Kensal Road before Trellick Tower

Kensal Road looking west Oct 1967 (RBK&C Local Studies).

Kensal Road looking west Oct 1967 (RBK&C Local Studies).

I lived in Kensal Road from when I was born in 1953 until 1966, for two years at number 87 and eleven years at number 89, so it might seem like a world class act of procrastination that I didn’t get round to going back until December last year. Actually, it wasn’t procrastination. As we were moving to Croydon in 1966, I made a conscious decision that it was going to be impossible to maintain my old friendships and, a few years later, I heard that everything I knew between the canal and the railway had been bulldozed so there seemed no point in going back although I got as close as Harrow and Portobello Roads on several occasions.

First impressions were that Westbourne Park station had hardly changed apart from the loss of its kiosk, ticket collector’s box and old style ticket machines and the walk along the Great Western Road towards the canal bridge hasn’t changed ignoring the new bus station on the other side of the road. However, after that junction, Kensal Road bore right down the hill following the line of the canal and, today, the new, well new to me, Elkstone Road bears to the left joining Golborne Road at the old junction with Southam Street. Second impressions were that distances seemed to have shrunk in the last fifty years.

Number 89 was on the left about fifty yards before the old junction with Golborne Road exactly where Trellick Tower now stands. A four storey terraced house like most of the houses in the area, we lived on the ground floor, which was slightly higher than road level.  Both number 87 and 89 were owned by a nervous looking Polish man, Mr Sohacki, who was apparently an officer in one of the Polish divisions in the Eighth Army. More of that later. His nervousness always seemed to change to profound gratitude followed by a slight bow before replacing his hat when my mum handed the rent money over in a weekly ritual. Maybe he was nervous because some of his other tenants weren’t quite so ready to pay up.

I can describe the interior fairly accurately as I seemed to have the run of the house with the blessing of all the other tenants. Below, in the basement flat, were the Cullen family, father, mother and son Cornelius, which was shortened to Con. They had a separate entrance to their flat down a few steps from the road and an internal entrance under the first flight of internal stairs, which I used on a regular basis.

Their basement flat was almost identical to ours with a large living room at the front, a single large bedroom at the rear, a corridor running front to back with the living and bedroom doors on the left and toilet on the right and, in a rear extension narrower than the house, a kitchen and bathroom. They had sole access to the coal cellar. I remember the rumble of coal being tipped into the cellar by the coal man who delivered sacks from the back of his horse drawn cart through the manhole at the bottom of the external flight of steps. The Cullens also had a garden at the rear of the house, which was really a scrubby rectangle of grass where they hung their washing and Con and I let off our fireworks on bonfire night. Our respective mums usually then took us to see the big bonfire and the older children letting off their fireworks on the bomb site in Golborne Road, where Hazlewood Tower now stands.

Me with Con on the left, about 1956 outside number 89 with the knitwear factory in the background, looking towards the junction with Golborne Road

Me with Con on the left, about 1956 outside number 89 with the knitwear factory in the background, looking towards the junction with Golborne Road

My dad, who had immigrated to the UK in 1947 after serving in the Eighth Army, worked in the accounts department for Limmer and Trinidad Asphalt Company in Carnwath Road, Fulham and, on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, as a baker although I’m a bit hazy about where that was. It meant he was a bit of a shadowy figure at times and, while its no exaggeration to say he probably hated doing a second job, it meant we were a bit more comfortable than most families in the area and he was usually keen to make up for lost time by taking us out on Sunday, sometimes to see a film or see the sights in central London.

As we had a shared front door and all of the other tenants walked in and out past our living room door, that had a lock on it and the room was locked at night but left open during the day. The living room was originally full of heavy, brown Victorian furniture and had an open fireplace, which I remember was a major performance to light. Although I’m getting slightly ahead of myself, Barry Bucknell had a major influence on my parents and, looking back, I don’t suppose any of the furniture would have achieved antique status as, piece by piece over time and with the blessing of Mr Sohacki, my dad chopped up the old furniture and replaced it gradually with sleek 60s style, a coffee table with spindly legs, pine dining table, chairs and sideboard, three piece suite and two rattan easy chairs. The fireplace was boarded up and replaced by an electric fire.

Until our first television arrived in 1962, the radio was our main contact with the outside world. Heavy and wooden like the old furniture, it lit up when switched on. Choices included the Light Programme and the Home Service and more exotically, Hilversum and Luxembourg. It was a big deal for me to be invited next door by Mr or Mrs Little to watch their television where the sitting room was often packed with local children.

Mum and dad’s friends would seem to just pop in from time to time without any prior arrangement. As we didn’t have a phone and we didn’t know many people who did, social life just happened that way. The arrival of two single male friends of my dad’s, both Polish, would always mean a late night. I don’t remember their names except that one was young and the other old with a grey walrus moustache and, in fact, we only ever referred to him as ‘the Old Man’ although not to his face. The routine was always the same. The young man would knock on the door first and give my mum a huge bunch of flowers, which was the softening up process. This would be followed by the Old Man struggling under the weight of bags of food and drink, which would be distributed on the dining table. Thereafter, I was occupied with the gift of a large quantity of sweets and the occasional pat on the head while the adults ate, drank and talked their adult talk while the room filled up gradually with cigarette smoke. At some point in the evening, a music programme would be found on the radio and the Old Man would get up and dance, a bit, well quite a lot really, like Zorba the Greek, stamping on the floor, a point in the evening my parents dreaded as they tried to calm him down and avoid giving the Cullens below a headache, although they were always very good natured about it the next day.
The Old Man was generous to a fault and took me out on a few occasions for a treat. He was a hospital porter and I know he was single and maybe a widower or divorced and often seemed to act like he had more money than he needed.

Whatever his circumstances, he treated me as a kind of part time son, on one occasion buying me a very smart suit with long trousers, which my parents thought was ridiculous as all boys always wore short trousers then.

In fact, our television arrived just before the 1962 cup final and it played a major part in home life after that. Robin Hood, William Tell, Dr Who and slightly later, the Avengers and the Prisoner kept me captivated and the swinging 60s with Ready Steady Go and Juke Box Jury heralded things to come for me. Although Sunday Night at the London Palladium was a perennial favourite for mum and dad, I was strangely attracted to Emma Peel and her Lotus Elan in equal measure without understanding why.

All the big news events of the time were magically shown right in our front room, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination, the first men in space and Winston Churchill’s funeral although my ten year old self could never understand what Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were supposed to have done or why John Profumo had to resign no matter how many times they talked about it on television. I mentioned that our living room door was unlocked during the day and one of the other children in the house, probably attracted by the sound of the television, opened the door one day to have a look and I’m sorry to say I punched him in the face and got into trouble.

Family meals were always eaten in the kitchen as the dining table in the front room was for entertaining guests. Sunday lunch was always a ritual, on the table at the same time every week and always much more than I could ever eat. A portable transistor radio later provided the soundtrack to Sunday lunch with the Clitheroe Kid or Round the Horne followed by Two and later Three Way Family Favourites. Barry Bucknell’s evil influence stuck again when my mum decided to paint the old kitchen table pink. Unfortunately, it seemed to be the kind of paint that never really dried and it went the way of the rest of the old brown furniture shortly afterwards to be replaced by a table with spindly tapered legs.

Our bathroom was beyond the kitchen and was just about big enough for the bath and a huge menacing looking geyser suspended from the wall. I’m sure I had a vivid imagination as I was always worried about the geyser coming off the wall and drowning me in gallons of scalding hot water.
Upstairs from our flat was an intermediate floor with a bathroom and toilet, which was shared by all of the other tenants. One further flight of stairs up to the first floor was a two roomed flat occupied by a family, living room in front and bedroom to the rear with a kitchenette on the landing and, a further two flights up to the second floor were two bedsits, one in the front and one in the back. One bedsit had a kitchenette on the landing and the other had a kitchenette in an extension that looked like a garden shed, up a narrow set of wooden temporary looking stairs. They were all very friendly, no doubt attracted by my sweet and cheeky nature although I’m now very hazy about who they were. I remember a single mother and newly born baby who had moved from Helston, who left her husband and older children behind. I’m sure there was a story there. And before her in the same bedsit was a woman in her early twenties, Anna, who had beautiful blond hair usually set in a long plait trailing down her back. Probably another sign of the approaching swinging 60s, she was saving to travel to the Greek islands with Mykonos as one of her intended stops. Before she left, she gave me a book on Greece, which I’m afraid is long gone. My mum much later told me that Anna was a prostitute although she was always seemed to be like a younger version of mum to me.

The bombed out St Thomas’ church on the corner of Kensal Road and West Row, about 1961.

The bombed out St Thomas’ church on the corner of Kensal Road and West Row, about 1961.

My mum did what most mums probably did and was a full time housewife. Of course, there was no washing machine, vacuum cleaner, fridge or even a dishwasher, so housework was definitely more labour intensive then and my mum probably had it easier than most as there was only me to look after until my brother was born in 1959.

Mum went shopping every day and the first stop was almost always Vic Martin’s shop. That photo at the top of Gwen’s blog could almost have been printed from my memory. I know that he was a serious stamp collector as he very generously gave me a large quantity of old British and Colonial stamps in a folder, which more than supplemented my meagre schoolboy level collection. He also gave me a few old Stanley Gibbons catalogues, which I pored over, cross referencing the stamps he had given me. My stamp collecting days gave way to other boyish pursuits and the catalogues are long gone but I still have those stamps. It was such a generous act that I often thought about why he would have done that and, although I will never know for sure, it’s possible that, as my father lived in Silesia before the war, where Vic Martin was interned as a POW, there was some kind of connection between them.

Holmes the baker was usually the next stop followed by the greengrocer further down Golborne Road on the right hand side and then Hamperl the butcher on the same side back towards the iron bridge. The Hamperls were German, which meant that, as well as the usual choices of meat, they sold smoked sausages and delicious liver sausage the like of which I haven’t tasted since. Chicken was a relatively expensive meat then and turkey almost unknown so chicken was always considered as a Christmas treat. One year on Christmas eve, my dad returned from shopping, as I guess there was some heavy lifting required, and said he was sure that we had the winning raffle ticket displayed in Hamperl’s window. Mum and dad hunted high and low for the raffle ticket and finally found it at the bottom of the kitchen bin, slightly crumpled and dad struggled home later with our prize 20lb turkey, which they had to cut the legs off to fit in the oven. I think we had turkey for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a few days running that year.

There was an RSPCA surgery in a small parade of shops between our house and the junction with Golborne Road and a red phone box, which usually had a queue of people waiting their turn to press button A or B. I think everyone respected that people were waiting and each call never seemed to be long and, anyway, we could only ever call someone with a private phone so calls were limited to my mum’s parents and sister. A betting shop was opened later along the same parade and I’m sure they did good business next door to the Britannia, a light and dark green tiled pub that stood on the corner. It always seemed to be packed as I remember, if one of the doors was opened whenever I walked past, there was always a blast of noise mixed with the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke. I bet it was good in there.

Opposite number 89 stood a small chapel where I sometimes went to Sunday school, although I preferred the ABC Minors at the Prince of Wales in Great Western Road. Next to the chapel heading west was a large knitwear factory and next to that a Greek Cypriot barber where I had my haircut. Beyond the junction with Golborne Road, on the left, there were a number of small businesses operating, one of which pressed records. There were usually boxes of rejects outside, sometimes only rejected because they had the same label on both sides or the labels stuck on slightly off-centre. It was always a bit of a game to see how many records we could pick up and run off with before someone came out and tried to catch us. Actually, the best they could ever do was shout at us as we were always halfway down the road by then. I guess they needed them for recycling but the records were usually rubbish.

Further along Kensal Road, on the corner of the path leading to the Ha’penny Steps, was the old swimming baths, which was always freezing and smelt so strongly of chlorine, my eyes were almost watering before I got in. It wasn’t all bricks and tarmac as, at the junction of Kensal Road and West Row was, and still is, beautifully landscaped Emslie Horniman Pleasance, which was a favourite walk.

My mum and baby brother Chris in Emslie Horniman Pleasance, about 1961

My mum and baby brother Chris in Emslie Horniman Pleasance, about 1961

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be continued……..

Roger Rogowski 2015

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35 Responses to Kensal Road before Trellick Tower

  1. Lovely memories, which I share. I grew up at the White Shop at 17 Golborne Road, opposite the King Arthur Pub during the mid fifties to 1967 when we moved to Lancaster Gardens Bayswater.
    I remeber having my hair cut at Sip’s the barbers next to the Golborne Road Bridge. I still have more or less the same hair cut today, the College Boy. Sip’s has now gone. We bought bread and cakes from Homes the Bakers as a special treat. I enjoyed reading your blog.
    To everyone else, I read Alan Johnson’s, That Boy. I recommend it to everyone who has good and bad memories of the fifties and sixties in Golborne Road. If Alan reads this blog, thank you Alan. Your book helped me place my memories into my own past, although the memories remain fresh and vivid, they no longer hold such a strong emotional grip. I think it is positvely beneficial therapeutically to share memories. It helps to place the past in the past and not continuously negatively influence our emotions in the here and now.
    A reviewer of Alan Johnsons book described Alan is recalling a ‘bygone age’. And this what it is, but still important althgough located in the collective past to us all.
    Richard Wilkins

    • purrpuss1 says:

      Richard Wilkins, I remember your Dad’s shop very well as it was next door to my Mum’s one. She had the draper’s at number 19 and my Dad was Vic Martin who had the grocer’s at 21. I used to shop for Barrett’s sherbert fountains and Spangles in your Dad’s shop. I’ve only just seen your post as, somehow, I never connected with Roger’s blog.

    • William Hilborn says:

      Prince Arthur Pub Richard

      • Gwen Nelson says:

        I grew up in 21 and then 19 Golborne Road. The “Green” and ” Brown” shops respectively. My Dad, Vic Martin was a grocer and my Mum Gerry had a drapers. 19 had been a “snobs” owned by Bert and Amy Cross before they returned to Earls Barton when Bert retired from being a shoemaker. Weleft in 1967 when the area was being dedemolished to make way for Trellick Tower.

  2. Roger you have an amazing memory for regarding other people. I do so envy you your home/family life. Mine was crap and I was always lonely my sister having dies, but I just wanted to say thank you. Your memories are warm and rich, as I hope the rst of your life has been. God Bless

  3. Albie, a you the Albie that was a friend to my dad, Jim Wilkins who owned the White Shop at 17 Golborne Road in the mid fifties to the early sixties? If you are you were a fanatic QPR supporter.
    Richard Wilkins, son of Jim Wilkins.

  4. Roger says:

    Thank you for your kind words Richard and Albie. I’m still new to all of this as I only started thinking about North Kensington at all after my first walk round in nearly fifty years late last year. I’ve been quite surprised that my very ordinary early life is interesting to anyone but I suppose it’s now become social history without me realising. I was in a London pub last week after a business meeting (I still work part time) with some younger people and someone I worked with in the 70s and I was similarly surprised to find they were almost hanging on every word about how we did business then. Anyway, I’ve now found that one memory leads to another even though those old Kensal Road days have been buried for a long time and I have another post on the way, which I hope to submit in the next week or so. I just started reading Alan Johnson’s book last week and I’m enjoying every page.

  5. Roger says:

    I must thank the website administrator for adding the photo at the top of this post. I wish I had taken more like that at the time but there is a Roger Mayne photo taken in 1957, I’m sure taken just before the second lamppost on the left. The lampposts were upgraded in the early 60s but it provides a view further down Kensal Road. I think that was the Robin Hood and Little John on the left at the junction with Southam Street https://www.pinterest.com/pin/310396599290317936/

  6. steven sheppard says:

    fantastic memorys i lived round the corner in edenham st roger thank you great bit of reading

  7. Roger says:

    Thank you Steven. I used to play in Edenham Street quite a lot as it was the nearest quiet street. Kensal Road was always too busy to play in the street. There’s a great aerial photo of Edenham Street from 1962, which I hope to include in a second installment if / when I get round to finishing it, which shows only three cars parked in the street and children out playing (even though it looks like a winter’s day – smoke coming from the chimneys, no leaves on the trees). I’m struggling to remember names now as I haven’t given those North Ken days much thought until the start of this year but I remember three Murray sisters living in Edenham Street, maybe I went to school with one of them.

  8. steven sheppard says:

    hi ya roger there is a group on face book called born in W10 its a fantastic group iv just looked at edenham st census 1961 and did not see a murray family.

    • Roger says:

      Hi Steven – I got on the Notting Hill and North Kensington Photo Archive on Facebook and that’s excellent. I must get round to uploading some of my own pics to that group but thanks for the nudge re Born in W10. I’ve been meaning to apply to join that group and I’ve just done that so will wait for their reply. Strange about the Murrays but thank you for looking! I don’ t remember many names as I’ve said but I’m almost certain re the few I do remember. I could be mistaken or maybe they had moved by then. Trying to remember over the last few weeks has been like peeling the layers of an onion. Reading Gwen’s post about her dad’s grocer’s shop got me started and maybe if I get on to Born in W10 that may jog some more memories.

  9. Michael larch says:

    I lived at 35 goal born rd f rom 1941 until 1952

  10. Roger says:

    Hi Michael – that would have been just about opposite the old Earl Of Warwick?

  11. Peter stannard says:

    My grandparents lived at 16 Kensal rd. just down from great western rd,and close to medina st.they lived there from about 1945 until they were relocated because of west way.i remember the bag wash over the road and also copes,where I often used to get locorice stick and sherbert.

  12. Roger says:

    I would have walked past that end of Kensal Road very often, Peter, on my way to or from Westbourne Park station or the number 28 bus stop. I don’t remember much about that end of the road except a sweet shop, that may have been the same one you used, which sold lollies and iced Jubblys, which were prism shaped and were impossible to open without making a mess, and a hole in the wall type Polish deli, which smelt of pickled cucumbers and smoked sausages. There were small shops in most streets aside from the main local shopping streets of Golborne, Portobello and Harrow Roads, reflecting a time when supermarkets were very rare and fridges and cars even rarer, especially in W10, so that people often shopped every day and locally. There was also a pub on almost every street corner although they only registered as landmarks with me as I was well below drinking age then. The local at that end of Kensal Road was the Robin Hood and Little John, just visible on the left in the photo at the top of this page.

  13. fred says:

    Hi Roger
    I think St Thomas’s Church was on the corner of East Row and not West Row

  14. Roger says:

    I wrote this post six months ago completely from memory after having hardly thought about those days for fifty years. I’ve since had the benefit of about five months’ membership of three W10 FB groups and visited the area three more times so, looking back, it’s interesting to see how my memory distorted certain things over time. It wasn’t a bad first time effort but, for completeness, I should correct or add the following – it was Holm’s not Holmes’ the baker, number 65, the exterior is still more or less unchanged, it’s now an antique shop; the greengrocer was E Price and Sons at number 98, the shop is still there and unchanged but closed although it may re-open; it wasn’t the Prince of Wales but the Essoldo in Great Western Road, which wasn’t an ABC although they ran Saturday morning pictures; and finally, Emslie Horniman (the little rec) was and still is in East not West Row and now beautifully restored.

    • Fred says:

      Hi Roger
      Enjoyed your post, I lived in Adela St from the age of 5 until I left school at 15. I was born in Golborne Gardens and moved to Adela St, had some great times there but I have seen recently on FB I wouldn’t want to move back it appears that Adela St is now a scrap yard for rag and bone men. Keep erm coming.
      Fred

      • Roger says:

        Thanks for your kind words Fred. Sad to say apart from the little rec, the Cobden building (now a private house, White Knight laundry (not for much longer), the old church hall, the bus garage (now business units) and a few pubs mostly closed or converted, there’s not much recognisable between the railway and the canal but, just when I think I think I’ve run out of memories, I recall some more so you never know.

      • John walker says:

        What number Golborn Gardens Fred.

      • John walker says:

        What number Golborn Gardens Fred.My family lived at No 5.next to the Prince Arthur.

      • Richard Wilkins says:

        John Walker – my name is Richard Wilkins.
        My parents owned the White Shop, number 17 Golborne Road between 1952 to 1967.
        Did we know one another? I remember playing with other children on the old bomb site next to the King Arthur pub on Hazelwood Crescent.
        It seems other people did on reading these blogs.

  15. Roger says:

    Sorry Fred, I missed your earlier comment, yes definitely East not West Row

  16. Brian Haynes says:

    My name is Brian Haynes and I lived with my parents and younger brother at 14 Faraday Rd. ( just south of Wornington Rd. School ) until these ‘tenements’ were demolished in the early / mid- 1960s. My paternal grandparents also lived in Faraday at number 1 . I went to Wornington, and then Bevington Road Schools, finishing my education at Sloane Grammar School in Chelsea. Sloane has a strong Old Boys website ( The Old Cheyneans ), and it is from one of our members ( John Henwood ) that I learned of this / your site.
    I can remember lots of neighbouring family names, the teaching staff at Bev., and I have lots of memories and photographs, I can remember Price’s ( there was another green grocer’s…Costin’s I think, Peter Costin was a school friend), The Mitre pub, Holmes Bakers ( they made my grandparents’ Diamond Wedding cake ). I particularly remember Hamperl’s ( the shop was known to us as ‘the Germans ‘ ), who made and sold the most wonderful Faggot and Peas pudding.
    If you are interested, I will be pleased to share some memories with you.
    cheers, aynsie ( my nickname back then).

    • Brian,
      If you want to write up some of your memories, in particular of Golborne Road, Faraday Rd, Bevington and Wornington Schools and think it would be enough for a separate posting, then email it to me directly , Sue Snyder (I am the administrator for the site) at northkenstories@yahoo.co.uk
      Does not have to be as long as the the other postings on Kensal Road! Also send any photos you would like us to include. Then I can put them onto the site along with any photos that we have access to already of Golborne Rd.
      Looking forward to hearing from you,
      Sue

    • Michael Hollamby says:

      Brian,I just saw that there is an Old Cheyneans group on Facebook you may not be aware of.

      • Brian Haynes says:

        Michael, I am aware of the Old Cheyneans Group on Facebook. Thanks for the info. anyway. cheers, BrianH.

  17. Fred says:

    Hi John Walker and Richard Wilkins
    I was born in Golborne Gardens but I don’t know what number I was only about 4 years old when we moved to Adela St opposite the entrance to Middle Row school . I also played on that bombsite was it the one opposite the B D H just before Wedlake St ?

  18. Mick says:

    Hi Brian, my brother in law Tony Smith remembers you well. He lived in number 2 Faraday Road. My gran lived on the corner of Wornington and Faraday. Also my cousins Tommy and Alfie Swan.

  19. Richard Wilkins says:

    I played on the bomb site next to the pub the King Arthur on Golborne Road where the current block of flats built in the early sixties is now located. Across the bomb site was located the stables where the Troters kept their horses to transport goods to Golborne Road and Portobello Market.
    I retain scar on my leg being caught on barbed wire from playing on the bomb site.
    Richard Wilkins ex 17 Golborne Road
    1952 to 1966.

  20. Susan Edwards says:

    I was born in Kensington in 1955, my mother Winifred Smith and I lived in Kensal Rd with my grandmother Vera Shillabeer.
    My grandmother worked in a pub called the Brit, I’m not sure if the pub was nearby, I seem to remember the door was on a corner, I can remember the smell of stale beer, polish and stale cigarettes.
    My aunt and I used to go to a pie and mash shop we called Rene’s.
    I’ve been trying to find old photographs on the internet of the pub but so far no luck.

    • Roger says:

      Hello Susan, your memories are similar to mine. As you may have read in my blog post, I vividly remember the Britannia on the corner of Kensal and Golborne Roads and that blast of male voices and beer and cigarette fumes whenever anyone opened the door. There was a pie and mash in Golborne Road locally known as Rene’s but officially called Smart’s. I’ve looked high and low for a good photo of the Britannia without any luck but, if you’re on Facebook, you may be interested in The Old Notting Hill/North Ken History Group, which had thousands of old photos of the local area including one of the parade of shops including Rene’s, one of the interior of the Britannia and one taken from Hazlewood Tower, which includes the Brit from a distance. You’ll need to apply to join but I can let you in and point you to the photos.

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