Saturday, January 14, 2012

Clanricarde Gardens, London


A tall house near the Gate

Clanricarde Gardens, just off Notting Hill Gate, is a street of very tall, narrow houses built between 1869 and 1873 by a pair of West London builders, Thomas Good and William White. It was a speculative development, consisting of 51 of these houses, together with a row of six houses with shops below, just around the corner in Notting Hill Gate itself. The tall houses were intended for large Victorian families with servants, and the developers were probably successful in finding buyers because soon after they finished these, they embarked on another similar development nearby. The houses were convenient for town but in the 1870s very near the edge of London too, and no doubt appealed to professionals with one eye on the city and one on the countryside. Spacious, light rooms with big windows, elegant classical details on the facades, and sizeable service basements probably appealed, too. Among the early occupants were the Beerbohms and their young son, Max, the writer and artist to be. Max remembered that when he was a small boy the houses seemed as tall as skyscrapers to him.

But a few decades after Max grew up, these houses were nearly all subdivided into flats. Perhaps endless stairs without a lift, not to mention close proximity to the noisy Gate, meant that they lost their appeal to the well-heeled. Or perhaps owners just saw a way to make a fast buck out of multiple rents. The stairs were certainly a challenge, as I remember very well, having shared a flat at the top of this very house in the early-1980s. By then, many of the houses were labyrinths of multi-occupied flats and rooms whose occupants spoke a babel of languages – something that gave the place a wonderfully cosmopolitan atmosphere while also making the whole area a challenge to a friend who was employed on organizing the 1981 population census. I remember big, airy rooms, the continuous background roar of traffic, the squawk of gulls perching on the balustrade outside the upper windows, and a hot summer with many windows open and a hint of hashish pervading the air from neighbouring houses. “Ah, the scent of the orient!” a visiting elderly relative who had spent many of her early years in “the east” observed with relish. It was something that John Lennon relished too: there is a story that the Beatle smoked his first joint in this street. It was all more like the Notting Hill of Samuel Selvon† than the Notting Hill of Hugh Grant. And none the worse for that.

* * *

†Author of The Lonely Londoners and Moses Ascending, fine novels describing the lives of West Indian immigrants to London.

23 comments:

Ann said...

All those stairs would guarantee a slim figure though. Sometimes I lament the invent of elevators... On another note it is always interesting to see the evolution of an area. As an American I'm not terribly familiar with London's neighborhoods although my husband lived there briefly when he was young. It sounds practically suburban in original description!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ann: The stairs were good for the figure, and the central location meant you could walk everywhere too. When first built, this place was virtually suburban. Now it feels almost central (just 3 underground stops to Marble Arch and the shops of Oxford Street), so much did London grow after 1870.

bazza said...

I would imagine that these properties are pretty valuable (and desirable) today.
I really like rooms with high ceilings and high windows ("Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass," Philip Larkin).

Philip Wilkinson said...

Seriously valuable, Bazza, yes. I like the Larkin poem, by the way.

Terry said...

How wide are this townhouses?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Terry: I couldn't give you proper measurements, but those front rooms are quite spacious. Also the houses are quite deep too.

Lise said...

Delighted to see our house featured on your blog. Would love more information on it. We live in what we believe was the billiard room at the back of the house. Have been here since the end of the 80s, so have seen a lot of changes. The notorious bordello on Clanricarde has gone, but there still seems to be a fairly transient population. Our kids were delighted to see number 22 get a mention in Michael Morpurgo's 'Kensuke's Kingdom'.
Lise

Philip Wilkinson said...

Lise: Thanks for your comment. I'm afraid I don't know much more about the house than I've written in this blog post – it would indeed be good to know more about the history of these houses and their occupants.

Ian Harris said...

I live at No 12 and have done so since 1988. Our house was converted into flats late (early 80s) so the house retains original features such as the stunning staircase.

At the turn of the 20th Century No 12 was still occupied by a well-to-do family, named Nichols, comprising solicitor brother James and a bevvy of sisters, all of whom were born in St James' Westminster. Just 3 servants on census day. No 14 was occupied by a stockbroker and his family. No 16 was a retired artilery major and his family.

Roll the clock forward, I loved it here when I moved in and I still love it. More trustafarian and less rastafarian now than it was 24 years ago - the boho description above from the 80's is spot on.

The flats are changing hands for silly money these days, which is good for my sense of long-term wellbeing but also a shame in many other ways - only young people with support from wealthy parents/grandparents seem to move in now.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ian: Many thanks for your fascinating comment. The turn-of-the-20th-century residents of your house sound typical of what the street was like back then. A great street in which to live, and I remember my time there fondly. The house price issue is indeed double-edged. I live in the Cotswolds now, and a similar thing has happened here – young people are mostly being pushed out, which is a great shame.

kbryt said...

At number 50, flat c from 1932 till 1950 lived the famous authors and painters Jan and Cora Gordon.
Their book London Roundabout contains
mentions of Clanricarde and the inhabitants.

I have photos of the interior of 50c before it was transformed; it had not changed since the 1930s.

In fact I still have the brass C from their flat door.

Alice Willoughby said...

I wonder if we are the residents of flat C, now flat 4. First floor rear. kbryt can you confirm? We would LOVE to see the photos...

Josie said...

My boyfriend and I live at number 40, this has been a very interesting read to discover some history of this street. Since we have lived here in the last year, our building is inhabited by young professionals and students supporting themselves, which seems different to a couple of the last comments. The street certainly has a variety of people from all walks of life!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Josie: Many thanks for your comment. It's fascinating how the street and its residents have changed - yes, I should think 'young professionals' sums it up these days, which is indeed very different from earlier periods, especially from what I remember from the 1980s.

Sue said...

Was fascinated to see your comments about the street. In 1962 I stayed for several weeks at a time with two good friends who rented 36 A (ground floor). We had a lot of visitors and parties with friends we had met on board ship or who were already living and working in London. Many of us travelled throughout Europe, and then returned to work in London over one or several years before returning home to New Zealand, Australia, Sth Africa, or Canada.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Sue: Thanks for sharing your memories of this street. It's always interesting to hear from people who've actually lived in the buildings I write about.

Sue Ebury said...

Delighted to find this site: I am a biographer and at 50a, some time between late 1925 and late 1928, lived the late Brigadier Sir Lindsay Ride and his wife. Sir Lindsay,a Rhodes Scholar from Victoria Australia had graduated from Oxford and come to Guys to complete his LRCP (Lond) and MRCS (Eng. He was appointed Professor of Physiology at the UIniversity of Hong Kong(1929),was the Commanding Officer of the HK Field Ambulance and captured by the Japanese when HK fell on Christmas Day 1941. He made a daring escape from POW camp into China and founded and commanded throughout WW2 the British Army Aid Group, a covert name for the arm of British intelligence called MI9/19 - escape and evasion. After the war he became Vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. A very brave and enterprising man!
Sue Ebury

Sue Ebury said...

Oh - does anyone know what the interior of the former 50a may have looked like? Lindsay Ride was very hard up - working as a demonstrator in physiology and pharmacology at Guys.

Alice Dass said...

In 1968 I moved into the top flat at No.28 with 3 friends, all of us fresh from college and about to start teaching jobs in the East End.

The flat below ours was rented by 3 Irish brothers and their sister, all working in the City; below them were 4 young men all working in advertising, and on the first floor 4 dancers from Ballet Rambert. Nobody in the house was over 30yrs and so it was all very 'Swinging'. Parties in the street every Saturday night, often brought to a close by the arrival of the Fire Brigade....

Despite the lack of heating, and rather squalid fixtures and fittings, it was one of the best times of my life!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks Alice. A lovely summary of the occupants in this period. This post is producing the best comments ever!

David Cartwright said...

Before the present street was built it was called Camden Place, and was a rough collection of cottages used as piggeries and for prostitutes. Customers came from the old Racecourse and the potteries behinf Pembridge Square.
I rented a whole ground floor flat in No. 49 from 1965 to 2001.
As your other comments show it was a vibrant place to live in, with suicides, murders, witches and arson to liven up the day!
It was estimated that there were about 3000 people living there in bedsits in the 70's, and it was part of Rachman-land.
As I was at the end of the street, which was a cul-de-sac, it was even quieter than Bath, my present home.
My rent started at £7 per week and I was a protected tenant, like so many others.
Happy Days!

Philip Wilkinson said...

David. Fascinating memories - thank you. It was certainly a vibrant place. The only time I remember it being quiet and totally deserted outside (in Clanricarde Gardens and Notting Hill Gate) was on the day Prince Charles married Princess Diana – everyone (except me) was either out trying to get a look at the people arriving at the wedding itself or indoors watching it on the television.

Mull;ion said...

My grandson is renting a third floor apartment on Clanricarde Gardens. It is 79 steps and stairs from the pavement to his apartment. This posed the (still unanswered) question: How to evacuate in the event of a fire?