Author Archives: Dave Walker

The May Queens of Whitelands College: the early years

It’s that time of year again when the May Queen Festival is celebrated at Whitelands College in its current home as part of Roehampton University (May 14th) and also when I write my annual post on the College’s time at Whitelands House in Chelsea. As with horror film sequels (Ginger Snaps Back: the beginning, Evil Dead 3: Amy of Darkness etc) the third outing usually goes back in time, so this time the pictures come from the period from the start of the Festival in 1881 to 1900 when its founding father, the art critic and writer John Ruskin died. Although he never actually attended the May Day celebrations Ruskin’s influence is seen strongly in this period when the whole idea was new.

For new readers I should summarise. Whitelands College, a training school for female teachers was set up in 1842 and had its home at Whitelands House in the King’s Road until 1930. The College was highly successful with supporters such as the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts but it was a strict regime. Charles Kingsley, father of the novelist of the same name and Rector of Chelsea reported an atmosphere of “silence, simpering and stays” at the College under a Lady Superintendent who had previously been in charge of a penitentiary.

Students of 1855 from 1924 WA

[1855 picture, probably half a group photo, reprinted in the 1924 Whitelands Annual]

The first Principal of the College was John Faunthorpe. Academic standards were raised and the College  judged to be the best in England by a government inspector. Perhaps he though the students needed something more than constant learning which may be why in his correspondence with John Ruskin the idea for a May Queen Festival emerged. It would be an annual event which would combine Ruskin’s romantic ideas of old English customs and rituals with the High Anglican tradition of the College. Between the two of them they glossed over the wilder pagan / medieval versions of May Day.

Each year there would be an election and the student judged to be the “likeable-est and the loveable -est ” (Ruskin’s words) would be crowned May Queen and reign for a year. I’ve covered this in my first post but to give you an idea of the tone of the early festival here is a quote from an article in the magazine Leisure Hour from 1886 which tells how the students idolise Ruskin (“the Master”) and how Ellen, the first Queen reacted. “The choice fell on the only girl present in black. She was mourning a dead father. The trembling maiden required some persuasion before she would consent to don the May Queen’s shining attire; and her first act after doffing it was to send off the pure white lilies that had surrounded her, to lie on her father’s new-made grave.” By suggestion the author of this piece links the festival with virginity and death.

You can imagine that the May Queen was an idea which appealed to the idealistic (or sentimental) view of young women which many Victorian men held. But you can also imagine that this was also an idea which the students themselves would appreciate. A day of processions, singing and dancing with one of them getting to be a May Queen, gifts of books for all the Queen’s companions and new white dresses all round. No lessons or exams all day. What’s not to like?

018a flower girls 1897[Revellers 1897]

And of course, as regular ceremonials do, the Festival got more elaborate. Once you’d been a Queen you were part of the history of the College and part of an elite sisterhood, and the former Queens got to come back and take part again.

004d Queen Minnie with Edith and Ellen and Gertrude 1884

These are the first four queens, Ellen (centre back, now out of mourning), Gertude, Edith and Minnie, in 1884. Minnie is wearing a dress which was worn by each queen from 1882 . It’s quite suitable as a robe of office but of course it meant the previous queens had to go back to ordinary white dresses. Minnie was back in civilian dress the following year.

005a Queen Rosa with Queen Minnie 1885

Dowager Queen Minnie is kneeling before her successor Queen Rosa in an act of homage which the annual photographs  show happening every year as the old queen makes way for the new.

007a Queen Margaret Coleman with Queen Elizabeth 1887

From 1888 the Queens used a dress designed by Ruskin’s friend and protege Kate Greenaway A green underskirt had been added to the queen’s robe. In this picture Queen Elizabeth I kneels before Queen Margaret. Below the Queen and her attendants, wearing mostly white versions of ordinary day dress, carrying the long sticks or staffs used in some of the ceremonies.

007d Queen Margaret and attendants 1887

The Queen’s companions are called her chamberlains or sometimes her bodyguards.

The  picture below is of Queen Annie with her own entourage in 1888.

008 Queen Annie Clarke 1888

1888 was the year that local resident Oscar Wilde and his wife Constance attended the Festival, back in his respectable days. Constance returned in 1892 and 1894 the year one of their sons presented a bouquet.

By 1892 they’d finally figured out that each queen would need her own dress. which would be a permanent part of her identity as a May Queen. Below, Elizabeth II establishes her individuality with a unique dress. (It would also make her easy to identitify in future group pictures as the number of former queens grew.)

1892 Queen Elizabeth II DSC_2435

The photographs themselves are by this time I think an important part of the Festival. They help to establish that sisterhood, a group of women bound together by the ceremonies, not just the queens but all the students. Although you glimpse the exterior world in the background of some of the pictures, you can also sense the atmosphere of a place apart.

In the pictures the pagan associations of May Day seem to emerge. A court of women in white decorated with flowers.. a new queen on a throne, renewed each year. A ceremony which might mean one thing to the clergymen officiating and another to the women around them. But let’s not get too Picnic at Hanging Rock.

019e Queen Elsie I and revellers 1897

Revellers, with Queen Elsie, against the background of an ivy strewn gothic wall.

020c crossed sticks 1898

In front of the same wall, the attendants, with their own special uniforms. The Queen now has a train like a bride which has to be carried by an acolyte.

020d procession 1898

The procession from the Chapel featuring the outgoing and incoming queens, and as time went by any others who could attend.

005d Maypole 1900

The Maypole dance. You can just see something of the real Chelsea in the distance as the age-old dance goes on.

004c Queen Eveline and bodyguards 1900

The 1900 Queen, Eveline. Below, she sits on her throne with her court of attendants and older queens.

004b Queen Eveline enthroned 1900

Photographs of the May Queens, and the celebrations have an undeniable charm in themselves, a romantic notion of a hidden place separate from the world outside. Think Hogwarts, or Brakebills or any boarding school story. The pictures are timeless because like fancy dress or theatrical costumes they show women out of their own time and hence more like the women of any time period. Quite a few of the pictures remind me of the 1970s era of folk music, pastoral psychedelia and mystical cults or movements. (Did you hear that Radio 4 programme Black Aquarius the other day? It covered  a whole area of modern interest in the occult in films and television. A May Queen festival could have slotted quite easily into that imaginative zone.) For other viewers they may bring back other decades and other impresions. Probably it makes you look back to when you were young when picturesque celebrations under summer skies seemed like a great idea. Actually as far as I’m concerned it still does, so I’m pleased that the May Queen (Or May Monarch) festival still goes on.

The picture below shows the 1897 Queen Elsie with her predesessor Edith II. (Seen in the procession picture above.)

019d Queen Elsie and Queen Edith II 1897

The two of them look elegant and confident as though the women, students and staff. had finally taken control of the direction of the Festival. Their dresses look a little like the one Lady Gertrude Agnew wore in the painting by John Singer Sargent. The picture also has a certain luxuriousness about it, or even sensuality. This is our moment, they seem to be thinking.

Postscript

As I’ve covered in two previous posts, (here and here) the celebrations carried on getting more elaborate and serious in the Edwardian era reaching a kind of conceptual peak then, and more light hearted after WW1.  The May Day Festival is capable of supporting many flights of fancy and perhaps a few moments of insight from me and others.

I’ve assembled a large number of images on the subject from the Library’s collection and the Whitelands College archives thanks to the help of the Whitelands Archivist Gilly King who graciously allowed us to have copies of the photographs from the May Queen scrapbooks. My thanks to her.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the series of images of group photos of May Queens of different years allows you to see individual women as they grow older. Matching them up can be tricky at times.I’ll take you through some of them one day. Maybe that’s next year’s angle. Obsessed, Moi?

Queens featured in this post: Ellen Osborne (1881) Gertrude Bowes (1882), Edith Martindale(1883), Minnie Griffiths (1884), Rosa Ashburne (1885), Elizabeth Blowfeld (1886), Margaret Coleman (1887), Annie Clarke (1888), Elizabeth Hughes (1892), Edith Desborough(1896), Elsie Wilkes (1897), Ellen Rose (1898), Eveline Head (1900)


Frestonia: the past is another country

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away (the past) a brave person of restricted growth and his staunch companions threw off the bonds of oppression and created their own magical land…….

Well, perhaps that’s not the way to tell it. North Kensington, once called by Michael Moorcock “the most delicious slum in Europe” was once a hotbed of community activism. Barricades were built, protests were made, community newspapers were published, councillors were locked in meeting halls. In the days before social media and citizen journalism, people made theselves heard with all the means at their disposal. One of those means was the creation of the Free Republic of Frestonia.

The building of the Westway cut through North Kensington leaving some parts of it a bit stranded. Latimer Road was truncated, Walmer Road was bisected (see this post, which has many interesting comments from former residents) and the area south of Latimer Road was full of empty houses and industrial sites earmarked for development.

Cover of planning document

[View looking south]

This vacuum was filled in the 70s by squatters who gradually built their own community in the empty houses and vacant sites.

House in Freston Road

[photo by Tony Sleep]

In 1977 the GLC (the Greater London Council, now just a memory but then an economic and social entity which was itself the size of a small country) decided to clear the area for industrial use.

But the inhabitants were prepared to fight back, at first in the usual way.

Freston Road poster HT photo by SS

[photograph of poster taken by Sue Snyder]

But these were ambitious, even visionary squatters who decided to create a new form of protest by declaring a small part of the area an independent republic in a move reminiscent of the film Passport to Pimlico.

Frestonia appliction cover

The members of this collective all became ministers of the government.

Frestonia page 4

And as you can see by this list they all added the suffix Bramley (after Bramley Road) to their names, apparently so they would appear to be one large family who in theory would have to be re-housed together.

When you’re sitting a few miles south of the scene of these events and more than thirty years later, looking at scraps of ephemera, cuttings and photographs  trying to piece them together it’s hard to see what’s serious and what’s ironic. But from what I’ve read and heard although it took the form of a prank Frestonia itself was both real and serious.

Frestonia map

There was an adventure playground:

Omar in Frestonia Garden

And an art gallery:

Carbreaker's Gallery 1979

[Photo by Tony Sleep]

A People’s Hall:

People's Hall

[The People’s Hall sometime in the 1970s, judging from the graffitti]

The hall hosted a National Film Theatre of Frestonia (Passport to Pimlico was one of the first films shown).

And more mundane activities.

Frestonia second hand sale

[A second hand sale. Photo by Tony Sleep (?)]

As you can see from the application to the UN the Foreign Minsister of Frestonia was the charismatic actor David Rappaport, probably most famous for his role in the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits and his appearances in the last series of Tiswas, although I remember seeing him at the National Theatre in Ken Campbell’s production of the Illuminatus Trilogy. He had something of a gift for generating media interest.

scan0000-page-001 - Copy

[article from Kensington News and Post 04 November 1977. And yes, I wondered about that spelling error]

The publicity generated by the declaration of independence served its purpose. The then (penultimate) leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler was in direct touch with the government of Frestonia. (Cutler was a flamboyant character but his fame has been eclipsed by that of his successor.) There was a public enquiry which ultimately supported the creation of a mixed use area providing living and working space. Nicholas Albery (Minister of State for the Environment in the government of Frestonia) in his account of his country in Inside Notting Hill (2001 edition) says: “Frestonia was eventually rebuilt…. with foreign aid from Great Britain channelled via the Notting Hill Housing Trust”

Some demolition took place:

Notting Dale Community Law Centre early 80s HT

[The Carbreaker’s Gallery and the Notting Dale Law Centre awaiting demolition. Is that Henry Dickens Court in the background?]

Many years later the area looked like this, still an area where people live and work. There have been more developments since this picture, taken sometime in the 1990s I think.

Freston Road area - modern photo

(Note all the instances of graffitt visible from this angle, one of which is above a Paint Shop. I should also just draw your attention to the housing block with the rounded shape on the left of the picture, known as the Ark by some of its inhabitants.)

Postscript

As I hinted above this is a sketch of Frestonia loosely pieced together from what I could lay my hands on, rather than any kind of definitive account. I had to employ a certain amount of guesswork about dating. If there’s anything you’d like to add please use the comments section. I’d certainly like to hear more about Frestonia and its residents.

Most of the pictures this week come from the HistoryTalk collection. I’ve identified the photographer if the information was available. The photographer Tony Sleep has a website with many more images at: http://tonysleep.co.uk/frestonia

For further reading take a look at Inside Notting Hill and Melvyn Wilkinson’s Book of Notting Hill.

David Rappaport died in Los Angeles in 1990.

Postscript to the Postscript

Notting Hill Housing (funded by Norland Ward Councillors for City Living Local Life Initiative) are having some History Walk and Talk sessions on Frestonia on 29th April and 6th May at 5.15pm (both days). Photographs taken on the day will be exhibited in a further session on May 27th. Contact Resa on 07931 523607 for further details.


Albert’s companions: art / empire / industry

Last week I noted that the climax of the Albert Memorial, the great statue of Albert took its place at the centre of a large group of other sculptures and figures. This week we’re going to have a closer look at those other statues. This picture shows the rising succession of steps and terraces

K- unknown

It is as though you are entering a sacred precinct in a temple complex. Perhaps you are. The Memorial is located at the apex of a series of great Victoria buildings among them the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Imperial Institute (the brainchild of Albert’s son) and the Albert Hall which together formed the area in South Kensington called Albertopolis.

Albert is surrounded by guardians representing geography, art, science and religion. The outer ring joined by an ornate fence is the four continents, each represented by a series of figures and an animal.

Albert Memorial - Africa

Africa, behind it the dome of the Albert Hall. This is a fairly partial view of the African continent concentrating on north Africa, with an Egyptian figure mounted on  a kneeling camel. (It was decided not to use a lion for Africa to avoid confusion with the “British” lion, although it might also have strained credulity to place a predatory animal among a group of people.) An engraving of the sculpture reveals a further detail.

Albert Memorial - Africa197

The Sphinx – Egyptian imagery was extremely popular at the time.

America gets another quirky treatment.

Albert Memorial - America

The spirit of America rides the bison wearing a native American head dress. The woman standing is the United States. The seated man is an Aztec and there’s a Canadian woman on the other side. You can’t see the south American cowboy behind the bison. (The relevant engraving is no help in this regard).

Europe’s animal was the bull, possibly a reference to the story of Europa who was abducted by Zeus in the form of a white bull.

Albert Memorial - Europe

The bull is the only male in the group. The spirit of Europe rides the bull holding an orb and sceptre. Britain holds a trident symbolising ocean supremacy. Beside her, peaceful Germany, a home of learning, sits with  a book. This time the engraving shows us the other side.

Albert Memorial - Europe 193

Europe 22 oct 1998

France has a sword for military prowess and Italy, with one finger raised as though shyly making a point, concentrates on the arts and music, with a palette and lyre. The 1998 photo shows that other side.

The last of the four groups was Asia, by John Foley who eventually sculpted Albert. This is the most striking of the four continents.

Albert Memorial - Asia

The woman on the kneeling elephant is unveiling herself not as an allusion to the sometimes explicit sculptures on Hindu temples but apparently because the Great Exhbition was a showcase for goods coming out of Asia. Beside her, a Chinese potter, an Indian warrior, a Persian poet and, unseen, an Arab merchant holding the Koran. You can glimpse him in the engraving.

Albert Memorial - Asia195

After the continents, on the main plinth, the Parnassus frieze. 169 figures of individual poets, painters, musicians, architects, the contemporary idea of the finest or most significant in their respective fields. The carving was all done on the spot by two sculptors, John Birnie Philip and Henry Hugh Armstead.

Frieze - Shakespeare etc

Here Shakespeare lounges next to Homer with Chaucer looking on. At the other end Bach and Handel exchange musical ideas. (Between them Gluck looks overawed by the company).

Frieze - Titian etc

A bunch of Italian old masters stand around. Raphael gets a throne, with Michaelangelo slumped against it deep in thought. (Not his only appearance on the frieze – he’s with the painters here and takes the central spot amongst the sculptors on another panel.)

Frieze - Wren etc
The rule was that no living artists could be depicted, but the Queen made an exception for George Gilbert Scott himself. Modestly, he had himself placed discreetly just above the shoulder of Pugin. Wren is at the centre of this group of architects.

Above the frieze another set of group statues representing industry – agriculture, manufactures, commerce, engineering

Agriculture - Copy

Once again a set of figures engage in the work presided over by an idealised personage – a female muse. You can also see further eminent men on the corners of the frieze.
Manufactures - Copy

Manufactures – Turner sits at the centre of the group underneath.

Commerce - Copy

Commerce, and below Engineering:

Engineering - Copy

Sennacherib the Assyrian king and Cheops stand there discussing building work. Between them, looking a bit weary of the whole thing is Nitocris, a 6th dynasty Egyptian queen holding a model of a pyramid (she was credited with building the third pyramid).

Finally we reach the canopy itself where a set of plain bronze statues representing the  sciences are gathered around Albert like a guard of honour

The lower group each on their own plinth:

lower group

Geometry, chemistry, geology and astronomy.

The upper group: philosophy, physiology, medicine and rhetoric.

upper group

I’ve rearranged the figures so they follow the spatial arrangement of the monument but if you look carefully you can see the figures are the work of two sculptors who took two corners each, our friends Philip and Armstead again.

The canopy is decorated by mosaics of four female figures- Sculptura, Poesis, Pictura and Architectura. I’ve picked the last one for a reason I’m sure you can guess.

Architectura

Then there’s the spire, inhabited by the virtues, almost too high to make out in detail – Faith, Hope, Charity, Humility, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice and Temperance  and above them two sets of angels before you get to the cross at the very top. This drawing shows the arrangement.

Spire

The whole thing is an anthology of Victorian iconography. Is it all a bit much for one man, no matter what he did, or how much he was missed? Well, you decide. The Memorial has proved to be a survivor.

Albert Memorial c1970 PC1397

This was it about 1970 with the ungilded Albert (and the statues on the spire, withthat bluish colour of old bronze.) And here they all are gilded again:  Albert, the angels and the virtues:
Memorial 22 oct 1998 - Copy

 

Postscript
It was a purely factual post this week, and also a picture marathon. I remember many years ago watching an Open University documentary about the Albert Memorial which covered much the same ground. Do you remember how they used to broadcast in the early mornings and early hours of the morning in the dead hours before 24 hour television? Perhaps it was the oddness of the hour or the seemingly random nature of the subject matter but that documentary stuck in my mind. Hence the need, once I’d started, to lay out as much of the whole scheme as I could, for you. I’m taking a couple of team members out on Friday to take a look. It’s a reminder to me that it’s a privilege to work in an area with such a rich heritage.

And I’ve sneaked in the title of a Bill Nelson song.

The Albert Memorial: illustrated by 29 photographs (c1872)

The Albert Memorial, Hyde Park: its history and description by James Dafforne (Virtue & Co, 1878)

The National Memorial to His Royal Highness the Prince Consort (John Murray, 1879)

The two modern colour photographs were by Maureen G Stainton and are copyright by her.


Albert’s memorial

Do you remember the Albert Memorial being enclosed?

Memorial covered 1990s

This curious tower of scaffolding came about as as result of a decision to repair and restore the most famous monument in London. A dangerously large section of lead had fallen from the canopy in 1983. After that, although it took some time for a final decision to be made, it was clear that some extensive work needed to be done. It took place over a period of several years and the restored monument was unveiled in October 1998.

26- 21 oct 98

Albert veiled…

28- 22 oct 98

…and unveiled, impossibly bright.

The restoration brought the memorial back as far as was possible to how it looked in the 1870s. The statue of Albert had been gilded again. My wife and I went down there at the time to take a look at something neither of us had ever seen, having grown up with the black version of the statue. (The gilding was removed during the First World War. The story goes that it was feared the gilding might provide a shiny target for Zeppelins, but it seems more likely it was a result of increasing pollution damage.)

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Albert, Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria died in 1861. The Queen was devastated by her loss, and the nation consumed by her grief and its own, along with a certain amount of guilt at not having appreciated Albert and everything he had done. The 1851 Great Exhibition was indentified with Albert and the work he had done for his adopted country. A national memorial to Albert would best be sited near the site of the Exhibition and also close to the complex of museums and educational establishments in South Kensington that was already known as Albertopolis. Funds were raised and a competition for the design established.

The outstanding design was by the presiding architectural genius of the day George Gilbert Scott. Scott is well known to us now as the creator of a number of iconic buildings such as the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.

Albert Memorial K75-177 cropped

A giant statue of Albert seated under a gothic canopy

Building began in 1864.

The memorial is a complex structure supported by a massive steel cross with an undercroft.

107

And an elaborate support structure.

114 K-13389p

Massive pieces of stone were assembled on the site.

122 K12389-kB

An overhead crane moved the sections of sculptured stone around.

123 K12389-Bc

All these pieces were slotted together under the direction of Scott and the builder John Kelk.

 

121 K12389m

The structure grew, under another layer of scaffolding.

120 K12389l

It opened in 1872.

Albert Memorial - before statue

This picture shows the memorial before the statue was installed in 1875. The original sculptor,Carlo Marochetti, had produced different designs for the statue, all unsatisfactory. He then died and they had to start again with another sculptor, John Henry Foley, who had created one of the surrounding groups. The absence of the statue of Albert makes you look more closely at all the other sculptures, representing the continents, the arts and sciences, the virtues and a host of famous men. We’ll have a closer look at them next week but just for now let’s say that Albert was placed in the context of all the arts and sciences of the 1860s.

The finished monument in the 1880s, magnificent, grandiose or sinister?

Albert Memorial 1880s

The memorial became a fashionable spot to be seen, as in this 1870s illustration of fashions on the steps of the memorial.

Fashions in Hyde Park a sketch on the steps of the Albert Memorial July 1873

Our old friend Markino depicted the same steps some years later, with a slightly thinner gathering of fashionable Londoners.

On the step of the Albert Memorial COL

It could be argued that perhaps as the monument aged and suffered the ravages of city life, the Victorian taste for excess in decoration, and the Gothic style itself began to seem dated, and odd. Over the weekend I happened to watch the Jonathan Miller film of Alice in Wonderland, which was designed to look like the photographs of that era. Alice is another product of the 1860s, feverish and fantastic. I don’t want to labour the comparison but it may be that hallucenogenic quality shared by Alice and Albert which captured the popular imagination again in the 1960s when we began to appreciate Victorian taste again

When it was clear some major repair work had to be done in the 1980s the possiblity of dissassembling the monument for good was briefly considered. But not seriously  I think. London loves its strange monuments, and remembers that the memorial exists because these two individuals loved each other.

Victoria and Albert by Roger Fenton

 

Postscript

Now, I know what you’re thinking, some of you anyway. The Albert Memorial is not actually in Kensington but across the border in the City Of Westminster. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that Queen Victoria had the border moved so that the memorial and the Royal Albert Hall would be in Westminster. However, the Memorial is in Kensington Gardens, and is closely identified with Kensington by many people. Culturally I think it is just as much a part of Kensington as Westminster.

And of course we have a lot of interesting material in our collection including some images not often seen. So I hope you’ll let me off. Especially as I found so many pictures that I decided to do a second post next week devoted to the surrounding sculptures.

The two books by Chris Brooks about the memorial were invaluable to me with this post. The first image of the covered memorial is from the 2000 book. Photographs 2 and 3 are by Maureen G Stainton and are copright by her. The picture of Victoria and Albert is by Roger Fenton. All other images are from the Local Studies collection.

The Albert Memorial. The Prince Consort National Memorial: its history, contexts and conservation. Edited by Chris Brooks. Yale University Press 2000.

The Albert Memorial by Chris Brooks. English Heritage 1995.

 


Kensington close ups – part two

The last time we were on Kenington High Street in the last few years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th we were around here, in the stretch of the street east of Kensington Church Street:

Kensington High Street 59 GN37

Number 59 Kensington High Street, home of Lorberg and Turpin.

A slightly closer view:

Kensington High Street 59 GN37 close up

Grinding of all kinds is occuring within and a woman is leaning slightly to one side examining something fascinating in the window. Mr Lorberg’s assistant (or is that the lower case Mr Turpin?) is examining the photographer. My favourite though is the man on the left. Has he sneaked into the picture of his own volition or has the photographer, Mr H or Mr S Stiles included him to add some local colour?

I promised you more of the High Street so let’s move on.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5 close up

I used this picture last time but repeating it gives another chance to mention Mr Jubal Webb once more (sign on the awning) but also to note how narrow this section of the busy High Street was at this time. Road widening did not take place until the early 20th century.

This image is several hundred yards further back.

001 Kensington High St 1893 Town Hall & TH Tavern K1406C

The Town Hall Tavern is there, opposite the Town Hall itself (demolished in the 1980s). If we look closer:

002 Kensington High St 1893 Town Hall & TH Tavern K1406C - Close up

A slice of retail life. A horse takes a meal break ignored by the passers by and the driver (waiting for a fare?).  A trio of workmen deep in conversation. A couple of elaborately dressed girls being addressed by a shop keeper while their parents look in the shop window. In the foreground a lone woman looks after two more similarly dressed girls.

The next picture is essentially the same view but from slightly further away.

003 Kensington High Street 1905 K12308-B

You can see a clearer view of the intersection with Kensington Church Street and the Civet Cat. You can also see more of the Station in its original form before the familiar arcade was built around it. The sign reads “City and back 4d”. That’s four old pennies for those who can’t remember pre-decimal coinage.

003a

In the background by the single storey kiosk (A picture of it here), a trio of women all wearing white blouses. In the foreground, a pair in darker clothes with a weary looking small dog between them. In the centre a couple of men, one of whom has only one leg. He’s using a single crutch to move along. These details always seem surprising, although they shouldn’t as these kind of visible disabilities were more frequent then.

The next picture takes us back even further:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN12

The street is crowded with horse drawn vehicles. On the right you can see the awning of Ponting’s store on the corner of Wright’s Lane. (We caught a glimpse of it here). On the right:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN12 close up

A more impressive dog, with his man. The number 11 is still advertising Pear’s Soap.

Further back still:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN2

This is the southern side of the street. The Town Hall Tavern sign is barely visible in the distance. (It’s there – I just checked the original scan). You can read the sigh on the delivery wagon though:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN2 close up

Pearson and Sons. The milk churns show what line of business Mr Pearson was in – urban dairies were big business on high streets in the days before refrigeration. I believe the rest of the sigh reads: “Cows milked on the premises”. I’ll do a post on urban dairies sometime in the coming months – they were usually assiduous in promoting their services.

I don’t know what the girl in the foreground is doing – hiding her face from the camera? Possibly. Note the woman on the right holding the umbrella, wearing her hair down. An adult but maybe younger than the other women you see in these photographs.

This picture is taken from a viewpoint even further west.

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18

The retail and buiness section of the High Street is now in the distance. The building on the left is the Holland Arms. (see a print of an earlier version here , from the post on Hosmer Shepherd in Kensington) The trees beyond it are in the grounds of Holland House, still of course a private estate at this time. The trees on the right belong to more private houses and gardens behind iron railings. This is the road to Hammersmith. There’s a certain amount of traffic, private and public:

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18 vehicle detail

I can’t make out the lettering on the horse bus but as we’ve seen before it could easily be a route we recognise from today, a 10 or a 73.

On the other side:

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18 detail

To the scanner’s dismay those two strolling ladies remain in the shade of the tree. No amount of coaxing from me will get them to take a few paces forward so we can see them properly. I’ve reached this point with old photographs many times before. The fascination is as much with what you can’t see as what you can.

To compensate for this, let’s remain in the general vicinity of Holland Park and move back to the gates to the public path way on the east side of the park. We’ll have to jump forward a hundred years or so to another summer day and another pair of women walking side by side unaware that the photographer was taking a picture of the gate.

Holland Walk looking north from Kensington High Street 1973 KS3802

The fashions of 1972 are different but the wide pavement and the foliage are not dissimilar and ladies are still taking a leisurely stroll away from the busy High Street.

Postscript

If the pictures seemed a little blurred this week my apologies. I suppose you can only zoom in so much. Actually I feel a little blurred myself. After last week’s successful exhibition launch I came down with an infection involving much coughing and a general feeling of feverish lassitude so it’s a wonder I got this written. I had a few more ambitious ideas but they’ll have to wait for another week. I owed you a return visit to the High Street anyway. I’m not finished with the Stiles brothers either. But possibly something more exotic next week.

A reminder that as many of you already know this year’s City Read book is the excellent Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, the first in his series about the adventures of the Metropolitan Police’s apprentice sorcerer Peter Grant. If you haven’t read any of these (and why haven’t you?) this is a good time to start as many London libraries, including Kensington and Chelsea are giving copies away this month.  Ben Aaronovitch is appearing at Kensington Central Library on April 20th.

 


Modern life in Kensington:1937

This week we’re going back to that house we caught a glimpse of in the post about two photographs from the 1860s. In the course of the research about them I came across not only an estate agent’s brochure for the house but also a hand written mock-up of the brochure from Chesterton’s, who have been long established in Kensington.

This week’s pictures are not of the same house though, not really, because in 1937 when it went on the market the Victorian suburban villa had been turned into an ultra-modern town house, with every new convenience. It was “a model example of the art of reconstruction, combing all the advantages of the old and new; with every possible labour-saving refinement.” They always say that though, don’t they? Let’s go on a tour and see for ourselves.

Front view - loose photo

The house was re-modelled according to the design of George Grey Wornum, a leading architect of the day, now remembered best for the RIBA building in Portland Place, and the interior of the ocean liner the Queen Mary. One of the pieces about him I read called him something like a progressive traditionalist. You can see that. It looks like a 30s building but not nearly as radical as say the two houses in Chelsea Old Church Street we looked at last year.

Inside the prospective buyer could see some understated luxury.

Drawing Room 02

One end of the drawing room, with its “recessed hardwood staircase providing additional access from the dining room ..and leading to the south terrace.”

The view of the other end of the room shows “the maximum natural light” (the 20s and 30s were the era when people really began to appreciate , and even worship sunlight”. This “superb room” is “of a height quite unusual in a modern London house and, while homely, is suitable for receiving 150 guests”. Not that homely then.

Drawing Room 01

In those days you also had a library, “panelled in a rich brown walnut” with “large concealed cupboards built in.”

Library - Study

There’s another example of a library in a 30s conversion here.

“The casement door leads to the garden beyond.”

Garden view - loose photo

“Campden Hill is quiet and healthy” Far from the madding crowds of Kensington High Street down the hill but still convenient for the shops. The three big stores on the high street all owned by the John Barker company by this time were in their heyday in the 30s.

rear view showing terraces

“The Terrace is electrically lit”. The door on the left is the Library. The other three open off the drawing room. Note the sun terrace on the second floor, another favourite feature of the sun worshippers.

Far end of the garden

The far end of the garden “contains an Italian pool and a delightful sunken rose garden, overlooked by a small summer house.”

You could have quite exhausted yourself by this point, trekking to the rear of the property. Just have a quick look at some of the “fittings and equipment”:

Boiler

“The Iron Fireman Stoker fitted to the Boilers is Thermostatically controlled and stokes automatically for weeks on end with no labour other than the simple operation of the removal of clinker.” Sounds great. Just get the parlour maid some overalls and she can do it. She can relax afterwards in the Servants  Sitting Room.

“The house is centrally heated on the Panel System. Electric Power Points are also provided in every room.”

There’s more natural light in the dining room through the “glazed ornament cases”. The artificial lights are “cleverly concealed in ceiling and cornice”.

Dining Room

Here’s the view of the dining room from the hall.

Hall

At this point in the tour you’ll want to have a look upstairs, via the “circular sweep of the landing”.

1st floor landing

And we can relax in the principal bedroom.

Principal bedrom 01

It’s another nice large room, with a shiny ceiling.

Principal bedrom 02

You get a rug by the fireplace with its own sheep.

The suite is completed by a large dressing room, two bathrooms in pastel shades and a wardrobe corridor, its walls lined with seven completely fitted and automatically lit lady’s wardrobes (gentleman’s wardrobes are in the dressing room).

Principal bedrom 03

Is that the door to the wardrobe corridor? Some nice padding there. If you get lost in there, the maids’ bedroom (for four occupants) is also on this floor, with their own bathroom in a seperate corridor. An improvement on the attic, no doubt.

I certainly wouldn’t complain. Just take the weight off your feet before you go.

cover - sitting room

Postscript

The house is still there, in Upper Phillimore Gardens with some alterations to the front (and possibly many inside). Apart from the other links I’ve inserted you could also have a look at some slightly earlier “modern” interiors added to the gothic mansion known as the Abbey, which was just down the hill. There are some colour pictures of 1930s interiors here.

A couple of days ago we had a launch for our World War 1 exhibition which will travel around libraries, schools and community centres in the Borough over the next few months. My tanks to everyone who made it happen. For those of you who won’t get to see it, much of the material we used, from our archives, and contributions from local people, is also on our Great War website: http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk. Have a look.

Postscript to the postscript – April 1st

I’ve just looked at a copy of Trystan Edwards’s Good and bad manners in architecture (1924) courtesy of my colleagues at Westminster Central Reference Library. It contained a picture of the house prior to Wornum’s remodelling. Here it is:

15 Upper Phillimore Gardens from Food and bad manners in archittecture  - Edwards 1924 p138 captioned a house designed by Ruskin - Copy

It’s the gothic one. If you remember this was also discussed in the post Two streets in Kensington. Thanks to Susie H for retrieving the book.


Royal Court posters

I’m not a great afficionado of the theatre, so I haven’t been able to think of a clever title for this week’s post. In fact when I tried to think of all the times I’ve been to a theatre since I came to London in the 70s I got past the fingers of one hand but didn’t make it to the end of the second. Still, more by luck than judgement I’ve managed to see some good performances – Malcolm McDowell and Beryl Reid in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Jack Shepherd in Michael Kerr’s Dispatches, local hero David Rappaport (and many others) in Ken Campbell’s Illuminatus Trilogy, and one visit to the Royal Court Theatre to see David Edgar’s Mary Barnes, which is chiefly memorable to me for Simon Callow’s performance as a psychiatrist.

But anyway, my inconsequential reminiscences bring us to the Royal Court Theatre and the collection of posters we have in the Chelsea Local Studies picture collection. I’m not attempting any kind of thematic or chronological selection.I’ve picked these particular ones because I’ve heard of the play, or the  author, or one of the actors, or (mostly) because I just liked the image.

00002 Top Girls

Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls from the early 1980s featuring several well known names.

This revival of Alfred Jarry’s 1896 absurdist drama has just one name on the poster:

00010 Ubu Roi

Max Wall the former music hall / variety comedian famous for his iconic physical style of comedy who turned to straight acting in his later years and did many “serious” roles. It also featured Colin Welland, Kenneth Cranham, Robert Powell and Jack Shepherd and was designed by David Hockney.

Somewhat earlier (note the phone number):

00006 The Ginger Man

An adaptation by J P Donleavy of his own sensational novel. This may not be the original production which starred Richard Harris but the names are famous enough for me. That 1959 version went to Dublin but was closed after three days for “offensiveness”. I’ve read the novel and from this distance in time I can barely grasp what the problem might have been.

A different degree of offensiveness was also a problem in 1972. John Osborne’s career wasn’t going too well. His new play A sense of detachment didn’t altogether help.

00018 A sense of detachment

His own wife Jill Bennett pulled out from a leading role to be replaced by the diminutive actress Denise Coffey. (In 1972 I would have known her as one of the cast of the pre-Python children’s comedy show Do not adjust your set.). The play was pornographic according to critics and many were outraged by the lines Rachel Kempson had to say – although Kempson herself was deeply committed to the part and dived into the audience to attack two of the most vociferous hecklers. Clever poster, though.

In an earlier age Carry On star Jimy Thompson took the lead in a version of a French farce.

00007 Monsieur Blaise

It was adapted by his wife in 1964.

There was some nudity in this 1974 production.

00003 Life class

Rosemary Martin spent an hour naked on stage as an artist’s model. Alan Bates, who famously performed nude in Women in Love, kept his clothes on. There was a poster featuring the unclothed Ms Martin which caused a minor scandal on the tube but this version is more decorous.

Another pair of actors who rose to fame in the 1960s were in this 1973 double bill:

00017 Krapps last tape

Krapp’s last tapes is a solo performance as was Not I, in which Bille Whitelaw, now celebrated as one of the great performers of Beckett’s work delivers her monologue with only her mouth visible.

Tony Richardson directed this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in January 1962.

00019 A Midsummer night's dream

It featured Ronnie Barker, James Bolam, Samantha Eggar, Alfred Lynch, Corin and Lynne Redgrave, Rita Tushingham, David Warner and Nicol Williamson (to name, unfairly, just the ones I’ve heard of.) And the image is pretty striking.

Edward Bond did his own version of a Shakespeare story in 1971.

00020 Lear

Quite a violent piece of work by all accounts. Bond also produced another new version of a classic.

00012 Three sisters

It’s a more conventional poster.

A couple of famous names in the last part of a trilogy of absurdist drama in 1962:

00011 Exit the King

Big Wolf (1972) by the German playwright Harald Mueller. I’ve included this one purely because I like the image.

00003 big wolf - Copy

This 1970 comedy by the Brooklyn writer  Michael Weller has a provocative title.

00005 Cancer

The play was an examination of communal living in the counter culture. Weller later changed the title to the far less interesting Moonchildren.

One of my favourites:

00009 Other worlds

Robert Holman’s play is set in north Yorkshire in the 18th century. One of the main characters was a talking monkey, which apparently confused the critics.

I may have demonstrated that I don’t know that much about the theatre. But I do know that these posters are a fascinating aspect of the history of graphic art in the second half of the 20th century.

Postscript

Was it colourful enough for you? If you enjoyed theses images let me know. There are many more. We’ll be back in black and white next week.

Finally, a bonus image – a poster I scanned before we had the book scanner so the top and bottom are cut off, but it’s still worth seeing.

Sugar and Spice - Royal Court poster

Sugar and Spice by Nigel Williams  (1980) featuring the young Toyah Willcox and just over her shoulder a just as young Caroline Quentin.


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