Southern Kensington in retrospect

Survey of London: Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl's Court. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1986.

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'Southern Kensington in retrospect', Survey of London: Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl's Court, (London, 1986), pp. 395-413. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

. "Southern Kensington in retrospect", in Survey of London: Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl's Court, (London, 1986) 395-413. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

. "Southern Kensington in retrospect", Survey of London: Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl's Court, (London, 1986). 395-413. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,

In this section

CHAPTER XXIV - Southern Kensington in Retrospect

This is the last of three volumes of the Survey of London, XXXVIII, XLI and XLII, which describe the part of the ancient parish (and subsequently metropolitan borough) of Kensington lying to the south of Kensington High Street and Kensington Road. Volume XXXVII, which describes the remaining, northern half of the parish, contains a General Introduction summarizing some of the principal themes to emerge from the study of that area, and it seems appropriate to conclude this volume with a similar summary for southern Kensington, including some reflections on Kensington as a whole.

A stroll of an hour or so through the streets of Kensington should be sufficient to convince even the most casual observer that the district as it appears today is preeminently and overwhelmingly a Victorian creation. In 1801 its population numbered 8,556, significantly less than the population of the very much smaller parish of Chelsea to the south. Even in 1841, when Victoria had been on the throne for four years, and when the population of Kensington had increased threefold, it was still lower than that of Chelsea. Between 1841 and 1881, however, while Chelsea's population rose by some 75 per cent, Kensington's increased sixfold (from 26,834 to 163,151), a rate of increase exceeded among London's civil parishes only in Battersea and Stoke Newington, both of which had very small populations in 1841. Of the four decades between 1841 and 1881, by far the greatest rate of expansion in Kensington occurred in 1861–71. (fn. 1)

Early settlement

A village had existed in Kensington from mediaeval times in the vicintity of the parish church, and other areas of early settlement included Kensington Gravel Pits (at the present-day Notting Hill Gate), Gore Lane on the border of Kensington and Westminster, the hamlet of Brompton or Old Brompton near the eastern end of Old Brompton Road, and, from at least the early seventeenth century, Little Chelsea in Fulham Road. Apart from a number of detached houses of various sizes, often with spacious grounds, especially an important series of large Jacobean mansions to the north of the highway to Hammersmith and Brentford (now Kensington High Street), and the establishment of some notable inns and taverns along that High Road, there was very little development beyond these village nuclei until the end of the seventeenth century. In 1685 a bold attempt to create a square on the West End model on the edge of the ancient village predictably met with initial failure, but the fortuitous decision of William III in 1689 to buy the house now known as Kensington Palace gave Kensington Square some belated and muchneeded cachet, and led to a period of expansion, chiefly along the High Street, where sporadic housing gave way to continuous development of the frontage in the years 1690–1740.

By the fifth decade of the eighteenth century, however, there were signs that this phase of house-building inspired in part by the nearby presence of the court was petering out, and even in the easternmost part of the parish—the long, thin extension towards Knightsbridge—no major building schemes were initiated before the 1760s. Then, at a time when there was a building boom in the metropolis as a whole, characteristic 'ribbon' developments of terraced housing began to spread along Brompton Road, and, with something of a hiatus in the slump years of the 1770s, continued to the end of the century. This was also a period of building activity in Little Chelsea, and terraced housing was erected in Earl's Court Road and along Kensington High Street, where the long Phillimore Place on the north side was begun in 1788.

Market gardens and nurseries

Nevertheless, Thomas Milne's map showing land use in the vicinity of London, (fn. 2) which was published in 1800, illustrates graphically the rural nature of Kensington at that time. It also shows how the land area in the south of the parish was almost entirely occupied by market gardens and nurseries, in contrast to the broad acres to the north of the High Street where meadowland and pasture predominated and there was scarcely any garden ground to be seen. The market gardens of southern Kensington stretched from Brompton in the east to Earl's Court in the west, where the large holding of the Hutchins family, some 200 acres or more in extent, is correctly shown on Milne's map as in mixed arable and market garden use, the form of crop rotation involved being actually specified in leases of the farm. (fn. 3) Milne's map shows that there was a broad corridor of market gardens on each side of the Thames, stretching from the edge of the builtup area as far west as Isleworth, but, apart from the Neat Houses of modern-day Pimlico, those in Kensington were the most conveniently placed to supply the large areas of consumption in the West End.

As important as, if not more important than, the market gardens of Kensington were the numerous nurseries which were concentrated in the centre of the southern half of the parish. (fn. 4) Many of these were of wide fame, including possibly the earliest, the Brompton Park Nursery of London and Wise, which had been founded in 1681 and encompassed over 100 acres at its greatest extent. The Kensington Nursery of Robert Furber followed a little later, and other notable nurserymen who had establishments in the parish included Richard Selwood, James Poupart, William Curtis, whose Brompton Botanic Garden stood from 1789 to 1808 on the site now occupied by Neville Terrace and Neville Street, and Henry Shailer and Daniel Grimwood, both known for advances in the propagation of the rose. William Cobbett had a seed farm near Kensington High Street in the 1820s, and in the same period Thomas Gibbs's nursery in Brompton was famous for the production of improved crop seed and for other experiments, such as the erection of a cottage built of pisé at the invitation of the Board of Agriculture.

The tithe apportionment survey of 1843 provides an even more comprehensive analysis of land use in the parish than Milne's map and gives the acreage of each parcel of land. (fn. 5) From this it is possible to calculate that 57 per cent of southern Kensington was then still under cultivation, and that four-fifths of this area was occupied by market gardens, nurseries and orchards. In the 1840s the heavy volume of traffic on the thoroughfares of the district was said to be principally the result of 'the carriage of produce from market-gardens and heavy return loads of manure'. (fn. 6) By contrast, in northern Kensington, where 85 per cent of the area was still undeveloped, 90 per cent of the land still devoted to agricultural use was meadow or pasture.

Building development in the nineteenth century

Some 43 per cent of the land in southern Kensington was, however, no longer cultivated by the 1840s (although this figure includes the often large-sized parks, paddocks and grounds belonging to numerous detached villas and mansions), and significant building developments had taken place since the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the first decade of the century, when a substantial amount of building was taking place in Bloomsbury and other areas of north London, there was very little activity in this part of Kensington. Seymour Walk in Little Chelsea, the somewhat desultory continuation of building in and around Brompton Road, the modest beginnings of development in the area now known as Earl's Court Village and some building along the south side of the High Street represented virtually the sum total of the urban advance during that period. A more ambitious scheme to build on eleven acres of the Edwardes estate on the south side of the High Road at its western end, which was set in train in 1811, foundered as conditions for house-building turned sour in the later stages of the Napoleonic Wars. Edwardes Square and its adjacent terraces eventually took some fifteen years to complete.

From about 1817 the economic climate became very much more favourable to building, and the subsequent boom, peaking in 1825, was a national phenomenon which affected both northern and southern Kensington as it did virtually every area poised for urban expansion. Brompton Square, begun in 1821, Alexander Square, in 1826, the compact Ware estate in the vicinity of Selwood Terrace and Place, parts of Earl's Court Village, the Clareville Grove district, and areas to both east and west of the north end of Earl's Court Road, all date from these years. In the far-flung Edwardes estate, where the impecunious Baron Kensington was only too eager to adopt any course of action which might enhance his income, three major developments were inaugurated in 1822–3, in Pembroke Square, Warwick Square (the northern end of Warwick Gardens) and Kensington Crescent, but all to a greater or lesser degree came to grief as boom gave way to slump.

The 1830s were, in contrast, an almost universally quiescent decade, the only notable exceptions in southern Kensington being the successful development of Pelham Crescent and Place and parts of the Inderwick estate. On the Alexander estate, where a sizeable tract of land had become available in 1832 with the sudden bankruptcy of the nurserymen Harrison and Bristow, there seems to have been a conscious decision to delay development.

The 1840s produced a perceptible quickening of pace. Some 150 houses were built in and around Thurloe Square on the Alexander estate, Egerton Crescent and Terrace on the Smith's Charity estate were begun in 1843, and in the following year South Kensington's most formidable builder and developer, (Sir) Charles James Freake, entered into the first of seven building agreements to lay out streets and squares on the same estate. Parts of the Day estate, in Drayton Gardens and Hereford Square, the Vallotton estate, and the Billings area were built up at this time, and other smaller-scale developments date from these years. Despite a severe hiccup following a financial crisis in April 1847, the transformation of a rural parish into a city suburb was well under way before the siting of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park and the subsequent purchase by the Exhibition Commissioners of a substantial tract of land in Kensington provided powerful stimuli to further growth.

The graph on page 397 illustrates the provision of houses and other buildings for the expanding population of Kensington during the period from 1846 to 1885 (when reasonably accurate figures for the annual rate of building can be obtained from the district surveyors' returns (fn. 7) ). It shows that throughout the years 1862–78 over 200 new buildings (the vast majority of them dwelling houses) were erected each year in southern Kensington, but that there were pronounced fluctuations above this level with the greatest intensity of building in 1866–8 and 1874–6. There was, however, nothing in southern Kensington to compare with the dramatic peak of activity in northern Kensington in 1867–8, or, indeed, with the lower peak there in the early 1850s. Conversely the peak of the mid 1870s in the south of the parish was reflected only modestly and then a little later in the north. In charting more closely the progress of building during this period of the suburb's greatest growth, those factors which may have contributed to its erratic course can also be examined.

Number of buildings erected annually in southern and northern Kensington, 1846–85, and London as a whole, 1858–85 (fn. 7)

There is no evidence that the size of estates or the type of tenure under which land was held had much effect on the pattern of development. In contrast to northern Kensington, where two-thirds of the land belonged to only four owners, three of whose estates were each over 200 acres in extent, a much more varied pattern of ownership prevailed in the south. The largest holding in the whole of Kensington in 1800 was the 250 or so acres which belonged to the Edwardes family, but otherwise only the Gunter 'estate' covered more than 100 acres, and that was acquired piecemeal, mostly in the course of the nineteenth century. The Harrington-Villars estate, which before partition amounted to about 87 acres, the Smith's Charity estate covering some 70 acres in Kensington, and the Alexander estate, 54 acres divided into six separate plots of land, were the only other sizeable holdings. Small, compact units of landownership, especially if they had frontages to existing roads, were often thought to be ideally suited for development, and there is some evidence of the early utilization of such plots in southern Kensington. The four acres purchased by Samuel Ware in 1823 and laid out shortly afterwards as Selwood Terrace, Selwood Place and Elm Place, now form a distinctive enclave of lateGeorgian housing, surrounded by very much later housing types. The Clareville Grove area and both parts of the small Day estate to north and south of Old Brompton Road were made available to speculative builders at an earlier date than much of the surrounding land, but conversely there were small units of ownership which seemed eminently suitable for development, like the conveniently placed Eagle Lodge estate (the site of Roland Gardens), which were not, in fact, built over until a late date.

Sometimes particular factors of tenure were inhibiting. Estates where the title was divided between two or more owners presented especial problems, and the 1851 Commissioners thought it fortunate that the Harrington-Villars estate had been in joint ownership as this had delayed development, even if only for a few years (the Court of Chancery having been asked in 1846 to partition the estate and the division having taken place four years later). Building on the southern frontage of Kensington High Street between the Adam and Eve tavern and Earl's Court Road was almost certainly delayed by complexities of ownership in which twenty people had some claim to the land. The site of De Vere Gardens was presumably also developed at a late date because the title to the land had descended to several members of the Grimwood family, some of whom were living in South America. An interim use of the land here was as a hippodrome for equestrian displays, and such adaptation of a site for recreational use just prior to its speculative development was not unique to this plot. A different kind of problem faced the third Lord Kensington when he succeeded to the life-tenancy of the Edwardes estate in 1852, for his late father's financial affairs were in such a disordered state that the property was in effect held 'in Chancery' until 1860, and this may have been one of the reasons why very little building took place on this large estate in the 1850s.

The existence of areas of copyhold land appears to have placed no bar on development whatsoever in Kensington. The southern half of the parish had once formed the manor of Earl's Court, but much of the land here was enfranchised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the small pieces of copyhold remaining in the nineteenth century were usually quickly enfranchised when building development, which required the granting of long leases, was actually under way (like the Ware estate in 1825) or imminent (like the site of Hereford Square in 1835, or the Broadwood estate in 1858). The act of enfranchisement was frequently an indication that developments were in contemplation even if they were sometimes delayed for several years. The second Lord Kensington, who became lord of the manor in 1801, was always ready to supplement his income by granting enfranchisements, and this policy was naturally followed by the solicitors to whom he had to hand over this function in 1842 and who were said subsequently to be 'acting in the capacity of Lords of the said Manor'. (fn. 8)

The intensive and productive use of the land for horticulture in southern Kensington may have delayed the development of some areas and thereby contributed to the peak of building activity in the mid 1870s which was not replicated in northern Kensington, but the evidence is not conclusive. There are instances of land which had formed part of a builder's 'take' but for various reasons not initially used for house-building being subsequently used for market gardening, and the frequent long delays, sometimes of forty years and upwards, before the renewal of building activity after the first development had faltered, may be related to this profitable alternative use. Some sizeable holdings, the Gunter estate north of Old Brompton Road, the Alexander estate west of Gloucester Road and the Broadwood estate (now Cornwall Gardens), remained in horticultural use into the 1860s, and Earl's Court Farm, the last area of any great extent to be developed, until the 1870s. The Gunters, indeed, managed some of their market gardens themselves and were renowned for the efficiency with which they did so. Rents for market garden ground in the vicinity of London were said to be high, (fn. 9) and the £28 per annum per acre realized on the large Harrington-Villars estate in the mid 1840s would seem to bear this out. Ground rents from building developments, usually not realizable in full for some years and then fixed for long terms, would have to be significantly higher to justify the attendant risks. In contrast, however, the 72 acres remaining of Earl's Court Farm further to the west was let on a short lease in 1845 at only £5 per annum per acre, but with the proviso that the ground landlord could take back any amount of land for building purposes, paying due compensation for the crops and dressings on the ground. (fn. 3) In fact the farm lasted, with some encroachments, for thirty more years, but whether the rent was raised substantially as it became increasingly hemmed-in by new housing is not known.

We have already seen how the phasing of development in Kensington before the 1840s corresponded very closely with the metropolitan building cycle. The causes of this by now very well-documented phenomenon (fn. 10) are many and complex, but among them are the interaction between supply and demand, a process which is hardly more easily ascertainable now than it was to builders at the time, and, perhaps more importantly, the behaviour of the imperfect and frequently erratic mechanism of the credit system on which builders had to rely. What does seem clear is that at least up to the beginning of the period of large-scale urban growth in the parish the metropolitan-wide factors producing fluctuations in house-building operated just as forcefully in the particular area of southern Kensington (and, for that matter, in northern Kensington as well). Whether there is the same close correlation between the London-wide pattern of building activity and local fluctuations during the years of a high overall level of housebuilding in Kensington, or whether purely local factors came to assume an increasing importance, remains to be examined.

The general upturn in building activity in the 1840s and its ramifications in southern Kensington have already been noted. The credit crisis which occurred in April 1847 and which produced a severe but temporary setback in the metropolis as a whole, however, had effects that were little short of catastrophic in this area. As early as May 1847, Thomas Donaldson, the district surveyor of South Kensington, referred in his official return to 'the depression now existing in building operations. There is very little work going on and the fees due for work completed very difficult to realise. The returns for some time will be less than they are at present.' (fn. 11) The graph on page 397 shows the fall in the number of buildings completed in 1847–8; several major builders went bankrupt in these years and almost all developments which were in progress at the time suffered some interruption.

The revival of the early 1850s was very muted in southern Kensington (in contrast to the north of the parish where building speculation took on some of the characteristics of a mania). Nevertheless land values were rising substantially, at least in the east of the area, where the land dealings of the 1851 Commissioners provided a powerful local determinant. The purchase in 1852 of three and a half acres for the site of the London Oratory at a price based on a developmental value of £150 per annum per acre was cited at the time as an example of such rising values. (Eight years earlier Freake had agreed to provide a ground rent of about £50 per acre for some eight acres of the Smith's Charity estate, and a little later builders on the Day estate were paying a remarkably low £32 to £36 per acre, but instances of much higher ground rents for small plots of ground could be cited.) The Commissioners' own land purchases (of much larger holdings) tended to be at the rate of about £100 per annum per acre.

In these years of the early 1850s building on the Smith's Charity estate in the area of Onslow Square was proceeding apace, and new developments were set in train in Kensington Gate, in the Abingdon and Scarsdale Villas area, on the Brompton Hospital estate, and the Gunter estate in The Boltons and surrounding streets. Perhaps because the overall effect, however, was not of a steep rise in activity, the subsequent downturn of the later 1850s does not appear to have been as sharply felt in the south as in the north of parish. Nevertheless in 1856 the surveyor of the Brompton Hospital estate drew attention to 'the unfavourable state of the money market' which was creating 'unforeseen difficulties' for the developer, (fn. 12) and in the westerly Abingdon and Scarsdale Villas area very little building took place in the years 1857–61 despite the apparent success of the houses already built in attracting tenants.

In 1855 the long-anticipated development of Queen's Gate and adjacent streets began (though not without its own attendant difficulties at the end of the 1850s when William Jackson, the first builder to strike sod there, very nearly went bankrupt), and over the next thirty years some 670 houses and 480 coach-houses and stables were erected in the district centred on Queen's Gate and Cromwell Road. In size and type the grand terraces of the area provided a yardstick by which builders could measure their attempts to provide similar, though in varying degrees less ambitious, products on nearby estates.

In London as a whole the level of building rose steadily from a trough in 1857 to a peak in 1868, and both southern and northern Kensington shared a similar if not so smooth rise to peaks respectively in 1867 and 1868. Building in Kensington throughout this period formed a very important constituent part of the metropolitan-wide building boom, accounting in 1867 and 1868 for ten per cent of all buildings being erected throughout London. In the south of the parish building was in progress from Palace Gate, Prince of Wales Terrace and Queen's Gate in the east to the edge of the canal, and later railway, which marked its western boundary. Major new developments were begun in Onslow Gardens, in Cornwall Gardens, on the Gunters' 60 acres to the north of Old Brompton Road, and pre-eminently on the same family's lands to the south of that road, where the builders Corbett and McClymont were covering their 'Redcliffe Estate' with houses at a prodigious rate. Their activities reached a climax in the years 1866–9, when leases of no fewer than 524 house-sites were granted to them or their nominees, 156 of them in the peak year of 1867.

Building on the Redcliffe Estate continued, at a lesser level of intensity, well into the 1870s, and other developments begun in the 1860s or even earlier spanned the decades. In the 1870s house-building also began on the 20 acres of the Alexander estate to the west of Gloucester Road, in De Vere Gardens and in Roland Gardens on the former Eagle Lodge estate. Above all, however, it was the final surrender of the fertile market gardens of Earl's Court to the advance of brick and stucco which led in southern Kensington to the maintenance of a high level of building activity until the late 1870s. Over 1,200 houses and other buildings were erected on the Edwardes estate between 1867 and 1892, the vast bulk of them in the early and mid 1870s.

The peak of building activity in southern Kensington in 1875 was, indeed, higher than that of 1867, and the rise there from 1873 to 1875 corresponds with a similar upturn in metropolitan house-building from a trough in the early 1870s. In northern Kensington, however, supply had apparently outstripped demand to such an extent during the vast surge of the mid 1860s that the conditions for a new rise in the mid 1870s were not propitious. (Although it might be noted that just over the border from Kensington, in the part of Kensal Green which was later absorbed into the metropolitan borough of Paddington, many houses were built in the 1870s on the Queen's Park estate.) Even in the south, the convergence of local and metropolitan building fluctuations came to an abrupt end after 1875, as the cycle took a sharp downward turn in Kensington while it continued to rise to a new peak in 1880 in London as a whole.

There were warning signs that the fall from the peak of 1875 in southern Kensington might be particularly steep, but these went largely unheeded until the denouement came in dramatic fashion in 1878. In May of that year the house-building empire of Corbett and McClymont collapsed when they were declared bankrupt with joint liabilities of £1,300,000. This was a cataclysmic event, the reverberations of which were felt for many years.

There are numerous examples of the parlous state of the housing market in the area in the late 1870s. William Douglas, who was also declared bankrupt later, dated a decline in the value of his property from 1878, and in November of that year the solicitors of the builder Thomas Hussey declared that 'there are at the present moment acres of large mansions at South Kensington empty but finished. Two of every three of the builders have failed or are on the verge of it.' (fn. 13) William Corbett in 1879 spoke of 'the most terrible depression of property which has happened, not only on our Estate, but also in the neighbourhood'. (fn. 14) At the time of the census of 1881 a large number of recently built houses in Earl's Court were unoccupied, and in 1884 ten out of sixteen houses erected in Cromwell Road in 1879–82 were empty. Some projected building schemes were delayed during these difficult years. In Nevern Square, the layout was approved in 1877 but work did not begin until 1880, and on the Day estate development had been mooted in 1876 but did not take place until 1881.

The reasons why the bottom dropped out of the market for new houses in southern Kensington in the late 1870s are still unclear. In May 1878, shortly after the bankruptcy of Corbett and McClymont, both the Building News and the Estates Gazette spoke of overbuilding. (fn. 15) That there had indeed been over-provision of the large or largish brickand-stucco terraced houses with which the district by then abounded, built within fairly narrow parameters in respect of size, plan and amenities for a middle- and uppermiddle-class market which was more limited than builders and developers were prepared to admit, cannot be doubted. Yet over-supply, in and of itself, is clearly insufficient to account for the whole phenomenon; there must also have been a substantial falling-off in demand. The typical southern Kensington house apparently no longer satisfied the aspirations of those for whom it had been abundantly suitable only a few years previously, and it is not easy to conclude why this was so.

The sudden and dramatic shift in architectural styles in the early 1880s, which will be described later, suggests that there was a growing disenchantment with at least the outward appearance of the old house-type, but the switch also savours strongly of a rather desperate attempt on the part of the builder to brighten up his wares in a buyer's market. Nor was the new look conspicuously more successful than the old.

Perhaps more crucially, there may have been a selfdestructive element in the last, great push of development in southern Kensington. As the final vestiges of green fields disappeared under roads and houses, so with them went the remnants of the idea of Kensington as a verdant suburb. The housing of the 1870s for the most part adopted a strongly urbanized, terraced form, and the district increasingly came to take on more of the characteristics of the urban core of the metropolis. Those with suburban aspirations henceforth tended to seek their fulfilment elsewhere, aided by the improved transport facilities which will also be discussed below, leaving Kensington to people who needed, or wanted, to live in a predominantly urban environment. Within a very short time that would increasingly come to mean the flat-dweller.

The whole process naturally took some little time to work through, and as indicated in the graph on page 397, a modest recovery in house-building took place in the 1880s. The houses built then, however, were generally of a different type and sometimes, but not invariably, smaller in size than those of the three previous decades. Even the redoubtable Sir Charles Freake, who throughout his long career had ridden the switchback of the building cycle with masterly aplomb, built smaller houses in the new red-brick manner towards the end of his life. His successors on the Smith's Charity estate, C. A. Daw and Son, had to seek permission from the charity's trustees to build smaller houses in Evelyn Gardens than had been stipulated in Freake's building agreement. Other areas of housebuilding in these years, besides those mentioned above, were Philbeach Gardens (where the seemingly successful prosecution of the first stages of development in the late 1870s may have been an exception to the general malaise), the various 'Gardens' of the Gunter estate and contiguous parts of the Alexander estate, Egerton Gardens, the southern part of Roland Gardens, and areas to the south of Kensington High Street, including Kensington Court, where a rather special development began in 1883.

The smaller houses built in these years, such as those of Evelyn Gardens, or the distinctive group on the south side of Earl's Court Square, were generally more easily disposed of than the larger ones in streets like Collingham Gardens. By the end of the 1880s, however, the demand for houses of all kinds had diminished and Kensingtonians were wanting to live in flats. This tendency was doubtless welcomed and perhaps positively fostered by builders for whom the erection of high mansion blocks represented a more profitable use of land that was becoming increasingly expensive as its availability shrank (from £150 to £200 per annum per acre on the Edwardes estate in the early 1870s, to £250 in Nevern Square, £300 in Brechin Place and Rosary Gardens, £400 in Egerton Gardens, and a capital sum equivalent to £1,000 per annum in Kensington Court, where, however, the financial arrangements were extremely complex).

An astute observer, writing in 1893, described 'the modern district of South Kensington, with its palatialmansions, somewhat out of fashion and deserted, but which sprang up at a season of "inflation" when everyone was, or fancied he was, growing rich. Now it is found that small but roomy houses are "your only wear".'He added that 'the system of living in "flats" has become the rage,' and noted that 'since the adoption of "lifts", it has been found that there is no objection to living in the most aerial stories of a house, hence buildings on even a small plot of ground are reared to enormous heights and the accommodation is doubled and even quadrupled'. (fn. 16)

Flat building in the area began, at least in conception, with Albert Hall Mansions on the 1851 Commissioners' estate, where flats had been favoured by the Commissioners' surveyor in 1875, rejected by the builder in favour of houses in 1876, but reinstated by him later in that year. Building here did not, however, begin until 1880, and by that time large old-fashioned houses in De Vere Gardens, which had proved distinctly unsuccessful, were being converted into flats, and a purpose-built block was also erected in the same street in 1880. Further west, seven houses in Cromwell Road built in 1882–4 by Thomas Hussey to Norman Shaw's designs (the same combination as at Albert Hall Mansions) were converted in 1886 into a block of twelve flats with only a modicum of internal replanning. Some of the earliest examples of high-class flats in Palace Gate or Wynnstay Gardens of the early 1880s had a little of the external appearance of houses, but within a short time mansion blocks were acquiring the pronounced horizontal emphasis which gave expression to their purpose. Most blocks had only two, good-sized, flats per floor, and some of the smaller ones, like Herbert Court Mansions in Earl's Court Square, only one. By the end of the 1880s the provision of an 'American Elevator' was a selling-point. (fn. 17)

From about 1890 the decline in the demand for the typical South Kensington house produced a sharp fall in prices and rents which lasted until after the war of 1914–18. Houses in the far west of the parish, which seem to have borne the brunt of unpopularity, halved in value or worse, but elsewhere in the district other instances of a steep fall in the market can be found. During the Edwardian period there was a depression in property values throughout London, but there is no doubt that the slump in southern Kensington began earlier and was particularly severe. At this point the long, slow and sometimes painful transmutation of Kensington's large single-family homes into flats, boarding-houses and hotels, already spasmodically evident in the 1880s, began in earnest. The partial reversal of this tendency in recent years as the Kensington house has returned to favour for single-family occupation by the wealthy has chiefly affected those houses that are of moderate or manageable size.

The effect of the railways on building development

The one major new factor affecting the progress of building in Kensington from the 1860s was the construction of a network of railways across the parish. In the earlyVictorian period the pattern and pace of London's inner suburban growth were not in general radically affected by railway-building, and this was of course true for Kensington. Early developments there had been chiefly conditioned by the presence of three major east-west roads, and the only other means of transport, the Kensington Canal, never stimulated building on the Edwardes estate on the scale that had been hoped. The canal was eventually replaced by the West London Extension Railway, and the opening of the latter's station at West Brompton in 1866 may have influenced the layout of Eardley Crescent and Kempsford Gardens later in that decade. But its effect was minimal compared with that of the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways, which began operating from 1868 onwards. In the meantime, in northern Kensington, the Hammersmith and City Railway (later a branch of the Metropolitan), which had been opened across the fields of Notting Dale in 1864, had played a major part in stimulating the enormous building boom there.

Kensington differed from other areas on the path of the Metropolitan and District lines, Bayswater excepted, in being far from fully developed. While their construction was planned and carried out in 1864–8, much housebuilding was proceeding in the south of the parish, as we have already seen. To that extent, the houses built in these years were a lure to the railways rather than the reverse. Yet for the greater part of their length the new lines crossing southern Kensington and Earl's Court ran through fields, whence local traffic of substance could not be expected. The District's initial lines around Earl's Court, in particular, were positively rustic in their remoteness. For these reasons, recollected the Railway Times, 'except over that portion of the line common to both undertakings, the "District" was for a long time virtually without traffic'. (fn. 18)

Nevertheless the building of these lines led to major changes in the relation between transport and development in suburbs such as Kensington, as the same authority attested in 1877, when the District was opening up its extension to Hammersmith and beyond. By then the company's finances, under the tutelage of J. S. Forbes, had vastly improved. 'Under his auspices the District has satisfactorily solved the problem of creating traffic where apparently none of the materials for it existed, and by the presence of facilities creating a population to use them. The old theory was let the demand precede the supply. "First let houses be built and inhabited and then make your railway." To run out a line into the market and nursery grounds of Brompton and Fulham fields was, when the project was first mooted of extending the Metropolitan District in that direction, pronounced to be little short of insanity, and the most effectual means of postponing indefinitely the possibility of dividend upon the preference as well as the open stocks. But the result has been… to convert the orchards and nursery-grounds of Brompton into South Kensington, with its numerous squares,crescents, and terraces of mansions, and the Fulham market-grounds into West Kensington, which is fast being covered with residences of the same aristocratic order, and securing for the railway which virtually brought them there, a most valuable, profitable, and permanent class of traffic.' (fn. 19)

These claims, allowing for some hyperbole, can be verified by the history of development. In 1869, less than a year after the first Metropolitan and District trains began running through Kensington, Lord Kensington made agreements for opening up a large swathe of his land around Cromwell Road for house-building, and after the opening of Earl's Court Station in 1871 the remaining undeveloped parts of his estate were quickly leased for building. H. B. Alexander, who had been much disgruntled at having to sacrifice land for two stations, was nevertheless quick to reap the benefit from Gloucester Road Station's siting by releasing its immediate neighbourhood for development from 1870. The Gunter brothers did likewise with their Earl's Court properties. In 1866, when railway construction was in full spate, these major landlords had also agreed together to prolong Cromwell Road as a thoroughfare linking the three estates. The railways therefore acted as a spur to enterprise in Kensington, not only by inducing speculators to build, but also by jolting freeholders into deciding development policies and layouts and joining hands to make the best of the revised physical pattern which the lines created.

In the 1870s the railways materially speeded up the subjection of southern Kensington's remaining acres to bricks and mortar. Henceforward, estate agents' particulars put proximity to stations high among the attractions of living in this quarter of town, and the district became increasingly defined as a suburb for the better-off commuter. At the same time, these improvements ushered in a slow decline in Kensington's social standing. For this, the physical characteristics of the railways themselves were partly the cause. They cut off and chopped up many areas of land, while their noise and smoke polluted others. In Cornwall Gardens, for instance, Sir Basil Bartlett remembered that 'the trees and bushes were mainly black, as they were regularly covered with soot from the nearby Metropolitan Railway'. (fn. 20) And almost immediately the greater accessibility which the railways offered encouraged builders to put up houses, which, if not noticeably smaller, were often built on more cramped sites, and catered for a less exclusive clientele which did not have the means to provide its own transport.

By the end of the 1880s, however, the London suburban railway system had matured sufficiently for those whose business did not require punctilious daily attendance to buy or build bigger, cheaper and healthier houses, often with the advantage of freehold ownership, in the outer suburbs or home counties. In this way the railways, having brought Earl's Court and West Kensington to birth, soon neglected their progeny and brought forth sturdier, younger and more eligible housing stock in the open country air. The families left behind were either those who valued the convenience, facilities and reputation of Kensington or those who had to be close to their work. On the strength of the former, parts of southern Kensington retained their standing for years to come, but by the 1890s the area as a whole was past its peak. Predictably, the districts which suffered most from social decline were those which had been so quickly built as a result of the railways, whereas those finished before 1870 already had some established social character of their own which they found easier to maintain.

The effect of the railways upon stabling and mews was especially strong. Before 1870 there is no perceptible decline in the amount of stabling allotted to new houses in southern Kensington. Despite the growth of omnibus services along Fulham Road, Old Brompton Road and Kensington High Street, there had been a steady increase in residential stabling from the niggardly amount attached to Thurloe Square or the Kensington New Town developments of the 1840s. Most of the houses of the 1860s were furnished with their own stabling, not always immediately at the rear but within easy reach. This was the period of Kensington's fashionable peak. Very big houses were being built, and the 'carriage folk' who inhabited them could afford their own conveyances and staff. The large dwellings of the 1870s and even the 1880s, like the George and Peto houses in Harrington and Collingham Gardens, continued to require stabling as before.

But from 1870 the proportion of stabling built for ordinary houses shrank rapidly. In that year Freake converted Sydney Mews between Onslow Square and Fulham Road, hitherto in mixed use, into a block of studios — an increasingly prevalent policy for left-over land in Kensington during the next thirty years. This was a symbolic change in an area already established, but where houses were newly built the decline of the mews was very marked. Where Freake himself had intended further stabling off Cranley Gardens, his successors in developing the Smith's Charity estate, C. A. Daw and Son, from 1885 built Evelyn Gardens entirely without stables. Stabling built after 1880, like Adam and Eve Mews next to Kensington High Street, was commonly sited with an eye to industrial or commercial use. The new flat-dwellers who crowded into the district after 1885 had no need for their own stables. If road transport were required, hansom cabs, omnibuses or, on occasion, a private carriage hired from a livery stable, could supply their want. For daily purposes they travelled by train.

The building industry

A large number of builders were active in southern Kensington during the nineteenth century. From the years when figures are available, two decades have been chosen for comparison. In 1845–54 125 different builders or firms notified the district surveyor that they were building houses in the area; they would all have been persons incharge of building operations, not sub-contractors or independent craftsmen; all would have been employers of labour. Between them they built 1,030 houses in the decade, that is on average a mere eight apiece. Only eleven of them erected twenty or more houses over the ten years, Freake being responsible for by far the biggest total of 139 houses. In 1871–80 (statistics for the years 1856–70 being unfortunately not available) 92 builders erected 1,982 houses, an average of over twenty each. The differences between these sets of figures suggests that a change had taken place in the building industry, at least in this part of Kensington, by the 1870s, as bigger firms with greater staying-power had moved into the area. The largest, in terms of output, was the partnership of Corbett and McClymont, who, despite having passed the peak of their activity and succumbing to bankruptcy in 1878, erected 167 houses between 1871 and 1878. Second was Freake's firm, which built 132 houses (besides some 90 stables and coach-houses and other buildings). George Edward Mineard accounted for exactly 100 houses in the decade, and another ten firms built 50 or more. There were still, of course, a number of transitory figures who built a few houses and then passed on to other places or other occupations.

Even in the early stages of development some builders managed to make a sizeable personal impact. James Bonnin claimed in 1849, perhaps with some exaggeration as he was soliciting funds for an ill-starred passage to Australia, to have built 300 houses in the Brompton area. Generlly speaking, however, it was the opening-up of the territory to the south-west of the Great Exhibition site in the 1850s which brought the bigger operators into southern Kensington. These were men like Charles Aldin, the grandson of an Uxbridge carpenter, who employed 500 men at the height of his career and whose personal estate was valued at some £160,000 on his death in 1871, or William Douglas, who had migrated to London from Scotland in his early twenties and became, briefly, 'a very wealthy man', or William Jackson, brother of the railway contractor Thomas Jackson, and John Spicer, whose work also extended to the Gunters' estates further west and who left £300,000 on his death in 1883. Their 'fearless speculative energy' was praised in 1859, (fn. 21) and between them they erected over 500 big houses.

The doyen of them all, however, was Sir Charles James Freake, the son of a coal merchant turned publican, who, in a career extending over some forty-five years, was responsible for the building of over 500 houses, the vast majority of them in southern Kensington, including about 330 on the Smith's Charity estate alone. An obituarist said that he had '"made" the neighbourhood of South Kensington, raising it from a neglected suburb to the rank of a second Belgravia,' and the assessment that he was 'the Cleverest of all the speculating Builders' seems to be borne out by his remarkable climb up the social ladder culminating in the grant of a baronetcy in 1882, largely as a reward for building the National Training School for Music at his own expense. When he died in 1884 he left a personal estate of £697,000 in addition to freehold property valued at £246,000. (fn. 22)

In terms of sheer volume, however, even Freake has to yield pride of place to Corbett and McClymont, who, between 1861 and 1878 supervised the building of about 950 houses and over 70 mews premises in southern Kensington, a fifth of all buildings erected in the district during those years. Sometimes they had to farm out work to other builders, but they had a large establishment with a workforce said to number 500 in both 1872 and 1878, which were not years when their output was particularly high.

There were several builders, who, if they never aspired to this scale of operations, built solidly and steadily over a number of years. These were men like Stephen Bird, who was a well-known local figure, or Thomas Hussey and Thomas Huggett, whose names were often coupled together in speculative developments. Others included John Robinson Roberts, who had interests elsewhere but who lived in Kensington and worked on several estates there, John Wilkins, Henry Harris, Matthew Scott, William Ashfold, William Watts, William Henry Cullingford, George Edward Mineard, Charles Hunt, Taylor and Cumming, Daw and Son, and the Belgian-born Jean Francois Van Camp. Samuel Juler Wyand, who erected over 100 large terraced houses between 1872 and 1884, principally in Lexham Gardens and Marloes Road, is typical of the many builders whose names are now lost to ordinary fame but whose contributions in brick and mortar are still patently visible.

Most of these builders worked mainly, some of them exclusively, in Kensington. Few metropolitan-wide building concerns were active here, and only the William Willetts, who built on the Alexander, Broadwood, Day, Smith's Charity and Gunter estates, and in Adam and Eve Mews off Kensington High Street, made an impact on a par with the more narrowly Kensington-based firms.

When they first established themselves in southern Kensington, most builders had, not surprisingly, travelled only a short distance. In the 1850s this was chiefly from Belgravia and Pimlico, or, on the Gunter estate further west, from Chelsea. Corbett and McClymont, for instance, had begun their careers in Pimlico, and Freake in Belgravia. In the 1870s, however, there was a noticeable influx into the south from northern Kensington, where the tide of building had ebbed. Cullingford, Roberts, Taylor and Cumming, Wyand and Mineard (to name only those already mentioned) had all previously had addresses there. Of those builders whose earlier careers can be traced, a number had migrated to London from the provinces. Douglas came from Scotland and Wyand from Norfolk, while several others had links with Devon. Arthur Taylor of Taylor and Cumming was Devon-born, as was Richard Yeo, the owner-developer of Prince of Wales Terrace. George Edward Mineard was born in St. John's, Newfoundland (which had strong West Country connections), but lived in Devon during his early years, and two of Ken-sington's most successful building families, the Radfords and the Daws, were Devonian in origin.

William Adams Daw was an infant when his father migrated to London in the early 1860s; at his death in 1908 his effects were valued at £189,774. (fn. 23) Eight builders whose careers were spent mostly, or entirely, in Kensington, are known to have left fortunes of £100,000 and upwards, and there may have been others. All would have been multi-millionaires today by a straight comparison of money values, and most built up their great wealth from virtually nothing.

There was, of course, an obverse side to the coin. William Douglas at one time had a large house in Barnes and an office in Kensington: he employed a coachman apiece for his wife and himself, and his own black-and-yellow carriage was pulled by horses specially chosen for their speed, to whisk him from home to office in the shortest possible time. But in 1888 he was declared bankrupt with liabilities of £657,000. George Tippett, a builder in Noting Hill, had liabilities of £860,000 when he suffered the same fate in 1883, but both these figure were eclipsed by the £1,300,000 said to have been owed by Corbett and McClymont in 1878. Failures of this order were especially dramatic, but in all over thirty builders and developers working in southern Kensington during the nineteenth century are known to have gone bankrupt. For each of those there would have been many others whose financial distress never came to that point, sometimes by the deliberate intervention of creditors, for whom the declaration of bankruptcy was not necessarily an advantage.

Sources of speculative-building finance

Successes and failures on the scale indicated above provide some measure of the vast sum of money, amounting to many millions of pounds, which was invested in speculative building in Kensington during the nineteenth century. The constant supply of this investment capital was, as we have seen, a matter of vital concern to the builder, and he looked to a wide variety of sources to try to ensure its regular flow.

First and foremost among these were the solicitors, for the straightforward mortgage arranged at the behest of the builder on the one hand and the small investor looking for a steady return of about five per cent on his savings on the other was still the bread and butter of speculativebuilding finance throughout the nineteenth century. Solicitors were the usual intermediaries in such transactions, but sometimes played a larger role than this professional service alone dictated. They were prominent in the development of the frontage of Kensington High Street in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and concerted building along Brompton Road occurred when Elisha Biscoe, an attorney whose clients included a number of builders active in the West End, bought a large freehold on the north side at an auction held in 1759. William Elderton Allen, an attorney of Bloomsbury, was one of the main speculators in Edwardes Square; at one time he waxed rich enough to rent East Acton Manor House as a country retreat, but shortly afterwards found it prudent to leave England altogether when the enterprise fell upon hard times. The Lewins, Corbett and McClymont's main lawyers, and J. L. Tomlin, the Gunters' solicitor, were heavily involved in house-building on the Gunters' and other owners' lands, both taking and granting building leases, and becoming parties to complex land dealings. Tomlin, in particular, is an example of the lawyer-cumdeveloper, an individual encountered on a larger scale in northern Kensington in the persons of men like Richard Roy or Charles Richardson.

More typical, though, are solicitors like Edward Thomas Goldingham of Worcester, who first became interested in house-building in the Abingdon and Scarsdale Villas area as trustee for a physician of St. Marylebone and a widow of Cheltenham, and was thereafter closely engaged in the development as other clients and members of his own family sank money into the speculation. Frederick Blasson Carritt of Basinghall Street was a party to building leases of houses in Pembroke Gardens, and then arranged a whole series of mortgages for the actual builder, from, inter alia, dissenting ministers from Plaistow and Greenwich, a farmer of Bedfordshire, an 'esquire' from Lincolnshire, a gentleman of Peckham and a widow of Highbury. Thomas Lyon of Newman and Lyon came from Yeovil and had a wide circle of West Country clients whom he persuaded to invest in housebuilding in several streets in Earl's Court. Lyon also invested his own money, and many other examples can be found of solicitors who committed their own and their families' capital to building speculations, as well as the funds they administered as trustees or simply advisers to many clients.

For builders the solicitor was a very important person. Some two dozen in all were tapped for money by Corbett and McClymont, and Wiliam Corbett's formidable energy took him to as many as seven solicitors' offices in one day. William Adams Daw said that he had sold one house at a low price because the purchaser was the lawyer of both himself and his immediate landlords 'and it suits us to be on the best of terms with him'. (fn. 24)

Some ground landlords primed the pump of development by lending money themselves, the Gunters being particularly ready to do this in southern Kensington. There were also a number of private individuals, otherwise unconnected with the building industry, who invested heavily in house-building there. Daniel Sutton, a carpet manufacturer of Wilton, was one of the main protagonists in the long-running saga of the completion of Edwardes Square and nearby streets, while on the other side of Earl's Court Road Thomas Allen, a wealthy tailor, was the principal developer, though as an eventual owner of freehold land here he perhaps comes into a different category. Much of the building on the Alexander, Day and Smith's Charity estates in the 1830s and 1840s was financed bythree major backers, two of them of 'independent' means, and the third a timber merchant, Stephen Phillips, who also had property interests in northern Kensington and other parts of London. Thomas Gooch, a retired watchmaker from Clerkenwell, was much involved in the later stages of building in the Pembroke Square area, as were members of the Hawks family, whose wealth derived from the profits of the engineering firm of Hawks, Crawshay and Company of Gateshead. The fact that a junior member of the family was an attorney of Gray's Inn was doubtless a crucial factor here. Much later in the century the ordnance inventor, Sir William Palliser, sank some of his capital into the creation of Earl's Court Square.

Financial institutions were important as sources of capital in southern Kensington, especially in areas where the erection of big houses involved the outlay of commensurably large sums of money. Freake was one of the first speculative builders to borrow from insurance companies, to the extent of at least £120,000 from the Royal Exchange Assurance and £80,000 from the County Fire Office over a number of years. The latter also lent £50,000 to Aldin in 1857, and the London Assurance and other companies backed Aldin and several of his fellow builders, often with handsome advances.

Lending by banks, both private and joint-stock, was undoubtedly more widespread than the surviving documents would indicate, their frequently discreet role often only coming to light when things went wrong. The 'up front' direction of the development of the Abingdon Villas and Scarsdale Villas area by the London and County Bank was a notable exception. The Commercial Bank of London saved William Jackson from bankruptcy in 1859, and in the process of taking over his projected development of Stanhope Gardens virtually changed from a banking concern into a property company. Coutts Bank ended up as the owner of many of James Hall's houses in Pembroke Road and Warwick Gardens after the builder's bankruptcy, and virtually took over the development of Roland Gardens in the 1880s. Coutts was also a major backer of Corbett and McClymont, sometimes acting through a partner in the legal firm of Farrer, Ouvry. The solicitor Charles Fishlake Cundy also provided such a link. His clients included, on the one hand, Freake and other builders, and on the other, the County Fire and Provident Life Offices. He was also brother to the architect Thomas Cundy III, who was professionally involved in housebuilding on a number of estates.

The role of building and land societies is difficult to assess but was probably not great. The Chelsea Building Society lent money for the completion of Ovington Square in the 1840s, and the National Permanent Mutual Benefit Building Society (commonly known as the National Freehold Land Society) was involved in Cornwall Gardens and Trebovir Road. Other companies like the Land Securities Company (Kensington Court and Nevern Square) or the Midland Land and Investment Corporation, to whom Edward Francis, the builder of Earl's Court Square, was said to be indebted 'for large sums of money', were probably more like conventional finance companies.

The raising of loans, both large and small, on the security of formal mortgages of building leases or subleases, was the staple means of financing building operations, but builders also resorted to other methods to obtain money, one of the most important of which was the sale of improved ground rents. The most straightforward way of doing this was for the builder to create an enhanced rent (above and beyond his rent to the ground landlord) by sub-leases of finished or nearly finished houses, and then sell that rent (usually accumulated on a number of houses) to investors at several years purchase. There are examples in this area, however, of improved ground rents being sold ahead of their creation, sometimes before any building had taken place. This very much more risky device was used in the development of Edwardes Square and helps to account for the labyrinthine financing of that long-drawn-out undertaking. It also seems to have been a method adopted on the Alexander and Smith's Charity estates, especially by the builder James Bonnin. Here the positions were reversed, outside financiers recouping some of their investment by granting sub-leases to the builder at improved ground rents. Corbett and McClymont crossleased houses to each other to create improved ground rents worth in total upwards of £200,000.

Enough evidence has survived to suggest that builders very frequently had to resort to short-term loans, often at high rates of interest, particularly at the beginning of a development when sufficient security for long-term mortgages had yet to be created. William Elderton Allen put up a life assurance policy as part collateral for such a loan to start off operations in Edwardes Square and himself lent the builder, Changeur, over £2,000 on the security of bills of exchange and unfinished houses; later he had to borrow £5,000 for three months from a firm of bankers. The records relating to the bankruptcy of the builders Dowley and Tuck show that they had unsecured loans from a spinster, a druggist and a victualler to begin work in Pembroke Square, and that it was the spinster who initiated proceedings against them. That it was sometimes necessary for even well-established builders to resort to short-term loans is indicated by William Corbett's rather desperate attempt 'to clear off temporary loans and make permanent mortgages' just before his bankruptcy. (fn. 25)

Towards the end of the nineteenth century it became increasingly common for builders to form small limited liability companies, mainly in connection with the erection of blocks of flats, where, with high costs involved, it no doubt seemed prudent to share, and limit, the risk. Usually shareholding was strictly limited to the builder and a few close associates, and the companies were frequently wound up quite quickly after serving their intitial purpose. One such was The Estates Improvement Company, formed in 1891 by the architect Mervyn Macartney and a number of friends of similar aesthetic taste to erect, not flats, but large houses in Egerton Place. The venture was not a greatsuccess, and the company was in voluntary liquidation by 1898.

Architects and building development

Macartney's part in this small development shows that architects were prepared at times to engage directly in speculative building in southern Kensington. Their more usual roles, however, were as agents for landowners, or as agents, employees or consultants of speculative builders or developers. In a different capacity, they were also, of course, commissioned to create and supervise the construction of houses for individual clients.

The basic job of architects representing freeholders of building land was to act as their estate surveyors. This position was normally held throughout the nineteenth century by men who conceived their profession to be that of surveyor as much as that of architect. The scope of such employment depended both upon a landowner's wishes and upon the powers and policies of his other crucial representative, his lawyer. An estate surveyor might be asked to do any or all of three things: to lay out portions of the estate for development, in whatever detail; to design housing and, sometimes, other buildings such as churches; and to regulate the activities of builders. Who made estate layouts is frequently far from clear, but the basic pattern seems rarely to have been left to speculators, however often it may have been changed to match their needs and progress. Sometimes, as in the case of George Godwin's work for H. L. Vallotton in Kensington New Town of the 1840s and 1850s, the estate surveyor seems to have scarcely done more than create and update a layout and see that it was in the broadest of terms adhered to. The activities of George Pownall and his successor Michael Manning, surveyors for H. B. Alexander's estate west of Gloucester Road in the 1870s and 1880s, seem only modestly more extensive. Here the surveyor settled layouts for sections of the land, sent them to the Metropolitan Board of Works for approval, scrutinized plans of builders and others, and probably stipulated certain facing materials mentioned in the building agreements; yet the evidence of strong architectural intervention in the estate's appearance is lacking. This kind of remit may have been the commonest in the mid-Victorian period. It appears to have been the method of working on the Edwardes estate after the 1840s during the surveyorships of M. J. Stutely and Daniel Cubitt Nichols, on the Brompton Hospital estate under George Pownall, and on the Day estate under W. H. Collbran.

On the Smith's Charity estate in Brompton a different pattern emerged. In the early stages of development here between 1833 and 1845 the estate surveyor, George Basevi, was dominant despite the presence of an experienced builder, James Bonnin. Basevi probably created the whole layout of the eastern portions of the estate and certainly designed both elevations and plans of its set pieces, notably Pelham Crescent and Egerton Crescent. But with the rise of the builder C. J. Freake, coincident with Basevi's death and Bonnin's bankruptcy, the responsibilities shift. Freake, who came to employ his own team of architects and surveyors, himself determined the layout of Onslow Square and much of the estate westwards, albeit on lines previously sketched out by Basevi. During this period the architectural influence of the freeholders' surveyor, H. Clutton, is negligible. Likewise C. A. Daw and Son, the builders who completed the development of the Smith's Charity land with Evelyn Gardens (1886–90), enjoyed much latitude in matters of layout and design.

Other examples confirm a movement towards greater freedom for developers after 1845, sustained until about the time that major building in southern Kensington came to an end in about 1890. This may have been the result of a gradual loss of control over architectural design by ground landlords and their agents and a corresponding growth in the power of local authorities and the district surveyors, following the Building Act of 1844. Before 1845 most builders' activities had been on a small scale and this, combined with the disciplines of classical composition, imposed a certain duty for design upon conscientious estate surveyors. The change may be discerned in the short interval between the two main estates of Kensington New Town. Here John Inderwick's property was built up by several small builders between 1837 and 1843 seemingly to the neat designs of a single architect, perhaps Joel Bray. But the neighbouring Vallotton estate, where development got properly under way only in 1841, was mostly divided between larger developers without any visible imposition of elevation or plan. This system became common in the 1860s and 1870s, the heyday of high-class development in southern Kensington. Freake, Aldin, Jackson, Douglas and other big builders of this era themselves determined the shape and dress of the houses which they erected, so much so that along much of Cromwell Road the passage from one historic freehold to another is entirely indiscernible. On some estates, however, firmer architectural control seems to have persisted at any rate into the 1860s. The Broadwood estate in Cornwall Gardens was thoroughly managed by Thomas Cundy III, who at first appears to have supplied elevations, specifications and perhaps also plans. Yet even here after 1875 a greater measure of freedom obtained, the builder who completed the development (William Willett) being permitted to import his own architect and vary the style. On the lands of the Gunter family, the estate surveyors, George and Henry Godwin, appear to have exercised a pronounced, if capricious, architectural influence into the 1870s, but latterly at least this seems to have been at the behest of the major builders, Corbett and McClymont, rather than on the landlords' directions.

The commonest involvement for the architect in speculative housing was, indeed, as a subordinate to the developer-builder. As this role was professionally inglorious it was little talked about, so that the normal conditions and divisions of responsibility are far from clear. But it may be hazarded that after about 1850, when housesgrew larger, more intricate and more ambitious, at least the elevations and to some extent the plans of most houses in southern Kensington emanated from an architectural office of some sort. The largest of all the builders here, C. J. Freake, himself employed an 'in-house' team to design and supervise, as has been said. It was probably never large, but it did have some continuity. The William Willetts represent a perhaps more typical picture, employing no more than one architect at a time. They used three architects to design housing for them in Kensington and elsewhere: James Trant Smith in Cornwall Gardens (1876–9), Harry Measures in Bina Gardens (1884–6) and Amos Faulkner in Egerton Place (1894–7). Smith and Measures, who may have had some nominal independence, in due course both carved out their own architectural practices; Faulkner, on the other hand, remained in the Willetts' employ for the rest of his career. A similar example is that of F. N. Kemp, a lowly architect who seems to have been in the more or less permanent employment of Corbett and McClymont during the later stages of their activities on the Gunter estate and who subsequently eked out an unmomentous career of his own. This was the type of work into which young architects with few contacts and little means were probably much forced in mid-Victorian London. Often doubtless the task was to refine or develop a house-type which already existed, adapting it in whatever ways the site, the estate surveyor, the building regulations or the vagaries of architectural fashion might dictate.

Other examples of such employment come fleetingly into view. But for every case where the identity of a builder's architect is known, there are perhaps a dozen where existing records are silent. Many ambitious schemes, like Aldin and Sons' handsome Roland Gardens, Joseph Clark's mansarded houses in Emperor's Gate, the run of Queen Anne houses on the south side of Earl's Court Square and even the flats of Wynnstay Gardens cannot be attributed, not because no architect was involved but because his identity cannot be recovered. Builders were on the whole reluctant to give credit to their paid subordinates. Freake, for instance, took this custom to such lengths that he himself posed as an architect and successfully suppressed the names of those who designed his two ambitious churches, St. Paul's, Onslow Square, and St. Peter's, Cranley Gardens. In the case of other important Kensington builders like Jackson, the Aldins or William Cooke, the clues to the identity of their architectural staff simply do not remain.

Turning to the role of architect as speculator, this was a well-accepted activity before the Victorian architectural profession grew self-conscious about its purpose and mission. Henry Holland and Michael Novosielski both contributed on their own accounts to Brompton's development in the 1780s and 1790s, their status and skills giving them certain advantages in treating with freeholders and coordinating craftsmen. Later, the architect W. W. Pocock took the main initiative in and reaped a handsome profit from developing Ovington Square (1844–52). Going about the same object differently Samuel Ware, the architect of the Burlington Arcade, bought four acres off the Fulham Road in 1823 and himself leased them for building. The rise of the efficient developer-builder diminished this way of working but never brought it to an absolute end. Edward Habershon, for example, received leases for some of Matthew Scott's sites in Emperor's Gate, presumably in payment for his designing houses there (1876–8). It is unlikely that Ernest George and Harold Peto's interests in the fantastic houses built by the latter's brothers in Harrington and Collingham Gardens in the 1880s were confined to a simple professional fee; while in the early twentieth century, among the more engaging changes to the fabric of the area were the several speculative mewsconversions undertaken by Herbert Stanley-Barrett and Driver, architects and surveyors.

Finally, the Victorian architect in southern Kensington may also be found in the role in which he especially liked to cast himself, as an independent designer working for an independent client at a fixed professional fee. Kensington's non-domestic buildings were mostly built on this basis, but they constituted a very small proportion of the building fabric. Of houses themselves, few were ever commissioned directly from architects. Some of the demolished villas of Brompton were perhaps architect-designed in this way, while in the grand Kensington Palace Gardens of the 1850s there were a few purchasers who chose to treat directly with architects rather than buy 'off the peg'. But only with the emergence of the Queen Anne style in the 1870s and the growth of aestheticism and artists' houses did the individual middle-class house in Kensington make any palpable impression. When it did so, in the hands of architects such as J. J. Stevenson and Norman Shaw and in streets like Queen's Gate, it made an immediate and forcible impact which quickly influenced speculative building in the district. But this type was never numerically significant. The work of Ernest George and Peto in Harrington and Collingham Gardens contrives to appear as a medley of houses built for individuals but was, it must be recalled, predominantly speculative. Likewise in the ambitious Kensington Court of the 1880s and 1890s, only four houses were ever built for individual clients. Brompton's most Arts-and-Crafts houses of the 1890s, those by Mervyn Macartney in Egerton Place and by C. F. A. Voysey in Hans Road, were also speculative schemes, of however high a class.

The growth of employment and influence for independent architects in Kensington in the 1880s and 1890s derived not from any increase in individual commissions for houses, but from the changing nature of what was built and how. The relative size and complexity of flats, which replaced the speculative dwelling as the main means of housing in the area; the growth of new kinds of building, institutional and commercial; and the specialisms which flowed from increased building controls: all these rescued the architect from a modest, if significant, position in theprocess of development to a place of greater honour and importance after 1900.

The Kensington Vestry and building development

The municipal authorities of Kensington played no conspicuous role in building development. Throughout the long transition from suburban village to royal borough, they adhered to the principles of laissez faire so far as was possible, setting their face against any intervention not imposed by statute which might entail a call upon the rates.

Until 1855 the secular and ecclesiastical business of the parish was deliberated upon without distinction in open vestry attended by householders. In this period public amenity was a minor concern of the Vestry, rate income being devoted in this regard merely to 'repairing the Highways and cleansing the Square and Streets within and usually cleansed by this parish'. (fn. 26) Separate commissions and trusts managed the sewers and main roads, while the few new roads remained the responsibility of freeholders or developers unless 'adopted'. The most effective powers were those wielded by the Westminster Commission of Sewers, the body responsible until 1847 for Kensington's drainage, which required developers to make proper sewers along authorized lines and to contribute to their cost if they wished to run any water off their property. For this reason John Inderwick chose in 1839 to create a makeshift cesspool on his Kensington New Town estate rather than pay for a new sewer along Gloucester Road from which others would in due course benefit. The power of the sewer commissioners — if not their susceptibility to influence — is suggested by the fact that their surveyor, John Dowley, was also one of the developers of Pembroke Square and a contractor for the Kensington Canal in the 1820s.

Before the Vestry was reformed and made elective in 1855, it spent most heavily upon church affairs and poor relief. It was always chary of capital projects and inclined to seek support elsewhere when they became inevitable. Despite the growth of population in far-away Brompton, no effort seems to have been made to add to the meagre public accommodation available in the parish church until grants became available from the Commissioners for Building New Churches in the 1820s. Even then, only one rather than two new churches (Holy Trinity, Brompton, and St. Barnabas's, Addison Road) might have been built, had not the commissioners agreed to find half the estimated cost even in this far-from-poor parish. Likewise a party on the Vestry strenuously opposed Kensington's Board of Guardians (separated off from the Vestry in 1837) when the latter resolved to build a better workhouse in 1846.

The same frugal or canny tradition survived the reform of the Vestry and the gradual intensification of building controls from 1844 onwards. Standards and constraints in Kensington's development during the second half of the century were set predominantly by freeholders and their agents, whether architects, surveyors or lawyers, but increasingly also by the Metropolitan Board of Works and its successor, the London County Council. Applications for waivers under the Building Acts usually came before the Vestry as well as the Board of Works, but until the 1890s it is rare to find a decisive or individual view on such matters emanating from the former body. Though sometimes, as in the case of Cornwall Gardens, opinions might be delivered on the naming of streets, firmer regulation was exercised mainly by the much-resented Board of Works. The Vestry's chief duties connected with development became the adoption, paving and maintenance of streets.

Street-lighting became an increasing concern, but again direct involvement was slight. Being a prosperous district, Kensington was profitable territory for the water, gas and electric-lighting companies. It is not accidental that one of the first active electric-lighting suppliers, the Kensington Court Electric Lighting Company (1886) set itself up in this part of London. When, in the 1890s, municipal intervention was bruited about, it was opposed in Kensington with particular vigour. A committee of the Vestry recommended applying for an order to supply electric light in the poorer, northern half of the parish in 1893, but under pressure from the companies the initiative was quashed by the full Vestry. (fn. 27)

The chief instance of municipally backed development during Kensington's main years of growth was the rebuilding of Nos. 63–111 (odd) on the south side of Kensington High Street and the creation of Ball Street in 1868–71 under an Improvement Act. In this case the Vestry wished to improve traffic flow in the crowded High Street, though clearance of the old courts behind may have been a secondary motive. The policy was adopted only after the destruction of a few houses by fire; and having set back the building line here, the Vestry readily and characteristically resigned the lion's share of the task to the Metropolitan Board of Works. So successful was this development (however dull architecturally), that Barkers and Derry and Toms, having started out as small retailers here, expanded to such an extent that they outgrew the bounds of the scheme, and an unquestionable boost was provided to Kensington's prosperity.

Some of those who featured as lessees or developers in the sites of the Kensington Improvement Scheme were, or became, involved in the affairs of the Vestry — either as vestrymen, like Jubal Webb, or as officers, like the parish surveyor James Broadbridge. As on other vestries, builders, architects and developers were represented, the local builders Thomas Huggett and Francis Radford serving with particular prominence for many years. But there is no reason for thinking that their influence was especially strong. It may indeed have been weaker in Kensington, where the professional classes were vigorous in local politics, than in some other authorities. They naturally upheld their interests, but they do not seem to have used the Vestry as an instrument for furthering their privateambitions. The only developer against whom such suspicions may be cast was Jubal Webb the cheesemonger, whose 'local influence' was allegedly decisive in securing the development of Iverna Court and Gardens, and who narrowly escaped conviction for abusing his official position as High Constable in 1880.

One aspect of policy which exercised other vestries and boroughs increasingly from 1850 onwards was that of slum clearance and the provision of working-class housing. Kensington escaped the worst of these problems but was not without small, acute patches of poverty. George Godwin, the architect, sanitarian, journalist and Brompton resident, drew attention several times in The Builder to local pockets of distress. The sorriest examples in the middle of the century were the Potteries in northern Kensington and the courts in and around Jennings Buildings off the south side of Kensington High Street. In the latter area some cholera cases in 1849, coupled with the fact that the slum-dwellers were mostly Irish and attracted notice along the High Street, aroused abnormal anxiety and animosity. But official remedies — amounting to standpipes and a ragged school — were half-hearted. It was left to Baron Grant to solve the parish's predicament by purchasing the courts and levelling them for his own private purposes in 1873.

Twenty years later, procedures had improved but were still imperfect. In the prolonged saga of the James Street clearance behind Kensington Square (1888–1901), the Vestry after hesitation intervened half-heartedly but in the end bequeathed the enterprise to the speculators who had originally proposed redevelopment here.

By this date the increasing duty of rehousing as well as clearing caused extra complications. The Vestry set its face against municipal housing and (on the motion of Thomas Huggett) in 1893 endorsed a resolution regretting that the London County Council had undertaken 'the detail work of erecting workmen's dwellings, thereby unfairly competing with private enterprise'. (fn. 28) The difficulty was to convince private enterprise to do such things at all. Thomas Hussey, significantly Huggett's partner, was one of the few builders willing to erect artisan housing in southern Kensington during the later Victorian period, as in Blithfield Street, Ansdell Terrace, Barker Street and Pater Street (1869–90); others found it unprofitable. Barker Street indeed rapidly degenerated into a slum, caused problems for the Vestry as early as 1892, and had itself to be cleared in the 1930s.

Despite this the Borough Council (as the Vestry became in 1900) continued to avoid building municipal housing. The only exception was in Kenley Street, in the Potteries area of Notting Dale where, following sharp criticism of the Vestry's sanitary record, an unusual policy of renovation and sub-division of existing houses was pursued in the years around 1906. But entirely new building was avoided right up to the time of the Addison Act of 1919, which imposed a duty on local authorities to house. Even then the Borough's instinct was to commission a consultant architect and planner, Stanley Adshead, to formulate a policy for the alleviation of conditions in northern Kensington rather than to build itself. Most of the schemes of 'social housing' built in North Kensington between the wars proceeded from housing trusts, the Borough opining that 'there are many objections to the local authority of any area becoming property owners on a large scale'. (fn. 29) Thus did the political traditions of Kensington continue. In southern Kensington, not until after the amalgamation of the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea can substantial schemes of public housing be found, as in Finborough Road (1969–71) and above the Central Depot in Warwick and Pembroke Roads (1972–6). Such as exist were almost always designed by outside firms of architects. The Borough kept its architectural staff small and was among the first local authorities to experiment with 'privatization' in this sphere in 1980.

The Kensington house

The building activity summarized in this chapter produced a wide variety of building types in southern Kensington, from the museums and other institutions devoted to art and science in the east, described in volume XXXVIII, to the monuments of Brompton Cemetery, covered in volume XLI, and the exhibition buildings, both ephemeral and permanent, of Earl's Court in the west. Of the larger structures, a general account of the many churches in the area is given at the beginning of Chapter XXIII of this volume, as well as individual descriptions. Other types include numerous retail premises, particularly the major department stores of Harrods, Barkers, Derry and Toms, and Pontings; two large hospitals, one of which itself evolved out of two workhouses, and two smaller hospitals, one now closed and the other of recent erection; a few industrial buildings, including a piano factory, of which a fragment remains; several blocks of flats of virtually all periods between 1880 and 1985; hotels, especially those of recent date which are very conspicuous if not visually the most satisfying additions to the Kensington skyline; public houses of all types and conditions; and a large number of smaller structures from studios to the premises for the care and maintenance firstly of horses and now of motor cars. It is, however, the domestic house which naturally dominates this primarily residential area and calls for further comment.

The Victorian element in the streets of Kensington so preponderates that the earlier and later areas — of smaller, simpler houses behind blossomy front gardens, or the more wayward and individual houses of twentieth-century architects — seem to relieve what is felt as monotony. This is so even though the main period of Kensington's building, from the 1850s through to the 1880s, produced a great variety of facade-treatments to beguile the passer-by. Grey or brownish brick, stone and stucco were used in varying proportions (until everything rather suddenly went red or red-and-yellow about 1882–3), while the façade-designsincluded elevations as different as, for example, No. 26 Queen's Gate and No. 1 Queen's Gate Place nearby (figs. 54–5 on pages 286–7 of volume XXXVIII). Both are good of their substantial kind, and many more ordinary terraces, like those of Cromwell Gardens or Earl's Court Square, were well put together. But for all that the effect of much of Kensington is more wearisome than can be explained by a comparison of the façade-designs. This results, perhaps, from the mere height of the houses acting in conjunction with the general busy-ness of a hard and routine Italianate decoration. And at street level the astonishing ubiquity of the pillared portico makes, in total, for tedium, particularly as the order chosen was usually a stolid Roman Doric that precluded the fluting of the columns which adds a welcome touch of sharpness to the equally plethoric Italianate of Bayswater.

Of the earlier age much the most interesting and important survival is Kensington Square, projected and begun in the 1680s and containing some vestiges of the late seventeenth century in the fabric and planning of a few of its houses. Although these are mostly of modest size their internal arrangement does not always conform to what became the formula for the usual London terrace house and some unstandardized practices seem to survive in the positioning of staircases, fireplaces and closet-wings.

Apart from this, very little house-building earlier than the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries survives south (or north) of Kensington High Street. One agreeable exception is on the north side of Brompton Road where some of the houses built in the 1760s as Brompton Row, although mutilated and now converted to shops, still survive on their 'terrace' partly raised above the roadway. Early-nineteenth-century work in the late-Georgian tradition is much better represented — again especially in the vicinity of the main roads. Brompton Square (1823–35) and Alexander Square (1827–8) on the Brompton RoadFulham Road route, or Edwardes Square (1811–21) off Kensington High Street and Pembroke Square (1823–35) off Earl's Court Road, show the flat-fronted, late-Georgian brick style — Edwardes Square in notably simple and unassuming dress for so extensive a development. The adjacent Earl's Terrace is an unwaveringly severe — almost bleak —sample of the late-Georgian taste for uniformity on a large scale. A pleasing curiosity is the small Ware estate of 1825–35 off the Fulham Road, where the little two-storeyed houses of Elm Place and Selwood Place are delicately dignified by architraved doorcases. One formula very common in late-Georgian town building is comparatively rare in Kensington's surviving buildings — the quasi-arcading of a brick front at first-floor level where the straight-headed window-openings were recessed in a succession of round-headed arches — although there are a few humble examples at Notting Hill and Earl's Court. A splendid version of this scheme, both more refined and more elaborate than usual, existed at a few houses in Upper Phillimore Place (on the north side of the High Street) designed by William Porden about 1789, until they were replaced by a large, brand-new 'magnificent Georgian building' in 1931–2.

A development mainly of the first three decades of the nineteenth century that is no longer very apparent is the villas built in their own grounds (though occasionally semi-detached) on Campden Hill, for example, but especially at Brompton, where they served its reputation (not quite extinct today) as the home of theatre people, and added by their gardens to the charm of what must have been a delicious suburb in the last days before building really took hold upon it. Mostly the villas were architecturally plain, shunning Gothick or more exotic fancies. The Villa Maria, later Gloucester Lodge, of about 1800 had an appropriately regal colonnade and Sidmouth Lodge of 1833 was gravely Grecian. The late-Georgian Greek style in its developed form was not much favoured for Kensington's houses although some quasi-villas in Holland Park Avenue designed by Robert Cantwell (1828–9) and in Hyde Park Gate built by Grissell and Peto (1846–7) survive.

Very few of the early-nineteenth-century ranges of ordinary housing affected Tudor or Gothick styles. St. Anne's Villas of 1845 on the Norland estate in northern Kensington are one exception. The small Inderwick estate of 1837– 43 in Kensington New Town is a remarkably complete development in a picturesque style without being either Grecian or mediaeval-Tudor.

Where the late-Georgian to early-Victorian developments of houses were architecturally most ambitious they tended to be faced all in stucco and laid out in crescents. Pelham Crescent designed by George Basevi and built in 1833–41 is perhaps the most satisfying, whereas his Egerton Crescent of 1844–5, for example, loses in its greater richness something of the feeling for the concave shape itself.

This taste for greater elaboration sometimes expressed itself in straight ranges of houses organized in a counterpoint of motifs more apparent on the drawing board than in the street — Earl's Court Gardens (1853–6), for example — and this tendency was carried into the 1860s by the architect Thomas Cundy III in Queen's Gate.

In Hereford Square of 1845–51 the all-stucco style was elaborated into something near-palatial in aspiration if not in size. In staider Thurloe Square of 1840–6 George Basevi made a significant step towards the coming age with his use of white brick and stone or stucco and a slight but perceptible hardening and emphasizing of the architectural features.

The square of this traditional form (in both these instances essentially three-sided) still prevailed in Kensington for the 'better' type of layout. Already in the 1840s, however, a variant which became of great importance was appearing on the slopes of Notting Hill, where houses were built not in squares facing central planted enclosures across circumferent roadways but in groupings where at least one range abutted directly on the planted area. This arrangement, which under the name of 'Gardens' was itselfcapable of considerable variation, became a notable feature of the larger Kensington estates and, at the close of Kensington's main building period, attracted comment from Hermann Muthesius and Arthur Street. (fn. 30) Occasionally, as at Colville Square in northern Kensington and Ashburn Place in southern, the ranges abutting on the garden were turned back to front, and presented to the street the stepped projections normally found at the rear. But in Kensington it was not until Evelyn Gardens — so late as 1886 — that this device was used with much conviction to add interest to the street front.

These 'Gardens' in immediate proximity to at least some of the houses in a layout compensated partially for the increasing disappearance of the garden from the planning of house-sites in High Victorian Kensington. The regularly designed front garden wall along the pavement which gives a sense of repose to some streets essentially of the 1850s such as Gilston Road, The Boltons and Eldon Road thus yielded to the staccato reiteration of porticoes and the dominating presence of the house-fronts.

The obtrusiveness and restlessness of the High Victorian front in Kensington owed much to the use of the canted bay breaking forward between the porticoes. Segmental bows were not much favoured in southern Kensington (less than in northern Kensington, where they appear on the garden fronts of some houses on the Ladbroke estate), and the canted bay itself is not greatly in evidence before the 1860s although there are some in Earl's Court Gardens and Abingdon Villas of the mid 1850s. Thereafter it became widespread, sometimes rising to double-storey height in the 1860s and higher still —at some houses in Cromwell Road, for example — in the 1870s.

The back garden, as well as the front, became submerged under the increased size of the Victorian family house here, where the ground floor now increasingly accommodated the drawing-room that had hitherto often been situated on the first floor, as well as such Victorian amenities as a billiard-room. In consequence the ground floor often included a third large room at the rear and sometimes a fourth as well. This covering-over of the site was already a characteristic of the builder William Jackson's big houses on the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners' estate in Queen's Gate in the mid 1850s. The Abingdon Villas-Scarsdale Villas area was built up in the 1850s– 1860s mostly with gardens front and back but the mid 1860s saw nearly the end of this practice in southern Kensington. In the 1870s some big houses — on each side of De Vere Gardens, for example — were built back to back with the houses behind.

Another amelioration of the totally built site was the conservatory, often at first-floor level. It did not, however, establish its presence in such houses at all universally, and is, for some reason, less noticeable in the area of this volume than elsewhere.

The size of the house-site itself was at the same time under pressure from a generally high if fluctuating demand and the semi-detached layouts of the 1840s and 1850s were succeeded by the completely terraced schemes appropriate to the more wholly urbanized Kensington of the 1870s and 1880s.

The façade-organization of some of these tall houses is analysed in volume XXXVIII (pages 307–11, figs. 63–83). The Palladian scheme incorporating a first-floor piano nobile and an attic storey above the main cornice was retained in some instances, particularly in the 1840s and 1850s and notably in the builder Sir Charles Freake's Onslow Square, but in the houses most characteristic of the 1860s and 1870s their great height was often acknowledged and accentuated by a shift of the focus of interest to a higher level, with the removal of the most conspicuous dressing of the front to the second floor and the provision of a crowning cornice proportioned to the whole height of the house. This gives a kind of handsomeness even to coarsely detailed houses like those in Kensington Road (Hyde Park Gate) on the west corner of Queen's Gate. The decorative ironwork which was often the main eyecatching and shadow-casting accent on a late-Georgian front at first-floor level was sometimes continued high up the façade, as at the 'Albert Houses' in Queen's Gate or at some houses in Grenville Place, with strongly exotic effect. The extension upwards of the canted bay has been noticed and both the feeling and reality of height were also increased by the tendency to raise the house over higher basements — an effect noticeable, for example, in the later compared with the earlier houses of Seymour Walk.

The High Victorian terraces in southern Kensington generally did not attempt the elaborate all-over composition of thirty years earlier, but repeated essentially identical fronts. These almost always expressed the traditional London terrace-house plan (analysed on pages 18–19 of volume XXXVII), which required the door, together with the entrance hall, staircase and rear wing, to be at one side of the house. Sometimes all the houses in the terrace had repeated plans, and the fronts presented a succession of single doors or porticoes separated by one house-width of window. Sometimes each alternate house was turned to mirror the plan of its neighbours, permitting the rear wings to be be built together and the front doors to be coupled, often under a double portico, with two housewidths of window between them. This latter arrangement tended to grow in favour, but both systems existed alongside, even within single developments, and it is not easy to determine the factors that controlled the choice of one or the other and whether practical considerations (especially regarding the construction of adjacent staircase halls and chimney flues and the building of two rear wings as one structure) or aesthetic fashions were predominant. The latter might have related to the larger-scaled effects possible in a terrace where the doorway-units were half as frequent and twice as wide, but the earlier instances of that scheme, in the early 1860s, were in quite humble streets. At a development like Penywern Road, put up by one builder in 1874–80, it is not apparent why the ratherearlier of the houses are repetitively arranged and the rather later ones mirrored.

The question of the architect's role in deciding such matters has been discussed above, but the reality remains obscure. There are undoubted instances where a certain recurring treatment or motif seems characteristic of a builder (or his architectural guide) rather than of an estate or its surveyor, and other instances where a motif is 'borrowed' for use elsewhere when there seems neither builder nor estate surveyor in common. There was no copyright in design and the Kensington building world must have been very emulous and competitive.

In this and other respects much, besides the house-plan, remained unaltered from the Georgian period. The 'Gardens' layout, though in Kensington the distinguishing, was not the predominating arrangement, and great areas were laid out in a traditional grid of streets that were sometimes aligned on a contrived (if not very effective) vista-stopper. And many of the façade-designs continued to aim at a taste for sobriety verging on dullness. Freake's very prominent, and ducally inhabited, Cromwell Houses in Cromwell Road of 1858 onwards look unashamedly strait-laced, and so did some very restrained houses of the 1860s in Stanhope Gardens (designed by the thoughtful Thomas Cundy III and now demolished) and others built by the solidly successful John Spicer in Old Brompton Road that ran on into the 1870s.

In less fashionable parts of southern Kensington what seems to have been merely old-fashioned practice on the part of builders also produced some very Georgian-looking houses, as in Kenway Road and Child's Place off Earl's Court Road in the late 1860s.

The Tuscan-villa Italianate of the wealthier outer suburbs and resorts was hardly ever chosen and instances of the use of Gothic for runs of houses continued to be rare, particularly if quasi-Gothic such as that of Nos. 239– 279 Old Brompton Road is disregarded. But in the later years of the Italianate phase there appear some significantly restive extravaganzas on the old theme — in Emperor's Gate, for example, or at the western end of Cornwall Gardens. Redcliffe Square of 1868–76 is a striking example of the fiercer variety of the mixed or eclectic style into which the older Italianate formulae were dissolving, and sharing the high French roofs, though not the suavity, of the Grosvenor Gardens Third-Empire mode — a style hardly represented in Kensington. The not-verytasteful innovations introduced by the same builders, Corbett and McClymont, high up at the curved east corner of Old Brompton Road and Earl's Court Road in 1874–7 gained the emulation of other builders elsewhere in Kensington.

In some of these 'sports' diverging from the Italianate norm in the late 1870s red brick makes an appearance, as it does in some otherwise conventional houses of the elderly builder John Spicer. Nevertheless the change to red or yellow-and-red brick in Kensington in about 1882–3 was very sharp, despite these premonitory symptoms. Some of the ranges put up after 1883 were not in fact very bold departures from the previous norm in respect of their design — Wetherby Place on the Day estate, for example. But the difference in aesthetic effect of a red-brick street of the 1880s and a conventional or 'characterful' street of the 1870s, whatever its mixture of materials, is unmistakeable. The change to an all-over warm colouring seems to have been genuinely hungered-for — a feeling more easily understood when the brickwork was new and the stucco dun-coloured than now when the brickwork is darkened and the stucco painted white or cream.

This revolution occurred about ten years after the freer Domestic Revival or Queen Anne style established itself in Kensington in houses specially designed by architects for wealthy clients. Even the most successful practitioner of the old style, Freake himself, switched to red brick (in Cranley Gardens) in 1883. Philbeach Gardens evidences the change; so, even, does a single house at No. 29 Ashburn Place. Some of the new ranges, like Mears's houses in Collingham Gardens, were clearly akin to the new 'architect-designed' houses (here by George and Peto opposite) but modified for ordinary speculative use.

In size, and the social relations of master and servant they were designed to serve, these 'Queen Anne' houses in Kensington were not different from their unregenerate High Victorian predecessors. They were built, moreover, just when the big Kensington house, whatever its dressing, was itself falling abruptly and rather mysteriously out of favour. Even the delightful, individually designed houses of George and Peto in Collingham Gardens were not outstandingly successful and soon the 'red-brick' style was most conspicuously displayed in blocks of flats. Here there was a great opportunity for further outbursts of ironwork in balconies of various forms, often supported on the prominent, elongated, shaped brackets which, now whitepainted, are so characteristic of the street scenes in the Egerton- and Barkston-Gardens flat-lands.

By the end of the century Kensington was largely built over, but one exception, northward from Oxford Gardens on the St. Quintin estate in northern Kensington, saw an extensive development of small two-storeyed houses built from 1905 onwards. Their style, if uncharacteristic of Kensington, is one of the most widely dispersed in London's inner suburbs, with prominent two-storeyed bays capped by their own slated roofs hipped out from the main roof, also slated. Mostly, however, the styles of this century have been able to show themselves only at small or individual sites or where rebuilding was practicable. Excellent Arts-and-Crafts-influenced designs can be found, some by an architect of appropriate background, Frank Chesterton, whose Hornton Street (north of the High Street), for example, shows an inventiveness, solidity of modelling and feeling for texture akin to the work by Eustace Balfour and Thackeray Turner in Mayfair. St. Mary Abbot's Place is an interesting enclave of individual houses built a few years later behind Kensington High Street but resolutely non-metropolitan in feeling.Roughcast and gables appeared, even in Abingdon Villas (No. 2) and at the corner of Edwardes Square (No. 24). Voyseyish houses in a country or outer suburban manner were built in Lexham Walk, amidst all the stucco and white brick: authentic Voysey at Nos. 14 and 16 Hans Road is predictably different — original but urbane.

The violent reaction against the formalism of the big Kensington house was most readily expressed in the conversion or rebuilding of those mews that builders had continued to provide into the 1880s beyond the call of the market, which for reasons probably combining economy, ease and hygiene had turned against privately owned stabling as strongly as against the 'Kensington' house itself. Conversion to bijou residences proceeded apace from about 1913 on into the 1920s — sometimes in a version of the Arts-and-Crafts style and sometimes in a rather startingly outer-suburban Tudoresque style. The usual complement of quasi-neo-Georgian rebuilding has not been lacking, particularly, perhaps, in the Pembroke Gardens area. Not much scope, however, has been offered for the house-forms of the Modern Movement nor, in 1985, for those that have succeeded them.


  • 1. Figures for the population of Kensington at decennial intervals between 1801 and 1901 are given in Survey of London, vol. XXXVII, 1973, p. 3.
  • 2. Thomas Milne's Land Use Map of London & Environs in 1800, London Topographical Society Publications Nos. 118, 119, 1975–6.
  • 3. K.P.L., K73/133.
  • 4. John H. Harvey, ‘The Nurseries on Milne's Land-Use Map'in Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, vol. 24, 1973, pp. 180, 185–7.
  • 5. G.L.R.O., TA9.
  • 6. P.P., 1845, XXVII, The Nineteenth Report of the Commissioners of the Metropolis Turnpike Roads North of the Thames, p. 5; 1849, XXVII, The Twenty-Third Report, ut supra, p. 5.
  • 7. The figures in the graph are based as follows: for northern and southern Kensington from 1846 to 1855 and 1871 to 1885, on the detailed monthly returns of the district surveyors; for northern and southern Kensington from 1856 to 1870 (when monthly returns are not available) and for London as a whole from 1858 to 1885, on the annual returns of the district surveyors. The figures in this second category differ slightly from those used in the graph on page 6 of volume XXXVII of the Survey of London as it was discovered that a more accurate total of the number of buildings erected annually is obtained by adding those for which fees were received in ‘arrears’ to the current year's figure rather than the preceding year's.
  • 8. P.R.O., MAF9/167/1542.
  • 9. Peter Atkins, 'The Production and Marketing of Fruit and Vegetables, ed. Derek J. Oddy and Derek S. Miller, 1985, pp. 104, 105.
  • 10. J. Parry Lewis, Building Cycles and Britain's Growth, 1965: Francis Sheppard, Victor Belcher and Philip Cottrell, ‘The Middlesex and Yorkshire deeds registries and the study of building fluctuations’ in The London Journal, vol. 5, 1978, pp. 176–217.
  • 11. G.L.R.O., M.B.O. C31, Pt. 11, May.
  • 12. Brompton Hospital, Committee of Management, Minute Book 3, pp. 208–10.
  • 13. Archives of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, file 100, 18 Nov. 1878.
  • 14. Margate Public Library, William Corbett Letter Books, XVII, 388.
  • 15. Estates Gazette, 15 May 1878, p. 217: B.N. 10 May 1878, p. 481.
  • 16. Percy Fitzgerald, London City Suburbs as They Are Today, 1893, pp. 10,44, 47.
  • 17. K.P.L., Barkston Gardens, K66/620.
  • 18. The Railway Times, 2 Feb. 1878.
  • 19. Ibid., 4 Aug. 1877.
  • 20. Sir Basil Bartlett, Jam Tomorrow, 1978, pp. 60–1.
  • 21. B.N. 30 Sep. 1859, pp. 879–80.
  • 22. Dictionary of Business Biography, vol. 2, 1984, p. 428.
  • 23. Ibid., pp. 28–9.
  • 24. Records of C. A. Daw & Son, letter book 1879–89, 21 April 1888.
  • 25. Margate Public Library, William Corbett Letter Books, XIV, 311.
  • 26. Kensington Vestry Minutes, 20 May 1803.
  • 27. Ibid., 22 Nov. 1893, pp. 664–7.
  • 28. Ibid., 21 Dec. 1893, p. 671.
  • 29. Report of the Kensington Medical Officer of Health, 1923.
  • 30. Hermann Muthesius, The English House, English ed., 1979, p. 140: The Architectural Review, vol. XIX, May 1906, p. 204.