All the Kensington Society annual reports since 1953 can now be found on our archive page as pdf files, as a few missing were finally located, turned into pdfs and added a few days ago. Most of them are word searchable.
The annual reports tell of 70 years of campaigns and lobbying “to preserve and improve the amenities of Kensington for the public benefit by stimulating interest in its history and records, promoting good architecture and planning in its future development and by protecting, preserving and improving its buildings, open spaces and other features of beauty or historic or public interest,” as the society’s objects are describes in its constitution (which is also available on the archive page).
The Kensington Society was inaugurated at a meeting in Kensington Town Hall on 13 October 1953, and five months later, in March 1954, the society released its first publication, titled “The Kensington Society, March 1954, Report No. 1”. It reports on the society’s events and activities from the inauguration until early 1954 and lists planned events for the spring and summer of 1954. Although not an annual report (the first annual report, covering 1953-54, came in September 1954, shortly before the first AGM), we have added “Report No. 1” to the archive of annual reports.
The annual reports contain an enormous amount of information about what has going on in Kensington during the past 70 years, but also lots of historical articles about Kensington in the previous centuries.
Saving the east wing of Holland House (1954)
Already in its first year, the society managed to save the east wing of Holland House from demolition. LCC (London County Council) wanted to remove everything remaining of the bombed Holland House, but the society convinced the council and LCC to instead support the Youth Hostel Association’s idea of turning the wing into a youth hostel.
In 1954, the Society also financed the restoration of a Cromwellian panel in the St Mary Abbot’s church yard.
Fighting for the Imperial Institute (1956)
In 1956, the society arranged a public meeting for 600 residents in Kensington Town Hall, in an effort to save the Imperial Institute, south of Albert Hall. The annual report for 1955-56 includes a verbatim account of the speeches held at the meeting, covering 19 pages. Although the society didn’t manage to save the whole imposing building, it managed, together with one of the speakers, John Betjeman, to save the Queen’s Tower. The Imperial Institute itself was eventually renamed the Commonwealth Institute and moved into a new, futuristic building in Holland Park – which in the 2010s was replaced by the Design Museum and three sugar cubes of luxury flats.
Objecting to the Notting Hill Gate plans (1957-58)
The most important issue in 1957 and 1958 was the big development of Notting Hill Gate, which totally changed that area in late 1950s and early 1960s. The society writes about it over several pages when it in was first announced, in October 1957, in the annual report for 1956-57, and it is the main issue for the following annual report (1957-58), which covers a public meeting held on 1 April 1958 in Kensington Town Hall, attended by some 700 residents and recorded almost in verbatim across 15 pages. That reports also includes Kensington Society’s letter about the Notting Hill Gate plans to LCC on 6 May 1958. This was surely the society’s first major objection: “We are profoundly disappointed. It seems to us that very little attention has been paid to the desirability of retaining an intimate atmosphere, the plans show an ugly skyline of building more suitable for an industrial or city area than a residential quarter of Kensington.” The society especially criticised the plan for the two tower buildings, the residential Campden Hill Towers and the office block Newcombe House. The first is described as “the ugliest part of the proposed development, which seems to us to have no artistic merit” and regarding Newcombe House, the society writes: “We are opposed to such a large office building being erected at the top of Church Street; such an office block is not only unsuitable for this residential and local shopping area, but will entirely alter its character. We feel that this site should have been allocated for residential accommodation.” As neither the council, nor the LCC had thought of it, the society also arranged for a public display of the plans at the North Kensington Public Library in June and July 1958.
Fighting for better street lights (1958)
In the same annual report, the society also reports in detail (5 pages) about the council’s new plan for street lighting, replacing the gas lighting with electric, in many areas in the form of big concrete columns with fluorescent lights. The society engaged heavily with the council in trying to provide more harmonious lighting for most residential streets and to replace the proposed fluorescent with colour corrected mercury and tungsten lights.
Stopping 16-storey tower on High Street (1958)
In 1958 there was also a plan to erect a 16-storey tower at 380-386 Kensington High Street, which the society successfully opposed. In the end, we instead got the 9-storey Hilton hotel there.
This was just a brief glimpse of what the first five annual reports contain. There are 60 more – and soon the Annual for 2022-23 will be published.