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

Hunt, Leigh





WE begin our perambulation, as proposed, on the side next the metropolis. We should rather say, next Piccadilly, for the metropolis, alas! and , are now joined; though from Knightsbridge to the palace, the houses still occupy only one side of the way.



It is a very pleasant way, especially if you come through the Park. When we quit Piccadilly for Hyde Park Corner, we, for our parts, always fancy, that the air, somehow, feels not only fresher, but whiter, and this feeling increases as we find the turf under our feet, and the fresh air in one's face. The road-way through Knightsbridge, with its rows of houses on one side, and its barracks on the other, is not so agreeable; though by way of compensation, you have the chance of having your eyes refreshed with a dignified serjeant of dragoons, too fat for his sash, and a tall private, walking with a little woman.

The long, and again unoccupied side of the road, in the Park, reaching from the Knightsbridge Barracks to within a short distance of the Gardens, lately presented to the eyes of the world a spectacle singularly


illustrative of the advanced character of the age, and such, we believe, as no attempts to bring back a worse spirit in Europe will deprive of its good effects, however threatening those attempts may appear. We need not say that we allude to the Great Exhibition. We do not say " Crystal Palace," for it was a pity, though it was natural enough on its first rising with that fairy suddenness, that the building was so called; since it was neither crystal nor a palace. It was a bazaar, admirably constructed for its purpose, and justly surprising those who beheld its interior. When we thought it was to be destroyed, without renovation elsewhere, we felt amazed at the selfishness of such of its rich neighbours as could insist on the performance of a promise to that effect notwithstanding the wishes of millions, restricted in their enjoyments. But as soon


as it was determined that the structure should re-appear in another quarter, and this too with those improvements in point of size and treatment which the designer himself had longed for power to effect, we felt as glad to have the old trees and turf back again, undisturbed, as the most sequestered of the suburban aristocracies. We rejoiced in a result, upon which, in fact, all parties were to be congratulated; and we began to own that there certainly had been a dust and kick-up about the once quiet approach to , a turmoil of crowds, and omnibuses, and cabs, of hot faces and loud voices, of stalls, dogs, penny trumpets, policemen, and extempore public-houses, which, for the sake of the many themselves, one could hardly have wished to see continued, lest they also should ultimately have missed their portion in the tranquil pleasures


of the few. A winter-garden, to be sure, would have been a good thing, and conservatories and other elegancies, all the year round, would have been still better; but all these we are promised in the new premises at Sydenham; and though the near neighbourhood of London was an advantage in some respects, it was not such in others. Multitudes became somewhat too multitudinous. European brotherhood itself, now and then, felt its toes trodden upon a little too sharply. The most generous emulations, if they want elbow-room, are in danger of relapsing into antagonisms. A juvenile wit, in the shape of a pot-boy, who appears to have possessed a profound natural insight into this tendency of the meeting of extremes, cried out one day to a couple of foreigners who were showing symptoms of a set-to, " Go it, all nations."



The road from Knightsbridge to , which the Great Exhibition looked on, is called the Gore; a word, which with the surveyor as well as the semstress, appears to mean a slip or graft of something in addition, and of the shape of a blunted cone; though the elegance to which the spot has attained, must not let us forget, that the same word has been employed in the sense of " mud and dirt," and that the road in this quarter used to be in very bad condition. Lord Hervey, writing towards the middle of the last century, describes it as shocking. And the royal roads through the Park were little better.

"The removing from to St. James's, for the purpose of facilitating the Queen's intercourse with ministers, seems in our days (observes the editor of his lordship's 'Memoirs,') very singular; but the following


extract from a letter to his mother, dated 27th November, , will explain it.

"' The road between this place ( and London) is grown so infamously bad, that we live here in the same solitude as we should do if cast on a rock in the middle of the ocean; and all the Londoners tell us there is between them and us a great impassable gulf of mud. There are two ways through the Park, but the new one is so convex, and the old one so concave, t+hat by this extreme of faults they agree in the common one of being, like the high road, impassable.' "[1] 

commences opposite , with the mansion called Ennismore or Listowell House, formerly Kingston House. It is now the residence of the nobleman who possesses those two


first titles, was lately that of the Marquis Wellesley, and was built by the once notorious , famous in the annals of bigamy.

The -the Miss Chudleigh, of whom we have had a glimpse by anticipation in -was an adventuress, who, after playing tricks with a parish register for the purpose of alternately falsifying and substantiating a real marriage, according as the prospects of her husband varied, imposed herself on a duke for a spinster, and survived him as his duchess till unmasked by a Court of Law.

She was a well-born and handsome, but coarse-minded woman, qualified to impose on none but very young or very shallow admirers. Her first husband, who became Earl of Bristol, was at the time of his marriage a young seaman, just out of his teens; and


the Duke, her second husband, though he was nephew of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, appears never to have outgrown the teens of his understanding.

Hating prolixity and mock-modesty, her ladyship's maxim, we are told, was to be "short, clear, and surprising ;" so she concentrated her rhetoric into swearing, and dressed in a style next to nakedness. The wealth, however, which was bequeathed her by the Duke, enabled her, in spite of the loss of his title in England, to go and flare as a Duchess abroad, where her jewels procured her the friendship of sovereigns, and the Pope figured in her will.

MarquisWellesley redeems Kingston House from the disgrace of its origin; for he was a highly refined personage. Some thought him too refined; and stories were told of the care which he took of his complexion. Fastidious


he certainly was; fond of pomp and show when he governed India; and a little too superfine, perhaps, in his tastes always. There was a curious difference in these, as well as in some other respects, between him and his brother, the great soldier. But we must not lightly believe stories to the disparagement of those who mingle infirmities with great qualities.

What is certain of the Marquis Wellesley is that, with all his aristocratic drawbacks, he was a man of gentle and kindly manners; very generous; an energetic, judicious, and, upon the whole, singularly liberal statesman for an extender of empire; and that the passion in him which survived all others, was a love of the classical studies of his boyhood. This was so strong, that he directed himself to be buried at Eton College, where he had been brought up-a triumphant testimony,


surely, to the natural goodness of his heart.

It is affecting to our common humanity to see one of the most public of statesmen, and one of the most sequestered of poets (Gray, in his Ode) thus meeting on the same good old ground of boyish reminiscence.

"Ah, happy hills ! ah, pleasing shade! Ah, fields belov'd in vain! Where once my careless childhood stray'd, A stranger yet to pain !"

Not "in vain," however, if their influence thus accompanies us through life, and greets our approaches to the grave.

It is said that the Duke of Wellington, who visited the Marquis to the last, was sometimes kept waiting; upon which he remarked, one day, "I believe my brother thinks he is still Governor-General of India,


and that I am only Colonel Wellesley." It is not impossible that, from old habit and a little bit of civil grudge against military ascendancy (but all in a spirit of kindliness, which the sensible Duke would understand and indulge) the elder brother did not dislike to keep up his privileges of primogeniture.

A curious local pre-eminence attends Kingston House, little suspected by those who pass it. It stands on the highest ground between London and .

Next to this mansion is a row of new houses, each too high for its width, called . They resemble a set of tall thin gentlemen, squeezing together to look at something over the way.

The old wall containing their neighbour, Park House, indicates the northern boundary of the once famous or Brompton Park Nursery, which figures in the pages of


the " Spectator " as the establishment of Messieurs London and Wise, the most celebrated gardeners of their time. It commenced in the reign of Charles the Second; furnished all England with plants; and is only now giving up its last green ghost before the rise of new buildings.


[1] Vol. II., p. 189.