Friday, 18 July 2014

18/07/14 - W14

You know that bit in Trainspotting where Renton’s getting all respectable and moves to London be an estate agent? I recently discovered that the flat he shows the young couple around, and ultimately ends up stashing Begbie and Sick Boy in, is 78a North End Road, just across from West Kensington Tube station. This is within spitting distance of my office – if you’re really good at spitting, that is – which tickled my that’s-interesting-that-is lobe. London’s a fascinating place, as are all cities (and, well, anywhere that anyone lives, actually); it’s easy to forget as you go about your day-to-day business that all kinds of noteworthy things have happened on any and every street. My wife and I recently went to a house near to where we live in Wandsworth to pick up a Daddy Pig toy (for our daughter, honest), and noticed that the house across the street had a blue plaque saying that David Lloyd George used to live there. And yet today it’s just someone’s house. Thomas Hardy’s house was just down the road too.
Well, I think that kind of thing’s interesting. Like when I discovered that my car used to be a paramedic response vehicle – you don’t think of your stuff having a life before you.

So anyway, this Trainspotting titbit popping up in the W14 postcode made me wonder what else may have happened within ambling distance of my desk. I did a little investigating into the local area, and here’s what I found…

Famous Three Kings
This is a pub on the corner of the North End Road (if you live in London, you have to randomly put ‘the’ at the start of road names sometimes, it’s a thing) that I’ve been into once. I’ve been working here for over eight years, so that may suggest that it’s not the nicest pub. Still, it does have an unusual curved glass thingy at the entrance, that’s pretty.
…but the F3K (as they like to style themselves, being all modern an’ that) used to be The Nashville Rooms, a buzzing music venue. Joy Division used to play there regularly. So did the Sex Pistols and The Police, The Vibrators and The Stranglers. Elvis Costello, The Cure, X-Ray Spex and The Jam all played the Nashville. Sid Vicious has probably pissed down the stairs to our office. Imagine that.
And before it was a punk venue, The Nashville Rooms styled itself as ‘England’s Home of Country Music’; look, here’s a photo of the entrance from 1974. That curvy glass thingy has been there for quite a while.

Blythe House
Situated on Blythe Road, a short stroll from Olympia, Blythe House was originally built as the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank, and is now in service as a store and archive for various museums; the V&A, Science & British Museums – including a ‘quarantine’ area in which new exhibits for the Science Museum are examined and analysed. But what you might know it best for is its use as a backdrop for numerous films and TV shows. Cast your mind back to the late-seventies - if you’re old enough - and it might ring a bell if you were a fan of Minder or The New Avengers. More recently, it appeared in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. (Which I haven’t seen, despite my mum lending me the DVD about a year ago. Sorry mum. I’ll get round to it soon, promise.)

West Ashfield Tube Station
West Kensington is served by no less than six different Tube lines, from West Ken station, Earls Court, West Brompton, Barons Court and Olympia. But do you know where West Ashfield Tube station is?
It’s actually on the third floor of Ashfield House, the big, sandy-coloured, oblong building on the other side of the West Cromwell Road from Kensington Village.
It’s not a real Tube station, obviously. That wouldn’t work, it’d be madness to put one on the third floor of an office building. It is, in fact, a totally accurate replica of a real-life Tube station, used for training staff – it opened in 2010, and is nominally a westbound platform on the District Line; it’s got proper signals, Tannoy and power controls, and even has a fan system to replicate the rush of air when a train arrives. Clever, eh?

Miss Conception
Have you seen the movie Miss Conception (also known as Buy Borrow Steal)? No, I haven’t, it sounds awful. Heather Graham plays a character who’s desperate to have a baby, experiences all sorts of mishaps, then ultimately gets pregnant. It got very poor reviews.
…but apparently that was set in West Kensington. Anyone fancy watching it and finding out? I just watched the trailer and a small part of me died -

Take Three Girls
This was BBC1’s first ever drama series to be filmed and broadcast in colour. It follows three girls sharing a flat in swinging London – a single mother, an art student and a cellist. It was pretty popular at the time, running for 24 episodes over two series.
Here’s the first episode: - the entrance to their flat, which you see near the start, is on Glazbury Road, a short walk from West Kensington Tube station.

Famous residents
A number of noteworthy people have called the W14 postcode home. There are several blue plaques in the area, including: Cetshwayo kaMpande, King of the Zulus (18 Melbury Road), Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, aviation pioneer and aircraft engineer (32 Barons Court Road), Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanist leader (53 Talgarth Road), Quaid I Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan (35 Russell Road), and Lord Leighton, painter (12 Holland Park Road). Other folk who live or have lived in West Kensington include James Hunt (Normand Mews), Freddie Mercury (Holland Road), artist Edward Burne-Jones (North End Crescent), Broadway actress Peg Entwistle [aka ‘The Hollywood Sign Girl’, after she committed suicide by jumping from the Hollywood sign] (Comeragh Road), rapper Estelle, composer Gustav Holst, Mahatma Gandhi (Barons Court Road), author Henry Rider Haggard (Gunterstone Road), Queen - the band, not the monarch (Sinclair Road), and W.B. Yeats (Edith Villas).
The very street where the office is has some interesting tales to tell too – 22 & 22a Avonmore Road were designed by architect James MacLaren for the sculptor HR Pinker, and Edward Elgar lived at no.51. Oh, and that garage at the end with the steel shutter and the chequered flag above the door? That’s where Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman set up their headquarters for their ‘Long Way Down’ trip. (That’s two entirely separate Ewan McGregor associations, then, along with the Trainspotting thing – he bloody loves W14, he does.)

The office itself
Leo Burnett London’s office wears its history proudly along its railway edge: ‘William Whiteley’s Depositories – removals to or from all parts of the world’. Whiteleys, in Bayswater, was London’s first department store - William Whiteley had opened a drapery shop on Westbourne Grove in 1863, which expanded into a row of shops with seventeen departments; by 1890 he was employing over 6,000 people, most of whom live in company-owned dormitories split strictly into male and female sections, with working hours generally being 7am-11pm, six days a week. Whiteley was something of an empire-builder, buying up huge tracts of farmland and building food processing plants to provide food for his department store as well as feed his workers. He called himself ‘the universal provider’, claiming that he could ‘provide anything from a pin to an elephant’; in 1896 he received a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria.
The store had actually burnt down in 1887, and was rebuilt on Queensway – Phoenix-like, it was renowned by 1911 as ‘the largest British store in the world’. Whiteley wasn’t around to enjoy that accolade, however, as he had been murdered in 1907 by Horace George Raynor, who stormed into the shop, claimed to be his illegitimate son, and shot him dead.
Anyway, the furniture depository on Avonmore Road – as you’ve probably deduced, it was a storage facility for Whiteleys. Kensington Village was built in the 1880s; among the numerous services of his business empire, Whiteley offered secure storage for valuables as well as global removal services, and the Warwick Building was used to store the grand pianos and mahogany sideboards of the well-to-do while they were off in the colonies. The village also housed a laundry and stables. Warwick Building was revamped in 2000 as part of the Kensington Village redevelopment (when other buildings, including the Pembroke, were built in the same style as the Victorian originals), but the exposed brickwork and ironwork are all just as they would have been in period. So we’re basically sitting in an old warehouse, where someone’s Persian rug or Chippendale armchair might have sat under a dustsheet. And I find that very interesting.

There you go, then. W14. Stuff has happened here.

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