Category Archives: Kensington

Halloween story – the traveller

My friend Dave and I were in another obscure pub in South Kensington and he was telling me again that he had a doppelganger who sold newspapers and magazines at Baron’s Court Station. Actually, he said, the double had probably retired by now. He himself would have done if he had to do that job for years. It was the second time I had heard the story so we didn’t get far with it. Instead we turned to anomalous and unexpected places, and Dave’s theory of urban mazes. Dave had quite a thing about mazes, and ornamental gardens, something he had in common with one of his colleagues, a woman named Dee. Or who called herself Dee as he put it. She was Japanese he said, and Dee is not a Japanese name. She seemed Japanese in other ways he thought, but just as I was loosing interest in her he told me that the other staff sometimes called her the Time Traveller. Why was that? Well, sometimes she didn’t seem to understand fairly basic things about the world and the way it is. Or she would suddenly express an interest in something that she had discovered as if it wasn’t already well known to most people. He called it the “oh those Beatles” syndrome. And he added as if this was the clincher, she always wore long dresses or skirts.

 

 

Well. not uncommon surely, especially these days. But this was not good enough for him. I tell you she dresses like she just stepped out of a time machine. Well, that proves it I said. Missing Dr Who companion, vampire, some other kind of immortal. But time travel is a bit unlikely. We’ve all seen those pictures which look like someone using a mobile phone in an old photograph. It’s amusing, might even be worth a mention in Fortean Times. You should meet her. She sounds a bit young for me I said. It’s always a bit distasteful. an older man with some young woman. Then I digressed with a story about how I had seen from the upper deck of a bus a pretty young woman bidding a found farewell to her boyfriend, some big nosed older guy who clearly couldn’t believe his luck at this girl fawning on him. No, I’ll make sure she knows I’m not trying to set you up. I’ll tell her you’re an expert on history, and not a dirty old man at all. Fifty three isn’t old I said, recalling Kingsley Amis in the Green Man citing it as the age when things started to go down hill for a while. We veered off for a while and then he produced his punch line, an photograph of an actual maze. This is the small maze at Arcover House – the place where the Cyanogrphers used to meet. It’s gone now, ripped up in the war. Dee talks as if she’s actually seen it.

 

 

Okay then, worth a look. We arranged to meet in the same pub. I brought along my tablet, loaded with views of old Kensington, to establish my bona fides or to fill in any lulls in the conversation. At the last minute I got a text from Dave  saying he couldn’t come, and that Dee had changed her look (what did that mean?). I remembered the pre-mobile era when if you made an arrangement, you had to stick with it, or just stand the other person up. You couldn’t make a vague arrangement and then text the fine details, or phone the person up and find them waving to you from down the street. On the other hand, staring at a phone or a laptop is a good way of looking like you’re doing something when you’re sitting alone somewhere. I was doing that when I noticed a woman was standing in front of me. She was wearing a big raincoat but I could see her lower legs and a pair of blue fur-trimmed ankle boots.

I went to get her a drink and when I got back the raincoat was draped over a seat and I could see she was wearing a mild Loilita outfit, a blue dress with a print featuring whales and ships, and looked very Japanese indeed.

Dave says you’ve changed your look?

She smiled at me . I heard about that time traveler thing, so I thought it was time for a change. Something a little more 21st century.

How’s it working for you?

Well, it’s a lot of layers. A bit warm actually. But that’s just like my younger days. The time traveler thing? Well that’s true. I’ve given myself away a few times recently, so I thought it was time to try actually telling someone to see how it goes.

And I’m a good security risk?  Or someone known to be given to flights of fancy?

Well, why not. Dave said you know 19th Century Kensington like the back of your hand. Do you know the Victoria Road / Victoria Grove area?

I flicked through some pictures on the tablet.

 

 

She took it off me and stared closely, expanding the view with her finger and thumb. She pointed at a house, and said it was hers. That’s where I grew up. My Mum and I lived with an English couple who took us in when we had to leave home. I think. I grew up speaking English. I used to walk up this road.

There was a second view.

 

 

She expanded that  one.

 

 

I remember those boys. Harry and Jim.That woman, the one in a hurry, she looks like one of my teachers. The school was just around the corner.

 

 

It looks a bit grim in black and white, but it was okay.

 

 

We did art

 

 

and science

 

 

and gym.

 

 

I never liked the climbing ropes.

On Sundays we went to the park. I’ve always liked gardens.

 

 

I had friends. I was happy.

 

 

So what happened?

In my last year I was sent for by the head mistress. She told me my life would change one day. I would be needed for an important task. She gave me a small leather wallet, which I was to carry with me at all times. She never told me how she had chosen me for this task. perhaps because I was already an outsider.

 

 

One day, late in the summer term she called me in and told me I should go home and get changed, into my “adult” clothes, with a long skirt, a white blouse, a wide belt and elegant shoes which I borrowed from my mother’s collection. You won’t see your mother again, or the Smiths. Can you bear that? I thought I could, although really I didn’t think about it at all. At the house I selected a nice wide hat too, my own, recently bought for me so I could pose for a photograph by that old man in Stafford Terrace.

As I had been instructed I left the house and walked south, going through the church gate, beside which two younger girls sat on a wooden bench. One of them  raised her hand as if in greeting and smiled at me.

 

 

I walked through the overgrown garden and down a short set of steps into a mews.

 

 

I had never been this way before. I walked along the mews under an arch and found myself in a wide street.

 

 

There were vehicles moving rapidly in front of me, and there was noise. Automobiles I supposed, though nothing like the ones I had seen before..

And people, many different kinds of people walking along paying no attention to me. Men, women, old, young dressed in such a variety of clothing I felt bewildered .In particular, the women who wore anything from all concealing robes to what looked like nothing more than underwear. And hardly any of them wore a hat.

The packet contained directions to a firm of solicitors in Kensington Church Street. I knew the way but I was terrified by the vehicles passing by, and the variety of people, all walking quickly towards me. A few of them stared at me. After a while I got to the park and went in, looking for a familiar setting.

I sat at a bench. I removed my hat and let my hair loose, shaking it out as though I was preparing for bed. I felt a little more comfortable after that. I walked past a huge building which was set in the place of the new hotel by the park. It was also a hotel it seemed, so some things had not changed. I carried my hat. I felt better now walking down the road, apart from the vehicles. I was used to heavy traffic on the High Street  and knew how to dash between carriages to get across it, but the size of those vehicles, especially a huge thing which I realised was an omnibus. I saw a number 9. How was that possible?

 

I found the solicitor’s office. I had to wait some time in a comfortable, beautifully padded chair before I was seen by an old man, who asked a few questions and looked at me. He put me under the supervision of a young woman barely older than me who took me in a taxi to a house, where a suite of rooms had been prepared for me. She visited me several times, brought me clothes, and showed me how to use the many devices in the flat.

And what was the task, after all that?

Oh, that! I thought you’d ask. I had to make a phone call. I had to deliver a warning. I was given information to prove that I was a reliable source. It wasn’t that easy but I eventually got to speak to the right person. I can’t say much. It was about a date, when something would happen, and I had to tell whoever it was enough to stop it happening. So that date wouldn’t be important.

And I suppose things would be different, but we would never know.

I guess so.

We sat quietly for a while. I had believed every word. I saw no reason not to do so. Over Dee’s shoulder the TV was showing Bowie, back in the UK for a farewell tour. The programme was interrupted by a news bulletin. President Clinton’s peace talks in Tehran had been successful. Iran, Syria and Turkey had agreed on a peace plan which included the creation of a new country, Kurdistan. Nice going. The World Environment Council had appointed a 16-year old girl as its new General Secretary. The new Prime Minister’s name was Johnson. He used to be a postman.

The world was okay, it seemed, and had survived Dee’s mysterious phone call. I asked her if she had made any more phone calls. I imagined that one person could do many of them.

I looked across at the elaborately made up face of the young Japanese woman. I made a prediction in my mind that she would wink. And she did.

 

 

Postscript

Someone told me the other day that I looked like Mike Mills, of REM. I don’t think it quite rises to the level of a doppelganger situation though. Perhaps old men come to resemble each other. In this world I’m a bit older than 53, but I like the Green Man, and Amis’s comment about middle age is true.

 


Short posts – leisure

From time to time I have to scan pictures for enquiries and requests and inevitably you see other images you like in the picture chests and think “I should scan that as well”. So I often do, on the assumption that we’ll need to scan them all eventually so why not now. So another batch of pictures get done which are only connected by the fact that they have caught my interest. And this is what we have today.

 

 

The embankment. Two girls wearing some kind of harness are pulling a third, in the riverside gardens on Cheyne Walk, in 1927, but the driver isn’t sitting in a carriage, she’s running with them. It doesn’t look like that much fun to me, but in the 1920s you had to find your fun where you could. At least they’re getting some exercise.

The picture below is from a slightly later period.

 

 

A picturesque view down Old Church Street, showing a dog being walked (he is showing some interest in another dog, which has been picked up by a girl in school uniform, while a young couple look on with interest), a pair of men delivering milk or groceries (the one in the distance has the benefit of a horse drawn wagon, the nearest one has to pull his own wagon), while a couple of boys are lingering at the edge of the picture (it looks to me as though one of them is having his ear examined by his mother, but that could be me reading too much into it.

The image below is a photograph of a painting by Philip Norman, who was also a London historian.


 

“The back of old houses in Cheyne Walk”. With rather a large garden for the use of young children and small animals. I’m not sure precisely where these houses were but my impression is that they were near Beaufort Street.

Chelsea, of course has one or two celebrated gardens, like this one.

 

 

This shows “the last of the old cedars” in the Apothecaries Garden. The cedars were famous  from Fuge’s print. (He did one image from each direction. This is north, I think. The version I had was in colour but it didn’t seem quite right to me so I put a filter on this to tone down the red. Not enough?

 

 

(Archive trivia: In addition to images of the Physic Garden, the Local Studies also possesses a wooden box, reportedly made from the wood of one of these trees.)

The picture below also features the trees, along with a group of botanists engaged in detailed study.

 

 

The next picture also comes from the 18th century, where as you can see, a number of people are entertaining themselves or being entertained in a small but ornate walled garden. Drinking, dancing, listening to a musician (playing what, exactly?) or taking a turn round the fountain. This according to the caption is Spring Gardens, a small establishment which was located on a site where Lowndes Square was subsequently built.

 

 

I naturally turned to Warwick Wroth’s “London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th Century” (1896, reprinted 1979), a pleasantly exhaustive survey of gardens large and small to learn a little more. It turns out to be more complicated than I thought.  It seems there was a Chelsea Spring Gardens and a Knightsbridge Spring Gardens. Both were “places of public entertainment” featuring displays of “fireworks and horsemanship” with other devices employing fire and water. One of them was connected with a couple of taverns, the Star and Garter and the Dwarf’s Tavern. The co-proprietor of the latter was the celebrated John Coan (“the unparalleled Norfolk Dwarf”) who laid on for his guests “a most excellent ham, some collared eel, potted beef etc, with plenty of sound old bright wine and punch like nectar”. The quotation is from a notice reprinted in Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. On this occasion Mr Coan was available to guest, but for another shilling they could see “The bird of knowledge”. I would have looked in on that.

In the picture though, it seems to be a quiet day. I can’t leave John Coan without showing you this picture by Marianne Rush entitled “The house at the Five Fields where Coan the Norfolk Dwarf exhibited himself”. How much of this is the artist’s imagination I can’t say. But there is plenty of interesting (though out of scale?) detail. Rush is one of my favourite artists in our collection.

 

 

Finally a picture of a private garden, which is definitely quiet. In Kensington, this is a view from Bullingham House which was off Kensington Church Street. (There is a photo of the house from the garden showing these same steps in this post. )

 

 

This is a pretty and well composed picture (it has been used on a greetings card) showing the typical large garden of a house of the 1860s, when much of Kensington was suburban. The crinoline dress is well suited to a sunny afternoon in a quiet corner of London with a privileged young woman enjoying some hours of leisure. Compare it to a the pictures in this post , taken a decade or so later, particularly the first image which shows another lady walking down steps into a garden. (The last photo in the post shows her doing some serious relaxing.)

In the end a theme did emerge from this near random collection of images: leisure, hence the title. I should do a whole post on people relaxing in gardens. One day.


Short posts – Bignell in the Park

I’ve been continuing my trawl through photographs from the Planning department connected to Kensington High Street. The ones dealing with The former Commonwealth Institute have been especially interesting. Today’s pictures are notable because they are the work of a photographer well knows to regular readers of the blog, John Bignell, who has been featured  here many times.

 

 

On this occasion he concerned himself with trees, as you can see from the writing on some of the pictures. Bignell was just doing the work of a jobbing photographer, recording the existence or non-existence of the trees

 

 

The question that always arises with me is that given Bignell’s undoubted talents as a photographer, is there something special about this set of pictures? Has he seen more, done a better composition than a more workaday practitioner or an amateur might?

 

 

Or is the view enough in itself? A sunny day, a couple of people in deckchairs at the centre of the image, and a feeling of relaxation, with the iconic and still photogenic building in the background?

 


 

Why not? The offending tree is gone. We see a couple of guys sunbathing, and looking back at Bignell. In this picture you probably can’t see the woman in a  bikini sitting behind them, also sitting up and asking why is that guy taking a picture of me?

 

 

The admin block behind the wall is also gone now but the streamlined building with the sweeping roof is still there and you can still enjoy a view rather like this one. On a sunny day like this you can probably also sunbathe free from photography.


Short posts: looking back at the Commonwealth Institute part one

As part of my continuing trawl through photographs from our Planning collection I’ve been looking at the section preceding and following Earls Court Road. This of course includes the Commonwealth Institute. I have an odd selection of images which wouldn’t hang together for one big post but make sense in small batches. Hence, a few more short posts.

 

Who he?

Well, some sort of stylised ape, maybe a baboon. West African I would think although I can’t pin it down any further. In this picture he is sitting peaceably on a stone floor. But that’s not why Planning had a picture of him.

 

Can you see the place marked out for him on the right of the picture?

Here it is slightly clearer:

An orange shape next to the stairs and the path which takes you to the walkway entrance. It’s as though he was about to be beamed in, to materialize on a rainy day in Kensington.

Did it ever happen? Does anyone know?

Today of course the walkway is gone and one of the two Holland Green buildings stands in front of the former Institute. You still walk in that direction to get into the Design Museum, as my son and I did recently to see the Stanley Kubrick exhibition. ( Which finishes on September 15th so if you’re at all interested get down there quick. It’s well worth it. And it contains one image supplied by this department. Any guesses?)

More on the former Institute soon.

 


The main drag: shop till you drop

We’re back again at street level for this post and we’re continuing west, taking in the shops from the junction with Church street, concentrating on the branches of big names and the independents in the last couple of decades of the 20th century and the first of the 21st. It was a time when I think it would be fair to say that most people in this period mostly bought things in actual shops. Online retailing existed, and was growing in importance but the high street was still doing fine. The big names still had the prestige and the power and there was room for independent shops, whether they were long established family firms or new ventures. We’ll see example of both, as well as looking at how the physical structure of the high street altered and some of the names changed. Some of the names you’ll see may be just memories now.

This one is 1994

 

 

Sacha (a Dutch company?) of course sold shoes, then still a staple of  high streets everywhere. This picture also takes a look down Kensington Church Court.

I can’t be sure if Derber came before or later.

 

 

But they too sold shoes. You can see more shoe shops. in one of my previous posts.

Below,the Leeds Permanent Building Society merged with the Halifax and later the Bank Of Scotland to form HBOS

 

 

David Clulow, the opticians, is still with us, unlike the Aberdeen Steak House, another former high street staple.

I was pleased to find a couple more examples of a style which has been called by the Survey of London “pungently Burgundian” . In the later years of the 19th century banks seemed to have favoured this style. Here is the Midland.

 

 

 

Some elegant patterned brick work above the modernised fascia at street level. Next door, another branch of the National Westminste,r also pleasingly ornate.

 

 

Don’t be confused by the two dates 1834 and 1890 in the centre, probably refer to the founding of the London County and Westminster Bank (one of its constituent parts) and the date of the building itself. On the left you can see part of its neighbour, a building which was neither pungent nor particularly Burgundian. the old Kensington Town Hall. Here it is after demolition had begun in 1985.

 

 

 

 

I’ve covered that story before so we won’t linger.

Here is the building which replaced it still under construction but already partly occupied.

 

 

The central shop is a branch of Laura Ashley, an iconic fashion brand in its day whose clothes were in many women’s wardrobes and which epitomised a certain 70s look still influencing fashion.

With that end of the building completed,  the front is symmetrical. This picture shows an alley which leads to the gardens and ultimately joins up wit the passage seen in the first picture.

 

 

The older building is the Kensington Vestry building, built in 1865. It served as the main local government building for Kensington and after the Town Hall was built became the Central Library (I sometimes come across references to “Box K” or “Box S” on old catalogue cards, a notation which indicated the position of items in the attic of the former Vestry building.)

The Library moved to its current location in 1960 (and here I sit writing about it). The old building was ultimately bought by an Iranian bank. This picture, date unknown, shows the banking hall.

 

 

 

I don’t know what it looks like today.  (For another quirky Iranian site see this post, but read down to the comments.) Below is another shoe shop.

 

 

Now Clark’s (I may have bought a pair there once). Alongside is another ancient municipal object, a water fountain.

 

 

I’ve included this frontal view of Peter Lord because that policeman seems to be looking right at us. Was he keeping a beady eye on the photographer.

Our Price, seen in once of those photo collages below.

 

 

There is a snippet on Our Price in this post about Church Street. As record shops went Our Price was not the most full of character. I usually remember buying something at a particular branch, which was convenient for the Library but not with this one.

Big Apple. Who remembers them?

 

 

The picture below shows a blurred motorcyclist and Lloyds Bank but it’s actually the branch of McDonalds that catches my attention. And why?

 

 

Well, as it happens I think this branch was one of the first in London and I have a distinct memory of driving down from Kensal Rise  in my friend Steve’s Mark 1 Cortina specifically to visit this McDonalds and sample this new dining experience. (Only Wimpy Bars before this remember)

We probably ate inside, although we might have parked up somewhere nearby to savour this new taste. I can’t remember waht we thought about the food though. I have had many McDonalds since though.

I’ve included the rather poor picture below because of its notoriety value.

 

 

The Bank of Credit and Commerce was involved in one of the greatest banking scandals of this era, and was implicated in money laundering and other nefarious activities. When I checked it on Wikipedia I was intrigued to see that the international bank in the Clive Owen film The International was based on BCC. It’s a pretty good film actually.

The film strip below must be from the 1970s. A branch of the Village Gate is visible.

 

 

Sticking on the south side of the street for a while here are some more well known names.

 

 

I like this picture because of the man talking to the traffic warden. Are they friends, or is the man attempting to make a case for leniency? Is he begging or berating the implacable uniformed officer? (The local headquarters of the traffic wardens was in an obscure building in the aforementioned Kensington Church Court. Perhaps the warden is walking swiftly back to base so he can get changed and go home.

 

 

The man in civvies looks quite animated to me.

This picture was  taken at the same time. The pair have a  certain bright quality.

 

 

Do you see the woman in the white skirt and blue jacket? She is another in the series of women who bear a superficial resemblance to my late mother in law. I come across them from time to time.

In this view looking west a woman waits at a bus stop with a branch of C&A in the background.

 

 

The companion picture looking east shows a pair of skaters.

 

 

And a bargain price for Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

Back to the north side and the front of Phillimore Court. Look past that Jaguar/Daimler saloon at Chelsea Girl nearly in the centre of the block, with Mothercare next door.

 


 

This view shows the Chelsea Girl sign sharing the frontage with Concept Man.

 

 

Among  the collection of pictures I found these two images of shop signs:

 

 

The two signs have been put up somewhere to see how they look. The version of Concept Man seen below is just in some basement on a random wall. Concept Man sounds like a peculiar idea anyway. He’s not a man he’s just a concept! No contest against Chelsea Girl. (She’s a girl from Chelsea?)

 

 

Neither of them made the final cut in 1986. Chelsea Girl stayed at 124-126 for a few years. My research indicates that the same address was the home of River Island.

I quite liked this picture, which shows the more upmarket image River Island were looking presumably for in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, it’s obviously not actually on the High Street despite the address on the back.

 

 

Could it have been in Barkers Arcade? It’s actually too hot to ponder this question.

One or two names have been left out of this post. Bradford and Bingley, Dorothy Perkins, Video Vision to name but three.

But with the disappointment of River Island I decided to let one more picture in.

 

 

Foothold, purveyors of athletic shoes. . And a runner in green shorts! He’s a conceptual man if ever I saw one.

 

 

Postscript

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

These words are already being quoted across the internet and hailed as of one the great speeches in cinema, up there with Orson Welles’ cuckoo clock. And it is a great moment for lovers of science fiction.

My wife once came across Rutger Hauer (who died this week aged 75) in a cafe in the Fulham Road. He asked her friend for a light. Afterwards she had to explain who he was to her friend. Not everyone had heard of Blade Runner then.

Thank you, Mr Hauer for being part of our collective dream.

 

Bus Supplement

I sent a couple of these pictures to my son and transport correspondent, Matthew. I can only quote his reply in full:

The first bus is actually the more readily identifiable, as we can see it’s fleet number – RM1830. This would be towards the end of it’s career in the capital, as London Transport began withdrawing RM class Routemasters (though clinging fiercely to it’s RMLs, many of which would remain in service until the very final days of their operation on route 159).

At this point, RM1830 was operating out of Westbourne Park garage, the natural home of the 31 since just after the new garage (nestled under the Westway) opened in 1981. The garage would keep the 31 until 2011, enduring the infamous days of minibus operation on the route. Anyone who knew the 31 (which is now two routes, the 31 and 328) in the 1990’s will remember the wholly inadequate little vehicles (Wright “Handybuses” for those seeking details, not that any passenger would have described the diminutive things as “handy”) that took over from proper buses in 1992, and continued for a remarkably long time, despite nobody having anything positive to say about them.

This insult in bus operation was made after RM1830 had moved on from London – it would only stay until 1987, when it was withdrawn by London Transport. It was aquired in 1988 by Clydeside Scottish, and made the journey north, though sadly it never saw service – it was just there to provide spare parts to Clydeside’s existing fleet of ex-London Routemasters. What was left of RM1830 was later sold for scrap, and RM1830 passed on to the great bus garage in the sky.

We can’t go into such detail for the second image, despite actually being able to see the whole bus, as both fleet number and registration number are obscured by the surrounding traffic.

What is visible is the unusual advertising panel for Miss Selfridge on the offside of the bus. As the Routemaster hurriedly departing from the picture frame on the right can show us, most RMs and RMLs had “L” shaped advertising panels, taking advantage of the blank panel over the staircase to provide as much lucrative advertising space as possible. This vehicle, one of many Tottenham garage-based RMLs, received special illuminated advertising panels instead – these were supposed to increase visibility at night on routes like the 73 that ran through central London after dark. The experiment was evidently not deemed a success, and London Transport never expanded the practice, and most lost the illuminated panels when they were overhauled. One member of the class still retains the panels to this day though, working as a heritage vehicle for Ensignbus in Essex. The idea meanwhile has begun to return, with some buses now having LED-based advertising panels installed, allowing for the adverts to flash and scroll and display other dazzling effects to their audience. How long will this latest version of the experiment last?

Nonetheless, an RML on route 73 to Stoke Newington tells us a lot. Not least that the photo’s label is wrong – this is emphatically not 1989. It can’t be, unless that particular bus had rebelled against the dictats of London Transport and decided that it was too good to be curtailed to such a location as Victoria.

Route 73, until August of 1988, ran from Stoke Newington to Hammersmith. In that year though, the new route 10 (King’s Cross to Hammersmith Broadway) would take over the Hyde Park Corner – Hammersmith section, leaving the 73’s to turn sullenly south at Hyde Park Corner in order to wheeze to a halt at their new terminus on the forecourt of Victoria Station.

The 10 would exist in this form almost precisely 30 years – it was withdrawn entirely in 2018 in order to reduce the number of buses on Oxford Street. The madness that is pedestrianisation of this thoroughfare continues to plague the minds of those in power, and small steps towards this absurd and laughable goal continue to be taken, heedless of the impact it will have on the travelling public.

However, in order to maintain a connection between Hyde Park Corner and Hammersmith (for apparently this connection must be maintained at all costs) the 23, shorn of its run between Marble Arch and Liverpool Street, was redirected down Park Lane to take over. Now the 23 runs in an absurd “C” shape, connecting Hammersmith with Westbourne Park via Marble Arch – a route so circuitous as to be almost entirely pointless – as demonstrated by the near-empty buses plying the route!


Kensington Roofworld

The author Christopher Fowler is famous for his Bryant and May series of novels about a pair of older detectives investigating “peculiar crimes” and for a series of supernatural novels and short stories. But for me and a few others his first novel is the most remarkable. Roofworld (1988) tells the story of a parallel society living along side our own whose  members live above our heads, passing from roof to roof by a variety of means. It’s a little like a reverse of Neal Gaiman’s London Below from his novel Neverwhere but the inhabitants of Roofworld are unseen by us not through some kind of magic but by stealth. We just miss them, almost every time. The book is an adventure story telling how a couple of ground dwellers are drawn into the roofworld and the ancient struggle going on up there.

It’s one of the classics of urban fantasy. (Like a book I read around the same time, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. They come at a point when this sub-genre was just getting started. But don’t get me started or we could be here all day.)

The Roofworld setting was brought to mind for me by some of the images I have found recently while writing a loose series of posts set along Kensington High Street . Some of these pictures may have been taken by intrepid employees of the Planning department, others by equally audacious employees of those companies and individuals submitting applications, like these ones of the roof of the Royal Garden Hotel.

 

 

 

On an overcast day someone is looking around this roofscape. The application was probably concerned with the satellite dishes. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on the handwritten notes on this picture of the hotel.

 

 

Below, a brave man goes closer to the edge than I ever would. It actually gives me twinges of vertigo looking at it.

 

 

I like the view from tall buildings but I prefer it when there is a nice secure guard rail (or a plate glass window – that’s why I  liked the London Eye). It used to be possible to get on top of some of the buildings I know, a block of flats in Chelsea,  a library or two (such as this one, which has a very secure roof). But the authorities are more vigilant about health and safety these days, quite rightly so I say speaking as an unlikely urban explorer.

(Have a look at Bernard Selwyn’s views here, taken from a safe and vantage point  in the common parts or rooms of another hotel))

Despite a general dislike of heights I’ve been up a few tall buildings, particularly ecclesiastical ones- Notre Dame, York Minster, and my personal favourite, the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, which has a very quiet and atmospheric space on top of a tower. Going back to my teenage years, I went up the then Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) when it was one of the tallest buildings in London. This is a further link to Fowler’s novel – one of the later scenes takes place on the tower, reaching which  represents a considerable effort on the part of the roofworlders.

Here’s that man again, still looking quite unconcerned. (On the right of the picture).

 

 

 

Some of this week’s other pictures may have been taken from the hotel, (not necessarily from the roof), or one of the buildings next to it such as the Ladymere Building like this one. (You can just see a decorative feature on the left.)

 

 

Looking down on a roof line you usually look up at gives you a new perspective on the variety of buildings and what lies behind the facades.

 

 

You can locate this roof space by noting the position of Rodeo Drive which we looked at from street level in a previous post.

Here are those double stairs again and what lies next to them, including the buildings east of Barkers.

 

 

These presumably give access to the roofscape and possible escape routes from fires, or other building problems.

In this 1998 picture you can see the tower on the corner of the Gas and Coke / NatWest building, along with another bit of the Ladymere.

 

 

And now we switch to the other side of the street to the top of Barkers and look back across at the Royal Garden Hotel, the Ladymere and the Old Court building.

 

 

In this picture the photographer has crept closer to the edge of a roof to look across at the upper floors of the Ladymere. (He’s not on top of Barkers any more.)

 

 

And here even closer to the scaffolding shrouded Old Court building.

 

 

A look west shows the location of the previous two images from above.

 

 

See that white section of roof and the small set of chimneys with the green flat roof beyond.

Now, I think we move back across to the north side of the High Street looking at a usually hidden part of another building.The roof area has been partially colonised and made safe for residents to roam outside.

 

 

 

Below a couple of men are roaming on this roof,looking safe enough for the moment.

 

 

Back on Barkers roof there is even a set of steps to get you safely over this pipework.

 

 

There are pictures which show how these spaces behind buildings have been adapted and made safe for inhabitants and visitors. Below, you can see a whole network of staircases and walkways, with railings, and access at different levels.

 

 

When building work was under way some photographers used the collage technique to build up an image showing a wider area.

 

Note the little Post-it notes telling you which house number is which.

 

The pictures this week have all been “working” images, to demonstrate what has been don or might be done in the future.

The last few pictures are of more general interest. These two pictures reveal another hidden area among the rooftops. They are both views looking in a westerly direction.

 

 

The towers of South Kensington in the distance give you a general idea of the area.

 

 

I love the section in the centre where a door and a few windows give access to a small yard, hidden from the streets below.

In the final picture, the viewpoint is way above  Roofworld.

 

 

Postscript

I felt I could keep on and on adding pictures this week as there are so many of these rooftop views in our collection. I suppose that at the eastern end of Kensington High Street  there is a sufficient number of tall buildings to provide suitable vantage points for pictures. I’ll see how many more emerge as I proceed westwards.

I’ve just been flipping through Roofworld, having unearthed my copy from a cupboard, and I notice that a couple of the characters from the Bryant and May series make their first fictional appearances in it. You can still buy copies from various sources, so if you haven’t read it, why not take a look?


Happy shiny people: the ideal world

I love the illustrations that sometimes come with architectural drawings and planning applications. They depict an ideal near future for a place we know well, clean and well appointed, inhabited by happy, well dressed people enjoying new and improved facilities. Sometimes the same future can seem a little dystopian depending on your point of view. In the course of examining images in our collection I have seen a few abortive plans which make me glad that somebody saw sense or just dropped the ball. But mostly you’re looking at something that happened. The shiny happy people in the illustrations have played their part and moved on to whatever alternative reality is their next destination. Those of us left behind made the most of what we were offered.

 

 

“Miss K”? Was there ever such a shop? Or is it a well known chain in the other world, where airships always haunt the skies? It’s “Miss Kensington” of course. The “right on shop” (look closely) “Victoria” of South Kensington sell jewelry and watches. Even I can’t make out the last two shops in the distance. Those two beaming men are just passing a shop simply called Fashions. The artist, John S Robinson, couldn’t come up with anything more than that.

As I mentioned in my last post, the third of Kensington High Street’s department stores, Pontings, was the first to close and be demolished. It had been located on the corner of Wright’s Lane and was attached on its west side to the arcade which leads from the street to the tube station. At one time the arcade would have been lined with display windows for Pontings or its sister store Derry and Toms.

 

 

That’s the Pontings side. In the centre, facing the side entrances of the stores was a WH Smith kiosk. ( A great word for a useful object.)

 

 

On the other side, an entrance to Derry and Toms, which followed Pontings into retail history a few years later. The arcade was colonised by a variety of small businesses.

 

 

We’re going to veer off into anecdote now. One of my colleagues once asked me if there had ever been a fountain in the arcade. I didn’t think so but as some of you always knew, there was. I recently found some pictures that prove it.

 

 

My colleague was very gracious and didn’t give me a hard time for my skepticism. Isabel added insult to injury though by recalling that she had been a member of a school choir which had stood by the fountain singing carols in the early 1990s . Although I was around then I still can’t remember it although oddly, Cafe Gstaad  (now Pret) rings a bell. The conclusion must be never dismiss any recollection and be patient. The pictures you need may be waiting for you somewhere.

 

 

In the meantime let the happy people have their moment. John S Robinson has made the arcade a  little bit wider and taller. It’s always bigger in the other world.

 

 

 

The elegant, possibly haughty, lady in the white hat is walking away from the tube entrance “Fashions” has become Austin B..something.

In the next picture, which seems to look at Boots, Mr Robsinson takes us well into the other world with a gallery (Gallery Eight), a News kiosk, some kind of seating area and another glass fronted shop in the distance.

 

 

 

That perky woman is suggesting something to her partner. A leisurely lunch perhaps? Or is he asking him to turn around and walk past that older couple right into the other world?

I’ve looked very closely at these three pictures, too closely really.

Outside, there are more accurate, and optimistic views of the corner.

 

 

Looking south down Wright’s Lane, this is the plan as it was executed. The other world still had the Promenade. Looking west the view is spacious, and relatively underpopulated.

 

 

Finally, for the other world, the view down to where Wright’s Lane will join Marloes Road.

 

 

For illustrative purpose only. Another couple lean in close for conversation.

The west side of Wright’s Lane has been developed all the way down to the point where it meets Marloes Road. Boots on the corner, the corporate offices of the Warner Group, an apartment block, and then the Tara Copthorne Hotel. The space where Scarsdale House once stood has been filled in by modern buildings.

We can look back though as I’m sure you were expecting me to say.

This is the hotel site under development.

 

 

As is this. I’m not sure about that chimney.

 

This earlier image shows the site as a car park, with the station naked.

This is a very interesting picture. You can see the rear of the Derry and Toms and Barkers buildings, Heythrop College, even the distant Royal Garden Hotel and the spire of St Mary Abbots. Eveything on that side of the railway line is still there today more or less. But the tranquil car park, which if magnified could provide much material for car spotter, is all gone.

The picture below, of Kelso Place, with some provisional structures added in red ink is more difficult to figure out today.

 

 

The modern Kelso Place runs over the point where the railway line goes underground for a short distance. Those structures you can see through the fence must have been something to do with the railway but they’re not part of the modern station. Any answers?

Finally, leading into a future post is an aerial picture.

Kensington Square, the Barkers building and part of the roof garden itself, with some private gardens at ground level.

 

 

Look back at the car park picture and have a look that wall which borders the railway line.

If you’re ever in the arcade, head towards Boots but turn left before you get to the entrance, past the currently closed chocolate selling unit. You can still walk along next to that wall and make your way through the space next to the railway tracks to Scarsdale Place and back to Wright’s Lane, past the hotel entrance.

It’s a little crack in  this filled up space which gives you a look at the undeveloped past.

 

Postscript

I’m writing this first draft in a waiting area at Chelsea Westminster Hospital. The A&E department has certainly changed since I last mentioned it in the blog. There is still a certain amount of waiting to be done.

Since the last post, the science fiction world has lost Paul Darrow, who played the anti hero Avon in Blake’s 7, a programme for which many of us retain an inexplicable affection.

And Dr John, New Orleans psychedelic voodoo bluesman, has also left us.

The world of blogging still has me for the moment, I’m pleased to say.


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