Monday, 28 November 2016

Kensington and Holland Park

St Mary Abbots

After a recent visit to Leighton House in Holland Park I realised that I ought to explore the area. I found this walk in the excellent London's Hidden Walks 2 by Stephen Millar. The walk starts at High Street Ken tube and you exit the station bearing right to quickly come face to face with St Mary Abbots. The present church is by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1872), although there was an abbey here until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

After crossing the road to the church I looked back to see the wonderful art deco exterior of the former Barkers department store.

The route now meander uphill to reach Hornton St where there are some magnificent houses of red brick with white stone dressings.

Continuing uphill, the route envisages a let turn to reach Holland. This was closed for some reason and anyway I had decided to detour to the north to see the Sheppard Trust's almshouses in Lansdowne Walk (numbers 3 and 14). This is number 3, surely one of the most upmarket almshouses.

I headed back to Holland Park Avenue and turned left into Abbotsbury Road where I passed this lovely Mews.

Soon after this I entered the park from the other side and reach Holland House where I rejoined the walk route. The house dates back to 1605 and was known as Cope's Castle, having been built by Sir Walter Cope. It was largely destroyed during the Second World War. Nearby is the lovely Orangery, which rather defied photography.

Exiting by Ilchester Place, the route leads to Melbury Road, where in the right is Tower House, built by William Burges in 1877. A wonderful surprise as I have always admired Burges! It was bought by the actor Richard Harris in the 1960s and later sold to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (who allegedly outbid David Bowie for it).

I departed from the route again here to photograph a house with wonderful windows - obviously an artist's studio - we saw on the visit to Leighton House. A blue plaque reveals that the artist in this case was Marcus Stone RA, who painted illustration for books by Dickens and Trollope. This area was an important artists' quarter in Victorian times.

Further along Melbury Road on the right was a house with wonderful terracotta panels.

I turned right and right again to reach Holland Park Road and Leighton House, looking resplendent in the sun. It was built by the painter Frederick, Lord Leighton for his own occupation and is now a museum.

The current exhibition is absolutely wonderful, as it the interior of the building. It reunites a group of painting submitted to the Royal Academy by Leighton not long before his death. The most famous of these is Flaming June which is noiw seen as Leighton's masterpiece.

It has a wonderful story. It was on loan to the Ashmolean in Oxford in the early 1900s (leightion died in 1896), but vanished for decades before being rediscovered in the early 1960s, boxed in over a chimney in a house in Battersea. The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose own collecting helped revive serious interest in the art of the period, never forgave his grandmother for refusing to lend him £50 to buy it when he saw it soon afterwards in a shop on the Kings Road. “I will not have Victorian junk in my flat,” she told him. It was bought by a collector in Puerto Rico and now graces the art gallery there. It was something of a coup for Leighton House to secure it on loan for this exhibition.

I headed back towards Kensington, pausing to explore the new Design Museum, which has just opened and is not of course mentioned in the walk book. It occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building on the south east corner of Holland Park.

The redevelopment of the site included a couple of blocks of flats by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. They are not especially memorable.

The real glory of the Design Museum is inside where the architect and designer John Pawson who has created a wonderfully spacious interior ...

... and made the concrete tiled roof an dramatic component of the design.

I continued along the walk route which heads towards High Street Kenthen diverts off to the south past Edwardes Sq and a number of, to be honest, not very interesting streets, before returning to the main road. I did rather like the gable of St Mary Abbots Mission Hall and Infants School with its bas belief brickwork and plate of grapes.

Kensington Square contained several houses where famous people had lived, notably John Stuart Mill, and led to Derry Street with the former Derry and Toms store with more art deco decoration on the left.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: officially 3.2, but I probably walked about 5 miles.

Rating: five stars if you visit Leighton House and the Design Museum. The final section of the route was disappointing.

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