Author Archives: Dave Walker

The family album

Readers who have been following the postscripts will know that my mother passed away over Christmas and I have now taken possession of a number of family photographs which have now joined my personal archive along with a small Kodak camera, a Box Brownie and a few Instamatics (remember those?). It was inevitable that a few of these pictures would end up on the blog. Although I’ve never researched my family history I’ve met many people who were in the process of genealogical research and helped some of them on their way. Family albums are often the start of such a quest. Census returns, electoral registers, street directories, parish registers and Ancestry / Find my Past (other online genealogical tools are available) tell the story but it’s often family photographs which bring the search to life.

So this post is not just about me and my collection of old photographs. It’s about how family ties connect all of us to the historical past. In this post I start by looking at the oldest photos I could find some of which feature people I never knew personally. Like this one which my mother had copied for me several years ago.

 

grandparents-wedding-copy

This is my grandparent’s wedding. Ellen Barwise has just married Charles Williamson. He has his hand on her shoulder. His two brothers stand with him. One of them married one of the Barwise sisters standing near Ellen. The guests are a mixture of Barwises and Williamsons. The diminutive lady on the right side of the picture is a Williamson. She has her arm linked with an elderly Barwise lady.

A studio portrait of the two.

033-cw-and-emw-copy

Charles did a variety of jobs

This was one of them.

fire-brigade-at-mental-hospital-liverpool-road-chester-1904-cw-middle-of-back-row-copy

The fire brigade at the lunatic asylum in Liverpool Road, Chester. Charles is dead centre, behind the man in the helmet.

In the picture below, an action shot of the brigade in action. He is eighth from the left standing in shirt sleeves.

I have been asked (and asked myself) why this establishment needed its own fire brigade. Perhaps they were ready for general emergencies in the area? In my last visit to the house I found a number of pictorial histories of Chester to one of  which my mother contributed the picture of the men in action. The author confirms that the hospital did indeed have its own fire brigade

That doesn’t seem to have been Charles’s only job. He also worked part time as a gardener. Here he is with some of the others staff. The lady in the dark outfit might be on eof the family.

I’ve left the caption. I think this is my mother’s careful printing but I’m not sure when she did it.

Other members of the family were involved in agriculture, as this badly faded pictures of Walter Barwise, one of my grandmother’s brothers shows.

Here is a studio picture of another of Ellen’s brothers, Bill. A distinctly country man.

And a later picture of Bill and his wife.

There are several other pictures of men in uniform in the album, but I’m saving them until some further research on uniforms and badges can be done.

This particular album is pretty old and was obviously started by someone in the family well before I got my hands on it. I’m lucky because at some point my mother annotated it with notes on who the people in the pictures were and their relationship to each other. But even she wasn’t sure of all of them, and was sometimes going on what she had been told when she was young. Such as this one, simply captioned “relations in America”. I never knew we had any at this point.

In every family perhaps there is someone who gathers together loose photos and puts them in an album. The explanation of the picture is not always clear like this picture of a crowd of people being addressed by some eminent man.

Others need no explanation like this picture of my mothers’ two aunts, Lizzie and Martha and her cousin, also called Martha.

I knew Aunt Lizzie (on the right I think) when she was quite old. But before we get to the end of the post I should show you another picture of Cousin Martha, who was my mother’s godmother.

She is sitting with Auntie Em (and friend)

Family albums and the pictures in them tell a story of people getting older, living their lives. In this case the album started with what to me was the historical past, gradually becoming more personal.

When someone dies they become ageless. My mother is no longer the exhausted woman who passed away in a hospital bed. She is just as  much this little girl aged 8

kw-aged-8-in-crewe-c1930-adj

Or the young woman who served in the ATS.

Or the woman who met my father after the war and became my mother.

 

Postscript

I don’t make any claims for my family being especially noteworthy. But as a lover of old photographs I believe all the pictures in all the family albums are interesting. If you like these, start looking back at your own family photographs. In my case there are several more albums and many loose photos, some of which may get used in the future.

I’ve been working on this post for ages , thinking I might add more information or thoughts. But I finally decided to leave the pictures with a fairly minimal commentary. This post is dedicated to my mother of course, but also to my father who died in 2003. More about both of them on another occasion perhaps.


18th century escapades – Lady Walpole’s curious grotto

Whenever I start to write about the paintings of Marianne Rush I have a tendency to wander off into fantasy. As I recently had a very pleasant meeting with a distant relative of the lady I feel an obligation to anchor this post in reality as far as possible. So let’s be clear. The picture below is not a painting by Rush, (we’ll get to her later) although there’s something about the trees and the foliage in the foreground which reminds me of her work. This is a black and white photograph of a water colour by another artist (possibly unknown) of “Mrs Aufrere’s house in the Stableyard, Chelsea”, about 1780. It shows the entrance to the Coal Creek, a kind of canal which ran a short distance into the grounds to the west of the Royal Hospital, and on the corner, the Octagon Summer House.

The house which may be visible in the distance used to be called Walpole House, and had been one of the residences of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (but don’t get him confused with the previous Earl of Orford, Edward Russell, who had been Walpole’s mentor and whose title died out. Walpole took the title himself as a tribute to his old friend). Walpole is regarded as the first Prime Minister and the longest serving in that role. (He is the father of Horace Walpole, author of the Castle of Otranto, the first “Gothic” novel and builder of an extraordinary house, Strawberry Hill  in Twickenham which fortunately you can read about elsewhere) Walpole and his first wife Catherine (Horace’s mother) used the house and garden for entertaining and filled both with extravagant collection of furniture, decorations and exotic trees and plants.

I have here next to me a small pamphlet entitled…. well, instead of copying all that out let’s use the medium of the digital image.

There’s that word “curious”. The final line refers to a separate sale of “exoticks”. Regretfully we don’t have a copy of that. The exoticks, were the many plants and small trees which had grown in the garden, along with exotic fruit like pineapples, which were popular and expensive items for the leisured classes of the day.

Walpole died in 1745, hence the sale. His wife had died in 1737. Without intending to malign either of them, it seems that though the marriage had begun as a happy one, the two had gone their own way in its latter years. Walpole also had children by his mistress Maria , who became his wife after Catherine’s death.

I had no trouble finding images of Sir Robert. Here he is looking as grand as possible

Although we have a print showing Lady Walpole it proved slightly harder to find. Fortunately there are other images of her online. She was famed as a great beauty, but not as notorious as a slightly later celebrity.

The sale catalogue backs up the notion that the Walpoles enjoyed an extravagant and sumptuous lifestyle.

Have a look at the contents of ” the taffetty bedroom

Fabric wall coverings were popular with those who could afford them.

The contents of the “worsted damask bed chamber”:

The senior servants’ rooms were less ornate, although they had the basics, and probably wouldn’t have complained about the “feather beds”.

 

Also listed is “the red room in the garden

That would be one for the 18th century version of World of Interiors.

When writing this post I’ve relied heavily on an article on Walpole House written by the late David Le Lay for the Chelsea Society Annual Report in 2013. David and I spent an hour or so one afternoon examining prints of the Royal Hospital looking for a glimpse of the House on the western side. This print by Maurer seems to offer a view.

You can see the summer house again, on the extreme right, and to the left a single storey building with a row of windows which might be the Orangery.  The house itself could be behind that. A close -up helps a little.

But let’s not worry too much about the elusive house. According to an early volume of the Survey of London the house couldn’t be seen from the river.

With the garden buildings in mind let’s turn at last to Marianne Rush.

She calls this the “Green House”, not a glass house as we would think of today, although some doubts creep in here. The building in the pictures looks a little like the Orangery, which still exists. But the architect, Vanburgh,  favoured round headed windows. At any rate it was a building containing many plants and fruit trees, with paintings and objects, and space for entertaining.

According to Thomas Faulkner in his History of Chelsea (1829) “Lady Walpole took great delight in improving these gardens and spared no expense in procuring natural and artificial curiosities from foreign parts. Her grotto exited much of the attention of the curious at that time.” 

“During the King’s absence in Germany one summer Queen Caroline frequently honoured Lady Walpole with a visit, and dined in the green-house, which was laid out with choice flowers and plants, and hung with some of the fine paintings which were afterwards removed by the Earl of Orford.”

In August 1729 the Walpoles entertained the Queen and several other dukes and princesses. ” A kitchen was built on purpose in the stable yards…with above 20 places for fires etc. The Fruit for the Dessert was collected for a week previous from all Quarter of the Town…there were several Barges of fine Musick playing all the Time. After which they returned to the Green House where the illustrious company were entertained with a Ball and afterwards supp’d in the same place.” According to the Monthly Chronicles, quoted by Alfred Beaver in his book Memorials of Old Chelsea. An exaggerated account? Well you wouldn’t get all that in here:

It’s not clear whether Marianne ever actually saw some of the buildings she painted but she seems to have been quite careful in her work and if she never actually saw the Ranelagh Rotunda for example she would have been familiar with it from prints and engravings. We give her the benefit of the doubt.

The grotto is a little more problematic. Here is Marianne’s painting. Look carefully.

Is that something like a Hindu deity beside the urns? Maybe not.

As David Le Lay and others who have written about it (I also looked at an article in a 2004 periodical called Follies) have said, it’s not quite clear where the grotto actually was. There are some half-buried arches on the grounds but they don’t look much like Rush’s picture and it’s hard to imagine the grotto in its heyday when it was much celebrated and compared favourably with Queen Caroline’s own grotto. There were even some verses in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1734.

[Scan from Faulkner, which was clearer and didn’t obscure the name W-lp-le.]

 

 

And rival Grotto Caroline.” Decorating your grotto with shells was a bit of a thing back then. I looked at an article in Country Life for 1944 (February, when there was still some time before D-Day to think about grottos) showing some examples, which mentions Lady Walpole’s grotto, but of course had no pictures.

There are no signs of any shell decorations in Rush’s interior.

So perhaps this view is speculative, or just imaginary, although Rush did like that trope of 18th century water-colourists, the empty room.

The summer house too looks  quite deserted, apart from that bust. She’s taken care with that glimpse of the view outside and the light entering the small room. Can I  see a hint of the windmill on the south bank?

Rush’s view of the exterior is a useful point at which to stop, as it provides the opposite point of view from our first picture, and does seem to look like other views of the summer house. There’s the windmill again. (There really was one – it appears in several prints.)

Marianne got this one right so perhaps she knew more than us. But. as I’ve found, an aura of mystery still clings to her and her paintings. And I like that, as you’ve probably realised.

Postscript

I have used the Rush pictures before in one or two of the imaginative posts I used to write when I started the blog so it’s good to get back to seeing them as views of reality. When they were first acquired by the library in the 1920s it was because they provided a valuable look at a whole series of buildings which no longer existed. I am still very taken with their visionary qualities though, and it seems quite appropriate that we’re not quite sure about Lady Walpole’s grotto. We were high on word count and low on pictures this week so I’m going to find a furnished summer house and lie down now. Oh, and I don’t think I’ve ever had to say this but as this is a complicated business I should add that any errors are mine and are not attributable to any of the sources I’ve used.

This post is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Marianne Rush herself and David Le Lay, a friend of Chelsea.


Thomson and Shakespeare: scheming wives and foolish men

I think I can be pretty certain that this is the last in the series of posts about illustrations to Shakespeare which I began last year and from my point of view at least it’s pleasing to end on another volume with pictures by my favourite illustrator of the period, Hugh Thomson. No magic in this one, although there are some bogus fairies, no fantasy woodlands or mythical islands just a town near London, and some desperate housewives. Desperate to have some fun anyway.

I’ve seen many of these pictures online in one form or another so why have I acquired my own copy of the book, scanned the pictures and created this post when I usually have some unique or rare pictures to show? Well partly because I love Hugh Thomson’s work and want to share my enthusiasm. It’s still worth pointing out as I did the very first time I wrote about him that his work is both of its period, the later 19th and early 20th century, and as modern as a graphic novel. Thomson takes care with historical accuracy in costume (as far as he was able) but in the costumes he puts modern people, as in the image above. I never imagined the merry wives as young particularly but the story makes more sense if they are relatively young and sexy rather than matronly and comedic.

(I don’t want to go far off topic here but this also applies to works like Pride and Prejudice.  In adaptations, Mrs Bennett is often played as old when in all likelihood she is meant to be about 40, and as attractive as her daughters. John Mullan points this out in his book “What matters in Jane Austen?”. Thomson himself succumbs to the temptation to portray her as a strictly comic figure in his illustrations to the book).

As we can see here, Anne Page is just a teenager, with a mother in early middle age, quite suitable for Falstaff’s misguided attentions. The letters go out.

And are received by the two wives, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford ,who don’t believe a word.

 

They go about their business, being seen about and about and looking good, among other things.

The boy Robin, supposedly Falstaff’s protégé, provides some comedy mileage.

And has some funny scenes of his own.

 

There is a bit bit of comic wooing.

And some more serious chatting up.

I love the way the dog echoes the posture of the young would-be lover, slouching just like the lanky youth.

Below Mistress Page looks after Robin in the street.

 

Everyone knows the story of Falstaff hiding in the laundry basket and ending up in the river. I used the pictures of that in a previous post so I won’t repeat them here but there’s a second trick on the portly knight.

A fruitless search of the basket.

And Falstaff in a poor  disguise as an female relative is beaten from the house by Mr Ford.

There is a final trick on Falstaff where Anne lures him into the woods with some of the town children pretending to be fairies.

 

This is part of her own scheme to avoid an unwanted suitor and hook up with the young fellow she really likes. Falstaff falls for the bogus fairy trick but is finally let in on the jape.

He sees the joke and there is an amicable ending. They’re all friends again. The no-hope suitor has to walk away without his intended, but he was only a sub-plot anyway, and Anne Page had her own ideas about the ending.

Postscript

Falstaff of course had returned by public demand. I will be back next week. Hugh Thomson will also be back at some point. I haven’t finished with him yet.

This was my backup post, in case the ones we were working on didn’t come together, and one of them didn’t. Hence the slightly sketchy commentary. Fortunately Thomson does most of the work. A few ideas are bubbling up and with any luck one of them will emerge next week.


May Queens of Whitelands – the players

Last year’s May Queen post was set in 1906, at the psychological peak of the festival in terms of ceremony, costume and seriousness. After the Great War, the College and the students were in a different world. The role of women in society had changed, although arguably as teachers the graduates of the college were already professionals who were well regarded in the field of education. Fashions had changed, reflected in the more subdued robes of the post war queens. This is Queen Janet and her chamberlains in 1919. Shoe lovers can get a look in at last.

And attitudes had changed. I noted in an earlier post that I could detect an air of not quite taking the ceremonies and theatrical performances which accompanied the May Queen Festival quite as seriously as before. I think I can see a lot more fun in some of the pictures from the postwar period, which is why this post will concentrate not on the queens but the players in the various theatrical performances which were part of the May Queen Festival in Whitelands’ last decade in their original home in the King’s Road.

Some of the performances called for classical costumes such as this one:

(It looks like the grass needs mowing.)

And here are some more traditional figures from folklore, dancing for the Queen and her subjects in the quadrangle.

Now for some urns. Careful now,ladies.

A little bit of pagan worship possibly.

In earlier years there had been a Rose Queen celebration in June for the pupils of local schools, so they obviously had younger girls on hand for performances

So that’s not weird at all.

(This may relate to a play performed that year, “A red rose in the city of lilies” written by two of the students. Or not)

On other occasions there was medieval fun. Anyone for the stocks?

More of that here

A whole troupe of characters from the middle ages to celebrate “the birth of English Song”.

Do you see the nun? The students had form in this area of course (see 1908) which was continued in 1922.

Who had all these nun costumes available for hire? I can’t imagine an Anglican establishment having nun’s habits hanging about the place in case of a sudden counter-Reformation. Of course nuns used to be a more common sight in London. Chelsea and Kensington both had several convents.

Once again (see this post on the Chelsea Historical Pageant) I was reminded less of 1923, more of the 1970s when I could have imagined this picture on the rear cover of an album by an up and coming folk rock group.

Could they have imagined walking out of the front door of the college onto a King’s Road 50 years later, barely raising an eyebrow?

As this was Chelsea, the Tudor period can’t be forgotten, particularly Sir Thomas More  and his family.

And they kept coming back to the Greeks. Is that a satyr? Yes, the god Pan no less, in pursuit of the nymph Syrinx

Here he is again.

With some horned children. Fauns, probably.

There were really quite a lot of pictures of theatrical performances in this third album of pictures, and some of them look a bit odd now. They might even have seemed odd then.

Amusingly so of course. As regular readers will have realised, I’m a great fan of fancy dress and amateur dramatics from the past.

Go on ladies, push. But why?

Other periods in history were not ignored. From 1925, an Elizabethan group.

The lawn was better kept in the later years. An 18th century group.

And still, the classics. Below, the masque, Achilles in Scyros, in which Odysseus, disguised as a peddler searches for Achilles who is playing the part of a maiden at the court of King Scyros (“a strong tall maiden” apparently, in the Shakespearean tradition of a woman playing a man playing a woman.)

Although sometimes it was a non-traditional view of classical themes as Mercury arrives in a cloche hat.

May Day in 1929 “ the wildest May morning since – no one was sure Since when, but everyone was sure there had never been a colder one.. Green blazers were everywhere covering white frocks and thick coats hid the creations of the staff”. Nevertheless, the show went on with some 17th century music.

And some revels, taking us back to the roots of the festival in Old England. A few merrie (men).

1930 was the year the College moved to a new purpose built building in Putney. We might come to that period in a future post. All I can say by way of a spoiler is that the fun continued.

But to return to the Queens I picked this 1929 picture of Queen Irene and Queen Enid in a casual pose on the throne, because they look like they’re enjoying themselves.

 

The distressing coda to Whitelands College’s time in Chelsea was that the building was bought by the British Union of Fascists and renamed Black House. (You couldn’t make it up). I found a picture in History Today magazine of Moseley and some of his polo-necked henchman doing that walking towards the camera thing against a familiar background. What a —— (choose your own expletive).

 

Much satirized, even at the time, Moseley’s basket of deplorables were a blot on the landscape for only a brief period of time. The former college building was demolished in 1937 and the current large apartment block called Whitelands House built on the site.

The College itself carries on to this day, as does the May Monarch Festival. So the “ceremony of innocence” is not drowned in this case.

Unfortunately there’s not as much of this sort of thing these days.

Or this for that matter.

Postscript

I found I’ve used a couple of these pictures before but at that point I hadn’t seen the actual May Queen scrapbooks kept at the Whitelands archive. So that’s one reason for using them again.

The latest May Monarch will be crowned on May 13th. My good wishes to her/him and the College.


Bignell’s travels: back streets and backwaters

We’re back with some more of John Bignell’s pictures from a box he labelled “rural London”. Some of them are not all that rural as we will see but some of them fit that description exactly:

 

Wanstead Flats according to Bignell’s writing on the back, about as rural as you get, and very far from Bignell’s usual subject matter. I’m dating it at about…..

Bignell strayed an even greater distance from London on some occasions. This is from a box marked “Stansted”.

A distinctly rural view with a country lane and a modest church. On the back of the print it says Chickney so the church may be St Mary’s. The village is a few mile away from the airport in Essex.

This is from the same set, a colour picture of Thaxted, only 20 minutes or so by bus away from the same airport. Bignell may have been here as the first stirrings of protest against London’s third airport were beginning. (Or not. I confess to a lack of knowledge of airport history). The parish church at any rate has an impressive spire.

 

This grand house was in the same general area but Bignell wrote nothing on the back. Can any Essex experts help?

 

He liked the view so much he tried a black and white version.

 

The next two pictures are also way off Bignell’s usual patch  but still in London, in Leytonstone Village.

 

 

A luxuriant garden and an overgrown lane. The woman sits just inside for a better view of whatever goes by. Below,perhaps nearby a slightly more urban street in the same area. The chimney cleaner’s wife enters her house perhaps smiling at Bignell while an elegant young woman walks by.

 

I think Bignell was a city boy at heart. There are quite a few urban pictures in the box.

Some of them are related to pictures we’ve seen before like this playground in Clapham

We saw those girls here, playing balls games, while that running boy tires himself out.

The church, once you can see it clearly is Holy Trinity, Clapham Common, not as I originally thought.

Others are content to walk, as in these pictures of Ebury Mews West in the Pimlico area. This group walk or ride for work.

 

 

While this man in a suit strolls along, hands in pockets,  minding his own business.

 

I featured one of these atmospheric pictures in the post called Bignell’s world of the strange. But it’s worth looking at the whole series.

They depict an odd little enclave off a side street in Westminster, Carlton Mews, shadowed and lonely.

 

Do you dare enter?

 

 

“No thoroughfare”

 

 

“Turning prohibited.” There seems to be a way up to an elevated section, a little street above the mews area, a little dilapidated.

 

 

With a solitary figure walking by. As i noted before it would be a suitable setting for a supernatural story to begin. ” I went toa rotting mews in an old part of London where a book dealer claimed to have a copy of……”

 

Let’s not go there, it’s not Halloween.

After that gloomy spot we’re better off outside, somewhere like leafy Dulwich.

Behind a wall a pleasant old house basking in sunlight.

Postscript

Like those pictures of Wimbledon, this week’s pictures simply show Bignell on the move, capturing moments in little corners of London. It’s something we all try to do from time to time, with mixed results, especially in these digital days when you can just point and shoot. Bignell needed to do most of the composition before he took the picture, so he got it right more often than an amateur would. But photography is a democratic art form and we all score a few goals by pressing the button at the right moment. Controlling the moment is the thing.


Forgotten buildings: the lock house

We’re back to the same place we started last week, near the junction of West Cromwell Road and Warwick Road in the company of Bernard  Selwyn, urban explorer.

This picture shows the east side of Warwick Road, looking north. You can see a large building known now simply as the Council Offices, Pembroke Road. There are residential floors on top of it with walkways leading to entrances in an adjacent building, an unusual arrangement I haven’t seen anywhere else. When I first worked for the Council it was simply called the Depot.

You can’t see the west side of the road but many of you will know that what is there now is a Tesco superstore, surmounted by a car park. From the car park there is still a good view of the railway track we looked at last week.

 

On the other side is a large building which was formerly a repository for Whiteley’s, the Bayswater department store. It now forms part of a development called Kensington Village.On the eastern side of the picture was a wide, relatively open space.

Now you will recall I mentioned the Kensington Canal last week. Originated by Lord Kensington and Sir John Scott Lillie (of Road fame) and opened in 1828 this was a comparatively short lived venture intended to link Kensington with the Thames, following the course of an existing waterway called Counter’s Creek which rises near Kensal Green Cemetery and flows south, under several names (including Billingswell Ditch as which it featured in a post about Brompton ), ending up at the river under the name Chelsea Creek. On Starling’s 1822 map of Kensington Parish the stream is called a “common sewer”.

The canal would follow the course of the creek north to a basin just short of the “Great Western Road” (the road from Hyde Park Corner to Hammersmith which Kensington High Street is part of), the ultimate plan being to join up with the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington. This was happening in the 1830s when railways were also on the rise, somewhat complicating matters.  The story is told in an excellent book called London’s Waterways by Martyn Denney (1977) but to cut this account short the canal suffered throughout its existence from silting up and the most profitable section was the part running up from the river to the King’s Road. There don’t seem to have been many views of the canal. The artist William Cowen painted a water colour, showing the walled garden that was Brompton Cemetery in the background.

 

 

The banks look like they’re already suffering. The canal was tidal so was only navigable for part of the time. It ended up in the hands of the West London Extension Railway Company who began filling in the upper section of the canal in the 1860s. This detail from a plan of 1854 shows the basin at the end of the canal.

 

And this  detail from an 1848 map shows the basin, with its various wharves, in relation to nearby streets.

 

 

 

The railway, which still goes under the King’s Road ran alongside the remainder of the canal and crosses the river near Chelsea Harbour. You can see the remains of the canal in 1972 in this post about Lots Road, and this one.

Mr Denney tells us that at the time he was writing, the “site of the canal basin” was behind “a pair of high wooden gates that open onto a patch of waste ground..opposite Pembroke Gardens“. He speculates that some of the old buildings in the railway goods depot could date back to the old wharves. What was definite though was the continuing existence of the old lock house and board room. Back in 1983 this was Selwyn’s quarry.

Where is it?

 

It’s there

 

 

A lock keeper’s cottage and what was called the board room where meetings were held and the records of the company kept. If you can stand one more map, this is from about 1968.

 

 

You can see that at one point the board room had been taken over by the Kensington Rifle Club who used it for shooting practice I suppose.

 

 

You can see that by 1983 it was located in the centre of some waste land which was being used as a car park.

 

The building itself is looking dilapidated and the area around it overgrown.

 

 

Fair game for the questing camera of Bernard Selwyn. Canals and the remnants of them were just one of his interests.

 

 

 

But we have to thank him for his diligence. Below the level of a major road he had found his way to a small piece of transport history.

 

 

He slipped back there in 1990 to take a colour picture.

 

 

The building looks worse than before.

The Tesco Superstore was built in 1998, and the lock house became a forgotten building. But Selwyn and others transport aficionados preserved its memory.

Postscript

Friend of the blog Roger Morgan gave the game away last week. But perhaps he just whetted your appetite. The old lock house was familiar to many people while it still stood. I’m sorry I never took a detour to look at it when I was visiting the Depot (for training courses, particularly the ones where the trainer started a fire in the garage and you had to put it out with the correct colour coded extinguisher) in pre-Tesco times. For those who do remember I hope Selwyn’s pictures bring it all back.

 

 

 


On the border 4: roads, railways and the ghost of a canal, 1983

After a bit of a hiatus we’re returning to the photographs of itinerant surveyor Bernard Selwyn and this time we’re following him on a walk around the rail tracks which partly follow the course of the old Kensington Canal, which at one time ran down the western side of Kensington and Chelsea and ended up at Chelsea Creek, (where you can still see some water). Selwyn was particular interested it seems in the rail line which runs past the station at Olympia (see some of the pictures in this post), alongside Warwick Road and south under West Cromwell Road.

An uncharacteristically quiet view of West Cromwell Road as it rises away from the junction with Warwick Road and curves towards Hammersmith.

Up the hill, with a closer look at those signs.

 

Below, the railway tracks. A man manages a quiet stroll along a major road on the 30th May 1983. (All these pictures were taken in April or May of that year.). The rail track running below the bridge is part of the West London Extention Railway which was built on the filled-in canal.

 

 

That office block ahead is called Ashfield House. Selwyn took a great interest in it.

As you get closer to it you can see it is separated from the main road by more rail tracks, which run by the rear of the building.

 

 

The tracks can barely be seen by motorists.

 

 

In the distance you can see the roof of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, a massive presence on the skyline in west London. Oddly you don’t always see it from ground level as this picture showing the other side of Ashfield House demonstrates.

 

Selwyn examined the building from several angles.

Looking west, with an approaching tube train.

 

And east, with the same train passing him.

 

This is part of the District Line heading towards Earls Court. You see ahead of the train the tangle of tracks, bridges, a gantry and railway buildings as these tracks move alongside the north-south route.

 

 

Here, Selwyn changes his vantage point, looking south west. You can see the cluster of rail-related huts and small buildings.

 

 

He then, for some obscure purpose, took a look directly below him.

 

 

It doesn’t tell us a lot but it shows the level of his interest. Remember, in the day before digital photography you had to set up the shot, take the picture and wait for the result. The amateur photographer would have to hope for the best. That may be why Selwyn took so many pictures. Or he might just have been a little obsessive, for which we can be grateful, thirty years or so later. London wasn’t quite so tidy in the 80s, and there were still plenty of spaces in the city to capture the attention of urban wanderers whose interest lay in industrial locations and the hidden parts of the city.

 

 

This picture shows underground tracks meeting the main line which is just beyond a small fence. On the left you can see the rear of St Cuthbert’s Church (the roof and spire are a little hard to make out in this picture ). On the right of the picture is that other prominent landmark of west London, the distinctive but somehow obscure Empress State Building. You can see the church spire clearer in the view below, looking straight down the line showing the wide space between the tracks and the various buildings at the rear of Philbeach Gardens. More of the canal next week but it was in some sections pretty wide.

 

 

Just beyond the track is a road which runs behind the church. If you look back at the post about the church you will find a 19th century picture of the church hall. Here it is in Selwyn’s time.

 

 

Now back to his view from the bridge. Or was he closer? Had he found his way to a better vantage point using his skills as a surveyor and/or an urban explorer?

 

This post has really been a prelude to next week’s, which also continues a series. When I scan pictures for a possible use on the blog I don’t always know at the start of the process what stories are going to emerge from the images. Maybe Selwyn worked the same way.

Postscript

This post moved back and forth across the border with Hammersmith and Fulham, an interzone which was one of Selwyn’s favourite haunts. He moved from the very north of Kensington to the river edge of Chelsea as we have seen in several posts. Next week’s post is almost entirely inside the boundary of Kensington and Chelsea. So here is a Hammersmith bonus for you.

 

Where West Cromwell Road met North End Road was this pub, called the Three Kings, next to West Kensington tube station. It’s now called the Famous 3 Kings but for a short period from 1975-1980 it was the Nashville Room (or Rooms?), a music venue, and that is what I thought when I saw the picture. A few of you may have seen some famous bands there. On an obscure personal note I was once told that a doppelganger of mine sold newspapers and magazines at a stall in the station. I never went there to find out.


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