In the mid-nineteenth century London was becoming so over-populated that middle class families and wealthy gentlemen were beginning to struggle in their efforts to find suitable accommodation. Houses were expensive and flats were often synonymous with the lower classes and the poor. Worse still, living in apartment blocks, one on top of another, was associated with the French and the ways of Paris! However in the 1870’s attitudes began to change and the multi-floor mansion block seemed to be the answer to West London’s space problem.
An early development was Albert Hall Mansions in Kensington Gore, started in 1876 by the developer Thomas Hussey. Hussey considered modelling the design on the Grand Siècle style to be found in Paris, but by the time building started in 1879 Norman Shaw, the architect, had produced a design which was more influenced by the Flemish style of the 17th and 18th centuries. High pitched roofs, red brick, elaborate stone dressings and iron-railed balconies became the de facto style for West London Mansion blocks until the outbreak of the first world war. Built between 1897 and 1899 Kensington Hall Gardens is part of this magnificent tradition - which extends as far afield as Kensington, St. John’s Wood, Battersea, Fulham and Chiswick.
Until the end of the 19th century Fulham had been a rural area and, known as “The Market garden of London”, it was primarily used for growing fruit and vegetables to feed London’s growing population. Edward Walford, writing in 1878 provides a fascinating insight into the area http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45296
The area where Kensington Hall Gardens is situated was originally known as North End, a hamlet of Fulham. Walford describes North End Road as being "almost one continuous line of ordinary cottages and middle-class shops, which are rapidly extending on the left-hand side over Fulham Fields"
Kensington Hall itself was built in 1834 by Tom Slater, “the well known Kensington Butcher”. Walford reports that it was "a large stucco-fronted house on the right, close by the railway station, was built many years ago by Mr. Slater, as a family residence, but has since been converted to other purposes".
It became known as “Slater’s Folly” – presumably because the “other purposes” referred to by Walford were necessitated by an absence of suitable tenants wishing to lease the Hall as their family home. Over the next 60 years the “Folly” was occupied intermittently, serving in turn as a school for young ladies and then a school for young gentlemen. Next, in 1875, the Hall was leased by the Benevolent Society of St John of Jerusalem with the intention of using it as a convalescent hospital. This did not come about and it was taken over by a religious sisterhood who used it as an orphanage and convalescent hospital.
Other developments in the area seemed to have fared badly as well. The “square mile” on the opposite of North End Road bounded by the railway between West Kensington and Barons Court, Queens Club to the south and North End Road comprises a large number of grand houses reminiscent of Belgravia. Presumably the speculators were hoping that “North End” would become the next Kensington? Perhaps this was why the Metropolitan Railway’s new railway station was renamed from Fulham – North End to West Kensington in 1877, only three years after it was opened?
A clue to the area’s failure to achieve the success of Kensington can be found by examining contemporary maps. The A4 did not exist until well into the 20th century, and the only way to cross the Olympia railway tracks was either at High Street Kensington in the north or at West Brompton in the south. West Kensington was therefore somewhat isolated and cut off from the rest of London. English Heritage’s Blue Plaque outside a house on Barons Court Road proclaiming that Mohandras Gandhi (later the Mahatma Gandhi) had lived there whilst a law student in London tells us that the area was already a student squat by 1888/89.
In 1897 Kensington Hall was demolished to make way for Kensington Hall Gardens and three years later the first tenants moved in. These were middle class people – many of them “living on their own means” – together with their servant(s). Many of the larger flats in Kensington Hall Gardens have a small bedroom which would have served equally well as a servant’s room or a nursery. Kensington Hall Gardens was built in a “U” shape (as were so many mansion blocks) and the end of the court yard has a turning circle large enough for a horse and carriage to turn.
During the Second World War, the last V1 flying bomb to land on Fulham, on the night of August 2nd 1944, caused severe damage to Block C. The block, at the end of the courtyard, was repaired.
By 1970 the London property company Freshwater had acquired Kensington Hall Gardens from it previous Freeholding company and they started selling “long” leases.
In 1996 Kensington Hall Gardens Ltd. was formed by leaseholders to buy the freehold of the estate, and 999 year leases have been issued to all shareholders, ensuring security of tenure for the foreseeable future.