Sunday, April 18, 2021

West Kensington


Very early on a bright but cold Saturday morning I decided to venture out and use public transport for the first time in four months. Dressed as though I was setting out to rob a bank with a plentiful supply of hand gel, I was ready to travel on the Underground. I would still adhere to my own safety measures of walking between stations as far as possible and never to be on the tube for more than 15 minutes. So here I am at the 48th station on the District Line, West Kensington. 



The station was opened by the Metropolitan District railway in 1874 as Fulham - North End. When the North End station opened two builders, Gibbs and Flew, began to build the West Kensington estate on land that had been owned by the confectioner James Gunter. They built tall Victorian terraced housing with basements for the servants. They persuaded the railway company to change the name of the station to West Kensington and built 1,200 homes here.

Always good to see any kind of greenery on a station platform.


The entrance to the station was rebuilt in 1927 and was designed by Charles Holden. There are three other stations within walking distance that I have already visited and written about: Olympia, West Brompton and Fulham Broadway. Consequently today's walk will be about filling in the gaps.










I exited the station onto North End Road and turned left. On the corner of Talgarth Road and North End Road is the imposing Edwardian building of the Famous Three Kings pub. In the early 70s the pub became a music venue, known as The Nashville Rooms. It became one of the high spots for punk with many well known groups performing here including the Sex Pistols and The Stranglers. Live music stopped in 1980 when the pub was sold. It is now a sports pub with multiple big screens showing live sport.

This dual carriageway which I needed to cross, known here as Talgarth Road is part of the A4 which leads you westwards out of London towards Heathrow airport.

What seems like a million miles away from the dual carriageway but is only a hundred metres or so is Gwendwr Gardens. Before WW2 this site had been the Cedars Lawn tennis club. Mr R. G Gunter contributed to the cost of laying out the land as a commemoration of the extensive damage that the area suffered during the war. The park was opened in July 1949.


 In 1948 the freeholders of the land, the Gunter Estate offered the site to Fulham Borough Council on the understanding that it was to be laid out as a 'memorial pleasure ground' for the benefit of local residents.


It is only a small park but it felt very tranquil.

Back on North End Road again, I walked past Nell's Jazz and Blues club. This well known jazz and blues club is a small venue that attracts big acts.

This interesting looking building is the local library as well as a Citizen's Advice Centre.

Continuing northwards I noticed there were a number of middle Eastern shops and restaurants.



 


From the early 20th century, West Kensington became a desirable place to live. Developers began to increase the housing stock by building mansion blocks instead of individual houses.




 

This former courthouse built in 1908 of red brick and Portland stone was converted into flats in 2012. It is a Grade II listed building and the frontage has remained as it was during its courthouse days.








St Mary's Mission hall. A former mission church, it opened in 1895 but now converted to offices. The upper level was the church with classrooms on the lower floor. It was used by St Mary's as the parish church from the WW2 bombings until the new church was opened in 1961.

I past a couple of pleasant looking pubs which I would have been tempted to check out their menu but of course I am going to have to wait a few more weeks before they will be open again.








Close to the pub I noticed this archway which opened out into a small park.










The park is named after Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) a black civil rights champion and statesman. He lived locally on Talgarth Road from 1933-1940. The park was built in 1987 to mark the centenary of Marcus Garvey's birth.










The park also has this large mural by Jacob Joyce which focuses on women who fought for justice and freedom in Britain and its colonies.

















I walked through the park and came out on to Avonmore Road. West Kensington is mainly residential but the streets are pleasant enough to walk along, with a variety of housing stock.

It must have its own micro climate here because there were numerous types of palms growing in the gardens.



I walked southwards down and around North End Road. If I continued down here I would arrive at Fulham Broadway station.




There is an amazing variety of food outlets from British, Chinese, Indian, Korean, North African, Lebanese, Iranian and of course Italian.








I walked down as far as this converted church, the Arthill Gallery. The gallery exhibits work from established and emerging artists from Asia and Europe. Its aim is to encourage and create an artistic dialogue between different countries and cultures. 

Walking back to the station I noticed this art deco building. I later discovered that it was a pub built in 1938 with an art deco facade. It closed in 2010 and is now a student hostel.


I walked down Castletown Road, past this decommissioned Congregational church. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi visited the church when he was a law student in London and lived just a short distance away.

The church buildings were bought in 1978 by the Bhavan, an institute for Indian art and culture outside India. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, West Kensington is so close to three other underground stations that it was difficult to find new places of interest. It felt good to be back visiting the streets and places previously unknown to me and after months of being confined to base, so to speak, I am pleased to feel my enthusiasm for exploring new places returning.  I look forward to visiting many more stations soon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Wimbledon

 Finally with restrictions being lifted I have been able to visit another Underground station. However I have only visited the outside of the station as I decided to drive here rather than use public transport. As Wimbledon is south of the river it is not a long journey but I will admit it is cheating, but needs must at the moment. If I am ever to finish this challenge I need to move the goalposts. 

This is Wimbledon, the 47th station I have visited on the District Line. The station is used by National Rail, London Underground and Tramlink. It is the only station in London to provide an interchange between the Underground (District Line) and Tramlink. The station has 11 platforms. The first station in Wimbledon opened in 1838 when the London and South Western Railway opened its line from the terminus at Nine Elms in Battersea to Woking. The original station was on the opposite side of Wimbledon Bridge. In 1889 the District Railway, now the London Underground District Line extended its line from Putney Bridge to Wimbledon, making its terminus here. The station was then moved to its current site. The current station was built from Portland stone in the 1920s when Southern Rail was extended to Sutton.










The new tramlink service was opened in 2000. In 1997  platform 10 was closed as rail tracks had to be replaced with those for the tram system. In 2015 platform 10 was split into two tram platforms to allow for more trams.

Wimbledon is two different areas under one name. Close to the station you have a busy High Street with familiar chains of shops and cafes but at the top of the hill is Wimbledon Village with its artisan bakers, coffee shops and small independent shops.


Near the station is a sculpture of a stag. It was produced by local artist, Isabelle Southward in 2012. It was inspired by another sculpture of a stag on top of Stag Lodge in Wimbledon Village. The artist wanted to link urban Wimbledon with the heritage of Wimbledon Common just a short distance away. I wrote about the Common when I visited Southfields station.

Another popular sculpture nearby is this one designed by Andre Wallace. This eight foot sculpture is actually called 'Walking Women' but is known locally as 'Two fat ladies'. The sculpture was first unveiled in 1992 outside the Centre Court shopping centre but had to be removed twenty years later whilst work was carried out to upgrade the station's forecourt. It was returned to in 2012 to the delight of local shoppers.

This white, Victorian building is the Old Town Hall close to the railway station.  The ground floor is now a Tesco convenience store whilst the upper floors are offices.

You can still see the Coat of Arms on the wall above the shop. It has the latin motto on it'Sine Labe Decus' Honour without stain' .

Turning left from the station I came across the  New Wimbledon Theatre which is not so new as it opened over a hundred years ago in 1910. When built it had the unusual feature of Turkish Baths in the basement which were used by the actors. The remains of the baths can apparently still be seen from the theatre bar.
On top of the theatre is a globe on which stands the golden winged figure of the Goddess of Gaiety. She is holding a laurel crown, a symbol of success and celebration.
Further along the Broadway on the opposite side of the road is the Polka theatre. It was opened in 1979 by the Queen Mother and is specifically for young audiences.
There didn't appear to be much more to see in this direction so I turned back to walk in the opposite direction past the railway station. On the corner of Alexander Road and the Broadway Joseph Ely opened his first store in 1876 more or less opposite this present shop which he opened ten years later.
 When the trams linked Wimbledon with nearby towns in the early 20th cent, the conductors would shout out 'Ely's Corner' and were rewarded with 'gifts' from the store.


Across the road is the Alexandra pub. It was built in 1876 and its name refers to Princess Alexandra of Denmark  who was married to Edward, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Queen Victoria,  in 1863

Ten years after the pub was built, this building was opened as a 'free library'. Prior to this, readers paid to join subscription libraries and reading clubs.  At its opening the library had 6000 books and within a year one in twelve of the locals had registered to use the facilities. Terracotta decorations in the form of bookshelves on the side of the building.

Built from ornate red brick it has a number of attractive features.



On the next corner is this impressive bank building 


Built in 186/7 the building has numerous decorative features. It is no longer a bank and seems destined to become a budget hotel.




Also on Wimbledon Hill is Wimbledon High School. It is a private girls' school which opened in 1880. In 1908 the Olympics were held in London  and the current school sports field once housed the original All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The pavilion in the grounds is probably the only building standing that hosted the 1908 London Olympics.
Much of Wimbledon Hill was bombed during WW2 by V1 bombs.








 Near the top of the hill is The White House - the only remaining example of the Victorian mansions which used to line this road. It was built in the 1860s and is supposed to be haunted.


 











This is the Toynbee memorial fountain erected by the working men of Wimbledon. It was built in memory of Joseph Toynbee.

Joseph Toynbee was a surgeon and was head of the first ear and throat disease department at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. He was active within the local community and in 1859 he founded the Village Club in Wimbledon. A new facility it had a reading room, library and a hall for for 'penny readings' of poems and stories. He was only 50 when he died. Tragically, he was found dead in his consulting room after accidently inhaling prussic acid and chloroform in what was thought to have been a scientific experiment to test a remedy for tinnitus. 

 

 

Note the unusual decorative turret. 


The fountain marks the beginning of  Wimbledon village. 


This is another impressive bank building. Originally the London and Counties Bank. (you can see the logo on the side of the Turret) before it became a Nat West bank. It is no longer a bank and I can only assume that it has been converted for residential usage but the detailed carving is extraordinary.



This pub was first mentioned in 1617 in a survey commissioned by the Lord of the Manor, and was known as My Lord's Arms. It is now called The Dog and Fox , with that name being shown on a map dated 1776.  It was used for meetings of the Volunteers, a forerunner of the Home Guard, set up to repel any Napoleonic invasion. The land behind the pub was used for drill practice. It would also have been an important stop for London stagecoaches and from what I have read it still has stables at the back of the building.  It is still a hotel as well as a pub.



Across the road in the middle of the village is the Old Fire station complete with its bell tower and clock. From 1869 the village had been protected by a volunteer group of fire fighters operating hand pumps from a shed next to the Dog and Fox. Then in 1890 this fire station was built almost opposite the Dog and Fox. The building housed a horse drawn steam pump called 'The May Queen'. The bell tower was replaced in 1968 during a facelift of the village. After a large  fire in 1900 it was found that there were not enough hoses to pump water from the Rushmere pond. Consequently a new fire station was built in Queens Road with a full time professional force in 1907.

A little further down the road, still in the  village is this large Jacobean Manor, Eagle House which was built in 1613 for Robert Bell, Master of the Worshipful company of Girdlers and co-founder and director of the British East India Company. Bell's father and grandfather were both Wimbledon residents and he inherited the site.. After dying childless, the house passed through many hands.

In 1789 it became a school for 'Young Gentlemen and Noblemen'. In the 1840s, Eagle House was home to a military Academy. In 187 the house was purchased by an architect who restored it to its pre school days. After WW" it was used as offices until 1989 when it became an Islamic heritage and cultural centre until the foundation relocated in 2009.

This is the sign outside the house now.

I walked  back through the village and turned right at the top of the hill onto Church Road and came across this lane with a basic wooden  turnstile at its entrance. Dairy Walk or Dairymaids Walk has been a right of way since the 16th century. It links St Mary's Church at the top of the hill with Manor Farm. Whilst the gentry would travel to the church in their carriages, servants would have taken a short cut  along this lane instead of the roads. 












Further down Church Road is the gold post box in honour of Andy Murray, the tennis player, winning a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics. He also won gold in the 2016 Olympics.

If I continued down the hill I would come to AELTC Wimbledon which I wrote about when I visited Southfields station. 



So it was now time to make my way back to the town centre. 
 I walked back along Church Road and turned left down St Mary's Road. This is Stag Lodge which marked the entrance to Earl Spencer's estate. The original stag was removed for safety during WW2 but was lost! This one is a replacement.

Down the drive from the Lodge is St Mary's church. For those of you who watch Wimbledon on the TV you will have seen the spire of this church many times as the cameras pan away from the courts to the church spire on the top of the hill. The first church recorded on this site was in 1086 and its history can be traced back to the Doomsday book. 

The Doomsday book was a complete written record of property ownership across England. It included all landowners and their tenants as well as their land. It also included anyone who lived on the land from villagers to slaves. As it described how the land was used and also every building on the land the Doomsday book has been a great source of information about medieval times. The survey was carried out on the orders of William the Conqueror as a way of stopping the Lords of the land arguing over ownership. It also made sure that he collected all taxes that were due to him. Remarkably it took just one year to complete in 1086. The original book is kept in the National Archives but copies and translations are easily available to buy. 

The church has been rebuilt and renovated over the centuries. the current building dates from the mid 1800s and was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. In 1956 the then vicar had the foresight to buy St Mary's field next door for £250 with the covenant that it had to be kept as open space. Since 1969 the field has been used as a car park during Wimbledon fortnight and has been a huge fundraiser for the church and local charities. 

In the churchyard is a large pyramid made of Portland Stone in memory of Gerard de Visme who died in 1797. He lived at Wimbledon Lodge and left money for the upkeep of his tomb and for bread to be given to the poor 'in the winter months'.

I returned to the town centre via the backs streets and noticed this as I emerged back onto the High Street. Based on the single by the Icelandic singer Bjork, the mural refers to the decline in birdsong. It features a male and female sparrow whose songs we do not hear so much these days.

Walking back towards the station you can't miss this large Victorian pub with its impressive tiled frontage. It was built during the early years of the railway arriving in Wimbledon and no doubt still takes its trade from many of the commuters on their way home from work.