History of Kent House

Built in the Victorian era, Kent House has been the home of Westminster Synagogue since the autumn of 1960. It is, in fact, the second Kent House to occupy the east side of Rutland Gardens near the western limit of the City of Westminster. The first house was erected some time in the 1790s, at the time the first Knightsbridge Barracks was being constructed for the Household Cavalry. It was rented by Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of Queen Charlotte, who gradually enlarged it and named it after his own title. Like his brothers, most notably the Prince of Wales (later George IV), he was constantly in debt and, as a direct result, he and his beloved mistress did not remain long in Kent House. For reasons of state he was forced into marriage with Princess Victoire of Leiningen, and their union was blessed with a daughter, the future Queen Victoria.

In 1870, the old mansion was demolished and the present house built on its foundations. Lady Louisa Ashburton, of Jewish descent, was its first mistress. Some time after her death, Sir Saxton Noble bought Kent House and it remained in his family’s possession until 1960. Lady Noble, granddaughter of the pioneer railroader Isambard Kingdom Brunel, transformed the first floor drawing rooms of Kent House into a remarkable salon. The late Princess Marie Louise recorded in her memoirs that she spent two years at Kent House with ‘my dear friend Celia Noble.’

In 1914 the Spanish artist J.M. Sert decorated some of the rooms. Many musicians performed here: the pianist Dame Myra Hess and the cellist Guilhelmina Suggia, Pablo Casals, Fleury, Joachim, the Aranyl sisters. Sir Donald Francis Tovey, the renowned pianist, composer and musicologist took part in musical events. Diaghilev and members of his famous company, Les Ballets Russes, were frequently entertained, along with such celebrated actors and actresses as Constant-Benoit Coquelin, his brother Ernest and Sarah Bernhardt.

When Sir Saxton and Lady Noble left Kent House in 1940, it was taken over as wartime offices. The house was in a sorry state of disuse and disrepair when Westminster Synagogue acquired it in 1960 after a long search for a permanent home.  At the time, the congregation’s resources permitted the restoration of only the ground floor rooms, in which services and other synagogue activities were held for three years. Later, the first floor was restored with the former ballroom becoming the place of worship, and on 15 September 1963 the new synagogue was consecrated at a service attended by representatives of many sections of the Anglo-Jewish community and of national and civic life.