Dreams of the Westway 1: Concrete Gothic

I last did a post on the building of the Westway in 2013. A reader of the blog had sent me some pictures of the construction work probably originally taken for Laing, the company that built the elevated motorway. There were 50 or so photographs. Recently another reader contacted me to say he had acquired a similar collection of pictures, probably from the same source. Rather generously he scanned them all and let me have copies. There are more than 2500 of them. For a local studies librarian this is the equivalent of opening Tutankhamun’s tomb. Well, perhaps not quite. More realistically if you like it’s the equivalent of getting copies of the pictures from the Whitelands May Queen scrapbooks thanks to the generosity of  the archivist at the College.

The sheer number of pictures means it will take a while to identify locations and backgrounds, especially as the pictures extend across the borders into Paddington and Shepherd’s Bush, which are both outside my official area of expertise. There are so many pictures I can’t manage to view them all in one go. There may still be some I’ve barely looked at. You can expect me to come back to this topic from various angles for a long time.

It shoud also be remembered that the pictures are about the work. That is why the photographers took them. Like the street photographs of Ernest Milner, which formed a legal record for a railway company, the Westway pictures are a record of construction. Their value to history is incidental.

So is their aesthetic value. There are pictures of empty lots, overgrown wastelands. Eyesores at the time probably but scenes of 20th century industrial gothic now. Images of the steel and concrete structures that make up the mot0rway are also forbidding towers, dark cathedrals, lonely tunnels, inexplicable tangles of steel, bleak vistas of churned up mud and tiny figures engaged in enigmatic tasks.

You get my drift. “All right if you like concrete I suppose” somebody said. But I do. Concrete was the great building medium of the age. When I was growing up I had an idea of modern London – the South Bank Centre, skyscraper office blocks, soaring elevated roads, all concrete.

85172There are awe inspiring views here such as  where one the concrete supports hold the new roads aloft above the newly created wastelands. In a certain light the curve of the road looks almost beautiful.

W3116 - Copy

As the supports are built they look enigmatic,their purpose not quite clear.

W576The views of unfinished portions makes the whole structure look fragile, full of empty spaces.

W1876

Beneath the concrete the steel skeleton.

W2021

The growing road spans older industrial forms.

W816

Concrete monoliths rise out of the ground as if newly discovered rather than built.

W1656

Dark tunnels already have an ancient look about them.

W2843Look at the shadowy figures at the end of the tunnel.

What was the purpose of this lone pile?

W337

Below the road it almost looks like an archaeological dig rather than a construction project. Perhaps they’re unearthing something.

85154

Close up the work takes on an almost abstract quality.

W758

The hidden parts of the road reveal a complex infrastructure.

W2545

Layers of steel beneath the concrete.

W3435

Beneath the road the raw concrete shapes form a dark wood over bare ground as the project moves from this:

W3678

To this:

W3599

Okay, maybe I allowed the gothic thing to get out of hand. I’ve been watching some of that Gothic season on BBC 4 . And I’ve been trying to read a couple of Ann Radcliffe novels (but I keep putting them down and returning to Jeff Noon’s Vurt, which I haven’t read since the 90s – another kind of gothic) . But I did almost get to the end of this post without mentioning J G Ballard.

W3669

Postscript

As I’ve said this collection of images is hard to grasp in its entirety . My colleagues and I will be researching the backgrounds for months, so this is what you might call an impressionistic taster.  I’ve deliberately ignored the social and historical context – the clearing of a vast swathe of housing, the scarring of a huge section of west London – in favour of the aesthetic angle. But this is just the beginning.

Once again many thanks to Mr AT for his kind donation of these pictures. Now that this blog has its own history I see that the contribution of readers who send me pictures or make comments is as much a part of the blog as the posts I write. So thanks also to all of you.

I’ve been busy with the London History Festival this week so apologies if this post looks like it was thrown together at the last minute. Obviously it was. But while writing I got the idea for another post about the underbelly of construction which you may read soon.

 


One man’s war: Randle Barnett Barker 1870-1918

This week’s guest blogger is writer Lucy Yates who is working with me in our Local Studies department on a World War 1 project. She has been looking at some of the unique material in our archives.

‘The Regiment doesn’t now exist’. Exhausted, depressed, this is the opening of the letter Lieutenant Colonel Randle Barnett Barker wrote to the William Davison, the Mayor of Kensington, on 30th April 1917.

Page 35 Volume 7 - Bottom Half
The Mayor of Kensington would have been distraught to hear such harrowing news. He was the one who had raised the 22nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, also known as ‘The Kensingtons’, rallied recruitment meetings and mounted a campaign to encourage men to join up, using striking posters such as the one below.

Kensington Battalion Poster  A3

The Mayor of Kensington was assiduous in his efforts to make sure they were well equipped, ordering and paying for uniforms out of his own pocket from the last supplies of khaki Harrods had. He sent them briar pipes at Christmas and in one of the scrapbooks he kept he pasted a copy of this magazine, which would have been sent out to amuse the troops at the front.

Page 34 Volume 6

The bearer of the bad news about the Battalion’s near annihilation, Colonel Randle Barnett Barker, was a career soldier who’d served in India but retired from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1906. Born in 1870, he was 46 at the time of writing the letter and he was the Lieutenant Colonel of 22nd.

Major R Barnett-Barker

Colonel Barker can be seen reading the lesson from his wooden stand at the camp in Roffey near Horsham. This is where the 22nd were based before they embarked for France on 6th November 1915.

Colonel Barker at Roffey - Church Parade p73

The figure who stands out on the right is Captain Alan McDougall, who, according to G.I.S. Inglis’s excellent and exhaustive book, The Kensington Battalion, would be killed during the heavy shelling of Delville Wood in the early hours of 4th August 1916. Parties searching for his body came back empty-handed until a boot sticking out of the ground was recognised and his body recovered. The light and composition make this a sombre scene.

Below, the Kensingtons at Roffey:

Dave 2

Note that the picture has been marked up with crosses and ticks after the war to indicate those who died and those who survived.

Here the Kensingtons can be seen practising digging trenches, a skill which would prove vital when they reached France.

Dave 1

The offensive, which was to prove so disastrous for the 22nd, was the struggle for Oppy Wood. This was a dense patch of forest which contained nests of German machine guns and trench mortars. In May 1917, the 22nd Battalion had failed to dislodge the Germans from this strategic position and casualties had been high. And to top it all the Germans had launched gas attacks to finish off any survivors lying out wounded in No Man’s Land. Colonel Barker’s letter to the Mayor of Kensington continues in an unsurprisingly despairing vein, ‘I am very depressed at losing all my gallant friends … Haven’t closed my eyes for 48 hours, so tell any doctor that says it’s an impossibility that he’s a liar’.

Page 36 Volume 7 - Top Half

On Friday 4th May 1917 The Times reported, ‘The battle has flared up again, and the Germans are again getting heavy punishment’. Unfortunately, as we have seen, this was not entirely what the under-strength 22nd Kensington Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers were dishing out.

In his official report, Colonel Barker writes, ‘I wish to place on record the splendid gallantry of Second Lieutenant Jeffcoat…It was entirely owing to the excellent report he sent me on the situation that I was able to push up the 23rd R. Fus. and so capture practically the whole of the objective given me.’ However, in a second letter to the Mayor he provides a less sanitised account: ‘He was running about on top of the trench, encouraging the men, till he fell blown to bits. They brought him to my Headquarters. He had one leg blown off and the other half off. Half his face was gone and one eye… I told him I would move Heaven and Earth to get him a VC.’ Colonel Barker adds, ‘I am sick of these bloody battles and everything connected with them’.

Page 39 Volume 7

Page 40 Volume 7 - He had one leg blow off

This usually stoical man adds, ‘This murder of heroes is appalling. I have had my Regt. more or less wiped out 3 times besides heavy casualties in other battles, but this last time to have it annihilated is more than I can bear – 60 men at the outside left…’ A full battalion would have numbered 1007 men.

Page 40 Volume 7 - This murder of heroes

However, according to The Kensington News later that month, there were some bright spots for the 22nd Battalion – tales of gallant self-sacrifice amongst the slaughter.

Page 36 Volume 7- Bottom Half

However, the story behind this impressive display of leadership was rather different, as Colonel Barker records on 6th May 1917.

Page 48 Volume 7

The newspaper account allows the more obvious assumption that this was a German bomb when actually Barker’s letter reveals this to have been an unlucky accident during grenade throwing practice. Rather than ‘rushing forward to seize the bomb and throw it out’, Barker’s account reports that the Corporal was trying (very sensibly) to run away. The newspaper account concludes that ‘by sacrificing himself Lieutenant Wright saved his men from the full effects of the explosion’, whereas Barker reports that the trench was empty except for the two men. He writes that Lieutenant Wright ‘was an extraordinary brave and plucky fellow but a damned fool’, a truth which feels much more human than the newspaper account of daring-do and noble sacrifice.

This picture from a periodical shows  Barker and his men in action.

Dave 3

The 22nd Battalion never really recovered from the heavy losses it sustained and was disbanded on 5th February 1918. The Mayor of Kensington wrote to Field Marshal Douglas Haig on 6th February pleading for the Battalion to be kept together but it was too late.

Six weeks after the Kensingtons were disbanded, Barker was killed during the Second Battle of the Somme on 24th March 1918. The entry in the Brigade HQ diary reads simply, ‘Shells began to fall in and around Guendecourt at 5.45pm. Brigadier General R. Barnett Barker, DSO and Captain E. I. Bell, MC (staff Captain) were killed by a shell.’ It would be another eight months before the end of the First World War.

 The 22nd Royal Fusiliers Old Comrades’ Association were still visiting Lietenant Colonel Barker’s grave in France as late as 1930.

Colonel BB's grave p73

No one who fought in WW1 now survives, so this Centenary is a crucial point at which lived events start to crystallise into history and we begin to decide how this war will be remembered.

Randle Barnett Barker’s letters suggest that war is more confused and horrifying than any neat re-creation of black lines pushing across on a map can convey and for this, for his honesty and for returning to these events a human dimension, we owe him a great debt. It’s hard not to discern in these letters a lesson in the messy futility of war. Siegfried Sassoon puts it better than anyone could:

Good-bye, old lad! Remember me to God,

And tell Him that our politicians swear

They won’t give in till Prussian Rule’s been trod

Under the Heel of England … Are you there? …

Yes … and the war won’t end for at least two years;

But we’ve got stacks of men … I’m blind with tears,

Staring into the dark. Cheero!

I wish they’d killed you in a decent show.

Postscript

 If you’d like to know more we’re creating a website featuring more material from our collection which will be launched in January 2015 at www.kcworldwar1.org.uk

The website will also feature photographs and family memories of Kensington and Chelsea during World War 1 .You’ll be able to upload your content directly onto the website but we’d also be pleased to hear from you now if you would like to contribute photographs or family stories.

Most of the images in this week’s post come from a set of scrapbooks put together by William Davison who served two terms as Mayor of Kensington. There are also some from a scrapbook created by members of the Old Comrades Association of the Kensingtons who had many reunions after the war and organised visits to former battelfields and war cemeteries. DW


Through the glass to Kensington High Street

In a quiet corner of the sub-basement is a cupboard. Inside are a set of shelves. Most of the space is taken up with ledgers from a chemist’s shop with lists of prescriptions. These records go up to the mid fifties so it will be a long time before the information in them is available for general use. Some years ago I inspected the cupboard once, and was satisfied, until I noticed some boxes on the bottom shelf which contained a set of glass negatives, a donation from a photographer’s studio. The negatives are in this cupboard simply to protect them from damage. I wondered if we could get paper prints off them. I then discovered that one of my predecessors had been there before me and done just that. I found the prints in an unassuming black archive box, clearly labelled but never before noticed by me. Archives are like that.

The pictures vary in quality but some of them are remarkably clear. They show a older version of central Kensington rather different from the one we know. Some buildings survive to this day. Others are gone.

Kensington High Street looking west GN9

Most of the buildings on the right are not there now. But you don’t always need the buidings to recognise the street. This is the unmistakeable early part of Kensington High Street as it curves one way to meet Kensington Church Street then changes direction again and heads towards Hammersmith.

The horse bus is run by the London General Omnibus Company. They were the first company to give the bus routes numbers. This bus is going from Hammersmith via Tottenham Court Road to King’s Cross. The numbers weren’t displayed yet but that makes it a number 10. These days one of the new Routemasters has the same number and follows pretty much the same route.

If you look carefully at the series of signs on the side of the white building you can see H and R Stiles. The same name is rendered in ironwork on top of the single storey shop front. Stiles were the photographer’s company which took all these pictures so their interest in the High Street is understandable. The Stiles brothers were on the top floor just above the Misses Roberts and Watson, corset makers, according to Kelly’s Directory 0f 1897.

Kensington High Street looking west 1893 GN4

In this 1893 picture you can see the opposite side of the street. The large building on the left is one of the first incarnations of the John Barker building. Is that man in the foreground wearing a baseball cap? Surely it’s not one of those careless time travellers? No, they had sporting caps in 1893 as well. He could probably get away with it today though. That’s probably not true of the woman right in the foreground with her back to the camera, literally holding onto her hat in a gesture that would have been typical of the rime.

Ten years later some demolition had taken place.

Kensington High Street north side looking weat 1903 GN157

This picture is also looking west as the same section of street is being widened. Orientation is slightly difficult because of the crane. It’s a fascinating object in itself but if you look carefully you can see that it is obscuring the tall spire of St Mary Abbot’s Church behind it.

The Stiles business moved to Campden Hill Road after the demolition. Quite by chance I noticed in the 1903 Kelly’s that Roberts and Watson moved to 231 Kensington High Street (in case you were concerned).

Let’s jump back to 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when the local shops were decorated for the occasion.

Kensington High Street 11 Wilkins the Baker 1897l GN165

At Wilkins the bakers (number 11) you can see Mr Frederick John Wilkins, purveyor of bread to her Majesty, his delivery wagon with a couple of employees, his young son possibly and a random toff posed outside the corn merchants. The glass plate was broken in half and has been repaired. But have a look at the upstairs windows:

Kensington High Street 11 Wilkins the Baker 1897 detail GN165

At the lower right hand window you can see a rather grim looking old woman whom I take to be Mr Wilkins’ mother. Look at the window above her and you can see a younger woman, possibly Mrs Wilkins the wife. I wonder what family drama took place before the two ladies decided which window they would stand at?  If I had a choice in the matter I would have followed Mrs Wilkins’ example and secured a seperate window.Of course I could be reading too much into it. Make your own mind up.

The John Barker company had several seperate shops in this part of the street. In between two of them were the premises of Mr Jubal Webb, provision merchant.

Mammoth Cheese 1893 GN232

Mr Webb might be the gentleman with the beard superving the mammoth cheese from Canada so big you need to serve yourself with a shovel.

The picture below is a few years later when the venerable Town Hall Tavern had been acquired by Derry and Toms for their expansion, as the signs announce.

Town Hall Tavern GN 138

How long after that did the handy cigarette kiosk survive?

The Town Hall is just visible on the right of this picture, along with the church spire again.

Kensington High Street looking east from Hornton Street 1911GN156

I can also make out the Vestry Hall next to the Town Hall where the first Kensington Library was located, the Aerated Bread Company, Walpole Brothers (Irish Linens), a private circulating library, James Garner (a chemist), the Lady Agents (a domestic employment agency), a manufacturer of window blinds, J Mallan (surgeon-dentist) and just round the corner in Hornton Street the West London Type Writing Agency.

Across the road on the south side of the street was an irregular block of houses simply called The Terrace.

The Terrace Kensington High Street 1892 GN240

A boy sits and plays, with something (some device with balls – I can’t make it out) outside number 1.

Our colourful friend Jubal Webb lived at number 2, seen below. It was he who was responsible for the whole block being redeveloped.  A builder named Mr Cave built the current set of shops and flats in 1893-4, originally called the Promenade but now know as 129-161 Kensington High Street.

The Terrace 1-4 GN107

Another boy (or is it the same one?) leans against the railings on the left, almost out of the picture with a dog at his feet.

The picture below shows the end of The Terrace with a house called Shaftesbury House, a cottage and the side of the Adam and Eve public house.

Shaftesbury House, cottage and part of Adam and Eve 1892 GN250

Anyone who knows the modern street will realise that there is a covered entrance to a mews here, Adam and Eve Mews in fact. The Mews and the buildings on either side of it were constructed by another developer, William Willett, an even more interesting character than Jubal Webb, but more of him another day perhaps. The pub was actually moved abd became number 163 (Hotel Chocolat now). The street continues with number 165 (Claire’s Accessories). If you could transport those two back to the 1890s you would probably find many customers.

To the right of the picture you can see a solitary figure, a woman, bare-headed it seems to me with her hair down, wrapped up in a coat and maybe a shawl. There’s a story there if you could only see more.

There are many more pictures of Kensington High Street, and many more stories to tell but I’ve confined myself this week to the work of H and R Stiles. One final view looks back the way we came, eastwards. The turning by the pub is the top of Earls Court Road. Opposite are the trees by the entrance to Holland Park, still a private residence at this time.

Kensington High Street looking east GN15

More horse buses and wagons, (that’s a Derry and Toms wagon on the left) and on the right a couple walk arm in arm, shielded from the sun, and the photographer by an umbrella. I want to ask her to take it down for a moment and stand still so we can have a proper look at them. But they’ll never know I was interested.

Postscript

As I said, this is one of many possible posts about Kensington High Street and not the end of the Stiles brothers’ contribution to the blog either. I leaned heavily on the Survey of London on the tricky matter of the Terrace so once again thanks to its authors and publishers.


Halloween story: the stranger

This week’s guest blogger is Marianne Collins, former Librarian at the J____ Street Library, now Head Archivist at the European Institute of Esoteric Studies, She presents an episode of library history with a few local connections.

The Victorian psycho-geographer Henrietta Cole-Elliott is best known for her two London tours “West London walks”(1895), and “Burial grounds of the secret city” (1900) but before she wrote either of those she published a study of folklore, “Follies and fancies of old London” (1885). There was a copy in the Reference store but I had never looked inside. The folklore collection wasn’t usually of much use to my customers. It was my assistant K who brought it up for a visitor. The next day she drew my attention to a page the customer had photocopied. This was the relevant paragraph:

“At the Lion Tavern, Old Brompton, in the days before May Day, a dress and bonnet were hung before the inn sign. A girl no more than twenty years of age was chosen for the honour of wearing the garments on the appointed day. She was carried around the garden at the rear of the inn amid much celebration and then she would enter the stand of trees at the rear of the property where she would spend the night alone. In the morning she would return to the inn and deposit the dress and bonnet in a chest prepared for the purpose. It was commonly believed that on some occasions the girl who returned was not the one who left.”

K said to me, what does that remind you of?

Red Lion Tea Gardens Brompton 1782 2537

It was one of the watercolours in the Fletcher collection, “pictures by an unknown lady”. There were 20 pictures, mostly of locations in west London in the 1830s or 1840s. (The unknown lady remains unidentified but my predecessor had suggested it was Lavinia Fletcher, the traveller who was the first European to visit the city of Khotan. ) The artist sometimes left copious notes on the backs of her pictures and in this case there were a few  lines of handwriting.

“One Tarlington, a disgraced man and a scholar forced a girl  to be carried from his premises tied like a captured animal into his woods where she was exchanged for a woman from Faery who served him in all his designs.”

K had a second question. “Did you know this?” She produced a card from the manuscripts index: Elliott-Cole, Henrietta: papers relating to publications. 765301. “She wanted to see that too.”

“Did you show her the painting?”

“No, I only thought of it this morning. There was something odd about her, really.”

There often is, I thought. We went down to the archives room to look at the manuscript box, and the accessions register. While I unpacked the box K told me about the woman.

” I thought she was wearing some sort of costume. It was a bit like those steampunks we met at Olympia. No goggles or anything, but she was wearing this old looking dress, brown, and a hat, sort of shading her eyes. Then she noticed me looking at the hat and she took it off. She was gorgeous actually, like a model or something. And she had a nice smile…”

“But?”

“There was something strange there0. She was just too charming, I suppose, as if she was making me like her.”

“Did you like her? You made every effort to help her.”

“That was the annoying thing. I did like her. But afterwards I couldn’t think why.”

The accessions register told me that Mrs Cole-Elliott had deposited  a varied bunch of material: papers, drawings, photographs, a travel diary and some odd objects. The date of the deposit was 1936, so she had evidently lived to a good age. I resolved to look for more about her – maybe there had been a biography. As I sorted through the material a kind of story emerged. The ceremony at the Lion Inn had evidently preoccupied Mrs Cole-Elliott long after she had first written about it. She came to believe the event was far from the harmless folk ritual she had first imagined it to be. She found a longer narrative in a letter from a Miss Fletcher in which it was clear that the girl selected for the May Day ceremony was usually unwilling and that she was bound to the pole on which the dress was hung when she was paraded around the garden to the delight of “a jeering mob”.

From a hand drawn map it was clear that when the Lion was pulled down in the 1850s the house built on the grounds was C—- Lodge. The Fletcher family owned the Lodge but never lived there much. In the 1880s it became a school, or women’s training college, under the auspices of yet another Fletcher. This was the time when John Ruskin started the May Day Festival at Whitelands College. That was intended as a Christian event with some influences of old England. The High Mistress at C— Lodge was so taken with the Whitelands Festival that she instituted a version of her own, the Queen of the Lillies.

Mrs Cole-Elliott believed some influence had flowed the other way, and that pupils from C____ Lodge later attended Whitelands. She notes that the costumes in this picture resemble what is know about the ceremonies at the Lion

010c Flower girls 1903

Although she admits these young women look particularly harmless and free of occult influence. She was not so sure about other images.

009a Masque 1902

This is the first of a series of pictures in which she picks out certain individuals in which she is interested.

She had done all she could to find out about the exact nature of the celebration for the Queen of the Lillies to little avail. She evidently believed that there were little or no Christian elements. But nor were there any stories about missing girls or unusual practices. She found one account from, 1887,in the diary of Amelia Jones, a girl from the north of England. Amelia’s friend Isabel was pleased to be chosen as Queen of the Lillies and even more pleased when the High Mistress presented her with a special dress for the occasion. Amelia reports that Isabel went “into the trees” at the end of the ceremony accompanied by herself and another friend , but she expresses surprise that anyone could spend the whole night in the narrow stand of trees against the rear wall, all that was left of the wood at the rear of the Lion. (Other accounts speak of a substantial copse of trees in the garden )Nothing more of any interest happens. Isabel returns in the morning, gives the dress back and life goes on. Amelia never mentions her again.

Mrs Cole-Elliott was able to verify that Isabel Morgan never took up teaching or any other profession. A woman of that name took part in the Chelsea Festival of 1908. Cole-Elliott seems have been convinced that the Festival was a cover for some kind of esoteric activity. But she presents no actual evidence.

Episode 10 group

There is a question mark on the back of this over-exposed picture.

And a series of them on this one,

episode 6 Nuns

The manuscript box also contains this photograph, evidently from one of the summer schools run by the dancer Margaret Morris.

Plate 34

Mrs Cole-Elliott’s note on the back of the photograph reads: “right,standing”.

Again, she implies that Morris’s  choreography had some ritual significance. She records meeting Morris herself on the occasion when the dancer took a party of people around the then derelict house of Dr Phene. I suppose she must have asked about Isabel Morgan.

Henrietta Cole-Elliott proved herself to be a tenacious woman. She instituted correspondence with Arthur Machen and W B Yeats. She attended the ceremonies in Redcliffe Gardens of the splinter group of the Golden Dawn formed by Dr Falk. Was she looking for more information, or was she hoping to meet someone?

One of the last pictures in the collection is a photograph of this anomorphic painting by Austin Osman Spare:

AOS - Woman with red hair 1930s - Copy

“None of the women in these pictures look alike to me”, said K.

“Well that would be the point, wouldn’t it? The Fairies or the Fair Ones or the Fae or whatever you want to call them are supposed to be able to adopt a pleasing guise if they wish. Remember that scene in True Blood?”

“I stopped watching that. I prefer Lost Girl.”

We agreed to differ on that point. There was some talk about Hemlock Grove after that, and then she asked the crucial question.

“So our woman Henrietta believed that Isabel Morgan found her way into a wood which didn’t exist any more and was exchanged with a fairy?”

“That would be about it.”

C— Lodge closed as a school in the early 20s. The house became a private residence and eventually was used occasionally for guests of the Cyanography Institute. Today, part of the Institute’s archive is kept there, below the empty apartments. I found a picture of it from the early 1900s and it looked pretty grim.

C Lodge 1902

The photographer, Jubal Freeman,  had his back to the copse of trees at the rear, but I suppose he had no idea it might be of more interest than the house.
I decided to go there and made arrangements with the archivist, a lively woman with a sense of humour bu no interest in the history of the site. As we toured the empty rooms she made a joke about the upstairs rooms being reserved for the Galactic Ambassador, something I once heard said about a building in Bloomsbury owned by the Theosophists. She was very interested in talking about security and CCTV as there had just been a break-in. Some petty cash was taken from the office, a laptop and, from the archive room a box containing the dress worn by Queen Isabel in 1887. I wondered if a human being might really want to go to another plane of existence and what a fairy, if there were such things, would do with her immortal life in our world, and whether she might eventually get bored and want to go home, and how she might achieve that. But it was no good talking to the no-nonsense archivist about that. I thought I might share my thoughts with K later.

DSC_4521
I suspected that we would never know the end of this story, but one Saturday morning I went down to the basement to look at the CCTV for the day of the woman’s visit. The new camera system was quite expensive, installed as a result of a violent incident. It was possible to zoom in quite closely. I found the woman in the brown dress and hat. I only had K’s description to go on but the woman seemed more remarkable than K had said. She wasn’t beautiful at all to my mind. She was thin and her clothes were baggy on her. Her features were sharp and narrow, her eyes too large. Her hair was very fine. She smoothed it with her hand after removing the hat. You could clearly see that her ears were pointed. So were her teeth when she smiled at K. Perhaps the glamour, if that’s what is was, didn’t work on video. Whatever her intentions had been, or were still, I was glad she hadn’t made contact again. I never told K about what I saw.

Books by Henrietta Cole-Elliott:
Follies and fancies of old London (Wilder,1889)
West London walks (Black, 1895)
Burial grounds of the secret city (Black, 1900)
Esoteric churches of London (Morchester House, 1905)
Visitors from Faery (novel) (Cyanography Press, 1922)
Techniques of astral travel (Cyanography Press 1925)
Biography: City traveller: the life of Henrietta Cole-Elliott by Maria Fletcher (Hermes Press, 1938)

Postscript

Despite Mrs Cole-Elliott’s assertions The Whitelands College May Queen Festival has never been associated with any form of occultism.

C_____ Lodge was recently the subject of an extensive conversion which included a series of basements. The building collapsed as a result of the underground development and the work has been suspended pending the outcome of a court case. 

The painting by Austin Osman Spare is from Phil Baker’s excellent biography of Spare. AOS: the life and legend of London’s lost artist (Strange Attractor,2012).  I don’t normally do promotion here but I must mention that Phil Baker will be taking  part in an event at Kensington Library: “Lord of strange deaths: the life and work of Sax Rohmer, creator of the arch-villain Fu Manchu” along with London historian Antony Clayton (Subterranean City ) and Gary Lachman, biographer of P D Ouspensky and author of many books on occult matters. It’s on Thursday December 11th. Further details here. I will certainly be there.

Finally, as I always say at this time of year normal service will be resumed next week. DW


Adventure: playing out in Telford Road

Adventure playgrounds were a feature of childhood/adolescence which passed me by really. I wasn’t brought up in London and they were mostly I think a phenomenon of urban life. I saw plenty of them when I first came to London in 1973 – brightly painted constructions of wood, behind fences, teeming with kids and I had the vague sense of having missed out on something. If you come from a small town, urban life, even the life in what might be called “deprived” areas looks exciting.

So when my colleague Tim showed me a packet of photos of the Notting Hill Adventure Playground in Telford Road that he’d retrieved in the course of an enquiry, I was fascinated by these scenes of communal play. The blogging cells in my brain immediately recognised them assomething you had to see.

NHG Adventure 011

Most of these pictures come from a large packet of photographs donated to theLibrary in 2000. They’re hard to date precisely but they seem to fall into two main groups, one from the early 1960s and one from the late sixties or early seventies. The Notting Hill Adventure playground was started in the late 1950s on some waste ground in Telford Road.

The first adventure playground seems to have been built in Copenhagen in 1943 by a landscape architect, C T Sorenson who noticed the propensity of children left to their own devices to avoid purpose built playgrounds and resort to building sites and waste ground. He thought that by making waste building materials available, children could have play that had an element of risk without being life threatening. In pragmatic Scandinavian  fashion he showed that this was also a way to reduce vandalism and other forms of juvenile delinquency.

London, which had plenty of bomb sites in the post war period was an ideal place for adventure playgrounds to spring up, and the idea spread to many cities.

NHG Adventure 009

This umbrella leap is from 1963 – the image was used as part of an appeal for the London Adventure Playground Asociation.

In the early days children, under the supervision of a warden built from scratch.

NHG Adventure 002

Young builders were enthusiastic.

NHG Adventure 005

NHG Adventure 010

Ambitious structures were erected.

NHG Adventure 012

The play began. Climbing, swinging and just hanging around. It reminds me of womble, muck and sneedball – the games played in Quentin Blake and Russell Hoban’s “How Tom beat Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen”. I would have inserted a quotation at this point to convince you but I can’t find a copy of the book right now. Maybe later.

NHG Adventure 014

NHG Adventure 013

NHG Adventure 008

The playground outgrew its original  site and the Council provided a larger one where Telford Road and Faraday Road intersected with Wornington Road. The new site was a little more structured.

NHG Adventure 026

There was  a building for indoor play with on site facilities.

NHG Adventure 024

But the playground retained its makeshift character.

NHG Adventure playground  Wornington Road south side 1969 KS292 - Copy

That tower visible over the wall in a picture which I can date precisely, from 1969 brings me back to the advenure playgrounds I remember from London in the early 1970s. It has a slight counter-cultural air about it, like many  places in North Kensington in that period.

Despite the difficulties in presenting pictures from across a period of ten or more years these images all show that communal play has something timeless about it, whether it involves climbing unsafe structures:

NHG Adventure 020

Messing about with building materials.

NHG Adventure 025

Or just hanging around with your friends.

NHG Adventure 004

These pictures show the irrepressible nature of childhood.

And of course, the adventure:

NHG Adventure playground  Faraday Road north side 1969 KS337 - Copy

 

Postscript

Despite the changes in the streets around it the Notting Hill Adventure Playground continues to do its work.

I observed last week that Chelsea people have long memories. This also applies to North Kensington people so if you recognise yourself, or anyone else in these pictures let me know.

You can find a documentary about the playground from 1960 here: http://www.nhh50.com/?videos=this-is-our-playground-1960 on the website of the Notting Hill Housing Association and on YouTube.

Next week it’s the annual Halloween story when we stray away from fact and let imagination have a go at some pictures. Don’t believe anything you read.


Forgotten streets of Chelsea

I’ll have to start by qualifying that title. Chelsea people have long memories so I should really say streets forgotten by some people. For others the streets demolished in 1969/70 to clear the area for the building of the World’s End Estate will never be forgotten, and for others still the act of demolition never be forgiven. But for those of you who don’t remember, or those who never knew let me just say there was an enclave of streets in the west of Chelsea which no longer exist. This 1935 map shows them and gives you the roll call of streets which have passed into history.

1935 OS map X29 World's End streets - Copy

Raasay Street, Bifron Street, Vicat Street, Dartrey Road, Seaton Street, Luna Street – all gone now, and somehow the names themselves are redolent of another time and an older, slightly rougher version of Chelsea. The stub of Blantyre Street lingers on at the edge but you can see that the five (or six) sided shape is now a sunken island among the more familiar names like Edith Grove and Cremorne Road.

Our photographer John Rogers went down there in 1969 and caught those streets in their final transition from a living neighbourhood to an empty shell. You may have seen pictures of some of these streets before. (I did a post on the general history of the World’s End). But this post is purely concerned with the last days of these almost forgotten World’s End streets.

World's End looking north 1969 KS1913

1969. Look at that woman waiting to use the phone. If she could step into 2014 and stand in pretty much the same spot she would see more or less the same buildings. But if she turned around and looked behind her…

St John's Church World's End 1969 KS1848

She would see St John’s Church and Mission Hall at the intersection of Blantyre Street and Dartrey Road. If she looked to her left and she could see Blantyre Street.

Blantyre street looking east 1969 KS 1878

A street full of parked cars which leads tothe last few numbers of Cheyne Walk. (What’s that large one on the right?)

Check the map. You can turn right from Blantrye Street into Seaton Street.

Seaton St looking south 1969 KS 1896

The tree at the end is on the embankment overlooking the houseboats.

Seaton St east side 1969 KS 1900

In Seaton Street there’s all sorts of semi-erased football graffitti on the wall next to the Chelsea Corner Cupboard including the incomplete inscription Osgood Aven(u)e which must be a reference to Peter Osgood. (“Osgood is God” vied with “Clapton is God” as mottos on the wall  back in 1969)

Behind Seaton Street was Luna Street,

Luna St West side 35-37 1069

where you could still kick a ball down the street if you wanted to. Dartrey Road ran north to south.

Dartrey road looking south 1969 KS 1832

Those tower blocks in the distance are on the Battersea side of the river. Running west from Dartrey Road was the oddly named Raasay Street.

Raasay Street south side 1969 KS1790

Here you can see the first signs of demolition. This is a closer view of the same scene.

Raasay St north side 1969 KS 1793

Mixed rags and scrap metal still available.

In Bifron Street houses were already vacated.

Bifron street looking West 1969 KS 1795
Some signs of a road closure as a truck gets ready to go.  And below, the interior of a house is laid bare.

BIfron street north side 1969 KS1798

In Vicat Street (Vicat sounds like the name of a dissolute Victorian aristocrat) the process is further along.

Vicat St North side 1969 KS 1813

You can almost smell the dust rising in this picture and the ones below.

Vicat St South Side 1969 KS 1807

Wallpaper is still visible on the walls of those exposed rooms, and debris in the street.

Vicat St South side 1969 KS 1810

The empty A F Stokes shop, along with some more unsuccessfully executed football related graffitti. It all looks quite forlorn.

So let’s go back, away from the devastation. If that woman is still in the phone box she can look west and see this view.

Dartrey terrace 1969 KS 1845

Still a little life left in those World’s End streets. The corner of a pre-war car, second hand goods, fish and chips plus whatever they sold at Gandalf’s Garden. All gone, not so very long after these pictures were taken.

Postscript

Don’t think I’m down on the World’s End Estate. I’ve been inside and there are some very nice flats there. And the view is astonishing. I’ve no doubt that living conditions some of the houses in the demolished streets must have been pretty grim. But there is aways a price to be paid for development.


Mr Griffen in his studio

Although some people liked my post about Francis Griffen back in July as it turned out there still seems to be little known about him. One reader made a comment about buying  some greetings cards featuring paintings by Griffen. I was already aware of this set, of five pictures. They were originally published by a Mr T G Stanton in the 1990s. I think the same gentleman made an offer to buy our Griffen collection about the same time. (We declined. Apart from our general policy about art works, the collection was donated to the Library by Griffen’s widow.) This is one of the pictures:

An August night 1923

An autumn night, 1923. A completely finished work, as opposed to most of the pictures in our collection. For me, it is reminiscent of one of  Yoshio Markino’s night time pictures of London.

Griffen liked street scenes showing ordinary life in progress but his other major interest was in industrial settings, and this is also reflected in the set of cards.

King's Cross Goods Yard 1937

A fascinating view of King’s Cross goods yard in 1937. Note the man on the horse, and the tram just visible on the right.

Griffen’s Chelsea pictures are less finished but just as effective.

The river Good Friday 1934 2059

This 1934 view of the river looking west is immediately recognisable with St Mary’s Church and the railway bridge but  Griffen has found an angle which doesn’t include Lots Road power station.

The picture below shows a familiar Chelsea scene in 1935, Sloane Square looking towards the original Peter Jones building.

Sloane Square Jan 1935 2063C

It also features a fine example of a group of one of Griffen’s favourite slinky women.

Sloane Square Jan 1935 detail

He captures them and the look of 30s fashion in a few pencil strokes. The quite large dog (maybe a German shepherd, or an Alsatian as they used to be known ) is a realistic touch, obviously much more than a fashion accessory. There’s another fashionable woman in this picture.

Lombard Terrace 1934 2067C 02 - Copy

This is Cheyne Walk looking towards the Old Church. (Incidentally, I’ve had to crop this one a little bit so if the compostion doesn’t look quite right blame me not Griffen)

In the last Griffen post you saw a view of the ruins of the church after the bomb incident that virtually destroyed it. Griffen also recorded the aftermath of another major bomb incident in 1944 at the Guinness Trust buildings in the King’s Road.

Griffen- The Ruined Guinness Trust KingsRoad May 13 1944

This is a rough pencil sketch of the scene some weeks after the incident which was on February 23rd. A couple of bombs had fallen, one fracturing gas and water mains, the other causing the collapse of housing blocks. 76 people lost their lives that night. A volunteer fireman named Anthony Smith won the George Cross for his efforts in saving people and risking his own life by entering collapsed and flooded basements.

This 1953 etching is a view of a house near the Old Church.

Griffen - House next to Old Church June 1953 2065C

Griffen’s work on the details of the house is quite meticulous.

The next two images show work in progress, two versions of the same basic view.

Griffen - Chelsea Polytechnic may 29 1939 2107AGriffen - Chelsea Polytechnic march 01 1939 2104A hand wiped

The pictures are both labelled “Chelsea Polytechnic” but this may not refer to the subject, which looks a little more like Old  Church Street to me. They are dated 1939.

Griffen - In Grosvenor Road July 1951 2098A

This rverside view is called “In Grosvenor Road,1951″, a location just outside Chelsea.

The title of this week’s post promised you Griffen in his studio. And here he is:

Griffen 2054C

A self-portrait of a working artist looking out on his neighbourhood.

Finally, a couple of classic Chelsea images. This is a 1912 picture of a famous sight in Oakley Street.

Griffen - Dr Phene's house Oakley Street 1912 2078A

Dr Phene’s house, ten years or so before its demolition.

Another subject tackled by many local artists, Albert Bridge.

Albert Bridge 2052D 01 (2)

Once again I find myself thinking of Yoshio Markino who painted the bridge from a similar angle. This picture is quite large but I wanted to use it so I scanned it in two sections. You can just see a line on the right. I hope that doesn’t spoil the view.

Postscript

The two greetings cards were published in 1998 part of a set of five by the aforementioned T G Stanton.

I mentioned the reader who made a comment on the last Griffen post to whom I sent a copy of the first image. She mentioned that she had bought the cards in the UK but was now back in Mongolia. I couldn’t help but wonder what Griffen would have thought of his having an admirer who lived so far from his home in Chelsea.


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