I was talking to a meeting about blogging the other day and I showed the group a couple of pictures from the post about the Red House, like this one. They were interested so I decided to take the story further this week.
January 1972: in the foreground is the car park behind the then 12 years old Kensington Library. Most of these pictures were taken from its roof. On the left is the civil defense hut. Next, just visible through the winter trees is a white building, Niddry Lodge. Beside that is the Red House, owned and occupied by the Council at this time but formerly the home of a couple of famous people. On the right is Hornton Cottage, the last of the three houses to be used for residential purposes.
A few weeks later there is snow on the ground:
The cars are all gone and most of the trees lie fallen on the ground. Demolition has begun at Hornton Cottage.
The once secluded gardens are laid bare. The Red House is under siege.
Almost exactly four weeks later all the buildings on the site are gone. For some reason two trees in the centre are spared.
May: Building materials start to arrive on the site as work begins. Compare the trees with how they were in the previous picture. Despite the imminent threat of destruction they carry on.
June: the ground level is lower than it was.
A few men are wandering around the site. A couple of them are examining some large plans.
August: more digging.
By the end of the year the site looks like nothing but a big hole.
In the centre is that concrete platform with its surviving trees.
In 1973 the building work began in earnest.
There are actually fewer pictures from this year than others. I don’t know quite why this is but by early 1974 the work was beginning to affect the Central Library:
This picture shows the entrance to the car park under the Town Hall site. Builders seem to be securing the area where the exit ramp will be.
On the main site the two levels of the car park are visible. Contrary to urban myth there is no third level.
By July the new building is rising above ground.
This view shows the eastern side of the site.
What’s that octagonal structure?
This angle shows the space between the two wings of the building nearest to the Library.
Now it’s 1975.
The new building is now a confusing mass of concrete and scaffolding.
On the left of this picture is the edge of the library. I should explain that there are roof terraces linking the west and east wings of the library and I imagine the photographer perched on a step ladder to take all of these pictures. He must have had a better head for heights than me. When I went up there last week to get some modern pictures I experienced a distinct feeling of vertigo, despite the fact that I was perfectly safe. The fear of falling is of course entirely rational. The fear of the heights themselves at least in my case is not. I require a significant thickness of glass between myself and the panorama below before I feel safe at height. Nevertheless I managed to take some pictures from a similar angle.
And that octagonal structure?
It was a pond. In 1978 wild fowl were taking advantage of this amenity, but unfortunately the bottom of the pond was not watertight and there were problems with leaks which couldn’t be rectified. So today there is a memorial garden in the area which you can see in my first picture.
And that tree that seemed to hang on to life? Well there are three trees in the central open space. One of them is a memorial tree for Sir Winston Churchill, specially planted. Another commemorates the 1997 wedding anniversary of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. But there is another one. This is a tricky spot for trees to grow, with limited light but it could just be the same one.
For the record:Kensington Town Hall, designed by Sir Basil Spence, built by Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd. Completed in 1975.
My apologies if this post is of greater interest to my colleagues than my general readers. But a building site is a building site and it is fascinating to see a large building take shape wherever it is. I hope so anyway.
Black and white photographs by John Rogers.
We still need to tell the story of Niddry Lodge. Coming soon.