Tag Archives: Notting Hill Gate

From the air: Kensington

Just like the picture postcard the fascination of the aerial photograph is in the detail. The difference between the two is the puzzle element of the aerial view. The angle you are looking from is unnatural possibly even unimaginable when some of the places you see were first built. Even when buildings were constructed in the age of aircraft you see things the observer from the ground could never see.

I had quite a number of images to choose from so this selection (the first in an occasional series) is simply some of the photos which struck me as interesting or showed some buildings I have dealt with before in the blog. Like this one:

Gas works and railway 1965 K66-202

This 1965 picture shows the gas works in Ladbroke Grove which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. North of it you can see Kensal Green Cemetery, most of the ground concealed under foliage. At the edge of the gas works site is Kensal House. This is the last stretch of Ladbroke Grove before it hits the Harrow Road. The 52 bus used to take me along here up Chamberlayne Road to Kensal Rise. Either before the railway bridge or after it was the block of shops and houses which was the location of Hamrax Motors where I (the owner of a Honda) used to go to be patronised by the owners of British motorbikes. South of the railway you can see Raymede and Treverton Towers, like two open books propped up on the ground and to the left of them this building:

Gas works and railway 1965 K66-202 - Copy

Is that a grand ecclesiastical building? In another universe perhaps but in our world it’s St Charles Hospital a well known building but quite different from the air.

We’re heading in a roughly southwards direction now to see a quite different building.

Holland Park Avenue looking south 1965 K66-188

The trick with aerial photos is to orientate yourself using some obvious landmark. You can just make out the Commonwealth Institute at the top of the picture. The mass of trees behind it is Holland Park. Move to the foreground where Holland Park Avenue is going to meet Holland Road.

Holland Park Avenue looking south 1965 K66-188 - Copy

At the time of the photograph that long building was owned by the BMC (a forerunner of British Leyland) but it was built as a roller skating rink. The Hilton Hotel is now on the site.

Now we move east into Notting Hill Gate.

Notting Hill Gate looking south 1965 K66-196

This picture is also from 1965 when the redevelopment of the former Notting Hill High Street was relatively new. You can see Campden Hill Tower, that unexpectedly (in this neighbourhood) high building and all the working spaces between it and Ladbroke Road which curves up to meet Pembridge Road. To the right of the picture you can see Holland Park School and another old friend of ours:

Notting Hill Gate looking south 1965 K66-196 - Copy

The Campden Hill Water Works, with its microwave mast which one of my readers wrote a comment about in the post about the tower. This picture shows the location of the Water Works for another reader who enquired about that.

We can follow Campden Hill Road south now to the Kensington High Street of 1967.

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158

St Mary Abbotts Church should be easy to spot and Barker’s department store opposite. Next to Barker’s is Derry and Tom’s with its famous roof garden.

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158 - Copy (2)

You get an idea from the air of how big the garden is and some sense of the effort involved in creating it. Ponting’s, the diminutive cousin of Barker’s and Derry and Tom’s is also visible. The size factor alone shows why Ponting’s was the first to go.

Here is another close-up from the same picture:

Kensington High Street 1967 K68-158 - Copy

It’s my place of work again, Kensington Central Library, but this was before the building of the Town Hall so all there was in front of the Library was a car park and the two houses on the top of the site Niddry Lodge and the Red House which I’ve written about before. I’ve also covered the building which was there before the Library which is in this similar view from a 1939 picture:

Kensington High Street 1939 K-3266-B - Copy

There it is – the Abbey, the gothic folly built by William Abbott,  before the bombs fell. This picture shows the full extent of the grounds.

Now another close-up from a few years before in 1935:

Kensington High Street 1935 K-3291-B - Copy

The Derry and Tom’s building before the Garden, a bare canvas.

Before we leave Kensington High Street let’s take another step back in time.

Kensington High Street 1921 K-3267-B

You’re now looking at 1921. The narrow spire of St Mary Abbotts dominates the picture. In the foreground is Kensington Barracks and at the top of the picture an older incarnation of Barker’s but it’s that block in the centre which intrigues me.

Kensington High Street 1921 K-3267-B - Copy

The interesting thing about this building is not that it’s gone but that it’s still there. So is the fire station in front of it and the short row of houses almost attached to it. Other buildings have grown up around it so it no longer looks separate. With the row of modern shopfronts on the High Street side there is complete continuity. At first glance anyway. When I finished writing this I went out and walked round it just to be sure.

We could look at Kensington High Street in much more detail but I can’t end this ramble through recent subject matter seen from a different angle without moving to South Kensington.

Museums area 1951 K65-8

In this 1951 picture you can see the Albert Memorial swathed in scaffolding again, the Albert Hall and in the foreground the Natural History Museum. But in the centre you can see the building whose interior we explored a few weeks ago, the Imperial Institute. There are other details here: is that the site of Mrs McCulloch’s house on the corner of Queen’s Gate and Prince Consort Road Road?

But we’ll come back here another day.

This week’s images were almost all taken by Aerofilms Ltd, the UK’s first commercial aerial photography company. English Heritage now owns their historic collection and many of the images can be seen at www.britainfromabove.org.uk


London Transport: travelling in Kensington and Chelsea

In his recent book “What we talk about when we talk about the tube” (the District Line volume of Penguin Lines, a series of books which celebrate the 150 years of the London Underground) John Lanchester makes the point that London and the Underground grew together. The railway lines made it possible for workers to travel further to work and so communities like Morden for example sprang up because the railway was there. London grew around the railway map – the city made the map but the map also made the city. He makes the further point that the reason that the London Underground network was started thirty seven years before the Paris Metro (a huge number of years in a period of rapid technological development) was that sending steam trains through underground tunnels was daring to the point of recklessness. But they did it anyway, and made London the biggest city in the world (two and a half million people in 1850, seven million in 1910).

Train at West Kensington 1876

[A steam train at West Kensington 1876]

Look at this map, a section of Davies’s 1841 Map of London and its environs:

Davies 1841 Kensington and Chelsea 002

Davies’s map is interesting because it’s one of the first London maps to show railways. You can see the main line to Paddington and the West London Railway heading south towards the river with a proposed route alongside the Kensington Canal. You can also see the empty space between the comparatively built up Chelsea and the line of development along the Kensington Turnpike, the road from Hammersmith to Hyde Park Corner or Kensington High Street as we now know it.

Click on the map for a bigger version and look for the villages of Little Chelsea and Earls Court, the Hippodrome race course north of Notting Hill, Notting Barn Farm and Portobello Farm, the “proposed Norland Town” beside the Railway and the “proposed extension” following a similar route to the eventual District Line.

In the second half of the 19th century those spaces were filled by housing, and the railways which linked Kensington and Chelsea to the rest of London.

Parish map 1894

This Kensington parish map of 1894 with the wards shaded shows how most of the space devoted to market gardens and open country was occupied by the end of the century and how the railways made their mark. (Apologies to Chelsea for being squeezed out a bit at the bottom but maps which show both parishes equally are hard to find before they became London Boroughs and eventually joined.) You can also see how development north of Notting Hill Gate moved northwards first to meet the Metropolitan Line at Ladbroke Grove and then to meet the main line.

PC 1137 Ladbroke Grove Station

As I said in the Gloucester Road post the stations were often built before the housing and the major roads. The District, Circle and Metropolitan lines crossed the two parishes knitting them together. The sub-surface lines weren’t actually underground for most of their routes (the longest underground section on the District / Circle line is the tunnel between Kensington High Street north to Notting Hill Gate) so they had a visible impact on the map especially in certain areas such as the Cromwell Curve where three lines (and the trains of three companies originally) met.

Cromwell Road Dec 02 1902 LTE

This is a rear view of Cromwell Road after building development showing the District Line rails in 1902. It’s by Ernest Milner, and has one of his characteristic faces at the window.

After the sub-surface lines came the deep tunnels (the actual Tube as Lanchester also points out) of the Central Line and the Piccadilly Line.

Brompton Road Station K10105B

This one is the short lived Brompton Road Station opened 1906 and closed in 1934, being by then too near to both Knightsbridge  and South Kensington Stations.

South Kensington Station K12953B

This picture shows the Piccadilly Line station at South Kensington, which like the one at Gloucester Road sat right next to the Metropolitan and District Line Station.

The picture also has a good view of a comparatively small horse-drawn bus. The buses which had carried people around London before the railways could not compete in terms of numbers even when motor buses were introduced in the 1890s and early 1900s. But they would soon catch up, and I can’t leave the subject of transport without some pictures of the buses that have served Kensington and Chelsea.

Notting Hill Gate PC 369

A horse-drawn bus proceeds along Notting Hill Gate.

Below an early motor bus on its way to Westbourne Grove.

Arrow line bus early 1900s

The bus routes we know today were established quite early.

S742 number 27 pulling out of Hammersmith 1920s

A number 27 departs from Hammersmith bus station. The buses got bigger and more frequent.

Coronation Dec. Kensington Gore -1953 DSC 005 A4

This picture shows an AEC Regent on Kensington Gore in 1953 when the border of the Royal Borough was decorated for the Coronation. Below, the most iconic London bus of them all, the Routemaster, heading into Kensington in the 1960s (The Royal Garden Hotel is visible in the distance.)

73 routemaster bus - by John Bignell

Finally, on Kensington High Street the bus I use most frequently.

DSC_1220 bus

At any given bus stop the bus you’re waiting for is always the least frequent. Or is that just me? At least there’s the Tube.


That was the last of my transport related posts which were part of our contribution to this year’s Cityread campaign. It’s been a bit of a challenge to do four whole posts on the subject so I hope the strain hasn’t shown and I’ve showed you some interesting images.

John Lanchester’s book is one  a  series of 12 . (Link)  They’re a bit of a mixed bag and I haven’t seen them all but I’d also recommend Paul Morley’s Earthbound (the Bakerloo Line).

Other writers have made the same points as Lanchester, such as Andrew Martin in his history of the Underground “Overground Underground”. but Lanchester’s little book was the first I read. It’s a subject with a large bibliography.

Next week a special post for May Day heading taking us right back into the depths of the Edwardian imagination.

Return of the Edwardian sartorialist – Sambourne’s Kensington street style

I have good reason to be grateful to Edward Linley Sambourne. My original post about his street photography (Street Style 1906) has been the most popular single item on this blog and has brought in many readers who might not otherwise have heard about the Library Time Machine. What is it about his street photography which is so compelling?

The first point is one I made on that first post. We are used to thinking of the Edwardian period as the last great period of formal dress for women and men, the last gasp of 19th century fashion and the ancien regime of costume before the revolution of the Great War and the 1920s. Sambourne’s pictures show another side to the early years of the 20th century, a casual attitude to dress demonstrated by the mostly young women in them. The roots of the dress revolution are apparent from the 1890s onwards in candid photographs and picture postcards. Sambourne’s pictures are one instance of this movement.

The other point is another one I have made on previous occasions. We shouldn’t think of these photographs as curious items from past times. These pictures are of the present. When Linley Sambourne roamed the streets of Kensington with his hidden camera between 1905 and 1908 he was catching images of the now.

Have I spent too long on opening remarks? Let’s look at some pictures.

LSL39 Notting Hill 20 Jul 1906

20th July 1906 in Notting Hill Gate – even in summer gloves are worn and one of these two women carries a muff. They’re in a hurry, striding along, oblivious to the photographer.

Back in May of the same year in nearby Kensington Church Street:

LSL43 Church St 2 May 1906

This woman is slightly more formally dressed than the first two. Perhaps she is on her way to work. Sambourne liked to record women at work as below:

LSL45 Cheniston Gdns 29 Jul 1906

This picture taken in Cheniston Gardens shows a young maid engaged in the perennial and tedious task of cleaning the steps. You might think this is another example of Sambourne’s secretive gaze, spying on her working life but to me it has the look of a posed picture. Sambourne had many contacts in the Kensington area across the social classes – people he used as models for his studio photography and the young maid may have been one of them. I think it’s more obvious in this image:

LSL46 Cheniston Gdns 26 Jun  1906

A different set of steps, and (I think) a different woman but she looks to me as though she is responding to a request from Sambourne to hold that pose for a moment.

There is probably a great deal to be said about the interest shown in maids by gentlemen of Sambourne’s age and class but in the absence of firm evidence we can probably acquit him of improper thoughts. As has also been discussed on the blog and in comments, the concept of privacy with regard to photographs taken in the street was underdeveloped in Sambourne’s time. It’s probably true that as an upper middle class man he thought that his right to pursue his art outweighed any violation of his subjects’ privacy. (Some photographers still believe that today.)

To complete a trio of servants here is a maid taking a break, no doubt well deserved:

LSL47 Cromwell Road 26 Jun 1906

The next subject is someone much closer to Sambourne’s own class, a distinctly middle class married woman.

LSL60 Cromwell Road 15 May 1907

In May 1907 she is escorting her two sons along a tree-lined Cromwell Road with just a few horse drawn vehicles in the background. Cromwell Road looks more like a prosperous wide street of upmarket houses as it was originally intended than the major transport artery of today.

LSL19 Kensington 26 Jun 1906

This is one of those pictures where the woman is looking right at the photographer as though she knows what he is doing.

LSL20 Kensington 26 Jun 1906

I think this may be a picture of the same woman from behind. They were both taken on the same day in the same place so that may be a reasonable assumption.

Perhaps you recognize this woman:

LSL04a  21 Jul 1905 720

I think it’s the same woman who featured in the first Sambourne post photographed in Earls Court Road in 1905. (I’ve looked back and forth comparing details of dress and features. I know that some of my readers are very eagle eyed so I won’t commit myself absolutely.) It’s a slightly less flattering image but that is a feature of candid photography. Everyone has seen poor pictures of people who normally look good in photographs. I would say she had been caught by the flash but I’m not sure if Sambourne’s camera had one. Actually the detail I like is the dog sniffing something out in the background so I hope she would forgive me for showing her not quite at her best.

This picture is another example of the big hat, still a common fashion item at the time:

LSL48 Church St 2 Aug 1906

This view is of Kensington Church Street, with some horse drawn buses in the background.

Another family group, from the front and the side:

LSL62 St Albans Road May 1907

LSL61 St Albans Road 10 May 1907

This was in St Albans Road, well off the main streets of Kensington and well out of Sambourne’s main patch.

Another of his pictures from the rear:

LSL21 Kensington 27 Jun 1906

Finally, I’ve been saving one of Sambourne’s best pictures till last. This picture is simply captioned Kensington. It looks a little like one of the streets running off Notting Hill Gate but really it could be any number of streets.

LSL24 Kensington 3 Jul 1906

Sambourne captures a young woman of the early twentieth century walking confidently forward looking straight into the eye of the camera. Forget the photographer. She is looking out at us.


Just as this time last year I’m about to start a month of posts related to this year’s CityRead campaign. The book is A week in December by Sebastian Faulks. The posts will all be transport related and the first will be A tale of two tube stations.

One of the many bloggers who wrote about Sambourne after my first post coined the phrase Edwardian Sartorialist to describe him. I can’t remember which one, but my thanks to her/him.

The Sambourne pictures belong to Leighton House Museum. If you would like to reproduce any of them in a book or magazine ask my colleagues there.

The other Linley Sambourne posts are here (Holland), here  (Paris)and here (at the beach).

The text is written by me so if you run a website based in Spain which likes to reprint vintage photographs why not write your own words?

Return of the secret life of postcards

The unknown photographers who took this week’s pictures were working in the street like Ernest Milner who took the pictures in our Empty Street series. They were unlike Milner in two respects. They were working for themselves speculatively, taking photographs hoping to sell them later. And crucially they were working mostly during the daytime hours when the streets were no longer empty.

Notting Hill Gate PC929

This view is of Notting Hill Gate looking west. Postcard images vary enormously in quality. The best ones give you the opportunity to zoom in on the action and catch a flavour of the individual lives of the people in them.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 02

On the northern side of the street a man uses a hooked pole to pull out a shop awning. He keeps an eye on the approaching woman who won’t thank him if any water drips on her from the canvas. There are horse drawn carriages and in the distance a motor bus.

On the southern side of the street:

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 01

Henry Hobson Finch’s Hoop Tavern, William J Tame, fruiterer – his staff are loading a delivery wagon- and Matthew Pittman, stationer. This is the corner of Silver Street (then the name for the northern section of Kensington Church Street) about 1904. There’s a rather dejected looking girl standing next to the delivery wagon and in the foreground a woman with a pram.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 03

She’s looking at the display to her right; her arms are straight, pushing the front wheels of the pram off the ground possibly getting ready for moving it off the pavement. The sleeves of her dress are tight to the elbows and then much bigger – the so-called “leg of mutton” look, reaching its apogee in the early 1900s. We can almost see what will happen next as her routine day continues.

The postcard is a picture of the street as a whole. Perhaps we were never intended to look this close. But as I’m sure you know by now I can never resist the details which are often found at the edge of the picture. That’s where the secret lives are found.

Still in Notting Hill, just a little further west:

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367

This picture shows the Central Line station which was on the other side of the road from the Metropolitan Line. The street on the right is Pembridge Gardens. On the left you can see the buildings on the west side of Pembridge Road – the angle is deceptive and made me puzzle over the maps for a while. Let’s go back to the first postcard.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 2a - Copy

There you can see the station, the same buildings on Pembridge Road, and the motor bus. My transport correspondent tells me that the starter arm is visible underneath the radiator and that the engine block is quite low slung which indicates that this is an early model – later models were higher off the ground to protect the undercarriage and give the driver a better view. Horlicks Malted Milk was not imported into the UK until 1890. Horse-drawn and motor buses co-existed for some years before the horse drawn versions were superseded in the early 1900s.

Look at the horse bus again:

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367 zoom 01

There are people waiting but the bus looks pretty full. That woman striding away from it has the air of a passenger who has just alighted and wants to get moving under her own steam again.

In contrast to the busy high street along the road in Holland Park Avenue things were quieter.

Holland Park Avenue PC883

During the day the quieter residential areas would be mostly given over to women and children with a few street workers and delivery boys.

Holland Park Avenue PC883 details

At the portmanteau and umbrella warehouse some window shopping is going on. This picture is not as sharp as some so it’s difficult to be sure if the two women standing together are wearing some kind of uniform.

Holland Park Avenue PC883 details 2

Something about the hats, I think with a piece of material draped down on one side.

Here’s another quiet street a little further south:

Onslow Gardens PC519

Nothing much is happening but some of the locals are paying attention.

Onslow Gardens PC519 zoom

The two women ignore the photographer and go on their way but the children and the man on the delivery tricycle are taking a keen interest.

A little further west the stillness is almost palpable in this view of Gilston Road.

Gilston Road PC1481

The church in the background is St Mary the Boltons. Instead of terraces of houses there are what one architectural guide has called “crude Italianate villas”. A little sharp if you ask me. I would call them grand suburban villas and the two women who have paused for the photographers are respectable middle class ladies

Gilston Road PC1481a

It’s a quiet dusty summer’s day in the new suburbs.

But it wasn’t all quiet at this end of the old Borough (or Vestry, depending on the date ) of Kensington.

Old Brompton Road PC816

I’ve always found this particular picture of the Old Brompton Road looking towards South Kensington Station quite intriguing, mostly because of what’s happening on the right of the picture.

Old Brompton Road PC816 detail

What does the expression on that boy’s face mean? Or is he just dazzled by the flash? Or is it just one of those odd in between two states expressions which the camera sometimes captures? Something about the body language of the girl tells me that she’s playing some part in this. Has she just said something sharp to the boy? Are they related? Or is she just posing for the camera? There’s just not enough information here. I can’t help thinking that if we just knew a little more there would be a story.

Below Fulham Road, at the junction with Drayton Gardens. Fifty years or so before this scene would be fields, market gardens and cottages in the hinterland between Kensington and Chelsea.

Fulham Road PC815

But now this is another busy street.

Fulham Road PC815 detail (2)

A belligerent looking shopkeeper, three men just hanging around on a street corner, and that man in the centre, looking to see what’s coming before stepping off the pavement. He looks like a man with places to go and people to see, not a man you want to trifle with. And of course unlike the women in these images if he was to stride out of the picture onto today’s Fulham Road we might not give him a second glance.

We’ve moved quite a short distance from one part of Kensington to the edge. Let’s go back for one more picture. This is a slightly unpromising view of Pembridge Gardens, a little discoloured with age and not particularly sharp.

Pembridge Gardens PC 335

But on the left you can see a woman and her maid.

Pembridge Gardens PC 335 zoom

It’s unusual to see a household servant on the street. Perhaps the delivery man has something which the lady didn’t want to carry in herself. Make your own story out of this one. Sometimes the past is just too out of focus for us to tell exactly what is happening.

The secret life of postcards

Picture postcards have been with us for more than a hundred years. People have been collecting them as well as sending them from the beginning. Before cameras became a common consumer item they were the only way many people could get a photograph of their street. Professional photographers it seemed roamed the streets of London taking pictures of any street they liked the look of, perhaps hoping to sell postcards to the residents. It’s possible anyway, all I know is that there are a lot of postcards of quite obscure streets taken from the 1890s to just before the First World War, Postcards like this one:

This is the view looking north down Pembridge Road from Notting Hill Gate. Most of these buildings are still there now, only the shops have changed. And the people of course.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I like a good close up. This is what I mean by the secret life of postcards. The photographer was trying to get a good picture of the street. The people in it were incidental for his purposes. But whether intentionally or by chance he captures the passers-by in unguarded moments. The girl waiting impatiently for her mother to finish taking to her friend. Or are they waiting to cross the road?

This is the Earls Court Road fully developed on the east side with a hoarding enclosing a vacant lot or building site on the other side.  There are plenty of people too.

In this case teenage girls hanging out by the shops? Two of them at least with sonewhere definite to go striding out of the picture.

A slightly less crowded scene. These mansion blocks on the western side of Elm Park Gardens have now been partially replaced by modern blocks of flats but the street is still recognizable.

In the close up the woman and her daughter are too blurred to see much detail but you can see her lifting up her skirt to protect it from the dirty surface of the road.

This is an excellent action view of Kensington Park Road looking north from the junction with Elgin Crescent. Look at the barely visible cyclist, the horses in motion and the woman leaning forward to start pushing the pram across the road. The close up adds a little information.

The woman in the foreground has noticed the camera, and maybe the man with the umbrella too. You can just about make out the child sitting up in the pram.

Maybe half a mile away, but possibly a few years apart, in Notting Hill Gate there is another bustling street scene.

You can see the Metropolitan underground station and another bus covered with adverts.

All the figures in this picture are interesting in some way, even the dog, but the two that catch my eye are the bearded man and his younger companion. Are they out for a leisurely stroll or pursuing some business venture?

Moving south here is a picture of the now demolished Kensington Crescent, an unsuccessful development in the Warwick Gardens area. The two children in the photograph are aware of the photographer perhaps even consciously posing for him.

I can’t tell if the expression is curious, resentful, bored or whether they’re just standing still as the photographer asked.

This picture shows numbers 1-14 Kensington Crescent. Normally I avoid fascinating facts but I cannot avoid telling you that Kenneth Grahame, author of the Wind in the Willows lived for five years at number 5, just before the photo was taken.

Finally a personal favourite, one of the first postcards I subjected to the scan and zoom process.

A good crisp view of Kensington Park Road showing St Peter’s Church. Try it on Google Maps street view for comparison. The pattern of the facade is still there exactly.

But naturally what I want to know is what the woman in the middle is doing with her left hand. Is she scratching her nose, and has this idle gesture been captured for posterity?

There are so many postcards full of compelling details and questions that we will probably be here again soon using the time machine to catch more of these details of everyday life.

Author’s message

From next week I’ll be tweeting a preview of the week’s post a couple of days before posting – assuming I know what I’ll be writing about before Wednesday. Follow me at @daveinlocal .

%d bloggers like this: