Tag Archives: South Kensington

Now you see it, now you don’t..now you see it again

We’re still having technical problems here so this week’s post is one I’ve had in draft form for some time because I wasn’t sure about it. It’s just a shaggy dog story really which I’m telling because I happened to take some photographs of a building I found interesting. But enough prevarication.

The other thing is that I’m not going to go into any issues about planning, or ownership or  development because I don’t know anything about those in relation to this particular building. It’s just a curiosity and one of those things you might not even have noticed if you weren’t a regular visitor to the place concerned. So, here’s the story.

There was a building on the corner of Tregunter Road and the Little Boltons, just down the road from where I used to work at Brompton Library which had a big garden. So big that one year it was in the National Gardens Scheme, a once a year event when people would open their gardens to interested members of the public. This is the building in 2007.

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I took the photos then on my old camera because the property was clearly empty, and had that sad look of a substantial house worn down by the years. It was typical of the area – a large suburban villa it might have been called. That tower feature is not uncommon in the area. Look at a nearby house in Gilston Road. (picture from 1970)

Gilston Road 1970

The garden was overgrown, and no longer of interest to visitors.

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Then in 2009 the house was gone. These two pictures show the view of where the rear of the house would have been.

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The complete disappearance of the house was unusual but not remarkable. The size of the site would have been attractive to a new owner, whether an individual or a company. As far as I know the demolition happened in 2009. I wasn’t in the area so much by this time but I kept my eyes open when I was.

And then in 2014..

DSC_4353 Tregunter house

The house was miraculously back.

DSC_4354 tregunter house

Or at least someone had carefully built a new house which looked very much like the old one. A little bigger I thought when I first saw it, with slightly different proportions, but that could have been an illusion. A part of the builder’s sleight of hand. It’s there. Now it’s gone. Now it’s back. Magic in slow motion.

I’m sure there must have been problems of one kind or another. Given the size of the site and the popularity of subterranean development in Kensington and Chelsea there might be several basements or garages underneath it. But as I said I’m not interested in generating any controversy. It’s just one of those things that happens in London. The city I live in never fails to surprise me.

As I said above I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be to anyone but me. The wandering blogger sometimes catches odd occurrences like in January 2011 when developers were refurbishing a whole terrace on the Fulham Road and one of the middle houses collapsed leaving this gap:

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Accidents happen I guess. I heard that part of the road was closed so I went to have a look. (Quite a few years ago near where I live a short terrace of buildings, its facade completely covered in scaffolding caused a sensation one Sunday morning when the whole structure of scaffolding collapsed into the street. I didn’t take a camera to that incident). Nowadays this stretch of road has a series of new businesses at ground level with residential accommodation above. I was there the other day and the facade looked completely homogeneous. You would never know the unfortunate collapse had happened.

In another part of South Kensington, you can find this nice seamless looking terrace behind a garden square:

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You would hardly know that a couple of years ago in 2014 the end of the terrace looked like this:

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Not knowing what was going to happen I never had the forethought to photograph the unremarkable three-storey block of flats (1960s, or late 1950s) which had occupied the corner site for years. And I haven’t been able to find any pictures of how that corner used to look. So you’ll have to take my word for it that the new version looks better than the old.

Tales from the building trade like these no doubt happen all the time, and not everyone is as fascinated by them as I am. But keep your eyes open. Buildings come and go like everything else.

Postscript

We my be experiencing “hardware issues” on the computer connected to our scanner so I may need to be creative in the weeks to come, and I might need to go off-piste. I have an interesting idea for next week but after that who knows?

Postscript to the Postscript

Thanks to a comment from London Remembers we can now see the former building as it was:

Hereford Square

This image is from Google Maps and is copyright by Google. The hoardings  are down in Tregunter Road so if you’re interested take a look at it.


Christmas days: an empty lot

If you know South Kensington you’ll have seen this car park on the corner of Queen’s Gate and Harrington Road. it’s basically a patch of land gradually sloping down into a depression with a hut at the entrance and cars parked at various angles. The current owners have made some efforts with the boards that surround the site, commissioning an artist to paint cryptic phrases on them, which are mildly diverting as you pass them on the  bus. The site has been a car park since before 1989. I recently had a conversation with a customer who had been researching Queen’s Gate who asked the rhetorical question why had it never been developed in the last 25 years? Since 1989 we’ve had the  fall of the Soviet Union, the entire Prime Ministerial career of Tony Blair and the entire vampire killing career of Buffy Summers, but no-one has built on this site.

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I said that although it wasn’t a reason, the clearing of the site has given us a side view of St Augustine’s Church, an interesting building which would previously have been obscured.

I’ve used this picture before in another context but it does illustrate the point.

Queen's Gate

The church looks quite hemmed in by the block on the left which includes the Hotel Imperial. The view below shows the church frontage. The church occupies a narrow site which aligns with the street behind it, Reece Mews, rather than Queen’s Gate. it looks a little squeezed in early pictures.

St Augustine's Church Queen's Gate PC817 - Copy

The clearing of the site behind the Hotel Imperial was the first step to visibility. These pictures from 1989 show the hotel closed and boarded up. The the lower floors are covered in corrugated iron.

Queen's Gate - Harrington Gardens Imperial Hotel 1989 K12543-B - Copy (4)

We must have sent our photographer John Rogers down there especially for these images.

Queen's Gate - Harrington Gardens Imperial Hotel 1989 K12543-B - Copy

An NCP car park already occupied part of the site.

Queen's Gate - Harrington Gardens Imperial Hotel 1989 K12543-B

Quite why the Hotel Imperial was demolished I can’t say. It doesn’t quite qualify as a “forgotten building” in the way I use the term on this blog, but it is certainly a vanished building, and therefore worth noting here. And, as I noted, its absence shows us the decorative (Byzantine?) style of the full length of St Augustine’s

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Along with a number of enigmatic statements constituting a form of graffiti. My personal favourite:

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But I’m a Talking Heads fan.

There is no particular connection with the church or the parking space and our soft toy picture of the day:

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But Happy Christmas from three gorillas all called Tumba. See you tomorrow.


Haigh – A handsome stranger arrives at your hotel

This week we have a returning guest blogger, crime writer Dr Jonathan Oates whose most recent book is about another murderer with Kensington connections.
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Imagine this: you are staying in a hotel in London as a permanent guest. Although flying bombs and V2 rockets are raining down on London – this being the autumn of 1944 – and despite the more mundane difficulties of rationing, petrol and clothing restrictions, life isn’t too bad. Of course it was better before the war…however, the hotel, the Onslow Court Hotel, is located in a fashionable part of London; namely south Kensington, where some of the old exclusiveness survives in an increasingly egalitarian world.

Onslow Court Hotel 109-113 Queen's Gate - Copy

Then one day a new guest arrives. He isn’t like the majority of guests. He’s male for a start and is young; a mere 35 years old. What strikes one immediately about him is how neat his appearance is. His shoes always shine and his black hair and neat little moustache is always glossy. He’s perhaps a little on the short size, about five feet six inches, but he’s always ready to smile and reveal his flawless white teeth. His clothing is immaculate, too. As one got to see him about the place, it was obvious that he had at least a dozen well made suits. He often wore a garment; perhaps socks or his tie, that was red. And he clearly had money; the hotel charges £5 5s per week plus a ten per cent service charge.

JGH - Copy
Now it might seem to the suspicious that he is a spiv, one of those black market merchants who knows how to make a quick profit certainly, but is socially uncouth and has little knowledge of the higher things in life. He’ll stay in the hotel for a few days or weeks and then scarper, dodging the hotel bills, no doubt, even though Miss Robbie, the manageress, is sharp enough.

Onslow Court Hotel

Well, my sceptical friend, you would be mistaken. He drinks but little. Some wine with dinner and a sherry beforehand, but never to excess and never beer. He doesn’t smoke much. He never swears or speaks loudly, he never turns up at odd hours having been to a night club. And he never loses his temper. Even when he accidentally knocked a woman wrist, spilling her drink and then having her stub out her cigarette on his hand, he was perfectly calm.

He is always at ease with all he meets, both staff and fellow guests. He can talk about many subjects. Classical music for one, and especially works by Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Mozart. He’s a good performer on the piano, too. He can discuss the Bible and religious topics and is always free with quotations from Ecclesiastes. Not that he’s a church goer, or tries to force his views on others. He can talk about engineering and various projects he’s working on.

You see, he’s an engineer by profession. The Liason Officer of Union Group Engineering, who used to operate from Eccleston Square. You know of them? No? Well, never mind. The place was bombed in the war, so the emergency war headquarters had to shift. They have branches all over the south of England, in Crawley, Horsham, Putney, places like that. Not that our new friend needs to soil his hands, which are, like the rest of his appearance, always spotless.

All this explains why he isn’t serving his country in His Majesty’s forces, as all young and healthy men should be. He’s working on a number of patents which will enable the war to be won sooner than otherwise, and that’s no bad thing. In any case, during the Blitz he was employed in fire watching down Victoria way.

Well, all this is very good, but where is he from? Who are his people and where was he educated? He doesn’t like to bore people too much with his autobiography, but he’s let a few things slip out into casual conversation over meals. He was born in Yorkshire, his father was a colliery manager and he was brought up in his parents’ faith, as a Plymouth Brethren. It had been a strict boyhood, having to follow the rules of the ‘Peculiar People’. But he had had a good education, attending Wakefield Grammar School and then taking a BsC degree at Leeds University.

Our friend often goes out to meet his friends. There was a young chap called McSwan, rather like him in some ways, and they often went to the Goat pub on the High Street. He went away after a while, though. I think it was Africa or was it America? Well, he was never mentioned again. Then there was that couple, Dr and Mrs Henderson. A smart pair, indeed, and from the same social strata as McSwan. They didn’t stay around too long and went to South Africa, I gather. However, their, and surely our, friend looked after their dog Pat for some time.

Donald McSwan

The one constant friend of his, who sometimes comes for tea – but never stays overnight of course – or even goes up to his room (no woman ever does) is Miss Stephens. Unkind people have mentioned that she’s half his age, but as he’s the perfect gentleman, that can never be an issue. He’s so attentive to her, advising her on her dress, her hair and make up, before taking her out to a concert at the Wigmore Hall, the Albert Hall or to the ballet, before escorting her parents’ home in Crawley. A delightful girl and a perfect couple.

I should add that he’s been seen with other young women in the evenings when he’s not seeing his young friend. Nothing wrong in that; his girl has a regular 9-5 office job and lives in Crawley, as I have said. He also writes each week to his parents in Leeds. Such a good boy.

Now I gather you have a little money to invest, and could do with a little extra income in these difficult times. I think John, that’s his name, would be more than happy to show you one of his new inventions down at his workshop in Crawley. He can drive you down in his Alvis sports car, you can see his plans there, perhaps have a quick bite to eat at The George there, and be back at the Onslow for a late dinner. Ready to accept the offer?

Mrs D-D 1

Had you done so, as did Mrs Henrietta Helen Olivia Robarts Durand-Deacon, aged 68 and a widow living at the hotel, you would never have left Crawley, alive or dead. The workshop is only a scruffy shed in a back street, in a yard full of rubbish. You would be shot, your body stripped of any valuables and tipped into a drum. He would then transfer acid there to dissolve your corpse, returning a few days later to throw what was left among the rubbish in the yard. There won’t even be a grave stone to mark your grave. You have ceased to exist because your killer, who has done this five times before, believes that if there’s no body a charge of murder cannot be made.

Crawley storehouse interior - Copy

John was John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer and alleged vampire who killed for money, but also a plausible and attractive man who was able to convince several people that he was their true friend. He was also a liar; who never attended university, wasn’t a leading light in a non-existent engineering company and had a substantial record for theft and forgery, as well as having abandoned his wife and baby daughter.

Read more about Haigh and those six people he slew – one being a former suffragette, another a homosexual with a criminal record, another was a man accused of murder, abortion, flagellation and drug dealing – in Dr Oates’ new book, John George Haigh: The acid Bath Murderer. A Portrait of a serial killer and his victims. This is the first book on the topic to be written with the benefit of police, prison and Home Office papers once closed to researchers.

Waxwork of Haigh at Madame Tussaud's - Copy

[Waxwork model of Haigh]

Postscript (DW)

Dr Oates (whom God  preserve) of Ealing will be giving a talk on Haigh in the historic lecture theatre at Kensington Central Library on March 12th. Admission is free. Further details here. Jonathan also contributed a post to the blog about John Reginald Christie.

The drawing of the Onslow Court Hotel is from the Local Studies collection. the black and white  photos are from The Trial of John George Haigh by Lord Dunboyne (William Hodge, 1953) which I found in the Biography Collection of Kensington Library.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slice of true crime. Next week,  a more uplifting topic, probably.


Bladen Lodge and Bousfield School: 20th century Brompton

When I was writing some of the recent posts about the Old Brompton area I made a list of the named individual houses along and near  the Old Brompton Road to help me.  The fascination of that area for me is that almost all of it was completely redeveloped in the second half of the 19th century and in the whole of the 20th, so that the quiet semi-rural road with seperate houses, inns and market gardens is now gone and was hardly touched by the age of photography. It now has to be known using maps and water colour paintings. Both can be tools of the imagination as much as records of how things looked. So Old Brompton is partly a fantasy world, partly a place reconstructed from books and plans.

However some of those houses were photographed. This week’s post is about one of those and the remarkable building that replaced it.

If you go eastwards from the modern Coleherne Court you pass a stretch of road which was called Bolton Gardens. In one of the group of eight houses there was the house where Beatrix Potter lived as a child. Behind it was South Bolton Gardens where there were three large houses: Rathmore Lodge, Osborn House and Bladen (or Bladon) Lodge. The modern version of this street is a cul-de-sac leading to Bousfield School which was built in 1954-56. . This is a view of the south front of Bladen Lodge.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p287 south front - Copy

The original Bladen Lodge was built in 1836, an unremarkable house with a substantial garden (though much smaller than that of  Hereford House / Coleherne Court). In 1927  a Mr C L Dalziell acquired it and in 1928 had two wings added to the east and the west. The architect  was Clough Williams-Ellis. His name will be familiar to fans of the 60s TV series the Prisoner as the creator of the location of the series, the exotic Italianate village of Portmerion in Wales.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p287  forecourt 1 - Copy

This shows the Mediterranean paved garden on the north side of the house with its enigmatic pond. It’s quite different from the nearby houses but oddly recaptures the seclusion of the walled gardens of older and more modest houses like the long gone Hawk Cottage.

C12 Hawk Cottage garden

William Cowen might have been impressed by William-Ellis’s improvements which almost doubled the size of Bladen Lodge.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p287 forecourt 2 - Copy

I could easily imagine this view as part of the Village. It has the same other-wordly quality as Portmerion, particularly when I recall my first pre-video viewings of the Prisoner in cool black and white. Here is a view of part of Portmerion:

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Inside Bladen Lodge was really  another English country house.

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p288 drawing room - Copy

The interior is less packed with decoration than the old Coleherne Court and there were a few modernist touches here and there but the old pattern of drawing room, dining room:

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p288 dining room - Copy

And above all the library was retained:

Bladen Lodge Country Life March 17 1964 p288 library - Copy

Bladen Lodge was bombed during the war and the site largely cleared. There were proposals for a block of flats but the London County Council already had an eye on the site for a new school. They acquired several houses in Bolton Gardens to expand the site and built Bousfield School in 1954-56.

Bousfield School west front 1956 K61-536

Here I declare an interest. Bousfield School is a striking building and I’ve been aware of it since I first worked in the area. But my son (now the transport consultant to the blog, as well as a technical advisor on IT matters) went to the school in the 90s so I’ve been in and out of the buliding many times and have grown very fond of it.

The post-war schools building programme was a decisive break with the old county schools of London. It owes more to Le Corbusier than the tall sometimes gloomy Edwardian schools that still survive in many parts of London.

A “villa in a park” was what the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were aiming for, and that is pretty much what they got.

Bousfield School west front 1956 K61-535

At the rear is that curious sphere on a pole, a water tower, which still causes passers-by to do a double take. It also just struck me that it bears a certain resemblance to Rover the strange bubble device which pursued Number 6 and the others in the Prisoner. That woman on the right looks perturbed about something.

Bousfield School east front 1965 K65-120

The entrance has an ornamental pond, still frequented by water fowl despite its small size.

Bousfield School assembly hall K60-320

The interior is light, airy and full of space, even when dozens of children are moving around it at a rapid pace.

Bousfield School stairsl K60-320

This staircase reminds me of the interior of the Mendelsohn house in Old Church Street.

So although it’s a shame that Williams-Ellis’s 20th century reworking of a Georgian house no longer exists, Bousfield School adds some post war distinction to predominantly 19th century stretch of road.

I’m adding a couple of bonus pictures to complete this look at the junction of Old Brompton Road and the Boltons. On the east side of the Boltons another house was built two years after Bladen Lodge.

Sidmouth Lodge The Boltons  Copy

This was Sidmouth Lodge. The Survey of London with its usual eye for the telling detail describes the facade as “neo-Greek…with a grave and narrow entrance between Ionic columns”. Once this is pointed out the slightly faded photograph does catch a slightly mortuary look to the entrance. Behind this view was a house built in 1842 by Robert Gunter as a cottage for yearly letting which was given the intriguing name of Moreton Tower. I haven’t been able to find a picture of that unfortunately.

Sidmouth House was demolished in 1939. A telephone exchange was built on the site. That building still exists sitting incongruously on the edge of the oval of large villas which forms the Boltons. More of them another  time perhaps.

Finally, go back to that list of Bladen Lodge’s neighbours. One of those houses, Osborn House built in 1805 is still with us, possibly the last survivor of Old Brompton now nestled right against the grounds of Bousfield School.

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I took this photograph a few weeks ago while I was doing some field work for another quirky building tale of old Brompton which I may yet lay before you.

Postscript

As you may have guessed I was a little pushed this week. Not only was I off work for a few crucial days but my computer at home, a long serving Dell Studio died tragically preventing me working on this post there. But I was very taken with the pictures of Bladen Lodge which come from Country Life of March 1934 and wanted to use them even if there weren’t quite enough. I’m working on yet another old Brompton post but I won’t do that for a little while, to give you a bit of a rest.

The image of Portmerion is from this excellent site devoted to black and white photography:

http://lookingattheworldinblackandwhite.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/portmeirion.html

Incidentally, my son like many others of his generation finds my devotion to the Prisoner inexplicable. He’d rather watch Hong Kong buses and Russian car crashes.

Postscript to the postscript

I don’t normally come back to posts to add stuff but I thought this detail from the 1862 OS map might help a bit.

1862 OS Map X9 showing Bladon Lodge


The School Play: Queen’s Gate School 1905-1913

I came across these pictures while looking for  a complete copy of a single school magazine from Catharine Lodge. At the same class number where the magazine should have been was a small collection of school magazines from Queen’s Gate School, South Kensington. There was a run of the Log as it was known from 1904 to 1912, which is just the period when the Whitelands College May Queen Festival was at its height and  around the pivotal moment of the 1908 Chelsea Pageant. I’ve suggested in the past that this period was also the height of a general fascination with amateur dramatics, pageants and ceremonies which involved fancy dress. So I was interested to find a set  of photographs which seemed to fit in with all that.

Of course the school play is a time honoured tradition practised in British schools, public and state, for many years so I can’t claim this particular bunch of images represent anything completely distinct and unusual. But they are good photographs and they do fit with a theme I’ve explored in other posts.

Caught p59

Naturally, Queen’s Gate was a single-sex school at the time. So in this 1905 production of a play called Caught set in 1651 during the English Civil War, all the male roles are played by young women, some of whom manage the gender reversal better than others. It’s asking a lot for the young actors to do a different gender and a different age so the bearded gentleman seated on the left looks a little strained. The other seated gentleman  who I take to be Charles II looks very much like an actual male actor but is it seems Miss Anne Moorhouse.( You can see her again below). The girls seated on the floor performed a “Peasant dance” as part of the play. (The lady seated next to King Charles looks like a teacher, not in costume).

The teachers also took part in these programmes of entertainment which also featured seperate dance performances and sporting demonstrations. ). Pupils who had recently left the school also came back to take part.

On June 21st 1907 the bill opened with “Pierrot qui rit et Pierot qui pleure”:

The Log 1907-1908 p13 Pierrot qui rit et Pierrot qui pleure

The two pierrots were old girls – Hilda Bewicke and Ruth Haslam (who had played a male role in Caught). Miss Halsam also performed a “Spanish Gipsy Dance” later on. The play was “Pity: or Gringoire the Ballad-Monger”, a piece set “about 1470”.

The Log 1907-1908 p16 Gringoire the Ballad-Monger

Anne Moorhouse played the title role – standing to the right of the seated King Louis X I who was played by her sister Mary Moorhouse (listed as “Louise” in the magazine  – a typo, or a change in convention which adds another layer of ambiguity).

A teacher, Miss Stuart played Simon the draper (on the far left I think) and Hilda Bewicke was also in it (on the right – or is she the one in the white hat?).

“Never were they more successful” says Monique de Gasser of the plays.  her article also covers a performance in March 1908 when a duo – Phyllis Heineky (who was one of the peasant dancers in Caught) and Lilian Stewart did a two hander, Love Laughs at the Locksmith. They play a puritan and a royalist in “a turret room at Keystone Farm 1651”.

The Log 1907-1908 p23  Love laughs at the LocksmithThe Log 1907-1908 p22  Love laughs at the Locksmith

I don’t know what it’s about. Maybe two nominal enemies coming to a mutual understanding.They both look quite confident.

That issue of the Log also had poetry, a letter from a former pupil in California, a piece on “Individualism versus impartiality in Literature”, an account of a trip to St Ives and a short ghost story. In other words the editors were trying quite hard to show that the pupils were getting a good education.

The 1908-09 issue was another thick volume. In December 1908 there was a peformance of W S Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea and some Greek dances, but the magazine doesn’t include any pictures. There are a couple of the irrepressible Hlida Bewicke though in dance poses. Here’s one of them:

Dance- tres piquant - Hilda Bewicke p80 - Copy

There was also a fencing demonstration:

Fencing - le Grand Salut p88 - Copy

The short drama in  the Variety Entertainment was a contemporary piece about amateur drama, the Final Rehearsal.

1909-10 The Final Rehearsal p831909-10 The Final Rehearsal p84

The five players including once again Miss Stuart did not have to attempt any male roles (slightly harder in a modern setting I would have thought.). It’s harder to pick out Miss Stuart from the group too. One of the others, Katie Setwart was singled out because she didn’t “lose (any) of her daintiness when impersonating the household drudge.” So there.

The Bazaar of 1912 featured a performance of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a revival for the school.

1912-13 Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme p27

The cast was mostly new, but Phyllis Henekey was back as Dorimene.

1912-13Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme p22

I can’t quite make her out.

1912-13 Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme p21

The costumes of this historical era seem to work best for the young women.

There was also a “Dance of Beauty” featuring some classical costume and urns. (Compare this with a similar set of performers at Whitelands College)

1912-13 Dance of beauty p95

And one simply called Peace.

1912-13 Peace

There had been Dutch, Servian (Serbian), Italian, Turkish and Russian dances that afternoon. The final piece brought warriors and nurses together. “This dance in its refelction of the age struck a sympathetic note in the audience, as was proved by the hearty applause from the over-crowded house.” The dark clouds of the coming war had reached South Kensington which shows the staff and pupils were not living an entirely sheltered existence.

Postscript

I hope I haven’t given the impression that I was mocking any of these performers. It was good clean fun from an age which might not have been more innocent than ours but definitely had a more earnest sensibility. At Queen’s Gate School  the young women could engage in artistic pursuits with no sense of future irony.

With that in mind I urge you to keep an entirely straight face when looking at this final  picture of the physical drill class of 1905 who are also trying to be completely serious.

Physical drill p47 - Copy

My thanks to the now presumably deceased performers. Queen’s Gate School itself is still going strong. Their website: http://www.queensgate.org.uk/

If any of the current students and staff read this post I’d be happy to hear from you, especially if there are more pictures of these fascinating performances.


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


Halls of Empire: inside the Imperial Institute 1893

It’s difficult for me to figure out if anyone ever knew what the Imperial Institute was for exactly. Possibly Edward, the Prince of Wales whose idea it was had a good idea. So although it was opened in 1893 when his mother was still on the throne you could call it an early instance of that Edwardian fantasy we’ve looked at in other posts. I’ve been looking at images of the Institute but not for once of its exterior and that strange tower which has survived longer than the rest of it but of its more interesting and far stranger interior.

Grand staircase  1897 02

The Grand Staircase hangs in the air as though it belonged to a fictional castle tower or a Piranesi engraving.

Grand staircase  1897 03

At dizzying heights, almost too far away to see barely identifiable mythological and classical figures are depicted.

Entrance Hall 1897

So let’s enter. The door is closed. Two lithe big cats guard the stairs behind us.

Ahead of us is a long high corridor. At the far end light streams in through a window.

West corridor 1895

You can search all these rooms without finding a sign of inhabitants. There is a J G Ballard story about a seemingly empty and endless space station. The Institute looks a little like that in these pictures.

There is no one in the empty conference hall.

East Conference Hall 1896

Or this room with its elaborate ceiling.

British American Conference Room Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

Some of those rooms are decorated in the style of the countries of the empire.

British India Conference Room 1896

There are some spaces filled up with objects.

British Indian Exhibition Galleries Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

So have we entered a museum?

Ceylon Exhibition Gallery Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

It looks a little more like a nation’s attic.

There are some signs of life here:

Australian Conference Room 1895

It looks like a deserted gentleman’s club.

But in this gloomy room the scattering of papers shows some evidence of the activity within:

Fellows Writing Room Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

And this room is waiting for a meeting but for how long will it wait?

Executive Council Chamber Opening of the Imperial Institute May 1893

Head downstairs and there are even hints of recreation.

Fellows Billiard Room Opening 1893

Have we been here before?

Canadian Conference Room 1895

After sixty years or so of inconclusive activity the rooms were empty again. You might have seen one diffident stranger in the distance…

Corridor 1961

But you could have imagined it. And now all the halls and rooms are gone.

Postscript

Some of these pictures are described as ink photos. I imagine that this is some process involving inking over a photograph to create an image which was easier to print in a magazine. But really I just don’t know and if anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.


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