For our purposes the Kensington Walk begins at the bus stop on the opposite side of Kensington Gore from the Albert Memorial, a monument commemorating Victoria's prince consort that resembles a gaudy Fabergé egg.
In 1846, when William Thackeray and his daughters moved into Kensington, his elder daughter described its main street as "a noble highway skirted by beautiful old houses with scrolled iron gates." Within a few years Kensington High Street had become a primary thoroughfare, busy with traffic and shops. Today it is a potpourri of the elite and purplehaired youths.
1. Residence of Sir Albert Sassoon
25 Kensington Gore
This once-magnificent mansion stands adjacent to a small plaza dominated by a statue of Lord Napier astride his horse. At the turn of the century, it housed the head of the Sassoon family, whose other members we met on the Mayfair and Belgravia walks. When the Sassoons moved their Bombay headquarters to London, company chairman Albert Sassoon followed his brothers Reuben and Arthur and acquired this house, that boasted two white-and-gold Louis XVI drawing rooms. He furnished the dining room with Jacobean furniture and a tapestry portrait of Queen Victoria. Woodwork in the house was carved and inlaid with ebony and ivory, which had been salvaged from the Prince of Wales's pavilion at the Paris Exhibition. At night, lamps of bronze gilt brought out the splendour of six immense tapestries depicting scenes from The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Sir Edward, Albert's son, married Aline de Rothschild from Paris and after Sir Albert retired to Brighton, they moved into this Kensington Gore mansion. Aline became influenced by Margot Tennant Asquith and joined the Souls, a coterie of wits and statesmen (whom we met at Margot's Cavendish Square home in Marylebone) formed to offset the raffish Marlborough House circle. When Sir Albert died, Edward succeeded to the baronetcy and became chairman of the firm. He had tired of Kensington Gore by then and bought an imposing mansion at 25 Park Lane near Rothschild Row.
Continue west on Kensington High Street. All of the following addresses, which are on streets as far west as Young Street, are found a short distance to the left off Kensington. Most of the streets are cul-de-sacs. Weave a route among them by dipping down one side and returning on the opposite side to Kensington until you have reached Young Street.
2. Residence of Charlotte Payne-Townshend
21 Queen's Gate
Prior to her marriage to G.B. Shaw, Charlotte Payne-Townshend lived here with her mother and sister until her mother died. Then her sister Mary left home and Charlotte lived alone. When the two sisters were young, Mary was called Miss Payne-Townshend, and Charlotte, Miss Plain-Townshend. After Charlotte married Shaw, they lived in her Adelphi Terrace house that we visited on the Strand/Covent Garden walk.
3. Residence of Harry Cust
27 Hyde Park Gate
No sooner had this handsome devil emerged upon the London social scene than he became a most sought‑after spare man. He could both quote the classics and get a difficult horse across the country. When the Souls' literary coterie dispersed, it did not slow Harry down. He continued to meet ladies of poetic persuasion by moonlight, starlight or sunset at their slightest inclination. He was a man who couldn't say "no."
Despite recurring dangers of scandal, he remained for several years a Tory member of Parliament. Men, as well as women, admired him. In 1892 William Waldorf Astor offered him the editorship of the Pall Mall Gazette. In spite of having no experience in publishing, he rallied such contributors as Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Arthur Balfour and others of literary renown, to the astonishment (and disappointment) of Fleet Street competitors.
Misfortune struck when Cust was on the verge of marrying a dazzling girl with a huge fortune. On a visit to Lady Horner, a highbrow hostess, he met Nina, the homely daughter of Sir William Welby-Gregory, a fourth baronet. His flattering attentions to the plain girl were misunderstood. She fell madly in love.
Determined to capture him, Nina wrote to Arthur Balfour and Lord Haldane, both high in government, saying that she was with child by Mr. Cust and that his anticipated marriage must be stopped. Balfour then prevailed upon him to marry her. In view of his devastating reputation with women, he had no recourse. But the story of the pregnancy proved unfounded. By strange and bitter chance, his wife turned out to be one of the few women who came under Harry's spell who did not bear him a child. He deserted Nina frequently, but she remained crazy about him. She studied sculpting and carved immense equestrian statues of Harry for her bedroom.
Harry gave her this large house (a new, unflattering front has been added), where they entertained his intellectual friends, but poor Harry went to his grave proving the truth of Wilde's epigram: "The happiness of a married man depends on the people he has not married."
After the Custs had given up the house, it was turned into a duplex and later occupied by Sir Winston Churchill, who died here in 1965.
4. Residence of Leslie Stephen and Julia Duckworth Stephen
22 Hyde Park Gate
Lady Julia and Sir Leslie were the parents of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Sir Leslie's first wife was a daughter of William Thackeray's. After Julia and Leslie married, they moved into Julia's house, where he worked on his Dictionary of National Biography and entertained a host of writers, artists and musicians, among whom were George Meredith, Henry James, Edward Burne-Jones and George Watts.
Julia Stephen was exceedingly beautiful and sat for many artist friends as a favour. William Rothenstein, a protégé of Whistler's, was brought as a tea guest one day by a mutual friend. Awed by Julia's beauty, he had the temerity to ask her to sit for a drawing. When it was finished, she looked at it in silence, as did the rest of her family. Finally the word seeped upstairs to Mrs. Stephen's mother, a confirmed invalid. She had not left her room for many years, but on seeing the drawing, she rang for a cane and thumped heavily down the stairs to give the artist a piece of her mind. Whistler and his abstract technique was anathema in the Pre-Raphaelite, Burne-Jones and Watts circles.
Apparently Stephen outlived his prejudice, however. A 1903 chalk portrait of him by Sir William Rothenstein now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
5. Residence of Sir John Everett Millais
2 Palace Gate
While he painted in fits and starts, Millais lived in this grand mansion, still elegant today, where Sicilian marble covered the floors, and water spouted from the mouth of a black marble seal within a marble basin on the landing next to his forty-foot-long studio.
John Everett Millais, with his painting of Lillie Langtry as seen in Vanity Fair, May 13, 1871. The caption reads, "A converted Pre-Raphaelite."
A Pre-Raphaelite painter, Millais first attracted attention with a painting called The Carpenter's Shop, in which he associated the Holy Family with the meanest details of the carpenter's life, omitting neither misery, dirt nor even disease, all of which were depicted with the same minuteness of detail. The painting was violently criticized, so gradually Millais changed into an artist more interested in pleasing than in educating his public, and became one of the wealthiest and most admired of Victorian painters.
His portrait of Lillie Langtry, called The Jersey Lily, was greatly praised and won honours. Like Lillie Langtry, Millais had also come from the British island of Jersey, which struck a common bond between them. It was in Millais's studio that Lillie Langtry first met Prime Minister Gladstone, who was sitting for the portrait that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. He was later to give her some good career advice.
When Wilde, while a relative newcomer to London, was favoured with an invitation to a ball at Millais's home probably due to his friendship with Lillie - he wrote to a friend at Oxford, "I am going with Ruskin to the theatre to see Irving as Shylock and afterwards to the Millais ball. How odd it is!"
It would have been even "odder" had John Ruskin been included in the invitation, since Ruskin had once been married to Effy, Millais's wife, until she had gotten an annulment because after five years, Ruskin had still been unable to consummate the marriage.
Paintings by Millais are well represented at the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Gallery and Leighton House.
6. Residence of Frederick Leyland
6 Palace Gate
This hard-headed Liverpool shipowner was an admirer of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and purchased many of his paintings for his splendid art collection. Leyland also befriended Whistler and engaged him to do the decorating for his mansion. It wasn't an easy job. The walls had already been faced with leather, broken by a series of slender, vertical Gothic posts supporting shelves. While Leyland was in Liverpool, Whistler gilded the wood and overpainted the leather with sweeping, linear, Japanese-style peacock murals in blue, silver and gold. Nothing like the "Peacock Room" had ever been seen in London. Whistler made the mistake of showing it off in advance to everyone but Leyland.
When it was finished and Leyland finally allowed to see it, he was furious with Whistler for overpainting the leather and reneged upon the agreed fee, a factor which contributed to Whistler's bankruptcy. Nevertheless the house was Whistler's most-talked-about work, "a single experiment in decoration," according to the Times in 1877, "the ornamentation being entirely derived from the beautiful plumage of the peacock displayed in various forms." Whistler himself referred to it as a "Harmony in Blue and Gold."
7. Residence of Robert Browning
29 De Vere Gardens
The famed poet once confessed to Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "I myself am born supremely passionate - so I was born with light yellow hair." (I have yet to figure that one out, but that's what he said.)
He did not become well known as a poet until his return to London from Italy after Elizabeth's death in 1861, but eventually his reputation rivalled Tennyson's. His courtship of and elopement with Elizabeth resulted in a contented, artistically productive marriage, and he was desolate after her death. He returned to England with their young son, but later the winters found him increasingly ill, so he went back to Venice, where his son had settled. Browning was a frequent guest at Lady Wilde's soirées, and Wilde praised his writings during his lectures in America. When he died in 1889, he was buried in the Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey.
8. Residence of Henry James
34 De Vere Gardens
The American-born novelist, Henry James, lived in this five-story block of flats, now called Hale House, from 1886 to 1902. Many novelists of the time were drawn to the stage, James among them. His first play, The American, enjoyed a modest success. His second, Guy Domville, was a failure. Toward the end of the last act, Domville proclaims: "I am the last, my lord, of the Domvilles!"
"It's a bloody good thing you are," a voice shouted from the gallery.
The critics, too, were less than enthusiastic. James was mortified. "How can my piece do anything with a public with whom that is a success?" he cried, referring to Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, which was playing at the same time.
James was born in New York, but after 1876, he settled in England and in 1916 became a British subject. During this period he wrote his diabolical story, "The Turn of the Screw," and turned from a popular, easily accessible novelist famous for his The Portrait of a Lady, to one admired by a small circle of readers willing to pursue his attempts to present "what goes on irreconcilably, subversively beneath the vast smug surface." James found his increasing isolation far from comforting: "I have felt, for a long time past, that I have fallen upon evil days-every sign or symbol of one's being in the least bit wanted, anywhere or by anyone, having so utterly failed."
9. Residence of Henry Morton Stanley
De Vere Gardens
The exact address is not on record, but in 1890, after his marriage, Henry Morton Stanley lived in one of the terrace houses in De Vere Gardens. Later he and his wife moved to a fine home at number 2 Richmond Terrace on the Victoria Embankment.
His real name was John Rowlands. He was brought up in a Welsh workhouse and in 1859 sailed to New Orleans, where he was adopted by a cotton broker, whose name he took. He fought on both sides in the Civil War and then took up journalism. In 1869 the New York Herald commissioned Stanley to find David Livingstone, who was lost in the African interior. He found him in November 1871 when, legend has it, he presented his card and said, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Stanley returned to equatorial Africa three years later and traced the course of the Congo. His final journey in 1887 was an attempt to rescue the Emir Pasha, but he failed and returned to London to live. He married Dorothy Tennant, sister of the incorrigible Margot Tennant Asquith, in 1890.
If you are looking for a change from pub food, Fox and Hendersons, on the corner of De Vere Gardens and Kensington High Street, serves a nice lunch or tea.
10. Residence of William Makepeace Thackeray
16 Young Street
Thackeray lived here until later moving to 36 Onslow Square. This comfortable, double-fronted family house proved a haven when he settled into it with his two young daughters, Anne and Minny. His wife had been insane for some years, and the girls had spent their early years in Paris with their grandparents. Anne later recalled how he would "write in the study at the back of the house. A vine shaded his two windows, which looked out upon the bit of garden, and the medlar tree, and the Spanish jasmine of which the yellow flowers scented our old brick walls . . . . the evening bells used to ring into it across the garden and seemed to come in dancing and changing with the sunset." Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair and The History of Henry Esmond here. Much of the action of the latter is set in nearby Kensington Square.
After his death on Christmas Eve, the girls remained in Kensington. Minny eventually married Leslie Stephen, who made it a ménage à trois with her sister Anne. When Minny died, leaving a retarded daughter for Leslie to raise, he then married one of his wife's best friends, Julia Duckworth (whom we met at their house a few blocks away on Hyde Park Gate.)
After Minny died, Anne stayed on to help Stephen until he remarried, but then they had a failing out over his disapproval of her affair with a cousin, Richmond Ritchie, seventeen years her junior. Their ultimate marriage shocked all connections, but the couple were supremely happy and rejoiced in their two children. Ritchie had a government career devoted to Indian affairs, while Anne distinguished herself with popular writing. Anne was elected to a fellowship in the Royal Society of Literature in 1903, and Ritchie was made a knight in 1907. Unfortunately he died comparatively young in 1912, preceding his wife's death by eight years.
Continue down Young Street to Kensington Square
11. Residence of Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
41 Kensington Square
A painter and designer, Burne-Jones was a Pre-Raphaelite and a William Morris disciple. His stained-glass windows of Gothic design embellish several London churches. He lived with Morris in Bloomsbury and later with Rossetti in Chelsea, until he could afford this five-story brick house with a southern exposure, overlooking the charming garden in the square.
During Whistler's lawsuit against John Ruskin, Burne-Jones evoked his enmity by siding with Ruskin, a strong Morris supporter. Aware of Wilde's intent to use Morris and his followers as champions of good design on his lecture tour in America, Whistler sent Wilde a message as he set sail: "if you get seasick, throw up Burne-Jones."
12. Residence of Mrs. Patrick Campbell
33 Kensington Square
Born Beatrice Stella Tanner, this impulsive actress eloped at the age of nineteen with Patrick Campbell, a minor city-office worker. Upon discovering her mistake, she turned to the theatre and made her triumphant debut as Paula Tanqueray in the first performance of Pinero's The Second Mrs. Tangueray in 1893. No other actress of her time could match her portrayal of passionate, complex heroines.
Her uncharacteristic (for her) romance by mail with G.B. Shaw continued for years. He admired her tremendously and created the role of Eliza Doolittle in his play Pygmalion for her. Prior to its opening this warning appeared in the Daily Sketch: "Pygmalion may cause a sensation. Mr. Shaw introduces a certain forbidden word. It is a word which the Daily Sketch cannot possibly print. And this evening the most respectable audience in London is to hear this appalling word fall with bombshell suddenness from Mrs. Pat's lips." The word was that old English epithet "bloody"!
When asked once by a pompous gentleman why it was that women were so devoid of humour, Mrs. Campbell responded, "God did it on purpose, so that we may love you instead of laughing at you."
After luring George Cornwallis-West away from his wife, the former Jennie Jerome Churchill, Mrs. Campbell finally settled again for "the deep peace of the double bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise lounge" and married him.
Walk back up Young Street and cross Kensington High Street to Kensington Church Street.
13. St. Mary Abbot's Church
Kensington Church Street
At the altar here in August of 1888, Jimmy Whistler married the widow of architect E.W. Godwin, who had designed his beloved White House in Chelsea so many years earlier. Mrs. Godwin had studied art in Paris and was advanced enough in her appreciation to defend Whistler against press criticism of his art even before knowing him personally.
It was an unconventional courtship. Henry Labouchere brought the odd couple together after Mrs. Godwin was widowed, because they were both "bohemians." She, as large as Whistler was small, delighted him when he learned that there was Gypsy blood in her family. The attraction was obvious, but Jimmy, uncharacteristically shy, hesitated to ask her to marry him. So Henry Labouchere took them to dinner one night. When they were seated and imbibing an aperitif, Labouchere said, "Jimmy, will you marry Mrs. Godwin?"
"Certainly," he replied.
"Will you marry Jimmy?" he asked her.
"Certainly," she replied.
"When?" Henry asked.
"Oh, some day," Jimmy replied.
"That won't do," Labouchere said. "We must have a date." So they both agreed that Labouchere should choose a date, a church, a clergyman and give the bride away.
He fixed an early date and got them the then chaplain of the House of Commons. The wedding took place at St. Mary Abbot's in Kensington with Dr. and Mrs. Whistler, Jimmy's brother, one of Mrs. Godwin's sisters and a few friends in attendance. Labouchere gave the bride away, and Mr. Jopling-Rowe was best man.
Everybody needs friends like the Laboucheres. It was Henry's wife, Henrietta, who had coached Lillie Langtry and turned her into an actress when she was in desperate straits.
14. Kensington Palace
As you walk north on Kensington Church Street, the Kensington Palace gardens are on your right. The palace stands at the western edge of the gardens. It was the residence of the reigning sovereign until 1760, when George II died. Victoria was born here, as well as Queen Mary. Victoria learned of her accession to the throne here, and there is a statue of her by her own daughter, Princess Louise, outside, facing The Round Pond.
Today the palace is the London home of the Prince and Princess of Wales (Charles and Diana) and Princess Margaret. The state apartments, with an interesting collection of ladies' and gentlemen's court dress and uniforms displayed in period settings, are open to the public. There are also many fine paintings, dating from the eighteenth century to modern times.
Immediately behind the palace on the west side runs Kensington Palace Gardens, which extends into Palace Green at its south end. This wide, gated avenue of mansions built in the 1850s now houses embassies for the most part, or the residences of Middle Eastern potentates. The only personage connected with our era who lived here was Charles Brookfield, believed to have been the illegitimate son of Thackeray, who later took the name of his mother's husband. It makes the walk too long to include the whole complex, but you might want to take a peek at "Millionaires' Row" inside the gates.
15. Residence of Charles Brookfield
2 Kensington Palace Gardens
Brookfield was an actor and writer of burlesques. He happened to be playing in America when Wilde was on his first tour, and they met at a party. Wilde made the mistake of pointing out Brookfield's ill sense of propriety in keeping his gloves on at a tea party. Brookfield never forgave him. Later, back in London, Brookfield collaborated with Charles Hawtrey in goading Wilde, when they wrote a travesty of Wilde plays. Upon learning that Wilde's middle name was O'Flahertie, they began their piece, The Poet and the Puppet, with a song that ran in part:
They may bubble with jest at the way that I'm dressed, They may scoff at the length of my hair. They may say that I'm vain, overbearing, inane, And object to the flowers that I wear. They may laugh till they're ill, but the fact remains still, A fact I've proclaimed since a child, That it's taken, my dears, nearly two thousand years To make Oscar O'Flahertie Wilde.
Having suffered parodies in the past by Gilbert and others, Wilde was furious, but after appealing to the licenser of plays, Wilde won his point, only denying them the use of either "Oscar" or "Wilde." He did not object to the use of O'Flahertie, however, so the last line was altered to To make Neighbour O'Flahertie's child.
Turn west onto Holland Street, a short distance north of St. Mary Abbot's Church.
16. Residence of Walter Crane
13 Holland Street
Crane wrote about his house: "After returning one day after a long and fruitless search for a house, my wife and I happened to pass along Holland Street and notice this house to let. It had an eighteenth-century brick front, which was attractive, and on entering we found, instead of the usual squeezy passage, a square hall with a fireplace. There was a garden at the back toward St. Mary Abbot's Church and on a fine old leaden cistern, there was the date 1674. The style of some of the mouldings and woodwork suggested an earlier date." He lived and painted here until his death in 1915.
Crane had studied painting at the school of Mrs. Hume (Edith Dunn), along with Poynter, Nevinson and other London artists who later gained recognition. His name appeared often in Constance Wilde's guest book, and he was among the artists who signed a fruitless clemency petition for Wilde when he was imprisoned.
17. Elephant and Castle Pub
40 Holland Street
This is a delightful pub to stop in for refreshments, especially on a warm day when you can sit outside.
Holland Street runs perpendicular to Campden Hill Road. Turn right and proceed north.
18. Residence of Ford Madox Ford
80 Campden Hill Road
This lovely white house, set back from the street behind a wall hung with wisteria, was the home of the novelist and critic, born Ford Hermann Hueffer. Grandson of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown, and the son of Francis Hueffer, a well-known music critic, Ford changed his surname to Ford. He founded the English Review in 1908, whose early contributors included H.G. Wells, Henry James and John Galsworthy. His writing room was decorated in a violent shade of red by his friend Wyndham Lewis and was known as "the futurist's room."
In 1880, prior to Wilde's marriage to Constance, he had cause to entertain the idea that if married, he would be better able to confront society without having to affront it - a wife would save him from moralists - and a rich one from moneylenders. After Florence Balcombe, his first choice, preferred Bram Stoker, he then considered the beauteous Violet Hunt, young daughter of an artist and a novelist. Miss Violet was interested, but practicality got the best of her, and she fell in love with Ford Madox Ford, with whom she lived, unmarried, in this house.
Walk downhill to Kensington High Street and turn right. Then turn right on Argyll Road and left on Stafford Terrace.
19. Linley Sambourne House
18 Stafford Terrace
This little masterpiece of Victoriana is a museum managed by the Victorian Society. It was sold intact to the city of London by the Countess of Rosse, mother of Lord Snowdon and granddaughter of Mr. Sambourne, who built and furnished it in the 1870s. Sambourne was an illustrator and member of the staff of Punch. He entertained many artists, politicians and actors here. Some of his finest work appeared in his illustrations for The Water Babies, the Victorian children's classic which rests on a bed table in his house.
Unlike most London museums, which are free, there is a small fee to visit this one. The house has been beautifully maintained and is as typical an example of Victorian décor as can be found. Blue-and-white Nippon china still rests on dining-room shelves, the original Morris wallpaper covers walls, and cartoons and drawings by George Du Maurier, Walter Crane, and Luke Fildes hang along with Sambourne's own. This "middle-class" house is in interesting contrast to Leighton House, which awaits a few blocks away at the end of this walk.
The best way to reach Melbury Road from here is to turn left at the end of Stafford Terrace. Walk down to Kensington High Street and follow it westward the short distance to Melbury Road.
20. Residence of Sir Luke Fildes
11 Melbury Road
This dignified artist lived here from 1877 until his death. His son recalls his father's decision in 1875 to build a home and put into it all the money he had. The house would be designed by Norman Shaw, the most fashionable domestic architect of the day. Melbury Road was an extremely desirable location, as it is still. Norman Shaw called it "delicious." Sir Hamo Thornycroft, the sculptor, lived at number 2A, and artist Val Princep had commissioned Philip Webb to design his house and studio nearby. George Watts also was a neighbour and friend.
Fildes and his family moved into the house in 1877 (the plaque is incorrect according to his son). Every day at milking time cows came along the country lane from Holland House, through the gates into Melbury Road, and on to the dairy in Kensington High Street. Fildes's son recalls the William Morris wallpaper in the day and night nurseries, and Morris's black, spindly legged chairs with rush seats.
21. Residence of William Holman Hunt
18 Melbury Road
William Holman Hunt lived for many years in Chelsea, when he wasn't painting and travelling in the Middle East, but he spent his later years here and died in this house.
While organizing the Pre‑Raphaelite Brotherhood with Millais and Rossetti, he shared a studio with Rossetti, and they often worked on each other's paintings. Rossetti would say, "Here, Hunt, you are best at hair. Do my hair and I'll paint that sleeve you're working on."
Hunt caught himself up in a "Pygmalion" plot when he fell in love with an ignorant urchin named Annie Miller, a product of the workhouse. After he cleaned her up, she became much desired as a model for some of his artist friends. Finally, when Hunt had sold enough paintings to pay his debts and realize his dream of travelling to the Middle East to paint, he left Annie in the charge of a Mrs. Bramah, who lived in Chelsea. This well-bred lady was commissioned to see to Annie's education in dancing, elocution and instructions in the social graces, so that when he returned, Hunt could be proud to present her as his wife.
After two years he returned to learn that she had been practicing dancing with his best friend Rossetti, and still could barely read or write. More smitten than ever with her improved appearance and manners, however, Hunt forgave her indiscretions and moved her to fancier quarters, supervised by a new tutor.
Now, while Hunt slaved over his easel to pay for all this and save enough to marry her, she practiced her newly learned charms in the Burlington Arcade, where she had the good fortune to meet the old rake, Lord Ranelagh, who contributed to her education in the ways of the world.
By this time Hunt's work was gaining recognition, but when he suggested marriage, Annie rebelled. She wasn't ready to give up her aristocratic lover. The guileless Hunt was distraught, until gossip of her betrayal seeped through to him. Then he generously paid off her debts and bid her a firm farewell.
But that wasn't the end of his trials with this lady. Ranelagh had no interest in supporting her, so he proposed that she sue Hunt for breach of promise, until Annie pointed out that then Hunt could introduce Ranelagh's name as the cause. Meanwhile young Thomas Ranelagh Thomson, the lord's cousin, was falling in love with her. To prevent a lawsuit that would involve his uncle, young Thomson cannily conceived a new scheme. If they held off until an opportune time, they could then produce Annie's trunk full of letters from Hunt, which might be worth something to the newspapers, if not to Hunt himself.
A time presented itself when the lonely Hunt settled for the very respectable Fanny Waugh as his bride. By now Annie was married to Lord Ranelagh's impoverished young cousin. The exposure of the letters would generate great embarrassment for the Waughs, as well as for Hunt, whose reputation as a "religious painter" was becoming well established.
Since the letters never were published, Hunt's friends assumed that he had succumbed to the blackmail and bought them back, especially when they eventually learned that Annie had been delivered of a daughter and was living very comfortably with her husband in Montrose House in Hampstead Heath.
Holman Hunt's paintings may be seen in the Tate Gallery.
Retrace your steps on Melbury Road the short distance back to where it meets Holland Park Road. This entire area was once the grounds of Holland House, an eighteenth-century estate. Little Holland House adjoined it, but was demolished long ago.
22. Site of Little Holland House
In 1863 the prominent artist G.F. Watts painted Ellen Terry and her sister Kate in Little Holland House, where he lived for many years as the houseguest of Mr. and Mrs. Thoby Princep. Princep was a former jurist in India, after which he had retired and become a member of the Council of India office in London. Mrs. Princep was ambitious to establish a "salon," but their house in Mayfair was too small. Through Watts they learned that Little Holland House, a farmhouse adjoining Lord Holland's own residence, could be rented. They leased it in 1850. Watts went to visit three days and stayed thirty years. The friendship endured as long as the Princeps had the house. It was demolished in 1875.
G.F. Watts, as seen in Vanity Fair, December 26, 1891. The caption reads, “He paints portraits and ideas."
Mrs. Princep built Watts up as a "resident artist," calling him "Signer." Her salon guests included Disraeli, Thackeray, Browning, Tennyson, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Wilde, Gladstone, Lady Constance Leslie, Lady Somers, and others, among whom was one Tom Taylor, who introduced Ellen Terry to the resident artist when she was a young actress of fifteen, and Watts was a middle-aged bachelor of forty-seven.
Ellen had led a sheltered life, playing ingenue roles in the theatre with a troupe composed largely of her own family. Watts, enthralled with the beauty of Ellen and her sister, asked them to model. One of his finest works is the one of Kate, the sister. In the meantime he became infatuated with Ellen and one day kissed her. Impossible as it may seem in today's culture, innocent Ellen considered them engaged and actually thought herself pregnant because of the kiss. Watts, in turn, experienced an urgent need to protect her from the "dangers and temptations" of the stage, which pleased Ellen. She had been performing and on the road with her family from the time she could walk and had no interest in the theatre at that time. Her family was against her marrying a man so old, but when she confessed to her mother that she was having a baby, they became anxious to see it through. The two were married at St. Barnabes in Kensington on February 20, 1864.
Presumably Ellen didn't learn how babies were made even after her marriage. Although Watts was believed to be homosexual, he had practiced abstinence all of his life anyway, and most of his biographers believe this marriage was never consummated.
Watts moved Ellen into his quarters with the Princeps. During the first ten months of their marriage, Ellen gave up the stage and modelled for him constantly, sometimes until she fainted with fatigue. After that his interest waned, and her high-spirited youth started to annoy him. He suggested they separate legally. She moved back to her family and made a few stage appearances, until she fell madly in love and ran off with the young architect Edward Godwin, who later was to design the White House for Whistler (and whose widowed wife Whistler was to marry).
Ellen Terry's family ceased to receive her during the years she was "living in sin" with Godwin, and Watts, at that time satisfied with their legal separation, refused to grant her a divorce so she could marry Godwin and legitimize their children. In time, unfortunately for poor Ellen, Godwin drifted away and eventually married another lady, leaving Ellen an outcast from her family with two children to raise.
Meanwhile, at age sixty-nine, Watts found it advantageous to marry the rich Mary Fraser-Tytler, a formidable lady with artsy-craftsy inclinations, so he at long last divorced Ellen Terry. To support herself, she returned to the stage and purchased a residence in Earl's Court, West Kensington. Then, to make peace with her family and as a concession to respectability, she impulsively married an alcoholic actor named Charles Kelly, expecting to reform him. After a few fretful years, she sent him on his way.
Her children still had not been blessed with a surname. At that point Ellen simply selected the name of Craig from a landmark rock called Ailsa Craig, and had both of her children christened with the name - Edy became Edith Geraldine Ailsa Craig and Teddy became Edward Henry Gordon Craig. The actor Henry Irving, Ellen's leading man for over twenty years (separated from his wife, but never divorced), was godfather for both children. Ellen Terry at the end of her career was covered on the Chelsea walk, where she moved from Kensington.
At the end of his life, Watts became known as the grandest of the "grand old men of British art." His reputation did not hold up with time, however. Although the Pre-Raphaelites returned to favour, Watts's work remains relatively unknown, in spite of some fine portraits by him in the National Portrait Gallery.
23. Residence of Lord Frederick Leighton
12 Holland Park Road
This noted Victorian painter and sculptor deigned to sculpt Lillie Langtry's head when they met on the event of her first social appearance in London. Leighton prided himself on his thorough draftsmanship. Meeting Whistler one day on Piccadilly, he remarked upon the other artist's technique: "My dear Whistler, you leave your pictures in such a crude, sketchy state. Why don't you ever finish them?"
"My dear Leighton," was the response, "why do you ever begin yours?"
Leighton, as opposed to Whistler, introduced a classical revival into Victorian painting. In 1866 he employed George Aitchison to build Leighton House to reflect his unusual and exotic tastes. The Arab hall was an authentic copy of a hall in Moorish Spain, the dome inlaid with stained glass, and the walls faced with tiles collected by Leighton and his friends from the Middle East, Rhodes and Persia. Contemporary artists added to the decorations. Walter Crane designed the mosaic frieze of the white stone staircase leading to the domed landing, and Randolph Caldecott, the birds on the marble columns supporting the dome. Leighton became president of the Royal Academy in 1878. He died the day after he was raised to the peerage.
His house, now a museum and gallery of paintings by Leighton contemporaries, is the highlight of the Kensington walk. The Arab hall, with the lull of water tinkling against myriad tiles, and prisms of colour dancing in the bay of the fountain, makes you love the man simply for having conceived it. Here one easily imagines a caftan-robed Holman Hunt and others of Leighton's exotically inclined friends lounging on silk ottomans, sipping thick Turkish coffees, perhaps smoking water pipes, and trading dreams.
After Leighton House, anything else is anticlimactic. Major bus connections may be made a block away on Kensington High Street.