Walking up Palace Gate road in Kensington, just short of the main Kensington Road you might spy a sign for a Pedestrian Right of Way leading to Kensington Road, and be intrigued. It’s a curious right of way leading through a mews and private estate up to the main road, which you can easily see from where you’re standing, but try it anyway.

Quite why there’s a right of way here has proven hard to find, but the closest suggestion is that it was created so residents in the area could avoid a toll gate on the main Kensington Road, and there does seem to have been one in about the correct area.

Most of this part of London was developed in the later period of the 18th-century, at a time when this part of London was mainly used for market and nursery gardens supplying Westminster. As London expanded, the fields were sold off for housing development, although this patch of London seemed to be developed later than the rest of the area.

A number of the roads and large housing blocks were redeveloped around the 1820-40s giving the area its current layout, and as would be expected for the time, a mews was added behind the grand houses for their stables and staff.

It’s this mews that seems to have created the right of way.

The entrance, from Palace Gate, is down a narrow roadway that’s also sealed off from road traffic with a couple of bollards. To the north is a grand red-brick building that’s today the High Commission of Zambia, but was once the home of one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, John Everett Millais, who later dropped that style in favour of more commercial art, and ended up living in this grand house as a result.

At the end what looks like a locked gate is in fact unlocked, and you can push open the pedestrian entrance into the mews proper.

Down here, there are three former coach houses that were built in the 1830s. The houses are two-storeys in height and constructed from brick which has now been painted white. They’re all now expensive homes, but looking more like cottages than classic terraced mews as are found in the rest of London.

The small cluster of stand-alone buildings, with gables and small front gardens, gives the area the feel of a small village, albeit one that’s right in the heart of London and surrounded by much larger buildings.

Although the gates into Reston Place are unlocked, back in 1998 there was an attempt by the private estate that owns the land to seal off the passage. According to an article in the Kensington Post in May 1999, the landlord, the Campden Charities claimed (somewhat implausibly I feel) that Restone Place was suffering from muggings and burglaries, and they wanted to lock the gate. It took a couple of years, but the council ordered the gates to be unlocked again.

So you can continue to make use of a right of way that was (maybe) slipped in to let people dodge a toll gate that’s long since vanished.

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