Two streets in Kensington

Now, I had intended to do something colourful this week and get away from the zooming in on old photographs thing but this matter came up and the more I looked at it the more interesting it seemed (to me at least). So bear with me, and cast your minds back to the first of the short posts I did for Christmas. The one featuring these two photographs.

Unknown street number one:

Kensington unknown street 01

And unknown street number two:

Kensington unknown street 02

I invited readers to  identify the streets. One guess was incorrect but the second which recently came in was spot on. Number one is Argyll Road and number two is Upper Phillimore Gardens. These streets are located only minutes from where I’m sitting writing this and as you can see from this map detail are joined at a right angle:

1862 OS map VI88 detail of Upper Phillimore Gardens and Argyll Road

The red spots indicate the houses visible at the ends of the two streets. (I would be hovering somewhere in or over the buildings at the southern end of the big garden you can see on the right.)

To verify the identification I looked for some other later images of the two streets, first in our postcard collection. This is a picture of Argyll Road:

Argyll Road PC180 - Copy

The viewpont is further up the hill I think so the slope as shown by the garden walls on the right is accentuated. The house at the end (which is located in Upper Phillimore Gardens of course) looks more or less the same, although some alterations may have been made in what might 30 years or more between the images.

I think this picture might be closer to the first one:

Argyll Road PC775 - Copy

Let’s take a moment to zoom in on this incident packed image.

Argyll Road PC775 detail 01

You have a girl looking at the photographer, a couple of men, a cart, a woman walking away, and a dog keeping an eye on the scene.

Now compare those pictures with a couple I took myself:

DSC_5189 Argyll Road - Copy

We won’t make too much of all the parked cars. It’s just something the modern photographer has to put up with. You can see that the house, which looks quite similar to the one in the older photographs has had some extensive work done to it. My colleague K looked it up on the Council website and found an extensive planning history not uncommon in the Campden Hill area. But the shape of the house and its position in the street are sufficiently similar to identify it as the same building.

DSC_5191 Argyll Road - Copy

If you walk up the hill and turn left (west) , you’re in Upper Phillimore Gardens.

Upper Phillimore Gardens PC467 - Copy

The postcard, once again about 30 years later than the sepia print was taken from a viewpoint further  back but it’s recognizeably the same tranquil street. The trees have had some years to grow but it still looks like the same peaceful (and affluent) backwater. Here it is now:

DSC_5195  Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy

A rather less uniform lines of fences and walls.

DSC_5196  Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy

The house at the end of course is on Phillimore Gardens, which runs south to Kensington High Street. Here it is in the orginal picture:

Kensington unknown street 02 - Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy (3)

Some changes to the facade obviously, but essentially the same structure. (These things can be deceptive of course. I know a house in the Brompton area which was completely demolished and a copy of it built on the same site. If it wasn’t for the photos of the empty site you could have mistaken the copy for the original. I might tell you that story one day.)

So we’re done then. Streets identified, problem solved. That’s true but I think that time spent looking at old photographs is never wasted. The first time I looked at picture number 2 I was intent on the woman, who both dates the image and gives it some character. I honestly never noticed that guy on the left.

Kensington unknown street 02 - Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy

The tall hat gives him a distinctly mid-Victorian look. And what’s he up to? It almost looks as if he’s watching the woman on the other side of the road.  Are we in The Crimson Petal and the Rose territory? Well let’s not get carried away. There’s another interesting detail in the picture, an architectural feature.

Kensington unknown street 02 - Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy (2)

This slice of an ornate facade is described in Charles Eastlake’s A history of the Gothic Revival: The front is of red brick, with stepped gables. A picturesque staircase turret is on the right hand of the building, and a Venetian-looking balcony projects from one of the windows. As K read the words out loud I thought that was the last piece of evidence we needed to identify the street. Photographs of this house are evidently rare. The Survey of London didn’t have one and referred to a 1924 edition of another book. I’m trying to get to see that. The reason for the rarity is that the house was extensively remodelled in a modern style in 1937. When I went looking I found some pictures of that version of the building and, you’ve guessed it, they will form the basis of another post. This of course is one of the benefits of doing a little bit of research to confirm an identification.


Not too obsessive for you I hope. The credit for identification (and thanks) should go to reader Sebastian S who set the ball rolling. I’m still not sure where the two photographs came from but I’m glad to make the most of them.

Next week, postively, definitely something different from zooming in on old photographs, as much as I like that. And apologies to Camilla. I promised her a Chelsea post this week. Definitely next week!


4 responses to “Two streets in Kensington

  • actonbooks

    Thanks for these images. I wonder if you have any suggestions in regard to the unanswerables thrown up by those long dead folk who people the photographs. But first, I cannot quite read what or who is prohibited on the sign to the right of the dog in the later Argyll Road shot. Is it something and “street cries”?
    In that pic, do you think that the man and girl are together? Beside the bike is a basket the sort of which a seller such as she might carry and as he already appears to have a broom and bag and the bike it could be hers — was it too late in the century for him to be one of the band of private itinerent crossing sweepers of the kind depicted in the Powell Frith painting? I love the limping lady being helped along further up the street — unless they are just two friends playing a game of trying to walk in step.
    In the earlier picture, do you think the (three wheeled?) vehicle on the left an invalid carriage of some kind? Is that bundle beside it a person? Parked as it was on the street, could it be that the elderly and infirm could hail it like the Hansom cab and the bundle was the attendant waiting a fare? As there is a cab in the right of shot, I wonder whether the working classes were “allowed” to congregate at that point waiting for a call from a servant from one of the houses in the street.
    As I said, unanswerables, but I would value your opinion, expecially as you may be able to discern greater detail from the originals.

    Thanks again,

    Martin Hedges

    • Dave Walker

      The words on the sign look like “blur and blur blur prohibited”. Very annoying. And what’s that sign to the left? An H? Or is it a pictogram of a dog? “Dogs cannot stand next to this sign”?
      The girl looks like a very well dressed middle class young lady, like one of Linley Sambourne’s subjects (Sambourne lived only a few hundred yards from this spot. I’ve never used any of them but he took quite a few pictures of girls like her in the street) who has stopped to get into the picture. She’s looking straight at the photographer. The man, probably unconnected, is also curious about the photographer. He is some sort of tradesman, maybe doing something like knife sharpening door to door. The two women walking up the hill could just be friends.
      The small carriage could well be some sort of conveyance for invalids but the shape next to it is hard to read. There’s just not enough to see what it is – it looks like a person sitting but really it’s just a bunch of shadows. You can look at these images for too long and never quite see the real story.

      • actonbooks

        I thought the sign to the left of the illegible one was an H for fire hydrant. I may be imagining but I almost certainly see ‘street’ as the middle word of the illegible group after what I take to be an ampersand. I guess that the very indecipherable small print at the bottom of the sign reads ‘Borough of’ on one side and ‘Kensington’ on the right, so it’s a bylaw. I suppose I’m second guessing what the burghers might wish to ban from the streets of the better classes and street sellers shouting ‘fresh fish’ ‘knives to be sharpened’ or ‘old rags and iron’ might be one class. I still cannot fathom how the man could cycle anywhere with the broom, the bag and the basket — and what’s in the basket. Unless of course the schoolgirl owned the basket and she had been sent on an errand.

  • Robin Greeley

    Fascinating! Like you and your other readers I find these photographic investigations of our borough’s history thrilling. Please continue!

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