Category Archives: North Kensington

Westbourne Grove to Pembridge Road: another short walk

This is where we finished last week, minus 70 or 80 years or so:

Westbourne Grove

The street is busy but pedestrians are still free to amble across it.The building in the centre was as I suggested last week at this time a bank, the London and Westminster Bank (much later merged into the NatWest). If you look carefully into the distance on the right the spires of the Baptist Chapel are visible. But I promised you another walk in a southward direction. So let’s take the other fork, Pembridge Villas.

Pembridge Villas PC324 nAs you can see it’s a quiet residential street full of what might be called suburban villas.

“There are some grand parts to Notting Hill; everybody knows that.The streets between Westbourne Grove and Pembridge Square for example have a reputaion for being awfully desireable. ” as Sugar, the heroine of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White  says to William Rackham. “But that is precisely where I live!” is his reply. For these characters the area was clean and pleasant and not quite in London.

The buses were another useful amenity for residents.

Pembridge Villas PC324 n (2)

A close up shows that these are horse buses which perhaps puts us in the 1890s. It would only be a short ride up Pembridge Villas to Pembridge Road. Here there is a junction with Pembridge Crescent and Pembridge Square, and a little further on Portobello Road.

Pembridge Road Sun in SplendourHere is the familiar curved front of the Sun in Splendour, a pub which is still a starting point for any walk down the Portobello Road. I often pose the question what would it be like to enter these everyday scenes of a century or so ago, but what if it were the other way round, and the people in these pictures could see our streets?


I took this picture, which shows the other half of the pub’s front in 2008 when I went to look at some pictures in Notting Hill Library. (Is it really five years ago?)

This is the point where the street changes back to the retail environment we left back in Westbourne Grove.

Pembridge Road PC325 L-2080

The buildings are two storey affairs with shops on the ground floor and some living space above. Shoppers stroll by heading towards the High Street (as Notting Hill Gate would have been known then.)

Pembridge Road 1905 35-39 fp detail

Look past the boy looking at the camera and the woman in short sleeves. Can you see the sign: “Best prices paid for old artificial teeth” Dentistry was a growth business in this period.

Back in 2008 when I was there foot traffic was going in both directions.


The colours have probably changed, and the shop fronts are more flamboyant.


All fascinating shops as you can see but a brief acknowledgement from me to Mimi Fifi, at the centre of the picture,  which I have visited many times and is devoted to toys and memorabilia and contains thousands of such items.

Imagine those late Victorian / Edwardian shoppers, already veterans of the 19th century retail revolution finding even more stuff to buy.


At the end of this short stretch the narrow road widens out again as it meets the junction with the start of Kensington Park Road and last section before Notting Hill Gate.

Pembridge Road PC1108

This view looks north, back the way we came. The buildings on the eastern side of the road are still with us, as you can see in this northward view:

Pembridge Road PC327 n

Outside Hart’s Noted Furniture Stores two women seem to be waiting for something. A gap in the traffic?

Pembridge Road PC327

Across the road the Prince Albert public house, which still goes by that name.

Pembridge Road PC329

Behind it was a group of tiny streets, now mostly gone.

Further along the road at the junction with the high street the buildings have all been replaced by a huge development (relative to the street) combining retail and housing.

Pembridge Road PC326 fp

This view from 1963 shows the scale of the change.

Notting Hill Gate north side 92-164 1963 K63-1077

At the right of the picture you can see the older buildings on the east side of Pembridge Road and across the road the retail /office block that replaced the original buildings. For me, and millions of others of course this is the Notting Hill Gate we know. The wide pavements and shops seem like just another familiar part of of the Kensington landscape.

We’ve walked ourselves back and forth through time while making that short journey from Westbourne Grove to Notting Hill Gate. Time to take a rest.


I took the pictures in 2008 using an Olympus compact camera which seems tiny now compared with the Nikon I’m using now.

A short stroll down Westbourne Grove 1971-2

1971. A bright day, in November possibly. On the right of the picture 120 Kensington Park Road,a branch of Finch’s Wine. The start of our little walk.

Westbourne Grove looking east Nov Dec 1971 KS2297

These are the high numbers of Westbourne Grove. The street begins over the border in Westminster but we won’t go there today.

Westbourne Grove north side 304-306 nov 1971 KS2298

The restaurant on the corner was called L’Artiste Assoiffe. We looked quite closely at the building one day at the Library and concluded that it was larger than the ones beside it because it may have been the developer’s own house. It has always stuck in my mind because my friend Tony did some temporary work there one day in the 1970s and was given four LPs by the German band Faust who had eaten there. The music meant nothing to the proprietors and not much more to Tony but I was a bit of a fan so they ended up with me, and I still have them. (I saw Faust at the Rainbow about 1974 although saying saw is stretching it as the stage was in near total darkness, a complete contrast to the support band Henry Cow who practically brought a whole circus with them including jugglers, dancers and a man who ironed clothes throughout the performance.I digress)

Kelly’s Directory of 1972 conforms the identity of the shops – the Catherine Buckley boutique, an Express Dairy and several antique shops. (Portobello Road is just up the road.) I think the pancake restaurant Obelix was later on this part of the street. That was more in my price range at the time – I remember going there a lot in the early 80s. (I’ll look it up when I get back to the Library.)[Update - it was at 294, so probably in the right block  just out of the picture]

Westbourne Grove south side 295-287 Dec 1971 KS2487

The south side also had many antique shops. The picture is dated December 1971 although that group of girls on the left don’t look like they’re dressed for winter. The photographer John Rogers was also in the street in June 1972 so there may be room for confusion. I’ll ask him next time I see him.

Number 291, an antiques warehouse, the building with the classical arch in the centre of the picture had been the home of the Twentieth Century Theatre used by the Rudolf Steiner Association. Before that it was a cinema and the headquarters of the Lena Ashwell Players. If you remember we encountered Miss Ashwell a couple of weeks ago having dinner with Yoshio Markino. A closer look:

Westbourne Grove south side 291-293 Dec 1971 KS2489

Past Portobello Road comes our friend from last week, Portobello Court.

Westbourne Grove Portobello Court Dec 1971 KS2470

It has settled into the local  landscape and become a familiar feature.

Westbourne Grove south side Longlands Court DEc 1971 KS2485

Across the road was Longlands Court.

At the intersection with Denbigh Road, Westbourne Grove widens out.

Westbourne Grove looking east from Denbigh Road Dec 1971 KS2472

The shops continue on both sides of the road, north:

Westbourne Grove north side 224-228 Dec 1971 KS2473

And south:Westbourne Grove south side 241-243 Dec 1971 KS2484

The retail ground floors all jut out from the solid mid-19th century houses above.

This has also become a walk for my car identifying readers.

Westbourne Grove north side 194-196 Dec 1971 KS2476

Look at the vintage item in the foreground and the Jaguar / Daimler on the other side.  What does it tell us about the residents and visitors to this semi-Bohemian quarter? Look closely at the twin towered building in the distance, the former Baptist Chapel. Modern residents will note that it lacks the spires it has now and did once before. What befell the original structures?

Westbourne Grove south side 187-189 Jun 1972 KS3568

In the centre of the picture a shop called Dodo Designs, wholesalers of fancy goods. We’re moving away from the antique district now. Is that an MG in the foreground?

Westbourne Grove south side 155-157 Jun 1972 KS3563

Further along another sports car, in front of a Fiat 500. Opposite, the Star of Bombay restaurant, still there today.

Below, a motorbike to be identified.

Westbourne Grove south side 141-143 Jun 1972 KS3562

Over the road the Jimmy James grocers (one of two shops Jimmy James had in the street at the time), next door to Chipstead Productions, film editors and cutters, and further along a little shop called Bon Bon (confectioners – not many shops these days are exclusively devoted to confectionery. Even Hotel Chocolat serves coffee.)

Westbourne Grove south side 113-135 Jun 1972 KS3561 You can also see Bon Bon in the final picture in the shadow of the tall building with an ornate tower at the intersection of Pembridge Villas and Chepstow Place. In its glory days it had been a bank but at the time of this photo (dated June 1972, as are all the pictures from this end of the street) it was another antique dealer’s premises.

Westbourne Grove goes on into the City of Westminster, but John had reached the end of his mission so we don’t have the resources to step over the border. Our walk comes to an end with the sun shining brightly on 1970s Westbourne Grove. I came to London in 1973 so these pictures come from an era when it was all new and exciting for me. So I never tire of going back there


Just as this week’s post was suggested by last weeks I’m now thinking of turning south and heading towards Pembridge Road for another Secret Life of Postcards special. We’ll see if that works out.

Portobello Court: new housing 1949-50

Portobello Street Feb 1945This is Portobello Street (formerly called Bolton Street) in February 1945. You won’t find it on maps today.

Your eye is drawn to the horse and cart, still commonplace in London at that time. But look up from the cart at the almost entirely torn down political poster on the wall where the big caption “Labour gets things done” survives. This was of course months before the election of 1945 which resulted in a landslide victory for the Labour party.

Housing developments in Kensington were not a direct result of the election. There was a huge impetus for new housing after the damage and dereliction left by the war. One typical development was the plan to demolish the whole of Portobello Street to make way for a new housing estate.

Portobello Street

This map, overlaid with the new buildings shows the extent of the new estate.

Portobello Street 1945This photograph has been marked up by someone in the planning office. It was another four years before the site was cleared and looked like this, in1949:

Portobello Court site 12.5.49

Below is the view looking roughly west with Lonsdale Road at the right of the picture :

Portobello Court site 12.11.49

The building work has only just begun and just like with modern  projects the builder’s hut is the first thing to be constructed. This one looks rather more substantial than the prefab units of today.

Looking at the site from another angle you can see the tower of the Convent of Our Lady of Sion, now converted for residential use and known as Thornberry Court, and nearer to the building site the classical front of the Methodist Chapel, now demolished. The buildings on the other side of Westbourne Grove  have also been demolished. This section of Westbourne Grove was originally called Archer Street.

Portobello Court site 08.07.49

In the picture below you can see more of Lonsdale Road and Colville School. That section of street used to be called Buckingham Terrace (and before that Western Terrace), and the school known as Buckingham Terrace School.

Portobello Court site 13.6.50 02

Here is a slightly different view of the same side of the new estate, showing the entrance to the school and what looks like a removals van.

Portobello Court site 13.6.50 03

The tower of All Saint’s Church in Talbot Road is in the distance.

This picture shows the east side of the development.

Portobello Court site 13.6.50 04

The path running up to the gates is all that remains of the line of Portobello Street. Colville Street goes from left to right

Tricky isn’t it? Let’s try this one:

Portobello Court site 16.5.50 03

You can see the estate taking shape. The street in the foreground is Denbigh Street. The bus is parked at the corner of Westbourne Grove. (Not to mention the bowler hatted Man from the Ministry standing there). Colville Street carries on from Denbigh Street and Lonsdale Road can be seen in the background.

To complete the rectangle of streets we need one more view:

Portobello Court site 20.6.50Portobello Road itself, running across the back of the picture with the tower of St Peter’s Church, Kensington Park Road just visible, thankfully for the modern viewer.

The previous pictures of the site were taken in May and June of 1950. The last three are all from July of that year.

Portobello Court site 14.7.50 02

The housing blocks get taller.

Portobello Court site 14.7.50 01

A number 15 bus can be seen on Westbourne Grove.

Portobello Court site 14.7.50 03

Here is another view of that corner. The estate is almost finished.

If this selection of camera angles, street name changes , demolished and still existing buildings has left you confused let’s take a final look back at 1945. Below is a view looking down Portobello Road in 1945.

Portobello Road Feb 1945

Once again the planner’s pen is at work marking the end of Portobello Street.

A woman stands on the corner looking down the street perhaps unaware that everything behind her is marked for destruction, and new housing.



As you can imagine although this post is economical in terms of words it had a high level of difficulty as far as accurate captions were concerned. Local resident and historian Maggie Tyler helped me with orientation and identification of streets and churches but any errors are my own. Current and former residents of Portobello Court may spot things I’ve missed. Corrections and comments are welcome.

I had intended to include a 1970s picture from our photo survey to show the completed building but when I looked at the set of John Rogers photos of the Kensington part of Westbourne Grove I decided they deserve a post of their own, which will be coming soon.

Building the Westway 1966 – 1971

Very few  stretches of motorway have any kind of cultural significance  outside their own locality. You might cite the M25 whose psychological and geographical resonance was investigated at book length by Iain Sinclair. When you’re thinking of new roads in west London generally, J G Ballard’s work might come to mind. There must be others. But none of them are quite as resonant as the Westway, that stretch of road which bisected north Kensington in the late 1960s.

I wrote a piece about the new landscape created by the motorway earlier this year, and afterwards one of my readers sent me some scans of pictures he owned. I knew I would use them on the blog one day and as I was looking through them last week I thought they would make a good contrast with the rather decorative images you’ve seen in the last few weeks. As the man who writes the words I often look for an angle when I select pictures for a post. But these images don’t require much in the way of commentary. They come with a built-in set of impressions and ideas. Obviously I won’t be able to stop myself adding a few words…..

002 walker 11 1966

Normally I crop images and straighten them out before putting them up but with these I think it looks better if you see them as I first saw them, with their typed or hand written captions. The pictures look like they come from an album put together by a contractor as a record of their firm’s work. You can see something similar here in a post about Chelsea Bridge. Before digital cameras and data storage this was common practice on big construction jobs. Equally commonly images like this end up being lost or destroyed.

1966 was the year of demolition. Streets were cleared, and areas of derelict land expanded, revealing the detritus of urban living or just providing a place among the churned mud and rubble for all kinds of abandoned stuff to accumulate.

004 walker 26 1966

In the background the houses and housing blocks look like they’re half concealed behind a layer of mist. (That may be the weather of course, or the photographs themselves).

007 walker 32 1966

Abandoned vehicles look like discarded toys. Below, a pair of cars look like they are sinking in a sea of tires, barely corralled behind a fence.

008 walker 42 1966

Behind another corrugated iron fence one of the few people visible in these pictures, a surveyor working for the main contractor.

001 walker 1 1966

The cars below look stranded as if by a sudden subsidence.

005 walker 27 1966

Behind them the fence is collapsing and  you can see a partially demolished  or crumbling building.

Below a group of boys find a quiet spot for exploration and play near a railway footbridge.

003 walker 19 1966

Some semblance of order has been imposed as a site is prepared for clearance.

006 walker 29 1966

By 1967 this process continues as some of the demolition sites were ready for construction.

011 walker 12 1967

In the background a Metropolitan Line train passes over the empty scene.

Below the first signs of the road construction to come, with two column bases.

010 walker 9 1967

Several photos were taken from this vantage point on Whitstable House as the work progressed. The photo above was taken in April 1967.

The one below is from December:

012 walker 31 1967

In March 1968:

014 walker 38 1968

A smoke or dust cloud rises from the ground on the right of the picture like steam.

015 walker 43 1968

Further west the road is starting to take shape.

016 walker 51 1968

Here is the view from Whitstable House four months after the previous picture:

walker 34

Progress was steady rather than rapid . This view from February 1969 shows how close the emerging road was to housing that was still in full use:

walker 33

There are no pictures  from 1970 in the set so there is a sudden jump to the completed motorway which looks clean and empty.

017 walker 3 1971

The last image was taken early in 1971. It takes us back to the beginning of Walmer Road, now separated from the rest of the street.

018 walker 13 1971

The Latimer Arms which used to sit at the start of Walmer Road, now also isolated.

The Westway was about to become a physical and psychological feature of North Kensington and of London in general. There were many positive aspects to it as an advance in the transport infrastructure of west London. These pictures show how it began as a kind of scar on the urban landscape of the area, unavoidable perhaps but undeniably traumatic.


My thanks to the reader who sent me these pictures, for which I am very grateful.

From the air: Kensington

Just like the picture postcard the fascination of the aerial photograph is in the detail. The difference between the two is the puzzle element of the aerial view. The angle you are looking from is unnatural possibly even unimaginable when some of the places you see were first built. Even when buildings were constructed in the age of aircraft you see things the observer from the ground could never see.

I had quite a number of images to choose from so this selection (the first in an occasional series) is simply some of the photos which struck me as interesting or showed some buildings I have dealt with before in the blog. Like this one:

Gas works and railway 1965 K66-202

This 1965 picture shows the gas works in Ladbroke Grove which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. North of it you can see Kensal Green Cemetery, most of the ground concealed under foliage. At the edge of the gas works site is Kensal House. This is the last stretch of Ladbroke Grove before it hits the Harrow Road. The 52 bus used to take me along here up Chamberlayne Road to Kensal Rise. Either before the railway bridge or after it was the block of shops and houses which was the location of Hamrax Motors where I (the owner of a Honda) used to go to be patronised by the owners of British motorbikes. South of the railway you can see Raymede and Treverton Towers, like two open books propped up on the ground and to the left of them this building:

Gas works and railway 1965 K66-202 - Copy

Is that a grand ecclesiastical building? In another universe perhaps but in our world it’s St Charles Hospital a well known building but quite different from the air.

We’re heading in a roughly southwards direction now to see a quite different building.

Holland Park Avenue looking south 1965 K66-188

The trick with aerial photos is to orientate yourself using some obvious landmark. You can just make out the Commonwealth Institute at the top of the picture. The mass of trees behind it is Holland Park. Move to the foreground where Holland Park Avenue is going to meet Holland Road.

Holland Park Avenue looking south 1965 K66-188 - Copy

At the time of the photograph that long building was owned by the BMC (a forerunner of British Leyland) but it was built as a roller skating rink. The Hilton Hotel is now on the site.

Now we move east into Notting Hill Gate.

Notting Hill Gate looking south 1965 K66-196

This picture is also from 1965 when the redevelopment of the former Notting Hill High Street was relatively new. You can see Campden Hill Tower, that unexpectedly (in this neighbourhood) high building and all the working spaces between it and Ladbroke Road which curves up to meet Pembridge Road. To the right of the picture you can see Holland Park School and another old friend of ours:

Notting Hill Gate looking south 1965 K66-196 - Copy

The Campden Hill Water Works, with its microwave mast which one of my readers wrote a comment about in the post about the tower. This picture shows the location of the Water Works for another reader who enquired about that.

We can follow Campden Hill Road south now to the Kensington High Street of 1967.

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158

St Mary Abbotts Church should be easy to spot and Barker’s department store opposite. Next to Barker’s is Derry and Tom’s with its famous roof garden.

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158 - Copy (2)

You get an idea from the air of how big the garden is and some sense of the effort involved in creating it. Ponting’s, the diminutive cousin of Barker’s and Derry and Tom’s is also visible. The size factor alone shows why Ponting’s was the first to go.

Here is another close-up from the same picture:

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158 - Copy

It’s my place of work again, Kensington Central Library, but this was before the building of the Town Hall so all there was in front of the Library was a car park and the two houses on the top of the site Niddry Lodge and the Red House which I’ve written about before. I’ve also covered the building which was there before the Library which is in this similar view from a 1939 picture:

Kensington High Street 1939 K-3266-B - Copy

There it is – the Abbey, the gothic folly built by William Abbott,  before the bombs fell. This picture shows the full extent of the grounds.

Now another close-up from a few years before in 1935:

Kensington High Street 1935 K-3291-B - Copy

The Derry and Tom’s building before the Garden, a bare canvas.

Before we leave Kensington High Street let’s take another step back in time.

Kensington High Street 1921 K-3267-B

You’re now looking at 1921. The narrow spire of St Mary Abbotts dominates the picture. In the foreground is Kensington Barracks and at the top of the picture an older incarnation of Barker’s but it’s that block in the centre which intrigues me.

Kensington High Street 1921 K-3267-B - Copy

The interesting thing about this building is not that it’s gone but that it’s still there. So is the fire station in front of it and the short row of houses almost attached to it. Other buildings have grown up around it so it no longer looks separate. With the row of modern shopfronts on the High Street side there is complete continuity. At first glance anyway. When I finished writing this I went out and walked round it just to be sure.

We could look at Kensington High Street in much more detail but I can’t end this ramble through recent subject matter seen from a different angle without moving to South Kensington.

Museums area 1951 K65-8

In this 1951 picture you can see the Albert Memorial swathed in scaffolding again, the Albert Hall and in the foreground the Natural History Museum. But in the centre you can see the building whose interior we explored a few weeks ago, the Imperial Institute. There are other details here: is that the site of Mrs McCulloch’s house on the corner of Queen’s Gate and Prince Consort Road Road?

But we’ll come back here another day.

This week’s images were almost all taken by Aerofilms Ltd, the UK’s first commercial aerial photography company. English Heritage now owns their historic collection and many of the images can be seen at

Gas works: Ladbroke Grove 1970

Where the Grand Junction Canal and the main line railway to Paddington diverge from their parallel course there is a teardrop shaped  patch of land bounded on the east by Ladbroke Grove. In 1845 the Western Gas Company built a gas works there facing All Souls Cemetery on the other side of the canal. When North Kensington was developed for housing in the second half of the 19th century the Gas Works sat waiting at its northern edge. And there it stayed as London grew around it. In 1936 the Gas and Light Company built a progressive housing development on the Ladbroke Grove edge of the site powered by the wonder of gas, Kensal House, but more of that another day.

Today only a couple of gasometers remain overlooking the cemetery. Most of the site is taken  up by a Sainsbury’s super store. But in 1970 although gas production had ceased the owners seem to have been wondering what to do with the gas works, and denying rumours that the whole site would be given over to housing.

That’s the history bit. And possibly the reason why these photographs were taken. They show the Gas Works in a half way state, not shut down but not quite working either.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-594

For the uninitiated like me this is just an inexplicable tangle of pipes, doing something impressive no doubt, but I like it simply because of the shape. The lure of the industrial landscape can be just as strong as the desire to see a famous church or museum.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-599

You expect to see people on those gantries checking pressure gauges for signs of the chemical activity within these giant units.

Here are more of those pipes, and a ladder waiting to be climbed.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-608

See another ladder leading to a door on the right of the picture. What was inside that narrow tower that meant you couldn’t have a door at the foot of the structure?

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2177-B

Two of the gasometers, showing their 19th century origins in the ornate ironwork.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2182-B

This picture shows the link to the railway, and the first sign of human life as two men point out something to each other. We’ll see them again.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2180-B

Here is the basin which linked the works to the canal. I imagine coal or coke being moved on conveyor belts up these covered structures (I don’t know the correct term for them). You see signs of decay and disuse here. The water is still and silent.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2183-B

There are those men again in front of one of the older buildings on the site. One of them wears a brown work coat over his suit. He’s the one who knows the works. The other may be a visitor.

There are further signs of the age of the works in the already abandoned sections.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-600

Crumbling brickwork and growing weeds – as much picturesque decay as in any gothic folly.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-609

Continuing that idea a silent interior space as quiet as a cathedral, bright light visible through the arched windows.

The size of the pipes induces its own kind of awe.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-610

I spent a brief summer working at Shotton Steel works in North Wales an installation as large as a small town it seemed at the time with internal bus routes to take you to the various outposts. It was particularly striking at night, maybe even beautiful. Perhaps it was there I developed a liking for these industrial structures, or perhaps it’s something we all have.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-612

Beyond this ramshackle storage unit the trees, possibly in the cemetery.

Below there are other signs of the world outside glimpsed under the gantry.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2176-B

Among the quiet buildings there are some surprises:

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-611

Some kind of crane on rails I think looking like a forgotten half-folded Transformer.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2179-B

So let’s leave these sleeping giants and withdraw along the access road.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2175-B

“Things were melancholy and industrial” as Paul Haines and Carla Bley once said.


There are other pictures of the gas works in earlier days in our collection so we may be back here again. Next week another forgotten building.

New landscape: under the Westway

Westway HTC 1463

I was bound to write about the Westway sooner or later. There is a complex story to be told about the historical, political, economic and sociological impact of its construction. But I don’t know if I’ll ever try to write that story. When I began looking at images of the Westway (and there are have plenty of them to choose from – the novelty of the structure drew amateur and professional photographers) it was the effect on the landscape, psychological or geographical, of a mass of concrete in the air above the streets that struck me first.  A picture like the one above is an almost abstract display of shapes and curves. Only the truncated row of houses at the bottom hints at the social and physical upheaval of demolished homes and divided communities that was one of the immediate effects of the new motorway.

Westway HTC 1721

Here a concrete curve hovers above the rubble and earth like an airship. You can barely decode the shapes in the background (prefabs on the right, a foot bridge on the left?).

Westway contact sheet 001 detail 1

The spaces below the road look subdued, almost empty.

Westway neg 298

Just a hint of graffiti, and is that a solitary figure?

Above the parapet, the road itself still looks under populated.

Westway HTC 1468c

The landscape below it is getting ready for activity.

Westway HTC 1139

Earth moving vehicles are beginning the process of landscaping.

Westway market canopy 1981 HTC 1475

A canopy is erected.

People start to come and go past the empty spaces.

Westway neg 6741

Traffic goes by above, moderately at first. Do buses ever go that way now? The one in the picture is not in service, on its way back to the garage probably.

Westway neg 6742

Suddenly the new zone is full of movement.

Westway 1972 HTC 1256AD

Sporting activity begins as anticipated by the planners.

Westway contact sheet 001 detail 2

A contact sheet marked up for cropping but I prefer the whole image which shows the underside of the road. Here is another shot from a contact sheet:

Copy of Westway contact sheet 003 football  HTC

Some activity was casual.Any open patch of land would do.

Westway HTC 1722

Some was exuberant.

Westway HTC 0971

And some, in the margins of the new zone was half hidden.



Some of these pictures come from the archive of the now sadly defunct community history group HistoryTalk. Thanks to them for all their good work over the years.

This is the third of my transport themed posts which are part of our contribution to the Cityread campaign. I hope I haven’t stretched the theme too much. I don’t know what I’m doing next week by the way.


Searching for the Ford Capri

We’re going on another tour through the photo survey this week but not down a single street. The photo survey pictures were taken by John Rogers between 1969 and 1975, mostly in 1970 and 1971. That’s a few years before my brief time working in the motor trade. I worked cleaning new cars for a garage that had a British Leyland franchise. Some of you who remember the 1970s may remember how awful British Leyland cars were then – the Allegro, the Marina and above all the Princess a car so awful it has been almost obliterated by history. Occasionally my sales manager Bob would acquire a Ford for one of his special customers and we would both welcome these examples of decent automotive technology with some relief. There were Escorts and the new mark 4 Cortina but our favourites were the Granada and the Capri, both genuine classics hallowed by their appearances on TV in the Sweeney and the Professionals. I stand very little chance of finding a Granada in the photo survey pictures (they first came out in 1972) but I might just find a Capri.

So where do you look for a car?

Brompton place harrods park

A garage is one place to start. This is one of those garages a few of you may remember where they stack the cars neatly but you don’t have instant access. Most of these cars looked pretty old even in 1970. In terms of design it was a transitional period (but aren’t they all?) between the staid fifties cars like that Rover you can see, the watered down versions of American designs and the hatched-backed days to come.

Brompton place harrods park 1970...corsair

That’s a Ford Corsair on the left, with its odd pointed nose. Before we leave can I just invite any car enthusiasts to identify any of the cars in these pictures? There was a time when I could have done that but it was thirty odd years ago. I’m not really a car person. I don’t even drive. I just found myself around car people and got interested. Let’s get outside. See where we were?

Brompton place south side

Here’s another Ford:

Addison Avenue 34-36 east side 1970 KS760 anglia

But it’s only a lowly Anglia already fairly low on the meter of desirability even by 1970. What’s the one behind it? Addison Avenue must have been a quiet street. Just off it was Addison Place, a strange little converted mews kind of a street overlooked by Campden Hill Towers.

Addison Place 15-173 south side 1970 KS924

And that car in the foreground would I think be a Ford Consul, the fifties styled precursor of the Granada.

Addison Place 21-23 south side 1970 KS923

Not all of the British Leyland marques were hideous. That’s a Triumph Spitfire , a traditional British sports car. Other mews streets were full of cars.

Ledbury Mews North  north side 1972 KS3651

Amid the old style cars in this back street of garages an expensive looking sports car, probably Italian. The odd thing I sometimes think is that expensive sports cars still look like that decades later as if that low wide look is the optimum shape.

Ledbury Mews West  south side 1972 KS2267

The mews streets used to be filled with small garages servicing cars. Note the sign: Barclaycard Welcome – something of a novelty then.

Linden Gardens looking north 1973 KS3714 mini moke

A 60s novelty the Mini Moke parked in Linden Gardens. In the same street the opposite of a Mini Moke:

Linden Gardens 14-16 south side  1973 KS3729

It’s also a Ford, a 60s American model, but I can’t make out the word on the side. I’m sure someone can help me out with that. Below a home grown model:

christchurch street west side 1974 KS 4479 cortina mk3

The Mark 3 Cortina parked in Christchurch Street. A bit of a classic itself. Nearby another puzzle for you:

Caversham street east side, 1974 KS 4058

I should know what this is, it looks so familiar. Someone tell me (No, not the mini.)

The first sighting of our quarry is back at the other end of the Borough in Clarendon Road.

Clarendon Road 121-123 west side 1971 KS1155 capri mk1

The slightly cluttered styling of the Mark 1 Capri. And having found that one I came across another down in Earls Court.

Barkston Gardens KS5784 left 41-43 and KS5787 53 right nd capri mk1

Is that guy in the window coming back to close the boot?

In the very same street a Mark 2, at last an example of the car that sat in my cleaning bay in Poland Street.

Barkston Gardens KS5792 nd capri mk2

There it is by the fence. For me the Mark 2 Capri represents the mid seventies like no other car, better than the high performance cars of the era. Seeing it in this picture reminds me of a time when the traffic was lighter, the cars were serviced in back streets and the Ford Capri was exciting and glamorous, if you can imagine such a time.


As I said above if you can identify any of the other vehicles in these pictures or you have to correct any inadvertent errors of mine, please leave a comment.

Return of the secret life of postcards

The unknown photographers who took this week’s pictures were working in the street like Ernest Milner who took the pictures in our Empty Street series. They were unlike Milner in two respects. They were working for themselves speculatively, taking photographs hoping to sell them later. And crucially they were working mostly during the daytime hours when the streets were no longer empty.

Notting Hill Gate PC929

This view is of Notting Hill Gate looking west. Postcard images vary enormously in quality. The best ones give you the opportunity to zoom in on the action and catch a flavour of the individual lives of the people in them.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 02

On the northern side of the street a man uses a hooked pole to pull out a shop awning. He keeps an eye on the approaching woman who won’t thank him if any water drips on her from the canvas. There are horse drawn carriages and in the distance a motor bus.

On the southern side of the street:

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 01

Henry Hobson Finch’s Hoop Tavern, William J Tame, fruiterer – his staff are loading a delivery wagon- and Matthew Pittman, stationer. This is the corner of Silver Street (then the name for the northern section of Kensington Church Street) about 1904. There’s a rather dejected looking girl standing next to the delivery wagon and in the foreground a woman with a pram.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 03

She’s looking at the display to her right; her arms are straight, pushing the front wheels of the pram off the ground possibly getting ready for moving it off the pavement. The sleeves of her dress are tight to the elbows and then much bigger – the so-called “leg of mutton” look, reaching its apogee in the early 1900s. We can almost see what will happen next as her routine day continues.

The postcard is a picture of the street as a whole. Perhaps we were never intended to look this close. But as I’m sure you know by now I can never resist the details which are often found at the edge of the picture. That’s where the secret lives are found.

Still in Notting Hill, just a little further west:

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367

This picture shows the Central Line station which was on the other side of the road from the Metropolitan Line. The street on the right is Pembridge Gardens. On the left you can see the buildings on the west side of Pembridge Road – the angle is deceptive and made me puzzle over the maps for a while. Let’s go back to the first postcard.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 2a - Copy

There you can see the station, the same buildings on Pembridge Road, and the motor bus. My transport correspondent tells me that the starter arm is visible underneath the radiator and that the engine block is quite low slung which indicates that this is an early model – later models were higher off the ground to protect the undercarriage and give the driver a better view. Horlicks Malted Milk was not imported into the UK until 1890. Horse-drawn and motor buses co-existed for some years before the horse drawn versions were superseded in the early 1900s.

Look at the horse bus again:

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367 zoom 01

There are people waiting but the bus looks pretty full. That woman striding away from it has the air of a passenger who has just alighted and wants to get moving under her own steam again.

In contrast to the busy high street along the road in Holland Park Avenue things were quieter.

Holland Park Avenue PC883

During the day the quieter residential areas would be mostly given over to women and children with a few street workers and delivery boys.

Holland Park Avenue PC883 details

At the portmanteau and umbrella warehouse some window shopping is going on. This picture is not as sharp as some so it’s difficult to be sure if the two women standing together are wearing some kind of uniform.

Holland Park Avenue PC883 details 2

Something about the hats, I think with a piece of material draped down on one side.

Here’s another quiet street a little further south:

Onslow Gardens PC519

Nothing much is happening but some of the locals are paying attention.

Onslow Gardens PC519 zoom

The two women ignore the photographer and go on their way but the children and the man on the delivery tricycle are taking a keen interest.

A little further west the stillness is almost palpable in this view of Gilston Road.

Gilston Road PC1481

The church in the background is St Mary the Boltons. Instead of terraces of houses there are what one architectural guide has called “crude Italianate villas”. A little sharp if you ask me. I would call them grand suburban villas and the two women who have paused for the photographers are respectable middle class ladies

Gilston Road PC1481a

It’s a quiet dusty summer’s day in the new suburbs.

But it wasn’t all quiet at this end of the old Borough (or Vestry, depending on the date ) of Kensington.

Old Brompton Road PC816

I’ve always found this particular picture of the Old Brompton Road looking towards South Kensington Station quite intriguing, mostly because of what’s happening on the right of the picture.

Old Brompton Road PC816 detail

What does the expression on that boy’s face mean? Or is he just dazzled by the flash? Or is it just one of those odd in between two states expressions which the camera sometimes captures? Something about the body language of the girl tells me that she’s playing some part in this. Has she just said something sharp to the boy? Are they related? Or is she just posing for the camera? There’s just not enough information here. I can’t help thinking that if we just knew a little more there would be a story.

Below Fulham Road, at the junction with Drayton Gardens. Fifty years or so before this scene would be fields, market gardens and cottages in the hinterland between Kensington and Chelsea.

Fulham Road PC815

But now this is another busy street.

Fulham Road PC815 detail (2)

A belligerent looking shopkeeper, three men just hanging around on a street corner, and that man in the centre, looking to see what’s coming before stepping off the pavement. He looks like a man with places to go and people to see, not a man you want to trifle with. And of course unlike the women in these images if he was to stride out of the picture onto today’s Fulham Road we might not give him a second glance.

We’ve moved quite a short distance from one part of Kensington to the edge. Let’s go back for one more picture. This is a slightly unpromising view of Pembridge Gardens, a little discoloured with age and not particularly sharp.

Pembridge Gardens PC 335

But on the left you can see a woman and her maid.

Pembridge Gardens PC 335 zoom

It’s unusual to see a household servant on the street. Perhaps the delivery man has something which the lady didn’t want to carry in herself. Make your own story out of this one. Sometimes the past is just too out of focus for us to tell exactly what is happening.

A long walk down Walmer Road 1969-1971 Part 2

I left you last week at Dulford Street facing south.

Walmer Road looking south from Dulford Street Feb 1971 KS1047 detail

Those two women are staring at you so we’d better move on. This section of Walmer Road is where there had been most changes since the 1930s. Here is Barlow House under construction (see how the crane is running on rails?):

Barlow House Walmer Road 1951 K4347B L-5983

The Beehive pub is visible in this picture but look opposite Barlow House at the row of terraced houses and the low industrial building.  The street between them is Bomore Road, which was actually moved southwards when Kensington Sports Centre was built. (Forgive me if I find that fascinating – it took me several minutes staring at two nearly identical 1960s OS maps to realise what had been done.) I once met someone who was in one of our photos of Bomore Road. It’s a good story but I can’t show you the picture.

This view is from 1937:

Notting Hil Brewery Site, Front elevation to Walmer Rd Dec 1937

This shows the Walmer Road entrance to the Notting Hill brewery. When that was demolished a new housing block was built, Nottingwood House. You can see pictures of the demolition in the Ruins and reconstruction in North Kensington post (link opposite).

Walmer Road east side Nottingwood House 1971 KS1049

Further south more industrial buildings were replaced.

Walmer Road east side 223 1971 KS1051

The Rugby Club was a long standing sporting and social club for young people first established in an old bus yard as a boys’ club in 1889 by a former pupil of Rugby School. This building dates from the early 1960s. (Who was Jim Shay- a name significant enough to be repeated by the writer but now forgotten?).

Some original buildings survived. Below you can see number 239 one of two surviving artisan’s cottages showing some signs of early gentrification.

Walmer Road East side 243-241 1971 KS1053

Shutters, a recent paint job and a Renault 4 parked outside. These two houses have survived and now look even more prosperous.

On the west side of the road there was a Council depot:

Walmer Road west side RBKC depot about 236 1971 KS1034

See the pile of rubbish bags on the left. Was there a strike on at the time?

Walmer Road west side The Cottage 1971 KS1033 Ford Galaxie

Also on the west side a building called the Cottage which I wouldn’t have included as it’s still there today but is that a Ford Galaxie parked outside incongruously juxtaposed with a Morris Traveller?

The final stretch of Walmer Road had a long narrow school building, St John’s disused in 1971.

Walmer Road east side St Johns School - disused - 1971 KS1054

Two men are doing something with a long pole or plank but I couldn’t say what exactly.

Walmer Road east side St Johns School gate 1971 KS1055

They didn’t choose to go through the open gate where several other planks are stacked.

On the west side of the road was the main feature of this end of Walmer Road, Avondale Park.

Walmer Road looking north from Hippodrome Place 1971 KS1026

This view northwards shows the disused kiln the only thing from this section of the east side of the road which survives to this day.

At this time Avondale Park was a classic municipal park as laid out in their hundreds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Lodge seen below has the faintly rural look of park buildings with a hint of Arts and Crafts about it.

Walmer Road west side Avondale Park Lodge 1971 KS1028

In 1971 when John Rogers took these pictures it had been more or less forgotten that beneath the park was a small network of tunnels built in 1939 as air raid shelters. They were revealed a couple of years ago during landscaping work and I got a chance to go into them before they were sealed again. I wrote about them in one of my first blog posts, Secrets of Avondale Park (see drop down menu Complete list of posts) but here is one of my low resolution photos:


Back in February 1971 this woman, struggling with her inquisitive dog had no idea what lay below:

Walmer Road west side Avondale Park 1971 KS1031 detail of woman

Avondale Park marks the southern end of Walmer Road. In 1971 there was a junction with Princedale Road, Kenley Street, Hippodrome Place and Pottery Lane.  All street names which sound picturesque and rural rather than sinister as the narrator of Absolute Beginners described the street names at the Latimer Road end. He could see the difference:

On the south side of this area, down by the W11, things are a little different, but in a way that somehow makes them worse, and that is. Owing to a freak of fortune, and some smart work by the estate agents too, I shouldn’t be surprised, there are one or two sections that are positively posh: not fashionable, mind you, but quite graded, with their big back gardens and that absolute silence, which in London is the top sign of a respectable location. You walk about in these bits, adjusting your tie and looking down to see if your shoes are shining, when – wham! Suddenly you’re back in the slum area again – honest, it’s really startling, like where the river joins on to the shore, too quite different creations of dame nature, cheek by thing

Princedale Road in 1971 was already looking upwardly mobile:

Princedale Road west side 125-127 1971 KS1106

The houses and shops look well kept, the cars cleaner.

Princedale Road east side 46-50 1970 KS705

Is that a Bristol on the right? Remember their only showroom is a short drive away in Kensington High Street. The demonstrator cars there had the cherished number plates 100 MPH and MPH 100.  But don’t let me get bogged down in motoring trivia. What are those two guys doing in the camper van? That’s probably another story.


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