King’s Road blues – part one

When I was writing the post about the World’s End a couple of weeks ago I came across the photograph below.

Right in the middle at number 475 you can see a shop called Sophisto-Cat (next to Decro-Cat of course). I’d been looking for a picture of that shop for ages and finally it had presented itself. Sopisto-Cat was the home of the now famous Christian the Lion who was bought at Harrods by two Australian men and kept at the shop in that devil may care sixties way. I showed this picture to interested parties and someone even remembered that she and her sister were always asking their mother to take them to see the lion sleeping in the window.

This set me off trawling through our collection of photographs in search of interesting views of the King’s Road around the same time 1970 so let’s go on a tour up and down Chelsea’s most famous street.

The next two pictures show the shops next to Sophisto-Cat:

Note the pre-decimal prices at Starways and the offer of new dresses for £1 at Quick Nicker. 475 and its neighbours were soon demolished. This view from 1972 of the Guinness Trust Buildings shows the towers of the World’s End estate under construction although the end of the terrace above is still in place.

Further west we see another defunct building Kings Road Junk City. A large and anonymous red brick office block stands on the site today

Further along you find this parade of shops including the engagingly named El Cheapo

This is followed by the still existing Furniture Cave building, today looking much smarter and very much greener in colour than it did in the 1970s.

Stanley Bridge visible in the distance marks the border of Chelsea so now we have to do a virtual u-turn and head back eastwards.

We’ve passed the World’s End now and the next picture shows the parade of shops on the Cremorne Estate.

The branch of Woolworth’s is long gone but the Portch Brothers butchers were there until comparatively recently.

This photo shows the construction of Moravian Tower at what was then 343-379 King’s Road. The building was a Council block of flats for many years until problems with the infrastructure of the building made it uneconomical to repair. It was sold to a property company and now has the far less evocative name 355 King’s Road. The Tower took its name from The Moravian Chapel and Burial Ground located directly behind it.

This brings us back to Christian the Lion. The burial ground was where he exercised when he wasn’t dozing at Sophisto-Cat. I can’t mention the Moravian Burial Ground without also mentioning the urban myth associated with it. Because the headstones are flush with the ground and appear to be quite close together a rumour grew that the Moravians were buried vertically. Every so often we get a query about this so I should state for the record that as far as I know the deceased inhabitants of the burial ground were laid to rest in a conventional manner. The positioning of the headstones probably related to the desire for a simple and unadorned burial marker. The fact that this arrangement is also convenient for the exercise of big cats is entirely coincidental.

I haven’t got us very far along the King’s Road but time travel can’t be rushed. I’ll continue next week but to get us as far as Beaufort Street at least here are another couple of images:

329 and 331 King’s Road, now home to Just Kitchens and the Azteca Resturant. Just beyond Beaufort Street on the north side is the Bluebird Garage building. Once the home of the largest and one of the first petrol stations in the country, it is now devoted to a number of upmarket food /consumer outlets. But in the early seventies it was an ambulance station.

Next week we will push on to the heart of the King’s Road at the height of its fame as a fashionable shopping destination.

This is the first of a number of virtual trips along the streets of Kensington and Chelsea so let me know if there are any other streets you’d like to see.

17 responses to “King’s Road blues – part one

  • mike-green (@mike_green)

    Hello Dave
    Another stellar post!
    You might be interested in checking out this FB group, lots of great pics and reminiscences

  • John Collis

    These photos have at last solved the problem for me of where Christian the lion’s early home at Sophistocat was. I hadn’t realised just how changed the World’s End area had become since the late 1960s. All those characterful streets demolished and history swept away. It’s so dull now in comparison. Thank you for a fascinating and helpful series.

  • Liz alter

    wonderful site. thank you. do you have any pictures of Gloucester Rd?

  • Marilyn Inglis

    Great photos. The Bluebird garage in the 60s and 70s was an Ambulance repair station where my father worked . i can even recall the tele number FLA 2139. it`s funny what sticks !

    • Gavin Marriott

      I worked as an ambulanceman at Chelsea station (Bluebird Garage) from 1980. It was the main station for the area and the busiest in London. It had a workshop upstairs and the petrol pumps still supplied us out the front. I don’t know when it became an ambulance station but the story I was told “it was owned by a German during WW2 and so got confiscated and used as an ambulance station”. It ended in that role in the 90s when Fulham station got rebuilt and so became the main station – and still is today. Some big jobs responded first by the Chelsea crews like the Harrods bombings. We also did the royal duties at Buck house from there. Great memories.

  • Peter Freeman

    ‘so let me know if there are any other streets you’d like to see’.

    If you’re still taking requests, I’d love to see Flood Street, where I grew up.

  • squidgybod

    As ever, wonderful, thanks Dave. More about the lion here courtesy of Chris Pain..

  • debbie

    Lovely to see the old pictures, some things I recall. Do you have any pictures of the small shopping centre which was on the Kings Rd in the late 60s early 70s? There was a Boots, Timothy White’s and a Sainsbury’s. I recall there used to be a sculpture in the middle of the square.

    • liz altieri

      There was a ToP video version of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” that featured that Sainsbury’s courtyard — the Pan’s People girl was dancing around the sculpture. I can’t find it on YouTube — only a studio version of them dancing to it.

      • debbie

        Hi Liz, thanks for your reply. I haven’t seen that video but I’ll try to find it. I understand some Top of the Pops recordings were erased for some reason and the programme featuring that video may have been one of them.

    • Dave Walker

      I remember the place quite well – the Sainsbury’s, a shoe shop (I think) and the chemist, although I think Boots took over a branch of Timothy White’s. I can’t actually picture the sculpture but there was one there. Unfortunately although we have some cuttings about the new mini-mall which was built in the gap by 120 King’s Road, there don’t seem to be any photos. Incidentally 120 was the location of the Thomas Crapper shop until the mid-sixties.

  • debbie

    Hi Dave, thanks for your reply. Yes, there was a shoe shop too. I believe the sculpture was large and probably steel. I didn’t know the mini mall was built in the gap. I’ll probably write to Sainsbury’s and ask if they have any photos. I’ll let you know their reply.

  • cboot

    I remember buying sweets and, of all things, rose bushes at Woolworths in that parade, there was a very useful ironmongers too. But my best remembered shop was under the Moravian Tower, Laffetteas’s toy shop (not spelt right?), where most of my pocket money got spent, next (but one?) to the co-op. I know the toy shop had relocated there from not far away.

    You don’t mention the brewery(?) which used to be at the Kings Road end of Fernshaw Road. I used to love the smell of beer coming out from it (on my way to nursery school in the church hall on Edith Grove). Or have I imagined that?

  • reg francis

    Cboot, Laffertyt’s I think.Watney’s brewery, with the girls in their green uniforms, green bandana’s around their hair and the original Doc Martin boots just in case a barrel ran over their tootsies.As a Slaidburn Street lad I played in the bombed ruins of that church in Edith Grove and found a hoard of old pennies,

    Reg Francis

  • Jim McLaughlin

    Thanks for these pics – my parents owned the Worlds End Pharmacy and the 3 flats above until it was demolished… i spent many happy hours there

  • Cat Perryman

    Always interesting, I would love to see anything that shows houses on the Fulham Road/corner of Lucan Place, before the flats, now Keppel house were built in the early fifties

  • Christina

    Love looking at all the historic and vintage photographs of Chelsea, I’m obsessed! Thank you so much for the information, it’s so interesting, and melancholy in a lot of instances, especially when you see how wonderful a lot of the buildings were that have been sadly demolished or wrecked beyond recognition! If you are still taking requests for photographs and information on any of the Chelsea and Kensington streets, I would be delighted if you, or anyone has any on Redcliffe Gardens SW10, please? I’ve been a resident of Chelsea, well, West Brompton area of Chelsea, the outer reaches between Worlds End and Earls Court, and it would be wonderful to see some more photographs of Redcliffe Gardens and Fulham
    Road. Thank you, keep up the good work!

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