Knightsbridge North Side: Parkside to Albert Gate Court, West of Albert Gate

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, West of Albert Gate', in Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge, ed. John Greenacombe( London, 2000), British History Online [accessed 15 July 2024].

'Knightsbridge North Side: Parkside to Albert Gate Court, West of Albert Gate', in Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Edited by John Greenacombe( London, 2000), British History Online, accessed July 15, 2024,

"Knightsbridge North Side: Parkside to Albert Gate Court, West of Albert Gate". Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Ed. John Greenacombe(London, 2000), , British History Online. Web. 15 July 2024.

In this section

West of Albert Gate

The buildings discussed here are the various redevelopments between Albert Gate and the barracks carried out from the late 1850s, when Thomas Cubitt's final Albert Gate mansion, Hyde Park House, was being completed. They include the present-day successor to Hyde Park House. Some account is also given of the earlier history of the Park Close area, adjoining the barracks.

No. 60 Knightsbridge

The redevelopment of Hyde Park House, the Royal Thames Yacht Club's palatial home, was planned as much to exploit the high commercial value of the site as to provide a new clubhouse. Thus, in addition to new and more compact premises for the members, the scheme, by Guy Morgan &; Partners, included extensive accommodation for letting.

Erected in 1961–4, the building is a typical 1960s design, comprising an L-shaped block faced in grey Spanish granite, raised on an irregularly shaped two-storey podium clad in dark Vallon marble (Plate 17b ). The yacht club occupies the podium and the lowest storey of the superstructure. Above are five floors of offices and, on the long side only, a tier of two-storey maisonettes or penthouses. This horizontal division of the building between the various users is reflected in the elevational treatment. (fn. 6)

The club rooms, designed by Brian O'Rorke, incorporated features and fittings from the old house, including the two marble lions from the outer hall, which were installed on either side of the entrance to the new smokingroom. Teak panelling was used to engender a nautical atmosphere. Between 1994 and 1999 these 'comfortable but utilitarian' interiors — 'a curious cocktail of conservative Modernism' — were redecorated by Robin Moore Ede to add depth and colour while retaining their essential character. The re-vamp followed the abandonment of a proposed redevelopment of the entire building and its replacement by new club premises and a hotel. This scheme, by Sir Norman Foster, was refused planning permission in 1992. (fn. 7)

Nos 62–64 Knightsbridge

In 1883 the London and County Bank, which was then occupying part of No. 2 Albert Gate, secured a lease from Colonel Tom Naylor-Leyland of Hyde Park House of ground for a new branch building. This plot, abutting east on Hyde Park House (Plate 30c ), comprised the site of the Fox and Bull and most of that formerly occupied by No. 11 High Row. (fn. 8)

The new building, a handsome stone-faced palazzo with correct classical detail (Plate 20c ) was designed by Frederick W. Porter, something of a specialist in the design of banks, and built in 1884–5 by Trollope & Sons. (fn. 9)

The banking hall (No. 64), had been remodelled internally before the closure of the building as a bank in 1996. The upper floors (No. 62), previously the manager's residence, were occupied from the 1920s to the 1990s by the Danish Club, the oldest foreign club in London. The club dining-room contained a series of mural panels showing Danish scenes, painted in the 1930s by Mogens Lorentzen. In 1937 the club built a conservatory over the porch, now demolished. (fn. 10) The building is currently (2000) being refurbished as offices, with residential accommodation on the third floor.

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (formerly Hyde Park Hotel)

The Hyde Park Hotel, No. 66 Knightsbridge, was built in 1888–91 as apartments, one of the speculations associated with Jabez Spencer Balfour of the Liberator Building Society. Its height caused a controversy, and there were allegations of corruption over the way in which consent for the building came to be given by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW). In 1898, six years after Balfour's spectacular downfall, the building was bought from the Liberator's administrators and was subsequently turned into a hotel. It has particular associations with several famous patrons, including members of the royal family, Winston Churchill, Lord Beaverbrook, and Evelyn Waugh.

The Empress Gate and Rosebery House schemes

Plans for flats on the site were aired as early as 1877. In May that year Henry Stapleton, 9th Baron Beaumont, having acquired the leases of several properties in High Row, agreed with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the freeholders, to redevelop the ground on lease over the next six years. His architect was Thomas Dudley, who was also involved with the development of Beaumont's estate in Fulham at that time. Beaumont's wider plans involved the creation of a road into Hyde Park at the top of Sloane Street — an idea first suggested forty years earlier (see page 47) — but the scheme foundered, at least in part because of the efforts of Charles Reade, whose home stood in the way. Denouncing Beaumont as a latter-day King Ahab, Reade had the sign 'Naboth's Vineyard' displayed on his gatepiers, and enlisted the support of Henry James (later Lord James of Hereford) to attack Beaumont's plans in the Commons, following which the Bill was withdrawn. (fn. 11)

The flats at Beaumont's proposed 'Empress Gate' were reportedly to have housed about 200 families. Towards the end of 1877 the site was cleared, but the project had already run into trouble over the line of frontage to be adopted. (fn. 12)

By the new year Beaumont's property had grown with his acquisition of the Fox and Bull, and several plots to the west, but a legal snag prevented his getting an assignment of the lease of No. 19 High Row and thus consolidating a very considerable development site (fig. 12). Nevertheless, a new building agreement was entered into. But when after nearly two years there had been no progress, Beaumont made a successful £30,000 offer for the freehold of the entire strip which, except for the Fox and Bull, he almost at once disposed of to the 5th Earl of Rosebery. (fn. 13)

Rosebery wanted this large site entirely for a new residence for himself. Having 'outgrown' his house at No. 107 Piccadilly, he chose the Parisian architect, Henri Parent (1819–95), to produce designs for a magnificent mansion here. (fn. 14) (fn. 1) One of London's great might-have-beens, it was entirely French in character, and planned for spectacular entertaining, with a ballroom and reception hall approached by a vast central escalier d'honneur ringed with galleries. Lord and Lady Rosebery's personal apartments were grouped in the eastern half of the house, approached by the main entrance across a cour d'honneur screened from the street by gates and railings. A second big courtyard, to the west, was an enclosed cour des écuries giving on to the extensive stables and a coach-house for eight vehicles. Architectural formality was concentrated on the north, with a symmetrical palace façade occupying the whole park front of the building, behind which were ranged some of the Roseberys' private rooms and a series of grand salons.

Parent drew up at least two versions of the design, dated January and March 1881 (Plate 30a , 30b ). In the later version a long park-side terrace was added (though this would have involved building over a strip of the park itself, hardly a realistic proposition) and the stable court was covered over with an iron-and-glass dome. The extensive stabling and associated accommodation reflected the earl's passionate interest in horses. At the west end of the park-side range, for instance, was a tack-room nearly 30ft square. Another of the earl's great interests, book collecting, was reflected in the amount of library space. The main library, situated on the first floor above the tack-room and more than forty-six feet long, would have been one of the largest rooms in the house. Lord Rosebery would also have had a library for his own use, on only a slightly smaller scale and again overlooking the park, in his suite of personal apartments to the east.

Figure 12:

Plan showing properties in High Row acquired by Baron Beaumont for his Empress Gate scheme. Stippled areas are those covered by Beaumont's building agreements with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, 1877–8. Thicker line indicates site acquired by J. W. Hobbs & Co. Ltd in 1886 for Hyde Park Court (Hyde Park Hotel)

Parent's plans appear to have been shown to a leading builder, William Cubitt & Company, probably for costing. One of the drawings is faintly annotated with the name of one of the partners, William R. Rogers, and the company's address in Gray's Inn Road.

While the scheme was in contemplation, Rosebery rented Lansdowne House in Berkeley Square, and a few years later, after the Knightsbridge project had been abandoned, he acquired No. 38 Berkeley Square, commissioning extensive improvements to this comparatively small house, which remained his London residence for the rest of his life. (fn. 15)

It is likely that the Rosebery House scheme had already been scrapped when, in July 1883, a strip at the east end of the ground, adjoining the site of the Fox and Bull, was sold to Colonel Tom Naylor-Leyland of Hyde Park House, who leased part of it, together with the pub site, to the London and County Bank for building a new branch (see above). (fn. 16)

In October 1886 Rosebery agreed to let the remainder of the land on a 90-year lease (with an option on the freehold) to T. J. Steele of Blackheath, a land agent associated with Jabez Balfour. Within a month, Steele's interest had been transferred to J. W. Hobbs & Company Ltd, the large building concern belonging to the Balfour empire. (fn. 17)

The building of Hyde Park Court

The extent of Jabez Balfour's role in the development of the 'Rosebery House' site is not known, but it seems from the start to have been very much the project of his close associate, the South London builder James William Hobbs. Neither Balfour nor Hobbs, however, were among the shareholders or directors of Hyde Park Court Ltd, the company incorporated in July 1887 to front the development, which was then described as 'a Residential Club or Buildings'. In the same month, Hobbs reached provisional agreement with the District Board of Works regarding the Knightsbridge line of frontage, and in August a scheme for '500 residential chambers', to be designed by Thomas Archer and Arthur Green, was announced. (fn. 18)

Progress was held up by the refusal of the MBW to approve the intended line of frontage (which was forward of the London and County Bank next door), and things were still unresolved in February 1888 when work began, 'it being', as Hobbs complained, 'a matter of ruin to the undertaking to delay operations longer'. The dispute was settled in April, and not on the developers' terms, for in addition to having to set the frontage back (and give up the ground in front to widen the pavement) they had to reduce the intended height of the building and make other alterations. Hobbs later claimed that he had given up two storeys to satisfy the Board, but this was not enough to placate at least one member, Alan de Tatton Egerton MP, nor to allay a spate of criticism in the press. (fn. 19)

Newspapers spoke of 'Outrage' and 'Horror' at Albert Gate, likening the building to a new Tower of Babel, and the question of whether the Commissioners of Works could restrict the building's height was raised in Parliament. There was laughter in the Commons at the First Commissioner's suggestion that a wall might be built between the park and the new building, but the erection of hoardings to block out light to the lower floors and so intimidate Hobbs into reducing the number of storeys was seriously considered by the department. A dissentient voice amidst the growing hysteria was that of the Illustrated London News, which felt that the building would add to the 'architectural dignity' of the West End. (fn. 20)

A bad precedent in tall buildings had been set in the 1870s by the erection of Queen Anne's Mansions at Queen Anne's Gate, fourteen storeys high and a monstrosity. Hyde Park Court was acknowledged to be of considerable architectural merit, but coming as it did at the same time as plans to extend Queen Anne's Mansions, it was to some extent tarred with the same critical brush.

Although the height of buildings in new London streets had been restricted by the 1844 Metropolitan Building Act and an amending Act of 1862, there was in the 1880s no limit for buildings in existing streets beyond an implicit requirement (in the 1855 London Building Act) that special consent was needed for residential and commercial buildings above 100 feet. Critics of Hyde Park Court, however, were less bothered about the building's height in relation to the street than with its effect on Hyde Park; they feared it would cast a shadow over the Serpentine. Among the complainants was the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, which, concerned for light and air, singled out both Hyde Park Court and Queen Anne's Mansions for condemnation.

Figure 13:

Hyde Park Court, upper-floor plans. Thomas Archer and Arthur Green, architects, 1888–92

Tatton Egerton persisted in his opposition — Hobbs attributed this to pique at his failure to browbeat colleagues at the MBW over the line-of-frontage dispute — and the affair was muddied further by accusations from the London and County Bank that an abusive Arthur Green had boasted of 'influence enough at the Board to carry anything I please'. The charge, published in April 1888, was repeated some weeks later at the Commission of Inquiry into the allegedly corrupt running of the MBW. (fn. 21)

The upshot was that Egerton and others brought in an unsuccessful Bill to restrict the height of buildings in London (excluding churches) to sixty feet, or to the width of the street in streets wider than sixty feet. (fn. 2) A truce was reached with the bank, by which modifications and restrictions were agreed, including the carrying up of the bank's chimneys into those of the taller building (Plate 31a ). (fn. 22)

Hyde Park Court was still unfinished, although partly tenanted, when the Liberator Building Society collapsed in 'Black September' 1892, bringing down Hobbs & Company and the entire Balfour edifice. Hobbs was among those subsequently jailed for their parts in the fraudulent running of the business, as, eventually, was Balfour himself. Under new management brought in by the Official Receiver, Hobbs's staff returned to work to complete both Hyde Park Court and 'Hobbs's Folly', the far-from-finished hotel in the Strand belonging to the Balfour group, which eventually opened as the Hotel Cecil. (fn. 23)

Design and decoration

When Thomas Archer and Arthur Green were appointed architects to Hyde Park Court they had been partners fifteen years and were experienced in comparable projects, including Whitehall Court, the Balfour apartment block on Victoria Embankment. They broke up somewhat acrimoniously in 1889, and Hyde Park Court was finished by Archer, with his new partner Francis Hooper.

The exterior, of red brick and Portland stone, is in the eclectic (predominantly Franco-Flemish) 'Free Renaissance' style already used by them at Whitehall Court. Considerable skill was deployed to articulate and modulate the great height and breadth, and in the creation of a dramatically picturesque skyline (Plates 31 , 115c ). The building was planned as two blocks with courts between, linked by a central vestibule giving access to the stairs and containing a hydraulic passenger-lift able to carry ten people (fig. 13). Communal loggias, connected by a circular iron staircase serving as a fire-escape, provided 'a pleasant summer's evening lounge and promenade' overlooking the park. (fn. 24)

The first, second and third floors were each laid out to provide four self-contained family suites, and a small bachelor's suite overlooking Knightsbridge, the latter comprising a sitting-room and a bedroom, with a combined bathand dressing-room. The upper floors were divided into similar bachelor suites of varying size, twenty-five to a floor. Families who so wished could have their kitchen and scullery converted into extra bedrooms and take their meals en pension. (fn. 25)

The palatial interior decoration was no doubt designed in emulation of West End club-houses, its lavish use of marbles and gilding being years ahead of even the best London hotels of that date (Plate 116a , 116b ). The hall, entered from Knightsbridge through swing doors of carved walnut, was lined with coloured marbles and had a panelled and frescoed ceiling, and a marble chimneypiece graced with a marble clock. Stairs of white marble flanked with marble balustrades led to the upper ground floor. This style of decoration continued in the principal communal rooms, including the breakfast- and dining-room, overlooking Hyde Park. Upstairs, the corridors had oak-block flooring; inside, individual suites were decorated and furnished to suit incoming tenants. (fn. 26)

The accommodation included three billiard-rooms on the lower ground floor, looking on to Knightsbridge, together with such conveniences as a hairdressing salon. The eastern entrance led to the rooms of the Hyde Park Club, a separate establishment occupying the basement and ground floors of the south-eastern quarter of the building. (fn. 27)

A sensational fire in 1899, which caused some damage to the top three floors of the Knightsbridge wing and destroyed part of the roof, including the central iron-andglass turret, drew attention to the potential risks of such tall buildings. The fire-brigade's extension ladders reached only half-way up the walls, and although everyone made a successful escape, hardly anyone used the loggia staircase, which was cut off by smoke on the upper floors. In 1900–02 the present external fire-escape staircases were erected by the St Pancras Ironwork Company. Reinstatement after the fire, carried out by Colls & Sons, involved a somewhat redesigned turret. (fn. 28)

From residential mansion to hotel

The builder J. W. Hobbs had described Hyde Park Court as 'designed to meet the requirements of a large section of the upper classes, being men of first class social standing, but whose means may not permit them to go to a great expense in housekeeping'. (fn. 29) The annual cost of living at Hyde Park Court was at first projected at a modest level, £150 to £200. There was from the start an emphasis on serving the needs of bachelors, and it was the original intention that women would not be admitted as residents. An echo of this is heard early in Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, where the old bachelor Swithin Forsyte (1811–91) is pictured in 1886 'in the lone ly glory of orange and blue chambers in Hyde Park Mansions'. (fn. 3) In the 1930s, when the building had been a hotel for many years, the long-term residents were typically 'crotchety bachelor businessmen'. (fn. 31) But this impression of bachelor chambers is far from the whole picture, and following the Balfour débâcle the receiver's policy was evidently to let apartments to men or women. In 1898, of seventy-odd tenants more than twenty were women, many of them unmarried. Getting on for half of the tenants were occupying two or more suites, usually contiguous or nearly so; one woman was occupying six. (fn. 31)

In 1898 Hyde Park Court was bought from the receiver by Herbert Bennett, of the Sloane Street estate agency Marler and Bennett, a director of Harrods and the owner of Queen Anne's Mansions, where he lived. At first there was apparently little change in the regime. In 1899, when a full beer, wine and spirit licence was obtained (as was becoming de rigueur at similar establishments), it was described as 'really a hotel', with all the hundred and fifty residents catered for by the proprietors. (fn. 33)

The Hyde Park Club closed in December 1901, (fn. 32) and in 1902 the formal change from residential mansion to hotel was made, when Bennett set up The Hyde Park Hotel Ltd to put the business on a new footing. Similar transformations had already been made at St Ermin's Mansions in Westminster, and the Walsingham House Hotel in Piccadilly. Also involved in the venture were Edward Rawlings, another resident of Queen Anne's Mansions with hotel interests, and William Harris, chairman of both the Ritz and Carlton hotel companies. César Ritz himself acted as consultant, and he and the chef at the Carlton, Auguste Escoffier, each had stakes in the company, along with Samuel Waring (later Lord Waring), the founder of the furniture company Waring & Gillow. The architects for some, if not all, of the alterations and improvements to the building were Charles Mewès and A. J. Davis. (fn. 33)

Mewès, the planner of the Paris Ritz, and Davis, with whom he had designed the interiors at the Carlton Hotel, were the obvious choice for adapting the building to its new role. The involvement of the firm of Mewès & Davis with the hotel lasted from 1901 until at least the mid-1920s, long after Mewès's death. Theirs was not, however, the only architectural practice employed during that time, some alterations of c. 1920 being designed by Bishop & Etherington-Smith. (fn. 34)

In May 1902 the Caterer and Hotel-Keepers' Gazette reported the hotel was 'fast approaching completion, and will leave little to desire in the way of sumptuous appointment. It has been decorated in elaborate style'. Among the most important changes was the filling-in of the loggias on the park front, to make an additional large room with en suite bathroom on each floor. (fn. 36)

The commercialization of the hotel soon led to friction with the authorities at Hyde Park, notably over the erection of the hotel name in large gilt letters facing the park, to which the King objected. An agreement, originally made with Hobbs, for the park ground immediately in front of the hotel to be planted with flowers was revoked, but it took the threat of the erection of trellis screens to persuade Bennett to take the lettering down. (fn. 37)

For many years before the First World War the hotel enjoyed great prosperity, at a time when there were fears that the London luxury hotel market was becoming saturated and some hotels were paying poor dividends. By 1910 the hotel comprised 268 rooms for letting, with smokingroom, restaurant (with orchestra gallery), drawing-rooms, grill room, American and buffet bars. The ballroom, on the ground floor overlooking Hyde Park in the eastern part of the building, was considerably enlarged in 1911–12 and redecorated in a Frenchified style; the architect was almost certainly Charles Mewès (Plate 33a ). (fn. 38) Not until 1925 was a palm court — long regarded as indispensable in a top hotel — built (Plate 32a ). Situated in the western light-well, it was designed, in a broadly Art Deco style, by the firm of Mewès & Davis, who remodelled several of the principal rooms at this time in a more conservative 'Louis Quinze' style. The Palm Court's chief features of interest concerned its lighting: a large flood-lit lay-light of elliptical shape, with an amber-glass surround, and enormous lamps in the form of vases on mock Sienna marble pedestals. A large arched window at the west end provided the setting for an orchestra gallery and ornamental fountain. Among other alterations overseen by Mewès & Davis at this time was the redecoration of the restaurant (Plates 33b , 116c ), for which tiled panels (after paintings by Hubert Robert) were supplied by Georges Rémon et Cie of Paris. The Palm Court was remodelled in 1950 as a bar and lounge, when a suspended ceiling was installed and the 1920s fittings stripped out. (fn. 39)

There were originally no doors on the park side, but in 1926 emergency exits were put in, and these were first used for non-emergency purposes at the time of the coronation of George VI in 1937, when the Crown gave special permission for certain distinguished guests — including members of the Japanese imperial family and the South African Prime Minister, General Hertzog — to use the park entrance. (fn. 40)

Following the takeover of Trusthouse Forte, which owned the hotel for many years, it was sold for a record sum in 1996 to Mandarin Oriental International, becoming the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.

While the exterior remains essentially as designed by Archer & Green (the only significant changes being on the park side), the interior of the hotel today reflects successive rounds of alteration and redecoration. Among survivals of the original decorative scheme are, probably, some of the plasterwork ceilings, including those of the Rosebery Rooms, formerly the smoking-room (Plate 32b ). The entrance hall, staircase and upper lobby almost certainly retain most of their original décor of c.1890, chiefly remarkable for its use of variously coloured marbles (Plate 116a, 116b). The most recent round of internal improvements was completed in May 2000 for Mandarin Oriental. Stylistically, the most avant-garde element, displacing some of the Beaux-Arts formality of Mewès & Davis, is the work by the New York designer Adam Tihany. As well as remodelling the bar area (on the Palm Court site) Tihany has transformed the vast former restaurant facing Hyde Park into two distinct apartments: the Café on the Park, and the smaller, split-level Foliage restaurant approached from the bar through a showpiece glazed 'wine-cellar'. Screened from the wine racks by a partition of opaque glass and sheet metal, Foliage takes the trees in the park as its decorative theme, with large glass panels on the walls incorporating silk leaf-shapes. These are illuminated at night — in colours appropriate to the season — as the park itself fades from view.

Bowater House and Edinburgh Gate

Designed by Guy Morgan and Partners for The Land Securities Investment Trust Ltd, Bowater House was built in 1956–8 by Taylor Woodrow Construction; Bylander, Waddell and Partners were the consulting engineers. The whole building was pre-let to the Bowater Paper Corporation Ltd for their London headquarters, Bowater occupying two-thirds of the space and subletting the rest.

When excavation began in June 1956 the ground had long been vacant. Plans for its redevelopment dated back to 1935, in which year the greater part of the site was acquired by Ernest Payton of the Austin Motor Company for building shops and flats, and a design for a block of flats here was exhibited at the Royal Academy. (fn. 41) That design was by Messrs Gordon Jeeves, but subsequently several other architects were involved in schemes for the site, including Curtis Green, and, apparently, C. Howard Crane of Chicago (whose English representative for the construction of the Earl's Court Exhibition building had been Gordon Jeeves). Most of the houses were pulled down in 1942. After Payton's death in 1946, the site was sold to the property developer Sir John Mactaggart, and by the mid-1950s the entire block between Hyde Park Hotel and Wellington Court was in the possession of Land Securities. (fn. 42)

The London County Council was determined that the development should include much-needed road improvements, and accordingly the Land Securities scheme incorporated a new dual-carriageway entrance to South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park from Knightsbridge, and service roads for the building leading to underground car-parks. The new park entrance was named Edinburgh Gate in honour of the Queen's consort.

Bowater House consists of four main blocks: one running the full width of the site alongside the Park, a pair of unequal towers flanking the Knightsbridge entrance to Edinburgh Gate, and a low bridging block between the towers, carried on pilotis (Plate 18a). The taller tower was intended to be a skyscraper, but was whittled down in the planning stage, in the face of concern about its effect on the view from Hyde Park. Low-level wings on the Knightsbridge front complete the ensemble. On the north side, the road is carried under the building beneath a curved canopy to deflect noise and pollution.

The building's structure is of reinforced concrete cast in situ and expressed externally with differently coloured claddings for the various elements. (fn. 43) Most of the building is carried by pairs of widely spaced internal columns and peripheral mullions. The slab floors are carried on the columns and mullions using the 'balanced cantilever' principle, avoiding the need for beams. Exceptions to this general arrangement include the top storey of the park block, where the roof slab is cantilevered out, the mullions there being dispensed with to allow for glass curtain-walling.

The exterior is clad in polished granite with some brick and some Portland stone. Three sorts of granite were used: blue pearl, from Sweden; pink, from Peterhead, and grey, from Creetown in Galloway. The facing bricks are Uxbridge greys and dark blues from Tunbridge Wells. Portland stone was used on the low blocks and generally for copings.

The use of 'first class natural materials', upon which Guy Morgan placed great emphasis, (fn. 44) was continued inside. In the entrance hall — a spacious double-height area with a gallery — polished marble in a range of colours was used on the walls and floor, the floor incorporating a mosaic of the Bowater logo (now removed); in the offices, oak-block floors were laid. A stylish open-tread staircase was designed for the entrance hall to give access to the gallery. Cantilevered out from the floor on a reinforcedconcrete spine, it stopped just short of the gallery to give a 'floating' sensation. The staircase was demolished in the late 1980s. (fn. 45)

To complement the building, Sir Harold Samuel, the chairman of Land Securities, commissioned a sculpture from Sir Jacob Epstein in November 1957. The 'Bowater group' was to be the very last piece on which Epstein worked: he made the finishing touches to the plaster model on the night he died in August 1959. The bronze, a gift from Land Securities to the nation, was cast at the Morris Singer Foundry and erected at Edinburgh Gate in April 1961. (fn. 46) Epstein's maquette for the work is displayed in the foyer of Bowater House.

Long and narrow, the sculpture was purposely designed by Epstein for its present position on the central reservation at Edinburgh Gate — though the Royal Fine Arts Commission doubted that it would be seen to advantage there. Variously known as The Return of Spring, The Family, or simply the Pan Group, it is made up of the nude figures of a man, a woman and a child, racing with their dog towards the park, Pan at their heels piping them on their way (Plate 18b). 'Epstein at his happiest', says his biographer; (fn. 47) Ian Nairn, who saw it as a 'sad end' to Epstein's career, was put in mind of 'an incestuous family fleeing into Hyde Park from the Vice Squad'. (fn. 48)

Figure 14:

Duke of Wellington's Riding-school, plan. Philip Hardwick, architect, 1856–7. Demolished

Park Close area

Today a narrow cleft between tall apartment blocks of lateVictorian date. Park Close — so named in 1938 — is the only survivor of the three passageways or courts laid out here in the 1720s and '30s (Plate 5c). These were Park Place, originally and for many years called Park Court; Bear Court or Nag's Head Court (the present Park Close, to which the name Park Place was transferred in the 1820s); and Jobbins Court. However, the occupation of the site goes back well before the creation of these courts, houses here being mentioned in a will of 1635. (fn. 49)

Old Park Place (Park Court), at the east end of the future barracks site and dating from the mid-1720s, was socially the most elevated of the three. Ratepayers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries included Sir Philip Jennings, Lady Barrington, Burkat Shudi, son of the celebrated harpsichord maker, a foreign count, and one Charles Lewis, reported 'sick at Bath' (and then dead) in 1793. The houses, all on the east side of the passageway, were pulled down about 1824 and rebuilt fronting the west side of old Bear Court, which now assumed the name Park Place. (fn. 50)

Also dating from the mid-1720s, Bear Court took its name from a public house, the White (or Brown) Bear, on the east corner of old Park Place and Knightsbridge. The houses in Bear Court were ranged along the east side, originally looking across to the backs of the houses in old Park Place. At the east corner of Bear Court and Knightsbridge was another pub, the Nag's Head, later renamed the Life Guardsman (Plate 4c). (fn. 51)

Jobbins Court, between Bear Court and the Swan inn, was developed in the late 1730s by James Jobbins, a local bricklayer (Plate 4c). The first houses here were very lowly rated and their inhabitants 'poor'. They were pulled down and rebuilt by Jobbins in the early 1750s, only for most of the new houses to stand empty for a good many years. (fn. 52)

The houses built on the west side of Park Place (the former Bear Court) in the 1820s soon fell into a state of neglect, judging by the account of Mortimer Bayntun, gentleman (late of the 98th Regiment of Foot), who moved into the northernmost house in 1839. Bayntun spoke of the broken windows and 'time worn, crumbling and mud stained walls' of his home. His 'principle inducement' for moving there was to 'enjoy the invigorating influence of the salubrious Air from the Park - suffering at the Time from the effects of previous indisposition'. He paid out a substantial sum on repairs to make the house a credit to the neighbourhood, and, to take the air, had a balcony built overhanging the park wall. Worried that the authorities were going to demand its removal as an encroachment. Bayntun let it be known that a brewer was waiting ready to turn the house into 'a low Beershop'; and without a balcony, he said, the house would be 'utterly useless to any other respectable Resident'. (fn. 53)

In the event the balcony was allowed to remain, but his old home (united with the house next door) became a pub nevertheless, the Queen and Prince Albert. The concentration of pubs, the nearness of the barracks and soldiers' lodgings, and the existence of a wicket-gate into the park at the end encouraged small shopkeepers and street-traders along Park Place, so that in Victorian times it seems to have been a fairly rowdy area. (fn. 54)

Williams Cottages, two dwellings which stood near the park wall at the back of Jobbins Court, attracted a higher class of tenant than most of the houses near by, presumably because of their parkside location. Their occupants in 1841 included a secretary, a clerk, and a music-teacher. (fn. 55)

John Lilwall, a leading campaigner in the early-closing and half-holiday movement, was living in lodgings at Nos 7–8 Park Place in 1851. (fn. 56)

The Duke of Wellington's Riding-School (demolished)

The redevelopment of the Park Place area began in the 1850s with the demolition of the Life Guardsman pub and a few houses to the east, and the complete obliteration of Jobbins Court. They were replaced by a building which became as well known as a venue for fashionable bazaars and banquets as for its chief purpose, that of a ridingschool and stables. This institution was the personal project of the 2nd Duke of Wellington (son of the Iron Duke), a great horseman and animal-lover. (fn. 4) He acquired the greater part of the site in 1853 (the year he became the Queen's Master of Horse), but it was only in 1856 that he was able to obtain the public house. (fn. 58)

The site (fig. 9) comprised almost the entire block from the west side of Mills's Buildings to the east side of Park Place, excluding only the north-west corner (where Park Lodge now is) which seems to have eluded the duke. The loss of the Life Guardsman pub, with its outside 'tipplingseats' and a row of costermongers' stalls along the passage, was seen as a great improvement, though congestion in the alley caused by refreshment stands and the crush of visitors to the park continued. (fn. 59)

The riding-school was built by Cubitts in 1856–7. The architect was Philip Hardwick RA, who had been employed by the duke to carry out alterations to Apsley House. His son, P. C. Hardwick, to whom the building has been attributed, would almost certainly have supervised its construction in view of his father's chronic illness. (fn. 60)

Classical in style, with a prominent pediment over the arched street entrance, (fn. 5) the riding-school attracted attention 'as possessing architectural merit seldom looked for in such buildings'. (fn. 62) (fn. c1), it comprised a large arena or concourse with viewing galleries at one end, and an extensive range of stabling and coach-houses with living accommodation above for grooms and coachmen (fig. 14). The exterior was faced in tuck-pointed malms with Portland-cement dressings. A slated iron roof, 'light and elegant' in design with a skylight running its whole length, covered the concourse, additional light being provided by lunettes at either end and along the west side; artificial light was supplied by three gasoliers. Stained and varnished deal covered the internal walls to a height of six feet. The floor was made up of compressed puddled clay, spread with a hard cement of 'iron scales' and bullocks' blood, and covered in sea sand. (fn. 63)

One of the first big events recorded at the riding-school was a display by (fn. c2) Rarey, 'the celebrated American horsetamer', given in a front of a large crowd of fashionable visitors. Before the show a number of aristocratic ladies were privately instructed in Rarey's methods of 'subjugating the horse'. In 1872 there was a near-riot when a meeting of Chelsea residents, held to denounce the republican sentiments of their MP, Sir Charles Dilke, was invaded by pro-Dilke 'roughs' who threw the seats about and tried to set fire to the platform. Among other notable functions was the party hosted by the duke himself — a lifelong Tory — in honour of Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury on their triumphant return from the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

The duke died in 1884: in 1891 'the famous bazaar ground of fashionable London' was put up for auction by his nephew, the 3rd Duke, and after brisk bidding was sold for £60,000. Within a few years a block of flats had risen on the site. (fn. 64)

Wellington Court

The buyer of the riding-school was (Sir) Charles Oppenheimer, a diplomat. In 1892 Wellington Court Ltd, in which Oppenheimer subsequently had a large stake, was set up to redevelop the site as mansion flats. Sir Charles's son Albert became a director, as did the builder of the flats, Henry Lovatt (who took an apartment there). Others involved in the company were a civil engineer, Henry Ward of Cannon Street, and two architects, also City-based, H. H. Collins and his son Marcus Evelyn Collins, and it was M. E. Collins who designed Wellington Court and oversaw its construction in 1893–5. The freehold was bought by the Crown from Oppenheimer in 1898 for £98,000. (fn. 65)

Wellington Court as built provided thirty suites of varying size on one or two floors, including three 'bachelor' apartments with a small sitting- and coffee-room for common use (fig. 15). Internal construction was of steel framing, to facilitate re-planning of individual suites. These contained accommodation for servants, but servants' rooms were also available on the top floor, and could be connected to apartments by speaking-tubes or electric bells. Interior finishings, said to 'show an advance on buildings of this class', included ornamental ceilings in the reception rooms by Jacksons of Rathbone Place, and, lining the lobby and staircase walls, embossed Japanese wallpaper in crimson and gold. The courtyard, with a rubber-paved approach, was laid out 'in the French manner' and adorned with shrubs and hanging plants. (fn. 66) By 1896 rentals ranged from £200 for four rooms to £800 for a thirteen-room suite, with the option of full service and meals prepared under the supervision of Colonel Kenney-Herbert, author of Common Sense Cookery - enabling residents 'to do away with the trouble of servants to a very great extent'. (fn. 67)

Externally, Wellington Court is of a familiar mansion block type, well built in brick and stone, and ponderously ornamented in an eclectic manner (Plates 36c, 37b). The brickwork is of Fareham reds and the dressings, now painted, of red Mansfield stone and Lascelles patent stone (courtyard and park front). The gates and other decorative ironwork were supplied by W. T. Allen & Company. Among the details is a sundial on the courtyard wall, possibly a reference to Sun Dial House, mentioned in 1719 as one of the buildings then on the site. (fn. 68)

Park Lodge

By the time the riding-school was sold in 1891 a small apartment block was already being erected at the northeast corner of Park Place, on the site which the Duke of Wellington failed to secure in the 1850s. This was Park Lodge, built in 1890–2 to designs by the architects G. D. Martin and E. K. Purchase, Martin himself having acquired an option to buy the site. The builder was Frank Kirk of Abingdon Street. As part of the development new gates into the park were installed, with an ornamental overthrow and gas-lantern, and the existing stepped approach made into a slope. (fn. 69)

Figure 15:

Wellington Court, ground- and second-floor plans, and diagrams showing arrangement of flats. M. E. Collins, architect, 1893–5

Built of red brick and stone, Park Lodge is rather less ornamental than originally intended — the roofline was to have been enlivened with a Flemish gable and ball-finials, and the oriel at the north-west corner was curtailed at the LCCs insistence so as not to encroach on the narrow footway of Park Place (Plate 36c–d). Inside, each floor was identically planned as an individual suite (fig. 16); the basement comprised the steward's or housekeeper's rooms, service kitchen and cellarage. The apartments were well appointed with 'every contrivance known to modern club life', including telephones, speaking-tubes, electric bells, electric light (backed up by gas) and a hydraulic passenger lift. (fn. 70)

Figure 16:

Park Lodge, typical floor-plan. G. D. Martin and E. K. Purchase, architects, 1890–2

Figure 17:

Albert Gate Court, plans. H. C. Newmarch, architect, 1887

Albert Gate Court

In about 1886 the west side of Park Place, including the Brown Bear and the Queen and Prince Albert public houses, was acquired by James Baker, a builder in Cadogan Terrace. 'I shall be making a great improvement', said Baker of his plans to erect a block of 'first class' residences and shops. His scheme would not only do away with the 'very great nuisance' of the Queen and Prince Albert pub but would mean that the street would no longer be used as a children's playground, and the intended new shops would make it both more attractive and better lighted.

Baker's building, known at first by its principal address, No. 45 Albert Gate, was designed by Henry Charles Newmarch FSI of Lincoln's Inn Fields and built by Baker in 1887. It was acquired by the Law Land Company Ltd in 1904 and renamed Albert Gate Court. (fn. 71)

Minor problems arose from the nearness of the barracks. A forge and shoeing-shed there were so darkened by the new flats they could not be used, and legal proceedings were started against Baker, who agreed to build replacements. But there was so little space available that in the end a royal warrant had to be obtained for building them on park ground adjoining the west end of the barracks site. Whether or not connected with this dispute, in 1889 screens were fixed to the ends of the balconies on the park front of the flats to shield from view a urinal in the barrack yard. (fn. 72)

The original accommodation (fig. 17) comprised shops in Knightsbridge and Park Place, a three-bedroom maisonette in Park Place, and two family flats, of five or six bedrooms, on each of the upper floors. Minimal service was provided. (fn. 73) Externally, Albert Gate Court is a fairly standard example of the mansion-flat genre, built of red brick with stone dressings and iron balconettes (Plate 36a).


  • 1. Parent's works include the former Hotel Edouard André, now the Musée Jacquemart-André, in the Boulevard Hausmann.
  • 2. Subsequently, the London Council (General Powers) Act, 1890, essentially limited the heights of buildings to 90 feet plus two storeys in the roof; this figure was reduced by 10 feet in the London Building Act of 1894.
  • 3. Hyde Park Court, which was loosely known as Hyde Park Mansions and was indeed 'not two minutes' from Soames Forsyte's house in Montpelier Square, was presumably intended, rather than distant Hyde Park Mansions in Marylebone; the chronology is of course a few years out.
  • 4. The duke was a man of enthusiasms, which included at various times Kashmir goats, donkeys, silkworm culture and beekeeping.
  • 5. An intended entrance on the Hyde Park side was apparently vetoed by the Queen.
  • 6. AR, Aug 1964, pp.130, 132: WBC.
  • 7. AR, Aug 1964, pp.130, 132: Antique Collector, Aug—Sept 1973, pp. 189–95: Jeremy Musson, 'Changing Rooms at the Club', in Country Life, 22 April 1999, pp.96–7: Building Design, 21 Feb 1992, p.24; 21 Aug 1992, p.3.
  • 8. MDR 1883/30/179.
  • 9. MBW Mins, 3 Aug 1883, p.289: LMA, GLC/AR/BR/22/088038; MBW/1725, no.204: English Heritage, Historians' file WM 556.
  • 10. Information provided by Mrs Savage of the Danish Club: English Heritage, Historians' file WM556.
  • 11. CERC, Church Commissioners' file 55519: B, 19 May 1877, p.518; 26 May 1877, p.544: Coleman's Life of Charles Reade, quoted in Chancellor, p.48.
  • 12. MBW Mins, 2 Nov 1877, p.514; 16 Nov 1877, p.575: LMA, MBW/751, 13 Nov 1877, p.57: B, 24 Nov 1877, p.1185.
  • 13. CERC, Church Commissioners' file 55519: MDR 1880/28/31; 1880/30/349.
  • 14. Parent's designs are in possession of the Earl of Rosebery at Dalmeny House.
  • 15. Robert Rhodes James, Rosebery: A Biography of Archibald Philip, Fifth Earl of Rosebery, 1963, p.123: DNB.
  • 16. MDR 1883/30/719; 1884/15/141.
  • 17. MDR 1888/24/74–5.
  • 18. PRO, BT 31/3916/24762: B, 20 Aug 1887, p.286.
  • 19. PRO, WORK 16/381: MBW Mins, 13 April 1888, p.598.
  • 20. PRO, WORK 16/381: ILN, 26 May 1888, p.563.
  • 21. The Standard, 24 April 1888: B, 16 June 1888, p.434.
  • 22. Buildings (Metropolis) Bill, copy in LMA, LCC/AR/BA/1/2: MDR 1888/15/9.
  • 23. Account of Balfour's career by Esmond J. Cleary in Dictionary of Business Biography, ed. David J. Jeremy, vol.4, 1984: contemporary reports in Building Societies Gazette, etc.
  • 24. BN, 25 Nov 1892, p.735.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Ibid: B, 3 May 1890, p.323.
  • 28. The Times, 18 April 1899, p.8; 20 April 1899, p.9: B, 15 March 1902, p.273: DSR.
  • 29. PRO, WORK 16/381.
  • 30. Anthony Masters, Inside Marbled Halls, 1979, p.139.
  • 31. PRO, BT 31/7895/56574.
  • 32. Hotel World, June 1899, p.xviii.
  • 33. PRO, BT 31/6540/46041.
  • 34. Companies House, file 73251: Marie Louise Ritz, César Ritz — Host to the World, 1938, p.275: LMA, GLC/AR/BR/19/173.
  • 35. LMA, GLC/AR/BR/19/173.
  • 36. WAC, WDP 2/489.
  • 37. PRO, WORK 16/381.
  • 38. PRO, IR 58/91028/522: Caterer & Hotel Proprietor's Gazette, 15 Jan 1912, p.2: B, 14 Aug 1914, p.184.
  • 39. LMA, GLC/AR/BR/07/0173.
  • 40. PRO, WORK 16/1250.
  • 41. B, 21 June 1997, p.1167: Clunn, op.cit. (note 50), p.132: The Estate Exchange Year Book for 1935, p.155: B, 13 Sept 1935, p.447.
  • 42. PRO, WORK 16/1187: Clunn, op.cit., p.132: CERC, Church Commissioners' file 55519.
  • 43. Description based on contemporary accounts including — Concrete Quarterly, Jan-March 1959, pp.37–40: Contract Journal, 12 Dec 1957, p.1347: Architect & Building News, 1 April 1959, p.407 et seq.: AR, March 1959, pp.167–73.
  • 44. PRO, WORK 16/1835.
  • 45. Information provided by Ian Hedges.
  • 46. PRO, WORK 16/1835: Stephen Gardiner, Epstein: Artist Against the Establishment, 1992, pp.466–8, 475–6.
  • 47. Gardiner, op.cit., p.468.
  • 48. Ian Nairn, Modern Architecture in London, 1964, p.46.
  • 49. PRO, CRES 38/1591: RB: John Lockie, Topography of London… 1813.
  • 50. MDR 1761/4/171: RB.
  • 51. RB: PRO, CRES 38/1591.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. PRO, WORK 16/903: RB.
  • 54. B, 25 July 1857, p.422.
  • 55. Census (1841).
  • 56. Census (1851).
  • 57. The Reminiscences of Lady Dorothy Nevill, ed. Ralph Nevill, 1906, chapter XIII.
  • 58. MDR 1853/8/809–10: PRO, CRES 35/2839.
  • 59. B, 25 July 1857, p.422.
  • 60. BN, 2 Jan 1857, p.21: Hermione Hobhouse, 'Philip and Philip Charles Hardwick: an architectural dynasty', in Seven Victorian Architects, 1977, ed. Jane Fawcett, pp.139, 152.
  • 61. Information provided by Giles Worsley.
  • 62. Companion to the Almanac… for 1858, p.249.
  • 63. BN, 2 Jan 1857, p.21; 17 April 1857, p.383.
  • 64. The Times, 1 April 1858, p.10b; 17 Jan 1872, p.5d; 29 July 1878, p.10a–f: The Lady, 3 March 1891, p.287: B, 21 March 1891, p.237.
  • 65. PRO, BT 31/15252/37055; CRES 35/2839: MDR 1891/20/558; 1893/24/452; 1895/1/264–5.
  • 66. B, 18 May 1895, p.381.
  • 67. Flats, Sept 1896, supplement.
  • 68. PRO, CRES 38/1591.
  • 69. PRO WORK 16/1184: MDR 1891/8/175.
  • 70. Ibid: LCC Mins, 25 Nov 1890, p.1050: BN 30 Oct 1891, pp.618, 631.
  • 71. PRO, WORK 16/903: DSR 1887/173: LCC Mins, 6 May 1887, p.754; 1 July 1887, p.27.
  • 72. PRO, WORK 16/449.
  • 73. PRO, WORK 16/903; IR58/91028/505.
  • c1. The widest unsupported private riding-school ever built in Britain
  • c2. John Solomon