Bignell at work

I’ve been having trouble with the post I was going to do this week. I had the pictures I wanted to use but I couldn’t find the right way to write about them. I came into work on a Saturday and while I was waiting for the computer to finish the things it likes to do when I log in the cursor alighted on a folder of pictures by John Bignell, a not quite random selection of images which showed people doing various forms of work. So almost immediately I decided not to force the other post into existence but to let Bignell take the reins. We haven’t had a Bignell post for a while so why ever not?

As always with Bignell he moves from the world of art and artists in which he had many friends to a more ordinary world of shops and street stalls where he appeared to be equally welcome. Here is the sculptor, Loris Rey at work in his studio in 1959.


We’re lucky to know the date of that picture. In others you have to infer from the picture itself when it might have been taken. In this case the late 1950s or early 1960s is as close as you can get.


An old school  milk float with a perky horse pulling milk, a man and a dog. You can imagine Bignell wandering the streets setting up pictures like that as he came across people he might have known, or struck up an acquaintance with, but on other occasions it looks like he was invited.



Everything looks clean and modern in this picture but it has an undeniably period feel to it. It’s sparse compared to a modern operating theatre.

Back on the streets, a rare colour picture taken in the old World’s End area.



Sea food al fresco. The St John’s Church Hall visible in the back ground and the green grocer’s stall we’ve seen before.

This is another street stall much further east along the King’s Road.



The three people posing for the picture look eminently recognizable (if anyone knows them?)

Not far away from that location, a flower stall.


Thank you Madam, says Bignell. The lady herself is clearly not quite sure what he’s doing, and why she’s in the picture.

Bignell also went into shops. Here a grocer slices meat.


And Loris Rey works on something else.


Here is a shop which is possibly devoted to Japanese goods, complete with a kimono-clad member of staff.


Bignell was forever popping into art shops and small galleries.


Framing work done here. Half a notice on the subject is visible in the door.

Art supplies available here. The picture below may be at Green and Stone, the long established shop on the King’s Road.

Bignell was in  butchers.


And fish shops


A 1970s look to that picture – the woman’s hair (and the guy with his back to us whose hair is getting good in the back as Frank Zappa used to say). And see the slogan – “Go to work on an egg”.

More hair in this picture where Bignell looks in a a barbers (“well groomed hair”).


And a classy looking florists.


The Pottery. Anyone remember that one?


Bignell even looked at used car lots. This one was where the new fire station on the corner of Dovehouse Street was built.


Finally, some actors at work.


I wonder what she made of it all?




I know sometimes a Bignell post can seem like a random selection, but there’s always something interesting there, even in the most throwaway  sort of pictures.


Note the little figure of the girl in leg braces, a charity coin box, in the background. Those used to be everywhere. The two women are crossing to the south side of the King’s Road possibly near Glebe Place (E A Fownes is now My Old Dutch).

Have fun identifying some of these locations.

Next week there will be another guest blogger for Halloween so I make no guarantee about factual accuracy.

17 responses to “Bignell at work

  • ActonBooks

    I think that the Japanese shop photographed was Mitsukiku. The main branch was in a narrow shop between Kensington High St Tube and Abingdon Rd. I believe they expanded in the mid seventies and there was a quite large store approximately where Pret a Manger is located, opposite South Ken Tube. There may have been a branch on King’s Rd. The owner was a Mrs Bowen, a Japanese lady married to a Brit, hence the English name.

  • teresastokes

    See the last picture, if you walk a few steps along to the right of the picture, and turn left into Bramerton Street, you are at the anonymous looking door which led down to the basement club Gateways, famous lesbian venue featured in the film “The Killing of Sister George”. But I don’t suppose Mr Bignell ever ventured in there!

    • Dave Walker

      Actually I think he did – if you look back at a previous Bignell post here: you will find a picture of Gina Warr the manager/co-owner of Gateways looking very relaxed at the bar. Bignell knew them all.

      • Gina Ware (@Luigina369)

        Hi yes, my parents Ted & Gina Ware owned the Gateways, John Bignell was a regular and a good friend of theirs. He photographed my christening at Holy Redeemer too, I have the photos of me with my godparents and Father Zulueta performing the necessaries along with some shots for a hairdresser on the Kings Road, Peter of Chelsea, that my mother modeled for. The Gateways became women only in the 60s, it had a long and colourful history before that. I’m gathering all my collection together and hope to put it online as soon as I can find the time!

  • Philip Amos

    I looked at the picture of the actors for quite a while, racking my brain because I’m sure two were well-known. I think the man may be Douglas Wilmer, most noted for playing Sherlock Holmes. And the woman on the right — perhaps Greta Gynt? Such are my guesses, but I wonder if anyone can identify them with greater certainty.

  • Chelseaharbouramateuroperaticsociety

    Hello David, With regard to the charity boxes I remember going to an opening at the Robert Fraser Gallery in the late sixties 1968 I think. It was the first art show that John and Yoko did together and there were lots of different charity boxes on show along with balloons and other art pieces. Seeing your blog with the charity box photograph brought it all back. Thank you again for your marvellous blog.

  • Dave Hemstead

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks very much for the blog, great memories.
    The veg stall is in Draycott avenue jnc Ixworth place. I sent the picture to an uncle who said the chap in the white shirt is the owner of the stall ‘Alfie Lay’ and his son is on the left.

    Dave H

  • Reg Francis

    Morning Dave, did not our “Rusty ClockSpring” in one of her songs sing about —Behind the Blue Door!?The door to the Gateways of old is still blue and I often stand for a moment in front of it and think of Dusty and her girl friends in the shortest of Mini Skirts. Us young Chelsea lads would think, what a waste!!Different times.The shop on the corner of Glebe Place sold very expensive Antiques. Peter Ustinov was then living in Ellen Terry’s house on the other corner and we would buy our morning paper together in the shop that still sells papers just before the corner of Bramerton St.

    Hello Acton Books, I emailed you ages ago to se if you had any memories of the Harlequin Coffee Bar in the Fulham Road, now Carluccios opposite
    The Chelsea Westminster Hospital, the Saint Steven’s

    • teresastokes

      Does anybody know what is there now behind the blue door? I would guess nothing but some boring storage space for the house above …

      • Gina Ware (@Luigina369)

        Storage space for a shop sadly. The door was originally green, Frankie Vaughan sung the original and later Shakin’ Stevens. Did Dusty do a Blue Door version? I’ve never heard of it, may well have done though, she loved the Gates.

    • ActonBooks

      Hi Reg,
      Forgive the rudeness, well apparent rudeness, as I do not remember ever getting the message, but hey ho…
      I do not recall the exact site that is Carluccio’s ever being a coffee bar. We took it over when it was first built in about 1974 and opened the second branch of Stock Design. The first was where My Old Dutch in Holborn still trades. I was told Stock was Terrence Conran’s favourite shop. After Stock closed it became a bank — Barclays I think. Actually maybe a part of it was hived off and that might have been the coffee bar of which you speak. I do recall a great bakers up the street from St Stephen’s called, I think, Farmers. Always a queue at lunchtime. Having said that though, maybe Farmers was the name of the old style ironmongers next door to it.

  • Reg Francis

    Will be back in touch soon Acton Books . I’m talking 1956/57 and onwards for a few years

  • Reg Francis

    Dear Acton Books,wrote you so much about The Harlequin and it’s visitors, Judy Garland a very young Lisa May Minnelli, John Wayne, Dora Bryan, Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers of Born Free fame and on and on then lost the bloody lot in the system that would not allow me to Post Comment. I believe I complained to Dave Walker, but not sure it was him. Have not heard back from anyone . Will try to summon up courage to do it all again one evening.Do believe Barclays followed Harlequin. Farmers were the Ironmongers. The Belgian Bakery was on the corner of The Boltons, fantastic bread until they switched over to steam baking!!

    Yours, Reg Francis

  • Osmund Bullock

    Reg, you’re right about Farmer Bros in the Fulham Road. At their peak in the 50s/60s they had at least four or five different shops on both sides of the road between Callow St & Park Walk, each with a different stock – ironmongery, hardware, builder’s merchants, engineering supplies/plumber’s merchant, electrical, tools – though they gradually reduced them to the one that survives today.

    The Belgian Bakery was technically on the corner of Gilston Rd (The Boltons starts further up) – on the Gilston Rd side wall it had a little green hatch/door that I was convinced as a child was the home of the Easter rabbit! We seldom bought bread there, it was too expensive. On the opposite corner (same side) was W H Cullen the grocers (later just wine merchants, and later still a much more upmarket grocer with the same name, though I think under different ownership); and next to it in the other direction (towards the Fulham Forum Cinema, later ABC and many other names) was another grocer who had a magical coffee grinding and roasting machine in their window that wafted exotic (to a child of the 50s) smells into the street outside – I can’t recall its name in earlier days, but in the late 60s it became an Oakeshotts; next, I think, was the long-established Hazell’s the greengrocer, and then Curnick’s the butcher (though they didn’t arrive till the mid-60s). These are the ones I remember most clearly from the mid 50s-early 70s, along with the restaurant Salamis, further down in the other direction (opposite Limerston St). Salamis was there for at least 20 years, and we usually went for lunch one day a week (to give my mother a break from cooking, which she hated) – very cheap and dingy, with supposedly Mediterranean food…but all I remember was Macaroni Cheese and an unappealing and very Anglicized version of Spaghetti Bolognese.

    If anyone knows the name of the grocery next to the Belgian Bakery (before it became Oakeshotts) please tell us – it’s really annoying me that I can’t remember!

  • anglosardo

    Bit late but here goes.
    The second photo, with the horse-drawn milk float, was taken in Manresa Road.
    The fishmonger’s was Porch’s, at 405 King’s Road, more or less opposite Limerston Street, now a branch of Mail Boxes Etc.
    Not as interesting as the Gateway’s thread above I was just reading.

  • Cat Perryman

    One of the three figures by the market fruit and veg stall in draycot place is Alf Ley who owned or ran the stall. It was opposite Grabowskis the Chemists (Spelling undoubtedly wrong! ) and the launderette.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: