Robinson and Shakespeare: dark humours

Back in February, in the post on Edmund Dulac’s illustrations for The Tempest, I promised a series of posts based on individual volumes in the Hodder and Stoughton series of special editions of Shakespeare plays from the first decade of the 20th century. It’s 400 years since Shakespeare’s birth, which is a round number but not especially significant. Except of course none of us are going to be around for the 500th anniversary, so we might as well make the most of the 400th. A few technical issues have interrupted my plans. However, I have now had a look at some more of the books and we can resume with a look at William Heath Robinson’s illustrations to Hodder’s 1908 edition of Twelfth Night.

Robinson is best known for his humorous pictures, children’s books, cartoons and of course the famous complicated contraptions for achieving commonplace purposes. (His name has become an adjective to describe cobbled together gadgets for all kinds of uses from the banal to the serious). Images like this:

machine-01

But there was a serious and darker side to his work.

003

Robinson has a distinctly gloomy view of Twelfth Night, or what you will (first performed in 1602) as in this view of Duke Orsino alone with his thoughts in a deserted courtyard. “So full of shapes is fancy…”

This view of the lovely Olivia, his intended, being serenaded in song is also quite dark. Olivia’s beauty is glimpsed from a distance. “O when mine eyes did see Olivia first..”

004-a1s2-duke-o-when-mine-eyes-did-see-olivia-first-p6

“If music be the food of love, play on..” The first line of the play

Robinson’s biographer, James Hamilton says “The palette Will has used…is heavily restricted. Deep blues, greens and greys predominate in the moody night scenes, except when relieved by the reds and oranges of sunset. Will’s reading of the play is overcast, and even therelatively few day scenes are in a heavily dappled or otherwise subdued light….”

005

Over the page from the Duke’ first speech he is informed by Valentine that “The element itself, till seven years’ heat, shall not behold her face at ample view: but like a cloistress she will veiled walk”. Robinson depicts that line, showing Olivia as a Gothic heroine gliding over another checkerboard floor.  The pillars are highly decorated but the colours are sombre.

Nature is equally bleak. On the the shipwrecked Viola utters the famous words: “What country, friends, is this?” before she decides to disguise herself as a boy.

006-a1s2-viola-what-country-friends-is-this-p8

Hamilton looks at a contemporary review in the TLS and describes Robinson illustrating “a stage production… rather than the action”, as below when the servant Maria introduces herself.

008-a1s3-maria-my-name-is-mary-sir-p14

But at the same time there is a fantastic element in Robinson’s pictures which take the setting right away from the stage like the one below with its soaring trees and clouds, and brighter colours. (Although you could also see the frames in front of painted scenery.)

010-a1s5-maria-yet-you-will-be-hanged-for-being-so-long-absent-p22

Robinson used an architectural frame several times in this set of pictures. Below, Feste the clown/jester, clearly Robinson’s favourite character, sits on a table amongst the glasses and jugs while one of the other cast members rests his head.

018-a2s3-sir-andrew-a-mellifluous-voice-as-i-am-true-knight-p47

Framed again, he sets to work entertaining a subdued group of guests with a song. “Come away, come away, Death.” An indistinct fountain is in the background.

019-a2s4-clown-come-away-come-away-death-p56

I, as you know, am just here for the pictures. Here is another brooding landscape. “I am slain by a fair and cruel maid.” (the same song)

020

The story of Twelfth Night is another of those comedies of confusion.Viola is shipwrecked, loses track of her brother, disguises herself as a boy, takes service with the Duke who is supposed to marry the lovely Olivia. Viola falls for the Duke, Olivia falls for Viola as a boy. This must have been endlessly entertaining for the original audience in the days when the female parts were played by men. A man acting as a woman who is pretending to be a man. So, plenty of gender tomfoolery and a love triangle. And of course the steward Malvolio gets tricked into wearing yellow cross garters to impress Olivia and making a fool of himself. Ha ha.

Here is Olivia, temporarily unveiled:

img013

“But we will draw the curtain and show you the picture”

And the disguised Viola looking uncertain what to do next.

img015

 “O time though must untangle this not I.”

Robinson seem to have seen the play as a dark sort of comedy. Below, Feste and Viola engage in banter by the side of a fountain.

024a-a3s1-clown-no-sir-i-live-by-the-church-p73

For me. Robinson is something of a cinematographer in the way he sets up “shots”. Look at this one as an example of the way he worked with light and shade and the placement of characters. Not to mention a quality of picturesque decay. (the picture above, of Viola is another example.)

025-a3s3-sebastian-i-do-remember-p87

Generally speaking he avoids the big moments in the drama. But here is Malvolio in those those famous cross garters. Is Maria containing her mirth?

026-a3s4-malvolio-sweet-lady-ho-ho-p89

And here is a lovely aerial shot as though Robinson’s camera was sneaking up on the two characters.

027-a3s4-olivia-well-come-again-tomorrow-fare-thee-well-p98

For Malvolio it all ends badly of course, even bleakly. “They here propertied me; keep me in darkness.”

029-a4s2-malvolio-they-have-here-propertied-me-keep-me-in-darkness-p119

Robinson does give us another colourful picture where again the figures are secondary to the giant urns. Olivia and Sebastian (Viola’s brother – sorry for not mentioning him so far) have married, or are about to marry. (Viola and Sebastian look quite alike it seems, causing yet more confusion.). There is a happy ending in which both couples are together and they even remember to let Malvolio out of the dark room. (Although he isn’t very grateful).

030-a4-s3-olivia-blame-not-this-hste-of-mine-p122

After which in the last section of the book Robinson devotes all the illustrations to Feste and it’s pretty much gloom till the end. Robinson was a great lover of music and performing so it’s not surprising that he should choose to illustrate a line from one of the famous songs in the play- “the rain it raineth every day”

031-a5s1-clown-for-the-rain-it-raineth-every-day-p143

Although Feste is laughing it looks more like a manic laugh than one of unrestrained merriment. But that looks positively happy compared to this picture.

032-a5s1-clown-gainst-knaves-and-thieves-men-shut-their-gate-p143

” Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gates”. It looks like we’ve wandered into King Lear.

So, although Robinson was one of the great book illustrators of his day it seems that his talents weren’t quite right for Shakespearian comedy. There are some striking images in the book, including several I haven’t space to show and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Robinson. He later did some magnificent pictures for A Midsummer Night’s Dream which better suited his sense of the fantastic. We may come to them sometime in the future. But in truth, this post has been for me a curtain raiser for some illustrations to that other cross dressing comedy, As You Like It, by this blog’s favourite illustrator Hugh Thomson. We’ll see those soon.

Postscript

This is also a chance for me to remind you about the 2016 London History Festival. Along with the 6 main events between the 14th and the 24th November we have a Shakespearian prologue on November 10th in which Benet Brandreth talks about his novel The Spy of Venice.

Our final event on November 28th is a timely talk by historian Philip Mansel on the history of Aleppo. Details at:

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/libraries/london-history-festival

and: www.londonhistoryfestival.com

I quoted from the excellent William Heath Robinson by James Hamilton (Pavilion Books 1995)

 


Earls Court days – Selwyn at home

Hogarth Road is opposite Earls Court Station. Walk up it away from the station and veer left. You’ll come to an alley called Hogarth Place. Take that and you’ll be in Kenway Road. Carry on walking and you’ll find a pedestrian way through to Cromwell Road, coming out near the Cromwell/Bupa Hospital. Cross the Cromwell Road and Marloes Road will take you to Wright’s Lane and ultimately to Kensington High Street. If you’re walking, that’s the quickest way. I’ve done it plenty of times to get from Brompton Library back to Kensington Library. I never fancy going all the way to Warwick Road to get the bus to the High Street. (They only go one way on the southern section of the Earls Court Road). So I know that bit of Hogarth Road and Hogarth Place quite well.  I hadn’t realised that this was the area our wandering surveyor Bernard Selwyn called home. He devoted a lot of time to recording building work, details of the walls and roofs  and pictures of the streets nearby from many angles.

hogarth-road-place-04-may-1984-29a

Looking down Hogarth Road and Hogarth Place in May 1984. A typical day in early summer, the people heading towards and away from the Earls Court Road.

hogarth-road-place-23-apr-1984-3a

These are unlike many of his other pictures which are purely about the buildings. These are also about the individuals on the sreets.

hogarth-road-place-15-aug-1983-28

The pictures come from 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1979. Arguably the end of what some writers have called the long 70s. Earls Court had a reputation for being a bit seedy, but also very lively.

The pre-occupations of the the shopfronts – food, flats and videos.

hogarth-road-place-15-aug-1983-30

Cars parked in every posssible spot.

hogarth-road-place-23-apr-1984-13a

Short stay hotels and hostels.

hogarth-road-place-15-aug-1983-27

Hanging around.

hogarth-road-place-aug-1975-11

Looking at noticeboards:

hogarth-road-place-aug-1975-09

Maybe a bit closer:

hogarth-road-place-aug-1975-10

More hanging around:

hogarth-road-place-11-aug-1983-33

Maybe waiting for something to happen.

hogarth-road-place-11-aug-1983-37

I love that jacked up Merc.

Selwyn lived in an upper floor flat and had access to the roof, so he could take pictures like this:

hogarth-road-place-05-aug-1979-b22a

And this (1979):

hogarth-road-place-05-aug-1979-b30a

A similar view a few years later in 1984:

hogarth-road-place-23-apr-1984-10

Life observed from a high perch.

hogarth-road-place-23-apr-1984-22

And down at ground level.

hogarth-road-place-aug-1975-04

Summer evenings at the pub.

hogarth-road-place-aug-1975-07

I think someone spotted him taking the picture. I expect people were more relaxed about that in 1979.

hogarth-road-place-aug-1975-08

Even on a wet November day he liked it.

hogarth-road-place-11-nov-1982-00

 

But it was best in the summer.

hogarth-road-place-11-aug-1983-32

Postscript

I was intending something quite different this week but that is going to take a little longer and lots of people seemed to like Selwyn’s look at Shepherd’s Bush so I moved this post forward. The late 70s and early 80s don’t seem all that long ago to me. Do you kn ow any of the people in these pictures?

Or maybe that’s not so likely. The one thing that was true about Earls Court then was that many people came there and moved on just as quickly.

Oh and if the text seems a bit slight this week, my apologies. I’m at home witha cold. But the blogging never stops.


On the border 3: Selwyn in Shepherd’s Bush, 1971

We’ve moved right over the border this week, into the Borough of Hammersmith, as it was known in 1971. These pictures are a continuation of Bernard Selwyn’s work on the post-industrial  locations near the old Latimer Road and the St Ann’s Road area. It was natural for him to cross the West Cross Route and take a look around Shepherd’s Bush Green, and quite natural for me to follow him. The borders of London boroughs are set on maps but not always so distinct in the minds of people on the ground, as our excursions into Paddington have shown. Or I could just say that I liked the pictures, and wanted to show them.

As in a previous post, the originals are colour photos in a tiny format which nevertheless have survived the forty or so years since they were taken in good condition. Here are a couple showing the roundabout between Holland Park Avenue and Shepherd’s Bush Green.

022-may-1971

A quiet moment on the roundabout.Was traffic actually this light in 1971?
021-may-1971

Above, the towers of the Edward Woods Estate, which was and is in Hammersmith, although most of the roundabout is in Kensington and Chelsea.

020-may-1971

There you glimpse a low slung car in an unflattering orange colour. I won’t ask anyone to try and identify it. And a Routemaster bus. We’ll look at that white building later.

Below, a woman in black trudges eastwards. See comment – I’ve amended her gender)

018-may-1971

Below, a better view of that foot bridge over the light stream of traffic.

013-may-1971

On the north side of the Uxbridge Road was a public house – The Mail Coach

017-may-1971

And the building beside it.

016-may-1971

In 1971 Kelly’s street directory lists it as the home of Sage CDO Ltd, an industrial holding company but it had formerly been the surviving entrance to the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. A little more on that later.

Below you can see the modest entrance to Shepherd’s Bush tube station.

014-may-1971

And, from the other side of the foot bridge, a closer look at the temporary looking structure. I’m outside my area of local knowledge here so I’d be happy for any residents of Hammersmith and Fulham to tell us how long the bridge lasted. I wouldn’t trust my personal recollections but I don’t remember it being there in the 1990s. (Later: but it was – see postscript).

003-may-1971

Below, another lone passer by on those quiet 70s streets. You can just glimpse the towers of the Sage building in the distance, truncated after their glory days.

000-may-1971

On the same side of the road was a relatively new shopping centre.

007-may-1971

Note the branch of Liptons, a now defunct supermarket chain, and some brightly decorated To Let notices on a vacant shopfront. More of those below. (The Liptons company was started by Thomas Lipton who was also the founder of the tea company of the same same. Liptons were part of a group called Allied Suppliers. Many of their stores were re-branded as Presto,a name some of you will remember. Allied merged with the UK arm of the American chain Safeway. Many former Safeway stores are now owned by Morrisons, to bring the story up to date.)

009-may-1971

A bit of a throng down there if you select the right angle as in the picture below. This secluded arrangement was typical of the period. Some Chelsea readers will remember the small enclave on the King’s Road opposite Royal Avenue where branches of Boots and Sainsbury’s sat in their own little precinct (with a piece of civic sculpture?)

011-may-1971

If we turn back towards Kensington we can now have a look behind the Sage building.

034-may-1971

As you can see, a series of large sheds extended back from the former exhibition entrance. Selwyn might have taken these pictures from his vantage point in the North Kensington residential tower block Frinstead House. He seems to have been interested in these connecting structures, which we saw in the previous On the Border post

035-may-1971

They carried on through the railway lands, leading to the exhibition site and later to the White City Stadium, which is visible below.

036-may-1971

Much of this area has been redeveloped now, and the Westfield Shopping Centre covers most of the ground up to those two redbrick buildings with sloping roofs you can see in the centre of the picture. They were engine sheds, which survive now as bus garages.

I was intrigued by the long sheds when I first saw them in Selwyn’s pictures. I’ve been told that they were used by a number of companies for a variety of purposes, as they had lots of space for displays. I think they also appear as a sinister location in Nicholas Royle’s novel the Director’s Cut. (Not quite a candidate for my Fiction in Kensington and Chelsea series of posts)

We can go back to Kensington now. Although this week’s post has taken us out of our core area of interest I felt impelled to present these pictures for you. They’re a continuation of Selwyn’s journey but also a glimpse into the full colour of 1971, on a sunny day in May when the past didn’t look quite as grim as black and white images sometimes make it appear.

Below, we can see the area at the south of Norland Road where a foot subway has cut away the end of the street. That cryptic tower structure may be some kind of access point for the infrastructure below. (The London Ring Main later passed underneath here) And those two young women dressed in white are also typical of the optimistic 70s.

033-may-1971

 

Postscript

I hope you liked our short excursion westwards. In Kensington and Chelsea we’re never far from one border or another. As with other pictures from this period, many of the buildings in the pictures are now gone. I’m looking at another Selwyn based post in the near future but that one will be well inside Kensington. Thanks once again to Maggie T.

Postscript to the postscript

Thursday lunchtime. @cfcaway sent this amazing picture showing the foot bridge in the 90s:

from-cfcaway

Thanks for that.

 


The Times of Chelsea – magic, mystics, motoring and maxis

The Times of Chelsea was a small magazine which ran from 1973-1975. It contained a mixture of Chelsea subject matter – news stories to do with planning or conservation, features on local residents, pieces about local history and what you might call general interest – motoring, restaurants and fashion. The photographer John Bignell was the picture editor, so it was also full of his work. (That alone makes it useful for local history – Bignell didn’t always label his pictures and the Times can sometimes help with that.)

You might find an interview with the then still famous best selling author Dennis Wheatley:

Wheatley may 1973

Wheatley issues his normal warning about the dangers of black magic in this piece, while at the same time impressionable young persons like myself were reading his supernatural novels, not to mention many far more subversive works such as Richard Cavendish’s the Black Arts and the famous partwork Man, Myth and Magic. Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast (who Wheatley may have had in mind for Mocata, the villain in “The Devil rides out”) was another Chelsea resident, like Hester Marsden-Smedley, the wife of the Mayor of Chelsea who wrote many articles for the Times on local history and reported in one that she found Crowley “fascinating but not frightening“. (She found another local resident far more repellent in a piece remembering William Joyce’s short period of membership of the local Conservative Party).

In the film of the Devil rides out, Mocata was played by Charles Gray (of Ennismore Gardens) profiled in the Times in an article called “Elegant baddie”, and photographed by Bignell.

Charles Gray 01 jb355

Another brief resident was Colin Wilson, famous for the 1950s classic of new existentialism  the Outsider, but more importantly for me also the author of another blockbuster survey of the uncanny valley, “The Occult”. If you’ll allow to ramble off on a tangent I met him around this time in the Village Bookshop in Regent Street and he turned out to be friendly and tolerant towards a fanboy. (At the time I took it for granted that the shop had a large occult section – many bookshops did then, but I’ve since read that the owner was a bit of an aficionado of the subject, and actually sent the young Iain Sinclair on some psycho-geographical missions – told in the book length interview with Sinclair by Kevin Jackson, “The Verbals”)

Wilson was also a friend of another subject of an article in the Times of Chelsea, local artist Regis de Cachard (or Count Regis de Bouvier de Cachard de Montmeran, to give him his full name and title).

Regis 01 feb 1973 (2)

We’ve met him before of course. The article notes that  Wilson was intending to write a book about him. That would have been interesting. De Cachard, it says in the article, was currently concentrating on mythological subjects, and he announces his intention to paint 100 pictures on Old Testament themes, one a week for two years

There might be a motoring feature, like this one which also relates to a previous topic on the blog.

Capri mar 1975

You also find some interesting photos, like this one under the headline “End of the Essoldo”.

 

essoldo 02 jul 1974

As it happens we now know the Essoldo was not the last incarnation of this building as a cinema, but its time as the venue for the stage show of the Rocky Horror Show may have been the height of its fame. (Yes there’s an anecdote: a friend of my wife worked as an usherette during the show and got her a ticket, at the end of a row. My wife, a teenager at the time, watched the show in a state of apprehension that she might be pulled onto the stage by the fun-loving cast)

John Bignell provided some celebrity pictures like this one.

Ryan O'Neal jb125

Ryan O’Neal, seen here admiring a pendant belonging to Lorenzo Berni, owner of “the Beauchamp Place rendezvous San Lorenzo”. He “does quite a lot of the cooking himself in between chatting to customers like Mick and Bianca Jagger…and Bill Gibb”

The mention of the designer Bill Gibb brings us to another of the frequent subjects for features in the Times, fashion, often connected to local shops. Chelsea in the early 70s would have been a key location for London fashion of course but the thing I noticed most is that the commonest clothing items being featured in the Times were kaftans, maxi-dresses and nightdresses. Like this one:

bianca buscaglia 02 jun 1974

“Hand made in Yugoslavia” for Bianca Busaglia. They were everywhere. Now, I’ve looked at fashion in old photographs before as you know. (Sambourne, Hawarden etc). And I was living in London from 1973. I hadn’t remembered that this was the era of the maxi skirt and dress. But it was.

variations march 1973

By my recollection, in this period fashions, especially in areas like hemlines ,were pretty much dictated by the big fashion designers who were followed by high street shops. This style dictatorship seemed to come to an end in the late 70s with punk, after which women started wearing pretty much what they wanted. (Okay, a bit of a generalisation I know, but broadly true, like the thing with the colour black – I can remember a time when black was only worn to funerals and you couldn’t buy a black car without a special order. After the 70s you couldn’t get away from black, and still can’t. )

But back to the Times. Is this a nightie?

in pod 02 feb-mar 1974

No, it’s a maternity dress from a shop called In Pod, perfectly in tune with current styles. Check out the shoes by the way. Spot on for this period.

This one though…

night owls 02 jul 1974

That is a nightie, from a shop called Night Owls in the Fulham Road. (At number 50, next to where there was a branch of Gapp’s – see this post. It closed a few short years ago.). We’re glad it’s a nightie and not another maternity dress – she’s smoking, something people used to do back then.

There was also some publicity for the larger shops:

Print skirt may 1973

Modern readers will no doubt appreciate the prices of these items. Below, I don’t know if the smooth gentleman in the striped shirt is giving good customer service to the lady wearing some early boho chic, or if he’s another model working in the modern boutique Elle (of Sloane Square)

elle jun 1975

This is a whole page on a shop called Joseph, at 33 King’s Road. My wife had a raincoat like that.

Joseph 01 feb 1975

In the interests of historical accuracy I went to the costume and fashion collection at Chelsea Library to look at copies of Vogue from 1973 to 1975, the Times of Chelsea years and yes, there were many pictures of much the same sort of outfits, some even more extravagant, and of course colourful. There was a kind of soft focus extravagance about this period exemplified by the fashions of the Biba shop which reached its peak in Kensington and Chelsea at the same time.

One more striking outfit:

fashion-p26-april-1975-zoom-copy

Finally another mention of Chelsea Library in the Times. My old boss:

toc nov 1973 Meara

I hope she won’t mind this small tribute. (Nite: customers of Chelsea Library were eventually reconciled to the merger with Kensington. As a Chelsea resident I can see the advantages.)

The maxi has been back with us for some time. I saw many examples on the way home today. (A very warm Wednesday afternoon). Dennis Wheatley, Charles Gray, Colin Wilson, Regis de Cachard and the Ford Capri are unfortunately gone, though not forgotten. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Patricai Meara (later Pratt).

Postscript

It was a bit of a ramble this week, but magazines are sometimes like that. I’m not deliberately intending to turn the postscript over to obituaries but I couldn’t help but note the passing of Richard Neville, the editor of another small magazine, the “underground” periodical, Oz. I was too young, and too far from London to be a regular reader, but the Oz obscenity trial was a sensation of the time and I do remember the controversy and the taking of sides. I was firmly behind the three editors, Neville, Felix Dennis (the  millionaire publisher and poet who died in 2014 ) and Jim Anderson. I remember reading a book by Tony Palmer, the Trials of Oz, which portrayed the trail as a knockabout yarn. I couldn’t wait to get to London.

 

 


From the Penta Hotel: 1974

In this week’s post our roving surveyor Bernard Selwyn leaves his perch on the West London Air Terminal / Point West and crosses the Cromwell Road to take up a vantage point on one of the upper floors of the Penta Hotel which we saw last week. This was it in the days of the Air Terminal, not one of Selwyn’s pictures.

Copy of Penta Hotel

The 25-storey Penta was designed by Richard Seifert and partners and built in 1971-72. Although it looks vast and imposing it was actually smaller than the original design which would have included a bridge to the Terminal. The Architectural Review, in a piece called “Bad Dreams coming true”, called it “a terrifying interruption of the weave of this part of London” although the writer did admit that the large site meant it could sit out of alignment with the buildings next to it which caused less harm to the street layout. I love architectural language. “What the passer-by sees is an apparently chaotic pile forcing its way upwards through successive layers of low level impediments.”

Is that a Ford Capri in the foreground?

Penta Hotel p137

The hotel was subsequently called the London Forum and more recently the Holiday Inn. It still sits rather incongruously among the other buildings which line the Cromwell Road although in the passing years residents have grown used to it.

Selwyn got to one of the upper floors in 1974. I’ve made a selection from two films showing the views he got from up there.

Penta Hotel July 1974 004

I like the way part of his vantage point is visible in some of the pictures. It makes it easier to picture him leaning out of a window to take the pictures. As someone prone to vertigo (who has nevertheless been up many tall buildings) I get a hint of the danger / thrill of high places in some of these pictures. This particular view is not  terribly interesting but it does show the Gloucester Hotel (1972-73) which the Survey of London describes as “better-mannered” than the Penta. It certainly blends in with the skyline. Below you can see it next to Bailey’s Hotel which was built almost a hundred years earlier.

Penta Hotel July 1974 006

This view shows Gloucester Road and Cromwell Road looking east.

Penta Hotel July 1974 007

And there’s that white building I referred to last week. After writing last week’s post I was looking through the packets of photos and found a couple which would have answered my question immediately.

Penta Hotel July 1974 002

 

Here you see Gloucester Road Station laid bare, before it was built over in the 1990s. There are two trains, in different liveries,  stopped at the platforms. on the right a sparsely populated car park is is temporary use. Below you can see the outline of Lenthall Place.

Penta Hotel July 1974 003

The buildings are gone, and the former mews has become another parking area. The former bank on the corner of Gloucester Road has gone (see it in this post) and the remaining buildings are propped up with scaffolding. Can you see that irregularly shaped structure next to the trees? What was that used for, I wonder?

Selwyn turned towards central London.

Penta Hotel July 1974 001

The green domed tower of the Imperial Institute is a nearby landmark. The tall buildings further away are harder to make out. So look in the foreground at the surprising bulk of St Stephen’s Church.

In the next picture Selwyn pointed at the Natural History Museum but he also caught the V&A, the Brompton Oratory and in the distance you can make out Big Ben and St Paul’s.

Penta Hotel July 1974 013

And then there’s this 1960s  building, relatively recent in 1974.

Penta Hotel July 1974 014

Still called the Post Office Tower at this time, and still a bit of a wonder against the relatively subdued north London skyline.

This was a much more familiar landmark.

Penta Hotel July 1974 018

The picture shows how impressive the Albert Hall must have been when in dominated the landscape around it. You can see the Gothic spires of the Albert Memorial rising above the trees of Kensington Gardens.

Selwyn must have moved to a different vantage point for this view westwards.

Penta Hotel July 1974 012

The unmistakeable Earls Court Exhibition Centre and beyond it the Empress State Building on Lillie Road, a significant local landmark.

Continuing the movement round, we’re now looking south west.

Penta Hotel July 1974 010

The gasometers are south of the New King’s Road. You can also see the back of one of the stands at Chelsea Football Club, and below it the trees of Brompton Cemetery, the dome of the chapel just about visible. The cemetery grounds are also visible here

Penta Hotel July 1974 011

The church, after some puzzling, I think is St Luke’s Redcliffe Square.

Penta Hotel July 1974 021

Now this church is St Mary the Boltons, but there are two cathedrals of power generation in the background, Lots Road, showing one of its chimneys, and Fulham with four of them in line.

Finally, a look down from where Selwyn was standing to see some smaller but still impressive chimney stacks surrounded by trees.

Penta Hotel July 1974 022

Postscript

I must have set some sort of record for the number of links to other posts here, but like a virtual Selwyn I’ve covered a lot of ground since starting this blog. There are going to be another couple of posts based on his pictures coming up soon, but neither of them covering as wide an area.


Beside the Cromwell Curve: 1985

This week’s post is a kind of sequel to the one about the West London Air Terminal which has proved to be enormously popular and attracted comments from many people who remembered a building I dared to call forgotten. Regular readers will be aware of the photographs of Bernard Selwyn, a surveyor who worked in west London who left the Library in his will a large number of photos he’d taken during the course of his work. He had time to indulge his own interests in London history and he frequently had access to vantage points not everyone could visit. This was in June 1985, well after the Terminal had closed, but before some of the development in the area around it.

The big change was the arrival of Sainsburys in 1983 which would then have been the biggest supermarket in the area.

Sainsburys Cromwell Road 30 jun 85 -10

Selwyn seems to have got inside the space above the supermarket, either in the main structure or the parking/lift tower beside it. Either way he found a few spots well above ground level, looking down on the Cromwell Curve, that point where railway lines coming from Gloucester Road, Earls Court and Kensington High Street meet just below ground level.

Hotel Cromwell Road 30 Jun 85 - 36A

There is the point where the tracks go underneath Cromwell Road to get to Gloucester Road Station. In the background is the Penta Hotel, later the Forum and now the Holiday Inn. On the left are houses in Emperor’s Gate. You can see some extensive undergrowth by the side of the tracks which extends onto a then vacant area. It’s built on now but in 1983 there was a curious sight.

Buttressed house 30 jun 85 -18

One of the buildings has some serious buttress work. It almost looks as though wooden arms were stretched out, frantically trying  to keep the building standing. in the background you can see what was then a church of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile which took over a building which had been a Baptist, then a Presbyterian Chapel. the Russian Orthodox Church was there from 1959-1989. Later it became a church hall for St Stephen’s Church, Gloucester Road.

Rear of houses near track 30 Jun 85 -15

This view shows the track heading north towards High Street Kensington Station. The buildings next to the track belong to the Underground. You can see them more clearly in the picture below which also shows  what look like ramps for cars.

Rear of houses near track and side of car park 30 Jun 85 -17

It’s always curious to see the rear of these comparatively tall residential blocks.

 

Cromwell Road with view of Gloucester road station 30 jun 85 -25

There are the twin tunnel entrances heading under Cromwell Road, and a neat little staircase leading up that odd little overgrown space. Across the street you can see the site where the Gloucester Arcade was built and beyond, the station platforms which were covered over by the development. I don’t know what the white building was. Anyone? [Update Thursday afternoon – see the comments section below for the actually quite obvious when you look answer, provide by an eagle-eyed reader.]

Selwyn was obviously taken by the view towards Emperor’s Gate. See the signs for the Genesta hotel?

Genesta Hotel 30 jun 85 -30

Now he swivels back to the closest rear view, of Cromwell Road itself. These buildings follow the curve of the track and because of that some of them are surprisingly narrow.

Rear of buildings 30 jun 85 -35

I always imagined that this could be the spot in the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Bruce Partington Plans” in which a body is dumped on top of the roof of a train and carried away for miles before discovery at Aldgate. (Holmes works it out of course with his keen knowledge of the the then modern railway system). But  Holmes experts have determined that it was actually further west. You can see how close the windows are to the tracks though. The rear configuration of the buildings is surprisingly varied.

Rear of buildings 30 jun 85 -34

Look at the complex set of  fire escape in the next couple of pictures. Is there a train coming?

no train 30 jun 1985 -22

Yes.

Train 30 jun 1985 -24

And Selwyn can’t resist taking a picture as  one passes.

This (almost) final picture takes us back to the start with that heavily scaffolded building next to the tunnel entrance for the tracks to Earls Court.

Cromwell Road with scaffolded building 30 jun 85 -28

That coach, or one very much like it is still parked on the pavement.

Of course, when you’ve got a camera in your hand there’s one thing you’re always going to take a quick picture of:

Blimp and tower 30 jun 85 -31

Who can resist a blimp? Note the remaining tower of the Imperial Institute poking up above the skyline.

Postscript

In a previous Selwyn based post I included my personal tribute to the late Glenn Frey. By coincidence there was another recent death in the music world which saddened me. Sandy Pearlman was not a performer. He wrote lyrics for the Blue Oyster Cult, managed them and produced many of their albums. BOC were a strange hybrid of heavy metal, psychedelia and that glossy hard rock of the early 1970s. Pearlman contributed to the atmosphere of the occult in many of their songs, but his main claim to fame is as a producer. Albums he produced had a unique guitar sound, whether it was the Dream Syndicate (the only time I ever bought an album because of the producer), the Dictators (their album Manifest Destiny contains my personal theme song, “Sleeping with the TV on”). Pavlov’s Dog (featuring the bizarrely high voice of David Surkamp) or most famously the Clash whose second album Give ’em enough rope was produced by Pearlman in an attempt to break the band in America. Someone on the  radio called it the best guitar album ever made. I wouldn’t go that far but if you’re not convinced play the first three tracks on the album (or just the third,”Tommy Gun” ) and you’ll see for yourself. After you’ve recovered try “Astronomy” by the Blue Oyster Cult, one of my favourite songs ever.

Thank you and farewell, Sandy Pearlman.

Postscript to the postscript

In the days of film cameras you always used to use up the film with a few unrelated pictures at the end. Selwyn was no exception to this rule. In this pack of photos there were a few of St Paul’s Cathedral and a couple of this building, which I’m sure one of you London experts will immediately identify.

unidentified building 30 jun 85 -7A

No prize, but it would be quite nice to know.

 


Hidden in plain sight: Chelsea’s Jewish cemetery

Last week, on Friday, I was on the 211 bus heading home with a bag of shopping when I saw that  there had been some damage to a brick wall on the corner of the Fulham Road and Old Church Street. A whole section of the wall had been knocked inwards possibly as a result of some kind of impact. I thought I should take some photographs but when I went out on Sunday the area was surrounded by workmen and equipment, with a temporary set of traffic lights. On my way in this morning I took a few pictures, as the breach in the wall was still there.

20160815_090110

Not only is there a hole, but behind it a pile of bricks.

20160815_090125

Beyond that you can see the gravestones themselves.

20160815_090133

It’s not the first time this wall has been disturbed. Back in 1989 I was also there with a camera when the whole wall was partially demolished and there was the opportunity to take some pictures of an obscure corner of Chelsea. In normal circumstances you only get the chance to see the area behind the wall if you’re sitting on a passing bus. This corner, between the Institute of Cancer Research and a short row of shops devoted to antiquarian books and interior design, is the location of Chelsea’s Jewish Cemetery.

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 04

The wall, as you can see, was then short enough to look over. The original wall was tall enough to completely conceal the cemetery.

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 01

It was a bright day for October. The pictures were taken with an Olympus pocket (film) camera so they look a little grainy.

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 02

But you can make out the Hebrew inscriptions.

The cemetery, or burial ground appears on Thompson’s famous Chelsea map of 1836.

Copy of Thompsons 1836_Chelsea 4006 - Copy - Copy

The area was called Queen’s Elm after the Queen’s Elm tavern which was right opposite. On this detail you can see Trafalgar Square (later Chelsea Square) and Bath Lodge (later Catharine Lodge along with a number of houses with large gardens on the west side of Old Church Street,

George Bryan, in his 1869 book “Chelsea in the olden and present times” tells us the burial ground was “erected in 1816 by the individuals whose names are inscribed on the wall of the entrance building” (visible on the map).

Hugh Meller, in the third edition of his London Cemeteries (an invaluable book for London historians) which has details of 14 Jewish cemeteries in London says: “The impression given by this tiny cemetery is more typical of Prague than London.”. I can see his point. The 300 gravestones are in a comparatively small area, almost hermetically sealed behind a brick wall and “a rusty iron gate“. I imagine the burial ground fitting into a Bruno Schulz story (or a film by the Quay Brothers for that matter) especially as modern Prague is often used as a location for Victorian London in recent films and TV dramas.

Jewish Cemetery in Fulham Road c1896

The picture comes from The London Burial Grounds (1896) by Mrs Basil Holmes. Mrs Holmes called it “a dreary place” and remarked on the lack of proper paths between the graves. By the time she wrote her book the prayer hall and office had been replaced by the parade of shops. The last burial was said to be in 1913, although Meller gives the date of closure as early as 1884. He also notes the presence of mulberry trees. (That is actually another story altogether, associated with the estate called Chelsea Park which was on this side of the Fulham Road. Parts of it still survive in Elm Park Gardens and so what he says is possible.)

These pictures, from one of our scrapbooks are also dated 1896.

Jewish Cemetery Queen's Elm 1896 CM142c

In this one, possibly taken from one of the shops you can see South Parade and beyond it Trafalgar Square, and the tower of St Luke’s Church.

I’m not so sure of the angle in this picture:

Jewish Cemetery Queen's Elm 1896 CM142

In the 1970s the cemetery was under the threat of redevelopment and there was a plan reported in local newspapers in 1974 to have the ground deconsecrated, and any surviving remains removed to Israel.

cutting 1974

This never occurred. I was told that a benefactor paid for some restoration work to keep the cemetery secure. It remained an obscure corner of Chelsea, safe behind its walls. A place of absolute stillness beside a busy road, its continued existence a source of satisfaction for those who like the quiet places of the city.

Whether in 1989,

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 03or 2016

20160815_090130

20160815_090142

The hole in the wall is now boarded up, which you can almost see in this picture but the main point of it is to show that even with the wall breached the cemetery is well hidden by the abundant trees.

20160820_091709

Postscript

I promised you a new post by my colleague Isabel this week but she has gone to ground in Kent, somewhere near here:

Old Road Chatham - Copy

Hugh Thomson steps in to help again. The picture is from Highways and Byways in Kent (1907). Isabel will be back soon.

It was fortunate this subject presented itself to me out of nowhere. I’ve noticed that I’ve written posts about almost every point of my journey to work, with very few gaps and this is a further addition to the psycho-geographical trail. I’ll work on those gaps in the future.

 


%d bloggers like this: