Christmas Days: underground and round about

As we’re nearing the end of the year, and possibly the end of  my tether, today’s post is mostly photographs, the work of that obscure photographer Dave Walker. These pictures were taken in 2014, so they’re already history, when Kensington Library was undergoing some building work intended to keep it going in the 21st century. The front of house refurbishments had been done in 2012-2013 but the infrastructure of the building needed some work. Armed with a new camera I took hundreds of pictures over two or three years, some of them useful for documenting the changes, which included considerable work in the two basements, others more whimsical, because I liked the process and the materials.

 

 

Like this one, seconds after the wall of the old archive room B08 started being knocked down, by the low tech method of hitting it with a big hammer. I loved the colour of the inside, where brick dust is still floating around and the lights are glowing through a kind of mist.

Cables like the one here, hung in the air as the wall they had been attached to disappeared.

 

 

Empty rooms were another feature of the work.

 

 

 

This one is at the opposite vertical extent of the building from the basement.

And back to the sub-basement.

.

 

Piles of debris, obviously.

 

 

Note the sign on the door. The asbestos cubicle (the other door said Clean) (I don’t think they found any by the way.)

Quirky sights.

 

 

And quirky close- up views.

 

 

Enigmatic signs.

 

 

And sights / lights.

 

 

Dark spots.

 

 

New places.

 

 

Exposed areas.

 

 

Hidden places.

 

 

And new furniture.

 

 

I did get out from time to time that year.

 

 

Genius.

 

 

The Boltons

 

 

Olympia.

A light shines in a dark space.

 

 

 

Monkeys Recommend

Jim prefers non-fiction.

 

Ben Macintyre’s account of the career of Oleg Gorsievsky is as exciting as any thriller and hard to put down. Also, Jim found, hard to get out from under.

 

 

With a bit of effort, under the eye of the spirit of archives, he made it.

 

 

Postscript

That turned out to be a pretty lengthy post in the end, but easier to write with many fewer word. The final Christmas post will be on Monday, after which I am assured, Isabel will be storming back with a new post for 2019.

 

 

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Christmas Days: pungently Burgundian

Regulars readers will have noticed that I’m using the phrase “regular readers” frequently these days, perhaps too frequently, but I have been writing this blog for seven years now, so a certain amount of repetition is bound to creep in now and then. Some of you may be aware that as a fan of the Survey of London I treasure some of the quirky phrases that the writers use  – “umbrageous Brompton” for example or “orthodox, restless, ornamental“. But my favourite is the title of this post, and it was applied to a building I go past twice every working day. Number 1, Kensington High Street. (Not to be confused with the upstart Number 1 Kensington Road, the insistently modern apartment building between  De Vere Gardens and Victoria Road,  which is a few doors down from our Number 1 – Kensington Court and other addresses separate them.)

 

 

You can see what they mean by pungently Burgundian. A certain medieval style, decorative. Like somebody’s idea of a French chateau, something we’ve seen before.

 

Designed by Alfred Williams in 1886 for the London County Bank, it was later used by the National Bank and later the National Westminster. In the 1980s it was a branch of the Leamimgton Spa building Society.

But in recent years it has been an Indian restaurant. At one point a few years ago someone who worked there came into Local Studies and asked me if it had ever been a church. The answer was no ,but how interesting to think that it could have been. Not a regular church I imagine. the Brethren of the Free Spirit perhaps, decorated inside with reproductions of scenes from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delight, the Sisters of Torment (also a plausible goth band from the 90s?) or the Starry Wisdom cult (branches in New England and elsewhere). But no, just a bank. This Burgundian style seemed to be a feature of late 19th century financial institutions. Look at this building society in Glasgow in the 1970s.

 

 

My home town, Chester, has plenty of these retro designs. such as the HSBC  in Eastgate Street.

 

 

 

(Chester also boasts a similarly Gothic branch of Barclays, next to the Cathedral.)

That early stretch of Kensington High Street has some of the oldest buildings in the street.

 

 

Kate Ker Banks (“robes”) at number 3, the Goat Tavern at 3A, and the Old Three Tuns at number 5.

Next to them a circulating library, an urban dairy and at 21 Foley the American dentist (even then, American dentistry was a thing – “teeth, complete set one guinea”)

 

 

 

And what The Gas and Coke Company, next to the Barkers building?

 

 

This striking urban castle goes almost unnoticed these days, with a branch of NatWest on the ground floor. But you can imagine some solitary activity going on in that tower, and if we’re thinking alternate worlds / steampunk. perhaps someone could have tethered their airship to the little tower while they clambered down into the castle for an assignation.

[Addendum: after one of the comments below I had a look at what the Survey said about this building and it delivered several new phrases for my collection: “shockingly striped and ornamented”, “bumptiously large shop windows” and “skittish passages of terracotta decoration”. Thank you, Teresa.]

 

Monkeys recommend

This year brought the final volume of Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, Europe at Dawn. In the picture below Florence and Cornelius have shepherded all four volumes together.

 

 

The series is a  mixture of espionage and science fiction. In a Balkanised Europe where small regions and cities have become sovereign states, a semi-secret organisation of couriers passes secrets and people via convoluted routes. There is also a parallel pocket universe with an alternative version of Europe. This is one of the most original science fiction settings in many years, say the monkeys. I think so too.

 


Christmas Days: an episode of archive history

It might be 10 years or more ago, when I was asked by a local resident to go to the former Kingsley school in Glebe Place to see a curiosity. The school was built in the 1890s as a county school and closed in the1970s. The building was acquired by the government of Libya and used as a school for the education of a relatively small number of Libyan children, most of them from the Embassy. At some point this too closed and the building entered the planning phase of existence, when redevelopment plans were made and submitted to the planning process and sometimes rejected wholly or partially. Buildings like this often change ownership too, until an acceptable version of the development plan is found. From what I can see on Google Street View, work is currently going on

My concern was a room on the ground floor where there was apparently a painting of local interest. There was, a view of the Old Church and Lombard Terrace. The picture was framed after a fashion. A wooden frame, attached directly to the wall, kept a glass panel a couple of inches from its surface. What I hadn’t been told was that the picture was actually painted on the wall. My informant had initially suggested that the picture could be remover and claimed by the Library on behalf of the Council. But i soon realized that this could not happen without a chunk of possibly load bearing wall being removed, at considerable expense. (And where we would put a large piece of masonry was another matter.)

So all I could reasonably do was send in a photographer, and the task fell to John Rogers, who was now working on a freelance basis.

The picture was in a difficult position fairly close to the opposite wall, hemmed in by glass and subject to reflection. John did his best and here are the results:

This one suffered from reflections.

 

Here, John found an angle which reduced some of the glare.

 

Here he tried a close-up of the Church.

 

 

And Lombard Terrace.

 

 

And here’s the story. During the Blitz, the school was used by ARP wardens as a vantage point for fire watching. There may have been a flat area on the roof where volunteers could safely stand. Several local artists did this kind of work, and one of them, known only to us as David ____ spent his down time by painting a picture on the wall of the ground floor room. Perhaps it was used as a break room or canteen. Afterwards, the school authorities decided to keep it, and preserved it as best they could. Remember, on 16th April 1941 Chelsea Old Church was bombed.

This was all that remained. A painting by another local artist, Francis Griffen.

 

 

After the war it was decided to rebuild the church and the new building was made as much like its predecessor as possible.

 

 

So this picture is possibly the last ever painting of the original Old Church. As I said, this all happened years ago, and I don’t know what happened to the picture.

I can’t tell you if it still exists.

 

Monkeys recommend:

Today’s book is Ben Aaronovitch’s Lies Sleeping, the latest in his Rivers of London series featuring Peter Grant, Metropolitan Police sorcerer’s apprentice.

 

This is brought to you by Montague Rhodes Monkey aka The Provost, who keeps an eye on supernatural matters for the soft toy community.

The Met’s magic cops are closing in  on the Faceless Man. Peter and his master Nightingale now have more support from the regular police than they used to have but they still don’t know where their enemy will strike next. Anyone who’s followed the series, and I suggest you start now if you haven’t will be pleased to see Lesley makes a few appearances and seems to show she’s not completely under the control of the Faceless Man, but it’s still not enough. Is it, Mr Aaronovitch?

See you tomorrow (or possibly later today).

 


Christmas Days – up on the roof

This is the first in my regular series of short posts for Christmas. If all goes to plan, there will be three more this week and one on Christmas Eve. Usually, the subject matter is small and/or quirky. As it is today.

Inevitably I suppose I found these five pictures while looking for something else, and equally inevitably they related to a subject I’d already covered here only recently, the Council Depot in Warwick Road. (You always find new stuff after the post is published) So although they’re not particularly seasonal, they’ve ended up here.

They’re interesting for a number of reasons. The date is July 1957.  Mr D S Hooper and Miss W.M. Parfitt  (identified in formal mode on the back of one of thephotos) have made their way to the roof of number 161 Warwick Road to take a small set of pictures. quite why, I can’t say, except perhaps that it was a pleasant spot to be on a summer’s day.

Here, they look south.

 

 

The distant parts of Warwick Road look familiar, but at the cross roads with Cromwell Road everything has changed, even the width of the road. The current dual carriageway with traffic islands and lights is shown here as a perfectly ordinary street corner with a pub and a branch of Barclays.

 

 

The same two buses are shown moments before on the other side of the lights. A third one is about to turn right. The BEA logo is visible.

My transport correspondent tells me this: the buses are AEG Regal 4s in airport livery. You can see some more of them in this post about the West London Air Terminal (third picture).

 

 

 

The third picture shows us some chimney pots, all sitting on top of some fairly irregular brick chimneys. You can see a BOAC billboard, and of course the roof of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre

 

 

I imagine the two of them sitting on another dusty slate roof. Did they linger for a while, enjoying the comparative calm, chatting about the view, or were these pictures just a few momentary snaps? Did Mr Hooper or Miss Parfitt stand there impatiently while the other one took a few unnecessary pictures? This was the money shot.

 

 

 

Facing north with a clear view of the Warwick Cafe, the old piano factory, now owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and used as part of its Depot. The Warwick Arms is on the far left. Fancy a snack?

 

Monkeys recommend

This year’s special feature for Christmas are books which have enjoyed some popularity in the in the soft toy community. (I have helped with recommendations) Today’s book is chosen by Bill and Lucy (with the seal of approval from their friend Little Cthulhu).

 

 

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff is set in 1950s America where Atticus Turner returns from service in the War to find his father missing, possibly as a result of conducting research for the publication his uncle edits, the Safe Negro Travel Guide, which lists hotels and eating places where people of colour are welcome in 1950s America. (Ruff has based this on the Green Guide, a genuine book which did the same job) Atticus embarks on a perilous road trip where he has to cope with the dangerous racists in law enforcement along with eldritch horrors from dark dimensions, some of whom may be related to his own family. Various friends and relatives of Atticus are drawn into their own fantastic narratives. In the light of H P Lovecraft’s known prejudices, it present a new slant on supernatural horror.

For more Lovecraftian thrills listen to BBC radio’s adaptation of the Case of Charles Dexter Ward, availible on BBC Sounds. It takes the form of a true mystery podcast. It has some seriously creepy moments.

See you tomorrow.

 

 


Demolition: the fall of a town hall

In December 1983 I went down to Kensington High Street from North Kensington Library. It must have been one of those half days when I finished at one o’clock because it was around lunchtime. I saw from the bus that the former Kensington Town Hall had been partially breached by a wrecking ball and that the large hall in the centre of the building was now open to the elements. I was astounded. And, I admit, a little excited.

 

 

This is history now. Rumour had it that the GLC (remember them?) had been planning to list the building on a Monday, so to prevent this, demolition began the day before. Arguments followed, for and against. Some called it a desecration of a fine old building, some argued that it was financially necessary for the Council to maximize what it could make from the old building. Some said it was an architectural loss, others said that London has more than enough mediocre Victorian municipal buildings and wouldn’t miss this one. Although many years have passed the controversy has never completely been forgotten. But having noted the issues, I’m going to stick with the facts of the matter. And the pictures. Because although the building has gone, Council photographers, including our own John Rogers recorded it, and its passing. We have also been given photographs taken by members of the public. As regular readers will have realized, I like a bit of destruction. The poetry of devastation. So let me indulge myself.

 

I’ve been reading the Survey of London of course, and a handy little book published by English Heritage called London’s Town Halls, and it seems that nobody like the Town Hall that much. Its design had been reached by a “badly organised competition” from which “Gothic and Elizabethan styles were specifically excluded“. The architect, one Robert Walker (no relation as far as I know) went with (the Survey quoted Building News) “a commonplace Italian design“. (The term “Italianate” is often used pejoratively by architectural writers, as in the phrase “crude Italianate villas” applied by one writer to expensive houses in the Boltons in Old Brompton Road).  It was opened in 1880 and extended in 1898-99. It was large enough to be a serviceable town hall until the current building in Hornton Street was built. There is a post about its construction here.

 

 

This picture shows the rear extension from the garden in Church Walk.

The garden was formerly part of the church burial ground.

 

 

You can see St Mary Abbotts in the picture below.

 

 

But back to 1983. This is a view from a roof on the opposite side of the High Street, after the middle section was cleared of rubble.

 

 

The next pictures are a little earlier, immediately after the initial demolition work.

 

 

Jets of water to dampen down the dust in the air.

 

 

The view on the street after the boards went up.

 

 

And just before, a huge pile of debris.

 

Close up to the pile.

 

 

 

On the pavement, life goes on.

 

 

What was left of the building was actually left standing for a couple of years while it was being decided what to do next. The final demolition took place in 1984.

The great hall, partially cleared.

 

 

 

But before we leave this little detail from the side of the building intrigued me.

 

We’ll come back to the Town Hall again in the new year when we’ll have a look inside. Next week is the start of my usual series of short daily posts for the run up to Christmas

 

Postscript

A few hours after I published last week’s post news came through that Pete Shelley, founding member of Buzzcocks had died aged 63. As a 63-year old myself I am totally opposed to the deaths of men of that age. And as others have said, he took a bit of my life with him. Buzzcocks were one of the great punk bands and one of the first to make a record (the Spiral Scratch EP) by themselves, without any help from a record company. Shelley wrote and sang love songs with a sharp edge, catchy but uncompromisingly noisy. Sometimes at this point I quote a favourite lyric, but although Shelley wrote perfectly good pithy lyrics, what I remember most is the sound – the curious guitar on Ever fallen in love, and the powerful climax in the same song when guitar, drums and voice come together in a controlled explosion, the .  It’s perfectly appropriate that Buzzcocks recorded for United Artists who brought us records by Can (Shelley was, like me, a Can fan).

I had to explain to a couple of people who Pete Shelley was. What I said was imagine if Paul Weller died. Or John Lydon, Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry? Joe Strummer is already gone. Pete Shelley was in that league.


Horse locomotion: at the Hippodrome

Among the many William Luker illustrations to Loftie’s Kensington: Picturesque and Historical  is this one. At this size it just looks like a mound or hill with a small crowd of people and a few horses. But click on the image and look at it in a larger form.

 

 

This is the Hippodrome, and this is one of the few illustrations which gives a sense of the hill and what it must have been like to see it from ground level. (This is the hill on the summit of which St John’s Church now stands.)

Some of you will have heard of it before. Its story has been told before in many places, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with Kensington’s famous race course, today I’ll give you a brief version of the tale.

It’s gone now,of course, utterly vanished, but here is where it was:

 

 

This is the Davies map of London from 1841, the first to show the main rail lines into central London. The area north of Notting Hill Gate / Uxbridge Road is barely developed and you can see just south of the railway line the two farms Portobello Farm (just off Portobello Lane) and Notting Barn Farm.

 

 

Given the Hippodrome’s brief life span, we’re lucky it made it onto the map. Counter’s Creek flows freely to the west of the Hippodrome grounds and the area known as the Potteries nestles against them. Just the sort of area for setting up a sporting enterprise.The area was part of the Ladbroke Estate and in 1836 it was optimistically leased by a Mr John Whyte foe a period of 21 years.

 

 

On paper perhaps it looked like a decent proposition. Plenty of space – it was laid out for flat racing and steeple chasing, and the area was expanded to accommodate different distances. There was room for stabling horses and carriages and as you can see below it was fine for a young man to drive a young lady there in his new carriage and pair.

 

 

Room for plenty of enthusiastic spectators too.  Saying it was in Bayswater added a certain cachet to the name. So close to London you see. No need to go to Epsom.

 

There were one or two legal issues. A right of way went through the grounds, which the Vestry has ordered Whyte to keep open. This allowed an uncouth crowd of locals and other malcontents to gain free access. Eventually the course was altered so as not to obstruct the pathway.

On the plan below you can see that the entrance path stretched all the way to what is now Pembridge Road.

 

 

Barbara Denny, in her book on Notting Hill records that the path became known as Cut-Throat Lane because of the many instances of robbery committed along it.  (although we must remember that street robbery was not uncommon in the outer parts of London . The area known as the Five Fields in Knightsbridge was notorious for violent crime too.

We have a series of prints depicting the racing at the Hippodrome.

 

 

This shows the high fence that was erected around the ground, (to exclude, in the word of my constant companion the Survey of London “the rude and licentious populace” of the neighbourhood,) The smoking kiln in the background reminds us how close the Potteries area was.

 

 

Some chaotic jumping, and below a fallen horse.

 

 

Unfortunately the going was never too good because of the clay soil.

Below a rider is unseated at the Brook.

 

 

You will have noticed that the horses are depicted with all their legs outstretched in what is known as a “flying gallop”. This was a convention of horse pictures which can be seen in ancient pictures of horses in motion and in the work of the 18th century painter of horses and other animals, George Stubbs. Slow motion moving pictures were not available in the days of the Hippodrome, so while it’s easy for us to say things like “horses just don’t do that”, it wasn’t actually obvious to the naked eye.

The first person to prove otherwise was the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge who devised a method of taking a number of pictures in rapid succession which captured the actuality of horse locomotion.

 

 

Below is a jump.

 

 

His work also gave rise to an early form of motion pictures, the zoopraxiscope, which could project these images in rapid succession creating the illusion of movement. An early form of stop  motion filming. Kingston Museum has a special collection of Muybridge material including an actual zoopraxiscope.

Even Luker, who was certainly around when Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion was published keeps this convention up in this close up of his illustration. The crowd of spectators looks carefree. By Luker’s day the Hippodrome was a picturesque memory.

 

 

 

 

After 13 race meetings the Hippodrome was wound up. A new proprietor took over but the final race took place in June 1841. The developers moved in and Notting Hill as we know it today came into existence. But that memory of the Hipodrome remains as an example of how in early and mid -19th century times, Londoners had an urge for outdoor entertainments which only grew as the century progressed.


William Luker – a walk in the Gardens

The artist William Luker Jr devoted quite a few pictures to Kensington Gardens as his contribution to W J Loftie’s Kensington: Picturesque and Historical. Miss Charlotte Green, from this post, did not of course exist in the strictest sense of the word, but nevertheless for today’s purposes we know she travelled abroad, never married, but brought a child back to live in Kensington with her in the 1880s. Miss Miranda Green had a darker complexion than her mother but this was never remarked upon in Kensington. Mrs Green, as she was known, was now wealthy enough for people to ignore any questions about Miranda’s father. It must be said however that as Miranda grew up she seemed to prefer her own company and often walked alone through the familiar places her mother had shown her.

 

 

She and her mother may have lived in Sheffield Terrace, near to Mr Luker’s house so they may have seen some of his work in progress.

 

 

 

They may have known why the artist included a broken ladder in this pictures of the Round Pond frozen at the height of winter, and why the ladder seems to have offered a way out of, or into, the picture. Miranda and her mother walked by the pond all year round.

 

 

Sometimes just strolling by,

Other times looking closer.

As a child she learned all the secret places of the park.

 

 

(We’ve seen  another artist’s view of this spot. )

As she grew older and walked out on her own she favoured other secluded places.

 

 

She liked to stand in the shadows away from view, but when she became a young woman she walked more boldly.

 

 

Sometimes she imagined the Gardens as they were in the 18th century.


 

The past seemed to offer an exotic destination, if a way could be found to reach it.

 

 

 

Perhaps through Mr Luker, Miranda met a sympathetic companion.

 


 

He may have been another artist, or an academic, or a writer. The two of them walked through the Gardens often.

 

 

Stopping at some of the unusual sights that could be found.

 

 

Allowing the Gardens to fill their imaginations.

 

 

 

She imagined that one day she would take her own daughter through a small side entrance.

 

Out of the Gardens, or out of the picture altogether.

This post is dedicated to my friend Camilla , who liked the last outing of the Green family.

 

Postscripts

This post should have been published already, but I’ve been busy with the London History Festival which finishes tonight. I thought it would be a good idea to get a post in before December. Pretty soon Christmas will be on us and there will be the usual short posts for the week before Christmas.

The main off-topic item for this post is naturally the death of Stan Lee. For most of my life, he was only really well known in the world of comics, as the man behind Marvel. “Super heroes with super problems” as the slogan went.  Stan (we were always on first name terms with him when I was a teenager) brought a new element of realism to the unrealistic notion of super heroes, and his key creations, Spiderman, Thor, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Dr Strange, Iron Man have now become embedded in popular culture. Marvel overtook DC in the  multiverse of comics (and I still look down on DC characters like Superman and the Flash,with a grudging respect for Batman and a few others.) In his later years he worked to bring the Marvel Universe to the movies, and now his name is familiar to a much wider group of people (not least because of his many cameo appearances). But I want to remember him for the exciting new worlds of storytelling he and his team brought into my childhood and adolescence. So, even though it’s already familiar from the many obituaries: “Excelsior!”

Death has taken this opportunity to add another name to his tally. Nicholas Roeg, director of Performance, Don’t look now, the Man who fell to Earth, Bad Timing, Insignificance and many other unconventional films which I have enjoyed over the years. He was one of the UK’s true auteurs and we should be grateful for his life and work. Obituary writers have also mentioned his film Eureka as an unacknowledged classic, but I would also mention one more, Cold heaven (1991) which I have a fondness for (another of one the films which featured his third wife, the iconic Theresa Russell). Roeg, of course lived in Kensington for part of his life so we can count him as a local man.

Isabel and I have been discussing future blog posts, and she has more ideas than I do. But you’ll probably have to wait until next year for those. In the meantime I have no idea what I’m doing next week.


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