Bayswater, Westminster

An enclave of hotels and (mostly) high-class housing lying north of Kensington Gardens

Bayswater Road on a Sunday morning

Bayswater began as a hamlet located close to present-day Lancaster Gate but the name now covers a wide area stretching west to Notting Hill, north as far as West­bourne Green and east to Paddington – or even beyond, to Marble Arch.

In 1380 this was Bayard’s Watering Place. The water was provided by the stream later known as the West­bourne. A bayard was a bay (chestnut) horse but some suggest the name may have come from a resident called Baynard. The hamlet was inter­me­di­ately known as Bayswa­tering, while Bayswater was first recorded in 1659, when just a handful of houses stood here.

Apart from some tea gardens, a lying-in hospital and the inevitable inn or two, Bayswater remained almost entirely unde­vel­oped in the 18th century.

Spec­u­la­tive builders began to grab the land here in 1809, led by Bond Street print­maker Edward Orme. Single and paired villas with gardens were initially the favoured types of dwellings but tree-lined, terraced avenues, squares and crescents rapidly extended the district in the 1840s and 1850s. A ‘splendid new town’ had come into existence by the time Bayswater station opened in 1868.

Hidden London: the Inverness Court Hotel on Inverness Terrace
Inverness Court Hotel on Inverness Terrace

Artists and writers came here when the district was still semi-rural but were soon succeeded by more conven­tional members of the upper classes.

Bayswater was nicknamed ‘Asia Minor’ in 1885 and Indian fruits and vegeta­bles were on sale in the local shops, but the customers were military and admin­is­tra­tive profes­sionals with south Asian expe­ri­ence rather than immi­grants from the subcon­ti­nent.

Greeks and Jews also settled here, estab­lishing their own places of worship on Moscow Road and St Peters­burgh Place respec­tively.

Late in the 19th century some of the earliest houses were rebuilt, while others were replaced with flats. Hotels and mansion blocks made up the lion’s share of replace­ment building between the wars.

From the early 1960s some new hotels were added, while older ones were converted into flats. Also around this time an open-air art market began on Bayswater Road. Nowadays more than 150 artists display their work every Sunday from 10am to 6pm (see the photo­graph at the top of the page). Bayswater was desig­nated a conser­va­tion area in 1967, constraining subse­quent rede­vel­op­ment.

Since the 1980s Bayswater has been the focus of a wave of settle­ment by Middle Eastern expa­tri­ates, who patronise the shops and services on Queensway and Edgware Road. The locality is also a popular place of residence for people from all over conti­nental western Europe.

West­min­ster council is presently cham­pi­oning the ‘regen­er­a­tion’ of Queensway into ‘Bayswater Village’. This will be spear­headed by the super-prime Park Modern project by the property devel­opers Fenton Whelan.

The engineer Rookes Crompton electrically illuminated his house in Porchester Gardens in 1879.

A ‘dry land sailor’ used to be known as a Bayswater Captain.

According to Sam Selvon’s modern classic The Lonely Londoners (1956), Bayswater’s West Indian residents used to refer to the locality as ‘the Water’.

Postal district: W2
Population: 10,300 (2011 census)
Station: Circle and District lines (zone 1)
Further reading: Further reading: Brian Girling, Bayswater to Little Venice Through Time, Amberley, 2016
See also: Westbourne Grove and Whiteleys