Knightsbridge North Side: Parkside to Albert Gate Court

Page 37

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

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Knightsbridge North Side: Parkside to Albert Gate Court

Building on the north side of Knightsbridge as far west as Knightsbridge Barracks is confined to a narrow, tapering strip of ground bordering Hyde Park. The east end of this strip, truncated in the late 1950s for road-widening, formerly ran to a point, where the last building was a tiny sweet-shop built on to the park wall. At the west end, the barracks occupies part of the park itself. Bisecting this narrow tract of land is the Westbourne brook, now canalized under the roadway of Albert Gate. The Westbourne here is the boundary between the parishes of St George, Hanover Square, to the east (previously part of St Martin-in-theFields), and St Margaret, Westminster, to the west. The buildings on the eastern part were formerly called Park Side, those fronting the road on the broader western portion High Row. All of Park Side, and the eastern end of High Row (including the Hyde Park Hotel site), were formerly owned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey as part of the manor of Knightsbridge and Westbourne Green, while the remainder of the ground to the west was, by the early eighteenth century, in private hands.

There was some building along the strip as far back as the Middle Ages, when a lazar-house or hospital was established on the east bank of the Westbourne (where the French Embassy now stands). The hospital continued in existence until the early eighteenth century; its chapel, long the chief place of worship in Knightsbridge, was rebuilt in the 1860s as Holy Trinity Church, which disappeared with the redevelopment of most of Park Side early in the twentieth century.

Although some earlier buildings stood westwards of the Westbourne, including two or more inns, High Row was largely a development of the 1720s and' 30s, consisting in the main of good-sized terrace-houses. Among the other buildings erected here before the making of Albert Gate in the early 1840s were the small later-Georgian houses of Mills's Buildings and Park Row, and the Cannon Brewhouse of 1804, the latter falling victim to Thomas Cubitt's Albert Gate.

The creation of Albert Gate certainly helped put Knightsbridge on the map as part of fashionable London, but despite its improving effect on the vicinity did not encourage any further redevelopment in Park Side and High Row in the short or medium term. Its visual impact, however, as an architectural colossus bestriding what had previously been a filthy open drain, was considerable — an effect now entirely dissipated by the scale of later buildings on either side.

Much the most important of these is the Hyde Park Hotel of the late 1880s, whose great height in such close proximity to the park caused a furore when it was first projected. The hotel — originally residential 'chambers' and a club — was followed by several lesser apartment blocks near the barracks, but most of the eighteenth-century houses in High Row, together with Mills's Buildings and Park Row, survived until the Second World War, after which Bowater House was built on the site. Opposition to the erection of this gross office block recalled the arguments put forward against the building of the Hyde Park Hotel, and the issue of tall buildings on the north side of Knightsbridge was raised again a few years later with the designing of the new barracks.