Early records reveal that the land that now makes up part of the Thurloe Estate & Smiths’ Charity Conservation Area was part of the parish of Kensington and the manor of Earls Court. By the middle of the 17th century, Kensington was a village, centred on the parish church of St Mary Abbots. King William III established his court at Kensington Palace in 1689 which led to a considerable growth in the local population. The village continued to grow steadily during the 18th century and by the end of the century its population numbered over 8,000.
During the 17th & 18th centuries the village of Brompton was renowned for its wholesome, clean air and flourishing markets and nursery gardens. Brompton Park Nursery (where the V&A now stands) was occupied by Henry Wise, Queen Anne’s celebrated gardener and a well known property owner of that time. There were many inns in the Knightsbridge area, and the Bell and Horns Inn occupied the corner site where Empire House stands today.
Brompton was located just west of the current South Kensington tube station. The area was surrounded by gardens and open fields beyond and defines the old road pattern that survives today. The early 19th century saw a huge change in London’s landscape. An increase in building developments led to the transformation of Brompton from a prosperous rural parish to a busy metropolitan borough. The first property boom took place between 1760 – 1770. From about 1764 terraced houses with large front gardens were built along present day Brompton Road in the area including and surrounding Harrods. This newly developed part of Brompton Road came to be known as ‘New Brompton’ to distinguish it from the original village further west, which became ‘Old Brompton’.
Further building took place during the boom of the 1820s and by the 1830s Brompton Road was a prosperous residential area. The Great Exhibition of 1851 formed the impetus for the establishment of the great Museum precinct of South Kensington which would help to revolutionise the Knightsbridge area. In the second half of the 19th century the south side of Brompton Road was transformed into a fashionable shopping location. The terraced houses erected during the first property boom were pulled down and replaced with commercial shops to attract the tourists flocking to the area to visit the new museums.
The Piccadilly Line was opened in 1906 and brought a fresh wave of visitors to the area. Stations were opened at Knightsbridge and Brompton Road, which was located further down the road towards the Brompton Oratory. However, due to lack of use the Brompton Road station closed in 1934. The residential blocks at the south west end of Brompton Road were constructed during the 1930’s, and between 1886 and 1890. The Bell and Horns Inn was demolished to make way for Empire House, Dalmeny House and the Rembrandt Hotel buildings which were built between 1910 and 1927.