Turn off Kensington High Street by Boots the Chemist. On the left you see a coffee shop, a corporate headquarters, some tall anonymous buildings and in the distance a hotel. On the right is a pair of 1890s mansion blocks with fascinating towers at the corner, both called Iverna Court. Wright’s Lane curves round to meet Cheniston Gardens and togther they join Marloes Road, which goes all the way down to Cromwell Road. On both sides of Wright’s Lane the south front of Kensington High Street is a twentieth century or late nineteenth century creation. The older buildings are gone now. But there was a different kind of view not all that long ago,less than a hundred and fifty years ago and well within the reach of photography. You can still see that other place today.
Take a look down a narrow street with high unwelcoming walls on either side, first to the south where Jobmaster Mr D Ridge hires Victorias, Landaus and Broughams.
Linger there at the bottom of the quiet road, far from the high street. There are no tall buildings. Although the city has expanded around the walled gardens this street still looks like a backwater.
You can vaguely make out a couple deep in conversation walkling towards the camera on the side of the road with a pavement. There are street lamps but the road still looks like a country lane. On the right is a house in a secluded garden behind the wall.
Here’s another gentleman, and a lady carrying a fur muff (the day looks cold). Beyond them a figure, wrapped up in a cloak, a young woman I think, and some other indistinct figures. Then there is the dark house and the garden with bare trees. Here is the entrance.
The walls look old with many stains and there is some irregular brick work.
In this picture the entrance is open and entry seems to be permitted. Photographers can go inside and walk into the garden.
The house is old, built in the 1690s for his own occupation by Francis Barry. Wright’s Lane was then just a footpath leading to Earl’s Court. On some maps it is called Barrow’s Walk. The house’s grounds were larger, including a fishpond. Several eminent persons lived there, including the Duchess of Monmouth, but it was not until the Curzon family acquired it that was called Scarsdale House after the peerage granted to Nathaniel Curzon.
Two centuries later, despite extensive building work it still has a forbidding look.
In another season the house still looks worn but less gloomy.
At the time of the picture it was back in the hands of another Curzon, Edward Cecil. It had spent nearly a century as a school of one sort or another. In the early 1800s a Mr Winnock owned it, and his wife ran a boarding school for girls there, a typical use for large houses at that time. Kensington had many of those small enclaves of genteel learning.
In those days the country south of the High Street was full of gardens and lanes. Scarsdale House was on the edge of the urbanised area as you can see from Starling’s map of 1822. Houses had been built in front of it on the High Street.
The house could look welcoming.
Isn’t that woman gesturing for you to enter?
It was the same Curzon who brought in a pair of alabaster chimney pieces with allegories of Peace and War. W J Loftie calls them interesting. The Survey of London describes them as “in the grotesque style”.
They survived the house and now in a house near Cardiff.
The tranquil isolation of the house ended with the arrival of the railway and Kensington High Street Station which was just beyond the east wall of the property. Mr Curzon died in 1885 so by the time most of these picture were taken the house was probably unoccupied as the land around it was used for other purposes. This may be why the house looks so bleak in the photographs.
Perhaps it would be better to remember it in views like this one:
Scarsdale House was sold in 1893 to its neighbour Pontings, which had started in the houses behind the house in 1873. The house was absorbed into the store but dictated the susequent shape of the building – “narrow frontage and great depth” according to Brian Curle, a predecessor of mine. Whatever remained of the old house was obliterated by re-building and nothing of it remained by 1907. The new proprieters told stories about a haunted room, and a murder, so perhaps the Gothic atmosphere isn’t entirely my imagination.
All but one of the photographs were by the H and R Stiles company (featured in this post, with more to come soon). The sepia photograph of the garden was by Augustus Rischgitz. The first watercolour (about 1815) is by H. Oakes Jones, based on an unfinished sketch by John Claude Nattes. The final two colour pictures are by Miss Elizabeth Gladstone and were made in 1892 and 1888.
This drawing is by Herbert Railton and has taken my fancy.
We may see more of his work in posts to come.
I was sorry to hear today of the death aged 100 of Nesta Macdonald, ballet expert, photographer, local historian and user of Chelsea Library for many years. My condolences to her family and friends.
I covered one aspect of her interests in this post.