W14 is West Kensington – home to many artists and musicians, the location of a major exhibition centre, the stores of some of our major Museums and the site of a major food factory which was also oddly home to the first computer used by a commercial business.
We start our walk at the Post Office at 8 – 10 North End Road, W14. Turn left out of the Post Office and at the end of the road cross over the main road and turn to your left.
Stop 1: Number 66 Hammersmith Road
This modern office block half hidden by gardens along with the neighbouring office buildings was the site of the headquarters of tea shop and food manufacturer J Lyons and Company.
This collection of buildings was called Cadby Hall. This had been the location of a piano manufacturer called Charles Cadby. When he died in 1884, the site was sold and amongst the new occupiers in the 1890s were the Kensington Co-operative Society and Schweppes, the carbonated drinks company.
The J Lyons company purchased property near Cadby Hall at Number 62 Hammersmith Road and they expanded gradualy by taking over the Hall and adjoining sites itself. They retained the name, although the official address of Cadby Hall was 66 Hammersmith Road. This complex became one of the largest food factories in the United Kingdom, growing to cover an area of more than 13 acres – and employing 30,000 people.
There is a fascinating link to the history of this site here: http://www.kzwp.com/lyons/cadbyhall.htm
J Lyons and Co went into decline in the 1970s and the site was redeveloped in the early 1980s. As far as I can see there is no physical evidence of the existence of Cadby Hall but there is a little reminder of the company in that the pedestrianised way which runs down the right hand side of 66 Hammersmith Road is called Lyons Walk.
Fascinating fact: Cadby Hall has a place in history as the location of the first ever business computer, LEO – the Lyons Electronic Office. This was developed by Lyons between 1949-1951 to automate its clerical and administrative tasks.
I included this in a quiz I set recently and although a couple of teams got it right, most of the room thought the business innovation introduced by Lyons in 1951 was the teabag! (that of course is a much older invention – first commercial teabags date from around 1904 – and they came from New York of all places!)
Now walk down Lyons Walk and at the end turn right into Blythe Road. Almost immediately ahead on the left is our next stop.
Stop 2: Blythe House, Number 23 Blythe Road
This was originally built as the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank between 1899 and 1903 and then extended in the 1920s.
Architectural historian Pevsner was not impressed – saying “its vast bulk not very convincingly dressed up with Wrenaissance trimmings.”
The bank headquarters was moved to Glasgow as part of the dispersal of civil service jobs in the 1960s and the bank finally completely moved out in the 1970s. Somehow it survived demolition and found a new use as a store and archive by three major London museums – Victoria and Albert, Science and British Museums.
So from being a workaday civil service building, it is now home to assorted treasures of some of our great national institutions. There must be some amazing stuff in here which rarely sees the light of day.
Fascinating fact: This building featured extensively as the fictional headquarters of MI6 in the 2011 film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Retrace your steps to Lyons Walk and then at the end turn left into Hammersmith Road
Stop 3: Olympia
You are walking alongside the 1930s section of the Olympia exhibition centre. This site started life as the National Agricultural Hall in 1884, but soon changed its name to Olympia, as it was aiming not just for agricultural shows.
The inaugural event in 1886 was the winter show of the Paris Hippodrome Circus. It became a major venue for shows and exhibitions. It was home to the Ideal Home Show for its first 70 years until 1978. But it has housed shows of various kinds, most significantly it was home to the Royal Tournament from the early years of the 20th century to 1950.
There are 7 different venues on this site, but the one that is least well known is the magnificent Pillar Hall which is a classical room, with ornate fittings and Corinthian pillars
Walk along the Hammersmith Road in front of Olympia, crossing the main road when convenient. Soon you will see a turning on the right called Avonmore Road. Go down here and as it bends to the right take a left turn into Lysgar Terrace. On the right hand side there is a modern block which is our next stop.
Stop 4: site of the Grange
This building proclaims itself as “The Grange” and it is in fact the site of an 18th century house to which Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and his family moved in 1867 from Kensington Square – we saw that house in W8.
Not sure when the house was replaced but all there is to remind us of the house and its famous occupier is the name of this building plus another block on the same estate called Burne-Jones House. This is just around the corner and faces North End Crescent.
Continue along Lysgar Terrace and then turn left into Matheson Road. At the end you are back in Avonmore road. Here turn right. Our next stop is at the end.
Stop 5: Kensington Village
Avonmore Road terminates at some gates with an archway. On the pediment is a sign which says “Kensington Village”.
In fact Kensington Village was built in the 1880s as for department store William Whiteley, and the initials W W can be seen in the gates. This was the Furniture Depository, laundry and stables. Originally the building now known as the Warwick Building was used to store furnishings for families who were spending time in the colonies.
Now the imposing warehouse buildings have found new uses as offices and apartments. As you can see from the pictures, these buildings look like they could have escaped from somewhere like Wapping – not what you expect to find on the borders of Kensington.
Now retrace your steps along Avonmore Road. Our next stop is past Matheson Road on the left hand side.
Stop 6: Number 53 Avonmore Road
This was the home of Sir Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934) – that quintessentially English composer. His best-known compositions include the Enigma Variations and the Pomp and Circumstance Marches and various choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius.
Elgar had only one important commission while in London and this came from his home city, Worcester. The Worcester Festival invited him to compose a short orchestral work for the 1890 Three Choirs Festival. This was called Froissart, and was inspired by the chronicles of the 14th century French writer of the same name.
Elgar only briefly lived in this location in 1890/1891 It seems he moved because he could not find enough work in London and so he and his family went to live in Great Malvern, which was his wife’s home town. There it seems he could earn a living conducting local musical ensembles and teaching.
Elgar was one of the first composers to take the gramophone seriously. After 1914, he conducted recordings of most of his works. And of course as we heard when we were in W1, it was the great man himself who opened the original HMV shop at 363 Oxford Street in July 1921.
Continue back along Avonmore Road until the end and then turn right into Hammersmith Road. Then take the first right.
Stop 7: Number 7, Addison Bridge Place.
This street only has houses on the right hand side as the West London railway line lies in a cutting on the left. This line was quite an early line which was authorised by Parliament in 1836 but because of money troubles only opened in 1844. It ran from Harlesden to a station just south of here. Beyond the station was a canal basin from which a canal ran to the Thames. The canal was built in 1828 and was supposed to go on further north to reach what we would now call the Grand Union Canal, but it proved too difficult and expensive and so it stopped short on the edge of Kensington.
But the railway came along and the idea was that this would be a way to access the London docks, with goods being transshipped between the railway and the docks via the canal and the Thames. Neither the canal nor the railway were a commercial success.
In the end the obvious thing was done, the canal was filled in and the railway was extended southwards on its alignment, then it went over the Thames to connect with the various lines south of the river. This opened in 1863 and although there were huge possibilities to run through trains, only a few actually operated and the train companies concentrated on running trains to and from their own London terminals.
This line was well used by freight but passenger services virtually ceased after the Second World war with just a minimal unadvertised peak hour passenger service between Clapham Junction and Olympia – largely put on for the staff of the Post Office Savings bank.
In the 1990s the worth of this orbital line was recognised and today it is now part of the London Overground with a train every 15 minutes, plus the odd through train running between East Croydon and Milton Keynes.
As you go along Addison Bridge Place, you will see a couple of blue plaques – the first is for political theorist Harold Laski and the second at Number 7 is for poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834).
Not sure exactly when Coleridge lived here but it must have been very different before the railway sliced though (and presumably resulted in the demolition of the houses on the other side of the road). He travelled a lot but seems to have been based in London from 1810, although from 1817 onwards he was living in Highgate, so I guess he was here during the period 1810 to 1817.
Coleridge most famous poems are The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. The latter was (according to Coleridge’s Preface to Kubla Khan) composed one night after he experienced an opium-influenced dream whilst he was staying in Somerset. He had been reading a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China Kublai Khan (not sure why he chose to spell it Kubla rather than Kublai). Upon waking, he set about writing lines of poetry that came to him from the dream until he was interrupted. He never did finish the poem. Hence its subtitle “Or, A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment”. It was only finally published in 1816, some 19 years after it was written.
The opening lines are:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
This was misquoted in the 1984 Frankie Goes to Hollywood song “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” where they say “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a pleasure dome erect”. It is odd because the Frankie version does sound plausible.
Now retrace your steps back to the main road and there turn right and go over the railway. Our next stop is across the road at the corner of Holland Road.
Stop 8: Universal Music offices, Numbers 364 – 366 Kensington High Street
This unassuming building turns out to be the offices of Universal Music for most of the world outside of the US. Universal is apparently the largest music corporation in the world and although French owned, it is headquartered in the US.
It has some of the most famous labels in its roster, including Capital, Deutsche Gramophon, Decca, Island and Virgin, and some very big selling artistes, from Abba to Take That.
Amongst the current big names signed to Universal are Mumford and Sons. Their second album babel (released in september 2012) includes a song called Holland Road. This is apparently a name check for the road here. It may be about a personal relationship but it could be read as a critique on the music industry as represented by Universal Music which lives here at the corner of Holland Road.
Useless fact: Although Frankie Goes to Hollywood records were released on the ZTT label, they were on Island Records in the US.
Now go up Holland Road (for quite a long way)
Stop 9: Number 100 Holland Road
Eventually you will get to Number 100, on the right hand side. Freddie Mercury wrote the classic Bohemian Rhapsody whilst living at 100 Holland Road in the 1970s.
Of course Freddie did not hang around here once he became rich and famous. But he settled down not too far away in Logan Place W8 and he used this as his London home until his death in 1991. Although this is over the border in W8 and not on our route today, I have to include a photo of the entrance. It has a strange shrine around the door which consists of clear plastic sheeting where people can pop in a picture or a poem.
Now retrace your steps until you get to Addison Crescent and follow this as it sweeps off to the left. Then follow the main traffic as it turns right into Addison Road. Continue along Addison Road until the left turn before Kensington High Street. Take this turning (Holland Park Road)
Stop 10: Number 20 Holland Park Road
Soon on the left hand side you will come across the first of two blue plaques in this street. This is for a man called Phil May.
I have to confess, I did not know the name – and I have to say I did found it odd that a man who lived mostly in the 19th Century should be called Phil. It just seems much more modern to shorten the name Philip to Phil.
I tracked down some of his work and although the plaque describes him as an artist, he was best known as a cartoonist. Here is a link to an interesting book (open it as HTML)
This includes a series called “On the Brain”. These have various famous people of the day with the top of their head hinged off and a suitable image or images to indicate what might be going on in their head.
And then there is a great one where a woman is trying to get into what is described as “a Provincial Banquet” and this is the conversation:
AT A PROVINCIAL BANQUET
Flunkey: “Excuse me, mum, but the banquet has commenced, and I can’t admit you. Them’s my orders.”
She: “But the Mayor is here, isn’t he?”
Flunkey: “Oh, yes, he’s here right enough.”
She: “Well, but I’m his lady.”
Flunkey: “It makes no difference, mum; I couldn’t admit you if you were his wife.”
Stop 11: Leighton House, Number 12 Holland Park Road
Then just a little further along is Leighton House – the former home of Frederick, Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896) and now a gallery/museum run by Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
To be honest, this is not the most attractive building. It is very boxy with limited ornamentation, and strange proportions. But inside there is a real treasure – the two storey Arab Hall, built in the late 1870s to house Leighton’s collection of tiles collected during visits to the Middle East. Leighton’s very own little pleasure dome.
And there is permanent display works of art by various well known victorian painters including John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederick Watts and of course over 80 oil paintings by Leighton himself. Well worth a visit.
Now walk to the end of the street and turn left into Melbury Road.
Stop 12: Number 18 Melbury Road
Melbury Road was the location of Little Holland House which was where George Frederick Watts (1817 – 1904) lived from 1876 until he died. Unfortunately the house was destroyed in a Second World War bombing raid. I have not been able to establish exactly where it might have been.
But Number 18, which still stands, was the home of another artist – the pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt (1827 – 1910) lived and died here.
Holman Hunt was one of the original three members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. This was in 1848 and at the time he and Millais were still students at the Royal Academy of Arts.
He was not initially successful but he became well known for his religious paintings, in particular The Light of the World (1851–1853) which is now in the chapel at Keble College, Oxford. In 1900, he painted another version which toured the world and eventually found a home in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Curiously this house also has another blue plaque – to Cetshwayo. (1832? – 1884). He was the King of the Zulu Kingdom from 1872 to 1879 and their leader during the 1979 Zulu War. He led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana but then he lost a subsequent battle (at Ulundi) in July 1879.
After this he was deposed and exiled first to Cape Town and then to London. He stopped at this house in 1882. The British then allowed him back to Zululand in 1883 but he was dead within a year or so.
Now we have reached the end of our W14 walk – well almost. I thought I would add a post script.
Postscript: Kyoto Garden, Holland Park
This walk has been largely about pleasure (!) – what with all those luscious Victorian painters, musicians such as Edward Elgar, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Freddie Mercury and Mumford and Sons plus a museum store, not to mention an exhibition centre and a former food factory.
But to wind up I suggest you visit Holland Park itself. Holland Park is in fact the grounds of a 17th Century house,. Holland House. The house was badly damaged during the Second World War. One wing was saved and is used as a youth hostel. A remaining section of the front terrace is now used as a backdrop for open air theatre productions and classical concerts in the summer.
But I think the best bit is the Kyoto Garden. This was donated by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in 1991 as was part of a Japanese Festival in 1992. It is very peaceful and when I was there, there was a heron looking longingly at the fish in the pool.
To get there go back down Melbury Road and turn left into Ilchester Place which has a gate into the park. The Kyoto Garden is to the left of the main buildings.
For onward travel return to High Street Kensington where there are various buses. Or else turn right when you get to the High Street and head back down to Kensington Olympia Station which has regular Overground trains and the occasional District Line train (weekends and special events only)