Tag Archives: kensington

In Estella’s house

In the previous post  about Estella Canziani I showed you some  of the pictures she painted or drew of the garden and the area around the house she lived in for her whole life. This week we’re continuing the story with more pictures inside the house in Palace Green. In 1967, shortly after her death a newspaper described her as the Bird Lady, an eccentric old woman still wearing the fashions of her youth and the house as a shambles infested by birds and other small animals. It seems a shame that people are often judged by how they were (or might have been) at the end of their lives. When a life is finished we are free to look at the whole story, see the whole pattern  and pick the greatest hits. No doubt the house in Palace Green was a bit of a mess but you could also choose to view it as a collection of wonders, mundane and exotic and a kind of wonderland. A lively little girl grew up to be a talented artist. She filled the house with mementos of her life and travels. Given her interest in folklore and fairies and the proximity of faery-infested Kensington Gardens you could imagine her house as a gateway into a world of wonders.

Corridor at 3 Palace Green Cpic 581 00002_1 - Copy

The corridor at the rear of the house looking out onto the garden. Estella painted it more than once.

Corridor at 3 Palace Green with Mrs Squeaky from round about book

In this version, taken from her memoirs she has included Mrs Squeaky, a companion of hers for thirteen years. Estella was encouraged in her love of animals by her mother and the family pets included dogs, cat and rats but above all birds. Mrs Squeaky, an Indian Tumbler actually came from a shop where Estella found her in a tiny cage too small to turn around in: “I bought her for one-and-sixpence, and in three months she was a different bird, flying after me up the long corridor and then walking into the studio. She was called Mrs Squeaky because she invented a special squeaky coo for me.”

This is a photo of that same long corridor.

Corridor at 3 Palace Green fp

So too, I think is this.

Corridor at 3 Palace Green K69-112

But who’s that at the end of the corridor glimpsed like a secret inhabitant of the maze? We’ve met her before in the preview post where we saw her in a painting looking out of a room.

Here she is taking centre stage.

Staircase at 3 Palace green Cpic 564 00002 - Copy (2)

Florence, the housemaid again, probably well used to Estella’s ways by now.

As was Mrs Squeaky.

LW_KCLS_1461

Posing on the sofa.

I think this is the same window. The house seems to have been full of objects, vases, glassware and ornaments collected from a wide variety of sources across Europe.

LW_KCLS_545

And paintings, on the wall and stacked up on the floor.

Studio at 3 Palace Green K68-116

Paintings Estelal collected, and her own work, scattered about the place.

Studio at 3 Palace Green K68-117

It must sometimes have been a relief to relax in the conservatory.

Conservatory at 3 Palace Green Cpic570

Or just sit in front of the fire.

Fireplace at 3 Palace Green Cpic 583 00001

Estella’s memoirs also feature a few family photographs. Here she is in the garden with her father.

Canziani p50 photos 02

One of the items donated to the Library by the trustees of Estella’s estate was a small family album featuring a series of pictures taken when she was very young. As we started with Estella as an old woman let’s finish with her as that lively little girl whose imagination encompassed the house and the whole world outside it.

Young Estella Plate 12

 

Postscript

This is another bookplate, probably a little earlier than the one in the previous post.

 

Bookplate 70-123

As a professional hoarder I imagine that those who come after me might be appalled by the accumulation of stuff I left behind. But I like to think some of it might be just as interesting as the contents of Estella’s house.


Modern life in Kensington:1937

This week we’re going back to that house we caught a glimpse of in the post about two photographs from the 1860s. In the course of the research about them I came across not only an estate agent’s brochure for the house but also a hand written mock-up of the brochure from Chesterton’s, who have been long established in Kensington.

This week’s pictures are not of the same house though, not really, because in 1937 when it went on the market the Victorian suburban villa had been turned into an ultra-modern town house, with every new convenience. It was “a model example of the art of reconstruction, combing all the advantages of the old and new; with every possible labour-saving refinement.” They always say that though, don’t they? Let’s go on a tour and see for ourselves.

Front view - loose photo

The house was re-modelled according to the design of George Grey Wornum, a leading architect of the day, now remembered best for the RIBA building in Portland Place, and the interior of the ocean liner the Queen Mary. One of the pieces about him I read called him something like a progressive traditionalist. You can see that. It looks like a 30s building but not nearly as radical as say the two houses in Chelsea Old Church Street we looked at last year.

Inside the prospective buyer could see some understated luxury.

Drawing Room 02

One end of the drawing room, with its “recessed hardwood staircase providing additional access from the dining room ..and leading to the south terrace.”

The view of the other end of the room shows “the maximum natural light” (the 20s and 30s were the era when people really began to appreciate , and even worship sunlight”. This “superb room” is “of a height quite unusual in a modern London house and, while homely, is suitable for receiving 150 guests”. Not that homely then.

Drawing Room 01

In those days you also had a library, “panelled in a rich brown walnut” with “large concealed cupboards built in.”

Library - Study

There’s another example of a library in a 30s conversion here.

“The casement door leads to the garden beyond.”

Garden view - loose photo

“Campden Hill is quiet and healthy” Far from the madding crowds of Kensington High Street down the hill but still convenient for the shops. The three big stores on the high street all owned by the John Barker company by this time were in their heyday in the 30s.

rear view showing terraces

“The Terrace is electrically lit”. The door on the left is the Library. The other three open off the drawing room. Note the sun terrace on the second floor, another favourite feature of the sun worshippers.

Far end of the garden

The far end of the garden “contains an Italian pool and a delightful sunken rose garden, overlooked by a small summer house.”

You could have quite exhausted yourself by this point, trekking to the rear of the property. Just have a quick look at some of the “fittings and equipment”:

Boiler

“The Iron Fireman Stoker fitted to the Boilers is Thermostatically controlled and stokes automatically for weeks on end with no labour other than the simple operation of the removal of clinker.” Sounds great. Just get the parlour maid some overalls and she can do it. She can relax afterwards in the Servants  Sitting Room.

“The house is centrally heated on the Panel System. Electric Power Points are also provided in every room.”

There’s more natural light in the dining room through the “glazed ornament cases”. The artificial lights are “cleverly concealed in ceiling and cornice”.

Dining Room

Here’s the view of the dining room from the hall.

Hall

At this point in the tour you’ll want to have a look upstairs, via the “circular sweep of the landing”.

1st floor landing

And we can relax in the principal bedroom.

Principal bedrom 01

It’s another nice large room, with a shiny ceiling.

Principal bedrom 02

You get a rug by the fireplace with its own sheep.

The suite is completed by a large dressing room, two bathrooms in pastel shades and a wardrobe corridor, its walls lined with seven completely fitted and automatically lit lady’s wardrobes (gentleman’s wardrobes are in the dressing room).

Principal bedrom 03

Is that the door to the wardrobe corridor? Some nice padding there. If you get lost in there, the maids’ bedroom (for four occupants) is also on this floor, with their own bathroom in a seperate corridor. An improvement on the attic, no doubt.

I certainly wouldn’t complain. Just take the weight off your feet before you go.

cover - sitting room

Postscript

The house is still there, in Upper Phillimore Gardens with some alterations to the front (and possibly many inside). Apart from the other links I’ve inserted you could also have a look at some slightly earlier “modern” interiors added to the gothic mansion known as the Abbey, which was just down the hill. There are some colour pictures of 1930s interiors here.

A couple of days ago we had a launch for our World War 1 exhibition which will travel around libraries, schools and community centres in the Borough over the next few months. My tanks to everyone who made it happen. For those of you who won’t get to see it, much of the material we used, from our archives, and contributions from local people, is also on our Great War website: http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk. Have a look.

Postscript to the postscript – April 1st

I’ve just looked at a copy of Trystan Edwards’s Good and bad manners in architecture (1924) courtesy of my colleagues at Westminster Central Reference Library. It contained a picture of the house prior to Wornum’s remodelling. Here it is:

15 Upper Phillimore Gardens from Food and bad manners in archittecture - Edwards 1924 p138 captioned a house designed by Ruskin - Copy

It’s the gothic one. If you remember this was also discussed in the post Two streets in Kensington. Thanks to Susie H for retrieving the book.


Two streets in Kensington

Now, I had intended to do something colourful this week and get away from the zooming in on old photographs thing but this matter came up and the more I looked at it the more interesting it seemed (to me at least). So bear with me, and cast your minds back to the first of the short posts I did for Christmas. The one featuring these two photographs.

Unknown street number one:

Kensington unknown street 01

And unknown street number two:

Kensington unknown street 02

I invited readers to  identify the streets. One guess was incorrect but the second which recently came in was spot on. Number one is Argyll Road and number two is Upper Phillimore Gardens. These streets are located only minutes from where I’m sitting writing this and as you can see from this map detail are joined at a right angle:

1862 OS map VI88 detail of Upper Phillimore Gardens and Argyll Road

The red spots indicate the houses visible at the ends of the two streets. (I would be hovering somewhere in or over the buildings at the southern end of the big garden you can see on the right.)

To verify the identification I looked for some other later images of the two streets, first in our postcard collection. This is a picture of Argyll Road:

Argyll Road PC180 - Copy

The viewpont is further up the hill I think so the slope as shown by the garden walls on the right is accentuated. The house at the end (which is located in Upper Phillimore Gardens of course) looks more or less the same, although some alterations may have been made in what might 30 years or more between the images.

I think this picture might be closer to the first one:

Argyll Road PC775 - Copy

Let’s take a moment to zoom in on this incident packed image.

Argyll Road PC775 detail 01

You have a girl looking at the photographer, a couple of men, a cart, a woman walking away, and a dog keeping an eye on the scene.

Now compare those pictures with a couple I took myself:

DSC_5189 Argyll Road - Copy

We won’t make too much of all the parked cars. It’s just something the modern photographer has to put up with. You can see that the house, which looks quite similar to the one in the older photographs has had some extensive work done to it. My colleague K looked it up on the Council website and found an extensive planning history not uncommon in the Campden Hill area. But the shape of the house and its position in the street are sufficiently similar to identify it as the same building.

DSC_5191 Argyll Road - Copy

If you walk up the hill and turn left (west) , you’re in Upper Phillimore Gardens.

Upper Phillimore Gardens PC467 - Copy

The postcard, once again about 30 years later than the sepia print was taken from a viewpoint further  back but it’s recognizeably the same tranquil street. The trees have had some years to grow but it still looks like the same peaceful (and affluent) backwater. Here it is now:

DSC_5195  Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy

A rather less uniform lines of fences and walls.

DSC_5196  Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy

The house at the end of course is on Phillimore Gardens, which runs south to Kensington High Street. Here it is in the orginal picture:

Kensington unknown street 02 - Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy (3)

Some changes to the facade obviously, but essentially the same structure. (These things can be deceptive of course. I know a house in the Brompton area which was completely demolished and a copy of it built on the same site. If it wasn’t for the photos of the empty site you could have mistaken the copy for the original. I might tell you that story one day.)

So we’re done then. Streets identified, problem solved. That’s true but I think that time spent looking at old photographs is never wasted. The first time I looked at picture number 2 I was intent on the woman, who both dates the image and gives it some character. I honestly never noticed that guy on the left.

Kensington unknown street 02 - Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy

The tall hat gives him a distinctly mid-Victorian look. And what’s he up to? It almost looks as if he’s watching the woman on the other side of the road.  Are we in The Crimson Petal and the Rose territory? Well let’s not get carried away. There’s another interesting detail in the picture, an architectural feature.

Kensington unknown street 02 - Upper Phillimore Gardens - Copy (2)

This slice of an ornate facade is described in Charles Eastlake’s A history of the Gothic Revival: The front is of red brick, with stepped gables. A picturesque staircase turret is on the right hand of the building, and a Venetian-looking balcony projects from one of the windows. As K read the words out loud I thought that was the last piece of evidence we needed to identify the street. Photographs of this house are evidently rare. The Survey of London didn’t have one and referred to a 1924 edition of another book. I’m trying to get to see that. The reason for the rarity is that the house was extensively remodelled in a modern style in 1937. When I went looking I found some pictures of that version of the building and, you’ve guessed it, they will form the basis of another post. This of course is one of the benefits of doing a little bit of research to confirm an identification.

Postscript

Not too obsessive for you I hope. The credit for identification (and thanks) should go to reader Sebastian S who set the ball rolling. I’m still not sure where the two photographs came from but I’m glad to make the most of them.

Next week, postively, definitely something different from zooming in on old photographs, as much as I like that. And apologies to Camilla. I promised her a Chelsea post this week. Definitely next week!

 


Haigh – A handsome stranger arrives at your hotel

This week we have a returning guest blogger, crime writer Dr Jonathan Oates whose most recent book is about another murderer with Kensington connections.
cover

Imagine this: you are staying in a hotel in London as a permanent guest. Although flying bombs and V2 rockets are raining down on London – this being the autumn of 1944 – and despite the more mundane difficulties of rationing, petrol and clothing restrictions, life isn’t too bad. Of course it was better before the war…however, the hotel, the Onslow Court Hotel, is located in a fashionable part of London; namely south Kensington, where some of the old exclusiveness survives in an increasingly egalitarian world.

Onslow Court Hotel 109-113 Queen's Gate - Copy

Then one day a new guest arrives. He isn’t like the majority of guests. He’s male for a start and is young; a mere 35 years old. What strikes one immediately about him is how neat his appearance is. His shoes always shine and his black hair and neat little moustache is always glossy. He’s perhaps a little on the short size, about five feet six inches, but he’s always ready to smile and reveal his flawless white teeth. His clothing is immaculate, too. As one got to see him about the place, it was obvious that he had at least a dozen well made suits. He often wore a garment; perhaps socks or his tie, that was red. And he clearly had money; the hotel charges £5 5s per week plus a ten per cent service charge.

JGH - Copy
Now it might seem to the suspicious that he is a spiv, one of those black market merchants who knows how to make a quick profit certainly, but is socially uncouth and has little knowledge of the higher things in life. He’ll stay in the hotel for a few days or weeks and then scarper, dodging the hotel bills, no doubt, even though Miss Robbie, the manageress, is sharp enough.

Onslow Court Hotel

Well, my sceptical friend, you would be mistaken. He drinks but little. Some wine with dinner and a sherry beforehand, but never to excess and never beer. He doesn’t smoke much. He never swears or speaks loudly, he never turns up at odd hours having been to a night club. And he never loses his temper. Even when he accidentally knocked a woman wrist, spilling her drink and then having her stub out her cigarette on his hand, he was perfectly calm.

He is always at ease with all he meets, both staff and fellow guests. He can talk about many subjects. Classical music for one, and especially works by Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Mozart. He’s a good performer on the piano, too. He can discuss the Bible and religious topics and is always free with quotations from Ecclesiastes. Not that he’s a church goer, or tries to force his views on others. He can talk about engineering and various projects he’s working on.

You see, he’s an engineer by profession. The Liason Officer of Union Group Engineering, who used to operate from Eccleston Square. You know of them? No? Well, never mind. The place was bombed in the war, so the emergency war headquarters had to shift. They have branches all over the south of England, in Crawley, Horsham, Putney, places like that. Not that our new friend needs to soil his hands, which are, like the rest of his appearance, always spotless.

All this explains why he isn’t serving his country in His Majesty’s forces, as all young and healthy men should be. He’s working on a number of patents which will enable the war to be won sooner than otherwise, and that’s no bad thing. In any case, during the Blitz he was employed in fire watching down Victoria way.

Well, all this is very good, but where is he from? Who are his people and where was he educated? He doesn’t like to bore people too much with his autobiography, but he’s let a few things slip out into casual conversation over meals. He was born in Yorkshire, his father was a colliery manager and he was brought up in his parents’ faith, as a Plymouth Brethren. It had been a strict boyhood, having to follow the rules of the ‘Peculiar People’. But he had had a good education, attending Wakefield Grammar School and then taking a BsC degree at Leeds University.

Our friend often goes out to meet his friends. There was a young chap called McSwan, rather like him in some ways, and they often went to the Goat pub on the High Street. He went away after a while, though. I think it was Africa or was it America? Well, he was never mentioned again. Then there was that couple, Dr and Mrs Henderson. A smart pair, indeed, and from the same social strata as McSwan. They didn’t stay around too long and went to South Africa, I gather. However, their, and surely our, friend looked after their dog Pat for some time.

Donald McSwan

The one constant friend of his, who sometimes comes for tea – but never stays overnight of course – or even goes up to his room (no woman ever does) is Miss Stephens. Unkind people have mentioned that she’s half his age, but as he’s the perfect gentleman, that can never be an issue. He’s so attentive to her, advising her on her dress, her hair and make up, before taking her out to a concert at the Wigmore Hall, the Albert Hall or to the ballet, before escorting her parents’ home in Crawley. A delightful girl and a perfect couple.

I should add that he’s been seen with other young women in the evenings when he’s not seeing his young friend. Nothing wrong in that; his girl has a regular 9-5 office job and lives in Crawley, as I have said. He also writes each week to his parents in Leeds. Such a good boy.

Now I gather you have a little money to invest, and could do with a little extra income in these difficult times. I think John, that’s his name, would be more than happy to show you one of his new inventions down at his workshop in Crawley. He can drive you down in his Alvis sports car, you can see his plans there, perhaps have a quick bite to eat at The George there, and be back at the Onslow for a late dinner. Ready to accept the offer?

Mrs D-D 1

Had you done so, as did Mrs Henrietta Helen Olivia Robarts Durand-Deacon, aged 68 and a widow living at the hotel, you would never have left Crawley, alive or dead. The workshop is only a scruffy shed in a back street, in a yard full of rubbish. You would be shot, your body stripped of any valuables and tipped into a drum. He would then transfer acid there to dissolve your corpse, returning a few days later to throw what was left among the rubbish in the yard. There won’t even be a grave stone to mark your grave. You have ceased to exist because your killer, who has done this five times before, believes that if there’s no body a charge of murder cannot be made.

Crawley storehouse interior - Copy

John was John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer and alleged vampire who killed for money, but also a plausible and attractive man who was able to convince several people that he was their true friend. He was also a liar; who never attended university, wasn’t a leading light in a non-existent engineering company and had a substantial record for theft and forgery, as well as having abandoned his wife and baby daughter.

Read more about Haigh and those six people he slew – one being a former suffragette, another a homosexual with a criminal record, another was a man accused of murder, abortion, flagellation and drug dealing – in Dr Oates’ new book, John George Haigh: The acid Bath Murderer. A Portrait of a serial killer and his victims. This is the first book on the topic to be written with the benefit of police, prison and Home Office papers once closed to researchers.

Waxwork of Haigh at Madame Tussaud's - Copy

[Waxwork model of Haigh]

Postscript (DW)

Dr Oates (whom God  preserve) of Ealing will be giving a talk on Haigh in the historic lecture theatre at Kensington Central Library on March 12th. Admission is free. Further details here. Jonathan also contributed a post to the blog about John Reginald Christie.

The drawing of the Onslow Court Hotel is from the Local Studies collection. the black and white  photos are from The Trial of John George Haigh by Lord Dunboyne (William Hodge, 1953) which I found in the Biography Collection of Kensington Library.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slice of true crime. Next week,  a more uplifting topic, probably.


Forgotten buildings: The Terrace

The last couple of posts have been a bit of a departure from my recent blog activity, hanging around Kensington High Street. We’re back on track this week moving across Wright’s Lane from Scarsdale House to a forgotten group of buildings called the Terrace.

By the Terrace I mean 129-163 Kensington High Street. Here’s a panoramic view from 1978.

The Terrace - 129-163 Kensington High Street 1978 K3051-B

This is the southern side of Kensington High Street between where Boots is now, and Hotel Chocolat, or in 1978 the Adam and Eve pub which was then just to the west of the covered entrance to Adam and Eve Mews. You could get lost looking at shop names like Scotch House, Barratts, Jean Machine, Salisburys, Saxone, Dorothy Perkins and..er..Saxone (two of them, with different shop fronts?), and by all means do that. We’ll have a further look at the 70s shops of the High Street on another occasion but I wanted to show you this picture to say that’s all relatively modern stuff. It was built by our old friend Jubal Webb in the 1890s. The Survey of London with its usual ear for a telling phrase describes the Promenade as it was originally known as “an orthodox, restless, ornamental range  of shops and flats”. This tells you what you need to know (and it’s why I keep reading the small print in the Survey). I see those buildings every working day from the bus stop opposite and have become fascinated by the repeating pattern of the roof line.

But before the Promenade was the Terrace:

The Terrace Kensington High Street 19th C K62-194

The Terrace (or the Terrass as it was known in the 1760s) emerged piecemeal between the 1690s and the 1840s, a series of houses which grew together over the years. So not a classic terrace as we know them today but one of the first blocks of dwellings to have that term applied to them. The Survey also tells us that the original houses were “as commodious and respectable as any of their contemporaries in Kensington Square”. (We’ll get there another day.)

I used a couple of pictures of the Terrace by the H and R Stiles company in a previous post. This is number 1:

The Terrace 1 GN242

(If you do look back at that previous post you’ll see a crucial difference between the picture I used then and this one. ) Numbers 1, 2 and 3 were the oldest, dating back to the early 1690s although a little altered over the years.

This is number 2 and number 3.

The Terrace 2-3 GN246

The windows looked a little mismatched and the people at number 3 have left their gate open. The lamp post has the word Kensington above the light indicating that it was provided by the Kensington Vestry.

The slightly ramshackle quality continues as you go along the row.

The Terrace 4 GN243

Number 4 seems to have confusingly varied facades and more than one entrance.

Number 5 is a smaller house but still the work of Richard Beckington, the builder of the others.

The Terrace 5 GN247

Number 6 was added in 1718.

The Terrace 6 GN248

This was the home of the highly regarded Punch illustrator John Leech who died there in 1864 at the age of 47 after “a laborious life..the victim of overwork and an organisation morbidly sensitive to the small worries of town life, of spasm of the heart” according to Wilmot  Harrison in Memorable London Houses (1890)

A slouching youth lends some character to the photograph.

During the 19th century there was work on the facades and the gaps between the original houses were filled in by additional structures and some smaller houses. Other occupants of the Terrace included Sir Henry Cole and the artist David Wilkie.

However, I think the most interesting aspect of this group of houses is not what you saw from the High Street but what lay behind, where there were extensive gardens almost the length of Wright’s Lane and for the most part hidden behind high walls.

Here is Mr Leech’s garden.

Back of Leech's house 6 the Terrace GN40

The steps took you down into a large space where you could find some impressive trees.

Mulberry Tree behind the Terrace GN41

This one is a mulberry.

Willow tree in garden of 6 the Terrace GN95

This is a willow. Like at Scarsdale House these gardens show another kind of lifestyle. Their inhabitants enjoyed seclusion and leisure in large open spaces a little like those of the grand houses of Campden Hill.

There was also room for sport.

Garden behind the Terrace GN39

Is he trying to hit the gardener? Luckily he seems to be serving underarm.

You could of course just sit in your tranquil garden like the couple on the left.

Gardens behind the Terrace looking west GN108

Wait a moment. Who’s that?

Gardens behind the Terrace looking west Jubal Webb and wife GN108

It’s that man again, Jubal Webb, cheese magnate and owner of number two. Webb was a local vestryman and property developer. A slight hint of sleaze surrounds him but London was built in part by ambitious entrepreneurs like him. He does seem to have a gift for publicity though, and for sneaking in when you least expect him.

That would be it for the Terrace, except that I went looking for the original version of that panoramic view above and found it, more than a yard long.

It’s signed by Richard Stiles and dated 1892. At one end is a slightly clearer view of the woman in black I mentioned in the glass negative post.

The Terrace 9 detail from CPic092

Now that I’ve looked at a slightly clearer version I think she might be wearing a hat, which would make all the difference to her appearance and the conclusions you might draw about her. The condition of a print can completely alter a photograph, especially when you are dealing with details.

And at the other end there is a better view looking down Wright’s Lane, showing the shops on the corner.

The Terrace - Wright's Lane details of shops from CPic 092

You can see people heading down the road past the walls of Scarsdale House and in the foreground a slightly indistinct woman with a child in a pram is standing outside an early version of Derry and Toms. The lady with her back to us on the left is window shopping, her head hidden in the shadow of the awning on which the name Ponting’s can be seen. It’s another one of those images you’d like to step inside and have a look around.

Postscript

Once again I have benefited from close scrutiny of the relevant Survey of London volume. Along with the information I have also collected some descriptive phrases which are one of the pleasures of the Survey.

Next week I’m taking a week off as we have a guest blogger.

 


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.

Postscript

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.

Postscript

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.

 


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