Tag Archives: H and R Stiles

Kensington close ups – part two

The last time we were on Kenington High Street in the last few years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th we were around here, in the stretch of the street east of Kensington Church Street:

Kensington High Street 59 GN37

Number 59 Kensington High Street, home of Lorberg and Turpin.

A slightly closer view:

Kensington High Street 59 GN37 close up

Grinding of all kinds is occuring within and a woman is leaning slightly to one side examining something fascinating in the window. Mr Lorberg’s assistant (or is that the lower case Mr Turpin?) is examining the photographer. My favourite though is the man on the left. Has he sneaked into the picture of his own volition or has the photographer, Mr H or Mr S Stiles included him to add some local colour?

I promised you more of the High Street so let’s move on.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5 close up

I used this picture last time but repeating it gives another chance to mention Mr Jubal Webb once more (sign on the awning) but also to note how narrow this section of the busy High Street was at this time. Road widening did not take place until the early 20th century.

This image is several hundred yards further back.

001 Kensington High St 1893 Town Hall & TH Tavern K1406C

The Town Hall Tavern is there, opposite the Town Hall itself (demolished in the 1980s). If we look closer:

002 Kensington High St 1893 Town Hall & TH Tavern K1406C - Close up

A slice of retail life. A horse takes a meal break ignored by the passers by and the driver (waiting for a fare?).  A trio of workmen deep in conversation. A couple of elaborately dressed girls being addressed by a shop keeper while their parents look in the shop window. In the foreground a lone woman looks after two more similarly dressed girls.

The next picture is essentially the same view but from slightly further away.

003 Kensington High Street 1905 K12308-B

You can see a clearer view of the intersection with Kensington Church Street and the Civet Cat. You can also see more of the Station in its original form before the familiar arcade was built around it. The sign reads “City and back 4d”. That’s four old pennies for those who can’t remember pre-decimal coinage.


In the background by the single storey kiosk (A picture of it here), a trio of women all wearing white blouses. In the foreground, a pair in darker clothes with a weary looking small dog between them. In the centre a couple of men, one of whom has only one leg. He’s using a single crutch to move along. These details always seem surprising, although they shouldn’t as these kind of visible disabilities were more frequent then.

The next picture takes us back even further:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN12

The street is crowded with horse drawn vehicles. On the right you can see the awning of Ponting’s store on the corner of Wright’s Lane. (We caught a glimpse of it here). On the right:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN12 close up

A more impressive dog, with his man. The number 11 is still advertising Pear’s Soap.

Further back still:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN2

This is the southern side of the street. The Town Hall Tavern sign is barely visible in the distance. (It’s there – I just checked the original scan). You can read the sigh on the delivery wagon though:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN2 close up

Pearson and Sons. The milk churns show what line of business Mr Pearson was in – urban dairies were big business on high streets in the days before refrigeration. I believe the rest of the sigh reads: “Cows milked on the premises”. I’ll do a post on urban dairies sometime in the coming months – they were usually assiduous in promoting their services.

I don’t know what the girl in the foreground is doing – hiding her face from the camera? Possibly. Note the woman on the right holding the umbrella, wearing her hair down. An adult but maybe younger than the other women you see in these photographs.

This picture is taken from a viewpoint even further west.

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18

The retail and buiness section of the High Street is now in the distance. The building on the left is the Holland Arms. (see a print of an earlier version here , from the post on Hosmer Shepherd in Kensington) The trees beyond it are in the grounds of Holland House, still of course a private estate at this time. The trees on the right belong to more private houses and gardens behind iron railings. This is the road to Hammersmith. There’s a certain amount of traffic, private and public:

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18 vehicle detail

I can’t make out the lettering on the horse bus but as we’ve seen before it could easily be a route we recognise from today, a 10 or a 73.

On the other side:

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18 detail

To the scanner’s dismay those two strolling ladies remain in the shade of the tree. No amount of coaxing from me will get them to take a few paces forward so we can see them properly. I’ve reached this point with old photographs many times before. The fascination is as much with what you can’t see as what you can.

To compensate for this, let’s remain in the general vicinity of Holland Park and move back to the gates to the public path way on the east side of the park. We’ll have to jump forward a hundred years or so to another summer day and another pair of women walking side by side unaware that the photographer was taking a picture of the gate.

Holland Walk looking north from Kensington High Street 1973 KS3802

The fashions of 1972 are different but the wide pavement and the foliage are not dissimilar and ladies are still taking a leisurely stroll away from the busy High Street.


If the pictures seemed a little blurred this week my apologies. I suppose you can only zoom in so much. Actually I feel a little blurred myself. After last week’s successful exhibition launch I came down with an infection involving much coughing and a general feeling of feverish lassitude so it’s a wonder I got this written. I had a few more ambitious ideas but they’ll have to wait for another week. I owed you a return visit to the High Street anyway. I’m not finished with the Stiles brothers either. But possibly something more exotic next week.

A reminder that as many of you already know this year’s City Read book is the excellent Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, the first in his series about the adventures of the Metropolitan Police’s apprentice sorcerer Peter Grant. If you haven’t read any of these (and why haven’t you?) this is a good time to start as many London libraries, including Kensington and Chelsea are giving copies away this month.  Ben Aaronovitch is appearing at Kensington Central Library on April 20th.


Street life: Kensington close ups – part one

This week’s post is in a similar vein to the Secret Life  of Postcards series. I select a picture, then zoom in on some detail, usually a person or group of people. It’s surprising how much of a sense of actual people going about their lives you can get by this simple method. So pardon me for repeating myself, but for me the close examination of photographs never gets old.

This selection comes partly from the glass negative prints of the H and R Stiles company and partly from other paper prints in our collection. They cover a period from about 1890 to 1909. They cover the short stretch of Kensington High Street from the corner of Kensington Gardens to the junction with Kensington Church Street, a distance you can walk then and now in five minutes or less. Even with such a small area I still had about 20 images to choose from including close ups.  I’ll be doing more in another post, going further west down the High Street. Next week I’ll do something different but I’ll come back to this set soon.

Kensington High Street looking west c1880s - Copy

In this picture you’re looking west where a crowd of smart looking men has gathered.

Kensington High Street looking west c1880s

The full picture shows flags over the street and carriages going by. This could be a royal visit to St Mary Abbott’s church whose tall spire towers over the streets like…well it’s like a tall church spire, from an era when churches were some of the tallest buildings in London. Despite the growth of high rise office blocks and imposingstructures like the Imperial Institute, church towers were the great landmarks.

This picture looks back in the opposite direction. I’ve left the reverse writing on the edge of the plate.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5

In the distance, the trees of Kensington gardens. On the left you can see the Civet Cat, an old inn at the bottom of Kensington Church Street. In front of it is an orderly queue for the number 9 bus. The route in those days went from Mortlake to Romford, so Liverpool Street (you can see the sign on the stairs) was somewhere in the middle of the route.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5 looking west another close up

A few seats left on top, but those ladies might prefer to travel inside. Do you see the man crouching on the narrow balcony?

The view on the other side of the street shows more horse-drawn vehicles and even a couple of hand carts.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5 close up

The ladies with their  umbrellas up seem to be using them for shade, so this is probably a summer’s day. The men with handcarts are in their shirt sleeves, hot and sweaty no doubt. Look at the lady on the right holding an umbrella. Above her you can see the name Jubal Webb (retail proprieter and property developer ) on the awning. We’ve come across him before. Don’t imagine this is his last mention either, as he seems to have a knack for inserting himself into history.

This is another one for bus lovers:

Kensington High Street looking east at junction with Church Street1890 GN23

The bus on the right may be an early form of the number 28, on its way to Fulham. I like the two guys slouching against the shop fronts on the edge of the picture. The one on the left is another 9, advertising Pears Soap and a product called Taunus. Any ideas?

Kensington High Street looking east at junction with Church Street1890 GN23 - Copy

The next image flips around again to look from east to west.

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN22

On the left are the substantial premises of Frank Giles and Co, “cabinet makers, upholsterers, auctioneers  and house and estate agents and builders and house decorators” according to Kelly’s Directory. On the right:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN22 close up

Two ladies having a spirited discussion.

You must be getting use to the change in viewpoint by now.

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN10

I’m rather taken with this westward looking picture but mostly because of the detail in the bottom right corner:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN10 close up

The dangerously overladen wagon seems to hold no fear for the young man walking past Anthony Bell’s establishment on the narrow side street to Kensington Court.

The next picture almost seems to have been taken seconds later.

Kensington High Street north side 32 onwards Q

There is a similar wagon full of baskets and straw, the same shop front on the right, and another view of the shop of H and R Stiles (“art photographers [side door]”). But let’s look at the group at the bottom right.

Kensington High Street north side 32 onwards Q - Copy

And zoom in again.

Kensington High Street north side 32 onwards Q detail - Copy (2)

An eldely lady with a cadaverous face, and behind her a pair of fashionably dressed women. I also like the  woman on the left facing away from us, checking her hair in a timelsss gesture.

I’ve become fond of some of these people you can only see in fleeting images. This picture is a good one, a paper print, looking east towards the Royal Garden Hotel.

Kensington High Street 1909 G37-47

There are a couple of familiar names on the shop fronts- Keith Prowse and Budgen. This is about 1909 so it’s a few years later than the others but it contains possibly my favourite back view of people standing in the street.

Kensington High Street 1909 G37-47 - Copy

These two women are wearing the slightly more modern and extravagant fashions of the Edwardian era. What intrigues me most is the similarity of their oufits combined with the disparity in their height.

Kensington High Street 1909 G37-47 zoom

I imagine them intent on what’s in the shop window and talking intensely about that or some other matter of interest but this is all we’ll ever see. We’ll never get them to turn round and say a few words. We’ll need an actual time machine for that. But if that time ever comes, we’ll know where to go.


Thanks to Matthew, my transport correspondent who covers bus-related matters for the blog.

In today’s (Tuesday’s) Guardian is a piece about the reissue of Roger Perry’s book about 70s graffitti, The Writing on the Wall. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/feb/03/the-writing-on-the-wall-1970s-pioneers-of-british-graffiti.  Inspired by the original edition I wrote a post about graffitti in Kensington and Chelsea here.


Forgotten Buildings: Scarsdale House

Turn off Kensington High Street by Boots the Chemist. On the left you see a coffee shop, a corporate headquarters, some tall anonymous buildings and in the distance a hotel. On the right is a pair of 1890s mansion blocks with fascinating towers at the corner, both called Iverna Court. Wright’s Lane curves round to meet Cheniston Gardens and togther they join Marloes Road, which goes all the way down to Cromwell Road. On both sides of Wright’s Lane the south front of Kensington High Street is a twentieth century or late nineteenth century creation. The older buildings are gone now. But there was a different kind of view not all that long ago,less than a hundred and fifty years ago and well within the reach of photography. You can still see that other place today.

Take a look down a narrow street with high unwelcoming walls on either side, first to the south where Jobmaster Mr D Ridge hires Victorias, Landaus and Broughams.

Wright's Lane looking south GN52

Linger there at the bottom of the quiet road, far from the high street. There are no tall buildings. Although the city has expanded around the walled gardens this street still looks like a backwater.

Wright's Lane looking north GN43

You can vaguely make out a couple deep in conversation walkling towards the camera on the side of the road with a pavement. There are street lamps but the road still looks like a country lane. On the right is a house in a secluded garden behind the wall.

Scarsdale House from Wright's Lane GN46

Here’s another gentleman, and a lady carrying a fur muff (the day looks cold). Beyond them a  figure, wrapped up in a cloak, a young woman I think, and some other indistinct figures. Then there is the dark house and the garden with bare trees. Here is the entrance.

Scarsdale House entrance Wright's Lane GN44

The walls look old with many stains and there is some irregular brick work.

Scarsdale House entrance gate Wright's Lane GN47

In this picture the entrance is open and entry seems to be  permitted. Photographers can go inside and walk into the garden.

Scarsdale House garden photograph by Augustus Rischgitz CPic0171

The house is old, built in the 1690s for his own occupation by Francis Barry. Wright’s Lane was then just a footpath leading to Earl’s Court. On some maps it is called Barrow’s Walk. The house’s grounds were larger, including a fishpond. Several eminent persons lived there, including the Duchess of Monmouth, but it was not until the Curzon family acquired it that was called Scarsdale House after the peerage granted to Nathaniel Curzon.

Two centuries later, despite extensive building work it still has a forbidding look.

Scarsdale House garden looking north Wright's Lane GN45

In another season the house still looks worn but less gloomy.

Scarsdale house garden front GN153

At the time of the picture it was back in the hands of another Curzon, Edward  Cecil. It had spent nearly a century as a school of one sort or another. In the early 1800s a Mr Winnock owned it, and his wife ran a boarding school for girls there, a typical use for large houses at that time. Kensington had many of those small enclaves of genteel learning.

Scarsdale House garden  front 1815 watercolour by H Oakes Jones CPic0038

In those days the country south of the High Street was full of gardens and lanes. Scarsdale House was on the edge of the urbanised area as you can see from Starling’s map of 1822. Houses had been built in front of it on the High Street.

Starling 1822 A3 (2)

The house could look welcoming.

Scarsdale House garden  front July 1892 watercolour by Elizabeth Gladstone BG2502

Isn’t that woman gesturing for you to enter?

It was the same Curzon who brought in a pair of alabaster chimney pieces with allegories of Peace and War. W J Loftie calls them interesting. The Survey of London describes them as “in the grotesque style”.

Scarsdale House fireplace GN48

They survived the house and now in a house near Cardiff.

The tranquil isolation of the house ended with the arrival of the railway  and Kensington High Street Station which was just beyond the east wall of the property.  Mr Curzon died in 1885 so by the time most of these picture were taken the house was probably unoccupied as the land around it was used for other purposes. This may be why the house looks so bleak in the photographs.

Perhaps it would be better to remember it in views like this one:

Scarsdale House - old house in Wright's Lane May 12 1888 watercolour by Elizabeth Gladstone BG2501

Scarsdale House was sold in 1893 to its neighbour Pontings, which had started in the houses behind the house in 1873. The house was absorbed into the store but dictated the susequent shape of the building – “narrow frontage and great depth” according to Brian Curle, a predecessor of mine. Whatever remained of the old house was obliterated by re-building and nothing of it remained by 1907. The new proprieters told stories about a haunted room, and a murder, so perhaps the Gothic atmosphere isn’t entirely my imagination.


All but one of the photographs were by the H and R Stiles company (featured in this post, with more to come soon). The sepia photograph of the garden was by Augustus Rischgitz. The first watercolour (about 1815) is by H. Oakes Jones, based on an unfinished sketch by John Claude Nattes. The final two colour pictures are by Miss Elizabeth Gladstone and were made in 1892 and 1888.

This drawing is by Herbert Railton and has taken my fancy.

Scarsdale House entrance gate 1901 by Herbert Railton CPic274

We may see more of his work in posts to come.

Another Postscript

I was sorry to hear today of the death aged 100 of Nesta Macdonald, ballet expert, photographer, local historian and user of Chelsea Library for many years. My condolences to her family and friends.

I covered one aspect of her interests in this post.


Through the glass to Kensington High Street

In a quiet corner of the sub-basement is a cupboard. Inside are a set of shelves. Most of the space is taken up with ledgers from a chemist’s shop with lists of prescriptions. These records go up to the mid fifties so it will be a long time before the information in them is available for general use. Some years ago I inspected the cupboard once, and was satisfied, until I noticed some boxes on the bottom shelf which contained a set of glass negatives, a donation from a photographer’s studio. The negatives are in this cupboard simply to protect them from damage. I wondered if we could get paper prints off them. I then discovered that one of my predecessors had been there before me and done just that. I found the prints in an unassuming black archive box, clearly labelled but never before noticed by me. Archives are like that.

The pictures vary in quality but some of them are remarkably clear. They show a older version of central Kensington rather different from the one we know. Some buildings survive to this day. Others are gone.

Kensington High Street looking west GN9

Most of the buildings on the right are not there now. But you don’t always need the buidings to recognise the street. This is the unmistakeable early part of Kensington High Street as it curves one way to meet Kensington Church Street then changes direction again and heads towards Hammersmith.

The horse bus is run by the London General Omnibus Company. They were the first company to give the bus routes numbers. This bus is going from Hammersmith via Tottenham Court Road to King’s Cross. The numbers weren’t displayed yet but that makes it a number 10. These days one of the new Routemasters has the same number and follows pretty much the same route.

If you look carefully at the series of signs on the side of the white building you can see H and R Stiles. The same name is rendered in ironwork on top of the single storey shop front. Stiles were the photographer’s company which took all these pictures so their interest in the High Street is understandable. The Stiles brothers were on the top floor just above the Misses Roberts and Watson, corset makers, according to Kelly’s Directory 0f 1897.

Kensington High Street looking west 1893 GN4

In this 1893 picture you can see the opposite side of the street. The large building on the left is one of the first incarnations of the John Barker building. Is that man in the foreground wearing a baseball cap? Surely it’s not one of those careless time travellers? No, they had sporting caps in 1893 as well. He could probably get away with it today though. That’s probably not true of the woman right in the foreground with her back to the camera, literally holding onto her hat in a gesture that would have been typical of the rime.

Ten years later some demolition had taken place.

Kensington High Street north side looking weat 1903 GN157

This picture is also looking west as the same section of street is being widened. Orientation is slightly difficult because of the crane. It’s a fascinating object in itself but if you look carefully you can see that it is obscuring the tall spire of St Mary Abbot’s Church behind it.

The Stiles business moved to Campden Hill Road after the demolition. Quite by chance I noticed in the 1903 Kelly’s that Roberts and Watson moved to 231 Kensington High Street (in case you were concerned).

Let’s jump back to 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when the local shops were decorated for the occasion.

Kensington High Street 11 Wilkins the Baker 1897l GN165

At Wilkins the bakers (number 11) you can see Mr Frederick John Wilkins, purveyor of bread to her Majesty, his delivery wagon with a couple of employees, his young son possibly and a random toff posed outside the corn merchants. The glass plate was broken in half and has been repaired. But have a look at the upstairs windows:

Kensington High Street 11 Wilkins the Baker 1897 detail GN165

At the lower right hand window you can see a rather grim looking old woman whom I take to be Mr Wilkins’ mother. Look at the window above her and you can see a younger woman, possibly Mrs Wilkins the wife. I wonder what family drama took place before the two ladies decided which window they would stand at?  If I had a choice in the matter I would have followed Mrs Wilkins’ example and secured a seperate window.Of course I could be reading too much into it. Make your own mind up.

The John Barker company had several seperate shops in this part of the street. In between two of them were the premises of Mr Jubal Webb, provision merchant.

Mammoth Cheese 1893 GN232

Mr Webb might be the gentleman with the beard superving the mammoth cheese from Canada so big you need to serve yourself with a shovel.

The picture below is a few years later when the venerable Town Hall Tavern had been acquired by Derry and Toms for their expansion, as the signs announce.

Town Hall Tavern GN 138

How long after that did the handy cigarette kiosk survive?

The Town Hall is just visible on the right of this picture, along with the church spire again.

Kensington High Street looking east from Hornton Street 1911GN156

I can also make out the Vestry Hall next to the Town Hall where the first Kensington Library was located, the Aerated Bread Company, Walpole Brothers (Irish Linens), a private circulating library, James Garner (a chemist), the Lady Agents (a domestic employment agency), a manufacturer of window blinds, J Mallan (surgeon-dentist) and just round the corner in Hornton Street the West London Type Writing Agency.

Across the road on the south side of the street was an irregular block of houses simply called The Terrace.

The Terrace Kensington High Street 1892 GN240

A boy sits and plays, with something (some device with balls – I can’t make it out) outside number 1.

Our colourful friend Jubal Webb lived at number 2, seen below. It was he who was responsible for the whole block being redeveloped.  A builder named Mr Cave built the current set of shops and flats in 1893-4, originally called the Promenade but now know as 129-161 Kensington High Street.

The Terrace 1-4 GN107

Another boy (or is it the same one?) leans against the railings on the left, almost out of the picture with a dog at his feet.

The picture below shows the end of The Terrace with a house called Shaftesbury House, a cottage and the side of the Adam and Eve public house.

Shaftesbury House, cottage and part of Adam and Eve 1892 GN250

Anyone who knows the modern street will realise that there is a covered entrance to a mews here, Adam and Eve Mews in fact. The Mews and the buildings on either side of it were constructed by another developer, William Willett, an even more interesting character than Jubal Webb, but more of him another day perhaps. The pub was actually moved abd became number 163 (Hotel Chocolat now). The street continues with number 165 (Claire’s Accessories). If you could transport those two back to the 1890s you would probably find many customers.

To the right of the picture you can see a solitary figure, a woman, bare-headed it seems to me with her hair down, wrapped up in a coat and maybe a shawl. There’s a story there if you could only see more.

There are many more pictures of Kensington High Street, and many more stories to tell but I’ve confined myself this week to the work of H and R Stiles. One final view looks back the way we came, eastwards. The turning by the pub is the top of Earls Court Road. Opposite are the trees by the entrance to Holland Park, still a private residence at this time.

Kensington High Street looking east GN15

More horse buses and wagons, (that’s a Derry and Toms wagon on the left) and on the right a couple walk arm in arm, shielded from the sun, and the photographer by an umbrella. I want to ask her to take it down for a moment and stand still so we can have a proper look at them. But they’ll never know I was interested.


As I said, this is one of many possible posts about Kensington High Street and not the end of the Stiles brothers’ contribution to the blog either. I leaned heavily on the Survey of London on the tricky matter of the Terrace so once again thanks to its authors and publishers.

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