Category Archives: 19th Century

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.

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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.

 

 


Christmas Days: Argent Archer

I had an enquiry the other day about the photographer Albert Argent Archer. A website devoted to photographers said we had a collection of his work, which was news to me. The name did ring a bell though and when I went looking through our ephemera collection I found several old photographic prints with his distinctive imprint in the section on Kensington High Street. There might be a full length post next year devoted either to Archer or to a series of pictures of the High Street as it used to be, but for today I thought we might have a quick before and after. Geographically these pictures come from a spot less than five minutes walk from where I now sit, huddled in a Dickensian fashion next to a heater.

 

 

Although this picture was taken in the 1920s, the distinctive architecture of Hornton Court is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with Kensington High Street. This tall redbrick block of apartments and shops was unique in 1905 when it was built but it formed the model for a whole series of blocks along the north side of the high street which were built in the 1930s.

Note the small tobacconists to the left of Chesterton’s, selling Abdulla Cigarettes, a popular brand of the time. I can still remember a tobacconist / confectioner there when I first worked in Kensington in the 1980s.

 

 

This picture doesn’t have Archer’s embossed stamp on it, but the rest of today’s pictures do. This one shows the same corner as the one above when  it was a simple terrace of houses and shops.

 

 

In both pictures you can catch a glimpse of the building in Phillimore Walk which filled the whole block.

 

 

Our old friend, the Abbey with its gothic windows and other features, which must have been a bit of a spooky sight, lurking behind the “modern” high street.

This view shows the 116-138 block from the west.

 

 

 

You can see the wide pavement and how in a couple of cases there are front gardens or yards. Imagine a long series of these going west along the high street facing the Promenade on the south side. These terraces were destined for demolition and many were knocked down in 1931. We’ll see more of them in the new yaear but for now, here is Archer’s own studio at 140 Kensington High Street.

 

 

 

Miscellany: melancholy animals

Back in the days when my son was young and people did most of their shopping in actual (as opposed to virtual retailers) another familiar high street name, Boots, offered shoppers a free soft toy after they spent a certain amount. (I don’t recall the actual terms and conditions but I remember you didn’t pay for them, and you sent off for them.) As regular users of Boots we acquired a few examples but what struck us was the consistently downbeat demeanor of the stuffed creatures: the depressed giraffe, the worried zebra, the suicidal rhino. The biggest one was the one you see below: the sad tiger.

 

We wondered why no-one spotted this general unhappiness of soft fauna. But we’ve done our best for them. These days the tiger is in a support group with this slightly anxious gorilla, and supervised by monkey therapist Doctor Trevor (whom God preserve) of Utrecht.

 

 

The final daily post will probably be on Saturday. I have a lot to do tomorrow. Oh, there she is again.

 


In the gallery

Local Studies and Archives collections often contain paintings and prints connected with the area they cover, particularly if like Kensington and Chelsea the area is or has been one where artists lived or worked. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that our collection contains dozens of Turners or works by other famous artists. A Local Studies collection is far more likely to have works by lesser known professionals like William Ascroft or William Walter Burgess, or William Cowen, obscure figures like Francis Griffen, amateurs like Walter Greaves (or were he and his brother Henry semi-professionals?),  illustrators like Herbert Railton, unknowns like Marianne Rush and annonymous figures like the artist of the Red Portfolio.

But this is how we like it. It’s nice to loan out one of our small number of Whistler etchings to an exhibition as we recently did but there is far more pleasure in having a much larger number of sketches by Railton or Ascroft or possibly the entire oeuvre of Rush which can be shown to interested parties or blogged about.

This post is an  almost random selection of pictures I have shown to visitors or come across in the course of enquiries or have had at the back of my mind for years.

 

 

The river entrance gate to Cremorne Gardens, by Walter Greaves. The gardens were just a short step down the road from the Greaves boat yard where he and his brother worked in the family business. During the course of business they struck up a relationship with Whistler who liked to make sketches from their boats. Walter and Henry became close enough to the great artist to get some lessons from him, although it all turned sour in the end as Whistler’s friendships seemed to do. Walter inserted the figure of Whistler into many of his pictures, but the man in this picture could just as easily have been Greaves himself who modeled his personal style on that of the master. Neither of them are in this picture.

 

 

Lindsey Wharf, looking east I think.  The pub is the Queen’s Arms, a different pub from the King’s Arms, which was also in that vicinity. Chelsea enthusiasts may like to try to reconcile this view with photographs of the area. Forgive me if I  don’t do that today. Normally I like the minutiae of locations but we could be here all day.

[Added 18 September – at the prompting of Chris Pain, Chelsea history expert – see his comments below – I have reverse this image to make things clearer]

I’ve done a couple of posts of Ascroft in the early days of the blog, but cannot resist putting in one of his pastel sketches showing a country lane, probably in the Putney area, with one of his characteristic skies.

 

 

Horace Van Ruitl, on the other hand was an unfamiliar name to me until a few weeks ago when a researcher working on hid biography asked to see what we had. Scattered in the Chelsea general sequence were several pictures mostly of the interior of Chelsea Old Church. Once I had gathered them together I was quite impressed. This is a detail from one of the larger pictures which I chose because of the two women who add a burst of colour to the subdued scene.

 

 

Van Ruitl was like Ascroft a well known professional name in his day, and not completely forgotten.

This artist, Juliet Williams, is probably an amateur but an artist who was absolutely obsessed with the gates of Cheyne House. Here they are in winter:

 

 

And here in summer:

 

 

We also have an autumn and a spring, but also eight other versions, smaller and larger, sketches and completed pictures. I could practically fill a whole post with them. But I won’t. (Although that’s an idea for Christmas).

Chelsea is full of picturesque locations for painters. But the Kensington amateurs produced plenty of pictures too.

 

 

This is a pen and ink sketch by Frank Emanuel. We’ve seen his work before here, a picture of Tower Cressey, but this a a simple street scene showing Silver Street, which was the former name of the northern section of Kensington Church Street, leading up to Notting Hill Gate. The figure of the woman is what makes this one special I think. I wish he’s done more pictures of people.

Elizabeth Gladstone was an amateur watercolourist who was featured in the same post as Emanuel. This picture looks down Derry Street / King Street towards Kensington Square.

 

 

If you study the 6th image in this post on the development of the Barker’s building, you will recognize one of the buildings.

in contrast to Gladstone’s mostly late 19th century work, Joan Bloxham painted and drew in the 1930s.

 

 

Victoria Grove, still quite recognizable.

 

 

Another view I’m familiar with, Holland Street, a few minutes walk from the Library, showing the house of Walter Crane. He’s a famous artist we do have some work by, which we may look at one of these days.

Like many amateur artists, Elizabeth Gladstone’s pictures are usually simply views of street and buildings but occasionally she includes a curious detail as in this one.

 

 

York House, also in Kensington Church Street in the 1890s, featuring a sinister hooded figure, or is it simply a harmless monk? There were many religious establishments in Kensington in that period.

Finally, another Greaves for the road, signed by Henry, the less prolific of the two brothers, although they both often added to each other’s picture.

 

 

Chelsea riverside east of the Old Church, before the Embankment. Not an unfamiliar view for regular readers but we can always have one more.

This post is a bit of a trailer for others I might do this autumn about artists I haven’t covered in any detail so far so pardon me if it looks like a bit of a filler between Chelsea stories. I do need time between those.

Postscript

I feel that I tempted fate last week by noting the death of another musician from the golden age of popular music. I was saddened to read that even as I was writing last week’s post, another bass guitar player from one of the great bands of the 1970s had died. The name Holger Czukay may not be as familiar as Walter Becker, but for me he was an even greater name. He played bass and other instruments and electronics for the German avant garde rockers Can. I saw Can play live in several London venues  – the Lyceum, the Roundhouse, Hammersmith Palais, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – all of which are no longer used as music venues . They practiced “spontaneous composition” rather than merely improvisation and seldom played the same material without some massive variations, according to the weather, their mood, or the audience’s mood (I once saw them suddenly turn on an audience whose attention was wavering and shock them into submission). Czukay also made a number of remarkable solo albums. He was one of the first to use samples in his recordings. I’d better stop with that before I get maudlin. Can’s drummer Jaki Lieberzeit also died this year, leaving only their two vocalists and founder member Irmin Schmidt.


A Lyttle Blogge Poste about Ye Old English Fayre

One of the ways you can indicate that something is old and quaint is to misspell all the words, adding e’s indiscriminately and throwing in the word Ye as often as possible. You can see it in old films and TV programmes, not to mention in the names of shops in seaside resorts and other places of interest: Ye Olde Curiositie Shoppe, Mistress Miggins’s Pye Shoppe, Ye Olde Internette Café etc. The other day I came across a fascinating little book which seemed to be a souvenir or programme for an event called the Old English Fayre.

I should add that this was not some obscure little venture. Although it sounded a little like a sale of work in a church hall it was held at the Royal Albert Hall in 1881 and the stalls were staffed by some of the great and the good of late 19th century London. It was all to raise funds for the Chelsea Hospital for Women. The Hospital was started in 1871  in a house in the King’s Road with just eight beds but by the early 1880s a new building was being built for it on the Fulham Road, where the Institute of Cancer Research is now. The Fayre must have been part of the fund raising for this building. (The building most people will remember is the one on Dovehouse Street, opened in 1916, closed in 1988 and now incorporated into The Royal Brompton Hospital.)

There was a full programme of musical and dramatic performances over three days, (June 8-10 1881) plus a fete in the arena of the hall.

A lot of trouble was taken over the souvenir which contains some stories in medieval settings and some amusing pseudo medieval illustrations, like this one:

 

 

But the main interest for us now is the back half of the book. Before it was possible to easily print photographs in a book or magazine, actual photographic prints were bound in, and the copy of the Old English Fayre programme we have contains about 25 photographs of some of the ladies who participated in the event.

“Ye centre of ye halle is used by ye flower stalle, from ye centre of whyche a large and eke gaye Maiepole hath been builded, Ye appropriyate olde English costumes of ye ladies who preseiden ate ye stalls doth gyve great effect tp ye whole scene and doth perfect ye style and character of ye tout ensemble.”

And a part of a summary of what was for sale

 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I enjoy seeing pictures of Victorian and Edwardian ladies in fancy dress, which they seemed to engage in whenever possible. (Pageant, Costume Ball, School Play , not to mention another blog regular). So, no more playing arounde (those e’s are catching), here are a few of the ladies in the hall that day.

 

 

The Countess Cadogan, at “Ye olde Chelsea Bun House”

 

 

The Countess Kintore, at “Ye Sherwoode Oak”

 

 

Mrs Arthur Sassoon, Mrs Leopold de Rothschild and the Lady Forbes of Newe at “Ye Goulden Fleece”

 

 

Mrs Lambert Rees at “Ye Olde Crowne”.

 

 

The Lady Garvach at “Ye Wheel of Fortune”

An ensemble picture,

 

 

Mrs Craigie, assisted by Youth and Beauty at “Ye Robyn Hode”. Do I detect a slight reluctance on the faces of some of the younger ladies?  I recently saw a photograph of a mother and daughter in full steampunk costume for an event at Whitby, home of many goth and steampunk related  events,  which gave me the impression that it was the mother’s obsession which had brought the two there, which her daughter was indulging with increasing reluctance. I wish I could insert it here, but I could be completely wrong, and if I’m not it would still seem unfair. The Old English Fayre looks like an event driven by mothers, not daughters

Miss Venetia Cavendish Bentinck:

 

 

And, I’m guessing her mum, Mrs Cavendish Bentinck.

 

 

Both at the sign of “Ye Maltese Crosse”

Mrs Alexander Ross:

 

 

and Mrs Aveling.

 

 

Both at “Ye lion and Unicorne”.

Finally, another group:

 

 

Mrs Thompson, Mr Claremont (a rare appearance from a gentleman), Mrs Mackenzie, Miss Buckton, Mrs Rally and Miss Walker who were “aiding at ye theatre revels”. Miss Walker is the one sitting on the floor. (Not a relative of mine as far as I know). The young girl’s name is unrecorded, although I’m guessing she’s a Mackenzie because of the lady, her mother perhaps,  holding her in position.

I’m saving the other pictures for Christmas. There are a few good ones left.

Postscript

This week’s post shows that it’s still possible to find surprises lurking on the shelves in basement stores. You should always open any book, no matter how dull it looks from the outside.


Thomson and Railton: all aboard!

As promised a short while ago, this week’s post returns to our friends the book illustrators Hugh Thomson and Herbert Railton who combined in the 1880s at the early stages of both their careers (Thomson was born in 1860, Railton in 1857)  to provide dozens of pictures for W. Outram Tristram’s nostalgic look at the days of stagecoach travel, “Coaching days and coaching ways”. (1888). The Victorians and the Edwardians were just as nostalgic for the colourful past as we are today. Have a look here at some period drama, or at any of the posts on the Chelsea Pageant.

The author and his “able illustrators” make a good combination. Thomson was good at people, creating light-hearted scenes of rural and small town life, but his work was often combined with some fairly pedestrian views of town and country, as in some of the volumes in the Highways and Byways series about British counties to which he contributed. (We’ve seen his London volume,where his are the only pictures worth looking at. ) In this book he had a partner who was his equal. Railton’s strength was atmospheric views of places, whether parks and rural views or dark inns and alleys.

A typical Thomson scene, in which a young woman gathers her wits and her headgear after a coaching mishap:

(“A snapped pole” from the Brighton Road chapter.)

And a typically spooky view by Railton of a narrow cobbled street with shady corners, quiet for the moment as two cats have an encounter.

 

I was a bit mean to Mr Tristram when I wrote about his later book Moated Houses (entirely illustrated by Railton), calling his writing style pompous, rambling and obscure. Which it is, but I have to admit that Coaching days is a rather easier read. It’s anecdotal, and still verbose but that kind of works with this subject. The book is a set of essays originally published in the English Illustrated Magazine between October 1887- and July 1888, making it into book form late in 1888. This is a time of looking back from a new industrial, high speed society to a semi-rural past, before the railways covered the country, when the only means of long distance transport was the coach. A network of routes criss crossed the country served by coaches large and small, speedy and slow. Coaching inns were the nodes of this network, linking the cities with the small towns and villages, taking people on business and pleasure.

Mr Tristram says: “I shall show our ancestors…busy at those nothings which make travelled life – eating, drinking, flirting, quarelling, delivering up their purses, grumbling over their bills…I shall picture these worthies in all sorts of positions – on the road and off of it, snowed up, in peril from the great waters, waiting for the stage coaches etc, alighting at the inns – those inns for which England was once famous, with their broad corridors, their snug bars, their four-poster beds hung with silk, their sheets smelling of lavender, their choice cookery, their claret equal to the best that could be drunk in London.”

And that’s what he does, wandering through time and space like a modern travel writer, or even a psycho-geographer. (I use that term too much, I know.) His two collaborators go with him. (The three were acquainted from other assignments for the EIM.)

Mr Railton did people as well as cats, but they were often depicted engaged in lonely pursuits, adding some scale or proportion to views like this one.

 


 

Here we’re in Chester (as I was a couple of weeks ago) from the chapter called the Holyhead Road. Then as now the Rows  (early multi level shopping) were the characteristic feature of the city, enjoyed by travellers and guide books.

By contrast, this view of the high street in Bath is teeming with people by Railton’s standards. In the chapter on the Bath Road Tristram follows various literary figures on their journeys, including Miss Fanny Burney and Mrs Thrale who went there in 1780. Miss Burney found the “houses elegant, the streets beautiful, the prospects enchanting..” She and Mrs Thrale found lodgings on the South Parade “It was deliciously situated. We have meadows, hills, Prior Park, the soft-flowing Avon, whatever Nature has to offer, I think, always in our view.” Something for the 18th century trip adviser.

 

 

Thomson sticks with the action, whether mundane, as below where four men make a meal of packing while a woman does the fetching and carrying,

 

 

clandestine, as a young lady has a private word with a gentleman, (Some long distance relationships must have been created in this communication network.)

 

 

or frantic, as in this case, simply titled “Eloped”, which tells you all you need to know.

 

Some of the coaches were noted for the tremendous speed with which they travelled. (Some of them were called “rockets” because of their great pace.) Thomson’ horses were much liked by readers and critics. One said: “he showed perhaps more mastery of the horse in action than of the feminine charm that was later to be so conspicuous a feature of his work”

And his sense of drama was well developed already. Sometimes speed and conditions combined to create minor (and major) disasters along the way.

 

 

“In a snow drift”. Horse and man in a tricky situation.

Along the way, Tristram takes in some local colour. Below, that old standby the haunted room, encountered on the Bath road but the exact nature of the haunting is not specified. It is though made for Railton’s atmospheric skills.

 

 

As is this view of the Mote (Moat) House at Ightham, on the Dover road.

 

 

Mr Tristram had some supernatural fantasies about Ightham recorded in Moated Houses which I transcribed in my first post about Railton (link above).

He had plenty of examples of the dark corners of small cities.

 

College Hall, Exeter. Below, architecture is combined with water as it so often is in his work.

 

The Old Hospital, Canterbury. Is the street totally waterlogged or are we seeing the play of light on puddles of water observed by Railton?

As well as the action, Thomson was good on the longeurs of coach travel. There must have been quiet times at the inns between arrivals and departures.

Here a mixed group is waiting for the coach.

 

Railton too looked at quiet moments in the courtyards of  inns

 

 

(The George, St Albans. A girl pulls a toy vehicle along.)

Thomson, always good at depicting lounging, slouching and hanging around shows some useful inactivity during the down time at an inn.

 

 

And some people hoping to get some down time. At many times of the day travellers come to their journey’s end.

 

 

 

While some others are waiting, patiently or otherwise, like we wait for a bus.

 

 

When the coach does come it’s time for someone to cry out: “all aboard!”.

 

 

 

Squeeze in the carriage, or next to the driver, savour the restlessness of the horses, as eager to be off as the passengers and let’s go!

 

Postscript

As I hinted last time I thought I would take a couple of weeks off blogging. Time off is always good preparation for more time off so forgive me if this post is going out later than usual. My colleague Isabel pointed out that I’ve been doing weekly posts for nearly six years. Who would have guessed when I started? At some point late in this year we will reach a million page views. Not bad, I think.

By way of compensation for the hiatus there are more pictures than usual. If you’re yet to take time off, have a good one when you do. I’ll try and get back in the saddle.

 


Mr Railton returns

After a lengthy gap, we’re back with the artist and book illustrator Herbert Railton. I recently bought a copy of a book which combines three interesting characters: Railton, and blog favourite Hugh Thomson who both created illustrations for “Coaching days and coaching ways” (1893) by the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram. It was he who wrote the final book Railton worked on, the fascinating, “Moated houses”, which was featured in the first post about him. I’m sure I’ll come back to the Railton/Thomson team-up in a future post but first I want to look at Railton’s Kensington connection.

One of his other projects was an illustrated edition of Leigh Hunt’s “The Old Court Suburb” (1855 / 1902) a rambling historical account of Kensington. Railton did most of the topographical pictures in the book. The Library possesses many of his original sketches for this project.

I have to say at this stage that Railton’s delicate and almost impressionistic pictures can be hard to scan. It is often easier to use the published versions, which have firmer lines. In this post I’ll use some of each. I’m concentrating on one location, Holland Park and Holland House.

If you’ve never encountered Railton’s work before this is a quite characteristic piece. The house is solid and rendered in some detail but at the same time it’s a little vague, glimpsed through some kind of summer haze, the foliage blending into the architecture. The one below is actually called “A peep at Holland House”

The house is even more indistinct. The focus of the picture is the sculpture of an urn, like a funery urn at the edge of the hedge frame.

If you know the park you’ll recognize the summer ball room turret, but perhaps not the wild trees and hedges which threaten to overwhelm it.

In the context of Hunt’s book, Railton’s illustrations work well in contrast to those of the other two artists, Claude Shepperson and Edmund J Sullivan, who were given the task of doing pictures of people from Kensington’s past.

 

Chloe and Delia admiring the flowers.

A bit of courtly behaviour.

After which the ladies and gentlemen could go on to some picturesque spots in the grounds, such as the famous sundial.


(Some of the originals are on this coloured paper. I don’t think it’s any kind of age-related deterioration but it does add a pleasingly antique feel to the pictures).

Lord Camelford, memorialised with a Roman altar, perished in a duel conducted in the grounds. There is a view of the wild looking site of his death in the first post.

We can head back to the house via the Dutch Garden.

And see some more details

The Oriel front, and the Terrace.

Even when Holland House was a private house, the grounds had visitors who might not be guests of the family. After their tour they might stroll to a nearby tavern, like this conveniently located hostelry.

See how once again Railton brings the picture to a point with some birds, in this case some fairly free range chickens.

When he wrote the Old Court Suburb, Hunt was also not far away ftom the house.


Edwardes Square (The name is from the family name of the first Baron Kensington. The square was laid out in 1811.) is just down the road . Here is another view.

Two girls stroll along next to the garden railings. Railton could manage figures well enough but he was sparing in his use of them.

When the illustrated edition of Hunt’s book was published, tourists were an established part of London life.

Note the editor, our old friend Austin Dobson, the go-to guy for scholarly introductions in those days.

Railton’s fellow illustrator Mr Edmund J Sullivan put a lady visitor (dressed in the fashions of the 1850s) in a couple of his pictures  who doesn’t seem too happy.

Here she looks like she’d like to sit down if the sign permitted.

(Is she bracing her back with her right hand, completely ignoring the guide book in her left, and waiting for her companion to get on with it so they can get to the gift shop?)

And here she (or a similar lady) looks a little melancholy, perhaps remembering those she mourns herself.

These two pictures have intrigued me since I first looked at the book, so forgive me for letting Mr Sullivan squeeze a few pictures into Mr Railton’s post. I wish he’d been able to develop the theme as an interesting contrast with the  topographical pictures but Railton was the headline act on this bill.

Postscript

Posthumous apologies to Claude Shepperson I suppose for not including any of his pictures in the post. Unfortunately, they’re a bit dull. By contrast, I’d like to see more of Edmund Sullivan’s’ work.


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