Page 12: Chelsea-in-the-Wilderness, now Kensal

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Always an isolated hamlet, Kensal’s isolation was further emphasised by the construction of the Grand Central Canal and the Great Western Railway line. Kensal New Town was built between the two in the 1840s, with rows of cottages with front and back gardens quickly degenerating into a slum, mainly due to overcrowding, industrialisation and pollution. The area was dominated by the Western Gas Company and Kensal Cemetery, which provided work but did little to improve the environment. Women were primarily involved in laundry work giving the area its nickname of ‘Soapsuds Island’. Cut off from the municipal authorities it was left to charities to attempt to alleviate the social and health problems. In 1902 Charles Booth described it as, “Just as full of children and poverty as was the old woman’s dwelling in the nursery rhyme.” By this date the area had been transferred to the newly formed Royal Borough of Kensington.

When the Piggeries and Potteries in Notting Dale were finally cleared in the early 20th century most of the displaced residents moved north into Golborne ward and Kensal. By 1923 in the Southern Street area 140 houses contained some 2500 inhabitants. A series of evocative photographs by Roger Mayne in the 1950s showed that little had changed. It was only from the 1960s that the overcrowded and dilapidated terraces were cleared and replaced by social housing including Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower.

To the north of the Harrow Road a model housing estate was erected in the 1870s by the Artisans’ Labourers’ and General Dwelling Company. It is this area that was transferred in 1900 to Paddington.


Aerial photograph of Kensal with gasometers

Aerial photograph of Kensal and North Kensington, 1938
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Photograph of men with horses and carts, Kensal Gas Works in background

Carts loaded with coke at the Kensal Gas Works, 1909
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The History of the Royal Borough

Virtual Museum – The History of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
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