Tag Archives: Kensington High Street

A little bit of retail history: Kensington High Street at the turn of another century

This is the first in a series of posts using photographs from a collection of images given to us by our Planning department. One of my volunteers has been going through the collection, sorting them out and has shown me six folders of images of Kensington High Street. So you can expect to see many pictures over the next few months, from all sorts of angles. They date from the 1980s to the early 2000s. They tell many different stories, of shops and restaurants gone by, some of which were there for years, some comparatively fleeting. Famous names, and obscure ones. You may be pleasantly reminded of an establishment you’d forgotten, or surprised by a picture of somewhere you just can’t recall.

Inevitably, we have to start by going back to a building with one of my favourite descriptions from the Survey of London. It’s number 1 Kensington High Street once more. It was built as a bank in 1888, in a style I looked at in this post. It was listed in Kelly’s as the London and County Bank. From 1939 it was the Westminster Bank, and then later the more familiar name, the National Westminster Bank, who seemed to have moved about around 1985. It stood empty for a while, and at some point was converted into a wine bar / restaurant. By 1996 it looked quite lively.

 

 

Footlights (“Mexican, American & European Cafe Restaurant & Bar”), and next door a wine bar, Tumblers.

Below, a woman passes by ignoring the building and the photographer.

 

 

She probably missed the specials board at Tumblers.

 

 

One more image, and one slight mystery. Above the ground floor windows, you can see a strip of  what is often called ghost signage. It comes out best in this picture taken a few years later.

 

 

I had a close look from a 49 bus recently, and I could only make out the word Society at the right of the strip so it has obviously faded somewhat in recent years. From this picture and others I could read “Leamington Spa Building Society“. This was perplexing for a while until I looked at drainage plans for the property, which indicated that the Society was the owner of the property until 1991. Can anyone remember the Society trading from this address?

But come on, we have to get moving. Next door is a split frontage, half of which is a Bureau de Change, next door to which is a venerable establishment.

 

 

The Goat public house which has been there more than a hundred years.

Here it is again below. One of the interesting features of this section of the High Street is the heterogeneous roof line. Whatever is happening at street level, the surviving upper levels are distinctively 19th century. Short buildings rub up against taller ones, sometimes a couple of floors taller.

 

 

 

There’s Le Bistingo, on the right. Some of these names will be familiar. Some not. Le Bistingo later became Giraffe, a venue for world food and music, and later still Lupita, a Mexican restaurant one of my customers recently recommended.(I’ll let you know).

Next door was Strikes.

 

 

Strikes was a hamburger restaurant, very much in the 70s/80s style (anyone remember Tootsies, or my personal favourite from the Fulham Road, Parsons?) One of the current occupants of this block is Roadster, a modern hamburger joint, much visited by men on motor-bikes picking up takeaways, a practice which must be changing the restaurant trade.

Personal reminiscence (you may skip this paragraph if you’re not interested in my digressions). My uncle had an Italian restaurant in the Wandsworth Road in the 1960s. He tried to set up a takeaway in a nearby shop to cater to people who wanted something other than fish and chips. He called it the Carry-Out, a term you can still hear in films/TV of the period which had not yet been drive out by “take-away”. The venture was not a success and he moved to Esher.

Dino’s Trattoria was another incarnation of Le Bistingo. (If this is getting complicated, don’t stop me, I can barely work it out myself).

 

 

Below, you can see a whole row of those mismatched buildings. Next to Dino’s, an early Garfunkels (which must have been Strikes).

 

 

A couple of heads glide by in the foreground.

 

Cuba, seen again below, is now therefore Roadster. Phew!

 

 

Let’s take a moment and look at the street from above. As you can see the buildings are equally varied from this angle.

 

 

We’ll come back to rooftop views on another occasion, I promise. But back to ground level.

 

 

 

Lord John, gentleman’s outfitter at number 23, and the Stardust Cafe.

We haven’t gone far, I know but this subject is going to be taken at a slow pace so we can afford to pause at Kensington Court.

The corner place was a pizza restaurant.

 

 

And opposite a general store.

 

 

This has become a mostly pedestrian area, with protective bollards, and little trees.

 

 

And at this time, in the early 1990s, a fairly generic Coffee Shop.

 

 

Back in the old century, motorcyclists lingered outside the Electric Lighting Station (the sign is still there).

 

 

A young woman in a striped top and jeans is leaning on a handy bollard and taking a breather (from work in the coffee shop?) or just surveying the scene. What is she reading / not reading/ just holding? I’d like to go back and ask her, but of course I can’t. I had my chance in 1990 but I wasn’t thinking about time travel then. We’ll have to let her get back to her pre-millennium life.

We’ll continue in the next post, perhaps even crossing the street, but I can’t promise that. I might need a very long lie down. Ranging over a few decades and several sources can get complicated. See you next time.

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Demolition on the high street

This week we’re starting with a return to the splendour of the Royal Palace Hotel, which we visited a couple of weeks ago.

 

 

Unfortunately this was in 1961, when its demolition had started. Parts of the interior were now part of a new exterior and many of its windows were just blank holes.

This picture shows the early stages of the work.

 

 

The parade of shops next to the hotel, of which Slaters was one, has gone. Note the original location of the bus stop.

The gate remains.

 

 

Soon the hotel itself was just rubble, piling up behind billboards.

 

 

No more guests.

 

 

Just pipes and exposed basements.

 

 

The north side of Kensington High Street was no stranger to demolition.

Look at this scene from the early 1900s.

 

 

The LCC had a road widening scheme in 1902/03 and nothing would stand in its way. See the sign?

Here it is again.

 

 

This picture was made from a glass negative which has a crack on the left. The small building to the right of the crack can be seen in two of the pictures in the post about Slater’s.

Here is another view of the same open space.

 

 

Where’s St Mary Abbots? Look closely, it’s just behind that metal structure, which must be an Edwardian crane

Into this space later emerged a striking building.

 

 

This building, in a 1924 illustration,  is sometimes referred to as the Crown building (the land belonged to the Crown Estate), or the Ladymere building. It was built for the John Barker Company and had seven public floors, with many lifts and a subway leading to the main Barkers building on the south side of the street. It is now more known for the ground floor shops which have stripped away part of the facade so you barely know what a grand building lies above street level. Like many buildings in the High Street, it’s at its best when seen from the upper deck of a bus heading west, particularly the tower (or “pavilion”) which is an unexpectedly exuberant feature.

 

 

 

Check it out next time you pass it. We’ll take a look at the shops in this area in more modern times in a future post, and possibly come back to this building, but first we should finish our business with the hotel.

This grainy picture from 1961 shows the site ready for development with now just the trees of Kensington Gardens showing beyond the billboards.

 

 

The empty site was to be filled with a new hotel, the Royal Garden Hotel.

In this picture the lodge building  which stood next to the King’s Arms hotel is still there. This small building survived the entire history of the Royal Palace Hotel.

 

 

One of my readers (see the comments section of the Slaters post) thinks it can also be seen in this print, a detail from an 18th century print called called A southern view of Kensington.

 

 

I wasn’t sure at first, but I’m warming to the idea. What do you think? (The viewpoint is I think from a spot just inside the Gardens looking south.)

In any case, the building was finally demolished as you can see in this 1965 picture of the new hotel.

 

 

It was designed by the Richard Seifert company in the style often referred to as brutalist, although you could say it was simply large and practical. It has been a popular hotel and  temporary residents include members of popular beat group the Monkees (I believe. I’m recalling a documentary) and of course the 1966 England World Cup squad.

The current version features aluminium cladding which was installed in the 1990s. I often hesitate to criticize or dismiss contemporary buildings but the truth is I haven’t found anyone willing to praise the refurbished version. Our ephemera collection contains this snippet from the  Evening Standard.

 

Thank you, Mr Nellen (and friend whose name was unfortunately torn off?)

The penultimate image this week is that original hotel, The King’s Arms, back in the 1880s, together with its small friend.

 

 

 

Postscript

This should have been last week’s post, but I was quite busy with work matters so I let it go for a week, and Isabel’s post last week attracted so much attention it deserved a second week as the lead post. As I hint above, you will soon be sick of Kensington High Street as I have recently been shown an extensive collection of images from our Planning collection which I intend to use in future posts.

On another matter, when I was much younger, I liked the Walker Brothers, even though they were no relation to me at all, and later I was fond of Climate of Hunter, one of Scott Walker’s later, more experimental works. But I can’t claim to have listened much to his late avant-garde works. Nevertheless I felt I should note his passing.

Another recent notable death (for me anyway) was that of Larry Cohen, film director / producer and screen writer. He was perhaps best known for “It’s alive!”. But my favourite was his 1982 horror film “Q – the winged serpent”, which featured a kind of Aztec dragon, the Chrysler Building and the late David Carradine. It’s probably one of those films people call guilty pleasures, but I just call films I like, such as Night of the Demon, The Devil rides out and Constantine.

I didn’t manage to fit this 1961 picture into the main body of the post but I thought I’d slip it in at the end. Two people asleep in the warmth of an afternoon undisturbed by the sound of the traffic.

 


The Kensington: a High Street Cinema

Ignore  my name at the top of this post. (We still haven’t worked out how to add an author.) This weeks’s post was written by my co-author and colleague Isabel Hernandez who is continuing her work on the cinemas of Kensington and Chelsea.

 

I mentioned in my last blog post that I might revisit the cinema theme and see what I could find in our collection for The Kensington Odeon. Given its fairly recent closure I wanted to acknowledge its history and presence on the High Street for the best part of 89 years or so. Not old by historic standards, but certainly not dull.

The Kensington Kinema opened on the 6th January 1926 on the site of what was 8-13 Leonard Place – a range of houses that existed between Earl’s Court Road and Earl’s Terrace along the High Street. The redevelopment of this part of the High Street was completed around 1930-31 with shops and flats erected on the site alongside the cinema.

The Kensington was designed by one of the foremost cinema architects of the day, Julian Randolph Leathart, and his partner, W F Granger; experienced men in their field. The owner was Joseph T. Mears, a builder by profession, and President of the (then) Cinematograph Exhibitors Association. It was the first of four cinemas in his collection.

The image below shows the building’s magnificent Neo-Classical style; the most notable feature being the proscenium with three entrance points. Some thought it an austere facade, but others, like Philip Hepworth (British architect 1888-1963), compared it to an ancient Egyptian temple…

“It prepares the mind for the great void behind.”

Certainly you can clearly see Greek and Egyptian influences when you look at these old images.

 

The Kensington. Opening January 1926 - Copy

 

Ideas for the cinema’s construction were being discussed from as early as 1921, but there was considerable opposition to this which delayed construction until 1923-24. However, the encouraging design was well received in architectural journals and eventually it won over the sceptics. The result was the creation of one of the largest cinemas in Britain.

The Kensington was constructed with a steel frame (much like the Kensington Central Library) with vertical posts and horizontal beams to carry its weight. Steel frames are nothing unusual now where buildings are concerned, but it was a rather modern technique to include in the assemblage of a cinema building of that time.

The opening of the cinema was successful. The new building even had the unique privilege of having its own tune. A music composition by Charles Williams to commemorate the opening was played. It was succinctly called: The Kensington March.

 

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A few passers-by and a policeman in the forefront of the image below is a good way to gauge perspective. The building does look like a temple.

It is interesting to note that as elegant and impressive as the cinema was at the time, there appears to be very little if no film publicity on display, giving the building a conservative reputation. On first appearance it doesn’t appear to convey the vitality that later cinemas exuded with pomp, promising visual entertainment unlike anything else at the time. Perhaps with only one major screen, very little open advertising was required. As to how you would know what time a film was to start is a mystery to me. It seems that films were usually run on a continuous loop throughout the day and it was perhaps by chance that you would catch a film from the beginning.  Early adverts would appear to show that performances were continuous.

 

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Obviously, this later changed with the Odeon’s gaudy advertising as I remember it, so you could say it is a matter of opinion what it is that one prefers with regards to information.

Most of us will remember the display board that was attached to the facade of the building. It was rather unattractive and not in keeping with the good-looking building, but as a cinema it was recognisable and informative. Whether you were walking by or sitting on the top deck of a bus, you could see what was advertised.

If you’ve read my previous blog post on the Westbourne Grove Odeon  you will remember I mentioned that Oscar Deutsch, who founded the Odeon brand, was very much a man who liked to advertise his cinemas extrovertly, including the use of neon lights with some buildings. In the case of The Kensington, it would appear initially that advertising was left to the local newspapers. In fact, newspaper and magazine listings were still the best form of information right up until the internet took over from printed material.

Below is the only clue I could find in the local newspapers of the time that there was a new cinema in town. The first film ever shown at The Kensington was Quo Vadis. It was advertised on the 8th January 1926, in the weekly Kensington News and West London Times.

 

 

Two of my more interesting finds in the collection were these architect’s plans for the cinema. I often think that some plans are works of art in their own right, so I always enjoy scrutinizing the intricacies of the drawings in some cases, even if I’m not wholly versed in the architectural details. These are not originals, yet interesting nonetheless.

The seating capacity for The Kensington, including the stalls and circle levels, was estimated to be between 2,350 – 2,370 seats, depending on what source you are reading. That’s a lot of seats! I’m not sure even the West End cinemas had that capacity. The plan was for more, around 2,700, but practically this would have reduced the comfort factor by reducing the leg room for customers. Something I think is not often considered after a major refurbishment in current cinemas. A case of – use all available profitable space, never mind the long legs! It would appear that numb legs are not considered within the design remit of modern auditoriums, except where recliners have been introduced. I have not had the pleasure...

 

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Another plan showing the proscenium opening where the screen is located and interestingly, the five levels of the cinema: the billiard room in the basement; the entrance hall; the tea room; the lounge and the roof gardens. A large entertainment establishment for sure!

 

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The auditorium was decorated in a Neo-Greek style. I think of it as new antiquity.  According to the Kine Weekly 1926, the furnishings were colourful, decorated in warm hues ranging from amber to red to warm grey. The terracotta murals and carpet also added to the welcoming atmosphere of this spacious cavern and it was said that the screen never presented a distorted view no matter where you sat. Something of a boast considering how large the auditorium was.

 

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The curtained screen below in regal repose until the next show.

 

The Kensington, later Odeon. RIBA

 

Below you can see the stalls and balcony, or circle if you prefer. You would be forgiven for thinking this was a large theatre, like The London Palladium, only slightly bigger.

The Kensington was sometimes used as a venue for other events, such as: variety performances, concerts, award ceremonies, premieres, even an exhibition held at the cinema in 1959 called “Better Towns for Better Living”. Its multiple usage was always a boon for the local community.

 

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Below is the elegant tea room with its art nouveau decor. Tea rooms have always been a staple of British social life since they were established in the 18th century. They came after the coffee houses of the 17th century which were places for social discourse and debate (usually men only). Tea, on the other hand, was very much the prerogative of the elite. It was very expensive and heavily taxed in that early period, which lends a whole new meaning to Tetleys and PG Tips. Fortunately, tea rooms later became a lot more affordable and considered reputable public spaces that women could frequent. Such egalitarian notions must have seemed avant-garde at the time.

 

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Below is an original poster I found advertising the cinema programme for Christmas Eve 1934.

 

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On the other side of the poster I was surprised by this rather interesting drawing, dated January 11th 1935. Rather than throw the poster away, it would seem it was better utilised as a doodling sheet. And why not? Perhaps this was the anonymous artist’s pet dog.

 

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It’s not every day one sees an elephant on the High Street and probably just as well. This image was taken around the 1950’s. National Savings was being publicly encouraged. It provided an easy and safe way for ordinary people to save small sums of money.

 

Circus elephants march past the Odeon with National Savings Slogans

 

The Kensington cinema changed its name to The Majestic in July 1940; a wartime security measure to prevent the enemy from identifying locations within the London area.

In January 1944 Odeon Theatres Ltd acquired The Kensington, bringing it into the fold of one of the largest cinema chains in the country. It reopened as The Odeon on the 9th October 1944.

Later, in 1976 the Kensington Odeon underwent a refurbishment that upgraded it into a triple screen cinema. The image below shows the cinema around 1967, before the change. Only one film is advertised: The Deadly Affair, based on John Le Carre’s first novel, Call for the Dead.

The recognised symbol of the-man-with-the-gong (Arthur J. Rank Ltd) can be seen on both ends of the display board. Fancifully, I look at that now and see a portent of the future being sounded.

In 1980 a further screen was added. And by 1991 two further screens made it into a six screen multiplex. Not a cinema to sit on its laurels the Kensington cinema upgrades were all attempts to maximise audience attendance allowing for variety and choice. But it was never the same. Just like most other picture palaces, something of the original quality of the cinematic experience was lost.

Unfortunately, much of the internal design of the cinema was altered through the decades after various refurbishments. So much so that it would appear much of the original decor was subject to damage, even if some of it was still intact. A short-sighted, cavalier attitude towards something so interesting.

 

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In July 1998 the Odeon underwent yet another refurbishment. By this point the once grand auditorium was no longer visible. It was reputed to have been the largest built in England, and yet not immune to the many changes over the years. Original details still remained around public areas like the main staircases, but overall the original design was mostly buried beneath modern contrivances.

 

Kensington High Street - south side, 265-267 1971

 

In 2007, the RBKC gave planning permission for the cinema to be demolished retaining only the façade.

It was hoped through a campaign led by the local community that the cinema should be listed as a heritage building and saved from ignominious obscurity.

 

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An image I took recently of the now defunct cinema on my phone of multiple talents. Looking at it I couldn’t help but remember all my visits to watch films there. And seeing it like that I felt perhaps sentimental about the change. It was, if you’re a more sanguine-natured individual, just a building in the ‘greater’ scheme of things.  But that old nostalgia has a way of bringing out the history in us, and at the risk of being accused of personifying the building, it seemed to me, forlorn.

The Kensington Odeon closed on 11th September 2015.  Never to reach its centenery as a purpose built cinema. The redevelopment includes a six-screen cinema, along with residential flats. I stated earlier that there was a strong opposition to the closure and a robust campaign was begun with a view to challenge the developers and the council.  Many in the community felt that they were excluded from the consultations which led to a rethink of the original plans. Still, the end result, after many years of uncertainty, has led to the cinema’s final demise. Its last curtain call, if you like. It has hosted celebrities, royalty, and best of all, those of us within the community who will remember it as it was for a very long time. Not just a building, but a High Street landmark – a disappearing way of life.

 

Kensington Odeon closed

 

Postscript:

Changes often do evoke strong feelings and unsurprisingly this includes anything deemed of historic import that is vulnerable to redevelopment. After all, we tend to form attachments to what we consider heritage or culture; our past. I suppose, in many ways, it gives us a sense of identity. Cinemas have come and gone over the decades. Closures are not a new phenomenon. Their former grandeur is much more sedate these days. Time sometimes has a way of transforming or diluting things in this way. I have already made the point about our evolving technology and the internet in my previous post, which has exacerbated the problem. Less people attend and less money is generated. Sometimes things simply fall out of ‘fashion’. But often we do not notice something is there until it is gone. On the one hand, if we don’t frequent the cinemas, then questions are asked as to their viability. Our changing habits do influence the existence of these places. The same can be said of libraries and museums in some respects. They cannot exist without people, or money. Cinemas can only upgrade to a point before the constant push of modernism keeps changing the script and that requires investment and innovation.  Unfortunately, we also live in a world where profit and wisdom are often incompatible. Ideally we would welcome a balance that benefits society as a whole – perhaps I am naively utopian in my view. There is no doubt that life is ephemeral, no less the physical buildings we associate our past with. But I think sometimes we need to reconsider our complacency about anything, and more to the point, the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

I hope you have enjoyed looking at the images in this post. I initially thought we had very few for a blog post, but there were enough to show you. Thanks for reading! Dave will resume posting next week.

Another Postscript – Dave

I saw a tabloid story from 2017 about Prince William and Kate Middleton (as they were then) going to see The Avengers at the Odeon High Street Kensington. Rumour has it that Princess Diana took the much younger Prince William and his brother to see the Harrison Ford film Patriot Games there also. For myself, I went there to see the first Alien film, and took my future wife there to see Bad Timing. Isabel is right. Something has been lost with the passing of these big old cinemas.


The high life – at the Royal Palace Hotel

We caught a glimpse of the Royal Palace Hotel last week but it looked pretty dull and gloomy in that rather faded photograph, even though it was probably only a few years old. To capture the aspirational feel of a new hotel you really need promotional material and especially artwork. So, for the most part, we’ll give the photographs a week off. Here is a view from an architectural publication showing the grand design.

The hotel, built in 1892-93 was built on the site of the King’s Arms Hotel (basically a large tavern) but was a far more ambitious building, towering over the surrounding houses and shops and looking down on Kensington Gardens.

 

 

It was intended to serve the growing number of visitors to London, and entice them in with many modern features, such as the grand entrance.

 

 

 

This week’s pictures are all illustrations from a contemporary periodical The style reminds me at least of William Luker. In the 1890s it was still somewhat easier for magazines to use artists to portray scenes like the exciting interior life of a brand new hotel.

 

 

An elegant woman glides through the entrance hall on her way out for a promenade through fashionable Kensington. A gentleman reads a newspaper in the hall. Not an aspidistra perhaps, but some kind of giant fern.

Below another view of the entrance hall, looking down from the gallery. Guest linger in the sumptuous public areas of the hotel.

 

 

 

Inevitably, the interior design of some of the public rooms is influenced by the exotic cultures of the near and far east such as this one, the “Eastern Lounge”

 

 

 

Or this one, an “eastern room” another young woman chats with a gentleman in formal dress, under a kind of canopy, surrounded by more of those giant ferns.

 

 

Guests could dine in a variety of dining rooms, some of them small and intimate.

 

 

Other larger, and more grand.

 

 

 

There were also the usual convenience of London life, such as a billiard room.

 

 

One of the features the hotel was most proud of were the extensive suites where residents could effectively have their own apartments, with private sitting rooms.

 

 

 

The husband sits around with a newspaper, while his wife concentrates on looking good. Below, a family group are actually making themselves comfortable and settling in in front of a warm fire.

 

 

In a private drawing room, a mother and daughter spend some quality time together.

 

 

I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. Perhaps the girl is insisting she should be wearing something more fashionable now she’s quite old enough to wear adult clothes. Maybe her mother (or is it an older sister?) is quietly asserting that she’ll just have to wait.

There’s a nice view out of the window of course, and they can go walking in the Gardens as often as they like. I could refer them to Mr Luker’s pictures of Kensington life, or some postcards of the Gardens.

 

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After an outing, it’s only a short walk back to the wondrous hotel.

 

 

It’s conceivable that the young lady might live to see this view in her old age.

 

 

1958. The Royal Palace Hotel looks intact, and still looks tall and elegant through the trees. But, if not actually empty at this moment, it didn’t have long before the end. It was demolished, and a larger hotel built on the site with a new name. We have a few pictures of that process but I’ll save those for another time. Today, let’s remember the hotel in its glory days as that young woman might have done.

 

Postscript

You might have expected me to mark the sad death of Mark Hollis, leader of the now reasonably obscure band Talk Talk with a few words. Talk Talk went from sounding like successors to Duran Duran to making avant garde, almost jazz-like music.  I actually own four of their albums (bought during the era when Fopp Records sold back catalogue CDs at pretty reasonable prices), so this morning I put on Spirit of Eden, thought to be one of their best.

Actually, I never really got it, despite many attempts. I was much more of a fan of David Sylvian, who trod a similar path from pop to avant garde, much more successfully to my mind. I hope he’s okay. I wonder what the residents of the Palace Hotel circa 1894 would have made of either of them being played in the public rooms?

I’m posting this quite late in the day at nearly 6pm. One of my regular readers (M) will soon let me know if there are any typos.


Slaters

Sometimes a post arises out of  nothing but curiosity. I started with a few pictures of a shop called Slaters.

 

 

Alfred Slater began as a butcher but by 1909, the date of this picture, he was a butcher and provision dealer. The building caught my interest because of its elaborate frontage, not unlike some of the nearby buildings we’ve seen in other posts. The other pictures of the shop show the interior.

 

 

A fine marble slab featuring a selection of dead animals including a set with lolling necks. The interior is as well decorated as the front.

Below, a selection of cured meats, with many cheeses and other products.

 

 

Some chairs for the customers to sit in while giving and waiting for their orders . It seems like a high class establishment to me. No sawdust on the floor here.

But although there is plenty to think about in these three pictures, I wondered if that was all I was going to see of Slaters. The three pictures might make a good short post for Christmas.

After all, 18-20 Kensington High Street is no longer with us. Since 1909 a whole stretch of the north side of the street has been redeveloped.

I was still curious to find out more, so I went to look at more photographs, and street directories.

This part of the High Street was much photographed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Look at this post. (And its companions) But there are  more images in which to look for Slaters.

It’s actually in this picture, in the distance.  The railings are by the entrance to Kensington Gardens. The gateway has a heraldic lion holding a coat of arms. (Which survives to this day, like one other feature in the picture. Can you see it)

Behind that, The King’s Arms public house. This picture is probably from 1887. the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. The public house would soon be demolished.

 

 

I used this picture in that previous post, but I enlarged a different section. The close up below shows Slaters, especially decorated as many shops were that year.

 

 

 

And a nice further detail of two young women hurrying across the street, rushing to get between the carriages. You can actually see that the one bringing up the rear has her right foot off the ground.

In this picture the street is plainer, but you can see just by the lamp of the Cumberland Arms the sign above the alley on the right of Slaters which says Hodgson.

 

 

 

We know from Kelly’s Street Directory of 1889 that this alley was called Cumberland Yard, and in it were the businesses of G T Patterson, Veterinary Surgeon and William Hodgson, coach builder. This picture might show Cumberland Yard.

 

 

 

(Look closely and find two men on the roofs of two of the buildings crammed together behind shops and inns.)

On the other side of Slaters, heading west was a wine merchants..

 

 

Three smart dudes in top hats, obviously all wine merchants thinking seriously about getting someone to load or unload those crates and barrels. The horse is thinking he’ll just wait till they decide what to do. No point in rushing things.

Those gates and railings? Still there today, I think, at the bottom of Kensington Palace Gardens. Even then, not just anybody could enter.

The next picture must be after 1890.

 

 

Slaters is stiil there on the far left. You can see part of a sign reminding clients of its services to the royal family. Outside, are another horse and cart are ready to go. You can even see the alley leading to Hodgson’s.  Next door is the Duke of Cumberland public house and a few other businesses. Above them all towers the side of the newly built  Royal Palace Hotel. Although the photo is faded you can just see the word Hotel in big letters.

Here’ a map section pinpointing Slaters.

 

 

The map also marks the Bank I referred to in this post, named after a favourite phrase from the Survey of London.

You’ve probably noticed that the Slaters in the first picture is not the same building as in the earlier pictures. This section of the High Street was subject to a London County Council road-widening scheme in 1902-1905. The management of Slaters took this opportunity to  build a much more prestigious and striking  structure.

 

 

 

 

Higher, and definitely more Burgundian. In 1902 it was celebrated in The Architect magazine. This image is what is called an ink photo, which I take to be an actual photograph gone over in ink to make it more suitable for publication in an illustrated periodical like the Illustrated London News. (You can see more examples of these in this post). It’s a nice clear image, which even offers a tantalising view up the alley. Is that a ladder in the distance? Unfortunately you can’t zoom in on these ink photos as easily as with a photographic print.

They also provided an interior view.

 

I love those light fittings.

I haven’t called Slaters a forgotten building as I sometimes do on the blog because it had a long history on the High Street and stayed in the lee of the Royal Palace Hotel until both of them were demolished at the end of the 1950s.  The early days of the hotel are another story of course, and one we will come back to soon. Kensington High Street always has more stories to tell.

Although my Kensington memory doesn’t go back to the 1950s I’m sure there are still plenty of people who saw Slaters in its heyday, or have family memories of it. If so, please leave a comment.

 


Demolition: the fall of a town hall

In December 1983 I went down to Kensington High Street from North Kensington Library. It must have been one of those half days when I finished at one o’clock because it was around lunchtime. I saw from the bus that the former Kensington Town Hall had been partially breached by a wrecking ball and that the large hall in the centre of the building was now open to the elements. I was astounded. And, I admit, a little excited.

 

 

This is history now. Rumour had it that the GLC (remember them?) had been planning to list the building on a Monday, so to prevent this, demolition began the day before. Arguments followed, for and against. Some called it a desecration of a fine old building, some argued that it was financially necessary for the Council to maximize what it could make from the old building. Some said it was an architectural loss, others said that London has more than enough mediocre Victorian municipal buildings and wouldn’t miss this one. Although many years have passed the controversy has never completely been forgotten. But having noted the issues, I’m going to stick with the facts of the matter. And the pictures. Because although the building has gone, Council photographers, including our own John Rogers recorded it, and its passing. We have also been given photographs taken by members of the public. As regular readers will have realized, I like a bit of destruction. The poetry of devastation. So let me indulge myself.

 

I’ve been reading the Survey of London of course, and a handy little book published by English Heritage called London’s Town Halls, and it seems that nobody like the Town Hall that much. Its design had been reached by a “badly organised competition” from which “Gothic and Elizabethan styles were specifically excluded“. The architect, one Robert Walker (no relation as far as I know) went with (the Survey quoted Building News) “a commonplace Italian design“. (The term “Italianate” is often used pejoratively by architectural writers, as in the phrase “crude Italianate villas” applied by one writer to expensive houses in the Boltons in Old Brompton Road).  It was opened in 1880 and extended in 1898-99. It was large enough to be a serviceable town hall until the current building in Hornton Street was built. There is a post about its construction here.

 

 

This picture shows the rear extension from the garden in Church Walk.

The garden was formerly part of the church burial ground.

 

 

You can see St Mary Abbotts in the picture below.

 

 

But back to 1983. This is a view from a roof on the opposite side of the High Street, after the middle section was cleared of rubble.

 

 

The next pictures are a little earlier, immediately after the initial demolition work.

 

 

Jets of water to dampen down the dust in the air.

 

 

The view on the street after the boards went up.

 

 

And just before, a huge pile of debris.

 

Close up to the pile.

 

 

 

On the pavement, life goes on.

 

 

What was left of the building was actually left standing for a couple of years while it was being decided what to do next. The final demolition took place in 1984.

The great hall, partially cleared.

 

 

 

But before we leave this little detail from the side of the building intrigued me.

 

We’ll come back to the Town Hall again in the new year when we’ll have a look inside. Next week is the start of my usual series of short daily posts for the run up to Christmas

 

Postscript

A few hours after I published last week’s post news came through that Pete Shelley, founding member of Buzzcocks had died aged 63. As a 63-year old myself I am totally opposed to the deaths of men of that age. And as others have said, he took a bit of my life with him. Buzzcocks were one of the great punk bands and one of the first to make a record (the Spiral Scratch EP) by themselves, without any help from a record company. Shelley wrote and sang love songs with a sharp edge, catchy but uncompromisingly noisy. Sometimes at this point I quote a favourite lyric, but although Shelley wrote perfectly good pithy lyrics, what I remember most is the sound – the curious guitar on Ever fallen in love, and the powerful climax in the same song when guitar, drums and voice come together in a controlled explosion, the .  It’s perfectly appropriate that Buzzcocks recorded for United Artists who brought us records by Can (Shelley was, like me, a Can fan).

I had to explain to a couple of people who Pete Shelley was. What I said was imagine if Paul Weller died. Or John Lydon, Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry? Joe Strummer is already gone. Pete Shelley was in that league.


Archer’s High Street

Albert Argent Archer, the excellently named Kensington photographer was featured in one of the short posts over Christmas. As promised, this week we are returning to him, but first a few historical words about Kensington High Street.

On the south side of the High Street we have today the two remaining department store buildings (formerly Barkers and Derry and Toms), a modern development on the corner of Wright’s Lane (which replaced the third department store, Pontings) followed to the west by an 1890s development called the Promenade. The section from Adam and Eve Mews to the Earls Court Road is rather mixed, as many Victorian high streets end up being.

But on the northern side, from Campden Hill Road (preceded by the 1905 Hornton Court, seen in the Christmas post) to Holland Park (and beyond) there is a string of 1930s  apartment buildings, Phillimore Court, Stafford Court, and Troy Court all built in the period after 1932 which, along with those department stores, have helped to cement the High Street’s identity as a 1930s street.

Here is Phillimore Court (140-158 Kensington High Street), on the corner of Campden Hill Road, in about 1970, looking west.

 

 

 

And back eastwards. Note the missing letter from the name above the branch of Safeway.

 

 

You can see that although the building is plainer, it has a similar structure to Hornton Court.

This view westwards takes in the more vernacular style of Stafford Court (160-206) stretching off into the distance. Safeway may have only recently passed on into the retail afterlife but C&A, once another common feature of the high street,  is long gone.

 

 

 

Individual shops may come and go but that series of apartment blocks with retail units on the ground floor still suggests the idea of Kensington High Street as a shopping destination. The wide street and tall buildings on either side say it too: here is a place for pedestrians and businesses large and small to come together.

But as we know, it wasn’t always like that, and before all that development the north side of the street was a series of Victorian houses or shops, with gardens or yards in front giving the street a low-rise and spacious look. This is numbers 140-158 about 1930, just before the block was cleared for demolition.

 

 

 

I don’t know if Mr Archer and his associates consciously intended to chronicle the street where he had his studio or if the series of pictures they took were quite by chance but he caught that part of the street in the last moments of its existence

This close up shows Archer’s studio and the adjacent shops.

 

 

Smart Ciccognani at number 142 was a “court hairdresser” but also, as you can see from the sign, a chiropodist.

This is an earlier (c1904) picture of the other end of the block at the junction with Argyll Road.

 

 

 

It looks as though some work is in progress behind the billboards.

This is the block (160 onwards) where Stafford Court now stands.

 

 

This picture shows the same corner at a slightly different date (note that the post box is different.)

 

 

A close up lets you see the sign for a “valuable main road island site”, ripe for development. Do you see that one window on the side, not bricked in. What happened there, I wonder?

 

 

This view shows the houses on the north side of the street looking west. The picture seems to have been taken from an upper floor of Pettits, the drapers, haberdashers and ladies outfitter. It shows how much space the front gardens of the houses took up and how  much room there was for widening the street.

 

 

You can also see how many of the shops on the south side were single storey buildings, leading towards John Buckle’s Stores at number 217  (“grocer,  wine merchant,  post and telegraph office.”)

The housing on the north side, now as then comes to a sudden halt at Holland Park,  then a private house and grounds.

 

The wall extends as far as Melbury Road. There was a cabman’s shelter there and an old tavern, the Holland Arms

I found a later version.

 

But for a final image, what about  a Kensington High Street photography shop from another era?

 

 

There’s no date on the picture but I’m thinking 1970s. I’m sure Archer would have loved to go in and browse around

 

Postscript

One loyal reader asked me what happened to last week’s post. Well, nothing terrible. I had a cold and was off work for a couple of days but couldn’t concentrate at home. As I recall I was mostly intent on staying warm. My blog resolution this year was not to sweat the small stuff and to realise that the world doesn’t depend on me doing a post every single week. In fact, there is so much material on the blog now that people are always discovering old posts, which is great because some of them are okay. I’ll try and keep the new ones up to the same standard. Next week we’re probably going to be back in the Gloucester Road / Cromwell Road area, but I will be following up this post with some more on the High Street as it used to be.


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