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Kensal Green

What started as a rural suburb turned into some of the worst slums in the country over a period of less than 50 years. The Musgroves grew up in the area and some are buried in the huge Kensal Green Cemetery.

Despite its favourable position overlooking most of North Kensington, the area now known as Kensal Green and Kensal Town has suffered from a long series of misfortunes. Until 1900 it formed a detached portion of the parish of St. Luke's, Chelsea but in 1899 the area then known as Kensal New Town, bounded on the north by the canal, was incorporated into the Borough of Kensington. By this time the isolation of this remote district had been greatly increased by the construction of the Paddington branch of the Grand Junction Canal, opened in 1801, and of the Great Western Railway, opened in 1838. These two barriers, each for many years traversed from north to south by only one public bridge, extended in approximately parallel courses across the neighbourhood of Kensal Green, and effectively segregated the area between them.

Further west the General Cemetery Company had in 1831 bought fifty-four acres of land for use as a burial ground, which had not increased Kensal Green's social cachet as a place of residence; and in 1845 the Western Gas Company had opened a gasworks on land with frontages to both the canal and the railway. When building development on a significant scale began in the early 1840's, several of the ingredients for the making of a slum were, in fact, already present.

West Row, Middle Row, East Row and part of Southern Row were laid out between 1841 and 1851 with small two-storey cottages, many with small front gardens. The sole survivors of this phase of development are a few workshops in Southern Row, whose pantiled roofs can still be seen from the railway line, and the small chapel in MiddleRow, which was built by Michael Puddefoot in 1852. Laundry work provided the principal source of employment for the inhabitants, many of the men being comfortably supported by the labours of their wives, while others worked at the gasworks. Rustic pursuits and disorders still prevailed in the 1850's and 1860's, and gipsies sometimes wintered here.

Except in the case of the gasworks, whose premises were gradually expanded westward until they eventually occupied all of the land to the west of Ladbroke Grove between the railway and the canal, little more building took place until the mid 1860's, when Bosworth Road, Hazlewood Crescent, Edenham Street and Southam Street, where the building of tightly-packed ranges of small narrow houses proceeded rapidly in the 1860's and 1870's, every room being occupied as fast as the houses were completed. Access to this new quarter was greatly improved by the extension of Golborne Road north-eastward over the railway by another bridge, and by the early 1880's building development had been substantially finished. Many of the residents were railwaymen, while others were migrants whose previous homes in the central districts of London had been demolished. There were no front gardens here, and the social climate of this area was evidently always wholly urban in character.

With the establishment of schools, mission halls, chapels and churches, Kensal Green gradually acquired the usual adjuncts of a Victorian suburb. In 1903, however, Charles Booth could still state that Kensal New Town 'retains yet something of the appearance of a village, trampled under foot by the advance of London, but still able to show cottages and gardens; and gateways between houses in its streets leading back to open spaces, suggestive of the paddock and pony of days gone by'. Over 55 per cent of the inhabitants were, nevertheless, classified as 'in poverty'.

Severe overcrowding had long prevailed in and around Southam Street, where in 1923 some 140 houses contained 2,500 inhabitants. In 1925 the Kensington Borough Council acquired two derelict houses in Bosworth Road and converted them into twelve flats, and in 1928–9 the common lodging house for men in Kensal Road was renovated and reopened as a refuge for women under the auspices of Mrs. Cecil Chesterton. Large-scale redevelopment did not, however, get under way until 1933, when the Borough Council, acting in response to a circular issued by the Minister of Health, adopted a five-year programme of clearance and improvement. Five clearance areas were declared in Kensal Town, and by 1938 ninety-nine new flats had been built or were in course of building.

Fifteen acres in and around Southam Street had also been declared an improvement area. Here 5,818 people lived at a density of 390 to the acre, mostly in the four-storey terrace houses built in the 1860's and 1870's. By 1935 all of the 778 basement rooms had been closed and vacated, and 1,802 of the inhabitants of the area had been removed, many of them to the new flats in course of building at this time in Dalgarno Gardens. The population of the Southam Street area was thus reduced by 29 per cent, and the houses were thoroughly renovated.

During the war of 1939–45, however, housing conditions in the Southam Street area again deteriorated very rapidly, and after slum clearance work had been resumed in 1950, some twenty acres bounded by Bosworth Road, Kensal Road and the railway were scheduled for clearance.

The only parts of Kensal Town which are still of recognizably nineteenth-century origin are the area between Bosworth Road and Ladbroke Grove and the thin strip between Kensal Road and the canal.

Information extracted from BRITISH HISTORY ONLINE
CHAPTER XIII - Kensal Green


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