Kensington Church Street – slowly up the hill

Kensington Church Street is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Kensington, and as essential to the identity of Kensington as the High Street. So given that we have plenty of pictures of it in the collection it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a post on it before. Well perhaps I’ve overlooked it, as people sometimes do, thinking of it as just the winding street which takes you up the hill to Notting Hill Gate, where North Kensington begins. That’s quite a steep hill in parts (steeper as I’ve gotten older), so I’ve nearly always got the 52 or the 28 or the 27 or their variations over the years. But we’ll take it in stages this time. This view, more than a hundred years old, is still recognizeable.


There’s the Civet Cat on the corner. There’s no pub there now (it’s been a bank in its time and even a pizza restaurant) but the sign depicting the eponymous cat is still there. The blurred person on the left must have been an early riser because this has always been a busy spot.



A 1980 view. Where was the photographer standing? Somewhere safe I hope. See the security bars on the ground floor windows?

It was possibly a little safer back in 1912. safe enough for that guy on the left to be sitting down.



That canopy was about to be removed, hence the photograph, taken on June 4th that year. Number 6 was not a place for refreshment or theatrical performances but was in fact the Kensington Trunk Stores. (For all your trunking needs). The building next door at number 8 was the Prince of Wales public house (Mrs Jane Evans licensee) , and beyond that, Lockhart’s Cocoa Rooms, the Edwardian equivalent of a Starbucks or a Costa.

This end of the street was dominated by St Mary Abbots Church which towered over the terrace of house while seeming to brush against it.



The buildings in that terrace are actually older than the church, (numbers 1-5 were built in 1760) which is the version completed in the 1890s (see Isabel’s post here for a thorough account of the church itself)

There have been some alterations to the house but the old structures remain. Compare the view with this one from 1949.



(courtesy of the National Monuments Record)

And a closer view from 1964.



Mother and daughter looking in the window of number 13 (Robinson Joshua, linen drapers).

A few years later the daughter might be looking here, a few doors up the street at 19/21.



The picture below is one of my favourites and was taken by our friend Albert Argent Archer.



The print is from a glass negative and contains many fascinating details. I could almost write an entire post about this one image, with it’s multiplicity of advertising posters for Pear’s Soap, Nestle and Rowntree products (and Birds, of custard fame – the “Rhubard Girl”). One of the Nestle ads is I’m sure by John Hassall. And then the theatre posters – the “Pink Lady”, “The Monk and the Woman” and most familiar, “Ben-Hur”, an adpatation of the novel by Lew Wallace.

Further down the side street you can see, already boarded up a “Fish Dinner and Supper Bar”. Spare a glance for the two semi-visible boys with a tricycle working for Armfield and Sons, Chemical Cleaners. And right on the corner a hunched up man in a coat peering round the corner.

If you can’t see them all, try another, lighter version of the print:



You can also follow the shops heading south to the High Street: at number 28, James Turner (laundry receiving office), Edmund William Evans (photographer) the Belgravia Dairy Company (an urban dairy), the Kensington Restaurant (proprietor  Agostino de Maria) at number 20.

Speaking of which,let’s take a quick look inside.


A comfortable spot, for lunch or dinner.

Followed by  Mrs Rose Schofield (corsetiere), Davis and Son (dyers and cleaners), the National Telephone Company (for making public calls), Kenyon J H (funeral furnishers) which takes us back to Lockhart’s Cocoa Rooms

A similar view from 1961. The view is not as sharp as the earlier picture but there is another selection of posters.



And the chemists at 26-28 offers “Toilet Requisites” a phrase you don’t hear much nowadays, redolent of 1970s sit-coms. (In my mind I hear the words being uttered by John Cleese, with a repetition of the final syllable)

As we move up the street you can see the line of boards covered with posters continues. The church’s spire, one of the largest of its day, towers over the street.



In the style of our Secret Life of Postcards series, a close up:



The young woman on the left making her way deliberately..somewhere. It’s almost possible to make out her features, and wonder what she was up to that day. Beside her, a man looks into the window of James Keen (furniture  warehouse) and behind her the Misses Dodson and Green have a Catholic repository. The other name visible is Giandoni (confectioner and restaurant).

On the east side of the street was the Kensington Barracks, built in the 1850s on the site of the former Kensington Palace Forcing Gardens.



A view showing the interior, still dominated by the church.



Although we haven’t got very far up the street, I hope you won’t mind if we digress a little here. The barracks closed in 1972. At one point it was proposed to move the Russian Embassy onto the site but that attracted a degree of controversy and didn’t happen. I discovered this alternative plan dating from 1978.



A harmless but unexciting artist’s impression of shops and offices, mostly imaginary.

There really was a branch of Our Price records on that corner. While attempting to confirm that fact I looked at the 1976 Kelly’s Directory and saw that Revolution Cassettes was there before Our Price. This stirred a memory. Was that the old name for Our Price? Wikipedia came to the rescue. It seems that the company started out as Tape Revolution and specialized in Music Cassettes and 8 track Cartridges before adopting the more familiar name in 1978.

The barracks were ultimately replaced in the late 1980s by a retail/ office development which created a central space called Lancer Square.



The only image I found was one from the developers brochure which includes architect’s model and  a little cartoon of a typical Kensington shopper of the 80s. (Big hair, big shoulders – a bulkier look than the next decade) I can remember going to a leaving meal in one of the restaurants at one point but apart from that not being much of a visitor to Lancer Square.

The last time I passed by the spot was on the way to another farewell meal, this time at Wagamama. I took the opportunity to take a quick snap of what was left of Lancer Square, which barely lasted longer than its original lease.



It’s always odd when something rises and falls entirely within your own personal timeline. Building work on the site is taking place behind another set of boards. They seem to be keeping the Lancer Square name.

The first leg of our latest journey hasn’t taken us far, and we may be pausing to allow some movement backward in time, but this is a good pace for summer. Here at the Library, a bit of data entry is going on, a bit of stock movement, and in the basement some immersive theatre. We’ll make our way slowly up the hill and see what we find on the way.

10 responses to “Kensington Church Street – slowly up the hill

  • Liz Altieri

    Thanks Dave. Had friend who lived up there in York House Bldgs — loved the grounds and trees. Looks more paved over now. Had school friend whose parents started a charming full service Chinese restaurant on Kensington Church Street — about where I thought of as halfway up the hill — just a little too early — about 1964-5. Although the food was great, business was slow. My Dad was in advertising and knew tastes were changing quickly.. He encouraged them to hang on a little longer and try downsizing their space and relying more on deliveries and takeout before trying the full restaurant again but they decided there just wasn’t enough demand for Asian food in London. They returned to Hong Kong just before everybody wanted Asian food. Sorry I’ll miss the immersive theatre. Sounds fun.

  • teresastokes

    These are great, a street I am very familiar with.
    I too love the pic by Archer taken at the corner of Old Court Place with all the advertisements, as I am always on the lookout for working delivery bikes. This one is a tricycle so it is clearly built for a very heavy load, perhaps milk? Unfortunately it is impossible to read the writing thereon.
    I too have seen Lancer Square built and then pulled down again, and am mystified as to why this was. I note the photo of the Barracks (5th from last) was taken at the end of the cul-de-sac Holland Place and you can just see the word “Pierr” being the Pierre Pechon Patisserie Francaise which was there for years and years, a Church Street institution and greatly missed by me. Patisserie Valerie has taken over the premises. At the end of the cul de sac was Antenna,the pioneer of hair extensions, who created Boy George’s unique dreadlocked and beaded hairdo.
    Look forward to more from further up the hill soon. There are some very interesting photos taken there in this blog by James Macdonald:

  • Colin Blackman

    I was a student in the area in the early 1970’s and remember the pub at the bottom of Ken Church Street as a Truman’s but I’m sure it wasn’t called the Civet Cat, but I may be wrong.
    At the time the barracks was occupied by the military police and as a member of the college rifle club we used to use their rifle range.
    I hope you continue all the way to Notting Hill Gate. There was supermarket on the corner, where Waterstones is now, but I can not remember the name. It began with ‘M’ I think.

    • Dave Walker

      The Civet Cat building was rebuilt in 1902 as a bank so its pub/inn years were mostly in the 19th century. There was a pub (and still is) at number 8, the Prince of Wales. Could the supermarket have been Mac Fisheries? I do intend to go all the way but it may take a while.

    • teresastokes

      Yes the supermarket at the top of the hill was called MacFisheries, followed by a supermarket called Gateway, and is now a big Waterstones

  • Colin Blackman

    So the Prince of Wales would be where the scaffolding is in the 1st photo.

    I remember MacFisheries but thought the Waterstones site was a different company.

    Thank you for that – one less lost memory.

    • teresastokes

      Colin, yes the Prince of Wales is covered in scaffolding in the second (not first) photo. Dave, it’s not correct that the Civet Cat is now a pizza restaurant. It is currently closed and boarded up, and has been for some time.

  • Ken

    Regarding ‘toilet requisite’, it was actually Michael Palin (in a Python chemist shop sketch) who uttered the line…
    John Cleese lived in the area (in Basil Street at one stage), so perhaps the sign was a source of inspiration…

  • Will Gray

    Good to see the picture of Biba in Church St again. They had taken over the shop from Nicholls the grocers – who did rather good bacon. If I remember right it was v.2, after the shop in Abingdon Road, and before the one in the High St next to W.H. Smiths. That was the one that was bombed by the Angry Brigade. The next and final one was the Derry and Toms building. The barracks was used to accommodate the Ugandan asians expelled by Idi Amin, and then later for Vietnamese boat people. In between it was briefly the London Student Centre.

Leave a Reply to teresastokes Cancel 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: