Category Archives: Shopping

Goodbye Ball Street: behind Barker’s

At its height the John Barker Company owned all three of Kensington High Street’s great department stores: Barkers itself, Derry and Toms and Pontings and a few other buildings in the area. Two of the store buildings remain as reminders of the great era of department store shopping: the Barker’s building itself, home of Whole Foods, Gap and of course Northcliffe House and the Derry and Toms building, home of M&S and H&M, still surmounted by the Roof Garden. (I won’t attempt to say exactly when that era was, pick your favourite: the 30s, the 50s, the 60s?).

Today’s post takes us back to the 1920s and 1930s to the period before and during the construction of the current Barker’s and Derry and Toms buildings and uses an album of photographs given to the Council by the Company. The whole story of the construction is a long one. You can find a good account of it in the Survey of London which I will not try to compete with. But to summarize: the Company had to acquire all the land it needed and close at least one street for building purposes. The process of the construction of the new Barker’s  was interrupted by the building of the new Derry and Toms (1929-1931) which took over the attention of the Company, and later the Second World War during which operations were suspended  so the Barkers building wasn’t completed until 1958.

You’ll need a plan to grasp this, but first a picture taken from the corner of Ball Street in October 1924.

 

This shows Young Street looking north west. The house in the foreground is Thackeray’s house. Next to it is Kensington Square Mansions,  the first buildings to be demolished to make way for the new Barkers.

And now the plan:

Carefully colour-coded, as you can see, to show the all the Company’s properties, the three stores, and Ball Street. Young Street has retained its name but King Street is now called Derry Street for obvious reasons.

[It’s well past lunch time so I’m pausing now to get a sandwich and take a quick field trip to the site.] [Back – interesting to see the rear of the two buildings.]

This is also Young Street.

In the centre is the Post Office sorting office, and beside it the entrance to the Bakery and Cooked Meats Kitchens.

This picture shows Ball Street on January 11th 1928, the day the hoarding to close Ball Street was erected.

If we turn north on that same day…

The rear of Ball Street with the ghostly spire of St Mary Abbots Church rising in the distance.

The point of view shifts east in this picture.

This was the first section of the new premises. On the left you can see a temporary bridge over Ball Street.

This is the east side of King Street showing a Derry and Toms building and a door to the old fire station.

The hoarding on the left shows the location of Ball Street.

This is a view of the rear of the west side of King Street with part of Burden Mews (look back at the plan).

Demolition is in progress.

I’ve included this picture of the corner of Burden Mews purely for the convertible. Motoring experts will soon identify it I’m sure.

This is Derry’s Yard, a narrow mews on the west side of Derry and Toms well out of the public eye, with a rough bridge connecting two buildings.

March 1928

More demolition in Burden Mews with a couple of figures in the background exchanging a few words about the work in progress.

Here another group lurk in a doorway perhaps avoiding the camera.

Can you spot another solitary figure below?

A man in a white coat on the first floor.

Back to Ball Street now.

It’s filled with the “covered way”, a temporary structure (man on the roof) and a clearer view of the bridge connecting the old and new buildings.

This is the way it looked from the other direction in October 1929.

The men on the scaffolding are actually posing for this one. The group on the ground are standing by the temporary staff entrance.

Finally, an image from nearly a decade later in July 1938.

This is on the east side of Kensington Square. The Staff Cafeteria is in the centre and the entrance to Lower Yard, where there was a Wine Cellar, a Bonded Cellar and a charging station for electric vehicles. (Ahead of its time?)

The construction of the Barkers building seems to have been a bit of a struggle but even though the stores that were their original purpose are gone, both it and the Derry and Toms building remain as are 20th century classics which have in their way influenced the whole of Kensington High Street.

 

Postscript

I wanted something to break up a flurry of posts about book illustration so the Trevor Bowen Estate came to the rescue again.


Christmas Days : afternoon tea

Some of the ideas I had for short posts didn’t quite work out in practice so for this last one I asked myself the question: can I make a post out of a single picture?

To start with, here’s a nice family group.

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Mother, eldest son on holiday from school, still in the tight stiff collar, youngest child a bit impatient for her ice cream, bored with waiting for the photographer to finish and absolutely not enjoying wearing that hat

Look behind them.

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A couple of the waitresses, and the singers in their nearly matching dresses.  That woman whose face we can just see in front of them might be sitting at a piano. Two young ladies are glancing up at the photographer from under wide brimmed hats.

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Look up at the many treats on offer such as the Parfaits at 1s/3d and the New Jersey Sundae, just a shilling. Order from your waitress who will bring it from the counter.

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That may be the entrance to a lift behind the curtain. The photographer has the patrons’ attention but are they all quite willing to pose . This is an exclusive establishment after all, and being photographed in it is a sign of distinction. A couple of .gentlemen at the back, but on the whole this is a place for the ladies.

barkers-terrace-garden-copy

On the other side of the aisle more ladies enjoying afternoon tea, more waitresses in their black headbands and another selection of treats.

This is the whole picture.

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The terrace garden at Barker’s department store, sometime on a long leisured afternoon in the 1930s. Make the most of it, ladies and gentlemen.

Monkeys

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Bern, Chloe and Suze exploring the archives.

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And finding a few spots to perch on in the manuscript stacks.

From them and me, a happy Christmas to you all.

 


Biba supplement

As I said in last week’s postscript I wasn’t sure whether I would have time to write a post this week, especially as the only one I had in draft and nearly finished was one of my quirky ones which I was really saving for December. Then I realised that as the Biba post had gone down so well regular readers might well appreciate some of the out takes. I always scan more than I need. So this week’s easily digested offering consists of more selections from Welcome to the New Biba and a couple of other items of interest. I’m just adding a few comments.

welcome-017a-p2

Another one of those dark-eyed Biba beauties in faux leopard skin, a perennial favourite. (Even if we didn’t say faux in those days).  The London Fashion Guide of 1975 had this to say about the big version of Biba:

biba-entry-london-fashion-guide-1975-copy

“Louche”. That’s the word.

The picture below shows that Biba was in the same decade as Laura Ashley.

biba-02

 

Biba frequently used original 20s/30s images in their promotional literature, like this one, pointing to the household section:

 

welcome-014-p12

 

Welcome to the new Biba  presents the household section in this whole page image of the ultimate Biba furnished household inside a classic London mid-Victorian terrace:

 

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Other departments –

The flower shop:

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Sweaters, featuring an update of a 1950s pin-up image.

 

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Accessories, and even a bit of habadashery:

 

welcome-019-p2

 

Stationery:

welcome-004-p3

 

And lingerie (imagine a uniformed lift attendant calling out the floors):

welcome-008-p5

 

Which calls for some more languid laying around. The model is wearing an Edwardian style cotton nightdress, with plenty of the ubiquitous Biba make-up.

 

biba-article-st-sep-09-1973-02

 

Upstairs in the Rainbow Room some even more elegant hanging around.

 

biba-article-st-sep-09-1973-03-copy-2

 

Biba had also branched out into mail order. This is another familiar image, an advert for Biba’s catalogue. I’m still looking out for a copy.

mailorder

Finally a small surprise.

Among the ephemera in our collection I found an article from the Lady written by one of Biba’s earliest models,  another icon of the 1970s, the actress Madeline Smith. Always a pleasure to see her.

ms-01

 

The writer Bevis Hillier described the new Biba in the Derry and Toms building as  “turning an art deco masterpiece  into a masterpiece of art deco pastiche…(it) will remain a classic monument to 1973”.  I can’t improve on that.

Postscript

As I’ve said I’ve been quite busy this week with The London History Festival. Excellent talks so far by Benet Brandreth, Peter Frankopan, Sarah Gristwood, Dan Snow, Hugh Sebag Montefiore and Michael Jones – only Juliet Barker and Philip Mansel to go. Thanks also to our interviewers – Paul Lay, Sophie Ambler and friend of the festival Roger Moorhouse. And not forgetting my co-director Richard Foreman and from Waterstones, indefatigable booksellers Michael and Lauren. Plus of course the staff and volunteers without whom it couldn’t happen – Isabel, Kim, Tim, Maggie, Veronica, Karen, Sue, Sandeep and Matthew. We’re going to do it all again next year.

So I hope you’ll forgive this relatively slight post. I’ll try and find something more substantial next time.


Elegant shopping at Derry and Toms

Victoria Station, at a quiet time of the day.

display at victoria

Sometime…in the 1920s, I think. A display unit, and some posters reminding you to head for Kensington for high-class fashion and household goods.

poster display

Four of them are by Norman Keene,featuring the same playful dog.

wool

Keene was a commercial artist who created many advertising posters. If you google him you’ll find one of he did of the Kodak Girl (created by our friend John Hassall) and a sexy one for Wright’s Coal Tar soap.

But we won’t go off at a tangent at this point. All but one of the images in this week’s post come from a scrapbook/album of  photos, postcards (and photographs of postcards) and stamps all devoted to promoting Derry and Toms, one of the three big department stores on Kensington High Street. The John Barker Company ended up owning all three stores but kept their seperate identities. Derry and Toms was merged /taken over by Barkers in the 1920s. It’s hard to date some of the images in the scrapbook. Some are as early as 1919, others must come from the 1930s. But they demonstrate the desire to keep the Derry and Toms brand distinct.

It’s a shame not all of the cards are in colour, but the monochrome versions emphasise the design. Monochrome or colour some of them still work as promotional images.

shade - Copy

The images are nearly all signed. Below, FH Warren did several for Derry and Toms. Warren also worked for London Underground as did some of the others.

blouses

Stylish blouses and romantic fashions for autumn.

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Summer:

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And spring:

spring needs

Hall Thorpe was an Australian artist who specialised in prints.

There were hats:

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And specialised items:

aero

Clothes for flying. Air travel still a luxury had its own fashion items.

Derry and Toms also appealed to a younger audience.

toys

(Helen Byrne Bryce also did London Underground posters)

little people

Swords for sale, for use in a recognizeable Kensington landscape (Kensington Gardens looking towards St Mary Abbots). Kensington was also celebrated in a small set of souvenir stamps,featuring other local sights.

stamps 1

It was all there at Derry and Toms.

ships

I found a colour version of one of the designs.

raincoats 2

The elegantly named J Dewar Mills. Not too much is lost by not having the colour.

raincoats (2)

The final pick is one I’ve played around with a little.

umbrellas - Copy

The two women under their umbrellas in coats hats and veils remind me a little of the fashions from a much later retailer – Biba, the final incarnation of which was in the Derry and Toms building, appropriately enough. Last week I happened to meet a lady who had modelled for Biba in the early years of the shop. So this post is discreetly dedicated to her.

Postscript

The album is part of the Trevor Bowen collection, an archive of material related to the John Barker Company. (Bowen was Chairman of the company. The still surviving Roof Garden was his brainchild.)


Gapp’s Stores: a retail empire – 1950

Now that we’re able to do new scanning properly again I wanted to show you a recent addition to our collection donated  by a gentleman who used to work for a chain of grocer’s shops in west London called Gapp’s Stores. Gapp’s began in 1869 at a shop in the Fulham Road from which they expanded across west London until there were 16 branches. These pictures which came in a small album were almost all taken in 1950. They show a form of retailing which lasted from the mid 19th century until the late 1950s and early 1960s. The donor notes that the heads of the company, John and Roland Gapp were unwilling to make the transition to self service as companies like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s had done. (Last week I included a picture showing a branch of Waitrose in Gloucester Road which closed in 1989. I’ve just found out that this was in fact their first branch after their original shop in Acton.  It opened in 1913)

So these images are a record of the way shopping was done, and how small retailers looked for most of the 20th century.

Gapp's store 50 Fulham Road

50 Fulham Road is opposite Sydney Street. You can just see the sign for Sydney Mews, an obscure, nearly hidden area behind Fulham Road and Onslow Square. The store now forms part of a bar called PJs.

Gapp's store 177 Fulham Road 02

177 Fulham Road, despite the contrast in the numbers,  is actually opposite number 50, on the corner of Sydney Street. (The address on the shop front, 4 Sydney Terrace was  a hangover from the days when small sections of a long street would have their own name. By the time of the photograph the sign would have been a quaint old feature.) It’s now occupied by the  Amanda Wakeley bridal shop.

Here’s the view from the other side:

Gapp's store 177 Fulham Road

Gapp’s specialised in wines, spirits and all kinds of bottled drinks as you can tell from the window dispaly. You can also see the reflection of the other side of the street in the window, including the small greenhouse like building which is still there, and is now a florist.

We won’t stay in the Borough on this retail tour, but this location is definitely in our territory: 194-196 Earls Court Road.

Gapp's store 194-196 Earl Court Road

See how carefully the goods are displayed in painstakingly constructed piles. Another view of the same shop (at what must be a different date) is reminiscent of the Ernest Milner photographs from nearly 50 years before. (The Gapp’s store was at 136 in 1904 – there  was a re-numbering later).

Gapp's store 194-196 Earl Court Road 02

Our next stop is Lillie Road.

Gapp's store 88 Lillie Road

Gapp’s made  Lillie Road  (88-90) the location of its head office. They also had a warehouse there for dried fruit and tea. The shop is signed as a wine merchants. Our donation also contained various pieces of wine related ephemera.

Gapp's wine list - Copy

As you can see, by 1905 Gapp’s already had quite a few stores. By 1950 more had been added as they ventured outwards.

Gapp's store 1 Goldhawk Road Shepherds Bush

Goldhawk Road, Shepherd’s Bush.

Gapp's store 13-15 Jerdan Place Walham Green

13-15 Jerdan Place, Walham Green.

Gapp's store 52 The Broadway Ealing

52 The Broadway, Ealing. (Some nice pillars there.) And on into the suburbs.

 

Gapp's store 2 Ethorpe Crescent Gerrards Cross

2, Ethorpe Crescent, Gerrards Cross.

Gapp's store 155 Thornbury Road Osterley

155 Thornbury Road, Osterley. I haven’t covered them all but you get the idea. Gapp’s seems to have reached a kind of peak in the days of rationing and austerity when the strict virtues of a tightly run shop chimed with the expectations of customers. In the 1960s the company was sold to William Perry Ltd, a subsidiary of John Harvey of Bristol who needed licensed premises. And that was the story of Gapp’s.

But before we go, a picture from 1956, back at the Fulham Road branch with a special promotion for Schweppe’s.

Gapp's store 177 Fulham Road May 1956 Schweppe's window

Not so much of the hard sell. Just a suggestion.

Gapp's Christmas List 1937 - Copy

Postscript

My thanks to Mr Richard Browne.

On an unrelated matter I have to say goodbye to an old friend, but not a person.

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This Epson scanner was here at Kensington  when I was still at Chelsea. It has served through a number of digitisation projects and since I got my hands on it it has scanned hundreds, if not thousands of images. It would not be going too far to say it taught me about the wonders of scanning details close up. It was also responsible for most of the images on this blog and introduced the world to the street photography of Edward Linley Sambourne among many other historical images. It has even survived a minor flood. It couldn’t however survive the march of progress. A way was found to make it work with Windows 7 but it was going to be very unlikely for us to find a driver for it which would work with Windows 10 when we go over to that later this year, so when the computer it was attached to expired its time had come. We’re currently using a smaller but snazzier scanner to keep the work going. But thank you to a venerable piece of kit.

I refer you to the Grandaddy song “I’m on standby”.


Closing down Pettits – October 1977

Pettits closing down sale announcement August 1977 WLO

From this end of retail history it’s in some ways quite surprising that the old department stores of Kensington High Street lasted as long as they did. I can remember the giant of the High Street, Barker’s carrying on as though it would never end, but now the building is dominated by the Whole Food store and another part of it is about to be colonised by Gap. Derry and Toms is memorialised in the Roof Garden (the Virgin flags fly from the rooftop), and Pontings has vanished completely. Those three were the main names of genteel shopping in Kensington but there was another name still remembered by veteran consumers – Pettits. Much smaller than Barker’s or Derry and Toms, a little smaller than Ponting’s, we passed by it in a previous post on the Promenade when I said we would return. So here we are in October 1977 for a last look around at numbers 191-195.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits 1977 closing down K4089B

The closing down sale is in full swing at the time of this picture, October 1977.

Pettits interior ground floor to north west 1977 K4156

Inside, business looks steady rather than brisk. Perhaps the best items had already gone. As the displays are picked over by shoppers the place starts to look a bit untidy. My wife and her mother paid a visit to the sale about this time. My wife bought a purple dressing gown at half-price which she used for a number of years. I asked her if the place did look a bit of a mess at the time and she says it did.

Pettits interior ground floor to north east 1977 K4149C

An empty unit which formerly held a selection of Pretty Polly tights. A woman stares at the photographer.

The shop had four floors. If they had been a lift you could have heard the announcement: Household linens and curtains.

Pettits interior ground floor stairwell to north 1977 K4155C

This is how it looked.

Pettits interior Basement to south 1977 K4152

The department was also looking a bit thin.

Pettits interior Basement to east Mrs White 1977 K4154-C

On the back of this picture was written “Mrs White”. I assume she is the one behind the counter pointing out what’s left for the keen shopper leaning towards her.

Upstairs there is a bit more activity.

Pettits interior 2nd floor west side 1977 K4147c

The scene looks old fashioned, and I ask myself, was that how things were in the late seventies? Am I projecting more recent memories of shopping back onto anothere era? Or was Pettits out of time even then? I was talking about Pettits with one of my colleagues and she discovered this bit of reminiscence:

“Petit’s clerical department was extremely outdated. It was the last shop still using a system of receipts for customers transported by overhead wires. The cashier sat in a sort of overhead balcony. The sales assistant made out a bill and sent it by pulleys and wires to the cashier, who kept one copy and stamped the other “Paid” as a receipt for the customer, and gave the necessary change. This was all transported by wire and pulley back to the sales assistant on the ground floor, who then gave the customer her change and receipt. In the 1950’s this system had long become outdated in other stores. Most sales assistants at this time were also cashiers.”  This comes from a book called “Cosy corners in depression and war: autobiography” by a woman called Joan Hughes which regretably we don’t have in stock. (It was found on a website devoted to wire and pneumatic cash sytems: http://www.cashrailway.co.uk which is well worth looking at if like me you can remember some of the odd systems which used to exist in large stores – I can remember the pneumatic system at Pontings but I’ve aslo seen it elsewhere.) The wire system is not visible in these pictures but nor do you see many tills (I think that’s one in the bottom left corner of the picture above.) It’s possible that some of the old methods for making payments and dispensing change lingered on into “modern” times. (Somehow I can’t quite consign the 70s to the historical past even though I know many people who weren’t even born then.)

Our photographer sneaked upstairs into the office, where there is also a distinct lack of business machines.

Pettits interior 1977 3rd floor office K4148C

I can remember rooms like this, desks jumbled together, piles of in-trays, filing cabinets and barely a hint of the technological revolution that would sweep through offices in the decades ahead. As I said in the Promenade post the upstairs floors of buildings in Kensington High Street were full of rooms like this one and the traditional office was still alive.

By the beginning of 1978 Pettis was about the go under the hammer.

Pettits sale brochure 1978 - Copy

The Survey of London records Pettits’ period of trading as 1890-1978, just short of 90 years. But before they occupied the whole corner. Alfred Pettit, drapers, just had number 193. I think this may be a picture of the first shop, which I tracked back in Kelly’s Directory as far as 1888 although it may go further.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits K4159 - Copy

This gentleman could be Alfred Pettit himself with his wife.

Mr Pettit I presume - CopyMrs Pettit I presume - Copy

Pettits seems to have expanded into the larger premises in the early 1900s just in tine for a reatil boom. The 1920s and 30s were the peak for the shops of Kensington High Street. This page is probably from a 1930s brochure.

Pettits catalogue insert 1930s - Copy

Or is it later? The prices might be a clue.

This picture shows a celebration for 50 years of trading which would take us to roughly the same period, probably the late 1930s.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits K4158

Happier times for Pettits. But unlike other larger establishments the building is now home to a single store – a branch of Waterstone’s. So you can still go there now and browse through the books, (something I’d much rather do than look for curtain material, but that’s just me), and imagine the shoppers of the past.

Kelly’s Kensington Direcory 1903: 191 Pettit A W draper and furrier. 193 Pettit A W, milliner and ladies outfitter.

Postscript

Forgive me for a little uncertainty with some of the pictures. The pictures of Mr and Mrs Pettit were not labelled as such but it was recorded that the originals were loaned  by the company so photos could be taken. I would welcome any comments/information from former staff or shoppers. My special thanks to Maggie Tyler, an assiduous researcher as always. I haven’t exhausted the topic of the shops of Kensington High Street so we’ll certainly be back here again.

 


Along the Promenade: Kensington High Street

Kensington High Street October 1961. The corner of Wright’s Lane. The photographer has noted on the back: midday. It’s good to know that now. The street is busy. A shop called Hope Brothers (“outfitters”)  is at the centre of the picture occupying the corner with its turret. Can you see behind the  building the side of Iverna Court and the fire escape stairs which snake up the pitched roof allowing access from windows and precarious looking doorways? I checked and it’s still there today.

Kensington High Street 129 October 1961 midday K61-1014

This is the start of the Promenade,an 1890s development of shops and offices built by our old friend cheese magnate Jubal Webb, a rare example of a developer demolishing his own house along with the others in the Terrace  (follow the link for more on the houses that used to be there). We’ll be following the Promenade down the High Street in a moment but before we do there’s another matter.

Just visible on the left is one of the signs for Pontings, the first of the three great department stores of Kensington High Street to disappear. Most of the rest of the pictures in this post come from the 1970s like this one from May 1976.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-29

Ponting’s is being demolished.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-93

And there it was gone.

Not that its final years had been glorious.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729

In 1971 the letters of the signs had all been pulled out and you were left with a discount shop called the Kensington SuperStore.

There is a bit of a human drama in that picture to distract us form the sad fate of Ponting’s.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729 detail

The woman on the left is flagging down a taxi with her arm outstreched. But behind her the younger woman is also making a gesture which might be an attempt to sneak in first, or exasperation on account of her prior claim. We’ll never know who got the cab, but nice flares, Madam.

Now back to 1976. I had just left college and spent the summer in balmy Kensal Rise. A group of us spent many afternoons in that memorable summer around the open air swimming pool in Willesden. But by November I had a job in Soho so I was probably hardly ever in Kensington High Street where John Rogers was taking these pictures.

Kensington High Street 129-137 south side looking west 1976 KS4285

Hope Brothers have been replaced by Paige Gowns (Ladies fashions). It’s hard to make out all the shops’ names at this size of image but I’ve looked at Kelly’s Directory for this year so I can tell you that you have Barratts (shoes), Etam (more ladies wear), Salisbury’s (handbags and fancy goods, with the Anglo-Austrian Society on one of the floors above), a boutique called Magique, the Village Gate (menswear), Saxone (shoes again – before the internet shoe shops were like a virus on any high street), the once ubiquitous Ratners (jewellry) and a Dorothy Perkins (ladies outfitters).

I have some more pictures taken of this section by John Rogers but not dated so there are a few discrepancies but I’m sure they’re from the same period.

Kensington High Street 135-145 K2275C

In this pair of images you can see a Jean Machine and a shop called Woodhouse have slotted themselves in, along with the flash of a Citroen which looks like a retro car of the future speeding by.

Kensington High Street 139-149 K2279C

These two images give you an idea of the complex repeating pattern of rooftops on the Promenade. I’m repeating myself here but the Survey of London gives the best description: “orthodox, restless, ornamental”, three adjectives that cannot be bettered.

This one takes it to the last peak of the Promenade:

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C

Mindels (more leather goods – did these people never tire of leather?), the Downtown boutique, Ravel (more shoes) and between them a shop with a blank front which at maximum magnification looks to me like an electronics or hi-fi shop.

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C - Copy

Are those LPs on a rack on the left of the entrance? You can also see a woman lifting a pram onto the kerb, and what looks like a woman being acosted by a man slouching in the entrance to Downtown. At the right a woman crosses the darkened passageway which leads into Adam and Eve Mews, where the Society for Psychical Research had its home for many years.

We’re moving beyond the Promenade proper now but I think it’s worth it.

Kensington High Street 161 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4290

To see Dolcis (a shoe shop next to another shoe shop), Dixons, Brentford Nylons (a name I recall from frantic ads on radio for a shop where people with odd tastes could buy nylon sheets, among many other man made products). Kelly’s reveals a few of the businesses upstairs: Peterjohn Import-Export Ltd (a front for MI5?), Centre Girl (employment agency), Sartorius Fashions Ltd (importers), Porten’s Secretarial College, Barber, May and Carstairs (auctioneers) and Naftamondial UK Ltd (petroleum traders) to name a few. These names bring back a whole way of life – office workers toiling in smoke filled rooms on obscure tasks, bosses dictating to secretaries and lots of paper files – which must have gone by now, although there must still be small businesses in those buildings.

We’re heading for a particular shop now at 191-195. Let’s have a close up of someone on the street first.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291 detail

This young woman with her big collar and cuffs is sticking stamps on a letter for the post box behind her. She has a hair style I remember well, although I haven’t been able to discover if it has a name.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291

Along with a kebab resturant, another jeans boutique, a building society  and positively the last shoe shop of the day (K, not named for Kafka’s hero I expect, but imagine Kafka writing a story about a street where you could only buy shoes) is Pettits (of Kensington, general drapers).

For those of you who didn’t know Pettits was the other shop after the three department stores whose name has lingered on in people’s memories, and I am often asked about it. Let’s go in.

Pettits interior 1977 K4150-C

As you can see, Pettits was the home of many racks of ladies garments and accessories. Can you see the half-obscured sign next to the pillar? Upstairs: Corsets, Coats, Dresses, Millinery (maybe ) and Underwear (or Nightwear?). Habadashery and Soft Furnishings somewhere else .It looks to me like a shop for ladies of a certain age. Those corsets were not the modern fashion items, they were just foundation garments if I’ve got the term correct. And this is 1977, the year of the closing down sale when my future wife was dragged down there by her mother. She bought a purple dressing gown.

Pettits had survived its larger rivals but eventually succombed to economuic forces. I’m only featuring one picture because there are several more which might make a post of their own in the future.

So let’s go home. Walk back up the High Street to the tube through the picturesque arcade we can still enjoy today.

Kensington Arcade 1981 K6653-B

The High Street went through a rough patch a few years ago but now looks to be thriving again. These are the current shops on the Promenade: Oliver Bonas, East, Vince Camuto (shoes!), EE, The Body Shop, Phones 4U,  Aldo, an empty property, O2, The Kooples, Calzedonia, Russell Bromley (shoes) Orogold, Muji, Vision Express, another empty one and Hotel Chocolat (my favourite, obviously). More phones than shoes. The roofline is still restless after all these years.

A modern view:

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One big difference – trees.

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And it’s not usually as quiet as this. I took these pictures on a Saturday morning.

Postscript

This week’s post is the 206th post published but it’s the 200th written by me so it’s a personal milestone. When someone asked for an idea back in 2011 and I said “I’ll write a blog.” I never imagined that I would be able to find 200 topics to write about in the last (nearly) four years and still not have exhausted the collection or my desire to write about it. When I started, I ran at it picking off the best subjects, Hedderly, Cremorne etc not at all concerned with making them last. I now know that Burgess and Ascroft and Rush could easily have had several posts each like Markino and Menpes. Maybe they will yet. Other subjects really only get one shot, so you have to get it right.

With some posts you know there’s going to be a great deal of interest – anything to do with the Lots Road Power Station for example, or the lost streets of the World’s End. Some posts surprise you. I would never have guessed at the perennial popularity of the West London Air Terminal. (So I’m relieved that I just about nailed that one.)

The big breakthrough I suppose was Linley Sambourne. I knew those pictures were good. It was a few years before the blog that I scanned them during a period when I discovered the pleasures of digitisation. I knew they would be useful one day and if I found the right angle would reach a lot of people. The success of those posts and others taught me to follow my instincts. And all the years of looking at pictures trying to see their stories have paid off. Blogging about our Local Studies collection has been both a pleasure for me and has taken the collection out of the archive room and picture chests into the big wide world, finding a gratifyingly large audience.  I’m lucky to have ended up where I am today, showing people things they’ve never seen before and above all learning, finding interesting things, becoming obsessed with them and then saying: look at this.

So thank you to everyone who’s read the blog, regularly or occasionally, made comments (Michael, Chris and Debbie to name only the most frequent), subscribed, followed us on Twitter, pressed the like button, and shared with us – pictures or memories. Without you it really wouldn’t work.

And I haven’t forgotten my guest bloggers – Isabel Hernandez, Lucy Yates and the eminent historian Jonathan Oates, who have all made valuable contributions and given me much needed breathing space. Special thanks to them for their support and to the other members of my team – Tim Reid, Kim Smith and Katrina Wilson (who has now gone on to higher things). And as long as I’m thanking people my wife Cathryn and my son Matthew who have had to put up with me tapping away on my laptop at all hours. And can I just thank…… no, really, I’ve stopped now, honest.

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Hugh Thomson – my latest obsession. More of him soon.


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