Tag Archives: King’s Road

Bignell at the pub

Last week’s pictures took us back to a time when there were still dozen of pubs in Chelsea. It’s true that they were changing in the early 1970s. The Lord Nelson in the King’s Road changed its name to the Trafalgar and became a “pub-discotheque” with a fairground theme. (The opening ceremony in 1970 featured the then up and coming British film star Julie Ege and George Lazenby pulling the first pint)The nearby Six Bells (featured in this post) also underwent a transformation which might not be to modern tastes. But at least these pubs were still there. Those two pubs are two of the survivors.

Here’s the Six Bells in its 70s guise as the Bird’s Nest (zoom in on the name):

Six Bells

But this week’s post is not about the 1970s. The heyday of Chelsea pub life was in the 1950s and 1960s, and John Bignell can take us back there.

pub scene 1564

It’s a world of men wearing suits where all the cool kids (and everyone else) smoked.

When pubs were popular:

Kings Head and Eight Bells 1950 1840A

The food was minimal.

pub interior_jb_313

But the staff were friendly:

Freda - barmaid at the Potter jb92

[Freda, barmaid at the Chelsea Potter]

The conversation was good:

The Commercial later Chelsea potter 1955 jb207

[Also the Potter, in 1955 when it was still called the Commercial]

Young and old all went to the same establishments:

Chelsea pub interior 2562

[As is often the case with 1950s fashion, this couple could walk around today without attracting much commentbut you seldom see women with fur stoles over their shoulders]

And there were characters:

Stratford Johns_jb_344

[Stratford Johns, television actor, star of crime dramas Z-cars and Softly, Softly]

Landlady of Lord Nelson fac_rbkc_jb_95

[The landlady of the Lord Nelson before its transformation]

Gina Warr proprieter of the Gateways Club jb54

Gina Warr, not strictly speaking a pub landlady but the manager/co-owner of the Gateways Club in Bramerton Street, the legendary lesbian club. She was definitely a character.

Not to mention Bignell himself of course:

JB at the Six Bells jb205 (2)

He’s at the Six Bells, one of his favourite haunts, where he could pull a pint, or just get back to what he did best:

Six Bells garden 1954

An unusual view of the Six Bells garden, with some affluent looking Chelsea residents sitting in the sun.

My favourite of Bignell’s pub interiors though is this one:

Chelsea pub interior 2433

I’m not sure where it is – all there is on the back of the print is “Chelsea pub interior”, but it catches something not only about the period – the intense young man in the suit juggling with half empty glasses and the woman in dark glasses listening to the man next to her  – but also about pub life in general, the moments of quietness in the midst of a crowd of convivial drinkers.

This era was ending of course but there was something else starting.

Chelsea Potter 1960s

Back at the Chelsea Potter the 50s was giving way to the 60s. That’s another story of course.


I was preoccupied with medical matters again this week, so my apologies if this post looks like it was put together quickly from a vague idea I had at the back of my mind – it was. Regular readers will spot a couple of pictures I’ve used before, but they did fit the theme. Thanks to all the people who liked last week’s post (lots of you). I’ll be getting around to part 2 as soon as I can.

The picture of the Bird’s Nest is by John Rogers. All the others are by John Bignell.

The Princess at the Pheasantry

152 King’s Road is the address of the grandest looking pizza restaurant in London. The wall in front is surmounted by a pair of eagles, a couple of caryatids  and a quadriga and the entrance is flanked by two more carvings of classical figures.These household gods may have protected the building during its mixed history.  The Pheasantry has proved to be a survivor.

It has seen difficult times as in these pictures from 1974 and 1970 when the threat of demolition was looming over it.

Pheasantry  1974 9731

Pheasantry 1970

The Pheasantry is so called because a farmer named Evans formerly sold live pheasants from the site. But the building served all kinds of purposes in its day. The cabinet makers and interior design company of Felix Joubert and his family worked from  there for many years. From 1932 until the mid 1960s it was a nightclub. You can make out the words Pheasantry Club above the door.

The club closed in 1966 when the then owner Mario Cazzini died. It was in 1969 when Bevis Hillier wrote: “what a profoundly insipid name for this perverted palace, which might be a chapel of Beelzebub, Aleister Crowley’s pied a terre, A creche for Rosemary’s baby or a finishing school for vampires…”

It was probably none of those things but does seem to have been a lively haunt for the bohemian crowd in Chelsea in the 50s, 40s and the 30s.

Kellys 1933

Note the old Chelsea exchange name Flaxman and the three categories  of members. (Artists paid the least). Then look at the entry below the advert.

One of the other tenants of the building was the Russian Academy of Dancing: proprietor Madame Seraphine Astafieva.

Astafieva signed photo

Princess Serafine Astafieva to give her her proper title died the following year, 1934. Her Academy had been at the Pheasantry since 1916.

Although she had been a dancer herself Astafieva’s main fame is as a teacher. Dame Margot Fonteyn spent the last year of Astafieva’s life at the academy. Another dame, Anna Neagle had also attended. But the most famous of her pupils were Anton Dolin and Alicia Marks who we now know as Dame Alicia Markova.

Copy of Astafieva prepares pupils including Markova for the Ypres Ball 1922

This pictture shows Astafieva (on the right) preparing some of her pupils for the Ypres ball of 1922. The young Markova is among them, possibly the one at the front but I’ll leave that to the experts. The year before both Dolin and Markova had been spotted by Serge Diaghilev at Astafieva’s studio. Markova was only ten at the time. After auditions for the choreographers Nijinska and Balachine she joined his company in 1925.

Diaghelev had been a friend of Astafieva’s since her days in the Russian Ballet. She joined the company in 1909 and when it came to London in 1911 she took on a role created for Ida Rubinstein, Cleopatra.

Astafieva as Cleopatra 01

Astafieva as Cleopatra 02

Astafieva was not apparently a great dancer but was tall, beautiful and she had the right kind of exotic look for that period . The fin de siecle decadence of the 1890s hangs over pictures of her as well as the aura of the early sex symbols of the silent cinema like Theda Bara (who also played Cleopatra, in 1917). This pair of images shows Astafieva as an early vamp.

Astafieva 02

Astafieva 03

Astafieva was born in 1876. She was related to Tolstoy and it is said that it was he who suggested when she was recovering from an illness that she would benefit from entering the Imperial School of Ballet in St Petersburg.

Copy of Astafieva

It’s hard to date the pictures we have of her in the collection, most of which come from a display donated to the Library by the writer and photographer Nesta MacDonald. So I don’t know quite when this last picture of Astafieva was taken. Probably later than the previous ones judging by the costume. But it shows her as she might have liked to be remembered best – as a dancer.

Astafieva 05


The Pheasantry deserves a post of its own but I thought I’d start with Princess Astafieva as a tribute to the (presumably) late Nesta MacDonald. Nesta was sometimes difficult to cope with as the people who tried to demolish the Pheasantry discovered but her first love was the world of ballet.

Bignell’s world: the photographer at work

 I was going to do another post in my Interiors series this week. There were a couple of other ideas bubbling under as well but Tuesday rolled round and none of those ideas were quite ready so I turned to our old friend John Bignell. I looked for a selection of photographs that would show some of the range of his work. Bignell photographed the famous and the obscure, the artistic and the ordinary. As a jobbing photographer he worked to order but he also worked for himself.

 He did fashion shoots like this one:


A model (unknown to me but I’m open to suggestions) in a Chelsea street.

Then there were catalogue jobs.

catalogue shoot 02

I think this was part of a tryout rather than the finished work but Bignell thought the series was worth keeping.

He was also out covering feature stories like this one at Battersea Park Fun Fair:

Battersea Park fun fair2

That’s the Caterpillar they’re getting out of according to my wife who rode on it in its final days.

Here’s another feature, where he followed his friend Paul Raymond to Clacton. The Raymond showgirls pose for some publicity pictures.

Raymond girls at Clacton 27

When he was bored with the glamorous jobs he sought out more authentic subject matter.

Woman in Dovehouse Green fac_rbkc_jb_80p

A woman feeding birds in Dovehouse Green – behind her is the Miller monument which is still there in the centre of the green which was landscaped in 1978.

Chelsea Library Manresa Road

A boy demonstrating the power of reading outside the first Chelsea Library in Manresa Road. Bignell may have set this picture up but it still looks spontaneous.

This one is somewhere in Chelsea too I think.

Fish shop - Coley jb1

Is the girl shocked at the price of coley, or worried that she might have to eat it? (Some people used to think that coley is just for cats.)

Sometimes Bignell concentrated on landscape:

St mary's Church Battersea from Lots Road JB5 box

St Mary’s Church, Battersea reflected perfectly in the shallow water at low tide.

This pair of images contrasts night and day:

Kings Rd from P Jones at night JB3 box

Kings Rd from P Jones JB3 box

Looking down the King’s Road from the roof of Peter Jones department store. (Bignell had a bit of a knack for getting to the top of buildings with a good view.)

And then there was just hanging out with the bohemian crowd, as in this party at David Rawnsley’s Pottery in 1960.

Party at David Rawnsley's Chelsea Pottery c1960 jb 210

Lucette de Fongere jb329

This lady is Lucette de Fongere, about whom I also know nothing apart from her name. As with all the Bignell posts I would appreciate any further information.

This is another carefully posed picture:

Regin de Cerchard and wife 1955 jb39

It features  Regin de Cerchard and his wife who is pretending to examine a painting of Chelsea Reach and Lot’s Road Power Station. Bignell had many friends  among the art and antique dealers of Chelsea. That was 1955.  Fifteen years later he had other artistic friends.

Filming under Battersea Bridge 1970 jb63c

Once again all I can tell you is the caption: filming under Battersea Bridge.

My final picture this week is one of my favourites, taken in Woolworth’s in Victoria in 1959.

Woolworth's Victoria 1959

I think this is one picture which wasn’t staged. As he so often did Bignell had the photographer’s instinct to take the picture at exactly the right moment.

Rite of spring: Mr Ruskin’s May Queen

Ruskin and Rossetti VAW copy

John Ruskin wouldn’t sit down for this picture. However poor the state of his health he felt it was unthinkable for him to sit in the presence of Rossetti so the great artist held him up. Ruskin was a man of high ideals and aesthetic principles. He had been one of the early supporters of the Pre-Raphaelites so Rossetti’s loose morals and the strange ménage at Tudor House wouldn’t have bothered him. But nevertheless it would have been hard to find two more unlikely companions in the whole of Victorian England. Rossetti represents the sensual side of the Victorian imagination let loose about as much as it could be. Ruskin of course represents the repressed imagination and it was that respectable side of his nature which drew him into collaboration with John Faunthorpe the Principal of the teacher training establishment in the King’s Road, Whitelands College.

Copy of Whitelands College PC109C

1902 John Faunthorpe from 1924 WA

[John Faunthorpe 1902]

Faunthorpe was a fan of Ruskin’s. He admired the great man extravagantly, idolised him even. So in1880 inspired by Ruskin  he floated the idea of starting a May Queen Festival at the College. Ruskin had form in this area, he had tried to start something similar at a school in Cheshire but parents had objected (Ruskin’s divorce / annulment from his marriage with Effie Gray and her subsequent marriage to Millais had been a great scandal). Between them the two men worked something out which combined Ruskin’s love of picturesque old English ritual and Faunthorpe’s desire for high Anglican ceremony. The notion of a may queen may also have appealed to  Ruskin because it involved pretty young women for whom he had a sentimental regard after the failure of his marriage and the derailment of his romance with Rose La Touche. The Victorians in general were given to sentimentalizing youth (perhaps because they frequently saw it snatched away by sudden disease and death, the very fate of Rose la Touche who died at the age of 27).

Ruskin donated a set of his books each year to be handed out by the new Queen, and paid for the design of the first in a series of crosses which were given to each Queen. The May Queen was chosen by the votes of the students (she should be “the lovablest and the likeablest” was Ruskin’s mawkish guidance to the voters). The first was Queen Ellen I.

1881 Queen Ellen I

Unfortunately for the ceremony Ellen was in mourning at the time and wearing black so a white shawl was found for her to wear. Ruskin pestered Faunthorpe for a photograph and then rather ungraciously said the Queen looked like she was 38. (She was 20). Although he did visit the College regularly he never attended the May Day ceremony. Perhaps he preferred the festival as a romantic ideal. After Queen Ellen the Queen and her maidens had dresses made for the occasion.

Ruskin had his protégé Kate Greenaway design a dress for the Queen which was passed on for four years.

1891 Queen Jessie 02

[Queen Jessie 1891]

But as the Festival continued it became customary for former queens to return and take part in the festival so the Queen needed a unique outfit.

1892 Queen Elizabeth II 02

[A small and faded view of Queen Elizabeth II, 1893]

1895 Queen Annie Bawden May 1895 CM259

[Queen Annie II, 1895]

May Day is a festival dating back to pre-Christian times. It’s related to the Celtic festival Beltane and the Germanic Walpurgis Nacht. Faunthorpe wanted to emphasise the Christian elements, and Ruskin had exalted ideas about feminine innocence and purity. But despite that this version of May Day still had its May Pole, and retained the flowers, garlands, branches and wooden staffs which still have their older pagan connotations. Here’s Queen Annie again in her throne room.

Queen Annie II 1895 CM258 Queen enthroned - Copy

They look like they’re starting to get the hang of it. Some former queens are present (see if you can spot Elizabeth II). They’re beginning to look a little like a female Masonic lodge.

Ruskin died in 1900 but the Festival no longer needed his blessing and seemed to grow in importance and complexity. If you remember I first dealt with the May Queen in Games for May. In that post I linked the Festival with the Chelsea Pageant just because I found the pictures together but the more I find out about the two events the more I think they belong together as part of the same current in the first decade of the 20th century. The Edwardians seemed to have a propensity almost amounting to mania for dressing up and engaging in theatrical rituals and performances, especially out of doors. In an age of technological innovation perhaps they were reliving the myths and legends of an older England. An England of their imagination.

Behind the stern walls of the College was a quadrangle with ivy-covered walls where the ceremonies could take place out of sight of the busy streets outside.

1899 Queen Agnes I and bodyguard CM259

[Queen Agnes I 1899]

The May Day festival took a whole day and required much preparation. The entire student body of about 150 got white dresses paid for by the college. There were services in the college chapel, a procession, an abdication ceremony, an election (although it became expedient to have the election before May Day so the new queen could be fitted for her dress) a masque, or some “revels”, and the crowning of the new Queen who would give out gifts of copies of works by Ruskin to selected students.

In 1906 there happened to be three queens in the College at the same time, the new Queen Florence, her predecessor Evelyn and the 1904 Queen Mildred.

1906 Queen Florence with Queen Mildred -left-and Queen Evelyn

Mildred in particular looks like she’s just come off the set of one of those 1970s Hammer films like the Vampire Lovers. Or (as I’ve said before) the cover of an album by a 70s English folk rock group, especially in the masque picture below.

They pulled out the stops on this one. Florence proceeded to her coronation with her maidens in tow.

1906 Queen Florence and maidens

And Mildred took the lead in a masque in which the students played flowers and trees and paid homage to her.

1906 masque featuring Queen Mildred and the cast of flowers and trees

In 1909, the year after the Chelsea Pageant there were more elaborate ceremonies. Here is Agnes II, with her chamberlains.

1909 Queen Agnes II & chamberlains

On the throne with the Dowager Queen Dorothy.

1909 Queen Agnes II & Dowager Queen Dorothy 1902 painting behind

Behind them is a painting of the 1902 ceremony. Check out the leopard skin.

There was even a special appearance by this lot:

1909 nuns

Not real nuns of course, just some of the Pageant performers from 1908 who just couldn’t resist coming back for an encore. It might have been their last chance to join the procession with the women in white.

1908 procession 02

And oddly, it seems to me that at that point they had peaked. The May Queen Festival continued of course, carries on to this day in fact, but in the second decade of the century the ceremonies gradually became less elaborate and the College slowly seemed to stop making quite such a big thing of May Day. Or it could be that young women were getting more serious about their profession and less serious about quixotic ritual. I heard someone on the radio recently saying that the Edwardians had a kind of innocence based on hope, the hope that the new century was going to bring progress and prosperity. By 1910 perhaps the zeitgeist was looking a little less hopeful than before and the revellers decided it was time to put the costumes back into the dressing up box.

Still, there were many more May Queens at Whitelands and when they gathered together for the ceremonies there was quite a bunch of them, now engaged in charitable works as well as Christianised neo-pagan rites. They even had a leader, the Mother Queen who was the oldest of this select group.

1912 Queen Ellen the mother queen

The first May Queen, Ellen I, now out of mourning, in her own robes, leading the procession again in 1912. She died in 1923, mourned by her fellow queens, but never forgotten.


That was quite a long post. Just as with the Chelsea Pageant I discovered a lot more material than I had imagined we had. Enough for another post next May Day if you can wait that long. I showed the pictures to a colleague and she said “it looks so pagan” – so it isn’t just me who thinks that.

The picture of Ruskin and Rossetti comes from the book the Victorian art world in photographs by Jeremy Maas. There is supposed to be a copy of it in William Rossetti’s memoirs but our copy had that page missing. There was an interesting picture of Maria Rossetti though which I intend to use in a future post.

Whitelands College moved to Putney in 1930 and has since moved again. It is now part of the University of Roehampton. The May Day Festival continues and they have May Kings now as well as May Queens. This year’s festival is on May 18th.

Postscript to the postscript

See comment below. Queen Thyra (1890) from Malcolm Cole’s book on the May Queen Festival,

1890 Queen Thyra

JB at the jazz club

John Bignell was sometimes a little unhelpful to posterity when it came to identifying pictures. You might get a penciled note on the back of a print or a short phrase on a batch of negatives. Sometimes you have to ask someone if you can find someone to ask or just make an educated guess. I started this post with a handful of photos of people dancing to a jazz band and they looked like they were having a good time.Dancing at the Six bells 03 - Copy

The room doesn’t look like a club, more like a gallery or some curtained off room in a municipal building but by comparing details of the ceiling and wallpaper with a picture that was labelled I came to the conclusion that all the photos were taken in the same place – an upstairs room at the Six Bells pub in the King’s Road.


The trees visible through the window are still there. The Six Bells still exists too as part of the Henry J Beans chain of bars but there’s no jazz upstairs these days. These pictures were taken about 1959. Jazz was still popular then, more popular than rock’n’roll in some circles. Across the road there were plenty of students at Chelsea College and Chelsea School of Art all eager to drink and dance. As I’ve said before (see the Art School Dance ) the 50s was the decade when people started to have serious fun again after years of wartime danger and post-war austerity. The students and others in these pictures had grown up in “interesting” times and they were ready to party. An even bigger party was waiting for them in the next decade but they didn’t know that yet.

Dancing at the Six Bells 01

They were still conventionally dressed but starting to loosen up. Look at the women in the centre of the picture with her head thrown back. Or this group:


The band is the Mike Martin Band. They’re in a formal pose in the picture by the window but in the others they’re looking far more abandoned and have been joined by their vocalist Pat Adams who can be seen better in the picture below with his back to the audience.

RBKC-521 - Copy

The band played a form of jazz called mainstream which lay somewhere between the New Orleans style trad jazz and the newer styles.

Six Bells jazzRBKC-525 - Copy

The club at the Six Bells was run for several years by musician and cartoonist Wally Fawkes. As well as being a musical associate of George Chisholm and George Melly, Fawkes is also known as the creator of the cartoon strip Flook.


Flook, a talking animal whose exact nature I was never able to fathom had a series of satirical adventures scripted by Melly, Barry Took, Humphrey Lyttelton and others which was featured in the Daily Mail when it was still a broadsheet.

Six Bells

There are some later photos from 1966 or 1967 featuring Henry “Red” Allen, a famous American trumpet player.

Red Allen 1908-1967 with Alex Welsh Band 1960s

As was often the practice he is playing with a “local” group, the Alex Welsh Band.

Red Allen 04

You can see from the background that some effort had been made to alter the decor of the room. Did Fawkes create the illustrations himself?

Sadly, Red Allen died soon after his British tour in 1967. The club itself didn’t last much longer despite the nights devoted to blues and other more popular forms of music. But it had a good run. You can find some memories of the club at: http://www.sandybrownjazz.co.uk/forumsixbells.html

And we can also remember through John Bignell’s photographs the nights of music and dancing in an upstairs room at a Chelsea pub.

RBKC-524 - Copy

Is that the woman we saw dancing on the left of the first picture, with Pat Adams taking a breather in the background underneath a strange looking painting? Once again Bignell demonstrates his talent for picking a good moment.


I scanned most of the pictures myself, some from negatives. A couple of the others I had to convert from TIFFs which adds to the slightly grainy or overexposed look to some of the images. Also Bignell was working in a dimly lit smoke filled room. But I like them anyway.

I found the picture of Flook online but I can’t remember where. Sorry to the owner.

Postscript to the postscript

As well as writing this blog I also do a few pieces for the K&C Libraries blog. Here’s my latest one: http://rbkclibraries.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/empty-spaces-part-2-the-writing-on-the-floor/

They let me do my own photography.

That’s entertainment: Bignell at the Palace

The King’s Road 1953. An AEC Regent bus blocks our view of Chelsea Town Hall but it is easy to see where we are on this bright autumn afternoon. The Chelsea Palace stood on the corner of Sydney Street where the Heal’s shop is today. Look closely and you can see that there’s a show called Twinkle on today. If there’s a matinee we can go in and see.

Looks like good old fashioned entertainment. Singing, dancing, costumes, comedy, romance.

These were still the elements of a show whether it was a big production in the West End or a more downmarket affair at the Palace. The Palace had been a music hall in its time and a proper theatre which had put on plays and revues. But by the 1950s its neighbour at the other end of the King’s Road the Royal Court was the place for serious drama in Chelsea. The Palace was a variety theatre. The long decline of the music halls and variety theatres had already begun. But they were by no means dead. John Bignell was there recording what he saw with his customary eye for a good picture.

This is a different show I think a year later. It’s one of my favourites of his theatre pictures because he catches the individual personalities of the four dancers in the chorus line. The two on the right look new to the business, concentrating hard on what they’re doing. The woman next to them is older, probably a seasoned professional, not too happy to be stuck in the chorus line but trying to rise above it. What makes the picture special is the one nearest the camera. She sees her picture being taken and looks slightly embarrassed at being caught doing something as silly as this. She’s also the prettiest of course, so perhaps her wary look is also telling Bignell that she is destined for better things. Or perhaps none of this is true. Bignell has given us room to speculate.

Bignell took many more pictures at the Palace.

An enthusiastic young man singing as though rock’n’roll would never happen.

Some gypsy dancers.

The photo below looks like publicity shot for a pantomime. The dame with another group of young women in quaint costumes:

I can’t imagine what pantomime it was though. As far as I’m concerned this past is definitely a foreign country so if anyone can tell us more I’d be grateful. Bignell didn’t always record the subjects of his pictures in great detail so we’re often left to guess exactly what’s happening.

The next two are more obvious:

A Parisian style can-can – see the words Place Pigalle at the back.

And although I can’t tell you the name of the show you can imagine the sort of song being performed here:

I suppose the last three images could be described as slightly risqué. They were taken after 1955 around the time when Paul Raymond started putting burlesque shows on at the Palace.

See how there are fully dressed dancers at the front of the stage while topless performers stand at the rear. At this point the shows must still have been following the conventions of the Windmill Theatre where nudity was permitted so long as the performers stayed completely still. Later the scantily clad dancers moved further forward.

The male performers whether in pyjamas or a suit remain fully covered.

The burlesque shows were one of the ways in which the Chelsea Palace survived in a world where entertainment was dominated by cinema and television but despite the efforts of Paul Raymond and others it eventually closed as a live venue. For a short while it was used by Granada Television as its London studio. The building was demolished in 1966.

If you’ve enjoyed this trip to the Chelsea Palace we might return for some more late night entertainment so let me show you one last intriguing picture. Every so often, when looking through the collection I see a picture that makes me say “What?” This is one of those.

The only clue I can give you here is that it looks like the lady has dropped her laser rifle. Not a sentence I thought I’d ever have to write on this blog.

Forgotten Chelsea: scenes you’ll never see

More photographs of old Chelsea this week but these are quite different from the Hedderly pictures. In Hedderly’s day Chelsea was still a suburb. The market gardens and nurseries were still there, some of the big houses and grounds survived, and Cremorne Gardens was still going strong. Thirty years or so later Chelsea was part of the city, only a few of the nurseries were left and Cremorne was already erased, the Gardens covered with housing. The open spaces have been filled in.

You can still see many of the places in Hedderly’s pictures, Rossetti’s house, Belle Vue House, the embankment, a reasonable facsimile of the Old Church. But the remarkable thing about these pictures is that almost everything you see in them is now gone.

You will never look at the north side of the King’s Road from Paultons Square and see houses and gardens like these or take a walk towards Beaufort Street and see the King’s Road Forage Stores with its intriguing Steam Chaff Cutting and Crushing Mill.

Or Osborn and Shearman’s paperhanging manufactory at numbers 332-336. Light industry was cheek by jowl with housing – turn around and look at the south side of the street

These pleasant and permanent looking dwellings on the corner of the King’s Road and Beaufort Street are also gone.

The block below looks familiar.

The buildings look a little like parts of the Fulham Road today but this is the corner of King’s Road and Edith Grove which looks quite different now. That woman striding along with an air of determination is walking past a missing piece of London.

This was Camera Square, off the northern section of Beaufort Street.

It was thought to be a bit of a slum at the time and after the Great War it was demolished and replaced by the rather more upmarket dwellings in the garden suburb style Chelsea Park Gardens.

Here is another side street off the King’s Road:

I think this is the eastern side of Manresa Road showing Wentworth Villa and Studios where several artists worked undisturbed through a large part of the 20th century. This is a view a little further down the road:

These buildings were opposite the first Chelsea Library which has survived through the years although it is no longer a library.

Moving eastwards you come to Sydney Street.

The Wilkinson Sword Company had their Oakley Works here. Just beyond it is this row of buildings:

The street on the right is Upper Manor Street. Later there was a Post Office on this site.

Turn back to the south side again. This is the south section of Manor Street in 1901:

Demolition is under way. The whole street has an air of impermanence as if it hadn’t yet decided what sort of street it was going to be.

There is more than a hint of what is to come at the Sloane Square end of the road.

This picture from October 1900 shows the previous incarnation of the Peter Jones store, a building gone but definitely not forgotten.

One final place for you to go, up Sloane Street and into Sloane Terrace.

The Wesleyan Chapel, replaced by the grander Christian Science church which is now Cadogan Hall. But don’t linger, there’s something I want to show you round the corner.

This is D’Oyley Street, and that is the Woodman Tavern. As I promised you at the start almost everything in these pictures is gone. But do you see that hanging sign? That is still with us in a library archive room, a survivor against the odds.

One of these days I’ll show you a close up of it as it is today.

John Bignell and the celebrities: fame in the sixties

Some of you may not have heard of John Bignell. I googled his name when I was preparing to write this and you don’t find much – lots of results about his book Chelsea Photographer and the inevitable reference to the picture he took of Claudie Delbarre a few days before she was murdered. (See the King’s Road Blues post if you want see the picture) But there’s very much more to John Bignell. He did street photography, news, fashion, art even a bit of glamour. He documented bohemian life in Chelsea from the 50s to the 80s. And like many London photographers in the 60s he snapped his share of the celebrities of the day.

Celebrity itself was a little different then of course.

A young David Hockney, sitting with the widow of Igor Stravinsky.

A couple of other shots in art galleries:

Claire Bloom and Rod Steiger in 1961 according to Bignell’s notes, then married (his fourth marriage, her third, and final one) The man on the left is David Tomlinson but I don’t think it’s the actor from Mary Poppins. (or is it?)

The man with the prominent nose is L S Lowry sharing an amusing story with an unknown gentleman and the already ubiquitous Richard Attenborough.

Another high class occasion:

Derek Nimmo (ask some old person if you don’t know) officiating at some formal occasion puzzling over an illegible note with Lady Limerick. This could be a literary occasion. There’s an impressive collection of old books in the background.

Bignell must have been on good terms with his subjects. He often took pictures in their own homes.

Chelsea resident, film and TV actor Harry Fowler, with his wife Kay. Mr Fowler who died earlier this year made an appearance in the short lived BBC2 Chelsea-based soap opera World’s End, which I’ve already referred to in a previous post.

This is one of my favourites among Bignell’s celebrity photos:

Charles Gray, another local, looking like a man who knows how to have a good time. He had a long career in acting, playing one version of the James Bond villain Blofeld (in Diamonds are Forever), at least three versions of Mycroft Holmes, on film and TV, and most memorably for me Mocata, the villain in the Hammer adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out.

Another classy interior:

A fairly young Ned Sherrin striking a pose while sitting down, possibly in the flat in Chelsea where he lived for many years.

Bignell found many of his subjects on the streets of Chelsea.

Ryan O’Neal examining a shop keeper’s pendant in a slightly disconcerting manner.

Sammy Davis Jr making his way down the King’s Road, possibly on his way here:

You can see him on the balcony. Has the crowd gathered for him, or is this a normal Chelsea Saturday afternoon back in the 60s?

You’ve seen a lot of male celebrities so far so here are a couple of famous women:

Jayne Mansfield with her daughter Jayne Marie at Victor Silvester’s dance studio on the King’s Road. Jayne Marie is unmistakeable I think. I got carried away with the caption Jayne Mansfield and daughter, thinking the daughter was Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit but it turned out to be Ms Mansfield’s first daughter. I can see the family resemblance though.

Just a little way down the King’s Road was the Chelsea Palace. Here Bignell took this excellent picture of another famous blonde actress.

Diana Dors in the dressing room with a man named Michael Keaton who looks very pleased to be on the receiving end of Ms Dors’s attention.

This post has been an introduction to John Bignell. I’ll be coming back to him again over the coming months to try and show you the full range of his work. But for now here’s the man himself behind the bar of the Six Bells.

And here’s a puzzle for you. Who on earth are these guys?

Are they an actual group, or just some likely looking hipsters Bignell gathered together for the picture, which is simply called Love is all you need?

So if anyone has any ideas please let me know. We’ve already eliminated Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch by the way.

Toilet humour: the case of Thomas Crapper

After the amazing photographs you’ve seen in the past few weeks, this post is going to seem like something of a shaggy dog story, more about the writing of history than history itself. But bear with me. I’ve had this subject on my list since the beginning of the blog. And for years before that.

Just to set the record straight at the outset here is a photograph of 120 King’s Road taken about 1966.

The business closed the following year which might explain why the shop front looks a little minimal. But the Crapper business had a long history in Chelsea. This advertisement is from 1908, but similar ones had been appearing in local newspapers and directories since the 1880s.

Some of the later adverts featured a photograph of the Marlborough Works as the factory was called.

Here are Crapper and some of his team outside the Works.

He’s just visible among the three dark-suited men on the right. And here is Mr Crapper himself:

To sum up then: Thomas Crapper plumbing engineer, not actually the inventor of the flush toilet, but one of its leading proponents and manufacturers. A successful Victorian businessman, like Joseph Bazalgette a contributor to improvements in public health, and civilisation itself if you accept the idea that one of the main purposes of civilisation is to increase the distance between humanity and its waste products. Not only that, but his legacy includes some new words: crap, crappy and crapper itself.

So how could some commentators have come to doubt his existence?

The words became better known than the man I suppose and not everyone lives in Chelsea where the physical proof existed for many years. Then of course there was this book:

Flushed with Pride was written by Wallace Reyburn a talented author of books about sport and other subjects. The book itself is entertaining in a quirky seventies way, tongue in cheek and slightly vulgar but is mostly factual. The attribution to Crapper of the invention of the flush toilet is credited to Reyburn. There are some amusing anecdotes about toilets in famous locations and the author’s experiences in them. And the book was a minor bestseller.

Flushed with success Reyburn went on to write a quasi sequel: Bust-up – the story of Otto Titzling, inventor of the bra. (Do you see what he did there?)

Need I add that despite the inclusion of factual material relating to underwear history, Bust-up is complete fiction, and only mildly diverting. (I admit to owning a copy bought entirely for the purposes of historical research.) According to Reyburn’s obituary it fooled the creators of Trivial Pursuit who included a question about Otto in the game.

It may have also been the confusion generated by the real Thomas Crapper being equated with the fictional German (I can’t face typing that name again) which caused some etymologists particularly in America to conclude that that Mr Crapper was equally spurious. Having made that conclusion they and other authorities discovered all sorts of instances of the words crap and crapper being used before Thomas Crapper became well known. “From the old Flemish to take one’s ease” etc.

Many American scholars came to Crapper’s defence but the one I knew was Mr Ken Grabowski who set about the task of proving to his compatriots that Thomas Crapper was a real person. He published an article in the pleasingly named academic title “Festschrift in honour of Virgil J Vogel”. (I mean no disrespect to Professor Vogel when I confess I find his name at least as amusing as Thomas Crapper) He consulted street directories, phone books, libraries, made a pilgrimage to Crapper’s grave and even arranged to have the fading lettering restored.

He went furthe,r interviewing former members of staff at the Crapper shop and even tracked down fleeting appearances of the shop in 60s films. Those of you who like such things and I know many people do, can see Dirk Bogarde walk past the shop at the beginning of the Servant on his way to an interview in Royal Avenue.

Ken found pictures of Crapper vans in action around London and did every possible thing to document the genuine existence of Thomas Crapper. He intended to publish a book but as far as I know it never appeared. Nevertheless for going to exceptional lengths to demonstrate his thesis our thanks go out to him and to all the other Crapper scholars.

You know I like a punch line. So here is a photo of another cult figure and Chelsea resident the author Adam Diment. His story is worth telling but I can’t do it as it has already been done. You can further details and pictures like this one at the excellent London website Another Nickel in the Machine.  http://www.nickelinthemachine.com/2009/08/the-disappearance-of-the-author-adam-diment/

Look behind the tousled blonde hair of the briefly famous author with his two companions and you can just make out the name of that other Chelsea character Thomas Crapper on the alread boarded-up shop. which is where we came in.

And if you can find second hand copies of Adam Diment’s books, try them. They’re more amusing than Bust-up.

King’s Road Blues part two

There has been a cinema on the corner of King’s Road and Old Church Street since 1910. This picture shows that part of the King’s Road. You can see the side of the cinema, the Marjorie Parr shop (Parr was a well known Chelsea art dealer) and interestingly what looks like a statue of a woman visible over the top of the van.

Was it something on the back of a vehicle?

The cinema has gone under many names. As the King’s Road Theatre it was the home of the first live version of the Rocky Horror Show. It has been a Ritz, a Curzon, a Classic, a Cannon and an ABC. It was also called the Essoldo when this picture was taken:

These were the days when cinemas showed one film at a time so there was room on the display board for “Can Hieronymous Merkin ever forget Mercy Humppe and find true happiness?” (1969, a musical featuring Anthony Newley and Joan Collins regarded by some as a work of genius but by most critics of the day as pretentious rubbish)

Moving east we pass Oakley Street. In this image you can see the wall that once marked the edge of the Old Burial Ground. The area was landscaped in the late 1970s.

You soon come to another cinema, the Odeon (Formerly the Gaumont). In 1972 another film with a long title was showing:

The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972, a French comedy thriller about a musician caught up in a spy caper) This view is looking west, the way we came. Turn around to see the view east with the Antiquarius building in its heyday.

And the recently deceased Picasso Café:

This picture by John Bignell shows a group of typically sixties King’s Road characters hanging out at the Picasso.

(It’s an excellent picture but it has a dark subtext. Claudie Delbarre the woman in the curly wig on the right of the picture was murdered a few days after the picture was taken. I wasn’t sure whether to mention this but the case itself is quite well-known and somehow you can’t look at the picture without thinking of the murder. I can’t anyway.)

On either side of the road there are individual shops rather than branches of famous chains.

And there are famous names among the pubs -the Chelsea Potter and the Chelsea Drug Store.

The Drug Store is one of the King’s Road’s most famous buildings. You can still see the late Victorian superstructure of the upper storeys from when it was known as the White Hart. The flamboyant sixties additions have created a unique building which has been celebrated in songs and in films. (The one which sticks in my mind was that scene in A Clockwork Orange when Alex goes to pick up an album, among other things)

In the final stretch you go past the old fence of the Duke of York’s headquarters. I haven’t commented on the cars but here are a couple of Minis and a sports car I can’t identify. Suggestions?

At the opposite end of the road from last week’s branch, another Woolworth’s:

Near Sloane Square you can see a poster advertising the Daily Telegraph’s coverage of a referendum on the Common Market.

There are still many more pictures in our files. One thing that strikes me about these photographs most of which were taken purely to show what the buildings looked like is how ordinary the street and the people in it look. With the exception of the Bignell picture they seem to show a conventional high street in a big city. I suppose only the inhabitants of this time-zone could tell you how extraordinary the King’s Road was then, compared to the rest of London.

Some things about the King’s Road never change though. I’ve lived in Chelsea since the 80s and at various times I’ve seen Dustin Hoffmann, John Lydon, Michael Caine, David Puttnam, Bob Geldof, even Richard Strange walking in the King’s Road. There’s this double-take moment when you think “isn’t that….?”. John Bignell has captured that exact moment in this picture.

Have you unexpectedly come across a famous person in the King’s Road? And did you just smile to yourself and let them go without a word?


I’ve mentioned the photographer John Bignell but the man who took most of these pictures was our own John Rogers, formerly our staff photographer now working freelance. His work has been invaluable for Local Studies in general and for this blog in particular.


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