Elsie in the movies

This week’s post is based on another recent donation, relating to a former resident of the Borough. We were given a small collection of film stills and publicity photos together with this page from an old Spotlight – type reference book on working actors.

Elsie in Spotlight or similar - Copy

By an odd coincidence I’ve started writing this post on July 16th, the day Elsie Wagstaff died in 1985. (She was born on July 1st 1899). At the time of her death she lived in Observatory Gardens, not too far from here.

In a 1981 Who’s who of British film actors she is described as a “small part character actress, mainly on stage. Films sporadic”. It’s true that there are only a dozen films on the list spread between 1938 and 1962 but that information only made the task of trying to match the photographs to the films more interesting.

This must be one of her early head shots.

Elsie in hat 03 - Copy

Although I never found her in one of the standard works on the subject, Who’s Who in the Theatre, I did find a short biography in a 1954 book “Radio and television who’s who” (Yes I know there’s a short Wikipedia entry, but where’s the fun in that?). As well as details of her theatrical education it told me she was in South Africa in 1926.

Elsie in the Ruiger - Copy

This looks like a stage picture from that tour.

She had been educated at Cheltenham College and the Guildhall School of Music. She had diplomas in drama and elocution. She started in a chorus line in 1919 but her first starring role was as Sadie Thompson in a play based on the story Rain by Somerset Maugham. (Gloria Swanson took the role in a silent movie version named after the character in 1928). Her first film role was in a short comedy called Apron Fools

In this set of pictures we don’t see much of the young Elsie. This could be from one of a couple of north country comedies she appeared in.

Elsie about to do something disgusting - Copy

There was one called Cotton Queen, set in Blackpool featuring Stanley Holloway but I can’t be sure this is the one.

I like this picture:

 

Elsie with three weird dudes and a blonde - Copy

But you can tell she was making the transition from juvenile lead to character actress. The man standing next to her bears a slight resemblance to George Formby, unfortunately for him. Here is Elsie looking scornful:

Elsie looking scornful - Copy

Are those two about to do a song and dance routine? If any film buffs can spot the films, I’d be very grateful. Here’s another head shot.

Elsie young - Copy

There are are few stills in the collection on the back of which Elsie’s character is identified.

Elsie as Aunt Hatty in Lassie from Lancashire - Copy

Here she’s playing a character called Aunt Hetty in Lassie from Lancashire (1938). The lead, named Marjorie Browne did a sort of imitation of Gracie Fields and her career seems to have been limited to three films of that kind (she later co-starred with Tommy Trinder and George Formby). Although Elsie was playing stern looking spinsters, her career lasted a lot longer.

Elsie as Aunt Hatty caught - Copy

Aunt Hetty is pinched by the rozzers. (Possibly)

This is a film we really should be able to identify:

Elsie as the sinister nurse - Copy

The vicar, in a period costume. The girl in the wheelchair. The servant boy. And Elsie, in a really severe uniform. All the clues are there. A post war costume drama? Or is it an early television role? Elsie seems to have found some success on TV.

These are a couple of pictures I can’t help but like:

Elsie sleepwalking - Copy

Elsie in a trance, or just sleepwalking. (See comment below – that is George Formby)

And below, giving it some on the accordion.

Elsie on the accordion - Copy

In the post war period she also had some success as a dramatic coach and diction director (accents seem to have been a speciality of hers). The 1954 directory credits her with discovering Geraldine McEwan, who would have been an up and coming actress at the time.

When it comes to actors of course you inevitably turn to imdb and there I was able to follow her television career fully and find her name in many shows familiar from my childhood. I can’t say I actually remember seeing the medical dram Emergency Ward 10 but I remember it being on. This looks like Elsie playing the matron.

Elsie as a stern nurse - Copy

She’s giving that plausible young man with the hat a suspicious sidelong glance. She was also in Z-Cars, Dixon of  Dock Green, the Adventures of Robin Hood and adaptations of Great Expectations and the Woman in White. The most famous films she was in at this time were Bryan Forbes’s Whistle down the wind (1961) and the Albert Finney film of gritty northern life, Saturday night and Sunday morning (1960) (where her experience of north country accents would have been useful).

Here is Elsie in 1954.

Elsie at 55 - Copy

And here she is as “Aunt Rosa” in something called Celia, a stage play I think.

Elsie in Celia duplicate

Her final film role was in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, (as “wild one”, presumably one of the inmates of the asylum where the good doctor is practicing his body stitching arts) not one of Hammer’s best but it was nice to think of Elsie keeping company with Peter Cushing, Madeline Smith and the rest.

For a final look at a Kensington actor let’s go back to her early days.

Elsie in hat 02 - Copy

Good glove work, Elsie.

Postscript

Thanks to Maggie Tyler, who brought us these pictures, and to Open Age from where she got them. I’m always ready to take in memories of interesting people who lived in Kensington and Chelsea. If you can add any more information about the films, please let me know.

 


Thomson’s guide to London

Now the weather is warmer and we’re in the serious summer, we can relax a little and revisit an old friend, the artist and illustrator Hugh Thomson. Along with his annual “big books” with colour pictures, a couple of which we’ve already looked at, he also had some regular jobs which kept the wolf from the door. One of those was the Highways and Byways series. These were travel books of British counties, informative but chatty, written and illustrated by a variety of authors and artists. Thomson worked on several books in the series but the one of most interest to us is Highways and Byways of London, published in 1902 with a text by Mrs E T Cook (Emily Constance actually, don’t know where the T came from.). Some of the illustrations were by the leading engraver F L  Griggs, who tended to do the sober pictures of streets and churches. Thomson concentrated on the life of London and particularly its people.

Here’s a typical London scene, someone giving some directions.

Sightseers

Third left, second right, You can’t miss it. Thomson captures the confidence of the policeman, the confusion of the older man and the anxiousness of the mother and daughter attempting to follow the complex instructions.

They might be forgiven for taking the tube instead.

An Underground Station

Except that it looks a bit frantic down there. This is clearly one of London’s defining characteristics as Thomson saw it. In his London there seems to be quite a bit of rushing about.

The Hansom

The picture is called The Hansom, but the focus is on the brisk young woman who is threatening to overtake the horse drawn carriage.

The other main theme for Thomson is fashion. In an interview with Raymond Blathwayt in 1901 he said: “I think the last two years rival the costume of Gainsborough’s time. For the book on which I am now at work I went up to the Row several times to make sketches, and I said to a friend: why doesn’t some big painter make a picture of this? Women catching up their gowns just as Japanese women do and wearing Gainsborough hats; why, they are full of charm, and if properly groupes, such a picture would make a great sensation.”

Thomson’s favourite period for women’s dress was the 18th century, and perhaps the early 19th (which you can see in other posts here and here) He had come to admire contemporary fashion almost as much. See some pictures of the Row later.

Below, a pair of fashionable young women cast a sidelong glance at an older lady walking a tiny dog.

Crossing at Piccadilly Circus

 

Below, another pair in fashionable outfits at the front of the crowd at a popular exhibition.(No timed entry in those days by the looks of it.)

At the Royal Academy

Another good spot for seeing the latest trends was Regent Street. This group are crowded around the windows of one of the high class establishments. (Compare it with one of the pictures featuring Regent Street in this post about Yoshio Markino.)

I wonder what the woman at the rear of the group is looking at? Something going on in a first floor window?

In Regent Street - Copy

I originally intended, as I have with other travel books, to  quote relevant passages from the text. But although the Royal Academy picture is placed in a section on London galleries, the author doesn’t mention it at all. You get the impression that author and artist weren’t exactly working closely together. Thomson seems to have followed his own interests in selecting subjects. Literary London was clearly one of those.

In the Charing Cross Road

A group of book fanatics are clustered around a shop in the Charing Cross Road, the southern end I think, opposite Leicester Square station. Charing Cross Road was one of the first places I visited regularly when I came to live in London and apart from the clothes this scene is quite recognizable. I can pinpoint it almost exactly in my memory.  Of course in 1973 very few young women had to gather up their skirts to get past a gathering of enthusiasts.

Male book lovers are also in the majority in this picture of a railway bookstall.

A Railway Bookstall

The lone woman looks on as if faintly amused by the concentration of the book-buyers. The bookstall was one of the key features of a large station. Literacy had increased in the last decades of the 19th century and the appetite for literature, high and low, had grown enormously. Even today, nothing beats a book for whiling away the time on a train journey whether short or long. Thomson continues his look at London’s readers in one of the circulating libraries.

Mudie's

At Mudie’s, one of the leading subscription libraries the female customers seem to be in the majority, examining the latest titles and discussing the finer points of modern literature. A messenger boy is carrying two armfuls of books, coming in or going out and a gentleman is looking at a set of books – a four volume novel? In the background a library assistant ascends a rolling set of steps in search of some particular volume.

Thomson also covered some staider pursuits, such as al fresco dining in Kensington Gardens.

Tea in Kensington Gardens

A little further east in Hyde Park things were a little more athletic.

Rotten Row 2

The woman in the foreground seems quite determined to avoid the attentions of the man raising his hat. Perhaps she’s in a race with her friend, whose horse is also galloping. The dark coloured horse seems as determined as his rider. Perhaps he wants to attract the attention of the filly.

Of course, for others, the horse is just a comfortable place to sit while engaged in polite conversation.

Rotten Row

Conversation could also be had indoors. The busy establishment below is one of the tea rooms of the Aerated Bread Company. The name comes from the industrialized baking process developed in the 1860s as an alternative to fermentation with yeast. The Company opened a chain of tea rooms second only in size to J Lyons. These were know as places where respectable women could go by themselves or in groups without any men to accompany them. Although there are plenty in this picture

An aerated bread shop

 

The ABC tearooms, according to Wikipedia, have made many appearances in literature from Dracula to Agatha Christie. The name survived as far as the 1980s. (I can remember a baker’s shop bearing the name in the 1970s, on Camden Road.)

The family in the first picture could always of course have taken the bus. This driver looks like an obliging fellow, ready for a casual chat with his passengers on the upper deck.

Bus Driver

Downstairs the conductor is collecting fares. He signals the number of coins required to the old gentleman groping for change in his deep pocket.

Inside

Meanwhile a book-loving lady is opening her purse, her latest purchases (or loans) wrapped up neatly on her lap.

The bus might be crowded but it would get you home in style.

At the end of a long day, getting home again might be the best part. This Bank Holiday couple look exhausted after their day’s outing.

The return, Bank Holiday

Thomson does what he does best – catching nuances of expression and details of clothing. You can easily imagine this couple’s life, he a clerk in the City, she at home with their daughter in their first home together, part of an emerging lower middle class engaging in new leisure activities, wearing their Sunday best.

They make me feel tired, so I’ll put my feet up now and look forward to the next Thomson post which will be in a couple of weeks or so and will take us back to the same era as the first Thomson book I wrote about.

Postscript

I’ve looked at a few other examples of Thomson’s work in the Highways and Byways series. The volume on Kent (1907) is typical. The drawings are much sketchier than his London pictures, and much more concerned with depicting the rural settings. Thomson was at heart a country boy, and a lover of rural scenes. The London pictures are more in line with his work for novels and plays, of which we have seen many, and hope to see more.

Now as soon as I wrote those words I thought I’d better check some others, other than Kent. F L Griggs did some on his own but Thomson often worked with other artists such as Joseph Penniel. In the North Wales (1893) and Devon and Cornwall (1897) volumes I found a few character based illustrations. So here’s a bonus picture from the Devon and Cornwall volume, depicting a rare move into the realm of the fantastic with a folk tale about a man who encounters a mermaid on the beach.

H and B in Devon and Cornwall p276

Thomson did a few fairy tale books in his career. Perhaps he should have done more.

 


Gapp’s Stores: a retail empire – 1950

Now that we’re able to do new scanning properly again I wanted to show you a recent addition to our collection donated  by a gentleman who used to work for a chain of grocer’s shops in west London called Gapp’s Stores. Gapp’s began in 1869 at a shop in the Fulham Road from which they expanded across west London until there were 16 branches. These pictures which came in a small album were almost all taken in 1950. They show a form of retailing which lasted from the mid 19th century until the late 1950s and early 1960s. The donor notes that the heads of the company, John and Roland Gapp were unwilling to make the transition to self service as companies like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s had done. (Last week I included a picture showing a branch of Waitrose in Gloucester Road which closed in 1989. I’ve just found out that this was in fact their first branch after their original shop in Acton.  It opened in 1913)

So these images are a record of the way shopping was done, and how small retailers looked for most of the 20th century.

Gapp's store 50 Fulham Road

50 Fulham Road is opposite Sydney Street. You can just see the sign for Sydney Mews, an obscure, nearly hidden area behind Fulham Road and Onslow Square. The store now forms part of a bar called PJs.

Gapp's store 177 Fulham Road 02

177 Fulham Road, despite the contrast in the numbers,  is actually opposite number 50, on the corner of Sydney Street. (The address on the shop front, 4 Sydney Terrace was  a hangover from the days when small sections of a long street would have their own name. By the time of the photograph the sign would have been a quaint old feature.) It’s now occupied by the  Amanda Wakeley bridal shop.

Here’s the view from the other side:

Gapp's store 177 Fulham Road

Gapp’s specialised in wines, spirits and all kinds of bottled drinks as you can tell from the window dispaly. You can also see the reflection of the other side of the street in the window, including the small greenhouse like building which is still there, and is now a florist.

We won’t stay in the Borough on this retail tour, but this location is definitely in our territory: 194-196 Earls Court Road.

Gapp's store 194-196 Earl Court Road

See how carefully the goods are displayed in painstakingly constructed piles. Another view of the same shop (at what must be a different date) is reminiscent of the Ernest Milner photographs from nearly 50 years before. (The Gapp’s store was at 136 in 1904 – there  was a re-numbering later).

Gapp's store 194-196 Earl Court Road 02

Our next stop is Lillie Road.

Gapp's store 88 Lillie Road

Gapp’s made  Lillie Road  (88-90) the location of its head office. They also had a warehouse there for dried fruit and tea. The shop is signed as a wine merchants. Our donation also contained various pieces of wine related ephemera.

Gapp's wine list - Copy

As you can see, by 1905 Gapp’s already had quite a few stores. By 1950 more had been added as they ventured outwards.

Gapp's store 1 Goldhawk Road Shepherds Bush

Goldhawk Road, Shepherd’s Bush.

Gapp's store 13-15 Jerdan Place Walham Green

13-15 Jerdan Place, Walham Green.

Gapp's store 52 The Broadway Ealing

52 The Broadway, Ealing. (Some nice pillars there.) And on into the suburbs.

 

Gapp's store 2 Ethorpe Crescent Gerrards Cross

2, Ethorpe Crescent, Gerrards Cross.

Gapp's store 155 Thornbury Road Osterley

155 Thornbury Road, Osterley. I haven’t covered them all but you get the idea. Gapp’s seems to have reached a kind of peak in the days of rationing and austerity when the strict virtues of a tightly run shop chimed with the expectations of customers. In the 1960s the company was sold to William Perry Ltd, a subsidiary of John Harvey of Bristol who needed licensed premises. And that was the story of Gapp’s.

But before we go, a picture from 1956, back at the Fulham Road branch with a special promotion for Schweppe’s.

Gapp's store 177 Fulham Road May 1956 Schweppe's window

Not so much of the hard sell. Just a suggestion.

Gapp's Christmas List 1937 - Copy

Postscript

My thanks to Mr Richard Browne.

On an unrelated matter I have to say goodbye to an old friend, but not a person.

DSC_6571

This Epson scanner was here at Kensington  when I was still at Chelsea. It has served through a number of digitisation projects and since I got my hands on it it has scanned hundreds, if not thousands of images. It would not be going too far to say it taught me about the wonders of scanning details close up. It was also responsible for most of the images on this blog and introduced the world to the street photography of Edward Linley Sambourne among many other historical images. It has even survived a minor flood. It couldn’t however survive the march of progress. A way was found to make it work with Windows 7 but it was going to be very unlikely for us to find a driver for it which would work with Windows 10 when we go over to that later this year, so when the computer it was attached to expired its time had come. We’re currently using a smaller but snazzier scanner to keep the work going. But thank you to a venerable piece of kit.

I refer you to the Grandaddy song “I’m on standby”.


Gloucester Road – gateway to London

Last week at Notting Hill Gate I looked at one of the deepest layers of my personal archaeology of London. This time I’m going to begin at an even deeper level.When I first came to London in 1973 I lived in Camden. But most Sundays I would get the tube from Camden Town to Gloucester Road, walk south to Old Brompton Road, turn left into Roland Gardens which took me to Evelyn Gardens where Imperial College had some halls of residence. My friend Carl lived there. Some Sundays we would just hang out, sometimes we would go and have a meal at a cafe in the Earls Court Road and sometimes we would begin to explore London.

I wasn’t the first person to start out with London from Gloucester Road. It’s still a place full of hotels,  tourists and coaches, people with trolleys puzzling over the tube map and the rules for using Oyster cards, tour buses getting in the way of the 49. And plenty of people not quite sure why they are starting out their journeys from this particular ordinary street.

Back in 1969 when you left the station, this is what you saw on the other side of the road:

Gloucester Road - east side KS 357075-73

Individual retailers mostly, still operating in a time-honoured fashion (note the delivery bike.)

Gloucester Road - east side, 83-81 KS 3571

The shops are under a 19th century terrace.

Gloucester Road - east side, 85 KS 3573

The Empire Grill, now home of Burger King, and a couple of old friends:

Gloucester Road - east side, 95-93 KS 3574

The Wimpy Bar, home of the UK’s own brand of hamburger, (waitress service and individually cooked burgers), now part of a branch of Tesco, and the Midland Bank, later part of HSBC.

If you were to turn around you could see another familiar building, Bailey’s Hotel.

Gloucester Road 140 Baileys Hotel KE75-36

But this week we won’t confine ourselves to living memory. Turn the dial back further:

 

Gloucester Road Baileys Hotel PC456

The old version of the building – it was owned by James Bailey and was at the time one of the best hotels in London, with many “American” features including an “ascending room” (lift). In 1890 it had over 300 apartments. Some of the spectacular internal features survive today.

The structure on the island opposite the station is an air vent for the railway

Further south down the road you come to this pleasant looking house opposite Hereford Square. I must have walked past it hundreds of times before I found that J M Barrie lived there. It has no blue plaque. That was taken by his house in Bayswater. But this was the house where he wrote some of his early successes, Quality Street and the Admirable Crichton.

 

Gloucester Road 133 J M Barrie

This stretch of Gloucester Road has houses and flats in the same scale, low-level, almost suburban. The mix of styles is probably to do with postwar development. There was some bomb damage in the area so the buildings have a charming individual quality. We’re coming to the end of the road at this point and I’m not going to take you along the rest of my 1970s route. We’re going back to the intersection with Cromwell Road. You won’t find this building there today. This is how the corner with Cromwell Road appeared in the 1930s.

Gloucester Road 118 1920s30s K4611B - Copy

Later, in 1969 you can see that entrance on the right of this picture:

 

Gloucester Road looking south from Cromwell Road dec 1969 - Copy

The grand entrance remained but there was no longer a bank on the site.

North from Cromwell Road, the buildings on either side of the road grow taller, even in the earlier days of the street.

Gloucester Road PC505 fp - Copy

This picture obviously comes from a quieter period for traffic. That street sweeper would not be standing there in later years. If you look in the distance as the road curves can you see this building?

Gloucester Court

St George’s Court, an apartment block built in 1907-09.  Here it is in another postcard:

St George's Court Gloucester Road

The ornate apartment block with its shops surmounted by small roof gardens is still there today of course.  Having already looked at the Survey of London for information on Bailey’s Hotel I naturally turned to them for some details on St George’s Court and they have done us proud again:  “This hefty building..is in one of the dowdier styles of Edwardian architecture, mixing elements  of Tudor and Baroque. red brick and brown stone dressings”.  Words I could not argue with, although I still like to look at it while passing by on the upper deck of a 49.

Arguably a more interesting block than on the opposite side of the road where there have been a few changes.

00014 - Copy (2)

A branch of Waitrose, 1970s, but I’m not sure of the exact date.

00013 - Copy (2)

And a couple of flash cars. These two pictures are from a contact sheet. It almost looks as though the photographer was on the move at the time.

As we come to another curve in the road and the end of Gloucester Road, this postcard image of a recognizable corner predates St George’s Court.

PC108 - Copy

This slightly blurred image is further north but shows the end of the road with a man running towards it for some reason best known to himself.

Pc511 - Copy

Finally, as we’ve bobbed about through the years this week, let’s go back to one of my favourite artists, William Cowen for a Gloucester Road view before the age of photography when a narrow road which was still called Gloucester Road ran through a rural setting.

 

C23 Mr Rigby's cottage

Mr Rigby’s cottage, near the station.

Postscript

It’s week eight of the great scanning famine (possibly the last week, fingers crossed) but I’m still finding pictures. I could almost have done a whole post just on postcards, but I decided to give you a touch of everything. There may be a iteration of the secret life of postcards coming up soon. I’ve just acquired an illustrated book by High Thomson, so if I can only scan the pictures, you can expect another post about him. It’s nearly time for some holiday posts.

In another postscript I referred to the fact that my friend Carl died quite young in 1999 but that I didn’t find out until quite recently. Writing this made me think of him again, our early days in London and the things he missed by never seeing this century. So I hope you’ll forgive me for dedicating a post once again to my friend Carl Spencer.


Redevelopment: Notting Hill Gate 1958-60

The main drag at Notting Hill Gate is probably not one of the most architecturally distinguished parts of London. The north side of the road, west of Pembridge Road is a plain row of shops with the  incongruously tall Campden Hill Towers at the centre. But the pavements are pleasantly  wide and uncrowded most of the time and I like the convenience of having three small versions of well known supermarkets close to each other. In the past there were other useful branches of chains such as WH Smiths and Timothy Whites (remember them? My wife and I bought several kitchen items there which lasted us for years.). The south side of the street between the Gate Cinema and Kensington Church Street is possibly even less distinguished and hasn’t aged well. But that wide sunny road takes you to the West End and Pembridge Road takes you to Portobello Road. When I came to London in the 1970s it was one of the first places I added to my mental map of the city and I retain a certain affection for it. I’ve never known any other version.

Notting Hill Gate north side 92-164 1963 K63-1077

Of course now I know what it used to look like in the late 19th century and the early 20th, a classic Victorian/Edwardian high street.

This was it in 1956 looking west. The Midland Bank visible in the centre was on the corner with Pembridge Road where Jamie Oliver’s establishment now sits.

Notting Hill Gate 76-100 looking west 1956 K2454B

The Central line station was still above ground then and was little changed since this view from the early years of the last century.

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367This picture, from 1958 shows the south side of the road where the District and Circle line entrance was.

 

Notting Hill Gate development 1958 K4067B

The street frontage has already been stripped away to show the street behind the high street. There had been a plan to amalgamate the two stations, modernise the area,and widen the street since 1937 but this had been postponed by the war. The London Transport Executive took up the plan again in the 1950s and began buying up property from 1955.

The view below from 1957 is looking north up Kensington Church Street and shows the whole corner under demolition.

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1957 K61-211

This is a view from closer up. The two buildings on the north side of Notting Hill Gate are visible in both pictures.

Notting Hill Gate demolition October 1957 K61-213

This view is looking west. You can see the water tower in the distance and the top of the Coronet cinema.

Notting Hall Gate redevelopment 1958 K4064B

By contrast this is the view with the road partially closed. The interesting feature is the unobstructed  view of the block of flats on the right.

Notting Hill Gate Development 1958 looking east K4065B

The same is true of this picture showing the part of the street still in use. The block in question is Broadwalk Court, an art deco style building designed by Robert Atkinson and built in 1934. It’s fascinating to see it suddenly revealed when you’re used to the view being obscured by its surroundings.

Notting Hill Gate development 1958 K4066B

In the picture below you can see a sign saying District and Circle Line Entrance, but I can’t see an actual entrance. Behind the hoarding?

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1958 K4068B

The building site also attracted an artist,

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1958 from a watercolour by Mrs M Werther K61-219

This architect’s model shows the whole development. One of the interesting features are the buildings and narrow streets behind the shops and the tower, which are hidden at street level. The 18-storey residential tower block was intended to replace some of the local housing that had been lost by the demolition work.

 

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1958-61 K61-479

We have a couple of pictures which are my favourites from this set. This one shows the construction work well advanced, with a small truck ploughing through a nearly flooded street.

 

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1960 K61-466

This one is looking from the west by Ladbroke Terrace, beyond the parade of shops.
Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1959 K62-47B

 

It all looks very quiet as London sometimes does.

Postscript

It’s now week six of the great scanning famine. I’ve been using our book scanner which uses a slightly lower resolution than I normally use but you don’t see too much difference. Once again crucial information about the development came from that Bible of local history, the Survey of London


Forgotten buildings: Earls Court House and Dr Hunter’s menagerie

The manor of Earl’s Court is one of the oldest parts of Kensington. The Manorial Rolls date back to the 16th century. Even as late as the 1820s our old friend Starling’s map of Kensington shows it as a separate settlement, like Little Chelsea, Old Brompton and the cluster of dwellings near St Mary Abbots Church and Kensington Palace.

Starling 1822 A3 - Earls Court - Copy

Earls Court Lane, as Earls Court Road was called then, runs left to right joining up with Brompton Lane (You can see the fish pond in the grounds of Coleherne Court on the right). The village is surrounded by fields. Another of our old friends, William Cowen depicts  this scene of rural life in the 1840s:

002 Near Earls Court Road C19

On one side of the lane is Earls Court Farm.

Earl's Court Farm

Farm workers obligingly pose for the photographer. The building in the background is the Manor House.

The date is round about the early 1860s. Urban influences were creeping down the lane from Kensington High Street although the men in the picture seem unconcerned. The Manor House and the farm were demolished in the mid-1860s when the first Earls Court Station was built.

Across the lane there was another example of the semi-rural past, Earls Court House, which survived until 1886.

GC2408 Earls Ct Hose A4

Snug behind its wall in its tree lined garden with extensive lawns it kept the encroaching city at bay in its final years. (Look back at the map – the grounds are the plot labelled 4.1.24.The house is the long building near the lane.)

The house was built about 1772 on land purchased by Dr John Hunter. There had been another house on the site whose ornamental gardens contained fountains and a luxurious bath house. Hunter had a town house in Leicester Square where he had his medical practice. He needed a country house for his collections.

John Hunter CPic0071

Dr Hunter was famous for his work as an early trauma surgeon (gunshot wounds), his interest in venereal disease (a clinic at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital was named after him), and as an anatomist with a vast collection of animal and human specimens. He also kept live specimens in a private menagerie.

Some of the later pictures of the house make it look quite innocuous.

Earls Court House CPic413

A conventional front, and at the rear:

Earls Court House1793 CPic415 Frederick Shepherd 1875

Some harmless cows, nothing like the host of creatures who used to make their homes there. According to one of Hunter’s biographers he kept “fowls, duchs, geese, pigeons, rabbits, pigs, oppossums, hedgehogs, a jackal, a zebra, an ostritch, buffaloes, leopards, dormice, bats, snakes and birds of prey, deer, fish, frogs, leeches, eels and mussels.” And a young bull, given to him by Queen Charlotte, which he used to wrestle.

The person we call the Artist of the Red Portfolio painted a more appropriate picture.

Earls Court House 1785 RP2534

She or he has written some notes on the back of the picture about Dr Hunter and his house . “On the right of the house is the conservatory for his bees. On the right & left artificial rocks on which live eagles were chained.” Quite a sight for passers by. As you look closely the eagles become apparent, and the heraldic beasts on the roof of the house.

When I first saw this photograph I assumed the mound was an ice house or some other storage space, which it may have been at the time the picture was taken.

GC2409 Earls Ct House A4

But in Dr Hunter’s day it served a different purpose.

Earls Court House lion's den CPic413

“In the meadow at the bottom of the garden Dr Hunter kept his lions”. This mound contained excavated vaults with at least two dens. A correspondent to the Times in 1886 says “..two leopards broke loose from their confinement and …engaged in a fierce encounter with the dogs when Hunter appeared on the scene and without a moment’s reflection, seized both animals and chained them up in their cages.”  (Although he was much agitated afterwards when he realised the risk he had taken.)

The same writer (a Dr Farquarson) describes another of Dr Hunter’s exploits concerning “Byrne or O’Brian the famous Irish giant”. 

“Hunter wished to secure O’Brian for dissection and the giant naturally wished to evade the scalpel. (He) arranged that after death his remains should be enclosed in a leaden coffin and buried at sea. In compliance with his directions the undertaker engaged some men to watch the body alternately, but a bribe of £500 removed all scruples, and Hunter, placing his ghastly burden in his own carriage, conveyed it immediately to Earls-Court. Fearing a discovery should take place Hunter did not chose to risk what the ordinary method of preparing a skeleton would require. Accordingly the body was cut to pieces and the flesh separated by boiling; hence has arisen  the brown colour of the bones.”

Hunter himself died in 1793 and left his collection to the Royal College of Surgeons. His widow Anne, a distinguished figure in society in her own right stayed on in the house. She was a friend of Elizabeth Montagu, Horace Walpole, the author of the Castle of Otranto and our old friend Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney)

John Hunter's house at Earl's Court

This view shows a gentleman escorting a lady into the house. If she is showing any reluctance that may be at the prospect of seeing the item in the insert, “the copper in which the body of the Irish Giant was boiled.” Or perhaps if this picture is depicting a scene after 1832 when the house was (according to another Times correspondent Benjamin Ward Richardson) turned into “an asylum for ladies under restraint for lunacy” she is reluctant to enter for another reason.

[It’s been pointed out to me -see comment below -that the couple are facing away from the house, not going in. Perhaps they’re quietly creeping out having seen the infamous copper. The door is open – are they strolling away casually? “Just act nonchalant, we’re almost at the gate.”)

Of course, it might not have been too bad in there. Look at Mrs Bradbury’s “Establishment for the reception of ladies nervously affected.”

Earls Court house -mrs Bradbury's 02

No more wild animals under the mound. Ladies stroll around the grounds. Is that archery?

Earls Court House - Mrs Bradbury 01

Bows and arrows for the inmates? Perhaps Mrs Bradbury was sitting inside the mound in one of the cages after a sensation novel type insurrection at the establishment? Is there a Victorian novel featuring the inmates taking over the asylum?

In any case the house as it was called was eventually taken over by a Dr Gardner Hill, a comparatively enlightened reformer “of the system of the treatment of the insane.”

This picture may come from that period. A couple of gardeners pause for the photographer on the tranquil lawn.

GC2411 Earls Ct House A4

Richardson and Farquarson both mourned the passing on Earls Court House and its “absorption” into a red brick street“. As along Old Brompton Road, the houses of the semi-rural  days in Earls Court disappeared, but Dr John Hunter is still remembered many years later.

GC2410 Earls Ct House A4

Postscript

In week five of the great scanning famine I began this post thinking I was going to do a general look at the way Earls Court changed in the 19th century using some of the many postcards we have of the area. Then I found out that what I thought looked like an ice house was in fact a lions’ den so I lingered over John Hunter. I’ve told a couple of sensational anecdotes but of course Hunter was a great doctor as well as a famous eccentric.

We’ll come back to those postcards quite soon though.


My mother-in law’s flat – Milmans Street 1974

This is something like week four of the great scanning famine here at the library and I’ve been looking through the many images from our 1970s photo survey for something you’ll like. I thought I’d do a Chelsea street but this time not one filled with interesting artistic or architectural  features. More of an ordinary street, but significant for me because this is where my wife lived when we first started going out.

Milmans Street - west side, 7-12 Purcell House 1970 KS 1985

Right there, on the first foor,the windows to the right of the stairwell. And this was close to the very year my wife and her family moved into the flat, 1974. My wife, a teenager at the time, recalls spending an afternoon transporting two cats from the old flat, further along the King’s Road on the bus, followed by a walk along the embankment carrying a fish tank with goldfish sloshing around in a small amount of water at the bottom of it. (You may not need the extra detail but her family were the recipients of a number of former laboratory animals no longer needed for scientific purposes including the fish, a black and white rat and a pair of slow worms which liked to curl themselves around my wife’s fingers in a way she suspects she would no longer find charming.)

 

Milmans Street - west side, 1-6 Purcell House 1970 KS 1986

Milmans Street is an old street which went between the curve in the King’s Road and Cheyne Walk. The view looking south:

Milmans Street - looking south 1970 KS 1967

The Globe pub subsequently became the Water Rat and then a number of different eating places. Next to it was the entrance to the Moravian burial ground which I have touched on elsewhere. It is always worth mentioning that contrary to the urban legend, the Moravians were not buried standing up. But Christian the Lion was exercised there.

Milmans Street - east side, The Globe public house 1970 KS 1968

Opposite the pub in 1974 was a community centre which had previously been a police station.

 

Kings Road - south side, 387-385 1970 KS 2034

Milmans Street was the eastern edge of the Cremorne Estate, a 1950s housing development. One of the few tall blocks, Gillray House was named after a tiny adjunct to the street, Gillray Square.

Cremorne Estate - Gillray House 1970 KS 2018

Opposite that was Jean Darling House, a low-rise sheltered housing block named after a local housing officer and ARP warden who was killed in September 1940 when a bomb hit a nearby shelter. Local diarist Jo Oakman wrote “3 awful blasts from Beaufort Street – God help them…..two terrific fires shot up from the gas. More bombs till 5.40 all clear..went to help in the trouble – did stretcher work, counted poor bodies. God! What a day dawning! Peace after a night of hell but what a price! Over 41 poor dead things in that shelter including our own warden Jean Darling whose head was blown in.”  [I’ve told this story before- for more see this post]

Milmans Street - east side, Jean Darling House 1970 KS 1970

In the background the fairly new Moravian Tower (as it was called then.)

Further down the street was another block named after a feature of the area’s rural past, Chelsea Farm House.

Milmans Street - east side, Chelsea Farm House 1970 KS 1974

The original Chelsea Farm:

Chelsea Farm A0214

This was followed by a building which like the Community Centre was demolished in the 1980s

 

Milmans Street - east side, St Georges 1970 KS 1980

At the time it was a hostel for ex-prisoners and others. My prospective mother-in-law looked at it a bit dubiously but apart from the occasional noise of raised voices (and smashed bottles) there was very little trouble. That car on the right (anyone?) was certainly safe.

On the other hand it should be remembered that just at the end of the street, across the groovy King’s Road was Malcolm MacLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop SEX, something of an epicentre for the nascent punk movement. It’s probably almost forgotten now but the new punks were regarded with some animosity by the remnants of another youth tribe, the teds (was this something to do with the shop’s previous incarnation as Let it Rock?). There were some pitched battles which echoed the old rivalry between mods and rockers. My wife recalls watching from her bedroom window the following scene: a line of police vans parked in Milmans Street into which the police were roughly decanting the struggling youths. One punk was strongly resisting being deposited into a van full of teds, clamouring to be put into another van. He was ignored. My wife reports the van moving violently from side to side as the fight continued within. We sometimes forget now that punk was once regarded as a threat to civilisation.

There’s that car again.

Milmans Street - west side, 14-13 1970 KS 1983

 

At the end of the street was the last section of Cheyne Walk, the embankment and the houseboats.

Milmans Street - west side, Rear of Brennel House 1970 KS 1084

The rear of Brunel House which fronts onto Cheyne Walk. Before it was built that stretch of the street was home to many artists (you can still see some blue plaques) and picturesque views.

Milmans Street attributed to Hedderly

A picture attributed to James Hedderly showing the east side of Milmans Street but probably simply from the same period as his riverside work. [This post from 2011 the first  of several looks at the riverside with a picture of Cheyne Walk in which you can just about see where Milmans Street was.]

Milmans Street - looking north from Cheyne Walk 1970 KS 1982

This picture looks north from Cheyne Walk and dates from 1982 by which time I was a regular visitor to my future mother-in-law’s flat, the first address in Chelsea I ever slept at now I come to think of it. But not the last. Coming from a very tidy household I was pleasantly surprised to find that my girlfriend’s mother was at least as untidy as me.

Cheyne walk north side 104A, 1970 KS 1935

 

Postscript

This view, the east side has changed a little. the building on the far right is still there.In the 1980s it was said that Jack  Nicholson stayed there while he was making the Shining. That garage has been remodelled. Usually something better than a Reliant is parked there. Check it out on Google Maps and you’ll see one of a pair of remarkable cherished number plates.

 

 

 


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