A little bit of retail history: Kensington High Street at the turn of another century

This is the first in a series of posts using photographs from a collection of images given to us by our Planning department. One of my volunteers has been going through the collection, sorting them out and has shown me six folders of images of Kensington High Street. So you can expect to see many pictures over the next few months, from all sorts of angles. They date from the 1980s to the early 2000s. They tell many different stories, of shops and restaurants gone by, some of which were there for years, some comparatively fleeting. Famous names, and obscure ones. You may be pleasantly reminded of an establishment you’d forgotten, or surprised by a picture of somewhere you just can’t recall.

Inevitably, we have to start by going back to a building with one of my favourite descriptions from the Survey of London. It’s number 1 Kensington High Street once more. It was built as a bank in 1888, in a style I looked at in this post. It was listed in Kelly’s as the London and County Bank. From 1939 it was the Westminster Bank, and then later the more familiar name, the National Westminster Bank, who seemed to have moved about around 1985. It stood empty for a while, and at some point was converted into a wine bar / restaurant. By 1996 it looked quite lively.



Footlights (“Mexican, American & European Cafe Restaurant & Bar”), and next door a wine bar, Tumblers.

Below, a woman passes by ignoring the building and the photographer.



She probably missed the specials board at Tumblers.



One more image, and one slight mystery. Above the ground floor windows, you can see a strip of  what is often called ghost signage. It comes out best in this picture taken a few years later.



I had a close look from a 49 bus recently, and I could only make out the word Society at the right of the strip so it has obviously faded somewhat in recent years. From this picture and others I could read “Leamington Spa Building Society“. This was perplexing for a while until I looked at drainage plans for the property, which indicated that the Society was the owner of the property until 1991. Can anyone remember the Society trading from this address?

But come on, we have to get moving. Next door is a split frontage, half of which is a Bureau de Change, next door to which is a venerable establishment.



The Goat public house which has been there more than a hundred years.

Here it is again below. One of the interesting features of this section of the High Street is the heterogeneous roof line. Whatever is happening at street level, the surviving upper levels are distinctively 19th century. Short buildings rub up against taller ones, sometimes a couple of floors taller.




There’s Le Bistingo, on the right. Some of these names will be familiar. Some not. Le Bistingo later became Giraffe, a venue for world food and music, and later still Lupita, a Mexican restaurant one of my customers recently recommended.(I’ll let you know).

Next door was Strikes.



Strikes was a hamburger restaurant, very much in the 70s/80s style (anyone remember Tootsies, or my personal favourite from the Fulham Road, Parsons?) One of the current occupants of this block is Roadster, a modern hamburger joint, much visited by men on motor-bikes picking up takeaways, a practice which must be changing the restaurant trade.

Personal reminiscence (you may skip this paragraph if you’re not interested in my digressions). My uncle had an Italian restaurant in the Wandsworth Road in the 1960s. He tried to set up a takeaway in a nearby shop to cater to people who wanted something other than fish and chips. He called it the Carry-Out, a term you can still hear in films/TV of the period which had not yet been drive out by “take-away”. The venture was not a success and he moved to Esher.

Dino’s Trattoria was another incarnation of Le Bistingo. (If this is getting complicated, don’t stop me, I can barely work it out myself).



Below, you can see a whole row of those mismatched buildings. Next to Dino’s, an early Garfunkels (which must have been Strikes).



A couple of heads glide by in the foreground.


Cuba, seen again below, is now therefore Roadster. Phew!



Let’s take a moment and look at the street from above. As you can see the buildings are equally varied from this angle.



We’ll come back to rooftop views on another occasion, I promise. But back to ground level.




Lord John, gentleman’s outfitter at number 23, and the Stardust Cafe.

We haven’t gone far, I know but this subject is going to be taken at a slow pace so we can afford to pause at Kensington Court.

The corner place was a pizza restaurant.



And opposite a general store.



This has become a mostly pedestrian area, with protective bollards, and little trees.



And at this time, in the early 1990s, a fairly generic Coffee Shop.



Back in the old century, motorcyclists lingered outside the Electric Lighting Station (the sign is still there).



A young woman in a striped top and jeans is leaning on a handy bollard and taking a breather (from work in the coffee shop?) or just surveying the scene. What is she reading / not reading/ just holding? I’d like to go back and ask her, but of course I can’t. I had my chance in 1990 but I wasn’t thinking about time travel then. We’ll have to let her get back to her pre-millennium life.

We’ll continue in the next post, perhaps even crossing the street, but I can’t promise that. I might need a very long lie down. Ranging over a few decades and several sources can get complicated. See you next time.

12 responses to “A little bit of retail history: Kensington High Street at the turn of another century

  • Marcia Howard

    I don’t remember half of these places in the photos Dave, but I did take some rather nice shots of The Goat myself the day my brother and I met you regarding the ‘Murals’ in 2018. It was good to see it looking so vibrant still that day. My brother had to dash back to Wimbledon as he’d overslept that morning, and had abandoned his Australian wife; so after having lunch together, I then went on a solo pilgrimage around my old haunts – all around Kensington and then various detours until I was in Sloane Square and environs where I’d grown up. I walked miles and was very footsore by the end of it. I took masses of photographs too, but despite changes over the years, everything was so familiar to me. It was a great day, not least because we’d seen the murals from the old Chelsea Children’s Library again!

  • helen Whichelow

    Can’t wait for you to get to the big stores, Barkers, where my father took me for the most delicious ice cream in the early Fifties, Derry & Toms with its Roof Garden and the less elegant Pontings where I had student holiday jobs. I have a few funny memories of my time there.

  • csbcohen

    Odd to be reminded of Dinos after all these years [not only to be found in the Natural History Museum], and next door the Kensington Business Center. It turned out to be the accommodation address used by roofers our neighbours were using and who hurled a large coping stone over our wall. It landed a meter from our toddler, asleep in her pram, splitting a large stone planter in three. We never found them after they did a runner.

  • Peter Hurst

    I worked in KCStreet in the 1970s and these pics bring back that time.

  • Linda Ashmore

    Hey, hello, so wonderful to see pictures of such fun times and read comments from people who have their good memories too.

    I worked just off the High Street from the late 60s and had boyfriends who started off selling clothes in Kensington Market but progressed to owning clothes shops on the High Street (Dave ‘Che’ and Ken Todd (later to become Lisa Vanderpump’s husband RHOBH) owned Che Guevara and later Cuba the bar close to the Goat Pub; Mike Ely owned Amazon along Church Street and later Copacabana in Earl’s Court; and they along with my boyfriend Gerry ‘s best friends (Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury, who also had a stall in The Market) all drank in and played pool in the pub opposite the square behind Barkers (can’t remember it’s name but we were there every Saturday before the parties and clubs or whatever our plans were for later). Someone called Richard Branson popped in occasionally too but ever6was just starting out on their journey then so nobody was star struck.

    I later referred to those wonderful, talented, good looking guys collectively as ‘Peacocks’ as they were all so full of life, positivity and swagger in the best possible ways and all celebrated each others achievements, which then spurred themselves on.

    Later when Wine Bars started up in London in the 70s we often converged on Thackeray’s nearer the High Street end of the road.

    Dave went on to own Bellinis in Kensington Court and The Pheasantry in The King’s Road, Chelsea amongst other places.

    Two girlfriends worked for Barbara Hulaniki (Biba owner/designer) as seamstresses and were always ready to meet up for lunch in Cherry Pie before we went off to buy shoes in Sasha on the corner by The Church or records or tapes from Our Price Records opposite High Street Ken Station.

    When are you next posting more photos and do you organise walking groups for people like ourselves who were there when it was all happening?

    I’d like to be included. My name then was Linda Bernardi then and I also had connections to the Italian restaurant businesses (Alvaro, Dante, Enzo: Alvaros, Club del Aretusa, Factotum, Meridiana, Pontevecchio) and am also very interested in architecture and history but don’t do social media as am quite private.

    • Eric Williams

      Your comments certainly roll back the years. An aunt of mine used to work in some of the small rooms / offices above Kensington Market during the early 70’s. I once had a pair of trousers made for me (tight peach coloured flares) by a guy who I was told had been a very close friend of David Bowie’s.
      I loved Kensington Market when I was a very young lad – a real Aladdins cave.
      One thing I can’t seem to recall is the name of was the large Disco / Nightclub that was virtually opposite the Market. It was somewhere between where the Fire Station and the large hotel was (Royal Park / Garden Hotel?). It was entered through a small street level door and then down a flight of stairs, then into the Disco itself. The company I had just started working for held our Xmas party there in either 1976 or 77, and I walked back home to Hammersmith in the snow, carrying my shoes, as my feet were bleeding through dancing in uncomfortable shoes! Can you recall the name of the Disco?

  • Javier

    i worked at le bistingo restaurant in 1976…This photo really bring me back there

  • mwoodward

    oh yes remember Parson’s in the Fulham Rd..nice shredded side salads & a choice of dresisingd..loved the blue cheese dressing..was so exotic then ( 1972?). Glam waiter my sister in law liked..but he left his phone no on receipt fr my brother!!!!

    • Brian Wilkinson

      Haha no surprise really nearly all the waiters were gay, I worked there for a bit in the 70’s, some appeared as extras in Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee.

  • Christina Brooks

    A lovely trip down memory lane as I remember it all!
    It was the first time we in the Uk were (apart from the Wimpy bar lol) introduced to REAL hamburgers with grill stripes lol I also remember Dino’s well, where I ate several times.
    Wasn’t the Electric Light company a kind of hippy flea market for a time?

  • Michelle Coomber

    I worked at Che Guevara during the 70s & had a ball. Drinks at Thackerays after work before heading elsewhere with our latest look. Lunch was Dino’s or Cherry Pie & occasionally McDonald’s as a new novelty. We mixed with friends from Ken Market, Crocodile, Bus Stop etc Growing up in Fulham was great. 28 bus to Biba, Mr Freedom, Roxy, Boobs, Ken Market etc so I was delighted to work there when I left school. 1976 was the long hot summer & we had the best time all meeting up and hanging out together.

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