Tag Archives: South Kensington

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.


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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