Author Archives: Dave Walker

Griffen of Chelsea: fragments from an artist’s studio

It was back in 2012 that I used a picture of Lots Road Power Station by Alfred Francis Griffen in a post and promised you would see more of the artist in the future. I’m finally making good on that promise. While I was scanning these images I googled Griffen to see if there was anything else about him out there, and all I found was my own post. So let’s see if we can shed some more light on an apparently almost forgotten artist.

The Library has a small collection of work by Griffen, mostly sketches in pencil, ink and water colours with a few etchings and some finished works. These were donated to the Library by his widow in 1955. She must have known that even his sketches and unfinished work would be of interest in the future. There is enough of this material to show that he was a skilled artist with an lively eye for detail and atmosphere.

Griffen - Gas works in Chelsea 1935 2nd composition B2088 back of envelope

Griffen’s work is almost unique in our collection because of his interest in the back streets and industrial settings of the western end of Chelsea, where he lived and worked. This sketch shows his ability to capture the action in a quiet street and the attention to detail which characterises his work. Do you see  the man on the left defying superstition by walking under a ladder? Here are two versions of the same etching:

Griffen - Chelsea Railway Staion nov 14 1950 trial proof 2085

“Chelsea Railway Station November 1950″ – This may be the station near the Chelsea Football ground which was closed in 1940. Some of the station buildings may have survived as long as 1950.

Griffen - Chelsea Railway Stationjan 16 1951 3rd state suggested improvements 2087A

He has marked the areas where he has made changes. Some more shading of the figures of the entwined couple has brought them to life. Underneath he has written “with suggested improvements in figures” in the same red ink.

Half-finished sketches give some idea of how he created pictures.

Griffen - Drawing mar 28 1959 2097A



The contrast between the careful ink work on the finished part and the pencillled section is fascinating in this view of Milmans Street. (I think it says Milman anyway)

He tried several times to get the view below right:

Copy (2) of Griffen - view frm Bagley's End July 1944  2080A

Copy of Griffen - view frm Bagley's End July 1944  2080A


Finshed pictures show that all the careful sketching paid off whether the result was monochrome as in this drawing.

Griffen - March sunshine in Kings Road mar 26 1949 2097S price 12-6

Or fully coloured as in this view of Chelsea Old Church after it was bombed in 1941.

Griffen - The ruins of Chelsea Old Church May 1941 2075B

Griffen could also do the pretty houses and familiar views of Chelsea as in this watercolour of Lindsey House:

Griffen - Lindsey House 1919-20 B2696

But I think his most personal material is about labour and industry.

Griffen - Dredger at work on Thames 1938 B2073

A dredger at work on the Thames.

Griffen - From Battersea Bridge Aug 1938

Another view of Lots Road Power Station, from Battersea Bridge. Many of the skecthes are on the back of scrap paper, envelopes and forms he had probably retrieved from work. But on the back of that picture I found a rough sketch of a woman

Griffen - Drawing of a woman rear of 2069B

She looks smartly dressed as if she was going to appear in one of his views of  Sloane Square, or Albert Bridge like this colour sketch for a drawing eventually completed in pencil.

Griffen -Study for a black and white drawing of Albert Bridge oct 9 1938 2095A

Or this picture, probably the best of his work in our collection.

Griffen Fulham Road 1946

Fulham Road, at the Queen’s Elm, 1946. The war is over, the lights are back on. A disabled man and his wife cross the road. A woman in a fur jacket with three children crosses the other way The buses are running, fully illuminated. In the far distance the tower of St Stephen’s Hospital. I know this spot well from the brighter end of the century. Griffen has caught the smoky atmosphere of early evening in a city recovering from war. I think our friend Yoshio Markino would have recognized this scene.


I haven’t completely exhausted our collection of Griffen pictures if you’re interested in seeing more. I don’t have a great deal of biographical information on him although I know some people have collected his work. He lived quietly in a flat in Gertrude Street, Chelsea with his wife Edith from 1935 until his death in 1955. Their surname was mispelled as Griffin in the electoral register in the pre-war years. Some years ago a gentleman sent us some greetings cards with Griffen pictures of other parts of London, which I have kept hoping that someday I would be able to use them, as I may in a later post.

When I describe an artist as almost forgotten I expect that several people will come forward and say: “No, we know all about him, he’s highly thought of in some circles and you can see more of his work at…….”

Here’s hoping.

The secret life of postcards 3: walking around in the afternoon

I was going to call this post “Son of the secret life of postcards” in homage to the naming of old fashioned horror fims (Son of Dracula, Son of Frankenstein etc) but not everybody would get that (sequels are usually just numbered these days) or even find it funny and if I did another one in the future (as I’m sure I will) I would be obliged to call it House of the secret life of postcards (or even Bride of the secret life of postcards) which would be stretching the joke too thin. So a simple “3″ will have to do.

So that minor point aside I’ve been looking again at the people and details you can find in picture postcards of the late 19th century and early 20th century. The photographers liked to include a few figures to liven up the pictures and it seems passers by took an interest in the work of the photographers. Some of the images are sharp enough to show us a great deal of detail. Enough to get an impression of the people in the pictures, and enough to speculate about their lives if you find that interesting. We recently had a creative writing course at the Library which used photographs from the Local Studies collection including postcards as the basis for writing short stories. You can try it yourself.

It may be my speculation but most of the pictures this week look like they were taken in the afternoon, when middle class husbands were at the office, their wives walked around doing various errands and their children amused themselves.  Like this group of girls strolling together along Holland Park. (The street of that name rather than the park itself).

Holland Park PC804 again

Big houses, wide streets. Five sisters?

Holland Park PC804 detail

Just like in an E Nesbit novel.

Here’s another gang:

Addison Gardens PC825

This group is obligingly posing for the photographer.

Addison Gardens PC825 copy

Another bunch of sisters taking the youngest siblings out for a walk? The girl on the left is shielding her eyes as she looks across the road at our man with the camera.

Holland Park Avenue PC881

Holland Park Avenue, the main drag in this area.

Holland Park Avenue PC881 detail

Three young friends out together, a delivery boy from the West London Dairy Company and what about that tall guy? A parcel, or a paper in his hands?

Princedale Road junction PC874

Two more women walk past Clarke’s Drug Store (“High class drug and photographic stores”) with its enormous sign urging the guys on the corner to “Drink Vicora!”

Princedale Road detail PC874

You could make a telephone call inside Parkes.

Holland Park Tube Station PC869

Holland Park Station is little changed from this picture. A little less signage these days but essentially the same shape.

Holland Park Station PC869 detail

Two women wearing aprons wait outside. Are they meeting someone?

Some postcards haven’t survived very well, like this one of Addison Road:

Holland Road PC494

Chemical decomposition has done its work. But the over exposed effect and the slightly monotonous view makes the main detail the focus of interest:

Holland Road PC494 detail

The mismatched pair of women, one tall, one short. Are they walking together, or is the tall one just passing the other who may have just emerged from that gateway?

This view of Holland Walk has also suffered a little.

Holland Walk pc 289

But mothers and /or nursemaids out with children in prams can still be made out:

Holland Walk PC289

I don’t know why there are more prams than women to push them.The woman’s white dress has lost some definition.

By contrast this view from south of the high street has stayed quite sharp:

Victoria Grove PC950

I recognized this quiet corner as soon as I came across it. I used to walk this way sometimes on my way to the library.

Victoria Grove PC950 zoom

This time it’s two boys hanging around watching the photographer work.

Now a couple of views of the same building, Kensington High School in Norland Square.

Norland Square PC870

The close up makes the building look much more exotic,  like a French chateau.

Norland Square PC870 - Copy

A lone woman pauses at the door.

In this view also a close up of a similar picture a different woman waits at the door:

Norland Square PC871 - Copy

Perhaps she is waiting for the girl in the foreground. A late-comer?  And that dog looks a little weary.

We’ve skirted around Holland Park but in the next picture we’re right outside.

Holland Park gates PC889 - Copy

The gates are quite recognizable but at this time remenber, Holland House was a home for the Illchester family and the park was a private estate. Some photographers got inside though.

Holland House PC801

In this view you can just make out a solitary figure by the house, just a flash of white.

Holland House PC801 detail

The close up makes thelady barely more visible. This time the photographer was probably there by invitation with the intention of just recording the house. Like in a Victorian Blow-up he catches the image of the woman in white by accident. That’s definitely one for the creative writing group. I had better not go there. Back to the busy streets.

Addison Road PC910 detail

Places to go, people to see.


If you like postcards there are plenty of books full of them. One excellent example is Hermione Cameron’s Notting Hill behind the scenes. Some of the images in Hermione’s book come from our collection. She has a sequel due out in August: Holland Park behind the scenes. This will be one to look out for if you’re a lover of old Kensington.

I had a lot of new readers last week, who set a new daily record of 5169 pageviews on July 4th. So thanks to all of them and to everyone who reads this blog regularly. I really can’t do it without you.

The School Play: Queen’s Gate School 1905-1913

I came across these pictures while looking for  a complete copy of a single school magazine from Catharine Lodge. At the same class number where the magazine should have been was a small collection of school magazines from Queen’s Gate School, South Kensington. There was a run of the Log as it was known from 1904 to 1912, which is just the period when the Whitelands College May Queen Festival was at its height and  around the pivotal moment of the 1908 Chelsea Pageant. I’ve suggested in the past that this period was also the height of a general fascination with amateur dramatics, pageants and ceremonies which involved fancy dress. So I was interested to find a set  of photographs which seemed to fit in with all that.

Of course the school play is a time honoured tradition practised in British schools, public and state, for many years so I can’t claim this particular bunch of images represent anything completely distinct and unusual. But they are good photographs and they do fit with a theme I’ve explored in other posts.

Caught p59

Naturally, Queen’s Gate was a single-sex school at the time. So in this 1905 production of a play called Caught set in 1651 during the English Civil War, all the male roles are played by young women, some of whom manage the gender reversal better than others. It’s asking a lot for the young actors to do a different gender and a different age so the bearded gentleman seated on the left looks a little strained. The other seated gentleman  who I take to be Charles II looks very much like an actual but is it seems Miss Anne Moorhouse.( You can see her again below). The girls seated on the floor performed a “Peasant dance” as part of the play. (The lady seated next to King Charles looks like a teacher, not in costume).

The teachers also took part in these programmes of entertainment which also featured seperate dance performances and sporting demonstrations. ). Pupils who had recently left the school also came back to take part.

On June 21st 1907 the bill opened with “Pierrot qui rit et Pierot qui pleure”:

The Log 1907-1908 p13 Pierrot qui rit et Pierrot qui pleure

The two pierrots were old girls – Hilda Bewicke and Ruth Haslam (who had played a male role in Caught). Miss Halsam also performed a “Spanish Gipsy Dance” later on. The play was “Pity: or Gringoire the Ballad-Monger”, a piece set “about 1470″.

The Log 1907-1908 p16 Gringoire the Ballad-Monger

Anne Moorhouse played the title role – standing to the right of the seated King Louis X I who was played by her sister Mary Moorhouse (listed as “Louise” in the magazine  – a typo, or a change in convention which adds another layer of ambiguity).

A teacher, Miss Stuart played Simon the draper (on the far left I think) and Hilda Bewicke was also in it (on the right – or is she the one in the white hat?).

“Never were they more successful” says Monique de Gasser of the plays.  her article also covers a performance in March 1908 when a duo – Phyllis Heineky (who was one of the peasant dancers in Caught) and Lilian Stewart did a two hander, Love Laughs at the Locksmith. They play a puritan and a royalist in “a turret room at Keystone Farm 1651″.

The Log 1907-1908 p23  Love laughs at the LocksmithThe Log 1907-1908 p22  Love laughs at the Locksmith

I don’t know what it’s about. Maybe two nominal enemies coming to a mutual understanding.They both look quite confident.

That issue of the Log also had poetry, a letter from a former pupil in California, a piece on “Individualism versus impartiality in Literature”, an account of a trip to St Ives and a short ghost story. In other words the editors were trying quite hard to show that the pupils were getting a good education.

The 1908-09 issue was another thick volume. In December 1908 there was a peformance of W S Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea and some Greek dances, but the magazine doesn’t include any pictures. There are a couple of the irrepressible Hlida Bewicke though in dance poses. Here’s one of them:

Dance- tres piquant - Hilda Bewicke p80 - Copy

There was also a fencing demonstration:

Fencing - le Grand Salut p88 - Copy

The short drama in  the Variety Entertainment was a contemporary piece about amateur drama, the Final Rehearsal.

1909-10 The Final Rehearsal p831909-10 The Final Rehearsal p84

The five players including once again Miss Stuart did not have to attempt any male roles (slightly harder in a modern setting I would have thought.). It’s harder to pick out Miss Stuart from the group too. One of the others, Katie Setwart was singled out because she didn’t “lose (any) of her daintiness when impersonating the household drudge.” So there.

The Bazaar of 1912 featured a performance of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a revival for the school.

1912-13 Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme p27

The cast was mostly new, but Phyllis Henekey was back as Dorimene.

1912-13Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme p22

I can’t quite make her out.

1912-13 Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme p21

The costumes of this historical era seem to work best for the young women.

There was also a “Dance of Beauty” featuring some classical costume and urns. (Compare this with a similar set of performers at Whitelands College)

1912-13 Dance of beauty p95

And one simply called Peace.

1912-13 Peace

There had been Dutch, Servian (Serbian), Italian, Turkish and Russian dances that afternoon. The final piece brought warriors and nurses together. “This dance in its refelction of the age struck a sympathetic note in the audience, as was proved by the hearty applause from the over-crowded house.” The dark clouds of the coming war had reached South Kensington which shows the staff and pupils were not living an entirely sheltered existence.


I hope I haven’t given the impression that I was mocking any of these performers. It was good clean fun from an age which might not have been more innocent than ours but definitely had a more earnest sensibility. At Queen’s Gate School  the young women could engage in artistic pursuits with no sense of future irony.

With that in mind I urge you to keep an entirely straight face when looking at this final  picture of the physical drill class of 1905 who are also trying to be completely serious.

Physical drill p47 - Copy

My thanks to the now presumably deceased performers. Queen’s Gate School itself is still going strong. Their website:

If any of the current students and staff read this post I’d be happy to hear from you, especially if there are more pictures of these fascinating performances.

Bignell’s people

This week we’re back with the skilled eye of John Bignell and if there is a theme to this collection it’s “ordinary” people going about their lives barely realising that a photographer can take a moment of that daily life and turn it into something permanent.

World's End c1958 jb46

A group of men standing outside a pub  in 1958 waiting for it to open, bantering with each other. A regular activity that by time, memory and the photographer’s art becomes emblematic of all the men who have ever waited outside a pub.

Peter Jones  JB3 vmbp0125

A pair of women look  into a  window at the Peter Jones store on a quiet morning.

Demolition in Manresa-Kings Road c1955 JB296

A lone man hacks away at a wall. Dangerous work, perched on top of a crumbling building that you yourself are making more hazardous to stand on. Did Bignell see the poster for the 1958 film The Last Days of Pompeii? A classical case of destruction echoing the destruction of a building in Manresa Road? The star of the film was former bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the hero of many sword and sandal epics. Reeves played Hercules on several occasions. Is it stretching a point to say that the man above the poster is engaged in a Herculean labour? Probably. You can find lots of fascinating and possibly unintentional details in photographs just like when you walk down a familiar street and notice some telling detail in a building or a shopfront.

Magrie's forge Dovehouse Street c1951 jb122

In Magrie’s forge in 1951 a moment of high concentration

Man on bench in Dovehouse Street jb45

Not far away on Dovehouse Street a man resting on a bench looking for all the world like he’s using a mobile phone. Except that it’s  still the 1950s. One of those poses we always had ready for when the relevant technology emerged. As if I had been blogging in 1966. Speaking of the sixties:

Royal Avenue opposite Crapper's 1960s jb89

Royal Avenue: a trio consult a map or a guide book, a couple of genuine hippies, a woman surprised or a bit shocked at something she sees. But not at that dog behind her and what he’s doing. There used to be a sign forbidding “illegal dog fouling” in Royal Avenue. It’s one of those phrases that fascinates me because it can be read a number of different ways, like “hot bread shop” or “building alarmed”. Perhaps it’s me.

King's Road jb29

I’m not entirely sure where this street market was. My first thought was that it was opposite Royal Avenue. Before they built the mini shopping mall there was an open area like this with a Sainsburys and a Boots (and a shoe shop?). The mall was built in the late 80s or early 90s with a big Virgin shop at its heart, But I wonder about the building behind it, a residential block not really visible on this picture. Any suggestions?

Couple JB4

Back on the King’s Road, a cool looking girl and a man with big ears.

King's Road c1961 jb62

A collector for the British Red Cross meets up with one of those end of the world guys you used to see on London streets. I’m not sure what the earnest young man (who looks like a young version of Michael Gove) is saying. Is it an impromptu theological discussion, or is he resolving a dispute? We may never know.

King's RoadWellington Square jb24

Not far away geographically but in the previous decade a couple pose for the camera in Wellington Square.

Below, a picture Bignell has set up:

St Pancras rail strike day

A pensive child in a near deserted St Pancras Station. Bignell’s writing on the back of the print says “rail strike day”, which explains the quietness of the scene. The girl is cooperatively looking away from the camera, probably at one of her parents. Perhaps the photograph was a welcome distraction from the tedium of waiting for a train that might not come.

Victor Sylvester's - girls dancing

This picture of a Victor Sylvester dance class is not exactly set up but it’s a pleasing image of the girls having to dance with each other because you could never get the boys to go to these things.

The all girl sporting picture below is more unexpected:

Cricket at Duke of York's jb75

Cricket practice outside the Duke of York’s Headquarters.

Nearby, at the Royal Hospital:

Oak Apple Day Royal Hospital jb98

Oak Apple Day, according to Bignell’s note. A very effective picture – the two Pensioners standing at ease echoing the line of bandsmen. The conductor in the background provides the only sense of movement.

Finally, another puzzle.

Unknown shop front with bus reflection

Who are these four sixties people? Where was that shop? The bus, I’m told, doesn’t look much like a London bus. Again I’m happy to hear any ideas about people or location.


Hardly anything to add this week. Bignell’s book Chelsea Photographer can still be found from second hand dealers although prices vary considerably.


Watching the river flow: pictures from a Victorian summer 1897

It looks like summer has arrived so it’s time to get down to the river again. This week’s post is a long delayed companion to Menpes on the river, revisiting his paintings of that long Victorian summer of boating on the Thames but this time in photographs. Some of these images show the same locations that Menpes painted, others show yet more outposts of the quiet life along the river.

The tidal Thames ends here, at Teddington:

001 Teddington Lock p20

I’ve walked as far as Kingston along the Thames Path. I remember this spot and although there were fewer boats when I saw it I can still recognize the place I visited. Teddington Lock, some of you may remember was the location of Thames Television’s studios in the 1970s.

Molesey Lock, further along shows the classic Sunday view of a crowded river in the days of Jerome K Jerome. (No account of a journey on the Thames can avoid mentioning Three men in a boat so I’ll do it here. I may even quote from the book later.)

003 Molesey Lock p60

The river in Jerome’s time was becoming a pleasure resort for a wider range of people, not just the upper middle classes. The white collar workers, men and women who spent their working days in the City could now afford to come down to the river in their leisure time. Although some no doubt enjoyed being in a mass of fellow pleasure seekers, the ideal of river pursuits is solitary.

007 Bray p113

A woman sits quietly as the river flows by. To quote a more modern voice speaking of a completely different river:

Well, take me back down where cool water flows,
Let me remember the things I don’t know,

Across the river is the tower of St Michael’s Church at Bray where the famous Vicar of Bray officiated. I prefer to think of Bray as the home of Bray Studios where the Hammer company made horror films in the 1960s.

008 Glen Island from Boulter's Lock p117

Boulter’s Lock is one of the places that Menpes painted. This view shows the approach to the lock. The picture below shows it as Menpes painted it in a crowded condition.

009 Boulter's Lock p118

Below, a much more exclusive group walks by the river in front of Spring Cottage on the Cliveden Estate.

011 Cliveden, Cottage and Woods p134

Much later Spring Cottage was leased by Stephen Ward and was one of the locations associated with the Profumo affair.

Below. a boating couple are mooring in a secluded spot opposite Formosa Island, one of the many river islands, also called eyots or aits

012 Formosa Island p135

These pictures have the tendency to make me want to write about long summer afternoons gliding quietly through a still landscape. I did some of that in the Menpes post. Riverscapes give me a sense of nostalgia, not only for my own teenage years when I did a bit of rowing on another quiet river, but also perhaps some of that nostalgia for an imagined past which I have also written about when discussing the Chelsea Pageant or the Whitelands May Queen. It’s a longing for an older,  more idyllic England.

Below, At Bisham two women are boating. Boating was, like cycling one of the leisure pursuits which the “new women” were taking up in larger numbers.

014 Bisham from the river p143

Another bit of local colour below at Medmenham – the building in the centre is Medmenham Abbey, one of the homes of Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club,although it would have been a quiet country residence at the time these two parties were rowing by.

015 Medmenham from the river p158

I’m presenting these pictures in the order they appear in the book although I’m not sure how accurate that is. The further up the river the amateur boatsman travelled the more the water landscape was dominate by features like locks and the weir below at Hambleden.

017 Hambleden Weir and Mills p163

At Henley, where the amateurs met the athletes at the Regatta.

020 Henley Regatta p166

The regatta attracted large numbers of visitors by land and water. Some of them came in those huge houseboats like the ones below.

021 Houseboats by Shiplake Ferry p180

Near Shiplake Ferry, a couple of the giant vessels which were like floating hotels.

Just off the river a tranquil backwater. Jerome’s narrator complains extravagantly about landowners who prevented the traveller from entering them with chains across the entrance.

022 Wargrave Backwater p181

Caversham, where Menpes painted another of his boating beauties:

025 Caversham from the river p192

Look back at the old post. It’s the final picture. Can you make out that barn?

027 Streatley from Goring Weir p213

This view of Streatley from Goring Weir has taken us into the heart of that old England of villages, mills and inns.

Jerome describes Streatley and Goring as “charming places to stay at for a few days”. Of the two, Goring was not quite so pretty but it was “nearer the railway in case you want to slip off without paying your hotel bill.”

At the end of their journey Jerome’s three friends abandon the boat at Pangbourne and take the train back to town. They finish up at a restaurant in the West End. They’ve done their time on the River and London has called them home.

We’ll give the last scene to Menpes, a picture I didn’t use last time but easily could have done.

Punting frontispiece


The photographs come from a book called the Thames Illustrated: a picturesque journeying from Richmond to Oxford by Frederick Leyland, published in 1897. I found the text a little dull but there are dozens of excellent pictures in it all showing the slow summer river and the sights beside it. Mortimer Menpes was there a little later in 1906 when the Victorian summer had become an Edwardian summer but not much had changed on the river.

There is even one winter picture,of the Thames at Oxford frozen with a crowd of people walking on it. My mother took me to a frozen river once and we walked on it. I was seven or eight at the time but I never forgot it. However, this is the summer. We can leave all ideas of freezing aside for now.

Building site 1972-1975: Kensington Town Hall

I was talking to a meeting about blogging the other day and I showed the group a couple of pictures from the post about the Red House, like this one. They were interested so I decided to take the story further this week.

00 352NA3 17 Jan 1972 KE73-135

January 1972: in the foreground is the car park behind the then 12 years old Kensington Library. Most of  these pictures were taken from its roof. On the left is the civil defense hut. Next, just  visible through the winter trees is a white building, Niddry Lodge. Beside that is the Red House, owned and occupied by the Council at this time but formerly the home of a couple of famous people. On the right is Hornton Cottage, the last of the three houses to be used for residential purposes.

A few weeks later there is snow on the ground:

01 TH construction 1972 Jan KE73-94

The cars are all gone and most of the trees lie fallen on the ground. Demolition has begun at Hornton Cottage.

01a 352NA3 31 Jan 1972 KE73-92

The once secluded gardens are laid bare. The Red House is under siege.

02a 352NA3 7 Feb 1972 KE73-100

Almost exactly four weeks later all the buildings on the site are gone. For some reason two trees in the centre are spared.

03 352NA3 6 March 1972 KE73-86

May: Building materials start to arrive on the site as work begins. Compare the trees with how they were in the previous picture. Despite the imminent threat of destruction they carry on.

05 TH construction  09 may 1972 KE73-145

June: the ground level is lower than it was.

05a TH construction 1972 June KE73-146

A few men are wandering around the site. A couple of them are examining some large plans.

06 TH construction  07 aug 1972 KE73-70

August: more digging.

By the end of the year the site looks like nothing but a big hole.

07 TH construction  dec 1972 KE73-213

In the centre is that concrete platform with its surviving trees.

In 1973 the building work began in earnest.

08 TH construction 02 jul1973 KE73-194

There are actually fewer pictures from this year than others. I don’t know quite why this is but by early 1974 the work was beginning to affect the Central Library:

09 TH construction 23 apr 1974 KE74-55

This picture shows the entrance to the car park under the Town Hall site. Builders seem to be securing the area where the exit ramp will be.

On the main site the two levels of the car park are visible. Contrary to urban myth there is no third level.

10 TH construction 01 may 1974 KE74-54

By July the new building is rising above ground.

11 TH construction july 1974 KE74-82

This view shows the eastern side of the site.

12 TH construction aug 1974 KE74-98

What’s that octagonal structure?

14 TH construction 1975 March  KE75-43

This angle shows the space between the two wings of the building nearest to the Library.

Now it’s 1975.

15 TH construction 1975 March  KE75-44

The new building is now a confusing mass of concrete and scaffolding.

16 TH construction Apr 1975 March  KE75-57

On the left of this picture is the edge of the library. I should explain that there are roof terraces linking the west and east wings of the library and I imagine the photographer perched on a step ladder to take all of these pictures. He must have had a better head for heights than me. When I went up there last week to get some modern pictures I experienced a distinct feeling of vertigo, despite the fact that I was perfectly safe. The fear of falling is of course entirely rational. The fear of the heights themselves at least in my case is not. I require a significant thickness of glass between myself and the panorama below before I feel safe at height. Nevertheless I managed to take some pictures from a similar angle.

Copy of DSC_4317

And that octagonal structure?

Copy of Town Hall 1978 02a

It was a pond. In 1978 wild fowl were taking advantage of this amenity, but unfortunately the bottom of the pond was not watertight and there were problems with leaks which couldn’t be rectified. So today there is a memorial garden in the area which you can see in my first picture.

And that tree that seemed to hang on to life? Well there are three trees in the central open space. One of them is a memorial tree for Sir Winston Churchill, specially planted. Another commemorates the 1997 wedding anniversary of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. But there is another one.  This is a tricky spot for trees to grow, with limited light but it could just be the same one.

Copy of DSC_4327

For the record:Kensington Town Hall, designed by Sir Basil Spence, built by Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd. Completed in 1975.


My apologies if this post is of greater interest to my colleagues than my general readers. But a building site is a building site and it is fascinating to see a large building take shape wherever it is. I hope so anyway.

Black and white photographs by John Rogers.

We still need to tell the story of Niddry Lodge. Coming soon.

Inside Coleherne Court: 1876

Welcome back to Coleherne Court. Come inside. The unknown lady and her dog will be pleased to let you look around.

001 Rear exterior detail

As mentioned last week Coleherne Court (aka Coleherne House) was occupied from 1865 to 1898 by Edmund Tattersall and his family.

002 hall

These pictures date from 1876 just after the end of what is sometimes called the High Victorian period in architecture and design. This was a time of highly decorative interiors, patterned wallpaper, oriental rugs and heavy polished wooden furniture. Also in this case some kind of animal skin hanging from the staircase.

003 drawing room b

In my captions for the images I’ve called this a drawing room. I don’t know how accurate that term is but the impression I get of the room is opulence and excess. Patterned walls, patterned floor, patterned upholstery. A large number of cushions and pictures, and what looks like a beaded curtain.

003 drawing room a

On the other side of the curtain is another room filled with objects and pictures.

Copy of Edmund Tattersall p204

Edmund Tattersall  had become a partner in the family firm of bloodstock auctioneers in 1851 and subsequently head of the business. He married Elizabeth Byers in 1862. They moved into Coleherne Court in 1865 when Edmund was aged 49.  He brought with him a collection of trophies and paintings, particularly of horses and races. You can see some of both in this picture of a dining room:

004 dining room a

I think this is the the room visible beyond:

006 sitting room a

A stag at bay (one of several apparently in Mr Tattersall’s collection) and a portrait of a lady. A writing desk is in the foreground with a flimsy looking chair.

This view is the same room from the opposite direction:

007 sitting room b

More wildlife is on display in the pictures. The light streaming in from the window is a little too much for the camera but gives the impression of summer weather outside.

Is that a violin case perched on the chair? This was a musical household. Mrs Tattersall was well known for hosting musical performances in the house. She played the piano, her daughter Ethel played the violin and her other daughter Violet sang. The two Miss Tattersalls also acted in plays put on at the house “Miss Tattersall’s Lady Stutfield was no less impressive as Miss Tancred’s Lady Windermere…..(she) was at once gay, coy and demure.” as one critic said.

Upstairs, a bedroom with a single bed:

009 bedroom a

It boasts a daybed and its own collection of pictures, portraits mostly.

Once again we have a view of the same room from the opposite direction.

010 bedroom b

You can see that this is still a well-appointed room in which the occupant could while away many hours.

012 another sitting room

This looks like another sitting room, or a small study, again packed with pictures and books.

I’ve assumed the room below is some kind of servant’s room, but I’m open to suggestions. It looks quite comfortable so perhaps it could be a butler or housekeeper’s room.

013 servants room

Now we can go outside again. This OS map of 1865 shows the grounds at the time when Tattersall moved in. You can see that his house and Hereford House look like they are a fair distance from each other.

Copy of Coleherne and Hereford 1865

You can also make out the location of the former fishpond which you could see on one of the maps shown last week. The map also shows the covered walkway into the house from the street and the tennis courts.

The property was described  in Vincent Orchard’s book about Tattersalls as “well-wooded” with “a thick belt of  oaks, elms, acacias and planes” sheltering it from the “obtrusive ugliness of Redcliffe Square”, which is quite a harsh judgement on Redcliffe Square, whose inhabitants at the time would have considered it a perfectly acceptable street in which to live.

Nevertheless inside the walls of the property was a perfect example of a Victorian secret garden.

015 garden

A perfect lawn, secluded places to sit and feel yourself well protected from the growing city outside the walled garden.

016 garden path

There were many paths to meander down on quiet afternoons and lose yourself in thought. Or, like the lady in this final picture relax as best you could in the fashions of the high Victorian era, and imagine yourself in the country setting  of Old Brompton just a few decades before. Forget about the summer in the city.

014 garden - lady in hammock

Just drift away…..


Sorry, I started quoting song titles at the end there. That last picture is an amazing find in itself.

I am enormously grateful to Miss Yvonne Wyatt who donated the album of photographs and some related papers to the Local Studies collection. Also to her late brother Mr Tompkin who lived in the later Coleherne Court. No Local Studies collection can do without the generous donations of people like them.

Forgotten buildings: Coleherne Court and Hereford House

Coleherne Court? Not a forgotten building at all, surely? It’s there today, a fine example of an early twentieth century apartment block. Famous as the London home of Princess Diana when she worked at that nursery and had that photo taken. (Not to mention that she joined the local library just across the road.)

Coleherne Court agents brochure 1906 K66-132

No, not that Coleherne Court. But just a few short years before this advert of 1900 there were two houses on the site, one of which was the original Coleherne Court. The “grounds in the rear” were even more extensive. This OS map of 1894 shows how the houses and gardens were now surrounded by urban development.

OS map 1894 section of X8 featuring Hereford House

The old Coleherne Court had been around when Brompton Lane, later the Old Brompton Road curved through fields, nurseries and market gardens punctuated by cottages and large houses all the way to Brompton Road.

Cruchley 1827 Earls Court-Brompton-Little Chelsea

Crutchley’s map of 1827 shows Coleherne House as it had been known originally at the intersection with the main north-south axis of Earls Court Lane and Walnut Tree Lane (now Redcliffe Gardens). You can even see the large fishpond in the grounds behind it. Starling’s parish map of 1822 shows even more detail.

Kensington Parish map 1822 detail

There seems to have been a house on the spot  as far back as the 1600s. Ownership seems to have changed frequently. Among many others the much derided poet and eminent doctor Sir Richard Blackmore lived there in the early 1700s. (Dr Johnson says of Blackmore that  his “lot has been to be much oftener mentioned by enemies rather than friends”)

As far as I am aware no image of the house from its early days exists. The artist of the Red Portfolio painted this watercolour:

Cold Barn House RF2535

The notes on the back of the picture indicate that “Cold Barn House” was now called Colherne. The writing is hard to decipher but the artist refers to the ownership of “Mr Boulton (who) built the large house”.

It was William Boulton who sold the house to a Philip Gilbert. He in turn built a second house in the grounds in 1815 and moved into it. This was Hereford House, a villa with some extensive conservatories on one side.   After 1838 when Gilbert left the house it was occupied by a number of colourful tenants including Dion Boucicault, the actor/playwright and theatrical manager who also held the lease of Coleherne Court. Boucicault bought Hereford House in 1861, and Coleherne Court in 1862. He spent £2,300 furnishing the latter but following his bankruptcy in 1863 was obliged to sell both houses.

Beatrix Potter who lived nearby in Bolton Gardens refers to Hereford House in her journal for 1883: “Papa bought a horse less than a fortnight since for £150…it has gone lame yesterday..only consolation Reynolds could offer is that Seligmann who lives in the red house at the end of the street bought one for £200 which died in two days and the man he bought it from would not even see the gentleman”   (Leopold Seligmann lived at Hereford House from 1872 until later  in the 1880s)

In 1896 it was turned into a ladies cycling club.

Wheel Club clubhouse from lawn

Cycling was one of those  new pastimes in which respectable ladies could now indulge. (Catherine House, which we explored a few weeks ago was also a short-lived cycling club) The Wheel Club seems to have been a pretty high class establishment.

Hereford House - Wheel Club 1896

You can see the ramp which Cycling World describes as  “a miniature Olympian, composed of wood with trellis-work sides.It forms a circle round the grounds, running over two artistic bridges..” On the day of the first cycle races June 13th  “Miss G Fielding easily outpaced her rivals and took three first prizes..due to her admirable pluck, and the business-like manner in which she tackled her opponents at the corners was far superior to anything yet seen at amateur races.”

Another section of the ramp of it is visible in this picture:

Wheel Club Hereford House rearview

The Wheel Club boasted many facilities for members:

1896 Wheel Club entrance hall

The entrance hall, leading to a terrace “overhung with evergreen and complete with electric fairy lights”.

1896 Wheel Club dining hall

The dining room, a reading room, a writing room, a library (all separate?), a smoking room and up a private staircase “one of the best billiard rooms in London”.

Below, the  ladies boudoir “where ladies maids are constantly in attendance”. There were many more facilities.

1896 Wheel Club ladies boudoir

But the most fun was to be had had in the grounds “where members can be instructed in the useful art of wheeling.” And the club band played every afternoon.

Wheel Club

On June 13th there was a competition for decorated bicycles. Below is Lady Emily Cherry’s winning entry with her daughter Gladys.

1896 decorated bicycle

Eugenie G Hawthorne who wrote the article for Cycling World predicted that the Wheel Club would be one of the most popular clubs of the day. Whether or not this proved to be the case the venue was short-lived. Hereford House was demolished less than four years later along with its near neighbour.

Coleherne Court had been in residential occupation for most  of the life of Hereford House, only empty for a couple of years. The landowner James Gunter bought both in 1864. He leased Coleherne Court to Edmund Tattersall  from 1865. Mr Tattersall was then the head of Tattersall’s the bloodstock and horse auctioneers who had a famous auction yard and offices in Knightsbridge. He died in 1898 after falling ill at a Newmarket race meeting.  It is not recorded whether the noisy neighbours were  a problem for him and his family but if you look back to the 1894 map you can see there was some distance between the two properties even if the boundary between them was not clear.

According to  the Survey of London “the only certain view of Coleherne House is a 19th century photograph of the hall”.

I can offer you slightly more than that.

001 Rear exterior

This picture of the rear is from an album of photographs of the interior and gardens recently donated to the Local Studies collection. More of these pictures will be featured next week.

Both Coleherne Court and Hereford House were demolished not long after Tattersall’s death. The new Coleherne Court still had a substantial garden, but the two old houses had been one of the last remnants of that older Brompton.


I could thank them almost any week but this seems a good time to mention the writers of the Kensington volumes of the Survey of London. Their invaluable research makes my work, both blogging and answering enquiries very much easier.


The village of the dead: wandering in Brompton Cemetery

This week’s post features more photographs by Bernard Selwyn. One of his major obsessions was Brompton Cemetery and he took literally hundreds of photos of it particularly in the early 1990s.  By then the cemetery was part working cemetery, part ancient monument and part wildlife reserve. He (and I) enjoyed the overcrowded and overgrown look of an old cemetery. it’s another form of  the beauty of decay. But instead of the industrial decay that we saw in Lots Road, this is a studied form of neglect. The managed growth of vegetation gives the cemetery an air of calm, like an oasis of countryside in the city.

16 dec 1990 5

A slightly misty December morning.

And a sunny afternoon in August:

26 aug 1990 B12

We have grown into an appreciation of the Victorian celebration of death, the elaborate mourning rituals and even more elaborate monuments. But it’s one of those areas where the past really is another country. The Victorians were closer to death than we are. They died more easily and more frequently. They died at home. They lost children. And when their loved ones were gone they wanted to visit them in a place where they could grieve. The public cemetery movement in the first half of the 19th century was partly a response to public health considerations, as the church yards and burial grounds filled up, but it also filled the cultural needs of a population that was becoming more urbanised.

So as the cities filled up, the dead moved out to the country. This design by Benjamin Baud shows the West London and Westminster Cemetery as a walled garden in the open country.

Brompton Cemetery designby Baud

The great tree-lined central avenue leads down to an circular colonnade beyond which is the Anglican chapel. In the design there were two side chapels for Roman Catholics and Dissenters. These were never executed due to considerations of cost.

Brompton Cemetry & Kensington Canal by Cowen

There were also plans for a water gate on the Kensington Canal for barge-born coffins.

Victorian London was ringed by a series of these cemeteries: Kensal Green, Highgate, Abney Park, Nunhead, and others. The great cemetery in Glasgow is called the Necropolis – a city of the dead. At 39 acres, Brompton is quite compact (the sprawling Kensal Green is 56 acres) – a village of the dead, and as London grew around it it was squeezed by major roads to the north, south and east, with a railway on the east in the filled-in canal.

17 aug 1990 D4

Looking north west across the central circle, with the Earls Court Exhibition Centre and the Empress State Building on the horizon.

12 Jan 1991 23

Looking south at the eastern entrance to the colonnades. The Belvedere Tower at Chelsea Harbour and one chimney of Lots Road power station on either side of the domed chapel and the bell tower.

There are monumental tombs with familiar features:

17 aug 1990 D26

The funeral urn covered in drapery.

17 aug 1990 D33

An angel, with two crosses.

17 aug 1990 D32

A woman in classical dress with a cross carved to look like wood.

There are also some unusual monuments such as this:

06 aug 1990 A24

A sad and weathered lion marks the grave of Gentleman John Jackson,  a boxer. Many famous names are buried in Brompton – Emeline Pankhurst, John Snow, Henry Cole, Fanny Brawne, Marchesa Luisa Casati, to pick a few from the list.

Here for example, in the centre of the picture, is the monument to the musician Richard Tauber:

23 aug 1990 C25

On the right edge though, partially obscured by the undergrowth, is a monument  to someone who isn’t interred at Brompton.

23 aug 1990 C34

When I first explored Brompton in the 1980s I would sometimes sit where that man is sitting. It’s a pleasant spot for eating sandwiches and reading ( I recall reading a lot of Gollancz thrillers) . Wondering who was inside this Egyptian style mausoleum I consulted the Survey of London and discovered that it was built for Francis Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey. (

From other sources I learned that the Earl was apparently dissatisfied with this potential resting place and had another Egyptian mausoleum built for him near his house in Twickenham  Which is interesting enough but you can also discover through the medium of the internet that this mausoleum is the tomb of two spinster sisters (unnamed on the sites I looked at) and is also either a time machine or one of several time portals planted across London for the convenience of temporal travellers. As the custodian of a purely metaphorical time machine I was naturally amazed to hear this.

Also amazing is the fact stated in at least two usually reliable sources: that Kilmorey initially erected the tomb at Brompton and later transplanted it to Twickenham. All  I can say is that I have seen this mausoleum at Brompton over a number of years and that I’m pretty sure it’s still there now.

I like a fanciful tale as much as the next man (more, probably) but the romance and wonder of Brompton Cemetery lies in the solemnity of the memorials and the calm country atmosphere rather than steampunk stories.

26 aug 1990 B18

The sometimes forlorn graves and monuments.

17 aug 1990 A30A

The feeling that you might be in a country lane (so long as you don’t look up and see a tower block.)

You could walk down a dark set of steps into the catacombs. I once went on a short tour of the then partially open circle. It’s very quiet down there.

17 aug 1990 D35

In the colonnades you catch a glimpse of another time when people walked this path to visit a loved one.

17 aug 1990 D15

Brompton Cemetery, which was once a walled garden in the midst of semi rural Old Brompton is now the last reminder of that forgotten part of London’s past.

Brompton Cemetery


I wouldn’t want to be drawn into any arguments so I won’t cite any sources for the strange tales about the Kilmorey mausoleum or its possible movements. As I’ve said I like a fanciful story, and I like to tell stories myself. So no offense intended to anyone. Brompton Cemetery is a place which captures the imagination.

Incidentally the Earl’s daughter-in-law Ellen Constance Needham features in one of the costume ball posts and has her own interesting story.

The indigo wash view of the canal and cemetery is by William Cowen. I’ve used it before but it is appropriate here.

If all goes to plan we’ll only be moving a few hundred yards to the subject of next week’s post, another tale of old Brompton.

The May Queens of Whitelands: return to the hidden kingdom

As promised recently this is the second annual post devoted to the May Queen Festival at Whitelands College. New readers start here:

Whitelands College was a teacher training college for women started in the 1840s, one of the first of its kind. In 1881 they held the first of their annual May Queen Festivals. The idea for the Festival had come from the art critic John Ruskin and had been taken up enthusiatically by the Principal of the College John Faunthorpe. This odd combination of Christian ceremonies with elements of paganism (or rather late Victorian ideas of what constituted paganism) was embraced by the staff and students alike and it became a key part of the College’s identity. I wrote about the May Queens last year and the way the festival reached a kind of cultural apogee around 1908 or 1909.

1904 Queen Mildred  DSC_2345

Here for example is Queen Mildred I leading the procession in 1904, surrounded by her white clad fellow students.

And here is the masque from 1907:

1907 Queen Elsie etc

Although these ceremonies were taking place yards away from the King’s Road they look just like they belong to some cloistered enclave far removed from urban life. You can think of fantasy places like Hogwarts or Brakebills if you like. The romantic spell of the May Queen Festival is maintained by the absolute seriousness of the participants.

 1912 Queen Alice and Queen Elsie  DSC_2369

Here you can see the dowager Queen Elsie III paying homage to her sucessor Queen Alice in a lightly hand coloured photograph. (Behind glass, unfortunately – I took the picture myself at the Whitelands Archive). You could say that the May Queens and their attendants had formed a kind of order of chivalry or a female Masonic Lodge. It was probably not what Ruskin had anticipated. Whitelands College itself was a kind of refuge where young women were entering into a profession when most of their contemporaries were excluded from professional life. Outside the wall of the college the Suffrafgettes were fighting for the rights of women to become equal members of society. Inside those walls some of the privileges of professional life were already available.

1914 The Golden Stair of Happy Service - the Principal, the two Queens and the Senior Monitors

This picture was taken in 1914. The College remained a kind of secluded enclave even during the First World War, although students and staff played a part in the war effort and there was some damage during a Zeppelin raid. For the most part the inhabitants of the College went on with their lives.

 1914 College Garden

There had been a change in the zeitgeist though. Perhaps the reality of the coming war and the shock of its progress meant that it was no longer possible to concentrate so hard on the ceremonies and entertainments. That short period around 1908 (also the date of the Chelsea Pageant) was the high point of that strange theme in the Edwardian imagination of nostalgia for an imaginary lost Albion.

The photographs in the Whitelands Annual seem to me to show that the Festival was not being taken quite so seriously.

1915 Fooling around

Or even seriously at all:

 1915 Fooling around - jesters

Both these pictures come from the 1915  Annual.

After the War there was a new reality. The Festival went on of course. This is the 1919 group photographs of the new Queen Janet I and the former queens.

1919 Queen Janet I and former queens

On Queen Janet’s right is the first Queen, Ellen. Agnes II (1909) sits at the front on the right, and Elsie III is also on the right at the end of the seated row. I’m not sure about the others.

This is Queen Janet by herself:

1919 Queen Janet

Her dress shows the influence of post war fashion.

Some things didn’t change:

1922 group DSC_2399

The fake nuns seen in previous masques were still there. The masque below looks like an amateur theatrical event, or a fancy dress party.

1922 masque

By 1927 the May Queen herself looked quite prosaic:

1927 Queen Sylvia with Queen Iris and Miss Headford senior student

Queen Sylvia, her predecessor Queen Enid and the Senior Student. In this picture of the Bacchanals that year are it looks like the group is vaguely aware of the Margaret Morris style of dancing which was being promulgated in Chelsea at the time.

1927 The Bacchanals - unconvincing

But definitely not so serious.

A couple of years later the College moved to a new purpose built building in Putney as its role in teacher training expanded. The first Queen after the move to the suburbs, Queen Joan looks a little more traditional:

1931 Queen Joan and Queen Edna DSC_2419

The rural-looking setting seems to have brought back some of the old flavour of the event.

At that point Whitelands College moves out of our sphere of interest. The College and the May Queens have carried on as part of Roehampton University and the old tradition has survived.

I’ve got two endings for you. Remember Queen Janet? Here she is in 1981 at the Centenary of the Festival with the 1981 Queen Heather and a large group of former queens in a photograph from the Daily Telegraph.

1981 Queens Janet I - Hughes - and Heather - Forbes - TES 15 June 1981 - Copy

And to remind us of the Edwardian days of the May Queens a final look at Queen Elsie III enthroned with the 1910 Queen Louise standing in attendance:

1911 Queen Elsie and Queen Louise


Thanks to Gilly King, the archivist at Whitelands College who invited me down to see the archive last year, and spent some time talking about the history of the May Queen Festival. I wrote about the visit on our main Library blog. I’ve used some of the photographs I took in this post – some of them are not quite as good as properly scanned pictures. I believe the College is digitizing their collection for future study. I’m not quite sure if I’ll be able to mange a third annual May Queens post next year. But come back then and we’ll see.

Whitelands House, the original home of the College had another story to tell after the College moved. But that’s for another day.


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