Towers of Kensington

Towers aren’t necessarily tall. But they are often unexpected. You see them from a couple of streets away and you’re not quite sure where they are exactly. You glimpse them from an upstairs window. Or sometimes they’re miles away and even when they’re big it’s not always clear where the bottom of the tower lies. You can watch them for years from your bedroom window or walk past them on your way to work and then suddenly they’re gone. Like this one:

Tower in grounds of Campden House on corner of Sheffield Terrace and Kensington Church Street GN57

This photograph from the early 1900s shows the remains of tower that stood in the grounds of Campden House. Campden House was a very old house which burned down in the 1860s. There was a dispute about the insurance but it was rebuilt. This must have been a piece of the old property which lingered on until it too vanished in the twentieth century.

They liked a tower in the Campden Hill area.

Tower Cressy

This gothic pile is Tower Cressey which lurked mysteriously at the end of Aubrey Walk near the top of the hill.

Tower Cressy by Frank Emanuel FE14 Cpic683

The artist, Frank Emmanuel, slightly exaggerates the slope from left to right but Campden Hill is quite steep in parts. A hill is a good place to build a tower and makes it even more imposing but when the German bombers came it was an easy target.

Tower Cressy ruins by Gertude Keeling Cpic795

It became a picturesque gothic ruin for a short time in this picture by Gertrude Keeling. Tower Cressey no longer exists but here is a tower which never was:

Central Library architect's drawing view from south

This impossible view of Kensington Central Library from the south shows the equally impossible tower architect Vincent Harris had planned for Kensington Town Hall. It would have been an act of municipal shock and awe and would have dominated the skyline of Kensington. I don’t think it could ever have been built – it would have been just a bit too tall, and by the time there were serious plans for the site Harris was dead and his moment had passed. But I wish he had left some more drawings of his skyscraper.

In its day this was nearly the tallest tower in Kensington:

St Mary Abbotts from Observatory Gardens July 1892 by Elizabth Gladstone BG2453

The second St Mary Abbots Church glimpsed in the distance as towers should be in this water colour by Elizabeth Gladstone.

When it was completed in 1879 the 250 feet spire was the tallest in London and the sixth tallest in the country.

St Mary Abbotts c1898 K71-384  283 ABB-C

A view from 1898 showing the original roof over the nave which was destroyed in a WW2 air raid.

The most impressive tower in Kensington and slightly taller than St Mary Abbots lies a little further south.

Imperial Institute c1920 942-IMP-CS

This is the Imperial Institute about 1920 on its own road Imperial Institute Road. The green domed tower sometimes called the Collcutt Tower after its architect now usually known as the Queen’s tower is all that remains.

Imperial Institute tower 1961-2 K62-762 942 IMP-CS

The same scene in the 1960s.It’s an old story. When Imperial College was built it was decided to retain the tower. I came to London in 1973. My friend Carl was at Imperial and he took me to see the tower looking alone and immense in the setting of the college. And unfortunately completely closed to the public then. It is possible to arrange visits now I believe but apparently there are a lot of stairs to climb to get to the viewing gallery. Perhaps it’s merely ornamental now but it is a pleasing landmark. There were two secondary towers which were demolished and this is one of them:

Imperial Institute secondary tower possibly looking wes K61-7 942 IMP-Ct

You can just about make out Gloucester Road at the junction with Victoria Grove on the left and the lengthy mews behind Queen’s Gate. So we’re pointing west again back towards Campden Hill.

I have one final lost tower for you back on the hill, a tower which stood for a hundred years.

Campden Hill Gardens with water tower PC664

It’s the water tower for the Grand Junction Company water works here seen looking up Campden Hill Gardens but visible on the skyline in many views of Kensington. In a couple of weeks it will have a blog post to itself but next week I’m doing something topical (for 1890).

Postscript

I missed out Tower House but that too will get a post to itself one of these days.


3 responses to “Towers of Kensington

  • Debbie Robson

    My art worked in Imperial College for years! Her name was Anne Blackman. She came to London soon after WW2 and stayed and became for me in Australia an eccentric Aunt from London who every few years flew in and showered myself and my cousins with gifts and then disappeared again. I stayed with her for a month in 1976 when I came to London. I was actually married in the December of that year in Acton.

  • Mrs C Stephenson

    My Mum and Dad were caretakers of Tower Cressy during the War years and my brother says it was really a spooky place. The key was enormous.

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