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2 Palace Green: the house that William built

- Ron Royes
[first published in Roy~Royes Family Links 19 - February 2012]

A sketch by William Railton of William Thackeray outside 2 Palace Green

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.

William Thackeray

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.

Mary Hougham Royes was the youngest of thirteen children of Solomon and Mary Royes. At the time of her parents' deaths in 1842 at Jersey in the Channel Islands, she was 18 years old. She and her sisters Adelaide, Maria and Emily were the beneficiaries of the substantial estate of Solomon Royes.

Two years later she wed a Charles Augustus Turner at Jersey. Three children, two daughters and a son, resulted from the marriage.

Joseph Bravo

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 (see 1881 Census return below), Mary Hougham encountered several hardships.

Her eldest daughter Alice had a speech and hearing deficiency.

Charles Delauney Turner Bravo

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.

She, similarly to Thackeray, did not live long enough to savour the delights of the residence. On 16 July 1877, she died at the residence at 2 Palace Green, aged 48 years, 14 months after her son's death. The cause of her death was determined as an Enlarged Liver, haematemesis (the vomiting of blood). The source is generally the upper gastrointestinal tract. Signs of haematemesis can be attributed to excessive alcohol use or liver disorder).

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.

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.

Israeli Embassy

1994 bombing

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.

The southern section of Kensington Palace Gardens is called 'PALACE GREEN' where William Thackeray built his house in 1862.

It is still the reddest house in all the town. ?

2 Palace Green in the 1881 Census:

Joseph Bravo62head widower general merchant Jamaica
Alice Bravo36daughterunmarno occupationLondondeaf and dumb
Elizabeth Bell40niecedittoditto Australia
Annie Bell35dittodittoditto Australia
Carrie Hemmings18visitorunmarno occupationLondon
Charles Briggs29servantdittodomestic serv ButlerSussex
George Lawrence 24dittodittoditto FootmanHerefordshire
Jesse? Briggs43dittomarriedditto CarpenterBedfordshire
Caroline Briggs 41dittodittoditto HousemaidBuckinghamshire
Amelia Bushel36dittounmarditto dittoEssex
Isabel Innis47ditto dittoditto Cook Scotland
Mary Setman73dittodittoditto dittoEssex
Margaret Pritchard25dittodittoditto MaidservantMiddlesex
Ruth Warne22dittodittoditto KitchenmaidNorfolk
Josephine Bushel4dittodittono occupationLondon

Owner of originalRon Royes
Place2 Palace Green, Kensington, London, England
Linked toFamily: Bravo/Royes (F683)

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