Last Saturday, on one of those hot, hot days we’ve been having I was sitting with my son at the bus stop on Kensington High Street opposite St Mary Abbot’s Place, looking at the short terrace called Earls Terrace where there are several Iranian businesses and restaurants. Early 19th century I was saying. (And I was right – 1827-30). The bus came, but it looked intolerably crowded (and hot) so we decided not to bother, and to restore sanity we crossed the road to have a closer look at the cul-de-sac in question, about which I knew some random facts. This picture wasn’t taken last week of course.
St Mary Abbot’s Place looks like a random collection of buildings squeezed onto a strip of land between Edwardes Square and Warwick Gardens. . And that’s kind of what it is. On the western side, facing the High Street is Warwick Close, a two-storey collection of apartments enclosing a small courtyard. The picture below shows part of it in 1971 along with numbers 2 and 4.
This is 2a in 1985, from an estate agent’s brochure.
We’ll come back to the western side in a moment but first we have to take a look at the eastern side of the street. Again this picture shows numbers 1-5 in 1971.
1-5 was the home of the Viking Film Studios, where films and TV programmes were made from the late 1940s through the 1950s and early 1960s, including the earliest version of the BBC’s Tonight programme. (Much more can be found here, so I won’t duplicate someone else’s research, but I was interested to see that Powell and Pressberger once had offices in the building.)
Before its time as a film studio, the building had been an artist’s studio run by Frank Calderon. Among his activities was a school devoted to drawing animals.
These pictures scans of a photocopy, slightly improved by me, from a 1913 publication called the Family Friend. I haven’t been able to find a copy of the original, (which would have taken us back to an old library story and a room that no longer exists) but I wanted to include these two images because they are so strange. According to a short piece on the School of Animal Painting, Calderon kept a small menagerie at the back of the studio for his animal models.
The buildings were demolished about 1990 and the current buildings, although in keeping with the rest of the street, are new.
Number 7, next door, is perhaps just a house, although quite a picturesque one, in this pictures from 1986.
Some interesting interiors,including this vaulted hall.
Next door to that are numbers 9 and 9A, once the home of The White Eagle Lodge.
The innocuous exterior conceals some interesting interior features.
And of course, a place of worship.
An Ordnance Survey map of 1974 describes it as a “spiritualist church”. The brochure from which these pictures come speaks of meditation and healing. Although no longer in this building the organisation still exists. Further information here.
The houses at the end of the street look to me as though they belong to a completely different setting, far from urban Kensington and deep into a more rural location.
This is number 15. Somewhere through that alley there must be access to number 11, which you can’t really see from the street, although it’s clear enough on maps.
In 1971 the building looks plain enough, although you can imagine anything you like going on inside. The maps and aerial photos show a long garden at the back, abutting Pembroke Studios. Here you can play about with the notion of a hidden garden, though of course every garden is hidden to some extent, and all gardens are mysterious in their own way.
These days there is a growth of ivy over the side.
The other houses at the end of the cul-de-sac had a similar look of coming from another time and place in 1971.
Number 16, and below, number 12.
So our quick excursion to a quiet corner of Kensington yielded some fascinating material. I took the photos of the ivy above, and the Eagle below.
And, another curiosity for my car loving readers, An actual Trabant.
We walked back to the High Street, pausing only to look at Warwick Close, and its courtyard.
After which we crossed Warwick Gardens. I of course pointed out the memorial to Queen Victoria which now stands in the middle of the road. It was moved there because it was getting in the way of traffic in its original location, at the bottom of Kensington Church Street.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I should be getting back to Church Street. Next week, I hope.