‘The last village in London’, according to its historian, now augmented by assorted institutions and a pioneering
council estate, lying on the western side of Putney. The settlement gained an identity in the 14th century, at first as East
Hampton and then Rokehampton. The ‘roke’ element may have referred to the presence of rooks, rocks or oaks. By
1498 the village had an inn and 20 houses, but the first dwelling of significance was Roehampton House, which was rebuilt
from a hunting lodge around 1630. For the third quarter of the 17th century this was the home of Christiana, Countess of Devonshire.
Among her guests here were the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes and most of the leading figures of the Restoration court.
In 1777 the house was demolished and replaced by Roehampton Grove, eliminating confusion with another Roehampton House that
later became part of Queen Mary’s Hospital. Medfield Street and Roehampton High Street constituted the nucleus of the
village in the 18th century, while handsome villas peppered the surrounding hills and vales, occupied by a succession of eminent
figures. By the late 19th century, high-class suburban homes were increasingly in evidence and the aristocracy began to move
away. Institutions and colleges took over some of the mansions but most were demolished during the 20th century. Private and
council estates filled their former grounds, notably the Alton estate, built in the 1950s. Roehampton Priory claims to be
London’s oldest private psychiatric hospital and has treated many celebrities for problems such as exhaustion, depression
and alcoholism. The former Roehampton Institute is now Roehampton University. Seven per cent of Roehampton’s residents
live in communal establishments – an exceptionally high proportion.
The 19th-century prime minister Disraeli, also a writer, created an Earl and Countess of Roehampton in his autobiographical
novel Endymion. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins studied at the Jesuit seminary at Manresa House. In sharp contrast, the risqué
writer Frank Harris twice lived in Roehampton with his extremely young wife-to-be, Nellie O’Hara; Harris said that Roehampton
and the French Riviera were his favourite places in the world.