Category Archives: 19th Century

The same gates

According to the authors of the Survey of London volume four (1913) a building called Cheyne House, in Upper Cheyne Row was at the time of writing “in a derelict condition” having been “untenanted for many years“. It consisted of “two or three different blocks of buildings, none of which appear to date from earlier than the eighteenth century”. The condition of the property, it is implied, was the responsibility of Dr Phene “who had used the house and garden as a museum.” Dr Phene was probably also responsible for covering the eastern wall with fleur-de-lys. The doctor’s dubious activities (“so much was the place neglected“) meant that the interior of the house was “rapidly falling to pieces“. The authors sum up: “the whole house is in a dilapidated condition”

We know something about the good doctor. I’ve written about him before some years ago. You can also find an article about him in Fortean Times magazine of July 2013. As far as the condition of the house goes, i expect he had his reasons. He had died in 1912, so the authors of the survey could make their judgement without fear of contradiction.

An artist named Juliet Nora Williams became a little obsessed with the house, or at least a small feature of it: the gates. Here they are in autumn:

 

 

And winter:

 

 

You can guess what might be coming next. Two more pictures? In fact, there are several more than two, some amounting to little more than sketches.

 

 

I can’t say why Miss Williams was so obsessed with a single view, but she was. I set about assembling everything we had by her, perhaps hoping I might find out why. Spoiler alert. I didn’t. But one of the pictures was this one.

 

 

It’s a pretty enough piece, reminding me a little of Estella Canziani (although not as accomplished) . I recognize the spot though, a kind of walled garden and pond in Battersea Park, which I have visited many times. (Like many places it was never quite the same after the great storm of 1987). On the back of the picture was a price and the artist’s address, Oakley Studios, Upper Cheyne Row. Well that kind of explains all the pictures I had found. Battersea Park was just a pleasant stroll away From Oakley Street. Oakley Studios sounds like the kind of secluded close where a young artist might live. I couldn’t find it on the 1935 OS map (we don’t have that particular sheet) but here it is on the 1894-96 series.

 

 

Oakley Studios is the little cul-de-sac just north of Oakley Flats I think (or were the Flats another name for the Studios?). You can also see Cheyne House itself and its grounds, where Dr Phene built “The Mystery House”.  A bit more on that later. The building eventually converted into the Nursery in Glebe Place is also visible.

First, the entry for Oakley Studios in Kelly’s Directory of Chelsea.

 

 

Seven studios. Three of the residents describe themselves as artists,including Miss Juliet N Williams ,and all but one are women. (The possible exception being the enigmatic  B. Foulkes Winks or Winks B Foulkes). This proximity possibly explains Juliet’s interest in the gates, which would have been very close to her residence.

 

 

I’m assuming Juliet’s gate pictures were painted in the 1920s. After Dr Phene’s death, stories about him proliferated. One of our scrapbooks has several pages of newspaper cuttings about him and his collection of curious objects.

This is Cheyne House, a relatively innocuous 18th century dwelling.

 

 

While this is the “Mystery House” in all its weirdness, on the corner of Oakley Street.

 

 

Imagine the garden between them filled with antique statuary.

The papers worked themselves up with conflicting stories about the house and the collection: “Nightmare in a Chelsea Garden” , “Weird relics of a Chelsea recluse.” to quote just two headlines.

 

 

So you can imagine plenty of local interest, even after the collection was sold off (by the “executrix”).

The site cleared as required by the new lease. The pink area shows the whole property.

 

 

 

After the sale the walls and the gates may have been were all that was left to contain the mystery, although this night view looks strange enough.

 

 

Juliet thankfully donated the record of her obsession to the Library (also just round the corner from Upper Cheyne Row. And she moved on, possibly to Reading, possibly to Sussex. (She stayed at Oakley Studios until 1935.)

 

 

A view of Lots Road power station painted on a plain postcard. The reverse has a message for her mother, possibly.

 

 

I’ve kept the spring picture of the gates back till the end. It’s my favourite.

 

 

It seems to hold the promise of a secret garden, isolated from the surrounding world, in which a young artist might wander and find..well anything you like really, depending on your own imagination.

 

Postscript

I’m not promising a return to regular posts just yet because you really never know when serious work and serious events are going to interfere with the blogging life but I have several ideas bubbling up at the moment so let’s keep our fingers crossed. A belated happy new year to you all. And from Juliet Williams:

 


Christmas days: realia – the head in the gable

My new year’s resolution will be to get the blog back on track with regular posts. As a start, I’m returning to short posts for Christmas. The theme this year is realia.

Realia is a word which was used in the olden days of libraries to mean “real” things, objects and other non-book items. I used to like the implication that books, the main objects of my career and a large part of my life were therefore unreal, illusory things. In a way of course they are, or at least their physical forms are only the piece which sticks out from the realm of imagination into the “real” world. So this week we have some short posts about objects.

Way back in the history of this blog I wrote a post called The Famous Fish Shop about a shop owned by a Mrs Maunder which once  stood on Cheyne Walk before the Embankment. For some reason it was a favourite of local artists. You can go back to that post with the link and see some of them. This is the first, by historian Philip Norman:

 

 

The detail to look for is that plaque or medallion above the top window. A head in profile.

At Chelsea Library in the 80s and 90s there was an archives room (“Archives 4” to be precise) which had a number of objects gathering dust on slate shelves. These objects were largely ignored in my time at Chelsea and never sorted out until we consolidated the last bits of the collection at Kensington in 2012 – 2013. One of them was an oddly shaped wooden case with a glass front. This:

 

 

I can’t remember when I first looked closely at it properly and read the label.

 

 

Somehow then, the actual medallion from the wall of Maunder’s fish shop is still with us while the rest of the building didn’t even see the 20th century, let alone the 21st. The stone is crumbling and when I moved it to a position in which I could take pictures I thought for a moment the whole thing was about to collapse. But it didn’t.

 

 

I’ve now moved it to a more secure spot where it can sit quietly and remember Old Chelsea.

 

 

Obscure Books

Instead of books of the year, this time around I’m writing about obscure books I’ve enjoyed over a number of years. Regular readers know I like science fiction and the supernatural. All the books this year have elements of both, but also an indefinable quality which defies categorization.

 

Todd Grimson’s Brand New Cherry Flavour (1996) will not be obscure much longer.  An adaptation will soon be seen on Netflix. How that will work out will be interesting to see. It’s a story of decadent life in Los Angeles. Aspiring young film maker Lisa Nova seeks revenge on a producer who exploited her and seeks the aid of a sorcerer. The vengeance gets spectacularly and bizarrely out of hand.

She dreams a horror movie into existence, and some of the cast make their own leap into reality…..I decided I would read it again before publishing this post, but I haven’t finished it yet and it’s Christmas morning already. So take my word for it, it’s genuinely weird.

Grimson wrote a couple of other books including Stainless, a vampire novel also set in 80s California..

Monkeys of Christmas

You can’t leave the simian pluffies out Christmas, or keep them out of the archive.

 

 

There will be a couple more Christmas posts this week. A happy Christmas to you all.


The contents of the box

In the comments section after a recent post, loyal reader Marcia Howard asked what do we keep in the famous cedar wood box? Well this week I’ll tell you.

First, the box, quite a nice object in itself.

 

 

The metal plate which is now detached from the lid of the box, attests to its origin.

 

 

It reads: 1846 Made from a portion of one of the Two Cedar Trees, designated “The Brothers” planted by Sir Hans Sloane in the Botanic Garden, Chelsea AD 1683

There is also a handwritten note:

 

Conveniently transcribed:

 

 

The trees themselves, looking north.

 

 

You can just about make out the statue of Sir Hans Sloane in the distance. Here is a 1903 photograph of the last of the trees.

 

The one from which the box was made it seems.

Within the box are several small objects which were kept there so they didn’t go astray:

A pass to the King’s Road. This was given, as Chelsea aficionados would expect, by Reginald Blunt, historian and founder of the Chelsea Society.

 

 

Which King?

 

 

George. The second, as it happens.

A pass to Ranelagh House,1745

 

 

The same George. The pass is not as impressive as some of the printed invitations we have seen, like this one to the Regatta Ball, of 1775.

 

 

 

Or this one:

 

 

Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited“, if I’m remembering the quotation correctly.

I have added a few other items to the box over the years:

Reginald Blunt’s pass to the Chelsea Physic Garden (stamped “one visit only”) and printed with the instruction “Ring the Bell at the Gate in Swan Walk and present this order” ,which sounds like it comes from a mystery story.

 

 

A small coin, or medal, a souvenir of the Gigantic Wheel at Earls Court

 

 

A pair of tickets to the Chelsea Historical Pageant of 1908,

 

 

and a useful map of the grounds.

 

 

We’ve been to the Pageant before of course. And no doubt we will go there again.

Another coin/medal which seems to commemorate the Great Exhibition.

 

 

 

With a monarch and her consort on the back.

 

 

You don’t need me to tell you who they are.

 

And of course, a blue elephant. No inventory of the contents of an old wooden box is complete without one of those.

 

 

Postscript

Even the short posts have dried up recently. And I can’t guarantee that this post represents a return to normal service. I’ve had a lot on this summer/autumn: a bit of illness, recruitment issues and other actual work problems which have detracted from the frivolous activity of blogging. And now I’m in the middle of the London History Festival, which is going pretty well, but does consume my time. I’m sure you know however that blogging is my first love, and that I’m trying to get back to it.


Halloween story – the traveller

My friend Dave and I were in another obscure pub in South Kensington and he was telling me again that he had a doppelganger who sold newspapers and magazines at Baron’s Court Station. Actually, he said, the double had probably retired by now. He himself would have done if he had to do that job for years. It was the second time I had heard the story so we didn’t get far with it. Instead we turned to anomalous and unexpected places, and Dave’s theory of urban mazes. Dave had quite a thing about mazes, and ornamental gardens, something he had in common with one of his colleagues, a woman named Dee. Or who called herself Dee as he put it. She was Japanese he said, and Dee is not a Japanese name. She seemed Japanese in other ways he thought, but just as I was loosing interest in her he told me that the other staff sometimes called her the Time Traveller. Why was that? Well, sometimes she didn’t seem to understand fairly basic things about the world and the way it is. Or she would suddenly express an interest in something that she had discovered as if it wasn’t already well known to most people. He called it the “oh those Beatles” syndrome. And he added as if this was the clincher, she always wore long dresses or skirts.

 

 

Well. not uncommon surely, especially these days. But this was not good enough for him. I tell you she dresses like she just stepped out of a time machine. Well, that proves it I said. Missing Dr Who companion, vampire, some other kind of immortal. But time travel is a bit unlikely. We’ve all seen those pictures which look like someone using a mobile phone in an old photograph. It’s amusing, might even be worth a mention in Fortean Times. You should meet her. She sounds a bit young for me I said. It’s always a bit distasteful. an older man with some young woman. Then I digressed with a story about how I had seen from the upper deck of a bus a pretty young woman bidding a found farewell to her boyfriend, some big nosed older guy who clearly couldn’t believe his luck at this girl fawning on him. No, I’ll make sure she knows I’m not trying to set you up. I’ll tell her you’re an expert on history, and not a dirty old man at all. Fifty three isn’t old I said, recalling Kingsley Amis in the Green Man citing it as the age when things started to go down hill for a while. We veered off for a while and then he produced his punch line, an photograph of an actual maze. This is the small maze at Arcover House – the place where the Cyanogrphers used to meet. It’s gone now, ripped up in the war. Dee talks as if she’s actually seen it.

 

 

Okay then, worth a look. We arranged to meet in the same pub. I brought along my tablet, loaded with views of old Kensington, to establish my bona fides or to fill in any lulls in the conversation. At the last minute I got a text from Dave  saying he couldn’t come, and that Dee had changed her look (what did that mean?). I remembered the pre-mobile era when if you made an arrangement, you had to stick with it, or just stand the other person up. You couldn’t make a vague arrangement and then text the fine details, or phone the person up and find them waving to you from down the street. On the other hand, staring at a phone or a laptop is a good way of looking like you’re doing something when you’re sitting alone somewhere. I was doing that when I noticed a woman was standing in front of me. She was wearing a big raincoat but I could see her lower legs and a pair of blue fur-trimmed ankle boots.

I went to get her a drink and when I got back the raincoat was draped over a seat and I could see she was wearing a mild Loilita outfit, a blue dress with a print featuring whales and ships, and looked very Japanese indeed.

Dave says you’ve changed your look?

She smiled at me . I heard about that time traveler thing, so I thought it was time for a change. Something a little more 21st century.

How’s it working for you?

Well, it’s a lot of layers. A bit warm actually. But that’s just like my younger days. The time traveler thing? Well that’s true. I’ve given myself away a few times recently, so I thought it was time to try actually telling someone to see how it goes.

And I’m a good security risk?  Or someone known to be given to flights of fancy?

Well, why not. Dave said you know 19th Century Kensington like the back of your hand. Do you know the Victoria Road / Victoria Grove area?

I flicked through some pictures on the tablet.

 

 

She took it off me and stared closely, expanding the view with her finger and thumb. She pointed at a house, and said it was hers. That’s where I grew up. My Mum and I lived with an English couple who took us in when we had to leave home. I think. I grew up speaking English. I used to walk up this road.

There was a second view.

 

 

She expanded that  one.

 

 

I remember those boys. Harry and Jim.That woman, the one in a hurry, she looks like one of my teachers. The school was just around the corner.

 

 

It looks a bit grim in black and white, but it was okay.

 

 

We did art

 

 

and science

 

 

and gym.

 

 

I never liked the climbing ropes.

On Sundays we went to the park. I’ve always liked gardens.

 

 

I had friends. I was happy.

 

 

So what happened?

In my last year I was sent for by the head mistress. She told me my life would change one day. I would be needed for an important task. She gave me a small leather wallet, which I was to carry with me at all times. She never told me how she had chosen me for this task. perhaps because I was already an outsider.

 

 

One day, late in the summer term she called me in and told me I should go home and get changed, into my “adult” clothes, with a long skirt, a white blouse, a wide belt and elegant shoes which I borrowed from my mother’s collection. You won’t see your mother again, or the Smiths. Can you bear that? I thought I could, although really I didn’t think about it at all. At the house I selected a nice wide hat too, my own, recently bought for me so I could pose for a photograph by that old man in Stafford Terrace.

As I had been instructed I left the house and walked south, going through the church gate, beside which two younger girls sat on a wooden bench. One of them  raised her hand as if in greeting and smiled at me.

 

 

I walked through the overgrown garden and down a short set of steps into a mews.

 

 

I had never been this way before. I walked along the mews under an arch and found myself in a wide street.

 

 

There were vehicles moving rapidly in front of me, and there was noise. Automobiles I supposed, though nothing like the ones I had seen before..

And people, many different kinds of people walking along paying no attention to me. Men, women, old, young dressed in such a variety of clothing I felt bewildered .In particular, the women who wore anything from all concealing robes to what looked like nothing more than underwear. And hardly any of them wore a hat.

The packet contained directions to a firm of solicitors in Kensington Church Street. I knew the way but I was terrified by the vehicles passing by, and the variety of people, all walking quickly towards me. A few of them stared at me. After a while I got to the park and went in, looking for a familiar setting.

I sat at a bench. I removed my hat and let my hair loose, shaking it out as though I was preparing for bed. I felt a little more comfortable after that. I walked past a huge building which was set in the place of the new hotel by the park. It was also a hotel it seemed, so some things had not changed. I carried my hat. I felt better now walking down the road, apart from the vehicles. I was used to heavy traffic on the High Street  and knew how to dash between carriages to get across it, but the size of those vehicles, especially a huge thing which I realised was an omnibus. I saw a number 9. How was that possible?

 

I found the solicitor’s office. I had to wait some time in a comfortable, beautifully padded chair before I was seen by an old man, who asked a few questions and looked at me. He put me under the supervision of a young woman barely older than me who took me in a taxi to a house, where a suite of rooms had been prepared for me. She visited me several times, brought me clothes, and showed me how to use the many devices in the flat.

And what was the task, after all that?

Oh, that! I thought you’d ask. I had to make a phone call. I had to deliver a warning. I was given information to prove that I was a reliable source. It wasn’t that easy but I eventually got to speak to the right person. I can’t say much. It was about a date, when something would happen, and I had to tell whoever it was enough to stop it happening. So that date wouldn’t be important.

And I suppose things would be different, but we would never know.

I guess so.

We sat quietly for a while. I had believed every word. I saw no reason not to do so. Over Dee’s shoulder the TV was showing Bowie, back in the UK for a farewell tour. The programme was interrupted by a news bulletin. President Clinton’s peace talks in Tehran had been successful. Iran, Syria and Turkey had agreed on a peace plan which included the creation of a new country, Kurdistan. Nice going. The World Environment Council had appointed a 16-year old girl as its new General Secretary. The new Prime Minister’s name was Johnson. He used to be a postman.

The world was okay, it seemed, and had survived Dee’s mysterious phone call. I asked her if she had made any more phone calls. I imagined that one person could do many of them.

I looked across at the elaborately made up face of the young Japanese woman. I made a prediction in my mind that she would wink. And she did.

 

 

Postscript

Someone told me the other day that I looked like Mike Mills, of REM. I don’t think it quite rises to the level of a doppelganger situation though. Perhaps old men come to resemble each other. In this world I’m a bit older than 53, but I like the Green Man, and Amis’s comment about middle age is true.

 


Short posts – leisure

From time to time I have to scan pictures for enquiries and requests and inevitably you see other images you like in the picture chests and think “I should scan that as well”. So I often do, on the assumption that we’ll need to scan them all eventually so why not now. So another batch of pictures get done which are only connected by the fact that they have caught my interest. And this is what we have today.

 

 

The embankment. Two girls wearing some kind of harness are pulling a third, in the riverside gardens on Cheyne Walk, in 1927, but the driver isn’t sitting in a carriage, she’s running with them. It doesn’t look like that much fun to me, but in the 1920s you had to find your fun where you could. At least they’re getting some exercise.

The picture below is from a slightly later period.

 

 

A picturesque view down Old Church Street, showing a dog being walked (he is showing some interest in another dog, which has been picked up by a girl in school uniform, while a young couple look on with interest), a pair of men delivering milk or groceries (the one in the distance has the benefit of a horse drawn wagon, the nearest one has to pull his own wagon), while a couple of boys are lingering at the edge of the picture (it looks to me as though one of them is having his ear examined by his mother, but that could be me reading too much into it.

The image below is a photograph of a painting by Philip Norman, who was also a London historian.


 

“The back of old houses in Cheyne Walk”. With rather a large garden for the use of young children and small animals. I’m not sure precisely where these houses were but my impression is that they were near Beaufort Street.

Chelsea, of course has one or two celebrated gardens, like this one.

 

 

This shows “the last of the old cedars” in the Apothecaries Garden. The cedars were famous  from Fuge’s print. (He did one image from each direction. This is north, I think. The version I had was in colour but it didn’t seem quite right to me so I put a filter on this to tone down the red. Not enough?

 

 

(Archive trivia: In addition to images of the Physic Garden, the Local Studies also possesses a wooden box, reportedly made from the wood of one of these trees.)

The picture below also features the trees, along with a group of botanists engaged in detailed study.

 

 

The next picture also comes from the 18th century, where as you can see, a number of people are entertaining themselves or being entertained in a small but ornate walled garden. Drinking, dancing, listening to a musician (playing what, exactly?) or taking a turn round the fountain. This according to the caption is Spring Gardens, a small establishment which was located on a site where Lowndes Square was subsequently built.

 

 

I naturally turned to Warwick Wroth’s “London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th Century” (1896, reprinted 1979), a pleasantly exhaustive survey of gardens large and small to learn a little more. It turns out to be more complicated than I thought.  It seems there was a Chelsea Spring Gardens and a Knightsbridge Spring Gardens. Both were “places of public entertainment” featuring displays of “fireworks and horsemanship” with other devices employing fire and water. One of them was connected with a couple of taverns, the Star and Garter and the Dwarf’s Tavern. The co-proprietor of the latter was the celebrated John Coan (“the unparalleled Norfolk Dwarf”) who laid on for his guests “a most excellent ham, some collared eel, potted beef etc, with plenty of sound old bright wine and punch like nectar”. The quotation is from a notice reprinted in Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. On this occasion Mr Coan was available to guest, but for another shilling they could see “The bird of knowledge”. I would have looked in on that.

In the picture though, it seems to be a quiet day. I can’t leave John Coan without showing you this picture by Marianne Rush entitled “The house at the Five Fields where Coan the Norfolk Dwarf exhibited himself”. How much of this is the artist’s imagination I can’t say. But there is plenty of interesting (though out of scale?) detail. Rush is one of my favourite artists in our collection.

 

 

Finally a picture of a private garden, which is definitely quiet. In Kensington, this is a view from Bullingham House which was off Kensington Church Street. (There is a photo of the house from the garden showing these same steps in this post. )

 

 

This is a pretty and well composed picture (it has been used on a greetings card) showing the typical large garden of a house of the 1860s, when much of Kensington was suburban. The crinoline dress is well suited to a sunny afternoon in a quiet corner of London with a privileged young woman enjoying some hours of leisure. Compare it to a the pictures in this post , taken a decade or so later, particularly the first image which shows another lady walking down steps into a garden. (The last photo in the post shows her doing some serious relaxing.)

In the end a theme did emerge from this near random collection of images: leisure, hence the title. I should do a whole post on people relaxing in gardens. One day.


At last the 1936 show: Barkers of Kensington

We’re moving west along Kensington High Street and we’ve now reached the Barkers building, opposite the point where the High Street intersects with Kensington Church Street. We’ll pause here this week because the Barkers building is Kensington High Street’s signature building, which has been a central part of the look of the street for more than 80 years. Its curved frontage is like the prow of a ship, a luxury ocean liner of shopping.

 

 

Barkers is the first of the three department stores of Kensington. Along with Derry and Toms, and Pontings it was the focus of serious shopping in Kensington during the heyday of the big stores. The fact that it is now occupied by a number of different retailers and offices doesn’t distract from the grandeur of the building.

But this building was not the first Barkers store. John Barker came to London in the 1850s and worked at the Bayswater store, Whiteley’s. He leased the first of his Kensington properties in 1870, and began the slow process of colonizing the block between Young Street and Derry Street, and the streets behind (see this post about the streets at the rear of Barker’s) The first substantial Barker’s building can be seen in this from the west in a photo by the Stiles brothers.

 

 

 

You can just make out the letters of the name in the distance.

Here’s a closer look.

 

 

 

The expansion was dealt a severe blow in November 1912 when a fire gutted the east end of the main block.

 

 

In those days it was common for big stores to provide living accommodating for their staff either on site or nearby. Barkers had been acquiring property in Kensington Square for various purpose including living space for their staff. but there were still 20 people living on the fifth floor. Five waitresses died after jumping prematurely from high windows.

For a while the store traded from a site they had leased across the road

 

 

This would be where the Ladymere building would be built. You can see the side of the Royal Palace Hotel on the right.

The fire damage was repaired and the work of being a huge shopping emporium carried on.

 

 

Groceries for everyday use.

Special occasions

 

 

And fashion

 

 

The “display hall”, 1930. Women’s fashion was a big priority for Barker’s as demonstrated by two scans from the catalogue of 1935, the 65th year of business.

 

 

 

Plans for a new building began from the 1920s. The directors took inspiration from Selfridges and from visits to the USA. One of the chief directors, Trevor Bowen went there in 1919 and was particularly impressed by the Marshall Field’s store in Chicago. There were delays along the way. Barker’s merged with Derry and Toms in 1920 and their building was the first to be replaced with a modern version. (Bowen would have been particularly occupied by the roof garden, which was his brainchild and arguably remains as his most interesting legacy.) Plans for the new Barkers start in 1933 and building work started in 1936. It was an even more ambitious project than the rebuiling of Derry and Toms, with the two dramatic staircase towers which add to the impression that the building is about to start moving forwards. Work was intended to finish in 1942,  but was stopped during the War. Post war changes in planning law and building regulations also had a delaying effect so work carried on into the 1950s.

 

 

This 1951  picture shows that the last section of the frontage was not yet complete. It shows how the shape we know now was the result of another road widening. Note the huge sign warning about the bottleneck (still a feature of this section of the street). If you look in the centre distance you can see a big sign over the Slater’s store. Have a look at that here.

The building was finished in 1957 by which time the House of Fraser had taken over the company

This picture shows the finished building and how well it matches Derry and Toms.

 

 

Lowly Pontings (“the store for value”) limped on in a less  impressive building but was the the first part of this retail empre to go. (See one of my early posts here). I think you could say that in the 1960s, the zenith of department store shopping had not yet passed so Barker’s glided on into my teenage and adult life. Derry and Toms morphed into Biba and later Marks and Spencer and Gap In the 1980s and 90s but the Barkers building remained as the biggest thing in the High Street.

 

 

 

This picture looks west in a similar way to the first photo in the post.

 

 

 

While preparing this post it was inevitable that I would zoom in on this view.

 

 

Along with the lady’s nice coat (a winter picture, confirmed by those Chritmas trees), you can see a green bus.

Although you can’t make out much detail, Matthew soon found a picture of that actual vehicle using the strange powers of the enthusiast.

 

 

From the same date, the west entrance, with a toy display.

 

 

And the banner: Barkers of Kensington.

Below, a handy set of images showing some of the interior shops after this part of the building became a kind of small shopping mall. Barkers Arcade was a name I found a couple of times.

 

 

 

(Was there actually a branch of Hatchards there, or has the photographer inserted some shops for demonstrating what was possible?)

Despite changes in use and the decline of department store shopping the iconic building remains almost as it was originally envisaged, seen below in an architect’s drawing of a slightly wider high street in a slightly grander London.

 

 

 

Postscript

I haven’t done an obituary lately so this week let’s pay tribute to Roky Erickson, psychedelic pioneer with the exotically named Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Do you remember any of the other equally hallucinogenic names from Lenny Kaye’s compilation album Nuggets? (The Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Electric Prunes, the Nazz? And many others) Roky unfortunately was a victim of excessive drug taking and spent some years in mental hospitals. But he came back and recorded more general weirdness in later life. I had a couple of singles by him in the 1980s, my personal favourite, Bermuda but not forgetting Two Headed Dog, which features another couplet I love: “Two headed dog, two headed dog / I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog.” I almost never use the word gonzo but that song deserves it.

Roger Kynard Erickson (did you see what he did there?) 1947-2019. Thank you. We are going to miss you.

 


Dancing in Arcadia: the May Queen Festival

I saw Paul Wright’s film Arcadia recently shown on BBC4 (with music by Adrian Uttley and Will Gregory) which brought together archive footage about our obsession with the mysteries of rural life in the UK. I was most drawn to the footage of traditional rituals and celebrations which link us to the distant past in ways which we don’t always understand. I’ve lived in London for a large part of my life but we lived closer to a more rural way of life in my childhood and adolescence. I’m part of what a writer in Fortean Times magazine has called the “haunted generation” whose imaginations were inhabited by the paranormal and supernatural as it was seen on TV (in dramas for children and public information films) and in books of fantasy and horror. The ephemeral nature of the pre-video world  adds to that haunted quality and has an echo in my work, which often consists of assembling fragments of the past in old photographs and paintings.

[Bob Fischer, The Haunted Generation, Fortean Times 354 June 2017, with follow ups in later issues.]

I thought, naturally,  of the May Queen Festival at Whitleands College, a favourite topic of mine as regular readers of this blog know only too well.

Here, in 1900, the students danced around a maypole in the traditional way.

 

 

It looks quaint and old to us. But remember, they too were in a modern age, remembering an older world of folk dancing and singing. The Maypole dance has been revived before in Chelsea like here, forty years or more previously, at Cremorne Gardens.

 

 

The College dates from 1855, not far off the scene in the etching. Perhaps some of the students or teachers could have sneaked away to wicked Cremorne and seen the dance. So perhaps it imfiltrated the collective memory of the College. In any case, the dance was a fixture at the May Queen Festival throughout its history.

 

 

In 1919, the students were ready to dance.

As they were again in 1921. Or, with the pole wrapped, perhaps they had finished a practice session.

 

 

The long white gowns and fancy dress had given way to a kind of fitness uniform.

1923, two students pose with a class of local children.

 

 

The quadrangle at Whitelands College could pass for a sylvan setting behind the walls of the House but their move to Putney in 1930 moved them into a much more rural setting.

 

 

In 1931 they’re back to a more traditional look with long gowns and some interesting medieval / psychedelic costumes.

Later groups of students were pictured dancing confidently.

 

 

 

And managing the more complicated stuff.

 

 

In 1937 they’re dancing in pairs.

 

 

The young woman in the middle about to be sacrificed later, of course, metaphorically obviously.

The celebrations were not confined to the Maypole.

 

 

 

1926, on the mat.

And in 1932 some Greek dancing on the grass.

 

 

Influence of Margaret Morris? Below, a little more Cecil Sharp.

 

And the just plain odd. Harlequin.

 

 

And hypnosis (or you may have a better guess.)

 

 

A tame version of sword dancing, with sticks instead of actual swords, and another dancing uniform.

 

 

The dancing looks a little more light hearted and less haunted as the 1920s moved into the 1930s but as before the First World War, darkness awaited all the dancers in one form or another. Arcadia drifted back into the background, but it would be back later, because that idea of a timeless earthly paradise remains in our imagination. It takes me back to 1970s children’s television and as I’ve been told, Derrida’s hauntology.

With the 1970s in mind, the final image is, another in a series of pictures which remind me of 1970s folk-rock bands and quirky photos on the inside of gatefold album sleeves.

 

 

 

The May Monarch Festival goes on, as I always say, and with it my greetings to this year’s monarch who will be crowned this month.

 

Postscript

I had an idyll of my own over Easter so apologies for not publishing a post for a couple of weeks. Obviously I couldn’t miss the May Queens.

It is an odd coincidence perhaps that John Bowen, author and screen writer passed away this week. (he was the author of a seminal work of folk-horror Robin Redbreast, which originally appeared in the Play for Today slot, like David Rudkin’s Penda’s Fen.)

Another recent death for lovers of the weird, that of Gene Wolfe, the author of the Book of the New Sun quartet and many other workd of science fiction. My sympathies to the fans, friends and famillies of both of them.

 


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