Category Archives: 21st Century

Halloween story – the photocopier

I have a friend called Dave who works in a library in west London, and is sometimes involved with archives. He’s about my age so naturally some people get us confused. He knows a woman named Blanka who works at the something or other institute somewhere in London.She seemed to think we were the same person. We’re not. For one thing he doesn’t write a blog. But he does like my blog and he was very taken with the posts about the Gloucester Road / Cromwell Road area I did a while back. He remembered walking down Ashburn Mews once or twice. I told him that someone else I know had walked down the same road just after the buildings were demolished, leaving just the paving along the route of the street. I also had some pictures of the cleared site. When he saw them he made me take him on a pilgrimage to the place where Ashburn Mews used to be. It’s just an apartment block now, not really evocative in itself so we soon ran out of things to say about this “ghost street” as he called it.

 

 

 

This took us onto ghost stories. I knew that he attended the gatherings at Trankel’s bookshop near the Barbican and that once a year they dressed up in period costume and told ghost stories. This year a guy called Andy told a story about his grandmother who saw fairies. (Andy saw them too apparently) Blanka had a curious and fantastic tale about a portal under an office block in Holborn which took a party of people to a cold desert full of decaying ships. That sounds good I said. The trouble is, I think she believes it. In fact, I think she was one of the people in it. We agreed that Blanka was a pretty strange woman and debated the chances of her telling the truth. (Low, but not impossible). I asked him what story he told and he said it was more of an anecdote really and didn’t rise to the level of a supernatural tale. We had reached a pub in one of the streets off Gloucester Road and found a quiet corner so he told me the story, apologetically.

 

[ The entrance as it was]

[The exit, some years later]

He began by saying that this all happened in the 90s when we had the internet but weren’t quite sure what it was for. People who worked in offices had email and scanners, and phones were getting smaller every year as if poised in preparation for the great leap forward to smartphones when they could start getting bigger again. He remembered going to a meeting about what was thought at the time to be a controversial topic, moving a collection from the branch where it had always been to somewhere not far away. The minutes of the meeting were printed out on red paper to make photocopies harder. Yes, he said that was weird but it was not the weirdest photocopier story he had.

 

 

It seemed they had this big colour photocopier in the reference section, quite an expensive model which produced very good copies. Dave had used it to make copies of some pastel sketches which he then put on display without anyone noticing they were copies. Someone went so far as to steal a couple of them. Imagine the art dealer’s face when the person tried to sell them. Old Man Trankler himself came in on one occasion with his daughter Nicola. They copied an entire book, including some intriguing illustrations which Dave thought was pretty barbarous behaviour for an antiquarian book dealer. later he wondered if this had anything to do with what happened subsequently.

 

 

Hardly anyone remembers Amy K these days. She was an actress/singer who was in the single season supernatural drama Heaven is Wide. I can’t even remember what channel it was on. Amy also had a moderately successful single singing with Dr Hoffmann, another group nobody remembers. Weapons of Love? Velocity Girl? The video featured, I don’t know, something supernatural. Killers, angels, refugees. One of those probably.

 

 

And there was a scandal. Amy was believed to have slept with some chat show host, a married man, whose wife kicked off big time in the tabloids out for Amy’s blood. Metaphorically speaking.So at the height of this minor furore, Amy K was sitting in Dave’s reference library, listlessly flicking through old bound copies of Vogue and Harper’s and L’Officiel, and occasionally wrestling the volume onto the photocopier to take a copy of some 70s fashion item. That’s a tricky business with tight binding and heavy volumes. So it wasn’t untoward for Dave to help her, and engage in some light chat.

 

 

We got side tracked here by a discussion of whether Amy K was more famous than Alex Cox, who Dave had also spoken to in the library. I naturally stood up for the pre-eminence of the director of Death and the Compass. Dave acquiesced, and said that, in addition, Mr Cox was a very pleasant man to talk to, while it had to be admitted that Amy was sometimes a bit vague, as if she was recovering from a hard night creating scandal.

The odd thing about all this was that this was the zenith of the scandal and Amy K was being chased all over London. One day, a pair of photographers came into the library to look for her. They apparently failed to spot her in her usual seat near the photocopier, opposite where Dave sat. He looked over at her and she smiled back. He kept a straight face and They went away. On another occasion another guy had caught her in the street and followed her inside. Once again, he failed to spot her, even when she picked up a book and photocopied a couple of pages from it.

 

 

The same guy came back the next day and asked Dave straight out had he ever seen Amy K. This presented Dave with a mild professional dilemma. Should he give a customer a piece of information he knew, or should he protect another customer’s privacy? Well, Data Protection was paramount in this case, Dave said, and the fact that Amy was attractive and friendly had nothing to do with it.

Then the guy asked another question. Is there something here which might interfere with a camera? I took some pictures just outside and none of them worked. He had one of those new-fangled digital cameras so it was not as though there could be anything wrong with the film.

 

 

The next day when Amy arrived a whole throng of photographers had gathered outside but the porters, who also knew Amy it seemed, wouldn’t let them in. Amy fixed Dave with another smile. Was there a back way out of the building? There was of course, a particularly obscure route through the basement which came out in a street behind the building. When the two of them emerged, Amy asked if there was a quiet pub nearby where they could hide out. There was, a couple of streets away, and they spent an hour or so there with Amy chatting about Vixen and the general unreliability of people in the music industry.

Dave was very pleased with himself, but thought that the library was too well known now for Amy to hole up there again, and he was right. He did receive a DVD of Vixen in the post, with some extras that never made it to the version that was eventually released, but apart from that he never heard from Amy again.

 

 

 

The punch line, if there is one, is that one morning a week or so later he came in early and found that the photocopier had spewed out dozens of copies apparently of its own volition. There was paper scattered all over the floor. Among all the second and third copies that had never appeared were pictures that couldn’t have come from the copier, including several of Amy, sitting in the library, or running down the street. And one of her sitting in the pub with Dave.

 

The fault on the photocopier never re-occurred But a few months later, a highly strung member of staff punched the touch screen, which had to be replaced at considerable cost. The photocopier was never the same afterwards and was replaced with a model which was newer, but never gave such high quality copies

So was that a ghost story? Call it a Fortean anecdote I said. I took out the pictures of Ashburn Mews and its mutation into a temporary car park out of my bag and we turned back to the subject of vanished streets, forgotten places and buildings that never were.

.

 

Postscript

I was once told I had a doppelganger, who sold newspapers and magazines at Baron’s Court Station. I never went to look for myself. I didn’t want to tempt fate. Neither of the Daves in this week’s post are me, but in some alternate world maybe..

I usually say at Halloween that normal service will be resumed next week. But this week I’ll just apologise to those who don’t like having the real and the imaginary mixed up. Anyone who recognizes themselves or someone they know in this post must surely be mistaken as of course a resemblance to any real person would be entirely coincidental.

 

 

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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.


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.

 

 


On the border 6.2: road

1998, a sunny day near the end of a century at the junction of Ladbroke Grove with Kensal Road.

 

When I thought of covering the canal and Kensal Road in a couple of posts I took one of those Google Street View tours from this point up to Golborne Road and realised that the road has changed enormously in the last 40 years. There are many new buildings and conversions and the road looks quite different from how it did at the end of the 1960s, but some older buildings have survived along with something of the semi-domestic semi-industrial feel of the area.

 

 

It’s been suggested to me that the car beneath the advertising hoarding is a Fiat Panda, but surely not. (Too much of a coincidence? What was that advert “Ol’ Balck Eyes is back” about?) The pub which is still there today is the Western Arms which can also be seen in this picture looking back towards Ladbroke Grove.

 

 

 

At the back of the picture is another survivor, Canalside House. But the building on the right is no longer there. The rather larger, mostly white, corporate headquarters of the Innocent Company is there now. Behind the wall is the Portobello Dock.

We have some other pictures from the modern era but perhaps now is the moment to step back to 1969.

 

 

There is the pub again, with an unmistakable and unlovely Ford Anglia parked outside.

A couple of women stroll towards us, along the comparatively quiet street. This was one of the first streets John Rogers covered in his photo survey of the Borough, and one of the earliest chronologically. He must have started right at the top of Kensington, intending to work his way south.

 

 

 

Across the road is the entrance to the Dock, which went under many names. As well as Kensal Wharf when it was owned by the Chelsea Vestry, it was also called Kensington Wharf and also the Council Depot. (A favourite term for council buildings which were not predominantly offices. The main depot was in Pembroke Road and was still known by that name when I started working for the borough, in another semi-forgotten era.)

 

 

This view shows the yard just inside the entrance. Below the view inside.

 

 

Again, you can see the Narrow Boat pub in the background on the other side of the canal, which I once thought undocumented but is now turning up a lot in pictures.

 

 

 

The ramp was originally for horses to pull wagons up to the dock side. The building in the centre was used for several light industrial purposes including the manufacture of “gramophone records”, as Kelly’s describes it.

Also just visible are a pair of  early social housing blocks from the 1930s, Ruth House, below.

 

 

And Pollock House. Both of them have survived into this century.

 

 

The Saga Records building is also still here, although the front is currently boarded up.

 

 

A little further along the north side of the road, number 298 and a couple of neighbouring houses. Only the pram betrays any sign of habitation.

 

 

On the south side of the road, a part of Middle Row School.

 

 

This part of the school no longer exists, but the main building on Middle Row itself is still in action. The houses and shops on the left are also gone.

At this point I have to admit that it looks like we’re not going to get back to our starting point in Wedlake Street this week, so we’ll be doing another week in Kensal Road. I’ll leave you with another view of a pub.

 

 

The excellently named “Lads of the Village”.  It was later known as the Village Inn and by 2014 it seems to have become a wine bar type establishment called “Frames” (some snooker reference?) The building is currently intact according to Street View but it is now boarded up, awaiting further developments.

And for a final general image with a bit of a change of pace, a colour aerial view of the western section of Kensal Road.

 

 

This is from a series we have  taken about 1985. (A fascinating but sometimes confusing set of images) You can see the junction of Kensal Road and Ladbroke |Grove where we started today on the top left, with a few of the remaining features of 1969 and some new buildings. The canal is visible at the top, and (just about) the dock.

We’ll go a bit further, and come back to Wedlake Street in the next weekly post but before then it’s the week  before  Christmas when, by Tradition, I do a week of daily posts. Sooner than I thought, and only one of those is written so far. So fingers crossed.

 


On the border 6.1: Canal

The next couple of posts arise from this photograph, which  my  friend  Maggie  got excited about a couple of weeks ago. (There aren’t too many pictures of this building.) This one comes from our collection of former Planning photos  and was taken on October 16th 1984. You can see the staple in the middle which joins two prints together, as we used to do before we could get help from a computer.

 

 

 

 

It shows the rear of the former public  baths in Kensal Road which backed onto the  Grand Union Canal. (Previously known as the Grand Junction Canal) Two  faded lines  of graffiti seem to read “Save  our baths“.Too late perhaps. The impressive building must have been close  to demolition given the date . You can see Trellick Tower in the background to give you some idea of the location.

The highlighted graffiti  reads “An eye for an eye – in the end the whole world goes blind.” A characteristically seventies bit of instant sloganeering. See this old post about graffiti.

On the left is one of those scary high sided foot  bridges which were hated by young and old alike because you never knew what you might encounter on them while crossing. (Known locally as the halfpenny steps I’m told.)

This picture shows the steps up to the bridge, and the main entrance to the baths in Wedlake Street (the baths were sometimes called the Wedlake Baths). No amount of peering with a magnifying glass (another piece of old tech used in local studies) will reveal the wording text of the graffiti.

 

 

This is the view around the corner in Kensal Road, another carefully stapled image. The building on which JM and his friends have left their mark were once the Vestry Offices.

 

 

Historical note: up to 1900 the Chelsea Vestry owned a piece of territory called Kensal New Town which straddled the later border between Kensington and Paddington, so these Vestry offices originally belonged to Chelsea, as did the wharf, as we’ll see later.

Kensal Road now runs from Ladbroke Grove to Golborne Road, ending more or less at Trellick Tower but it formerly went all the way to the Great Western Road, running parallel with the canal, and north of the railway line. This is why I wanted to look at this border area, the canal and the road, together. This week we’ll look at the canal, so back to the water.

 

 

This view of the towpath is the last of this series from 1984.

This older image shows the backs of the industrial buildings on the south side of the canal.

 

 

This one gives a better view of the north side.

 

 

It’s a slightly discoloured image (some colour prints go that way) which shows how the houses and shops on the Harrow Road went right up to the edge of the canal. My houseboat correspondent tells me that one of these was the rear of a fish and chip shop and that boat people could get their order handed to them without leaving their boats.

We’re heading west from this point back towards Ladbroke Grove. But before we get there we should stop off at Portobello Dock.

 

 

The dock (once called Kensal Wharf) is a small basin off the canal. As part of Kensal New Town it would once have belonged to the Chelsea Vestry. (Access to the canal might well have been useful to the Vestry, just as some landlocked nations like to have access to the sea or to useful waterways. The Kensington Vestry once owned a riverside section of Chelsea and later had a wharf on the river near Chelsea Creek.)

 

 

These two pictures have been cropped from a contact sheet. (See the pen mark at the top of the image.) This one shows where the dock area could be entered from Kensal Road.

This picture by local photographer Peter Dixon shows the somewhat waterlogged towpath with the gas works in the background and on the right the Narrow Boat public house.

 

 

There is another photograph showing the now demolished pub by Peter in the Ladbroke Grove post I did a couple of years ago.

On the other side of the road, in a picture from 1975, you can see the gas works (covered quite extensively in this post) and on the other side of the canal, the wall of Kensal Green Cemetery.

 

 

The gas works had two basins of its own. You can see the entrance to the smaller one  (which still exists) in the foreground. The bridge over the entrance to the larger basin is visible in the distance.

Here is a picture of a barge actually entering the basin.

 

 

This view shows the rear of the barge as it performs this manoeuvre.

 

 

I think this is the smaller basin, about 1970.

 

 

Back on the main body of the canal we carry on westwards. This view of the less grand section of the cemetery looks quite rural, as it would have been once.

 

 

And finally, this view just around the corner gives us a traditional motor barge passing by  a stand of trees with only the gasometer to give the setting away.

1970s we think, based on the plastic sheathed tree on the right.

That takes us along the northern border of Kensington and Chelsea by canal. The next post gets back to the road.

Postscript

Thanks to Peter Dixon for his photograph, which is reproduced by permission. Please do not use it without his permission.

Thanks also to Barbara for providing the two pictures of the barge entering the basin, and for finding many of the others which come from our Planning collection. I’m grateful for the continuing interest of North Kensington residents in their history which is just as fascinating as the more “historical” parts of Kensington and Chelsea.


Halloween story – the shop

This year’s Halloween post has been sent to us by Blanka Azdajic, Acting Head of Visitations at the Institute of Hermetic Research. It originated with one of the researchers who used to visit the Supplications Room at the Institute.

When I was a teenager, 15 or 16, I would go into town on Saturday mornings, buy a couple of meat pies from Blake’s and mooch around the few places that sold books and records. Or I might go to one of the tiny newsagents and ask to see the latest batch of American comics, usually Marvel which some of them kept in the back as there was very little room on the racks. Or I might go into the old Gothic market hall, a huge open space with a glass roof where, along with the clothes and food stalls, there was a place you could buy monster magazines.

 

On this particular day I had to stay at home in the morning for a visit by my Uncle James so I didn’t get into town until mid-afternoon. Blake’s had sold all the pies. I spent some time in a new record shop in Watergate Street in the Rows so when I got to the market it was already starting to close.

 

 

I rushed to the stall and quickly bought two issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and one of Castle of Frankenstein, more than I could afford really after buying two LPs, but if there wasn’t enough change in my pocket for the bus I could always walk.

 

 

There was an exit at the rear of the market which I had never used but I could guess where it came out. I found myself in a yard behind what I assumed was a pub, rather run down. But there was an open gate so I carried on into a narrow cobbled street. There were a few of these near the cathedral so I was not too surprised. But although it was a bit overcast and there was a slight drizzle it didn’t seem like late afternoon, more like midday.

 

 

The street wound round a corner as I expected past a couple of shops. The first sold elaborate antique dolls and tin toys. One of the dolls was almost life size, slumped back like a person who had just passed out. It wore a shiny dress too big for it. A cat, also pretty substantial, dozed on the ends of the skirt. There were a number of small grotesque figurines on a shelf. They were strange enough for me to want to move on, especially as the next shop was a bookshop.

It was clearly full of antiquarian books, but visible through the window were two browser boxes full of colourful hardbacks and paperbacks which looked like my kind of thing and might not be too expensive. I went in, causing a bell to ring. No-one came immediately so I started looking and regretted it at once as there were several books I wanted, some quite reasonably priced.

 

A Panther edition of HP Lovecraft’s Dagon and other macabre tales with a marvelous cover in black and white showing a number of squirming demons. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the ghost finder (I loved the House on the Borderland and would buy anything by him).

 

 

William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and Soft Machine with their mirrored covers which I knew would be beyond me but I wanted anyway. A small hardback by a woman called Hope-Elliott which I had heard of in an introduction by Lin Carter to a Lord Dunsany book.

I put the pile on top of the box and looked around. Near me was a shelf of illustrated books, featuring artists I had heard of – Aubrey Beardsley, Sidney Sime, Arthur Rackham – and a book called Sweet Gwendoline which I found riveting but knew straight away I could never contemplate taking home. As I hastily returned it to the shelf I heard a rustling sound and realised that someone had been sitting at the back of the room all the time I was there. The person wore a long old-fashioned dress like something in a costume drama. As I looked closer I realised she (or he?) was wearing a mask like a doll’s face.

 

I froze up as my eyes seemed to meet the living eyes visible through the eye holes. I was sure I was ready to bolt out of the door if the person spoke to me.

But it was someone else who spoke, a woman of about 30 I thought. She also wore a long dress but this was more like a modern maxi skirt, gauzy and brightly coloured.

“Have you found something? I normally put the boxes outside but the weather looks a bit treacherous.”

I showed her what I had selected.

“Oh yes, all good stuff here. This is my kind of thing too.”

She glanced across at the masked woman.

“Don’t let her bother you, she only does it for effect. Laura, take that thing off, you’re bothering the customers.”

Laura did as she was asked, revealing a pretty girl only a little older than me. She also removed her wig and showed her own hair, straight and black cut in a bob. She wore black make-up round her eyes, presumably to make them stand out through the eye holes of the mask. She still looked pretty, very pretty in fact. The two of them were beautiful but left me apprehensive as confident young women sometimes do when you’re a teenager.

Laura smiled at me in a friendly way but didn’t say anything.

“No one I know better for mysterious and enigmatic if that’s what you like” said the woman. “I’m Alice. Now I see you’ve picked out Travels to Faery. That’s a good one. That shows a degree of discernment on your part if you don’t mind me sounding a bit patronising.”

I told her where I’d heard about it.

“Oh Lin Carter! Always letting the cat out of the bag. Now if you fancy that, I think you would love this.”

She produced a small green hardback, obviously old, with an ornate design on the cover. I had seen a few books like that at Uncle James’s London flat.

“Helena Endicott. Impressions of the Hidden World. 1936. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of her brother? No, probably a good thing. This is quite rare but I believe that books should find their owners.”

She named a price that was not outrageous for my pocket and I was so under her spell that I would have bought it at twice the price…if only I had the money.

I mentioned my lack of cash. She asked to see the LPs I’d bought and the magazines. I got them out and she looked at them closely. Laura picked up the Castle of Frankenstein and started reading it. I asked if she would keep the books till I could come back, maybe even the next day. She frowned a little at this and then seemed to come to a decision, smiling at me.

 

 

“What you should do is open an account with us and then you can take the books away today. Sit down, let’s just fill out a form.”

There was no form. She just wrote down my name and address and date of birth on a sheet of cream paper, with an expensive looking fountain pen. She got me to sign my name at the bottom, then wrote hers, Fletcher. She took a small lancet out of the desk drawer.

“There! Now just a drop of blood. Oh, don’t worry, nothing to be afraid of.”

Before I could object she was holding one of my finger in one hand and pricking it with the lancet, squeezing a tiny drop of blood into a small wine glass filled with water, or what I assumed was water.

“No problem, was it?”

She was applying pressure to the finger. The whole business was incredibly strange but I tried not to show any alarm. Alice produced a plastic bag with a complicated design on it, but no name or logo, and put both the books and the magazines into it.

Laura held up one of the LPs. It was the Black Widow album, Sacrifice, the one with Come to the Sabbat.

“I’d quite like to hear this. Can I borrow it?”

“Never refuse a pretty young woman” said Alice. I had no intention of arguing.

She looked up at a framed print on the wall. I recognized the street as local.

 

 

She put on a raincoat and walked me to the door, saying she would show me the best way back to the Town Hall square. As we went out, Laura waved to me and said bye. The last thing I saw was her drinking the water in the glass in one go and starting to replace her mask.

It seemed like early evening again outside the shop. Alice took my arm and walked me down the street. It seemed like a long way to me but as we emerged into familiar territory she waved to a taxi and ushered me into it. She handed the driver some money and off I went.

I let myself in and was immediately surrounded by my parents, my sister and Uncle James. There was a lot of fuss about where I had been and how long I’d been gone. It was about 10 in the evening which seemed unlikely to me but apparently true. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned the reason for the panic. Two teenage boys and a girl had been injured by falling masonry leaving the market the day before, one of them quite seriously.

I went back to the shop early the following Saturday. I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t even find the street or even the rear entrance from the market. I went back on several occasions at different times and tried to approach the rear of the market from every possible angle but it was never there again. I have no explanation. I never told anyone about it.

I had the books of course. I consulted books at the library and later at other libraries in London and elsewhere. The paperbacks were mass market editions and could be bought elsewhere and I found the book by Hope-Elliott in several libraries and archives. But I never found the Endicott book in any list or bibliography, or any biographical details about the author. There was an American artist called Endicott but I could never confirm if he had a sister.

The book itself was fascinating and quite unlike anything I’d ever read. In my opinion it should have been famous. I half expected to find it in Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Fiction essay which is in Dagon but it seemed to have escaped his notice. You could perhaps have described it as a book of short stories but most of the “impressions” were just brief anecdotes or vignettes, some of them overtly supernatural, some not. There were mirrors and dolls and disappearances, which was all quite appropriate. The one that stuck in my mind concerned a narrator who watches a cat trying to stalk a squirrel. He imagines himself intervening to save the squirrel if the cat got lucky and then tells a story of a young woman “of the 1860s walking in an ornamental garden at dusk wearing a crinoline dress, proceeding in a stately fashion, when a lady vampire happens by”. Just at the point where the vampire has seized the young woman another watching presence “masked as if for a carnival” suddenly appears and pulls the vampire away, gripping her by the neck like grasping a cat. The young woman pulls up her dress and sprints away. The narrator wonders how often God, or some other spiritual entity intervenes in small events.

There is also a story involving premature burial. By coincidence it was in Castle of Frankenstein that I first saw the Harry Clarke illustrations for Poe.

 

You would think a series of half-realised narratives like that would not amount to much but I found the book highly absorbing and it became one of my most treasured possessions, as if the author was a close friend. Perhaps because of that I never made a big thing about it to anyone else, although I carried on trying to find out more about it and its author.

More than 40 years have passed since that incident. I came to London, made a career and have lived for a long time in a flat inherited from Uncle James. My parents are dead and my sister lives in Australia. Today I went to see a consultant at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital and got some bad news about a set of test results. Not the end of the world, said the doctor. Let’s line up a few tests, an MRI, a colonoscopy, some more blood work. But I hadn’t been expecting anything good that day and didn’t feel optimistic. I walked out of the hospital in a bit of a daze and found myself going through one of the revolving doors thinking of Tom Cruise, who goes into the same building (masquerading as a New York hospital) late at night in “Eyes wide shut”. A nurse wearing the distinctive blue uniform with a mandarin collar under a padded coat walked with me.

“You never did come back and pay Alice for those books, did you?” she said. I looked at her properly and realised it was Laura, the girl who wore a mask all those years ago. She laughed at my shock. Naturally she barely looked a day older.

“Oh don’t worry about it. She’s used to waiting. Shall we get a coffee?”

A few minutes later we sat in Starbucks looking out of the window. She pointed up Hollywood Road where I could see a pair of shop fronts which looked familiar. I couldn’t remember if they’d always been there.

“It’s mainly that Endicott book we’re interested in. You don’t happen to have it with you, do you?”

I did. I had taken over the years to carrying it around with me whenever I was expecting something significant to happen.

“That’s good. We could go over and see her now. You know, she’s looking for some help in the shop? It might mean starting again at the bottom, but really, who wouldn’t mind being 16 again?”

She smiled at me in that same way, friendly but a little bit scary.

“Take your time.”

Just like in one of those supernatural stories which end with the opening of a door or something as the narrator keeps up the story to the bitter end leaving only a series of dots…

I opened my IPad where most of this narrative was already stored and added a few lines.

Laura takes a mask from her bag and puts it on. She zips up the coat and pulls up the hood. The expressionless face looks at me and her gloved hand reaches out to take mine. I save the document and attach it to an email. I’m ready to press send as soon as she says, shall we go?

 

Normal service will resume next week. DW

Venice Carnival photographs by Peter Hhuck. Book and magazine covers copyright by their publishers.


Up Clarendon Road: 1970

Clarendon Road is another of the streets that converged at Lancaster Circus running roughly north to south. In 1970 it ran from the junction with Lancaster Road all the way down to Holland Park Avenue. This week’s post is another in a series exploring the streets of North Kensington as they looked in the late 1960s and early 1970s when there were many streets in the area like Walmer Road which took a journey from relative affluence to relative poverty. The recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower put the contrast between the different conditions of life and property in the Borough into a new perspective. But we can still look back at how the streets of North Kensington used to be.

 

 

This first picture shows the short section of street on the west side of Clarendon Road after the pub (The Castle) on the corner of Holland Park Avenue. In 1970 there was a Radbourne Garage, a small car dealer at number 1. Next to it was a low rise block of flats in a recognizeably 1960s style.

 

 

The block wasn’t typical of the street though. The early numbers on both sides were more like this.

 

 

The houses were substantial, showing the ambitions of the original builders and developers of the Ladbroke Estate. By 1970 some of them were a little run down. But the process of gentrification was well under way.

This section of the street is relatively narrow, with one or two surprisingly striking houses.

 

 

The one above, a double house, the work of the builder William Reynolds. Below a leaf-clad detached house.

 

As you move north the street widens out.

 

I’m not entirely sure of the vantage point in this picture, but I was taken with the woman strolling slowly towards the photographer on what I think would be a winter’s day.

This view is also looking north up the hill from the junction with Clarendon Cross


 

Clarendon Road intersects with a number of other streets, Ladbroke Road, Lansdowne Walk, St John’s Gardens, Lansdowne Rise, Portland Road. Below, a girl crosses the road near Portland Road unconcerned about traffic.

 

 

The Britannia public house was on that corner.

 

 

As we get to the junction with Elgin Crescent the street becomes more mixed and the pictures more interesting.

The east side of the road again.

 

 

On the west side Nottingwood House.

 

 

This view looks north again.

 

 

The next turn off is Cornwall Crescent. This is the point where we need some help from a map.

 

 

This is actually a detail from the 1935 Ordnance Survey map, which shows the layout of the streets before 1970s development and also has had the individual houses numbered by some unknown hand at Kensington Town Hall. If you look at the point where Cornwall Crescent meets Clarendon Road, the house numbers above 120 on the east side, you see which houses were later demolished when the Lancaster West Estate was built.

 

 

This one, 122

Its neighbours,

 

128 onwards

 

Outside Telemart (“radio and television distributors”), a man is making some kind of adjustment to a camper van.  You have Talbot Grove visible on the left. Dulford Street was almost opposite, visible in this view of the west side of the street.

 

 

 

Then looking north again you see the final curve of Clarendon Road.

 

 

The tower block in the background is one of the towers on the Silchester Estate built by the GLC a few years earlier. although its sudden appearance above the traditional streets reminds us that this was the start of a period of housing development in the area.

Back to the east side:

 

 

Below, a number of somewhat run-down shops.

 

 

I can’t help wondering what ID Clearance might have been.

This view turns back to look southwards.

 

 

And again. We’ve seen this picture before.

 

 

But it takes us back to Lancaster Circus and joins us up once more with Lancaster Road and Walmer Road.

Postscript

I’m a little late publishing again today. One or two other demands on my time, plus the fact that there were quite a lot of pictures of Clarendon Road in the end. I’ve been uncomfortable with the idea of writing about North Kensington since the fire but in the end it’s one of my jobs so I  knew I would be back. All this week’s photographs were by John Rogers.


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