History

From the time of the Norman Conquest the area, the area that is now Nevern Square, formed part of the land owned by the De Vere family, Earls of Oxford. The manor house they built gave Earl’s Court its name. Then, in about 1600, the land was acquired by Sir Walter Cope, Lord of the Manor of Kensington. Through the marriage of his daughter to Henry Rich son of the Earl of Warwick, the estate passed to their daughter Lady Elizabeth Rich, who was to marry Francis Edwardes. Edwardes came from an old Welsh family, and this led to the naming of the square and adjacent streets after villages in the Principality. In 1776 the Edwardes family were created Barons of Kensington, and they continued to hold the land until 1901, when the estate was broken up.

The area was cultivated as market gardens and orchards into the mid-nineteenth century. With the development of the Metropolitan and District Railway in the eighteen-sixties (Earl’s Court Station was opened in 1871, the site was previously farmland) made the area ripe for development.

The original plan, approved by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1872, was based on a simple grid of streets. However, in 1877 Lord Kensington’s surveyors Martin Stutely and Daniel Cubbit Nichols applied to the Board to vary the original plan to form an enclosed garden square (Nevern Square). Approval was given, but it was not until 1880 that the builder Robert Whitaker was able to start work on the scheme.

Whitaker had already built the westernmost houses in Nevern Place, the continuation of which would form the north side of the square. These were of grey brick and stucco style common on the estate for decades. The rather grander stucco terraces of Nevern Road were built by Hunt in 1877. Nevern Square itself was a radical departure from these styles and the work was initially undertaken by Stutely and completed by Cubitt Nichols. The architect selected for the square was Walter Graves. The style was ‘Domestic Revival’, sometimes called Pont Street Dutch. This style had first been seen in Kensington in the fine houses designed by Norman Shaw and J.J. Stevenson in Palace Gate and Queen’s Gate. These were notable for their use of exposed brick rather than stucco, their prominent gables, oriel and bay windows, the use of cut brick decoration and of architectural detailing derived from English and Flemish houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

This was a speculative development, intended to be for the second son of prosperous families. In his designs he choose to emphasise the unity of the ranges on each side of the square, and if you look closely you will see that the houses are staggered but still give the impression of being a terrace. Construction began with the east side, 1884. Witaker died in 1885, shortly after work had started on the west side, and the supervision of the work passed to George Whitaker, construction was completed in 1886.

During the late 1880s house rents in the area fell rapidly, as a result of an overbuilding boom of large houses in the previous decades. The major developments that followed were not of houses but of mansion blocks, following the pioneering examples in Victoria Street in the 1860s. As a result William Cooke built Kensington Mansions in Trebovir Road, which were completed in 1890, together with a single-storied lodge, originally used as an estate office. G.E. Mineart, who had previously built houses similar to those of Nevern Square along the northern part of Warwick Road, followed in the footsteps of Cooke and built Nevern Mansions in a style almost identical to that of Kensington Mansions.

The Second World War saw a substantial change to the area. The houses were further subdivided and descended further into disrepair. The northern part of Nevern Square was severely damaged by bombing in WWII (the northern gate to Nevern Square Garden was recently reinstated by Roger Yorke and Gerry Finn) and so part of the northern side had to be re-built. There was a large Polish community in the area and they were, subsequently, followed by Australians and New Zealanders – helping to give the area the infamous title of ‘Kangaroo Valley’.

In 1974, residents formed a company called Nevern Square Garden Limited to purchase the garden to prevent the garden becoming an underground car park to serve the visitors to the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre. Over the years they have brought the wasteland, at the centre of the square, back to life and replaced the metal railings, removed in a WWII initiative, and replanted the garden.

In 1985, the Nevern Square Residents’ Association made an application for Conservation Area Status and finally in 1998 the document Nevern Square and Philbeach Conservation areas was published. The Nevern Square Conservation Area covers: Longridge Road, Nevern Road, Nevern Place, Templeton Place, Spear Mews, Trebovir with Nevern Square at its centre.

As an area it has seen ups-and-downs, and as chair of the Association, I am delighted that the area is at present very much on the up. The Garden is now open along with many other London Square garden once a year and has come along way from the place that people routinely dumped their old cars and bicycles. Many of the houses are being done up and restored to their original grandeur and enjoyed by a wonderfully diverse and colourful community – it has a sense of a village where people belong, and want to live in.