1953 to 1986
The Kensington Society was formed in 1953 by Mrs Gay Christiansen (1912-2001) who lived at 18 Kensington Square. Mrs Christiansen was passionate about good architecture and planning within Kensington. When a planning proposal came forward to demolish several houses on Young Street, the street that leads into Kensington Square, Mrs Christiansen opposed the application. Despite her efforts the houses were knocked down and replaced by the NCP multi-storey car park – which is now being replaced in turn by a 53 flat scheme, expected to be finished in the summer of 2018.
Undeterred by this loss and galvanised by the fact that it was clear that ‘local opinion’ was not considered or reflected in the planning process, Mrs Christiansen formed the Kensington Society. As the honorary secretary she was the driving force behind the society for over 40 years, ensuring that many historical and locally-important buildings were saved from destruction. Carefully considered developments became the norm throughout Kensington.
Some of the society’s most notable triumphs during Mrs Christiansen’s tenure were:
Leighton House, the former home of the artist Lord Leighton, was threatened with demolition and redevelopment. The society, along with other local associations, fought for a preservation order which resulted in a Grade II* listing in 1961, which protected the house from redevelopment.
Holland House was badly damaged when it was hit by 22 incendiary bombs during a ten-hour raid on 27 September 1939. The only undamaged part was the east wing. Although Grade I listed in 1949, it was heading for demolition in the early 1960s, when the society approached the London County Council to save it and consider an alternative use for the east wing. It subsequently became a YHA youth hostel.
The society was instrumental in several important enhancement schemes during this period, including the construction of the garden located immediately below Kensington Town Hall’s Council Chamber building. The garden is dedicated to one of Mrs Christiansen’s best friends, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, who was a Kensington Society supporter and our first patron.
1986 – 2001
Following the 1987 hurricane and the loss of many trees in Kensington Gardens, the society sponsored an avenue of trees to enhance the view of Kensington Palace from Kensington Road.
The second honorary secretary, Ethne Rudd, was also a campaigner. In 1998 she lead to opposition to the proposed Princess Diana Memorial in the grounds of Kensington Palace, one of the nation’s finest Grade I listed parks and gardens. The first proposals involved major changes to the gardens, a new gateway from Kensington Road which would remove the lawns and playing areas, a very tall jet of water in the Round Pond, and to the north of the palace a minimum of three new planted gardens and public park and sculpture.
In pouring rain and in the middle of a tube strike, over 1,000 people filled the Great Hall for the Kensington Society AGM in June 1998. The main topic was the society’s opposition of the government’s memorial proposals. Together with 13 residents’ associations in the area, the society formed Princess Diana Memorial Liaison Group, and two months after the AGM the government hammered out a compromise – with the Treasury’s representative negotiating directly with Mrs Rudd in her flat in Kensington Square.
In 2001, the society donated the public clock on the wall of the town hall’s Council Chamber building in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
The Kensington Society plays a very active role in maintaining Kensington’s unique heritage. Its trustees assist local amenity societies, conservation societies and individuals with their community needs.
Its planning committee is very active in advising and consulting on planning policies, both within the borough and nationally. It deals with numerous planning applications within the borough and every application is considered on the basis of the objectives of the society.