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t the beginning of the nineteenth century the village of Kensington was surrounded by a pastoral landscape. Two great Jacobean estates were nearby: Holland House on the west and Kensington Palace on the east. Between them the smaller mansion of Campden House lent its name to the slope between Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate. The two main roads out of London, to Oxford and to Bath, were linked by Kensington Church Street, the only north-south route for several miles. This work considers the changing face of Campden Hill between 1817 and 1900 as new streets were laid out on the previously open fields. These provided housing for the rapidly expanding middle classes, some of whom took up the newly fashionable career of painting pictures. The lives of several of these artists are briefly outlined here.

Sixty-four acres on the western side of Campden Hill were owned by Richard Phillimore. He began to cut up his estate for speculative building in 1817, dividing the northern half into seven approximately four acre plots with a large detached villa in each. Accessed by a new road from Kensington High Street, named Campden Hill Road, they became dwellings for aristocratic families, being within three miles - an easy carriage drive - from London’s Mayfair.

Daw’s Parish map of Kensington, 1848, showing the area of the Campden Hill development half-way to completion (courtesy of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea).

The fields on the eastern side of Campden Hill were not one big holding but were owned by several families who were just as keen to profit from London’s expansion. Before 1800 there was already a hamlet known as Kensington Gravel Pits close to the toll gate on the main road to Oxford at Notting Hill. As well as gravel extraction several large brickfields were established here and when the demand for building materials grew both trades flourished. Cottages for the workers were the first to be put up. Soon better quality housing became a more profitable venture and most of the land between the brickfields and the village of Kensington were built over by 1860. The success of the Great Exhibition, held in nearby Hyde Park in 1851, and a general increase in wealth meant that Kensington became a fashionable new suburb. The High Street was widened in 1860, new shops established, a station on the Metropolitan Line opened in 1868 and a large new church commissioned from George Gilbert Scott to replace the one which had existed here in various forms since 1100.

Stanford’s Library Map of London and its Suburbs, 1895. This shows the area after development had been completed. It has remained little altered since that time (courtesy of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea)

The middle and professional classes were now sufficiently wealthy to buy works of art and a visit to the annual summer exhibition at the Royal Academy became an important fixture in the social calendar. The cult of ‘artist as celebrity’ began to grow and with it came fame and prosperity often culminating in a knighthood or other honour. Numerous artists were now pleased to make their homes in Kensington and properties on the slope of Campden Hill became especially desirable.

A seminal moment in the development of Artistic Kensington (as it became known) was the purchase in 1862 of Moray Lodge, one of the big villas on the Phillimore estate, by Arthur Lewis (1824-1901). He was a silk merchant, heir to the firm of Lewis and Allenby whose premises were in Regent Street. Besides being well off Lewis was a keen amateur artist who exhibited his watercolours at the Royal Academy and in 1863 founded the Arts Club in Hanover Square. This quickly became the hub for aspiring artists of all kinds, a convivial place to meet and discuss their hopes and prospects. Lewis also joined the Artists’ Rifle Corps which was supported by many distinguished Academicians. He consorted with journalists, actors and musicians, hosting ‘smoking parties’ with oysters and champagne for the group of friends who became known as the Moray Minstrels.

Left to right: (a) Moray Lodge (courtesy of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). (b) Moray Minstrels' invitation. (c) Sale brochure for Moray Lodge, 1893 (courtesy of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea).

In 1867 Lewis married Kate Terry, a leading actress, and his lifestyle became less hedonistic, although the Moray Minstrels parties continued. As was the custom Kate left the stage on marriage but became a notable hostess at the elegant dinners and garden parties to which all the Lewis’s friends were now invited. Many of these were artists who had already established homes on the eastern side of Campden Hill Road where houses with studio possibilities sold well. Unfortunately, Arthur Lewis got into financial difficulties and after thirty years of generous entertainment was obliged to put his house up for sale in 1893. It was not finally disposed of until 1898, near the end of the artistic heyday. Moray Lodge and the other aristocratic villas in their extensive gardens were to remain largely unaltered until swept away in the mid twentieth century.

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Created 30 July 2022