Category Archives: 19th Century

Mr William Luker Jr, Coadjutor

W J Loftie’s 1888 book Kensington: Picturesque and Historical is an unprepossessing volume. But inside, there are, as the title page states “upwards of three hundred illustrations (some in colour)” in the book (you’d think someone knew the exact number) and as you flick through it you can see that barely a page goes by without at least one picture on it, all of them by William Luker Junior, but many of them are quite small, almost cramped on the page. I can see why I’ve never paid too much attention to it. But, and there is a big but here, the library also has in its collection the original sketches for the book, tied up in three portfolios, and these are all rather bigger than the printed versions and these show that Luker was a rather better artist than I had thought, and much quirkier. He deserves to be taken as seriously as other book illustrators I have featured on the blog such as Herbert Railton (whose sketches by contrast are often improved by being turned into engravings on the printed page) and Yoshio Markino (who also worked with Loftie on “The Colour of London”).

Loftie, in his leisurely introduction, thanks everybody but Luker, but at the end he seems to remember his illustrator and the contribution he made. He calls him “my coadjutor“, an obscure word which can mean just assistant but is usually associated with the church as in the phrase “coadjutor bishop” ( a deputy with the right of succession). The word suits him. For my purposes he has succeeded to Loftie’s position as the author of a picturesque story about Kensington, told in images not words.

 

 

 

Isabel’s post last week included a Luker illustration which started me on a scanning journey which covered slightly more than a hundred images. So as you can imagine I will get more than one post out of Mr Luker and I can already envisage many different themes. In this post I’ll just run through a few of Luker’s preoccupations. In this view of tennis courts behind St Mary Abbot’s Church, Luker has found an unusual angle, looking down at the players, which emphasizes the remarkable height of the spire. He likes using the black margin, usually broken, and he likes to play with it – note the gap just above the spire. He also crosses the margin as you can see with the foliage. The illustrations are almost pushing at the text and vice versa.

The other quality that please me about Luker’s work is that it makes the familiar scenes of Kensington seem unfamiliar. That tennis court could be in any cathedral city on a tranquil afternoon in the 19th century. This view gives a similar impression.

 

 

It concentrates on the family group gathered in a green space, on a Sunday morning with Holy Trinity Church and the Brompton Oratory looming in the background in a city which is definitely London but also some imaginary city of large churches and open spaces. Like Markino, Luker loves the human figures, and although the pictures are in monochrome tones he has a sense of different seasons. This looks like a summer picture to me. I’m not so sure with this one.

 

 

Two women walk arm in arm along a wide street beside the railings at the border of a park. You imagine them sharing confidences as they stroll along. Compare it with this one ,which comes from this post. The bare branches could indicate autumn.

Below, a spacious view of a more familiar feature of Kensington. (Or, strictly speaking near Kensington). Probably in summer.

 

 

The next picture is definitely winter.

 

 

Kensington High Street looking east, or any snowbound street scene. Is that policeman supervising the man with the shovel, or merely indulging the universal tendency to watch someone at work?

Here is another  view of the same street.

 

 

The time honoured art of window shopping. The bored girl stares into space waiting for her mother to finish so that they can proceed to the park. Her hoop and stick is ready for action. They were once as common as scooters are today, and like scooters, were used by older children as well. Or perhaps the girl is looking at another technological phenomenon.

 

 

 

A double bicycle, piloted by a Chaplinesque rider. it looks harder work than two individual bikes.

The big letters at the margin are not random, as I half-thought at one stage until realising the obvious. They are the first letters of a paragraph. The text intrudes into the images.

The picture below reminds me of one of Markino’s night time interiors.

 

 

High Street Kensington Station, with travellers on their way home. the long shadows fascinate me and the whiff of steam in the air, although I think steam trains on the Underground had been abandoned by the 1880s.

Both Loftie and Luker were Kensington residents, and lived in Stafford Terrace. They were presumably both acquainted with one of their neighbours, seen at work below.

 

 

Our good friend Edward Linley-Sambourne, artist and photographer at work in his home studio. (The margin line looks as if it was about to fall and the unconcerned artist is only saved by the easel.)

Loftie wrote other books about London subjects and Luker illustrated some of them, and books by other writers. I’ve been trying to find some of them which appear on the Library catalogue, without much success as yet. (some of those entries have come from very old versions of the catalogue. It’s sometimes like walking into a 19th century library down there.)

Mr Luker Senior was also an artist and painter of country scenes and animals, and also atmospheric pictures of the Middle East, another favourite subject for Victorian painters, like David Roberts and Edward Lear. (not to mention Richard Dadd). Luker Junior was born in 1867 and lived till 1957 so he certainly survived long enough to see some changes in Kensington.

He outlived this building.

 

 

The gothic folly  known as Abbey which once stood where I now sit writing this (as I have pointed out before – see this post)

The gothic imagination also informs this view of a ruined tower which was once part of Campden House. You can see a photograph of it in another post.

 

 

Finally, another image which echoes one by Markino.  Thistle Grove. Markino’s version is here. His version looks north I think, while this one by Luker looks south.

 

 

 

But both of them catch the mysterious quality of the narrow passage between the Fulham Road and the Old Brompton Road which I have walked down many times, and the lonliness of a nigh time walk between the lamps.

 

This week’s post has been a sample of Luker’s work showing a few images that appealed to me. I’ll come back to him again though in the near future.

 

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Alfred Waterhouse, the affable artist, and the Natural History Museum

This week’s post is the work of my friend and colleague Isabel Hernandez for whom this has been a labour of love. I can only thank her for her hard work in giving us another epic post, and me a week or so off.

The Natural History Museum in South Kensington has to be one of the most attractive buildings in London, arguably the most aesthetically beautiful. When asked if I have a favourite, this is it. The museum’s distinctive terracotta facade and wonderful collection of decorative animals dotted around the building’s heights is impressive. The expansive central hall as you walk in through the arch front entrance resembles a religious sanctum – the building in fact is a Romanesque-like cathedral commissioned to house the expansive collection of flora and fauna specimens that began with Sir Hans Sloane in the 18th century.

But, as with most grand schemes, the inception, design and subsequent building was not a smooth sailing affair. It would be twenty years, give or take a few, before the building you see today came into being. And I for one am very pleased it did. I have visited many times and admit to being biased in my view. I have a love for natural history. I still enjoy looking at all the detail of the building, not as an architect, but as someone who can only appreciate its aesthetic appeal as an ordinary onlooker. The Victorians were big on grandeur. I think Alfred Waterhouse managed to infuse it with a little artistry too.

 

 

If you want to distinguish Alfred Waterhouse from his contemporaries then look no further than his red brick, terracotta creations: The Manchester Town Hall, the Prudential Assurance building in London’s Holborn, Eaton Hall in Cheshire and many, many more commissions. Many still stand, but a few have been demolished over the years. Even his own home in reading, Foxhill House, was a distinctive red. He was a man known for his professionalism and his reliability and amassed quite a fortune. One who would take on small projects and was not intimidated by large ones either. Proof of that is in the rescue of a building that almost never came to be: London’s Natural History Museum.

 

(Alfred Waterhouse courtesy the RIBA)

Alfred Waterhouse came from a strict Quaker background. His parents belonged to the Society of Friends and his education at Grove House School, Tottenham is where he met many of his future clients, sons of influential Quaker families. He showed a very early aptitude for drawing and was mainly self-taught. Although his passion was for painting – many of his watercolours were regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy later in life – it was not considered a suitable profession, and so architecture became his focus.

He was by nature a practical and meticulous professional and soon established himself as a man who was able to design a workable building and knew exactly how to cater to his clients, right down to the smallest of commissions. His amicability with committees and his willingness to modify his designs made him the perfect candidate for the creation of the Natural History Museum. Below you will see examples of his drawings.

 

 

The Natural History Museum first opened to the public in April 1881 after many years of planning and design changes. The growing collections, originally housed in the Natural History Departments of the British Museum in Bloomsbury, desperately needed a new, more suitable home. And so it was Sir Richard Owen, the natural scientist and curator of the existing collection, who convinced the Board of Trustees to find the adequate space needed to house this vast treasure. It was eventually decided that a new site and purpose built building was needed. A competition was set up, and the architect and engineer, Captain Francis Fowke, who designed the 1862 Exhibition building (Ironically on the site of the present NHM building) produced the winner. Although his previous creation was at one time considered a possible building to house the Natural History collections, it was eventually decided, after much debate, that it wasn’t suitable after all. So the whole edifice was pulled down and the site purchased in June 1863 by the government. How the museum eventually came to fruition is nothing short of a colossal feat with so many ideas vying for the helm.

 

(The 1862 Great Exhibition building as it was before being demolished)

Captain Fowke’s original design was considered a handsome winning entry, but was by no means everybody’s favourite. When he died unexpectedly in 1865 the government was at a loss as to what to do. In the end it was decided that rather than the commission going to the runner up, Robert Kerr – who was not happy –  Fowke’s design would be kept and a new architect appointed. That man was the promising, but relatively unknown, 36-year-old, Alfred Waterhouse. Although Fowke’s design was the original blueprint for the museum, Waterhouse’s artistic flare was imbued over most of it.

 

 

A photograph showing the cavernous main hall of the NHM before it was occupied by the main exhibits that were to greet the many visitors throughout the decades. Without the displays the space is overwhelming. It is hard to imagine now with all the visitors in attendance just how quiet such a place can be, despite its size.

 

 

(Central Hall, 1882. Courtesy of the NHM)

The drawing below shows detail of the first floor windows; an elaborate portion of the building, including the archways at the end of the galleries.

“The format of the window was inspired by those of Fowke’s museum design of 1864, but Waterhouse changed the detailing from Fowke’s Italian Renaissance into Romanesque.”

(Alfred Waterhouse and The Natural History Museum – Mark Girouard)

 

 

You may recognise the front of the building here. A half plan, detail elevation of the principal entrance showing some of the ornamentation above the arches.

 

 

 

Below are some of the wondrous creatures you will see dotted around the museum. Gargoyles and guardians of a large menagerie.

 

 

The Central Hall again C. 1924, this time displaying a number of cases showing a collection of hummingbirds and four elephants, the largest being named George, as he was dubbed by the journalists of the day.

 

(Central Hall with elephants and cases, 1924. Courtesy of the NHM)

The Illustrated London News showing George with a pygmy shrew. The biggest land mammal contrasting with the smallest. It is difficult for us now to appreciate just how fantastical these creatures were to the general public at the time. We have come a long way since then. With more and more scientific breakthroughs and our access to information being much more accessible now, we are perhaps less awed by such specimens. The world is a smaller place. The technological advances in the making of natural history documentaries, for example, is simply astounding. And seeing these creatures in their natural habitats, even if vicariously through the cameraman’s lens, is nothing short of extraordinary. We are very lucky. And yet we cannot simply dismiss the extraordinary work behind the scenes of these great museums. Education and awareness of the natural world is all the more important in an age when we almost seem so far removed from it we fail to understand our part in it.

 

 

Details of stairs, panels and columns all beautifully illustrated located at the north end of the large hall.

 

 

Thirty-six crates and three months of jigsaw puzzling later in May 1905, the cast of Diplodocus is put together, fondly known to many of us as Dippy. The original skeleton is in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, USA. He is currently on tour around the UK, details of which are on the NHM website.

 

 (Diplodocus on display, 1905. Courtesy of the NHM)

 

More details showing the frieze and panels over the main entrance. A pair of binoculars to get a better look at these in the museum would be ideal. And with my eyesight, a magnifying glass too. The decoration of the east and west wings of the museum depict animals within the collection of both extinct and living species respectively. This was a feature Professor Richard Owen, superintendent of the natural history departments, and the man responsible for the commissioning of a new museum was keen on having on as a feature of the building.

 

 

The reptile gallery in 1889. Formidable looking crocodiles and other stuffed specimens in glass cabinets on display. Imagine seeing the open jaws of a crocodile for the first time, all be it a museum specimen and not a live one? I know my daughter would have been the first to want to touch those teeth once upon an age ago when her curiosity about such things was ripe.

 

(Reptile Gallery, 1889. Courtesy of the NHM)

 

The drawing below shows a complete bay on the side of the entrance hall, depicting plants, land, and marine mammals. Mark Girouard points out in his book that:

“The Natural History Museum was the first building in England, and possibly in the world, where the main facades were entirely faced with terracotta. It was also the first of a long series of such buildings designed by Waterhouse; his enthusiasm for terracotta was so great that it is all many people remember about him.”

Terracotta was relatively cheap too and resistant to the bane of all city buildings – acid. The spaces between the terracotta and the iron was filled with fine cement concrete, “so as to render the casing impervious to either fire or water.” The casing is what houses the ornaments.

 

 

The Shell Gallery in 1911 with an impressive model of a giant squid in the background. A creature Captain Nemo and the Nautilus are all too familiar with. Unfortunately, an incendiary bomb hit the gallery in 1940, damaging the roof and causing a fire. It was later converted into a lecture hall.

 

(Shell Gallery, 1911. Courtesy of the NHM)

 

Details showing the terracotta details of the arcade, gallery and windows in the Central Hall. Note the stone monkeys on the bottom right, used to enrich the main arches of the gallery.

 

 

A group of school children crowd around the flea case in 1927. The museum has ever been educational, and no less during World War 1 when they produced information regarding the danger of parasites such as fleas and ticks. Creatures that are still with us today, but less problematic in terms of what we now know about them. Knowledge and awareness goes a long way.

 

(Crowd around flea case, 1927. Courtesy of the NHM)

Having read about the feat it took to get the Natural History Museum built I am amazed it was completed at all. It is important to note that Alfred Waterhouse had to alter his original plans several times to try and mitigate the rising costs of the project and the opposing views of the various museum authorities. His frustration at times with this and the various contractors may well have been palpable. His idealistic, artistic vision was being curtailed by practicalities, bureaucracy and the differing aesthetic viewpoints of all those involved in the commission. Understandably, there are limits. He was not immune to criticism either. Macmillan Magazine in January 1872 ridiculed Waterhouse’s ‘period’ style. And some of Fowke’s supporters, namely George Cavendish and Lord Elcho, tried to get rid of Waterhouse’s ‘abomination’ as they called his design. It was even suggested that ‘the Board should in future use only architects over whom they could exercise more control’. Such was the opposition. But, despite all that, Waterhouse remained stoic and was allowed to build his masterpiece. I think you would have to be generally good-natured in order to succeed when things happen to thwart you. If one thing doesn’t work, you try something else. If somebody objects, you present an alternative. He was pragmatic enough to understand what was required and overall he succeeded. When the museum finally opened in in April 1881 the reception of Waterhouse’s building was on the whole favourable. His reputation, despite the setbacks, was not compromised.

 

A quote from the Building News 1876 based on the initial drawings by A Waterhouse:

“It may have provoked some hostile criticism from the Royal Engineers and amateurs – its ground floor space has been said to be not more than half that provided by Captain Fowke – but, whatever may be said, its plan is certainly one of the best we have seen for museum purposes, and its architecture, when finished, will disarm opponents.”

 

 

Fortunate then that he accepted the commission. It’s hard to imagine a different building in place of what we have now. Below is Alfred Waterhouse’s acceptance letter to the First Commissioner of Works stipulating some of his requirements.

 

 

 

Here is an image taken from W.J Lofitie’s, Kensington Picturesque and Historical of a scene along Cromwell Road showing the newly built Natural History Museum in the background. It has something of a charming, Christmas card feel about it – certainly picturesque and historical.

 

 

 

Postcscript:

Phew! Well, that’s more than enough for this week’s blog.

I thought that a blog about the Natural History Museum would be a straightforward piece to write. After all, how difficult can talking about a series of photographs be? I have done it before. And yet the NHM has proved something of a conundrum for me, simply because it is so well known, and sometimes condensing something to only a few paragraphs doesn’t do it justice.

There are books that give a more detailed account of this remarkable museum which I recommend you read should you want a deeper knowledge of this institutions history and its origins. My less than scholarly approach has only provided glimpses.

Most of the images I’ve used are from our own Local Studies collection, unless otherwise indicated. I would like to thank the Natural History Museum Archives department, in particular Laura Brown, the NHM’s archivist and colleagues, for their wonderful help. They have a fantastic collection! You will find them and many more fascinating photographs in the book: Museum through a Lens – photographs from 1880 to 1950, which I highly recommend. It’s a great gift for anyone interested in pictorial history. And for a more detailed account of the museum’s building and history there is: The Natural History Museum at South Kensington by William Stearn and Alfred Waterhouse and The Natural History Museum by Mark Girouard. Both are well researched and good reference books. The Survey of London is also an invaluable source for building history. I have thumbed through Volume XXXVIII many times to make sure I didn’t go too far astray.

 


Kensington Church Street: farther along

Resuming our progress up Kensington Church Street, we’re now round the corner now but still heading up the hill. This is the corner of another cul-de-sac, Melon Place

 

 

Numbers 62 and 64 date from the 1850s when the short street was originally laid out. Let’s take a peek down there.

 

 

You can just see the name Jay in the sign for Melvyn and Gary Jay (Antiques and Objet D’art) on the left. Up till this point there have been retail establishments on both side of the street, but now these alternate with shops.

 

 

Number 66, home of the Vintner. See that man lounging against the window? He looks a little surprised. I suppose he never found out that he was becoming part of the historical record of Kensington. This is an area for antiques and art works. Note the Japanese Gallery at the end of this short parade of shops. The street which leads off Church Street is Vicarage Gardens.

This is a postcard view from the early 1900s.

 

The reason this picture is particularly interesting is that the church you can make out at the end of the road is St Paul’s, which suffered bomb damage during the war and was subsequently demolished. It doesn’t feature in many photographs.

The basis for this post as for many others is our Photo Survey created by John Rogers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the photos of Church Street are from 1971. But for some reason almost all of them are of the east side of the street, the even numbers. I don’t know why but to balance things out I went looking for odd numbers from other times.

From 1929, Dick Turpin’s Old Historical Posting House (it claims on the sign).

 

 

From 1909, a couple of advertisements.

 

 

“Celebrated Snowdrift Pastry Flour”? I’d try that.

 

That Pynolia sounds good. We’ll continue the pharmacy theme in a moment. But first another glance at a side street, Campden Grove.

 

 

I think this is a view looking west, towards Hornton Street and Observatory Gardens, but it’s often difficult to tell in these postcard views.

The name Campden Grove commemorates another great house which stood near Church Lane, Campden House. That is almost certainly a post in itself so we’ll pass by for the moment, and just note that the stretch of street between numbers 83 and 95 was once known as Campden House Terrace.

The next side street on the east side is Sheffield Terrace.

 

 

Another name which recalls an old house. Sheffield House and its grounds were on the east side of Church Lane.

Now we can return to the 1970s. Here is a quirky mixture typical of the street, of residential and retail, with an interesting structure above the side entrance to number 1 Berkeley Gardens.

 

 

 

So we’ve come to another corner.

 

 

John seemed quite fascinated by this chemists at number 106. He even went inside.

 

 

Many bargains to be had in their closing down sale. (Closing down sales were one of John’s specialties. See this post) One particular display caught my eye.

 

 

Do you remember when Lucozade bottles (usually reserved for people who were ill, hence them being sold in a chemist) came wrapped in orange cellophane? There they are, on a Ki-ora stand. What purpose did the cellophane serve? If you know, please tell us in a comment.

 

 

The gentleman obviously spent some time examining the window before moving on.

Here is Berkeley Gardens in 1980.

 

 

You can  just make out that the Chemist at number 106 has become another antiques shop. Opposite, the discrete entrance to John Hussey, funeral directors.

 

 

106 Kensington Church Street and the building opposite on the west side, 103, more or less mark the spot where Church Lane, the original name of Kensington Church Street, ended, and Silver Street, the original name of the final section of the street began. This seemed like a good place to start the fourth and final part of this subject, which will be in the next post. Notting Hill Gate is almost in sight….

 

Postscript

I may have been guilty of prevarication this week. Not only was it too hot to blog, but I had plenty of actual work to do and as I started looking for pictures of the west side of the street I found some quite interesting ones, including a “forgotten building” as I used to call them, which will appear in the final part of this struggle uphill, which will definitely appear on time one week after this post.

I din’t think there would be an obituary this week, but death always surprises us, and on Tuesday evening I read about the death of Polish musician Tomasz Stanko, one of the greats of modern jazz. Some may not have heard of him, and I know I sometimes feature quite obscure people in these postscripts simply because I have some of their albums or books, but the odd thing is that if you ever watched the TV series Homeland, you have heard Stanko. His piece Terminal 7, from the album Dark Eyes is used during the end titles (or was in early seasons I believe).

 


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.


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.


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