Tag Archives: Kensington

A Roman Wall in a Car Park and a Pottery Kiln in Kensington

Part of the fun of exploring London is finding things in the most unexpected places. Objects that have survived for many years, long after they finished serving their original purpose, and where modern London has been built around them. I have two examples in today’s post, a Roman Wall in a car park and a Pottery Kiln in Kensington.

The Roman Wall in a Car Park

When the street London Wall was rebuilt after the war from Aldersgate Street to Moorgate, it was widened and built along a new alignment. At the time, the car was seen as the future of transport in London, hence the four lane London Wall, and to accommodate the cars that would need to be parked in the City, the opportunity was taken to build a new underground car park that now runs almost the entire length of the new alignment of London Wall.

When London Wall and the car park was being built in 1957 a length of 64m of Roman wall was discovered. Much of the wall was demolished, but a section was retained and occupies a couple of parking bays within the car park.

The part demolished appears to have been mainly medieval rebuilds of the wall, but there must have been Roman within this wall, and the foundations, so a sad loss.

Access to the London Wall car park is either through the main entrance near the Museum of London, or down one of the pedestrian entrances along London Wall. If you enter through the main entrance, it will be a longer walk, as the wall is towards the end of the car park, near Moorgate.

As you walk along the car park, the wall emerges between pillars 51 and 52:

Roman wall in a car park

In the following map extract, the red rectangle shows the location of the wall. The car park extends to the left along the full length of the section of London Wall shown in the map  (Maps © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Roman wall in a car park

Looking from the side, the wall is at an angle to the wall of the car park:

Roman wall in a car park

The alignment of the Roman wall in the car park seems to align with the remains of the Roman wall that can still be found in St Alphage Gardens. In the following map, the rough alignment of the wall in the car park is the solid line in the rectangle, the blue dashed line runs up to the wall remnants in St Alphage Gardens (the grey solid line):

Roman wall in a car park

The side of the wall facing into the car park is the side that would have faced into the Roman City. The side is well preserved and consists of Kentish ragstone with triple tile courses at the base and the next course up, with a double tile course towards the top of the wall.

Roman wall in a car park

The following photo shows the construction of the wall, with on the right, the Kentish ragstone with the layers of tiles, the first along the base of the wall, then the second and third layers further up the wall. To the left is what is left of the core of the wall which had a rubble fill.

Roman wall in a car park

This section of wall is important, as it is the only surviving section of Roman wall in this part of the city that does not have lots of Mediaeval and later additions.

Roman wall in a car park

View to show the location of the wall and the length of London Wall car park. The car park seems to be under the entire length of the newly built four lanes of London Wall, and also runs the full width of the street – a cut and cover car park.

Roman wall in a car park

View of the rear of the wall in the following photo. The external facing facade of the wall has been robbed, demolished or lost at some point over the previous 1500 years. The view does show how substantial the wall must have been.

Roman wall in a car park

The wall in the car park must have been typical of much of the wall surrounding the City. W.F. Grimes in “The Excavations of Roman and Mediaeval London” compares the wall as follows: “A fragment of wall seen and partly preserved beneath the new London Wall is identical in general character with lengths exposed on the eastern side of the city at the Tower of London”.

It is rather strange to be standing in the car park, with the traffic of London Wall overhead, looking at a well preserved section of the Roman Wall. Another out of place structure to be found in London is:

A Pottery Kiln in Kensington

Walk along Walmer Road, towards the south end of the street and the junction with Hippodrome Place, roughly half way been Holland Park and Latimer Road stations, and a rather strange shaped brick structure will appear, jutting out in a gap between two rows of modern terrace houses.

Roman wall in a car park

This brick kiln is all that remains of a pottery industry that existed in this area from the mid 18th century, to the 19th century. The shape of the kiln is known as a bottle kiln and is mainly a chimney to the kiln which would have been at the base of the structure.

The shape of the structure is to create an even airflow and remove smoke through the relatively small hole at the top, retain heat within the kiln, and to protect the interior of the kiln from external weather conditions.

Roman wall in a car park

The kiln in Walmer Road was in use in the mid 19th century, and was part of a factory making products such as flower pots and drain pipes.

Today the kiln sits alongside Walmer Road, in a gap between two rows of recent terrace houses (sorry for the poor photos – I was using my small compact camera and something seems to have gone wrong with the way it handles back lighting).

Roman wall in a car park

The plaque on the base of the kiln provides some background information:

Roman wall in a car park

The Hippodrome Race Course occupied much of the surrounding area for five short years between 1837 and 1842. The race course was not a success for a number of reasons, including one that justified the existence of potteries in the area.

The ground consisted of heavy clay, which was good for making pottery, but not for horse racing. Much of the area was also very poor, with slum housing and the inhabitants were not those that the owners of a race course wanted to have attending or around the race course.

Clay had been dug up within the area for many years with a record dating back to 1781 of a “brickfield of yellow clay covering some 17 acres”.

Charles Dickens refers to the area in an edition of Household Words, where he described the conditions and also referred to the area as being called the Potteries:

“In a neighbourhood studded thickly with elegant villas and mansions, viz., Bayswater and Notting Hill, in the parish of Kensington, is a plague-spot, scarcely equaled for its insalubrity by any other in London; it is called the Potteries. It comprises some seven or eight acres, with about two hundred and sixty houses (if the term can be applied to such hovels), and a population of nine hundred or one thousand.  The occupation of the inhabitants is principally pig-fattening. Many hundreds of pigs, ducks, and fowls, are kept in an incredible state of filth. Dogs abound, for the purpose of guarding the swine. The atmosphere is still further polluted by the process of fat-boiling. In these hovels, discontent, dirt, filth, and misery are unsurpassed by anything known even in Ireland. Water is supplied to only a small number of the houses. There are foul ditches, open sewers, and defective drains, smelling most offensively, and generating large quantities of poisonous gases; stagnant water is found at every turn; not a drop of clean water can be obtained; all is charged to saturation with putrescent matter. Wells have been sunk on some of the premises, but they have become in many instances useless, from organic matter soaking into them”.

Some local street names recall the history of the area. Hippodrome Mews is on the other side of the kiln. Hippodrome Place is at the southern end of Walmer Road, and a short distance further south is Pottery Lane.

A painting by Henry Alken (Junior), titled “The last grand steeplechase at the Hippodrome racecourse, Kensington” shows a smoking kiln in the background:

Roman wall in a car park

The size of the kiln is an impressive 7.5m high and 6m in diameter at the base. The kiln is Grade II listed. Similar kilns would have been scattered across many other areas of London. Wherever suitable clay existed, and there was a need for fired clay products, kilns would have been built.

Roman wall in a car park

The Roman wall in a car park, and the pottery kiln are two very different structures in very different places, but both help tell the story of London’s long history, and both are examples of what you can find in the most unexpected places.

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The Albert Memorial – A 19th Century World View

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Garden’s is far more than just a memorial to Prince Albert. It is also an embodiment in stone of the Victorian world view. The gleaming gold statue at the centre provides the focal point, but look around the memorial and we can catch a glimpse of how the Victorians saw the world.

The memorial was photographed by my father using Black & White film on a gloriously sunny winter’s day in 1948:

Albert Memorial

The same view on a rather overcast late summer day, 71 years later in 2019:

Albert Memorial

A landscape photo to get a wider view of the base of the memorial:

Albert Memorial

And the same view in 2019:

Albert Memorial

As could be expected, the view is almost the same across 71 years. The Albert Memorial, and the immediate surroundings are the same, as are the majority of the trees in the background.

With London’s ever changing built environment, it is good that there are some places where you can look at a view which has not changed for many years.

The only difference to the memorial is the lack of a cross at the top in the 1948 photo. This was part of the original build, and is part of the memorial today, but was missing in 1948. Bomb damage had knocked off the cross in 1940, and caused damage to the overall memorial. The cross had been replaced by 1955, along with repairs to the overall structure. The following photo shows the Albert Memorial covered in scaffolding in 1954 during post war restoration work:

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial as it appeared soon after completion in 1876, with the gold cross at the top of the monument (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

Albert Memorial

Prince Albert died on the 14th of December 1861 at the age of 42. There had been plans for a statue of Prince Albert in Hyde Park following the 1851 Great Exhibition, however these had not progressed and the prince had made it known that he was not in favour of statues of himself.

After his death, there were many memorials planned and implemented across the country, but the one that attracted the majority of attention, was for a memorial in London. Hyde Park seemed the obvious location as this would build on the original plan for a statue following the 1851 Great Exhibition, however the location would be moved to Kensington Gardens, opposite the Albert Hall which was completed in 1871, a few years prior to the Albert Memorial.

In 1862 a committee was formed to raise funds for a memorial, and proposals were submitted for a memorial from a range of sculptors and architects. Many of the initial designs featured an obelisk. The following is one such early design for the Albert Memorial (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London):

Albert Memorial

The obelisk idea would be dropped in favour of designs that featured a central statue of Prince Albert, surrounded by ornamental statues. Options included the central statue being both covered and open.

Proposals for the memorial took on more of an architectural influence, and one of the submissions was by George Gilbert Scott, who commissioned a model of his proposed design from Farmer and Brindley of Westminster Bridge Road. The model in the following photo shows a Gothic inspired canopy, with spire and cross enclosing a gilded statue of Prince Albert (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London):

Albert Memorial

Scott’s plans were included in plans submitted to Queen Victoria for approval, and in 1863 Scott’s plans for the Albert Memorial were approved and given the go-ahead, including a sum of £50,000 voted by Parliament to add to the sums already raised by subscriptions.

Construction of the overall Albert Memorial was divided across a number of builders and sculptors.

The builder John Kelk was responsible for the central memorial. The initial sculptor of the central statue of Prince Albert was Baron Carlo Marochetti, however Marochetti died before the work was complete, and the sculptor J. H. Foley was chosen to complete the statue of Prince Albert.

Albert Memorial

The gilding of Albert’s statue was rather controversial after being unveiled. The Globe on Thursday, March 9th 1876 reported:

“The statue of the Prince Consort, facing the Albert Hall, appeared uncovered this morning, glittering in all the splendour of gold. It is most difficult to judge of the artistic value of the work, from the fact that it is very dazzling to the eye, but this result of the work, so long waited for, does not upon a first glance leave a very favourable impression.”

In addition to Prince Albert, there are eight statues to the practical arts and sciences on the pillars and niches of the canopy. There are also eight works surrounding the central canopy.

Four, mounted at each corner on plinths extending from the base of the central canopy represent the “industrial Arts”. These are Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce and Engineering.

The four outer works, at the corners of the railings that separate the memorial from the granite steps leading down to the street, represent the four corners of the globe – Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

All of these works were created by a different sculptor, but in overall form and size had to conform with Scott’s overall design for the memorial.

These eight surrounding works were to represent the interests to which Prince Albert devoted his life, along with the global view of the British Empire, and the memorial was to be viewed as a whole, not just the central statue of Prince Albert.

Construction of the memorial was over a number of years, with the gilded statue completing the memorial in 1876.  As well as the newspaper report on the controversial gilding of the statue, completion finally allowed the memorial to be viewed as a whole, as this report from the Globe on the 10th March 1876 describes:

“The Albert Memorial has at last been completed, and was yesterday dedicated to the public, the statue of the Prince having been uncovered without any attending ceremony.

It is scarcely possible as yet to fairly criticise the effect which the final addition to the monument produces. The colossal statue of the Prince dazzles the eye from the brilliancy of the fresh gilding, and makes the rest of the structure appear rather to disadvantage in point of contrast. An English climate and a city atmousphere will, however, soon correct these defects. Even as it is, the merits of the statue are apparent. hitherto, the memorial had a straggling and incomplete appearance. the several groups which composed it, admirable in point of detail and as separate pieces, wanted concentration and unity. The superb designs representing the four quarters of the world had no structural identity with the architectural part of the monument, and seemed isolated and disconnected. the public can now judge how happy was the idea of giving to the central figure a gilded surface. This mass of glowing lustre attracts the eye at once, and by its importance reduces all the rest of the sculpture to its true subsidiary position.

The gilding of the figure connects the gilding of the roof and shrine above with the gilding of the railwork that forms the extreme limit beneath, and thus makes the whole harmonious. It is necessary, perhaps to insist a little on this advantage, for other points have necessarily been sacrificed to attain it.

A gilded statue can neither be as satisfactory in resemblance, taken by itself, as bronze or as marble. But the true view of the memorial is to regard it as an example of decorative art. Its perfection consists in its entirety. The shrine is as valuable as the treasure which it encloses. We are not to treat the memorial which “Queen Victoria and her people have erected for posterity as a tribute of their gratitude” simply as a statue of the Prince Consort, with suitable surroundings. That would be to miss the whole scheme and design of its originator.

The monument of the Prince happily illustrates those arts and sciences which the devotion of his life nobly fostered in the midst of a not too enlightened people.

The whole structure is as much a memorial of Prince Albert as the statue which recalls his well-known presence.

We see it at last completed after a lapse of ten years, and welcome it as an answer to that piece of flippant generalisation which proclaims that nothing in this country which attempts to be artistic can be successful.”

Around the base of the central canopy and out to the railings that surround the memorial are eight groups of sculpture. The inner four represent the “Industrial Arts” and the outer four represent the four corners of the globe. Each work was by a different sculptor.

Three of my father’s photos were of these works. Photographed on a sunny day, with the sun in the right position, and in black & white film, which after looking at my colour photos, I am of the view that black & white is one of the best ways to photograph this type of work.

Europe:

Albert Memorial

Another view of the Europe sculpture grouping with the central canopy in the background:

Albert Memorial

Africa:

Albert Memorial

On a rather dull, late summer’s day, I photographed all the sculpture groupings, starting with the outer works of four corners of the globe.

This is Asia by John Henry Foley:

Albert Memorial

Europe by Patrick Macdowell:

Albert Memorial

The figures in each of these works were symbolic of the countries they represented, so in the Europe grouping above, the central figure as viewed from this perspective is that of France – a military power, holding a sword in the figure’s right hand, and a laurel wreath in the left hand.

America by John Bell:

Albert Memorial

Africa by William Theed:

Albert Memorial

Now come the inner groupings, the industrial arts, starting with Agriculture by Calder Marshall:

Albert Memorial

Manufacturers by Henry Weekes:

Albert Memorial

Engineering by John Lawlor:

Albert Memorial

Commerce by Thomas Thornycroft:

Albert Memorial

There are further works, around the base of the podium with a continuous frieze of reliefs which represent poets, musicians, painters, architects and sculptors. The frieze was split between two sculptors, J.B. Philips was responsible for architects and sculptors and H.H. Armstead for the rest of the works.

Albert Memorial

Detail of part of the musicians section of the frieze:

Albert Memorial

Each individual is named either above or below the figure.

Detail from the musicians frieze:

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial is a complex object, and was both loved and criticised when revealed as a completed work.

The gilding of the statue of Prince Albert, the arrangement of the surrounding sculptures, the sculptural work and interpretation of the theme of each work. The Gothic canopy. The whole memorial needs to be considered as a single piece of work, and was intended to reflect the interests of Prince Albert. The choice of characters and their interpretation reflects the mid Victorian outlook on the world, and the central frieze acts as an encyclopedia of those considered important in their respective cultural fields.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the Albert Memorial was in a critical state.

The statue of Prince Albert had been blackened during the First World War, to prevent it being a target during Zeppelin raids. The surrounding sculptures were damaged, and the whole memorial was in need of cleaning and repair.

A decade long restoration of the memorial was completed in 1998, which included Prince Albert being re-gilded. He now shines in the sun, as intended, as he looks out over south Kensington.

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