Princes Gate and Ennismore Gardens: The Kingston House Estate

Page 157

Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.

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Princes Gate and Ennismore Gardens: The Kingston House Estate

Extending over twenty-one acres, the Kingston House estate was one of the largest property holdings in Knightsbridge. At its centre was Kingston House itself, built in the mid-eighteenth century for the celebrated Elizabeth Chudleigh, soi-disant Duchess of Kingston. Bounded on three sides by fields, this mansion originally commanded uninterrupted views towards Surrey. Increasingly encroached upon by building, it survived until the 1930s, the last of the big houses of old Knightsbridge.

The development of the estate (figs 64, 82) took place in stages between the 1840s and the 1960s. Of the four principal phases, only three are represented today by buildings on the ground. The earliest, begun by one of the great Victorian speculative builders, John Elger, lasted almost a decade, and saw the construction of two ranges of large houses in Princes Gate, east and west of Kingston House, and the lesser houses on the eastern side of Ennismore Gardens. The other three sides of Ennismore Gardens belong to the second wave of development, undertaken in the late 1860s and early '70s by the contractors Peter and Alexander Thorn.

A rather disjointed third phase, overlapping with the second and continuing into the 1880s, produced a cluster of large detached houses in the northern part of Ennismore Gardens, on the eastern and southern fringes of Kingston House garden. In the 1930s a protracted fourth phase began. While preserving the leafy and spacious character of the area, this swept away old Kingston House, the later Victorian mansions to the south and east, and the early Victorian eastern range of Princes Gate, replacing them with a mix of apartment blocks and town-houses, the last of which were not completed until the late 1960s.

Almost all of the mews houses associated with the two earlier phases of development survive. Endlessly prettified, they provide a picturesque counterpoint to the prevailing gravitas, and occasional banality, of their neighbours. In these surroundings, the Lombardic architecture of the former All Saints' Church (now a Russian Orthodox cathedral) strikes an unexpectedly exotic note.