To ‘live well but unostentatiously’ …in Chatsworth Court

In 1936, when Chatsworth Court was completed, you can just imagine Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot admiring the ‘fine flats in an exceptionally distinguished area’. Still highly sought after today, Chatsworth Court may not have been home to Poirot, but they were home to the children of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, including geographer and politician, Edward, Baron Shackleton, along with world-famous actress and star of Dynasty, Joan Collins.


Prior to the building of Chatsworth Court, this part of Pembroke Road was covered by a row of paired villas, built in the 1840s by local builder, Stephen Bird. Pembroke Road was named for the connection with former landowners, the Edwardes family, and their estate in Pembrokeshire in Wales. The street was laid out over farmland in the 1820s, but the houses were only completed later during the 1840s.


1871 Ordnance Survey map showing Victorian villas



The Ordnance Survey map also reveals that to the west, past the paired villas, was a ‘Pianoforte Manufactory’. This was the former factory of celebrated French piano and harp manufacturers, Messrs Erard. It was built in the early 1850s and by 1855 the factory was producing over 1,000 pianos and harps with around 300 workers. However, by 1891 the factory had closed and the site was taken for residential flats, Warwick Mansions, along with warehouses (also later replaced with flats).

The new century also brought change to the eastern end of Pembroke Road, with the demolition of the Victorian villas and the building of two new blocks of flats – Chatsworth Court and Marlborough Court. On the corner of Earl’s Court Road was the larger Chatsworth Court, designed by H.F. Murrell and R.M. Pigott and completed in 1935. Murrell and Piggott were responsible for several other blocks in London, including neighbouring Marlborough Court and Ovington Court in Knightsbridge.

The new flats were promoted as ‘a country club in a garden’ with modern fitted kitchens and bathrooms (a key selling point in a day when this was not necessarily the norm) and a range of luxury facilities, including tennis and squash courts, swimming pool, restaurant, internal telephones, optional maid services, electric clocks and heated towel rails. The brochure promoted the flats ‘near the centre of things, but surrounded by trees [where] one can live well but unostentatiously: quietly but socially’. When first advertised in 1936 there were six different types of flats ranging from £130-£350 p.a. inclusive.


The first residents began to move in during late 1936 and 1937 and by 1938 occupants included Lady Ellen Palmer and Lady Raeburn, along with Lieutenant-Colonel Gaskell and Colonel Langstaff.

However, one of the most noted early families to move into Chatsworth Court were the children of Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. At flat No.38 in 1938 was his eldest son, Raymond Shackleton, while at flat No.118 was Raymond’s sister, Cecily. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s youngest son, Edward, later Baron Shackleton, was also recorded living in Chatsworth Court with his wife Betty in 1940.


Chatsworth Court brochure, 1936


In 1934 Edward Shackleton organised and took part in the Oxford University expedition to Ellesmere Island and during the Second World War served as Wing Commander in the RAF. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1945 and from 1946 to 1955 he served as a Labour MP. He was created Baron Shackleton in 1955 and later went on to serve as Minister of Defence for the RAF, Leader of the House of Lords, and also President of the Royal Geographical Society.

Other notable residents of Chatsworth Court have included screenwriter, H. Fowler Mear, who wrote many screenplays, including Lord Edgeware Dies (1934) and Scrooge (1935).  It was also home to Nixon Hilton of Nixa Records, later Pye Nixa, who distributed records for Petula Clark, The Searchers and The Kinks.

However, one of the most famous former occupants was actress and author, Dame

Joan Collins, who lived  at Chatsworth Court during the 1960s with her second husband, actor and songwriter, Anthony Newley.


Joan Collins and Anthony Newley

Shakespeare and The Clink: The history of Horseshoe Wharf

Today, Bankside is a popular destination for a night out or a saunter on the weekend, with Borough Market around the corner, as well as the many cafes, pubs, and restaurants. It is also often used in television and film, including Dr Who and Bridget Jones’s Diary! However, Bankside is also one of the most historic parts of London and has been through an extraordinary transformation over the centuries, from fields, to a Tudor and Stuart red-light district and theatre land, through to a busy Victorian industrial enclave. It may be a cliché, but Bankside really is ‘jam-packed’ with history!

Section of 'Long View of London from Bankside' by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647
Section of ‘Long View of London from Bankside’ by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647

The lower part of this drawing by Wenceslaus Hollar shows Bankside at the time of the Civil War, with the Bishop’s house and gardens to the bottom left and the theatres and entertainment venues behind, along with the old London Bridge to the right.

A short time ago, while I was with Chestertons estate agents, I was asked to research one of the more recent apartment buildings that had been built on the site of an old warehouse called Horseshoe Wharf. It is situated across from the remains of the Bishop of Winchester’s 14th century palace, and despite the young age of the current building, the site has a history going back to the 12th century.

Remains of the Bishop of Winchester's Palace
Remains of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace

Bankside has been occupied from as far back as the Romans in the 1st century, but an archaeological study of the site of Horseshoe Wharf revealed it was occupied from the 12th century – at exactly the same time that the Bishop of Winchester was establishing his home here by the banks of the Thames.

The Bishop of Winchester was the lord of the manor, separated from The City across the river, which meant he had his own court, and even his own prison – the infamous ‘Clink’. It formerly sat to the west of Stoney Street and eventually gave its name to the area, so it became known as the manor of the Clink. The Clink was one of the worst prisons in London, where prisoners were left to starve or even literally left to rot or drown in the rising tide. The name of ‘The Clink’ is believed to have originated from the word for keyhole, but it is also commonly thought to originate from the ‘clinking’ of keys. Whatever the origins, the name is now synonymous with the name for prison.

Theatre and Bear baiting, 1647
Theatre and Bear baiting, 1647

A closer look at the drawing by Wenceslaus Hollar also reveals Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and a Beere Bayting [sic] ring. During the 16th and 17th century, this part of London was notorious for its entertainments, with taverns, theatres, and brothels. Being outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, many came to the south side of the river, which became known as the ‘playground of the City of London’. It was also the original red-light district when Soho was just fields.

Clink Street
Clink Street

A revetment was first built along The Thames at Bankside in the 14th century, but it was in the late 16th and early 17th century that a stone wall was built (which corresponds with the time that a great many people were coming across the river to visit the taverns and theatres). The new wall also allowed for sturdier construction of houses and tenements, which were built around the time of Hollar’s drawing in the 1640s. The name of Clink Street also first appeared at this time. However, within 150 years most of these early houses were demolished and a new brick river wall constructed, which led the way for the tall warehouses and wharf buildings we recognise today.

It was at this time, in the late 18th and 19th centuries that industry took over the riverside. The first building named Horseshoe Wharf was built in 1837 and by 1838 was occupied by lighterman, John Raymond. Lightermen operated the small flat-bottomed boats known as ‘lighters’ that transported goods from the ships in The Thames to the quays. John Raymond & Son were recorded at Horseshoe Wharf for almost 40 years until the 1870s.

Section of map of London by John Rocque, 1746
Section of map of London by John Rocque, 1746

From the 1880s through to the 1930s, Horseshoe Wharf was occupied by a variety of businesses, including Doo Brothers lightermen, John Muir & Company, corn merchants, and Coombe Gordon & Co., granary keepers. It continued as a warehouse building after the Second World War, but by the 1990s the site of Horseshoe Wharf was chosen for a new apartment building. After the demolition of the old building, English Heritage had the unique opportunity to undertake an archaeological study before the foundations for the new building were put in place, revealing the fascinating details about the early settlements, as well as the evolution of the riverside walls and the story of one of the most historic parts of London.

Horseshoe Wharf from riverside
Horseshoe Wharf (in the centre) from riverside

Byron’s love affair at Burgage House

In 1806, Burgage House in Southwell was the scene of a scandal involving a young Lord Byron, and the daughter of the house, Julia Leacroft. The story unravels like something out of a Jane Austen novel and almost culminated in a duel between Byron and Julia’s brother, John Leacroft.

Burgage House, Southwell
Burgage House, Southwell (image courtesy of Humberts)

Burgage House was built in the late 18th century and is situated along King Street near Burgage Green in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries it was the home of the Leacroft family and where the poet, Lord Byron visited several times between 1803 and 1807.

Lord Byron, 1818
Lord Byron, 1818

Byron came to the small town of Southwell to visit his mother, who was renting nearby Burgage Manor. From 1803 he would visit during school holidays from Harrow, and then later when he was at Cambridge. While visiting his mother, Byron established close friendships with neighbouring families, in particular with Elizabeth and John Pigot, living across the road, and siblings, John and Julia Leacroft at Burgage House.

In the summer of 1806, the group of friends decided to amuse themselves by staging amateur dramatics in Burgage House – where the ‘…drawing room was converted into a neat theatre for the occasion.’ In fact, the story much resembles the scene in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park!

1806-1808 fashions (image courtesy of British Library)
1806-1808 fashions (courtesy of British Library)

Byron took the lead male role, while Julia Leacroft played the lead female role, and the pair became very close. After the fun of the theatricals, the flirtations between Byron and Julia continued leading to rumours amongst the people of Southwell. By January 1807 it was assumed amongst many – particularly the Leacroft family – that the pair would marry. However, Byron had no intention of marrying Julia and the circumstances soon caused a scandal in the quiet community of Southwell.

Byron also wrote two poems referring to Julia Leacroft, the first was actually entitled To Julia and published in his first collection, Fugitive Pieces, but the title was later changed to To Lesbia. In the poem he is addressing Julia and explaining he no longer loves her:

‘Tis I, that am alone to blame,
I, that am guilty of love’s treason;
Since your sweet breast, is still the same,
Caprice must be my only reason.’


The second poem, To a Lady, published in Hours of Idleness in 1807 talks of an assignation in the garden. It is possible to imagine a scene in the once large garden (now largely lost) beside Burgage House of a clandestine meeting between the young Julia and Byron.

It has been suggested that the Leacroft family attempted to entrap Byron and force him to marry Julia, but Byron made a hasty departure from Southwell just in time. Surviving letters between Byron and Julia’s brother John reveal the hostility between the former friends, and there is a rumour that John may have challenged Byron to a duel. In a later letter Byron wrote to John and said, “if we must cut each other’s throats to please our relations, you will do me the justice to say it is from no personal animosity between us.”


Byron never visited the Leacroft family again and soon after he stopped visiting Southwell altogether. Burgage House continued as the home of the Leacroft family throughout the 19th century, with magistrate William Swymmer Leacroft recorded as the owner from the 1830s through to his death in 1857. It then passed to William’s brother Edward and sister Caroline, until the 1870s, when after almost 90 years in the same family the house was sold.

Escape into the houses of the past

I have long believed (of course!) that houses are more than just a collection of walls, floors, and a roof – they are a literal doorway into our past. They reveal hidden stories of the lives of past residents, architectural gems, and offer us a window into how we used to live. This post is a little different to my usual blog posts as I have compiled a list of places to visit across the UK that offer fantastic insights into the history of houses. They will give you a glimpse into the world of our ancestors and perhaps make you think twice about the history of your own home.

Visit The Geffrye: Museum of the Home in London
Discover the history of houses through the period rooms, including 17th century hall and parlour, Georgian parlour, and Edwardian drawing room.

Walk through No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath
Step back into the world of Georgian Bath and walk through the preserved rooms of the most famous crescent in the world.

Find yourself in Medieval England at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum
Experience the extraordinary collection of re-erected and conserved old houses from across the country and now situated in the West Sussex countryside.

Smell and hear the history of Spitalfields in Denis Severs’ House in London
Walk through the living history of a home of Huguenot weavers from 1724 to 1914. Why not try the exclusive Silent Night tour, which includes champagne and curatorial staff on hand to discuss the history of the house.

Walk in the footsteps of kings and queens
Visit Hampton Court Palace in the year of its 500th anniversary and take yourself back to the world of Henry VIII, as well as other monarchs, including Charles I, and William III and Mary II.

Peek into the world of Gladstone’s Land in Edinburgh
Get a glimpse of how the people of 17th century Edinburgh lived in the tall tenements of the old town.

Delve into the literary world of 19th century Chelsea
Tucked away in the quiet streets of Chelsea is the former home of Thomas and Jane Carlyle. Take note of the early kitchen with its basic facilities.

Escape into the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy
Visit the former home of Jane Austen and her mother and sister, at Chawton House, in Hampshire.

See the newly opened private apartments of Sir John Soane in London
Explore the fascinating art and antiquities collection of architect Sir John Soane within his very own home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Be Duchess for a day at Chatsworth House
Walk through the exquisite country house of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Dating back to the 16th century and you can also see one of Europe’s greatest art collections.

Step back into historic rural Wales at the Swtan Heritage Museum
Get a fascinating insight into the lives of rural Welsh cottagers on the west coast of the Isle of Anglesey. Swtan, built in the 17th century, has been carefully restored back to how it would have been in the early 1900s.

Escape into the luxurious world of Frederic, Lord Leighton
The uniquely designed former home of artist Lord Leighton, where ‘east meets west’, is an extraordinary house, with highlights including the ornate tiled Arab Hall and many of Lord Leighton’s works of art.

There are a great many other places across the country that give you an insight into the way our ancestors lived, with many amazing historic houses (large and small) open to the public, but I hope this list will offer something new or inspire you to delve a little further into the history of our houses.

The artists studios of Talgarth Road

If you’ve ever driven into (or out of) London along the A4 in west London, you will have spotted an unusual row of houses as you drive through Barons Court and perhaps have wondered, ‘what on earth are they?’ as you drive by. Well, for years I did, until I had the chance to research the artists studios of Talgarth Road.

143 Talgarth Road - Ext

Many of you may have guessed that they were built as artists houses with the large windows along the top floor to allow maximum natural light to flood into the house. The row of eight houses were first known as St Paul’s Studios and completed in 1891 along Colet Gardens – which later became Talgarth Road – looking out over the large grounds of St Paul’s School. The houses were designed by Frederick Wheeler for ‘fine art publisher’, James Fairless, and particularly designed for the ‘bachelor artist’.

St Paul's Studios 1891
St Paul’s Studios 1891

They were built in the popular style of the time, with brick and terracotta, along with decorative wrought iron and lead light windows. The basement accommodation was particularly designed for a housekeeper, while the ground floor was the living accommodation for the resident artist and the top floor was completely dedicated to studio space with the large round-headed window.

A few years ago, while working with Chestertons estate agents, I was asked to research the history of the former No.5 St Paul’s Studios. I had such fun delving into the stories of the former artists and discovering that for much of the history of the house it was home to a long list of noted artists, sculptors, and writers.

The Sea Urchin by Ruby Levick
The Sea Urchin by Ruby Levick Courtesy of The Victorian Web

The first occupant to move in to the studio was Ruby Levick, who at the time was studying as a sculptor at the National Art Training School (later the Royal College of Art) in South Kensington. She later achieved great success, including exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and was much admired by Queen Alexandria. As an aside, Ruby’s brother, George Levick, was the surgeon and zoologist on Scott’s last expedition to Antarctica in 1910.

In 1901-03, No.5 St Paul’s Studios was the home of artist, Inglis Sheldon-Williams, an illustrator and a forerunner of today’s photo-journalist. He worked as an artist in the field during the Boer War and became an official war artist during the First World War.

St Martin-in-the-Fields by William Logsdail, 1888
St Martin in the Fields by William Logsdail, 1888



In 1903 the studio along Talgarth Road became the home of prominent English artist, William Logsdail. He had already exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of 18 in 1877 and went on to have a highly successful career, with many popular paintings of familiar scenes in London, including St Martin-in-the-Fields and Bank and Royal Exchange. Queen Victoria purchased his work The Antwerp Fish Market after it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880, which is still part of the Royal Collection today. William Logsdail continued at No.5 St Paul’s Studios until 1922 during which time he worked on his portrait painting, including Lord and Lady Halifax and Lord Curzon.

St Paul's Studios in the London Post Office Directory, 1922
St Paul’s Studios in the London Post Office Directory, 1922

In 1923 through to 1938 the studio was the home of George Kruger Gray, who was particularly noted for his stained glass windows, but also his coin designs for British and Commonwealth nations. 1939 Aus half penny

His designs appeared on coins in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as the British shilling, florin, half crown and six pence, between 1927 and 1952.

George Kruger Gray also served with the Artists Rifles during the First World War and was created C.B.E. in 1938.  He had several official commissions, including creating the Great Seal of King George VI and the collar of the Order of the British Empire.

After the Second World War, in 1949-50, No.5 St Paul’s Studios was the home of author and playwright,  Ernest Gébler, husband of the Irish author, Edna O’Brien and father of author, Carlo Gébler. Ernest Gébler wrote several books, including The Voyage of the Mayflower, which sold five million copies and was made into a film with Spencer Tracy. Later, his play Call Me Daddy was made into a television drama and earned him an Academy Award in 1968, and his play Hoffman was made into a film in 1970 with Peter Sellers and Sinead Cusack.

By the 1950s a number of the studios were being converted into business space and No.5 became a dance school for the ‘Margaret Morris Movement’, a unique system of dance and physical education created by dancer Margaret Morris. The house continued to be used as a dance school through to the 1980s, when it once again became a residential home. The new owner, interior designer Allan Day, then set about restoring the house and studio back to its former glory, much as it had been when first completed in 1891.

Former No.5 St Paul's Studio - image courtesy of Chestertons
Former No.5 St Paul’s Studio – image courtesy of Chestertons

A Prime Minister, Jane Austen, and Alexander Graham Bell

I openly admit it – I love Bath! Every time I visit (which is quite often) I will wander around the beautiful crescents, streets and squares, and even though I’ve seen them numerous times before, I just can’t get enough of the beautiful Georgian architecture and glowing Bath stone (if you catch it on a sunny day). Not to mention Bath Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, and of course the Roman Baths.

photo 4


I have been fortunate in having the opportunity to research a number of locations in Bath, including the history of Great Pulteney Street for my book Historic Streets and Squares: The Secrets on Your Doorstep and also two houses, No.8 Gay Street and No.11 The Circus, which appear in my first book House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door. While both houses were fascinating, it was the stories found at No.11 The Circus which I will often come back to.


IMG_0893The Circus, first known as The King’s Circus, was designed by John Wood the Elder in the 1740s with the foundations laid in 1754. However, John Wood the Elder died just three months later and it was left to be completed by his son, John Wood the Younger. It features three sections, completed over a period of years, and the final section completed and occupied in 1768. The Circus is impressive when viewed as a whole, but it is also in the detail that it features ‘…a tour-de-force of external decoration’. Each level features paired columns of the different classical order – Doric on the ground, Ionic on the first, and Corinthian on the third. Amongst the many decorative details it also includes a carved frieze with hundreds of pictorial symbols, including emblems of science, arts, and industry.

However, it was delving into the history of No.11 and the many former residents that the history of The Circus came to life.

The first occupant of No.11 was William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, often known as William Pitt the Elder to differentiate him from his son William Pitt the Younger. William Pitt the Elder took No.11 as his Bath home in 1768, the year it was completed, and the same year he resigned as Prime Minister of Great Britain.

scan of William Pitt_The Elder_grayscale

William Pitt the Elder retained No.11 until 1776 and by 1782 it had become the Bath home of George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, whose country seat was Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

Throughout the late 18th century and into the early 19th century, No.11 was home to a number of notable residents, including Dr. Mapleton, who was a friend of the Austen family, and it is recorded that Jane Austen, along with her mother and sister Cassandra, visited the doctor and his family at No.11 several times during the early 1800s.

By the 1850s No.11 The Circus was transformed from a private home into school rooms and offices for the prestigious Somersetshire College. It continued to be used by Somersetshire College for many years with boys being sent to the school from all over the country. However, in 1866 it welcomed a now famous name as one of its tutors, the scientist and inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, who later invented the telephone.

Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell

At the time he arrived as Somersetshire College he was only 19 and while teaching he continued his experiments and work on telephony and communications. It is believed Bell actually sent his first telegraph message while living in Bath. However, he only remained at Somersetshire College for one year and within a few years had moved to Canada with his family.

No.11 continued to be the home of Somersetshire College until the 1880s, but then converted into the home and surgery of Dr. Hugh Lane. The 1891 census reveals Dr Lane with his wife Frances and their three children and four live-in servants. But, along with the family, a boarder was recorded in the house, 49 year old Fanny from Russia, who was recorded in the census as a ‘lunatic’.

Looking to the past to find soul in your home today

I am often asked to comment on the history of how we used to live in our houses – most often to gain understanding of the social history of houses and how the changes in our homes impacts the way we live in our houses today. However, most recently I was asked to take part in an online forum ‘Give Your Property Soul’ and how the history of houses can guide the emotional and ‘soulful’ connections to our homes.


We all have close connections to our homes – whether it is the house we grew up in, an ancestral home, or perhaps the first home we lived in with a partner. Having a greater understanding of the history of our houses can add a greater depth to these personal connections. This understanding of the way we have lived in our homes in the past – how different rooms were used and how each generation changed them – can also help us with how we live in our houses today. Whether it is understanding why the kitchen is at the back of the house or why the hallway has decorative tiles, each clue can provide guidance on the way we use or decorate our homes today.

1844_Ground floor_crop

The Give Your Property Soul online event organised by Klara Goldy runs for 21 days from today – Monday 6th July – and features interviews with 21 experts (including my interview towards the end of this week!) speaking about a range of different elements influencing our homes. The other experts, including design consultants, coaches, and interior designers, will be speaking about how you can “transform your home into a space that connects with your soul”. Follow the link – – which will take you to the entry page requiring a very quick free registration.

Whether you’d just like to hear my interview talking about the history of houses and the changes in our homes over time, or you would like to delve further and listen to the other experts, the online event starts today!

The history of houses can provide access to so many elements whether you’re an interior designer, an historian, or a property developer. You can always find something that will help give a greater understanding of our homes.

Drayton Gardens

Vanity Fair’s ‘Spy’ in Wellington Square

It has been a busy few weeks (which explains the length of time since my last post – sorry)! I have been working on house history projects in Kent and Gloucestershire, as well as writing guest blog posts and articles, but I have also recently been researching the history of a house in one of Chelsea’s most sought-after garden squares – Wellington Square.

Wellington Square - Chelsea
Wellington Square – Chelsea

With its black iron railings, often appearing in the popular ‘Made in Chelsea’ television programme, it is situated in a highly desirable location, just off King’s Road.

However, Wellington has had a varied history that would seem unrecognisable to many Londoners today.

The houses in the square were completed in the early 1850s, which coincided with the death of The Iron Duke – The Duke of Wellington – who lay in state at the nearby Royal Hospital Chelsea – and for whom the square was named.

The completed square soon became the home of professionals and clerks, including surveyors, journalists, civil servants, as well as some on independent means. However, by the 188os a growing number of households were taking in lodgers and some houses had become boarding houses. This included the house I was researching which was home to lodging house keeper, 65 year old John Dowling from Liverpool, along with his wife Anne and their four grown-up children.

1881 census - John Dowling and family
1881 census – John Dowling and family

But, by the late 19th and into the early 20th century, along with large portions of Chelsea, Wellington Square began to be occupied by a growing number of artists, musicians, and writers. At the time of the 1901 census, the house was home to ‘Professor of Music’ and organist, Ernest William Trafford-Taunton, and his wife, author, Emily Winifrede, who wrote several novels in the early 1900s, including The Man in the Grey Coat (1905).

Carriage in a Landscape by Robert Scott Temple
Carriage in a Landscape by Robert Scott Temple

The Trafford-Taunton’s also shared the house with Scottish landscape artist, Robert Scott Temple. Today, his works are still held in galleries across the UK.

Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein
Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein

The house also had links with several actors, including Ernest Frederic Graham Thesiger, who is most remembered for his role in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and also Elystan Owen Evan-Thomas, or sometimes simply Evan Thomas, who worked on stage and film in both Hollywood and the UK.

One of the most prominent names connected to the house in Wellington Square was the father-in-law of Elystan Evan-Thomas, Sir Leslie Ward.

Sir Leslie Ward, 1889
Sir Leslie Ward, 1889

Sir Leslie Ward was a celebrated artist and caricaturist, who became famous as ‘Spy’ (and also ‘Drawl’) creating caricatures of prominent names for Vanity Fair.

Herbert Henry Asquith, later Prime Minister, 1904
Herbert Henry Asquith, later Prime Minister, 1904

Ward came from a noted artistic family, with both his parents, Edward and Henrietta Ward, achieving prominence as artists. His grandfather, George Raphael Ward, and his great grandfather, James Ward, were also successful artists.

He began working for Vanity Fair in 1873 (with the help of family friend, artist John Everett Millais), where he created caricatures of famous faces until the early 1900s. Between 1873 and 1911, he produced 1325 caricatures, including literary figures, churchmen, politicians, judges, and celebrities.

Leslie Ward also worked on portraits for other newspapers and private portrait painting, but it is work with Vanity Fair which is often most remembered, and still today are commonly known as ‘Spy Cartoons’.

Hamo Thornycroft, 1892
Hamo Thornycroft, 1892

Leslie Ward and his wife and daughter moved to the house in Wellington Square in 1918, the same year he received his knighthood. They only stayed for a few years, before he passed away in 1922.

Edward Bickersteth, Dean of Lichfield, 1884
Edward Bickersteth, Dean of Lichfield, 1884

This one house in Wellington Square has had a fascinating list of creative former residents, but the square has also been the home of many other famous names,  including the author of beloved Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, and it was also the fictional home of another famous ‘spy’, Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

Jack the Ripper in South Kensington?

I have recently been working on the history of a family estate in London, which includes a number of lovely streets in South Kensington, including Hereford Square along Gloucester Road. And, it was while researching the history of one house in Hereford Square that I uncovered a fascinating collection of former residents – including one man suspected as being Jack the Ripper!

Hereford Square
Hereford Square

Hereford Square was built over the gardens of a large country house during the late 1840s with almost all the new houses occupied with residents at the time of the 1851 census.

Fanny Kemble
Fanny Kemble

During the mid 19th century Hereford Square was home to a number of renowned residents, including artists, politicians, and clergymen, and during the 1880s the renowned actress Fanny Kemble was living at No.26.

Arthur Wentworth Gore
Arthur Gore

Later, No.12 was the home of Arthur Gore, three times Wimbledon singles champion and two times gold medal-winning tennis player.

However, it was during the 1890s that No.10 Hereford Square became the home of Jane Cobden, the daughter of reformer and radical politician, Richard Cobden, an MP most remembered for his opinions on Free Trade.

Emma ‘Jane’ Cobden followed in her father’s footsteps and took an active role in politics, particularly the women’s suffrage movement. However, she chose not to engage in militant activities (unlike her sister Anne who was imprisoned in 1906), but succeeded in being one of the first women, alongside Lady Sandhurst, elected to the first London County Council in 1889.

At the time of the 1891 census, Jane Cobden was recorded in Hereford Square as ‘Member of County Council’ and at the same time was living with her sister Ellen and her husband, artist Walter Sickert.

Walter Sickert by George Charles Beresford, 1911
Walter Sickert by George Charles Beresford, 1911

Sickert was a pupil of James McNeil Whistler’s and much inspired by Edgar Degas. He became a prominent artist during the early 20th century and co-founded the Camden Town Group of artists, and went on to have a prolific career with many of his works held in galleries across the country, including the Tate Collection.

'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom' by Walter Sickert, 1907
‘Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom’ by Walter Sickert, 1907

However, controversy has surrounded Sickert since his death as he has been suspected as being the notorious murderer Jack the Ripper, who wreaked havoc on the streets of East London in 1888. Sickert was interested in the crimes of The Ripper, and it is believed he even lodged in a room thought to have been used by the murderer, and he later created a painting of the room called ‘Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom’ (now in Manchester Art Gallery).

It was many years later, during the 1970s, that the first hint of Sickert being involved or actually even being Jack the Ripper first surfaced. Since that time a number of books have been published claiming Sickert as The Ripper, including celebrated crime novelist, Patricia Cornwall, who is convinced it was Sickert and published her findings in Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper Case Closed, in 2002. However, many others have refuted the claims as completely false.

Curiously, nearby pub ‘The Hereford Arms’ states in its history that it was “the reputed drinking haunt of Jack the Ripper, but this has never been confirmed as his identity has never been established!” It is interesting to note that Walter Sickert was living just across the road in Hereford Square at the time!

The history of No.10 Hereford Square also featured in my latest column ‘A Place in History’ for The London Magazine. For more stories featuring the history of London houses you can check out the magazine each month or visit the website – including No.11 Chesterfield Hill in Mayfair :-)

Home of a hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade

Balaclava Cottage is situated in Lyng, a small village in Norfolk, to the north east of Norwich. It was built during the middle of the 19th century and for much of its history was home to working class families.

Balaclava Cottage - Lyng
Balaclava Cottage – Lyng

However, by the early 20th century this small cottage became the home of a hero. Private James Olley had still been a teenager when he fought in one of the most infamous events in British military history – The Charge of the Light Brigade – in the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War in 1854. It was then made famous by the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which appeared a few weeks later, in December 1854.

“Half a league, half a league,CatonWoodvilleLightBrigade
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
“Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”

Charge of the Light Brigade, verse one

James Olley was a member of the 4th Dragoons, and he was part of the charge ‘into the valley of death’, alongside the 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, led by Major General the Earl of Cardigan.

James Olley
James Olley

Private Olley not only survived the horrendous charge, despite severe wounds, but he also wrote about his experience. The first-hand account of his experience as an ‘ordinary’ trooper sold at auction in 2008 and gives us a glimpse into that famous day:

“Whilst fighting at the guns, I received two lance wounds, one in the ribs and one in the neck from behind…I was wounded by a sabre across the forehead by a Russian dragoon…I gave him point and stabbed him. The sword fell from his hand and the point penetrated my foot…”

He went on to describe how he was shot in the eye, but he still managed to ride to safety. He was later nursed by Florence Nightingale, and when he was invalided back to England he was presented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Brompton Barracks.

On his return to civilian life he fell into poverty, with no military pension, and was forced to beg in the streets. It was only after Mr Robinson of Knapton Hall took up his case that he received work and his circumstances turned around.

Balaclava Cottage_2

It was during the early 1900s that it is believed James Olley was first connected with the small cottage in Lyng. Records reveal that by 1911 he owned the house and it is thought he lived there for a short time during the years of the First World War. James Olley lived in several locations across Norfolk and by 1920 was living in Elsing (in another cottage he named ‘Balaclava Cottage’) where he passed away at the age of 82.

For more on the Charge of the Light Brigade visit The National Archives and for more on the history of Balaclava Cottage in Lyng, the full story is in my first book, House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door. :-)