Talk by Stephen Bartlett: John Hamilton, architect of Kew’s Parades

Date(s) - Monday 10 October 2022
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Duke Street Church

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The grand, red-brick Victorian parades to the west of Kew Gardens station will be a familiar sight to residents and to millions of visitors, but for the first quarter-century after the station opened there was just grass there. When they did get built, what appeared was not what their designer had first imagined…

In this talk, Stephen Bartlett told how architect John Hamilton and builder Harry Harper brought us the site sometimes known as “Kew Village” and also left their mark on Sandycombe Road – all once part of the estates of the Leyborne-Popham family.

Stephen Bartlett lives in Kew and is often to be seen peering at buildings round and about. He has previously given talks to the Richmond Local History Society about Royston House on the Selwyn estate, and on the building of Lawn Crescent.  

John Foley reports on Stephen Bartlett’s talk

You can’t imagine it without them. They are the first things you see on coming out of Kew Gardens Station; floods of tourists flock down beside the terraces of Kew’s Parades (Station Parade and Royal Parade) on their way to the Gardens. Station Parade forms the centre piece of what is now called Kew Village but, as Stephen Bartlett explained in his meticulously researched talk, up until the 1890s there was virtually nothing visually to greet visitors to Kew, just a rather nondescript triangle of open land (with a few shops to the north).

Up until the arrival of the railway in 1869, the area east of Sandycombe Road (which was then part of Mortlake parish) remained privately owned farm and market gardens and formed part of the estate of the Leyborne-Popham family from Wiltshire. A small strip of it was sold off to the London and South Western Railway Company, who were the first railway company to bring steam trains to Kew.

But despite the arrival of the railway, nothing much happened for years. In contrast to the Selwyn and Engleheart families who owned much of the neighbouring land to the south and west, the Leyborne-Popham family were slower off the mark to see the economic benefits of residential development. But, by the 1890s, much of the area was coming under the hands of various builders. The land adjacent to Kew Gardens railway station, by then a point of departure and arrival for Victorian day trippers and commuters, had no chance of staying undeveloped.

Accordingly the Leyborne-Pophams took the financial plunge, and borrowed money on mortgage to finance development. Henry Harper, a builder, had begun buying plots of land for development around Kew Gardens station, and it was he who introduced the architect John Hamilton, with whom he had worked for years previously on development schemes in north and east London. Despite exhaustive efforts, Stephen, whilst he had meticulously traced both these men’s families, has so far been unable to find a photograph or portrait of either man. Three lots of plans of the proposed parade buildings were drawn up, by Hamilton in 1893, but only the final set, after modification as to length and size, were approved by the local Richmond planning authority. These are the buildings that Harper’s firm constructed and completed between 1896 and 1899 and, 125 years later, they are roughly what you see today. However, Stephen believes that No. 13 on the north side of the parade, formerly occupied by Barclays Bank, has a frontage designed by another architect. Soon after construction of the three parades was finished, the Leyborne-Pophams sold the freehold of the site to a commercial third party. The finished result of Hamilton and Harper’s efforts can be seen in its prime around 1920/21 in an enlarged photograph that shows the end-of-terrace building as a café offering teas and refreshments; with still not a motorcar or bus in sight!. The Kew parades recognisable to us had arrived.

What sort or architect was Mr Hamilton? Stephens’ exhaustive researches seem to show that while he was well respected, and experienced and competent, he was nothing exceptional. And, indeed, architecture may have been for him a side-line to becoming a surveyor, to whose professional body he was elected a Fellow in 1901. His attempts to be appointed District Surveyor had on several occasions failed. Stephen showed pictures of two of Hamilton’s other buildings, a row of cosy cottages in Hackney, and the Merchant Taylors school mission hall of 1890 in Dalston (both still standing). He suggests closer examination of some of the contemporary architectural finer points visible on the parade, notably terracotta panels on the upper storey, multi-pane windows and roof metalwork. Between the shopfronts is a strip of botanically-themed ceramic tiles (as previously pointed out to us by Paul Velluet in his Arts and Crafts talk last year) though these have been cruelly defaced by the installation of security cameras and suchlike. Also noteworthy is the stained glass in Nos. 19 and 21 and elsewhere.

Several other buildings were constructed locally by Hamilton and Harper; these include Victoria Parade on Sandycome Road as well as 375/377 and the terrace at 305 to 331 Sandycombe Road, including Leyborne Terrace and ten houses in North Avenue. Perhaps not surprisingly, John Hamilton, despite other building commissions in north and east London, moved his family to live in Kew in 1897 while this work was in progress, before settling in Barnes, where he died in 1907, aged 63.

His worthy accomplice Harper went on to take on even more work in North London; so much so that we learn that he shot himself in 1903. We know no more.

Whatever, the solid warm brick buildings of this team have survived over 125 years, from Queen Victoria’s last days to our own under King Charles III, serving as an unspectacular, but pleasing and welcoming, architectural background to Kew.  And If they suddenly weren’t there, you feel you would miss them!