Tag Archives: Kensington High Street

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.

 

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Goodbye Ball Street: behind Barker’s

At its height the John Barker Company owned all three of Kensington High Street’s great department stores: Barkers itself, Derry and Toms and Pontings and a few other buildings in the area. Two of the store buildings remain as reminders of the great era of department store shopping: the Barker’s building itself, home of Whole Foods, Gap and of course Northcliffe House and the Derry and Toms building, home of M&S and H&M, still surmounted by the Roof Garden. (I won’t attempt to say exactly when that era was, pick your favourite: the 30s, the 50s, the 60s?).

Today’s post takes us back to the 1920s and 1930s to the period before and during the construction of the current Barker’s and Derry and Toms buildings and uses an album of photographs given to the Council by the Company. The whole story of the construction is a long one. You can find a good account of it in the Survey of London which I will not try to compete with. But to summarize: the Company had to acquire all the land it needed and close at least one street for building purposes. The process of the construction of the new Barker’s  was interrupted by the building of the new Derry and Toms (1929-1931) which took over the attention of the Company, and later the Second World War during which operations were suspended  so the Barkers building wasn’t completed until 1958.

You’ll need a plan to grasp this, but first a picture taken from the corner of Ball Street in October 1924.

 

This shows Young Street looking north west. The house in the foreground is Thackeray’s house. Next to it is Kensington Square Mansions,  the first buildings to be demolished to make way for the new Barkers.

And now the plan:

Carefully colour-coded, as you can see, to show the all the Company’s properties, the three stores, and Ball Street. Young Street has retained its name but King Street is now called Derry Street for obvious reasons.

[It’s well past lunch time so I’m pausing now to get a sandwich and take a quick field trip to the site.] [Back – interesting to see the rear of the two buildings.]

This is also Young Street.

In the centre is the Post Office sorting office, and beside it the entrance to the Bakery and Cooked Meats Kitchens.

This picture shows Ball Street on January 11th 1928, the day the hoarding to close Ball Street was erected.

If we turn north on that same day…

The rear of Ball Street with the ghostly spire of St Mary Abbots Church rising in the distance.

The point of view shifts east in this picture.

This was the first section of the new premises. On the left you can see a temporary bridge over Ball Street.

This is the east side of King Street showing a Derry and Toms building and a door to the old fire station.

The hoarding on the left shows the location of Ball Street.

This is a view of the rear of the west side of King Street with part of Burden Mews (look back at the plan).

Demolition is in progress.

I’ve included this picture of the corner of Burden Mews purely for the convertible. Motoring experts will soon identify it I’m sure.

This is Derry’s Yard, a narrow mews on the west side of Derry and Toms well out of the public eye, with a rough bridge connecting two buildings.

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More demolition in Burden Mews with a couple of figures in the background exchanging a few words about the work in progress.

Here another group lurk in a doorway perhaps avoiding the camera.

Can you spot another solitary figure below?

A man in a white coat on the first floor.

Back to Ball Street now.

It’s filled with the “covered way”, a temporary structure (man on the roof) and a clearer view of the bridge connecting the old and new buildings.

This is the way it looked from the other direction in October 1929.

The men on the scaffolding are actually posing for this one. The group on the ground are standing by the temporary staff entrance.

Finally, an image from nearly a decade later in July 1938.

This is on the east side of Kensington Square. The Staff Cafeteria is in the centre and the entrance to Lower Yard, where there was a Wine Cellar, a Bonded Cellar and a charging station for electric vehicles. (Ahead of its time?)

The construction of the Barkers building seems to have been a bit of a struggle but even though the stores that were their original purpose are gone, both it and the Derry and Toms building remain as are 20th century classics which have in their way influenced the whole of Kensington High Street.

 

Postscript

I wanted something to break up a flurry of posts about book illustration so the Trevor Bowen Estate came to the rescue again.


Holland Park 1980: a day out

Although we’ve seen some images of Holland Park on the blog on most occasions I’ve concentrated on some detail, like the murals, or more recently on interiors of Holland House. This week I want to show you some photographs taken as part of our photographic survey by our photographer John Rogers back in 1980. He wasn’t concerned with documenting every corner of the Park but was looking for interesting views which might be familiar to visitors and odd details which might have been missed.

In 1980 the Greater London Council (GLC) still ran the park. It was transferred to the Royal Borough of Kensington  and Chelsea in 1985. Some features have changed in the last thirty six years, some have remained the same.

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This fairly dull looking colonnade facing the Orangery is now the home of the highly decorative murals I mentioned above.

Here is the nearby pond, which now has some railings around it.

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And the other side the Belvedere Restaurant which probably no longer admits bare chested men.

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The pleasures of a municipal park, however grand its history, have remained the same for many years. Hanging around on a sunny day doing nothing much at all.

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Stretching in the sun as in this south view of the Orangery.

 

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(I believe this sculpture is by Eric Gill, called The Maid, placed on this spot in 1976 but moved  in the 1990s because of weather damage and now in the park cafe. Judging from recent pictures, where the figure looks very worn in comparison the weathering was significant.)

Playing at the play centre.

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Especially in the sandpit.

holand-park-toddlers-playing-centre-copyFor older kids there were the climbing ropes at the adventure playground.

holland-park-rope-ladders-playcentre-1980And swinging by rope.

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For older visitors there were  ducks and other avian creatures to feed.

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From the large, not easily missed varieties.

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To the small and sometimes well camouflaged.

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On land, or on water.

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Or between the two.

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There was sport, for the athletically inclined.

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Or you could just stroll down a secluded avenue of trees.

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Discover statues, some prominent, as the one below.

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(Henry Richard Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland . The statue is now found in the middle of a pond, although here it seems to be entirely on land. It was moved when the block of flats, Melbury Court was built)

Some obscure, almost concealed.

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(The so-called Melancholy Old Man)

And some just plain odd.

 

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Cherubs about their business near the Ice House gallery, accompanied by fish, innocent in this case. (They’re not always so blameless).

The High Street is not so far away.

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Postscript

Regular readers will have noticed that there was no post last week, just about the only occasion we’ve missed a week. I was going to be vague about my absence on a personal matter but it may have some bearing on future content so I’ll just say that my mother passed away over Christmas after a short illness and I went home to deal with the funeral arrangements and other matters. Frankly, I was not in a blogging frame of mind even though I already had this week’s pictures selected. It was about this time last year that she was complaining to me about the extensiveness of the news coverage of the death of David Bowie and I was explaining that for some of us this was a significant event. It’s been said that 2016 was a year with a great many deaths. I can only agree.


Christmas Days : afternoon tea

Some of the ideas I had for short posts didn’t quite work out in practice so for this last one I asked myself the question: can I make a post out of a single picture?

To start with, here’s a nice family group.

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Mother, eldest son on holiday from school, still in the tight stiff collar, youngest child a bit impatient for her ice cream, bored with waiting for the photographer to finish and absolutely not enjoying wearing that hat

Look behind them.

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A couple of the waitresses, and the singers in their nearly matching dresses.  That woman whose face we can just see in front of them might be sitting at a piano. Two young ladies are glancing up at the photographer from under wide brimmed hats.

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Look up at the many treats on offer such as the Parfaits at 1s/3d and the New Jersey Sundae, just a shilling. Order from your waitress who will bring it from the counter.

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That may be the entrance to a lift behind the curtain. The photographer has the patrons’ attention but are they all quite willing to pose . This is an exclusive establishment after all, and being photographed in it is a sign of distinction. A couple of .gentlemen at the back, but on the whole this is a place for the ladies.

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On the other side of the aisle more ladies enjoying afternoon tea, more waitresses in their black headbands and another selection of treats.

This is the whole picture.

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The terrace garden at Barker’s department store, sometime on a long leisured afternoon in the 1930s. Make the most of it, ladies and gentlemen.

Monkeys

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Bern, Chloe and Suze exploring the archives.

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And finding a few spots to perch on in the manuscript stacks.

From them and me, a happy Christmas to you all.

 


The Commonwealth Institute – the fallow years

I seem to have fallen into a pattern of one post on a subject followed by a supplement. I had originally intended to use some pictures of the dormant days of the Commonwealth Institute building and a few of the recent redevelopment work in last week’s post but I found so many interesting pictures of the Institute in action that there wasn’t space. So this week there are some pictures of the days when the Institute was closed and waiting for its fate to be decided, and some of the building work progressing.

I took these photos. I don’t claim to be a great photographer but I can point and click which is sometimes all you need to do to catch the essence of a place.

As with this image of open water, the pond clogged with branches and covered with algae.

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The bridge, or walkway. Note the photographer’s error focusing on the barrier rather than what was behind it. It makes an interesting image, but only by chance.

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Here it is in focus. I took this picture in 2007, when you could get quite close to the building without encountering any barriers.

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The main building with the concrete supports looking like they really are holding it up, and the administrative block beside it.

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The flags, in 2009..

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and 2012, with the green boards cutting most of them off from access.

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Work begins, with digging and metal barriers.

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Is that a theodolite?

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Another picture taken through the barriers.

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Work on the wall of the main building.

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The last weeks of the admin block.

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In close up.

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Ten days later, the dust is rising over the perimeter boards.

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The curtain walls are stripped away.

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And the new buildings rise.

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You could only stand on the edge, looking for some action.

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More of that dust, from the relatively tranquil Holland Park side.

Not quite finally, an image I’ve used before from the time when overgrown grass surrounded the main building. (The wilderness years, you might say.)

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And finally, one more picture from the archives. Back in 1962:

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The Queen, opening the Institute. Perhaps the visiting dignitaries thought it would last longer than it did.

Postscript

The earlier photos were taken with an Olympus compact camera, the later ones with a big Nikon which is very forgiving and nearly always gives a good picture. I’ve told the story before, in the early days of the blog but now that the Design Museum is up and running I wanted to present a few more pictures of the declining years. Hopefully, the new Museum will redeem the building and make us forget the days when it could almost have vanished for good.

Thanks to Roger Morgan for some error correction, and for general support of the blog.


What is the Commonwealth Institute?

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Now that the new version of the Design Museum has now opened in the former Commonwealth Institute building it seemed like a good time to look again at the old place. I’ve written about it as an empty vessel and a near forgotten building but not really as a going concern.

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So,  according to this explanatory pamphlet: “What is the Commonwealth Institute? Put simply it is a centre for information about the Commonwealth; a supermarket of resources and activities……The Commonwealth Institute exists to promote a better understanding of the Commonwealth and its people in Britain.”

Or was it a place for children to race around on school trips or during the holidays?

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I never went there myself but I know that a generation of London school children frequently did so I asked one of them, my wife, what she remembered and this odd object on the central platform was one of them.

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She recalls some kind of globe in there, but I’m happy to get further information. Most of this week’s images come from Commonwealth Institute publications from 1964, 1965 and 1973. My wife would of course have been too young to have been there in the early years.

She also remembers this sort of time honoured activity, still happening in museums today.

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The institute shop, featuring a brownie. At this point my wife gave me a detailed account of the changes in uniform she remembered. This will strike a chord with some of you.

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The art gallery has a distinctly 1970s look in this picture.

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And a 60s look here:

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The exhibition: “Commonwealth Art Today”.

Many people also remember the entrance hall, with its stained glass.

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And some of the exhibits.

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This one was recalled by more than one person.

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The lion was described as “a bit mangy”, but he had his fans.

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Diplomats were also a significant category of visitor.

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“Well, that’s our bit, now shall we go to the shop?”

The Institute also had a library, in the now demolished administrative wing.

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And this place, the Resources Production Unit, which used all sorts of new-fangled equipment.

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Not to mention the restaurant with its view of the park, which some people I’ve spoken to remember fondly.

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Another feature now gone, much recalled by many was the walkway to the entrance. (My wife remembers it as “a bridge” which is how it would have seemed to the groups of children passing over it.)

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You can find some other views of it in my previous posts.

As we started with a postcard, let’s finish with an artist’s impression of the new building as it would look in 1962, the start of an new era.

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And let’s wish the Design Museum success in its new home.

Postscript

The Commonwealth Institute was one of those buildings I have photographed myself on many occasions. I’ve used a few of those picture in previous posts but there will be some more next week in a supplementary post featuring more images of the building’s fallow years. If you have any memories or pictures of this quirky but much loved building please feel free to share them with us, so that the Commonwealth Institute does not ever become a forgotten building.


Biba supplement

As I said in last week’s postscript I wasn’t sure whether I would have time to write a post this week, especially as the only one I had in draft and nearly finished was one of my quirky ones which I was really saving for December. Then I realised that as the Biba post had gone down so well regular readers might well appreciate some of the out takes. I always scan more than I need. So this week’s easily digested offering consists of more selections from Welcome to the New Biba and a couple of other items of interest. I’m just adding a few comments.

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Another one of those dark-eyed Biba beauties in faux leopard skin, a perennial favourite. (Even if we didn’t say faux in those days).  The London Fashion Guide of 1975 had this to say about the big version of Biba:

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“Louche”. That’s the word.

The picture below shows that Biba was in the same decade as Laura Ashley.

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Biba frequently used original 20s/30s images in their promotional literature, like this one, pointing to the household section:

 

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Welcome to the new Biba  presents the household section in this whole page image of the ultimate Biba furnished household inside a classic London mid-Victorian terrace:

 

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Other departments –

The flower shop:

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Sweaters, featuring an update of a 1950s pin-up image.

 

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Accessories, and even a bit of habadashery:

 

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Stationery:

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And lingerie (imagine a uniformed lift attendant calling out the floors):

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Which calls for some more languid laying around. The model is wearing an Edwardian style cotton nightdress, with plenty of the ubiquitous Biba make-up.

 

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Upstairs in the Rainbow Room some even more elegant hanging around.

 

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Biba had also branched out into mail order. This is another familiar image, an advert for Biba’s catalogue. I’m still looking out for a copy.

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Finally a small surprise.

Among the ephemera in our collection I found an article from the Lady written by one of Biba’s earliest models,  another icon of the 1970s, the actress Madeline Smith. Always a pleasure to see her.

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The writer Bevis Hillier described the new Biba in the Derry and Toms building as  “turning an art deco masterpiece  into a masterpiece of art deco pastiche…(it) will remain a classic monument to 1973”.  I can’t improve on that.

Postscript

As I’ve said I’ve been quite busy this week with The London History Festival. Excellent talks so far by Benet Brandreth, Peter Frankopan, Sarah Gristwood, Dan Snow, Hugh Sebag Montefiore and Michael Jones – only Juliet Barker and Philip Mansel to go. Thanks also to our interviewers – Paul Lay, Sophie Ambler and friend of the festival Roger Moorhouse. And not forgetting my co-director Richard Foreman and from Waterstones, indefatigable booksellers Michael and Lauren. Plus of course the staff and volunteers without whom it couldn’t happen – Isabel, Kim, Tim, Maggie, Veronica, Karen, Sue, Sandeep and Matthew. We’re going to do it all again next year.

So I hope you’ll forgive this relatively slight post. I’ll try and find something more substantial next time.


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