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Aug 30

Notting Hill in Bygone Days: Kensington Gravel Pits and Northlands

Notting Hill in Bygone Days by Florence Gladstone

CHAPTER TWO
KENSINGTON GRAVEL PITS AND NORTHLANDS

During the period of disorder which followed the Roman occupation of Britain, the forests were allowed to encroach, and in many places stretches of road became decayed and were ultimately overgrown by trees. This evidently happened between Brentford and Shepherd’s Bush. As the road through the Saxon villages of Hammersmith and Kensington remained intact, this southern portion received the Roman name of the Great West Road, whilst what is now Bayswater Road, the London end of the original Great West Road, was given different names at different periods. Among these names are the Way to Acton, the King’s Highway, Oxford Road, the North Highway and Uxbridge Road.

It appears to have been unsuspected that the two roads, since known as Kensington High Street, and High Street, Notting Hill, originally joined. But, in the middle of the eighteenth century, Dr. Stukeley, the antiquarian Vicar of Bloomsbury, pushed his horse with some difficulty ” through a narrow straight way,” and was able to trace, fairly correctly, the course of the Roman Road from Turnham Green to its junction with the ” Acton Road at a common and a bridge a little west of Holland House.” When the Goldhawk Road was constructed in 1834, all doubt on the subject was removed, for a Roman causeway was uncovered, and coins and other small objects were found.,

This break in the Great West Road certainly influenced the development of Kensington. The royal route from Whitehall to Windsor lay along the southern road, and more historic events probably happened on the ” Waye to Reading ” than on the ” Waye to Uxbridge.” However, there must always have been a considerable amount of traffic on the northern highway : two-wheeled carts and loaded farm-wagons, groups of folk on foot or riding astride coming to market at the periodical fairs, droves of sheep and cattle, or a string of pack-horses with men and dogs in attendance ; all the ordinary wayfaring life of the Middle Ages, with now and then the move-ment of troops, a religious pilgrimage or a lordly progress.

Roads West

But the portion of road between what is now Shepherd’s Bush and Notting Hill Gate was not always safe for travellers. Like other ” coverts ” round London, Knotting Wood was probably the resort of robbers and outlaws. The first mention of the district tells how William Lovel robbed Thomas de Holland of a cart and a cap of Stratherne and other goods in the cart at Knottynghull, before Michaelmas in the thirty-third year of Edward Ill’s reign. Two years later, 1361-1362, Lovel was pardoned by the King for this and other outlawries on account of good service rendered in the Wars of France.

Acts of Parliament had to be passed to enforce the widening of roads through forest land so that no evilly disposed person could lurk behind dyke or bush within two hundred feet on either side of the way. The earliest of these Acts was in 1385, twenty-five years after the attack on Thomas de Holland. The great width of road shown in Rocque’s map at this spot, see page 36, is a significant fact. Robbers may have killed Sir Manhood Penruddock, knight, who, in January 1607, was ” slaine in Notting wood in fight.” But his death perhaps was the result of a duel. Some stone cannon balls and ancient clay tobacco pipes, which were unearthed in the garden of No. 1, Ladbroke Square, when the stone trough or sarcophagus was also found, may betoken some ambush of troops placed in the wood during the Parliamentary struggle. Those were troublous times for Kensington, and especially for the owners of Holland House.

In September 1651, two and a half years after the execution of Sir Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, for his adherance to the cause of Charles I, the Lord Protector Cromwell was conducted in state from Acton to London along the North Highway, accompanied by a train of over three hundred carriages.

On the south side of what is now Bayswater Road and Notting Hill Gate, and in scattered patches north as well as south of the road, were the famous Kensington Gravel Pits. Deposits of gravel and sand occur along the flanks of the lower part of the Thames Valley. They rest on the stiff blue clay and the solidified mud, known as loam or brick-earth, which cover the old river basin. But the thick beds of gravel and sand, on which Brompton, Earl’s Court and parts of the town of Kensington are built, do not appear to be so rich in colour or of such good quality as the earlier gravels left in ” pockets ” at a higher level on the slopes of the clay hills, and farther from the present river bed. Evidently gravel had been worked in Kensington from quite early times, for the Rev. Mr. William Wigan, in making a return to the Bishop of London in 1672, stated that the glebe of the Vicarage, though at that time only thirteen acres, ” appears to have been more. For, according to the composition [made between the Abbot of Abingdon and the Vicar of Kensington in 1260], it was bounded on the north side by the King’s highway ; of which it is now much short, it having in times past, been dug away for gravel, and the Lord of the Manor claiming and enjoying the pit of many acres, as waste, on which several houses are now built. This was an encroachment on the rights of the Church, and also on those of the tenants of the Manor of Abbots Kensington, who, by ” ancient custom,” were allowed to cut turfs or to ” dig sand, gravel and loom ” upon the ” Commons ” or common lands of ” Notting Hill, the waste by the highways and the gravel pits,”

Cope’s Castle, afterwards Holland House, was commenced in 1607, and Campden or Camden House, and Sheffield House on the site of Berkeley Gardens, belonged approximately to the same date. These large houses, with their enormous retinues of servants, provided protection for humbler folk, and small dwellings began to make their appearance along the adjoining highway and among the gravel pits of the lane leading to Kensington, now known as Church Street.

In 1652, twenty years before the date of the ” Return ” made by the Vicar of Kensington, ” the impaled ground called ‘ Hide Parke,’ ” along with other Crown lands, was sold for ready money. For this purpose the Park was divided into three lots. One of these, the Gravel Pit Division, was described as ” adjoining or lying near to the Great Gravill Pits upon Acton Road.” One of these pits seems actually to have survived as a picturesque hollow until about 1830, and the site must be covered by the Children’s Playground on the right-hand side of the Broad Walk in Kensington Gardens.’ The pits gave their name to a large undefined district bordering the road from Craven Hill to Notting Hill Gate. Included among them were the valuable gravel pits belonging to Mr. Orme, print seller of Bond Street, who made a fortune out of the soil, about the year 1814, before building Orme Square, St. Petersburg Place and Moscow Road.

Gloriously golden gravel was exposed and sold when Dr. Davidson’s house on the Bayswater Road was pulled down in 1888, in order that the houses of Palace Court might be built over the walled garden. Within the bounds of Kensington parish it is difficult to trace the working of gravel on the north side of the highway, though a large pond which was in the garden of Linden Grove House, may have begun as a pit, and two acres of land, now covered by the houses of Clanricarde Gardens and six shops facing the Bayswater Road, are still known as the Gravel Pits Estate.

This estate has a somewhat strange history. Originally it seems to have formed an outlying portion of the wide lands owned by Sir George Coppin, whose property included the house which, in 1631, passed into the hands of Sir Heneage Finch, Recorder of London, and at a later date became Kensington Palace. In June 1651 the field ” at the Gravel Pits in Kensington containing two acres ” was in the occupation of a certain Richard Barton, but belonged to Thomas Coppin, Esq., the second son of Sir George. He sold it to the twelve Trustees who administered the Charities founded by Viscount and Lady Campden in 16z9 and 1644, ” for the use, good and benefit of the poor of the town of Kensington ” and to pay for the apprenticeship of one or more poor boys.

The £45 employed in purchasing the field was an anonymous benefaction to Kensington, though tradition has ascribed it to Oliver Cromwell, and it has been called ” Cromwell’s Gift.” The Lord Protector held some land in the south of the parish, but there is no real evidence to connect this sum of money with him. Several branches of the Cromwell family lived in the neighbourhood, and the gift may with equal probability have come from one of these., At first it was intended that almshouses should be placed on this land, but the project was not carried out, and for many years this field, held by the Campden Charity Trustees, remained under grass. In the second half of the seventeenth century, ” Near Kensington Gravel Pits ” was used to distinguish the whole district of North Kensington, from Campden Hill to Kensal Green, besides being the recognized name of the village which bordered the high road. It was only in the nineteenth century that Kensington Gravel Pits became a ” blotted out locality.”

Between 1654 and 1685 nearly one hundred families with different surnames can be traced as living in the northern half of the parish or in the village along the North Highway. There were also a good many temporary residents. Of the seventeen persons who ” presented the homage to the Lord of the Manor ” in 1672 for properties ” In the Gravel Pits ” (see page 29), one lived in Kensell Green and one in Notting Hill. The Parish Registers tell of five or six other families who inhabited Notting Hill ; the term being apparently interchangeable with the ” Gravel Pits,” in respect of houses in what is now Notting Hill Gate and Campden Hill.

Traffic along the road evidently played a very important part in the life of the ” long but discontinued village ” of 1675. At that time there may have been three inns besides the ” Plough ” at Kensal Green. Robert Davenport and his wife were living in another inn of that name. A trade token, ” found in the neighbourhood ” bears on one side the representation of a plough, with the words ” Robert Davenporte at ” and ” God speed the Plow,” and on the reverse side, ” Kinsington Gravell Pits. His halfpenny. R.M.D.” R. Davenport owned three tenements, for one of which he paid the quaint rental of ” two shillings and a couple of capons yearly.” Thomas Hill and his wife, Joan, meanwhile occupied the ” Harrow,” a house that must have been very insanitary, for between 1676 and 1679 the Hills lost three daughters and two soldier lodgers. The third innkeeper, Petter Sammon, does not appear in the list of tenants of the Manor. Probably he and his wife, Susanna or Susance, only rented their house. Two of their children died of plague in 1666. Peter himself died in 1678. His token, dated 1667, bears his name and the representation of a large dog, a ” Talbot passant,” one of the faithful hounds who guarded the wares, and on the reverse ” In Kinsington Gravel Pits, his Half Penny, P.S.S.” Local trade tokens were much in use at this period, for scarcely any copper money was minted during the Common-wealth. But this irregular coinage was suppressed by Royal Proclamation in the year 1672.

The most important of the innkeepers was John Ilford, who held one cottage by lease on the north highway near the Gravel Pits, for ninety-nine years. As already stated, the Ilfords are said to have been landlords of the little inn on Harrow Road ; but this cottage on the North Highway is very suggestive of the ” Plough,” now No. 144, High Street, opposite Campden Hill Road, though that tavern is not known to have existed prior to 1769. An earlier John Ilford and Katherine, his wife, mentioned in the Parish Registers, may have been at the ” Plough ” at Kensal Green before the end of the sixteenth century, but there are indications that it came into the possession of a Robert Ilford of Paddington parish. This Robert lost his wife, Amy, and their twin babes in 1639 and 1640. Probably this is the same man whose marriage to ” Alse parker ” is recorded two years later. Five or more children were born to this couple, but in 1665 Ales Ilford died at the ” Plough ” of plague.

Already other branches of the Ilford family had suffered terribly from contagious disease, presumably plague, as the deaths occurred in the years of special virulence, 1603, 1625 and 1665. Mistress Ilford of the ” Plough,” succumbed in the third and worst outbreak, and her daughter Elizabeth died in 1666. Robert Ilford did not long survive his wife and daughter.

Taverns are always liable to infection, being houses of call for all and sundry, and it must be remembered that wealthy citizens of London were then fleeing into the country to escape ” the tyrant malady,” some with the plague already on them. Also no doubt the many tramps, in tattered garments and begrimed with dirt, who wandered through the land were especially dangerous at such a time. Such persons, when too ill to travel farther, would creep into outhouses or barns to die. Others died by the wayside or ” in the cage,” a low two-roomed shed by the churchyard gate, which served as the parish lock-up and casual ward.

Since the year 1601 Overseers of the Poor had been appointed, empowered to relieve the aged and infirm born in the parish or settled there for a year. But this humane statute sometimes resulted in ” out-dwellers ” being hounded on, lest they should become chargeable on the rates. The number of tramps mentioned in the Parish Books is astonishing, and in North Kensington during the first half of the seventeenth century, besides the two deaths in Westbourne Barn, ” a strange woman ” died at Notting Barns in 1638, and the deaths of two others occurred at Nor’lands in 1634 and 1640.

But to return to John Ilford, born in 1649, who succeeded to the business on the death of his father. He was a solid man, a Churchwarden, and Overseer of the Poor, although he signed the ” Presentment of the Homage ” in 1672 with his mark. Six years later two sick soldiers died at John Ilford’s house ” at ye Plow near ye Gravellpits ” ; these were John Gentleman and Robert Collingwood. Evidently the ” Plow ” served as country lodgings as well as a house for refreshment.

On August 1, 1678, an ” Act for Burying in Woollen ” came into force, the object of the Act being ” to lessen the importation of linen from beyond the seas, and to encourage the woollen manufacture of this kingdom.” It was enjoined that an affidavit should be presented to the clergyman that the body was interred according to law. John Gentleman died within two or three days of the enforce-ment of the Act, and no certificate was forthcoming. This was notified to John Ilford, Churchwarden, by C. S., or Charles Seward, curate of the parish. As the death occurred in his house, it may be that John Ilford had to pay the fine and to distribute his own money in relief of the poor. When Robert Coiling-wood died in the month of November naturally a certificate was presented in due form.

It has already been stated that one hundred and forty acres of land lying north of the main road belonged to the Manor of Abbots Kensington. Abbots Kensington passed into royal hands at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and in 1595 was leased to Robert Horseman, gent. In spite of this lease, Queen Elizabeth sold the freehold of the Manor to Walter Cope. Robert Horseman was extremely unwilling to give up possession. At last, in November 1599, by special intervention of the Queen, a compromise was arrived at. Walter Cope, Esq., took that portion of the Manor on which he afterwards built Holland House, whilst Mr. Horseman retained the house called the Parsonage and about 200 acres of land, after payment to Walter Cope of £665 9s. 8d.

Included in this 200 acres were ” all those several closes and wood-grounds called Norlands, lying on the north side of the said highway leading to Acton, and abutting upon a wood called Notting Wood, on the east ; upon a farm called Notting Barnes farm on the north ; and upon the common sewer on the west. And also two closes called North Crofts, on the north side of the said highway, leading from London to Acton ; near unto the Gravel Pits of Kensington.”

In April 1600, five months after the date of this deed, Robert Horseman died, leaving his widow guardian of their three children. No special mention is made of the detached lands in his will, and shortly after his decease, their connection with the parsonage ceased. A glimpse of these lands at an earlier date is obtained from the Parish Registers, for, on November 14, 1582, ” Annes, a bastard child ” was buried ” from Robert Croxsom’s house at Northlands.”

The several closes and wood-grounds called Norlands extended from a lane which led ” to Noten Barnes,” now Pottery Lane, to the boundary stream described, in the deed of 1599, as the Common Sewer, along what is now Norland Road—see the map of 1833 on page 40, and on page 30 a piece of one of John Ogilby’s beautiful road maps, published in 1675.

The two closes called North Crofts lay to the east, divided from Norlands by Notting Wood. It may be that the Gravel Pits estate, now covered by Clanricarde Gardens, was part of these closes or fields. It is difficult to understand the statement, made by Faulkner in his History of Kensington, that Sir Walter Cope died possessed of ” all that wood called Notting Wood or Knutting Wood,” for his death took place fifteen years after he had parted with the northern portion of Abbots Kensington, and thirteen years after he had sold the Manor and farm of Notting Barnes to Sheriff Anderson.

The next known owner of Northlands was John Arnold. The Arnolds ” appear to have been the chief bourgeois of Old Kensington.”  (In the time of Queen Elizabeth many new and vigorous yeoman families came to the front, partly because parcels of land formerly in Monastic hands might now be bought by laymen). The heads of the house were ‘William and Mary Arnold who inhabited a large farm at Earl’s Court. Their sons were William and John and probably also Samuel. In 1623 William Arnold, junior, married his cousin Elizabeth Arnold, and the young couple continued to live at ” Erls Court.” In November 1632, Samuel, then a yeoman bachelor, aged twenty, was granted leave by the Bishop of London to marry Elizabeth Paulet of Wilsden, a spinster aged sixteen, daughter of the late John Paulet, gentleman, with the consent of her mother and brother. The ” allegation ” was made by William Arnold of Kensington, yeoman. In the marriage license ” we catch the Arnold family . . . emerging from the chrysalid or yeoman stage of existence, into full-blown gentility. They were freeholders in the neighbour-hood, they married with the gentry and were presently recognized . . . as gentle-folk themselves “.

About the same time, John, son of William Arnold, Senior, also married, and subsequently went to live at Northlands. His eldest child was born in 1633, and by 1651 the family had numbered thirteen or fourteen children, many of whom had died in infancy. Mean-while thirteen children arrived at Earl’s Court. The names of William and John and their respective wives, Elizabeth and Lidya, occur with amazing regularity among the entries of baptisms. The Parish Registers give no indication of the date at which John Arnold obtained the freehold of Northlands, but either his wife ” Liddia,” or a daughter, aged twenty, who bore the same name, died at Northlands in 1665, and the family were then established in a house of some size and pretensions.

Before 1665 John Arnold had passed away and his son John was in possession of the estate. It is interesting to note that, in the middle of the seventeenth century, branches of this family held farms all along the western boundary of Kensington parish : the John Arnolds were at Northlands, a Richard Arnold was connected with West Town (the Addison Road district), the William Arnolds were established at ” Earlescourt,” and Samuel Arnold inhabited Coolhearne House in Little Chelsea (now represented by Coleherne Court, West Brompton).

John Arnold, the younger, born in 1638, had in 1661 married Mistress Elizabeth Sanders ; who was probably a lady by birth. Four years later their little son, another John, died at Northlands of the plague. When he signed the Presentment of the Homage John Arnold was the third largest landowner in Kensington, being freeholder of 140 acres, and copy-holder of half an acre in Green Lane.

By 1675 he had acquired another 125 acres in or near Green Lane, and 30 acres in the Manor of Earl’s Court. It seems probable that Green Lane here means the south end of Portobello Road, and that the 125 acres included the North Crofts, John Arnold took an important part in local public affairs and, like his grandfather, William of Earls Court, and his father, John of Northlands, he acted as one of the trustees of the Campden Charities. This was in 1682. He was living in 1684, and possibly until 1700 when ” Mr. Arnold had a handsome pleasant scat at the Gravel Pits.”

John Ogilby’s map (see above), shows a large building close to the high-road where Norland House is known to have stood in later days ; and in subsequent maps the walled grounds, with a tower at the north-west corner, and a well-laid-out garden, are clearly seen. By 174.5 (see map on page 36), the house belonged to Mr. Green, and Green’s Lane, not to be confused with Green Lane, ran beside it. In the year 1656 Mistress Elizabeth Arnold, one of the numerous daughters of John and Liddia, had married Mr. John Greene of Margaret’s Westminster, and it is said that their sons William and Thomas, ultimately succeeded to Northlands. It was doubtless the sister of William and Thomas, Mistress Mary Green, who with her uncle, Tanner Arnold, the youngest of the children of John and Liddia, presented a painted cast window in 17os to the renovated parish church.0 The Mr. Thomas Greene who owned Northland House in 1745, married Miss Mary Rose, step-daughter of Sir Hans Sloane, the famous physician. He was a brewer and seems to have been followed by his son, for the Rate Books show that in t76 t Master William Greene had built a second malt house. On William Greene’s death in 1772 the Norlands estate was divided up and sold.

As in the case of Notting Barns the Parish Registers of the seventeenth century tell something of life in the farm cottages.

One cottage was inhabited by Robert and Elizabeth Bird and their six children. Mistress Bird also had a nurse child, for in 1674 Henry, the son of Henry Somerset, Esq., was brought from Robert Bird’s house at Northlands and was buried ” in ye Alley near ye font.” In 1680 a child died at Thomas Welfare’s house.

Thomas and Elizabeth Austin, Philip and Elizabeth Cobb and Bartholomew and Annie Glasse lived at or near Nor’lands, and, with the exception of the Cobbs, they all took in lodgers. The visitors came for the sake of the ” free ” country air, but they did not always find health. In the autumn of 1683 some epidemic attacked the household of Bartholomew Glasse. During the months of October and November his little daughter Annie and two lodgers died, and Thomas Atkins, ” a Poore man,” died there in the following March.

On Ogilby’s map the road west of Norlands is clear of buildings almost as far as ” Shcpperds Bush ” ; two bridges cross the Boundary Rill at the bottom of the hill, and two or three more bridges are shown further on towards Acton. Dr. Stukeley, in manuscript notes on Middlesex written about 1760, gives the names of these bridges as Northlands Bridge, at the bottom of Noding Hill, and Mile End Bridge beyond Shepherd’s Bush. Mile End Bridge was on the boundary line of the Manors of Fulham and Hammersmith. See Millen Bridge on the map. In this map Holland House is confused with Campden House and Park, but both houses are marked correctly in the map of the road though Kensington and Hammersmith. There seems to have been a strange vagueness about these two houses, for Dr. Stukeley mentions ” Holland or Camden House . . . now generally called Holland House.”

During the second half of the seventeenth century, Kensington, with Hammersmith, Knightsbridge and Chelsea, was becoming increasingly popular as ” a summer residence of the nobility, gentry and wealthy citizens ” of London. It was thought that the emanations from the carts bearing the newly turned gravel to London were peculiarly beneficial, and that the country air was as good as that of Hampstead, and better than that of Essex or of Kent. In 1699, Dr. Samuel Garth wrote a poem called ” The Dispensary,” in which he extolled the health-giving properties of Kensington Gravel Pits.’

As a matter of fact the salubrity of the district is due rather to its elevation above the sea than to the character of its soil. On this subject Dr. S. D. Clippingdale wrote : ” The popular notion that it is better to live upon a gravel than upon a clay soil is probably fallacious, certainly so far as London is concerned.” He adds that this can be proved by comparing the statistics of the Registrar-General with a geological map of the areas of London. In the Parish of Kensington it will often be found that the air is clear and dry on Notting Hill and Campden Hill, which are lumps of clay about one hundred feet above the level of the Thames, whilst it is gloomy and damp in Earl’s Court and Brampton which lie upon gravel not more than twenty feet above the river.’

It was quite natural that William III and Queen Mary should seek for a home in this fashionable and healthy suburb, as soon as it was recognized that ” the Smoak of the Coal Fires of London much incommoded his Majesty, who was always troubled with an Asthma, and could not bear lying in Town.” But it is hardly necessary to accept the assertion that ” Kensington was a small poor village till the Court came there ; ” nor that between 1689 and 1714, it had ” become a large Town . . . fit for the Enter-tainment of the greatest Quality.”

Another cause besides the arrival of Royal inhabitants had favoured the growth of its population, for, at this juncture, springs containing Epsom or Glauber Salts were discovered in the neighbourhood. One spring was at Earl’s Court, another close to what is now the south end of Ladbroke Grove, and a third in Lady Bedford’s Walk, now Bedford Walk. But the most noted of these springs, and the only one to Kensington Gravel Pits and Northlands 4.3 be exploited, rose among the fields which had taken the place of the common land on the top of Notting Hill, fields which may then have belonged to the Campden House estate. It was a time when Mineral Water Spas were very much in vogue. The mildly purgative springs on Notting Hill (now Campden Hill) seem to have been acquired by a small company of doctors, Dr. Wright and Partners, and a ” Wells House ” was built in 1698. In 17os Kensington was ” a handsome populous place . . . resorted to by persons of quality,” especially in the summer time when it was ” extreamlv filled with Lodgers for the pleasure of the Air, Walks and Gardens round it ” ; and the Gravel Pits village then contained ” several handsome new-built houses and a famous Chalybial Spring much esteemed and resorted to for its Medicinal Virtues.”

But ” Kensington Wells ” never attained the popularity of the more potent Wells at East Acton, and shortly after 1720 the Wells House was a private dwelling, a ” Villa at Nottin Hill,” owned by Edward Lloyd, Esq., afterwards to become Sir Edward Lloyd, Secretary of War.16 Remains of three wells were found in 1873 and 1914 under the beautiful eighteenth century building now called Aubrey House. The original ground belonging to this house covered the present garden, the site of Aubrey Road and Campden Square, formerly Notting Hill Square, and the house itself was long known as Notting Hill House. It is this house which the Rev. W. J. Loftie, in his book on Kensington, claims to have been the Manor House of Notting Hill. No such Manor ever existed, and no building is known on this spot before the year 1698.

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