Tag Archives: Riverside

Manufactured in Chelsea

I was looking through some old proof sheets for John Bignell’s book Chelsea seen from its earliest days (enlarged edition 1987 but now out of print), in which Bignell contrasted his own photographs with equivalents from an earlier era. I decided to use some of the old photographs in a post but couldn’t think of a unifying theme. Then we got an email enquiry about the effect of that “structured” reality TV show set in Chelsea on the real borough. (Short answer: none at all probably.) And so I had a title for a random selection of images of Chelsea as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The first image is probably the oldest. We begin as Chelsea itself did on the riverside.

The Old Swan

This is the Old Swan Tavern, before the Embankment, at low tide I would assume judging from how far back the photographer is standing from the river steps and the obliging patrons. I think this is a James Hedderly photograph. The Old Swan lay at the end of Swan Walk near the Physic Garden. This of course was not the original Old Swan but I don’t want to make things too complicated (for myself) at the moment. There are some paintings of the Old Swan in this post.

I’m following a winding path through Chelsea east to west, south to north taking in high and low society. This entails a few leaps back and forth in time. This picture is a distinctly post embankment view of Lombard Terrace, which lay to the west of the Old Church.

Lombard Terrace

The distinctive art nouveau buildings on the left are 72-74 Cheyne Walk, designed by C R Ashbee. They were built on the site of Maunder’s fish shop, a building painted by many, including Whistler which is appropriate as number 74 was  the last house in which he lived. The building was demolished by 1927 and the fight to save some of the remaining houses was one of the causes around which the Chelsea Society was formed. Whatever was left was destroyed along with the Old Church in an air raid in 1941.

The picture below shows part of the original Lombard Terrace with Mr Spell’s Post Office and store on the corner of Danvers Street. I think that’s Mr Spell and his daughter standing in the doorway. This is another picture by James Hedderly.

Cheyne Walk - Hedderly

I’d quite forgotten this picture so I was quite struck by this view looking north from Battersea Bridge up Beaufort Street.

Beaufort Street

Belle Vue House on the left remains and the terrace of tall houses beyond, but on the right all the old houses of Duke Street have gone.

We’re not quite finished with Cheyne Walk. Let’s take a walk past the King’s Head to the pleasingly named Aquatic public house.

Cheyne Walk - Turner's House

The three boys are just about to reach the house with the balcony rail on the roof line, where JMW Turner lived. We saw a picture of it by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in a previous post.

If we turn back back and go up Beaufort Street we can cross the King’s Road into a quiet cul-de-sac called The Vale, where William and Evelyn de Morgan lived.

The Vale

The Vale now intersects with Elm Park Road but at this time it was a dead end, just a pleasant residential enclave. (That man Whistler lived at mumber 1) Here is an interior from number 4:

2 the vale

We don’t know who the lady is, but she looks quite comfortable.

We go back to the main road for a couple of pictures

Kings Road

A horse bus on the King’s Road, at the corner of Sydney Street, pretty much where the Old Town Hall (and Chelsea Library of course) are today. The King’s Road still had many purely residential houses along this stretch.

We can take a short detour down nearby Oakley Street to take a look at one of its famous residents.

Dr Phene

The good Dr Phene strikes a pose outside the house in which he never actually lived. He only had to go across the road to his actual house. Read more in this post. It’s a fact that I’ve never been able to use on the blog, but another local resident I’ve written about, Margaret Morris once took a party of local residents on a tour of the house. I don’t suppose the two of them ever met but I’d like to imagine they did.

Speaking of my personal obsessions here’s another one, a photograph showing the teacher training establishment Whitelands College, home of the May Queens. Behind those walls lay a unique story, which I have covered here and here. (You can probably expect another one in April). Readers of History Today (February issue) can see a rather disturbing photograph of the college quadrangle a few years after the Staff and students moved to Putney.

Whtelands College

I promised you a bit of high life so here is a picture of the King’s Dinner held in Burton’s Court in 1902 as part of the celebrations for the coronation of Edward VII. The idea was that the poor of Chelsea would be served by charitable members of high society.

Coronation

The lady in white is clearly doing her best but apparently the whole affair was a bit of a disaster, with not enough food, general bad behaviour and insulting language used against the lady volunteers, some of whom had to flee the scene.

By contrast there was a servants’ dinner at Chelsea Town Hall (organised by the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants), where 40 ladies served the maids.This was a smaller and much more civilised affair

Servants' dinner

And everyone went home with a gift bag.

The Chelsea Flower Show was always a big social event, attended by the highest in the land.

Queen Alexandra at the Chelsea Flower Show

Queen Alexandra in 1913 accompanied by some important men.

But let’s go back to ordinary life. This is the street market in Marlborough Street.

Marlborough Road

The shoppers of 1900 look pretty smart.

Finally a picture in another Chelsea street, Upper Cheyne Row showing a horse drawn fire engine.

80

Is there something wrong here? I’ll leave that thought with you.

Postscript

I think I must have set some kind of record for the number of hyperlinks I’ve inserted into this post, so just ignore them if they irritate you. I balked at linking to all the Hedderly posts. Why not try the search box?

And I’ve had to rush through some of the background detail so fact checking is welcome. Next week I’ll go back to a much smaller area.

 

 

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Shepherd in Chelsea

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd is one of the few artists in our collection who seemed equally happy in Chelsea and Kensington. It could be argued that his Chelsea watercolours have the edge for the variety of the subject matter, although some of these views are familiar from the work of other artists. Take Gough House as an example.

Gough House 238A

We’ve seen it before in the paintings of Mariane Rush. She painted Gough House from different angles, even from old prints and her imagination. Shepherd’s view is more exact, his trees less exotic, but he does allow a certain darkness about the place. Gough House was built in 1704 but the Gough family didn’t own it until ten years later. It lay adjacent to the later building Walpole House – susequent researchers wish that Shepherd (or Rush) had painted that.  In 1790 Gough House was a girl’s school (inevitably) . The grounds were gradually absorbed in the 19th century by the building of the Embankment and the laying out of Tite Street but the house itself partly survived into the 20th century as The Victoria Hospital for Children

The Chelsea Bun House in Grosvenor Row was the home of the Chelsea Bun but also had a museum of curiosities, not the only one in the area.

Chelsea Bun House 167A

The Bun House was run by several members of a family named Hand. The often quoted figure of a quarter of a million buns sold on Good Friday 1829 is probably apocryphal but the buns themselves “a zephyr in taste, fragrant as honey” sound  a little more interesting than the modern version.

Below, a view of St Joseph’s Convent, Cadogan Street occupied then by the Sisters of Mercy. Boys and girls’ schools and alms housas were later added and the street now also has a Catholic Church, St Mary’s.

St Soseph's Convents and Schools, Cadogan Street 172A

Some of this building still survives. Another building with ecclesiastical connnections is now gone, Winchester House, home of the Bishop of Winchester after the destruction of Winchester Palace. While the Bishop lived there it was outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, but by 1825 Earl Cadogan’s estate had acquired it. After its demolition, Oakley Street was built, running south from the King’s Road to the river right through the former house.

Winchester House 150A

Some clerical figures strolling on the left perhaps, and one of Shepherd’s running dogs on the other path.

East of the point where Oakley Street met the river was a grand terrace of houses we’ve seen in Hedderly photographs. The house with the signs is Don Saltero’s Tavern,  once home to an even more famous museum of curiosites.

Cheyne Walk - Don Saltereo's 151A

James Salter (“Don Saltero” was his exotic alter ego) had been a servant of Sir Hans Sloane. The original coffee house was further east near Lawrence Street but he finally moved to 18 Cheyne Walk. He died in 1728. The collection was sold in 1799 and by the time Shepherd painted this picture the house was just a tavern.

The collection itself deserves a post of its own, which I may do one day but let me just give some random examples from the 1734 version of the catalogue:

21 Petrified crab from China; 27 The Worm that eats into the Piles in Holland; 31 A piece of rotten wood not to be consumed by fire; 67 A pair of Nun’s stockings; 69 A Nun’s Whip; 70 the Pope’s infallible candle; 76 A little Lobster;102 A curious snuff box, adorn’d with ivory figures;119 the Hand of an Egyptian Mummy; 135 An Ostritch’s Leg; 142 A Cat of Mountain; 302 A Whale’s pizzle: 305 A Batt with four Ears

As you can see, it was a collection you’d want to see if you could. I once displayed the whole list in the gallery at Chelsea Library. In the end though the whole lot sold for £50.

We now begin a walk along the riverside, one of the most illustrated parts of Chelsea [link]

Another familiar view shows the pre-Embankment riverside heading towards the Old Church. The river was wider, and maybe gentler at this time.

Chelsea waterfront 152A

Getting closer to the church you can see the Sloane Monument and the terrace leading up to it, both photographed by Hedderly. (plus other posts under his name)

Chelsea Old Church 145A

Shepherd gave the dog some time off and puts a horse in this one. Arch House, the covered way to Lombard Street is just visible.

Lindsey House 146A

On the other side of the bridge, the dog returns in this view of Lindsey House, built in 1694 but substantially altered over the years. The Brunels, father and son lived there for several years in the early 19th century.

Turner's House 119 Cheyne Walk 147A

Further along Cheyne Walk at number 119 (the house in the centre) was rented from 1838 by the painter J M W Turner. The rail on the roof was supposedly the point from which he watched the river, particularly at sunset.  He lived there almost incognito only visited by a few friends such as Leopold Martin, son of the painter John Martin. It’s not recorded whether the misspellings at Alexander’s are what Shepherd actually saw or whether Shepherd himself was a poor speller.

Time-journeys along this stretch of river often end here:

Cremorne Gardens 1852 148A

The Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, where I imagine there were no dogs allowed, apart from the performing variety [link]

Cremorne Gardens 1852 149A

Shepherd doesn’t show the crowds. Perhaps he’s imagining a quiet afternoon at Cremorne. These two ladies, the gentleman and the boy can have their pick of the chairs. A few figures make their way out of what I assume is Ashburnham Hall, part of the old estate now convereted into an exhibition area.. This is the genteel version of the Gardens. Some edifying displays in the hall, a chance to sit quietly, almost in the country with only the sound of the wind in the trees and the river in the background. Later the entertainments will begin and presumably Cremorne won’t be so quiet or so staid.

Let’s go one step further and pass through the gardens onto the westernmost stretch of the King’s Road. St Mark’s College was built right across from the entrance to Cremorne. As a teacher training college the authorities there naturally deplored the licentious activity in the evenings at Cremorne and the Principal of the College was one of the main objectors whenever Cremorne’s licences were up for renewal. (Although the main reason for the closure of Cremorne was probably a decline in profitability and the desire of developers to build housing on the site.) The days of seasonal  outdoors entertainment on the scale of Cremorne were coming to an end.

On the Fulham Road side of the College site was the chapel:

St Mark's College Chapel 138A

It looks like another tranquil spot. But London was growing around all the quiet places Shepherd depicted and the modern city was taking over. The only animals in this picture are a small flock of birds.

Postscript

Shepherd brings together many strands of Chelsea history. I’m almost certainly going to pick one of those up next week, I’m not sure which one right now.


Mr Menpes on the river

There are several parallels between the work of Mortimer Menpes and Yoshio Markino. Markino brought a Japanese sensibility to the way he looked at London and Londoners, and an outsider’s eye for the unfamiliar sights of his new home. He was particularly fascinated by the river. This fascination was shared by Menpes who published this book, The Thames in 1906 in collaboration with G E Mitton.

00 Thames

Menpes also brought an outsider’s viewpoint to the river. Remember, he was from Australia and had been brought up in quite a different climate and landscape. So it’s not surprising that while Markino concentrated on London’s river, the tidal Thames with its bridges, embankments and fast flowing water, Menpes was captivated by the other Thames above the tide. This was still a world of country towns, lazy river pursuits and long still sunny days -that late Victorian / Edwardian summer epitomised by Jerome K Jerome’s Three men in a boat or Kenneth Grahame’s the Wind in the Willows.

Pangbourne p4

The other thing Menpes shares with Markino is an eye for the picturesque qualities of the new women of the Edwardian era. Sometimes they lounge casually under a parasol with the obligatory small dog who, like his literary ancestor Montmorency is an essential part of the crew for a river journey in a small rowing boat. Sometimes they took the oar themselves.

Pangbourne from the Swan Hotel p64

In this case it looks like the same woman, slightly sad about having to dump her companion but happy to be making some progress at last. The upper Thames had declined as a route for commercial traffic but had seen an enormous growth in boating for pleasure. There were tranquil backwaters suitable for punting.

Dorchester backwater p52

Deserted stretches, given over to wild life.

Goring p62

“Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dog fox gone to ground.
See the splashing of the kingfisher flashing to the water.
And a river of green is sliding unseen beneath the trees,
Laughing as it passes through the endless summer making for the sea.”

There were plenty of places for river sports, boathouses for the small rowing skiffs and the solitary canoeist:

Radley College boathouse p34

But the river was also a site of mass entertainment. Large gatherings of pleasure seekers attended events like Henley Regatta as they still do today. These events were attended in huge numbers by the new middle classes who had leisure time to fill and the ability to travel to formerly exclusive spots by train and river boat.

Henley Regatte p100

Along with the rowing boats in all sizes there were the giant houseboats, like floating hotels which were towed from one riverside event to another. These were the glory days of the upper Thames. The picture below is of Boulter’s Lock on Ascot Sunday:

Boulter's Lock Ascot Sunday p128

A traffic jam of river craft in the narrow waterway. Below, the area near the lock where larger  boats and  steam launches wait their turn. You can even see one of the luxurious houseboats (gin palaces as one of Jerome’s characters called them) although I doubt if could go through the lock.

Below Boulter's Lock p130

By the end of the day the crowds of fashionable pleasure seekers had withdrawn to their houseboats and inns or just made the journey home and the river was calm again.

Hampton Court from the river p178

All the different kinds of river craft had made their way to a mooring.

Rose Garden at Sonning p72

The very fortunate had a pleasant riverside dwelling to return to as the sun went down.

Streatley Inn p18

The sun hangs low in the sky and the river people are indoors telling stories about their exploits on the water.

Mapledurham Mill p66

“If I had wings and I could fly,
I know where I would go.
But right now I’ll just sit here so contentedly
And watch the river flow.”

Hambleden p102

The picture below is my favourite of Menpes’s illustrations of his river journey. A woman finds a comfortable spot and nods off on a quite summer afternoon. Her parasol slips back, but her face is still shaded by her wide brimmed hat. Her unseen companion sits quietly at the stern so as not to disturb her. Even the dog sits calmly enjoying the same relaxed moment as his human companions.

“Put on a gown that touches the ground
Float on a river forever and ever, Emily “

Sad eyed lady of the lowland

The peaceful moment lives on forever.

“The river flows
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes
That’s where I want to be
Flow river flow
Let your waters wash down
Take me from this road
To some other town.”

Postscript

Lyrics by Roger Waters and Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) and Bob Dylan.

Everybody knows Jerome K Jerome’s Three men in a boat but for a modern day version of a river journey try one of my favourite books, Nigel Williams’ Two and a half men in a boat.

We’ll come down to the river again one day I’m sure.

Finally, thanks to Kat for all her work in Local Studies, and for her friendship.


The kids are alright – playing out in Chelsea

Everyone’s childhood should be a golden age of wonder and exploration. But as adults we often seem to think that our own young days were the truly magical times and that the current crop of kids aren’t having as good a time as we did. You often hear it said that today’s children lead circumscribed lives either in their bedrooms in front of a screen or being ferried from one organised activity to another. Perhaps it’s nostalgia but I do remember long afternoons going off with friends across fields, or along the canal, sometimes ending up in places my parents wouldn’t have liked. I was reminded of those days a few weeks ago when I included this John Bignell picture in a post.

002 Bignell Chelsea Reach 1965

A couple of boys in a precarious position on a half sunken wrecked barge at high tide with the river waters rising around them. Wouldn’t you have wanted to be with them? The Thames riverbed would have been a magnet for adventurous kids. This picture was taken nearly ten years before but the fun was much the same.

Chelsea Bridge - Battersea Bridge c1956 jb197 (2)

My childhood was largely spent in rural places, but post-war London, still full of bomb sites and damaged buildings had plenty of empty urban spaces ripe for exploration.

Boys playing at the back of Wentworth Studios (2)

A trio of boys playing at the back of Wentworth Studios in Manresa Road. Are they constructing a den underneath a fallen tree? Even quite young looking children got in on the act.

Children playing on Dovehouse Green demolition site 2398 jb_69

These kids from the 1950s and early 60s look exactly like you imagine they did in those Children’s Film Foundation films that were made for the Saturday morning pictures. Each one a future Dennis Waterman.

Children playing on Dovehouse Green demolition site 1950 jb_96

This group posed for Bignell during demolition at Dovehouse Green.

If a demolition site wasn’t available you could still find plenty to do in the street in those days when traffic was lighter, playing football.

world's end c1956 jb82

Or just hanging around.

world's end 1960s jb201

A couple of teenagers in the background anticipating future pleasures with grown-up toys.

Some of the grown up toys got discarded like this abandoned car.

car sabateurs c1960 jb50

Or these unattended roadworks.

balletic pause jb212

This picture looks a little later than the other and the kids a little more middle class. Don’t imagine playing in the street was an activity confined to Chelsea’s mean streets as this classic Bignell view of Tite Street shows.

baseball in tite street 1955 jb79

You’ve mostly seen gangs of boys so far. But the girsl knew how to have fun too. This group have crashed a jumble sale.

jumble sale 43a

Note the Tip Top Annual held by one girl. This group were actively taking the mickey out of adult life.

Jumble sale a2

Of course everyone grows up and starts to rehearse for adult life. The fun goes indoors.

Victor Sylvester's - girls dancing

The girls are usually in the lead when it comes to dancing. But the boys get there in the end.

Youth Club World's End JB135a

Postscript

The photographs are by John Bignell of course. Like all great photographers part of his talent is the ability to be in the right place at the right time to catch those moments. Not to mention the ability to make people want to have their picture taken. This process used to be a lot easier than it is today when a random image can make its way round the world before the photographer even gets home and people are wary of a camera being pointed at them. I’m not complaining about the ease of digital photography. But the old processes of developing and printing film gave photographers like Bignell the time to think about their work and select the best.

Bignell didn’t always date his pictures so I can’t give you dates on most of these, but they span a period from about 1955 to 1965, a good  time to be young in Chelsea.1965 was the year the first album by the Who was released, including the song The Kids are alright. If anyone reading this recognizes themselves or someone they know please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.


The Chelsea painter – on the waterfront

Earlier this year, I spent some time in our archive rooms assisting a photographer who was taking pictures of the oil paintings in our Local Studies collection. He was working for the Public Catalogue Foundation (www.thepcf.org.uk ) a registered charity which has been working to create an online catalogue of all the oil paintings in public ownership in the UK. To this end their agents have been visiting institutions all over the country, making lists and taking photographs. They have visited museums, art galleries, educational establishments, hospitals and of course libraries. They’ve been working in collaboration with the BBC’s Your Paintings project and you can see the results on the PCF website and at www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings .

But for me and you and the blog the main result of all this work is that I now have some good digital images of artworks I haven’t been able to photograph or scan myself. I’m going to do a couple of posts featuring some of the paintings. This week the paintings are all from the Chelsea collection. Just as with the Chelsea artists I’ve featured in previous posts, for the painters here the quintessential Chelsea subject is the river.

This is a picture of the riverside at Chelsea looking from the Battersea shore painted by James Webb in the 1880s.  You can see the principal landmark Chelsea Old Church, the old Battersea Bridge and just visible in the distance the towers of Albert Bridge. The painting hangs high up on a staircase chained into position and has probably been there since 1905.  Some good lighting has brought out details which I had never seen before like these:

You can just about read the name of the barge in the foreground. The number and size of the barges show you that this is a working river.

More than a century earlier Thomas Priest painted this picture:

The sky is lighter, the boats are smaller, the Battersea shore is more rural. It’s the same church. There was originally a cupola on the tower which was removed in the 1820s when the “new” church St Luke’s was built. The tower is also visible in the picture below, by an unknown painter.

Here you can see an even quieter day on the river. There really was a windmill on the south shore in the eighteenth century. I can’t say for sure what the building to the right of it is though. It looks like a warm lazy day. Before the embankment and the development on both banks the river was wider and may have flowed slower, or so it looks from our time.

This is the Chelsea bank at high tide. I think the bridge in the background is Chelsea Bridge, the old one which looked a little like Hammersmith Bridge. Just to the left of centre is the curious bent structure (a chimney?) of the Old Swan, an ancient Chelsea tavern much loved by artists.  Here it is again in a painting by Edward A Alkyns showing a barge being unloaded with raw materials for the brew house and some men swimming in the river.

The next picture of the Old Swan is by one of Chelsea’s most famous artists, Walter Greaves.

It shows a livery barge passing the Old Swan with a crowd gathered to see it go by. This may be a depiction of famous river race for barges, Doggett’s Coat and Badge. The Old Swan would have been the finishing point for the race at this time. The Greaves family had a boatyard further down the river which we’ve seen in the posts about James Hedderly and W W Burgess.

Going west past the Old Swan was the Magpie and Stump. Here the river ran close to Cheyne Walk and at high tide was only a few feet from the street.

This atmospheric  picture is by George Lambert.

Further west you came to Lindsay Wharf where the Greaves family worked and where Walter painted this picture called “Unloading the barge”. This is one of his best paintings.

It’s one of those pictures where Greaves leaves behind all the touches of the amateur painter and creates a work as good as any of the artists who have painted Chelsea. St Mary’s Church, Battersea where William Blake was married is is visible across the river.

Finally this week, my single favourite painting in the collection, another view of the river and Cheyne Walk. This one is by Henry Pether.

Pether was one of a family of painters of that name. His father Sebastian and his grandfather Abraham were all fond of night time scenes. This one, “Cheyne Walk by moonlight” captures the still evening atmosphere of old Chelsea. Two lonely figures pass the dark houses and shops and the river laps against the moored barges.  This is a hard picture to photograph. The colour of the original is hard to capture but this version comes the closest yet. With the full moon over our heads it’s a good moment to leave the Chelsea painters.

 

Thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation and particularly to Dr Rosie Macarthur.


What were the skies like when you were young? – William Ascroft

They’re just sketches in pastel by William Ascroft. Coloured lines on paper. Some of them are recognizable as riverside Chelsea. Others just suggest the familiar landmarks of the Old Church or the Old Swan Inn. But in all of them the skies are just as important as anything else in the picture. Sometimes  the setting sun bores through the image right at you.

The sky remains bright as the gloom envelopes the far shore. I get a sense of motion in the water, of the barges bobbing up and down.

In this picture the sky seems alight. Can you still see skies like this over London?

Here is a high tide, the river swollen. Pre-embankment Chelsea, Battersea Bridge just visible on the left.

It’s harder to see Chelsea in this one unless that’s St Luke’s on the right. It doesn’t matter so much. The subject of the picture is the light in the sky reflected on the surface of the river. Just as in the one below.

It doesn’t quite look like Chelsea.

I think this is further west – Putney or Chiswick. Ascroft roamed up and down the river banks. Not always at dusk.

This is in the morning at low tide near the Old Swan.

A closer view of the same scene. It looks a little like the point where Royal Hospital road diverges from Cheyne Walk. (You can see a photograph in the Hedderly post Tales of the Riverbank) Somewhere behind those buildings is the Physic Garden. Here’s the river gate of the Garden:

There’s that cedar tree you’ve already seen in the post on William Walter Burgess. Boatmen are working or possibly even playing a ball game by the gate and the Old Swan. There are many views of the Old Swan and hardly any of its successor the new Swan which must have been far less picturesque.

William Ascroft was a talented professional painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy but if he’s remembered at all today it’s for a particular job.

In 1883 the island of Krakatoa exploded. They heard the explosion thousands of miles away. The loudest sound in modern history it is said. Volcanic ash was flung high into the atmosphere and drifted around the world. Weather patterns did not return to normal for about five years. The Royal Society commissioned William Ascroft to paint the skies, particularly the vivid sunsets. A few of his pictures are in the official report.

The pictures in this post show Ascroft’s skills as a painter. He’s my favourite of all the artists in our collection. You can see how good he was at painting the sky. But If you look closely some of these pictures are dated 1872. They show “normal” sunsets, years before the Krakatoa explosion. I wanted to show you those first because I think the Royal Society picked their man well. I think Ascroft already had the right kind of vision, the right kind of obsession with sunlight at the end of the day.

The fire in the sky was already in him.

The sunset sketches are like this one – hurried, violent almost abstract. Have I whetted your appetite for more? I may do more of them next week.


The case of the missing chimneys: Lots Road Power Station

Lots Road Power Station is the overlooked older brother of the flashier and more famous Battersea Power Station. It never starred on an album cover. Unlike their cousin Bankside it hasn’t been turned into an art gallery. But when it was built it was the biggest in the world. For years it provided the power for the tube network. It survived the blitz despite being right on the Luftwaffe’s flight path. And unlike its cousins it sat on a little street by the river among the terraced streets at the industrial fringe of Chelsea.

It started generating electricity in 1905. The four brick chimneys belched out smoke for a good part of the twentieth century though not in this picture, which shows some proud men from the building company perched at the top:

They’re probably not the actual bricklayers.  Not being too good with heights myself my thoughts are of the photographer who must have had to ascend one of the other chimneys to get the picture.

Here’s the station in an aerial view of 1921.

You can also see the railway yard in front of the station where many years later the sumptuous dwellings of Chelsea Harbour were built. Look again at a wider view in 1936.

You can see Chelsea football ground on the right. You can also see the station in the centre of an industrial zone. Gasometers to the north, warehouse and factories on the south side of the river.

Which is fascinating of course. But I know what you’re wondering. What about those chimneys? Well take a last look at them in 1950 across the mud of Chelsea Reach:

In the background you can see Fulham Power Station with its row of four chimneys in line.

Now we move on to 1968:

Just three chimneys now, giving the building an unsymmetrical look. The station had converted from coal-fired to oil-fired generators. But it didn’t end there.

By 1979 a second chimney has gone. The station goes on providing power but the railway lands look quiet. It looks as though activity on the site had reduced to a much lower level. Look back at the 1921 picture. See how far the creek extended then, the barges and the lines of railway trucks. By contrast in the 1979 picture you can see how ready it was for subsequent development.

Lots Road power station stopped generating in 2002. There have been attempts at redevelopment and regeneration. The roof has been removed, a tradition in these cases but whatever unlikely plans exist are as far as I know currently suspended.

Some of these power stations are curiously resilient so who knows what the future may bring for Lots Road? It’s best to remember it at the height of its power, pouring out smoke into the cold air at dusk.

I hope you liked the aerial photos. We have a good many of those in the collection and you might be seeing more of them in the future.


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