Kneller Hall

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Coordinates: 51°27′18″N 0°21′3″W / 51.45500°N 0.35083°W / 51.45500; -0.35083

Kneller Hall, autumn 2009

Kneller Hall is a stately home in Whitton, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, and takes its name from Sir Godfrey Kneller, court painter to British monarchs from Charles II to George I. Today it houses the Royal Military School of Music, training musicians for the British Army’s 22 military bands, having been acquired by the Army in the mid-19th century.

The current building is the third house constructed on this site. The first was built by Edmund Cooke between 1635 and 1646 and in 1664 was the fourth largest house in Twickenham.[1]

After being purchased by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1709, the first house was demolished and replaced by a new building (reputedly designed by Sir Christopher Wren). Originally known as Whitton Hall, it was renamed Kneller Hall by Kneller’s widow after his death.

In 1757, Kneller Hall was sold to Sir Samuel Prime, a prominent London lawyer, who, with his son of the same name, extended the house significantly and landscaped the surrounding grounds. After Samuel Prime junior died in 1813, the hall was sold to Charles Calvert, Whig Member of Parliament for Southwark from 1812–1832. He further expanded the house (to designs by architect Philip Hardwick), adding drawing rooms at the east and west ends of the building.

Calvert died of cholera in 1832, but his widow continued to live at the Hall until her death around 1845. The hall was then acquired by the UK government as a teacher training college, but needed substantial reconstruction work. Between 1847 and 1850, much of the original Kneller house was found to be dilapidated and was demolished. The Calvert additions formed the wings of the new house, designed by George Mair.

From 1850 to 1856 Kneller Hall served as a teacher training college under principal Frederick Temple and vice-principal Francis Turner Palgrave. In exchange for a two-year college education almost entirely subsidised by the state – one of the first forms of state-sponsored social mobility – graduates of the college were supposed to teach pauper and delinquent boys in specially built district schools. Though Kneller Hall itself was generously funded by the state, the larger scheme to build district schools never came to fruition owing to political and religious conflict. The college closed when it was unable to attract any more pupils, who were now expected to teach in miserable conditions in Britain's workhouses.[2] Afterwards it was taken over by the War Office as the base for a school for army bandsmen, being officially opened on 3 March 1857. For its history from this point, see Royal Military School of Music.