This week’s post doesn’t travel far from the previous one. Just across the road in fact, to the north side of Kensington High Street.
We’re looking back westwards at the first version of the Royal Garden Hotel. It won’t be the last we see of it on the blog so concentrate instead on the large retail space visible on the left on the ground floor of the Crown building – Hyper Hyper, with its distinctive caryatids. These (along with some plaster columns) belonged to its previous incarnation as the Antiques Hypermarket, a kind of permanent antiques fair, organised into small stalls which either sold proper antiques or just bric-a-brac depending on who you ask. The Hyper Hyper incarnation leaned closed to fashion.
The Antiques Hypermarket started in the 1960s, as did its fashion orientated cousin across the street.
Kensington Market dated from 1967, as did this handbill.
Being both “with it” and “way out”, it became popular, even beloved, through the 1970s and 1980s selling a wide variety of fashion and semi-related goods, but closed quite suddenly in 1999, when the owners sold up. The distinctive facade has gone now, one of the few to be completely replaced on the south side. Curry’s/PC World are in there now. I doubt if they have “good place to shelter from the rain” as one of their major selling points.
I imagine some of you have some reminiscences of the Market….? No extra points for mentioning Freddie Mercury though.
I have to stay on the south side though, to show you the shop next door.
Another distinctive shop front, and a name taken from a much grander retail centre, far, far away. (Though still accessible for the casual viewer via Google Maps and other websites. I just took a brief turn down that surprisingly narrow thoroughfare.)
Looking back at Kensington Court you see a branch of Slick Willie’s and Persepolis, an Iranian restaurant. The blurred car in the foreground is a Rover 3500, which I think I have mentioned before, much loved by the Metropolitan Police. We’ll see another one of those in a minute.
Next to the Crown building on the other side of Old Court Place, once a fairly downmarket street, is the Old Court Building.
At this point it was home to Woolworth’s and a fashion shop called Che Guevara, among others. Although the iconic image of Che has lasted from the 1970s to the present day (I had a t-shirt), I’m not sure you could name a shop after him these days.
The Old Court building occupied a whole corner.
This is the view from behind, showing a doorway with the Winfield brand logo used by Woolworths for their own goods, above a rear entrance. This back street leads to Kensington Church Street, past the now demolished Lancer Square.
(For those who are interested, Lancer Square circa 2012 can still be seen on Google Street View.)
I mention this rear entrance because it shows that the Woolworths company occupied a large space which perhaps resulted in some confusion later. I must warn you we’re about to go off on a tangent. Does anyone remember a restaurant called Grunts?
According to the writing on some of these pictures, Grunts, a specialist in Chicago style pizzas, seemed to be part of Woolworths.
So far so good but..
Although this is the Grunts exterior, and here by coincidence is another Rover 3500, a close look at this street makes you realize that it’s nowhere near Kensington High Street.
Some eagle-eyed work on Google Maps by my son Matthew (transport correspondent and technical adviser), who had nothing better to do at the time, indicated that this is in fact an unrelated street near Covent Garden, Maiden Lane. The church tower belongs to Corpus Christie Roman Catholic Church. The white building in the background is called Tower House.
Was there ever a Grunts in Kensington? I’d certainly like to know.
Back on the real High Street, we go back to 1978.
James Walker (no relation), jewelry and the beautifully named Superama. (A fashion arcade, according to Kelly’s)
Below in 1996, the Woolworths unit has been split up into smaller shops.
Compare the two pictures and you can see the ornamental frieze above the shops.
This area, near the bottom of Old Church Street saw a number of changes in the 1980s and 1990s.
Virgin Records, on its way out in this picture from 1981. Nice boots, Madam.
Now I think the correct history of this section of just three storefronts after Virgin has Video Palace, an early video sale and rental outlet with connections to the Virgin empire, in this location. I went in there many times.
You may have to take my word for it but you can just about make out the words Video Palace near the front of that coach.
That’s a 49 Routemaster, by the way,(an RM not an RML in case you were wondering) going to Tooting Bec Station sometime between 1972 and 1987 (when one-man operation came in).
The Palace was followed by a J-Mart,as you can see below and then Tower Records, in 1984. This store predated the one in Piccadilly. (I think I can barely recall a little excitement at the time, although Tower turned out to be just a big record shop). They had their moment in London.
Opening soon, according to the notice in this picture.
Then with a separate Video store, still selling a few VHS tapes perhaps, maybe even DVDs.
Then it was Virgin’s turn to come back. The Virgin stores had a management buyout, and were re-named Zavvi, an identity no-one I knew really believed in. By that time I was buying CDs online, or at Fopp in the West End, and only entered any of the Virgin / Zavvi stores when Matthew wanted a new game. (I bought him Grand Theft Auto when he was too young, but it hasn’t brought him to a life of crime.)
Below, you can see that James Walker was replaced by the unimaginatively named Design Label.
But this too was closing down. We have a rare interior shot, with some dodgy walls.
It may seem as though shops in Kensington High Street always seem to be closing down, and while there have been plenty of changes over the last 20-30 years, retail life goes on. These photos get taken remember because someone is about to change something and has to tell the Planning department. There are still a few shops which have lasted for years and years.
We’re almost at a stopping point now so let’s look west. I find this view, of the corner of Church Street, with the trees in front of St Mary Abbot’s quite picturesque.
The bank on the corner has become a Pizza Hut.
Here it is as a branch of Barclays, with an Alfred Marks Bureau next door.
And here as Pizza Hut. Now that 27, bound for Turnham Green. A single-door Leyland Olympian. It had no real business being here in 1993, as it was part of a group purchased specifically for service on the 237. It was presumably replacing an out of service Metrobus, given the relatively greater importance to the garage of the 27. Now you know.
Although it’s been interesting to see the changes in Kensington high Street, I’m conscious of not bringing much of an emotional connection to this section of street. I don’t remember any memorable purchases at the record shop, whatever it was called. This is in contrast to the Virgin at Notting Hill Gate which is associated for me with a number of great albums.
Finally another quirk of this collection of photos. Here on a snowy day is that Pizza Hut.
In the background the unmistakable tower of the Gas and Coke Company, now a branch of NatWest. Below a dim figure seems to struggle in the snow.
But that’s not the same Pizza Hut. Is it?
It’s an interesting view though. Is that the entrance to an arcade? Is it the same snowy day. All suggestions are welcome.
I may as well bow to the inevitable. We have a lot on in Local Studies at the moment so I’m moving to a fortnightly post to allow me to do a few other things, but this doesn’t mean that Isabel won’t suddenly come in with her next post – she’s becoming more prolific. There are plenty more ideas bubbling up so please keep reading. And of course, fewer posst probably means longer ones. like this one, for those of you who appreciate that. Thanks to Matthew.
May 23rd, 2019 at 7:55 pm
I’d forgotten that Woolworths always had the initials F.W. before they got dropped from the name. My sister learnt to bell ring at St Luke’s Chelsea, but the St Luke’s ringers also rang very regularly at St Mary Abbot’s too.
May 24th, 2019 at 8:44 pm
Does the RBKC picture archives have any of the King’s Rd 1955-1970 especially any of Mary Quant’s Bazaar boutique? REASON: In the 2nd week in July there will by an unveiling event of a plaque to commemorate MQ’s first boutique – now Joe and the Juice, at 138a King’s Road – the actual location. I designed the plaque and it was funded by Caodgan Estates. Plz email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to know more about the project and can help with photo query. Thank. Keith Howard
March 8th, 2022 at 8:16 pm
Thank you for keeping the amazing history of this area going.
I have just stumbled across your page while searching for the history of my great great great Grandfather (William Austin) & his son ( Francis) whom owned & lived above the linen draper with his 6 children during the mid to late 1800s at number 60 Kensington High Street.
Would you or any of your followers hold any history on this please as I would be fascinated & very grateful if you could share any information.
Many thanks in advance.