1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kensington

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KENSINGTON, a western metropolitan borough of London, England, bounded N.E. by Paddington, and the city of Westminster, S.E. by Chelsea, S.W. by Fulham, N.W. by Hammersmith, and extending N. to the boundary of the county of London. Pop. (1901), 176,628. It includes the districts of Kensal Green (partly) in the north, Notting Hill in the north-central portion, Earl’s Court in the south-west, and Brompton in the south-east. A considerable but indefinite area adjoining Brompton is commonly called South Kensington; but the area known as West Kensington is within the borough of Fulham.

The name appears in early forms as Chenesitun and Kenesitune. Its origin is obscure, and has been variously connected with a Saxon royal residence (King’s town), a family of the name of Chenesi, and the word caen, meaning wood, from the forest which originally covered the district and was still traceable in Tudor times. The most probable derivation, however, finds in the name a connection with the Saxon tribe or family of Kensings. The history of the manor is traceable from the time of Edward the Confessor, and after the Conquest it was held of the Bishop of Coutances by Aubrey de Vere. Soon after this it became the absolute property of the de Veres, who were subsequently created Earls of Oxford. The place of the manorial courts is preserved in the name of the modern district of Earl’s Court. With a few short intervals the manor continued in the direct line until Tudor times. There were also three sub-manors, one given by the first Aubrey de Vere early in the 12th century to the Abbot of Abingdon, whence the present parish church is called St Mary Abbots; while in another, Knotting Barnes, the origin of the name Notting Hill is found.

The brilliant period of history for which Kensington is famous may be dated from the settlement of the Court here by William III. The village, as it was then, had a reputation for healthiness through its gravel soil and pure atmosphere. A mansion standing on the western flank of the present Kensington Gardens had been the seat of Heneage Finch, Lord Chancellor and afterwards Earl of Nottingham. It was known as Nottingham House, but when bought from the second earl by William, who was desirous of avoiding residence in London as he suffered from asthma, it became known as Kensington Palace. The extensive additions and alterations made by Wren according to the taste of the King resulted in a severely plain edifice of brick; the orangery, added in Queen Anne’s time, is a better example of the same architect’s work. In the palace died Mary, William’s consort, William himself, Anne and George II., whose wife Caroline did much to beautify Kensington Gardens, and formed the beautiful lake called the Serpentine (1733). But a higher interest attaches to the palace as the birthplace of Queen Victoria in 1819; and here her accession was announced to her. By her order, towards the close of her life, the palace became open to the public.

Modern influences, one of the most marked of which is the widespread erection of vast blocks of residential flats, have swept away much that was reminiscent of the historical connexions of the “old court suburb.” Kensington Square, however, lying south of High Street in the vicinity of St Mary Abbots church, still preserves some of its picturesque houses, nearly all of which were formerly inhabited by those attached to the court; it numbered among its residents Addison, Talleyrand, John Stuart Mill, and Green the historian. In Young Street, opening from the Square, Thackeray lived for many years. His house here, still standing, is most commonly associated with his work, though he subsequently moved to Onslow Square and to Palace Green. Another link with the past is found in Holland House, hidden in its beautiful park north of Kensington Road. It was built by Sir Walter Cope, lord of the manor, in 1607, and obtained its present name on coming into the possession of Henry Rich, earl of Holland, through his marriage with Cope’s daughter. He extended and beautified the mansion. General Fairfax and General Lambert are mentioned as occupants after his death, and later the property was let, William Penn of Pennsylvania being among those who leased it. Addison, marrying the widow of the 6th earl, lived here until his death in 1719. During the tenancy of Henry Fox, third Lord Holland (1773–1840), the house gained a European reputation as a meeting-place of statesmen and men of letters. The formal gardens of Holland House are finely laid out, and the rooms of the house are both beautiful in themselves and enriched with collections of pictures, china and tapestries. Famous houses no longer standing were Campden House, in the district north-west of the parish church, formerly known as the Gravel Pits; and Gore House, on the site of the present Albert Hall, the residence of William Wilberforce, and later of the countess of Blessington.

The parish church of St Mary Abbots, High Street, occupies an ancient site, but was built from the designs of Sir Gilbert Scott in 1869. It is in Decorated style, and has one of the loftiest spires in England. In the north the borough includes the cemetery of Kensal Green (with the exception of the Roman Catholic portion, which is in the borough of Hammersmith); it was opened in 1838, and great numbers of eminent persons are buried here. The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of Victories lies close to Kensington Road, and in Brompton Road is the Oratory of St Philip Neri, a fine building with richly decorated interior, noted for the beauty of its musical services, as is the Carmelite Church in Church Street. St Charles’s Roman Catholic College (for boys), near the north end of Ladbroke Grove, was founded by Cardinal Manning in 1863; the buildings are now used as a training centre for Catholic school mistresses. Of secular institutions the principal are the museums in South Kensington. The Victoria and Albert, commonly called the South Kensington, Museum contains various exhibits divided into sections, and includes the buildings of the Royal College of Science. Close by is the Natural History Museum, in a great building by Alfred Waterhouse, opened as a branch of the British Museum in 1880. Near this stood Cromwell House, erroneously considered to have been the residence of Oliver Cromwell, the name of which survives in the adjacent Cromwell Road. In Kensington Gardens, near the upper end of Exhibition Road, which separates the two museums, was held the Great Exhibition of 1851, the hall of which is preserved as the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. The greater part of the gardens, however, with the Albert Memorial, erected by Queen Victoria in memory of Albert, prince consort, the Albert Hall, opposite to it, one of the principal concert-halls in London, and the Imperial Institute to the south, are actually within the city of Westminster, though commonly connected with Kensington. The gardens (275 acres) were laid out in the time of Queen Anne, and have always been a popular and fashionable place of recreation. Extensive grounds at Earl’s Court are open from time to time for various exhibitions. Further notable buildings in Kensington are the town-hall and free library in High Street, which is also much frequented for its excellent shops, and the Brompton Consumption Hospital, Fulham Road. In Holland Park Road is the house of Lord Leighton (d. 1896), given to the nation, and open, with its art collection, to the public.

Kensington is a suffragan bishopric in the diocese of London. The parliamentary borough of Kensington has north and south divisions, each returning one member. The borough council consists of a mayor, 10 aldermen and 60 councillors. Area, 2291.1 acres.