Figg’s then and now (continued)

I got stuck in one small street and its environs the last time I started looking at Bill Figg’s unfinished draft for a small book on Chelsea in the “then and now” mode. This week I’m going back to that and starting on the main drag with a picture of the King’s Road.

 

 

 

The Emperor of Wyoming was a boutique (remember that word, when it was first used?) named after an instrumental on Neil Young’s first solo album. It sold what we would now call vintage Americana, mainly of course jeans, which were imported by the proprietor, Billy Murphy. This version of the shop only lasted a few years – Murphy moved to smaller premises near the World’s End. (I don’t have a picture of that shop.) Figg did a “now” picture of the building in the early 1980s.

 

 

This is one of Figg’s tentative, almost surreptitious, pictures, a little out of focus. I can remember this branch of Waitrose opening. My wife and I were impressed with how spacious it was compared to the other supermarkets in the area. I particularly recall a large display of seafood in large glass  jars. Octopus tentacles floating in brine. Despite what friends have told me, I have never enjoyed the texture of invertebrate flesh. But let’s not go any further with that.

In a previous Figg post I looked at the building next door, the Trafalgar pub, and so did Figg, in “now” mode:

 

 

(1991 I should think. An arty film called Proof was released that year.)

And before:

 

 

The pub under its original, but related name, the Lord Nelson. Note on the edges of the picture, a decorative feature on the cinema building, the Odeon at the time (Some of the decoration on the upper part of the building is still there) and on the other side a branch of Allied Carpets, a well known 70s retailer.

We’re going to move up the King’s Road, as we have before and probably will continue to do so as I explore Figg’s legacy so I have to apologise for a little repetition along the way. This picture shows the junction with Jubilee Place. The former Lloyds Bank building is still there occupied by fashion retailer LK Bennett. But the buildings east of the junction which look as though they’re still there are actually gone.

 

 

Here they are from the west.

 

 

There is the famous shop Kleptomania on the corner. You can just make out the Pheasantry on the right. Figg’s “now” pictures shows the modern development which surrounded the Pheasantry.

 

 

Featuring the bookshop Dillons, a chain which was expanding from its roots as “the university bookshop” in Gower Street near University College. The countrywide chain was eventually bought and most of the shops like this one re-branded as Waterstones

While we’re here we might as well look down Jubilee Place, a narrow street which leads down to Chelsea Green.

 

 

Note that picturesque turret feature. (the King’s Road is in the distance).

And the same view a couple of decades later.

 

Like other photographers, Figg has his favourite spots. This is the now version of one of them.

 

 

The shadowed entrance to Charles II Place and the Marks and Spencer car park, about 1990.

Formerly, the Carter Patterson goods yard, one of the remaining light industrial sites on the King’s Road.

 

 

We’ll skip the Pheasantry this time. You know what it looks like by now, and the Classic Cinema and move on to a site that Figg felt ambiguous about, the King’s Walk Mall. Before the gap seen below was filled in

Many of Figg’s photos, it must be admitted are not very good technically, or were taken in a hurry. I needed to turn down the brightness on this one to capture the name of the bookseller on the corner of the ramp down to Sainsburys and Boots.

 

 

The same shop a little earlier or later, Rock Dreams.

 

 

This is the view after the miniature mall had filled the gap.

 

 

Figg did take a picture inside the small precinct, concentrating on a metallic sculpture at the centre of the space. But when I mentioned this area in a previous post someone responded by sending me a picture which is better than Figg’s, so I’m using that one.

 

 

Figg records that the nondescript, vaguely modernist sculpture had “disappeared”. Had it? If you know where it is now let me know. Figg actually disapproved of the new mall, saying it was “too clinical for a shopping area”. Personally, although it was useful to have a Sainsburys there, I actually liked the new mall, especially when there was a branch of Virgin there. (And my son was forever dragging me down there to buy the latest game. Ridge Racer 4, anyone?)

It’s quite appropriate for the history of the King’s Road that we should start with a boutique which became a supermarket and a supermarket which became a mini-mall. A part of the trend towards the King’s Road becoming a conventional high street. Not there yet though.

Postscript

Thanks to everyone who has left comments or sent pictures adding to our collective knowledge about the King’s Road. The nature of blogging is that you sometimes have to go over old ground. I’m actually hoping for some more pictures of King’s Road shops coming soon. (Hint). The library in the Old Town Hall celebrated its 40 years in the building  this year and there is a small exhibition on there right now. 40 years is a bit like Shakespeare’s 400 year a year or so ago. 50 would be a rounder number. But we couldn’t wait for 500 years and who knows what will have happened to libraries by 2028? As it happens this is also my 40th year working in libraries. Another 10 years seems unlikely. But there’s no upper age limit on blogging.

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Mews views

We’re starting this week back with our old friend Ashburn Mews. I thought I’d dealt pretty comprehensively with that comparatively small piece of territory but I realised while looking for some pictures of mews arches that Ashburn Mews had also been looked at by the Edwardian photographer Ernest Milner who worked for the District and Piccadilly Circus Railway in the early years of the 20th century doing his own photo survey of streets under which the deep tunnel Piccadilly line was to run. You can see more of his work in this post on Brompton Road, this one on Earls Court Road and this one  on Sloane Street and Lowndes Terrace.

One of the other, humbler streets on his list was Ashburn Mews.

 

 

The entrance arch in Ashburn Place is dimly visible at the end. A man is working on a carriage. The mews streets were not used for horses and stable with dwellings on the first floor but also for other workplaces like this:

 

 

My transport correspondent tells me that there plenty of electric vehicles which ran on rechargeable batteries in this era and electric vehicles vied with petrol engine cars and buses for market domination. An electric car held the land speed record until 1900. By 1907 the London Electro Bus Company ran 20 buses in London. The company turned out to be some kind of scam rather than a serious bus company and it closed, but for a while there had been a contest which might have been won by the cleaner technology. ( For more on this subject look at this post from the always fascinating blog the Beauty of Transport).

Further down the mews some evidence of human habitation with  these clothes hanging on a line.

 

 

The arch at either end of the mews, with one main entrance and two smaller ones on either side was a frequent feature.

This one is in Egerton Gardens Mews.

 

 

Note the small sign which reads “Commit no nuisance.”

Below Clarke Brothers announce their ability to do “all kind of jobbing work”.

 

 

Many mews arches have survived into the present, like this one.

 

 

The plain looking entrance to Cornwall Mews.

A much more grand arch below.

 

 

Queen’s Gate Place Mews, looking inwards.

 

And outwards (almost as grand)

 

 

These arches are often immediately inspired by arches in the classical world. The one below. This one, Holland Park Mews is said to be influenced by the Arch of Constantine in Rome.

 

 

Unusually, the mews slopes down at both ends, both here in Holland Park (the street of that name rather than the actual park), and below at the other end (in the same street).

 

 

I’ve been looking out for them as I travel, wondering if I should do by own survey . On the  49 I pass Kynance Mews, two iterations of Stanhope Mews (east and west) and also see mewses which have either lost their arches or never had one like Reece Mews. Sometimes a Mews is just a convenient back way for pedestrians, or a useful location for film and television (from the Avengers to McMafia).

The actual reason for this post is a postcard  I recently bought on Ebay of another mews arch which like the one in Ashburn Mews no longer exists. I wanted to feature it here.

This image of Elvaston Mews shows a different style of arch, although the ground floors of these buildings have the same sets of doors, and the upper floors are living spaces with useful openings.

 

And those metal bins, perhaps for forage deliveries. You can see that Elvaston Mews crossed Elvaston Place and that there were two arches, both visible in the picture. One of them now only exists as a pair of stumps. (Try it on Street View) The arch was removed in the 1930s. It’s hard to say which arch is the survivor from this picture.

Here is that figure on the upper floor enlarged.

 

 

A boy, keeping an eye on the photographer. He can’t tell us which arch survived.

Postscript

Thanks to Councillor Sam Mackover who drew my attention to the postcard.

If your appetite for mewses is whetted, there is a book called Mews Style by Sebastian Decker  (Quiller Press 1998) which might satisfy you. I certainly found it fascinating.

Thanks also to Lucy Elliott who just came into Local Studies to ask me about Kensington Court Mews (some more interesting pictures but no arch) and told me there there are 19 mews streets in Kensington and Chelsea. Not all of them have arches of course but they’re all interesting in their own way.

 

 


Car spotting in Oxford and Cambridge (Gardens)

The content of this post arises from the use of an occasional method of mine to stimulate inspiration. Start scanning with one picture you like and keep going until a theme emerges. I don’t know if it always work.

For some reason probably to do with my teenage ideas about what London was like and my deep-seated desire to live there I was very taken with this picture.

 

 

Possibly it was because this block of “new flats”, as John Rogers calls them,  in Oxford Gardens struck me as a distinctly 1960s design, light, airy, optimistic and modern in a street dominated by 19th century suburban villas. I have a weakness for these anonymous boxes which can be found all over Europe. It looks a bit like a student hall of residence.

The old style houses have their own charms of course.

 

The mid-Victorian terrace is another trope of London living in the late 60s and early 70s. Characters in sit-coms and modern dramas lived in them. Pleasant tree lined avenues, a bit windswept, plenty of fallen leaves and a scattering of rough looking British cars.

I know I’ve already implied in the title that there’s going to be some car identification in this post (that was the “theme” which emerged) , but the truth is I’m not that strong on British cars of this era, so I’m going to have to rely on the car aficionados among my readers to do most of the actual spotting. I just know when I see something interesting.

 

 

Now that chunky two-tone monster has got to be something good. It looks like it could swallow the Hillman Imp (?) behind it, maintaining a safe distance from the big-eyed creature.

The two cars below look a little exotic.

 

 

Is that a Volvo? The sporty one I mean. The one I’m not so sure of, but that grille feature on the side looks familiar somehow. I feel I should know it.

Here’s a Cortina in Cambridge Gardens.

 

 

The fairly distinctive rear end of the Mark 1. When I was young you knew that the GB sign meant that the car had been abroad, cruising along continental roads. An Austin Something in the background.

Some of the houses look a little dilapidated, awaiting the coming tide of gentrification.

 

 

A Fiat on the right, and between the houses a glimpse of the Westway, or the Western Avenue Extention as it was sometimes referred to at the time. You can see it again here.

 

 

Some characteristic graffiti late 60s by the entrance to an access point for builders and other workers .

 

 

Above some indistinct graffiti you can see a sign for Laing, the giant construction company which built the Westway. We used some pictures which originated with the company in a few earlier posts. (A typical one) We have many more, and may come back to them again this year.

But back to cars. Here’s a crowd of them, further down the road.

 

 

Is that a Triumph in the foreground? A line of parked cars back in 1969/1970/1971  is always interesting, to me at least. In recent times parked vehicles have become an obstruction for the wandering photographer, as I’ve found many times when looking for equivalent scenes to the ones in our photo survey.

There are other sights from the era , such as this low-slung light industrial building, which is still there today.

 

 

Or of course the occasional pedestrian.

 

 

A different Cortina, with some pedestrians worth zooming in on.

 

 

Despite the unlikeliness of one of these people seeing this post, such things have happened, so if one of them is you , or you know who they are, please leave a comment. In any set of photos there are always people you wonder about. That also applies to the cars. In one of my recent posts about Kensal Road, a reader spotted his father’s Studebaker, which I found very pleasing.

Finally, back to where we started. The “new flats”, which are not so new these days but do look more colourful in this century.

 

 

And another line of cars for identification.

 

I’ve jumped about this week so sorry for that and also for giving out identification work and expecting wiser heads to fill in the gaps in my knowledge but as is often the case, the cars stick out for me when looking at pictures from this era. On the subject of cars here is another question. I think I’ve mentioned before that around the late 1970s, somewhere off Dalgarno Gardens (I think) there was a small street which was filled with old Jaguars, which must have been someone’s collection. Does anyone remember this, or are there any photographs? I’m sure I haven’t imagined it.

 

Obituary Postscript

Having had nothing to report at the end of the last post in the way of the deaths of people I liked, since the last post a fortnight ago  (I gave myself Easter off as I was mostly at home) we have had two deaths in the world of crime fiction.

Philip Kerr was the author of many books but is mainly remembered for the Bernie Gunther series, following a Berlin detective through WW2 and into the Cold war. Although he lived far from the usual haunts of hard boiled detectives, Gunther was a true noir character (although far more ambiguous in his moral code than any Chandler or Hammett hero). If you haven’t read any of the books, I envy you because you now have the chance to read them in chronological order – one of the challenges for Gunter fans was where and when Gunter would start each story. (I see there is some disagreement on this point though, so follow your own instincts) Kerr also wrote three entertaining thrillers in which a football manager solved crimes, surely a first for the genre. His death at what I consider to be a young age is a great loss.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Stephen Bochco, writer, producer and showrunner of many American television crime shows has also passed away. Hill Street Blues was a genuinely innovative show which has influenced a huge number of TV programmes in many genres over the years, and I remember watching each episode avidly in the days before binge-watching. For me and others his masterpiece is NYPD Blue, 12 seasons of police work in one New York precinct in the 1990s, when New York’s mean streets were very mean. It was fascinating to watch the secondary lead character, Detective Andy Sipowicz, become the hero as he made a journey from personal disasters and tragedies to some kind of redemption, contending with his own shortcomings as well as major and minor crimes.

Be careful out there.


Crooked usage, and other tales of then and now

This week’s post started as a straight borrowing of one of Bill Figg’s book ideas, left behind in a loose leaf folder of photographs showing the same location at different times. We did the same sort of thing on our Virtual Museum project a few years ago. It’s a durable idea and worth repeating. Of course the complication is that Figg’s “now” is the early 1990s.  So really it’s “then and then”. But I can live with that if you can.

This is view in Cale Street, further north from the workhouse (see this post)  showing the northern side of St Luke’s Hospital, another little photographed building. (Actually, ever since I said that I had seen very few pictures of the workhouse i keep coming across them.)

 

 

Figg refers to this as the Crooked Usage entrance. It’s not certain that he took many of the “then” pictures, which accounts for the relatively poor quality of some of them. Photographs of photographs basically.

His modern picture, taken in 1993,  is not perfectly aligned because the fire escape you see in the middle is part of the former Chelsea Women’s Hospital, which is still there today, but that’s the point of “now” pictures.

 

 

Now, about that term Crooked Usage.At first I wondered if it was just a bit of local folklore, which Figg knew plenty about. Was that a real street name, for what appeared to be just an obscure entrance? Well, no. I did a bit of digging  and it seemed that not only was it real, but that it had been the subject of correspondence in the Star newspaper (not the current one) in 1920. A man named J Landfear Lucas, who perused the “stationery office’s list of streets” by way of amusement posed the question of what the name meant. An anonymous correspondent from Broadstairs called simply Student replied that “usage” was a term applied to the strips of common land or paths which ran between private plots of cultivated land which were used by all. “A crooked usage would be one such strip which departed from the usual straight line.

Here is a detail from the 1862 OS map showing Crooked usage, midway between Robert (Sydney) Street and Arthur (Dovehouse Street)

 

 

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? As the Antiquary notes in 1907: “How this singularly inappropriate name came to be assigned to this street must ever remain a mystery and can only be regarded as the outcome of purely poetic fancy, untrammeled by any regard for prosaic fact. It runs in as straight a line as any tie-square could make it and , except by a stray cat or two, appears to be entirely unused. There do not appear to be any house in it, and the London directory knows it not.” Or to put it another way, Crooked Usage is more or less straight and not really crooked.

And it does look to me as though there were some houses. Look at this further detail.

 

 

There, opposite the grounds of St Wilfred’s Convent is the pleasant sounding Elm Cottage, home of John Adams, one of the subscribers to Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. It looks like a nice spot to live as well, as do many of the lone properties marked on the maps of this period and earlier. (Sadly, no pictures appear to have survived. I imagine it being like some of the small houses I’ve looked at in posts about Old Brompton. Look at this one for an example.)

Crooked Usage is no longer on the map. But here it is today.

 

 

It’s either the access road going down between the two hospital buildings, (the Royal Brompton and the former Chelsea Hospital for Women) or the driveway in front of the BOC tanks. It must have survived for some time though. St Luke’s Infirmary and Chelsea Women’s co-existed as separate institutions for many years.

We must now follow Cale Street to another odd feature of Chelsea history. This postcard is captioned Sutton Dwellings but what Figg wanted to show was the area known as Chelsea Common with, as he says in his notes, “not a blade of grass” visible.

 

 

In later years estate agents and some local residents made much of the tiny patch of land’s status as a common. There was once “an ample expanse of field and woodland” between the King’s Road and the Fulham Road which was enclosed in 1674 to raise parish funds and thrown open again in 1695. (According to Richard Edmonds in his useful 1956 book Chelsea: from the Five Fields to the World’s End)

Famously, one eccentric resident,  sadly no longer with us, announced her intention of buying  a goat to graze on the common, as was her right. Although even at the time there wouldn’t have been much room.

 

 

Although it must be admitted it’s a much nicer spot these days. It has also been called Chelsea Green in its day but that is also quite an ambitious name.

Still on the common, we turn back to Dovehouse Street. This picture, according to Figg, is from 1950.

 

 

It’s hard to recognise now, but this is the junction of Dovehouse Street with South Parade and the taller buildings in the background still form part of the rear of the  old Brompton Hospital. This more modern view makes it clearer.

 

 

The west side of Dovehouse Street has been almost completely redeveloped.

 

 

E J Magrie and Sons, General Smiths, was located near the King’s Road end.

A 1990s view shows part of the fire station and the 1960s building next to it.

 

 

Below, from this point Figg was able to take a picture across the car park hospital, showing one section of the new building and the elegant tower of St Luke’s Church beyond it.

 

 

 

He couldn’t quite find the right spot to match this earlier picture.

 

 

An overgrown garden or patch of waste ground waiting for its future role.

Finally a “then”picture with no corresponding “now.”

 

 

This is a view from South Parade some time after WW2 showing an open space, looking across at Chelsea Women’s. The raised garden area in the foreground must have been mostly paved over to make the stepped feature so familiar today to local residents. To complete this part of Figg’s job, I went down there to try and take a matching photograph.

 

 

Could that be the same tree? Possibly. That’s my shopping in the foreground by the way, and I’m standing close to the top of Chelsea Square. My son pointed out to me that the garden portion of the square is also now known as Chelsea Common. Chelsea seems to be prone to this sort of thing. Chelsea Cross, Chelsea Triangle (in which land vehicles disappear?). Perhaps the Chelsea Pentagram will be next.

 

Postscript

There will be more then and now courtesy of Mr Figg in the near future. (We haven’t even finished with Dovehouse Street) In the course of my walk I also spotted one of his  Hidden Chelsea / building details which may also form the basis of a future post.

None of my musical or literary heroes heroes have died this week so let’s spare a thought for Sudan,the last male northern white rhino, the so called gentle giant. Survived by his daughter and grand-daughter. He was born in Africa, lived part of his life in a European zoo but eventually returned to his homeland and died in Kenya this week. His frozen seed may one day revive his species.

 


A King’s Road Classic

I had something different in mind for the blog this week but on Monday evening I saw a picture tweeted by one of the people I follow (sorry I think I know who but as is often the way  I couldn’t find the tweet again) showing the demolition site of the Cinema on the corner of the King’s Road and Old Church Street. We’d glimpsed the work in progress already but yesterday my wife and I went down there so I could take a couple of snaps on my phone (in case I never got around to paying a formal visit with the Local Studies camera).  With the mid-morning traffic and the passers by, conditions weren’t ideal for making a historical record but here are a couple of them anyway.

 

 

I like to take a look whenever a prominent building is demolished, not from a love of demolition sites (although I do like those) but because demolition reveals the backs of other familiar buildings and views you’ve never seen before.

 

 

Behind the boards a mechanical digger chewed at brickwork like a large animal stripping a tree.

 

 

The site is pretty large of course. The cinemas of our collective memories were often huge. Look at this blank wall from the 1970s, well before shops colonised part of this frontage.

 

 

Cinemas are known for changing of course. One screen becomes several as the grand auditoriums shrink. Names change frequently. This cinema has been known by a confusing variety of names in its time, some of which I’ll mention here, some of which I’ll miss. But I do have a few pictures. (And let me apologise if I’ve used some of them before, even recently, but it’s good to get the pictures all in one post.) When I first lived in Chelsea I knew it as the Classic (I was used to the notion that every city had a Classic, an ABC, and an Odeon), but that wasn’t its first name.

According to a reliable source, it opened in 1910 as the Palaseum, then became the Kings (1911) and the Ritz (1943).

In 1949 it became the Essoldo. Here it is under that name.

 

 

What was on that week? Well I can’t help this close up.

 

“Can Hieronymous Merkin ever forget Mercy Humpe and find true happiness?” was a vehicle for writer/director/star Anthony Newley (“What kind of fool am I…….?”), featuring Joan Collins and even Bruce Forsyth. Now forgotten, perhaps mercifully.

Later (1972) the Essoldo  became the Curzon, showing an Oscar winning film in “continuous performance”.

 

 

But the Curzon didn’t last long. Here it is as the King’s Road Theatre, home of the stage version of the Rocky Horror Show, about 1973.

 

 

And here in colour, on a rainy day.

 

 

It wasn’t until 1980 that it actually became a Classic, with four screens as in the picture below. But it also served as a Cannon and an MGM, as it is in the picture.

 

 

The King’s Road frontage was now given over to shops, like Mr Light and is that a Europa, or a Cullens, which were there before the Tesco Metro? (They’re all gone now.)

Probably it was a Vue too. If you can remember any other names, please leave a comment.

A cinema is mainly memorable for the films you’ve seen there. I’ve been to this one a few times of course. I remember seeing the first Scream film one afternoon, and Mona Lisa, and Silence of the Lambs, all with my wife. Then a number of cartoon,s when we were joined by our son. The Lion King sticks out, but there were many others. After the cartoon period there was a time when my son and I went together to see films where lots of things exploded. (His taste for big action thrillers needs no explanation, but I always wonder if it has anything to do with the time when I took my wife, only about a week from her due date to see the original Lethal Weapon at the other local cinema, in Fulham Road). I even took him to his first 18 film, Blade 2 at this very cinema. (He was not far off 18, I would have said at the time, if I’d been asked) Children grow up fast so the father-son visits only occupied a short period of time, and I admit that the last time we went to a film together it was at the multi-screen place at Fulham Broadway, so I can’t claim to have been a faithful supporter of any particular cinema. And I hardly go at all now, like many of my contemporaries, so it would hardly be fair for me to complain that this building has gone. But it is still worth marking its passing.

I don’t know what will come next for this site. A researcher I met last year told me that there may well be a new cinema on the site as part of the development, but let’s wait and see.

Back to the beginning, a picture I had quite forgotten about until I found it this morning.

 

 

The Kings Picture Playhouse in the early years of another century.  And here a ticket from the not so cheap seats.

 

Finally, a reminder of another Chelsea cinema.

 

The Odeon, formerly the Gaumont, now Habitat, and the Chelsea Cinema.

 

Postscript

While we were out on Tuesday, we also stopped to take a look at the site of another absent building, the former old people’s home in Dovehouse Street, which was built on the site of Chelsea Workhouse, which we saw last week. My wife had unpleasant memories of the building – as a Brownie she and her  pack had once trailed through a series of depressing rooms there singing Christmas carols to residents.

 

 

Another postscript

I normally only mention the deaths of famous people if I feel I have some connection with their work, which is why I have mostly noted the passing of musicians or authors. It was sad to hear of the death of Professor Stephen Hawking  but I can’t claim to have been particularly interested in his work (apart from his occasional appearances in Big Bang Theory). I was once waiting for the lift in the basement of Chelsea Library, back in the 1990s or early 2000s. The lift opened and there he was, with a small entourage, on his way I assumed to attend a wedding in the Register Office. Not a little dumbfounded by the sudden appearance of a famous person, I stepped silently to the side and allowed his group to pass, briefly perhaps sharing eye contact. That’s all there is to my Stephen Hawking story. May he rest in peace.

And Ken Dodd. No fleeting memories there but I do remember his radio show from the 1960s. What a wonderful day for publishing a new blog post.


Figg’s Chelsea

This is another post devoted to the work of JW (Bill) Figg, skating through some of his regular themes and obsessions. Figg liked particular streets (the King’s Road as you’ve already seen, but other less obvious ones like Dovehouse and Sydney Streets), particular buildings and particular details in streets and alleys. We’ll look at some examples of all these in today’s post, starting with a bit of a scoop, at least as far as I was concerned.

The Chelsea Workhouse in Dovehouse Street was an institution I’d read about and seen as a detail in pictures of a larger area but the first time I saw a picture of the entrance was among Figg’s pictures.

 

 

This is the main entrance in Britten Street. Dovehouse Street is on the right of the picture. Some familiar words occur to me when I see this image: “abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

This is the side of the building, with the old Chelsea Hospital for Women visible in the distance, now part of the Royal Brompton Hospital complex of buildings.

 

 

The original workshop was laid out in the 1730s and expanded several times in the 19th century. In the 1920s it became the Chelsea Institution, a presumably less punitive place to stay. The building was demolished in the 1970s and replaced by an old people’s home called Kingsmead which has itself been demolished in the last year.

Moving along Britten Street to Sydney Street you come to a small row of houses which have survived all the building upheavals around them.

 

 

Figg took more than one picture of this block. In this colour image (1980s?) you can see the highly decorated Britten Street part of the corner building.

The next picture is also in the vicinity.


 

A view into the garden of the St Wilfred’s Convent building. This became part of the hospital complex in 1968.

Figg was a lover of the small details that can be found on the walls of buildings, like this sign on the old fire station.

 

 

 

Or openings and holes in, around and under buildings, like this one in Manresa Road.

 

He describes the hole as “tunnel exit college site”. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been into the tunnel

We’re moving in a southwards direction into Old Church Street. As you can see from the cow’s head at the top of the façade this was the site of an urban dairy (see this post).

 

 

You can also see that it was the home of a recording studio, Sound Techniques. Behind this unassuming frontage albums were recorded by John Cale, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, Jethro Tull, John Martyn, Pentangle, Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span and many famous names from the late 1960s / early 1970s. You can find out more here.

Those names set me thinking of the Chelsea Pageant pictures including one in this post . But that’s probably just a personal flight of fancy.

Not too far away was an example of what are now called ghost signs, remnants of old businesses who have left faded signs on walls.

 

 

This picture was taken by Figg when the site on the corner of Oakley Street and Cheyne Walk was being cleared for the construction of Pier House, a large residential block down by the river. (Figg was also obsessed with the statue outside it, Boy with Dolphin, but we’ll leave that for another day.)

From one wall you can’t see any more to another.

 

 

This is Crosby Hall, the City of London building transplanted to Chelsea in the 1920s,  before it was bought in the 1980s and converted into a private residence with a couple of wings of pastiche Tudor palace added cutting off this view.

Literally, round the corner in Beaufort Street was the Convent of Adoration Repatrice, damaged by bombs in 1940. The building was replaced by a chapel in 1985.

 

 

It now forms part of a Catholic educational establishment, Allen Hall, which is the building on the left.

We’re crossing the King’s Road again now, into another much changed street, Park Walk. Many of Figg’s pictures are unlabelled so I have a few named Unknown Street, which I may put before you in a set one of these days.

 

 

I’ve identified this one (1950s I think) as Park Walk because of the wall and pavement on the right, recognizable as Park Walk School, and the Globe pub visible in the distance. (see one of my first Figg posts). The left side of the street up to the back of the former Man in the Moon pub also visible has been completely redeveloped.

By contrast the view in the picture below, looking north up Limerston Street is virtually intact. But the Sporting Page pub was called the Odell Arms, a fact which pleases me because of its coincidental connection with a cuddly octopus. (If you like that sort of thing)

 

 

We’ve been a little short of people this week so here is literally a bunch of them in nearby Hobury Street.

 

 

Finally, another Figg obsession: bomb camage.

 

 

This shows Cadogan Gardens after an IRA bomb. I’m not sure of the date to be honest. My wife remembers seeing bomb damage in Chelsea on her way to school on one occasion at least but neither of us could pin this down to a particular year. Perhaps someone could help with that?

Postscript

I’m a bit late posting this week. Too much of my proper work to do, and a bit of an upheaval in the archive rooms. But Figg is worth waiting for, I think. I’ll  do a few more of these random selections in the coming months, and definitely think about showing you some as yet unidentified locations.


Blythe House: 1977

Now, I know what you’re going to say.

Blythe House, Dave, it’s in Hammersmith. It’s not “on the border”, it’s way beyond the border. It’s in another territory. The sheriff will be after us if we go there. Well, bear with me, see if I can work something out. I saw Blythe House the other day on TV, in “Hard Sun”, I think. They showed that gate through which a large metal sculpture of a face is visible. Spotting locations is the curse of watching television in our house, whether it’s the London we know or the New York we think we know from years of virtual travel. Blythe House has been a frequent location on film and TV so although you might never have heard the name, you’ve almost certainly seen the place, from the outside, and maybe inside as well.

 

 

As had urban explorer Bernard Selwyn, who left us a large set of photographs dated 1977 when the building was nearly empty and he seemed to have the run of the place. I always knew I was going to use them on the blog one day, and that’s today. The Selwyn Collection, a valuable source for the visual history of west London, knows no borders, so this week let’s take our chances and steal away from our usual haunts.

 

 

Just gimme the facts, ma’am: Blythe House was the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank (the forerunner of National Savings and Investment), founded in 1861. Blythe House was built between 1899 and 1903 and has all the hallmarks of a grand Edwardian public institution with a certain amount of municipal shock and awe in its appearance.

At its height about 4000 people worked there. The headquarters of the bank moved to Glasgow in the early 1960s and the Blythe House office were run down, finally being emptied out in the late 1970s.

There is still a sorting office in the building though and you can see some Royal Mail vans below.

 

I’m not sure whether Selwyn took all these picture himself or whether he acquired them from one of his sources, but they are a thorough collection, not merely the visible exterior but the roof as well.

 

 

Some pretty impressive vistas from there.

But bear this notice in mind when wondering around.

 

 

Especially if looking over the edge.

Either at the courtyards below

 

Or the other block (built in the 1920s), visible here.

 

 

Or the chimney (at one time the building had its own power station).

 

 

The impression is that you’re looking at a small self-contained city, like a little Gormenghast, with its own great halls and hidden districts.

The streets below seem very distant.

 

 

Inside, the staff were beavering away.

Is it me, or does this look like a bit of a skeleton staff?

 

 

The publicity department, I believe. (Some displays and posters are visible at the back.)

In Dickensian office tradition there were ledger rooms.

 

 

The amount of stationery on view shows how it was before IT reached the office. It makes me remember how long libraries lasted without a PC on every desk.

Now, paper systems look antiquated and clumsy (although I speak as someone who has frequent recourse to card catalogues, filing cabinets, scrapbooks etc in my work, so the days of manual retrieval of information have not gone yet.)

Below, one of the “small offices” has been tastefully decorated and turned into a nest for its inhabitants.

 

 

The woman with her back to us is wearing a dress with a characteristic 70s geometric design.

But by 1977 the building was sparsely populated. Many empty desks and work stations.

 

 

Some rooms were even deserted at his point, showing off the large spaces supported by pillars, the polished wooden floors and the glazed brickwork.

 

 

I love these empty spaces in public buildings. (Remember this one?)

There is a kind of half-life in deserted places.

 

 

As if the occupants have just slipped out for a moment.

 

 

Outside, even the car park had a pastoral feel.

 

 

Blythe House is now used by the V&A, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum as an offsite storage facility. There has been talk of opening it to the public as a Museums annex, which sounds brilliant. I would certainly go. But we’ll have to wait and see. Plans come and go, and brilliant places sometimes end up closed. Who remembers the Museum of Mankind? One of my favourite places in London, now long gone.

I saw the face sculpture in person while walking past the building on my way to a house in the area.  It was an area I’d never visited before, which I couldn’t even put a name to apart from the vague term West Kensington. London is full of places you’ve never been to, which can surprise you with places like Blythe House, well known to residents but sometimes unfamiliar to strangers.

Postscript

As always when I stray across the border of Kensington and Chelsea I find myself without the back-up of the Local Studies collection when it comes to further details on the subject. So I must refer you to my colleagues at Hammersmith and Fulham Local Studies and Archives for more on Blythe House.

As a bonus this week, I’ve been thinking about the pre-IT days of libraries and here are a couple of pictures to puzzle over.

 

This shows “the chute” at Kensington Library. On busy Saturdays, so the story goes, if the chute got blocked with books, a small member of staff was sent down the hole to clear it.

And this is an early attempt to issue books by tapping into the brain waves of library staff. (Note the protective sun glasses.)

 

It isn’t, obviously. But which hair-brained issuing system was it?


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