Inevitably, I came across the photograph below while looking for something else. If you had no idea where or when it was, what would you have guessed?
Trees, a lawn, part of a building, a cloudy sky and the hint of hills on the horizon. The year is 1951.
A house and an overgrown garden surrounded by trees. The location was no more than 15 minutes from where I was looking at the pictures. It’s Campden Hill which rises from Kensington High Street comes to a peak and slopes down to Notting Hill Gate.
Here you can see more detail including the famous water tower at the top of the hill. The house is Cam House, also called Bedford Lodge, one of seven large houses built in the area by John Tasker in the early years of the 19th century. In other posts I’ve written about the rural hinterland of old Brompton, between Kensington and Chelsea where there were market gardens, inns and cottages. Kensington once had its own semi-rural enclave of grand houses with extensive ornamental gardens.
In 1951 Cam House was only four years away from demolition. Formerly the home of the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Argyll ( renamed Argyll House for nearly 50 years) and Sir William Phillimore, it was requisitioned during WW2 after which it seems to have fallen into decline.
Once these buildings had ceased to be family homes they had very little chance of going back, especially in the post war climate of development.
The lawn leading up to the row of columns looks wild. The pictures give the impression of a crumbling house gradually being overwhelmed by undergrowth. Although below you can see a lone gardener fighting a rear guard action against the vegetation.
It had once been a highly desirable property, as demonstrated in the agent’s particulars of 1930.
Those were the days of course when £8,000 was a lot of money. Where’s that time machine when you need it?
Bedford Lodge / Cam House, Bute / Blundell House, Thornwood Lodge, Holly / Airlie Lodge, , Elm Lodge, and Thorpe Lodge, with their grounds were almost in a row leading to the grounds of the big house of the area -Holland House. Moray Lodge was the seventh, slightly to the north.
Tasker himself may have lived in Moray Lodge but only for a short while. He died the same year he became the leaseholder, 1817. The longest period of occupation was by Arthur Lewis, a silk mercer, who used it to host artistic and social events..
Music and oysters, in 1865.
By the time of the sale particulars, 1893, it had been extensively remodelled.
It had this avenue, best described in the brochure as one of “two pretty avenue carriage drives… passing between borders thickly planted with old-established shrubs and overhung by well-grown trees forming a complete canopy.”
The “imposing mansion” had a large vestibule, a decorated entrance hall, a “spacious inner or corridor wall” with a “handsome stained glass window two staircases….. a pleasant library…..a cosy morning room…. a fine dining saloon…..and two charming drawing rooms.”
Not to mention the conservatory, “supplied with water, heated by hot water and lighted by gas.”
The full -size replica of “The Grapplers” (original in Stockholm) came from the 1862 Great Exhibition. To be sold separately, if you were interested.
The adjoining billiard room could double as a ball room (Just think about that for a moment.)
There was a lift (“operated by hydraulic power”) and a lot of other rooms, with “ample domestic offices” in the extensive basement. “Speaking tubes are fitted in many convenient parts” and sanitary arrangements are by Messrs. Dent and Helyer (who were no slouches at that sort of thing.)
If you couldn’t find enough to occupy you indoors there was a “pretty Italian garden with fountain… a fully stocked rosery.. and a broad rhododendron walk” outside. The “repleteness and seclusion” was “of a wondrous nature.”
If if you tired of the ornamental gardens and the many outbuildings, there was always the “capital grass paddock.”
Complete with working cow. Poultry also available.
Now you should probably lie down in the boudoir.
This advert from the Field shows that 38 years later Moray lodge still looked good.
The lawn still looks smooth and well kept. You just need a couple of ladies from 1893 with tennis rackets strolling back to the house after a strenuous match and the previous fifty years might never have happened.
A tranquil garden, mature trees and barely a hint of the city around it.
A quiet country residence in fact. Take a seat on that bench while your man of business rings the bank to see if you can afford it. Actually, you’d better not.
Moray Lodge and Bedford Lodge were both demolished in 1955. Another famous feature of Kensington, Holland Park School was built on the site. Of the rest of Tasker’s houses only Thorpe Lodge survives. The quiet life is still possible on Campden Hill. But I suspect the sense of seclusion has gone.
Back in modern times it’s the second week of another successful London History Festival here at the library. Just Dan Jones on the Wars of the Roses still to go. Tickets still left.
On the blog, I’m working on a Christmas surprise and my colleague Isabel is writing another post. Plus, our annual visit to the costume ball, and we might go back to Irving and Caldecott.