Thomas became a master plumber and later a builder, eventually forming his own building company. He would lease or purchase land for building purposes and he played a significant role in the development of several streets in southern Kensington in the late 19th century, sometimes in partnership with another builder named Thomas Huggett. Among the Hussey and Huggett developments was a row of houses, Nos. 43-61 Warwick Gardens, on the old Edwardes Estate in Kensington, built in the late 1860s (all of which still survive with the exception of No. 61, although No. 43 appears to have been largely rebuilt). By 1871 Thomas was employing 40 men (according to the census of that year).
In the 1860s and 1870s Thomas carried out extensive building work on both sides of Ball St. (this street was demolished in the 1920s), as well as on property on Young St., King St. and Burden Mews (the latter two streets were demolished, with new homes built in the 1920s on King St., which became Derry St.). Other Kensington projects completed by Thomas's firm in this period included the construction of two pairs of semi-detached houses at Nos. 5-8 Harley Road (now Harley Gardens) on sites leased in 1867, and Nos. 1-15 Hollywood Road on sites leased to both Thomas and Mr. Huggett. The two builders also constructed Nos. 2-12 Kenway Road in 1867 and a number of houses on the south side of Child's Place (of which Nos. 17-22 survive) having been granted freehold of the land for the latter in 1866. In 1868, under lease, they built Nos. 147-159 Earl's Court Road which, according to a piece on British History Online, were "not very appealing or even well-built-looking houses". Next to these houses, on land they had purchased themselves (No. 161 Earl's Court Road), they built The Prince of Teck public house, still in existence. And between 1869 and 1870 Thomas constructed two shop buildings at Nos. 21 and 23 Earl's Court Road.
Still in Kensington, in 1872 he purchased the freehold of No. 34 Kensington Square and used most of the northern part of the garden for a builder's yard where he erected workshops and storerooms. In 1873, he was engaged to build a new terrace of nine houses on Gordon Place (now Nos. 20-38), and in the same year he rebuilt the present Nos. 36–54 Stanford Road and the present Nos. 4–13 Kelso Place following demolition work that had taken place to make room for a new railway. It is believed that he also built a new house at No. 18 Kelso Place. In 1874 he built four houses (Nos. 28–31) on Kelso Place which match his work of the previous year on the other side of the street, as well as a new house at No. 27. In 1871 a narrow strip of land more or less parallel to the new railway line became available on Cromwell Road and, being "a sedulous picker-up of left-over properties in the parish" (according to the writer of a piece on British History Online on the development of Cromwell Road), Thomas acquired the freehold and between 1874 and 1876 built twenty-one houses corresponding to Nos. 116–156 Cromwell Road. However, given their noisy and sooty location, the houses did not sell well as private residences and many were turned into flats, shops, hotels and boarding houses.
The building trade generally in southern Kensington was thriving around this time but it peaked in 1875; there was a steep fall thereafter and it appears Thomas may even have faced bankruptcy in the late 1870s because we have come across a reference on British History Online to Thomas in the context of the declining fortunes of developers in Kensington which states that in November 1878, "the solicitors of the builder Thomas Hussey declared that 'there are at the present moment acres of large mansions in South Kensington empty but finished'". No more details on Thomas's situation are provided.
However, he seems to have weathered the storm thanks probably to having had a tender accepted in 1875 for the construction of Albert Hall Mansions in Kensington, beside the famous hall, which was the first large, privately-owned block of apartments built in London. The Mansions, designed by the celebrated architect Richard Norman Shaw, were built between 1879 and 1886. Back in those days, there was no tradition in England of living in apartments, but Albert Hall Mansions, with its attractive red-brick exterior, Dutch gables, triple windows and delicate iron balconies sold quickly and led to the development of further mansion blocks. It is known that Thomas had an apartment in Albert Hall Mansions for at least two years, between 1884 and 1886.
Thomas also worked with Richard Norman Shaw on the development of seven houses at Nos. 200-222 Cromwell Road which Thomas built between 1882 and 1884 and which he converted into a block of 12 flats in 1886 because of the increasing difficulty at the time in finding buyers for the large houses. The block was badly damaged in World War II but was refurbished and further divided about 1950 when it became Huntingdon House. While the building has been considerable altered it still retains the original first three floors and two-storey entrance.
Between 1869 and 1890 Thomas involved himself in a number of less profitable ventures, i.e., the building of housing for the working-class in southern Kensington which the Vestry (as the Borough Council was known at the time) and most builders, including his partner Thomas Huggett, were reluctant to take on. One of Thomas's workers' housing schemes was St. Alban's Road North in Kensington. This cul-de-sac of terraced houses was built in the back garden of No. 13 Kensington Square which Thomas had purchased in 1876 for £10,600 (in 1885 he sold the big house and what was left of the back gardens). The street was later renamed Ansdell Terrace and Nos. 18-20 and 24-27 still survive. Other such projects were undertaken by Thomas on Blithfield St. in 1869, Barker St. (off Fulham Road) between 1877-1878, and Pater St. (or Warwick St. as it was called until 1905) between 1887 and 1890. However, Barker St., a cul-de-sac of 24 mews houses created in the back gardens of Nos. 258 and 260 Fulham Road which Thomas had purchased in 1876, rapidly degenerated into a slum and was eventually cleared in 1937, 10 years after the Hussey family appears to have sold the property.
Another aspect of Thomas's work as a builder was brickmaking. In their book 'Stamford Brook - an Affectionate Portrait' (1992, 1997), Shirley Seaton and Reginald Coleman describe Thomas's brickmaking and building activities in the Stamford Brook area, a summary of which follows:
In 1876 Thomas leased Stamford Brook Fields, an area of approximately 50 acres of meadowland in Stamford Brook, for the purpose of making bricks. To make the bricks, Thomas collected refuse from all over London - this would be burned and sifted to obtain ash and cinders which would then be mixed with clay and shaped into bricks which would then be fired. Close to the brickfield was a 17th century house with extensive grounds called The Brook. In 1878 Thomas purchased The Brook, apparently for the sole purpose of building houses on the property. By 1881 he had built a row of five four-storey terraced houses (now Nos. 20-28 Stamford Brook Avenue) on part of the land. Also in 1878 Thomas purchased a part of the Pallingswick Estate in Hammersmith and built Westcroft Square.
The brickmaking operation flourished throughout the 1880s (apart from 1884 and 1885 owing to a building slump) and Thomas was eventually employing about 250 men and boys. In 1889 there were seven million bricks made, more than in any other year. In 1890 however, Thomas's fortunes took a downward turn following complaints by residents of Bedford Park, close to the brickfield (and built mostly with Hussey bricks), about the smells from the brick-burning and the refuse. A High Court action was taken against Thomas by the Chiswick Local Board and in June 1890 he lost the case on the grounds that he was interfering with "the comfort and enjoyment of the inhabitants, so as to injure their health and deprecate the value of their property". Thomas was forced to shut down the brickmaking operation and pay court costs. The effect of this was to ruin Thomas financially. At the time of the court case he had a number of building agreements on The Brook land, but over the next few years it seems he managed to build only four houses on the property (Nos. 32-38 Stamford Brook Road, made with his own bricks). A large site that Thomas had purchased on the east side of Marloes Road in Kensington for £25,000 in 1891 (now occupied by blocks of flats) was sold without having been developed, possibly due to his financial situation. Another possible result of the court case was the halting in about 1892, at foundation level, of construction of a six-storey block of flats on Cromwell Road (the flats, located alongside Huntingdon House, were eventually completed in 1900 by another builder and named Moscow Mansions). It is known that in 1897 Thomas was attempting to pay off creditors and obtain releases from building agreements.
In 1901 Thomas rented out The Brook house, by then in a ruinous state, to the artist and wood-engraver Lucien Pissarro, son of the French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. Lucien Pissarro carried out repairs and eventually bought the house when it was put up for sale in 1919 following Thomas's death (from 'enlarged prostate, retention of urine, uraemia').
According to British History Online (www.british-history.ac.uk), in 1927 a member of the Hussey family named Thomas Hussey, who was an estate agent at Hyde Park Gate in Kensington, sold some or all of Thomas's property on Barker St. (the street that had been created by Thomas in the back gardens of Nos. 258 and 260 Fulham Road). However, I am not aware of any member of our Hussey family named Thomas who was alive in 1927. It is a possibility that the Hussey property may actually have been sold by family member Clifford Ralfs, who was the husband of Thomas's granddaughter Marjorie Kent and who is believed to have run an estate agency in Kensington around that time. I have been told that Marjorie inherited the bulk of her grandfather's estate, hence the likelihood that the Barker St. property would have been sold by Clifford. Another possibility is that it was Edmund Hussey, a nephew of Thomas (son of his brother Edmund) and an estate agent, who sold the property. However, we have no information as to the address of Edmund's estate agency business, only that his residence in 1927 was probably Ealing, London.
Note: Huggett researchers may be interested in the following information provided by Martyn Killion, a descendant of Ann Emma Huggett, sister of Thomas Huggett, business partner of Thomas Hussey.
Thomas was born 11 December 1836 in Ash, Kent and on 30 November 1899 in Logan-mews, Kensington. On 3 September 1861 he married Hannah Vaux in St. Botolph Bishopsgate, London. Hannah died on 8 July 1924. Both Thomas and Hannah are burried in Kensington Cemetery, Hanwell, London. It appears Thomas thrived in business as he was worth tens of thousands of pounds when he died. The family home appears to have been 9 Cromwell Crescent, Kensington, which presumably Thomas developed. Besides his building work, Thomas was also a vestryman at St. Mary Abbots in Kensington and was on several boards, including the London School Board.
Thomas and Hannah had two sons, Edgar Vaux (born 30 May 1862, died 30 January 1892 in Munster House, Fulham, London) and Frank (born about 1864, died 28 December 1866 at 26 Dartmouth St., Kensington, buried Kensington Cemetery, Hanwell). Edgar married Alice Mary Bayly on 1 September 1891 at Christ Church, Ealing, London and they had one child, Henry Edgar Vaux Huggett (born 9 July 1892, died 26 April 1930 at 98 Baker St., London, buried Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey). Henry had a distinguished military career and was a captain in the British army at Gallipoli. He died unmarried.
If anyone has any further information on the Huggett family, Martyn would be delighted to hear from you. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.