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Property News,


Property News,


The secret history of a Kensington school


Words by Hermione Russell

How one house close to Kensington Square is a souvenir of a long-lost school

The oldest garden square

Kensington Square is among the oldest garden squares in the city. The development began in 1685, under the direction of a woodcarver called Thomas Young. At the time, the square was some distance from London, surrounded by nurseries and market gardens. Despite the location, Young built large houses ‘fit for the Habitacion of persons of good Worth and Quality.’

The development was named King’s Square, in honour of James II. However, within a few years the king had been replaced in the Glorious Revolution. Fortunately, the new monarchs William and Mary moved their court to nearby Kensington Palace. As a result, the square became more popular, with the North, East and South sides all completed in 1690.

In 1750 the royal court relocated and the neighbourhood fell out of fashion. But, the square came back into demand after Princess Victoria was born at Kensington Palace in 1819. By the middle of the century, most of the properties had been rebuilt or re-fronted, and it was also home to a highly regarded school.

The Kensington Races

The Kensington Proprietary Grammar School for boys aged 11 to 18 was founded in 1831. By 1833, it had purchased No.27 Kensington Square – the largest property on the western side – and leased the land behind to use as playing fields. The house was soon rebuilt, turning the front section into the headmaster’s residence with dormitories upstairs. Behind was a single-storey building used as the schoolroom, accessed from the square via a passageway running beneath No.27.

At the time, most public schools focussed on teaching Classics, as did Oxford and Cambridge. While the Kensington School sent a few scholars to the universities, it also taught more practical subjects to prepare pupils to serve the British Empire. For instance, by 1841 the school provided special courses for the East India Company’s colleges at Haileybury and Addiscombe. These included lessons in Hindustani, military drawing, and fortification building, as well as drill and fencing activities.

Sports was also popular. In fact, the school was the first to institute a public sports day, known locally as the ‘Kensington Races’. It was also one of the founding members of the Football Association in 1863.

Artists and philosopher

At this point, there were no fixed rules for football. Instead, most schools and clubs had their own version of the game, agreeing on the rules before playing matches. However, in 1863 twelve London clubs – including Kensington School – met at the Freemason’s Tavern on Great Queen Street to agree a set of common rules. Over the next few decades, the ‘London rules’ were adopted across Britain and the world.

By this point, the school had expanded to occupy Nos.25 to 29 inclusive. Meanwhile, Kensington Square was home to the celebrated liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill, the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, and a convent full of exiled French nuns. Then, in 1866, the train arrived at Kensington, connecting the neighbourhood to central London.

Sadly, the train marked the beginning of the end. The Metropolitan Railway Company soon presented a bill in Parliament, giving them the right to appropriate land, including the school’s playing fields. With the loss of the pitches, the number of boys began to decline, and by 1869 the school had debts of over £2000 but only 45 pupils left.

A souvenir of the lost school

As a result, the proprietors voted to close down, selling the buildings to an assistant teacher. That teacher, Rev. Charles Tabor Ackland, reopened the school as an endowed grammar and renovated its buildings. Over the next decade, numbers rose again, but in 1881 he resigned as headmaster.

Local parents began sending their sons to the new public school in nearby Hammersmith – St Paul’s – which had more space and more prestige. By 1896 only 12 boys remained at the Kensington School and most of the buildings were let to private tenants. Eventually, the governors agreed to close for good.

No. 27a is a souvenir of the lost school. Constructed in 1846, it is sometimes known as the Headmaster’s House, though it was more likely used for lessons and activities. However, the property is still accessed via the private passageway leading beneath No.27, the same route the schoolboys used to run to their lessons.

View the property here.


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