The Twickenham Museum
Places : Whitton

Kneller Hall
The last of three houses

Kneller Hall and its formal gardens.
The first house
The present Kneller Hall is the third house to have occupied this site. The first large house was that built by Edmund Cooke between 1635 and 1646 and assessed for 20 fireplaces for the Hearth Tax of 1664, making it the fourth largest house in Twickenham. The house had a series of owners in the second half of the 17th century including Charles Pitcairne, Sir Thomas Mackworth and Henry Kempe Esq.

Sir Godfrey Kneller builds the second house

The house was bought by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1709. He demolished the old house and built his own, which became known as Whitton Hall. The only print of the house he built was drawn by Kip in 1716. It shows a small elegant house in the Queen Anne style. The Hall and staircase was painted by La Guerre, possibly with some assistance from Kneller. It has been suggested Kneller had the road outside diverted, previously it had gently curved past the property whereas it now follows a zig-zag route. Kneller spent the summer months at Whitton, visited and courted by many people of distinction and honour including members of the Royal Family. After Sir Godfrey’s death in 1729, the estate passed to his widow Lady Susanna Kneller for her lifetime. On her death in 1729 the estate was inherited by Kneller's grandson, Godfrey Kneller Huckle, the product of a pre-marriage liaison with a Mrs Voss. Their daughter Agnes married a Mr. Huckle. Godfrey Kneller Huckle married the heiress to an estate in Wiltshire and never lived at Whitton. 
Kneller Hall in the 19th century.

House and grounds extended

Kneller Hall was leased out until 1757 when it was sold to Sir Samuel Prime, a prominent London lawyer. Sir Samuel and his son, also called Samuel, extended the hall greatly, Samuel junior having a large family. The wall facing the house was pulled down and several houses opposite demolished to take in the view of an extended pleasure ground reflected in today's Kneller Gardens as far as the present A316 Chertsey road.

The grounds were also 'improved' under the Primes,employing the talents of Humphry Repton, successor to Capability Brown as the last of the great English landscape gardeners. The lake behind the house fed by the ancient brook that gave rise to Whitton formed the main inspiration for Repton's landscape laid out in his Red Book for Whitton Hall, 1797. Samuel Prime junior died in 1813 and the estate was sold to Charles Calvert, of a wealthy brewing family and Whig member of Parliament for Southwark from 1812-1832. He expanded the house under the supervision of Philip Hardwick by adding a spacious drawing room at the east end and a large drawing room at the west end.

Charles Calvert died of cholera in 1832, his widow living on in the house till her death around 1845.

Third house and use as a training college

The hall was then acquired by the Government as a training college for teachers of pauper and criminal children.

The present appearance of the house dates from the rebuilding which took place between 1847 and 1850. The walls and timbers of the Kneller house were found to be dilapidated and this part was taken down. The sections added by Charles Calvert formed the wings of the new house though refaced, and raised to carry two dormitories, with a new central block. This, replacing the part built by Kneller, was designed by George Mair, based on Wollaton Hall. The servants quarters added by the Primes on the north west wing of the house were extended at the same time. The house is of red brick, faced with Bath stone with a plinth around the base of Portland stone. Nothing now remains of the original Kneller house except for the foundation stone on display at The Twickenham Museum.

The Training School was opened in 1850 with Dr. Frederick Temple as Principal and Francis Palgrave as his deputy, with room for about one hundred pupils. The training school was not a success, attracting huge controversy over its use in the educational field, and it was closed in 1856. This did no harm to the careers of the two principals: Dr. Temple was to become Archbishop of Canterbury and Francis Palgrave was later to edit that Victorian favourite the Golden Treasury.

A School for Army Music

The Hall was then acquired by the War Department as a school for army bandsmen. This was just at the end of the Crimean War when it became all-too apparent that the British Army lacked the same musical ability of its European counterparts. Under the auspices of the Duke of Cambridge, Commander in Chief of the Army, the Military School of Music school was opened on 3 March 1857, the prefix Royal coming later in 1887.

The Commandant of the School of Musketry at first proposed that bandsmen should be excused rifle training, while the Duke of Cambridge felt that it was the first duty of every soldier to master the weapon. A bandsman was required to demonstrate such an ability in order to draw a full wage. Eventually, His Royal Highness realised the highly specialized function of bandsmen as part of the Army in its own right and so were relieved of this duty. By 1870, the standard of performance at Kneller Hall was attracting the attention of the civilian world, although the band seldom performed away from Kneller Hall except for an annual public performance at St Paul’s Cathedral. By 1882 the Wednesday afternoon concerts were well established, highly popular and well attended.

The added value of bandsmen trained as medical orderlies at times of war brought into sharp focus after 4 August 1914 when the Order to Mobilise was received and students were returned to their units as stretcher-bearers, the role assigned to Bandsmen on mobilization. The value of bandsmen to boost morale was eventually realised with bands playing in the open at forward areas, working with ‘heroic vim and cheerfulness without rest,’ while the courage and bravery displayed by bandsmen in the role of stretcher-bearers, often under heavy fire, cannot be overemphasized.  

After the war full programmes of summer season engagements were held around the country along with the band’s first appearance on the BBC on 8 July 1924. Although war was declared with Nazi Germany on 1 September 1939, the British government had been preparing for the expectation of bombing raids on civilian targets for three years. Suitable relatively safe locations included Kneller Hall and which became the General Headquarters for the defence of Britain against invasion at the outbreak of war. A Special Forces unit known as Phantom initially had its HQ at Kneller Hall, after which the estate may have served as a training centre, or ‘X’ Station, used by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Looking Forward

In March 1945, Kneller Hall became a Civil Resettlement Unit for returning Prisoners of War from Germany, resuming normal business on 1 November 1946. The first weekly concert was televised on 19 July 1950. The Kneller Hall trumpeters and percussionists played as part of the Military Music Pageant at Wembley in the presence of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, with the trumpeters again invited to play for the royal wedding at time when Kneller Hall concerts were attracting audiences of 6,000 an evening. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, a new government defence programme triggered the formation of the newest and most junior Corps in the army, the Corps of Army Music. The New Millennium progressed the traditional morale-boosting component with the Rhythm Force concerts featuring Jools Holland and Status Quo.  The institution thrived until 2020 when the Ministry of Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) was formally instructed to market the estate as a new rediential development opportunity working closely with the local authority to support 'much-needed affordable housing.' The Grade II listed mansion together with the boundary wall, guard house and band practise room are designated heritage assets to be 'refurbished and enhanced to retain a strong identity reflecting the site's military history'. The estate was purchased on 9 September 2021 by Duke's Education looking to develop the site as a new Upper School for Radnor House in Twickenham.  

Chronology of the three houses:FIRST HOUSE (Cooke's House)

1632 Edmund Cooke buys two small houses and various lands from Lady Ursula the widow of Sir Simon Harvey.
1642 Death of Edmund Cooke, the new house and land inherited by his wife Frances.
1653 House described as a Mansion.
1657 House sold by the Cooke family to Charles Pitcairne, son of Andrew Pitcairne, the builder of York House
1662 Charles Pitcairne sells the house to Sir Thomas Mackworth, Bart.
1664 House assessed for 20 Hearths making it the fourth largest house in Twickenham
1670 Henry Kempe, a lawyer of the Inner Temple buys the property.
1685 Captain Piercehouse buys the property.
1696 Peter Martell the owner.
1699 Tracey Pauncefoot acquires the property though a recovery in the Isleworth Syon Manor Court.

SECOND HOUSE (Kneller's House)

1709 Pauncefoot sells the house to Sir Godfrey Kneller. Kneller demolishes the old house and builds a new house in the Queen Anne style, completed by 1711. Known as Whitton Hall in his lifetime and after his death as Kneller HaIl.
1723 Death of Sir Godfrey Kneller, house to his wife, Susannah Lady Kneller for her lifetime.
1729 Death of Lady Kneller, the property inherited by Godfrey Kneller Huckle (who changes his name to Godfrey Kneller Kneller), he was Godfrey Kneller's grandson by his illegitimate daughter Agnes Voss.
1731 House leased by Godfrey Kneller Kneller to Eleanor Verney, widow of a Warwickshire gentleman.
1757 Sir Samuel Prime buys the house from Godfrey Kneller Kneller.
1777 Death of Sir Samuel Prime, his son Samuel Prime inherits the house. He makes many additions and buys large areas of land opposite the house, which he makes into a pleasure ground.
1813 Death of Samuel Prime Esq, estate inherited by his younger son Richard.
1818 Richard Prime sells the estate to Charles Calvert, M.P. for Southwark.
I 820 Charles Calvert adds an East and West wing.
1832 Charles Calvert dies of cholera, intestate, there then follows a long case in Chancery, in the meantime his widow Jane lives in the house
1846 Morris Emmanuel buys the estate.


1847 Kneller Hall and the land between Kneller Road and Whitton Dene is sold by Emmanuel to the Committee of the Privy Council for Education. Kneller's house is demolished, except the wings added by Charles Calvert, a new centre section, modelled on Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, is erected, with the recently added wings raised to three stories.
1850 The Kneller Hall Training School for the Teachers of Pauper and Criminal Children is opened with Dr. Frederick Temple as Principal, and Francis Turner Palgrave as Vice Principal.
1856 The Kneller Hall Training School closes after Dr. Temple resigns.
1857 The house transferred to the War Department opens as the Military School of Music.
1957 100th Anniversary of the School of Music is celebrated with a visit from the Queen.

Further Reading / Reference 

Ed Harris. 2019. Kneller Hall Looking Backward Looking Forward. Borough of Twickenham Local History Society.

Humphrey Repton Red Book for Samuel Prime Esq., Whitton Hall 1797. New York Botanical Garden. Reilly Collection 363. FDA690. W585. Twickenham Museum by arrangment.

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