Wednesday, September 20, 2017

High Street Kensington

This is the fifth station on the Circle Line from Edgware Road travelling anticlockwise. It is also a District Line station.

The first station here was constructed in 1867 but demolished in 1906 and rebuilt complete with a shopping arcade.
Acknowledgement of its previous rail history can be seen in the motifs above the doorway with the MR - Metropolitan Railway and DR - District Railway.

The arcade takes you out on to the High Street. Kensington High Street is a popular London shopping street in an upmarket wealthy area.

Leaving the station arcade I turned right which took me past the old department store Derry & Toms. From the late 19th century the street had three large department stores: Derry & Toms, Barkers and Pontings. By 1920 Barkers bought out both Derry & Toms and Pontings but they continued to trade under their original names. A prolonged building project in the 30s changed the buildings into fine examples of Art Deco.

In 1936 the Vice president of Barkers employed a landscape gardener to design a garden on the top of Derry and Toms. It covers 1.5 acres and has three different gardens with 500 species of plants. In 1964 the original music video for Roy Orbison's 'Oh Pretty Woman' was filmed in the garden.

When Derry and Toms closed in 1973, the building was taken over by the successful 1960s boutique Biba. But the recession in the 70s and  ambitious plans ended Biba's reign in 1975. The store was divided into separate retail outlets. Today the main retailer is Marks and Spencers  whilst the roof garden, private club and restaurant on the top floor are owned by Richard Branson's Virgin.

The D and T motif is still visible above the store

Barkers continued until 2006 when the department store closed for good. Part of the premises were taken over by American Whole Foods Market which opened the UK's first organic superstore there in 2007. The office space above the retail part of the building was occupied by the headquarters of Associated Newspapers and they took over the rest of the store for more office space.

I turned off the High Street and down Derry Street to Kensington Square.

Dating from the 17th cent, Kensington Square is one of the earliest  garden squares in London. The first buildings on the square date from 1682.

The garden is not open to the public.

One of the buildings around the square is the convent of the Assumption. Inhabited by a French order of nuns, it has been based here since 1869.

Left the square via Young Street  passing this house which used to be the home of the Victorian writer William Makepeace Thackery (Vanity Fair). The house is now part of an American College.
Back on the High Street I walked past the gates that protect the most expensive road in the UK -  Kensington Park Gardens.

The average house/mansion price is £40,000,000. For obvious reasons it is commonly  known as 'Billionaires Boulevard'.
There is a gate a little further along the High Street which might be familiar to many of you. This was the gate from  which Princess Diana's Funeral procession left Kensington Palace on its two hour journey to Westminster Abbey 20 years ago.

Kensington Palace, home to Prince William and family as well as Prince Harry and some other minor royals.

The Princess of Wales lived at Kensington Palace for 15 years and enjoyed seeing the changing displays in the garden.

To mark 20 years since her death the gardeners have created a simple but elegant White Garden.

From the Palace I walked back to Kensington Church Street via York House Place.

Kensington Church Walk is  a narrow passageway of quaint shops leading from the road to St Mary Abbot's church

The church has the tallest spire in London. It was built in 1872 by the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who helped to design more than 500 churches and chapels.

St Mary Abbot's gardens were created in the former churchyard of  the church. They were opened to the public in 1953 but it wasn't until the year 2000 that the railings were replaced when the gardens and the church walk were restored to their former glory. Railings were removed during WW2 as part of the war effort as iron was in short supply. However, it is not clear what happened to them all. There is no clear evidence that the railings ended up at steel works. It is thought that far too many railings were collected but not used. It seems that nobody really knows what happened to the thousands and thousands of railings that were removed up and down the country.

The gardens led me back onto Kensington High Street.

Just off the High Street, you have small Mews houses to Mansions but one thing they do have in common is that they are all incredibly expensive.

I walked along the High Street as far as the Design Museum.

The Museum moved here from Shad Thames in Nov 2016. Its new home is the former Commonwealth Institute which was  opened in 1962 but it was too expensive to be modernised. Major funding contributions from Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sir Terence Comran meant that the building would be saved and brought to life again. It also means that for the first time access to the Design Museum will be free. It has taken four years to complete the work giving the Design Museum three times more exhibition space as well as more areas to extend its learning programme.

The Museum is next to Holland Park and I left via the ornate gates. The iron gates were brought from Belgium by the third Lord Holland and erected in 1836. They have recently been restored and gilded with 780 sheets of 23.5 ct gold.

I walked back to the station via the back streets and came across this large Victorian house on Stafford Terrace. I was drawn to a notice outside which said it was open to visitors. It turns out that 18 Stafford Terrace  is a  unique example of a late Victorian  townhouse complete with furnishings and decorations of that period. It was the home of the Punch political cartoonist  Edward Linley Sambourne and family. After the death of Linley and his wife, the house was preserved by their descendants and  eventually donated to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.. It was first open to the public in 1980.  As it is only open three days a week I was very fortunate to be passing on the right day. Sometimes I come across places by chance that deserve a post all to themselves and this is one of them. The house is over six floors with much to see of interest on each floor.

'Sticky Fingers' restaurant on Phillimore Gardens. Bill Wyman of Rolling Stones fame named the restaurant after one of their albums. Pity it wasn't open when I past as I would have enjoyed tasting the food.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Bayswater station is on the Circle and the District line. The station was opened by the steam operated Metropolitan Railway in October 1868. Constructing the railway line meant they had to dig a tunnel using the cut and cover method. A trench 13m deep was dug between brick retaining walls and  was then roofed over with brick arches so that building work could continue above.

A short section of the trench was left roofless so that smoke and steam from the trains could escape from the tunnels.

The other end of the platforms were covered with a glazed roof making it much lighter than most tube stations.

At the top of the stairs from the platform is a beautiful flower display. I spoke to one of the cleaners who likes to look after the display and she told me how people love to see the flowers which brighten up the station. It was obvious she was very proud of the station and its displays. This is the second station I have visited on the Circle Line that has flower displays. I wonder how many more have flower displays.

The station is just 100m away from Queensway station on the Central Line so once again I need to be careful about not revisiting places already mentioned in previous tube posts.

Queens skating rink and bowling alley is midway between Queensway and Bayswater stations but it was closed for refurbishment when I was last here so now I could have a look around.
This is Central London's only all the year round skating rink and has been here since 1931. Many temporary outdoor rinks appear during December and January but this is where you have to come if you want to skate during the summer. I was pleased that you can go in and have a look without having to get on the ice.

Next to the rink is Queensway indoor Market.
A warren of small shops selling electrical and household items, computers and food.

A couple of small Turkish restaurants inside the market.

Across Queensway from the market was another Turkish restaurant with Hookah pipes on tables outside.

The building that really stands out on Queensway is Whiteley's. It was founded in 1863 with the current building constructed in 1908. In the 19th century this was the leading department store in London and the business went public on the Stock Exchange in 1899. It was founded by William Whiteley who came to London from Yorkshire in 1855 at the age of 24. He served an apprenticeship in the drapery trade for 6 years and managed to save £700. He must have been very well paid because that seems an awful lot of money at that time. He used his savings to open a small shop in Bayswater which was not the fashionable area it is today.

Over the next 20 years as his business grew he bought more property around Queensway which eventually covered more than 14 acres. He bought farms and built his own food processing factories to provide produce for the store. He employed over 6000 members of staff who lived in accommodation provided by the company. They worked from 7am to 11pm, six days a week. He was a ruthless business man and undercut all his local traders. He was not popular and his shop was the subject of five serious arson attacks.

Whiteley was a very successful business man as well as a well known benefactor but he was not a good man to work for nor a faithful husband. His wife divorced him for adultery and cruelty. On 24th Jan 1907 a man claiming to be his illegitimate son shot and killed Whiteley and then attempted suicide. Whiteley's two sons attempted to continue the business but ended up selling it their rival Gordon Selfridge.

Old Posters have been reproduced and are displayed on columns inside the store.

It's heyday is now over. From one of the great department stores alongside Selfridges and Harrods to a shopping centre with many of the shops now closed. There is still a cinema inside but planning permission has been sought for two 10 storey blocks of 100 homes as well as a hotel, cinema and shops. Due to public opposition the plans were revised in May 2017 to reduce the towers by one floor. The exterior of the existing building will be retained. Westminster council has approved the new plans. So by the time I have finished exploring the Circle line Whiteley's will no longer exist as a shopping centre.

From Whiteley's I walked down Porchester gardens which brought me out  into the squares of large white Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses with the private garden in the middle of the Square.
This is Kensington Square garden - not accessible to the public.

This beautiful building on Westbourne Grove has a bookshop on the ground floor whilst the upper floors are occupied by the interior designers HBA.

Victorian Gentlemen's toilet. Many of these toilets have been closed or converted into small bars.

I am now on Bishop's Bridge Road, a continuation of Westbourne Grove. This magnificent Art Deco building was for most of its past life Queens cinema, part of a small independent circuit of cinemas in West London. Built in 1932 the name Queens is set in the middle of a glazed terracotta zig-zag pattern. In 1935 it was taken over by the Association of British Cinemas and in 1962 was renamed the ABC  with blue cladding hiding the Queens name. It was taken over by the Cannon cinema chain in 1986 and closed less than two years later.
The building remained empty for a number of years before it was reopened in 1995 as a TGI Friday's restaurant but it closed in 2007 and once again remained empty until 2013

The building has now been converted into apartments and the original facade returned to its past Art Deco splendour. On the ground floor is a retail unit occupied by Heal's, the upmarket furniture and lighting design store.

On the corner of Queensway and Porchester Road is The Porchester Centre. It is a Grade II listed building built between 1923 and 1925.

 In 1927-29 Turkish baths, a library and assembly rooms were added.
On the opposite side of the road is Porchester Square and garden. Porchester Square was completed between 1855 and 1858.  The gardens were acquired by the Borough Council and opened to the public in 1955.

From Porchester Square I returned to the station via Porchester Terrace North.

On the corner was an old bank with its name clearly visible. Further research revealed 'The National Bank' was established in London in 1835 to provide capital for Irish economic development. Initially an Irish bank, it expanded into England and Wales. By 1914 it had 150 branches of which 135 were in Ireland. In 1966 the bank's Irish business passed to the Bank of Ireland. The Irish and Welsh branches passed to the National Commercial Bank of Scotland to eventually become part of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The old bank looks as though it is part of a residential building now.

Hallfield Estate on Bishops Bridge Road was one of the largest and most ambitious housing schemes built in the capital in the immediate post war years. The scheme covered 17 acres providing housing for 2,362 people in six 10 storey blocks and eight 6 storey blocks. The estate was planned to include communal amenities such as garages, shops, laundries and schools.

Before I got back to the station, this statue caught my eye. mainly because it looked new and secondly because of the dates of the person it represents.  It is a statue of George Skanderberg  (1405-1468). On the plinth it says ' An invincible Albanian National hero, defender of Western Civilization'. The statue was erected in November 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of Albania's independence.

The next station on this line is Notting Hill Gate which I visited when I was doing the Central Line. For more information on that station click here