'Vanity Fair' cartoon of 'the Master Builder'

Vanity Fair’s cartoon of the
Master Builder

Sir Charles James Freake

Dates: 1814 - 1884

Profession: Construction

Address: 21 Cromwell Road , SW7

Dates at address: 1860 - 1884

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Freake came from a poor background, his father was a coal merchant and publican from Pimilico, but his skill and force of personality transformed all that. Despite being worth £718,000 at his death he remained proud of his roots and never lost his cockney accent, instead persuading his genteel wife to adopt his way of speaking.

Starting as a carpenter he soon branched into building with help from his father, developing South Eaton Place and Eaton Square. Thanks to his natural business sense and connections with surveyor George Basevi he went on to be described as having “made the neighbourhood of South Kensington, raising it from a neglected suburb…to…a second Belgravia.” The main force behind the Smith’s Charity, his major achievements include the area around Onslow Square, 48-78 Fulham Road, St Jude’s Church, St Paul’s Church, St Peter’s Church and the National Training School for Musicians, which earned him his baronetcy in 1882.

He lived in one of his own houses, 21 Cromwell Road, and it became the social hub for Kensington. Complete with ballroom and theatre, Freake hosted guests at numerous events, including the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh.