Tag Archives: Royal Garden Hotel

Kensington Roofworld

The author Christopher Fowler is famous for his Bryant and May series of novels about a pair of older detectives investigating “peculiar crimes” and for a series of supernatural novels and short stories. But for me and a few others his first novel is the most remarkable. Roofworld (1988) tells the story of a parallel society living along side our own whose  members live above our heads, passing from roof to roof by a variety of means. It’s a little like a reverse of Neal Gaiman’s London Below from his novel Neverwhere but the inhabitants of Roofworld are unseen by us not through some kind of magic but by stealth. We just miss them, almost every time. The book is an adventure story telling how a couple of ground dwellers are drawn into the roofworld and the ancient struggle going on up there.

It’s one of the classics of urban fantasy. (Like a book I read around the same time, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. They come at a point when this sub-genre was just getting started. But don’t get me started or we could be here all day.)

The Roofworld setting was brought to mind for me by some of the images I have found recently while writing a loose series of posts set along Kensington High Street . Some of these pictures may have been taken by intrepid employees of the Planning department, others by equally audacious employees of those companies and individuals submitting applications, like these ones of the roof of the Royal Garden Hotel.

 

 

 

On an overcast day someone is looking around this roofscape. The application was probably concerned with the satellite dishes. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on the handwritten notes on this picture of the hotel.

 

 

Below, a brave man goes closer to the edge than I ever would. It actually gives me twinges of vertigo looking at it.

 

 

I like the view from tall buildings but I prefer it when there is a nice secure guard rail (or a plate glass window – that’s why I  liked the London Eye). It used to be possible to get on top of some of the buildings I know, a block of flats in Chelsea,  a library or two (such as this one, which has a very secure roof). But the authorities are more vigilant about health and safety these days, quite rightly so I say speaking as an unlikely urban explorer.

(Have a look at Bernard Selwyn’s views here, taken from a safe and vantage point  in the common parts or rooms of another hotel))

Despite a general dislike of heights I’ve been up a few tall buildings, particularly ecclesiastical ones- Notre Dame, York Minster, and my personal favourite, the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, which has a very quiet and atmospheric space on top of a tower. Going back to my teenage years, I went up the then Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) when it was one of the tallest buildings in London. This is a further link to Fowler’s novel – one of the later scenes takes place on the tower, reaching which  represents a considerable effort on the part of the roofworlders.

Here’s that man again, still looking quite unconcerned. (On the right of the picture).

 

 

 

Some of this week’s other pictures may have been taken from the hotel, (not necessarily from the roof), or one of the buildings next to it such as the Ladymere Building like this one. (You can just see a decorative feature on the left.)

 

 

Looking down on a roof line you usually look up at gives you a new perspective on the variety of buildings and what lies behind the facades.

 

 

You can locate this roof space by noting the position of Rodeo Drive which we looked at from street level in a previous post.

Here are those double stairs again and what lies next to them, including the buildings east of Barkers.

 

 

These presumably give access to the roofscape and possible escape routes from fires, or other building problems.

In this 1998 picture you can see the tower on the corner of the Gas and Coke / NatWest building, along with another bit of the Ladymere.

 

 

And now we switch to the other side of the street to the top of Barkers and look back across at the Royal Garden Hotel, the Ladymere and the Old Court building.

 

 

In this picture the photographer has crept closer to the edge of a roof to look across at the upper floors of the Ladymere. (He’s not on top of Barkers any more.)

 

 

And here even closer to the scaffolding shrouded Old Court building.

 

 

A look west shows the location of the previous two images from above.

 

 

See that white section of roof and the small set of chimneys with the green flat roof beyond.

Now, I think we move back across to the north side of the High Street looking at a usually hidden part of another building.The roof area has been partially colonised and made safe for residents to roam outside.

 

 

 

Below a couple of men are roaming on this roof,looking safe enough for the moment.

 

 

Back on Barkers roof there is even a set of steps to get you safely over this pipework.

 

 

There are pictures which show how these spaces behind buildings have been adapted and made safe for inhabitants and visitors. Below, you can see a whole network of staircases and walkways, with railings, and access at different levels.

 

 

When building work was under way some photographers used the collage technique to build up an image showing a wider area.

 

Note the little Post-it notes telling you which house number is which.

 

The pictures this week have all been “working” images, to demonstrate what has been don or might be done in the future.

The last few pictures are of more general interest. These two pictures reveal another hidden area among the rooftops. They are both views looking in a westerly direction.

 

 

The towers of South Kensington in the distance give you a general idea of the area.

 

 

I love the section in the centre where a door and a few windows give access to a small yard, hidden from the streets below.

In the final picture, the viewpoint is way above  Roofworld.

 

 

Postscript

I felt I could keep on and on adding pictures this week as there are so many of these rooftop views in our collection. I suppose that at the eastern end of Kensington High Street  there is a sufficient number of tall buildings to provide suitable vantage points for pictures. I’ll see how many more emerge as I proceed westwards.

I’ve just been flipping through Roofworld, having unearthed my copy from a cupboard, and I notice that a couple of the characters from the Bryant and May series make their first fictional appearances in it. You can still buy copies from various sources, so if you haven’t read it, why not take a look?

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Demolition on the high street

This week we’re starting with a return to the splendour of the Royal Palace Hotel, which we visited a couple of weeks ago.

 

 

Unfortunately this was in 1961, when its demolition had started. Parts of the interior were now part of a new exterior and many of its windows were just blank holes.

This picture shows the early stages of the work.

 

 

The parade of shops next to the hotel, of which Slaters was one, has gone. Note the original location of the bus stop.

The gate remains.

 

 

Soon the hotel itself was just rubble, piling up behind billboards.

 

 

No more guests.

 

 

Just pipes and exposed basements.

 

 

The north side of Kensington High Street was no stranger to demolition.

Look at this scene from the early 1900s.

 

 

The LCC had a road widening scheme in 1902/03 and nothing would stand in its way. See the sign?

Here it is again.

 

 

This picture was made from a glass negative which has a crack on the left. The small building to the right of the crack can be seen in two of the pictures in the post about Slater’s.

Here is another view of the same open space.

 

 

Where’s St Mary Abbots? Look closely, it’s just behind that metal structure, which must be an Edwardian crane

Into this space later emerged a striking building.

 

 

This building, in a 1924 illustration,  is sometimes referred to as the Crown building (the land belonged to the Crown Estate), or the Ladymere building. It was built for the John Barker Company and had seven public floors, with many lifts and a subway leading to the main Barkers building on the south side of the street. It is now more known for the ground floor shops which have stripped away part of the facade so you barely know what a grand building lies above street level. Like many buildings in the High Street, it’s at its best when seen from the upper deck of a bus heading west, particularly the tower (or “pavilion”) which is an unexpectedly exuberant feature.

 

 

 

Check it out next time you pass it. We’ll take a look at the shops in this area in more modern times in a future post, and possibly come back to this building, but first we should finish our business with the hotel.

This grainy picture from 1961 shows the site ready for development with now just the trees of Kensington Gardens showing beyond the billboards.

 

 

The empty site was to be filled with a new hotel, the Royal Garden Hotel.

In this picture the lodge building  which stood next to the King’s Arms hotel is still there. This small building survived the entire history of the Royal Palace Hotel.

 

 

One of my readers (see the comments section of the Slaters post) thinks it can also be seen in this print, a detail from an 18th century print called called A southern view of Kensington.

 

 

I wasn’t sure at first, but I’m warming to the idea. What do you think? (The viewpoint is I think from a spot just inside the Gardens looking south.)

In any case, the building was finally demolished as you can see in this 1965 picture of the new hotel.

 

 

It was designed by the Richard Seifert company in the style often referred to as brutalist, although you could say it was simply large and practical. It has been a popular hotel and  temporary residents include members of popular beat group the Monkees (I believe. I’m recalling a documentary) and of course the 1966 England World Cup squad.

The current version features aluminium cladding which was installed in the 1990s. I often hesitate to criticize or dismiss contemporary buildings but the truth is I haven’t found anyone willing to praise the refurbished version. Our ephemera collection contains this snippet from the  Evening Standard.

 

Thank you, Mr Nellen (and friend whose name was unfortunately torn off?)

The penultimate image this week is that original hotel, The King’s Arms, back in the 1880s, together with its small friend.

 

 

 

Postscript

This should have been last week’s post, but I was quite busy with work matters so I let it go for a week, and Isabel’s post last week attracted so much attention it deserved a second week as the lead post. As I hint above, you will soon be sick of Kensington High Street as I have recently been shown an extensive collection of images from our Planning collection which I intend to use in future posts.

On another matter, when I was much younger, I liked the Walker Brothers, even though they were no relation to me at all, and later I was fond of Climate of Hunter, one of Scott Walker’s later, more experimental works. But I can’t claim to have listened much to his late avant-garde works. Nevertheless I felt I should note his passing.

Another recent notable death (for me anyway) was that of Larry Cohen, film director / producer and screen writer. He was perhaps best known for “It’s alive!”. But my favourite was his 1982 horror film “Q – the winged serpent”, which featured a kind of Aztec dragon, the Chrysler Building and the late David Carradine. It’s probably one of those films people call guilty pleasures, but I just call films I like, such as Night of the Demon, The Devil rides out and Constantine.

I didn’t manage to fit this 1961 picture into the main body of the post but I thought I’d slip it in at the end. Two people asleep in the warmth of an afternoon undisturbed by the sound of the traffic.

 


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