Tag Archives: Chelsea

Mr Menpes I presume

Mortimer Luddington Menpes is having a bit of a renaissance in his home country. This year there were two exhibitions devoted to his work one in Adelaide, the city of his birth and one in Melbourne. We contributed some images to one of them, and they sent us a copy of the book of the exhibition, which is where most of this week’s pictures come from. My colleague Tim and I also got an invitation to the private view. But it was a bit far to go, which was a shame. It would have been good to see the place Menpes came from. He was born in Port Adelaide in 1855 and came to England when he was 20. Although he lived the greatest part of his life in the UK there was always something of the outsider about Mr Menpes and he never lost an Australian artist’s feeling for light and colour.

Dolce far niente 1885-86 p45

“Dolce far niente” is a portrait of Whistler’s mistress Maud Franklin wearing an oriental robe.  Menpes was generally under Whistler’s influence in London. This picture, A little Shop in Chelsea is thought to be influenced by Whister’s view of Maunder’s fish shop in Cheyne Walk.

Copy of A little shop in Chelsea 1884-87

But Menpes annoyed his master in 1887 when he travelled to Japan. The influence of Japanese culture in Britain had been felt since the 1862 Exhibition in South Kensington but Whistler thought that Japan belonged to him, artistically speaking. Menpes went past the master to explore the source for himself. (He slipped away leaving a letter for Whistler and avoided a confrontation in person. This did not prevent Whistler later denouncing him)

Flower of the tea 1887-88 p63

He was able to visit the the elderly painter Kawanabe Kyosai, talk with him through an interpreter and observe him at work on a number of paintings. Menpes incorporated  Japanese style and techniques into his own work. His pictures of Japan show this influence but at the same time he retains a Western sensibility, as in this picture of two women.

Two geisha girls 1896-97

By the time of his exhibition of his Japanese pictures in London in 1888 Menpes was also a practioner of drypoint etching.

Later in life he concentrated on etching and print making.

Venice of Japan 1897

This example is called Venice in Japan.

He employed a technique of sketching pictures quickly to capture scenes spontaneously which was useful for his travels. This picture, the Woman with a Jar, is an example of his ability to observe and record a moment of everyday life.

The girl with the jar 1887-88

His travels later took him back to Japan but also further afield. This etching is a view in China.

Rich only in colour China 1907-08

This one is entitled “An old bridge in Mandalay”

Old Bridge Mandalay 1911-13

He also ventured into India, another of the trips he turned into a travel book.

Blue was the sky above us -Benares 1889-91

“Blue was the sky above us – Benares”

He also travelled to Mexico,and back in Europe visited Paris and Venice.

St Mark's piaza 1909-11

But there was also London, where he had built the Japanese House and where the river was one of the main subjectsof his work.

Below, “A distant view of the city”.

A distant view of the city 1886-89

The riverside in the heart of London, at Limehouse.

Limehouse 1886-89

Is that the Hawksmoor Church, St Anne’s visible on the horizon in this view?

Not forgetting his trips beyond the tidal Thames into the calmer countryside up river.

Goring 1909-11

Compare this etching of Goring with the coloured illustration in his book The Thames which appears in this post. (5th picture, but you won’t have any trouble spotting it)

I haven’t touched on his portraits, but he also made himself a leading exponent of that art as well. This 1920 sketch “A woman with a cigarette” , a portrait of the actress Thelma Ray, the first wife of Ronald Colman, shows his continuing ability to catch a fleeting moment.

Woman holding a cigarette - Thelma Raye 1920

But for all his other work it’s probably as “Japanes Menpes” that Mr Menpes is best remembered.

The Parasol 1887-88

 

Postscript

The exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia has just finished, so you can’t go to it now, but here is a glimpse:

Menpes exhibition

My thanks to Julie Robinson, the Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Gallery, for sending us a copy of the exhibition book/catalogue, “The World of Mortimer Menpes: Painter, Etcher, Raconteur”, a very useful adition to our Menpes collection. Now that Menpes is getting some of the attention he deserves I think we’ll hear a lot more about him. I haven’t finished with him on the blog either so you can expect to see more of his work here in the future.

If you are in Melbourne in the next few months you could try a different Menpes exhibition: http://www.grainger.unimelb.edu.au/exhibitions/  A review of it: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/voice/mortimer-menpes-and-grainger-a-shared-love-of-japan-20140807-3d9n4.html

I’m thinking of doing something way out of Kensington and Chelsea next week. We’ll see how that works out.

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The Chelsea Murders: fiction in Kensington and Chelsea 2

Lionel Davidson was a famous writer in his day, although not much mentioned these days. Many of his books are still in print though. He was big in the 60s. He wrote what you might call international thrillers -The Night of Wenceslas (1960) set in cold war Czechoslovakia, The Rose of Tibet (1962) set in India and Tibet and A long way to Shiloh (1966) set in Israel and Jordan. They were all bestsellers. The paperbacks were published by Penguin which made them look serious, like Len Deighton novels. (People sometimes forget now how innovative and influential Deighton was with books such as the Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain). Davidson himself is a literary ancestor of the modern authors of spy novels and techo-thrillers.

Chelsea Murders 01 - Copy (2)

The covers of his books from the 60s and 70s tell their own story:

LionelDavidson covers

In the centre a classic Penguin crime cover – green for crime. On the left a later Penguin edition typical of the early 70s – the arty but somewhat gratuitous notion of a map projected on a naked body was used on a series of Davidson novels. On the right the semi-surreal hardback cover for the Sun Chemist also typical of books from Jonathan Cape

In 1978 Cape published another Davidson crime thriller (with a tasteful cover ) in another exotic setting – The Chelsea Murders.

Chelsea Murders 01 - Copy - Copy

The novel begins with a lone woman who is surprised by a grotesquely masked man and killed. But she is not the first victim.

Unknown woman from JB2 02

Previously another woman was murdered in Jubilee Place, and a man in Bywater Street.

Jubilee Place 17817 23

The police begin to wonder if  a maniac is killing people in Chelsea.

I have read that Davidson never visited Chelsea before writing the book and employed researchers to get the local colour. He lived in Israel by this time so his own knowledge of London may be a little out of date – for example there’s no mention in the book of the punk scene which would have been well established by 1978.

There are some scenes set in Chelsea Library. In the book it’s the reference library at the old Chelsea Library in Manresa Road (well before my time although I have been in the old reference libary with its dark curving shelves and balcony). Here it is in a picture from the 50s 0r early 60s:

Manresa Road- ref - Copy

Several characters visit the library where Brenda the library assistant supplies information about famous local residents to a police detective. Mason notices her shelving – “Very nice bird,(he) thought. Victorian looking, yellow hair, parted in the middle; something a bit classical happened to it at the back.” Artie Johnson who will become one of the suspects notices Brenda in the first few pages of the and notes that she had “the look of a Pre-Raphaelite chick.”

Unfortunately for the police Brenda also tells Mary Mooney, an ambitious young reporter following the case (and are there any other kinds of journalists in thrillers?), and some of the suspects. One of those two women ends up in the killer’s sights but I won’t give away which one.

The exterior of the 1890s building, which you can still see today in Manresa Road:

Library exterior - Copy

When ITV did an adaptation of the book, those scenes were filmed in the new Chelsea Library at Chelsea Old Town Hall. I was already working for the Libraries then, and several years later I was reference librarian there, so whatever Davidson’s personal experience of Chelsea was, I feel like this is a book set more or less  in my own habitat.

There are some characters familiar from the 60s and 70s:

Filming under Battersea Bridge 1970 jb63b - Copy

A group of former art students who are making a film. Two of them and their mentor, a sleazy academic become the main suspects in the series of murders in which it seems that the killer is choosing his victims by their initials which match the names of some of those famous residents.

Rossetti VAW

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (hence the painting on the cover of the book) is the first of the series which also features James McNeill Whistler, Algernon Swinburne, Leigh Hunt, AA Milne, W S Gilbert and even Oscar Wilde.

DGR was a woman murdered and dumped in the river. Ogden Wu, the owner of a slightly seedy shop selling denim in all its forms like in this market off the King’s Road is one of the later victims:

Chelsea Village Market 1970 - Copy

One of the desperate film makers works for Wu and finds himself even more deeply embroiled in the investigation after his boss’s death.

The police fixate on the suspects fairly early on. They trail them around, create a card index for the case (no mention of a computer in the book), even consult a reference book at the library to trace the provenance of a poem.

As you might expect they spend some time in one of the famous Chelsea pubs of thr era.

Chelsea Potter

Some of the language in the book has dated in a way which modern readers might find distasteful. The character Artie Johnson, the producer of the film is described (by a tabloid journalist ) as “a spade..a real one, all black” and Mooney thinks of him as “a long black cat, his golliwog smile in place under his beehive” (afro, presumably). That’s a phrase you couldn’t use (and wouldn’t want to) these days, but in 1978 casual racism was still prevalent in life as well as literature. The author was not of course necessarily endorsing the attitudes of his characters. Thrillers from previous eras exhibit many archaic attutudes whether it’s the off putting right wing opinions of Dennis Wheatley or the less offensive 1930s mannerisms of Michael Innes. The modern reader has to tread carefully when reading and the modern blogger when recommending books.

In fact I’m not sure whether I’d actually recommend the Chelsea Murders to anyone who wasn’t interested in the Chelsea setting. The local colour is the thing. It’s not quite the 1978 I remember, but then Chelsea in those days probably still contained pockets of previous eras.

Also, the serial killer genre has moved on since 1978 for better or worse. Davidson’s book is also a traditional whodunnit and the two genres don’t work very well together. The motivation of the killer is rather perfunctory and  you get the impression that he is simply play acting.

Although, like the Chelsea Murders, that can sometimes be effective:

Satan triumphant 1958 - Copy

And there is a decent twist at the end.

Postscript

The last picture is unmistakeably one of John Bignell’s arty but playful images, called Satan triumphant (1958). As with many of his pictures there’s no hint as to why it was taken. Some of the other pictures in this post are also by Bignell.

I’ve been tinkering with this post for weeks and reading the book in installments (I hate being obliged to read a book even when it was my own idea) so I’m glad to finally put it to bed. I hope it was worth the effort.


Bignell’s people

This week we’re back with the skilled eye of John Bignell and if there is a theme to this collection it’s “ordinary” people going about their lives barely realising that a photographer can take a moment of that daily life and turn it into something permanent.

World's End c1958 jb46

A group of men standing outside a pub  in 1958 waiting for it to open, bantering with each other. A regular activity that by time, memory and the photographer’s art becomes emblematic of all the men who have ever waited outside a pub.

Peter Jones  JB3 vmbp0125

A pair of women look  into a  window at the Peter Jones store on a quiet morning.

Demolition in Manresa-Kings Road c1955 JB296

A lone man hacks away at a wall. Dangerous work, perched on top of a crumbling building that you yourself are making more hazardous to stand on. Did Bignell see the poster for the 1958 film The Last Days of Pompeii? A classical case of destruction echoing the destruction of a building in Manresa Road? The star of the film was former bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the hero of many sword and sandal epics. Reeves played Hercules on several occasions. Is it stretching a point to say that the man above the poster is engaged in a Herculean labour? Probably. You can find lots of fascinating and possibly unintentional details in photographs just like when you walk down a familiar street and notice some telling detail in a building or a shopfront.

Magrie's forge Dovehouse Street c1951 jb122

In Magrie’s forge in 1951 a moment of high concentration

Man on bench in Dovehouse Street jb45

Not far away on Dovehouse Street a man resting on a bench looking for all the world like he’s using a mobile phone. Except that it’s  still the 1950s. One of those poses we always had ready for when the relevant technology emerged. As if I had been blogging in 1966. Speaking of the sixties:

Royal Avenue opposite Crapper's 1960s jb89

Royal Avenue: a trio consult a map or a guide book, a couple of genuine hippies, a woman surprised or a bit shocked at something she sees. But not at that dog behind her and what he’s doing. There used to be a sign forbidding “illegal dog fouling” in Royal Avenue. It’s one of those phrases that fascinates me because it can be read a number of different ways, like “hot bread shop” or “building alarmed”. Perhaps it’s me.

King's Road jb29

I’m not entirely sure where this street market was. My first thought was that it was opposite Royal Avenue. Before they built the mini shopping mall there was an open area like this with a Sainsburys and a Boots (and a shoe shop?). The mall was built in the late 80s or early 90s with a big Virgin shop at its heart, But I wonder about the building behind it, a residential block not really visible on this picture. Any suggestions?

Couple JB4

Back on the King’s Road, a cool looking girl and a man with big ears.

King's Road c1961 jb62

A collector for the British Red Cross meets up with one of those end of the world guys you used to see on London streets. I’m not sure what the earnest young man (who looks like a young version of Michael Gove) is saying. Is it an impromptu theological discussion, or is he resolving a dispute? We may never know.

King's RoadWellington Square jb24

Not far away geographically but in the previous decade a couple pose for the camera in Wellington Square.

Below, a picture Bignell has set up:

St Pancras rail strike day

A pensive child in a near deserted St Pancras Station. Bignell’s writing on the back of the print says “rail strike day”, which explains the quietness of the scene. The girl is cooperatively looking away from the camera, probably at one of her parents. Perhaps the photograph was a welcome distraction from the tedium of waiting for a train that might not come.

Victor Sylvester's - girls dancing

This picture of a Victor Sylvester dance class is not exactly set up but it’s a pleasing image of the girls having to dance with each other because you could never get the boys to go to these things.

The all girl sporting picture below is more unexpected:

Cricket at Duke of York's jb75

Cricket practice outside the Duke of York’s Headquarters.

Nearby, at the Royal Hospital:

Oak Apple Day Royal Hospital jb98

Oak Apple Day, according to Bignell’s note. A very effective picture – the two Pensioners standing at ease echoing the line of bandsmen. The conductor in the background provides the only sense of movement.

Finally, another puzzle.

Unknown shop front with bus reflection

Who are these four sixties people? Where was that shop? The bus, I’m told, doesn’t look much like a London bus. Again I’m happy to hear any ideas about people or location.

Postscript

Hardly anything to add this week. Bignell’s book Chelsea Photographer can still be found from second hand dealers although prices vary considerably.

 


Watching the river flow: pictures from a Victorian summer 1897

It looks like summer has arrived so it’s time to get down to the river again. This week’s post is a long delayed companion to Menpes on the river, revisiting his paintings of that long Victorian summer of boating on the Thames but this time in photographs. Some of these images show the same locations that Menpes painted, others show yet more outposts of the quiet life along the river.

The tidal Thames ends here, at Teddington:

 

001 Teddington Lock p20

 

I’ve walked as far as Kingston along the Thames Path. I remember this spot and although there were fewer boats when I saw it I can still recognize the place I visited. Teddington Lock, some of you may remember was the location of Thames Television’s studios in the 1970s.

Molesey Lock, further along shows the classic Sunday view of a crowded river in the days of Jerome K Jerome.  (No account of a journey on the Thames can avoid mentioning Three men in a boat so I’ll do it here. I may even quote from the book later.)

 

003 Molesey Lock p60

 

The river in Jerome’s time was becoming a pleasure resort for a wider range of people, not just the upper middle classes. The white collar workers, men and women who spent their working days in the City could now afford to come down to the river in their leisure time. Although some no doubt enjoyed being in a mass of fellow pleasure seekers, the ideal of river pursuits is solitary.

 

007 Bray p113

 

A woman sits quietly as the river flows by. To quote a more modern voice speaking of a completely different river:

Well, take me back down where cool water flows,
Let me remember the things I don’t know,

Across the river is the tower of St Michael’s Church at Bray where the famous Vicar of Bray officiated. I prefer to think of Bray as the home of Bray Studios where the Hammer company made horror films in the 1960s.

 

008 Glen Island from Boulter's Lock p117

 

Boulter’s Lock is one of the places that Menpes painted. This view shows the approach to the lock. The picture below shows it as Menpes painted it in a crowded condition.

 

009 Boulter's Lock p118

 

Below, a much more exclusive group walks by the river in front of Spring Cottage on the Cliveden Estate.

 

011 Cliveden, Cottage and Woods p134

 

Much later Spring Cottage was leased by Stephen Ward and was one of the locations associated with the Profumo affair.

Below. a boating couple are mooring in a secluded spot opposite Formosa Island, one of the many river islands, also called eyots or aits.

 

012 Formosa Island p135

 

These pictures have the tendency to make me want to write about long summer afternoons gliding quietly through a still landscape. I did some of that in the Menpes post. Riverscapes give me a sense of nostalgia, not only for my own teenage years when I did a bit of rowing on another quiet river, but also perhaps some of that nostalgia for an imagined past which I have also written about when discussing the Chelsea Pageant or the Whitelands May Queen. It’s a longing for an older,  more idyllic England.

Below, At Bisham two women are boating. Boating was, like cycling one of the leisure pursuits which the “new women” were taking up in larger numbers.

 

014 Bisham from the river p143

 

Another bit of local colour below at Medmenham – the building in the centre is Medmenham Abbey, one of the homes of Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club,although it would have been a quiet country residence at the time these two parties were rowing by.

 

015 Medmenham from the river p158

 

I’m presenting these pictures in the order they appear in the book although I’m not sure how accurate that is. The further up the river the amateur boatsman travelled the more the water landscape was dominate by features like locks and the weir below at Hambleden.

 

017 Hambleden Weir and Mills p163

 

At Henley, where the amateurs met the athletes at the Regatta.

 

020 Henley Regatta p166

 

The regatta attracted large numbers of visitors by land and water. Some of them came in those huge houseboats like the ones below.

 

021 Houseboats by Shiplake Ferry p180

 

Near Shiplake Ferry, a couple of the giant vessels which were like floating hotels.

Just off the river a tranquil backwater. Jerome’s narrator complains extravagantly about landowners who prevented the traveller from entering them with chains across the entrance.

 

022 Wargrave Backwater p181

 

Caversham, where Menpes painted another of his boating beauties:

 

025 Caversham from the river p192

 

Look back at the old post. It’s the final picture. Can you make out that barn?

 

027 Streatley from Goring Weir p213

 

This view of Streatley from Goring Weir has taken us into the heart of that old England of villages, mills and inns.

Jerome describes Streatley and Goring as “charming places to stay at for a few days“. Of the two, Goring was not quite so pretty but it was “nearer the railway in case you want to slip off without paying your hotel bill.

At the end of their journey Jerome’s three friends abandon the boat at Pangbourne and take the train back to town. They finish up at a restaurant in the West End. They’ve done their time on the River and London has called them home.

We’ll give the last scene to Menpes, a picture I didn’t use last time but easily could have done.

 

Punting frontispiece

Postscript

The photographs come from a book called the Thames Illustrated: a picturesque journeying from Richmond to Oxford by Frederick Leyland, published in 1897. I found the text a little dull but there are dozens of excellent pictures in it all showing the slow summer river and the sights beside it. Mortimer Menpes was there a little later in 1906 when the Victorian summer had become an Edwardian summer but not much had changed on the river.

There is even one winter picture,of the Thames at Oxford frozen with a crowd of people walking on it. My mother took me to a frozen river once and we walked on it. I was seven or eight at the time but I never forgot it. However, this is the summer. We can leave all ideas of freezing aside for now.

[later] I’ve noticed that I’m misquoting John Fogerty in the lines above, from his song Green River. It should read “things I love” instead of “things I don’t know”. I was quoting from memory. Somehow I thing my mis-remembered line is better. Green River also contains that evocative line; “Barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight.


The May Queens of Whitelands: return to the hidden kingdom

As promised recently this is the second annual post devoted to the May Queen Festival at Whitelands College. New readers start here:

Whitelands College was a teacher training college for women started in the 1840s, one of the first of its kind. In 1881 they held the first of their annual May Queen Festivals. The idea for the Festival had come from the art critic John Ruskin and had been taken up enthusiatically by the Principal of the College John Faunthorpe. This odd combination of Christian ceremonies with elements of paganism (or rather late Victorian ideas of what constituted paganism) was embraced by the staff and students alike and it became a key part of the College’s identity. I wrote about the May Queens last year and the way the festival reached a kind of cultural apogee around 1908 or 1909.

1904 Queen Mildred  DSC_2345

Here for example is Queen Mildred I leading the procession in 1904, surrounded by her white clad fellow students.

And here is the masque from 1907:

1907 Queen Elsie etc

Although these ceremonies were taking place yards away from the King’s Road they look just like they belong to some cloistered enclave far removed from urban life. You can think of fantasy places like Hogwarts or Brakebills if you like. The romantic spell of the May Queen Festival is maintained by the absolute seriousness of the participants.

 1912 Queen Alice and Queen Elsie  DSC_2369

Here you can see the dowager Queen Elsie III paying homage to her sucessor Queen Alice in a lightly hand coloured photograph. (Behind glass, unfortunately – I took the picture myself at the Whitelands Archive). You could say that the May Queens and their attendants had formed a kind of order of chivalry or a female Masonic Lodge. It was probably not what Ruskin had anticipated. Whitelands College itself was a kind of refuge where young women were entering into a profession when most of their contemporaries were excluded from professional life. Outside the wall of the college the Suffrafgettes were fighting for the rights of women to become equal members of society. Inside those walls some of the privileges of professional life were already available.

1914 The Golden Stair of Happy Service - the Principal, the two Queens and the Senior Monitors

This picture was taken in 1914. The College remained a kind of secluded enclave even during the First World War, although students and staff played a part in the war effort and there was some damage during a Zeppelin raid. For the most part the inhabitants of the College went on with their lives.

 1914 College Garden

There had been a change in the zeitgeist though. Perhaps the reality of the coming war and the shock of its progress meant that it was no longer possible to concentrate so hard on the ceremonies and entertainments. That short period around 1908 (also the date of the Chelsea Pageant) was the high point of that strange theme in the Edwardian imagination of nostalgia for an imaginary lost Albion.

The photographs in the Whitelands Annual seem to me to show that the Festival was not being taken quite so seriously.

1915 Fooling around

Or even seriously at all:

 1915 Fooling around - jesters

Both these pictures come from the 1915  Annual.

After the War there was a new reality. The Festival went on of course. This is the 1919 group photographs of the new Queen Janet I and the former queens.

1919 Queen Janet I and former queens

On Queen Janet’s right is the first Queen, Ellen. Agnes II (1909) sits at the front on the right, and Elsie III is also on the right at the end of the seated row. I’m not sure about the others.

This is Queen Janet by herself:

1919 Queen Janet

Her dress shows the influence of post war fashion.

Some things didn’t change:

1922 group DSC_2399

The fake nuns seen in previous masques were still there. The masque below looks like an amateur theatrical event, or a fancy dress party.

1922 masque

By 1927 the May Queen herself looked quite prosaic:

1927 Queen Sylvia with Queen Iris and Miss Headford senior student

Queen Sylvia, her predecessor Queen Enid and the Senior Student. In this picture of the Bacchanals that year are it looks like the group is vaguely aware of the Margaret Morris style of dancing which was being promulgated in Chelsea at the time.

1927 The Bacchanals - unconvincing

But definitely not so serious.

A couple of years later the College moved to a new purpose built building in Putney as its role in teacher training expanded. The first Queen after the move to the suburbs, Queen Joan looks a little more traditional:

1931 Queen Joan and Queen Edna DSC_2419

The rural-looking setting seems to have brought back some of the old flavour of the event.

At that point Whitelands College moves out of our sphere of interest. The College and the May Queens have carried on as part of Roehampton University and the old tradition has survived.

I’ve got two endings for you. Remember Queen Janet? Here she is in 1981 at the Centenary of the Festival with the 1981 Queen Heather and a large group of former queens in a photograph from the Daily Telegraph.

1981 Queens Janet I - Hughes - and Heather - Forbes - TES 15 June 1981 - Copy

And to remind us of the Edwardian days of the May Queens a final look at Queen Elsie III enthroned with the 1910 Queen Louise standing in attendance:

1911 Queen Elsie and Queen Louise

Postscript

Thanks to Gilly King, the archivist at Whitelands College who invited me down to see the archive last year, and spent some time talking about the history of the May Queen Festival. I wrote about the visit on our main Library blog. I’ve used some of the photographs I took in this post – some of them are not quite as good as properly scanned pictures. I believe the College is digitizing their collection for future study. I’m not quite sure if I’ll be able to mange a third annual May Queens post next year. But come back then and we’ll see.

Whitelands House, the original home of the College had another story to tell after the College moved. But that’s for another day.


On the border: Lots Road before the Harbour 1983

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 017

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 006

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 025 col

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

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 010

The gasometers in the background are in Fulham.

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 024 col

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 012

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

This is a closer view.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 018

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

The gantry also dominates this picture

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 014

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 019

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

 

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 011

There are cars in this pile of discarded metal.

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 001

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 002 - Copy

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

DSC_2527

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 015

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

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 009

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

DSC_2493

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

Lots Road 03 Jul 1983 004

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

Postscript

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

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


Forgotten buildings: Catharine Lodge

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The 1936 houses on Old Church Street I wrote about last November were built (along with two other neo-Regency houses in Chelsea Square) on the grounds of a single house with a large garden. Bath Lodge, as it was originally called, was a late 18th century or early 19th century building, constructed according to the Survey of London of 1913 to house a staircase which came from Bath House in Piccadilly, acquired as payment for a gambling debt. The same book goes on to describe as  rumour the suggestion that the new Bath Lodge was used for gambling and that it was frequented by the Prince Regent.

The detail below, from Thompson’s 1836 map shows Bath Lodge as one of several detached houses in the still semi-rural area north of the King’s Road.

Thompson detail 002 Chelsea Carlyle Paultons Queens Elm

(You can see that Carlyle Square appears under its original name, Oakley Square.)

We can choose to believe those unsubstantiated rumours if we wish and the story about the staircase. And we can see the staircase as several photographs of it survive from the period when the house was a private residence.

Catherine Lodge interior - staircase CM2108

There it is looking up from the ground floor hall.

Catherine Lodge interior - staircase CM2109

And there’s the second flight of stairs with a handy chair on the half landing in case the owner wanted to contemplate the feature around which the house was designed.

But let’s not get too far ahead of the story. In the 1850s the name of  the house was changed to Catherine Lodge. And whatever scandalous purposes it had served were set aside by the new occupants.

Catherine Lodge School prospectus c1857 CM2211 - Copy

Trafalgar Square (now Chelsea Square – the name was changed in the 1930s as part of a general elimination of duplicate street names in London) was growing around the house. But note the term Brompton used in the address with its slightly more respectable connotations than Chelsea. It was just the right area for the  exclusive girl’s school Mrs Field and Miss Lowman had set up .

Catherine Lodge School prospectus c1857 CM2211

The new name was given to the house by Mrs Field, whose grand-daughter was called Catharine Jones. The school prospered for forty years or so, even boasting a school magazine inexplicably called the Katherine Wheel. (One issue repeated those Prince Regent stories.)

The school closed in 1895. For a while there was a sporting club in the house, the Trafalgar Cycling Club which was a good fit with the tennis courts in the Square but its final incarnation was as a private house.

Catherine Lodge rear view CM2108

In the 1920s the house was the home of Sir Albert Gray, his wife and their staff. These photographs show what the interior looked like, a far cry from the  ultra modern decor which would come to the Church Street side of the site in the 30s.

Catherine Lodge interior - library CM2109

[The library, a comfortable study for an educated well-read man, who would become Mayor of Chelsea during his time in the house. The pictures are all of Nelson’s commanders].

But as well as the photographs we also have a memoir of life in Catharine Lodge written by one of Sir Albert’s kitchen maids, Edna Wheway.

Copy of Edna Wheway

Edna, aged 19 when she came to Chelsea worked at the house for two and a half years mainly as a kitchen maid but also learning how to be a cook.

Catherine Lodge interior  - fireplace CM 1509

The white marble chimney piece, which the Survey admired. Cleaning it was probably not one of Edna’s duties although her work was not entirely confined to the kitchen. Her first encounter with Sir Albert was when she was scrubbing the front door step and a tall aristocratic gentleman suddenly spoke to her: “We’ve not met before have we?”. Edna was embarrassed to be found wearing “a coarse hessian apron over my dress”. To avoid being seen again in what she called “a badge of poverty” she made herself  some white aprons out of material from sugar sacks. Despite this parsimony over uniforms, Edna describes the Grays as good employers. She made friends in the house such as Tommy the cat whom she once rescued from the oven in the range where he had fallen asleep. Among the other staff, her particular friend was  Emily the under-housemaid.

Emily would have been familiar with this sculpture in the hall. It took me a while to work out that it was as captioned, Leda and the Swan. At one time it was believed to be by Michaelangelo, but in the end the “adverse views” of experts prevailed and it was attributed to a less significant artist.

Catherine Lodge interior  - hall  CM2108

One day when the Grays were out of the country and the servants were living communally like modern housemates, Edna, Emily and John the footman decided to explore the cellars of the house looking for a secret passage which was supposed to lead down to the river. (Chelsea was riddled with such passages if all the rumours were true). They found a passage behind the coal cellar which “went a fair way” but were eventually deterred from entering a doorway obscured either by curtains or an accumulation of cobwebs and dust when a gust of wind blew their candles out. They cleaned up their clothes and claimed to have been out for a walk.

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In this watercolour by W E Fox you can see the pillar box near the house where Edna and Emily put odd objects such as a sprig of mistletoe to surprise the “miserable-looking” postman. They watched from the window. Edna notes that the mistletoe got a smile out of him before they ducked back out of sight.

Edna moved out of London to take up a position as a cook and was married in 1927. Sir Albert Gray died the following year and Catharine Lodge was demolished in 1931 as part of  a general development in what was still called Trafalgar Square. I don’t know if anyone preserved the staircase.

Postscript

Edna’s book was called “Edna’s Story: memories of life in a children’s home and in service, in Dorset and London” and was published in 1984.

The photographs of the interior are from an article called “A relic of Old Chelsea”.

Both watercolours are by W E Fox.

 


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