Record Shops around Portobello

North Kensington has always had musical connections.  From the Welsh and the Irish to the West Indians and the Hippies. All kinds of music found a home here.  So it is no surprise there were a lot of record shops. Especially in Portobello Road where some premises were record shops for over 20 years.

Let’s start at 202 Kensington Park Road.

Rough Trade,  202 Kensington Park Road.

Rough Trade, 202 Kensington Park Road.

This was the original Rough Trade shop,  founded in 1976 by Geoff Travis who conceived it as a record shop equivalent of San Francisco’s City Lights bookshop.  The shop was supposed to be in Willesden, but it became apparent that it would be a bit off the beaten track with not a lot of footfall. So his father helped him find this shop, which previously had been a Hippie ‘head’ and print shop. Rough Trade was synonymous with the DIY Punk ethic and everything that went with it like Xeroxed fanzines. Record shops are often one person’s idea, the result of someone having a vision for a shop and thinking – no-one else is selling the music I like or I can do better or I love/know the music. I have the connections to get the records or just have a surplus of records. Rough Trade belongs to this classic template for record shops.  It was very influential as it inspired a whole new generation of shops and ones carrying the range of music Rough Trade pioneered.

Though best known for Punk, in fact Rough Trade had a wide ranging, comprehensive, eclectic and cutting edge selection of music, including the latest Jamaican records. The African selection came from a bloke called Jumbo who lived down Oxford Gardens. He had his own label Earthworks and distributed current African music straight from Paris. The music from the African Francophone countries had been virtually unobtainable in this country because the African music here was music was from our colonies – Nigeria and Ghana.  Looking to get the latest from West Africa?  You had to go to either grocery shops in South London or Sterns at the rear of a radio repair shop in Tottenham Court Road.

Rough Trade was also a great social centre, one of those collisions of people coming together. You bumped into all kind of people there.  Upstairs is where some of the staff lived.  I got a feral kitten called Smiler from there.

That block of Kensington Park Road was totally different in the 1970s. There was a wall of corrugated iron sheets opposite where houses had been demolished.

Moving left round the corner into Blenheim Crescent, about where the Travel Bookshop was, there was a record shop selling Reggae and Soul.  I bought a classic of English Lovers rock – Louisa Marks’ Caught You In A Lie there. I cannot remember the shop’s name, there is no real information about it so it must have been pretty transitory.

2 Blenheim Crescent

The Family Dog shop, Blenheim Crescent, 1969. Photo RBK&C. Local Studies.

The Family Dog shop, Blenheim Crescent, 1969. Photo RBK&C. Local Studies.

This is one of our landmark shops.  It had been The Family Dog Shop, the first Hippie head shop in England. It closed in 1984 and two Bills – Bill Forsythe and Bill Anderson, a pair of record dealers who previously had operated by Mail Order opened up a shop there called Plastic Passion. They sold all kind of rarities, Bootlegs to 60’s Psychedelic rock, obscure US garage bands to Blues and R&B and collectors items.

The two Bills of Minus Zero and Stand Out

The two Bills of Minus Zero and Stand Out

However, in 1990 the two Bills fell out and split the shop down the middle. Bill F to the left, Bill A to the right, and renamed it Minus Zero and Stand Out.  They were still selling the music you were hard pushed to find anywhere else.  In 2010 they finally closed the shop. Bill Forsythe still sells records on a Saturday in Portobello at the Red Lion Arcade.

The building also had historical significance – upstairs was the offices for various parts of the alternative press including Frendz and the Whole Earth Catalogue. Also it was the haunt of local poet/playwright and the Frestonia character Heathcote Williams. Frestonia was the hippie breakaway state based round Freston Road inspired by the film Passport To Pimlico.

130 Talbot Road
rough tradeLets go over Portobello to the current Rough Trade Shop at 130 Talbot Road.  Vinyl is big business again, the successful record shops these days are the ones actually selling records. Vinyl, things you can hold and smell, the pungent odour of the solvent evaporating from the printing or the sharp tang of fresh pressed vinyl. And you can read the sleeve notes without using a magnifying glass. The shops selling old records have a distinctive smell of old dust as well.

In 1982 there was a split in Rough Trade between the label, distribution wings and the shop. The shop workers went independent and bought the shop out.  Now there are three Rough Trade shops – Talbot Road, Brick Lane and one in Brooklyn. They have managed to keep the open minded ethos of Rough Trade in their shops. Pete Donne, one of the original trio who bought the shop, now runs the Brick Lane shop, and went to Brooklyn to set that up shop to run the right way.  I still buy from Rough Trade. You want that pre Pol Pot Cambodian Psychedelic rock? It’s there.

We head west past by All Saints Church and left into Powis Gardens. All Saints Church Hall (now demolished) was the venue for early psychedelia – the Pink Floyd played there. Over into All Saints Road, to what used to be called the Frontline. Which was a centre for the black community based around the Mangrove Restaurant but also was the most policed street in Europe at one time.

11 All Saints Road
This is People’s Sounds record shop and has been here since the 1980’s run by very old hipster Daddy Vego, one of the Windrush generation.  North Ken as a West Indian area always featured quite a few record shops, but now People’s Sounds is the only Reggae shop left.

The other main Reggae shop was Dub Vendor, at first a hole in the wall under the railway bridge on Ladbroke Grove, and then a shop on the corner of Cambridge Gardens. But they closed down in 2008, with a change to digital in the Jamaican music and the Congestion Charge was the nail in the coffin for them.

If you look above the door to People’s Sounds they have a heavy duty waterproof electrical socket to power their Sound System at Carnival.  They are surviving, they sell records online and in the summer have tourists in the know coming to buy.  They have a really comprehensive selection of music of interest to Jamaicans (and others).

Vinyl was crucial in the Reggae world and is still revered and held in high regards by the purists.  7 inch pre’s or pre releases were the standard musical form in Jamaica – LP’s were a luxury. The 7 inch was also the currency for the Sound Systems wanting the latest tune to rock the crowd. The fresh 7’s were airfreighted into England weekly. By Thursday they were in the shops.  Friday the serious buyers came out, pockets full of wages. You stood there in a tight crush, when someone completed their shopping and moved out, everybody shuffled forward.  You attracted the attention of the person behind the counter with a sign that you wanted that record. It could be a nod or finger pointed or a eyebrow twitched and that record joined your pile on the counter.

Walking down St Luke’s Mews and into Basing Street, past the Basing Street Studios where so much great music was recorded and left into Lancaster Road and then left into Portobello.

236 Portobello Road
In the early 80’s this was a record shop called Sounds, a popular black music shop selling soul/funk/jazz. Stocking whatever the local passing trade wanted. But it went the way of many local record shops and succumbed to the prevailing wind of internet retailers, bootlegging and downloads. In the 70’s it had been an adjunct of the Family Dog shop.

Historically it was an interesting shop. In the 60’s it was called Etcetera. An early vintage clothing shop that could possibly have predated ‘I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet’. Etcetera was run by Anne Valery. Anne was an ex Rank Starlet, she was in Kind Hearts and Coronets and got swept over the weir with the first of the Alec Guinness characters.  But she is best known for her TV screenwriting Angels and Tenko. She told me she used to go to France to get WW1 German Leather Coats.

230 Portobello Rd
Musicland was an important chain of shops.  In the 70’s, it was renowned for the imports stocked. Local musician and freak Mick Farren talked about a bloke who worked there called Simon who hipped him to the first MC5 album.  Musicland was where you could find the latest US releases like Frank Zappa, Velvet Underground and the West Coast psychedelic releases  (Simon Stable later had his own record store at 297 Portobello).

Musicland was a big player in the independent record shop world. They had a number of shops through out London, including their West End shop in Berwick St where a chap called Reg Dwight later to be Elton John worked.

Musicland was owned by Windrush generation immigrants the Ali Family and Lee Gophal.  Lee had started with a stall on Portobello selling the latest Jamaican records. In 1968 he sold out his stake in Musicland to create Trojan Records along with Chris Blackwell. Lee was also Blackwells landlord in Neasden Lane where Lee had a label called B&C. Later 230 became a shop called Music Scene an amalgam of Musicland and Scene and Heard.

Over the road to 231 Portobello Road
This had been an Indian textile shop called Hindukush till 1988 when Vinyl Solution took over. Vinyl Solution started as a record shop in Hereford Road W2, buying and selling secondhand records, but moved into the new electro music.  They had a record label based at the shop.  In 1995 it became Intoxica,  which was decorated in Hawaiian Tiki Style, in quite deliberately bad taste.

Intoxica, 231 Portobello Road.

Intoxica, 231 Portobello Road.

It sold secondhand and collector records, it had an easy listening rack, original, pristine Bert Kampherts, not exactly cheap but a bargain compared to the £600 rare records on the wall. It sold every kind of obscure music, from soundtracks to surf music.




245 Portobello Road has an illustrious history. In 1974 it was bought by the Ali family to be turned into a Musicland shop.  According to Jim Ali (S.W Ali’s son) it actually became Jolly Jester run by him and his brother in law Ken Weston. Then became the Klik Reggae label and shop run bAll Ears Scany an ex Trojan staffer Joe Sinclair.  You could find dj/artists like Tappa Zukki and Dillinger hanging out outside when they were signed to the label.  It then became Bargain Records run by Jim and Tom Skinner. It changed its name to All Ears run by Larry Sevitt, if you were an overseas visitor you could ring up All Ears with an order and they would deliver to your hotel.  It returned to Bargain records, then Knockout Records both run by Ken Weston and Tom Skinner and then Westside Records  run by Jim Ali and the aptly named John The Record.  It returned to Bargain Records before becoming Bargain Music and finally closing in 1992. 

On the corner of Lancaster Road in the 70’s, local Boom Baby author Brian Nevill had a stall in the basement selling Bootlegs and stuff. During the 80’s and 90’s it was Culture Shack, run by Danny and Derek. It had stalls selling records, and a barbershop.

297 Portobello Road

Further up past the Westway is 297 Portobello another important address with a long lineage of record shops.  In the 60’s it was Melody Records selling Jamaican music, then it was part of Lee Ghopals’ Musik City chain. Also here was Simons Stable, Shakedown, Young Blood and Johnny Dickens Oldies Shop. It ended it’s musical life as the Jamaica Sounds label and shop.

Music City Portobello Rd W side neg4717 KS542 #295-297 (17-7-70)This one block between Oxford and Cambridge Gardens has major historical significance. There were seminal clothes shops like I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet and Forbidden Fruit.  Designer Barney Bubbles (Hawkwind) and the Back Ah Yard Caribbean restaurant plus the Black People’s Information Centre.  Also it was a hotbed of the alternative press like International Times and Frendz.

278 Portobello

Honest Jon's, 278  Portobello Road.

Honest Jon’s, 278 Portobello Road.

Honest Jon’s is an institution and has been at 278 Portobello for 32 years.  It started originally by Jon Clare in an arcade at 93 Golborne Rd selling 50’s jump jive, Blues and Jazz. Then in 1974 moved over the road to 76 Golborne Rd.  He briefly moved to Camden before returning to the area in 1982.  They sell a vast range of music. You want the latest Ethiopian re-release or Jazz, Reggae or Soul?  They have it.  They also stock the latest dj must have 12”s.

In the 80/90s Honest Jon’s had a record label called Bopicity which put out contemporary music from London jazz bands like drummer Tommy Chase. Now they have a new label Honest Jon’s Records which has access to the vast EMI catalogue and has delved into Calypso with the London Is The Place For Me series, along side vintage West African. But they also put out left field, oddball releases and anything that takes their fancy. Honest Jon was a dapper Jazz and Be-bop fan who was also a therapist and psychotherapist,  which some of us would suggest are good skills to have in dealing with record shop customers. Jon retired to paint and write in Wales. Long term staffers Mark and Alan bought it out and now run Honest Jon’s.

The genie is most certainly out of the bottle for record shops and we can never go back to the old days and the way record shops were. But there are some vinyl oasis’s in the desert of downloads. And they are continuing to serve up what people need and want. Just look at the queues outside Rough Trade on record shop day.

Dave Hucker, 2015  

Posted in Shops, Streets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Memories of Schooldays in Lancaster Road – Part 2

Harvey recalls Solomon Wolfson Jewish Primary School.



Harvey's older brother.

Harvey’s older brother.

I attended the Solomon Wolfson Jewish Primary School in Lancaster Road, W11 from September 1951, aged 4 1/2 until July 1958 aged 11 1/2.

There were two entrance gates to the school on Lancaster Road, one marked as “Boys” and the other as “Girls and Infants”.  Both opened onto the boys’ playground at the front of the school where the foundation stone was set into the wall, with the girls’ playground to the left side of the building and the infants’ play area at the rear. A wooden gate up two steps separated the infants’ playground from the girls’ part and was monitored  by different ladies on a rota, two of whose names I recall as Mrs Munday and Mrs Stanton. Both play areas had toilet blocks and rain shelters.

On the ground floor were four classrooms, the Infants’ classes, a cloakroom and toilet/washroom at each end, a staff room, the Mr Drake the caretaker’s room and the assembly hall. Five classrooms on the first floor were for the Juniors. This floor also with cloakrooms and washrooms at each end, housed the headmaster’s office and a staff room. A staircase at each end of the building via a lobbied area connected the two floors. Halfway between the two floors were landings with small rooms used for storage, with one room set aside for medical purposes. Meal facilities were at the top of the building with the food preparation kitchens and dining room separated by an open flat topped roof (this area later enclosed with further building development).

My teacher for the first two years was Miss Levy, who I recall was a very kindly lady liked by everyone. Although we moved into the next classroom for the second year it was nice that she stayed with us. This was in stark contrast to the teacher my brother who started two years earlier, a Miss Starr. She had a reputation for always shouting at the children so I was relieved at never encountering her.

The Head Teacher for my first year only was Mr Daniel Mendoza, a much loved grand-fatherly figure who had held the post for many years, but was retiring. He continued his link with the school through running a summer holiday camp with his wife at Seaford. Although my parents could not afford to send us, I did go one year on the basis of my mother going as a helper.

Mr Mendoza’s successor, Mr Somper, was, by contrast, very strict and authoritarian and held the post until he retired some years after I left the school. Apart from his disciplinarian regime, which included not ‘sparing the rod’, what was most memorable about him was the strong smell of tobacco emanating from his office, as he often smoked a pipe. When the door was open it often looked foggy inside – pity his unfortunate secretary Miss Cruickshank! The Deputy Head, Mr Shenfield was also a form master in one of the upstairs classes.

My second teacher, Miss Gotleib, noticeably younger than Miss Levy, taught my class for the next two years, eventually leaving to get married and to live in Israel.  It was with  her that I received my first ever award, a book, as a prize for progress at the end of my second year. One other teacher I recall from the infant classes who took us sometimes was Miss Baxter was for some reason was known as ‘The Sugar Plum Fairy”.

After four years of infant classes on the ground floor, it felt strange to move upstairs for the next three years and not to be able to use the infants’ playground. Being of the post-war ‘baby boom’  generation, my year was at this stage divided into two classes. One half went to Classroom 5 under Mr Rodney, while my half went to Classroom 4 under Mrs Ruth Walker, who remained our class teacher for both this and the following two years. For the second and third years we moved to Classroom 2 while the other half went first to Classroom 3 under My Jay and then Classroom 1 under Mr Lipschitz.

In contrast to infant classes where our class teacher taught us most subjects, we now had various teachers. Mrs Walker took us for English reading and writing, Nature Study and Music. Mr Rodney for Mathematics, Mr Jay for History, Geography and P.E and Mr Lipschitz for Religious Instruction.

Being a Jewish Primary School, religious teaching was of the Old Testament and reading and writing in Hebrew. Additional classes for this were held on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school hours and were taken by the Rabbi and senior members from the Notting Hill Synagogue. Separate religious instruction was held for non-jewish pupils.

Unlike the Infants’ playground, pupils were allowed to leave the premises in the main midday lunch period, usually to go to the local shops. One such was a small transport cafe in Ladbroke Grove next door to Barclay’s bank, another sweet shop on St Mark’s Road in a small parade of shops between the railway bridge and Rillington Place. Also popular was a gob-stopper machine outside the newsagent/post office in Ladbroke Grove. The Royalty Cinema immediately next door to the school was always of interest as it was where many would attend Saturday morning Minors matinee (TV not yet being a regular part of our lives).

Lancaster Road looking west from Ladbroke Grove, 1970. photo RBKC.

Lancaster Road looking west from Ladbroke Grove, 1970. photo RBKC.

Although school life was normally unaffected by outside events, there were occasions which had some bearing, two such in 1953. Firstly, the aftermath of bodies discovered in nearby Rillington Place and the police hunt for John Christie meant that school gates were kept closed and strictly monitored with no children allowed out unless accompanied. I remember walking by Rillington Place with my mother and brother on our way to school and seeing crowds of people looking down the dead end turning at the police activity. We heard a woman exclaim “Look, they’re bringing out another body!” At playtime, some of the boys including myself would try to scare the girls by saying “Don’t go to the toilets! Christie’s in there!” Needless to say we were proved wrong.

Secondly, in June 1953, on the occasion of the Queen’s Coronation, those living on the route of her tour through West London and especially North Kensington, were allowed the day off school. Living in St Quintin Avenue, my brother and I were among those lucky ones and clearly remember her waving at the crowds as her car passed our house. One of our grandmothers, then living with us, was seated on the pavement and thought the Queen had come especially to see her.

It was under my time with Mrs Walker at about the age of 8, that my love for gardening was sparked off,  As part of Nature Study we were encouraged to bring a pot plant to the classroom and look after it, taking it home for school holidays and bringing it back when School resumed. My choice of plant was a Geranium. In addition, we were given seeds to grow such as Nasturtiums, with bonus class points for the best tended ones. Best of all was the Daffodil competition run for schools by the London Flower Lovers’ League. Participants were given bulbs to grow on however they wished, for judging in the Spring, the best entries being awarded a 1st Class certificate featuring a colour picture of a bunch of daffodils; second class certificates were identical but in black and white. I still treasure my colour certificate.

My final day at Solomon Wolfson was very memorable as many were fraught with sadness at parting with friends we had made maybe to never see again. We were particularly sad to say good-bye to Mrs Walker as she had nurtured us as part of a big family for 3 years. Those who went on the same schools would at least continue some of their friendships but inevitably others would lose contact as they mad new acquaintances.

I continued to visit the school as did others, to see our old teachers until such a time as when they had left or retired. Mrs Walker was always very enthusiastic to hear of my career progress at Kew Gardens, which she lived not far from and had visited many times. Those Nature Study classes had certainly borne fruit!
Prior to the school closing there was a big reunion in 1981 at which I met some of my former classmates and some teachers namely Mr Jay and Mr Lipschitz. On display was the book showing the date every pupil had entered the school. Presentations were made on the stage of the Assembly hall with three headmasters, Mr Mendoza, Mrs Somper and his successor and current headmaster Mr Bond all seated together. They all made memorable speeches about their time in office. This would be the last time I saw them.

At this stage, my niece and nephew had been pupils at the school for several years and would move to the new premises in North London. My father having retired in 1973, was a lollipop man on the Lancaster Road/St Mark’s Road pedestrian crossings and took a delight in seeing his grandchildren arrive and depart on the school coach. By now most pupils came from much further afield due to a shift in the population in North Kensington, probably a major factor in the school’s eventual closure.

Harvey Groffman 2014.

Posted in Schools, Shops, Streets | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Memories of Schooldays in Lancaster Road – Part 1

In September 2014 two new schools opened in North Kensington. Kensington Aldridge Academy is a secondary school in a brand new building on Silchester Road at the far western end of Lancaster Road. The second school to open was the privately run Chepstow House School, which is located at the other end of Lancaster Road near Portobello Road in a building that has been in educational use since Victorian times. Since many schools have come and gone along Lancaster Road we thought we would recall them.

Portobello Road School by Sue Snyder

Old entrance to Portobello Road School - infants and girls. Photo taken in 1995

Old entrance to Portobello Road School – infants and girls. Photo taken in 1995

Isaac Newton Centre 2010. Originally the boys' entrance for Portobello Road School, and now Chepstow House, a private school.

Isaac Newton Centre 2010. Originally the boys’ entrance for Portobello Road School, and now Chepstow House, a private school.

One of the first board schools to be built in 1876 in North Kensington was Portobello Road School (now Chepstow House school). The building runs behind the houses on Lancaster Road towards Portobello Road with entrances on both roads. The best view of the two-storey building is probably from the train as it leaves Ladbroke Grove going towards Westbourne Park station.

My mother, Mary Horwood, born in 1913, attended Portobello Road School from the age of 5. It catered for children up to the age of thirteen, although my mother succeeded in transferring at aged 11 to North Kensington Central School on St Mark’s Road opposite Kensington Memorial Park (see separate posting). The entrance on Portobello Road was for infants and girls while the boys entered on Lancaster Road. She described to me how there was an upstairs flat over one of the entrances that was used for training the girls in ‘household” skills such as polishing the fireplace brass and black leading a stove.

After WW2, North Kensington Central School moved from St Mark’s Road to the Portobello Road School building.


Lancaster Road School by Jean Parker

Ladbroke Lower School for Girls in 1970, formerly Lancaster Road School. photo RBKC.

Ladbroke Lower School for Girls in 1970, formerly Lancaster Road School. photo RBKC.

I started at Lancaster Road School in September 1939 when I was four and a half years old. The infants were based on the ground floor with the junior boys and girls on the first floor and the senior boys on the second floor. The senior boys’ playground was on the roof and the infants’ entrance was in St.Mark’s Road. The senior girls went to St Quintin’s School in St Mark’s Road near to Kensington Memorial Park.

Each morning, assembly was held in the hall which was also used for dancing and singing. I remember that my first teacher was called Miss Doncaster and our lessons were simple, just learning to read, write and count. We used a slate tile and chalk. There was no paper or pencils. We had small wooden boxes to store our things and these were kept under our chairs. As war progressed, teachers were in short supply so sometimes we only went to school for half a day.

The Junior lessons were more serious. We had proper writing desks with lids that lifted up so there was space to store our books, paper, pens and pencils These desks had to be kept tidy and we opened the lids every morning for the teacher’s inspection. In my third year I became ink monitor which meant keeping all the inkwells in my class filled. In those days pupils stayed in their classrooms for all lessons while the teachers went from class to class.

I had a happy childhood and Lancaster Road was a big part of it.


Lancaster Road in the 1950s recalled by Mick Kasmir.

Part of the Isaac Newton Centre in  2010, formerly Isaac Newton Boys School.  Photo Sue Snyder.

Part of the Isaac Newton Centre in 2010, formerly Isaac Newton Boys School. Photo Sue Snyder.

When I was at school there were three schools in Lancaster Road. One being North Kensington Central School, which became Isaac Newton Secondary School (and is now coming to the end of its recent incarnation as Isaac Newton Professional Development Centre). It had an entrance in Lancaster Road and one in Portobello Road (which is now The Garden Cafe). The school was mixed and fairly small.

Further down Lancaster Road and across Ladbroke Grove there was Solomon Wolfson Jewish School, a mixed primary school that sat upon the site now occupied by The Lighthouse. Next door to this school was a secondary school named, appropriately enough, Lancaster Road Secondary School, now occupied by the Virgin Gym. This school was quite big, and from what I remember, boys only. It was also quite rough.

Solomon Wolfson School, 1970. Photo RBKC local studies.

Solomon Wolfson School, 1970. Photo RBKC local studies.

Because my stepfather was Jewish (he came with his family from Russia to escape the pogroms when he was a boy), he sent my sister and me to Solomon Wolfson. Also it was near to where we lived in Lancaster Road. Apart from Maths and English, the curriculum seemed to consist of writing, painting, clay modelling, growing plants and even knitting! Boys as well as girls! We also learnt some Hebrew, and in the winter we could all leave early on Fridays to get back home before it got dark so we could celebrate Shabat (Sabbath).

Next door to the school was a cinema, The Royalty, where one could play around the back, and sometimes even get inside the cinema. On the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road there was the Children’s Library (which is still there), where I discovered more literature than both schools put together!

Royalty Cinema, Lancaster Road with Solomon Wolfson to the far right, 1970. Photo RBKC.

Royalty Cinema, Lancaster Road with Solomon Wolfson to the far right, 1970. Photo RBKC.

After Solomon Wolfson I went to North Ken Central School which was a Technical school teaching technical drawing, woodwork, metalwork, art and science. My last year, 1959, took place in Wornington Road, when both buildings became Isaac Newton boys Secondary School. And pupils who wanted to take ‘A’ levels had to transfer to Holland Park School, which had just opened in 1958. Isaac Newton finally closed in the late 1970s. I think my science teacher Mr Carter later became the head of Isaac Newton School.

Next door to the Portobello entrance was a really good pie and mash shop that later became Ceres Wholefoods (and now The Grain Shop).

Solomon Wolfson by Pat Kasmir

Before moving to Lancaster Road we lived in Hammersmith and I went to St.Paul’s primary school on Hammersmith Broadway. Then when we moved to Lancaster Road our parents sent both my brother and me to Solomon Wolfson in Lancaster Road, as it was local. This was in 1947.

Although my brother and I were not Jewish (my step father was) and we were Church of England, we attended the Jewish assembly and learnt some Hebrew and the Old Testament. It was a mixed school and had other faiths attending. A nun would come into the school to take the non-Jewish students for their assembly.

I really enjoyed my time there. I was very happy and made lots of friends. I can remember that we had plays and celebrations on the stage in the school hall, we had prize giving and we were taught the usual primary subjects – Maths, English, Art etc.

We used to go out at lunchtime to a sweet shop around the corner in Ladbroke Grove (could be Winkworths Estate Agency now) using our weekly sweet coupons and 5penny a week pocket money. I would imagine this would only be once a week probably on a Monday payday.

There was also another school next door to Solomon Wolfson, which I remember as Lancaster Road Boys School (where Virgin Gym is now). It was a much more rough school and I remember being really frightened walking back to my house on my own as the boys were really quite threatening.

In later years, I believe it became a girls’ secondary modern called Ladbroke Lower School and eventually amalgamated with Holland Park School in the early eighties.

I was very unhappy when I had to leave and go to Secondary school, which was Mary Boon in Shepherds Bush (which by the way I really enjoyed also)

When I moved onto Secondary school, Mary Boon in Shepherds Bush, one day a week we had Housewifery or Cooking on alternate weeks. For the housewifery we came back to Lancaster Road to the Campden Institute. They had a flat on the top floor where we were taught to change the beds, hoover the floors, do the washing and the ironing. It was good fun and I never forgot these elementary rules.

n.b. Campden Institute (now Notting Hill Prep School, is on Lancaster Road next to the Library). There is more information on the Campden Institute on a separate blog posting.


Solomon Wolfson in the early 1950s,  Rachelle Stock

I was there from about 1950-54 from five till nine years old, when we moved to Tottenham.

We lived along the Uxbridge Road, so my journey was from Shepherds Bush train station to Ladbroke Grove station. Few people from the working class Jewish immigrant population had cars, well, few people had cars full stop, hence the train journey. There was a group of us including my older brother accompanied by various adults. The walk from the station along Ladbroke Grove round the corner to Lancaster Road was exciting because we often came across chickens that we could chase. They were wandering around the entrance of the alley just along from the station.

The headmaster at the time was Mr Mendoza (a lovely gentle man) and if I remember rightly my teacher or one of them was Mr Lipchitz, a memorable name…….. a chalk throwing, tall, tweed-jacketed scary man. We had large coal stoves in the classrooms, probably the norm in most schools at that time. The highlight of my days was playing marbles in the drains. I was quite the champion and had a tin full of my winnings….If it had been raining before playtime all the better as the coloured glass sparkled like treasure nestling in the drain cover holes. Not saying much for my early education.

Around this time, 1952, Christie was committing his murders and we used to go round the corner to Rillington Place, probably on the way home accompanied by adults since I can’t think we were let out during lunchtime – to see the police activity, lots of digging going on. Fascinatingly gruesome for small children. The film 10 Rillington Place, with Richard Attenborough at his finest brings it startlingly back.

I had a ‘boyfriend’, the first, called David Rose. Strange how I remember that I can still recall him kissing me and the smell of his breath. ..yuk. The worst part of that early education was the way we learned the days of the week and months of the year with charts for days drawn as oblong boxes running from right to left (the Hebrew way) starting with Saturday ( Saturday yellow, Sunday red) and finishing with Friday. Forever my image of a week will be seen that way. For the year a circle divided into 12 segments, each segment a month again. I can’t think of the year without that image. I find that extremely annoying!

I left the school because we moved away and I took my 11+ elsewhere.


Solomon Wolfson class, 1960s.

Solomon Wolfson class, 1960s.

Solomon Wolfson class in 1965.

Solomon Wolfson class in 1965.

Samuel Wolfson School finally closed in 1981 reflecting the reduced size the jewish community in Notting Hill who were moving on and out of the area.

Posted in Schools, Streets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Lancaster Road Baths – Recollections from the 50s and 60s

The new secondary school for the north of the borough, the Kensington Aldridge Academy is due to open this September. It is being built on Silchester Road on the site of the Lancaster Road Baths that were finally demolished in 1979.

Lancaster Road Baths on the corner of Lancaster Road and Silchester Road, c.1900. photo: RBK&C

Lancaster Road Baths on the corner of Lancaster Road and Silchester Road, c.1900. photo: RBK&C

Foreword: The Baths finally opened in 1878 after the Kensington High Street based Vestry Hall (forerunner of today’s borough council) had been slow to react to the 1846 Act for the provision of baths and washhouses. This Act recognised the need for public washing facilities to be made readily available in those poor areas where such facilities were not present in the dwellings.  Paddington, Hammersmith and Chelsea all had public baths by the time the search begun in 1877 for a suitable site for Notting Dale.  It is unlikely that the promulgators of the 1846 Act could have envisaged what a vibrant lively social hub Lancaster Road baths would become.

Lancaster Road looking west from the crossroads with the Lancaster Baths (washhouse entrances) on the right hand side, 1970s. photo: RBKC

Lancaster Road looking west from the crossroads with the Lancaster Baths (washhouse entrances) on the right hand side, 1970s. photo: RBKC

My memories:
The baths consisted of 3 strands: 1) the public laundry part which was accessed at the Eastern end of the building fronting Lancaster Road. 2) the swimming baths, and 3) the washing baths both of which were accessed by the main entrance on Silchester Road. Built as a perceived necessity the whole would become an amenity in counterpoint with social intercourse and entertainment.

I never went inside the clothes washing part but recall seeing queues of women forming on Monday mornings waiting for the baths to open at 8am. I used to peer in as I walked past and it always looked a hive of activity.   Also it always seemed full of steam making seeing inside difficult. My mother told me Alan Mullery’s mother was invariably up the front of Mondays’ queue.

interior of Lancaster road Laundry. early 1970s.

Interior of Lancaster Road Laundry. early 1970s.

There were four swimming pools; 1) The main pool, 2) Men’s 2nd class. 3) Men’s 3rd class. 4) Women’s pool.

The main pool was I think Olympic size – the galas were held there and at the shallow end was a raised wooden slatted dais across the width of the pool from where the races were started.  At the deep end were diving boards in the centre and a springboard alongside. Around the perimeter were changing cubicles and there were more around the gallery above which also doubled as a spectator facility when there was a gala. It was mixed all the time I went there but had originally been male only.

The main pool. An early photo when it was male only.

The main pool. An early photo when it was male only.

The men’s 2nd class was smaller and had cubicles at poolside level only. There was a diving board I recall but not as elaborate as the main pool
The Men’s 3rd class was slightly smaller again than the 2nd Class and swimming costumes weren’t obligatory, the rationale being that if you couldn’t afford one you weren’t excluded. I don’t think there was a diving board in the 3rd.

Occasionally, to be nosey I poked my head around the door of the Women’s pool and it was always quiet seeming civilised and serene, a world away from the frenetic not to say hooligan activity in the other pools

I first went to the baths in 1955 aged about 7 with my Mother, herself a good swimmer, who taught me to swim there in the shallow end of the main pool.  I  went regularly thereafter and around a year later I went there from Oxford Gardens with our class where our teacher Leslie Barrett taught the entire class to swim in a morning in the men’s 3rd class.  He used cork floats about 2ft x 1ft which you held out in front of you keeping you afloat while you kicked your legs out behind you. This quickly dispelled fear of sinking or drowning.  As I could already swim I demonstrated the cork float routine and gave confidence to those who held fears. He had a phenomenal success rate and after a couple of mornings almost all the class could swim.

Later in 1959 when I was 11 I swam breast stroke for Oxford Gardens in the Annual Kensington Schools Gala making it to the Final. As I hit the water in that final I recall the noise from the spectators being really deafeningly loud – the place was packed to the rafters –  but sadly it didn’t propel me to the medal despite my older cousin Wendy (Darke) screaming at me at the top of her voice to go faster. Trust me Wendy, I was going as fast as I could.  I remember Kenny Bloomfield, Peter Parry and Philip Burton in my year being excellent swimmers and I think Kenny won the freestyle final.
I used all three pools in my time but when I was younger we would all go in the 3rd where we didn’t wear costumes and as it was mainly youngsters we could scream and shout our heads off to our hearts content and the attendants were usually tolerant of our antics.  I used to go in the 2nd occasionally but not much as it seemed a waste of money being twice the cost of the 3rd without obvious advantages though it was slightly bigger and had a diving board. The 3rd was 2d admission (.8p) the 2nd was 4d (1.6p) and the main pool was 8d (3.4p). When we had changed I was always ravenously hungry and we made for the cafe inside which was (very) basic – just a small room about 15ft square with a counter at the far end and some tables and chairs.  They sold bread and dripping and bread and jam both at 1d (.4p) a slice and I would have 3 bread and dripping and 3 bread and jam and a tea (2d, .8p).  If things were ropey it would be 1 or 2 of each and no tea. Opposite the entrance to the baths was a confectioner so if I had any money left I would buy some sweets as well.  I don’t think modern nutritionists would categorise this as a healthy diet however it couldn’t have been that harmful as I’ve survived to tell the tale.

As we got a bit older, around 13-14, we gravitated to the main pool which did have advantages –it was much bigger with the best diving boards and a springboard and all the older budding  ‘Johnny Weissmuller’ jack the lads went in there so we felt grown up and part of the adult scene….oh, and I nearly forgot there were girls there too who we could try to impress … if you call jumping on top of them and nearly drowning them impressing them.  I doubt any of them mistook me for Errol Flynn let alone David Niven.  These shenanigans bring me to the ‘Camp Commandant’ of the main pool – Freddy Bloomfield (may have been related to Kenny) who lived in Bramley Road between the junctions with Silchester Road and Walmer Road along from Bell Wilson the Chemist. We were all a bit wild – I suppose these days we’d be called feral and it therefore fell to Freddy to keep order. They couldn’t possibly have found a better candidate. He was a typical tough local and knew everyone. I think he’d been a boxer in his younger days.  He sat on a chair at the far (deep) end between the diving boards and the pool entrance and wore a vest, old trousers rolled up at the bottom and around his neck hung a referees whistle on a lanyard.  When he considered you’d been in the pool long enough – around an hour or so – he would approach, blow his whistle loudly, point at you and shout ‘OUT!’ Upon this command I would swim underwater away from him as fast as possible as if I hadn’t heard him. Of course I wasn’t fooling anyone but he appreciated boys will be boys and would give you another 5 minutes or so before repeating his ‘polite’ request. If you ignored the second warning he would wait for you to come to the side, take the lanyard from around his neck and with a good swing clump you on the back with the whistle. You got out then! And a bit lively too!! Similarly if you ran along the side or jumped on someone in the pool or otherwise acted foolishly he would soon let you know that wouldn’t be tolerated. If you persisted the whistle and lanyard would prove an efficient deterrent.   He didn’t have any difficulty with the older lads either who all respected him – they all knew he was ‘the guvnor’ and it wouldn’t be sensible to get too lairy with him. He let them have their fun to a point but if they overstepped the mark he left them in no doubt they were playing to his rule book.   Looking back it could have been chaos without him. When he wasn’t working he would often sit outside his house in Bramley Road surveying the scene. He was a real character and there was a great atmosphere in the main pool which could often get busy with a wide age range of users but he kept order effortlessly.

The Washing baths were a social hub as well as providing an essential amenity and there were Men’s 1st class and 2nd class baths and the same for Women. In the 1st you had your own taps and a towel; in the 2nd the attendant filled the bath and you brought your own towel. Friday and Saturday were busiest and there would be a great atmosphere in the 2nds’ where all the local jack the lads would congregate prior to their weekend night out.  I must mention at this point that the houses in Notting Dale almost without exception had no hot water or bathroom – just one cold tap in the scullery (a basic kitchen/washing room) to serve all needs so hence the washing baths provided an essential facility. When I was younger my mother would fill a small galvanised tin bath about 2 ft. long with hot water which involved repeatedly boiling the water in a kettle on the gas stove in the scullery. The bath was placed on the  floor in the scullery and it would take several kettles full to fill it. Then I would squeeze in with my legs up under my chin and once a week that was how I had a bath. And in the winter the scullery was freezing as it had no heating so you didn’t hang around in it too long.  We did have a longer bath about the same size as a normal domestic one but it took so long to fill with the boiled kettles that by the time it was 6 inches deep the first kettle full had gone cold so it was impractical. When I was about 11, I had outgrown the 2ft bath and from thereon went to the 2nd class baths.   After buying your ticket you would make your way to the baths and if it was Friday or Saturday around 5-6pm the cubicles, which ran either side of a central corridor, would all be occupied.  At that time of day most customers were in the 17 /35 age bracket and you would sit waiting your turn on a wooden bench arrangement that ran along one wall facing the entrance to the corridor. Whilst you waited there would be plenty of chat about that day’s football/horse racing etc. along with discussions concerning plans for that evenings activities.  Meanwhile in the baths the singers would be providing a free show for all – there would be a ‘Guy Mitchell’ followed by a ‘Michael Holliday’ and a ‘Tommy Steele’ then maybe a ‘ Mario Lanza’ or ‘Billy Eckstein’ –the standard would be at least decent and if someone was particularly good they might be shouted to for an encore and as generally everyone knew each other one or two requests might be shouted for. Remember this was all taking place while each bather was in his own cubicle so you couldn’t actually see the performer – just hear them.  I think this was a unique form of entertainment and I can think of no other situation like it. I never thought about it like that at the time  – that was just the way things were – but now I reflect on how lucky I was to have been there instead of looking at four walls at home in a domestic bathroom like most people– it was fun and entertaining and you got to meet your pals there too.  When your turn came you would go into the vacated cubicle and the attendant would fill the bath using the big brass valve which was mounted on the wall outside each cubicle. He had a big metal spanner thing which he used to turn on the water –a bit like a ratchet and socket – and it would fill the bath at a rate of knots as they were fitted with wide tap heads to accommodate the high rate of flow. When it was filled you jumped in and off you went. The baths were fitted along one side of the cubicle and all around the rim of the bath was a well worn wooden capping – a Victorian nod to Health and Safety, though living in W.10 at that time there were a lot more hazardous situations than getting in and out of a bath.   The cubicles were numbered and if the water cooled, you would shout ‘More hot in 26’ and the attendant would (in his own time) come and put more hot in prefacing it with a shout of ‘Watch yer toes its comin’ in’. This was advisable as the water was very hot and if you had your feet planted under the wide tap head they would be scalded.  Of course if you were 11 or12 and you shouted (in an unbroken voice) ‘More hot in 26’ your cry would simply be ignored as there were men waiting and the attendant didn’t want youngsters spending too long in there.  If you shouted a second time that request would also be ignored and might earn a sharp word of encouragement from the attendant to vacate. You soon got the message. Naturally as I got older and the attendants got to know you they would extend the adult privileges. When you had finished and opened the cubicle door almost before you were out the attendant would set about cleaning it.  He had a round galvanised receptacle – like a football cut in half in size and shape – which was filled with soap. This was mounted on a wooden handle about 2ft long. The soap was applied with a big wooden brush also mounted on a long handle.  He would have the bath cleaned and ready for the next customer in about 2 minutes.    The whole thing was efficiency personified – no technology needed at Lancaster Road Baths!!   Later when I was about 17 I would sometimes go in the first class to experience the luxury of your own taps (ha ha) but there was no atmosphere and entertainment like the 2nds’ which were different class and I quickly returned.

Looking back we had the Victorians to thank for providing a necessary and valuable amenity however due to the character of the customers it became much more, providing a social meeting place, entertainment and fun. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

John Henwood, 2014

Posted in Uncategorized | 95 Comments

Golborne before Trellick Tower, part 2. More memories of the 1950s and 1960s from Gwen Nelson

OS map 1935 of Golborne Road north east of the iron railway bridge towards Kensal Road. All the buildings shown were demolished. Trellick Tower was built on  the land on the east side of Golborne Road including Southam Street and Edenham Street as shown here.

OS map 1935 of Golborne Road north east of the iron railway bridge towards Kensal Road. All the buildings shown were demolished. Trellick Tower was built on the land on the east side of Golborne Road including Southam Street and Edenham Street as shown here.

To say North Kensington in the 1950s and 60s was a rough area would be a gross understatement.  It was an out and out working class area and had been ever since it was turned from farmland to residential in the mid C19th.  I believe the original plan was for quality housing for a rising, prosperous middle class but somehow this never materialised, at least not to the east of Ladbroke Grove where the large houses and accommodation over the shops on Golborne Road were rented out by the floor or room with shared conveniences for all tenants.

When we moved to Golborne Rd in 1952 I was six and knew nothing of its history or reputation. It was only some sixty years later, when researching my family history, that I discovered my family’s links with Golborne Road went back far further than we knew.

I was born in St Albans in 1946.  One of those curious quirks that resulted from expectant mothers being sent to makeshift maternity homes in the country as the main London hospitals were commandeered for returned servicemen.  I was born in Diocesan House, once home of the Bishop of St Albans and my mother would wryly comment that the maternity home was in Folly Lane, a very suitable name considering how many of the occupants got to be there.  My cousin Christine, some nine months my senior, was born at Shardeloes in Amersham, a similar grand old house although our parents both lived in the same street, Priory Grove, in Stockwell.

We lived with my maternal grandparents in a lovely old house, Montana Cottage.  Grandad had been a master builder, from a long line of master builders who hailed from Hinckley in, what was then, Rutland.  From the way Grandad spoke I assumed the family had come straight to Stockwell from Hinckley but in the 1871 census I found his father, Thomas Ireland, living at 3 Golborne Rd having moved there from Hinckley some time  the previous decade.  His marriage licence shows him marrying Elizabeth Hotter at St Martin in the Fields in 1858 and their first child, Thomas, was born in Kensington in 1860.  My grandad was born in 1874 after the family had subsequently moved to Chiswick so would have been unlikely to have known and in any event died in 1948.

Doing further research I found Thomas Ireland not only lived on Golborne Road but built and owned a large number of properties the west side of the Iron Bridge (somehow it always seems to ask to be capitalised!).  In 1869 he made application to the Kensington Vestry for leave to lay stone pipeware at numbers 51-55,66-72 and 74-78 being premises to the west side of the Mitre Tavern and St Ervans Rd respectively.  He is named as property owner and laying the drainage at his own expense.  He also, in 1872, is listed as a discharged bankrupt in The London Gazette so I can only wonder what turn of fate reduced him from property owner to bankrupt.  Thomas’ original buildings still stand.  One of them “Clarkes” is owned by Reg Thackeray, a local identity, who has been very helpful and accommodating whenever I’ve turned up with questions and camera.
But I digress.

We were fortunate in only having one other family with which to share the above shop accommodation.  Others were very cramped, often with a family per room.  Water heating and bathrooms were non existent.  “However did you keep clean?” my children asked.  On Saturday night the galvanised bathtub would be lifted off the wall in the hallway and lugged into the kitchen where it would be filled from saucepans and kettles boiled on the gas stove.  I had the first, quick bath, then Mum with the addition of more hot water and finally Dad after some water had been ladled out and still more hot added.  The rest of the week, in the words of my grandmother, one “Washed down as far as possible, up as far as possible and then washed one’s possible”.  It is not hard to imagine how the phrase “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” originated when large families were all using the same bath.  After several children had washed it must have resembled People Soup and one small body easily overlooked.

Clothing was similarly washed in a galvanised tub with a wooden scrubbing board and a bar of hard, yellow Sunlight soap.  No such thing then as a daily change of clothes although knickers were probably changed a couple of times a week and the crotch rinsed out and hung up to dry overnight.  At most, clothing was washed weekly or taken to the bagwash on the corner of Golborne and Southam Street.  Tony Roper’s play “The Steamie” about a group of Glasgow women using a communal washing facility gives an idea of what it was like although the bagwash took in your clothing and returned it to you later that day to be dried at home.  Mum would load the bag on my pushchair and wheel it along the road then retrace her steps that afternoon.  Frequently someone else’s odd sock or handkerchief would turn up amongst your wash or some item of yours would be missing which gave an element of anxiety to the proceeding.  From inside the shop one could look out the back and see the vats of hot, soapy water where the laundry would be stewed into submission.  Anything delicate was washed at home and hung on a clothes line that extended out the back window on a pulley system and was affixed at its far end to a pole rising up from the backyard.  This worked well until the rope broke and everything tumbled down into the filthy yard and had to be retrieved and rewashed. But people kept themselves clean to the best of their abilities considering the appalling conditions in which they lived.

Along our side of Golborne Road, just down from the corner with Kensal Road was a stationers’ that sold all sorts of fascinating types of paper – Bond, Antique Laid, Kraft, Manilla and Vellum to name but a few.  I loved the smell and would find any excuse to go in and buy a sheet of fine silver tissue or lace paper.  Looking at aerial photos I think this must have been number 3 where the Irelands lived but I can’t be sure after so many years.
Next door was a sweetshop, Wardells, run by an old woman who was always knitting.  A girl about my age, Gillian, lived with her but I’m not sure of their relationship.  Sweets were displayed on an open counter for you to chose your own mixture.  I’m ashamed to admit a friend and I would go in and ask the woman the time.  To tell us she had to go out the back to see the clock and in her absence we’d stuff as many sweets as we could into our pockets.  We were never  caught but I’m sure she must have suspected.

Gillian was a plump child with golden ringlets and elaborate , hand-knitted, lacy dresses.  For some reason she never fitted in with the other children on the street and we’d tease her by singing “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, so he wasn’t fuzzy wus ‘e?” and tugging her hair.

To fit in was crucial.  When we lived in Stockwell Mum used to handmake my dresses with ruching, frills and smocking and my hair would be coaxed each night into ringlets with strips of rag.  I attended tap dancing and ballet classes (and was useless at both due to a chronic lack of rhythm) I was so teased at Wornington Road school because I looked and sounded different from the rag tag children who attended that Mum had my hair cut into a straight bob and ran me up some plain gingham dresses that washed into shapelessness.  My accent was still South London but at least I didn’t look obviously different.

I only stayed less than a year at Wornington Road.  As well as the bullying, the level of teaching left much to be desired.  Mum tells me I went, at six, knowing my 6,7 and 8 times table and left having forgotten my 3 times table.  I was enrolled at St. Mary’s Catholic School on East Row and flourished there.  But more later on that.

On the corner of Golborne and Edenham was a post office, either number 9 or 11 and across Edenham Street at lived Mrs Mabley with her children. There was also a family named Wilson who had children Dawn and Keith. I was friends for a short while with Ann Mabley and we would go to the Saturday morning Minors at the Prince of Wales cinema on Harrow Road.  It was sixpence admission and I’d get another sixpence to buy sweets.  Ann and her younger brother only ever got their admission money and an apple.  I don’t recall there being a Mr Mabley.  Number 15 was a tobacconist and sweet shop run by the Whites who had two sons Gordon (?) and Raymond about my age.  Raymond had a bit of a crush on me and would sneak sweets to me when his dad wasn’t looking.  17 Golborne was also a shop down below.  Its function varied as no-one ever seemed to make a go of it.  The only business I can recall being there for any length of time was a secondhand shop that sold reconditioned electrical goods among other things. 19 was the premises of the shoe repairer Bert Cross and his wife Amy.  They were unusual in that they were a childless couple and had the whole property to themselves.

The other side of us, number 23, held three families all of whom were immigrants.  The Gonzalez and Ramayons were Spanish and the Christis were Greek Cypriot.  The Christi’s daughter Yannoula was to become my best friend during those early years and partner in shoplifting.  There was a dairy at 27 run by a Welshman Dai Francis.  His daughter married  Kenny Ball’s bassist Vic Pitt and on a couple of occasions gave us tickets for a Kenny Ball concert.  There was a friendly agreement between Dai and my Dad that Dad wouldn’t sell fresh milk and Dai wouldn’t sell meat or bacon although Dad did sell sterilised milk, a horrible tasting liquid that came in tall, narrow bottles with a crimped top like a beer bottle.  As many people didn’t have a refrigerator it had the advantage of lasting somewhat longer than regular milk.

Further along was a chemist run by an older man and his son.  In my teenage years I had an after school job there filling bottles with some patent nostrum, iron tonic, which was a virulent red but much sought after.  As I wrote previously, the bagwash was on the corner of our block.

Across the road, at the Kensal Road end were several shops.  One was a fish and chip shop but the proprietors were very surly and expected you to bring your own newspaper in which to wrap the fish and chips.  We always preferred the Greek shop the other side of the Iron Bridge.  On the corner of Hazelwood Crescent was the Prince Arthur pub.  During the week it was pretty quiet but Friday and Saturday night was regularly the scene of fights.  It was not only men who indulged in fisticuffs but women, particularly the local “toms” who had fallen out over a client.  They would strip off to the waist and bare knuckle box, pull hair and claw at each other until either other customers or the police broke them up.  This was weekend entertainment from the balcony seats of our first floor lounge.  Mum and Dad always said it was better offering than what was on our nine inch black and white tele.

At number 12, next to the Prince, lived the Howes and Higgs, a family named Fox and also Mr Fisher with his daughter Joan and teenage son David.  Joan was to be come my Mum’s best friend despite a fifteen year gap in their ages.  She worked as a cutter at Marks & Spencers in the days when British Made meant exactly that and they had their factory in Marylebone.  The three Gs –  Greens, Gethings and Gibsons were at 16 but I can recall nothing about them. (there did seem to be a curious alliterative chance as to who lived where on that side of the road!)  Among others at 18 were the Digweeds, an established local family and the Doyles.  Also the Healeys with a son John, a couple of years younger than me.  We met up through Friendsreunited some years ago and it is to him that I owe a lot of this information.

Number 20 on the corner with Appleford Road was a doctor’s surgery at ground level and lodgings for several single men on the upper floors.  From their names they seem to have been Irish.  The Powers who lived in the basement were Irish.  Mrs Power was the doctor’s housekeeper and their daughter Kayleen was also one of my friends.  The other side of Appleford Road was a closed shop that was used as a workshop by a bespoke tailor.  Above it lived a Polish (I think) couple with a daughter Juleika.  I think they were refugees or DPs.  Juleika and I were friends until one day she refused to return a book I had lent her.  It was a very old one about cats (illustrated by Louis Wain from memory) and one of my favourites.  I came home wailing and Dad went over to see her Mum but was told she wouldn’t make Juleika hand it back as “Gwen has so much and Juleika has so little”  At a distance of sixty years I can see the logic in that but not at the time and I never spoke to her again.  Forgiveness is not one of my virtues.

Gwen Nelson (nee Martin), 2014.

If you want to read more of Gwen’s memories, you will now find them on her own blog

Posted in Golborne, Schools, Shops, Streets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Golborne before Trellick Tower. Gwen Nelson (nee Martin) recalls the 1950s and 1960s.

Vic Martin in his shop at 21 Golborne Road

Vic Martin in his shop at 21 Golborne Road

We – myself and my parents Victor and Gerry (aka Vicky) Martin, moved to Golborne Road from Lambeth in 1952. After returning from being a POW in Stalag VIIIA, Lamsdorf and being demobbed Dad had never settled into a job working for a few weeks here and there as a spray painter, window cleaner, pretty much anything unskilled that was going. Mum always told of how Dad would come home, say he’d chucked in his job and hand her his final pay packet. She would go out, spend all of it and then tell him they had no money so he’d better find another job in a hurry.

In Lambeth we lived in a lovely late Georgian detached house with my grandparents Alice and Frederick Ireland. Grandad Ireland (more later about the Irelands) was a master builder and used what was originally the coach house and stables for his tools. Because we were a multi generational household Nana would look after me while Mum worked part time on the till at Lyons or ABC teahouses. Mum would also take in piecework sewing shirring elastic into children’s swimsuits at three farthings a garment.

Before the war Dad had worked as a bacon hand for Frosts, a protosupermarket group. One day he confessed to Mum that he’d like his own shop so that he could be his own boss and not work for someone else. With their small savings and some help from my grandparents they secured the lease on 21 Golborne Rd which had been run as a grocers by Vic Harrison who had apparently had little idea of shop management and pretty well run it into the ground. Our lease covered the shop and ground floor premises, the basement and back yards and the first floor rooms. Above us lived Vic Harrison’s daughter Violet Peck and her daughter, Beryl, who was a couple of years older than me.

After the lovely house in Lambeth number 21 was a huge shock. It was run down, damp and rickety with monochrome brownish wall paper hanging in large loops all the way up the stairs. Vic Harrison’s idea of repairs was to hammer six inch nails into everything, including wallpaper that had come loose. The phrase “doing a Harrison” entered our family’s vocabulary for a poorly done job. The basement of the building consisted of two rooms to the rear with a narrow passage that opened out onto a concrete yard. The inner of these rooms had no window and was quite literally dripping with green slime. Towards the street was the coal cellar. Coal was delivered by horse and cart with the street level manhole levered off and coal poured straight down into the cellar. All the rooms at this level had a fine layer of coal dust mingling with other adhesions.

At ground level there was the shop to the front and behind this a store-room with a coal fired oven where Mum would heat cornish pasties and meat pies to sell to the workmen. It was also very good for putting your feet in on a cold winter’s day. A passage ran alongside this with stairs down to the basement and up to the higher levels. It continued on to another room which was used as our kitchen and also a communal toilet for all inhabitants. It was one of Beryl’s ploys to sit in there for hours on end reading a comic and refuse to come out until Mum had words with her mum (and much effing and blinding from Mrs Peck) and made her get Beryl out. Beryl would also lay in wait for me on the landing and thump me and try to steal my toys or books until one day I filled a pint glass mug with water, hid it under my cardigan and then socked her with it nearly knocking her out. Mrs Peck complained to Mum saying I was, “as strong as an ox” After that it was a Mexican standoff. Beryl would glare at me but never touched me again.

Halfway up to the first floor the stairs took a right angled bend. There was a very tall set of french doors that opened out onto the roof of the store room. This was one of my favourite spots for playing as I could look out over the “Feathers” boys club on Edenham Street. Also Golborne Road, Edenham Street and Southam Street formed a triangle and it was possible to see everyone’s backyard. There were no fences around the perimeter and Mum always worried I’d get too near the edge and fall over.

Up on the first floor was a huge lounge that ran the length of the building looking out onto the street. It had two windows with a 12 foot drop and a large fireplace that barely warmed the room. It was so large we had in it our three piece suite, a large mahogany dining table that could be extended to the size of a table tennis table and a large sideboard with still lots of room to move. To the rear was Mum and Dad’s bedroom with a strip partitioned off by a blanket for me. For a while Mum tried to use the basement rooms but the damp and dark defeated her and I used them as part of my enchanted kingdom to play my games and keep my growing collection of pets including a wild rabbit that had a broken back and a tortoise we thought had hibernated until a foul greenish liquid started to emanate from its shell. Among my other pets was a tabby and white cat named Bobby who was my best friend and confidante. He and I would share a bed and he’d cuddle up to me with both arms round my neck.

In those days, fortunately, Health and Safety were only individual words and not a dictatorial body so there was no-one to pontificate about the hygiene of having a cat on premises where food was sold. Bobby was a regular part of shop life and would sit on the doorstep to greet customers. In reality he was an essential part of the shop as it was overrun with mice and Dad regularly had to trim the cheese to remove little teeth marks. One day, when he was cutting bacon with one of the old hand operated machines, a little mouse got trapped by the blade and before Dad could do anything he’d chopped off its little back leg. Said mouse was promptly despatched under the heel of Dad’s shoe.

Anyone who has watched “Open all Hours” would have a pretty fair idea of what Dad’s shop looked like and Dad was not unlike Ronnie Barker in appearance complete with moustache and full length coat. The only difference being that Dad’s was white. It had removable buttons that were held in place with pegs that went through loops in the back of the buttons which were pushed through holes in the coat. It fell to me or Mum to put these in as Dad had been badly wounded during WW2 and had little use of his right hand. Although he had taught himself to write left handed anything that required fine manual dexterity defeated him.

The shop had a full front window with the door opening on the left as you faced the shop. Inside were tins of biscuits from which customers chose which they wanted. He also did a fine trade in broken biscuits and children regularly asked for “fruppence werf ‘v broken ones mister”. Tea was sold loose from large wooden chests, usually an ounce or two at a time and put into a paper bag. He also bought in rice in large chests and one of my after school jobs was to weigh it into pound bags for sale. A scoop and a quarter weighed a pound and it was amazing how easily one could gauge the amount after a few goes.

At right angles to the window was the counter with a chiller cabinet containing cheeses, salami and flitches of bacon. On top of the counter was a set of scales and display stands with packets of Lyons pudding mix, Kraft cheese, Burton’s Battenberg cake, and a brand called Kut-a-kake that used to boast that each piece was “specially wrapped” On top of the chiller was another glass fronted display stand with 2d caramel wafers, Brand’s dressed crab dish paste and butter in 4 ounce packs although these were often cut into halves or quarters for customers’ requirements as rationing was still in force when we moved to North Kensington and, in any case, people could often not afford to buy a whole packet. Behind the counter he had box shelves made from old packing cases with tinned food in them and plastic strips across them where prices were displayed.

This was long before the days of pre-packaging and Dad would cut bacon and ham to order. Bacon was bought by the leg or shoulder from Ivan, Kellets and Child and one year Dad negotiated for my school class to have a trip to their smokehouse to see how bacon was made. I forget where it was but can remember the tall chimney with the joints hanging down on hooks,the interior walls of the chimney being stained with a thick, glossy brown substance and the aromatic smoky smell.

Any ends of meat that couldn’t be sold, we ended up eating or Mum would mince and add to the heaps of potatoes she chopped with onions to go inside the pasties. When I read Noel Streatfield’s “White Boots” I immediately related to Harriet Johnson and her father’s shop although Dad was a far better businessman than Mr Johnson and the shop prospered.

The pasties were very popular with young working men as they were cheap and tasty. She also made steak and kidney pies and a peculiar mixture of baked beans, tinned peas, corned beef and Oxo cubes which she would ladle out into dishes the customers brought into the shop. It was surprisingly good and became one of my favourite childhood meals.

Dad had a very innovative approach and was constantly looking for ways to improve his stock. Up Kensal Road was a wholesalers run by either Czech or Polish people. It was from here Dad bought his salamis and wurst. I often used to walk up there with him and one Christmas the men gave me a musical box like a carousel that played “Silent Night”.

When West Indian immigrants started to arrive in the late 1950s they complained that British bread wasn’t as good as the bread they got back home so Dad found a West Indian baker who would supply him in bulk.

Eggs were bought from a farmer who would sell them by the trayload, thirty eggs to a tray and also would supply Dad with chickens and geese at Christmas. In those days chicken was not the ubiquitous food it is today and these birds were delivered feathered and still with their interiors still intact. Mum and I sat of an evening after delivery plucking and disembowelling the wretched things. The trick to plucking is to dampen the feathers first so they don’t fly everywhere as you pull them out but it did mean a good wash oneself afterwards to remove them from ones person. Disembowelling was trickier as I was told to be careful of the gallbladder as its rupture would taint the flesh and make the bird unsaleable. Most of these birds were old layers and often one would find an egg inside them or, more spectacularly, a string of yolks before the shell had formed around them. I recall one time finding an egg encased in its membrane with the finest, transparent shell.

Although Dad had a till he refused to add up purchases on it as he could do it in his head quicker and often more accurately than punching the keys and pulling the handle (yes just like Arkwright’s devil machine) If a customer demurred he’d let them add up on the machine while he did it in his head and always he finished first and was correct. Eventually regulars accepted that what Vic Martin said was right.

Cigarettes were a large part of his sales. Packs of twenty were available, but more often in this poor neighbourhood people bought packs of ten or even two. Popular brands were Kensitas for the coupons you collected and could exchange for gifts, Senior Service with the picture of an “old salt” smoking, Dunhill, Craven A, Players and a brand especially for the ladies “Sweet Afton”. A very upmarket brand was Sobranie. You could buy strong smelling “Black Russian” or a milder one “Cocktail” with the cigarettes each a different pastel colour. No health warnings then and I can recall seeing an advertisement in a magazine recommending smoking for people with asthma. Like butter, cigarette packets were also split and one cigarette would be bought at a time if the person didn’t roll their own. Tinned tobacco and cigarette papers were more common, as very thin “fags” could be rolled and men would spend all day with a partially smoked “dog-end” attached to their lower lip.

Customers were a mixed bunch. Many were very poor and had a real struggle to make ends meet. While Dad was far from a soft touch, he was aware of genuine hardship, having had to leave home at twelve years old and become self supporting because of his father’s remarriage. He would allow people things “on tick” until their situation improved and often give away slightly smelly bacon or sausages that were past their best. With a rinse under the tap the bacon was edible if somewhat strong tasting.

Some of the best customers Dad had were the irish “navvies” who had come over as part of “MacAlpine’s men” after the war to work on the roads. These were young, husky men, well paid and hungry as a result of their hard labour. They would buy bacon by the poundload, eggs by the dozen and a whole loaf of bread and 4oz of butter and that just for the one meal. Dad’s mother, who had died young of throat cancer, was Irish and I suspect their soft Kerry and Limerick voices touched his sentimental streak.

At the other end of the scale were women with children and no man to support them. Illegitimacy rates were high around North Kensington and I suspect that a lot of women were, unwillingly, “on the game” to support their children. Alas, all too often, this resulted in yet another mouth to feed unless a trip to the local back street abortionist could be afforded. Rumour had it that she operated from one of the basements in Edenham Street using a pint of gin and a knitting needle, brine or a chemical abortifacient to perform the task although in the 1950s I was ignorant of such things being still of primary school age. Dad could always be relied on to find a little something for a woman who was trying to raise her children decently despite her circumstances.

In those days, before the internet, and in many cases before people had telephones the “traveller” was a regular weekly visitor to Dad’s shop. These men, often European Jews, were employed by warehouses to visit shops and persuade them to buy their goods. Looking back they seemed to have a curious sameness about them. Gaberdine coat, Homberg or Fedora hat and a thick accent. They were paid on commission so were persuasive salesmen.

Dad got on well with them and, having been a POW in Silesia, could sympathise with them as many were DPs (Displaced Persons) as a result of Hitler’s policies. Dad was always keen to get a bargain and pass it on to his customers so would negotiate a special weekly deal on a particular line. I can recall one week it was Heinz Baked Beans and another tinned fruit salad, macedoine of fruit as it was called.

Next door to us at 19 were an elderly couple Bert and Amy Cross who were originally from Earl’s Barton in Northamptonshire. He had been an apprentice at Clark’s shoe makers as a young man and was operating as a “snob” as shoe makers were known in those days. In 1959 he decided to retire and the shop came up for lease. As I was now at grammar school and there was a limit to how much Mum could do in the shop, my parents decided to lease number 19 and Mum was going to run it as a drapers, ladies’ clothing and wool shop, since the closest one was the other end of Golborne Road, over the iron bridge. Thus started another phase of my life on The Golborne.

Gwen Nelson (nee Martin), 2014

Posted in Golborne, Shops, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Fowell Street

There has been a trail of comments on the blog (see posts on Coronation Day Street Parties and 1966 and all that- the Demolition of Walmer Road) regarding a chapel on Fowell St. Researching recently for photographs of Lancaster Road at RBKC Local Studies, I found these photographs taken in 1969.

Fowell Street looking north 1969

Fowell Street looking north 1969

Fowell Street east side 1969.KCCHG.

Fowell Street east side 1969

Fowell Street west side 22-  1969

Fowell Street west side 22- 1969

Fowell Street ran south from Lancaster Road,  almost opposite the old Silchester Baths,  running parallel with Walmer Road. It was later demolished along with all the surrounding streets such as Bomore Road, Dulford Street and Grenfell  Road to make way for the Lancaster West Estate and the Kensington New Pools (not very aptly named since it is now being rebuilt!).

Fowell Street west side with Bramley Hall Mission 1969

Fowell Street west side with Bramley Hall Mission 1969

With thanks to RBK&C Local Studies for the photographs.

I found the following information about the chapel in an online text at


A Book of 
Metropolitan Churches and Church Enterprise.

by the Rev William Pepperell. Published in 1872


A small plain brick edifice, built in the old familiar Grecian style, and situated in Fowell Street, in the Potteries, Notting Hill. The building is square; and has in the interior on three sides a gallery, the other being occupied

A small plain brick edifice, built in the old, familiar Grecian style, and situated in Fowell Street, in the Potteries, Notting-hill.  The building is a square; and has in the interior on three sides a gallery, the other being occupied with a platform for the preacher.  In all, ground floor and galleries, there is accommodation for about 200 people.  On a memorial stone outside is the following: “This stone was laid August 2, 1864, by J. Fowell, Esq., who kindly gave the land, Rev. J. Phillips, Superintendent Minister.  J. Carrud, Architect and Builder.”  The chapel is connected with what is called the “Second London” Primitive Methodist Circuit…………………..

The Primitives are poor, their chapels are of the least costly kind, and their ministers have barely a subsistence, yet are they highly respectable in their order, and exert themselves with vigour and enthusiasm in their calling.  One of the junior ministers, the Rev. Mr. Knipe, was officiating in Fowell-street, and offered extempore prayer with an ardour, read with a homely emphasis, and preached with a demonstration of manner that can seldom be heard except in a Primitive Methodist chapel.  His congregation consisted of about 70 or 80 of the adult population, respectable-looking poor people, by no means the lowest class to be found in the Potteries……………. There is a Sunday-school with about 80 children, held in the morning and afternoon.  The services are on Sunday at 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m.; Wednesday, 7 p.m.; prayer-meetings, Sunday morning at 7, and on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings at 7.  The society, according to Methodist custom, contributes its quota towards the support of the ministry by the weekly pence of the members, quarterly contributions, and collections.

Audrey Jones, whose family have been members of the Lancaster Road Methodist Church recalls that her grandmother attended the Fowell Street Church when she first came to London from Norfolk, where she had been a Primitive Methodist. This was around 1900.  Audrey has told me that the various Methodist Churches all united together in the 1930s, so presumably that is when the chapel probably ceased to be Methodist.

In the 1950 Street Directory the building is called  the Christian Community Mission (Bramley Hall). The photo above,  taken in 1969 refers to it as Bramley Hall Mission.  So any more information – let us know.

Next posting will be about Lancaster Cross, where Walmer Road, Lancaster Road, Clarendon Road and  Silchester Road all converged -including Kensington / Silchester Baths and Laundry. If you want your memories to be included send them to Sue at



Posted in Before the Westway, Streets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 59 Comments

St Quintin Park Cricket Ground – the north western edge of North Kensington

St Quintin Park.ssAbove is a view of the St Marylebone Infirmary, now St Charles Hospital as seen from a cricket ground that is clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1894/5.

This photocopy came to us years ago from the grandson of a groundsman at St Quintin Park. We think it was taken from approximately where Ladbroke Hall (Clement Talbot / Rootes Building) is now on Barlby Road, looking south east to the north side of the hospital.

Ordnance Survey map 1894/1895

Ordnance Survey map 1894/1895

The wall that extends the length of the hospital ground is still there. To the left of the hospital is a building that is now on the corner of Exmoor St and Barlby Road, marked on early maps as a printing works. Beyond that is Edinburgh Road School (later Barlby Road School), built in 1880. This building was demolished in the early 1970s as part of the redevelopment of the streets to the south of the school and the new school was built further towards the junction with Ladbroke Grove.

The date of the St Quintin Park photo is probably just before 1900 since by 1903 work had begun on the Clement Talbot Motor Works. Barlby Road was laid out at the same time.

Clement Talbot Factory on Barlby Road.

Clement Talbot Factory on Barlby Road.

The image of the Cricket Ground is a not very good, old fashioned photo copy of the original and I would like to have a better scanned copy, but I can no longer trace the origins, so if there is anyone out there who has an original, please let us know. The photograph was labelled as coming from Jas.E. Hunt of 141 Clarendon Road, North Kensington.

Sue Snyder

Posted in Schools, St Quintin Park, Streets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

St Charles Hospital

We recently visited the ‘treasures’ of St Charles Hospital. Most of us, as we go into the hospital for a routine blood test or an x-ray or perhaps to attend an activity at the Second Half Centre,  are unaware that above the entrance arch is a large former chapel, decorated with colourful Victorian tiles and painted religious texts. Apparently the Nightingale nurses who trained at the Hospital in its early days as Marylebone Infirmary were required to attend every day.

For many years the room was used as a store room until painters rediscovered the decoration. Originally there were stained glass windows but they were removed to put into the small chapel which was more appropriate for the Hospital’s requirements (now this is closed as well).

The other interesting space we visited is the former Laundry, now the Gym on the 3rd Floor with the imposing Tower containing the water tank rising from one end.

St Charles Hospital was listed – Grade II – in 1995.

Photos below by Dave Hucker

Brickwork in St Charles ChapelOrnate brickwork in the large chapel. Made from Sussex brick.

Victorian tiling St Charles large chapelVictorian encaustic tiles on the wall of the large chapel.

Religious text, large chapel, St Charles Hospital.One of many religious texts on the walls of the large chapel.

Stained glass window of St Roche, small chapel, St Charles Hospital.Part of a triptych in the small chapel, devoted to Saint Roche, patron saint of plagues, cholera, epidemics, relief from pestilence, skin diseases, knee problems and diseased cattle dogs.

Stained glass window by Leonard Potter, St Charles Hospital.Inscription under the stained glass window. The artist Leonard Potter was an assistant to Karl Parsons, a well known Stained Glass designer.

Painted glass window, small chapel St Charles HospitalPainted glass window in the small chapel in memory of S.J.Cockrell, former matron of the hospital.

Wooden stairs leading to Tower, St Charles HospitalWooden steps up leading to the water tank in the main tower.

ironwork st Charles HospitalVictorian pipework and valve coming from the water tank in the main tower.

For more about the history of the building that started life as an Infirmary for Marylebone Workhouse, see the following website:

Posted in Hospitals, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“CanAC” The Canalside Activity Centre

Maybe when visiting Sainsbury’s Ladbroke Grove you have wondered about this building alongside the canal?




When I moved to Barlby Gardens (April, 1981) there were three areas of derelict land to the north of our properties namely Old Oak Railway Sidings, the Western Gas Works, and Kensal Green Cemetery. As a result there were problems with “undesirables” creating a nuisance through unregulated activities with all the associated antisocial behaviour ranging from fly-tipping, fighting and begging, to mugging and burglary. Prosecuting and evicting trespassers plus clearing out the car breakers took unaffordable time and money: only for the need to arise again almost straight away. The problem was not only on land but on the water so involving British Waterways as well. Their mandate was to make the canal system self -financing. They needed to promote tourism.

Barlby Gardens Residents’ Association was born to take action. We consequently met up with other likeminded, local groups including environmentalists, local politicians and some active aquatic sport enthusiasts, then formed The North Kensington Canalside Trust. Meantime Friends of Kensal Green had become active; British Rail, by whatever name it was then known, had declared an intention to have some future use for their shunting yards, and interest in Westminster’s section of the towpath was growing. The shunting yards were eventually redeveloped as the North Pole Terminus for the Channel Tunnel while the towpath saw significant improvements alongside Meanwhile Gardens.

At our early meetings we each had bright, that is, ambitious and unrealistic ideas for the Gas Works’ site because there were two docks as well as eleven acres of surrounding land in toto. Furthermore, twenty to thirty years ago, the waterways of the country looked as though they would quickly become burgeoning playgrounds for “messing about in boats”. These docks were ideally suited to provide support services such as refueling, chandlery, provisioning and refreshment, once moorings proliferated along the towpath to fulfill popular demand for boating. For many people personal wealth, in terms of disposable income was concerned, and leisure time had increased and looked as though it would continue so to do. There was also an increasing number of people with time and money to spend.

Furthermore we were concerned about the lack of “things to do” expressed by local young people. The aimlessness of unemployed youth, especially school drop-outs was problematical despite the fact that many had great potentialities where sport could harness some interest and enthusiasm. Hence we looked for a project that was expected to create work for some unemployed residents building new facilities for the community to enjoy and protect. Such care would arise because of their ownership of something they had helped to create and by providing enjoyable activities that would fully utilise the Western Gas Works site as an inland watersports facility.

Sometime around 1980 the Gas Works Company gave the small basin to the Local Authority, I believe as a “development gain”. It was passed on to the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) and there was talk of a canoe club being set up there. There were very good examples of what could be done within other local authorities along the canals in north London. The expanse of water on this site provided an unusual opportunity. Unfortunately education funding began to be severely curtailed prior to the demise of the ILEA. In 1987 the London Residuary Body returned the basin to the council, RBK&C. They too had severe financial constraints because of loss of the Business Rate with the fiasco over replacing “Rates” with a Poll Tax and in turn, the introduction of Council Tax.

Some years on, we as NKCT were invited by RBK&C officers to become partners in the Watersports Activities’ Centre Project. Whereas on the one hand we had to sacrifice our independence we could benefit from the professional expertise and administrative power of their permanent staff. This conflict was sorely tested several times in ensuing years, initially when the appointment of contractors had to go out to tender since our own designs were not accepted and we lost one of our number, himself an architect, who had made a great contribution to the cause.

Also we had to abandon our ideas of sailing because the project would be centered upon the small basin only, which would be much too tiny for sail although we did cling onto the idea of rowing along with canoeing. On the other hand RBK&C did have control of this dock and had not, so far, been in a position to proceed. Furthermore the Council were keen to act as “Project Manager”.


Once we had reached agreement Kensington Housing Trust then came on board, being interested in developing flats, perhaps two dozen on three floors, in the airspace above the Activity Centre. Such accommodation would share wonderful panoramic views. Kensington Housing Trust (KHT) was prepared to “lease the air space” above the Centre to build a number of flats designed specifically for people with disabilities. They were prepared to pay over a quarter million pounds if agreement could be reached. As an up-front deposit this made all the difference to funding where matched funding came into play.

Meantime J. Sainsbury had begun operations to provide a superstore on an adjacent part of the site but between the two docks. This left very little room around the water for much by way of activity. More space was essential for movement and storage of boats, equipment and participants’ mobility. As the supermarket construction reached completion a request for help gave us leases on two small plots of land. These triangles made our site very much more convenient. When the store opened they donated money and permission for limited parking in their car park because the only available parking space we had had been allocated to the residents.

ImageNegotiations with British Gas defined the narrow margin of banking surrounding the dock that could be considered ours. However, tests revealed just how poisonous the soil had become through the coking processes. Further, the water and silt were just as lethal.

Derelict Land Grant of about a quarter million pounds was secured to clear the ground of, more or less, anything that could be objectionable, and fence it against further invasion from car breakers or anyone else.

I think the next tranche of money came through the Urban Regeneration Fund. This was a similar sum, which enabled the site to be decontaminated. Foundations, underground oil tanks and pipelines, toxic soil, with much unwanted vegetation and debris, all was removed. The dock itself had to be dammed from the canal so that it could be drained, cleaned of several feet of silt, not to mention the accumulated submerged junk, and repaired. Fish and other aquatic fauna were saved by being returned to the canal. They floundered in the mud and so were caught easily.

Fundraising was our major challenge:


Knowing the magnitude of the capital sum likely to be required for construction, a number of six figure single donations would be needed if a sum of a million pounds was to be exceeded. (The eventual total cost of the building was one point six million.)

Successful grant applications seemed dependent upon an initial pot of gold.


Running costs would be high – tens of thousands each year.

Targeted audience needed to be subsidized for any activity not aimed at a self-financing clientele.

The first problem was convincing any individual or organization that anyone else would help; matched funding was becoming the name of the game. Our personal contributions and events could hardly be recognized as of pump priming proportions.

The towpath is on a higher level to that of the dockside because of the bridge taking the towpath over the entrance to the dock. Whereas the first planning application proposed 22 flats on 3 floors surmounting a basement and ground floor water sports facility plans were eventually approved allowing for a structure restricted to three stories overlooking the towpath but four floors on the dockside. Sixteen fully accessible flats would occupy two and a half floors, with the Activities’ Centre having half the floor which gave access to the towpath plus all that could be used at ground (or water) level; apart that is from what was needed to provide sufficient number of suitable parking spaces for residents’ “mobility” cars. The flats were designed for people with physical disabilities being totally independent of the Activities Centre. This caused a restriction to be imposed curtailing the hours we could operate, namely nine till nine – just twelve hours.


Apart from the sixteen fully accessible flats the approved plans provided the Centre with: a Reception Foyer straight off the towpath, a Café Area (later converted to a gym), toilets, a large Teaching Room, a back office, overlooking the canal, a corridor and a front office, This latter also acted as the control room to oversee the whole enclosure. At the lower level there was a canoe store, a Sports Hall, workshop, changing rooms and a spiral staircase onto the higher level

ImageConstruction began in 1994 and completed during 1996 by which time the Trust felt able to employ a Manager but on a one-year contract only because revenue funding was far from secure. The Job description was stringent as it included responsibility for fund-raising, good qualifications, and relevant experience.

Having just a single employee rendered it impossible to operate all day every day let alone long days to include evening sessions, even though it was out of school hours, after school, weekends and holidays, where there was nothing to do. Much would depend upon the new Manager, the inaugural Open Day, and Volunteers. These were youngsters with water sports experience who were willing and able to pass on their skills and knowledge to others while aiming for further qualifications and enjoying themselves. Many such youngsters would be personal contacts of the Manager whilst others should be recruited locally.

The opening was dependent upon borrowed equipment and the full cooperation of Meanwhile Gardens Canoe setup moving in. They had agreed in principal to transferring their operations over to our venue for a trial period with a view to making it their home base. Quite naturally with that equipment also came the fully-fledged team of volunteers complete with their home grown instructors most of whom were ready to work with the new setup in our fine custom built premises.

Between September and March a great deal of paperwork was done, including grant applications and publicity. Schools, local V.I.P.s, and national Celebrities, were invited for the Grand Opening Ceremony in the form of a Free Trial Open Day for families and school parties, provided parental consent forms were completed beforehand. The weather was very kind so we had a fine day of fun. Colville Primary School Steel Band played, and Duncan Goodhew, Michael Aspel, and Robert Powell, launched the events speaking from the rescue boat in the middle of the dock.

ImageSport England came up with a substantial grant for equipment which enabled us to buy much of what was still needed to obtain our certificate of excellence from British Canoe Union, as well as registering for rowing, trampolining, and outdoor activities. At this stage it seemed not only that the Centre desperately needed a second in command but that we could afford to have a Deputy or Assistant Manager especially as a suitable candidate was in the offing.

Things went well from the beginning as far as activities were concerned. Many school children and people with severe disabilities were able to experience water sports for the first time. Some of them returning for training after school or on Saturday mornings with their families.

However towards the end of that first season it became clear that even with two full time staff, weekends were not going to see the Centre open except for Saturday mornings for just two hours for the family session. Even with them working well together for the summer, it was possible neither to operate throughout the weekend, the long summer evenings, nor yet, remain open when a team was off site, away on an excercise or at a competition.

What is more not enough recruits were coming in and those that were were not sufficiently representative enough of minority groups to warrant public money.

Our funding applications were not being considered favourably. Cashflow was critical. The Deputy Manager became our second Manager but we were unable to appoint her replacement, she worked without a deputy as we struggled to remain solvent. It was another successful year in terms of the clientele, their individual and team performance, but not in either productivity or economics. There were never enough participants to enable funding applications to succeed.

Another problem occurred when maternity leave for the manager became due necessitating another managerial replacement, without the financial situation looking any more secure. Once again the right candidate arose from a recruitment drive handicapped by little prospect of security of tenure.


Amongst the Manager’s contacts were a number of volunteers with a wide range of qualifications and backgrounds. Some were already on the road back to full-time education simply because of the guidance incidentally given to them by their instructors whom they trusted, even admired. In turn they openly talked about education. They understood that it went hand in hand with their sporting achievements. In just three years one student came from leaving school without the O levels needed for college entrance to obtaining what she wanted, entry into Loughborough College. Two more also went to Bicton College on short full-time courses, returning with enhanced qualifications.

The idea that school non-attendance can be corrected came about because the Pupil Referral Unit was canvassed and responded by bringing some of their charges to see what was on offer. Whilst no particular skills were needed in any basic training effort and risk seemed to appeal to them, the instructors obviously enjoyed what they were doing and the children had fun, wanting more. Some of our Volunteers knew exactly where they were coming from because they had been there too.

Each of our three Managers brought qualities that enabled the Centre to grow and to deliver unexpected successes very early on. They had vision, ambition, and ability. Their combined efforts allowed children disaffected with school to follow a structure of training and testing without protest or falter thus growing in self-esteem and reliance as they “played”. They in fact worked with diligence, industry, and commitment. Likewise too the Managers were able to gain further experience and qualification leading teams in competitions and outdoor expeditions.

ImageBy continually targeting schools, offering whole packages suitable for a single day of mixed activities and short courses in the form of six weeks of either two, or two by two hour sessions, a very wide range of pupils were shown what could be done in their free time. Because the main objective was to make opportunities available in out of school hours after school, half-term and main holidays were when training sessions, competitions and expeditions were organised. Not that everyone had to be competitive but children of all sorts turned up displaying very varied abilities and talents and what is more, they all mixed very well. Enough participants were high flyers who instinctively chatted about all sorts of things, mostly of what everyone was achieving. After all they were passing on a lot more than their physical skills but in addition they were inculcating a positive attitude to learning. They overtly helped those less capable with literacy and numeracy. There was a great deal of pride in everything anybody did well. Common sense seemed to prevail as well. There was a joyous ethos around the Centre.

Irrespective of the fact that from any prospective sponsor’s point of view the head count was not high enough to warrant funding there was quite a high proportion of participants with a disability, either learning or physical. This meant that once the CanAC had been recognized as a Centre of Excellence it became obvious that some of the “volunteers” were capable of training up as instructors, putting the Centre in the unique position of being the only fully accessible water sports facility training instructors, who themselves had overcome disability. They were good role models for others.

We had our share of problems since we were not immune from crime. Thousands of pounds worth of rescue launch went up in flames in an arson attack and the boathouse was broken into several times. Though the Manager took ultimate responsibility for security, everybody had to take responsibility for health and safety, rejecting foul language drugs abuse or petty theft but fostering mutual respect, and pride in the Boathouse, as it became known.

Before the beginning of the fifth season it became obvious that funding was not going to match the expenditure through to the end of the Summer Holiday Programme. The Trustees had to serve notice to the Manager that without sufficient fund raising, activities would have to cease, and there was little chance of her salary being paid beyond the middle of the year. There was a great deal of disappointment in not being able to continue.

However the Council, RBK&C, was not prepared to let the Activity Centre close and financed us until that September with the proviso that they assumed responsibility hence forward with their Sports Development Team. To avoid “trading whilst insolvent” we gave notice that NKCT would cease to operate after August 2000, and filed with Somerset House to be “struck off”.  However CanAC has continued to function, and long may it so do. North Kensington Canalside Trust has helped to create and establish a water-sports activity centre adjacent to the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal even though the Company itself has passed into history.

ImageE.Godin 2006

Chair NKCT and CanACManagement Committee 1994-2000

Posted in Canal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment