Advertising Kensington: 1905-1908

After last week’s excursion out of consensual reality I wanted to bring us back to the purely factual this week. If you wanted to find out about middle class life in Edwardian London you could make a good start in the pages of Kelly’s Directory (the “Buff Book”) . Kelly’s published all kinds of directories but the Local Studies librarian’s favourites are the local directories like “Kelly’s Kensington, Notting Hill, Brompton and Knightsbridge Directory”. You get a street directory listing residents and businesses street by street, a trade directory, a classified commercial directory, an alphabetical list of residents, general information on local institutions and a good many advertisements. Like this one:

Laundry 1907

The laundry sector was huge in the early 1900s and if you had to send clothes out to be cleaned (and pretty often you did) there were plenty to choose from. Some laundries were large scale businesses. The advert below demonstrates this for potential clients:

Laundry 1908

If you thought Wimbledon was too close to the grimy city for laundry work you could always try a country laundry:

Kellys 1908 002

In any case there were many items of clothing to launder and many more people than there used to be who needed their clothing cleaned. The ready to wear fashion market had grown. If you were new to London there was a lot to buy.

Kellys 1908 001

That’s £3 18 shillings and 6 pence in old money. Still quite pricey for 1908.

Christie 1905

You couldn’t neglect the accessories either:

Gloves 1905

Once you had everything you needed to wear, as a lady of leisure you could go to lunch:

Restaurant 1908

If you were early and your friends hadn’t arrived you could think about your accommodation:

Flats 1905

If you weren’t ready to commit to a flat, there were still plenty of residential hotels where you could stay as long as you wished:

Hotel 1908

If you had all that sorted there was time for some self improvement at the gym:

Gym 1907

As you can see, athletic activities were not just for the gentleman. A wide variety of interests were catered for, including as you can see Swedish exercises (no Swedish professors unfortunately but perhaps one of the French ones could turn his or her hand to that, or some medical gymnastics). If you had any doubts you could always check it out from the public gallery.

Once you were settled in you could think about hiring some domestic help. There was an army of servants out there looking for work and agencies to help them find it.

Agency 1907

Once you were set up at home you’d need to think about education for your children. There were small private schools all over London.

School  2 1907

Don’t strain your neck trying to read that sideways. Here’s the caption:

Copy of School  2 1907

Mrs Hendley and Miss Cobbett had everything you needed for your daughters’ education. The pupils look fairly contented on the tennis court:

School a 1907

Good sporting facilities. Mens sana in corpore sano, as they used to say at McPherson’s Gym.

And if all this has cost you a lot of money, there are people willing to help:

tax 1907

It all sounds quite exhausting, but your Kelly’s has a useful supplement at the back:

Ad 1908

So why not get away from it all in some pleasant spot?

And if a family member succumbs to the pressure and unfortunately expires you can turn back to Kelly’s.

Funeral 1908

Put yourself in the hands of some qualified embalmers. You know it makes sense.


Ballard’s can still be found today opposite Brompton Cemetery, but McPherson’s, the Kensington Restaurant, Wallace Taylor, the Columbia Family Laundry and the rest of the businesses covered today are now gone. We haven’t finished with Kelly’s though. I haven’t even started on the dairies. The adverts come from Kelly’s 1905, 1907 and 1908 directories but I could have used almost any years from the first decade of the 20th century.


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