Tag Archives: John Rogers

Up Clarendon Road: 1970

Clarendon Road is another of the streets that converged at Lancaster Circus running roughly north to south. In 1970 it ran from the junction with Lancaster Road all the way down to Holland Park Avenue. This week’s post is another in a series exploring the streets of North Kensington as they looked in the late 1960s and early 1970s when there were many streets in the area like Walmer Road which took a journey from relative affluence to relative poverty. The recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower put the contrast between the different conditions of life and property in the Borough into a new perspective. But we can still look back at how the streets of North Kensington used to be.

 

 

This first picture shows the short section of street on the west side of Clarendon Road after the pub (The Castle) on the corner of Holland Park Avenue. In 1970 there was a Radbourne Garage, a small car dealer at number 1. Next to it was a low rise block of flats in a recognizeably 1960s style.

 

 

The block wasn’t typical of the street though. The early numbers on both sides were more like this.

 

 

The houses were substantial, showing the ambitions of the original builders and developers of the Ladbroke Estate. By 1970 some of them were a little run down. But the process of gentrification was well under way.

This section of the street is relatively narrow, with one or two surprisingly striking houses.

 

 

The one above, a double house, the work of the builder William Reynolds. Below a leaf-clad detached house.

 

As you move north the street widens out.

 

I’m not entirely sure of the vantage point in this picture, but I was taken with the woman strolling slowly towards the photographer on what I think would be a winter’s day.

This view is also looking north up the hill from the junction with Clarendon Cross


 

Clarendon Road intersects with a number of other streets, Ladbroke Road, Lansdowne Walk, St John’s Gardens, Lansdowne Rise, Portland Road. Below, a girl crosses the road near Portland Road unconcerned about traffic.

 

 

The Britannia public house was on that corner.

 

 

As we get to the junction with Elgin Crescent the street becomes more mixed and the pictures more interesting.

The east side of the road again.

 

 

On the west side Nottingwood House.

 

 

This view looks north again.

 

 

The next turn off is Cornwall Crescent. This is the point where we need some help from a map.

 

 

This is actually a detail from the 1935 Ordnance Survey map, which shows the layout of the streets before 1970s development and also has had the individual houses numbered by some unknown hand at Kensington Town Hall. If you look at the point where Cornwall Crescent meets Clarendon Road, the house numbers above 120 on the east side, you see which houses were later demolished when the Lancaster West Estate was built.

 

 

This one, 122

Its neighbours,

 

128 onwards

 

Outside Telemart (“radio and television distributors”), a man is making some kind of adjustment to a camper van.  You have Talbot Grove visible on the left. Dulford Street was almost opposite, visible in this view of the west side of the street.

 

 

 

Then looking north again you see the final curve of Clarendon Road.

 

 

The tower block in the background is one of the towers on the Silchester Estate built by the GLC a few years earlier. although its sudden appearance above the traditional streets reminds us that this was the start of a period of housing development in the area.

Back to the east side:

 

 

Below, a number of somewhat run-down shops.

 

 

I can’t help wondering what ID Clearance might have been.

This view turns back to look southwards.

 

 

And again. We’ve seen this picture before.

 

 

But it takes us back to Lancaster Circus and joins us up once more with Lancaster Road and Walmer Road.

Postscript

I’m a little late publishing again today. One or two other demands on my time, plus the fact that there were quite a lot of pictures of Clarendon Road in the end. I’ve been uncomfortable with the idea of writing about North Kensington since the fire but in the end it’s one of my jobs so I  knew I would be back. All this week’s photographs were by John Rogers.

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Chelsea stories – your Granny, your Junk, your Cave

This week we continue looking at the western end of the King’s Road, using the photos of our new friend JW “Blll” Figg. and a couple of others. And we’re going to take a look at a few buildings over time. To start with, just to get you orientated:

 

 

The World’s End Tavern, a permanent fixture on this stretch of road, often changing hands, but hanging on, even when the surrounding buildings change.

 

 

This looks like the 1950s judging by the vehicle and the people. Keep your eye on that innocuous shop on the left with the awning. It would see some changes in the years to come. There always seem to be a couple of shops there on the corner of Langton Street, part of a terrace of houses  leading to Shalcomb Street.

 

 

One of the shops changes over time. Here, in the 1960s it’s called “Granny takes a trip”, one of the sights of the slightly cooler World’s End. And here it is with added car.

 

 

I’m not completely sure of the time sequence. This one could have come first.

 

 

[A John Rogers photo]

The reliable Sunlight Laundry kept the wacky shop front company throughout Granny’s time. I’m just guessing that Granny gave way to the fruiterer’s first.

 

 

Or were they before Granny? Anyway,  in the 8os or 90s a more staid establishment occupied the spot.

 

 

Between you and me, I think this property is destined for change. (It’s currently given over to interior design, as is the former cleaners).

Now back across the road before you get sick of the sight of the same place.

 

 

A rare colour picture of the shops leading up to the junction with Edith Grove: Quick Nicker ( I don’t know…cheap clothes, but one picture shows a guitar in the window). Field’s newsagents, the World’s End Pharmacy and another laundrette, Speed Queen). These were the shops next to Sophisticat, which we saw last week, and round the corner from another counter-culture establishment, Gandalf’s Garden. There are some black and white views in a previous post. The first three images in that post show the whole corner.

We’re going to cross the road again.

 

 

Another rare picture, of Watney’s Brewery, a characteristically 20th century industrial building with a touch of art deco about it. It was later occupied by a business with a distinctly 1960s/70s name.

 

 

Junk City, an SF sort of name like a location in a post-apocalyptic novel/film. The site was up for sale when this picture was taken in the early 1970s. It was replaced by a building a few people will remember, a redbrick office building which was the headquarters of Penguin Books. I don’t have a picture of that. It was there into the 21st century,in fact it was still there when I wrote that previous post about the King’s Road in 2011 (Where did six years go? Is the blog itself now part of history?) but has now been replaced with a residential block distinguished by a set of solar  panels on the front which resemble crumpled sweet wrappers (something from Quality Street maybe). A step in the right direction perhaps, and one of those odd phenomena of modern life – a building is built when you’re around, and knocked down while you’re still here. You outlived an office block. I suppose it happens more often than we think.

[Added 19th August. A little Google maps research found this, to complete the story:

Possibly even more nondescript than I remembered it.]

One more jump back across the road.

 

To another retail landmark. This is another John Rogers photograph from 1972, which I used before, showing the now painted bright green building mostly occupied by the Furniture Cave. Here it is from another angle.

 

 

Mr Figg captions this “after the fire, 1974”. No mistaking what happened there, or that part of the building has just disappeared.

 

 

This version is a more modern view, 90s perhaps. The corner of Lots Road has been occupied by a relatively new building, and although the picture is monochrome you can guess the Furniture Cave was probably not green at the time.

 

 

I’m including this rather blurred view of the new building not to fill in the gap in a post I did on on Lots Road, but for the just legible sign on the corner of the Furniture Cave – Crazy Larry’s. Not an establishment I ever attended but I used to go past this spot a lot in the 1980s and I used to wonder what it was like. Does anyone have any memories? I was usually on my way to an Indian restaurant called the Kabana just over the hill. These were the days when takeaway deliveries were less common, but I actually enjoyed the walk, and sitting in the restaurant with a lager waiting for the food. By the time I got back Dynasty was thankfully nearly finished. Simpler days.

So, a quick look back at some buildings you may have seen. We’re not finished with the World’s End but in the next Chelsea Stories we’ll be heading east.

In the meantime, I’ll sign off with something quirky for you, typical of Bill Figg who, like myself, was “a snapper up of unconsidered trifles” if I’m not misusing Shakespeare. In nearby Tettcott Road you could at one time see this:

Maybe the Brothers Quay were inside.

Postscript

I’ll be off for a couple of weeks from next Monday so there may or may not be a post next week. I’m thinking about another Hugh Thomson book which is a kind of holiday in itself.  If not, expect to see a new post sometime in August.


Cheyne Walk: heading west 1970

I was looking for a picture of 120 Cheyne Walk, where Arthur Ransome lived for a while in the period he describes in his book Bohemia in London. Number 120 is right on the edge of the World’s End Estate in a short terrace of 19th century houses between Blantyre Street and the smaller, older and more famous house next to it where JMW Turner had his last home.

That section of Cheyne Walk, from the Old Church to Cremorne Road traditionally took you from the grandest and most affluent part of the street into a much lowlier part of Chelsea as you enter Lots Road. When I looked at John Rogers’s  1970 photographs I naturally thought here’s a blog post. So here you are.

It’s an area that’s very familiar to me. My mother-in-law lived in Milmans Street, and my wife and I spent the early years of our marriage in a flat in Beaufort Street, so I’ve walked along this part of the embankment, crossed both bridges, caught buses north and south on many occasions. A bit arbitrarily I’ve decided to start here:

We’re right by Chelsea Old Church. You can see the Sloane Monument and the houses nearby which feature in a photograph by James Hedderly, as do many of today’s locations. There is the drinking fountain monument to George Sparkes (if the East India Comapny) and the 1969 statue of Thomas More (“Scholar, Statesman, Saint” as it says on the plinth.)

And there is the Old Church itself, reconstructed after the war, following severe damage during an air raid in 1941.

Next to it is Roper’s Garden, a sunken garden also built on the site of buildings destroyed in the air raid. I have sat in it many times. The small block of flats is called Roper’s Orchard. Margaret Roper was the married name of one of Thomas More’s daughters. The statue in the garden is called Awakening and is by Gilbert Ledward, who was born in Chelsea.

The sheltered seats at the top of the stairs were a pleasant spot to shelter if the rain caught you on your way home from Battersea Park.

In the background you can see part of Crosby Hall, an ancient building which formerly stood in Bishopsgate in the City of London which was disassembled and reassembled in Chelsea in the 1910.

When I lived nearby Crosby Hall and its attendant buildings were used as a hall of residence. The hall was rented out for ceremonies and wedding receptions. This pictures shows the open front onto Cheyne Walk. In 1989 the building was acquired as a private residence by Christopher Moran who built a pastiche of a Tudor palace around it so you can’t see this view any more.

Across the river in Battersea there have been considerable changes as well. many of the buildings visible in the distance are no longer there.

The photographer John Rogers has captured a pretty quiet moment on the road.

This iron structure sits in the small green space where Battersea Bridge meets Cheyne Walk and Beaufort Street.

 

Belle Vue House, on the right is on the opposite corner. There is a well know Hedderly photograph showing the same corner more than a hundred years earlier.

 

 

This is the view looking west, on a February morning in 1970, the same day as almost all the other pictures this week.

 

 

You can just about make out this quizzical bird looking east. He sits on the gatepost of another ancient residence, Lindsey House.

 

 

Lindsey House is another ancient house (built 1674), subdivided in the 18th century. The various parts of it have been home to the artists Whistler and John Martin and the engineers Marc and Isembard Kingdom Brunel.

 

 

We’re going to move past the end of Milmans Street as I’ve covered it before.

Moving west, this collection of houses curves away from the main road and leads north into Riley Street. Car spotters can start here although I’m sure no one will be able to identify the car under cover on the left.

 

 

These should be pretty obvious though.

This is the point where Munro Terrace curves away to become Riley Street. (once upon a time Davis Place became World’s End Passage) , with Apollo Place hiding behind the main road.

Apollo Place (partly visible on the right in the picture below) was once the home of Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran. On more than one occasion when I was at Chelsea Library teenage girls would ask to consult the electoral register to locate him. (When I worked at Brompton Library I would see groups of teenage girls gathered outside the home of another Duran Duran member in Gilston Road, off Fulham Road).

The building on the corner used to be a pub (or at least a “beer retailer” as listed in the 1899 Kelly’s directory. The 1888 edition lists The Queen’s Arms at this number, along with a “fried fish shop”)

 

Next to it was another more long lasting pub, the King’s Arms.

 

An apocryphal story is told about a local celebrity buying one of these two pubs and closing it down because of the noise. I won’t name the person concerned because I don’t know if this is in any way true. Many pubs in Chelsea have closed since 1971 for a variety of reasons.

Closeby, the building below is the house of JMW Turner (have a look at it here)

Or for comparison:

 

A picture from the late 1940s I think.

Now go back to the first picture in the blog to see the taller buildings next to these as we move west. Those still survive but the ones in the final two pictures have gone.

 

 

This is the corner of Luna Street (have a look at Luna Street another others here). You can see the street name, just about, and the word “shed” referring of course to one end of the Chelsea Football ground, and the group of fans associated with it. The final picture shows what remained of the terrace around number 132 as Cheyne Walk becomes Ashburnham Road.

 

 

Marked by an advertisement for Carlsberg Special Brew. Close to this point is the end of Lots Road which we’ve looked at before. I’ve touched on the houseboats in another post but we may come there again in the future.

Postscript

This was a light post in terms of text and commentary but I know many of you will enjoy the pictures and don’t need much comment from me. I welcome any comments, corrections or reminiscences from readers. I’m a little late posting this week because of some last minute fact checking and link creating. I’m off now to see if I can find a 19th century photograph of the King’s Arms which I have in my mind but I don’t think I’ve ever scanned it.

A little later….. I found it and will scan it soon.I also discovered that you can just see the King’s Arms and the Queen’s Arms side by side in one of my early Hedderly posts. (the 6th picture.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Along the Promenade: Kensington High Street

Kensington High Street October 1961. The corner of Wright’s Lane. The photographer has noted on the back: midday. It’s good to know that now. The street is busy. A shop called Hope Brothers (“outfitters”)  is at the centre of the picture occupying the corner with its turret. Can you see behind the  building the side of Iverna Court and the fire escape stairs which snake up the pitched roof allowing access from windows and precarious looking doorways? I checked and it’s still there today.

Kensington High Street 129 October 1961 midday K61-1014

This is the start of the Promenade,an 1890s development of shops and offices built by our old friend cheese magnate Jubal Webb, a rare example of a developer demolishing his own house along with the others in the Terrace  (follow the link for more on the houses that used to be there). We’ll be following the Promenade down the High Street in a moment but before we do there’s another matter.

Just visible on the left is one of the signs for Pontings, the first of the three great department stores of Kensington High Street to disappear. Most of the rest of the pictures in this post come from the 1970s like this one from May 1976.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-29

Ponting’s is being demolished.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-93

And there it was gone.

Not that its final years had been glorious.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729

In 1971 the letters of the signs had all been pulled out and you were left with a discount shop called the Kensington SuperStore.

There is a bit of a human drama in that picture to distract us form the sad fate of Ponting’s.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729 detail

The woman on the left is flagging down a taxi with her arm outstreched. But behind her the younger woman is also making a gesture which might be an attempt to sneak in first, or exasperation on account of her prior claim. We’ll never know who got the cab, but nice flares, Madam.

Now back to 1976. I had just left college and spent the summer in balmy Kensal Rise. A group of us spent many afternoons in that memorable summer around the open air swimming pool in Willesden. But by November I had a job in Soho so I was probably hardly ever in Kensington High Street where John Rogers was taking these pictures.

Kensington High Street 129-137 south side looking west 1976 KS4285

Hope Brothers have been replaced by Paige Gowns (Ladies fashions). It’s hard to make out all the shops’ names at this size of image but I’ve looked at Kelly’s Directory for this year so I can tell you that you have Barratts (shoes), Etam (more ladies wear), Salisbury’s (handbags and fancy goods, with the Anglo-Austrian Society on one of the floors above), a boutique called Magique, the Village Gate (menswear), Saxone (shoes again – before the internet shoe shops were like a virus on any high street), the once ubiquitous Ratners (jewellry) and a Dorothy Perkins (ladies outfitters).

I have some more pictures taken of this section by John Rogers but not dated so there are a few discrepancies but I’m sure they’re from the same period.

Kensington High Street 135-145 K2275C

In this pair of images you can see a Jean Machine and a shop called Woodhouse have slotted themselves in, along with the flash of a Citroen which looks like a retro car of the future speeding by.

Kensington High Street 139-149 K2279C

These two images give you an idea of the complex repeating pattern of rooftops on the Promenade. I’m repeating myself here but the Survey of London gives the best description: “orthodox, restless, ornamental”, three adjectives that cannot be bettered.

This one takes it to the last peak of the Promenade:

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C

Mindels (more leather goods – did these people never tire of leather?), the Downtown boutique, Ravel (more shoes) and between them a shop with a blank front which at maximum magnification looks to me like an electronics or hi-fi shop.

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C - Copy

Are those LPs on a rack on the left of the entrance? You can also see a woman lifting a pram onto the kerb, and what looks like a woman being acosted by a man slouching in the entrance to Downtown. At the right a woman crosses the darkened passageway which leads into Adam and Eve Mews, where the Society for Psychical Research had its home for many years.

We’re moving beyond the Promenade proper now but I think it’s worth it.

Kensington High Street 161 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4290

To see Dolcis (a shoe shop next to another shoe shop), Dixons, Brentford Nylons (a name I recall from frantic ads on radio for a shop where people with odd tastes could buy nylon sheets, among many other man made products). Kelly’s reveals a few of the businesses upstairs: Peterjohn Import-Export Ltd (a front for MI5?), Centre Girl (employment agency), Sartorius Fashions Ltd (importers), Porten’s Secretarial College, Barber, May and Carstairs (auctioneers) and Naftamondial UK Ltd (petroleum traders) to name a few. These names bring back a whole way of life – office workers toiling in smoke filled rooms on obscure tasks, bosses dictating to secretaries and lots of paper files – which must have gone by now, although there must still be small businesses in those buildings.

We’re heading for a particular shop now at 191-195. Let’s have a close up of someone on the street first.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291 detail

This young woman with her big collar and cuffs is sticking stamps on a letter for the post box behind her. She has a hair style I remember well, although I haven’t been able to discover if it has a name.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291

Along with a kebab resturant, another jeans boutique, a building society  and positively the last shoe shop of the day (K, not named for Kafka’s hero I expect, but imagine Kafka writing a story about a street where you could only buy shoes) is Pettits (of Kensington, general drapers).

For those of you who didn’t know Pettits was the other shop after the three department stores whose name has lingered on in people’s memories, and I am often asked about it. Let’s go in.

Pettits interior 1977 K4150-C

As you can see, Pettits was the home of many racks of ladies garments and accessories. Can you see the half-obscured sign next to the pillar? Upstairs: Corsets, Coats, Dresses, Millinery (maybe ) and Underwear (or Nightwear?). Habadashery and Soft Furnishings somewhere else .It looks to me like a shop for ladies of a certain age. Those corsets were not the modern fashion items, they were just foundation garments if I’ve got the term correct. And this is 1977, the year of the closing down sale when my future wife was dragged down there by her mother. She bought a purple dressing gown.

Pettits had survived its larger rivals but eventually succombed to economuic forces. I’m only featuring one picture because there are several more which might make a post of their own in the future.

So let’s go home. Walk back up the High Street to the tube through the picturesque arcade we can still enjoy today.

Kensington Arcade 1981 K6653-B

The High Street went through a rough patch a few years ago but now looks to be thriving again. These are the current shops on the Promenade: Oliver Bonas, East, Vince Camuto (shoes!), EE, The Body Shop, Phones 4U,  Aldo, an empty property, O2, The Kooples, Calzedonia, Russell Bromley (shoes) Orogold, Muji, Vision Express, another empty one and Hotel Chocolat (my favourite, obviously). More phones than shoes. The roofline is still restless after all these years.

A modern view:

DSC_5548 - Copy

One big difference – trees.

DSC_5553 - Copy

And it’s not usually as quiet as this. I took these pictures on a Saturday morning.

Postscript

This week’s post is the 206th post published but it’s the 200th written by me so it’s a personal milestone. When someone asked for an idea back in 2011 and I said “I’ll write a blog.” I never imagined that I would be able to find 200 topics to write about in the last (nearly) four years and still not have exhausted the collection or my desire to write about it. When I started, I ran at it picking off the best subjects, Hedderly, Cremorne etc not at all concerned with making them last. I now know that Burgess and Ascroft and Rush could easily have had several posts each like Markino and Menpes. Maybe they will yet. Other subjects really only get one shot, so you have to get it right.

With some posts you know there’s going to be a great deal of interest – anything to do with the Lots Road Power Station for example, or the lost streets of the World’s End. Some posts surprise you. I would never have guessed at the perennial popularity of the West London Air Terminal. (So I’m relieved that I just about nailed that one.)

The big breakthrough I suppose was Linley Sambourne. I knew those pictures were good. It was a few years before the blog that I scanned them during a period when I discovered the pleasures of digitisation. I knew they would be useful one day and if I found the right angle would reach a lot of people. The success of those posts and others taught me to follow my instincts. And all the years of looking at pictures trying to see their stories have paid off. Blogging about our Local Studies collection has been both a pleasure for me and has taken the collection out of the archive room and picture chests into the big wide world, finding a gratifyingly large audience.  I’m lucky to have ended up where I am today, showing people things they’ve never seen before and above all learning, finding interesting things, becoming obsessed with them and then saying: look at this.

So thank you to everyone who’s read the blog, regularly or occasionally, made comments (Michael, Chris and Debbie to name only the most frequent), subscribed, followed us on Twitter, pressed the like button, and shared with us – pictures or memories. Without you it really wouldn’t work.

And I haven’t forgotten my guest bloggers – Isabel Hernandez, Lucy Yates and the eminent historian Jonathan Oates, who have all made valuable contributions and given me much needed breathing space. Special thanks to them for their support and to the other members of my team – Tim Reid, Kim Smith and Katrina Wilson (who has now gone on to higher things). And as long as I’m thanking people my wife Cathryn and my son Matthew who have had to put up with me tapping away on my laptop at all hours. And can I just thank…… no, really, I’ve stopped now, honest.

The reader - Copy

Hugh Thomson – my latest obsession. More of him soon.


Fiction in Kensington and Chelsea 3: Offshore

When I do these posts about fiction set in Kensington and Chelsea I’m normally scrabbling around for pictures to go with the text but this post came about because there were plenty of pictures of the specific location.

Chelsea Reach houseboats 1975 Bignell

A view of the houseboats at Chelsea Reach, with both Battersea and Albert Bridges in the background (even the distant chimneys of Battersea Power Station). A quinessentially Chelsea view from 1975. Chelsea reach was one of the subjects of James Hedderly’s early photography, and the location of the Greaves Boatyard, where the artist Walter Greaves painted and got some mentoring from one of his customers James McNeil Whistler. By the time John Bignell took this photograph the boating on the Reach was all residential.

The writer Penelope Fitzgerald had gone by then  but the experience of living on one of the boats had left its mark and she used the enclave of houseboats as the setting for her Booker-winning novel Offshore.

3525366652_e673e3f1cc

This is the cover of the first hardback edition, a view which would be quite familiar to readers of this blog as it shows the main landmark looking in the other direction, Lots Road Power Station.

Chelsea Reach 1960s jb334 - Copy

I’ve cropped this Bignell picture to show the whole sweep of the view looking west as the river curves towards Wandsworth. The houseboats are just visible on the right.

In real life Fitzgerald lived in the last boat along which was called Grace, nearest the offices of the Chelsea Boat Company. She lived there with her semi-estranged husband and their two daughters – there was also a son, away at boarding school. He was not surprised apparently to not find himself depicted in the book. The heroine Nenna James lives with her daughters Martha and Tilda in a fictional boat also called Grace – her husband in in Stoke Newington, a far away part of London in the early sixties.

The houseboats would eventually become fashionable and sought after locations but for the author and her fictional alter ego they were quite grim. This was a time in Fitzgeralds’s life when she had very little money.

Houseboats

At low tide, the boats sat on the smelly Thames mud the and residents weren’t supposed to use the toilets. At high tide they were afloat, not always a comfortable position:

At that moment Lord Jim was disturbed from stem to stern by an unmistakeable lurch….she seemed to shake herself gently, and rose. The tide had lifted her.

Cheyne Walk - looking east, riverside 1972

On every barge on the Reach a very faint ominous tap, no louder than the door of a cupboard shutting, would be followed by louder ones from every strake, timber and weatherboard, a fusillade of thunderous creaking, and even groans that seemed human.

Cheyne Walk - looking east, riverside 1972 (2)

These two pictures taken by John Rogers in 1972 depict that sense of being cut off by water. The passing vehicles on Cheyne Walk might have little sense of the little world on the water beside them.

Cheyne Walk - looking west from Riley Street 1970 KS 1946

Fitzgerald depicts a dislocated, melancholy community on the houseboats, shrouded in fog, both literal and metaphoric, which Bignell does justice to in this picture:

Chelsea Reach in fog Bignell 94

For the two girls Martha and Tilda the foreshore at low tide is a kind of playground.

houseboats and goose 1968 jb213

Not wanting to compete with local children from Partisan Street (Dartrey Street) for  coins, medal and lugworms they go on expeditions across the bridge to the other side of the river. On one occasion they go with a handcart to scavenge the wreck of a Thames barge. They look for tiles in the mud.

Tilda lay full length on a baulk of timber…..far beyond the point at which the mud became treacherous..she stood poised on the handlebars of a sunken bicycle.

She retrieves two tiles which turn out to be by de Morgan. They take them to an antique dealer at a shop called Le Bourgeous Gentilhomme where they get three pounds, a decent sum for two young girls in 1961.

Bignell depicts some equally dangerous play on the river.

Chelsea Reach 1960s Bignell 81

Near the end of the novel the small family have a visitor, a teenage boy from Vienna called Heinrich. The girls take him to the King’s Road, up Partisan Street – a rough place..the refuge of crippled and deformed humanity – which Tilda no longer fears, past the Moravian burial ground where they tell him the urban myth about the Moravians being interred in a standing position, “so on Judgement Day they can rise straight upward.” (Not true by the way – every so often I have to deny it). The King’s Road is already like a gypsy encampment, another life compared to their impoverished life on the barge.

Nenna and her daughters eventually go to live with her sister in Canada. In the last chapter a storm hits the river and two of the other characters find their boat slipping its moorings and heading into the river, as good a way to end as any.

I haven’t found a picture of stormy weather on the river but here’s one of Bignell’s elegant views looking east.

Albert Bridge (2)

Fitzgerald turned her experience of comparative poverty into a sucessful book. In 1979 she won the Booker Prize against the odds. (There’s a fascinating account of the TV coverage in Hermione Lee’s excellent 2013 biography of Fitzgerald). So for her at least her life on the houseboats at Chelsea Reach turned out well.

I once saw the actress Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan!) disembarking from one of the houseboats in the more fashionable 1980s. That would be another story.

Battersea Bridge - looking east from Cheyne Walk 1970 KS 1926

Postscript

The photographs were by John Bignell and John Rogers, both mainstays of the blog. Thanks particularly to John Rogers for his many contributions to the Local Studies collection.


Forgotten streets of Chelsea

I’ll have to start by qualifying that title. Chelsea people have long memories so I should really say streets forgotten by some people. For others the streets demolished in 1969/70 to clear the area for the building of the World’s End Estate will never be forgotten, and for others still the act of demolition never be forgiven. But for those of you who don’t remember, or those who never knew let me just say there was an enclave of streets in the west of Chelsea which no longer exist. This 1935 map shows them and gives you the roll call of streets which have passed into history.

1935 OS map X29 World's End streets - Copy

Raasay Street, Bifron Street, Vicat Street, Dartrey Road, Seaton Street, Luna Street – all gone now, and somehow the names themselves are redolent of another time and an older, slightly rougher version of Chelsea. The stub of Blantyre Street lingers on at the edge but you can see that the five (or six) sided shape is now a sunken island among the more familiar names like Edith Grove and Cremorne Road.

Our photographer John Rogers went down there in 1969 and caught those streets in their final transition from a living neighbourhood to an empty shell. You may have seen pictures of some of these streets before. (I did a post on the general history of the World’s End). But this post is purely concerned with the last days of these almost forgotten World’s End streets.

World's End looking north 1969 KS1913

1969. Look at that woman waiting to use the phone. If she could step into 2014 and stand in pretty much the same spot she would see more or less the same buildings. But if she turned around and looked behind her…

St John's Church World's End 1969 KS1848

She would see St John’s Church and Mission Hall at the intersection of Blantyre Street and Dartrey Road. If she looked to her left and she could see Blantyre Street.

Blantyre street looking east 1969 KS 1878

A street full of parked cars which leads tothe last few numbers of Cheyne Walk. (What’s that large one on the right?)

Check the map. You can turn right from Blantrye Street into Seaton Street.

Seaton St looking south 1969 KS 1896

The tree at the end is on the embankment overlooking the houseboats.

Seaton St east side 1969 KS 1900

In Seaton Street there’s all sorts of semi-erased football graffitti on the wall next to the Chelsea Corner Cupboard including the incomplete inscription Osgood Aven(u)e which must be a reference to Peter Osgood. (“Osgood is God” vied with “Clapton is God” as mottos on the wall  back in 1969)

Behind Seaton Street was Luna Street,

Luna St West side 35-37 1069

where you could still kick a ball down the street if you wanted to. Dartrey Road ran north to south.

Dartrey road looking south 1969 KS 1832

Those tower blocks in the distance are on the Battersea side of the river. Running west from Dartrey Road was the oddly named Raasay Street.

Raasay Street south side 1969 KS1790

Here you can see the first signs of demolition. This is a closer view of the same scene.

Raasay St north side 1969 KS 1793

Mixed rags and scrap metal still available.

In Bifron Street houses were already vacated.

Bifron street looking West 1969 KS 1795
Some signs of a road closure as a truck gets ready to go.  And below, the interior of a house is laid bare.

BIfron street north side 1969 KS1798

In Vicat Street (Vicat sounds like the name of a dissolute Victorian aristocrat) the process is further along.

Vicat St North side 1969 KS 1813

You can almost smell the dust rising in this picture and the ones below.

Vicat St South Side 1969 KS 1807

Wallpaper is still visible on the walls of those exposed rooms, and debris in the street.

Vicat St South side 1969 KS 1810

The empty A F Stokes shop, along with some more unsuccessfully executed football related graffitti. It all looks quite forlorn.

So let’s go back, away from the devastation. If that woman is still in the phone box she can look west and see this view.

Dartrey terrace 1969 KS 1845

Still a little life left in those World’s End streets. The corner of a pre-war car, second hand goods, fish and chips plus whatever they sold at Gandalf’s Garden. All gone, not so very long after these pictures were taken.

Postscript

Don’t think I’m down on the World’s End Estate. I’ve been inside and there are some very nice flats there. And the view is astonishing. I’ve no doubt that living conditions some of the houses in the demolished streets must have been pretty grim. But there is aways a price to be paid for development.


The Chelsea Murders: fiction in Kensington and Chelsea 2

Lionel Davidson was a famous writer in his day, although not much mentioned these days. Many of his books are still in print though. He was big in the 60s. He wrote what you might call international thrillers -The Night of Wenceslas (1960) set in cold war Czechoslovakia, The Rose of Tibet (1962) set in India and Tibet and A long way to Shiloh (1966) set in Israel and Jordan. They were all bestsellers. The paperbacks were published by Penguin which made them look serious, like Len Deighton novels. (People sometimes forget now how innovative and influential Deighton was with books such as the Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain). Davidson himself is a literary ancestor of the modern authors of spy novels and techo-thrillers.

Chelsea Murders 01 - Copy (2)

The covers of his books from the 60s and 70s tell their own story:

LionelDavidson covers

In the centre a classic Penguin crime cover – green for crime. On the left a later Penguin edition typical of the early 70s – the arty but somewhat gratuitous notion of a map projected on a naked body was used on a series of Davidson novels. On the right the semi-surreal hardback cover for the Sun Chemist also typical of books from Jonathan Cape

In 1978 Cape published another Davidson crime thriller (with a tasteful cover ) in another exotic setting – The Chelsea Murders.

Chelsea Murders 01 - Copy - Copy

The novel begins with a lone woman who is surprised by a grotesquely masked man and killed. But she is not the first victim.

Unknown woman from JB2 02

Previously another woman was murdered in Jubilee Place, and a man in Bywater Street.

Jubilee Place 17817 23

The police begin to wonder if  a maniac is killing people in Chelsea.

I have read that Davidson never visited Chelsea before writing the book and employed researchers to get the local colour. He lived in Israel by this time so his own knowledge of London may be a little out of date – for example there’s no mention in the book of the punk scene which would have been well established by 1978.

There are some scenes set in Chelsea Library. In the book it’s the reference library at the old Chelsea Library in Manresa Road (well before my time although I have been in the old reference libary with its dark curving shelves and balcony). Here it is in a picture from the 50s 0r early 60s:

Manresa Road- ref - Copy

Several characters visit the library where Brenda the library assistant supplies information about famous local residents to a police detective. Mason notices her shelving – “Very nice bird,(he) thought. Victorian looking, yellow hair, parted in the middle; something a bit classical happened to it at the back.” Artie Johnson who will become one of the suspects notices Brenda in the first few pages of the and notes that she had “the look of a Pre-Raphaelite chick.”

Unfortunately for the police Brenda also tells Mary Mooney, an ambitious young reporter following the case (and are there any other kinds of journalists in thrillers?), and some of the suspects. One of those two women ends up in the killer’s sights but I won’t give away which one.

The exterior of the 1890s building, which you can still see today in Manresa Road:

Library exterior - Copy

When ITV did an adaptation of the book, those scenes were filmed in the new Chelsea Library at Chelsea Old Town Hall. I was already working for the Libraries then, and several years later I was reference librarian there, so whatever Davidson’s personal experience of Chelsea was, I feel like this is a book set more or less  in my own habitat.

There are some characters familiar from the 60s and 70s:

Filming under Battersea Bridge 1970 jb63b - Copy

A group of former art students who are making a film. Two of them and their mentor, a sleazy academic become the main suspects in the series of murders in which it seems that the killer is choosing his victims by their initials which match the names of some of those famous residents.

Rossetti VAW

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (hence the painting on the cover of the book) is the first of the series which also features James McNeill Whistler, Algernon Swinburne, Leigh Hunt, AA Milne, W S Gilbert and even Oscar Wilde.

DGR was a woman murdered and dumped in the river. Ogden Wu, the owner of a slightly seedy shop selling denim in all its forms like in this market off the King’s Road is one of the later victims:

Chelsea Village Market 1970 - Copy

One of the desperate film makers works for Wu and finds himself even more deeply embroiled in the investigation after his boss’s death.

The police fixate on the suspects fairly early on. They trail them around, create a card index for the case (no mention of a computer in the book), even consult a reference book at the library to trace the provenance of a poem.

As you might expect they spend some time in one of the famous Chelsea pubs of thr era.

Chelsea Potter

Some of the language in the book has dated in a way which modern readers might find distasteful. The character Artie Johnson, the producer of the film is described (by a tabloid journalist ) as “a spade..a real one, all black” and Mooney thinks of him as “a long black cat, his golliwog smile in place under his beehive” (afro, presumably). That’s a phrase you couldn’t use (and wouldn’t want to) these days, but in 1978 casual racism was still prevalent in life as well as literature. The author was not of course necessarily endorsing the attitudes of his characters. Thrillers from previous eras exhibit many archaic attutudes whether it’s the off putting right wing opinions of Dennis Wheatley or the less offensive 1930s mannerisms of Michael Innes. The modern reader has to tread carefully when reading and the modern blogger when recommending books.

In fact I’m not sure whether I’d actually recommend the Chelsea Murders to anyone who wasn’t interested in the Chelsea setting. The local colour is the thing. It’s not quite the 1978 I remember, but then Chelsea in those days probably still contained pockets of previous eras.

Also, the serial killer genre has moved on since 1978 for better or worse. Davidson’s book is also a traditional whodunnit and the two genres don’t work very well together. The motivation of the killer is rather perfunctory and  you get the impression that he is simply play acting.

Although, like the Chelsea Murders, that can sometimes be effective:

Satan triumphant 1958 - Copy

And there is a decent twist at the end.

Postscript

The last picture is unmistakeably one of John Bignell’s arty but playful images, called Satan triumphant (1958). As with many of his pictures there’s no hint as to why it was taken. Some of the other pictures in this post are also by Bignell.

I’ve been tinkering with this post for weeks and reading the book in installments (I hate being obliged to read a book even when it was my own idea) so I’m glad to finally put it to bed. I hope it was worth the effort.


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