Saturday, September 12, 2020

Earl's Court

I always think of Earl's Court station as being the gateway to West London. I can remember being here in the early 70s with its transient population of  Australians. It used to be known as 'Kangaroo Valley' then, but I haven't heard that term for a long time. The streets were always busy and the roads congested. Will it be any different today, I wondered. The first thing you might notice is the name of the station, which has an apostrophe, unlike the area which is usually spelt without an apostrophe. The name is derived from the Earls of Warwick and Holland who owned the land. The station (although not this one) has been a part of this area for 150 years. A station was built n 1871 as part of an extension of the District Railway. However, it was constructed of wood and unfortunately burnt down in a fire. The station was relocated to its present position and rebuilt as a brick structure in 1878 and was remodelled again in 1906, when Piccadilly line services began running through the station. In 1911 the first escalators on the Underground network were installed at Earl's Court station. To encourage people to use them an individual was employed to ride them up and down to demonstrate their safety.
The station received a Grade II listing in 1984 and retains many features of architectural significance, including the station indicator boards on the District Line platforms and the roof over the sub-surface tracks, constructed in 1933.

Classic timber benches line the platform with the roundel as the back rest.

This Westbound map shows the 22 stations I have yet to visit on the District Line. Whilst the Eastbound map shows the 38 I have already visited.

The Warwick Road entrance was constructed in 1937 in order to provide better access to the refurbished Earl's Court exhibition centre. This entrance was rebuilt in the 1960s and in 2009 the 'drum' was added to house the station's control centre.

The main entrance to the station has a large frontage with the words: District Railway  Earls Court Station  G N Piccadilly &  Brompton Railway prominently displayed. I like the semi circular windows and symmetry of the building. The façade dates back to 1906.

In front of the station, next to the newspaper kiosk is what looks like a TARDIS from Dr Who. It is a blue police box, the first one to be installed since 1969. This is a replica of the blue police boxes which used to be very common. They were used by the public to contact the police via a phone. Of course with  increasing access to mobile phones they became obsolete in the early seventies. This one came into operation in 1996 when the entrance to the tube station was plagued with drug pushers, users and prostitutes. 
It would be used by the local bobby on the beat and also have a direct line to the local police station accessible to the general public. Added to that was a CCTV camera on the top keeping a Big Brother eye on the area. It was mainly funded by local business men. It didn't prove to be that successful and was decommissioned in 2000 although the CCTV is still in use. It probably has more visits from Dr Who fans than anyone else.
Across the road from the station are some surprising residential streets. I hadn't expected to see narrow lanes like Hogarth Place. Prior to 1803 this area was covered with market gardens attached to Earl's Court Farm. The farm had gone by 1879 to make way for the station. In 1797 this area was purchased by Thomas Smith, described as a vintner, he began building in 1803. He didn't build any large houses on his land, they were in the main small cottages as well as a public house, the King's Head which was constructed at the junction of Kenway Road and Hogarth Place.  The pub was rebuilt in the 1930s.

 In 1973 this small area became a conservation area and is now known as Earl's Court village.

On the corner across from the pub is what used to be a shop, with its doorway facing the pub.

On the wall is a mural of a fountain. I failed to find out any information about the origin of the mural or its subject.

In front of the pub were more cottages. I followed this road to the end passing this cosmetic clinic, advertising plastic surgery.

Not something you would find on my road but then I don't live in Kensington!

The road brought me out onto the Cromwell Road opposite the Cromwell Hospital which is a private hospital. It was established in 1981 to provide healthcare for the Abu Dhabi Royal family. In 2008 the hospital was bought by the private healthcare company BUPA which marketed the hospital as a health destination for patients from the Middle East.

Cromwell Road is a wide road and a main route out of London. If I followed it towards London I would come to Albertopolis area and the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. This part of the road is full of these large Victorian mansions. This is Cromwell Mansions built in 1887-89. It contains 12 flats over six stories including the basement. At current prices a 4 bedroomed apartment would set you back £2,750,000.

On the cast iron railings outside the building I found this sign.

Maybe you would prefer staying for just a few nights in this area. These serviced apartments cost from £220pn for a two bedroom apartment to £400pn for a 4 bedroom apartment.

Also on the Cromwell Road is  where Alfred Hitchcock lived after his marriage in 1926. The couple leased the top two floors which meant a walk of 90 steps up to their flat. They lived here until their move to America in 1939.

The Marriott Hotel. Looks like it has fully embraced the wearing of a face mask.

I turned off Cromwell Road and walked down Knaresborough Place. This unusual decoration of a stairwell jumped out at me. I did wonder if it was a lockdown family project.

There are a number of mews in the area. The original mews buildings were comprised of stables, carriage housing and with living quarters above. They were built on either side of a cobbled street behind the large terraced houses. They have now all been converted to residential properties in the most desirable places in London. Although small they still fetch a high price due to their location. I walked past a number of mews around the Earl's Court area.
 This is Laverton mews. A high archway was needed to allow carriages access.

Hesper Mews

This is where Howard Carter, the Egyptologist stayed with his brother, Simon, during his trips home from Egypt.
I don't recall ever seeing a road that has two different names - one for each side!

A sneaky peep into the private Bramham Gardens. Residents around the square are the only people to be able to access the gardens. .

I crossed over Earl's Court Road and on to Warwick Avenue. This is where the Earl's Court Exhibition centre used to be, just opposite the Warwick Road entrance to Earl's Court station. It was refused heritage status and was completely demolished in 2017 after it was acquired by developers. It opened in 1937 as a major exhibition and events centre. It is where the international motor show, boat show, Ideal Home show and Billie Graham rallies were held as well as pop concerts and a venue for the 2012 Olympic games.

 I walked round the hoardings to a place where I could see the site.
Earls Court Exhibition Centre
This is a photo from the internet of the exhibition centre. Many people were hoping that the façade would be saved and reused in the area's development but this didn't happen. The plans for the new development don't seem to have been finalised yet other than it will be mainly housing.

I walked down Warwick Road onto the Old Brompton Road. This is the Troubadour  which opened as a coffee house in 1955 and was renowned  for its folk music nights in the early 60s. Bob Dylan sang here in 1963.

Also on Old Brompton Road is Coleherne Court where Princess Diana lived before becoming engaged to Prince Charles. Her parents had bought her a flat in this complex as a present for her 18th birthday. 

On the corner of Old Brompton Road and Earl's Court Road is this shop. I didn't really understand what they were selling as in the UK we have letterboxes in the front door not mail boxes outside. I wandered over for a look and inside the shop are numbered boxes where you can have mail delivered and then you  collect from here. I suppose with such a transient population this would be a necessary way of collecting your mail.

I continued up Earl's Court Road and turned left into Bolton Gardens. Here I found Earl's Court Youth Hostel. It is in a  large Victorian building just a few minutes walk from the tube station. It looks ideal if you are looking for cheap basic, convenient accommodation. I have to confess it is years since I stayed in a Youth Hostel but I was never disappointed with the facilities on offer for such a reasonable price
Back on the main road again I passed this very grand looking pub.The Blackbird was converted from bank premises in 1993 giving it a very impressive frontage. It was refurbished in 2018 and now has 9 boutique bedrooms for guests.

Just a short walk from the Blackbird pub on the same side of the road is The Prince of Teck public house. The original pub was built in 1832 for the Star Brewery. It was  rebuilt in 1868 and is now Grade II listed. Lots of interesting features such as the heraldic wyverns at each corner of the roof. The name refers to Prince Francis, Duke of Teck (1837-1900) who was connected to the German Royal family.  His marriage to Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, a cousin of Queen Victoria and granddaughter of King George III brought him to England in 1866. His daughter May later became Queen Mary when she married the future George V.

On the side are bas reliefs of the prince and above the windows are busts of different figures.

Although the traffic was as heavy as ever there were not as many people around nor as many shops as I recall in the 70s. Once the new development is finished no doubt the area will be different again. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Aldgate East

Aldgate East is the 19th station on the District Line travelling westwards. The station also services the Hammersmith and City line and is the last of the stations on that line for me to visit.

There are four entrances/exits to the station with two on each side of Whitechapel High Street. 

I exited the station onto Whitechapel High Street and then turned left onto Commercial Street. Just back from the road is this building which looks more medieval than Victorian.

This is Toynbee Hall, named after Arnold Toynbee who helped the poor of the East End. It was built in 1884 and was set up so that University students and graduates could come and help to educate local people to give them a chance to escape the poverty and crime that was so prevalent in the area. In his early career Clement Atlee had been a secretary here before going on to be mayor of Stepney and then Prime Minister from 1945-51.

Next to the hall is an arts centre and café with this clock alongside. Due to Covid restrictions it was closed.

A short distance from the hall, on Wentworth Street is this arch leading to modern houses and flats that were part of the first purpose built development for Bangladeshi families. In the 19th cent this area was a slum and contained a number of overcrowded lodging houses. Three of Jack the Ripper's victims lived in these boarding houses. The red brick arch, which dates from 1886, has been preserved to commemorate a scheme to improve the standard of housing for people living here. In 1885, Nathaniel, later Lord Rothschild brought together prominent members of the Jewish community and persuaded them to form the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company. The company agreed to limit profits to 4% rather than the usual 8% or more. Limiting profit meant they could charge lower rents. Within 11 years the company had built good accommodation for 4000 people.

You can just about see the inscription above the arch: Erected by the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company.

I continued along Wentworth Street to where Brick Lane joins Osborne Street. This arch was erected in 1997 as an entrance to what is now known as 'Bangla Town'. This is home to numerous curry houses and a large Sunday morning market.

I walked back towards Whitechapel High Street via Old Castle Street. This photo shows how close we are to the City of London.
Also on Old Castle Street is the front wall of the Wash Houses erected in 1846. A number of public bath houses were built in this area to compensate for the lack of washing facilities in people's homes. These Victorian baths have now been transformed into an events venue for the London Metropolitan University. Also housed there are some of the University's special library collections.

Back on Whitechapel High Street is the White Hart Inn.

There are numerous references to Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel and numerous guided walks. People seem to be fascinated by the horrific details of the unsolved murders.

Next to the pub is this alleyway which has been tiled with a map of the area. It was designed by a local school as part of the Bethnal Green City Challenge. It brightens up what would otherwise be a very dark alleyway.

Next to the alleyway is a shop with this sign above which refers to the building's previous life when it was occupied by the Jewish Daily Post, a short lived daily newspaper. The building is now a 'vape' shop. The building is Grade II listed because of the sign. Apparently there is another one of historical interest inside the building but not accessible to the public.

A little further on is the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

The building opened in 1901 with the aim of bringing contemporary art to the people of East London. It has held some impressive exhibitions here such as Picasso's Guernica on its only time in Britain. It has also shown the works of Jackson Pollack, David Hockney and Gilbert and George.

 The frieze of golden leaves decorating the art gallery were designed by sculptor Rachel Whiteread and entitled 'The Tree of Life'.  The artist has lived in the area for 25 years and was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993. This piece of artwork was commissioned for the London 2012 Festival as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

In 2009 the gallery expanded and took over the neighbouring building, the former Passmore Edwards Library which was opened ten years earlier than the gallery in 1892.The building also incorporates the eastern entrance to Aldgate East station.

Above the building is this unusual weathervane. In the original plans for the Whitechapel Library there was provision for a weathervane but this never materialised. Now, over a hundred years later in 2009, a weathervane has been added. This is not just any old weathervane but one designed by Rodney Graham, a Canadian artist, sculptor and musician. It features Graham himself as the 16th century Erasmus sitting backwards on the horse reading a copy of Erasmus's  best known work '  The Praise of Folly'. The 16th C scholar is said to have composed the book on a journey by horseback from Italy to England. The work is a satirical attack on superstitions and traditions in European society.

A more modern sense of humour is to be found with local shop names. This one is a fish and chip shop. There is another similarly named barber's shop close by called, yes you've guessed - Jack the Clipper.

Across the road on the corner of Whitechurch Lane is this old fountain. It was part of the old church of St Mary Matfelon.

Behind the fountain is the park where the church once stood.

The first church built on this site in the mid 13th century was a chapel of ease (a chapel built within the parish for those who cannot easily travel to the main parish church). Built of Kentish chalk rubble it was known as the 'White Chapel' which gave its name to the local area. In 1329 the chapel was rebuilt as St Mary Matfelon. In the mid 17th century St Mary's church is rebuilt in red brick in a neo-classical roman. In 1875 it is rebuilt again, this time in the  Gothic style. But just five years later it is damaged by fire and has to be rebuilt once again. During WW2 it is hit by an incendiary bomb and becomes an unofficial playground and home for vagrants. Twelve years later the derelict church tower is struck by lightning and the building is demolished. In 1966 the former St Mary's churchyard is opened as a municipal garden. You can still see some of the gravestones around the edge of the park.

In 1994 this park was dedicated to the memory of Altab Ali, the 25 yr old Bengali murdered in Adler Street on 4th May 1978 in a racist attack by three teenage boys. The murder took place on the night of the local elections where the far right National Front party was standing for election in 43 seats, far more than they ever had previously. Even though they polled poorly, their involvement provoked a highly charged atmosphere.
Altab Ali's murder highlighted the general level of racist violence at that time endemic across the borough of Tower Hamlets and beyond. His death marked a turning point. Ten days later on 14th May, about 7000 people marched from the site of his death to Hyde Park to mourn him and to demand police protection. Within the year, after a campaign of sit-down protests locally the National Front, whose headquarters were not far from Brick Lane, was forced out of the area. The Bengali youth movement, which led the Battle for 'Brick Lane', the Anti Nazi League and Rock against Racism groups were born out of the events of 1978 and far right extremists suffered a huge setback.

In 1999 the Shaheed Minar Monument was built to commemorate the Bengali Language martyrs. (On 21st February 1952 students from the University of Dhaka staged a nationwide protest against accepting Urdu as the nation's official language. The peaceful protest led to the loss of several lives.) In recognition of their struggle UNESCO declared the 21st February as 'International Mother Language Day'.

At the entrance to the park is a wrought iron arch created by David Peterson, as a memorial to Altab Ali and other victims of racist attacks. He has used Bengali motifs and the arch is attached to two stones from the original church to marry the two cultures together.

Overlooking the park is St Boniface's German RC church built in the 1950s  replacing the previous 19th century church.
The design of the bell tower is unusual but I believe this was the only design that would work to house the original 19th century bells.

Talking of bells I have now reached one of the most famous buildings in Whitechapel - the bell foundry. Sadly the foundry is no longer here.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd announces, with regret, that by May 2017 it will cease its activities at the Whitechapel Road site.
 The Foundry was listed in the Guinness Book of records as Britain's oldest manufacturing company, having been in continuous business since it was established in 1570. Just before it closed I was able to get on one of the last tours of the foundry. It is a step back in time as the bells were made by the same method as in previous centuries. Read about the tour here.
Some of the most famous bells cast here include the original Liberty Bell (Philadelphia), the Great Bell of Montreal and, of course, Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. Big Ben is the largest bell cast at this foundry weighing over 13 tons.
Unfortunately planning permission has been granted by Tower Hamlets to turn this historic building into a boutique hotel. However, after much opposition from local people, the Minister for planning has stepped in and asked for an enquiry into the building's future. To date no decision has been made.

The next eighteen stations on the District line ar also on the Circle line and as I have already visited them I will now move to West London to continue my exploration of the District Line.