Tag Archives: Kensington High Street

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.


Biba – the final chapter

I have often been asked when I’ve written about some of the other famous shops on Kensington High Street (Barker’s, Derry and Toms, Pontings etc) when was I going to do something about Biba, and I’ve had to reply well we don’t really have very much in the way of pictures, apart from images in books and a few newspaper and magazine cuttings. There are plenty of images online too, which don’t need any further dissemination from me. Our photographer took a few pictures of the windows but never went inside.

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[The reflections show the pictures were taken of the front and side views of the shop.]

However, I have recently found a few ephemeral items from the final Biba era, when it was in its most ambitious location -the former Derry and Toms department store building – and these offer a hint of what it was like.

The Biba story is largely a Kensington story, from a period when Chelsea was the main fashion centre in London. The first Biba shop was in Abingdon Road, off High Street Kensington. When it grew out of that on they moved to larger premises in Kensington Church Street. (1969)

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Finally they took the leap from boutique to department store in 1973. For reasons that were largely beyond the control of the founders (management /ownership issues, the 3-day week, inflation etc) the big shop couldn’t survive, and closed in 1975. The name, the style and the legend lived on though, and remains a potent reminder of that particular period in time just before punk.

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I did a piece recently based on some promotional material from Derry and Toms in the 1920s and 30s and at the time I thought how appropriate it was that Biba ended up in the same building. There always was a distinctively vintage feel to Biba fashions and design, filtered through the soft focus extravagance (have I used that phrase before recently?) of the early 70s.

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The new shop was far more than a boutique.

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In fact it seems to have been a struggle to fill the premises, and some accounts talk about the acres of space inside for shoppers to spread out. (In an article in the Sunday Times magazine of September 1975 Philip Norman says “On the ground floor alone more seats were provided than in the public hall at Euston Station” )  There was a diversification into food and household goods (own branded – they even sold baked beans and washing powder). Speaking of powder:

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Many of this week’s images come from a free newspaper style giveaway called Welcome to the new Biba. 300,000 were printed so the pair of copies I came across in a filing cabinet in the archives are “scarce” according to Ebay but not unique. It is an illuminating insight into the Biba style.

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The text has something of the  counter culture about it. The idea of speaking honestly and playfully about what was on offer. And  naive about sexual politics sometimes, as people were in the 70s.

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We have to cut them a bit of slack these days. This is the imaginative era of albums by Roxy Music, books by Michael Moorcock and Angela Carter. A little bit of what Sally Bowles in Cabaret calls “divine decadence”. (I’m quoting from my memory of the film. Correct me if I’m wrong)

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The neo-20s, art deco-esque style has proved remarkably durable.

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Note the lamp.

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“The most beautiful shop in the world”, according to the Drapers’ Record

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The colours of the 1970s may not have lasted.

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Nor some of the whimsical stuff.

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[A section from a snakes and ladders style board game called “lifts and staircases”]

But there are some enduring images.

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People I’ve spoken to who went there always smile fondly about the place. (And I ask myself why was I not one of them? I was in London at the time.) All good things come to an end of course.

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Back at 87 Abingdon Road another small shop was in business.

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Passers by might have had no idea of the magnificent dream which started there.

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Postscript

Welcome to the new Biba is reprinted more or less complete (and rather better looking than it does on newsprint) in the excellent book Welcome to Big Biba: inside the most beautiful store in the world(Antique Collectors Club 2006) by Steven Thomas and Alwyn Turner, available in libraries and bookshops.

On another matter, the 8th annual London History Festival continues. Tonight we welcome Dan Snow, author, broadcaster and podcaster. Tickets are still available and all being well, I’ll be at the door tonight. Details here and here.

I often think that I won’t manage to write a new post in time for Thursday if I’m busy or preoccupied with something else but this time it’s genuinely possible that there won’t be a new post next week so don’t panic if this one has to last for a fortnight. Normal service will be resumed very soon. Honest.

 

 


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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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( 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.

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(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.


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