Survey of London: Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl's Court. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1986.
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CHAPTER XVI - The Edwardes Estate: Introduction
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the estate belonging to William Edwardes, first Baron Kensington, was the largest in the whole of Kensington. It consisted of some 250 acres in three adjoining parcels of land (fig. 104). The largest, roughly rectangular in shape, was bounded on the north by the turnpike road to Hammersmith (now Kensington High Street), on the east by Earl's Court Lane (now Earl's Court Road), on the south by a lane on the course of the modern Old Brompton Road, and on the west by Counter's Creek, which formed the parish boundary. Extending eastwards from the centre of this large tract was an irregularly shaped tongue of land, then a district of fields and lanes, and now occupied principally by Lexham Gardens, the British Airways Building (the old West London Air Terminal), Emperor's Gate and the western end of Cromwell Road. The third piece of land extended southwards from Old Brompton Road nearly to Fulham Road and now forms the major part of Brompton Cemetery, which is described in volume XLI of the Survey of London.
The estate was formerly demesne land of the manor of Earl's Court, which, as the manor of Chenesitun (Kensington), had been granted shortly after the Norman Conquest to Aubrey de Vere, one of William the Conqueror's followers. In 1610 the manor had been purchased from de Vere's remote descendants by Sir Walter Cope, and Lord Kensington was Cope's great-great-grandson. The land had, however, descended to him by a somewhat circuitous route. After Cope's death it had passed into the hands of the Rich family, Earls of Warwick and Holland, by the marriage of Cope's daughter and heir, Isabel, to Sir Henry Rich. On the death in 1721 of Edward Henry Rich, the seventh Earl of Warwick and fourth Earl of Holland, his estates were inherited by his aunt, Elizabeth, the sister of the sixth Earl, who had married Francis Edwardes of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. William Edwardes, who was born in about 1712, was their third son, and he came into the Kensington property on the death of his elder brother, Edward Henry Edwardes, in 1738, a second son having apparently been drowned in the meantime. (fn. 1) At that time the Edwardes estate in Kensington consisted of over 450 acres and included the mansion of Holland House and some 200 acres of land on the north side of the road to Hammersmith, but this part of the estate was sold in 1768 to Henry Fox, first Baron Holland. Its history has been described in volume xxxvii of the Survey of London.
In 1762 William Edwardes married Elizabeth Warren, co-heir of William Warren of Longridge in Pembrokeshire, and it was probably through her that he acquired substantial estates in Pembrokeshire. From 1747 to 1784 and again from 1786 until his death in 1801 he was Member of Parliament for Haverfordwest, and in 1776 he was created Baron Kensington in the peerage of Ireland. He died on 13 December 1801, and his title and estates passed to his only son William, who had been born in 1777. (fn. 2)
The Estate under the Second Lord Kensington, 1801–52
When the twenty-four-year-old William Edwardes, second Baron Kensington, inherited his father's lands and title in 1801, his estate in Kensington was entirely rural in character. Of the 210 acres or so to the north of Old Brompton Road with which this volume is concerned, over 190 acres were occupied as part of one large farm, called Earl's Court Farm, in the tenure of Samuel Hutchins, whose family had then been tenants of the land for several decades. (fn. 3) Apart from Hutchins's holding, which was at that time used mainly for mixed arable farming and market gardening and included some land outside Lord Kensington's estate (see page 225), there were smallholdings of garden ground and orchards near the turnpike road and at the edge of Counter's Creek, and three houses or cottages at the corner of Earl's Court Lane and the highway, probably of relatively recent erection. One of these, which was later known as No. 14 Leonard Place (on the site now occupied by Nos. 257–259 Kensington High Street), appears to have survived in an ‘improved’ state until about 1930 (Plate 108a). (fn. 4)
The only substantial buildings on the estate were clustered together on the west side of Earl's Court Lane in the vicinity of the site now occupied by Earl's Court Station. They consisted of the large farmhouse of Earl's Court Farm, which appears to have been occupied by Hutchins's bailiff, and no doubt other members of his staff, (fn. 5) a complex of wooden barns and outbuildings at the rear of the site, and, a little way to the north of the farm-house, Hutchins's own dwelling house (Plate 106). This was a detached late-Georgian house with a plain brick façade known as the Manor House. It had been erected in the 1790s, (fn. 5) and, according to Faulkner, replaced the former manor house, which had been demolished in about 1789. (fn. 3) A building is shown on this site on Rocque's map of the environs of London which was published in 1744–6, but the farmhouse to the south, which was undoubtedly an older building, was later described as the ‘Old Manor House’, and manorial courts were said to have been held there before the erection of the new manor house. (fn. 6) Seventeenth-century deeds in which the manor house of Earl's Court was let to tenants with the proviso that the parlour could be used as the venue for manorial courts from time to time seem likely, therefore, to refer to the farmhouse. (fn. 7) Manorial courts were subsequently held in the new ‘Manor House’ well into the nineteenth century, with Hutchins sometimes acting as foreman, the last recorded court taking place there in 1856. (fn. 8)
Samuel Hutchins was a prominent resident of Kensington in the first half of the nineteenth century and was noted as a friend of the poor, to whom he gave casual employment on his farm. (fn. 9) As the size of the farm decreased when he had to surrender land for building purposes (although he still had 132 acres on the estate in 1835 (fn. 10) ), Hutchins concentrated on market gardening. (fn. 11) After his death in 1844, when his personal estate was assessed at £4,000, (fn. 12) though this figure did not include the (seemingly greater) value of the land on the part of his farm to the east of Earl's Court Lane which he owned freehold (see page 225), most of his former land on the west side of Earl's Court Lane was let to another market gardener, Samuel Allaway, who took up residence in the farmhouse. (fn. 13) The Manor House was let to a succession of short-term tenants, including Bryan Helps, who kept a menagerie there from about 1848 to 1851, and Alfred Atwood, of the family of market gardeners who had extensive holdings to the east of Earl's Court Lane, including some twenty-five acres which had formerly been part of Earl's Court Farm. (fn. 14) Both the Manor House and the farmhouse just survived the construction in 1865–9 of the Metropolitan District Railway, which ran in a cutting between them, but they were demolished in 1875–8 for the erection of the ranges of houses to the north and south of the present Earl's Court Station.
In 1801 the annual rental of the whole of the Edwardes estate, including the part now occupied by Brompton Cemetery, was only £554, or a little over £2 per acre. (fn. 15) Within a few years Lord Kensington had doubled this by granting new short-term leases, including one of Earl's Court Farm to Hutchins for twenty-one years at a rent of £850 per annum, (fn. 16) but the estate was mainly valuable to him as security for money he wished to borrow. Even before he had succeeded his father in 1801 he had run up debts of over £10,000, and in July 1802 he mortgaged his lands in Kensington and some other property he owned in Cloth Fair, Smithfield, for £12,000. (fn. 17) By the following year he was borrowing a further £2,000 on the same mortgage, and £5,000 more on a separate mortgage in 1806. (fn. 18) In 1812 he consolidated these mortgages into a loan of £20,000 from the Globe Insurance Company on the security of his Kensington estate. (fn. 19)
By this time some parts of the estate had been let for speculative building, especially about eleven acres with a frontage to the turnpike road which had formerly been part of Hutchins's farm, and when the full rent from these developments was received the total rental of the estate could be expected to rise to over £1,700 per annum. (fn. 20) The main undertaking, which led to the building of Earl's Terrace and Edwardes Square, was initially placed in the hands of an émigré Frenchman, Louis Léon Changeur, who, under an agreement of May 1811, was to pay an ultimate ground rent (after five years) of £345 per annum for the land. At about £31 per acre, this was considerably higher than the agricultural rents on the estate. The speculation, however, set the pattern for most of the others which took place during Lord Kensington's lifetime when disaster overtook it. Changeur had chosen an unfortunate time to begin his development, for the building industry moved into a protracted period of slump after 1811, (fn. 21) and it was nearly fifteen years before all the houses in the square were completed and occupied, long after Changeur himself had departed from the scene. (fn. n1)
In 1822–3, when Edwardes Square was at last nearing completion and conditions seemed right for further ventures, Lord Kensington promoted a number of speculations, none of which was to prove entirely successful. Most of them were building developments, but one was the construction of an ill-fated canal along the course of Counter's Creek. A leading figure in several of these projects was Lord Kensington's estate surveyor William Cutbush, about whom very little is known. He does not seem to have been involved in the Edwardes Square development, but in the 1820s he not only drew up the layout plans for at least two of the new building schemes but also designed some of the houses which were erected, and he was also the author of the preliminary designs for the Kensington Canal.
The first of the building speculations of the 1820s was in the extreme north-west of the estate, where, in July 1822, Lord Kensington agreed to let three fields containing some nine acres for ninety-nine years at an ultimate rent of £300 per annum to Adam Tirrell, who a few years earlier had been a baker in Clerkenwell. Tirrell proposed to build a shallow crescent facing the main road to Hammersmith (which eventually took shape as Kensington Crescent) and a closely packed network of streets and houses behind. Very few of the latter houses were built, and even the houses in Kensington Crescent, which at least secured the full ground rent of £300 for Lord Kensington, proved difficult to let or sell, and some were still unoccupied in 1835. Nothing now survives of this small development.
One month after signing the agreement with Tirrell, Lord Kensington agreed to let the remaining frontage to the turnpike road on the east side of Tirrell's ‘take’, with about eight acres behind, to two entrepreneurs, Joseph and
Thomas Brindley, whose main activity was shipbuilding. The Brindleys also undertook to pay an eventual rent of £300 per annum for the land. Under Cutbush's direction they planned to lay out an elongated ‘square’ to be called Warwick Square with the main road on its north side and terraces of houses on its east and west sides. Only part of the square materialized, although without its proposed central; enclosure, and now forms the wide northern entrance to Warwick Gardens. Five houses were built in carcase on each side, but it was not until the early 1840s that they were all completed, and only those on the east side, now Nos. 1–9 (odd) Warwick Gardens, survive. In the meantime the Brindleys had become bankrupt, and after a number of lawsuits Lord Kensington received less than £100 of the anticipated £300 in rent. The square was never completed and the land to the south remained unbuilt on until the remainder of Warwick Gardens was laid out from the 1850s onwards.
The third major undertaking began in May 1823, when John Dowley, a surveyor, and Robert Tuck, a carpenter, took some seven and a half acres for building purposes at a rent of a little under £300 per annum. the major feature of their development was yet another square —Pembroke Square — and although this eventually reached fruition under other builders, in 1826 Dowley and Tuck were also declared bankrupt. Although he was drawn into the legal entanglements of their bankruptcy, Lord Kensington at least managed to obtain his full rent from the ground within a few years, but it was not until the 1860s that all of the land which had originally been taken by Dowley and Tuck was covered with houses.
An underlying factor behind the difficulties which were encountered in all of these schemes, was the sudden collapse of the great building boom of the early 1820s, largely as a result of a severe credit crisis in the autumn of 1825. A sharp downturn in building activity followed, and this was succeeded by a prolonged period of depression in the industry, at least in the metropolis, during the 1830s and early 1840s. (fn. 22) Such a slump was likely to be at its most intense in areas on the frontier of suburban development like Lord Kensington's estate, and the moribund nature of uncompleted enterprises in which land earmarked for building was used temporarily for agriculture or brickmaking (fn. 11) must have cast a pall over the estate. Even the building of the Warwick Arms public house and a short terrace of five houses to its south which survive as Nos. 150–158 (even) Warwick Road took some ten years to complete.
The formation of a canal along the course of Counter's Creek from the Thames to a basin a short distance to the south of Kensington Crescent proved no more successful than most of the building developments (see Chapter XX). The canal, in which Lord Kensington invested at least £5,000, was opened in 1828, but the amount of traffic was very disappointing, and in 1839 it was sold to the Birmingham, Bristol and Thames Junction Railway Company (later the West London Railway), which built a line to link the canal with the London and Birmingham Railway. Lord Kensington provided a further £5,000 for this undertaking, but the West London Railway proved a greater failure than the canal, and passenger operations were suspended within six months of the line's opening in 1844.
Throughout this period further mortgage debts were piled on to the estate. In 1824 the mortgage to the Globe Insurance Company was transferred to a consortium of City merchants and increased to £30,000, which by 1828 had been raised in stages to £40,000. (fn. 23) Lord Kensington also owed £15,000 to the executors of his former solicitor, Evan Foulkes, who had died in 1825, and this was secured by the lordship of the manor of Earl's Court, which was beginning to bring in some revenue as copyhold land was enfranchised. By this time he had also agreed to sell much of his property in Smithfield for £33,000, but as it was already subject to incumbrances of £28,000 the sale afforded him little relief. (fn. 24) His already parlous financial state, which resulted in a number of judgments for debt being recorded against him in the Courts, did not, however, prevent Lord Kensington from taking a lease of one of the new houses in Carlton House Terrace (No.2) in 1829, although he quickly mortgaged the house and within a few years had sub-let it to the Conservative Club. (fn. 25)
In 1832 the mortgage for £40,000 was transferred to four titled persons and raised yet again to £60,000, (fn. 26) but by the following year Lord Kensington was, in the words of a creditor in a later lawsuit, ‘Indebted to the extent of insolvency’. (fn. 27) In October 1833, however, when his eldest surviving son, William Edwardes, was about to marry, Lord Kensington agreed to make a strict settlement of the Kensington estate which may well have been instrumental in preserving it substantially intact for the rest of the century. Under the transaction the estate was entailed on his son with further remainder to the latter's eldest son, while Lord Kensington retained only a life-interest in the property (with a stipulation that he could raise a further £20,000 on that interest). A provision was inserted in the deeds that land could be sold for railways, canals or other undertakings authorized by Act of Parliament, and it was under this clause that parts of the estate were subsequently sold to the West London and Westminster Cemetery Company for Brompton Cemetery and to various railway companies. (fn. 28)
Historians have commented on the usefulness of the legal device of the strict settlement in helping to prevent the break-up of the great estates through the vicissitudes of fortune or the follies of individuals, (fn. 29) and given Lord Kensington's proclivity to reckless overspending the importance of the settlement of 1833 in the history of the Edwardes estate can hardly be overstressed. The impecunious baron quickly borrowed the further £20,000 which he was entitled to charge on his life-interest in the estate, (fn. 30) but this was not sufficient to keep him out of the hands of a shady attorney and bill-broker, James Gibbs, whose dealings merely exacerbated his problems. In 1842 he had to appoint a receiver to collect the rents of his various estates in Kensington, Smithfield and Wales and apply the money in the first place to paying the interest on his mortgages, which then amounted for all his estates to over £160,000. (fn. 31)
In the meantime he had sold the southernmost part of his estate for £20,000 to the West London and Westminster Cemetery Company, the formal conveyance being made in August 1839. (fn. 32) Three years later, however, in the same year that he appointed a receiver for the rest of his estates, Lord Kensington actually acquired more property in Kensington when he bought up the interest of his customary tenants in nine acres of copyhold land of the manor of Earl's Court on the south side of Brompton Road. This valuable tract of land, which stretched from Sloane Street to the site of No. 159 Brompton Road, had first been developed in the mid eighteenth century and could be expected to bring in a much-increased rental as the original leases expired. Naturally Lord Kensington did not have the purchase money — £26,000 — for the Brompton estate, as it was henceforth known, and borrowed £27,000 from the London Assurance Loan Company on a mortgage of the property. (fn. 33) His main object in purchasing the estate was not, however, to enjoy the anticipated revenue from rents, but to acquire some property which would not be subject to the settlement of 1833, and which could, therefore, be used as collateral security by his many creditors. Accordingly further mortgages were raised on the estate and a number of annuities were granted to creditors, ultimately on the security of this and other unsettled land of Lord Kensington in Wales. (fn. 34) The subsequent history of the Brompton estate has been described in volume XLI of the Survey of London, (fn. 35) and it suffices to say here that neither Lord Kensington nor any of his descendants appear to have derived any profit from it whatsoever, and that only the complicated nature of the incumbrances on the property prevented its sale on a number of occasions. Finally, in 1888 a creditor brought a successful action for foreclosure against Lord Kensington's surviving trustee, and this by now immensely valuable estate, which included the site of Harrods, passed entirely out of the hands of the Edwardes family.
In the fateful year of 1842, when Lord Kensington's difficulties seem to have come to a head, he also conveyed the manor of Earl's Court to his solicitor, Henry Whittaker, and the latter's partner, Joseph Tatham, as security for money owed to them. Within a short time Whittaker and Tatham were ‘filling the character or acting in the capacity of Lords of the said Manor’, and subsequent enfranchisements of copyhold land were granted by them or their representatives, Lord Kensington and his descendants taking no further part in manorial affairs. (fn. 36)
After the collapse of the last Georgian boom very little further building activity took place on the Edwardes estate during Lord Kensington's lifetime. The completion of Pembroke Square and contiguous developments on the land taken by Dowley and Tuck proceeded in a somewhat desultory manner, and the only entirely new development of the 1830s was the erection of a range of ten houses called Rich Terrace, named no doubt after the Rich family, on the north side of Richmond Road (as the stretch of Old Brompton Road to the west of Earl's Court Road was known until 1939) where The Boltons public house and the blocks of flats called Richmond Mansions now stand.
As the pace of building in the metropolis quickened in the 1840s, more concerted attempts were made to extend the built-up area in the north of the estate. In the early 1840s Pembroke Road was laid out across the estate from Earl's Court Road to Warwick Road, and Stephen Bird, a builder of some prominence in Kensington, who was already a tenant of parts of the estate, including a gravel pit and some land used for brickmaking, (fn. 37) took the whole of the south side of the road under a building agreement. Here he erected eighteen semi-detached villas and one detached house at the corner with the street now called Cromwell Crescent. Between that street and Warwick Road arose one of Kensington's more unusual buildings, a piano factory for the French firm of Sébastien and Pierre Erard, of which a fragment survives. Of Bird's houses only Nos. 29–33 (odd) Pembroke Road remain. To the north of Pembroke Road Nos. 98–108 (even) Earl's Court Road were erected in 1844–6 on land which had originally been part of Dowley and Tuck's ‘take’ of 1823, and in Warwick Road the terrace to the south of the Warwick Arms was extended in 1845–7 by some dozen houses, all now demolished. The builder here was Thomas Earle, who had been the main contractor for the West London Railway. Earle also entered into an agreement in 1849 to build on the land immediately to the south of Warwick Square, where the Brindleys' bankruptcy in 1826 had put an end to building operations, but construction in Warwick Gardens, as Earle's new street was soon called, was still only in its early stages when Lord Kensington died in 1852. At that time another terrace was in the process of erection on the north side of Richmond Road, a little to the west of Rich Terrace. Here the builder was Stephen Bird, assisted by his son Henry.
By this time Lord Kensington's surveyor, William Cutbush, had been replaced, probably in 1844 when he had suffered ‘an attack of paralyiss’. (fn. 38) By 1848 he was an insolvent debtor. (fn. 39) His successor was Martin Joseph Stutely, the son of Martin Stutely, a builder, and a pupil of the architect Robert Abraham. (fn. 40) In 1839 he had been one of the unsuccessful competitors for the Ashmolean Museum, and in the early 1840s, as an ‘architect’, he had designed an intended layout for part of the Ladbroke estate in North Kensington. (fn. 41) In 1844 he was one of Lord Kensington's numerous creditors and obtained a judgment in Court for a debt of over £1,000. (fn. 42) In the following year, however, as ‘the architect’, he was giving notice to the district surveyor of the commencement of Earle's building operations in Warwick Road, (fn. 43) and he continued to act as surveyor to Lord Kensington and his successors, the third and fourth Barons, (at a salary of £40 per annum in 1854–6 (fn. 44) ) until about 1880, when his son-in-law and also latterly his partner, Daniel Cubitt Nichols, took over. (fn. 45)
The modest surge in building activity of the 1840s, together with higher agricultural rents, led to an increase in the rental value of the estate to about £3,000 per annum by 1850. (fn. 46) Lord Kensington's income, however, was entirely insufficient to meet the demands of his creditors and he was forced to live the last years of his life in reduced circumstances at No. 23 Kensington Crescent, where at the time of the census of 1851 his household consisted of himself, an illegitimate daughter, Jane FitzEdwardes, and one male servant. (fn. 47) He died there on 10 August 1852. (fn. 48)
The Estate Entailed, 1852–96
About ten weeks before his death Lord Kensington had made a long and complex will in which, although acknowledging that his affairs were ‘embarrassed and in great confusion’, he had directed that a number of legacies and annuities should be paid. (fn. 49) The solicitor to several of his mortgagees later described the will as the product of ‘delusion’, and for purposes of probate the noble lord's estate was valued at ‘under £100’. (fn. 50) The debts of all kinds which were charged on his unsettled estates amounted to over £270,000, (fn. 51) and it is not surprising that several cases were brought in Chancery to establish claims to the property. Some of these estates were, indeed, ‘in Chancery’ for over forty years, and members of the Edwardes family had no further pecuniary interest in them.
The position with regard to the settled estates, especially the 200 or so acres at Earl's Court which were left after the sales to the cemetery company and the West London Railway, was, however, much healthier. This estate was only subject to the long-standing mortgage of £60,000 and the further £20,000 which Lord Kensington had been allowed to raise under the terms of the settlement of 1833. The principal mortgagees were not anxious for the repayment of their loans, but the bankers, Messrs. Bouverie, who had provided a part of the additional charge, were also mortgagees for a large sum secured on the unsettled estates in Wales, and laid claim through their receiver to the rents of the Kensington estate. The third Baron Kensington thereupon filed a bill in Chancery in October 1852 to obtain possession of the estate. The case was settled in 1860, when he paid off the outstanding amounts due out of the additional charge of £20,000 and entered into undisputed life-possession of the estate. (fn. 52)
The 1850s was a very volatile decade for the building industry in London and produced a spectacular boom peaking in 1853 and an equally dramatic slump to a trough in 1857. (fn. 53) In some other parts of Kensington there was intense activity during these years, but the Edwardes estate seems hardly to have been touched, perhaps in part because of the second Lord Kensington's disordered finances and his son's difficulty in obtaining full legal control over the estate. Most building which took place during this time was merely the belated fulfilment of earlier projects (inevitably much modified) in the area to the north of Pembroke Road, which for many years marked the divide between building developments to the north and farmland to the south.
The northern part of Warwick Gardens as far south as Pembroke Gardens was completed about 1862, though not without a hiccup when the contractor Thomas Earle was declared bankrupt in 1855. A new builder, Samuel Johns of Paddington, was, however, quickly found to complete Earle's development. Of the houses they erected Nos. 11–27 and 31–41 (odd), all on the east side, survive.
Nos. 50–102 (even) Warwick Gardens, on the west side of the curved part of the street to the south of Pembroke Gardens, were all leased to the builder James Hall in 1859. Hall, who was chiefly active on the Holland estate to the north of Kensington High Street, also built the short return terrace in Pembroke Road consisting of Nos. 50–76 (even), but in 1864 he suffered an all-too-common fate when he also was declared bankrupt. Nos. 80 and 82 Pembroke Road (No. 80 since demolished), together with the Kensington Arms public house and half a dozen houses to the north in Warwick Road, now demolished, had been erected slightly earlier by the contractors James and Samuel Williams of Shepherd's Bush. Further to the east in Pembroke Road houses were still being erected in the 1850s and early 1860s by a variety of local builders on ground which had originally been taken by Dowley and Tuck in 1823 as part of their Pembroke Square development. Of these houses Nos. 2–22 (even) Pembroke Road survive.
One building scheme of the 1850s and 1860s, however, was an exception to this general pattern and, indeed, outside the mainstream of the development of the estate. This was the erection in the area between Warwick Road and the canal, to the north of the present West Cromwell Road extension, of a number of workmen's ‘cottages’, including pared-down versions of the ‘Prince Albert's Model Houses’ which were erected for the Great Exhibition of 1851. This complex of working-class housing, which seems to have been promoted as a private venture by a Kensington resident, Henry Benjamin Kent, was no doubt largely intended to provide accommodation for people who worked at the numerous wharves beside the Kensington Canal Basin and later at the coal depot and railway yards which replaced the basin, but very little of this small enclave survives today.
The two streets meeting at a right angle which form Pembroke Gardens were laid out during the 1860s under the auspices of the contractor R. A. Holliday. Of the large semi-detached and terraced houses which were erected, Nos. 13–30 (consec.) survive. The east side of the curved part of Warwick Gardens, which links the two arms of Pembroke Gardens, was also built up in the later 1860s, and the houses which were erected here, Nos. 43–73 (odd) Warwick Gardens, survive with the exception of No. 61. Nos. 43–61, which were all leased in 1867, were the first works on the estate of Thomas Huggett and Thomas Hussey, two builders who were to play major roles, both in partnership and independently, in subsequent developments on the Edwardes estate and elsewhere in southern Kensington. Thus by 1870 building had been virtually completed at long last in the area to the north of Pembroke Road, apart from some subsequent developments which were slotted-in at much later dates.
The most important and far-reaching events of the 1860s, however, were taking place elsewhere on the estate. These were the construction of the West London Extension Railway along the course of the Kensington Canal, which was filled in for the purpose, to link up with the moribund West London Railway, and the building of the Metropolitan District Railway and the Notting Hill to Brompton extension of the Metropolitan Railway, both of which crossed the estate. One tangible effect of this flurry of railway building was the replenishment of Lord Kensington's coffers, for between 1862 and 1867 he received upwards of £100,000 from the companies for a total of some thirty acres of land. (fn. 54) In 1864 he was thus able to purchase No. 69 Grosvenor Street in Mayfair, which remained the family's town house until 1899, (fn. 55) and in 1866 he paid off the mortgage of £60,000 on the settled estate. (fn. 56) In the following year, on the marriage of his eldest son, a new settlement was made in which the estate was further entailed on the eldest surviving son of that marriage. (fn. 57) Such an extension of a strict settlement to embrace another generation was normal practice on the marriage of the eldest son.
The construction of the Metropolitan District Railway, which commenced in 1865, was the signal for the transformation of the farmland of Earl's Court into a vast Victorian suburb. Building on a large scale began in 1867 when Lord Kensington agreed to let six acres in the south west of the estate, bounded by the curve of the railway on the north and west, Richmond Road on the south and Warwick Road on the east, to Leonard Couling, a builder from Chelsea. In this development Couling created ground rents totalling some £1,200 per annum, which, at over £200 per acre, shows how greatly land values in the area had increased since the 1820s, largely no doubt in anticipation of the better facilities for communication offered by the railway. Two years after the agreement with Couling a further six acres (the site of West Cromwell Road) was let to Thomas Huggett, and most of the land in between these two developments was made available to builders in the 1870s, as was the area to the east of Earl's Court Road totalling a little under twenty-three acres, which brought in a ground rent of £3,400 (or £150 per acre). In all, in a twenty-five-year span after 1867, some 1,200 houses, several blocks of flats, numerous mews dwellings and stables, and two churches were erected on the estate.
Most of the houses built during this prolific phase of building activity were in a conventional late-Italianate style with façades of grey brick and stucco, reaching its apogee in the florid terraces of Trebovir Road and Templeton Place erected by the builder Jean François Van Camp in the late 1870s (Plate 126a, fig. 125). The new redbrick architecture first appeared on the estate in 1880 in Nevern Square under the auspices of the architect Walter Graves (Plates 121c, 122a, fig. 123). Although this style was clearly favoured by Daniel Cubitt Nichols, who became estate surveyor in succession to his father-in-law, Martin Joseph Stutely, on the latter's death in 1881, (fn. 45) there was little chance for it to make much of an impact elsewhere on the estate as only a small amount of undeveloped land was left by then. Nevertheless the style of Nevern Square, with flat, pared-down ornament in cut-and-moulded brickwork, spread to Philbeach Gardens in about 1883 and makes an instructive contrast to the appearance of neighbouring Italianate houses, which had been erected by the same builder, George Edward Mineard, a year or so earlier (Plate 123a, b, fig. 128). Thereafter red brick was used for the blocks of flats which were erected in Warwick Road, Earl's Court Square, Trebovir Road, the south end of Earl's Court Road and Old Brompton Road, and in Cromwell Road, where Nos. 200–222 (even) were designed by Richard Norman Shaw, originally as terrace houses but altered in building to provide a block of flats (now called Huntingdon House). The building in the late 1880s and early 1890s of the attractive range of gabled ‘Flemish’ houses on the south side of Earl's Court Square, at Nos. 30–52 (even), and the adjoining red-brick blocks of mansion flats virtually marked the end of development on the estate apart from a little subsequent rebuilding and in-filling.
The third Lord Kensington had died in 1872 with effects of under £25,000. (fn. 58) This valuation did not, of course, include the settled estates with their vast potential wealth which passed to his eldest son, William, who succeeded to the title as fourth Baron of the Irish creation. He was then thirty-six years old and a Liberal Member of Parliament for Haverford west, a seat he was to hold until 1885. In the following year he was created Baron Kensington in the peerage of the United Kingdom. (fn. 59) It was this peer who presided over the most intensive phase of building activity on the estate just mentioned, and although he raised money by a number of mortgages on the security of the new developments, as indeed his father had done, the sums involved were not inordinately large in relation to the rising value of the estate. (fn. 60) He also owned estates in Wales (almost all of them in Pembrokeshire) which in 1883 were adjudged to have a gross annual value of over £5,000. (fn. 61)
The Sale of the Estate
Lord Kensington died suddenly in 1896, leaving gross unsettled personalty of some £57,000, (fn. 62) and was succeeded by his eldest son, William, who was then twenty-eight years of age. The fifth Baron Kensington (or second of the United Kingdom creation) was still a batchelor, and it was probably for this reason that the Kensington estate had not yet been resettled. He thus had an absolute title to the estate which was now virtually completely built up and produced a rental of some £20,000 per annum. (fn. 63) In 1897 and 1898 he raised £275,000 on mortgages of the estate, (fn. 64) and shortly afterwards went, as an officer in the Life Guards, to serve in the Boer War in South Africa, where (still unmarried) he died on 24 June 1900 of wounds received in action. (fn. 59) His estate and effects were valued at £850,000 gross. (fn. 65)
The reason why he had raised such large loans is not clear, but it is known that he had wanted to buy the freehold of the St. Bride's Hill estate in Pembrokeshire, which he and his father had hitherto held on lease, and he may have contemplated rebuilding or substantially renovating the mansion on that estate, in which he lived. Indeed in January 1900, shortly before his death, a contract had been drawn up for the purchase of the freehold for £60,000. He had also acquired a leasehold house in Portland Place, and in or about 1897 he had bought a ‘large number’ of industrial shares. (fn. 66)
By his will Lord Kensington made ample provision for his family. (fn. 67) His brother, who succeeded to the title, was left all the lands in Kensington and Wales for life, with remainder to any male heirs he might have. The will thus established a new settlement of the estates, but under its provisions the new Baron, as life-tenant, had the right to charge the estate with £2,000 per annum for his future wife (he married in 1903) and with a capital sum of £20,000 for their children. An income of £1,000 was to be paid to the testator's mother (in addition to the jointure already secured by the marriage settlement of 1867), portions totalling £140,000 were to be raised for his two younger brothers and five sisters, and a trust fund of £20,000 was to be established for an aunt.
The trustees of the will found that the mortgages on the London and Welsh properties amounted in all to some £320,000; only £4,000 had yet been paid for the purchase of the St. Bride's Hill estate, leaving £56,000 still to be found; there were simple contract debts of some £8,000; and death and estate duties of various kinds were estimated at about £41,000. In addition a large number of the shares which had been purchased by the fifth Baron were at that time ‘quite unsaleable’. (fn. 68)
In November 1900 the will trustees' solicitors began negotiations with the Sun Insurance Office for the grant of a very large mortgage, (fn. 69) and in June 1901 a sum of £176,000 was advanced to them on the security of the Kensington estate. This was used principally to pay the portions of £140,000 and part of the balance required to complete the purchase of the St. Bride's Hill estate. (fn. 68) But the trustees evidently needed clarification of various points in the will, and in July 1901 they sought directions from the Chancery Division of the High Court. (fn. 70) It was, however, the sixth Lord Kensington and the trustees, and not the Court, who decided in March 1902 to sell part of the estate. They were apparently acting on advice given by a partner in the firm of George Trollope and Sons, land and estate agents, whom they had consulted on the best means of paying off the incumbrances on the estate. (fn. 71)
The Settled Land Act of 1882 had given life-tenants of settled estates the power to sell those estates provided the money was paid to the trustees of the original settlement and held in trust for all of the parties who would benefit from the settlement. The decision to sell in this instance was no doubt taken partly because of the heavy burden of debt which the estate had to bear, but the desirability of retaining large landholdings, especially in cities, was being seriously questioned for the first time. Political attacks on landowners, particularly those with substantial urban estates, had been gathering pace during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In the circumstances it often seemed prudent to sell landed property and take advantage of the burgeoning opportunities for investment in stocks, shares and bonds.
Nevertheless the announcement of the first sale caused a considerable stir. All of the estate south of Pembroke Road, including the area to the east of Earl's Court Road, was to be included. This part of the estate (described in the sale particulars as about eighty-two acres in extent, a figure which seems to have excluded the area given up for public roads) produced ground rents of £18,069 per annum, with reversions, in from thirty-six to ninety years, which would increase the income to an estimated rack-rental of £177,000 per annum. (fn. 72) The Daily Telegraph declared that ‘In the annals of metropolitan auctioneering there is no precedent for a sale of this magnitude’, and The Building News described it as ‘the largest and most important transaction yet effected in a London estate’. (fn. 73) The sale took place on 1 December 1902, when the whole property was bought in one lot on behalf of Edward Guinness, Baron Iveagh, for £565,000. (fn. 74)
In the summer of 1903 the mortgage to the Sun Insurance Office and a substantial part (or perhaps all) of the mortgages incurred in 1897–8 by the fifth Baron were repaid. (fn. 75) By this time arrangements were being made for the sale of the remainder of the estate, to the north of Pembroke Road, The auctioneers and surveyors being Walton and Lee of Mount Street. (fn. 76) The second sale took place on 18 and 19 November 1903, when ground rents amounting to £2,500 per annum were offered in blocks, the reversions, some of which were due to fall in as soon as 1905, being valued at £40,000 per annum. Only two lots failed to find a buyer, and the total yield was some £214,000. (fn. 77) A few months later Lord Kensington's solicitor stated that the entire estate had been sold or contracted for, except a small piece of land in Lexham Gardens which was then about to be sold. (fn. 78)
In 1927 Lord Iveagh died, and in 1930 the Iveagh Trust sold all the property which he had bought in 1902 to the Audley Trust and Sir John Ellerman, the shipping magnate. (fn. 79) In 1933, shortly before Sir John's death, it was again sold, for approximately £1,000,000, to Metropolitan Ground Rents. (fn. 80) They retained this part of the estate virtually intact until the 1950s, when most of their holding was acquired by the Royal Liver Friendly Society, though some parts were sold separately. During the property boom and slump of the early 1970s further fragmentation occurred and a diffused pattern of ownership now exists. (fn. 81)
The northern part of the estate was broken up at the time of the sale of 1903, but some fair-sized holdings were created. Several acres in the vicinity of Warwick Gardens, Pembroke Gardens, Pembroke Road and Pembroke Villas were purchased by the Prudential Assurance Company, which has since undertaken some large-scale redevelopment schemes in the area.
The Social Character of the Estate
The census of 1881 (the latest for which inspection of the detailed returns is permitted) was taken before all of the estate had been covered with bricks and mortar, but what little open space was left was merely awaiting the attentions of the builder. With one or two exceptions there was a homogeneous population through out the whole estate ranging from the modestly genteel to the moderately well-to-do. The very rich and the very well-connected were conspicuous by their absence, as were the extremely poor, except perhaps in one area.
This was in the vicinity of Pembroke Place on the west side of Earl's Court Road where 274 occupants divided between 68 households were crowded into 23 three-storey houses. The dominant occupation was that of labourer, but the inhabitants also included laundresses, charwomen, scavengers, porters, cab drivers and gardeners. (fn. 82) Houses in the northern part of Warwick Road also tended to be multi-occupied and there was a sizeable working-class population, more strictly artisan in character, in the area on the west side of Warwick Road to which reference has already been made (see page 244). There was multi-occupation, too, in the recently built Kempsford Gardens, and the various mews dwellings housed many others besides the coachmen and grooms for whom they had originally been intended, and were coming increasingly to be taken over by workers in the growing cab trade.
At the other end of the estate's social scale, the large, quasi-detached houses in Cromwell Road and some in Lexham Gardens attracted occupants who were wealthy enough to afford six or more domestic servants, but two or three servants and occasionally four were the norm for the average householder on the estate. The smaller, and older, houses of Edwardes Square and Pembroke Square were, perhaps, at the lowest level of genteel respectability. Few were multi-occupied (only one house in Edwardes Square and six in Pembroke Square), but most households were small with only one servant and sometimes none at all. A very large number of householders (certainly over thirty in the two squares) lived on the income from annuities, pensions, rents, dividends, or interest from investments of various kinds. Twenty-two householders were widows and a number of others were elderly unmarried women. The average age of the householders of the two squares was over fifty. (fn. 83)
Throughout the estate the rentier element formed the largest single occupational (or in this instance non-occupational) grouping, but there would doubtless have been a wide social gulf between the widow at No. 34 Lexham Gardens whose income from dividends was large enough for her to keep eight servants and the widow of No. 27 Warwick Road who described herself as an annuitant and had only one living-in servant to help her to look after her relatively large house. Officers of the armed services, both active and on the retired list, also made up a sizeable category of occupants, as did other professional men, especially lawyers of both branches. Clerks, from public service and private companies, were to be found in most streets, and the City was also represented by stockbrokers and merchants. There were few industrialists. In the more westerly reaches of the estate ‘professors’ or teachers of languages, music and mathematics, sometimes with pupils living-in, could be found, and there were some university teachers. A few architects (generally of little subsequent fame) and artists were scattered throughout the area, but did not form any conspicuous georgraphical grouping. Nevertheless the particular literary and artistic ambience of Longridge Road calls for comment, if only because it seems so incongruous in the light of that street's rather dull appearance. (fn. n1)
In 1881 there were already a few lodging-houses, or boarding-houses as they were tending to be called, in most streets, and a number of other signs suggest that the heyday of the area might have passed. Several of the large newly built houses in Penywern Road and Trebovir Road were standing empty, long after one would have expected them to be occupied, and those in Earl's Court Square were particularly slow to take. By the end of the 1880s house prices and rents were moving significantly downwards, well in advance of the Edwardian property slump in London as a whole. The documentary evidence is most plentiful for Nevern Square, but examples of house prices in other streets such as Penywern Road and West Cromwell Road suggest that a precipitate decline continued well into the twentieth century.
Within a few years of the census of 1881 house-building had virtually ceased, even on vacant land. Partially built terraced houses at Nos. 200–222 (even) Cromwell Road were converted into flats in 1886. Thereafter almost all new development was in the form of mansion blocks of flats, and the process of the conversion into flats of the large houses which had been built only a short time previously for single families began its long and inexorable course well before the century was out. A parallel phenomenon, stimulated in part by the nearby presence of the Earl's Court Exhibition site, was the growth firstly in the number of boarding-houses and then the emergence of larger hotels formed by joining several terraced houses together. Some of these, like the White House Hotel in Earl's Court Square, were of early establishment and long duration.
‘The tide of fashion and favour which for some time flowed towards Brompton exhausted itself in the Wild West of Earl's Court’ So began Charles Booth's perceptive analysis of the shifting social currents of the western parts of South Kensington, which was based on a survey conducted in the last year of the nineteenth century. (fn. 84) The ‘wealth and poverty’ maps which accompanied the commentary show the northern part of the estate predominantly in red (well-to-do) and the southern half principally in the socially higher colouring of yellow (wealthy), but he warned of the dangers of taking this colour scheme too literally, especially with regard to ‘the fortunes of the yellow streets which are turning red in the Earl's Court district’.
‘Now the difference between a red street which might almost be yellow’, he continued, ‘and a yellow street that is suffering decay, is enormous, and hardly to be indicated by any scheme of colour. In the one live prosperous people whose houses are homes; they employ few servants, but live in great comfort; with them the pinch of poverty is unknown. In the other, pretence in some form reigns supreme. Great sacrifices are made to maintain appearances. People live not only up to, but quite without regard to their incomes. Houses are now occupied, now empty; tenants come and go. The house, a home no longer, is made a source of income. There are guests who pay, or the drawing-room floor is let, or boarders are taken, or at length the fatal word “Apartments” appears in the fanlight over the door. Against its downfall each street struggles in vain. Those who can afford to do so leave the stricken district, and those who come or those who do not go are alike in seeking to grasp an elusive advantage, desiring to trade on that vanishing quantity—the fashionable character of the neighbourhood.’
The Kensington News, in 1919, commented on the many large houses then standing empty in Kensington, and advocated their conversion into flats and maisonettes, but thought that existing building regulations and the restrictive covenants in, and short length of, many leases were obstacles. (fn. 85) Whether these were significant difficulties or not, ways had already been found round them, and over the next twenty years the pace of adaptation increased to such an extent that by 1939 very few houses, at least in the southern half of the former Edwardes estate, remained in single-family occupation. (fn. 86)
The process of social change which had been taking place for several decades was accelerated by the dislocating effects of the war of 1939–45, and after the war significant differences between the fortunes of the northern and southern parts of the estate emerged. In the former, the predominance of smaller and more varied housing types helped to promote an early return to stability, while the latter was beset with the problems which arose from a highly transient population as successive groups of migrants settled briefly in the area.
The process began with the arrival of Polish refugees during and immediately after the war, followed by students from the former colonies, but these groups were eclipsed in numbers and effect by the South Africans, Rhodesians and Australians who came to the area after the establishment in the 1950s by the South African Max Wilson of the Overseas Visitors Club in Templeton Place. It was this migration which produced the characteristic images of rootlessness and some of the more enduring epithets associated with Earl's Court. By the end of the 1960s the influx from the old commonwealth countries was diminishing, only to be succeeded by the settlement in the area of Arabs, Iranians, Filipinos and many others.
One effect of this degree of population movement was to produce further deterioration in the building fabric, which had already suffered from neglect during the war, as houses were further sub-divided into bed-sitting-rooms, and small hotels and hostels proliferated. There have, however, been signs since the mid 1970s that this process may have slowed down or even stopped. A number of residents associations have been formed—in itself an indication of a greater degree of stability—and these have in turn been able to exert pressure to improve the appearance and amenities of the area. The designation of Earl's Court Square as a Conservation Area in 1975 was significant in this context. Several recent flat conversions have been of a more durable kind than heretofore, although sometimes at the expense of stripping away surviving internal architectural features. Wholesale conversions of rows of terrace houses, especially in Longridge Road, Penywern Road and West Cromwell Road, have also recently been undertaken by housing associations, which were among the principal beneficiaries of the collapse of the property boom of the 1970s. (fn. 87)