100th post: Bignell meets Hedderly

100 is a special number so it deserves a special post.  I can’t actually arrange a time travelling meeting between the two Chelsea photographers John Bignell and James Hedderly but I can bring them together in another way.

John Bignell was not only a photographer but a student of photographic history. He wrote a visual history of Chelsea, “Chelsea seen from its earliest days” (1987). And he owned a collection of Hedderly photographs. On one occasion as you’ll see he recreated a Hedderly picture. But as a Chelsea photographer he literally went over the same ground as Hedderly and you can see echoes of his predessessor , conscious or unconscious, in his work.

Here’s an example. In the picture below Hedderly is looking east along Cheyne Walk in the pre-embankment days. The road is roughly paved and narrow. The wooden fence on the right marks the river’s  bank. On the left you can just see the edge of the King’s Head and Eight Bells public house. The image has faded over the years so the white misty background beyond the trees may be deceptive. It will have gotten more mysterious as the print has aged so we may have lost some detail but you can get the quiet atmosphere of riverside Chelsea in the 1860s.

001 Hedderly - H36 Cheyne Walk by King's Head

Nearly a century or so later in 1950 Bignell took this picture.

001 Bignell - Kings Head and Six Bells 1950 1840A

The foliage is lusher, there’s a garden on the right beyond which is a very much wider Cheyne Walk. The buildings in the background have changed with the exception of that one with the ornamental porch. The lampost looks very similar too although it may have been replaced with one which looked the same. You see a little more of the pub. And of course there is a small crowd of pub-goers who have spilled out of the bar onto the street. The men look about as casual as Chelsea  men got in 1950, the women slightly more so. In contrast to the 1860s picture only a couple of them are paying the slightest attention to the photographer. I wonder if the man in the double-breasted jacket is bringing a drink for Bignell.

The two pictures fit together remarkably well. This is not so obvious in the next pair.

003 Hedderly St Lukes

This is one of Hedderly’s rare north of the King’s Road pictures, possibly a commission. It shows the “new church” St Luke’s in Sydney Street. The church would have been thirty or so years old in this picture. The churchyard to the left looks well populated.  But the church, surrounded by trees, is still in a suburban setting.

The view by Bignell shows the urban setting of the late 1950s.

003 Bignell - St Luke's Church JB5 box

The trees are still there but London has caught up with the church and surrounded it. In the background you can see one of the domes of South Kensington. In the foreground however is another building Heddderly would have seen at some point in his life, the Chelsea Workhouse. It wasn’t a workhouse in Bignell’s day but you can see the forbidding nature of the place.

Both photographers were fond of riverside views.

002 Hedderly - H01 boats - bridge in background

I’ve featured Hedderly’s pictures of Chelsea Reach and the area by the Greaves boatyard in another post. This is an image I’ve never used before. You can tell the direction of the picture from the just visible view  of old Battersea Bridge in the distance.

002 Bignell Chelsea Reach 1965

Bignell’s 1965 view shows the current Battersea Bridge being crossed by four buses. The suspension towers of Albert Bridge can also be seen, with Battersea Power station in the distance, a couple of the chimneys visibly smoking.  The crucial difference in the hundred years between the pictures is the use being made of Chelsea Reach. The sailing barges are gone, replaced by houseboats, and the men at work have been supplanted by a pair of daredevils playing around on a nearly sunken barge at high tide. It probably looks more dangerous than it was. Bignell is certainly standing by quietly with his camera, apparently unconcerned. But their mothers wouldn’t have been too happy.

This image is one of Hedderly’s best photographs:

004 Hedderly CM1003 Trees of Cremorne

This is a view taken from the tower of Chelsea Old Church. It shows the tangle of closely-packed houses and wharves between Cheyne Walk and Beaufort Street before the embankment. Beyond are the larger house of Lindsey Row and the trees of Cremorne Gardens. Bignell owned a print of this picture and made an enlargement of it. I was examining it this morning imagining myself walking along Lombard Street towards Johnson’s Coal Office and then into Duke Street past the Adam and Eve Tavern. You could cross Beaufort Street and walk along the riverside to the wharf at Cremorne where the boats brought pleasure seekers to the Gardens all the way from London. Is one of those buildings visible in the distance Ashburnham House?

Bignell was so fascinated by this picture that in 1978 he too climbed the tower of Chelsea Old Church (though not of course the same tower, but a meticulously restored copy of the one Hedderly climbed) and took his own picture.

004 Bignell - Chelsea Riverside JB335

From this vantage point Bignell saw the sunken garden named after Sir Thomas More’s daughter Margaret Roper, the four lanes of Cheyne Walk which now pass right through where the old houses and taverns stood, and part of the old river too. He saw Crosby Hall, transplanted from the City in the1920s and where the pleasure gardens were, the towers of the World’s End Estate. You could barely make out the industrial landscape beyond the gardens in the 1860s picture, just a few chimneys. In 1978 Lots Road Power Station was still generating power and still had two of its chimneys.

Hedderly took a companion picture from the Church which he joined to the first to make a panoramic view. This is  part of it:

005 Hedderly Old Battersea Bridge

Almost the whole length of the old bridge, and the industrial zone on the Battersea side of the river.  Bignell didn’t try to get the whole view in again but his second shot takes in more of the bridge and the area west of the Power Station. Lots Road’s younger cousin Fulham Power Station with its four in line chimneys is on the left of the picture.005 Bignell - Chelsea Reach late 60s jb334

Bignell had a great reverence for Hedderly’s work and must have felt a connection between them. It’s unlikely that James Hedderly ever imagined the possiblity of that link or realised the great attention which would be paid to his work in the future. What would he have said or thought if he could have seen Bignell’s work and glimpsed some of the sights he would see and the technical possiblities that were to come?

Bignell - Albert Bridge at night 1951

[Night view of Albert Bridge 1951]

Postscript

The 100th post on the Library Time Machine, a point I must have thought was possible when I started but I couldn’t have imagined how I would get here. The answer of course is just find some pictures every week and write something about them. Sometimes the ideas run three or four posts ahead, sometimes they stretch no further than next week (or less on a few occasions).

The other thing I imagined was that I would run out of ideas. It’s true that a lot of the big topics have been covered but only a few of them have been done so thoroughly that I could never go back there again. So we might visit Cremorne Gardens again one of these days or take another look at Marianne Rush or William Burgess. There are even a few unseen Linley Sambourne pictures knocking about on the hard drive. And judging by the continuing popularity of the Duchess of Devonshire’s Costume Ball we’ll almost certainly be going there again . I’ve probably done all I could on Walmer Road and Hurstway Street but there are plenty of other streets to walk down in the past and the present. One or two artists you haven’t seen yet. And yet more forgotten buildings and secret places. So all other things being equal it is just about possible that we might get as far as 200 posts in another eighteen months.

The conclusion is that there really is no end to history even in a small (but significant) part of one city, in one country, on one world.


8 responses to “100th post: Bignell meets Hedderly

  • Diarmid

    Congratulations on your hundredth post! I love what you’ve been doing with the photographs. Your writing gives them a perfect setting. Looking forward to the next hundred…

  • Debbie Robson

    Great work Dave. I love reading your posts! Thank you so much.

  • Michael Gall

    Well done Dave. Your fusion of excellent information and poetic language have been a constant source of joy. Your blog has added a whole other layer to the experience of living in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Keep them coming.

    Kind regards
    M

  • Matthew Jones

    Fantastic article; congratulations on your first 100 posts!

    The 1965 picture of the kids on the wrecked boat really struck me, having just read Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald – based on her life in the houseboat community in Chelsea Reach in 1966.

  • Roger George Clark

    Dave, Interesting article! Can I point out that I took about 5,000 photos of Chelsea in the 1980s and unlike the two photographers I am still around! In 1991 I published a book called “Chelsea Today” which contained 100 of my photos. I hope a copy can be found on your bookshelves! If you type my full name into YouTube – Roger George Clark – you will find a video called “Chelsea Cool”. This shows a selection of my Chelsea photos. I must have taken more photos of Chelsea than nearly any other photographer, but few people seem interested in them. You can find more about me and my Chelsea photos on my website rogergeorgeclark.com. If anyone is interested please get in touch.

    • Dave Walker

      Roger
      Thanks. I was aware of Chelsea Today (we have 3 copies) but hadn’t looked at it for some time. I was particularly impressed by the way you catch incidental details of buildings, not to mention the candid views of people in the street. Would you be interested in doing a guest post?
      Dave

      • Roger George Clark

        Hi Dave, Yes I would be interested! … Would you and others like to ask some questions – more like an interview – rather than a formal article. Then you get the information you want and – very important – what you think people might like to know in years to come.

        Regard Roger

      • Dave Walker

        Roger
        We’ll continue this discussion via email. I’ll send you something later today.
        Dave

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