Tag Archives: Kensington Church Street

Silver Street: Kensington Church Street part 4

For this final post on Kensington Church Street we’re in Silver Street, which, as I said last week, is the name by which the northern section of the street used to be known. Church Lane was the southern section. ( Or originally Love Lane according to some sources.)

This is number 118.

 

 

The home of one of Kensington’s local newspapers, (the other one was the Post although different names had been used over the years) at a time when the titles were independent.

Below, D C Monk and Sons at 132-134.

 

 

 

This was another one of those shops John Rogers seemed very taken with, and took several pictures of at different times and days. can you see the three balls above the awning? D C Monk was a traditional pawn brokers, and the three balls a traditional sign. The pawn broker could do business in any kind of neighbourhood, even next to a big residential property. (These pictures are from 1969.)

 

 

 

We actually starting to walk downhill at this point. I have some recollection of standing outside The Kensington Bookshop, below, window shopping, and I think it was a general bookshop. I can’t recall actually going inside though. I have a feeling that I would have been passing by on my way to Kensington Library and would already have been tired from that slight upward incline. This was 1980 so I could easily have been in the picture myself.

 

 

The shop was later taken by Adrian Harrington, a well know book dealer who, I met once, but who is sadly no longer with us. His brother Peter also sold or sells books and there are still shops bearing his name, one on the Fulham Road.

 

 

Farther along on the west side, another traditional style of shop, a large timber merchants, with two smaller businesses nestling under the main sign. Yes, at number 144 Bits and Pieces. Hello, are you looking for some bits? No today I thought I’d get some pieces. The big sign still exists.

 

 

The traffic heading south in this picture has come out of Kensington Mall through the odd one way system which takes southbound buses past the top of Church Street so they can turn into a narrow street and turn again before they can enter the street. A barrier planted with shrubs and a couple of small trees (these days) keeps vehicles from going the wrong way, or is it to stop them entering a one-way street the wrong way? Traffic experts can tell me if they wish.

 

 

From this point on Kensington Church street is northbound only and traffic is filtered either towards Central London or towards Shepherds Bush.

The east side of the street consists of a couple of modern buildings from the early 1960s when Notting Hill Gate was redeveloped. (There’s a post here)

Part of this building is a Post Office which is still in business.

 

Here is the actual corner, and a glimpse of Notting Hill Gate.

 

 

Before we take another look at Notting Hill Gate we need to go back to the west side of the street.

At number 113, Appel, a tailor.

 

 

And next door to him at 115, the Rowley Gallery, another survivor.

 

 

At this point the Gallery had a workshop nearby in Campden Street.

 

 

At the end of that block is number 119, the Churchill Arms, one of London’s most attractive pubs. My personal bible of Kensington history, the Survey of London tells us that although the pub is now associated with Winston Churchill ( a Freeman of the Borough, among other things), the name may originally derive from the descriptive phrase “church hill”. But we shouldn’t quibble.

Anyone who travels along this section will have noticed the new building rising behind boards and scaffolding between Edge Street and Kensington Place. It has one of those pointy designs over the glass facade.

This of course replaces what I now have to call a “forgotten building” although many of you will remember the building which was there before, at number 145. I did wonder if this wasn’t simply a case of a new facade over an older building but Google Maps has that excellent retrospective street view (a boon to local historians and many others I should think) which shows the absent building in May 2015.

 

 

The offices of Chapman Taylor Partners, architects, newly built in 1973 and shown in Architectural Review. Not perhaps to everyone’s taste, but many of the buildings at this end of the street were now modern, and although it might be stretching a point to call it “charming brutalist”, it was not too overwhelming for the neighbourhood.

 

 

A side view in Edge Street. We can even go inside and see architects drawing.

 

 

Below, some administrative offices viewed from “one of the secretary’s cubicles”.

 

 

And there’s the secretary busy typing and waiting for the phone to ring as they did in the 70s.

This 1961 picture shows a view of Notting Hill Gate, and the east side of the street as it had been 10 years before the 1971 pictures we’ve already seen.

 

 

You can see the tower, Newcombe House on the corner at the left of the picture. It’s a building which has not worn well over the years and it’s not long for this world if current development plans go through. (A decision is expected soon.)

But let’s finish with a view of Silver Street which won’t be superseded by events.

 

 

This pencil drawing by the artist Frank Emanuel captures the narrow version of Silver Street in the early years of the previous century. It’s always been one of my favourites. The figure of the woman is particularly good I think. I’ll come back to some of the artists who drew or painted this part of Kensington in a future post. But for now our journey is done.

Postscript

My absence the week before last was purely accidental. But I am about to take a couple of weeks off, and to maintain sanity at home, I will temporarily cease blogging. Hopefully new ideas will come bubbling forth in late August, and in the meantime I can point you to my extensive back catalogue of posts, more than 370 of them, on a variety of subjects

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Kensington Church Street: farther along

Resuming our progress up Kensington Church Street, we’re now round the corner now but still heading up the hill. This is the corner of another cul-de-sac, Melon Place

 

 

Numbers 62 and 64 date from the 1850s when the short street was originally laid out. Let’s take a peek down there.

 

 

You can just see the name Jay in the sign for Melvyn and Gary Jay (Antiques and Objet D’art) on the left. Up till this point there have been retail establishments on both side of the street, but now these alternate with shops.

 

 

Number 66, home of the Vintner. See that man lounging against the window? He looks a little surprised. I suppose he never found out that he was becoming part of the historical record of Kensington. This is an area for antiques and art works. Note the Japanese Gallery at the end of this short parade of shops. The street which leads off Church Street is Vicarage Gardens.

This is a postcard view from the early 1900s.

 

The reason this picture is particularly interesting is that the church you can make out at the end of the road is St Paul’s, which suffered bomb damage during the war and was subsequently demolished. It doesn’t feature in many photographs.

The basis for this post as for many others is our Photo Survey created by John Rogers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the photos of Church Street are from 1971. But for some reason almost all of them are of the east side of the street, the even numbers. I don’t know why but to balance things out I went looking for odd numbers from other times.

From 1929, Dick Turpin’s Old Historical Posting House (it claims on the sign).

 

 

From 1909, a couple of advertisements.

 

 

“Celebrated Snowdrift Pastry Flour”? I’d try that.

 

That Pynolia sounds good. We’ll continue the pharmacy theme in a moment. But first another glance at a side street, Campden Grove.

 

 

I think this is a view looking west, towards Hornton Street and Observatory Gardens, but it’s often difficult to tell in these postcard views.

The name Campden Grove commemorates another great house which stood near Church Lane, Campden House. That is almost certainly a post in itself so we’ll pass by for the moment, and just note that the stretch of street between numbers 83 and 95 was once known as Campden House Terrace.

The next side street on the east side is Sheffield Terrace.

 

 

Another name which recalls an old house. Sheffield House and its grounds were on the east side of Church Lane.

Now we can return to the 1970s. Here is a quirky mixture typical of the street, of residential and retail, with an interesting structure above the side entrance to number 1 Berkeley Gardens.

 

 

 

So we’ve come to another corner.

 

 

John seemed quite fascinated by this chemists at number 106. He even went inside.

 

 

Many bargains to be had in their closing down sale. (Closing down sales were one of John’s specialties. See this post) One particular display caught my eye.

 

 

Do you remember when Lucozade bottles (usually reserved for people who were ill, hence them being sold in a chemist) came wrapped in orange cellophane? There they are, on a Ki-ora stand. What purpose did the cellophane serve? If you know, please tell us in a comment.

 

 

The gentleman obviously spent some time examining the window before moving on.

Here is Berkeley Gardens in 1980.

 

 

You can  just make out that the Chemist at number 106 has become another antiques shop. Opposite, the discrete entrance to John Hussey, funeral directors.

 

 

106 Kensington Church Street and the building opposite on the west side, 103, more or less mark the spot where Church Lane, the original name of Kensington Church Street, ended, and Silver Street, the original name of the final section of the street began. This seemed like a good place to start the fourth and final part of this subject, which will be in the next post. Notting Hill Gate is almost in sight….

 

Postscript

I may have been guilty of prevarication this week. Not only was it too hot to blog, but I had plenty of actual work to do and as I started looking for pictures of the west side of the street I found some quite interesting ones, including a “forgotten building” as I used to call them, which will appear in the final part of this struggle uphill, which will definitely appear on time one week after this post.

I din’t think there would be an obituary this week, but death always surprises us, and on Tuesday evening I read about the death of Polish musician Tomasz Stanko, one of the greats of modern jazz. Some may not have heard of him, and I know I sometimes feature quite obscure people in these postscripts simply because I have some of their albums or books, but the odd thing is that if you ever watched the TV series Homeland, you have heard Stanko. His piece Terminal 7, from the album Dark Eyes is used during the end titles (or was in early seasons I believe).

 


Kensington Church Street – grand houses and large houses

I had feeling that this week’s post was going to be as late as last week’s. But maybe not. As I recall we were about here…

 

 

Just at the point where Kensington Church Street veers left (or north west if you prefer) while Vicarage Gate carries on northwards. The building which looms above us in this picture is Winchester Court, a nicely curved block of flats built in 1935. Before it was there, according to my constant companion, the Survey of London there was “a large house” which became a convent, and then the Orphanage of St Vincent de Paul.

Winchester Court allows me to use the word faience for the first time on the blog, meaning a glazed ceramic surface. Even in monochrome you can see the first and second floors are finished in black faience. (Now I have the name I can also say that the oxblood tiles on some Piccadilly Line stations are also examples.)

We haven’t quite got round the corner. If I mention one convent I should also mention the impressive Carmelite Priory and Roman Catholic Church on the west side of the street.  The current building was finished in 1959 and was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. (Famous for, among many other buildings, both Battersea and Bankside power stations and the frankly staggering Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.) His grandfather designed St Mary Abbots Church, of course. The odd thing is that I can’t seem to find a photo of the 1959 building in our collection. Naturally, I could lay my hands on a couple of views of the old building, and here is one of them:

 

 

The front of the church can also be seen in this picture.

 

 

The original print is small in size but crisp. You can see the spire of St Mary Abbots, the old Barker’s building at the bottom of the hill and the walls of the houses opposite the church. I have naturally enlarged the image to have a look at the pedestrians.

 

 

Note the horse bus climbing slowly up the hill.

This historical view actually fits in with my other idea for this week. When I looked at an old plan of Kensington Church Street circa 1833 it showed several example of the “large houses” which were fairly common in Kensington at the time.

Maitland House, demolished 1905 stood in grounds next to the Palace Forcing Grounds (see last week).

 

 

It was the home of the artist Sir David Wilkie and the father of John Stuart Mill. The photo is by Augustus Stieglitz.

Its next door neighbour was York House, seen here from the west.

 

 

 

York House, demolished at about the same time was even grander than Maitland House.

 

 

It was once the home of Princess Sophia Matilda, one of the daughters of George III, who lived there from 1839 till her death in 1848

 

We’ll come to other grand houses as we proceed. They all met a similar fate as Kensington turned from country to city. (not one shared by the grand houses of nearby Campden Hill Road which lasted well into the 20th century. I covered some of them in this post.)

This 1980 picture shows the buildings which replaced Maitland and York Houses. block on the left was the York House flats and the office/showroom in the centre was originally built for The Gas Light and Coke Company in 1924.

 

 

 

There was a house called Bullingham House round the corner to the north west.

 

 

But here things get a little complicated. There were two houses called Newton House, named after Sir Isaac who lived in one of them (possibly) quite near to each other on this side of Church Street (or Lane as it would have been). We’ve been here before in a post about the artist Thomas Hosmer Shepherd  You can see some pleasant water colours of these houses, but also a factual error I didn’t notice at  the time.

Let’s go forward in time a little.

 

 

Here, by the side of the old church is Newton Court, the opposite side of the road from Winchester Court. This one was modern  and desirable in 1926. Probably still quite desirable.

Moving even further forward to 1980 again, and crossing the road once more..

 

 

 

The east side of the street, next to Winchester Court.

We have at least got round the corner and are heading north. But remember that bus, heaving up the hill?

 

 

In full uncompressed colour, not the same vehicle but one very like it, anticipating many of the journeys I have made up the hill. Although we’ve moved even slower this week a matter of yards even, we are now pointing north, and poised for the next stage in our journey.

I might do something else next week, just for fun, but we will be returning to Kensington Church Street soon. For added clarity, here is the plan of Church lane as it was in 1833.

 

 

 

Before the postscript though thanks to the late Barbara Denny and the still going strong  Carrie Starren for their book Kensington Past which has helped me when the water of the Survey of London grew too murky. I’ll be drawing on this work again.

 

Postscript

I was a bit late posting last week so although I had heard of the death of Harlan Ellison I didn’t have time to write anything. Then this week I heard about the passing of Peter Firmin so now I have to mention them both without incurring cognitive dissonance. Harlan Ellison was a science fiction writer and polemicist, a champion of “new” SF in the sixties and seventies, a gifted writer of short stories, many of which had extraordinary, typically 60s titles (“I have no mouth and I must scream”; “The beast that shouted love at the heart of the world”;  and my personal favourite: “Repent, Harlequin! said the TickTock Man” – the collection Deathbird Stories would be a good place to start. I think my copy is in a box in a storage unit in Fulham so finding it would be a good story in itself) He was editor of the seminal series of Dangerous Visions anthologies, TV script writer (The Outer Limits episodes Demon with a Glass Hand and Soldier for example, and the Start Trek time travel episode City at the Edge of Forever) and more. A media personality before SF writers  did much of that and a thorn in the flesh of the establishment. The film of his story A boy and his dog can currently be seen on Prime – a great twist at the end.

Peter Firmin was the co-creator of the Clangers, and many other collaborations with Oliver Postgate. So in his own way another giant of science fiction.

I’ve been doing a bit a period reading recently, in a 1966 edition of Geoffery Ashe’s book King Arthur’s Avalon. There is a certain kind of pleasure in reading a non-fiction book written in 1956 which is quite different from reading an old novel. It feels like i was once again reading a book from the city library when I was a teenager and picked up lots of books concerned with history and mythology.

In the modern life of informaton I can find out that, unexpectedly to me (we’re always consigning people to the grave before their time) Ashe is still alive, now aged 95. No obituary for him just yet. I hope he is well.


Kensington Church Street – slowly up the hill

Kensington Church Street is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Kensington, and as essential to the identity of Kensington as the High Street. So given that we have plenty of pictures of it in the collection it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a post on it before. Well perhaps I’ve overlooked it, as people sometimes do, thinking of it as just the winding street which takes you up the hill to Notting Hill Gate, where North Kensington begins. That’s quite a steep hill in parts (steeper as I’ve gotten older), so I’ve nearly always got the 52 or the 28 or the 27 or their variations over the years. But we’ll take it in stages this time. This view, more than a hundred years old, is still recognizeable.

 

There’s the Civet Cat on the corner. There’s no pub there now (it’s been a bank in its time and even a pizza restaurant) but the sign depicting the eponymous cat is still there. The blurred person on the left must have been an early riser because this has always been a busy spot.

 

 

A 1980 view. Where was the photographer standing? Somewhere safe I hope. See the security bars on the ground floor windows?

It was possibly a little safer back in 1912. safe enough for that guy on the left to be sitting down.

 

 

That canopy was about to be removed, hence the photograph, taken on June 4th that year. Number 6 was not a place for refreshment or theatrical performances but was in fact the Kensington Trunk Stores. (For all your trunking needs). The building next door at number 8 was the Prince of Wales public house (Mrs Jane Evans licensee) , and beyond that, Lockhart’s Cocoa Rooms, the Edwardian equivalent of a Starbucks or a Costa.

This end of the street was dominated by St Mary Abbots Church which towered over the terrace of house while seeming to brush against it.

 

 

The buildings in that terrace are actually older than the church, (numbers 1-5 were built in 1760) which is the version completed in the 1890s (see Isabel’s post here for a thorough account of the church itself)

There have been some alterations to the house but the old structures remain. Compare the view with this one from 1949.

 

 

(courtesy of the National Monuments Record)

And a closer view from 1964.

 

 

Mother and daughter looking in the window of number 13 (Robinson Joshua, linen drapers).

A few years later the daughter might be looking here, a few doors up the street at 19/21.

 

 

The picture below is one of my favourites and was taken by our friend Albert Argent Archer.

 

 

The print is from a glass negative and contains many fascinating details. I could almost write an entire post about this one image, with it’s multiplicity of advertising posters for Pear’s Soap, Nestle and Rowntree products (and Birds, of custard fame – the “Rhubard Girl”). One of the Nestle ads is I’m sure by John Hassall. And then the theatre posters – the “Pink Lady”, “The Monk and the Woman” and most familiar, “Ben-Hur”, an adpatation of the novel by Lew Wallace.

Further down the side street you can see, already boarded up a “Fish Dinner and Supper Bar”. Spare a glance for the two semi-visible boys with a tricycle working for Armfield and Sons, Chemical Cleaners. And right on the corner a hunched up man in a coat peering round the corner.

If you can’t see them all, try another, lighter version of the print:

 

 

You can also follow the shops heading south to the High Street: at number 28, James Turner (laundry receiving office), Edmund William Evans (photographer) the Belgravia Dairy Company (an urban dairy), the Kensington Restaurant (proprietor  Agostino de Maria) at number 20.

Speaking of which,let’s take a quick look inside.

 

A comfortable spot, for lunch or dinner.

Followed by  Mrs Rose Schofield (corsetiere), Davis and Son (dyers and cleaners), the National Telephone Company (for making public calls), Kenyon J H (funeral furnishers) which takes us back to Lockhart’s Cocoa Rooms

A similar view from 1961. The view is not as sharp as the earlier picture but there is another selection of posters.

 

 

And the chemists at 26-28 offers “Toilet Requisites” a phrase you don’t hear much nowadays, redolent of 1970s sit-coms. (In my mind I hear the words being uttered by John Cleese, with a repetition of the final syllable)

As we move up the street you can see the line of boards covered with posters continues. The church’s spire, one of the largest of its day, towers over the street.

 

 

In the style of our Secret Life of Postcards series, a close up:

 

 

The young woman on the left making her way deliberately..somewhere. It’s almost possible to make out her features, and wonder what she was up to that day. Beside her, a man looks into the window of James Keen (furniture  warehouse) and behind her the Misses Dodson and Green have a Catholic repository. The other name visible is Giandoni (confectioner and restaurant).

On the east side of the street was the Kensington Barracks, built in the 1850s on the site of the former Kensington Palace Forcing Gardens.

 

 

A view showing the interior, still dominated by the church.

 

 

Although we haven’t got very far up the street, I hope you won’t mind if we digress a little here. The barracks closed in 1972. At one point it was proposed to move the Russian Embassy onto the site but that attracted a degree of controversy and didn’t happen. I discovered this alternative plan dating from 1978.

 

 

A harmless but unexciting artist’s impression of shops and offices, mostly imaginary.

There really was a branch of Our Price records on that corner. While attempting to confirm that fact I looked at the 1976 Kelly’s Directory and saw that Revolution Cassettes was there before Our Price. This stirred a memory. Was that the old name for Our Price? Wikipedia came to the rescue. It seems that the company started out as Tape Revolution and specialized in Music Cassettes and 8 track Cartridges before adopting the more familiar name in 1978.

The barracks were ultimately replaced in the late 1980s by a retail/ office development which created a central space called Lancer Square.

 

 

The only image I found was one from the developers brochure which includes architect’s model and  a little cartoon of a typical Kensington shopper of the 80s. (Big hair, big shoulders – a bulkier look than the next decade) I can remember going to a leaving meal in one of the restaurants at one point but apart from that not being much of a visitor to Lancer Square.

The last time I passed by the spot was on the way to another farewell meal, this time at Wagamama. I took the opportunity to take a quick snap of what was left of Lancer Square, which barely lasted longer than its original lease.

 

 

It’s always odd when something rises and falls entirely within your own personal timeline. Building work on the site is taking place behind another set of boards. They seem to be keeping the Lancer Square name.

The first leg of our latest journey hasn’t taken us far, and we may be pausing to allow some movement backward in time, but this is a good pace for summer. Here at the Library, a bit of data entry is going on, a bit of stock movement, and in the basement some immersive theatre. We’ll make our way slowly up the hill and see what we find on the way.


The secret life of postcards 6

As this is the sixth outing for this series of posts let’s start with something different.

This is another aspect of the secret life of postcards – the writing on the back. JH (?) is sending the 1906 version of an instant message. With two deliveries a day in some places it could be fairly close to instant. “Monday’s coming too fast for me now. Had a ripping time this year. Plenty to see. Very hot here today.”

Quicker by telegraph of course but you probably wouldn’t use a telegram for such an inconsequential message. And you wouldn’t get the picture along with it.

A coloured version of a photo of St Luke’s Church in Sydney Street. More from JH later.

One of my great pleasures with picture postcards is the details, where you might see a lively street scene, the early numbers of Kensington High Street with an unexpected close up of a thoughtful young man.

You can see another view of two of the same buildings below, the London and County Bank (“pungently Burgundian” according to the Survey of London, one of my favourites of their pithy descriptions – I was once asked if it had ever been a church. Built as a bank I’m afraid, but you can’t help speculating about a little know Cathar sect which somehow made it to London and was the scene of some sinister events..well I can’t anyway once the suggestion arises)

Next to the bank was Madame Kate Ker-Lane’s  court dress emporium.

You can see the ornate lettering  better in close up.

 

And is that Madame Kate at the window on the left? The presence of the two policemen indicates that some event was happening that day and a procession might be about to pass by.

Off the high street, a little way up Campden Hill a more ordinary scene. Campden Hill Court, on Holland Street. Flats are available…

 

 

A flower cart, a woman pushing a pram and a lamp post. The photo crops down into a nice composition.

 

 

Close by is Airlie Gardens. Looking up at the glassed in room above the porch (a conservatory?) you would like to see another figure looking down at the photographer.

 

 

There is the hint of someone or something at that window but you can’t really be sure. It could just be some kind of ornament.

 

 

But that pile of cases must have a story to tell. Someone moving in? Or out? Or off on a trip?

For the start of a journey you might go down to the station, the entrance to the arcade just where it is today.

Plenty of travellers on their way in or out, or pausing at the entrance.

 

Here are some local travellers in Church Street, taking the bus.

 

A crowded upper deck.

 

 

If all the modes of transport were crowded with people, you could stroll to Kensington Gardens.

 

 

A trio of friends taking a leisurely walk near the fountains.

 

 

As well as zooming in on postcards you can also zoom out.

Below, a woman strides out on a quiet street, a typical day in Kensington.

 

 

Look at the wider picture though and you can see she is in Philbeach Gardens. The metal spire of St Cuthbert’s Church rises above the houses, and a section of the Great Wheel at the Earls Court Exhibition.

 

 

While we’re in that neck of the woods what about this unlikely view in the Cromwell Road area?

 

 

A motley group of people stand in the middle of an apparently deserted road. On the back of the card a message for a younger relative of the sender.

 

Master Paddie Law, of Oswestry gets the distressing news that HM(WM?) has been digging in his garden

Shall we get back to our friend JH?

Here is another of those coloured postcards he favoured, showing the statue of Carlyle in the gardens by the embankment on Cheyne Walk, with a curious young boy looking at the photographer.

 

What did JH have to say?

 

 

“Having a fine time. Better than doing sheets(?) all over London every day. Just what Richardson would like over at Putney seeing the crews practice”. For the University Boat Race I assume. A pleasant way to spend an afternoon in suburban London, at the end of which you can send a postcard to Mr Joyce in Brighton.

I can’t remember the last time I sent a postcard, although I can recall the pleasure of receiving some inconsequential words from a friend. No need to overdo the comparison but this was definitely a form of Edwardian social media.

Postscript

The point of this series is the details found in the pictures themselves, but if it is possible to see the message on the back (some of the postcards are glued down unfortunately) it’s always worth having a look.

 


St Mary Abbots – Kensington’s parish church

This week’s post features the return of regular contributor Isabel Hernandez who has been looking into the history of one of Kensington’s most iconic buildings.

“One of the handsomest churches in the metropolis” ~ The London Journal, 1880

When you live in a place and go about your busy routine, especially in large cities, your perception of what surrounds you can sometimes become clouded. This is true of buildings. When we are not consciously looking for them, their presence often goes unnoticed. Some buildings are not particularly attractive or significant; most are functional structures. The over-familiar landmarks can become so much a part of our everyday existence that we rarely imagine them never being there, and so we don’t give them much attention.

Tucked away at the junction of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street stands St Mary Abbots Church. You may have passed it many times; perhaps even fleetingly noticed its quiet presence away from the hubbub of traffic and rushing people, before continuing on your journey to somewhere. You may be a resident and have attended services, recitals, or special occasions celebrated within its walls, you may even have been a passing pilgrim in search of a little quiet meditation away from the madding crowds. Whatever your encounter with St Mary Abbots, it has been a presence in Kensington for centuries.

Below is a photograph taken around 1950 of St Mary Abbots with its stunning tower and spire.

The church from the S.E C.1950's

 

Kensington is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Chenesiton, the manor belonging to Aubrey De Vere. There is uncertainty as to whether or not a church existed in the area in Saxon days but we do know that a gift of land was given to the Monastery of Abingdon by Godfrey De Vere with consent from his family as a testimonial of gratitude towards the Abbot responsible for “having cured him of a former sickness” (Thomas Faulkner, in his History and Antiquities of Kensington, 1820). It is at this point that a Vicarage was ordained and endowed, with patronage eventually given by the Bishop of London.

SMA pub. March1807 by S.Woodburn

(An etching by S. Woodburn depicting St Mary Abbots as it was in 1807)

The medieval church was largely rebuilt between 1683 and 1704. It is not known if it was built on the site of the original church which was granted by the Abbey of Abingdon c.1100. What we do know is that St Mary Abbots has undergone a series of incarnations with rebuilding and repairs throughout its existence, eventually culminating in the church building we know today.

According to a survey done in 1866, when it was clear that the old church was falling apart, “it was found that many of the walls consisted of a thin skin of brickwork encasing a rubble core, indicating that in some cases the medieval walls may merely have been refaced with brick”. The beams were riddled with dry rot and it was clear that the church was no longer fit for purpose. With a growing population, the demand for a suitable parish church meant that something drastic had to be done.

SMA 1840

Here is another (unknown) artist’s creative depiction of about 1840. Occasionally, when you compare an etching or a drawing to an actual photograph, you can sometimes appreciate the accuracy with which a decent artist could recreate an image before the age of photography became the new emperor, even if some details were subject to poetic licence at times, such as the width of Kensington Church Street here. Also, you may find features that may have been illustrated earlier by another artist in the exact same place – the water pump on the left, for example. You will also see it in the image above this one by Woodburn.

St Mary Abbots C.1860's

Here is a photograph of the old church around the 1860’s. The old church is strikingly different to what St Mary Abbots looks like today. To the west you can clearly see the Georgian tower constructed in 1770-72:

“At the top was a battlemented parapet surmounted by a clock-turret on which stood a cupola containing the bells, the whole being topped by a weather vane.” (Survey of London)

There appear to be a few young chaps milling around in the foreground with a horse taking a break from its carriage duties eating out of a nose bag. To the right, along Church Street, there are evidently shops and a few blurred shoppers going about their business. One thing I enjoy about these old photos is trying to ascertain what I’m looking at when I focus on an area and increase the magnitude. To the right of the church you can see a butcher’s shop with a long line of whole pigs hanging from a shop window. Quite extraordinary! Of course, these were the pre-packaging days when organic was the order of the day.

St Mary Abbots 1865

This is one of my favourite photographs of the old St Mary Abbots Church. The image of the solitary figure standing in the doorway makes for a compelling ghost story. But I would think that the lady may perhaps have been in the employ of the church as caretaker in one form or another. Not a ghost at all, even if memory of her is most likely forgotten now.

This photograph was apparently taken around 1865 in the church grounds showing the tower and part of the burial ground one year before the 1866 survey was conducted to ascertain the condition of the building, which was declared unsafe: the vaults and the foundations needed particular attention and were considered an embarrassment.

The vicar, Archdeacon Sinclair, decided that a new church should be built, declaring “…the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical…the work is great…for the palace is not for man but for the Lord.”

(The Story of St Mary Abbots Kensington – J. D. Guillam Scott).

The man who was commissioned with the job of creating Kensington’s new church was the leading architect, George Gilbert Scott who was working on the Albert Memorial at the time.

St Mary Abbots 1869

Here is another view of the old church at ground level (1869) from High Street Kensington. Demolition of the old church appears to be underway. Behind the closed gates you can see the remnants of what look like timbers or beams.

G.G Scott chalk by G Richmond 1877

(The chalk study above is taken from the painting by George Richmond for RIBA in 1877)

Sir George Gilbert Scott is probably best known for his Gothic Universal style. His practice was never short of commissions, especially ecclesiastical contracts. They were not considered the most prominent examples of his work, but the scale of his achievements is quite astonishing, to the point where it could be said he was something of a workaholic. When he was approached, after a unanimous decision was taken to rebuild the church from scratch, the project was considered to be in safe hands, even when his original plan was met with both criticism and praise. He drew up a plan with an estimated cost of £35,000 – quite staggering for the time – but after some modification, and funds allowing, the first contract was approved, work beginning with the chancel, the vestry, and the foundations of what would become the present day St Mary Abbots. It was around this time that Scott’s health began to fail him. He became very ill in November 1870 with heart disease and bronchitis and he relied on his son, John Oldrid, to deal with much of the firm’s commissions.

The Scott family of architects have all had a hand in work for Kensington. The son, John Oldrid Scott, and grandson, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, both had designs incorporated into St Mary Abbots, and were well known architects in their own right.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (grandson) is also responsible for the Carmelite Church which is also in Kensington Church Street. It replaced the original building designed by E.W Pugin in 1865-1866, bombed during the war. He is also responsible for Battersea Power Station and the iconic, red telephone box, amongst many other works.

Sir George Gilbert Scott died of heart failure on 27th March 1878 at Courtfield House, Kensington. He was buried in Westminster Abbey with Queen Victoria joining the funeral procession from Kensington on the 6th April.

SMA plan

( G.G. Scott’s plan for the new St Mary Abbots.)

The demand for Gothic-style buildings in the Victorian era led to many churches in South-east England being built of Kentish ragstone, amongst other materials. It is basically hard, grey limestone that was laid down in the cretaceous period and is hard-wearing. Ideal for large structures. Bensted’s Quarry, also known as the Iguanodon Quarry, around Maidstone, is famous for the fossilised remains of an Iguanodon found when limestone was being excavated in 1834. It is from this quarry that the ragstone used to face the church originated (contractor’s report 1881). The quarry was apparently closed in 1872, the same year St Mary Abbots was consecrated.

St Mary Abbots May 1872

A rare image of St Mary Abbots in 1872 before its tower and spire were built. It would be another seven years before it was completed.

Demolition of the old church took place in 1869 after parishioners approved a slightly amended design for its replacement. The main body of the new church was quickly built over the course of three years or so, and considered sufficiently far advanced to be consecrated on 14 May 1872, later completed when the top stone of the impressive spire was laid in an elaborate ceremony by the Rev Edward Carr Glynn on the 15 November 1879 after a special service was held on what was a windy day.

According to the London Journal, several gentlemen of the clergy, churchwardens, and others involved with the project, joined the Rev Carr Glyn and “ascended by a solid stone spiral staircase to the top of the tower and then by ladders up the scaffolding outside the spire to a platform at the top, the Royal Standard flying above all at a height of about 300 feet from the ground, and at a point from which there is a fine view of Kensington Palace Gardens. The top stone was quickly placed in position for lowering, the scaffolding with its rather heavy load of visitors, swaying slightly but perceptively in the high wind.”

I expect that those watching from the ground may have been a little apprehensive of the whole ceremony, let alone readers of the journal describing the event. The London Journal concludes, almost with relief: “It is, perhaps, worth noting that during the ten years the works have been in progress no serious accident has happened.”

SMA details of tower and spire G.G Scott

Unlike their Georgian predecessors, the Victorians tended to be bolder in their architectural statements, and churches were no exception. Before the 13th century, towers were rare on parish churches. By the 13th and 14th centuries they were usually only seen in major towns, or built at the behest of a very wealthy benefactor. Towers and spires serve no real liturgical purpose other than to house the bells.

SMA menworking on spire

(Note the three men working on the spire, including one brave man right at the top)

St Mary Abbots boasts a large tower with spire, situated in the north-east corner of the church. Measurements vary as to its height depending on what you read: “A recent measurement by nautical sextant showed the height of the tower and spire to be approximately 250 feet. The spire is surmounted by a vane. Originally fourteen feet in height.” (Survey of London)

Whatever the accuracy, the vertigo I feel looking at those chaps on the spire is enough to make me understand that yes, the height of the tower and spire is formidable and impressive. The three gentlemen appear to be inspecting the structure at different points. I wonder at the near impossibility of such a feat, but what a view!

SMA 1960 spire view

This photograph (1960) was possibly taken from the Barker’s building opposite and shows in great detail the tower and spire, apparently inspired by St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. From here the peal of ten bells can sometimes be heard harmoniously ringing across Kensington to remind us of St Mary Abbots’ presence.

In the distance, to the right of the tower, you can also see the spire of St Matthew’s church in Bayswater, built in 1881-82. It is of a similar height to St Mary Abbots, measuring around 240 feet. Church building was big business for architectural firms of the period. A growing Victorian population kept the building firms and parish districts busy; the smaller chapels and crumbling older churches could no longer serve the parishioners. The Paddington district, particularly, had one of the highest population densities in London. Most green spaces in West London soon succumbed to the building boom to accommodate this growth.

SMA C.1900

This is the ‘winding and rising vaulted cloistral approach’ to the south door of St Mary Abbots added by John Oldrid Scott in 1889-93. The arched entrance almost looks forbidding – something about gothic tales and fanciful whims to fuel the overactive imagination – but as soon as you walk through, those feelings vanish. The sense of another era and the peace and quiet away from the traffic soon becomes a welcome respite.

SMA 1960 Aerial

Here is another view, of 1960, showing the steeply pitched roof of the church. Unfortunately it is not the original roof. That was destroyed during the bombing of London in WW2. The monument you see in the foreground is a war memorial dedicated to those of Kensington who died in the war. Below the great church are people going places. It does not look busy but I suspect this is a very early morning photographic shot, taken before the rush hour. It is also worth noting that some modifications to that junction have been made since then to accommodate the increasing traffic. London’s noise and bustle is consistent throughout the decades. But one could argue that this is a typical characteristic of any major city.

St Mary Abotts 1984

(c.1984)

The throes of autumn: conjure up a little mist and you could be on the set of a gothic drama. I have often had my lunch here in this quiet garden, away from the fury of traffic and the impatience of people. It looks lonely here. You can still find gravestones scattered around the church ground, mostly just eroded relics of a time and people that once were. But it is never lonely, more of a small sanctuary. And then there is St Mary Abbots, architecturally “a solid and impeccably detailed essay in the Early English style” and yet to me, something of a majestic presence bridging the old Chenesiton and the modern Kensington.

The next time you go for a walk, take a look around. You may find yourself in the presence of a lovely building that you may not have noticed before. Consider it a moment of awareness when the cloak of invisibility suddenly peels away to reveal something interesting.

SMA by W.F.M

Postscript

In this post I have concentrated on the exterior of St Mary Abbots. Many of our historical publications go into great detail regarding the church but I wanted to try and keep to one aspect of the church as indeed there is scope for so much more within our collection: the church interior is equally as fascinating and potentially there are more posts to come.

Most of the quotes I have used are from the Survey of London. I have also consulted Pevsner, and other sources which I have credited above. Not being an architect myself these were invaluable and I would urge anyone who is interested to consult these for further information.

A special thank you goes to Jane MacAllan (SMA archivist) and Pat Wilson (SMA Parish Clerk) who were kind enough to show me around St Mary Abbots over the summer and are a wealth of knowledge. I hope to put that to good use in another future post about the church. And thanks to Dave for being infinitely patient with me on this one.

Postscript by DW

Isabel has no need to thank me for my patience. I know she looked at practically every picture of SMA we have. (And we have a lot).It was worth the wait. Next week is Halloween of course.


A secret life of postcards special: first gear

When I do posts featuring picture postcards I normally focus on the people in the pictures, zooming in on the street life of the ordinary passers by. I have looked at a few buses along the way in an incidental way. But this week I thought I would concentrate on images involving transport, mostly of buses but also a few other ways of getting around in the golden age of the picture postcard. That era spans the transition from the horse drawn bus to the motor bus. You can see both in this picture:

Cromwell Place

Cromwell Place is the point near South Kensington Station where a number of bus routes converge. If you look on the right of the picture you can see one of the towers of the Natural History Museum. But never mind that. Let’s look at the buses.

Cromwell Place - Copy

Two motor buses and one horse bus. Before the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC ) absorbed them, bus services were operated by a number of different companies and the buses themselves manufactured in small runs by coach building companies who did other  types of vehicle, hence some variation in design (although features such as the curved staircase at the rear set a pattern which was followed into the 1960s). Here a lone horse bus with the inevitable advert for Pear’s Soap meets up with a couple of buses from the fleet of a company called Union Jack (later, the London Road Car Company).

Turn to the left of the picture and you would be looking down Harrington Road.

Harrington Road PC312 Norfolk Hote

This view would be quite recogniseable today. That grand doorway on the left is still there as is the hotel building. (Then the Norfolk Hotel, now the Ampersand). The low rise building next to it also still exists, and the Local Studies team went for a meal in a resturant on the left very recently. But the young musician crossing the road is presumably no longer with us.

Harrington Road PC312

Nor is the woman in the apron crossing behind the private carriage (or is that two?). The bus, whose driver seems to be making some sort of adjustment to the side of the vehicle, looks like it was on a route involving Turnham Green and Kensington Church Street, so it’s odd to find it at South Kensington. Although route numbers were not introduced until the LGOC controlled most bus traffic, the actual routes were often laid down in the horse bus era.

High Street Notting Hill PC 369

This bus making its way along Notting Hill Gate (with the almost regulation Pear’s advert) terminates at Liverpool Street as many did in this part of London, crossing the west End to get there. Although you can’t really make out the lone animal pulling it, it is another horse bus, with larger back wheels. A little bit of research makes us think it’s a number 7.

Here is a quite sharp detail of a horse bus in Redcliffe Square, festooned with adverts:

Redcliffe Square - Copy

Pears again, a committed advertiser. An LGOC 31, heading towards Westbourne Grove with three wild hats on the top dek.

Further north an unusual view of Holland Park Avenue.

Holland Park Avenue 01

You’ll have to take my word for it, but that’s a 12 going past the skating rink to Dulwich, maybe as far as South Croydon.

As well as the rear staircase the horse buses also bequeathed the larger set of rear wheels to some of the initial motor buses which followed them. (Look back at the Cromwell Place picture). Below, on the other hand is a bus with the same sized wheels at front and rear:

Ladbroke Grove Library PC 1456

It’s waiting at a stop in Ladbroke Grove outside that well known local instituition North Kensington Library.

Ladbroke Grove Library PC 1456 - Copy

You can see that this is a more standardised vehicle, a member of the first class of mass produced buses, a London General B-type. This one is also a number 7, indicated on the baord along with the routee from Wormwood Scrubs to Liverpoool Street. Todays’ number 7s, (Gemini IIIs I’m told) sigh to an  exhausted halt at Russell Square rather than soldiering on all the way to Liverpool Street, as my transport correspondent has it. Generally speaking the epic bus routes of old have been shortened so it’s no longer possible to make lengthy journeys to legendary places like Homerton on a 19 for example. ( I now regret I never did this. I did take a 49 to Crystal Palace once though.)

At this point let’s pause to look at some of the other vehicles on the roads of late Victorian / Edwardian London.

Campden Hill Road PC162

Delivery carts bringing barrels of beer to the Windsor Castle in Campden Hill Road.

Ladbroke Grove funeral

A funeral procession in Ladbroke Grove for William Whiteley, the founder and owner of the Bayswater department store. Whiteley had an illegitimate son named Horace Rayner (paternity was disputed). He was confronted by Rayner at one of his regular inspections of the store. Being asked for financial assistance he ordered the police to be summoned. Rayner shot him. The procession is on its way to Kensal Green cemetery. Rayner was convicted of murder but sentenced to life imprisonment due to the circumstances, and was released in 1919. I had no idea of this when I chose the picture – I was simply struck by the crowds and the carriages.

Ladbroke Road PC 601

By contrast, a fire engine ladder outside the fire station in Ladbroke Road.

Nearby in affluent Kensington Park Gardens, some examples of private transport:

Kensington Park Gardens PC 341

The Church in the background is St John’s. Parked outside one house is this luxurious looking vehicle.

Kensington Park Gardens PC 341 - Copy

The top is down and if the driver or chauffeur is ready to go, the owners can hit the road. Back in the south of the Borough, another couple of cars:

Queen's Gate

As you can see the original buyer of the postcard crossed out Queen’s Gate and wrote in Cromwell Road. look a bit closer:

Queen's Gate - Copy

You can see an inked X marking a spot, possibly where the buyer was staying. He or she was wrong of course. This is unmistakeably the south end of Queen’s Gate where it meets Old Brompton Road in the background.

There is a proud looking man (a chauffeur?) standing in front of the parked car, mug in hand, possibly watching the woman crossing the road. In the middle a chauffeur driven car goes past with a lady in the rear. Not much traffic to contend with on this particular road.

Let’s jump forward in time to another quiet day.

Kensington Church Street PC1532

This is Kensington Church Street looking south sometime in the 1950s.

Kensington Church Street PC1532 - Copy

Four well-dressed ladies wait in the summer sun at a request stop.

Down on the High Street:

Kensington High Street 1953 K61-937

The old Town Hall, Barker’s department store (no scandals there) and parked outside Derry and Toms’ , an RTW on the 31 route on its way to Chelsea. The W stood for wide – these models were a whole six inches wider than previous versions and had been subject to trial runs in case they added to traffic congestion.

Through the medium of detailed information gathering my transport correspondent is able to tell us that this particular bus, RTW372 stayed on the streets on London as a 31 or a 22 until 1966 when it was sold to the Ceylon Transport Board for service in what is now Sri Lanka. I wonder how long it stayed in use.

Speaking of 1966:

Kensington High Street - 1966 K67-100

One of those narrow RTs, comically thin by today’s standards making its way to the same stop. The RTs were actually more numerous than the more celebrated Routemasters. This one, RT2912 had recently come from the Aldenham Works and would subsequently move from Chalk Farm Garage to New Cross in 1968.

We can’t track the individual fates of the old horse buses but you can imagine their mechanical existences were lively:

Cromwell Gdns & Thurloe Square PC315 L-6403

Postscript

My thanks are obviously due to my transport correspondent my son Matthew who has had what you might call an  interest in buses since I first bought him a Corgi model when he was 3. I didn’t realise at the time that this would be  a turning point in all our lives.


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