On the border 4: roads, railways and the ghost of a canal, 1983

After a bit of a hiatus we’re returning to the photographs of itinerant surveyor Bernard Selwyn and this time we’re following him on a walk around the rail tracks which partly follow the course of the old Kensington Canal, which at one time ran down the western side of Kensington and Chelsea and ended up at Chelsea Creek, (where you can still see some water). Selwyn was particular interested it seems in the rail line which runs past the station at Olympia (see some of the pictures in this post), alongside Warwick Road and south under West Cromwell Road.

An uncharacteristically quiet view of West Cromwell Road as it rises away from the junction with Warwick Road and curves towards Hammersmith.

Up the hill, with a closer look at those signs.

 

Below, the railway tracks. A man manages a quiet stroll along a major road on the 30th May 1983. (All these pictures were taken in April or May of that year.). The rail track running below the bridge is part of the West London Extention Railway which was built on the filled-in canal.

 

 

That office block ahead is called Ashfield House. Selwyn took a great interest in it.

As you get closer to it you can see it is separated from the main road by more rail tracks, which run by the rear of the building.

 

 

The tracks can barely be seen by motorists.

 

 

In the distance you can see the roof of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, a massive presence on the skyline in west London. Oddly you don’t always see it from ground level as this picture showing the other side of Ashfield House demonstrates.

 

Selwyn examined the building from several angles.

Looking west, with an approaching tube train.

 

And east, with the same train passing him.

 

This is part of the District Line heading towards Earls Court. You see ahead of the train the tangle of tracks, bridges, a gantry and railway buildings as these tracks move alongside the north-south route.

 

 

Here, Selwyn changes his vantage point, looking south west. You can see the cluster of rail-related huts and small buildings.

 

 

He then, for some obscure purpose, took a look directly below him.

 

 

It doesn’t tell us a lot but it shows the level of his interest. Remember, in the day before digital photography you had to set up the shot, take the picture and wait for the result. The amateur photographer would have to hope for the best. That may be why Selwyn took so many pictures. Or he might just have been a little obsessive, for which we can be grateful, thirty years or so later. London wasn’t quite so tidy in the 80s, and there were still plenty of spaces in the city to capture the attention of urban wanderers whose interest lay in industrial locations and the hidden parts of the city.

 

 

This picture shows underground tracks meeting the main line which is just beyond a small fence. On the left you can see the rear of St Cuthbert’s Church (the roof and spire are a little hard to make out in this picture ). On the right of the picture is that other prominent landmark of west London, the distinctive but somehow obscure Empress State Building. You can see the church spire clearer in the view below, looking straight down the line showing the wide space between the tracks and the various buildings at the rear of Philbeach Gardens. More of the canal next week but it was in some sections pretty wide.

 

 

Just beyond the track is a road which runs behind the church. If you look back at the post about the church you will find a 19th century picture of the church hall. Here it is in Selwyn’s time.

 

 

Now back to his view from the bridge. Or was he closer? Had he found his way to a better vantage point using his skills as a surveyor and/or an urban explorer?

 

This post has really been a prelude to next week’s, which also continues a series. When I scan pictures for a possible use on the blog I don’t always know at the start of the process what stories are going to emerge from the images. Maybe Selwyn worked the same way.

Postscript

This post moved back and forth across the border with Hammersmith and Fulham, an interzone which was one of Selwyn’s favourite haunts. He moved from the very north of Kensington to the river edge of Chelsea as we have seen in several posts. Next week’s post is almost entirely inside the boundary of Kensington and Chelsea. So here is a Hammersmith bonus for you.

 

Where West Cromwell Road met North End Road was this pub, called the Three Kings, next to West Kensington tube station. It’s now called the Famous 3 Kings but for a short period from 1975-1980 it was the Nashville Room (or Rooms?), a music venue, and that is what I thought when I saw the picture. A few of you may have seen some famous bands there. On an obscure personal note I was once told that a doppelganger of mine sold newspapers and magazines at a stall in the station. I never went there to find out.

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