Survey of London: Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl's Court. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1986.
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CHAPTER IX - Cornwall Gardens
The development of Cornwall Gardens, together with most of the short western frontage of Gloucester Road between Kynance Place and Southwell Gardens, took place from 1862 to 1879 on property then belonging to the Broadwood family. Two main developer-builders were concerned, firstly (1862–76) Welchman and Gale and later (1876–9) William Willett. The original layout and the design of the earlier houses can be confidently ascribed to Thomas Cundy III, surveyor to the Broadwood estate.
Anciently, the thin block of land here stretching westwards from Gloucester Road to the Edwardes estate comprised two copyholds belonging to the manor of Earl's Court, amounting together to nearly eleven acres. The smaller portion next to Gloucester Road (formerly Hogmore or Hogmire Lane) was known as Church Close, the larger, more westerly portion as Long Mead, and the division between them was an old footpath, Love Lane, now represented by the line of Launceston Place and Grenville Place and its continuation through Cornwall Gardens. The ownership of these two holdings can be traced back to the sixteenth century, but by 1680 they were in the same hands. (fn. 1)
In 1803 the joint property came into the possession of Thomas Broadwood, second surviving son of John Broadwood, progenitor of the celebrated dynasty of keyboardinstrument-makers of that name. (fn. 2) John Broadwood lived between 1787 and 1812 at a nearby house (now demolished) in the short terrace facing Kensington Gore on the site of the present Royal College of Art. (fn. 3) His son Thomas was only seventeen when ‘admitted’ to the property, which presumably was bought with profits from the piano business, then in Great Pulteney Street, St. James's. After his father's death in 1812. Thomas Broadwood became a partner in the firm with his elder brother, and in the 1820s spent some £56,000 on a country estate and new house for himself at Holmbush, Sussex. (fn. 4) He did not live in Kensington, and until his death in 1861 the future site of Cornwall Gardens continued quietly in use as a market garden.
In 1844 Thomas Broadwood surrendered the land to his son, Thomas Broadwood junior (1821–81). (fn. 2) The younger Thomas was not directly involved in the family business, though he was its largest single shareholder. (fn. 5) With development in full spate on the Vallotton estate to the north, the younger Broadwood in 1858 procured the enfranchisement of the copyhold. (fn. 6) In 1862, shortly after their father's death, he and his brother John Jervis Broadwood (1823–68) set about forming a building estate. They chose as their agent Thomas Cundy III, of the well-known family of architect-surveyors. In July 1862 Cundy was preparing to lay down sewers. (fn. 7) So far as can be ascertained, the plan then proposed was adhered to for most of the development (fig. 60). Two parallel roads were to enclose the customary ornamental gardens, with building plots all round. (fn. 8) Only at the west end, where it was hoped to build a church surrounded by houses on three sides and to continue Stanford Road southwards into the development, did the advent of the railway cause changes in layout.
A first name proposed for the development was Gloucester Gardens, a second Cromwell Gardens; Cornwall Gardens was finally hit upon in deference to the coming-of-age of the Prince of Wales (also Duke of Cornwall) in November 1862. (fn. 9) September of the same year saw Thomas and John Jervis Broadwood signing an agreement with the building partnership of Thomas Guy Welchman and Robert Gale, who undertook to build most of the north side of Cornwall Gardens and five houses overlooking Gloucester Road. (fn. 10) To this they later added a sizeable block on the south side, and a few more houses on the north.
Welchman and Gale seem to have been a quietly successful building firm, operating in the period 1859 to 1880. They first appear in the directories sharing an address at Rutland Gate with the developer John Elger, who had been building there; and since Thomas Cundy III was married to a niece of Elger, one need look no further for the cause of Welchman and Gale's presence in Cornwall Gardens. (fn. c1) During their activities here, they were based on the east side of Ennismore Gardens, next to Rutland Gate. Welchman himself lived for a time in Kilburn, then in Westbourne Park, and from 1874 at No. 288 Earl's Court Road, and the firm was modestly active elsewhere in Kensington. (fn. 11). The census of 1871 finds Robert Gale resident at No. 8 Carlisle Terrace (now No. 103 Abingdon Road), Kensington, a builder forty-three years of age, born in Bloomsbury and employing seventy men. (fn. 12) Welchman was still living (in Putney) in 1909. (fn. 13)
Under this partnership, building proceeded quietly and regularly until 1876. From May 1863 the Broadwood brothers issued leases steadily to Welchman and Gale or their nominees for houses on the north side. They began nearest Gloucester Road, starting with Nos. 6–9, and had reached No. 43 by 1871. (fn. 14) They found high-class tenants to take leases of many houses—a sign of successful development. They then turned to the south side, where Nos. 58–74 (consec.) were built similarly in the years 1871–6. (fn. 15) The last houses they built were Nos. 1–5 Cornwall Gardens, facing Gloucester Road, of 1875–6 (Plate 62a). (fn. 16)
With the rest of the estate Welchman and Gale were not involved. On the south side, Nos. 75–94 Cornwall Gardens were mostly raised between 1866 and 1870 by John Wilkins of Westmoreland Terrace, Pimlico, and (initially) a partner of his, Thomas Ingram. (fn. 17) This marks the first known appearance hereabouts of Wilkins, a builder who went on to work extensively in Southwell Gardens and other portions of the Alexander estate to the south of Cornwall Gardens in close conjunction with Thomas Cundy III (see pages 170–1). Cundy himself took No. 82 to live in from 1870 (Plate 62d); (fn. 18) No. 83 on the neighbouring corner was probably built by a small local operator, Frederick Saunders, in about 1866; (fn. 19) Nos. 93 and 94, together with the houses now known as Nos. 96–102 (even) Gloucester Road (formerly Nos. 95–98 Cornwall Gardens), were undertaken speculatively by Charles Gray, architect, in 1864–5. (fn. 20)
These last houses were built immediately after the piquantly Gothic Nos. 58 and 59 Queen's Gate Terrace, which Gray had been erecting nearby in 1863–4, but they possess not a shred of the same individuality (though No. 94 makes handsome use of the corner). Up to 1876 the Cornwall Gardens houses all conformed to a relentless elevation of Italianate stucco, doubtless enforced by Cundy; Gray was plainly not treated as an exception. The minor changes from house to house are trivial in comparison with the firm hand of uniformity (Plate 62). There is little here even of the fulsome Frenchness of Cundy's contemporary Grosvenor Gardens. Since both Cundy and Thomas Broadwood lived in Cornwall Gardens after 1870, they were well able to mark any deviations or improprieties; altogether the impression here is of a strictly managed building estate.
The success of this first phase of Cornwall Gardens may be gauged by the class and homogeneity of its early residents. Higher Indian administrators, lawyers and soldiers flocked hither from its first years, so much so that Sir Henry Thring spoke jestingly of this part of South Kensington as ‘Maine's Village Community’ — a reference to the anthropologico-legal essays about the close-knit structure of North Indian life, Village Communities, published in 1871 by Sir Henry Maine, a member of the ‘colony’. (fn. 21)
Among early inhabitants of standing were the following. No. 1: Sir Charles Synge Christopher Bower (Baron Bowen), judge, 1881–6. Nos. 2: Sampson Samuel Lloyd, M.P., 1879–92. No. 3: Sir Archibald Alison, 2nd bt., onearmed general, and later member of the Council of India, 1879–83. No. 7: Sir Robert Montgomery, Indian administrator and member of the Council of India, 1868–88. No. 13: Herman Merivale, Under-Secretary for India, 1866–74; Sir George Campbell, M.P., Indian administrator, member of the Council of India, and ethnologist, 1876–81. No. 16: John Holms, M.P. and Glasgow spinner, 1865–91. No. 18: Sir James Sibbald David Scott, 3rd bt. and army historian, 1871–85; his wife Harriet Anne, Lady Scott, novelist, 1871–94. No. 22: Sir John St. George, general, 1876–91. No. 24: Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, jurist, Indian administrator, member of the Council of India, and essayist, 1868–80. No. 26: Sir Edward Cooper Hodge, general, 1868–95. No. 27: Sir Henry Sumner Maine, judge, Indian administrator, member of the Council of India, and legal writer, 1869–88. No. 32: Thomas Broadwood, 1870–6. No. 36: Sir John Lintorn Arabin Simmons, Field-Marshal, Governor of Malta, 1876–84 and 1890–9. No. 37: Sir Stuart Sanders Hogg, Indian administrator, 1881–3; Sir John Strachey, Indian administrator and member of the Council of India, 1884–95. No. 40: Sir Barnes Peacock, Indian judge and member of the Council of India, 1872–90. No. 68: Sir Rawson William Rawson, diplomat, 1884–1990. No. 75; Sir Philip J. W. Miles, 2nd bt. and M. P., 1876–88. No. 76: Archibald Gordon, inspector-general of hospitals, 1872–86. No.78: Joseph Edgar Boehm, sculptor, 1874–85. No. 82: Thomas Cundy III, architect, 1871–88. No. 87: Sir James Charles Mathew, judge, 1871–84. No. 88: James Fortescue Harrison, M.P., 1870–80. (fn. 11)
The only interior feature in these houses known to be worth special remark is a rich plaster ceiling, seemingly made up from sixteenth-or seventeenth-century Continental fragments and formerly to be seen in one of the rooms at No. 22 Cornwall Gardens. (fn. 22) When it was installed is not known.
The western end of the Broadwood estate presented problems. The original layout, as has been said, suggested a church. To compensate for the lack of outlet to the west (the Westminster workhouse blocked off access here), it also showed Stanford Road continuing into the development. The projection and construction of the Metropolitan and District railways in 1864–9 put a stop to these ideas. The Broadwoods temporarily lost a swathe of land, wider on the south than the north side, to the railways. As the tracks were covered over here, it was deemed worth taking back after construction had finished. But Cundy must have advised against building directly on top of the tunnel.
The railway companies finally reconveyed the land to Thomas Broadwood in 1875. (fn. 23) Shortly thereafter, in June 1876, William Willett of Belsize Avenue, Hampstead, builder, agreed to develop the remainder of the estate. This marks the elder Willett's first appearance in Kensington; at this time he was still quite a small operator, his previous work having been confined to a couple of streets in Belsize Park. A copy of the full agreement survives. (fn. 24) It authorized Willett to build nineteen or twenty first-class ‘messuages’ of uniform range and elevation on six separate sites and to supply stabling at the west end, backing on to the workhouse. The ground on top of the railway was to remain open, but in compensation Willett procured two sites within the curtilage of the gardens. In this way Willett obtained open space next to or near all his houses to make up for the awkward proximity of the railway (fig. 60).
Willett undertook to build houses worth at least £2,500 to £3,000 each, and to finish the development by the end of 1879. The plans and elevations were to be submitted to Broadwood and his agents, but only the mews arches had actually to be built to Cundy's design. A block plan shows that, from the first, all the houses were to have bay windows, a feature absent from earlier stages of the development. A formidable specification stipulated many details of design and construction. The fronts were to be entirely of white facing brick or Portland cement, both to be approved by the estate surveyor, and to include all the ‘necessary architectural decorations’ agreed on the drawings. No four courses of brickwork were to rise by more than twelve and a quarter inches. The principal stairs had to be of Portland stone up to the second floor, with cast-iron railings and mahogany handrails, and the type and value of the chimneypieces were prescribed. All floors exceeding seventeen feet in span had to be stiffened with rolled iron joists. Every house had to have at least three water closets, with valve apparatus except in the basement, but with the old-fashioned D-traps of lead. Paintwork in the best rooms was to be flatted and painted with four coats, while the bedrooms were to be finished in paper.
Willett proceeded first with the houses continuing the long sides, namely Nos. 44–50 on the north (1876–7) and Nos. 51–57 on the south (1876–9). (fn. 25) Leases for seven of these fourteen houses were assigned to Peter Burton, a stone merchant and presumably a supplier of Willett's. (fn. 26) The fronts here do not vary radically from their predecessors, but all have bay windows reaching up to the second floor. ‘Good’ inhabitants were drawn to these houses also: at No. 46, the third Lord Abinger (1879–92); at No. 52, John Brunton, M.P. (1884–7); at No. 53, Morgan Lloyd, M.P. and barrister (1881–7). (fn. 11)
An account of the interior of the Abingers' house at No. 46, which boasted a fine picture-collection, appeared in The Gentlewoman. On the ground floor was Lord Abinger's library, ‘a large pleasant, sunny room, very home-like and comfortable. The walls are hung in Japanese paper of blues and greys … A large bay window, which cunningly entraps all the sunshine, is curtained in dull red, and within it stands a commodious writing-desk.’ Lady Abinger then conducted the writer upstairs to the drawing-room, ‘hung in a quaint last century style of paper, a greenish-blue changeable background strewn with roses in various shades of pink and red; the parquet floor is covered with Oriental rugs of dull harmonious tones, the furniture, rather prim and precise in shape, is covered with green damask, across which runs a pattern of dull gold’. Next to this was the boudoir: ‘Here all is in metal blue tones, the window draperies and portières of greyish-blue brocade, the furniture cosmopolitan, including some excellent mahogany of the Adams period.’ (fn. 27)
On the opposite side, Sir Herbert Bartlett the builder (of Perry and Company) lived for a time from 1900 at No. 54 (fig. 61), a house condemned by his son as ‘dirty, inconvenient and old-fashioned, and furnished entirely with foreclosed mortgages’. (fn. 28) It was an end-of-terrace house and enjoyed a big garden with a tennis court on land to the south not belonging to the estate, but was plagued with soot from the railway, which debouched from a tunnel close by. Bartlett's near-neighbour between 1900 and 1905 at No. 52 was the Brazilian statesman Joaquium Nabuco, as an unofficial blue plaque on the house proclaims.
On the two free-standing sites amidst the ‘plantations’, Willett built more vauntingly in style and scale. The change from routine Italianate to French exuberance may possibly have been due to Cundy, who had built in such a manner in Grosvenor Gardens. Cornwall Mansions, as the buildings here were first known, comprised two opulent houses barely detached from one another and looking along the main line of the gardens, and six lesser but still substantial houses behind. All were built in 1877–9 and promptly mortgaged by Willett, some back to Thomas Broadwood, others to the National Freehold Land Society. (fn. 29) The pair facing down the gardens, No.1 (Garden House) and No. 2 (Cornwall House) were peculiarly sumptuous. No. 1 was published in The Builder and attributed to the minor architect James Trant Smith, who presumably designed all eight houses for Willett. (fn. 30) It boasted apartments on a palatial scale, with a ‘grand staircase’ rising to the second floor; very generous back stairs from top to bottom of the house; a gentleman's room, billiard-room and fifty-foot dining-room at ground level; a boudoir and enormous connecting drawing-rooms on the first floor; and bedrooms and dressing-rooms above to match (fig. 63). All the finishes were of ‘tip-top’ quality—a feature for which ‘Willett homes’ were in future to be famed. According to The Builder: ‘The walls and ceilings have been richly decorated in the Adam style. Speaking-tubes and electric bells have been laid throughout.’ An article on the houses in 1973 reported that No. 2 (Cornwall House) survived better than its neighbour and still had rich marble floors in the main circulation spaces, a rich iron balustrade to the staircase, and some skilful Adam-style plasterwork on the ceiling and over the doors of one of the drawing-rooms. (fn. 31)
Externally these houses are designed ‘in the round’, with enrichment on all four sides (Plate 63, fig. 62). The facings are of fine white bricks from Burham on the Medway and the Portland stone dressings drip with carving contributed by J. W. Seale of Walworth. (fn. 30) The impression conveyed is of two Second Empire mansions forcibly squeezed until they burst with excrescences — crestings, mansards and chimneys on top, bays and bows at the sides. Now that the dressings are painted and the brickwork has become dirty, the ornament appears more vulgarly emphasized than it would at first have done. The houses behind (Nos. 3–8 Cornwall Mansions) are less eventful but similar in tone, with square bay windows rising to the second floor.
Willett may have miscalculated the market with these houses, for portions of Cornwall Mansions seem to have been slow to let, and early residents were not as illustrious as might have been hoped. In 1881 the secretary to the Belgian Legation was at No. 7, but most of the other houses were still not permanently inhabited; at No. 6, William Willett junior, author of the firm's wider expansion and future advocate of ‘daylight saving’, was looking after the premises with his young wife, and police constables were installed as caretakers at two further houses— a not infrequent arrangement. (fn. 32) The Willetts were using the grand No. 1 (Garden House) as their office at about this time, and hung out the bald notice ‘To Be Let Or Sold’. In 1894 it was withdrawn from auction at £8,000, atter a major redecoration which rose to silk brocades and old French leather paper; it was then said that Sir James Fitzjames Stephen had offered £15,500 for it five years before. (fn. 33) The original prices are unknown. In the Edwardian period the Willetts were asking £8,000 for the remainder of the lease of the similar No. 2 (Cornwall House), or £500–550 per annum. (fn. 34) At No. 4, Sir Polydore De Keyser, ‘first Catholic Lord Mayor of London since the Reformation and a founder of the Guildhall School of Music’, lived in 1894–7. (fn. 35) Terence Rattigan the playwright was born at No. 3 (then known as Lanarkslea) in 1911 and largely brought up there in the house of his grandfather, an ex-Chief Justice of the Punjab. (fn. 36)
Between the wars, the eight houses of Cornwall Mansions were gradually converted to flats. (fn. 37) Nos. 4,6 and 8 (facing north) were united as Braemar Mansions, Cornwall Gardens; on the other side Nos. 3, 5 and 7 became Nos. 96, 98 and 100 Cornwall Gardens. A note attached to a specification for alterations at Cornwall House (No. 2) may explain some of the difficulties with these houses; it says simply: ‘N.B. Considerable noise and vibration from trains.’ (fn. 38) Even so the dismembered parts of these mansions continued to command ample prices. Ivy Compton-Burnett, novelist, and Margaret Jourdain, writer on the decorative arts, shared a flat in Braemar Mansions for many years from 1934. (fn. 39)
The mews of Cornwall Gardens may be briefly dealt with. Welchman and Gale built stables behind the north side of their ‘take’ (now Kynance Mews, a name evidently chosen for its Cornishness), and began Cornwall Mews West at the far end, while Cornwall Mews South was the responsibility of John Wilkins and the other undertakers of the south side. The western complex was extended by William Willett, who as part of his agreement built the stabling now known as Cornwall Gardens Walk in 1877–9, shielding it from the main part of the development by a high blank wall. In about 1883 he appears to have added a few more stables to the designs of Harry Measures. (fn. 40) Lexham Walk, which runs into Cornwall Gardens Walk and thus connects Cornwall Gardens with Lexham Gardens, was made in 1877; mention of its layout is made on page 298. All these areas underwent the customary gentrification after the First World War. In the process the blank wall separating Cornwall Mews West from the main development was perforated with sundry windows, the upwardly-mobile houses here becoming in 1921 Nos. 50A–F Cornwall Gardens instead of Nos. 3–8 Cornwall Gardens Walk through the agency of Herbert Stanley-Barrett and Driver, architects fertile in mews conversions in Kensington (Plate 64c). (fn. 41) In 1919 No. 50B, then evidently just converted, was advertised by its creators as Gloucester Cottage (with the misleading number of 48B Cornwall Gardens) and characterized as ‘one of Messrs. Stanley-Barrett and Driver's unique Cottages converted by them in the Tudor Manor style, full of old oak removed from genuine old Tudor Houses’. (fn. 42) Another, slightly earlier, product of the taste for mock Tudor is No. 23A Launceston Place and No. 10 Kynance Mews, a pretty gabled group (Plate 64a), erected in 1913–14, (fn. 3) perhaps to the designs of Charles Saunders, surveyors, of Gloucester Road.
The one major twentieth-century change to the building fabric of the main development was the replacement of Nos. 45 and 46 Cornwall Gardens by Stanford Court, built in 1932 by the Estate Department of the Prudential Assurance Company (architect F. F. Doyle) partly on the adjoining freehold to the north and partly on the Cornwall Gardens estate, from which it is entered. (fn. 43) It has a Georgian-style doorcase, metal windows, a continuous corbelled balcony at fourth-floor level, and a pantiled mansard roof. Between this block and No. 47 Cornwall Gardens, a passage now leads through to Stanford Road. During the war of 1939–45 the ornamental gardens lost most of their cast-iron railings, though six robust gateways still remain (Plate 64b).
The houses of Cornwall Gardens are now nearly all in separate flats, with many different freeholders. The breakup of freeholds here seems to date from after 1905. Thomas Broadwood junior had died childless in 1881, worth £423,924, to which sum the Cornwall Gardens estate contributed £26,512. He had formally separated from his wife (to whom he left a life-interest in their house at No. 32 Cornwall Gardens) in 1876 and bequeathed 164,000 French francs to a certain Thais Navet for her to buy a house in Paris. It may therefore be presumed that he was not much seen around Cornwall Gardens in his last years. The property was inherited by a nephew, Walter George King, after whose death in 1905 the sale of freeholds characteristic of South Kensington estates in the twentieth century began gradually to take place. (fn. 44)