Category Archives: Postcards

Postcards from the land of ruins

This week’s post arise from some postcards in a scrapbook in our collection, put together by members of the Old Comrades Association of the 22nd Royal Fusilers (The Kensingtons). the scrapbook contains memorabilia relating to reunions, trips to places in France and Belgium where the members served, and to war cemeteries and memorials. Along with photographs taken by the travellers, there were also printed postcards bought by them while travelling. I realised that this was not an uncommon form of souvenir when I found postcards of the same type in a small album I brought home from my mother’s house a couple of years ago. This is a typical example.



At first glance it seems like an odd form of souvenir, scenes of destruction, even ones as striking as this, but we  have to remember I suppose that these scenes were fresh in the minds of survivors of the Great War, still trying to make sense of an intense period in their own histories.



Many former soldiers must have travelled back to places they remembered.



When they last saw these ruins, they must have been accompanied the sounds of warfare and the threat of personal danger.



The first five images come from the album now in my possession.



The next ones are from the OCA scrapbook.



See how the road has been cleared but not the rubble. The authorities must have wanted the ruins to be seen, so show what had happened to buildings which were once an integral part of everyday life.



Some of the photographs were taken while the war was still taking place.

This one shows the same building in 1914.



In some cases, substantial parts of the bombed or shelled buildings remained.



In other the devastation looks almost total.



Another part of the same city

This one shows more low level damage.



A figure is visible on the right of the picture.

These picture are all sombre, and remind us of the lives lost in the Great War, but at the same time they remind us of the ruins of antiquity, as in this postcard from my mother’s album, posted in 1912.



The Sphinx was still partially covered by sand.



The message ( I have no idea who the recipient was, or the sender) is simply a birthday greeting. The two people concerned (two women, or a woman and a man?) had no idea what new forms of ruin would be created by the events to come in their near future.


I’ll come back to the OCA in a future post, but I thought these unusual postcard images deserved their own outing. We’ve become used to the destruction of war in modern cities, but we should remember past destruction as well, just as the members of the OCA did.

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.

Kensington Gardens – a secret life of postcards special

I think it was the current cold weather and the sight of leafless trees that reminded me of some of the postcards in this set of images of Kensington Gardens.

Kensington Gardens Broad Walk again PC45

The stark rows of trees lining the Broad Walk fade into winter mist in the distance. Of course part of that impression is the inability of the early twentieth century camera to focus on distant objects but nevertheless the picture radiates winter’s chill.

Kensington Gardens Broad Walk PC45 zoom 600

The close up shows a family wrapped up for the cold.

Here is another small group on a lonely walk:

Kensington Gardens PC44 higher res

Even the water looks cold.

Kensington Gardens Serpentine Bridge PC29

A distant view of the bridge shows another detail of park life:

Kensington Gardens Serpentine PC28

What are those creatures? Really heavy geese?  No, sheep of course, also wearing thick winter coats. As you may have heard, it was the practice to keep sheep in the Gardens to maintain the grass. Sometimes sheep were brought in from the country but it looks as though these sheep must have been working all year round. Here they are in their summer coats:

Kensington Gardens PC 1451

And here is a similar view of the same scene:

Kensington Gardens Long Water PC33

So similar, the curve of the path, the stand of trees on the left, and the distant spire that they must be separated by years. The tree on the right must have been felled at some point. In the summer there were more people about although the park is hardly crowded even on the Broad Walk.

Kensington Gardens Broad Walk looking south PC1357

The staff at the cafe stood ready to serve:

Kensington Gardens Cafe PC48

And there was plenty to do. A bit of boating:

Kensington Gardens PC35 higher res

But if that proved too difficult you could stay on land and still mess about with boats:

Kensington Gardens Round Pond  PC1374 a

The round pond, where many fantasy craft were launched onto a pretend sea.

At the end of the afternoon there was the walk home past the strangely forbidding statue.

Kensington Gardens PC1381

Physical Energy by George Frederick Watts, a Kensington resident, erected in 1907.

But hang on you’re saying, it’s Kensingon Gardens. Isn’t there one more statue to see? Oh yes, him.

Kensington Gardens Peter Pan statue PC1450 - Copy

The genius loci of Kensington Gardens, Peter Pan.

This postcard is a little later than the others, 1920s perhaps but still has the same sunny atmosphere. That woman with the pram has one child to push, one to keep an eye on and is she looking back to call to the dog? Could it be a Dalmatian? Two children’s classics for the price of one?

In the spirit of the secret life of postcards check it out in detail:

Kensington Gardens Peter Pan statue PC1450


I had something quite different in mind this week but then I reminded myself that I haven’t done a purely Kensington post for some time so this set of images came to mind. I originally scanned many of them (in absurdly high resolution) at the request of a Danish TV company. Probably something to do with Peter Pan. Nothing nordic noir anyway. But it shows that time spent scanning pictures is never wasted.

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