Tag Archives: J W Figg

Chelsea stories – various days and various times along the King’s Road

We’re returning to the photographs of Bill Figg this week and taking up more or less where we left off in the first “Chelsea stories”. Very few of Bill’s pictures are dated, but we can make a few educated guesses along the way, from the various shops we see. We’ll jump from the 1990s to the 1970s and the 1950s and back again as we go, and I’ll try to proceed from east to west. We start here with a couple of shops you thought might be permanent fixtures but have gone now. In some ways, remembering the more recent decades is harder. You might think a day in May 1990 was just yesterday. (Well, I might) But it isn’t, is it? It was 27 years ago. It’s not the present, no matter how much my mind tells me it was.

As I recall it the Emperor of Wyoming (named after a Neil Young song?) sold western style clothes, and Johnsons was more of a rock’n’roll leather jacket sort of place, as was the shop nearby

You can see it on the far right of the picture, American Classics. Here’s a better view from another year.

Remember the name for later.

Around Moravian corner was a row of shops with an entrance into a courtyard. The site had been rebuilt for modern use but there had been a small social housing estate called Chelsea Park Dwellings (built 1885)

Beyond them was a row of single storey buildings which were replaced in the early 21st century.

The pub on the corner of Beaufort Street had been known as the Roebuck but in the 1990s it was called the Dome, after the feature on the top. Of course, it’s had other names since.

On the other side of Beaufort Street was another unique building, the Bluebird Garage. This picture comes from a prospectus from the 1920s. The Bluebird was one of the first garages in London with all the facilities the growing band of private motorists needed.

It was later known as Carlyle Garages, and used by the Ambulance Service. In this early 90s or late 80s picture you can see the name and the generally poor condition of the building.

 

But a few years later the space had a new use. The garage and the two buidlings on either side were re-purposed for retail and leisure as the King’s Road headed towards the 21st century.

One of the things I like about the work of our in-house photographer from the 70s, John Rogers was the way he accidentally caught people out and about. This is before what we later called street style photography. Figg stumbled across a few interesting images in the same way.

Nice jacket, Madam.

On the south side of the road is another local landmark.

 

This cinema has gone by many names. The Essoldo, the Classic, the ABC, the Canon and others. A researcher has recently been looking into the history of the building for a magazine article which I hope to read soon, so I won’t attempt to list all its incarnations. Just one more:

Students of film history will date the pictures from the movies showing. This link takes you to an anecdote about another version of the building.

Staying on that side of the road, and remaining in the 1970s, some buildings which have remained intact despite occasional attempts to redevelop them.

 

Who remembers the Chelsea Antique Market?

Look out for that guy in the hat.

 

There he is again. I can remember the builder’s yard, and going in there for some household item, as we used to back then.

 

 

I wasn’t going to use the next picture but then I saw the two shops in the tall building.

 

 

The Loose Rein? Miller’s of Chelsea became a toy shop called Tiger Tiger. It was on the corner of Glebe Place, at the bottom of which was the Chelsea Open Air Nursery, which my son attended. We were frequent visitors until it closed after there was a fire in the building.

Is that why the scaffolding is there?

 

 

In this series of pictures Figg is obviously sitting in his car, parked in Manresa Road. I can’t say whether he was trying to get a picture of the shops, including the excellently named Naf Naf. or whether he was snapping passers by. But the sequence is interesting.

 

 

Do random pictures tell us much about the changes in how we dressed? In the interests of historical perspective I consulted my colleague Kimberley who is 27 years old (I have her permission to mention this fact). She thought those denim shorts were a bit tight.

 

 

I don’t quite know what the look is that this trio are doing, but whatever it is, they’ve got it.

 

 

Now check out the woman on the left of the trio, the one in the striped tights . Her carrier bag says “American Classics”.  So we know exactly where she had just been. (Kim didn’t like the hemline on that blue skirt and wondered if striped tights were a thing back then.)

 

They were. (I think I remember that?) Historical note: Argyll House is in the background, still the oldest surviving house in Chelsea. (Although part of the nursery building in Glebe Place may be just as old).

Speaking of history, let’s look across the road, and back to the 1950s.

 


King’s Parade under demolition. There was a terrace of house on the north side of the road extending from Dovehouse Street to Manresa Road.

After the demolition was complete there was a used car lot on the site.

 

Finally, let’s move on to Sydney Street, the goal I set myself for this post.

 

The Board of Guardians building at 250 King’s Road (later the Registry Office, and now private businesses) and the infirmary wing of the Workhouse, still in existence, although that central section is gone now. The billboard on the right is where the Chelsea Palace used to be – music hall, theatre, cinema, TV studios and even a bingo hall in its time. We may look at it in more detail one day. The demolition dates the photograph to the late 1960s I think. Not quite time for the current location of Chelsea Library, but close.

Postscript

That was another marathon of pictures. Maybe I’m still making up for the two weeks off. Some people on twitter have already started congratulating me for the upcoming millionth page view. Thanks, but there’s still a few thousand to go. I reckon sometime in November. We can get there sooner of course. Tell your friends!

I’m already writing next week’s post which will be of interest to fancy dress fans.

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Chelsea Stories – on the corner of a street

Before we start I have a little story. Sometime before 2004,  the author and journalist Tom Pocock introduced me to a man called J W Figg,  (known as Bill) whom I knew as the author of an interesting book called Hidden Chelsea published by the local bookshop Chesea Rare Books. Mr Figg, it seemed, was an amateur scholar and photographer whose main interest (he had many more) was the history of Chelsea.  He had worked with the Library many years back in the 50s and 60s and we had some of his photographs in our collection. Tom’s idea was that I should be as charming as possible in the hope that Bill would bequeath his personal collection of Chelsea photographs to the library. That wasn’t really a difficult thing to ask. Bill and I got on immediately. I showed him round the archives and we began an email exchange, sending each other obscure pictures of Chelsea for identification. (I never caught him out.) This was sadly curtailed quite early on when Bill died suddenly. I thought no more about the lost photographs, and never bothered his family. Tom Pocock died a little while after that in 2007, another loss to people who love the history of Chelsea.

Then, a few weeks ago, quite out of the blue a lady phoned me up and asked me if I was interested in a collection of Chelsea books and photographs which she and her husband were now looking after. I said yes, we would be happy to have the collection and when she brought the first installment to the Library I noticed a box full of copies of Hidden Chelsea. “Bill Figg!” I exclaimed. The collection of books and photographs which I had heard about so many years before had finally made their way to the Local Studies collection.

As I started looking through the material I kept finding photographs of places and buildings I had never seen pictures of, which is unusual for me as I’ve been looking at pictures of Chelsea since the 1980s. There is plenty for me and my team to work through, conserving and preserving this collection for posterity and making it available for future research. You saw some of his electricity related pictures  in previous weeks – Bill worked in the industry, which often gave him access to locations and vantage points closed to the average person. (Like the surveyor Bernard Selwyn, whose areas of interest included Kensington, North KensingtonEarls Court and Hammersmith even occasionally Chelsea)

I guess this story would normally go in the postscript. But it acts as a kind of introduction to any number of posts to come so this time it goes at the front. Now, on with the pictures.

[Moravian Tower, a former Council block, about 1990, when it started to be known as 355 King’s Road ]

If you know a street very well and walk along it regularly, you take the way it looks for granted even though you know that it looked different in the past. If like me you’re familiar with old photographs there are some vanished scenes which are as familiar as the present. And some which take you by surprise. Chelsea residents will know the corner where the King’s Road makes a curve by the former Moravian Tower , opposite the former Man in the Moon pub. At the base of the tower is Rymans, a paint and DIY shop, the post office, a second hand bookshop and a phone shop (I’ve used all of them at some point), before passing the entrance to the Moravian burial ground  (where those who rest in peace are not standing upright) a restaurant (another former pub with various names – the Water Rat and the Globe to name a couple of them), and heading down Milmans Street. There’s a car showroom and opposite that the Vivian Westwood shop. But what if on that corner there was no wide curved pavement but just another block of houses and shops?

This is that block where the  tower was built. You can see the pub (The Globe then) and the view towards Milmans Street, a little  more  than thirty years  earlier, in the  late 1950s.

Here’s the view looking in the opposite direction towards Park Walk with the Man in the Moon pub in the centre, and St Andrew’s Church in the distance.

 

 

Round the corner is the view up the King’s Road. the essential structure is very similar to day, with a few modifications.

 

The shop on the extreme left is Paramount Cleaners (dyers and cleaners), next door to which is a branch of Mac Fisheries, (a national chain of fishmongers). The corner shop could be a branch of Cullen’s. But we’re not going down there yet. Let’s turn back.

There is the Globe again and next to the gate to Moravian Close, David Gray (dining rooms). On the right, the former police station, at this time a community centre.

We’re moving further west along the King’s Road. You can see the block which was demolished and in the right foreground you can see the absence of the Cremorne estate with its parade of shops. This makes it likely that some of these black and white pictures may be from the early 1950s  (the Cremorne Estate was completed in 1956) Possibly building work is going on behind some hoardings.

Those shopfronts on the left look familiar though.

Below you see  Limerston Street, where the old 31 bus (now the 328) used to park.

Here it is in 1990.

Just a few details changed.

Still in 1990, a view of the block with the Vivian Westwood shop World’s End.

Next to it an entrance to the basement restaurant, and beside that an Oxfam shop, which can be seen below.

As Timmis and Richards, another branch of a chain, this time of chemists. The name lingered on for many more years.

We won’t go down to the actual World’s End today, but we will go as far as the block of shops next to Dartrey Road, just past the World’s End pub. Ten years or so after the black and white pictures the King’s Road was looking much livelier.

The Moravian burial ground was once used to exercise the famous lion of Chelsea, Christian, before he went back to Africa and became a star on YouTube. Here he is in one of his early homes, where he lived with the two young Australian men who bought him at Harrods. Bill Figg says in his notes that he knew the man who sold the young lion. I have heard that children used to go down to Sopistocat, a shop in that black,  to see him in the window and here is one of them to prove that.

Fur coats were quite fashionable back then, even for kids, but never as appropriate as on this occasion. Now, does anyone know who the little girl is?

 

Postscript

Tom Pocock  was himself a remarkable man, the author of many books (including “Chelsea Reach” the definitive book about the Chelsea artist Walter Greaves), a journalist and reviewer for the Evening Standard, and one of the first war correspondents to visit the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. (He encountered the artist and novelist Mervyn Peake there and once told me how much of that experience had entered Peake’s work). Tom was a friendly, unassuming man with a love of Chelsea. I didn’t know him well but I’m grateful to have been able to talk to him about our shared interests. I’m glad to have finally seen the end of one of Tom’s projects. Lovers of Chelsea can look forward to many future posts based on Bill’s photographs.


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