Tag Archives: Derry and Tom’s Roof Garden

The Roof Gardens 1979: for your pleasure

Strictly speaking I know we should have Kensal Road part 3 this week but I’m a little bit under the weather after Christmas and these pictures recently fell into my lap courtesy of my volunteer, BC, who is going through our collection of former planning photos with a fine tooth comb, looking for visual truffles.

They come from a pair of photo albums, undated and unattached to any records. But it was only a bit of minor detective work to spot the sign for the 28th Kensington Antiques Fair and work out that the year was 1979.



I didn’t even have to go to my transport correspondent to work out the date from the buses. There is Barker’s, still Barker’s at this point, and the Derry and Toms Building.

Although by this time Derry and Toms was no more.



Biba to, had been and gone, and BHS occupied the eastern part of the building. You can see the foliage at the top of the building indicating the presence of the Roof Gardens which had also survived.

In 1979 we were looking forward into an era of conspicuous consumption and people in London being comfortable about money and the display of spending it. Looking backward, you had  the disturbances of punk rock and the new wave and before them the glam era of Biba and Roxy Music. A good year to have some pictures of the Roof Gardens in its new-ish incarnation as a venue for dining and dancing.

Arrive in your nice big car.



The staff are waiting for you.



And the relatively innocuous  lift.



To take you to a more sumptuous entrance.



Regine’s. In the Biba era wasn’t it the Rainbow Rooms?

A sumptuous dining room awaited.



Soon to be filled.



BC said something to the effect of how many bubble perms could you fit into one room? Several, apparently. (I spotted a couple more in a TV programme I watched this week from 1979. Were they ubiquitous?)

After dining, there was dancing.



The joint was jumping (quietly).

But let’s not forget the main reason we came here.



Yes, it’s that garden again.

At this time I think they hadn’t quite got around to the day light potential of the gardens, so we can see some pictures of it more or less deserted.



With many of the old features extant.



The gardens still have that tranquil atmosphere, as if they were far away from a city street.



The wildlife still enjoys the familiar habitat.



Flags still fly over the sunny garden.



And there are still hidden corners.



I’ve looked at the gardens before in this post which combines its real and imaginary history, and this one (one of my early flights of fancy, but the pictures do show the garden empty). There is a certain timeless quality to the gardens. You can still go there, as I think I’ve pointed out before. But would I want to revisit what remains for me a childhood/adolescent memory? Probably not.

But don’t let me stop you.


Just as I was about to publish the post I saw a small item  in the news, namely that Virgin, the current owners of the Roof Gardens, had decided to close them. Since 1981 the gardens have been used as an events venue. They’re listed of course so they’ll be used again. But they’ll be quiet again for a while.

Original Postscript

I wrote this just as I was coming down with a cold and finished it just as the cold is coming to an end. I gave myself last week off as I was feeling rough and I’d read another of those articles about how blogging is dead. (On a tablet – I was too ill to turn on my laptop.) I hope it isn’t, I’m just getting the hang of it. I’m certainly going to carry on for a while and hopefully we’ll be back on Kensal Road next week.

The silent garden

“When my sister and I were young, just old enough to go down to the High Street  on our own without alarming anyone we saw a woman on a side street make her exit through a door we hadn’t noticed before and forget to lock it behind her. We could hear the sound of church bells. Without thinking we slipped through the open door and climbed the steps to the silent garden.

MS21707 album 001

The path over the bridge seemed harmless and inviting. The air was warm and heavy behind the high walls.

MS21707 album 002

The undergrowth was thick beside the sloping path. It felt as if we were on the edge of a small wood. All I could hear was the hum of insects.

MS21707 album 003

We were faced with two entrances to the Plaza of Forgotten Dreams. I began to worry that the door would be locked by the time we got back to it.

MS21707 album 004

Within the Plaza there was too much open space. I felt as if we were being watched from above by something like a crow or a raven or a shrike like the one we had seen in the wood behind Aunt Louise’s house.

MS21707 album 005

But it was worse under the arches. I didn’t want to be so close to the Court of the Fountain. My sister wanted to rest on one of the stone benches but I was worried we might fall asleep. It would have been terrible to wake and find ourselves still alone in the garden at dusk.

MS21707 album 006

We tried to make our way back the way we had come but there seemed to be more arches behind us than I remembered.

MS21707 album 007

I thought I saw a gardener, or possibly two but now I was afraid that we might be caught and treated as trespassers.

MS21707 album 008

At last we came to the Pavilion of the Sun. I heard voices inside. Creeping close to the window and shading my eyes I could make out some activity. I thought I saw a group of women having their photograph taken. The photographer was shrouded in a black sheet. We couldn’t find a way in and after a short while I was glad about that. We stepped back quietly and followed the path around the Pavilion.

MS21707 album 009

A sudden shaft of light seemed to show the way to a door in the distance.

MS21707 album 010

Now we were near the edge of the garden I believed we were watched all the way to the wall and the dark staircase. When we got back to the noisy street the bells of the church were still striking midday. My sister drew some pictures of the garden later, remarkably detailed and accurate. But our mother refused to believe we had ever seen the silent garden.”


Regular readers will know  that I occasionally allow myself flights of fancy instead of proper history.  The anonymous Kensington resident and his sister are a useful device when a set of pictures doesn’t need too much in the way of factual commentary. These pictures convey an unusual sense of solitude, being of a place which was usually full of visitors. Like all empty places the garden looks a little sinister. Why not try making up your own narrative to go with them? Although there’s probably no likeness I was thinking of Arthur Machen’s story The Great God Pan while I was writing.

The photographs are by Lawrence S F Jeffcoate from an album called “A few impressions of the Derry Gardens” donated to the Library by the Trevor Bowen Estate. We don’t have a date for the pictures.

The adventures of Jerry Cornelius at Derry and Tom’s famous roof gardens

1. A troll across the rooftops

I  went there with my parents when I was about 13 or 14. Kensington High Street was a serious shopping destination in those days, a little classier than Oxford Street. We took in all three of the department stores Ponting’s, Barker’s and Derry and Tom’s . We had afternoon tea on the Sun Pavilion Terrace in the Famous Roof Gardens (The word famous seemed to be part of its title). I now have only vague impressions of the Gardens – the stillness, the strange expanse of flowers and trees – and can only remember comparing it in my mind to the sort of earthbound parks I was used to. We bought this very postcard that day:


That postcard now lives inside my battered (but signed by the author) paperback copy of Michael Moorcock’s second Jerry Cornelius novel, A Cure for Cancer. For one year I read that book continually, starting it again as soon as I finished it. I had it out from the local library until the paperback came out, a process which in those days used to take a long, long time. Phrases and sentences from the book stick in my memory like catch phrases, particularly the chapter titles.

2. Wild whirlybird in one man war.

“The time might be 31st July 1970.

London, England. Cool traffic circulates. A quiet hot day: somewhere in the distance – a bass tone.”

“Within the vine-covered walls of the Dutch garden the sultry sun beat down on colourful flowers and shrubs.”

Early in the novel Jerry finishes an encounter with a female officer of the American Occupying Forces in the Dutch garden and enters the Woodland garden locking the door behind him.

Sun Pavilion 02

Here he is shot at and shouted at by a man in a helicopter. A number of ducks come to grief from stray shots. Jerry takes shelter in the stream beneath the bridge. The helicopter lands and the shooter gets out. Jerry disposes of him with his vibragun, a useful gadget which shakes things to pieces Then he hijacks the helicopter and gets the pilot to take him to Earls Court.


For those of you who never came across him Jerry Cornelius was an odd amalgamation of sixties characters: James Bond, Doctor Who (the Pertwee version), Big Breadwinner Hog (if you remember him), John Steed and Emma Peel (both of them maybe), Adam Adament possibly, and Alex from A Clockwork Orange. (Malcolm McDowell could easily have played him, but the Jerry Cornelius film The Final Programme featured Jon Finch as Jerry.) Moorcock created him lovingly, but you weren’t really meant to like him I think.  Creators don’t always get their way so a lot of us did.

Jerry seems to be the secret owner of Derry and Toms. He orders the lift attendant to leave and the waitresses in the restaurant to lock the doors. The middle class ladies who had to take cover during the gunfire are abandoned and left to their own devices.

Sun Pavilion

3. How a banana endangered the Lennon sisters

The roof gardens were the brainchild of the long-time chairman of the John Barker Company, Trevor Bowen. It had been intended that the new building would have seven floors but there were objections from the fire brigade whose ladders wouldn’t go up that far. So Bowen had the idea of a garden on the roof instead of the final floor.  There were layers of concrete, screed, asphalt, bricks, clinker, breeze concrete, turf and topsoil, all without the need for any major redesigns of the load bearing capacity of the floors below.

And on top of it the secluded pleasures of a secret garden.

Spanish garden

Just beyond that wall instead of more lawns and flower beds, a city street.


But stay seated in one of the many quiet corners and you could forget about the outside world. The gardens were opened in 1938 and stayed open in that form until 1973.

4. Come away Melinda

Trevor Bowen seems to have been inordinately (and justifiably) proud of his creation. He certainly showed it off to many visitors.

MS21714 Trevor Bowen, and Miss Diana Wynyard 1940s

Bowen with Miss Diana Wynyard and some other interested parties at a fund-raising event during the war.

MS21714 Trevor Bowen, General Sir Alexander Hood and Mrs Attlee 1945

Bowen with General Sir Alexander Hood and Mrs Violet Attlee in 1945. What is that woman on the right doing in the flower bed?

MS21714 Trevor Bowen, and Muriel Pavlov 1955

Bowen with Muriel Pavlov, star of Doctor in the House, 1955. “ A pleasantly warm afternoon, a green vista of wide lawns and pleasant gardens, the mingled murmurs of a string orchestra, the soothing trickle of waterfalls and a pretty girl to light it all with her fascinating smile – and all five storeys above the noisy bustle of Kensington High Street” as the Kensington Post and West London Star put it.

5. Blonde mistress of Nibelburg’s tower of terror!

The gardens were also used for company functions. In the days when the big department stores were institutions that employees joined for life the company provided social events for them. Below, some of the buyers are at a dinner dance in 1947 to celebrate Bowen’s 25 years with the company.

MS21708 Buyers at the dinner for T Bowen 1947

In 1954 Bowen was Master of the Company of Bakers. Here he is with some of his guests:

MS21734 Dinner Dance July 15 1954

Bowen died in 1964 but he might have been pleased that the Gardens have outlived Derry and Tom’s, Barker’s and Ponting’s. Closed while the building was unoccupied between 1973 and 1978, they became a nightclub for a while in the 1980s.They are now part of the Virgin empire and are used for events and functions Here is a link: . http://www.roofgardens.virgin.com/

You can still visit the gardens at certain times but although I work so close to them I’ve never attempted to see them again. Sometimes it’s better to leave places to memory and imagination.

Derry and Toms Kensington High Street Roof garden K72-437

6. Sing to me darling in our castle of agony

Jerry Cornelius roamed freely across the killing fields of the 20th century through several novels and short story collections. He always came back to Kensington though. It’s a tasty world.


[Jerry on the cover of New Worlds, the SF magazine edited by Morcock]

The olfactory code

The section headings are borrowed from chapter titles in A Cure for Cancer. Moorcock implies that these are  from actual publications and song titles but some of then are too good for that. Derry and Toms Roof Gardens also appear in other Moorcock novels such as Breakfast in the Ruins.

The illustrations of Jerry are by Mal Dean who collaborated with Moorcock on several projects.

The photos of visits and functions come from a set of albums and scrapbooks donated to the Library by the Trevor Bowen Estate. There is one album with a set of early pictures of the gardens which I haven’t  used this time because they went together so well as a set. You can expect to see them here in the very near future.

Copy of corneliusad

[Illustration from the dust jacket of The Final Programme]

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