In my earlier Westminster post I spoke about the Royal Albert Memorial & Hall, and the Royal Colleges of Music/Mines. Just after exploring these landmarks, we had crossed into the neighbouring Borough of Kensington & Chelsea so the story ended there, until now…
Kensington & Chelsea:
Status: Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, Greater London (historically Middlesex), District, England
Transport: London Underground (Various)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Natural History Museum, Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, Earl’s Court, Time Flies Clock Tower, St Mary Abbots Church, Elfin Oak etc
Entering Kensington & Chelsea from Westminster, we arrived on Exhibition Road, which runs past a number of famous London Museums. On the right you can see the Business School area of the Imperial College (see Westminster here), which is joined onto the spectacular building which houses the Royal College of Mines of 1851. This merged with numerous other departments, including the Colleges of Science & Technology, Earth Science & Engineering, to form the singular Imperial College, 1 of the most highly ranked Colleges in the world.
To the left, you can see the stunning terrace of houses which makes up Numbers 49 – 58 Exhibition Road, crafted in the Georgian style sometime in the mid 1800’s. Much of London has similar architecture, especially Camden, and they conjure up the typical image of inner city housing in London.
Further South along the road lies the imposing exterior facade of the London Science Museum, originally founded in 1857 by Bennet Woodcroft (1803 – 1879, British Manufacturer) to house the leftover exhibits from the Great Exhibition in 1851. At that time however it was known as the South Kensington Museum, which has now been split up into different parts, such as the Science Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum which was our next stop.
The Exhibition was a grand event attended by representatives from 28 different countries, highlighting various brand new technologies employed all over the British Empire and the world, along with concepts and design work. It was housed in the famous Crystal Palace, a vast building built in true Victorian style, with a cast iron skeleton filled in with large plates of glass. It was erected in Hyde Park in early 1851, the vast majority of which lies within the City of Westminster. Unfortunately this incredible building burnt down in 1936, and it remains 1 of the greatest losses to British Victorian history.
The Museum as it stands today officially came into being in 1909 when it was separated from the South Kensington Museum. The present building which contains the collection was designed by Sir Richard Allison (1869 – 1958, Scottish Architect), and completed by 1928, due to a pause in construction owing to the outbreak of WWI. It’s a final example of some absolutely incredible pieces of architecture which were built around London around this period. You can find out more about the Museum, it’s various exhibits, as well as visiting information on their official website here.
Continuing South, Exhibition Road meets the A4 (London – Bristol/Avonmouth), and on the Eastern corner of this junction sits the aforementioned Victoria & Albert Museum, shown above, identified by its distinctive central cupola, shown to the right. As noted earlier, the Museum was 1 of the original constituent Museums of the South Kensington Museum, and like the Science Museum, its collection also originated from the Great Exhibition. Until the former was officially created, the collection featured both Science and Art & Design, which was eventually split between the 2 Museums.
The original collection was housed in Somerset House until the 1850’s, when the 1st section of a new purpose built building, designed by Prince Albert himself (1819 – 1861, Consort to Queen Victoria) opened, nicknamed the Brompton Boilers, built in a similar style to Crystal Palace. This was later complemented by an extra section known as the Sheepshanks Gallery, a gift from a wealthy individual from the Yorkshire city of Leeds, in 1857. As the decades progressed, extra wings were added, eventually enclosing a large square at the centre of the Museum, although by the end of the 19th century it was a mish-mash of buildings and structures. These would finally be tied together by Sir Aston Webb (1849 – 1930, English Architect from London) who designed the grand front entrance which includes the cupola, and remains the most well known portion of the Museum.
You can find out more about the V&A Museum, including visiting times, on their official website here.
We had already seen 2 fantastic Museums, however arguably the most famous, the most visited and the most architecturally stunning is the Natural History Museum, located on the Western corner of the junction between Exhibition Road and the A4. Occupying an entire block overlooking the A4, this mammoth structure was designed by Alfred Waterhouse (1830 – 1905, British Architect), and finally completed in 1881, nearly 10 years after building work commenced.
The history of the Natural History Museum, and the collection now housed here, originated with Sir Hans Sloane (1660 – 1753, Collector and Physician from Ireland) as much of his collection was bequeathed to the nation in his will. The main British Museum was established in 1753, and included historical pieces, and over the years various additions were made, with Hans’s collection becoming just a small part of millions of items. By 1883 a new branch of the Museum opened to store the Natural History elements, here in Kensington, which would eventually become totally independent of the main British Museum, becoming simply the Natural History Museum. It is now home to over 80 million items, most famous of which is the large dinosaur skeleton (Diplodocus) which sits in the main entrance hall, although it is soon to be replaced by a large Blue Whale.
You can find out more about the Museum on their official website, along with opening times etc here.
We moved on, towards South Kensington Tube Station just a few yards South of the Natural History Museum. We planned to take the Tube to Earl’s Court, and change there for a train through to Notting Hill Gate for Kensington Palace.
The Station opened in 1868, when it was part of the Metropolitan Railway (MR) which ran across London. The same year 2 extra platforms opened, hosting the District Railway (DR) which also crossed London. Both of these lines would eventually become part of the London Tube Network, as the Metropolitan and District lines. Today both lines do serve the station, although the Metropolitan Line itself is now split between the Metropolitan/Circle Lines, with the Circle portion calling here, along with the Piccadilly Line.
We could have taken a direct train from South Kensington to Notting Hill Gate via the Circle Line, however we had opted to take the Piccadilly Line to Earl’s Court to change there for the District Line. You may be wondering why we took this more indirect route? Well the answer lies in the picture above.
The large building which overlooks the various lines making their way into, and out of Earl’s Court Station is the famous Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, the successor to an entertainment district built on the site from 1887. It was later redeveloped to the designs of Charles Howard Crane (1885 – 1952, American Architect from Connecticut), which still stands today. The Centre has been an important part of the London Economy, and Cultural Identity for nearly 80 years, hosting various shows and events in a building notable for being 1 of the largest of it’s type in the country.
The facade you see above belongs to what is now known as Earls Court 1, as a new building was added to the complex in 1991, known officially as Earls Court 2.
Sadly this will most likely be the last view we ever get of this iconic building, as plans to demolish the Centre and replace it with residential apartments were approved in 2013. Demolition itself started in 2014, and as you can see in the picture it is well under way.
The Tube itself is mainly responsible for the development of Earl’s Court, as it was a large wasteland in central London until West Brompton Station opened in 1866 on the West London Extension Joint Railway (WLEJR) which ran from Clapham Junction towards Willesden Junction. It was later joined by a separate station named Earl’s Court (where we changed trains) in 1869, as an extension of the District Railway.
Arriving at Notting Hill Gate, we left the Station and moved down a road simply called “Kensington Palace Gardens”, which runs parallel with the main path through the aforementioned Gardens, but behind the Palace itself. It is known as 1 of the most exclusive streets in London, home to various wealthy people, as well as numerous embassies, including those for Nepal, Lebanon, Norway, Romania and Israel.
Many of the buildings on the row are stunning Mansions, although the style varies as you pass down the road. Nearly every structure on the road is Grade Listed, and glancing through some of the dates for various houses up and down the road, the majority of them appear to have been built between the mid 19th century, and the early 20th.
Leaving Kensington Palace Gardens road, we entered the actual Kensington Gardens, which backs onto Hyde Park, the famous public area comparable to Central Park in New York City.
We had entered the Gardens via “Palace Avenue”, a small cut through leading East, bringing us out at the South Entrance to the Palace, which is graced by a statue of King William III (1650 – 1702, aka William of Orange). Installed in 1907, the statue was created by H Bauke, and was officially a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859 – 1941), the German King, to King Edward VII (1841 – 1910) who assumed the British throne in 1901 after the death of Queen Victoria.
Looking back towards Kensington Palace Gardens road after entering the Gardens, we also spotted the Parish Church of St Mary Abbots, whose spire can be seen rising up above the trees at the edge of the gardens. This seemingly normal little Church in the middle of Kensington is actually quite famous, as it has the tallest Church spire in the whole of London, and considering the number of famous London Churches, Cathedrals and Abbeys that grace the Capital, this is quite an achievement (although Churches like Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s and Southwark Cathedral don’t have spires).
The original Church dates back to Norman times, when it was built on an area of land given as a gift by the family of Godfrey de Vere, the Great Uncle of a notable Norman Knight of the time called Sir Aubrey de Vere (Died 1113). His Uncle had been taken ill, and cared for by a nearby Benedictine Abbey in Abingdon, dedicated to St Mary, and after his sad death in 1106 at just 19, Aubrey’s family donated the land, which the Abbey used to found a Church, sometime around 1262. Various Churches inhabited the site in the following centuries, with the final pre-modern version being a 17th century building created to house a growing population in Kensington thanks to the decision of King William III (1650 – 1702) to move the Royal Court into Kensington Palace. This stood until 1860, when Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, English Architect) was employed to design a new building, which includes the stunning 278 ft tall Spire, and obviously still stands today.
Looking East of the Palace, you can see out across the rest of Kensington Gardens, towards the “Round Pond”, a small lake created by King George II (1683 – 1760) in 1730. It is dwarfed by the Serpentine, a much larger lake which snakes (excuse the pun) through neighbouring Hyde Park, which is contiguous with Kensington Gardens.
In the distance you can see the BT Tower in Camden dominating the skyline, broadcasting radio and television signals all over London, and a large portion of the South of England.
Of course the main attraction in Kensington Gardens is the magnificent Kensington Palace, just 1 of many Royal Palaces/Castles spread across London and the surrounding counties. Much like Buckingham Palace in Westminster, the Palace began life as a grand stately home, built for Sir Walter Cope (1553 – 1614, important Government official) in 1605. It would subsequently be purchased by the Earl of Nottingham, Heneage Finch (1621 – 1682, Lord Chancellor) in 1619 after Sir Walter’s death.
The house was renamed Nottingham House, which it remained until 1689, when the newly crowned joint monarchs Queen Mary II (1662 – 1694) and King William III purchased the building as their new home, away from the smog and busy political activity at Westminster. It would then fall to our old friend Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723, English Architect, see my City of London post here for details of the fantastic work he carried out around the City) to expand upon Sir Walter’s original mansion, and turn it into a grand Palace literally fit for a King! Sadly both Mary and William would only spend a few years at their stunning new Palace, as Mary died of Smallpox in 1694, and William of Pneumonia in 1702.
Their successors however continued to use the Palace, and Queen Victoria herself would be born here in 1819. Becoming Queen in 1837, Victoria left Kensington for Buckingham Palace, which became the Monarch’s primary residence, although members of the Royal Family continued to live here in Kensington. They still do today, with Prince Charles/Diana moving in when they married in 1981, raising their sons William and Harry in the Palace. Since 2012 Prince Harry has resided here, and the new Duke/Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) moved in in 2013 after the birth of their son George.
Outside the Palace, over to the right, you can see a statue of Queen Victoria, crafted by Princess Louise (1848 – 1939, daughter to Victoria/Albert) around 1890, and is complimented by a 2nd statue also by Louise outside the Strathcona Music Building on the McGill University Campus in Canada.
On our way out of the park, we passed this quaint looking Clock Tower. Per an inscription below the Clock faces, it is known as the “Time Flies” Clock Tower, and around its base is a drinking fountain, with the whole structure dating back to 1909.
At the right of the picture/the umbrella canopy you can just make out the outline of a metal cage. This contains a famous sculpture called the “Elfin Oak”, which was created by Ivor Innes using the stump of an old tree moved here from Richmond Park in 1928. The name derives from a number of wooden figures Innes carved into the stump between 1928 & 1930, a large number of which are of Elves (hence the name) although there are also some animals and fairies there as well.
Our final stop in the Borough was to Queensway Tube Station, just down the road from Notting Hill Gate, which both lie on Bayswater Road, which borders the North end of Kensington Gardens.
Queensway originally opened as part of the Central London Railway (CLR) between London Liverpool Street and Ealing Broadway, in 1900, simply named “Queen’s Road”. It was later incorporated into what became the Central Line on the London Underground, and renamed to its present form of Queensway in 1946, a year after the end of WWII.
Kensington & Chelsea as a whole is a lovely Borough to visit, and although sadly we only had time to concentrate our efforts on the Kensington area of the Borough, missing Chelsea altogether, there still proved plenty to see. Some of London’s most famous landmarks are located here, with such gems as the Natural History Museum, Earl’s Court and Kensington Palace. The Borough is 1 of only 3 that has the prefix Royal at the start, the others being Greenwich and Kingston-upon-Thames. The area was created in 1965 when the former Boroughs of Kensington, and Chelsea were merged together, and whilst the original plan was to name the whole lot simply Kensington, public support resulted in Chelsea being added to the official title.
Across the Borough transport is very reasonable, with 12 different Tube Stations spread across the Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Piccadilly Lines. Various bus routes also bisect the Borough, although unlike many of the other inner London Boroughs there are no major London Terminus stations here, with the nearest being in the City of Westminster at Victoria & Paddington Stations.
It was time to move on, this time to the Borough of Barnet, in search of a truly great Briton…