Survey of London: Volume 41, Brompton. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1983.
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CHAPTER IX - Roland Gardens
Roland Gardens and its adjacent mews, now called Roland Way, were laid out for building in 1870 upon the site of the Eagle Lodge estate, which had hitherto been held by copyhold tenure of the manor of Earl's Court (fig. 43). The developers were Charles Aldin, senior, a very successful speculative builder with many years’ experience of house-building in the nearby Queen's Gate Gardens area, and his two sons, Charles and William, who took over the business after their father's unexpected death in 1871. The development got off to a brisk start, with more than half the length of the road built up by 1874, but it then faltered for several years and was not finally completed until about 1893.
This chapter also describes the history of a small rectangle of freehold land which was situated between part of the Eagle Lodge estate and Old Brompton Road. This was sometimes known as the Brompton Cottage estate, and here in 1873–4 the Aldin brothers built six houses called Roland Houses, none of which now survives.
The Eagle Lodge estate consisted of some five acres held in 1651 by Francis Dyson, who also had another small copyhold property nearby, beside the Fulham Road. These two holdings remained in the same succession of owners until 1823, (fn. 1) when they were both put up for sale by auction. (fn. 2) The purchaser of the land at Fulham Road was the architect Samuel Ware, who at once began to develop it (sec Chapter VIII). The Eagle Lodge estate was bought by John Gostling, esquire, who was admitted as its customary tenant soon afterwards. (fn. 3)
The sale particulars of 1823 describe the estate as having a ‘ truly pleasant and healthy’ situation, and as ‘ affording an opportunity rarely to be met with for erecting two villas or continuous rows of houses.’ There was also ‘a large Dwelling-House and various out-buildings and Erections’. (fn. 2) Gostling appears to have lived here in 1824, (fn. 4) but by the following year he had let the house to the engineer Samuel Brown, while he himself moved to Highbury House in Islington. (fn. 5) When Brown took up residence there was a very large increase in the rateable value of the house, (fn. 4) perhaps reflecting substantial building work, or even complete rebuilding. In this connexion it may be significant that the house was not (so far as is known) called Eagle Lodge before 1825. (fn. 6)
Particulars of 1841 show that Eagle Lodge stood in the north-east corner of the estate, its north wall flush with Old Brompton Road and its privacy protected by a high wall which was pierced by two pairs of gates. It was a square two-storey house with its principal entrance in the centre of the west front, which faced a long range of coach-houses and stables. The drawing-room and diningroom on the south front looked out over well-planted pleasure grounds and shady gravel walks, and there was also a large greenhouse. Upstairs there were six bedrooms. (fn. 7) No illustration of the house has been found.
Samuel Brown, a cooper by training, has been described as the ‘ father of the gas engine’. It was during his residence at Eagle Lodge, from 1825 to 1835, that he developed ‘the first gas engine that unquestionably did actual work and was a mechanical success’, and in the grounds here he set up two engines for demonstration purposes. (fn. 8) In 1830 Gostling granted him a sixty-year lease (back-dated to 1825) of both house and estate at a rack rent of £200 per annum. In 1831 Brown mortgaged the property for £1,000, and in 1836, soon after his departure from Eagle Lodge, he assigned all his interest to his mortgagee, whose executors ottered the lease for sale by auction in 1841. The name of the purchaser is not known.
After Brown the next occupant of Eagle Lodge was Alfred Bunn, who lived there from 1836 to 1839. (fn. 4) He was then the sub-lessee and manager of Drury Lane Theatre, but in 1839, when his arrears of rent on the theatre amounted to over £12,000, he was forced to resign, and in 1840 he was declared bankrupt. (fn. 10)
On the night of the census of 1851 Lady Wombwell, wife of Sir George Wombwell, third baronet, was living here with her six-year-old son, her lady's maid, six other servants and a coachman. (fn. 11) Later occupants included Tom Taylor, dramatist and editor of Punch, 1855–8, and Alexander Redgrave, formerly chief government inspector of factories, 1859–67. (fn. 4)
Meanwhile mechanical and industrial activities had not come to an end with Brown's departure in 1835, for in 1837 a sawmill had been established in the grounds, the first proprietors being William and Thomas Pye. The mill stood at the western side of the estate, out of sight of Eagle Lodge itself, upon a long strip of land between Thistle Grow and the modern Roland Way which is now occupied by a garage. In addition to the mill itself, which contained a fifteen-horse-power steam-engine and other machinery, there was a dwelling-house, counting-house, smithy, and cart sheds and stables. Under a sub-lease of 1839 Messrs. Pye also held all the southern half of the estate, now described as a paddock, the pleasure grounds of Eagle-Lodge being thereby much reduced in size. (fn. 12)
The sawmill closed in 1855. (fn. 4) In 1860 John W. Roberts converted the mill building into a ‘ racket court’, and in the census of 1861 he described himself as ‘proprietor of the West London Cricket Ground’, which now occupied the whole of the paddock in the southern part of the estate. At about the same time the grounds of Eagle Lodge were still further diminished by the formation of a bowling green near the racket court. (fn. 13) In 1865 Roberts was succeeded by F. Jones, under whose management this little recreational centre appears to have continued until the building of Roland Gardens began in 1870. (fn. 4)
The half-acre rectangle of freehold land situated between the north-west part of the Eagle Lodge estate and Old Brompton Road has its own separate history. At the beginning of the eighteenth century it was one of several scattered properties in Kensington owned by Henry Hassard (or Hazard), who died in 1706. (fn. 14) At about that time a dwelling called Brompton House stood here, and by 1718 this had been divided into three separate messuages. (fn. 15) Hassard's property in Kensington descended through his daughter to the Reynell family (fn. 16) and was subsequently acquired by Isaac and Thomas Preston (fn. 17) (see page 23), who in 1748 sold Brompton House to Joseph Colebourne of Exeter Street Strand, a shoemaker. One part of the building was then used as a public house called the Red Lion (fn. 18) At some stage, probably towards the end of the eighteenth century, Brompton House was pulled down and the dwelling later called Brompton Cottage built on the site. The latter was centrally placed in its well-planted grounds, which included a hot-house, greenhouse and gardener's cottage. For some years before 1818 it was occupied by a doctor of medicine. (fn. 19) In 1838 it was bought by Hugh Stark, (fn. 20) later clerk and assistant secretary of the Board of Control. (fn. 21) Previously he had lived from 1819 to 1838 at a house in Thistle Grove (now No.58 Drayton Gardens), of which he had been the first occupant. He remained at Brompton Cottage until his death in 1857. (fn. 22)
By the mid 1860's the Eagle Lodge and Brompton Cottage estates had become virtually an island of undeveloped land surrounded by the advancing tide of bricks and mortar; and during the great flood of building which then extended throughout London, speculators began to interest themselves in its future. After the death in 1857 of Hugh Stark his administrators sold his little estate in 1864 to James Waller, an associate of the redoubtable builder and developer Charles Freake. (fn. 23) from whose leaseholdings on the Smith's Charity estate to the east it was separated only by the grounds of Eagle Lodge. Three months later Waller reconveyed the property to Freake. (fn. 24)
It seems probable that Freake also intended to acquire the larger Eagle Lodge estate, which would have brought nearly all the land on the south side of Old Brompton Road as far west as Thistle Grove within his control. But events turned out differently for after the death in 1865 of William Gostling (who in 1842 had succeeded his father John Gostling as the copyhold owner (fn. 25) ) the Eagle Lodge estate was sold in November 1869 by the representatives of the Gostling family to Thomas Henry Scarborough, a solicitor of Spring Gardens, Westminster, who seems to have been speculating on his own account. (fn. 26) Soon afterwards Scarborough was negotiating with Charles Aldin, who like Freake was one of the great moguls of the Victorian building world in South Kensington, and by July 1870 the future development of the Eagle Lodge estate had been substantially determined.
This was to be Aldin's last speculation, for he died in 1871, aged fifty-one or fifty-two. His magnum opus, the building of some two hundred large houses and almost as many mews dwellings within the rectangle bounded by Queen's Gate Terrace, Gloucester Road. Cromwell Road and Queen's Gate, was now nearing completion, and despite the adverse turn which the tide of building in London took in 1868–9, he was probably on the lookout for land. (fn. 27) In June 1870, accordingly, he obtained the approval of the Metropolitan Board of Works for the layout (substantially as later built) of the Eagle Lodge estate, (fn. 28) and on 19 July he agreed with Scarborough to take some two thirds of it for immediate development. (fn. 29)
By this agreement Aldin was to take ninety-nine-year leases from Christmas 1869 of almost all the land on the west side of Roland Gardens and the east side of Alveston Mews (now Roland Way) at a rent of £540 per annum commencing at midsummer 1871. For three years from the date of the agreement he was to have the right to buy the freehold of practically all of this land if he so wished, and Scarborough also agreed to sell Aldin the freehold of all the ground on the west side of Alveston Mews and of the future sites of Nos. 47 and 49 Roland Gardens. (fn. 29) On the same day Scarborough was admitted as copyholder of the manor of Earl's Court, and immediately mortgaged the estate for £15,000. (fn. 30) In December 1870 he purchased the enfranchisement for £1,906. (fn. 31)
In January 1871 Scarborough sold the freehold of the rest of the estate, comprising the east and south sides of Roland Gardens, in several interspersed lots, two to D. H. Serrell, another solicitor well versed in land speculation, and the rest to Aldin. (fn. 32) Six months later Aldin bought Serrell's portion, and a few days later he exercised his right to purchase the freehold of the lands comprised in his original agreement of 19 July 1870 with Scarborough. (fn. 33) Thus by the end of July 1871 he had acquired the freehold of the whole of the Eagle Lodge estate; but within less than ten days of doing so he died at his house at Clapham Park, leaving effects valued at about £160,000. (fn. 34)
By this time building was already in full swing. In the layout plan which he had submitted to the Metropolitan Board of Works in June 1870 Aldin had proposed the street names Eagle Lodge Gardens and Mews, but the Board had substituted the names Roland Gardens and Alveston Mews (the latter changed to Roland Mews in 1921 and to Roland Way in 1936): (fn. 35) the reason for the Board's choice of names is not known. By February 1871 he had constructed nearly a quarter of a mile of sewers, (fn. 36) and by the time of his death he had by a series of mortgages raised capital of over £13,000 on the security of his Eagle Lodge property, much of it evidently arranged by the solicitor D. H. Serrell. (fn. 37) In October 1871 work was sufficiently advanced for his two sons, Charles and William Aldin, who with W. G. Logan, the trustee of their father's will, were carrying on the business, to request the Kensington Vestry to erect lamp-posts for the lighting of Roland Gardens. (fn. 38)
This first phase of building continued until the end of 1873, much of the work being no doubt directed from the dwelling-house and office and later the works built by the Aldins on the long strip of land between Thistle Grove and Alveston Mews. Theirs was one of the firms singled out for attention in the building strike of summer 1872, but it does not seem seriously to have hampered progress. (fn. 39) By late 1873 Nos. 2–24 (even) on the cast side of Roland Gardens, Nos. 1–23 (odd) on the west side, and some of the adjacent stables and coach-houses in Alveston Mews had all been built or at least started. (fn. 40) The careful design of these houses (Plate 69c, fig. 43) suggests the hand of a competent architect, but who he was is not known. Built in stock brick, they arc very different from Aldin's houses in the Queen's Gate Gardens area, being arranged in pairs with mirrored plans, except No. 2, a detached house. Their three main storeys are surmounted by an over hanging cornicione old-fashioned in style but up-to-date in materials, being composed of cut and moulded brick with a possible admixture of terracotta. The upper windows have flat surrounds in a criss-cross pattern also in moulded brickwork, and strong keystones with several patterns of foliage caning. Stucco appears only on the doorcases and the broadly projecting ground-floor bay windows. No secondary staircase for servants’ use was provided, though at the time of the census of 1881 there was an average of nearly five domestics resident in each house. (fn. 41) In the attic storey there was a single large top-lit room, presumably intended as quarters for female servants. (fn. n1)
Fourteen of these twenty-four houses were occupied in 1873, but the others were not all taken up until five years later. This disappointing response may have been due to a glut on the house market after the boom years of the 1860's; alternatively the eccentric planning whereby such large houses enjoyed no back staircase may have put off potential customers. Many of those house-hunters who did become residents in this part of Roland Gardens originally took their houses on twenty-one-year leases, but in nearly all cases where information is available the freeholds had by 1881 been sold by the Aldins, most of the purchasers being the resident at the time of each sale. (fn. 43)
In 1872, when the Aldins' first phase of building in Roland Gardens was well under way, C. J. Freake evidently decided that the Brompton Cottage property, which he had purchased in 1864, was no longer of any use to him. In 1871 Brompton Cottage itself had been occupied by one of his own employees, the architect and surveyor Henry E. Cooper; (fn. 44) but in April 1872 Freake sold the house and its half-acre curtilage, not (as might have been expected) to the Aldins but to two other important builders in South Kensington, William Corbett and Alexander McClymont, (fn. 45) the developers of Redcliffe Square and many of the surrounding streets. Corbett evidently regarded this purchase as a business success, for he celebrated it (and the conclusion of several other favourable deals of about this time) by the gift of an épergne to Mrs. McClymont on the occasion of her birthday; but in June 1872 Corbett was happy to comply with Mr. Aldin's wish that no more trees should be cut down at Brompton Cottage, and the quite close relationship known to exist between Corbett and Charles Aldin, junior, suggests that Corbett and McClymont may have been acting on behalf of the Aldins in the purchase of this little estate. (fn. 46) At all events they sold it in May 1873 to the Aldins, to whom it must have been a valuable acquisition rounding off their speculation in Roland Gardens. (fn. 47)
Brompton Cottage provided the Aldins with the site for another six houses in essentially the same style as those already built in Roland Gardens, but here all joined together in a single clumsy block and having ungainly dormer windows instead of top-lit attics. Four of the houses had their entrances in Old Brompton Road and two in Roland Gardens, the whole block being known as Roland Houses and independently numbered 1 to 6. All six houses were said to be ‘in course of erection’ in August 1873, when the Aldins mortgaged the whole site to the architect and surveyor, George Pownall, (fn. 48) and one house at least was ready to be let to its first occupant, an official at the Foreign Office, in October 1874. Tenants had been found for all the other five before the end of 1878. (fn. 49)
The Aldins did not start to build any more houses during the years 1874–7, but in 1878 work on three, Nos. 25–29 (odd) Roland Gardens, was begun. (fn. 50) Of these, only No. 25 was in occupation by the time of the census of 1881, the returns for which therefore relate only to Nos. 1–25 and 2–24 Roland Gardens, 1–6 Roland Houses and most of the coach-houses and stables in Alveston Mews. Twenty-one of these houses were in substantially normal occupation on the night of the census, and their heads of household included two major-generals, two civil engineers, and one East India broker, shipowner, accountant, wine merchant and lime merchant. There were also five female heads of household, all living on income from dividends, annuities or landed property. The average number of residents in each house was just over nine, of whom (as previously mentioned) nearly five were servants. Inhabitants of note included Philip Frederick Rose, son of the founder of Brompton Hospital, later second baronet (at No. 6 Roland Gardens), George Willoughby Hemans, civil engineer (at No. 11), and Oliver Ormerod Walker, M.P. for Salford 1877–80 (at No. 22). In Alveston Mews all the occupied premises were inhabited by coachmen and their families except No. 40, where there was an engine driver. (fn. 51)
During the boom years in metropolitan house-building in the mid 1870's the Aldins' energies were diverted to an altogether unexpected project—the construction of a rink for the current craze of roller-skating upon (approximately) the sites later occupied by Nos. 40–46 and 37–49 Roland Gardens (see Plate 71b). An open-air rink was opened on 22 April 1876, followed a few months later by a covered rink and ancillary buildings designed by Thomas W. Cutler, architect (whose later works included the Kursaal at Ramsgate and a huge hotel at Folkestone). In October The Kensington News welcomed ‘the erection of a handsome and commodious covered building’, which was open at stated times and days either to subscribers and invited guests or to the general public. Facilities included a ‘well lighted warm and comfortable’ ladies’ room, reading room and smoking room; a band played under the direction of the organist of St. Stephen's, Gloucester Road; and such was ‘ the careful supervision exercised that, on the public, as well as on members’ days, ladies may safely visit the rink in the evening as during any other portion of the day. (fn. 52)
This incongruous undertaking only survived until 1881, (fn. 53) and the premises must have been demolished soon afterwards.
During the lifetime of the skating rink the only new houses to be built in Roland Gardens were Nos. 25–29 (odd), begun (as previously mentioned) in 1878. They were slow to let, No. 27 remaining unoccupied until 1883 and No. 29 until 1884. (fn. 54) They were also the last to be built in the original style, for in 1882 the Aldins adopted a new design, which was first used at Nos. 26–32, begun in that year. (fn. 55) Nos. 34–38 followed in 1883 and Nos. 40–44 in 1884. (fn. 56) On the west side Nos. 31–35 were begun in 1883 and Nos. 37 and 39 in 1887. (fn. 57) These two facing ranges of narrow-fronted red-brick houses have four storeys and pedimented dormer windows in the attics. The tall first-floor windows open on to a continuous balcony with an iron railing, and are ornamented with triangular or segmental-headed pediments of cut brick.
The east side of Roland Gardens was completed by the building in 1883–5 by Aldins (fn. 58) of No. 46, the southern side of which overlooks the enclosure at the rear of a range of houses in Evelyn Gardens on the adjoining Smith's Charity estate. The roughly triangular site had been sold by the Aldins in March 1883 to (Sir) Peter Le Page Renouf, the Egyptologist, oriental scholar and theologian. (fn. 59) The house was designed for him in the Tudor Gothic style reminiscent of a Victorian country vicarage, and has a prominent corner tower capped by a small spire (Plate 69d). It is built of red brick with stone dressings (now painted), and was occupied by Renouf until his death in 1897. His widow and his daughter continued to live there for many years; the house is now occupied as St. Teresa's Home. The name of Renouf's architect is not known, but the striking similarity between No. 46 Roland Gardens and Parmiter's School, Bethnal Green, of 1885–7, designed by T. Chatfeild Clarke, suggests that they may have been by the same hand; and it may be significant that Renouf's many varied activities included the post of H. M. Inspector of Schools for the Bethnal Green area. (fn. 60)
The building of Nos. 26–44 and Nos. 31–39 Roland Gardens in a new style, starting in 1882, coincided with the introduction of a new partner to the firm. This was Eli Plater, hitherto the Aldin brothers’ works manager, (fn. 61) (fn. c1) who in 1882 was admitted to a partnership for seven years, the firm's name being changed to Aldin and Plater. (fn. 62) At first the new houses had been quickly occupied (for example Nos. 26–32), (fn. 54) but due to a general fall in metropolitan demand in the early 1880's (fn. 63) takers for the others were to prove more difficult to find, and the firm was therefore evidently short of capital. This (reinforced, perhaps, by the new partner's influence) seems to be the reason why in August 1883 the Aldin brothers and Logan (the trustee of their father's will) conveyed all the remaining undeveloped land, the houses then in course of erection but not yet disposed of, and the firm's workshops in Alveston Mews and a number of stables there, to Coutts’ Bank, of which Logan was an employee. (fn. 64)
This conveyance was evidently in effect a form of mortgage, for between October 1883 and August 1887 Coutts’ Bank leased Nos. 31–39 and 38–44 Roland Gardens, as each house was completed, to the Aldins and Plater for ninety-one-year terms; (fn. 65) and between 1884 and 1894 the bank sold the freeholds either to the Aldin brothers or to Plater or to their nominees. (fn. 66)
The only land still undeveloped was situated on either side of the short east-west arm of Roland Gardens, and in 1889–90 this was sold by the bank in three lots to the firm or its nominee. The first of these conveyances was to Sir Philip Frederick Rose, second baronet, who was then living at No. 6, and with whom Aldin and Plater had a contract to build No. 41 Roland Gardens. (fn. 67) The firm began work in 1889 (fn. 68) and Sir Philip moved in late in the following year. (fn. 54) This large red-and-stock-brick house in the Queen Anne manner is set askew on its irregularly shaped corner site, Its principal entrance was originally on the north side but is now on the east side, which is surmounted by a shaped gable. The name of the architect is not known.
The rest of the and on the south side of Roland Gardens—now the site of Nos. 43 and 45—was sold in 1889 by Coutts’ Bank to Aldin and Plater. After obtaining a licence from the London County Council for the erection of ‘private Studios for Painters’ the firm in rum sold the site to John Angell James Keynes, a local architect and surveyor. (fn. 69) Two sets of studios with large north-facing windows were built here in 1891–2 to Keynes’ designs (fig. 44); the builders were Clarke and Company of Gledhow Terrace. (fn. 70) Artists who soon afterwards took studios here include Ada Freeman Gell (sculptress), Paul Fordyce Maitland and George Sauter. (fn. 54)
On the north side of Roland Gardens keynes was probably also the architect of Nos. 47 and 49, two undistinguished red-brick houses in the Queen Anne manner. In 1890 the site was sold by Courts’ Bank to the Aldin brothers, who leased it to Keynes in 1892. (fn. 71) The builders were Sherries and Company of Chelsea. (fn. 72) Subsequently Keynes brought an action against the Aldins’ successors in title claiming rights of passage along Alvcston Mews at the rear. (fn. 73)
The development of the whole estate was now complete, having been spread over some twenty years. Its integration with the streets of the adjoining Smith's Charity estate to the south and east had been achieved in 1886, when Aldin and Plater had agreed to pay C. A. Daw and Son, the developers of the contiguous land to the south, one hundred pounds for the right to join the south end of Roland Gardens with Evelyn Gardens. (fn. 74) Vehicular communication westward to Drayton Gardens was not, however, achieved until 1927, when the London County Council ordered the removal of a dwarf wall extending across the junction of the western arm of Roland Gardens with Thistle Grove. (fn. 35)
The completion of development was very soon followed by the collapse of the firm responsible for it. At the end of 1889 the partnership between the Aldin brothers and Eli Plater had been dissolved, several thousand pounds being owed to the latter, and George Davies, a surveyor who had been employed by the firm for over twenty years, was admitted a partner in lieu of Plater. (fn. 75) But both the Aldins had died soon afterwards, neither having reached the age of fifty, William in 1892 and Charles in 1894. Davies then found that ‘through the complications which had arisen in consequence of the death of his partners, the business had become crippled for want of capital’, and that there were unsecured liabilities of over £11,000. He therefore filed his petition in bankruptcy. During his examination he later stated that ‘The business had been profitable throughout, but the drawings had exceeded the profits made.’ (fn. 76)
By 1897 the Aldins’ works in Alveston Mews had been taken over by the important building firm of Leslie and Company, (fn. 35) later to be the contractors for several institutional buildings in South Kensington, including the Science Museum. (fn. 77) Aldin Brothers and Davies, as the firm had been recently known, nevertheless survived at its original address in Queen's Gate Gardens until 1926, latterly sharing these premises with Leslie and Company In the 1960's this last firm gave up its London address, but it still exists at Darlington.
The outward appearance of the Aldins’ estate has not changed greatly since the 1890's except on the Old Brompton Road frontage. There No. 2 Roland Gardens, a northward-facing detached house with a large front garden, was demolished in 1935 for the building of Roland House, a nine-storey block of fiats designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie and completed in 1936; the contractors were Gee, Walker and Slater. (fn. 78) In 1937–8 Nos. 1–3 Roland Houses suffered the same fate when Brew Brothers, motor engineers in Roland Way since 1920, built a five-storey block of car showrooms and offices upon the site. The architects were Wallis, Gilbert and Partners and the contractors Leslie and Company. (fn. 79) Nos. 4–6 Roland Houses were demolished in 1981, and their site is now (1982) vacant. In Roland Way many of the original coach-houses and stables survive, and some of them still have their round-headed doors.