An oddly named house overlooking the River Thames

WALKING BY THE THAMES along Chiswick Mall is always enjoyable whatever the weather. The landward side of the street is lined by houses, many of them well over 100 years old. One of them is called Said House. At first, I imagined that the ‘Said’ referred to someone or something in the Arab world, but it seems that this is not the case.

Said House on Chiswick Mall

The façade of Said House is dominated by an overly large bay window with a vast single pane of curved glass. The building’s earliest structures date back to the 18th century, but much has been done since to distort its appearance. Pevsner said that the building was Victorian, but “georgianised” in about 1935 by Darcy Braddell (or by Albert Randall Wells [1877–1942]). One of its early inhabitants was an artist, Katherine Parsons. The actor and theatre manager Sir Nigel Playfair (1874-1935) was also one of its inhabitants. It was for him that the modifications, including the western wing with its bay window, were made.

The origin of the house’s name is uncertain, but one source suggests that it is so-called because its title deeds refer to “the said house”. This is the only explanation of the name that I can find having searched the Internet thoroughly.

There is a terracotta urn in an alcove high above the bow window. A passer-by with a strong Irish accent despite having lived in Chiswick for 65 years told me that this was something to do with Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795). This might possibly be the case, but I cannot be certain about it. Wedgwood’s associate Thomas Bentley (1731-1780) did live in Chiswick. According to Lloyd Sanders in his “Old Kew, Chiswick and Kensington” (published 1910):

Bentley was in failing health when, in 1777, he took up his residence at Chiswick, possibly to be near his friend, and three years afterwards he died. He was buried in Chiswick church, where Wedgwood raised a monument to his memory with a medallion portrait by Scheemakers.”

I have not yet discovered precise location of Bentley’s house. But that should not stop you from taking a stroll along Chiswick’s lovely Mall and enjoying the glorious display of flowers in bloom especially during spring and early summer.

The writing on the … lampposts

It is interesting what one can spot when walking leisurely along a street

CALLCOTT STREET IN Notting Hill Gate is only 76 yards long. It contains two lampposts that provide evidence of Kensington’s administrative history. Once, this street was in the Borough of Kensington, which was incorporated into the larger Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (‘RBKC’) in 1965.

Most streetlamps in RBKC, are marked with the letters R, B, K, and C, intertwined. However, one of the lampposts in Callcott Street is marked with ‘RBK’, without the ‘C’. The other lamppost in this short thoroughfare is marked with the letters ‘KV’. This stands for Kensington Vestry. In the 19th century and probably earlier, local affairs were governed by the local vestry. This was a meeting or council of parish ratepayers, which often met in the local parish church or its vestry. In the case of Kensington, there is a fine Victorian building, now a branch of the Iranian Bank Melli, which used to serve as the Kensington Vestry Hall. Before this was built (in 1852), the local vestry used to meet in a room attached to the nearby St Mary Abbots church.

In 1901, the Metropolitan Borough of Kensington was granted the status of ‘Royal Borough’ and was known as the Royal Borough of Kensington. So, the streetlamp marked with ‘RBK’ must date from between 1901 and 1965, and the one with ‘KV’ is even older.

Marching on

As we approach the end of the year, the pandemic rages on, the weather is appalling, and prospects for post-Brexit UK are not yet looking too bright. But all is not doom and gloom. On Christmas Eve, we went for a walk from Knightsbridge to St James Park. As we reached Hyde Park Corner and the Wellington Arch, an ever present reminder of the days when ‘England ruled the waves’ and a great deal more, we heard the sound of horse’s hooves behind us. We turned to look back at the arch and saw a line of mounted soldiers with shining helmets adorned with red tassels emerging from beneath the arch.as they have been doing several days a week for very many years, if not for several centuries. Seeing this age-old tradition being enacted in front of us reminded me that although much has been disrupted since the covid19 virus began ruling the waves, life goes on.

Street market in Portobello Road

THIS IS AN EXTRACT from my latest book, “Walking West London”, which can be downloaded in its entirety (as a pdf file), free of charge and with no strings attached, from: https://adamyamey.co.uk/walking-west-london/ (just click on the green button, labelled “Download”). The sample below relates to the street market on Portobello Road:

NO LONGER A COUNTRY LANE (PORTOBELLO)

Lovers of street markets, whether they be searching for antiques, bric-abrac, jewellery, telephone covers, clothing, snacks, cafés, flowers, fruit, or vegetables, will enjoy browsing the diverse stalls and small shops that line Portobello Road. This street, which used to be called ‘Portobello Lane’ runs from Notting Hill Gate to just south of the main railway line that begins at Paddington Station. In days gone by, it ran from the gravel pits at Notting Hill Gate to the now long-since demolished Portobello Farm,which stood roughly between Orchard Close and Blagrove Road in NorthKensington.

Before the mid-19th century Portobello Lane, as it was then called, was to quote the historians Florence Gladstone and Ashley Barker (writing in1924):

“‘… one of the most rural and pleasant walks in the summer in the vicinity of London’, and within living memory it led ‘through fields to Kensal Green … cornfields and meadow land on each side … ‘”

Well, Portobello Road is no longer bucolic. It is lined with buildings along its entire length. Currently, it begins with a short section that leads off Pembridge Villas. It is here that you can stop for a drink at the Sun inSplendour pub, which was built in the early 1850s. After running a few yards westwards, Portobello Road heads off in a north-westerly direction, which it maintains with barely any deviation for the rest of its length. Number 22 was the first London home of the writer George Orwell. He lived there as a lodger in the winter of 1927.

After crossing Chepstow Villas, the road slopes downwards and soon after this the market area commences. On most weekdays, much of the market is dedicated to daily domestic needs, mostly food. On Fridays and Saturdays, the number of stalls and the variety of goods on offer increases dramatically. In normal times (i.e., when there is no pandemic), Portobello Road is choked with crowds of people from all over the world, especially on Saturdays.

In the 1860s, the Metropolitan Line (now the ‘Hammersmith and City Line’) was built. It crosses Portobello Road close to the Ladbroke Road station, which was originally known as ‘Notting Hill’ station. Rail access probably accounted for the urban development of what was once ‘Portobello Lane’. The market in Portobello Road probably began operating in the second half of the 19th century. Until the 1940s, it served people’s daily needs. Then, in the 1940s, traders selling anything from junk to antiques began trading along the road, alongside the purveyors of daily  requirements, and that has how it has remained.

The architecture of Portobello Road is far from distinguished. Much of it is ‘bog standard’ Victorian suburban sprawl, but this is hardy disturbing as the eye has plenty of other things to distract it along the multicultural, bustling, colourful, sometimes quirky market street.

Next, I will point out several things worth noticing if you can take your eyes off the shops, the buskers, and the stalls in the market. The Electric Cinema on Portobello Road was first opened in 1910, making it one of the oldest still working cinemas in the UK. It was one of the first buildings in the area to receive a supply of electricity. It has an Edwardian façade. Despite having been closed for several short periods during its lifetime, it still shows films. Since its extensive repairs in 2000, it has become a luxurious space in which to watch films. It is near to Talbot Road that leads to the church of All Saints.

The Victorian church was built between 1852 and 1861 …

END OF SAMPLE. If you have enjoyed it, please download a copy of my book to learn more about London west of Park Lane.

The Zigzag path

MUCH OF FOLKESTONE, a seaside town in Kent, is perched on slopes leading down to cliffs overlooking the shoreline. The Leas, a wide promenade running along the top of the cliffs to the west of the centre of the town, affords fine views of the beaches and rocks far beneath it. Various staircases, a lift (out of action nowadays), and paths lead from The Leas down to the seashore and the park that runs alongside it. The most fascinating of these, The Zigzag Path, begins close to a cast-iron bandstand a few yards west of the statue of the scientist/physician William Harvey. I loved it so much that I walked down it three times in the three days we spent in Folkestone recently.

With five hairpin bends and a couple of short tunnels as well as blind ending caves, The Zigzag Path takes pedestrians down from the Leas at 150 feet above sea level to lower than 42 feet above the sea. The path is like a winding mountain road in miniature and provides endlessly changing views of the seashore and the trees and other vegetation growing near it. In more detail:

“The path is in five sections, and covers a substantial vertical area of about 75 metres across and 50 metres high.   It incorporates steps, seats, plant pockets, low walls, and with tunnels, arches and caves at each turn.” (https://pulham.org.uk/2014/10/13/chapter-40-1920-21-the-leas-zigzag-path-folkestone-kent/).

The steep path was built for Folkestone Corporation in the early 1920s. The first attempt was not brilliant. So, the Corporation employed Mr Pulham of the company of James Pulham & Son, who specialised in the construction of rock gardens, follies, and grottoes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Pulham_and_Son). The company’s founder, James Pulham (1820-1898) was the inventor of a manmade (anthropic) rock-like material known as Pulhamite.  This composite material simulates the appearance of natural rock so successfully that sometimes geologists are fooled by it. Pulhamite is a mixture of sand, Portland cement, and clinker, which is sculpted over a core consisting of rubble and crushed bricks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulhamite). The Zigzag Path was built with Pulhamite. While walking down the path, I spotted several places where the surface of the Pulhamite had worn away leaving fragments of brick exposed. If I had not seen this, I would have found it difficult to believe that the path was not created using natural rock. Recently, interesting ironwork railings have been added to the side of path facing the sea. These incorporate metal features that resemble plant tendrils wrapping around a support.

The wonderful Zigzag Path is just one of many of the Pulham’s ornamental creations. A full listing can be found in “Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy: The Pulham Legacy: Rock Gardens, Grottoes, Ferneries, Follies, Fountains and Garden Ornaments” by Claude Hitching and Jenny Lilly. A visit to Folkestone would not be complete without experiencing the beautiful and rather fantastic Zigzag Path, preferably by descending it. If you decide to ascend it, you will have done sufficient exercise not to need to visit the gym that day.

Royal remains

WE VISIT RICHMOND regularly to see a couple of friends, with whom we almost always take a stroll, usually somewhere reasonably near their home. They know that I love seeing places that I have never visited before and almost always they take us to see something that they feel might interest us. On our most recent walk with them, taken in October 2021, we began by walking across Richmond Green, taking a path that was new to us. At the western edge of the green, we crossed a road and immediately reached a Tudor gateway that leads into an open space surrounded by buildings. The open space is on the site of a now mostly demolished royal residence that was particularly liked by Queen Elizabeth I.

The royal residence was Richmond Palace. It was built by King Henry VII, when the 14th century Shene Palace, which used to stand on the site, was destroyed by fire in December 1497.  Henry VII built a new palace on the same ground plan of Shene Palace. Richmond Palace, as the new building was named, was used continuously a royal residence until the execution of King Charles I in January 1649.

On a wall facing a pathway leading from the old gatehouse to the River Thames, there is a commemorative plaque with the following carved on it:

“On this site extending eastwards to cloisters of the ancient friary of Shene formerly stood the river frontage of the Royal Palace first occupied by Henry I in 1125…”

It adds that Edward III, Henry VII, and Elizabeth I all died in the palaces that stood on this riverside site in Richmond.

After Charles I lost his head, the palace, like many other parts of the royal estate, was sold by the Commonwealth Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. Much of its masonry was sold. According to an informative source (www.richmond.gov.uk/media/6334/local_history_richmond_palace.pdf):

“While the brick buildings of the outer ranges survived, the stone buildings of the Chapel, Hall and Privy Lodgings were demolished and the stones sold off. By the restoration of Charles II in 1660, only the brick buildings and the Middle Gate were left.”

The same source relates that after being owned by the Duke of York, who became King James II, and after he was deposed:

“The remains of the palace were leased out to various people and, in the early years of the 18th century new houses replaced many of the crumbling brick buildings. ‘Tudor Place’ had been built in the open tennis court as early as the 1650s, but now ‘Trumpeters’ House’ was built in 1702-3 to replace the Middle Gate, followed by ‘Old Court House’ and ‘Wentworth House’ (originally a matching pair) in 1705-7. The Wardrobe building had been joined up to the Gate House in 1688-9 and its garden front was rebuilt about 1710. The front facing the court still shows Tudor brickwork as does the Gate House. ‘Maids of Honour Row’ replaced most of the range of buildings facing the Green in 1724-5 and most of the house now called ‘Old Palace’ was rebuilt about 1740.”

During our recent perambulation with our friends, we saw most of the buildings listed in the quote above but not the Maids of Honour Row. They also pointed out that Richmond Green, across which we walked, was used for jousting tournaments in mediaeval times. Today, this pleasant green space close to Richmond’s main shopping street is used for more peaceful purposes including walking, both human beings and their canine companions.

Once again, a visit to our friends in Richmond has resulted in opening our eyes to new places of great interest, and for that we are most grateful.

A lonely chimney

A SOLITARY CHIMNEY stands in the middle of East Harptree Woods in the Mendip Hills of Somerset, not far from Bristol and Bath. This tall, not quite vertical, chimney and the surrounding uneven landscape is all that remains of the local tin and zinc mining activities in the area. Known as Smitham Chimney, this was built in the 19th century and was the exhaust for the toxic fumes created by the furnaces smelting lead-bearing materials. The unevenness of the surrounding area, now richly populated with a variety of trees, was caused by the pits and spoil heaps created during the era of mining activity. The chimney was built in 1867 and by 1870, the East Harptree Lead Works Co Ltd were producing about 1000 tons of lead per year (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smitham_Chimney,_East_Harptree).

Smitham Chimney

Today, the chimney stands amongst a fine collection of trees including conifers and birches, all growing in a sea of ferns and other bushes. Much of the woodland is mossy. Maintained by Forestry England, the Mendip Society, and Somerset County Council, the woodland has good, fairly level paths, easy on the feet. The place and its industrial archaeological feature make for a pleasant and interesting short excursion.

Stepping on history

INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITY IS NOT what one would associate with present-day Notting Hill Gate in London’s Kensington district. About the only thing that is made on a large scale in the ‘Gate’ is food, which currently is only available on a take-away basis.  Yet, walking along the pavements in the area, you can see evidence that once upon a time the area was not devoid of industry. This is in the form of circular cast-iron coalhole covers. These metal discs that are almost flush with the pavement could be removed to provide an orifice through which coal could be supplied to the coal cellars beneath the pavement.  Using these holes, the coal deliverers, usually covered with coal dust, could avoid entering the house. Many stretches of pavement have been re-paved, omitting the covers, because many of the former coal cellars have been converted to usable living space. The covers that remain – and there are still plenty of them – are often covered with patterns in bas-relief and bear the names and locations of the companies that manufactured them.

I was intrigued by one company, which made many of the covers in Notting Hill Gate, ‘RH & J Pearsons’ whose covers bear the words “Automatic Action” and the information that company was in Notting Hill Gate. I wondered where their factory was in the area, which is no longer associated with trades such as casting iron coalhole covers. I thought that there would be little information about this, but I was wrong. I shall try to condense some of the sea of informative material about these metal discs, over which we walk often without noticing them.

The company Robert Henry and Jonathan Pearson, which operated between the 1840s and 1940, was located at the following places at various times:

“Nos. 141 and 143, High-street, Notting-hill, Middlesex (1871) …and 91, 95, and 97 Camden Hill Road; Iron, Steel & Metal Warehouses, 21, 22, & 23 Upper Uxbridge St.; Manufactory & Workshops, 14, Durham Place, Notting Hill Gate, W. (1879) 141, 143, 145, High Street, Notting Hill Gate, London, W. (1901)” (https://glassian.org/Prism/Pearson/index.html)

All of these places are in Notting hill Gate.

In addition to coalhole covers, the company, which described itself as ‘manufacturing and retail ironmongers’, manufactured a wide range of ironmongery for domestic use including, for example, kitchen ranges, grates, fireplaces, railings, gates. They also produced electrical fittings (for lighting and cooking) and gas fittings. In addition, they supplied a wide selection of plumbing material and sanitary appliances.

Robert Pearson lived between about 1821 and 1893. His brother Jonathan lived between about 1831 and 1898. Both died in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where they were born (https://glassian.org/Prism/Pearson/index.html). Their father, William, was a hardware manufacturer. According to the 1861 England Census, both brothers were living in Kensington. The 1871 Census entry for Robert reveals a little about the size of the firm:
“Ironmonger, Senior Partner in the firm of R. H. & J. Pearson … employing 66 men”

So, Pearson’s was a large local business.

A document published by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea gives an insight to the manufacturing of coalhole covers (‘plates’):

“Skilled artisans were employed to design and carve wooden patterns of the required shape and size. From these an endless number of moulds were produced by ramming sand around them in a box called a flask. The pattern was then removed and molten metal was poured into the cavity. Sadly many examples of Victorian cast iron work has disappeared with the exception of street furniture, in particular coal plates.”

(file:///C:/Users/adama/Downloads/07%20-%20Grouped%20Pieces%20and%20Miscellaneous.pdf).

Of Pearson’s, the document adds:

“R H & J Pearson and Sons in Notting Hill Gate was one of the largest wholesale and retail ironmongers in the area and their name appears on countless plates. Robert Henry Pearson established his business in the 1840s and by the year of his death in 1893, 200 people were employed by the firm.”

One other bit of information about Pearson’s relates to one of its employees, John Henry Mills (1880-1942), who was born in Notting Hill Gate. On the 11th of November 1895, he was ‘bound’ to Pearson’s to serve an apprenticeship for five years. By late January1899, he had already run away and enrolled with 5th Rifle Brigade (London). For committing some now unknown felony, John was discharged on the 21st of March 1899. Soon after this the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in South Africa. John served with the Imperial Yeomanry during this conflict. After the war, his movements are unknown, but he is known to have served in WW1. After marrying in 1918, he and his wife lived in London, where by 1939, he was recorded on an official register as a “housekeeper”.  (www.bansteadhistory.com/BEECHHOLME/Beechholme%20Boer%20War/Boer_War_M.html)

Clearly, ironmongery had little appeal for young Mills.

Pearson’s made many of the coalhole covers in Notting Hill Gate, but by no means all of them. It is worth glancing occasionally at the pavement to see the variety of coalhole covers still in existence. It appears that some of these once mundane items are stolen, to be sold to collectors. Some of the stolen covers have been replaced by artistic modern covers. A good example is one with poetry on it near The Gate Cinema. Now redundant because coal is hardly used for domestic purposes in London, these metal discs are remnants of an era now fading ever further into history.