Cul-de-sac: St Mary Abbot’s Place

Last Saturday, on one of those hot, hot days we’ve been having I was sitting with my son at the bus stop on Kensington High Street opposite St Mary Abbot’s Place, looking at the short terrace called Earls Terrace where there are several Iranian businesses and restaurants. Early 19th century I was saying. (And I was right – 1827-30). The bus came, but it looked intolerably crowded (and hot) so we decided not to bother, and to restore sanity we crossed the road to have a closer look at the cul-de-sac in question, about which I knew some random facts. This picture wasn’t taken last week of course.



St Mary Abbot’s Place looks like a random collection of buildings squeezed onto a strip of land between Edwardes Square and Warwick Gardens. . And that’s kind of what it is. On the western side, facing the High Street is Warwick Close, a two-storey collection of apartments enclosing a small courtyard. The picture below shows part of it in 1971 along with numbers 2 and 4.



This is 2a in 1985, from an estate agent’s brochure.



We’ll come back to the western side in a moment but first we have to take a look at the eastern side of the street. Again this picture shows numbers 1-5 in 1971.



1-5 was the home of the Viking Film Studios, where films and TV programmes were made from the late 1940s through the 1950s and early 1960s, including the earliest version of the BBC’s Tonight programme. (Much more can be found here, so I won’t duplicate someone else’s research, but I was interested to see that Powell and Pressberger once had offices in the building.)

Before its time as a film studio, the building had been an artist’s studio run by Frank Calderon. Among his activities was a school devoted to drawing animals.



These pictures scans of a photocopy, slightly improved by me, from a 1913 publication called the Family Friend. I haven’t been able to find a copy of the original, (which would have taken us back to an old library story and a room that no longer exists) but I wanted to include these two images because they are so strange. According to a short piece on the School of Animal Painting, Calderon kept a small menagerie at the back of the studio for his animal models.

The buildings were demolished about 1990 and the current buildings, although in keeping with the rest of the street, are new.

Number 7, next door, is perhaps just a house, although quite a picturesque one, in this pictures from 1986.




Some interesting interiors,including this vaulted hall.



Next door to that are numbers 9 and 9A, once the home of The White Eagle Lodge.



The innocuous exterior conceals some interesting interior features.

Another courtyard,


A library,



And of course, a place of worship.



An Ordnance Survey map of 1974 describes it as a “spiritualist church”. The brochure from which these pictures come speaks of meditation and healing. Although no longer in this building the organisation still exists. Further information here.

The houses at the end of the street look to me as though they belong to a completely different setting, far from urban Kensington and deep into a more rural location.

This is number 15. Somewhere through that alley there must be access to number 11, which you can’t really see from the street, although it’s clear enough on maps.



In 1971 the building looks plain enough, although you can imagine anything you like going on inside. The maps and aerial photos show a long garden at the back, abutting Pembroke Studios. Here you can play about with the notion of a hidden garden, though of course every garden is hidden to some extent, and all gardens are mysterious in their own way.




These days there is a growth of ivy over the side.



The other houses at the end of the cul-de-sac had a similar look of coming from another time and place in 1971.




Number 16, and below, number 12.




So our quick excursion to a quiet corner of Kensington yielded some fascinating material. I took the photos of the ivy above, and the Eagle below.



And, another curiosity for my car loving readers, An actual Trabant.



We walked back to the High Street, pausing only to look at Warwick Close, and its courtyard.



After which we crossed Warwick Gardens. I of course pointed out the memorial to Queen Victoria which now stands in the middle of the road. It was moved there because it was getting in the way of traffic in its original location, at the bottom of Kensington Church Street.



Which is a roundabout way of saying that I should be getting back to Church Street. Next week, I hope.


6 responses to “Cul-de-sac: St Mary Abbot’s Place

  • Michael Gall

    Fascinating as usual Dave…information informs us. Everything is brought out into the light, by history. Your blog is truly excellent…Mr Walker.

  • Basia Korzeniowska

    Absolutely fascinating. Do you have anything on Marloes Road, particularly a restaurant called la Bretagne which my family used to frequent in the sixties and seventies. it was run by a man called Albert. That’s all I can remember.

  • Dave Page

    …and at the corner of Kensington Church Street in your last photo lies the ‘Civet Cat’ public house, the name just distinguished in the photo. The building remains, although the pub is now long gone and replaced by some hideous fast-food emporium. Yet, if you sit on the top-deck of a bus coming down KC St., as I used to going to work at the NHM for many years, many years ago, you can still see the cat-shaped iron sign at eye-level that the pedestrian eye misses — which you can just see in your picture, edge-on, between the facing 1st- and 2nd-storey windows.

    I am mighty glad I found this site Dave, and spend altogether too much time here (or is that not enough?). As a research geologist, reconstructing past life and environments is both my profession and my reason-for-being, and whether I am looking at the impression of a raindrop preserved in a rock (a ‘frozen moment’ in deep-time) or at a 19th C glass-negative, I get the same thrill. Looking through this visual archive of lost-London and a town and world blessedly free of the scourges of the motor-car, pollution, and fundamentalism, where the only noises that one would have heard would have been those of people and animals, takes me to a time-and-place that I would gladly give my life to spend one year in.

    Thank You,

  • Tony Fellowes

    In the topmost picture of no.15 is the rear of what may be either a Hillman Imp or possibly a Singer Chamois. This is about to get even more esoteric as I have a strange fondness for looking up old number plates on the DVLA vehicle checking website, and this car’s registration (RO 36) is the first one I have seen from Dave’s blogs to still exist, albeit on another car. This is most likely due to its rarity – it may even still be in the same family’s ownership, but satisfying none-the-less.
    Tony F. (a number plate nerd)

  • Martin Kempton

    Dave – I have only just discovered this fascinating website. Thanks for the link to my TV studio history website. Your research has added some really interesting details about the Viking Studio that I have now included, thanks! Any more info gratefully received of course. All the best, Martin.

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