The history of
the Hillgate Village area


Hillgate Village, originally known as "The Racks" was part of the Campden House estate and came into the possession of the Phillimore family during the eighteenth century. 
From then parts were sold off to The Metropolitan Water board amongst others until... 

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By the 1920's the reservoir was no longer needed by the Metropolitan Water Board, which had taken over the operations of the West Middle-sex Water Works Company in 1904. The site of the reservoir itself, which was at the western, or higher, end of the Board's property, was let in 1923 and shortly afterwards sold for use as a garage.

The site of the Board's premises to the east of the reservoir was sold to the London County Council in 1924 and is at present occupied by the buildings of the Fox School and Kensington Institute. The school is named after Caroline Fox, the sister of the third Lord Holland, who had established a charity school on the north side of St. Mary Abbots Mews (now Holland Park Road) in 1842. In 1876 the school was transferred to the School Board for London, which built new premises in Silver Street (now Kensington Church Street). In 1920 the London County Council decided to widen Kensington Church Street where the school buildings stood, and for this reason purchased the present site from the Metropolitan Water Board. The road widening proposals were postponed, however, and it was not until 1935 that work began on the present school buildings.


The eastern, or lowest, part of the land purchased by the water works company in 1809 was not needed for the reservoir or its associated buildings and was let to tenants. In 1825, however, after building developments had begun immediately to the south, the company built a road and sewer and sold the land by auction as building ground. The road, which was originally known as Sheffield Street (the subsidiary names of Edge Terrace, Cousins' Cottages and Reservoir Cottages were used later), is now called Edge Street after one of the purchasers of land fronting it, Andrew Edge of St. Clement Danes, esquire. The other purchasers were William Bartlett of St. George's, Hanover Square, victualler, Samuel and William Cousins of Kensington, builders, and Richard Dartnell of Kensington, gentleman.

Edge Street forms a cul-de-sac and was generally built up with small houses of a similar kind to those in Peel Street. Some of these survive, particularly on the north side, but at the eastern end of the south side there were also groups of tiny cottages arranged around courtyards. These were demolished as a result of the construction of the Metropolitan Railway in c. 1865 and the erection of Campden Hill Mansions by the builders E. and H. Harris of Kensington in c. 1907. The architect of Campden Hill Mansions was William G. Hunt.

The westernmost building on the south side of Edge Street is the much-altered school established in 1839 as the Kensington Infant National School on land purchased by the Vestry and charity school trustees. In 1865 the school was assigned to the newly established district of St. George's, Campden Hill, and became known as St. George's School. It was closed in 1963 as a result of the reorganization and enlargement of the nearby Fox School, and the building is now used by the Kensington Institute.


John Johnson, who purchased the northern part of The Racks from John Jones in 1810, was described as a paviour, but this hardly does justice to the extent of his business activities. He quarried stone on Dartmoor and became the contractor for several major projects involving stonework, including the construction of the breakwater at Plymouth. He amassed a considerable fortune and, besides The Racks area, he also owned property in Earl's Court, Westminster, St. Pancras, Ealing and other places outside Middlesex.

Shortly after purchasing the land, Johnson encouraged speculative building around the periphery of the area, while using most of it as a brickfield. The first houses (now demolished) were erected on the north side of Uxbridge Street under eighty-year leases granted in 1814, but relatively little building took place during these early years. The building boom of the early 1820's stimulated development, however, and William Inwood submitted a plan to the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers showing a proposed layout for Johnson's estate. There is no evidence that Inwood acted in any other capacity for Johnson than as a surveyor, and his street pattern was not adhered to. Stephen Bird constructed sewers in Uxbridge Street and New Street (now Newcombe Street), but in the event building was chiefly confined to these streets and parts of the frontage to Plough Lane (now Campden Hill Road). By the late 1820's the pace of activity had slowed considerably—a general trend reflected elsewhere in Kensington and other parts of London.

In 1829 John Johnson transferred the bulk of his property, including his land in Kensington, to his sons, John Johnson the younger and William Johnson, who carried on their father's business. The younger John Johnson became an alderman of the City of London and was Lord Mayor in 1845–6.

In 1839 the Johnsons leased their brickfield, which still occupied by far the largest part of the area, to Benjamin and Joseph Clutterbuck, brickmakers, for fourteen years at an annual rent of £150 plus an extra 2s. 6d. for every 1,000 bricks made above 1,200,000. Benjamin Clutterbuck, who was working a brickfield on the Holland estate (see page 105), shortly afterwards assigned his interest to Joseph Clutterbuck, who became the sole lessee.

John Johnson the younger died in 1848. In his will he left his estates to his brother on trust to sell them to settle his share of their joint debts. The mortgage debts on The Racks and other property amounted to £50,000, and William Johnson immediately began to sell the freeholds of the houses that were then standing in the area. These did not command very high prices, however; for instance, Edward Baker of Stamford Hill, esquire, paid only £1,570 for the freeholds of at least twenty-six houses.

Hillgate street.JPG

In 1850 Joseph Clutterbuck was granted ninety-nine-year building leases by Johnson of four houses at the east end of Kensington Place. Clutterbuck's lease of the brickfield was shortly due to expire and by 1851 he had entered into an agreement with Johnson to undertake building developments on the land. The agreement itself has not survived, and it is not known who was responsible for determining the layout or for the basic design of the houses themselves, which are markedly similar although erected by a miscellany of builders. Most of the houses consist of two storeys above semi-basements with narrow frontages of approximately sixteen feet, and are brickfaced with stucco dressings in a uniform style (Plate 41e). Clutterbuck himself applied to the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers for permission to build over four thousand feet of sewers, partly in continuation of the drainage system begun by Stephen Bird and partly in the new streets about to be laid out, viz: Ernest Street (now Farm Place), William Street (now Callcott Street), Johnson Street (now Hillgate Street), Farm Street (now Farmer Street), St. James or James Street (now Jameson Street) and Dartmoor Street (now Hillgate Place).

Clutterbuck died in 1851 or 1852 and although several leases were granted to builders by the direction of his widow, another developer became involved. He was William Millwood of High Row (Kensington Church Street), who was described variously as a licensed victualler and a builder. The development proceeded with great rapidity and over two hundred houses were erected in a decade. A considerable number of builders were employed, most of them building only a few houses each. Johnson granted leases at terms equivalent to ninety-nine years from 1850 at very low ground rents, but he disposed of the freeholds shortly after the houses had been completed. In 1855 Edward Baker, who had already purchased several of the older houses, bought the freeholds of over one hundred of the newly erected houses for £8,200.

The evidence of the census of 1861 suggests that the majority of houses were multi-occupied as soon as they were finished. Several houses contained over twenty people, and in one house in St. James Street thirty-two people seem to have lived, spread among six households. In 1865 Henry Mayhew interviewed several workmen who lived in the vicinity of Silver Street, possibly in these houses, and they extolled the virtues of living in 'the suburbs', where they could enjoy the luxury of two rooms. An observer commented in the 1870's, however, that 'Johnsonstreet is a dingy, ill-favoured slum', and in 1900 the vicar of St. George's, Campden Hill, made an appeal for the relief of the poverty of the inhabitants of the area, in which he compared their conditions of living to those in the East End of London. The upward social transformation which has taken place in recent years, however, has been remarkable, its most obvious outward manifestation being the liberal application of paint in various pastel shades to the brickwork of the houses.

The most extensive redevelopment has occurred at the eastern end of the area. As a result of the construction of Notting Hill Gate railway station, which was opened in 1868, most of the houses on the east side of St. James Street and the west side of New Street had to be demolished. After the station was completed new houses were erected in 1871–4, the builder responsible being Walter William Wheeler of Victoria Gardens, Notting Hill. The range consisting of Nos. 11–37 (odd) Jameson Street survives as an example of his work.

The whole of New Street (now Newcombe Street), with the exception of the chapel at the corner of Kensington Place, has since been demolished.

No. 23 Kensington Place, built in 1966–7, maintains the scale and frontage line of its neighbouring Victorian houses, although it provides a sharp contrast in design and appearance. The house, which consists of three storeys and has a prominent circular staircase tower on the Hillgate Street front, is faced with blue Staffordshire bricks of a very dark colour. The architect was Tom Kay.


This chapel was built under a ninety-eight-year lease granted in 1824 by John Johnson the elder to Thomas Worger of Kensington Gravel Pits, a coachmaker. For most of its history, and possibly, indeed, from its establishment, it has been used by various Baptist sects. For several years during the nineteenth century it was known as the Silver Street Baptist Chapel on account of its proximity to the northern part of Kensington Church Street which was then called Silver Street, and on the Ordnance Survey map of 1863–73 it is called The Labourers' Church.


This building, which is now in commercial use, is situated on the east side of Hillgate Street (formerly Johnson Street) and is now known as Hillgate House. It was built in 1851–2 under a lease granted by William Johnson to Peter William Williamson, its first pastor. The builder was James Betts of St. Pancras. The chapel was used by a congregation of Particular Baptists and was described in 1872 as 'one of the plainest of buildings for religious worship, low and uncommanding, . . . a simple meeting-house with a stuccoed front'. A less sympathetic observer commented that it was 'a low, beetle-browed edifice, bearing on its front the outward and visible signs of the strictest sect of Calvinism, as though one should have written thereupon the stern motto, "All hope abandon, ye who enter here".' By 1882 the chapel had ceased to be used for worship, and the building appears to have been refronted shortly afterwards.

[Pictures by kind permission of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libraries]

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