The Roof Gardens 1979: for your pleasure

Strictly speaking I know we should have Kensal Road part 3 this week but I’m a little bit under the weather after Christmas and these pictures recently fell into my lap courtesy of my volunteer, BC, who is going through our collection of former planning photos with a fine tooth comb, looking for visual truffles.

They come from a pair of photo albums, undated and unattached to any records. But it was only a bit of minor detective work to spot the sign for the 28th Kensington Antiques Fair and work out that the year was 1979.



I didn’t even have to go to my transport correspondent to work out the date from the buses. There is Barker’s, still Barker’s at this point, and the Derry and Toms Building.

Although by this time Derry and Toms was no more.



Biba to, had been and gone, and BHS occupied the eastern part of the building. You can see the foliage at the top of the building indicating the presence of the Roof Gardens which had also survived.

In 1979 we were looking forward into an era of conspicuous consumption and people in London being comfortable about money and the display of spending it. Looking backward, you had  the disturbances of punk rock and the new wave and before them the glam era of Biba and Roxy Music. A good year to have some pictures of the Roof Gardens in its new-ish incarnation as a venue for dining and dancing.

Arrive in your nice big car.



The staff are waiting for you.



And the relatively innocuous  lift.



To take you to a more sumptuous entrance.



Regine’s. In the Biba era wasn’t it the Rainbow Rooms?

A sumptuous dining room awaited.



Soon to be filled.



BC said something to the effect of how many bubble perms could you fit into one room? Several, apparently. (I spotted a couple more in a TV programme I watched this week from 1979. Were they ubiquitous?)

After dining, there was dancing.



The joint was jumping (quietly).

But let’s not forget the main reason we came here.



Yes, it’s that garden again.

At this time I think they hadn’t quite got around to the day light potential of the gardens, so we can see some pictures of it more or less deserted.



With many of the old features extant.



The gardens still have that tranquil atmosphere, as if they were far away from a city street.



The wildlife still enjoys the familiar habitat.



Flags still fly over the sunny garden.



And there are still hidden corners.



I’ve looked at the gardens before in this post which combines its real and imaginary history, and this one (one of my early flights of fancy, but the pictures do show the garden empty). There is a certain timeless quality to the gardens. You can still go there, as I think I’ve pointed out before. But would I want to revisit what remains for me a childhood/adolescent memory? Probably not.

But don’t let me stop you.


Just as I was about to publish the post I saw a small item  in the news, namely that Virgin, the current owners of the Roof Gardens, had decided to close them. Since 1981 the gardens have been used as an events venue. They’re listed of course so they’ll be used again. But they’ll be quiet again for a while.

Original Postscript

I wrote this just as I was coming down with a cold and finished it just as the cold is coming to an end. I gave myself last week off as I was feeling rough and I’d read another of those articles about how blogging is dead. (On a tablet – I was too ill to turn on my laptop.) I hope it isn’t, I’m just getting the hang of it. I’m certainly going to carry on for a while and hopefully we’ll be back on Kensal Road next week.

14 responses to “The Roof Gardens 1979: for your pleasure

  • Margaret McQuaile

    Thanks for this great post. Fab photos.

  • Matthew Paul

    Presumably the gardens inspired JG Ballard for High-Rise.

  • Mrs. Reily Collins

    Your blog is definitely NOT ‘dead’, so please keep on with it.

    I do hope someone who has more elegance and understanding can take on the gardens. Sadly Branson was never a good fit – the gardens were too up-market for him. So many of his ventures have failed – I do hope these wonderful gardens will be re-born.

  • First Night Design

    Yes, it was the Rainbow Rooms. I had no idea we all looked so 1970s!

  • Liz Altieri

    Thank you for the photos! I used to look up and see those trees sticking over the edge and wondered what the gardens looked like.

  • Martin baskott

    I love these blogs please don’t give up! From a London cabbie born Westbourne green

  • reg francis

    Visual truffles! Excellent David, don’t you dare retire from he fray

  • Steve

    i just found your blog. It is all so very interesting, thanks for the effort it must take.

  • kenneth peers

    Dave,only found your blog this week,you cannot jack it in now,shall we start a crowdfunding thingy or some other new fangled enterprise? Once again thanks for all your hard work.

  • lucyclemson

    I agree with the sentiments above – please don’t give up the blog, so many people really enjoy reading it. The great photos make it easy for someone like me, born in 1978, to step back into a time they’d otherwise never know.

  • Robin Hull

    As the webmaster of the Ralph Hancock website, it’s always a delight to find such great images and details about the gardens from their heyday. The sad news that the gardens had closed came as a shock to the Hancock family. But, we hope that their owners, the Conle family can find a new tenant soon so that once again these magnificent gardens are available to all to view and enjoy.

    N.B. The family were invited by Virgin to see the gardens in February.

  • Johnny Lyell

    I was one of the original members of Regines when it opened, and I had been there as a boy when it was the tea gardens. I don’t think it was the Rainbow Rooms, I think they were on the floor below. I think it was the original tea rooms (which were pretty simple & small) expanded and enlarged considerably to make this new nightclub, all on the same level as the gardens. It was a great concept, but didn’t attract the core guests it wanted…..they carried on going to Annabels, Wedges and Tramp.
    I was there at an event last summer, and it is still an amazing location.
    Great photos !!

  • Annalise

    Wonderful post, and amazing pics – thank you for sharing! I was googling nostalgically as I worked at the The Roof Gardens (as a secretary, and later an event planning assistant from approx. ’84 to ’87) and have many fond memories, but sadly, few photos. The Rainbow Rooms were on the 5th floor, one floor below the club and the gardens. It really was an amazing place, and Branson, an amazing boss! I’m sad to hear that it had to close and hope someone brings it back to it’s former glory : )

  • Chris Rogers

    The awkward dinner scene in The Long Good Friday was shot at Regine’s

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