Category Archives: North Kensington

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 


Lancaster Circus: a vanished crossroad

It really was called Lancaster Circus at one time, the confluence of Lancaster Road, Walmer Road, Clarendon Road and Silchester Road, and was also called Lancaster Cross. This is where we stopped on our journey along Lancaster Road, at the point where the modern Lancaster Road peters out and morphs into Silchester Road with a gentle curve past the new Aldridge Academy.

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This early 20th century postcard view is looking south from Silchester Road towards Clarendon Road. The Lancaster public house is the largest building in the picture and next to it Walmer Road (where the plain awning is visible) also heads south. (See the post here). Lancaster Road is crossing the picture. A map helps, and here is one from 1935.

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As you can see, the public house was not the largest building in the vicinity. That was the Kensington Public Baths, also called the Silchester Baths.

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This picture is dated about 1970. The baths were closed in the late 1970s , despite a local campaign to retain the building for community purposes and a new sports centre was built nearby which was iteslf rebuilt in 2015.

This picture shows the baths at the time of demolition.

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You can see other changes to the local landscape across the road from the baths.

This earlier picture shows a whole section of the area near Lancaster Road, including the Council buildings we looked at in the previous post on Lancaster Road.

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Take a quick look back into Silchester Road as it was in the early 20th century.

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A very pleasant looking scene. Does it seem like a more affluent area than the 1960s?

And as it was in 1970, looking in the opposite direction towards the railway.

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There’s one of those double street lights again. This is another view of the Lancaster pub.

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Walmer Road is visible on the left, and here is the view south from there.

 

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There are more pictures of Walmer Road in a previous pair of posts. (Starting here) If we alter the point of view you can look down Clarendon Road.

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And finally south into Lancaster Road.

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This picture shows the corner of Fowell Street, which ran south off Lancaster Road opposite the Baths.

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This is what the area looked like on a 1971 map.

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You can see that a wide section of the area has gone. This picture shows part of the demolition.

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Those buildings in the background are, I have been told, two of the towers of the Edward Wood Estate. I must admit that I find it hard to get the angle right in my head, so have a think about that yourselves. It’s always tricky conceptualising places that no longer exist.

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This picture shows the edge of the demolished area on the rights. The photographer could not see any numbers on these houses so they might already be empty.

We’re in the final stretch of the old Lancaster Road now.

 

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252 Lancaster Road. The cross street is Blechynden Street (which we have also covered before – some pictures here)

About ten doors down that side of the road, the trees, bushes and other undergrowth are quie luxuriant.

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This impressive building which is part of St Francis School is on the corner of Treadgold Street.

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And this is looking back up Treadgold Street at the corner opposte the school.

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This corner in fact.

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The picture shows the final section of Lancaster Road as it was in the 1960s and early 1970s in the 29os and 300 house numbers. This is where it went down to meet Bramley Road. The tall buildings in the background were part of the Phoenix Brewery. Most of the buildings in the picture have been replaced but the street survives under the name Whitchurch Road. The name Whitchurch had  formerly applied to a small area around this spot (A man named James Whitchurch was a local landowner.)

This takes us almost outside the borders of Kensington and Chelsea as they used to be when Latimer Road was in Hammersmith. I’ve explored that area through the pictures of Bernard Selwyn and there are a series of posts set around that border zone which I wrote last year. [Links: here, here, here and here ]

Postscript

I hadn’t anticipated continuing the story of Lancaster Road immediately when I wrote last week’s postscript, but I’ve been preparing several posts at the same time and this one did get finished in time.

This part two post turned out to be almost entirely set in streets or parts of streets which have changed completely since the photographs were taken. For me this is another venture into a space that only exists in pictures and memories. For those of you who remember this period of North Kensington’s history I hope these images take you back there.

Thanks once again to Maggie.

Another postscript on an unrelated matter

I seem to have got into the habit of noting the deaths of rock musicians as they occur. I must be at the age when my heroes are starting to die. This time it’s someone who was never particularly famous in the wider world, but was nevertheless a significant figure in the history of popular music, Jaki Liebezeit, the drummer of the German avant garde rock group Can. I loved that band, have most of their albums, even saw them on five occasions (quite a lot for me). More importantly I still listen to them, forty years or more ago after I first heard their music. Jaki himself was very influential on later music whether it was post-punk or EDM. The music world is a little less interesting without him.


Lancaster Road: mostly 1969

This is one of those posts about North Kensington which come with an explanatory map. Lancaster Road is one of those east to west streets which originally stretched from St Luke’s Road in the east, crossing Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove ending up at Bramley Road. It doesn’t go that far any more, but I’m going to save the western end for a second post as we have plenty of pictures to look at before we get that far. I’ll show you a map in a moment but in deference to Twitter, who always display the first image of the post in the automatic tweet which WordPress sends out for me, here is something a little more engaging than a map:

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The horse and cart is always a good image to start with, as they were still a common sight in North Kensington in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And here’s the map:

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Have a closer look at this one because it shows several places of interest, some buildings still there like the Library or the Serbian Church, others used for different purposes like the Ladbroke Technical School, some of them no longer in existence at all, particularly on the west side of Ladbroke Grove.

When I think about Lancaster Road I think about the crossroads with Ladbroke Grove and the section leading up to Portobello Road. That was the part of the road that was most familiar to me when I first worked at North Kensington Library and used to walk up to the Portobello Road to buy some lunch. This picture shows the south side of the street near the intersection with Portobello.

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And this one shows the north side of the road a little further west, the entrance to the old Isaac Newton School and the Kensington Institute (adult education).

 

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Here’s a flashback showing the intersection more than a hundred years ago.

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And this is a similar view from 1969.

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Behind the man crossing the road on the right you can see the KPH public house. We’ve looked at that before in the post on Ladbroke Grove. On the other side of the road, the branch of Barclays Bank is under construction. Next to it the building with a white section of wall used to be a bakery. (The date 1933 is visible at the top of the building)

Next to that is the Royalty Cinema building. By 1969 it was a bingo hall. It has a certain place in local history because of the unsubstantiated rumour that Reginald Christie worked there as a projectionist.

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A closer look at the other side of the road shows a row of surviving buildings.

 

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No longer in existence though is the white building beyond the Royalty.

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This was Solomon Wolfson Jewish School. I remember classes from the school coming into the Library when I was there there in the early years of my library career (when I must admit I had no idea where the school was exactly)  The building was demolished in the 1980s and replaced by the London Lighthouse. The Museum of Brands moved in there more recently.

Next door was another school.

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Ladbroke Lower School at the time of the photograph, a substantial building where you can now find a Virgin Active centre.

It’s at this point that St Mark’s Road crosses Lancaster Road. This is the view from there:

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The spire belongs to the Methodist Church, our destination for today. On the left on the picture is another religious establishment, also visible on the map.

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At number 133, the Convent of the Little Sisters of the Assumption. North Kensington at this time had several convents, although the nearby Convent of the Poor Clares on Westbourne Park road / Ladbroke Grove had already been demolished.  Note the empty space on the map. Thomas Darby Court, a sheltered housing block is now on this site.

Staying with the map  if you look on the north side of the road at this point you can see the last remaining piece of Ruston Close, the renamed Rillington Place, and the Council buildings next to it (formerly an iron works), all behind Lancaster Road facing the railway line.

A second section of the same map is useful now.

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On the south side of the road between St Mark’s Road and Walmer Road, most of the area on the map has been redeveloped. One of the surviving buildings is Morland House.

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A housing block. Look at it on Google Maps these days and you will see it behind a number of trees with thick foliage. The whole area looks much greener in this century.

On the opposite side of the road between numbers 236 and 238 is a barely visible passage.

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It’s just about where that sign is. (check back with the map). I had to have this pointed out to me by a local resident, so don’t just take my word for it. If you had gone down that covered passage about 1969 this is what you would have seen.

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And if you had walked further the buildings on the left would be revealed.

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These were Council buildings at the time, probably used for maintenance and repair of Council vehicles. On the  right of the picture you can just see a chimney dating back to the period when the building was the Bartle Works. That chimney often appears from another angle in pictures of Rillington Place, looming over the wall at the end of the street.

Below, a quick look back across the street at the terraced houses typical of Lancaster Road aside from the larger buildings (numbers 139-149 I think).

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They look a little run down. (Is that a Ford Zephyr?) But suitable for gentrification. It was not to be for this particular stretch of houses.

We’re almost at our stopping point now.

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Here you have a better view of the Methodist Church, at the place where Lancaster Road crossed Walmer Road. Clarendon Road and Silchester Road also converged at this point in an area which was called Lancaster Cross, and also Lancaster Circus (I’ve seen that term on an old postcard.). Here is another part of the Cross, diagonally opposite the church.

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The Lancaster public house curving around the corner with Walmer Road heading south on the left. This is where we pause at a part of Lancaster Road which would be more or less unrecognizeable today, except perhaps for the zebra crossing which may be in the same place. (If you follow the link to the Walmer Road post you’ll see the same crossing and street light from the south.) We’ll continue our tour down Lancaster Road in part 2 of this post.

Postscript

Thanks to Maggie Tyler who helped me identify many of the pictures of Lancaster Road in our collection. Her expertise in North Kensington matters (and other areas too) is invaluable. Part 2 will probably not be next week as I’ll be out of town again. Instead, I’ve already written another self-indulgent post about one of my favourite topics.

Also thanks to people who have sent their condolences about my mother’s death, Lucy, Karen, Marcia, London Remembers, Sue and Steph, plus others who have spoken to me in person. As I hinted last time I now own a large number of family photographs which may find their way onto a future blog post. Families and their history are a core part of what we do here and everyone is part of the larger story.

 

 


Before the Westway: a North Paddington skyline

This week we have the long awaited return of my occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez who grew up in the area  sometimes called North Paddington and has many memories of it as it changed in the years around the building of the Westway. Like myself she has been looking closely at the photographs of Bernard Selwyn.

 

The city skyline changes over decades much as mountains change shape over centuries. Our small local areas, places we call home, or used to call home, places we are familiar with, are no different. These urban cityscapes seem to undergo a makeover every fifty years or so. From the overcrowded terraces of the Victorian period to the later concrete brutalism of the 1960’s, we are now witnessing the era of glass and mirrors built in angular shapes in what is now contemporary modern architecture.

Still, the shadows of the past remain in photographs and to continue with my study of the Westway (Paddington-side) I thought I would share with you a few more images of this corner of London before the infamous Westway motorway was built.

Below is a panoramic view of North Paddington bordered by North Kensington at the top. You can see the Kensal Gas Works and the St Charles’ Hospital tower, formerly the Marylebone Infirmary. [Click on the image to see a bigger view]

The Great Western Railway to the left cuts unimpeded through the built-up area.

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This is the same view a a short time later. The second tower block – Oversley House – is under construction.

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Below,a closer view. In the background you can see Ladbroke Grove bridge more clearly, connecting North Kensington to Paddington. If you look closely there is also a footbridge on the left that appears to have a tree growing out of it. Obviously it isn’t, but from this angle the bridge resembles a horizontal chute. It wasn’t a very appealing crossing, but it was a shortcut through to Westbourne Park and North Kensington. I made use of it many times, sometimes late at night, probably not a very wise thing to do with hindsight, but it saved time. The dilapidated Victorian houses, a stark contrast to their taunting new neighbours, await the bulldozer. Nowhere was there a more densely packed neighbourhood than in this part of Paddington.

oversley-polesworth-house-kensal-gas-works-5-july-1965

 

The houses come down and a temporary wasteland is created, with the exception of these houses in the foreground. They do seem a little grander than the terraces behind them and I wonder why they are still standing at this point when their neighbours have been demolished

pre-brindley-2

 

The strange case of the solitary houses. I suspect they were slightly more upmarket than the usual fare in the area. There is also the interesting feature of the residents coming and going as has always been their routine perhaps; shopping or simply getting from one place to another. The lady (left of the house) probably had no idea she was being included in a photographic survey.

 

pre-brindley-est

 

If you like trains, then the Great Western Railway before you would have been a spotter’s delight. Below is possibly Alfred Road or Torquay Street in the pre-redevelopment period. There is a builder, or certainly a very brave man,who appears to be intently prodding the side of a roof with a stick. By contrast an elderly gentleman with a walking stick is passing by, perhaps studying the changes in his area. Although there is a lot of pixilation when studying photographs at close range, when they are enlarged there is still enough to intrigue us.

pre-westway-alfred-rd-1964

The juxtaposition of the concrete towers to the dilapidated, slum terraces is a striking image – like two Lego blocks strategically placed inside of a crowded moat. Although you cannot see it, running parallel to the two tower blocks is the Grand Union Canal.

polesworth-oversley-house-july-1965

Below is a composite image of three photos showing the lower end of the Harrow Road. None of the shops seen here along the length of the long street now exist. Many have been replaced by the various convenience stores and take-away outlets you see today. On the corner of Bourne Terrace the Stowe Club was opened, now a doctor’s surgery and offices I believe. Many residents within Paddington and North Kensington did a lot of their shopping along the Harrow Road.

Westbourne Grove, by contrast (to digress a little), was more the Bond Street of the area with William Whiteley identifying the road as having future potential once the underground railway opened in 1863 and many more transport routes being opened up. He opened a small drapery in the area, tentatively doing what is essentially market research and gaining experience before expanding to what later became the department store, Whiteley’s of Queensway, attracting and catering for the wealthier clientele residing around Bayswater and Hyde Park.

warwick-estate-october-1962

Here is another image of the same area, magnified a little to give us more detail. If you look closely you will see the ‘Tardis’, a police box, no doubt placed there to keep an eye on things whilst the area was undergoing its concrete revolution. A billboard to the left advertising glue is almost comical given the toy-like remodelling we see from this perspective

 

 

harrow-road-showing-bourne-terrace

In the picture below, the Post Office Tower, the highest building in London at the time, can be seen in the distance. It is almost impossible at this point to imagine the Westway being a part of this landscape. The Harrow Road here is clearly seen under an open sky. Within a few short years all of the buildings on either side of the Harrow Road in this image were demolished, and the Harrow Road itself partially covered by the huge motorway above it. Engineering ingenuity in the name of progress or engineering folly – a question that is still debated today.

harrow-rd-facing-east

Another composite image I pieced together looking north:

warwick-brindley-skyline

 

I had to include this one as it’s my old address – Gaydon House. I lived there for about 26 years. That is a long time to be anywhere. The rather forlorn, gothic-looking tree in the foreground appears in quite a few of the photographs before it was unceremoniously cut down to make way for more flats and other younger saplings ready for the next generation. All remnants of what came before, almost vanished within a ten year span.

gaydon-house-c-1964

Below is Westbourne Park Villas. It runs parallel to the Great Western railway on the other side of the tracks. The spire of St Matthew’s Church can just be seen to the right of the image and in the middle you can just about make out the dome of Whiteley’s. A little behind that is the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On the left, along Bishops Bridge Road, are a series of buildings that make up what was known as The Colonnades up until recently, before Waitrose took over. Further back, (I had to really expand this image), you can make out the four chimneys of Battersea Power Station. After being derelict for many years, and a few investors later, it is now undergoing a major redevelopment: the usual combination of luxury flats and shopping outlets so typical of London now.

looking-towards-kensington-gardens

Here’s another view of Westbourne Park on the other side of the tracks, looking further west towards Notting Hill and Kensington – an interesting mixture of modern flats and late 19th century villas.

 

westbourne-park-villas

 

And finally, a colour image of the Harrow Road most likely photographed by Selwyn from Wilmcote House, the first tower block to be built of the six now in existence. Two buses (probably the number 18) can be seen making their way north. Interestingly there existed along the Harrow Road a 2 ½ mile track from Amberley Road to Harlesden around 1888 for trams. These were replaced around 1936 by trolleybuses and later still (1961-2) by motorbuses such as the ones you see in this image.

harrow-road-facing-south

As always Selwyn’s wonderful collection of photographs fails to disappoint. Dave and I have posted a number of them now on the blog knowing that you will probably appreciate them as much as we do. Or at least we hope you do. The posts I have written thus far about this part of Paddington are obviously a trip into a past that pre-dates my tenancy there, but in my view, still feels so very familiar and nostalgic. Now, not having lived in the area for a few years, I feel more like an outsider looking in with an abstract knowledge of a community I was once a part of. What I realise when I look at historical photographs, is just how temporary everything is, and how changeable. The only forever in these instances are images such as these frozen in time. Perhaps this is why we always find them so appealing. A record of a slither of time that we witness much as a fictional Time Lord in a Tardis would. Except we do it without having to travel very far.

 

Postscript

Thanks to Isabel for another fascinating post. I particularly like the panoramas she has created, something Selwyn himself used to do using the medium of sellotape. Once again, if anyone knows an easy way of adding an author in WordPress I’d be grateful.

I will spend my week off working on some new posts in an unhurried languid sort of way and return next week with some of the usual stuff.

Dave.

 


On the border 3: Selwyn in Shepherd’s Bush, 1971

We’ve moved right over the border this week, into the Borough of Hammersmith, as it was known in 1971. These pictures are a continuation of Bernard Selwyn’s work on the post-industrial  locations near the old Latimer Road and the St Ann’s Road area. It was natural for him to cross the West Cross Route and take a look around Shepherd’s Bush Green, and quite natural for me to follow him. The borders of London boroughs are set on maps but not always so distinct in the minds of people on the ground, as our excursions into Paddington have shown. Or I could just say that I liked the pictures, and wanted to show them.

As in a previous post, the originals are colour photos in a tiny format which nevertheless have survived the forty or so years since they were taken in good condition. Here are a couple showing the roundabout between Holland Park Avenue and Shepherd’s Bush Green.

022-may-1971

A quiet moment on the roundabout.Was traffic actually this light in 1971?
021-may-1971

Above, the towers of the Edward Woods Estate, which was and is in Hammersmith, although most of the roundabout is in Kensington and Chelsea.

020-may-1971

There you glimpse a low slung car in an unflattering orange colour. I won’t ask anyone to try and identify it. And a Routemaster bus. We’ll look at that white building later.

Below, a woman in black trudges eastwards. See comment – I’ve amended her gender)

018-may-1971

Below, a better view of that foot bridge over the light stream of traffic.

013-may-1971

On the north side of the Uxbridge Road was a public house – The Mail Coach

017-may-1971

And the building beside it.

016-may-1971

In 1971 Kelly’s street directory lists it as the home of Sage CDO Ltd, an industrial holding company but it had formerly been the surviving entrance to the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. A little more on that later.

Below you can see the modest entrance to Shepherd’s Bush tube station.

014-may-1971

And, from the other side of the foot bridge, a closer look at the temporary looking structure. I’m outside my area of local knowledge here so I’d be happy for any residents of Hammersmith and Fulham to tell us how long the bridge lasted. I wouldn’t trust my personal recollections but I don’t remember it being there in the 1990s. (Later: but it was – see postscript).

003-may-1971

Below, another lone passer by on those quiet 70s streets. You can just glimpse the towers of the Sage building in the distance, truncated after their glory days.

000-may-1971

On the same side of the road was a relatively new shopping centre.

007-may-1971

Note the branch of Liptons, a now defunct supermarket chain, and some brightly decorated To Let notices on a vacant shopfront. More of those below. (The Liptons company was started by Thomas Lipton who was also the founder of the tea company of the same same. Liptons were part of a group called Allied Suppliers. Many of their stores were re-branded as Presto,a name some of you will remember. Allied merged with the UK arm of the American chain Safeway. Many former Safeway stores are now owned by Morrisons, to bring the story up to date.)

009-may-1971

A bit of a throng down there if you select the right angle as in the picture below. This secluded arrangement was typical of the period. Some Chelsea readers will remember the small enclave on the King’s Road opposite Royal Avenue where branches of Boots and Sainsbury’s sat in their own little precinct (with a piece of civic sculpture?)

011-may-1971

If we turn back towards Kensington we can now have a look behind the Sage building.

034-may-1971

As you can see, a series of large sheds extended back from the former exhibition entrance. Selwyn might have taken these pictures from his vantage point in the North Kensington residential tower block Frinstead House. He seems to have been interested in these connecting structures, which we saw in the previous On the Border post

035-may-1971

They carried on through the railway lands, leading to the exhibition site and later to the White City Stadium, which is visible below.

036-may-1971

Much of this area has been redeveloped now, and the Westfield Shopping Centre covers most of the ground up to those two redbrick buildings with sloping roofs you can see in the centre of the picture. They were engine sheds, which survive now as bus garages.

I was intrigued by the long sheds when I first saw them in Selwyn’s pictures. I’ve been told that they were used by a number of companies for a variety of purposes, as they had lots of space for displays. I think they also appear as a sinister location in Nicholas Royle’s novel the Director’s Cut. (Not quite a candidate for my Fiction in Kensington and Chelsea series of posts)

We can go back to Kensington now. Although this week’s post has taken us out of our core area of interest I felt impelled to present these pictures for you. They’re a continuation of Selwyn’s journey but also a glimpse into the full colour of 1971, on a sunny day in May when the past didn’t look quite as grim as black and white images sometimes make it appear.

Below, we can see the area at the south of Norland Road where a foot subway has cut away the end of the street. That cryptic tower structure may be some kind of access point for the infrastructure below. (The London Ring Main later passed underneath here) And those two young women dressed in white are also typical of the optimistic 70s.

033-may-1971

 

Postscript

I hope you liked our short excursion westwards. In Kensington and Chelsea we’re never far from one border or another. As with other pictures from this period, many of the buildings in the pictures are now gone. I’m looking at another Selwyn based post in the near future but that one will be well inside Kensington. Thanks once again to Maggie T.

Postscript to the postscript

Thursday lunchtime. @cfcaway sent this amazing picture showing the foot bridge in the 90s:

from-cfcaway

Thanks for that.

 


Redevelopment: Notting Hill Gate 1958-60

The main drag at Notting Hill Gate is probably not one of the most architecturally distinguished parts of London. The north side of the road, west of Pembridge Road is a plain row of shops with the  incongruously tall Campden Hill Towers at the centre. But the pavements are pleasantly  wide and uncrowded most of the time and I like the convenience of having three small versions of well known supermarkets close to each other. In the past there were other useful branches of chains such as WH Smiths and Timothy Whites (remember them? My wife and I bought several kitchen items there which lasted us for years.). The south side of the street between the Gate Cinema and Kensington Church Street is possibly even less distinguished and hasn’t aged well. But that wide sunny road takes you to the West End and Pembridge Road takes you to Portobello Road. When I came to London in the 1970s it was one of the first places I added to my mental map of the city and I retain a certain affection for it. I’ve never known any other version.

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

Of course now I know what it used to look like in the late 19th century and the early 20th, a classic Victorian/Edwardian high street.

This was it in 1956 looking west. The Midland Bank visible in the centre was on the corner with Pembridge Road where Jamie Oliver’s establishment now sits.

Notting Hill Gate 76-100 looking west 1956 K2454B

The Central line station was still above ground then and was little changed since this view from the early years of the last century.

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367This picture, from 1958 shows the south side of the road where the District and Circle line entrance was.

 

Notting Hill Gate development 1958 K4067B

The street frontage has already been stripped away to show the street behind the high street. There had been a plan to amalgamate the two stations, modernise the area,and widen the street since 1937 but this had been postponed by the war. The London Transport Executive took up the plan again in the 1950s and began buying up property from 1955.

The view below from 1957 is looking north up Kensington Church Street and shows the whole corner under demolition.

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1957 K61-211

This is a view from closer up. The two buildings on the north side of Notting Hill Gate are visible in both pictures.

Notting Hill Gate demolition October 1957 K61-213

This view is looking west. You can see the water tower in the distance and the top of the Coronet cinema.

Notting Hall Gate redevelopment 1958 K4064B

By contrast this is the view with the road partially closed. The interesting feature is the unobstructed  view of the block of flats on the right.

Notting Hill Gate Development 1958 looking east K4065B

The same is true of this picture showing the part of the street still in use. The block in question is Broadwalk Court, an art deco style building designed by Robert Atkinson and built in 1934. It’s fascinating to see it suddenly revealed when you’re used to the view being obscured by its surroundings.

Notting Hill Gate development 1958 K4066B

In the picture below you can see a sign saying District and Circle Line Entrance, but I can’t see an actual entrance. Behind the hoarding?

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1958 K4068B

The building site also attracted an artist,

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1958 from a watercolour by Mrs M Werther K61-219

This architect’s model shows the whole development. One of the interesting features are the buildings and narrow streets behind the shops and the tower, which are hidden at street level. The 18-storey residential tower block was intended to replace some of the local housing that had been lost by the demolition work.

 

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1958-61 K61-479

We have a couple of pictures which are my favourites from this set. This one shows the construction work well advanced, with a small truck ploughing through a nearly flooded street.

 

Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1960 K61-466

This one is looking from the west by Ladbroke Terrace, beyond the parade of shops.
Notting Hill Gate redevelopment 1959 K62-47B

 

It all looks very quiet as London sometimes does.

Postscript

It’s now week six of the great scanning famine. I’ve been using our book scanner which uses a slightly lower resolution than I normally use but you don’t see too much difference. Once again crucial information about the development came from that Bible of local history, the Survey of London


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