Author Archives: Dave Walker

Backwaters 2

I was going to do a sequel to Backwaters a couple of weeks ago when I got sidetracked onto Pelham Street so this week we’re going back to the mewses crowded with parked cars and street names you can’t quite place back in the early years of the 1970s.

Like Ledbury Mews North, featuring the usual cluster of cars awaiting servicing, men at work and cramped first floors, offices or homes reached by odd looking staircases:


Ledbury Mews North south side 1972 KS3654

Or names like Sheldrake Place.


Sheldrake Place garages behin 17- east leg 1969 KS2877

A sunny  little spot off Duchess of Bedford’s Walk not all that far from the Library. Or Morton Mews:


Morton Mews KS5842

A semi-residential alley in Earls Court, a stone’s throw from Cromwell Road, dominated by the rears of apartment blocks in Barkston Gardens and Knaresborough Place. It’s the element of seclusion which is the essence of a backwater. They can be close to major thoroughfares or hidden away.

Russell Mews looking north 1972 KS21

This was Russell Mews in 1972, now known as Russell Gardens Mews, a cul-de-sac which sneaks away from the north end of Russell Road. Take a virtual walk up Russell Road on Google Maps these days and you see a residential street with comparatively modern housing on its western side. There is a discreet gap which leads to a footbridge over the railway to the station at Olympia but in 1972…

Russell Road west side Olympia 1972 KS144

The area by the footbridge was an open space mostly used as a car park. You can see the station at Olympia and the great curved roof of the exhibition hall.  There was a fine selection of 70s vehicles.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS124

A lone VW camper van parked outside the fence.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS174

A triumph Herald, parked next to the fat more stylish Ford Capri (see this post for my quest for this particular car). The mark 1 version I think (the mark 2 had a hatchback as I remember it. Car experts can correct me if I’m wrong). I wonder what TWA stood for? Not the airline I assume.

Our photographer got as close as he could without crossing the border into Hammersmith.

Russell Road Olympia station looking north from garage courtyard 1972 KS20

Park between the lines? I can’t see any lines.

Here you can make out a sign.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS124

“Motorail Terminal” Now look back at the picture featuring the Capri. Are cars lined up on a platform waiting to be loaded onto a train?

Not one of these:

Russell Road Olympia station looking north from garage courtyard 1972 KS194

A regular tube train I think, but I’m happy for further information from rail enthusiasts.

I seem to have got stuck in this particular backwater, but before we move on, one more picture.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS104

This shows Russell Road looking south, leading down to Kensington High Street. The house just visible to the right of the trees are on over the railway bridge on the south side of the street, and they’re in Hammersmith.

We’ll stay on the border though, heading north to a street off Holland Park Avenue, just before the roundabout at Shepherd’s Bush.

LOrne Gardens Duke of Clarence 1977 KS2

Lorne Gardens, with the Duke of Clarence pub.

Lorne Gardens 13 and wall 1977 KS8

There is another of those residential enclaves but there is also this paved open space.

Lorne Gradens looking north rear of Beacon House 1977 KS17

Note the abandoned bike and on the rear of a building called Beacon House some graffitti, including a name: Chico.

And unusually this concrete staircase which looks as if it belongs in a much wider space.


Lorne Gradenssteps to Kensington Hilton 1977 KS20

It forms part of the unexpectedly brutalist rear of the Hilton Hotel in Holland Park Avenue which had a much milder front facade. It looks distinctively late 60s / early 70s.

Lorne Gradens looking north 1977 KS19

Did it ever appear as a film/TV location? I’m thinking Man in a Suitcase, or possibly Edge of Darkness.


We’ve been having a few technical problems with the computer linked to our scanner so at the moment there’s no scanning being done. Hence an early appearance for this post. I have a few posts in draft form in various stages of completion some of which are a bit left field so if it takes a while to sort out our computer you might see some slightly odd or tangential posts in the next few weeks. The longer it takes, the stranger the posts. Bear with me, and expect the unexpected.

The Bridge: Ladbroke Grove 1938

The original station at Ladbroke Grove was called Notting Hill station and was part of the Hammersmith and City Railway (later the Metropolitan Railway). It was built in 1864. If you look back at the post on Ladbroke Grove you can see it as it was before the street north of the station was built up. This is a slightly later view:

Ladbroke Grove Station PC1137

This kind of view, showing the railway lines passing over the street on a steel bridge is familiar in many parts of London. The station was subsequently called “Notting Hill (Ladbroke Grove)”, “Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove” and “Ladbroke Grove (North Kensington)”. It didn’t settle down as “Ladbroke Grove” until 1938.

This coincides with the replacement of the bridge itself, a tricky maneuver  as the plan was to prefabricate the new span, detach the old one, roll it away on trestles and slide the new one into place. This week’s pictures show the story of the new bridge from the foundry in Middlesborough where it was constructed to its new home in North Kensington. Just as in our posts on the Westway when it helps if you’re a fan of concrete this week is for devotees of steel.

K61-1115 624.2 wide view of wokshop

At Dorman, Long & Co of Middlesborough, in the apparent chaos of the foundry sit the parts of the bridge, dim light from the glass roof streaming through the overhead gantry.

K61-1116 624.2 girder and roof

And men at work, welding the sections of the girder together.

K61-1113 624.2 outside girder

A helpful sign has been placed in front of the workers by management. Photography was becoming part of the industrial process, keeping a record of big jobs. Note the brick huts at the rear of the picture. They remind me of a summer job I had at the Shotton Steel Works in North Wales. Within the vast space of the cold strip mill the fitters huddled in huts waiting for the call (and I carried the bag of tools).

K60-130 624.2 outside girder

Here a man uses an oxy-acetylene torch, holding the mask between his face and the flame.

K61-1114 624.2 welding

And below, with the girder on its side. You can see the flare of another torch on the left.

K61-1112 624.2panel

The same view from another angle:

K61-1111 624.2 panel

The upside down writing reads: end plate girder B. A couple of indistinct men pass by taking a close look at the work.

A picture showing some detail with another caption, pointing out the flange splice (a piece of industrial poetry).

K60-129 624.2 flange splice

And this, another expressive phrase.

K60-131 624.2 butt weld

After all the assembly work, all that remained was the small matter of installing the new bridge at Ladbroke Grove

K61-1109 FP bridge

Cranes on the track with a house on the western side of Ladbroke Grove on the other. Can you see the word Greig? Not something superimposed on the pictures but a sign above a shop on some kind of metal superstructure. Two workmen and a manager (distinguished by his homberg hat) look on as the cranes lower the girder into place.

K61-1118 624.2 bridge on top

You can see the street below the work as the bridge is put into place.

A finished weld:

K60-133 624.2 weld

We can tell that this picture was taken on site because you can just see the top of a roof line on the right.

K61-1117 624.2 bridge from south

A final view looking north at the bridge, a few decades after the first picture in the post. A couple of men in coats confidently watch from below. You can see the steel trestle supporting the new and old sections of the bridge. The street (and the railway) were closed for the work which was completed in a single day. The bridge was then the largest of its kind.

Girder C has another painted sign : Hammersmith End. Very useful. You wouldn’t want to have got it the wrong way round, would you?



After May Queens and shops in South Kensington it was good to get back to some industrial images. Remember the posts on the gas works, the water tower and the building of Chelsea Bridge in 1936? We had a discussion in the department about how we think about the 1930s and how political and social events seem to crowd out the technological changes which were happening between the two world wars.

Thanks to Tim who found these pictures and suggested them for the blog. He also came up with the suggestion that a phrase I was particularly taken with,”butt weld” was a brand name for an American anti-diarrhea medicine. Sorry.


Three Queens at Whitelands: 1906

It’s that time of year again when a blogger returns to the subject of the May Queen Festival at Whitelands College for the annual blog post on that subject. Can I find something new to say? Well, earlier in the year I wrote a piece for the Chelsea Society Annual Report about the May Queens and read the Whitelands Annual for 1906. I thought it was interesting enough to look at that year in more detail.

I should add that the particular copy of the Annual I was reading originally belonged to a student at the College, Violet J Welch. She’s written her name on the cover.

WA 1906 cover

This copy is also unique because between the pages I discovered two pressed leaves.

Pressed leaf WA 1906 p25

Were they from a tree in the grounds of the College?

Pressed leaf WA 1906 p39

There were a few available in the quadrangle.

Quadrangle WA 1906 p96 - Copy

1906 was the year of three queens. Usually there would be an outgoing queen and an incoming one. It was a two year course and the new queen was always chosen from the first year. But for some reason the queens of 1904, 1905 and 1906 were all in attendance. I’ve used this picture before as it’s one of my favourites and because the queens look a little as though they were characters in a Hammer film. (In reality they would probably have been scandalised by the idea if you tried to explain Hammer films to three young Edwardian ladies, but I ask your indulgence for my fancies)

017f Queen Florence with Queen Mildred and Queen Evelyn 1906

I promise that it’s the last picture I’ll repeat.

The first queen of this trio was Mildred Harvey

012c Queen Mildred Harvey Mrs Moss 1904 - Copy

Mildred, Queen of the May!

Queen of our hearts we hail today!

Sweetest and best among all girls art thou,

Fair as the flowers that rest on thy brow.

So said one R. Paton in 1904. And why not? The camera liked Mildred and she looks convincingly Medieval with the chair and the background (although I can’t quite make up my mind whether that’s actually a corridor in the College or one of those painted backcloths portrait photographers used then.)

The official photographs seem to have begun to be a significant part of the annual festival. There are plenty of photos of Queen Mildred. But none better than this one:

013b Queen Mildred I 1904 - Copy

The throne, the gown, the draped platform, the ivy, the arches and the flowers. I don’t know if she’s about to bless you or sink her fangs into your neck. Or if I could modernise my frame of reference a little hint of Daenerys Targaryen in that costume (Not as revealing obviously) . Stand back if she gives that command to the dragons.

The second queen is Evelyn Farthing. Here she is with Mildred, supplanting her on the throne.

014b Queen Evelyn and Queen Mildred 1905 - Copy

Mildred has been relegated to a stool next to the throne but remains the focus of the picture. That pillar looks even more like a backcloth.

Below the photographer is aiming for an artistic pose dispensing with the flowers. Evelyn’s gloved left hand holds a volume of Ruskin, usually the Queen of the Air. “Evelyn, the gentle, modest, dignified new queen.”

015e Queen Evelyn 1905 - Copy

I detect a sense that Evelyn was a little overshadowed by Mildred who got a poem in the 1905 Annual.

All happiness surround thy paths

Sweet Mildred!  None can tell,

What sadness now it seems to us,

To bid thee this Farewell!

Although Evelyn was not forgotten by the poets.

Evelyn, with beaming face,

And violet’s tender grace

Thy goodness we can trace with love abiding

Who leaves not dusty ways

When violets’ scent betrays

Where the flower nestling stays, its sweet face hiding.

From the 1906 Annual:

“May Day has come…the brightest, happiest day of all the glad new year.It heralded in the spring, the time of flowers, of the singing of birds, of a renewal of fresh life and hope to everything on this fair earth.It brought us Florence, a Queen with a name of happy meaning and a charm of gentle grace – a real queeen of hearts.”

017c Queen Florence 1906

Like Mildred, Queen Florence Hadaway poses outdoors by the throne with the leopard skin rug.

“The procession round the old world garden..Cloistered and secluded, the white robed maidens chanting in slow and stately array under the fresh budding lime trees, the warm sunlight dappling all their fairness. It seemed a picture of far off medieval days, when the sun went slowly and there was time and will and opportunity to rejoice in youth and joy and hope and in sunshine and flowers.”

017d Queen Florence and bodyguards 1906

After Queen Evelyn’s abdication speech there was some singing and country dancing but while the newly crowned Queen Florence was “engaged in state affairs” the Dowager Queen Mildred’s third year was celebrated with a masque just for her, subtitled the Pageant of trees and flowers was written especially for the occasion.

The masquers assembled below, represented Primrose, Laurel, Bluebell, Ivy, Violet, Moss, Daffodil, Woodbine, Hawthorn, Rose and Oak.

016b Masque 1906

They all addressed Queen Mildred swearing loyalty and devotion, laying flowers and branches at her feet. She replied to them all (the speeches are transcribed over several pages of the Annual) ending with these words: “So we bid you lift these blossoms from the lowly place in which ye have laid them, set them high in your hands and gather round us that we may gaze on their beauty before we pass on. ‘Tis love to us that ye have shown, and happiness that ye have promised and for that I thank you from my heart.”

All this sounds completely earnest and certain. It’s not hard to imagine that the participants took away a memory and a sense of having joined in with something special that they would carry with them for the rest of their lives.

The picture below looks like some kind of finale. All three queens are visible on the dais. (You can see a picture of Mildred’s masque in progress here in my first post mentioning the May Queens.)

017b Masque 1906

I’ve said before that this decade was some kind of peak of Edwardian optimism, expressed through fantasies of an older England  like the Chelsea Historical Pageant and many other instances of ritualistic celebrations. The optimism was never going to last. But the rituals linger on.  I attended last year’s May Monarch Festival.  I travelled there by bus through Fulham and Putney and kept seeing young men and women in costume dressed as fairies and astronauts and cartoon animals (it turned out that there was some rugby based event at Twickenham). It all seemed quite appropriate to a Saturday morning in early summer. So the urge to dress up and celebrate hasn’t left us. And it’s good to look back at Evelyn, Florence and Mildred, Christian Queens honouring pagan traditions.
017a Queen Florence Hadaway Mrs Robbins with Queen Evelyn and Queen Mildred 1906


The 1905 annual also contains a notice of the death of Queen Agnes Gourlay the 1899 Queen, who could have been no more than 25 or 26 : “The sweet soul of Agnes Gourlay entered into rest on March 28th of this year. Her illness was short and painful, but borne with the beautiful serenity of perfect resignation.” The annual often contained an account of a female saint usually martyred. Agnes’s sad death is portrayed as having something of that quality as though the Queens entered into a heightened spiritual state by joining this sisterhood.  Agnes I was missed out in last year’s post on the pre-1900 queens, so here’s her photo.

022 Queen Agnes I Gourley 1899

The backdrop places her in a sylvan scene. I found myself looking for her in the group photos of the following years to see if I could see any sign of her early passing. She doesn’t appear in any pictures after 1901.

The coronation of the 2016 May Monarch is on May 14th at Whitelands College, Roehampton. As it happens I’m working that day but my best wishes to the new Queen or King.

Pelham Street 1970: down by the station

Anyone who lives in the South Kensington area will probably recognise this view even though the picture was taken about 1970.

Malvern Court corner of Pelham Street KS5979

The building is Malvern Court. On the right side is Onslow Gardens, where most of the buses get down to the Fulham Road. On the left is Pelham Street. Both of these streets face South Kensington Station, from which the picture was taken.

South Kensington Station south entrance 1970

South Kensington Station, like its near neighbour Gloucester Road (see this post) is actually two stations. One is the original Metropolitan and District Railway station opened in 1868.

The other is the Piccadilly Line station.

Pelham Street north side 1970

The deep line was opened in 1906 . In those days it looked like this:

PC304 fp - Copy

(The Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway)  The two stations existed side by side although eventually access was purely through the District and Metropolitan entrance.

South Kensington Station south entrance 1970KS33

Note the older wrought iron lettering below the “modern” sign. And see how close the road is to the station entrance. The pedestrianised zone around the front of the station has enlarged considerably in recent years creating the modern plaza which makes things easier for walkers and the traffic management simpler.

I cannot resist a peek inside the arcade.

South Kensington Station arcade looking south 1970 - Copy

Vinces (groceries?) , (Hudson Brothers in grander times) are closing down and some winter fashions are being worn. (It’s January) The iron lettering is visible, as is the 3 minute heel bar.

But this post is not actually about the station so much as the shops and services clustered around it. In 1970 this included Dino’s Restaurant, and the intriguing Brazilian Yerbama Company, importers of medicinal herbs.

Pelham Street east side 7 Brazilian Yerbama 1970

The anonymous looking shopfront next to them with the handwritten notices in the window is an estate agent, the imaginatively named Pelham Estate Offices. And beside them, where you can now queue up for Ben’s Cookies, is Kontad Limited who sold Typewriters, Calculators and office equipment. Many of them are on view in the window with a sign for Grundig who made many electonic devices in those days. I used to own typewriters….(drifts away, reminiscing….)

Pelham Street east side 7-9 Kontad 1970

Those of you brought up in the digital age cannot imagine the relief I felt when I started to use a computer regularly for that new-fangled word processing. Readers of my own age group can spare a moment for nostalgia about worn out ribbons, jammed keys, carbon paper and correcting fluid

On the other side of the station building was a business with a puzzling sign.

,Pelham Street north side 15 LW Fleet upholsterers 1970

LW Fleet Limited, upholsterers. “Curtain makers, Upholsters, Decorating consultants” I think. Perhaps they were shutting down and didn’t mind the falling letters.

But hold on a minute. If you take a moment now and check out the eastern side of Pelham Street on Google Maps Street View all you will find next to the station is a wall, behind which are the rail tracks. It’s difficult to imagine a row of buildings in that spot, seemingly perched on the edge of a railway line but here it is – Station Buildings as you can see in the roof line sign below.

Pelham Street north side 17-19 Primitives formerly Cathay Gifts 1970

Although it looks unlikely, clearly there was room at the top of the slope to the tracks to fit in a row of two storey buildings with retail outlets such as Primitives (“dealers in works of art”). I was at the station this morning to have a look in the flesh (or should that be in the bricks?) and if you factor in the width of the Piccadilly line station there was room, although you must have had to be careful at the rear exits of the buildings. Let’s just look at the view from the platform.

South Kensington Station interior looking east 1970 - Copy

There is no view of the back of the station buildings. I had some hopes for the building on the right above the platform roof with a fire escape but I eventually found:

OS map 1949-50 South Kensington Station - Copy - Copy

A 1:2500 scale OS sheet which showed them. The building with the fire escape is an electricity sub station on the other side of the bridge (which is still there today).

Next to Primitives was Flair (“gowns”, according to Kelly’s Post Office Directory).

Pelham Street north side 21 Flair gowns 1970

Those two young women striding by look as though the goods in the Flair window are not going to delay them. (The puzzle is that clock, but more on that in a moment.) I’ve been looking at the windows above the shops. Something about those open windows and the visible light says office space to me, rather than residential (there are no entries in the eelctoral register for this section of the street)

Pelham Street north side 23 Ashley Shops 1970

At last, a famous name, Laura Ashley, with some of her distinctive dresses in the window. “Sale now on”.

In the picture below at numbers 27-29, the Rice Bowl, a Chinese restaurant and coffee bar. I don’t know why the clock with their name on it is still attached to Flair at number 21.

Pelham Street north side 27-29 Rice Bowl 1970

Beside the Rice Bowl at 31/33 another place to eat, Bistro 33. The owner didn’t spend too much time naming his or her establishment.

Pelham Street north side 31-33 Bistro 33 1970

Nice 70s lettering though, and a 70s dude walking by to give us some local colour. In close up you can see through the windows of the Mini that shepherd’s pie and Spanish omelette were on offer. Fairly standard bistro fare for the period I suppose.

I have no pictures of the remaining establishments, Stefan’s Delicatessen, Elsa (milliner) or Roger W Pliszka Antiques Limited, which is a shame. After them Kelly’s tells us: here is Pelham Place.

Pelham Place north end west side LT land 1970 KS133

Beneath the road (which is actually part of Thurloe Square) where those Morrises or Austins are parked and behind that ragged and overgrown wall is the railway, now going underground.

You can still see this distinctive building on the west side of Pelham Street, the brick chimney contrasting with the  plastered front. The wall is still there, benefiting from a little tidying up.

Pelham Place north end west side LT land 1970 KS143

The woman in the leather coat on the other hand has moved on now and might be harder to find these days.



I was off work last week and arrived back not quite sure what to do for this week’s post. Would it be Shakespeare related? What about those water colours by a 19th century lady? Or possibly Backwaters 2? I’d almost settled on that but found myself getting fascinated by these vanished shops which had been drawn to my attention by Michael Bach. So thanks to him.

On the subject of last week’s backwaters I should add that the pictures were of Royal Crescent garden square, W11, Railway Mews W11 (off Ladbroke Grove), Lexham and Radley Mews, W8, Lenthall Place, SW7 and Cavaye Place SW10. All north of the Fulham Road and therefore all in Kensington according to the traditional boundary. There will be more of them soon.

Backwaters: behind the streets you know

Royal Crescent Garden Square looking north east 1970 KS799

A quiet secluded spot not that far from here.

Some of this week’s pictures are places you can still go to today, others have vanished entirely. Most of them are quite different now. All of them are off the beaten track. You may have passed them by without noticing. London is full of such places. A name which ends in close, or place, or walk or court may be the sign of a backwater. Or mews – Kensington and Chelsea is full of those. A mews can be a short stretch of cobbled street just off a main street, or be part of a hidden network of semi-pedestrian paths behind a big public street.

Or it can be a daunting passage you never knew existed.

Railway Mews looking west 1970 KS1692

Leading to a place you never wanted to go.

Railway Mews looking north 1970 KS1691

Mewses (is that the word?) are often connected with motoring even today. In the 1970s, where all of these pictures originate, small workshops and showrooms were everywhere.

Such as here, Lexham Mews:

Lexham Mews entrance looking north 1976

between the large houses an arch leads to the mews, where you could have kept your horses and carriages if you had them and tradesmen could make discreet deliveries. Later, the chauffeur could live over the garage. The mews turns right and leads behind the houses.

Lexham Mews 3-6 looking south 1976 KS4102

In later times these buildings could be converted into small houses, with or without an integral garage. In this picture a woman stands at a door, possibly about to park her Rover, the quintessential manager’s car of the age. I first saw these kind of houses and streets in programmes like the Avengers (Steed lived in one). They had become trendy boltholes for the new classes of urban dwellers.

Lexham Mews no25 1976 KS4107

Just like this man.

Lexham Mews met Radley Mews.

Radley Mews no1 looking east 1976 KS4095

A mark 3 Cortina peeps out of a garage.

Mewses were also good locations for outlets of the motor trade, with the full range of services, workshops and even sales, especially the exotic marques like SAAB.

Radley Mews looking south SAAB showroom - Ace Motors 1976 KS4093

Now we turn to a vanished street, perhaps even forgotten by some.

Lenthall Place looking west 1969

Lenthall Place was next to Gloucester Road station. There is now  an office building on this corner, with a shopping arcade between it and the station. I often use the Waitrose store in the arcade so I must regularly walk this route in its modern form. But back in 1969..

Lenthall Place south side 1969 2

A grocery/bakery, the Casa Cura cafe (“hot meals served every day”) and Frank’s Sandwich Bar all single storey buildings built as makeshift appendages to the station. On the other side of Gloucester Road there are some surviving examples of this style. Further along some older terraced housing with retail businesses at ground level.

Lenthall Place south side 6-8 1969

Hair fashions by Leslie (“Posticheur”), with another snack bar which relies on a sign saying Continental rather than a regular shopfront. Somewhere for a dedicated set of customers I imagine. Including workers connected with the businesses at the end of the street.


Lenthall Place west end garages 1969

Like in many a backwater a set of garages, these ones more anonymous than most. Take a look back at Gloucester Road…

Lenthall Place looking east 1969 - Copy

Finally, a backwater that still exists but massively altered over time.

Cavaye Place looking south 1972 KS242

Cavaye Place is a street which begins and ends on the Fulham Road. This view looking south shows the covered alley entrance on the right and the gap where some older buildings were demolished and the buildings on the south side of Fulham Road are visible, like the former Midland Bank, the pale building on the left. At this point Cavaye Place was a muddy patch of open ground used as a car park. A modern building was inserted into the space behind the wooden fence housing offices at the back and retail at the front. For many years the Pan Bookshop (now a branch of Daunt’s) was there, a treat fro local residents like myself – back in the 80s you could have a meal at the now sadly gone restaurant Parsons, while away some time in the bookshop and then take in a film at the cinema visble in this picture.

Cavaye Place looking east 1972 KS232

The side of the cinema on the left where the other entrance to Cavaye Place is, once an ABC but later with many other names, and now currently part of the Cineworld chain.

This post might be the first of a series. There are may more backwaters in Kensington and Chelsea, and we could visit some more of them. But while you decide let’s get back to that quiet garden.

Royal Crescent Garden Square looking north west 1970 KS798


I’m also introducing a new occasional item which I’m calling “where are they now?”. In the course of looking at the Photo Survey I often come across people caught by accident during the course of their day. Here are three 70s people waiting to cross the road at Lexham Gardens. Are you one of them, or do you recognize anyone? A bit of a long shot I know….

Lexham Gardens 94-96 1976 KS4135 - Copy

Do you think they’re together? Or just three random strangers. Interestingly, it’s the woman who could walk down this same road today without attracting comment. But those flares…


Monsieur Bibendum’s house: the Michelin Building

People who know the way my mind works will already have been expecting this post after I reminded myself about the Michelin Man’s connection with Chelsea the other week and been wondering why we haven’t been here before. Those who know me spookily well will also make the connection with one of my literary heroes William Gibson, who included the image of the man made of tyres in his novel Pattern Recognition (which doesn’t have quite enough scenes set in the Borough to qualify for my fiction in K&C series). The protagonist Cayce Pollard finds some brands and trademarks toxic and disruptive to her talents. An enemy of hers uses the image of the Michelin Man against her. “that weird, jaded, cigar-smoking elder creature suggesting a mummy with elephantiasis. ” She counters the effect in various ways including a mantra: he took a duck in the face at two hundred and fifty knots. Fortunately she never goes near 81 Fulham Road. (Any other sufferers from semiotic distress should avert their eyes for the next few pictures)

The Michelin Man himself goes back to the 1890s when Edouard Michelin was struck by the anthropomorphic possibilities of a pile of tyres at a trades exhibition and asked the uniquely named graphic artist O’Galop to bring the conception to life. The new mascot got his name from a Latin phrase from the poet Horace: Nunc est bibendum (now is the time to drink) which in this case referred to the unstoppable nature of the pneumatic tyres, drinking up obstacles . (“le pneu Michelin boit l’obstacle!”) Bibendum was depicted holding up a glass full of nails and other debris of the highway. (The other hand of course held a cigar, indicating a love of the good life). He starred in a variety of posters from 1898 onwards.

Nunc est bibendum - Copy

Bibendum rapidly became not just a symbol of the Michelin company but a cultural icon in his own right, popping up in all sorts of places.

Theatre 01 - Copy

He had become one of the new icons of industry and advertising. Andre Michelin entered motor races to demonstrate the superiority of the tyres. The Michelin company  published its first guide book, promoting the idea of road travel, tourism and the rating of restaurants – the start of a parallel industry for them.

In the UK the company decided it needed a headquarters which would combine administrative, retail and promotional functions. The Michelin building was born in what was then a relatively obscure, largely commercial, area where Chelsea met Kensington.


Michelin House, designed by  Francois Espinasse and opened in 1911 turned out to be an imaginative, stylish and unique addition to the Chelsea landscape, and a celebration of their emblem. Bibendum had long since attained corporeal form and appeared in public for trade fairs, publicity events and even carnivals, as we saw a couple of weeks ago. He had become very much like a figure from folklore or a minor deity. Below he pays a visit to his new Art Nouveau temple in its opening year.

1911 London Olympia Motor Show

Note the stained glass windows, suitable for a 20th century cathedral, and the two spherical structures on either end of the facade. Originally two giant effigies of Bibendum were intended to stand there.

Inside there was a grand reception area.


A “touring office” like a reference library where travelers could plan their road trips.

touring office - Copy

And a workshop. Tyres could be bought, fitted, checked and repaired on the premises.

Workshop 1912

The exterior of the building also celebrated the company’s sporting achievements.

Michelin House postcard photo by Peter Moore

A series of 34 ceramic panels  depicted the exciting days of early motor sport.

Tiles 01b


tiles 05

Tiles 01a

The building added prestige to the Michelin brand and its ubiquitous emblem.

But times change, even for the demi-gods of advertising iconography. Michelin moved its head office in the 1930s, the stained glass windows were removed for fear of possible bomb damage (and subsequently lost) in 1940. The two globes had also gone by the time of this photo from 1971.

1971 article - Copy

This gloomy undated picture from our planning department shows that alterations were planned.

Michelin House pl03

But in 1985 the whole building was bought by Sir Terence Conran and Paul Hamlyn. The picture below also came from our planning collection. The globes were restored and the windows recreated as the building entered a new phase of its history.

Michelin House photo 1990s photo by David Nolan

The new version of the interior featured restaurants.

Palace of Vanities ILN Mar 1988 03a - Copy

And retail – below,  an 80s woman choosing candles.

Palace of Vanities ILN Mar 1988 04 - Copy

In 1988 the Illustrated London News featured the building as the first in a series they called sacred cows. As I went down to the Reference Store to find the article featuring these three images (“Palace of Vanities”) I noted that the bound volumes of the illustrious ILN came to an end a few years later. The great magazine unfortunately ceased publication in 1994.

Bibendum’s house survives, and  still amazes the passer by.

Palace of Vanities ILN Mar 1988 02 - Copy

Finally, back to where we began, with the early history of the man of tyres. Anyone sensitive to advertising, or just sensitive, should look away now….

Olympia 1908


The Michelin building is more of a hidden treasure than a sacred cow. As someone who lives in Chelsea I have to admit that I seldom see it. I just don’t go that way very often. But whenever I do it cheers me up. London should have more buildings like it.

The Library has a virtually complete set of the Illustrated London News from 1842 to 1994. It remains an amazing historical source. A digital version of the ILN archives is also available.


The Westway in colour: 1971

A friend of mine once defined psycho-geography as walking around and thinking about what you see. By that definition we’re all psycho-geographers at one time or another. So although Bernard Selwyn had no notion of psycho-geography when he took these pictures, he was on a psycho-geographical tour into new territory. This  week’s post takes us north of the Latimer Road areas we’ve been looking at recently to look at the almost new Westway in full 1970s colour.


A concrete island, with high rise blocks of flats on the Silchester Estate.


It looks remarkably pleasant doesn’t it, even if you discount the bright tone of film processing in those days? A garden space with newly planted trees, above which interlocking curves of concrete soar in a harmless fashion. In the distance bright airy towers bring modernity and convenience. The residents lived in the sky, where once they had to huddle in crowded streets. Well, that was the idea anyway. The high rise living concept was optimistic, but already tinged with misgivings even by 1971.

Construction work was still going on when Selwyn passed by.


This is the point where the Westway met the giant roundabout which connected with the West Cross route, which we’ve already seen in Selwyn’s pictures. One of those towers is Frinstead House, Selwyn’s vantage point for some of his pictures, although the one that looms largest in the picture may be Markland House and the far distant one to the left Dixon House.

Those two drums caught his attention more than once.

There is little traffic as yet on the road above, and that van looks like it barely belongs in 1971.


What’s that in the middle of the road. Some kind of roller?

This view looking more or less east.


A single resident crosses the new space. Here she is again.


This view is looking south. You can make out the towers of the Edward Wood Estate and signs of life beneath the concrete decks.


Behind the chain link fence wagons, possibly belonging to totters or market traders.


The chimney is another landmark, on the Hammersmith side of the West Cross Route.

Now we head south.


Beneath the shadow of the slip road we head back towards the streets we already know.


The building in the foreground is a school, labelled Thomas Jones School on the 1971 OS map but later I think, known as Latimer school. It became a referral unit. In the gap between is the Phoenix brewery and then the Harrow Club glimpsed in the previous Selwyn post, formerly Holy Trinity Church. In front of that, the yellow painted building, formerly a pub, was the Ceres Bakery.


The classic  late 19th/early 20th century school design, tall and imposing with large windows for enlightenment.  It makes an interesting contrast  with the tower behind


Here, Selwyn took a look back.


The slip road runs into the West Cross rout. In the emptiness the lights, the gantry, the grass and the saplings wait for whatever comes next.

Later there was a a BMX track here.


The fence on the right conceals the West Cross Route heading south to Shepherd’s Bush.  If we follow around the corner….


we come to the point where Bard Road gives up the ghost. We’re now looking directly south.


A train crosses above the road. In the foreground the steps lead up to the former Harrow Mission, the oldest building in the immediate area, a precursor of the Club. The entrance is bricked up but that was just a temporary measure. then but not now. The building beyond is the rear of the steam cleaning company seen in the previous Selwyn post, later demolished  and now one of those large storage facilities with identical silent corridors.

All these pictures come from 1971. A picture from 1988 shows the Westway after more than a decade of use.

Silchester Estate 1988 003 - Copy

There you can see Markland Tower with the full sweep of the roundabout and the interconnecting roads behind it, a gasometer in the distance an a view looking down at the school building in the foreground. That may be the BMX track behind it.

I can’t say what Selwyn’s feelings about this new landscape were. But there are some more pictures on this roll of film which provide an addendum to this post.

Latimer Road had like Bard Street been truncated by the new road but if you follow its path north on older maps, it comes to a junction with North Pole Road. In that vicinity you find Wormwood Scrubs, then as now an open patch of land.

I can’t place these photos exactly. Perhaps they’re on the west side of the Scrubs. Old Oak Common, Acton and Park Royal have all been suggested to me. Selwyn was evidently up here to record some activity connected with scouts or cadets.


So in contrast with the new development further south, here’s an idyllic patch of land with some small scale activity going on.


A couple of men in suits walk through an quiet landscape heading home.


For those of you who know the area this picture should provide a good clue.


Any suggestions are very welcome.


My thanks to Maggie and Barbara for their help identifying buildings and general orientation. This is the last Selwyn post for a while but we’ll definitely see him again.

We’ll be doing more on the Westway this year so watch out if you’re a fan of concrete.


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