This article was written by one of our members, Sue Cohen.
Ladbroke was a daring experiment in Cheltenham-style respectability on the edge of the abyss. Just below the white stucco villas and leafy gardens of the retired Indian Army officers, churchmen and lawyers, there flourished one of the worst slums in Victorian London. It was fifty years before the local authorities finally cleared up the shanty town, known as the Piggeries and the Potteries, where the flooded, rubbish-filled clay pits acted as open sewers.
Today two plaques reflect the (literally) sticky relationship between the ‘haves’ of Ladbroke and the ‘have-nots’. The first is in the churchyard of St John’s, at the top of the hill, where a grandstand was built for the race-course (or hippodrome) laid out on the north-west part of the estate by John White in 1837. The race-course failed after four years; the horses slipped and skidded in the clayey hollows. Worse, the course was invaded by the men from the Piggeries and Potteries who claimed a right of way to Notting Hill.
The second plaque commemorates the Potteries themselves: it is placed on the sole surviving brick kiln in Walmer Road, at the western foot of Notting Hill, which once produced the bricks and tiles for the gentlemen’s residences being built further up the hill. In the 1840s it was an area of unmitigated squalor: the average age of death there was 12 years, compared to an average of 37 for London as a whole.
There are also several blue plaques to commemorate residents, most of them distinguished artists. Perhaps because of its reputation for seediness, Ladbroke became an artistic quarter. A tall block, Lansdowne House Studios, near the junction of Lansdowne Road and Holland Park Avenue, was purpose-built by William Flockhart (1852-1913) in 1904 as artists’ studios (large north windows still face onto Ladbroke Road). The blue plaque commemorates no fewer than six artists. The painter and lithographer Charles Shannon (1863-1937) lived there with his devoted friend Charles Ricketts (1866-1931), a painter, printer and stage designer (of Oscar Wilde’s Salome in 1906 and G B Shaw’s St Joan in 1924). Ricketts owned and edited the magazine The Dial, and together they amassed a considerable art collection. Glyn Philpott RA (1884-1937) was a portrait painter and sculptor. His pupil Vivian Forbes (1891-1937) was in his youth one of the Beggarstaff Brothers (the other was William Nicholson), producing bold and innovative graphic posters. By the time he moved to the Studios he was an established painter and stage designer.
Ladbroke also housed one exceptional man of science: Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), the gifted inorganic chemist and discoverer of thallium, who lived and worked for nearly 40 years at 7 Kensington Park Gardens.
One of the more recent plaques commemorates Ladbroke’s most famous visitor. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), the first Prime Minister of India after Independence in 1947, stayed at 60 Elgin Crescent in his early twenties, presumably during vacations from Cambridge.
Many other local residents deserve a plaque. C H Blake, who developed Stanley Crescent, Stanley Gardens and Kensington Park Gardens north side, lived from 1854 to 1859 at 24 Kensington Park Gardens in a house designed for him by Thomas Allom. In 1872-1880 Hablot Knight Browne, who illustrated many of Dickens’s novels under the pseudonym Phiz, lived at 99 Ladbroke Grove. Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930), the architect of Admiralty Arch, the main block of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the east front of Buckingham Palace, lived from 1890 to 1930 at 1 Lansdowne Walk in a house he substantially redesigned himself.
Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), the illustrator of the exotic and fantastic, lived from 1912 to 1939 between 72 and 117 Ladbroke Road. One imagines that he must have visited his neighbours in Lansdowne House, also passionate collectors of Oriental art.
At 88 Kensington Park Road lived the Hassalls: John Hassall (1868-1948) was one of the earliest and boldest designers of advertising posters, while his daughter Joan Hassall(1906-1988) was an accomplished wood-engraver.
Osbert Lancaster (1908-1986) that acute observer of social and architectural fashion and vagaries, spent the first nine years of his life at 79 Elgin Crescent and was sent to Norland Place School. A little earlier the Russian clairvoyant, Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831-91), cofounder of the Theosophist Society, lived in the same house. Lancaster gave an entertaining account of that seedy neighbourhood In his autobiography, All Done from Memory (London, 1963), and illustrated the communal gardens of Ladbroke Square in The Pleasure Garden (London, 1977), written with his wife Anne Scott-James. A blue plaque to him on 79 Elgin Crescent was unveiled on 26 June 2015.
In 1904, at the age of 29, Edgar Wallace was on the run from his creditors. He moved into a ‘plaster-fronted Victorian house which had outlived its pretensions’ at 37 Elgin Crescent. At that date he was working on the Daily Mail. His first novel, The Four Just Men, appeared that year, and by 1908 he was able to move into grander accommodation.