A shoot in Ladbroke Grove
Could you pour some more of those?
All for you and when I’m all alone
I’m by the microphone
I see your photograph
Don’t even want to laugh
Saint Etienne – The Bad Photographer
Round about 1980 I owned a couple of motor bikes. I wasn’t the world’s best rider. I had a few near misses and one actual crash and after a few years I stopped riding. But I enjoyed it while it lasted and I had a few favourite routes. One was late at night, on the way home from Richmond. When you turned into Ladbroke Grove from Holland Park Avenue you drove up the hill and from the summit you saw a straight road heading north. If it was sufficiently late you could speed down the hill and if you were lucky shoot through three sets of green traffic lights until you went from W11 to W10 and up Ladbroke Grove all the way to the Harrow Road.
Ladbroke Grove is one of London’s great streets. It takes you from one of the central areas of Kensington, Notting Hill to the very edge of the Borough and like many London streets it changes in character along the way.
The Mitre, on the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Holland Park Avenue. Many of these photos were taken in 1968, some of the earliest in our photo survey but from time to time I’m going to insert others for comparison.
This 2013 photo doesn’t tell us very much more but occasionally the comparison can be revealing. I went for a walk that year in the opposite direction and took a few pictures on the way. The Mitre has been a feature of Ladbroke Grove since the 1830s when it was built in “within the curtilage” (as the Survey of London says) of a farm house.
Building began on the lands of the Ladbroke Estate in the 1820s and originally there were plans for a “great circus”, a giant circular street bisected by Ladbroke Grove (or Place as it was originally called). This was never executed but the street did become the centre of a development which went right up the hill you can see in this postcard.
The street is wide, spacious and has many trees. In the picture below you can see another set of houses built by the the builders of the Mitre, the Drew family.
You can see there is “a central pediment and flanking ornamentation” (SoL again). Some of the other houses in this stretch are three-storey but they are not as tall as the houses further up the hill.
The later houses on the east side look a little more elaborate.
At the top of that hill stands St John’s Church.
It would have a commanding presence even if it wasn’t at the top of a hill. A 2013 photo shows it towering over the photographer.
On the other side of the road is a large apartment block.
The Lodge, a 1930s building. There are modern blocks along this part of the road which contrast heavily with the 19th century buildings but the Lodge seems to fit in better with the older buildings. This part of the street is comparatively calm (or my calm might well have been my relief at getting up the hill). The buildings are tall but the street is spacious. You’re at the top of a hill after all.
The Lodge is on the corner of Ladbroke Square, one of the large communal gardens which give the area its spacious feel. (The Garden’s eastern border is Kensington Park Road. It’s large enough to have been the garden seen in the film Notting Hill, but that’s another garden altogether. The area has many of them.)
The houses look more imposing for being on the side of the hill.
As you go down the hill back in 1968 as well as today the street remains wide but the houses are a little smaller, more likely to be divided into flats.
The intersection with Elgin Crescent is where the 52 (in 1968)and 452 (more recently) buses turn into Ladbroke Grove as you can see in this picture. [Planning photo -undated]
I started my walk here in 2013 heading up the hill into relatively unfamiliar territory. But this section of the street, heading north towards the station was much more familiar – I worked for six years a little way up the street.
The first time I ever came to Ladbroke Grove was a literary pilgrimage to an address I thought was the home of the author Michael Moorcock, a hero of mine. I can’t remember how I came by the address. Information of that kind was not so accessible in the pre-internet era. There was supposed to be a notice on the door discouraging unwanted callers but I never saw it. I was perfectly happy just to be there. I was too late to see the Convent of the Poor Clares which was nearby on the east side of the street. As I have mentioned in a previous post it featured in Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius books. You can make out the housing block which replaced it. This was the Ladbroke Grove of science fiction, underground comics and magazines, New Worlds, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, the pre-punk counter culture. None of that is really visible here but like Hunter Thompson said if you had the right eyes you could see it.
( I later encountered Moorcock in the more conventional manner at a book signing. It was my wife who met him in the normal course of his day and got his autograph for me.)
In the picture below you can see that Advance House, as part of this terrace was called ,was a bank in 1968. The bank later moved to the corner of Lancaster Road. In the late 1970s the offices of Virgin Records were there.
At this point I have another motoring story. One Saturday lunchtime I was out and about and saw a Jaguar parked at about this point with a notice in the window offering it for sale for £100. Even then that looked like a bargain. Either I phoned my friend and flatmate Steve or I told him when I went back to the flat in Kensal Rise. Either way we were soon in his mark 1 Cortina coming back down to get the phone number. The car was Steve’s that evening. I recall a memorable drive down to Amersham to test the fuel consumption, which wasn’t that good actually. (He didn’t keep the car long). That inconsequential story has for me the flavour of those times – no smart phones, no tablets, no internet. A more casual age.
And that’s where I worked, North Kensington Library, built in the 1890s as part of the free library movement. What was it about that building, or that area which kept me in the library business for so long? I think it may have been something about the run down but lively atmosphere of North Kensington and its people, which grounded me in this particular London borough and made me feel at home here.
On the opposite corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road is the Kensington Park Hotel, an establishment I have never entered. In those days it had a bit of a reputation. (And is said to have been John Reginald Christie’s local). I was standing outside it one Saturday afternoon in 1980 around 5pm waiting for the Library to close and was stopped by a pair of friendly policeman for the suspicious behaviour of wearing a leather jacket and mirror shades. What was I thinking?
My colleagues and I always went to the Elgin, a few doors down from the Library where we felt more comfortable. The Elgin is now a pleasant gastro-pub and the KPH is undergoing changes.
There has always been a parade of shops between Lancaster Road and the station.
On both sides of the street.
Paul Tregeser there, the “Hot Bread Shop”.
The underground station marks the boundary between W11 and W10 so it’s the place where we pause.
It was originally called Notting Hill Station.
This is quite an early image. The blank space behind the railway bridge may be due to the quality of the print but it is true that there wasn’t much housing development up there until the railway came to the area and turned it into a London suburb.
In 1980, when I was nearby, the station was waiting for further development.
We’ll start Part 2 on the other side of the bridge.
There was quite a lot about me this week. There’s a reason for that. These photo survey posts about particular streets often attract comments from people who lived in those streets who obviously know much more about them than I do and have many welcome reminiscences to add to the images. But Ladbroke Grove is a street full of memories for me so I thought that was a good place to start. This is my Ladbroke Grove, a few years at the start of my career when I lived and worked in west London. I met my wife here.
What about your stories?
Oh, and sorry. A little late posting this week. I had to check something first.