Barn Elms, the former Manor House, was for centuries the property of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral. Sir Francis Walsingham was its most celebrated resident. But there had been distinguished residents before Tudor times: in 1467 Sir John Saye, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Edward IV, was a tenant. Queen Elizabeth bought the lease in 1579 for Sir Francis Walsingham, as a reward for good services rendered to the Crown, and she is recorded as visiting him there on three occasions.
Other inhabitants include Sir John Kennedy and his wealthy and extravagant wife who literally ended up in rags, the extraordinary Mr Hiam buried in St. Mary's churchyard in 1672, Abraham Cowley who was visited by John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys. By 1694 the property had been leased to Thomas Cartwright who demolished the old medieval manor house and replaced it with a late seventeenth century mansion more in keeping with the times. Duels were fought in the grounds and Count Heidegger, master of the King's revels, entertained George II to an evening of delight and had Handel to stay.
n the early eighteenth century the Hoare family, of banking repute, linked parish and estate together. Sir Richard Hoare, one time Lord Mayor of London, first leased the property and at his death in 1754 his son, named after his father, settled in residence. He was created a baronet in 1786 and was later succeeded by his son, Sir Richard Colt Hoare. During the Hoare tenancy the house underwent further rebuilding with the addition of two wings as the family settled into a home that their status deemed necessary. They integrated themselves in parish life, contributed generously to church funds and assisted the Rector, the Rev. Christopher Wilson, in opening a school on the Green in one of their cottage properties. The bank advanced money for the erection of a workhouse and they built their own family pew on the north side of the church. When the Hammersmith Bridge Company was formed, and wished to buy up land to create approach roads, the Hoares left Barnes and the last of their many properties was sold in 1845.
About 1884 the house passed into the hands of the Ranelagh Club. Its fame as a venue for polo eclipsed the other many sporting activities which it offered and in its heyday it was regularly visited by our own and foreign royalty. By the 1930's funds were running low and shortly before World War II the club was closed. During the war years the polo pitches became allotments under the Dig for Victory scheme. In 1954 the badly damaged house burnt down, the lake was drained and the grounds converted into school playing fields.
There were two other notable houses on the estate. One was used by Jacob Tonson, the eighteenth century bookseller, publisher and the founder of the Kit-Kat Club. This famous coterie had its headquarters here for about ten years in a special building was erected for their meetings. Although the original intention of the club was literary, the members discussed more politics than art. The grateful members had their portraits painted by one of their number, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and these were presented to Tonson and can be seen today in the National Portrait Gallery.
The other was the Home Farm, often referred to as Cobbett's Farm because between 1827 and 1831 William Cobbett carried out experimental farming there. He tried growing maize and the practice of self - supporting husbandry. He paid his workmen in kind, not money, and his domestic staff changed constantly as they could not stand his way of life. His long suffering family must have felt some relief when he went off on a rural ride. The last farmer was Francis Trowell who, with members of his family, lies buried in Barnes Common Cemetery. He moved out shortly before the house and land disappeared under the reservoirs at the back of the Red Lion.