Category Archives: 19th Century

Did you say an ostrich? High jinks at Batty’s Hippodrome

It’s a high summer at the moment so my mind is wandering back to a summer in another year, 1851. Was it a hot July in Kensington that year? Hot enough I expect, but not hot enough to deter a hypothetical young woman in her early 20s from looking for fun. We’ll call her Miss Charlotte Green, daughter of the widower Franklin Bryce Green, an American who had prospered in the wine trade whose British wife had died comparatively young, as wives sometimes did in those days of a disease which would be treated quite easily a hundred or so years later. (She was buried in the extensive and elegant grounds of Kensal Green cemetery near the mausoleums of the rich and famous). Charlotte had a governess/ companion always called  Freeman by her father although her first name was Nancy.

There was not much fun in Kensington in the 1850s . Barbara Denny and Carrie Starren, in their book Kensington Past  actually have a section called “Not much fun” to illustrate this unpopular aspect of Kensington life. There was the Great Exhibition of course  in the Crystal  Palace in Hyde Park (May to October 1851). But Charlotte and Miss Freeman had been to that several times and although she enjoyed herself wandering around in the giant glass house, seeing and being seen, in the end it was just walking and looking. She wanted some excitement.

Charlotte pasted pictures from newspapers and journals into a scrapbook. Many years later the images were faded and stained but they brought back memories of that summer.

 

 

She was a regular reader of this publication.

 

 

It featured news of a new venture launched by Mr William Batty. Batty’s National Hippodrome. Hoping to catch visitors to the Exhibition Batty had set up his arena on the south side of Kensington road near the road we now call Palace Gate.

The handbills promised some marvelous equestrian and musical displays.

 

 

All set in a splendid new arena, built to contain these wonders.

 

 

 

 

The Lady’s Newspaper published artist’s impressions of the races, including these two gentlemen recreating a chariot race between two Roman consuls.

 

 

Charlotte wondered if the consuls of ancient Rome had the time to engage in this sort of activity? Weren’t they involved with the Senate? (Charlotte had a sketchy idea of Roman history). But if they had then surely the spectacle would have looked something like that. Charlotte and Miss Freeman had every intention of going to see for themselves, and they attended several events, including the inevitable balloon ascent. These were very popular in London at the time. Charlotte had not yet persuaded her father to allow her to see similar events at Cremorne Gardens, in louche, forbidden Chelsea. (We are not so restricted, follow this link.)

 

 

 

The glue Charlotte used  for her scrapbook wasn’t very good, and left stains on the cutting. (Her apologies.)

 

 

Charlotte like the idea of doing some fancy riding herself.

 

 

She could do that, she was sure, and she had a decent riding habit.

 

 

So they went, on Monday July 21st.

 

And they saw the “French equestriennes”, having their own chariot race.

 

 

Charlotte could easily imagine herself at the reins of a chariot, outpacing the less adventurous Miss Freeman in the other vehicle.

And the ostriches?

 

 

 

 

Well, they were good too, but Charlotte didn’t like the idea of riding one of those. She didn’t imagine the bird cared for it much either.

Batty’s Hippodrome closed after one season but the arena stayed on the map for some years.

 

 

 

Charlotte took some proper riding lessons, but she still dreamed of equestrian stunts. I believe she inherited a considerable sum on the death of her father. Still unmarried, she and Miss Freeman travelled abroad, and who knows what feats of  horsemanship they accomplished far away from Kensington?

 

 

Postscript

This was meant to be a quick throwaway post after the rigors of Kensington Church Street, but it’s a day late already. I’ve been a bit busy.

Many of you will have heard of North Kensington’s  lost horse racing track, the Hippodrome. I did a short post on it for an internal publication back at the beginning of the blog called Horse Locomotion. I might revive that as one of this year’s Christmas posts.

This week’s obituary notice is for the comic artist Steve Ditko, who collaborated with Stan Lee in the creation of some of Marvel’s best known characters, such as Spiderman and Doctor Strange. His quirky style  could not be mistaken for any other artist in the years when Marvel had many of the greats. But looking back at the tributes online I realised that his post-Marvel work for DC and others was equally inventive. We may not remember the Blue Beetle, Nukla, Captain Atom, and the Creeper quite as well as the heroes of the Marvel universe, now being brought to cinema, but i did remember how many times I broke my vow of loyalty to Marvel by buying a DC comic featuring one of Ditko’s heroes. Thank you Mr Ditko.

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Kensington Church Street – grand houses and large houses

I had feeling that this week’s post was going to be as late as last week’s. But maybe not. As I recall we were about here…

 

 

Just at the point where Kensington Church Street veers left (or north west if you prefer) while Vicarage Gate carries on northwards. The building which looms above us in this picture is Winchester Court, a nicely curved block of flats built in 1935. Before it was there, according to my constant companion, the Survey of London there was “a large house” which became a convent, and then the Orphanage of St Vincent de Paul.

Winchester Court allows me to use the word faience for the first time on the blog, meaning a glazed ceramic surface. Even in monochrome you can see the first and second floors are finished in black faience. (Now I have the name I can also say that the oxblood tiles on some Piccadilly Line stations are also examples.)

We haven’t quite got round the corner. If I mention one convent I should also mention the impressive Carmelite Priory and Roman Catholic Church on the west side of the street.  The current building was finished in 1959 and was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. (Famous for, among many other buildings, both Battersea and Bankside power stations and the frankly staggering Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.) His grandfather designed St Mary Abbots Church, of course. The odd thing is that I can’t seem to find a photo of the 1959 building in our collection. Naturally, I could lay my hands on a couple of views of the old building, and here is one of them:

 

 

The front of the church can also be seen in this picture.

 

 

The original print is small in size but crisp. You can see the spire of St Mary Abbots, the old Barker’s building at the bottom of the hill and the walls of the houses opposite the church. I have naturally enlarged the image to have a look at the pedestrians.

 

 

Note the horse bus climbing slowly up the hill.

This historical view actually fits in with my other idea for this week. When I looked at an old plan of Kensington Church Street circa 1833 it showed several example of the “large houses” which were fairly common in Kensington at the time.

Maitland House, demolished 1905 stood in grounds next to the Palace Forcing Grounds (see last week).

 

 

It was the home of the artist Sir David Wilkie and the father of John Stuart Mill. The photo is by Augustus Stieglitz.

Its next door neighbour was York House, seen here from the west.

 

 

 

York House, demolished at about the same time was even grander than Maitland House.

 

 

It was once the home of Princess Sophia Matilda, one of the daughters of George III, who lived there from 1839 till her death in 1848

 

We’ll come to other grand houses as we proceed. They all met a similar fate as Kensington turned from country to city. (not one shared by the grand houses of nearby Campden Hill Road which lasted well into the 20th century. I covered some of them in this post.)

This 1980 picture shows the buildings which replaced Maitland and York Houses. block on the left was the York House flats and the office/showroom in the centre was originally built for The Gas Light and Coke Company in 1924.

 

 

 

There was a house called Bullingham House round the corner to the north west.

 

 

But here things get a little complicated. There were two houses called Newton House, named after Sir Isaac who lived in one of them (possibly) quite near to each other on this side of Church Street (or Lane as it would have been). We’ve been here before in a post about the artist Thomas Hosmer Shepherd  You can see some pleasant water colours of these houses, but also a factual error I didn’t notice at  the time.

Let’s go forward in time a little.

 

 

Here, by the side of the old church is Newton Court, the opposite side of the road from Winchester Court. This one was modern  and desirable in 1926. Probably still quite desirable.

Moving even further forward to 1980 again, and crossing the road once more..

 

 

 

The east side of the street, next to Winchester Court.

We have at least got round the corner and are heading north. But remember that bus, heaving up the hill?

 

 

In full uncompressed colour, not the same vehicle but one very like it, anticipating many of the journeys I have made up the hill. Although we’ve moved even slower this week a matter of yards even, we are now pointing north, and poised for the next stage in our journey.

I might do something else next week, just for fun, but we will be returning to Kensington Church Street soon. For added clarity, here is the plan of Church lane as it was in 1833.

 

 

 

Before the postscript though thanks to the late Barbara Denny and the still going strong  Carrie Starren for their book Kensington Past which has helped me when the water of the Survey of London grew too murky. I’ll be drawing on this work again.

 

Postscript

I was a bit late posting last week so although I had heard of the death of Harlan Ellison I didn’t have time to write anything. Then this week I heard about the passing of Peter Firmin so now I have to mention them both without incurring cognitive dissonance. Harlan Ellison was a science fiction writer and polemicist, a champion of “new” SF in the sixties and seventies, a gifted writer of short stories, many of which had extraordinary, typically 60s titles (“I have no mouth and I must scream”; “The beast that shouted love at the heart of the world”;  and my personal favourite: “Repent, Harlequin! said the TickTock Man” – the collection Deathbird Stories would be a good place to start. I think my copy is in a box in a storage unit in Fulham so finding it would be a good story in itself) He was editor of the seminal series of Dangerous Visions anthologies, TV script writer (The Outer Limits episodes Demon with a Glass Hand and Soldier for example, and the Start Trek time travel episode City at the Edge of Forever) and more. A media personality before SF writers  did much of that and a thorn in the flesh of the establishment. The film of his story A boy and his dog can currently be seen on Prime – a great twist at the end.

Peter Firmin was the co-creator of the Clangers, and many other collaborations with Oliver Postgate. So in his own way another giant of science fiction.

I’ve been doing a bit a period reading recently, in a 1966 edition of Geoffery Ashe’s book King Arthur’s Avalon. There is a certain kind of pleasure in reading a non-fiction book written in 1956 which is quite different from reading an old novel. It feels like i was once again reading a book from the city library when I was a teenager and picked up lots of books concerned with history and mythology.

In the modern life of informaton I can find out that, unexpectedly to me (we’re always consigning people to the grave before their time) Ashe is still alive, now aged 95. No obituary for him just yet. I hope he is well.


Kensington Church Street – slowly up the hill

Kensington Church Street is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Kensington, and as essential to the identity of Kensington as the High Street. So given that we have plenty of pictures of it in the collection it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a post on it before. Well perhaps I’ve overlooked it, as people sometimes do, thinking of it as just the winding street which takes you up the hill to Notting Hill Gate, where North Kensington begins. That’s quite a steep hill in parts (steeper as I’ve gotten older), so I’ve nearly always got the 52 or the 28 or the 27 or their variations over the years. But we’ll take it in stages this time. This view, more than a hundred years old, is still recognizeable.

 

There’s the Civet Cat on the corner. There’s no pub there now (it’s been a bank in its time and even a pizza restaurant) but the sign depicting the eponymous cat is still there. The blurred person on the left must have been an early riser because this has always been a busy spot.

 

 

A 1980 view. Where was the photographer standing? Somewhere safe I hope. See the security bars on the ground floor windows?

It was possibly a little safer back in 1912. safe enough for that guy on the left to be sitting down.

 

 

That canopy was about to be removed, hence the photograph, taken on June 4th that year. Number 6 was not a place for refreshment or theatrical performances but was in fact the Kensington Trunk Stores. (For all your trunking needs). The building next door at number 8 was the Prince of Wales public house (Mrs Jane Evans licensee) , and beyond that, Lockhart’s Cocoa Rooms, the Edwardian equivalent of a Starbucks or a Costa.

This end of the street was dominated by St Mary Abbots Church which towered over the terrace of house while seeming to brush against it.

 

 

The buildings in that terrace are actually older than the church, (numbers 1-5 were built in 1760) which is the version completed in the 1890s (see Isabel’s post here for a thorough account of the church itself)

There have been some alterations to the house but the old structures remain. Compare the view with this one from 1949.

 

 

(courtesy of the National Monuments Record)

And a closer view from 1964.

 

 

Mother and daughter looking in the window of number 13 (Robinson Joshua, linen drapers).

A few years later the daughter might be looking here, a few doors up the street at 19/21.

 

 

The picture below is one of my favourites and was taken by our friend Albert Argent Archer.

 

 

The print is from a glass negative and contains many fascinating details. I could almost write an entire post about this one image, with it’s multiplicity of advertising posters for Pear’s Soap, Nestle and Rowntree products (and Birds, of custard fame – the “Rhubard Girl”). One of the Nestle ads is I’m sure by John Hassall. And then the theatre posters – the “Pink Lady”, “The Monk and the Woman” and most familiar, “Ben-Hur”, an adpatation of the novel by Lew Wallace.

Further down the side street you can see, already boarded up a “Fish Dinner and Supper Bar”. Spare a glance for the two semi-visible boys with a tricycle working for Armfield and Sons, Chemical Cleaners. And right on the corner a hunched up man in a coat peering round the corner.

If you can’t see them all, try another, lighter version of the print:

 

 

You can also follow the shops heading south to the High Street: at number 28, James Turner (laundry receiving office), Edmund William Evans (photographer) the Belgravia Dairy Company (an urban dairy), the Kensington Restaurant (proprietor  Agostino de Maria) at number 20.

Speaking of which,let’s take a quick look inside.

 

A comfortable spot, for lunch or dinner.

Followed by  Mrs Rose Schofield (corsetiere), Davis and Son (dyers and cleaners), the National Telephone Company (for making public calls), Kenyon J H (funeral furnishers) which takes us back to Lockhart’s Cocoa Rooms

A similar view from 1961. The view is not as sharp as the earlier picture but there is another selection of posters.

 

 

And the chemists at 26-28 offers “Toilet Requisites” a phrase you don’t hear much nowadays, redolent of 1970s sit-coms. (In my mind I hear the words being uttered by John Cleese, with a repetition of the final syllable)

As we move up the street you can see the line of boards covered with posters continues. The church’s spire, one of the largest of its day, towers over the street.

 

 

In the style of our Secret Life of Postcards series, a close up:

 

 

The young woman on the left making her way deliberately..somewhere. It’s almost possible to make out her features, and wonder what she was up to that day. Beside her, a man looks into the window of James Keen (furniture  warehouse) and behind her the Misses Dodson and Green have a Catholic repository. The other name visible is Giandoni (confectioner and restaurant).

On the east side of the street was the Kensington Barracks, built in the 1850s on the site of the former Kensington Palace Forcing Gardens.

 

 

A view showing the interior, still dominated by the church.

 

 

Although we haven’t got very far up the street, I hope you won’t mind if we digress a little here. The barracks closed in 1972. At one point it was proposed to move the Russian Embassy onto the site but that attracted a degree of controversy and didn’t happen. I discovered this alternative plan dating from 1978.

 

 

A harmless but unexciting artist’s impression of shops and offices, mostly imaginary.

There really was a branch of Our Price records on that corner. While attempting to confirm that fact I looked at the 1976 Kelly’s Directory and saw that Revolution Cassettes was there before Our Price. This stirred a memory. Was that the old name for Our Price? Wikipedia came to the rescue. It seems that the company started out as Tape Revolution and specialized in Music Cassettes and 8 track Cartridges before adopting the more familiar name in 1978.

The barracks were ultimately replaced in the late 1980s by a retail/ office development which created a central space called Lancer Square.

 

 

The only image I found was one from the developers brochure which includes architect’s model and  a little cartoon of a typical Kensington shopper of the 80s. (Big hair, big shoulders – a bulkier look than the next decade) I can remember going to a leaving meal in one of the restaurants at one point but apart from that not being much of a visitor to Lancer Square.

The last time I passed by the spot was on the way to another farewell meal, this time at Wagamama. I took the opportunity to take a quick snap of what was left of Lancer Square, which barely lasted longer than its original lease.

 

 

It’s always odd when something rises and falls entirely within your own personal timeline. Building work on the site is taking place behind another set of boards. They seem to be keeping the Lancer Square name.

The first leg of our latest journey hasn’t taken us far, and we may be pausing to allow some movement backward in time, but this is a good pace for summer. Here at the Library, a bit of data entry is going on, a bit of stock movement, and in the basement some immersive theatre. We’ll make our way slowly up the hill and see what we find on the way.


Eveline, Elsie, Agnes and Joan – May Queens through time

We are all time travellers. Our dilemma is that we can only go in one direction. Sometime time goes slowly, like one of the endless summers of childhood. Sometimes hours or even days get eaten up like minutes. But we can only get off the flow of time by stopping, something you don’t usually want to do. And you can’t go back. But you can fake it sometimes. History, like memory, is one of the ways of hanging onto the past, and one of the best methods is photography.

Another feature of time travel is the regular appointment and my time machine visits this subject every year, the May Queen Festival of Whitelands College. This year’s post is about going back, and we start in 1937. This happens to be the last group photograph in the third volume of the May Queens scrapbooks which are in the College archives. The archivist generously let me have a set of digital images of the pictures in the scrapbooks some years ago, and I have been using them every year since.

In 1937 the College was in Putney. The original Chelsea building couldn’t contain the numbers of students and staff. But the traditions continued and every year there was a new May Queen who was joined on the day of her coronation by former holders of the same office.

 

 

[For reasons of clarity I have not compressed all of this week’s pictures so if you click on a picture to see a bigger version, you should be able to join in the game by studying faces.]

Queen Betty, in the centre of the group,sits on the wooden throne, has some child attendants, holds a bouquet but she is not the main focus of our attention. Look at a few of the other faces.

 

 

The Queen in the red circle is Queen Eveline, who would probably have been in her late 50s, We’re going to follow her back in time to the day she was crowned. I picked her because her dress is quite distinctive, but we won’t follow her on her own. We’re also going to look at Queen Agnes II who was a particularly faithful annual returnee, and Queen Elsie III. I’ve also circled a more recent queen, Queen Joan, but she won’t be with us for long.

 

 

Queen Joan is seated with Agnes at her left shoulder. I did wonder if the the other queen in a blue circle was our old friend from the 2016 post, Queen Mildred but as I looked further I  realised she was Queen Marjorie. By looking carefully and comparing pictures it should be possible to identify them all. But frankly there is a point where careful examination shades into time-consuming obsession so I’m limiting myself to a few names and if there are any other experts I’m happy to hear from you. But this isn’t like spotting vintage cars.

We’re not going back year by year but here is the 1936 group photo which has a good view of the new college building designed by Giles Gilbert Scott.

 

 

Queen Kathleen was the new queen then. You can see her in the first picture, sitting next to Queen Betty. Last year’s queen has to come back to pass on the title. Conveniently, Queen Eveline is just behind her, standing next to Queen Agnes. Queen Joan is there and behind her stands Queen Elsie, who hadn’t made it the following year.

 

 

Now  we move back to 1933.

 

 

Our group of three have clustered together again, with Joan still in the front row.

 

 

In 1932, Elsie was absent.

 

 

Eveline is behind Joan, while Agnes is on the far left, her robes billowing in a breeze. Keep you eye on the white or grey haired queen next to Eveline.

The previous year, 1931, was Joan’s year as Queen.

 

That’s the last time we see her, and the first ceremony in the new College, so to mark her special day, here she is planting a tree to celebrate the occasion, with some hand maidens in attendance.

 

 

In 1929 the College was still in Chelsea.

Queen Eveline wasn’t there that year, but Queens Elsie and Agnes were.

 

 

Elsie is quite plain to see on the right of the group.

 

 

Can you see Queen Agnes?

 

In 1923 there was a smaller gathering.

 

 

Fourteen years younger than the in 1937 picture, Eveline stands at the left next to one of the teenage girls (or younger children) who were were also a feature of the group photos.

This was Queen Marjorie’s year as Queen.

Eveline is also in the 1919 group.

 

 

The Queen that year was Janet, standing next to the Mother Queen, Ellen I.  Janet eventually appeared at the centenary of the festival in 1981.

 

There are Eveline, Elsie and Agnes. The Queen next to  Eveline is Mildred, the 1904 Queen, I think, who doesn’t seem to have attended many ceremonies.

 

 

Next to her is an older queen who might be the one we saw earlier. I’m leaning towards this being Queen Minnie, the 1884 queen. Something about her hairline. But I’m not certain.

 

The 1914 picture is crammed with children, but our trio is all here.

 

 

 

1911 was Elsie’s year. Here she is in the throne room being crowned by Queen Ellen I, the first queen (1881) also know as the Mother Queen, a title passed on to the oldest living queen.

 

 

Note the bust of Ruskin (?) on the far right.

Queen Eveline stands at the back. It’s not a good quality photo but you are beginning to see her as a young woman.

 

 

We mark Elsie’s leaving in this counter clock world with this view of her and her predessor Queen Louise.

 

 

Agnes’s day is coming. Here she is in 1909.

 

 

Mildred and Florence are there with more of the pre-1900 queens.

We’ve seen pictures of Agnes in previous posts but as a farewell, here is a studio  portrait against a painted backdrop.

 

.

Our next step in to go back to Eveline’s own year, 1900. This was the year that Ruskin died, and his influence over the festival was fading. Queen Eveline sits between Queen Annie and Queen Agnes I.

 

 

The three queens behind her who seem to be in civilian dress are from the period when the robes were passed on from year to year. They adopted a variety of dresses over the year.

On the right is Queen Elizabeth II with another distinctive dress. Behind her is Queen Minnie, and next to her Elizabeth I.

The little woman sitting on the floor is Queen Jessie, and she is wearing the second of the two shared robes.

Eveline looks very young in the pictures from this year, like this one with her predecessor, the first Queen Agnes.

 

 

And in this portrait.

 

 

Miss Eveline Head’s part in this story is now finished but in the regular world of time moving forward, her life, like the new century, was just beginning. (Later she married and became Mrs Grey.)

Postscript

This was a tricky post to do, looking back and forth between pictures trying to spot faces from year to year. And, as you’ve noticed, a bit of a marathon in terms of pictures. So one final picture won’t matter.

Queen Minnie, possibly the oldest queen in the 1930s pictures. (Or possibly not. At one point I wondered if she was Ellen II, but more of that another day.

 

 

My thanks as always to Gilly King, the Archivist at Whitelands when I first became fascinated by the subject, and to the College itself. My best wishes to this year’s May Monarch, who will be crowned on May 13th.


Crooked usage, and other tales of then and now

This week’s post started as a straight borrowing of one of Bill Figg’s book ideas, left behind in a loose leaf folder of photographs showing the same location at different times. We did the same sort of thing on our Virtual Museum project a few years ago. It’s a durable idea and worth repeating. Of course the complication is that Figg’s “now” is the early 1990s.  So really it’s “then and then”. But I can live with that if you can.

This is view in Cale Street, further north from the workhouse (see this post)  showing the northern side of St Luke’s Hospital, another little photographed building. (Actually, ever since I said that I had seen very few pictures of the workhouse i keep coming across them.)

 

 

Figg refers to this as the Crooked Usage entrance. It’s not certain that he took many of the “then” pictures, which accounts for the relatively poor quality of some of them. Photographs of photographs basically.

His modern picture, taken in 1993,  is not perfectly aligned because the fire escape you see in the middle is part of the former Chelsea Women’s Hospital, which is still there today, but that’s the point of “now” pictures.

 

 

Now, about that term Crooked Usage.At first I wondered if it was just a bit of local folklore, which Figg knew plenty about. Was that a real street name, for what appeared to be just an obscure entrance? Well, no. I did a bit of digging  and it seemed that not only was it real, but that it had been the subject of correspondence in the Star newspaper (not the current one) in 1920. A man named J Landfear Lucas, who perused the “stationery office’s list of streets” by way of amusement posed the question of what the name meant. An anonymous correspondent from Broadstairs called simply Student replied that “usage” was a term applied to the strips of common land or paths which ran between private plots of cultivated land which were used by all. “A crooked usage would be one such strip which departed from the usual straight line.

Here is a detail from the 1862 OS map showing Crooked usage, midway between Robert (Sydney) Street and Arthur (Dovehouse Street)

 

 

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? As the Antiquary notes in 1907: “How this singularly inappropriate name came to be assigned to this street must ever remain a mystery and can only be regarded as the outcome of purely poetic fancy, untrammeled by any regard for prosaic fact. It runs in as straight a line as any tie-square could make it and , except by a stray cat or two, appears to be entirely unused. There do not appear to be any house in it, and the London directory knows it not.” Or to put it another way, Crooked Usage is more or less straight and not really crooked.

And it does look to me as though there were some houses. Look at this further detail.

 

 

There, opposite the grounds of St Wilfred’s Convent is the pleasant sounding Elm Cottage, home of John Adams, one of the subscribers to Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. It looks like a nice spot to live as well, as do many of the lone properties marked on the maps of this period and earlier. (Sadly, no pictures appear to have survived. I imagine it being like some of the small houses I’ve looked at in posts about Old Brompton. Look at this one for an example.)

Crooked Usage is no longer on the map. But here it is today.

 

 

It’s either the access road going down between the two hospital buildings, (the Royal Brompton and the former Chelsea Hospital for Women) or the driveway in front of the BOC tanks. It must have survived for some time though. St Luke’s Infirmary and Chelsea Women’s co-existed as separate institutions for many years.

We must now follow Cale Street to another odd feature of Chelsea history. This postcard is captioned Sutton Dwellings but what Figg wanted to show was the area known as Chelsea Common with, as he says in his notes, “not a blade of grass” visible.

 

 

In later years estate agents and some local residents made much of the tiny patch of land’s status as a common. There was once “an ample expanse of field and woodland” between the King’s Road and the Fulham Road which was enclosed in 1674 to raise parish funds and thrown open again in 1695. (According to Richard Edmonds in his useful 1956 book Chelsea: from the Five Fields to the World’s End)

Famously, one eccentric resident,  sadly no longer with us, announced her intention of buying  a goat to graze on the common, as was her right. Although even at the time there wouldn’t have been much room.

 

 

Although it must be admitted it’s a much nicer spot these days. It has also been called Chelsea Green in its day but that is also quite an ambitious name.

Still on the common, we turn back to Dovehouse Street. This picture, according to Figg, is from 1950.

 

 

It’s hard to recognise now, but this is the junction of Dovehouse Street with South Parade and the taller buildings in the background still form part of the rear of the  old Brompton Hospital. This more modern view makes it clearer.

 

 

The west side of Dovehouse Street has been almost completely redeveloped.

 

 

E J Magrie and Sons, General Smiths, was located near the King’s Road end.

A 1990s view shows part of the fire station and the 1960s building next to it.

 

 

Below, from this point Figg was able to take a picture across the car park hospital, showing one section of the new building and the elegant tower of St Luke’s Church beyond it.

 

 

 

He couldn’t quite find the right spot to match this earlier picture.

 

 

An overgrown garden or patch of waste ground waiting for its future role.

Finally a “then”picture with no corresponding “now.”

 

 

This is a view from South Parade some time after WW2 showing an open space, looking across at Chelsea Women’s. The raised garden area in the foreground must have been mostly paved over to make the stepped feature so familiar today to local residents. To complete this part of Figg’s job, I went down there to try and take a matching photograph.

 

 

Could that be the same tree? Possibly. That’s my shopping in the foreground by the way, and I’m standing close to the top of Chelsea Square. My son pointed out to me that the garden portion of the square is also now known as Chelsea Common. Chelsea seems to be prone to this sort of thing. Chelsea Cross, Chelsea Triangle (in which land vehicles disappear?). Perhaps the Chelsea Pentagram will be next.

 

Postscript

There will be more then and now courtesy of Mr Figg in the near future. (We haven’t even finished with Dovehouse Street) In the course of my walk I also spotted one of his  Hidden Chelsea / building details which may also form the basis of a future post.

None of my musical or literary heroes heroes have died this week so let’s spare a thought for Sudan,the last male northern white rhino, the so called gentle giant. Survived by his daughter and grand-daughter. He was born in Africa, lived part of his life in a European zoo but eventually returned to his homeland and died in Kenya this week. His frozen seed may one day revive his species.

 


Archer’s High Street

Albert Argent Archer, the excellently named Kensington photographer was featured in one of the short posts over Christmas. As promised, this week we are returning to him, but first a few historical words about Kensington High Street.

On the south side of the High Street we have today the two remaining department store buildings (formerly Barkers and Derry and Toms), a modern development on the corner of Wright’s Lane (which replaced the third department store, Pontings) followed to the west by an 1890s development called the Promenade. The section from Adam and Eve Mews to the Earls Court Road is rather mixed, as many Victorian high streets end up being.

But on the northern side, from Campden Hill Road (preceded by the 1905 Hornton Court, seen in the Christmas post) to Holland Park (and beyond) there is a string of 1930s  apartment buildings, Phillimore Court, Stafford Court, and Troy Court all built in the period after 1932 which, along with those department stores, have helped to cement the High Street’s identity as a 1930s street.

Here is Phillimore Court (140-158 Kensington High Street), on the corner of Campden Hill Road, in about 1970, looking west.

 

 

 

And back eastwards. Note the missing letter from the name above the branch of Safeway.

 

 

You can see that although the building is plainer, it has a similar structure to Hornton Court.

This view westwards takes in the more vernacular style of Stafford Court (160-206) stretching off into the distance. Safeway may have only recently passed on into the retail afterlife but C&A, once another common feature of the high street,  is long gone.

 

 

 

Individual shops may come and go but that series of apartment blocks with retail units on the ground floor still suggests the idea of Kensington High Street as a shopping destination. The wide street and tall buildings on either side say it too: here is a place for pedestrians and businesses large and small to come together.

But as we know, it wasn’t always like that, and before all that development the north side of the street was a series of Victorian houses or shops, with gardens or yards in front giving the street a low-rise and spacious look. This is numbers 140-158 about 1930, just before the block was cleared for demolition.

 

 

 

I don’t know if Mr Archer and his associates consciously intended to chronicle the street where he had his studio or if the series of pictures they took were quite by chance but he caught that part of the street in the last moments of its existence

This close up shows Archer’s studio and the adjacent shops.

 

 

Smart Ciccognani at number 142 was a “court hairdresser” but also, as you can see from the sign, a chiropodist.

This is an earlier (c1904) picture of the other end of the block at the junction with Argyll Road.

 

 

 

It looks as though some work is in progress behind the billboards.

This is the block (160 onwards) where Stafford Court now stands.

 

 

This picture shows the same corner at a slightly different date (note that the post box is different.)

 

 

A close up lets you see the sign for a “valuable main road island site”, ripe for development. Do you see that one window on the side, not bricked in. What happened there, I wonder?

 

 

This view shows the houses on the north side of the street looking west. The picture seems to have been taken from an upper floor of Pettits, the drapers, haberdashers and ladies outfitter. It shows how much space the front gardens of the houses took up and how  much room there was for widening the street.

 

 

You can also see how many of the shops on the south side were single storey buildings, leading towards John Buckle’s Stores at number 217  (“grocer,  wine merchant,  post and telegraph office.”)

The housing on the north side, now as then comes to a sudden halt at Holland Park,  then a private house and grounds.

 

The wall extends as far as Melbury Road. There was a cabman’s shelter there and an old tavern, the Holland Arms

I found a later version.

 

But for a final image, what about  a Kensington High Street photography shop from another era?

 

 

There’s no date on the picture but I’m thinking 1970s. I’m sure Archer would have loved to go in and browse around

 

Postscript

One loyal reader asked me what happened to last week’s post. Well, nothing terrible. I had a cold and was off work for a couple of days but couldn’t concentrate at home. As I recall I was mostly intent on staying warm. My blog resolution this year was not to sweat the small stuff and to realise that the world doesn’t depend on me doing a post every single week. In fact, there is so much material on the blog now that people are always discovering old posts, which is great because some of them are okay. I’ll try and keep the new ones up to the same standard. Next week we’re probably going to be back in the Gloucester Road / Cromwell Road area, but I will be following up this post with some more on the High Street as it used to be.


Christmas Days: a good read

One way or another reading has played a large part in my life, at home and at work, so it’s not surprising that I was given a calendar called Women Reading a few years ago (that’s pictures of women reading, not pictures of women from Reading) and since then I’ve been saving images of paintings, drawings and photographs on the same subject. It’s amazing how many of them there. I can start with our old friend Hugh Thomson  (I am unable to stop myself linking to other posts featuring pictures by Thomson but as it’s Christmas you can rest your mouse finger if you wish and follow him up at your leisure.)

 

Miss Fanny reading in Quality Street the play by J M Barrie.

Or here, in his illustrations to Goldsmith’s She stoops to conquer.

“I have seen her and her sister cry over a book for an hour together”

Sometimes the book gets dropped in favour of just nodding off.

 

(From The Admirable Crichton“.) I admit to dropping off now and again while reading.

But others are quite attentive.

 

 

We’ve seen examples of reading while walking along before. Which is a tricky activity.

As is reading when you’re supposed to be working.

 

 

Thomson has another example of shelf searching in Northanger Abbey.

 

 

 

Reading is supposed traditionally to be a leisurely activity suitable for respectable young ladies. Like this one:

 

 

But sometimes they turn to more urgent reading matter.

 

 

One of my favourites by Haynes King showing two young country women taking an interest in current affairs. I came across a variation, catching the two on another day, exchanging places I think.

 

 

As a librarian, I can only approve, even if the spinning doesn’t get done. Women reading newspapers is almost a sub set of the genre.

Sometimes at breakfast, like this woman.

 

 

And this one, another favourite.

 

 

This picture by the Danish artist Laurits Andersen Ring of his wife Sigrid might be familiar to you. My fellow bloggers the Two Nerdy History Girls use it for their Breakfast Links feature. Anyone who hasn’t seen the blog already should check it out. (I had the pleasure of meeting one of the two, Loretta Chase, earlier this year when she and her husband were in London, to give you an idea of the dizzy social life bloggers lead.)

Some ladies prefer to read their newspapers in the evening.

 

Once you start looking  for pictures with this theme you find more and more. I’ve already exceeded my quota for a short post. Perhaps I should end with one in a library.

 

Serious study in progress.

But no, there’s time for a couple more. Indoors.

 

And outdoors.

 

 

Maybe that’s the end.

 

 

Sorry to disturb you Madam, go back to your book.

It only remains for me to add that I am currently reading Adam Gopnik’s Through the children’s gate, Frances Hardinge’s A skinful of shadows and a couple of others and  expect to be starting M John Harrison’s You should come with me now, and Andy Weir’s Artemis, sometime soon.

A happy Christmas to all my readers. As Dave Allen used to say: “May your god go with you”. This applies to us atheists as well.

 

 


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