Crooked usage, and other tales of then and now

This week’s post started as a straight borrowing of one of Bill Figg’s book ideas, left behind in a loose leaf folder of photographs showing the same location at different times. We did the same sort of thing on our Virtual Museum project a few years ago. It’s a durable idea and worth repeating. Of course the complication is that Figg’s “now” is the early 1990s.  So really it’s “then and then”. But I can live with that if you can.

This is view in Cale Street, further north from the workhouse (see this post)  showing the northern side of St Luke’s Hospital, another little photographed building. (Actually, ever since I said that I had seen very few pictures of the workhouse i keep coming across them.)

 

 

Figg refers to this as the Crooked Usage entrance. It’s not certain that he took many of the “then” pictures, which accounts for the relatively poor quality of some of them. Photographs of photographs basically.

His modern picture, taken in 1993,  is not perfectly aligned because the fire escape you see in the middle is part of the former Chelsea Women’s Hospital, which is still there today, but that’s the point of “now” pictures.

 

 

Now, about that term Crooked Usage.At first I wondered if it was just a bit of local folklore, which Figg knew plenty about. Was that a real street name, for what appeared to be just an obscure entrance? Well, no. I did a bit of digging  and it seemed that not only was it real, but that it had been the subject of correspondence in the Star newspaper (not the current one) in 1920. A man named J Landfear Lucas, who perused the “stationery office’s list of streets” by way of amusement posed the question of what the name meant. An anonymous correspondent from Broadstairs called simply Student replied that “usage” was a term applied to the strips of common land or paths which ran between private plots of cultivated land which were used by all. “A crooked usage would be one such strip which departed from the usual straight line.

Here is a detail from the 1862 OS map showing Crooked usage, midway between Robert (Sydney) Street and Arthur (Dovehouse Street)

 

 

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? As the Antiquary notes in 1907: “How this singularly inappropriate name came to be assigned to this street must ever remain a mystery and can only be regarded as the outcome of purely poetic fancy, untrammeled by any regard for prosaic fact. It runs in as straight a line as any tie-square could make it and , except by a stray cat or two, appears to be entirely unused. There do not appear to be any house in it, and the London directory knows it not.” Or to put it another way, Crooked Usage is more or less straight and not really crooked.

And it does look to me as though there were some houses. Look at this further detail.

 

 

There, opposite the grounds of St Wilfred’s Convent is the pleasant sounding Elm Cottage, home of John Adams, one of the subscribers to Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. It looks like a nice spot to live as well, as do many of the lone properties marked on the maps of this period and earlier. (Sadly, no pictures appear to have survived. I imagine it being like some of the small houses I’ve looked at in posts about Old Brompton. Look at this one for an example.)

Crooked Usage is no longer on the map. But here it is today.

 

 

It’s either the access road going down between the two hospital buildings, (the Royal Brompton and the former Chelsea Hospital for Women) or the driveway in front of the BOC tanks. It must have survived for some time though. St Luke’s Infirmary and Chelsea Women’s co-existed as separate institutions for many years.

We must now follow Cale Street to another odd feature of Chelsea history. This postcard is captioned Sutton Dwellings but what Figg wanted to show was the area known as Chelsea Common with, as he says in his notes, “not a blade of grass” visible.

 

 

In later years estate agents and some local residents made much of the tiny patch of land’s status as a common. There was once “an ample expanse of field and woodland” between the King’s Road and the Fulham Road which was enclosed in 1674 to raise parish funds and thrown open again in 1695. (According to Richard Edmonds in his useful 1956 book Chelsea: from the Five Fields to the World’s End)

Famously, one eccentric resident,  sadly no longer with us, announced her intention of buying  a goat to graze on the common, as was her right. Although even at the time there wouldn’t have been much room.

 

 

Although it must be admitted it’s a much nicer spot these days. It has also been called Chelsea Green in its day but that is also quite an ambitious name.

Still on the common, we turn back to Dovehouse Street. This picture, according to Figg, is from 1950.

 

 

It’s hard to recognise now, but this is the junction of Dovehouse Street with South Parade and the taller buildings in the background still form part of the rear of the  old Brompton Hospital. This more modern view makes it clearer.

 

 

The west side of Dovehouse Street has been almost completely redeveloped.

 

 

E J Magrie and Sons, General Smiths, was located near the King’s Road end.

A 1990s view shows part of the fire station and the 1960s building next to it.

 

 

Below, from this point Figg was able to take a picture across the car park hospital, showing one section of the new building and the elegant tower of St Luke’s Church beyond it.

 

 

 

He couldn’t quite find the right spot to match this earlier picture.

 

 

An overgrown garden or patch of waste ground waiting for its future role.

Finally a “then”picture with no corresponding “now.”

 

 

This is a view from South Parade some time after WW2 showing an open space, looking across at Chelsea Women’s. The raised garden area in the foreground must have been mostly paved over to make the stepped feature so familiar today to local residents. To complete this part of Figg’s job, I went down there to try and take a matching photograph.

 

 

Could that be the same tree? Possibly. That’s my shopping in the foreground by the way, and I’m standing close to the top of Chelsea Square. My son pointed out to me that the garden portion of the square is also now known as Chelsea Common. Chelsea seems to be prone to this sort of thing. Chelsea Cross, Chelsea Triangle (in which land vehicles disappear?). Perhaps the Chelsea Pentagram will be next.

 

Postscript

There will be more then and now courtesy of Mr Figg in the near future. (We haven’t even finished with Dovehouse Street) In the course of my walk I also spotted one of his  Hidden Chelsea / building details which may also form the basis of a future post.

None of my musical or literary heroes heroes have died this week so let’s spare a thought for Sudan,the last male northern white rhino, the so called gentle giant. Survived by his daughter and grand-daughter. He was born in Africa, lived part of his life in a European zoo but eventually returned to his homeland and died in Kenya this week. His frozen seed may one day revive his species.

 

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A King’s Road Classic

I had something different in mind for the blog this week but on Monday evening I saw a picture tweeted by one of the people I follow (sorry I think I know who but as is often the way  I couldn’t find the tweet again) showing the demolition site of the Cinema on the corner of the King’s Road and Old Church Street. We’d glimpsed the work in progress already but yesterday my wife and I went down there so I could take a couple of snaps on my phone (in case I never got around to paying a formal visit with the Local Studies camera).  With the mid-morning traffic and the passers by, conditions weren’t ideal for making a historical record but here are a couple of them anyway.

 

 

I like to take a look whenever a prominent building is demolished, not from a love of demolition sites (although I do like those) but because demolition reveals the backs of other familiar buildings and views you’ve never seen before.

 

 

Behind the boards a mechanical digger chewed at brickwork like a large animal stripping a tree.

 

 

The site is pretty large of course. The cinemas of our collective memories were often huge. Look at this blank wall from the 1970s, well before shops colonised part of this frontage.

 

 

Cinemas are known for changing of course. One screen becomes several as the grand auditoriums shrink. Names change frequently. This cinema has been known by a confusing variety of names in its time, some of which I’ll mention here, some of which I’ll miss. But I do have a few pictures. (And let me apologise if I’ve used some of them before, even recently, but it’s good to get the pictures all in one post.) When I first lived in Chelsea I knew it as the Classic (I was used to the notion that every city had a Classic, an ABC, and an Odeon), but that wasn’t its first name.

According to a reliable source, it opened in 1910 as the Palaseum, then became the Kings (1911) and the Ritz (1943).

In 1949 it became the Essoldo. Here it is under that name.

 

 

What was on that week? Well I can’t help this close up.

 

“Can Hieronymous Merkin ever forget Mercy Humpe and find true happiness?” was a vehicle for writer/director/star Anthony Newley (“What kind of fool am I…….?”), featuring Joan Collins and even Bruce Forsyth. Now forgotten, perhaps mercifully.

Later (1972) the Essoldo  became the Curzon, showing an Oscar winning film in “continuous performance”.

 

 

But the Curzon didn’t last long. Here it is as the King’s Road Theatre, home of the stage version of the Rocky Horror Show, about 1973.

 

 

And here in colour, on a rainy day.

 

 

It wasn’t until 1980 that it actually became a Classic, with four screens as in the picture below. But it also served as a Cannon and an MGM, as it is in the picture.

 

 

The King’s Road frontage was now given over to shops, like Mr Light and is that a Europa, or a Cullens, which were there before the Tesco Metro? (They’re all gone now.)

Probably it was a Vue too. If you can remember any other names, please leave a comment.

A cinema is mainly memorable for the films you’ve seen there. I’ve been to this one a few times of course. I remember seeing the first Scream film one afternoon, and Mona Lisa, and Silence of the Lambs, all with my wife. Then a number of cartoon,s when we were joined by our son. The Lion King sticks out, but there were many others. After the cartoon period there was a time when my son and I went together to see films where lots of things exploded. (His taste for big action thrillers needs no explanation, but I always wonder if it has anything to do with the time when I took my wife, only about a week from her due date to see the original Lethal Weapon at the other local cinema, in Fulham Road). I even took him to his first 18 film, Blade 2 at this very cinema. (He was not far off 18, I would have said at the time, if I’d been asked) Children grow up fast so the father-son visits only occupied a short period of time, and I admit that the last time we went to a film together it was at the multi-screen place at Fulham Broadway, so I can’t claim to have been a faithful supporter of any particular cinema. And I hardly go at all now, like many of my contemporaries, so it would hardly be fair for me to complain that this building has gone. But it is still worth marking its passing.

I don’t know what will come next for this site. A researcher I met last year told me that there may well be a new cinema on the site as part of the development, but let’s wait and see.

Back to the beginning, a picture I had quite forgotten about until I found it this morning.

 

 

The Kings Picture Playhouse in the early years of another century.  And here a ticket from the not so cheap seats.

 

Finally, a reminder of another Chelsea cinema.

 

The Odeon, formerly the Gaumont, now Habitat, and the Chelsea Cinema.

 

Postscript

While we were out on Tuesday, we also stopped to take a look at the site of another absent building, the former old people’s home in Dovehouse Street, which was built on the site of Chelsea Workhouse, which we saw last week. My wife had unpleasant memories of the building – as a Brownie she and her  pack had once trailed through a series of depressing rooms there singing Christmas carols to residents.

 

 

Another postscript

I normally only mention the deaths of famous people if I feel I have some connection with their work, which is why I have mostly noted the passing of musicians or authors. It was sad to hear of the death of Professor Stephen Hawking  but I can’t claim to have been particularly interested in his work (apart from his occasional appearances in Big Bang Theory). I was once waiting for the lift in the basement of Chelsea Library, back in the 1990s or early 2000s. The lift opened and there he was, with a small entourage, on his way I assumed to attend a wedding in the Register Office. Not a little dumbfounded by the sudden appearance of a famous person, I stepped silently to the side and allowed his group to pass, briefly perhaps sharing eye contact. That’s all there is to my Stephen Hawking story. May he rest in peace.

And Ken Dodd. No fleeting memories there but I do remember his radio show from the 1960s. What a wonderful day for publishing a new blog post.


Figg’s Chelsea

This is another post devoted to the work of JW (Bill) Figg, skating through some of his regular themes and obsessions. Figg liked particular streets (the King’s Road as you’ve already seen, but other less obvious ones like Dovehouse and Sydney Streets), particular buildings and particular details in streets and alleys. We’ll look at some examples of all these in today’s post, starting with a bit of a scoop, at least as far as I was concerned.

The Chelsea Workhouse in Dovehouse Street was an institution I’d read about and seen as a detail in pictures of a larger area but the first time I saw a picture of the entrance was among Figg’s pictures.

 

 

This is the main entrance in Britten Street. Dovehouse Street is on the right of the picture. Some familiar words occur to me when I see this image: “abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

This is the side of the building, with the old Chelsea Hospital for Women visible in the distance, now part of the Royal Brompton Hospital complex of buildings.

 

 

The original workshop was laid out in the 1730s and expanded several times in the 19th century. In the 1920s it became the Chelsea Institution, a presumably less punitive place to stay. The building was demolished in the 1970s and replaced by an old people’s home called Kingsmead which has itself been demolished in the last year.

Moving along Britten Street to Sydney Street you come to a small row of houses which have survived all the building upheavals around them.

 

 

Figg took more than one picture of this block. In this colour image (1980s?) you can see the highly decorated Britten Street part of the corner building.

The next picture is also in the vicinity.


 

A view into the garden of the St Wilfred’s Convent building. This became part of the hospital complex in 1968.

Figg was a lover of the small details that can be found on the walls of buildings, like this sign on the old fire station.

 

 

 

Or openings and holes in, around and under buildings, like this one in Manresa Road.

 

He describes the hole as “tunnel exit college site”. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been into the tunnel

We’re moving in a southwards direction into Old Church Street. As you can see from the cow’s head at the top of the façade this was the site of an urban dairy (see this post).

 

 

You can also see that it was the home of a recording studio, Sound Techniques. Behind this unassuming frontage albums were recorded by John Cale, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, Jethro Tull, John Martyn, Pentangle, Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span and many famous names from the late 1960s / early 1970s. You can find out more here.

Those names set me thinking of the Chelsea Pageant pictures including one in this post . But that’s probably just a personal flight of fancy.

Not too far away was an example of what are now called ghost signs, remnants of old businesses who have left faded signs on walls.

 

 

This picture was taken by Figg when the site on the corner of Oakley Street and Cheyne Walk was being cleared for the construction of Pier House, a large residential block down by the river. (Figg was also obsessed with the statue outside it, Boy with Dolphin, but we’ll leave that for another day.)

From one wall you can’t see any more to another.

 

 

This is Crosby Hall, the City of London building transplanted to Chelsea in the 1920s,  before it was bought in the 1980s and converted into a private residence with a couple of wings of pastiche Tudor palace added cutting off this view.

Literally, round the corner in Beaufort Street was the Convent of Adoration Repatrice, damaged by bombs in 1940. The building was replaced by a chapel in 1985.

 

 

It now forms part of a Catholic educational establishment, Allen Hall, which is the building on the left.

We’re crossing the King’s Road again now, into another much changed street, Park Walk. Many of Figg’s pictures are unlabelled so I have a few named Unknown Street, which I may put before you in a set one of these days.

 

 

I’ve identified this one (1950s I think) as Park Walk because of the wall and pavement on the right, recognizable as Park Walk School, and the Globe pub visible in the distance. (see one of my first Figg posts). The left side of the street up to the back of the former Man in the Moon pub also visible has been completely redeveloped.

By contrast the view in the picture below, looking north up Limerston Street is virtually intact. But the Sporting Page pub was called the Odell Arms, a fact which pleases me because of its coincidental connection with a cuddly octopus. (If you like that sort of thing)

 

 

We’ve been a little short of people this week so here is literally a bunch of them in nearby Hobury Street.

 

 

Finally, another Figg obsession: bomb camage.

 

 

This shows Cadogan Gardens after an IRA bomb. I’m not sure of the date to be honest. My wife remembers seeing bomb damage in Chelsea on her way to school on one occasion at least but neither of us could pin this down to a particular year. Perhaps someone could help with that?

Postscript

I’m a bit late posting this week. Too much of my proper work to do, and a bit of an upheaval in the archive rooms. But Figg is worth waiting for, I think. I’ll  do a few more of these random selections in the coming months, and definitely think about showing you some as yet unidentified locations.


Blythe House: 1977

Now, I know what you’re going to say.

Blythe House, Dave, it’s in Hammersmith. It’s not “on the border”, it’s way beyond the border. It’s in another territory. The sheriff will be after us if we go there. Well, bear with me, see if I can work something out. I saw Blythe House the other day on TV, in “Hard Sun”, I think. They showed that gate through which a large metal sculpture of a face is visible. Spotting locations is the curse of watching television in our house, whether it’s the London we know or the New York we think we know from years of virtual travel. Blythe House has been a frequent location on film and TV so although you might never have heard the name, you’ve almost certainly seen the place, from the outside, and maybe inside as well.

 

 

As had urban explorer Bernard Selwyn, who left us a large set of photographs dated 1977 when the building was nearly empty and he seemed to have the run of the place. I always knew I was going to use them on the blog one day, and that’s today. The Selwyn Collection, a valuable source for the visual history of west London, knows no borders, so this week let’s take our chances and steal away from our usual haunts.

 

 

Just gimme the facts, ma’am: Blythe House was the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank (the forerunner of National Savings and Investment), founded in 1861. Blythe House was built between 1899 and 1903 and has all the hallmarks of a grand Edwardian public institution with a certain amount of municipal shock and awe in its appearance.

At its height about 4000 people worked there. The headquarters of the bank moved to Glasgow in the early 1960s and the Blythe House office were run down, finally being emptied out in the late 1970s.

There is still a sorting office in the building though and you can see some Royal Mail vans below.

 

I’m not sure whether Selwyn took all these picture himself or whether he acquired them from one of his sources, but they are a thorough collection, not merely the visible exterior but the roof as well.

 

 

Some pretty impressive vistas from there.

But bear this notice in mind when wondering around.

 

 

Especially if looking over the edge.

Either at the courtyards below

 

Or the other block (built in the 1920s), visible here.

 

 

Or the chimney (at one time the building had its own power station).

 

 

The impression is that you’re looking at a small self-contained city, like a little Gormenghast, with its own great halls and hidden districts.

The streets below seem very distant.

 

 

Inside, the staff were beavering away.

Is it me, or does this look like a bit of a skeleton staff?

 

 

The publicity department, I believe. (Some displays and posters are visible at the back.)

In Dickensian office tradition there were ledger rooms.

 

 

The amount of stationery on view shows how it was before IT reached the office. It makes me remember how long libraries lasted without a PC on every desk.

Now, paper systems look antiquated and clumsy (although I speak as someone who has frequent recourse to card catalogues, filing cabinets, scrapbooks etc in my work, so the days of manual retrieval of information have not gone yet.)

Below, one of the “small offices” has been tastefully decorated and turned into a nest for its inhabitants.

 

 

The woman with her back to us is wearing a dress with a characteristic 70s geometric design.

But by 1977 the building was sparsely populated. Many empty desks and work stations.

 

 

Some rooms were even deserted at his point, showing off the large spaces supported by pillars, the polished wooden floors and the glazed brickwork.

 

 

I love these empty spaces in public buildings. (Remember this one?)

There is a kind of half-life in deserted places.

 

 

As if the occupants have just slipped out for a moment.

 

 

Outside, even the car park had a pastoral feel.

 

 

Blythe House is now used by the V&A, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum as an offsite storage facility. There has been talk of opening it to the public as a Museums annex, which sounds brilliant. I would certainly go. But we’ll have to wait and see. Plans come and go, and brilliant places sometimes end up closed. Who remembers the Museum of Mankind? One of my favourite places in London, now long gone.

I saw the face sculpture in person while walking past the building on my way to a house in the area.  It was an area I’d never visited before, which I couldn’t even put a name to apart from the vague term West Kensington. London is full of places you’ve never been to, which can surprise you with places like Blythe House, well known to residents but sometimes unfamiliar to strangers.

Postscript

As always when I stray across the border of Kensington and Chelsea I find myself without the back-up of the Local Studies collection when it comes to further details on the subject. So I must refer you to my colleagues at Hammersmith and Fulham Local Studies and Archives for more on Blythe House.

As a bonus this week, I’ve been thinking about the pre-IT days of libraries and here are a couple of pictures to puzzle over.

 

This shows “the chute” at Kensington Library. On busy Saturdays, so the story goes, if the chute got blocked with books, a small member of staff was sent down the hole to clear it.

And this is an early attempt to issue books by tapping into the brain waves of library staff. (Note the protective sun glasses.)

 

It isn’t, obviously. But which hair-brained issuing system was it?


Courtfield Road meets Gloucester Road

One of the people who read the recent post on Ashburn Mews asked if I could continue my walk into Courtfield Road, which has also had significant development since the 1970s. So I looked, and there were indeed pictures of the original buildings next to Bailey’s Hotel and Gloucester Road Station. I’m a little obsessed with that small corner of London myself, as I described in a post about South Kensington, as it lies way down in the lowest levels of  my personal archaeology of London. (Along with Crystal Palace and Clapham South, for family history rather than geographical reasons.) So my apologies to less obsessed readers if we take another turn around the “backside of Cromwell Road” as another reader put it. Here’s our patch again.

 

 

We’re looking east along Courtfield Road. The gardens of Ashburn Gardens are just on our left and way in the distance is that curious single storey white building, the Midland (now HSBC) Bank, a good point to focus on as we head towards Gloucester Road again.

The buildings on the right are still there. This is a closer look.

 

 

I’ve always liked those arch features, although I don’t know if they serve any purpose apart from decoration.

 

 

I had to check to see if that pale protuberance at first floor level was still there, and it is (somewhat cleaner today or is that the effect of colour photography?)

This section, (1-13 Courtfield Road), leading up to Bailey’s Hotel has been replaced by a modern purpose built hotel, functional rather than aesthetically pleasing, but not ugly either.

 

 

This close up shows the join between the buildings as it was in 1969. The arch is still there but now it is the entrabce to the Bombay Brasserie. (There was a catering company and restaurant in there in 1969.)

 

 

I rather like the maxi coat worn by the woman crossing the road. As well as being fashionable, it was December when these pictures were taken.

The picture below shows the full facade of Bailey’s Hotel.

 

 

If we move back a little and swing round to look northward, we can see the other side of the street.

 

 

We’re looking from Ashburn Place at 2-12 Courtfield. There’s another tower or turret at the end of the row, and below, a closer look at that.

 

 

See the tall chimney stacks behind the blocks, and below, by the entrance to Ashburn Mews, another curious detached building with a tower, which looks at first as though some very dry business was conducted inside.

 

 

The building was called Gloucester Lodge and was the location of one of the offices of the estate agents Roy Brooks. The company was once famous for its forthright descriptions of properties in Sunday newspapers, some of which were collected in two slim volumes, “A brothel in Pimlico” and “Mud, straw and insults”. If this passed you by let me quote from the cover of the first volume: “Wanted: someone with taste, means and a stomach strong enough to buy this erstwhile  house of ill-repute in Pimlico. It is untouched by the 20th century as far as convenience is concerned. Although it reeks of damp and worse, the plaster is coming off the walls and daylight peeps through a hole in the roof, it is still habitable judging by the bed of rags, fag ends and empty bottles in one corner….10 rather unpleasant rooms with slimy back yard. £4650 freehold – tarted up these houses make £15000. ” Those were the days when £15000 was a lot of money.

It has the look of a resolutely traditional business which disguised the iconoclastic methods of its proprietor.

 

 

On the ornamented tower, a large sign pointing you into the Mews, where there were indeed more than one garage. A few cars are huddled against the buildings as they frequently did in mews streets, perhaps as unnerved as pedestrians by the lack of pavements.

 

 

And the edge of the Piccadilly Line side of Gloucester Road Station.

It looks as though the second station was still in use for Underground purposes although the florists shop is already there.

 

 

We’ve looked at the station before of course in a number of posts, but I can’t help circling round it once more, in an era when it was not surrounded by much taller buildings.

 

 

These wintry scenes show the slightly seedy charm of this still windswept corner of London.

 

 

Finally, the mirror image of the first picture, looking west up Courtfield Road at a small area of now forgotten buildings with its mixture of ordinary Victorian facades and quirky towers. This was once the modern face of urban life, and although altered by development it retains the atmosphere of an arrival point for west London.

 

 

Postscript

I don’t mind being back here at the station. The question I always ask myself, given the dates of the pictures, is did I just miss seeing the towers and the rest myself, or have I actually walked past them at some point without paying much attention? If the images are all there somewhere in my mind will they surface sometime from the lost past, or were they never there in the first place?

Almost certainly, we’ve now finished with this small corner of Kensington. I think. Next week something completely different as we used to say in the 60s.


Archer’s High Street

Albert Argent Archer, the excellently named Kensington photographer was featured in one of the short posts over Christmas. As promised, this week we are returning to him, but first a few historical words about Kensington High Street.

On the south side of the High Street we have today the two remaining department store buildings (formerly Barkers and Derry and Toms), a modern development on the corner of Wright’s Lane (which replaced the third department store, Pontings) followed to the west by an 1890s development called the Promenade. The section from Adam and Eve Mews to the Earls Court Road is rather mixed, as many Victorian high streets end up being.

But on the northern side, from Campden Hill Road (preceded by the 1905 Hornton Court, seen in the Christmas post) to Holland Park (and beyond) there is a string of 1930s  apartment buildings, Phillimore Court, Stafford Court, and Troy Court all built in the period after 1932 which, along with those department stores, have helped to cement the High Street’s identity as a 1930s street.

Here is Phillimore Court (140-158 Kensington High Street), on the corner of Campden Hill Road, in about 1970, looking west.

 

 

 

And back eastwards. Note the missing letter from the name above the branch of Safeway.

 

 

You can see that although the building is plainer, it has a similar structure to Hornton Court.

This view westwards takes in the more vernacular style of Stafford Court (160-206) stretching off into the distance. Safeway may have only recently passed on into the retail afterlife but C&A, once another common feature of the high street,  is long gone.

 

 

 

Individual shops may come and go but that series of apartment blocks with retail units on the ground floor still suggests the idea of Kensington High Street as a shopping destination. The wide street and tall buildings on either side say it too: here is a place for pedestrians and businesses large and small to come together.

But as we know, it wasn’t always like that, and before all that development the north side of the street was a series of Victorian houses or shops, with gardens or yards in front giving the street a low-rise and spacious look. This is numbers 140-158 about 1930, just before the block was cleared for demolition.

 

 

 

I don’t know if Mr Archer and his associates consciously intended to chronicle the street where he had his studio or if the series of pictures they took were quite by chance but he caught that part of the street in the last moments of its existence

This close up shows Archer’s studio and the adjacent shops.

 

 

Smart Ciccognani at number 142 was a “court hairdresser” but also, as you can see from the sign, a chiropodist.

This is an earlier (c1904) picture of the other end of the block at the junction with Argyll Road.

 

 

 

It looks as though some work is in progress behind the billboards.

This is the block (160 onwards) where Stafford Court now stands.

 

 

This picture shows the same corner at a slightly different date (note that the post box is different.)

 

 

A close up lets you see the sign for a “valuable main road island site”, ripe for development. Do you see that one window on the side, not bricked in. What happened there, I wonder?

 

 

This view shows the houses on the north side of the street looking west. The picture seems to have been taken from an upper floor of Pettits, the drapers, haberdashers and ladies outfitter. It shows how much space the front gardens of the houses took up and how  much room there was for widening the street.

 

 

You can also see how many of the shops on the south side were single storey buildings, leading towards John Buckle’s Stores at number 217  (“grocer,  wine merchant,  post and telegraph office.”)

The housing on the north side, now as then comes to a sudden halt at Holland Park,  then a private house and grounds.

 

The wall extends as far as Melbury Road. There was a cabman’s shelter there and an old tavern, the Holland Arms

I found a later version.

 

But for a final image, what about  a Kensington High Street photography shop from another era?

 

 

There’s no date on the picture but I’m thinking 1970s. I’m sure Archer would have loved to go in and browse around

 

Postscript

One loyal reader asked me what happened to last week’s post. Well, nothing terrible. I had a cold and was off work for a couple of days but couldn’t concentrate at home. As I recall I was mostly intent on staying warm. My blog resolution this year was not to sweat the small stuff and to realise that the world doesn’t depend on me doing a post every single week. In fact, there is so much material on the blog now that people are always discovering old posts, which is great because some of them are okay. I’ll try and keep the new ones up to the same standard. Next week we’re probably going to be back in the Gloucester Road / Cromwell Road area, but I will be following up this post with some more on the High Street as it used to be.


A walk down Ashburn Mews

We left off last week near here.

 

 

That’s 109 Cromwell Road, the corner of Ashburn Gardens. Ashburn Gardens still exists of course, but the buildings you see in the picture do not.

There was an actual garden in Ashburn Gardens.

 

 

I don’t know if any of it survives. The site was cleared when the Penta Hotel was built but there are still a few patches of open ground on the south west corner of the site. The hotel was built at an angle to the road, possibly  leaving one corner intact.

(The Architectural Review of September 1972 covered the completed building in an article called Bad Dreams Coming True in which a number of then recent large hotels were given a critical mauling. The Penta was called “a monster apparition.” The article is worth a look if you find yourself in the vicinity of a copy)

 

 

There are some mature trees on that corner today which could well be the ones you see in this nearly fifty year old photograph. Or perhaps not.

Behind the buildings you see was Ashburn Place. This is the west side looking south, complete with another of those signs sayingthe site had been acquired for that big new hotel. Is that a Mini-Moke?

 

 

This, I think is the bottom end, although I’m having some difficulty fitting it into my mental map of the area.

 

 

 

Next To Ashburn Gardens was Ashburn Place. We saw the intersection with Cromwell Road last week. In this picture you can see the tower building on the corner, and next to it the “Cottage” (1A), a slightly shorter building.

 

 

And there, the arch marking the entrance to our destination.

Ashburn Mews doesn’t even exist in name any more.

 

 

 

It had one of those grand-ish mews entrances seen at several points in the South Kensington area. Obviously we go down here next. But first a quick look at the Cottage.

 

 

Which can also be seen from the side nestled in the mews itself.

 

 

Now off we go. Like many mews streets, Ashburn Mews was given over to garages above which there were small residences, often featured in television dramas. (Steed lived in one if you remember, and I saw one in the oddly titled McMafia the other night.) Some of the ground floors were given over to small motor businesses. We’ve seen plenty of those. The mews streets that have survived into more affluent times have frequently been gentrified, and the ground floors converted into living accommodation. One thing that hasn’t changed is a lack of foot traffic. A person is just about visible at the end of the street, where you can see the rising bulk of Bailey’s Hotel, a long- standing and much photographed feature on Gloucester / Courtfield Roads.

 

 

Even today, you seldom see other pedestrians when you walk down a mews. There’s one off Cranley Gardens that I used to use as a short cut. The only problem was cars coming at you and baleful looks from the residents.

A lone woman creeps around, perhaps about to enter through one of the garage doors.

 

 

Perhaps it was a bit of a bleak day when John Rogers was here but the street looks uniformly grim. This is one mews that would never be improved. Those garage doors would never be painted in bright colours, and you would never pass by and see someone’s living room. It seems very quiet, without the usual collection of cars waiting to be serviced that you often see in these back waters.

 

 

At the end of the mews you see the corner of Gloucester Road Station, and another conical tower, echoing the one on the corner of Ashburn Place.

A couple of women are exiting onto Courtfield Road.

 

A closer view of the tower with its round windows, a small business, (“typing office and business service” a vanished trade I should think), an unusual brick feature (a chimney?), and a telephone box, conveniently sited in a quiet spot round the corner from the station.

 

 

Finally, looking back the way we came you see a small cluster of cars  and a pair of pedestrians making slow progress back towards Cromwell Road.

 

One of my Twitter followers called last week’s post the backside of Cromwell Road, which was correct. This week we’ve looked even further off the main road, into another one of the forgotten corners of London.

Postscript

None of my musical or literary heroes died this week, I’m glad to say, so this week’s postscript has just one item. This month we had over 20,000 page views, the second highest month ever on the blog, so thank you all for your continued interest and welcome again to new readers.


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