On the border 6.2: road

1998, a sunny day near the end of a century at the junction of Ladbroke Grove with Kensal Road.

 

When I thought of covering the canal and Kensal Road in a couple of posts I took one of those Google Street View tours from this point up to Golborne Road and realised that the road has changed enormously in the last 40 years. There are many new buildings and conversions and the road looks quite different from how it did at the end of the 1960s, but some older buildings have survived along with something of the semi-domestic semi-industrial feel of the area.

 

 

It’s been suggested to me that the car beneath the advertising hoarding is a Fiat Panda, but surely not. (Too much of a coincidence? What was that advert “Ol’ Balck Eyes is back” about?) The pub which is still there today is the Western Arms which can also be seen in this picture looking back towards Ladbroke Grove.

 

 

 

At the back of the picture is another survivor, Canalside House. But the building on the right is no longer there. The rather larger, mostly white, corporate headquarters of the Innocent Company is there now. Behind the wall is the Portobello Dock.

We have some other pictures from the modern era but perhaps now is the moment to step back to 1969.

 

 

There is the pub again, with an unmistakable and unlovely Ford Anglia parked outside.

A couple of women stroll towards us, along the comparatively quiet street. This was one of the first streets John Rogers covered in his photo survey of the Borough, and one of the earliest chronologically. He must have started right at the top of Kensington, intending to work his way south.

 

 

 

Across the road is the entrance to the Dock, which went under many names. As well as Kensal Wharf when it was owned by the Chelsea Vestry, it was also called Kensington Wharf and also the Council Depot. (A favourite term for council buildings which were not predominantly offices. The main depot was in Pembroke Road and was still known by that name when I started working for the borough, in another semi-forgotten era.)

 

 

This view shows the yard just inside the entrance. Below the view inside.

 

 

Again, you can see the Narrow Boat pub in the background on the other side of the canal, which I once thought undocumented but is now turning up a lot in pictures.

 

 

 

The ramp was originally for horses to pull wagons up to the dock side. The building in the centre was used for several light industrial purposes including the manufacture of “gramophone records”, as Kelly’s describes it.

Also just visible are a pair of  early social housing blocks from the 1930s, Ruth House, below.

 

 

And Pollock House. Both of them have survived into this century.

 

 

The Saga Records building is also still here, although the front is currently boarded up.

 

 

A little further along the north side of the road, number 298 and a couple of neighbouring houses. Only the pram betrays any sign of habitation.

 

 

On the south side of the road, a part of Middle Row School.

 

 

This part of the school no longer exists, but the main building on Middle Row itself is still in action. The houses and shops on the left are also gone.

At this point I have to admit that it looks like we’re not going to get back to our starting point in Wedlake Street this week, so we’ll be doing another week in Kensal Road. I’ll leave you with another view of a pub.

 

 

The excellently named “Lads of the Village”.  It was later known as the Village Inn and by 2014 it seems to have become a wine bar type establishment called “Frames” (some snooker reference?) The building is currently intact according to Street View but it is now boarded up, awaiting further developments.

And for a final general image with a bit of a change of pace, a colour aerial view of the western section of Kensal Road.

 

 

This is from a series we have  taken about 1985. (A fascinating but sometimes confusing set of images) You can see the junction of Kensal Road and Ladbroke |Grove where we started today on the top left, with a few of the remaining features of 1969 and some new buildings. The canal is visible at the top, and (just about) the dock.

We’ll go a bit further, and come back to Wedlake Street in the next weekly post but before then it’s the week  before  Christmas when, by Tradition, I do a week of daily posts. Sooner than I thought, and only one of those is written so far. So fingers crossed.

 

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On the border 6.1: Canal

The next couple of posts arise from this photograph, which  my  friend  Maggie  got excited about a couple of weeks ago. (There aren’t too many pictures of this building.) This one comes from our collection of former Planning photos  and was taken on October 16th 1984. You can see the staple in the middle which joins two prints together, as we used to do before we could get help from a computer.

 

 

 

 

It shows the rear of the former public  baths in Kensal Road which backed onto the  Grand Union Canal. (Previously known as the Grand Junction Canal) Two  faded lines  of graffiti seem to read “Save  our baths“.Too late perhaps. The impressive building must have been close  to demolition given the date . You can see Trellick Tower in the background to give you some idea of the location.

The highlighted graffiti  reads “An eye for an eye – in the end the whole world goes blind.” A characteristically seventies bit of instant sloganeering. See this old post about graffiti.

On the left is one of those scary high sided foot  bridges which were hated by young and old alike because you never knew what you might encounter on them while crossing. (Known locally as the halfpenny steps I’m told.)

This picture shows the steps up to the bridge, and the main entrance to the baths in Wedlake Street (the baths were sometimes called the Wedlake Baths). No amount of peering with a magnifying glass (another piece of old tech used in local studies) will reveal the wording text of the graffiti.

 

 

This is the view around the corner in Kensal Road, another carefully stapled image. The building on which JM and his friends have left their mark were once the Vestry Offices.

 

 

Historical note: up to 1900 the Chelsea Vestry owned a piece of territory called Kensal New Town which straddled the later border between Kensington and Paddington, so these Vestry offices originally belonged to Chelsea, as did the wharf, as we’ll see later.

Kensal Road now runs from Ladbroke Grove to Golborne Road, ending more or less at Trellick Tower but it formerly went all the way to the Great Western Road, running parallel with the canal, and north of the railway line. This is why I wanted to look at this border area, the canal and the road, together. This week we’ll look at the canal, so back to the water.

 

 

This view of the towpath is the last of this series from 1984.

This older image shows the backs of the industrial buildings on the south side of the canal.

 

 

This one gives a better view of the north side.

 

 

It’s a slightly discoloured image (some colour prints go that way) which shows how the houses and shops on the Harrow Road went right up to the edge of the canal. My houseboat correspondent tells me that one of these was the rear of a fish and chip shop and that boat people could get their order handed to them without leaving their boats.

We’re heading west from this point back towards Ladbroke Grove. But before we get there we should stop off at Portobello Dock.

 

 

The dock (once called Kensal Wharf) is a small basin off the canal. As part of Kensal New Town it would once have belonged to the Chelsea Vestry. (Access to the canal might well have been useful to the Vestry, just as some landlocked nations like to have access to the sea or to useful waterways. The Kensington Vestry once owned a riverside section of Chelsea and later had a wharf on the river near Chelsea Creek.)

 

 

These two pictures have been cropped from a contact sheet. (See the pen mark at the top of the image.) This one shows where the dock area could be entered from Kensal Road.

This picture by local photographer Peter Dixon shows the somewhat waterlogged towpath with the gas works in the background and on the right the Narrow Boat public house.

 

 

There is another photograph showing the now demolished pub by Peter in the Ladbroke Grove post I did a couple of years ago.

On the other side of the road, in a picture from 1975, you can see the gas works (covered quite extensively in this post) and on the other side of the canal, the wall of Kensal Green Cemetery.

 

 

The gas works had two basins of its own. You can see the entrance to the smaller one  (which still exists) in the foreground. The bridge over the entrance to the larger basin is visible in the distance.

Here is a picture of a barge actually entering the basin.

 

 

This view shows the rear of the barge as it performs this manoeuvre.

 

 

I think this is the smaller basin, about 1970.

 

 

Back on the main body of the canal we carry on westwards. This view of the less grand section of the cemetery looks quite rural, as it would have been once.

 

 

And finally, this view just around the corner gives us a traditional motor barge passing by  a stand of trees with only the gasometer to give the setting away.

1970s we think, based on the plastic sheathed tree on the right.

That takes us along the northern border of Kensington and Chelsea by canal. The next post gets back to the road.

Postscript

Thanks to Peter Dixon for his photograph, which is reproduced by permission. Please do not use it without his permission.

Thanks also to Barbara for providing the two pictures of the barge entering the basin, and for finding many of the others which come from our Planning collection. I’m grateful for the continuing interest of North Kensington residents in their history which is just as fascinating as the more “historical” parts of Kensington and Chelsea.


The King’s Road with CC

I know we’ve been up and down the King’s Road a number of times over the course of this blog and seen it through the eyes of a number of photographers, John Rogers, John Bignell and most recently Bill Figg. But I can’t resist doing again one more time through pictures by another of our Chelsea photographers, CC, who supplied the pictures for a recent post about Chelsea punks. She told me that today’s pictures were among her earliest efforts, mostly taken in the early 1970s or the very late 1960s. She also said that a few of them are not quite in focus. But I’m going to use those because of the things you can still see: shopfronts and other details.

Just for the sake of variation we’re going east to west this time.

 

 

This picture, with the cars of the time and the conventional dress of the couple on the right shows that the older King’s Road was still visible, probably even still dominant. This is roughly the period when I first walked down the King’s Road, not because I was drawn there by a new trendy fashion culture, but because my mother wanted to see one of the newest “sights” of London. I was with my parents and we were staying in Clapham with my uncle, who had a restaurant in Crystal Palace, or it could have been his later one in the Wandsworth Road. I would have been happier not venturing into counter cultural territory with my parents and leaving the King’s Road for the day when I could go there unencumbered, but I didn’t have the option that day. Perhaps that’s why I have only the vaguest impression of the day. It’s a bit of chronological geography (see the previous post) which has been almost obliterated by time.

 

 

That’s the north side of the road with a view of Cecil Gee (an established chain now catching up with new fashions) and a couple or routemasters for the bus enthusiasts.

This is the corner of Blacklands Terrace with the venerable John Sandoe bookshop already long established, and the Colville Wine Stores, close to the Colville pub.

 

 

 

A more obviously contemporary place, still recognizable today:

 

 

With a nice contrast in passers by. Below, CC has successfully created a rather clever image using the distinctive frontage of the Drugs Store.

 

 

This contrasts nicely with this tranquil view down the avenue of trees at Royal Avenue with vehicles at work.

 

 

Here, the now long departed Markham Arms.

 

Before the remodeling which retained the facade but little else, another distinctive building.

 

 

 

At this point I started consulting Kelly’s Street Directory and Richard Lester’s excellent book Boutique London to try and find the location of this famous shop, the first branch of which was in Carnaby Street.

 

 

I eventually found it in a photo by John Rogers, our first King’s Road photographer, on the corner of Jubilee Place.

This one too looked like a tricky one.

 

 

But Gipsy (“gowns” according to Kelly’s Directory – some whimsy at work  there) was at number 184a, between Jubilee Place and Manor Street.

This picture’s s blurred but you can see we’re at 137, one of the homes of Top Gear, another well known name of the time.

 

 

Moving west, a more familiar landmark.

 

 

The King’s Head and Six Bells under the pseudonym The Bird’s Nest. For an earlier phase in its varied history try this post. CC thought it was worth a glance upwards (as it often is, above the shopfronts on high streets).

 

 

Further along, a couple of nondescript retailers (except that none of them are completely without interest). S.Borris was a sandwich bar which was there for a long time. (Although I never went in very much. At some point someone warned me off the place for hygiene reasons – whether that was justified or not I cannot say.)

 

 

Nearby, another long standing feature of this section of the road.

 

 

I think the next shop was on the corner of Old Church Street. If you know otherwise please leave a comment.

 

 

Now we move on the the last section of new shops, coming to the  the curve leading to the final bit of the road.

 

 

Near Mata Hari, you could speed by in your nippy little sports car. Is it an MG Midget? [It’s been pointed out on twitter that in fact it’s a Triumph Spitfire. Of course, the Midget looked weirder! Thanks to DB.]

 

 

This is another slightly blurred picture but it does show us 430 King’s Road, then the home of Mr Freedom where Tommy Roberts and Trevor Myles continued their retail progress in the shop that would become SEX (among other names) later in the seventies.

And as I’ve not been blogging for the last couple of weeks, here’s a couple of bonus pictures, one of the World’s End itself

 

What is that thing?

Note the advertising slogan: “Give him a Guinness.”

And, probably from somewhere nearby:

 

[Update: This is the King’s Road end of Anderson Street, which I can now see as plain as day. Thanks to CC herself for that.]

Postscript

My time has been rather taken up for the last two weeks with the London History Festival. Although it’s of academic interest now, thanks to Roger Moorhouse, Marc Morris, Michael Jones, John McHugo and Keith Lowe who all gave their time for free.

I decided on a blogging breather so I didn’t spread myself too thin. I thought I had a good comeback post but it proved to be quite labour intensive so I fell back on this excellent series of pictures by CC.  Thanks again to her. And as I’ve not been present for a short while Chelsea aficionados  get twenty pictures.  I’ve got another couple of ideas bubbling under, but I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing next week.


South Kensington: pedestrians and other travellers 1970

One of the differences between Londoners born in London and those who come to it later in life like me is the way we “learn” London. My wife was born and raised in Chelsea. She got to know the area round her home as a child and as she grew up her world grew logically. I first came to London on holiday, to stay with relatives and see the sights.

“A foreign student said to me / Is it really true? / There are elephants and lions too / At Piccadilly Circus?”

Then I was a student myself. My London grew around the first travel aid I had, the tube map, so isolated pockets of familiar territory gradually expanded and (usually) joined up. These pockets are also chronological layers so occasionally a piece of your deep history comes up against a new place you’ve come to know. I pass through the area near South Kensington Station several times a week but it was also one of the first parts of London I visited regularly. It’s near the museums of course and there’s  a small district of shops clustered around the station on the four or five streets which converge on it. We’ve looked at one of those streets, Pelham Street, before in the photographs of John Rogers. John’s task was to take pictures of the streets and the buildings in them. The inhabitants of the streets were incidental. But in this week’s collection the people take over that small territory and become the main subject of the images.

 

 

There’s a good selection of 1970 people waiting for the bus westwards.  Three examples of the middle aged woman in a headscarf, still common back then. Two young women with fashionable carrier bags , one in an early maxi-coat, a hefty teenage boy out of uniform but not yet sure what he is supposed to wear, and walking past the queue a dude whose hair is getting good in the back wearing a trendy coat. Lots of life here, and an advert for Red Bus Rovers, a boon for anyone who wanted to kill time by going to,  say Homerton, at the end of the line. This is the Thurloe Street entrance to the station.

 

To the right, a tobacconist (with room for toys and games) a fruiterer, and a confectioner. Note the people crossing the road , including the mother with two sons.

 

 

 

There is a ladies outfitters, Merle, occupying two shop fronts (business rates must have been low, but of course for clothes in 1970 it was either shops or mail order catalogues). According to Kelly’s directory the next unit is Dino’s Restaurant which you can see in this post about Pelham Street.  Below, we’re looking east along Thurloe Street.

 

 

 

A father and daughter are crossing the road, looking out for traffic. They might have appreciated the modern Thurloe Street which is now largely pedestrianised.

 

 

 

A young woman has crossed safely and the bus has gone. The woman at the stop was in the first picture I think. There were two stops, one I think for 14s and one for 74s. The 49 also stopped there, and the 45A started and terminated just round the corner in Exhibition Road.

Then as now, many of the businesses in this area were food outlets of one kind or another. Here is the South Kensington Restaurant (or the SKR).

 

A quite extensive establishment. Note the road marking for Fulham.

Her’s the other bus stop with an expectant family duo.

 

 

Along with a TV and electrical store, and another Cafe.

Next to it the Medici Society shop, for prints and cards, the only one that remains today.

 

 

And a Wimpy Bar! The rather half-hearted British attempt at a hamburger chain which we had before McDonalds. Remember the plastic covered menus, and the waitress service (the British didn’t queue up in a cafe back then)? The burgers were okay as I recall but then we didn’t know any better.

 

 

Pultney, for books and prints, with a smart father and son passing by, and another restaurant, Daquise, on the corner. You can see some paving in the middle of the road which kept the streams of traffic apart in the comparatively narrow street which had to take, cars, pedestrians and buses turning off Brompton Road.

I’ve enlarged a detail from the next image to show you the most fashionable woman in this group of pictures.

 

 

 

The lady on the left of the duo, wearing a very 1970 cape, a new trend at the time. As always with these pictures you can enlarge them enough to get a sense of the person but not much more.

Opposite the shops Thurloe Street meets the tail end of Exhibition Road. That island can be seen more clearly.

You can also see some metal structures on the island. These are air shafts for the foot tunnel which leads from the ticket hall of the station under the road to the museums in Exhibition Road.

The bus is actually a 207a (a former trolley bus route) which came all the way from Hayes, sometimes terminating here, sometimes going onto Chelsea to where the 31s (now 328s) finished. You can just about see a man in a London Transport white coat standing next to the bus.

Almost occluded by the bus  is another restaurant, Chompers, which I note partly because it’s a characteristically 1970s name but also because I ate there once with my friends Carl and Trixie. I’ve already recorded on another occasion that Carl sadly died in 1999.  Pictures of South Kensington remind me of him because he went to nearby Imperial College and lived in student accommodation in Cranley Gardens, very close to where I live now. So those two small areas are among the deepest layers of my personal chronological map of London.

Beyond the air shafts are the offices of the Kensington and Chelsea Post newspapers.

 

 

This is the opposite corner of Thur;oe / Exhibition Road.

 

 

(With a nice Jaguar / Daimler.)

 

 

 

That single story outcrop from the two terraces runs the length of the block. Here are some more air shafts, and a bookseller, with a purposeful dude striding across the street. There used to be a shop on that side of the road that sold all sorts of paper crafts and art materials. There are no pictures of that in this set. But it’s in a different chronological layer of my London history. You can’t visit them all at once.

Postscript

When I was first in London I wanted to go to Blake Hall, a station I saw on the Tube map near the end of the Central Line. It sounded interesting. But I never did, and you can’t now, although I believe the station buildings still exist, on the way to Ongar.

The lyric at the start comes from a song on the Jethro Tull album Aqualung, which I might have already disowned before I came London. But the words stuck in my mind.

I should also apologise to anyone called Blanka Azdajic, a name I have used  a couple of time in my Halloween stories. I consulted by friend Nina when I wanted an authentic sounding Serbo-Croatian name. Too authentic it seems. So let me just say my Blanka is a fictional character and her place of work is not located in this universe. I was a bit short of inspiration this year. I had thought of sending Blanka on an urban exploration expedition to some desolate industrial site but I couldn’t think what might have happened there so I left it thinking I wouldn’t bother this year. Then I saw some pictures of the old market hall in Chester and I remembered buying magazines and comics there. I still own some dilapidated  copies of Castle of Frankenstein and other magazines including one whose cover is devoted to a film called the Brain that wouldn’t die. (You can find it on YouTube. ) In the information poor early 1970s the monster magazines were often the only  way horror film fans could find out about particular films. Castle of Frankenstein was one of the more literate of the genre. The reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Frankenstein on the cover last week was to an obscure book by the creator of Tarzan and John Carter called the Monster Men, a sort of cross between Frankenstein and the Island of Dr Moreau. I had (and presumably still do have somewhere) a tiny Ace edition.


Halloween story – the shop

This year’s Halloween post has been sent to us by Blanka Azdajic, Acting Head of Visitations at the Institute of Hermetic Research. It originated with one of the researchers who used to visit the Supplications Room at the Institute.

When I was a teenager, 15 or 16, I would go into town on Saturday mornings, buy a couple of meat pies from Blake’s and mooch around the few places that sold books and records. Or I might go to one of the tiny newsagents and ask to see the latest batch of American comics, usually Marvel which some of them kept in the back as there was very little room on the racks. Or I might go into the old Gothic market hall, a huge open space with a glass roof where, along with the clothes and food stalls, there was a place you could buy monster magazines.

 

On this particular day I had to stay at home in the morning for a visit by my Uncle James so I didn’t get into town until mid-afternoon. Blake’s had sold all the pies. I spent some time in a new record shop in Watergate Street in the Rows so when I got to the market it was already starting to close.

 

 

I rushed to the stall and quickly bought two issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and one of Castle of Frankenstein, more than I could afford really after buying two LPs, but if there wasn’t enough change in my pocket for the bus I could always walk.

 

 

There was an exit at the rear of the market which I had never used but I could guess where it came out. I found myself in a yard behind what I assumed was a pub, rather run down. But there was an open gate so I carried on into a narrow cobbled street. There were a few of these near the cathedral so I was not too surprised. But although it was a bit overcast and there was a slight drizzle it didn’t seem like late afternoon, more like midday.

 

 

The street wound round a corner as I expected past a couple of shops. The first sold elaborate antique dolls and tin toys. One of the dolls was almost life size, slumped back like a person who had just passed out. It wore a shiny dress too big for it. A cat, also pretty substantial, dozed on the ends of the skirt. There were a number of small grotesque figurines on a shelf. They were strange enough for me to want to move on, especially as the next shop was a bookshop.

It was clearly full of antiquarian books, but visible through the window were two browser boxes full of colourful hardbacks and paperbacks which looked like my kind of thing and might not be too expensive. I went in, causing a bell to ring. No-one came immediately so I started looking and regretted it at once as there were several books I wanted, some quite reasonably priced.

 

A Panther edition of HP Lovecraft’s Dagon and other macabre tales with a marvelous cover in black and white showing a number of squirming demons. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the ghost finder (I loved the House on the Borderland and would buy anything by him).

 

 

William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and Soft Machine with their mirrored covers which I knew would be beyond me but I wanted anyway. A small hardback by a woman called Hope-Elliott which I had heard of in an introduction by Lin Carter to a Lord Dunsany book.

I put the pile on top of the box and looked around. Near me was a shelf of illustrated books, featuring artists I had heard of – Aubrey Beardsley, Sidney Sime, Arthur Rackham – and a book called Sweet Gwendoline which I found riveting but knew straight away I could never contemplate taking home. As I hastily returned it to the shelf I heard a rustling sound and realised that someone had been sitting at the back of the room all the time I was there. The person wore a long old-fashioned dress like something in a costume drama. As I looked closer I realised she (or he?) was wearing a mask like a doll’s face.

 

I froze up as my eyes seemed to meet the living eyes visible through the eye holes. I was sure I was ready to bolt out of the door if the person spoke to me.

But it was someone else who spoke, a woman of about 30 I thought. She also wore a long dress but this was more like a modern maxi skirt, gauzy and brightly coloured.

“Have you found something? I normally put the boxes outside but the weather looks a bit treacherous.”

I showed her what I had selected.

“Oh yes, all good stuff here. This is my kind of thing too.”

She glanced across at the masked woman.

“Don’t let her bother you, she only does it for effect. Laura, take that thing off, you’re bothering the customers.”

Laura did as she was asked, revealing a pretty girl only a little older than me. She also removed her wig and showed her own hair, straight and black cut in a bob. She wore black make-up round her eyes, presumably to make them stand out through the eye holes of the mask. She still looked pretty, very pretty in fact. The two of them were beautiful but left me apprehensive as confident young women sometimes do when you’re a teenager.

Laura smiled at me in a friendly way but didn’t say anything.

“No one I know better for mysterious and enigmatic if that’s what you like” said the woman. “I’m Alice. Now I see you’ve picked out Travels to Faery. That’s a good one. That shows a degree of discernment on your part if you don’t mind me sounding a bit patronising.”

I told her where I’d heard about it.

“Oh Lin Carter! Always letting the cat out of the bag. Now if you fancy that, I think you would love this.”

She produced a small green hardback, obviously old, with an ornate design on the cover. I had seen a few books like that at Uncle James’s London flat.

“Helena Endicott. Impressions of the Hidden World. 1936. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of her brother? No, probably a good thing. This is quite rare but I believe that books should find their owners.”

She named a price that was not outrageous for my pocket and I was so under her spell that I would have bought it at twice the price…if only I had the money.

I mentioned my lack of cash. She asked to see the LPs I’d bought and the magazines. I got them out and she looked at them closely. Laura picked up the Castle of Frankenstein and started reading it. I asked if she would keep the books till I could come back, maybe even the next day. She frowned a little at this and then seemed to come to a decision, smiling at me.

 

 

“What you should do is open an account with us and then you can take the books away today. Sit down, let’s just fill out a form.”

There was no form. She just wrote down my name and address and date of birth on a sheet of cream paper, with an expensive looking fountain pen. She got me to sign my name at the bottom, then wrote hers, Fletcher. She took a small lancet out of the desk drawer.

“There! Now just a drop of blood. Oh, don’t worry, nothing to be afraid of.”

Before I could object she was holding one of my finger in one hand and pricking it with the lancet, squeezing a tiny drop of blood into a small wine glass filled with water, or what I assumed was water.

“No problem, was it?”

She was applying pressure to the finger. The whole business was incredibly strange but I tried not to show any alarm. Alice produced a plastic bag with a complicated design on it, but no name or logo, and put both the books and the magazines into it.

Laura held up one of the LPs. It was the Black Widow album, Sacrifice, the one with Come to the Sabbat.

“I’d quite like to hear this. Can I borrow it?”

“Never refuse a pretty young woman” said Alice. I had no intention of arguing.

She looked up at a framed print on the wall. I recognized the street as local.

 

 

She put on a raincoat and walked me to the door, saying she would show me the best way back to the Town Hall square. As we went out, Laura waved to me and said bye. The last thing I saw was her drinking the water in the glass in one go and starting to replace her mask.

It seemed like early evening again outside the shop. Alice took my arm and walked me down the street. It seemed like a long way to me but as we emerged into familiar territory she waved to a taxi and ushered me into it. She handed the driver some money and off I went.

I let myself in and was immediately surrounded by my parents, my sister and Uncle James. There was a lot of fuss about where I had been and how long I’d been gone. It was about 10 in the evening which seemed unlikely to me but apparently true. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned the reason for the panic. Two teenage boys and a girl had been injured by falling masonry leaving the market the day before, one of them quite seriously.

I went back to the shop early the following Saturday. I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t even find the street or even the rear entrance from the market. I went back on several occasions at different times and tried to approach the rear of the market from every possible angle but it was never there again. I have no explanation. I never told anyone about it.

I had the books of course. I consulted books at the library and later at other libraries in London and elsewhere. The paperbacks were mass market editions and could be bought elsewhere and I found the book by Hope-Elliott in several libraries and archives. But I never found the Endicott book in any list or bibliography, or any biographical details about the author. There was an American artist called Endicott but I could never confirm if he had a sister.

The book itself was fascinating and quite unlike anything I’d ever read. In my opinion it should have been famous. I half expected to find it in Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Fiction essay which is in Dagon but it seemed to have escaped his notice. You could perhaps have described it as a book of short stories but most of the “impressions” were just brief anecdotes or vignettes, some of them overtly supernatural, some not. There were mirrors and dolls and disappearances, which was all quite appropriate. The one that stuck in my mind concerned a narrator who watches a cat trying to stalk a squirrel. He imagines himself intervening to save the squirrel if the cat got lucky and then tells a story of a young woman “of the 1860s walking in an ornamental garden at dusk wearing a crinoline dress, proceeding in a stately fashion, when a lady vampire happens by”. Just at the point where the vampire has seized the young woman another watching presence “masked as if for a carnival” suddenly appears and pulls the vampire away, gripping her by the neck like grasping a cat. The young woman pulls up her dress and sprints away. The narrator wonders how often God, or some other spiritual entity intervenes in small events.

There is also a story involving premature burial. By coincidence it was in Castle of Frankenstein that I first saw the Harry Clarke illustrations for Poe.

 

You would think a series of half-realised narratives like that would not amount to much but I found the book highly absorbing and it became one of my most treasured possessions, as if the author was a close friend. Perhaps because of that I never made a big thing about it to anyone else, although I carried on trying to find out more about it and its author.

More than 40 years have passed since that incident. I came to London, made a career and have lived for a long time in a flat inherited from Uncle James. My parents are dead and my sister lives in Australia. Today I went to see a consultant at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital and got some bad news about a set of test results. Not the end of the world, said the doctor. Let’s line up a few tests, an MRI, a colonoscopy, some more blood work. But I hadn’t been expecting anything good that day and didn’t feel optimistic. I walked out of the hospital in a bit of a daze and found myself going through one of the revolving doors thinking of Tom Cruise, who goes into the same building (masquerading as a New York hospital) late at night in “Eyes wide shut”. A nurse wearing the distinctive blue uniform with a mandarin collar under a padded coat walked with me.

“You never did come back and pay Alice for those books, did you?” she said. I looked at her properly and realised it was Laura, the girl who wore a mask all those years ago. She laughed at my shock. Naturally she barely looked a day older.

“Oh don’t worry about it. She’s used to waiting. Shall we get a coffee?”

A few minutes later we sat in Starbucks looking out of the window. She pointed up Hollywood Road where I could see a pair of shop fronts which looked familiar. I couldn’t remember if they’d always been there.

“It’s mainly that Endicott book we’re interested in. You don’t happen to have it with you, do you?”

I did. I had taken over the years to carrying it around with me whenever I was expecting something significant to happen.

“That’s good. We could go over and see her now. You know, she’s looking for some help in the shop? It might mean starting again at the bottom, but really, who wouldn’t mind being 16 again?”

She smiled at me in that same way, friendly but a little bit scary.

“Take your time.”

Just like in one of those supernatural stories which end with the opening of a door or something as the narrator keeps up the story to the bitter end leaving only a series of dots…

I opened my IPad where most of this narrative was already stored and added a few lines.

Laura takes a mask from her bag and puts it on. She zips up the coat and pulls up the hood. The expressionless face looks at me and her gloved hand reaches out to take mine. I save the document and attach it to an email. I’m ready to press send as soon as she says, shall we go?

 

Normal service will resume next week. DW

Venice Carnival photographs by Peter Hhuck. Book and magazine covers copyright by their publishers.


Blog extra: one million

It’s only a number.

Obviously.

But a million page views is still a bit of  a landmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to everyone who has read and supported this blog since 2011.

[Photographs by James Hedderly, John Bignell, Edward Linley Sambourne, unknown, unknown, Adam Ritchie and Kate Pragnell (possibly). Cremorne cover also anonymous]


The end of Camelford Street

The name of Camelford Street is continued in one of the walkways on the Lancaster West Estate, which is what drew my attention to these pictures of the original street, which are part of our 1970s photo survey. This view is looking west.

 

 

In some ways a classic street scene from the 70s as we saw in Hurstway Street a few years go. The derelict properties, a few residents hanging on, and the inevitable varied collection of cars. Look at that Jaguar in the foreground with some damage to the front end. I once (in Dalgarno Gardens I think) came across a little crescent which seemed to be full of old Jaguars and Daimlers. (for another Jaguar story see this post).

Camelford Street was more or less erased by development in the early 1970s. For those of you who need a reminder, here it is on an OS map updated about 1971.

 

 

As you can see it was in  a block of houses and larger buildings  between Ladbroke Grove, Lancaster Road, St Mark’s Road and Cornwall Crescent. By the time of this map much of the demolition had already taken place. The 1935 map shows the houses which been there a short time before.

 

 

(Note the Convent on the other side of Ladbroke Grove. We had a look at that when the blog was young.)

Demolition had already begun in the picture below showing the rear of Ladbroke Lower School.

 

 

On the other side of the road there was still some signs of life.

 

 

This view is further up the road showing the exposed party wall of a house already boarded up, with the same estate car (a Ford? Or a Hillman?)

 

 

Beyond that a gap in the houses where you find the old school gates with signs for Girls on one side Infants on the other.

 

 

 

Next, another section of near complete demolition.

 

 

Solomon Wolfson School is visible in the background.

This is the final stretch of the north side of the street. Note the pile of tires on the left, a sure marker for imminent destruction it seems.

 

 

This is the south side of the street. There’s that Land Rover and that unknown old car from the first picture, and Kelly and Mick have left their mark.

 

 

On the left is the pub at the end of the street, the Ladbroke. Here is a better view.

 

 

This is the view looking back to the end of the street. That Triumph Herald on the right looks a bit the worse for wear. And is the vehicle behind it a little damaged too? Was it an informal collection of vehicles ready to be scrapped or broken up for parts? A lot of that sort of business was still done on the streets in 1970.

 

 

It really was another age. Ladbroke Crescent is now an innocuous cul-de-sac leading to a primary school behind a fence and a stand of trees which partially conceal it.

Postscript

I was amazed that there are still little streets I’ve never seen pictures of before. While writing this post I came across another so lovers of back waters and forgotten byways can reat assured that there will be more in the future.

 


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