A fountain with a history

I LOVE WALKING IN LONDON because there is so much to see. Even when walking along a street that is familiar to me, a route that I have tramped many hundreds of times before, I see things that I have never noticed before. These are details that have been staring me in the face for years, but which I have unconsciously chosen to ignore. Then, I notice them and wonder why it has taken me so long to do so. During the strict phase of the covid-19 ‘lockdown’ when our walks have had to be confined to our neighbourhood, the number of interesting hitherto unnoticed details that I have ‘discovered’ for the first time has been enormous. Today for the first time, I walked along a road in Kensington, one which until now I have only driven, or been driven, along.

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Marloes Road runs south from Wright’s Lane (which links it with High Street Kensington) to the busy Cromwell Road.  It joins the latter a few yards west of a large branch of Sainsbury’s supermarket chain. This non-descript temple of retailing stands on the site of the long-since demolished West London Air Terminal, which was operational between 1957 and 1974. It served British European Airways passengers, who checked-in there before travelling by bus to Heathrow Airport. Today, there is no sign of, or memorial to, the building, which had six storeys above the terminal concourse.

On the west side of Marloes Road, I spotted a Victorian drinking fountain embedded in the wall of a building. This now non-functional water source bears the date 1893 and a plaque that reads:

“Lord from thy blessed throne

The griefs of earth look upon

God Bless the Poor

Teach them true liberty

Make them from strong drink free

Let their homes happy be

God Bless the Poor”

This was erected near the gates to St Mary Abbots Workhouse in February 1894 by the Church of England Temperance Society, no doubt to encourage the thirsty to reach for water rather than ale or gin. Constructed mainly with white Portland stone, the fountain was designed by the long-lived architect T Philips Figgis (1858-1948). His other works include two with which I am familiar. One of these is the domed Kennington Underground Station on the Northern Line. The other, which I have never entered but have often seen, is St Ninians (Presbyterian) Church in Golders Green. Its name has always intrigued me. I have yet to meet someone named Ninian. Built in 1911, soon after Golders Green began growing in earnest, the church has been re-named as Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple and was used as a Hindu temple between 1982 and 2013. The same sect of Hinduism was responsible for erecting the spectacular Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, close to a well-known temple of commerce, IKEA on the North Circular Road,

As for the St Mary Abbots Workhouse to which the fountain designed by Figgis was attached, this has an interesting history. From about 1726, Kensington had a parish workhouse. This was located on Gloucester Road just south of Kensington Gore, the eastern continuation of High Street Kensington. In 1849, this was replaced by a new building on Marloes Road (which was then a part of Wrights Lane). This was under the care of the Kensington parish of St Mary Abbot. The workhouse, constructed in Marloes Road to the designs of Thomas Allom (1804-1872) in a combination of Jacobean and Elizabethan styles, must have been an impressive sight to behold.

Between 1871 and 1992, the former workhouse became part of St Mary Abbot’s Hospital. The hospital was one of four that closed when the newly built Chelsea and Westminster Hospital opened on Fulham Road in 1993. The site occupied by the former hospital and its predecessor, the workhouse, is now part of Kensington Green, an upmarket gated community protected by high security. Part of the palace-like edifice designed by Allom remains standing, but I could not see it from Marloes Road because it is surrounded by other buildings.

I would not have come across of any this information had I not spotted the well-conserved drinking fountain whilst casually strolling along Marloes Road. I took photographs of it just in case it proved interesting, which, certainly, it has turned out to be. Thus, a disused water source has given rise to a fount of historical knowledge.