Kensington – London – Pt. 4

Among other important persons who lived at Little Chelsea in or about Fulham Road were Sir Bartholomew Shower, a well-known lawyer, in 1693 ; the Bishop of Gloucester (Edward Fowler), 1709; the Bishop of Chester (Sir William Dawes), who afterwards became Archbishop of York; and Sir Edward Ward, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, in 1697. It is odd to read of a highway murder occurring near Little Chelsea in 1765. The barbarity of the time demanded that the murderers should be executed on the spot where their crime was committed, so that the two men implicated were hanged, the one at the end of Redcliffe Gardens, and the other near Stamford Bridge, Chelsea Station. These men were Chelsea pensioners, and must have been active for their years to make such an attempt. The gibbet stood at the end of the present Redcliffe Gardens for very many years.

Ifield Road was once Honey Lane. To the west are the entrance gates of the cemetery, which is about 800 yards in extreme length by 300 in the broadest part. The graves are thickly clustered together at the southern end, with hardly two inches between the stones, which are of every variety. The cemetery was opened for burial in June, 1840. Sir Roderick Murchison, the geologist, is among those who lie here. In the centre of the southern part of the cemetery is a chapel ; two colonnades and a central building stand over the catacombs, which are not now used. At the northern end is a Dissenters’ chapel. Having thus come to the extreme limits of the district, we turn to the neighbourhood of Earl’s Court.

Earl’s Court can show good cause why it should hold both its names, for here the lords of the manor, the Earls of Oxford, held their courts. The earlier maps of Kensington are all of the nineteenth century. Before that time the old topographers doubtless thought there was nothing out of which to make a map, for except by the sides of the high-road, and in the detached villages of Brompton, Earl’s Court, and Little Chelsea, there were only fields. Faulkner’s 1820 map is very slight and sketchy. He says: -In speaking of this part, proceeding down Earl’s Court Lane [Road], we arrive at the village of Earl’s Court.” The 1837 Survey shows a considerable increase in the number of houses, though Earl’s Court is still a village, connected with Kensington by a lane. Daw’s map of 1846 for some reason shows fewer houses, but his 1858 map gives a decided increase.

Near where the underground station now is stood the old court-house of Earl’s Court. From 1789 to 1875 another building superseded it, but the older house was standing until 1878. There was a medicinal spring at Earl’s Court in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Beside these two facts, there is very little that is interesting to note. John Hunter, the celebrated anatomist, founder of the Hunterian Museum, lived here in a house he had built for himself. He had a passion for animals, particularly strange beasts, and gathered an odd collection round him, somewhat to the dismay of his neighbours.

The popular Earl’s Court Exhibition is partly in Kensington and partly in Fulham; it is the largest exhibition open in London, and is patronized as much because it is one of the few places to which the Londoner can go to sit out of doors and hear a band after dinner, as for its more varied entertainments.

One of the comparatively old houses of the neighbourhood of Earl’s Court, that has only recently been demolished, was Coleherne Court, at the corner of Redcliffe Gardens and the Brompton Road. It is now replaced by residential flats. This was possibly the same house as that mentioned by Bowack (1705) : ” The Hon. Col. Grey has a fine seat at Earl’s Court; it is but lately built, after the modern manner, and standing upon a plain, where nothing can intercept the sight, looks very stately at a distance. The gardens are very good.” The house was later occupied by the widow of General Ponsouby, who fell in the Battle of Waterloo. Its companion, Hereford House, further eastward, was used as the headquarters of a cycling club before its demolition.

The rest of the district eastward to Gloucester Road has no old association. St. Jude’s Church, in Courtfield Gardens, was built in 1870. The reredos is of red – stained alabaster, coloured marble, and mosaics by Salviati. St. Stephen’s, in Gloucester Road, is a smaller church, founded in 1866. Beyond it Gloucester Road runs into Victoria Road, once Love Lane. General Gordon was at No. 8, Victoria Grove, in 1881. Returning again to Earl’s Court Road, we see St. Stephen’s, another of the numerous modern. churches in which the district abounds ; it was built partly at the expense of the Rev. D. Claxton, and was opened in 1858. In Warwick Gardens, westward, is St. Mathias, which rivals St. Cuthbert’s, in Philbeach Gardens, in the ritualism of its services. Both churches are very highly decorated. In St. Cuthbert’s the interior is of great height, and the walls ornamentally worked in stone ; there is a handsome oak screen, and a very fine statue of the Virgin and Child by Sir Edgar Boehm in the Lady Chapel; in both churches the. seats are all free.

Edwardes Square, with its houses on the north side bordering Kensington Road, is peculiarly attractive, with a large garden in the centre, and an old-world air about its houses, which are mostly small. Leigh Hunt says that it was (traditionally) built by a Frenchman at the time of the threatened French invasion, and that so confident was this good patriot of the issue of the war that he built the square, with its large garden and small houses, to suit the promenading tastes and poorly-furnished pockets of Napoleon’s officers. The name was taken from the family name of Lord Kensington.

Mrs. Inchbald stayed as a boarder at NO. 4 in the square when she was sixty-five. She seems to have chosen the life for the sake of company rather than by reason of lack of means, for she was not badly off, having been always extraordinarily well paid for her work. She is described as having been above the middle height, of a freckled complexion, and with sandy hair, but nevertheless good-looking. Leigh Hunt himself was at No. 32 for some years before 1853, when he removed to Hammersmith. He mentions, on hearsay, that Coleridge once stayed in the square, but this was probably only on the occasion of a visit to friends. In recent times Walter Pater was a resident here.

Leaving aside for a time Holland House, standing in beautiful grounds, which line the northern side of the road, and turning eastward, we find the Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral, almost hidden behind houses. It is of dark-red brick, and was designed by Mr. Goldie, but the effect of the north porch is lost, owing to the buildings which hem it in; this defect will doubtless be remedied in time as leases expire. The interior of the cathedral is of great height, and the light stone arches are supported by pillars of polished Aberdeen granite.

After Abingdon Road comes Allen Street, in which there is the Kensington Independent Chapel, a great square building with an imposing portico, built in 1854, “for the worshippers in the Hornton Street Chapel.” The houses at the northern end of Allen Street are called Phillimore Terrace, and here Sir David Wilkie came in the autumn of 1824, having for the previous thirteen years lived in Lower Phillimore Place. His life in Kensington was quiet and regular. He says: ” I dine at two o’clock, paint two hours in the forenoon and two hours in the afternoon, and take a short walk in the Park or through the fields twice a day.” His mother and sister lived with him, and though he was a bachelor, his domestic affections were very strong. The time in Phillimore Terrace was far from bright; it was while he lived here that his mother died, also two of his brothers and his sister’s fiance; and many other troubles, including money worries, came upon him. He eventually moved, though not far, only to Vicarage Gardens (then Place), near Church Street.

In Kensington Road, beyond Allen Street, was an ancient inn, the Adam and Eve, in which it is said that Sheridan used to stop for a drink on the way to and from Holland House, and where he ran up a bill which he coolly left to be settled by his friend Lord Holland. The inn is now replaced by a modern public-house of the same name. Between this and Wright’s Lane the aspect of the place has been entirely changed in the last few years by the erection of huge red-brick flats. On the other side of Wright’s Lane the enlarged premises of Messrs. Pouting have covered up the site of Scarsdale House, which only disappeared to make way for them. Scarsdale House is supposed to have been built by one of the Earls of Scarsdale (first creation), the second of whom married Lady Frances Rich, eldest daughter of the Earl of Warwick and. Holland, but there is not much evidence to support this conjecture. At the same time, the house was evidently much older than the date of the second Scarsdale creation-namely, 1761. The difficulty is surmounted by Mr. Loftie, who says: “John Curzon, who founded it, and called it after the home of his ancestors in Derbyshire, had bought the land for the purpose of building on it.”

At the end of this lane is the Home for Crippled Boys, established in Woolsthorpe House. The house was evidently named after the home of Sir Isaac Newton at Woolsthorpe, near Grantham. But apparently he never lived in it. His only connection with this part is that here stood a batch of good old family houses, one of which belonged to Sir Isaac Newton.” It is possible that the name was given by an enthusiastic admirer, moved thereto by the fact that Newton had lived in Bullingham House, Church Street, not so far distant.

In the 1837 map of the district Woolsthorpe is marked ” Carmaerthen House.” The front and the entrance are old, and in one of the rooms there is decorative moulding on the ceiling and a carved mantelpiece, but the schoolrooms and workshops built out at the back are all modern. The home had a very small beginning, being founded in 1866 by Dr. Bibby, who rented one room, and took in three crippled boys.

In Marloes Road, further south, are the workhouse and infirmary.

Returning to the High Street, the Free Library and the Town Hall attract attention. The latter is nearly on the site of the old free schools, which were built by Sir John Vanbrugh with all the solidity characteristic of his style; and Leigh Hunt opined, if suffered to remain, they would probably outlast the whole of Kensington. However, no such misfortune occurred, and the only relics of them remaining are the figures of the charity children of Queen Anne’s period, which now stand above the doorway of the new schools at the back of the Town Hall.

William Cobbett, ” essayist, politician, agriculturist,” lived in a house on the site of some of the great shops on the south side of the High Street, opposite the Town Hall. His grounds bordered on those of Scarsdale House, and he established in them a seed garden in which to carry out his practical experiments in agriculture. His pugnacity and sharp tongue led him into many a quarrel, and he was never a favourite with those who were his neighbours. He advocated Queen Caroline’s cause with warmth, and was the real author of her famous letter to the King. But he will always be remembered best by his Weekly Register, a potent political weapon.

The parish church of St. Mary Abbots, with its high spire, forms a very striking object on the north side of the road. There is a stone porch over the entrance to the churchyard, and a picturesque cloistered passage leading round the south side. Within the cloister is a tablet commemorating the fact that it was partly built by Rev. E. C. Glyn and his wife in memory of his mother, who died in 1892. A little further on, immediately facing the south door, is another tablet, stating that the porch at the entrance to the cloister was erected by the widow of James Liddle Fairless in memory of her husband, who died in 1891. Within the church the walls are thickly covered with memorial tablets, and on the north and south walls are rows of them set in coloured marble. The reredos is a representation of the four evangelists in mosaic work in four panels, enclosed in a Gothic canopy of marble. On the north side of the chancel is a fresco painting enclosed in marble, presented by the Archbishop of York on leaving the parish. On the south side there is also a small fresco painting, but the greater part of the wall is occupied by the sedilia. The transept on the south side of the nave contains numerous memorial tablets and two brasses : nearly all of these belong to the eighteenth century. The monument of the Rich family is against the west wall in this transept, and is a conspicuous object. A large marble slab against the wall bears the name of Edward Rich, last Earl of Warwick and Holland (died 175g), his wife Mary, who survived him ten years, and their only child Charlotte, who died unmarried. Above are the names of the Rich family, and below is the statue of the young Earl of Warwick and Holland, the stepson of Addison, who died in 1721, aged twenty-four. He is in Roman dress, life-size, and is represented seated with his right elbow resting on an urn.

On the further side of the south door we have a curious old white marble monument to the memory of Mr. Colin Campbell (died 1708). This was in the old church, and was placed in its present position by a descendant of the Campbell family. The font, a handsome marble basin, stands in the north aisle. Near it is a marble bust of Dr. Rennell, a former vicar of Kensington, by Chantrey. In the north chapel there is a large marble tablet to the memory of William Murray, third son of the Earl of Dunmore. The pulpit is of dark carved oak, and stood in the old church. The west porch is very handsomely ornamented with stonework. In the churchyard are buried several persons of note, including Mrs. Inchbald, the authoress ; and a son of George Canning, whose monument is by Chantrey.

Among other entries in the registers may be noticed the marriage of Henry Cromweli, already mentioned. There are many records of the Hicks (Campden) family, also of the Winchilsea and Nottingham, Lawrence, Cecil, Boyle, Howard of Effingham, Brydges, Dukes of Chandos, Molesworth, and Godolphin families. The plate belonging to the church is very valuable. The oldest piece is a cup dating from 1599, and a silver tankard is of the year 1619. A full description of the plate was given by Mr. Cripps in the parish magazine in 1879.