Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
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Kingston House and the Kingston House Estate
When its development began in the 1840s, the Kingston House estate had existed as an entity for barely half a century. There were four main constituent parts, which are to a large extent discernible in the present-day pattern of streets and buildings. Just under a third of the ground was freehold. The remainder, formerly part of the extensive property of the Brompton nurseryman John Swinhoe, was copyhold of the manor of Knightsbridge and Westbourne Green, belonging to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey. (fn. 2)
At the core of the estate were the three acres of copy hold ground acquired in 1757 by Elizabeth Chudleigh for the building of Kingston House, occupied today by Kingston House North and its garden. The land adjoining to the west, a four-acre copyhold field, now occupied by Nos 14–25 Princes Gate and their communal garden, was purchased by the 2nd Duke of Kingston in 1759. Two freehold fields to the east of Kingston House, but separated from it by a narrow strip of ground, were bought in the same year by Elizabeth Chudleigh. Known as West Mead or Wett Meads, and together containing 6½ acres, these fields had hitherto formed the westernmost portion of the Moreau family's property in the Knightsbridge area (see fig. 21 on page 78). (fn. 3) Today this ground comprises the main north-south roadway of Ennismore Gardens, together with the whole east side of that street, Nos 1–7 Princes Gate and their communal garden, the site of the Russian Orthodox cathedral, and Ennismore Mews.
When the Duke of Kingston died in 1773 all this property descended to his wife (as he believed), Elizabeth Chudleigh, for her lifetime, and upon her death in 1788 to his nephew Charles Meadows, who under the terms of his uncle's will took the surname Pierrepont. (fn. 4)
The narrow strip of ground between Kingston House and the two freehold fields to the east purchased in 1759 was connected at its southern end to another copy hold field lying behind the house. In 1793 Charles Pierrepont took this whole piece of land, about 7½ acres in extent, on long lease, thus consolidating as well as greatly enlarging the estate. These 7½ acres continued to be held on lease until the 1860s, when the 3rd Earl of Listowel, the then owner of the Kingston House estate, was admitted as copyholder and secured the ground's enfranchisement from manorial control. (fn. 5) On the ground today are Nos 1–35 Ennismore Gardens, Ennismore Gardens Mews, Moncorvo Close and the two blocks of Kingston House South; the slip itself is occupied by Kingston House East and the houses comprising Bolney Gate.
In 1807–8 Pierrepont, by then 1st Earl Manvers, gave the property to his second son, Henry Manvers Pierrepont, who in 1813 sold it for £20,000 to William Hare, Baron Ennismore, later 1st Earl of Listowel (1751–1837). (fn. 6)
In 1855 the substantial portion of the estate built up with houses and stables in the 1840s and early '50s was sold by the 2nd Earl, but the greater part, including Kingston House itself, remained in the possession of the Hare family until shortly before the Second World War. (fn. 7)
With the death of the 4th Earl in 1931, the estate passed not to his eldest son, the socialist 5th Earl, but on trust to a younger son, John Hare, later Viscount Blakenham. (fn. 8) In 1935 an agreement was made with property developers for the sale of Kingston House, together with the neighbouring houses to the east and south built in the 1870s and '80s. Later the rump of the estate — the mid-Victorian houses at Nos 1–35 Ennismore Gardens and Ennismore Gardens Mews — passed into the possession of the Egerton family, Earls of Ellesmere (now Dukes of Sutherland). In 1996 the freehold of these large houses, now known as the Ennismore Gardens Estate, was acquired by the Wellcome Trust. Most of the properties in the mews have been enfranchised under the 1967 Leasehold Reform Act. (fn. 9)
Kingston House (demolished)
Of the string of aristocratic mansions built along the south side of the Kensington road in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Kingston House was the only one not to succumb to redevelopment in the nineteenth. A remarkable survival, it was well photographed before being pulled down in 1937 (Plates 80, 81); but the records of its building history appear largely to have been lost. (fn. 10)
Elizabeth Chudleigh (1720–88), for whom the house was built in 1757–8 — probably at the expense of the Duke of Kingston — was the daughter of a lieutenant-governor of Chelsea Hospital. A maid of honour to the Princess of Wales, she formed a series of relationships with high-ranking noblemen, and became somewhat notorious for flouting the conventions of polite society. Many years before her involvement with the Duke of Kingston, she had secretly, and ill-advisedly, married the Hon. Augustus Hervey, later Earl of Bristol. It was eventually determined in court that the marriage had never taken place; but evidence of its validity was blatantly suppressed, with the eventual result that, after the duke's death, the judgement was overturned and Elizabeth Chudleigh was indicted and found guilty of bigamy. (fn. 11)
Miss Chudleigh is listed as the ratepayer of Kingston House from 1758 until 1769, the year she and the duke married, and they lived there together thereafter, until his death in 1773. Following her trial in 1776, Elizabeth Chudleigh (correctly the Countess of Bristol) fled abroad to escape legal proceedings brought by the duke's family to recover his property. However, the duke's will, leaving his real estate to her for life, was upheld by the courts and she continued to enjoy the profits until she died in France more than ten years later. (fn. 12)
From Elizabeth Chudleigh, Kingston House descended to the duke's nephew, and it remained in his family's possession until the estate was sold in 1813. For some of this time the house was occupied by tenants. Sir George Warren lived there from 1789 to 1803, and in December 1790 was reported to be making 'considerable', though unspecified, alterations. (He also contrived to have a private carriage-entrance into Hyde Park built immediately opposite, which apparently remained in use until the opening of Prince of Wales Gate in 1848; a pedestrian gate now occupies the site.) (fn. 13) The 6th Earl of Stair is said to have lived at Kingston House after Warren, though he is not listed in the ratebooks, and between 1805 and 1808 the rates were paid by Edward Lovedon Lovedon. Lord Ennismore took up residence in the house after purchasing the estate in 1813, and made 'many alterations and additions'. (fn. 14)
In its original form, Kingston House was a conventional Palladian villa, comprising a squarish three-storey block flanked by lower wings containing stables and kitchens (Plate 80a). (fn. 1) Architectural display was concentrated on the north front, where the central bay was embellished with two Venetian windows under a shallow pediment. Between the house and the service wings were two small courtyards, enclosed on the south side by single-storey linking corridors, and on the north by walls with pedimented gateways. Though the architect is not known, a possible candidate is Henry Flitcroft, who undertook commissions for both the 1st and 2nd Dukes of Kingston. (fn. 16)
Behind the house were originally formal gardens and a grotto. (fn. 17)
An impression of Kingston House (or Chudleigh House
as it was then called) was recorded by a visitor in 1762:
[Miss Chudleigh's] house can justly be called a gem; it contains a quantity of handsome and costly furniture and other curiosities and objects of value, chosen and arranged with the greatest taste, so that you cannot fail to admire it greatly. There is hardly a place in the whole house left bare or without decoration, like a doll's house. Everything is in perfect harmony. The view, over Hyde Park, and at the back over Chelsea, is considered with truth one of the finest that could be pictured. (fn. 18)
Parts of the mid-Georgian interior décor, including the staircase, survived until the house was pulled down (Plate 81a). The photographs taken in 1937 show a lobby on the second floor decorated in the Chinese taste.
Some Regency-style additions in the form of a colonnaded porte-cochère, bow windows at the front and a fullwidth Trafalgar balcony at the back (Plate 80a, 80c) were most likely part of Lord Ennismore's improvements. He is known to have made two major additions at the back before 1820: a grand first-floor saloon, built over the west service wing and linking corridor, and beyond it, at the same level, a 75ft-long Gothick-style conservatory of cast iron and glass (Plates 80b, 81b, 81d). (fn. 19) The saloon was opulently decorated in the style of Nash, with green scagliola columns, red damask wall-hangings and coffered coving. Together with the two existing drawing-rooms on the first floor, the saloon and conservatory made up an interconnecting sequence of apartments along the garden front. According to H. G. Davis, the Knightsbridge historian, the conservatory originally contained a painted window by John Martin of a garden scene. (fn. 20) This had disappeared by the 1930s, but another painted window by Martin, 'Woman cloathed with the Sun', inspired by a passage in the Book of Revelations, survived in the ante-room or corridor on the north side of the saloon.
The appearance of the interior was enhanced by fine furniture and the Hare family's very considerable collection of Old Master paintings, which included works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Holbein, Poussin, Murillo and Velázquez. (fn. 21)
That Kingston House survived well into the twentieth century is all the more remarkable in that neither the 2nd Earl of Listowel nor, initially, the 3rd Earl seem to have had any particular attachment to the place. After the death of the 1st Earl in 1837, the house was let to the Duke of Wellington's brother, Richard, Marquess Wellesley, who died there in 1842. In 1864 the house attracted a purchase offer — through the agency of C. J. Freake, the developer of the adjoining ground to the west — from Baron Lionel de Rothschild, who had been living there since about 1859. Nothing came of this, but the 3rd Earl was actively pursuing the enfranchisement of the property at this time, presumably as a preliminary to a proposed redevelopment of the ground, and there is evidence that the demolition of Kingston House was in mind during the 1870s. (fn. 22)
Possibly the difficulties encountered by the developer of the north side of Ennismore Gardens in the 1880s discouraged further development and so helped to stave off the destruction of the old house. The 3rd Earl died at Kingston House in 1924, and the last occupant was his widow, who in turn died there in December 1936. In March 1937 the contents were sold and that autumn the house itself was demolished for the building of flats (see Kingston House North below). (fn. 23)