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

Hunt, Leigh

1855

CHAPTER I.

CHAPTER I.

 

THE beauty and salubrity of , its combination (so to speak) of the elegancies of town and country, and the multitude of its associations with courts, wits, and literature, have long rendered it such a favourite with the lovers of books, that the want

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of some account of it, not altogether alien to its character, has constantly surprised them.

The place is not only free from everything repulsive to the consideration (unless it be one hidden spot, which the new improvements will do away), but attention is fairly invited throughout. The way to it is the pleasantest out of town; you may walk in high-road, or on grass, as you please; the fresh air salutes you from a healthy soil; and there is not a step of the way, from its commencement at , to its termination beyond , in which you are not greeted with the face of some pleasant memory.

Here, to " minds' eyes" conversant with local biography, stands a beauty, looking out of a window; there a wit, talking with other wits at a garden-gate; there, a poet on the

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green sward, glad to get out of the London smoke, and find himself among trees.

Here come De Veres of the times of old; Hollands and Davenants, of the Stuart and Cromwell times; Evelyn peering about him soberly, and Samuel Pepys in a bustle. Here advance Prior, Swift, Arbuthnot, Gay, ; Steele from visiting Addison, Walpole from visiting the Foxes, Johnson from a dinner with Elphinstone, Junius from a communication with Wilkes.

Here, in his carriage, is King William the Third, going from the Palace to open parliament; Queen Anne, for the same purpose; George the First, George the Second (we shall have the pleasure of looking at all these personages a little more closely); and there, from out of , comes bursting, as if the whole recorded polite

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world were in flower at one and the same period, all the fashion of the gayest times of those sovereigns, blooming with chintzes, full-blown with hoop-petticoats, towering with top-knots and toupees.

Here comes "Lady Mary," quizzing everybody, and Lady Suffolk, looking discreet; there the lovely Bellendens and Lepels; there Miss Howe, laughing with Nanty Lowther (who made her very grave afterwards); there Chesterfield, Hanbury Williams, Lord Hervey; Miss Chudleigh, not over-clothed: the Miss Gunnings, drawing crowds of admirers; and here is George Selwyn interchanging wit with my Lady Townshend, the "Lady Bellaston" (so, at least, it has been said) of " Tom Jones."

Who is to know of all this company, and not be willing to meet it ? To meet

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it, therefore, we propose, both out of doors and in-doors, not omitting other persons who are worth half the rest-Mrs. Inchbald for one. Mrs. Inchbald shall close the last generation for us, and Coleridge shall bring us down to our own time.

Not that we propose to treat the subject chronologically, except in exhausting one point at a time. The general chronological point of view, though good to begin with, in order to show the rise and growth of a place, would not suit inspection into particulars. It would only end in confusing both place and time, by jumping backwards and forwards from the same houses for the purpose of meeting contemporary demands.

The best way of proceeding, after taking the general survey, is to set out from some particular spot, on the ordinary principle of perambulation, and so attend to each house,

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or set of premises by itself, as far as we are acquainted with it.

Our perambulation, however, must not be parochial. h geography is a singular confounder of all received ideas of limitation. Ely Place, Holborn, is in the county of Cambridge; there are portions of other shires, which are in other shires; and, parochially considered, is not only more than in some places, but it is not itself in others. In parish, for instance, are included Earl's Court, Little , Old and New Brompton, Kensal Green, and even some of the houses in Sloane Street; while, on the other hand, and are not in , but in the parish of St. Margaret's Westminster.

Taking leave, therefore, of the wandering imaginations of parish officers, and confining

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ourselves to the received idea of , which is the same as that of the Post-office or Red Book, we shall consider the locality as circumscribed by Knightsbridge, Earl's Court, Hammersmith, Notting Hill, and Bayswater; and since is more visited from the London side than any other, with the London side we shall begin.

As to the nature and amount of the attention we purpose to pay to the respective objects of our notice, it will be precisely that which other observers pay, who are interested in such things, when going along aroad. We shall suppose that the reader is our companion; that we are giving him what information we possess in return for the pleasure of his society; and that we say neither more nor less on any one of the objects, than might naturally be said between friends actually walking together, and equally

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alive to the only real interest of the subject, that is to say, the human interest; for gardens themselves, whether at or at Eden, would be nothing without eyes to enjoy them; and houses are dry bones, unless invested with interests of flesh and blood.

But first for the brief survey before mentioned, and a word or two respecting the name of the place.

The meaning of the word is disputed. It is commonly derived from the Saxon Kyning's-tun, King's-town; though, as it is written Chenesitun in Doomsday Book, and in other old records, it has been thought traceable to some landed proprietor, of the name of Chenesi, a family so called having been found in Somersetshire, in the reign of Edward the Confessor. Another ancient authority writes the word, Chensnetun. Temptations to etymology are great;

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and as the Chenesi family was probably the same as the modern Cheynes or Cheyneys, and Cheyne comes from the old French word chesne (oak) and "chensnet" might have been chesne-nut, or chestnut, (oak and chesnut-chastain - having possibly the same root in French, and their timber, of which London was built, possessing a good deal in common), Saxon and Norman antiquaries might be led into much pleasant dispute, as to the regal and woodland origin of the word Kensington; whether the oak and chestnut trees, which still have representatives in the district, were the occasion of the name; or whether some Saxon prince-Alfred, for instance, who was the rebuilder of London-going some fine morning to look at his woodcutters, and considering how healthy the soil was, and how fresh the western wind blew upon his brow, chose to set up a summerlodge

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there, in which to recreate his profound thoughts, and benefit the health which he was injuring for his country. But we must not be diverted into these speculations.

Whatever was the origin of its name, there is no doubt that the first inhabited spot of was an enclosure from the great Middlesex forest, that once occupied this side of London, and which extended northwards as far as Barnet. The woody nature of a portion of the district is implied in a passage in Doomsday Book; and records exist, which shew that forest trees were abundant in it as late as the time of Henry the Eighth.

The overflowing of the Thames, to which and Hammersmith were subject, stopped short of the higher ground of ; there was no great road through it till comparatively modern times, the only

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highway for travellers westward, being the old Roman, or present Uxbridge Road, then bending southerly (as it still branches) to Turnham Green; and thus we are to picture to ourselves the future royal suburb, as consisting of half-a-dozen rustical tenements of swineherds and other foresters, clustering about the homestead of the chieftain or speculator, whoever he was, that first cleared away a spot in that corner. By degrees dairymen came, and ploughmen; then vinegrowers; and the first Norman proprietor we hear of, is a bishop.

"Albericus de Ver tenet de episcopo Constantiensi Chenesit(um)."

Aubrey de Vere holds of the Bishop of Constance.

So writes Doomsday book. Constance is Coutances in Normandy; and the bishop, who was, probably, anything but a reverend

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personage, in the modern sense of the epithet, but a stalwart, jolly fellow, clad in arms cap-a-pie, was also Grand Justiciary of England; that is to say, one whose business it was to do injustice to Englishmen, and see their goods and chattels delivered over to his countrymen, the Normans. Accordingly, to set a good legal example, the Justiciary seizes upon this manor of , which belonged it seems, to one " Edward :" a name which signifies Happy Keeper. So Happy Keeper, (unless detained to keep the pigs,) makes the best of his way off, blessing this delightful bishop and judge, whose office it is to oust proprietors; and he is, perhaps, stripped and murdered, somewhere about Notting Hill, by his lordship's chaplain.[1] 

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The De Veres, however, who afterwards gave twenty earls of Oxford to the English peerage, were not long in becoming absolute possessors of the Manor of ; and they held it, directly or indirectly, from the time of the Conqueror, nearly up to that of James the First. It is doubted, nevertheless, whether they ever resided there, though there was a mansion belonging to them, which occupied a site near the present Holland House, and which is still represented by a kind of remnant of a successor. We shall have more to say of the family by and bye.

But whatever was the importance of the district, as the possession of a race of nobles, it obtains no distinct or certain image in the mind of the topographer till itself makes its appearance, which was not till the reign of James the First, when it was

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built by Sir Walter Cope, who had purchased the estate towards the close of the reign preceding. A succession of noble and other residents, of whom we shall have to speak, and who have rendered it one of the most interesting objects in the neighbourhood of London, soon brought shops and houses about it; Campden House, the seat of Lord Campden, arose not long after ; the healthiness and fashion of the place attracted other families of distinction; and its importance was completed, when King William bought the house and grounds of the Finch family (Earls of Nottingham), and converted the house into a palace, and the grounds into royal gardens. Holland House, Campden House, , the Square, the Church, the Palace, and the Gardens, are the seven oldest objects of interest in Kensington;

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and lively and abundant are the memorials which most of them have left us.

But newer creations possess their interest also, up to the latest period; and it may be said, without the usual hazards attending prefatory commendation, that in comparison with "kingly ," as Swift called it, every other suburb of London, however interesting in its degree, is but as the strip of garden before one of its houses, compared with themselves during the height of their season.

 
 
Footnotes:

[1] For the crimes and iniquities of the military churchmen who came over with William of Normandy, see Thierry's " History of the Conquest," passim.