Tag Archives: Aubrey House

Louisa’s album, and other memories of an ancient house

Louisa Boscowen Goldsmid’s album is a threadbare scrapbook with a stained fabric cover. Inside it are a set of watercolours.


Mrs Goldsmid was clearly an amateur but like other amateur artists featured on the blog what she lacked in technique she made up with a kind of quirky charm, and a sense of atmosphere. Louisa lived for a short time at Aubrey House.

South front of Notting Hill House - Goldsmid - colour

This is the house in 1893. Some young members of the Alexander family pose listlessly on the rear lawn. Louisa  was still alive by then but she belongs to an earlier period of the house’s history.

Aubrey House Campden Hill c1893 P1194

Aubrey House was built in 1698 by a group of doctors and apothecaries as a spa. There was a well nearby among the Kensington gravel pits (a more picturesque spot than the name implies) which provided mineral water, a fashionable drink at the time (“a famous Chakybial Spring ” according to John Bowack’s Antiquities of Middlesex). The spa house became a private residence under the name Notting Hill House. It was the home of the eccentric albino Lady Mary Coke who did a great deal of work on the extensive gardens. She departed in 1788 after which a series of tenants lived there

In the 1790s the  house became a school for young ladies. From about 1808 Philip de Visme occupied it moving from  a house in Putney Heath considered to be too lonely and unsafe for younger members of his family

Louisa Goldsmid was one of his grandchildren. She had  married  Mr Goldsmid in 1809 aged 28 but spent time at Notting Hill House with her three children in 1817 and 1818. She painted a number of exteriors and interiors. This was the White Room:

Goldsmid Album 0009 the White Room 1817

Mrs Goldsmid’s pictures are noteworthy in our collection because they depict the interior of the house as fully furnished and inhabited (which doesn’t always happen in pictures of late 18th/ early 19th century interiors).

Here in the pink room Jane de Visme poses with her harp.

Goldsmid album pink room 165

Nothing on the table as yet in the dining room but a couple of the younger residents wait hopefully:
Goldsmid album 166a dining room

It must be admitted that things look a bit dull in the nursery.

Goldsmid album 167 nursery

But the children seem to have found  better amusements in the gallery.

Goldsmid album  00 The Gallery 1817


The children are lounging around at the top of the house, away from parental interference.

Goldsmid album 00012 The Gallery 1817


With a parrot on the lookout. Downstairs, the ladies engaged in more elegant pursuits.


Goldsmid album 166b drawing room

The picture itself is quite elegant with the ceiling design reflected in the tall mirror, and a pair of open doors showing the rooms beyond.

The de Vismes had left by 1819. Other tenants and owners followed. From 1830 to 1854 the Misses Emma and Caroline Shepheard ran another school for young ladies at the house. Miss Euphemia Johnston (one of the pupils) sketched them “in mysterious conference” in 1853.

Miss Shepeard and Miss Caroline in mysterious conference Oct 23rd 1853

Florence Gladstone who wrote a history of Aubrey House reports that the picture “bears little resemblance” to the “very attractive”sisters.

This picture, also by “Effie”, shows the students hard at work.

The working days Notting Hill June 1854 by E Johnson MS5053 197b

Heads are bowed, work baskets are open, and possibly a couple of laptops on the right.

After the sisters the property was sold and the grounds “somewhat truncated” according to the Survey of London (who were refused access to the property during the preparation of their volume on Northern Kensington). This was the period when the name Aubrey House was adopted. In 1873 the house was bought by William Cleverley Alexander. The house remained associated with his family for nearly a hundred years.

Aubrey House by William Cleverley Alexander 1914 showing tower MS5053 162

Mr Alexander was also an artist. This view of the house includes the famous structure known as Tower Cressey , visible on the right (covered here). Other members of the family were also amateur artists. One of them has been featured  on the blog before (see the post here). Another member of the family painted this  view of the more crowded Victorian interior:

Aubrey House 1890 photocopy of paintings by the Misses Alexander 01 detail

Maybe even this one, Jean Alexander, photographed in 1906.

Aubrey House south front June 1906 Jean Alexander MS5051 161 - Copy

Or one of these two ladies walking in the garden.

Aubrey House Two women in the garden MS5047 160 - Copy

But perhaps the last word should go to Louisa Goldsmid with one more view of the house and the garden  in 1817

Goldsmid album Notting Hill House garden side 1817 169


I first had a good look at the Goldsmid album while some researchers were looking at the history of Aubrey House for a forthcoming book, which I await with interest. In the meantime I thought the time was right for a look at Louisa’s pictures, although as it turned out, that was just a jumping off point. We will return to the further contents of the album at some point in the future.


Florence Gladstone’s book about Aubrey House is a bit of a confusing read so I hope the facts and quotes I’ve extracted from it are accurate.She also wrote the first history of North Kensington, Notting Hill in Bygone Times in 1926.

Posts about two of my other favourite watercolourists , Marianne Rush and someone we only know as the Artist of the Red Portfolio might also be of interest.

The computer that was giving us grief has now been restored to a semblance of its former self so we can scan again. Thanks to K. I’ve still got drafts of a couple of odd posts which I may still use.

Christmas Days: in another Kensington garden

Today’s post is the last of my Christmas mini-posts and this one has nothing to do with the time of year. Consider it the equivalent of one of those nostalgic TV costume dramas. We’re back in another of those country house gardens on Campden Hill which I looked at a few weeks ago. This is the garden of Aubrey House which is of course still exists.

Aubrey House garden front c1893 GN71 - Copy

I featured this lethargic group of young women before in a post called Victorian dreamtime. The eldest stands waiting with her tennis raquet, surely not expecting the younger pair to stop reading. One of them looks far too engrossed, the other momentarily distracted. In another part of the same garden:

Aubrey House 5047 woman and boy - Copy

A woman and a boy inspect the contents of a stone bowl or planter. The same set of steps came be seen closer up below.

Aubrey House 5047 woman - Copy

The creased picture shows a woman also making a close examination of the flowers

Copy of Aubrey House 5047 woman

A close up version in greyscale shows her taking a very close interest in a particular flower. The leg of mutton sleeve of her dress places her in the 1890s. It’s possible she may be one of the two in this picture:

Aubrey House Two women in the garden MS5047 160 - Copy

Or one of them may have featured in a previous post set in wilder territory, Mary and Rachels’s Walk in the Country. Once again a little bit of gardening is going on. I think this is a view of the same path from the opposite direction facing away from the stairs.

This small set of pictures shows the tranquil but perhaps restricted life of women in affluent households at the tail end of the 19th century. Or maybe they’re just snapshots of sunny afternoons more than a hundred years ago, of no particular significance. After all if you changed the clothes you could still find women in gardens today looking just as tranquil and picturesque.

magazine-edith-wharton-05_140528156279 - Copy

Photo by one of the greats of modern photography, Annie Leibowitz, for a series inspired by the work of Edith Wharton featured in Vogue.

Next week we’re sticking with fashion and the 1890s as it’s time for another visit to the ever-popular 1897 Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Costume Ball.

Victorian dreamtime – in the walled garden

If you don’t mind me referring you back to previous posts do you remember the post on William Cowen?  (Idle days in southern Kensington – link opposite) One of my favourites from the Cowen collection was the enigmatically titled “Avenue to Cresswell Lodge” with its peaceful looking line of trees, Narnian lamp post and solitary figure. Cresswell Lodge in its time a private house and a school seemed like a mysterious hidden place lost in time. When I wrote the post I didn’t realise that we had one further work by Cowen, not a watercolour but an etching. And honestly I didn’t know that it was a view of Cresswell Lodge.



Cresswell Lodge didn’t disappoint me. It’s not an obviously Victorian building, not even obviously 19th century so it has exactly the timeless quality I would have expected, sheltered by trees with a still lawn on which young women go about silent business behind a wall of trees. The notion of a secret garden is deeply embedded in our view of the Victorian era. Look at this view of the Rectory at Chelsea.




I don’t know who the couple are, or the figure sitting inside. Charles Kingsley, father of the novelist of the same name was the Rector there until his death in 1860. His son didn’t write the Water Babies for another couple of years but he may have conceived it on one of those long afternoons in the rectory garden hiding out from his father’s parishioners. It was one of the largest private gardens in London as you can see below.



The Water Babies is not much read now. It’s a strange mixture of social concerns about child labour and life after death fantasy. Alasdair Gray used elements of it in his own metaphysical fantasy Lanark.

The next incumbent at the Rectory was the Reverend Gerald Blunt. His son Reginald was also an author, one of the historians of Chelsea, and the founder of the Chelsea Society. An interesting man, but more of him another day.

Not far away from the Rectory was another Chelsea garden where quite a different group of people lived. In contrast with the muscular Christianity at the Rectory Tudor House in Cheyne Walk was where Dante Gabriel Rossetti came to live a few months after the death of Lizzie Siddall.


At first he lived there with the novelist George Meredith and the diminutive and erratic poet Algernon Swinburne who was given to frequent bouts of drunkenness and wandering around naked. It’s reminiscent of the strange world depicted in the film Performance in which Mick Jagger played the debauched rock star Turner. Many years later Jagger lived at Tudor House himself.

Rossetti soon had the whole house for himself and his family along with a menagerie which featured amongst others a murderous kangaroo, a raccoon, a wombat, several burrowing  armadillos and a bad tempered white peacock. This photo features only humans.



Rossetti, his sister Christina (who wrote another strange and half-forgotten Victorian fantasy the poem Goblin Market), their mother and his brother William who kept an eye on them all. The photographer was apparently fascinated by Rossetti’s wombat and put it into one of his own books as a dormouse. He was Charles Dodgson of course, a talented photographer as well as a writer. Another of his photographs:



Alice and her sisters. A little older than the views we’re used to seeing.  Still sitting quietly in one of those walled gardens like these two:



They’re sitting a few miles north of Tudor House at Garden Lodge Notting Hill.



It all looks a little dull.  Perhaps the pleasures of the secret garden were wearing thin by the end of the century. I’ve hopped around Victorian west London to get you from my fantasy of Cresswell Lodge in the 1840s in rural Chelsea to the Kensington of a few decades later. The still walled gardens are now surrounded by the growing noise and motion of urban life. But those strange little sanctuaries endured a while longer. A little further west and south was another quiet garden.


Another of my favourites. Ivy covered walls, a wide lawn. Two young women read in the afternoon light of another endless summer while a third waits disconsolately for someone to break the silence by playing tennis. Anyone?


The final house is Aubrey House, like Cresswell House also in its day both private house and school.

I found the photo of the Liddell sisters in Story of Alice by Christina Bjork.

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