Onslow Square

Onslow Square (south side). (Sir) Charles James Freake (1814-1884). 1847-1865. Grey stock brick with stucco fronts, dressings, cornices and porticoes. London SW7. The development of this part of London followed that of Chelsea, where since 1843 Charles James Freake had been building to the designs of George Basevi. Freake had been born into the family of a "coalmerchant turned victualler" who had then turned speculator (Sheppard); Freake himself had proved as aspirational as his father, moving up from carpenter to builder to architect. After Basevi's early tragic death at Ely Cathedral, Freake began building to his own designs, though Basevi's influence is still very obvious. Freake had his workshops in the complex of stables and workshops in Sydney Mews, at the back of the square, where one of the original residents of the square, Baron Carlo Marochetti, also had a large studio and foundry.

Blue plaque marking Baron Marochetti's residence at no. 34, put up in April 2010. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

Many important and several other titled residents came to live there. In particular, the "early residence of Baron Marochetti in Onslow Square, and later the conversion of the foundry into studios, helped to give the square the reputation of an artistic quarter" (Sheppard). Marochetti himself was there for about eighteen years, probably first moving into no. 30 and then soon moving again and settling much more permanently at no. 34 (in all, from 1849-67). For part of the time (1853-60), his neighbour at no. 36 was Thackeray, who wrote The Virginians there (Weinreb 605). Henry Cole took up residence at no. 24, then at no. 17 (altogether, 1856-63). William Railton, the architect who built Nelson's Column, lived at no. 65 from about 1858-77. And in 1869, Sir Edwin Lutyens was born at no. 16, where he spent his childhood.

Left: The old mews behind Onslow Square where Freake and Marochetti both had their workshops, which were later adapted for various artists' studios. Right: Entrance to the Artists' Studios there today. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

After Marochetti's death, his house was taken by another sculptor, J. Edgar Boehm, and his huge workshop was converted by Freake into an "Avenue of Studios" utilised by other artists and architects, from Boehm himself to (for example) Edward J. Poynter, Sir Alfred Gilbert, John Tweed and John Singer Sargent. It retains that function even today.

As for Freake, now a "titan of the building world" (Sheppard), he became a patron of the arts and philanthropist, and built at his own expense what became from 1903-91 the Royal College of Organists, to the design of Henry Cole's eldest son, H. H. Cole. He was raised to the baronetcy in 1882.

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Photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, 2010. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Sheppard, F. H. W., ed. "The Smith's Charity Estate: Charles James Freake and Onslow Square Gardens." Survey of London, Vol. 41: Brompton (1983): 101-17. Web. 21 Nov. 2010.

Weinreb, Ben, et al. The London Encyclopaedia. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan, 2008.

Last modified 23 April 2020