Rutland Gardens was laid out in 1870–71 by Mitchell Henry, an Anglo-Irish businessman and politician who had acquired the freehold of the ground a few years earlier. The small estate was then occupied by two old mansions: Kent House and Stratheden House. The new development involved the demolition of Kent House but left Stratheden House, which was Henry's own London residence. This house was pulled down about 1900 and replaced by the blocks of flats comprising Rutland Court.
Development on Henry's estate petered out after the building in the early 1870's of a new Kent House, a few smaller houses, and a mews (Kent Yard). In the 1880's and '90's the remaining vacant sites were bought and partly built up in connection with South Lodge, a large house on the strip of ground between Henry's property and the old floor cloth factory at the corner of Trevor Place and Knightsbridge. The sites of South Lodge and the factory are now occupied by offices and housing built in the late 1970's.
Until 1862, the ground now occupied by Rutland Gardens, and the South Lodge site, formed a single freehold property, which in the eighteenth century belonged to a family named Shakespear. The eastern part, where South Lodge eventually came to be built, was by the 1760's occupied by a largish house and some cottages, but the rest of the ground was undeveloped. In the early 1770's a large plot on the west side was leased for the building of the mansion later called Stratheden House, and the existing house was rebuilt or improved by the master carpenter and builder George Shakespear, on a long lease from his relations William and John Shakespear. This house was later known as No. 3 South Place. A third house, the kernel of the future Kent House, followed in the early 1790's, by which time George Shakespear had become the freeholder of the whole estate. On his death, the property passed to his niece Mary Phillips, the daughter of his brother-in-law and partner John Phillips; she married Shakespear's Pimlico neighbour and trustee, William North, whose family retained the land until 1862. No. 3 South Place was then sold to the sitting tenant, Sir Anthony Sterling, who built South Lodge over part of the garden at the back of the house. The rest of the ground, with Kent House and Stratheden House, was sold to George Duddell of Albemarle Street, who disposed of it in November 1863 to Mitchell Henry. In April 1864 Henry acquired the short residue of the original leases of Stratheden House and its stabling; the leasehold interest in Kent House he did not acquire until 1866.
Henry carried out lavish improvements at Stratheden House before turning his attention to the development of the Kent House estate. In the summer of 1870 Kent House was pulled down, and the German-born architect and decorator Frederick Sang, Henry's interior designer at Stratheden House, sought approval from the Metropolitan Board of Works on Henry's behalf for a plan to build a road (Rutland Gardens) and houses on the site.
The main-road frontage of the Kent House estate was divided into three large plots for mansions, but in the event only the westernmost plot was sold, where work on the present Kent House began in 1872. Sang entered into an agreement with Henry to buy the rest of the Kent House estate, but a portion of it, at the rear of the new Kent House, was sold in 1872 to Colonel R. C. S. Clifford for a "family mansion", together with a plot for stables in what became Kent Yard. Sang's purchase was never completed, though he did build one house in Rutland Gardens – Rutland Lodge, at the corner of Kent Yard.
Instead of a single mansion, Clifford built a row of four houses on his ground (Rutland House and Nos 1, 2 and 3 Rutland Gardens), at which point the development stalled. Apart from the replacement of Stratheden House with flats, the subsequent nineteenth-century building up of Rutland Gardens, and of the vacant ground adjoining Kent House, consisted essentially of improvements to the South Lodge estate. Rutland Gardens Mews was created as part of this process.
Stratheden House (demolished)
The mansion which became known in the nineteenth century as Stratheden House was designed by Sir William Chambers for the politician and army contractor John Calcraft the elder (1726–72), who took a long lease from the freeholders, William and John Shakespear. It was built in 1770–72 on a joint contract by Chambers and the decorative plasterer Thomas Collins. The house is described by Chambers's biographer as square in plan with a handsome staircase, but containing only "a small number of rooms suitable to the needs of a bachelor" – a somewhat ambiguous description, in view of the fact that Calcraft fathered at least two illegitimate families. He owned several estates, including much of the town of Wareham in Dorset; early death, however, denied him the chance of settling in at Knightsbridge. Little is known of the appearance of the house. Distant views indicate a tall, plain building with a hipped roof.
Calcraft's house was for many years the residence of William Marsh, senior partner in a banking house which failed in 1824 following embezzlement by another of the partners, Henry Fauntleroy, who was hanged in consequence, despite widespread protest. Subsequently the house was occupied by Lord de Dunstanville, formerly MP for Penryn, and became known as Dunstanville House. The best known occupant, however, was Lord Campbell, Lord Chief Justice in 1850 and later the Lord Chancellor, and it was from his wife, Baroness Stratheden of Cupar, that the house took its final name. Campbell bought it from de Dunstanville's daughter, Baroness Basset, in 1842. Savouring the view over Hyde Park and air as pure, he felt, as any in England, he set about his great work, The Lives of the Chancellors. Later his view was marred by the erection of the Crystal Palace. On the closure of the Great Exhibition, Campbell took an active part in the debate on whether to preserve or demolish the building. "I have been the leader of the pulling-down faction", he recorded, "and our triumph has covered me with glory, although I have been scurrilously abused in the newspapers, and at all the public meetings which have been held".
The last occupant was Mitchell Henry MP (1826–1910), who purchased the freehold of the Stratheden House and Kent House estate in 1863. Born in Manchester of Irish stock, he was the son of Alexander Henry, a textile merchant and Liberal MP for South Lancashire. Mitchell trained and practiced as a surgeon, but after his father's death joined the family firm, A & S Henry, and went into polities, becoming a significant figure in Irish affairs as MP for County Galway. He also acquired a large estate in Galway, where he built a vast Gothic pile called Kylemore Castle (now well known as Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine convent). The Campbell family, too, had links with Galway, but whether this had any bearing on Henry's acquisition of Stratheden House is not known.
Mitchell Henry transformed Stratheden House in keeping with his status as both public figure and connoisseur of the arts. The work was carried out by the architect T. H. Wyatt and, as decorator, the architect Frederick Sang. Most of the ornamentation was Italianate in style, befitting a collection of furniture and objects d'art which ranged from an antique bust of Agrippa to a carved settee from a Florentine mansion. The furniture also included modern Italian replicas of originals in the Vatican and the Pitti Palace. One of the most elaborate rooms was the library, fitted up with ebonized woodwork and gold mouldings, green silk hung walls, and an ornate ceiling and frieze in Venetian cinquecento style, embellished with portraits of philosophers and poets. The showpiece of the house was The Pompeian Mother, Giosuè Meli's statue of a woman and child fleeing from the eruption of Vesuvius. This was displayed in its own Pompeian-style temple within the house. Among other items in the Henry collection were a Puck by J. G. Lough (another example of which is in the V & A) and statuary by Woolf of Rome.
Possibly as a result of extravagance in building and collecting, Henry's financial position deteriorated; and his life seems to have been marred by family tragedies. Having retired as chairman of A & S Henry in 1893, he disposed of all his holding in the firm over the next few years. Stratheden House was sold up and pulled down about 1900; the site is now occupied by Rutland Court. Kylemore was sold at a heavy loss in 1902, and Henry died a few years later, leaving barely £400.
In 1899 plans were proposed for a block of flats on the site of Stratheden House. The building, designed by the architect William Isaac Chambers, was to have comprised a number of balconied apartments, each of fourteen large rooms. Nothing came of this scheme, however. In June 1900 the cleared ground was put up for auction but was withdrawn when bidding failed to go higher than £89,000. It had been sold, reportedly for £85,000, by September 1901, when work began on the blocks of apartments which make up Rutland Court. The architect of the new building was Delissa Joseph, and the builder Henry Lovatt of Wolverhampton. The "developer" was probably the North British Mercantile Insurance Company, Mitchell Henry's mortgagee, which was named as the freeholder some years later. Finished in 1903, Rutland Court cost £120,000 to build.