Category Archives: 19th Century

Christmas Days: a bunch of busts

I scanned today’s pictures in response to an enquiry about busts inside the former Holland House. We have an album from the 1880s with some views of the interior taken before a bout of redecoration. On another occasion I might have scanned the whole album which could have resulted in a full length post but I didn’t have much time so I only did a few. I was particularly intrigued by the conservatory.

This was Holland House at the time.


The east front with, a couple of guys standing patiently in front of it to add some local colour. At least one of them might have come from breakfast.


Here, in the sumptuous breakfast room. I spotted a bust up there in the corner but then turned a page and found a whole set of busts. (Is there a collective noun for busts?)


This is the conservatory, looking back into the house. A pleasing number of busts are on view, and some convenient chairs in which to sit and contemplate the outside while inside. You can see another Kensington conservatory near the end of this post.


This is the view looking in the other direction into the garden, You can just make out a full length statue in the daylight. Wouldn’t you want to sweep through the conservatory after that nice breakfast and tale a turn in the grounds? You can’t walk through this space anymore but the grounds are still available for all, winter and summer.



Today’s monkeys, Boris and Dino (who live in the Park) have taken the opportunity to do just that, while wishing you a happy Christmas. Here they are in the office:


And out in the park.


I was checking the link above to an earlier post and was reminded of my Christmas 2013 post about Irving and Caldecott’s Old Christmas. That was one of my first posts about book illustration, and Caldecott was a contemporary of our friend Hugh Thomson. Check out a traditional Christmas here.

Another short post, and more monkeys tomorrow.


Christmas Days: the old old town hall

The grand municipal building  on the King’s Road which is the home of the Chelsea Registry Office, the Sports Centre  and Chelsea Library is called Chelsea Old Town Hall. It was completed in 1908 and designed by Leonard Stokes. Let’s remind ourselves what it looks like. This view is from an early moment in its history.


It’s called the Old Town Hall now I suppose to distinguish it from Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall which would have become “the” Town Hall when the boroughs united in 1965. (Not the current K&C Town Hall of course. There was an old town hall in Kensington too, if you remember it, but we won’t go into that now.)

But Chelsea Old Town Hall was not the first Chelsea Town Hall. In fact Chelsea Old Town Hall was once the new Chelsea Town Hall because it replaced the original Vestry Hall, the home of the  Chelsea Vestry, the precursor of the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea, which began in 1900. Is this confusing? You wait. Here’s a picture:



This is the Vestry Hall of 1886 designed by J M Brydon which actually replaced the first Vestry Hall of 1860 designed by William Wilmer Pocock (an old old old town/vestry hall, which had problems with the walls and was declared unsafe in 1885) a more modest affair than the 1908 building, which only occupied part of the space its successor now commands. You can see that the word Town has replaced Vestry below the balustrade. The land next to the Town Hall was occupied by public baths and a couple of commercial premises.

Now look at this view of the side.



A man is unloading some crates but has paused to look down the street. Behind him a couple of others are looking into the basement area. Do those crates have to go down? Or up that staircase?Next to the wall is a slope leading down to the premises of W F Picken. But have a look at that roundel and the door beneath it further back. Those features and the whole of the rear section of the building still exist. The 1908 building simply replaced the front section. The old part was grafted on to the new building. If you go round to the back into Chelsea Manor Gardens you can see it, looking slightly grander than you might expect the rear of a municipal building to look. So part of the old old town hall is still in the old town hall if you follow me.

And that door under the roundel? I have walked through it many times.


Finally, have a closer look at number 181, next to Mr Picken’s sign. Next to the door is a sign for Miss Annie Northcroft and her school of singing.  Miss Northcroft lived there with William Northcroft (brother? father?) and a few other names. Strictly speaking this was 181A. 181 itself was one of the first homes of the Chelsea Arts Club and later the Chenil Galleries were built on the site.

I feel I’ve slightly short changed you on pictures so here’s a view from 1897.


Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. No expense spared.


The 12 monkeys of Christmas

Following on from last year’s Christmas posts which featured members of the soft toy community, this year I’m featuring the 12 monkeys of Christmas paying visits to the archives. To start with, here is the eldest monkey Keith Phelps sitting with the scrapbooks.


And getting amongst the drainage plans.


See you tomorrow.

Italian Gardens of the mind

Many years ago I had a dream after watching the original 1934 version of a film called “Death takes a holiday” featuring Frederic March and Evelyn Venable in which Death, taking a breather from collecting human souls, has a mini break in the land of the living and falls in love with a mortal woman. (It’s been remade a couple of times since, in a mostly uninspired fashion).


My dream, as far as I can recall it, took place in an afterlife which took the form of an unending ornamental garden. We’ve seen plenty of unearthly gardens in films and books so I couldn’t have claimed any originality in the idea. The one I always think of is the garden in the Draughtsman’s Contract where the young Anthony Higgins as Mr Neville, comes to grief.


(I’ve also imagined the afterlife as a beach in some autumn northern climate, and a small town set on a steep slope near an ocean, not to mention an endless city full of tall buildings and giant statues but I’ve read a lot of fantasy and horror so what do you expect?) We’ve seen Death in a variety of forms from Terry Pratchett’s morose character to Neal Gaiman’s teenage goth girl. Don’t forget the Blue Oyster Cult song Don’t fear the Reaper. But don’t get me started on the BOC.


This is a long way round to recalling the post featuring Hugh Thomson’s illustrations to As you like it, which has a few pictures set in an ornamental garden, possibly in Italy. I mentioned then that the American novelist Edith Wharton had written a book called “Italian villas and their gardens” (1904) illustrated with photographs, and paintings by the artist Maxfield Parrish. These have exactly the right atmosphere about them, slightly ominous and unearthly. The sky looks as if dusk was not far away.


The Villa Vicobello was near Sienna. Miss Wharton’s text is descriptive and precise but has nothing weird about it, which is a shame, as her ghost stories are excellent, and very atmospheric.


The Villa Scassi, Genoa. The statue in the garden has something to do with a childhood nightmare, the details of which I am thankfully unable to recall, although the image used to be persistent in the moments before sleep.

At the Boboli Gardens, a body of still water, a favourite feature of Parrish’s, and mine.


Below the Villa Deste, featuring the only figure in this set of pictures, a naked youth like a minor Roman  deity. Do you remember the living statue in the Draughtsman’s Contract?


I’ve also been looking at a book by the artist George Elgood who depicts an even larger number of villas and gardens in his book “Italian Gardens” (1907). They too have a certain mysterious edge about them.


[The Dragon Gateway, at Villa Garzoni]


[The cascade, at the Villa Cicogna]


Villa Collana – slightly too many statues for comfort, if you and your companion were otherwise alone in a quite garden with dusk approaching. Picture a young Edwardian couple suddenly taking fright and hurrying away to shelter. Some of these images are verging on the sinister.


I’m not an expert on garden history but I imagine that English travellers on the Grand Tour (and before that time) saw many of these gardens and brought ideas about garden design back with them. This process has embedded these gardens in our collective memory so the pictures in these books seemed familiar as well as sometimes unearthly. Well that’s my excuse anyway. As a fan of illustrated books from the early 20th century I don’t really need a better reason to write a post about the pictures in these two books.

Some of you of course will be far more experienced at visiting ornamental gardens, in Europe and the UK. I can’t help wandering if my own conception of the unearthly garden is based on childhood recollections of a municipal park in Chester, far less grand but having some stone seats and an excellent view over the river and the meadows on the other side.

Some pictures don’t need much of a push to seem disturbing, whether as a painting…


..or a photograph


This view calls to mind the scene in the Innocents (a version of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw featuring Deborah Kerr) in which the governess sees the ghost of Miss Jessel across a stretch of water. Instead of a ghost it has a temple, and some statues.


There’s some still water here too. Is it another one of my things, finding still water a little spooky?


Death has to go home in the end. I can’t remember if he takes the young lady with him.


The Blue Oyster Cult seem to think he would have done.

Love of two is one / Here but now they’re gone
Came the last night of sadness / And it was clear she couldn’t go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared, saying don’t be afraid
Come on baby, and she had no fear
And she ran to him, then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodbye, she had become like they are
She had taken his hand, she had become like they are
Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper

Donald Roeser, 1976


I’ve managed to get through this post without overusing words like sinister and mysterious. Just about anyway.  And yes, I realise that this one doesn’t have much of a connection with Kensington and Chelsea. But both books come from our Reference Library, and also from the golden age of book illustration, examples of which we’ve looked at many times.

We’re heading towards the holiday season after all. What better time to take a mental break in a sunny garden, even if some of the trees and statues look a little disturbing. And if you’d like to see an atmospheric garden closer to home try this one.


That could be an island of the dead, like this one:


[Arnold Bocklin – Isle of the Dead]

Next week, that Christmas tradition, the daily post. From Monday to Friday, short posts on short subjects.

The stone carvers, and others: St Cuthbert’s Church

St Cuthbert’s Church, Philbeach Gardens was built in the 1880s at a time when churches were springing up all over London to serve the growing population of  former suburbs like Earls Court and Old Brompton which had consisted of country houses, markets gardens, inns and lanes. The builders, vicars and others were spiritual entrepreneurs, carving out new parishes from older larger ones which were better suited to sparser populations. After some struggles with ecclesiastical authorities the Reverend Henry Westall (a curate from St Matthias’s, Warwick Road) succeeded in getting formal consent for a new church.


St Cuthbert’s is a distinctive looking building with its iron fleche on the roof rather than a tower, seen here at a later date surrounded by houses. It also sat next to the  railway lines around the Earls Court Exhibition Centre. The full story of its creation can be found over several pages of the Survey of London but I’ll try not to duplicate their good work here.

From the beginning St Cuthbert’s was associated with High Anglican and Anglo-Catholic forms of worship. Perhaps as a result of that the interior of the church was highly ornate and decorative. And possibly also because of that a great many photographs of the interior were made. Sometime in the late 1960s our photographer made copies of more than two hundred images, which I’ve been looking at with interest.

Some show the elaborate interior.


With such features as this giant lectern (designed by W. Bainbridge Reynolds, a member of the congregation) and the many paintings, some of which can be seen in the background.


Others are group photos of people associated with the church. The account of the church in the Survey of London tells us that the members of the congregation took part in the furnishing and decorating of the church. They enthusiastically organised themselves into teams which they called Guilds. This is the Guild of St Margaret:


The guild ,”under the direction of Miss Harvey” according to one caption, were responsible for vestments, banners and other drapery, like this example from the high altar.


But most of the group photos depicted the Guild of St Peter,  the stone carvers.


A mostly male group dressed in their best clothes for a Sunday. But sometimes the group looked more businesslike.


The ladies are wearing aprons or smocks. Some of the work was done by professional craftsmen but ordinary members of the congregation took classes to learn some basic skills. You can see one of the ladies holding a mallet and a chisel, demonstrating her technique.

Here they are again with the same master craftsman.


The caption says they are “under the direction of Mrs Dalton” Is she the one in the middle behind the table?

Or is she one of these?


The pictures identify several people by name. Below, the Miller family, featuring Walter, Gerald and Laurence (the youngest, on the left). Mrs Miller is in there too but I don’t know which one is her.


Below, a group of acolytes. The church was known for “extreme Anglo-Catholic ritualism” according to the Survey, or you might describe it as picturesque ceremony depending on your point of view. There was some Protestant backlash at the church in 1898 when the “agitator” John Kensit interrupted a Good Friday service and was arrested for his trouble. There must have been enough acolytes on hand to deal with him.


The picture below shows St Cuthbert’s Hall, attached to the church, built slightly later in 1894-96.


You can see the Great Wheel on the left looming over the buildings around it. The caption reveals that the people in the foreground are Father Hatt, a man only identified as the Beadle (on the left) and on the right Miss Kenny (the organist) and Miss Carr. The identity of the man with the bike and the others in the background are unrecorded. We can have a closer look.


The two ladies seem to be wearing veils but you can see that Father Hatt looks quite young. There is another picture of Miss Kenny actually at the organ.


But we’re not much nearer to her. As always with old photographs there’s something more you’d like to see if you could only get closer.

For a final picture let’s move forward in time, past two world wars to 1954 where the church sits in a peaceful looking residential street still only a short distance from railway lines and busy roads.




There are more than 200 pictures of the church and hall interiors in our collection, making it one of the best documented churches in the borough. I discovered them for myself when I was asked to find some pictures of the hall (the only part of the building I’ve ever been inside). I came across the stone carving ladies and wanted to see more of them.

Thanks of course to the Survey of London who can always be relied upon for a good ecclesiastical story.

The clocks have gone back so WordPress time and London time are in sync again but I’m still going to launch new posts on Thursday morning rather than just after midnight which means the accompanying tweet should get seen by more people. So don’t panic if new posts don’t appear at the crack of dawn.

While I’m on the subject of publicity, this month brings with it the 8th annual London History Festival at Kensington Library. We have an excellent line up this year featuring, among others, local boy made good Hugh Sebag Montefiore (brother of Simon) talking about the Somme and the always popular Dan Snow with a talk on his favourite heroes and villains from history. Details can be found here. And don’t forget our fringe events – Philip Mansel on the history of Aleppo, for tragic reasons even more relevant now than when we booked the event and on November 10th renaissance man Benet Brandreth talking about his Shakespeare novel. I’ve done a few Shakespeare related posts this year, and there may be a couple more to come.

Hidden in plain sight: Chelsea’s Jewish cemetery

Last week, on Friday, I was on the 211 bus heading home with a bag of shopping when I saw that  there had been some damage to a brick wall on the corner of the Fulham Road and Old Church Street. A whole section of the wall had been knocked inwards possibly as a result of some kind of impact. I thought I should take some photographs but when I went out on Sunday the area was surrounded by workmen and equipment, with a temporary set of traffic lights. On my way in this morning I took a few pictures, as the breach in the wall was still there.


Not only is there a hole, but behind it a pile of bricks.


Beyond that you can see the gravestones themselves.


It’s not the first time this wall has been disturbed. Back in 1989 I was also there with a camera when the whole wall was partially demolished and there was the opportunity to take some pictures of an obscure corner of Chelsea. In normal circumstances you only get the chance to see the area behind the wall if you’re sitting on a passing bus. This corner, between the Institute of Cancer Research and a short row of shops devoted to antiquarian books and interior design, is the location of Chelsea’s Jewish Cemetery.

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 04

The wall, as you can see, was then short enough to look over. The original wall was tall enough to completely conceal the cemetery.

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 01

It was a bright day for October. The pictures were taken with an Olympus pocket (film) camera so they look a little grainy.

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 02

But you can make out the Hebrew inscriptions.

The cemetery, or burial ground appears on Thompson’s famous Chelsea map of 1836.

Copy of Thompsons 1836_Chelsea 4006 - Copy - Copy

The area was called Queen’s Elm after the Queen’s Elm tavern which was right opposite. On this detail you can see Trafalgar Square (later Chelsea Square) and Bath Lodge (later Catharine Lodge along with a number of houses with large gardens on the west side of Old Church Street,

George Bryan, in his 1869 book “Chelsea in the olden and present times” tells us the burial ground was “erected in 1816 by the individuals whose names are inscribed on the wall of the entrance building” (visible on the map).

Hugh Meller, in the third edition of his London Cemeteries (an invaluable book for London historians) which has details of 14 Jewish cemeteries in London says: “The impression given by this tiny cemetery is more typical of Prague than London.”. I can see his point. The 300 gravestones are in a comparatively small area, almost hermetically sealed behind a brick wall and “a rusty iron gate“. I imagine the burial ground fitting into a Bruno Schulz story (or a film by the Quay Brothers for that matter) especially as modern Prague is often used as a location for Victorian London in recent films and TV dramas.

Jewish Cemetery in Fulham Road c1896

The picture comes from The London Burial Grounds (1896) by Mrs Basil Holmes. Mrs Holmes called it “a dreary place” and remarked on the lack of proper paths between the graves. By the time she wrote her book the prayer hall and office had been replaced by the parade of shops. The last burial was said to be in 1913, although Meller gives the date of closure as early as 1884. He also notes the presence of mulberry trees. (That is actually another story altogether, associated with the estate called Chelsea Park which was on this side of the Fulham Road. Parts of it still survive in Elm Park Gardens and so what he says is possible.)

These pictures, from one of our scrapbooks are also dated 1896.

Jewish Cemetery Queen's Elm 1896 CM142c

In this one, possibly taken from one of the shops you can see South Parade and beyond it Trafalgar Square, and the tower of St Luke’s Church.

I’m not so sure of the angle in this picture:

Jewish Cemetery Queen's Elm 1896 CM142

In the 1970s the cemetery was under the threat of redevelopment and there was a plan reported in local newspapers in 1974 to have the ground deconsecrated, and any surviving remains removed to Israel.

cutting 1974

This never occurred. I was told that a benefactor paid for some restoration work to keep the cemetery secure. It remained an obscure corner of Chelsea, safe behind its walls. A place of absolute stillness beside a busy road, its continued existence a source of satisfaction for those who like the quiet places of the city.

Whether in 1989,

Jewish Cemetery Oct 1989 03or 2016



The hole in the wall is now boarded up, which you can almost see in this picture but the main point of it is to show that even with the wall breached the cemetery is well hidden by the abundant trees.



I promised you a new post by my colleague Isabel this week but she has gone to ground in Kent, somewhere near here:

Old Road Chatham - Copy

Hugh Thomson steps in to help again. The picture is from Highways and Byways in Kent (1907). Isabel will be back soon.

It was fortunate this subject presented itself to me out of nowhere. I’ve noticed that I’ve written posts about almost every point of my journey to work, with very few gaps and this is a further addition to the psycho-geographical trail. I’ll work on those gaps in the future.


Thomson’s guide to London

Now the weather is warmer and we’re in the serious summer, we can relax a little and revisit an old friend, the artist and illustrator Hugh Thomson. Along with his annual “big books” with colour pictures, a couple of which we’ve already looked at, he also had some regular jobs which kept the wolf from the door. One of those was the Highways and Byways series. These were travel books of British counties, informative but chatty, written and illustrated by a variety of authors and artists. Thomson worked on several books in the series but the one of most interest to us is Highways and Byways of London, published in 1902 with a text by Mrs E T Cook (Emily Constance actually, don’t know where the T came from.). Some of the illustrations were by the leading engraver F L  Griggs, who tended to do the sober pictures of streets and churches. Thomson concentrated on the life of London and particularly its people.

Here’s a typical London scene, someone giving some directions.


Third left, second right, You can’t miss it. Thomson captures the confidence of the policeman, the confusion of the older man and the anxiousness of the mother and daughter attempting to follow the complex instructions.

They might be forgiven for taking the tube instead.

An Underground Station

Except that it looks a bit frantic down there. This is clearly one of London’s defining characteristics as Thomson saw it. In his London there seems to be quite a bit of rushing about.

The Hansom

The picture is called The Hansom, but the focus is on the brisk young woman who is threatening to overtake the horse drawn carriage.

The other main theme for Thomson is fashion. In an interview with Raymond Blathwayt in 1901 he said: “I think the last two years rival the costume of Gainsborough’s time. For the book on which I am now at work I went up to the Row several times to make sketches, and I said to a friend: why doesn’t some big painter make a picture of this? Women catching up their gowns just as Japanese women do and wearing Gainsborough hats; why, they are full of charm, and if properly groupes, such a picture would make a great sensation.”

Thomson’s favourite period for women’s dress was the 18th century, and perhaps the early 19th (which you can see in other posts here and here) He had come to admire contemporary fashion almost as much. See some pictures of the Row later.

Below, a pair of fashionable young women cast a sidelong glance at an older lady walking a tiny dog.

Crossing at Piccadilly Circus


Below, another pair in fashionable outfits at the front of the crowd at a popular exhibition.(No timed entry in those days by the looks of it.)

At the Royal Academy

Another good spot for seeing the latest trends was Regent Street. This group are crowded around the windows of one of the high class establishments. (Compare it with one of the pictures featuring Regent Street in this post about Yoshio Markino.)

I wonder what the woman at the rear of the group is looking at? Something going on in a first floor window?

In Regent Street - Copy

I originally intended, as I have with other travel books, to  quote relevant passages from the text. But although the Royal Academy picture is placed in a section on London galleries, the author doesn’t mention it at all. You get the impression that author and artist weren’t exactly working closely together. Thomson seems to have followed his own interests in selecting subjects. Literary London was clearly one of those.

In the Charing Cross Road

A group of book fanatics are clustered around a shop in the Charing Cross Road, the southern end I think, opposite Leicester Square station. Charing Cross Road was one of the first places I visited regularly when I came to live in London and apart from the clothes this scene is quite recognizable. I can pinpoint it almost exactly in my memory.  Of course in 1973 very few young women had to gather up their skirts to get past a gathering of enthusiasts.

Male book lovers are also in the majority in this picture of a railway bookstall.

A Railway Bookstall

The lone woman looks on as if faintly amused by the concentration of the book-buyers. The bookstall was one of the key features of a large station. Literacy had increased in the last decades of the 19th century and the appetite for literature, high and low, had grown enormously. Even today, nothing beats a book for whiling away the time on a train journey whether short or long. Thomson continues his look at London’s readers in one of the circulating libraries.


At Mudie’s, one of the leading subscription libraries the female customers seem to be in the majority, examining the latest titles and discussing the finer points of modern literature. A messenger boy is carrying two armfuls of books, coming in or going out and a gentleman is looking at a set of books – a four volume novel? In the background a library assistant ascends a rolling set of steps in search of some particular volume.

Thomson also covered some staider pursuits, such as al fresco dining in Kensington Gardens.

Tea in Kensington Gardens

A little further east in Hyde Park things were a little more athletic.

Rotten Row 2

The woman in the foreground seems quite determined to avoid the attentions of the man raising his hat. Perhaps she’s in a race with her friend, whose horse is also galloping. The dark coloured horse seems as determined as his rider. Perhaps he wants to attract the attention of the filly.

Of course, for others, the horse is just a comfortable place to sit while engaged in polite conversation.

Rotten Row

Conversation could also be had indoors. The busy establishment below is one of the tea rooms of the Aerated Bread Company. The name comes from the industrialized baking process developed in the 1860s as an alternative to fermentation with yeast. The Company opened a chain of tea rooms second only in size to J Lyons. These were know as places where respectable women could go by themselves or in groups without any men to accompany them. Although there are plenty in this picture

An aerated bread shop


The ABC tearooms, according to Wikipedia, have made many appearances in literature from Dracula to Agatha Christie. The name survived as far as the 1980s. (I can remember a baker’s shop bearing the name in the 1970s, on Camden Road.)

The family in the first picture could always of course have taken the bus. This driver looks like an obliging fellow, ready for a casual chat with his passengers on the upper deck.

Bus Driver

Downstairs the conductor is collecting fares. He signals the number of coins required to the old gentleman groping for change in his deep pocket.


Meanwhile a book-loving lady is opening her purse, her latest purchases (or loans) wrapped up neatly on her lap.

The bus might be crowded but it would get you home in style.

At the end of a long day, getting home again might be the best part. This Bank Holiday couple look exhausted after their day’s outing.

The return, Bank Holiday

Thomson does what he does best – catching nuances of expression and details of clothing. You can easily imagine this couple’s life, he a clerk in the City, she at home with their daughter in their first home together, part of an emerging lower middle class engaging in new leisure activities, wearing their Sunday best.

They make me feel tired, so I’ll put my feet up now and look forward to the next Thomson post which will be in a couple of weeks or so and will take us back to the same era as the first Thomson book I wrote about.


I’ve looked at a few other examples of Thomson’s work in the Highways and Byways series. The volume on Kent (1907) is typical. The drawings are much sketchier than his London pictures, and much more concerned with depicting the rural settings. Thomson was at heart a country boy, and a lover of rural scenes. The London pictures are more in line with his work for novels and plays, of which we have seen many, and hope to see more.

Now as soon as I wrote those words I thought I’d better check some others, other than Kent. F L Griggs did some on his own but Thomson often worked with other artists such as Joseph Penniel. In the North Wales (1893) and Devon and Cornwall (1897) volumes I found a few character based illustrations. So here’s a bonus picture from the Devon and Cornwall volume, depicting a rare move into the realm of the fantastic with a folk tale about a man who encounters a mermaid on the beach.

H and B in Devon and Cornwall p276

Thomson did a few fairy tale books in his career. Perhaps he should have done more.


Gloucester Road – gateway to London

Last week at Notting Hill Gate I looked at one of the deepest layers of my personal archaeology of London. This time I’m going to begin at an even deeper level.When I first came to London in 1973 I lived in Camden. But most Sundays I would get the tube from Camden Town to Gloucester Road, walk south to Old Brompton Road, turn left into Roland Gardens which took me to Evelyn Gardens where Imperial College had some halls of residence. My friend Carl lived there. Some Sundays we would just hang out, sometimes we would go and have a meal at a cafe in the Earls Court Road and sometimes we would begin to explore London.

I wasn’t the first person to start out with London from Gloucester Road. It’s still a place full of hotels,  tourists and coaches, people with trolleys puzzling over the tube map and the rules for using Oyster cards, tour buses getting in the way of the 49. And plenty of people not quite sure why they are starting out their journeys from this particular ordinary street.

Back in 1969 when you left the station, this is what you saw on the other side of the road:

Gloucester Road - east side KS 357075-73

Individual retailers mostly, still operating in a time-honoured fashion (note the delivery bike.)

Gloucester Road - east side, 83-81 KS 3571

The shops are under a 19th century terrace.

Gloucester Road - east side, 85 KS 3573

The Empire Grill, now home of Burger King, and a couple of old friends:

Gloucester Road - east side, 95-93 KS 3574

The Wimpy Bar, home of the UK’s own brand of hamburger, (waitress service and individually cooked burgers), now part of a branch of Tesco, and the Midland Bank, later part of HSBC.

If you were to turn around you could see another familiar building, Bailey’s Hotel.

Gloucester Road 140 Baileys Hotel KE75-36

But this week we won’t confine ourselves to living memory. Turn the dial back further:


Gloucester Road Baileys Hotel PC456

The old version of the building – it was owned by James Bailey and was at the time one of the best hotels in London, with many “American” features including an “ascending room” (lift). In 1890 it had over 300 apartments. Some of the spectacular internal features survive today.

The structure on the island opposite the station is an air vent for the railway

Further south down the road you come to this pleasant looking house opposite Hereford Square. I must have walked past it hundreds of times before I found that J M Barrie lived there. It has no blue plaque. That was taken by his house in Bayswater. But this was the house where he wrote some of his early successes, Quality Street and the Admirable Crichton.


Gloucester Road 133 J M Barrie

This stretch of Gloucester Road has houses and flats in the same scale, low-level, almost suburban. The mix of styles is probably to do with postwar development. There was some bomb damage in the area so the buildings have a charming individual quality. We’re coming to the end of the road at this point and I’m not going to take you along the rest of my 1970s route. We’re going back to the intersection with Cromwell Road. You won’t find this building there today. This is how the corner with Cromwell Road appeared in the 1930s.

Gloucester Road 118 1920s30s K4611B - Copy

Later, in 1969 you can see that entrance on the right of this picture:


Gloucester Road looking south from Cromwell Road dec 1969 - Copy

The grand entrance remained but there was no longer a bank on the site.

North from Cromwell Road, the buildings on either side of the road grow taller, even in the earlier days of the street.

Gloucester Road PC505 fp - Copy

This picture obviously comes from a quieter period for traffic. That street sweeper would not be standing there in later years. If you look in the distance as the road curves can you see this building?

Gloucester Court

St George’s Court, an apartment block built in 1907-09.  Here it is in another postcard:

St George's Court Gloucester Road

The ornate apartment block with its shops surmounted by small roof gardens is still there today of course.  Having already looked at the Survey of London for information on Bailey’s Hotel I naturally turned to them for some details on St George’s Court and they have done us proud again:  “This hefty in one of the dowdier styles of Edwardian architecture, mixing elements  of Tudor and Baroque. red brick and brown stone dressings”.  Words I could not argue with, although I still like to look at it while passing by on the upper deck of a 49.

Arguably a more interesting block than on the opposite side of the road where there have been a few changes.

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A branch of Waitrose, 1970s, but I’m not sure of the exact date.

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And a couple of flash cars. These two pictures are from a contact sheet. It almost looks as though the photographer was on the move at the time.

As we come to another curve in the road and the end of Gloucester Road, this postcard image of a recognizable corner predates St George’s Court.

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This slightly blurred image is further north but shows the end of the road with a man running towards it for some reason best known to himself.

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Finally, as we’ve bobbed about through the years this week, let’s go back to one of my favourite artists, William Cowen for a Gloucester Road view before the age of photography when a narrow road which was still called Gloucester Road ran through a rural setting.


C23 Mr Rigby's cottage

Mr Rigby’s cottage, near the station.


It’s week eight of the great scanning famine (possibly the last week, fingers crossed) but I’m still finding pictures. I could almost have done a whole post just on postcards, but I decided to give you a touch of everything. There may be a iteration of the secret life of postcards coming up soon. I’ve just acquired an illustrated book by High Thomson, so if I can only scan the pictures, you can expect another post about him. It’s nearly time for some holiday posts.

In another postscript I referred to the fact that my friend Carl died quite young in 1999 but that I didn’t find out until quite recently. Writing this made me think of him again, our early days in London and the things he missed by never seeing this century. So I hope you’ll forgive me for dedicating a post once again to my friend Carl Spencer.

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