Tag Archives: Imperial Institute

Markino in daylight: the sights of London

“A few years ago there appeared in the doorway of my room a young Japanese with a portfolio under his arm.He looked tired and pale, but as he smiled and bowed, with difficulty keeping his hands from his knees in Japanese salutation, I was struck with his quiet dignity, his air of self-respect, his lustrous intelligent eyes. Would I look at his drawings of London? Of London?-yes, willingly.” – M H Spielmann, 1907

As promised a few weeks ago, this week we’re returning to Yoshio Markino to look at some of his daytime pictures. We’ve already established his credentials as a confirmed London explorer. His love of the city included some of the traditional tourist sights such as the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park. Below is that old feature of a day at the zoo – the ride on an elephant.

At the Zoo COL

Markino was obviously impressed by the elephant but in the Monkey House he was more interested in his fellow visitors. ” I went to the zoo and finished the people first; when I wanted to put in monkeys, I forgot their shapes and colours. I went to the Natural History Museum, which is only five minutes walk. They are dead. They don’t give any movement at all. So I had to journey to the Zoo and study them from life again.”

The monkey house Regents Park COL

He was always just as interested in the people of London as the buildings. For him they were as exotic as each other.

In the picture below of the terrace at the Houses of Parliament the tower and the bridge are a background for the well dressed diners.Uniformed maids and waiters dressed in black and white move through the grandly dressed throng.

Tea on the Terrtace of the House of Commons COL

More formal wear is on show below in the busy streets of the City:

Mansion House crossing COL

Markino said:”When I see the bus drivers, I always recollect Washington Irving’s Sketch Book which I read in Japan when quite young. He has described those coachmen so vividly that when I see those bis drivers I feel they are old acquaintances of mine.”

The shopping streets of the West End where the dresses were more colourful were also on Markino’s rounds as in this view off Oxford Street.

Winsley Street Oxford Street from Gilbey's Portico COL

And of course the parks. Here is that regular activity of park life, feeding the geese in St James’s Park:

Feeding the wildfowl in St James's Park COL

Moving  west to Hyde Park:

Early Autumn at Grosvenor Gate Hyde Park COL

These park scenes are all set in autumn, Markino’s second favourite time of the year (December was his favourite month as we know)

“Early autumn, Hyde Park”. M H Spielmann, Markino’s friend and patron says: “it is not the young lady who has interested him most…

Early Autumn Hyde Park COL

.although she holds her skirt – what Japanese drawing in that skirt -in the way, presumably, which he tells us stirs his admiration so deeply; it is the mist, rather, which floats among the trees in red and russet autumn and heightens by contrast the leaves as they lie upon the ground and throws into strong relief the branches that hang across the top.”

“London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau”  The weather continued to fascinate the Artist of Fog. But also the young woman.

At the Albert Memorial more visitors including more of those voluminously clad young women seem to ascend and descend the steps with some urgency.

On the step of the Albert Memorial COL

Markino is heading home towards Chelsea.

He enters Albertopolis. This monochrome view shows the grand entrance of the Imperial Institute.

Imperial Institute South Kensington COL

Below the mist-shrouded tower of the Victoria and Albert Museum (then called the South Kensington Museum)  looms like  Gormenghast Castle over the houses in nearby South Kensington

South Kensington Museum - RAR

More museum towers (the Natural History Museum) are visible in this view of Onslow Square. Spielmann, who wrote the introduction to Markino and Loftie’s book the Colour of London was particularly impressed with this view: “Markino shows us Onslow Square and the beauty of an architecture which we have pronounced..most unromantic and uninspired. Yet he has seen colour into it and made a pleasant picture out of repeated porticos and commonplace facades felicitously enlivened by the western sun.”

Spring in Onslow Square COL (2)

South Kensington Station can be seen at the centre of the picture, dwarfed by the towers of Waterhouse’s terracotta masterpiece.

Home again in Chelsea he returns to a much smaller tower by the river:

Chelsea Church - JAIL

Chelsea Old Church (the original, pre-war version) as  we have seen it in Hedderly’s photographs and a painting by Rush, surrounded by foliage. Markino joins the company of Chelsea artists.

Markino lived in London for more than forty years. He followed Londoners through dark nights, clear summer days and misty afternoons.

Spring Mist Westminster Bridge COL

“I am London’s devoted lover and  I want to present her with my brush.”

He wanted to stay with his lover for the rest of his life but in the end events caught up with him. During the Second World War he moved into a small apartment in the Japanese Embassy where he had friends. He sailed for Japan in 1943. This picture of a Japanese ship at the Albert Docks is a kind of  foreshadowing of that journey.

Japanese liner in the Albert Docks COL

As I’ve noted before he was never able to return. So this is an appropriate picture for us too as this is probably our last encounter with the outsider who brought his own unique vision to London.


I’ve become a big fan of the diffident Japanese artist since the time I rediscovered him in the Library’s biographies collection while looking for a contrast with Mortimer Menpes. I’m going to miss writing about him and reading his slightly eccentric memoirs. But you’ve seen the best we have now so it’s farewell to another unique Chelsea character until I find something else by him.

We might have another look at Menpes in the weeks to come, or  get back on the river, or explore some of the fictional worlds of Kensington and Chelsea. And I’ve just found some photos of  the Lots Road Power Station you haven’t seen before. So I’m not sure what’s coming next. But for the moment, goodbye to Yoshio Markino, the artist in the mirror world.

Halls of Empire: inside the Imperial Institute 1893

It’s difficult for me to figure out if anyone ever knew what the Imperial Institute was for exactly. Possibly Edward, the Prince of Wales whose idea it was had a good idea. So although it was opened in 1893 when his mother was still on the throne you could call it an early instance of that Edwardian fantasy we’ve looked at in other posts. I’ve been looking at images of the Institute but not for once of its exterior and that strange tower which has survived longer than the rest of it but of its more interesting and far stranger interior.

Grand staircase  1897 02

The Grand Staircase hangs in the air as though it belonged to a fictional castle tower or a Piranesi engraving.

Grand staircase  1897 03

At dizzying heights, almost too far away to see barely identifiable mythological and classical figures are depicted.

Entrance Hall 1897

So let’s enter. The door is closed. Two lithe big cats guard the stairs behind us.

Ahead of us is a long high corridor. At the far end light streams in through a window.

West corridor 1895

You can search all these rooms without finding a sign of inhabitants. There is a J G Ballard story about a seemingly empty and endless space station. The Institute looks a little like that in these pictures.

There is no one in the empty conference hall.

East Conference Hall 1896

Or this room with its elaborate ceiling.

British American Conference Room Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

Some of those rooms are decorated in the style of the countries of the empire.

British India Conference Room 1896

There are some spaces filled up with objects.

British Indian Exhibition Galleries Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

So have we entered a museum?

Ceylon Exhibition Gallery Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

It looks a little more like a nation’s attic.

There are some signs of life here:

Australian Conference Room 1895

It looks like a deserted gentleman’s club.

But in this gloomy room the scattering of papers shows some evidence of the activity within:

Fellows Writing Room Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

And this room is waiting for a meeting but for how long will it wait?

Executive Council Chamber Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

Head downstairs and there are even hints of recreation.

Fellows Billiard Room Opening 1893

Have we been here before?

Canadian Conference Room 1895

After sixty years or so of inconclusive activity the rooms were empty again. You might have seen one diffident stranger in the distance…

Corridor 1961

But you could have imagined it. And now all the halls and rooms are gone.


Some of these pictures are described as ink photos. I imagine that this is some process involving inking over a photograph to create an image which was easier to print in a magazine. But really I just don’t know and if anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.

Towers of Kensington

Towers aren’t necessarily tall. But they are often unexpected. You see them from a couple of streets away and you’re not quite sure where they are exactly. You glimpse them from an upstairs window. Or sometimes they’re miles away and even when they’re big it’s not always clear where the bottom of the tower lies. You can watch them for years from your bedroom window or walk past them on your way to work and then suddenly they’re gone. Like this one:

Tower in grounds of Campden House on corner of Sheffield Terrace and Kensington Church Street GN57

This photograph from the early 1900s shows the remains of tower that stood in the grounds of Campden House. Campden House was a very old house which burned down in the 1860s. There was a dispute about the insurance but it was rebuilt. This must have been a piece of the old property which lingered on until it too vanished in the twentieth century.

They liked a tower in the Campden Hill area.

Tower Cressy

This gothic pile is Tower Cressey which lurked mysteriously at the end of Aubrey Walk near the top of the hill.

Tower Cressy by Frank Emanuel FE14 Cpic683

The artist, Frank Emmanuel, slightly exaggerates the slope from left to right but Campden Hill is quite steep in parts. A hill is a good place to build a tower and makes it even more imposing but when the German bombers came it was an easy target.

Tower Cressy ruins by Gertude Keeling Cpic795

It became a picturesque gothic ruin for a short time in this picture by Gertrude Keeling. Tower Cressey no longer exists but here is a tower which never was:

Central Library architect's drawing view from south

This impossible view of Kensington Central Library from the south shows the equally impossible tower architect Vincent Harris had planned for Kensington Town Hall. It would have been an act of municipal shock and awe and would have dominated the skyline of Kensington. I don’t think it could ever have been built – it would have been just a bit too tall, and by the time there were serious plans for the site Harris was dead and his moment had passed. But I wish he had left some more drawings of his skyscraper.

In its day this was nearly the tallest tower in Kensington:

St Mary Abbotts from Observatory Gardens July 1892 by Elizabth Gladstone BG2453

The second St Mary Abbots Church glimpsed in the distance as towers should be in this water colour by Elizabeth Gladstone.

When it was completed in 1879 the 250 feet spire was the tallest in London and the sixth tallest in the country.

St Mary Abbotts c1898 K71-384  283 ABB-C

A view from 1898 showing the original roof over the nave which was destroyed in a WW2 air raid.

The most impressive tower in Kensington and slightly taller than St Mary Abbots lies a little further south.

Imperial Institute c1920 942-IMP-CS

This is the Imperial Institute about 1920 on its own road Imperial Institute Road. The green domed tower sometimes called the Collcutt Tower after its architect now usually known as the Queen’s tower is all that remains.

Imperial Institute tower 1961-2 K62-762 942 IMP-CS

The same scene in the 1960s.It’s an old story. When Imperial College was built it was decided to retain the tower. I came to London in 1973. My friend Carl was at Imperial and he took me to see the tower looking alone and immense in the setting of the college. And unfortunately completely closed to the public then. It is possible to arrange visits now I believe but apparently there are a lot of stairs to climb to get to the viewing gallery. Perhaps it’s merely ornamental now but it is a pleasing landmark. There were two secondary towers which were demolished and this is one of them:

Imperial Institute secondary tower possibly looking wes K61-7 942 IMP-Ct

You can just about make out Gloucester Road at the junction with Victoria Grove on the left and the lengthy mews behind Queen’s Gate. So we’re pointing west again back towards Campden Hill.

I have one final lost tower for you back on the hill, a tower which stood for a hundred years.

Campden Hill Gardens with water tower PC664

It’s the water tower for the Grand Junction Company water works here seen looking up Campden Hill Gardens but visible on the skyline in many views of Kensington. In a couple of weeks it will have a blog post to itself but next week I’m doing something topical (for 1890).


I missed out Tower House but that too will get a post to itself one of these days.

Sunday afternoon at the Horticultural Gardens

It’s 1863. While my friend James Hedderly is taking photographs of riverside life in Chelsea featuring subjects at the lower end of the Victorian social scale, a short distance away a professional photographer is taking pictures of visitors to the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in Exhibition Road who come from an entirely different class. It looks quiet out there. The visitors look prosperous and well dressed. The water of the ornamental pond is still. The images are crisp. The poses are casual but even allowing for the unknown professional’s equipment I think the people in the pictures are still carefully placed in the composition and are holding their positions as the picture is taken.

In this view we’re looking north. The Albert Hall would have been right behind the glasshouse – at the time of this picture there were still four years before the foundation stone of the building was laid. At the left of the picture you can see the tower of a house at 1 Hyde Park Gate. The chimney I’m not too sure about. I can’t see a likely candidate on the 1862 Ordnance Survey map. Suggestions are welcome.

From a modern point of view the two women are amazingly overdressed. The one on the right looks daunted at the slope. How did her friend even get up there? In fact the crinoline skirt which would be held in ridicule by later Victorians and everyone after that was something of a step forward in terms of mobility and was much lighter than the previous fashion for masses of petticoats.

The man is probably just as restricted in his formal daywear despite his casual pose. Look again at the still water and the reflections in it of the balustrade and the two women.

This view shows the glasshouse from another angle. It’s another composition in which the people seem as still as the plants.

Another close-up shows that the only man in the picture is also reading instead of looking at the tranquil scene around him. Or perhaps it’s the same man moving around for the benefit of the photographer.

The gardens were not a huge success. They were one of the early ideas for populating Albertopolis as the area is sometimes called, and were always uneasy partners with other features of the growing museum district such as the 1862 Exhibition building to the south, which would itself give way to the Natural History Museum. Smoke and noise around the site increased and the Society had a limited lease on the land. Eventually Prince Consort Road would go through the site, right where those two women are standing in the picture, and later the Science Museum and the Imperial Institute would replace the Gardens.

This image from 1901 shows part of the Science Museum and the slightly sinister looking Imperial Institute building. The Institute is also gone now although the tower on the right remains on the Kensington skyline. Here is a view from the 1960s showing the tower in its modern setting.

But although the Royal Horticultural Gardens have left no visible trace they are not entirely forgotten. I know I’ve made this point before but in the photographs these two women are still there on that quiet afternoon still feigning an interest in the plants for the benefit of the photographer and ourselves.

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