Keeping the Ladbroke area special​

The Ladbroke family: from riches to poverty in one generation

This is an article that first appeared in the Summer 1997 edition of our newsletter Ladbroke News.

The modern thoroughfare of Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park Avenue follows the line of what was originally an ancient Roman road, leading from London to Uxbridge and the west country. Over the centuries a small settlement arose at the junction of the road with a narrow, twisting lane (now Kensington Church Street), leading south to an­other small village surrounding the church of St Mary Abbotts.

At the northern end of the lane, there was virtually nothing other than extensive gravel pits, the small hamlet of Notting Hill and a dusty farm track leading north to Porto Bello Farm; the surrounding fields and meadows remaining remote and inaccessible, well into the nineteenth century.

It is not known exactly when the Ladbroke family – wealthy bankers of Lombard Street in the City – first acquired their land in Notting Hill. However, by the time of Richard Ladbroke’s death in 1793, he owned estates in Middlesex, Surrey and Essex, as well as three separate parcels of land on the north of the Uxbridge Road. The largest of these amounted to 170 acres, roughly corresponding to the present Ladbroke Conservation area, bounded on the west by Portland Road and Pottery Lane, on the east by Portobello Road, with the northern boundary running along the present-day Lancaster Road.

Advised by his lawyers, however, James had always retained the freehold of his estate, so that, in the event of a builder or developer becoming bankrupt, the land would always revert back to him as ground landlord.

Richard Ladbroke’s fortune was eventually inherited in 1819 by his nephew, James, the surviving son of Richard Ladbroke’s sister, Mary who had married the Reverend Weller. Fulfilling the provisions of his uncle’s will, James Weller assumed the surname of Ladbroke and settled down on his uncle’s es­tate, at Tadworth in Surrey.

During his twenty-eight-year ownership of the Notting Hill estate, James Ladbroke appears to have lived the quiet life of a country gentleman; enjoying the income from his ground rents, and leaving the family lawyers to deal with the day-to-day business of running his estates. There is no evidence that he ever lived in Kensington, or was personally involved with the family banking business, which was taken over by Messrs Glyn & Co, in 1842.

No doubt encouraged by the building boom of the early 1820s, James Ladbroke’s solicitors – acting in conjunction with a distinguished architect, Thomas Allason – obtained a private Act of Parliament to develop the Ladbroke Estate. Despite their plans being affected by the financial crash of 1825, by the time of James’ death in 1847, leases had been granted to various builders and speculators, and what had originally been meadows and pasture-land, was fast disappearing beneath a sea of urban development.

Advised by his lawyers, however, James had always retained the freehold of his estate, so that, in the event of a builder or developer becoming bankrupt, the land would always revert back to him as ground landlord.

All that was to change with James’ death, when his estate was inherited by a distant cousin, Felix Ladbroke of Headley, Surrey, who had clearly made his plans well in advance of receiving his inheritance. Within two weeks of James’ death, he had transferred the administration of the estate to his own solicitors; sold the freehold of ten houses on the south side of Ladbroke Square, and also disposed of twenty-nine acres of land.

That was just the beginning of what was to be the complete break-up of the estate. There are very few records available about Felix Ladbroke. From the way he proceeded to handle his affairs, however, it would seem that he was not an astute businessman. By the time of his death, twenty years later, he had disposed of all his land in Notting Hill as well as his house in Surrey, and was living in ‘reduced circumstances’ near Victoria Station.

Unfortunately, the tantalising question as to exactly what Felix Ladbroke did with the funds raised by the sale of his large inheritance, remains unanswered. Whether it was lost through dubious City investments, or merely squandered on fast women and slow horses, the fact remains that he was, a relatively poor man when he died; the two small legacies mentioned in his will not being paid until after his wife’s death.

Mary-Jo Wormell