Tag Archives: photography

Bignell and women – models, friends and strangers

Like many working photographers in his heyday, the 1950s and 1960s John Bignell took photographs of women as portraits, for newspapers, for fashion shoots, in street photography, in “art” photos, individual commissions and even what we now euphemistically call glamour photography.  For this post I’ve been looking through some of the lightly categorized boxes of prints we have (“London”, “unidentified people”, “identified people”) to try and find some of his less well known work. Some of these images are finished pieces of work, some look like he was just playing around. All of them I hope are intriguing in their own way or evocative of a particular time.

Bignell - models getting ready

This is an example. Three young women, possibly models, getting ready for a fashion shoot or a show, which Bignell thought was worth printing.

This one is an outdoor shot.

Woman by riverI can’t quite place the background, but near a river, the woman possibly on a boat. Whover the lady is, it’s a good picture of her.

The contact sheet below has a recognizeable background.

Contact sheet 03

The houseboats near Battersea Bridge, with the Battersea shore in the distance. I assume that Bignell was following her around taking pictures for a magazine pr newspaper article but I don’t know who she is. As with all these unknowns I hope someone who reads this post will have some ideas. If it’s someone you know or used to know it could be a pleasant surprise.

I do know this lady:

Contact sheet 02 Thea Holme

It’s Thea Holme, who wrote a history of Chelsea published in 1972. The book is now out of print but available through second hand dealers. I still consult it from time to time. Again, the contact prints look like they are going to accompany an article. Several show the writer “at work” writing or researching.

There are portraits in the boxes of prints with nothing on the back but a date or an enigmatic note.

woman 1955

This one just says 1955. A woman very much of that decade as the next one is not.

woman

There is some quality of familiarity in some of these pictures which makes me think that Bignell was good at making his subjects relax. I feel that he knew them, so therefore I must know them, and their identities are just out of reach.

This is one out of a trio of pictures.

Woman hat grass 001

I’ve just called them “Woman hat grass”.

Woman hat grass 003

Bignell liked to work with props. Here’s another hat picture.

37110-22

The same woman? The same hat definitely.

This is another kind of prop.

Iris Polkiakova 01 1957 328

There are several shots of Irina Polkiakova, publicity pictures from 1957 for a burlesque performer. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post Bignell knew Paul Raymond, who put on burlesque shows at the Chelsea Palace and at his own Raymond Revue bar in Soho. Bignell has left us quite a few examples of his glamour work, although these are almost innocuous by modern standards.

Dorothy Insull 03 1959 339

Dorothy Insull in 1959. It’s interesting that Bignell has often noted the names of his models in this kind of work. Presumably he thought he would never need to remember the names of the women he knew socially. Some of the erotic pictures simply seem odd now – a nude woman sitting at a typewriter, a naked woman in a doorway picking up a milk bottle – some of them obviously tongue in cheek – a naked woman holding a slip or a nightdress in one hand, a box of the washing powder Omo (older readers may remember this product) in the other, with the caption “brighter than white” on the back. I’ve refrained from posting those last three because we’re no longer so casual about these matters, or as innocent as people were in Bignell’s time. However, I will show you one of his arty nudes. Look away now if easily offended.

Nude model in garden with sundial

That one might also fit into a set of weird/esoteric Bignell images.

As might the last two images, of a woman Bignell hasn’t named but I feel we should know.

Woman in studio 02

My colleague Tim has pointed out that the woman looks like one or both of the women in the painting. Could this be a photograph of an artist’s model and the painting of her? In the second image she adopts a model’s pose.

Woman in studio 01

Possibly the pose of the male figure in the background. Is he another picture of her?

Surely someone knows who she is? I’ll leave that one with you. I’ll just note as I have before that Bignell hasn’t made it easy for us in terms of date, names and places. Fortunately the pictures themselves are always worth examination.

Postscript

I was preoccupied with medical matters again this week so  I returned to Bignell who can always be relied upon to provide images which don’t need a great deal of commentary.

Postscript to the Postscript

The comment from London Remembers below points out that the woman and sundial picture is reversed which I hadn’t noticed. I tried flipping it and thought it looked better that way. But why?

Nude model in garden with sundial - Copy - Copy

Any thoughts on the location?

Postscript to the postscript to the postscript (Feb 2017)

A researcher has been looking at some of Bignell’s pictures and as a result I can now say that the woman with the sundial was called Gerda Ronn.  Bignell took many pictures of her including one in which she is fully clothed. The sundial picture probably dates from 1954. Quite a different era in terms of attitudes to outdoor nudity.


The dead magpie, and other garden mysteries

A couple of weeks ago, sitting on the bench I thought I saw  through the trees at the opposite edge of the garden the distinctive black and white colouring of a magpie. It had been weeks since I last saw one, well before the hot spell. That one had been dead. I took several photos of the corpse like a corvid CSI, marvelling at the blue green colours in the black feathers. Had a cat got lucky? There was one prowling around in the distance looking suspicious. But then cats always look as if they’re up to no good. It’s a predator thing. The magpie was stiff, so was probably not a recent kill.

DSC_5515

I wondered if the crows had something to do with it. They had been the exclusive masters of the garden before the magpies came. During the spring I had often counted magpies and recited that familiar rhyme to myself, once getting as far as seven. After the death the magpies disappeared just as if they couldn’t stand to be where their fellow had died. Two of the crows strutted around as if the magpie spring had never happened.

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Of course the magpies could have just moved on somewhere else as the weather got hotter. I hadn’t seen any of the green birds (feral parakeets, now natives of west London) for a while either. The wood pigeons carried on regardless with their usual business. These are not your standard London pigeons – the rats with wings. The wood pigeon is cleaner, sleeker, a bit larger, with a longer and more curved beak. A lot more middle class than the standard winged urban scavenger. They prefer big gardens and tall trees as found in a large communal garden.

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The garden is a large rectangle with housing blocks on the two long sides surrounded on three sides by more blocks. A single tower faces the main road. There was bomb damage during the war and many of the old late Victorian apartment blocks were replaced with modern versions in the 1970s. A single detached house (a forgotten building if ever there was one) was demolished in the 60s to make way for the tower.

The garden is what remains of a large estate which is called a Park on early maps. The trees are tall, as tall as the blocks except for some recent plantings (a big tree went down in October 1987) and an old mulberry tree thought to be the remains of a failed 18th century silk production scheme. (Every mulberry tree in Chelsea is attributed to the same venture – apparently one of the reasons the plan failed is that the trees were the wrong kind of mulberry and turned out to be repugnant to silk worms).

There is some evidence of former landscaping in the form of half-buried stone borders.

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And then there are the drain pipes.

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Three of the large trees have drain pipes embedded in them, almost absorbed into the bark. Why do trees need drain pipes?

Now about that forgotten building…

1963

This single mansion built in 1884 was demolished in 1965 although I think these photographs were taken in the winter of 1963, possibly by John Bignell.

There’s some snow on the ground

That tree is still there. It all looks a bit Dickensian.

On the main road a couple of pedestrians trudge through the slush.

It was a fairly grand residence.

Elm Park House before demolition 1963 Bignell 001

Another feature of the modern garden is the occasional feature which indicate what lies below, small..

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…and large.

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Three underground chambers used for parking.

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Hot water pipes run through them meaning  that snow never lingers too long in the garden.

Long ago when the garden was a Park another house sat among the trees.

Old Park House Warton Park

It was painted by our old friend Marianne Rush.[link] [link]

Postscript

This is another summer vacation post so there wasn’t much research involved. Those pictures which may or may not have been taken by John Bignell have not been seen much. The colour pictures are by me.

I hope David Brady will like this post.


Forgotten buildings: The Terrace

The last couple of posts have been a bit of a departure from my recent blog activity, hanging around Kensington High Street. We’re back on track this week moving across Wright’s Lane from Scarsdale House to a forgotten group of buildings called the Terrace.

By the Terrace I mean 129-163 Kensington High Street. Here’s a panoramic view from 1978.

The Terrace - 129-163 Kensington High Street 1978 K3051-B

This is the southern side of Kensington High Street between where Boots is now, and Hotel Chocolat, or in 1978 the Adam and Eve pub which was then just to the west of the covered entrance to Adam and Eve Mews. You could get lost looking at shop names like Scotch House, Barratts, Jean Machine, Salisburys, Saxone, Dorothy Perkins and..er..Saxone (two of them, with different shop fronts?), and by all means do that. We’ll have a further look at the 70s shops of the High Street on another occasion but I wanted to show you this picture to say that’s all relatively modern stuff. It was built by our old friend Jubal Webb in the 1890s. The Survey of London with its usual ear for a telling phrase describes the Promenade as it was originally known as “an orthodox, restless, ornamental range  of shops and flats”. This tells you what you need to know (and it’s why I keep reading the small print in the Survey). I see those buildings every working day from the bus stop opposite and have become fascinated by the repeating pattern of the roof line.

But before the Promenade was the Terrace:

The Terrace Kensington High Street 19th C K62-194

The Terrace (or the Terrass as it was known in the 1760s) emerged piecemeal between the 1690s and the 1840s, a series of houses which grew together over the years. So not a classic terrace as we know them today but one of the first blocks of dwellings to have that term applied to them. The Survey also tells us that the original houses were “as commodious and respectable as any of their contemporaries in Kensington Square”. (We’ll get there another day.)

I used a couple of pictures of the Terrace by the H and R Stiles company in a previous post. This is number 1:

The Terrace 1 GN242

(If you do look back at that previous post you’ll see a crucial difference between the picture I used then and this one. ) Numbers 1, 2 and 3 were the oldest, dating back to the early 1690s although a little altered over the years.

This is number 2 and number 3.

The Terrace 2-3 GN246

The windows looked a little mismatched and the people at number 3 have left their gate open. The lamp post has the word Kensington above the light indicating that it was provided by the Kensington Vestry.

The slightly ramshackle quality continues as you go along the row.

The Terrace 4 GN243

Number 4 seems to have confusingly varied facades and more than one entrance.

Number 5 is a smaller house but still the work of Richard Beckington, the builder of the others.

The Terrace 5 GN247

Number 6 was added in 1718.

The Terrace 6 GN248

This was the home of the highly regarded Punch illustrator John Leech who died there in 1864 at the age of 47 after “a laborious life..the victim of overwork and an organisation morbidly sensitive to the small worries of town life, of spasm of the heart” according to Wilmot  Harrison in Memorable London Houses (1890)

A slouching youth lends some character to the photograph.

During the 19th century there was work on the facades and the gaps between the original houses were filled in by additional structures and some smaller houses. Other occupants of the Terrace included Sir Henry Cole and the artist David Wilkie.

However, I think the most interesting aspect of this group of houses is not what you saw from the High Street but what lay behind, where there were extensive gardens almost the length of Wright’s Lane and for the most part hidden behind high walls.

Here is Mr Leech’s garden.

Back of Leech's house 6 the Terrace GN40

The steps took you down into a large space where you could find some impressive trees.

Mulberry Tree behind the Terrace GN41

This one is a mulberry.

Willow tree in garden of 6 the Terrace GN95

This is a willow. Like at Scarsdale House these gardens show another kind of lifestyle. Their inhabitants enjoyed seclusion and leisure in large open spaces a little like those of the grand houses of Campden Hill.

There was also room for sport.

Garden behind the Terrace GN39

Is he trying to hit the gardener? Luckily he seems to be serving underarm.

You could of course just sit in your tranquil garden like the couple on the left.

Gardens behind the Terrace looking west GN108

Wait a moment. Who’s that?

Gardens behind the Terrace looking west Jubal Webb and wife GN108

It’s that man again, Jubal Webb, cheese magnate and owner of number two. Webb was a local vestryman and property developer. A slight hint of sleaze surrounds him but London was built in part by ambitious entrepreneurs like him. He does seem to have a gift for publicity though, and for sneaking in when you least expect him.

That would be it for the Terrace, except that I went looking for the original version of that panoramic view above and found it, more than a yard long.

It’s signed by Richard Stiles and dated 1892. At one end is a slightly clearer view of the woman in black I mentioned in the glass negative post.

The Terrace 9 detail from CPic092

Now that I’ve looked at a slightly clearer version I think she might be wearing a hat, which would make all the difference to her appearance and the conclusions you might draw about her. The condition of a print can completely alter a photograph, especially when you are dealing with details.

And at the other end there is a better view looking down Wright’s Lane, showing the shops on the corner.

The Terrace - Wright's Lane details of shops from CPic 092

You can see people heading down the road past the walls of Scarsdale House and in the foreground a slightly indistinct woman with a child in a pram is standing outside an early version of Derry and Toms. The lady with her back to us on the left is window shopping, her head hidden in the shadow of the awning on which the name Ponting’s can be seen. It’s another one of those images you’d like to step inside and have a look around.

Postscript

Once again I have benefited from close scrutiny of the relevant Survey of London volume. Along with the information I have also collected some descriptive phrases which are one of the pleasures of the Survey.

Next week I’m taking a week off as we have a guest blogger.

 


Christmas Days: A street in Kensington

This is the first of my Christmas bite-size mini-posts, daily for as long as I can stand it. A few pictures and a few words. I’ll publish mid evening to see how that goes.

I don’t know about any other archives but in our archive you sometimes find odd cuttings, odd papers and odd photographs which you can’t identify. Sometimes you can’t work out the source either. Mostly these things will be unremarkable, just stuff which someone in the past put aside intending to deal with one day. But sometimes there is something interesting there. Today’s post is about two photographs. I’ve called it a street in Kensington but it could be two streets.

Kensington unknown street 01

This is a modern (but not recent) print of an old photograph. The original had turned sepia with age but I don’t know where that is, or when the print was made. The view is of a quiet residential street near the middle of the 19th century. You can tell that the half a dozen or so people in the picture have gathered to look at the photographer.

Kensington unknown street 01 detail

The figures at either end, the two men and the boy haven’t stayed long enough for their images to be captured properly. The picture is reminiscent of the work of James Hedderly. The woman pushing a primitive pram is wearing a crinoline skirt, which dates the picture: somewhere between 1855 and 1865 and therefore quite early in the history of photography. This is an era before street photography was commonplace so people would stop and look. You have a little bit of a social cross section here – a couple of prosperous fellows, a cabman, a man and a boy leaning on the railings, the nursery maid. Street life in suburban London.

It might be possible to identify the street, but there were a lot of streets in Kensington which looked like this.

The other photograph looks down a similar street. Or are we just looking in the other direction?

Kensington unknown street 02

The houses on the left are detached and one has a distinctive facade, and the house facing us at the end looks similar to the one in the first picture.

As always with me, what makes a picture like this is the human factor. That woman  gliding slowly towards us.

Kensington unknown street 02 detail

Not much detail, but you can see another pram. (I think that must be a pram, although it’s a little hard to make out – possibly an effect of motion) The woman in the first picture could have been a nursery maid or some other kind of servant. This woman has a white parasol and a wide skirt trailing in the dust so is clearly the mother of the child in the pram, pushing it one-handed. (A very sunny day? Or was the parasol an essential accessory that year?) It might be my imagination working but she looks quite relaxed strolling up the empty street seemingly unaware that the photographer is capturing this random moment on a summer afternoon which will make it through to a December day a hundred and fifty years or so in the future.

Any keen-eyed readers who can name the street, or streets, please let me know. See you tomorrow.


Masks of fashion: Clementina and the room of stars

I’ve wanted to find a good reason to come back to Clementina, Lady Hawarden and her brief career exploring costume, fabric and light within the confines of a few rooms in her house at Princes Gardens. I only recently thought of an obvious way to look at her work as a fashion photographer as I suggested she was in my first post about her.

04 Clementina Maude

Here, in the room with the starred wallpaper, her daughter and principal model Clementina Maude, an elaborate dress draped around her adopts a pose which shows off the way the material falls over her body. You want to call the pose langorous or thoughtful, which is the impression it gives, even though you know the young Clementina had to hold the pose for several minutes while the plate was exposed. Although the photograph has suffered over the years you can still see the contrast between the side directly lit by the light from the window and the greater detail visible on the other side.

04 mario testino

The light is falling from the other side in this picture by one of the modern masters of fashion photography Mario Testino and although the shutter speed was measured in seconds rather than  minutes the same care has been lavished on the model’s pose and the way the dress hangs.

It may have been the search for available light that drew Lady Clementina to the windows of her improvised studio but she comes back to them repeatedly.

06 Clementina Maude

Clementina again in some kind of fancy dress, Bohemian or gypsy perhaps, steps through the shutters from the balcony.

Below, a model negotiates a more complicated arrangement of wooden screens and windows in an equally sparsely furnished 19th century room.

06 Les-Secrets-de-Lambassade-by-Piotr-Stoklosa-10 2011 Calendar of the Polish Embassy in Paris

She has the same attitude of trepidation in this picture from a calendar for the Polish Embassy in Paris by Piotr Stoklosa.

Lady Clementina’s other favourite prop was a mirror.

01 Clementina Maude

As she knew Lewis Carroll (he visited the house and bought several examples of her work), you might want to start on Alice and Through the Looking Glass (not published till after Lady Clementina’s death) and soon there would be several sentences devoted to modern fantasies about the Victorian period. You can do all that yourselves quite easily. I’ll just stop for a while and listen to an album. I’ll pick something non-Victorian like Can, or Wire

When I get back we can remember that mirrors are always mysterious and always slightly threatening. Remember that quote from Borges?

01 Glamour Germany nov 05 Roslyakova

[The file name of this picture tells me it’s from Glamour magazine (German edition), November 2005, and the model is Elena Roslyakova]

Here Clementina poses with the same mirror.

07 Clementina Maude

If you look closely I think you can see that her mother has draped that white material with dark stitching on the border (which I pointed out in the first post) over her skirt. She probably isn’t wearing a crinoline underneath. Her mother is trying to achieve a softer shape. You can barely make out Clementina’s reflection.

I’m not sure whether Gisele Bundchen is posing by an actual mirror in the photograph below or whether the photographer has caught the reflection in a window.

07 Harper's Bazaar US June 07 Gisele Bundchen

She isn’t wearing a crinoline either as you can see. The pose, with one foot on the chair brings out the unstuctured flow of the dress. Clementina might not have posed exactly like this but some of her mother’s pictures show that she wasn’t bound by convention when creating her photographs.

Clementina V&A 1862-3

In this variation on a pose featured in the first post Clementina is barefoot and casual looking, as minimally dressed as a modern model, The shadowy light gives her an air of mystery and demonstrates a trust between model and photographer which could probably only have been achieved by a mother and daughter in the 1860s.

Infashion magazine 2010 Evelina Mambetova 8

In this 2010 picture from In Fashion magazine Evelina Mambetova has found a similar kind of pose combining a kind of casual awkwardness with an enigmatic stare.

Can you bear much more of my amateur fashion-speak?

The point for me of looking at old photographs is finding the connection between then and now in the touches of modernity you can detect in photographs taken more than a hundred years ago.

Below, in an ordinary day dress Clementina has a air of 21st century ennui as she stands by the door of the room with the starred wallpaper.

10 Clementina Maude LCH011 1862

Like many of the others the photograph is damaged and sections cut away but you can still recognize the melancholy in the figure which transcends condition and technique. This is one of my favourite Hawarden pictures, and it was hard to find a modern equivalent.

This, perhaps:

07 Sarah Luss inVogue Italia -Valentino couture spring 2023 – by Gian Paolo Barbieri 07

[Sarah Luss wearing a Valentino dress from 2013 photographed by Gian Paolo Barbieri for Vogue Italia]

The model’s stare is neutral in this case though the dress is dark enough to create the shadows.

Or this?

10a dior-fall-couture-2012 02

[Dior 2012]

The model looks uncertainly back at the photographer which is effective, but perhaps with some photographs the same look can never be achieved by accident.

Here Clementina poses with an odd but highly decorative set of miniature drawers in a cabinet which was another of her mother’s favourite props.

02 Clementina Maude

Below another model stands in front of an odd cabinet.

02 Vogue Paris June 04 Daria Wervbowy

[Daria Wervbowy photographed for French Vogue in 2004]

Below, Clementina affects to sleep on what looks like a makeshift bed.

03 Clementina Maude

Clementina sleeping was another of her mother’s favourite subjects. She doesn’t look completely relaxed though.

03 woman on c

By contrast, this (unknown to me) model isn’t even attempting to sleep. But I think Lady Clementina would have appreciated the fall of the dress material to the floor and the light coming from behind.

The last comparison is another version of the sleeping model.

05 Clementina Maude

In this case Clementina shows every sign of having actually dropped off while reading a book. Sleep is another mysterious area of life, subject to endless speculation and fantasy. It’s more evidence for me that Lady Hawarden was as preoccupied with the strangeness of existence as any other artist or writer of the period and that the impressions we read into her work – eroticism, feminity, dreams and death are not fantasies of our own construction but part of her intentions.

This is unfortunately another damaged picture showing signs of age. It’s been compared to Lord Leighton’s Flaming June (painted long after Lady Hawarden’s death – could Leighton have seen it?). I haven’t been able to locate a close parallel in modern fashion photography, but I like this picture by Norman Parkinson of  the model Jean Patchett in repose.

05 Jean Patchett by norman parkinson

This is a game you could play endlessly. Why not try it yourself? Here’s one of Clementina playing a classical (or occult?) role with a single star.

Clementina Maude 1863-64

Any suggestions?

 

Postscript

As is often the case I was working on this post along with another speculative one when it occurred to me that I had better write something for this week, and the scanner was temporarily locked in the basement during some building work so it had better be something that was almost ready to go. As a result I didn’t have quite as long to search for images which echoed Lady Hawarden’s work as I thought I would have. Some of them are more exact parallels than others. But you get the basic point I expect. Of course I could have just said “light-fabric-mirrors-women”.

Most of the modern fashion images come from the archives of  http://dustjacket-attic.com/ , one of the best websites concerned with fashion and design, which I highly recommend. http://www.fashiongonerogue.com/ is another good one. Like other bloggers say, if I have infringed anyone’s image rights by using them here just let me know.

I think this may not be the last time Clementina, Lady Hawarden is featured here. The more I look at her pictures the more there seems to be in them. You can see many more at the V&A website: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/l/lady-clementina-hawarden/

Oh yes, and that Borges quote: “Mirrors and fatherhood are abominable to God, for they multiply the redundant images of Man”. This sentence has been translated in a variety of forms over the years, but this is how I remember it from my first reading of Fictions back in the 1970s. Lady Hawarden and Lewis Carroll might well have had an interesting dinner party with Borges.

Finally, I have a World War 1 piece on the Library blog here.

Another Postscript April 2016

Is this picture a good enough match for the final one?

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Familiar streets: a Paddington estate

When I first looked at Bernard Selwwyn’s pictures of 1950s Paddington I had no idea I was working with someone who knew a great deal more about the area than me. So this week my colleague and friend Isabel Hernandez is guest blogging, about a neighbourhood she knows very well:

 

You may recall a post Dave wrote a little while back called Unfamiliar Streets: Paddington 1959…It so happens that when I had the opportunity to view the photographs within that blog I realised to my surprise that I was very familiar with these northern Paddington streets. Views of the Warwick Estate prior to its redevelopment beginning around 1959 and the early 1960s were images I had never seen before, and considering I spent my entire youth growing-up on the relatively new estate, it really was like entering a time capsule. Very few of the original buildings survive now, with the exception of St Mary Magdalene’s and the local Victorian schools which I will talk about later, and some of the bigger, grander houses around Blomfield Villas. There have been name changes too: some abolished, others given to rebuilt roads such as Clarenden, Woodchester and Brindley.

Below is an image of Bourne Terrace, previously Westbourne Terrace North. The photograph appears to have been taken from Torquay Street which backs on to the now Westbourne Green Sports complex, opened around 1976. The railway lies directly behind that with the Westway looming large alongside it. On the corner of Bourne Terrace you can see 264 Saws Ltd and various blocks which no longer exist. They look to be derelict and ready for demolition with people going about their daily lives as usual. Nobody in that scene seems to have noticed the camera.

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Here’s another photograph showing Bourne Terrace, only this time one of the blocks has already been demolished. Already a new build has been erected on the left – the familiar flats of the current Warwick Estate. The spire of St Mary Magdalene’s is clearly visible in the background.

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Below is the Harrow Road with Bourne Terrace to the right and what appear to be lines set up for trolley buses. They were certainly gone by the time I moved in. The 18 and 36 bus routes were diesel run, ironically less clean than the electric bus option. All these blocks are now gone: the billboards, the shops. My memories of this part of the Harrow Road are not dissimilar to what exists today. To the right is a high rise block, possibly Brinklow House. Further up on the left, past the block of flats, existed the Westminster Council Offices (now an academy) and below that, garages where I housed my first car. To the right there was a Londis, a video shop (the epitome of visual technology at the time) and George’s chip shop. Each business had a residing family that we all knew well. People tended to stick around in the same community for a long time.

 

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Here’s another street which runs parallel to Bourne Terrace. This is Cirencester Street. To the right is the Roman Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Sorrows where I first had confession and had to wrack my 8 year old brain into confessing something inoffensive, like I really didn’t like my breakfast that morning, much to the priest’s amusement. Soon after, I did my First Holy Communion where my friends and I looked rather charming in our white dresses and suits. The chapel itself is quite beautiful inside.

 

Next to the chapel and above it – although not obvious – is my old primary school Our Lady of Dolours. The school was founded on this site in 1872 having previously been managed by priests of the church of St Mary of the Angels. It’s one of the few schools in London to still have a roof playground. At this point the school had yet to convert the front part opposite its façade into the front playground. I have many fond memories of the old place and I’ll never forget how small it looked when I returned many years later to visit. It must be true for all those who visit their old primary schools. We grow and mature and yet we’re not really sure when and how it all happened.

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Here’s the chapel again with the camera facing Desborough Street. The blocks to the right face onto the Harrow Road looking rather shabby and derelict.

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Below is a view of Our Lady of Dolours from a higher vantage point. Already the shabby, block opposite has gone and new flats are being built in the surrounding area. The high-rise block under construction is Wilmcote House, the first of six, high- rise blocks in the Warwick and Brindley Estates.

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Here’s another high vantage point of view. Our Lady of Dolours and Our Lady of Sorrows sectioned off and Wilmcote House nearing its 20/21 storeys. I lived in Gaydon House, nearest to Royal Oak and possibly the last of the six blocks to be built. Great views over London if you lived on the uppermost floors.

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Here’s Wilmcote House from the view point of St Mary Magdalene’s. To the far left is Edward Wilson C.E School. I assume named after the physician and naturalist who died on the ill-fated British Antarctic expedition lead by Captain Robert Scott in 1912. Edward Wilson practiced as a doctor in Paddington in his earlier years.

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Edward Wilson School seen from the back possibly from Cirencester Street. The skyline is a little different now with Gaydon House directly opposite the front of the school and the Westway marking a path through the lower horizon towards Edgware Road and Marylebone Road.

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St Mary Magdalene’s in the distance with the endless row of houses leading up to it. This gives you an idea as to how little space there was. It was designed by the architect George Edmund Street and it is often described as a ‘long, tall narrow design’ simply because the layout of the former streets gave little room for width. Now, of course, there is a spacious green behind the church with the Grand Union Canal running parallel to it. As children after school lunch, usually a hideous concoction of hard boiled potatoes, spam and simpering vegetables that would probably make Jamie Oliver’s toes curl, we would be taken by dinner ladies to the green to play. We would often dare each other to go up to the church wall, put our hand on it and count to ten – seems perfectly harmless – except we just knew it had to be haunted. To our point of view a gothic behemoth such as that, towering over our small frames was good enough reason to allow for our vivid imaginations to concoct some fantastical cowl covered floating monks to be living there in all their frightening silence. I know now that this is quite impossible. St Mary Magdalene’s was only completed around 1878. No cowled monks in the area at the time as far as I know.

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Here is the church again a little closer, from the other side of the canal. I have always admired its red brick walls and unassuming character. It’s not surprising it is often used as a film location. A church ‘completed by degrees’ in the middle of a crowded residential area. Now it stands as the centre piece of the Warwick Estate. If you want more details about the church, Pevsner’s London 3: North West is an interesting read.

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The Warwick Crescent development underway; note the leaning lamp-post in stark contrast to the massive crane beyond the corrugated barriers. Out with the old in with the new. It seems a shame that these could not have been restored – as far as street furniture goes these were rather attractive.

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The new blocks of flats were going up as soon as the rubble from the old houses was cleared. Presumably, rather than demolish everything in one fell swoop and displacing many residents, it made sense to demolish sections and rebuild, that way you could re-house people in increments and not displace them for too long.

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Here is a clearer photograph of the flats under construction. These are what you will find on the Warwick Estate now.

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I will conclude my post with this image. Here, the old and the new seem to co-exist in an absurd time warp: old houses new flats. Note the lampposts again! Here we see (what I assume) are residents passing through what appears to be Lord Hill’s Road. It now connects Senior Street with Delamare Terrace. I imagine a mother with her shopping trolley; gentlemen in suits, perhaps finishing work for the day; somebody on a motorbike and a chap looking at the camera on the other side of the road taking an interest in what our photographer is doing. It’s difficult to see unless you expand the image. They all seem to be taking the huge redevelopment in their stride quite literally. I wonder what they thought of it all.

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Postscript:

I came to the Warwick Estate as a child in the early 1970s and my first impressions are still relatively clear in my memory: tall high-rise blocks, lots of green spaces to play in, a canal full of sticklebacks and the ever stoic St Mary Magdalene’s at the centre of all the residential flats. Being a new girl on the block what I experienced was the London County Council’s post war answer to social housing. I never realised – now looking back at maps and photographs – just how densely populated the area was with narrow streets. A true Victorian relic. I had never seen what the area looked like before my tenure there so to have looked at these images and given the opportunity to talk about them was a real treat. Some of you reading this may be familiar with these Paddington streets and may even remember how it was before the cranes arrived on the scene. There is so much I’m still learning about my old haunt; for example, I had no idea that the painter, Lucien Freud had a studio in Delamare Terrace and later in Clarenden Crescent. Did you? History always has a way of inviting you to delve further. I would never say I know everything there is to know about my old address because I clearly don’t but I hope to have piqued your interest just a little and that you have enjoyed looking at these photographs as much as I have.


Bignell’s people

This week we’re back with the skilled eye of John Bignell and if there is a theme to this collection it’s “ordinary” people going about their lives barely realising that a photographer can take a moment of that daily life and turn it into something permanent.

World's End c1958 jb46

A group of men standing outside a pub  in 1958 waiting for it to open, bantering with each other. A regular activity that by time, memory and the photographer’s art becomes emblematic of all the men who have ever waited outside a pub.

Peter Jones  JB3 vmbp0125

A pair of women look  into a  window at the Peter Jones store on a quiet morning.

Demolition in Manresa-Kings Road c1955 JB296

A lone man hacks away at a wall. Dangerous work, perched on top of a crumbling building that you yourself are making more hazardous to stand on. Did Bignell see the poster for the 1958 film The Last Days of Pompeii? A classical case of destruction echoing the destruction of a building in Manresa Road? The star of the film was former bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the hero of many sword and sandal epics. Reeves played Hercules on several occasions. Is it stretching a point to say that the man above the poster is engaged in a Herculean labour? Probably. You can find lots of fascinating and possibly unintentional details in photographs just like when you walk down a familiar street and notice some telling detail in a building or a shopfront.

Magrie's forge Dovehouse Street c1951 jb122

In Magrie’s forge in 1951 a moment of high concentration

Man on bench in Dovehouse Street jb45

Not far away on Dovehouse Street a man resting on a bench looking for all the world like he’s using a mobile phone. Except that it’s  still the 1950s. One of those poses we always had ready for when the relevant technology emerged. As if I had been blogging in 1966. Speaking of the sixties:

Royal Avenue opposite Crapper's 1960s jb89

Royal Avenue: a trio consult a map or a guide book, a couple of genuine hippies, a woman surprised or a bit shocked at something she sees. But not at that dog behind her and what he’s doing. There used to be a sign forbidding “illegal dog fouling” in Royal Avenue. It’s one of those phrases that fascinates me because it can be read a number of different ways, like “hot bread shop” or “building alarmed”. Perhaps it’s me.

King's Road jb29

I’m not entirely sure where this street market was. My first thought was that it was opposite Royal Avenue. Before they built the mini shopping mall there was an open area like this with a Sainsburys and a Boots (and a shoe shop?). The mall was built in the late 80s or early 90s with a big Virgin shop at its heart, But I wonder about the building behind it, a residential block not really visible on this picture. Any suggestions?

Couple JB4

Back on the King’s Road, a cool looking girl and a man with big ears.

King's Road c1961 jb62

A collector for the British Red Cross meets up with one of those end of the world guys you used to see on London streets. I’m not sure what the earnest young man (who looks like a young version of Michael Gove) is saying. Is it an impromptu theological discussion, or is he resolving a dispute? We may never know.

King's RoadWellington Square jb24

Not far away geographically but in the previous decade a couple pose for the camera in Wellington Square.

Below, a picture Bignell has set up:

St Pancras rail strike day

A pensive child in a near deserted St Pancras Station. Bignell’s writing on the back of the print says “rail strike day”, which explains the quietness of the scene. The girl is cooperatively looking away from the camera, probably at one of her parents. Perhaps the photograph was a welcome distraction from the tedium of waiting for a train that might not come.

Victor Sylvester's - girls dancing

This picture of a Victor Sylvester dance class is not exactly set up but it’s a pleasing image of the girls having to dance with each other because you could never get the boys to go to these things.

The all girl sporting picture below is more unexpected:

Cricket at Duke of York's jb75

Cricket practice outside the Duke of York’s Headquarters.

Nearby, at the Royal Hospital:

Oak Apple Day Royal Hospital jb98

Oak Apple Day, according to Bignell’s note. A very effective picture – the two Pensioners standing at ease echoing the line of bandsmen. The conductor in the background provides the only sense of movement.

Finally, another puzzle.

Unknown shop front with bus reflection

Who are these four sixties people? Where was that shop? The bus, I’m told, doesn’t look much like a London bus. Again I’m happy to hear any ideas about people or location.

Postscript

Hardly anything to add this week. Bignell’s book Chelsea Photographer can still be found from second hand dealers although prices vary considerably.

 


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