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THE KING OF THE ZULUS STAYED HERE

Once an isolated village separated from the city, London's Kensington is full of surprises

I have lived in Kensington for almost twenty-five years, yet hardly knew its fine history until I walked, with eyes wide open, along the route that I will describe below.

Melbury Road: Tower House: gargoyle

Melbury Road: Tower House: gargoyle

Roque’s map drawn in the early 1740s shows that Kensington was then a small village separated by open country (Hyde Park and the grounds of Kensington Palace from the western edge of London (marked by the present Park Lane). It lay on The Great West Road, a turnpike road leading from the city to Brentford and further west (e.g. Bath and Bristol). Kensington was separated from the next settlement, Hammersmith, by agricultural land with very few buildings.

The name ‘Kensington’ appeared in the Domesday Book as ‘Chenisitum’, which is based on the name of a person who held a manor in Huith (Somerset) during the reign of Edward the Confessor (ruled 1042-1066). During the 17th century, large houses such as Kensington Palace and the now demolished Campden and Holland Houses were established in Kensington and needed people to service and protect them. This and the fact that it was on the busy Great West Road must have influenced the growth and importance of the village. Being close to the ‘Great Wen’ as William Cobbett (1763-1835), a great advocate of the countryside, rudely described London, yet separated from it (as was also Hampstead), Kensington attracted people, including many artists, to live there, especially in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. During the 18th century, reaching Kensington from London, only four miles from the city’s Temple Bar, was not without danger as highwaymen operated in Hyde Park.

Mosaic by Fox schoolkids Church Str Kensington

Mosaic by Fox schoolkids Church Str Kensington

This exploration begins (close to Notting Hill Gate Tube station) at the northern end of Church Street, which in the 1740s led from the Kensington Gravel Pits (now, Notting Hill Gate) that lined the northern edge of Bayswater to the centre of Kensington Village. Today, the road follows the same course as it did in the 18th century. Close to the Post Office and the Old Swan Pub (apparently, Christopher Wren and King William III drunk in one of its earlier reincarnations), there is an alleyway decorated with tiling designed by pupils of the nearby Fox Primary School.

Clementi lived here Kensington Church Str

Clementi lived here Kensington Church Str

Churchill Arms Kensington Church Str

Churchill Arms Kensington Church Str

Just south of some of the numerous antique dealers’ shops that line Church Street, there is an 18th century house where the Italian-born composer Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) lived for many years. Nearby, is the colourfully adorned Churchill Arms pub, which was established in the mid-18th century. It offers Thai food. A tree on the corner of Church Street and Berkeley Gardens is labelled with a plaque stating that it came from Kensington in Maryland (USA) in 1952.

Berkely Gardens

Berkely Gardens

A large brick-built block of flats on Sheffield Terrace is named Campden House. This and Campden House Close, which leads off Hornton Street, are reminders that they were built on the extensive grounds of the former Campden House, which was built about 1612 (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp49-57#h3-0004). An illustration published by The Reverend Lyson in 1795 shows that this was a fine building rivalling places such as Hatfield House. Sadly, it was demolished in about 1900.

Campden House Close

Campden House Close

Sibelius in Gloucester Walk Kensington

Sibelius in Gloucester Walk Kensington

Corner Hornton Str and Holland Str

Corner Hornton Str and Holland Str

Charles Stanford lived here Holland Str

Charles Stanford lived here Holland Str

Corner Hornton and Holland Streets

Corner Hornton and Holland Streets

Just before Hornton Street reaches the Town Hall and Library, it meets Holland Street. A small building on the corner was once the home of the composer Charles Stanford (1852-1924) between 1894 and 1916. Its drain pipe is embellished with two small bas-reliefs of animals. I wonder whether he ever bumped into the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), who lived close by in Gloucester Walk during 1909. Opposite Stanford’s house, stands number 54 Hornton Street, which used to be number 43. The ‘43’ remains on the building, but has been struck out with a line.

Drayson Mews

Drayson Mews

Elephant and Castle Holland Street

Elephant and Castle Holland Street

Gordon Place

Gordon Place

Holland Street is full of treats. Number 37 was home to the lesbian novelist Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) between 1924 and 1929. It is worth wandering along the picturesque cobbled Drayson Mews before returning to Holland Street. The popular Victorian Elephant and Castle pub is opposite a delightful cul-de-sac Gordon Place, which is overhung with vegetation growing in the gardens lining it. The pub bears a large picture of an elephant with a castle on its back. This closely resembles part of the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers (see: http://www.cutlerslondon.co.uk/company/history/#coat-of-arms).

Old houses, number 12 Holland Street

Old houses, number 12 Holland Street

The artist Walter Crane (1845-1915), who collaborated with William Morris, lived in number 13 Holland Street from 1892 onwards. This house is opposite number 12, the street’s oldest surviving building, which was built about 1730. It was built on the site of a ‘dissenting house’ built in 1725 (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp25-41).

Carmel Court

Carmel Court

Carmelite Monastery

Carmelite Monastery

Carmelite Church Kensington Church Street

Carmelite Church Kensington Church Street

Carmelite Church Kensington Church Street

Carmelite Church Kensington Church Street

The narrow partly covered Carmel Court next to number 12 leads to the south side Catholic Carmelite monastery (Victorian) and its newer Church (built between 1954 to 1959, and designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott [1880-1960]). The name of its neighbour on Church Street, Newton Court, recalls that in 1725 the scientist Isaac Newton (1643-1727) lived somewhere close-by (see: http://www.isaacnewton.org.uk/london/Kensington). Returning via Church Street to Holland Street, there is a Lebanese restaurant on the corner. This is housed in what was the Catherine Wheel pub until 2003.

The former Catherine Wheel pub on Kensington Church Street

The former Catherine Wheel pub on Kensington Church Street

St Mary Abbots

St Mary Abbots

St Mary Abbots Kensington

St Mary Abbots Kensington

St Mary Abbots Kensington

St Mary Abbots Kensington

St Mary Abbots Kensington

St Mary Abbots Kensington

The lower end of Church Street is dominated by the tall spire of St Mary Abbots Church. The present building, a Victorian gothic structure, was built in the early 1870s to the designs of Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878; grandfather of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott), who died in Kensington. A sort of cloister leads from the war memorial and flower stall at the corner of Church Street to the church’s western entrance. The church’s interior is grand but not exceptional.

St Mary Abbots School Kensington

St Mary Abbots School Kensington

St Mary Abbots School Kensington

St Mary Abbots School Kensington

St Mary Abbots Gardens

St Mary Abbots Gardens

To the South of the path leading to the church, there is a Victorian gothic school building, part of St Mary Abbotts Primary School. This school was founded nearby in 1645 (see: http://www.sma.rbkc.sch.uk/history-of-the-school.html). In about 1709, it was housed in two buildings on the High Street, where later the old Kensington Town Hall was built (it was demolished in 1982, and replaced by a non-descript newer version on Hornton Street). High on the wall of the Victorian school building, there are two sculptured figures wearing blue clothing, a boy and a girl. These used to face the High Street on the 18th century building. The boy holds a scroll with the words: “I was naked and ye clothed me” (from Matthew in the New Testament). The school continues to thrive today.

Former public library Ken High Str

Former public library Ken High Str

Walk through the peaceful St Mary Abbots Gardens – once a burial ground (and in the 1930s, also the site of a coroner’s court), and you will soon reach a wonderful Victorian gothic/Tudor building on the busy High Street. Faced with red bricks and white stonework, this was built as the local ‘Vestry Hall’ in 1852. It was designed by James Broadbridge. From 1889 to 1960, it housed Kensington Central Library, which is now located in a newer, less decorous, building in Hornton Street. The former Vestry Hall is now home to an Iranian bank. Incidentally, there are many Iranians living in Kensington.

Barkers High Str Kensington

Barkers High Str Kensington

Derry and Toms building High Str Kensington

Derry and Toms building High Str Kensington

Lovers of art-deco architecture need only turn their backs on the old Vestry Hall to behold two perfect examples of that style. They used to house two department stores: Derry and Toms built in 1933; and Barker’s (built in the 1930s). Barker’s took over its rival Derry and Tom’s in 1920. Both replaced older buildings, were designed by Bernard George (1894-1964), and are covered with a great variety of art-deco ornamentations. The Derry and Toms building has a wonderful roof garden,

Barkers High Str Kensington

Barkers High Str Kensington

Barkers High Str Kensington

Barkers High Str Kensington

Barkers High Str Kensington

Barkers High Str Kensington

Derry and Toms building High Str Kensington

Derry and Toms building High Str Kensington

The Kensington Roof Gardens (opened 1938) has a restaurant open to the public. In the early 1970s, the Derry and Toms building briefly housed the then extremely trendy Biba store, the inspiration of Polish-born Barbara Hulanicki. Now, there are various retail stores using the ground floors of these two buildings. The upper floors of Barker’s contain the offices of two newspapers: The Evening Standard, and The Daily Mail. A short street, Derry Street, running between these two buildings leads into Kensington Square.

Kensington Square Gardens

Kensington Square Gardens

With a private garden in its centre, Kensington Square is surrounded by fascinating old buildings (for a history and guide, see: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/atoms/files/Kensington%20Square%20CAPS.pdf). The setting-out and development of the square began in 1685, when it was named ‘Kings Square’ in honour of the ill-fated James II, who had been crowned that year. In those early days, this urban square was surrounded by countryside – gardens and fields (see: “London” by N Pevsner, publ. 1952). With the arrival of the Royal Court at Kensington Palace in the 17th century (King William III, who ruled from 1689 to 1702, suffered from asthma, and needed somewhere where the air did not aggravate his condition – see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol42/pp1-4), the square became one of the most fashionable places to live in England, but this changed when George III (ruled 1760-1820) moved the Court away from Kensington. After 1760, the square was mostly abandoned, and remained unoccupied until the beginning of the 19th century. Nowadays, its desirability as a living place for the well-off has been firmly restored.

Edward Burne Jones lived in Kensington Sq

Edward Burne Jones lived in Kensington Sq

The attractive garden in its centre is adorned with small neo-classical gazebo. The houses surrounding the garden have housed many famous people. Number 40 has a 19th century façade, which conceals an earlier one. It was the home of the pathologist Sir John Simon (1816-1904), a pioneer of public health. Between 1864 and 1867, the painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) lived at number 41, which has Regency features as well as newer upper floors.

11 and 12 Kensington Square

11 and 12 Kensington Square

11 Kensington Sq Mazarin Herring and Talleyrand might have lived here

11 Kensington Sq Mazarin Herring and Talleyrand might have lived here

At the south-east corner of the square, the semi-detached numbers 11 and 12 were built between 1693 and 1702. The attractive shell-shape above the front door of number 11 bears the words: “Duchess of Mazarin 1692-8, Archbishop Herring 1737, Talleyrand 1792-4”. Although it is tempting to believe that these celebrated people lived here, this was probably not the case. The Duchess, a mistress of Charles II, is not thought to have ever lived in the square. Talleyrand (1754-1838) did stay in the square, maybe or maybe not in this house, which was then occupied by a Frenchman, Monsieur Defoeu. As for Herring (1693-1757), he did live in the square but not at number 11. So, whoever put up the wording had a sense of history, but was lacking in accuracy.

Kensington Court Mews

Kensington Court Mews

TS Eliot lived here

TS Eliot lived here

Joan Sims lived here on Thackeray Street

Joan Sims lived here on Thackeray Street

Thackeray Street leads to Kensington Court, where a picturesque courtyard, named Kensington Court Mews, is surrounded by former stables. South of this, its neighbour, a 19th century brick apartment block, Kensington Court Gardens, was the home and place of death of the poet TS Eliot (1888-1965). Returning to the square via Thackeray Street, we pass Esmond Court (named after one of Thackeray’s novels), where the actress, best-known for her roles in the “Carry-On” films, Joan Sims (1930-2001) lived.

John Stuart Mills 18 Kensington Sq

John Stuart Mills 18 Kensington Sq

Maria Assumpta Church Kensington Sq

Maria Assumpta Church Kensington Sq

Maria Assumpta Church Kensington Sq

Maria Assumpta Church Kensington Sq

Heythrop College Kensington Sq

Heythrop College Kensington Sq

The philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) wrote important books on logic and Political Economy while living in number 18 Kensington Square (built in the 1680s) between 1837 and 1851. Close by, the row of old buildings interrupted by a newer building, the Victorian gothic Roman Catholic Maria Assumpta Church, which was built in 1875 to the designs of George Goldie (1828-1887), TG Jackson (1835-1924) and Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912). George Goldie also designed the church’s neighbouring convent buildings, which are now adorned by a ground floor gallery consisting of six large windows and the main entrance door, which was added in the 1920s. The former convent is now the home of the University of London’s Heythrop College. Specialising in the study of philosophy and religion, the college was incorporated into the university in 1971. However, amongst all the university’s constituent colleges, Heythrop goes back the furthest, having been founded by the Jesuits in 1614. Founded in Belgium, it moved to England during the French Revolutionary Wars at the end of the 18th century.

Kensington Sq West side

Kensington Sq West side

30 Kensington Sq Hoare's House

30 Kensington Sq Hoare's House

Hoare's arms on 30 Kensington Square

Hoare's arms on 30 Kensington Square

The west side of the square presents a fine set of facades dating back to when the square was first established. Each of the buildings is of great interest, but the one which caught my attention is number 30, which is adorned with double-headed eagles, a symbol used by, to mention but a few: the Hittites, the Seljuk Turks, the Holy Roman Empire, Mysore State, the Russians, the Serbians, and the Albanians. The bicephalic birds on number 30 relate to none of these, but, instead, to the Land Tax Commissioner Charles Augustus Hoare (see: “A Collection of the Public General Statutes passed in the Sixth and Seventh Year of the Reign … of King William the Fourth 1836”) of the Hoare family of bankers. He bought the house in about 1820, and died in 1862 (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol17/pt1/pp72-76).

33 Kensington Sq Mrs Patrick Campbell lived here

33 Kensington Sq Mrs Patrick Campbell lived here

Number 33 was built in the early 1730s. Between 1900 and 1918, the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell (1865-1940), who was born in Kensington, lived there. She is said to have inspired some of the plays written by George Bernard Shaw. From Kensington Square, it is a short walk to High Street Kensington Station, which is entered via a shopping arcade that leads to a covered octagonal entrance area decorated with floral bas-reliefs, suggestive of the era of art-nouveau.

High Street Ken Station

High Street Ken Station

Cafe Nero Wrights Lane

Cafe Nero Wrights Lane

At the corner of Wrights Lane, there is a branch of the Caffe Nero chain, which is housed in a modern, glass-clad narrow wedge-shaped building. Further down Wrights Lane, there is a charming old-fashioned tea shop, The Muffin Man, which serves excellent reasonably priced snacks and light meals. Before reaching this eatery, take a detour to visit Iverna Gardens.

St Sarkis Iverna Gdns

St Sarkis Iverna Gdns

At the southern end of the small square, there is the Armenian Church of St Sarkis, which was built in 1922-23 with money supplied by the Gulbenkian family. Built to resemble typical traditional churches in Armenia, it was designed by Arthur Davis (1878-1951), who was born in, and died in Kensington.

Our Lady of Victories

Our Lady of Victories

Our Lady of Victories

Our Lady of Victories

Mosaics outside  Our Lady of Victories

Mosaics outside Our Lady of Victories

Much of the High Street is occupied by shops housed in unexceptional buildings. To the west of most of these, stands the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Victories. Its entrance screen on the High Street was designed by Joseph Goldie (1882–1953). It served as the entrance to a church that was destroyed by bombing in WW2. The present church was built in 1957, designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882-1963), brother of Sir Giles (see above).

Old Odeon cinema High Str Ken

Old Odeon cinema High Str Ken

Beyond the north end of Earls Court Road, two buildings are currently behind builders’ hoardings. One, the old post-office, will probably be demolished, but the other, an Odeon cinema, is to have its impressive neo-classical art-deco façade preserved, but its interior will be re-built. Originally named the ‘Kensington Kinema’, it was opened in 1926. It was closed in 2015 (see: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/13801).

Edwardes Square east side

Edwardes Square east side

Scarsdale Tavern Edwardes Sq

Scarsdale Tavern Edwardes Sq

Edwardes Sq Sir William Rothenstein lived here

Edwardes Sq Sir William Rothenstein lived here

Further west, a narrow road leads from the High Street into Edwardes Square. This Georgian square was laid out by a Frenchman, the architect Louis Léon Changeur, between 1811 and 1820, and named after William Edwardes (1777-1852), the 2nd Lord Kensington, who owned the land which it occupies (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol42/pp249-263). At the south-east corner of the square, there is an almost-hidden pub, the Scarsdale Tavern, which was established in 1867. Opposite it, is the two-storey house where the painter and writer Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) lived between 1899 and 1902. Like so many other London Squares, this one has a centrally located private garden. At its southern edge, there is a neo-classical pavilion, now called ‘The Grecian Temple’, and still used by the head gardener. The garden’s paths were laid out by an Italian artist Agostino Aglio (1777-1857), who, having arrived in the UK in 1803 to assist the architect William Wilkins, lived in the square between 1814 and 1820.

The Grecian Temple Edwardes Sq

The Grecian Temple Edwardes Sq

Edwardes Square Studios

Edwardes Square Studios

Edwardes Sq West side

Edwardes Sq West side

Edwardes Square Studios opposite the Temple was home to artists including Henry Justice Ford and Clifford Bax. Better-known today than these two was the comedian Frankie Howerd (1917-1992), who also lived on the square from 1966 until his death. The north-western corner of the square leads back into the High Street. Immediately west of this, there is a row of three neighbouring Iranian food stores and an Iranian restaurant. The presence of these is symptomatic of the many emigrants from Iran, who have settled in Kensington.

Iranian shops and restaurant Hig Str Ken

Iranian shops and restaurant Hig Str Ken

2 St Mary Abbots Place

2 St Mary Abbots Place

9 St Mary Abbots Place White Eagle Lodge

9 St Mary Abbots Place White Eagle Lodge

Just west of the Iranian establishments, there is a cul-de-sac called St Mary Abbots Place. The façade of number 2 (part of a building called Warwick Close) is adorned with wooden carvings that have an art-nouveau motif. Above an entrance to number 9, there is a bas-relief of an eagle. Until recently, this building housed a branch of ‘The White Eagle Lodge’, a spiritual organisation founded in Britain in 1936 (see: https://www.whiteagle.org/). At the end of the street, there is a large brick building with a neo-Tudor appearance. This was built for the painter Sir William Llewellyn (1858-1941).

St Mary Abbots Place White Eagle Lodge and  Llewellen's brick house

St Mary Abbots Place White Eagle Lodge and Llewellen's brick house

St Mary Abbots Place

St Mary Abbots Place

GK Chesterton lived on Warwick Gardens

GK Chesterton lived on Warwick Gardens

At the northern end of Warwick Gardens, a house (number 11) bears a plaque celebrating that the writer GK Chesterton (1874-1936) lived in it. He was born in Kensington.

Column on Warwick Gdns

Column on Warwick Gdns

Column on Warwick Gdns

Column on Warwick Gdns

Opposite the house on an island around which traffic flows, there is a tall pink stone column, surrounded by palms and surmounted by an urn. It is dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria. Dated 1904, it was designed by HL Florence, who was President of The Architectural association between 1878 and ’79.

47 Addison Road

47 Addison Road

Olympia from Napier Road

Olympia from Napier Road

The continuation of Warwick Gardens north of the High Street is called ‘Addison Gardens’. The west side of this is lined by some 19th century houses with neo-gothic features. Napier Road leads off Addison towards, but does not reach, the Olympia exhibition halls. At the corner where the two roads meet, there is a large house, number 49 Addison Road.

49 Addison Rd

49 Addison Rd

49 Addison Rd.  W14 Crest of Herbert Schmalz

49 Addison Rd. W14 Crest of Herbert Schmalz

Behind it, and easily visible from Napier Road, this house has an extension with a huge ornately framed north-facing window. Above this, there is the date “1894” and a figure holding an artist’s palate overlaid with the intertwined initials “HS”. And below that, a motto reads in German “Strebe vorwaerts” (i.e. strive ahead). This was the studio built for the pre-Raphaelite painter Herbert Gustave Schmalz (1856-1935), who was a friend of the painters William Holman Hunt and Frederic Leighton (see below).

St Barnabas Addison Road

St Barnabas Addison Road

The delicate-looking 19th century gothic church of St Barnabas stands on Addison Road just north of Melbury Road. This was designed by Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871), and built by 1829. Prior to its existence, the only parish church in Kensington was St Mary Abbots. St Barnabas was built to serve people living in the new housing that was rapidly covering the land to the west of the centre of Kensington (see: http://www.stbk.org.uk/about-us/#about). It never had a graveyard because by the 1820s sanitary authorities were discouraging the placing of these so close to the centre of London.

Sir Hamo Thornycroft lived here in Melbury Rd

Sir Hamo Thornycroft lived here in Melbury Rd

Melbury Road is lined with grand houses built between 1860 and 1905, some of them containing large artists’ studios. Many well-known artists, members of the ‘Holland Park Circle’, have lived and worked in this street and Holland Park Road that leads off it. A plaque next to a large north facing studio window on number 2 Melbury Road commemorates that English sculptor Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925) worked here.

8 Melbury Rd

8 Melbury Rd

The large number 9 is in ‘Queen Anne style’, and was built in 1880. Opposite it, number 8, designed by Richard Norman Shaw, with north-facing studios was built for the painter Marcus Stone (1840-1921). In later years, this house, now converted into flats, was from 1951-1971 the home of the film director (who made many films with Emeric Pressburger including “Black Narcissus” and “The Red Shoes”), Michael Powell (1905-1990).

Tower House Melbury Road

Tower House Melbury Road

Tower HouseMelbury Road

Tower HouseMelbury Road

Melbury Road is dominated by a tall circular brick tower topped with a tiled conical roof. This is attached to number 29, the Tower House. It was built between 1875 and ’80 by, and for the use of, the architect William Burges (1827-1881). Architect of Cardiff Castle and Oxford’s Worcester College, he died in Tower House soon after it was built. In the 1960s, this large amazing brick-built mock mediaeval house was abandoned, and damaged by vandals, but it has been restored subsequently. The actor Richard Harris bought it in 1969, and in 1972 it was bought by the Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, who is keen on the works of Burges and of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Stavordale Lodge Melbury Rd

Stavordale Lodge Melbury Rd

31 Melbury Rd. Sir Luke Fildes lived here

31 Melbury Rd. Sir Luke Fildes lived here

Stavordale Lodge, opposite the Tower, is a complete contrast. This gently curved apartment block was built in 1964. It faces the Tower House’s neighbour, number 31 (‘Woodland House’). Designed by Richard Norman Shaw, who was well-acquainted with the art establishment, in about 1875, this large house was home to the painter and illustrator Luke Fildes (1844-1927). The film director Michael Winner (1935-2013) lived here from 1972 to 2013, and now it is the home of the singer Robbie Williams.

18 Melbury Rd. King Cetshwayo and Holman-Hunt lived here

18 Melbury Rd. King Cetshwayo and Holman-Hunt lived here

18 Melbury Rd. King Cetshwayo and Holman-Hunt lived here

18 Melbury Rd. King Cetshwayo and Holman-Hunt lived here

Woodsford Court, number 14, is built on the site of the home of the Scottish painter Colin Hunter (1841-1904), who lived there from 1877 until his death in a house that was bombed in 1940. Number 18, close-by, was the home, studio, and place of death of, of the pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt (1827-1910) from 1903 onwards. Earlier in 1882, this house, built in 1877, hosted a very important guest, King Cetshwayo (Cetshwayo, ka Mpande, c1832-1884), King of the Zulus. After being defeated by the British in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, Cetshwayo was held captive in Cape Town. During his exile, he visited London in 1882:
“On his arrival, 18 Melbury Road … was made more appropriate to his needs and those of his chiefs. The beds, for instance, were reduced to floor level. On waking on 5 August, the ex-king ‘made his way through the various rooms of the house, examining them with curiosity’.
Outside, a huge crowd of people had gathered, eager to see Cetshwayo. The Times described how ‘at times the ex-king would appear for a moment at one of the windows, and he was invariably greeted with cheers’. Cetshwayo himself looked upon the throng ‘as a display of friendly feeling towards him’. By the close of his visit, he had become something of a celebrity.
In an interview given while at Melbury Road, Cetshwayo said that he regarded the war as ‘a calamity’. He had made it clear that the purpose of his visit to England was his restoration to the throne, reasoning that his people wanted him and that there would be another war if he didn’t return. Following a meeting with Gladstone and a visit to Queen Victoria at Osborne House, his reinstatement was agreed.” (see: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/cetshwayo-ka-mpande-king-of-the-zulus-). The British allowed him to return to Zululand in 1883.

47 Melbury Rd

47 Melbury Rd

Robertson Clan crest 47 Melbury Rd

Robertson Clan crest 47 Melbury Rd

Number 47, opposite the King’s lodging, was designed by Robert Dudley Oliver (died 1923, aged 66), a London-based architect, for the painter and playwright Walford Graham Robertson (1866-1948). It contained his studio, which he shared with the Scottish impressionist painter Arthur Melville (1858-1904) from about 1896 until Melville’s death. Above the attractive front door, there is a bas-relief of the coat-of-arms of the Robertson Clan.

South House Holland Park Rd

South House Holland Park Rd

Holland Park Road runs from Melbury Road back to Addison Road. Number 10, South House with annex bearing a prominent Dutch gable, was built in about 1893. It stands on the site of the former farm house of Holland Farm, on whose lands Melbury Road was laid in 1875. The building contained the studio of the Anglo-American portraitist James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923). The studio and its adjoining residence are now used as two separate dwellings.

Leighton House

Leighton House

The house neighbouring Shannon’s, Leighton House, rivals Tower House in its extraordinariness. It was the home and studio of the painter Frederic Leighton (1830-1896). In 1864, he leased the house in Holland Park Road from Lady Holland. With the help of the architect George Aitchison (1825-1910) he modified it, and was able to occupy it in late 1866. Amongst many additions made by Leighton, the most remarkable is the Arab Hall (1877-79). This Moorish hall was built to accommodate Leighton’s considerable collection of tiles that he had acquired during his visits to the east. The hall also contains carved Damascus latticework and other souvenirs from the Middle East. A gentle fountain adorns the floor of the hall, and adds to its exotic atmosphere. The exterior brickwork of the hall and its tiled dome surmounted by the crescent of Islam reflect the hall’s oriental interior.

Leighton House

Leighton House

The Arab Hall is reason enough to visit Leighton House, but there is more to see. Visitors can wander around some of its rooms, climb up the tile-lined staircase, view the north-facing studio, and enjoy the occasional special exhibition held regularly in the house and the attached Perrin Gallery (designed by Halsey Ricardo [1854-1928], and completed 1929).

Leighton House

Leighton House

Leighton House

Leighton House

Leighton House has a lovely large garden, which is occasionally open to the public. From it, you can get a good view of Leighton’s studio windows framed in Victorian cast-iron. It also contains a long path covered by a leafy trellis and a large sculpture of a ‘tribesman’ fighting a large serpent. Called “A Moment of Peril”, it was sculpted by Leighton’s friend Thomas Brock (1847-1922), who, also, created Imperial Memorial to Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace, and the statue of Queen Victoria that stands at the edge of Cubbon Park in Bangalore (India). During summer, coffee is available for visitors.

14 Holland Park Rd

14 Holland Park Rd

Leighton’s neighbour to the west was the artist Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904), who was born in Calcutta (India) of British parents. His house, number 14, was designed by Philip Webb (1831-1915) and built in the mid-1860s. A ‘father’ of arts-and-crafts architecture, Webb did not give the exterior of this house many of its characteristics, apart from, as a neighbour pointed out to me, its amazing variety of differently shaped windows.

Phil May lived at 20 Holland Park Road

Phil May lived at 20 Holland Park Road

Court House Holland Park Road

Court House Holland Park Road

Holland Park Road west of number 30

Holland Park Road west of number 30

Number 20 Holland Park Road (built late 1870s), where the caricaturist Phil May (1864-1903) lived and worked, is joined to its western neighbours by an arch. A roadway passes under the arch to the entrance of Court House, a relatively modern home (built 1929; architect: AM Cawthorne) without any special architectural merit. It stands on ground, which was occupied by fields and gardens, which in the 1860s neighboured the grounds of Little Holland House (demolished 1875 in order to lay out Melbury Road), where the sculptor and painter GF Watts (1817-1904) had once lived. An archway by the west side of number 30 is adorned with a circular bas-relief of the head of a man wearing a laurel wreath.

Returning to High Street Kensington, we find at the eastern end of the Melbury Court block of flats a plaque commemorating the cartoonist Anthony Low (1891-1963), who lived in flat number 33.

Design Museum

Design Museum

Set back from the main road, and partly hidden by two hideous cuboid buildings, stands an unusual glass-clad building with an amazing distorted tent-shaped roof (made of copper). This used to be the Commonwealth Institute. Built in 1962 (architects: Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall & Partners), I remember, as a schoolboy, visiting the rather gloomy collection of exhibits that it contained shortly after it opened.

Design Museum

Design Museum

Design Museum

Design Museum

Design Museum

Design Museum

Paolozzi at Design Museum

Paolozzi at Design Museum

The Institute closed in late 2002, and the fascinating building stood empty until 2012, when it was restored and re-modelled internally. In 2016, the building became the home of the Design Museum. Like the architecturally spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, the building competes with the exhibits that it contains, and then wins over them hands down. The displays in the Design Museum are a poor advert for the skills of British designers, whereas the building’s restored interior is a triumph. This is a place to enjoy the building rather than the exhibits. One notable exception to this comment is the sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), which stands in front of the museum.

Holland Park gates Ken High Str

Holland Park gates Ken High Str

Trafalgar Way notice Ken High Str

Trafalgar Way notice Ken High Str

The museum borders Holland Park, which is well-worth exploring. By the park’s High Street entrance, there is a plaque giving the history of the ‘Trafalgar Way’. This was the route taken between Falmouth and London by Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotière (1770-1834), when he carried news of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805. It is at this point that I will let you rest on a bench in the park, or to enjoy its lovely Kyoto Japanese Garden.

Kensington, a village beyond London’s 18th century limits, assumed importance when the Royal Court moved to Kensington Palace. Since then, it has become incorporated gradually into the city without losing much of its earlier charm. Not far from the Royal Academy, many artists have lived in the area. Today, it is one of the more prosperous parts of London, favoured by increasing numbers of wealthier foreigners as a desirable place to reside. Visit the area, and you will see why.

Leighton House

Leighton House

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 04:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london studios kensington kensington_palace artists royalty holland_park cetshwayo philosophers paolozzi

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Comments

Well done Adam, a very observant photographic eye for the interesting subjects, not ignoring the deep research called for to keep us mere mortals enlightened,
It's history, but , have to lament again, at the demise of Virtual Tourist. joyfully, you have kept the Spirit of VT alive ~ Thank You ~ Meegwetch !

by kenhuocj

Adam, another great account. You certainly have an eye for the detail. I assume St Mary Abbots School was a Bluecoat School?

by Wabat

That pub is certainly the most colourful I have ever seen. Great blog. You must have a lot of patience to write such long entries. I'm finding these take ages. All the best, Irene

by irenevt

Thanks for the detailed tour of Kensington.

by Nemorino

I have never been inside Leighton House but really must do so! And I enjoyed the story of King Cetshwayo which was all new to me.

Maybe part of this area could be good for next year's Treasure Hunt, as long as not too many people commit your blog to memory ;)

by ToonSarah

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