Author Archives: Dave Walker

Holland Park 1980: a day out

Although we’ve seen some images of Holland Park on the blog on most occasions I’ve concentrated on some detail, like the murals, or more recently on interiors of Holland House. This week I want to show you some photographs taken as part of our photographic survey by our photographer John Rogers back in 1980. He wasn’t concerned with documenting every corner of the Park but was looking for interesting views which might be familiar to visitors and odd details which might have been missed.

In 1980 the Greater London Council (GLC) still ran the park. It was transferred to the Royal Borough of Kensington  and Chelsea in 1985. Some features have changed in the last thirty six years, some have remained the same.

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This fairly dull looking colonnade facing the Orangery is now the home of the highly decorative murals I mentioned above.

Here is the nearby pond, which now has some railings around it.

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And the other side the Belvedere Restaurant which probably no longer admits bare chested men.

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The pleasures of a municipal park, however grand its history, have remained the same for many years. Hanging around on a sunny day doing nothing much at all.

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Stretching in the sun as in this south view of the Orangery.

 

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(I believe this sculpture is by Eric Gill, called The Maid, placed on this spot in 1976 but moved  in the 1990s because of weather damage and now in the park cafe. Judging from recent pictures, where the figure looks very worn in comparison the weathering was significant.)

Playing at the play centre.

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Especially in the sandpit.

holand-park-toddlers-playing-centre-copyFor older kids there were the climbing ropes at the adventure playground.

holland-park-rope-ladders-playcentre-1980And swinging by rope.

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For older visitors there were  ducks and other avian creatures to feed.

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From the large, not easily missed varieties.

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To the small and sometimes well camouflaged.

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On land, or on water.

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Or between the two.

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There was sport, for the athletically inclined.

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Or you could just stroll down a secluded avenue of trees.

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Discover statues, some prominent, as the one below.

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(Henry Richard Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland . The statue is now found in the middle of a pond, although here it seems to be entirely on land. It was moved when the block of flats, Melbury Court was built)

Some obscure, almost concealed.

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(The so-called Melancholy Old Man)

And some just plain odd.

 

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Cherubs about their business near the Ice House gallery, accompanied by fish, innocent in this case. (They’re not always so blameless).

The High Street is not so far away.

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Postscript

Regular readers will have noticed that there was no post last week, just about the only occasion we’ve missed a week. I was going to be vague about my absence on a personal matter but it may have some bearing on future content so I’ll just say that my mother passed away over Christmas after a short illness and I went home to deal with the funeral arrangements and other matters. Frankly, I was not in a blogging frame of mind even though I already had this week’s pictures selected. It was about this time last year that she was complaining to me about the extensiveness of the news coverage of the death of David Bowie and I was explaining that for some of us this was a significant event. It’s been said that 2016 was a year with a great many deaths. I can only agree.


Bignell’s world of the strange – an anthology

John Bignell was a jobbing photographer for most of his working life and took photographic assignments wherever they took him, from the banks of the Thames to ancient Greek cities. Or just round and about in Chelsea. I once had to look for something in the Chelsea News and went through an entire bound volume of a year’s weekly papers and found at least one photo by him in almost every issue. He covered news stories, did catalogue shoots and took portraits. He did what used to be euphemistically called “glamour” work (although some of the pictures in this genre look a bit odd, rather than erotic,by modern standards ) and documented burlesque shows at the Chelsea Place and elsewhere. And sometimes, when the mood took him he took pictures which now look like some kind of 1950s idea of illustrations to 21st century urban fantasies. I’ve featured some of these before as lone items but I’ve wanted to collect them together along with some more of his “strange” pictures. So some of these images will be familiar to regular readers and some won’t. But all of them are in some way weird or eccentric.

I realise that I am imposing something of my own love of the uncanny or the Fortean onto these images. But go with me. These two,for example,look they belong in an adaptation of a Neal Gaiman story. If Neal Gaiman had lived in the 1950s that is.

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“Virtue fights back”, 1955. I used this in December 2014, and made the connections with Gaiman’s book / TV series Neverwhere and Christopher Fowler’s novel about another London Above, Roofworld. This could be the same duo.

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“Satan triumphant” 1958.

Actually I think the models are the same, Desiree and Pierre, from the Chelsea Palace. Here they are on stage as “apache” dancers, a favourite cabaret theme of the time.

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This picture was also part of a stage show, continuing the “claws” theme.

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Never mind the knife, Madam. pick up the ray gun!

Bignell had started playing with strange scenarios as far back as 1949, in these two pictures, illustrating Cinderella, in a King’s Road antique shop called Horace Walpole.

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The two ugly sisters are represented by dummies with the stuffed heads of deer.

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Seedy and sinister like something out of a fantasy by Powell and Pressberger, which leads us to the next image.

This picture from 1958 was entitled “Probably the most widely seen eye in the world.” The eye belonged to the Mayor of Chelsea’s mace bearer and featured in posters and publicity for Michael Powell’s ill-fated film Peeping Tom, which more or less ended his UK career.

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On the back of one print of the picture Bignell has written a reference to Susan Sontag’s book “On Photography”, even noting the page number in the Penguin edition of the mention of Peeping Tom. There’s nothing particularly illuminating there but perhaps Bignell wanted to remind anyone who read the caption that someone thought the film was a serious piece of work. There seems to have been a lot of moral panic about it when it first came out, which seems almost inexplicable in the light of what we’ve seen since. Following Bignell’s lead I refer you to David Pirie’s “A new heritage of horror: the English Gothic cinema” for an account of the film and its reception.

Continuing the gothic theme is this atmospheric picture of a respectable looking man alone in a dark alley, actually Carlton Mews, near Trafalgar Square.

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He looks a little like a character in an M R James or Algernon Blackwood story on his way to a supernatural rendezvous.

Less morbid is this picture,  of an ecstatic dancer named Lyn, in a Margaret Morris style pose on a beach at Foulness in 1956. Bignell entitled it Lyn-a- leaping

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Next a picture from 1955 (or possibly 1956) that is wrong on many levels.

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It was entitled “Ancestor worship”, to add more misconception to the wrongness of a Frenchman in a gorilla suit holding a juvenile chimpanzee. (Yes, it was Pierre again.) What did they imagine the young ape was thinking? He can’t have been fooled for a second, so perhaps he thought it was just another of the inexplicable things the humans did from time to time. This was at Chessington Zoo, a perfectly reputable establishment where they probably still had chimpanzee tea parties in the 1950s and other anthropomorphic entertainments, so some of the apes would have been used to close contact with people.

Bignell couldn’t resist another photo of the “Chessington gorilla”. Here he is with his partner Desiree again.

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Although this is also a strange picture it will offend no hairy humanoids, and might interest human or non-human lovers of wacky cars. These so called bubble cars used to be seen around the place in the 50s and 60s. Motoring experts will correct me if my identification is wrong but I think it’s a Heinkel. (Interestingly there was another variety of bubble car made by Messerschmitt – what prompted aircraft manufacturers to make tiny cars?)

The last picture is simply a salute from the master of the revels, Bignell himself, with his eye on the camera, and the viewer.

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For the record, and I know a few of you will wonder, they’re at the Lord Nelson (later the Trafalgar) in the King’s Road. There are two dates on the picture, 1968 and 1954. The earlier one seems more likely but you never know in Bignell’s world of the strange.

The trouble with Bignell

The trouble with the work of John Bignell and writing about it is that for most of his career he was, as I said in the first sentence, a working photographer going where the work took him, and fitting in the more personal / artistic work when he could. For most of his career he doesn’t seem to have concerned himself too much with his place in the history of photography. When he eventually did a book it was called John Bignell: Chelsea Photographer. It’s a good book but it established him as an observer of Chelsea/ London life. That’s not a bad thing in itself but I think he was so much more than that, as photos like the one in this post and others show.

I’m going to carry on writing about him and posting photographs by him. One of these days perhaps the wider world will recognize him as a great original.

Postscript

One of the many great qualities of the Bignelll collection is that you’re always finding surprises, or variations on photographs you thought you knew, a different print or an unexpectedly informative caption in Bignell’s hand. As often happens while trawling through the collection for this post I came across further ideas for new posts. There could have been more on childhood in the 50s for example. There’s probably a possible post about Wimbledon Common too or more on Bignell’s models. To spare your sensitivities I’ve never done a post on his glamour work but that too is aesthetically interesting . Strictly speaking the nude and the sundial (featured here) should be in this anthology  as it has a few mystical connotations, with a second picture from the same session but to keep this post safe for work we’ll keep that one back for now. We’re used to thinking of the 1950s as a staid, conventional era, but there was plenty of strangeness bubbling up under the plain clothing.


Christmas Days : afternoon tea

Some of the ideas I had for short posts didn’t quite work out in practice so for this last one I asked myself the question: can I make a post out of a single picture?

To start with, here’s a nice family group.

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Mother, eldest son on holiday from school, still in the tight stiff collar, youngest child a bit impatient for her ice cream, bored with waiting for the photographer to finish and absolutely not enjoying wearing that hat

Look behind them.

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A couple of the waitresses, and the singers in their nearly matching dresses.  That woman whose face we can just see in front of them might be sitting at a piano. Two young ladies are glancing up at the photographer from under wide brimmed hats.

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Look up at the many treats on offer such as the Parfaits at 1s/3d and the New Jersey Sundae, just a shilling. Order from your waitress who will bring it from the counter.

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That may be the entrance to a lift behind the curtain. The photographer has the patrons’ attention but are they all quite willing to pose . This is an exclusive establishment after all, and being photographed in it is a sign of distinction. A couple of .gentlemen at the back, but on the whole this is a place for the ladies.

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On the other side of the aisle more ladies enjoying afternoon tea, more waitresses in their black headbands and another selection of treats.

This is the whole picture.

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The terrace garden at Barker’s department store, sometime on a long leisured afternoon in the 1930s. Make the most of it, ladies and gentlemen.

Monkeys

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Bern, Chloe and Suze exploring the archives.

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And finding a few spots to perch on in the manuscript stacks.

From them and me, a happy Christmas to you all.

 


Christmas Days : Chanticler and friends

No Christmas is complete without a show so here’s ours. Cast your minds back to earlier this year when I wrote a piece on the Chelsea Arts Club Ball. The first picture shows a man in a giant chicken costume. This I discovered must have been inspired by the 1910 production of a play about birds by Edmond Rostand called Chanticler. It was apparently the sensation of the Paris stage. The name Chanticler, or Chanticleer will be familiar to anyone who ever had to study the Canterbury Tales. The Nun’s Priest’s tale is a mock heroic story featuring farmyard fowls. Rostand’s play is inhabited by a whole host of birds, including the title character, a rooster.

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These pictures come from the Illustrated London News, in which I was looking for pictures of the Arts Club Ball.

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[Act 1 – a farmyard]

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Act 2 –  owls. A parliament of owls, as you might expect. Pls knk if an answr is reqird etc.

Act 3 – some kind of peacock business.

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Act 4 – Chanticler and his pheasant paramour.

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With a pretty decent spider’s web, but unfortunately no giant spider.

There is a perfectly good synopsis on Wikipedia so I won’t trouble you with the story. The same trawl through the year 1910 also found that picture of the Michelin man on a carnival float which you’ll find at the end of the Arts Ball post. But it wasn’t the last of Chanticler.

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There he is again at the Nice Carnival, flanked by some fearsome beasts. More grotesque characters followed.

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And odd other characters. This might all fit with the Edwardian penchant for dressing up, pageants and carnivals which I’ve written about before. (Not to mention costume balls).

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The first decade of the 20th century is full of surprises.

A quick postscript

I recently spotted a post on another blog featuring images of Chanticler. I was momentarily taken aback but decided to proceed anyway. These pictures are of the original Paris production, which makes all the difference I think. This version was apparently not a great success, critically or in box office terms. I can’t think why.

 

Monkeys

Today’s monkeys caught on film paying a clandestine visit to the archives, are Mina, Lucy and Bill.

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You can work that one out.

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See you tomorrow.


Christmas Days : Bignell – a childhood in the 50s

I often turn to Bignell at short notice when I’m not sure what’s coming next on the blog. There are so many striking images in our collection that even a random selection works. I’ve been working on a full length post with a particular theme, looking through the collection for suitable pictures but scanning any that appealed to me. In the course of this I came across enough images for one of these short posts. Most of these pictures come from the 1950s when Bignell was first making a name for himself, and they all feature children.

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If you’re not familiar with Chelsea Bridge you might think they were doing something dangerous, but they’re not. The parapet is pretty wide at this point.  The picture is dated 1954. Battersea Power Station, in the background is still under construction. (It was built in two phases, one in the 1930s and one after the war. Here Station B is still awaiting the completion of one of its chimneys.)

The boys in this picture are in mild peril of falling off. I admire them for the sheer silliness of what they’re doing.

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The dog is clearly amused. This is 1956, and another of Chelsea’s bridges, Battersea.

Speaking of Battersea, what about the Festival Gardens in 1954, a remnant of the Festival of Britain which lingered on for many years although I think this feature had gone by the first time I went to Battersea Park.

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A quiet spot for mothers to take young children, with the possibility of water- based play for older ones. There was a paddling pool not far from this spot but on this particular day you could get your feet a little bit wet if you fancied that. No danger.

The duo below are doing nothing risky either , in 1959.

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Although they’re clearly starving.

In another part of Chelsea in the same year, a more decorous pastime.

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The girls are having to dance with each other at Victor Silvester’s Dance Studio at the Gaumont Cinema, in the King’s Road. This is the rock’n’roll era, so are they jiving? (I’m no dance expert)

I recently attended the premiere (at the gate Cinema) of a film called Two Potato, an exploration of urban play made by pupils at Colville School in conjunction with Digital Works, a regular partner of the Local Studies library. You can  see it here:

http://www.onepotato.org.uk/film.html

(Full disclosure: I’m among the people who get thanked in the credits.) There’s usually a Q and A after the film in which someone asks the film makers if they would rather have lived in the days depicted in photos by Bignell and others, when kids apparently wandered the streets looking for odd things to do, as in today’s pictures. Rather than the screen dominated lives of modern children. I always like it when someone says no. I enjoyed my 1960s childhood, which did involve a certain amount of wandering around unaccompanied by adults, but in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with modern childhood. There’s more Lego for one thing.

 

Monkeys

Today’s monkeys in the archives are working on a private project.

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Quentin and Vinnie are doing the searching while Steve keeps a look out.

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See you tomorrow.

 


Christmas Days: a bunch of busts

I scanned today’s pictures in response to an enquiry about busts inside the former Holland House. We have an album from the 1880s with some views of the interior taken before a bout of redecoration. On another occasion I might have scanned the whole album which could have resulted in a full length post but I didn’t have much time so I only did a few. I was particularly intrigued by the conservatory.

This was Holland House at the time.

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The east front with, a couple of guys standing patiently in front of it to add some local colour. At least one of them might have come from breakfast.

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Here, in the sumptuous breakfast room. I spotted a bust up there in the corner but then turned a page and found a whole set of busts. (Is there a collective noun for busts?)

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This is the conservatory, looking back into the house. A pleasing number of busts are on view, and some convenient chairs in which to sit and contemplate the outside while inside. You can see another Kensington conservatory near the end of this post.

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This is the view looking in the other direction into the garden, You can just make out a full length statue in the daylight. Wouldn’t you want to sweep through the conservatory after that nice breakfast and tale a turn in the grounds? You can’t walk through this space anymore but the grounds are still available for all, winter and summer.

 

Monkeys

Today’s monkeys, Boris and Dino (who live in the Park) have taken the opportunity to do just that, while wishing you a happy Christmas. Here they are in the office:

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And out in the park.

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I was checking the link above to an earlier post and was reminded of my Christmas 2013 post about Irving and Caldecott’s Old Christmas. That was one of my first posts about book illustration, and Caldecott was a contemporary of our friend Hugh Thomson. Check out a traditional Christmas here.

Another short post, and more monkeys tomorrow.

 


Christmas Days: the old old town hall

The grand municipal building  on the King’s Road which is the home of the Chelsea Registry Office, the Sports Centre  and Chelsea Library is called Chelsea Old Town Hall. It was completed in 1908 and designed by Leonard Stokes. Let’s remind ourselves what it looks like. This view is from an early moment in its history.

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It’s called the Old Town Hall now I suppose to distinguish it from Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall which would have become “the” Town Hall when the boroughs united in 1965. (Not the current K&C Town Hall of course. There was an old town hall in Kensington too, if you remember it, but we won’t go into that now.)

But Chelsea Old Town Hall was not the first Chelsea Town Hall. In fact Chelsea Old Town Hall was once the new Chelsea Town Hall because it replaced the original Vestry Hall, the home of the  Chelsea Vestry, the precursor of the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea, which began in 1900. Is this confusing? You wait. Here’s a picture:

 

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This is the Vestry Hall of 1886 designed by J M Brydon which actually replaced the first Vestry Hall of 1860 designed by William Wilmer Pocock (an old old old town/vestry hall, which had problems with the walls and was declared unsafe in 1885) a more modest affair than the 1908 building, which only occupied part of the space its successor now commands. You can see that the word Town has replaced Vestry below the balustrade. The land next to the Town Hall was occupied by public baths and a couple of commercial premises.

Now look at this view of the side.

 

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A man is unloading some crates but has paused to look down the street. Behind him a couple of others are looking into the basement area. Do those crates have to go down? Or up that staircase?Next to the wall is a slope leading down to the premises of W F Picken. But have a look at that roundel and the door beneath it further back. Those features and the whole of the rear section of the building still exist. The 1908 building simply replaced the front section. The old part was grafted on to the new building. If you go round to the back into Chelsea Manor Gardens you can see it, looking slightly grander than you might expect the rear of a municipal building to look. So part of the old old town hall is still in the old town hall if you follow me.

And that door under the roundel? I have walked through it many times.

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Finally, have a closer look at number 181, next to Mr Picken’s sign. Next to the door is a sign for Miss Annie Northcroft and her school of singing.  Miss Northcroft lived there with William Northcroft (brother? father?) and a few other names. Strictly speaking this was 181A. 181 itself was one of the first homes of the Chelsea Arts Club and later the Chenil Galleries were built on the site.

I feel I’ve slightly short changed you on pictures so here’s a view from 1897.

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Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. No expense spared.

 

The 12 monkeys of Christmas

Following on from last year’s Christmas posts which featured members of the soft toy community, this year I’m featuring the 12 monkeys of Christmas paying visits to the archives. To start with, here is the eldest monkey Keith Phelps sitting with the scrapbooks.

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And getting amongst the drainage plans.

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See you tomorrow.


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