Regulars readers will have noticed that I’m using the phrase “regular readers” frequently these days, perhaps too frequently, but I have been writing this blog for seven years now, so a certain amount of repetition is bound to creep in now and then. Some of you may be aware that as a fan of the Survey of London I treasure some of the quirky phrases that the writers use – “umbrageous Brompton” for example or “orthodox, restless, ornamental“. But my favourite is the title of this post, and it was applied to a building I go past twice every working day. Number 1, Kensington High Street. (Not to be confused with the upstart Number 1 Kensington Road, the insistently modern apartment building between De Vere Gardens and Victoria Road, which is a few doors down from our Number 1 – Kensington Court and other addresses separate them.)
You can see what they mean by pungently Burgundian. A certain medieval style, decorative. Like somebody’s idea of a French chateau, something we’ve seen before.
Designed by Alfred Williams in 1886 for the London County Bank, it was later used by the National Bank and later the National Westminster. In the 1980s it was a branch of the Leamimgton Spa building Society.
But in recent years it has been an Indian restaurant. At one point a few years ago someone who worked there came into Local Studies and asked me if it had ever been a church. The answer was no ,but how interesting to think that it could have been. Not a regular church I imagine. the Brethren of the Free Spirit perhaps, decorated inside with reproductions of scenes from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delight, the Sisters of Torment (also a plausible goth band from the 90s?) or the Starry Wisdom cult (branches in New England and elsewhere). But no, just a bank. This Burgundian style seemed to be a feature of late 19th century financial institutions. Look at this building society in Glasgow in the 1970s.
My home town, Chester, has plenty of these retro designs. such as the HSBC in Eastgate Street.
(Chester also boasts a similarly Gothic branch of Barclays, next to the Cathedral.)
That early stretch of Kensington High Street has some of the oldest buildings in the street.
Kate Ker Banks (“robes”) at number 3, the Goat Tavern at 3A, and the Old Three Tuns at number 5.
Next to them a circulating library, an urban dairy and at 21 Foley the American dentist (even then, American dentistry was a thing – “teeth, complete set one guinea”)
And what The Gas and Coke Company, next to the Barkers building?
This striking urban castle goes almost unnoticed these days, with a branch of NatWest on the ground floor. But you can imagine some solitary activity going on in that tower, and if we’re thinking alternate worlds / steampunk. perhaps someone could have tethered their airship to the little tower while they clambered down into the castle for an assignation.
[Addendum: after one of the comments below I had a look at what the Survey said about this building and it delivered several new phrases for my collection: “shockingly striped and ornamented”, “bumptiously large shop windows” and “skittish passages of terracotta decoration”. Thank you, Teresa.]
This year brought the final volume of Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, Europe at Dawn. In the picture below Florence and Cornelius have shepherded all four volumes together.
The series is a mixture of espionage and science fiction. In a Balkanised Europe where small regions and cities have become sovereign states, a semi-secret organisation of couriers passes secrets and people via convoluted routes. There is also a parallel pocket universe with an alternative version of Europe. This is one of the most original science fiction settings in many years, say the monkeys. I think so too.