Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.
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Development by C. J. Freake
Freake bought the 11 (fn. 12) 2-acre rump of Brompton Park Nursery in 1851–2, but it was not until 1856 that he was ready to build there. During the intervening years, he had seen the value of his land increase greatly from the £24,000 that he had paid for it: he claimed to have turned down an offer of £75,000. (fn. 13)
The boost given to this whole area by the success of the Great Exhibition had set developers vying with each other for possession of the remaining open ground, chief among them the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners themselves, with their grand scheme for a permanent centre of cultural and scientific institutions here. Anxious to secure as much ground as possible, so that they could augment their longterm income through speculative property development, the Commissioners had initially hoped that Freake would be prepared to sell them the nursery ground at a modest profit to himself, but in the event it proved impossible to strike a deal on this basis. In any case, the Commissioners were perhaps more immediately concerned with trying (without success) to get possession of the much smaller Eden Lodge property, with its comparatively wide frontage to the Kensington road. This lay between Freake's ground and the old Gore House estate, the original nucleus of their holding, acquired in May–August 1852 (see fig. 86). (fn. 14)
Crucial to the development plans of both Freake and the Commissioners was the creation of Exhibition Road, the second of two north-south streets over the Commissioners' estate between the Brompton and Kensington roads, the other being Queen's Gate. Freake's possession of the neck of land connecting the old nursery with the Kensington road, which offered the most promising northern exit for the intended eastern street, gave him a trump card in negotiations with the Commissioners. They had long since abandoned the idea of buying his nursery ground when, in 1856, they reached agreement with him for the construction, at the joint expense of both parties, of the new street. With their eyes still fixed on Eden Lodge, they entered into an exchange of land with Freake which, in retrospect, must have seemed a poor bargain. In return for the little slip of ground left between the new road and the garden of Eden Lodge they ceded to Freake a very substantial portion of land immediately south of his property. This was sufficient for him to build six houses on the road frontage (Nos 64–69 Princes Gate) and, at the back, a spacious mews for his whole development. (The Commissioners' hopes that possession of the slip of ground would improve their negotiating position in the proposed purchase of Eden Lodge proved unfounded, and in 1874 they sold it to William Lowther, the new owner of the Eden Lodge property.) (fn. 15)
Freake, meanwhile, had consolidated his own position in December 1855 by obtaining terms for building on the recently enfranchised Park House property. (fn. 16) (fn. 1) With his existing freehold land, this gave him a long uninterrupted line of frontage to develop along the proposed Exhibition Road, and a sizeable piece of the choice ground fronting the Kensington road, opposite the park.
It was the intention of both Freake and the Commissioners that Exhibition Road should be secondary in importance to Queen's Gate, a private road rather than a public thoroughfare, and for this reason it was narrower and the junction with the Kensington road was left somewhat constricted. Freake did not, however, take advantage of the option of putting a gate at this end. (fn. 17)
Freake began building in 1856 on the Park House property. The first houses to be erected were Nos 26–31 Princes Gate (completing the line of development at Nos 13–25 begun by John Elger on the Kingston House estate, but demarcated from it by a railing and a passageway into the communal garden there). These houses were leased to Freake in March 1857, and were in the process of being finished internally at the beginning of September. Work was also well advanced by then on building up the Exhibition Road frontage, where Nos 32–35 Princes Gate were nearing completion and other carcases had been roofed in. (fn. 19)
Of the six houses facing Kensington Road, three were let by Freake in 1858, and two more in 1860. The particularly large house at No. 26, however, was not taken until the end of 1862. Nos 32–44, fronting Exhibition Road, were variously let between 1859 and about 1861. (fn. 20) This row was completed by four houses on Freake's freehold ground, Nos 45–48 Princes Gate, which were first occupied between 1860 and 1864. (fn. 21)
As this work proceeded Freake was already preparing plans for much of the southern part of the estate. Proposals for Princes Gardens were approved by the Metropolitan Board of Works in October 1858. (fn. 22) The first houses there, on the north side of the new square, were in carcase in 1859, and one was let in that August. (fn. 23) Progress, however, was hindered at this time by a strike which lasted for over two months. (fn. 24) (fn. 2) By October 1860 the northern range was almost completed, and several more properties there had been let. Meanwhile the east side had also been built up, and the square garden had been 'tastefully' laid out. (fn. 26) The first houses on the south side were in carcase in 1861, and the entire row was up in the following year. All the houses on the east and south sides were occupied by about 1866. (fn. 27)
For the time being the Exhibition Road frontage on the west side of the square remained undeveloped. In 1862 Freake took advantage of the vacant site to set up an indoor market or 'International Bazaar' here, while the International Exhibition was being held across the road. Measuring 400ft by 100ft by 59ft high, this was a galleried wooden building alongside the street, adorned with flags and painted decorations by a Parisian firm, Delessert & Company, to give the requisite cosmopolitan flavour. The building was dismantled when the exhibition closed, but it was not until the late 1860s (having completed more houses further south in Princes Gate) that Freake ventured to erect houses on the plot. (fn. 28)
The houses on the bazaar site, numbered 49–58 Princes Gate (but carrying rights of access to the garden in the square), began to be occupied from 1869; the last to be taken, in 1875, was No. 57. (fn. 29) With the exception of No. 26 Princes Gate they were the largest houses on Freake's Knightsbridge estate.
To the south, the slightly earlier ranges at Nos 59–63 and 64–72 Princes Gate were first occupied between 1867 and 1873. The three southernmost houses, Nos 70–72, were built on an additional piece of ground, sold to Freake in 1865 by the Science and Art Department, which was then building the South Kensington Museum (now V & A) on the land adjoining. Their construction did not begin until after April 1867. (fn. 30)
Princes Gate Mews
This enclave, where Freake concentrated the stabling and coach-houses for his development, was built in 1859–61, well before many of the houses were even begun. Originally called Princes Mews, it was renamed in 1896.
Extensive though it is, the mews was not quite big enough. At least one house was leased with two adjacent properties in Princes Gate Mews, and some of the last of the Princes Gate houses to be built had to be let with stabling on his other developments, in Cromwell Mews and Reece Mews. (fn. 31)
The three parallel streets making up the mews are spaciously laid out, though with only one way to or from Exhibition Road. Resolutely plain in their original form, the buildings (the majority of them back-to-backs) have been variously altered and enlarged as private residences (Plate 78b ).
Freake's houses in Princes Gate and Princes Gardens quickly became established as very good addresses. He was fortunate in securing three earls among his first tenants at Princes Gate: Earl Grosvenor at No. 28, the Earl of Ducie at No. 30, and Earl Somers at No. 33. Ten years later Somers removed to another, larger, new house on the estate, No. 49 Princes Gate.
Among the other first occupants of the earlier houses in Princes Gate were Charles Seeley, MP for Lincoln (No. 26); Sir Henry Bold Hoghton, a Lancashire baronet (No. 27); Robert Cooper Lee Bevan, banker (No. 31); Maj.Gen. John Dawson Rawdon (No. 34), and the Dowager Marchioness of Bath (No. 39). John Augustus Beaumont, managing director of the County Fire Office (from which Freake obtained finance for the development) was the original occupant of No. 32.
The first houses to be completed on the north side of Princes Gardens attracted a few titled people, among them Viscount Hawarden and Lord Augustus Fitzroy (later 7th Duke of Grafton), four MPs and several judges.
On the east side of Princes Gardens there was a preponderance of commercial and professional men among the first or very early occupants. Three had close ties with New South Wales, two having been respectively the first Premier and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly there; the other was the son of the 'father of New South Wales', John Macarthur.
There was a comparable range of inhabitants on the south side of Princes Gardens and the southern part of Princes Gate. A good few were titled. Many were active in politics, the law, banking, the armed services, industry and commerce; most had country estates or at least a country residence.
Such large houses called for a fairly numerous indoor staff. The average complement was eight, typically consisting of butler, cook-housekeeper, lady's maid, a couple of housemaids, a kitchen maid and two footmen: governesses and nursemaids, and in grander households a page, might also be needed. There might be a dozen or so servants in all: in 1891 an MP and his wife and four children at No. 54 Princes Gate required fourteen. (fn. 32)
Lengths of occupancy varied greatly, the houses often being taken by a succession of short-term tenants. In at least ten of Freake's forty-seven Princes Gate houses, however, the first tenants or their families remained in occupation for twenty-five years or longer. In Princes Gardens, seven of the forty-eight houses remained in the hands of the first occupant or his family for at least thirty years (and in two cases sixty years).
Design and planning
Freake's success as a developer rested in large part on the single-mindedness with which he kept to just one section of the property market, and that largely within one locality. Having found a winning formula for catering to the requirements of the wealthy householder, moreover, he was not inclined to innovate. His houses, in consequence, epitomize the conservative taste of their day, providing conventionally grand exteriors acceptable alike to the artistically progressive (who might redecorate inside as they pleased) as to the more staid. In planning, too, allowing for the extra scope offered by their large scale, they were conventional. Equally important, they were soundly constructed on traditional lines. The Building News (which followed the progress of Freake's development with flattering assiduity) puffed the quality of the double-framed floors in Princes Gardens, which were finished in pitch pine 'without flaw, blemish or shrinkage, forming as a whole one of the best specimens of the sort we have seen'. (fn. 33)
In Princes Gate and Princes Gardens Freake's houses conform to the pattern repeated with variations across a large part of the South Kensington area during the 1850s and '60s. Three windows wide, fully stuccoed, with columned porticoes, they rise five full storeys over a basement. Within each range, the identity of each house is clearly expressed, but within a unified architectural treatment. By the time that Freake completed his last houses on the estate the fashion had become stale, and architectural taste was turning against these Italianate 'stucco classic' terraces altogether.
The houses here are closely related to those Freake was building at about the same time in Cromwell Road and Cromwell Place. The basic features of the type, however, were not introduced by him to this district. They were developed by John Elger and others building on the Kingston House and Rutland House estates from the 1840s, most grandiosely at Nos 13–25 Princes Gate, where a design by H. L. Elmes was used. Freake's own houses at Nos 26–31, similar in their elevational treatment to this earlier range, have the grandest façades on his estate, and were clearly intended to set the standard for the rest of the development (Plate 95a, 95b ).
Unlike Elger, however, Freake preferred to place the main cornice between the two top floors, and his ornamentation was generally richer. Except for the area railings (where considerations of natural light to the basement, or perhaps security, dictated otherwise), exterior ironwork was shunned in favour of stone or stuccoed balustrading, giving the buildings a more committedly Italianate look.
Freake followed the design of his initial range fairly closely along Exhibition Road at Nos 32–48 Princes Gate (Plates 95c , 96c ), but omitted the alto relievo swags over the attic windows. The attic window-heads here had keystones, and swags were used to decorate the spaces between the first- and second-floor windows. Among other minor changes, the quoining — long and short at Nos 26–31 and vermiculated on the ground floor — was made uniform. A feature of this whole range was that it was broken up irregularly as it stepped down the slope of Exhibition Road. Divisions were indicated by quoining and by the main cornice, but also by the arrangement of the porticoes. At the middle three houses (Nos 39–41), the porticoes took up the full width of each house, so as to form a colonnade (an effect reminiscent of C. J. Richardson's slightly later 'Albert Houses' in Queen's Gate). No. 44 also has a fullwidth colonnaded portico.
The considerably larger, later Princes Gate houses, Nos 49–58 (Plate 96a , 96b ), are slightly plainer, without swags. None of the windows are round-arched. Instead of the Vitruvian scroll frieze beneath the main cornice there is a floral pattern.
The Princes Gardens houses are chiefly distinguished from those in Princes Gate by having the main cornice over the attic floor, beneath which there is a secondary cornice (Plate 97a , 97b ). This arrangement was a favourite part of the architectural stock-in-trade of the various developers and builders active locally at this period, being found on many of the contemporary houses in and around Queen's Gate.
Of the three Princes Gardens ranges the most interesting was the northern, with a Mannerist elevational treatment ornamented with sprays and festoons (fig. 88). The eastern range (now entirely demolished) and the southern range (today represented by Nos 46–48 only) were given almost identical, more conventionally classical facades.
Nos 64–72 Princes Gate, and perhaps Nos 59–63 also, followed the Princes Gardens houses in having the attic storey beneath the main cornice (an additional modern attic storey has been added to the surviving houses at Nos 69–72).
Where the backs of the houses overlooked the communal gardens, they were stuccoed and given a modicum of ornamentation. The accretion of pipework and minor alterations has somewhat marred the original effect (Plate 97b ). Small terraces or bridges over back areas give access to the gardens (fig. 89, Plate 96b ).
Who designed the individual ranges is not known for certain. Freake himself aspired to the title of architect, but he had no professional training and there is no reason to suppose that he had the time to involve himself very deeply in architectural design and planning. Without doubt these matters devolved upon his various professional assistants. Chief among these was his right-hand man James Waller, who also came to style himself 'architect'. Another was William Tasker, who went on to establish his own successful architectural practice. According to an obituarist, Tasker 'planned many' of Freake's houses in Princes Gate and Cromwell Road. (fn. 34) George Edwards, who worked as Freake's 'pupil and assistant' from 1865 until 1874 and later practised independently, may also have been involved in design on the estate. (fn. 35) The architect W. H. Nash described himself as Freake's 'surveyor' in a letter of 1867 about the drainage in Princes Gate: he was then only about 17 years old. (fn. 36)
Freake's houses were planned as 'very complete family mansions' with all the 'necessary conveniences for a town residence required by a nobleman or gentleman'. Some had close on thirty rooms, including more than a dozen bedrooms. Except at some of the end-of-terrace houses the conventional side-passage plan was adopted, with a main dog-leg staircase.
There was a large ground-floor dining-room, usually at the front (see fig. 94); that at No. 55 Princes Gate is perhaps typical in having a pair of columns at one end to define a servery. The other main ground-floor room might be arranged as a breakfast room, morning room, library or billiard-room. The smaller third room made a study or smoking-room. The main staircase was top lit, and had stone treads, a polished wooden handrail and castiron balustrading (fig. 90). Back stairs, also of stone, with simple iron balustrades, were provided for the use of servants.
On the north side of Princes Gardens the houses were built with an extra ground-floor room at the back, occupying the full width of the house and opening on to the communal garden. They were typically used as dining-rooms (fig. 89, Plate 97b ).
On the first floor, the usual arrangement was an Lshaped double drawing-room and a boudoir at the rear. The wider and deeper houses at Nos 50–57 Princes Gate had an oblong double drawing-room running the whole depth of the house, and front and back boudoirs (fig. 94). The other upper floors were given over to bedrooms, and the basement to the usual domestic offices.
End-of-terrace houses with side entrances had large central halls, open-well staircases, and reception rooms extending the full width of the building (see fig. 92).
Uniquely, because of its irregular plot, No. 26 Princes Gate is on an L-shaped plan and double-fronted to the road. The central entrance hall, flanked by two reception rooms, turns into a top-lit staircase hall across the back of the eastern side of the house. On the deeper western side a third room (later furnished as a library) overlooks the communal garden. On the first floor a grand apartment occupies the entire front of the house, with another reception room behind, on the west side. (fn. 37)
Freake's houses were finished to a high decorative standard, with much enriched plasterwork and other ornamentation (Plate 105a ). Entrance halls were paved with encaustic tiles, variously by Minton or Maw & Company (Plate 121d ). The main reception rooms, decorated 'in a most elaborate style', had ceiling 'centre-flowers' and coved cornices, gilded and coloured in 'a good display of polychromatic art'. Plate 103a shows the drawing-room at Lord Dinevor's residence, No. 19 Princes Gardens, in the 1860s, with its original cornicing. More unconventionally, at Nos 26–31 Princes Gate, and some at least of the other houses, the doorways of the drawing-rooms were designed with elliptical heads and architraves, formed in Keene's cement. The floors of the drawing-rooms and boudoirs had borders of inlaid parquetry made up of mahogany, walnut, sycamore and oak. The particularly fine parquetry floor in the drawing-room at No. 53 Princes Gate (fig. 91) was probably installed for an early occupant. (fn. 39)
Such large dwellings, suited to extensive households and entertaining on a princely scale,' were natural arenas for ambitious re-decorators. The most spectacular interiors, both in the Aesthetic taste, were at Nos 49 and 52 Princes Gate (described below). At No. 27 Princes Gate, the Hon. William Francis Cowper Temple (afterwards Baron Mount Temple) and his wife Mary, fired with enthusiasm by Rossetti himself, espoused the same fashion. A visitor in 1872 was ushered into 'a room like an emerald with dark bright green satin walls', hung with paintings including Rossetti's Beatrice. Smaller pictures were hung on a low gold-painted dado. The dining-room was 'panelled in green wood, with squares of gold let into the panels … each square being painted with a large sunflower, a blue iris, a branch of spindle tree with coral beads hanging by a thread, or some lovely tree or flower'. In a recess were painted windows by Morris, and window seats adorned with Italian pottery jars. (fn. 40) (fn. 3)
Of the same period, but in a very different style, was the interior décor at an unidentified house in the Exhibition Road part of Princes Gate. The first-floor drawing-rooms had been thrown into one and sumptuously decorated in Louis-Quatorze style, with ornate over-mantel mirrors and a panelled ceiling ornamented in white on a pale turquoise ground. The walls were decorated with painted panels and pilasters, the panels with a fleur-de-lis pattern, and the pilasters (painted on zinc) with small symbolic representations of Architecture, Painting, Music, Sculpture, Literature, Science, Agriculture, and the Chase. All the woodwork was painted white, relieved by sparing use of gilding and silvering, and heightened with 'tints of tempered cerise and turquoise'. This work was designed and executed by the Baker Street house decorators W. Phillips & Son. (fn. 41)
The banker Herbert de Stern (afterwards Lord Michelham), an intimate of the Prince of Wales, commissioned some especially lavish redecoration at No. 26 Princes Gate in the early 1890s. This was carried out by H. Hanks, probably the decorator Herbert Hanks of Berners Street. A marble staircase was installed, the walls of the entrance hall and staircase were veneered in grey veined marble, and the floor was laid with marble mosaic (Plate 102a , 102b ). An oak dado and scagliola columns were added to the diningroom, and the library was fitted with richly carved bookcases, a massive Renaissance chimneypiece and a Jacobethan-style moulded-plaster ceiling (Plate 102c ). (fn. 43) The marble work in the hall and the staircase still survive.
No. 58 Princes Gate has many decorative features dating from an expensive Edwardian make-over. Almost certainly carried out prior to 1909, (fn. 44) it was probably commissioned by George Alexander Lockett, of the Liverpool merchants William & John Lockett, whose London residence this was from about 1903 until his death in 1923.
The best-preserved interiors are the entrance hall and staircase compartment, and the full-sized billiard-room overlooking Exhibition Road on the first floor. The first two, in the French Beaux-Arts manner, are lined in pale grey stone, with moulded panels and elaborately sculpted over-doors (Plate 105c ). The hall, which has an ornate eighteenth-century-style plaster ceiling, is divided from the stairwell by a screen of fluted green marble columns, with gilded capitals and bases, carrying a deep entablature (Plate 119c ). The staircase is of stone and perhaps original to the house, but the metal balustrading, with gilded enrichments incorporating the initial L, evidently forms part of the remodelling (Plate 105b ).
The former billiard-room is done up in the Jacobethan style, with dark wooden panelling and a strapwork ceiling with pendants: the painted frieze is modern. On the ground floor, the former smoking-room is decorated in similar taste. The decoration of the former dining-room and morning room, in neo-Adam and mid-eighteenthcentury English styles respectively, is also probably Edwardian work. The first-floor drawing-rooms have been showily redecorated more recently, with boiseries and painted panels in the early-eighteenth-century French fashion.
A final example of redecoration is the Georgian-style drawing-room at No. 6 Princes Gardens (now demolished), probably carried out in the 1920s (Plate 103b ).
By the First World War a number of houses had undergone some internal structural alterations. At No. 53 Princes Gate there was now a double dining-room, running the full depth of the house and subdivided by a 'sinking wall'. (fn. c1) Several houses on the south side of Princes Gardens had annexed parts of the buildings adjoining in Princes Gate Mews. In this way No. 48 had been provided with a new ground-floor billiard-room. In other instances, however, the former stabling and coach-houses in the mews were employed as motor-garages. Passenger-lifts were installed in some houses: at No. 54 Princes Gate a quaint glass-and-metal lift of 1920s appearance survived into the 1990s. Other houses were slow to receive more basic improvements. In the early twentieth century No. 11 Princes Gardens still had not a single bathroom or fitted bath. (fn. 45)
No. 49 Princes Gate
Outwardly unremarkable, this house claims a place in the history of art as the original home of a legendary piece of interior design — James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room. Probably no other dining-room in London has been quite so celebrated, or received such extravagant encomiums — the 'World's Greatest Masterpiece of Decorative Art' in the not unbiased view of one Chicago newspaper — and the story of its creation, spiced with controversy, continues to fascinate. (fn. 46)
Much of the original publicity for the room was generated by the artist himself, somewhat to the embarrassment of its owner, F. R. Leyland, the Liverpool shipping magnate and art collector, and Whistler's principal patron. A private man, Leyland had preferred the relative anonymity of a speculative builder's house, albeit a large and superior example of the genre, to some outwardly individual mansion (Plate 96a , ): his previous London house, in Queen's Gate, was similarly an up-market speculative builder's job of the mid–1850s. Inside, however, he was prepared to lavish substantial sums on decoration. Contemporaries were struck by the contrast: 'Without is London, within is Italy'. (fn. 47)
The house was not new when Leyland acquired it. The first occupant, who bought it from the builder, C. J. Freake, on an eighty-year lease and lived there from 1869 to 1874, was Charles Somers, 3rd Earl Somers. (fn. 48) He too was a connoisseur and collector, particularly of armour, and, at his country seat Eastnor Castle, an enthusiastic and lavish interior decorator. If, however, he made any alterations to No. 49 these have not been identified.
Somers sold the house to Leyland (together with his coach-house at No. 68 Princes Gate Mews) in July 1874. (fn. 49) The remodelling of the interior must have begun almost immediately, and was to continue intermittently over the next decade. Designed to create opulent settings for Leyland's collection of pictures and antiques, this work was essentially decorative and largely carried out within the framework of Freake's original plan. During the early stages the house was presumably uninhabitable, and Leyland does not appear to have taken up residence until 1876.
Three designers are particularly associated with Leyland's refashioning of the interior: Whistler; the architect and designer Thomas Jeckyll; and the architect Richard Norman Shaw.
The first on the scene was Jeckyll, employed on the advice of Murray Marks, the Oxford Street china dealer, through whom Leyland had acquired his own collection of blue-and-white Kangxi porcelain. (fn. 50) The extent of Jeckyll's brief is not known, but seems to have included the remodelling of the hall and stairwell, the decoration of the diningroom, and the creation of a study or sanctum for Leyland himself.
The study was probably the first to be finished. Situated in the basement on the west side of the house, it was a long, low room reached by a staircase from a lobby in the southwest corner of the hall. Above a dado of American walnut, the walls were hung with old-gold Spanish leather, embossed with 'a soft floral design interspersed between bold red-brown arabesques'. (fn. 51) Henry Cole, a visitor in 1876, described the room as generally 'coloured green bronze on ceiling and walls and hung with Botticellis and the like'. He found it 'very harmonious — a rose modern piano only being incongruous'. (fn. 52) Dominating the room were some elaborate gas-lamps (doubtless incorporating a self-ventilating system to keep the fumes from harming the pictures and decorations), with bulbous shades resembling Japanese lanterns.
The remodelling of the hall and the dining-room proceeded in parallel. In the former (Plate 98a ), Jeckyll presumably had the responsibility of adapting Freake's staircase to take the balustrade from the great stairs at Northumberland House, which Leyland acquired when the historic mansion was pulled down to make Northumberland Avenue. At the sale of the materials in September 1874, the balustrade, with its Spanish mahogany handrail, was knocked down for just £360. (fn. 53)
The balustrade is an exceptional piece of design — an enriched Vitruvian scroll highly decorated with foliage and flowers (Plate 105d ). Dating from 1822–3, it was designed by the Duke of Northumberland's architect, Thomas Cundy the elder, and made of Grecian metal, a 'refined species of brass'. It was one of a number of metal and glass fittings at Northumberland House, including four 'superb' Grecian metal chandeliers costing £2,700, supplied and fitted by William Collins of the Strand, 'Glass Enameller and Glass Manufacturer to the King and the Royal Family'. His charge for the balustrade, including two nine-feethigh candelabra at the foot of the staircase, was £2,000. (fn. 54) (fn. 4)
Fitting a balustrade intended for a large imperial staircase to the shorter, steeper flights and sharper turns of a staircase in a terraced house, however large, must have required both ingenuity and skill, and perhaps used up more of the original than expected. For whatever reason, the balustrade as originally installed at No. 49 extended from the entrance hall only to the second-floor landing.
Presumably it was Jeckyll who designed the architectural features of the hall and staircase, and the prettily patterned mosaic floor, but the colour scheme was apparently entrusted to Whistler, his earliest involvement with the decoration at No. 49. (fn. 55) For the walls Whistler chose contrasting shades of green, to harmonize with the gilt balustrade; his most personal contribution, however, was a series of panels along the dado. Embellished with pink and white flowers on a background of dutch metal (imitation xgold-leaf) under a lightly distressed green glaze, these were in progress in March 1876. Doubts as to the stability of the glaze caused the work to be suspended, and by the time they were resolved Whistler was preoccupied with the dining-room, and the intended series of panels in the hall was left incomplete. (fn. 56)
The history of Leyland's dining-room at No. 49 is of a room designed by Jeckyll, and, short of painting the woodwork, completed to his design, which was then raised to a higher aesthetic plane by Whistler's transforming brush (Plates 101a , 126b ). Not that Jeckyll's scheme was deficient in artistic merit. (fn. 5) His task here was to devise a setting suitable for displaying Leyland's collection of blue-and-white china and Whistler's painting La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, which had come into Leyland's possession probably in the early 1870s. To display the china, Jeckyll designed a range of open shelves or étagères, divided at intervals in the Japanese fashion. As a background, the walls were hung with gilt leather, painted with red flowers and green foliage, above the wooden dado. Whistler's Princesse was hung in a prominent position over the fireplace, which contained two of Jeckyll's distinctive sunflower andirons. Jeckyll's ceiling, made from wood and canvas, was divided by wooden ribs into a Tudoresque pattern of eight eight-pointed stars with a pendant in the centre of each (fig. 93). At the end of every pendant was a gas-lamp with a bulbous lantern-light, like those in the study. Although electric lighting was installed in parts of the house during Leyland's lifetime (very likely by the Edison & Swan Electric Light Company, of which he was a director), it did not entirely supersede the gas system. (fn. 57)
Jeckyll's dining-room, constructed by a local builder, Joseph W. Duffield of Jay Mews, Kensington, was fitted into the existing room on a framework independent of the walls and ceiling. It was thus capable of being dismantled and removed — a fortuitous circumstance, but for which the room and Whistler's embellishments would certainly not have survived. (fn. 58)
Since one of his own paintings was to be the focal point of the decoration, Whistler doubtless kept an eye on what Jeckyll was doing in the dining-room, but he did not become involved there himself until quite a late stage. Jeckyll was close to finishing when in April 1876 Leyland consulted Whistler about the colouring of the woodwork, Jeckyll himself being still undecided — 'he speaks of two yellows and white'. Leyland wondered if it would be better treated like the hall dado, using dutch metal — 'I wish you would give him [Jeckyll] your ideas'. (fn. 59) Thus at Leyland's invitation Whistler was drawn into working on the decoration, and so began a series of 'adjustments' to Jeckyll's scheme out of which the Peacock Room emerged.
He began by applying dutch metal and a transparent greenish glaze to parts of the unpainted woodwork. In this work he was assisted by Walter and Henry Greaves. Presumably Jeckyll approved, but his health was already beginning to give way and by the summer he had left the scene altogether. Whistler next turned his attention to touching-up the gilt-leather wall-hangings with traces of yellow: he felt the red flowers clashed with the colours of the Princesse. In August, he wrote to Leyland in Liverpool that the room was all but finished, apart from a blue 'wave pattern' which he intended to apply to the 'green gold' of the cornice and dado — three days' work at the most. Leyland sanctioned this, but alone in London, unrestrained by his patron's wishes, Whistler allowed his imagination free rein, and his simple wave pattern evolved into a peacockfeather design which he carried over on to Jeckyll's ceiling. He also gilded the china shelving and painted large golden peacocks on the window shutters.
When, in October 1876, Leyland saw what Whistler had done to his dining-room he was apparently noncommittal. But he soon made his feelings clear when he declined to pay the artist's fee, two thousand guineas, and a froideur descended on their relationship. Eventually, they agreed that Whistler could finish the work — it was so far advanced Leyland felt he had no choice in the matter — and that they both would share the cost. Leyland paid Whistler £1,000, itself a calculated snub, as artists, unlike tradesmen, were normally paid in guineas. The breach between them was never healed.
By the end of the month Whistler was back at work, painting peacock plumage on the wainscot. He completely obliterated the flowers on the gilt-leather hangings, and on the south wall, opposite the fireplace, he painted the famous mural intended to encapsulate his quarrel with Leyland. Artist and patron are depicted as peacocks themselves, identifiable by their respective attitudes and attributes. The bird on the right, angry and threatening, its neck features mimicking Leyland's habitual ruffled shirtfronts, stands over a scatter of silver discs fallen from its plumage — the shillings deducted from Whistler's fee. The other bird, calm and dignified, has a silver crest in allusion to Whistler's own distinctive white forelock.
Without regard for the owner's privacy or feelings, Whistler entertained his friends and fellow artists in the room, and when nearly finished provoked a spate of publicity by inviting in the press. In March 1877 he added the final touches to the shutters and by the time Leyland returned to London for the season the work was finished and Whistler left the house, never again to see his selfstyled 'Harmony in Blue and Gold'.
Two years later, Leyland turned his attention to redecorating the drawing-rooms on the first floor. By this time Jeckyll's health had totally collapsed, and instead he called in Richard Norman Shaw, again on the recommendation of Murray Marks, whose shop in Oxford Street had been designed by Shaw. (fn. 60) Working within the existing plan, Shaw created a suite of three drawing-rooms or salons, divided by two screens which could be removed to make one large U-shaped space (fig. 92, Plates 99 , 100a ). The design of the panelled walnut screens with their burnishedbrass balusters (Plate 99 ) was apparently suggested by the rood-loft of the early-seventeenth-century marble-andalabaster screen from the cathedral at s'Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc), which Murray Marks had acquired and sold to the South Kensington Museum (now V & A).
For the drawing-room ceilings (fig. 93) Shaw devised a more elaborate version of Jeckyll's ribbed ceiling in the Peacock Room, with the same pendant lamps and shades:
The areas between the ribs were filled with gilded arabesque designs. American walnut was used for the ribs and also for the panelled dado and doors. Above the dado the walls were lined with silk damask, the colour of old gold. Leyland reserved the walls of the east salon for his Old Master paintings while his Pre-Raphaelite pictures were mostly displayed in the west. For the chimneypiece in the east salon, a 'handsome remnant of an Italian Renaissance house' presumably installed by Leyland, Shaw designed a carved wooden overmantel, with niches for oriental pots (Plate 100a ).
Shaw also provided some additional wall space for pictures by building 'a gallery sort of place' above the entrance portico. (fn. 63) Opening off the middle drawing-room, from which it was separated by square piers, this little picture alcove was lit by a glass roof (fig. 92). Leyland used its windowless silk-covered walls to display a group of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, including six by Burne-Jones representing Day, Night and the Seasons. Externally the structure conformed to the general Italianate style of the house, with false window openings so as not to disturb the rhythm of the north front. (fn. 64)
The redecoration of the drawing-rooms was completed in 1880. Five years later Leyland turned to Shaw again to refashion the morning room on the ground floor. This room, used by the family for billiards, had served as a temporary dining-room while the decoration of the Peacock Room was in progress. (fn. 65) The new décor was designed to display a set of old Brussels tapestries, woven with scenes of rural life after Teniers. Though nominally by Shaw, the drawings for this work are in the hand of his assistant, W. R. Lethaby, (fn. 66) and the geometric style of the woodwork is rather more characteristic of Lethaby than of Shaw himself (Plate 100b ). The pièce de résistance was a panelled oak ceiling inlaid with black and white woods (fig. 93).
Completed in 1886, the redecoration of the morning room was Leyland's last major undertaking here. In January 1892 he died of a seizure on the Underground: four months later his art collection was sold, and in June No. 49 was offered for sale. The auctioneers produced a sumptuous catalogue, but their efforts went unrewarded and the house was bought in for £20,100. (fn. 67) It was eventually sold, in September 1894, to Mrs Blanche Watney of Thorney Lodge, Palace Gate, widow of James Watney, the brewer and Liberal MP. (fn. 68) The previous month Thorney Lodge had been offered for sale by Mrs Watney's landlord, 'with possession on completion', but in the event she stayed on there until 1896, while No. 49 was being altered to suit her requirements. (fn. 69)
These alterations, designed by the architectural partnership of Ernest George and Alfred Yeates (fn. 7) and carried out by Trollope & Sons, were substantial and far reaching, but mainly concerned with the interior. (fn. 71) Externally only the north front and the garden terrace were significantly changed.
On the north front the porch was enlarged, being both widened and raised a storey, and on the first floor a fivelight window was inserted. At the same time two quite plain single-storey extensions were built on either side of the extended porch, containing lavatories and a staircase to the basement (fig. 92). The eastern extension has been demolished. For the garden terrace George & Yeates created a Renaissance-style enclosure with stone and marble walls, a carved wall-fountain, stone seats and a geometrically patterned brick-and-stone pavement. (fn. 72)
After the house had failed to find a buyer in 1892, Leyland's son-in-law, Val Prinsep, expressed the hope that its next owner would be 'wise enough to leave it in its present state'. (fn. 73) Mrs Watney, however, was not the right person for this. It was not that she had no interest in artistic matters— Millais, her neighbour in Palace Gate, was a friend, and she owned paintings by Leighton — but that Leyland's interiors were evidently not to her taste. Her alterations were correspondingly ruthless. Seeing the work in progress, the American architect Stanford White felt that the house had fallen into the hands of the Philistines. (fn. 74) Of particular concern to Whistler and his friends and admirers was the future of the Peacock Room, which the new owner initially dismissed as 'hideous' and planned to have 'entirely redecorated'. (fn. 75) That it was saved from this fate seems due to the artist W. Graham Robertson, who explained to Mrs Watney how the room could be dismantled and would command a high price if sold. Whistler himself encouraged the idea that it might be purchased for reconstruction in America, and at his behest Stanford White, accompanied by John Singer Sargent, visited No. 49 in 1895 to examine the room. But in Mrs Watney's absence they were unable to determine if it was actually for sale, and, as it turned out, she had changed her mind — for the time being it was neither to be sold nor redecorated.
While the Peacock Room received a stay of execution, other areas were, in White's words, 'gutted and torn down preparatory to furbishing up in the latest modern style'. (fn. 76) On the ground floor George & Yeates remodelled the hall in the Florentine Renaissance manner which the firm had earlier employed in an even more full-blooded make-over of the hall at No. 6 Carlton House Terrace in 1890 (Plate 98b ). The Northumberland House balustrade survived this change with its lowest section turned through ninety degrees behind a stone screen dividing the hall in two, but the dado with its Whistler panels disappeared. Another casualty was Leyland's mosaic floor, replaced by a pavement of black and white marble squares. For the front hall the architects provided a large canopied stone chimneypiece, and in the back hall they constructed a stone alcove under the staircase, decorated with gold mosaic, within which was set a sculptured marble fountain and basin.
To the west of the hall Leyland's morning room was lengthened, and the decoration entirely sacrificed, to make a new dining-room. Here, George & Yeates drew inspiration from 'Merrie England' to create a Jacobethan-style room with much oak woodwork, embossed Spanish leather wall hangings, and a strapwork ceiling. In the architects' drawing the windows along Exhibition Road are shown as casements filled with small leaded lights. Below the new dining-room Leyland's old basement study was turned into a servants' hall.
Shaw's work on the first floor fared better, though his overmantel in the east drawing-room was at some point removed. The chief casualty here was the little picture alcove, which was swallowed up to make an enlarged middle drawing-room or music-room extending over the widened porch. A carved marble-and-wood chimneypiece of late-Tudorish character, on the wall directly opposite the new five-light window, was probably inserted at the same time.
In 1904, the year after Whistler's death, Mrs Watney decided to dispose of the Peacock Room, but had several changes of mind before finally parting with it to Messrs Obach & Company, picture dealers in New Bond Street. Her asking price was 10,000 guineas. After removal from Princes Gate the Peacock Room was re-assembled for exhibition at the Obach gallery in June. (fn. 77) (fn. 8) Mrs Watney, meanwhile, called in (Sir) John Belcher, who was currently engaged on an extensive programme of works for her eldest son at Cornbury Park, the family's country house, to remodel the empty shell as a library. Belcher gave the room an elaborately decorated groined ceiling (modelled in fibrous plaster by the Veronese Company of Fulham), a new wooden chimneypiece, and ranges of open and closed bookcases. All the woodwork was executed in Italian walnut by Trollope & Colls. Belcher also designed the suite of six oxidized silver electric-light fittings, made by Geere Howard of Berners Street. (fn. 79) Photographs of the library (Plate 101b ) show a spare, masculine-looking room of little charm. The ranges of book-shelves lining the walls were faintly reminiscent of Jeckyll's staging for Leyland's china collection. A more palpable link with Leyland's diningroom was the pair of Jeckyll's sunflower andirons in the grate, probably left behind when the rest of the room was sold. (fn. 80)
For all that it was 'most expensively fitted out', in 1910 the house still had only one bathroom. (fn. 81)
Mrs Watney occupied No. 49 until her death in 1915: it then stood empty for several years. In 1919 the house was put on the market but failed to attract a buyer and in 1921 it was converted into flats. (fn. 82) Although this was very destructive, more of the interior decoration remains than has perhaps been recognized hitherto.
The most important feature is the Northumberland House staircase balustrade, which survives intact between the first— and second-floor landings (Plate 105d ). The metalwork, which when new was said to have had a purity and richness of colour which 'approaches in no inconsiderable degree, gold', is now rather dulled. (fn. 83) Above the second floor the balustrade is original to the house, and of a pattern found elsewhere in Princes Gate (fig. 90). At the top of the stairwell, below the skylight, is a deep plaster frieze richly decorated with ribbons, wreaths and fruit in the manner of the late seventeenth century, which most likely dates from Mrs Watney's time. (fn. 9)
Throughout the common areas pilasters, friezes, ceiling beams and door architraves decorated with arabesques are all remnants of George & Yeates's work of the 1890s. Theirs too is the black-and-white marble paving in the hall and the wood-and-glass screen dividing the hall from the vestibule. Most remarkably, the Renaissance-style marble fountain and basin set within an arched alcove has been preserved. Formerly part of the decoration of Mrs Watney's hall, it has now been incorporated into the groundfloor flat. The pretty painted panels in the lift are probably another legacy of the Watney years. Outside, the garden terrace retains George & Yeates's fountain and some of their stone walls.
On the first floor, Norman Shaw's ceilings remain largely intact (though partly concealed, and with the wooden ribs painted white), and some of his walnut doorcases and sets of double doors have survived. In the former east salon Leyland's Italian stone chimneypiece with flanking herms is another survivor.
Of No. 49's most celebrated interior not a shred remains in situ, and all traces of its successor have been obliterated. Stripped of decoration, and with a lowered ceiling, this once-famous room has been rendered completely anonymous (Plate 101c).
No. 52 Princes Gate
The first occupants were Thomas Eustace Smith, Tyneside shipbuilder, 'advanced Liberal' MP and art collector, and his aesthetic wife Mary ('Eustacia' to her friends). They moved here in 1873 from No. 28 Princes Gardens. (fn. 84) Two or three years later, having bought the house on a long lease from Freake, (fn. 85) they commissioned the architect George Aitchison to decorate it in a manner commensurate with their social and artistic aspirations. The results were a brilliant success. To Whistler, working on Frederick Leyland's dining-room at No. 49, Aitchison's decorations were, if not a direct challenge to his creativity, at least a yardstick against which to measure his own achievement. Writing to Leyland in September 1876 of the emerging 'Peacock Room', he could boast there was nothing in London to match it and 'Mrs Eustace Smith is wiped out utterly!' (fn. 81) Subsequent depredations and many years of institutional occupation have taken their toll, but a surprising amount of Aitchison's décor remains. It confirms the impression of refinement and delicacy conveyed by his surviving drawings (Plate 120a, 120c).
On the ground floor Aitchison's chief work was the decoration of the dining-room overlooking Exhibition Road, the scene of a memorable dinner recalled long afterwards by the American novelist Julian Hawthorne (son of Nathaniel). Among those also present on that occasion were Hawthorne's compatriot Henry James, the Liberal politician Sir Charles Dilke, and the painter Frederic Leighton. The principal features of the room were a large sideboard, against the east wall, and on the south wall a massive chimneypiece flanked by low bookcases (which presumably carried on round the rest of the room or gave way to a dado of the same height). The upper parts of the walls were coloured pale green, with a delicate pattern of trailing foliage, and finished with a gilded floral frieze below a gilded cornice. Two large paintings by Aitchison's friend and colleague Thomas Armstrong were displayed in this room, both 'let into' the wall. One was Woman with Calla Lilies, now in the Laing Art Gallery. (fn. 87)
Of all this the only remnant still in situ is the walnut chimneypiece (Plate 104a ), a classical pedimented structure that Hawthorne mistook for a second sideboard. In its centre, now replaced by a mirror, was a majolica relief of the Madonna and Child in the style of della Robbia, 'ravished' by the Smiths from a church in Italy (so Hawthorne was informed by Leighton). Either side of the mirror are inlaid figures of Pomona and Picus, with quotations from Horace: IMPVNE LICEBIT ÆSTIVAM SERMONE BENOGNO TENDERE NOCTEM and DONA PRÆSENTIS CAPE LÆTVS HORÆ ET LINQVE SEVERA. (fn. 10) ' The sideboard — 'looks like an organ', remarked Leighton — was also in classical style, though with a more Grecian flavour, and probably also of walnut. (fn. 88)
In a memoir of Thomas Armstrong the dining-room frieze — hardly the most striking feature of the decorations — is credited to Leighton. It is possible, however, that the writer was confusing his recollections of this room with Mrs Smith's boudoir on the first floor, where there was indeed an eye-catching frieze, though not by Leighton (see below). The Smiths knew Leighton well and may have consulted him over their plans. They owned a number of his pictures, including Venus Disrobing for the Bath, for which Mrs Smith claimed to have posed (though only, she insisted, for the feet). (fn. 89)
More of Aitchison's work survives on the first floor, where he made much use of inlaid wood in decorating the drawing-rooms and boudoirs. The jewel here was Eustacia's own inner sanctum looking into Princes Gardens (Plate 120b , 120e ) — a scheme composed of reddish-orange walls with flowers picked out in gold, a black wooden dado inlaid with a floral pattern in ivory and mother-of-pearl, and a decorative plaster ceiling with a large central panel of foliage in low relief. The frieze, by Walter Crane, depicted 'white cockatoos with lemon and orange crests on a gold ground, connected by fanciful scroll-work in bronze green and red'. (Sir) Edward J. Poynter, who moved to a house in Knightsbridge at about this time, lent Crane his studio in Shepherd's Bush to 'work out' the frieze. This was the first time Crane had worked with Aitchison and it led to further collaborations elsewhere, including the Arab Hall in Leighton's house (1877–9). None of the painted decoration survives, but the dado remains intact, as do the inlaid doors and the pierced window shutters. Other survivals are the ceiling and the finely detailed Renaissance-style chimneypiece carved in black marble (Plate 104c ). The 'rose-and-scroll' and 'griffin' De Morgan tiles in the fireplace cheeks are doubtless original (Plate 121c ). (fn. 90)
In the small front boudoir the only traces of Aitchison's scheme are the inlaid black window-shutters and a characteristic black-and-white frieze with ivory inlay.
The drawing-rooms at No. 52 originally communicated by means of sliding doors. These still exist, but the rooms are now cut off from each other by a passage formed across the rear room to give access from the landing to a new doorway into No. 53. For the larger room, at the back, Aitchison designed another inlaid floral dado, the sliding doors being embellished on this side with flower patterns inlaid in wood and mother-of-pearl (Plate 121a , 121b ). The upper parts of the wall, long since redecorated, were coloured dull gold, with a frieze of arabesques and griffins, and had several large canvases inset (including the Venus Distrobing). The other surviving features of Aitchison's are the decorative plaster ceiling, with sunflowers in the border panels, and a plain black marble chimneypiece. (fn. 91)
In the front drawing-room the dado (with burr walnut panels) is much plainer, and the sliding doors on this side are unadorned. Some liveliness is provided by a plaster frieze of dolphins, which may originally have been coloured (Plate 104b ). Twenty years later Aitchison produced a similar dolphin frieze for Leighton House, which was intended to be coloured, but on Leighton's instructions was painted white. (fn. 92)
The Smiths' tenure of No. 52 was ended abruptly when they were caught up in the trammels of the Crawford divorce case of 1886, in which Sir Charles Dilke was cited as co-respondent — Mrs Crawford being one of the Smiths' daughters. Bizarrely, the verdict appeared to exonerate Dilke of having committed adultery, while accepting Mrs Crawford's own admission of guilt. Especially embarrassing was the mention of Dilke's earlier indiscretions with Eustacia herself. His political ambitions were effectively ended by the scandal, and the Smiths fled into exile in Algiers. In 1887 they sold No. 52 and much of its contents to Alexander Henderson, a City financier with wide business interests, who was created Baron Faringdon in 1916. (fn. 93)
Henderson gave up No. 52 about 1904, having removed the della Robbia altar-piece from the dining-room to his country house, Buscot Park, where it remains. (fn. 11)