A few days ago I found myself at the Victoria & Albert Museum and afterwards with a bit of time to spare and still entirely without any tourists, I decided to take a stroll to properly explore some of the lanes and mews that are just off the busy Brompton Road where Harrods is.
Whilst Harrods and much of that part of Knightsbridge is often extremely busy and perhaps a little distastefully ostentatious to locals, just a few minutes walk away takes you to a very different area. Classy, understated, traditional and exactly where I would live if I had to live there which is why the streets were home to all manner of British actors as well as the occasional shy and retiring Hollywood star with screen heroines such as Ava Gardner.
The heathland village of Brompton was first recorded in 1294 and its name derives from Old English words meaning ‘farmstead where broom grows’. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s coat of arms is topped with a sprig of broom representing Brompton.
The marshy ground was drained in the 16th century and converted to fruit gardens. The Brompton Park nursery was established here in 1681 and has given its name to the Brompton stock: a large, usually red, biennial variety of the species Matthiola incana.
From around 1800 the area between Hyde Park and Brompton Road began to be developed in a piecemeal series of small streets and squares. The squares were and still are populated by grand buildings but nearby were the stables and modest homes of the servants who worked for their betters and as with other parts of London, over a few centuries they have become some of the most desirable places to live.
A year ago I wrote on the The (Deserted) Mews of Mayfair and it seems many parts of London are as deserted as ever but one gets the feeling that these particular mews are always quiet which I think exactly why the people who live there, love them so much.
The blue terrace house above has obviously myself with blue and white decor and olive trees out side the front door. I’d guess their house is worth 10 times mine though. The house in the distance on the left was one of the homes of actor Sir Alec Guinness who of course starred in dozens if not towards a hundred films.
Of course if I were truly artsy then I might cut out the traffic cone on the edge of the photo! This corner was famous across Britain in the 1980’s and early 90’s as the setting for an iconic VW Golf car advert. Personally I’d think a VW around here would be more for the cleaning staff rather than residents!
The view of this mews could be said to be out of this world which would be apt in someways as famed actor Sir Terrence Stamp used to live on the left. Of course he has played many roles but I always think of him as General Zod from the Planet Krypton who came so close to beating Superman 40 odd years ago. For some reason I often prefer the baddies in films. Darth Vader and General Zod were much more my people than Luke Skywalker or Superman.
Incidentally Sir Michael Caine lived further down the street when his career was just starting off and the pink building on the right which is about as long as a train carriage and no deeper than 3 feet and in places much shallower, recently sold for almost £1million so it gives a clue as to what the proper houses are worth.
The street above is another lovely Mews and in the distance you can see the spire of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
You’d never know you were in the heart of London would you?
This old mews has been on-screen a few times including one of my favourite 60’s shows, The Avengers, a crime-fighting show with often sophisticated villains and the even classier Emma Peel played by Dame Diana Rigg and John Steed who was played by Patrick Macnee.
Whilst just on the right was a location in the last great Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy!
And then as I was just about finished, I caught a lovely glimpse of Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic Church. The photo also gives a glimpse or what many of the streets in this area are like. The house on the right was home to actor Jack Hawkins who appeared in countless films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, The Cruel Sea and The Bridge Over The River Kwai whilst one or two doors down was the home of Charles Gray who famously played Blofeld in James Bond.
Given the distinctive nature of the streets and my knowing all these house locations just from memory, it makes me wonder whether I have a new walking tour. There is so much more to London than the famous sights!