Esoteric London

No. 591: Kensington High Street, W8

Posted in Architectural, Museums by esotericlondon on June 4, 2012

Commonwealth Institute, Kensington High Street, London, W8. Photo © Roger Dean 2012

The Little World of London – Charles Manby Smith, 1857:

Crocodile Court is a second-rate court, debouching at the end in a third-rate street, which, on Saturday nights is a fourth-rate market, and at the other in a lane. The lane leads to nowhere particular, unless it be to the gin-shop at the end, one side of which sends its flashing illumination at night-time far down the darksome labyrinth, whose squalor and misery crouch from public view, while the other turns a magnificent and hilarious face upon a splendid street, as if utterly unconscious that there are such things as squalor and misery in the world. The court itself may be about a furlong in length, and averages some nine or ten feet in width, and its area, until it comes to the entrance of the lane, where you suddenly turn a corner, is supposed to be paved over the entire surface, with the exceptions, of course, of the little gratings which give light to the cellars below. We say ‘supposed,’ because a good number of the flags have mysteriously disappeared…

[ The flagpoles in the photograph above stand defiantly on the forecourt of the Commonwealth Institute building on Kensington High Street, W8. Designed by Sir Robert Matthew and Johnson-Marshall and Partners it was opened by the Queen in 1962 and includes a gallery space, cinema and lecture theatres with the aim of educating the populace on the Commonwealth. The Grade II Listed building is regarded by English Heritage as the second most important modern building in London, after the Royal Festival Hall. Unfortunately the flags of the Commonwealth no longer flutter on the poles outside, the Institute having vacated the building in 2002 since which time it has been empty. However, there are plans afoot to move the Design Museum, which has outgrown its current premise at Shad Thames, into the building. If the refit is sympathically done this could be the start of a perfect second life for the really rather special building. R.D.]

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