Tag Archives: North Kensington

Agitprop: some pictures from the Mike Braybrook archive

When I decided on the word agitprop for this post I actually had to look up the term up before starting to write to check the actual meaning. It was a term that I heard or read a lot back in the 1970s when I first came to London. The various dictionary definitions boil down to art forms with a political message, derived from a Russian combination of words for agitation and propaganda. But when I was hearing it for the first time it seemed to refer to any anti-establishment activity or literature. Time Out, I recall had a section headed Agit Prop. (Or am I imagining that?). And it was all wrapped up with the underground press, protests and campaigns of every kind. There was a lot of protesting back then. I remember a campaign to save a residential square near my college from developers, and another against the lack of use of Centre Point (then not fully occupied). This was of course before the internet, mobile phones, emails, instant messaging, social media and citizen journalism. There was just the printed page, and makeshift newspapers, magazines and handbills circulated around colleges, schools, community centres and anywhere where people gathered. And word of mouth of course. Community activism was everywhere, not least in North Kensington where there was plenty to complain about.

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These days academics from all over the world are studying urban protest and community action and their research sometimes brings them to libraries like ours which have been collecting what we call ephemera for years. Ephemera consists of,  as the name implies, the throwaway scraps of paper which were only intended for the moment, but which can turn into useful historical documents if someone hangs onto them. That’s part of my job as a professional hoarder, keeping scraps which may turn into the raw material of history.

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Mike Braybrook owned a printing business at various locations in North Kensington and it was he and other like him who printed the posters, handbills and free sheets which promoted activism in west London. I never knew of him till after his death in February 2007 after which a group of his family and friends came together to preserve an archive of his work. The Mike Braybrook Archive was recently added to the stock of the British Library. I’ve had some involvement with the friends who have worked on the archive and have scanned some of the material and been able to keep copies for the library. So today’s post is not intended as a comprehensive view of the archive, but just as a snapshot of an era of urban activism in London.

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The artwork on these posters and handbills often looks crude.

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The creators often had little to work with in the way of time and materials. But the hand made look reminds us that this was an era of do-it-yourself art. The punk movement came out of this time, with its cobbled together fanzines and cover art.

Some posters were a little more sophisticated, and showed some artistic flair.

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The archive doesn’t just contain political material but also promotional material for community events like the Notting Hill Carnival.

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See the logo at the bottom, of the International Times (along with Oz and Frendz, one of the leading “underground” newspapers)

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Other events were not quite so well known, and were concerned with fund raising for local projects, such as this one, near one of London’s iconic locations.

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Or this, at a slightly less famous venue.

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There were famous causes and a few famous names.

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Perennial London issues.

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With radical solutions.

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Not to mention folk demons from the past.

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And familiar, if perhaps naive, images of rebellion.

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(I’m not sure when this imaged was created or what it was used for – any suggestions?)

I’m presenting this as a little bit of history without commenting on the issues themselves. But people are still angry and are still protesting even though methods of getting your point of view across have changed. Some of these issues remain current. Some of the imagery has stuck with the popular imagination.There is still plenty to protest about.

 

Postscript

The Mike Braybrook Archive was deposited in the British Library in December 2016. The material is not yet ready for access but future researchers will find it a valuable historical source in the years to come and Mr Braybrook’s family and friends are to be commended for their work in preserving it for posterity.

 

 

 

 

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Frestonia: the past is another country

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away (the past) a brave person of restricted growth and his staunch companions threw off the bonds of oppression and created their own magical land…….

Well, perhaps that’s not the way to tell it. North Kensington, once called by Michael Moorcock “the most delicious slum in Europe” was once a hotbed of community activism. Barricades were built, protests were made, community newspapers were published, councillors were locked in meeting halls. In the days before social media and citizen journalism, people made theselves heard with all the means at their disposal. One of those means was the creation of the Free Republic of Frestonia.

The building of the Westway cut through North Kensington leaving some parts of it a bit stranded. Latimer Road was truncated, Walmer Road was bisected (see this post, which has many interesting comments from former residents) and the area south of Latimer Road was full of empty houses and industrial sites earmarked for development.

Cover of planning document

[View looking south]

This vacuum was filled in the 70s by squatters who gradually built their own community in the empty houses and vacant sites.

House in Freston Road

[photo by Tony Sleep]

In 1977 the GLC (the Greater London Council, now just a memory but then an economic and social entity which was itself the size of a small country) decided to clear the area for industrial use.

But the inhabitants were prepared to fight back, at first in the usual way.

Freston Road poster HT photo by SS

[photograph of poster taken by Sue Snyder]

But these were ambitious, even visionary squatters who decided to create a new form of protest by declaring a small part of the area an independent republic in a move reminiscent of the film Passport to Pimlico.

Frestonia appliction cover

The members of this collective all became ministers of the government.

Frestonia page 4

And as you can see by this list they all added the suffix Bramley (after Bramley Road) to their names, apparently so they would appear to be one large family who in theory would have to be re-housed together.

When you’re sitting a few miles south of the scene of these events and more than thirty years later, looking at scraps of ephemera, cuttings and photographs  trying to piece them together it’s hard to see what’s serious and what’s ironic. But from what I’ve read and heard although it took the form of a prank Frestonia itself was both real and serious.

Frestonia map

There was an adventure playground:

Omar in Frestonia Garden

And an art gallery:

Carbreaker's Gallery 1979

[Photo by Tony Sleep]

A People’s Hall:

People's Hall

[The People’s Hall sometime in the 1970s, judging from the graffitti]

The hall hosted a National Film Theatre of Frestonia (Passport to Pimlico was one of the first films shown).

And more mundane activities.

Frestonia second hand sale

[A second hand sale. Photo by Tony Sleep (?)]

As you can see from the application to the UN the Foreign Minsister of Frestonia was the charismatic actor David Rappaport, probably most famous for his role in the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits and his appearances in the last series of Tiswas, although I remember seeing him at the National Theatre in Ken Campbell’s production of the Illuminatus Trilogy. He had something of a gift for generating media interest.

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[article from Kensington News and Post 04 November 1977. And yes, I wondered about that spelling error]

The publicity generated by the declaration of independence served its purpose. The then (penultimate) leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler was in direct touch with the government of Frestonia. (Cutler was a flamboyant character but his fame has been eclipsed by that of his successor.) There was a public enquiry which ultimately supported the creation of a mixed use area providing living and working space. Nicholas Albery (Minister of State for the Environment in the government of Frestonia) in his account of his country in Inside Notting Hill (2001 edition) says: “Frestonia was eventually rebuilt…. with foreign aid from Great Britain channelled via the Notting Hill Housing Trust”

Some demolition took place:

Notting Dale Community Law Centre early 80s HT

[The Carbreaker’s Gallery and the Notting Dale Law Centre awaiting demolition. Is that Henry Dickens Court in the background?]

Many years later the area looked like this, still an area where people live and work. There have been more developments since this picture, taken sometime in the 1990s I think.

Freston Road area - modern photo

(Note all the instances of graffitt visible from this angle, one of which is above a Paint Shop. I should also just draw your attention to the housing block with the rounded shape on the left of the picture, known as the Ark by some of its inhabitants.)

Postscript

As I hinted above this is a sketch of Frestonia loosely pieced together from what I could lay my hands on, rather than any kind of definitive account. I had to employ a certain amount of guesswork about dating. If there’s anything you’d like to add please use the comments section. I’d certainly like to hear more about Frestonia and its residents.

Most of the pictures this week come from the HistoryTalk collection. I’ve identified the photographer if the information was available. The photographer Tony Sleep has a website with many more images at: http://tonysleep.co.uk/frestonia

For further reading take a look at Inside Notting Hill and Melvyn Wilkinson’s Book of Notting Hill.

David Rappaport died in Los Angeles in 1990.

Postscript to the Postscript

Notting Hill Housing (funded by Norland Ward Councillors for City Living Local Life Initiative) are having some History Walk and Talk sessions on Frestonia on 29th April and 6th May at 5.15pm (both days). Photographs taken on the day will be exhibited in a further session on May 27th. Contact Resa on 07931 523607 for further details.


From darkest Peru to West London: Paddington Bear in Kensington

This week features the return of our Paddington correspondent, my esteemed colleague Isabel Hernandez who has turned her attention to the other Paddington.

“It’s nice having a bear about the house.”

Well you know, I cannot dispute that. As bizarre as that line seems out of context I actually think it has a point, for I do indeed have a rather earnest-looking, anthropomorphic bear gracing my bookshelves often making me laugh when nothing else will. He lives in the pages of a certain set of stories I keep on there as well as physically imposing himself in a small space next to the books wearing a red hat, blue duffel coat and red wellington boots with a label attached that says, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”

Many will know who Paddington Bear is, where he came from and why he was named after a London station. I also think of him as a West London bear, even if he did originate from Darkest Peru, not Africa, as Michael Bond had originally written, until it was pointed out that there are no indigenous bears living in Africa, so he set about diligently doing his research by paying a visit to Westminster Public Library followed by a trip to London Zoo until he eventually settled on Peru.

It may seem strange that a bear should be so iconic (not unlike Winnie-the-Pooh) but Paddington just happens to be so in a very down to earth way. In re-reading the stories recently and hunting for the 50 statues dotted around parts of London before they were auctioned off, I was prompted into reading Michael Bond’s autobiography, Bears & Forebears. A Life So Far, which not only is a guide to how he came to breathe life into all of his creations (for there are others aside from Paddington), but also gives a wonderful insight into his own life and the influences and inspiration that later (I think) contributed to his best known character.

Meet Paddington. Here he is as originally drawn by British illustrator Peggy Fortnum, a lady who (according to Michael Bond) using pen and ink ‘understands Paddington perfectly and with a few seemingly deft strokes….manages to convey a living breathing creature.’

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A Bear Called Paddington was first published in 1958 by Collins. There were eight stories in that first book of the series. Several more were written in subsequent years and are still being written to the present day. Paddington, you see, moves with the times. As it turns out Paddington was conceived on a typewriter one spring morning in a one-roomed garden flat near the Portobello Road, “…it was a bit like living in a caravan,” said Michael Bond, “The kitchen had to be tucked away in a cupboard at night and during the day the bed was used to provide extra seating for visitors. But the market was just around the corner, and Holland Park, with its peacocks and its shady walks, was only a short distance away.”

Not difficult to see why this was a haven….

Holland Park 1962

 

Much has been made of the location of 32 Windsor Gardens where the Browns live. Many have made the literary pilgrimage visiting a location by the same name in West London – only a stone’s throw away from where I used to live in the Paddington area. Karen Jankel (Michael Bond’s daughter) has since explained how the fictitious address came into being, which is not in any way related to the real address with the same name. Michael Bond himself reveals in his autobiography that number 32 Windsor Gardens was “in my mind’s eye Lansdowne Crescent – a quiet street of rather grand houses off Ladbroke Grove and close to Arundel Gardens where we lived.” Imagine my surprise at the revelation! I too was under the same misapprehension as everyone else.

 

Lansdowne Cres 1970

Lansdowne Crescent, named after the Lansdowne area of Cheltenham, was built about 1842-1846. The houses are typical Victorian builds and here we have a 1970s photograph showing some typical cars of the day.

29, Lansdowne Crescent 1979

 

We all have our own ideas about what fictional places look like when we are reading a story so I decided to look and see if we had anything interesting that might live up to my imagination. Above is a rather picturesque image of a house that exists along Lansdowne Crescent taken in 1979 although you would be forgiven for thinking this might be more of a 1950s film studio print. The dramatic lighting here must have been caught in the early morning. There are milk bottles still waiting to be taken in and (no doubt) breakfasts to be served. I could imagine the Browns living here under Mrs Bird’s scrutiny. I rather think Paddington might have been taken with the foliage growing around the house too.

But, I’m a little ahead of myself. Geographically we need to start at the beginning and that is Paddington Station seen in the photograph below (courtesy of my colleagues at the Westminster City Archives).

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This location has been the terminus for the Great Western Railway from as early as 1838, but the larger part of the mainline station, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, dates from around 1854 with the underground Metropolitan Railway being the first in the world following in 1863. Paddington Station warrants a blog all to itself and summarising its history here would be an injustice. (Something for another day perhaps…)

Why was Paddington Bear named thus, aside from the obvious?

“We called him Paddington because for some years Paddington Station had been my first port of call whenever I travelled to London, and it was also just down the road from where we were living at the time. Besides, it had a nice, West Country ring to it; safe and solid”

We also know that Paddington wears a label round his neck with the words:

“Please look after this bear. Thank you”

“It was the memory of seeing newsreels showing trainloads of evacuees leaving London during the war, each child with a label round its neck and all its important possessions in a tiny suitcase, that prompted me to do the same for Paddington.”

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(Image first published in The Daily Telegraph)

And so a bear was named and rescued by the Browns, “an immigrant in a strange country with no money and nowhere to go”.

The strangeness of a place and the sudden upheaval of one’s life can be a daunting and frightening experience and yet perhaps there can be found, when we look closely, almost a haven or familiarity in the new friends we make and the new places we explore, depending on where we end up.

Portobello Road 1951

 

Which brings us to Portobello Road, a familiar haunt of Paddington’s, seen here in 1951; it has always been a bustling and diverse community selling everything from antiques, bric-a-brac, fruit and vegetables to fashion, household goods and street food. Indeed this year both Portobello and Golborne Markets celebrate a 150 year anniversary.

In the books, Mr Gruber (a family friend) is a central character in Paddington’s life. An immigrant himself he has an understanding of the young bear’s unfamiliarity with his new home:

“Mr Gruber was born in Hungary and his antique shop in the Portobello Road is an oasis of peace and quiet in Paddington’s life: a retreat where every day he can share his elevenses, discuss the world in general over cocoa and buns, and seek sound advice from his friend whenever the need arises.”

Perhaps his antique shop resembles this one?

Portobello Road Market 1970

Everybody sells something a little different and people are always on the lookout for something unique.

Portobello Road Market 1960s K4075B

Portobello Road - Kennedy McCreadie 1964

(Photograph by Kenny McCready 1964)

This gentleman appears to be about to pay for something but we have no idea what.

The market also has many fruit and vegetable stalls –that was its main function before the antiques moved in. Back in the 1950s shopping in markets was where the average shopper would buy things. The concept of supermarkets was not yet realised to a great extent. Everything was pennies and shillings, pounds and ounces and people knew each other by name. That may still be the case to a degree but times have definitely changed. Paddington certainly seems to enjoy doing his daily shopping in the market – not sure what he would think of a large Tesco store.

Portobello Market 1958 Mrs I.M Cain's fruit stall

[Mrs I.M Cain’s fruit stall in 1958.]

Portobello Road 1958 Mrs Rudd's salad stall 79450

[Mrs Rudd’s salad stall in 1958.]

Portobello Market 1958 Jaffas

This unnamed gentleman also has a fruit stall with what appears to be a fish stall next to him (1958). I rather like his sign, shaped like individual oranges saying JAFFAS on the top of the stall – the oranges and not the cakes I suspect – seems to be the most popular orange variety sold in Portobello.

Portobello market 1958

Here’s another unnamed gentleman also selling Jaffa oranges.  I wonder if they are any good for marmalade…

I almost wish these photographs were in colour. The colours on that stall would have been very vibrant.

Lyons van 1958

A Lyons Tea van with a fresh delivery. Paddington does like his buns after all.

Portobello Market 1958 Imperial Playhouse Ltd

In the background is 191, Portobello Road, home of the Electric Cinema, first opened in 1910. In the London Post Office directory of 1958 it is listed as The Imperial Playhouse having been renamed in 1932 during one of Notting Hill’s less salubrious periods in history. It went back to its original name in the late 1960s and despite its precarious existence it remains an iconic survivor. Few original cinemas remain in London now, not least those of the West End which are succumbing to the indignities of redevelopment. How much has changed since Paddington Bear’s original debut! And yet, modern technology has brought him to life on the big screen premiering him in Leicester Square for the first time. Our bear from Darkest Peru has come a long way, and even though he has very much become something of a universal bear despite his being quintessentially an English bear, I personally think of him as a West London bear and I almost half expect to see him traipse down the Portobello Road with his trolley in search of some tasty buns for his elevenses with Mr Gruber any day now.

Postscript

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The quotes I have used are taken from Michael Bond’s 1996 autobiography: Bears and Forebears. A life so far which I borrowed from the library’s biography  collection. (Out of print but still available through Amazon and other sources)

The post itself is not about any one specific place; it’s more of a geographical jaunt following some of the places we know Paddington Bear has frequented and still does by all accounts: a fictional character set in real surroundings given one or two imaginative alterations here and there.

Michael Bond has expressed that he has no intention of retiring as a writer and I do believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of Paddington, which I, for one, am very pleased about. You see when I feel a little put out upon occasions, for example; during my commute in and out of London, I too have a particular stare that usually indicates my displeasure at someone’s rudeness or lack of consideration. Whether this is a universal thing we learn as we age I do not know. This is why when Paddington directs his formidable stare at anyone he deems discourteous I cannot help but crack a smile – it’s incredibly funny when it’s done by a bear:

“Paddington had a very persistent stare when he cared to use it. It was a very powerful stare. One which his Aunt Lucy had taught him and which he kept for special occasions.”

And here I conclude my rather whimsical homage to Paddington Bear.

Postscript to the postscript (by Dave)

My thanks to Isabel, and apologies because I still haven’t worked out how to add an author on WordPress. This post kills two birds with one stone for me. Not only do we get Paddington but also the Portobello Market which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. You can expect more on the market in the months to come.

I know lots of readers don’t live in London but forgive me a bit of advertising. For Holocaust Memorial Day this year we have an event on January 27th at Kensington Library featuring historian Roger Moorhouse. Follow the link for more details. Roger gave an excellent talk at our London History Festival in November based on his book “The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s pact with Stalin 1939-41” so despite the sombre subject I can highly recommend this talk especially in the light of recent events.

 

Another Postscript (June 2015)

There is a Paddington related event in Portobello / Goldborne market on June 20th. See below.

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Dreams of the Westway 2: Desolation Row

Here is one view of a street called Maxilla Gardens and how it might have looked after the completion of the Westway.

Landscape Prop Maxilla Gardens

You could derive any number of ideas about the assumptions in this idealised view of happy shiny people. But this week we’re going back to the reality of that location before any building began.

Maxilla Gardens was a small street which curved between Cambridge Gardens and St Mark’s Road under the shadow of the Metropolitan Line railway to Hammersmith.

Here is a view from 1908 showing one arm of the curve looking from St Mark’s Road:

Maxilla Gardens (PC1123) - Copy

It looks as though there’s some kind of debris on the pavements, perhaps an omen of the destruction to come. The writer of the card says, in French, that he or she is living in a quiet area.

But not as quiet as this 1966 view:

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I can’t quite explain its relationship to the postcard image. St Mark’s Road  ran more or less across the foreground of 1908 image. The garden walls visible in the front belong to housse in St Mark’s Road. In the 1966 view St Mark’s Road is behind the fence running under the railway bridge

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The cleared site was full of interesting debris like this wooden spindle which once held cable or wire.

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Or these inexplicable objects which looked like the bisected hulls of small boats, or the discarded carapaces of a giant urban insect unknown to biology.

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Derelict open spaces like this often attract unwanted chairs and sofas. The broken section of wall gives easy access.

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And the usual ocean of tires.

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Behind the trees I think, you can see the rear view of the houses in Cambridge Gardens.

Visitors occasionally come to the site possibly to examine the odd holes and random bits ot twisted metal.

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In close up these walls could be somewhere else entirely and behind the wall there could be an isolated garden and a  ruined house.

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Although this clearer view indicates that the wall may be part of the railway viaduct – you can see part of an arch.

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The picture below though shows the other end of the site. Beyond the undergrowth is a well kept lawn with a wooden bench. Again the impression is of pastoral (bucolic/rural/arcadian- other ntonyms of the word urban) decay and seclusion rather than urban destruction.

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There’s room for a bit of garden archaeology. What purpose did this set of steps formerly serve?

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Here is the archaeologist himself at work, contemplating the last days of the sylvan scene.

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Somewhere in his vicinity a random pile of rubbish threatening to spill over into somebody’s garden.

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I actually had the idea for this post while watching the Imagine documentary on Anselm Kiefer (8 more days on the BBC iPlayer – highly recommended by me at least) which featured piles of industrial debris turned into art, installations of concrete piles covering acres of land and derelict buildings turned into exhibits. Would it be going too far to see the whole Westway project as a giant art installation in concrete and steel rising from urban demolition?

I was going past the new development at the Commonwealth Institute on a bus this morning. The old central building has been stripped of its glass cladding (temporarily I assume) and surrounded by three new residential blocks. I thought back to the images of the Institute before the development and proposed an alternative museum dedicated to the imaginative world of J G Ballard (him again) which would have left the dilapidated interior as it was, just adding some crashed cars, an empty swimming pool, and sections from some concrete road supports. Which gets us back to the Westway again.

And just for art’s sake:

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Another pair of holes.

Postscript

Sharp-eyed readers will have spotted that there is now a Search box on the blog, which will enable you to find things more easily. It was slightly easier to install than I thought.

No more Westway for a while. Your Christmas treat is nearly ready, but I haven’t worked out what I’m writing next week.


Building the Westway 1966 – 1971

Very few  stretches of motorway have any kind of cultural significance  outside their own locality. You might cite the M25 whose psychological and geographical resonance was investigated at book length by Iain Sinclair. When you’re thinking of new roads in west London generally, J G Ballard’s work might come to mind. There must be others. But none of them are quite as resonant as the Westway, that stretch of road which bisected north Kensington in the late 1960s.

I wrote a piece about the new landscape created by the motorway earlier this year, and afterwards one of my readers sent me some scans of pictures he owned. I knew I would use them on the blog one day and as I was looking through them last week I thought they would make a good contrast with the rather decorative images you’ve seen in the last few weeks. As the man who writes the words I often look for an angle when I select pictures for a post. But these images don’t require much in the way of commentary. They come with a built-in set of impressions and ideas. Obviously I won’t be able to stop myself adding a few words…..

002 walker 11 1966

Normally I crop images and straighten them out before putting them up but with these I think it looks better if you see them as I first saw them, with their typed or hand written captions. The pictures look like they come from an album put together by a contractor as a record of their firm’s work. You can see something similar here in a post about Chelsea Bridge. Before digital cameras and data storage this was common practice on big construction jobs. Equally commonly images like this end up being lost or destroyed.

1966 was the year of demolition. Streets were cleared, and areas of derelict land expanded, revealing the detritus of urban living or just providing a place among the churned mud and rubble for all kinds of abandoned stuff to accumulate.

004 walker 26 1966

In the background the houses and housing blocks look like they’re half concealed behind a layer of mist. (That may be the weather of course, or the photographs themselves).

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Abandoned vehicles look like discarded toys. Below, a pair of cars look like they are sinking in a sea of tires, barely corralled behind a fence.

008 walker 42 1966

Behind another corrugated iron fence one of the few people visible in these pictures, a surveyor working for the main contractor.

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The cars below look stranded as if by a sudden subsidence.

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Behind them the fence is collapsing and  you can see a partially demolished  or crumbling building.

Below a group of boys find a quiet spot for exploration and play near a railway footbridge.

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Some semblance of order has been imposed as a site is prepared for clearance.

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By 1967 this process continues as some of the demolition sites were ready for construction.

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In the background a Metropolitan Line train passes over the empty scene.

Below the first signs of the road construction to come, with two column bases.

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Several photos were taken from this vantage point on Whitstable House as the work progressed. The photo above was taken in April 1967.

The one below is from December:

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In March 1968:

014 walker 38 1968

A smoke or dust cloud rises from the ground on the right of the picture like steam.

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Further west the road is starting to take shape.

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Here is the view from Whitstable House four months after the previous picture:

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Progress was steady rather than rapid . This view from February 1969 shows how close the emerging road was to housing that was still in full use:

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There are no pictures  from 1970 in the set so there is a sudden jump to the completed motorway which looks clean and empty.

017 walker 3 1971

The last image was taken early in 1971. It takes us back to the beginning of Walmer Road, now separated from the rest of the street.

018 walker 13 1971

The Latimer Arms which used to sit at the start of Walmer Road, now also isolated.

The Westway was about to become a physical and psychological feature of North Kensington and of London in general. There were many positive aspects to it as an advance in the transport infrastructure of west London. These pictures show how it began as a kind of scar on the urban landscape of the area, unavoidable perhaps but undeniably traumatic.

Postscript

My thanks to the reader who sent me these pictures, for which I am very grateful.


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