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

Hunt, Leigh





is the only important mansion, venerable for age and appearance, which is now to be found in the neighbourhood of London. There has been talk more than once of pulling it down; but every


feeling of memory seems to start up at the threat, and cry, No, No! The cry is not only one of the utmost parliamentary propriety: the weight of the whole voice of the metropolis may be said to be in it; nay, of the nation itself; and even of the civilized world; for what court or diplomatist that knows of the "Whigs," knows not of " ?" or what foreigner, with any taste for English wit and localities, visits London without going to see it ? It is not handsome; it is not ancient; but it is of an age sufficient to make up for want of beauty; it shows us how our ancestors built before Shakspeare died; a crowd of the reigning wits and beauties of that, and every succeeding generation passes through it to the "mind's eye," brilliant with life and colour; and there it stands yet, on its old rising ground, with its proper accompaniment


of sward and trees, to gratify everybody that can appreciate it, and shame any one that would do it wrong. May it everlastingly be repaired, and never look otherwise than past times beheld it.

The upper apartments of are on a level with the stone gallery of the dome of St. Paul's. Their front windows command a view of the Surrey hills; as those of the back do of Harrow, Hampstead, and Highgate.

When this interesting old mansion came into the possession of the present lord, seeing the masons at work, and finding one of the approaches to it stopped up, we trembled at what he might be going to do with it. That approach was called Nightingale Lane, and had long been a favourite with the Kensingtonians; for, besides enabling them to


get closer to the nightingales, it afforded them a passage right in front of the house. This passage was now closed; a parapet wall was taking place of it; two stone piers, designed by Inigo Jones, disappeared from the court-yard; and everything looked as if the appearance of the house itself was about to be altered.

The alarm, however, proved false. The house, externally, remained untouched; and when the stone piers, not very intelligible in their previous distance from one another, were found composing a gate at the side of it, and vases of geraniums made their appearance on the parapet wall, and orange trees came in front of the geraniums, and the shut-up lane was compounded for by a new one, which, though it led only by a side of the house, opened a more convenient passage to Notting Hill, and was furnished, moreover,


with a bench like those in the parks, to give a resting-place to passengers themselves, (persons not too often cared for in aristocratical changes,) the alterations, though producing an effect perhaps not thoroughly harmonious between the northern architecture and its southern accompaniments, could not but be acknowledged to be improvements in the main, and to have rendered the entire spot more noticeable and attractive.

The aged look of the exterior of Holland House is the more precious to the antiquary, inasmuch as with the exception of a staircase or so, it is the only part of its antiquity remaining. The interior has long been so modernized, that a lover of old times is grieved to find not a single room in it which brings them before him. There is little which is older than the youth of the


late lord, and much that has been further modernized by the present. The fact is, that the house had become so neglected during the nonage of the former, in consequence of the reckless expenditures of the first lord and his son Charles (the great Whig leader) that there was talk of converting it into a workhouse. Lord Holland, a respecter of old associations, and of the pleasures of other people, saved it; and this circumstance should be counted among the claims to respect of his own genial memory.

The lodge, which the new lord has renovated and doubled, is in a style suitable to the mansion; with the exception, perhaps, of the two footway entrances, which look a little flimsy. The retention of the gilding on the iron gates may be objected to by some, as partaking of the same character; but we think otherwise. The gilding is but


partial; it relieves (to our eyes) the sombreness of the iron; and, being confined to the ornamental portion of the work, gives it a kind of golden efflorescence. We have not enough of this kind of work in England; do not sufficiently avail ourselves of the bright lights and colours that we might bring to bear on our sombre climate. To see, on a dark, wet, muddy day, all the people going along in dark or brown colours, everything looking dingy or insipid-the houses insipid, the carts and waggons insipid, most of the carriages equally so, and the faces either to match or full of care, the circumstances all seem to conspire with the weather to cut as miserable an appearance as possible; as though the passengers were tacitly saying,

" Let us all be unhappy together."



We are aware that there is a " harmony " in the spectacle; but it is a wretched harmony; and we think a little cheerful discord would be better. Nobody objects to a rainbow. Flowers, protected by verandahs in balconies, are welcome to the eyes in any weather. There are colours that suit darkness; and a good diffusion of them at such times would be a god-send. For our parts, we always feel grateful on a rainy day, when we see a market woman go by in a red cloak.

Of the lawn, or rather meadow, which lies in front of , there is a tradition that Cromwell and Ireton conferred in it, as a place in which they could not be overheard. From circumstances hereafter to be noticed, the tradition is probable. It shows that whatever the subject of the


conference may have been, they could not have objected to being seen; for there was neither wall, nor even trees, we believe, at that time in front of the house, as there is now; and we may fancy royalists riding by, on their road to Brentford, where the king's forces were defeated, and trembling to see the two grim republicans laying their heads together.

The grounds at the back of the house are more extensive than might be supposed, and contain many fine old trees of various kinds, with spots of charming seclusion. The portion nearest the house presents an expanse of turf of the most luxurious description, with a most noble elm-tree upon it, and an alcove facing the west, in which there is a couplet that was put up by the late lord in honour of Mr. Rogers, and a copy of verses by Mr. Luttrell, expressing his


inability to emulate the poet. The couplet is as follows:

" Here Rogers sat, and here for ever dwell, To me, those pleasures that he sang so well." VLL. HD.

Inscriptions challenge comments; brief ones, it is thought, ought in particular to be faultless; seats in summer time, and loungings about on luxurious turfs (half an hour before dinner), beget the most exacting criticisms; and thus a nice question has arisen, whether the relative pronoun in this couplet ought to be that or which. Our first impression was in favour of that; but happening to repeat the lines next morning while in the act of walking, we involuntarily said which; upon which side of the question we are accordingly prepared to fight, with


all the inveteracy of deserters from the other.

Lord Holland's couplet is in the simple and tranquil taste which he had so much right to admire; Mr. Luttrell's verses, which are a score longer, would have been improved by compression. They are a sample of the difference which they themselves speak of, between natural and artificial writing, or that which is prompted by what is felt, and that which would emulate the expression of others. The old eighteenth century fashion of rhyming with its "heart and impart, rove, grove," &c., is here (literally) in all its glory. But see how pleasant and readable are one or two natural expressions:

"Well, now I am fairly installed in the bower, How lovely the scene ! how propitious the hour! The breeze is perfum'd, from the hawthorn it stirs, All is silent around me-but nothing occurs;

Not a thought, I protest, though I'm here and alone; Not a chance of a couplet that Rogers would own; Though my senses are raptur'd, my feelings in tune, And Holland's my host, and the season is June. So I rise, since the Muses continue to frown, No more of a poet than when I sat down."

Beyond this mossy lawn is the open undulating ground, terminated by the Uxbridge Road, with which the public have become acquainted by means of the Highland Pastimes; all round the grounds is a rustic lane, furnishing a long, leafy walk; on the western side of the house are small gardens, both in new and old styles, the work of the late Lady Holland, and the latter very properly retained, both as a variety from the former, and as a fitting accompaniment to the old house. It is also pleasant to fancy in what sort of way our grandmothers


and great-grandmothers, the Chloes and Delias of the eighteenth century, enjoyed their flower-beds. In one of these gardens was raised the first specimen of that beautiful flower the dahlia, which the late Lord Holland is understood to have brought from ; in another, on a pedestal, is a colossal bust of Napoleon by a pupil of Canova; further west, towards the Addison Road, are the Moats; which (to say nothing of the evidence furnished by an apocryphal bit of brickwork that accompanies them) are looked upon as the site of the older mansion belonging to the De Veres; and further still, a few years ago was an expiatory classical altar, erected by the same lord in memory of the fate of poor Lord Camelford, a man half out of his wits, who was killed on this spot in a duel which he insisted on provoking. We know not


why it was removed; probably to efface the melancholy impression.

The bust of is inscribed with a felicitous quotation from Homer:

"Which (says the person who is speaking on the passage in Mr. Faulkner's "History of Kensington," and whom we take to have been the late Lord Holland himself) I have seen somewhere translated thus:

" He is not dead; he breathes the air In lands beyond the deep ! Some distant sea-girt island, where Harsh men the hero keep."

The translation is probably his lordship's


own. [1]  Upon this inscription it may be observed, that harsh men certainly had the keeping of the hero; who had been, however, a harsh man himself, and kept thousands of men in worse durance. But his keepers were not only harsh; they were mean and shabby; refused him a title in his adversity, which they were prepared to acknowledge had he consented to their terms, when they doubted the issue of the contest; and they suffered him to be worried by a set of men incapable of understanding him, except as jailers. It was the revenge of long-defeated dullness upon fallen genius, and is a blot in the history of England's greatness.



The altar in memory of Lord Camelford was an ancient Roman one, erected on a modern base, and was inscribed with a propitiatory dedication to departed souls, or the gods who preside over places of the dead-a curious instance of classical " making as if "-of playing at Paganism on so serious an occasion. It was quite, however, in the taste of the last century, and was a local relief to the imagination.

" Hoc Diis Manibus Voto Discordiam Deprecamur." (Thus devoutly honouring the Dii Manes, we deprecate dissension.)

Lord Camelford's body, however, is not here. With the passion for going to extremes, which characterised him, he directed that it should be buried under a tree in a solitary spot in Switzerland, which had interested him during his travels. He was


a Pitt, nephew to the great Earl of Chatham, who wrote him letters when a boy, that show how little sometimes can be done in directing the future career even of a child otherwise intelligent, who has been born, from whatever cause, with a certain wildness in his blood. The poor youth, who came to his end before he was thirty, was wildness itself in many respects, though he was fond of serious studies. His manners were perfect at times, but at others would burst out into arrogance and insolence. He was a Christian, it is said, upon conviction, and yet could quarrel with a man about a prostitute, and insist upon fighting him, notwithstanding all that could be done to adjust the difference. The reason he gave was, that his antagonist was too good a shot to make it up with. This antagonist was a Mr. Best. Lord Camelford went up to him in Stevens's


Hotel in Bond Street, and addressed him in the following placid words; "Mr. Best, I am glad to see you face to face, and to tell you, you are an infamous scoundrel." He afterwards confessed, like a gentleman, that he had been the aggressor.

But an old house is not perfect without a ghost, and has two. They do not indeed haunt it, and were very transient in their appearance; but they will serve to give a bit of ghostly interest to the spot, for those whose imaginations like to "catch a fearful joy" on such points. The account is in Aubrey's " Miscellanies," which were written in the reign of William the Third.

"The beautiful Lady Diana Rich, daughter to the Earl of Holland, as she was walking in her father's garden at , to take the fresh air before dinner, about


eleven o'clock, being then very well, met with her own apparition, habit and everything, as in a looking-glass. About a month after, she died of the small-pox. And it is said, that her sister, the Lady Isabella Thynne, saw the like of herself also, before she died. This account I had from a person of honour."

Aubrey, though his gossip is valuable to a lover of books, was credulous to excess. It is impossible, however, to say what visions may not be seen by people in bad states of health-what actual images the imagination, in certain morbid states of the brain, may not bring before the eye. Nicolai, the German bookseller, was in the habit of seeing spectral men and women pass through his room; and a sick young lady, just dressed for dinner, and full of thoughts of herself, sickly or otherwise, might as well see


her own image as that of any one else.

The Lady Isabella Thynne, here mentioned, wife of one of the ancestors of the Marquis of Bath, is mentioned in another of Aubrey's books (the " Lives and Letters of Eminent Men ") as addicted to anything but ghostly communications. She and a friend of hers, he says, while on a visit to Oxford, used to come to morning prayers at Trinity College Chapel, "half-dressed, like angels." She would also make her entrance upon the college walks, with a "lute playing before her;" and must have been a great puzzle to the college ethics, for she is described as possessing all kinds of virtues but one. She is the " Lady Isabella" whose playing on the lute is recorded in a set of complimentary verses by Waller:



"The trembling strings about her fingers crowd, And tell their joy for every kiss aloud; Small force there needs to make them tremble so; Touch'd by that hand, who would not tremble, too ?"

We think we have read somewhere, but cannot call to mind in what book, that she suffered a good deal of affliction before she died.

So much for and its grounds, as the latter appear at present, and the former has continued to look for many generations. We now proceed to its interior, to its inmates, and to those who went before them in the possession of the estate; that is to say, the possessors of the older house which is now gone, as well as those which have occupied the one before us.


[1] The account of Holland House in Faulkner's book is written in a style wholly different from the rest of it; and instead of being used as the writer must have intended, betrays other evidences of having been clumsily taken into its pages in the lump.