a question for the Londoners

If you were to talk about where Pelham Crescent is in London, what district name would you use? Kensington? South Kensington? Is it close enough to count as part of Knightsbridge? (Not according to Wikipedia, but.) Or something else entirely?

It’s a beast, trying to sort out the boundaries of intra-urban place-names for a city you don’t live in. And for all I know the areas were defined a little differently in 1884, but that officially falls into category of “if you can prove me wrong, Dear Reader, then you bloody well deserve your victory.”

0 Responses to “a question for the Londoners”

  1. arkessian

    I’d say it was in South Ken, from my time years ago at Imperial College…

    With time, I might be able to track down the description from the 1881 census if that would help.

    • Marie Brennan

      I never thought to check the census! But ancestry.com (which appears to be hosting that info for the National Archives) wants me to register to view it. Boo. 🙁

      (I really need to be rescued from myself. I just said I was sad because I can’t dig through a foreign census to verify whether a particular street was officially counted as part of South Kensington a hundred and thirty years ago.)

      • arkessian

        I’m registered at ancestry.co.uk — will look it up later today!

        • Marie Brennan

          Good lord, my LJ has some dedicated readers. 🙂

          But I won’t say no . . . .

          • arkessian

            Kensington District, Brompton sub-district. St Mary Abbotts civil parish. Holy Trinity ecclesiastical parish.

            I wonder if Brompton mightn’t be what you’re looking for…

            This may be of interest http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=50011

          • arkessian

            South Kensington is the answer

            Brompton.—was at one time almost exclusively the artist quarter and is still largely frequented by the votaries of the brush and chisel, though of late years Belgravia has been encroaching upon its boundaries, and Belgravian rents are stealing westward. Lies rather low, and on what was at one time swampy ground, but thoroughly well drained, Climate mild, as evidenced by its selection for the Consumption Hospital. Since the fields have been covered with rows of splendid houses a considerable portion of what was once Brompton has thrown off its former name, and taken that of South Kensington. Thus South Kensington Museum is separated only by the Oratory from Brompton Church. It may be questioned whether anything remains of Brompton except the name of its road, and of the row and square and it is probable that even the inhabitants of Brompton-square, head their letters South Kensington, while Thurloe-square, Onslow Square and Pelham-crescent, once the heart of Brompton have all gone over to the more fashionable quarter. The name, however, exists in West Brompton. This locality, which was once called little Chelsea, took its new name just about the time that Brompton assumed the name of South Kensington. In another generation people will wonder why the church and road are called Brompton, when the only Brompton known lies near Chatharn. NEAREST Railway Stations, West Brompton, Gloucester-road, and South Kensington Omnibus Routes, Brompton-road and Fulham-road.

            Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens’s Dictionary of London, 1879

            from http://www.victorianlondon.org/dickens/dickens-bic.htm

            [I now consider this cat thoroughly vacuumed…]

          • Marie Brennan

            Re: South Kensington is the answer

            The cat is indeed well-vacuumed. And looking her best as a result! Many thanks. 🙂

  2. aliettedb

    Used to live a few streets away. Admistratively speaking, it’s in the borough of South Kensington and Chelsea. Personally, I’d refer to it as being in South Ken (especially how close it is to the South Ken tube station).
    In terms of geography, Kensington is a little higher up, towards Kensington High Street, and Chelsea is a little lower down (towards Kings’ Road). So it’s in that uncomfy area where the two ex-districts overlap.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, it’s the whole border-zone thing that makes it hairy. Maps very helpfully sprawl a name over an area, but unless the spot you’re looking at is right under or next to the name, you can never be sure which one it belongs to.

  3. j_cheney


    I’m trying to sort out the 15 parishes of Porto. You would think there would be a map (in English) somewhere for this sort of thing…but I can’t seem to find one.

    And the only ones I’ve found in Portuguese either don’t have streets…or don’t show the boundary lines.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, my immediate thought was “surely you can fumble through a little Portuguese” . . . only to discover you’ve tried, and still not gotten the necessary information.

      My sympathies! But I’m glad to know I’m not the only one doing this kind of thing. 🙂

      • j_cheney

        Thanks ;o) Actually, I’ve superimposed the streetless map atop the street map…and that seems to be working. We just have to be smarter than the research.

  4. shui_long

    Pelham Crescent was in Brompton district, London SW, according to an 1882 Directory; if you want a more general area, it would be South Kensington.
    (And if you really want to know, I could even tell you who lived in the 27 houses in the Crescent in 1882 – except no.15, on the corner of Pelham Place, which was unoccupied…)

    • shui_long

      Or you can look it up yourself at: 1882 Post Office Directory

    • Marie Brennan

      Heh. No, don’t tell me who lived there; it’ll be like when I found the books listing all the aldermen for the City of London since, like, the thirteenth century, thus allowing me to know for sure who actually held the offices I’d attributed to Michael Deven’s father and Antony Ware . . . .

      On the other hand, if you have a floor plan, I’d be all over that. ^_^ (Tried searching online, but the closest I came was lists of rooms; too many of those buildings have been carved up into flats, or remodeled into open plans, etc.)

      • shui_long

        Pelham Crescent (and Pelham Place) was built on the Smith’s Charity estate in 1833, to the design of George Basevi, the builder being James Bonnin, who did a lot of work in the Kensington district and had a reputation for good quality buildings. Typically for such developments, the builder was effectively a property developer; he built at his own expense, and made his profit by selling the new houses or by leasing them. George Basevi FRS (1794-1845) was a favourite pupil of Sir John Soane; his most famous work is the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but he also designed churches and country houses as well as London town houses. He was killed by falling through the floor of the West tower of Ely Cathedral whilst inspecting repair work, and is buried in the Cathedral.
        According to Pevsner, these are “Some of the most exquisite domestic architecture in London from this transitional phase from prim Georgian to bold High Victorian.” (So in 1884 they would have been seen as rather plain and old-fashioned.)

        Brompton developed as an extension of Knightsbridge in the early part of the C19; the success of the Great Exhibition, and the development of the museums and academic area, brought South Kensington up to the social level of Mayfair, and over the next 20 years the whole area was filled with buildings.

        There was not a great deal of variation in the plan of terrace town houses: you can tell something just from the Google pictures. The grand entrance, up four shallow steps to add dignity, with a separate servants’/ tradesmen’s entrance down the area steps to the basement – two entrances being an absolutely critical feature of social segregation, replicated even in much more humble houses than these. The kitchen and scullery would have been in the basement, with the wash-tub for boiling the laundry, and probably a wine-cellar. It is possible that a servant slept in the basement, though I’d expect them to have bedrooms in the attic, and these houses may just have been grand enough to allow for a small servants’ staircase as well as the main one. The ground floor plan would probably have had the drawing-room at the front and the dining-room at the rear, with a small entrance hall and the main staircase. In the eastern part of the Crescent (nos 2-12), the rooms are on the right as you enter the front door; in the western part (nos 17-26) they are on the left of the door. The end houses (1,13,16,27) are slightly larger – 3 bays rather than 2, and nos 14 and 15, on the corner of Pelham Place, are detached houses of three full bays. It’s difficult to see how there could have been more than two principal bedrooms on the first floor of the terrace houses – the one at the front occupying the whole width of the house, with both windows – but perhaps on the second floor there might be more, smaller, bedrooms. No bathroom at this period, but there may have been a WC on at least the first floor.

        Looking at the census returns, these houses seem to have been occupied mainly by single families, some by widows with their children. Some households include other relatives, such as mothers or sisters. Typically there might be two servants (cook and housemaid); if the family included young children there might be a nursemaid as well. Only one house in the crescent boasts a butler (his wife being the housekeeper). A number of the heads of household are described as “gentleman” or “lady”; there was also a barrister, a retired East India merchant, a retired admiralty civil servant, the Secretary of the Conservative Club, the manageress of the Strand Theatre, a couple of actresses, and a policeman (and all these with a couple of servants apiece): but two of the houses would seem to be let as lodgings in 1881.

        The RIBA Library (in the V&A Museum, London) has the contract drawings for Pelham Crescent and Pelham Place; I don’t know if these include full plans.

        • Marie Brennan

          Hmmm — I didn’t know the architecture was old-fashioned. I was going mainly by district (South Kensington being fairly upscale at the time), and then picked a street that looked good, figuring a crescent was going to be more highbrow than a side street.

          If you have any recommendations for a more cutting-edge address, I’d welcome them. The family in question is very nouveau riche, emphasis on riche, and determined to be as respectable as they can get; for various reasons I’m not sticking them in Mayfair or Belgravia, but would like them to be in the most modern and expensive house they could get in South Ken. (They’ve only got one daughter still at home, but a fairly substantial array of servants.)

          • shui_long

            There had been a considerable development of style between 1830 and 1880. The Classical (or, at least, Classical-inspired) designs of the earlier part of the century gave way to Italianate, and increasingly elaborate, designs of the 1850s-1870s (inspired significantly by Ruskin’s writings on the architecture of Venice). The full-blown High Victorian Gothic style – which was adopted enthusiastically for churches – never really caught on for domestic architecture, though it was de rigeur to include at least some pointed-arch windows in buildings with an ecclesiastical or academic connection (such as parsonages).
            The 1870s saw something of a reaction, with the first buildings in what became known as the “Queen Anne” style – red brick with Dutch Renaissance detailing. This was initially favoured only by individual clients, especially those with advanced artistic ideas; it was more widely adopted by developers in the 1880s. Norman Shaw, Philip Webb and their followers were the leading architects here.
            My instinct therefore is that you’re looking for a grand house, probably in a rather over-blown version of the High Victorian Italianate style, rather than “Queen Anne”.
            I am not a Londoner, and I wouldn’t claim to know the Kensington area well. My first thought would be the Queen’s Gate area, which had been developed from 1855 to 1870 with “expensive town houses with opulent facades”. Certainly it would seem to be sufficiently up-market, with lords, baronets, MPs, senior military officers and the like as well as those with no title but presumably rather a lot of money.
            Picking a few addresses on Queen’s Gate, we have at no.79 a General with his wife and three young daughters, and nine servants (butler, footman, coachman, groom, cook, kitchen maid, housemaid and two nurses); at no.76 a banker with his wife and five children, with six servants; at no.74 a barrister with his wife and six servants; at no.85 a solicitor with his sister and six servants (butler, footman, cook, lady’s maid, kitchenmaid, housemaid). Typically these were terrace houses of five stories plus attic and basement, three bays wide, with a grand pillared porch and Italianate details.
            However, I think I’d need to do more research before suggesting that this is appropriate.

          • Marie Brennan

            That actually sounds ideal. The family sizes and servant allotments are appropriate for the Kitterings, and it’s a recent enough development that I trust the style not to be obsolete. I’ll take a look at the street when I go to London, but for the time being, I’ll go with that.

Comments are closed.