Until the 19th century, the area we now know as Holland Park was a rural area of fields and farms.
The name Norlands appears in records from this area in 1599, though it’s unclear where this name originated. The Norland estate was originally comprised of 52 acres of grounds attached to Norland House, which stood at present-day no. 130 Holland Park Avenue.
The Norland Estate
The land passed through various owners until William Kingdom purchased the land with a view to develop it in the late 1830s. He was encouraged by the rapid acceleration of building development in the area.
Interestingly the growth in building development in the area was sparked by drainage works and plumbing put in for a new railway line. This area was to be connected to central London by rail for the first time, initially by the West London Railway in 1844, and then by the Metropolitan Railway in 1863.
Early stations in the nearby area included Uxbridge Road (disused since 1940), Shepherd’s Bush (now Shepherds Bush Market), and Notting Hill (now Ladbroke Grove). Nearby Holland Park Station was later added in 1900 as part of the Central London Railway.
This infrastructure opened up west London to commuting, paving the way for a flurry of urban development.
The London Underground system as of 1908, including the recently added Holland Park Station.
Development, Occupancy Issues and Bankruptcy
Ownership of the Norland Estate’s 52 acre plot changed hands from William Kingdom to a solicitor named Charles Richardson in 1839, for a reported £19,990.
Royal Crescent’s terraced houses and Royal Crescent Garden were designed by the architect Robert Cantwell, who also laid out much of the southern part of the Norland Estate.
Unfortunately Richardson really strugged to find occupants for Royal Crescent as at the time this area was considered too far outside of London. In fact, its name was changed from Norland Crescent to Royal Crescent reportedly to attract buyers! It wasn’t until 1856 that both the western half and the eastern half of Royal Crescent were fully occupied, by which time Richardson had been bankrupted by the venture.
Undated vintage postcards depict the east side of the crescent as seen from Holland Park Avenue looking north (left) and the west side of the crescent looking east (right). Courtesy of longtime residents Helen & John Murlis.
Early Governance and Design
Since the 1850s until present day, the garden has been continuously overseen and managed by The Royal Crescent Garden Committee. The committee sets an annual precept for maintenance at its annual general meeting, under the provisions of the 1851 Kensington Improvement Act.
The garden originally featured cast iron railings and was laid out with lawns, flower beds, paths and two grand London Plane Trees, which may pre-date the development of the Norland Estate. Other trees included horse chestnuts, ash trees, a poplar, blackthorns and at least two box trees.
The urn now at the back of the garden was originally its central feature, surrounded by a circular rose bed.
20th to 21st Century
In 1928, the Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares recommended keeping Royal Crescent Garden as a communal garden, commenting that “since the garden is a safe and healthy resort for children and elderly people, and since it is a beautiful oasis in an otherwise sordid neighbourhood, it would be very undesirable to close it.”
At that time it was surrounded by privet hedge and was described as being “a large and attractive open space laid out as an ornamental garden with lawns, shrubberies,” and as containing “some fine trees.”
A photograph of Royal Crescent Garden taken from a balloon survey of London in 1937, showing its original pathways and layout. Sadly many of the buildings pictured on the south side of Holland Park Avenue were destroyed during WWII. Courtesy of longtime residents Helen & John Murlis.
Joining the War Effort During World War II
During World War II the garden was used as a lorry park, with standing water tanks, anchorage for a barrage balloon, and vegetable gardens.
The garden’s cast iron railings were removed in 1941 and sold to the War Office to be melted down for munitions for £57.00.
Records indicate that a high explosive bomb landed in Royal Crescent at some point between October 7, 1940 and June 6, 1941 but there’s no evidence of its damage to structures or gardens.
Somehow the garden’s grand 19th century trees managed to survive the war.
In the late 1940s the garden was returned to lawns and flower beds, and maintained at a basic level with rather ad hoc planting.
Given their enormous expense, the cast iron railings that were melted down for war munitions were not replaced. Instead the garden was enclosed with chain link fencing, which remained until 1997.
Garden Restoration from the 1960s to 1990s
Lime trees along Holland Park Avenue were planted around 1960, and a Liriodendrum tulipfera, a Golden Ash and a third Plane tree were added in the early 1970s.
In the early 1990s the Garden Committee embarked on a Railings Restoration Project, followed by a Garden Restoration Project.
These major restoration projects were the beginning of a long-term strategy to enhance the garden’s aesthetic and practical appeal. Besides being a beautiful visual amenity, the garden serves an important role as a community space for the 149 households in 44 houses along the Crescent, given the majority of residents live in flats without a garden of their own.
By 1997 the Garden Committee managed to raise funds to finally restore its cast iron railings, from careful saving of the garden precept, resident donations, and generous matching grants from the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBK&C) and English Heritage.
The architect Susan Walker produced an award-winning and elegant design for the railings based on postcards depicting the originals. The railings were produced by Metalcraft of Tottenham, which has continued to work on their maintenance.
The new railings were celebrated with a large party for residents with special guests Michael French (then head of the RBK&C Planning Department), architect Susan Walker as well as Alan Clark, who was MP for Kensington at the time and gave a speech congratulating the committee and residents on this achievement.
Over the years many well-known and creative people have called Royal Crescent home, including political journalists, broadcasters, authors, scriptwriters (many for the nearby BBC), leading lawyers, judges, artists, fashion designers and even a magician.