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Kensal House

A Grade II Listed Building in Queen's Park, London

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Latitude: 51.5271 / 51°31'37"N

Longitude: -0.2145 / 0°12'52"W

OS Eastings: 523958

OS Northings: 182415

OS Grid: TQ239824

Mapcode National: GBR BD.JL3

Mapcode Global: VHGQR.7WG7

Plus Code: 9C3XGQGP+R6

Entry Name: Kensal House

Listing Date: 1 May 1986

Last Amended: 13 May 2022

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1278734

English Heritage Legacy ID: 210125

ID on this website: 101278734

Location: Kensal Town, Westminster, London, W10

County: London

District: City of Westminster

Civil Parish: Queen's Park

Built-Up Area: Kensington and Chelsea

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St John Kensal Green

Church of England Diocese: London

Tagged with: House

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Former villa, built in around the mid-1830s, converted into a school in early C20 and an office in the mid-C20.

The former villa is flanked by glazed links attached to a pair of 1980s wings (RB and Portobello Apartments buildings), with further late-C20 additions to the rear, all of which are not included.


Former villa, built in around the mid-1830s, converted into a school in early C20 and an office in the mid-C20.

The former villa is flanked by C21 glazed links attached to a pair of 1980s wings (RB and Portobello Apartments buildings), with further late-C20 additions to the rear, all of which are not included in the listing.

MATERIALS: a brick building with stucco render, topped by a Welsh-Slate hipped roof with stucco-rendered stacks.

PLAN: the former villa has a double-pile plan, with rooms on the ground and the first floor arranged on either side of a central hall and landing, and further rooms arranged on all sides of a central hall on the second floor.

EXTERIOR: the central former house has three storeys as well as basement and attic level, with a neoclassical style design. On the north side is a five-window front elevation with rusticated quoins. The central bay projects slightly forward and includes a ground-floor flat-roof porch reached by a set of steps flanked by a pair of statues depicting lions supporting heraldic shields. The porch includes paired Corinthian columns to the front and a pair of similar pilasters to the back. Above the columns is a pulvinated frieze, and a parapet roof with a modillioned cornice topped by a pair of plaster acorns. The windows are late-C20 sash openings; the ground-floor windows are margin glazed, the first-floor are two-over-two and the second-floor are smaller two-over-two. The ground and first-floor windows are set within architraves which are topped by decorated pulvinated friezes and cornices with consoles (ground floor), and plain pulvinated friezes and modillioned pediment with consoles (first floor). The second-floor windows are within shouldered architraves. A plain platband runs above the ground floor and a guilloche band above the first floor. The building is topped by a pulvinated frieze and a cornice supported by console brackets. The villa’s original side elevations are blind (earlier window openings and a former west side entrance having been blocked), with pairs of side chimney stacks, and are partially obscured by the attached later wings. To the rear of the villa, there are various ground-floor extensions. Those to the west form part of the RB Wing (described below). Those to the east, including a glass-roof atrium and flat-roof addition, partially follow the line of the former C19 extensions; however almost entirely date to the 1980s. Behind these additions is the rear of the villa which, at ground-floor level includes a raised central double-leaf doorway, a box-bay window to the west, and a further service stair entrance and sash window to the east. The rear four-window elevation has a similar treatment to the front, including quoins and platbands; the sash and casements windows are late-C20. The first and second-floor window openings have a similar treatment to the front elevation; most of the windows have tripartite sashes. There is a central projecting bay that incorporates a stair window topped by a rounded arch; above is a one-over-one sash. On its east side is a narrow tall window that lights the service stairs; it is also topped by a rounded arched and incorporates modern coloured glazing. A section of the cornice’s console brackets under the east corner of the building has been removed. On the south side of the roof is a lunette dormer window flanked by two later dormers. The hipped roof is flanked by two pairs of stacks with dentilled cornices and there is a further stack near the centre of the building. Over the centre of the ridge is a hipped rectangular roof lantern.

INTERIOR: the original plan, which largely consisted of rooms on either side of a central hallway, remains legible; some of the principal rooms have had partitions removed and door openings relocated. The interior retains original skirting (principally within the halls and landings), floorboards, and architraves. Most of the doors have been replaced with C20 fire doors and some former doorways have been blocked or widened. Many of the rooms retain their ceiling decoration; more may survive beneath late-C20 suspended ceilings with contemporary decorative cornicing.

The central hallway’s ceiling includes a modillion and dentil cornice and three rosettes. The front and rear double-leaf doors are later replacements. At the south end is the principal cantilever staircase, with stone steps, open strings, a curtail step, and a decorative cast-iron balustrade topped by a mahogany bun handrail (wreathed at the bottom). To the east is an adjacent small hallway with a dog-leg secondary staircase with timber steps and a handrail. It has cast-iron balustrading going up to the second-floor level, changing to timber square spindles up to attic level; a later metal security screen has been added between the second floor and attic level.

Three of the original ground-floor doorways leading off the central corridor have been retained; a third has been blocked. Most of the ground-floor window shutters have been retained with hinges and latches, and panelled aprons. To the west of the hallway is a former pair of rooms; the dividing wall has been partially removed and there is a modern suspended ceiling. There is one surviving timber chimneypiece (boarded over). On the east side of the hallway, in the north-east corner, the main room includes an exposed original ceiling with decorative cornice and ceiling rosette and a pair of alcoves. Further east, through a partially infilled arch, are further rooms that have been opened to create a side corridor. The room to the south-east contains modern toilets.

The first-floor landing ceiling’s decorative plasterwork includes cornicing and rosette. It is flanked by two large rooms; the east side was formerly subdivided. Most of the doorways are original; one of the openings has been enlarged. The windows retain their panelled aprons. In the south-east corner of the building, one of the original decorative plaster ceilings is exposed, the window shutters have been retained, and there is a surviving chimneypiece consisting of a mantel shelf supported by marble scroll consoles and jambs, and with a cast-iron fireplace.

The second floor is accessed by the secondary staircase. Most of the doorways are original, although a few have been blocked or are later openings. Most windows retain their panelled aprons. A few of the chimney breasts retain timber surrounds, some with cast-iron fireplaces. Most of the rooms retain their cornicing; some are covered by suspended ceilings. Most of the cornicing is plainer than those at the lower levels; the room in the south-west corner has an egg and dart cornice above a suspended ceiling.

In the attic, the original timber roof structure has been retained and reinforced with later timber supports. At the centre is the roof lantern with ceiling cornice and rosette; a change in the floorboards beneath the lantern indicates there may have been a void allowing light into the floor below.

There is also a large brick cellar accessed via an enclosed set of steps beneath the secondary staircase which runs under the east side of the building, and a half-storey cellar under the west side.


One of the earliest references to Kensal House is in a rates book dating from September 1835. The house and outbuildings appear on Richard Holmes Laurie’s 1841 survey of London. At an unknown date a two-storey, two-window extension was added to the east with further additions to the south. The First Edition Ordnance Survey Map (surveyed 1865; 1:2500) shows the house with ranges wrapping around the east and south side of the building, including a glasshouse to the south. The grounds are also shown, with a principal entrance way to the north-east of the house, another entrance way to the east, as well as outbuildings to the north-west and west. By the end of the C19, the periphery of the grounds had been developed on by terraced housing. An early-C20 photograph of the house’s ground-floor hallway shows several of the internal features which still survive including the decorative ceiling, staircase, and architraves. A contemporary photograph of the large first-floor reception room (west) shows a decorative ceiling (which may survive beneath a later suspended ceiling) and an arched west window (blocked). It also shows a pair of fireplaces; these have been removed; however, a similar fireplace survives in the opposite room.

Between 1911 and 1912 Kensal House was converted by London County Council into an open-air school for children suffering from tuberculosis. A set of 1911 drainage plans, drawn by J Wrightson Barson, ground and first floor rooms converted into classrooms, and a staff kitchen and sanitary facilities in the east and south additions, with further staff and medical facilities on the second floor. The grounds provided space for outdoor classes and recreation. By 1929 it was noted the site was no longer considered suitable for the school. The children were evacuated during the Second World War and the house was used by the National Fire Service until 1945.

After the end of the conflict the school moved to new premises and Kensal House was used as an office by the Metropolitan Railway Surplus Lands Company. A 1956 ground-floor drainage plan shows that the rooms had been subdivided to form smaller offices, and the building had been extended to the south-west. In 1961 a new office west wing was designed by S Ransom. this time a detached bungalow had also been built to the east. Completed by 1964, the new west wing was constructed of brick, with a glass curtain wall stairway link. Further subdivisions occurred within Kensal House during the 1980s, balconies were added to the south side, a new single-storey extension was added, and the house’s attic level was converted to use as office space. At around this time, the building was purchased by Richard Branson as the headquarters for Virgin Records, along with the Portobello Docks site to the south of the canal; the two sites were linked by a pedestrian bridge.

In around 1989 Newman Levison and Partners designed extensions to Kensal House for the Virgin Group; Richard Branson had made the building his company’s headquarters. The 1960s west wing and eastern bungalow were demolished, as was the mid-C19 two-storey service wing to the east. They were replaced by two white-rendered wings with glass link passages built on either side of the main house. Further wings and single-storey ranges were built to the rear, partially following the footprint of the rear mid-C19 addition; however, the current structure appears to almost entirely date to the 1980s redevelopment. The west wing was named the Richard Branson (RB) Wing. In the 1990s Kensal House’s front and rear windows were replaced with new sash and casement windows to match the style of the originals. In 2005 the glazed links flanking the villa were replaced. In early 2022 permission was granted for external and internal alterations to convert Kensal House, along with the attached RB Building, for use as a nursey.

Reasons for Listing

Kensal House, 555 Harrow Road, City of Westminster, London is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the external design is well-detailed, including carved detailing and stucco decoration, and has prominent architectural elements including the overhanging eaves, elaborate entrance porch and square roof lantern;
* it also retains good-quality original internal decoration including plasterwork, ironwork, joinery, and several chimneypieces;
* despite being subject to several phases’ modifications through its various changes of use, the overall largely symmetrical plan form of the former house is still describable;
* the hierarchy of the building remains legible in the varying external and internal architectural treatment shown between the different floors, as well as in the survival of features including the principal and service staircases.

Historic interest:

* it is a good example of a former early to mid-C19 detached suburban villa.

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

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