Category Archives: Kensington

At last the 1936 show: Barkers of Kensington

We’re moving west along Kensington High Street and we’ve now reached the Barkers building, opposite the point where the High Street intersects with Kensington Church Street. We’ll pause here this week because the Barkers building is Kensington High Street’s signature building, which has been a central part of the look of the street for more than 80 years. Its curved frontage is like the prow of a ship, a luxury ocean liner of shopping.

 

 

Barkers is the first of the three department stores of Kensington. Along with Derry and Toms, and Pontings it was the focus of serious shopping in Kensington during the heyday of the big stores. The fact that it is now occupied by a number of different retailers and offices doesn’t distract from the grandeur of the building.

But this building was not the first Barkers store. John Barker came to London in the 1850s and worked at the Bayswater store, Whiteley’s. He leased the first of his Kensington properties in 1870, and began the slow process of colonizing the block between Young Street and Derry Street, and the streets behind (see this post about the streets at the rear of Barker’s) The first substantial Barker’s building can be seen in this from the west in a photo by the Stiles brothers.

 

 

 

You can just make out the letters of the name in the distance.

Here’s a closer look.

 

 

 

The expansion was dealt a severe blow in November 1912 when a fire gutted the east end of the main block.

 

 

In those days it was common for big stores to provide living accommodating for their staff either on site or nearby. Barkers had been acquiring property in Kensington Square for various purpose including living space for their staff. but there were still 20 people living on the fifth floor. Five waitresses died after jumping prematurely from high windows.

For a while the store traded from a site they had leased across the road

 

 

This would be where the Ladymere building would be built. You can see the side of the Royal Palace Hotel on the right.

The fire damage was repaired and the work of being a huge shopping emporium carried on.

 

 

Groceries for everyday use.

Special occasions

 

 

And fashion

 

 

The “display hall”, 1930. Women’s fashion was a big priority for Barker’s as demonstrated by two scans from the catalogue of 1935, the 65th year of business.

 

 

 

Plans for a new building began from the 1920s. The directors took inspiration from Selfridges and from visits to the USA. One of the chief directors, Trevor Bowen went there in 1919 and was particularly impressed by the Marshall Field’s store in Chicago. There were delays along the way. Barker’s merged with Derry and Toms in 1920 and their building was the first to be replaced with a modern version. (Bowen would have been particularly occupied by the roof garden, which was his brainchild and arguably remains as his most interesting legacy.) Plans for the new Barkers start in 1933 and building work started in 1936. It was an even more ambitious project than the rebuiling of Derry and Toms, with the two dramatic staircase towers which add to the impression that the building is about to start moving forwards. Work was intended to finish in 1942,  but was stopped during the War. Post war changes in planning law and building regulations also had a delaying effect so work carried on into the 1950s.

 

 

This 1951  picture shows that the last section of the frontage was not yet complete. It shows how the shape we know now was the result of another road widening. Note the huge sign warning about the bottleneck (still a feature of this section of the street). If you look in the centre distance you can see a big sign over the Slater’s store. Have a look at that here.

The building was finished in 1957 by which time the House of Fraser had taken over the company

This picture shows the finished building and how well it matches Derry and Toms.

 

 

Lowly Pontings (“the store for value”) limped on in a less  impressive building but was the the first part of this retail empre to go. (See one of my early posts here). I think you could say that in the 1960s, the zenith of department store shopping had not yet passed so Barker’s glided on into my teenage and adult life. Derry and Toms morphed into Biba and later Marks and Spencer and Gap In the 1980s and 90s but the Barkers building remained as the biggest thing in the High Street.

 

 

 

This picture looks west in a similar way to the first photo in the post.

 

 

 

While preparing this post it was inevitable that I would zoom in on this view.

 

 

Along with the lady’s nice coat (a winter picture, confirmed by those Chritmas trees), you can see a green bus.

Although you can’t make out much detail, Matthew soon found a picture of that actual vehicle using the strange powers of the enthusiast.

 

 

From the same date, the west entrance, with a toy display.

 

 

And the banner: Barkers of Kensington.

Below, a handy set of images showing some of the interior shops after this part of the building became a kind of small shopping mall. Barkers Arcade was a name I found a couple of times.

 

 

 

(Was there actually a branch of Hatchards there, or has the photographer inserted some shops for demonstrating what was possible?)

Despite changes in use and the decline of department store shopping the iconic building remains almost as it was originally envisaged, seen below in an architect’s drawing of a slightly wider high street in a slightly grander London.

 

 

 

Postscript

I haven’t done an obituary lately so this week let’s pay tribute to Roky Erickson, psychedelic pioneer with the exotically named Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Do you remember any of the other equally hallucinogenic names from Lenny Kaye’s compilation album Nuggets? (The Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Electric Prunes, the Nazz? And many others) Roky unfortunately was a victim of excessive drug taking and spent some years in mental hospitals. But he came back and recorded more general weirdness in later life. I had a couple of singles by him in the 1980s, my personal favourite, Bermuda but not forgetting Two Headed Dog, which features another couplet I love: “Two headed dog, two headed dog / I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog.” I almost never use the word gonzo but that song deserves it.

Roger Kynard Erickson (did you see what he did there?) 1947-2019. Thank you. We are going to miss you.

 

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Another post about shops and restaurants

This week’s post doesn’t travel far from the previous one. Just across the road in fact, to the north side of Kensington High Street.

 

 

We’re looking back westwards at the first version of the Royal Garden Hotel. It won’t be the last we see of it on the blog so concentrate instead on the large retail space visible on the left on the ground floor of the Crown building – Hyper Hyper, with its distinctive caryatids. These (along with some plaster columns) belonged to its previous incarnation as the Antiques Hypermarket, a kind of permanent antiques fair, organised into small stalls which either sold proper antiques or just bric-a-brac depending on who you ask. The Hyper Hyper incarnation leaned closed to fashion.

 

 

The Antiques Hypermarket started in the 1960s, as did its fashion orientated cousin across the street.

 

 

 

Kensington Market dated from 1967, as did this handbill.

 

Being both “with it” and “way out”, it became popular, even beloved, through the 1970s and 1980s selling a wide variety of fashion and semi-related goods, but closed quite suddenly in 1999, when the owners sold up. The distinctive facade has gone now, one of the few to be completely replaced on the south side. Curry’s/PC World are in there now. I doubt if they have “good place to shelter from the rain” as one of their  major selling points.

I imagine some of you have some reminiscences of the Market….? No extra points for mentioning Freddie Mercury though.

I have to stay on the south side though, to show you the shop next door.

 

 

Another distinctive shop front, and a name taken from a much grander retail centre, far, far away. (Though still accessible for the casual viewer via Google Maps and other websites. I just took a brief turn down that surprisingly narrow thoroughfare.)

 

 

Looking back at Kensington Court you see a branch of Slick Willie’s and Persepolis, an Iranian restaurant. The blurred car in the foreground is a Rover 3500, which I think I have mentioned before, much loved by the Metropolitan Police. We’ll see another one of those in a minute.

Next to the Crown building on the other side of Old Court Place, once a fairly downmarket street, is the Old Court Building.

 

 

At this point it was home to Woolworth’s and a fashion shop called Che Guevara, among others. Although the iconic image of Che has lasted from the 1970s to the present day (I had a t-shirt),  I’m not sure you could name a shop after him these days.

 

 

The Old Court building occupied a whole corner.

This is the view from behind, showing a doorway with the Winfield brand logo used by Woolworths for their own goods, above a rear entrance. This back street leads to Kensington Church Street, past the now demolished Lancer Square.

 

 

(For those who are interested, Lancer Square circa 2012 can still be seen on Google Street View.)

I mention this rear entrance because it shows that the Woolworths company occupied a large space which perhaps resulted in some confusion later. I must warn you we’re about to go off on a tangent. Does anyone remember a restaurant called Grunts?

 

 

According to the writing on some of these pictures, Grunts, a specialist in Chicago style pizzas, seemed to be part of Woolworths.

 

 

So far so good but..

Although this is the Grunts exterior, and here by coincidence is another Rover 3500, a close look at this street makes you realize that it’s nowhere near Kensington High Street.

 


 

Some eagle-eyed work on Google Maps by my son Matthew (transport correspondent and technical adviser), who had nothing better to do at the time, indicated that this is in fact an unrelated street near Covent Garden, Maiden Lane. The church tower belongs to Corpus Christie Roman Catholic Church. The white building in the background is called Tower House.

Was there ever a Grunts in Kensington? I’d certainly like to know.

Back on the real High Street, we go back to 1978.

 

 

James Walker (no relation), jewelry and the beautifully named Superama. (A fashion arcade, according to Kelly’s)

Below in 1996, the Woolworths unit has been split up into smaller shops.

 


 

Compare the two pictures and you can see the ornamental frieze above the shops.

This area, near the bottom of Old Church Street saw a number of  changes in the 1980s and 1990s.

 

Virgin Records, on its way out in this picture from 1981. Nice boots, Madam.

Now I think the correct history of this section of just three storefronts after Virgin has Video Palace, an early video sale and rental outlet with connections to the Virgin empire, in this location. I went in there many times.

 

 

You may have to take my word for it but you can just about make out the words Video Palace near the front of that coach.

That’s a 49 Routemaster, by the way,(an RM not an RML in case you were wondering) going to Tooting Bec Station sometime between 1972 and 1987 (when one-man operation came in).

The Palace was followed by a J-Mart,as you can see below and then Tower Records, in 1984. This store predated the one in Piccadilly. (I think I can barely recall a little excitement at the time, although Tower turned out to be just a big record shop). They had their moment in London.

Opening soon, according to the notice in this picture.

 

 

Then with a separate Video store, still selling a few VHS tapes perhaps, maybe even DVDs.

 

 

Then it was Virgin’s turn to come back. The Virgin stores had a management buyout, and were re-named Zavvi, an identity no-one I knew really believed in. By that time I was buying CDs online, or at Fopp in the West End, and only entered any of the Virgin / Zavvi stores when Matthew wanted a new game. (I bought him Grand Theft Auto when he was too young, but it hasn’t brought him to a life of crime.)

Below, you can see that James Walker was replaced by the unimaginatively named Design Label.

 

 

But this too was closing down. We have a rare interior shot, with some dodgy walls.

 

 

It may seem as though shops in Kensington High Street always seem to be closing down, and while there have been plenty of changes over the last 20-30 years, retail life goes on. These photos get taken remember because someone is about to change something and has to tell the Planning department. There are still a few shops which have lasted for years and years.

We’re almost at a stopping point now so let’s look west. I find this view, of the corner of Church Street, with the trees in front of St Mary Abbot’s quite picturesque.

 

 

The bank on the corner has become a Pizza Hut.

Here it is as a branch of Barclays, with an Alfred Marks Bureau next door.

 

 

And here as Pizza Hut. Now that 27, bound for Turnham Green. A single-door Leyland Olympian. It had no real business being here in 1993, as it was part of a group purchased specifically for service on the 237. It was presumably replacing an out of service Metrobus, given the relatively greater importance to the garage of the 27. Now you know.

 

 

Although it’s been interesting to see the changes in Kensington high Street, I’m conscious of not bringing much of an emotional connection to this section of street. I don’t remember any memorable purchases at the record shop, whatever it was called. This is in contrast to the Virgin at Notting Hill Gate which is associated for me with a number of great albums.

Finally another quirk of this collection of photos. Here on a snowy day is that Pizza Hut.

 

 

In the background the unmistakable tower of the Gas and Coke Company, now a branch of NatWest. Below a dim figure seems to struggle in the snow.

 

 

But that’s not the same Pizza Hut. Is it?

 

 

It’s an interesting view though. Is that the entrance to an arcade? Is it the same snowy day. All suggestions are welcome.

 

Postscript

I may as well bow to the inevitable. We have a lot on in Local Studies at the moment so I’m moving to a fortnightly post to allow me to do a few other things, but this doesn’t mean that Isabel won’t suddenly come in with her next post – she’s becoming more prolific. There are plenty more ideas bubbling up so please keep reading. And of course, fewer posst probably means longer ones. like this one, for those of you who appreciate that. Thanks to Matthew.


A little bit of retail history: Kensington High Street at the turn of another century

This is the first in a series of posts using photographs from a collection of images given to us by our Planning department. One of my volunteers has been going through the collection, sorting them out and has shown me six folders of images of Kensington High Street. So you can expect to see many pictures over the next few months, from all sorts of angles. They date from the 1980s to the early 2000s. They tell many different stories, of shops and restaurants gone by, some of which were there for years, some comparatively fleeting. Famous names, and obscure ones. You may be pleasantly reminded of an establishment you’d forgotten, or surprised by a picture of somewhere you just can’t recall.

Inevitably, we have to start by going back to a building with one of my favourite descriptions from the Survey of London. It’s number 1 Kensington High Street once more. It was built as a bank in 1888, in a style I looked at in this post. It was listed in Kelly’s as the London and County Bank. From 1939 it was the Westminster Bank, and then later the more familiar name, the National Westminster Bank, who seemed to have moved about around 1985. It stood empty for a while, and at some point was converted into a wine bar / restaurant. By 1996 it looked quite lively.

 

 

Footlights (“Mexican, American & European Cafe Restaurant & Bar”), and next door a wine bar, Tumblers.

Below, a woman passes by ignoring the building and the photographer.

 

 

She probably missed the specials board at Tumblers.

 

 

One more image, and one slight mystery. Above the ground floor windows, you can see a strip of  what is often called ghost signage. It comes out best in this picture taken a few years later.

 

 

I had a close look from a 49 bus recently, and I could only make out the word Society at the right of the strip so it has obviously faded somewhat in recent years. From this picture and others I could read “Leamington Spa Building Society“. This was perplexing for a while until I looked at drainage plans for the property, which indicated that the Society was the owner of the property until 1991. Can anyone remember the Society trading from this address?

But come on, we have to get moving. Next door is a split frontage, half of which is a Bureau de Change, next door to which is a venerable establishment.

 

 

The Goat public house which has been there more than a hundred years.

Here it is again below. One of the interesting features of this section of the High Street is the heterogeneous roof line. Whatever is happening at street level, the surviving upper levels are distinctively 19th century. Short buildings rub up against taller ones, sometimes a couple of floors taller.

 

 

 

There’s Le Bistingo, on the right. Some of these names will be familiar. Some not. Le Bistingo later became Giraffe, a venue for world food and music, and later still Lupita, a Mexican restaurant one of my customers recently recommended.(I’ll let you know).

Next door was Strikes.

 

 

Strikes was a hamburger restaurant, very much in the 70s/80s style (anyone remember Tootsies, or my personal favourite from the Fulham Road, Parsons?) One of the current occupants of this block is Roadster, a modern hamburger joint, much visited by men on motor-bikes picking up takeaways, a practice which must be changing the restaurant trade.

Personal reminiscence (you may skip this paragraph if you’re not interested in my digressions). My uncle had an Italian restaurant in the Wandsworth Road in the 1960s. He tried to set up a takeaway in a nearby shop to cater to people who wanted something other than fish and chips. He called it the Carry-Out, a term you can still hear in films/TV of the period which had not yet been drive out by “take-away”. The venture was not a success and he moved to Esher.

Dino’s Trattoria was another incarnation of Le Bistingo. (If this is getting complicated, don’t stop me, I can barely work it out myself).

 

 

Below, you can see a whole row of those mismatched buildings. Next to Dino’s, an early Garfunkels (which must have been Strikes).

 

 

A couple of heads glide by in the foreground.

 

Cuba, seen again below, is now therefore Roadster. Phew!

 

 

Let’s take a moment and look at the street from above. As you can see the buildings are equally varied from this angle.

 

 

We’ll come back to rooftop views on another occasion, I promise. But back to ground level.

 

 

 

Lord John, gentleman’s outfitter at number 23, and the Stardust Cafe.

We haven’t gone far, I know but this subject is going to be taken at a slow pace so we can afford to pause at Kensington Court.

The corner place was a pizza restaurant.

 

 

And opposite a general store.

 

 

This has become a mostly pedestrian area, with protective bollards, and little trees.

 

 

And at this time, in the early 1990s, a fairly generic Coffee Shop.

 

 

Back in the old century, motorcyclists lingered outside the Electric Lighting Station (the sign is still there).

 

 

A young woman in a striped top and jeans is leaning on a handy bollard and taking a breather (from work in the coffee shop?) or just surveying the scene. What is she reading / not reading/ just holding? I’d like to go back and ask her, but of course I can’t. I had my chance in 1990 but I wasn’t thinking about time travel then. We’ll have to let her get back to her pre-millennium life.

We’ll continue in the next post, perhaps even crossing the street, but I can’t promise that. I might need a very long lie down. Ranging over a few decades and several sources can get complicated. See you next time.


The Kensington: a High Street Cinema

Ignore  my name at the top of this post. (We still haven’t worked out how to add an author.) This weeks’s post was written by my co-author and colleague Isabel Hernandez who is continuing her work on the cinemas of Kensington and Chelsea.

 

I mentioned in my last blog post that I might revisit the cinema theme and see what I could find in our collection for The Kensington Odeon. Given its fairly recent closure I wanted to acknowledge its history and presence on the High Street for the best part of 89 years or so. Not old by historic standards, but certainly not dull.

The Kensington Kinema opened on the 6th January 1926 on the site of what was 8-13 Leonard Place – a range of houses that existed between Earl’s Court Road and Earl’s Terrace along the High Street. The redevelopment of this part of the High Street was completed around 1930-31 with shops and flats erected on the site alongside the cinema.

The Kensington was designed by one of the foremost cinema architects of the day, Julian Randolph Leathart, and his partner, W F Granger; experienced men in their field. The owner was Joseph T. Mears, a builder by profession, and President of the (then) Cinematograph Exhibitors Association. It was the first of four cinemas in his collection.

The image below shows the building’s magnificent Neo-Classical style; the most notable feature being the proscenium with three entrance points. Some thought it an austere facade, but others, like Philip Hepworth (British architect 1888-1963), compared it to an ancient Egyptian temple…

“It prepares the mind for the great void behind.”

Certainly you can clearly see Greek and Egyptian influences when you look at these old images.

 

The Kensington. Opening January 1926 - Copy

 

Ideas for the cinema’s construction were being discussed from as early as 1921, but there was considerable opposition to this which delayed construction until 1923-24. However, the encouraging design was well received in architectural journals and eventually it won over the sceptics. The result was the creation of one of the largest cinemas in Britain.

The Kensington was constructed with a steel frame (much like the Kensington Central Library) with vertical posts and horizontal beams to carry its weight. Steel frames are nothing unusual now where buildings are concerned, but it was a rather modern technique to include in the assemblage of a cinema building of that time.

The opening of the cinema was successful. The new building even had the unique privilege of having its own tune. A music composition by Charles Williams to commemorate the opening was played. It was succinctly called: The Kensington March.

 

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A few passers-by and a policeman in the forefront of the image below is a good way to gauge perspective. The building does look like a temple.

It is interesting to note that as elegant and impressive as the cinema was at the time, there appears to be very little if no film publicity on display, giving the building a conservative reputation. On first appearance it doesn’t appear to convey the vitality that later cinemas exuded with pomp, promising visual entertainment unlike anything else at the time. Perhaps with only one major screen, very little open advertising was required. As to how you would know what time a film was to start is a mystery to me. It seems that films were usually run on a continuous loop throughout the day and it was perhaps by chance that you would catch a film from the beginning.  Early adverts would appear to show that performances were continuous.

 

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Obviously, this later changed with the Odeon’s gaudy advertising as I remember it, so you could say it is a matter of opinion what it is that one prefers with regards to information.

Most of us will remember the display board that was attached to the facade of the building. It was rather unattractive and not in keeping with the good-looking building, but as a cinema it was recognisable and informative. Whether you were walking by or sitting on the top deck of a bus, you could see what was advertised.

If you’ve read my previous blog post on the Westbourne Grove Odeon  you will remember I mentioned that Oscar Deutsch, who founded the Odeon brand, was very much a man who liked to advertise his cinemas extrovertly, including the use of neon lights with some buildings. In the case of The Kensington, it would appear initially that advertising was left to the local newspapers. In fact, newspaper and magazine listings were still the best form of information right up until the internet took over from printed material.

Below is the only clue I could find in the local newspapers of the time that there was a new cinema in town. The first film ever shown at The Kensington was Quo Vadis. It was advertised on the 8th January 1926, in the weekly Kensington News and West London Times.

 

 

Two of my more interesting finds in the collection were these architect’s plans for the cinema. I often think that some plans are works of art in their own right, so I always enjoy scrutinizing the intricacies of the drawings in some cases, even if I’m not wholly versed in the architectural details. These are not originals, yet interesting nonetheless.

The seating capacity for The Kensington, including the stalls and circle levels, was estimated to be between 2,350 – 2,370 seats, depending on what source you are reading. That’s a lot of seats! I’m not sure even the West End cinemas had that capacity. The plan was for more, around 2,700, but practically this would have reduced the comfort factor by reducing the leg room for customers. Something I think is not often considered after a major refurbishment in current cinemas. A case of – use all available profitable space, never mind the long legs! It would appear that numb legs are not considered within the design remit of modern auditoriums, except where recliners have been introduced. I have not had the pleasure...

 

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Another plan showing the proscenium opening where the screen is located and interestingly, the five levels of the cinema: the billiard room in the basement; the entrance hall; the tea room; the lounge and the roof gardens. A large entertainment establishment for sure!

 

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The auditorium was decorated in a Neo-Greek style. I think of it as new antiquity.  According to the Kine Weekly 1926, the furnishings were colourful, decorated in warm hues ranging from amber to red to warm grey. The terracotta murals and carpet also added to the welcoming atmosphere of this spacious cavern and it was said that the screen never presented a distorted view no matter where you sat. Something of a boast considering how large the auditorium was.

 

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The curtained screen below in regal repose until the next show.

 

The Kensington, later Odeon. RIBA

 

Below you can see the stalls and balcony, or circle if you prefer. You would be forgiven for thinking this was a large theatre, like The London Palladium, only slightly bigger.

The Kensington was sometimes used as a venue for other events, such as: variety performances, concerts, award ceremonies, premieres, even an exhibition held at the cinema in 1959 called “Better Towns for Better Living”. Its multiple usage was always a boon for the local community.

 

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Below is the elegant tea room with its art nouveau decor. Tea rooms have always been a staple of British social life since they were established in the 18th century. They came after the coffee houses of the 17th century which were places for social discourse and debate (usually men only). Tea, on the other hand, was very much the prerogative of the elite. It was very expensive and heavily taxed in that early period, which lends a whole new meaning to Tetleys and PG Tips. Fortunately, tea rooms later became a lot more affordable and considered reputable public spaces that women could frequent. Such egalitarian notions must have seemed avant-garde at the time.

 

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Below is an original poster I found advertising the cinema programme for Christmas Eve 1934.

 

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On the other side of the poster I was surprised by this rather interesting drawing, dated January 11th 1935. Rather than throw the poster away, it would seem it was better utilised as a doodling sheet. And why not? Perhaps this was the anonymous artist’s pet dog.

 

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It’s not every day one sees an elephant on the High Street and probably just as well. This image was taken around the 1950’s. National Savings was being publicly encouraged. It provided an easy and safe way for ordinary people to save small sums of money.

 

Circus elephants march past the Odeon with National Savings Slogans

 

The Kensington cinema changed its name to The Majestic in July 1940; a wartime security measure to prevent the enemy from identifying locations within the London area.

In January 1944 Odeon Theatres Ltd acquired The Kensington, bringing it into the fold of one of the largest cinema chains in the country. It reopened as The Odeon on the 9th October 1944.

Later, in 1976 the Kensington Odeon underwent a refurbishment that upgraded it into a triple screen cinema. The image below shows the cinema around 1967, before the change. Only one film is advertised: The Deadly Affair, based on John Le Carre’s first novel, Call for the Dead.

The recognised symbol of the-man-with-the-gong (Arthur J. Rank Ltd) can be seen on both ends of the display board. Fancifully, I look at that now and see a portent of the future being sounded.

In 1980 a further screen was added. And by 1991 two further screens made it into a six screen multiplex. Not a cinema to sit on its laurels the Kensington cinema upgrades were all attempts to maximise audience attendance allowing for variety and choice. But it was never the same. Just like most other picture palaces, something of the original quality of the cinematic experience was lost.

Unfortunately, much of the internal design of the cinema was altered through the decades after various refurbishments. So much so that it would appear much of the original decor was subject to damage, even if some of it was still intact. A short-sighted, cavalier attitude towards something so interesting.

 

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In July 1998 the Odeon underwent yet another refurbishment. By this point the once grand auditorium was no longer visible. It was reputed to have been the largest built in England, and yet not immune to the many changes over the years. Original details still remained around public areas like the main staircases, but overall the original design was mostly buried beneath modern contrivances.

 

Kensington High Street - south side, 265-267 1971

 

In 2007, the RBKC gave planning permission for the cinema to be demolished retaining only the façade.

It was hoped through a campaign led by the local community that the cinema should be listed as a heritage building and saved from ignominious obscurity.

 

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An image I took recently of the now defunct cinema on my phone of multiple talents. Looking at it I couldn’t help but remember all my visits to watch films there. And seeing it like that I felt perhaps sentimental about the change. It was, if you’re a more sanguine-natured individual, just a building in the ‘greater’ scheme of things.  But that old nostalgia has a way of bringing out the history in us, and at the risk of being accused of personifying the building, it seemed to me, forlorn.

The Kensington Odeon closed on 11th September 2015.  Never to reach its centenery as a purpose built cinema. The redevelopment includes a six-screen cinema, along with residential flats. I stated earlier that there was a strong opposition to the closure and a robust campaign was begun with a view to challenge the developers and the council.  Many in the community felt that they were excluded from the consultations which led to a rethink of the original plans. Still, the end result, after many years of uncertainty, has led to the cinema’s final demise. Its last curtain call, if you like. It has hosted celebrities, royalty, and best of all, those of us within the community who will remember it as it was for a very long time. Not just a building, but a High Street landmark – a disappearing way of life.

 

Kensington Odeon closed

 

Postscript:

Changes often do evoke strong feelings and unsurprisingly this includes anything deemed of historic import that is vulnerable to redevelopment. After all, we tend to form attachments to what we consider heritage or culture; our past. I suppose, in many ways, it gives us a sense of identity. Cinemas have come and gone over the decades. Closures are not a new phenomenon. Their former grandeur is much more sedate these days. Time sometimes has a way of transforming or diluting things in this way. I have already made the point about our evolving technology and the internet in my previous post, which has exacerbated the problem. Less people attend and less money is generated. Sometimes things simply fall out of ‘fashion’. But often we do not notice something is there until it is gone. On the one hand, if we don’t frequent the cinemas, then questions are asked as to their viability. Our changing habits do influence the existence of these places. The same can be said of libraries and museums in some respects. They cannot exist without people, or money. Cinemas can only upgrade to a point before the constant push of modernism keeps changing the script and that requires investment and innovation.  Unfortunately, we also live in a world where profit and wisdom are often incompatible. Ideally we would welcome a balance that benefits society as a whole – perhaps I am naively utopian in my view. There is no doubt that life is ephemeral, no less the physical buildings we associate our past with. But I think sometimes we need to reconsider our complacency about anything, and more to the point, the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

I hope you have enjoyed looking at the images in this post. I initially thought we had very few for a blog post, but there were enough to show you. Thanks for reading! Dave will resume posting next week.

Another Postscript – Dave

I saw a tabloid story from 2017 about Prince William and Kate Middleton (as they were then) going to see The Avengers at the Odeon High Street Kensington. Rumour has it that Princess Diana took the much younger Prince William and his brother to see the Harrison Ford film Patriot Games there also. For myself, I went there to see the first Alien film, and took my future wife there to see Bad Timing. Isabel is right. Something has been lost with the passing of these big old cinemas.


Madame Bach Gladstone: water colours of a neighbourhood

Local Studies collections quite often contain water colour paintings by local residents. We’re all familiar with that trope of historical fiction and TV drama, the accomplished young lady who paints pictures of her neighbourhood. Mrs Elizabeth Bach Gladstone is one of those. Now we’ve seen quite a few amateur water colorists on the blog: Marianne (or Mary Ann) Rush, Louisa Goldsmid, the un-named artist of the Red Portfolio,  and a few professionals: E. Hosmer Shepherd, William Cowen, Yoshio Markino. Some of them are talented, some of them are competent, some of them are a bit weird.

Elizabeth Bach Gladstone was born in 1858 and spent her young life in Kensington before her marriage to Henri Bach in 1896 and subsequently moving to France. She was the daughter of Professor John Hall Gladstone and the younger sister of Florence Gladstone, the author of Notting Hill in Bygone Times, the first history of the Notting Hill area. Her other sister was Margaret Gladstone the wife of the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Margaret also did water colours but our collection has 67 paintings donated to the Library in 1933 by Madame Bach Gladstone (as it says on the card I’m just looking at).

I was probably always going to feature some of these works here at some stage but I was reminded of Elizabeth by this picture, which connects with the recent posts about Slaters and the Royal Palace Hotel.

 

 

This is a view looking south at Kensington High Street from Palace Green Avenue. On the right is Palace Avenue Lodge, and visible through the gateway, number 1 Kensington High Street (about which I’ve written already).

This area, taking in the vicinity on both sides of Kensington Church Street, was Elizabeth’s patch, and she painted this picturein 1893 when the Royal Place Hotel was newly built.

The picture below looks down Kensington Church Street.

 

 

 

The writing on the back of the mount (probably not Elizabeth’s) identifies the George Inn and the roof of the Carmelite Monastery but doesn’t say anything about the spire on the left. You’d assume it was St Mary Abbots Church.

Here is a better view from 1888.

 

 

The pleasure of these sparsely populated water colours is their tranquillity. The busy life of urban Kensington becomes peaceful so  this dusty street becomes as quiet as a cathedral precinct.

The garden below could be in a small town.

 

 

 

The spire in the picture though is not Kensington’s best known church, and the house is not its vicarage.

They both belong to this church, a favourite of Elizabeth’s.

 

 

St Paul’s, Vicarage Gate, briefly seen in a photograph in this post. (St Paul’s was damaged during WW2 and subsequently demolished.)

Elizabeth looks inside.

 

 

 

Another feature of amateur water colour painters is the figures. Not quite right in this one but passable.

Below, another garden corner.

 

 

The parish room of St Paul’s, also 1888.

And here, a view nearby, of Little Campden House.

 

 

 

This view says “down Hornton Place” (Hornton Place runs west off Hornton Street)

 

 

I’m not sure if the church tower would look quite so imposing in real life. (Although the modern surrounding buildings may be bigger now, and they didn’t have Google Street View in the 1880s.)

[Update a couple of weeks later: I went and stood at the end of Hornton Place, and the church tower does do some serious looming from thtt angle, so apologies to Elizabeth]

This picture, looking down Gordon Place (off Holland Street) is immediately recognizeable, even if the background has changed a little.

 

 

 

A small carriage trundles down another quiet road, Sheffield Terrace in this picture.

 

 

Once again, Elizabeth shows us solitary dwellings set amongst big trees, sitting behind low walls with a street so quiet a couple of birds can stand around in the middle once the carriage has passed by.

Now we actually move south of Kensington High Street,

 

 

Kensington Square, 1894 featuring another convent and a grammar school.

Below, the stables at Kensington Palace, a suitable spot for a painter to set up.

 

 

The lady in blue is competently done.

Unfortunately, the figure in the picture below (which I like, don’t get me wrong) in Dukes Lane walking opposite the walls of the Carmelite Monastery, really gets away from the artist.

 

 

Something wrong with the scale? (And the face?). Well, sorry Elizabeth, you can’t nail them all.

Postscript

Thanks to everyone who left a comment last week, especially those who corrected the identification of the streets. Unlike the Photo Survey pictures by John Rogers (who never made any errors in place names) those pictures may have been captioned (and dated) quite a while after the pictures wete taken. And the pictures didn’t originate with Local Studies. I was glad to have them uncovered after years of being lost. Actual lost pictures are actually quite rare – sometimes I come across images I’ve never seen before but it’s rare to find pictures that not even my predessessors knew about.

 


The high life – at the Royal Palace Hotel

We caught a glimpse of the Royal Palace Hotel last week but it looked pretty dull and gloomy in that rather faded photograph, even though it was probably only a few years old. To capture the aspirational feel of a new hotel you really need promotional material and especially artwork. So, for the most part, we’ll give the photographs a week off. Here is a view from an architectural publication showing the grand design.

The hotel, built in 1892-93 was built on the site of the King’s Arms Hotel (basically a large tavern) but was a far more ambitious building, towering over the surrounding houses and shops and looking down on Kensington Gardens.

 

 

It was intended to serve the growing number of visitors to London, and entice them in with many modern features, such as the grand entrance.

 

 

 

This week’s pictures are all illustrations from a contemporary periodical The style reminds me at least of William Luker. In the 1890s it was still somewhat easier for magazines to use artists to portray scenes like the exciting interior life of a brand new hotel.

 

 

An elegant woman glides through the entrance hall on her way out for a promenade through fashionable Kensington. A gentleman reads a newspaper in the hall. Not an aspidistra perhaps, but some kind of giant fern.

Below another view of the entrance hall, looking down from the gallery. Guest linger in the sumptuous public areas of the hotel.

 

 

 

Inevitably, the interior design of some of the public rooms is influenced by the exotic cultures of the near and far east such as this one, the “Eastern Lounge”

 

 

 

Or this one, an “eastern room” another young woman chats with a gentleman in formal dress, under a kind of canopy, surrounded by more of those giant ferns.

 

 

Guests could dine in a variety of dining rooms, some of them small and intimate.

 

 

Other larger, and more grand.

 

 

 

There were also the usual convenience of London life, such as a billiard room.

 

 

One of the features the hotel was most proud of were the extensive suites where residents could effectively have their own apartments, with private sitting rooms.

 

 

 

The husband sits around with a newspaper, while his wife concentrates on looking good. Below, a family group are actually making themselves comfortable and settling in in front of a warm fire.

 

 

In a private drawing room, a mother and daughter spend some quality time together.

 

 

I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. Perhaps the girl is insisting she should be wearing something more fashionable now she’s quite old enough to wear adult clothes. Maybe her mother (or is it an older sister?) is quietly asserting that she’ll just have to wait.

There’s a nice view out of the window of course, and they can go walking in the Gardens as often as they like. I could refer them to Mr Luker’s pictures of Kensington life, or some postcards of the Gardens.

 

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After an outing, it’s only a short walk back to the wondrous hotel.

 

 

It’s conceivable that the young lady might live to see this view in her old age.

 

 

1958. The Royal Palace Hotel looks intact, and still looks tall and elegant through the trees. But, if not actually empty at this moment, it didn’t have long before the end. It was demolished, and a larger hotel built on the site with a new name. We have a few pictures of that process but I’ll save those for another time. Today, let’s remember the hotel in its glory days as that young woman might have done.

 

Postscript

You might have expected me to mark the sad death of Mark Hollis, leader of the now reasonably obscure band Talk Talk with a few words. Talk Talk went from sounding like successors to Duran Duran to making avant garde, almost jazz-like music.  I actually own four of their albums (bought during the era when Fopp Records sold back catalogue CDs at pretty reasonable prices), so this morning I put on Spirit of Eden, thought to be one of their best.

Actually, I never really got it, despite many attempts. I was much more of a fan of David Sylvian, who trod a similar path from pop to avant garde, much more successfully to my mind. I hope he’s okay. I wonder what the residents of the Palace Hotel circa 1894 would have made of either of them being played in the public rooms?

I’m posting this quite late in the day at nearly 6pm. One of my regular readers (M) will soon let me know if there are any typos.


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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