On the border 5: the Japan-British Exhibition 1910

The summer of 1910 was pretty dull apparently, nothing like the weather in London this year, or indeed the heat wave of 1906. So there was no reason why thousands of Londoners shouldn’t head towards the Great White City to see a new exhibition. This week we’re joining them, crossing the Kensington border into Hammersmith as we sometimes do, to see some of the wonders of the far east.

The exhibition followed the highly successful  Franco-British Exhibition of 1908 and the Olympic Games of the same year for both of which the White City site had been built under the auspices  of  Imre Kiralfy the man behind some of the most spectacular events at Earls Court

The exhibition presented many aspects of Japanese life, art and industry as these country based exhibitions had done before at Earls Court and the White City. This particular exhibition continued the European obsession with Japan which can be found in art and design since Japan was opened up to the western world in the 1860s. We’ve seen it before on the blog in the work of the artist Mortimer Menpes.  (And in his famous house.)

Visitors could walk among traditional houses and gardens.

 

Climb up landscaped paths, as these two women are doing.

 

 

And enjoy exotic vistas. You can barely spot where the painted backdrop begins in some of these pictures.

 

 

They hardly seem to be located in the crowded exhibition site with its other rides and attractions.

 

 

This picture shows the site with the the stadium . Note in the distance a gasometer and the tower of St Charles Hospital in north Kensington.

Actual Japanese performers enacted tableaux of traditional scenes.

 

Including warriors, as seen below. Londoners were already used to re-enactments of battles and historical events in shows like the wild west performances at Earls Court and elsewhere.

 

 

Sumo wrestling offered something new.

 

And for some there were martial arts skills to learn. Here a woman demonstrates how to see off some attackers even in modern Edwardian dress.

 

The Japanese government was also showing off the sights of the modern industrial Japan.

 

 

Which had already embarked on its own military / imperial actions. During the exhibition a Japanese warship was visiting the country to emphasise  Japan’s role as an ally of the UK.

For most visitors of course, it was the art and culture of Japan which mattered the most, whether the gardens…

 

Or the gods.

 

 

It was after all, just a pleasant day out. For some visitors it was perhaps almost too much.

 

A trio of distinctly European geishas have some pseudo Japanese fun with a tired young man.  We’re still obsessed with Japanese culture today and you can see it everywhere. I wonder if our old friend Yoshio Markino made it to the exhibition?

Postscript

This week’s images came from the Local Studies and Archives department of Hammersmith and Fulham, courtesy of their manager and mine Adrian Autton so thanks to him.

 

[Montage of postcards featuring the four seasons.]

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Chelsea Stories – on the corner of a street

Before we start I have a little story. Sometime before 2004,  the author and journalist Tom Pocock introduced me to a man called J W Figg,  (known as Bill) whom I knew as the author of an interesting book called Hidden Chelsea published by the local bookshop Chesea Rare Books. Mr Figg, it seemed, was an amateur scholar and photographer whose main interest (he had many more) was the history of Chelsea.  He had worked with the Library many years back in the 50s and 60s and we had some of his photographs in our collection. Tom’s idea was that I should be as charming as possible in the hope that Bill would bequeath his personal collection of Chelsea photographs to the library. That wasn’t really a difficult thing to ask. Bill and I got on immediately. I showed him round the archives and we began an email exchange, sending each other obscure pictures of Chelsea for identification. (I never caught him out.) This was sadly curtailed quite early on when Bill died suddenly. I thought no more about the lost photographs, and never bothered his family. Tom Pocock died a little while after that in 2007, another loss to people who love the history of Chelsea.

Then, a few weeks ago, quite out of the blue a lady phoned me up and asked me if I was interested in a collection of Chelsea books and photographs which she and her husband were now looking after. I said yes, we would be happy to have the collection and when she brought the first installment to the Library I noticed a box full of copies of Hidden Chelsea. “Bill Figg!” I exclaimed. The collection of books and photographs which I had heard about so many years before had finally made their way to the Local Studies collection.

As I started looking through the material I kept finding photographs of places and buildings I had never seen pictures of, which is unusual for me as I’ve been looking at pictures of Chelsea since the 1980s. There is plenty for me and my team to work through, conserving and preserving this collection for posterity and making it available for future research. You saw some of his electricity related pictures  in previous weeks – Bill worked in the industry, which often gave him access to locations and vantage points closed to the average person. (Like the surveyor Bernard Selwyn, whose areas of interest included Kensington, North KensingtonEarls Court and Hammersmith even occasionally Chelsea)

I guess this story would normally go in the postscript. But it acts as a kind of introduction to any number of posts to come so this time it goes at the front. Now, on with the pictures.

[Moravian Tower, a former Council block, about 1990, when it started to be known as 355 King’s Road ]

If you know a street very well and walk along it regularly, you take the way it looks for granted even though you know that it looked different in the past. If like me you’re familiar with old photographs there are some vanished scenes which are as familiar as the present. And some which take you by surprise. Chelsea residents will know the corner where the King’s Road makes a curve by the former Moravian Tower , opposite the former Man in the Moon pub. At the base of the tower is Rymans, a paint and DIY shop, the post office, a second hand bookshop and a phone shop (I’ve used all of them at some point), before passing the entrance to the Moravian burial ground  (where those who rest in peace are not standing upright) a restaurant (another former pub with various names – the Water Rat and the Globe to name a couple of them), and heading down Milmans Street. There’s a car showroom and opposite that the Vivian Westwood shop. But what if on that corner there was no wide curved pavement but just another block of houses and shops?

This is that block where the  tower was built. You can see the pub (The Globe then) and the view towards Milmans Street, a little  more  than thirty years  earlier, in the  late 1950s.

Here’s the view looking in the opposite direction towards Park Walk with the Man in the Moon pub in the centre, and St Andrew’s Church in the distance.

 

 

Round the corner is the view up the King’s Road. the essential structure is very similar to day, with a few modifications.

 

The shop on the extreme left is Paramount Cleaners (dyers and cleaners), next door to which is a branch of Mac Fisheries, (a national chain of fishmongers). The corner shop could be a branch of Cullen’s. But we’re not going down there yet. Let’s turn back.

There is the Globe again and next to the gate to Moravian Close, David Gray (dining rooms). On the right, the former police station, at this time a community centre.

We’re moving further west along the King’s Road. You can see the block which was demolished and in the right foreground you can see the absence of the Cremorne estate with its parade of shops. This makes it likely that some of these black and white pictures may be from the early 1950s  (the Cremorne Estate was completed in 1956) Possibly building work is going on behind some hoardings.

Those shopfronts on the left look familiar though.

Below you see  Limerston Street, where the old 31 bus (now the 328) used to park.

Here it is in 1990.

Just a few details changed.

Still in 1990, a view of the block with the Vivian Westwood shop World’s End.

Next to it an entrance to the basement restaurant, and beside that an Oxfam shop, which can be seen below.

As Timmis and Richards, another branch of a chain, this time of chemists. The name lingered on for many more years.

We won’t go down to the actual World’s End today, but we will go as far as the block of shops next to Dartrey Road, just past the World’s End pub. Ten years or so after the black and white pictures the King’s Road was looking much livelier.

The Moravian burial ground was once used to exercise the famous lion of Chelsea, Christian, before he went back to Africa and became a star on YouTube. Here he is in one of his early homes, where he lived with the two young Australian men who bought him at Harrods. Bill Figg says in his notes that he knew the man who sold the young lion. I have heard that children used to go down to Sopistocat, a shop in that black,  to see him in the window and here is one of them to prove that.

Fur coats were quite fashionable back then, even for kids, but never as appropriate as on this occasion. Now, does anyone know who the little girl is?

 

Postscript

Tom Pocock  was himself a remarkable man, the author of many books (including “Chelsea Reach” the definitive book about the Chelsea artist Walter Greaves), a journalist and reviewer for the Evening Standard, and one of the first war correspondents to visit the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. (He encountered the artist and novelist Mervyn Peake there and once told me how much of that experience had entered Peake’s work). Tom was a friendly, unassuming man with a love of Chelsea. I didn’t know him well but I’m grateful to have been able to talk to him about our shared interests. I’m glad to have finally seen the end of one of Tom’s projects. Lovers of Chelsea can look forward to many future posts based on Bill’s photographs.


Lots Road Power Station: a look inside – 1977

A new tower is rising close to the remaining chimneys of Lots Road Power Station with a sign on it saying Chelsea Waterfront. The station building itself is more or less intact but empty inside. It stopped being used to provide electricity for the tube network in 1985 but was kept as a back up until finally closed in 2002. Since then various schemes have been proposed for its future use.

The pictures in this week’s post which come from a collection recently acquired by the library take us back to what it looked when it was still a working power station.

Chelsea residents and visitors are used to the view from Lots Road .

 

 

In the late 1970s steam still rose from the chimneys as in this view from the southern bank of the river.

 

 

I’ve written a couple of posts about the station before, concerned with the matter of its chimneys, and its days as an industrial icon. Those posts were quite popular so I’m quite confident about today’s views. Regular readers will know that I like industrial pictures. After a string quartet of Edwardian/Victorian  ladies in postcard and book illustrations so many times it’s a refreshing change to savour some (literally) heavy metal, whether at the gas works or the water works although the appropriate music for this era and setting is of course Kraftwerk.

There is something awesome about large complex pieces of machinery, especially when they are used to generate power.

 

The photographer had the chance to roam high and low in the enormous space, above massive pipes and turbines.

 

 

All controlled by huge, complex but somehow retro control panel.

 

 

Gantries and platforms.

 

 

Light streaming in from the huge windows at the end of the hall. Even though it’s a cliché, I can’t leave out the words cathedral of power.

The designers came from an age when industrial shock and awe was something a building could aspire to have.

 

 

And this white coated man in the control room could be described as an acolyte, if we’re in that sort of mood.

 

 

This picture shows the sheer size of the space and the lighting needed to illuminate the rows of generators.

 

 

This view looking down shows the tangled layers of plant and machinery with manual controls visible on one of the platforms.

 

Below a favourite kind of view for me, the network of stanchions – compare it with something similar at the much smaller Alpha Place  generating station.

 

Below, part of a wall-mounted diagram explaining the whole thing for engineers and other interested parties

 

 

This picture taken near the roof of the station shows the interior section of one of the chimneys

 

 

Back again to ground level it’s 10.45.  AM or PM? I can’t say.

 

 

Lastly, one of the controllers takes a break, relaxing at the heart of this giant piece of machinery, some kind of hum, loud or small, around him, but probably not the sounds of electronic music. You can imagine that

 

Postscript

See more on the area around the station in this post. Watch out in the future for a few pictures of the construction of Chelsea Harbour

 


Mr Railton returns

After a lengthy gap, we’re back with the artist and book illustrator Herbert Railton. I recently bought a copy of a book which combines three interesting characters: Railton, and blog favourite Hugh Thomson who both created illustrations for “Coaching days and coaching ways” (1893) by the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram. It was he who wrote the final book Railton worked on, the fascinating, “Moated houses”, which was featured in the first post about him. I’m sure I’ll come back to the Railton/Thomson team-up in a future post but first I want to look at Railton’s Kensington connection.

One of his other projects was an illustrated edition of Leigh Hunt’s “The Old Court Suburb” (1855 / 1902) a rambling historical account of Kensington. Railton did most of the topographical pictures in the book. The Library possesses many of his original sketches for this project.

I have to say at this stage that Railton’s delicate and almost impressionistic pictures can be hard to scan. It is often easier to use the published versions, which have firmer lines. In this post I’ll use some of each. I’m concentrating on one location, Holland Park and Holland House.

If you’ve never encountered Railton’s work before this is a quite characteristic piece. The house is solid and rendered in some detail but at the same time it’s a little vague, glimpsed through some kind of summer haze, the foliage blending into the architecture. The one below is actually called “A peep at Holland House”

The house is even more indistinct. The focus of the picture is the sculpture of an urn, like a funery urn at the edge of the hedge frame.

If you know the park you’ll recognize the summer ball room turret, but perhaps not the wild trees and hedges which threaten to overwhelm it.

In the context of Hunt’s book, Railton’s illustrations work well in contrast to those of the other two artists, Claude Shepperson and Edmund J Sullivan, who were given the task of doing pictures of people from Kensington’s past.

 

Chloe and Delia admiring the flowers.

A bit of courtly behaviour.

After which the ladies and gentlemen could go on to some picturesque spots in the grounds, such as the famous sundial.


(Some of the originals are on this coloured paper. I don’t think it’s any kind of age-related deterioration but it does add a pleasingly antique feel to the pictures).

Lord Camelford, memorialised with a Roman altar, perished in a duel conducted in the grounds. There is a view of the wild looking site of his death in the first post.

We can head back to the house via the Dutch Garden.

And see some more details

The Oriel front, and the Terrace.

Even when Holland House was a private house, the grounds had visitors who might not be guests of the family. After their tour they might stroll to a nearby tavern, like this conveniently located hostelry.

See how once again Railton brings the picture to a point with some birds, in this case some fairly free range chickens.

When he wrote the Old Court Suburb, Hunt was also not far away ftom the house.


Edwardes Square (The name is from the family name of the first Baron Kensington. The square was laid out in 1811.) is just down the road . Here is another view.

Two girls stroll along next to the garden railings. Railton could manage figures well enough but he was sparing in his use of them.

When the illustrated edition of Hunt’s book was published, tourists were an established part of London life.

Note the editor, our old friend Austin Dobson, the go-to guy for scholarly introductions in those days.

Railton’s fellow illustrator Mr Edmund J Sullivan put a lady visitor (dressed in the fashions of the 1850s) in a couple of his pictures  who doesn’t seem too happy.

Here she looks like she’d like to sit down if the sign permitted.

(Is she bracing her back with her right hand, completely ignoring the guide book in her left, and waiting for her companion to get on with it so they can get to the gift shop?)

And here she (or a similar lady) looks a little melancholy, perhaps remembering those she mourns herself.

These two pictures have intrigued me since I first looked at the book, so forgive me for letting Mr Sullivan squeeze a few pictures into Mr Railton’s post. I wish he’d been able to develop the theme as an interesting contrast with the  topographical pictures but Railton was the headline act on this bill.

Postscript

Posthumous apologies to Claude Shepperson I suppose for not including any of his pictures in the post. Unfortunately, they’re a bit dull. By contrast, I’d like to see more of Edmund Sullivan’s’ work.


The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens

My friend, colleague and occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez has been promising me a post for weeks but has been suffering from creative difficulties. To solve the problem she turned to a different topic and surprised me with this charming piece.

 

“Shall I tell you something about some of the little people who live in the Elfin Oak?”

 Something about childhood and summer days triggered my interest in the Elfin Oak recently. In looking for something the other day, I came across a little inconspicuous book by Elsie Innes called, The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens, which she wrote in 1930. The author is, of course, the wife of the artist Ivor Innes. The man who sculpted the animal and fairy figures of this well-known feature found by the Princess Diana children’s playground, near the Bayswater end of the Broad Walk. If you ever wondered about the story behind all those little figures, including their names, this is where she imaginatively gives them life. I had no idea this existed, but then I guess I always had my own inklings as a child as to who they are. I don’t say ‘were’ because thanks to two major restorations over the decades, these little figures are preserved and continue to delight children and adults alike. A little more about that later.

Before I show you some of the lovely illustrations from the book I thought I would give you a little background as to the origins of this marvelous park artifact. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the hollowed out oak log. To some it was a mystifying object, but not so out of place that it doesn’t almost compliment that other familiar feature, Peter Pan. It is said that Kensington Gardens is home to the fairy folk. And why not? London’s Parks have a history that goes way back before we inhabited them. Once upon a time this was all ancient woodland.

Below is an image taken in 1967. It is important to note that the Elfin Oak is not a native of Kensington Gardens. This ancient oak was originally brought from Richmond Park in response to an appeal to improve facilities in the Royal parks – the Lansbury Appeal. It was unveiled in 1930 by the Mayoress of Kensington, Mrs Robinson, as reported in the Kensington News.

Its age varies according to whatever source you’re reading. In researching this I came across several different estimates: from 100 years to 1000 years. Many fanciful journalists I would imagine, in some reports, just made it up. Yet perhaps nobody really has a definitive answer. If I had to bet on the age (I did always wonder), I think perhaps it is between 400-600 years of age, but I’m no expert. That’s my fanciful notion. Trees are wonderfully long-lived and oaks have been venerated throughout history as being strong and durable. Another interesting tree fact about Kensington Gardens is that few old oaks remaining in the park are pre-1850. Many of the oaks you see today were planted since.

 

 

Below, taken a little earlier (1966), the half-tree trunk looks a little worse for wear, but in actuality this was probably post restoration which was undertaken by the late comedian, Spike Milligan. He is largely responsible for the campaign to keep the Elfin Oak preserved on two occasions. In the early 1960’s he was so shocked by the deteriorating condition of the tree that he undertook the repairs and restoration of the oak stump and its little figures at his own expense. Later in the 1990’s he led a campaign to raise money to restore it again and succeeded:

“We spent two years restoring the tree. That was 30 years ago. Alas it got into a sorry state again and needed attention to ensure its permanent survival.” After thanking his various contributors, he adds, “So there is now hope for the wee folk of England.”

Note the huge slide in the background. Something of a health & safety nightmare these days, but I do recall a few bumps and bruises after playground visits occasionally.

 

 

The black and white photographs do not do the sculpted figures justice as their colour is obviously muted, but the gnarled knots and twists within the oak itself probably look more contoured in black and white.

 

 

The tree is comprised of fantastical creatures: gnomes, elves, witches and animals of the forest. They all have a story. The plaque by the tree reads:

“Originally carved in 1911 and maintained for over 40 years by sculptor Ivor Innes.” He carved out his creations by chipping and scraping the distortions of growth and grain. And yet there came a point eventually in the years afterwards when the little figures began to look a little shabby and neglected. The oak log itself was reconditioned to stave off the onslaught of insects feeding off the dead wood. It was given a coating of creosote, a kind of wood tar, its branches were covered with lead and blackened, and the base of the tree was given a concrete floor. But the sculpted figures were also in desperate need of attention. Every few years they were painted, but the ravages of time took their toll.

 

 

If you’re wondering why the Elfin Oak is in a cage it is probably partly because soon after renovations took place in 1966, it was discovered that the fairy king had gone missing. A little bell which Spike Milligan had found in the ruins of Knightsbridge barracks and included, had gone too. Either a theft had taken place or the fairy king decided he needed to go and attend to affairs elsewhere with a bell, and gone gallivanting. The cage in actuality is a protective addition.

 

 

In colour the tree stump and figures look a lot more cheerful. Also this was post renovation. A huge difference to what it looked like before it was lovingly restored.

 

 

So who are these little figures? The illustrations below are all the work of Ivor Innes. His talent was not confined to sculpture. As you will see below, he really did have a flair for illustration too. I really think they are rather charming and I will now let Elsie tell you who they are in her own quaint, inimitable way…

“High up in the tree is a little old witch. She is Wookey. She has three large jars of magic potion – one red – one yellow – and one blue. The red brings health, the yellow wealth, and the blue happiness.”

 

 

“And everyone wants some of the most precious potion of all, from the blue jar, for that brings great happiness, such as love, sunny hours, merry thoughts, and sweet memories”

 

“Down in a hollow in the old tree trunk lives a little grey woman, Mother Cinders.”

 

 

“Nearby is the Gnomes’ Stairway, going up the steep side of the old trunk. At the top under the arch is Huckleberry, a strong little fellow, carrying a heavy sack of fresh berries for the feast of the king of the gnomes. And halfway up the steps is Nimble Toes climbing over an awkward knobbly ledge. Just below him, Russet is resting his sack of acorn flour. And lower down still, just beginning to climb, is the Dew Carrier, with his little pail strapped to his back.”

 

 

“It is usually very, very difficult to see fairies and they do not often show themselves to prying eyes. A dainty wee fairy is on a ledge of the old oak tree. She is Harebell.”

 

 

“Here is Dandy-Puff, a little imp dressed in yellow; Pointed Ear, an elf in green, clinging under the ledge; Hideaway, in the shade below; and Snuggles, a pixy peeping out from the corner edge. The Little People call all this part of the tree Sunny Corner.”

 

“On an outstanding branch of the oak the Green Woodpecker has pecked at the hard wood with his strong beak.”

 

 

Sly Fox is curled up close beside a rabbit hole, fast asleep, but the fat little bunnies are afraid to venture out.”

 

 

“Up at the very top of the tree a raid on the Crow’s nest has been going on. The pixies have just succeeded in getting an egg. On Midsummer Day the fairies hold a special Revelry. You hear them in the rippling brooks; you feel them in the passing breeze; and you see them in the moonlight when night brings the full moon, and they dance and sway in fairy rings to ravishing elfin music, or they frolic and gambol and float in misty wreaths on the hillsides.”

 

 

“Hidden away in the roots of the tree, you may discover the Leprechauns’ Crock of Gold, near where two little mice are scampering about. Do not touch the fairy gold, or try to steal it, for it will only turn to dead leaves if you do, and luck will always be against you.”

“The Brown Owl looks out from his favourite nook. He is the colour of the tree itself that he is at first difficult to notice. He and the White Barn Owl above him always share in the night revelry of the Little People, swooping and flitting silently round the tree whilst the feasting is in progress.”

 

 

“Between these two wise owls there is a little man poring over a very large book. He is Quips, and he keeps the records, and writes the Fairy Lore. Every wise saying and doing of the elfin folk is recorded by Quips. So now you know how Fairy Tales come to be written.”

 

“There is one more creature who has made a home for himself in the Elfin Oak. He is the Wild Brown Rabbit, friend of all the fairy folk; his long ears are quick to hear the slightest sound, and if danger approaches the stamp, stamp of his strong hind foot is heard on the ground, the warning signal for all the little people to get into hiding.”

 

“It is at night after the playground has closed that the feasts are prepared; the fairies dance, and the pipers play, and the owls wake up, and all the little elves and brownies, gnomes and pixies, leave their hiding-holes and play and dance in the moonlight round the Old Elfin Oak.”

Should you happen to take a stroll through Kensington Gardens at any point with a little time to spare, go and take a look at the Elfin Oak. It has been a few years since I visited Ivor Innes’ whimsical creation, but I’m pleased to say that my enthusiasm for the old tree has not dissipated with age. In fact, part of me still clings to that imaginative lore of old. However you fashion myths and fairy tales, there is always a way to tell the story. The Elfin Oak is simply an interpretation of somebody’s vision of a fairy tale. It may appear a little dated now, but it remains unique, and like Peter Pan, it will never really grow old with new generations always discovering it for the first time.

 

Postscript by DW

Isabel has done me a favour by having this week’s post ready to go. The fact that the subject has no connection with the terrible events of last week is fortunate. Last week I felt it was inappropriate to post anything in the face of the massive trauma suffered by the people of North Kensington. But is it any better to carry on after a respectful silence? Remember, I work for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea so it’s also inappropriate for me to enter into any controversy. So let me just say this.

It is clear that the Grenfell Tower fire is a major event in the history of this borough which will not be forgotten by anyone who lives or works in this area or in the rest of London.

The day after the fire we were asked by a newspaper for a picture of the tower. We couldn’t find one initially. There are always things you can’t find and the Lancaster West Estate doesn’t seem to have been photographed very much by us. But I did finally think of somewhere we hadn’t looked and found a couple of images from 1983, probably taken by someone in the planning department. Here is one of them with Grenfell Tower in the centre, with (left to right) Frinstead, Markland, Dixon and Whitstable

Any image of the old tower now looks poignant.

This is usually a quiet time of year for the blog. People have other things to do in the summer. But since last Wednesday page views have shot up and North Kensington topics are the most popular. I hope readers are finding something positive in these snapshots of history. So we’re going to continue posting. As it happens I was intending to do a post on the artist Herbert Railton, followed by a series of posts based on a recent donation, a collection of photographs of Chelsea, which will fascinate those of you who are interested in the area. But that doesn’t mean I or my team are ignoring the north of the borough or trying to forget. That could never happen. I have lived and worked in the borough for more more than thirty years. Isabel lived in North Paddington for a similar period. For both of us this part of London is our home.

 


Grenfell Tower

Many of the posts on this blog are related to the history of North Kensington, and many of our readers live in the area. As a mark of respect for all those affected by the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower on Wednesday morning there will be no post this week.

Our thoughts and sympathies go out to residents, their families, friends and neighbours.

The Local Studies team


The Alpha Place: electricity

This week’s pictures come from a small scrapbook which I imagine served as an internal record of work done by the Chelsea Electric Company. Many industrial projects must have been recorded photographically by companies who wanted to celebrate their achievements in this way. We have other examples in our collection like the album dedicated to the building of Chelsea Bridge which I used on the blog (having just bought it on Ebay). No doubt many examples of these have been lost over the years, discarded when no-one could imagine why anyone would be interested in them. But some survive when someone in an organisation sees the historical value of a set of pictures and preserves them for posterity. I’ll come back to the provenance  of these pictures on another occasion. In the meantime, a bit of background.

There was a comparatively small electricity generating station in Manor Street in Chelsea, on the corner of Alpha Place, built in 1904-06 and demolished in 1928. A more modern sub-station replaced it which remained there until the site was redeveloped for housing in the early years of this century. I was already aware of the building because of a few photographs we had in our general Chelsea scrapbooks.

This shows the 175 foot chimney prior to demolition in August 1928, after which the Chelsea Electricity Supply Company got its  electricity from the London Power Company. But just over 20 years before they had to create their own power.

This is one of the first pictures in the book showing Chelsea Manor Street around the time the work began, on the 9th May 1904.

You can see the first part of the sign which reads Chelsea Electricity Company.

Soon after, demolition of the existing buildings on the site began, and someone took this excellent picture of a falling wall.

A small crowd has gathered to observe proceedings. The picture below shows the site a month or so later, from a different angle.

The small group of women on the left are in Manor Street I think, and we are looking north. In the distance the tower of St Luke’s Church is just visible.

This is the bottom of the chimney excavation:

And one of my favourites, the “timbering”:

By the following year, the chimney is rising.

Is there a figure on top?

Just next to the risen tower there is a classical style building. That would be the rear of the old Vestry / Town Hall. A rare sighting from this angle. Now let’s take a look inside.

This shows the “supporting column for the exhaust pipe” and the firebrick lining. Below, the view looking up the chimney.

This shows the site being cleared of dirt and debris before the main building is constructed.

The caption to this picture refers to “Maarveller” corbels. Not a term I’m familiar with – any thoughts, anyone?

Here a manger takes stock of progress on the boiler room roof. Satisfied?

The completed roof.

At this point the interior seems to take a firm step away from the previous century.

The flue opening in the chimney and the pump room. The interior is starting to look lik ethe set of an expressionist film. I like the precarious looking iron staircase.

The clean empty room below is the battery room.

And this is the coal corridor, before any coal was moved through it.

The scrapbook contained nearly 50 pictures so there isn’t room for them all here. I won’t try your patience with a two part post on a relatively obscure industrial building.

This picture comes from one of our Chelsea scrapbooks and shows the station in use.

It carried on generating power for some years, and part of the site was used as a munitions factory during WW1. But it’s time came and the chimney came down.

This picture, annotated by a member of staff dates from the late 1920s.

I don’t know who Eavey was, but he was a braver man than me.

Postscript

The Alpha Place scrapbook is part of a collection of material that was recently donated to the library. I’ll tell you more about the collection in a later post. I will say now that I’m pretty excited about it.

Regular readers will already have noticed that this post is being published fairly late in the day. Sorry. I only finished it about five minutes ago so further apologies for any typos. Some days you just get overtaken by events.

 


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