Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
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- CHAPTER IV - The Estate of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851
CHAPTER IV - The Estate of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851
An area of some eighty-seven acres, very irregularly shaped and extending from Kensington Gore southward of Harrington Road and from the Victoria and Albert Museum to Gloucester Road, was all at one time the property of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851. Some of it remains their freehold. It was bought by them, under their President, Prince Albert, partly with the surplus of that Exhibition and partly with funds voted by Parliament, to provide a site for institutions that would further the general aims of the Exhibition and 'extend the influence of Science and Art upon Productive Industry': (fn. 12) the purpose was practical, and avowedly directed to furthering the nation's prosperity. Until the early years of this century, and particularly from c. 1856 to c. 1873, the Commissioners were involved in varying degrees in the physical creation of the monumental buildings here. Thereafter, and particularly from c. 1891 onwards, they have used their resources to finance directly higher scientific and artistic education, chiefly in the form of scholarships. On parts of the estate private houses have been built under lease. Outside the main rectangle, west of Queen's Gate or south of Cromwell Road, they conform to the adjacent contemporary terraces of the late 1850's and 1860's: almost all these freeholds have been sold. On the Commissioners' main rectangle the houses and flats are of rather later date, and some show (or showed before recent demolition) the willingness of the Commissioners to sponsor the architecture of the 'domestic revival' in the 1870's and 1880's. (For this chapter see fig. 18 on page 53, the plans between pages 54–5 and plans B, C in the end pocket.)
The personnel of the Commission
The body that ran the Great Exhibition and by a supplementary charter of December 1851 was perpetuated with very wide and general powers to administer the surplus arising from it, (fn. 13) was large and distinguished, and contained many of the first names in politics. Lord John Russell, Lord Derby and Gladstone were among the original members: Disraeli joined the Commission in 1853. The latter three took an active interest in the Commission's work, and still more so did Gladstone's future Foreign Secretary, Lord Granville, whom Prince Albert called 'the only working man on the Commission'. (fn. 14) As Vice-President of the Board of Trade in 1848–51 he had already been associated with the governmental Schools of Design that had from 1837 onwards been set up under that department to bring art to bear upon design in industry: during the Great Exhibition he became familiar with its chief executive, (Sir) Henry Cole (1808–82), and a continuing relationship developed with that most energetic of South Kensington's creators.
It was, however, the Prince himself who was the dominating figure on the Commission until his death in December 1861. He did 'the lion's share of the work' of framing its policy and outlining this in the Commissioners' important Second Report published in November 1852. (fn. 15) A surviving draft shows his hand particularly in sections arguing the prudence of buying sufficient land for future expansion of their scheme. (fn. 16) A prominent Commissioner testified that of them all it was the Prince who had 'most considered' plans for building on the estate, (fn. 17) and the wife of another Commissioner, Lady Eastlake, wrote in a measured obituary tribute that the Prince's powers of debate had been particularly in evidence at meetings of the Commission, where 'he came into contact with the most practised orators of the day, in debates of no insignificant character, and always maintained his part with conspicuous ability'. (fn. 18) Generally he retained the initiative: indeed, followers who were over-eager were liable to be checked, particularly if (as his secretary wrote to Lyon Playfair in 1852) they progressed 'too rapidly towards their own confined and limited objects, in a manner to endanger the success of the larger and more comprehensive views of His Royal Highness'. (fn. 19)
The Prince conducted some of the business personally, obtaining, for example, verbal assurances of governmental help from Lord Derby and Disraeli. (fn. 20) Most of his correspondence, however, was carried on by his secretaries, Sir Charles Phipps (d. 1866) and, especially, Charles Grey (d. 1870). They became, with the Commissioners' secretary, Edgar Bowring, important instruments for pursuing the Prince's purpose after his death. Grey himself became a Commissioner in 1869. In 1870 the Prince of Wales succeeded Lord Derby as President and his brothers and brothers-in-law were soon represented on the Commission: the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Christian particularly shared the Prince's active interest in South Kensington. Court officials also came on to the Commission about the same time, and in Sir Arthur Ellis and Sir Arthur Bigge (later Lord Stamfordham) gave it its secretaries from 1889 to 1910. On at least two occasions the interest of George V in the Commission, as Prince of Wales and as King, had some practical effect on its affairs.
During the first deliberations on the disposal of the surplus the Prince naturally consulted some (but not all) of those connected with the Exhibition—the 'special commissioners' for communicating with the provinces, the chemist Lyon Playfair and Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Lloyd, one of the joint secretaries, Sir Stafford Northcote, two members of the Executive Committee, Henry Core and C. W. Dilke, and its chairman, Sir William Reid (who soon, however, left). (fn. 21) The key figures were Playfair (himself a Commissioner from 1869) and Cole (a Commissioner in 1872–3); by 1853 they had become joint secretaries of the Science and Art Department, which in 1856 moved its offices to South Kensington: Cole also became head of the most conspicuously successful institution there, the South Kensington Museum.
Others associated with the Great Exhibition went to promote the fortunes of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, which was opened in June 1854. They were regarded with some disfavour as a rival body largely motivated by 'love of gain and . . . public notoriety'. (fn. 22) Grey, for example, was wary of Paxton, suspecting his hostility to South Kensington yet dreading the emergence in public of a 'Prince versus Paxton' situation. (fn. 23) One critic was John Bright who was inclined to think South Kensington a 'humbug' and a 'job'. (fn. 24) This was a fairly widespread view, and some journals, including The Building News, became violently hostile. As Bowring noted later, people said that the Prince had personal property interests at South Kensington. (fn. 25) Cole records one such baseless rumour ('I was his scheming tool') and (after the Prince's death) Sir William Hardman another. (fn. 26)
Until 1869 the effective or actual secretary of the Commission was, very appropriately, the Registrar of the Board of Trade and translator of the German poets, Edgar Bowring (1826–1911). He was more cautious than Cole would have liked, (fn. 27) but very able, and shared with Grey a clear apprehension that the Commission existed to further certain aims, not merely to accumulate funds from a land speculation.
The surveyor employed by the Commissioners in their land-dealings seems to have been J. W. Higgins from December 1852 to about March 1854 and then (Sir) Henry Arthur Hunt (1810–89) until 1887 when he was succeeded by his son. In the latter part of his long service the elder Hunt, who in 1856 became consultant surveyor to the Office of Works, had an important voice in the rearrangement of the main rectangle to give a better monetary return.
By August 1851 it was apparent that the Exhibition would yield a large surplus—ultimately over £186,000 (fn. 28) —and its disposal was already under consideration. A memorandum by the Prince left no doubt of his opinion that it should be used to buy land west of the Exhibition site and south of the Kensington Road. There he believed some twenty-five or thirty acres could be bought for £50,000, and schools of instruction and exemplary collections or 'museums' set up to continue the educational influence of the Exhibition. (fn. 29)
Initially, the Prince's scheme reflected to the full the internationalism of the Exhibition, aiming as it did to 'include the interests of all the World'. The purpose, as stated by Phipps in September 1851, 'must not be so much the founding institutions through which Great Britain may be raised to an equality or maintain a Superiority over other Nations, as the foundation of Some Establishment, in which, by the application of Science and Art to Industrial pursuits, the Industry of all nations may be raised in the Scale of human Employment, and where, by the constant interchange of ideas, experience, and its results, each nation may gain and contribute something'. (fn. 30) (fn. 1) This sentiment survived partially into the Commissioners' First and Second Reports in April and November 1852 (fn. 32) but in the Second was already being overweighed by more insular plans. Phipps's statement had itself urged that by the scheme 'England would ultimately be the greatest gainer. She would have the advantage of the first use of the results of the acquired Science, and would indeed become the head quarters of the Skilled Industry of the World'. The Second and Third Reports (the latter of April 1856) showed a great awareness of industrial education abroad but the effect of this was rather to sharpen fear of foreign rivalry. Many factors were reducing the relative advantage previously possessed by this country in its command of raw materials, and increasing the importance of 'the intellectual element of production', (fn. 33) wherein foreign countries were feared to be more advanced. It was the same motive of national self-protection that was to have much to do with the establishment of official or semi-official scientific institutions at South Kensington particularly between the Golden Jubilee and the war of 1914–18.
The Prince connected his early plans for industrial education with another scheme, to bring the learned societies together at South Kensington, perhaps in some way under the aegis of the Statistical Society or a council of the societies' chairmen. Despite the societies' impending eviction from Somerset House this scheme of the Prince's met with a very critical reception from those he consulted—indeed, was ridiculed by them. (fn. 34) It was widely unpopular, not least with the societies themselves. After the Government's purchase of Burlington House in 1854 the Prince ostensibly let the matter lapse but among those influenced by him the idea lived on, and influenced thoughts about the Albert Hall. (fn. 35)
Generally, the most active of the Prince's helpers wanted an explicitly 'educational' dedication of the site, with the establishment of colleges or a university so designated; and under this influence the Prince countenanced the strongly educational trend of the Second Report. In the course of 1852 the Prince was largely instrumental in having the Department of Practical Art set up in the Board of Trade with Cole and Playfair as secretaries and after a year or two at Marlborough House that Department, redesignated 'of Science and Art', established itself at South Kensington in 1856.
The Prince had, however, resisted any overt dedication of the site as a 'university' largely from fear of vested educational interests, of which, as a reforming Chancellor of Cambridge University, he had personal experience. In particular the Prince shrank from arousing (in Grey's words) 'a cry of "Godless instruction"', and for that reason the word 'science' was at first sometimes avoided at South Kensington. Similarly, the new Department was initially put (as the Schools of Design had been) under the Board of Trade because there it would be less subject to educational controversies than it would have been under the Education Committee of the Privy Council. Playfair's need to propitiate the theologians in November 1851, after a verbal indiscretion, confirmed this resolve to avoid any occasion for religious disputes. (fn. 36) A suggestion from the Vicar of Kensington that a church should be built on the estate in 1858 was declined. (fn. 37) A correspondent of The Builder remarked on the notable lack of a church hereabouts in 1863, (fn. 38) but it was on the property of other owners, at St. Stephen's, Gloucester Road, and St. Augustine's, Queen's Gate, that this was remedied in 1867 and 1871. It was only in 1901 that a church was built on the Commissioners' estate.
The Commissioners' very carefully prepared Second Report was presented to Parliament in November 1852. It noted the great annual expenditure in London by many private and public institutions promoting applied science and art, and the 'comparatively small direct benefit to Industry' derived therefrom. (fn. 39) The limitation of these institutions' activities by want of space was remarked, and the success of methodical systems of industrial instruction abroad. The Commissioners therefore proposed to provide a 'locality' and suggest a 'system' for making industrial education more effective. The locality had (by measures outlined below) already been acquired or bespoken to the extent of seventy acres, but the Commissioners believed that all the vacant land at South Kensington (one hundred and fifty acres, they thought) could well be acquired with the promised governmental aid, for which it was one of the purposes of the Report to encourage Parliamentary approval. The Report used examples from central London to show the folly of leaving unbought adjacent land that might later have to be acquired at a price increased by the development scheme itself. The 'system' would build up 'one large Institution devoted to the purposes of instruction, adequate for the extended wants of industry, and in connextion with similar institutions in the provinces'. (fn. 40) In accordance with the Prince's earlier memorandum, it would have been based on the four divisions of the Great Exhibition. For the investigation of natural resources, the development of machines to work them and of the arts to shape and adorn them both colleges and illustrative collections were prescribed, together with comparative collections of manufactured wares. The attraction of South Kensington for the learned societies was touched upon.
So was its attraction for the National Gallery. As will be seen in the next chapter, a very important point with the Prince was the physical contiguity of teaching institutions and illustrative collections. (fn. 41) The belief in the direct utility of 'museums' for teaching long affected thinking about the site. In the 1860's the training school for art was placed in immediate juxtaposition to the art museum and about 1900 the conjunction of the intended new science college and part at least of the science collections was a desideratum. In the sciences, indeed, the advocacy of museum collections sometimes passed imperceptibly into advocacy of laboratory-instruction.
It testifies to the breadth of the Prince's conception of applied art that the transference of the National Gallery here was so important to him. He envisaged its being given a dominant position on the site.
It was not, however, the Prince who initiated this idea, although its unpopularity, particularly in the House of Commons, became focused on the Commissioners. In March 1851, because of the inadequacy and unpopularity of Wilkins's very recent building in Trafalgar Square, the Liberal Government had appointed a commission to report on possible new sites for the National Gallery, and in July it had recommended part of the site subsequently bought by the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners, on the south frontage of Kensington Gore. (fn. 42) Through the latter part of the year the Government moved towards the necessary purchase but in January 1852, in its last days in office, dropped the project. (fn. 43) The Exhibition Commissioners then stepped in as purchasers, the Conservatives under Lord Derby were persuaded to take the project up again, and the provision of a site for the Gallery was nominally the main object of the large vote in aid of the Commissioners' purchase-fund obtained from Parliament by the Coalition Government in December 1852. Significantly, however, Disraeli played this down in recommending the vote. (fn. 44) In March 1853 the House appointed a Select Committee which reiterated the recommendation of the Commissioners' site in August. (fn. 45) The Prince had elaborate layout plans prepared by several architects (described in the next chapter) (fn. 46) and in November the Cabinet decided to act on the recommendation. (fn. 47) In December, however, Bowring anticipated governmental delay in the face of 'the high price of food, the strikes, the hard winter, and above all the awkward look of matters Eastward'. (fn. 48) It was only after the Crimean War had ended that Palmerston's Government resumed the project. (fn. 49) But in June 1856 the House of Commons rejected their Bill, to the dismay of the royal circle, and referred the question to another commission. (fn. 50) In June 1857 this recommended by a majority vote against a South Kensington location for the Gallery. (fn. 51) The Prince was sufficiently annoyed to call the report 'hardly honest'. (fn. 52) In effect, this was the end of the scheme, although he had the ground abutting on Kensington Gore—later used for the Albert Hall—kept vacant during his lifetime. (fn. 53) In the royal circle hopes were still alive in 1866. (fn. 54)
The purchase of the Estate
It was thus the National Gallery project that had initiated official land-dealings at South Kensington. The attractions of this area for public buildings were strong. The accident of personal and family history had kept a large area southward to the Fulham Road mainly undeveloped and apart from the advantage of propinquity to the Park the terrain was suitable for the purpose. 'It is a sandy gravelly soil, the most beautiful soil that there can be for buildings', T.L. Donaldson said with relish. (fn. 55) Perhaps the only defect was a declivity south of Kensington Gore sufficiently pronounced for the Commissioners to delay the demolition of houses there, lest the exposure of the sharp fall of land should create a bad impression. (fn. 56) When laying out of the estate began in 1858 one of the first works was to make a level 'terrace' in that area. (fn. 57)
The land that the Government had negotiated for in 1851 was a property of twenty-one and a half acres known as the Gore House estate (mostly copyhold held under the Dean and Chapter of Westminster) and owned by a barrister, John Aldridge, who lived in the other large house on that estate, Grove House. (fn. 58) (For the following account see fig. 18 on page 53 and for the previous history of the properties see Chapter I.) The Prince's memorandum of August had drawn attention to this same property for the Commissioners' purposes, and he was kept informed of the negotiations, (fn. 59) meanwhile excogitating the purchase of adjacent properties. One was a holding of some forty-eight acres to the west and south of the Gore House estate. This had recently been part of a larger estate belonging jointly to the Earl of Harrington and a Swiss nobleman resident in Paris, Denis, Baron de Graffenried Villars, but at a partition in 1850–1 had passed to the latter. Land values were already rising hereabouts, (fn. 60) and builders were becoming interested. To the eastward, one formidable operator, Charles Freake, had recently acquired a lien on a property (Mary Plummer's copyhold) with a frontage on Kensington Road, (fn. 61) and eastward again two terraces of big houses (forming the greater part of Princes Gate facing the Park) were already partially occupied. These last had been erected two or three years previously by the builders John Elger and John Kelk and in the present August the latter had also been negotiating for the Villars estate, as had Freake before him. (fn. 62) The Prince wanted to employ as agent his admired Thomas Cubitt, who had no interests of his own in the area. It was, however, Kelk whom the Government had chosen to negotiate for the Gore House estate and in January 1852 the Prince allowed himself to be persuaded to employ Kelk for the same purpose on the Commissioners' behalf as well as to negotiate for the Villars estate. Cubitt, formerly Kelk's employer, was made consultant, and the negotiations managed under the Prince's direction by one of the Commissioners, the engineer Sir William Cubitt (no known relation of Thomas). (fn. 63) In August 1851 Kelk had told the Government that after enfranchisement of the copyhold land the freehold of the Gore House estate would cost £45,000 (£2,300 per acre), or about the same proportionately as Freake's recent purchase to the east. (fn. 61) Apart from Gore and Grove Houses the property brought Aldridge some £435 per annum (fn. 64) and by February 1852 he was taking 'a very high tone indeed'. He successfully asked £60,000, or £2,790 per acre. (fn. 65) The Prince, like the Government, thought secrecy essential, (fn. 66) and the contract was signed in May in Kelk's name. (fn. 67) The purchase was completed in August. (fn. 64) The Prince took the heightened price as a warning of the disadvantages of delay: (fn. 68) even so, Kelk could later boast of the purchase as the Commissioners' cheapest. (fn. 69) Gore House was put to immediate use for exhibitions and from 1854 to 1857 was a District School of Art under the Science and Art Department.
The Villars purchase was not expected to present great difficulty, (fn. 70) possibly because of Kelk's recent dealings with the Baron's agents. The chief of these was the surveyor, George Pownall, of Wigg and Pownall. Pownall, however, professed to lack the Baron's full confidence, and attributed to the latter's suspicions of his own men of business (which were certainly strong (fn. 71) ) and to the mischance of his being a foreigner an inability to make reasonable concessions. (fn. 72) The Baron was represented as reluctant to sell outright at all, doubtless in part because without a private Act of Parliament he could invest the proceeds only in Government securities for an unattractive return. (fn. 73) Further, by March 1852 Wigg and Pownall had a plan for covering the forty-eight acres with residential streets and squares, and were presumably looking for a building lessee rather than a purchaser. (fn. 74) (A version of their plan dated June 1852 shows the former Gore House estate as Kelk's property—evidently a tribute to the success of the Commissioners' continued secrecy about their connexion with him. (fn. 75) ) Kelk seems to have been imperfectly acquainted by Sir William Cubitt with the Commissioners' aims, and agreed to take a building lease. For ninety-nine years he would have paid at the rate of £100 per annum per acre (equivalent, at thirty years' purchase, to a lump sum of £144,000). The Prince was horrified to discover at the beginning of June that Kelk had obliged the Commissioners, morally at least, to spend three quarters of a million pounds building a 'town' for the Baron on his property. After a sleepless night he decided to reveal the Commissioners' identity as principals. Kelk was superseded in the negotiations by Thomas Cubitt, armed with the Treasury solicitors' opinion (soon reversed) that the Commissioners had no legal power to acquire a leasehold. (fn. 76) Another helpful factor was the recent replacement of Lord John Russell's administration by Lord Derby's in which Disraeli was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Each was personally disposed to gratify the Prince: when told his purpose Disraeli in particular was receptive, and the Government agreed to supplement the Commissioners' funds for land-purchase with £150,000 of public money. Lord Derby may have helped in other ways: (fn. 77) Baron Villars was certainly asking Lord Harrington at that time to put him into direct touch with the Prime Minister. (fn. 78) After a 'far from really comfortable' interview with the Baron's representatives, Bowring and Thomas Cubitt reopened negotiations on the basis of the purchase of all the Baron's estate plus the payment of the expenses of his Act of Parliament. The Baron asked £200,000 for the freehold, or £4,166 per acre, the equivalent at thirty years' purchase of £140 per annum per acre. Thomas Cubitt thought even £100 per annum per acre excessive: Freake was believed to have refused 'a year or two' earlier to pay more than a quarter of the rate now asked. (fn. 79) Signs of Parliamentary hostility to South Kensington as a site for the National Gallery perhaps helped in reducing landowners' expectations there, (fn. 80) and by the end of July Cubitt was convincing Pownall that the Commissioners would not pay more than £150,000. (fn. 81) This the Baron accepted. A haggle followed, over lesser matters, but other parties were in the field (or rather in Paris, where the South Kensington builder, William Jackson, was rumoured to be seeing the Baron), and a brusque ultimatum brought an immediate concession from Bowring. (fn. 82) But he had felt the 'violence and intemperance' of the Baron's behaviour sufficiently to comment on it to Gladstone. (fn. 83) (fn. 2) The purchase was concluded at the end of March 1853, (fn. 85) not without fulminations by the Baron on Kelk's role. (fn. 86) The latter was, however, publicly praised for his 'zealous and disinterested' services when making the earlier Gore House purchase, in the Second Report of November 1852. (fn. 87) The Villars estate had finally cost some £153,800, (fn. 88) or about £3,200 per acre (£107 per annum per acre at thirty years' purchase).
These two properties were divided by ground extending south from Kensington Gore. Its southern portion, virtually indispensable to the Commissioners, was a rectangle 'used as a place for beating carpets' and belonging to Smith's Charity. It was let for some £40 per annum (fn. 89) and in August 1851 the Government had thought it could buy this two and three quarter acres for less than £3,000. (fn. 61) In February 1852 the Commissioners took over the negotiations, through Kelk. (fn. 90) By May, however, Freake was involved. Even within the Commission's office the activities of its agents were not always clearly known. (When Bowring told Grey in June 1852 that Thomas Cubitt was discovering the existence of other bidders for the estate of Lord Harrington he added 'some of them however proving to have been our own Agents, but others were evidently against us'. (fn. 91) ) Sir William Cubitt 'assumed' Freake was acting for the Commissioners and perhaps he was. (fn. 92) In any event, many years later Freake often boasted that he had 'given up Smith's Charity Ground to the Prince Consort' and 'given up 2 or 3 millions': (fn. 93) presumably the 'millions' referred to the Smith's Charity ground as the Commissioners certainly felt no gratitude to Freake in their dealings with him elsewhere on the estate. By June Bowring thought £5,000 might be needed. (fn. 91) In October the Charity trustees said they would sell at an arbitrator's price if the Commissioners would make a road giving better access to other Charity property further south. (fn. 94) The Commissioners were not able to agree and in December a straightforward exchange gave the Commissioners the ground in return for a detached three-and-three-quarter-acre piece of the Villars estate south of Old Brompton Road. (fn. 95) This was satisfactory although, in terms of the price paid to the Baron, the Commissioners were on paper 'paying' £9,375 or about £3,409 per acre. The arrangement was confirmed by the Inclosure Commissioners in 1856. (fn. 96)
The northern part of the dividing strip consisted of humble properties on either side of Gore Lane (Plate 2a), with a short but very valuable frontage to Kensington Gore. (The northern end of Gore Lane survives as the northern end of Jay Mews.) The principal freeholders were John Aldridge, on the east, and Lord Kensington, mainly on the west. The lessees were numerous and the expense and difficulty of acquiring these properties deterred the Commissioners until the latter part of 1852 when they began protracted dealings with Lord Kensington, (fn. 97) who took the chance to enlist the Prince's aid towards a commission in the Rifles for his son. (fn. 98) It was April 1857 before the freehold purchase was completed at £15,000. Lord Kensington's property was so heavily mortgaged that Bowring was at a loss to know who should receive the money. (fn. 99) The leasehold interests, costing some £25,000—£27,000, had needed an Act of Parliament for their compulsory purchase: this had been obtained by the Commissioners in July 1854, (fn. 100) and by 1857 the lane had been closed. (fn. 101) In the latter year Aldridge was given £15,000 for his freehold interest on the east side of the lane (in the form, calculated at thirty years' purchase, of land in Queen's Gate Terrace yielding ground rents worth £500 per annum). (fn. 102) The long-leasehold tenures of the terrace houses fronting Kensington Gore (Plate 79b) were then valued at £35,000 to £40,000 (fn. 103) and the Commissioners did not buy them out. (fn. 101)
The Prince was at pains to see that some of the trees along the lane were, for the time being, preserved. (fn. 104) (Similarly, it was the removal of 'the great Lombardy Poplar' for the buildings of the South Kensington Museum in 1865 that very unusually provoked a show of feeling in the Minutes of the Science and Art Department. (fn. 105) ) On the other hand a request in 1854 from the Vicar of Kensington for aid towards a model lodging house to receive the dispossessed cottagers was thought to lie outside the Commissioners' scope, despite the Prince's own strong support for model working-class housing, exemplified at the 1851 Exhibition itself. In 1857 they considered a complaint at the injury done to the poor but it does not appear that they took any action. (fn. 106)
The remaining property bought by the Commissioners was part of Lord Harrington's estate. Early in 1852 Grey noted that the fifth Earl was (wrongly) thought unlikely to live long, and that therefore the estate was managed to obtain the greatest immediate return, with the consequence that letting was preferred to selling. (fn. 107) This apparently paradoxical reasoning was perhaps similar to that of Baron Villars's advisers: an economic rental may have been more lucrative than a lump sum if that could legally be invested only in government securities at a low prevailing rate of interest. In May 1852 Freake was negotiating with Lord Harrington on the Commissioners' behalf. Kelk was also engaged, and by June Thomas Cubitt as well. (fn. 108) A complication was that the builder, William Jackson, had just bought a ninety-nine-year lease of the whole Harrington property for £100 per acre. (fn. 109) A detached ten-acre piece on the east, next to Brompton parish church and the Oratory, was particularly attractive to the Commissioners, seemingly because of its 'nearness to London' (fn. 110) (the remoteness of South Kensington being the objection to their scheme that most worried them), while on the west Thomas Cubitt wanted four acres for the Commissioners on the line of a great north—south road, that is, Queen's Gate. He first offered £2,400 per acre for the freehold reversion but by October thought it would cost £3,500 per acre. Jackson, he supposed, could be bought out for £500 per acre. (fn. 111) But at those prices he could not recommend purchase. (fn. 112) Lord Harrington's agent was the architect C.J. Richardson, who was 'independent in tone' when Cubitt declined; (fn. 113) in fact, Cubitt found Lord Harrington's people 'as troublesome a set of persons to deal with as he ever met with'. (fn. 114) By December he had brought them down to £3,200 per acre plus Jackson's £500. (fn. 115) The recession of prospects of buying another property nearby freed some reserves and induced the Commissioners in January 1853 to bid for three more acres on the west side. (fn. 116) An agreement was entered into with Lord Harrington and Jackson in March for seventeen acres in all. (fn. 117) Great delay followed, and Jackson, who had received another offer for his leasehold interest, threatened to withdraw or claim compensation if the Commissioners failed to fulfil their agreement with him. Bowring thought that Freake was the 'evil genius' intervening here. But Jackson became convinced that he needed to push forward the development of the western part for the sake of his other leaseholdings from Lord Harrington. It was, Bowring thought, 'a matter of life and death' for him, and Jackson went ahead with roadmaking in 1854. (fn. 118) The freehold purchase was only completed in November 1858. Bowring complained that 'to the very end they behaved badly and positively refused to take our cheque', making him send to Coutts's for the cash. (fn. 119) (fn. 3) Richardson stated the purchase price of the seventeen acres as £54,716 for the freehold but only £7,964 for the leasehold (fn. 121) (about £3,218 and £468 per acre respectively).
There were three properties the Commissioners failed to obtain. East of the Gore House estate, with a frontage to Kensington Gore, was Eden Lodge and its grounds. This belonged, as copyhold of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, to Robert Eden, Lord Auckland, successively Bishop of Sodor and Man and Bath and Wells, and to his sisters. (fn. 122) James Pennethorne valued its two and a quarter acres at £6,000 in 1851. (fn. 123) By summer 1852 an agreement was in draft for the Commissioners' purchase of the reversion at the then enormous price of £17,000 (fn. 124) (or some £7,500 per acre), but in December the Bishop decided against the sale out of regard for the sister who lived in the house. (fn. 125) Soon, however, she was lamenting that 'those dreadful Royal Commissioners' were spoiling her sylvan view southward. (fn. 126) In 1856–7 the Commissioners acquired a small adjacent slip of land nearly cutting the property off from the north end of Exhibition Road (b on fig. 18 on page 53), chiefly to improve their bargaining position in respect of its owners, and to make their point planted trees on the ground. In 1861 Miss Eden was granted a lease of this ground but on condition that she kept the trees. (fn. 127) In 1869 the Commissioners still envisaged buying Eden Lodge to keep it from speculative builders (fn. 128) but when in 1870 the aged Lord Auckland offered it for sale his price was no less than £30,000 for the copyhold or £36,210 for the freehold, (fn. 129) and William Lowther bought it as the site of a new house by Norman Shaw (now the home of the Royal Geographical Society). In 1874 the Commissioners sold him the slip of flank-frontage to Exhibition Road for £13,500. (fn. 130) (fn. 4)
The Commissioners had acquired the slip of ground in 1856–7 by exchange with Freake, the owner of the property east of Eden Lodge that had formerly been Mary Plummer's. This was roughly rectangular with a tongue extending from its north-west corner to Kensington Road and carrying a footway from Brompton towards the Great Exhibition site. For the eleven and a half acres Freake paid £24,000. (fn. 131) Early in 1852 the Prince hopefully empowered Sir William Cubitt to offer £30,000 (fn. 132) (£2,608 per acre). By June the idea of buying it all seems to have receded (fn. 133) and negotiations were chiefly directed to getting the intended eastern road (Exhibition Road) through Freake's property. (fn. 134) But Cubitt and Bowring thought his terms exorbitant. Sometimes he dwelt on the fact that he had (he said) refused £75,000 for the eleven and a half acres, (fn. 135) and sometimes he professed, as Bowring reported, 'that for a great public object he would be willing etc. etc. (It is odd how similar is the language used in this respect by all who have land to sell to us, whether Lord, Lawyer or Builder)'. Bowring attributed some of his recalcitrance to jealousy of Thomas Cubitt's standing with the Commissioners. (fn. 136) Perhaps Freake was fortified by the identity of his surveyor, the George Pownall who was confronting the Commissioners in the Villars purchase. Freake was enough of a nuisance to exercise the minds of a present and a future Prime Minister in Lord Derby and Gladstone. (fn. 137) Late in 1853 the Treasury, which by then was party to the Commissioners' dealings, confirmed the decision against a large purchase from him. (fn. 138) Finally in 1856 an exchange (confirmed by the Inclosure Commissioners in 1858) was contrived by which Freake received some 160 feet of frontage on the east side of Exhibition Road immediately south of his other land there, where he built six houses (on the site of the Mormon church and No. 69 Princes Gate) and Princes Gate Mews behind them (c on fig. 18 on page 53). He gave up to the Commissioners the slip of his land west of the road, enabling it to be widened somewhat at its northern end in the autumn. (fn. 139) But its junction with Kensington Road remained constricted as Freake was averse to its becoming a great public thoroughfare, (fn. 140) and the Prince was complaisant. (fn. 141)
The 'Lawyer' of Bowring's wry comment was perhaps Aldridge but may have been H. B. Alexander, a resident of Barnes who owned, with other property, ground that intruded into the south side of the land the Commissioners were acquiring from Baron Villars (see pages 8–11). They would have liked to obtain these five acres, which in modern terms comprised the part of Cromwell Road and its south-side properties lying opposite the centre of the Natural History Museum. One house on it, confusingly called Grove House, was let for £300 per annum, (fn. 142) and altogether it already brought in £500 or £600 per annum. (fn. 143) Alexander well knew its value, and in this was helped by his surveyor, who was none other than George Pownall. By October 1852 Thomas Cubitt knew Alexander's price was £25,000 (£5,000 per acre). Like the Baron and Lord Harrington Alexander took the interest-rate on gilt-edged securities into his calculations. He received £100 or £120 per annum per acre and expected shortly to receive £150. He therefore demanded a capital sum that would yield this latter figure at 3 per cent interest. This was asking thirty-three and a third years' purchase on a prospective rental and was too much for Thomas Cubitt, whose maximum was £21,000. (fn. 144) Alexander would have come down to £23,500 if the Commissioners had paid for making Cromwell Road through to another more westerly property of his, but in the autumn negotiations were broken off. (fn. 145) The Commissioners remained interested, however, (fn. 146) particularly in 1853–5 when the property seemed the least offensive place to put a barracks, (fn. 147) but that danger passed, the price was still too high, and the Commissioners merely agreed with Alexander in August 1855 for making Cromwell Road on the northern part of his land. (fn. 148) He probably felt justified when Freake agreed in March 1857 to lease the land less the roadway for £850 per annum or more than £200 per annum per acre. (fn. 149)
The irregular outlines of the estates thus acquired needed to be adjusted with adjacent owners to permit them and the Commissioners to build within feasible boundaries. In the absence of evidence to the contrary it seems that this did not raise great difficulties. Generally the Inclosure Commissioners made the awards. (fn. 150)
The streets and layout
Thoughts on the layout of the estate had formed only as the purchases were completed. A faint and vague sketch by the Prince is dated May 1852, just after the Gore House contract was signed. (fn. 151) In December, when the Villars purchase was assured, a rough plan by Bowring shows roads approximating to Queen's Gate, Queen's Gate Terrace and Cromwell Road (stopping, however, at Queen's Gate). Exhibition Road was not shown, probably because of the doubtful attitudes of Freake and Lord Auckland. (fn. 152) In spring 1853 the neighbouring Oratorians accepted £2,000 for land to widen the approach to Cromwell Road (fn. 153) and in August a plan emanating from the Prince showed the Commissioners' main intended roads much as now (fig. 19 on page 82): (fn. 154) Exhibition Road was shown terminating southward at Cromwell Road, as it was to be first constructed. The main rectangle for public buildings was thus defined, essentially as an undivided entity, with four detached pieces outside it.
The plan had accompanied a memorandum by the Prince on the layout. (fn. 155) August 1853 was the month in which the House of Commons Select Committee reiterated its support for South Kensington as a site for the National Gallery, and he placed it as the main block in the centre of the rectangle. Around it would have been colleges of art and science, 'the Museums of Industrial Art, Patented Inventions, Trade Museums, etc.' On the outlying parts he foresaw private houses or official residences (all set back handsomely from the roadways), a concert hall, and the home of the learned societies. He had the plan and memorandum distributed quite widely for criticism. C. R. Cockerell and T. L. Donaldson replied later in 1853 by submitting elaborate alternative schemes, as did Pennethorne, who as architect to the Office of Works had been making plans of his own for a National Gallery hereabouts (figs. 20–22 on pages 82–3). (fn. 156) Apart from the Commissioners, others who were circularized were Cole, Francis Fuller, and the cartoonist John Doyle ('H.B.'). (fn. 157) Early next year Cole and his Departmental colleague Richard Redgrave also submitted a plan, rational, rather intimidating, and much less deliberately 'aesthetic' than those of the professional architects. Cole spoke of its 'principle of utility', which he says the Prince approved. It featured a main building, to house a huge miscellaneous museum and picture gallery, that extended completely across the main rectangle. (fn. 158) (These suggested layouts are discussed further on pages 81–5.)
Cole and Redgrave's scheme also showed a broad road leading eastward from Exhibition Road on the north side of the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Brompton, and for a while in 1854 Cole worked for this as intermediary between the Prince and the Vicar of Holy Trinity: in 1857 when Freake (a personal acquaintance of Cole's) had acquired land northward, this abortive idea briefly revived. (fn. 159)
The main roads more or less as shown on the Prince's plan were made in 1854–6 under Thomas Cubitt's supervision. (fn. 160) Not surprisingly, as 1855 was the year of the Queen's triumphant state visit to Paris, and also of the Science and Art Department's involvement in the Paris Exhibition, there is a suggestion about them of the Parisian avenues of Napoleon III as well as of the Unter den Linden. The cost of the new roads was borne by the Commissioners except where the roads ran through the land of other owners, who then bore it, or along a property boundary, when it was shared. (fn. 161) Queen's Gate and Cromwell Road were made under an agreement of August 1855 between the Commissioners, Alexander and Jackson. (fn. 162) In 1858 the Commissioners told the Treasury that their expenditure on the roads had been £14,000: (fn. 163) the total cost was nearly £20,000. (fn. 164) Like Cubitt's roads elsewhere they ran well above the natural ground level, particularly in the southern part of the estate. (fn. 5)
The names of the three chief roads were chosen by the Prince in April 1855. (fn. 166) Bowring later said Cromwell Road was so named at the Prince's 'special desire'. (fn. 25) Rather surprisingly in view of the Prince's usual reticence, Queen's Gate was originally called Prince Albert or Albert's Road and this name, although officially changed in 1859, (fn. 167) continued in use for many years. In 1856 the Prince agreed that the whole estate should be designated 'South Kensington', to avoid the associations with low-lying Brompton (then proving harmful to his scheme for the National Gallery): a discarded suggestion was 'Cromwell Park'. (fn. 158)
Despite its more westerly position than Exhibition Road the Commissioners regarded Queen's Gate as the more important road and it was made the wider. Exhibition Road, constructed under an informal agreement with Freake, (fn. 69) was at first regarded as private, and in 1858 the Prince agreed that Freake might put a gate across its north end, although he seems not to have done so. Queen's Gate on the other hand was dignified by a gate and lodge opposite its north end and leading into the Park. The cost was borne by Jackson (£2,000 for the gate) and Charles Aldin (£800 for the lodge, which was originally east of the gate), as building lessees on the adjacent Harrington estate. The designs were by C. J. Richardson, and the gates made by T. Turner of East Street, St. Marylebone, in 1857–9. (fn. 170) (fn. 6)
More expensive lamp-posts than usual were placed by the developers Jackson, Freake and Aldin on their frontages, while the Commissioners went to the Science and Art Department for the design of theirs. This design was being made very carefully under the close supervision of the Prince in 1858. Rather oddly, the Department seems to have bought the lamp-posts for its own frontages from Freake. (fn. 172)
The plantation of 'linden' trees along the roads, possibly suggested by Cole in 1858 as an 'acceptable novelty', was welcomed in the same year by the Prince, who thought planes commonplace. Some residents seem to have objected, however, and the idea had to be abandoned. (fn. 173) After the Prince's death planes were planted—on the South Kensington Museum frontage, for example, by an order of 1863, when they were protected by the kind of metal grille in the payment that had caught Cole's eye in Paris. (fn. 174)
The public or private status of the Commissioners' three chief roads, and the liability for their upkeep, caused perplexity to the Commissioners until the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, adopted the part of the roads in its territory in 1863 and the parish of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, followed suit in 1867. (fn. 175) When the boundaries of the Borough of Kensington and City of Westminster were established in 1900 the old civil parish boundary was altered to run along Imperial Institute Road and up Queen's Gate.
While hopes for the National Gallery continued, the prospective layouts emphasized focally placed buildings. But some of the plans in 1853 had included a central garden and by early 1858 it had been decided that an important garden surrounded by buildings should be the essential feature of the layout. Cole may have been more responsible than anyone else. In autumn 1857 he was working out a plan for 'building round the outsides', which the Prince liked. (fn. 176) In this Cole was helped not only by his colleague Redgrave but also by the Science and Art Department's engineer and architect, Captain Francis Fowke (1823–65), whose influence on the look of South Kensington is a frequent topic of this volume. Their scheme seems to have evolved by March 1858 into one for bringing the Royal Horticultural Society and the 1861 (1862) Exhibition to the site that was approved by the Prince that summer. Although this gave an open centre, the substantial buildings thereby permitted at the northern and southern ends of the rectangle rather limited the scope for a longitudinal visual axis. By summer 1860 Bowring was specifically rejecting any suggestion of the addition of a central north-south road as inconsistent with the principle of the layout—'the same principle, in fact, as that adopted in the case of the Louvre at Paris, and . . . the great London squares'. (fn. 177) (His reference to the Louvre may have been stimulated by the spacious new extensions towards the Tuileries, begun in 1853.)
The Prince's ideal scheme had preserved the main rectangle for public buildings. During the period of the partnership with the Government, c. 1852–8 (see below), this had been firmly held to. (fn. 178) The Prince, however, had no absolute objection to combining his institutions with money-raising projects. (fn. 179) He was pragmatic about letting off parts of the rectangle, and as soon as the partnership was ended the important decision in July 1858 for an exhibition-ground-and-garden layout countenanced both public buildings and private houses on its eastern and western frontages. Jackson, as the building lessee on the other side of Queen's Gate, was alarmed, and by the end of the year at least one of the purchasers of his houses there was accusing the Commissioners of a breach of faith. The Commissioners' officers retorted that Jackson had had no right to lead his customers to suppose that the rectangle would be kept open or developed in any particular way. (fn. 180) But the Prince was concerned, and by May 1859 the Commissioners had decided to reserve the margins east and west of the Horticultural Society's garden for public buildings for at least seven years. (fn. 181) When the garden was opened in 1861 the Prince looked forward to the time when it would 'at no distant day form the inner court of a vast quadrangle of public buildings, rendered easily accessible by the broad roads which will surround them—buildings where science and art may find space for development, with that air and light which are elsewhere well nigh banished from this overgrown metropolis'. (fn. 182)
In 1859, however, Cole's officers (as planning staff for the garden) had gone as far as estimating the yield of parts of the rectangle if privately developed. The anticipated ground rents per foot of frontage declined from north to south: in Kensington Gore £4, in upper Queen's Gate 50s., in lower Queen's Gate and Exhibition Road 35s., and in Cromwell Road 30s. (fn. 181)
The partnership with the Government c. 1852–8
The purchasing policy of the Commissioners—evolved in expectation of related Government enterprise—had led them into a large outlay needing a contribution from public funds almost equal to their own. The Conservative Government had promised this informally in June 1852 and thenceforward the Prince regarded the Government as party to the Commissioners' negotiations and had the Chancellor of the Exchequer kept informed of them. (fn. 183) At the vote in December there was much vagueness about the relations between and respective authority of the Commissioners and the Government at South Kensington. Disraeli gave a general promise of governmental oversight (and pleased The Builder by promising a public architectural competition (fn. 184) ). His assurance that 'no attempt would be made to infuse a dilettante spirit into the working classes' was found convincing, and £150,000 was voted. (fn. 185) The relationship of Government and Commissioners was formulated by a Treasury Minute of February 1853. All the property was to be legally vested in the Commissioners but a part not exceeding one half was to be held under Treasury direction for its use by those institutions of art and science that were more immediately dependent on governmental support, and the rest subject to general Treasury supervision (subject also, of course, to the very general terms of the Commissioners' own charter). (fn. 186) Understandably, some Commissioners and at least one Chancellor of the Exchequer seem to have been doubtful exactly what this meant. (fn. 187) Five chief ministers of the Crown, headed by the Prime Minister, were added to the Commission ex officio. The Government could (but did not) require the Commissioners to sell the parts of their estate outside the main rectangle to repay any further public outlay beyond the £150,000. The grant of an additional sum was agreed to by the Treasury in October 1853 and £27,500 voted in July 1854. (fn. 188)
Sir Charles Phipps subsequently justified the connexion with the Government as a protection against the pressure of commercial considerations. (fn. 189) The effect was rather to quench activity. This was accentuated by the onset of war in March 1854. In October the Prince was lamenting that the country was not 'in a state and a humour to entertain peaceful projects' (fn. 190) and in July 1855 Gladstone, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, reflected that his allowance of half a century for the full development of the Commissioners' estate was being invalidated: 'for every successive year of war I should add five to my estimate'. (fn. 191) More specifically the threat of war had obliged adherents of the Prince's scheme to fight off a plan, sponsored by Sir Charles Trevelyan in the Treasury and advocated by Gladstone, to place a barracks on the present site of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Vehement protests in November 1853 that it would destroy the attraction of the neighbourhood for both residential and educational purposes brought only a temporary respite. (fn. 192) To the Prince's great annoyance Gladstone revived the idea a year later. Bowring sent Gladstone a 'missive and missile', emphasizing the breach of faith with adjacent owners that would be committed by placing such a building on an estate much of which they had sold to the Commissioners in the belief that its development would enhance the value of their remaining properties. (fn. 193) In January 1855 the Prince was thinking that the south side of Cromwell Road would at least be a less harmful location. A grand front could look towards the Commissioners' rectangle, while the soldiers could be kept well away at the back. (fn. 194) By the summer the idea was dropped. (fn. 195) In 1858 it briefly revived and Gladstone, by then out of office, was (though a Commissioner) reported to be angry when Disraeli quashed it. (fn. 196)
Compared with Disraeli, Gladstone's attitude to the Commission was, indeed, hesitant, and he was liable to become 'crotchety and refining' over the financial requirements of the scheme. (fn. 197) He reiterated that the estate should be made to 'fructify' during its long years of development (fn. 198) and this brought him into collision with the Prince. Lord Granville thought in 1856 that the Prince was 'much afraid' of him. (fn. 197)
The one great step forward during the period of the partnership with the Government was the establishment of the Science and Art Department and its South Kensington Museum on the estate in 1856, a development more fully reviewed in Chapters V and VI. The Commissioners made a contribution of some £5,000 towards the cost of the new buildings. Obstructiveness in the Treasury in 1855–6, however, angered the Prince's circle. (fn. 199)
Then in summer 1856 Parliament's rejection of the National Gallery project raised the question whether the partnership served the Commissioners' purposes. The adverse judgment on South Kensington of the National Gallery Royal Commission in the summer of 1857 made the prospects of further directly governmental enterprises there seem remote. The Prince felt the estate had lain too long under grass (fn. 200) ('Can it be that a model farm . . . is here contemplated?' enquired The Builder (fn. 201) ). In April 1858, after the election of Lord Derby's Conservative Government, the Prince decided to ask the Treasury to dissolve the partnership, adducing as a reason the five years' delay caused by governmental indecision over the siting of 'national institutions'. The Treasury under Disraeli soon agreed, (fn. 202) the requisite Bill became law in July 1858, (fn. 203) and the dissolution was effected by Treasury Warrant in January 1859. (fn. 204) The £177,500 that had been advanced to the Commissioners was to be repaid. The Treasury was empowered to retain the eastern part, occupied by the Science and Art Department, so long as the Government used it for purposes of science and art, and from the amount repayable by the Commissioners £60,000 was remitted for the period of governmental tenure. (fn. 7)
The development of the outlying portions of the estate
The Commissioners thus had to find, that is borrow, £120,000 on the security of their property. Learning in summer 1858 that fluctuations in the price of consols made a loan from Baron Villars impracticable, (fn. 206) the Commissioners turned in July to one of their own number, the banker, Lord Overstone. At that time, however, the Commissioners seem not to have wanted to include in the security the southern sixteen acres of their main rectangle, where a great exhibition was in prospect for 1861. When offered less than the whole estate as security in November Lord Overstone 'worked himself up into a perfect passion', and the Commissioners eventually borrowed the money from the Commissioners for Greenwich Hospital at 4 per cent in January 1859. (fn. 207)
The interest payment on the loan thus amounted to £4,800 per annum, but it proved possible to meet this from the proceeds of letting the estate's three outlying parts (of which the fourth had already been appropriated for the South Kensington Museum). These contained only twelve and a quarter acres in all, and a much higher level of ground rents had to be obtained from building lesses than was usual—much higher, for example, than the £100 per annum per acre that Lord Harrington had secured by his agreement with William Jackson in 1852. But in this the Commissioners were successful. Apart from the favourable effect on prospective building lesses of the Prince's obvious interest in the prosperity of the estate, the Commissioners' land was presumably attractive to lesses because the layout of roads gave the outlying parts a comparatively high proportion of street-frontage, while the inclusion in leases of an option to buy the freehold at thirty-one years' purchase of the ground rent was evidently also an inducement to speculators. In the end the Commissioners obtained £4,900 per annum for their outlying lands or some £400 per annum per acre.
In 1854 Gladstone, as a Commissioner, had been thinking of granting building leases for short terms but Thomas Cubitt was emphatic that no one would take such a lease for less than eighty years. (fn. 208) By the latter part of 1856 and early in 1857 land in Queen's Gate Terrace and Cromwell Road was attracting an encouraging level of ground rents under ninety-nine-year leases (fn. 209) and in the late summer or autumn of 1857 the Commissioners followed the lead given by Lord Harrington, H. B. Alexander and others, and agreed to let part of their own plot west of Queen's Gate, containing some three and a quarter acres on the north side of Queen's Gate Terrace (fig. 18 on page 53 and plans B, C in end pocket), at a rent rising in four years to £1,500 per annum. The lessee was Lord Harrington's tenant, William Jackson, whose new houses northward in Queen's Gate had been thought an enhancement of the Commissioners' property opposite. He was to pay some £460 per annum per acre. (fn. 210)
In September 1858, when the Commissioners were looking actively for their loan, tenders were invited for the remainder of the plot west of Queen's Gate, and for the two parts south of Cromwell Road (fig. 18 and plans B, C). (fn. 211) The mortgage was being arranged at the end of the year, and by February 1859 all the plots had, to the Prince's delight, been made the objects of leasing agreements. (fn. 212) The residue west of Queen's Gate, with a long important frontage, was again taken by Jackson, who paid £1,500 per annum for only some two and a half acres or £600 per annum per acre. The south-western piece was taken by William Douglas, a house agent and upholsterer in Lowndes Street, who paid £1,250 for some five and a quarter acres or £238 per annum per acre, and the south-eastern piece (again with a high proportion of street-frontage) by John Spicer, a builder of Pimlico, who paid £650 per annum for some one and a quarter acres, or £520 per annum per acre. (fn. 213) In the summer of 1859 Jackson, whom Bowring had been inclined to regard as a 'man of straw', shared the decline in fortune of some other Kensington builders about that time and only narrowly avoided bankruptcy. (fn. 214) Having failed to begin work on his second plot he was dispossessed in January 1860, and a new arrangement was made in June with a country gentleman, James Whatman, who was already the adjacent building lessee on the Alexander estate. The terms were financially similar to Jackson's here. (fn. 215) He intended to join with his own (and Lord Harrington's) architect, C. J. Richardson, in a speculative development of houses to be built, evidently, by contract. Eventually this idea collapsed in mutual recrimination, producing only five houses, and the greater part of Whatman's holding was made over on lease to two builders, Charles Aldin or William Watts. (fn. 216) The latter had also been one of the lesses who took over and completed Jackson's building commitments on his first plot.
In the course of these developments the street-pattern was completed by the laying out of the eastern end of Elevaston Place, of Queensberry Place, Queensberry Mews West and Queensberry Way, of Exhibition Road south of Cromwell Road, and of the short road from Cromwell Gardens to Thurloe Square.
The building history of these plots is given in Chapter XXII. Generally, the houses conformed closely in style and character to those about them—not surprisingly as they were the work of building lessees operating elsewhere in the neighbourhood.
The control over the architectural character of the houses exercised by the Prince before his death at the end of 1861 does not seem to have been especially stringent, although he personally examined the builders' plans. In 1858, for example, he approved 'the elevations and plans of houses submitted for Mr. Jackson' in Queen's Gate Terrace (Plate 83d, fig. 66 on page 310). (fn. 217) He had Douglas widen an intended road. But doubts that he had about Spicer's overcrowding of his site seem to have remained quiescent. (fn. 218) According to Whatman the Prince liked Richardson's design for the houses Whatman was building at Nos. 44–52 Queen's Gate adjacent to the Commissioners' estate (Plate 85b, fig. 68 on page 310). But it seems that when Whatman in 1860 took over the Commissioners' plot vacated by Jackson it was with the idea of pleasing the Prince by building more houses of the same design, because the Prince 'could not enforce this upon the royal commission' unless the lessee was compliant. (fn. 219) In truth, the Commissioners could not afford to jeopardise arrangements that financed the mortgage, and the appearance of the houses built on their land is dumb evidence of the Prince's circumscribed powers. The architectural responsibility for most parts of the Commissioners' estate is difficult to establish, but undoubtedly no one designer was forced upon the lessees. Apart from one architectural feature of their houses that was perhaps exacted of lessees (see pages 310–11), a certain consistency within wide limits was the best that could be achieved. But Bowring later took credit to the Commissioners for saving South Kensington from uncoordinated builders' work. (fn. 220)
The option to buy the freehold was widely exercised, particularly south of Cromwell Road, where Spicer bought his land in 1867 and Douglas his in 1874. (fn. 221) Covenants were intended to ensure the continued use of the houses for domestic residential purposes. (fn. 222)
In all, some 156 houses were built on the various plots, and about the same number of coach-houses or stables in mews. Seemingly the provision of these last was slightly more ample than on neighbouring estates. Building progressed from c. 1858 to c. 1872. The early 1860's saw something of a lull in the occupation of new houses, in part, no doubt, because of the presence of the unpopular and latterly dilapidated 1862 Exhibition building. The renewed influx of residents at the end of the 1860's may have owed something to the opening of the South Kensington Station in 1868.
The previous lack of direct rail communication to South Kensington had chiefly worried the Commissioners, however, in respect of the public buildings raised or in prospect there. Bowring spoke bravely of the attractions for working-class visitors of 'the walk across the green sward of the parks', (fn. 223) and in 1860 told a Select Committee of the House of Commons that in Kensington Gardens he had met a large party of working men who had marched behind their own band from Kennington to enjoy a half-day's holiday in the South Kensington Museum. At that period Cole thought that most of the visitors to the Museum in fact came on foot. (fn. 224) Others deplored the deterrent effect of a sixpenny bus fare from central London. (fn. 225)
Public buildings on the main rectangle
Plans a, b between pages 54 and 55
At the end of 1861 the Commissioners were suddenly bereft of leadership by the death of the Prince, at a time of hopeful but uncertain prospects. The South Kensington Museum (now, however, in effect detached from their estate) was giving evidence of its popularity, and had put forward an ambitious completion scheme. On the main rectangle the Horticultural Society's garden was open, its construction having cost the Commissioners over £50,000 raised by a further mortgage from Greenwich Hospital, which it was intended should be serviced by the Horticultural Society's rent. (fn. 226) To the south the huge 1862 Exhibition building was already rising. A museum of natural history was in prospect between the garden and Queen's Gate. The year 1862, however, saw that scheme's final extinction by the House of Commons, and a disappointing result at the Exhibition, while the next year or two similarly witnessed a decline in the garden's fortunes. The Prince's vision of the 'vast quadrangle of public buildings' seemed remote. Bowring and Cole felt the want of his guidance acutely, Cole especially doubting the Commissioners' ability to withstand the hostility of the House of Commons. (fn. 227) At the end of 1862 thoughts of letting off the sides of the main rectangle for building were reluctantly entertained by Bowring, Grey and the young Prince of Wales, to raise funds to improve the garden, but periodicals expressed disapproval and it was thought the effect on the garden's fortunes would be harmful. (fn. 228) Some called for the Commission to be terminated, but that was, as Bowring observed in December 1862, 'more easily said than done'. (fn. 229) Cole revived an idea that had won some countenance from the Prince in 1853, of running the estate by a privately financed company, and talked in his characteristic way of 'debentures'. (fn. 230) Alternatively, the surrender of the whole to the Government was considered. Grey preferred, if necessary, to turn the estate into building-land and use the proceeds to found scholarships, as more consonant with the Prince's thinking. Moreover, the Government was unlikely to buy. (fn. 231) Parliamentary resistance to the Commissioners' schemes, and to Cole personally, expressed itself violently in the summer of 1863 against the retention of the Exhibition building. This was applauded as 'the most straightforward and damaging blow that the intriguing clique at South Kensington has hitherto received'. (fn. 232)
But to the great relief of the Commission's friends, Palmerston's Government did obtain the more vital Parliamentary consent to the purchase of the sixteen acres or so of the Exhibition site from the Commissioners. The agreed price was £120,000, set by the Commissioners at just under half the supposed market value of about £15,000 per acre. (fn. 233) Like the previous and subsequent disposals of sites to the Government it was conditional on use for the purposes of science and art (a condition relaxed in 1890 in respect of part of the Queen's Gate frontage). (fn. 234) This important transaction was effected in September 1864 and temporarily eased the Commissioners' finances. With the building upon the site doomed to ruination, however, Grey prophesied with approximate truth that the ground would be boarded up in Government hands for twenty years. (fn. 235)
On the greater, retained part of the rectangle the years 1862 to 1867 saw little visible activity beyond the embellishment and reanimation of the garden at the Commissioners' expense. The vacant presidency was finally filled in 1864 in the person of Lord Derby who showed more caution than dynamism. Grey in March 1865 thought the Commission 'not only the least speculative, but the least enterprising body in Europe'. (fn. 236)
In 1863 the memorial to the 1851 Exhibition had been inaugurated in the garden, surmounted by a dull statue of the Prince. There, in Gladstone's words to Palmerston, he was 'like Wren in St. Paul's'. (fn. 237) The greater 'personal memorial' north of Kensington Road was no formal concern of the Commissioners, but for a number of years was expected to be visually integrated with the estate and in particular to be harmoniously related to the proposed hall south of the road.
The prospective form of this hall much occupied the Commission's friends and it became a receptacle for various unfulfilled ideas of the Prince's. (fn. 238) Soon after his death, for example, Cole had tried to revive the idea of the estate as an avowed 'university'. (fn. 239) The hazy concept of the hall as a centre of intellectual union, where provincial learned societies could 'confer with the metropolitan authorities' was not well received: who, periodicals asked, were these 'metropolitan authorities'? But Lord Derby had hopes of attracting the London societies to it as the Prince had wished. (fn. 240)
His expectations were not, however, chiefly directed towards the scientific or technical societies, and the 1860's generally saw some lapse of active interest at South Kensington in that 'harder' side of the Prince's scheme: the exceptions are the struggle of Cole, T. H. Huxley, J. F. D. Donnelly and others to build up an advanced school of general science on the narrow base of 'naval architecture' in the face of Treasury suspicions, and the less controverted (but in respect of the Prince's scheme perhaps less relevant) progression towards a natural history museum. Despite a favourable Select Committee report the prospect of a 'science museum' rather receded.
The societies Lord Derby chiefly wanted were the Royal Academy of Music and, in looser connexion with the hall, the Royal Academy of Arts. The former had already thought of coming to South Kensington in 1853 but difficulties over money and organization finally killed the idea in 1873. The latter excited great hopes in 1865–6 of its removal from Trafalgar Square to South Kensington, which had been intermittently in prospect during the 1850's. (fn. 241) In January 1865 the Queen looked favourably on the idea that the Commissioners should offer a free site to the Academy's President, Sir Charles Eastlake, a sympathizer with South Kensington aspirations. (fn. 242) Her wishes were made known by her surveyor of pictures, Richard Redgrave, an Academician and officer of Cole's Department. Eastlake was succeeded in March 1866 by Sir Francis Grant who in May was close to accepting a three-acre site on the west side of Exhibition Road in preference to a site in front of Burlington House offered by the Government. Then the situation became fluid again with the prospect that it might be the National Gallery that would remove from Trafalgar Square, perhaps to South Kensington after all. In July Lord Derby became Prime Minister but almost immediately his and the Queen's hopes were disappointed when Grant obtained from the First Commissioner of Works the offer of a better site at Burlington House. Grant had been very nervous of the unpopularity of a move to South Kensington—with the public for its remoteness and with Academicians for what Grey called their 'great jealousy of Mr. Cole'. (fn. 8)
The national collection of portraits did come to South Kensington in 1865, to the south side of the Horticultural Society's garden. (fn. 243) In 1876 the Commissioners thought its removal into the Albert Hall's picture gallery would be ideal (fn. 244) but it stayed in the Southern Gallery until it went to Bethnal Green in 1885. (fn. 245)
This trend of the estate towards a show- or exhibition-place was becoming more plausible with better access by rail. Already in 1854 Cole and Redgrave's layout plan had hopefully borne the words '?Railway Station' on the Commissioners' south-west outlying plot. (fn. 246) During the Prince's lifetime, however, the various schemes, particularly from 1857 onwards, that had won his cautious welcome were for a station near but emphatically not on the estate. A site at Stanhope Gardens would have been acceptable in 1858, when he would have put a 'leviathan hotel' opposite in Queen's Gate, on the Commissioners' south-west plot. (fn. 247) In 1860 there was some tentative planning for a line and station on or near the 1862 Exhibition site but it was perhaps thought injurious to the estate. (fn. 278) It was 1864 before any of the schemes came to fruition, when, with the Commissioners' support, the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways' Acts became law, (fn. 249) and the construction of the South Kensington Station was authorized. The Commissioners had a proviso inserted that this should be 'a first-class ornamental passenger station' and not be used for goods traffic. (fn. 250) A Commissioners' plan of 1867 shows an entrance on the north side of the station, facing up Exhibition Road, where the railway companies' engineer, Sir John Fowler, was in 1864 hoping 'to make a handsome elevation . . . so that people going down the Exhibition Road would see a good looking building'. (fn. 251)
The extension of Exhibition Road was carried out by the railway companies who bought land for it from the Commissioners at thirty-three years' purchase plus 10 per cent. (fn. 252) The companies also extended Harrington Road, mostly off the Commissioners' estate, but the Commissioners ensured that in certain eventualities screen walls should be built there, and in Thurloe Square, to preserve the amenities. This was presumably the easier as their surveyor, Hunt, was also the railway companies' surveyor. (fn. 253)
In the later 1860's the Commissioners' financial prospects were thought to be improving, with the 1862 Exhibition site sold, and their ground rents selling at thirty-three years' purchase. By 1867 £23,000-worth of ground rents had been sold since 1861, and by 1869 the mortgage debts were down to £70,000 with further reduction by the railway land-purchase in prospect. (fn. 254) In 1870, in fact, the Commissioners felt able to make an abortive offer to buy back the 1862 site, which was lying dormant in governmental ownership. (fn. 255)
By then the uncertainty following the Prince's death had given way to a period of great building activity under various auspices on, or just off, the estate, that lasted from 1867 into the 1870's. On the ground of the Science and Art Department the great Cast Courts of the South Kensington Museum were rising, and also the Science School (now Huxley Building) in Exhibition Road. At the north end of the estate a committee was building the Albert Hall on a site leased, virtually free and perpetually, from the Commissioners and another committee the Albert Memorial (off the estate). The Commissioners themselves were building two big galleries (the Eastern and Western Galleries) to house Annual International Exhibitions. All these were finished in 1871–3: by the latter year another committee was building next to the Albert Hall the school (now the Royal College of Organists) that was to become the first home of the Royal College of Music, and at the south end the Government was starting on the great Natural History Museum. By the end of the 1870's the area of monumental buildings thus exhibited a kind of coherence round the central garden that it thereafter lost (Plate 55c).
Except for the Albert Memorial the buildings of 1867–73 expressed the policy of basing the future of the estate essentially on the garden, the Annual Exhibitions and the hall. These were to be worked in common for their reciprocal benefit and exhibited a wide range of displays that illustrated the Commissioners' well-known theme, adjusted, however, (though unavowedly) towards the habits of a leisured public. It is perhaps significant that at the South Kensington Museum the number of evening visitors, among whom the working classes were prominent, had increased much less than that of daytime visitors between 1858 and 1866. (fn. 256) In the latter year Grey told Grant that the Royal Academy at South Kensington would have attracted those who 'could take it in the course of their morning walks in the Park'. (fn. 257) The making of the Pont Street extension in the 1870's presumably made South Kensington easier of access from Belgravia.
On the Commission the executive committee set up in 1869 for the Annual Exhibitions was changed in 1872 into a committee of management that became the Commissioners' policy-making body. (fn. 258) Its initial function was to co-ordinate the working of exhibitions, garden and hall, whose interconnexion under the Commissioners had already been detected in The Building News as constituting 'one confederate body . . . an assortment of the same names'. (fn. 259) The links between the various manifestations of 'South Kensington' were acknowledged by the Science and Art Department's issue of a periodical, The Key, during the Annual Exhibitions of 1871–4, with the intention (at least) of publicizing not only them but also the activities at the Horticultural Society's garden, the Albert Hall, the South Kensington Museum and the Science Schools. (fn. 260)
From c. 1864 the Department's museum collections were partly housed on the Commissioners' main rectangle (initially in the Southern Gallery on the south side of the Horticultural Society's garden, in a portion of the former 1862 Exhibition buildings), and for some years in the sixties the construction of a tunnel under Exhibition Road from the museum to the arcades of the Horticultural Society was planned by the Department, 'having in view the permanent communication between the two Establishments'. (fn. 261) Similarly, Captain Fowke, as the Department's architect, thought of connecting its Science School to his proposed complex of natural history and other museums by a bridge over the road. But this came to nothing and in 1871 an unsympathetic Treasury quashed the idea of the tunnel. (fn. 262)
It had been recommended to Whitehall by Colonel Henry Scott in his dual role as servant of the Commissioners and the Department. Scott (1822–83) was indeed the personification of 'South Kensington's interconnexions. Initially seconded to the Commissioners' employment from the Royal Engineers in 1864, as lieutenant-colonel, to help Cole run the Horticultural Society's garden, (fn. 263) he became an officer of the Department: at first chiefly an administrator he became head of its architectural office as Director of New Buildings: he served the Annual Exhibitions and the Albert Hall both as secretary and architect; was secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society 1866–73; and in 1869 succeeded Bowring as the Commissioners' secretary until his death (as a major-general) in 1883. Although seemingly not open, as was Cole, to the charge of nepotism, Scott's administrative functions almost necessarily served the financing of the enterprises for which he worked as architect. (For Scott see also pages 93–4, 182, 192–3.)
Private building on the main rectangle: financial problems
The three main enterprises in which the Commissioners were interested soon proved a financial failure. The exhibitions ended in 1874 with a large loss, the dispossession of the Royal Horticultural Society was by 1875 thought inevitable, and at the hall daily classical concerts in 1873, for example, had cost the Commissioners £5,000. (fn. 264) Their outlay had been heavy. They had built the Eastern and Western Galleries and made a large purchase of seats in the hall. To finance this they had borrowed £150,000 from the Admiralty in 1870, and then another £43,500. (fn. 265)
To meet this renewed charge of debt the Commissioners' Financial Committee had accepted in July 1872 an important recommendation by Hunt, their influential surveyor. Observing the high prices obtained for land near the estate (recently exemplified at Eden Lodge), likewise 'the almost unexampled prosperity of the country at this time, and the demand which prevails for dwelling-houses of a superior class' he thought it opportune to sell or lease for building the north-east and north-west corners of the main rectangle. (fn. 266) It was a year before the latter, a block extending 585 feet down Queen's Gate, was advertised, thereby provoking questions in the House of Commons and the anticipated resistance from the Royal Horticultural Society. (fn. 267) Tenders for all the land had been accepted by June 1874. (fn. 268) The ground rents totalled some £2,685 per annum or about £5 per foot of frontage in Queen's Gate. The six lesses included two builders—William Douglas at Nos. 186–195 (consec.) Queen's Gate, and Messrs. Trollope at Nos. 197 and 199 Queen's Gate—and four prospective private residents, at Nos. 196, 198 and 200 Queen's Gate and No. 25 Kensington Gore. (fn. 269) All but one proceeded to build in varieties of the old stucco-Classic mode. Nos. 197–200 Queen's Gate and No. 25 Kensington Gore, designed by an elderly architect, S. W. Daukes, perhaps show what Hunt himself was happy to accept, as his own firm of surveyors was professionally associated with Daukes here (see page 304). J. P. Heseltine at No. 196 Queen's Gate, however, called in Richard Norman Shaw, just then building Lowther Lodge on the site of Eden Lodge, and Shaw gave him in 1875 a terrace house separated stylistically by a generation from its chronologically contemporary neighbours (Plate 98a). (This and subsequent houses in the new modes are discussed in Chapter XXIII.)
Cole complained in 1875–6 to Lord Granville and the chairman of the Commissioners' board of management, Lord Spencer, of Daukes's 'mean' houses: possibly their chimney-stacks especially bothered him. More generally he mounted a campaign against the policy of house-building on the rectangle, but the Prince of Wales stopped him decisively in May 1876. (fn. 270) (fn. 9)
The chairman of the board of management, Lord Spencer, was, however, anxious about the architecture, and when the north-eastern block was advertised in 1875 it was with the intention of making any building 'harmonize' with the Albert Hall and other adjacent structures, that is, Lowther Lodge. (fn. 274) Again the favourable market brought the Commissioners a good price and by the end of the year they had arranged a lease to a local builder, Thomas Hussey, at £3,150 per annum, (fn. 275) or (so far as the part facing Kensington Gore was concerned) about £9 10s. per foot of frontage. The building of Albert Hall Mansions on the site was, however, delayed. This was primarily caused by the Commissioners themselves in 1876 when Lord Spencer insisted that Norman Shaw should be called in at their expense. Architectural periodicals were beginning to complain of the depressing South Kensington terraces: (fn. 276) Lord Spencer's liking for red brick was congenial to Henry Scott: and in July 1877 the lordly members of a Commissioners' board-committee pronounced accordingly. The Commissioners 'should in future stipulate that the designs for the private buildings on their estate shall be prepared by some distinguished architect'. This might 'involve some pecuniary sacrifice', but the Commissioners concurred, resolving that 'the private dwellings erected on the main square . . . shall be of an artistic character'. (fn. 277) In 1879 Sir Frederic Leighton was elected Commissioner and 'vetted' at least two buildings—Waterhouse's City and Guilds College and Shaw's Albert Hall Mansions. (fn. 278) At the latter (Plate 100) the Commissioners eventually obtained the kind of architecture they wanted via a lease to an ordinary builder. In trying to dispose of the more southerly sites on the east side of Queen's Gate (the 'western annexe' site of the 1862 Exhibition), however, they met great difficulty. In 1877 Hunt recommended a design for eleven houses submitted by a Pimlico builder, J. T. Chappell, with a tender at £2,000 per annum, as 'better than any other in the neighbourhood except Heseltine's'. Lord Spencer wanted a design by Shaw or J. J. Stevenson but Chappell would not accept Shaw's design and the Commissioners would not accept Chappell's. (fn. 279) Next year Douglas refused to build a Shaw design at Nos. 180–185. The Commissioners persistently rejected his alternative, at £1,500 per annum, 'looking to the complete absence of architectural effect in Mr. Douglas's proposed buildings', which would evidently have been very like the still-existing Nos. 186–189, 193 and 195 (fig. 62 on page 306). (fn. 280)
Unfortunately for the Commissioners, their architectural enlightenment had come upon them simultaneously with a contraction in the demand for big family-houses. In 1878 Hussey's solicitors told them 'there are at the present moment acres of large mansions at South Kensington empty but finished. Two of every three of the builders have failed or are on the verge of it', (fn. 281) an assertion still confirmed in 1881 by the Commissioners' surveyors (fn. 282) who in the following year noted their long failure to let the 'western annexe' for 'large mansions'. (fn. 283) Douglas's houses at Nos. 186–189 were standing unsellable in carcase and he himself eventually became bankrupt. (fn. 284) The rents obtainable for three houses of the 1860's on the other side of Queen's Gate suggest a declining market for them between the 1870's and 1880's. (fn. 285)
In Queen's Gate north of Cromwell Road the Commissioners were resolute against hotels in 1894: (fn. 286) the first appears in the Post Office Directory in 1908. The place of the speculatively built family house was partly taken by flats. Hunt had readily accepted this use of the Albert Hall Mansions site in 1875, and permission was given in 1888 for the conversion of Douglas's houses at Nos. 186–9 Queen's Gate into flats. This was the development intended, and partially carried out, in Prince Consort Road, and four sites in Queen's Gate (Nos. 168–9, 171–6, 177 and 181–3) were finally disposed of in that way in the 1890's.
In Queen's Gate some of the sites were eventually filled with private houses: generally, however, not by the old method but on the pattern of Heseltine's No. 196, that is to rich prospective occupants who would go to architects for individual designs. Whatever the exact method the building tradesman was less important in the transaction than before (see Chapter XXIII). By the 1890's the old 'stucco' style of house was sufficiently disliked in Queen's Gate for comparatively recently built houses at Nos. 190–192 and 194 to be refaced and sometimes altered inside when they had proved unsellable (Plate 113b, 113c; fig. 62 on page 306). (fn. 287) On the west side a refronting of No. 37 by Balfour and Turner was in contemplation, but not executed, in 1896. (fn. 288)
One way in which the site layout was changing is shown by the agreed omission in 1888 of an intended mews road behind Nos. 170–185. F. A. White explained that neither he nor the occupants of Nos. 179 and 180 wanted to build stables behind their houses and the Commissioners' surveyors accepted that elsewhere houses were selling without them. (fn. 289)
The private houses, however important architecturally, had been long in realizing, and by 1881 Lyon Playfair was arguing that the Commissioners' taste 'had already cost them several thousand pounds'. (fn. 290) In 1883 he told the Chancellor of the Exchequer 'we have allowed the market to slip from us'. (fn. 291)
Support for scientific education and the rearrangement of the main rectangle
Plate 1; plans c, d between pages 54 and 55
Meanwhile in 1875–6 the Commissioners had survived another debate on the surrender of their estate to the Government: The Times concluded that the Conservative Government would not buy it, even at half-price. (fn. 292) Instead, with their building-policy at that time promising to prosper, the Commissioners had taken a more affirmative line, to give serious support to scientific education in the spirit of the Duke of Devonshire's Royal Commission then issuing its reports. They found room in 1876 on the present site of the Science Museum for a small solar physics observatory for that Commission's secretary, (Sir) Norman Lockyer; housed and supported in the same year the exhibition of scientific objects in their Western Gallery; and, conscious of its succès d'estime, made an important suggestion to the Government in July. They would give £100,000 and part of the site for a science museum and library in Exhibition Road. The site was soon changed to one right across the southern part of the Horticultural Society's garden, and the offer renewed in 1878. The Government replied early in 1879 that 'depression of trade at home and complications abroad and in the colonies' required strict economy, and refused the offer. (fn. 293)
Zealots for scientific education hailed as historic the foundation of the City and Guilds College in the following year, on a site fronting Exhibition Road further north, but when built its early years were not brilliant, partly because the City was as suspicious as Whitehall of 'South Kensington'. The early and mid 1880's were a difficult time for the Commissioners, afflicted also with the litigious, and therefore presumably expensive, throes of the Royal Horticultural Society at South Kensington. Public demand for the furtherance of the Commissioners' aims was limited. They rather narrowly escaped a skating-rink on their estate, the independently run exhibitions of 1883–6 had a distinctly 'popular' aspect to them, while some discredit accrued from the vagaries of the Albert Hall's management. (Sir Henry Ponsonby 'knew nothing about the Comic Songs etc', as he explained to the Queen, who had questioned the performance of a strongman act there. (fn. 294) )
When Playfair replaced Scott as the Commissioners' (honorary) secretary in 1883 their debt had risen to £192,000 and expenditure exceeded income. (fn. 295) Playfair was critical of the Commissioners' past involvement in big building projects. This rather ignored the effect of South Kensington's formidable presence on a public mind unlikely to be affected by anything less palpable; but by 1885 Playfair, with the informed backing of Prince Christian, had supposedly redirected the educational strategy. No more sites would be granted at nominal rents. (fn. 296) Instead, the long-entertained idea of endowing scholarships would be realized by building up an annual revenue. (fn. 297) Despite the slow development of the 'western annexe' Playfair was proving capable of reducing the debt by the sale of ground rents and other means, and a surplus was becoming possible. (fn. 298)
One attraction of the scholarship scheme which Playfair as a former professor in Edinburgh appreciated was the answer it would give to the restiveness of the provinces in the late 1870's at the Commissioners' policy, which seemed to be diverging from the aims of 1851 in favour of a metropolitan pleasaunce. (fn. 299)
The year 1886, however, brought not progress in this direction, but the Imperial Institute. Built in 1887–93 across the centre of the southern part of the Royal Horticultural Society's garden it required the grant of another large site at a nominal rent. This was followed by a further claim, and the Royal College of Music was built on an important site in 1890–4. As the favoured projects of the Commissioners' President, the Prince of Wales, these large exceptions to the new policy were not easily resisted, although the two sites were valued at nearly £300,000, (fn. 300) and late in 1886 Sir Henry Ponsonby was agreeing with Playfair that the Imperial Institute might mean the end of the Commission in favour of another for the new foundation. (fn. 301) There were, however, hopes that the Institute might at least promote scientific education through scholarships. Fortunately in 1888 it had been possible to replace the old mortgage by one to the Bank of England on the security of the Commissioners' house-sites alone, which then yielded upward of £8,365 per annum. (fn. 302) Then in a year or two the Commissioners were able to pay their debt off entirely.
This was chiefly because in 1888 they made another offer to the Government of land principally for a science museum, extending along most of the south side of the new Imperial Institute Road, and this was accepted in 1890. They considered they asked little more than a third of the estimated value of the site's four and a half acres, but at £45,000 per acre that was greatly advanced upon the valuations of the 1860's, and the price of £70,000 was increased to £100,000 to buy part of the adjacent Southern Gallery as well. (fn. 303) The Commissioners therefore initiated their scholarship scheme in 1891. (fn. 304)
Despite, or perhaps because of, the two newly acquired or prospective institutions on their estate the Commissioners publicly announced their change of policy in the Seventh Report of 1889. Acknowledging that 'a feeling has sprung up of late years against the further aggregation of public institutions in a locality already possessing so many', and influenced by 'representations from the provinces', they would 'no longer consider the grant of sites for public institutions as our principal function'. They would in future 'endeavour to raise, by disposing of portions of our estate for private building purposes, a considerable income to be applied under our own direction'. (fn. 305) The consequence was the abolition of the central garden. This was not an altogether new idea. (fn. 306) The siting of Collcutt's Imperial Institute in 1887 athwart the rectangle had been a blow to major axiality, and Imperial Institute Road was laid out in front of it across the former garden. In a sense, however, the Institute took the place of the National Gallery in the earliest plans, and therefore its siting had not entirely ruled out the retention of a garden or 'square' northward, as in those plans. There was a hint in 1888 that the private buildings might follow the crescent line of the old arcades, with the conservatory site left open to give a vista from the Hall to the Institute. (fn. 307) In July 1888 Prince Consort Road was adumbrated. (fn. 308) Two large blocks of flats on the north side would flank an open space to permit a prospect from the Hall (Plate 52b). But by January 1889 the Royal College of Music was destined to fill the centre of the south side, between two more intended blocks of flats, thus decisively and irreparably blocking the central axis (Plate 1; plan c between pages 54–5).
In lieu of any grand north—south line of communication South Kensington's public had, rather characteristically, the bathetic compensation of a tunnel (see page 194). This subway for pedestrians only was constructed by the Metropolitan District Railway northward from South Kensington Station to the south-east entrance to the Horticultural Society's garden, and was opened in 1885, just before the making of Imperial Institute Road left its northern (and present) end located nowhere very much in particular. The upper part of the estate remains in fact none too easy of access by public transport.
The news of the doom of the garden layout in 1888 was criticized in The Times and The Building News. (fn. 309) A complaint from the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association in 1889 was answered by a statement of the Commissioners' need of funds to fulfil their charter. (fn. 310)
The Commissioners consulted amenity to the extent of engaging Alfred Waterhouse in 1889 to ensure that the new buildings in Prince Consort Road 'should harmonize with those already existing'. (fn. 311) Waterhouse had already been employed in connexion with laying out Imperial Institute Road. He had an oversight of the Royal College of Music (1890–4), where Blomfield actually adopted something of his style: he also was consulted over the Royal School of Needlework (1898–1903) on the corner of Exhibition Road next to the City and Guilds College, and over the buildings in Queen's Gate as well. In 1893, for example, he was paid fifty guineas for his 'inordinate amount of trouble' over the stripey flats at Nos. 168–169 Queen's Gate. (fn. 312)
Early in 1889 the Commissioners had agreed to let the two sites on the north side of Prince Consort Road for £5,000 per annum, the lessee to have an option on the two south-side plots at £3,000 per annum. (fn. 313) Evidently land speculators now thought the Commissioners' reading of the market pessimistic and by the end of the year the agreement had changed hands at a high price. The collapse of the Liberator Building Society in 1892 punctured this euphoria and the Commissioners had three vacant sites and an unfinished building thrown back on their hands in 1894. Their aversion to capital expenditure caused them to lease Albert Court for completion, at £2,750 per annum, in 1897. (fn. 314)
Evidently anticipating more residential development in Prince Consort Road than actually took place, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners bought a site on the north side in 1901 where Holy Trinity Church was built in 1901–3. The site cost them £6,000 and they valued it at about £14,500 (fn. 315) (about £52,450 per acre). (fn. 10)
The Royal School of Needlework was the third augustly sponsored building to come on to the estate at less than the market price. It would have been difficult for Playfair to resist a proposal emanating from Prince and Princess Christian. Moreover the rent of £200 per annum, if low, was not negligible, while the quasi-commercial purpose of the school, which was held to preclude a quite nominal rent, was in truth nearer to the aims of 1851 than certain of the intervening enterprises. (fn. 317) In some ways it resumed the theme of Minton's art-pottery studio that had functioned on the estate in the 1870's in semi-commercial co-operation with the Science and Art Department.
That Department had been extending its scholastic work as the Education Committee's 'South Kensington' branch, promoting, in the words of its fifth Report of 1858, 'industrial or secondary instruction'. But in the 1890's its years were numbered. It had enjoyed considerable independence, and, even after 1870, some looseness of Treasury control, at the cost of attracting much suspicion. Cole had occasionally utilized his Windsor connexions, and the fact that the Queen's enthusiasm for enterprises at South Kensington was greater than Gladstone's did not help relations between the Department and that statesman. After Cole's departure the friendship between T. H. Huxley and (Major-General Sir) J. F. D. Donnelly, the Director of Science and later secretary of the Department, helped to preserve the distinctiveness of a Department that prided itself on immunity from some sectarian and other preoccupations of the educationalists in Whitehall. In Huxley's opinion its Royal College of Science was (in 1892) 'the only place in Great Britain in which science teaching is trammelled neither by parsons nor by litterateurs'. (fn. 318) Huxley himself was not a 'university man'; nor, indeed, were most of the administrators of the Department. Chiefly created by Cole, the son of an army officer, it was largely run by Royal Engineers who became modern major-generals without necessarily travelling far from Exhibition Road. (fn. 11) Under Donnelly the Department's drive for technical education was powerful, extending in the 1890's to a great expansion also of manual instruction in secondary schools. (fn. 320) But a Royal Commission and Select Committees were severely critical, and power passed to the Board of Education created in 1899. In 1901 the old self-sufficiency of South Kensington survived to the extent that three of the new Board's four Assistant Secretaries were Cole's son, Fowke's son and Redgrave's son. But the important figure was the Secretary appointed in 1902, Sir Robert Morant, whose progression from Winchester and New College to Whitehall contrasted significantly with the advance of Cole, who had left Christ's Hospital at fourteen. Measures and methods were soon changed. Recent ventures of the Department towards vocational training, for example, were abandoned. Secondary education was divorced from technical and given a more predominantly 'liberal' or 'academic' character, and the contribution of 'South Kensington' to secondary schooling came to an end. (fn. 321)
The grip of Whitehall on South Kensington was not being very favourably exemplified on the site on the south side of Imperial Institute Road bought for a science museum in 1890. For a while the Tate collection was incongruously in prospect there (fn. 322) and in the early 1900's the big new Royal College of Science (1900–6) was placed upon it in company with a Post Office (presumably a 'scientific' building by virtue of the meteorological office upstairs).
The College building made with the new Victoria and Albert Museum (1899–1909) and the Royal School of Mines (1909–c. 1915) a trio of dominating edifices by Sir Aston Webb that gave South Kensington a visual character curiously different from its look in the 1870's. Although the works of an individual and not, as the older buildings largely were, the products of a design-office, they were nonetheless more official-looking than the older (Plates 23b, 73c, 74a). It was appropriate that in 1912 Webb was the third architect to become an 1851 Commissioner. (The other two were Sir Charles Barry, an original Commissioner, in 1851–60 and Sir William Tite in 1870–3.) The Post Office (1908–10) was designed for the Office of Works, and subsequently a number of the monumental buildings have been in fact as well as appearance of official origin. Sir Reginald Blomfield occurs as Commissioners' consultant in 1913 and 1929. (fn. 323)
The design of the Post Office was intended to be related to present and future buildings nearby, and this period saw a reawakened sense of the opportunities for visual planning on the Commissioners' estate—opportunities, that is, that had for the most part been recently thrown away. Webb's contribution to the dignity of Imperial Institute Road was applauded, but the lost chance of north-south axial grandeur was lamented by Beresford Pite in 1905 ('here tears are absolutely vain—there is no remedy') and The Builder in 1911 ('anything more inept . . . can hardly be imagined'). (fn. 324) Behind Webb's frontage to Imperial Institute Road the scene southward was such that King Edward VII told Sir Arthur Bigge on his appointment as Commissioners' secretary in 1907 'You must do something about the scandalous appearance of the waste land where the 62 Exhibition stood' (Plate 74b). (fn. 325)
By then the Commissioners had virtually disembarrassed themselves of their obligations to the Albert Hall and Imperial Institute. The latter had become the Government's responsibility in 1901, and in 1908 the Commissioners agreed to give up their seats in the Hall and their share in any profits. (fn. 326)
In Prince Consort Road, however, a compelling claim on the three vacant sites at a nominal rent was conceded in 1909 to Imperial College, recently constituted out of existing South Kensington institutions. Brought into being largely by fears of foreign rivalry its ethos was not entirely that of 1851 but was sufficiently consonant with the Commissioners' purpose.
The Commissioners had thus put out of their hands their last vacant land and since then their estate-making role has been subsidiary.
They were nevertheless caught up immediately in an important building project. This was the Science Museum. In 1909 the Liberal Government made known its willingness to build, if the Commissioners would renew the old offer of help. The chairman of their board of management, Lord Wolverhampton, advocated a large contribution, perhaps £200,000. This was not, however, from zeal for their work but rather to serve a plan for the distribution of their assets and the termination of their activities. An influential Commissioner, Lord Esher, and the secretary, Sir Arthur Bigge (later Lord Stamfordham), were, on the contrary, eager for a more positive use of the money and grudged help to a project that the State might well undertake itself. In 1910 the future King Greorge V as Prince of Wales and the Commissioners' President threw his influence against Lord Wolverhampton's scheme, and it was announced that the Commissioners would give the £100,000 to which they felt committed, but no more. Lord Esher, the new board chairman, thereafter sought their release from even that undertaking in favour of science research scholarships. (fn. 327) The purpose of furthering thereby 'the training of "Captains of Industry"' was declared in the Eighth Report of 1911, and the denial henceforward of funds for buildings at South Kensington reiterated. In that year the Commissioners initiated a scheme of industrial bursaries (to aid, in Lord Esher's words, 'the well educated poor' (fn. 328) ) and their postgraduate scholarship in naval architecture: they also in 1911 established in its present form the British School at Rome and the associated Rome Scholarships in the fine arts, which they continue to support. (fn. 329) 1912–13 saw an emphatic refusal of aid to the Government in building a new Royal College of Art on the Cromwell Gardens site recently acquired by the Office of Works. (fn. 330)
More recent events
After the 1914–18 war the Commissioners, while acknowledging that in much of the area they had only an 'inherited interest', (fn. 331) nevertheless had some influence on plans for its future, aided by the prestige accruing from their scholarship scheme, which was reorganized in 1921–2 to give research workers 'that complete freedom from financial anxiety which only a substantial stipend can provide'. (fn. 332) The value of the work was recognized when in 1935, agreeably to the known wish of King George V, the Commissioners were released from their remaining commitment (some £65,000) to the uncompleted Science Museum. (fn. 333)
During the inter-war years the Commissioners pursued Prince Albert's aim of physical communication among the institutions at South Kensington in respect of the three scientific museums south of Imperial Institute Road. Until recently a countervailing opinion in the Natural History Museum has, however, limited what could be done. (fn. 334)
A report of the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries in 1930 agreed with the Commissioners, and the Royal Society, in urging a coherent plan for the South Kensington area, in aspiration towards 'the far-reaching conception of the Prince Consort in 1851'. (fn. 335) In 1936–7 a plan emanating chiefly from Sir Henry Tizard as Rector of Imperial College, with the co-operation of the Commissioners' secretary (Sir) Evelyn Shaw, would have concentrated the academic institutions on the 'island site' north of Imperial Institute Road and the museums south of it, where they would have included an ethnological museum. (fn. 336) By 1951 that museum had been dropped, and the Royal College of Art, after seeing a succession of mirage-homes fade, had been leased a fine site on Kensington Gore, where the Commissioners had hitherto retained most of the old house-properties acquired in the 1850's. (fn. 337) The great governmentally sponsored expansion of Imperial College since 1953 has required the retention of the south side of Imperial Institute Road in 'academic' use, and has extended the College's buildings over most of the 'island site' (Plan d between pages 54 and 55). A new lease from the Commissioners has replaced that of 1909. (fn. 338) This and the lease of the Royal College of Art site, though not at rents as nominal as in the Commissioners' comparable nineteenth-century leases, continue the Commissioners' substantial contribution as landowners and by endowment to the support of science and art.
When Henry Cole was thinking how to reinvigorate the estate one evening in 1874 his wife pleased him by suggesting its designation as the National Academy of Industry. (fn. 339) The English have, however, been slow to take a studied or theoretic view of earning their livelihood, and the area still expresses Prince Albert's aims only as modified by the pull of interest among the educated classes towards the fine arts and the pure sciences. Nor is the propinquity of the institutions as reciprocally fruitful as the Prince hoped or expected. In their architectural relations they fall below his ideal, and the area that in 1907 occasioned the King's expostulation still in 1974 left something to be desired. But with this admitted, 'South Kensington' remains a remarkable if forbidding memorial to the practical foresight of Prince Albert.