Why Has West London Got So Many Courts?

By Kate O'Sullivan Last edited 91 months ago

Last Updated 02 November 2016

Why Has West London Got So Many Courts?

West London is practically swimming in courts. Here, we look at the stories behind three of the most concentrated courts, which sit just a few stations apart from each other on the District and Piccadilly lines: Earl's Court, Barons Court and Ravenscourt Park.

Earl's Court

Earl's Court station. Photo: Graeme

This area has always been star-studded, no more so than back in its Norman days. When William the Conqueror came to England he brought one of his favourite knights, Aubrey de Vere, with him and gave him a load of land. This included the 771 acres that would come to include the area known as Earl's Court. (Although word has it that in the 500 years and 15 generations that the family that owned it, they never once visited.)

Aubrey's son became the first Earl of Oxford, of which there were many more (some people believe the 17th Earl of Oxford was the real William Shakespeare). The earls held their manorial court where Old Manor Yard, near Earl's Court station, is today. And that's how the area became known as Earl's Court.

Sir Walter Cope — an early 17th century Richard Branson-type — bought the manor and built Cope Castle, or Holland House as it is now known. What followed were more earls (you can see a pattern forming) in the form of Holland, Warwick — see nearby Holland Park and Warwick Road — and Edwardes, who became the first Lord of Kensington in 1776. Turns out west London wasn't short of earls, either.

Barons Court

Outside Barons Court Station
Barons Court station. Photo: Oliver Mallich

One stop down the Piccadilly line is Barons Court. You might think that, based on the etymology of Earl's Court, it was where all the barons lived... perhaps it suited them being in close proximity to the fancier earls, so they could conduct sordid inter-rank affairs?

Sadly, no. There were no real barons for the earls to play with. There was, however, a Maj Sir William Palliser, who built the first house in the area back in the late 1800s.

But where did the name Barons Court come from?

There's much disagreement, compounded by the lack of an apostrophe. Earl's Court is (mainly) written with an apostrophe and Barons isn't  — something that has baffled and infuriated pedants through the years. One historian argues that the name is derived from an estate in Ireland called 'Barenscourt' that Palliser had a link to. However, most believe Palliser was just poking fun at Earl's Court and maybe the grammar police of the future too. Oh the lols.

Ravenscourt Park  

Ravenscourt Park. Photo: Stephanie Sadler

Rather satisfyingly, the naming of Ravenscourt Park involves both a large black bird and another person who liked to take the piss. The manor in the park was originally called Palingswick Manor and during the 14th century was the residence of Alice Perrers, the mistress of King Edward III.

The house was rebuilt in 1650 and sold to Thomas Corbett in 1747 — more than 30 years before Kensington would get its first lord. It was Thomas who named it Ravenscourt, and historians believe it was most likely named after the raven on his coat of arms, which was itself a pun on his name (corbeau is French) for raven.

So there we have it: west London has all the courts, many earls, and at least two historical jokers.