The Old Court Suburb, or Memorials of Kensington, Regal, Critical, and Anecdotical, Volume II

Hunt, Leigh





IT is to be hoped, that in the course of the local improvements which are now being effected in this quarter of Kensington, a


and here health was in vain attempted to be given to the sicklier temperaments of Edward the Sixth, who died young, and his sister, Queen Mary, who lived only to be an unhappy bigot.

As the circumstance, however, does not appear ascertainable, antiquaries must put up with the later and less illustrious origin which has been found for these distinguished premises, in the house and grounds belonging to the family of the Finches, Earls of Nottingham. Whether the tenement which they occupied had once been royal or not, it seems to have been but a small mansion in their time; probably consisting of nothing more than the now least-visible portion of it north-west; and indeed, though it was subsequently enlarged under almost every one of the sovereigns by whom it was occupied, it was never, in one respect, anything but what


road will be opened between Campden Hill and the Palace. It would be a great convenience to the natives, and to pedestrians of all kinds, the topographer included; but as there is no such thing at present, we must content ourselves with returning into the High Street, and so keeping the north side of the way till it brings us to the Palace gates. When we entered Kensington, we kept the south side. We thus return to the point at which our survey of the town commenced; and we enter on the climax of our task.

It is not improbable that Kensington Palace and Gardens originated in the royal nursery to which allusion has been made as having been established in this district, for the benefit of his children, by King Henry the Eighth. If so, here Queen Elizabeth grew up awhile, as well as Queen Victoria;


it still is, namely, one of the plainest and least-pretending of princely abodes.

In vain we are told, that Wren is supposed to have built the south front, and Kent (a man famous in his time) the east front. We can no more get up any enthusiasm about it as a building, than if it were a box, or a piece of cheese. But it possesses a Dutch solidity; it can be imagined full of English comfort; it is quiet; in a good air; and though it is a palace, no tragical history is connected with it; all which considerations give it a sort of homely, fireside character, which seems to represent the domestic side of royalty itself, and thus renders an interesting service to what is not always so well recommended by cost and splendour. Windsor Castle is a place to receive monarchs in; Buckingham Palace to see fashion in; Kensington Palace seems a place to drink tea in;


and this is by no means a state of things, in which the idea of royalty comes least home to the good wishes of its subjects. The reigns that flourished here, appositely enough to this notion of the building, were all tea- drinking reigns-at least, on the part of the ladies; and if the present queen does not reign there, she was born and bred there, growing up quietly under the care of a domestic mother; during which time, the pedestrian, as he now goes quietly along the gardens, fancies no harsher sound to have been heard from the Palace windows, than the "tuning of the tea-things," or the sound of a piano-forte.

We may thus, in imagination, see the house and the gardens growing larger with each successive proprietor. First, there is Heneage Finch, the Speaker of the House of Commons, at the accession of Charles the


First; for he is the earliest occupant we can discover. Speakers of the House of Commons, naturally enough, rush to the nearest fresh air they can find, after the heat and toil they have undergone in that illustrious human stew-pan. They did this the faster, when the stew-pan was ridiculously small; which it was, even up to the latest period of the house which the Commons occupied not many years ago; and this, in all probability, was the reason which carried Heneage Finch to his sleeping quarters in the Kensington Gravel Pits. This gentleman possessed but fifteen acres of ground; which his son, Sir Heneage Finch, afterwards Earl of Nottingham, increased by a grant that was made him out of Hyde Park. To the Earl's son and heir, Daniel, succeeded King William the Third, who bought the house and grounds of Daniel, and enlarged them


both, the latter to the extent of twenty-six acres. Anne added thirty acres; Queen Caroline, wife of George the Second, added three hundred; and the house, which had been growing all this time, was finally brought to its present size or appearance by the late Duke of Sussex, who added or rebuilt the rooms, with their still fresh-looking brickwork, that form the angle on the southwest.

No royal personage now lives in the palace, unless we may so call the respected Duchess of Inverness, whom the Duke of Sussex, by the good sense and liberality of Queen Victoria, was allowed to marry morganatically, and who was presented, in consequence, with one of his Royal Highness's titles. The apartments not occupied by her Grace, are in possession of various gentlemen and ladies, who formerly held office in the


. household, or under government. There is one great defect in their accommodation. The house, nominally, possesses gardens that are miles in circumference; but these having become public every day in the week, which in the early times of the Georges was not the case, it has, in reality, to any sequestered purpose of enjoyment, no gardens at all, except at one corner.

The inmates must remain in-doors, or walk in the public thoroughfare. Now a house without a garden, is, to lovers of gardens, but a kind of prison; and however arboraceous the look-out may be from the Palace windows, or however welcome even the sight of the passengers or promenaders may be to such of the persons in doors as are prevented from going out by illness or infirmity, this consideration of their condition is not pleasant to beholders. It is impossible


not to wish their comfort completed; nor do we think such a thing impracticable, supposing they would prefer small shut-in gardens to none at all. There is room enough for very pleasant bowers in the spaces to the east and south, that are now grassed and railed in from the public path; nor would the look of the Palace be injured with the spectator, but rescued from its insipidity; garden walls with trees; by the help of a little taste in their construction, being capable of picturesqueness, and even of architectural elegance. Had enclosures of this kind existed in the times of such Ladies of the Bedchamber as Lady Suffolk, or the Duchess of Somerset, the occupants would have built capital summerhouses in them. Arbuthnot might have had a berceau or pergola in one of them, such as Le Sage delighted to walk up


and down in, while composing his Gil Blas.

The gardens, in the time of the Finches, consisted of little but the ground squaring with the north side of the Palace, laid out in the first formal and sombre style of our native gardening, and originating the still existing circle of yew trees, a disposition of things congenial with the owners. Heneage Finch, the Speaker, and his sons, the first and second Earls of Nottingham, were all lawyers and statesmen; and though a clever, and upon the whole, a worthy, appear to have been a melancholy race. The first Earl suffered under a long depression of spirits before he died; the second was a man of so atrabilarious a complexion, and such formal and dreary manners, that he was nicknamed Dismal; and Dismal's son, from a like swarthy appearance, and the way in which he neglected


his dress, was called the Chimney-sweep. Hanbury Williams, the reigning lampooner of the days of George the Second, designated the whole race as the "black funereal Finches."

These unusual "Finches of the Grove," made way for a kind of Jupiter's bird in the eagle-nosed, hawk-eyed, gaunt little William the Third; a personage as formal and melancholy as themselves, though not so noisy (for Dismal, notwithstanding his formality, was a great talker); and under William, the Gardens though they grew larger, did but exchange English formality for Dutch. The walks became longer and straighter, like canals; the yews were retained and clipped; there was, perhaps, a less number of flowers, comparatively; for the English had always been fond of flowers, and the Dutch had not yet grown mad (commercially) for tulips; in


short, William the Third, with a natural love for his Dutch home, made the palace and gardens look as much like it as he could.

And his Court, for the most part, was as gloomy as the gardens; for William was not fond of his new subjects; did not choose to converse with them; and was seldom visible but to his Dutch friends. Yet here were occasionally to be seen some of the liveliest wits and courtiers that have left a name in history, forsakers, indeed, of reserved and despotic King James, rather than enthusiasts for the equally reserved and hardly less power- loving King William, who had become, however, by the force of circumstances, the instrument for securing freedom. Here came the Earl of Dorset, Prior's friend, who had been one of the wits of the Court of Charles the Second; Prior himself, who had stirred William's Dutch phlegm so agreeably, as to


be made one of the gentlemen of his bedchamber; Congreve, whose plays Queen Mary admired; Halifax, a minor wit, but no mean statesman; Sir William Temple, who combined public with private life to so high a degree of wisdom and elegance ; Swift (probably) then a young man, whom Sir William made use of in his communications with the king; Burnet, the gossiping historian, sometimes wrong-headed, but generally right-hearted, whose officious zeal for the Revolution had made him a bishop; the Earl of Devonshire, whose nobler zeal had made him a duke, one of a family remarkable for their constant and happy combination of popular politics with all the graces of their rank; Lord Monmouth, afterwards the famous, restless Earl of Peterborough, friend of Swift and Pope, conqueror of Spain, and lover, at the age of seventy, of Lady Suffolk; Sheffield,


afterwards Duke of Buckinghamshire, a minor wit and poet, in love with (the rank of) the Princess Anne; and last, not least, in anything but good-breeding, and a decent command over his passions, Peter the Great, semi-barbarian, the premature forcer of Russian pseudo-civilisation, who came to England in order to import the art of ship-building into his dominions, in his own proper mechanical person, and out of the five months which he spent here, passed a good many days out of one of them in interchanging visits with King William at Kensington. The Czar had a house looking on the water in York-Buildings, where, in entertaining one day his royal host (for William supplied him with house and everything else while in the kingdom) a favourite monkey leaped angrily upon the saturnine Dutchman, and produced so much confusion, that the visit was chiefly taken


up in apologising for the animal's misbehaviour.

Peter seems to have dined frequently at Kensington; and it has been wondered how the two sovereigns got on so well together. But they held several predilections in common; among which were unpolished manners, a dislike (in consequence) of being seen in society, and a love of Dutch habits, particularly gin and brandy drinking, the gin being chiefly on the king's side, and the brandy, as the greater stimulus, on the side of the Czar. Sometimes he put pepper into it. William took him from Kensington one day to the House of Lords, where the uncouth Russian, always shy of being seen, particularly by "lords and gentlemen," made the lords and king himself laugh by peeping strangely at them out of a window in the roof. He got the same kind of sight at the House of


Commons; and even at a ball at Kensington, on the Princess Anne's birth-day, he contrived to be invisibly present in a closet prepared for him on purpose, where he could see without being seen. This was the man who, when abroad, worked only in dockyards, and when in his own country, paraded himself on every possible occasion, serious or farcical. His virtues were at home only among workmen, and his vices among drunkards and executioners.

Another anecdote of Peter while in England, must not be omitted, it is so applicable to the present time. He was one day, to his wrath and astonishment, shouldered aside in the street, by a porter, with so much violence, as to be thrown into the kennel. He was proceeding to take personal vengeance, when Lord Carmarthen (who had been appointed his bear-leader) judiciously prevailed


on him to be quiet. His Lordship thought fit, at the same time, to give an angry rebuke to the porter, asking him if he did not know that " this was the Czar." " Czar !" cried the porter, who had the blood in him of the future heroes of Balaclava; " We are all Czars here."

Though William, however, was not very visible in the palace of Kensington, after the ordinary fashion of sovereign residents, his memory, assisted by the Dutch fashion of the house and grounds, has left a strong impression of itself upon the place. Here, meditating his campaigns against James the Second and Louis the Fourteenth, or thinking what he should do to get enough power out of his grudging English Parliament, the sickly, asthmatic, but self-willed Dutchman, was silent all day, and talkative at night, with his countrymen, over his bottle of Hollands.



At Hampton Court, where he went on Saturdays, and which place he also made as Dutch as he could, he hunted, and felt more at large; but here, at Kensington, when not at St. James', or in the wars, he was generally obliged to remain, for convenience of business ; here his wife Mary, who, if of an unfortunate, was of a loving race, studied his every wish in vain, in hope to make him love her as much as he did his mistress, the Countess of Orkney, who squinted, but who, in Swift's opinion, was the " wisest woman" the Dean ever knew; here Mary, however, did not waste away with her passion; for she grew fatter and fatter every day, like her sister Anne, till she became a "sight;" here she died before William died; and here the Anglo-Dutchman then discovered, or others discovered, from his sighs and faintings away, how fond he had been of her; here, lastly,


he died himself, at the age of fifty-two, worn out with a life of mingled ambition, patriotism, irritability, anxiety, physical weakness, mental energy, and what, alas! was no proof of the energy, the aforesaid drink of his native country.

William was a great man, in a little, crazy body, which thus conspired to level him with the least. Some historians describe him as tall, but his contemporary and courtier, Prior, who could not have been mistaken on such a point, characterizes him as

Little Will, the scourge of France, No godhead, but the first of men.

He could hardly be called the scourge of France. He was more of a thorn in her side than a scourge; for he worried and obstructed, rather than beat her. But he was a great man, nevertheless, and understood


and secured the interests of Europe. Party rage accused him of sensuality and coldheartedness, carried to excesses horrible to think of; one of which, the massacre at Glencoe, if he really knew the truth of the matter, which is still a question, would indeed afford damning proof of the enormities to which the doctrine of expediency could transport a man. The other charges would appear to be disproved by the affecting evidences which our latest and best historian, Mr. Macaulay, has brought of the interest which this saturnine-looking prince took in the innocent pleasures and domestic felicity of his particular friends and their families. Party fury seems to have forgotten, that a readiness to believe what is disgraceful, argues a disgraceful turn of mind in the believer.

The only distinct personal anecdote recorded of William the Third, in connexion


with Kensington, is of the kind just mentioned, and will remind the reader of similar paternal stories of Agesilaus and others.

A tap was heard, one day, at his closet door, while his secretary was in attendance.

" Who is there ?" said the king.

"Lord Buck," answered the little voice of a child of four years of age. It was Lord Buckhurst, the son of his Majesty's lord high chamberlain, the Earl of Dorset.

"And what does Lord Buck want?" returned William, opening the door.

" You to be a horse to my coach," rejoined the little magnate. "I've wanted you a long time."

William smiled upon his little friend, with an amiableness which the secretary had never before thought his countenance capable of expressing, and "taking the string of the toy in his hand, dragged it up and down the


long gallery till his playfellow was satisfied.

The Court and Gardens of Kensington were not livelier in Queen Anne's time than in that of King William. Anne, as we have seen at Campden House, was a dull woman with a dull husband. They had little to say for themselves; their greatest pleasures were in eating and drinking; the Queen was absurdly fond of etiquette; and as there was nothing to startle decorum in the court morals, the mistress in King William's time had given something of a livelier stir to the gossip. Swift describes Anne in a circle of twenty visitors as sitting with her fan in her mouth, saying about three words once a minute to some that were near her, and then upon hearing that dinner was ready, going out. In the evening she played at cards; which, long before, and afterwards,


was the usual court pastime at that hour.

She does not appear to have been fond of music, or pictures, or books, or anything but what administered to the commonest animal satisfactions, or which delivered her mind at all other times from its tendency to irresolution and tedium.

Addison and Steele might have been occasionally seen at her Kensington levees among the Whigs; and Swift, Prior, and Bolingbroke among the Tories. Marlborough would be there also; ever courtly and smiling, whether he was victorious as general and as the favourite Duchess's husband, or only bowing the more obsequiously alas ! for fear of losing his place and his perquisites. But the liveliest of all the royal scenes at this Palace, though confined to two persons, must have been that (had there been anybody to


witness it) which closed the Duchess's reign.

The reader may imagine it as he goes along the Gardens, and looks up at its now tranquil apartments.

Sarah Jennings, afterwards Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who was the daughter of respectable but not rich parents, had entered upon a court life at an early age as one of the companions of Anne during the Princess's girlhood. The young lady who, like Anne herself, was what is called a fine girl, but handsomer, an advantage which a flattered, self-complacent princess was less likely to regard in that point of view, than as an ornament to her establishment, possessed a flow of spirits, which her young mistress was equally glad to welcome, as a relief to her dullness.

The companion being politic and ambitious,


and not yet having had the worst points of her character brought out by worldly greatness, filled the vacancy of the royal mind with amusement, saved it trouble by deciding for it in emergencies, and, in short, rendered herself so useful and delightful, that Anne, with the usual propensity of the Stuarts to favourites, conceived a sort of passionate friendship for her, as for a livelier self. She retained the fondness long after they were both married; was not content till difference of rank was abolished between them in private by the names of "Mrs. Morley and Mrs. Freeman;" and did not perceive all this while that she was converting a subservient playmate into a dictatorial scorner.

For years Anne laboured under a yoke which at length a new and humbler favourite, after many struggles, helped her to throw off;


and what completed the amazement and fury of the Duchess at an event so unlooked for, was that the supplanter, Abigail Hill (the very name was that of servitude), had been a creature of her own, and even a poor relation, that wretchedest of all creatures in the eyes of pride. The catastrophe, too, had been brought about by one of the Duchess's own mistakes; by a proposal emanating from herself; and which was precisely the kind of turning-point that suited the Queen's nature.

The Duchess had requested an interview- a proposition the most alarming conceivable to the poor Queen, on account of the advantage which her antagonist possessed in powers of tongue. She, therefore, parried it as long as possible, and would evidently have not assented at all, had not the Duchess extorted the permission by stratagem. Unfortunately, however, for her success, she had


told the Queen in a letter which preceded it, that she only desired to be seen and be heard by her Majesty. There was no necessity, she said, for the Queen to answer. The Queen, in fact, had answered so many of her tormentor's letters in the negative, that the Duchess, not foreseeing what would be the consequence of this general preclusion of response in her Majesty's favour, was resolved to prevent farther epistolary acknowledgment by following up her last letter in person. She says, in the foolish "Account" which she gave to the world of her " Conduct," and which had the reverse effect of what she intended (which is the usual case with violent relators of their own story):

" I followed this letter to Kensington, and by that means prevented the Queen's writing again to me, as she was preparing to do.


The page who went in to acquaint the Queen that I was come to wait upon her, stayed longer than usual; long enough, it is to be supposed, to give time to deliberate whether the favour of admission should be granted, and to settle the measure of behaviour if I were admitted. But, at last, he came out and told me I might go in."

Poor Anne even now endeavoured to stop the coming torrent of words, by recommending the Duchess to put what she had to say in writing; but as this was the very thing over which the latter thought she had triumphed, she must have heard the proposal with contemptuous delight; and she proceeded accordingly to pour forth her complaints. The Queen, after intimating that lies no doubt were told on all sides, came to the beautiful resource which had unwillingly been furnished


her, and said she would give the Duchess "no answer." The Duchess, astounded to find herself caught in her own trap, and taken at her word, declared, of course, that the phrase was not intended to imply what it did; but the Queen, she says, repeated it again and again, " without ever receding."

The Duchess protested that her only design was to clear herself. The Queen repeated over and over again, "You desired no answer, and shall have none."

The Duchess fell into " great disorder," and into floods of tears; but still the only return was: " You desired no answer, and you shall have none."

"I then begged to know, if her Majesty would tell me some other time ?"

"You desired no answer, and you shall have none."



"I then appealed to her Majesty again, if she did not herself know, &c. And whether she did not know me to be of a temper incapable of, &c., &c."

" You desired no answer, and you shall have none."

"This usage," concludes the Duchess, " was so severe, and these words, so often repeated, were so shocking, &c., that I could not conquer myself, but said the most disrespectful thing I ever spoke to the Queen in my life; and that was, that I was confident her Majesty would suffer for such an instance of inhumanity."

The Queen answered, "that will be to myself."

"And thus ended," says the Duchess, "this remarkable conversation, the last I ever had with her Majesty."



Exit the loud tongue of the Duchess of Marlborough; Abigail Hill, now Mrs. Masham, has a good rejoicing chat with her mistress; and for the rest of Queen Anne's reign, Kensington Palace would seem to have been as dull and as quiet as the more advanced years of her Majesty could desire. Whigs and Tories, it is true, contended in it for possession of her favour; and the conflict is supposed to have embittered her last moments, which here took place; yet, at all events, there was no Duchess of Marlborough, and no noise.

And the outside was as dull as the in. Anne enlarged the Gardens, but she did not improve the style of gardening. Addison, in a paper of the " Spectator," written during the last year but one of her reign, catching at the least glimpse of a variation, speaks


with rapture of the conversion of a disused gravel-pit, which had been left remaining, into a cultivated dell; but it would seem as if this exploit on the part of the gardeners was rather in the hope of making the best of what they considered a bad thing, than intended as an advance towards something better; for they laid out the Queen's additional acres in the same formal style as King William's.

Long, straight gravel-walks, and clipped hedges, prevailed throughout, undiversified with thepresent mixture of freer growing wood. An alcove or two, still existing, were added; and Anne, exerted herself so far as to build a long kind of out-house, which still remains; and which she intended, it is said, for the balls and suppers which certainly took place in it; though we suspect, from the narrowness


of its construction, it never was designed for anything but what it is, a green-house.

These most probably constituted all those "elegancies of art," with which a writer of the time gives her credit for improving the Gardens. Such, at any rate, was the case in the more public portions of them; and if the private ones enjoyed any others, we may guess what they were, from Pope's banter of the horticultural fashions of the day, in a paper which he contributed to the "Guardian," the year after the appearance of that of Addison's in the "Spectator." The following is a taste of them. The poet is giving a catalogue of plants that were to be disposed of by auction:

"Adam and Eve in yew; Adam a little shattered by the fall of the Tree of Knowledge


in the great storm; Eve and the Serpent very flourishing.

" St. George, in box; his arm scarce long enough, but will be in a condition to stick the Dragon, by next April.

"An old Maid of Honour, in wormwood.

" A topping Ben Jonson, in laurel.

" A quick-set hog, shot up into a porcupine, by its being forgot a week in rainy weather."

The " old Maid of Honour, in wormwood" might have told the little satirist, that he was an old bachelor in stinging-nettle.

Maids of Honour, we take it, have never been very famous for growing old. Their maiden state has generally passed into that of Ladies of the Bed-chamber, whether royal or otherwise. They were by no means in their sprightliest condition during the reign


Anne; and yet it is at Kensington in that day, that, for the first time since the reign of Charles the Second, we again meet with particular mention of the sisterhood.