“Survey of London” (1986) ed. Hermione Hobhouse

From Volume 42, Kensington Square To Earl’s Court:

High Street Kensington Station

“…The inauguration of this station was the single event which did most to transform the High Street from a prosperous suburban centre into one of London’s most alluring shopping streets.

Kensingtonians had been anticipating the railway since 1864, when the Metropolitan Railway’s and Metropolitan District Railway’s Bills came before Parliament. The Kensington Vestry (on which commercial interests were strong) welcomed a station in central Kensington and soon concluded that the proposed station site between King (now Derry) Street and Wright’s Lane was ‘admirably chosen’.

After the necessary period of acquiring the sites, work here began in the summer of 1865. In March 1867 the station was being roofed in. Originally called plain Kensington Station, it conformed to the pattern of others along the line designed by the companies’ engineer, John Fowler. It had a single-storey Italianate exterior in white brick at street level, whence stairs led down to a shed roofed in with a broad elliptical span of some ninety feet, carried on large wrought-iron arches and partly glazed. The two Metropolitan tracks were grouped together on the east, and led out northwards under the High Street towards Notting Hill Gate. On the west, the two District tracks were separated by a platform and ended in buffers under the upper portion of the building. The Metropolitan service from Paddington to Gloucester Road started in October 1868, but the District line to Earl’s Court was not built till 1869 and a regular service began only in 1871. A little later, this western side was linked to the Midland Railway Coal Yard, constructed south and west of the station in 1877–8.

A parcel of excess land was left in possession of the companies on the High Street frontage just east of the station. This site, No. 121 Kensington High Street, was filled in 1868–9 with a tall, self-confident Italianate pub, known at first as the Duke of Abercorn. Because of the presence of a refreshment room in the station itself, it failed initially to acquire a licence but in due course it prospered. In 1888 there were major alterations under H. I. Newton, architect, and the name changed to the Town Hall Tavern, no doubt in deference to customers from across the street. The pub survived until 1912, when it was gobbled up by the expansion of Derry and Toms; the building itself remained until about 1929.

At about the turn of the century, the Metropolitan Railway decided to reconstruct High Street Kensington Station. Local draperies were then in the full spate of expansion, and it seemed sensible to use the valuable frontage space more effectively. George Sherrin, afterwards architect also for reshaping South Kensington and Gloucester Road Stations, was called in. His scheme of 1903–4 proposed taking down the roof and substituting on the southern ends of the platforms simple independent wooden roofs on iron columns. At the northern end, the platforms were covered over with girders supporting an enlarged superstructure. This building, carried out in 1906–8, consists of a shallow four-storey building of thin red bricks and stone dressings. In the centre is a toplit arcade flanked by shop windows and leading to an octagonal space which has side entrances off into stores; originally this contained the booking hall. Though the front of the building is uncomfortably asymmetrical and its windows are jammed together, Sherrin’s crisp details, neat internal arcading and spacious octagon have some elegance.

The offices and shops here were not planned by him. The section east of the arcade was taken by Derry and Toms and the section to its west by Pontings. In subsequent years, Pontings encroached further over the railway space with sundry additions. Since the demise of these stores, some rearrangements have been made, but the character of the arcade with its shops remains.

The space immediately south of Sherrin’s octagon was rebuilt by London Transport in 1937–8 to create an enlarged booking hall…”

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