Above: A print showing the house from the Thames shortly before it was demolished.
Before we make a start on the history of this house, it may be useful to explain the title ‘Margrave’. It was the hereditary title of some princes of the Holy Roman Empire which was abolished in 1806. In Britain, a ‘margrave’ (or Marquis) ranked below its nation’s equivalent of ‘Duke’. The wife of a Margrave was a Margravine’.
The story starts with farmland, orchards and market gardens owned by the Bishops of London – who were Lords of the Manor of Fulham and whose manor house was Fulham Palace. The large piece of land on which Brandenburgh House was built is a short distance SE of today’s Hammersmith Bridge and is now the site of an enormous residential development of apartments called Fulham Reach.
During the reign of Charles I a residence called ‘The Great House’ was built on the land by Sir Nicholas Crispe, merchant and ardent Royalist, surrounded by very large grounds. The house was unusual at the time because it was not timber-framed but built entirely of brick. The property was later bought by Prince Rupert, a nephew of Charles I and commander of the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War, who bought it for his mistress.
In 1749 the house was purchased by George Bubb Dodington, the eccentric politician and future Lord Melcombe. He named it ‘La Trappe’ after the monastery in France. He spent a fortune on it, repairing and modernising it throughout and building a magnificent gallery.
In 1792 it was bought by the Margrave of Brandenburgh (also known as Marquis of Brandenburg-Anspach) who had married Lady Elizabeth Craven and the property became known as Brandenburgh House. The Margrave had the interior of the house redecorated in sumptuous style. He made it into a popular place for fashionable society to meet. As well as the extensive improvements, a little pseudo-gothic theatre was erected close to the river. The Margravine was an amateur actress and wrote plays for her friends that were performed in the theatre. The Margrave died in 1806 and his widow made it her home until she retired to Naples in 1819.
Before continuing with the history of Brandeburgh House, it is necessary to describe what was going on at Court – concerning the Kings of England – with George III and George IV.
By 1788, the reigning monarch – George III – was possibly suffering from what, today, would be called porphyria. His mental health deteriorated to the extent that his son – George IV – was eventually declared Prince Regent in 1811 and then reigned in place of his father. The Prince Regent – ‘Prinny’ – had developed a life of wild extravagance involving heavy drinking, lavish new buildings and numerous mistresses. In 1794 ‘Prinny’ became engaged to Caroline of Brunswick. The marriage was a disaster from the start. Both parties were immediately repelled by the other. George, upon seeing Caroline for the first time, called for a glass of brandy and was extremely drunk during the wedding ceremony and also on the wedding night. Nevertheless, Caroline gave birth to a girl, Princess Charlotte, on 7 January 1796, nine months after the wedding, although by April 1796 the couple had formally separated. Caroline became increasingly isolated socially and left England to return to her roots in Germany in 1814.
Only six years later ‘Prinny’ became King (on the death of his father, George III) and Caroline returned to Britain to assert her position as Queen. In July 1821, Queen Caroline was barred from the coronation on the orders of the King. On trying to enter Westminster Abbey for the Coronation, Caroline was prevented from entering. A trial of Caroline followed, alleging that she had been unfaithful, which caused a sensation but George was deeply unpopular – being seen as an incompetent drunk – whereas Caroline was viewed as the wronged wife and was so popular with the masses that the Bill was withdrawn by the government.
It was the Margravine’s son, Mr Keppel Craven, who persuaded her to offer Queen Caroline the use of Brandenburgh House once it was realised that the government had no intention of providing the Queen with a royal residence. During the trial, Caroline brought her household to Brandenburgh House. Strong public feeling had been aroused by the King’s refusal to allow her to be crowned and once it was known that she could be reached by boat, she was inundated by deputations and noisy river parties. She suddenly fell ill and died at Brandenburg House, just three weeks after the coronation, on 7 August 1821. Queen Caroline was the last and most illustrious resident of Brandenburgh House – having lived there for about two years.
The Queen’s funeral procession on 14 August 1821 – overseen by the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool – started at Brandenburg House and ended at Harwich where the hearse was taken by ship to Germany, where she was buried
In 1822 Brandenburgh House and all the contents were sold. The house was later demolished. On the site was built the first and largest of the industrial development schemes that were soon to stretch right along the river in Fulham. The Haig Distillery (known as the Hammersmith Distillery) was erected in 1857 on part of the former grounds, and in 1872 Alexander Manbré built his sugar refinery (known as the Manbré Saccharine Works) on the remainder of the site, on the eastern side of the distillery. Both factories closed down and, by the 1990s, the sites were vacated.
The land was acquired to build luxury apartments – called ‘Fulham Reach’ – designed by the development company called ‘St George PLC’. It is situated beside the Thames – between Winslow Road and Chancellor’s Road. The site is just inside what was until 1965 the old boundary of the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham.