Going back in time at Launceston Place
Words by Jake Russell
The fascinating history behind one of West London’s most picturesque streets
Kensington New Town
Launceston Place lies at the centre of Kensington New Town. This was the name given to a collection of streets south of Kensington Gardens, constructed between 1837 and 1843. These streets are some of the most picturesque in West London, but what’s the story behind their beautiful appearance?
Kensington New Town is made up of Launceston Place and Victoria Grove, as well as sections of Gloucester Road and Canning Place. This area was developed by John James Vallotton, a haberdasher from Jermyn Street, and John Inderwick, who was a successful importer of pipes and snuffboxes with a popular shop in Soho.
1837 was the year that Queen Victoria ascended to the throne. At the time, Kensington contained some 24,000 people, many of them still involved in agriculture and market gardening. However, given the neighbourhood’s closeness to London, it was the ideal site for more housing.
The houses in Kensington New Town were built in the Regency style: semi-detached properties with stucco facades. On each street the designs are subtly different, showing an early Victorian taste for introducing variety through traditional architectural details. In fact, the architecture is less urban than rural, reflecting the fact that these houses were still located among fields.
Launceston Place was the centre of the development and its charming properties have been popular ever since. For example, here is a Country Life article about the road from 1972: ‘The original buildings are mostly semi-detached villas with each side having its own distinctive design, and visually the street is most attractive. On the earlier west side the characteristic features are the round-headed recessed porches and square two-storied bays; on the east side the design is bolder with square-pierced, two-storied porches and pairs of narrow, round-headed windows like those in Victoria Grove. These houses anticipate the Italianate style of the late 1840s, whereas elsewhere on the estate buildings are more self-consciously Regency in design.’
The article also lists some of the original residents. From the start the street attracted professional and mercantile households, able to employ more than one servant. By the 1850s occupants included a painter, a composer, a magazine editor, and a self-styled astronomer from Corfu called Spiridone Gambardella, who may have added the dome to No.22 to make observations.
Visiting Kensington New Town today, that village-like character remains. Most of the houses on Launceston Place are Grade II listed, protecting their special character. The scale is less imposing than the surrounding neighbourhoods, reflecting Georgian rather than Victorian proportions, but because the properties have lower rooflines and front gardens, it gives the street a sense of space and light.
Past and present
Several restaurants and shops have collected at the northern end of the street, adding to the close-knit community. At the intersection with Victoria Grove, you will find the celebrated Launceston Place restaurant, serving modern English cuisine, as well as Hjem café, with its delicious Danish pastries. The restaurants and shops of the Gloucester Road are also close, while the Gloucester Arms pub likewise dates back to the early days of the new neighbourhood.
Past and present feel close together in this corner of Kensington, which is also true for the house currently on sale. Situated on the western side of Launceston Place, it shares the bay window, hooded metal awning and a round-headed recessed porch of its neighbours. However, at some point a double-height studio was added to the rear of the property – a unique feature for this street.
Although the house is oriented east to west, this room has windows along its southern side, keeping it bright throughout the day. It would make an impressive space for entertaining or displaying art, but could also become a generous kitchen or family room. Like the rest of the house, it is steeped in a sense of history, but has the rare potential to be redesigned for modern living.
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Words by Jake Russell