Category Archives: World’s End

Fiction in Kensington and Chelsea 3: Offshore

When I do these posts about fiction set in Kensington and Chelsea I’m normally scrabbling around for pictures to go with the text but this post came about because there were plenty of pictures of the specific location.

Chelsea Reach houseboats 1975 Bignell

A view of the houseboats at Chelsea Reach, with both Battersea and Albert Bridges in the background (even the distant chimneys of Battersea Power Station). A quinessentially Chelsea view from 1975. Chelsea reach was one of the subjects of James Hedderly’s early photography, and the location of the Greaves Boatyard, where the artist Walter Greaves painted and got some mentoring from one of his customers James McNeil Whistler. By the time John Bignell took this photograph the boating on the Reach was all residential.

The writer Penelope Fitzgerald had gone by then  but the experience of living on one of the boats had left its mark and she used the enclave of houseboats as the setting for her Booker-winning novel Offshore.

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This is the cover of the first hardback edition, a view which would be quite familiar to readers of this blog as it shows the main landmark looking in the other direction, Lots Road Power Station.

Chelsea Reach 1960s jb334 - Copy

I’ve cropped this Bignell picture to show the whole sweep of the view looking west as the river curves towards Wandsworth. The houseboats are just visible on the right.

In real life Fitzgerald lived in the last boat along which was called Grace, nearest the offices of the Chelsea Boat Company. She lived there with her semi-estranged husband and their two daughters – there was also a son, away at boarding school. He was not surprised apparently to not find himself depicted in the book. The heroine Nenna James lives with her daughters Martha and Tilda in a fictional boat also called Grace – her husband in in Stoke Newington, a far away part of London in the early sixties.

The houseboats would eventually become fashionable and sought after locations but for the author and her fictional alter ego they were quite grim. This was a time in Fitzgeralds’s life when she had very little money.

Houseboats

At low tide, the boats sat on the smelly Thames mud the and residents weren’t supposed to use the toilets. At high tide they were afloat, not always a comfortable position:

At that moment Lord Jim was disturbed from stem to stern by an unmistakeable lurch….she seemed to shake herself gently, and rose. The tide had lifted her.

Cheyne Walk - looking east, riverside 1972

On every barge on the Reach a very faint ominous tap, no louder than the door of a cupboard shutting, would be followed by louder ones from every strake, timber and weatherboard, a fusillade of thunderous creaking, and even groans that seemed human.

Cheyne Walk - looking east, riverside 1972 (2)

These two pictures taken by John Rogers in 1972 depict that sense of being cut off by water. The passing vehicles on Cheyne Walk might have little sense of the little world on the water beside them.

Cheyne Walk - looking west from Riley Street 1970 KS 1946

Fitzgerald depicts a dislocated, melancholy community on the houseboats, shrouded in fog, both literal and metaphoric, which Bignell does justice to in this picture:

Chelsea Reach in fog Bignell 94

For the two girls Martha and Tilda the foreshore at low tide is a kind of playground.

houseboats and goose 1968 jb213

Not wanting to compete with local children from Partisan Street (Dartrey Street) for  coins, medal and lugworms they go on expeditions across the bridge to the other side of the river. On one occasion they go with a handcart to scavenge the wreck of a Thames barge. They look for tiles in the mud.

Tilda lay full length on a baulk of timber…..far beyond the point at which the mud became treacherous..she stood poised on the handlebars of a sunken bicycle.

She retrieves two tiles which turn out to be by de Morgan. They take them to an antique dealer at a shop called Le Bourgeous Gentilhomme where they get three pounds, a decent sum for two young girls in 1961.

Bignell depicts some equally dangerous play on the river.

Chelsea Reach 1960s Bignell 81

Near the end of the novel the small family have a visitor, a teenage boy from Vienna called Heinrich. The girls take him to the King’s Road, up Partisan Street – a rough place..the refuge of crippled and deformed humanity – which Tilda no longer fears, past the Moravian burial ground where they tell him the urban myth about the Moravians being interred in a standing position, “so on Judgement Day they can rise straight upward.” (Not true by the way – every so often I have to deny it). The King’s Road is already like a gypsy encampment, another life compared to their impoverished life on the barge.

Nenna and her daughters eventually go to live with her sister in Canada. In the last chapter a storm hits the river and two of the other characters find their boat slipping its moorings and heading into the river, as good a way to end as any.

I haven’t found a picture of stormy weather on the river but here’s one of Bignell’s elegant views looking east.

Albert Bridge (2)

Fitzgerald turned her experience of comparative poverty into a sucessful book. In 1979 she won the Booker Prize against the odds. (There’s a fascinating account of the TV coverage in Hermione Lee’s excellent 2013 biography of Fitzgerald). So for her at least her life on the houseboats at Chelsea Reach turned out well.

I once saw the actress Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan!) disembarking from one of the houseboats in the more fashionable 1980s. That would be another story.

Battersea Bridge - looking east from Cheyne Walk 1970 KS 1926

Postscript

The photographs were by John Bignell and John Rogers, both mainstays of the blog. Thanks particularly to John Rogers for his many contributions to the Local Studies collection.

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Forgotten streets of Chelsea

I’ll have to start by qualifying that title. Chelsea people have long memories so I should really say streets forgotten by some people. For others the streets demolished in 1969/70 to clear the area for the building of the World’s End Estate will never be forgotten, and for others still the act of demolition never be forgiven. But for those of you who don’t remember, or those who never knew let me just say there was an enclave of streets in the west of Chelsea which no longer exist. This 1935 map shows them and gives you the roll call of streets which have passed into history.

1935 OS map X29 World's End streets - Copy

Raasay Street, Bifron Street, Vicat Street, Dartrey Road, Seaton Street, Luna Street – all gone now, and somehow the names themselves are redolent of another time and an older, slightly rougher version of Chelsea. The stub of Blantyre Street lingers on at the edge but you can see that the five (or six) sided shape is now a sunken island among the more familiar names like Edith Grove and Cremorne Road.

Our photographer John Rogers went down there in 1969 and caught those streets in their final transition from a living neighbourhood to an empty shell. You may have seen pictures of some of these streets before. (I did a post on the general history of the World’s End). But this post is purely concerned with the last days of these almost forgotten World’s End streets.

World's End looking north 1969 KS1913

1969. Look at that woman waiting to use the phone. If she could step into 2014 and stand in pretty much the same spot she would see more or less the same buildings. But if she turned around and looked behind her…

St John's Church World's End 1969 KS1848

She would see St John’s Church and Mission Hall at the intersection of Blantyre Street and Dartrey Road. If she looked to her left and she could see Blantyre Street.

Blantyre street looking east 1969 KS 1878

A street full of parked cars which leads tothe last few numbers of Cheyne Walk. (What’s that large one on the right?)

Check the map. You can turn right from Blantrye Street into Seaton Street.

Seaton St looking south 1969 KS 1896

The tree at the end is on the embankment overlooking the houseboats.

Seaton St east side 1969 KS 1900

In Seaton Street there’s all sorts of semi-erased football graffitti on the wall next to the Chelsea Corner Cupboard including the incomplete inscription Osgood Aven(u)e which must be a reference to Peter Osgood. (“Osgood is God” vied with “Clapton is God” as mottos on the wall  back in 1969)

Behind Seaton Street was Luna Street,

Luna St West side 35-37 1069

where you could still kick a ball down the street if you wanted to. Dartrey Road ran north to south.

Dartrey road looking south 1969 KS 1832

Those tower blocks in the distance are on the Battersea side of the river. Running west from Dartrey Road was the oddly named Raasay Street.

Raasay Street south side 1969 KS1790

Here you can see the first signs of demolition. This is a closer view of the same scene.

Raasay St north side 1969 KS 1793

Mixed rags and scrap metal still available.

In Bifron Street houses were already vacated.

Bifron street looking West 1969 KS 1795
Some signs of a road closure as a truck gets ready to go.  And below, the interior of a house is laid bare.

BIfron street north side 1969 KS1798

In Vicat Street (Vicat sounds like the name of a dissolute Victorian aristocrat) the process is further along.

Vicat St North side 1969 KS 1813

You can almost smell the dust rising in this picture and the ones below.

Vicat St South Side 1969 KS 1807

Wallpaper is still visible on the walls of those exposed rooms, and debris in the street.

Vicat St South side 1969 KS 1810

The empty A F Stokes shop, along with some more unsuccessfully executed football related graffitti. It all looks quite forlorn.

So let’s go back, away from the devastation. If that woman is still in the phone box she can look west and see this view.

Dartrey terrace 1969 KS 1845

Still a little life left in those World’s End streets. The corner of a pre-war car, second hand goods, fish and chips plus whatever they sold at Gandalf’s Garden. All gone, not so very long after these pictures were taken.

Postscript

Don’t think I’m down on the World’s End Estate. I’ve been inside and there are some very nice flats there. And the view is astonishing. I’ve no doubt that living conditions some of the houses in the demolished streets must have been pretty grim. But there is aways a price to be paid for development.


On the border: Lots Road before the Harbour 1983

We’re back on the edge of Kensington and Chelsea this week looking across two bodies of water, one large, one small, at the neighbouring territories of Fulham and Battersea. These photographs come from the same source as the ones in the Paddington post, but date from 1983, when the right angle bend of Lots Road was a backwater and the semi-abandoned railway land on the other side of Chelsea Creek was an industrial wasteland, a brown field site if ever there was one.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 017

This territory would become the ambitious and prestigious Chelsea Harbour development in a few short years but when these picture were taken it was still a remnant of the days when the Creek was lined with wharves where barges of raw materials were unloaded. Trains were marshaled in the many sidings and on the Fulham side there were warehouses and factories.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 006

Fulham Power Station is on the edge of this pictures, Lots Road ‘s younger brother often mistaken for its older sibling. The difference is clear though.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 025 col

The concrete chimneys are in a line at one end of the building. A power station had been built on the site in 1901 but this is the B Station constructed in 1936 and decommissioned in 1978, five years before these pictures were taken. After some controversy over asbestos removal it was partially demolished with the remainder being converted into a storage facility.

The two stations were separated by the railway lines. The photographer, Bernard Selwyn, was a surveyor who had access to the railway bridge from which this picture was taken.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 010

The gasometers in the background are in Fulham.

This view is directly west looking up the river. It looks quite different these days with mostly residential developments on both sides of the river up to Wandsworth Bridge and beyond.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 024 col

But that’s way out of my territory. Here is the view looking north into Chelsea

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 012

You can just make out the Balloon Tavern in the distance. The  white building next to it in the picture still exists as well.

This is a closer view.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 018

The towers of the World’s End Estate appear in the background of every view in that direction.

The gantry also dominates this picture

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 014

Chelsea Creek is just behind that wall not quite visible in this picture. A body of water, some hundred year old brickwork, an enigmatic metal structure, industrial buildings with an air of abandonment, grass growing uncontrolled around them. All elements of a certain kind of post industrial landscape.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 019

But don’t get me started on the beauty of industrial decay. We could be here all day admiring the desolation.

 

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 011

There are cars in this pile of discarded metal.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 001

The river looks quite unfriendly and forbidding in this picture showing how close all this empty space was to the highly populous estate.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 002 - Copy

Across the river in Battersea is St Mary’s Church, where William Blake was married, On either side of it are two buildings now replaced. Where the flour mill was is now the Montevetro building. The Old Swan Tavern is also a residential block, though much smaller as you can (just about) see in this photo I took last year.

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Is the pleasure cruiser in the picture below the same as the one seen passing by the church.?

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 015

It seems to be heading towards the centre spans of Battersea Bridge.In the centre of the picture is the far off BT Tower, but take a close look and you can make out Chelsea Old Church. The cylindrical building on the left is the Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge, but I’m open to suggestions on the other two towers.

Not quite finally, a view of our still surviving friend the Lots Road Power Station from the railway bridge.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 009

The derelict space would soon be filled by the Chelsea Harbour development and all the subsequent riverside growth, not long after Selwyn took his pictures. In 2013 it  looked like this:

DSC_2493

So this is the lost borderland between Chelsea and Fulham, and this was the house on the borderland:

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 004

In this one it looks most like the giant of its glory days but sleeping now. It has proved to be a persistent building surviving all the development around it.

Postscript

The photographs are by Bernard Selwyn part of a collection of material bequeathed to the Library by him. The two 2013 pictures were taken by me last summer when I went out to take pictures for another post.

After last week’s post I was reminded that the Chelsea Harbour area was fictionalized as Chelsea Marina by J G Ballard in Millennium People.


King’s Road blues – part one

When I was writing the post about the World’s End a couple of weeks ago I came across the photograph below.

Right in the middle at number 475 you can see a shop called Sophisto-Cat (next to Decro-Cat of course). I’d been looking for a picture of that shop for ages and finally it had presented itself. Sopisto-Cat was the home of the now famous Christian the Lion who was bought at Harrods by two Australian men and kept at the shop in that devil may care sixties way. I showed this picture to interested parties and someone even remembered that she and her sister were always asking their mother to take them to see the lion sleeping in the window.

This set me off trawling through our collection of photographs in search of interesting views of the King’s Road around the same time 1970 so let’s go on a tour up and down Chelsea’s most famous street.

The next two pictures show the shops next to Sophisto-Cat:

Note the pre-decimal prices at Starways and the offer of new dresses for £1 at Quick Nicker. 475 and its neighbours were soon demolished. This view from 1972 of the Guinness Trust Buildings shows the towers of the World’s End estate under construction although the end of the terrace above is still in place.

Further west we see another defunct building Kings Road Junk City. A large and anonymous red brick office block stands on the site today

Further along you find this parade of shops including the engagingly named El Cheapo

This is followed by the still existing Furniture Cave building, today looking much smarter and very much greener in colour than it did in the 1970s.

Stanley Bridge visible in the distance marks the border of Chelsea so now we have to do a virtual u-turn and head back eastwards.

We’ve passed the World’s End now and the next picture shows the parade of shops on the Cremorne Estate.

The branch of Woolworth’s is long gone but the Portch Brothers butchers were there until comparatively recently.

This photo shows the construction of Moravian Tower at what was then 343-379 King’s Road. The building was a Council block of flats for many years until problems with the infrastructure of the building made it uneconomical to repair. It was sold to a property company and now has the far less evocative name 355 King’s Road. The Tower took its name from The Moravian Chapel and Burial Ground located directly behind it.

This brings us back to Christian the Lion. The burial ground was where he exercised when he wasn’t dozing at Sophisto-Cat. I can’t mention the Moravian Burial Ground without also mentioning the urban myth associated with it. Because the headstones are flush with the ground and appear to be quite close together a rumour grew that the Moravians were buried vertically. Every so often we get a query about this so I should state for the record that as far as I know the deceased inhabitants of the burial ground were laid to rest in a conventional manner. The positioning of the headstones probably related to the desire for a simple and unadorned burial marker. The fact that this arrangement is also convenient for the exercise of big cats is entirely coincidental.

I haven’t got us very far along the King’s Road but time travel can’t be rushed. I’ll continue next week but to get us as far as Beaufort Street at least here are another couple of images:

329 and 331 King’s Road, now home to Just Kitchens and the Azteca Resturant. Just beyond Beaufort Street on the north side is the Bluebird Garage building. Once the home of the largest and one of the first petrol stations in the country, it is now devoted to a number of upmarket food /consumer outlets. But in the early seventies it was an ambulance station.

Next week we will push on to the heart of the King’s Road at the height of its fame as a fashionable shopping destination.

This is the first of a number of virtual trips along the streets of Kensington and Chelsea so let me know if there are any other streets you’d like to see.


Down at the World’s End

There is more than one World’s End. As a name for inns and taverns it seems to have emerged in the reign of Charles II and been used in other parts of London and elsewhere in the British Isles.  But the Chelsea World’s End tavern which gave its name to the area around it has been on local maps since there have been maps of Chelsea. The narrow alley which ran down diagonally to the river has been called Hobs Lane and World’s End Passage. This route was important as many of the tavern’s customers came by boat from London to enjoy its gardens and its hospitality. It is mentioned in Congreve’s play Love for Lover in 1695.

The surrounding area was farmland and nurseries in those days. The tavern was an island of leisure and a safe haven for travellers. (The water route was preferred – the area called the Five Fields between Chelsea and Knightsbridge was notorious for street robbery) By 1836 there were houses along World’s End Place and new streets nearby, Lackland Place and Riley Street. To the south west Baron de Berenger had started his National Sporting Club in the grounds of Cremorne House. Thirty years later at the time of the first Ordnance Survey map there were houses around the tavern and the Sporting Club had become the Cremorne pleasure gardens. By 1894 the Pleasure Gardens had gone and a network of streets had grown up to the south of the tavern – Blantyre Street, Vicat Street, Raasay Street, Dartrey Road, Bifron Street, Luna Street and Seaton Street all clustered in the triangle between the King’s Road and Cremorne Road.

Here is the tavern in the early 20th century:

 

And here is a view from the 1930s looking south with St John’s church on the left and the chimneys of Lots Road power station in the distance:

 

 

Hardly any of those street names are familiar today because the streets themselves are gone, all demolished to build the World’s End Estate which now covers the entire area. Work began building the estate in 1969 and by 1975 tenants had begun moving into what was then the largest Council housing estate in Europe.

For the purpose of this post everything I’ve written so far is a preamble to the photographs which follow which show some of those gone but not forgotten streets just at the point when demolition had begun. Here is a view showing the same block of shops in Dartrey Terrace in 1969:

The former Home and Colonial store has become the home of the famous counter-cultural emporium Gandalf’s Garden.

At the same date demolition was well under way in Dartrey Road:

The Chelsea Flower Mill is visible at the rear of the picture and if I’m not mistaken Lots Road Power Station has lost at least one chimney. (The chimneys of Lots Road are probably a story in themselves.)

In another view of Dartrey Road children are playing near the now empty houses:

But in two streets east in Luna Street normal life proceeds:

At the end of the street the Battersea  side of the river is just visible.

The final photo below also of Luna Street shows a woman looking out of an upstairs window. Thanks to an enquiry from one of our customers I know her name and that the van in the picture was her husband’s. This is one way of reminding us that the pictures of old buildings which are part of my stock in trade are important, but what truly makes history live is the people inside the buildings.

(While I was selecting pictures for this post I noticed that boy on the bike who got himself into several pictures the photographer took that day.)

The title of this post comes from the theme song to BBC2’s short lived 1980s Chelsea soap opera World’s End. It centred on a pub called the World’s End but was actually filmed at the Cross Keys in Lawrence Street. Anyone remember it?


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