Tag Archives: Bernard Selwyn

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?

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On the border 4: roads, railways and the ghost of a canal, 1983

After a bit of a hiatus we’re returning to the photographs of itinerant surveyor Bernard Selwyn and this time we’re following him on a walk around the rail tracks which partly follow the course of the old Kensington Canal, which at one time ran down the western side of Kensington and Chelsea and ended up at Chelsea Creek, (where you can still see some water). Selwyn was particular interested it seems in the rail line which runs past the station at Olympia (see some of the pictures in this post), alongside Warwick Road and south under West Cromwell Road.

An uncharacteristically quiet view of West Cromwell Road as it rises away from the junction with Warwick Road and curves towards Hammersmith.

Up the hill, with a closer look at those signs.

 

Below, the railway tracks. A man manages a quiet stroll along a major road on the 30th May 1983. (All these pictures were taken in April or May of that year.). The rail track running below the bridge is part of the West London Extention Railway which was built on the filled-in canal.

 

 

That office block ahead is called Ashfield House. Selwyn took a great interest in it.

As you get closer to it you can see it is separated from the main road by more rail tracks, which run by the rear of the building.

 

 

The tracks can barely be seen by motorists.

 

 

In the distance you can see the roof of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, a massive presence on the skyline in west London. Oddly you don’t always see it from ground level as this picture showing the other side of Ashfield House demonstrates.

 

Selwyn examined the building from several angles.

Looking west, with an approaching tube train.

 

And east, with the same train passing him.

 

This is part of the District Line heading towards Earls Court. You see ahead of the train the tangle of tracks, bridges, a gantry and railway buildings as these tracks move alongside the north-south route.

 

 

Here, Selwyn changes his vantage point, looking south west. You can see the cluster of rail-related huts and small buildings.

 

 

He then, for some obscure purpose, took a look directly below him.

 

 

It doesn’t tell us a lot but it shows the level of his interest. Remember, in the day before digital photography you had to set up the shot, take the picture and wait for the result. The amateur photographer would have to hope for the best. That may be why Selwyn took so many pictures. Or he might just have been a little obsessive, for which we can be grateful, thirty years or so later. London wasn’t quite so tidy in the 80s, and there were still plenty of spaces in the city to capture the attention of urban wanderers whose interest lay in industrial locations and the hidden parts of the city.

 

 

This picture shows underground tracks meeting the main line which is just beyond a small fence. On the left you can see the rear of St Cuthbert’s Church (the roof and spire are a little hard to make out in this picture ). On the right of the picture is that other prominent landmark of west London, the distinctive but somehow obscure Empress State Building. You can see the church spire clearer in the view below, looking straight down the line showing the wide space between the tracks and the various buildings at the rear of Philbeach Gardens. More of the canal next week but it was in some sections pretty wide.

 

 

Just beyond the track is a road which runs behind the church. If you look back at the post about the church you will find a 19th century picture of the church hall. Here it is in Selwyn’s time.

 

 

Now back to his view from the bridge. Or was he closer? Had he found his way to a better vantage point using his skills as a surveyor and/or an urban explorer?

 

This post has really been a prelude to next week’s, which also continues a series. When I scan pictures for a possible use on the blog I don’t always know at the start of the process what stories are going to emerge from the images. Maybe Selwyn worked the same way.

Postscript

This post moved back and forth across the border with Hammersmith and Fulham, an interzone which was one of Selwyn’s favourite haunts. He moved from the very north of Kensington to the river edge of Chelsea as we have seen in several posts. Next week’s post is almost entirely inside the boundary of Kensington and Chelsea. So here is a Hammersmith bonus for you.

 

Where West Cromwell Road met North End Road was this pub, called the Three Kings, next to West Kensington tube station. It’s now called the Famous 3 Kings but for a short period from 1975-1980 it was the Nashville Room (or Rooms?), a music venue, and that is what I thought when I saw the picture. A few of you may have seen some famous bands there. On an obscure personal note I was once told that a doppelganger of mine sold newspapers and magazines at a stall in the station. I never went there to find out.


Before the Westway: a North Paddington skyline

This week we have the long awaited return of my occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez who grew up in the area  sometimes called North Paddington and has many memories of it as it changed in the years around the building of the Westway. Like myself she has been looking closely at the photographs of Bernard Selwyn.

 

The city skyline changes over decades much as mountains change shape over centuries. Our small local areas, places we call home, or used to call home, places we are familiar with, are no different. These urban cityscapes seem to undergo a makeover every fifty years or so. From the overcrowded terraces of the Victorian period to the later concrete brutalism of the 1960’s, we are now witnessing the era of glass and mirrors built in angular shapes in what is now contemporary modern architecture.

Still, the shadows of the past remain in photographs and to continue with my study of the Westway (Paddington-side) I thought I would share with you a few more images of this corner of London before the infamous Westway motorway was built.

Below is a panoramic view of North Paddington bordered by North Kensington at the top. You can see the Kensal Gas Works and the St Charles’ Hospital tower, formerly the Marylebone Infirmary. [Click on the image to see a bigger view]

The Great Western Railway to the left cuts unimpeded through the built-up area.

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This is the same view a a short time later. The second tower block – Oversley House – is under construction.

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Below,a closer view. In the background you can see Ladbroke Grove bridge more clearly, connecting North Kensington to Paddington. If you look closely there is also a footbridge on the left that appears to have a tree growing out of it. Obviously it isn’t, but from this angle the bridge resembles a horizontal chute. It wasn’t a very appealing crossing, but it was a shortcut through to Westbourne Park and North Kensington. I made use of it many times, sometimes late at night, probably not a very wise thing to do with hindsight, but it saved time. The dilapidated Victorian houses, a stark contrast to their taunting new neighbours, await the bulldozer. Nowhere was there a more densely packed neighbourhood than in this part of Paddington.

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The houses come down and a temporary wasteland is created, with the exception of these houses in the foreground. They do seem a little grander than the terraces behind them and I wonder why they are still standing at this point when their neighbours have been demolished

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The strange case of the solitary houses. I suspect they were slightly more upmarket than the usual fare in the area. There is also the interesting feature of the residents coming and going as has always been their routine perhaps; shopping or simply getting from one place to another. The lady (left of the house) probably had no idea she was being included in a photographic survey.

 

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If you like trains, then the Great Western Railway before you would have been a spotter’s delight. Below is possibly Alfred Road or Torquay Street in the pre-redevelopment period. There is a builder, or certainly a very brave man,who appears to be intently prodding the side of a roof with a stick. By contrast an elderly gentleman with a walking stick is passing by, perhaps studying the changes in his area. Although there is a lot of pixilation when studying photographs at close range, when they are enlarged there is still enough to intrigue us.

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The juxtaposition of the concrete towers to the dilapidated, slum terraces is a striking image – like two Lego blocks strategically placed inside of a crowded moat. Although you cannot see it, running parallel to the two tower blocks is the Grand Union Canal.

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Below is a composite image of three photos showing the lower end of the Harrow Road. None of the shops seen here along the length of the long street now exist. Many have been replaced by the various convenience stores and take-away outlets you see today. On the corner of Bourne Terrace the Stowe Club was opened, now a doctor’s surgery and offices I believe. Many residents within Paddington and North Kensington did a lot of their shopping along the Harrow Road.

Westbourne Grove, by contrast (to digress a little), was more the Bond Street of the area with William Whiteley identifying the road as having future potential once the underground railway opened in 1863 and many more transport routes being opened up. He opened a small drapery in the area, tentatively doing what is essentially market research and gaining experience before expanding to what later became the department store, Whiteley’s of Queensway, attracting and catering for the wealthier clientele residing around Bayswater and Hyde Park.

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Here is another image of the same area, magnified a little to give us more detail. If you look closely you will see the ‘Tardis’, a police box, no doubt placed there to keep an eye on things whilst the area was undergoing its concrete revolution. A billboard to the left advertising glue is almost comical given the toy-like remodelling we see from this perspective

 

 

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In the picture below, the Post Office Tower, the highest building in London at the time, can be seen in the distance. It is almost impossible at this point to imagine the Westway being a part of this landscape. The Harrow Road here is clearly seen under an open sky. Within a few short years all of the buildings on either side of the Harrow Road in this image were demolished, and the Harrow Road itself partially covered by the huge motorway above it. Engineering ingenuity in the name of progress or engineering folly – a question that is still debated today.

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Another composite image I pieced together looking north:

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I had to include this one as it’s my old address – Gaydon House. I lived there for about 26 years. That is a long time to be anywhere. The rather forlorn, gothic-looking tree in the foreground appears in quite a few of the photographs before it was unceremoniously cut down to make way for more flats and other younger saplings ready for the next generation. All remnants of what came before, almost vanished within a ten year span.

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Below is Westbourne Park Villas. It runs parallel to the Great Western railway on the other side of the tracks. The spire of St Matthew’s Church can just be seen to the right of the image and in the middle you can just about make out the dome of Whiteley’s. A little behind that is the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On the left, along Bishops Bridge Road, are a series of buildings that make up what was known as The Colonnades up until recently, before Waitrose took over. Further back, (I had to really expand this image), you can make out the four chimneys of Battersea Power Station. After being derelict for many years, and a few investors later, it is now undergoing a major redevelopment: the usual combination of luxury flats and shopping outlets so typical of London now.

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Here’s another view of Westbourne Park on the other side of the tracks, looking further west towards Notting Hill and Kensington – an interesting mixture of modern flats and late 19th century villas.

 

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And finally, a colour image of the Harrow Road most likely photographed by Selwyn from Wilmcote House, the first tower block to be built of the six now in existence. Two buses (probably the number 18) can be seen making their way north. Interestingly there existed along the Harrow Road a 2 ½ mile track from Amberley Road to Harlesden around 1888 for trams. These were replaced around 1936 by trolleybuses and later still (1961-2) by motorbuses such as the ones you see in this image.

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As always Selwyn’s wonderful collection of photographs fails to disappoint. Dave and I have posted a number of them now on the blog knowing that you will probably appreciate them as much as we do. Or at least we hope you do. The posts I have written thus far about this part of Paddington are obviously a trip into a past that pre-dates my tenancy there, but in my view, still feels so very familiar and nostalgic. Now, not having lived in the area for a few years, I feel more like an outsider looking in with an abstract knowledge of a community I was once a part of. What I realise when I look at historical photographs, is just how temporary everything is, and how changeable. The only forever in these instances are images such as these frozen in time. Perhaps this is why we always find them so appealing. A record of a slither of time that we witness much as a fictional Time Lord in a Tardis would. Except we do it without having to travel very far.

 

Postscript

Thanks to Isabel for another fascinating post. I particularly like the panoramas she has created, something Selwyn himself used to do using the medium of sellotape. Once again, if anyone knows an easy way of adding an author in WordPress I’d be grateful.

I will spend my week off working on some new posts in an unhurried languid sort of way and return next week with some of the usual stuff.

Dave.

 


Earls Court days – Selwyn at home

Hogarth Road is opposite Earls Court Station. Walk up it away from the station and veer left. You’ll come to an alley called Hogarth Place. Take that and you’ll be in Kenway Road. Carry on walking and you’ll find a pedestrian way through to Cromwell Road, coming out near the Cromwell/Bupa Hospital. Cross the Cromwell Road and Marloes Road will take you to Wright’s Lane and ultimately to Kensington High Street. If you’re walking, that’s the quickest way. I’ve done it plenty of times to get from Brompton Library back to Kensington Library. I never fancy going all the way to Warwick Road to get the bus to the High Street. (They only go one way on the southern section of the Earls Court Road). So I know that bit of Hogarth Road and Hogarth Place quite well.  I hadn’t realised that this was the area our wandering surveyor Bernard Selwyn called home. He devoted a lot of time to recording building work, details of the walls and roofs  and pictures of the streets nearby from many angles.

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Looking down Hogarth Road and Hogarth Place in May 1984. A typical day in early summer, the people heading towards and away from the Earls Court Road.

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These are unlike many of his other pictures which are purely about the buildings. These are also about the individuals on the sreets.

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The pictures come from 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1979. Arguably the end of what some writers have called the long 70s. Earls Court had a reputation for being a bit seedy, but also very lively.

The pre-occupations of the the shopfronts – food, flats and videos.

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Cars parked in every posssible spot.

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Short stay hotels and hostels.

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Hanging around.

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Looking at noticeboards:

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Maybe a bit closer:

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More hanging around:

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Maybe waiting for something to happen.

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I love that jacked up Merc.

Selwyn lived in an upper floor flat and had access to the roof, so he could take pictures like this:

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And this (1979):

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A similar view a few years later in 1984:

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Life observed from a high perch.

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And down at ground level.

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Summer evenings at the pub.

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I think someone spotted him taking the picture. I expect people were more relaxed about that in 1979.

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Even on a wet November day he liked it.

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But it was best in the summer.

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Postscript

I was intending something quite different this week but that is going to take a little longer and lots of people seemed to like Selwyn’s look at Shepherd’s Bush so I moved this post forward. The late 70s and early 80s don’t seem all that long ago to me. Do you kn ow any of the people in these pictures?

Or maybe that’s not so likely. The one thing that was true about Earls Court then was that many people came there and moved on just as quickly.

Oh and if the text seems a bit slight this week, my apologies. I’m at home witha cold. But the blogging never stops.


On the border 3: Selwyn in Shepherd’s Bush, 1971

We’ve moved right over the border this week, into the Borough of Hammersmith, as it was known in 1971. These pictures are a continuation of Bernard Selwyn’s work on the post-industrial  locations near the old Latimer Road and the St Ann’s Road area. It was natural for him to cross the West Cross Route and take a look around Shepherd’s Bush Green, and quite natural for me to follow him. The borders of London boroughs are set on maps but not always so distinct in the minds of people on the ground, as our excursions into Paddington have shown. Or I could just say that I liked the pictures, and wanted to show them.

As in a previous post, the originals are colour photos in a tiny format which nevertheless have survived the forty or so years since they were taken in good condition. Here are a couple showing the roundabout between Holland Park Avenue and Shepherd’s Bush Green.

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A quiet moment on the roundabout.Was traffic actually this light in 1971?
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Above, the towers of the Edward Woods Estate, which was and is in Hammersmith, although most of the roundabout is in Kensington and Chelsea.

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There you glimpse a low slung car in an unflattering orange colour. I won’t ask anyone to try and identify it. And a Routemaster bus. We’ll look at that white building later.

Below, a woman in black trudges eastwards. See comment – I’ve amended her gender)

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Below, a better view of that foot bridge over the light stream of traffic.

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On the north side of the Uxbridge Road was a public house – The Mail Coach

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And the building beside it.

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In 1971 Kelly’s street directory lists it as the home of Sage CDO Ltd, an industrial holding company but it had formerly been the surviving entrance to the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. A little more on that later.

Below you can see the modest entrance to Shepherd’s Bush tube station.

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And, from the other side of the foot bridge, a closer look at the temporary looking structure. I’m outside my area of local knowledge here so I’d be happy for any residents of Hammersmith and Fulham to tell us how long the bridge lasted. I wouldn’t trust my personal recollections but I don’t remember it being there in the 1990s. (Later: but it was – see postscript).

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Below, another lone passer by on those quiet 70s streets. You can just glimpse the towers of the Sage building in the distance, truncated after their glory days.

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On the same side of the road was a relatively new shopping centre.

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Note the branch of Liptons, a now defunct supermarket chain, and some brightly decorated To Let notices on a vacant shopfront. More of those below. (The Liptons company was started by Thomas Lipton who was also the founder of the tea company of the same same. Liptons were part of a group called Allied Suppliers. Many of their stores were re-branded as Presto,a name some of you will remember. Allied merged with the UK arm of the American chain Safeway. Many former Safeway stores are now owned by Morrisons, to bring the story up to date.)

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A bit of a throng down there if you select the right angle as in the picture below. This secluded arrangement was typical of the period. Some Chelsea readers will remember the small enclave on the King’s Road opposite Royal Avenue where branches of Boots and Sainsbury’s sat in their own little precinct (with a piece of civic sculpture?)

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If we turn back towards Kensington we can now have a look behind the Sage building.

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As you can see, a series of large sheds extended back from the former exhibition entrance. Selwyn might have taken these pictures from his vantage point in the North Kensington residential tower block Frinstead House. He seems to have been interested in these connecting structures, which we saw in the previous On the Border post

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They carried on through the railway lands, leading to the exhibition site and later to the White City Stadium, which is visible below.

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Much of this area has been redeveloped now, and the Westfield Shopping Centre covers most of the ground up to those two redbrick buildings with sloping roofs you can see in the centre of the picture. They were engine sheds, which survive now as bus garages.

I was intrigued by the long sheds when I first saw them in Selwyn’s pictures. I’ve been told that they were used by a number of companies for a variety of purposes, as they had lots of space for displays. I think they also appear as a sinister location in Nicholas Royle’s novel the Director’s Cut. (Not quite a candidate for my Fiction in Kensington and Chelsea series of posts)

We can go back to Kensington now. Although this week’s post has taken us out of our core area of interest I felt impelled to present these pictures for you. They’re a continuation of Selwyn’s journey but also a glimpse into the full colour of 1971, on a sunny day in May when the past didn’t look quite as grim as black and white images sometimes make it appear.

Below, we can see the area at the south of Norland Road where a foot subway has cut away the end of the street. That cryptic tower structure may be some kind of access point for the infrastructure below. (The London Ring Main later passed underneath here) And those two young women dressed in white are also typical of the optimistic 70s.

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Postscript

I hope you liked our short excursion westwards. In Kensington and Chelsea we’re never far from one border or another. As with other pictures from this period, many of the buildings in the pictures are now gone. I’m looking at another Selwyn based post in the near future but that one will be well inside Kensington. Thanks once again to Maggie T.

Postscript to the postscript

Thursday lunchtime. @cfcaway sent this amazing picture showing the foot bridge in the 90s:

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Thanks for that.

 


From the Penta Hotel: 1974

In this week’s post our roving surveyor Bernard Selwyn leaves his perch on the West London Air Terminal / Point West and crosses the Cromwell Road to take up a vantage point on one of the upper floors of the Penta Hotel which we saw last week. This was it in the days of the Air Terminal, not one of Selwyn’s pictures.

Copy of Penta Hotel

The 25-storey Penta was designed by Richard Seifert and partners and built in 1971-72. Although it looks vast and imposing it was actually smaller than the original design which would have included a bridge to the Terminal. The Architectural Review, in a piece called “Bad Dreams coming true”, called it “a terrifying interruption of the weave of this part of London” although the writer did admit that the large site meant it could sit out of alignment with the buildings next to it which caused less harm to the street layout. I love architectural language. “What the passer-by sees is an apparently chaotic pile forcing its way upwards through successive layers of low level impediments.”

Is that a Ford Capri in the foreground?

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The hotel was subsequently called the London Forum and more recently the Holiday Inn. It still sits rather incongruously among the other buildings which line the Cromwell Road although in the passing years residents have grown used to it.

Selwyn got to one of the upper floors in 1974. I’ve made a selection from two films showing the views he got from up there.

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I like the way part of his vantage point is visible in some of the pictures. It makes it easier to picture him leaning out of a window to take the pictures. As someone prone to vertigo (who has nevertheless been up many tall buildings) I get a hint of the danger / thrill of high places in some of these pictures. This particular view is not  terribly interesting but it does show the Gloucester Hotel (1972-73) which the Survey of London describes as “better-mannered” than the Penta. It certainly blends in with the skyline. Below you can see it next to Bailey’s Hotel which was built almost a hundred years earlier.

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This view shows Gloucester Road and Cromwell Road looking east.

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And there’s that white building I referred to last week. After writing last week’s post I was looking through the packets of photos and found a couple which would have answered my question immediately.

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Here you see Gloucester Road Station laid bare, before it was built over in the 1990s. There are two trains, in different liveries,  stopped at the platforms. on the right a sparsely populated car park is is temporary use. Below you can see the outline of Lenthall Place.

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The buildings are gone, and the former mews has become another parking area. The former bank on the corner of Gloucester Road has gone (see it in this post) and the remaining buildings are propped up with scaffolding. Can you see that irregularly shaped structure next to the trees? What was that used for, I wonder?

Selwyn turned towards central London.

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The green domed tower of the Imperial Institute is a nearby landmark. The tall buildings further away are harder to make out. So look in the foreground at the surprising bulk of St Stephen’s Church.

In the next picture Selwyn pointed at the Natural History Museum but he also caught the V&A, the Brompton Oratory and in the distance you can make out Big Ben and St Paul’s.

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And then there’s this 1960s  building, relatively recent in 1974.

Penta Hotel July 1974 014

Still called the Post Office Tower at this time, and still a bit of a wonder against the relatively subdued north London skyline.

This was a much more familiar landmark.

Penta Hotel July 1974 018

The picture shows how impressive the Albert Hall must have been when in dominated the landscape around it. You can see the Gothic spires of the Albert Memorial rising above the trees of Kensington Gardens.

Selwyn must have moved to a different vantage point for this view westwards.

Penta Hotel July 1974 012

The unmistakeable Earls Court Exhibition Centre and beyond it the Empress State Building on Lillie Road, a significant local landmark.

Continuing the movement round, we’re now looking south west.

Penta Hotel July 1974 010

The gasometers are south of the New King’s Road. You can also see the back of one of the stands at Chelsea Football Club, and below it the trees of Brompton Cemetery, the dome of the chapel just about visible. The cemetery grounds are also visible here

Penta Hotel July 1974 011

The church, after some puzzling, I think is St Luke’s Redcliffe Square.

Penta Hotel July 1974 021

Now this church is St Mary the Boltons, but there are two cathedrals of power generation in the background, Lots Road, showing one of its chimneys, and Fulham with four of them in line.

Finally, a look down from where Selwyn was standing to see some smaller but still impressive chimney stacks surrounded by trees.

Penta Hotel July 1974 022

Postscript

I must have set some sort of record for the number of links to other posts here, but like a virtual Selwyn I’ve covered a lot of ground since starting this blog. There are going to be another couple of posts based on his pictures coming up soon, but neither of them covering as wide an area.


Beside the Cromwell Curve: 1985

This week’s post is a kind of sequel to the one about the West London Air Terminal which has proved to be enormously popular and attracted comments from many people who remembered a building I dared to call forgotten. Regular readers will be aware of the photographs of Bernard Selwyn, a surveyor who worked in west London who left the Library in his will a large number of photos he’d taken during the course of his work. He had time to indulge his own interests in London history and he frequently had access to vantage points not everyone could visit. This was in June 1985, well after the Terminal had closed, but before some of the development in the area around it.

The big change was the arrival of Sainsburys in 1983 which would then have been the biggest supermarket in the area.

Sainsburys Cromwell Road 30 jun 85 -10

Selwyn seems to have got inside the space above the supermarket, either in the main structure or the parking/lift tower beside it. Either way he found a few spots well above ground level, looking down on the Cromwell Curve, that point where railway lines coming from Gloucester Road, Earls Court and Kensington High Street meet just below ground level.

Hotel Cromwell Road 30 Jun 85 - 36A

There is the point where the tracks go underneath Cromwell Road to get to Gloucester Road Station. In the background is the Penta Hotel, later the Forum and now the Holiday Inn. On the left are houses in Emperor’s Gate. You can see some extensive undergrowth by the side of the tracks which extends onto a then vacant area. It’s built on now but in 1983 there was a curious sight.

Buttressed house 30 jun 85 -18

One of the buildings has some serious buttress work. It almost looks as though wooden arms were stretched out, frantically trying  to keep the building standing. in the background you can see what was then a church of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile which took over a building which had been a Baptist, then a Presbyterian Chapel. the Russian Orthodox Church was there from 1959-1989. Later it became a church hall for St Stephen’s Church, Gloucester Road.

Rear of houses near track 30 Jun 85 -15

This view shows the track heading north towards High Street Kensington Station. The buildings next to the track belong to the Underground. You can see them more clearly in the picture below which also shows  what look like ramps for cars.

Rear of houses near track and side of car park 30 Jun 85 -17

It’s always curious to see the rear of these comparatively tall residential blocks.

 

Cromwell Road with view of Gloucester road station 30 jun 85 -25

There are the twin tunnel entrances heading under Cromwell Road, and a neat little staircase leading up that odd little overgrown space. Across the street you can see the site where the Gloucester Arcade was built and beyond, the station platforms which were covered over by the development. I don’t know what the white building was. Anyone? [Update Thursday afternoon – see the comments section below for the actually quite obvious when you look answer, provide by an eagle-eyed reader.]

Selwyn was obviously taken by the view towards Emperor’s Gate. See the signs for the Genesta hotel?

Genesta Hotel 30 jun 85 -30

Now he swivels back to the closest rear view, of Cromwell Road itself. These buildings follow the curve of the track and because of that some of them are surprisingly narrow.

Rear of buildings 30 jun 85 -35

I always imagined that this could be the spot in the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Bruce Partington Plans” in which a body is dumped on top of the roof of a train and carried away for miles before discovery at Aldgate. (Holmes works it out of course with his keen knowledge of the the then modern railway system). But  Holmes experts have determined that it was actually further west. You can see how close the windows are to the tracks though. The rear configuration of the buildings is surprisingly varied.

Rear of buildings 30 jun 85 -34

Look at the complex set of  fire escape in the next couple of pictures. Is there a train coming?

no train 30 jun 1985 -22

Yes.

Train 30 jun 1985 -24

And Selwyn can’t resist taking a picture as  one passes.

This (almost) final picture takes us back to the start with that heavily scaffolded building next to the tunnel entrance for the tracks to Earls Court.

Cromwell Road with scaffolded building 30 jun 85 -28

That coach, or one very much like it is still parked on the pavement.

Of course, when you’ve got a camera in your hand there’s one thing you’re always going to take a quick picture of:

Blimp and tower 30 jun 85 -31

Who can resist a blimp? Note the remaining tower of the Imperial Institute poking up above the skyline.

Postscript

In a previous Selwyn based post I included my personal tribute to the late Glenn Frey. By coincidence there was another recent death in the music world which saddened me. Sandy Pearlman was not a performer. He wrote lyrics for the Blue Oyster Cult, managed them and produced many of their albums. BOC were a strange hybrid of heavy metal, psychedelia and that glossy hard rock of the early 1970s. Pearlman contributed to the atmosphere of the occult in many of their songs, but his main claim to fame is as a producer. Albums he produced had a unique guitar sound, whether it was the Dream Syndicate (the only time I ever bought an album because of the producer), the Dictators (their album Manifest Destiny contains my personal theme song, “Sleeping with the TV on”). Pavlov’s Dog (featuring the bizarrely high voice of David Surkamp) or most famously the Clash whose second album Give ’em enough rope was produced by Pearlman in an attempt to break the band in America. Someone on the  radio called it the best guitar album ever made. I wouldn’t go that far but if you’re not convinced play the first three tracks on the album (or just the third,”Tommy Gun” ) and you’ll see for yourself. After you’ve recovered try “Astronomy” by the Blue Oyster Cult, one of my favourite songs ever.

Thank you and farewell, Sandy Pearlman.

Postscript to the postscript

In the days of film cameras you always used to use up the film with a few unrelated pictures at the end. Selwyn was no exception to this rule. In this pack of photos there were a few of St Paul’s Cathedral and a couple of this building, which I’m sure one of you London experts will immediately identify.

unidentified building 30 jun 85 -7A

No prize, but it would be quite nice to know.

 


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