“…the hunger for an animated façade…”*

*”Buildings of the Domestic Revival and later’, in Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area, ed. F H W Sheppard (London, 1975).

No. 196 Queen’s Gate:

“Almost all the east side of Queen’s Gate northwards of Prince Consort Road that was offered by the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners on building lease in 1873 was developed more or less within the established stylistic range of South Kensington. The sole and striking exception was No. 196. By May 1874 it had been agreed to let this wide site to J. P. Heseltine, aged about thirty-one, a resident in Onslow Gardens and member of a firm of stockbrokers. On the other side of the newly built Albert Hall the picturesquely composed mansion, Lowther Lodge, was rising to Norman Shaw’s design, and probably Heseltine already proposed to employ Shaw to build him a house that would bring a similar individuality of design to the street architecture of the neighbourhood, as the conditions of the lease were modified to permit the erection of a ‘detached’ house. As built, however, the detachment was chiefly stylistic.

Heseltine intended the house for his own occupation. He soon became an early member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildngs, established a notable reputation as a collector and connoisseur of art and was for many years a Trustee of the National Gallery (for a time acting as co-director). Though himself a talented etcher Heseltine was a wholly appropriate owner of one of the first of the ‘artistic’ street-houses built in an area where, unlike Holland Park or Hampstead, they were designed rather for the purchasers than the producers of art.

In September 1874 the contract for building by W. H. Lascelles was concluded, although the drawings show differences from the house as it was actually erected, especially in the elevation. In 1875 while the building was in progress Shaw’s design for the street front modified close to the executed version was exhibited at the Royal Academy and was reproduced in The Building News, which noticed that its best features ‘are those which will be near the eye’. It found the design ‘characteristic, picturesque and refreshing, and a few dozen more houses of the same unique class, though not necessarily of the same style—as Mr. Shaw is not bound hand and foot to one style—would make London vastly less monotonous, and more worthy of being the British metropolis and the chief city in the world’. The more conservative Builder was less welcoming and judged the design to be ‘largely made up of mere corruptions of architectural detail’.

Shaw was still contriving his staircase in August 1875. By October 1876 the house was sufficiently complete for the Commissioners to grant a ninety-nine-year lease at £220 per annum to Heseltine, who bought the freehold at thirtythree-years’ purchase (£7,260) in 1877. In that year he first appears as occupant in the Post Office Directory where he was one of the only two residents on the east side of Queen’s Gate north of Cromwell Road: for many years the olderfashioned stucco houses adjacent southward stood empty.

The importance of this house has long been recognized, and its contrast with its Italianate neighbours remains as fresh today as ever. The street elevation in red rubbed brick of the highest quality made no concessions to existing storey heights and massing. It rises from a loggia through five storeys to a crowning curved and pedimented gable decorated with sunflowers. Superimposed pilasters draw the eye upwards past windows based on Sparrow’s House, Ipswich, and previously used by Shaw in a more elaborate form in New Zealand Chambers in the City. The overall effect of the façade is more Flemish than English Queen Anne, even though the cut-brick decoration in the ground-floor pilasters and the panels beneath the first-floor windows were derived from Jacobean Renaissance forms. The house was originally entered through a porch at the southern end, but later, following its conversion into flats, the entrance was moved to its present position behind the northern arch of the loggia and some changes made in the windowopenings.

With a site of unusual breadth at his disposal Shaw departed from terrace-house convention in the plan as well as the façade, notably in the positioning of a large central staircase compartment, which allowed the rear rooms to occupy the full width of the house. The main staircase is situated against the northern wall of this compartment, and the secondary stair is ingeniously contrived within it. The same basic plan was to be repeated when Shaw later came to design No. 180 Queen’s Gate.

Heseltine had celebrated his house-warming with a children’s dance in period costume, for which the house as fitted and furnished made a suitable setting. The closelywrought decorative patterning of the wallpapers, furnishing stuffs and leaded windows, together with the lighting arrangements, gave (so far as can be judged from photographs) an effect both homely and picturesque, helped by what seem to be some old imported chimneypieces.

The Commissioners’ surveyor, Sir Henry Hunt, was pleased with the house, and when Muthesius came to comment on it in 1900 he dwelt on the daintiness of the façade-design realized by bricklayers’ work of unusual skill. We learn from him that this sunflower-decorated house had various corners for the display of flowers, and indeed Shaw’s Royal Academy drawing had shown a vase of blooms in an open attic window. Unlike the designers of the established house-types of South Kensington, Shaw left Heseltine space for a garden at the back. He also gave him a small studio at the top of his house. In 1884 he designed an addition to Heseltine’s country house, Walhampton House in Hampshire.

Heseltine remained here until 1925 when (conjecturally because of the changing character of the area) he removed for the last years of his life to a large stuccoed house in Eaton Square. No. 196 was then converted into flats.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s