Kensington – London – Pt. 6

In the Palace itself the state apartments are now open to the public every day of the week except Wednesdays. This admittance was granted by Queen Victoria in commemoration of her eightieth year. Previously to this time the Palace had been allowed to fall into decay, and it needed a large grant from Parliament to put it into repair again. The state rooms, which are on the second floor, are well worth a visit, and the names of each, such as ” Queen Mary’s Gallery,” ” Queen Caroline’s Drawing-room,” and °° King’s Privy Chamber,” are above the doors, as at Hampton Court. These rooms are nearly all liberally supplied with pictures, many of which were restored from Hampton Court after having been previously taken there. We see here the winsome face of the poor little Duke of Gloucester (p. 72), handsome Queen Caroline, sardonic William, and the family group of the children of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The selection has been made with judgment, and every picture speaks to us of the reigns most closely connected with the Palace. It is well to note the view eastward from the King’s Drawing-room, which comes as a surprise. The outlook is over the Round Pond and down a vista of trees to the Serpentine, and gives a surprising effect of distance. The rooms that will always attract most attention, however, are those which were occupied by Queen Victoria as a child.

When the Duke and Duchess of Kent came to Kensington Palace seven mouths after their marriage, the fact that a child of theirs might occupy the English throne was a possibility, but a remote one. George III. was then on the throne ; the daughter and only child of his eldest son, Princess Charlotte, had died a year previously, and it was natural that after this event the succession should be considered in a new light. The next son, William, Duke of Clarence, had carried on a lifelong connection with Mrs. Jordan, by whom he had ten children, and when the death of his elder brother’s only child made him heir to the throne, it was necessary for him to contract a more suitable alliance, so with great reluctance he married Adelaide, daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg Meiningen, in 1818. Frederick, Duke of York, the next in age, had been married for many years, but his union had proved childless. He is the Duke commemorated in the column in Waterloo Place, and also in the soldier-boys’ school at Chelsea.

Therefore the birth of a daughter to the Duke of Kent, the fourth son, at Kensington Palace on May 24, 1819, was an event of no small importance. The room in which the Princess was born was one on the first floor, just below the King’s Privy Chamber, and it is marked by a brass plate. This is not among the state apartments shown to the public, but the little room called the Nursery, in which the young Princess played, and her small bedroom adjoining, lie in the regular circuit made by visitors through the rooms.

The Duke died less than a year after his daughter’s birth, so there were no small brothers or sisters to share the Princess’s childhood; but her stepsister, Princess Feodore, her mother’s child, was much attached to her, and might often be seen walking or driving with her in the Gardens. The Nursery has a secondary association, for the Duke and Duchess of Teck lived for some time at Kensington Palace, and it was in this room that their daughter, the present Princess of Wales, was born.

The chief objects in the room are the dolls’ house and other toys, all of the plainest description, with which Princess Victoria played as a child. There was no extravagance in her bringing up. Her mother was the wisest of women, and made no attempt to force the young intellect to tasks beyond its powers, nor did she spoil the child by undue indulgence. Early rising, morning walks, simple dinner, and games, constituted the days that passed rapidly in the seclusion of Kensington. When the young Princess had turned the age of five, her lessons began under the superintendence of Fraulein Lehzen, the governess of Princess Feodore, who was afterwards raised to the peerage as Baroness Lehzen. Though the second of the children of the Duke of Clarence had died before Victoria was three years old, and thus her chance of the throne was greatly increased, she was not made aware of her prospects until much later. The Princess Sophia, daughter of George HL, lived in Church Street close by, at York House, and the Duke of Sussex, a younger son of George III., lived with his morganatic wife, called the Duchess of Inverness, in a set of apartments in the Palace. The rooms they occupied are those now tenanted by the Duke and Duchess of Argyll; thus aunts and an uncle were constantly sharing the simple pleasures of the little family circle.

The singularly plain little bedroom near to the Nursery in the Palace is that which Princess Victoria occupied during all her happy childhood, and it was here that she was awakened to meet the Archbishop and Minister who brought her the news that her great inheritance had come upon her. The death of the Duke of York had already cleared the way to the throne, and as the years went 1>y and the Duke of Clarence had no more children, it was seen that the little girl who played at Kensington must, if she lived, be Queen of England. When George IV. died, when she was eleven years old, her prospects were assured, and since that time she had been prepared for her future position. William IV.’s short reign of only seven years seated her on the throne when she had just passed her eighteenth year. The account of her being awakened in the early morning by messengers bearing a message of such tremendous import, her hasty rising, and stepping through into the Long Gallery with her hair falling over her shoulders, and only a shawl thrown around her, is well known to everyone.

The room in which her first Council took place is below the Cube Room. No wonder that Queen Victoria had always a tender memory of Kensington Palace.

Her favourite daughter, Princess Beatrice of Battenberg, occupies a suite of rooms at the Palace, besides Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll ; and there are several other occupantswidows, retired army men, and those who have some claim on the private generosity of the Crown-who live here in sets of apartments, in the same way as others live at Hampton Court.

The somewhat untidy forcing-beds which now stand in the immediate proximity to the Palace, and which supply the royal parks, are shortly to be cleared away-a decided improvement.

Queen Victoria’s connection with Kensington did not cease at her accession. At Prince Albert’s suggestion a great Exhibition was held in 1851, and the huge palace of glass and iron, which was to house it, sprang up in the Gardens at the spot where the Albert Memorial now stands. Foreigners from all parts of the world visited the Exhibition, and the buildings were crowded. Very different was that crowd from that which had promenaded in the Gardens in the reigns of the Georges. Women wore coalscuttle bonnets and threecornered shawls, with the points hanging down in the centre of their backs, and crinolines that gave them the appearance of inverted tops. Their beauty must have been very potent to shine through such a disguise ! The profits of the Exhibition amounted to X150,000, which was invested in land in South Kensington. The Crystal Palace exactly suited the taste of the age, and when it had fulfilled the function for which it was primarily intended, the difficulty was to know what to do with it ; it was not possible to leave it in the Gardens, so it was finally transported to Sydenham, where it still annually delights thousands.

The Albert Memorial took twenty years to complete, and cost more than X130,000. The four groups representing the continents of the world are fine both in execution and idea, also the bas-reliefs, in which every figure depicts some real person, and the smaller groups of Commerce, Manufactures, Agriculture, and Engineering. As much, unfortunately, cannot be said for the tawdry statue in its canopy.

It has been necessary to linger long over the Gardens and the Palace, but we must now turn northward up Church Street to complete our perambulation of the district. In Church Street is the Carmelite Church, designed by Pugin, and though very simple in style, not pleasing. It was built in 1865. The organ is an especially fine one, and the singing is famous. There is a relic of St. Simon Stock beneath the altar, which is very highly prized. The monastery extends along the side of Duke’s Lane at the back of the church. It is rather an ornamental building, with stone pinnacles and carved stonework over the doorway. It opens upon the corner where Duke’s Lane meets Pitt Street, and close by stood Bullingham House, where Sir Isaac Newton lived. It has now disappeared, and red-brick mansions have risen upon the site.

Mr. Loftie, writing in 1888, says: “When we enter the garden from Pitt Street we see there are two distinct houses. One of them to the north appears slightly the older of the two, and has an eastward wing, slightly projecting from which a passage opened on Church Street. The adjoining, or southern, house has greater architectural pretensions, and within is of more solid construction. Both have been much pulled about and altered at various times, and are now thrown together by passages through the walls. A chamber is traditionally pointed out as that in which Sir Isaac Newton died.”

Sir Isaac at the time he came to Kensington was at the height of his fame and reputation, and held the office of Master at the Mint, after having been previously Deputy-Master. He had come to London from Cambridge, and settled in Leicester Square (see The Strand, same series), but finding his health suffer in consequence of the dirt and smoke, he moved “out of London” to Kensington. He remained here two years consecutively, and returned shortly before his death.

He may have been attracted to Kensington by its vicinity to the Palace. Queen Caroline, even as Princess of Wales, had always shown an inclination for the society of learned men, and in particular had showed favour to Sir Isaac. His portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller hangs in one of the state apartments at the Palace.

Bullingham House was probably called after John Bullingham, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, who died at Kensington in 1598. Later, Bullingham House was known at one time as Orbell’s buildings, for Stephen Pitt, after whom the street is named, had married the daughter of Orbell. The house was subsequently used as a boarding-school.

On the eastern side of Church Street are the barracks and one or two large houses. In Maitland House lived James Mill, author of the ” History of India,” and father of the better known J. S. Mill. There is a tablet to his memory on one of the pillars in the church. York House was, as has been said, the home of Princess Sophia, who died here in 1848. This house is now to be demolished.

Church Street sweeps to the west a little further on, and at the corner stands a Roman Catholic orphanage, where fifty or sixty girls are provided for. There is a chapel within the walls, and night-schools are held, which are attended by children from outside. The continuation of the road northward, which becomes Brunswick Gardens, was made in 1877, and as the old vicarage stood right in the way it had to be pulled down. Bowack says that the vicarage was °c valued yearly in the Queen’s [QueenAnne’s] Book at .L18 18s. 4d., but is supposed to be worth near L400 per annum.” In Vicarage Gate northward is a small church (St. Paul’s) served by the clergy of St. Mary Abbots. The origin of the name Mall in this part of Kensington is not definitely ascertained. It of course refers to the game so popular in the reign of the Stuarts, and there may have been a ground here, but there is no reference to it in contemporary records. In the Mall there is New Jerusalem Church, with an imposing portico. It was formerly a Baptist Church, and was bought by the Swedenborgians in 1872. A bright red-brick church of the Unitarians is a little further on. Behind the Mall is Kensington Palace Gardens-really a slice of the Gardens-a wide road with immense houses, correctly designated mansions, standing back in their own grounds. This road is only open to ordinary traffic on sufferance, and is liable to be closed at any time.

The part of Kensington lying to the west of Church Street and extending to Notting Hill Gate was that formerly known as the Gravel Pits, and considered particularly healthy on account of its dry soil and bracing air. Bowack says that here there are ” several handsome new-built houses, and of late years has been discovered a chaly beate spring.” Swift had lodgings at the Gravel Pits between 1712 and 1713, and Anne Pitt, sister of Lord Chatham, one of the bright bevy of Queen Caroline’s maids of honour, is reported to have died at her house at the Gravel Pits in 1780.