Sloane Territory 1988

Doddington, Rollo, Estate, Battersea, Railway, Wandsworth, 1988 88-3f-61-positive_2400
Doddington, Rollo, Estate, Battersea, Railway, Wandsworth, 1988 88-3f-61

This rather different view of the London skyline was taken on my way to Chelsea to take pictures in a very different part of London around Sloane Square, from my train window as it came out of Clapham Junction on its way to London Victoria. The sheds are between the lines into Victoria and those I travel on more regularly towards Vauxhall and Waterloo and the council estates beyond them form a wall to the north of that line, part of the great post-war programme to provide decent housing at sensible cost under both Labour and Conservative governments. Then came Thatcher.

Hans Place, Knightsbridge, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3f-54-positive_2400
Hans Place, Knightsbridge, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3f-54

Though I often admire the design and detail of the great houses built from around the 1770s after architect Henry Holland leased land from Earl Cadogan and sublet building plots for family houses on a fairly grand scale, this is never an area where I feel at home. Even thought houses such as these are now largely split into numerous flats – there are ten bells at the side of the right hand door here – I still feel it is the kind of area I would be expected to doff my cap at the Tradesmen’s entrance. Harrod’s whose board appears here is a major estate agent for the properties in this area were a decent sized flat might cost a couple of grand a week.

Hans Place, Knightsbridge, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3f-56-positive_2400
Hans Place, Knightsbridge, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3f-56

Much of the area was rebuilt around the end of the 19th century, and I often find the red brick and terracotta rather overpowering.

Harrods, Hans Rd, Knightsbridge, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3f-66-positive_2400
Harrods, Hans Rd, Knightsbridge, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3f-66

Harrods grew from a small shop to take over the whole 5 acre block here. Charles Henry Harrod had begun as a shopkeeper in Borough High St in 1824, moving on to shops in Clerkenwell and then Cable St in Stepney before buying a single room shop on the Brompton Rd in 1849, sensing a business opportunity with the Great Exhibition which was to open in 1851 nearby in Hyde Park. Opening with just two shop assistants and a messenger boy the shop grew rapidly, taking over adjoining buildings. His son Charles Digby Harrod took over the running of the business around 1860 and was employing 100 staff by 1881. The success was partly due to the business refusing credit to any of its customers, insisting on cash, and also by delivering all goods free of charge. Remarkably the business survived being burnt to the ground on December 7 1883, managing to deliver all of its Christmas orders from temporary premises across the road, and a new building was erected within a year. Charles Harrod sold the store via a stock market flotation in 1889, but the new company kept the family name.

In 1894 Harrods employed C. W. Stephens, an architect who had worked for the Belgravia Estate to design a new building for the store. It had to be built bit by bit as Harrods slowly acquired more of the land between Hans Crescent and Hans Road and the business had to be kept open as it was rebuilt. The work was largely completed around 2012, though external and internal changes continued.

I think my picture on Hans Road shows the Coronation Tower over the entrance to the delivery yard and I think dates from 1910-2. The Survey of London describes the commercial buildings of Stephens as in the “ornate, eclectic school of late Queen Anne architecture“, noting that Harrods stands out because of its rich casing of terracotta from Doultons.

Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace, Sedding St, Sloane Square, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3g-14-positive_2400
Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace, Sedding St, Sloane Square, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3g-14

Rather more to my taste is Cadogan Hall, still when I photographed it the First Church Of Christ Scientist, built in a Byzantine Revival Style, architect Robert Fellowes Chisholm, better known for his work in Madras, India where he worked from 1865-1902 when he returned to London where he had been born in 1840. Grade II listed in 1969 the church went out of use in the 1990s and was bough by the then owner of Harrods, Mohamed Fayed, who wanted to convert it to a luxury house, but was prevented in making the alterations he wanted because of its listed status. In 2000 it was bought by Cadogan Estates who converted it to a concert hall, offering it to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as their London home.

Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3g-21-positive_2400
Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3g-21

The Royal Court Theatre can justifiably claim to be “the writers’ theatre… a leading force in world theatre for cultivating writers – undiscovered, emerging and established” but I think it is also a rather tricky place to photograph.

The show on at the time appears to have been Howard Brenton’s ‘Blood Poetry’, first performed at the Haymarket Theatre Leicester in 1984, in which Percy Bysshe Shelley and his mistress live with Lord George Byron in Italy in a commune of free love, writing the bloody poetry of revolution, and come to a sticky end.

The director of the Royal Court at the time was Max Stafford-Clark, who I had the pleasure of appearing on-stage with at Battersea Arts Centre along with Jeremy Hardy and journalist Dawn Foster in an after-performance panel discussion ‘Art & Accidental Activism’ of Lung Theatre’s ‘E15’ – who I’d earlier photographed on the streets of Battersea at the start of their run.

Venus Fountain, Sloane Square, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3g-23-positive_2400
Venus Fountain, Sloane Square, Kensington & Chelsea, 1988 88-3g-23

Little seems to be known about the early life of Nell Gwynn, who grew up in a brothel in Covent Garden and was hired to sell oranges and other fruits in a scantily clad costume to the audience at the newly opened theatre in Bridges St (later the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) at the exorbitant price of 6d (2.5p). Despite being illiterate she learnt to be an actress and took various roles as a part of the King’s Company, becoming a star for her performance in the 1665 restoration comedy ‘All Mistaken, or the Mad Couple’ and going on to star in many other plays.

King Charles II, who was married to Catherine of Braganza had various mistresses, and fathered seven sons by them, including two by Nell Gwyn, who was the longest serving and most loved of them all. Her elder son was made the Earl of Burford, but the younger died at the age of six.

The royal couple are depicted on the base of this fountain, designed by Gilbert Ledward R.A. (1888-1960) in 1953. My picture shows Charles II picking an apple from a tree. This relief – which also includes cupid, a deed, a hound and and a swan on the Thames – is perhaps more interesting than the Venus above. It’s presence here is said to have been because the king will often have travelled through here and down the then newly opened King’s Road to a house where Nell occasionally stayed. It seems a little contrived; at her insistence, the king had given her a house on Pall Mall and granted her son a house, renamed Burford House, in the Home Park at Windsor for when he was in residence there. She also had a summer home in King’s Cross.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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