|Kensington Square||Kensington & Chelsea|
This is one of the earliest of London's garden squares, providing private communal gardens for residents of Kensington Square, which was laid out from 1692 in the centre of Thomas Young's development at Kensington. Originally called King's Square after James II, Kensington Square was largely surrounded by fields until 1840. Among famous residents were the painter Edward Burne-Jones, philosopher John Stuart Mill and musician Sir Charles Hubert Parry.
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Kensington Square - Photo: Celia Lowe
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The village of Kensington dates from early medieval times, its parish church of St Mary Abbots (q.v.) on the main highway from the City to the west of the country and it had a reputation for being a healthy place to live from Elizabethan times; it became an important staging post from the latter C17th and the gentry increasingly sought to move there, particularly after Nottingham House was improved by Christopher Wren for the Earl of Nottingham. In 1682 Thomas Young, a builder and Sergeant Carpenter and Joiner to Charles II leased land south of the High Street and laid out a new street of 40 terraced houses south of the High Street, which was completed in 1685 and named after him. Probably inspired by the style of Dr Nicholas Barbon's West End squares, Young began to develop Kensington Square from 1685, naming it King's Square after James II. His square was the first to be built out of town and is the sixth oldest in London (after Bloomsbury, Leicester, Red Lion and Soho Squares and Lincoln's Inn Fields q.q.v.), and it lies in the centre of Young's estate and the square forms a quiet oasis to the south of Kensington High Street.
Probably the earliest mention of the square occurs on 27 March 1687 when Young is recorded buying a 'plott of land neere Kyng's Sq. in ye parish of Kensingtoun'. When Nottingham House was purchased by William III in 1689 and it became Kensington Palace (q.v), the area and in particular Kensington Square became one of the most fashionable and sought-after places to live. The first buildings date from 1692 when the east side was completed, with the whole square completed by 1730s. According to the Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, Kensington Square was laid out in 1698. After 1760 when George III left Kensington Palace, Kensington Square was similarly abandoned by the aristocracy and was largely unoccupied until 1803. The area remained largely surrounded by fields until c.1840 when development accelerated; most of the buildings today round the square were erected, rebuilt or refronted by c.1850. Rebuilding and the addition of stucco have broken up the original homogeneity of the square's architecture but it represents Young's attempt to build a smart residential square on the edge of what was then a village outside London. The earliest houses to survive are Nos.11 and 12 in the south-east corner, which were outside the limits of Young's Square and were probably built between 1693-1702.
In the early C19th the parish had been given powers to pave and light the square and surrounding streets and the Kensington Improvement Act of 1861 brought more advantages. The C20th saw major changes to the area with the development of the High Street and its department stores such as Barkers, with whom the residents of Kensington Square successfully battled for the survival of their central garden. In 1928 the Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares stated that 'for the past dozen years the square has been fighting for its life against growing power of Messrs. Barkers. Being single freeholds, presumably if Messrs. Barkers acquired all the freeholds the square garden would belong to them to use for any purpose they pleased. To prevent this happening the remaining resident householders entered into a mutual covenant in 1923 binding themselves not to assign their houses to any person or firm for the purpose of carrying on thereon any commercial business or using the same for any other purposes than as a private dwelling-house'. In 1928 the garden was described as 'an attractive open space, almost square in shape, surrounded by a hedge. Contains well-kept lawns and flower beds and some fine trees'. It was maintained by the householders out of proceeds of a rate levied on the occupiers of the houses by the Borough Council for this purpose.
Kensington Square has many famous residents, who include Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) who lived at No. 41; John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) lived at No. 18, musician Sir Charles Hubert Parry (1848-1918) lived at No. 17, and the pioneer of public health Sir John Simon (1816-1904) lived at No. 40. Kensington Square is protected under 1803 and 1851 Garden Square Acts.
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 3: North West' (Penguin, 1999 ed); London Garden Squares Day booklet 2001; RBKC Kensington Square Conservation Area Proposals Statement (nd); Report of the Royal Commission on London Square, 1928