Ruins and reconstruction in North Kensington

The building below featured very briefly in the recent BBC programme on Portland Street in the “Secret history of our street” series.

It’s the Notting Hill Brewery which was located at the northern, least affluent, end of Portland Road. It was demolished in the late 1930s to make way for a new housing block, Nottingwood House, an example of progressive social housing for the time. The street is empty. Possibly because this was about to happen:

Destruction is a familiar theme in the history of North Kensington. There have been speculative house building programmes in the area from the 1850s onwards. Some have succeeded and some have failed. As in the programme the streets nearest Holland Park Avenue and Notting Hill High Street and Notting Hill Gate were the most likely to succeed and survive. Proximity to the new railways has also played a part, as light industry and animal husbandry gave way to housing.

There was another major factor of course.

Rackham Street and St Charles Square, as stark and grim as any purpose built gothic folly, just after the war. These bombed out ruins represent terror and loss of life for the people who lived there but bomb sites were also playgrounds for children growing up during and after the war. We’re all fascinated by destruction one some level.

The emptied streets are still and silent in an early morning at the end of the tumultuous war years.

Life went on among the ruins and for the children below, hanging around and playing near St Michael’s Mission Hall in Rackham Street, the bomb sites were a normal backdrop to their lives.

Destruction is also an opportunity for change and reconstruction.

Another view of the gasometer we saw above, a landmark which survived the war, with St Charles’ Hospital in the background.  In this 1951 picture allotments and pre-fabs have filled the bombed out area prior to re-building. Below the same view in early 1952.

Later in the 60s and 70s there was another wave of destruction and redevelopment as slum housing was demolished and local industry declined.

New building began again. Some projects, like the Westway brought their own form of destruction along with the spaces that would grow up beneath the motorway.

Other developments brought controversy. Here you can see the lower floors of Trellick Tower under construction.

We’ll come back to both those projects in future posts.

North Kensington has been knocked down and built again time again in its history, which is comparatively short by London standards hardly 200 years from fields to city.

We started here at the Notting Hill Brewery.

A group of residents proudly pose for a photograph showing they were not ashamed of where they lived.

By contrast, a different way of expressing defiance and a sceptical attitude to redevelopment is shown in this picture, while the Lancaster West Estate is being built in the background.

Thanks to Sue Snyder who started me off with the idea of the pictures of the Brewery but isn’t to blame for where I went afterwards.


17 responses to “Ruins and reconstruction in North Kensington

  • Scott Hatton

    My Dad grew up in Rackham Street. Which street was St Charles Street? My old map shows all four sides of St Charles Square being given that name. Is the photo of no. 6 St Charles Street is looking south down Exmoor Street and St Charles Square?

    • Dave Walker

      The “St Charles Street” filename must have been an error which crept in when the picture were first scanned in 2006. The six pictures in this group are all from a set about the building of the Balfour of Burleigh Estate. The numbers in the filenames all relate to page numbers or photo numbers rather than house numbers. All the photos are of either that one side of St Charles Square, part of Exmoor Steet or Rackham Street which formed the boundary of the new estate. (Rackham Street as you probably know was a cul-de-sac) Picture no12 is uncaptioned so it’s difficult to be precise with that one. If you’re ever near the Library come and see the whole set.

      • Scott Hatton


        I figured it out later than evening – if you imagine St Charles Square with northern, eastern, southern and western sides, this photo looks north along the western side towards houses on the northern side. So the wall on the left of the photo is St Charles Square itself.

        Alas I do not live in the UK any more and my Dad lives in Wiltshire. However I have been recording him – he’s 85 now – and his memories of the area plus his later youth exploring the pubs of Kensal New Town, many of which are gone now: Lads of The Village, Jack of Newbury etc.

        best regards


        P.S. Rackham Street was not a cul-de-sac but ran from the hospital down to Ladbroke Grove. I’d love to find more Rackham Street photos to show him at Christmas. He wasn’t aware there were any at all.

  • Scott Hatton

    P.S, Also do you know where “negative no.12” was taken from? Trees and buildings do not much the view of Rackham Street we see on the other photo.

  • joe

    Scott, i may of seen a photo of the area you might be looking for for your dad. It’s on this site: friends reunite .com…… once on there look up st Charles school w10….then click on the photos …Hope this helps find the lost memories….joe

  • Derek Stephens

    I was born in Rackham Street in 1938 and was bombed out 3 times my Dad was Fred Stephens and was a pigeon fancier and won the Darby race over the town 3 years on the trot we moved to Harlesden in 1946 and have still fond memories of Ladbroke grove Derek Stephens

    • Howard Gaskill

      Did u by any chance no the watsons round the corner in exmoor st .my mother jean and her family lived there from around 1930 till my nan moved out in 1985

  • harry l

    I was born in treverton street 1937 went to middle row the ombed houses were my playground sold wood to men to build pigeon sheds or chopped it up and sold it all over Kensal rise and the avenues wonderful times but a bit tough tanner a bowl firewood lol

  • Howard Gaskill

    My nan and grandad lived in exmoor street for 60 years .they were the watsons and had seven kids

  • roy bursnell

    i lived at 42 chesington rd in the 1950s went to brunel school lancaster rd and cambridg gdns school

  • ClaireW

    fascinating pictures, my family (Allen) lived at 43 and 24 Treverton Street from around 1890-1920 ish. I’m also related to the Baseleys who lived in Snarsgate Street which I think is in the same area.

    • Julie

      Hi, my late Mums family, the Shaws, and the Chandlers lived in Treverton St for many years about the same time yours did, would they have known each other I wonder?

    • Julie

      Hi again Claire, I’ve just looked up a 1921 electoral roll, there was an Allen couple living at number 6 at the same time my Chandler family were at number18, my Shaw family were at number 20, and Lovell family at number 40, small world lol!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: