Pictures of the lockdown – South Kensington

You know those moments that come from time to time when you realise that the narrative has changed and that we’re not in a post war realistic novelist’s universe any more? That science fiction is happening right now? I have a memory which must date back to the 1970s or early 1980s of a newspaper headline seen on the tube.It was in the Guardian. I. can recall the old font they used back then. The phrase “radiactive zone” caught my attention and lodged in my memory. Maybe  I thought about J G Ballard, which seems like the sort of thing I would have thought back then. Over the years since I have sometimes wandered into a Ballardian landscape. You expect that sort of thing in east London near a body of water, or in the western suburbs near the river. Ballard country.

We’ve lived in a science fiction landscape during the lockdown. Think the opening sequence of 28 Days later or the Day of the Triffids. Where have all the people gone? Anyway that’s what I thought when I looked through this set of photos taken by one of my neighbours.

 

 

It’s a fine day but the streets are almost empty. Just a solitary figure and a lone car waiting for the lights to change.

 

 

That period of deserted London didn’t last all that long really but I remember the unexpectedness of walking through lightly populated streets.

 

 

 

I remember how bright it was, like a summer’s day, but without the unnecessarily blistering heat of the last few days.

 

 

 

The empty buses running through empty streets. At first they didn’t even want you to use your card.

Mostly though I walked. To a supermarket, to a pharmacy, to the post office. Waiting in the placid queues with all the other patient people who didn’t mind the delay. After all, where else were we going?

Normally quiet streets were even more quiet, it seemed.

 

 

 

And familiar sights seemed almost willfully tranquil.

 

 

 

If you didn’t know something was going on you might be fooled into thinking it was all perfectl normal.

 

 

Or you might think that’s an impressive building – I wonder what’s inside? Surely something must be going on in there?

 

 

Most of these places I saw with my own eyes but our photographer went to places I didn’t see during the lockdown,

 

 

 

Along with some I did.

 

 

 

The oddest thing for me is how ephemeral it all turned out to be. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the lockdown may just be an episode.

But let’s not forget why it was happening.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to JT for these pictures. I’m sure we’ll feature more images of the lockdown in future weeks.

If all goes well I will be back at Local Studies very soon. I’m looking forward to sitting in the archives again. I might see some of you there.


Quiet days: reading and sleeping

 

Quiet days on your own, or with close family. If you’re like me you’ve turned to books you’ve loved in the past.

Sit quietly in a garden in a sheltered spot.

 

 

After breakfast, or in the late afternoon.

 

On a veranda, overlooking a pleasant landscape. (If you can manage it.)

 

 

Or in a dimly lit room, with little chance of interruptions.

 

 

 

sometimes with a convivial companion.

Reading separately

Or together.

 

 

Sometimes you can concentrate, while waiting to go out perhaps.

 

 

Or spending an evening inside.

 

 

Or after an evening out it’s sometimes good to pause.

Reading is a good prelude to sleep.

 

 

On other occasions, sleep will take you unawares.

Sometimes before you can even swing your legs up.

 

 

Or when the reading matter at hand is just too heavy.

 

 

On those occasions you can just zone out.

 

 

Or get comfortable.

 

 

And just drift off. And maybe a dream is waiting for you.

 

 

I’ve had a few afternoon and early morning naps recently, some with dreams which were more vivid than usual. On one occasion I took a walk with my late mother along an unfamiliar canal in a northern city. She was younger than me but it was good to see her again.

I normally do this kind of post at Christmas (here and here) but it seems appropriate for the lockdown as well. If you are the rights holder for a particular image and its inclusion causes concern, let me know. If you want to know the identity of an image, I may know. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the atmosphere, inspired by a calendar series my wife gets me for Christmas, Women Reading (or women of Reading as I call it.)

There may well be another set of lockdown photos next week. Or something else entirely. Who knows?


Pictures of the lockdown: Chelsea

Now that some of the restrictions of lockdown are being relaxed, is it over? Near where I live there seem to be more people on the street, so has the empty city passed into history? Probably not quite yet. In its May issue the Libraries Newsletter asked for personal accounts and pictures from readers. Response wasn’t immediate, but by word has spread and we have received pictures from residents and staff (sometimes one and the same) which Isabel and I have been sorting into groups by location and theme. This is part of an ongoing project to tell the story from this neck of the woods.

 

 

Some of them you will know, like this one.

Others will be harder to place exactly. (Although I could show you a James Hedderly picture showing the same stretch of the riverbed. Here)

 

 

Other images are new but becoming familiar.

 

 

And complicated.

 

 

Some shops make do with just the feet.

This informative notice gives you plenty of time to read.

 

 

You don’t have to spend your time reading. There are plenty of tranquil spots where you can quietly contemplate the new normal.

 

 

Where is that?

Or this?

 

 

 

Battersea Park?

Some empty streets:

 

Hortensia House.

 

Rear windows.

 

 

A lone figure.

 

 

The distinctive brickwork of the Worlds End Estate.

 

 

The London Riverside tower, (work suspended?)

 

 

Blantyre Street.

 

 

With a little bit of reflection.

 

 

An empty playground, with a  view of Chelsea Westminster Hospital in the background.

 

 

A lone jogger taking her daily exercise.

 

 

There are no credits this time. Image rights belong to the individual photographers. We’ll see how that works out. But we are still collecting. Send us more pictures, (email  zerofish@gmx.com  for the moment) or written accounts of things that have captured your imagination, or just leave a comment below. We’ll continue this series of posts alongside our regular blog activity. I might even get out a little and take some pictures myself.


Wartime paintings

This post is a kind of loose follow-up to the last one and also ties up with Westminster City Archives’ recent posts about wartime paintings. I’ve collected pictures by Josephine “Jo” Oakman, and Francis Griffen, Chelsea artists I’ve written about before, so there’s a certain amount of duplication but I think it’s worth putting them in the context of the recent anniversary of VE day.

 

 

[Oakman’s picture of Chelsea Town Hall decorated for VE Day. She worked there in her day job.]

 

 

[Two paintings of the temporary bridge built for military purposes to the east of Albert Bridge.]

 

 

Chelsea residents will be reminded of thw notice on Abert Bridge instructing troops to break step when crossing the bridge.

Although she was out of town when Chelsea Old Church was destroyed by bombing, she was fascinated by the devastation.

 

 

A sketch from 1941.

 

 

A coloured version.

 

Another, of the covered ruins.

 

 

 

A postwar painting of the site including the future Roper;s Garden, by another artist.

Francis Griffen was a professional artist and print maker. He too took on the subject of the ruined church.

 

 

He also covered another well known bomb incident, at the Guinness Trust estate on the King’s Road.

 

 

A gas and water mains were damaged. A volunteer fireman, Anthony Smith rescued trapped residents from a basement and won the George Cross.

This was another incident from the same area.

 

 

My favourite Griffen painting is this one, of an evening scene after the war.

 

 

Fulham Road looking west at the junction with Old Church Street, the Queen’s Elm pub on the left.

One final picture, never seen before on the blog.

 

 

By Charles Sneed Williams: Two Air Raid Wardens, Lieutenant Colonel Eastman and Major Stepney.

 


Kathleen’s war

This week’s guest blogger is my mother Kathleen Walker who passed away in December 2016. One of the things she left for me was a school exercise book containing a short memoir in 22 pages covering her childhood and her life in the army up to 1945. There were also some pictures of her and her army friends in the various photo albums she passed on to me. As as bloggers do, I thought that the pictures and a selection from the text would make a good blog post. I have corrected a few grammatical errors here and there and added a few explanations (in brackets.) but all the words which are not in italics are hers.

 

I was 18 when war broke out, I remember the Sunday morning when we were all sitting around the radio and we heard Mr. Chamberlain. I was seeing a boy who was at Chester College and he talked about leaving and joining up, he didn’t go right away but he did eventually, I often wondered what happened to him.

We didn’t have a great deal of bomb activity in Chester but one day on the way to work the pavements were thick with glass, all the show windows were out, it seems a land mine had landed somewhere near and the blast had caused the damage.

I used to teach Sunday School at Christleton and our teacher Miss. Catherine Day told my friend Ruth Gagan and I about Red Cross classes, so we both went and did first aid and later Home Nursing, just in case we needed it. Mr. Heath, the policeman told me about a job in Civil Defence, it was in the Regent Centre manning the telephones. There were eight of us and we worked shifts. All the other people who worked there were volunteers, by day they were people who worked in Council offices and the younger people were called messengers (on bikes). They were more my age I was the youngster in the office.

When I was 21 I joined the ATS. I had been itching to go, my brother Charlie joined up at the beginning. He was a driver so he was in the RASC. I did my initial training in Lancaster and after six weeks learning all about the Army I did my signal training where else but Corps School, the Firs, Chester. Some of the girls I met here were my friends for the rest of my army life. After our training we were posted to Woolton on the outskirts of Liverpool. We were stationed at 33rd Brigade, Carsacres Camp. We were to take over from the men in the ops room. The men were being posted to North Africa.

 

We lived in huts twelve to a hut and we split up into three reliefs and did shifts 2-5, 5-10, 10-8, we all worked together, lived together and spent our off duty together so it was essential for us to get on well with one another as we did.

 

In the ops room we signal girls manned all the communications and plotted the planes form Preston, while the RA girls plotted from the radar. We also had people in from the Fire Service the SNO (Senior Naval Offices) and the industrial Alarm people (they were on 24hr duty and worked shifts like us. They were there to inform the factories about the raids). They were civilians all retired gentlemen, one was a retired Chief Constable and one a retired factory manager. The SNO man didn’t come as often but (Uncle Bob) the fire officer used to do his stint and he was a good friend. We used to leave out coats outside the ops room and so did the other people. Uncle Bob used to say to me “have a look in my coat pocket when you go out” there would be a bag of chocolates Cadburys Misshapes, enough for a couple each for all the hut.

 

[Mum second from the left]

We were only there about a month when the men were posted, the Coporal in charge stayed on for a few days and he had heard from the lads, they were in Ireland and one of them Les Powles asked the Corporal to ask me to write to him, everyone wanted someone to keep in touch. I hadn’t been out with him but we had always been friendly and he lived in Liverpool, so I suppose I would be a link. We kept in touch for the next three years, all through his time in North Africa and Italy. Strange isn’t it? Pen pals for all that time and I never saw him again, he wrote to say he had met someone in Italy and that’s when I stopped writing.

I got my first stripe after the lads left and was put in charge of the relief and three weeks after I got my Corporal’s stripes. It was while I was in the army my Dad had an accident and broke his femur, it was a very sad time for me as my Dad was very dear to me, he had been Father and Mother to me most of my life and I could only see him on my 24hr pass, once I and Jean Blower (another Chester girl) came over on our late pass, we had to be back at camp at 2359, we met on the Market Square and caught the last bus to Birkenhead and the last ferry to Liverpool. We missed the last tram to Woolton and caught one to the now famous “Penny Lane”. This was halfway to camp and we had to walk the rest, it was winter and the frost was on the ground and I remember the noise our shoes made on the hard road. We made it to camp a bit late but we sneaked in and no one was any the wiser.

My Dad was tough and recovered and was able to ride his bike and tend his allotment. It’s from him I get my will power, which I will need a little later.

Has there been a time in your life when you found your niche in life? I found mine in the army, I loved the life, the discipline the comradeship, everything. I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it was mine. I made some very good friends, two still remain.

 

 

We had some Signal outposts around Liverpool and I was sent to one, in charge of the signal group, we were attached to 70 Brigade and I remember the RA officer was not very happy because he was not in charge of us. It was a good camp we were stationed at Croxteth Hall (the home of Lord and Lady Derby, they still had most of the hall, we had an annexe).

My room, which I shared with my Lance Corporal, was at the top of the house, it was originally the servants quarters. I was there for three months and then returned to the 33 Brigade where I had a new relief of girls. I must mention that at one time our office was Miss Beryl Nield, she came from Upton and was the twin of Sir Basil Nield a judge of the rolls and later MP for Chester. She was a very fair although strict officer.

We didn’t see a great deal of activity as most of the bombing seemed to be over but Liverpool had had its share and some of the streets just not there anymore and there were ruins everywhere.

 

 

We used to have exercises to keep us in trim, our ops room controlled all the gun sites around the area as far away as the Wirral. We had a teleprinter which was in direct contact to Preston (where we the signals received our news of aircraft in our space). I had a friend in Preston and we sometime exchanged messages over the TP (not allowed of course).

When we were on nights it was my job to wake the girls who were on duty in the cookhouse. Imagine this; pitch black, no lights in the camp and me walking the length of the camp (with a jug of tea). I always work them with a cuppa and I had to make sure I didn’t waken anyone else in the hut.

One thing you learn in the army, never get on the wrong side of the cooks. The food I suppose was alright as far as it went, but when I came out of the army it was a long time before I could even look at a sardine. Guess what? When we had beans on toast for tea it was a treat. The three months I spent with 70 brigade was a different kettle of fish as regards the food, it was excellent, why every camp couldn’t have been the same I will never know.

My friend Joyce lived in West Hartlepool and when she went on leave a few of us used to go to the station to see her off. ATS girls were not allowed to travel at night on their own, if Joyce had to wait until the next day to travel, the journey would not be as good and she would spend the whole day of her leave on the trains. So what we used to do we would all go into the canteen on station and watch where the MPs were and smuggle her on to the train when they were otherwise engaged, it always worked.

I enjoyed my time in the ATS very much. I was due to go on a Sergeants course to Durham so my leave had been put back, however the course was cancelled. While waiting to go, on one of our days off we decided to go to West Kirby where we were told there was a swimming baths, but when we arrived we found it was closed, so not to be outdone we went for a paddle in the sea and I think for me this is when misfortune struck. I will tell you why later.

I went on leave and this is when I was taken ill, my sister-in-law Sarah and I went for a ramble across the fields and coming back I could hardly put one foot in front of the other I felt so weak. That night at home I was in dreadful pain, every muscle in my body ached, I couldn’t sit, lie down or walk about for the pain. In the morning I went to see the doctor (my doctor had been called up and was a prisoner of the Japanese). The doctor I saw didn’t seem to be sure about what I had and said it could be sciatica and to report to the MO when I got back to camp. I was due to go back the next day, my Dad didn’t want me to but I being me was determined to get back and by this time I wasn’t walking very well.

I caught the train to Rock Ferry and changed to the underground. I didn’t sit down because I thought I would never get up again. At the station there is a very steep flight of steps and I shall never forget the porter (a little lady) who helped me, I put my arm round her shoulder and she fitted under my arm she was so small and she got me to the top and then went down for my kit bag. The bus stop was about 80 yards from the station and she asked a chap who was going that way to carry my bag and give me a hand, which he did. At the bus stop I met another ATS girl who had been on leave, she was from my camp Laura Magneson. She rang the camp and the sent a Tilly for us.

I went to bed in my hut, the MO came and I was take to the local medical centre and from there what do you know I went by ambulance back to the Mostyn Hospital in Chester. This hospital was a war time structure and was wooden built in what was called spider. There was one long corridor and all the huts, reception, x-ray, operating theatres and physiotherapy went off either side, all huts. And the wards were the same, one side medical the other side surgical. There were just two female wards and they were at the very end.

There were 12 beds in the ward and I was nearly always the only one confined to bed, so people congregated around my bed and we sewed and knitted (when we could get wool) it was scarce like everything else. As it was a military hospital it was run as such and Doctors and Matrons rounds were very strict, I had a cage on my bed to keep the covers of my leg and we would be sewing etc. up to the last minutes of rounds and had the doctors looked under my cage they would have seen all the makings of whatever was on the go. All the beds were neat all white sheets and counterpanes. The Sisters and Nurses were great some were Red Cross and some St Johns, the sisters were military.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I was put in a room adjacent to the medical ward and in the next few days I saw more doctors than most people see in a lifetime. They made me a half cast plaster leg so that it could rest in it, I had a lumbar puncture and they then seemed satisfied what my illness was, I still didn’t know, and after I was moved into the main ward I asked one of the other patients to have a look at my chart, it said Poliomyelitis, never heard of it, but it turns out that we knew it as infantile paralysis and strangely enough that was what Dorothy Enion (the girl whose family I lived with when I was nine) had the same thing but she had it as a baby. It’s a virus that enters the body and attacks the nervous system, one Sister in physio told me that it all depended at what place on the spinal column it rested as to where and how much you could be paralysed, with me it was my left leg.

I knew in my heart of hearts that this would change my life, I was devastated but didn’t dare show it. My Dad used to come to see me every week and I had to keep a brave face on it. I know now that I am a survivor and the will power I talked about earlier would see me through.

A road ran past our ward as we were at the end and we used to see people going past and one was a high ranking German Officer under guard but taking exercise, he had the black jack boots and very long overcoat and was always accompanied by an officer with a couple of guards at a distance. That was the only German soldier I ever saw.

I used to have physio every day heat and massage. We had concerts in the evening and I used to go in sort of wheeled bed not a chair, we had a concert at least once a week and that helped pass the time. After I had been in hospital a few weeks a friend of mine Joyce England arrived she had I think it was kidney trouble, so nice to see a friendly face. Lots of people came to see me as Chester was my home town and my friend Joyce Wood (as she was then) came almost every week and the way she travelled, once on the back someone’s motorbike and once in a police car with a prisoner in the back, she was a real trouper.

[Mum seems to have had several friends called Joyce, I must have been a popular name then. I think the woman is one of them, photographed behind the family home]

 

 

 

Mostyn Hospital was only a reception hospital and three months was the limit for anyone, I arrived in late August and in early December I was moved to Winwick, the army had the annexe of Winwick Asylum, we just had one women ward and once mess. When I entered the ward I couldn’t believe it, I had come from a pristine ward white everywhere. What did I see counterpanes of red and blue and things very haphazard, I soon found it was very friendly and not at all like the place I had just left, very easy going. I was to spend the next five months here.

 

 

In our ward we had military personnel on one side and civilian on the other, a consultant (Mr Kerr) had some of his patients moved from Liverpool because of the raids, they were all people suffering with brain tumours, some were small children and it was very upsetting. One little boy about six years old used to sit on my bed and chat, I had knitted a soldier for one of my nephews and this little boy wanted one. All the time I was knitting it he used to say to people who came to talk to me “Don’t bother Kathleen she’s knitting me a solider” when I finished it he slept with it every night.

[I remember a knitted figure of a woman in an ATS uniform which must have dated from this period which sat in a cabinet in the living room. I believe Mum eventually gave it to the daughter of one of her friends called Joyce.]

 

[Not necessarily the same Joyce]

This hospital was far more easy going than Mastyn, the staff were ordinary nurses and sisters no military. I used to have physio every day with exercises and one day three months after I had been taken ill my knee lifted slightly on its own and that was when I started to get the use back in my leg, it was very gradual and I didn’t ever expect to get the full use. The grounds around this hospital were lovely, the mental patients used to walk around and some of them were quite normal. One used to come into the ward to see if we wanted any shopping, his name was Johnny and he was allowed out in fact he used to so say to us, he had something we didn’t (it was a certificate to say he was sane). He could have gone home but he didn’t have a home to go to and no family. After seeing some of the people there it made you very thankful for everything even if you had troubles of your own.

I was friendly with everyone but I had two special friends both my age. Beryl was ATS and she came from Winwick, can’t remember what she was in for but she wasn’t confined to bed. The other one was Marion she was a land army girl and whilst working on a farm a cow kicked her between her shoulder blades and later it caused a tumour and she was paralysed from the chest down, Mr Kerr operated and removed it and she recovered completely, in fact a few months later I went to her wedding.

[wedding pic]

That year 1945 the spring was lovely, we used to sit outside in the sun, I was making a pegged rug (a wool one) it all helped to pass the time. I had plenty of visitors my Dad came once a week and my sister-in-law Mary used to come and bring my youngest nephew, he thought that was where I lived. Quite a few of the girls from camp came to see me and those that didn’t sent me letters and at Christmas I had lots of gifts from the girls.

My uncle George passed away while I was in hospital (he was the uncle I lived with after my mother died) and we had always been pals. My Auntie Em and Cousin Martha came to see me and tell me all about it. My Uncle George came through two wars unscathed he was in the Grenadier Guards and was in the Boer War and the 1914-18 war.

I progressed quite well and I came out of the hospital in May 1945 and was also discharged from the army.

 

Postscript

The narrative ends abruptly there. I don’t know if she planned to write more about her post war life. She might have intended simply to get the facts straight about her life in the war for me and my family. Either way I’m very happy to have the memoir and share some of it now.

I’ve left out a section about Mum’s childhood. When I read the whole thing I am conscious of how Mum had a number of difficulties in her young life which she had to overcome and how her life could have been very different if not for circumstances. I had a happy childhood on the whole in which I was unaware of the hardships my Mum and Dad had overcome to give me that life. Thank you to both of them.

Thanks also to my son Matthew for copying the handwritten narrative into Word.

 


Whose mews?

First, I’d like to thank all those who identified the mystery mews at the end of the last post, Ennismore Gardens Mews. As that was so successful, I have another group of unknown (to me) mewses which also need to be named. They’re all locations I think I should know but somehow don’t. And I’m quite sure some of you will be able to provide the answers. Some of them should be very easy, some perhaps not.

 

 

 

“Garden Mews”, according to the signs. But what garden mews? And “private” as it says on the gate.

No shortage of signs here either.

 

 

 

Parking is restricted “by order of the Grosvenor Estate”, which might place it outside, or on the borders of the Royal Borough.

Below, a relatively short mews, surrounded by tall houses.

 

 

 

But no signs visible.

The next one is less of a mews and more of an entrance.

 

 

 

 

It slopes down into a dark space. But the arch is interesting.

This one is another that feels very familiar.

 

 

 

It’s a little battered in this picure. It may have been improved since. The pictures were all taken about the same time but I’m not committing myself to a date. 70s or 80s?

This one looks like there might be a turn at the end.

 

 

 

There are several mews streets between Gloucester Road and Queen’s Gate. One of those?

 

 

 

This is the most elaborate of today’s selection so once again I feel strongly I should know it.

And this one coud be the other end of one of the others.

 

 

 

The graffitti doesn’t give much away,

 

 

Another dilapidated arch, and a slight slop downwards.

This is another tunnel rather than an arch. I want to say Onslow….. ButOnslow what?

 

 

 

Finally, to add a bit of symmetry to proceedings, here’s one I do know, which didn’t quite make the cut last time.

The low but wide Morton Mews.

 

 

 

 

Just off Earls Court Gardens, it no longer has a helpful road sign.

 

Postscript

Thanks to Neil Smith, Edward Towers, Hugh Levinson, Gregory Hammond and from the Planning Department Jose Anon and Carolyn Goddard who all spotted Ennismore Gardens Mews. Good luck to evryone with this selection.


More mews views

 

After Isabel’s tour de force I feel a bit diffident about taking you back to mere architectural details but the show must go on.

This post is another one resulting from a find in the archives uncovered by general tidying up. At some point one of our staff did a kind of photo survey of mews streets, especially the ones with arches. This was also the focus of my previous post on mews arches, so I was naturally fascinated by this find and started scanning. I ended up with one folder of mostly mewses in South Kensington and one of mewses I didn’t recognise. There are enough of those for another post called What mews is this? or something like that. I may do that yet but i’m going to try again to identify the unknowns. I’ll give you one to try at the end.

This one is one I pass several times a week.

 

 

Ensor Mews is not named after the Belgian painter and print maker James Ensor (as far as I know) but always makes me think of a completely different painter, Edvard Munch the painter of the far better known painting, The Scream. (Lucky I fact checked. The association is just a quirk of my memory) But back to reality.

Interestingly, Ensor Mews is laid out in a straight line in which you can see both entrances but there are two arms off it both of which end in walls with gardens behind them – hidden spaces as far as the view from ground level is concerned. (The aerial view is more straightforward and not mysterious, I’ve discovered on Google Maps). But both walls have doors, I think,which i always like.

This is the other end.

 

 

The arches of Ensor Mews are quite plain. Others are more ornate. Not far away, just off Queen’s Gate is this one, Manson Mews, whose columns  stand apart from the buildings with just a couple of  pedestrian mini arches joining them.

 

 

 

 

The current incarnation has a white paint job, although that looks a few years old.

A close up gives us some idea of the date of these pictures. (The graffitti)

 

 

The notorious Charles Manson was probably the most famous bearer of the surname. Some of us these days might hold out for Shirley Manson, the singer of Garbage. Each to his own. Manson Mews is a cul-de-sac, so it’s an easy one to miss, if you were doing a walking tour of the area,

Round the corner is a pair of mewses. Stanhope Mews East is a long one joining Stanhope Gardens and Cromwell Road.

 

 

 

It only has one arch, at the Cromwell Road end. Moving west you have the two arms of Stanhope Gardens, with its spacious communal garden. and then the other Mews, Stanhope Mews West, with its full complement of arches. This is the southern end.

 

 

 

That telephone box is not still there but overflowing bins can still be seen. This is a narrow mews with quite a few rear entrances to businesses on Gloucester Road but the arch at the northern end looks a little grander.

 

 

 

If you were on a 49, as until quite recently I used to be almost daily, you would soon cross Cromwell Road, going up Gloucester Road. There are quite a few mewses off Gloucester Road but mews devotees are fond of this one.

 

 

 

 

This picture perhaps doesn’t show it at its best, but it has some unique features. The first section has a low wall on one side. You can actually go down it in Google Street View and see some nice paint work and pleasant foliage. But unless you live nearby save your walk in the actual world for when the lockdown is over.

Furthermore, Kynance Mews has a second section.

 

 

 

This is an equally pleasant walk which gives pedestrian access (up a small set of steps which I used for fictional purposes in the 2019 Halloween story) to Christchurch, Victoria Road.

We can move west now briefly into W8 for a pair of pictures of the entrance to Lexham Mews. The arch is fairly low.

 

 

 

But I noticed the photographer caught a little action.

 

 

A man in white (ish) gets into his car. Behind him is the TR Centre so is his car a Triumph? Maybe. In my mind (that unreliable device) this links up to a dream I once had, but let’s not go there now.

The next mews arch is one I find interesting as an architectural object.

 

 

 

Pont Street Mews is another single arch street, a private road with entraces in two places on Walton Street. It snakes around St Saviour’s churc,h most of which became a spectacular private residence in the 1980s. My transport correspondent and Google Street View navigator took some time to locate it. One day we plan to inspect it in the actual world.

We also had some virtual fun with this one.

Redcliffe Mews, coveniently dated for us, has entry points on Redcliffe Gardens.

 

 

 

But for the virtual traveller Street View allows you to travel a little way into the mews at which point you are thrust through a portal and find yourself on a street in Vauxhall. Devotees of Street View enjoy its occasional glitches. In this case you can travel back from south London as well.

Shafto Mews is another pleasing arch.

 

 

 

The other has another blank wall, with a door, as you can see at the end. But this is the other side of that wall.

 

 

 

I wanted to draw to a close with a mews which has no arch, but does have a gate and a secret(ish) space inside.

 

 

 

And it’s on my bus route to work and home.

 

 

 

Sydney Mews is the starting point for another post.

You  can follow that link if you wish, to a time when many people were roaming the streets of west London. But let’s finish with a picturesque arch.

 

 

And one mews I couldn’t identify. There’s a handwritten list locked up in the archives which might give me a clue but who knows when I’ll see that again. So here is a mews arch I think I should know but don’t.

 

 

 

Help me out if you can. And if you’d like to see more as yet unidentified mewses, let me know and I’ll publish  few more.

I hope you’re all having a good lockdown.


The Electric Cinema: Portobello’s Fleapit and Picture House

I’ve spent the last few days working on a new post. But as I worked I knew that in another room far away from me my friend and colleague Isabel Hernandez was working on the final (?) post in her series on cinemas in Kensington. My efforts naturally have to give way before her magnum opus.

 

If some cinemas have become relics of the past, then how about a cinema that has survived to become a picture house worthy of its age. For the time being I have decided to conclude my cinema blogs with the Electric Cinema, given we have some excellent photographs to share with you and even if much attention has been paid to this unusually designed building over the years as both saint and sinner in various publications, I thought I would end the subject on a positive note. This one survived the cull, despite the odds, and is now apparently the oldest working cinema in the UK.

 

 

 

There are many in the North Kensington area who will know this building intimately and have come to know ‘the Bug House’, or the ‘Bughole’ as it was sometimes referred to by the local people, as a familiar fixture at 191 Portobello Road.

The Electric Cinema was built by Gerald Seymour Valentin in 1910, on the site of a timber yard owned by Thomas Henry Saunders. It was built in the midst of grocers, butchers, confectioners, decorators, plumbers, cheesemongers, fruiterers…the list is long. You can see the canopies of the many shops stretching right along the street in the image below. It was decided that an entertainment venue was probably a worthy addition in so busy a street.

 

The cinema opened on the 27th February 1911, although another source states that it was on Christmas Eve, 1910. Perhaps there was a preview? The Electric Cinema is first listed in the 1912 local directory, under the ownership of London and Provincial Cinematograph Ltd.

 

 

 

 

 

Valentin was an architect with little to go on as far as cinema building went. There was no exemplary blueprint to fall back on, and the glamorous cinemas of the 1930’s/40’s were yet to be imagined. In 1910 cinema design was still in its infancy and the age of electricity was relatively new. The development of radio, the accessibility of gramophones, and now cinemas, heralded a new era in the world of entertainment. If the industrial age was a significant cornerstone of advancement and prosperity, then technology was a cauldron of possibilities. The British film industry was still very much a new concept. Moreover, the venue was built well before ‘talkies’ became the norm.

 

It is thought that Valentin built the auditorium with a Music Hall in mind. Geoff Andrew, a former member of staff at the cinema, wrote:

 

“It was no shock to learn from detailed acoustic analyses carried out in the late Seventies that the auditorium was far more suited to live musical performance than to the reproduction of sound by electric speakers; after all, it was built eighteen years before the introduction of the ‘talkies’, during which period (1910-1929) live piano or band accompaniment would have been used to supply the emotional atmosphere for the moving images on the screen.”

 

The audience seated in an early image below gives you an idea of how little space there was within the small area. I imagine not as comfortable as the plush cinemas of later years. In fact, nearly all of the cinema space was devoted to the auditorium. It is estimated that the auditorium had the capacity for 600 seats all on one floor.

 

 

 

 

 

The cinema met with problems over the course of many years. Its age meant that costly repairs were essential if it was to continue being a viable and safe venue. During the course of the sixties, it was not uncommon to hear about the latest calamitous dysfunction within the building, such as a leaking roof, or a whole row of seats collapsing. It was when new management in 1969 took over that a much-needed refurbishment took place to improve the building – certainly the general condition of the auditorium: the roof was repaired, an efficient heating system was installed, carpets and new seats were bought – it was a welcome change.

 

 

 

 

The auditorium’s paneling does not appear remarkable in any way in these images. The walls were repainted at some point during the sixties. Some described it as lurid. Aesthetics had to take a backseat to other more important things, like keeping the cinema open and getting paying customers in to watch films as it was intended to do, with enough to make the necessary repairs when the roof or the gutters went awry in inclement weather, which is quite often in the UK, and affected the cinema numerous times. It is important to note that prior to this period the cinema had not been touched in fifty years or so.

 

 

 

 

Another view of the auditorium. Note the buckets at the back. I describe them as ‘old world’ fire hydrants.

 

 

 

 

Unlike later, larger cinemas, the frame surround to the screen was relatively simple without a distinctive proscenium arch. Nothing unusual for its time, except the screen remains the same to this day and was never modernised like some of the Electric’s counterparts were over the decades to accommodate CinemaScope – an anamorphic lens series used in the 1950’s and the precursor to the likes of Panavision which allowed for films to be projected at different ratios. I am, of course, only describing this in a very rudimentary way.

 

 

 

 

Standing enclosure for 27 persons. Not a huge space when you look at the room generally, maximising space sounds like a good idea if you do not mind being in very close proximity to other people, or indeed if you mind standing up. Generally, the community spirit of The Electric gave it a more casual approach to such things. A laid-back acceptance of how it all worked.

 

 

 

 

Below is an example of that casual atmosphere. Many of the staff at the cinema took great pride in the Electric’s friendly reputation.

 

 

 

 

Below you can see the dark brown nicotine stained ceiling. Years of tar accumulated over time and yellowed the panels giving them a rather unpleasant, greasy look. It is said that it was at least 1 inch thick. Quite grotesque in retrospect, but not surprising when smoking was usual in public spaces.

 

 

 

 

During the refurbishment already mentioned, the old projectors were replaced with new projection machines purchased from Winston Churchill’s Chartwell home. After his death they had come onto the market almost new, or so I thought…

Dave Hucker a former manager at the Electric informed me that these particular images show the ‘Italian made Cinemechanicas which were the best projectors in the world at that time and the same at the NFT.’

He goes on to say:

“These date from an upgrade in the mid/late 70s when new seating and a decent screen were installed. This brought the cinema up to a very high standard.”

 

 

 

Enormous machines compared to the digital tech we have now. A fraction of the size.

Also, we cannot fail to look upon these images and not think about a spectre of the Electric’s past, the mass murderer, John Christie of 10, Rillington Place, rumoured to have worked here as a projectionist sometime in the forties. Just one of many stories that are not verifiable, but add a certain mythos to the cinema.

 

 

 

Below you can see the signage of former times. The Electric was renamed The Imperial Playhouse around the period of the First World War, something of a grand title perhaps, but it seems fitting considering the cinema also weathered the Second World War. Initially, there was an order for cinema closures to avoid crowds gathering during the Blitz. A wise precaution. Yet not surprisingly, as London grew more resilient to the raids, cinemas simply carried on. During air raids, an announcement flashed onto the screen and audiences would head out to the nearest shelter, usually collecting a refund on the way out. A very calm attitude considering the circumstances.

 

 

 

 

The image below shows The Electric in 1977 advertising Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road. What you may not know is that the cinema, as well as showing some rare classics and notable masterpieces, would often show new films that might perhaps never have seen the light of day, given that distributors were not confident they would do well, so they regularly shelved them. In fact, directors as varying in their styles as their eras, received their first British releases at the Electric. Directors such as Orson Wells, Fritz Lang, Martin Scorsese, and John Huston. Hard to believe, but when you are starting out, or simply trying to establish yourself outside of your usual base, it isn’t always plain sailing, and it wasn’t initially for these now well-known auteurs. Creative efforts are so often thwarted, and talent is a mixed bag of luck, hard work and vision. Everybody starts at the beginning somewhere.

 

 

 

 

Double bills were part and parcel of the Electric experience in its varying incarnations. Films would be programmed together because of their similarities and it offered customers value for money. Geoff Andrew states that:

“The juxtaposition of two films can throw up interesting ideas by means of the films’ similarities and differences. For instance, in a season of movies dealing with madness, we doubled Hitchcock’s famous Psycho with John Huston’s film Freud.  Or Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers with the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup which offers a far less dark but in its way equally cynical view of political machinations.”

I don’t see that level of thought going into the general cinematic experience currently, with some exceptions, like The Prince Charles in the West End.

 

 

 

 

My husband’s programme, Shock Around the Clock, which he has kept over the years. A precursor to the continuing successful horror film festival, Frightfest. Over a period of 12 hours one would sit and watch several films back-to-back. No mean feat, as personally, I probably would have died from a migraine the size of a planet. But it shows the dedication of some film buffs and those organisers willing to go the extra mile.

 

 

 

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre apparently made its first run in uncut form at the Electric cinema. Although the cover you see is from the third instalment. Below a list of what was shown.

 

 

 

 

 

Programme booklet credits.

 

 

 

As with most cinemas the spectre of closure loomed over The Electric too. And it did close in May 1987 after staff, local residents and celebrities campaigned in vain to keep it open, despite efforts over several years to return the cinema to its former glory under different ownership. Mainline Pictures who took over in 1987 renovated the building and brought the cinema up to scratch, rebranding it the Electric Screen. This was no bad thing; The Electric desperately needed a facelift. Or did it? As with most information the truth can sometimes be a little stretched or simply incorrect. Dave Hucker, former manager at the Electric, points out that this was one of many myths surrounding the cinema. Unfortunately, programming was also changed, and regulars began to stay away. Changing from repertory to single-run programming proved too much of a change, altering the cinema’s personality, if such personification can be allowed here. What made it unique had been altered to the point where revenue began to fall. Whatever the reasons, as it stood, it could no longer compete with West End arthouse cinemas, even as a second-run rep house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cinema entrance below. Interestingly, in 1938 plans were submitted detailing a proposed alteration to The Imperial Playhouse as the Electric was then. Had this been carried out, the façade of the building would have been radically transformed, making it look more like a Thirties art deco building. The dome was going to be removed completely and a permanent canopy above the entrance was to be erected, which sounds intriguing. In the end none of it came to fruition, I suspect due to a lack of money. Austerity during the war years halted a lot of ideas.

 

 

 

Below you can see the tiled floor in more detail at the entrance..

 

 

 

 

The doors leading into the auditorium.

 

 

 

 

The box office which reminds me of fair grounds for some reason. The place where you could purchase reasonably priced tickets and enjoy the inexpensive programming. Alas! No popcorn anywhere!

 

 

 

 

The Electric is currently owned by retail entrepreneur Peter Simon who was once a local trader. He invested a considerable amount in the restoration of parts of the cinema before leasing the site to Soho House.

Below is an image of what The Electric looks like today.

Gebler Tooth Architects took on the job using the original plans and any early photographs that were available:

“We’ve restored all the mouldings in the auditorium. The High-level mouldings just needed washing. It was hard to determine what colour the auditorium was painted in the first place. We’ve gone for an ivory background with mouldings and the gilding left but washed.”

They wisely acquired the shop next door and expanded the space for upgraded WC’s, an air conditioning plant, and a restaurant.

Gone are the days of the affordable fleapit. Lamentably money keeps things ticking over until it doesn’t. Without it closures happen. I say lamentably because it shows up the inequalities within communities. Not everybody can afford the changes.

 

 

 

 

Portobello Road, taken from the roof of The Electric in the 1980s before the wave of tourists took over chasing after the Notting Hill dream. Sitting on a 52 bus I have often been asked by visitors if this was the correct transportation to take them to Portobello. The Portobello of Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, a big blue door and celebrity. Prior to that, Portobello Road was a Disney song in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

And don’t forget Paddington Bear, although his claim is far more established in my opinion, as his creator lived in the area.

As a child, Portobello Road was nowhere near as glamorous as it is now portrayed on the big screen. It was the place where you went to get your fruit and veg, settled down for a cup of tea in some greasy spoon café. And if you fancied some entertainment, perhaps an obscure double bill over at the eccentric and unique 191 Portobello Road after a couple of drinks at the local pub.

For me it was Spanish School twice a week down the other end of Portobello after Secondary school, and the occasional visit to Garcia’s with mum for chorizo and bacalao. And sometimes, when I later worked in the area, it was the occasional lunch for a take-away from any one of the many options along Portobello Road. Over the decades I have noticed its gentrification. Now it’s so different I almost think I imagined what it was like before. I suspect the same can be said of our changing city and its buildings generally. But Portobello will always be Portobello and perhaps its historic cinema too will remain so. It has survived this long, we shall see.

 

 

 

 

Postscript:

It has taken me an eternity to finish this blog, not because it was particularly difficult, but because so much has happened in recent months, both personally and otherwise. I kept shelving it, not really having the time to complete it. Getting around to finishing this proved challenging, but I am grateful that I have been able to do so. Also, I realise that The Electric Cinema is well known in the area and as an iconic cinema much has been written about it. I tried to keep things succinct as far as possible and have probably not covered everything. Everyone has a wealth of memories regarding the past – an impossible task for a blog. But I hope you have enjoyed it and allowed for some escapism from the isolation. At this point many of us will be re-evaluating life and some of us will be struggling with the fallout of this for various reasons.

We live in very strange times indeed, and perhaps we are on the threshold of drastic changes given how our lives appear to have been turned upside down. I’m not sure what to make of it as the everyday now seems not so normal. And we wonder what was normal to begin with. The things we once thought were important are now in question.

Please look after yourselves and take good care. Look out for each other and help where you can. We will endeavour to keep you posted where possible and continue to offer a virtual service for Local enquiries.

 

Postscript to the postscript

My thanks to Isabel, and to her husband Paul (who added some personal knowlege) for this excellent post. Also to the many people who worked at the Electric and those who have donated material to the collection.

Dave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


River Man – William Ascroft

William Ascroft (don’t call him Ashcroft) is another of the great Chelsea artists in our collection. (The others, for the record  are Greaves, Burgess, Griffen and Marianne Rush, although those are just the ones where we have a decent amount of their work. There are plenty of others where we just have a few works.) I did a couple of posts about Ascroft in the early days of the blog back in 2012 (here and here ) and while I wouldn’t say I didn’t do him justice, I still feel I haven’t done enough. Ascroft was a successful artist in his day. He was a Royal Academician, and is probably best known now for being commissioned by the Royal Society to paint views of the sky over London after the explosion at Krakatoa in 1883.

The truth is I just wanted to do another Ascroft post. I really like his work and have a strong urge to tell people about it. I’ve been re-arranging some of our pictures and one of the Ascroft related tasks was to remove some of his small pastel sketches from some large  cardboard mounts to which they had been glued many years ago. (Rather barbarously in my opinion but I’m not a conservator so it could be argued that my opinion isn’t worth that much.) It all gave me a good reason to do some more scans of the images.

 

 

This is one of several sketches he did of the Old Swan Inn (a favourite of many Chelsea artists – the old Old Swan of course, there are not nearly so many images of the new or later Old Swan.) I’ve made some efforts not to use the same images as I have in the earlier posts, but some of the pictures just look similar.

The Old Swan is in this one too.

 

 

But you won’t mistake this one for any of his others.

 

 

The Thames at Cremorne, 1866. I haven’t cropped the edges so you can see that these sketches now look a bit rough and ragged. But they show Ascroft on the move, catching impressions at different times of day.

Some are very sketchy, like this one of the Old Church from the south side of the river.

 

 

Or this one, the point of which is the colour in the sky.

 

 

Some are barely started.

 

 

It’s nicely done. Perhaps more detail could have sprung up around the Old Church.

But even the rough ones capture the sense place. This shows the steps up to Albert Bridge.

 

 

While this one shows the gate houses on the north side of Battersea Bridge, almost looking up Beaufort Street.

 

 

I think this is before the Embankment. The story of the Ascroft sketches as told to me was that when Ascroft died, the Librarian at Chelsea Library went to his studio and bought whatever was there. Having written that sentence I thought that this was the sort of story that could be told about many of our artists. You imagine the Librarian as a kind of Lovejoy figure, haunting the galleries and studios of Chelsea. I would have liked that job. But I couldn’t believe it was quite that simple. In the spirit of fact checking I went to the Accessions Register, a ledger older than any of our libraries and found the truth. A large number of pictures by Ascroft were purchased at Pope’s Auction Rooms in Hammersmith in 1937 for the sum of £6 and 30 shillings. A pretty good investment by the perfectly respectable Librarian. No scruffy antique (or book) dealers were involved, but it’s fun to imagine the scene.

So, anyway, we do have a large number of these small pastel sketches. Back in the 20th century I once put on an exhibition of Ascroft’s work. We had a pretty good colour photocopier in those days  and I used it to make enlargements of the sketches, so I didn’t have to worry about security. That seems a bit barbarous on my part now, but it was a very good photocopier. (Although it was never the same after being assaulted by a member of staff who I will not name – she knows who she is.)

This little picture shows Lindsey Row looking east, although I think it must be unfinished by the lack of a bridge.

 

 

The picture below shows Mr Radnor’s House.

 

 

On the rear of the paper, Ascroft left copious notes. I know some readers enjoy this sort of thing so it was worthwhile adding this picture.

 

 

Some pictures leave a distinctive impression half deliberately, half by chance. I couldn’t leave this one out.

 

 

But finally, some of Ascroft’s more conventional views.

The riverside, with the Old Swan again.

 

 

A look over the rooftops, perhaps from the tower of the Old Church at the river.

 

 

And one of a church, not necessarily the one we’re most familiar with, but any church, surrounded by trees.

 

 

Waiting for a story.  Not for me to supply this time.

I’ll leave William Ascroft for now. But you’ll see him again one day.

 

Postscript

I’ve just heard of the sad death of Emma Wood (obituary), Photographer, researcher and campaigner. I had dealings with her a few years ago relating to the archive of Mike Braybrook. Her energy and determination was significant in the preservation of the archive. As a librarian I’m always impressed by a dedication to the preservation of ephemera. I saw her from time to time in the library when she was researching other matters and she was always friendly and patient. My sympathies to her family and friends. It was nice to see in the Guardian obituary a photograph of a younger Emma.


Walter Greaves: postcards and photographs

Monochrome photographs of paintings are unsatisfactory in most cases. In my travels through archives and reference stores I have come across many old art books full of black and white images which have been superseded by later colour versions. So perhaps you could forgive me if, many years back, I dismissed a small collection of photographs of Greaves paintings because  they were “only black and white”. Some of them were postcard size, and a group of larger ones had begun to deteriorate with age, but now I look at them and find them quite interesting. In addition, modern software enables me to mess about with them.

This first image though, comes from a modern postcard I acquired for myself along the way, and it’s quite striking.

 

 

Circus performers and mountebanks, as Greaves puts it. The same troupe is seen below, adding a sensational element to an ordinary day in riverside Chelsea. the giant figure and the performers bring an element of folk horror to this urban territory. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is the old Chelsea, a slightly down at heel riverside neighbourhood, somewhat dilapidated.

 

 

But as well as the working riverside this part of Chelsea was home to other entertainments.

In the background of this picture, another spectacle – the Female Blondin, crossing the river on a tightrope. We’ve covered this before in this post.

 

 

Tom Pocock suggests in Chelsea Reach that the tightrope artist, Lucy Young later became the wife of Walter’s older brother George. This is a more realistic view of the crossing than the etching seen in the old post, which gave the impression there were huge numbers of boats in the water. Miss Young had to abandon the walk part  way through when the ropes became slack but she returned later and completed a two way walk.  She was unlucky when she fell at Highbury Barn a year afterwards. Pocock reports that she was “crippled” but also notes that in marrying George she had returned to “the scene of her greatest Triumph.”

After which, with the Greaves family season ticket to Cremorne she could engage in more sedate pursuits. Here are two more views of the Gardens, in daylight,

 

 

And in the evening.

 

 

In a ghostly light.

Below, the deconstruction of the old Battersea Bridge and the construction of the new version.

 

 

 

Both Greaves, and his mentor Whistler preferred the old to the new and continued to dwell on “old Chelsea”, which was not even part of London to many of its inhabitants. Dickens, although he was married at St Lukes and was a friend of the Carlyle family called it “barbarous Chelsea”. Speaking of the “sage of Chelsea”,

 

 

Although neither Walter nor Henry were very skilled at drawing figures, they did like to enliven their pictures with a few figures. like this one of the man himself, almost a tourist attraction in his own right.

Female figures were often of one of their sisters, Eliza, Emily or the youngest, Alice.

 

 

The Strange shop, a general merchant and grocers is also seen in some of the photographs by James Hedderly. (Strange’s is one of the shops in this image.) As a professional sign writer he often provided painting materials to the Greaves brothers and Whistler. I have corresponded with a descendant of Mr Strange.

This older woman could also be Alice, pale and enigmatic on an otherwise deserted riverside, before the Embankment.

 

I wonder if her dress quite matches the pre-embankment period? The dating or Greaves paintings is sometimes questionable.

The picture below is Eliza Greaves, wearing a Tudor style outfit, in a picture called the Green Dress.

 

 

I used a green filter on the image, which also works well on other pictures like the Balcony, one of Walter’s best compositions.

 

 

And even the bowling green at the rear of the King’s Head and Six Bells. (Not to be confused with the King’s Head and Eight Bells which is in the Hedderly photo. This King’s Head was on the King’s Road, and was later the home of a jazz club.)

 

 

The two figures below could be Walter and Alice heading homeward.

 

 

These two definitely are.the siblings Alice’s parasol was actually pink so I’ve given a slightly red tinge to the image.

 

 

It’s not in particularly good condition. You can see signs of chemical deterioration around the edge.

This photograph of Walter is also showing signs of age.

 

 

But it does catch a something of his character, a diffident man who was nevertheless possessed by the desire to paint, and bring the old Chelsea back to a modern world.

Postscript

I couldn’t leave Greaves with just one post, but next time, although we’ll still be by the river, you’ll see a more vigorous and colourful version of Chelsea.

Another postscript

I was thinking that now I’m back to regular posting I should be looking out for deaths, which was an occasional part of the blog but there was nothing I’d noticed recently. Then as soon as I looked at Twitter today I saw something about David Roback, who died on Monday of this week. He was the guitarist of Mazzy Star, a group who have rather faded  into the background. I realised that I owned all four of their albums as well as a couple by their singer Hope Sandoval. They had a unique sound which I shall not attempt to put into words. My MP3 player still plays me Fade into You, a flash of languid brightness on a dull day.


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