In a quiet corner of the sub-basement is a cupboard. Inside are a set of shelves. Most of the space is taken up with ledgers from a chemist’s shop with lists of prescriptions. These records go up to the mid fifties so it will be a long time before the information in them is available for general use. Some years ago I inspected the cupboard once, and was satisfied, until I noticed some boxes on the bottom shelf which contained a set of glass negatives, a donation from a photographer’s studio. The negatives are in this cupboard simply to protect them from damage. I wondered if we could get paper prints off them. I then discovered that one of my predecessors had been there before me and done just that. I found the prints in an unassuming black archive box, clearly labelled but never before noticed by me. Archives are like that.
The pictures vary in quality but some of them are remarkably clear. They show a older version of central Kensington rather different from the one we know. Some buildings survive to this day. Others are gone.
Most of the buildings on the right are not there now. But you don’t always need the buidings to recognise the street. This is the unmistakeable early part of Kensington High Street as it curves one way to meet Kensington Church Street then changes direction again and heads towards Hammersmith.
The horse bus is run by the London General Omnibus Company. They were the first company to give the bus routes numbers. This bus is going from Hammersmith via Tottenham Court Road to King’s Cross. The numbers weren’t displayed yet but that makes it a number 10. These days one of the new Routemasters has the same number and follows pretty much the same route.
If you look carefully at the series of signs on the side of the white building you can see H and R Stiles. The same name is rendered in ironwork on top of the single storey shop front. Stiles were the photographer’s company which took all these pictures so their interest in the High Street is understandable. The Stiles brothers were on the top floor just above the Misses Roberts and Watson, corset makers, according to Kelly’s Directory 0f 1897.
In this 1893 picture you can see the opposite side of the street. The large building on the left is one of the first incarnations of the John Barker building. Is that man in the foreground wearing a baseball cap? Surely it’s not one of those careless time travellers? No, they had sporting caps in 1893 as well. He could probably get away with it today though. That’s probably not true of the woman right in the foreground with her back to the camera, literally holding onto her hat in a gesture that would have been typical of the rime.
Ten years later some demolition had taken place.
This picture is also looking west as the same section of street is being widened. Orientation is slightly difficult because of the crane. It’s a fascinating object in itself but if you look carefully you can see that it is obscuring the tall spire of St Mary Abbot’s Church behind it.
The Stiles business moved to Campden Hill Road after the demolition. Quite by chance I noticed in the 1903 Kelly’s that Roberts and Watson moved to 231 Kensington High Street (in case you were concerned).
Let’s jump back to 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when the local shops were decorated for the occasion.
At Wilkins the bakers (number 11) you can see Mr Frederick John Wilkins, purveyor of bread to her Majesty, his delivery wagon with a couple of employees, his young son possibly and a random toff posed outside the corn merchants. The glass plate was broken in half and has been repaired. But have a look at the upstairs windows:
At the lower right hand window you can see a rather grim looking old woman whom I take to be Mr Wilkins’ mother. Look at the window above her and you can see a younger woman, possibly Mrs Wilkins the wife. I wonder what family drama took place before the two ladies decided which window they would stand at? If I had a choice in the matter I would have followed Mrs Wilkins’ example and secured a seperate window.Of course I could be reading too much into it. Make your own mind up.
The John Barker company had several seperate shops in this part of the street. In between two of them were the premises of Mr Jubal Webb, provision merchant.
Mr Webb might be the gentleman with the beard superving the mammoth cheese from Canada so big you need to serve yourself with a shovel.
The picture below is a few years later when the venerable Town Hall Tavern had been acquired by Derry and Toms for their expansion, as the signs announce.
How long after that did the handy cigarette kiosk survive?
The Town Hall is just visible on the right of this picture, along with the church spire again.
I can also make out the Vestry Hall next to the Town Hall where the first Kensington Library was located, the Aerated Bread Company, Walpole Brothers (Irish Linens), a private circulating library, James Garner (a chemist), the Lady Agents (a domestic employment agency), a manufacturer of window blinds, J Mallan (surgeon-dentist) and just round the corner in Hornton Street the West London Type Writing Agency.
Across the road on the south side of the street was an irregular block of houses simply called The Terrace.
A boy sits and plays, with something (some device with balls – I can’t make it out) outside number 1.
Our colourful friend Jubal Webb lived at number 2, seen below. It was he who was responsible for the whole block being redeveloped. A builder named Mr Cave built the current set of shops and flats in 1893-4, originally called the Promenade but now know as 129-161 Kensington High Street.
Another boy (or is it the same one?) leans against the railings on the left, almost out of the picture with a dog at his feet.
The picture below shows the end of The Terrace with a house called Shaftesbury House, a cottage and the side of the Adam and Eve public house.
Anyone who knows the modern street will realise that there is a covered entrance to a mews here, Adam and Eve Mews in fact. The Mews and the buildings on either side of it were constructed by another developer, William Willett, an even more interesting character than Jubal Webb, but more of him another day perhaps. The pub was actually moved abd became number 163 (Hotel Chocolat now). The street continues with number 165 (Claire’s Accessories). If you could transport those two back to the 1890s you would probably find many customers.
To the right of the picture you can see a solitary figure, a woman, bare-headed it seems to me with her hair down, wrapped up in a coat and maybe a shawl. There’s a story there if you could only see more.
There are many more pictures of Kensington High Street, and many more stories to tell but I’ve confined myself this week to the work of H and R Stiles. One final view looks back the way we came, eastwards. The turning by the pub is the top of Earls Court Road. Opposite are the trees by the entrance to Holland Park, still a private residence at this time.
More horse buses and wagons, (that’s a Derry and Toms wagon on the left) and on the right a couple walk arm in arm, shielded from the sun, and the photographer by an umbrella. I want to ask her to take it down for a moment and stand still so we can have a proper look at them. But they’ll never know I was interested.
As I said, this is one of many possible posts about Kensington High Street and not the end of the Stiles brothers’ contribution to the blog either. I leaned heavily on the Survey of London on the tricky matter of the Terrace so once again thanks to its authors and publishers.