The SKE property portfolio comprises the South Kensington Estate (historically known as the Thurloe Estate and more recently, the Alexander Estate) and the Brompton Estate.
The South Kensington Estate was previously named after its nineteenth century owners, the Alexanders, but has often been known as the Thurloe Estate, after the puritan statesman, John Thurloe. The origins of the Thurloe Estate begin with a tradition that a gift of land in Brompton was bestowed by Oliver Cromwell on John Thurloe, his Secretary, for services rendered. However, further historical research shows that the estate’s association with John Thurloe developed due to one of his descendents acquiring an interest in the land through marriage in the eighteenth century.
The Survey of London explains that during the early seventeenth century the Alexander Estate was owned by Sir William Blake, who at the time of his death in 1670 owned 370 acres in Brompton. By the late nineteenth century the land had passed into the ownership of Blake’s descendent, John Alexander.
Within the site were well established nursery gardens which thrived on fertile soils and gave the surrounding area natural beauty. Leases kept the use of the land exclusive to open garden spaces. When these leases terminated changes were inevitable due to the socioeconomic and cultural changes taking place in London at the time as a result of the Industrial Revolution.
When the development began in 1826, Alexander worked alongside a skilled and knowledgeable builder, James Bonnin. Bonnin worked with his own high quality designs in mind, adamant to maintain an elegant look like that of the Brompton Square. The architect George Godwin was also responsible for the handsome building exteriors that were very much the fashion of their time.
Seven years was decided a suitable time scale for the development to take place but in 1831 the death of John Alexander meant that the development was then undertaken by his only surviving son Henry Browne Alexander. Progress on the area continued for the next fifty years in three distinct stages starting with Thurloe Square and the adjoining streets, designed by George Basevi. The next two phases of the buildings took the development in to the 1880′s and completed the layout of the area.
Two important events for the estate in the middle of the nineteenth century were the Great Exhibition and the building of the Metropolitan Railway.
The Great Exhibition opened in Hyde Park in 1851 to encourage the advancement of Science and Art. Fostered by the Prince Consort and directed by a Royal Commission, the success of the exhibition exceeded even the most sanguine expectations of it’s promoters, and eventually created ‘Albertopolis’ or the South Kensington museum land as it is known today.
The Alexanders were supporters of the arts and in 1889 the philanthropist William Henry Alexander provided the funding for the moving of and a permanent building for the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery had previously been situated at dfferent addresses around London, and it’s then home was the Royal Horticultural Society’s building on Exhibition Road, a building that was thought inadequate for the paintings. Alexander donated the funds for the gallery to be moved and remain situated to the north-east of the National Gallery, with the agreement of the government. The donor later bequeathed a portrait of John Thurloe to the gallery. www.npg.org.uk
In 1905 the Alexander Estate was passed to Lady George Campbell, a great niece of John Alexander, who had married the fourth son of the Duke of Argyll. By the 1970′s the property had passed to a grandson of Lady George, and still remains within the family.
South Kensington Estates (SKE) was set up by the Anstruther family in 1997 to regulate the development of the buildings in South Kensington. The company extended it’s property portfolio in 2003 when the Brompton Estate (then called the Knightsbridge Estate) was bought from the Wellcome Trust. The use of the buildings, both commercial and residential, and the conservation and appearance of the area is paramount to SKE. The company ensures that the buildings continue to reflect the era in which the beautiful location of the Thurloe Estate was based upon, not only for the current generation but also as a historical masterpiece.