Circle Line walk 1
GLOUCESTER ROAD walk to EDGWARE ROAD
2 1/2 hours
The Circle Line was originally a normal railway built in the 19th century in order to provide a convenient link between the main long-distance termini. It combined the networks of two different operators, the Metropolitan railway to the north and west, the District railway along the Thames. The circular line was completed in 1884 but some sections are older. The section covered by this specific walk opened in 1868.
Trains operated around the circle for many years while trains for destinations outside of the circle used stations like Aldgate or Edgware Road as a terminus. In 2009, Transport for London changed the system and all Circle Line trains terminate (or originate) at Edgware Road.
The circular line is also used by many other London Underground lines. As a result, I have opted for covering some of the sections under appropriate lines. Between Gloucester Road and Tower Hill, please see District line walks 8, 9 and 10. Between Tower Hill and Farringdon, please see Circle line walk 2. Between Farringdon and Baker Street, please see Metropolitan line walk 1. For the short walk between Baker Street and Edgware Road, please see Hammersmith & City line walk 1.
Routing note: Because of the way I have written other walks, the best combination would be with Hammersmith & City walk 1 in Edgware Road.
My time estimate does not include time spent on visiting Kensington Palace. This may take more than an hour.
The station opened as a Circle Line station in 1868 and was originally called “Brompton (Gloucester Road)”. A line towards West Brompton opened in 1869. The present Piccadilly line platforms opened in 1906 under the name “Gloucester Road” and the shorter version was used for all platforms from 1907 onwards.
The station building is an elegant Victorian structure in the colours considered appropriate at that time, pale yellow bricks and stone lining for the windows. Romanic arches were ubiquitous for railway stations while the balustrade on the roof is a unusual neo-baroque addition. You can also note the mosaic plaque proclaiming nicely that the Metropolitan Railway (the original operator) would carry you to “all parts of London”.
Exit the station and turn L on Gloucester Road
L Cromwell Road
R Grenville Place
You soon pass a side street, Cornwall Mews South. The street has a very elegant neo-classical arcade over the access and you can easily imagine a gate preventing access at times. This was actually unusual for mews, the courtyards where affluent people held their horses and carriages at the back of their properties. As you are crossing a very affluent part of London, you will pass a number of former mews. Obviously, they have been converted into housing by now. Properties are often poky and you cannot park your car in most mews, but these quiet streets are very sought after and often well kept.
Ahead across Cornwall Gardens, the road is now called Launcester Place
L Kynance Mews
This particular instance of mews is considered one of the very nicest in London. This is due to the efforts made by residents keen on having many plants in front of their homes. An additional attraction is that you don’t feel like embarrassingly invading other people’s little paradise as there is an access to a church at the back of the mews. This shows that there was a coordination problem when developing the area.
R up a few steps past the church into Victoria Road
Christ Church Kensington is a typical Victorian neo-gothic parish church but has the unusual advantage that it lies at the end of quiet streets. There is a beautiful garden with some lavender and very convenient banks. As most gardens are private in this part of London, it is nice to find this exception.
L St Alban’s Grove (the road sign is a bit hidden)
R Kensington Court Place
There is a very nice courtyard in this road called Kensington Court Mews. It looks a bit like a stable yard for a postmaster’s inn but it was indeed just a set of mews for nearby town houses. You might note the wooden valance below the first floor; the only location where such valances can be seen regularly are older train stations.
L Thackeray Street reaching Kensington Square
The square does not look exceptional but is indeed special as it is the oldest square in Kensington still lined by houses. It was laid out in 1685 by a speculator who was actually a plain tradesman and soon realised that he did not have the funds for his ambitious plans. He ended up spending many years of his life in prison for debt and had to give away most of the land to his banker. A large developer tried to buy the freehold of all properties around the square in the 1920s in order to replace it by commercial buildings and the remaining residents had to be very disciplined about not selling out.
At the end of the square R exiting the square through a short path
Now ahead Derry Street
L High Street
HIGH STREET KENSINGTON
The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line. A junction opened in 1871 offering a direct connection with Earl’s Court, used now by District line trains.
The station access is within a small shopping centre under an office building. This is not the original arrangement but it appeared sensible in order to make good use of the location on a popular shopping road. Although the shopping centre was built in 1908, it is surprisingly delicate compared to a typical Edwardian building. It keeps to the style of a typical Victorian “gallery” with a glass roof and an elaborate set of columns and decorative scrolls.
Turn around on High Street walking towards central London
The building just after the station at number 113 was the centrepiece of a commercial empire built by two businessmen in the second half of the 19th century until a merger in the 1920s. The newly created company then decided to built a flagship store in an imposing but somewhat soulless Art Déco style. It is now rented out to a series of unassorted high street chain stores.
I mention the building because of very nice friezes on either side of the main entrance awning. One shows wood animals such as foxes, kingfishers and hares, the other one is devoted to cranes and deer. The decoration may have been chosen considering that the store was particularly popular with families.
The department store had converted the roof into a large garden. It was a very popular place for relaxing between bouts of shopping and the company charged a modest entrance fee that was forwarded to charity. When the department store closed, the roof garden was converted into a restaurant and is a listed green space since 1998. The restaurant itself closed a few years ago with the freehold owner apparently not finding a tenant willing to pay the asking price.
I was able to walk around on an open day in 2009 so that I can show you pictures of what it looked like. A core section looks a little inspired by moorish gardens in Granada, Spain. The gallery with twisted columns is also influenced by Italian courtyards.
But there is also a whole series of more secluded mini-courtyards reminding of a mock-gothic cloister and there was a pond with live flamingos.
It was actually a very exclusive and expensive club but the operator allowed the public to visit for two hours a year on Open Monument Day. The queue was impressive. I took the opportunity to take pictures inside as well, primarily because of the outrageous mix of designer seats.
Just opposite the building, you see the Victorian building now used by a bank at number 98a. It has very nice gables in the Dutch Renaissance style and the windows in the Tudor style are lined in immaculate white plastered stone. This was the borough library, built in 1852 and converted to a bank in 1976. It might actually remind you a little of public buildings in small towns in the USA because this was the time when many of these towns were created.
Looking again to the other side of the road, you cannot miss a spectacular former department store converted into a series of high street chain stores. The company who owned it was very well managed but was finally taken over in 1957. The property was closed in 2006 with only a small part of the building finding tenants.
The building is a major Art Déco landmark, one of the best surviving examples of a department store from the 1930s.It is listed and has kept its imposing front façade with a central tower covered in glass. On either side of the glass column, there are very good reliefs showing modern means of transportation. The 1930s are in art the time of futurism, with many artists being fascinated by technology and speed.
Opposite the department store, there is a small arch below a brick building. If the arch gets you thinking of a public school, you are very close to the mark. It seems schools are very fond of neo-Tudor buildings with moderately pointed arches and glazed brick geometrical decoration on façades. There is actually a school operated by the Church of England in the street behind the arch.
You can also easily see the church, St Mary Abbots. For some reason, I did not take a good picture of the church and I concentrated on the lovely garden full of daffodils. The round flower bed on my picture is very elaborate for a churchyard but you are in a very upmarket suburb. The flower bed is set up according to the style of Royal parks with three heights of flowers arranged in colour blocks with the tallest in the middle.
There is also a very prim pergola, a device that was very popular in the 1910s when ladies of standing preferred walking in the shade as suntan would have been considered a proof of them doing some disgustingly practical work outside.
The church itself was built in 1872 by the leading architect of the period, Sir George Gilbert Scott. Being enthusiastic about medieval architecture, he built here what is the tallest church spire in London. I have read that there are interesting memorials in the church, but it is normally closed except for services.
Continuing on Kensington High Street, the next building after the futuristic department store is a bank branch in a very different style. This is late Victorian with the typical mix of cream stone and red bricks. What made me notice it is the friezes with flower scrolls in blue and green mosaics. For some reason, this type of decoration has completely disappeared from contemporary buildings and is not even offered in shops.
L Palace Green
(this is a restricted road with an arch allowing pedestrian access)
The road has very nice town houses all along it but you will not get a picture because many of them are embassies and are under very close surveillance for safety reasons. This is particularly the case for the Embassy of Israel, one of the first properties you pass. If you are keen on seeing more official residences, the end of the street has the embassies or residences for Norway, Finland, Russia, Kuwait, Lebanon, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, India etc.
R footpath called Kensington Apartement
Ahead into Kensington Gardens taking Palace Walk
L into the grounds of Kensington Palace
You enter the grounds through a section with lawn and isolated shrubbery and the main attraction on this side is an imposing bronze statue of King William III. The inscription tells you that it was presented by the German emperor in 1907, who was very fond of the Netherlands where King William was originally from.
King William is important for Kensington Palace because it was his wife Queen Anne who bought the property in 1689, looking for a palace away from the Thames marshes where her husband got bouts of asthma. The palace was used by the sovereigns for about 70 years until King George III decided to move to Buckingham Palace. From outside, the palace is a bit dreary because of the straight lines, red bricks and lack of ornament. This was customary in the Netherlands where ostentation was frowned upon (the country indeed did not have a king but a “stadhouder” or regent).
I was not allowed to take pictures inside the palace. From memory, what impressed me most was the small size of the rooms in the original royal apartments, the Long Gallery (used to display paintings and to walk about if the weather did not allow riding and hunting) and a very good collection of Chinese porcelain (it was the craze of rich people at the time and Queen Anne had privileged access to the wares brought by the Dutch Company of the East Indies). There is also a somewhat cramped exhibition of dresses worn by Princess Diana if you are curious.
Like in the other palaces belonging to the Crown, entry fees are extremely high (about 15 £ in 2018). You might want to look into a one-year membership as this covers other palaces as well that some of my walks pass by. By the way, the palace is still used as apartments for members of the royal family and only a small part of the palace is open to visitors. The apartments are called “grace apartments” from the French word grace that meant generosity in the 18th century (hence the title of “Her Gracious Majesty”).
On the east side of the palace, you should definitely have a look at the formal garden. The original arrangement was different and is better understood by going to Hampton Court Palace. Here, you have a central water feature with modest fountains, colourful flower beds arranged in geometrical terraces all around it, and at the top a walk with bushes.
The water feature was popular in the Netherlands where it was easy to build but has actually much older references, being already a must in medieval oriental gardens such as those of the palace in Granada, Spain. Geometrical shapes were customary around 1700 because you mostly enjoyed the garden from the windows of the palace and not by walking around.
Terraces were convenient because you could display more easily whatever exotic plants you grew – you would show single plants at decent intervals in order to be able to wonder at each of them separately. The present shape of the garden with blocks of colours and hundreds of bulbs only became possible when exotic plants became plentiful and cheap in the late 19th century.
The pictures show that the selection of flowers changes according to the season and also every year.
Finally, shaded walks were already popular in the Middle Ages and were very important in hot countries like Italy, but were imported into northern gardening under French king Louis XIV around 1770 because they provided hidden corners where you could surprise visitors with a theatre play, concert… or a very friendly young woman.
The palace grounds have an exit towards an open landscape called Kensington Gardens but I keep those for a Central line walk. After enjoying the formal garden, you may therefore wish to go rather to the Orangery. Many palaces had orangeries since Louis XIV’s gardener had proved that they made it possible to produce exotic fruit all over the year. They were sturdy stone or brick buildings, in the case of Kensington a very nice baroque structure from 1704.
Really rich people competed on the size of their orangeries and particularly on the height of the ceiling. You could not grow trees higher than a dozen feet high because they would turn too heavy to be carried in and out depending on the season – but this did not prevent people from having very high ceilings. When glasshouses became technically easy to build in the late 19th century, towns indeed also competed on the height. The Orangery houses an elegant restaurant you might find a bit pretentious, but you could peek through the windows at the room as such.
Walk past the palace and the orangery to the north. Continue ahead along a fenced open space all the way to the main road.
This large piece of lawn called Perks Field is private and can be used only by residents, who are the people living in the grace apartments of Kensington Palace and the embassies that you see on the other side behind safety fences.
L Bayswater Road
The gated entrance on my picture is the northern end of the road I already mentioned as housing so many embassies. You are perfectly allowed to use the road as a pedestrian and will not be challenged by guards. But it is not really interesting as you see mainly late 19th century town mansions behind high fences.
NOTTING HILL GATE
The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line. Deeper platforms for the Central Line opened in 1900.
The original station buildings have been demolished in the 1950s and the only thing you see at street level is an access staircase. The whole area was redeveloped at the time and this left us with ugly steel towers and concrete shopping parades. The area is not improved by the fact that Bayswater Road has extremely heavy traffic as it is one of the main access roads into central London from the West.
R Pembridge Gardens
R Pembridge Square
You are here in a typical Notting Hill landscape. Endless rows of identical early 19th century town houses aimed at the affluent middle class.
Ahead Moscow Road
This road has the Agia Sofia cathedral, the main Greek Orthodox church in London. I read that it has impressive mosaics in the sanctuary and a small museum in the basement, but both were closed when I passed the building. It was built in 1879. The alternating layers of red and yellow bricks may look typically Victorian (the colour combination is) but they are here rather a reminder of Roman architecture in Constantinople. Romans built town walls of rubble kept in place by a thin covering of stones on either side and stabilised such walls with thin layers of bricks.
The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line and was originally called Bayswater. The station was renamed several times later on. It became a rather cumbersome “Bayswater (Queen’s Road) & Westbourne Grove” in 1926. This was soon seen as not very sensible and shortened to “Bayswater (Queen’s Road)” in 1933. This was changed to Bayswater (Queensway) in 1946 and the suffix fell out of use without an official renaming action.
The station building has the same brick colour and the same balustrade than in Gloucester Road but was rebuilt later. The access bays are lined with neo-classical columns, possibly since the 1926 renaming, and a rather cheap looking awning was added much later.
If you wish to look at an interesting department store building, you can detour up Queensway for a few yards. You will have to come back to the station afterwards. Whiteley’s was the first department store built in London back in 1911. Shopping emporia had been known in Paris for many years but they catered to the middle class and this was not a profitable market in London.
Whiteley’s was the epitome of luxury and indulgence, including a golf course on the roof, and was so famous that it features in a number of novels. It was later purchased by Selfridges who was financially more successful because they understood marketing better. The building is listed since 1970 and was converted into a shopping centre in 1989. The owner intends to expand the building with luxury flats and a hotel. The architecture is Edwardian with impressive columns bearing the corner cupola and statues of allegories.
L Inverness Place
L Inverness Terrace
R Porchester Gardens
L and directly R into Leinster Place
R Leinster Gardens
L Cleveland Square
The square, like close neighbour Queen’s Gardens, is one of the many London developments from the late 19th century with neo-palladian, strictly identical houses around a private garden. This particular square is one of the largest. My picture actually shows Queens Gardens because it was more photogenic but the effect is similar.
Ahead Chilworth Street
R Gloucester Terrace
L Craven Road
You may be surprised by one of the side streets of this busy highway, Conduit Mews. It is a peaceful, cobblestoned alley incredibly close to the traffic pandemonium around Paddington terminus. You can realise better here what I explained at the start of the walk regarding mews because you can see here the large ground level openings used originally for the carriages and horses and the small apartments above for the grooms. In case you wonder, they did marry but then moved out as employers did not want children around their precious horses.
Ahead Praed Street
PADDINGTON (Circle and District lines)
The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line and was originally called “Paddington (Praed Street)” because there was already a separate “Paddington (Bishop’s Road)” station used by what is now the Hammersmith & City line. The two stations provide no interchange but still got the same shorter name in 1933. Deep level platforms opened on the Bakerloo line in 1913 with an interchange to the Praed Street station.
The station building was rebuilt in 1914 and is a sizeable structure fully lined in stone with neo-Renaissance features. The distinguished style and good proportions led to the building being listed. The feeling on the Circle line platforms is unusual, the roof being very high up vertical brick walls a little like at Crystal Palace train station.
R London Street
Ahead Sussex Place
L Gloucester Square
After passing several private gardens earlier in the walk, you could be surprised that this particular square has a public garden. It has a kiosk, a few palm trees and a flower display, which proves that it is indeed a park managed by the borough.
Ahead Somers Crescent
L Hyde Park Crescent
The parish church of St John’s Hyde Park was built in order to serve a new development in the early 19th century and was consecrated in 1832. Medieval architecture was very fashionable at the time, particularly tracery on ceilings, and the architect duly complied, using French examples from the 13th century. This is quite obvious looking at the nave and ceiling while the apse window reminds more of Tudor churches. As this is an affluent parish, it prides itself on having a special interest in music.
Soon R Cambridge Square
Yes, this is again a public garden and you are allowed to walk around. This is possibly due to the fact that the whole area did not belong to a private landowner but to the Bishop. Private landowners tended to sell large blocks and speculators then built according to a standard model, identical houses around a private garden having proved profitable in Belgravia. The Church often sold piecemeal when funds were needed for a purpose and could therefore plan public gardens.
This one has neat hedges, mature trees and a nice flower bed in the typical style of Royal gardens (round with three height levels and a single colourful plant per “level”). The houses around the square and nearby are boring structures from the 1960s because the Church had not invested much in the original 19th century houses. They were very uncomfortable and threatened to turn derelict, so that the Church was forced to allow redevelopment. The houses appear really low for this rather sought after part of London; this is due to a Conservation Area rating limiting the height.
Ahead along the curved part of Norfolk Crescent
L Burwood Place
L Edgware Road
The huge blocks of flats around Edgware Road look ugly and the road past them is incredibly busy and noisy. But the centrepiece of the complex, a water garden between the towers, is definitely worth a closer look. It is a nice example of an upmarket development from the 1960s with a maze of concrete walkways including lots of stairs – no one bothered much about accessibility for prams and wheelchairs at the time.
The walkways very often centered around a garden partly sheltered from the street noise by towers. The fashion in gardening was towards complex geometric shapes, ponds and shrubs while flowers were eschewed. Seats were seldom provided. Sculptures were very fashionable, particularly abstract shapes; I found only one rather small example in this particular garden.
R Chapel Street
EDGWARE ROAD (Circle & District lines)
The station opened in 1863 together with the line between Paddington and Farringdon via Baker Street. It is an open-air station combining the through platforms on the Hammersmith & City line with the Circle line terminus. There is a completely separate station for the Bakerloo line using the same name with no direct interchange.
Because the station is partly a terminus, the original owner, the Metropolitan Railway, built an elegant, serious station building clad in stone with a frieze of small columns, a cornice and flashy lettering in dark red contrasting with the light grey stones. It is to some extent a more modest version of the Paddington station building.