Falling rain drops
Relentlessly wetting the flat
Path beneath my feet
Falling rain drops
Relentlessly wetting the flat
Path beneath my feet
THE EYES OF MOST VISITORS to Kensington Gore are attracted to the spectacular Royal Albert Hall and, opposite it, the monument to Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. Immediately to the west of the Royal Albert Hall, there stands the comparatively less impressive twentieth century building housing the Royal College of Art (‘RCA’), designed by H T Cadbury Brown and opened in 1962. Next to this geometric structure of concrete and glass and on its south side, there is an edifice whose appearance is a dramatic contrast to it. The walls of the RCA’s southern neighbour are covered with figurative illustrations, created in the ‘sgraffito’ technique. Bands of ‘putti’ carrying musical instruments, scrolls of paper, or singing, appear to be scurrying across the walls of the building. Maybe this is not surprising because once this place housed The Royal College of Organists (‘RCO’).
Founded in 1864 by the organist Richard Limpus (1824-1875) to promote advanced organ playing, it received its Royal Charter in 1893. The building next to the present RCA and facing the Royal Albert Hall was designed by Lieutenant Henry Hardy Cole (1843-1916) of the Royal Engineers, and the ‘sgraffiti’ decorating it was created by Francis Wallaston Moody (1824-1886).
Lieutenant Cole was a son of Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882), a civil servant who had an extremely important role in organising the Great Exhibition of 1851. His building, erected 1874-75, was originally constructed to house The National Training School for Music. It was paid for by Sir Henry Cole’s friend, music lover, and a fellow member of the Society of the Arts, the developer Charles James Freake (1818-1884), who lived in Cromwell Road (www.londonremembers.com/memorials/sir-c-j-freake).
The architect, Lieutenant Cole had little practical architectural experience as is revealed in “The Survey of London Vol.38” (www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol38/pp217-219):
“Lieutenant Cole had returned in 1871 from India, where he had been Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey, North-West Provinces, and his previous architectural work seems to have been confined mainly to publications on ancient Indian architecture and archaeology, and the preparation of casts for the Indian section of the South Kensington Museum, which he catalogued.”
“He was not left to design the school on his own. It was evolved in consultation with his father and was subjected to criticism by members of the Science and Art Department. A committee of management was appointed in July 1873 …”
Moody was a protégé of Sir Henry and a teacher at the National Art Training School, a forerunner of the RCA.
Between 1883 and 1896, the building was used by the newly founded Royal College of Music, which moved into its new premises south of the Royal Albert Hall in about 1896. The large variety of musical instruments that have been depicted on the building’s walls reflect the place’s first occupants. Between 1896 and 1903, it stood empty. Then it was leased to the RCO for 100 years at a ‘peppercorn’ rent. When it was learnt that after expiry of the lease the rent would be increased considerably, the RCO moved into new accommodation in 1991. Currently, at least in 2018, it is owned by an entrepreneur, Robert Tchenguiz.
The Lieutenant, who designed the RCO building, became the Curator of Ancient Monuments in India. His “First Report Of The Curator Of Ancient Monuments In India” was published in 1882 in Simla. This contains some of his views on dealing with archaeological items and sites. For example, he wrote:
“Experience has shown that the keenest investigators have not always had the greatest respect for the maintenance of monuments. Archaeological research has for its object the elucidation of history, and to an enthusiast the temptation to carry off a proof of an unravelled mystery is undoubtedly great. If there were no such things as photographs, casts, and other means of reproducing archaeological evidence, the removal of original stone records might perhaps be justified …”,
and, regarding the now controversial British possession of some famous sculptures in the British Museum:
“Sometimes, indeed, the removal of ancient remains is necessary for safe custody; and in the case of a foreign country, we are not responsible for the preservation in situ of important buildings. We are not answerable for keeping Grecian marbles in Greece; neither were we concerned for the rights of Egypt when Cleopatra’s Needle left Alexandria for the Thames embankment.”
However, regarding India, the Lieutenant wrote:
“In the case, however, of India—a country which is a British possession—the arguments are different. We are, I submit, responsible for Indian monuments, and that they are preserved in situ, when possible. Moreover, as Mr. Eergusson remarks, Indian sculpture is so essentially a part of the architecture with which it is bound, that it is impossible to appreciate it properly without being able to realise correctly the position for which it was originally designed …”
In order to satisfy the needs of museums in Europe, the lieutenant suggested that perfect replicas of artefacts can be made as is well demonstrated by the superb life-like plaster casts that can be seen in the Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which were opened in 1873 and established by Sir Henry Cole and the art collector John Charles Robinson (1824-1913). In general, Sir Henry’s son was against moving historical remains from British possessions. To make his point, he wrote:
“The removal, for instance, of Stonehenge to London would, I imagine, provoke considerable excitement in England, and be condemned by a majority in the scientific and artistic world.”
I am not sure that Lieutenant Cole’s views were shared by the American sculptor and collector of antiques George Grey Barnard (1863-1938), who bought and whole cloisters and other architectural items in France and then had them shipped to New York City. There, they were reassembled and displayed in the superb Cloisters Museum at the northern tip of Manhattan.
Looking at the outside of the former RCO building, I could not detect anything that reflected its architect’s experiences in India except, if I stretch my imagination, for the upper storey windows that faintly recall the projecting windows that can be found on ‘havelis’, for example, in Gujarat and Rajasthan. But maybe I am letting my imagination run a little wild.
A WHITE STONE BUST depicting a man wearing a jacket and a waistcoat is perched on a pile of books carved in the same material and stands on a marble pedestal in the centre of the open access bookshelves in the public lending library on Hornton Street in London’s Kensington. His face has copious mutton-chop sideburns but neither moustache nor beard. The person depicted is James Heywood (1810-1897), who founded the first public library in Kensington in about 1870. His sculptural portrait in the library was created by Middlesex born James Adams-Acton (1830-1910), some of whose other busts include representations of Emperor Caesar Augustus, John Wesley, and ‘Pharaoh’s daughter’ (www.artuk.org/discover/artists/adams-acton-john-18301910).
Heywood, who was born in Manchester, was a man of many achievements (www.gracesguide.co.uk/James_Heywood). Son of the banker Nathaniel Heywood, James studied at the universities of both Edinburgh and Geneva before joining the family bank at Manchester. On inheriting a large sum from his uncle, he left the bank and matriculated at Trinity College Cambridge in 1829, where he continued to study but did not graduate. In 1838, he was admitted to the Inner Temple in London, where he was called to the Bar but did not practise as a barrister. In that same year, James became a founder member of the Manchester Geological Society. The next year, he was one of the founders of the Manchester Athenaeum, which provided reading rooms and lectures.
Heywood’s interests also included statistics as can be seen from the citation that was presented in 1839, when he was a successful candidate for Fellowship of the prestigious Royal Society (https://catalogues.royalsociety.org/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=EC%2f1839%2f08&pos=6).:
“James Heywood, Esq of Trinity College, Cambridge, residing at 17 Cork Street, London, Barrister of the Inner Temple, author of a Report on the Geology of the Coal District of South Lancashire, published in the Transactions of the British Association, & also of a Report on the state of the population in Miles Platting, Manchester, published in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London; a gentleman much attached to science, being desirous of becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, we the undersigned, do, from our personal knowledge, recommend him as deserving of that honor, & as likely to be a useful & valuable member.”
So, by 1839, Heywood was residing in London. In addition to his scientific work, he was involved in politics. Between 1847 and 1857 he represented the constituency of Lancaster Northern. He was a member of the Whig/Liberal Party. In 1859, he moved to Kensington (Kensington Palace Gardens), where in about 1870 he established Kensington’s first free public library at Notting Hill Gate. Heywood was a Unitarian. His home in Kensington was close to the current location of a Unitarian church, which was only established on this site in 1887. However, before that, in 1867, the Unitarians began meeting in Kensington at Sir Isaac Newton’s old home, now demolished, in Church Lane. The history of the Kensington Unitarians, found at www.kensington-unitarians.org.uk/images/EssexChurchInKensington_forInternet.pdf reveals that:
“The congregation was growing under the Chairmanship of James Heywood, MA, FRS, MP, ‘one of Kensington’s most distinguished citizens’…”
The church moved to its present site near the Mall Tavern in the 1880s.
The free library, which Heywood created in Kensington and was opened on the 15th of August 1874, was located at ‘106, High Street, Notting Hill”, according to “The Catalogue of Mr James Heywood’s Free Public Library”, published in 1879 (and viewable on Google Books). The ‘High Street’ is now named ‘Notting Hill Gate’. If the numbering was the same then as it is today, then 106 would have been on the north side of the street just west of Pembridge Road, roughly between where Tescos and Mark and Spencers Simply Food stores stand currently. Today, the Notting Hill Gate branch of Kensington’s public libraries stands on the corner of Pembridge Road and Pembridge Square.
Heywood’s library was open seven days a week and before receiving a book, an applicant had to fill in a form with the following wording:
“I REQUEST TO READ
Name of books ….
Date …. Signature of applicant .…”
Reading books in the library was free of charge but borrowing them required a monthly payment of sixpence (2.5 p) and one penny (about 0.5 p) per book borrowed. The catalogue included a very respectable variety of books and periodicals. I was pleased to note that there was a book about Albania, “Travels in Albania and Other Provinces of Turkey” by Lord Broughton, Baron John Cam Hobhouse Broughton (1786-1869), who accompanied Lord Byron on his trip through the Balkans at the beginning of the 19th century.
Given his important contribution to the development of public libraries in Kensington, it is entirely appropriate that James Heywood is commemorated in the main branch of the library system of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is also worth noting that like his pioneering establishment in Notting Hill High Street, the library is not entirely free for borrowers. Although books may be borrowed free of charge, other items including DVDs can only be borrowed after making a payment.
THE RIDGEWAY IN MILL HILL, with spectacular views over north London and the nearby countryside from each side of it, is a pleasant place to wander. St Pauls Church is a simple Gothic revival edifice. It stands across the road from the famous Mill Hill School (established in 1807) and one of a line of three war memorials separated from each other by a few yards. The church has a plaque attached to it that informs the viewer that it was built by the anti-slave trade activist and politician William Wilberforce (1759-1833), consecrated in 1833, and became a parish church in 1926.
While we were looking at the plaque, a man (a cleric) arrived by car, unlocked the church, and invited us inside. We asked him about Wilberforce and his connections with Mill Hill. He told us that the great abolitionist had lived in Mill Hill and was for a short while the neighbour of his friend Sir Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), who is best known for his ‘founding’ of Singapore. Our new acquaintance explained that Raffles’ widow, his second wife, was buried in the churchyard of St Pauls (Mill Hill), but not the great man himself. Raffles, who was an abolitionist, was disliked by Theodor Williams, the Vicar of the parish of Hendon in which Mill Hill lay, who was sympathetic to slavery because his family had profited from slavery in Jamaica. Williams insisted that Raffles be buried outside the parish church rather than within it. Until 1914, the whereabouts of Raffle’s remains were unknown until they were stumbled upon by accident in a vault whilst the ground was being dug up to build an extension to the church. In contrast, his one-time neighbour, Wilberforce was interred in Westminster Abbey.
As an aside, but one which is important for me who has an interest in double-headed eagles, the Raffles coat-of-arms includes one of these imaginary creatures.
Returning to Wilberforce and Raffles, our informant told us that they were neighbours at Highwood Park (on Highwood Hill), 1100 yards northwest of St Pauls. William Hague, politician, and author of a biography of William Wilberforce (first published in 2008), wrote that the abolitionist moved into his new home in Mill Hill on the 16th of June 1826. Wilberforce wrote:
“I shall be a little zemindar, one hundred and forty acres of land, cottages of my own, etc.”
By ‘zemindar’, he was referring to ‘zamindar’, the Hindustani word meaning ‘landowner’. Wilberforce’s neighbour, Raffles, was already installed at Highwood Park when the abolitionist moved next door. Raffles wrote of his home there (quoted in “Handbook to the Environs of London” by James Thorne [publ. 1876]):
“A happy retirement … a house small but compact … Wilberforce takes possession tomorrow of the next-door house so that we be next-door neighbours and divided the hill between us.”
Sadly, Raffles died on the 5th of July 1826, shortly after his friend Wilberforce moved on to Highwood Hill.
Before moving to Mill Hill, Wilberforce had lived for some time in Kensington Gore, which runs along the south side of Kensington Gardens. His home from 1808 to 1821 was Gore House, built in the 1750s and set in three acres of grounds. It had interiors designed by Robert Adam, but sadly it was demolished and eventually replaced by the Royal Albert Hall, which occupies the site of the house and its grounds. Writing in the 1880s, Edward Walford quoted Wilberforce as having written of Gore House:
“We are just one mile from the turnpike at Hyde Park Corner, having about three acres of pleasure-ground around our house, or rather behind it, and several old trees, walnut and mulberry, of thick foliage. I can sit and read under their shade with as much admiration of the beauties of nature as if I were down in Yorkshire, or anywhere else 200 miles from the great city.”
Highwood Hill on the edge of London would have provided the ageing Wilberforce with what he had enjoyed at Gore House but without being so close to the heart of London.
Prior to moving into Mill Hill, Wilberforce had lived in Marden Hall in Surrey and at ‘The Chestnuts’ on Honeycroft Hill in Uxbridge. Unfortunate circumstances led to Wilberforce having to leave Mill Hill prematurely. These included financial difficulties arising from falling income from his land in Yorkshire and losses incurred by his son William. By the end of 1830, Wilberforce and his wife decided that they had to move out of their home on Highfield Hill. They moved to Brighstone on the Isle of Wight, and then later to East Farleigh in Kent.
Wilberforce felt that there was one disadvantage of Mill Hill when he moved there in 1826. The problem was that the nearest church, the parish church at Hendon, was three miles away. William Hague explains what happened next. Here is a summary of what he wrote. In Spring 1828, Wilberforce spent two months in London during which he approached the Church Commissioners regarding establishing a new church near his home in Mill Hill. At first, his plans for the church were welcomed by Theodor Williams, the Vicar of Hendon, who was, as already noted, unfriendly to the anti-slavery movement. However, once the construction of the chapel, the present St Pauls on the Ridgeway, began, Williams reacted vigorously against the idea. Hague is not certain what caused this change of heart on Williams’ part. One reason might have been that there was an Act of Parliament that allowed the founder of a new church to select and appoint its vicar. Another was that Williams was known not to like the Evangelicals, which included Wilberforce and other promoters of the abolition of slavery.
Despite the difficulties raised by the Vicar of Hendon, the chapel was built, but remained a chapel rather than a parish church until 1926. We liked the simple architecture of the spacious church, but this view was not shared by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner and his co-author Bridget Cherry, who wrote:
“A typical cheap church of its date in the Commissioners’ style…”
The church contains some attractive stained-glass windows. That above the high altar at the eastern edge of the church is a copy, in painted glass, of “Dead Christ and Three Marys” by Annibale Carracci (1557-1602). It was created by Charles Muss (1779-1824) and WG Hodgson and dated 1809. Muss was an enamel painter to King George IV. Three other remarkable windows were created more recently (www.stpaulschurchmillhill.co.uk/jubilee-window.php). One of them, illustrated above, depicts chains and alludes to Wilberforce and slavery; another commemorates the Middlesex Regiment, which used to have some barracks in Mill Hill; and the third celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
We drove to Highwood Hill to see what, if anything, is left of the houses occupied by Raffles and his neighbour Wilberforce. Highwood House, built soon after 1817 and much altered since, was hidden from view behind dense vegetation and by a building close to the road. Just east of this across the narrow Nan Clarks Lane, there is a decaying wooden signboard to which a metal commemorative plaque is affixed, which faces the main road, Highwood Hill (the A5109). The plaque bears the words:
“Site of Hendon Park residence of William Wilberforce from 1826 to 1831.”
Behind the sign, there is a newish wooden fence, the boundary of a small estate of large residential houses. Hendon park was:
“… a substantial brick building in 1756 … was rebuilt and stuccoed in the early 19th century … it had fallen into neglect by 1951 and had been replaced by three houses and Crown Close by 1961 …” (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp21-23).
We left Mill Hill, having learnt much about two men, whose connection with the place we were previously unaware. There is far more to Mill Hill than this and I hope to write about other aspects of this lovely part of London in the future.
HOLLAND HOUSE in Holland Park (west London) was built in the early 17th century (about 1604) in the Jacobean style. It was designed by the architect John Thorpe (dates uncertain: c1555-c1655), who is thought to be the creator of Audley End House in Essex. In 1939, King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) attended a debutante ball at Holland House. Little did they know that this was to be the last great ball to be held at the house. After the German Luftwaffe began devastating London, Holland House was hit by twenty-two incendiary bombs during a ten-hour raid on the night of the 27th of September 1940. Much of the old house was destroyed apart from the east wing. Fortunately, the library and its valuable contents remained undamaged. A video (www.britishpathe.com/video/holland-house-damaged) made by Pathé News shows the house shortly after it was bombed.
The house remained as a ruin until 1952 when its then owner, Giles Fox-Strangways, 6th Earl of Ilchester (1874-1959), a Member of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England from 1939–1959, sold the remains of the house and its extensive grounds (now Holland Park) to the London County Council. Eventually in 1986, what was left of the building was transferred to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. In normal, non covid19, summers, the now well-preserved remains of the house become the home of a temporary theatre where opera is performed. For many years, but no longer, the relatively intact part of the house was used as a youth hostel by the YHA.
Recently, I have acquired a facsimile edition of “History and Antiquities of Kensington” by Thomas Faulkner, which was published originally in 1820. I have also my own copy of an original edition of Volume 5 of “Old and New London” by Edward Walford, published in 1878. Both books were published when Holland House was still intact, and both contain engravings showing how the house looked both outside and inside. Faulkner’s book contains a lengthy detailed listing of all the artworks and books that the house contained. These items included several paintings by artists as famous as Teniers, Canaletto, Joshua Reynolds, and Hogarth, to name but a few. Luckily, most of the art treasures in the house were removed for safety before the outbreak of WW2. The illustrations, some of which I have reproduced, demonstrate how great a tragedy it was that Holland House no longer remains intact.
The illustrations to this article can be viewed at: https://londonadam.travellerspoint.com/60/
MUCH OF GREATER LONDON is green space, which has not been built on. According to one source of information, Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC (‘GiGL’; http://www.gigl.org.uk):
“Roughly 47% of Greater London is ‘green’; 33% of London is natural habitats within open space according to surveyed habitat information and an additional 14% is estimated to be vegetated private, domestic garden land.”
Of this ‘green space’, much is accessible to the public either free of charge (e.g. Regents Park) or for a fee (e.g. Kew Gardens). This piece is about an example of a type of green space in London that is open to a select few. I am referring to many of the gardens in London squares that are or were surrounded by residential buildings. Some of these (e.g. Gordon Square in Bloomsbury) have been taken over by local councils and are now open to the public in general. However, many of these garden squares contain gardens that may only be entered by people who are eligible to be able to pay a fee for a key to unlock them. Some of the squares confine those eligible for keys to residents in the square or in neighbouring streets. I know of one privately owned garden, that within Princes Square near Bayswater, which is open to anyone who can afford the annual fee. This square garden, being privately owned, is dependent for membership fees to ensure its maintenance. Those eligible to use the gardens within squares, whether privately or partially privately maintained, can be expected to pay something towards the maintenance of these often-beautiful local amenities.
Recently, a friend admitted us to the garden of Norland Square in Kensington. Like many of these limited access gardens, it is surrounded by formidable cast-iron railings. These railings were removed during the Second World War when metals required for war materials were in short supply. They were only replaced in 2007. Like most of these squares, the passer-by cannot see much within the garden beyond the railings because of hedges and other vegetation grown just within them to preserve the privacy of those using the garden. So, being allowed to enter Norland Square provided us a rare opportunity to examine the interior of one of these ‘secret’ gardens.
Norland Square takes its name from the Norland Estate, 52 acres of land bounded to the south by Holland Park Avenue, on the east by roads now named ‘Pottery Lane’ and ‘Portland Road’, on the west by the boundaries of the parishes of Kensington and Hammersmith (www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp276-297). The northern edge of the estate was roughly 200 yards north of the present Wilsham Street. The estate passed through several owners in the 18th century. They lived in a mansion, demolished long ago, which used to stand close to the present number 130 Holland Park Avenue. The name ‘Norland’ was used as early as 1599 to describe the ‘Northlands’, the land in the northern part of the Parish of Kensington (north of the present Holland Park Avenue), which includes the estate (www.rbkc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/atoms/files/Norland%20CAPS.pdf).
Writing in 1878, Edward Walford, author of a series of books called “Old and New London”, noted that during the reign of William IV, the then well-wooded estate belonged to one of the Drummonds, a family of bankers of Charing Cross. Prior to these occupants, the first to live in the former Norland House was Thomas Marquois (died 1802), ‘Professor of Artillery and Fortification’, who used the building as an academy to teach both civil and military subjects to sons of the gentry, who were hoping to join the British Army. According to the website about the Norland Estate mentioned above:
“Board and lodging, plus instruction in Greek, Latin, French, writing and arithmetic could be had for thirty guineas a year, but fortification, mathematics, navigation, drawing, geography, dancing, fencing and riding were all charged as extras. Marquois’ prospectus contains a plan of the academy and its grounds, which were indeed very well suited to his purposes. Besides the house itself there were stables, a manege or riding house, a fives court, a cricket ground, gravelled drives for hack riding, and an artificial ‘mount’ from which the various activities of the pupils could be kept under constant review.”
Marquois relinquished the property after only four years in 1765.
In 1825, fire destroyed Norland House. In 1838, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854), clockmaker to the Crown, who then owned the Norland Estate, sold it and the ruins of the mansion to a solicitor Charles Richardson, who raised money to develop the estate for building purposes. The layout and design of the southern part of the estate, including Norland Square, was carried out by the architect Robert Cantwell (c1793-1859). The houses on Norland Square were leased to their first occupiers by Charles Richardson in 1842 and 1843.
Except for Norland Square Mansions on the south-west corner of the square, which has a few features slightly suggestive of art-deco style, the other houses surrounding the square are those built in the early 1840s. The mansion block occupies numbers 53 to 57 Norland Square. Interestingly, these plots do not figure in a list of the original lessees of the other plots in the square. Number 52, which neighbours the mansion block was leased to Robert Cantwell in 1842. A detailed map surveyed in 1865 shows that where Norland Square Mansions stands today, there were no houses but instead a garden extending between number 52 and a house, now no longer standing, on the corner of the square and Holland Park Avenue (then named ‘Uxbridge Road’). On a map dated 1913, the position of the mansion block was occupied by a school. This same building, which has a different ground plan to the current block of flats was still present on a detailed map surveyed in 1938. So, it would be reasonable to say that the mansion block was built after 1938.
Getting back to the present, we found that the ‘secret garden’ in the centre of Norland Square is both attractive and well-maintained. In addition to an extensive lawn furnished with occasional wooden benches and a table, there are plenty of shrubs and trees. There is a small well-equipped children’s play area at one end of the garden and tennis courts at the opposite end. While we spent time in the garden, a couple of elderly women were taking their daily walk around it and a young lady was exercising her dog. Areas like this are invaluable during periods of ‘lockdown’ during the current covid19 pandemic, offering lucky city-dwellers a welcome respite from being ‘confined to barracks’ and if they are fortunate to have a garden, they provide a much larger open space to ‘take the air’ than their own smaller patches. We were both grateful and happy to have been able to see and experience what is usually hidden from us by iron railings and curtains of dense vegetation.
HIGH STREET KENSINGTON is not amongst my favourite London thoroughfares, but streets leading off it take one to places of considerable interest. One of these, Allen Street, offers a view of a building that outshines many of its close neighbours. But, before we reach this short side street, here are a few words about High Street Ken.
Even before the covid19 pandemic, High Street Kensington has been declining in importance as a centre of retailing activity. The retailing boom that made the street into a rival of, for example Oxford and Regents Streets, began in the mid-1860s. Prior to that:
“…most trading and manufacturing activity around Kensington High Street was on a small and local scale. An exception must be made of the Catholic candle-making business owned successively by the Wheble, Kendall, Tucker and Smith families from about 1765 until 1908. Its founder was James Wheble (1729–1801), scion of a prominent recusant family in Winchester. By 1766 at the latest Wheble was based in Kensington, and within a few years occupied miscellaneous properties on the present Barkers site, both in the High Street and on the west side of Young Street, where a warehouse was rated in his name from 1772 onwards.” (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol42/pp77-98).
This mention of candle making interested me because my great grandfather Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) established a factory making candles in King Williams Town in South Africa in the 1880s.
From the late 19th century until a few years ago, High Street Ken was a healthily flourishing retail centre. In its heyday, it boasted of three large department stores, Pontings, Barkers, and Derry & Toms. The impressive buildings that housed the latter two still stand and are fine examples of art deco architecture. They are located close to the Underground station, which has been in service since the late 1860s.
In recent years, the advent of on-line shopping, high rents, and the proximity of the Westfield mall at Shepherds Bush (opened 2008), which has good parking, have all conspired to make High Street Ken less appealing to shoppers. Consequently, at any one time a large proportion of shops remain empty awaiting new tenants. Sadly, what was once (especially in the 1960s and ‘70s) a bustling high street with trendy shops like Biba and the ‘funky’ Kensington Market, has become slightly dreary.
Various short streets lead off the south side of the high street. One of them, Young Street, leads to Kensington Square, which is well worth visiting to explore its exciting range of houses dating back to the 18th century and earlier (see https://londonadam.travellerspoint.com/41/). Another road, Allan Street, west of the station, leads south from the high street. This street was a quiet cul-de-sac until 1852 when it was extended southwards. After that date, many more buildings were erected along it including the extensive Wynnstay Gardens, luxurious mansion flats, which was constructed between 1883 and 1885 on a site previously owned by Thomas Newland Allen (1811-1899), who was born at Chalfont St Giles (https://www.captaincooksociety.com/home/detail/chalfont-st-giles-buckinghamshire). A monument to Captain Cook, the explorer, stands on the estate where Allen was born.
Wynnstay Gardens is not a particularly attractive set of buildings. However, south of it and on the other side of Allen Street, there is a lovely neo-classical building just south of Adam and Eve Mews, which runs along its northern boundary. For many years, I had noticed it from a distance when wandering along High Street Ken, but it was only yesterday that I decided to take a closer look at this church.
Currently called the ‘Kensington United Reformed Church’, it was originally named ‘The Kensington Chapel’. Built in 1854-55 and designed by Andrew Trimen (1810-1868), it replaced the Hornton Street Chapel (north of the High Street), which was built 1794-95 (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol42/pp386-394#h2-0005). Trimen was a prolific architect and also published a book in 1849, “Church and Chapel Architecture with an account of the Hebrew Church. 1,000 authenticated mouldings”, which was (https://manchestervictorianarchitects.org.uk/architects/andrew-trimen):
“… the first major publication to consider non-conformist architecture.”
The church, clad in ochre coloured Bath stone, and its impressive pillared portico, is an elegant addition to an otherwise undistinguished street. Its corner stone recalls that the church replaced the one in Hornton Street and that it was laid by the Reverend John Stoughton on the 26th of June 1854. If you walk along Adam and Eve Mews, you will notice a pair of doors at the east end of the north wall of the church. Above them are the words ‘Lecture Hall’. According to a plan of the original building, this led into a ‘schoolroom’ (built 1856) attached to the east of the church. This was used to accommodate ‘British’ and ‘Sunday’ schools.
John Stoughton officiated first at the Hornton Street Chapel, starting in 1843, and then in the new building in Allen Street until he retired in 1875. His congregation was far from uninteresting as this quote from John Stoughton’s book “Congregationalism in the Court Suburb” (published in 1883) reveals:
“It may be mentioned that Kensington, on many accounts, has long been a favourite place of residence for artists and literary men, and a few of these became some occasional, others regular hearers [i.e. members of the congregation] … Curious characters at different periods, it may be added would come into the vestry to have a little chat; a gentleman during the Crimean War gravely proposed to the preacher of peace a clever scheme for blowing up Sebastopol; and at another time one of clerical appearance repeated, with extraordinary rapidity, long passages out of the Greek Testament.”
Stoughton was such a popular preacher that by 1871, none of the 1000 sitting places in the chapel would be left unoccupied.
The chapel was damaged by bombing in 1940 and only repaired in 1952-53. Today, the building stands in all its glory and hosts regular religious services for its Congregationalist congregation (it is an autonomous protestant church, which governs its own affairs), but parts of it are now used for non-ecclesiastical purposes. Next time you wander along High Street Ken, make the short detour to see what I consider one of the finer buildings in the area alongside the unusual looking Armenian Church in nearby Iverna Gardens.
BEDFORD GARDENS IN Kensington is a short street connecting Kensington Church Street at its eastern end and Campden Hill Road up the hill at its western end. The facades of many of the buildings along this thoroughfare are at least partly hidden behind foliage that can be very luxuriant in the warmer seasons of the year. We have walked along this street frequently, but it was only recently that we noticed two commemorative blue plaques, which record that someone famous lived in the buildings to which they are affixed. Also, we looked at one building, which has no commemorative plaque, but does merit at least one.
A rich network of leafy wisteria branches covers the façade of number 4 Bedford Gardens on the north side of the road. Partly hidden by this vegetation, there is a circular blue commemorative plaque that informs the viewer that the composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941) lived there. He did so for many years in this house that was built in the late 1830s (www.rbkc.gov.uk/virtualmuseum/general/default.asp). What little I have heard of his compositions has not appealed to me.
Further along the road and on its south side, there is a blue plaque on number 27. It tells us that William Beveridge (1879-1963), “architect of the Welfare State”, lived in this elegant brick house from 1914 to 1921. During this period of his life, this Liberal politician left the Board of Trade in 1919 to become Director of the London School of Economics, a post he held until 1937, a year or so before my father arrived at that institution as a post-graduate student from Cape Town.
Many years ago, if my memory serves me correctly, a friend of mine, who was studying history of art at the Courtauld Institute, spent several weeks as a lodger in the home of the art historian John Pope-Hennessy (1913-1994). I remember visiting my friend there once back in the 1970s. The famous art historian, whom I did not meet, lived for some years in Bedford Gardens (www.kensingtonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/Annual-Report-1994.pdf) at number 41 ( according to a letter published in the “Times Literary Supplement” of October 29 1976). If there is a commemorative plaque for Pope-Hennessy on Bedford Gardens, I have not yet found it.
One house in Bedford Gardens that deserves a commemorative indication is a tall brick building with large studio windows on several of its five storeys. Built in 1882, it bears the numbers 77 and 79. A sculpted head, looking like a classical Greek or Roman carving, is mounted centrally in the façade above the first-floor windows. This building was once used as artists’ studios; it might still be used by artists. According to an incomplete list (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Gardens,_London) of notable people who resided in Bedford Gardens, number 77 was used by the artists Robert Colquhoun (1914-1962), Robert MacBryde (1913–1966), Jankel Adler (1895–1949), and John Minton (1917-1957). Ronald Searle (1920-2011) also had a studio there but lived in nearby Bayswater and then Notting Hill (http://ronaldsearle.blogspot.com/2012/07/at-home-with-searles.html).
Minton lived at number 77 from 1943 to 1946 along with Colquhoun and his partner MacBryde (https://artuk.org/discover/artists/minton-john-19171957#). Colquhoun served as an ambulance driver in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WW2, but after suffering injuries in 1941, he moved to London where he shared studio space and his life with MacBride. The pair, who met at Glasgow School of Art in the 1930s, where their lifelong romantic relationship began, shared a house with Minton and after 1943 also with Jankel Adler ( http://www.blondesfineart.com/robert-colquhoun-artist). The parties these artists held at 77 Bedford Gardens were well-known in the artistic circles of London in the 1940s.
Kensington became a popular place with artists from all over Britain from the end of the nineteenth century onwards as this quote from a website (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1442898) illustrates:
“The late C19 saw a sharp rise in the number of artists’ studios in London, particularly in Camden, Hampstead, St Johns Wood and Kensington and Chelsea … Speculative studio development … started in the late 1860s in Camden, moving to Kensington in the 1870s, with the Avenue, Fulham Road built by Charles Freake (Grade II), and reaching a peak in the 1880s and 90s. By 1914, when the market virtually dried up, there were some 150 properties of this type in London ranging from pairs to groups of as many as thirty. Of these, approximately sixty multiple studios in Kensington and Chelsea contained 293 individual units. Consequently the number of artists recorded in these studios is extraordinarily high, counting many artists of great merit.”
77 Bedford Gardens was one of these developments. Today, few artists apart from the most successful of them could either afford a studio in this street or to live there. The accommodation in this short thoroughfare is now at the higher end of the property market. However, it costs nothing to stroll along this attractive little road, along which quite a few famous people have lived, and it is a pleasant thing to do.
THE IRISH AUTHOR James Joyce (1882-1941), author of “Ulysses”, “The Dubliners” etc., lived at number 28B Campden Grove in Kensington in 1931. While living in this flat, he worked on his novel “Finnegans Wake” (published in 1939) and married his long-term companion and muse Nora Barnacle (1884-1951). A blue plaque, which I had never noticed before during the 28 years I have lived in the area, on the house records his stay in Kensington. Joyce was not keen on this dwelling. In 1932, he wrote to Harriet Weaver Shaw:
“’I never liked the flat much though I liked the gardens nearby. That grove is inhabited by mummies. Campden Grave, it should be called. London is not made for divided houses. The little sooty dwellings with their backs to the railway line etc etc are genuine; so is Portland Place. But houses like that were never built to be run on the continental system and as flats they are fakes.” (quoted in http://peterchrisp.blogspot.com/2019/05/campden-grave-james-joyce-in-london.html)
A few yards further west of Joyce’s temporary home, I spotted something else that I had not seen before and is relevant to what Joyce wrote.
The rear outer wall of number 1 Gordon Place is best viewed from near the end of Campden Grove just before it meets the northern end of Gordon Place. That rear wall is unusually shaped. Its windows are set into a concavely curved brickwork wall rather than the normal flat wall.
Today Gordon Place extends southwards, then briefly joins Pitt Street to run east for a few feet before making a right angle to continue southwards, crossing Holland Street and then ending in a picturesque cul-de-sac lined with luxuriant gardens. This has not always been its course. A map surveyed in 1865 shows Gordon Place as running between Campden Grove and Pitt Street. The section of today’s Gordon Place that runs south from Pitt Street to Holland Street was called ‘Vicarage Street’ and the cul-de-sac running south from Holland Street was then called ‘Orchard Street’. A map complied in 1896 reveals that Gordon Place was by then running along its present course. Vicarage Street had become renamed as part of ‘Gordon Place’.
Aerial views of the curved building, number 1 Gordon Place, show that its curved rear wall forms part of a deep opening that extends below the ground. Maps compiled from 1865 onwards show the presence of this hole and within it short stretches of railway tracks. The hole is a ventilation shaft for the Underground tracks, currently the Circle and District lines, that run just below the surface. Standing on Campden Grove close to the back of number 1 Gordon Place, one can hear trains clearly as they travel below the hole in the ground. How deep is the hole? The corner of Gordon Place and Campden Grove is 86 feet above sea level and High Street Kensington Station is at 43 feet above sea level. The railway lines do not slope too much between the ventilation shaft and the station. According to Transport for London, between Notting Hill Gate and High Street Kensington, they descend by 12 feet (www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/70389/response/179967/attach/html/2/Station%20depths.xlsx.html). Using the information that we have, we can estimate the depth of the shaft to be at least 43 feet (i.e. 86-43 plus a little more because the rails are several feet below the surface).
The Metropolitan Railway that included the stretch of track between Notting Hill Gate and High Street Kensington stations was laid before 1868, and from the 1865 map, it was already present before the date when the map was surveyed. According to a detailed history of the area (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp49-57), houses near the corner of Camden Grove and Gordon Place (and in other locations nearby) had to be rebuilt after the railway was constructed between 1865 and 1868. The 1865 map shows no house at the site of the present number 1 Gordon Place. This building with its concave curved rear wall appears on a map surveyed in 1896. It would seem that the developer who constructed number 1 did not want to waste any of his valuable plot; he constructed the rear of the building right up to the circular edge of the ventilation shaft.
So, now we have an explanation for the curiously curved wall and for Joyce’s comments about houses with their backs to railway lines. Some friends of ours own a house with an outer wall that forms part of another ventilation hole on the District and Circle lines. They told us that should they need to make repairs to the outside of the wall that overlooks the tracks, they would need to get special permission from the company that runs the Underground and that many precautions would be needed to protect the workmen and the trains running beneath them.
Life is often far from straightforward, but London is endlessly fascinating. James Joyce preferred Paris to London, where most of his books were published. I hope that it was not his experience with trains running close to where he lived in Campden Grove that influenced his preference.
A brief video that I made gives another view of the ventilation shaft described above: https://youtu.be/js87XIWn1gU
WALKING ALONG A SHORT street in London’s Kensington recently, I observed things that I had never noticed before and was reminded of Tony ‘M’. When I was a student of dentistry at the University College Hospital Dental School, I first met Tony in the third year. In that year, we began to learn how to make crowns (‘caps’) for our patients. Instead of sending the work out to be done by technicians, we students had to learn the nitty gritty of fabricating crowns, mostly gold ones. We were assigned to one of three or four technician tutors. I was assigned to Tony’s group. Why visiting Peel Street in Kensington sparked me to think of Tony will be revealed later.
Peel Street in Notting Hill Gate lies in land that used to be known as ‘The Racks’. It was part of the extensive estate of Campden House, which was owned by the Phillimore family. In the early 19th century, the land was bought by John Punter and William Ward, who divided the land between them in 1823 after having agreed to lay out two roads: Peel Str and Campden Str. Peel Street lay in Punter’s share of the area. Although Punter retained several plots along Peel Street, the rest were sold to a variety of different people. Nearer the eastern end of the street several buildings were demolished between 1865 and 1875 during the construction of what is now the Circle Line. Though the tracks are underground, there are no buildings built above them. If you look through the gap on the north side of the road, you can see the rear of a brick building which fronts on Edge Street. Near the top of this place, some bricks have been made to project slightly and to spell the name ‘LESLIE’. The rear part of this L-shaped building is currently occupied by ‘The Spanish Education Office’. This building was flying Spanish and EU flags. I have no idea about the significance of ‘Leslie’.
One of the houses on the south side of Peel Street used to be a pub. It still bears the lettering ‘Peel Arms’. It was probably in existence by 1889, but today it is a private dwelling. The pub’s clientele were probably mostly workers who toiled in the gravel pits that abounded in the neighbourhood. The pub is not far from the six-storey Camden Houses, brick-built blocks of flats erected in 1877-8 for labourers, some of whom might well have drunk at the Peel Arms. The blocks contain 125 separate flats. The entrances to the blocks have art nouveau features. The building were designed by the architect Edwyn Evans Cronk (1846-1919) for the National Dwellings Society Ltd. Cronk was born in Sevenoaks (Kent) and died in Redcliffe Square in South Kensington.
At the western end of Peel Street, there is another pub, The Windsor Castle. Unlike the Peel Arms, this is a working establishment, now popular with the locals, most of whom are not poorly paid labourers. It was originally built in about 1826 and then remodelled in 1933. The pub contains much of its original late Georgian building fabric and is a Grade II listed place. Although I have passed it often, I have never entered it or its reputedly fine garden. At the Eastern end of Peel Street, there is a wine bar, The Kensington Wine Rooms. When we were getting married, back in 1993, the premises were occupied by a branch of the Café Rouge restaurant chain. We held a pre-wedding dinner there. The premises now housing the wine bar once housed a pub, The Macaulay Arms. It was listed as being in existence in the 1868 edition of “Allen’s West London Street Directory”. Thus, residents of Peel Street were only a few steps from three ‘drinking holes’.
The directory ( https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58160/58160-h/58160-h.htm) lists the residents of Peel Street in 1868 as follows:
“1 Upfold George, sweep/ 2 Arnold F., carpenter/ 3 Miles Frederick, painter/ 23 Mansell H., painter/ 26 Redman J., marine stores/ 28 Redman J., beer retailer/ 37 Taylor W., gardener/ 46 Lucas Wm. Grocer/ 53 Hobbs Mrs. general shop/ 55 Horskins Thos. Baker/ 63 Pollett —, bootmaker/ Harris W., greengrocer/ 67 Smart M., The George Brewery/ 69 Dunnett Mrs. dressmaker/ 77 Elson George, oilman/ 80 Evans H., gardener/ 82 Atwood Mrs, dressmaker/ 83 Salmon —, bootmaker”
Most of the inhabitants appear to have been tradesmen, merchants, and craftsmen, rather than labourers. This is probably because the list was compiled before the Campden Houses were built to house manual labourers and their families. Incidentally, there is still a greengrocer on Peel Street. Jack and Jessie’s excellent shop is opposite the Kensington Wine Rooms.
Peel Cottage stands almost at the corner of Peel Street and Campden Hill Road. It is next to number 118 Campden Hill Road (aka ‘West House’), a building on the corner of Peel street designed for the artist George Henry Boughton (1803-1905) in the late 1870s by Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912). New Scotland Yard and Lowther Lodge (home of the Royal Geographical Society on Kensington Gore) were amongst the many other buildings designed by Shaw. Another artist, the landscape painter Matthew Ridley Corbet (1850-1902) lived at number 80 Peel Street, where once lived the gardener, H Evans.
The entrance to Peel Cottage, which is dwarfed by its neighbours, is partially covered with ivy. It was seeing the blue, circular commemorative plaque on the wall next to its entrance that reminded me of my former teacher Tony M. The plaque informs the passer-by that the artist Sir William Russell Flint (1880-1969) lived in Peel Cottage from 1925 until his death. This brings me back to Tony M, about whom you must have thought I had forgotten already.
As a dental student, I spent many hours with Tony M as I struggled to make decent gold crowns that would fit my patients’ teeth in the conservation clinics of the Dental School. Each encounter with Tony involved a trip to the canteen in the school’s basement. Tony was unable to function without a fresh cup of the school’s barely mediocre coffee. Over cups of coffee, Tony used to encourage us when the clinical teachers made our lives miserable, help with our technical work, and chat. During one of our sessions together, Tony, knowing that art interested me, suggested that I visit Cottrell’s showrooms in nearby Charlotte Street (numbers 15-17) to see the fine collection of paintings that hung on its walls. Cottrell’s were an important supplier of dental equipment and materials. Today, although it has retained its original Victorian frontage, it is the premises of the Charlotte Street Hotel.
Dutifully and because I was curious, I visited Cottrell’s showroom and looked at the framed watercolours hanging on the walls of the two ground floor showrooms. The paintings were all works of the inhabitant of Peel Cottage, William Russell Flint.
Flint was born in Edinburgh. He studied at Daniel Stewart’s College and then Edinburgh Institution. Between 1900 and 1902, he worked as a medical illustrator in London. Later, he produced illustrations for books and “The Illustrated London News”. He was elected President of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours (now the Royal Watercolour Society, of which my wife’s cousin, Varsha Bhatia, is a member), a position he held from 1936 until 1956. He was knighted in 1947. Flint produced many well-executed, delicately tinted water-colour paintings. He often visited Spain, where he made plenty of images that often included sensuous portrayals of women in various stages of undress. It was some of these titillating paintings that Tony had sent me to see on the walls of Cottrell’s showroom.
It was in the late 1970s or early 1980s (before 1982, when I qualified) that Tony M encouraged me to pay a visit to Cottrell’s in Charlotte Street to widen my knowledge of the world of art. Many years have passed since then, but a memory of that brief glimpse of Flint’s paintings lingers in the back of my mind. Visiting Peel Street and seeing Flint’s home brought that all back to the forefront of my memory.