Kensington Estates

In the Domesday Book of 1086 the area is called ‘Chensit’s ton’, which is an Anglo-Saxon name thought to mean ‘Cynesige’s farm’. A few misspellings later and you have ‘Kensington’. Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate were originally Roman roads through the countryside. Kensington High Street was then merely the ancient road from London to the village of Hammersmith. They were joined by a country lane which is now Kensington Church Street. Roads attracted settlers and two small villages gradually formed, one at Notting Hill Gate (which became a gravel mining area) and one at the junction of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street – where there was a parish church, St Mary Abbots.

Shortly after the Norman conquest, Aubrey de Vere was the lord of the manor of Kensington. His son Godfrey had been cured of a serious illness by the Abbot of the Abbey of St Mary at Abingdon. As Godfrey lay dying once again – and perhaps thinking he should settle an old debt of gratitude, if he was to come through yet again – he made his father promise to give the Church and the village to the Abbey.

Consequently for nearly 500 years the manor of Kensington belonged to the Church and the manor became known as the Manor of Abbots Kensington (and the church as St Mary Abbots). In 1538 King Henry VIII split from Rome, dissolved the monasteries and seized their lands. Kensington passed from the Church to the Crown.

In 1599 Sir Walter Cope, an influential courtier, bought Abbots Kensington manor from Queen Elizabeth I. He was collecting North Kensington manors. In 1591 he had bought the Manor of West Town and in 1599 he also bought the Manor of Notting Barnes, which later became Notting Hill. Cope built himself a grand home, known as ‘Cope’s Castle’. Cope’s daughter married Sir Henry Rich, the First Earl of Holland. The estate passed into the Rich family and ‘Cope’s Castle’ became ‘Holland House’ – whose lands eventually became Holland Park.

Gore House, Kensington

Other important courtiers of James I had residences here. Sir George Coppin moved into a large country house built for him by Sir Christopher Wren. The house later passed to the Earls of Nottingham. When William of Orange became king in 1688 he did not want to spend the winters in unhealthy Whitehall, which aggravated his asthma, and he bought the Nottinghams’ house. As a royal residence, it became Kensington Palace. Queen Anne, George I and George II continued to use it. Queen Victoria was born and spent her childhood there. In honour of that connection, when London was divided into boroughs at the beginning of the 20th century, Kensington was given the title ‘Royal Borough’, which is still keeps.

The court had to follow the king, so the presence of these monarchs let to a sudden leap in popularity for the hitherto humble rural village in the late 17th and early 18th century. Kensington Square was the home of many rich Londoners of the period. But by the middle of the 18th century its popularity waned.

The ‘second coming’ for Kensington was the result of the building boom in London and the dramatic expansion of housing along the roads out of London which occurred in the 19th century. This produced the residential Kensington we see today.


This article first appeared on the now defunct Kensington Living website. All rights and copyright to the original material is retained by that website which appeared at: 

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