Tag Archives: South Kensington

Bladen Lodge and Bousfield School: 20th century Brompton

When I was writing some of the recent posts about the Old Brompton area I made a list of the named individual houses along and near  the Old Brompton Road to help me.  The fascination of that area for me is that almost all of it was almost completely redeveloped in the second half of the 19th century and in the whole of the 20th, so that the quiet semi-rural road with seperate houses, inns and market gardens is now gone and was hardly touched by the age of photography. It now has to be known using maps and water colour paintings. Both can be tools of the imagination as much as records of how things looked. So Old Brompton is partly a fantasy world, partly a place reconstructed from books and plans.

However some of those houses were photographed. This week’s post is about one of those and the remarkable building that replaced it.

If you go eastwards from the modern Coleherne Court you pass a stretch of road which was called Bolton Gardens. In one of the group of eight houses there was the house where Beatrix Potter lived as a child. Behind it was South Bolton Gardens where there were three large houses: Rathmore Lodge, Osborn House and Bladen (or Bladon) Lodge. The modern version of this street is a cul-de-sac leading to Bousfield School which was built in 1954-56. . This is a view of the south front of Bladen Lodge.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p287 south front - Copy

The original Bladen Lodge was built in 1836, an unremarkable house with a substantial garden (though much smaller than that of  Hereford House / Coleherne Court). In 1927  a Mr C L Dalziell acquired it and in 1928 had two wings added to the east and the west. The architect  was Clough Williams-Ellis. His name will be familiar to fans of the 60s TV series the Prisoner as the creator of the location of the series, the exotic Italianate village of Portmerion in Wales.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p287  forecourt 1 - Copy

This shows the Mediterranean paved garden on the north side of the house with its enigmatic pond. It’s quite different from the nearby houses but oddly recaptures the seclusion of the walled gardens of older and more modest houses like the long gone Hawk Cottage.

C12 Hawk Cottage garden

William Cowen might have been impressed by William-Ellis’s improvements which almost doubled the size of Bladen Lodge.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p287 forecourt 2 - Copy

I could easily imagine this view as part of the Village. It has the same other-wordly quality as Portmerion, particularly when I recall my first pre-video viewings of the Prisoner in cool black and white. Here is a view of part of Portmerion:

P1010461

Inside Bladen Lodge was really  another English country house.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p288 drawing room - Copy

The interior is less packed with decoration than the old Coleherne Court and there were a few modernist touches here and there but the old pattern of drawing room, dining room:

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p288 dining room - Copy

And above all Library was retained:

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p288 library - Copy

Bladen Lodge was bombed during the war and the site largely cleared. There were proposals for a block of flats but the London County Council already had an eye on the site for a new school. They acquired several houses in Bolton Gardens to expand the site and built Bousfield School in 1954-56.

Bousfield School west front 1956 K61-536

Here I declare an interest. Bousfield School is a striking building and I’ve been aware of it since I first worked in the area. But my son (now the transport consultant to the blog, as well as a technical advisor on IT matters) went to the school in the 90s so I’ve been in and out of the buliding many times and have grown very fond of it.

The post-war schools building programme was a decisive break with the old county schools of London. It owes more to Le Corbusier than the tall sometimes gloomy Edwardian schools that still survive in many parts of London.

A “villa in a park” was what the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were aiming for, and that is pretty much what they got.

Bousfield School west front 1956 K61-535

At the rear is that curious sphere on a pole, a water tower, which still causes passers-by to do a double take. It also just struck me that it bears a certain resemblance to Rover the strange bubble device which pursued Number 6 and the others in the Prisoner. That woman on the right looks perturbed about something.

Bousfield School east front 1965 K65-120

The entrance has an ornamental pond, still frequented by water fowl despite its small size.

Bousfield School assembly hall K60-320

The interior is light, airy and full of space, even when dozens of children are moving around it at a rapid pace.

Bousfield School stairsl K60-320

This staircase reminds me of the interior of the Mendelsohn house in Old Church Street.

So although it’s a shame that Williams-Ellis’s 20th century reworking of a Georgian house no longer exists, Bousfield School adds some post war distinction to predominantly 19th century stretch of road.

I’m adding a couple of bonus pictures to complete this look at the junction of Old Brompton Road and the Boltons. On the east side of the Boltons another house was built two years after Bladen Lodge.

Sidmouth Lodge The Boltons  Copy

This was Sidmouth Lodge. The Survey of London with its usual eye for the telling detail describes the facade as “neo-Greek…with a grave and narrow entrance between Ionic columns”. Once this is pointed out the slightly faded photograph does catch a slightly mortuary look to the entrance. Behind this view was a house built in 1842 by Robert Gunter as a cottage for yearly letting which was given the intriguing name of Moreton Tower. I haven’t been able to find a picture of that unfortunately.

Sidmouth House was demolished in 1939. A telephone exchange was built on the site. That building still exists sitting incongruously on the edge of the oval of large villas which forms the Boltons. More of them another  time perhaps.

Finally, go back to that list of Bladen Lodge’s neighbours. One of those houses, Osborn House built in 1805 is still with us, possibly the last survivor of Old Brompton now nestled right against the grounds of Bousfield School.

DSC_4337

I took this photograph a few weeks ago while I was doing some field work for another quirky building tale of old Brompton which I may yet lay before you.

Postscript

As you may have guessed I was a little pushed this week. Not only was I off work for a few crucial days but my computer at home, a long serving Dell Studio died tragically preventing me working on this post there. But I was very taken with the pictures of Bladen Lodge which come from Country Life of March 1934 and wanted to use them even if there weren’t quite enough. I’m working on yet another old Brompton post but I won’t do that for a little while, to give you a bit of a rest.

The image of Portmerion is from this excellent site devoted to black and white photography:

http://lookingattheworldinblackandwhite.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/portmeirion.html

Incidentally, my son like many others of his generation finds my devotion to the Prisoner inexplicable. He’d rather watch Hong Kong buses and Russian car crashes.

Postscript to the postscript

I don’t normally come back to posts to add stuff but I thought this detail from the 1862 OS map might help a bit.

1862 OS Map X9 showing Bladon Lodge


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 male actor 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.

Postscript

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: http://www.queensgate.org.uk/

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.


From the air: Kensington

Just like the picture postcard the fascination of the aerial photograph is in the detail. The difference between the two is the puzzle element of the aerial view. The angle you are looking from is unnatural possibly even unimaginable when some of the places you see were first built. Even when buildings were constructed in the age of aircraft you see things the observer from the ground could never see.

I had quite a number of images to choose from so this selection (the first in an occasional series) is simply some of the photos which struck me as interesting or showed some buildings I have dealt with before in the blog. Like this one:

Gas works and railway 1965 K66-202

This 1965 picture shows the gas works in Ladbroke Grove which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. North of it you can see Kensal Green Cemetery, most of the ground concealed under foliage. At the edge of the gas works site is Kensal House. This is the last stretch of Ladbroke Grove before it hits the Harrow Road. The 52 bus used to take me along here up Chamberlayne Road to Kensal Rise. Either before the railway bridge or after it was the block of shops and houses which was the location of Hamrax Motors where I (the owner of a Honda) used to go to be patronised by the owners of British motorbikes. South of the railway you can see Raymede and Treverton Towers, like two open books propped up on the ground and to the left of them this building:

Gas works and railway 1965 K66-202 - Copy

Is that a grand ecclesiastical building? In another universe perhaps but in our world it’s St Charles Hospital a well known building but quite different from the air.

We’re heading in a roughly southwards direction now to see a quite different building.

Holland Park Avenue looking south 1965 K66-188

The trick with aerial photos is to orientate yourself using some obvious landmark. You can just make out the Commonwealth Institute at the top of the picture. The mass of trees behind it is Holland Park. Move to the foreground where Holland Park Avenue is going to meet Holland Road.

Holland Park Avenue looking south 1965 K66-188 - Copy

At the time of the photograph that long building was owned by the BMC (a forerunner of British Leyland) but it was built as a roller skating rink. The Hilton Hotel is now on the site.

Now we move east into Notting Hill Gate.

Notting Hill Gate looking south 1965 K66-196

This picture is also from 1965 when the redevelopment of the former Notting Hill High Street was relatively new. You can see Campden Hill Tower, that unexpectedly (in this neighbourhood) high building and all the working spaces between it and Ladbroke Road which curves up to meet Pembridge Road. To the right of the picture you can see Holland Park School and another old friend of ours:

Notting Hill Gate looking south 1965 K66-196 - Copy

The Campden Hill Water Works, with its microwave mast which one of my readers wrote a comment about in the post about the tower. This picture shows the location of the Water Works for another reader who enquired about that.

We can follow Campden Hill Road south now to the Kensington High Street of 1967.

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158

St Mary Abbotts Church should be easy to spot and Barker’s department store opposite. Next to Barker’s is Derry and Tom’s with its famous roof garden.

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158 - Copy (2)

You get an idea from the air of how big the garden is and some sense of the effort involved in creating it. Ponting’s, the diminutive cousin of Barker’s and Derry and Tom’s is also visible. The size factor alone shows why Ponting’s was the first to go.

Here is another close-up from the same picture:

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158 - Copy

It’s my place of work again, Kensington Central Library, but this was before the building of the Town Hall so all there was in front of the Library was a car park and the two houses on the top of the site Niddry Lodge and the Red House which I’ve written about before. I’ve also covered the building which was there before the Library which is in this similar view from a 1939 picture:

Kensington High Street 1939 K-3266-B - Copy

There it is – the Abbey, the gothic folly built by William Abbott,  before the bombs fell. This picture shows the full extent of the grounds.

Now another close-up from a few years before in 1935:

Kensington High Street 1935 K-3291-B - Copy

The Derry and Tom’s building before the Garden, a bare canvas.

Before we leave Kensington High Street let’s take another step back in time.

Kensington High Street 1921 K-3267-B

You’re now looking at 1921. The narrow spire of St Mary Abbotts dominates the picture. In the foreground is Kensington Barracks and at the top of the picture an older incarnation of Barker’s but it’s that block in the centre which intrigues me.

Kensington High Street 1921 K-3267-B - Copy

The interesting thing about this building is not that it’s gone but that it’s still there. So is the fire station in front of it and the short row of houses almost attached to it. Other buildings have grown up around it so it no longer looks separate. With the row of modern shopfronts on the High Street side there is complete continuity. At first glance anyway. When I finished writing this I went out and walked round it just to be sure.

We could look at Kensington High Street in much more detail but I can’t end this ramble through recent subject matter seen from a different angle without moving to South Kensington.

Museums area 1951 K65-8

In this 1951 picture you can see the Albert Memorial swathed in scaffolding again, the Albert Hall and in the foreground the Natural History Museum. But in the centre you can see the building whose interior we explored a few weeks ago, the Imperial Institute. There are other details here: is that the site of Mrs McCulloch’s house on the corner of Queen’s Gate and Prince Consort Road Road?

But we’ll come back here another day.

This week’s images were almost all taken by Aerofilms Ltd, the UK’s first commercial aerial photography company. English Heritage now owns their historic collection and many of the images can be seen at www.britainfromabove.org.uk


Halls of Empire: inside the Imperial Institute 1893

It’s difficult for me to figure out if anyone ever knew what the Imperial Institute was for exactly. Possibly Edward, the Prince of Wales whose idea it was had a good idea. So although it was opened in 1893 when his mother was still on the throne you could call it an early instance of that Edwardian fantasy we’ve looked at in other posts. I’ve been looking at images of the Institute but not for once of its exterior and that strange tower which has survived longer than the rest of it but of its more interesting and far stranger interior.

Grand staircase  1897 02

The Grand Staircase hangs in the air as though it belonged to a fictional castle tower or a Piranesi engraving.

Grand staircase  1897 03

At dizzying heights, almost too far away to see barely identifiable mythological and classical figures are depicted.

Entrance Hall 1897

So let’s enter. The door is closed. Two lithe big cats guard the stairs behind us.

Ahead of us is a long high corridor. At the far end light streams in through a window.

West corridor 1895

You can search all these rooms without finding a sign of inhabitants. There is a J G Ballard story about a seemingly empty and endless space station. The Institute looks a little like that in these pictures.

There is no one in the empty conference hall.

East Conference Hall 1896

Or this room with its elaborate ceiling.

British American Conference Room Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

Some of those rooms are decorated in the style of the countries of the empire.

British India Conference Room 1896

There are some spaces filled up with objects.

British Indian Exhibition Galleries Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

So have we entered a museum?

Ceylon Exhibition Gallery Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

It looks a little more like a nation’s attic.

There are some signs of life here:

Australian Conference Room 1895

It looks like a deserted gentleman’s club.

But in this gloomy room the scattering of papers shows some evidence of the activity within:

Fellows Writing Room Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

And this room is waiting for a meeting but for how long will it wait?

Executive Council Chamber Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

Head downstairs and there are even hints of recreation.

Fellows Billiard Room Opening 1893

Have we been here before?

Canadian Conference Room 1895

After sixty years or so of inconclusive activity the rooms were empty again. You might have seen one diffident stranger in the distance…

Corridor 1961

But you could have imagined it. And now all the halls and rooms are gone.

Postscript

Some of these pictures are described as ink photos. I imagine that this is some process involving inking over a photograph to create an image which was easier to print in a magazine. But really I just don’t know and if anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.


London Transport: travelling in Kensington and Chelsea

In his recent book “What we talk about when we talk about the tube” (the District Line volume of Penguin Lines, a series of books which celebrate the 150 years of the London Underground) John Lanchester makes the point that London and the Underground grew together. The railway lines made it possible for workers to travel further to work and so communities like Morden for example sprang up because the railway was there. London grew around the railway map – the city made the map but the map also made the city. He makes the further point that the reason that the London Underground network was started thirty seven years before the Paris Metro (a huge number of years in a period of rapid technological development) was that sending steam trains through underground tunnels was daring to the point of recklessness. But they did it anyway, and made London the biggest city in the world (two and a half million people in 1850, seven million in 1910).

Train at West Kensington 1876

[A steam train at West Kensington 1876]

Look at this map, a section of Davies’s 1841 Map of London and its environs:

Davies 1841 Kensington and Chelsea 002

Davies’s map is interesting because it’s one of the first London maps to show railways. You can see the main line to Paddington and the West London Railway heading south towards the river with a proposed route alongside the Kensington Canal. You can also see the empty space between the comparatively built up Chelsea and the line of development along the Kensington Turnpike, the road from Hammersmith to Hyde Park Corner or Kensington High Street as we now know it.

Click on the map for a bigger version and look for the villages of Little Chelsea and Earls Court, the Hippodrome race course north of Notting Hill, Notting Barn Farm and Portobello Farm, the “proposed Norland Town” beside the Railway and the “proposed extension” following a similar route to the eventual District Line.

In the second half of the 19th century those spaces were filled by housing, and the railways which linked Kensington and Chelsea to the rest of London.

Parish map 1894

This Kensington parish map of 1894 with the wards shaded shows how most of the space devoted to market gardens and open country was occupied by the end of the century and how the railways made their mark. (Apologies to Chelsea for being squeezed out a bit at the bottom but maps which show both parishes equally are hard to find before they became London Boroughs and eventually joined.) You can also see how development north of Notting Hill Gate moved northwards first to meet the Metropolitan Line at Ladbroke Grove and then to meet the main line.

PC 1137 Ladbroke Grove Station

As I said in the Gloucester Road post the stations were often built before the housing and the major roads. The District, Circle and Metropolitan lines crossed the two parishes knitting them together. The sub-surface lines weren’t actually underground for most of their routes (the longest underground section on the District / Circle line is the tunnel between Kensington High Street north to Notting Hill Gate) so they had a visible impact on the map especially in certain areas such as the Cromwell Curve where three lines (and the trains of three companies originally) met.

Cromwell Road Dec 02 1902 LTE

This is a rear view of Cromwell Road after building development showing the District Line rails in 1902. It’s by Ernest Milner, and has one of his characteristic faces at the window.

After the sub-surface lines came the deep tunnels (the actual Tube as Lanchester also points out) of the Central Line and the Piccadilly Line.

Brompton Road Station K10105B

This one is the short lived Brompton Road Station opened 1906 and closed in 1934, being by then too near to both Knightsbridge  and South Kensington Stations.

South Kensington Station K12953B

This picture shows the Piccadilly Line station at South Kensington, which like the one at Gloucester Road sat right next to the Metropolitan and District Line Station.

The picture also has a good view of a comparatively small horse-drawn bus. The buses which had carried people around London before the railways could not compete in terms of numbers even when motor buses were introduced in the 1890s and early 1900s. But they would soon catch up, and I can’t leave the subject of transport without some pictures of the buses that have served Kensington and Chelsea.

Notting Hill Gate PC 369

A horse-drawn bus proceeds along Notting Hill Gate.

Below an early motor bus on its way to Westbourne Grove.

Arrow line bus early 1900s

The bus routes we know today were established quite early.

S742 number 27 pulling out of Hammersmith 1920s

A number 27 departs from Hammersmith bus station. The buses got bigger and more frequent.

Coronation Dec. Kensington Gore -1953 DSC 005 A4

This picture shows an AEC Regent on Kensington Gore in 1953 when the border of the Royal Borough was decorated for the Coronation. Below, the most iconic London bus of them all, the Routemaster, heading into Kensington in the 1960s (The Royal Garden Hotel is visible in the distance.)

73 routemaster bus - by John Bignell

Finally, on Kensington High Street the bus I use most frequently.

DSC_1220 bus

At any given bus stop the bus you’re waiting for is always the least frequent. Or is that just me? At least there’s the Tube.

Postscript

That was the last of my transport related posts which were part of our contribution to this year’s Cityread campaign. It’s been a bit of a challenge to do four whole posts on the subject so I hope the strain hasn’t shown and I’ve showed you some interesting images.

John Lanchester’s book is one  a  series of 12 . (Link)  They’re a bit of a mixed bag and I haven’t seen them all but I’d also recommend Paul Morley’s Earthbound (the Bakerloo Line).

Other writers have made the same points as Lanchester, such as Andrew Martin in his history of the Underground “Overground Underground”. but Lanchester’s little book was the first I read. It’s a subject with a large bibliography.

Next week a special post for May Day heading taking us right back into the depths of the Edwardian imagination.


The first fashion photographer: Clementina, Lady Hawarden

I first came across this photograph in a history of 19th century costume. It’s been widely published in print and online so you may well be familiar with it.

The author in that book said that the woman on the right has been posed with the crinoline of her dress removed to fit into the picture. My immediate thought was that this was incorrect. In the first place there is clearly plenty of room for a full crinoline, and more importantly while Isabella Hawarden is wearing a conventional day dress her sister Florence is wearing some kind of fancy dress or theatrical costume around which a piece of white material has been draped in a way which echoes the shape of Isabella’s dress. Take a closer look.

I think you can see the same piece of material in this photograph:

That’s their sister Clementina sitting at the window with the same material draped around her. You’ll see it again in other pictures.

But before we go any further what about that title, the first fashion photographer? You let me get away with calling Edward Linley Sambourne the first style blogger but surely a woman who took photos of her family which were never published in her lifetime can’t really be called a fashion photographer? Well not strictly speaking but as I’ve said before the early photographers may have been limited by the technology at their disposal but had already grasped most of the uses of the new medium. Lady Hawarden was possibly the first photographer to be obsessed with the way fabric hangs on the female form.

She took atmospheric pictures of her three daughters which are not far off the work of a modern fashion photographer in the way she treats her subjects and are in many ways just as good.

This picture of Isabella was used by Penguin for the cover of an edition of Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White. It’s an appropriate choice. The image has an air of the loneliness and mystery which is a feature of Lady Hawarden’s work.

Isabella and Clementina in bohemian dress. As we’ve seen before when you take the Victorians or the Edwardians out of their conventional clothes they start looking modern. They even have the attitude.

Here’s Clementina on her own giving off an air of twentieth century ennui in front of some curious wallpaper.

Lady Hawarden posed her daughters in a variety of fanciful or melodramatic situations.

Isabella and Clementina playing out some psychodrama as if they were in a narrative painting.

Clementina channelling high emotion in a study of light and shade.

Clementina dressed as a man with Isabella in period costume.

Below, two pictures of Clementina in an elaborate dress playing another tragic heroine, first with a veil (a deserted bride?)

And back in that corner by the window, one of her mother’s favourite locations.

Have I made my case? In quiet sparsely furnished rooms young women solemnly pose, looking slightly overwhelmed by their extravagant clothes. The outside world is dim and distant. They’re in a kind of dream. It’s tempting to see these pictures in terms of Victorian gothic / sensation novel fantasy and the three sisters as grown up versions of Alice (Lady Clementina knew Lewis Carroll as a photographic colleague). But imagine these same images in colour with a famous fashion brand name underneath published in Vogue or one of those new fashion magazines like Love. Imagine the Cocteau Twins, or Warpaint or Mogwai playing in the background. You’d pause to appreciate the styling or the set or the model and flick to the next page without thinking you’d seen something from the first days of photography.

Clementina becomes timeless and you see the image of a woman which could have been created any time in the last hundred and fifty years.

On either side of the mirror another world.

Clementina, Lady Hawarden died aged forty two in 1865. It has been suggested her health was badly affected by the chemicals used in photographic processes. Had she lived she might have developed her artistic vision and become one of the greatest photographers of the 19th century.

This week’s photographs come from various sources including the excellent book by Virginia Dodier published by the Victoria and Albert Museum whose collection includes the original Hawarden photographs. The book is out of print now I believe but still available second hand and in good libraries. I avoided reading it again when I decided to write this post in case the author had far more clever things to say than I could manage..

I’ve wanted to write about  Clementina’s photos ever since I first came across them. The Kensington connection is slight – the Hawardens’ house at 5 Princes Gardens was just over the border in the City of Westminster but I believe the houses in the background of the balcony views might be in Kensington. As Lady Hawarden worked on her dreamlike interiors a few miles away James Hedderly was setting up his camera in the street. Two people from different social classes with the same obsession both taking part in the creation of a new art form.

Another post about Clementina and her daughter.


Idle days in southern Kensington: William Cowen country

Through the trees you can see a domed building. We’re not truly in the country but this isn’t the city. It’s the suburbia of the 1840s. Not many miles from this spot there are wide roads, grand houses, public buildings, slums and rookeries, courts and prisons, open sewers and dirty rivers. But here there are leafy lanes and walled nursery gardens with occasional cottages and inns.

(Click on the image to see the details)

Here are some houses in the little village of Earls Court. A woman hangs out washing to dry in the clean air.

Here is Walnut Tree Walk or Redcliffe Gardens as we’d call it today which takes you south from Earls Court Road to Fulham Road.

In the distance you can glimpse some large buildings. The big places always seem to be in the distance, as in this picture of Cromwell Road, or Row:

Not the Cromwell Road we know of course. That wouldn’t come into being until the 1850s. If the angle is right the distant tower is Holy Trinity, Brompton before the Oratory got in the way. The view below has another church, St Luke’s in the background behind the newly built Brompton Hospital. (Or The Diseased Chest Hospital as it is called on the parish map of 1846.)

But the focus of the picture is the pair of young men and their reluctant looking horse. Things look more relaxed in Gore Lane:

Outside Ivy Cottage are two women, a child, a dog and a couple of odd looking birds. Chickens? Or guinea fowl maybe. Guinea fowl are strange looking creatures, I think. I once came upon a crowd of them at a farm (or is that a flock?). They moved away from me slowly in unison, their iridescent tail faeathers trailing behind. The sight has stayed with me through the years since that encounter.

Meanwhile at Mr Attwood’s house it’s all quiet.

Mr Attwood owned one of the many local nurseries and lived here with his wife, seven children and two servants. He is still remembered in gardening circles.

My favourite picture from the collection is this one:

Another young woman with a dog and the suggestion of a ruin, but the best touch is that Narnian lamppost. This is the avenue to Cresswell Lodge. At this time Cresswell Lodge was a private boarding school for young ladies, which sounds like an ideal place to go walking through a wardrobe.

This one has the same fantasy quality:

It’s Rose Lane, which leads to Kensington by a scenic route. The two women talking in the shade of the high wall appear to be in no hurry to go anywhere. Through the open gate is a still more private garden. The  sun casts long shadows.

No-one is sure where Rose Lane was exactly but may have been just west of Gloucester Road perhaps near the present Rosary Gardens.

William Cowen the Yorkshire-born landscape artist and author of Six Weeks in Corsica came to live at Gibraltar Cottage, Thistle Grove in 1843. Not the same Thistle Grove as today’s. The wide still somewhat picturesque alley we know today, which also has a Narnian style lamppost took its name from Drayton Gardens which didn’t need it anymore. Cowen lived there until his death in 1860. The indigo wash water colour paintings featured here are part of a set of 31 which seem to have come from the same sketchbook. They all have the same dreamlike quality, the same calm feeling of unhurried summer days in an idyllic rural landscape.

Back to the beginning, here again is Cowen’s most recognizable subject. The domed building is revealed as the chapel of Brompton Cemetery, another kind of walled garden at the end of Brompton Lane, by the side of the short lived Kensington Canal.

This is also the end of Cowen country. You can imagine visiting these landscapes but you’d need more than a time machine to get into the country of his imagination.


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