Tag Archives: Kensington High Street

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.


Christmas Days: Argent Archer

I had an enquiry the other day about the photographer Albert Argent Archer. A website devoted to photographers said we had a collection of his work, which was news to me. The name did ring a bell though and when I went looking through our ephemera collection I found several old photographic prints with his distinctive imprint in the section on Kensington High Street. There might be a full length post next year devoted either to Archer or to a series of pictures of the High Street as it used to be, but for today I thought we might have a quick before and after. Geographically these pictures come from a spot less than five minutes walk from where I now sit, huddled in a Dickensian fashion next to a heater.

 

 

Although this picture was taken in the 1920s, the distinctive architecture of Hornton Court is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with Kensington High Street. This tall redbrick block of apartments and shops was unique in 1905 when it was built but it formed the model for a whole series of blocks along the north side of the high street which were built in the 1930s.

Note the small tobacconists to the left of Chesterton’s, selling Abdulla Cigarettes, a popular brand of the time. I can still remember a tobacconist / confectioner there when I first worked in Kensington in the 1980s.

 

 

This picture doesn’t have Archer’s embossed stamp on it, but the rest of today’s pictures do. This one shows the same corner as the one above when  it was a simple terrace of houses and shops.

 

 

In both pictures you can catch a glimpse of the building in Phillimore Walk which filled the whole block.

 

 

Our old friend, the Abbey with its gothic windows and other features, which must have been a bit of a spooky sight, lurking behind the “modern” high street.

This view shows the 116-138 block from the west.

 

 

 

You can see the wide pavement and how in a couple of cases there are front gardens or yards. Imagine a long series of these going west along the high street facing the Promenade on the south side. These terraces were destined for demolition and many were knocked down in 1931. We’ll see more of them in the new yaear but for now, here is Archer’s own studio at 140 Kensington High Street.

 

 

 

Miscellany: melancholy animals

Back in the days when my son was young and people did most of their shopping in actual (as opposed to virtual retailers) another familiar high street name, Boots, offered shoppers a free soft toy after they spent a certain amount. (I don’t recall the actual terms and conditions but I remember you didn’t pay for them, and you sent off for them.) As regular users of Boots we acquired a few examples but what struck us was the consistently downbeat demeanor of the stuffed creatures: the depressed giraffe, the worried zebra, the suicidal rhino. The biggest one was the one you see below: the sad tiger.

 

We wondered why no-one spotted this general unhappiness of soft fauna. But we’ve done our best for them. These days the tiger is in a support group with this slightly anxious gorilla, and supervised by monkey therapist Doctor Trevor (whom God preserve) of Utrecht.

 

 

The final daily post will probably be on Saturday. I have a lot to do tomorrow. Oh, there she is again.

 


Christmas Days: the wonder of Woolies

Woolworth’s stores were once upon a time a seemingly immovable feature of the British high street. Every town had one, some more than one, and every London district. Think back now to all the different branches you’ve been into in your life. I remember one in Chester with a bewildering number of entrances, a cavernous one on Oxford Street, and a fairly big one in Victoria. This Bignell picture was taken there.

 

For myself, I remember one near where my uncle lived in Clapham, there were two in the King’s Road. Many I’ve forgotten of course. And there was one in Kensington High Street.

Here, a little way along from corner of Old Court Place, where you now find Zara and Uniqlo, you can see a sign announcing  “Woolworths New Store.” It’s 1963.

 

On the corner a woman stares into the window of another vacant store front, wondering what will be here next.

Within, a bit of internal modelling is occurring.

 

Soon, the shop fitters are at work, setting up the store, still tantalizingly empty at this point.

 

But not for long, obviously and this picture shows the shop up and running.

 

Is that a Volvo? (I’ve been corrected on car identification more than once recently so I’m prepared for motoring experts to step in at this point).

Woolworth’s were at  54-60 Kensington High Street until the mid 1980s, after which the site was sub-divided. Woolworth’s itself went on. I remember particularly associating the one at Clapham Junction with Christmas decorations and the general run-up to Christmas. But they’re all gone now, like many high street names we thought would last forever. The actual “wonder of Woolies” (their old advertising slogan) was that they lasted as long as they did.

Miscellany: Shopping archaeology

We have a few items in our collection of what librarians used to called realia (“real things”, I expect as opposed to books, which are somehow unreal.) Among those are some examples of artifacts from previous layers of history. As today’s theme was shopping, here are a few of those items related to shops on Kensington High Street. (There was once going to be a whole post on the archaeology of shopping but I couldn’t find very much.)

 

From Barkers, a paper bag, a plastic bag and a gift box. Let’s take a closer look at that one.

 

Carefully assembled by me the other day after many years of being flat and unused.

And of course, next door to Barkers:

Our friends at Biba. A selection of their stylish plastic bags, representing what they were good at, fashion, and an empty packet of soap flakes, representing the areas of retail they should have perhaps left to others.

 

But undeniably striking. If only we had a tin of their own brand baked beans. Unopened, obviously.

See you tomorrow.

 


The secret life of postcards 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see the ornate lettering  better in close up.

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

A crowded upper deck.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

Shall we get back to our friend JH?

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

 

What did JH have to say?

 

 

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

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

Postscript

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

 


Goodbye Ball Street: behind Barker’s

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

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

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

 

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

And now the plan:

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

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

This is also Young Street.

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

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

If we turn north on that same day…

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

The point of view shifts east in this picture.

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

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

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

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

Demolition is in progress.

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

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

March 1928

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

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

Can you spot another solitary figure below?

A man in a white coat on the first floor.

Back to Ball Street now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Postscript

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


Holland Park 1980: a day out

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

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

holland-park-archway-passage-leading-to-orangery-1980

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.

holland-park-orangery-1980

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

holland-park-belvedere-restaurant-1980

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.

holland-park-south-view-of-orangery-1980

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

 

orangery-clock-tower-and-statue-1950

(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.

holland-park-toddlers-play-centre-1980

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.

holland-park-adventure-playground-1980-copy

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

holland-park-1980-4

From the large, not easily missed varieties.

holland-park-1980-8

To the small and sometimes well camouflaged.

holland-park-ducks-10-972-1980

On land, or on water.

holland-park-ducks-afloat-1980

Or between the two.

holland-park-ducks-10-971-1980

There was sport, for the athletically inclined.

holland-park-south-of-orangery-1980-2

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

holland-park-1980-2

Discover statues, some prominent, as the one below.

lord-holland-statue-1980

(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.

holland-park-statue-in-gardens-1980

(The so-called Melancholy Old Man)

And some just plain odd.

 

ice-house-detail-holland-park-1980

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.

holland-park-path-from-kensington-high-street-1980

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.


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