Ladbroke Grove in the 1960s with the accent very much on 24 Bassett Road…

As noted in an earlier post on this blog, at the end of 1961 my mother Julia Callan-Thompson moved to a two room top floor flat at 24 Bassett Road, London W10. The area around Bassett Road had been developed as a series of housing estates in the 1860s in conjunction with the extension of the Metropolitan train line on a viaduct constructed over the Portobello stream and marshes to Ladbroke Grove. The station at this latter location was originally called Notting Hill, which is why an area that might more properly be designated Notting Dale is better known by the former designation. The development of the area was followed by an economic depression, which led the likes of nineteenth-century busy-body Florence Gladstone to complain: “Whole streets were not inhabited by the class of people for whom they were designed.”

In the late-nineteenth century rather than housing city clerks, many of the buildings in the Ladbroke Grove area were under multiple occupancy by members of the working class, and in particular Irish labourers who’d been forced by famine to migrate and were engaged in the construction of new railways in the area. Multiple working class occupancy of these building was something that would continue for more than a hundred years. By the beginning of the sixties the rail network was still providing work for many of the recent immigrants who were enlivening this drab part of west London; although now rather than constructing railways, a substantial proportion of those who’d been enticed to the metropolis from the West Indies with promises of remunerative employment were involved in the smooth running and maintenance of public transport.

24 Bassett Road is a large house with some neo-classical features such as the pillars that hold up the porch to the main door. By the early sixties the building’s generous rooms had been carved up into smaller units. I’ve been told the property was owned by a Trinidadian called Sandy Dalton-Brown who liked bohemians. My mother made friends with her landlord and would visit him at his home near Hyde Park. At one point he offered to sell her both the flat she rented and that of another tenant, so that the rent from the second flat would pay off the one hundred percent mortgage which he offered to arrange for the two dwellings. Before the introduction of stricter controls on British building societies at the start of the sixties, it was common for property speculators to off-load properties to both tenants and other parties with one hundred percent mortgages which the seller had pre-arranged. Indeed, constant resale was one of the best ways of inflating the value of slum dwellings. Despite the prices paid under such arrangements generally being above market value, ownership still proved cheaper than renting.

Apparently my mother didn’t like the idea of being a landlady, so she opted to remain a tenant. Dalton-Brown seems to have been known by this double-barrelled moniker in bohemian circles, which is how he is listed in my mother’s address book, without a forename or even a prefix such as Mister. It may be that Dalton-Brown was fronting as landlord for the real owner of the property, since the use of nominee landlords was common in Notting Hill at the time. If Dalton-Brown ever actually owned either parts or all of 24 Bassett Road in the early sixties, he’d at least partially sold up before my mother moved out since the Kensington General Rate book for the year to 31 March 1966 contains the following listings: Basement Flat – Dalstead Property Co. Ltd; Ground Floor Rooms – Miss Mary Murphy crossed out and entered by hand G. J. Warden; First Floor Rooms – The Occupier; Second Floor (on which my mother lived) – Miss Whitehurst. Dalton-Brown is said to have been involved in many different business ventures, and also seems to have owned a race horse which was kept at a stable in the north of England.

In one of the two basement flats was a Trinidadian musician called Russell Henderson who’d come to London in 1951 as a mature student and never left. Henderson was a first cousin to Sandy Dalton-Brown – who at one time owned or managed at least part of the property – and some of those in Henderson’s circles referred to his and my mother’s landlord as Uncle Sandy. In 1952, Russ Henderson linked up with Sterling Betancourt. Together they made some recordings of Henderson’s piano music which were released as singles by Melodisc. With the addition of Mervyn Constantine they switched to playing pan drums and became The Russ Henderson Steel Band. When Constantine left the band, it was augmented by Ralph Cherrie and his brother Max Cherrie. As well as performing regular gigs, they also appeared on the radio and in both TV shows and feature films; including Danger Man, The Saint and Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors (Amicus, 1965, in a segment also featuring Roy Castle and the Tuby Hayes Quartet!). By the mid-sixties, with a minor shift in the line-up, Henderson was running his ensemble as both a steel band and a jazz quartet. For the latter, he’d sit at the piano, Sterling Betancourt played drums, Max Cherrie was on double bass and Gigi Walker blew the trumpet. The group had house spots as both a jazz ensemble and a steel band at different London venues, and also played further afield. Henderson continued to make records in the sixties but all are now deleted and they have become collector’s items; however, one of his best tracks, West Indian Drums, appeared a few years ago on the CD compilation London Is The Place For Me Volume 2.

In the second basement flat at 24 Bassett Road was a Jewish refugee from Nazism called Ruth Forster (covered in an earlier blog). Both Forster and Henderson lived at 24 Bassett Road from the nineteen-fifties right through to the mid-eighties. Forster appears to have died in the mid-eighties, while Henderson moved on to other parts of west London, where he still lives, now aged 85. Another very interesting occupant of a conversion at this address in the earlier part of the sixties was Peter Hammerton, who’d set up an Interplanetary Society in the late-fifties and was a fixture of early science-fiction conventions. Hammerton was a friend of the writer Michael Moorcock who also lived in the area. During the half-decade my mother rented her two room flat at 24 Bassett Road, she would take long trips to Europe but nonetheless liked having somewhere secure to come back to, despite being away for periods of up to six months. Eventually in the summer of 1966 she moved on to a pad at 55 Elgin Crescent W11; this street is only a short walk from Bassett Road, but the flat my mother lived in there was located to the east of Ladbroke Grove, rather than to its west like her old gaff.

At the time it was first developed in the 1860s, the area around Elgin Crescent was known as The Stumps. A hundred years before my mother moved there it was described in Building News as ‘a graveyard of buried hopes’ with ‘naked carcasses, crumbling decorations, fractured walls and slimy cement work’. The terraced houses in Elgin Crescent were of a similar pseudo-classical design to the detached building my mother had just left in Bassett Road albeit with fuller whitewashing. When Julie moved in, the property at 55 Elgin Crescent had just been divided into flats by a development company, so she signed a three year lease which she was able to sell on at a small profit when she left for Paris less than six months later.

In the mid-sixties, Michael X’s mother Iona Brown lived in Elgin Crescent, and she made money practising Obeah and dispensing spiritual advice from her flat. However, Iona Brown died in May 1966, shortly before my mother moved to the street. Someone my mother had befriended and who lived in Elgin Crescent at the same time as her was Terry Taylor. He had a place right by Finches pub, possibly at number 16. At the end of 1966, my mother left London to live in Paris and after a year there travelled on to India. When my mother took up living in London full-time once again in the summer of 1969, it was initially in a flat she shared with Terry Taylor and other friends at 58 Bassett Road. But that’s another story….

And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!

About mistertrippy

Stewart Home was born in south London in 1962. His mother Julia Callan-Thompson was a showgirl and club hostess. He has never held down a regular job for more than a few months at a time. On those rare occasions when he's been forced to work, Home has taken employment as a factory labourer, agricultural labourer, shop assistant, office clerk and art class model. Deciding he didn't like working in factories as a teenager, Home pursued cultural and political interests, writing many books and participating in even more gallery exhibitions.
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33 thoughts on “Ladbroke Grove in the 1960s with the accent very much on 24 Bassett Road…

  1. Michael K says:

    Although Moorcock rocks, he’s now in Texas, so London is not the place for me…..

  2. Obeah is like a groove sensation, but they do it better in Trinidad than Dalston. I’m with Michael, Belfast is the place for me!

  3. Sinclair (Saint-Claire) has to be revolting in his grave. This is so intimate and Proustian.
    Liked it a lot, Mr. Trippy. Please bring us more stuff like this. I still remember when you surprised us all for the first time with stories about your interesting mother. That was a turning point for the Stewart Home I knew untill then. The conecctions with almost every one who was someone in the cultural underground back then…
    Real state speculation comes out as a very determining factor in the lives of every artist or bohemian, as for spies too, sometimes.
    My beloved girlfriend, Lita, has her own auntie as a landlady, who charges her with half the rent of the entire house. Lita’s room is 8,5 x 5 feet. The landlady auntie also charges her own son for living there.
    I’m certain this auntie is not allowed for the real owner to sub-rent rooms. Auntie have raised the rent two times in one and a half year.
    Now Lita has found an equally small room, but which administrator is also the owner of the property (sorry, Proudhon), in the center of the city, where the real countercultural thingy is going on!
    The new landlady is a singer that also reads tarot.

  4. Michael Roth says:

    Interesting stuff. At least it gives us a glimpse into boho London at the time. Just did a street view of Bassett Road. Looks like a nice area. I guess it’s undergoing (or has undergone) some gentrification judging from the cars and construction. I didn’t make my way out of the centre of London (Soho, the City, etc) when I was there. Just ran out of time.

  5. Michael Roth says:

    BTW, will the John Latham piece be posted again. I was only half way through! Toot toot!

  6. mistertrippy says:

    Yes, Bassett Road has been massively gentrified… but would have been a more interesting place to live in the sixties than now…. they guy who has owned number 24 since the mid/late-eighties is called Eddie and he’s let me in to look around… he lives there, rather than being a landlord, a nice dude!

    I got a message saying I might be allowed access to archive materials that would enable me to perfect the Latham piece a little more. There is possibly a minor inaccuracy (not relating to Latham) and I’m told there is a lot of largely unseen material I should be able to view about this! So I wanted to remove it until I had a chance to visit this archive in a few days… It should be back by the end of the week! Unless the archive totally blows my mind, in which case it might take a bit longer…. But if it can be perfected I wanted to take it off until I was able to do that…..

  7. Kim Newman says:

    My grandmother, Miranda Christen, and her second husband, Jimmy Wood, lived in a ground-floor flat in Elgin Crescent throughout the ’60s. While my parents were living in Brixton (the family moved to Somerset in 1966), they got into the habit of taking me and my sister Sasha to stay there on Friday nights. My Mum, who got together with my Dad while they were art students in the late 1950s, once worked as a waitress in Madame Mahrer’s restaurant in Soho, which Mike Moorcock describes in authentic detail in Mother London.

  8. mistertrippy says:

    My mum actually moved from her bedsit in Islington to Bassett Road so she’d have an extra room for me the baby…. but in the end I didn’t grow up with her. Due to various social worker interventions I ended up being born in Merton in south London… but given that my mum was living in Notting Hill for the last four or five months of her pregnancy “I Should Have Been Born In Chelsea’ (now there’s a potential autobiography title…) Or failing Chelsea at least Chiswick! And there is quite a difference between SW3 and SW20! All those streets off Ladbroke Grove have such an amazing history, and especially in the sixties…. I bet you enjoyed the ambience on Elgin Crescent when you were a kid, Kim.

  9. Díre McCain says:

    And who is this Florence Gladstone woman? “Whole streets were not inhabited by the class of people for whom they were designed.” What a snooty, intolerant remark. Immediately makes me think of the gentrification of Long Beach. Some areas have already been “improved”, which has not only raped those areas of their character, but has also resulted in an unjust uprooting (including one of the greatest independently owned bookstores this side of the Tetons – Acres of Books). The bottom line is that poor folks need somewhere to dwell too, and with the ever-increasing inflation that inevitably affects rental rates, a certain number of neighborhoods need to be left the hell alone, despite the fact that they may be “unsightly” in the eyes of some, and crime-ridden. I always say, if you don’t dig the digs then stay the hell away. But I’m preaching to the choir…

  10. mistertrippy says:

    Agree with you completely Dire, as for Florence Gladstone just some nineteenth-century busy-body….. possibly related to William, but I don’t know……

  11. Would be so great to have a word said about gentrification here (I mean mostly Valparaíso and Santiago) by people from the “first world” that are not of the disgusting Bo-bo type (bourgeois-bohemian). We have hordes of foreigners here, forming a solid front with upper classes in order to “rescue” and “improve” historical areas of these cities, in fact demolishing old interesting buildings to built new high-raises (which are considered fancy here) for the emerging new proffessional classes -new riches, really.
    We also see euros, canadians and americans having a really comfy life here, extremelly “good-value”, sometimes living from grants, some others like employees of foreign companies, enjoying themselves amongst the poverty of the rest of the people. Normally they would wake up at ten or eleven am, check out their e-mails, go out to have breakfast, go buying some new coffee table books, have a meeting, go to opera or experimental theatre, then some gym, lunch at a la mode restaurant, then why not a little drinking in a exclusive bar, go back home to take a shower, write some mails to mom and dad in Vancouver or something, then a little coke for the animus, walk the dog to show off that tight little arse by the park, and then get ready for the party at night.

    So, I’m still waiting my prole visitors from the North.
    Let’s have some class war-angry brigade fun!

  12. mistertrippy says:

    Hey Rick, sounds bad and I can imagine just what it is like… But I’ve no first hand experience of Valparaíso or Santiago, so I see more what is happening in London… Here you can even see some gentrified streets declining, Redchurch Street seems to be less slick, although hardly yet back to the way I remember it 20 years ago with printers and the garment trade and no art galleries at all. But the art galleries are getting lower class and it all just looks messier than a year or two ago…. So recession is good for London, but maybe it will work the other way in Latin America with bourgeois drop outs going from the overdeveloped world to places outside it in order to maintain their standard of living…. But you’ll need to tell me what’s happening, I don’t know… Maybe some other people who come on here do…..

  13. Of course you don’t have that first hand experience. I regret it…I was just theorizing a little about WHAT IF someone who eventually could come here …another bloggers, etc. For instance, Miss Marmite was here…but I’m talking about of an european or american or australian or canadian (I don’t say they are all the same either) that could write that or elaborate a critical discourse to be delivered to this gentrifiers at the same “racial” or “national” level. In your local reality, this is made every day with no further effect. But here, I know it would be very shocking to them having “one of their own” telling it in their face.
    It would receive a lot of press.
    And is great to hear that the gentrified zones there undergo some decline. I think is just natural, because the kind of gentrification I have seen looks a lot like speculation to me. Something artificial, trendy, false, bussiness related, risky, superficial, but horribly destructive.

    I try to keep my rants the more fair as possible, so my point is exactly that: Stewart Home is not a gentrifier. He mocks and denounce gentrification in London. We need a S.H. to say : “DON’T GO TO LEECH POOR PEOPLE TO THE THIRD WORLD, YOU NEW INTERNATIONAL CLASS scumbags”, or something like that. Because I don’t think I have your scalpel for analysis, maybe I can just rant for now. Sad, I know.

    And I insist. Why we have to stand the rich and snob and indolent and selfish morons while the really cool people keeps so far away?
    So far, I’m 100% pro S.H. So my rant kind of issued from your post, but with no “irony” intended. Another proof that I can’t be nearly as clear cut as you are.

    One line of development of this could be nationality vis a vis or v/s social classes. I think all those american writers in Africa in the 50’s were doing something similar, but at least they were good artists and left us “Naked Lunch” and stuff.

    Our own (national) gentrificators and colaborationists is our own shame and problem. What piss me off, again, is what you defined so well: “bourgeois drop outs going from the overdeveloped world to places outside it in order to maintain their standard of living”.

    We have an expression for that :” to count the money in front of the poor”.

  14. mistertrippy says:

    I think MarmiteLover is cooking up a storm with her illegal underground restaurant, but hopefully she can come back on here in due course and tell us what she thinks… And I think John Eden who comes on here sometimes, but not for a while coz he has a problem with his arm, has been your way…..

  15. Well then, as President Obama says, we have Hope!

  16. Tim says:

    Stewart,

    what I’ve noticed about gentrification is it erases history – sometimes I think in a quite deliberate severance with the past. The area around Notting Hill seemed to have particularly bad. A colonization of the past perhaps?

    As for the bourgeois bohos down in S. America, I haven’t seen it (this Canadian pretty much starved in London), but I’ve seen the equivalent in Asia and the like. I used to wonder about it? Who are these people? Why are they so awful exactly? It was always a mystery. Maybe ‘expat’ just can’t mean what it did back in the 50’s, 20’s etc . .. anyway, they were one of the reasons I decided to stick to my own culture, more or less.

    Anyway, thanks for the history. Love the stuff about your mother . . .

  17. mistertrippy says:

    Agreed, Notting Hill does seem really wrecked by the gentrification… And I really hate what it has done in more recent years to Brick Lane and Columbia Road, but the feel of decline in nearby Redchurch Street really gives me hope that the gentrifiction is receeding. I think Shoreditch/Bethnal Green will recover quicker than Notting Hill, but even way out west there could be a recovery given time!

  18. Mike Moorcock says:

    Which side of Elgin Crescent were you on, Kim ? Was it the gardens side or the other side ? Or the bit between KPRoad and Ladbroke Grove. Funny how we all rubbed shoulders, often without realising it. Wonder if I ever met your mum at Madame Mahrers ? I’m glad you found all this info out, Stewart. Good stuff. I never got back past Somers Town in trying to trace my maternal family links. Apparently the ‘Great Depression’ of the 1880s/90s was what turned the area into multiple dwellings. 87 Ladbroke Grove was originally occupied by a doctor, apparently. Angus Wilson remembers living there around the turn of the 20th century when parts were still ‘shabby genteel’. He knew the area pretty well, but before it was bohemian. Taxi drivers wouldn’t take you down that far when I lived in Colville Terrace in the very early 60s. Coppers used to patrol in threes.

  19. mistertrippy says:

    Wow Mike, this is magic. I was down in Falmouth a few days ago as covered in an earlier blog and it was the first time in ages I’d seen loads of paperbacks by you in charity shops and used book stores… When I read Jerry Cornelius as a teenager it was a set of four that came in a box, can’t remember the publisher now… but not the same paperback as I just got of “The Final Programme” put out by Mayflower from 1971, first paperback edition and crazy cover… and of course we’re back in The Groove with Jerry. I also got a 1969 Mayflower paperback of “The Mad God’s Amulet”. What I was really hoping for but couldn’t find was a copy of “Stormbringer” which I think might have been the first book I ever read by you, I remember reading it at my desk in the first year of secondary school…. The teachers found my choice of books in free reading periods a bit strange… They didn’t have your stuff at school, I think I borrowed Elric books etc. from older kids I knew and took them in myself….

  20. Thanks Tim, you got it right. And is safer, now. Too much travelling, over all by plane, is a High Risk Factor. I apply this to myself too. I often decline invitations to other nations. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with going outside your borders every few years and keep a low profile while visiting some networking contacts or go to some solitary ruins…
    Tourism and gentrification seem to go together.

    I’m sure that there are keen people all over the world who get this. I myself try to disencourage potential expats in my country too, in order to get them to stay here and do something useful for his own place.

    Being from a country which is a target for expats, I deeply appreciate your honest comment, Tim. Thailand is a mess, indeed. And Bali. And Goa.

    And if economic crisis doesn’t fix it, the plague surely will do!

    For some related topics, visit:

    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/

    Namaste!

  21. Suzy Devere says:

    Nice post; all good things to know.

  22. its not the nation or the temporal location its the system of capitalism that creates devastation

  23. Time Traveller: you are in part right, althought it sounds a bit odf a goody-goody cliché.

    But if You are from an OVERPRIVILEGED CLASS, from an OVERPRIVILEGED TERRITORY, and just TEMPORALLY LOCATED living in an area of an UNDERPRIVILEGED TERRITORY, amongst people of an UNDERPRIVILEGED CLASS; well, that sounds a bit of a nasty leecher to me ¿don’t you think so?

    I mean, I don’t even see people in the High Rises of Manhattan or the fancy apartments of Mayfair as to give a shit; is the frenchie or yank next to me in the park, from whose conversation I can understand he’s a richie possing as cool traveller, when his daddy is a weapon dealer or banker in Stuttgart, trying to convice me that he is a follower of Debord or street artist, what REALLY pisses me off.

    Is not that difficult to understand, is it?

  24. mistertrippy says:

    Hey Rick, I see why you’re saying this but maybe if you click on Time Traveller’s link it will show you why he – and I think it is a he and not the she who also uses this name – was saying what he said. A blog about providing educational support outside the overdeveloped world and a commitment to the place visited to do this… so not going as a tourist but to teach… that is if you go back a few entries…. I do get what you’re saying and why but because this didn’t sound like the other Time Traveller who comes on here I had a look at the link and concluded it wasn’t…. So maybe the point is subtle and in the link as well as the comment.

  25. OK, Stewart. I trust you enough as to do that.
    The topic is on stand by for me, though, because YESTERDAY MARIO BENEDETTI HAS DIED at 88 and I’m quite sad.

    Defender la alegría como una trinchera
    defenderla del escándalo y la rutina
    de la miseria y los miserables
    de las ausencias transitorias
    y las definitivas

    defender la alegría como un principio
    defenderla del pasmo y las pesadillas
    de los neutrales y de los neutrones
    de las dulces infamias
    y los graves diagnósticos

    defender la alegría como una bandera
    defenderla del rayo y la melancolía
    de los ingenuos y de los canallas
    de la retórica y los paros cardiacos
    de las endemias y las academias

    defender la alegría como un destino
    defenderla del fuego y de los bomberos
    de los suicidas y los homicidas
    de las vacaciones y del agobio
    de la obligación de estar alegres

    defender la alegría como una certeza
    defenderla del óxido y la roña
    de la famosa pátina del tiempo
    del relente y del oportunismo
    de los proxenetas de la risa

    defender la alegría como un derecho
    defenderla de dios y del invierno
    de las mayúsculas y de la muerte
    de los apellidos y las lástimas
    del azar

    y también de la alegría.

  26. its not where you’re from its where you’re at
    we workers live on in our work

  27. Fair enough, Time Traveller.
    Remember that next time International Amnesty evacuates you first.

  28. Sorry, the “RED” Cross.

  29. lk;lk says:

    of course ricardo
    i remember that whenever i see a european language

  30. Mari Mari pu peñi ka pu lamngen!

    TÜfachi CD eymi niemi tami küwü tüwüy Interne mew.

    Nütramka-am, wiringe chumpiru@gmail.com.

    Pewkayael!

  31. ka feipituan ñi mogelen
    ñi vlkantumeken
    kacij kiñe xayen
    mojfvñ trayen
    Ramtuafin ti antv
    ¿cew kvpaimi?
    rupale tripantv
    ka feipituan
    Alepue mapu kvpan pian
    amulen, amulen
    alvpu puan
    zoy ayeple waglen

  32. Kim Newman says:

    I have only the dimmest impressions of those days, but I think it was on the gardens side. Ground floor flat. My grandmother died last year, at an advanced age, and she’s about the last person who might have recalled it. I have some family photographs of that time, including one of my Mum and my sister and me in what was probably the Elgin Crescent gardens in about 1964. I especially remember the snows if 1963. That thing about Malcolm X’s mum being there is weird, because the only local child I remember was a black boy called Malcolm – who’d have been about forty years too young to be Malcolm X.

    At various points, I gave my grandmother and my mother The English Assassin and Mother London, knowing they’d intersected with the settings of the books. They had a Ballardian wartime experience in the Philippines – my grandmother turned down Tokyo Rose’s job, which she was probably offered because her estranged husband was German – and came back to London in the late ’40s, living for a time in George Orwell’s flat in Canonbury Square, round the corner from my current address in what used to be Islington police station. My grandmother typed up the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell posted from Jura, in lieu of rent.

    Yes, we do all seem to have criss-crossed family histories, London history and the A to Z.

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