Leighton House was at the heart of the late Victorian artists' colony in this part of Kensington. G.F. Watts and Luke Fildes, for instance, both lived in the immediate neighbourhood for many years. Fildes lived a couple of minutes' walk away at 31 Melbury Road (then numbered 11), from 1878 until his death in 1927. His house, designed by Richard Norman Shaw, still stands but has been converted into flats. On the same road was G.F. Watts's London residence and studio from 1876 to 1903. This was at 6 Melbury Road, then named "Little Holland House" after the original house in the grounds of Lord Holland's Kensington home, which had been demolished in 1875 to make way for Melbury Road and the residential properties along it. Watts had been a long-term house-guest at the original Little Holland House, where he had spent his brief married life with his first wife, the actress Ellen Terry. It was at his Melbury Road studio that Watts worked on one of his most famous sculptures, Physical Energy. A copy of this was erected close by in Kensington Gardens. Sadly, Watts's house was pulled down and replaced in 1965 by a block of flats.
Close to Watts's house on one side were a semi-detached pair of properties built for the sculptor William Hamo Thornycroft, whose compelling statue of Oliver Cromwell stands outside Westminster Hall. There is now a blue plaque to Thornycroft at 2a. The adjacent property, built for the sculptor to let, has since been replaced by flats. Nearby, at 8 Melbury Road, lived Marcus Stone, the painter and illustrator. This redbrick house with its three oriel windows has survived intact. Further along, the Pre-Raphaelite William Holman-Hunt moved into no.18 in 1903 to write his memoirs. He died there in 1910. This house remains as well, and, like Fildes's, Thornycroft's and Stone's, has an English Heritage blue plaque. In winter, when the trees are bare, the studio of Leighton House can be seen clearly from behind, half way along Melbury Road. No wonder these artists were able to share models, such as the Italians Gaetano Meo and Angelo Colarossi.
Within walking distance too, at 2 Palace Gate roughly opposite Kensington Palace, lived John Everett Millais (from 1878-1896), who in the last months of his life would succeed Leighton as president of the Royal Academy. At about the same distance on the other side, at The Grange on North End Crescent in West Kensington, lived Edward Burne-Jones.
The little area next to Holland Park was the very heart of artistic life in the late nineteenth century. Melbury Road is, as it was from the beginning, a very good London address. Although some of the fine old buildings have been lost, the road retains its atmosphere. A large house on it is currently (2006) on sale for an asking price of £7 million, and a 2/3-bedroom flat in a listed building for £2,350.000.
A walk around this area is recorded in a YouTube video here.
Last modified 15 March 2006