Author Archives: Dave Walker

South Kensington: pedestrians and other travellers 1970

One of the differences between Londoners born in London and those who come to it later in life like me is the way we “learn” London. My wife was born and raised in Chelsea. She got to know the area round her home as a child and as she grew up her world grew logically. I first came to London on holiday, to stay with relatives and see the sights.

“A foreign student said to me / Is it really true? / There are elephants and lions too / At Piccadilly Circus?”

Then I was a student myself. My London grew around the first travel aid I had, the tube map, so isolated pockets of familiar territory gradually expanded and (usually) joined up. These pockets are also chronological layers so occasionally a piece of your deep history comes up against a new place you’ve come to know. I pass through the area near South Kensington Station several times a week but it was also one of the first parts of London I visited regularly. It’s near the museums of course and there’s  a small district of shops clustered around the station on the four or five streets which converge on it. We’ve looked at one of those streets, Pelham Street, before in the photographs of John Rogers. John’s task was to take pictures of the streets and the buildings in them. The inhabitants of the streets were incidental. But in this week’s collection the people take over that small territory and become the main subject of the images.

 

 

There’s a good selection of 1970 people waiting for the bus westwards.  Three examples of the middle aged woman in a headscarf, still common back then. Two young women with fashionable carrier bags , one in an early maxi-coat, a hefty teenage boy out of uniform but not yet sure what he is supposed to wear, and walking past the queue a dude whose hair is getting good in the back wearing a trendy coat. Lots of life here, and an advert for Red Bus Rovers, a boon for anyone who wanted to kill time by going to,  say Homerton, at the end of the line. This is the Thurloe Street entrance to the station.

 

To the right, a tobacconist (with room for toys and games) a fruiterer, and a confectioner. Note the people crossing the road , including the mother with two sons.

 

 

 

There is a ladies outfitters, Merle, occupying two shop fronts (business rates must have been low, but of course for clothes in 1970 it was either shops or mail order catalogues). According to Kelly’s directory the next unit is Dino’s Restaurant which you can see in this post about Pelham Street.  Below, we’re looking east along Thurloe Street.

 

 

 

A father and daughter are crossing the road, looking out for traffic. They might have appreciated the modern Thurloe Street which is now largely pedestrianised.

 

 

 

A young woman has crossed safely and the bus has gone. The woman at the stop was in the first picture I think. There were two stops, one I think for 14s and one for 74s. The 49 also stopped there, and the 45A started and terminated just round the corner in Exhibition Road.

Then as now, many of the businesses in this area were food outlets of one kind or another. Here is the South Kensington Restaurant (or the SKR).

 

A quite extensive establishment. Note the road marking for Fulham.

Her’s the other bus stop with an expectant family duo.

 

 

Along with a TV and electrical store, and another Cafe.

Next to it the Medici Society shop, for prints and cards, the only one that remains today.

 

 

And a Wimpy Bar! The rather half-hearted British attempt at a hamburger chain which we had before McDonalds. Remember the plastic covered menus, and the waitress service (the British didn’t queue up in a cafe back then)? The burgers were okay as I recall but then we didn’t know any better.

 

 

Pultney, for books and prints, with a smart father and son passing by, and another restaurant, Daquise, on the corner. You can see some paving in the middle of the road which kept the streams of traffic apart in the comparatively narrow street which had to take, cars, pedestrians and buses turning off Brompton Road.

I’ve enlarged a detail from the next image to show you the most fashionable woman in this group of pictures.

 

 

 

The lady on the left of the duo, wearing a very 1970 cape, a new trend at the time. As always with these pictures you can enlarge them enough to get a sense of the person but not much more.

Opposite the shops Thurloe Street meets the tail end of Exhibition Road. That island can be seen more clearly.

You can also see some metal structures on the island. These are air shafts for the foot tunnel which leads from the ticket hall of the station under the road to the museums in Exhibition Road.

The bus is actually a 207a (a former trolley bus route) which came all the way from Hayes, sometimes terminating here, sometimes going onto Chelsea to where the 31s (now 328s) finished. You can just about see a man in a London Transport white coat standing next to the bus.

Almost occluded by the bus  is another restaurant, Chompers, which I note partly because it’s a characteristically 1970s name but also because I ate there once with my friends Carl and Trixie. I’ve already recorded on another occasion that Carl sadly died in 1999.  Pictures of South Kensington remind me of him because he went to nearby Imperial College and lived in student accommodation in Cranley Gardens, very close to where I live now. So those two small areas are among the deepest layers of my personal chronological map of London.

Beyond the air shafts are the offices of the Kensington and Chelsea Post newspapers.

 

 

This is the opposite corner of Thur;oe / Exhibition Road.

 

 

(With a nice Jaguar / Daimler.)

 

 

 

That single story outcrop from the two terraces runs the length of the block. Here are some more air shafts, and a bookseller, with a purposeful dude striding across the street. There used to be a shop on that side of the road that sold all sorts of paper crafts and art materials. There are no pictures of that in this set. But it’s in a different chronological layer of my London history. You can’t visit them all at once.

Postscript

When I was first in London I wanted to go to Blake Hall, a station I saw on the Tube map near the end of the Central Line. It sounded interesting. But I never did, and you can’t now, although I believe the station buildings still exist, on the way to Ongar.

The lyric at the start comes from a song on the Jethro Tull album Aqualung, which I might have already disowned before I came London. But the words stuck in my mind.

I should also apologise to anyone called Blanka Azdajic, a name I have used  a couple of time in my Halloween stories. I consulted by friend Nina when I wanted an authentic sounding Serbo-Croatian name. Too authentic it seems. So let me just say my Blanka is a fictional character and her place of work is not located in this universe. I was a bit short of inspiration this year. I had thought of sending Blanka on an urban exploration expedition to some desolate industrial site but I couldn’t think what might have happened there so I left it thinking I wouldn’t bother this year. Then I saw some pictures of the old market hall in Chester and I remembered buying magazines and comics there. I still own some dilapidated  copies of Castle of Frankenstein and other magazines including one whose cover is devoted to a film called the Brain that wouldn’t die. (You can find it on YouTube. ) In the information poor early 1970s the monster magazines were often the only  way horror film fans could find out about particular films. Castle of Frankenstein was one of the more literate of the genre. The reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Frankenstein on the cover last week was to an obscure book by the creator of Tarzan and John Carter called the Monster Men, a sort of cross between Frankenstein and the Island of Dr Moreau. I had (and presumably still do have somewhere) a tiny Ace edition.

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Halloween story – the shop

This year’s Halloween post has been sent to us by Blanka Azdajic, Acting Head of Visitations at the Institute of Hermetic Research. It originated with one of the researchers who used to visit the Supplications Room at the Institute.

When I was a teenager, 15 or 16, I would go into town on Saturday mornings, buy a couple of meat pies from Blake’s and mooch around the few places that sold books and records. Or I might go to one of the tiny newsagents and ask to see the latest batch of American comics, usually Marvel which some of them kept in the back as there was very little room on the racks. Or I might go into the old Gothic market hall, a huge open space with a glass roof where, along with the clothes and food stalls, there was a place you could buy monster magazines.

 

On this particular day I had to stay at home in the morning for a visit by my Uncle James so I didn’t get into town until mid-afternoon. Blake’s had sold all the pies. I spent some time in a new record shop in Watergate Street in the Rows so when I got to the market it was already starting to close.

 

 

I rushed to the stall and quickly bought two issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and one of Castle of Frankenstein, more than I could afford really after buying two LPs, but if there wasn’t enough change in my pocket for the bus I could always walk.

 

 

There was an exit at the rear of the market which I had never used but I could guess where it came out. I found myself in a yard behind what I assumed was a pub, rather run down. But there was an open gate so I carried on into a narrow cobbled street. There were a few of these near the cathedral so I was not too surprised. But although it was a bit overcast and there was a slight drizzle it didn’t seem like late afternoon, more like midday.

 

 

The street wound round a corner as I expected past a couple of shops. The first sold elaborate antique dolls and tin toys. One of the dolls was almost life size, slumped back like a person who had just passed out. It wore a shiny dress too big for it. A cat, also pretty substantial, dozed on the ends of the skirt. There were a number of small grotesque figurines on a shelf. They were strange enough for me to want to move on, especially as the next shop was a bookshop.

It was clearly full of antiquarian books, but visible through the window were two browser boxes full of colourful hardbacks and paperbacks which looked like my kind of thing and might not be too expensive. I went in, causing a bell to ring. No-one came immediately so I started looking and regretted it at once as there were several books I wanted, some quite reasonably priced.

 

A Panther edition of HP Lovecraft’s Dagon and other macabre tales with a marvelous cover in black and white showing a number of squirming demons. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the ghost finder (I loved the House on the Borderland and would buy anything by him).

 

 

William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and Soft Machine with their mirrored covers which I knew would be beyond me but I wanted anyway. A small hardback by a woman called Hope-Elliott which I had heard of in an introduction by Lin Carter to a Lord Dunsany book.

I put the pile on top of the box and looked around. Near me was a shelf of illustrated books, featuring artists I had heard of – Aubrey Beardsley, Sidney Sime, Arthur Rackham – and a book called Sweet Gwendoline which I found riveting but knew straight away I could never contemplate taking home. As I hastily returned it to the shelf I heard a rustling sound and realised that someone had been sitting at the back of the room all the time I was there. The person wore a long old-fashioned dress like something in a costume drama. As I looked closer I realised she (or he?) was wearing a mask like a doll’s face.

 

I froze up as my eyes seemed to meet the living eyes visible through the eye holes. I was sure I was ready to bolt out of the door if the person spoke to me.

But it was someone else who spoke, a woman of about 30 I thought. She also wore a long dress but this was more like a modern maxi skirt, gauzy and brightly coloured.

“Have you found something? I normally put the boxes outside but the weather looks a bit treacherous.”

I showed her what I had selected.

“Oh yes, all good stuff here. This is my kind of thing too.”

She glanced across at the masked woman.

“Don’t let her bother you, she only does it for effect. Laura, take that thing off, you’re bothering the customers.”

Laura did as she was asked, revealing a pretty girl only a little older than me. She also removed her wig and showed her own hair, straight and black cut in a bob. She wore black make-up round her eyes, presumably to make them stand out through the eye holes of the mask. She still looked pretty, very pretty in fact. The two of them were beautiful but left me apprehensive as confident young women sometimes do when you’re a teenager.

Laura smiled at me in a friendly way but didn’t say anything.

“No one I know better for mysterious and enigmatic if that’s what you like” said the woman. “I’m Alice. Now I see you’ve picked out Travels to Faery. That’s a good one. That shows a degree of discernment on your part if you don’t mind me sounding a bit patronising.”

I told her where I’d heard about it.

“Oh Lin Carter! Always letting the cat out of the bag. Now if you fancy that, I think you would love this.”

She produced a small green hardback, obviously old, with an ornate design on the cover. I had seen a few books like that at Uncle James’s London flat.

“Helena Endicott. Impressions of the Hidden World. 1936. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of her brother? No, probably a good thing. This is quite rare but I believe that books should find their owners.”

She named a price that was not outrageous for my pocket and I was so under her spell that I would have bought it at twice the price…if only I had the money.

I mentioned my lack of cash. She asked to see the LPs I’d bought and the magazines. I got them out and she looked at them closely. Laura picked up the Castle of Frankenstein and started reading it. I asked if she would keep the books till I could come back, maybe even the next day. She frowned a little at this and then seemed to come to a decision, smiling at me.

 

 

“What you should do is open an account with us and then you can take the books away today. Sit down, let’s just fill out a form.”

There was no form. She just wrote down my name and address and date of birth on a sheet of cream paper, with an expensive looking fountain pen. She got me to sign my name at the bottom, then wrote hers, Fletcher. She took a small lancet out of the desk drawer.

“There! Now just a drop of blood. Oh, don’t worry, nothing to be afraid of.”

Before I could object she was holding one of my finger in one hand and pricking it with the lancet, squeezing a tiny drop of blood into a small wine glass filled with water, or what I assumed was water.

“No problem, was it?”

She was applying pressure to the finger. The whole business was incredibly strange but I tried not to show any alarm. Alice produced a plastic bag with a complicated design on it, but no name or logo, and put both the books and the magazines into it.

Laura held up one of the LPs. It was the Black Widow album, Sacrifice, the one with Come to the Sabbat.

“I’d quite like to hear this. Can I borrow it?”

“Never refuse a pretty young woman” said Alice. I had no intention of arguing.

She looked up at a framed print on the wall. I recognized the street as local.

 

 

She put on a raincoat and walked me to the door, saying she would show me the best way back to the Town Hall square. As we went out, Laura waved to me and said bye. The last thing I saw was her drinking the water in the glass in one go and starting to replace her mask.

It seemed like early evening again outside the shop. Alice took my arm and walked me down the street. It seemed like a long way to me but as we emerged into familiar territory she waved to a taxi and ushered me into it. She handed the driver some money and off I went.

I let myself in and was immediately surrounded by my parents, my sister and Uncle James. There was a lot of fuss about where I had been and how long I’d been gone. It was about 10 in the evening which seemed unlikely to me but apparently true. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned the reason for the panic. Two teenage boys and a girl had been injured by falling masonry leaving the market the day before, one of them quite seriously.

I went back to the shop early the following Saturday. I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t even find the street or even the rear entrance from the market. I went back on several occasions at different times and tried to approach the rear of the market from every possible angle but it was never there again. I have no explanation. I never told anyone about it.

I had the books of course. I consulted books at the library and later at other libraries in London and elsewhere. The paperbacks were mass market editions and could be bought elsewhere and I found the book by Hope-Elliott in several libraries and archives. But I never found the Endicott book in any list or bibliography, or any biographical details about the author. There was an American artist called Endicott but I could never confirm if he had a sister.

The book itself was fascinating and quite unlike anything I’d ever read. In my opinion it should have been famous. I half expected to find it in Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Fiction essay which is in Dagon but it seemed to have escaped his notice. You could perhaps have described it as a book of short stories but most of the “impressions” were just brief anecdotes or vignettes, some of them overtly supernatural, some not. There were mirrors and dolls and disappearances, which was all quite appropriate. The one that stuck in my mind concerned a narrator who watches a cat trying to stalk a squirrel. He imagines himself intervening to save the squirrel if the cat got lucky and then tells a story of a young woman “of the 1860s walking in an ornamental garden at dusk wearing a crinoline dress, proceeding in a stately fashion, when a lady vampire happens by”. Just at the point where the vampire has seized the young woman another watching presence “masked as if for a carnival” suddenly appears and pulls the vampire away, gripping her by the neck like grasping a cat. The young woman pulls up her dress and sprints away. The narrator wonders how often God, or some other spiritual entity intervenes in small events.

There is also a story involving premature burial. By coincidence it was in Castle of Frankenstein that I first saw the Harry Clarke illustrations for Poe.

 

You would think a series of half-realised narratives like that would not amount to much but I found the book highly absorbing and it became one of my most treasured possessions, as if the author was a close friend. Perhaps because of that I never made a big thing about it to anyone else, although I carried on trying to find out more about it and its author.

More than 40 years have passed since that incident. I came to London, made a career and have lived for a long time in a flat inherited from Uncle James. My parents are dead and my sister lives in Australia. Today I went to see a consultant at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital and got some bad news about a set of test results. Not the end of the world, said the doctor. Let’s line up a few tests, an MRI, a colonoscopy, some more blood work. But I hadn’t been expecting anything good that day and didn’t feel optimistic. I walked out of the hospital in a bit of a daze and found myself going through one of the revolving doors thinking of Tom Cruise, who goes into the same building (masquerading as a New York hospital) late at night in “Eyes wide shut”. A nurse wearing the distinctive blue uniform with a mandarin collar under a padded coat walked with me.

“You never did come back and pay Alice for those books, did you?” she said. I looked at her properly and realised it was Laura, the girl who wore a mask all those years ago. She laughed at my shock. Naturally she barely looked a day older.

“Oh don’t worry about it. She’s used to waiting. Shall we get a coffee?”

A few minutes later we sat in Starbucks looking out of the window. She pointed up Hollywood Road where I could see a pair of shop fronts which looked familiar. I couldn’t remember if they’d always been there.

“It’s mainly that Endicott book we’re interested in. You don’t happen to have it with you, do you?”

I did. I had taken over the years to carrying it around with me whenever I was expecting something significant to happen.

“That’s good. We could go over and see her now. You know, she’s looking for some help in the shop? It might mean starting again at the bottom, but really, who wouldn’t mind being 16 again?”

She smiled at me in that same way, friendly but a little bit scary.

“Take your time.”

Just like in one of those supernatural stories which end with the opening of a door or something as the narrator keeps up the story to the bitter end leaving only a series of dots…

I opened my IPad where most of this narrative was already stored and added a few lines.

Laura takes a mask from her bag and puts it on. She zips up the coat and pulls up the hood. The expressionless face looks at me and her gloved hand reaches out to take mine. I save the document and attach it to an email. I’m ready to press send as soon as she says, shall we go?

 

Normal service will resume next week. DW

Venice Carnival photographs by Peter Hhuck. Book and magazine covers copyright by their publishers.


Blog extra: one million

It’s only a number.

Obviously.

But a million page views is still a bit of  a landmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to everyone who has read and supported this blog since 2011.

[Photographs by James Hedderly, John Bignell, Edward Linley Sambourne, unknown, unknown, Adam Ritchie and Kate Pragnell (possibly). Cremorne cover also anonymous]


The end of Camelford Street

The name of Camelford Street is continued in one of the walkways on the Lancaster West Estate, which is what drew my attention to these pictures of the original street, which are part of our 1970s photo survey. This view is looking west.

 

 

In some ways a classic street scene from the 70s as we saw in Hurstway Street a few years go. The derelict properties, a few residents hanging on, and the inevitable varied collection of cars. Look at that Jaguar in the foreground with some damage to the front end. I once (in Dalgarno Gardens I think) came across a little crescent which seemed to be full of old Jaguars and Daimlers. (for another Jaguar story see this post).

Camelford Street was more or less erased by development in the early 1970s. For those of you who need a reminder, here it is on an OS map updated about 1971.

 

 

As you can see it was in  a block of houses and larger buildings  between Ladbroke Grove, Lancaster Road, St Mark’s Road and Cornwall Crescent. By the time of this map much of the demolition had already taken place. The 1935 map shows the houses which been there a short time before.

 

 

(Note the Convent on the other side of Ladbroke Grove. We had a look at that when the blog was young.)

Demolition had already begun in the picture below showing the rear of Ladbroke Lower School.

 

 

On the other side of the road there was still some signs of life.

 

 

This view is further up the road showing the exposed party wall of a house already boarded up, with the same estate car (a Ford? Or a Hillman?)

 

 

Beyond that a gap in the houses where you find the old school gates with signs for Girls on one side Infants on the other.

 

 

 

Next, another section of near complete demolition.

 

 

Solomon Wolfson School is visible in the background.

This is the final stretch of the north side of the street. Note the pile of tires on the left, a sure marker for imminent destruction it seems.

 

 

This is the south side of the street. There’s that Land Rover and that unknown old car from the first picture, and Kelly and Mick have left their mark.

 

 

On the left is the pub at the end of the street, the Ladbroke. Here is a better view.

 

 

This is the view looking back to the end of the street. That Triumph Herald on the right looks a bit the worse for wear. And is the vehicle behind it a little damaged too? Was it an informal collection of vehicles ready to be scrapped or broken up for parts? A lot of that sort of business was still done on the streets in 1970.

 

 

It really was another age. Ladbroke Crescent is now an innocuous cul-de-sac leading to a primary school behind a fence and a stand of trees which partially conceal it.

Postscript

I was amazed that there are still little streets I’ve never seen pictures of before. While writing this post I came across another so lovers of back waters and forgotten byways can reat assured that there will be more in the future.

 


Two hospitals

I’m starting this week’s post with a few pictures by our new best friend Bill Figg who sometimes strayed as far north as the Fulham Road

 

 

Although this view is about 25 years years old I still remember St Stephen’s Hospital pretty well. I went there several times, including one memorable occasion not long after my wife and I were married. She had managed to stab herself with a screwdriver while opening a tin of paint. Annoyed with the situation, and with me, she only lingered at the hospital long enough to get the small injury stitched. When we got out onto the street she was as pale as a vampire but refused to go back inside. I concentrated on getting her home.

 

 

There’s another pale woman in a long dark coat. St Stephen’s was a former workhouse / infirmary (more of its history in this post). Despite the addition of a new wing it was showing its age and the plan to replace it was on the whole a good idea. On the right of the picture,  you can see another new building, the Kobler Centre / St Stephen’s Clinic under construction, on the corner of Netherton Grove.

 

 

This picture shows the other buildings in Netherton Grove, including the nurses’ home.

 

 

The new hospital the Chelsea Westminster, finished and opened in 1993, which combined units from several hospitals in west London was under some planning constraints. The building could not be too high so the architects opted to use the maximum amount of space on the site to create a large box with an atrium inside it.

The Library is lucky enough to have been given given a folder containing a set of photographs taken during the construction of the hospital. Regular readers will know that I love a building site so I make no apology for presenting these construction scenes without much further historical commentary. In fact the Figg photos merely act as an introduction. As I frequently do I scanned far more pictures than I could us in one post. I’ve been trying to cut down the number but  haven’t entirely succeeded. If you’re not a fan of building construction stop here. The rest of us can enter a world of scaffolding, concrete, mud and heavy machinery.

 

 

A view looking down at Netherton Grove. Blobs of cement scattered around like they were flicked from a giant brush.

 

 

Another view of Netherton Grove showing the collection of temporary working spaces.

 

 

A view of the Fulham Road from the site.

 

 

A nice big hole. With its extensive basements and car park, the building began as a giant pit but this is just a minor hole by comparison.

 

 

One side of the building

 

 

A gathering of small vehicles.

 

 

The framework of Internal spaces before walls and ceilings.

 

 

A wider internal space, possibly one of the wards taking shape.

 

 

A mass of scaffolding.

 

 

The central atrium with the skeleton of a staircase.

 

 

Another red steel skeleton, of one of the lift shafts.

 

 

The vertiginous view down an almost finished shaft.

 

 

In another light well, an enormous pipe, now clad in a pleasant colour, almost as if it was one of the many art installations in the finished space.

 

 

And onto the roof. Here in the distance you can see the World’s End Estate.

 

 

 

And on a much brighter day Stamford Bridge football ground. I love these views from the calm spaces at the top of buildings.

 

 

Back on ground level with some scaffolding and the usual green material behind some billboards. A quick visual credit for the Laing company who have been involved with many of London’s major building projects.

 

 

As as local resident I was pleased to see our new hospital open. I never realised at the time how much time I would spend inside it over the years so let me thank its designers and builders and all the doctors, nurses and other staff who have worked there in the last 24 years.

Postscript

Special thanks to Dr Sarah Cox and Professor Mark Bower. (I could add many more names but you don’t want to see a long list) Thank also to Les Wallis without whom we would not have these photographs.


The Children’s Library murals: 1947 and afterwards

Today’s post requires another story about the archive life. Sometime in the late 1990s I found myself, with a couple of companions piloting a large trolley (with pneumatic tires, bought for transporting paintings) down the King’s Road, carrying some large metal sheets from a basement in Manresa Road, the home of the first Chelsea Library to the second Chelsea Library in Chelsea Old Town Hall, where they would be stored in the Print Room. Why? Well , here goes. And this is just the short version.

 

In 1947 a group of students from the Royal College of Art designed and painted a set of murals for the Children’s Library in Chelsea Library as part of their course. The murals were installed with some fanfare and written about in the Studio magazine in 1950.  A few generations of children and librarians lived with them. In 1978 the Library moved to larger premises at Chelsea Old Town Hall on the King’s Road but apparently no-one  thought to bring the murals along. The Manresa Road building was taken over by Chelsea College / King’s College. The ground and first floors carried on as a library, and the basement became a student refectory.  Possibly straight away, possibly a little later, the murals were deemed surplus to requirements and were painted over with emulsion, in  the usual dull colour. Time passed by. But not much time. In 1981 when some electrical work was under way the murals were noticed and some interested parties took them down and removed some of the paint. There was a little bit of interest in the local press (some of it inaccurate) and one of the original artists was brought in to see his old work. The murals were stored in a back room. More time passed, until I got a call at a point when it looked like the building was about to be rented out. Would I like to retrieve the murals? Like a proper archivist I said yes definitely and organised an expedition to remove them and transport them by trolley to the Library. At that point more time passed, and the murals remained preserved in temperature controlled conditions until they were moved to this building. Finally I was recently asked if someone could view them and three of us took them out and pieced them together like a jigsaw.

Naturally, one of the first things I thought was: there’s a blog post in this.

 

 

The three artists were Malcolm Hughes, who went on the become head of the Slade School of Art,  Neville Dear and George Ball.  That’s George Ball in the picture above doing some touching up while balancing on a shelf, a picture almost certainly posed for the benefit of the photographer. (The pictures were painted at the College and brought in when completed).

Below, Neville Dear. Possibly. The picture is by Dear but that guy looks a little like George Ball again to me. I wonder if the photographer is using a bit of artistic licence.

 

 

It’s definite though that the man below is Malcolm Hughes.

 

 

And here is Hughes with one of the others pausing from their labour and looking artistic.

 

In this picture they look a bit visionary. Matter of life and death?

 

 

Some credit should be given to the photographer, John Vickers for setting up some excellent pictures of children.

Some of them are awed.

 

 

(Although the girl in the beret got distracted by a book, which as a librarian I can only approve of)

Let’s have another try.

 

No, she’s still thinking of what she’ll take home.

All right then, pretend it’s a library. Get a girl to stand under the arch and pretend to read a book.

 

 

The girl in the beret had her book stamped and has gone home to read it. When she grows up she writes about fairies and vampires and in the later stages of her career writes a series of crime novels which are ultimately turned into a television series by Netflix starring Natalie Dormer.  Or not.

There is an actual mystery.

 

The murals in the entrance hall, depicting a lively mob of children tumbling down some stairs.

 

 

And another group in the corridor leading to the library.

The whole set of murals has not survived but  we have 18 panels, most of the ones in the two rooms of the Children’s Library. The Malcolm Hughes panels from the entrance hall are now gone. I’ve heard it suggested that they were destroyed during building work but we do know that Hughes was consulted about the panels in 1981 and may have visited the site so I have no idea why they were not in the basement when we collected the panels we have now. Perhaps someone took them away but we don’t know who.

What you want to know now I expect is how do they look now?

Well considering they’ve been covered in emulsion and had it scraped  off and some damage was sustained installing and removing them they’re mostly not in bad condition.

 

Here you see a couple of panels from Neville Dear’s series about the seasons of the year set on an imaginary farm, and below the two that went next to them.

 

 

There were also some isolated panels we couldn’t quite join together.

 

Some of the figures are a bit odd.

The next ones are from  George Ball’s series about childhood activities and these also join up

 

 

Many of the panels still have sections of emulsion on them.

This side panel which obviously went over a doorway still has plenty of paint on it.

 

 

I rather liked the slightly weird soft toy.

This one also had paint on, but I was intrigued by the continuing image so I did some careful but amateur restoration work on it and revealed the faces of the girl with the drum and the boy next to her. You can see them in one of the photographs above.

 

I should add that the unfortunate mark on her chin was already there and not due to any carelessness on my part.

Why a rural setting in a city library? Well all I can say is that it was intended by the artists “to offset the town background of the actual library” according to the Studio magazine. When I casually referred to the Powell and Pressberger film “A matter of life and death” earlier perhaps I was picking up on the atmosphere of their films which combined nostalgia for a rural past with the notion of a clean optimistic future of garden cities. It seems to fit with the pictures.

At the end I suppose you have to ask about artistic merit and it must be admitted that the surviving panels are not the greatest things ever put on a wall. But they have a certain atmosphere about them, a feeling of the post war period, and a naive charm. From the photographs it looks like the Hughes panels were the most accomplished so it’s a shame that those are the ones we don’t have. But that’s the unlikely story of the Children’s Library murals. I sometimes call myself a professional hoarder  because I have the instinct to collect things for the collection that other people might have thrown away. Sometimes this pays off.

Postscript

The Royal College of Arts is said to have a full set of slides of the murals, presumably taken in the days when they were new and hadn’t been through years of alternating careless and considerate treatment. I hope so anyway. As I said above we got them out because someone expressed an interest in seeing them and although I can’t leave them laid out in our archive rooms for a long period if anyone’s interested in the next couple of weeks, email me.


The King’s Road in the 80s – portraits of a moment

There have been many months of chance meetings, hints and even some begging and pleading but my friend, photographer CC has finally allowed me to see part of her collection of photographs taken in and around the King’s Road in the 1980s. I’m not going to give you a whole lot of social/fashion history by way of introduction but for the few who don’t remember, the King’s Road, having been part of a  fashion revolution in the 1960s did the whole thing again in the 1970s and 1980s when punk came along and suddenly a new teenage tribe was parading through London.

A few weeks ago I featured some street scenes from the King’s Road in the 1990s photographed by Bill Figg. I made the point that Bill knew there was something new in Chelsea which needed to be photographed, but he just wan’t quite sure what it was, and I imagine he found the idea of taking photographs of people in the street a little daunting. Well that’s true even today in the era of street style photography. But in the punk era part of the point of the new fashion /anti fashion was to to be seen, and whether you were admired or denigrated by the “normal” world didn’t make much difference. Punk was either a step forward into a new weird scene or a threat to civilization. What I sometimes have to explain to people who weren’t around then was that it was both playful and serious. CC was around then, camera in hand, and set off to record what she saw. Unlike our friend  Mr Figg she understood what she was looking at and had an artist’s eye for what she saw.

 

 

This picture was taken outside Chelsea Old Town Hall. What strikes me most is the precision of the look, as carefully constructed as any  Regency dandy. Punk began out of a kind of do it yourself style. Like this young man, improvising with found objects.

 

 

The style developed although it retained that improvised element.

 

 

Some people like to be photographed, some don’t. CC’s rule of thumb was ask – Can I take your photograph? – and if the answer was no, just walk away. Quite a lot of people said yes.

 

 

These two were quite happy to pose, even revealing the all-important rear view.

 

 

In the early days it was always useful to walk around as a duo.

 

 

There was a certain amount of hostility from the straight world so it helped to have a friend, and look like you could resist any physical abuse. My recollection of London in this period was that it was a little more violent than it is today (although knives and guns were a lot rarer then) and it took a certain amount of bravery to be a punk.

You should blame me for the colour in this image. the original is a slide, which I scanned not entirely successfully. But I wanted to use a picture of a striking young woman.

 

Here is another.

 

A picture taken in a tattoo parlour in the Great Gear Market.

As the 80s progressed some of the punks became New Romantics.

 

And the modern boys and girls got jobs in King’s Road shops.

 

Outside Boy. This young man was one of CC’s favourite subjects. (Look at the size of his Walkman) This is his girlfriend.

 

Another willing subject from the same vicinity.

 

 

The teenage tribes morphed onwards. Punk was followed by New Romantics, Goths and other less definable looks. What didn’t change in the 80s was the desire to get out there and be seen.

CC also photographed her friends. Her is her hair stylist dressed up for a party as a famous 80s person.

 

You don’t need me to tell you who.

You also might not need me to identify one of this duo posed outside the Chelsea Potter.

 

 

Leigh Bowery and Trojan, both sadly no longer with us. CC saw them being photographed by David Bailey and asked if she could take a picture as well. Neither of them could resist posing for one more shot. Showing off was the essence of the art of being seen.

 

Postscript

My thanks to CC for supplying these pictures. None of them are part of the Library’s collection and copyright is retained by the photographer. If anyone wishes to reproduce them in a professional capacity I can put you in touch.

And if you like them, there may be more. And of course if you are one of CC’s subjects, please leave a comment.

Another one

You could say that Tom Petty, who died sadly young this week at the age of 66, doesn’t belong with punks and new romantics even though his career began with a 1978 album. But death isn’t neat, so once again I’m noting the passing of a musical hero. Tom Petty’s music looked back to the 60s as well as forward in to the 80s and he captured the essence of the times in many memorable songs. many of the tributes and features have mentioned “American Girl”, quite rightly, but I was drawn back to another song on his first album.

“…didn’t go to bed, didn’t go to work/ picked up the telephone and told the boss he was a jerk….

…I know what I want, I want it right now / While electric guitars are playing way up loud..”

Anything that’s rock’n’roll’s fine ”

A sentiment few old punks would argue with.


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