Category Archives: North Kensington

On the border 6.3: road and canal

We left off our trip down Kensal Road before Christmas and we were round about the Lads of the Village pub on the corner of Middle Row. You could just make out the petrol station a little further east.

 

 

The White Knight Garage. I seem to have been wrong about the cars in the previous post so instead of making a guess, I’ll ask my motoring readers to identify the parked car.

Just to show you how far (or not) we’ve got, take a look at this OS map.

 

 

If you can make out the detail, you can see the garage more or less in the centre, with several interesting names features nearby

Pulling back slightly, here is the northern side of the road where light industrial buildings are right next to terraced housing and shops. Is tat man ready to drive inside?

 

 

Beyond the garage some motor works, followed by the Church of St Thomas, a relatively modern building in 1968.

 

 

You can see a kind of bas-relief on the side of the church.

 

The open space behind the wary pedestrian was designated as a playground at this time.  (Is he hanging back for John or what?) The map describes the large building on the right as a pharmaceutical warehouse.

Here is one of those collages from the Planning collection showing this section of the street in the 1990s.

 

It’s all boarded up awaiting development or demolition.

Back in 1969 both sections looked a little more active.

 

 

BDH limited. (According to Kelly’s of 1969 there was a company of that name who were “manufacturing chemists”, although they’re not listed in Kensal Road.)

The terraced housing on the north side looked like this.

 

 

Things were so quiet that a shopkeeper came out to see what was going on. Perhaps because of that, John took this detail, showing the onate moulding:

 

 

We’ve just about reached Wedlake Street. Here’s the open space to the south as it looked in 1969. The church is Our Lady of the Holy Souls on Bosworth Road. Next to it Bosworth House and Appleford House. The tower is Adair Tower ,one of the first tower blocks in the area.

 

 

 

This is the companion picture to the aerial shot from the 1980s in the previous post.

 

 

You can see the bridge over the canal and the space where the baths were. That site is almost completely cleared apart form the Vestry offices building and (if you look closely) the chimney, sitting on its own by the side of the canal. I can’t quite make out if the bridge has changed from this angle but later pictures show that it was replaced with something a little more pedestrian friendly.

Here is a view showing Wedlake Street in the late 1990s.

 

 

The old Vestry building has also gone, replaced by a  residential development. You can just see the bridge.

And there it is. Rather more pleasant to cross in this form I should think.


 

On the Paddington side of the border, the terraced houses survive.

One final look down the canal to the east.

 

 

Although we’re now back at the point where we started in December with that view of the canal side behind the Public Baths there is still one last picture to look at

As you may know, Kensal Road once went all the way to the Great Western Road as on this map, whose top corner shows the intersection, along with a number of streets which no longer exist – Southam Street, Modena Street, Elcom Street and Pressland Street.

 

 

Those streets were demolished in the late 1960s / early 1970s when what was first called the Edenham Estate was built. The centrepiece of that estate was Trellick Tower, now a major landmark, geographical and cultural. When John took most of these pictures, the foundations of the tower were already under construction and Kensal Road truncated as it is today. But I think one picture in our collection taken in 1967 shows the missing section of street.

 

 

 

I can’t make out any numbers or street names (the only one visible is too blurred) but I think this is a view looking west and downwards (you can see a slight slope). On the right  you can make out what might be Modena Street and on the left, as the road curves right, the entrance to Southam Street. Today, the Westway passes over near this spot and Elkstone Road does the job of taking you past Meanwhile Gardens towards Trellick Tower and Golborne Road, taking a slightly different route, closer to the old route of Southam Street.

So this picture takes us to what used to be the western end of Kensal Road which only now exists as a memory or a photograph.

Postscript

Another lengthy blog journey comes to a close. It’s been tricky balancing pictures from different times to tell a story so if I’ve made any errors, please correct me. Time travellers don’t always get everything correct and sometimes you get back to the present and find that things have changed.

Thanks of course to John Rogers who took the 1969 photos. And thanks to everyone who told me to keep blogging.  I wasn’t fishing for compliments, honestly but it’s nice to be appreciated. And I will keep going.

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On the border 6.2: road

1998, a sunny day near the end of a century at the junction of Ladbroke Grove with Kensal Road.

 

When I thought of covering the canal and Kensal Road in a couple of posts I took one of those Google Street View tours from this point up to Golborne Road and realised that the road has changed enormously in the last 40 years. There are many new buildings and conversions and the road looks quite different from how it did at the end of the 1960s, but some older buildings have survived along with something of the semi-domestic semi-industrial feel of the area.

 

 

It’s been suggested to me that the car beneath the advertising hoarding is a Fiat Panda, but surely not. (Too much of a coincidence? What was that advert “Ol’ Balck Eyes is back” about?) The pub which is still there today is the Western Arms which can also be seen in this picture looking back towards Ladbroke Grove.

 

 

 

At the back of the picture is another survivor, Canalside House. But the building on the right is no longer there. The rather larger, mostly white, corporate headquarters of the Innocent Company is there now. Behind the wall is the Portobello Dock.

We have some other pictures from the modern era but perhaps now is the moment to step back to 1969.

 

 

There is the pub again, with an unmistakable and unlovely Ford Anglia parked outside.

A couple of women stroll towards us, along the comparatively quiet street. This was one of the first streets John Rogers covered in his photo survey of the Borough, and one of the earliest chronologically. He must have started right at the top of Kensington, intending to work his way south.

 

 

 

Across the road is the entrance to the Dock, which went under many names. As well as Kensal Wharf when it was owned by the Chelsea Vestry, it was also called Kensington Wharf and also the Council Depot. (A favourite term for council buildings which were not predominantly offices. The main depot was in Pembroke Road and was still known by that name when I started working for the borough, in another semi-forgotten era.)

 

 

This view shows the yard just inside the entrance. Below the view inside.

 

 

Again, you can see the Narrow Boat pub in the background on the other side of the canal, which I once thought undocumented but is now turning up a lot in pictures.

 

 

 

The ramp was originally for horses to pull wagons up to the dock side. The building in the centre was used for several light industrial purposes including the manufacture of “gramophone records”, as Kelly’s describes it.

Also just visible are a pair of  early social housing blocks from the 1930s, Ruth House, below.

 

 

And Pollock House. Both of them have survived into this century.

 

 

The Saga Records building is also still here, although the front is currently boarded up.

 

 

A little further along the north side of the road, number 298 and a couple of neighbouring houses. Only the pram betrays any sign of habitation.

 

 

On the south side of the road, a part of Middle Row School.

 

 

This part of the school no longer exists, but the main building on Middle Row itself is still in action. The houses and shops on the left are also gone.

At this point I have to admit that it looks like we’re not going to get back to our starting point in Wedlake Street this week, so we’ll be doing another week in Kensal Road. I’ll leave you with another view of a pub.

 

 

The excellently named “Lads of the Village”.  It was later known as the Village Inn and by 2014 it seems to have become a wine bar type establishment called “Frames” (some snooker reference?) The building is currently intact according to Street View but it is now boarded up, awaiting further developments.

And for a final general image with a bit of a change of pace, a colour aerial view of the western section of Kensal Road.

 

 

This is from a series we have  taken about 1985. (A fascinating but sometimes confusing set of images) You can see the junction of Kensal Road and Ladbroke |Grove where we started today on the top left, with a few of the remaining features of 1969 and some new buildings. The canal is visible at the top, and (just about) the dock.

We’ll go a bit further, and come back to Wedlake Street in the next weekly post but before then it’s the week  before  Christmas when, by Tradition, I do a week of daily posts. Sooner than I thought, and only one of those is written so far. So fingers crossed.

 


On the border 6.1: Canal

The next couple of posts arise from this photograph, which  my  friend  Maggie  got excited about a couple of weeks ago. (There aren’t too many pictures of this building.) This one comes from our collection of former Planning photos  and was taken on October 16th 1984. You can see the staple in the middle which joins two prints together, as we used to do before we could get help from a computer.

 

 

 

 

It shows the rear of the former public  baths in Kensal Road which backed onto the  Grand Union Canal. (Previously known as the Grand Junction Canal) Two  faded lines  of graffiti seem to read “Save  our baths“.Too late perhaps. The impressive building must have been close  to demolition given the date . You can see Trellick Tower in the background to give you some idea of the location.

The highlighted graffiti  reads “An eye for an eye – in the end the whole world goes blind.” A characteristically seventies bit of instant sloganeering. See this old post about graffiti.

On the left is one of those scary high sided foot  bridges which were hated by young and old alike because you never knew what you might encounter on them while crossing. (Known locally as the halfpenny steps I’m told.)

This picture shows the steps up to the bridge, and the main entrance to the baths in Wedlake Street (the baths were sometimes called the Wedlake Baths). No amount of peering with a magnifying glass (another piece of old tech used in local studies) will reveal the wording text of the graffiti.

 

 

This is the view around the corner in Kensal Road, another carefully stapled image. The building on which JM and his friends have left their mark were once the Vestry Offices.

 

 

Historical note: up to 1900 the Chelsea Vestry owned a piece of territory called Kensal New Town which straddled the later border between Kensington and Paddington, so these Vestry offices originally belonged to Chelsea, as did the wharf, as we’ll see later.

Kensal Road now runs from Ladbroke Grove to Golborne Road, ending more or less at Trellick Tower but it formerly went all the way to the Great Western Road, running parallel with the canal, and north of the railway line. This is why I wanted to look at this border area, the canal and the road, together. This week we’ll look at the canal, so back to the water.

 

 

This view of the towpath is the last of this series from 1984.

This older image shows the backs of the industrial buildings on the south side of the canal.

 

 

This one gives a better view of the north side.

 

 

It’s a slightly discoloured image (some colour prints go that way) which shows how the houses and shops on the Harrow Road went right up to the edge of the canal. My houseboat correspondent tells me that one of these was the rear of a fish and chip shop and that boat people could get their order handed to them without leaving their boats.

We’re heading west from this point back towards Ladbroke Grove. But before we get there we should stop off at Portobello Dock.

 

 

The dock (once called Kensal Wharf) is a small basin off the canal. As part of Kensal New Town it would once have belonged to the Chelsea Vestry. (Access to the canal might well have been useful to the Vestry, just as some landlocked nations like to have access to the sea or to useful waterways. The Kensington Vestry once owned a riverside section of Chelsea and later had a wharf on the river near Chelsea Creek.)

 

 

These two pictures have been cropped from a contact sheet. (See the pen mark at the top of the image.) This one shows where the dock area could be entered from Kensal Road.

This picture by local photographer Peter Dixon shows the somewhat waterlogged towpath with the gas works in the background and on the right the Narrow Boat public house.

 

 

There is another photograph showing the now demolished pub by Peter in the Ladbroke Grove post I did a couple of years ago.

On the other side of the road, in a picture from 1975, you can see the gas works (covered quite extensively in this post) and on the other side of the canal, the wall of Kensal Green Cemetery.

 

 

The gas works had two basins of its own. You can see the entrance to the smaller one  (which still exists) in the foreground. The bridge over the entrance to the larger basin is visible in the distance.

Here is a picture of a barge actually entering the basin.

 

 

This view shows the rear of the barge as it performs this manoeuvre.

 

 

I think this is the smaller basin, about 1970.

 

 

Back on the main body of the canal we carry on westwards. This view of the less grand section of the cemetery looks quite rural, as it would have been once.

 

 

And finally, this view just around the corner gives us a traditional motor barge passing by  a stand of trees with only the gasometer to give the setting away.

1970s we think, based on the plastic sheathed tree on the right.

That takes us along the northern border of Kensington and Chelsea by canal. The next post gets back to the road.

Postscript

Thanks to Peter Dixon for his photograph, which is reproduced by permission. Please do not use it without his permission.

Thanks also to Barbara for providing the two pictures of the barge entering the basin, and for finding many of the others which come from our Planning collection. I’m grateful for the continuing interest of North Kensington residents in their history which is just as fascinating as the more “historical” parts of Kensington and Chelsea.


The end of Camelford Street

The name of Camelford Street is continued in one of the walkways on the Lancaster West Estate, which is what drew my attention to these pictures of the original street, which are part of our 1970s photo survey. This view is looking west.

 

 

In some ways a classic street scene from the 70s as we saw in Hurstway Street a few years go. The derelict properties, a few residents hanging on, and the inevitable varied collection of cars. Look at that Jaguar in the foreground with some damage to the front end. I once (in Dalgarno Gardens I think) came across a little crescent which seemed to be full of old Jaguars and Daimlers. (for another Jaguar story see this post).

Camelford Street was more or less erased by development in the early 1970s. For those of you who need a reminder, here it is on an OS map updated about 1971.

 

 

As you can see it was in  a block of houses and larger buildings  between Ladbroke Grove, Lancaster Road, St Mark’s Road and Cornwall Crescent. By the time of this map much of the demolition had already taken place. The 1935 map shows the houses which been there a short time before.

 

 

(Note the Convent on the other side of Ladbroke Grove. We had a look at that when the blog was young.)

Demolition had already begun in the picture below showing the rear of Ladbroke Lower School.

 

 

On the other side of the road there was still some signs of life.

 

 

This view is further up the road showing the exposed party wall of a house already boarded up, with the same estate car (a Ford? Or a Hillman?)

 

 

Beyond that a gap in the houses where you find the old school gates with signs for Girls on one side Infants on the other.

 

 

 

Next, another section of near complete demolition.

 

 

Solomon Wolfson School is visible in the background.

This is the final stretch of the north side of the street. Note the pile of tires on the left, a sure marker for imminent destruction it seems.

 

 

This is the south side of the street. There’s that Land Rover and that unknown old car from the first picture, and Kelly and Mick have left their mark.

 

 

On the left is the pub at the end of the street, the Ladbroke. Here is a better view.

 

 

This is the view looking back to the end of the street. That Triumph Herald on the right looks a bit the worse for wear. And is the vehicle behind it a little damaged too? Was it an informal collection of vehicles ready to be scrapped or broken up for parts? A lot of that sort of business was still done on the streets in 1970.

 

 

It really was another age. Ladbroke Crescent is now an innocuous cul-de-sac leading to a primary school behind a fence and a stand of trees which partially conceal it.

Postscript

I was amazed that there are still little streets I’ve never seen pictures of before. While writing this post I came across another so lovers of back waters and forgotten byways can reat assured that there will be more in the future.

 


Up Clarendon Road: 1970

Clarendon Road is another of the streets that converged at Lancaster Circus running roughly north to south. In 1970 it ran from the junction with Lancaster Road all the way down to Holland Park Avenue. This week’s post is another in a series exploring the streets of North Kensington as they looked in the late 1960s and early 1970s when there were many streets in the area like Walmer Road which took a journey from relative affluence to relative poverty. The recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower put the contrast between the different conditions of life and property in the Borough into a new perspective. But we can still look back at how the streets of North Kensington used to be.

 

 

This first picture shows the short section of street on the west side of Clarendon Road after the pub (The Castle) on the corner of Holland Park Avenue. In 1970 there was a Radbourne Garage, a small car dealer at number 1. Next to it was a low rise block of flats in a recognizeably 1960s style.

 

 

The block wasn’t typical of the street though. The early numbers on both sides were more like this.

 

 

The houses were substantial, showing the ambitions of the original builders and developers of the Ladbroke Estate. By 1970 some of them were a little run down. But the process of gentrification was well under way.

This section of the street is relatively narrow, with one or two surprisingly striking houses.

 

 

The one above, a double house, the work of the builder William Reynolds. Below a leaf-clad detached house.

 

As you move north the street widens out.

 

I’m not entirely sure of the vantage point in this picture, but I was taken with the woman strolling slowly towards the photographer on what I think would be a winter’s day.

This view is also looking north up the hill from the junction with Clarendon Cross


 

Clarendon Road intersects with a number of other streets, Ladbroke Road, Lansdowne Walk, St John’s Gardens, Lansdowne Rise, Portland Road. Below, a girl crosses the road near Portland Road unconcerned about traffic.

 

 

The Britannia public house was on that corner.

 

 

As we get to the junction with Elgin Crescent the street becomes more mixed and the pictures more interesting.

The east side of the road again.

 

 

On the west side Nottingwood House.

 

 

This view looks north again.

 

 

The next turn off is Cornwall Crescent. This is the point where we need some help from a map.

 

 

This is actually a detail from the 1935 Ordnance Survey map, which shows the layout of the streets before 1970s development and also has had the individual houses numbered by some unknown hand at Kensington Town Hall. If you look at the point where Cornwall Crescent meets Clarendon Road, the house numbers above 120 on the east side, you see which houses were later demolished when the Lancaster West Estate was built.

 

 

This one, 122

Its neighbours,

 

128 onwards

 

Outside Telemart (“radio and television distributors”), a man is making some kind of adjustment to a camper van.  You have Talbot Grove visible on the left. Dulford Street was almost opposite, visible in this view of the west side of the street.

 

 

 

Then looking north again you see the final curve of Clarendon Road.

 

 

The tower block in the background is one of the towers on the Silchester Estate built by the GLC a few years earlier. although its sudden appearance above the traditional streets reminds us that this was the start of a period of housing development in the area.

Back to the east side:

 

 

Below, a number of somewhat run-down shops.

 

 

I can’t help wondering what ID Clearance might have been.

This view turns back to look southwards.

 

 

And again. We’ve seen this picture before.

 

 

But it takes us back to Lancaster Circus and joins us up once more with Lancaster Road and Walmer Road.

Postscript

I’m a little late publishing again today. One or two other demands on my time, plus the fact that there were quite a lot of pictures of Clarendon Road in the end. I’ve been uncomfortable with the idea of writing about North Kensington since the fire but in the end it’s one of my jobs so I  knew I would be back. All this week’s photographs were by John Rogers.


The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Postscript by DW

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

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

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

Any image of the old tower now looks poignant.

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

 


Agitprop: some pictures from the Mike Braybrook archive

When I decided on the word agitprop for this post I actually had to look up the term up before starting to write to check the actual meaning. It was a term that I heard or read a lot back in the 1970s when I first came to London. The various dictionary definitions boil down to art forms with a political message, derived from a Russian combination of words for agitation and propaganda. But when I was hearing it for the first time it seemed to refer to any anti-establishment activity or literature. Time Out, I recall had a section headed Agit Prop. (Or am I imagining that?). And it was all wrapped up with the underground press, protests and campaigns of every kind. There was a lot of protesting back then. I remember a campaign to save a residential square near my college from developers, and another against the lack of use of Centre Point (then not fully occupied). This was of course before the internet, mobile phones, emails, instant messaging, social media and citizen journalism. There was just the printed page, and makeshift newspapers, magazines and handbills circulated around colleges, schools, community centres and anywhere where people gathered. And word of mouth of course. Community activism was everywhere, not least in North Kensington where there was plenty to complain about.

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These days academics from all over the world are studying urban protest and community action and their research sometimes brings them to libraries like ours which have been collecting what we call ephemera for years. Ephemera consists of,  as the name implies, the throwaway scraps of paper which were only intended for the moment, but which can turn into useful historical documents if someone hangs onto them. That’s part of my job as a professional hoarder, keeping scraps which may turn into the raw material of history.

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Mike Braybrook owned a printing business at various locations in North Kensington and it was he and other like him who printed the posters, handbills and free sheets which promoted activism in west London. I never knew of him till after his death in February 2007 after which a group of his family and friends came together to preserve an archive of his work. The Mike Braybrook Archive was recently added to the stock of the British Library. I’ve had some involvement with the friends who have worked on the archive and have scanned some of the material and been able to keep copies for the library. So today’s post is not intended as a comprehensive view of the archive, but just as a snapshot of an era of urban activism in London.

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The artwork on these posters and handbills often looks crude.

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The creators often had little to work with in the way of time and materials. But the hand made look reminds us that this was an era of do-it-yourself art. The punk movement came out of this time, with its cobbled together fanzines and cover art.

Some posters were a little more sophisticated, and showed some artistic flair.

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The archive doesn’t just contain political material but also promotional material for community events like the Notting Hill Carnival.

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See the logo at the bottom, of the International Times (along with Oz and Frendz, one of the leading “underground” newspapers)

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Other events were not quite so well known, and were concerned with fund raising for local projects, such as this one, near one of London’s iconic locations.

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Or this, at a slightly less famous venue.

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There were famous causes and a few famous names.

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Perennial London issues.

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With radical solutions.

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Not to mention folk demons from the past.

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And familiar, if perhaps naive, images of rebellion.

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(I’m not sure when this imaged was created or what it was used for – any suggestions?)

I’m presenting this as a little bit of history without commenting on the issues themselves. But people are still angry and are still protesting even though methods of getting your point of view across have changed. Some of these issues remain current. Some of the imagery has stuck with the popular imagination.There is still plenty to protest about.

 

Postscript

The Mike Braybrook Archive was deposited in the British Library in December 2016. The material is not yet ready for access but future researchers will find it a valuable historical source in the years to come and Mr Braybrook’s family and friends are to be commended for their work in preserving it for posterity.

 

 

 

 


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