Kensington – London – Pt. 2

Knotting Barnes was sold by the thirteenth Earl, whose fortunes had been impoverished by adhesion to the House of Lancaster. It was bought by Sir Reginald Bray, who sold it to the Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond, mother of King Henry VII. This manor seems to have included lands lying without the precincts of Kensington, for in an indenture entered into by the Lady and the Abbot of Westminster in regard to the disposal of her property we find mentioned “lands and tenements in Willesden, Padyngton, Westburn, and Kensington, in the countie of Midd., which maners, lands, and tenements the said Princes late purchased of Sir Reynolds Bray knight.” The Countess left the greater part of her property to the Abbey at Westminster, and part to the two Universities at Oxford and Cambridge. On the spoliation of the monasteries, King Henry VIII. became possessed of the Westminster property; he took up the lease, granting the lessee, Robert White, other lands in exchange, and added it to the hunting-ground he purposed forming on the north and west of London. At his death King Edward VI. inherited it, and leased it to Sir William Paulet. In 1587 it was held by Lord Burghley. In 1599 it was sold to Walter Cope.

Earl’s Court or Kensington Manor we traced to the three sisters of the last Earl. One of these died childless, the other two married respectively John Nevill, Lord Latimer ; and Sir Anthony Wingfield. Family arrangements were made to prevent the division of the estate, which passed to Lucy Nevill, Lord Latimer’s third daughter. She married Sir W. Cornwallis, and left one daughter, Anne, who married Archibald, Earl of Argyll, who joined with her in selling the manor to Sir Walter Cope in 1609. Sir Walter Cope had thus held at one time or another the whole of Kensington. He now possessed Earl’s Court, West Town, and Abbot’s Manor, having sold Notting Barns some time before. His daughter and heiress married Sir Henry Rich, younger son of the first Earl of Warwick. Further details are given in the account of Holland House (p. 76). PERAMBULATION. -We will begin at the extreme easterly point of the borough, the toe of the boot which the general outline resembles. We are here in Knightsbridge. The derivation of this word has been much disputed. Many old writers, including Faulkner, have identified it with Kingsbridge-that is to say, the bridge over the Westbourne in the King’s high-road. The Westbourne formed the boundary of Chelsea, and flowed across the road opposite Albert Gate. The real King’s bridge, however, was not here, but further eastward over the Tyburn, and as far back as Henry L’s reign it is referred to as Cnightebriga. Another derivation for Knightsbridge is therefore necessary. The old topographer Norden writes: ” Kingsbridge, commonly called Stone bridge, near Hyde Park Corner, where I wish no true man to walk too late without good guard, as did Sir H. Knyvett, Kt., who valiantly defended himself, being assaulted, and slew the master-thief with his own hands.” This, of course, has reference to the more westerly bridge mentioned above, but it seems to have served as a suggestion to later topographers, who have founded upon it the tradition that two knights on their way to Fulham to be blessed by the Bishop of London quarrelled and fought at the Westbourne Bridge, and killed each other, and hence gave rise to the name. This story may be dismissed as entirely baseless ; the real explanation is much less romantic. The word is probably connected with the Manor of Neyt, which was adjacent to Westminster, and as pronunciation rather than orthography was relied upon in early days, this seems much the most likely explanation. Lysons says : ” Adjoining to Knightsbridge were two other ancient manors called Neyt and Hyde.” We still have the Hyde in Hyde Park, and Neyt is thus identified with Knightsbridge.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century Knightsbridge was an outlying hamlet. People started from Hyde Park Corner in bands for mutual protection at regular intervals, and a bell was rung to warn pedestrians when the party was about to start. In 1778, when Lady Elliot, after the death of her husband, Sir Gilbert, came to Knightsbridge for fresh air, she found it as “quiet as Teviotdale.” About forty years before this the Bristol mail. was robbed by a man on foot near Knightsbridge. The place has also been the scene of many riots. In 1556, at the time of Wyatt’s insurrection, the rebel and his followers arrived at the hamlet at nightfall, and stayed there all night before advancing on London. As already explained, the Borough of Kensington does not include Knightsbridge, but only touches it, and the part we are now in belongs to Westminster.

The Albert Gate leading into the park was erected in 1844-46, and was, of course, called after Prince Albert. The stags on the piers were modelled after prints by Bartolozzi, and were first set up at the Ranger’s Lodge in the Green Park. Part of the foundations of the old bridge outside were unearthed at the building of the gate, and, besides this bridge, there was another within the park. The French Embassy, recently enlarged, stands on the east side of the gate-the house formerly belonged to Mr. Hudson, the “railway king”-and to the west are several large buildings, a bank, Hyde Park Court, etc., succeeded by a row of houses. Here originally stood a famous old tavern, the Fox and Bull, said to have been founded in the time of Queen Elizabeth ; if so, it must have retained its popularity uncommonly long, for it was noted for its gay company in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is referred to in the Tatler (No. 259), and was visited by Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Morland, the former of whom painted the sign, which hung until 1807. It is said that the Elizabethan house had wonderfully carved ceilings and immense fire-dogs, still in use in 1799. The inn was later the receiving office of the Royal Humane Society, and to it was brought the body of Shelley’s wife after she had drowned herself in the Serpentine.

In the open space opposite is an equestrian statue of Hugh Rose – Lord Strathnairn – by Onslow Ford, R.A. Close by is a little triangular strip of green, which goes by the dignified name of Knightsbridge Green. It has a dismal reminiscence, having been a burial-pit for those who died of the plague. The last maypole was on the green in 1800, and the pound-house remained until 1835.

The entrance to Tattersall’s overlooks the green. This famous horse-mart was founded by Richard Tattersall, who had been stud-groom to the last Duke of Kingston. He started a horse market in 1766 at Hyde Park Corner, and his son carried it on after him. Rooms were fitted up at the market for the use of the Jockey Club, which held its meetings there for many years. Charles James Fox was one of the most regular patrons of Tattersall’s sales. The establishment was moved to its present position in 1864.

The cavalry barracks on the north side of Knightsbridge boast of having the largest amount of cubic feet of air per horse of any stables in London.

An old inn called Half-way House stood some distance beyond the barracks in the middle of the roadway until well on into the nineteenth century, and proved a great impediment to traffic. On the south side of the road, eastward of Rutland Gate, is Kent House, which recalls by its name the fact that the Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria, once lived here. Not far off is Princes Skating Club, one of the most popular and ex pensive of its kind in London. Rutland Gate takes its name from a mansion of the Dukes of Rutland, which stood on the same site. The neighbourhood is a good residential one, and the houses bordering the roads have the advantage of looking out over the Gardens. There is nothing else requiring comment until we reach the Albert Hall, so, leaving this part for a time, we return to the Brompton Road. This road was known up to 1856 as the Fulham Road, though a long row of houses on the north side had been called Brompton Row much earlier.

Brompton signifies Broom Town, carrying suggestions of a wide and heathy common. Brotnpton Square, a very quiet little place, a cul-de-sac, which has also the great recommendation that no “street music ” is allowed within it, can boast of having had some distinguished residents. At No. 22, George Colman, junior, the dramatist, a witty and genial talker, whose society was much sought after, lived for the ten years previous to his death in 1836. The same house was in 1860 taken by Shirley Brooks, editor of Pmacle. The list of former residents also includes the names of John Liston, comedian, No. 40, and Frederick Yates, the actor, No. 57.

The associations of all of this district have been preserved by Crofton Croker in his ” Walk from London to Fulham,” but his work suffers from being too minute; names which are now as dead as their owners are recorded, and the most trivial points noted. Opposite Brompton Square there was. once a street called Michael’s Grove, after its builder, Michael Novosielski, architect of the Royal Italian Opera House. In 1835 Douglas Jerrold, critic and dramatist, lived here, and whilst here was visited by Dickens. Ovington Square covers the ground where once stood Brompton Grove, where several well-known people had houses; among them was the editor (William Jerdan) of the Literary Gazette, who was visited by many literary men, and who held those informal conversation parties, so popular in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which must have been very delightful. Tom Hood was among the guests on many occasions. Before being Brompton Grove, this part of the district had been known as Flounder’s Field, but why, tradition does not say.

The next opening on the north side is an avenue of young lime-trees leading to Holy Trinity Church, the parish church of Brompton. It was opened in 1829, and the exterior is as devoid of beauty as the date would lead one to suppose. There are about 1,800 seats, and 700 are free. The burial-ground behind the church is about 4 1/2 acres in extent, and was conse crated at the same time as the church. Croker mentions that it was once a flower-garden. Northward are Ennisrnore Gardens, named after the secondary title of the Earl of Listowel, who lives in Kingston House. The house recalls the notorious Duchess of Kingston, who occupied it for some time. The Duchess, who began life as Elizabeth Chudleigh, must have had strong personal attractions. She was appointed maid of honour to Augusta, Princess of Wales, and after several love-affairs was married secretly to the Hon. Augustus John Hervey, brother of the Earl of Bristol. She continued to be a maid of honour after this event, which remained a profound secret. Her husband was a lieutenant in the navy, and on his return from his long absences the couple quarrelled violently. It was not, however, until sixteen years later that Mrs. Hervey began a connection with the Duke of Kingston, which ended in a form of marriage. It was then that she assumed the title, and caused Kingston House to be built for her residence ; fifteen years later her real husband succeeded to the title of Earl of Bristol, and she was brought up to answer to the charge of bigamy, on which she was proved guilty, but with extenuating circumstances, and she seems to have got off scot-free. She afterwards went abroad, and died in Paris in 1788, aged sixty-eight, after a life of gaiety and dissipation. From the very beginning her behaviour seems to have been scandalous, and she richly merited the epithet always prefixed to her name. Sir George Warren and Lord Stair subsequently occupied the house, and later the Marquis Wellesley, elder brother of the famous Duke of Wellington. Intermediately it was occupied by the Listowel family, to whom the freehold belongs. All Saints’ Church in Ennismore Gardens was built by Vulliamy, and is in rather a striking Lombardian style, refreshing after the meaningless °° Gothic ” of so many parish churches.

The Oratory of St. Philip Iveri, near Brompton Church, is surmounted by a great dome, on the summit of which is a golden cross. It is the successor of a temporary oratory opened in 1854, and the present church was opened thirty years later by Cardinal Manning. The oratory is built of white stone, and the entrance is under a great portico. The style followed throughout is that of the Renaissance, and all the fittings and furniture are costly and beautifully finished, so that the whole interior has an appearance of richness and elegance. A nave of immense height and 51 feet in width is supported by pillars of Devonshire marble, and there are many well-furnished chapels in the side aisles. The floor of the sanctuary is of inlaid wood, and the stalls are after a Renaissance Viennese model, and are inlaid with ivory; both of these fittings were the gift of Anne, Duchess of Argyll. The central picture is by Father Philpin de Riviere, of the London Oratory, and it is surmounted by onyx panels in gilt frames. The two angels on each side of a cartouche are of Italian workmanship, and were given by the late Sir Edgar Boehm. The oratory is famous for its music, and the crowds that gather here are by no means entirely of the Roman Catholic persuasion. Near the church-house is a statue of Cardinal Newman.

Not far westward the new buildings of the South Kensington Museum are rapidly rising. The laying of their foundation-stone was one of the last public acts of Queen Victoria. Until these buildings were begun there was a picturesque old house standing within the enclosure marked out for their site, and some people imagined this was Cromwell House, which gave its name to so many streets in the neighbourhood; this was, however, a mistake. Cromwell House was further westward, near where the present Queen’s Gate is, and the site is now covered by the gardens of the Natural History Museum.

All that great space lying between Queen’s Gate and Exhibition Road, and bounded north and south by Kensington Gore and the Cromwell Road, has seen many changes. At first it was Brompton Park, a splendid estate, which for some time belonged to the Percevals, ancestors of the Earls of Egmont. A large part of it was cut off in 1615 to form a nursery garden, the first of its kind in England, which naturally attracted much attention, and formed a good strolling-ground for the idlers who came out from town. Evelyn mentions this garden in his diary at some length, and evidently admired it very much. It was succeeded by the gardens of the Horticultural Society, and the Imperial Institute now stands on the site. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was followed by another in 1862, which was not nearly so successful, and this was held on the ground now occupied by the Natural History Museum; it in turn was followed by smaller exhibitions held in the Horticultural Society’s grounds.

In an old map we see Hale or Cromwell House standing, as above indicated, about the western end of the Museum gardens. Lysons gives little credence to the story of its having been the residence of the great Protector. He says that during Cromwell’s time, and for many years afterwards, it was the residence of the Methwold family, and adds : ” If there were any grounds for the tradition, it may be that Henry Cromwell occupied it before he went out to Ireland the second time.” This seems a likely solution, for it is improbable that a name should have impressed itself so persistently upon a district without some connection, and as Henry Cromwell was married in Kensington parish church, there is nothing improbable in the fact of his having lived in the parish. Faulkner follows Lysons, and adds a detailed description of the house. He says: “Over the mantelpiece there is a recess formed by the curve of the chimney, in which it is said that the Protector used to conceal himself when he visited the house, but why his Highness chose this place for concealment the tradition has not condescended to inform us.”

In Faulkner’s time the Earl of Harrington, who had come into possession of the park estate by his marriage with its heiress, owned Cromwell House; his name is preserved in Harrington Road close by. When the Manor of Earl’s Court was sold to Sir Walter Cope in 1609, Hale House, as it was then called, and the 30 acres belong ing to it, had been especially excepted. In the eighteenth century the place was turned into a tea-garden, and was well patronized, but never attained the celebrity of Vauxhall or Ranelagh, and later was eclipsed altogether by Florida Gardens further westward. The house was taken down in 1853.

The Natural History Museum is a branch of the British Museum, and, though commonly called the South Kensington Museum, has no claim at all to that title. The architect was A. Waterhouse, and the building rather suggests a child’s erection from a box of many coloured bricks. The material is yellow terra-cotta with gray bands, and the ground-plan is simple enough, consisting of a central hall and long straight galleries running from it east and west. The mineralogical, botanical, zoological, and geological collections are to be found here in conformity with a resolution passed by the trustees of the British Museum in 1860, though the building was not finished until twenty years later. The collections are most popular, especially that of birds and their nests in their natural surroundings ; and as the Museum is open free, it is well patronized, especially on wet Sunday afternoons. The South Kensington Museum, that part of it already standing on the east side of Exhibition Road, is the outcome of the Great Exhibition, and began with a collection at Marlborough House. The first erection was a hideous temporary structure of iron, which speedily became known as the ” Brompton Boilers,” and this was handed over to the Science and Art Department. In 1868 this building was taken down, and some of the materials were used for the branch museum at Bethnal Green.