A shoot in Ladbroke Grove: Part Two – W10

Last week we left off at Ladbroke Grove station. This is the dark looking entrance on the north side of the bridge in the shadow of the Westway.

Ladbroke Grove station 1980s 01 - Copy

Note the tiny branch of the record shop Dub Vendor right next to the entrance.

This is the W10 section of Ladbroke Grove. The tall houses of the southern end of the street have been left behind. The 19th century housing at this end of the road was built to accommodate local workers and commuters after the district line came to the area.The major part of the growth of the area took place in the 1870s.

Ladbroke Grove E side 152-154 1970 KS 564

Nevertheless this was still an area of desirable housing and in the period I worked around here it was ripe for the process of gentrification. There are a few shops but Ladbroke Grove was and still is a road of houses, although the Victorian town houses in this part of the road had mostly been converted into flats.

Ladbroke Grove E side 194-196 1970 KS 568

Below, the bus stop by Chesterton road.

Ladbroke Grove E side 204-206 1970 KS 569

Opposite that, the Earl Percy, no longer a pub but a hotel /bistro called the Portobello House.

Earl Percy

The buildings here were solid but a little run down, awaiting that wave of improvement.


Ladbroke Grove E side 226-228 1970 KS 384

I don’t have as many anecdotes for the w10 section of Ladbroke Grove. But my wife and I did have an encounter with the angriest taxi driver in the world after spending the evening with some friends who had a flat along the eastern side of the road. It was late at night and we’d had a couple of drinks. The driver was one of those who abhored stopping at traffic lights so was forever turning into side streets, flinging us from side to side, causing a fit of giggling which just seemed to make him drive faster. A tour of obscure streets between Ladbroke Grove and Beaufort Street ensued which served to improve my growing knowledge of the Borough.

This picture puzzled me for a while and I briefly wondered whether it had been mis-labelled as 240 Ladbroke Grove.

Ladbroke Grove E side 240 1970 KS 382

I showed it to a local expert, we zoomed in on the door and she identified the Raymede Clinic, a welfare centre for mothers and children which stood where the new fire brigade station is now located on the corner of Telford Road. (Not the only street in the vicinity named after a scientist/engineer.)

It feels like a long road at this point. On the western side there is some postwar housing in front of the gothic tower of St Charles’ Hospital but the photo survey doesn’t have many pictures of that side from this period


Ladbroke Grove E side 252-254 1970 KS 380

Moving north we cross a railway line. North of that was one of the big industrial structures in the area, the Gas Works. For more on that see this post. The Works originally stood in isolation but was surrounded by the northward development of housing. In 1936 the Gas Company itself moved into housing with the construction of Kensal House

Kensal House Ladbroke Grove fp - Copy

We won’t linger here. I’m going to give Kensal House a post to itself shortly.

The final northernmost section of Ladbroke Grove has seen the most changes, The area looks completely different now from pictures in the 1970s and 1980s. The most dramatic change was the building of the large branch of Sainsburys on the gas works site. But other features have changed too as you can see in these planning photos from the 1980/90s.


320-322 Ladbroke Grove

A row of shops and houses on the eastern side of the road.

320-322 Ladbroke Grove 1989

A closer look shows a then well known establishment.

Hamrax Motors Ladbroke Grove 1999

Hamrax Motors (their motto, as I recall it on the side of their van: “You bend’em, we mend’em”), a crowded room where owners of Japanese motorcycles could go to be patronised by scornful middle aged men who preferred Triumphs and other British bikes.. There was a workshop below it accessible around the back where I took one of my bikes was repaired after my most damaging accident.

On the other side of the road the gas works site, cleared in this picture.

Gas works site Ladbroke Grove

The building just visible on the right is Canalside House, almost the sole survivor.

Below the edge of Kensal Green cemetery, the Dissenter’s Chapel over the wall.


Ladbroke Grove near Cemetery 1991 2 - Copy

Behind that gate is a path to the canal.

Canal - Gas works site

The path is just about visible here in this photograph of 1961 from a private collection.



Note the water tower which  has also survived and been convertrd for residential use. On the left a building I was particularly glad to see – a pub called the Narrow Boat which was a stopping off point for people like me heading north towards the pub desert of Kensal Rise.

There was another pub right at the end of Ladbroke Grove seen here, the Plough. Another one I never entered, now gone. These pictures come from the 80s or 90s.


Ladbroke Grove - Harrow Road Plough 1991 - Copy

The narrow entrance onto the Harrow Road by the Plough. This takes us out of the Borough. But I’ve one more motoring story for you. On that bike ride I began with in the last post I would cross the Harrow Road and head up Kilburn Lane/ Chamberlayne Road to Kensal Rise. On one weekday afternoon, ascending the hill of one of the bridges over the railway I was caught in slow moving traffic. A yappy dog who must have had a particular dislike of motorcycles launched himself at me and sank his teeth into my leg piercing the boot on one side (quite a nice pair of boots from Lewis Leathers of Great Portland Street). Imagine me attempting to accelerate away while trying to shake the dog off my leg. When I got home it was decided I needed a tetanus shot so I was off again back down Ladbroke Grove to St Charles’s Hospital. So a set of photographic shots ends with another kind of shot.

Harrow Road c1981

(One final picture. One the right you can see the roof of the stone mason’s showroom, the only structure left from this 1981 picture.)


Thanks to Maggie for clearing a few matters up, and Barbara for unearthing some of the pictures. Also to Mr Peter Dixon for the canal photograph.

Wide awake, the cold cold light of day
Realize my taste
My taste just slips away
I say my taste just slips away

Song by Bob Stanley, Peter Stewart Wiggs and Sarah Jane Cracknell.

A shoot in Ladbroke Grove: Part One – W11

Last Thursday
A shoot in Ladbroke Grove
Hours later
Hey, waiter
Could you pour some more of those?
All for you and when I’m all alone
I’m by the microphone
I see your photograph
Don’t even want to laugh

Saint Etienne – The Bad Photographer

Round about 1980 I owned a couple of motor bikes. I wasn’t the world’s best rider. I had a few near misses and one actual crash and after a few years I stopped riding. But I enjoyed it while it lasted and I had a few favourite routes. One was late at night, on the way home from Richmond. When you turned into Ladbroke Grove from Holland Park Avenue you drove up the hill and from the summit you saw a straight road heading north. If it was sufficiently late you could speed down the hill and if you were lucky shoot through three sets of green traffic lights until you went from W11 to W10 and up Ladbroke Grove all the way to the Harrow Road.

Ladbroke Grove is one of London’s great streets. It takes you from one of the central areas of Kensington, Notting Hill to the very edge of the Borough and like many London streets it changes in character along the way.

Ladbroke Grove West Side The Mitre Public House 1968 KS 591

The Mitre, on the corner  of Ladbroke Grove and Holland Park Avenue. Many of these photos were taken in 1968, some of the earliest in our photo survey but from time to time I’m going to insert others for comparison.


This 2013 photo doesn’t tell us very much more but occasionally the comparison can be revealing. I went for a walk that year in the opposite direction and took a few pictures on the way. The Mitre has been a feature of Ladbroke Grove since the 1830s when it was built in “within the curtilage” (as the Survey of London says) of a farm house.

Ladbroke Grove PC1133

Building began on the lands of the Ladbroke Estate in the 1820s and originally there were plans for a “great circus”, a giant circular street bisected by Ladbroke Grove (or Place as it was originally called). This was never executed but the street did become the centre of a development which went right up the hill you can see in this postcard.

The street is wide, spacious and has many trees. In the picture below you can see another set of houses built by the the builders of the Mitre, the Drew family.

Ladbroke Grove 11.13,15 1968 KS 596

You can see there is “a central pediment and flanking ornamentation” (SoL again). Some of the other houses in this stretch are three-storey but they are not as tall as the houses further up the hill.

Ladbroke Grove West side 21,23 1968 KS 598.

The later houses on the east side look a little more elaborate.

Ladbroke Grove E side 42-44 1971 ks 2311


At the top of that hill stands St John’s Church.

St John's Church 1968 K71-282 - Copy

It would have a commanding presence even if it wasn’t at the top of a hill. A 2013 photo shows it towering over the photographer.


On the other side of the road is a large apartment block.


The Lodge, a 1930s building. There are modern blocks along this part of the road which contrast heavily with the 19th century buildings but the Lodge seems to fit in better with the older buildings. This part of the street is comparatively calm (or my calm might well have been my relief at getting up the hill). The buildings are tall but the street is spacious. You’re at the top of a hill after all.

The Lodge is on the corner of Ladbroke Square, one of the large communal gardens which give the area its spacious feel. (The Garden’s eastern border is Kensington Park Road. It’s large enough to have been the garden seen in the film Notting Hill, but that’s another garden altogether. The area has many of them.)



The houses look more imposing for being on the side of the hill.


As you go down the hill back in 1968 as well as today the street remains wide but the houses are a little smaller, more likely to be divided into flats.

The intersection with Elgin Crescent is where the 52 (in 1968)and 452 (more recently) buses turn into Ladbroke Grove as you can see in this picture. [Planning photo -undated]

Ladbroke Grove 78 A - Copy

I started my walk here in 2013 heading up the hill into  relatively unfamiliar territory. But this section of the street, heading north towards the station was much more familiar – I worked for six years a little way up the street.

The first time I ever came to Ladbroke Grove was a literary pilgrimage to an address I thought was the home of the author Michael Moorcock, a hero of mine. I can’t remember how I came by the address. Information of that kind was not so accessible in the pre-internet era. There was supposed to be a notice on the door discouraging unwanted callers but I never saw it. I was perfectly happy just to be there. I was too late to see the Convent of the Poor Clares which was nearby on the east side of the street. As I have mentioned in a previous post it featured in Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius books. You can make out the housing block which replaced it. This was the Ladbroke Grove of science fiction, underground comics and magazines, New Worlds, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, the pre-punk counter culture. None of that is really visible here but like Hunter Thompson said if you had the right eyes you could see it.

( I later encountered Moorcock in the more conventional manner at a book signing. It was my wife who met him in the normal course of his day and got his autograph for me.)

In the picture below you can see that Advance House, as part of this terrace was called ,was a bank in 1968. The bank later moved to the corner of Lancaster Road. In the late 1970s the offices of Virgin Records were there.

Ladbroke Grove W side 101-109 ( Bank) 1970 KS 1699

At this point I have another motoring story. One Saturday lunchtime I was out and about and saw a Jaguar parked at about this point with a notice in the window offering it for sale for £100. Even then that looked like a bargain. Either I phoned my friend and flatmate Steve or I told him when I went back to the flat in Kensal Rise. Either way we were soon in his mark 1 Cortina coming back down to get the phone number. The car was Steve’s that evening. I recall a memorable drive down to Amersham to test the fuel consumption, which wasn’t that good actually. (He didn’t keep the car long). That inconsequential story has for me the flavour of those times – no smart phones, no tablets, no internet.  A more casual age.


Ladbroke Grove E side N K Public Library 1971 KS 2144

And that’s where I worked, North Kensington Library, built in the 1890s as part of the free library movement. What was it about that building, or that area which kept me in the library business for so long? I think it may have been something about the run down but lively atmosphere of North Kensington and its people, which grounded me in this particular London borough and made me feel at home here.

Ladbroke Grove W side Kensington Pk Hotel 1970 KS 1695

On the opposite corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road is the Kensington Park Hotel, an establishment I have never entered. In those days it had a bit of a reputation. (And is said to have been John Reginald Christie’s local). I was standing outside it one Saturday afternoon in 1980 around 5pm waiting for the Library to close and was stopped by a pair of friendly policeman for the suspicious behaviour of wearing a leather jacket and mirror shades. What was I thinking?

My colleagues and I always went to the Elgin, a few doors down from the Library where we felt more comfortable. The Elgin is now a pleasant gastro-pub and the KPH is undergoing changes.

Ladbroke Grove E side ' The Elgin PH' 1971 KS 2141

There has always been a parade of shops between Lancaster Road and the station.

Ladbroke Grove W side 141-143 1970 KS 1694

On both sides of the street.

Ladbroke Grove E side 110-112 1971KS 2146

Paul Tregeser there, the “Hot Bread Shop”.

The underground station marks the boundary between W11 and W10 so it’s the place where we pause.

Ladbroke Grove W side 159 & LT Station 1970 KS 1693

It was originally called Notting Hill Station.

Old Notting Hill

This is quite an early image. The blank space behind the railway bridge may be due to the quality of the print but it is true that there wasn’t much housing development up there until the railway came to the area and turned it into a London suburb.

In 1980, when I was nearby, the station was waiting for further development.

Ladbroke Grove station 1980s 02 - CopyLadbroke Grove station 1980s 03 - Copy - Copy

We’ll start Part 2 on the other side of the bridge.


There was quite a lot about me this week. There’s a reason for that. These photo survey posts about particular streets often attract comments from people who lived in those streets who obviously know much more about them than I do and have many welcome reminiscences to add to the images. But Ladbroke Grove is a street full of memories for me so I thought that was a good place to start. This is my Ladbroke Grove, a few years at the start of my career when I lived and worked in west London. I met my wife here.

What about your stories?

Oh, and sorry. A little late posting this week. I had to check something first.

A room decorated by Conder

1982. An estate agent’s brochure announces the sale of a large property in North Kensington just off Holland Park Avenue. The brochure speaks of a room with “polished satinwood panels painted in the style of Charles Conder”.  The artist seemed of less interest to the writer of the brochure than the fact that the club had been used in the filming of the TV series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which we were all glued at the time but of which I now recall nothing) The asking price, if you’re interested was £650,000. (The picture below is more of a side view.)

Chestertons 1982 p01

The Knights of St Columba were selling their London club house. The Knights were a Catholic fraternal organisation for men. A KSC brochure from 1971 describes the facilities for members. Many bedrooms, a chapel, rooms for conferences and meetings, a bar

KSC Club 1971 p4-5 - Copy

The brochure is fairly clear that one of the rooms was called the Conder room – presumably because the paintings in it were by Conder.

KSC Club 1971 p6-7 - Copy

That section of wooden paneling in the centre of the picture is what you should be looking at, although it’s impossible to make out much detail.

Why the estate agents were cautious in their assessment is not clear. We are quite sure that Conder did decorate a room for the then owner of the house, a wealthy art collector and patron named Edmund Davis who was born in Australia and made a fortune in mining in southern Africa.

You can see an invitation to a fancy dress ball at the house in my previous post on Conder.  Davis had commissioned the architect F W Marshall to create an arts and crafts house at 11-13 Lansdowne Road in 1896. The house was covered by the Architectural Review in 1914.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 plate IX - Copy

The rooms are cool and austere in these pictures which look as if they belong to a palace rather than a large Victorian town house.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Copy (3)

Even the roof has an exotic look, like a hidden temple.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Copy (2)

Below is the Conder room. You can make out a few more of Conder’s pictures and get a better sense of the size of the space.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 plate X Conder room

Another angle on the room  matches the picture from the 1971 brochure although the comparison does not favour the later version.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Conder room

This is described as a recess in the Conder room in the 1914 article.

I’ve spent a little while getting us to this point partly because the research was interesting in itself but also because I wanted to ground Conder’s pictures in historical reality. Now we have now reached what I thought of as the substance of this post and we can have a look at several of Conder’s watercolours painted on silk. Fortunately the Studio magazine had published an appreciation of Conder’s paintings in 1905 by Martin Wood. The photographs are monochrome but they still give a strong sense of Conder’s artistic vision

001 p201 - Copy

Wood says: “the eye is engaged, the intelligence is aroused, but only to a point; a story is told, a drama is enacted in them which is never finished. There is a purpose about the actions of the figures which evades us, an anecdote in each of the panels that escapes us and this elusiveness gives us rest – the restfulness which is to be demanded of perfect decoration.”  You have to leave the ordinary world of buildings and rooms behind and follow the logic of the costume parties he attended to enter into Conder’s imaginary places which are part ancient Greece, part 18th century France.

002 pp202-03 - Copy (4)

The pictures are all set out of doors in some landscaped open place, part garden, part temple, part theatre,  where clothed and naked people disport themselves in a carefree fashion, sitting, posing or engaged in enigmatic actions.

005 pp208-09 - Copy (3)

I’ve looked around for a passage from the fantastic literature of the early 20th century to complement Conder’s pictures and I’ve picked out a piece from an anthology of the stories of Lord Dunsany who was most famous as a dramatist but who also wrote curious short stories set in an invented world. They were reprinted in the post-Tolkien fantasy boom of the 1970s and fitted in well with the interest in fin de siecle decadent art and literature. Dunsany was highly influenced by Belasco’s play the Darling of the Gods, an oriental fantasy which we last encountered in a post about another of our favourite London artists, Yoshio Markino, although Conder’s images are far from Markino’s urban fantasies.

002 pp202-03 - Copy (2)

The two artists do share a certain indistinctness which adds to the unworldly tone. Some of Conder’s pictures were painted using the grisaille technique, a kind of monochrome water colour, so we don’t lose that much from seeing the pictures in black and white.

004 pp206-07 - Copy (3)

So I came down through the wood to the bank of the Yann and found, as had been prophesied, the ship Bird of the River about to loose her cable.
The captain sat cross-legged on the white deck with his scimitar lying beside him in its jewelled scabbard, and the sailors toiled to spread the nimble sails to bring the ship into the central stream of Yann, and all the while sang ancient soothing songs. And the winds of the evening descending cool from the snowfields of some mountainous abode of distant gods came suddenly, like glad tidings to an anxious city, into the wing-like sails.

From Idle days on the Yann, a story which is more middle eastern / oriental than classical but it remains one of my favourites one Dunsany’s. The narrator is a man from London who enters the land of dreams via a shop in Go-by Street, just off the Strand. Conder’s pictures also seem like entrances to another world.

004 pp206-07 - Copy

The pleasure seekers have come indoors and put their clothes on as the day grows chilly.

005 pp208-09 - Copy

Like Dunsany’s dreamer you can come back into the world and perhaps find many years have passed. Here is the house in a Planning photograph from the 1990s when presumably it had been restored to its constituent parts. I can’t tell you what became of the Conder pictures. Perhaps someone knows.

Lansdowne Road 9-13 planning photo 1990s possibly

Edmund Davis was a well known figure in the art world in his lifetime, and a friend of far more famous artists than Conder – Frank Brangwyn (who also painted wall panels at Lansdowne Road for him), Charles Ricketts, Edmund Dulac (who lived in one of Davis’s properties in Ladbroke Road). He was knighted in 1927. At his country house Chilham Castle he had old masters and many works by August Rodin. (There was an enclosed swimming pool surrounded by Rodin sculptures). There was a significant art theft there in 1938, a year before Davis’s death. Oddly, it was hard to find out a great deal of information about him. In an excellent article in Apollo  in 1980 Simon Reynolds wrote: “his name is forgotten in every field of endeavor”  His wife Mary who also worked in water colours on silk influenced by Conder died three years after him.

As the two of them have played a bigger role in this post than I anticipated here is a picture by Edmund Dulac depicting them dancing at a musical soiree.

Edmund Dulac The musical soiree p53 - Copy - Copy

This picture is the end of this post but the starting point for another one in the near future.


I’m finishing this off just after the two minutes silence for Remembrance Day. It’s a good moment to remind anyone who is interested about our local WW1 website at http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk .

On a less serious note for those of you who like such things the London History Festival is back again, starting next week. See our website for details.

And on an even less serious note I have been reading Catie Disabato’s recent novel the Ghost Network which is a Pynchonesque narrative about a disappearing pop star and the Chicago transport network. If anyone else is reading it I draw your attention to page 130. (Near the bottom of the page – how did she know?)

Illustrating Austin – Hugh Thomson and Bernard Partridge

Henry Austin Dobson was one of those indefatigable literary men with which the 19th and early 20th centuries abound. I first came across him as the man who seemed to write all the introductions to the books I was looking at and who seemed to know everyone on the literary scene of his day. The first pieces I read were his introductions to the 1903 edition of Fanny Burney’s Evelina and the 1902 version of the Old Court Suburb, Leigh Hunt’s history of Kensington. I warmed to him and his many introductions partly because as I’ve said elsewhere I am an inveterate reader of introductions (sometimes ignoring the actual text).

His day job was as a civil servant in the Board of Trade, and his career progressed successfully. But he also found time to be a prolific biographer, a poet and an all purpose man of letters. He was the leading figure in a small group of poets who were introducing the verse forms of French poets such as Francois Villon into English. His main interest was the 18th century both in his poetry – The Ballad of Beau Brocade, the Story of Rosina – and his biographies – Henry Fielding, Richard Steele, Oliver Goldsmith, Horace Walpole, Samuel Richardson, Fanny Burney, Thomas Bewick, William Hogarth. Those last two indicate that he was just as interested in the artists of the 18th century as the literary figures.  He was a friend and supporter of an artist we’re quite familiar with by now, Hugh Thomson.  But this post, which features illustrations to two editions of Dobson’s poetry also features the work of another leading book illustrator, Bernard Partridge.

Ninette I feel so sad

Partridge has a heavier style with a more serious tone but the subject matter is not too different. Well dressed young women moping about are still a feature which he shared with Dobson and Thomson. So, more 18th century ennui. Proverbs in Porcelain and other poems was published in 1893. It’s more of a set of short verse dramas than poems. In fact most of Dobson’s poems tell stories, which is why they are so suitable for illustrating.

“The Ballad a la Mode” has two cousins flirting with each other. The Baron reads a poem to the Countess about a maiden missing out on love.

But there's some sequel - Copy

Which is sad, but afterwards the course of true love runs smooth for the two languid aristos.

perfidy - from Ballad a la mode - Copy


In “The cap that fits” a trio of toffs elegantly slag off some female passer by.

Not young I think

Hortense: Not young I think,
Armande: And faded too :-
Quite faded! Monsieur, what say you?

The cap that fitsHe tells them. Wittily, of course.

In “The secrets of the heart” the two pensive young women in the first picture, Ninette and Ninon, wonder about their future loves. Ninette remembers a sad nun from her school days. Dobson of course liked a nun as we saw in a previous post although in this time the idea/image of the nun in a full habit had more iconic force than it would today. There was something both romantic and in some cases sinister about the cloistered life.

She was so pious and so good,
With such sad eyes beneath her hood,
And such poor little feet, – all bare!
Her name was Eugenie La Fere.
She used to tell us,- moonlight nights,-
When I was at the Carmelites.

When I was at the Carmelites

And on the title page Cupid does a bit of moping himself.

The secrets of the heart - Copy


The Story of Rosina and other verses was published a couple of years later in 1895 and reunited Dobson with Hugh Thomson.

The title poem is about the painter Francois Boucher falling in love with his model, the eponymous Rosina.

There are more 18th century settings, including Thomson’s own version of moping by the window.

She then must have looked, as I
Look now, across the level rye, –
Past Church and Manor- house, and seen,
As now I see, the village green,
The bridge, and Walton’s river – she
Whose old world name was “Dorothy”.

dorothy frontispiece

But Thomson and Dobson also have some contemporary poetic narratives. An Autumn Idyll is one of them, although the title illustration makes a classical allusion featuring some nymphs and a satyr who look more like late Victorian teenagers.

Rosina 004

The poem itself is about some modern inhabitants of the river.

Rosina 004 - Copy

Three men, in this case Lawrence, Frank and Jack, with a boat pulled up at a shaded landing spot.

Here, where the beech-nuts drop among the grasses,
Push the boat in, and throw the rope ashore,
Jack, hand me out the claret and the glasses;
Here let us sit. We landed here before.

Once settled, unlike Jerome’s three men, they each recite or sing about a woman.

Dark-haired is mine, with breezy ripples swining
Loose as a vine branch blowing in the morn;
Eyes like the morning, mouth for ever singing,
Blithe as a bird new risen from the corn.

At her feet - autuman idyll - Comp

Better the twilight and the cheery chatting-
Better the dim forgotten garden-seat,
Where on may lie, and watch the fingers tatting,
Lounging with Bran or Bevis at her feet.

You can see photos of the Victorian boating scene in this post, and see what Mortimer Menpes made of it here .

“A dialogue withPlato” is another modern tale.

Dialogue with Plato - right

The hard working scholar is interrupted by a young lady of his acquaintance leaning in throughthe window to distract him with a question.

Dialogue with Plato

She succeeds in luring him out for a walk in the woods, which is something he’d far rather be doing anyway, so both of them are happy and Plato can be put aside for another day.

“Love in winter” provides Thomson with a chance to present another of his charming young women.

Rosina 011

“Bright-eyed Bella”  wrapped up against the cold.

And there’s a sundial

Rosina 012

And a lady.

Rosina 012 - Copy

I have to say that much of Dobson’s poetry seems inconsequential in comparison with what I know of other era of poetry, but these volumes place it in a picturesque and pleasant setting, courtesy of two masters of illustration.



There will be one more post based on a book with an introduction by Austin Dobson this year but these two artists will not be involved. It will be close to Christmas.

Halloween story: the door

This year we have another post from regular guest blogger Marianne Collins, Head of Investigations at the European Institute of Archives. This piece was forwarded to us by her deputy Ms B. Azdajic

To: centrallocalenquiries@rbkc.gov.uk
From: Blanka33@gmx.com
Date: 31 Oct 15


It was a cold Monday morning in February.

The dead girl wore black clothes – a big padded black parka, shiny in the winter light. She had black jeans, fur lined boots laced up the front and a wool hat with an incongruously large pom-pom. Being dead she didn’t need the warmth, but she said she admired our dedication to keeping warm and comfortable. She wished she’d had that parka when she was alive.

But she’d been dead a long time, and would never tell me when she last walked around as a living person. Her first sponsor, my ex, told me that the longer the dead survive in their new bodies the less human they are. They stop thinking like us from the moment of their death and every dead day that passes the more alien they become.

So Blanka, the dead girl, who last walked around London alive sometime in the 19th century, must have been making a considerable effort to pass for human since she returned from wherever it is they return from. Don’t worry, Daniel said, they’re not dangerous. They don’t eat brains and blood. They don’t need to eat at all, although some do. They watch and listen, sometimes they lie dormant, and some of them speak. Blanka had even taught herself to breathe, or imitate breathing. So she came across as a slightly weird Goth. With her pale skin and calm manner she was attractive to a certain kind of man, or woman. I had no worries about taking her to the building site where yet another subterranean development had unearthed a basement room no one had known was there. I had a feeling she might be able to help me with the contents.

The site manager spoke to me to tell me about how his men had found the basement room when they were digging out the roots of a tree. He kept glancing at Blanka. I wanted to shout at him: hey, I’m wearing a parka and a wool hat and I’m also interestingly pale. I’m also blonde, which should count for something. So why are you staring at the dead girl? I refrained from saying anything of the kind and listened as he explained that there were ladders which we could get down through the hole they had enlarged but nobody else wanted to go down with us. His men were afraid of the room he said, and he had a meeting at another site. I would have exchanged a knowing glance with Blanka but as I’ve said they don’t think like us so I just said we would go down.

The Institute is on a retainer paid by a professional organisation the big building firms use so we get the occasional call to have a look when something unexpected connected with books and records turns up.

At the bottom of the ladder there was a room with bookshelves covering two walls. There was a big table against one of the other walls, neat and clear of mess. The other wall had a door. The site manager hadn’t said anything about that.

The books on the shelves were interesting, no doubt about that, and I would have them packed up and shipped back to the Institute. Some of them were familiar, some not. There were a large number of guide books, none later than 1900 I thought, some for cities I couldn’t quite place.

There were a number of interesting items. Vincent’s New Map of Faery (1924), Dr Zachary Smith’s Experiments with Spiritism (1913), the 1903 illustrated version of Ariel Fletcher’s picaresque 18th century novel Miranda. Collected editions of de Sade and de Selby.
There was also a quarto volume – a copy of Hiram Endicott’s Skeleton Etchings, of 1910.

I looked at the cover with its complex gold embossed pattern of shapes which looked abstract but at the same time gave the impression of surgical instruments. That alone made it worth coming. I had to look at it with Blanka leaning over my shoulder, her head against mine, her whole body pressed against me in the impersonal way of a marine iguana basking on a rock.
The Asylum Edition, she said in a flat voice, her accent barely discernible.

Yes. There are people who would pay the price of whatever building they’re making here to get it. We’ll take it back ourselves.

Let’s look.

I held the book closed. It’s very unpleasant I hear.

She gave me a look I knew which said something like: such dark sights I have seen, mortal woman, which you could not imagine. I gave her a look back which said: stop pissing about, dead woman.

There are some images which are literally unforgettable I’ve been told which neither time nor death can erase. So let’s leave this one to the end user.

She shrugged. Another of her “living” gestures. I got on the phone to the office and arranged for a van to come straight away.

I was about to say let’s go back up when Blanka detached herself from me and went to the door. I was going to say there wouldn’t be anything behind it when she opened it, and afternoon sunlight fell into the room.

Through the doorway I could see a ruined building like a temple surrounded by undergrowth.


Blanka had a distinct expression on her face somewhere between surprise and resentment. She stayed to one side of the door with air of not wanting to step through accidentally. I moved closer but I also had no intention of passing that threshold.

Blanka closed the door and spoke.

The Choronzon Sanctuary. It used to be in my country.

What happened to it?

The communists destroyed it I heard.

This time the door opened on a quite different view, a noisy room full of women working in cubicles. A telephone exchange  I thought. Nothing sinister there, although it was odd to be staring at the living past, if that’s what it was. One of the standing women glanced at me.


The third time there was a gloomy room with stone walls and and a window. As the interior door swung open you could see something like a wooden operating table in the foreground. There were heavy steps coming closer. Katya didn’t need telling to shut the door quickly.

The fourth time there was a desert landscape. There were the remains of a wooden building in the foreground. A distinctly cold breeze blew through at us. I still had no inclination to step through.

Leng, Blanka said.



Once she’d shut the door Blanka said this: The fifth time opens a gate to the Third City.

The van won’t be long. Let’s go up. I wasn’t at all sure about the Third City.

The site was now deserted, with no hint of any building work. Perhaps they all had meetings. It was quiet behind the wooden fencing. There were still some patches of muddy grass and irregular depressions in the ground. Blanka spoke again. Pretty garrulous for her.

There are any number of entrances to the Third City but for each person only a limited number of exits.

She might have been quoting from something, or it could just  have been one of her enigmatic comments.


After the excitement of the find I had to work hard in the office listing the books. In the evenings we did normal stuff. We watched DVDs. I tried to explain to Katya why I thought Nicky and Bourne had been lovers. When I couldn’t convince her I put an episode of Hannibal on to illustrate my point that there are plenty of images you wish you hadn’t seen.

That night I dreamed about two women in hooded costumes walking through an empty film studio. Although I was watching in the dream I knew the two women were Blanka and I.

Women in Hooded Dresses - Copy

Something had been going on in my subconscious which burst out late one night.

I want to go back and go through the door.

I couldn’t say why I’d changed my mind but somehow the idea had taken hold of me. Blanka pointed out that everyone goes there eventually but that didn’t deter me.

We returned to the site the next day. It had been cleared to a depth of thirty feet or more, and flattened out. They were spreading concrete at the bottom. The old site manager had moved on but the foreman told me the site would be a car park, notwithstanding the loss the developers would incur. The building that had been demolished was a three-storey block of flats slotted into the site in the sixties. Its predecessor, we had discovered in the local achive, presumably the home of the basement room, had been an odd building with a normal sort of Victorian town house exterior surrounding a mock Tudor courtyard. The house was left empty after the war following the death of the owner, a book dealer named Trankler who was murdered in his shop in the City in 1944 in the course of a burglary. I’d found a reference to an incident at the house in the war diaries of Jane Fletcher, a local ARP warden: “Called to _____ Street. Incendiaries in some of the gardens. We entered one house where a ceiling had collapsed inside. I saw part of a body, the foot, sticking out of the rubble. A woman’s leg. I turned away to call Mr Carter and when I looked back the leg was gone, as if the woman had slithered away under the wreckage. I was in a funk. Mr Carter told me not to be a b____y fool and we left the house.”


The foreman also told me there had been plans to construct an extensive new basement utilising the footprint of the building and the garden, but the developers had changed their minds for some vague reason to do with the Fletcher Estate who owned property nearby. That was all very interesting but I had one question.

I asked Blanka: What about the door?

Gone. Moved probably. That can happen.They open for people like me. Her calm was irritating.

I can look for another, if that’s what you want.

We didn’t discuss it again. I prepared a go-bag with a camera,binoculars, a tablet, a solar battery provided by the buyer of the Endicott book and a few other necessities. I kept it in the car. Some months later I was called to a building awaiting demolition after a partial collapse. The damage had uncovered a hidden room on the top floor.

Although it was a warm day I carried my black parka in with me. I made sure I was the first person inside the newly revealed room and looked carefully around. The door between the bookshelves wasn’t apparent until Blanka came up behind me. We stood there in our hard hats looking faintly comic.

The first scene was a river in summer, a house visible on the other side. The water was disturbed as if someone had just vanished beneath the surface.


The second showed an eccentric house with a tower. American I thought. There were figures in the porch.


Without leaning through the door I looked closer through the binoculars.

Halloween costumes I supposed. Or not. None of my business anyway.

The third time we saw an empty gallery, picture frames laid out on the floor. Either they were moving out, or some pretty throrough thieves had paid them a visit.

A door opened in the distance and a small group of people started coming towards us. We held our nerve for a good thirty seconds before closing the door.


The fourth was an old fashioned photographer’s studio. I didn’t care for the woman having her portrait done.

veiled woman

The fifth was close to a decayed classical structure. High above it there was a vertiginous stone staircase. I could see the spindly towers of an enormous impossibly ornate Gothic railway station.

Blanka spoke into my ear in a low voice. She had never said so much at one time.

Go up the stairs. Don’t talk to the caryatids. There’s a plaza in front of the Grand Terminus. Look for a nun. Ask her to show you the way to the Doll Makers’ Cafe. Amelia is one of the waitresses. She can get you work at Lord Gregory’s house – it’s got a library. You may need to stay for a while.

She had given up pretending to breathe in my presence. All I felt was a slight impression of cold at my back as if I was standing next to an open fridge.

I’m standing here keying in a few more words on my phone. Blanka has her hand on my shoulder as if about to propel me through the door into an autumn afternoon in the Third City.

villa - Copy

[Message sent 21/06/15]

BA- Marianne Collins is on sabbatical leave from her post for an indefinite period. I told her she would have to learn the Trick before she could come back. I found a print inside that copy of the Endicott book.


There was also a note written by Bernard Trankler:

“Copy of the Skeleton Etchings by Hiram Endicott. A set of etchings he did in the 1880s, images of inmates at the notorious Crypt Penitentiary in New York State. The Crypt was a vicious place. Doctors, guards and some of the inmates got up to all sorts of mischief there and committed many atrocities. No one there got out alive, it was said. How Endicott got access is a mystery. How he got the book published is another. But he did, in a limited edition of twenty-five nearly all of which are in the hands of private collectors. Five of the twenty five were bound with a supplement of a further dozen plates. Those were called the asylum edition. This copy is one of them. Formerly the property of the library at the Society of Holy Angels in Brooklyn. We know this is their copy because of the extensive handwritten annotations assumed to be by Endicott himself. One note refers to the peculiar nature of some copies which have the capacity to open doors. The book is of considerable value to some collectors although I must assume this copy was stolen”


As I always say, normal service will be resumed next week. DW

St Mary Abbots – Kensington’s parish church

This week’s post features the return of regular contributor Isabel Hernandez who has been looking into the history of one of Kensington’s most iconic buildings.

“One of the handsomest churches in the metropolis” ~ The London Journal, 1880

When you live in a place and go about your busy routine, especially in large cities, your perception of what surrounds you can sometimes become clouded. This is true of buildings. When we are not consciously looking for them, their presence often goes unnoticed. Some buildings are not particularly attractive or significant; most are functional structures. The over-familiar landmarks can become so much a part of our everyday existence that we rarely imagine them never being there, and so we don’t give them much attention.

Tucked away at the junction of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street stands St Mary Abbots Church. You may have passed it many times; perhaps even fleetingly noticed its quiet presence away from the hubbub of traffic and rushing people, before continuing on your journey to somewhere. You may be a resident and have attended services, recitals, or special occasions celebrated within its walls, you may even have been a passing pilgrim in search of a little quiet meditation away from the madding crowds. Whatever your encounter with St Mary Abbots, it has been a presence in Kensington for centuries.

Below is a photograph taken around 1950 of St Mary Abbots with its stunning tower and spire.

The church from the S.E C.1950's


Kensington is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Chenesiton, the manor belonging to Aubrey De Vere. There is uncertainty as to whether or not a church existed in the area in Saxon days but we do know that a gift of land was given to the Monastery of Abingdon by Godfrey De Vere with consent from his family as a testimonial of gratitude towards the Abbot responsible for “having cured him of a former sickness” (Thomas Faulkner, in his History and Antiquities of Kensington, 1820). It is at this point that a Vicarage was ordained and endowed, with patronage eventually given by the Bishop of London.

SMA pub. March1807 by S.Woodburn

(An etching by S. Woodburn depicting St Mary Abbots as it was in 1807)

The medieval church was largely rebuilt between 1683 and 1704. It is not known if it was built on the site of the original church which was granted by the Abbey of Abingdon c.1100. What we do know is that St Mary Abbots has undergone a series of incarnations with rebuilding and repairs throughout its existence, eventually culminating in the church building we know today.

According to a survey done in 1866, when it was clear that the old church was falling apart, “it was found that many of the walls consisted of a thin skin of brickwork encasing a rubble core, indicating that in some cases the medieval walls may merely have been refaced with brick”. The beams were riddled with dry rot and it was clear that the church was no longer fit for purpose. With a growing population, the demand for a suitable parish church meant that something drastic had to be done.

SMA 1840

Here is another (unknown) artist’s creative depiction of about 1840. Occasionally, when you compare an etching or a drawing to an actual photograph, you can sometimes appreciate the accuracy with which a decent artist could recreate an image before the age of photography became the new emperor, even if some details were subject to poetic licence at times, such as the width of Kensington Church Street here. Also, you may find features that may have been illustrated earlier by another artist in the exact same place – the water pump on the left, for example. You will also see it in the image above this one by Woodburn.

St Mary Abbots C.1860's

Here is a photograph of the old church around the 1860’s. The old church is strikingly different to what St Mary Abbots looks like today. To the west you can clearly see the Georgian tower constructed in 1770-72:

“At the top was a battlemented parapet surmounted by a clock-turret on which stood a cupola containing the bells, the whole being topped by a weather vane.” (Survey of London)

There appear to be a few young chaps milling around in the foreground with a horse taking a break from its carriage duties eating out of a nose bag. To the right, along Church Street, there are evidently shops and a few blurred shoppers going about their business. One thing I enjoy about these old photos is trying to ascertain what I’m looking at when I focus on an area and increase the magnitude. To the right of the church you can see a butcher’s shop with a long line of whole pigs hanging from a shop window. Quite extraordinary! Of course, these were the pre-packaging days when organic was the order of the day.

St Mary Abbots 1865

This is one of my favourite photographs of the old St Mary Abbots Church. The image of the solitary figure standing in the doorway makes for a compelling ghost story. But I would think that the lady may perhaps have been in the employ of the church as caretaker in one form or another. Not a ghost at all, even if memory of her is most likely forgotten now.

This photograph was apparently taken around 1865 in the church grounds showing the tower and part of the burial ground one year before the 1866 survey was conducted to ascertain the condition of the building, which was declared unsafe: the vaults and the foundations needed particular attention and were considered an embarrassment.

The vicar, Archdeacon Sinclair, decided that a new church should be built, declaring “…the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical…the work is great…for the palace is not for man but for the Lord.”

(The Story of St Mary Abbots Kensington – J. D. Guillam Scott).

The man who was commissioned with the job of creating Kensington’s new church was the leading architect, George Gilbert Scott who was working on the Albert Memorial at the time.

St Mary Abbots 1869

Here is another view of the old church at ground level (1869) from High Street Kensington. Demolition of the old church appears to be underway. Behind the closed gates you can see the remnants of what look like timbers or beams.

G.G Scott chalk by G Richmond 1877

(The chalk study above is taken from the painting by George Richmond for RIBA in 1877)

Sir George Gilbert Scott is probably best known for his Gothic Universal style. His practice was never short of commissions, especially ecclesiastical contracts. They were not considered the most prominent examples of his work, but the scale of his achievements is quite astonishing, to the point where it could be said he was something of a workaholic. When he was approached, after a unanimous decision was taken to rebuild the church from scratch, the project was considered to be in safe hands, even when his original plan was met with both criticism and praise. He drew up a plan with an estimated cost of £35,000 – quite staggering for the time – but after some modification, and funds allowing, the first contract was approved, work beginning with the chancel, the vestry, and the foundations of what would become the present day St Mary Abbots. It was around this time that Scott’s health began to fail him. He became very ill in November 1870 with heart disease and bronchitis and he relied on his son, John Oldrid, to deal with much of the firm’s commissions.

The Scott family of architects have all had a hand in work for Kensington. The son, John Oldrid Scott, and grandson, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, both had designs incorporated into St Mary Abbots, and were well known architects in their own right.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (grandson) is also responsible for the Carmelite Church which is also in Kensington Church Street. It replaced the original building designed by E.W Pugin in 1865-1866, bombed during the war. He is also responsible for Battersea Power Station and the iconic, red telephone box, amongst many other works.

Sir George Gilbert Scott died of heart failure on 27th March 1878 at Courtfield House, Kensington. He was buried in Westminster Abbey with Queen Victoria joining the funeral procession from Kensington on the 6th April.

SMA plan

( G.G. Scott’s plan for the new St Mary Abbots.)

The demand for Gothic-style buildings in the Victorian era led to many churches in South-east England being built of Kentish ragstone, amongst other materials. It is basically hard, grey limestone that was laid down in the cretaceous period and is hard-wearing. Ideal for large structures. Bensted’s Quarry, also known as the Iguanodon Quarry, around Maidstone, is famous for the fossilised remains of an Iguanodon found when limestone was being excavated in 1834. It is from this quarry that the ragstone used to face the church originated (contractor’s report 1881). The quarry was apparently closed in 1872, the same year St Mary Abbots was consecrated.

St Mary Abbots May 1872

A rare image of St Mary Abbots in 1872 before its tower and spire were built. It would be another seven years before it was completed.

Demolition of the old church took place in 1869 after parishioners approved a slightly amended design for its replacement. The main body of the new church was quickly built over the course of three years or so, and considered sufficiently far advanced to be consecrated on 14 May 1872, later completed when the top stone of the impressive spire was laid in an elaborate ceremony by the Rev Edward Carr Glynn on the 15 November 1879 after a special service was held on what was a windy day.

According to the London Journal, several gentlemen of the clergy, churchwardens, and others involved with the project, joined the Rev Carr Glyn and “ascended by a solid stone spiral staircase to the top of the tower and then by ladders up the scaffolding outside the spire to a platform at the top, the Royal Standard flying above all at a height of about 300 feet from the ground, and at a point from which there is a fine view of Kensington Palace Gardens. The top stone was quickly placed in position for lowering, the scaffolding with its rather heavy load of visitors, swaying slightly but perceptively in the high wind.”

I expect that those watching from the ground may have been a little apprehensive of the whole ceremony, let alone readers of the journal describing the event. The London Journal concludes, almost with relief: “It is, perhaps, worth noting that during the ten years the works have been in progress no serious accident has happened.”

SMA details of tower and spire G.G Scott

Unlike their Georgian predecessors, the Victorians tended to be bolder in their architectural statements, and churches were no exception. Before the 13th century, towers were rare on parish churches. By the 13th and 14th centuries they were usually only seen in major towns, or built at the behest of a very wealthy benefactor. Towers and spires serve no real liturgical purpose other than to house the bells.

SMA menworking on spire

(Note the three men working on the spire, including one brave man right at the top)

St Mary Abbots boasts a large tower with spire, situated in the north-east corner of the church. Measurements vary as to its height depending on what you read: “A recent measurement by nautical sextant showed the height of the tower and spire to be approximately 250 feet. The spire is surmounted by a vane. Originally fourteen feet in height.” (Survey of London)

Whatever the accuracy, the vertigo I feel looking at those chaps on the spire is enough to make me understand that yes, the height of the tower and spire is formidable and impressive. The three gentlemen appear to be inspecting the structure at different points. I wonder at the near impossibility of such a feat, but what a view!

SMA 1960 spire view

This photograph (1960) was possibly taken from the Barker’s building opposite and shows in great detail the tower and spire, apparently inspired by St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. From here the peal of ten bells can sometimes be heard harmoniously ringing across Kensington to remind us of St Mary Abbots’ presence.

In the distance, to the right of the tower, you can also see the spire of St Matthew’s church in Bayswater, built in 1881-82. It is of a similar height to St Mary Abbots, measuring around 240 feet. Church building was big business for architectural firms of the period. A growing Victorian population kept the building firms and parish districts busy; the smaller chapels and crumbling older churches could no longer serve the parishioners. The Paddington district, particularly, had one of the highest population densities in London. Most green spaces in West London soon succumbed to the building boom to accommodate this growth.

SMA C.1900

This is the ‘winding and rising vaulted cloistral approach’ to the south door of St Mary Abbots added by John Oldrid Scott in 1889-93. The arched entrance almost looks forbidding – something about gothic tales and fanciful whims to fuel the overactive imagination – but as soon as you walk through, those feelings vanish. The sense of another era and the peace and quiet away from the traffic soon becomes a welcome respite.

SMA 1960 Aerial

Here is another view, of 1960, showing the steeply pitched roof of the church. Unfortunately it is not the original roof. That was destroyed during the bombing of London in WW2. The monument you see in the foreground is a war memorial dedicated to those of Kensington who died in the war. Below the great church are people going places. It does not look busy but I suspect this is a very early morning photographic shot, taken before the rush hour. It is also worth noting that some modifications to that junction have been made since then to accommodate the increasing traffic. London’s noise and bustle is consistent throughout the decades. But one could argue that this is a typical characteristic of any major city.

St Mary Abotts 1984


The throes of autumn: conjure up a little mist and you could be on the set of a gothic drama. I have often had my lunch here in this quiet garden, away from the fury of traffic and the impatience of people. It looks lonely here. You can still find gravestones scattered around the church ground, mostly just eroded relics of a time and people that once were. But it is never lonely, more of a small sanctuary. And then there is St Mary Abbots, architecturally “a solid and impeccably detailed essay in the Early English style” and yet to me, something of a majestic presence bridging the old Chenesiton and the modern Kensington.

The next time you go for a walk, take a look around. You may find yourself in the presence of a lovely building that you may not have noticed before. Consider it a moment of awareness when the cloak of invisibility suddenly peels away to reveal something interesting.

SMA by W.F.M


In this post I have concentrated on the exterior of St Mary Abbots. Many of our historical publications go into great detail regarding the church but I wanted to try and keep to one aspect of the church as indeed there is scope for so much more within our collection: the church interior is equally as fascinating and potentially there are more posts to come.

Most of the quotes I have used are from the Survey of London. I have also consulted Pevsner, and other sources which I have credited above. Not being an architect myself these were invaluable and I would urge anyone who is interested to consult these for further information.

A special thank you goes to Jane MacAllan (SMA archivist) and Pat Wilson (SMA Parish Clerk) who were kind enough to show me around St Mary Abbots over the summer and are a wealth of knowledge. I hope to put that to good use in another future post about the church. And thanks to Dave for being infinitely patient with me on this one.

Postscript by DW

Isabel has no need to thank me for my patience. I know she looked at practically every picture of SMA we have. (And we have a lot).It was worth the wait. Next week is Halloween of course.

Closing down Pettits – October 1977

Pettits closing down sale announcement August 1977 WLO

From this end of retail history it’s in some ways quite surprising that the old department stores of Kensington High Street lasted as long as they did. I can remember the giant of the High Street, Barker’s carrying on as though it would never end, but now the building is dominated by the Whole Food store and another part of it is about to be colonised by Gap. Derry and Toms is memorialised in the Roof Garden (the Virgin flags fly from the rooftop), and Pontings has vanished completely. Those three were the main names of genteel shopping in Kensington but there was another name still remembered by veteran consumers – Pettits. Much smaller than Barker’s or Derry and Toms, a little smaller than Ponting’s, we passed by it in a previous post on the Promenade when I said we would return. So here we are in October 1977 for a last look around at numbers 191-195.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits 1977 closing down K4089B

The closing down sale is in full swing at the time of this picture, October 1977.

Pettits interior ground floor to north west 1977 K4156

Inside, business looks steady rather than brisk. Perhaps the best items had already gone. As the displays are picked over by shoppers the place starts to look a bit untidy. My wife and her mother paid a visit to the sale about this time. My wife bought a purple dressing gown at half-price which she used for a number of years. I asked her if the place did look a bit of a mess at the time and she says it did.

Pettits interior ground floor to north east 1977 K4149C

An empty unit which formerly held a selection of Pretty Polly tights. A woman stares at the photographer.

The shop had four floors. If they had been a lift you could have heard the announcement: Household linens and curtains.

Pettits interior ground floor stairwell to north 1977 K4155C

This is how it looked.

Pettits interior Basement to south 1977 K4152

The department was also looking a bit thin.

Pettits interior Basement to east Mrs White 1977 K4154-C

On the back of this picture was written “Mrs White”. I assume she is the one behind the counter pointing out what’s left for the keen shopper leaning towards her.

Upstairs there is a bit more activity.

Pettits interior 2nd floor west side 1977 K4147c

The scene looks old fashioned, and I ask myself, was that how things were in the late seventies? Am I projecting more recent memories of shopping back onto anothere era? Or was Pettits out of time even then? I was talking about Pettits with one of my colleagues and she discovered this bit of reminiscence:

“Petit’s clerical department was extremely outdated. It was the last shop still using a system of receipts for customers transported by overhead wires. The cashier sat in a sort of overhead balcony. The sales assistant made out a bill and sent it by pulleys and wires to the cashier, who kept one copy and stamped the other “Paid” as a receipt for the customer, and gave the necessary change. This was all transported by wire and pulley back to the sales assistant on the ground floor, who then gave the customer her change and receipt. In the 1950’s this system had long become outdated in other stores. Most sales assistants at this time were also cashiers.”  This comes from a book called “Cosy corners in depression and war: autobiography” by a woman called Joan Hughes which regretably we don’t have in stock. (It was found on a website devoted to wire and pneumatic cash sytems: http://www.cashrailway.co.uk which is well worth looking at if like me you can remember some of the odd systems which used to exist in large stores – I can remember the pneumatic system at Pontings but I’ve aslo seen it elsewhere.) The wire system is not visible in these pictures but nor do you see many tills (I think that’s one in the bottom left corner of the picture above.) It’s possible that some of the old methods for making payments and dispensing change lingered on into “modern” times. (Somehow I can’t quite consign the 70s to the historical past even though I know many people who weren’t even born then.)

Our photographer sneaked upstairs into the office, where there is also a distinct lack of business machines.

Pettits interior 1977 3rd floor office K4148C

I can remember rooms like this, desks jumbled together, piles of in-trays, filing cabinets and barely a hint of the technological revolution that would sweep through offices in the decades ahead. As I said in the Promenade post the upstairs floors of buildings in Kensington High Street were full of rooms like this one and the traditional office was still alive.

By the beginning of 1978 Pettis was about the go under the hammer.

Pettits sale brochure 1978 - Copy

The Survey of London records Pettits’ period of trading as 1890-1978, just short of 90 years. But before they occupied the whole corner. Alfred Pettit, drapers, just had number 193. I think this may be a picture of the first shop, which I tracked back in Kelly’s Directory as far as 1888 although it may go further.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits K4159 - Copy

This gentleman could be Alfred Pettit himself with his wife.

Mr Pettit I presume - CopyMrs Pettit I presume - Copy

Pettits seems to have expanded into the larger premises in the early 1900s just in tine for a reatil boom. The 1920s and 30s were the peak for the shops of Kensington High Street. This page is probably from a 1930s brochure.

Pettits catalogue insert 1930s - Copy

Or is it later? The prices might be a clue.

This picture shows a celebration for 50 years of trading which would take us to roughly the same period, probably the late 1930s.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits K4158

Happier times for Pettits. But unlike other larger establishments the building is now home to a single store – a branch of Waterstone’s. So you can still go there now and browse through the books, (something I’d much rather do than look for curtain material, but that’s just me), and imagine the shoppers of the past.

Kelly’s Kensington Direcory 1903: 191 Pettit A W draper and furrier. 193 Pettit A W, milliner and ladies outfitter.


Forgive me for a little uncertainty with some of the pictures. The pictures of Mr and Mrs Pettit were not labelled as such but it was recorded that the originals were loaned  by the company so photos could be taken. I would welcome any comments/information from former staff or shoppers. My special thanks to Maggie Tyler, an assiduous researcher as always. I haven’t exhausted the topic of the shops of Kensington High Street so we’ll certainly be back here again.



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