Category Archives: Kensington

Alfred Waterhouse, the affable artist, and the Natural History Museum

This week’s post is the work of my friend and colleague Isabel Hernandez for whom this has been a labour of love. I can only thank her for her hard work in giving us another epic post, and me a week or so off.

The Natural History Museum in South Kensington has to be one of the most attractive buildings in London, arguably the most aesthetically beautiful. When asked if I have a favourite, this is it. The museum’s distinctive terracotta facade and wonderful collection of decorative animals dotted around the building’s heights is impressive. The expansive central hall as you walk in through the arch front entrance resembles a religious sanctum – the building in fact is a Romanesque-like cathedral commissioned to house the expansive collection of flora and fauna specimens that began with Sir Hans Sloane in the 18th century.

But, as with most grand schemes, the inception, design and subsequent building was not a smooth sailing affair. It would be twenty years, give or take a few, before the building you see today came into being. And I for one am very pleased it did. I have visited many times and admit to being biased in my view. I have a love for natural history. I still enjoy looking at all the detail of the building, not as an architect, but as someone who can only appreciate its aesthetic appeal as an ordinary onlooker. The Victorians were big on grandeur. I think Alfred Waterhouse managed to infuse it with a little artistry too.

 

 

If you want to distinguish Alfred Waterhouse from his contemporaries then look no further than his red brick, terracotta creations: The Manchester Town Hall, the Prudential Assurance building in London’s Holborn, Eaton Hall in Cheshire and many, many more commissions. Many still stand, but a few have been demolished over the years. Even his own home in reading, Foxhill House, was a distinctive red. He was a man known for his professionalism and his reliability and amassed quite a fortune. One who would take on small projects and was not intimidated by large ones either. Proof of that is in the rescue of a building that almost never came to be: London’s Natural History Museum.

 

(Alfred Waterhouse courtesy the RIBA)

Alfred Waterhouse came from a strict Quaker background. His parents belonged to the Society of Friends and his education at Grove House School, Tottenham is where he met many of his future clients, sons of influential Quaker families. He showed a very early aptitude for drawing and was mainly self-taught. Although his passion was for painting – many of his watercolours were regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy later in life – it was not considered a suitable profession, and so architecture became his focus.

He was by nature a practical and meticulous professional and soon established himself as a man who was able to design a workable building and knew exactly how to cater to his clients, right down to the smallest of commissions. His amicability with committees and his willingness to modify his designs made him the perfect candidate for the creation of the Natural History Museum. Below you will see examples of his drawings.

 

 

The Natural History Museum first opened to the public in April 1881 after many years of planning and design changes. The growing collections, originally housed in the Natural History Departments of the British Museum in Bloomsbury, desperately needed a new, more suitable home. And so it was Sir Richard Owen, the natural scientist and curator of the existing collection, who convinced the Board of Trustees to find the adequate space needed to house this vast treasure. It was eventually decided that a new site and purpose built building was needed. A competition was set up, and the architect and engineer, Captain Francis Fowke, who designed the 1862 Exhibition building (Ironically on the site of the present NHM building) produced the winner. Although his previous creation was at one time considered a possible building to house the Natural History collections, it was eventually decided, after much debate, that it wasn’t suitable after all. So the whole edifice was pulled down and the site purchased in June 1863 by the government. How the museum eventually came to fruition is nothing short of a colossal feat with so many ideas vying for the helm.

 

(The 1862 Great Exhibition building as it was before being demolished)

Captain Fowke’s original design was considered a handsome winning entry, but was by no means everybody’s favourite. When he died unexpectedly in 1865 the government was at a loss as to what to do. In the end it was decided that rather than the commission going to the runner up, Robert Kerr – who was not happy –  Fowke’s design would be kept and a new architect appointed. That man was the promising, but relatively unknown, 36-year-old, Alfred Waterhouse. Although Fowke’s design was the original blueprint for the museum, Waterhouse’s artistic flare was imbued over most of it.

 

 

A photograph showing the cavernous main hall of the NHM before it was occupied by the main exhibits that were to greet the many visitors throughout the decades. Without the displays the space is overwhelming. It is hard to imagine now with all the visitors in attendance just how quiet such a place can be, despite its size.

 

 

(Central Hall, 1882. Courtesy of the NHM)

The drawing below shows detail of the first floor windows; an elaborate portion of the building, including the archways at the end of the galleries.

“The format of the window was inspired by those of Fowke’s museum design of 1864, but Waterhouse changed the detailing from Fowke’s Italian Renaissance into Romanesque.”

(Alfred Waterhouse and The Natural History Museum – Mark Girouard)

 

 

You may recognise the front of the building here. A half plan, detail elevation of the principal entrance showing some of the ornamentation above the arches.

 

 

 

Below are some of the wondrous creatures you will see dotted around the museum. Gargoyles and guardians of a large menagerie.

 

 

The Central Hall again C. 1924, this time displaying a number of cases showing a collection of hummingbirds and four elephants, the largest being named George, as he was dubbed by the journalists of the day.

 

(Central Hall with elephants and cases, 1924. Courtesy of the NHM)

The Illustrated London News showing George with a pygmy shrew. The biggest land mammal contrasting with the smallest. It is difficult for us now to appreciate just how fantastical these creatures were to the general public at the time. We have come a long way since then. With more and more scientific breakthroughs and our access to information being much more accessible now, we are perhaps less awed by such specimens. The world is a smaller place. The technological advances in the making of natural history documentaries, for example, is simply astounding. And seeing these creatures in their natural habitats, even if vicariously through the cameraman’s lens, is nothing short of extraordinary. We are very lucky. And yet we cannot simply dismiss the extraordinary work behind the scenes of these great museums. Education and awareness of the natural world is all the more important in an age when we almost seem so far removed from it we fail to understand our part in it.

 

 

Details of stairs, panels and columns all beautifully illustrated located at the north end of the large hall.

 

 

Thirty-six crates and three months of jigsaw puzzling later in May 1905, the cast of Diplodocus is put together, fondly known to many of us as Dippy. The original skeleton is in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, USA. He is currently on tour around the UK, details of which are on the NHM website.

 

 (Diplodocus on display, 1905. Courtesy of the NHM)

 

More details showing the frieze and panels over the main entrance. A pair of binoculars to get a better look at these in the museum would be ideal. And with my eyesight, a magnifying glass too. The decoration of the east and west wings of the museum depict animals within the collection of both extinct and living species respectively. This was a feature Professor Richard Owen, superintendent of the natural history departments, and the man responsible for the commissioning of a new museum was keen on having on as a feature of the building.

 

 

The reptile gallery in 1889. Formidable looking crocodiles and other stuffed specimens in glass cabinets on display. Imagine seeing the open jaws of a crocodile for the first time, all be it a museum specimen and not a live one? I know my daughter would have been the first to want to touch those teeth once upon an age ago when her curiosity about such things was ripe.

 

(Reptile Gallery, 1889. Courtesy of the NHM)

 

The drawing below shows a complete bay on the side of the entrance hall, depicting plants, land, and marine mammals. Mark Girouard points out in his book that:

“The Natural History Museum was the first building in England, and possibly in the world, where the main facades were entirely faced with terracotta. It was also the first of a long series of such buildings designed by Waterhouse; his enthusiasm for terracotta was so great that it is all many people remember about him.”

Terracotta was relatively cheap too and resistant to the bane of all city buildings – acid. The spaces between the terracotta and the iron was filled with fine cement concrete, “so as to render the casing impervious to either fire or water.” The casing is what houses the ornaments.

 

 

The Shell Gallery in 1911 with an impressive model of a giant squid in the background. A creature Captain Nemo and the Nautilus are all too familiar with. Unfortunately, an incendiary bomb hit the gallery in 1940, damaging the roof and causing a fire. It was later converted into a lecture hall.

 

(Shell Gallery, 1911. Courtesy of the NHM)

 

Details showing the terracotta details of the arcade, gallery and windows in the Central Hall. Note the stone monkeys on the bottom right, used to enrich the main arches of the gallery.

 

 

A group of school children crowd around the flea case in 1927. The museum has ever been educational, and no less during World War 1 when they produced information regarding the danger of parasites such as fleas and ticks. Creatures that are still with us today, but less problematic in terms of what we now know about them. Knowledge and awareness goes a long way.

 

(Crowd around flea case, 1927. Courtesy of the NHM)

Having read about the feat it took to get the Natural History Museum built I am amazed it was completed at all. It is important to note that Alfred Waterhouse had to alter his original plans several times to try and mitigate the rising costs of the project and the opposing views of the various museum authorities. His frustration at times with this and the various contractors may well have been palpable. His idealistic, artistic vision was being curtailed by practicalities, bureaucracy and the differing aesthetic viewpoints of all those involved in the commission. Understandably, there are limits. He was not immune to criticism either. Macmillan Magazine in January 1872 ridiculed Waterhouse’s ‘period’ style. And some of Fowke’s supporters, namely George Cavendish and Lord Elcho, tried to get rid of Waterhouse’s ‘abomination’ as they called his design. It was even suggested that ‘the Board should in future use only architects over whom they could exercise more control’. Such was the opposition. But, despite all that, Waterhouse remained stoic and was allowed to build his masterpiece. I think you would have to be generally good-natured in order to succeed when things happen to thwart you. If one thing doesn’t work, you try something else. If somebody objects, you present an alternative. He was pragmatic enough to understand what was required and overall he succeeded. When the museum finally opened in in April 1881 the reception of Waterhouse’s building was on the whole favourable. His reputation, despite the setbacks, was not compromised.

 

A quote from the Building News 1876 based on the initial drawings by A Waterhouse:

“It may have provoked some hostile criticism from the Royal Engineers and amateurs – its ground floor space has been said to be not more than half that provided by Captain Fowke – but, whatever may be said, its plan is certainly one of the best we have seen for museum purposes, and its architecture, when finished, will disarm opponents.”

 

 

Fortunate then that he accepted the commission. It’s hard to imagine a different building in place of what we have now. Below is Alfred Waterhouse’s acceptance letter to the First Commissioner of Works stipulating some of his requirements.

 

 

 

Here is an image taken from W.J Lofitie’s, Kensington Picturesque and Historical of a scene along Cromwell Road showing the newly built Natural History Museum in the background. It has something of a charming, Christmas card feel about it – certainly picturesque and historical.

 

 

 

Postcscript:

Phew! Well, that’s more than enough for this week’s blog.

I thought that a blog about the Natural History Museum would be a straightforward piece to write. After all, how difficult can talking about a series of photographs be? I have done it before. And yet the NHM has proved something of a conundrum for me, simply because it is so well known, and sometimes condensing something to only a few paragraphs doesn’t do it justice.

There are books that give a more detailed account of this remarkable museum which I recommend you read should you want a deeper knowledge of this institutions history and its origins. My less than scholarly approach has only provided glimpses.

Most of the images I’ve used are from our own Local Studies collection, unless otherwise indicated. I would like to thank the Natural History Museum Archives department, in particular Laura Brown, the NHM’s archivist and colleagues, for their wonderful help. They have a fantastic collection! You will find them and many more fascinating photographs in the book: Museum through a Lens – photographs from 1880 to 1950, which I highly recommend. It’s a great gift for anyone interested in pictorial history. And for a more detailed account of the museum’s building and history there is: The Natural History Museum at South Kensington by William Stearn and Alfred Waterhouse and The Natural History Museum by Mark Girouard. Both are well researched and good reference books. The Survey of London is also an invaluable source for building history. I have thumbed through Volume XXXVIII many times to make sure I didn’t go too far astray.

 

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The Depot – Warwick Road 1969

They call it the Council Offices, Pembroke Road these days. But we used to call it the Depot. I’ve been there for training courses, sat in rooms and listened to trainers, practiced recruitment interviews, done the occasional bit of role playing. I’ve even extinguished fires in one of the big sheds at the back as part of fire training. But that was all in the modern version, constructed in 1972 -75, a two part edifice on the north and south sides of Pembroke Road with the terraced housing blocks Chesterton Square and Broadwood Terrace on the top which were sometimes called “gardens in the sky” and are joined by a walkway over Pembroke Road. I sometimes looked up and wondered what it was like up there, above the place where refuse trucks and other council vehicles used to come and go.

Back in the 19th century there was a piano factory on part of the site, and an urban dairy. The Vestry acquired some of the buildings in the 1870s and used them as stables, and later somewhere for all its vehicles and the men who drove them to use. The site expanded but eventually it was decided to replace the lot with two large buildings which combined workshops, offices and housing. These pictures come from 1969 and show the “old” Depot.

This is one of the entrances on Warwick Road. Confusingly, there were two, and several buildings on the site, so it’s not always clear which direction you’re looking at.

 

 

That set of steps is a useful marker for one part of the site.

 

 

You can see a coupl of refuse trucks behind the parked cars. At one time all the trucks came and went from the depot.

 

 

A lone motorbike parked by another entrance to the main building, where there was a large interior space.

 

 

I wonder what purpose it served. Offices?

 

 

This is another entrance with a gatehouse, and a row of terraced houses beyond, looking south I think.

 

 

If you look closely you can see that this is a different entrance. But it also faces east to the large building in the background.

 

 

With more vehicles, this one a petrol tanker.

This building with an arched structure was part of the piano factory.

 

 

A few employees are coming and going as the photographer works.

 

 

Inside the site you can see some industrial wear and tear and some signs of neglect.

 

 

At this date some of the buildings may be emptying out.

 

 

The site must have been a bit of a maze.

 

 

But it was the Council’s largest property bigger than the then Town Hall.  The early 1970s was also when the new building in Hornton Street was built.


 

The final picture shows number 104 Warwick Road, demolished a few years later, one of the few signs of retail life in the area, although there was a pub called the Warwick Arms on the corner of Pembroke Road, between the two parts of the Depot. That building is still there. The tunnel visible here showed the way through to the northern depot buildings.

 

 

 

These pictures demonstrate that for me at least, even with visual evidence in the form of photographs and maps, you can’t always figure out exactly how a small area looked, but you are left with an impression of a somewhat decayed light industrial area with nothing of the current Tesco superstore and the blocks of upmarket housing which stretch up to Kensington High Street. Have a look at this post to see how things looked on the west side of Warwick Road.

There are proposals to demolish the 1970s depot, and its housing so perhaps they too will need to be recorded in photographs…

Postscript

As you might imagine, I took notice of the death of the actress Jacqueline Pearce, who played the larger than life character Supreme Commander Servalan in the ramshackle dystopian SF series of the 70s, Blake’s 7 (Blake himself was the least interesting character). Pearce was also the title character of one of Hammer’s most interesting films, the Reptile. Try that on Google images for a striking bit of make-up. I believe she at one time lived on one of the house boats on Chelsea Reach. I definitely saw her one day walking up Beaufort Street, but she didn’t look like she would have wanted to stop and talk to me. She made the stern, dominatrix-like Servalan very believable.

 


Silver Street: Kensington Church Street part 4

For this final post on Kensington Church Street we’re in Silver Street, which, as I said last week, is the name by which the northern section of the street used to be known. Church Lane was the southern section. ( Or originally Love Lane according to some sources.)

This is number 118.

 

 

The home of one of Kensington’s local newspapers, (the other one was the Post although different names had been used over the years) at a time when the titles were independent.

Below, D C Monk and Sons at 132-134.

 

 

 

This was another one of those shops John Rogers seemed very taken with, and took several pictures of at different times and days. can you see the three balls above the awning? D C Monk was a traditional pawn brokers, and the three balls a traditional sign. The pawn broker could do business in any kind of neighbourhood, even next to a big residential property. (These pictures are from 1969.)

 

 

 

We actually starting to walk downhill at this point. I have some recollection of standing outside The Kensington Bookshop, below, window shopping, and I think it was a general bookshop. I can’t recall actually going inside though. I have a feeling that I would have been passing by on my way to Kensington Library and would already have been tired from that slight upward incline. This was 1980 so I could easily have been in the picture myself.

 

 

The shop was later taken by Adrian Harrington, a well know book dealer who, I met once, but who is sadly no longer with us. His brother Peter also sold or sells books and there are still shops bearing his name, one on the Fulham Road.

 

 

Farther along on the west side, another traditional style of shop, a large timber merchants, with two smaller businesses nestling under the main sign. Yes, at number 144 Bits and Pieces. Hello, are you looking for some bits? No today I thought I’d get some pieces. The big sign still exists.

 

 

The traffic heading south in this picture has come out of Kensington Mall through the odd one way system which takes southbound buses past the top of Church Street so they can turn into a narrow street and turn again before they can enter the street. A barrier planted with shrubs and a couple of small trees (these days) keeps vehicles from going the wrong way, or is it to stop them entering a one-way street the wrong way? Traffic experts can tell me if they wish.

 

 

From this point on Kensington Church street is northbound only and traffic is filtered either towards Central London or towards Shepherds Bush.

The east side of the street consists of a couple of modern buildings from the early 1960s when Notting Hill Gate was redeveloped. (There’s a post here)

Part of this building is a Post Office which is still in business.

 

Here is the actual corner, and a glimpse of Notting Hill Gate.

 

 

Before we take another look at Notting Hill Gate we need to go back to the west side of the street.

At number 113, Appel, a tailor.

 

 

And next door to him at 115, the Rowley Gallery, another survivor.

 

 

At this point the Gallery had a workshop nearby in Campden Street.

 

 

At the end of that block is number 119, the Churchill Arms, one of London’s most attractive pubs. My personal bible of Kensington history, the Survey of London tells us that although the pub is now associated with Winston Churchill ( a Freeman of the Borough, among other things), the name may originally derive from the descriptive phrase “church hill”. But we shouldn’t quibble.

Anyone who travels along this section will have noticed the new building rising behind boards and scaffolding between Edge Street and Kensington Place. It has one of those pointy designs over the glass facade.

This of course replaces what I now have to call a “forgotten building” although many of you will remember the building which was there before, at number 145. I did wonder if this wasn’t simply a case of a new facade over an older building but Google Maps has that excellent retrospective street view (a boon to local historians and many others I should think) which shows the absent building in May 2015.

 

 

The offices of Chapman Taylor Partners, architects, newly built in 1973 and shown in Architectural Review. Not perhaps to everyone’s taste, but many of the buildings at this end of the street were now modern, and although it might be stretching a point to call it “charming brutalist”, it was not too overwhelming for the neighbourhood.

 

 

A side view in Edge Street. We can even go inside and see architects drawing.

 

 

Below, some administrative offices viewed from “one of the secretary’s cubicles”.

 

 

And there’s the secretary busy typing and waiting for the phone to ring as they did in the 70s.

This 1961 picture shows a view of Notting Hill Gate, and the east side of the street as it had been 10 years before the 1971 pictures we’ve already seen.

 

 

You can see the tower, Newcombe House on the corner at the left of the picture. It’s a building which has not worn well over the years and it’s not long for this world if current development plans go through. (A decision is expected soon.)

But let’s finish with a view of Silver Street which won’t be superseded by events.

 

 

This pencil drawing by the artist Frank Emanuel captures the narrow version of Silver Street in the early years of the previous century. It’s always been one of my favourites. The figure of the woman is particularly good I think. I’ll come back to some of the artists who drew or painted this part of Kensington in a future post. But for now our journey is done.

Postscript

My absence the week before last was purely accidental. But I am about to take a couple of weeks off, and to maintain sanity at home, I will temporarily cease blogging. Hopefully new ideas will come bubbling forth in late August, and in the meantime I can point you to my extensive back catalogue of posts, more than 370 of them, on a variety of subjects


Kensington Church Street: farther along

Resuming our progress up Kensington Church Street, we’re now round the corner now but still heading up the hill. This is the corner of another cul-de-sac, Melon Place

 

 

Numbers 62 and 64 date from the 1850s when the short street was originally laid out. Let’s take a peek down there.

 

 

You can just see the name Jay in the sign for Melvyn and Gary Jay (Antiques and Objet D’art) on the left. Up till this point there have been retail establishments on both side of the street, but now these alternate with shops.

 

 

Number 66, home of the Vintner. See that man lounging against the window? He looks a little surprised. I suppose he never found out that he was becoming part of the historical record of Kensington. This is an area for antiques and art works. Note the Japanese Gallery at the end of this short parade of shops. The street which leads off Church Street is Vicarage Gardens.

This is a postcard view from the early 1900s.

 

The reason this picture is particularly interesting is that the church you can make out at the end of the road is St Paul’s, which suffered bomb damage during the war and was subsequently demolished. It doesn’t feature in many photographs.

The basis for this post as for many others is our Photo Survey created by John Rogers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the photos of Church Street are from 1971. But for some reason almost all of them are of the east side of the street, the even numbers. I don’t know why but to balance things out I went looking for odd numbers from other times.

From 1929, Dick Turpin’s Old Historical Posting House (it claims on the sign).

 

 

From 1909, a couple of advertisements.

 

 

“Celebrated Snowdrift Pastry Flour”? I’d try that.

 

That Pynolia sounds good. We’ll continue the pharmacy theme in a moment. But first another glance at a side street, Campden Grove.

 

 

I think this is a view looking west, towards Hornton Street and Observatory Gardens, but it’s often difficult to tell in these postcard views.

The name Campden Grove commemorates another great house which stood near Church Lane, Campden House. That is almost certainly a post in itself so we’ll pass by for the moment, and just note that the stretch of street between numbers 83 and 95 was once known as Campden House Terrace.

The next side street on the east side is Sheffield Terrace.

 

 

Another name which recalls an old house. Sheffield House and its grounds were on the east side of Church Lane.

Now we can return to the 1970s. Here is a quirky mixture typical of the street, of residential and retail, with an interesting structure above the side entrance to number 1 Berkeley Gardens.

 

 

 

So we’ve come to another corner.

 

 

John seemed quite fascinated by this chemists at number 106. He even went inside.

 

 

Many bargains to be had in their closing down sale. (Closing down sales were one of John’s specialties. See this post) One particular display caught my eye.

 

 

Do you remember when Lucozade bottles (usually reserved for people who were ill, hence them being sold in a chemist) came wrapped in orange cellophane? There they are, on a Ki-ora stand. What purpose did the cellophane serve? If you know, please tell us in a comment.

 

 

The gentleman obviously spent some time examining the window before moving on.

Here is Berkeley Gardens in 1980.

 

 

You can  just make out that the Chemist at number 106 has become another antiques shop. Opposite, the discrete entrance to John Hussey, funeral directors.

 

 

106 Kensington Church Street and the building opposite on the west side, 103, more or less mark the spot where Church Lane, the original name of Kensington Church Street, ended, and Silver Street, the original name of the final section of the street began. This seemed like a good place to start the fourth and final part of this subject, which will be in the next post. Notting Hill Gate is almost in sight….

 

Postscript

I may have been guilty of prevarication this week. Not only was it too hot to blog, but I had plenty of actual work to do and as I started looking for pictures of the west side of the street I found some quite interesting ones, including a “forgotten building” as I used to call them, which will appear in the final part of this struggle uphill, which will definitely appear on time one week after this post.

I din’t think there would be an obituary this week, but death always surprises us, and on Tuesday evening I read about the death of Polish musician Tomasz Stanko, one of the greats of modern jazz. Some may not have heard of him, and I know I sometimes feature quite obscure people in these postscripts simply because I have some of their albums or books, but the odd thing is that if you ever watched the TV series Homeland, you have heard Stanko. His piece Terminal 7, from the album Dark Eyes is used during the end titles (or was in early seasons I believe).

 


Cul-de-sac: St Mary Abbot’s Place

Last Saturday, on one of those hot, hot days we’ve been having I was sitting with my son at the bus stop on Kensington High Street opposite St Mary Abbot’s Place, looking at the short terrace called Earls Terrace where there are several Iranian businesses and restaurants. Early 19th century I was saying. (And I was right – 1827-30). The bus came, but it looked intolerably crowded (and hot) so we decided not to bother, and to restore sanity we crossed the road to have a closer look at the cul-de-sac in question, about which I knew some random facts. This picture wasn’t taken last week of course.

 

 

St Mary Abbot’s Place looks like a random collection of buildings squeezed onto a strip of land between Edwardes Square and Warwick Gardens. . And that’s kind of what it is. On the western side, facing the High Street is Warwick Close, a two-storey collection of apartments enclosing a small courtyard. The picture below shows part of it in 1971 along with numbers 2 and 4.

 

 

This is 2a in 1985, from an estate agent’s brochure.

 

 

We’ll come back to the western side in a moment but first we have to take a look at the eastern side of the street. Again this picture shows numbers 1-5 in 1971.

 

 

1-5 was the home of the Viking Film Studios, where films and TV programmes were made from the late 1940s through the 1950s and early 1960s, including the earliest version of the BBC’s Tonight programme. (Much more can be found here, so I won’t duplicate someone else’s research, but I was interested to see that Powell and Pressberger once had offices in the building.)

Before its time as a film studio, the building had been an artist’s studio run by Frank Calderon. Among his activities was a school devoted to drawing animals.

 

 

These pictures scans of a photocopy, slightly improved by me, from a 1913 publication called the Family Friend. I haven’t been able to find a copy of the original, (which would have taken us back to an old library story and a room that no longer exists) but I wanted to include these two images because they are so strange. According to a short piece on the School of Animal Painting, Calderon kept a small menagerie at the back of the studio for his animal models.

The buildings were demolished about 1990 and the current buildings, although in keeping with the rest of the street, are new.

Number 7, next door, is perhaps just a house, although quite a picturesque one, in this pictures from 1986.

 

 

 

Some interesting interiors,including this vaulted hall.

 

 

Next door to that are numbers 9 and 9A, once the home of The White Eagle Lodge.

 

 

The innocuous exterior conceals some interesting interior features.

Another courtyard,

 

A library,

 

 

And of course, a place of worship.

 

 

An Ordnance Survey map of 1974 describes it as a “spiritualist church”. The brochure from which these pictures come speaks of meditation and healing. Although no longer in this building the organisation still exists. Further information here.

The houses at the end of the street look to me as though they belong to a completely different setting, far from urban Kensington and deep into a more rural location.

This is number 15. Somewhere through that alley there must be access to number 11, which you can’t really see from the street, although it’s clear enough on maps.

 

 

In 1971 the building looks plain enough, although you can imagine anything you like going on inside. The maps and aerial photos show a long garden at the back, abutting Pembroke Studios. Here you can play about with the notion of a hidden garden, though of course every garden is hidden to some extent, and all gardens are mysterious in their own way.

 

 

 

These days there is a growth of ivy over the side.

 

 

The other houses at the end of the cul-de-sac had a similar look of coming from another time and place in 1971.

 

 

 

Number 16, and below, number 12.

 

 

 

So our quick excursion to a quiet corner of Kensington yielded some fascinating material. I took the photos of the ivy above, and the Eagle below.

 

 

And, another curiosity for my car loving readers, An actual Trabant.

 

 

We walked back to the High Street, pausing only to look at Warwick Close, and its courtyard.

 

 

After which we crossed Warwick Gardens. I of course pointed out the memorial to Queen Victoria which now stands in the middle of the road. It was moved there because it was getting in the way of traffic in its original location, at the bottom of Kensington Church Street.

 

 

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I should be getting back to Church Street. Next week, I hope.

 


Did you say an ostrich? High jinks at Batty’s Hippodrome

It’s a high summer at the moment so my mind is wandering back to a summer in another year, 1851. Was it a hot July in Kensington that year? Hot enough I expect, but not hot enough to deter a hypothetical young woman in her early 20s from looking for fun. We’ll call her Miss Charlotte Green, daughter of the widower Franklin Bryce Green, an American who had prospered in the wine trade whose British wife had died comparatively young, as wives sometimes did in those days of a disease which would be treated quite easily a hundred or so years later. (She was buried in the extensive and elegant grounds of Kensal Green cemetery near the mausoleums of the rich and famous). Charlotte had a governess/ companion always called  Freeman by her father although her first name was Nancy.

There was not much fun in Kensington in the 1850s . Barbara Denny and Carrie Starren, in their book Kensington Past  actually have a section called “Not much fun” to illustrate this unpopular aspect of Kensington life. There was the Great Exhibition of course  in the Crystal  Palace in Hyde Park (May to October 1851). But Charlotte and Miss Freeman had been to that several times and although she enjoyed herself wandering around in the giant glass house, seeing and being seen, in the end it was just walking and looking. She wanted some excitement.

Charlotte pasted pictures from newspapers and journals into a scrapbook. Many years later the images were faded and stained but they brought back memories of that summer.

 

 

She was a regular reader of this publication.

 

 

It featured news of a new venture launched by Mr William Batty. Batty’s National Hippodrome. Hoping to catch visitors to the Exhibition Batty had set up his arena on the south side of Kensington road near the road we now call Palace Gate.

The handbills promised some marvelous equestrian and musical displays.

 

 

All set in a splendid new arena, built to contain these wonders.

 

 

 

 

The Lady’s Newspaper published artist’s impressions of the races, including these two gentlemen recreating a chariot race between two Roman consuls.

 

 

Charlotte wondered if the consuls of ancient Rome had the time to engage in this sort of activity? Weren’t they involved with the Senate? (Charlotte had a sketchy idea of Roman history). But if they had then surely the spectacle would have looked something like that. Charlotte and Miss Freeman had every intention of going to see for themselves, and they attended several events, including the inevitable balloon ascent. These were very popular in London at the time. Charlotte had not yet persuaded her father to allow her to see similar events at Cremorne Gardens, in louche, forbidden Chelsea. (We are not so restricted, follow this link.)

 

 

 

The glue Charlotte used  for her scrapbook wasn’t very good, and left stains on the cutting. (Her apologies.)

 

 

Charlotte like the idea of doing some fancy riding herself.

 

 

She could do that, she was sure, and she had a decent riding habit.

 

 

So they went, on Monday July 21st.

 

And they saw the “French equestriennes”, having their own chariot race.

 

 

Charlotte could easily imagine herself at the reins of a chariot, outpacing the less adventurous Miss Freeman in the other vehicle.

And the ostriches?

 

 

 

 

Well, they were good too, but Charlotte didn’t like the idea of riding one of those. She didn’t imagine the bird cared for it much either.

Batty’s Hippodrome closed after one season but the arena stayed on the map for some years.

 

 

 

Charlotte took some proper riding lessons, but she still dreamed of equestrian stunts. I believe she inherited a considerable sum on the death of her father. Still unmarried, she and Miss Freeman travelled abroad, and who knows what feats of  horsemanship they accomplished far away from Kensington?

 

 

Postscript

This was meant to be a quick throwaway post after the rigors of Kensington Church Street, but it’s a day late already. I’ve been a bit busy.

Many of you will have heard of North Kensington’s  lost horse racing track, the Hippodrome. I did a short post on it for an internal publication back at the beginning of the blog called Horse Locomotion. I might revive that as one of this year’s Christmas posts.

This week’s obituary notice is for the comic artist Steve Ditko, who collaborated with Stan Lee in the creation of some of Marvel’s best known characters, such as Spiderman and Doctor Strange. His quirky style  could not be mistaken for any other artist in the years when Marvel had many of the greats. But looking back at the tributes online I realised that his post-Marvel work for DC and others was equally inventive. We may not remember the Blue Beetle, Nukla, Captain Atom, and the Creeper quite as well as the heroes of the Marvel universe, now being brought to cinema, but i did remember how many times I broke my vow of loyalty to Marvel by buying a DC comic featuring one of Ditko’s heroes. Thank you Mr Ditko.


Kensington Church Street – grand houses and large houses

I had feeling that this week’s post was going to be as late as last week’s. But maybe not. As I recall we were about here…

 

 

Just at the point where Kensington Church Street veers left (or north west if you prefer) while Vicarage Gate carries on northwards. The building which looms above us in this picture is Winchester Court, a nicely curved block of flats built in 1935. Before it was there, according to my constant companion, the Survey of London there was “a large house” which became a convent, and then the Orphanage of St Vincent de Paul.

Winchester Court allows me to use the word faience for the first time on the blog, meaning a glazed ceramic surface. Even in monochrome you can see the first and second floors are finished in black faience. (Now I have the name I can also say that the oxblood tiles on some Piccadilly Line stations are also examples.)

We haven’t quite got round the corner. If I mention one convent I should also mention the impressive Carmelite Priory and Roman Catholic Church on the west side of the street.  The current building was finished in 1959 and was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. (Famous for, among many other buildings, both Battersea and Bankside power stations and the frankly staggering Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.) His grandfather designed St Mary Abbots Church, of course. The odd thing is that I can’t seem to find a photo of the 1959 building in our collection. Naturally, I could lay my hands on a couple of views of the old building, and here is one of them:

 

 

The front of the church can also be seen in this picture.

 

 

The original print is small in size but crisp. You can see the spire of St Mary Abbots, the old Barker’s building at the bottom of the hill and the walls of the houses opposite the church. I have naturally enlarged the image to have a look at the pedestrians.

 

 

Note the horse bus climbing slowly up the hill.

This historical view actually fits in with my other idea for this week. When I looked at an old plan of Kensington Church Street circa 1833 it showed several example of the “large houses” which were fairly common in Kensington at the time.

Maitland House, demolished 1905 stood in grounds next to the Palace Forcing Grounds (see last week).

 

 

It was the home of the artist Sir David Wilkie and the father of John Stuart Mill. The photo is by Augustus Stieglitz.

Its next door neighbour was York House, seen here from the west.

 

 

 

York House, demolished at about the same time was even grander than Maitland House.

 

 

It was once the home of Princess Sophia Matilda, one of the daughters of George III, who lived there from 1839 till her death in 1848

 

We’ll come to other grand houses as we proceed. They all met a similar fate as Kensington turned from country to city. (not one shared by the grand houses of nearby Campden Hill Road which lasted well into the 20th century. I covered some of them in this post.)

This 1980 picture shows the buildings which replaced Maitland and York Houses. block on the left was the York House flats and the office/showroom in the centre was originally built for The Gas Light and Coke Company in 1924.

 

 

 

There was a house called Bullingham House round the corner to the north west.

 

 

But here things get a little complicated. There were two houses called Newton House, named after Sir Isaac who lived in one of them (possibly) quite near to each other on this side of Church Street (or Lane as it would have been). We’ve been here before in a post about the artist Thomas Hosmer Shepherd  You can see some pleasant water colours of these houses, but also a factual error I didn’t notice at  the time.

Let’s go forward in time a little.

 

 

Here, by the side of the old church is Newton Court, the opposite side of the road from Winchester Court. This one was modern  and desirable in 1926. Probably still quite desirable.

Moving even further forward to 1980 again, and crossing the road once more..

 

 

 

The east side of the street, next to Winchester Court.

We have at least got round the corner and are heading north. But remember that bus, heaving up the hill?

 

 

In full uncompressed colour, not the same vehicle but one very like it, anticipating many of the journeys I have made up the hill. Although we’ve moved even slower this week a matter of yards even, we are now pointing north, and poised for the next stage in our journey.

I might do something else next week, just for fun, but we will be returning to Kensington Church Street soon. For added clarity, here is the plan of Church lane as it was in 1833.

 

 

 

Before the postscript though thanks to the late Barbara Denny and the still going strong  Carrie Starren for their book Kensington Past which has helped me when the water of the Survey of London grew too murky. I’ll be drawing on this work again.

 

Postscript

I was a bit late posting last week so although I had heard of the death of Harlan Ellison I didn’t have time to write anything. Then this week I heard about the passing of Peter Firmin so now I have to mention them both without incurring cognitive dissonance. Harlan Ellison was a science fiction writer and polemicist, a champion of “new” SF in the sixties and seventies, a gifted writer of short stories, many of which had extraordinary, typically 60s titles (“I have no mouth and I must scream”; “The beast that shouted love at the heart of the world”;  and my personal favourite: “Repent, Harlequin! said the TickTock Man” – the collection Deathbird Stories would be a good place to start. I think my copy is in a box in a storage unit in Fulham so finding it would be a good story in itself) He was editor of the seminal series of Dangerous Visions anthologies, TV script writer (The Outer Limits episodes Demon with a Glass Hand and Soldier for example, and the Start Trek time travel episode City at the Edge of Forever) and more. A media personality before SF writers  did much of that and a thorn in the flesh of the establishment. The film of his story A boy and his dog can currently be seen on Prime – a great twist at the end.

Peter Firmin was the co-creator of the Clangers, and many other collaborations with Oliver Postgate. So in his own way another giant of science fiction.

I’ve been doing a bit a period reading recently, in a 1966 edition of Geoffery Ashe’s book King Arthur’s Avalon. There is a certain kind of pleasure in reading a non-fiction book written in 1956 which is quite different from reading an old novel. It feels like i was once again reading a book from the city library when I was a teenager and picked up lots of books concerned with history and mythology.

In the modern life of informaton I can find out that, unexpectedly to me (we’re always consigning people to the grave before their time) Ashe is still alive, now aged 95. No obituary for him just yet. I hope he is well.


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