Reasons for Designation
Picton House is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* A relatively modest house built, altered, and decorated between the 1730s and 1750s, with remarkably lavish and complete internal plasterwork and panelling of more than special interest
* The past occupiers of the house reflect Kingston's role as both industrial centre and rural retreat. Particularly interesting is Cesar Picton: brought to England from Senegal as a slave or servant in 1760 or 1761, he later established himself here as a prosperous coal merchant.
Kingston upon Thames, historically in Surrey, was an important market town, port and river crossing from the early medieval period, while there is evidence of Saxon settlement and of activity dating from the prehistoric period and of Roman occupation. It is close to the important historic royal estates at Hampton Court, Bushy Park, Richmond and Richmond Park. The old core of the town, around All Saints Church (C14 and C15, on an earlier site) and Market Place, with its recognisably medieval street pattern, is ‘the best preserved of its type in outer London’ (Pevsner and Cherry, London: South, 1983 p. 307). Kingston thrived first as an agricultural and market town and on its historic industries of malting, brewing and tanning, salmon fishing and timber exporting, before expanding rapidly as a suburb after the arrival of the railway in the 1860s. In the later C19 it become a centre of local government, and in the early C20 became an important shopping and commercial centre. Its rich diversity of buildings and structures from all periods reflect the multi-facetted development of the town.
(Formerly listed as: HIGH STREET, 52, AMARI HOUSE, previously listed as HIGH STREET, 52 PICTON HOUSE)
This list entry has been amended as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.
Picton House stands on the west side of the High Street, backing on to the river. The main part of the house was built in the early 1730s. Interior remodelled and decorated in the 1740s; the entrance was presumably moved to the south side at the same time. During the 1750s a north wing was added, the eastern part possibly slightly later than the western part. Much internal decoration of 1740s. Restored and converted to offices 1979-81, at which time an extension was built to the north-west, replacing a building thought to have pre-dated the main part of the house; the architect was Peter Jones. This part of the building is not of special interest.
EXTERIOR: Brick front and weatherboarded back, with pantiled roof. Two storeys with mansard garret; basement under the southern end. The main building is three bays wide with a large brick chimney stack at each end. The street (east) front is of painted brick, laid in Flemish bond, with the centre bay projecting slightly. There is a parapet and between ground and first floors a graduated platband. Central doorway with late C20 moulded hood. Segmental headed window openings, with shallow inset replacement 6/6-pane sash frames. The north return is obscured by a two-storey, single-bay wing, built not long after the main house, which projects forward on the street front, the wing being of painted brick with a tiled roof; its two windows are very similar to those in the main block. A short curved wall and gatepost is attached to the south-east corner of the building. The painted brickwork continues along the south return wall as far as the chimney stack, which is bare brick. The rest of this wall and the front facing the river are timber-framed and weatherboarded - the boards are feathered and their lower edges chamfered. The south return wall has two narrow windows in the brick part, one above the other: the lower set back with segmental arch, the upper with straight lintel and moulded wooden frame; both have 4/4 sashes. In the weatherboarded part, at a high level, a window with 3/6 sashes. Door opening to left, fronted by fine flat-roofed wooden portico with proto-Doric columns and pilasters; this portico may have been moved from the former entrance on the east side of the house. On the river front (west), the centre bay is framed by giant wooden pilasters supporting a pediment which contains a lunette. The other windows have rectangular openings containing 6/6 sash frames. In the upper part of the roof, two modern single-pane skylights. Extending westwards from the north end of the building, a four-bay, two-storey extension, rebuilt 1979-81 in the same red-brown brick as the main building. A slate plaque commemorates the opening of 'Amari House' in 1981. This part of the building is not of special interest. On the north extension (east elevation) a plaque erected by the Royal Borough of Kingston in 1998 commemorates the residence of Cesar Picton from 1788-1807. Modern rainwater-heads carry the initials 'CP'.
INTERIOR: In the main part of the building, the ground floor originally formed three rooms - this layout has been reconfigured, but the principal decorative features of the original main room are still very much in evidence. The register grate now in the fireplace is late C19, with floral tiles. The decoration surrounding the fireplace has been restored, the plaster mouldings being replacements; the form of the decoration, with crossettes to the fire-surround and overmantel panel, was visible in 1979, despite the mouldings having being removed. To left of fireplace a cupboard with panelled door and reeded architrave. The exuberant but delicate rococo plaster decoration of the ceiling is enclosed by a corbelled cornice, the central portion of the ceiling being slightly raised within a secondary cornice with egg and dart moulding. An arrangement of panels is embellished with acanthus scrolls and floral swags; at the centre, a circular wreath of vines with bunches of grapes. A narrow staircase to south-west, lined with panelling. The upper part of the staircase retains fine turned balusters, rising in sets of three from the treads, the ends of the steps enriched with a scroll; a similar balustrade continues around the attic landing. The opening between the first flight and the first-floor landing has a hinged panel to prevent draughts whilst making a wider opening possible. Above this landing is a stucco ceiling of exceptionally rich decoration, interrupted by a partition. The design is in two parts; both display a complicated strapwork design intertwined with acanthus leaves and tendrils; the western portion is punctuated with rosettes and shells. Above the doorways to north and south are garlands of fruit and flowers, with central lions' heads. Both northern and southern rooms retain their original panelling. In the southern room, a crossette fire-surround, surmounted by a pulvinated moulding; above, a crossette overmantel panel. In the north wall of the northern room, formerly the external wall of the main house, a window remains, now looking through to the back room of the north wing. In this back room, a patchwork fireplace: the fire-surround probably of the mid-C18; a marble border, of which the lintel has been replaced by late C19 encaustic tiles; and a C18 duck's nest hob grate. The ground floor of the north wing was not inspected in 2007, but is understood to have been much altered. Beneath the southern part of the main house are brick cellars, thought to have belonged to an earlier house.
HISTORY: Picton House stands at the edge of the River Thames, on the site of an earlier building, probably an inn called the Three Pigeons. Until the early C19, the area was dominated by the malting industry; a malthouse stood opposite Picton House and the wharf of the house was used by the malthouse. In 1729 the property was bought by Charles Cossart, who built the new house; the bricks and tiles were made on Surbiton Common. Cossart did not live in the house, which was empty in 1737; he died in 1744 and by 1747 his widow had sold the building to Richard Gore. The house may have served as a country retreat for Gore, who had a hardware business in Cannon Street, London. Gore was responsible for remodelling the interior and embellishing it with plasterwork. He may also have enlarged the house to the north, or perhaps this was the work of his niece Elizabeth Cole, who inherited the house in 1757. Over the next 30 years the house was sometimes occupied by Mrs Cole or her daughter, also Elizabeth, but was usually let - from 1768 to 1782 it was the home of Nathaniel Hammond, a former butcher, and his daughters. By 1785 the house had been bought by Robert Baines; and in 1795 Baines sold it to Cesar Picton.
Cesar Picton (c1755-1836) is believed to have been born in the West African country of Senegal, then controlled by France. From 1758-63 the area was held by the British, and large numbers of soldiers were employed to consolidate the British position. Amongst their number was Captain John Parr. In 1760 Parr resigned his commission and returned to England, bringing with him the little African boy. Cesar's original name is unknown, nor is it known how the boy (then aged about six) came into Parr's possession; he may have been purchased from slavers, or he may have served Parr in the army.
In November 1761 Parr paid a visit to Sir John Philipps, 6th baronet, at Norbiton Place, Kingston (since demolished). Sir John's diary mentions 'a Black Boy from Senegal given me by Capt. Parr, also a Parquet [parakeet] and a foreign Duck.' Little more is known about the friendship between Captain Parr and Sir John, or the reason for these exotic gifts. The following week, Sir John bought a velvet turban for the little boy, which suggests that his role was, at least at first, largely decorative; black attendants, especially young boys, were fashionable in C18 noble households. Probably a Muslim by birth, the child was christened a month later as Caesar (the spelling 'Cesar' was generally used afterwards); his godparents were the upper servants at Norbiton Place. Also at Norbiton Place were Lady Philipps and three unmarried daughters. Sir John was a politician; his family lived quietly, following literary and artistic interests, and supporting Christian missionary work. Each summer was spent at their Pembrokeshire seat, Picton Castle; Cesar, who was later to adopt the surname 'Picton', appears to have remained at the castle in the autumn of 1762, perhaps to be educated, and trained by the Pembrokeshire servants. Following Sir John's death in 1764, the women spent most of their time at Norbiton Place, with Cesar in attendance. In 1788 Horace Walpole, a relation of the Philipps's, noted an apposite remark on the effects of colonialism made by their 'favourite black, who has lived with them for many years and is remarkably sensible.'
From the first, Cesar seems to have been the particular protégé of Lady Philipps's. He was the only person apart from her family mentioned in a will written less than five years after his arrival; besides leaving him money she expressed the hope that 'my Children will take some care of him and not let him want.' At her death in 1788, Cesar received the substantial bequest of £100. Norbiton Place was sold, the Misses Philipps went to live at Hampton Court, and Cesar, now in his thirties, set up himself up as a coal merchant, taking the surname 'Picton'. The fortune of the Philipps family was largely derived from their Welsh coal pits; this may have influenced Picton's choice of trade. He rented, and in 1795 bought, the house by the river, where he will have found a ready market for the coal unloaded at his wharf; the local malthouses were fuelled by coke, produced by adjacent coking ovens. Picton occupied the malthouse opposite his house, and may have been involved in maltmaking, perhaps employing a manager. Picton must have lived in considerable style here, and by 1807, the year of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, he was able to retire and live as a gentleman, his wealth augmented by legacies from the Misses Philipps, and by rent from his property in Kingston. He lived for some years at nearby Tolworth, but in 1816 bought a substantial house in Thames Ditton (now also known as Picton House, (q.v.)) where he remained until his death in 1836. His will, which mentions a horse and chaise, jewellery and pictures, gives some indication of his prosperity, and of the many friendships he had established, largely with prominent local tradespeople. He was buried in Kingston Church, where he is commemorated by a floor tablet.
After moving from the house in Kingston, Cesar Picton rented it out in two units; the main part of the house with its garden was a residence, whilst the wharf and yard were for industrial use, together with some living accommodation in the northern part of the building. During the 1830s, the industrial parts were occupied by Thomas Earl, a corn and coal merchant from a family of barge-owners, whilst the main house (by this time known as Picton House) was the residence of Mr Justice Graham, presumably Sir Robert Graham (d. 1836) who was buried in Kingston Church. Graham had been attorney-general to the Prince of Wales, despite being described by his obituary in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' as 'an urbane but inefficient judge'. Picton left the property to his god-daughter, Sarah Lock Pamphilon, wife of a Kingston cheesemonger and mayor of Kingston, and afterwards to her three children. For much of the C19 the house was tenanted by professional men, becoming known as Picton Villa, though towards the end of the century it was occupied by Mr Pope, a boat builder. During the C20 Picton House was used as an antique shop, and as a restaurant. From 1964 the house was owned by Kingston Corporation, and was threatened with demolition. A campaign by the Kingston upon Thames Archaeological Society led to public enquiries in 1971 and 1976; permission to demolish the building was twice refused. It was agreed that the house should be let as an office, with the lessee undertaking restoration work and additional building; this took place in 1979-81, when the house was renamed Amari House. The house and adjoining buildings are currently occupied by an American marketing consultancy; its name is once again Picton House.
Kingston upon Thames Archaeological Society, 'Picton House and the People Connected with It', Occasional Paper no. 2 (1979)
I West, 'Kingston upon Thames - Picton House, High Street', Domestic Buildings Research Group (Surrey), Report no. 1143 (1975)
B Cherry and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 2: South (1983, 2002)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Kingston Museum and Heritage Service, 'The Story of Cesar Picton c1755-1836', leaflet (2000)
Surrey Comet, 5 November 1999
H Benge, 'Cesar Picton, A Black Merchant in 18th Century Kingston' (2006), www.untoldlondon.org.uk
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 16/02/2016