When I did the post on Hurstway Street a few weeks back regular reader Chris Pain drew my attention to a passage from Absolute Beginners (1959), the second book in the London trilogy by Colin MacInnes:
On the east side, still in the W10 bit, there’s another railway, and a park with a name only Satan in all his splendour could have thought up, namely Wormwood Scrubs, which has a prison near it, and another hospital, and a sports arena, and the new telly barracks of the BBC, and with a long, lean road called Latimer road which I particularly want you to remember, because out of this road, like horrible tits dangling from a lean old sow, there hang a whole festoon of what I think must really be the sinisterest highways in our city, well, just listen to their names: Blechynden, Silchester, Walmer, Testerton and Bramley—can’t you just smell them, as you hurry to get through the cats-cradle of these blocks? In this part, the houses are old Victorian lower-middle tumble-down, built I dare say for grocers and bank clerks and horse-omnibus inspectors who’ve died and gone and their descendants evacuated to the outer suburbs, but these houses live on like shells, and there’s only one thing to do with them, absolutely one, which is to pull them down till not a one’s left standing up.
I think he was a bit harsh in his judgement although by 1969, the year John Rogers did our photo survey Hurstway, Testerton, Blechynden and Barandon Streets were looking quite run down. (Another correspondent told me that a film company painted some of the houses in the area black to make them look even worse for the filming of the early John Boorman film Leo the Last , released in 1970)
We may get to Silchester Road on another occasion but this week we’re going to start a long walk down the remaining street, Walmer Road. In its prime Walmer Road ran west from Latimer Road then curved south and ended at Princedale Road.
Here is number one Walmer Road:
The Latimer Arms, an impressive Victorian tavern. Next to it is number 1a:
By 1971 these two buildings were all that remained of the low numbers of Walmer Road. Here they are on an OS map:
It looks as though Walmer Road had fallen off the edge of the world, which is not far off the immediate effect of the construction of the Westway. It obliterated a whole section of Walmer Road and truncated Latimer Road. Walmer Road continued further on in the shadow of the new roundabout which included the spur road to Shepherd’s Bush.
Some side streets had gone altogether while the inhabitants of the others and the north side of Walmer Road had been cut off from the rest of the street.
This is a view looking east from Pember Street. A resident told me that as houses were demolished and the elevated road was constructed, apart from the expected problems of noise and dust, rats left the site in large numbers heading north towards the remaining houses. This is what the residents saw looking west:
In the other direction they could see see the rest of Walmer Road, now a long way off for them.
The street numbers began again at 117 and beyond the railway viaduct Walmer Road continued.
This is an earlier picture taken in July 1969, the same month John Rogers took the Hurstway Road pictures. Knowing that, I can feel something of the more relaxed atmosphere of the summer. Although beyond the bridge demolition and construction was already well under way the old community survives on this side. There’s another Ford Zephyr, and is that an estate version of the Citroen DS?
You can see the new road in the distance as well as more of the strange configuration of lights on the Citroen in this picture:
Here the rows of shops and small businesses begin.
England’s Dairy with milk crates and delivery bikes ready for the next morning.
Further along at 137, Orridge’s supplied food for pets and working animals.
You saw one of those working horses in the Hurstway Street post. I’ve been told that in the late afternoon the cart drivers and their animals would converge on Orridge’s and the boys working in the shop would have to load up the nose bags for the horses, quite hard work.
Walmer Road crossed Lancaster Road at this point and Clarendon Road split off on its own.
In this picture Clarendon Road is in the centre heading south and Walmer Road continues to the right between the building with the dark shop front ( a closed down TV rental place) and where the three women are standing in the road.
The man in the doorway in the picture below looks a bit suspicious but is probably innocently leaving the upstairs flat.
The picture below looks back up Walmer Road. You can see the Beehive pub and the Methodist Church on the corner of Lancaster Road.
Look at the open minivan.
In this picture taken seconds later the van is closed and its owner about to drive off. A man in an upstairs window continues their conversation till the last possible moment. Did you notice Nick’s Café earlier? Nick had also diversified into hairdressing just across the road it seems. I suppose it could be a completely separate Nick.
Walmer Road has now finished its curve and is now going south towards Notting Hill Gate. The terraced housing and shops give way to newer housing blocks such as this one:
Barlow House, part of a 1950s LCC development. This is where we draw breath for a week before attempting the final stretch which takes us into different territory and made Colin MacInnes’s protagonist change his tune.
I’ll almost certainly take you down Clarendon Road in the not too distant future.
Thanks to John Henwood for his reminiscences and a discussion about the tricky question of dating the demolitions in Walmer Road.
Details from OS maps copyright Ordnance Survey.