Ladbroke Grove


Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove Station 1900s. On the 1823 'Plan of Notting Hill estate, as arranged for building thereon, the property of James Weller Ladbroke' by Thomas Allason, Ladbroke Grove was to be Ladbroke Place, the axis of a mile in circumference circle of villas around a church.

By the late 1840s, after the short-lived Hippodrome racecourse to the west, the building of paired villas with communal gardens reached just over the hill to Elgin Crescent, and that was as far as the Nash-influenced upper class garden city was going to get. 

A house on Ladbroke Grove was advertised in 1870 as: 'most conveniently situated and especially deserving of the attention of gentlemen engaged in business in the City, the facilities afforded by the Hammersmith and City Railway in connection with the whole Metropolitan system, affording the means of speedy access to all parts of London, Ladbroke Grove station is within a few seconds walk of the property.'

Osbert Lancaster the cartoonist, who lived off Ladbroke Grove at 79 Elgin Crescent, recalled the estate in the early 20th century: 'The vast stucco palaces of Kensington Park Road and the adjoining streets had long ago been converted into self-contained flats where an ever increasing stream of refugees from every part of the then civilised world had found improvised homes, like the dark age troglodytes who sheltered in the galleries and boxes of the Coliseum. Long, long before the outbreak of war these classical facades had ceased to bear any relevance to the life that was lived behind them; the eminent KCs and the masters of City companies had already given place to Viennese professors and Indian students and bed-sitter business girls.'

Church procession going around the Elgin and convent corner of Ladbroke Grove and Cornwall (Westbourne Park) Road 1900s. The Franciscan convent of the order of St Clare was founded by Cardinal (then Father) Manning, known as 'the Pope of Notting Hill', in 1859, 'on low ground at the foot of the hill, where formerly withy beds showed the course of the stream running west from Portobello Lane.' In 'Notting Hill in Bygone Days', the Elgin at 96 Ladbroke Grove was 'a country inn with a skittle alley beside it' known as the Lord Elgin, 'now represented by the Elgin Tavern.' The pub also known as the Elgin Arms and Hotel was established in 1856 and rebuilt in its present form in 1868.

The 1950s landlord Sid Carthey recalled his most notorious customer, John Christie from 10 Rillington Place, acting like he was haunted by the ghost of Timothy Evans (who was hanged for the murder of his daughter, probably committed by Christie). In the mid to late 50s the Elgin became the Teds' local, recalled by Derek Jones: ”'If you were a Teddy boy what you aspired to was a 40 guinea suit. You'd see fellas in pubs – the favourite pub where it used to occur was the Elgin, because you had a fella used to sing on the stage there, Welshman called Johnny Fredericks, had a very fine tenor voice but he'd sing pop songs – they'd all be lounging around the Elgin, and all be weighing up each other's sartorial elegance. How much did that suit cost? That's a 25 guinea one, I've got a 45 guinea one. People would do Nat King Cole turns, a few of them, and the main one was Al Jolson. In the Elgin, or as we called it the El Gin, old Reggie Jones used to do his Jolson act and they had talent competitions. It was old style singing, no guitars, it was jazz orientated or popular song based, more like Sinatra and Nat King Cole, going back a bit further, Al Jolson."

By the mid 70s the Elgin was a pub rock venue with Joe Strummer's '101'ers' rock'n'roll/rhythm'n'blues rave on every Monday night.' During the 76 Carnival riot Strummer (by then of the Clash) took refuge there as police charged up Westbourne Park Road. The pub also hosted gigs by the proto-punk Derelicts and appearances of Alex Harvey, Maggie Bell, Alexei Sayle, Keith and Tony Allen. In the 90s it became the Frog & Firkin and the back bar featured in 'Mike Bassett England Manager'. In 2008 the Olympic torch was grabbed from the former 'Blue Peter' presenter Konnie Huq by a Tibet protester outside. Today the Elgin is a music venue once more, specialising in new folk.

'The corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road may be looked upon as the central point of North Kensington’, wrote Florence Gladstone in ‘Notting Hill in Bygone Days’ in 1924. ‘Of late years Lancaster Road has become the centre of an interesting group of philanthropic agencies including the Campden Technical Institute, a modern development of the Campden Charities, the Romanesque Church of St Columb, originally a daughter church of All Saints, and the fine red-brick building of the North Kensington Branch of the Public Library. Although the building only dates from 1891, the Notting Hill Free Library, from which it has sprung, was started in the year 1874 at number 106 High Street, Notting Hill Gate.' North Kensington Library at 108 Ladbroke Grove was the first purpose-built library in Kensington, as well as hosting the first children's room in the borough in 1912 and First World War recruiting meetings.

The KPH Kensington Park Hotel and the railway bridge Boulevard Notting Hill Ladbroke Grove at the Lancaster Road junction 1866. The earliest Colville photograph features the Kensington Park Hotel pub at 139 Ladbroke Grove, 'beyond the limits' of the Ladbroke estate at 'the central point of North Kensington.' Until 2014 the Colville ward boundary crossed Ladbroke Grove at this point to include the Lancaster Road/St Mark's Road/Ruston Mews block up to the railway line. When the photograph was taken there were still hayfields beyond the railway bridge; the line had only been there two years and the station was called Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove. Where it was taken from, on the Barclays bank corner of Lancaster Road, was the site of a circus run by the prize-fighter Tom Sayers.

The KPH was the favourite pub of Timothy Evans from 10 Rillington Place (down Lancaster Road) and appears in the film, but was apparently shunned by the murderer John Christie. In the 1958 race riots it's said to have been the fascists' HQ. The following year the fascist leader Oswald Mosley appeared across the road outside the library, when he stood as the Union Movement candidate for North Kensington in the election. Cathi Unsworth's 'Bad Penny Blues' novel (about the late 50s/early 60s 'Jack the Stripper' murders) begins with a scene set in the Ladbroke Grove Mosley rally. Derek Jones recalls a Wild West 11 night at the KPH when a Protestant Glaswegian boxer took on all comers at the top of the stairs after making a derogatory comment about the Pope. Ladbroke Grove between Westbourne Park Road and Cambridge Gardens was also the epicentre of the 1976 Carnival riot.

The KPH gained further renown from the great QPR flair player Stan Bowles, the star of the 75-76 team that narrowly missed out on winning the league. In an extract from his book that used to be framed on the wall, Stan recalled going in for a pint during a gambling session over the road. Whilst at the bar he heard a commotion outside and went to watch as police raided the gambling club 'Sweeney' style. He dedicated the tribute: 'To everyone at the KPH, I remember it well, good luck.' Remarkably, the Kensington Park Hotel retained an authentic 1950s-70s Irish/West Indian pub atmosphere, and some regulars who dated back to the period, until its 2014 revamp by Vince Power, featuring the new Mean Fiddler venue upstairs in the old KPH theatre room.

In the Ladbroke Grove rock classic track, ‘Slim Slow Slider’, Van Morrison sang: ‘Saw you walking down by Ladbroke Grove this morning, catching pebbles for some sandy beach, you’re out of reach' (on his 1968 ‘Astral Weeks’ album). The most important event in Ladbroke Grove rock history was the death of Jimi Hendrix at 22 Lansdowne Crescent in 1970. The second most important was Eric Clapton forming Cream at Ginger Baker’s ‘basement flat in Ladbroke Grove’ (road or area?) in 1966.

Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took composed Tyrannosaurus Rex songs, including 'Ride A White Swan', just off Ladbroke Grove at 57 Blenheim Crescent. But the biggest Ladbroke Grove hit was Leo Sayer's ‘One Man Band’, which reached number 6 in 1974 (with him dressed as a clown on 'Top of the Pops'): 'Well, everybody knows down Ladbroke Grove you have to leap across the street, you can lose your life under a taxi cab, you gotta have eyes in your feet, you find a nice soft corner and you sit right down, take up your guitar and play, but then the law man comes, says move along, so you move along all day, well, I'm a one man band...' 

In 76 I-Roy was 'stepping into Ladbroke Grove' more optimistically and coolly in 'Jah Come Here', and Delroy Washington’s ‘The Streets of Ladbroke Grove’ featured the Ladbroke Grove Street Choir. The Slits’ ‘Ping Pong Affair’ track contains the line ‘whilst you were sulking I could have been raped in Ladbroke Grove', and Viv Goldman’s ‘Launderette’ single had a Ladbroke Grove mini-movie sleeve. The post-punky reggae party at Viv’s flat, above the betting shop between the KPH and the station, included Aswad, Public Image Limited, the Pop Group, the Slits, the Raincoats, Geoff Travis of Rough Trade and Robert Wyatt. (She has since gone on to be a professor of punk studies in New York.)

Richard Branson's Virgin record company offices, across the road from the Elgin at numbers 101-9, were described by Mick Brown as 'a converted Victorian property on the litter strewn thoroughfare of Ladbroke Grove, opposite a particularly combative Irish pub.' 107 had been the anti-war Arbitrate First Bureau office in the 20s. Dub Vendor reggae record shop expanded from their original shack by the station to the Cambridge Gardens corner, Brett Anderson and Justine Frischmann formed Suede across the road from the station, and Jarvis Cocker sang ‘Your Ladbroke Grove looks turn me on’ in the Pulp track ‘I Spy’. 'The Grove' area/road is mentioned in various other reggae tracks and in songs by the Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, Transvision Vamp, the Boo Radleys, Jazz Butcher, Blur and Killing Joke, whose ‘Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove’ from 2010 asked ‘What happened to Ladbroke Grove?’ Nowadays Adele, Dizzee Rascal and co are over the road from Marc Bolan’s place at XL on Blenheim Crescent. In spite of gentrification, in an early 2000s' review of the Cafeteria restaurant opposite the station (on the site of the Ladbroke Hall, now a private school), Faye Maschler noted: 'muck, graffiti and a faint (actually, not so faint) air of menace.' The Ladbroke Grove section of the Colville photo history exhibition is on permanent display in the Grove Fish Bar chip shop at number 143.

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