In the last years of the 19th century, T.R. Way published a series of volumes illustrating the historical houses and “reliquies” , once inhabited by royals, artists, poets and other famous figures of their times, that could still be seen in London. Here are a few that adorned the suburbs north of the Thamas:
CROMWELL HOUSE, HIGHGATE
This fine old house appears to have been built at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Richard Sprignell, who was created a baronet in 1641, and it is probable that an old stone, once the boundary of the garden, inscribed “a.d. 1614,” really fixes the exact date of the building. The Sprignell family were long connected with Highgate, and names of members of it are found in the registers after they had ceased to reside at this house.
It is not known how the house came into the possession of Oliver Cromwell, but he is supposed to have presented it to his eldest daughter, Bridget, on her marriage, January 15, 1646-47, with Henry Ireton. As General Ireton was soon after appointed Lieutenant-General and Governor-General of Ireland under the title of Lord Deputy, and died at Limerick on November 26, 1651, he could not have resided long at this house, although its internal decoration bears evidence of his military tastes. The handsome staircase is ornamented with carved figures of soldiers of the army of the Commonwealth, and the balustrades are filled with devices emblematical of a soldier’s occupation.
A fire on January 3, 1865, destroyed the upper floors and the ceiling of the drawing-room, on which the arms of Ireton were displayed. Ireton was an afting Governor of the Highgate Grammar School, and his signature appears three times in the records. This is good evidence of his residence, and there can be little doubt but that this building should be called Ireton House rather than Cromwell House. Curiously enough, a similar misnaming of a house in Nottinghamshire is recorded.
The Iretons were a Derbyshire family, and held property at Little Ireton, from which village they took their name. German Ireton, the father of Henry and John, was living at Attenborough, Notts, when his two sons were born. Henry was the future general, and John became Lord Mayor of London and was knighted by Cromwell. A house now used as a farmhouse is either the original dwelling of German Ireton modernized, or a later building on its site. It is known among the villagers as Cromwell House, although there is no evidence of Cromwell having had anything whatever to do with it.
After General Ireton’s death Major-General Harrison lived at the Highgate house, and he was visited here by Ludlow after he had fallen into disgrace with the Protector. The turret covered with cement and crowned with a dome is a modern addition, and replaces the old platform on the roof. Early in the present century Cromwell House was occupied as a boy’s school. It is now the Convalescent Home in connexion with that valuable institution, the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street.
GROVE HALL LUNATIC ASYLUM, BOW
The visitor to this interesting old house has a surprise in store for him. He passes out of the Bow Road into Fairfield Road, and, after walking by some small suburban houses, he comes to a high wall on the right-hand side of the road. He rings the bell and is admitted at the gate. He then sees a large lawn and garden with shady trees, and in the far distance the imposing outline of Grove Hall. When he comes up to the front, he finds a handsome specimen of a late seventeenth-century house, whose wings have been added in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
On entering the house he comes into a hall which fills the whole depth of the building, and he finds that the original front was that which is seen in the drawing and looks upon the river Lea. This front is certainly superior to the other in architectural effect. Within there is a fine old wooden staircase, but this has been placed at the side of the house, and is not made a feature of the interior.
There is much good oak carving and handsome mantelpieces in the different rooms, but the oak has been thickly painted over and grained in imitation of oak. The oak panelling has also been spoiled by having wall-paper pasted over it. This is a fine specimen of a merchant’s mansion, when Bow was a highly appreciated residential neighbourhood.
No. 4, CHEYNE WALK, CHELSEA
This terrace of houses by the river-side, with its red-brick buildings and row of trees in front, is a veritable relic of the Queen Anne period. It has always been a favourite resort of artists, and the story of Turner’s sojourn during the last days of his life at the small house (No. 119) is too well known to be repeated here. Cheyne Walk (as also Cheyne Row, the residence of Carlyle for nearly fifty years) is named after Charles, Lord Cheyne, lord of the manor of Chelsea, who died in 1698. The name is always pronounced as a dissyllable, and in some old writings is spelt Cheyney.
The original embankment of the river was completed about the end of the seventeenth century, and Faulkner, the historian of Chelsea and other western suburbs, says that the manorial records show how the keeping of it in repair and good order was a constant subject of vexatious dispute between the lord of the manor and the tenants. The present Chelsea embankment, which has done so much to improve Chelsea, was opened in 1874. The ornamental gardens were formed on the space gained from the muddy foreshore of the river.
The old house shown in the picture was the residence of the great painter, Daniel Maclise, R.A., and here he died on April 15th, 1870. After him the well-known Oriental scholar and numismatist, W. S. W. Vaux, Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, lived here for a time. Mr. Vaux subsequently resided at the Society’s house in Albemarle Street, and No. 4 was taken by Mr. John Walter Cross, who married the great novelist, ” George Eliot,” on May 6th, 1880, but Mrs. Cross’s residence in this house was short, for on December 22nd of the same year she died here, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
The Rev. A. G. L’Estrange, in his “Village of Palaces,” records a peculiarity in this house. There is a shoot or opening from the top of the house to the basement, and Mr. Vaux surmised that it was intended for throwing down stolen goods in case of surprise, as such shoots have been found in houses where highwaymen and other thieves have resided.
QUEEN’S HOUSE, No. 16, CHEYNE WALK
This very fine house was previously called Tudor House, there being a legend that it had been lived in by the Princess Elizabeth Tudor, but this can hardly have been founded on fact. Henry VIII. built a large mansion which stood on Cheyne Walk, and extended from Winchester House on the west to Don Saltero’s Coffee House on the east; the latter building is said to have been No. 18, so that it is quite possible that Tudor House may have been built on part of the gardens of the king’s mansion, and, also that the very fine mulberry tree which stood in its garden may have been the same which Elizabeth is said to have planted.
In the king’s building Queen Anne of Cleves died, and it has been suggested that the present name is due to this incident. The present building is probably not much older than the reign of Charles II., and his queen, Catherine of Braganza, is said to have resided in it. It has also been understood to be the house which Thackeray describes as the residence of the old Countess of Chelsea in “Esmond.”
But it was during its occupation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from 1862 that Queen’s House reached the great point in its history. Few houses in London have had gathered together within their walls such a group of artistic talent as this one. Mr. George Meredith, Mr. Algernon Charles Swinburne, Mr. W. M. Rossetti, and Mr. Frederick Sandys lived in it for a time with Rossetti. Himself a king amongst men, a pioneer and leader in painting and poetry, he gathered a most brilliant company round his table, men who excelled in many walks of life, and the meetings, although not to be described exactly as Bohemian, were marked by the most genial conviviality.
At the back of the house was a great garden (now much curtailed), overlooked by his studio, which gave suggestions for the charming vistas seen in mirrors in the background of his pidtures. In this garden was at times erected a great tent, sometimes used as a dining chamber, sometimes as a place to adjourn to after dinner to spend the summer evenings. At other times, one has a picture of Rossetti curled up on a great sofa in the splendid drawing-room overlooking the river, whilst G. A. Sala spun yarns, and gathered round would be Ford Madox Brown, William Morris, Burne-Jones, and Mr. Whistler; Mr. Philip Webb and Jekyll the architects; J. E. Boehm, then prince of sculptors; Mr. Stillman, and Mr. Val Prinsep, and his father-in-law, F. R. Leyland, merchant-prince and patron of them all; whilst over them presided a brilliant and sympathetic mind drawing the best from each.
Such is an inadequate account of the picture Dr. Whistler has described to me of his frequent personal experiences of the life in Queen’s House before Rossetti’s health broke down. After his death in 1882 the house was tenanted for some years by the Rev. H. R. Haweis, who put the small flying Mercury on the top.
Nos. II AND 12, KENSINGTON SQUARE
Kensington was a suburb which early became a favourite among men of taste. In the Domesday Survey the manor of Kensington is described as having been in the possession of one Edwin. Soon afterwards it belonged to Albericus de Ver, who held it under the Bishop of Coutances. In course of time the De Veres managed to turn their property into freehold. One of the De Veres being under obligations to the Abbot of Abingdon, obtained permission of his father and the next heir to cut off a part of the manor as a gift to the Abbots of Abingdon. All this is recorded in such names as Earl’s Court and St. Mary Abbots.
Sir Walter Cope purchased the manor of St. Mary Abbots, and was one of the earliest residents of importance in Kensington. It was, however, William III. who brought the place into fashion when he purchased Nottingham House in 1689. Kensington Square (first called King’s Square), however, was commenced before this time, and the south side was called King’s Parade. Mr. Loftie says that there is an old tradition how King Street and James Street were named after James II., and Charles Street after Charles Harmston, the son of the carpenter who built it, and not after Charles II.
Thomas Young, who gave his name to Young Street, built a large part of the square. (He died in 1713.) In George II.’s reign Kensington Square was at the height of its popularity, and it was then difficult to obtain houses or apartments. It is said that an ambassador, a bishop, and a physician were found at one time in the same house. It was here that Colonel Esmond entertained the Old Pretender.
Thackeray’s presence, in fact, pervades the whole place. The whole aspect of the houses tells us of a time which the great novelist had made entirely his own. In Young Street, Thackeray lived from 1847 to 1853. His house, No. 13 (now 16), with its bow windows, looks into the square, and seems almost a part of it. Here he wrote “Vanity Fair,” “Pendennis,” “Esmond,” and portions of the “The Newcomes.”
The square is full of old-world houses, but the two in the picture, which are situated in the south-west corner, are of special interest. The left-hand one has a handsome canopy over the door, and probably the right-hand house had a similar one, which was taken away in the early part of this century, when a debased taste prevailed.
HOGARTH’S HOUSE, CHISWICK
The connection of Hogarth with Chiswick continued for several years, and when he died on October 25th, 1764, his body was buried in Chiswick churchyard, where the marble tomb erected in 1771 is a prominent object. […] This old-fashioned red-brick house in Hogarth Lane was used as a summer residence by Hogarth from the year 1748. It is said that it was previously the residence of his father-in-law. Sir James Thornhill. The principal room on the first floor has a projecting bow window of three lights, which the late Mr, Tom Taylor believed was added by Hogarth. His painting-room, however, was over the stable at the end of the garden.
Hogarth had many pets, and tablets to the memory of his birds and dogs were let into the garden wall, but they have now disappeared. Of his habits at Chiswick Tom Taylor wrote in his little book on “Leicester Square” (1874): “Besides his favourite amusement of riding, he used to occupy himself in painting and superintending the engravers whom he often had down from London, and to his Chiswick cottage he now came after his bitter bout with Wilkes and Churchill, bringing some plates for retouching. He was cheerful but weak, and must have felt the end was not far off, when in February, 1764, he put the last touches to his ‘Bathos.'”
On October 25th he travelled from Chiswick to Leicester-fields, and arrived there in a very weak condition. In the same night he died, after two hours’ struggle. His widow continued to live in the Chiswick house till her death in 1789. The house with its large garden and high wall still remains, and is in the occupation of a gardener, but it is hemmed in by small houses, and is very different in appearance from what it must have been when Hogarth inhabited it. A later resident was the Rev. H. F. Cary, the translator of Dante.
Reliques of old London suburbs north of the Thames