Category Archives: Kensington

Mr Railton returns

After a lengthy gap, we’re back with the artist and book illustrator Herbert Railton. I recently bought a copy of a book which combines three interesting characters: Railton, and blog favourite Hugh Thomson who both created illustrations for “Coaching days and coaching ways” (1893) by the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram. It was he who wrote the final book Railton worked on, the fascinating, “Moated houses”, which was featured in the first post about him. I’m sure I’ll come back to the Railton/Thomson team-up in a future post but first I want to look at Railton’s Kensington connection.

One of his other projects was an illustrated edition of Leigh Hunt’s “The Old Court Suburb” (1855 / 1902) a rambling historical account of Kensington. Railton did most of the topographical pictures in the book. The Library possesses many of his original sketches for this project.

I have to say at this stage that Railton’s delicate and almost impressionistic pictures can be hard to scan. It is often easier to use the published versions, which have firmer lines. In this post I’ll use some of each. I’m concentrating on one location, Holland Park and Holland House.

If you’ve never encountered Railton’s work before this is a quite characteristic piece. The house is solid and rendered in some detail but at the same time it’s a little vague, glimpsed through some kind of summer haze, the foliage blending into the architecture. The one below is actually called “A peep at Holland House”

The house is even more indistinct. The focus of the picture is the sculpture of an urn, like a funery urn at the edge of the hedge frame.

If you know the park you’ll recognize the summer ball room turret, but perhaps not the wild trees and hedges which threaten to overwhelm it.

In the context of Hunt’s book, Railton’s illustrations work well in contrast to those of the other two artists, Claude Shepperson and Edmund J Sullivan, who were given the task of doing pictures of people from Kensington’s past.

 

Chloe and Delia admiring the flowers.

A bit of courtly behaviour.

After which the ladies and gentlemen could go on to some picturesque spots in the grounds, such as the famous sundial.


(Some of the originals are on this coloured paper. I don’t think it’s any kind of age-related deterioration but it does add a pleasingly antique feel to the pictures).

Lord Camelford, memorialised with a Roman altar, perished in a duel conducted in the grounds. There is a view of the wild looking site of his death in the first post.

We can head back to the house via the Dutch Garden.

And see some more details

The Oriel front, and the Terrace.

Even when Holland House was a private house, the grounds had visitors who might not be guests of the family. After their tour they might stroll to a nearby tavern, like this conveniently located hostelry.

See how once again Railton brings the picture to a point with some birds, in this case some fairly free range chickens.

When he wrote the Old Court Suburb, Hunt was also not far away ftom the house.


Edwardes Square (The name is from the family name of the first Baron Kensington. The square was laid out in 1811.) is just down the road . Here is another view.

Two girls stroll along next to the garden railings. Railton could manage figures well enough but he was sparing in his use of them.

When the illustrated edition of Hunt’s book was published, tourists were an established part of London life.

Note the editor, our old friend Austin Dobson, the go-to guy for scholarly introductions in those days.

Railton’s fellow illustrator Mr Edmund J Sullivan put a lady visitor (dressed in the fashions of the 1850s) in a couple of his pictures  who doesn’t seem too happy.

Here she looks like she’d like to sit down if the sign permitted.

(Is she bracing her back with her right hand, completely ignoring the guide book in her left, and waiting for her companion to get on with it so they can get to the gift shop?)

And here she (or a similar lady) looks a little melancholy, perhaps remembering those she mourns herself.

These two pictures have intrigued me since I first looked at the book, so forgive me for letting Mr Sullivan squeeze a few pictures into Mr Railton’s post. I wish he’d been able to develop the theme as an interesting contrast with the  topographical pictures but Railton was the headline act on this bill.

Postscript

Posthumous apologies to Claude Shepperson I suppose for not including any of his pictures in the post. Unfortunately, they’re a bit dull. By contrast, I’d like to see more of Edmund Sullivan’s’ work.


The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens

My friend, colleague and occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez has been promising me a post for weeks but has been suffering from creative difficulties. To solve the problem she turned to a different topic and surprised me with this charming piece.

 

“Shall I tell you something about some of the little people who live in the Elfin Oak?”

 Something about childhood and summer days triggered my interest in the Elfin Oak recently. In looking for something the other day, I came across a little inconspicuous book by Elsie Innes called, The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens, which she wrote in 1930. The author is, of course, the wife of the artist Ivor Innes. The man who sculpted the animal and fairy figures of this well-known feature found by the Princess Diana children’s playground, near the Bayswater end of the Broad Walk. If you ever wondered about the story behind all those little figures, including their names, this is where she imaginatively gives them life. I had no idea this existed, but then I guess I always had my own inklings as a child as to who they are. I don’t say ‘were’ because thanks to two major restorations over the decades, these little figures are preserved and continue to delight children and adults alike. A little more about that later.

Before I show you some of the lovely illustrations from the book I thought I would give you a little background as to the origins of this marvelous park artifact. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the hollowed out oak log. To some it was a mystifying object, but not so out of place that it doesn’t almost compliment that other familiar feature, Peter Pan. It is said that Kensington Gardens is home to the fairy folk. And why not? London’s Parks have a history that goes way back before we inhabited them. Once upon a time this was all ancient woodland.

Below is an image taken in 1967. It is important to note that the Elfin Oak is not a native of Kensington Gardens. This ancient oak was originally brought from Richmond Park in response to an appeal to improve facilities in the Royal parks – the Lansbury Appeal. It was unveiled in 1930 by the Mayoress of Kensington, Mrs Robinson, as reported in the Kensington News.

Its age varies according to whatever source you’re reading. In researching this I came across several different estimates: from 100 years to 1000 years. Many fanciful journalists I would imagine, in some reports, just made it up. Yet perhaps nobody really has a definitive answer. If I had to bet on the age (I did always wonder), I think perhaps it is between 400-600 years of age, but I’m no expert. That’s my fanciful notion. Trees are wonderfully long-lived and oaks have been venerated throughout history as being strong and durable. Another interesting tree fact about Kensington Gardens is that few old oaks remaining in the park are pre-1850. Many of the oaks you see today were planted since.

 

 

Below, taken a little earlier (1966), the half-tree trunk looks a little worse for wear, but in actuality this was probably post restoration which was undertaken by the late comedian, Spike Milligan. He is largely responsible for the campaign to keep the Elfin Oak preserved on two occasions. In the early 1960’s he was so shocked by the deteriorating condition of the tree that he undertook the repairs and restoration of the oak stump and its little figures at his own expense. Later in the 1990’s he led a campaign to raise money to restore it again and succeeded:

“We spent two years restoring the tree. That was 30 years ago. Alas it got into a sorry state again and needed attention to ensure its permanent survival.” After thanking his various contributors, he adds, “So there is now hope for the wee folk of England.”

Note the huge slide in the background. Something of a health & safety nightmare these days, but I do recall a few bumps and bruises after playground visits occasionally.

 

 

The black and white photographs do not do the sculpted figures justice as their colour is obviously muted, but the gnarled knots and twists within the oak itself probably look more contoured in black and white.

 

 

The tree is comprised of fantastical creatures: gnomes, elves, witches and animals of the forest. They all have a story. The plaque by the tree reads:

“Originally carved in 1911 and maintained for over 40 years by sculptor Ivor Innes.” He carved out his creations by chipping and scraping the distortions of growth and grain. And yet there came a point eventually in the years afterwards when the little figures began to look a little shabby and neglected. The oak log itself was reconditioned to stave off the onslaught of insects feeding off the dead wood. It was given a coating of creosote, a kind of wood tar, its branches were covered with lead and blackened, and the base of the tree was given a concrete floor. But the sculpted figures were also in desperate need of attention. Every few years they were painted, but the ravages of time took their toll.

 

 

If you’re wondering why the Elfin Oak is in a cage it is probably partly because soon after renovations took place in 1966, it was discovered that the fairy king had gone missing. A little bell which Spike Milligan had found in the ruins of Knightsbridge barracks and included, had gone too. Either a theft had taken place or the fairy king decided he needed to go and attend to affairs elsewhere with a bell, and gone gallivanting. The cage in actuality is a protective addition.

 

 

In colour the tree stump and figures look a lot more cheerful. Also this was post renovation. A huge difference to what it looked like before it was lovingly restored.

 

 

So who are these little figures? The illustrations below are all the work of Ivor Innes. His talent was not confined to sculpture. As you will see below, he really did have a flair for illustration too. I really think they are rather charming and I will now let Elsie tell you who they are in her own quaint, inimitable way…

“High up in the tree is a little old witch. She is Wookey. She has three large jars of magic potion – one red – one yellow – and one blue. The red brings health, the yellow wealth, and the blue happiness.”

 

 

“And everyone wants some of the most precious potion of all, from the blue jar, for that brings great happiness, such as love, sunny hours, merry thoughts, and sweet memories”

 

“Down in a hollow in the old tree trunk lives a little grey woman, Mother Cinders.”

 

 

“Nearby is the Gnomes’ Stairway, going up the steep side of the old trunk. At the top under the arch is Huckleberry, a strong little fellow, carrying a heavy sack of fresh berries for the feast of the king of the gnomes. And halfway up the steps is Nimble Toes climbing over an awkward knobbly ledge. Just below him, Russet is resting his sack of acorn flour. And lower down still, just beginning to climb, is the Dew Carrier, with his little pail strapped to his back.”

 

 

“It is usually very, very difficult to see fairies and they do not often show themselves to prying eyes. A dainty wee fairy is on a ledge of the old oak tree. She is Harebell.”

 

 

“Here is Dandy-Puff, a little imp dressed in yellow; Pointed Ear, an elf in green, clinging under the ledge; Hideaway, in the shade below; and Snuggles, a pixy peeping out from the corner edge. The Little People call all this part of the tree Sunny Corner.”

 

“On an outstanding branch of the oak the Green Woodpecker has pecked at the hard wood with his strong beak.”

 

 

Sly Fox is curled up close beside a rabbit hole, fast asleep, but the fat little bunnies are afraid to venture out.”

 

 

“Up at the very top of the tree a raid on the Crow’s nest has been going on. The pixies have just succeeded in getting an egg. On Midsummer Day the fairies hold a special Revelry. You hear them in the rippling brooks; you feel them in the passing breeze; and you see them in the moonlight when night brings the full moon, and they dance and sway in fairy rings to ravishing elfin music, or they frolic and gambol and float in misty wreaths on the hillsides.”

 

 

“Hidden away in the roots of the tree, you may discover the Leprechauns’ Crock of Gold, near where two little mice are scampering about. Do not touch the fairy gold, or try to steal it, for it will only turn to dead leaves if you do, and luck will always be against you.”

“The Brown Owl looks out from his favourite nook. He is the colour of the tree itself that he is at first difficult to notice. He and the White Barn Owl above him always share in the night revelry of the Little People, swooping and flitting silently round the tree whilst the feasting is in progress.”

 

 

“Between these two wise owls there is a little man poring over a very large book. He is Quips, and he keeps the records, and writes the Fairy Lore. Every wise saying and doing of the elfin folk is recorded by Quips. So now you know how Fairy Tales come to be written.”

 

“There is one more creature who has made a home for himself in the Elfin Oak. He is the Wild Brown Rabbit, friend of all the fairy folk; his long ears are quick to hear the slightest sound, and if danger approaches the stamp, stamp of his strong hind foot is heard on the ground, the warning signal for all the little people to get into hiding.”

 

“It is at night after the playground has closed that the feasts are prepared; the fairies dance, and the pipers play, and the owls wake up, and all the little elves and brownies, gnomes and pixies, leave their hiding-holes and play and dance in the moonlight round the Old Elfin Oak.”

Should you happen to take a stroll through Kensington Gardens at any point with a little time to spare, go and take a look at the Elfin Oak. It has been a few years since I visited Ivor Innes’ whimsical creation, but I’m pleased to say that my enthusiasm for the old tree has not dissipated with age. In fact, part of me still clings to that imaginative lore of old. However you fashion myths and fairy tales, there is always a way to tell the story. The Elfin Oak is simply an interpretation of somebody’s vision of a fairy tale. It may appear a little dated now, but it remains unique, and like Peter Pan, it will never really grow old with new generations always discovering it for the first time.

 

Postscript by DW

Isabel has done me a favour by having this week’s post ready to go. The fact that the subject has no connection with the terrible events of last week is fortunate. Last week I felt it was inappropriate to post anything in the face of the massive trauma suffered by the people of North Kensington. But is it any better to carry on after a respectful silence? Remember, I work for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea so it’s also inappropriate for me to enter into any controversy. So let me just say this.

It is clear that the Grenfell Tower fire is a major event in the history of this borough which will not be forgotten by anyone who lives or works in this area or in the rest of London.

The day after the fire we were asked by a newspaper for a picture of the tower. We couldn’t find one initially. There are always things you can’t find and the Lancaster West Estate doesn’t seem to have been photographed very much by us. But I did finally think of somewhere we hadn’t looked and found a couple of images from 1983, probably taken by someone in the planning department. Here is one of them with Grenfell Tower in the centre, with (left to right) Frinstead, Markland, Dixon and Whitstable

Any image of the old tower now looks poignant.

This is usually a quiet time of year for the blog. People have other things to do in the summer. But since last Wednesday page views have shot up and North Kensington topics are the most popular. I hope readers are finding something positive in these snapshots of history. So we’re going to continue posting. As it happens I was intending to do a post on the artist Herbert Railton, followed by a series of posts based on a recent donation, a collection of photographs of Chelsea, which will fascinate those of you who are interested in the area. But that doesn’t mean I or my team are ignoring the north of the borough or trying to forget. That could never happen. I have lived and worked in the borough for more more than thirty years. Isabel lived in North Paddington for a similar period. For both of us this part of London is our home.

 


Hidden water – subterranean reservoirs

This post is a kind of addendum to one I did a few years ago about the old water works in Campden Hill Road and the demolition of its water tower. I was taken with the way our photographer John Rogers had documented the slow dismantling of the brick tower with a pair of water pipes embedded within it.  I hadn’t  seen those pictures before I wrote the post and although they sit in the same filing cabinet I hadn’t seen these pictures either until a week ago.

This picture, which I used in the first post shows the tower and the main building. More importantly for us it also shows the grass area in front of the works.

Demolition of the tower took place in 1970. After they finished with that, the demolition team turned to the water reservoir which had been under the grass since the late 1850s and was suddenly revealed.

You can see that the grass grew in a thin layer of soil supported by pillars, above a space which could be filled with water.

The structure looks remarkably flimsy for something which existed for just over a hundred years.

At any rate, it was soon cleared.

You can still see traces of water as the debris is cleared away.

A few shallow pools of water remain. In this picture you can see details of the brickwork.

Here is a wider view of the site.

As with the tower, the perimeter wall was breached so that rubble could be removed.

The original works and the reservoir were built in the later 1850s. The Company acquired more land to the west and built a second reservoir adjacent to the first in 1886-89. The land above the underground chamber became a set of tennis courts stretching as far as the grounds of Aubrey House. Unlike its brother, this reservoir was not demolished in 1970, as demonstrated by this photograph from 1994.

It looks like a slightly more solid design.

At this point in the research stage one of my volunteers went downstairs and returned with some planning photos from 1998 showing the area above ground.

Thames Water still in occupation. Behind the fence you can see Aubrey Walk and St George’s Church.

The tennis courts.

A closer look at the perimeter of the site showing some evidence of what lies beneath.

 

Along with a few loose pipes.

 

And this distinctive object.

The courts were much used in their day. (Although not much on this particular day.)

But after these pictures were taken about half the site, and the remaining works buildings were redeveloped for housing.

There are still some courts there, accessible via a narrow set of steps from Aubrey Walk. And the reservoir? Well I don’t know. It would be interesting if a brick vault covering a shallow underground pond was still there, dark and silent.

Postscript

Thanks to Isabel, and Barbara for finding most of these pictures. If anyone can add more detail to the story, I’d be very grateful for further information.


Forgotten buildings: the lock house

We’re back to the same place we started last week, near the junction of West Cromwell Road and Warwick Road in the company of Bernard  Selwyn, urban explorer.

This picture shows the east side of Warwick Road, looking north. You can see a large building known now simply as the Council Offices, Pembroke Road. There are residential floors on top of it with walkways leading to entrances in an adjacent building, an unusual arrangement I haven’t seen anywhere else. When I first worked for the Council it was simply called the Depot.

You can’t see the west side of the road but many of you will know that what is there now is a Tesco superstore, surmounted by a car park. From the car park there is still a good view of the railway track we looked at last week.

 

On the other side is a large building which was formerly a repository for Whiteley’s, the Bayswater department store. It now forms part of a development called Kensington Village.On the eastern side of the picture was a wide, relatively open space.

Now you will recall I mentioned the Kensington Canal last week. Originated by Lord Kensington and Sir John Scott Lillie (of Road fame) and opened in 1828 this was a comparatively short lived venture intended to link Kensington with the Thames, following the course of an existing waterway called Counter’s Creek which rises near Kensal Green Cemetery and flows south, under several names (including Billingswell Ditch as which it featured in a post about Brompton ), ending up at the river under the name Chelsea Creek. On Starling’s 1822 map of Kensington Parish the stream is called a “common sewer”.

The canal would follow the course of the creek north to a basin just short of the “Great Western Road” (the road from Hyde Park Corner to Hammersmith which Kensington High Street is part of), the ultimate plan being to join up with the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington. This was happening in the 1830s when railways were also on the rise, somewhat complicating matters.  The story is told in an excellent book called London’s Waterways by Martyn Denney (1977) but to cut this account short the canal suffered throughout its existence from silting up and the most profitable section was the part running up from the river to the King’s Road. There don’t seem to have been many views of the canal. The artist William Cowen painted a water colour, showing the walled garden that was Brompton Cemetery in the background.

 

 

The banks look like they’re already suffering. The canal was tidal so was only navigable for part of the time. It ended up in the hands of the West London Extension Railway Company who began filling in the upper section of the canal in the 1860s. This detail from a plan of 1854 shows the basin at the end of the canal.

 

And this  detail from an 1848 map shows the basin, with its various wharves, in relation to nearby streets.

 

 

 

The railway, which still goes under the King’s Road ran alongside the remainder of the canal and crosses the river near Chelsea Harbour. You can see the remains of the canal in 1972 in this post about Lots Road, and this one.

Mr Denney tells us that at the time he was writing, the “site of the canal basin” was behind “a pair of high wooden gates that open onto a patch of waste ground..opposite Pembroke Gardens“. He speculates that some of the old buildings in the railway goods depot could date back to the old wharves. What was definite though was the continuing existence of the old lock house and board room. Back in 1983 this was Selwyn’s quarry.

Where is it?

 

It’s there

 

 

A lock keeper’s cottage and what was called the board room where meetings were held and the records of the company kept. If you can stand one more map, this is from about 1968.

 

 

You can see that at one point the board room had been taken over by the Kensington Rifle Club who used it for shooting practice I suppose.

 

 

You can see that by 1983 it was located in the centre of some waste land which was being used as a car park.

 

The building itself is looking dilapidated and the area around it overgrown.

 

 

Fair game for the questing camera of Bernard Selwyn. Canals and the remnants of them were just one of his interests.

 

 

 

But we have to thank him for his diligence. Below the level of a major road he had found his way to a small piece of transport history.

 

 

He slipped back there in 1990 to take a colour picture.

 

 

The building looks worse than before.

The Tesco Superstore was built in 1998, and the lock house became a forgotten building. But Selwyn and others transport aficionados preserved its memory.

Postscript

Friend of the blog Roger Morgan gave the game away last week. But perhaps he just whetted your appetite. The old lock house was familiar to many people while it still stood. I’m sorry I never took a detour to look at it when I was visiting the Depot (for training courses, particularly the ones where the trainer started a fire in the garage and you had to put it out with the correct colour coded extinguisher) in pre-Tesco times. For those who do remember I hope Selwyn’s pictures bring it all back.

 

 

 


On the border 4: roads, railways and the ghost of a canal, 1983

After a bit of a hiatus we’re returning to the photographs of itinerant surveyor Bernard Selwyn and this time we’re following him on a walk around the rail tracks which partly follow the course of the old Kensington Canal, which at one time ran down the western side of Kensington and Chelsea and ended up at Chelsea Creek, (where you can still see some water). Selwyn was particular interested it seems in the rail line which runs past the station at Olympia (see some of the pictures in this post), alongside Warwick Road and south under West Cromwell Road.

An uncharacteristically quiet view of West Cromwell Road as it rises away from the junction with Warwick Road and curves towards Hammersmith.

Up the hill, with a closer look at those signs.

 

Below, the railway tracks. A man manages a quiet stroll along a major road on the 30th May 1983. (All these pictures were taken in April or May of that year.). The rail track running below the bridge is part of the West London Extention Railway which was built on the filled-in canal.

 

 

That office block ahead is called Ashfield House. Selwyn took a great interest in it.

As you get closer to it you can see it is separated from the main road by more rail tracks, which run by the rear of the building.

 

 

The tracks can barely be seen by motorists.

 

 

In the distance you can see the roof of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, a massive presence on the skyline in west London. Oddly you don’t always see it from ground level as this picture showing the other side of Ashfield House demonstrates.

 

Selwyn examined the building from several angles.

Looking west, with an approaching tube train.

 

And east, with the same train passing him.

 

This is part of the District Line heading towards Earls Court. You see ahead of the train the tangle of tracks, bridges, a gantry and railway buildings as these tracks move alongside the north-south route.

 

 

Here, Selwyn changes his vantage point, looking south west. You can see the cluster of rail-related huts and small buildings.

 

 

He then, for some obscure purpose, took a look directly below him.

 

 

It doesn’t tell us a lot but it shows the level of his interest. Remember, in the day before digital photography you had to set up the shot, take the picture and wait for the result. The amateur photographer would have to hope for the best. That may be why Selwyn took so many pictures. Or he might just have been a little obsessive, for which we can be grateful, thirty years or so later. London wasn’t quite so tidy in the 80s, and there were still plenty of spaces in the city to capture the attention of urban wanderers whose interest lay in industrial locations and the hidden parts of the city.

 

 

This picture shows underground tracks meeting the main line which is just beyond a small fence. On the left you can see the rear of St Cuthbert’s Church (the roof and spire are a little hard to make out in this picture ). On the right of the picture is that other prominent landmark of west London, the distinctive but somehow obscure Empress State Building. You can see the church spire clearer in the view below, looking straight down the line showing the wide space between the tracks and the various buildings at the rear of Philbeach Gardens. More of the canal next week but it was in some sections pretty wide.

 

 

Just beyond the track is a road which runs behind the church. If you look back at the post about the church you will find a 19th century picture of the church hall. Here it is in Selwyn’s time.

 

 

Now back to his view from the bridge. Or was he closer? Had he found his way to a better vantage point using his skills as a surveyor and/or an urban explorer?

 

This post has really been a prelude to next week’s, which also continues a series. When I scan pictures for a possible use on the blog I don’t always know at the start of the process what stories are going to emerge from the images. Maybe Selwyn worked the same way.

Postscript

This post moved back and forth across the border with Hammersmith and Fulham, an interzone which was one of Selwyn’s favourite haunts. He moved from the very north of Kensington to the river edge of Chelsea as we have seen in several posts. Next week’s post is almost entirely inside the boundary of Kensington and Chelsea. So here is a Hammersmith bonus for you.

 

Where West Cromwell Road met North End Road was this pub, called the Three Kings, next to West Kensington tube station. It’s now called the Famous 3 Kings but for a short period from 1975-1980 it was the Nashville Room (or Rooms?), a music venue, and that is what I thought when I saw the picture. A few of you may have seen some famous bands there. On an obscure personal note I was once told that a doppelganger of mine sold newspapers and magazines at a stall in the station. I never went there to find out.


The secret life of postcards 6

As this is the sixth outing for this series of posts let’s start with something different.

This is another aspect of the secret life of postcards – the writing on the back. JH (?) is sending the 1906 version of an instant message. With two deliveries a day in some places it could be fairly close to instant. “Monday’s coming too fast for me now. Had a ripping time this year. Plenty to see. Very hot here today.”

Quicker by telegraph of course but you probably wouldn’t use a telegram for such an inconsequential message. And you wouldn’t get the picture along with it.

A coloured version of a photo of St Luke’s Church in Sydney Street. More from JH later.

One of my great pleasures with picture postcards is the details, where you might see a lively street scene, the early numbers of Kensington High Street with an unexpected close up of a thoughtful young man.

You can see another view of two of the same buildings below, the London and County Bank (“pungently Burgundian” according to the Survey of London, one of my favourites of their pithy descriptions – I was once asked if it had ever been a church. Built as a bank I’m afraid, but you can’t help speculating about a little know Cathar sect which somehow made it to London and was the scene of some sinister events..well I can’t anyway once the suggestion arises)

Next to the bank was Madame Kate Ker-Lane’s  court dress emporium.

You can see the ornate lettering  better in close up.

 

And is that Madame Kate at the window on the left? The presence of the two policemen indicates that some event was happening that day and a procession might be about to pass by.

Off the high street, a little way up Campden Hill a more ordinary scene. Campden Hill Court, on Holland Street. Flats are available…

 

 

A flower cart, a woman pushing a pram and a lamp post. The photo crops down into a nice composition.

 

 

Close by is Airlie Gardens. Looking up at the glassed in room above the porch (a conservatory?) you would like to see another figure looking down at the photographer.

 

 

There is the hint of someone or something at that window but you can’t really be sure. It could just be some kind of ornament.

 

 

But that pile of cases must have a story to tell. Someone moving in? Or out? Or off on a trip?

For the start of a journey you might go down to the station, the entrance to the arcade just where it is today.

Plenty of travellers on their way in or out, or pausing at the entrance.

 

Here are some local travellers in Church Street, taking the bus.

 

A crowded upper deck.

 

 

If all the modes of transport were crowded with people, you could stroll to Kensington Gardens.

 

 

A trio of friends taking a leisurely walk near the fountains.

 

 

As well as zooming in on postcards you can also zoom out.

Below, a woman strides out on a quiet street, a typical day in Kensington.

 

 

Look at the wider picture though and you can see she is in Philbeach Gardens. The metal spire of St Cuthbert’s Church rises above the houses, and a section of the Great Wheel at the Earls Court Exhibition.

 

 

While we’re in that neck of the woods what about this unlikely view in the Cromwell Road area?

 

 

A motley group of people stand in the middle of an apparently deserted road. On the back of the card a message for a younger relative of the sender.

 

Master Paddie Law, of Oswestry gets the distressing news that HM(WM?) has been digging in his garden

Shall we get back to our friend JH?

Here is another of those coloured postcards he favoured, showing the statue of Carlyle in the gardens by the embankment on Cheyne Walk, with a curious young boy looking at the photographer.

 

What did JH have to say?

 

 

“Having a fine time. Better than doing sheets(?) all over London every day. Just what Richardson would like over at Putney seeing the crews practice”. For the University Boat Race I assume. A pleasant way to spend an afternoon in suburban London, at the end of which you can send a postcard to Mr Joyce in Brighton.

I can’t remember the last time I sent a postcard, although I can recall the pleasure of receiving some inconsequential words from a friend. No need to overdo the comparison but this was definitely a form of Edwardian social media.

Postscript

The point of this series is the details found in the pictures themselves, but if it is possible to see the message on the back (some of the postcards are glued down unfortunately) it’s always worth having a look.

 


Goodbye Ball Street: behind Barker’s

At its height the John Barker Company owned all three of Kensington High Street’s great department stores: Barkers itself, Derry and Toms and Pontings and a few other buildings in the area. Two of the store buildings remain as reminders of the great era of department store shopping: the Barker’s building itself, home of Whole Foods, Gap and of course Northcliffe House and the Derry and Toms building, home of M&S and H&M, still surmounted by the Roof Garden. (I won’t attempt to say exactly when that era was, pick your favourite: the 30s, the 50s, the 60s?).

Today’s post takes us back to the 1920s and 1930s to the period before and during the construction of the current Barker’s and Derry and Toms buildings and uses an album of photographs given to the Council by the Company. The whole story of the construction is a long one. You can find a good account of it in the Survey of London which I will not try to compete with. But to summarize: the Company had to acquire all the land it needed and close at least one street for building purposes. The process of the construction of the new Barker’s  was interrupted by the building of the new Derry and Toms (1929-1931) which took over the attention of the Company, and later the Second World War during which operations were suspended  so the Barkers building wasn’t completed until 1958.

You’ll need a plan to grasp this, but first a picture taken from the corner of Ball Street in October 1924.

 

This shows Young Street looking north west. The house in the foreground is Thackeray’s house. Next to it is Kensington Square Mansions,  the first buildings to be demolished to make way for the new Barkers.

And now the plan:

Carefully colour-coded, as you can see, to show the all the Company’s properties, the three stores, and Ball Street. Young Street has retained its name but King Street is now called Derry Street for obvious reasons.

[It’s well past lunch time so I’m pausing now to get a sandwich and take a quick field trip to the site.] [Back – interesting to see the rear of the two buildings.]

This is also Young Street.

In the centre is the Post Office sorting office, and beside it the entrance to the Bakery and Cooked Meats Kitchens.

This picture shows Ball Street on January 11th 1928, the day the hoarding to close Ball Street was erected.

If we turn north on that same day…

The rear of Ball Street with the ghostly spire of St Mary Abbots Church rising in the distance.

The point of view shifts east in this picture.

This was the first section of the new premises. On the left you can see a temporary bridge over Ball Street.

This is the east side of King Street showing a Derry and Toms building and a door to the old fire station.

The hoarding on the left shows the location of Ball Street.

This is a view of the rear of the west side of King Street with part of Burden Mews (look back at the plan).

Demolition is in progress.

I’ve included this picture of the corner of Burden Mews purely for the convertible. Motoring experts will soon identify it I’m sure.

This is Derry’s Yard, a narrow mews on the west side of Derry and Toms well out of the public eye, with a rough bridge connecting two buildings.

March 1928

More demolition in Burden Mews with a couple of figures in the background exchanging a few words about the work in progress.

Here another group lurk in a doorway perhaps avoiding the camera.

Can you spot another solitary figure below?

A man in a white coat on the first floor.

Back to Ball Street now.

It’s filled with the “covered way”, a temporary structure (man on the roof) and a clearer view of the bridge connecting the old and new buildings.

This is the way it looked from the other direction in October 1929.

The men on the scaffolding are actually posing for this one. The group on the ground are standing by the temporary staff entrance.

Finally, an image from nearly a decade later in July 1938.

This is on the east side of Kensington Square. The Staff Cafeteria is in the centre and the entrance to Lower Yard, where there was a Wine Cellar, a Bonded Cellar and a charging station for electric vehicles. (Ahead of its time?)

The construction of the Barkers building seems to have been a bit of a struggle but even though the stores that were their original purpose are gone, both it and the Derry and Toms building remain as are 20th century classics which have in their way influenced the whole of Kensington High Street.

 

Postscript

I wanted something to break up a flurry of posts about book illustration so the Trevor Bowen Estate came to the rescue again.


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