A Travellerspoint blog

EXPLORING KENSINGTON'S RACE-COURSE

During a search for traces of Kensington's former 'Hippodrome' racecourse in Notting Hill, many interesting sights were discovered and explored.

This piece is largely based on a walk that I made on the afternoon of the 13th of June 2017, when I strolled right past the Grenfell Tower housing block. That night, it was to become engulfed in flames. I dedicate this essay to the memory of all those people who perished, or otherwise suffered, because of this horrendously tragic disaster.

Ladbroke Square Garden

Ladbroke Square Garden

In the mid-eighteenth century, Richard Ladbroke (brother of the banker Robert Ladbroke) of Tadworth in Surrey acquired a huge plot of land, countryside, in Kensington (for detailed history, see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp194-200). After Richard, who was extremely wealthy, died, the so-called ‘Ladbroke Estate’ passed into the hands of James Weller Ladbroke. The latter kept the estate until his death in 1847. During the several decades that James owned the land, there was much building-work done on it, making the estate (a large part of Notting Hill) much as it is today. It was during his ownership of the land that the short-lived Hippodrome race course was laid out on an as yet unbuilt part of his estate.

Before 1836, the nearest horse-racing course to London was at Epsom Downs, where races had been held since 1661, or maybe earlier (see: http://epsom.thejockeyclub.co.uk/more-information/about). Epsom is about twenty miles from Trafalgar Square, several hours by horse and carriage. In 1836, Mr John Whyte took a twenty-one year lease on at least 140 acres of the then undeveloped part of the Ladbroke Estate. He built a race-course, the ‘Hippodrome’, which was far more easily accessible than Epsom to all Londoners. One problem that Whyte encountered, and it gave rise to a lot of trouble, was that a public footpath ran across his course, which, understandably, he wanted to surround by a fence. This trouble arose in the potteries and their surrounding slums, which were to the immediate west of the race-course. Despite this problem, racing began at the Hippodrome in June 1837. Because of continuing agitation by local protesters, a considerable police presence was required at race-meetings. At one point, in 1838, Whyte considered building a subway beneath his course to get around the footpath problem. In May 1842, after only thirteen race-meetings in five years, Whyte admitted failure, and relinquished the lease. For a short while, the race-course returned to being countryside, and then James Weller Ladbroke allowed building on it to commence with a vengeance (this simplified history extracted from: http://www.housmans.com/booklists/Entrance%20to%20Hipp%20Vague%2044.pdf).

In what follows, we shall explore the area around and upon the land, which was once the Hippodrome. To do this, it is necessary to know where the race-course was. Several detailed maps contemporary with the Hippodrome exist, but were drawn long before the present road layout existed. Superimposing the old maps with current ones is not easy, but it gives us a rough idea of where the former racecourse lay. However, given that almost all the landmarks drawn on the old maps have disappeared, some intelligent guesswork is required. In the description of my walk around the area, I will point out the possible (but not by any means certain) sites of places associated with the old Hippodrome. Let us begin near Holland Park, which was never part of the racecourse.

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station on the Central Line is housed in an attractive low building on Holland Park Avenue. It opened in 1900, and was one of several Central Line stations designed by Harry Bell Measures (1862-1940). The tops of the pilasters between the windows on the north side of the station are decorated with gargoyle-like sculpted faces.

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Almost opposite this side of the building, there is a tall building with distinctive chimneys, Lansdowne House on Lansdowne Road.

Lansdowne House

Lansdowne House

Lansdowne House was designed by architect William Flockhart (1852-1913), and built for the Australian millionaire Sir Edmund Davis (1861-1939), who lived at 9 Lansdowne Road (see: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/visitkensingtonandchelsea/seedo/people/blueplaques/recordsh-l/lansdownehouse.aspx). He was a mining financier and an art enthusiast. He built Lansdowne house, which contains six flats with two-storey artists’ studios and other amenities.

Artists who lived in Lansdowne House

Artists who lived in Lansdowne House

They attracted up-and-coming artists, a few of whom are named on the blue plaque attached to the building. None of their names mean anything to me.

Holland Park Avenue

Holland Park Avenue

Holland Park Avenue, a part of the old West Road running between London and Oxford, was developed in the nineteenth century. Lined with mature shady trees, this avenue runs alongside many fine buildings.

On  Holland Park Avenue

On Holland Park Avenue

A statue of the Ukranian Saint Volodmyr stands outside the Hotel Ravna Gora (named after one of several places with that name in the Balkans). Volodmyr ruled the Ukraine as king between 980 and 1015 AD.

St Volodmyr Holland Park Ave

St Volodmyr Holland Park Ave

His statue was put up in 1988 to celebrate St Volodmyr’s establishment of Christianity in the Ukraine in 988 AD. It was sculpted by the Ukrainian-born Leonid Molodoshanin (aka ‘Leo Mol’; 1915-2009).

The Benns lived here

The Benns lived here

Further up the hill, we reach the home of the late Anthony (‘Tony’) Benn (1925-2014) and his wife Caroline (née De Camp; 1926-2000). With its front door painted appropriately in red, this is where two active, intelligent socialists lived their last years. It is worth noting in passing that these leaders of the left in the UK lived in a valuable home in a very prosperous part of London. Almost opposite, but a little way uphill, is the house where the artist James McBey (1883-1959) lived in the 1930s. Its large studio windows face north to catch what many artists believe to be the best light for working.

Camden Hill Tower

Camden Hill Tower

Notting Hill Gate at the top end of Holland Park Avenue is dominated by a residential tower block, Campden Hill Towers. This unattractive building is, and has always been, privately owned, despite it looking as if it might once have been social housing. It was erected in the early 1960s, or, maybe, late 1950s. I remember visiting a schoolfriend who lived there sometime before 1965. Little did I know it then but my future wife and her family were also living in a flat there at the time. Then during my visit, I was particularly impressed that he lived in a two-storey apartment high above the ground. It was the first time I had ever seen a ‘duplex’ flat. The building is not the only eyesore in Notting Hill Gate. It competes in ugliness with nearby Newcombe House.

Notting Hill mural

Notting Hill mural

Just west of the Towers, there is a lovely mural in a narrow alleyway. This was painted by Barney McMahon in 1997 (see: http://www.tiredoflondontiredoflife.com/2014/05/see-notting-hills-barney-mcmahon-mural.html). The alleyway runs alongside Marks and Spencer’s food store, which was once the building that housed Damien Hirst’s original (in all senses of the word) Pharmacy Restaurant (now re-created and updated at the Newport Street Gallery, near Lambeth Palace).

The Coronet

The Coronet

Fortunately, the area has at least one lovely building, the former ‘Coronet Cinema’. This was designed as a theatre by WGR Sprague (1863-1933) who designed many of London’s theatres. It opened in 1908. By 1923, the Coronet had become a cinema, and remained so for many years. Apart from the screen, the fittings inside the auditorium were those of an unmodernised Edwardian theatre. Until smoking was banned in all public places, the Coronet was one of the last cinemas in London which permitted smoking (but only in the balcony seating). Between 2004 and 2014, the Coronet doubled up as both a branch of the Kensington Temple Church and, also, as a cinema. And, in 2015 the Coronet reverted to being used as a theatre, now called ‘The Print Room’. This theatre puts on interesting plays, which are well-produced.

In The Gate Cinema

In The Gate Cinema

Close to the Coronet, enclosed in an ugly modern building, is The Gate Cinema. Its beautiful old auditorium was converted in 1911 from a former Italian restaurant, which had been designed in 1861 by William Hancock. The foyer and the offices built over the cinema were built in 1962 by the architects Douton and Hurst. By now, you may be wondering what happened to the Hippodrome, which I promised you earlier on. Your patience will be rewarded soon.

Prince Albert pub

Prince Albert pub

The popular Prince Albert pub on Pembridge Road, where Kensington Park Road begins, has a small alternative theatre, ‘The Gate’, on its first floor. The early 19th century pub and its former brewery stood close to the beginning of a long footpath or track that led to the public entrance of the Hippodrome. This and the pub is recorded on maps drawn while the race-course was in existence. A green-painted wooden ‘cabmen’s shelter’, now used as a café, stands in the middle of Kensington Park Road close to the Prince Albert. This shelter is believed to be located very close to the spot where the path to the Hippodrome’s public entrance began. The path would have run in a northwest direction towards the course’s entrance.

Cabmen's Shelter Kensington Park Road

Cabmen's Shelter Kensington Park Road

Directly opposite the cabmen’s shelter, there is the Kensington Temple. This is a Pentecostal church, which was built originally as the ‘Horbury Chapel’ in 1849. Its neighbour on Ladbroke Grove is the Mercury Theatre (building erected in 1851). This was opened in 1933 by Ashley Dukes (1885-1959), who was deeply involved in theatre. The theatre, which put on plays until 1956, was also used by Duke’s wife the Polish-born ballet dancer and teacher Marie Rambert (1888-1982). It was the birthplace and home (until 1987) of her world-famous Ballet Rambert.

The Mercury Theatre

The Mercury Theatre

Kensington Park Road, which did not exist at the time of the Hippodrome, leads past Ladbroke Square with its huge private garden to the neo-classical St Peters Church designed by Thomas Allom (1804-1872). It was built 1855-57 when much of the Ladbroke Estate had been covered with houses.

St Peters Notting Hill

St Peters Notting Hill

The church stands opposite the short Stanley Gardens. Where the latter meets Stanley Crescent is close to where the public entrance to the Hippodrome is believed to have been.

Stanley Crescent seen from Stanley Gardens - approximate position of the public entrance to the Hippodrome

Stanley Crescent seen from Stanley Gardens - approximate position of the public entrance to the Hippodrome

Ladbroke Grove, just west of Stanley Crescent crosses much of what would have been the eastern part of the Hippodrome. The Grove rises from Holland Park Avenue to a summit close to St Johns Church, which was built on Hippodrome Land in 1845, very soon after the racecourse closed. It was designed in a gothic style by John Hargreaves Stevens and George Alexander.

St Johns Notting Hill

St Johns Notting Hill

St Johns interior

St Johns interior

It is widely believed that the hill upon which this church perches was the public grandstand from which the entire racecourse could be seen from above. Far below it, and on the far side of the course, roughly where Clarendon Road runs today, there was “… an enclosure for carriages of the Royal Family”. This is marked on a 1841 map of the Hippodrome. This map, published in the “Sporting Review” of 1841, shows the Hippodrome as having a common starting and finishing track that ran in a north-south direction, and three parallel loops that ran off it at its northern end to produce tracks varying in length from one to two miles.

It has been suggested to me that at least one of these loops (it would have to be the one mile loop) ran where the curved section of Lansdowne Road runs today. I cannot comment on this. The 1841 map shows a “Road to Stables” leading from what is now Holland Park Avenue into what is now either Pottery Lane or its close parallel Portland Road. “Hippodrome Stables” is marked between these two lanes on an 1860 map (see: http://www.theundergroundmap.com/map.html?item=1&id=956). This is close to the spots marked as “Judges Stand”, “Saddling Paddock and Stables”, and “Starting Post”, on the 1841 map.

Montpelier Gardens on Lansdowne Rise

Montpelier Gardens on Lansdowne Rise

Lansdowne Rise descends from the hill where the spectators used to stand towards Clarendon Road. It passes across a private garden named ‘Montpelier Garden’, which is probably growing on land that might well have been a part of the long straight stretch of the racecourse. The 1860 map marks the Rise as being then called ‘Montpelier Road’.

Clarendon Works brickworks, Clarendon Cross

Clarendon Works brickworks, Clarendon Cross

A red brick building on the short Clarendon Cross bears the name ‘Clarendon Works’. This was a Victorian brick-making factory. It has been tastefully converted into luxury apartments. Its location is not accidental, as you will soon discover. Clarendon Cross leads to a pleasant little intersection shaded by trees and surrounded by a few shops.

Clarendon Cross

Clarendon Cross

Hippodrome Place

Hippodrome Place

The continuation of Clarendon Cross is the very short Hippodrome Place. On the 1860 map, it was marked as “Clarendon Place”, but by 1900 it had acquired its present name.

Hippodrome Mews

Hippodrome Mews

It is very close to Hippodrome Mews, which apart from its name and being close to the site of the former Hippodrome but outside its bounds, displays no evidence of having been part of the Hippodrome.

Pottery Lane

Pottery Lane

Pottery Lane gets its name from the fact that it led to the potteries that ran alongside the western edge of the Hippodrome. There are two buildings of interest in the lane. One is the former ‘Earl of Zetland’ pub, which served drinkers between 1849 and 2009. It has now been converted for other purposes.

Earl of Zetland in  Pottery Lane

Earl of Zetland in Pottery Lane

Across the road from it is the Roman Catholic St Francis of Assisi Church. In the 1840s and the 1850s, the Roman Catholic population of west London increased greatly. This church was built in 1860 to address their spiritual needs.

St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi

During the second half of the nineteenth century and before, this part of Notting Hill close to the potteries (and some piggeries), known as ‘Notting Dale’, was very impoverished and the haunt of many people involved in unlawful activities. It was people from this area, who tried disrupting races on the Hippodrome because of the disputed footpath crossing it (see above). The church’s interesting website (see: http://www.stfrancisnottinghill.org.uk/history/) relates:
“During this period the ‘West London News’ reported that “If the church of St. Francis be of gloomy aspect, it certainly throws a gleam – a ray of hope – on the outside moral darkness in the midst of which it is situated.”
Although the outside of the neo-gothic church is not eye-catching, it is worth entering its peaceful small courtyard and the church itself.

Inside St Francis of Assisi

Inside St Francis of Assisi

Apart from a road name, nothing remains of the potteries and brickfields in the area except one solitary kiln on Walmer Road. A plaque attached to it describes it as a ‘bottle kiln’. It is shaped like the neck and top of a wine bottle. Although very few of these exist in London, another one can be seen at the Fulham Pottery next to Putney Bridge Underground Station.

Pottery kiln

Pottery kiln

Kiln plaque

Kiln plaque

Avondale Park is opposite the Kiln. The park was created in the 1890s on the site that had formerly been a fetid pool, an area filled with slurries from the nearby piggeries and Adams’ Brickfields (see: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/parks/avondale-park). The Adams family, who leased the land for their brickfields, also leased the 140 acre Portobello Farm located at the northern end of the present Portobello Road roughly south of Golborne Road. Incidentally, the name ‘Portobello’ commemorates Admiral Vernon’s victory over the Spanish in 1739 at the Battle of Porto Belo in Central America. It is ironic that today many Spanish people live in the Portobello area. Many of them were anti-fascist Spaniards escaping from General Franco. A monument to the Spanish Civil war in the form of a mural made in mosaic can be seen on Portobello Road under the Westway overhead bridge.

Avondale Park

Avondale Park

Avondale Park pavilion

Avondale Park pavilion

Avondale park contains a series of circular wood-clad buildings that look like inverted cones, and are linked together by a lovely curved, flat roof. These round structures, which comprise a ‘pavilion’, contain lavatories and storage rooms. They were designed by Mangera Yvars Architects in 2010, and then built shortly afterwards. In 2009, gardeners working on the deep roots of a tree stumbled across a long-forgotten WW2 bunker under the park. It would have been able to accommodate about 200 people, but few locals remember its existence (for full story, see: https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/secrets-of-avondale-park/).

Kensington Leisure Centre

Kensington Leisure Centre

Walmer Road leads north to the beautiful new Kensington Leisure Centre on the east side of Lancaster Green. This building, which covered externally with multiple, parallel, slender, vertical concrete slabs was opened in 2015, is very pleasing to the eye. It was designed by LA Architects (of East Sussex).

Old foundation stone near Kensington Leisure Centre

Old foundation stone near Kensington Leisure Centre

Close to the buildings in the grassy Lancaster Green, there is an old piece of masonry, a foundation stone for a former Kensington ‘Public Baths and Wash-Houses’ that was laid in 1886. These baths used to stand close to the newly built centre.

Kensington Aldridge Academy

Kensington Aldridge Academy

Notting Hill Methodist Church

Notting Hill Methodist Church

Near to the Leisure Centre, stands another new, colourful building, a school: the Kensington Aldridge Academy. This is a coeducational state secondary school sponsored by the Aldridge Foundation. It has been in existence since 2014. Its building was designed by London-based Studio E Architects. Close to this, stands Notting Hill Methodist Church. Its single slender tower recalls the appearance of minarets. It was built between 1878 and 1879.

Grenfell Tower, destroyed by fire on 16 June 2016

Grenfell Tower, destroyed by fire on 16 June 2016

The church, the Academy, and the Leisure Centre, all stand in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, a twenty-four storey residential tower block erected between 1972 and ’74. When I was taking photographs of the Leisure Centre on the afternoon of Tuesday the 13th of June 2017, I barely noticed the block which I was standing in front of. It was just another unexceptional tower block that I thought was not worthy of my attention. That night, it and many of its inhabitants were destroyed by fire that rapidly engulfed it. It is not yet known how many people have perished in the inferno – maybe, we will never know. It has left hundreds of people homeless, bereft of all their material possessions, and mourning for their neighbours and loved ones. The cause of the conflagration and the resulting disaster, which falls into the same category of tragedy as the ‘Twin Towers’ disaster in New York City, has yet to be determined. Now, all that remains of the building is a blackened concrete skeleton. I hope that none of the local schoolchildren I watched entering the Leisure Centre that fateful Tuesday afternoon have become victims of the fire.

Bramley Road: 'new' WALMER HOUSE

Bramley Road: 'new' WALMER HOUSE

West of the disaster area, we reach Bramley Road. Just after it passes under the elevated Westway, one of Europe’s earliest elevated highways – a modern race-track that crosses part of the former Hippodrome, we come across Walmer House. This ageing brick-built block of flats stands a little to the west of a now demolished Walmer House that used to stand on the western stretch of Walmer Road. The older Walmer House, the former Episcopal Palace of the Bishop of Norwich, is marked on a 1900 map as “Jews Deaf and Dumb Home”. This was founded in 1863 in Bloomsbury (see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/institutions/jews_deaf_and_dumb_home.htm) by Baroness Mayer de Rothschild. Its purpose was to teach deaf and dumb resident Jewish children to speak. The school moved to the Walmer House in Walmer Road in 1875, and then to Nightingale Lane (Balham) in 1899. It closed in 1965.

Derelict house Bramley Road

Derelict house Bramley Road

Just before Bramley Road becomes St Helen’s Gardens, there is a dilapidated house set back from the road next to Robinson House. It bears a crest with the letters “W” or “H” and “R” and the date 1894. According to Dave Walker, a historian at Kensington Central Library, this has been used as a garage and for light industrial purposes over the years since the beginning of the twentieth century. It stands just south of the probable southern boundary of the northern section of the long-gone Hippodrome racetrack.

Scampston Mews

Scampston Mews

St Helens Gardens rises gently in an almost northerly direction, crossing what was once the north-western section of the Hippodrome. Scampston Mews, which is close to the southern end of this road, is built on land that was part of the Hippodrome. The mews are not shown as existing on a detailed 1860 map, but they do appear on a 1900 map.

St Helens Church

St Helens Church

The mainly gothic, brick St Helens Church at the top of St Helens Gardens was rebuilt in 1956 (architect: JS Sebastian Comper) on the site of an earlier church, built in 1884 and destroyed during WW2. It stood close to the former Notting Barn Farm, which shared its southern boundary with the northern boundary of the Hippodrome. The farm, which certainly existed in the 18th century and was close to Portobello Farm to its east, disappeared from maps, leaving no material trace, in the 1880s (see: https://northkensingtonhistories.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/the-st-quintin-park-estate/).

The Garden next to Latymer Road Station

The Garden next to Latymer Road Station

Retracing our steps down St Helen’s Gardens and Bramley Road, we reach Latymer Road Underground Station. It opened in 1868. Oddly, it is nowhere near to Latimer Road. It is almost half a mile south of any road named ‘Latimer’. However, when it was built, it was much closer, as I will explain soon. While at the station, you should enter the nearby ‘Garden Bar and Café’, which is housed in a former pub, the ‘Station Hotel’, which has been in existence since the 1860s. The Café, which is owned by an Albanian friend of mine, serves excellent Mediterranean food, which may be eaten inside or in a lovely sheltered back garden.

Lockton Street doorway

Lockton Street doorway

A narrow lane, Lockton Street, connects Bramley Road with nearby Freston Road. On one side, Lockton Street is lined by railway arches, and on the other by newly built apartment blocks with attractive street entrance gates.

Former Holy Trinity Church Freston Rd 1887

Former Holy Trinity Church Freston Rd 1887

Freston Road used to be called ‘Latimer Road’, and therefore the station near it was aptly named. Walking northwards along Freston Road, one cannot miss a large red brick neo-gothic building, which has housed ‘The Harrow Club’ since 1967. This used to be the Holy Trinity Church, which was built to the designs of R Norman Shaw (1831-1912), architect of the first ‘New Scotland Yard’) between 1887 and 1889.

Former Latymer Road School Freston Street 1879

Former Latymer Road School Freston Street 1879

Further north on the eastern side of Freston Road, stands the former ‘Latymer Road School’, a massive brick building with roof gables. This was built in 1880 by the school board. Now, it is used as a ‘pupil support centre’.

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. Eton fives courts

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. Eton fives courts

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. An Eton fives court

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. An Eton fives court

Just beyond the school, Freston Road ends and becomes a footpath that winds its way between public sporting facilities. Amongst the tennis courts and other parts of the Westway Fitness Centre, there is a row of four Eton Fives courts, such as we had at my (private) secondary school in Highgate. Originally an elitist game, the Centre is making attempts to popularise this sport, which very faintly resembles squash except that the ball is hit with gloved hands.

Under Westway / A3220 interchange

Under Westway / A3220 interchange

The footpath then passes under the curving concrete bridges that carry the overhead roads which connect the Westway with the West Cross Route, which carries traffic south to the Shepherds Bush roundabout. Eventually, the path emerges north of Westway close to the former Latimer Arms Pub, which closed in the 1990s. It was already open for business in the early 1870s (see: http://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/Kensington/LatimerArms.shtml).

Former Latimer Arms pub

Former Latimer Arms pub

Under Westway / A3220 interchange: Travellers' site, Stable Way

Under Westway / A3220 interchange: Travellers' site, Stable Way

The beginning of Stable Way is near the former pub. It leads in a southwards direction, threading its way beneath the road bridges and between car repair workshops with many derelict vehicles. At its southern end is the Westway Traveller Site. This was built in 1976 (see: http://www.travellermovement.org.uk/pavee/images/pdfs/my_site_westway.pdf) to replace an unauthorised site that had been favoured mostly by Irish gypsies and ‘Travellers’ for centuries. Now, it is exclusively occupied by Irish Travellers. In 1981, the Travellers took Kensington and Chelsea Council to court to try to prove the unsuitability of the site, being as it is, surrounded by vehicles emitting noxious exhaust fumes. The Council won.

Former Bramley Arms

Former Bramley Arms

Retracing our steps, we return to Freston Road. Where this road meets Bramley road at a sharp angle, stands the ‘Bramley Arms’, a former pub. This nineteenth century pub, which closed in the 1980s, was used as a location in the films “The Lavender Hill Mob” and “Quadrophenia” (see: http://www.closedpubs.co.uk/london/w10_northkensington_bramleyarms.html). It is now used for housing. Further down the road, we reach a large red brick building bearing large notices, one inset in the brickwork and another in colourful mosaic, that inform the viewer that this was once ‘The People’s Hall’.

The Peoples Hall

The Peoples Hall

Opened in 1901,it assumed great significance in 1977 (see below). A part of it is on Olaf Street. This houses the newly opened “Frestonian Gallery”, which displays contemporary art. A friend of ours who works there invited us to its recent inauguration. This led to my interest in the People’s Hall.

The name of the new gallery commemorates an extraordinary incident comparable to that portrayed in the 1949 film “Passport to Pimlico”, in which the Pimlico area of London declared independence. This happened for real in Freston Road in 1977. By this date, the area around Freston Road had deteriorated significantly, and the Greater London Council (‘GLC’) wanted to evacuate its inhabitants to redevelop it. As a local resident, Tony Sleep put it:
“The GLC decided that it was intolerable having 120 people living in these damp old dirty houses and it would be a much better idea to knock them all down and make us homeless…” (see the fascinating and informative website: http://www.frestonia.org/).
Under the leadership of Tony Albery and other social activists, it was decided that the 120 residents (many of them squatters who had moved into almost derelict buildings that had been neglected by the GLC prior to redeveloping the area) living in the 1.8 acre plot around Freston Road should declare the area a republic independent of the UK. The republic was named ‘Frestonia’, and its inhabitants, who all added the suffix ‘-Bramley’ to their own surnames, were called ‘Frestonians’. In addition to applying (without success) for membership of the United Nations, Frestonia issued its own postage stamps, and created a stamp for marking visitors’ passports. The People’s Hall briefly became a National Film Theatre of Frestonia (see: https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/frestonia-the-past-is-another-country/).

Frestonia attracted attention of the press both inside and outside the UK. The Republic staggered on for about five years. The actions of the Frestonians were not ignored by the GLC, who ultimately re-developed the area in such a way as not to overly disrupt the old community. The People’s Hall is the only tangible remnant of the short-lived republic.

Corner of Wilsham Street and St Anns Road

Corner of Wilsham Street and St Anns Road

The final stretch of this begins on St Anns Road, which later becomes ‘St Anns Villas’. At the corner of this road and Wilsham Street, there is a flat-roofed terrace of buildings. Formerly known as ‘St Katherine’s Road’, Wilsham Street and others parallel to it lead to the former potteries described above. This street appears on an 1860 map, made at a time when there were still brickfields a few streets north of it. Charles Booth’s late nineteenth century ‘poverty map’ (see: https://booth.lse.ac.uk/) shows that the western half of the street was “Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family”, whilst the eastern half, closest to the former potteries, was “Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.” Well, all of that has changed. While I cannot vouch for the behaviour of the present inhabitants, I can safely say that they are not poor.

St James Church

St James Church

St James Gardens, one street down from Wilsham Street, contains a rectangular garden in which the neo-gothic Victorian St James Church (built 1845) stands. On Booth’s map, these streets, which neighbour a poor area, are marked as “Middle class. Well-to-do.” Here, as in so many parts of London, the rich live(d) cheek-by-jowl with the poor.

Holland Park Synagogue

Holland Park Synagogue

The Holland Park Synagogue is also on St James Gardens. This was built in 1928 (see: http://hollandparksynagogue.com/about/history/) inspired by the design of the much older Bevis Marks Synagogue. Its congregation was founded by Sephardic Jews who arrived in London from the Ottoman Empire.

Tabernacle School St Anns Villas

Tabernacle School St Anns Villas

The Tabernacle School neighbours the synagogue. The school is housed in a spectacular crenelated brick and white stone mock-Tudor building, similar to many of those that line St Anns Villas. A plaque on another similarly designed villa records that the music-hall comedian Albert Chevalier (1861-1923) lived there. Born Albert Onésime Britannicus Gwathveoyd Louis Chevalier in the prosperous St Ann Villas, son of a French teacher, this son of the bourgeoisie specialised in cockney-related humour.

St Ann Villas

St Ann Villas

The present school and the other villas were built in the 1840s above the line of an improved sewer that was built in the late 1830s. This sewer follows the course of an older sewer, The Counter’s Creek Sewer’, which in turn followed the course of one of London’s ‘Lost Rivers’, Counters Creek, which used to flow from west of Kensal Green to the Thames, which it enters as ‘Chelsea Creek’. Counter’s Creek is marked on an 1841 map as running alongside the western edge of the northern part of the Hippodrome. Further south, it ran along what is now Freston Street before following a course approximately where St Anns Road and Villas run.

The Organ Factory

The Organ Factory

St James Gardens crosses St Anns Villas to become ‘Swanscombe Road’. A small Victorian building, now converted to housing, carries the name that commemorates its former use, the ‘Organ Factory’. Queensdale Road, which runs parallel to, and south of, Swanscombe Road, is the home of a Sikh temple, the ‘Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London’.

Gurdwara Sikh Temple

Gurdwara Sikh Temple

The Khalsa Jatha was founded in London in 1908 “…to promote religious and social activities among the Sikhs who had settled in the UK. Later in the same year it was affiliated to the Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar” (see: http://www.centralgurdwara.org.uk/history.htm). Initially based in Putney, it then moved to Shepherds Bush, before reaching its present site in 1969.

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

At its southern end, St Ann Villas meets one of London’s answers to the Regency crescents in Bath: Royal Crescent. Now slightly shabby in appearance, this crescent was laid out by Robert Cantwell (c. 1793-1859) in 1846. Cantwell was responsible for much of the building development on the Norland Estate, which includes the Crescent.

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

Garden of Royal Crescent

Garden of Royal Crescent

Unlike the crescents in Bath, Royal Crescent is made up of two quarter circle terraces, separated by St Anns Villas. The terraces surround a beautifully laid out private gardens, which can be seen easily from various places along its cast-iron fencing. In the middle of the Holland Park Avenue boundary of the gardens, there is a stone public drinking fountain (no longer working). This was paid for by Miss Mary Cray Ratray of 41 Tavistock Square to perpetuate her memory. She died in 1875.

Drinking fountain Royal Crescent

Drinking fountain Royal Crescent

Just south of the Crescent, there is a wide, traffic-free street, almost a piazza, called ‘Norland Road’. This was developed in the 1840s, and as its name suggests it was part of the Norland Estate, its westernmost border. From its southern end, there is a fine view of the ‘Thames Water Ring Main Tower’, which was erected by Thames Water in 1994. Clad in a transparent material, this futuristic object in the middle of a busy roundabout, was designed by reForm Architects (London). Its purpose is to house a ‘surge pipe’ on London’s Thames Water Ring Main, which carries potable water from water treatment plants to the city’s inhabitants. It is here that I will conclude my tour.

Shepherds Bush water tower

Shepherds Bush water tower

By trying to track down the few barely tangible memories of Notting Hill’s short-lived Hippodrome racecourse, I have seen many sights that bear testimony to the history of a fascinating part of west London. Notting Hill has had a diverse history: from its rustic origins to more recent events, including , most recently, the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower.

AVONDALE PARK GATES

AVONDALE PARK GATES

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 02:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london ukrainian travellers synagogue kensington jews sikhs racecourse hippodrome gypsies notting_hill horse-racing frestonia grenfell_tower

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Comments

I was so shocked when I heard about that fire. Such a needless tragedy.

All the best,

Irene

by irenevt

A very thoughtful dedication of another great review.

by Wabat

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