A secret life of postcards special: first gear

When I do posts featuring picture postcards I normally focus on the people in the pictures, zooming in on the street life of the ordinary passers by. I have looked at a few buses along the way in an incidental way. But this week I thought I would concentrate on images involving transport, mostly of buses but also a few other ways of getting around in the golden age of the picture postcard. That era spans the transition from the horse drawn bus to the motor bus. You can see both in this picture:

Cromwell Place

Cromwell Place is the point near South Kensington Station where a number of bus routes converge. If you look on the right of the picture you can see one of the towers of the Natural History Museum. But never mind that. Let’s look at the buses.

Cromwell Place - Copy

Two motor buses and one horse bus. Before the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC ) absorbed them, bus services were operated by a number of different companies and the buses themselves manufactured in small runs by coach building companies who did other  types of vehicle, hence some variation in design (although features such as the curved staircase at the rear set a pattern which was followed into the 1960s). Here a lone horse bus with the inevitable advert for Pear’s Soap meets up with a couple of buses from the fleet of a company called Union Jack (later, the London Road Car Company).

Turn to the left of the picture and you would be looking down Harrington Road.

Harrington Road PC312 Norfolk Hote

This view would be quite recogniseable today. That grand doorway on the left is still there as is the hotel building. (Then the Norfolk Hotel, now the Ampersand). The low rise building next to it also still exists, and the Local Studies team went for a meal in a resturant on the left very recently. But the young musician crossing the road is presumably no longer with us.

Harrington Road PC312

Nor is the woman in the apron crossing behind the private carriage (or is that two?). The bus, whose driver seems to be making some sort of adjustment to the side of the vehicle, looks like it was on a route involving Turnham Green and Kensington Church Street, so it’s odd to find it at South Kensington. Although route numbers were not introduced until the LGOC controlled most bus traffic, the actual routes were often laid down in the horse bus era.

High Street Notting Hill PC 369

This bus making its way along Notting Hill Gate (with the almost regulation Pear’s advert) terminates at Liverpool Street as many did in this part of London, crossing the west End to get there. Although you can’t really make out the lone animal pulling it, it is another horse bus, with larger back wheels. A little bit of research makes us think it’s a number 7.

Here is a quite sharp detail of a horse bus in Redcliffe Square, festooned with adverts:

Redcliffe Square - Copy

Pears again, a committed advertiser. An LGOC 31, heading towards Westbourne Grove with three wild hats on the top dek.

Further north an unusual view of Holland Park Avenue.

Holland Park Avenue 01

You’ll have to take my word for it, but that’s a 12 going past the skating rink to Dulwich, maybe as far as South Croydon.

As well as the rear staircase the horse buses also bequeathed the larger set of rear wheels to some of the initial motor buses which followed them. (Look back at the Cromwell Place picture). Below, on the other hand is a bus with the same sized wheels at front and rear:

Ladbroke Grove Library PC 1456

It’s waiting at a stop in Ladbroke Grove outside that well known local instituition North Kensington Library.

Ladbroke Grove Library PC 1456 - Copy

You can see that this is a more standardised vehicle, a member of the first class of mass produced buses, a London General B-type. This one is also a number 7, indicated on the baord along with the routee from Wormwood Scrubs to Liverpoool Street. Todays’ number 7s, (Gemini IIIs I’m told) sigh to an  exhausted halt at Russell Square rather than soldiering on all the way to Liverpool Street, as my transport correspondent has it. Generally speaking the epic bus routes of old have been shortened so it’s no longer possible to make lengthy journeys to legendary places like Homerton on a 19 for example. ( I now regret I never did this. I did take a 49 to Crystal Palace once though.)

At this point let’s pause to look at some of the other vehicles on the roads of late Victorian / Edwardian London.

Campden Hill Road PC162

Delivery carts bringing barrels of beer to the Windsor Castle in Campden Hill Road.

Ladbroke Grove funeral

A funeral procession in Ladbroke Grove for William Whiteley, the founder and owner of the Bayswater department store. Whiteley had an illegitimate son named Horace Rayner (paternity was disputed). He was confronted by Rayner at one of his regular inspections of the store. Being asked for financial assistance he ordered the police to be summoned. Rayner shot him. The procession is on its way to Kensal Green cemetery. Rayner was convicted of murder but sentenced to life imprisonment due to the circumstances, and was released in 1919. I had no idea of this when I chose the picture – I was simply struck by the crowds and the carriages.

Ladbroke Road PC 601

By contrast, a fire engine ladder outside the fire station in Ladbroke Road.

Nearby in affluent Kensington Park Gardens, some examples of private transport:

Kensington Park Gardens PC 341

The Church in the background is St John’s. Parked outside one house is this luxurious looking vehicle.

Kensington Park Gardens PC 341 - Copy

The top is down and if the driver or chauffeur is ready to go, the owners can hit the road. Back in the south of the Borough, another couple of cars:

Queen's Gate

As you can see the original buyer of the postcard crossed out Queen’s Gate and wrote in Cromwell Road. look a bit closer:

Queen's Gate - Copy

You can see an inked X marking a spot, possibly where the buyer was staying. He or she was wrong of course. This is unmistakeably the south end of Queen’s Gate where it meets Old Brompton Road in the background.

There is a proud looking man (a chauffeur?) standing in front of the parked car, mug in hand, possibly watching the woman crossing the road. In the middle a chauffeur driven car goes past with a lady in the rear. Not much traffic to contend with on this particular road.

Let’s jump forward in time to another quiet day.

Kensington Church Street PC1532

This is Kensington Church Street looking south sometime in the 1950s.

Kensington Church Street PC1532 - Copy

Four well-dressed ladies wait in the summer sun at a request stop.

Down on the High Street:

Kensington High Street 1953 K61-937

The old Town Hall, Barker’s department store (no scandals there) and parked outside Derry and Toms’ , an RTW on the 31 route on its way to Chelsea. The W stood for wide – these models were a whole six inches wider than previous versions and had been subject to trial runs in case they added to traffic congestion.

Through the medium of detailed information gathering my transport correspondent is able to tell us that this particular bus, RTW372 stayed on the streets on London as a 31 or a 22 until 1966 when it was sold to the Ceylon Transport Board for service in what is now Sri Lanka. I wonder how long it stayed in use.

Speaking of 1966:

Kensington High Street - 1966 K67-100

One of those narrow RTs, comically thin by today’s standards making its way to the same stop. The RTs were actually more numerous than the more celebrated Routemasters. This one, RT2912 had recently come from the Aldenham Works and would subsequently move from Chalk Farm Garage to New Cross in 1968.

We can’t track the individual fates of the old horse buses but you can imagine their mechanical existences were lively:

Cromwell Gdns & Thurloe Square PC315 L-6403

Postscript

My thanks are obviously due to my transport correspondent my son Matthew who has had what you might call an  interest in buses since I first bought him a Corgi model when he was 3. I didn’t realise at the time that this would be  a turning point in all our lives.


One man’s war: Paul Destrube

This week we have another post by my colleague Lucy Yates who has again drawn from the scrapbooks of Sir William Davison (Baron Broughshane) and other sources to find the story of a family at war through the letters of a soldier at the front.

 

‘When I left I could not quite establish whether both your boys had been killed or I should have written to you before. After an action of that sort, when Regiments or even Divisions get intermingled, it takes several days to ascertain whether men are killed, wounded or missing. In this case, however, I’m afraid there is no doubt. Both your boys were buried on the battlefield with many of their comrades’.

Destrube Grave 2

This is the letter Colonel Barnet-Barker wrote to Ernest Destrube on 16th March 1917 after the Battle of Miraumont. Ernest Destrube worked for a French Bank, the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, on Threadneedle street and had four sons, three of whom were in the 22nd ‘Kensington’ Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers. They are pictured below: Georges, Paul and Guy (right to left):

Destrube Brothers

Paul is in his early twenties in this photo and, despite the old-fashioned moustache, which plants him firmly in another era, it’s possible to see in his mischievous smile a little of the humour which spices the letters from him, which we have in our archive. On 22nd December 1916, Paul writes, ‘Your letter reached me when I was in the middle of a repast – or, well, would you call a dog biscuit and a piece of cheese a repast? Prior to the arrival of your epistle misfortune had been fast overtaking me. Three times the piece of cheese had been brushed from my hand and had fallen, half burying it in mud at the bottom of the trench, and three times it was subjected to a cleansing process on the seat of my trousers. I was able to enjoy in part the humour of the situation, but I am sure that had the catastrophe occurred once more I would have burst into tears.’

Letters to Marion - page 2 - Your letter reached me when

He struggles to maintain a humorous tone, which is honest but not self-pitying, amidst circumstances often far from amusing and it is this candour that makes his letters engaging. Those we have are written by him to a woman called Marian. Of Marian, nothing more is known that the brief note appended to the typed copies of the letters by his father, Ernest – ‘Marian is a young girl Paul made the acquaintance of, when he was near Burton-on-Trent. I believe she is a teacher, pretty girl, well educated. I don’t think they were yet engaged but he was courting her’.

We know a little more of Paul. He grew up in Hampstead and lived at 141 Adelaide Road for a time but he arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 12th March 1913 on the Prince Edward, having sailed from Bristol. He sailed back just over a year later arriving in London on 27th August 1914.

Destrube - Incoming Passenger Lists Aug 1914 - Cropped

The ship which brought him back, the S.S Ionian, did not survive the war and would be sunk by German U-boats off Milford Haven in October 1917.

SS. Ionian

Paul Destrube enlisted at Shepherd’s Bush and after training at Tidworth Barracks was sent to the Western Front. He writes to Marian from there soon after he had arrived. ‘This trip in the trenches I have been fortunate in securing a dug-out with 6 others. Of course it is exceedingly small, measuring no more than 5ft by 4ft., but then I must bear in mind that beggars are not choosers.
… I have not been long up from my post, and I am writing this in the aforesaid dug-out, huddled up in a corner. This sand-bag abode is feebly illuminated by a candle dimly burning. My neighbour, who is yet more uncomfortably cramped up, is falling off to sleep, and his muddy, unshaven and jam smeared face is resting on my shoulder. Occasionally he grunts vigorously, making the paper I am writing upon flutter. I’ve just removed an open tin of jam from under the mud-clotted boot of the fellow opposite me. A fair sized piece of cheese in pinned to the sand bagged wall by means of a cartridge. The bread has all been devoured, but a few broken pieces of hard tack biscuits lie scattered somewhere on the ground beneath this living, semi-sleeping entanglement of men. A bayonet thrust in the wall serves as a candlestick, and the candlegrease is slowly but persistently dripping on the fellow’s forehead who is sleeping directly beneath. With one finger I could swing the bayonet slightly to one side – but I am not going to do so, because it would be a pity to destroy such a charming situation. I’m almost hypnotised as I watch the grease slowly dripping – drip, drip, drip – and still he sleeps …But my reflections have been disturbed; my neighbour is responsible for more grunts and furthermore he’s tried to stretch himself. There – I thought so – he’s kicked the fellow opposite in the stomach, and now they are both grunting. All is quiet again, the dirty, unkissable face is in its old position again – on my shoulder.’ This vivid portrait of life in the trenches is lightly handled but the claustrophic nature of the situation is still born strongly in on the reader.

Letters to Marion - page 4 - I've not been long up from my post

Other letters document times when there was some relief from life in the trenches. It’s a common perception that WW1 soldiers spent nearly all their time in the trenches when in fact 45% of their time was spent out of the trenches, however this is not to suggest this was by any means an easy alternative. In his letter of 5th December 1915, Paul writes, ‘When out of the trenches we are billeted in various houses and farm barns, which have suffered badly from the bombardment of an earlier date. The roof of the one in which I have the pleasure of staying just at present only partially exists, besides which the doors and windows are non-existent. There are 16 who sleep in one room, about as large as your dining room, which has a stone floor. We naturally sleep in our clothes (I have not taken then off since I left England, and see no prospects of doing so in the future), having but one blanket. The mice run all over the place, and at night one can feel them dash over one’s face and head’.
This photograph, as marked in the 22nd Regimental Scrapbook, was taken after the war, however it does show relatively intact buildings so we can only hope this billet in Yvrench, near Amiens, where Paul spent his last Christmas, might have made a pleasant change for him for once.

Cottage where encamped

Regimental histories and accounts of survivors also help to preserve some sense of Paul’s vivid personality. A story recounted in Mufti, the 22nd Regimental Magazine, goes as follows.
‘The Colonel one day on his rounds in the line noticed the L/Cpl and said, ‘Hello, Destrube. Splendid! I see you have a stripe,’ and knowing what one did the other did too, added, ‘Has your brother also a stripe?’
‘No, Sir,’ replied Destrube.
‘How is that?’ asked ‘BB’
Destrube said: ‘Well Sir, it was like this, a circumstance arose whereby it was essential that either my brother or I took the stripe so we tossed for it.’
‘Ah!’, exclaimed ‘BB’, ‘and you won?’
Destrube answered in a very mournful tone: ‘No sir. I lost!’

This story is also reproduced in Geoff Inglis’s brilliantly comprehensive book, The Kensington Battalion (Pen & Sword, 2010) for those who might want to know more about the Destrubes and the fate of their regiment.

The three brothers had survived unscathed since their arrival in France in November 1915 but the family’s luck took a turn for the worst in April 1916 when Georges Destrube was shot by a sniper in the right side of his chest. Paul and Guy had to go over the top to rescue him and then drag him back. Once behind the lines they carried their brother for four hours before they were able to find a safe place to hand him over the Royal Army Medical Corps. They then had to walk four hours back to the front line without knowing if Georges would survive or not.

Letters to Marion - page 6 - Cropped - BottomLetters to Marion - page 7 - Cropped - Top

After Georges was shipped back to Britain to convalesce, only Paul and Guy remained in France. In the weeks before the Battle of Miraumont, Paul was increasingly depressed about his fading prospects of getting leave. He wrote to Marion on 30th January 1917, ‘Sadly I see the chances of four whole months in England slipping through my fingers’.

Lewis Gun Team from Imperial War Museum Collection[Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum]

The Battle of Miraumont was conceived as an operation to capture Hill 130 and put pressure on the German salient at Serre. The furthest advance during the action was 1000 yards and the hill was not taken, however this does seem to have been followed by a German retreat. This was the most costly action the 22nd had yet been involved in and Geoff Inglis calculates that 276 men were killed.

Frederick Palmer - Page 22 Volume 7

Lance-Sergeant F.W. Palmer [above] won the VC at Miraumont for his bravery in dislodging an enemy machine gun and holding out against determined counter-attacks but amongst the dead were Paul and Guy Destrube. Mufti, the Regimental Magazine, records that ‘At Miraumont ‘Plum’s [Vincent Plummer, a Lewis Gun team leader] team were posted in a shell hole under Capt. Pimm and Sergeant Brierly. They saw dear old Axtens wounded by a sniper and then killed by a second shot, while trying to crawl towards them, Brierly got out of the shell hole and fell back dead into Plummer’s arms, shot through the head by the same sniper. Guy Destrube was the next victim and when his brother Paul rushed to his aid he was also killed. The brothers were found clasped in death.’

I’ll leave you with Paul’s own description of the night before he was killed. Here he is, still surviving during one of the coldest winters of the last century, alive a little while longer yet with his brother, Guy, by his side.

Letters to Marion - page 11 - Cropped - BottomLetters to Marion - page 12 - Affectionately yours

There is a real resonance in hearing someone describe things in their own words. It’s harder for them to be a statistic, to be lost among the seventeen million killed in World War One and this surely is why we pick out personal stories It reminds us that every one of those casualties was a unique person who didn’t like potted beef or had red hair or who was a good father, who had things they still wanted to achieve and who hoped to survive the war and return to their lives and the people who loved them. Paul’s story also reminds us of the way in which the war cut off so many futures before they had a chance to unfold. Would Paul have married Marian and had children? We have no way of knowing whether he felt she was the love of his life or simply a casual fling but the war made sure he had no way of finding out either.

Destrube grave

Postscript (DW)

You can see more material from our WW1 archives at http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk

Lucy will soon be leaving us to work on an exciting new project at a national museum. In the last ten months she has worked on a travelling exhibition, the WW1 website and  done workshops for adults and school students. Not to mention a great deal of original research in our archives and elsewhere. Without her talent and energy none of what has been achieved would have been possible. So I’d like to thank her on behalf of myself and my team and wish her good luck for the future.


Thomson and Barrie: Quality Street

Hugh Thomson, whose illustrations to the 1903 edition of Frances Burney’s Evelina formed the basis of a recent post, was a prolific and popular illustrator. He produced drawings for some editions of Shakespeare, did illustrations for all of Jane Austen’s novels and also drew pictures to accompany editions of poetry and plays.

I was at pains last time to demonstrate Burney’s local connection in order to justify a post about Thomson’s work. So again I have to point out the local connection of his collaborator, Kensington resident J M Barrie, who had a couple of addresses in Kensington including 133 Gloucester Road, a house I walk past every day, up till now not realising who had lived there.

Before the success of Barrie’s Peter Pan play he enjoyed another stage sensation in London and New York with a play called Quality Street. And yes, they did name the famous tins of chocolates after the play. More of that later, but first, a sort of apology. I was a bit unkind to Barrie’s creation Peter Pan in this post last year. The problem was that Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens are very much better than the text itself.

The apology to Barrie is due because unfortunately the same is true of Quality Street. Hugh Thomson’s illustrations are much more enjoyable than the actual story.

004

So briefly then. Phoebe, a young woman of 20 falls in love with Brown, a young doctor. Just as she is expecting a proposal Brown goes off to war. (These are the Napoleonic wars). Ten years go by. Phoebe and her sister Susan are running a small school for turbulent children (their straitened circumstances are due to some bad investment advice from Brown which never got mentioned to him). Phoebe considers herself to be an old maid at the age of 30. Brown, having distinguished himself in the wars returns, missing an arm, but still not showing any sign of asking Phoebe to marry him. Just a little annoyed by events Phoebe re-invents herself as her own niece Livvy, flighty and flirtatious where “Miss Phoebe” is staid and dowdy.

act 2 007

[The veiled Phoebe and her sister Susan are taken off to a ball by Valentine Brown]

Girls just want to have fun basically, which is what ensues, along with some hilarity. The deception somehow works and causes some complications for Phoebe. Eventually Phoebe and Brown realise they love each other, the whole thing is sorted out and the fictional Livvy is smuggled out of the narrative to everyone’s satisfaction.

During the course of collecting the images for this post I read most of Quality Street and while I still hold to the view that the pictures are the most interesting thing about it, I did warm to some of the dialogue after a while (although the story is  still quite silly and Barrie’s stage directions sound like he’s writing a DVD commentary). If I had been around in London at the time I might have gone to see it, as many others did. It was a good boost to Barrie’s career.

But as with Evelina, Thomson’s pictures are why we are here. They tell the story, (or any other story you could fit with them) in a manner I find perfectly satisfactory in itself.

Austen-esque young women while away their time in elegant sitting rooms, reading to each other, playing cards:

017

Listening at doors (a fine comic image):

007

Falling in love (a nice rainy picture with a little hint of Markino about it):

010

There’s a bit of comedy discipline in the school room.

013

But discipline breaks down and the tables are temporarily turned:

act 2 004

There’s a series of balls of course:

018

With the regulation row of expectant young women:

019

Some flirtation, from the Miss Livvy alter ego, with a pair of dim young men.

021

Thomson is mostly known for monochrome illustrations but his coloured illustrations to the play show he was just as good with colour.

There’s a certain amount of watching from windows:

act 4 002a

Gossip in the street:

020

A bit of drawing room intrigue:

023

Some game playing as the penny starts to drop:

022

And eventually a reconciliation as the supposedly ailing Miss Livvy turns back into Phoebe.

024

Sorry, some spoilers there. But I imagine the pleasure of actually seeing the play would lie in the repetion of familiar tropes rather than novelty. As with Evelina, Thomson seemed to have liked the journey but been less concerned with the denouement.

Quality Street was filmed more than once. A 1927 version featured Marion Davies,the mistress of William Randolph Hearst. There was also a 1937 version featuring the young Katharine Hepburn as Phoebe.

Katherine Hepburn in Quality Street

This still is quite a close match to one of Thomson’s illustrations.

img021

The play contiuned to be revived. Our local theatre the Finborough Theatre in Finborough Road did a version in 2010.

qualitystreet6
But all that passed me by and until very recently the name only meant tins of chocolates.

Quality Street was an innovative product first sold in 1936. The company invented a device to wrap the sweets in coloured paper and conceived the idea of putting them into a tin . This made the product cheaper than boxes of chocolates with individally wrapped sweets. Harold Mackintosh combined aspiration with nostalgia by naming his product after the play. Some readers may remember that the tins used to feature a pair of characters know in the trade as Miss Sweetly and Major Quality who were always depicted in a vaguely Regency / mid-Victorian setting probably suggested by Thomson’s pictures. As I recall there were TV commercials featuring the two as well, especially at Christmas where they merged with the general 19th century Dickensian season of bonnets and crinolines. .

QS tin

You can see that Miss Sweetly has moved forward a couple of decades in terms of fashion but Major Quality’s uniform still resembles that of a traditional red-coated British officer. It wouldn’t be going too far to suggest that Thomson played a part in the creation  of our Christmas iconography.

Postscript

Although I’d never heard of Thomson when I first came across that edition of Evelina, once I started looking I found plenty of examples of his work and I’ll probably return to him again in the future. Like Randolph Caldecott  (another book illustrator who made a contribution to the idea of Christmas) he was one of those artists who could perfectly complement an author’s work and at the same time create his own imaginative landscape. He has led me to other book illustrators whose work we can look at in the next few months.

I have to thank Peter Collins of Westminster Central Reference Library for graciously allowing me to examine the original limited edition of Quality Street signed by Hugh Thomson and to scan the coloured pictures. The black and white images come from a much more lowly 1938 edition. Thanks also to Susie Hilmi for transporting the book and brokering the deal.


Mr Herbert Railton, illustrator

In 1910 the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram had a book out called Moated Houses. I find Tristram’s prose style a little hard to follow. It’s pompous, rambling and obscure. And that book is long. I never knew that Edwardian England had so many houses with moats. Possibly many of them got knocked down and the moats filled in over the course of the twentieth century.

But as it happens water and architecture were an excellent combination for Tristram’s illustrator, Herbert Railton who died aged 53 of pneumonia in the year of the book’s publication. This picture is of Gedding Hall in Suffolk.

Gedding Hall p155 - Copy

Railton combines a precision about the details of the buildings – brickwork,  windows etc –  with an overall impresion of indistinctness as foliage, water and the refection of the house leave you with a sense of looking through mist or being dazzled by sunlight.

I know Railton’s work because we have a collection of his pictures in the library, and from his illustrations to Leigh Hunt’s book about Kensington, the Old Court Suburb (1855) . (Many of the pictures are the originals of images in the book.) But I came across more of his book illustrations recently while following the trail of the equally prolific Hugh Thomson. They both worked on Tristram’s Coaching Days and Coaching Ways (1901). Thomson’s best pictures are of people. He has a gift for catching action and comedy. Railton can do people too when he has to, but he is best at houses.

Lonely houses that is, glimpsed through foliage, like this view of the rear of Bullingham House. Click on the picture for more of the detail.

Bullingham House garden front CPic263

The original edition of Leigh Hunt’s book had no illustrations. But there was a deluxe edition in 1902 with illustrations by Railton and others, and an introduction by the editor, the near ubiquitous Austin Dobson, a famous writer in his day not much remembered now. (Not by people like me anyway). But Dobson was all over the place in this era producing biographies, essays and volumes of poetry illustrated by Thomson and others. (And he had a day job too. he has a slight connection with Kensington so he might get his own post one day)

Gore House p50

Gore House, the home of the Countess of Blessington’s literary salon. The liveliness inside where Leigh Hunt himself rubbed shoulders with Dickens, Thackeray and other figures (including the ill fated Letitia Elizabeth Landon ) is contrasted with the loneliness of the garden.

I think you could describe Railton’s style as elliptical. He loves to give you glimpses of his subject matter or fragments rather than the whole thing. Sometimes you have to work out exactly what some detail or other might be.

Where Lord Camelford was killed CPic299

This is the site of a duel in the grounds of Holland House. Railton’s unique way of handling lines renders the empty view almost abstract, but somehow meaningful, as if the violence that had been played out there was still imbued in the lawns and trees.

The Moats p164

This moat is also in the grounds of Holland House. I scanned this from the printed version as it was almost impossible to scan the original clearly.

Railton could do an ordinary street scene too when necessary.

The Rookery Ansdell Street CPic282

This pencil drawing shows Ansdell Street which would have been in a small pocket of poverty in a back street of Kensington. Calling it a rookery might be excessive, but Railton had a romantic, even gothic eye for his subject matter. The puddle with its refections is a characteristic touch.

Old Garden Wall to Campden House CPic303

The overgrown wall and the wild grasping trees dominate over the view of the house which looks distant and where you could easily imagine an imprisoned heroine in a tower room.

The same kind of trees occupy the background of this picture which actually has a supernatural title.

The Ghost's Avenue p168

The Ghost’s Avenue. I don’t think I’m overstating the case when I say that the large tree on the right of the path resembles a malevolent alien presence more than an ordinary tree. The branches are already reaching into the path. Would you walk there late at night?

Along with his evocations of the wild countryside of Algernon Blackwood, Railton also did a bit of traditional urban gothic.

Turret stairway to Triforium p43

The sinister staircase.

Corner in Clifford's Inn p267

The black cat on your path.

Gateway to Staple Inn p289

The shadowy figure before you.

Clifford's Inn p271

The heroine beats a hasty retreat with something in a hat box. Let her go. We have another moated house to see.

Ightham Mote Courtyard p231

Let’s leave it to Tristram to tell us about it. He had firm opinions on the place: If Compton Winyates has been called a house in a hole, Ightham may be described as being a house in a ravine, if such a precipitous expression may be properly applied to the pastoral scenery of Kent. The descent to the place, especially by a certain footpath, is almost headlong. Suddenly this moated manor is seen hiding itself in the opening of a small valley. Nor does the word “hiding” quite convey the weird secretiveness of the site. Weird better suggests the first impression made on the mind at the first sight of Ightham, and especially is this the case if the place is first seen at the close of a winter’s afternoon with snowflakes falling about gables which seem to be nodding in a conspiracy of silence, or melting into the broad and dark waters of a moat, whose murmurs seem the murmurs of distrust. The house wears a wicked look.

Ightham Moat p240

And it is characteristic of a house of the Ightham type that such an object of danger and mistrust should so suddenly obtrude itself, at the very moment when the mind is occupied with a contemplation of the place’s serener surroundings. You turn from looking at a sunset from the window of a Jacobean drawing-room, and a piece of mediaeval treachery stares you in the face. Your hostess rises from a civilized tea-table and touches a spring at the side of the fireplace: you open a door, and if you had not been warned not to go forward, you would have fallen into the moat.

I couldn’t have put it better. It’s like we’re in one of Robert Aickmann’s strange stories where an uneasy atmosphere can suddenly present a bizarre or threatening occurence.

Postscript

You can find Railton’s work in many books from the turn of the 19th century. You’ll also find more of it here as I have ideas for at least two more posts featuring him which will come up soon, at least one of them overtly supernatural (without any forcing from me). I’m writing this at the beginning of July just after the hottest July day on record. The lassitude induced by heat and the atmosphere of humidity both seem to be represented in Railton’s work.

William Outram Tristram. Moated Houses . Methuen, 1910.

W J Loftie. The inns of court and chancery. Seeley, 1895. Thanks to Kim for finding a copy for me.

Leigh Hunt. The Old Court Suburb. With an introduction by Austin Dobson. Freemantle & Co,1902

This week’s post is dedicated to my old friend Graham for an obvious reason.


Along the Promenade: Kensington High Street

Kensington High Street October 1961. The corner of Wright’s Lane. The photographer has noted on the back: midday. It’s good to know that now. The street is busy. A shop called Hope Brothers (“outfitters”)  is at the centre of the picture occupying the corner with its turret. Can you see behind the  building the side of Iverna Court and the fire escape stairs which snake up the pitched roof allowing access from windows and precarious looking doorways? I checked and it’s still there today.

Kensington High Street 129 October 1961 midday K61-1014

This is the start of the Promenade,an 1890s development of shops and offices built by our old friend cheese magnate Jubal Webb, a rare example of a developer demolishing his own house along with the others in the Terrace  (follow the link for more on the houses that used to be there). We’ll be following the Promenade down the High Street in a moment but before we do there’s another matter.

Just visible on the left is one of the signs for Pontings, the first of the three great department stores of Kensington High Street to disappear. Most of the rest of the pictures in this post come from the 1970s like this one from May 1976.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-29

Ponting’s is being demolished.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-93

And there it was gone.

Not that its final years had been glorious.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729

In 1971 the letters of the signs had all been pulled out and you were left with a discount shop called the Kensington SuperStore.

There is a bit of a human drama in that picture to distract us form the sad fate of Ponting’s.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729 detail

The woman on the left is flagging down a taxi with her arm outstreched. But behind her the younger woman is also making a gesture which might be an attempt to sneak in first, or exasperation on account of her prior claim. We’ll never know who got the cab, but nice flares, Madam.

Now back to 1976. I had just left college and spent the summer in balmy Kensal Rise. A group of us spent many afternoons in that memorable summer around the open air swimming pool in Willesden. But by November I had a job in Soho so I was probably hardly ever in Kensington High Street where John Rogers was taking these pictures.

Kensington High Street 129-137 south side looking west 1976 KS4285

Hope Brothers have been replaced by Paige Gowns (Ladies fashions). It’s hard to make out all the shops’ names at this size of image but I’ve looked at Kelly’s Directory for this year so I can tell you that you have Barratts (shoes), Etam (more ladies wear), Salisbury’s (handbags and fancy goods, with the Anglo-Austrian Society on one of the floors above), a boutique called Magique, the Village Gate (menswear), Saxone (shoes again – before the internet shoe shops were like a virus on any high street), the once ubiquitous Ratners (jewellry) and a Dorothy Perkins (ladies outfitters).

I have some more pictures taken of this section by John Rogers but not dated so there are a few discrepancies but I’m sure they’re from the same period.

Kensington High Street 135-145 K2275C

In this pair of images you can see a Jean Machine and a shop called Woodhouse have slotted themselves in, along with the flash of a Citroen which looks like a retro car of the future speeding by.

Kensington High Street 139-149 K2279C

These two images give you an idea of the complex repeating pattern of rooftops on the Promenade. I’m repeating myself here but the Survey of London gives the best description: “orthodox, restless, ornamental”, three adjectives that cannot be bettered.

This one takes it to the last peak of the Promenade:

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C

Mindels (more leather goods – did these people never tire of leather?), the Downtown boutique, Ravel (more shoes) and between them a shop with a blank front which at maximum magnification looks to me like an electronics or hi-fi shop.

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C - Copy

Are those LPs on a rack on the left of the entrance? You can also see a woman lifting a pram onto the kerb, and what looks like a woman being acosted by a man slouching in the entrance to Downtown. At the right a woman crosses the darkened passageway which leads into Adam and Eve Mews, where the Society for Psychical Research had its home for many years.

We’re moving beyond the Promenade proper now but I think it’s worth it.

Kensington High Street 161 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4290

To see Dolcis (a shoe shop next to another shoe shop), Dixons, Brentford Nylons (a name I recall from frantic ads on radio for a shop where people with odd tastes could buy nylon sheets, among many other man made products). Kelly’s reveals a few of the businesses upstairs: Peterjohn Import-Export Ltd (a front for MI5?), Centre Girl (employment agency), Sartorius Fashions Ltd (importers), Porten’s Secretarial College, Barber, May and Carstairs (auctioneers) and Naftamondial UK Ltd (petroleum traders) to name a few. These names bring back a whole way of life – office workers toiling in smoke filled rooms on obscure tasks, bosses dictating to secretaries and lots of paper files – which must have gone by now, although there must still be small businesses in those buildings.

We’re heading for a particular shop now at 191-195. Let’s have a close up of someone on the street first.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291 detail

This young woman with her big collar and cuffs is sticking stamps on a letter for the post box behind her. She has a hair style I remember well, although I haven’t been able to discover if it has a name.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291

Along with a kebab resturant, another jeans boutique, a building society  and positively the last shoe shop of the day (K, not named for Kafka’s hero I expect, but imagine Kafka writing a story about a street where you could only buy shoes) is Pettits (of Kensington, general drapers).

For those of you who didn’t know Pettits was the other shop after the three department stores whose name has lingered on in people’s memories, and I am often asked about it. Let’s go in.

Pettits interior 1977 K4150-C

As you can see, Pettits was the home of many racks of ladies garments and accessories. Can you see the half-obscured sign next to the pillar? Upstairs: Corsets, Coats, Dresses, Millinery (maybe ) and Underwear (or Nightwear?). Habadashery and Soft Furnishings somewhere else .It looks to me like a shop for ladies of a certain age. Those corsets were not the modern fashion items, they were just foundation garments if I’ve got the term correct. And this is 1977, the year of the closing down sale when my future wife was dragged down there by her mother. She bought a purple dressing gown.

Pettits had survived its larger rivals but eventually succombed to economuic forces. I’m only featuring one picture because there are several more which might make a post of their own in the future.

So let’s go home. Walk back up the High Street to the tube through the picturesque arcade we can still enjoy today.

Kensington Arcade 1981 K6653-B

The High Street went through a rough patch a few years ago but now looks to be thriving again. These are the current shops on the Promenade: Oliver Bonas, East, Vince Camuto (shoes!), EE, The Body Shop, Phones 4U,  Aldo, an empty property, O2, The Kooples, Calzedonia, Russell Bromley (shoes) Orogold, Muji, Vision Express, another empty one and Hotel Chocolat (my favourite, obviously). More phones than shoes. The roofline is still restless after all these years.

A modern view:

DSC_5548 - Copy

One big difference – trees.

DSC_5553 - Copy

And it’s not usually as quiet as this. I took these pictures on a Saturday morning.

Postscript

This week’s post is the 206th post published but it’s the 200th written by me so it’s a personal milestone. When someone asked for an idea back in 2011 and I said “I’ll write a blog.” I never imagined that I would be able to find 200 topics to write about in the last (nearly) four years and still not have exhausted the collection or my desire to write about it. When I started, I ran at it picking off the best subjects, Hedderly, Cremorne etc not at all concerned with making them last. I now know that Burgess and Ascroft and Rush could easily have had several posts each like Markino and Menpes. Maybe they will yet. Other subjects really only get one shot, so you have to get it right.

With some posts you know there’s going to be a great deal of interest – anything to do with the Lots Road Power Station for example, or the lost streets of the World’s End. Some posts surprise you. I would never have guessed at the perennial popularity of the West London Air Terminal. (So I’m relieved that I just about nailed that one.)

The big breakthrough I suppose was Linley Sambourne. I knew those pictures were good. It was a few years before the blog that I scanned them during a period when I discovered the pleasures of digitisation. I knew they would be useful one day and if I found the right angle would reach a lot of people. The success of those posts and others taught me to follow my instincts. And all the years of looking at pictures trying to see their stories have paid off. Blogging about our Local Studies collection has been both a pleasure for me and has taken the collection out of the archive room and picture chests into the big wide world, finding a gratifyingly large audience.  I’m lucky to have ended up where I am today, showing people things they’ve never seen before and above all learning, finding interesting things, becoming obsessed with them and then saying: look at this.

So thank you to everyone who’s read the blog, regularly or occasionally, made comments (Michael, Chris and Debbie to name only the most frequent), subscribed, followed us on Twitter, pressed the like button, and shared with us – pictures or memories. Without you it really wouldn’t work.

And I haven’t forgotten my guest bloggers – Isabel Hernandez, Lucy Yates and the eminent historian Jonathan Oates, who have all made valuable contributions and given me much needed breathing space. Special thanks to them for their support and to the other members of my team – Tim Reid, Kim Smith and Katrina Wilson (who has now gone on to higher things). And as long as I’m thanking people my wife Cathryn and my son Matthew who have had to put up with me tapping away on my laptop at all hours. And can I just thank…… no, really, I’ve stopped now, honest.

The reader - Copy

Hugh Thomson – my latest obsession. More of him soon.


Mr Hassall’s art school

First, a little bit of colour:

blackpool 4 - Copy

4 colours combine to make a single image.

Blackpool 05 final

The solitary child wondering “when’s the fun begin?”

After becoming interested in John Hassall it was pointed out to me by my friend Carrie that we had some material from Hassall’s correspondence school in what we call the manuscript collection – many shelves of identical cardboard boxes, most of which contain deeds and other legal documents, but some of which have Local Studies gold. I’ve used some examples before (like this one) . In this case in one plain box was a set of lessons for Hassall’s students of art and design.

Some of the lesson sheets are concerned with basic elements

Lesson 12 - expression

Tickling the fancy of Mr Everyman.

Or cartooning dogs and chicks:

Animal form

Some are concerned with techniques, like texture:

Textures 04

Or simple line drawing:

Lesson 3 simple pen drawing

And using different materials as in this “Charcoal Girl”.

Lesson 3 charcoal head

Others with anatomy:

Lesson 7 - arms

On the surface, and within:

Lesson 7 - arms sheet 3

And sometimes composition:

Elizabeth

Whether a big, grand subject,

or a small one:

Lesson 15 - pen and ink

As he states, Hassall used his own works as examples:

Study

Compare it with a published version

Study in red

He also looked at parody. Do you remember the vacuum cleaner poster from the first post?

Parody 01

He has reversed the subject of the cartoon to show it can be used in a number of ways.

And goes on:

Parody 02

Culminating in one of those pre-humorous Punch cartoons.

As well as these sheets, there was a great deal of text for the students all on duplicated type-written sheets, and comments in letter form like this one:

Letter

So the students got their money’s worth. Instructions, and personalised feedback, with practical advice on getting work as an illustrator.

I don’t know how many of them went on to equal, or surpass the master.

John Hassall remains an intruiging artist, poised as many are between commerce and art. But he was a man with a vision, demonstrated here with this a realistic slant on a classic tale.

Pied Piper

The Pied Piper leans casually against a tree like a steward marshalling a crowd. They could be evacuees.  I can’t say whether this image was connected:

Textures - dead rat

We started with colour, so let’s end with another colourful image from the theatre:

Sporting Girl

Postscript

I mentioned our Great War website http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk in the first post about Hassall and one or two of you went to have a look. So I’m mentioning it again – new material is being posted regularly by my colleague Lucy Yates who will be guest blogging here soon.


Dreams of the Westway 3: The view from the high rise

This week features the return of guest blogger Isabel Hernandez who has subjected our recently acquired collection of pictures of the construction of the Westway to close scrutiny.

 

Below are a few images taken from a set of photographs I have been working on showing the construction of the Westway from the Paddington perspective. Quite a few of the photographs were taken from the roof of my old home (Gaydon House) which certainly was of personal interest as I looked through them.

As a child growing up with the Westway in close proximity perhaps I should feel some sort of affinity for it. I certainly never thought it attractive. It was just always there: a city structure, part of the landscape…the truth is, I never gave it much thought. Such edifices are often described as eyesores for the most part – much like electricity pylons are along country fields – it was to me a modernism that (literally) passed me by. The Westway was a fixture I grew up with. I knew nothing of its history or the controversy surrounding its construction, let alone the disruption and the displacement it caused. It was simply concrete: imposing and strangely pragmatic. It was many years before I really got to know the story behind one of London’s more contentious projects.

The image below shows the south of the Harrow Road, opposite Lord Hill’s Bridge being filled around 1966. The middle building directly behind the corrugated iron is Gaydon House with the Victorian school, Edward Wilson, next to it. The difference in size is evident. The school is not a small building and yet it is dwarfed by the 21 storey block. Many of the aerial views for the area during the project were taken from the roof of this high-rise block.

W129

In some ways I am a child of the concrete era, when Brutalist architecture, as it was known, became the progressive force in the construction business. Laing was one of seven major construction companies responsible for much of the redevelopment in the Great Britain of the sixties and seventies. It was in their interest to champion “the strength and simplicity of concrete” (White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties 1964-1970 ~ Sandbrook). It was considered the answer to the ailing, defunct, overcrowded Victorian slums that were being cleared as the redevelopment boom took hold in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Concrete was the new emperor, running roughshod (as perceived by many) over history and traditional Britain like a lava flow. But I was oblivious to all this. By the time most of this had happened I was already a part of this infamous megastructure: I resided in a tower block on a housing estate with a massive motorway next door – you can’t get more concrete than that!

In this photograph we see the beginnings of an area in transformation. A large section of what will become a part of the Warwick Estate is being prepared to hold the materials and moulds for the soon to be motorway that will run parallel to the Great Western Railway. The white arches (top left corner) are part of Paddington Station with the Westbourne Bridge just before it.

W290

Here we have an image of the Harrow Road at ground level facing west a few months later.

W368

This view (below) would have been a familiar one from my balcony, except it predates me by several years and the Westway has yet to appear. I suspect some form of long lens was used here to photograph this section of the Harrow Road with Lord Hill’s Bridge just off it. You can also see Royal Oak Station serving the Hammersmith & City line on the left of the bridge. Today it remains largely unchanged with the staircase leading down on to the platforms. Now, with the Westway present, you cannot really see it this clearly anymore from the lower floors of Gaydon House.

W401

Three months later and we see the beginnings of a subway. This served pedestrians who wished to cross the busy Harrow Road over to Lord Hill’s Bridge that leads on towards Porchester Road and Queensway. In subsequent years most of us residents would still risk the busy road rather than venture below deck, so to speak. But to be fair it was never threatening or particularly dangerous during my time living in the area. Occasionally the compulsory graffiti would decorate the dirty, dull walls, but overall it was thankfully devoid of harder criminal activity. It is only in recent years that it was decided to seal off the subway for safety reasons. Not so much because of its insalubrious elements, but more to do with the fact that people preferred the more direct route on ground level, risking life and limb.

W595

Below, looking east towards Paddington. This is the route of the Westway. The Great Western Railway and the Harrow Road follow on either side of it. In the distance you can just about make out the spire of, what I think was, Holy Trinity Church on Bishops Bridge. The church itself was demolished around 1983/84 but the spire was taken down earlier C. 1972. There are now some unremarkable flats built in its stead called (to rub salt in the wound) Trinity Court.

W592

Here you see Bourne Terrace in June 1967 (bottom right) leading on to the Harrow Road. Anyone who has read my previous blog called Familiar Street: A Paddington Estate might recognise some of the streets. Many old streets were abolished and new ones created. This aerial view is taken from Gaydon House (my old residence) pre-Westway with construction underway all around the Warwick and Brindley (soon to be) Estates. The Westway has yet to parallel the rail track of the Great Western that will encroach from the west. Up ahead is Westbourne Park Road which you can reach over a pedestrian bridge walkway. It’s the first bridge you see by the wasteland. An area that is now the Westbourne Green sports complex. North Kensington is in the distance. If you look closely you might be able to make out the tower of St Charles’ Hospital (extreme top right).

W659

At first this picture confused me. I thought I was looking at the foundations of what would become part of the Westway. But on further study I realised this was actually the precast yard for the motorway (where large sections of concrete would be moulded) as well as being a storage area for all the heavy materials and machinery that would be used for this section of it.

W710

A closer view. Note the crane on tracks.

W713

This view faces south with the spire of St Mary Magdalene and Princethorpe House in the background (one of the six sibling tower blocks in the area).

W714

Below, Brinklow House in construction and to think that double-glazing was never even considered with the Westway looming next door. I can remember listening to the motorway traffic whizzing by. Eventually it became background noise along with the trains, the planes and the automobiles. The sirens too get a special mention. When the towers were eventually refurbished around 2004/5 double-glazing was put in. I had left by then.

W768

March 1968 and here we can see the beginnings of the motorway rising up off the ground. If you want perspective take a look at how small the cars are, driving along the Harrow Road.

W1364

The Westway encroaching from the west. By April 1968 the Paddington section was rising fast.A diesel train heads towards Paddington Station and behind that, blocks of flats along Westbourne Park Villas adds to the strangely linear synchronicity of the whole image.

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I can only describe this as chaos.

W2097

But somehow, eventually, the engineers manage to bring a semblance of order to the scene.

W2098

The Westway is taking shape as the traffic below continues to ebb and flow as normal. The chaps on the motorway, probably inspecting sections of it, look like they’re exploring a playground. It was not unusual to find workers of the period (depending on their assignments) not wearing the required hard hats or safety gear compulsory today. Below left you can also see a number 18 routemaster heading west towards Harlesden, possibly Wembley. It still continues on a similar route to this day.

W2729

See the caption on the picture below. What is an epox pipe you may ask yourselves? The truth is I have no idea. But I think it has something to do with a strong, protective coating that can be used on piping or bars in concrete to reinforce it. All those dials and conducting cables make me think of physics lessons. It was a science that flummoxed me. As do epox pipes.

W2726

Here is my own blurry photograph of the Westway taken in the early 1990’s during the autumnal season. It was taken with one of those incredibly daft 20th century inventions – the throw-away camera. I snapped this from my balcony, which incidentally, boasted one of the best views of London. The small park below – once a slum, then a wasteland converted into a temporary building site – gives this particular corner of Paddington a lighter, less congested feel, hinting back to its former rural history and remarkably, the Westway, despite its initial ugliness and awful connotations, actually doesn’t look so out of place here. Not anymore. Something natural to balance out the progressive, intrusive advance of technology seems to be the secret here. Concrete used unwisely is a monster. But, temper it with an intelligent creative flair and you could be looking at a masterpiece. Love it or hate it, the Westway is here to stay.

Westway, Gaydon House view early nineties

Postscript

Despite the fact that I’ve had plenty of time to prepare for this I still haven’t managed to work out how to add an author on WordPress. Anyone?

My thanks to Isabel for another excellent post.

 

 


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