Category Archives: Earls Court

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.

Earls Court days – Selwyn at home

Hogarth Road is opposite Earls Court Station. Walk up it away from the station and veer left. You’ll come to an alley called Hogarth Place. Take that and you’ll be in Kenway Road. Carry on walking and you’ll find a pedestrian way through to Cromwell Road, coming out near the Cromwell/Bupa Hospital. Cross the Cromwell Road and Marloes Road will take you to Wright’s Lane and ultimately to Kensington High Street. If you’re walking, that’s the quickest way. I’ve done it plenty of times to get from Brompton Library back to Kensington Library. I never fancy going all the way to Warwick Road to get the bus to the High Street. (They only go one way on the southern section of the Earls Court Road). So I know that bit of Hogarth Road and Hogarth Place quite well.  I hadn’t realised that this was the area our wandering surveyor Bernard Selwyn called home. He devoted a lot of time to recording building work, details of the walls and roofs  and pictures of the streets nearby from many angles.


Looking down Hogarth Road and Hogarth Place in May 1984. A typical day in early summer, the people heading towards and away from the Earls Court Road.


These are unlike many of his other pictures which are purely about the buildings. These are also about the individuals on the sreets.


The pictures come from 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1979. Arguably the end of what some writers have called the long 70s. Earls Court had a reputation for being a bit seedy, but also very lively.

The pre-occupations of the the shopfronts – food, flats and videos.


Cars parked in every posssible spot.


Short stay hotels and hostels.


Hanging around.


Looking at noticeboards:


Maybe a bit closer:


More hanging around:


Maybe waiting for something to happen.


I love that jacked up Merc.

Selwyn lived in an upper floor flat and had access to the roof, so he could take pictures like this:


And this (1979):


A similar view a few years later in 1984:


Life observed from a high perch.


And down at ground level.


Summer evenings at the pub.


I think someone spotted him taking the picture. I expect people were more relaxed about that in 1979.


Even on a wet November day he liked it.



But it was best in the summer.



I was intending something quite different this week but that is going to take a little longer and lots of people seemed to like Selwyn’s look at Shepherd’s Bush so I moved this post forward. The late 70s and early 80s don’t seem all that long ago to me. Do you kn ow any of the people in these pictures?

Or maybe that’s not so likely. The one thing that was true about Earls Court then was that many people came there and moved on just as quickly.

Oh and if the text seems a bit slight this week, my apologies. I’m at home witha cold. But the blogging never stops.

Forgotten buildings: Earls Court House and Dr Hunter’s menagerie

The manor of Earl’s Court is one of the oldest parts of Kensington. The Manorial Rolls date back to the 16th century. Even as late as the 1820s our old friend Starling’s map of Kensington shows it as a separate settlement, like Little Chelsea, Old Brompton and the cluster of dwellings near St Mary Abbots Church and Kensington Palace.

Starling 1822 A3 - Earls Court - Copy

Earls Court Lane, as Earls Court Road was called then, runs left to right joining up with Brompton Lane (You can see the fish pond in the grounds of Coleherne Court on the right). The village is surrounded by fields. Another of our old friends, William Cowen depicts  this scene of rural life in the 1840s:

002 Near Earls Court Road C19

On one side of the lane is Earls Court Farm.

Earl's Court Farm

Farm workers obligingly pose for the photographer. The building in the background is the Manor House.

The date is round about the early 1860s. Urban influences were creeping down the lane from Kensington High Street although the men in the picture seem unconcerned. The Manor House and the farm were demolished in the mid-1860s when the first Earls Court Station was built.

Across the lane there was another example of the semi-rural past, Earls Court House, which survived until 1886.

GC2408 Earls Ct Hose A4

Snug behind its wall in its tree lined garden with extensive lawns it kept the encroaching city at bay in its final years. (Look back at the map – the grounds are the plot labelled 4.1.24.The house is the long building near the lane.)

The house was built about 1772 on land purchased by Dr John Hunter. There had been another house on the site whose ornamental gardens contained fountains and a luxurious bath house. Hunter had a town house in Leicester Square where he had his medical practice. He needed a country house for his collections.

John Hunter CPic0071

Dr Hunter was famous for his work as an early trauma surgeon (gunshot wounds), his interest in venereal disease (a clinic at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital was named after him), and as an anatomist with a vast collection of animal and human specimens. He also kept live specimens in a private menagerie.

Some of the later pictures of the house make it look quite innocuous.

Earls Court House CPic413

A conventional front, and at the rear:

Earls Court House1793 CPic415 Frederick Shepherd 1875

Some harmless cows, nothing like the host of creatures who used to make their homes there. According to one of Hunter’s biographers he kept “fowls, duchs, geese, pigeons, rabbits, pigs, oppossums, hedgehogs, a jackal, a zebra, an ostritch, buffaloes, leopards, dormice, bats, snakes and birds of prey, deer, fish, frogs, leeches, eels and mussels.” And a young bull, given to him by Queen Charlotte, which he used to wrestle.

The person we call the Artist of the Red Portfolio painted a more appropriate picture.

Earls Court House 1785 RP2534

She or he has written some notes on the back of the picture about Dr Hunter and his house . “On the right of the house is the conservatory for his bees. On the right & left artificial rocks on which live eagles were chained.” Quite a sight for passers by. As you look closely the eagles become apparent, and the heraldic beasts on the roof of the house.

When I first saw this photograph I assumed the mound was an ice house or some other storage space, which it may have been at the time the picture was taken.

GC2409 Earls Ct House A4

But in Dr Hunter’s day it served a different purpose.

Earls Court House lion's den CPic413

“In the meadow at the bottom of the garden Dr Hunter kept his lions”. This mound contained excavated vaults with at least two dens. A correspondent to the Times in 1886 says “..two leopards broke loose from their confinement and …engaged in a fierce encounter with the dogs when Hunter appeared on the scene and without a moment’s reflection, seized both animals and chained them up in their cages.”  (Although he was much agitated afterwards when he realised the risk he had taken.)

The same writer (a Dr Farquarson) describes another of Dr Hunter’s exploits concerning “Byrne or O’Brian the famous Irish giant”. 

“Hunter wished to secure O’Brian for dissection and the giant naturally wished to evade the scalpel. (He) arranged that after death his remains should be enclosed in a leaden coffin and buried at sea. In compliance with his directions the undertaker engaged some men to watch the body alternately, but a bribe of £500 removed all scruples, and Hunter, placing his ghastly burden in his own carriage, conveyed it immediately to Earls-Court. Fearing a discovery should take place Hunter did not chose to risk what the ordinary method of preparing a skeleton would require. Accordingly the body was cut to pieces and the flesh separated by boiling; hence has arisen  the brown colour of the bones.”

Hunter himself died in 1793 and left his collection to the Royal College of Surgeons. His widow Anne, a distinguished figure in society in her own right stayed on in the house. She was a friend of Elizabeth Montagu, Horace Walpole, the author of the Castle of Otranto and our old friend Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney)

John Hunter's house at Earl's Court

This view shows a gentleman escorting a lady into the house. If she is showing any reluctance that may be at the prospect of seeing the item in the insert, “the copper in which the body of the Irish Giant was boiled.” Or perhaps if this picture is depicting a scene after 1832 when the house was (according to another Times correspondent Benjamin Ward Richardson) turned into “an asylum for ladies under restraint for lunacy” she is reluctant to enter for another reason.

[It’s been pointed out to me -see comment below -that the couple are facing away from the house, not going in. Perhaps they’re quietly creeping out having seen the infamous copper. The door is open – are they strolling away casually? “Just act nonchalant, we’re almost at the gate.”)

Of course, it might not have been too bad in there. Look at Mrs Bradbury’s “Establishment for the reception of ladies nervously affected.”

Earls Court house -mrs Bradbury's 02

No more wild animals under the mound. Ladies stroll around the grounds. Is that archery?

Earls Court House - Mrs Bradbury 01

Bows and arrows for the inmates? Perhaps Mrs Bradbury was sitting inside the mound in one of the cages after a sensation novel type insurrection at the establishment? Is there a Victorian novel featuring the inmates taking over the asylum?

In any case the house as it was called was eventually taken over by a Dr Gardner Hill, a comparatively enlightened reformer “of the system of the treatment of the insane.”

This picture may come from that period. A couple of gardeners pause for the photographer on the tranquil lawn.

GC2411 Earls Ct House A4

Richardson and Farquarson both mourned the passing on Earls Court House and its “absorption” into a red brick street“. As along Old Brompton Road, the houses of the semi-rural  days in Earls Court disappeared, but Dr John Hunter is still remembered many years later.

GC2410 Earls Ct House A4


In week five of the great scanning famine I began this post thinking I was going to do a general look at the way Earls Court changed in the 19th century using some of the many postcards we have of the area. Then I found out that what I thought looked like an ice house was in fact a lions’ den so I lingered over John Hunter. I’ve told a couple of sensational anecdotes but of course Hunter was a great doctor as well as a famous eccentric.

We’ll come back to those postcards quite soon though.

Backwaters 2

I was going to do a sequel to Backwaters a couple of weeks ago when I got sidetracked onto Pelham Street so this week we’re going back to the mewses crowded with parked cars and street names you can’t quite place back in the early years of the 1970s.

Like Ledbury Mews North, featuring the usual cluster of cars awaiting servicing, men at work and cramped first floors, offices or homes reached by odd looking staircases:


Ledbury Mews North south side 1972 KS3654

Or names like Sheldrake Place.


Sheldrake Place garages behin 17- east leg 1969 KS2877

A sunny  little spot off Duchess of Bedford’s Walk not all that far from the Library. Or Morton Mews:


Morton Mews KS5842

A semi-residential alley in Earls Court, a stone’s throw from Cromwell Road, dominated by the rears of apartment blocks in Barkston Gardens and Knaresborough Place. It’s the element of seclusion which is the essence of a backwater. They can be close to major thoroughfares or hidden away.

Russell Mews looking north 1972 KS21

This was Russell Mews in 1972, now known as Russell Gardens Mews, a cul-de-sac which sneaks away from the north end of Russell Road. Take a virtual walk up Russell Road on Google Maps these days and you see a residential street with comparatively modern housing on its western side. There is a discreet gap which leads to a footbridge over the railway to the station at Olympia but in 1972…

Russell Road west side Olympia 1972 KS144

The area by the footbridge was an open space mostly used as a car park. You can see the station at Olympia and the great curved roof of the exhibition hall.  There was a fine selection of 70s vehicles.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS124

A lone VW camper van parked outside the fence.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS174

A triumph Herald, parked next to the fat more stylish Ford Capri (see this post for my quest for this particular car). The mark 1 version I think (the mark 2 had a hatchback as I remember it. Car experts can correct me if I’m wrong). I wonder what TWA stood for? Not the airline I assume.

Our photographer got as close as he could without crossing the border into Hammersmith.

Russell Road Olympia station looking north from garage courtyard 1972 KS20

Park between the lines? I can’t see any lines.

Here you can make out a sign.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS124

“Motorail Terminal” Now look back at the picture featuring the Capri. Are cars lined up on a platform waiting to be loaded onto a train?

Not one of these:

Russell Road Olympia station looking north from garage courtyard 1972 KS194

A regular tube train I think, but I’m happy for further information from rail enthusiasts.

I seem to have got stuck in this particular backwater, but before we move on, one more picture.

Russell Roadwest side Olympia 1972 KS104

This shows Russell Road looking south, leading down to Kensington High Street. The house just visible to the right of the trees are on over the railway bridge on the south side of the street, and they’re in Hammersmith.

We’ll stay on the border though, heading north to a street off Holland Park Avenue, just before the roundabout at Shepherd’s Bush.

LOrne Gardens Duke of Clarence 1977 KS2

Lorne Gardens, with the Duke of Clarence pub.

Lorne Gardens 13 and wall 1977 KS8

There is another of those residential enclaves but there is also this paved open space.

Lorne Gradens looking north rear of Beacon House 1977 KS17

Note the abandoned bike and on the rear of a building called Beacon House some graffitti, including a name: Chico.

And unusually this concrete staircase which looks as if it belongs in a much wider space.


Lorne Gradenssteps to Kensington Hilton 1977 KS20

It forms part of the unexpectedly brutalist rear of the Hilton Hotel in Holland Park Avenue which had a much milder front facade. It looks distinctively late 60s / early 70s.

Lorne Gradens looking north 1977 KS19

Did it ever appear as a film/TV location? I’m thinking Man in a Suitcase, or possibly Edge of Darkness.


We’ve been having a few technical problems with the computer linked to our scanner so at the moment there’s no scanning being done. Hence an early appearance for this post. I have a few posts in draft form in various stages of completion some of which are a bit left field so if it takes a while to sort out our computer you might see some slightly odd or tangential posts in the next few weeks. The longer it takes, the stranger the posts. Bear with me, and expect the unexpected.

Searching for the Ford Capri

We’re going on another tour through the photo survey this week but not down a single street. The photo survey pictures were taken by John Rogers between 1969 and 1975, mostly in 1970 and 1971. That’s a few years before my brief time working in the motor trade. I worked cleaning new cars for a garage that had a British Leyland franchise. Some of you who remember the 1970s may remember how awful British Leyland cars were then – the Allegro, the Marina and above all the Princess a car so awful it has been almost obliterated by history. Occasionally my sales manager Bob would acquire a Ford for one of his special customers and we would both welcome these examples of decent automotive technology with some relief. There were Escorts and the new mark 4 Cortina but our favourites were the Granada and the Capri, both genuine classics hallowed by their appearances on TV in the Sweeney and the Professionals. I stand very little chance of finding a Granada in the photo survey pictures (they first came out in 1972) but I might just find a Capri.

So where do you look for a car?

Brompton place harrods park

A garage is one place to start. This is one of those garages a few of you may remember where they stack the cars neatly but you don’t have instant access. Most of these cars looked pretty old even in 1970. In terms of design it was a transitional period (but aren’t they all?) between the staid fifties cars like that Rover you can see, the watered down versions of American designs and the hatched-backed days to come.

Brompton place harrods park 1970...corsair

That’s a Ford Corsair on the left, with its odd pointed nose. Before we leave can I just invite any car enthusiasts to identify any of the cars in these pictures? There was a time when I could have done that but it was thirty odd years ago. I’m not really a car person. I don’t even drive. I just found myself around car people and got interested. Let’s get outside. See where we were?

Brompton place south side

Here’s another Ford:

Addison Avenue 34-36 east side 1970 KS760 anglia

But it’s only a lowly Anglia already fairly low on the meter of desirability even by 1970. What’s the one behind it? Addison Avenue must have been a quiet street. Just off it was Addison Place, a strange little converted mews kind of a street overlooked by Campden Hill Towers.

Addison Place 15-173 south side 1970 KS924

And that car in the foreground would I think be a Ford Consul, the fifties styled precursor of the Granada.

Addison Place 21-23 south side 1970 KS923

Not all of the British Leyland marques were hideous. That’s a Triumph Spitfire , a traditional British sports car. Other mews streets were full of cars.

Ledbury Mews North  north side 1972 KS3651

Amid the old style cars in this back street of garages an expensive looking sports car, probably Italian. The odd thing I sometimes think is that expensive sports cars still look like that decades later as if that low wide look is the optimum shape.

Ledbury Mews West  south side 1972 KS2267

The mews streets used to be filled with small garages servicing cars. Note the sign: Barclaycard Welcome – something of a novelty then.

Linden Gardens looking north 1973 KS3714 mini moke

A 60s novelty the Mini Moke parked in Linden Gardens. In the same street the opposite of a Mini Moke:

Linden Gardens 14-16 south side  1973 KS3729

It’s also a Ford, a 60s American model, but I can’t make out the word on the side. I’m sure someone can help me out with that. Below a home grown model:

christchurch street west side 1974 KS 4479 cortina mk3

The Mark 3 Cortina parked in Christchurch Street. A bit of a classic itself. Nearby another puzzle for you:

Caversham street east side, 1974 KS 4058

I should know what this is, it looks so familiar. Someone tell me (No, not the mini.)

The first sighting of our quarry is back at the other end of the Borough in Clarendon Road.

Clarendon Road 121-123 west side 1971 KS1155 capri mk1

The slightly cluttered styling of the Mark 1 Capri. And having found that one I came across another down in Earls Court.

Barkston Gardens KS5784 left 41-43 and KS5787 53 right nd capri mk1

Is that guy in the window coming back to close the boot?

In the very same street a Mark 2, at last an example of the car that sat in my cleaning bay in Poland Street.

Barkston Gardens KS5792 nd capri mk2

There it is by the fence. For me the Mark 2 Capri represents the mid seventies like no other car, better than the high performance cars of the era. Seeing it in this picture reminds me of a time when the traffic was lighter, the cars were serviced in back streets and the Ford Capri was exciting and glamorous, if you can imagine such a time.


As I said above if you can identify any of the other vehicles in these pictures or you have to correct any inadvertent errors of mine, please leave a comment.

Empty streets: Earls Court Road 1904 – part two

Just to get you orientated, this is part of the final picture from last week’s post.

Earls Court Road 172 1904 LTE285 - Copy (2)

There’s our friend and his horse and above him the office of Hugo’s Language School.

Earls Court Road 203-207 1904 LTE269

It’s the following day, April 22nd, and Ernest Milner is back on the Earls Court Road looking at the buildings on the odd-numbered side of the street. Hugo’s Language System is course still with us. So is the London and County Bank in a later incarnation.

Earls Court Road 195-197 1904 LTE268

In 1909 it merged with the London and Westminster Bank to form the Westminster Bank which later became the National Westminster Bank. If you take a look at the same building today you will see that it has grown slightly with a matching section being built into that empty site.

Earls Court Road 189-193 1904 LTE266

You can see in this picture that the empty site was quite narrow, that there were contractors in already and that the next building is another bank. The London and South Western was absorbed into Barclays in 1918. Barclays still have a branch in this spot in a completely new building. Banks are one of the great survivors of the high street. That is also true of the institution next door.

Earls Court Road 181 later 187 1904 LTE267

The Courtfield Hotel, public house and restaurant. It’s now known as the Courtfield but still offers fine dining on the first floor.

We’re at Earls Court Gardens now. Today there is a two storey Post Office building between this street and Hogarth Road right over the railway line but Milner ignored that. Perhaps the railway company already had it covered. On the other side of Hogarth Road was Ephraim B Goody, fancy drapers and milliner.

Earls Court Road 179 E B Goody 1904 LTE263

Just as at Edwards cross the road there is a man up a ladder making adjustments, possibly to the awnings. Upstairs Goody’s offered showrooms for baby linen and corsets.

Earls Court Road 175 1904 LTE260

On the other side of Hogarth Road Milner didn’t take a picture of Hardiman’s, a dressmaker’s shop and not much of Whitley and Sons, dyers. But he did cover Smith and sons the confectioners who offer lemonade and ginger beer by the glass and Cough No More lozenges. The man with the brush is from the shop next door and he also contrives to get into the next picture.

Earls Court Road 173 1904 LTE257

Here he takes up a proud pose outside Hurley’s Decorative Florist while another man pauses as the picture is taken.

Earls Court Road 171 1904 LTE258a

Next door is another growing chain of shops, the Home and Colonial who had over 500 stores by 1904 retailing tea and general groceries. The company was eventually absorbed into the Safeway group.

I said last week we would return to J Rugg and Son, the builders who were working down the road at number 168, and here they are ready to take on any building job.

Earls Court Road 165-167 1904 LTE256

The last shop Milner photographed that day was Blake and Everett’s grocers according to Kelly’s Directory.

Earls Court Road 163 1904 LTE255

But Mr Everett was not much in evidence if you look at the classic extravagant shop front depicted here. Perhaps he was the sleeping partner, or there’s some other story we’ll never know. Check out the massive milk urn – or is that for some other liquid?

Before we go let’s take a quick stroll back to Goody’s, seen here in a side view of Hogarth Road taken on April 21st.

Earls Court Road 179 1904 E B Goody LTE264

Mr Milner took the close up view below for some reason of his own.

Earls Court Road 179 1904 detail LTE262

Perhaps he liked the artist’s palette sign. I’m more interested in my own close up:

Earls Court Road 179 E B Goody detail 1904 LTE263

Two women stand in the doorway. One is too blurred to see properly. But I think Milner took care with the other lady, perhaps even asking her to stand still.

Earls Court Road 179 E B Goody detail 2 1904 LTE263

So her slight smile and enigmatic expression was captured for us to look at more than a hundred years later. I doubt if Milner knew that would happen but I expect he would have been pleased.

Finally on a technical note I should add that the numbering of Earls Court Road has changed a little since 1904 so those of you comparing these views with those of today will notice a few anomalies. many of the buildings are still there of course which will help.

Next week my Christmas present to you, some seasonal darkness.

Empty streets: Earls Court Road 1904 – part one

I just heard on the radio the writer John Banville say something to the effect (apologies for my paraphrase) that the fascinating past was once as dull as the present. So this week’s pictures should in theory be especially dull. The photographer Ernest Milner was up early in the morning again in April and May 1904 to get some accurate pictures of the way buildings looked without the distractions of people and traffic. The railway company which employed him wanted some evidence of the state of buildings near or above their lines in case of legal proceedings against them. So far so dull. But interesting details and interesting people have a way of creeping into photographs.

Earls Court Road 146 later 206 1904 LTE270

As the delivery wagon waits to be loaded its motive power has some breakfast.

Earls Court Road 146 later 206 1904 LTE271

Not the same day, although I wish it was, around the corner a man half way up a ladder at the West End Shoe Company notices Mr Milner. You can see those insistent big letters better in this picture announcing to the world the size and importance of the furniture warehouse.

Earls Court Road 148-152 later 210-213 1904 LTE273

Down the road are some more small businesses. The Earls Court Restaurant has an upstairs saloon which caters for large and small parties. As I enlarged the image to read the lettering I saw something I like to find but hadn’t previously spotted:

Earls Court Road 148-152 later 210-213 1904 LTE273 - Copy

From the saloon a curious waitress keeps an eye on Mr Milner. Messrs Lanzani, Dolcini and Peechi are the proprietors of the restaurant. Is one of those her surname?

Earls Court Road 148-152 later 210-213 1904 LTE273 - Copy (2)

The dog isn’t interested in photography. I don’t think he’s waiting for an appointment with the solicitor, unless the solicitor is bringing him some sausages.

Earls Court Road 238 1904 LTE278

Below the solicitors Hobbins and Co sells cheap stationery and run a circulating library. You can make out a boy in front of the door possibly looking at the vanished dog. A man and a woman watch him from the doorway. People are hiding in these photographs waiting to be found. At the left edge of the picture you can see Earls Court Station. But in the next picture:

Earls Court Road station 158 later 238 1904  LTE278 a

Milner hasn’t taken a picture of the whole station. But of course he didn’t have to – he was working for the railway company and they were not worried about their own property. He has given us a ghostly policeman and an odd looking ticket machine (I’d like it to be a “What the butler saw” peep show machine but that isn’t likely).

This is the station ten years later in 1915:

Earls Court station 1915 SoL - Copy

Redman the wine merchants and Thomas A King, coal merchants were still in business but there is a branch of Boots which wasn’t there in 1904.

Earls Court Road 162 later 242 1904 LTE280

Brunton’s was a dispensing chemist – the classic set of large dispensing jars are in the window, and next door are Watt and Sons, bakers. The alley is Old Manor Yard where J E Gentle, Job Master can be found.

Shall we go down there?

Earls Court Road 160-162 later 240-242 1904 LTE284

Milner must have come back a few weeks later to check the back of the building.

After this point the retail establishments give way to residential properties and professional consulting rooms.

Earls Court Road 164-166 -246-252 1904 LTE281

At 164 were Whitcomb and Percival, physicians, working next door to Gill and Pugh, solicitors who shared the house with a Mrs Gale. You can see that 168, unoccupied in 1904 has the builders in.

Earls Court Road 168-170 -254-256 1904 LTE282

The men at work are J Rugg and son who we will see again but I’m not entirely happy with that ladder lashed to the scaffolding at a precarious angle.

Next door at 170 (and 172) Mrs Beesley runs a boarding house. The woman in the doorway must be a maid.

Earls Court Road 170 detail 1904 LTE282

She’s working herself into a blur of motion and completely ignoring Mr Milner.

After exposing that plate he went round the corner into Penywern Road to take a side view of the house.

Earls Court Road 172 1904 LTE285

I took a close look at the picture to look at the state of the house and was quite impressed by the condition of the brickwork. I reminded myself that these buildings were still relatively new in 1904. I noticed another small detail:

Earls Court Road 172 1904 LTE285 - Copy

A young man and the back of another horse are just visible. And as we came in with a horse we’ll leave it there. I don’t know about you but I never tire of these photographs and the details you can find in them, so next week we’re crossing the Earls Court Road to take a look at the odd numbers.

Wild, wild west: Buffalo Bill in Earls Court

The pleasure gardens at Cremorne were the kind of mass entertainment enjoyed by Londoners in the mid-Victorian period. There was still something of the 18th century about them, something a little anarchic and risky, not to mention illicit. Cremorne lost its licence because of perceived or actual immorality. But the appetite for spectacle and large-scale attractions hadn’t vanished, it had simply moved onto newer forms of entertainment.

The Earls Court Exhibition owed its existence to chance. A triangle of empty land had been created by a confluence of railway lines. One developer tried to build a Catholic Public School there but was defeated by financial problems. There was another scheme for housing, but even in the 1880s developers could see that the land was not especially desirable for that purpose. Finally John Robinson Whitley came up with the idea of the Exhibition. He had intended to put on an American Exhibition showing goods and products along the lines of the Great Exhibition and its successors such as the British Colonial and Indian Exhibition which took place in South Kensington in 1886. He postponed his opening for a year because of that event and many of his partners dropped out.  This worked to his benefit. That year he went to Washington to try and interest President Grover Cleveland in the project, and while he was there he saw Buffalo Bill’s Roughriders and Redskin Show.  He booked them for Earls Court’s first season and changed the nature of the Exhibition completely.

The troupe performed in the original triangle of land accessible from Warwick Road. An open arena and stand were created for them.  A second area accessible from Lillie Road and by bridge from the grounds contained a single long exhibition building. This was connected to a third area where there was a pleasure gardens with a switchback railway, a toboggan slide and a large bandstand.

The shows introduced the idea of the Wild West into public consciousness, in this country at least.

The shows were immensely popular and were even visited by the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales and William Gladstone (then in opposition, so he must have had some time on his hands).

You can see from the programme that the show contained all the familiar tropes of the Wild West – Indians attacking the stagecoach, gun battles with cowboys, the Pony Express – but also had a more rounded view of  Native American culture such as buffalo hunting and village life on the plains. Not to mention Cossacks and Gauchos.

(These two images are from one of the later shows).

William Cody himself of course had become a fully fledged media figure.

Along with Annie Oakley who fell out with Cody after the first shows but returned later having established herself as a star in her own right.

The Wild West show came back to Earls Court several times and there were other versions after Cody’s last show such as the Golden West / Red Man Spectacle of 1909. The cowboys look a little more like showmen in this picture:

But we get the idea.

The other well known name from Buffalo Bill’s show was Long Wolf, an Oglala Lakota Sioux warrior who had originally joined the show as part of a group of prisoners of war turned over to Cody by the American War Office.

Long Wolf and his family stayed with the show and came back to England in 1892 but the Chief caught scarlet fever on this visit and died at the West London Hospital in Hammersmith. His doctor had the macabre name of Maitland Coffin. Long Wolf was buried with due ceremony in Brompton Cemetery.

The design on his headstone was based on a drawing he made on his deathbed for what he hoped would be a temporary resting place. He was right. Although he lay amongst strangers for a long time his remains were disinterred in 1996 and moved to a burial place in his ancestral lands.

The heyday of the first Exhibition was as brief as Cremorne’s. By 1914 the Wild West shows had departed, the Great Wheel was demolished and the grounds were being used as a camp for Belgian refugees. The new Exhibition was 20 years in the future. But we can still remember the days the Wild West came to West London.

This picture is of the Deadwood Stage. Now where did I put that Calamity Jane DVD?

The secret life of postcards

Picture postcards have been with us for more than a hundred years. People have been collecting them as well as sending them from the beginning. Before cameras became a common consumer item they were the only way many people could get a photograph of their street. Professional photographers it seemed roamed the streets of London taking pictures of any street they liked the look of, perhaps hoping to sell postcards to the residents. It’s possible anyway, all I know is that there are a lot of postcards of quite obscure streets taken from the 1890s to just before the First World War, Postcards like this one:

This is the view looking north down Pembridge Road from Notting Hill Gate. Most of these buildings are still there now, only the shops have changed. And the people of course.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I like a good close up. This is what I mean by the secret life of postcards. The photographer was trying to get a good picture of the street. The people in it were incidental for his purposes. But whether intentionally or by chance he captures the passers-by in unguarded moments. The girl waiting impatiently for her mother to finish taking to her friend. Or are they waiting to cross the road?

This is the Earls Court Road fully developed on the east side with a hoarding enclosing a vacant lot or building site on the other side.  There are plenty of people too.

In this case teenage girls hanging out by the shops? Two of them at least with sonewhere definite to go striding out of the picture.

A slightly less crowded scene. These mansion blocks on the western side of Elm Park Gardens have now been partially replaced by modern blocks of flats but the street is still recognizable.

In the close up the woman and her daughter are too blurred to see much detail but you can see her lifting up her skirt to protect it from the dirty surface of the road.

This is an excellent action view of Kensington Park Road looking north from the junction with Elgin Crescent. Look at the barely visible cyclist, the horses in motion and the woman leaning forward to start pushing the pram across the road. The close up adds a little information.

The woman in the foreground has noticed the camera, and maybe the man with the umbrella too. You can just about make out the child sitting up in the pram.

Maybe half a mile away, but possibly a few years apart, in Notting Hill Gate there is another bustling street scene.

You can see the Metropolitan underground station and another bus covered with adverts.

All the figures in this picture are interesting in some way, even the dog, but the two that catch my eye are the bearded man and his younger companion. Are they out for a leisurely stroll or pursuing some business venture?

Moving south here is a picture of the now demolished Kensington Crescent, an unsuccessful development in the Warwick Gardens area. The two children in the photograph are aware of the photographer perhaps even consciously posing for him.

I can’t tell if the expression is curious, resentful, bored or whether they’re just standing still as the photographer asked.

This picture shows numbers 1-14 Kensington Crescent. Normally I avoid fascinating facts but I cannot avoid telling you that Kenneth Grahame, author of the Wind in the Willows lived for five years at number 5, just before the photo was taken.

Finally a personal favourite, one of the first postcards I subjected to the scan and zoom process.

A good crisp view of Kensington Park Road showing St Peter’s Church. Try it on Google Maps street view for comparison. The pattern of the facade is still there exactly.

But naturally what I want to know is what the woman in the middle is doing with her left hand. Is she scratching her nose, and has this idle gesture been captured for posterity?

There are so many postcards full of compelling details and questions that we will probably be here again soon using the time machine to catch more of these details of everyday life.

Author’s message

From next week I’ll be tweeting a preview of the week’s post a couple of days before posting – assuming I know what I’ll be writing about before Wednesday. Follow me at @daveinlocal .

Gigantic: the Earl’s Court Wheel

If you’ve ever been to Vienna you might have seen the Wiener Riesenrad. Or if you’ve seen the film the Third Man you’ll remember Orson Welles famous speech: “in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock”  which he delivers while he and Joseph Cotten are riding one of the compartments in the Riesenrad. Constructed in 1897 and miraculously still surviving despite wartime damage and attempts to demolish it the Riesenrad is one of the oldest examples of a Ferris Wheel. The original Ferris Wheel designed by a naval engineer called William Graydon was built for the Chicago Exhibition in 1893. (It was taken apart and reassembled twice in its lifetime the last being at the World’s Fair in St Louis, another film connection although it doesn’t appear in Take me to St Louis.) The European rights to the patent were acquired by Walter Bassett another ex-navy man who was the director of a UK engineering company. It was Bassett’s company that built the Riesenrad and other versions of the Ferris Wheel in Paris, Blackpool and of course Earl’s Court.

The Great Wheel (also called the Big Wheel and my favourite the Gigantic Wheel) was constructed at the Earls Court Exhibition.

The Exhibition grounds had been squeezed onto surplus railways lands west of Warwick Road. They opened in 1887. One of the first attractions was William Cody’s Buffalo Bill Rough Riders and Redskin Show. There were also “national” exhibitions – French, German and Italian – a concert hall and a switchback railway. The spectacles became increasingly ambitious under the new proprietor Imre Kiralfy who rebuilt most of the buildings on the site. It was he who brought in Walter Bassett to create the Earls Court Great Wheel. Construction began in 1894.

 Here is the Great Wheel going up:

The Wheel was open for passengers in July 1895. It was 300 feet in diameter weighed 1100 tons and was propelled by two steam engines. A complete revolution took about 20 minutes.

Here is the Wheel in action seen from the Exhibition grounds:

And here is the view from the railway:

The oddest views are the ones showing the Wheel towering above nearby streets such as this one:

The excitement generated by the Wheel seems to almost exactly like the feelings we had about the London Eye. There is something about the concept of riding high into the air in a closed compartment suddenly seeing the familiar city from a new angle which transcends the barriers of time which separate us from the pleasure seekers of the late 19th century. The Wheel had its detractors who thought it “vulgar”, “foolish” or “insane”. So not much change there. It ran successfully for several years. (There was one incident when the Wheel got stuck for a few hours but the passengers were compensated and came away happy.)

Like many such attractions the Wheel had a limited lifespan. Bassett was brought back to demolish it in 1906-7.

Here it is going down:

The Earls Court exhibition site has been re-modelled and rebuilt several times since the demise of the Great Wheel and a new development is being planned at the moment.  But wouldn’t it be good if the Great Wheel had survived like the Riesenrad and the London Eye had a slightly battered older cousin waving at it from the west of London?

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