London Transport: travelling in Kensington and Chelsea

In his recent book “What we talk about when we talk about the tube” (the District Line volume of Penguin Lines, a series of books which celebrate the 150 years of the London Underground) John Lanchester makes the point that London and the Underground grew together. The railway lines made it possible for workers to travel further to work and so communities like Morden for example sprang up because the railway was there. London grew around the railway map – the city made the map but the map also made the city. He makes the further point that the reason that the London Underground network was started thirty seven years before the Paris Metro (a huge number of years in a period of rapid technological development) was that sending steam trains through underground tunnels was daring to the point of recklessness. But they did it anyway, and made London the biggest city in the world (two and a half million people in 1850, seven million in 1910).

Train at West Kensington 1876

[A steam train at West Kensington 1876]

Look at this map, a section of Davies’s 1841 Map of London and its environs:

Davies 1841 Kensington and Chelsea 002

Davies’s map is interesting because it’s one of the first London maps to show railways. You can see the main line to Paddington and the West London Railway heading south towards the river with a proposed route alongside the Kensington Canal. You can also see the empty space between the comparatively built up Chelsea and the line of development along the Kensington Turnpike, the road from Hammersmith to Hyde Park Corner or Kensington High Street as we now know it.

Click on the map for a bigger version and look for the villages of Little Chelsea and Earls Court, the Hippodrome race course north of Notting Hill, Notting Barn Farm and Portobello Farm, the “proposed Norland Town” beside the Railway and the “proposed extension” following a similar route to the eventual District Line.

In the second half of the 19th century those spaces were filled by housing, and the railways which linked Kensington and Chelsea to the rest of London.

Parish map 1894

This Kensington parish map of 1894 with the wards shaded shows how most of the space devoted to market gardens and open country was occupied by the end of the century and how the railways made their mark. (Apologies to Chelsea for being squeezed out a bit at the bottom but maps which show both parishes equally are hard to find before they became London Boroughs and eventually joined.) You can also see how development north of Notting Hill Gate moved northwards first to meet the Metropolitan Line at Ladbroke Grove and then to meet the main line.

PC 1137 Ladbroke Grove Station

As I said in the Gloucester Road post the stations were often built before the housing and the major roads. The District, Circle and Metropolitan lines crossed the two parishes knitting them together. The sub-surface lines weren’t actually underground for most of their routes (the longest underground section on the District / Circle line is the tunnel between Kensington High Street north to Notting Hill Gate) so they had a visible impact on the map especially in certain areas such as the Cromwell Curve where three lines (and the trains of three companies originally) met.

Cromwell Road Dec 02 1902 LTE

This is a rear view of Cromwell Road after building development showing the District Line rails in 1902. It’s by Ernest Milner, and has one of his characteristic faces at the window.

After the sub-surface lines came the deep tunnels (the actual Tube as Lanchester also points out) of the Central Line and the Piccadilly Line.

Brompton Road Station K10105B

This one is the short lived Brompton Road Station opened 1906 and closed in 1934, being by then too near to both Knightsbridge  and South Kensington Stations.

South Kensington Station K12953B

This picture shows the Piccadilly Line station at South Kensington, which like the one at Gloucester Road sat right next to the Metropolitan and District Line Station.

The picture also has a good view of a comparatively small horse-drawn bus. The buses which had carried people around London before the railways could not compete in terms of numbers even when motor buses were introduced in the 1890s and early 1900s. But they would soon catch up, and I can’t leave the subject of transport without some pictures of the buses that have served Kensington and Chelsea.

Notting Hill Gate PC 369

A horse-drawn bus proceeds along Notting Hill Gate.

Below an early motor bus on its way to Westbourne Grove.

Arrow line bus early 1900s

The bus routes we know today were established quite early.

S742 number 27 pulling out of Hammersmith 1920s

A number 27 departs from Hammersmith bus station. The buses got bigger and more frequent.

Coronation Dec. Kensington Gore -1953 DSC 005 A4

This picture shows an AEC Regent on Kensington Gore in 1953 when the border of the Royal Borough was decorated for the Coronation. Below, the most iconic London bus of them all, the Routemaster, heading into Kensington in the 1960s (The Royal Garden Hotel is visible in the distance.)

73 routemaster bus - by John Bignell

Finally, on Kensington High Street the bus I use most frequently.

DSC_1220 bus

At any given bus stop the bus you’re waiting for is always the least frequent. Or is that just me? At least there’s the Tube.

Postscript

That was the last of my transport related posts which were part of our contribution to this year’s Cityread campaign. It’s been a bit of a challenge to do four whole posts on the subject so I hope the strain hasn’t shown and I’ve showed you some interesting images.

John Lanchester’s book is one  a  series of 12 . (Link)  They’re a bit of a mixed bag and I haven’t seen them all but I’d also recommend Paul Morley’s Earthbound (the Bakerloo Line).

Other writers have made the same points as Lanchester, such as Andrew Martin in his history of the Underground “Overground Underground”. but Lanchester’s little book was the first I read. It’s a subject with a large bibliography.

Next week a special post for May Day heading taking us right back into the depths of the Edwardian imagination.


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