Author Archives: Dave Walker

Faeries in Kensington Gardens

We’re getting close to Christmas now so what about something a little seasonal?

I don’t much like Peter Pan.  The familiar story of the irritating boy and the nice crocodile who never gets to eat him (or the equally annoying pirate) is a sickly mixture of cliches and sentiment. Before you dismiss me as a grumpy old man can I point out that I have disliked the boy who wouldn’t grow up since I first came across him, well before I grew up. Winnie the Pooh on the other hand I loved and I came to appreciate the writing of A A Milne even more as I grew older. I read those stories to my son when he was young and took him to an ideal venue for Poohsticks on Putney Common.The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland – both classics. I never came across E Nesbitt or George MacDonald as a child but I read some of their work later.We didn’t have Paddington Bear when I was young but we did have another bear, Mary Plain (by Gwynedd Rae). And I didn’t read any of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books until I worked in a library. So I’m no enemy of the classics of children’s literature. But I can’t stand Peter Pan, in any of his incarnations,

Peter Pan of course has Kensington connections.

Kensington Gardens Peter Pan statue PC1386

But the Peter Pan in this picture is not the one featured in the 1905 book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. In that book Peter Pan is a weird baby who ends up living in the hidden world of fairies, birds and other supernatural creatures located in Kensington Gardens unobserved by the daytime visitors and workers.

We have copies of the 1905 and 1912 editions which are probably of most interest for the illustrations by Arthur Racknam, 49 colour plates in the 1905 edition with additional black and white pictures in the 1912 edition.

If you concentrate on the pictures which don’t feature the proto-Pan you find a set of faery images which are beautiful and sometimes grotesque.

The Serpentine

This view of the Serpentine at dusk has the traditional winged fairies you can imagine sharing the same eco-system as insects and birds. These  fairies come from the same place as Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, out of the deep Victorian imagination, via the Pre-Raphaelites and the darker works of individuals like Richard Dadd.

Rackham also depicts the ordinary world of daytime. He still prefers a gloomy scene though, with grey skies, and mysterious islands.

The island

The three girls in front are keeping their backs to the island so no one will know they are discussing Barrie’s unlikely notions about babies hatching from eggs and turning into birds (or is it vice versa?).

Kensington Gardens ducks PC1353

One of the better themes in the book is the idea of a hidden world beneath the park which children are half aware of already.

Fairies in hiding till dusk

During the day things are happening out of sight. But at night….

The fairies sit on mushrooms

A feast, featuring some non-winged faries adopting a variety of costumes, not worried about mixing with mice creatures. Some images dip into the grotesque.

An elderberry hobbled

Here Rackham is not far from Sidney Sime or Harry Clarke who both illustrated the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

I was particularly intrigued by this picture.

If the bad ones happen to be out

The bad fairies emerge from beneath the trees like crawling insects. Rackham depicts them as an infestation, like ants or termites. Something rotten.

Back in the daylight world the Elfin Oak looks merely decorative, hardly creepy at all.

Kensington Gardens Elfin Oak PC1388

Images like the one below may represent the glamour  cast by fairies to fool us into thinking them beautiful…..

looking very undancey

As beautiful as any mortal woman in the daylight world.

Kensington Gardens 712.5 KEN-JA K65-23

For the children the search goes on. Below a girl called Maimie hides from the adults, so she can stay in the gardens after dark.

She ran to St Govor's Well and hid 2

The spot she’s chosen, St Govor’s Well is a real place

St Gover's Well 712.5 Ken-Pm P1966 L-5638

With some real Edwardian children playing in it.

Touching site Walter Stephen Matthews and Phoebe Phelps

At the end of the book Barrie  tells about the gravestones erected by the proto-Pan and his acolytes to mark the passing of lost children. Rackham undercuts the notion by placing the illustration in a pastoral scene set years before, the 1840s by the look of the costumes.

For me all the imagination in the book is in Rackam’s illustrations and it is they who turn a real place – Kensington Gardens – into an outpost of Faery.


Was I a bit hard on the infant Pan? Maybe. But Rackham’s pictures are so much better than the text, They have a weird intensity. Rackham was one of those artists who was rediscovered in the 60s and 70s in glossy paperback editions along with many other illustrators of the Victorian and Edwardian period.

This week saw the soft launch (as they say) of our World War one website: It’s full of contemporary images and text from the Local Studies collection with the additional opportunity for readers of adding their own text and/or pictures. Like a blog, it will grow over months, maybe even years to form a permanent record of Kensington and Chelsea in the Great War. Take a look, I’m sure there will be something there to surprise you.

Your Christmas surprise on this blog is that next week instead of just one long post on Thursday I’m writing short daily posts starting on Monday. I come across lots of pictures when doing research for the blog which are interesting but won’t fit the 10 or more pictures and a thousand words format I’ve adopted. So next week there will be mini-posts from Monday to Friday. Read them daily or save them up. See you Monday.

Dreams of the Westway 2: Desolation Row

Here is one view of a street called Maxilla Gardens and how it might have looked after the completion of the Westway.

Landscape Prop Maxilla Gardens

You could derive any number of ideas about the assumptions in this idealised view of happy shiny people. But this week we’re going back to the reality of that location before any building began.

Maxilla Gardens was a small street which curved between Cambridge Gardens and St Mark’s Road under the shadow of the Metropolitan Line railway to Hammersmith.

Here is a view from 1908 showing one arm of the curve looking from St Mark’s Road:

Maxilla Gardens (PC1123) - Copy

It looks as though there’s some kind of debris on the pavements, perhaps an omen of the destruction to come. The writer of the card says, in French, that he or she is living in a quiet area.

But not as quiet as this 1966 view:


I can’t quite explain its relationship to the postcard image. St Mark’s Road  ran more or less across the foreground of 1908 image. The garden walls visible in the front belong to housse in St Mark’s Road. In the 1966 view St Mark’s Road is behind the fence running under the railway bridge


The cleared site was full of interesting debris like this wooden spindle which once held cable or wire.


Or these inexplicable objects which looked like the bisected hulls of small boats, or the discarded carapaces of a giant urban insect unknown to biology.


Derelict open spaces like this often attract unwanted chairs and sofas. The broken section of wall gives easy access.


And the usual ocean of tires.


Behind the trees I think, you can see the rear view of the houses in Cambridge Gardens.

Visitors occasionally come to the site possibly to examine the odd holes and random bits ot twisted metal.


In close up these walls could be somewhere else entirely and behind the wall there could be an isolated garden and a  ruined house.


Although this clearer view indicates that the wall may be part of the railway viaduct – you can see part of an arch.


The picture below though shows the other end of the site. Beyond the undergrowth is a well kept lawn with a wooden bench. Again the impression is of pastoral (bucolic/rural/arcadian- other ntonyms of the word urban) decay and seclusion rather than urban destruction.


There’s room for a bit of garden archaeology. What purpose did this set of steps formerly serve?


Here is the archaeologist himself at work, contemplating the last days of the sylvan scene.


Somewhere in his vicinity a random pile of rubbish threatening to spill over into somebody’s garden.


I actually had the idea for this post while watching the Imagine documentary on Anselm Kiefer (8 more days on the BBC iPlayer – highly recommended by me at least) which featured piles of industrial debris turned into art, installations of concrete piles covering acres of land and derelict buildings turned into exhibits. Would it be going too far to see the whole Westway project as a giant art installation in concrete and steel rising from urban demolition?

I was going past the new development at the Commonwealth Institute on a bus this morning. The old central building has been stripped of its glass cladding (temporarily I assume) and surrounded by three new residential blocks. I thought back to the images of the Institute before the development and proposed an alternative museum dedicated to the imaginative world of J G Ballard (him again) which would have left the dilapidated interior as it was, just adding some crashed cars, an empty swimming pool, and sections from some concrete road supports. Which gets us back to the Westway again.

And just for art’s sake:


Another pair of holes.


Sharp-eyed readers will have spotted that there is now a Search box on the blog, which will enable you to find things more easily. It was slightly easier to install than I thought.

No more Westway for a while. Your Christmas treat is nearly ready, but I haven’t worked out what I’m writing next week.

Sunny afternoon: a garden party in Holland Park

The taxman’s taken all my dough / and left me in my stately home /Lazing on a sunny afternoon.

[Ray Davies]

After last week’s look at a couple of the lost houses of Campden Hill I was reminded that I’d hardly referred in this blog to the most famous house with extensive grounds in that area, not completely lost today as it is one of the best public parks in London and is home to Opera Holland Park. However, looking at the picturesque grounds today the casual visitor might not realise that Holland House and the surrounding estate were once  an important feature of social, cultural and political life in London. The house was damaged by bombing during the war and the whole estate was sold and passed into public hands  afterwards but until then the park was a private estate.

Most of the images this week come from a set of postcards produced by the Friends of Holland Park which show the murals by the artist Mao Wenbiao for the Orangerie Arcade in Holland Park. At the start of December it’s good to go back to the summer.


The murals depict an afternoon in the 1870s when a garden party is in progress. The social elite sit around as casually as they can in formal wear and make the most of a pleasant day. Some of them look like they’re enjoying it more than others.


They’re not far away from the Kensington High Street we looked at a few weeks ago, in terms of physical distance. But just like with last week’s country houses they’re a world away from the daily life of the High Street.

There are photographs which show the gardens.

Ballroom A4

This is a particularly good example, with the foliage-covered  arches, and the couple having a quiet talk in a secluded spot. But the murals catch the colour of a Victorian summer’s day.


You can see the same kind of crowds in contemporary images:

Holland House garden party c1872 K3674-B

But an engraving like this one seems a little distant compared to the immediacy of the mural paintings.


Is someone going to use the phrase chocolate box? I think that would be unfair. Sometimes an artist’s impression tells the story more effectively than a more authentic image.

A photograph of the Dutch Garden shows the intricate design of the formal garden and by necessity accentuates the stillness and tranquility of the scene.

Dutch Garden Port C-51

But it’s also good to see such a garden inhabited by a throng of guests.


The intricate design of the garden is echoed by the equally intricate costumes of the ladies parading around it. The post-crinoline fashions of the 1870s reached a kind of zenith of the elegant and the impractical which fits very well with a formal garden on a sunny day.

Hang on, I hear you say. Is that the same garden? Well, I admit to some doubt. The fountain looks the same but I can’t say how much artistic licence is being used here. There are many experts on Holland Park who know very much more than me and there was more than one formal garden near the big house.


All I can say is the question of design doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the pictures.


Here, a few of the guests take a break from the crowd. Their gentleman companion  looks a little uncomfortable or bored. It occurs to me that another of the reasons why I like these pictures is the faint air of English psychedelia about them which makes me think just as much of Pink Floyd or Traffic albums as the actual 1870s.

Another icon which echoes the same notion is the glass house below – a feature of the Victorian garden which has entered literary / musical consciousness.


The last two pictures show a maid helping a child with dirty hands and finally a view from the point of view of people outside the gilded enclosure.


An “ordinary” woman looks on as the affluent guests enjoy themselves. The two girls with her though don’t look very interested in the activities beyond the shady spot where they are sitting, near the Armillary Sphere. These three can also enjoy for a moment or two the pleasure of being in the Park on that same  summer’s day of the mind.


There are quite a few books on Holland House and the Park but I would recommend The Pleasure Grounds of Holland House by Sally Miller for  a detailed description of the history of the estate grounds and the Famillies of Holland House by Carolyn Starren for a history of the occupants of the house. Both of these were published in 2012 by Scotsforth books for the Friends of Holland Park.

I went down to Holland Park today and had a look at the formal gardens and the murals for myself.


I was told that the artist included the faces of members of Park staff among the figures in the murals.


So who knows who this pensive lady is, caught in an involuntary act of time travel?

The dark figure on the other hand below is definititely contemporary.


A little bit of faded grandeur – country life in Kensington

Inevitably, I came across the photograph below while looking for something else. If you had no idea where or when it was, what would you have guessed?

Campden Hill lookingsouth west from roof of Cam House 1951  K60-41

Trees, a lawn, part of a building, a cloudy sky and the hint of hills on the horizon. The year is 1951.

Campden Hill looking north west from roof of Cam House 1951  K60-43

A house and an overgrown garden surrounded by trees. The location was no more than 15 minutes from where I was looking at the pictures. It’s Campden Hill which rises from Kensington High Street comes to a peak and slopes down to Notting Hill Gate.

Campden Hill looking north east from roof of Cam House 1951  K60-42

Here you can see more detail including the famous water tower at the top of the hill. The house is Cam House, also called Bedford Lodge, one of seven large houses built in the area by John Tasker in the early years of the 19th century. In other posts I’ve written about the rural hinterland of old Brompton, between Kensington and Chelsea where there were market gardens, inns and cottages. Kensington once had its own semi-rural enclave of grand houses with extensive ornamental gardens.

Cam House-Bedford Lodge garden K66-622

In 1951 Cam House was only four years away from demolition. Formerly the home of the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Argyll ( renamed Argyll House for nearly 50 years) and Sir William Phillimore, it was requisitioned during WW2 after which it seems to have fallen into decline.

Cam House-Bedford Lodge 1951 K60-44

Once these buildings had ceased to be family homes they had very little chance of going back, especially in the post war climate of development.

The lawn leading up to the row of columns looks wild. The pictures give the impression of a crumbling house gradually being overwhelmed by undergrowth. Although below you can see a lone gardener fighting a rear guard action against the vegetaion.

Cam House-Bedford Lodge 1951 K60-46

It had once been a highly desirable property, as demonstrated in the agent’s particulars of 1930.

Cam House - particulars 1930

Those were the days of course when £8,000 was a lot of money. Where’s that time machine when you need it?

Bedford Lodge / Cam House, Bute / Blundell House, Thornwood Lodge, Holly / Airlie Lodge, , Elm Lodge,  and Thorpe Lodge, with their grounds were almost in a row leading to the grounds of the big house of the area -Holland House. Moray Lodge was the seventh, slightly to the north.

Moray Lodge prospectus 1893

Tasker himself may have lived in Moray Lodge but only for a short while. He died the same year he became the leaseholder, 1817. The longest period of occupation was by Arthur Lewis, a silk mercer, who used it to host artistic and social events..

Moray Lodge - Copy

Music and oysters, in 1865.

By the time of the sale particulars, 1893, it had been extensively remodelled.

Moray Lodge avenue 1893

It had this avenue, best described in the brochure as one of “two pretty avenue carriage drives… passing between borders thickly planted with old-established shrubs and overhung by well-grown trees forming a complete canopy.”

The “imposing mansion” had a large vestibule, a decorated entrance hall, a “spacious inner or corridor wall” with a “handsome stained glass window two staircases….. a pleasant library…..a cosy morning room…. a fine dining saloon…..and two charming drawing rooms.”

Not to mention the conservatory, “supplied with water, heated by hot water and lighted by gas.”

Moray Lodge conservatory 1893

The full -size replica of “The Grapplers” (original in Stockholm) came from the 1862 Great Exhibition. To be sold separately, if you were interested.

The adjoining billiard room could double as a ball room (Just think about that for a moment.)

There was a lift (“operated by hydraulic power”) and a lot of other rooms, with “ample domestic offices” in the extensive basement. “Speaking tubes are fitted in many convenient parts” and sanitary arrangements are by Messrs. Dent and Helyer (who were no slouches at that sort of thing.)

If you couldn’t find enough to occupy you indoors there was a “pretty Italian garden with fountain… a fully stocked rosery.. and a broad rhododendron walk” outside. The “repleteness and seclusion” was “of a wondrous nature.”

If  if you tired of the ornamental gardens and the many outbuildings, there was always the “capital grass paddock.”

Moray Lodge cow paddock 1893

Complete with working cow. Poultry also available.

Now you should probably lie down in the boudoir.

Moray Lodge interior-boudoir  1937

This advert from the Field shows that 38 years later Moray lodge still looked good.

Moray Lodge particulars 1937The house was also commandeered by the military during the war and never became a private residence again.

By 1951 it was a Civil Service rest home.

Moray Lodge garden Civil Service rest home1951 K60-50

The lawn still looks smooth and well kept. You just need a couple of ladies from 1893 with tennis rackets strolling back to the house after a strenuous match and the previous fifty years might never have happened.

Moray Lodge garden 1954 K60-51

A tranquil garden, mature trees and barely a hint of the city around it.

Moray Lodge from garden 1951 K60-49

A quiet country residence in fact. Take a seat on that bench while your man of business rings the bank to see if you can afford it. Actually, you’d better not.

Moray Lodge and Bedford Lodge were both demolished in 1955. Another famous feature of Kensington, Holland Park School was built on the site. Of the rest of Tasker’s houses only Thorpe Lodge survives. The quiet life is still possible on Campden Hill. But I suspect the sense of seclusion has gone.


Back in modern times it’s the second week of another successful  London History Festival here at the library. Just Dan Jones on the Wars of the Roses still to go. Tickets still left.

On the blog, I’m working on a Christmas surprise and my colleague Isabel is writing another post. Plus, our annual visit to the costume ball, and we might go back to Irving and Caldecott.

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.


Beneath the concrete the steel skeleton.


The growing road spans older industrial forms.


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


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?


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


Close up the work takes on an almost abstract quality.


The hidden parts of the road reveal a complex infrastructure.


Layers of steel beneath the concrete.


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


To this:


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.



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.


 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

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.


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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 743 other followers

%d bloggers like this: