History of Cubitt Lodge, Lyall Mews West, Belgravia
Cubitt Lodge in Lyall Mews West, Belgravia, was built c.1847 by Thomas Cubitt (1788–1855), one of the most successful builders of the 19th century. It originally formed the rear part of 3–4 Lyall Street, a grand property used by Cubitt as his company headquarters and workshops until his death in 1855 when they were taken over by his employee Robert John Waller. The workshops in Lyall Mews West were designed with unusually decorative barrel-vaulted ceilings, and two original built-in stoves survive and have recently been restored.
In 1824 Richard Grosvenor, Marquess of Westminster, commissioned Cubitt to create the first housing in an expanse of fields south-west of the City of Westminster that would become known as Belgravia. Shortly afterwards, William Lowndes of Chesham leased more land to Cubitt, where Lyall Street was laid out in 1838. Cubitt, the son of a Norfolk carpenter, had already started developing the Duke of Bedford's estate in Bloomsbury, establishing his reputation as an eminent Master Builder. He and his brothers opened their first workshops on Grays Inn Road and were pioneers in establishing a large building firm employing men from all trades who worked on innovative building principles derived from Cubitt's experiments. Though he was often described as an architect, Cubitt insisted upon being called a builder.
He was involved in the development of Clapham Park and Kemp Town in Brighton, and worked closely with Prince Albert on Osborne House and the Great Exhibition of 1851, however Belgravia and neighbouring Pimlico are hailed as Cubitt's greatest achievements. The plan followed a relatively new pattern for London estates, based on a diagonal grid radiating from garden squares and interspersed with crescents, triangular greens and mews. Though it took more than 30 years to complete, by the 1830s Belgravia had gained repute as a fashionable 'City of Palaces', whilst Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence in nearby Buckingham Palace, which Cubitt also helped to build. Lyall Street was among the last laid out in this 'new and elegant town' connecting Westminster and Chelsea. It was named after the Lowndes Estate Trustee Charles Lyall.
'Cubitt's Yard', established in the adjoining mews, housed his trusted team of builders, masons, bricklayers, plumbers, painters and decorators, who were listed living there on the 1841 census. In 1847 the first principal houses were completed in Lyall Street. Lofty 3–4 Lyall Street, which was originally one conjoined property, served as Cubitt's last headquarters during the completion of the Belgravia estate. A lease book surviving at the London Metropolitan Archives confirms that his men used Cubitt Lodge in the mews at the rear of his house as small workshops. At this time there was a basement passage running parallel with Lyall Mews West that linked the workshops, which was open to the elements and has since been enveloped within the building and a balcony created above.
Cubitt was renowned for being a generous employer who looked after his workmen and was well respected by all levels of society. In December 1855 Queen Victoria wrote in her diary: 'I am been much grieved by the death of that excellent and worthy man, Mr. Thomas Cubitt… He is a real national loss. A better, kinderhearted or more simple, unassuming man never breathed.'
Cubitt's executors divided 3–4 Lyall Street into two properties in 1856 and leased 4 Lyall Street and the workshops in Lyall Mews West to builder Robert John Waller (c.1815–1892). Waller's father had worked closely with Thomas Cubitt since the 1830s, and Robert had also been a prominent Cubitt employee. He later set up additional premises on the King's Road in Chelsea, which he ran in tandem with the Lyall Street workshops, and his sons Charles Buller Waller and Pickford Robert Waller joined him in business. Waller & Sons operated from Lyall Street for over 40 years as builders, interior decorators and estate agents. The 1871 census shows Robert J. Waller living at 4 Lyall Street, employing 286 workmen, labourers, clerks and boys; by 1881 business was thriving and his staff numbered 428.
Robert J. Waller and his sons were born and bred in West London and had a second family home in Grosvenor Crescent. Robert died in 1892 and his son Pickford continued to run the family firm until the turn of the century. Pickford Robert Waller (1849–1930) was a respected English designer, art collector and proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement who collaborated with the American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) and English painter Matthew White Ridley (1837–1888). In later life Pickford turned his focus to the arts rather than property development and in 1909 he was granted a licence for change of use and alterations to the Lyall Street premises.
During the 20th century 4 Lyall Street and the mews behind were used purely for domestic purposes. The Trustees of the Cubitt Estate purchased the freehold from the Lowndes family in 1906, and in 1921 the property was split into flats under the direction of new leaseholder Miss Marjorie Sara Mary Dougherty (1891–1981). Marjorie was born in Bayswater and grew up in an artistic household. In 1911 she was a young actress, but she remained unmarried and turned to property investment in her thirties. Marjorie took out a 52-year lease on 4 Lyall Street and the adjoining mews buildings, living there intermittently with sub-tenants until the 1970s. During her tenure a blue plaque was unveiled commemorating Master Builder Thomas Cubitt's connection to Lyall Street, and the building became Grade II listed. In the 1970s Cubitt Lodge was created as a single mews house separate from 4 Lyall Street. It has recently been refurbished to an extremely high standard, complementing the surviving original features with contemporary design.