Tag Archives: Kensington High Street

Short posts – Bignell in the Park

I’ve been continuing my trawl through photographs from the Planning department connected to Kensington High Street. The ones dealing with The former Commonwealth Institute have been especially interesting. Today’s pictures are notable because they are the work of a photographer well knows to regular readers of the blog, John Bignell, who has been featured  here many times.

 

 

On this occasion he concerned himself with trees, as you can see from the writing on some of the pictures. Bignell was just doing the work of a jobbing photographer, recording the existence or non-existence of the trees

 

 

The question that always arises with me is that given Bignell’s undoubted talents as a photographer, is there something special about this set of pictures? Has he seen more, done a better composition than a more workaday practitioner or an amateur might?

 

 

Or is the view enough in itself? A sunny day, a couple of people in deckchairs at the centre of the image, and a feeling of relaxation, with the iconic and still photogenic building in the background?

 


 

Why not? The offending tree is gone. We see a couple of guys sunbathing, and looking back at Bignell. In this picture you probably can’t see the woman in a  bikini sitting behind them, also sitting up and asking why is that guy taking a picture of me?

 

 

The admin block behind the wall is also gone now but the streamlined building with the sweeping roof is still there and you can still enjoy a view rather like this one. On a sunny day like this you can probably also sunbathe free from photography.


Short posts: looking back at the Commonwealth Institute part one

As part of my continuing trawl through photographs from our Planning collection I’ve been looking at the section preceding and following Earls Court Road. This of course includes the Commonwealth Institute. I have an odd selection of images which wouldn’t hang together for one big post but make sense in small batches. Hence, a few more short posts.

 

Who he?

Well, some sort of stylised ape, maybe a baboon. West African I would think although I can’t pin it down any further. In this picture he is sitting peaceably on a stone floor. But that’s not why Planning had a picture of him.

 

Can you see the place marked out for him on the right of the picture?

Here it is slightly clearer:

An orange shape next to the stairs and the path which takes you to the walkway entrance. It’s as though he was about to be beamed in, to materialize on a rainy day in Kensington.

Did it ever happen? Does anyone know?

Today of course the walkway is gone and one of the two Holland Green buildings stands in front of the former Institute. You still walk in that direction to get into the Design Museum, as my son and I did recently to see the Stanley Kubrick exhibition. ( Which finishes on September 15th so if you’re at all interested get down there quick. It’s well worth it. And it contains one image supplied by this department. Any guesses?)

More on the former Institute soon.

 


Short posts: a plan for the High Street

With my relatively new fortnightly schedule, and my annual fortnight off in August, plus a few other events, there hasn’t been much blog action lately. So I’m easing myself back into things with a few short posts. I’m working on a proper full length post at the same time but I’m taking my time with that, so the next few posts, which will appear at irregular intervals are like out takes from a film or TV series. Today’s pictures could have been part of the Kensington High Street series but they insisted on a post of their own.  This is Kensington High Street as it might have been.

 

 

On the left is St Mary Abbot’s Church, just to orient you, and on the right a version  of the Royal Garden Hotel next to some trees in Kensington Gardens. It’s a model which must have once sat on a table in the offices of Richard Seifert, architect.

As you can see the plan called for the demolition of everything between the two buildings and most interestingly, a tower as high as the church spire on the corner of Kensington Church Street. This would have been typical of work from the Seifert practice, which produced 500 or 600 buildings in London according to different sources including Centre Point, the famous landmark on Tottenham Court Road which remained empty for 15 years, and the Penta/Forum/Holiday inn in Cromwell Road.

Here’s a view from the rear.

 

 

The model implies the clearance of a big area near where Lancer Square was built, but presumably that wasn’t  real – it only includes the actual buildings which might have been built, with the Church included so you know where you are.

 

 

I found the pictures in our Planning collection, folded up, and I had to flatten them out for a few weeks to make them fit for scanning – you can still see the folds.

The initial reaction is perhaps horror, but it’s only a model after all, and it never happened. Imagine it though – the great big tower, the space behind it and whatever was inside the lower section which fronted onto the High Street. The expanse of glass. Would the project have opened up the High Street or hemmed in the buildings around it? And what difference would it have made to the High Street as time went on and the project had an influence further down the street?

I enjoy the ephemera created by building plans and planning applications. Like the shiny worlds in artists’ impressions, they show us alternate universes, some of which we would like and some we would be happy to avoid.


The main drag: shop till you drop

We’re back again at street level for this post and we’re continuing west, taking in the shops from the junction with Church street, concentrating on the branches of big names and the independents in the last couple of decades of the 20th century and the first of the 21st. It was a time when I think it would be fair to say that most people in this period mostly bought things in actual shops. Online retailing existed, and was growing in importance but the high street was still doing fine. The big names still had the prestige and the power and there was room for independent shops, whether they were long established family firms or new ventures. We’ll see example of both, as well as looking at how the physical structure of the high street altered and some of the names changed. Some of the names you’ll see may be just memories now.

This one is 1994

 

 

Sacha (a Dutch company?) of course sold shoes, then still a staple of  high streets everywhere. This picture also takes a look down Kensington Church Court.

I can’t be sure if Derber came before or later.

 

 

But they too sold shoes. You can see more shoe shops. in one of my previous posts.

Below,the Leeds Permanent Building Society merged with the Halifax and later the Bank Of Scotland to form HBOS

 

 

David Clulow, the opticians, is still with us, unlike the Aberdeen Steak House, another former high street staple.

I was pleased to find a couple more examples of a style which has been called by the Survey of London “pungently Burgundian” . In the later years of the 19th century banks seemed to have favoured this style. Here is the Midland.

 

 

 

Some elegant patterned brick work above the modernised fascia at street level. Next door, another branch of the National Westminste,r also pleasingly ornate.

 

 

Don’t be confused by the two dates 1834 and 1890 in the centre, probably refer to the founding of the London County and Westminster Bank (one of its constituent parts) and the date of the building itself. On the left you can see part of its neighbour, a building which was neither pungent nor particularly Burgundian. the old Kensington Town Hall. Here it is after demolition had begun in 1985.

 

 

 

 

I’ve covered that story before so we won’t linger.

Here is the building which replaced it still under construction but already partly occupied.

 

 

The central shop is a branch of Laura Ashley, an iconic fashion brand in its day whose clothes were in many women’s wardrobes and which epitomised a certain 70s look still influencing fashion.

With that end of the building completed,  the front is symmetrical. This picture shows an alley which leads to the gardens and ultimately joins up wit the passage seen in the first picture.

 

 

The older building is the Kensington Vestry building, built in 1865. It served as the main local government building for Kensington and after the Town Hall was built became the Central Library (I sometimes come across references to “Box K” or “Box S” on old catalogue cards, a notation which indicated the position of items in the attic of the former Vestry building.)

The Library moved to its current location in 1960 (and here I sit writing about it). The old building was ultimately bought by an Iranian bank. This picture, date unknown, shows the banking hall.

 

 

 

I don’t know what it looks like today.  (For another quirky Iranian site see this post, but read down to the comments.) Below is another shoe shop.

 

 

Now Clark’s (I may have bought a pair there once). Alongside is another ancient municipal object, a water fountain.

 

 

I’ve included this frontal view of Peter Lord because that policeman seems to be looking right at us. Was he keeping a beady eye on the photographer.

Our Price, seen in once of those photo collages below.

 

 

There is a snippet on Our Price in this post about Church Street. As record shops went Our Price was not the most full of character. I usually remember buying something at a particular branch, which was convenient for the Library but not with this one.

Big Apple. Who remembers them?

 

 

The picture below shows a blurred motorcyclist and Lloyds Bank but it’s actually the branch of McDonalds that catches my attention. And why?

 

 

Well, as it happens I think this branch was one of the first in London and I have a distinct memory of driving down from Kensal Rise  in my friend Steve’s Mark 1 Cortina specifically to visit this McDonalds and sample this new dining experience. (Only Wimpy Bars before this remember)

We probably ate inside, although we might have parked up somewhere nearby to savour this new taste. I can’t remember waht we thought about the food though. I have had many McDonalds since though.

I’ve included the rather poor picture below because of its notoriety value.

 

 

The Bank of Credit and Commerce was involved in one of the greatest banking scandals of this era, and was implicated in money laundering and other nefarious activities. When I checked it on Wikipedia I was intrigued to see that the international bank in the Clive Owen film The International was based on BCC. It’s a pretty good film actually.

The film strip below must be from the 1970s. A branch of the Village Gate is visible.

 

 

Sticking on the south side of the street for a while here are some more well known names.

 

 

I like this picture because of the man talking to the traffic warden. Are they friends, or is the man attempting to make a case for leniency? Is he begging or berating the implacable uniformed officer? (The local headquarters of the traffic wardens was in an obscure building in the aforementioned Kensington Church Court. Perhaps the warden is walking swiftly back to base so he can get changed and go home.

 

 

The man in civvies looks quite animated to me.

This picture was  taken at the same time. The pair have a  certain bright quality.

 

 

Do you see the woman in the white skirt and blue jacket? She is another in the series of women who bear a superficial resemblance to my late mother in law. I come across them from time to time.

In this view looking west a woman waits at a bus stop with a branch of C&A in the background.

 

 

The companion picture looking east shows a pair of skaters.

 

 

And a bargain price for Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

Back to the north side and the front of Phillimore Court. Look past that Jaguar/Daimler saloon at Chelsea Girl nearly in the centre of the block, with Mothercare next door.

 


 

This view shows the Chelsea Girl sign sharing the frontage with Concept Man.

 

 

Among  the collection of pictures I found these two images of shop signs:

 

 

The two signs have been put up somewhere to see how they look. The version of Concept Man seen below is just in some basement on a random wall. Concept Man sounds like a peculiar idea anyway. He’s not a man he’s just a concept! No contest against Chelsea Girl. (She’s a girl from Chelsea?)

 

 

Neither of them made the final cut in 1986. Chelsea Girl stayed at 124-126 for a few years. My research indicates that the same address was the home of River Island.

I quite liked this picture, which shows the more upmarket image River Island were looking presumably for in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, it’s obviously not actually on the High Street despite the address on the back.

 

 

Could it have been in Barkers Arcade? It’s actually too hot to ponder this question.

One or two names have been left out of this post. Bradford and Bingley, Dorothy Perkins, Video Vision to name but three.

But with the disappointment of River Island I decided to let one more picture in.

 

 

Foothold, purveyors of athletic shoes. . And a runner in green shorts! He’s a conceptual man if ever I saw one.

 

 

Postscript

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

These words are already being quoted across the internet and hailed as of one the great speeches in cinema, up there with Orson Welles’ cuckoo clock. And it is a great moment for lovers of science fiction.

My wife once came across Rutger Hauer (who died this week aged 75) in a cafe in the Fulham Road. He asked her friend for a light. Afterwards she had to explain who he was to her friend. Not everyone had heard of Blade Runner then.

Thank you, Mr Hauer for being part of our collective dream.

 

Bus Supplement

I sent a couple of these pictures to my son and transport correspondent, Matthew. I can only quote his reply in full:

The first bus is actually the more readily identifiable, as we can see it’s fleet number – RM1830. This would be towards the end of it’s career in the capital, as London Transport began withdrawing RM class Routemasters (though clinging fiercely to it’s RMLs, many of which would remain in service until the very final days of their operation on route 159).

At this point, RM1830 was operating out of Westbourne Park garage, the natural home of the 31 since just after the new garage (nestled under the Westway) opened in 1981. The garage would keep the 31 until 2011, enduring the infamous days of minibus operation on the route. Anyone who knew the 31 (which is now two routes, the 31 and 328) in the 1990’s will remember the wholly inadequate little vehicles (Wright “Handybuses” for those seeking details, not that any passenger would have described the diminutive things as “handy”) that took over from proper buses in 1992, and continued for a remarkably long time, despite nobody having anything positive to say about them.

This insult in bus operation was made after RM1830 had moved on from London – it would only stay until 1987, when it was withdrawn by London Transport. It was aquired in 1988 by Clydeside Scottish, and made the journey north, though sadly it never saw service – it was just there to provide spare parts to Clydeside’s existing fleet of ex-London Routemasters. What was left of RM1830 was later sold for scrap, and RM1830 passed on to the great bus garage in the sky.

We can’t go into such detail for the second image, despite actually being able to see the whole bus, as both fleet number and registration number are obscured by the surrounding traffic.

What is visible is the unusual advertising panel for Miss Selfridge on the offside of the bus. As the Routemaster hurriedly departing from the picture frame on the right can show us, most RMs and RMLs had “L” shaped advertising panels, taking advantage of the blank panel over the staircase to provide as much lucrative advertising space as possible. This vehicle, one of many Tottenham garage-based RMLs, received special illuminated advertising panels instead – these were supposed to increase visibility at night on routes like the 73 that ran through central London after dark. The experiment was evidently not deemed a success, and London Transport never expanded the practice, and most lost the illuminated panels when they were overhauled. One member of the class still retains the panels to this day though, working as a heritage vehicle for Ensignbus in Essex. The idea meanwhile has begun to return, with some buses now having LED-based advertising panels installed, allowing for the adverts to flash and scroll and display other dazzling effects to their audience. How long will this latest version of the experiment last?

Nonetheless, an RML on route 73 to Stoke Newington tells us a lot. Not least that the photo’s label is wrong – this is emphatically not 1989. It can’t be, unless that particular bus had rebelled against the dictats of London Transport and decided that it was too good to be curtailed to such a location as Victoria.

Route 73, until August of 1988, ran from Stoke Newington to Hammersmith. In that year though, the new route 10 (King’s Cross to Hammersmith Broadway) would take over the Hyde Park Corner – Hammersmith section, leaving the 73’s to turn sullenly south at Hyde Park Corner in order to wheeze to a halt at their new terminus on the forecourt of Victoria Station.

The 10 would exist in this form almost precisely 30 years – it was withdrawn entirely in 2018 in order to reduce the number of buses on Oxford Street. The madness that is pedestrianisation of this thoroughfare continues to plague the minds of those in power, and small steps towards this absurd and laughable goal continue to be taken, heedless of the impact it will have on the travelling public.

However, in order to maintain a connection between Hyde Park Corner and Hammersmith (for apparently this connection must be maintained at all costs) the 23, shorn of its run between Marble Arch and Liverpool Street, was redirected down Park Lane to take over. Now the 23 runs in an absurd “C” shape, connecting Hammersmith with Westbourne Park via Marble Arch – a route so circuitous as to be almost entirely pointless – as demonstrated by the near-empty buses plying the route!


Kensington Roofworld

The author Christopher Fowler is famous for his Bryant and May series of novels about a pair of older detectives investigating “peculiar crimes” and for a series of supernatural novels and short stories. But for me and a few others his first novel is the most remarkable. Roofworld (1988) tells the story of a parallel society living along side our own whose  members live above our heads, passing from roof to roof by a variety of means. It’s a little like a reverse of Neal Gaiman’s London Below from his novel Neverwhere but the inhabitants of Roofworld are unseen by us not through some kind of magic but by stealth. We just miss them, almost every time. The book is an adventure story telling how a couple of ground dwellers are drawn into the roofworld and the ancient struggle going on up there.

It’s one of the classics of urban fantasy. (Like a book I read around the same time, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. They come at a point when this sub-genre was just getting started. But don’t get me started or we could be here all day.)

The Roofworld setting was brought to mind for me by some of the images I have found recently while writing a loose series of posts set along Kensington High Street . Some of these pictures may have been taken by intrepid employees of the Planning department, others by equally audacious employees of those companies and individuals submitting applications, like these ones of the roof of the Royal Garden Hotel.

 

 

 

On an overcast day someone is looking around this roofscape. The application was probably concerned with the satellite dishes. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on the handwritten notes on this picture of the hotel.

 

 

Below, a brave man goes closer to the edge than I ever would. It actually gives me twinges of vertigo looking at it.

 

 

I like the view from tall buildings but I prefer it when there is a nice secure guard rail (or a plate glass window – that’s why I  liked the London Eye). It used to be possible to get on top of some of the buildings I know, a block of flats in Chelsea,  a library or two (such as this one, which has a very secure roof). But the authorities are more vigilant about health and safety these days, quite rightly so I say speaking as an unlikely urban explorer.

(Have a look at Bernard Selwyn’s views here, taken from a safe and vantage point  in the common parts or rooms of another hotel))

Despite a general dislike of heights I’ve been up a few tall buildings, particularly ecclesiastical ones- Notre Dame, York Minster, and my personal favourite, the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, which has a very quiet and atmospheric space on top of a tower. Going back to my teenage years, I went up the then Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) when it was one of the tallest buildings in London. This is a further link to Fowler’s novel – one of the later scenes takes place on the tower, reaching which  represents a considerable effort on the part of the roofworlders.

Here’s that man again, still looking quite unconcerned. (On the right of the picture).

 

 

 

Some of this week’s other pictures may have been taken from the hotel, (not necessarily from the roof), or one of the buildings next to it such as the Ladymere Building like this one. (You can just see a decorative feature on the left.)

 

 

Looking down on a roof line you usually look up at gives you a new perspective on the variety of buildings and what lies behind the facades.

 

 

You can locate this roof space by noting the position of Rodeo Drive which we looked at from street level in a previous post.

Here are those double stairs again and what lies next to them, including the buildings east of Barkers.

 

 

These presumably give access to the roofscape and possible escape routes from fires, or other building problems.

In this 1998 picture you can see the tower on the corner of the Gas and Coke / NatWest building, along with another bit of the Ladymere.

 

 

And now we switch to the other side of the street to the top of Barkers and look back across at the Royal Garden Hotel, the Ladymere and the Old Court building.

 

 

In this picture the photographer has crept closer to the edge of a roof to look across at the upper floors of the Ladymere. (He’s not on top of Barkers any more.)

 

 

And here even closer to the scaffolding shrouded Old Court building.

 

 

A look west shows the location of the previous two images from above.

 

 

See that white section of roof and the small set of chimneys with the green flat roof beyond.

Now, I think we move back across to the north side of the High Street looking at a usually hidden part of another building.The roof area has been partially colonised and made safe for residents to roam outside.

 

 

 

Below a couple of men are roaming on this roof,looking safe enough for the moment.

 

 

Back on Barkers roof there is even a set of steps to get you safely over this pipework.

 

 

There are pictures which show how these spaces behind buildings have been adapted and made safe for inhabitants and visitors. Below, you can see a whole network of staircases and walkways, with railings, and access at different levels.

 

 

When building work was under way some photographers used the collage technique to build up an image showing a wider area.

 

Note the little Post-it notes telling you which house number is which.

 

The pictures this week have all been “working” images, to demonstrate what has been don or might be done in the future.

The last few pictures are of more general interest. These two pictures reveal another hidden area among the rooftops. They are both views looking in a westerly direction.

 

 

The towers of South Kensington in the distance give you a general idea of the area.

 

 

I love the section in the centre where a door and a few windows give access to a small yard, hidden from the streets below.

In the final picture, the viewpoint is way above  Roofworld.

 

 

Postscript

I felt I could keep on and on adding pictures this week as there are so many of these rooftop views in our collection. I suppose that at the eastern end of Kensington High Street  there is a sufficient number of tall buildings to provide suitable vantage points for pictures. I’ll see how many more emerge as I proceed westwards.

I’ve just been flipping through Roofworld, having unearthed my copy from a cupboard, and I notice that a couple of the characters from the Bryant and May series make their first fictional appearances in it. You can still buy copies from various sources, so if you haven’t read it, why not take a look?


Happy shiny people: the ideal world

I love the illustrations that sometimes come with architectural drawings and planning applications. They depict an ideal near future for a place we know well, clean and well appointed, inhabited by happy, well dressed people enjoying new and improved facilities. Sometimes the same future can seem a little dystopian depending on your point of view. In the course of examining images in our collection I have seen a few abortive plans which make me glad that somebody saw sense or just dropped the ball. But mostly you’re looking at something that happened. The shiny happy people in the illustrations have played their part and moved on to whatever alternative reality is their next destination. Those of us left behind made the most of what we were offered.

 

 

“Miss K”? Was there ever such a shop? Or is it a well known chain in the other world, where airships always haunt the skies? It’s “Miss Kensington” of course. The “right on shop” (look closely) “Victoria” of South Kensington sell jewelry and watches. Even I can’t make out the last two shops in the distance. Those two beaming men are just passing a shop simply called Fashions. The artist, John S Robinson, couldn’t come up with anything more than that.

As I mentioned in my last post, the third of Kensington High Street’s department stores, Pontings, was the first to close and be demolished. It had been located on the corner of Wright’s Lane and was attached on its west side to the arcade which leads from the street to the tube station. At one time the arcade would have been lined with display windows for Pontings or its sister store Derry and Toms.

 

 

That’s the Pontings side. In the centre, facing the side entrances of the stores was a WH Smith kiosk. ( A great word for a useful object.)

 

 

On the other side, an entrance to Derry and Toms, which followed Pontings into retail history a few years later. The arcade was colonised by a variety of small businesses.

 

 

We’re going to veer off into anecdote now. One of my colleagues once asked me if there had ever been a fountain in the arcade. I didn’t think so but as some of you always knew, there was. I recently found some pictures that prove it.

 

 

My colleague was very gracious and didn’t give me a hard time for my skepticism. Isabel added insult to injury though by recalling that she had been a member of a school choir which had stood by the fountain singing carols in the early 1990s . Although I was around then I still can’t remember it although oddly, Cafe Gstaad  (now Pret) rings a bell. The conclusion must be never dismiss any recollection and be patient. The pictures you need may be waiting for you somewhere.

 

 

In the meantime let the happy people have their moment. John S Robinson has made the arcade a  little bit wider and taller. It’s always bigger in the other world.

 

 

 

The elegant, possibly haughty, lady in the white hat is walking away from the tube entrance “Fashions” has become Austin B..something.

In the next picture, which seems to look at Boots, Mr Robsinson takes us well into the other world with a gallery (Gallery Eight), a News kiosk, some kind of seating area and another glass fronted shop in the distance.

 

 

 

That perky woman is suggesting something to her partner. A leisurely lunch perhaps? Or is he asking him to turn around and walk past that older couple right into the other world?

I’ve looked very closely at these three pictures, too closely really.

Outside, there are more accurate, and optimistic views of the corner.

 

 

Looking south down Wright’s Lane, this is the plan as it was executed. The other world still had the Promenade. Looking west the view is spacious, and relatively underpopulated.

 

 

Finally, for the other world, the view down to where Wright’s Lane will join Marloes Road.

 

 

For illustrative purpose only. Another couple lean in close for conversation.

The west side of Wright’s Lane has been developed all the way down to the point where it meets Marloes Road. Boots on the corner, the corporate offices of the Warner Group, an apartment block, and then the Tara Copthorne Hotel. The space where Scarsdale House once stood has been filled in by modern buildings.

We can look back though as I’m sure you were expecting me to say.

This is the hotel site under development.

 

 

As is this. I’m not sure about that chimney.

 

This earlier image shows the site as a car park, with the station naked.

This is a very interesting picture. You can see the rear of the Derry and Toms and Barkers buildings, Heythrop College, even the distant Royal Garden Hotel and the spire of St Mary Abbots. Eveything on that side of the railway line is still there today more or less. But the tranquil car park, which if magnified could provide much material for car spotter, is all gone.

The picture below, of Kelso Place, with some provisional structures added in red ink is more difficult to figure out today.

 

 

The modern Kelso Place runs over the point where the railway line goes underground for a short distance. Those structures you can see through the fence must have been something to do with the railway but they’re not part of the modern station. Any answers?

Finally, leading into a future post is an aerial picture.

Kensington Square, the Barkers building and part of the roof garden itself, with some private gardens at ground level.

 

 

Look back at the car park picture and have a look that wall which borders the railway line.

If you’re ever in the arcade, head towards Boots but turn left before you get to the entrance, past the currently closed chocolate selling unit. You can still walk along next to that wall and make your way through the space next to the railway tracks to Scarsdale Place and back to Wright’s Lane, past the hotel entrance.

It’s a little crack in  this filled up space which gives you a look at the undeveloped past.

 

Postscript

I’m writing this first draft in a waiting area at Chelsea Westminster Hospital. The A&E department has certainly changed since I last mentioned it in the blog. There is still a certain amount of waiting to be done.

Since the last post, the science fiction world has lost Paul Darrow, who played the anti hero Avon in Blake’s 7, a programme for which many of us retain an inexplicable affection.

And Dr John, New Orleans psychedelic voodoo bluesman, has also left us.

The world of blogging still has me for the moment, I’m pleased to say.


At last the 1936 show: Barkers of Kensington

We’re moving west along Kensington High Street and we’ve now reached the Barkers building, opposite the point where the High Street intersects with Kensington Church Street. We’ll pause here this week because the Barkers building is Kensington High Street’s signature building, which has been a central part of the look of the street for more than 80 years. Its curved frontage is like the prow of a ship, a luxury ocean liner of shopping.

 

 

Barkers is the first of the three department stores of Kensington. Along with Derry and Toms, and Pontings it was the focus of serious shopping in Kensington during the heyday of the big stores. The fact that it is now occupied by a number of different retailers and offices doesn’t distract from the grandeur of the building.

But this building was not the first Barkers store. John Barker came to London in the 1850s and worked at the Bayswater store, Whiteley’s. He leased the first of his Kensington properties in 1870, and began the slow process of colonizing the block between Young Street and Derry Street, and the streets behind (see this post about the streets at the rear of Barker’s) The first substantial Barker’s building can be seen in this from the west in a photo by the Stiles brothers.

 

 

 

You can just make out the letters of the name in the distance.

Here’s a closer look.

 

 

 

The expansion was dealt a severe blow in November 1912 when a fire gutted the east end of the main block.

 

 

In those days it was common for big stores to provide living accommodating for their staff either on site or nearby. Barkers had been acquiring property in Kensington Square for various purpose including living space for their staff. but there were still 20 people living on the fifth floor. Five waitresses died after jumping prematurely from high windows.

For a while the store traded from a site they had leased across the road

 

 

This would be where the Ladymere building would be built. You can see the side of the Royal Palace Hotel on the right.

The fire damage was repaired and the work of being a huge shopping emporium carried on.

 

 

Groceries for everyday use.

Special occasions

 

 

And fashion

 

 

The “display hall”, 1930. Women’s fashion was a big priority for Barker’s as demonstrated by two scans from the catalogue of 1935, the 65th year of business.

 

 

 

Plans for a new building began from the 1920s. The directors took inspiration from Selfridges and from visits to the USA. One of the chief directors, Trevor Bowen went there in 1919 and was particularly impressed by the Marshall Field’s store in Chicago. There were delays along the way. Barker’s merged with Derry and Toms in 1920 and their building was the first to be replaced with a modern version. (Bowen would have been particularly occupied by the roof garden, which was his brainchild and arguably remains as his most interesting legacy.) Plans for the new Barkers start in 1933 and building work started in 1936. It was an even more ambitious project than the rebuiling of Derry and Toms, with the two dramatic staircase towers which add to the impression that the building is about to start moving forwards. Work was intended to finish in 1942,  but was stopped during the War. Post war changes in planning law and building regulations also had a delaying effect so work carried on into the 1950s.

 

 

This 1951  picture shows that the last section of the frontage was not yet complete. It shows how the shape we know now was the result of another road widening. Note the huge sign warning about the bottleneck (still a feature of this section of the street). If you look in the centre distance you can see a big sign over the Slater’s store. Have a look at that here.

The building was finished in 1957 by which time the House of Fraser had taken over the company

This picture shows the finished building and how well it matches Derry and Toms.

 

 

Lowly Pontings (“the store for value”) limped on in a less  impressive building but was the the first part of this retail empre to go. (See one of my early posts here). I think you could say that in the 1960s, the zenith of department store shopping had not yet passed so Barker’s glided on into my teenage and adult life. Derry and Toms morphed into Biba and later Marks and Spencer and Gap In the 1980s and 90s but the Barkers building remained as the biggest thing in the High Street.

 

 

 

This picture looks west in a similar way to the first photo in the post.

 

 

 

While preparing this post it was inevitable that I would zoom in on this view.

 

 

Along with the lady’s nice coat (a winter picture, confirmed by those Chritmas trees), you can see a green bus.

Although you can’t make out much detail, Matthew soon found a picture of that actual vehicle using the strange powers of the enthusiast.

 

 

From the same date, the west entrance, with a toy display.

 

 

And the banner: Barkers of Kensington.

Below, a handy set of images showing some of the interior shops after this part of the building became a kind of small shopping mall. Barkers Arcade was a name I found a couple of times.

 

 

 

(Was there actually a branch of Hatchards there, or has the photographer inserted some shops for demonstrating what was possible?)

Despite changes in use and the decline of department store shopping the iconic building remains almost as it was originally envisaged, seen below in an architect’s drawing of a slightly wider high street in a slightly grander London.

 

 

 

Postscript

I haven’t done an obituary lately so this week let’s pay tribute to Roky Erickson, psychedelic pioneer with the exotically named Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Do you remember any of the other equally hallucinogenic names from Lenny Kaye’s compilation album Nuggets? (The Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Electric Prunes, the Nazz? And many others) Roky unfortunately was a victim of excessive drug taking and spent some years in mental hospitals. But he came back and recorded more general weirdness in later life. I had a couple of singles by him in the 1980s, my personal favourite, Bermuda but not forgetting Two Headed Dog, which features another couplet I love: “Two headed dog, two headed dog / I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog.” I almost never use the word gonzo but that song deserves it.

Roger Kynard Erickson (did you see what he did there?) 1947-2019. Thank you. We are going to miss you.

 


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