditor, Simmonds, to whom Blake owed £23,500, gave notice requiring repayment, but he does not seem to have pressed his claim, and early in 1860 Blake secured another loan of £18,000 at five per cent, by means of which Clark and Lye were paid off and the other creditors for the time being pacified. After being 'in the red' for the previous two years Blake's balance sheet now showed a small surplus, though the £645 excess of income over outgoings only amounted to a yield of about one-half per cent on his total investment. (fn. 14)

Blake's new backers were William Honywood of Berkshire, esquire, William Harrison of St. Helen's Place, City, merchant, and Henry Cobb of Lincoln's Inn Fields, land agent and surveyor, who in addition to their loan of £18,000 also immediately accepted a transfer of Simmonds's mortgage. (fn. 73) Like Clark and Lye, they took a mortgage of all Blake's property, and they remained his principal source of capital for the rest of his career, a condition of the arrangement being that a member of the firm of Lake and Kendall, Blake's solicitors, should act as receiver of the rents and profits of the estate. (fn. 14)

The census of 1861 shows what kind of people lived in Blake's new houses. All of the forty-six houses listed in the census return for Kensington Park Gardens were by then occupied, although the stone-sawyer who lived at No. 1 with his wife and two daughters was probably only a caretaker put in to look after the place until a tenant could be found. The total number of residents was 408, of whom 152 were servants. The average number of inhabitants per house (excluding No. 1) was thus slightly under 9, of whom 3.4 were servants. Two houses were already each divided into two separate households, and there were also two girls' schools, one of which occupied two adjoining houses. The householders included ten 'fundholders' or 'proprietors of houses', plus one 'baronet's widow', who was perhaps too proud of her title to specify the source of her income. There were also five lawyers, five merchants (four in foreign trade), three army officers (all of field rank and above, but in the East India service) and one admiral who was also a Member of Parliament. Other householders included two warehousemen, two clerks, and one tea-broker, stockbroker, hatter, optician, civil servant, architect, veterinary surgeon and a professor at University College. At the two schools the presence of nine resident mistresses and twenty-seven boarding pupils suggests that day-girls were also taught. The servants' hierarchy included butlers, footmen, ladies' maids, grooms and pages. (fn. 74)

In Stanley Crescent all of the thirteen houses built by Blake were occupied by 1861, but of the twenty-nine in Stanley Gardens four were empty. The total number of residents in these thirtyeight occupied houses was 323, of whom 109 were servants. The average number of inhabitants per house was thus 8.5, of whom 2.6 were servants. In Stanley Gardens one house was already divided into two households, and there were no fewer than five girls' schools, plus another two in Stanley Crescent. The householders included six fundholders, six merchants (three in foreign trade), five lawyers, and one army captain, military tailor, coachmaker and club secretary. The residents included seventeen schoolmistresses and governesses, and twelve of the householders were women. (fn. 75)


  • 1. He had previously purchased the leasehold from Martin Stuteley, also for £600. (G.L.R.O.(L), Blake papers in Ac.61.39.)
  • 2. Stanley Crescent and Stanley Gardens were probably so named in honour of Edward, Lord Stanley, who succeeded to the Earldom of Derby in 1851 and became Prime Minister in 1852. [The Editor is indebted to Mr. B. R. Curle of Kensington Central Library for this explanation.]
  • 3. The immediate cause of Ramsay's bankruptcy may have been the withdrawal of Ladbroke's support. In February 1854 the Sun Fire Office agreed to renew Ladbroke's mortgage of £25,000 for five years, but by July he had repaid the whole amount.201
  • 4. Ibid., 1846/6/396–403.
  • 5. Ibid., 1848/4/710–12; 1848/5/415; K.P.L., MS. 4884.
  • 6. Principal Probate Registry, 1862, f. 622; P.O.D.
  • 7. M.L.R. 1850/5/746.
  • 8. Ibid., 1850/1/209–15.
  • 9. M.C.S. 294/788.
  • 10. B. 17 Aug. 1867, p. 616.
  • 11. M.L.R. 1861/1/418.
  • 12. Principal Probate Registry, 1862, f. 622.
  • 13. M.L.R. 1848/3/931.
  • 14. G.L.R.O.(L), Blake papers in Ac.61.39.
  • 15. K.P.L., MS. 4905.
  • 16. India Office Library, N/1/1/4; O/5/26–28 passim; Bengal wills 1820, pp. 629–33; 1830 part 4, pp. 229–34; Bengal inventories 1832 part I, pp. 446–8; directories.
  • 17. M.L.R. 1843/3/871.
  • 18. K.P.L., MSS. 4583, 4900.
  • 19. M.L.R. 1847/7/470.
  • 20. Ibid., 1851/9/943–4.
  • 21. Ibid., 1851/11/300–7; 1852/6/801–2; 1852/10/ 36–55; 1852/15/317; R.B.
  • 22. G.L.R.O.(L), Blake papers, Ac.61.39; M.L.R. 1852/13/126.
  • 23. M.L.R. 1844/1/335; 1845/7/168.
  • 24. Ibid., 1845/5/871; 1849/9/886–90.
  • 25. P.R.O., PROB 11/2144, f. 973; Principal Probate Registry, 1869, f. 375; Royal Cornwall Gazette, 25 March 1869; Western Morning News, 22 March 1869; The Register and Magazine of Biography, 1869, vol. 1, p. 40; Boase.
  • 26. Guildhall Library, MSS. 11931/13, 11932/ 27–8.
  • 27. M.L.R. 1850/1/798; 1850/5/221.
  • 28. Guildhall Library, MS. 11932/29.
  • 29. M.L.R. 1852/13/126.
  • 30. Ibid., 1852/10/56–61.
  • 31. Ibid., 1854/17/544.
  • 32. K.P.L., MS. 2259.
  • 33. M.L.R. 1852/10/708–9; G.L.R.O.(L), Blake papers, Ac.61.39.
  • 34. M.L.R. 1852/13/742–86; G.L.R.O.(L), Blake papers, Ac.61.39.
  • 35. D.S.R.
  • 36. M.L.R. 1851–3 passim.
  • 37. Ibid., 1852/13/389–410; 1854/15/502.
  • 38. Ibid., 1853/10/845–7.
  • 39. K.P.L., MS. 4594.
  • 40. Royal Academy Catalogue, 1853, no. 1138.
  • 41. M.L.R. 1852/13/741, 762–3, site plans.
  • 42. Ibid., 1855/4/444–7; C.C., file 20646.
  • 43. M.L.R. 1850/1/798; 1850/5/221.
  • 46. B. 26 Oct. 1872, p. 840.
  • 47. M.L.R. 1847/6/626; 1848/5/241.
  • 48. Ibid., 1853/2/373; 1856/11/562.
  • 49. Ibid., 1853/4/726–39.
  • 50. Ibid., 1856/4/432.
  • 51. Ibid., 1853/17/963–85; G.L.R.O.(L), Blake papers, Ac.61.39.
  • 52. M.L.R. 1856/11/562.
  • 53. Ibid., 1853/7/685–716; 1853/17/987–1014.
  • 54. Guildhall Library, MS. 11932/30, pp. 138, 166, 198.
  • 55. B.N. 12 April 1861, pp. 300–1.
  • 56. M.L.R. 1854/15/502, 554–60; 1854/16/744–5; 1854/17/363–7.
  • 57. Ibid., 1854/15/731–5.
  • 58. R.B.
  • 59. Ibid., 1856/13/632.
  • 60. Ibid., 1857/4/154.
  • 61. Ibid., 1855/3/90.
  • 62. K.P.L., MS. 2259.
  • 63. M.L.R. 1855/14/576.
  • 64. Ibid., 1854/16/107–8; 1855/1/497.
  • 65. Ibid., 1855/4/444–7.
  • 66. C.C., file 20646.
  • 67. G.L.R.O.(L), Blake papers, Ac.61.39; M.L.R. 1859/10/962.
  • 68. M.L.R. 1861/16/794.
  • 69. Ibid., 1856/6/490; 1856/7/569; 1856/10/93; 1856/15/1055 etc.
  • 70. Ibid., 1857/13/1000; 1858/9/980.
  • 71. Ibid., 1857/8/922; 1858/6/169.
  • 72. P.R.O., C15/95, no. 213; C34/67, f. 612.
  • 73. M.L.R. 1860/3/157.
  • 74. P.R.O., RG 9/13, pp. 29–33, 82–6.
  • 75. Ibid., RG 9/13, pp. 33–6, 86–91, 100.