Notting Hell

‘The Ocean’ pit and the pottery field were acquired from the Adams family and the area was landscaped by ‘private munificence’ into a recreation ground and gardens featuring a mortuary chapel. Then the Vestry named it Avondale Park, in honour of the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, Albert Victor, the son and heir of the future king Edward VII (then the Prince of Wales).

In 1893 the surrounding Notting Dale slum area was described in the Daily News as a ‘West End Avernus’, after Lake Avernus, the entrance to hell in classical mythology. Turner’s painting of Lake Avernus at the mouth of the underworld, which inspired JG Frazer’s ritual study ‘The Golden Bough’, depicts Virgil’s tale of Aeneas visiting the grotto of the Sybil in the bay of Naples. She says: ‘Take my counsel then securely go; a mighty tree that bears a golden bough grows in a vale surrounded by a grove, and sacred to the queen of Stygian Jove, her netherworld no mortals can behold, till from the bough they strip the blooming gold.’

The Daily News (which was founded by Dickens and Chesterton was a contributor) illustrated a season in Notting Hell with drawings by the Strand magazine’s H Robinson of a tinkering gypsy, children queuing at a soup kitchen and an old man sitting in a chair on his doorstep. The sketches were captioned: ‘In the avernus of Notting Dale, the area around Pottery Lane and surrounding streets, a few gipsies still lingered with their vans and tinkers yards, children often depended on charity soup kitchens for their one hot meal of the day and old men, dying of consumption, sat out on chairs at their doors.’

The report concluded on Bangor, Crescent and Kenley Streets and St Catherine’s Road, that there was nothing ‘more hopelessly degraded and abandoned than life in those wretched places.’ Some years before the birth of Peter Rachman, the process of Rachmanism was already at work in Notting Hill with large properties intended for middle class families converted into common lodging houses. Especially in the case of Bangor and Crescent, in Florence Gladstone’s words, ‘whole streets were not inhabited by the class of people for whom they were designed.’

A London City Mission report in 1891 of 300 ‘fallen women’ around Bangor Street led to more bad press in which the area was called ‘a disgrace to Christianity and civilisation.’

In the wake of the 1893 Daily News coverage, reporting several brothels in the area – backed up by the vicars of St Clement’s and St James’s, the chairman of the Vestry Works and Sanitation committee, George Nelson Watts, wrote to the editor complaining about the ‘assumption that the Vestry of Kensington are indifferent to the state of the poor people inhabiting what is known as the Potteries district, Notting Dale.’

The Vestry blamed the ‘schemes carried out by the late Metropolitan Board of Works under the powers conferred by the Artisans and Labourers’ Dwellings Act’, for attracting ‘many of the waifs and strays of people driven from other districts’; along with ‘the vicious proclivities and evil habits… of constant recurrence in houses occupied by the lowest classes… largely brought about by the dirty and careless or mischievous habits of the people themselves.’

After a public meeting and site inspection, the Vestry sanitation committee found ‘no evidence in support of the allegations that many of the houses are ‘brothels of the lowest kinds.’ That many unfortunate women reside in the area would appear to be certain, but that they ply their trade to any large extent ‘at home’ is to say the least of it doubtful.’

Florence Gladstone stated that greater than ‘the evil of these licensed lodging houses’, accommodating over 700 people at 4 to 6d a night, was ‘that of the furnished rooms let from the evening until 10 the next morning at 10d or a shilling a night.’

In ‘Some Kensington Problems’, Agnes Alexander added that where ‘the street doors are open day and night inevitably leads to moral shipwreck.’ As Kenley Street (the formerly respectable William Street) became renowned as Notting Hill’s first red light district in the early 20th century, the Michael Palinesque urban missionary CS Donald observed: ‘The inflow of certain submerged and criminal types mostly concentrated in streets of furnished rooms which were often alive with vermin. Disorderly houses were not infrequent. Dissolute half-clad girls smoking in lice-ridden rooms are not pretty sights, which I have seen when visiting. The latter end of the lower class prostitute is pitiable. They disappear into the abyss or become toothless old hags. As (Charles) Booth says, it is the only profession where novices get the highest pay.’

At the end of the 19th century, Edward Walford summed up Notting Hill in ‘Old and New London’: ‘As soon as ever we quit the precincts of Kensington proper, and cross the Uxbridge Road (Holland Park Avenue), we become painfully conscious of change. We have left the ‘Old Court Suburb’, and find ourselves in one that is neither ‘old’ nor ‘court-like’. The roadway, with its small shops on either side, is narrow and unattractive, and the dwellings are not old enough to have a history or to afford shelter for an anecdote. About the centre of this thoroughfare, at the spot whence omnibuses are continually starting on the journey eastwards towards the City, stood till about the year 1850, a small and rather picturesque turnpike-gate, which commanded not only the road towards Notting Hill and Shepherd’s Bush but also that which branches off to the north and north-east in the direction of the Grove of Westbourne. What rural ideas and pictures arise before our mental eye as we mention Notting – possibly Nutting – Hill, and the Shepherd’s Bush and Westbourne Grove! We fear that the nuts, and the shepherds, and the nightingales which, so lately as the reign of William IV, sang sweetly here in the summer nights, are now, each and all, things of the past.’

Walford concluded that ‘much of the district through which we are about to pass bore rather a bad character for thieves and housebreakers, and was somewhat noted for its piggeries and potteries, but these have all been swept away by the advancing tide of bricks and mortar.’

Oxhey Lane, WD19

The road connected Oxhey and Hatch End. Midway along, Carpenders Park Farm was formerly the location of Braziers Dairy. Oxhey Lane was a narrow winding lane until widened in 1937.

Little Carpenders, along the lane, dates from around the 1860s and may have been the Estate Agent’s house for the ’Carpenders Estate’.

Before the South Oxhey (Carpenders Park) estate was built, the Oxhey Hall Estate was built in the 1930s in the lands to the west of Oxhey Lane as an example of “Metroland” architecture.

In the mid 1930s, Carpenders Park station was simply a halt for golfers using Oxhey Hall Golf Course. Bungalows and a few houses were built around it and Carpenders Avenue came into being; other roads spread out from it.

After the Second World War, South Oxhey Estate was built by London County Council between the railway line and Oxhey Woods. The land had formerly been part of the extensive Blackwells’ estate (of Crosse and Blackwell fame)at Oxhey Place.

By 1951, a report on the estate lamented the lack of a community and warned of the development of an “appalling, soulless situation, a source of persistent unhappiness, suffering and discontent”. By 1952, 17 000 people were living in South Oxhey.

South Oxhey was originally managed by the London County Council. In 1980 the ownership and management of the estate was transferred from the GLC to Three Rivers District Council.

After the introduction of the 1980 ’Right To Buy’ policy, many South Oxhey residents bought their homes from the local council. By 2007, some 70% of houses on the estate were privately owned. The estate was built after the Second World War to help alleviate the housing pressures thrust upon London during the Blitz as well as general inadequate housing.

Following changes to financial regulations in 2008, the remaining social housing was transferred to Thrive Homes housing association.

Oxhey Place burnt down in 1960. Oxhey Chapel, dating from 1612, is still standing to the south of the parish church of All Saints. All Saints church opened in 1954 to serve the new estate. The church was demolished and rebuilt in 2000.

Oliphant Street, W10

The Manor and Parish of Chelsea owned an enclave – covering Kensal Town and Queen’s Park – until 1901 when it was divided between Kensington and Paddington. Kensal Town went to the former and the other side of the Harrow Road to the latter.

The north section was developed in 1875 by the Artizans, Labourers & General Dwellings Company, who were the landlords until 1964. The north-south streets of their grid were numbered 1-6 and euphemistically entitled ’avenues’ : First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The remaining streets were simply labelled A Street through to O Street.

Eight years later it was decided that even artisans and labourers deserved a little better. A became Alperton, after the Company’s brickyard in Middlesex, and was followed by Barfett, Caird, Droop (after H R. Droop, Artizans, Labourers & General Dwellings Company Director 1877-1883), Enbrook, Farrant (Sir Richard Farrant, Director 1877-1906), Galton (probably in honour of Sir Francis Galton, the anthropologist), Huxley (probably the scientist), Ilbert, Kilravock, Lothrop, Marne, Nutbourne and Oliphant, all retaining their original initial. The last of the Kensal Town fields was developed by the United Land Company, who magnanimously gave slum dwellers a taste of culture in the names Beethoven and Mozart Streets, and probably named Herries Street rather ironically after the Rt Hon John Herries, a member of the Victorian Commission for Improving the Metropolis.

Baths and Clubs

In the wake of further sanitation campaigns, the Kensington Baths and Washhouse was finally established at the junction of Silchester Road and Lancaster Road in 1888. By then the Latimer Road Board School was catering for over 1,000 pupils, after the original Ragged School opened in the 1860s for 100. Notting Dale also hosted the Blechynden Street Ragged School known as ‘Brown’s School’, the Crescent Street Hall School, and St Clement’s National School, nicknamed ‘The Penny Board School’, which became the Sirdar Road LCC School. The first pupils of the latter, who were reputedly bribed to attend with sweets, were described as ‘extraordinarily rough, ragged and undisciplined.’ The Salvation Army Hall on Portobello Road was originally another Ragged School, superseded in 1876 by the Notting Hill Board School on Portobello and Lancaster Road, which became the Portobello, North Kensington and Isaac Newton School, a course centre then a private school. Colville School on Portobello and Lonsdale Road began as Buckingham Terrace School in 1879 to cater for the Bolton Mews slum kids.

The Harrow School Mission was founded on Latimer (now Freston) Road in 1884 by old boys of the Harrow public school, and then the Rugby boys’ club was set up on Walmer Road by the Rugby public school old boy Arthur Walrond in 1887. On Kensal Road the Cobden Working Men’s Club and Institute was named in honour of Richard Cobden, the early 19th century anti-corn law campaigner. Queen’s Park Rangers football club was founded by the merger of the Ladbroke Grove Christ Church Rangers and St Jude’s Institute teams; the Christ Church was on the site of the adventure playground and now the fire station. In Powis Square Lord Shaftesbury, the Tory social reformer who brought about the end of child labour, laid the foundation stone of the Tabernacle (which replaced the original tin Talbot Tabernacle) and opened the lecture hall in 1888. Lord Shaftesbury reported to the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes that ‘many of the suburbs are now being overcrowded just like the centre of London; for instance, Notting Hill is beginning to be overcrowded like the worst parts of London, and it is very hard indeed upon those populations, because these people come down into districts where the demand for labour is not very great, and make the demand for labour so very little that they are half starved.’

Turk’s Head, E1W

It was situated beside Union Stairs and had the grim task assigned to it of briefly hosting prisoners on their journey to Execution Dock. They would be allowed one quart of ale before departure.

Its address was 30 Wapping High Street (at number 326 on the same street before Victorian renumbering).

Its rather un-PC name derives from many such names coined during the Crusades. Any pub called ‘The Turk’s Head’ or ‘The Saracen’s Head’ is a reference to that period.

It had a dining room by 1940 but the pub was destroyed in the Blitz.

Abbotsbury Road, W14

Abbotsbury Road takes its name from one of the Dorset estates of the Earl of Ilchester. It is exclusively residential.

It is a wide tree-lined street and most houses have off street parking – some with their own garages. The road has humps in it to slow down the traffic. Traffic can go both ways. The south end is very close to the shops in Kensington High Street, and the north end to the shops in Holland Park Avenue. Holland Park itself is next to the road.

Work began in the early years of the 20th century, but only Nos. 3-9 odd, and 8-10 and 24-28 (even) were built before the Second World War.

During the 1960s houses and blocks were built on the west side of Abbotsbury Road. These include Abbotsbury House, a 10-storey block of flats, and Abbotsbury Close, a series of small crescents with houses and landscaped gardens, designed by Stone Toms and Partners and built by Wates Builders.

The brick houses are fairly uniform in appearance. Most have small front gardens or yards, and decent sized rear gardens. Some are terraced, and some are semi-detached.

Many of the houses have wooden shutters on either side of the main windows, which are painted white.

Some of the houses overlook the large garden at the rear of the Peacock House in Addison Road and many at the front, have a good view of Holland Park over the road.

Victoria Embankment, EC4Y

The Victoria Embankment was primarily designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette with architectural work on the embankment wall and river stairs by Charles Henry Driver. Started in 1862, it incorporates the main low level interceptor sewer and the underground District Line over which a wide road and riverside walkway were built. In total, Bazalgette’s scheme reclaimed 22 acres of land from the river. It prevented flooding, such as around what had been the remnants of Thorney Island (Westminster).

Much of the granite used in the projects was brought from Lamorna Cove in Cornwall.

The named named Victoria Embankment runs from the Houses of Parliament to Blackfriars Bridge. It incorporates gardens and open space collectively known as the Embankment Gardens.

Some parts of the Embankment were rebuilt in the 20th century due to wartime bomb damage or natural disasters such as the 1928 Thames flood.

Carmelite Street, EC4Y

Carmelite Street is a very narrow road and runs down a slope to its south end, where it meets the Victoria Embankment. Named in 1901, it commemorates the old foundation of the Carmelite or Whitefriars monastery here. Before 1901, it had been an extension of Whitefriars Street but was wharfland until the 1860s.

The street seems to have begun as an alley to serve ship berthings which by the 1860s had been repurposed to lead to the new Sir Joseph Bazalgette-designed Victoria Embankment.

The buildings which now stand on Carmelite Street were mostly constructed after the Second World War. There are also some very old buildings such as The Harrow, a public house said to have been frequented by Evening News reporters.

Founded by a City merchant, William Ward, in 1881, the City of London School for Girls opened in Carmelite Street in 1894 at a time when there was so little faith in academic education for girls that the building was designed so that it could be turned into offices, should the project fail. The flourishing school moved to the Barbican in 1969.

Speaking of offices, Carmelite Street was for many years the home of Associated Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Daily Mail and the London Evening News.

The offices of the Evening News had been situated in Whitefriars Street between 1882 and 1902. In 1902 the newspaper relocated to Carmelite House (originally known as Harmsworth Buildings and built in 1898) on the corner of Carmelite Street and Tallis Street, where it remained for several decades.

In 1936, a new purpose-built building opened next door to Carmelite House and extending down to the Victoria Embankment. This was called New Carmelite House and was used to expand the offices and printing presses of the Daily Mail and other Associated Newspapers publications.

The two buildings were joined together on every floor, though the forty-year gap between their construction dates resulted in the two being architecturally very different.

On a corner almost directly opposite the Harrow pub is Northcliffe House, the construction of which was completed in 1927.

Northcliffe House was purpose-built to contain the new offices of the Daily Mail (previously in Carmelite House). It was named after Lord Northcliffe who died in 1922. In the years following the Second World War, the offices of the Evening News were located (with the Daily Mail) in Northcliffe House.

In 1988, Associated Newspapers moved their headquarters to Kensington.

Northcliffe House had been built on the historic site of the old Whitefriars Glass Works, which had occupied the space for over two hundred years. Prior to that, the corner on which Northcliffe House stands was the site of a monastery built by the White Friars, or Carmelites, who came to London during the reign of Edward I.

Around the year 1150, at the time of the Crusades, a small group of Christians founded a new religious order on Mount Carmel in Palestine. The Carmelite order grew, and began to spread to Europe, before being forced to flee the Holy Land when Acre fell to the Mamluk Army in 1291. A small group of Carmelites reached England in 1242. Eventually some 40 Carmelite communities were established across Britain, where, because on formal occasions they wore white mantels over their brown habits, they became known as the White Friars.

In 1538, the friary was dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII. The land was given to the Royal Physician, Sir William Butts. Butts died in 1547 and the friary area fell into disrepair.In the absence of the White Friars, no one was really sure who was responsible for the area of their old friary. The new inhabitants successfully claimed it to be outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and founded Alsatia, the story of which is told elsewhere.

Gloucester Road

Gloucester Road – the street – runs north-south between Kensington Gardens (at which point it is known as Palace Gate) and the Old Brompton Road at the south end. At its intersection with Cromwell Road is Gloucester Road tube station, close to which there are several pubs, restaurants, many hotels and St. Stephen’s Church (built in 1867 and, notably, the church warden of which was the poet T. S. Eliot).

The road is named after Maria, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh who built a house there in 1805. It was earlier called Hog Moore Lane (1612), that is ’lane through marshy ground where hogs are kept’, a name that was still used until about 1850.

Gloucester Road is the residence (25B Froxbury Court) of the fictional barrister Horace Rumpole of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey series of short stories.

Gloucester Road underground station is in two parts: sub-surface platforms, opened in 1868 by the Metropolitan Railway as part of the company’s extension of the Inner Circle route from Paddington to South Kensington and to Westminster, and deep-level platforms opened in 1906 by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. A variety of underground and mainline services have operated over the sub-surface tracks. The deep-level platforms have remained largely unaltered. A disused sub-surface platform features periodic art installations as part of Transport for London’s Art on the Underground scheme.

Abbeville Road, SW4

The earliest settlement of Clapham was centred around present day North Street, Turret Grove and Rectory Grove. The land surrounding Clapham Common remained undeveloped and covered with farmland until the late 17th century, at which point the village began to expand towards the Common.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, large individual villas and houses lined Clapham Common Southside, set within extensive grounds – for example, The Clock House and Eagle House which can be seen on Stanford map of 1860. This land remained virtually undeveloped until 1875 when Clock House Farm was sold and the most southerly portion of Abbeville Road, close to the junction with Cavendish Road, was laid out.

Development along Abbeville Road and on its surrounding streets gathered pace during the last decades of the 19th century as more of the large mansions lining Clapham Common were demolished and their land sold off.

Locally Hambalt Road, Narbonne Avenue and Shandon Road were laid out and lined with terraced housing during the 1880s.

This area of Clapham was developed as part of the general speculative housing boom which was taking place throughout London. Demand for suburban housing was fuelled by a general population increase between 1840 and 1914, with new housing development offering the burgeoning and aspiring middle classes the opportunity to escape the built up squalor of inner London and establish themselves in new houses designed for single family occupation.

Encouraging these changes was the expansion of the public transport network, facilitating the development of housing in parts of South London which were relatively untouched.

Whilst the introduction of bus services and the annual of the railway in 1863 enhanced links between Clapham and central London, it was the widespread availability of horse-drawn trams from the early 1870s onwards that facilitated a daily commute and sparked the speculative building boom in this area.

The west side of Abbeville Road was developed during the only 1890s, with the terraces on its eastern side following in 1894 and 1895.

These commercial terraces were built speculatively as a local shopping parade to service the adjacent residential streets with development undertaken on a piecemeal basis. Individual builders developed a small number of plots at any one time accounting for their varied appearances.