2 Palace Green: the house that William built
- Ron Royes
A residence built at 2 Palace Green, Kensington, London in the nineteenth century not only holds a special place in English history, but one for the Royes family story.
William Makepeace Thackeray was an English novelist of the 19th century. He was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society. During the Victorian era, Thackeray was ranked second only to Charles Dickens.
In the 1860’s, Thackeray built a house at 2 Palace Green, Kensington, London. Thackeray had acquired a dilapidated house on the property and decided to rebuild a new residence. Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch at the time, objected to the erection of any new buildings opposite Kensington Palace and 2 Palace Green. However, Thackeray was able to convince the monarch of his plans which included writing the history of Queen Anne at the new residence.
Thackeray agreed to spend 1,400 pounds. On 29 June 1860, his proposal was approved but on the basis that the dressings (construction material) be of red brick. In the event, both brick, stone and stucco were used. The builders were Jackson and Graham, an Oxford Street firm which specialised largely in interior decoration. The house was ready for occupation by March 1862. The cost, including fittings, was over 8,000 pounds. Thackeray once described the brick house to an American friend as the reddest house in all the town. Thackeray’s daughter once declared that “my father first set the fashion for red brick”.
Unfortunately, Thackeray did not live long enough to enjoy the luxuriant surroundings of his new residence.
On 23 December 1863, after returning from a dinner, and before dressing for bed, Thackeray suffered a stroke and was found dead on his bed in the morning. His death at the age of fifty two was entirely unexpected. It shocked his family, friends and his reading public.
An estimated 7,000 people attended his funeral at Kensington Gardens. He was buried on 29 December 1863 at Kendal Green Cemetery. A memorial bust sculptured by Marochetti can be found in Westminster Abbey.
Two years later she wed a Charles Augustus Turner at Jersey. Three children, two daughters and a son, resulted from the marriage.
After her husband passed away c.1850’s, she moved to St. Ann, Jamaica where her older brother Charles John Royes was a prominent businessman and politician. She made the acquaintance of a close associate of Charles, Joseph Bravo, whom she married in 1854. Her children assumed the surname Bravo. Bravo was a West Indian merchant who exported goods to various parts of the world, including England.
Bravo decided to locate to London and expand his merchant business. Initially, they resided at 2A Lancaster Gate, Paddington. The business boomed. In the late 1860’s, the Bravo family acquired the residence at 2 Palace Green, Kensington. Despite the stylish lifestyle surrounded by several servants, Mary Hougham encountered several hardships.
Her eldest daughter Alice had a speech and hearing deficiency.
Her son Charles died of poisoning in 1876, which brought about two hearings into his death. Was it accident or murder? His wife of four months was one of the suspects and there was a high degree of public interest in the trial.
There are reports that his mother Mary took to her bed in face of the loss of her only son - and the scandal - and consoled herself with the bottle.
At a National Census held in England on 3 April 1881, Joseph Bravo, then a 65 year old widower, was in residence at 2 Palace Green, Kensington. Less than two months later, Joseph Bravo passed away.
2 Palace Green in the 1881 Census:
A new owner took over 2 Palace Green in 1882, when Spencer Chadwick added another story to the building, and a canted bay to the single story wing on the north side which had contained Thackeray’s library.
By 1938, little remained of the original interior decorations. That year a further scheme of redecoration was undertaken by Darcy Braddell.
Today, 2 Palace Green is the headquarters of the Israeli Embassy and Israeli Consulate in the United Kingdom. In 1994, a bomb explosion occurred outside the Embassy building. No one was injured.
Kensington Palace Gardens in west central London, contains some of the grandest and most expensive houses in the world.
A tree-lined avenue half a mile long in the heart of Embassy land, has long been known as Billionaires Row due to the extreme wealth of its private residents, although in fact, the majority of its current occupants are either national embassies or ambassadorial residences. According to real estate agency Knight Frank, current market prices for a property on the street are an average of 18 million pounds.
Kensington Palace is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
It is still the reddest house in all the town. ❧
[first published in Roy~Royes Family Links 19 - February 2012]