Category Archives: Chelsea

Figg’s World’s End

Like Bernard Selwyn (see this post among several others), our other chronicler of Chelsea (and other places), JW (Bill) Figg took his camera to work, and the locations he visited gave him access to some unusual perspectives. We’ve already seen his pictures of the interior of Lots Road Power Station. This week we’re following him onto the roof.

 

 

In this picture (he’s looking north east I think) across the streets of terraced houses near the Station towards the World’s End Estate.  I suspect this is about 1977. Here he zooms in a little.

 

 

The estate wasn’t the only thing he could see from his vantage point. Here, he looks down at the river and some of the buildings on the bank.

 

 

Note that single car parked right at the end of the jetty. (Why drive all the way to the end?)  The short section of ramp puzzled me for a while because I was sure someone had told me exactly what it was in a comment on another post. And they had. Here’s a link to the post and a thank you to Roger Morgan.

Below , the view also takes in both Battersea and Albert Bridges, with Battersea power station in the distance.

 

 

Coming down from his vantage point, Figg also took pictures from the other side.

On a far more sunny day, the World’s End Estate from the south, including the houseboats at Chelsea Reach and in the background the Cremorne Estate.

 

Below, the Wharf buildings, including what must be the two chimney version of the power station, with the furthest chimney hidden by the angle of the shot.

 

 

The water looks deceptively calm and pleasant.

This tranquil view across the river as it curves around the bend towards Wandsworth and Putney shows the railway bridge and the completed Chelsea Harbour development.

 

 

These pictures date from the 1990s, but Figg had been keeping an eye on the development for a while.

 

 

He must be back on the roof of the power station for the next series of images. He dates this one (and presumably the others) 1989.

This section was just a muddy hole with a temporary car park at this stage.

 

The buildings soon emerged from the mud.

 

 

I’m not entirely sure what this one is. I’m sure someone can tell me.

 

 

Here you see the overall structure taking shape as the development grows.

 

 

The completed Harbour seemed a remarkably optimistic piece of work when it sat there on its own at the end of the increasingly gentrified Lots Road, but since the tide of development has moved along Townmead Road through Imperial Wharf, with new housing and retail development, and a new railway station it looks like the first outpost of a new urban riverside strip heading towards Wandsworth Bridge, with similar developments on the south side of the river.

Figg is still on his perch when he looks north again.

 

In the distance, Chelsea Football Stadium. Immediately below, I’m tentatively identifying the street as Tettcott Road. Follow its path past the ramshackle adventure playground to the blue building which I think is the Fyna Works, which was pictured at the end of a previous Figg post.

When you read the title, Figg’s World’s End, I imagine you thought it would involve images like this one.

 

 

A rare colour view looking up Dartrey Road, one of the lost streets of the World’s End at the King’s Road. Or this view of St John’s Church.

 

 

We have seen picture like that before, but this one  is a bit of an scoop.

 

 

This shows the power station looking across the cleared streets where the World’s End Estate was built. A unique image in our collection.

Finally, one for World’s End enthusiasts like friend of the blog Mr Chris Pain.

 

 

 

I’m pretty sure this is a view of a surviving World’s End building from the opposite direction to the preceding picture. Can anyone identify it and say exactly where it was? A friend of mine came into Local Studies this afternoon as I was finishing up and suggested it might be an antiques shop on the King’s Road but some close work on Google Street View makes me doubtful. Any suggestions?

Postscript

Thanks to all the people who left comments on last weeks post, especially the identification of the cars, and about of the eastern end of Kensal Road. You all add immeasurably to the character of the blog, and its usefulness as a source of information. We’re enjoying a bit of a surge in page views at the moment  (post-Christmas energy?) so welcome to anyone who’s just started reading. There are plenty of links this week to take you back to older parts of the blog.

Another postscript

I haven’t done any death notices for a while but I must note the passing of Peter Wyngarde announced this morning. My first reaction was surprise that he hadn’t died years ago, which is a bit mean but it is a common phenomenon. I was a fan of all those ATV shows in my teens, not just Department S but also the Champions, Randall and Hopkirk, the Baron etc. I can also admit to turning back my shirt cuffs over the cuffs of my jacket (yellow shirt, black jacket – it was the 70s) on at least one occasion and having a younger boy from next door shout “Jason King” at me. TV aficionados will also remember Wyngarde in that Hellfire Club episode of the Avengers (despite the memory of what Diana Rigg wore in that episode). I actually met Wyngarde on a couple of occasions when he came into the library, usually to borrow the text of a play. He died at the Chelsea-Westminster Hospital so perhaps he remained a local boy. Thank you, Peter.

Advertisements

Christmas Days: a couple of pictures of Chelsea in the 30s

I bought both of these pictures on eBay, having been shown them by a friend. They’re only really connected by the decade in which they were taken. We don’t have very many pictures from that period though, so it’s worth putting them together for one of these mini-posts.

 

 

1937.Chelsea Bridge. The 51st Anti-Aircraft Brigade is the caption for this convoy of odd looking equipment heading south across the recently built bridge. The Brigade was a unit of the Territorial Army  based at the Duke of York’s Headquarters just off the King’s Road (now the Saatchi Gallery).

What is that stuff on the trailer? Military experts will no doubt tell us in due course that the giant metal nipples  serve a perfectly reasonable purpose. I can’t find an angle in which that sign is legible. Nor can I complete the phrase “Load not..” on the rear of the truck pulling the trailer which appears to have a large metal cylinder in the back. The two vehicles ahead of the truck are clearly pulling anti-aircraft guns.

It’s not strange that in 1937 plans were already being made on how London would be defended from air attack. I dealt with a civil defense exercise in 1939 in this post.  The man on the bike doesn’t seem bothered and the two pedestrians look quite calm.

 

 

The picture wasn’t very expensive. I paid a little more for this one.

 

 

I liked it because it was very clear, and even though it was just a view looking north up Edith Grove, across the King’s Road, with Fulham Road visible in the distance. There is good detail on  F W Norris’s Wine Stores, featuring draught and bottled beers. The few passers by are good too especially the two girls in the foreground wearing distinctly 30s hats.

 

 

I didn’t actually unwrap the picture from its plastic and cardboard packaging until I came to scan it and then I turned it over to find that on the back was some information which completely changed the picture.

Double motor cycle tragedy. Brother and sister killed.”

The picture came from a newspaper picture library. There is a short account of an accident in which a brother and sister on a motor bike travelling north to south towards their home in Clapham were struck by a car in the early hours of a Sunday morning. She died instantly, he later at a hospital. The picture has been cut from a larger piece of paper. It looks like there was a diagram below the short account in red ink.

So my attractive picture of a Chelsea street in 1930 becomes a record of sudden death.

Drive carefully this Christmas.

 

Miscelleany: Madonna through the looking glass

Some of you will have read the recent post about the King’s Road in the 1980s featuring photographs by my friend CC. One of them was a monochrome version of one of her friends, a hairdresser who works in the King’s Road dressed as Madonna for a Christmas Eve party at the salon. CC told me there was a colour version so I thought that would look good for one of my Christmas posts.

This one is one of “Madonna’s” co-workers, also dressed up for the day.

The lady herself.

And the back view, which rather gives the game away.

I should add that the gentleman himself has given permission for these pictures to go up on the blog.

See you tomorrow.


The King’s Road with CC

I know we’ve been up and down the King’s Road a number of times over the course of this blog and seen it through the eyes of a number of photographers, John Rogers, John Bignell and most recently Bill Figg. But I can’t resist doing again one more time through pictures by another of our Chelsea photographers, CC, who supplied the pictures for a recent post about Chelsea punks. She told me that today’s pictures were among her earliest efforts, mostly taken in the early 1970s or the very late 1960s. She also said that a few of them are not quite in focus. But I’m going to use those because of the things you can still see: shopfronts and other details.

Just for the sake of variation we’re going east to west this time.

 

 

This picture, with the cars of the time and the conventional dress of the couple on the right shows that the older King’s Road was still visible, probably even still dominant. This is roughly the period when I first walked down the King’s Road, not because I was drawn there by a new trendy fashion culture, but because my mother wanted to see one of the newest “sights” of London. I was with my parents and we were staying in Clapham with my uncle, who had a restaurant in Crystal Palace, or it could have been his later one in the Wandsworth Road. I would have been happier not venturing into counter cultural territory with my parents and leaving the King’s Road for the day when I could go there unencumbered, but I didn’t have the option that day. Perhaps that’s why I have only the vaguest impression of the day. It’s a bit of chronological geography (see the previous post) which has been almost obliterated by time.

 

 

That’s the north side of the road with a view of Cecil Gee (an established chain now catching up with new fashions) and a couple or routemasters for the bus enthusiasts.

This is the corner of Blacklands Terrace with the venerable John Sandoe bookshop already long established, and the Colville Wine Stores, close to the Colville pub.

 

 

 

A more obviously contemporary place, still recognizable today:

 

 

With a nice contrast in passers by. Below, CC has successfully created a rather clever image using the distinctive frontage of the Drugs Store.

 

 

This contrasts nicely with this tranquil view down the avenue of trees at Royal Avenue with vehicles at work.

 

 

Here, the now long departed Markham Arms.

 

Before the remodeling which retained the facade but little else, another distinctive building.

 

 

 

At this point I started consulting Kelly’s Street Directory and Richard Lester’s excellent book Boutique London to try and find the location of this famous shop, the first branch of which was in Carnaby Street.

 

 

I eventually found it in a photo by John Rogers, our first King’s Road photographer, on the corner of Jubilee Place.

This one too looked like a tricky one.

 

 

But Gipsy (“gowns” according to Kelly’s Directory – some whimsy at work  there) was at number 184a, between Jubilee Place and Manor Street.

This picture’s s blurred but you can see we’re at 137, one of the homes of Top Gear, another well known name of the time.

 

 

Moving west, a more familiar landmark.

 

 

The King’s Head and Six Bells under the pseudonym The Bird’s Nest. For an earlier phase in its varied history try this post. CC thought it was worth a glance upwards (as it often is, above the shopfronts on high streets).

 

 

Further along, a couple of nondescript retailers (except that none of them are completely without interest). S.Borris was a sandwich bar which was there for a long time. (Although I never went in very much. At some point someone warned me off the place for hygiene reasons – whether that was justified or not I cannot say.)

 

 

Nearby, another long standing feature of this section of the road.

 

 

I think the next shop was on the corner of Old Church Street. If you know otherwise please leave a comment.

 

 

Now we move on the the last section of new shops, coming to the  the curve leading to the final bit of the road.

 

 

Near Mata Hari, you could speed by in your nippy little sports car. Is it an MG Midget? [It’s been pointed out on twitter that in fact it’s a Triumph Spitfire. Of course, the Midget looked weirder! Thanks to DB.]

 

 

This is another slightly blurred picture but it does show us 430 King’s Road, then the home of Mr Freedom where Tommy Roberts and Trevor Myles continued their retail progress in the shop that would become SEX (among other names) later in the seventies.

And as I’ve not been blogging for the last couple of weeks, here’s a couple of bonus pictures, one of the World’s End itself

 

What is that thing?

Note the advertising slogan: “Give him a Guinness.”

And, probably from somewhere nearby:

 

[Update: This is the King’s Road end of Anderson Street, which I can now see as plain as day. Thanks to CC herself for that.]

Postscript

My time has been rather taken up for the last two weeks with the London History Festival. Although it’s of academic interest now, thanks to Roger Moorhouse, Marc Morris, Michael Jones, John McHugo and Keith Lowe who all gave their time for free.

I decided on a blogging breather so I didn’t spread myself too thin. I thought I had a good comeback post but it proved to be quite labour intensive so I fell back on this excellent series of pictures by CC.  Thanks again to her. And as I’ve not been present for a short while Chelsea aficionados  get twenty pictures.  I’ve got another couple of ideas bubbling under, but I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing next week.


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.


Blog extra: one million

It’s only a number.

Obviously.

But a million page views is still a bit of  a landmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to everyone who has read and supported this blog since 2011.

[Photographs by James Hedderly, John Bignell, Edward Linley Sambourne, unknown, unknown, Adam Ritchie and Kate Pragnell (possibly). Cremorne cover also anonymous]


Two hospitals

I’m starting this week’s post with a few pictures by our new best friend Bill Figg who sometimes strayed as far north as the Fulham Road

 

 

Although this view is about 25 years years old I still remember St Stephen’s Hospital pretty well. I went there several times, including one memorable occasion not long after my wife and I were married. She had managed to stab herself with a screwdriver while opening a tin of paint. Annoyed with the situation, and with me, she only lingered at the hospital long enough to get the small injury stitched. When we got out onto the street she was as pale as a vampire but refused to go back inside. I concentrated on getting her home.

 

 

There’s another pale woman in a long dark coat. St Stephen’s was a former workhouse / infirmary (more of its history in this post). Despite the addition of a new wing it was showing its age and the plan to replace it was on the whole a good idea. On the right of the picture,  you can see another new building, the Kobler Centre / St Stephen’s Clinic under construction, on the corner of Netherton Grove.

 

 

This picture shows the other buildings in Netherton Grove, including the nurses’ home.

 

 

The new hospital the Chelsea Westminster, finished and opened in 1993, which combined units from several hospitals in west London was under some planning constraints. The building could not be too high so the architects opted to use the maximum amount of space on the site to create a large box with an atrium inside it.

The Library is lucky enough to have been given given a folder containing a set of photographs taken during the construction of the hospital. Regular readers will know that I love a building site so I make no apology for presenting these construction scenes without much further historical commentary. In fact the Figg photos merely act as an introduction. As I frequently do I scanned far more pictures than I could us in one post. I’ve been trying to cut down the number but  haven’t entirely succeeded. If you’re not a fan of building construction stop here. The rest of us can enter a world of scaffolding, concrete, mud and heavy machinery.

 

 

A view looking down at Netherton Grove. Blobs of cement scattered around like they were flicked from a giant brush.

 

 

Another view of Netherton Grove showing the collection of temporary working spaces.

 

 

A view of the Fulham Road from the site.

 

 

A nice big hole. With its extensive basements and car park, the building began as a giant pit but this is just a minor hole by comparison.

 

 

One side of the building

 

 

A gathering of small vehicles.

 

 

The framework of Internal spaces before walls and ceilings.

 

 

A wider internal space, possibly one of the wards taking shape.

 

 

A mass of scaffolding.

 

 

The central atrium with the skeleton of a staircase.

 

 

Another red steel skeleton, of one of the lift shafts.

 

 

The vertiginous view down an almost finished shaft.

 

 

In another light well, an enormous pipe, now clad in a pleasant colour, almost as if it was one of the many art installations in the finished space.

 

 

And onto the roof. Here in the distance you can see the World’s End Estate.

 

 

 

And on a much brighter day Stamford Bridge football ground. I love these views from the calm spaces at the top of buildings.

 

 

Back on ground level with some scaffolding and the usual green material behind some billboards. A quick visual credit for the Laing company who have been involved with many of London’s major building projects.

 

 

As as local resident I was pleased to see our new hospital open. I never realised at the time how much time I would spend inside it over the years so let me thank its designers and builders and all the doctors, nurses and other staff who have worked there in the last 24 years.

Postscript

Special thanks to Dr Sarah Cox and Professor Mark Bower. (I could add many more names but you don’t want to see a long list) Thank also to Les Wallis without whom we would not have these photographs.


The Children’s Library murals: 1947 and afterwards

Today’s post requires another story about the archive life. Sometime in the late 1990s I found myself, with a couple of companions piloting a large trolley (with pneumatic tires, bought for transporting paintings) down the King’s Road, carrying some large metal sheets from a basement in Manresa Road, the home of the first Chelsea Library to the second Chelsea Library in Chelsea Old Town Hall, where they would be stored in the Print Room. Why? Well , here goes. And this is just the short version.

 

In 1947 a group of students from the Royal College of Art designed and painted a set of murals for the Children’s Library in Chelsea Library as part of their course. The murals were installed with some fanfare and written about in the Studio magazine in 1950.  A few generations of children and librarians lived with them. In 1978 the Library moved to larger premises at Chelsea Old Town Hall on the King’s Road but apparently no-one  thought to bring the murals along. The Manresa Road building was taken over by Chelsea College / King’s College. The ground and first floors carried on as a library, and the basement became a student refectory.  Possibly straight away, possibly a little later, the murals were deemed surplus to requirements and were painted over with emulsion, in  the usual dull colour. Time passed by. But not much time. In 1981 when some electrical work was under way the murals were noticed and some interested parties took them down and removed some of the paint. There was a little bit of interest in the local press (some of it inaccurate) and one of the original artists was brought in to see his old work. The murals were stored in a back room. More time passed, until I got a call at a point when it looked like the building was about to be rented out. Would I like to retrieve the murals? Like a proper archivist I said yes definitely and organised an expedition to remove them and transport them by trolley to the Library. At that point more time passed, and the murals remained preserved in temperature controlled conditions until they were moved to this building. Finally I was recently asked if someone could view them and three of us took them out and pieced them together like a jigsaw.

Naturally, one of the first things I thought was: there’s a blog post in this.

 

 

The three artists were Malcolm Hughes, who went on the become head of the Slade School of Art,  Neville Dear and George Ball.  That’s George Ball in the picture above doing some touching up while balancing on a shelf, a picture almost certainly posed for the benefit of the photographer. (The pictures were painted at the College and brought in when completed).

Below, Neville Dear. Possibly. The picture is by Dear but that guy looks a little like George Ball again to me. I wonder if the photographer is using a bit of artistic licence.

 

 

It’s definite though that the man below is Malcolm Hughes.

 

 

And here is Hughes with one of the others pausing from their labour and looking artistic.

 

In this picture they look a bit visionary. Matter of life and death?

 

 

Some credit should be given to the photographer, John Vickers for setting up some excellent pictures of children.

Some of them are awed.

 

 

(Although the girl in the beret got distracted by a book, which as a librarian I can only approve of)

Let’s have another try.

 

No, she’s still thinking of what she’ll take home.

All right then, pretend it’s a library. Get a girl to stand under the arch and pretend to read a book.

 

 

The girl in the beret had her book stamped and has gone home to read it. When she grows up she writes about fairies and vampires and in the later stages of her career writes a series of crime novels which are ultimately turned into a television series by Netflix starring Natalie Dormer.  Or not.

There is an actual mystery.

 

The murals in the entrance hall, depicting a lively mob of children tumbling down some stairs.

 

 

And another group in the corridor leading to the library.

The whole set of murals has not survived but  we have 18 panels, most of the ones in the two rooms of the Children’s Library. The Malcolm Hughes panels from the entrance hall are now gone. I’ve heard it suggested that they were destroyed during building work but we do know that Hughes was consulted about the panels in 1981 and may have visited the site so I have no idea why they were not in the basement when we collected the panels we have now. Perhaps someone took them away but we don’t know who.

What you want to know now I expect is how do they look now?

Well considering they’ve been covered in emulsion and had it scraped  off and some damage was sustained installing and removing them they’re mostly not in bad condition.

 

Here you see a couple of panels from Neville Dear’s series about the seasons of the year set on an imaginary farm, and below the two that went next to them.

 

 

There were also some isolated panels we couldn’t quite join together.

 

Some of the figures are a bit odd.

The next ones are from  George Ball’s series about childhood activities and these also join up

 

 

Many of the panels still have sections of emulsion on them.

This side panel which obviously went over a doorway still has plenty of paint on it.

 

 

I rather liked the slightly weird soft toy.

This one also had paint on, but I was intrigued by the continuing image so I did some careful but amateur restoration work on it and revealed the faces of the girl with the drum and the boy next to her. You can see them in one of the photographs above.

 

I should add that the unfortunate mark on her chin was already there and not due to any carelessness on my part.

Why a rural setting in a city library? Well all I can say is that it was intended by the artists “to offset the town background of the actual library” according to the Studio magazine. When I casually referred to the Powell and Pressberger film “A matter of life and death” earlier perhaps I was picking up on the atmosphere of their films which combined nostalgia for a rural past with the notion of a clean optimistic future of garden cities. It seems to fit with the pictures.

At the end I suppose you have to ask about artistic merit and it must be admitted that the surviving panels are not the greatest things ever put on a wall. But they have a certain atmosphere about them, a feeling of the post war period, and a naive charm. From the photographs it looks like the Hughes panels were the most accomplished so it’s a shame that those are the ones we don’t have. But that’s the unlikely story of the Children’s Library murals. I sometimes call myself a professional hoarder  because I have the instinct to collect things for the collection that other people might have thrown away. Sometimes this pays off.

Postscript

The Royal College of Arts is said to have a full set of slides of the murals, presumably taken in the days when they were new and hadn’t been through years of alternating careless and considerate treatment. I hope so anyway. As I said above we got them out because someone expressed an interest in seeing them and although I can’t leave them laid out in our archive rooms for a long period if anyone’s interested in the next couple of weeks, email me.


%d bloggers like this: