Category Archives: Kensington

Luker’s interiors

As I said in my first post about William Luker Jr, his illustrations to W J Loftie’s Kensington: Historical and Picturesque number over 300. So I haven’t covered all the best ones in two posts. There are still plenty left. In this case we’re following Luker inside various homes in the Kensington area.

 

 

Light shines through glass panels in the door showing a hall with ornate paneling and a fireplace. Beside it a chair with a high back, over which is draped a robe of some kind. It’s these little details that always intrigue me. here’s another empty space.

 

This hall is pleasantly cluttered with a seemingly random collection of art objects. It seems to be a common feature in the rooms of Luker’s friends, like at Lowther Lodge. (An interesting building in itself.)

 

 

 

Also cluttered in parts, but quite spacious too.

 

 

Luker had access to some luxurious properties, like this drawing room with plants and paintings.

 

 

And this studio, currently unoccupied.

 

 

With a large painting taking shape.

Another empty hall, with a decorative floor.

 

 

And eventually we see some people. In this case John Everett Millais, posed with a palette in hand, facing his wife Effie.

 

 

The Millais house was in Palace Gate, and is now an embassy. It was Effie they used to say, whose pubic hair frightened John Ruskin (although if I mention it I feel obliged to say it was probably not true. The marriage was annulled. Ruskin later went on to found an institution we’re very fond of here at the Time Centre.)

Below, another old friend of the blog.

 

 

Edward Linley Sambourne, another friend of Luker’s. at work in his studio in Stafford Terrace.

From empty or sparsely populated rooms to a room at the Kensington Vestry Hall which is filled with people and music.

 

 

 

A musical evening. Some ladies removed their hats for the convenience of other audience members. Others kept them on, but people would have been too polite to mention the matter.

In the previous century, a less informal musical evening in a house in Kensington Square, coloured in for the published version of the illustration.

 

 

And in Luker’s “now”, hundreds of people in a room to hear a concert, at the Albert Hall.

 

 

 

 

But I think he was happiest in a nearly empty room.

 

 

With just a cat, perhaps, checking the room for feline friendly refreshments.

 

 

Or a couple of dogs in another cluttered room in Notting Hill Square. They look like they’re waiting for Luker to go so they can choose a sofa or chair in which they could relax.

Finally, back at the Millais house.

 

With a seal. Not a real one of course. It’s not Rossetti’s, after all.

All these rooms could have had a story. I’m sure Miss Miranda Green could have been in many of them. She was very well connected. But she wasn’t here this week. Perhaps next time….

 

Postscript

I’ve got a cold so I’m not very lively at the moment, hence the low word count this week. But Mr Luker’s pictures are usually evocative enough on their own.

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Inside the old Town Hall

Kensington and Chelsea’s current Town Hall (construction images here) has been in use from 1975 onward. As we know from the recent post on its demolition , the old version was empty for nearly 8 years. So there was plenty of time to create a visual record of what it used to look like inside. Some of the pictures in today’s post were taken in 1977, but some of them must be earlier as they feature scenes of office life. But in most case the building looks, or actually was, deserted. Empty spaces have a strange kind of charm, as we’ve seen in other posts. (Such as here, here or even here). These spaces are no exception.

 

 

Here we look up at the skylight with a former Mayor framed by the elaborate banisters. I’m not sure who the other portrait depicts.

The third floor landing is actually referred to as the Portrait Hall.

 

 

The picture of the child in the foreground is of the young Princess Victoria and is by Martin Archer Shee. I’ve seen this picture many times and it’s slightly odd to see it in this context. (It currently hangs in the Town Hall, in the Mayor’s Parlour)

 

 

The pictures in the background are mostly more mayoral portraits.

 

 

The bottom right picture in the group of four depicts Lady Claire Hartnell, Mayor of Chelsea about 1939, painted by Martin De Hosszu. This picture now lives in one of our archive rooms in a small section I call Mayor’s Corner. Some years ago many of the mayoral portraits were offered to the families of the individual mayors, so the collection, which must have been pretty big, was scattered.

 

 

I don’t know if the Mayor’s Parlour was on the same floor as the portraits but it looks comfortable.

 

 

Below the third floor were the Council Chamber.

 

 

And the Large Hall (you can see it as it was demolished in some of the pictures in this post.)

 

 

Slightly less grand, two pictures of rooms for the use of Councillors. Firstly unfortunately captioned male members room (No sniggering at the back. I can remember when Councillors were always referred to as Members.)

 

 

And a slightly less spartan room for Lady Members.

 

 

Neither of them as sumptuous as the Mayors Parlour but then that was his base and the repository for Mayoral Archives

There were also more mundane areas.

 

 

The entrance hall.

 

 

The Information Office. This would have been in 1974.

And some non-public areas.

 

 

The roof office.  It looks snug.

The typing pool. A phrase redolent of office life as it used to be years ago.

 

 

Many piles of paper. Some of my colleagues would say that I still employ the piles of paper technique. In Local Studies, it’s hard to avoid them.

The photocopier room. Cutting edge technology at work.

 

 

And, naturally, the post room.  Any large organisation still has something like this, no matter how far we leave the old methods behind and move towards the paperless office.

 

 

A fine collection of chairs.

We’re not finished. Back in 1977 there was this less grand back staircase.

 

 

It looks like something in a ghost story which is appropriate as it may possibly have taken you downstairs to see this.

 

 

A gathering of plaster statues (you can see one has suffered some damage to her chin). I don’t know what became of this trio of unrelated ladies. We have a few plaster statues and busts in our collection and they’re quite easily damaged so you have to be careful with them but also accept a certain amount of wear and tear along the way. They often end up in basement rooms. Perhaps this group were waiting for transport to a better place, where they would be properly revered.

Postscript

This was a bit of a marathon, but it’s one of those topics that once you’ve done it, you’re probably not coming back to it. Sometimes Isabel or I write a post on a subject and we know that this is now probably the definitive word on that subject e.g. the West London Air Terminal.  This is not because we know more, but because we can bring together text and images in a way others perhaps couldn’t. And in the case of the Air Terminal and Isabel’s Paddington series, we also provide a way for former residents and employees to reminisce about these places which are no longer with us. So, although the history of municipal buildings is not for everyone , this post does preserve the way the old Kensington Town Hall used to look. Some people remember it fondly.


Christmas Days: underground and round about

As we’re nearing the end of the year, and possibly the end of  my tether, today’s post is mostly photographs, the work of that obscure photographer Dave Walker. These pictures were taken in 2014, so they’re already history, when Kensington Library was undergoing some building work intended to keep it going in the 21st century. The front of house refurbishments had been done in 2012-2013 but the infrastructure of the building needed some work. Armed with a new camera I took hundreds of pictures over two or three years, some of them useful for documenting the changes, which included considerable work in the two basements, others more whimsical, because I liked the process and the materials.

 

 

Like this one, seconds after the wall of the old archive room B08 started being knocked down, by the low tech method of hitting it with a big hammer. I loved the colour of the inside, where brick dust is still floating around and the lights are glowing through a kind of mist.

Cables like the one here, hung in the air as the wall they had been attached to disappeared.

 

 

Empty rooms were another feature of the work.

 

 

 

This one is at the opposite vertical extent of the building from the basement.

And back to the sub-basement.

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Piles of debris, obviously.

 

 

Note the sign on the door. The asbestos cubicle (the other door said Clean) (I don’t think they found any by the way.)

Quirky sights.

 

 

And quirky close- up views.

 

 

Enigmatic signs.

 

 

And sights / lights.

 

 

Dark spots.

 

 

New places.

 

 

Exposed areas.

 

 

Hidden places.

 

 

And new furniture.

 

 

I did get out from time to time that year.

 

 

Genius.

 

 

The Boltons

 

 

Olympia.

A light shines in a dark space.

 

 

 

Monkeys Recommend

Jim prefers non-fiction.

 

Ben Macintyre’s account of the career of Oleg Gorsievsky is as exciting as any thriller and hard to put down. Also, Jim found, hard to get out from under.

 

 

With a bit of effort, under the eye of the spirit of archives, he made it.

 

 

Postscript

That turned out to be a pretty lengthy post in the end, but easier to write with many fewer word. The final Christmas post will be on Monday, after which I am assured, Isabel will be storming back with a new post for 2019.

 

 


Christmas Days: pungently Burgundian

Regulars readers will have noticed that I’m using the phrase “regular readers” frequently these days, perhaps too frequently, but I have been writing this blog for seven years now, so a certain amount of repetition is bound to creep in now and then. Some of you may be aware that as a fan of the Survey of London I treasure some of the quirky phrases that the writers use  – “umbrageous Brompton” for example or “orthodox, restless, ornamental“. But my favourite is the title of this post, and it was applied to a building I go past twice every working day. Number 1, Kensington High Street. (Not to be confused with the upstart Number 1 Kensington Road, the insistently modern apartment building between  De Vere Gardens and Victoria Road,  which is a few doors down from our Number 1 – Kensington Court and other addresses separate them.)

 

 

You can see what they mean by pungently Burgundian. A certain medieval style, decorative. Like somebody’s idea of a French chateau, something we’ve seen before.

 

Designed by Alfred Williams in 1886 for the London County Bank, it was later used by the National Bank and later the National Westminster. In the 1980s it was a branch of the Leamimgton Spa building Society.

But in recent years it has been an Indian restaurant. At one point a few years ago someone who worked there came into Local Studies and asked me if it had ever been a church. The answer was no ,but how interesting to think that it could have been. Not a regular church I imagine. the Brethren of the Free Spirit perhaps, decorated inside with reproductions of scenes from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delight, the Sisters of Torment (also a plausible goth band from the 90s?) or the Starry Wisdom cult (branches in New England and elsewhere). But no, just a bank. This Burgundian style seemed to be a feature of late 19th century financial institutions. Look at this building society in Glasgow in the 1970s.

 

 

My home town, Chester, has plenty of these retro designs. such as the HSBC  in Eastgate Street.

 

 

 

(Chester also boasts a similarly Gothic branch of Barclays, next to the Cathedral.)

That early stretch of Kensington High Street has some of the oldest buildings in the street.

 

 

Kate Ker Banks (“robes”) at number 3, the Goat Tavern at 3A, and the Old Three Tuns at number 5.

Next to them a circulating library, an urban dairy and at 21 Foley the American dentist (even then, American dentistry was a thing – “teeth, complete set one guinea”)

 

 

 

And what The Gas and Coke Company, next to the Barkers building?

 

 

This striking urban castle goes almost unnoticed these days, with a branch of NatWest on the ground floor. But you can imagine some solitary activity going on in that tower, and if we’re thinking alternate worlds / steampunk. perhaps someone could have tethered their airship to the little tower while they clambered down into the castle for an assignation.

[Addendum: after one of the comments below I had a look at what the Survey said about this building and it delivered several new phrases for my collection: “shockingly striped and ornamented”, “bumptiously large shop windows” and “skittish passages of terracotta decoration”. Thank you, Teresa.]

 

Monkeys recommend

This year brought the final volume of Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, Europe at Dawn. In the picture below Florence and Cornelius have shepherded all four volumes together.

 

 

The series is a  mixture of espionage and science fiction. In a Balkanised Europe where small regions and cities have become sovereign states, a semi-secret organisation of couriers passes secrets and people via convoluted routes. There is also a parallel pocket universe with an alternative version of Europe. This is one of the most original science fiction settings in many years, say the monkeys. I think so too.

 


Christmas Days – up on the roof

This is the first in my regular series of short posts for Christmas. If all goes to plan, there will be three more this week and one on Christmas Eve. Usually, the subject matter is small and/or quirky. As it is today.

Inevitably I suppose I found these five pictures while looking for something else, and equally inevitably they related to a subject I’d already covered here only recently, the Council Depot in Warwick Road. (You always find new stuff after the post is published) So although they’re not particularly seasonal, they’ve ended up here.

They’re interesting for a number of reasons. The date is July 1957.  Mr D S Hooper and Miss W.M. Parfitt  (identified in formal mode on the back of one of thephotos) have made their way to the roof of number 161 Warwick Road to take a small set of pictures. quite why, I can’t say, except perhaps that it was a pleasant spot to be on a summer’s day.

Here, they look south.

 

 

The distant parts of Warwick Road look familiar, but at the cross roads with Cromwell Road everything has changed, even the width of the road. The current dual carriageway with traffic islands and lights is shown here as a perfectly ordinary street corner with a pub and a branch of Barclays.

 

 

The same two buses are shown moments before on the other side of the lights. A third one is about to turn right. The BEA logo is visible.

My transport correspondent tells me this: the buses are AEG Regal 4s in airport livery. You can see some more of them in this post about the West London Air Terminal (third picture).

 

 

 

The third picture shows us some chimney pots, all sitting on top of some fairly irregular brick chimneys. You can see a BOAC billboard, and of course the roof of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre

 

 

I imagine the two of them sitting on another dusty slate roof. Did they linger for a while, enjoying the comparative calm, chatting about the view, or were these pictures just a few momentary snaps? Did Mr Hooper or Miss Parfitt stand there impatiently while the other one took a few unnecessary pictures? This was the money shot.

 

 

 

Facing north with a clear view of the Warwick Cafe, the old piano factory, now owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and used as part of its Depot. The Warwick Arms is on the far left. Fancy a snack?

 

Monkeys recommend

This year’s special feature for Christmas are books which have enjoyed some popularity in the in the soft toy community. (I have helped with recommendations) Today’s book is chosen by Bill and Lucy (with the seal of approval from their friend Little Cthulhu).

 

 

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff is set in 1950s America where Atticus Turner returns from service in the War to find his father missing, possibly as a result of conducting research for the publication his uncle edits, the Safe Negro Travel Guide, which lists hotels and eating places where people of colour are welcome in 1950s America. (Ruff has based this on the Green Guide, a genuine book which did the same job) Atticus embarks on a perilous road trip where he has to cope with the dangerous racists in law enforcement along with eldritch horrors from dark dimensions, some of whom may be related to his own family. Various friends and relatives of Atticus are drawn into their own fantastic narratives. In the light of H P Lovecraft’s known prejudices, it present a new slant on supernatural horror.

For more Lovecraftian thrills listen to BBC radio’s adaptation of the Case of Charles Dexter Ward, availible on BBC Sounds. It takes the form of a true mystery podcast. It has some seriously creepy moments.

See you tomorrow.

 

 


Demolition: the fall of a town hall

In December 1983 I went down to Kensington High Street from North Kensington Library. It must have been one of those half days when I finished at one o’clock because it was around lunchtime. I saw from the bus that the former Kensington Town Hall had been partially breached by a wrecking ball and that the large hall in the centre of the building was now open to the elements. I was astounded. And, I admit, a little excited.

 

 

This is history now. Rumour had it that the GLC (remember them?) had been planning to list the building on a Monday, so to prevent this, demolition began the day before. Arguments followed, for and against. Some called it a desecration of a fine old building, some argued that it was financially necessary for the Council to maximize what it could make from the old building. Some said it was an architectural loss, others said that London has more than enough mediocre Victorian municipal buildings and wouldn’t miss this one. Although many years have passed the controversy has never completely been forgotten. But having noted the issues, I’m going to stick with the facts of the matter. And the pictures. Because although the building has gone, Council photographers, including our own John Rogers recorded it, and its passing. We have also been given photographs taken by members of the public. As regular readers will have realized, I like a bit of destruction. The poetry of devastation. So let me indulge myself.

 

I’ve been reading the Survey of London of course, and a handy little book published by English Heritage called London’s Town Halls, and it seems that nobody like the Town Hall that much. Its design had been reached by a “badly organised competition” from which “Gothic and Elizabethan styles were specifically excluded“. The architect, one Robert Walker (no relation as far as I know) went with (the Survey quoted Building News) “a commonplace Italian design“. (The term “Italianate” is often used pejoratively by architectural writers, as in the phrase “crude Italianate villas” applied by one writer to expensive houses in the Boltons in Old Brompton Road).  It was opened in 1880 and extended in 1898-99. It was large enough to be a serviceable town hall until the current building in Hornton Street was built. There is a post about its construction here.

 

 

This picture shows the rear extension from the garden in Church Walk.

The garden was formerly part of the church burial ground.

 

 

You can see St Mary Abbotts in the picture below.

 

 

But back to 1983. This is a view from a roof on the opposite side of the High Street, after the middle section was cleared of rubble.

 

 

The next pictures are a little earlier, immediately after the initial demolition work.

 

 

Jets of water to dampen down the dust in the air.

 

 

The view on the street after the boards went up.

 

 

And just before, a huge pile of debris.

 

Close up to the pile.

 

 

 

On the pavement, life goes on.

 

 

What was left of the building was actually left standing for a couple of years while it was being decided what to do next. The final demolition took place in 1984.

The great hall, partially cleared.

 

 

 

But before we leave this little detail from the side of the building intrigued me.

 

We’ll come back to the Town Hall again in the new year when we’ll have a look inside. Next week is the start of my usual series of short daily posts for the run up to Christmas

 

Postscript

A few hours after I published last week’s post news came through that Pete Shelley, founding member of Buzzcocks had died aged 63. As a 63-year old myself I am totally opposed to the deaths of men of that age. And as others have said, he took a bit of my life with him. Buzzcocks were one of the great punk bands and one of the first to make a record (the Spiral Scratch EP) by themselves, without any help from a record company. Shelley wrote and sang love songs with a sharp edge, catchy but uncompromisingly noisy. Sometimes at this point I quote a favourite lyric, but although Shelley wrote perfectly good pithy lyrics, what I remember most is the sound – the curious guitar on Ever fallen in love, and the powerful climax in the same song when guitar, drums and voice come together in a controlled explosion, the .  It’s perfectly appropriate that Buzzcocks recorded for United Artists who brought us records by Can (Shelley was, like me, a Can fan).

I had to explain to a couple of people who Pete Shelley was. What I said was imagine if Paul Weller died. Or John Lydon, Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry? Joe Strummer is already gone. Pete Shelley was in that league.


Horse locomotion: at the Hippodrome

Among the many William Luker illustrations to Loftie’s Kensington: Picturesque and Historical  is this one. At this size it just looks like a mound or hill with a small crowd of people and a few horses. But click on the image and look at it in a larger form.

 

 

This is the Hippodrome, and this is one of the few illustrations which gives a sense of the hill and what it must have been like to see it from ground level. (This is the hill on the summit of which St John’s Church now stands.)

Some of you will have heard of it before. Its story has been told before in many places, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with Kensington’s famous race course, today I’ll give you a brief version of the tale.

It’s gone now,of course, utterly vanished, but here is where it was:

 

 

This is the Davies map of London from 1841, the first to show the main rail lines into central London. The area north of Notting Hill Gate / Uxbridge Road is barely developed and you can see just south of the railway line the two farms Portobello Farm (just off Portobello Lane) and Notting Barn Farm.

 

 

Given the Hippodrome’s brief life span, we’re lucky it made it onto the map. Counter’s Creek flows freely to the west of the Hippodrome grounds and the area known as the Potteries nestles against them. Just the sort of area for setting up a sporting enterprise.The area was part of the Ladbroke Estate and in 1836 it was optimistically leased by a Mr John Whyte foe a period of 21 years.

 

 

On paper perhaps it looked like a decent proposition. Plenty of space – it was laid out for flat racing and steeple chasing, and the area was expanded to accommodate different distances. There was room for stabling horses and carriages and as you can see below it was fine for a young man to drive a young lady there in his new carriage and pair.

 

 

Room for plenty of enthusiastic spectators too.  Saying it was in Bayswater added a certain cachet to the name. So close to London you see. No need to go to Epsom.

 

There were one or two legal issues. A right of way went through the grounds, which the Vestry has ordered Whyte to keep open. This allowed an uncouth crowd of locals and other malcontents to gain free access. Eventually the course was altered so as not to obstruct the pathway.

On the plan below you can see that the entrance path stretched all the way to what is now Pembridge Road.

 

 

Barbara Denny, in her book on Notting Hill records that the path became known as Cut-Throat Lane because of the many instances of robbery committed along it.  (although we must remember that street robbery was not uncommon in the outer parts of London . The area known as the Five Fields in Knightsbridge was notorious for violent crime too.

We have a series of prints depicting the racing at the Hippodrome.

 

 

This shows the high fence that was erected around the ground, (to exclude, in the word of my constant companion the Survey of London “the rude and licentious populace” of the neighbourhood,) The smoking kiln in the background reminds us how close the Potteries area was.

 

 

Some chaotic jumping, and below a fallen horse.

 

 

Unfortunately the going was never too good because of the clay soil.

Below a rider is unseated at the Brook.

 

 

You will have noticed that the horses are depicted with all their legs outstretched in what is known as a “flying gallop”. This was a convention of horse pictures which can be seen in ancient pictures of horses in motion and in the work of the 18th century painter of horses and other animals, George Stubbs. Slow motion moving pictures were not available in the days of the Hippodrome, so while it’s easy for us to say things like “horses just don’t do that”, it wasn’t actually obvious to the naked eye.

The first person to prove otherwise was the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge who devised a method of taking a number of pictures in rapid succession which captured the actuality of horse locomotion.

 

 

Below is a jump.

 

 

His work also gave rise to an early form of motion pictures, the zoopraxiscope, which could project these images in rapid succession creating the illusion of movement. An early form of stop  motion filming. Kingston Museum has a special collection of Muybridge material including an actual zoopraxiscope.

Even Luker, who was certainly around when Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion was published keeps this convention up in this close up of his illustration. The crowd of spectators looks carefree. By Luker’s day the Hippodrome was a picturesque memory.

 

 

 

 

After 13 race meetings the Hippodrome was wound up. A new proprietor took over but the final race took place in June 1841. The developers moved in and Notting Hill as we know it today came into existence. But that memory of the Hipodrome remains as an example of how in early and mid -19th century times, Londoners had an urge for outdoor entertainments which only grew as the century progressed.


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