Back to Old Church Street with Mr Hedderly

This is my 53rd post on this blog, so it’s almost exactly a year since my first post. When I started I wasn’t sure exactly how I would find something to write about every week but I was sure about where I would start. The one subject I knew I wanted to share with you was the photography of James Hedderly.

Just after the middle of the 19th century an ordinary man started to haul fifty pounds of complicated equipment around his neighbourhood so he could take photographs. His friends and neighbours humoured him by standing still or just watched him in silent amazement. Or perhaps they realised that they were also participating in something new. They watched him and now we can watch them.

So once again we are in Old Church Street facing the Black Lion Tavern.

My friend the lady with the basket isn’t here on this occasion but Mr Hedderly has assembled the same mixed bag of people deliberately and accidentally posing for him.

The boy slouched against the wall, the guy with curly hair, a bowler hat and what looks like a leather jacket, the boy sitting in the window, the barman in the apron, the stout middle aged man who can’t do his jacket up, a young girl behind him, a couple of smartly dressed younger men with time on their hands,  a couple of indistinct figures behind them probably children, a girl who has managed to get into the picture twice by moving just enough and a man just edging into the right side of the picture – quite a cast for a simple daytime picture. They all get our attention. Look long enough and they might all tell their stories.

Leave the idle fellows at the tavern and come back down Old Church Street to the river to meet some of the working men.

Alldin’s Coal Wharf at low tide. Arch House marked the end of Cheyne Walk at this time. It was a substantial and solid looking building compared to the cramped old houses and shops in Lombard Street and Duke Street which lay behind it. The confident looking man perched on the precarious arrangement of planks looks like management to me, keeping an eye on the staff.

The four men standing on the river bed all carry items related to the coal business – spades, a coke sifter, a coal sack (the man holding the sack looks like a classic coal man, his face grimy with coal dust. The three on the street might be drivers. There’s a man in the window behind them joining the picture.

Behind Arch House was Allen’s Lime Wharf.

Allen’s was one of the ramshackle collection of buildings on the river bank. You can just see part of Lombard Street on the left and the poor state of the houses in it. Look in close up at the state of the roof of Allen’s.

The undulating uneven roof tiles and patches of what looks like moss, the tiny attic window which looks like it is about to fall inwards. The whole house look like it is held together by the dirt of decades. This picture is one of Hedderly’s crispest images and it captures those moments of stillness in what must have been a hectic day. No faces at the window though. I would love to see one of those in a Hedderly picture.

Just a few yards away are some more upmarket houses and retail establishments.

I can’t quite make out what sort of shop Mr White runs, but Wheeler’s Medical Establishment next door must be some kind of pharmacy. A group of middle class people are posing for Mr Hedderly, or again standing just as mystified as the tavern’s customers. One of the ladies has left a ghostly presence but if you look to the left you will see some even vaguer traces of a couple of men, possibly workers from Alldin’s.

And Mr Hedderly gives us another mystery woman standing in the doorway of the house next to White’s, a young woman in indoor clothes drawn outside perhaps by curiosity.

If we head eastwards along Cheyne Walk towards Oakley Street we can see Golding’s Pier Hotel.

Next to the Hotel is a coffee house. Look closer.

Do you see the billboards outside?

Can you make out any of the words? I see Leah, the name of a play perhaps, and the even more enigmatic words Fat Boy.

The last picture for today is quite different from the others.

I don’t know whether it’s sunlight shining down over the top of the house, or just the limitations of the camera but the light seems to isolate the garden and the solitary figure sitting in it. Who is he?

The big clue is the handwritten caption – back of Rossetti’s house. Rather than try to puzzle out whether it’s Rossetti himself or his brother William the question I wish could be answered is how did Mr Hedderly and his camera find their way there?

Go on then. One last close up.

6 responses to “Back to Old Church Street with Mr Hedderly

  • libertarianspirit real name Tim Crook

    This is a wonderful feature on a truly enchanting web-resource on the history of Kensington and Chelsea. I spent hours yesterday reading every post- because I was brought up in Chelsea and lived in Old Church Street (number 6) from 1966 to 1977- and I worked as a part-time barman in the Black Lion when the licensee was Mr. Frank Robinson and his wife Patricia. In those days Island Records had a professional recording studio opposite- called I think, Sound Techniques, and well known artists and session musicians would come in for refreshments and food- including Sandy Denny, Richard and Linda Thompson, Fairport Convention, and Cat Stevens. This has really made my day- and if you are prepared to indulge me, I shall leave messages in relation to the other treasures you have released from your archive.

  • Sandra McLoughlin

    I have been tracing my paternal family tree, my great,great,great grandfather was a publican at the Rising Sun Tavern, Lombard St, London in 1818. I have unsuccessfully tried to find some information about this tavern.

  • jill

    Rosetti may have been quite happy to have Hedderly on his property. As you know, Rosetti occupied Tudor (or Queen’s) House, a 12 bedroom property on Cheyne Walk with a garden of an acre. He had wanted to establish an artistic community here, but it seems it wasn’t a success; he had few takers other than Swinburne, who had to keep leaving to dry out in the country, and some animals. It must have been quite something to have a man around like Hedderly with his skills and his eye for an image. It is wonderful to have these photogaphs, and Bignell’s too, to give us a rare, everyday record of the time.


    Thank you for giving me more insight and more details on James
    David Hedderly. Also a poet and amatuer artist

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