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

Hunt, Leigh





RETURNING from the church into the , there presents itself, not many yards further, on the right side of the way, a curious looking brick edifice, at once slender and robust (if the reader can imagine such a combination); or, tall and sturdy; or, narrow, compact, and thick in the walls. Over the


second story is a square tower, probably intended to hold a bell; and originally there was another tower above that, which must have made the whole edifice appear unaccountably tall. Finally, to adopt the convenient word of " that late eminent antiquary, Mr. John Carter," there stands on each side of the first story, the "costumic statue of a charity-child."

It is the old Kensington Charity School, built by Sir John Vanbrugh; now a savingsbank, with a new school-room by the side of it.

Sir John, as is well known, was a wit full of mirth in his comedies, and an architect full of gravity in his buildings. He was the son of a Dutchman by a French mother. A certain Dr. Evans, who was addicted to the like extremes in literature, though neither his mirth nor his gravity was so good, wrote a


jesting epitaph on Sir John, the final couplet of which has become famous:

" Lie heavy on him, earth, for he Laid many a heavy load on thee."

however was of opinion, that Vanbrugh's style was misconstrued,' and that it was very poetical and noble. The present building has certainly contrived to look heavy, even though it is narrow; but nobody who looks at it can doubt that it was built to endure. If suffered to remain, it will, even now, probably outlast the whole of Kensington. Look at it, reader, as you go, with an eye to this supposition. Think, also, what interest a celebrated name can attach to a homely structure; and wonder to reflect, that he who built it was the same " Captain Vanbrugh," a man of " wit and pleasure about town," who wrote the characters of romping


Miss Hoyden and the dandy Lord Fop- pington.

Next to Sir John Vanbrugh's old edifice is the new , a building lately erected in the style that prevailed in the reign of James the First, and which has acquired a natural popularity in this suburb from the presence of . There is something in the style, too, very suitable to the British climate, its bay-windows largely admitting the light, while the comparatively blind and solid walls are characteristic of warmth and comfort. The warm colours, also, of yellow and red, that prevail in the exterior of these buildings, and the bricks of which they are composed, in preference to stone and stucco, are far better for us than the cold whites of the latter. Honest old red is the best of all. The miserablest object in England on a


rainy day (next to the pauper that inhabits it) is a tumble-down hut of lath and plaster.

Nearly opposite the new , in the house now occupied by Mr. Wright, an ironmonger, lived for some years the once celebrated political writer, William Cobbett.

Cobbett, as some of our readers may remember, was a self-taught man of great natural abilities, who, from excess of selfesteem, defect of sympathy out of the pale of his own sphere, and a want of that scholarly " discipline of humanity," of which such men stand particularly in need, went from one extreme in politics to another with anything but misgiving; injured the good which he otherwise did to Reform, by a long course of obloquy and exaggeration; brought his courage and even his


principles into question, by retreats before his opponents, and apparent compromises with government; and ended a life of indomitable industry, by obtaining the reputation rather of a powerful and amusing, than estimable or lasting writer. Readers of his "Political Register" will not easily forget how he lorded it over public men, as if they knew nothing, and he knew everything; or what letters he addressed to them, in a style beyond the unceremonious; such as those to the Bishop of London, beginning "Bishop," and to Sir Robert Peel, whom he addressed as "Peel's-Bill-Peel," and saluted simply by his surname.

Hazlitt said of him, that had everything been done as he desired in church and state, he would have differed with it all next day, out of the pure pleasure of opposition.



Cobbett's worst propensity was to exult over the fallen. His implied curses of the hapless George the Third, who had nothing to do with the fine and imprisonment which produced them, are too shocking to be repeated. He crowed unmercifully over the suicide of Lord Castlereagh; and, ridiculously as ungenerously, pronounced Walter Scott, during his decline, and after the bankruptcy which he laboured so heroically to avert, to have been nothing but a "humbug."

But the vigour which he thus abused was not to be denied. Bating an occasional parade of the little scholarship which he had acquired, and which sometimes betrayed him into incorrectness, even of the grammar which he professed to teach, nothing could surpass the pure, vigorous, idiomatical style of his general writing, or


the graphical descriptions he would give both of men and things, whether in artificial life, or in matters connected with his agricultural experience. A volume of select passages from his writings, chiefly of this kind might be of permanent service to his name; which, otherwise, will be stifled under the load of rubbish with which he mixed it.

At the back of his house at , in ground now devoted to other purposes, and also at a farm, which he possessed at the same time, not far off (at Barn-Elm), Cobbett cultivated his Indian corn, his American Forest Trees, his pigs, poultry, and butchers' meat, all which he pronounced to be the best that was ever beheld; but the aristocratic suburb did not prove a congenial soil, and he quitted it, a bankrupt. He appears, nevertheless, to have succeeded,


upon the whole, in a worldly point of view, and ultimately made his way into parliament; a triumph, however, which was probably the death of him, owing to the late hours and bad air for which he exchanged his farming habits of life. At all events, he did not survive it long. Like many men who make a great noise in public, he seems to have been a good, quiet sort of man in private; occasionally blustering a little, perhaps, at his workmen, and more dictatorial to them than he would have liked others to be to himself; but a good husband and father, a pleasant companion; and his family seem to have heartily lamented him when he died; the best of all testimonies to private worth. His appearance (to judge by his portraits, for we never saw him) was characteristic of the man, except as regarded vanity. He dressed plainly and unaffectedly;


was strong and well-built; and had a large forehead, and roundish and somewhat small features, for the size of his cheeks, a disparity betokening greater will than selfcontrol.

Cobbett said little of , considering the time he lived there. It was not to be expected, indeed, that he could be fond of a place that had a palace at one end of it, the mansion of a Whig lord at the other, and in which he did not find himself either welcome or prosperous. What he does say, chiefly concerns his corn and his trees. There are but one or two passages characteristic of the locality, and those are more so of himself, and not unamusing. In one of them he speaks of the poor Irish, who stand at the corners of the streets, " their rags dancing with the wind ;" but he does it rather to rebuke than to pity


them. He could not get them to work for victuals instead of money; not taking into consideration, that the poor, rackrented creatures could not pay their landlord without it. A correspondent proposed to pay Cobbett himself in victuals for his Weekly Register, two pounds of mutton per quarter; but the rebuker of the Irish is very angry at this; and assuming, with a somewhat Irish and self-refuting logic, that a man who did not approve of payments in meat, must be addicted to slops, and have a dirty complexion, calls him a "tea-kettle reptile," and a " squalid wretch."

The other passage gives us his opinion of the reviews in Hyde Park, and their consumption of gunpowder. His compliments to American economy in the use of that material, are hardly flattering to a great nation; but everything was excessive in the


praise and blame which he bestowed, and, consequently, was in the habit of undoing itself.

Speaking of the Duke of Clarence's appointment to the office of Lord High Admiral, he says, that when he first heard of it, he was "very much pleased, because he thought it would tend to break up the Scotch phalanx, which appeared to him to be taking the whole navy by storm." He adds:

"The manner of executing the office was a thing which I had little time to attend to; but I must confess, that I soon became tired of the apparent incessant visiting of the seaports, and the firing of salutes. I see the Americans getting forward with a navy, fit to meet us in war, without more noise than is made by half-a-dozen mice, when they get into my pantry or cupboard. These Yankees


have an education wonderfully well calculated to make them economical in the affairs of war. I never saw one of them in my life, man or boy, shoot at any living thing without killing it. A Yankee never discharges his gun at anything, until he has made a calculation of the value of the thing; and if that value does not exceed the value of the powder and the shot, the gun remains with the charge in it, until something presents itself of value surpassing that of the charge. In shooting at partridges, quails, squirrels, and other things of the land kind, they always count the number of shot they put into the gun, and will put in no more than they think the carcass of the animal will pay for, leaving a certain clear profit, after the cost of labour. These are most excellent principles to be imbibed by those who are destined


to conduct the affairs of war; and when I, being in a sea-port, hear bang, bang, bang, on one side of me, answered by other bangs on the other side, and find no soul that can tell me what the noise is for; or when I, being at , hear, coming from , pop, pop, pop-pop, pop-pop, pop, pop, pop, the cause of which I remember but too well; when I hear these sounds, I cannot help lamenting, that our commanders, by sea and land, did not receive their education among the Yankees, who have raised a fleet, the existence of which we shall one day have to rue; and I should not be afraid to bet all I have in the world, that they have done it without wasting one single pound of powder."[1] 



Fancy our young Nelsons and Jervises going to America to learn how to shoot; and their unerring teachers, man or boy, holding their hands before they begin, till they counted the relative values of the charge and the cock-sparrow.

Never, we verily believe, was gunpowder expended at less cost, or to better purpose, than in our reviews and royal salutes; for the sounds reach the ears of despots. Nobler spectacles of warlike power were never beheld, than those which were presented to the world the other day under the presidency of a sovereign, who being a wife and mother, must needs represent peace itself, and hatred of wars; but being a queen also, must also represent the power, which warns, and is prepared to punish, the infractors of peace. Most desirable is peace; most horrible and detestable is war; and no


magnanimity will have been wanting to endure its idiotical babble, and endeavour to stay its arm. But if the blow must be struck, it must. And we hope and believe, that if ever the existence of American power is to be rued by the Old World, it will be not in antagonism with England, but side by side with it, and to the final confusion of all who hate the crowned freedom of the one, still more, perhaps, than the republicanism of its brother; for England disproves their identification of monarchical government with despotic will.

Cobbett's premises at the back, neighboured those of a small mansion, Scarsdale House, which he must have considered an eyesore, for it belonged to a noble family, and was then a boarding-school; a thing which he hated, for its inducing tradesmen's


and farmers' daughters to play on the pianoforte. He saw the dangers attending the elevation of ranks in society, but none of its advantages, except in regard to eating and drinking, and those he would have confined to his own beef and bacon. A little onward from Mr. Wright's door, is Wright's Lane, which turns out of High Street, and, containing Scarsdale House and Scarsdale Terrace, leads round by a pleasant, sequestered corner into the fields, and terminates this point of Kensington with the New Workhouse. Scarsdale House, now no longer a boarding-school, appears to have returned into the occupation of the family who rare understood to have built it; for its present inmate is the Hon. E. Curzon, one of the gentlemen who contributed to the collection of cabinet-work at Gore House. From an intimation, however, in


Faulkner, it would seem as if it had been called Scarsdale House before the creation of the title in the Curzon and Howe-Curzon families; in which case, it was probably built by the Earl of Scarsdale, whose family name was Leake, the Scarsdale celebrated by Pope and Rowe for his love of the bottle and of Mrs. Bracegirdle.

Each mortal has his pleasure;-none deny Scarsdale his bottle, Darty his ham-pie.

Darty was Dartineuf, or Dartiquenare, (a famous epicure.)

Do not most fragrant Earl disclaim Thy bright, thy reputable flame To Bracegirdle the brown; But publicly espouse the dame, And say, G- d- the town.



Earl Leake, by other accounts besides these, does not appear to have been a person whom "Bracegirdle the brown," the charmer of the age, would have thought it any very desirable honour to marry. We hope, therefore, that the more respectable Scarsdales, the Curzons, were always possessors of the house, and that, in displacing the boarding-school, they illustrate, as in greater instances, the injunction of their curious motto, "Let Curzon hold what Curzon held."

The corner, above-mentioned, of Wright's Lane, contains a batch of good old family houses, one of which belonged to Sir Isaac Newton, though it is not known that he ever lived in it. A house in which he did live we shall come to by-and-bye.

The Workhouse to which you arrive in turning by this corner, is a large, handsome,


brick building, in the old style beforementioned, possessed of a garden with seats in it, and looking (upon the old principle of association in such matters) more like a building for a lord than for a set of paupers. Paupers, however, by the help of Christianity, have been discovered, by the wiser portion of their fellow-creatures, to be persons whom it is better to treat kindly than contemptuously; and hence, as new workhouses arise, something is done to rescue the pauper-mind from its worst, most hopeless, and most exasperating sense of degradation, and let it participate some taste of the good consequences of industry and refinement.


[1] Political Register, Vol. 66, p. 267.