Today, Millbank is largely taken up by a collection of large buildings, including Tate Britain and Millbank Tower, but it has been radically transformed from marshy fields, and most particularly, the former location of the largest prison in Britain, Millbank Penitentiary.
The Horse ferry and Peterborough House
The name ‘Millbank’ originated from the early mill that belonged to the Abbey of Westminster and was situated beyond Horseferry Road until the 17th century. Until the Georgian period, this area along the banks of the Thames was covered with fields, orchards and meadows. Horseferry Road originated as the track way to the horse ferry across to Lambeth, which until the 18th century was the only way to cross the river (apart from London Bridge in the east). It was a large flat bottomed boat that could carry up to a coach and six horses. It continued to be used until around 1750 after Westminster Bridge opened.
The area to the south of Horseferry Road became known as Market Meadows and was largely unfit for building, but when the Manor of Ebury (the origins of much of today’s Grosvenor Estate) was acquired by Alexander Davies in the 1660s, he built himself a large manor house. It was later leased to the Earl’s of Peterborough and became known as Peterborough House. It was rebuilt by the Grosvenor family in the 18th century, and also known as Belgrave House and Millbank House, but was demolished in 1809 when building development began to spread, including a road to the new Millbank Penitentiary.
Millbank Penitentiary and the ghost of Morpeth Arms
This isolated spot was chosen as an ideal location for a new prison and the first prisoners moved in during 1816, although it was not fully completed until 1821, when it was the largest prison in Britain.
The design was based on the experimental ‘panopticon’ created by Jeremy Bentham, which meant inmates were constantly being watched. It was designed with an inspection house in the centre with the surrounding buildings constructed as a six pointed structure, which allowed the guards to watch the prisoners in their cells. It was created with hopes for reforming prisoners, but it was highly controversial, in particular the ‘separate system’. During the early period the prison was largely occupied by prisoners awaiting transportation to Australia. It became an ordinary prison in 1843 and demolished in 1890.
The Morpeth Arms, situated on the corner of Ponsonby Place, was built in 1845 largely frequented by the wardens from Millbank Prison. There are a great many stories related to the cellars of the pub, which retain tunnels believed to have been used by the prisoners being transported to Australia. The cellars are popularly believed to be haunted by the ghost of a prisoner who died there.
Tate Britain and Chelsea College of Art and Design
After the demolition of Millbank Prison part of the site was taken for a new art gallery. It largely consisted of the collection of Sir Henry Tate, of Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, as well as the Turner bequest. The building was designed by Sidney R.J. Smith and opened as the National Gallery of British Art in July 1897. The original building had just eight rooms with 245 pictures, but since that time has had many extensions to house the increasing collection. It became known as the Tate Gallery after the founder, but renamed Tate Britain after the opening of the Tate Modern in 2000.
To the south of Tate Britain is the Chelsea College of Art and Design, originally built as the Royal Army Medical College (RAMC) and Regimental Officers Mess, opened by Edward VII and Queen Alexander in May 1907. The RAMC was designed by Scottish architects John Henry Townsend Woodd [sic] and Wilfred Ainslie in an Imperial Baroque style, while the accompanying Regimental Mess was designed in a French Renaissance style. The hospital was the location for a number of medical developments, including the vaccine against typhoid; gas masks; and research into inoculations. The hospital and Officers’ Mess continued here until 1999, when it was transformed into the Chelsea College of Art and Design, who permanently relocated in 2004.
The demolition of Millbank prison also made way for a new housing development, the Millbank Estate, completed in 1902 for London County Council. It is made up of 17 buildings constructed from bricks recycled from the prison. The Arts & Crafts inspired mansion blocks were constructed with more attention to the decorative details, and given this artistic inspiration and the location near the Tate Britain the buildings are also appropriately named after artists, including Millais and Turner.
Thames House and Millbank Tower
Moving back towards Horseferry Road, this stretch of Millbank was transformed when the corner site was taken for Thames House, which is famously the home of the security service, MI5. It was built in 1929-30 to designs by Sir Frank Baines, and is decorated with sculptures by Charles Sargeant Jagger, as well as coats of arms with Latin mottos. Thames House was first used as the headquarters for Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), but was acquired by the government in the 1980s, and officially opened as the offices for MI5 in 1994.
Millbank Tower was built in 1960-3 for the former Vickers-Armstrong company. Designed by Ronald Ward and Partners it has been used as offices for a number of prominent companies and political parties, including the Labour Party during the 1990s; the United Nations; and since 2006 the headquarters for the Conservative Party. Millbank Tower has become an iconic building by the banks of the Thames, and recently was even used for an episode of television series, Dr Who.
Melanie is an historian specialising in the history of houses and streets throughout the UK and regularly provides expert commentary on the history of houses at events and to the media.
Melanie’s first book House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door was published in 2011, and she is currently completing her second book, due for publication in autumn 2013.
Melanie is available for private commissions and can be contacted via her website: www.house-historian.co.uk or you can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/HouseHistorian
In the last few days we have seen the opening of ‘the greatest show on earth’ and what many say is a ‘once in a lifetime experience’. The focus of the world was brought to Stratford through the extraordinary opening ceremony created by Danny Boyle, where quintessential British culture was on show through James Bond, Mr Bean, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Paul McCartney.
Much has also been said about the venues of London 2012 and the billions of pounds spent on creating a new Stratford. But, do you know what was there before? There have been hints at the desolate waste land and the former industrial area, but what is the history of Stratford?
Monks, mills and Bow china
The history of Stratford has been very much directed by the river Lea, which has been used as a form of transport from the Thames, as well as for mills, fishing and of course water supplies. In the 12th century, the banks of the river were chosen for a settlement of Cistercian monks and an Abbey remained here until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. The monks also built mills by the river, which continued after they had left, through to the 19th century. Other early industries included the manufacture of gun powder, timber milling and the creation of Bow porcelain. For almost 25 years Stratford was the first location for the manufacture of bone china, produced in the famous blue and white, which became known as Bow China. The dominance of the river meant that the area was first seen for its uses to transport and industry, and over time the river was divided into navigable waterways, and it is these that still run through the heart of the Olympic Park today.
The railway moves to Stratford
Up until the early 1800s the area was still very much open land, with Hackney Marsh to the north, West Ham to the east, and Bow to the west. It was through the early period of the 19th century that things began to change. The spread of London engulfed Bow and Hackney into the ‘East End’, but the most dramatic event was the introduction of the railways. The Eastern Counties Railway first came to Stratford in 1839 and by 1847 had taken over further land and tracks. The railways also brought about new building and Stratford New Town was built for railway workers and was first known as ‘Hudson Town’ after railway entrepreneur George Hudson, chairman of the Eastern Counties Railway. Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th centuries the railways were a large part of the area and by the outbreak of the First World War Stratford had the ‘biggest concentration of locomotives in Western Europe’.
Nuisance trades and foul industries
The 19th century also brought further industry and commerce to Stratford. Several parliamentary acts, including the Metropolitan Buildings Act in 1844 and the Smoke Nuisance Act in 1853 meant that ‘offensive trades’ and ‘foul industries’ were no longer permitted within the boundaries of London, so Stratford (just beyond this boundary), with its access to the river, the docks to the south, and its open spaces to build factories and warehouses, was ideal. In the 1850s much of Stratford was still fields, but as the 19th century progressed the area became covered with new industrial buildings. There were chemical works, soap manufacturers, leather factories, distilleries, candle factories, glue and rubber production, and match makers. Nearby, the Bryant and May match factory was the location for the famous ‘Match Girls Strike’ in 1888, which was a significant event in the history of trade unionism and the rights of female workers. Today, the old factory has been converted into apartments called ‘Bow Quarter’.
Decline and transformation
By the early 20th century Stratford was still dominated by industry and commerce. During the Second World War gun placements were built to the north of today’s Olympic Park. However, after the war there was a decline in the area of Stratford, with developments in manufacturing, and shipping to the docks and the use of the railways. This meant manufacturers either closed down or moved elsewhere. By the 1980s and 1990s much of this former industrial heartland had been reduced and large areas abandoned.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
It was the announcement of the Olympics coming to London in 2012 that Stratford was to see another transformation in its history: from the site of an abbey, through to a hive of industry, now to one of the most spectacular sporting facilities. Much like the Olympic opening ceremony so impressively illustrated, the open fields of Stratford had been transformed as industry and smoke stacks took over the landscape. This was then taken over by elite athletes from across the world and Stratford was changed forever. After the celebrations are over and the highs and lows of the Olympic competition have come to an end, Stratford will have permanently been transformed and the former industrial wasteland will have become the ‘Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’.
Northcote Road is situated between Wandsworth Common and Clapham Common in the southern part of Battersea, and today is most known for its market and shopping, as well as running through the heart of one of the most popular addresses in this part of London. However, up until the late 19th century much of this area was covered in open fields, except for a few farm buildings and large country houses.
Waterfalls and farm animals
Just over 100 years ago Northcote Road did not exist, apart from a small farm track, but instead it was the site of the Falcon Brook, running through the middle of the Bolingbroke estate. The only building, situated near today’s Shelgate Road, was Bolingbroke Farm, with the remainder of the area open farmland. The Ordnance Survey map in 1874 shows Falcon Brook running from Battersea Rise down to near today’s Chatham Road, and particularly noted a number of waterfalls along the way. Much of Battersea was agricultural land until the mid 19th century, with Lavender Hill literally lavender fields, along with fields of vegetables and flowers for the London markets, and as late as the 1880s farm animals still wandered the streets.
Railways and building boom
The introduction of the railway brought about drastic change in the fields of Battersea and Clapham. Clapham Junction station opened in 1863 and was to become the busiest station in Europe. The new form of transport brought industry and business to the area, as well as providing transport for commuters into the centre of London. This created development, and most particularly a building boom, providing new homes for workers and middle-class commuters. It was also at this time, in 1865, that the first section of Falcon Brook was covered over and redirected by the Metropolitan Board of Works.
Leader of the Conservative Party
The name Northcote is believed to originate from politician Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh, who began his career as private secretary to William Gladstone, and later rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1874. He was leader of the Conservative Party from 1876 to 1885 and Foreign Secretary in 1886, but the following year he died suddenly at No.10 Downing Street.
Northcote Road was laid out in the 1880s, with the first section going as far as Chatham Road, and the remainder down to Broomwood Road was originally known as Swaby Road. The whole stretch of road was named Northcote Road in the 1890s. It was at this time that the famous Northcote Road markets were established. Prior to this, market stalls had been situated further down the hill in St John’s Road and along Lavender Hill, much closer to the busy centre by Clapham Junction Station. However, market sellers were evicted from St John’s Road during the 1890s and they had no alternative but to relocate to Northcote Road.
Shopping and ‘nappy valley’
Northcote Road also became known for its permanent shops, including long-standing providers such as the Dove Butchers, trading since 1889. The road soon gained a name as a shopping destination and the phrase ‘going down the Northcote’ becoming a common local expression. However, by the 1990s the market stalls were under threat, as new residents wanted a different shopping experience other than just apples and pears from their market stall. The introduction of parking restrictions also brought a further threat to the market traders. Fortunately Northcote Road evolved and continued as a popular shopping destination, as well as a highly sought after address. In the early 21st century, the area evolved again and many new residents were professionals and young families, so much so that the area gained the name ‘nappy valley’ for the number of young children and push-chairs in the area.
Today, Northcote Road offers many fashionable shops, cafés, restaurants and bars, along with a number of independent specialty stores selling honey, wine and cheese along with traditional fishmongers, florists and antique dealers.
Marylebone holds a special place in the hearts of many Londoners, whether it is the lovely boutique shops, the renowned restaurants, pubs and cafés, or simply that inevitable question – where on earth does the name ‘Marylebone’ come from?
Above: Bryanston Square Garden
Marylebone was originally associated with the village of Tyburn, named after the River Tyburn that formerly ran from Hampstead down to Oxford Street and is now underground. In the 15th century the villagers relocated from the area now known as Oxford Street, to further north, which created the track that evolved into Marylebone High Street. At this time a new church and parish of St Mary’s was created and the small community renamed themselves St Mary’s by the river Tyburn, which over time evolved into St Mary-by-the-Tyburn and finally St Mary-le-bone.
Royal hunting grounds
The former Manor House became Henry VIII’s hunting lodge in the 16th century and today’s Regent’s Park is what remains of the former hunting grounds. The Manor House was later used by Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, but by the time of the Civil War, Charles I had mortgaged the lands to pay for the war and by 1791 the manor house had been demolished. The site was later used for stables, which were converted and became the popular Conran shop and French restaurant Orrery.
During the 17th century, Marylebone was still an isolated village on the outskirts of London, but in 1650 it gained a name as the location for the popular Marylebone Gardens, on the site of today’s Devonshire and Beaumont Streets. Marylebone Gardens became notorious for entertainments, including cock-fighting, bear and bull baiting, and boxing matches.
By the 18th century it had become a rather dangerous venue populated by thieves, so ladies and gentlemen were provided with an escort to get to and from the City Road safely. It later regained a good name and became known for its cakes and tarts, as well as concerts and balls. In the 1770s Thomas Arne, composer of Rule Britannia, even conducted an orchestra in the gardens.
The western part of Marylebone was acquired by Sir William Portman - Lord Chief Justice to Henry VIII - in the 1530s, which forms the foundation of today’s Portman Estate. The eastern part of Marylebone was bought by the Duke of Newcastle in the 18th century, which became the Portland Estate and forms what we know today as the de Walden Estate. These two estates were responsible for much of the building of Georgian Marylebone, including Cavendish Square in 1718; Harley Street in the 1730s; Portman Square in 1764; Baker Street in 1755 and Manchester Square in the 1770s.
Marylebone has also had its fair share of scandal and was the location for a couple of particularly noteworthy events of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1820 a group of revolutionaries, led by Arthur Thistlewood, met in a mews house in Cato Street, giving it the name of the ‘Cato Street Conspiracy’. The group planned to storm the home of Lord Harrowby in Grosvenor Square and kill all the members of the Cabinet, but the plan was thwarted and many conspirators were caught.
In the 1960s Marylebone was the location for another scandal, this time in Wimpole Mews, the home of Stephen Ward, where Christine Keeler was staying. It was the beginning of what later became known as the ‘Profumo Affair’ involving Keeler and Secretary of State for War, John Profumo. Their liaison became a national scandal because Keeler was also involved with Yevgeny Ivanov, attaché at the Soviet Embassy, which at the height of the Cold War became a serious cause of concern for national security.
Marylebone has long been a popular place to live, and before Harley Street became known for the medical profession it was home to a number of notable residents, including artist J.M.W. Turner and Prime Minister William Gladstone. Baker Street was not only the address of fictional character Sherlock Holmes, but was also the home of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Montagu Square has been the home of author Anthony Trollope, and in the 1960s was where Ringo Starr rented a flat, and had many visitors, including Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix, and in 1968 Lennon and Yoko Ono moved in while they were recording The White Album.
Marylebone has much to offer the visitor and resident, whether you’re having dinner or shopping along the High Street, visiting the Wallace Collection, having tea at the Landmark Hotel, or looking for an idyllic flat in town.
Today, Islington is a highly sought-after address offering the shops and restaurants of Upper Street, plus boutiques, bars and cafes in the surrounding streets, and all within a short distance from the centre of town. The architectural gems of Islington, including Georgian terraced rows and Victorian semi-detached villas, are also a powerful draw-card for residents.
However, it was only a short time ago that Islington was seen as a country retreat and was in fact nicknamed ‘London’s Dairy’ because of its association with providing milk and cheese to the residents of London.
Anglo-Saxon and Tudor Islington
During the Anglo-Saxon period, the area was known as Gislandune, meaning Gisla’s Hill, and by the time of the Domesday book in 1086 it was recorded as Iseldone, or ‘lower town’ in relation to its position to today’s Highbury. Due to its location to the north of the City of London, it became a natural stopping place for those travelling from the north. By the 16th century, the area was still largely fields and it became a popular place for building large country mansions with gardens and orchards. Henry VIII used to hunt near-by and Queen Elizabeth I often visited Islington when coming to stay with Sir John Spencer at Canonbury House. Throughout the Tudor period Islington became a popular stopping point for royalty travelling in and out of London
Apart from the large country houses, Islington was primarily occupied by farmers and drovers bringing their livestock and goods to the London markets, especially to Smithfield. It was due to this association with cattle that Islington became the location for a number of dairies, providing fresh milk and cheese to Londoners.
‘New Tunbridge Wells’
During the 18th century Islington also became associated with fresh water springs, with the discovery of a spring at Sadler’s Wells, previously known as The Islington Spa and also ‘New Tunbridge Wells’. The area became known for its entertainments, with theatres, tea gardens, pubs and the spas. During the 1730s George II would visit with his daughters, Princesses Amelia and Caroline, and records show that during the height of its popularity as many as 1,600 people took the waters in one day. However, by the late 18th century, the spa fell into disrepute.
19th century transport and houses
The 19th century brought about much change in Islington as the population of London began to spread further outwards and the introduction of the Regents Canal in 1820 brought more and more people to this once rural village. New houses began to appear throughout the early to mid-19th century and with the introduction of the railways in the 1860s and the underground railway at the turn of the 20th century, Islington soon became covered in streets of new houses.
Throughout its history, Islington has been a popular address for writers and artists, with a long list of names having called it home. Mary Wollstonecraft lived in Newington Green in 1784 where she opened a school for girls; children’s author, Kate Greenaway lived on Upper Street in 1852; author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, lived in Duncan Terrace during the 1980s; and author George Gissing and playwright Joe Orton both lived along Noel Road.
Other famous residents include George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Louis MacNeice, Benjamin Britten, Thomas Carlyle and Nancy Mitford. Charles Wesley was curate at St Mary’s Church during the 1730s and his brother John Wesley spoke at the church a number of times; Charlie Chaplin lived in Arlington Way as a child; and former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli lived in Islington and went to school in Colebrook Row from 1808.
Today, Islington continues to be a very popular address with a vibrant high street, along with beautiful houses and quiet residential streets.
The square, named after former landowner, William Edwardes, Lord Kensington, began in 1812, but it wasn’t until around 1827 that all the houses were completed and occupied.
It has been home to a long list of celebrity residents, including writer, George Du Maurier; author, Leigh Hunt; actress, Elizabeth Inchbold; and writer and commentator, G.K. Chesterton.
Edwardes Square was developed by Louis Leon Changeur, but before building got under way, a false report circulated around the suspicion that Changeur was an infamous Napoleonic agent, Frenchman, Colonel Charmilly. The rumour was later refuted, but the damage was already done and for a long time it was believed the houses in Edwardes Square were being built to house invading Frenchmen from Napoleon’s army.
Development and building
The design of the square has been attributed to Changeur, but also to David James Bunning and prominent London surveyor, Samuel Pepys Cockerell. Changeur was declared bankrupt in 1812 and the development passed to Daniel Sutton, who was also one of the first to move in, firstly to No.6 Earls Terrace in 1813 and later to No.25 Earls Terrace where he passed away in 1842.
Earls Terrace was the first section completed, which included the unusual layout featuring a carriageway and porters lodges at either end. The eastern side of the square was completed next, followed by the west and finally the southern stretch, built as mews and named ‘South Edwardes Square’ (this was later rebuilt during the 20th century.)
‘To be seen to be admired’
In 1814 the houses were described as only needing ‘to be seen to be admired, for the style and neatness of their completion, the beautiful diversity of the views, the easy access to and from town and above all, for the mild air’. In the 1830s, writer Thomas Carlyle described Edwardes Square as ‘a beautiful grass-square in the centre; houses small but neat’.
In 1819 an Act of Parliament was passed to regulate the lighting, watching (security), watering, cleansing and planting in the square. This allowed the residents of Edwardes Square to create a happy, safe and clean place to live. Strict rules were applied to households, including a fine of five shillings for those who failed to sweep and clean the footpath in front of their house before 9am and there was also a fine of £5 for ‘suffering swine to wander upon said footways and carriageways’.
The central gardens were laid out in 1820, complete with gardener’s lodge in the Greek revival style. However, in the 20th century, the central gardens became the focus of a bitter legal battle between the residents, the council and the new owners (after Lord Kensington sold the estate). After years of disputes the future of the gardens was secured in 1912 when a court appeal was successful for the residents Garden Committee. The residents celebrated by having a bonfire in the square, along with fireworks, and all the houses in the square were lit up with electricity or fairy lights.
Along with those listed above, Edwardes Square has a long list of prominent residents, including artist Agostino Agilo, who also designed the central gardens; author and historian, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson; comedian and actor, Frankie Howerd; Italian poet, Ugo Foscolo; artist and writer, Sir William Rothenstein; and many others.
Cresswell Gardens was one of the last 19th century terraced streets to be built in Brompton. Constructed on the site of Cresswell Lodge, this house (No. 1) has been the home of Lady Gray and Henry Tufnell Gray-Campbell, as well as generations of independently wealthy women, including two spinster sisters from Costa Rica.
Today, this impressive late Victorian home, situated in the Boltons Conservation Area, has been renovated to a very high standard and offers the latest electronic management system, underfloor heating, and air conditioning.
The Gunter’s and Cresswell Lodge
In the 19th century, large sections of South Kensington were owned by James Gunter, most remembered for his famous Gunter’s ice cream parlour in Berkeley Square (responsible for Queen Victoria’s wedding cake). Much of the Gunter Estate continued as market gardens through to the 1850s, at which time James’s grandsons, Robert II and James II, began building development.
However, the location of today’s Cresswell Gardens remained the site of a country house: Cresswell Lodge. It was only in 1875 that Robert Gunter II agreed to the development of the site of Cresswell Lodge with prominent Kensington builder, John Spicer; who died before development could begin, so the project passed to his son, solicitor G.J. Spicer. Original plans, dated 1883, show the builders were Messrs Matthews and Rogers and it was also possibly going to be named Chilmarsh Gardens.
The houses along the western side of Cresswell Gardens were completed in 1885 and designed by architect, Maurice Hulburt in the popular late Victorian Queen Anne Style, featuring strong red brick and terracotta.
The first resident to move into No. 1 Cresswell Gardens was a Miss Kemp-Welch, but she did not stay long, as by the early 1890s the house had become the home of Henry Tufnell Campbell, grandson of Sir Henry Bethune, first Baronet from Kilconquhar, Scotland.
Lady Gray and Henry Tufnell Gray-CampbellThe 1891 census reveals 33 year old Henry Tufnell Campbell was a stockbroker and married to 25 year old Ethel Eveleen, and the young couple were in the house with three live-in servants.
Ethel Campbell was the daughter of Lady Eveleen Smith-Gray and the sister of James Maclaren Stuart Gray, the 20th Lord Gray. Her brother passed away, in 1919, and Ethel became the 21st Lady Gray. In 1920, Ethel and Henry changed their name by royal licence to become Gray-Campbell.
Three generations of women
Henry and Ethel lived at No.1 Cresswell Gardens throughout the 1890s, but by the turn of the 20th century it had become the home of widowed Catherine Phibbs from Ireland.
The 1901 census shows Mrs Phibbs was 80 years old, of independent means, and she was in the house with her 40 year old daughter, Edith, and her 20 year old granddaughter, Theodora. The three generations of women were in the house with four live-in servants: a cook, butler, lady’s maid and house maid.
Costa Rican spinster sisters
By 1909, No.1 Cresswell Gardens had become the home of two spinster sisters from Costa Rica, Maria and Luisa Montealegre. The 1911 census shows Maria was 56 years old and Luisa was 54, they were of independent means and were in the ’13 rooms’ with three live-in servants. Maria passed away in 1913, while Luisa continued in the house, but by the outbreak of World War I she started to rent out rooms in the house.
Cresswell Court Hotel and flats
It was during the 1930s that change came to the large Victorian house, with drainage plans in 1937 revealing it became ‘Cresswell Court’ flats. During the 1940s the flats were advertised with rooms ‘beautifully furnished; sunshine garden view...priced from two guineas.’
After World War II the house was transformed again and it became the ‘Cresswell Court Hotel’. Throughout the late 20th century, visitors to the hotel ranged from high ranking military and even a professor of chemistry. In the 1970s, the house changed again and became five self-contained flats.
The final chapter in the story of the house occurred in the early 21st century when it was transformed back into a single family home, as it had been over 100 years earlier. Today, No.1 Cresswell Gardens has been meticulously refurbished, blending historic architectural features and modern interior design.
* Farleys are currently selling No.1 Cresswell Gardens
Today, Kensington Court is a striking enclave of Victorian red brick houses (pictured, below) ideally situated opposite the entrance to Kensington Palace. The houses were some of the last constructed in Victorian Kensington, built on the site of one of London’s most notorious Victorian white elephants – the grand palace of Baron Grant.
17th century country houses
Prior to this time the area of today’s Kensington Court had been the site of two large country houses – Colby House and Kensington House –belonging to the Colby family from the 17th century. However, by the early 19th century, Kensington House had become a lunatic asylum and Colby House was a boarding house for women. By the 1860s, the two houses and surrounding gardens were being sold for building land, although it wasn’t until 1872 that the plot was purchased by Baron Albert Grant.
Entrepreneur and speculator – Baron Grant
Baron Grant is believed to have acquired his title from Victor Emmanuel I, but he was actually born Albert Gottheimer in Dublin. Grant has been described as an entrepreneur, as well as an unscrupulous speculator, with records of great success, along with great failure leading to bankruptcy. He became MP for Kidderminster in 1865, but in just a year was in exile in Europe after large financial losses on the stock market. By 1870 he was back in England and once again investing in property, foreign investments, and he even bought The Echo newspaper.
‘Pretentious and frightful’
It was during this period of prosperity that Grant decided to build himself a large palace in Kensington. In May 1873 he commissioned architect James Knowles Junior (who also designed Tennyson’s house in Sussex) to design a grand house in the French style. The house was constructed between 1873 and 1875, although the interiors weren’t completed until 1876. By the time it was finished, Grant’s enormous palace was scorned and described as ‘rather out-of-date’ and ‘pretentious and frightful’. The house also had extensive gardens, with an orangery and glasshouses, as well as a skating rink, ornamental lake and ‘an American bowling alley’. However, as early as 1874 Grant was again facing financial difficulties and he also lost his parliamentary seat for voting irregularities. The house was completed in 1876, but Grant was never to live in it, as almost immediately he had to sell it. Six years later, the large palatial house had to be sold off piece-by-piece and the land divided into building plots.
Queen Anne Style Kensington Court
By early 1883, developer Jonathan T Carr, most remembered for his work in Bedford Park in Chiswick, was preparing the area for new building. He divided it into 77 plots and commissioned J.J. Stevenson, a well-known Victorian architect particularly popular for his designs in the ‘Queen Anne Style’. Kensington Court is particularly noteworthy for its early allowance for services to be provided to each house, with space under the roads made for gas, water and hydraulic mains, as well as space for future electricity supply.
Terracotta, turrets and decoration
Building began in Kensington Court in 1883, with Jonathan T Carr, his brother Richardson and JJ Stevenson directly responsible for the eastern side, today’s Nos.3-15 and 22-25, and a section in the central area. The remainder of the plots were sold freehold and owners could commission their own architects. This led to slight variations in completed houses, while the favoured style was the popular Queen Anne Style, with red brick and terracotta, as well as turrets, external decoration and motifs. In particular, No.1 was bought by Mrs Anne Marie Lucena, who commissioned Stevenson to build ‘Chenesiton House’ in 1883-4. It features ornate ironwork, decorated hoods over windows and strong gables. Neighbouring No.2 Kensington Court (pictured, above right) was bought by Athelstan Riley and designed by TG Jackson. It also features strong decoration, including the unique bay window topped with a sculptured group of sea monsters in terracotta. Nos. 1 and 2 Kensington Court were converted into the Milestone Hotel in 1985.
Residential hydraulic power and electricity
The remainder of Kensington Court was designed and built, between 1884 and the early 1900s, by various architects and builders as commissioned by freeholders. Some of the last sections completed were Roxburghe Mansions (No.32) in 1896-7 and Cornwall Mansions (No.33) in 1902.
Kensington Court is particularly noted for its early provision of hydraulic power to drive lifts, and a specially built pumping station was built on site in 1884 by EB Ellington’s London Hydraulic Power Company. It was the first use of hydraulic power provided for domestic use in Britain. Along with hydraulic power, Kensington Court was also known for the Kensington Court Electricity Company, established in 1886, with a specially built power station built in 1888, which can still be seen in the north west pedestrian section near Kensington High Street.
Cheyne Row is most remembered as the former home of celebrated writer, Thomas Carlyle, but just across the street lived another celebrated character of the 19th century, philanthropist and founder of the Salvation Army – William Booth.
John Todd - builder developer
The Grade II listed house in Cheyne Row (pictured) is situated in one of the oldest streets in Chelsea, but unlike its near Queen Anne neighbours, this house was built on the western side, which had continued as open ground through to the mid 19th century. The house was constructed in 1849 by builder developer, John Todd, who took the end of terrace house as his own home. The 1851 census records John Todd in the house, aged 34, with the occupation of ‘builder’ employing 24 men. He was in the house with his wife Ann and their six children, aged between one month and ten years old, along with two live-in servants. John Todd appears to have been a very successful builder, as within ten years he was living in a larger house in Milner Street and described as ‘builder employing 72 men and 10 boys’.
Alfred Todd – decorator and draughtsman
John Todd continued to own the house, renting it to a number of tenants, but by the time of the 1871 census it had become the home of Todd’s eldest son, Alfred. The records show that he was 24 years old and was working as an assistant decorator and an insurance agent. He was in the house with his wife, Emma and one general servant, 18 year old Dorcas. Ten years later, Alfred and Emma Todd were still living in the house, but by this time Alfred was described as a ‘draughtsman’ and the couple had four children; Alfred, George, Alice and Winifred. However, within eight years the house transformed from a family home into something a little unusual.
William Booth – founder of the Salvation Army
In 1889, the house was recorded as a Salvation Army Training Depot. The parish rate books and electoral registers show that William Booth, the Christian preacher, philanthropist and renowned founder of The Salvation Army, was responsible for the house. He is believed to have lived in the house during this time. At the time of the 1891 census, the head of the house was a Captain in the Salvation Army, Chris Bell, along with his wife, Sarah and their daughter Lillie. Also in the house at this time were Lieutenant William Anderson and five cadets: Fred Preece; William Symms; Henry Sykes; Charles Popham; and James Blunt, all of whom were in their 20s (except James Blunt who was just 19 years old) and their occupations were listed as ‘preach’.
It appears that despite good intentions, the cadets in the Salvation Army did not live quietly in Chelsea. There are a number of accounts in The Times newspaper in 1889 of police incidents involving members of the Salvation Army from the house in Cheyne Row. These included ‘wilfully obstructing the public footway with preaching; and another causing a nuisance with ‘loud singing and clapping of hands’. Another incident involved 15 members of the army accused of ‘disorderly conduct, causing a crowd to assemble, and refusing to disperse...whereby the thoroughfare was obstructed and a breach of the peace rendered probable.’ The house did not remain a training depot for the Salvation Army for very long, as by 1894 it had become ‘St Vincent’s Orphanage’ with mistress, Sister Mary Francis.
Minnie Hackney’s lodging house
By the early 20th century, the house changed once again and it was recorded as the home of Miss Minnie Hackney ‘landlady of boarding house’ and the house had become a lodging house. During this time it was the home of a variety of residents from a ‘physical instructress’ to spinster sisters ‘living on their own means’. However, at this time the house was divided into separate accommodation and in the other part of the house was German author, Gustav Glaser and his Canadian wife, Catherine. Gustav wrote a number of books on ‘magneto and dynamo electric machines’.
Renowned author and publisher for children
By the time of the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the owner and occupant of the house had changed and it became the family home of publisher and writer, Frederick Joseph Harvey Darton. F.J. Darton began his career in the family firm of publishers, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. and in particular became renowned for both writing and publishing books for children. Today, he is still remembered for his work, Children’s Books in England (1832), as well as writing for Encyclopaedia Britannica and a chapter on children’s books for the Cambridge History of English Literature.
Chesterton Humberts are currently selling this end of terrace house along Cheyne Row in Chelsea.