Mercury Theatre

Theatre in/near Notting Hill, existed between 1927 and 1987

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Theatre · Notting Hill · W11 ·

The Mercury Theatre was situated at 2a Ladbroke Road, next to the Kensington Temple.

The inside of the Mercury in the days of the Rambert Ballet
Credit: Rambert Dance Company Archive
The Sunday School of the Horbury Chapel was erected in 1851, and began life as a school. The architect was John Tarring, who also designed the chapel. It was subsequently used as a church hall (“Horbury Hall”), and then briefly in the early 1920s the “Horbury Rooms” were occupied by the Kensington Local Pensions Committee. In the second half of the 1920s, the building was the studio of the Russian-Canadian sculptor Abrasha Lozoff (1887-1936), whose woodcarving Venus and Adonis, now in the Tate Collection, was almost certainly created there.

In 1927, Horbury Hall was purchased by Ashley Dukes, a successful West End playwright and theatrical impresario and the husband of Marie Rambert (later Dame Marie). The Russo-Polish ballerina had run a ballet school in Notting Hill Gate since 1919, and the hall was first used as studios for the school.

In 1930 Rambert founded the “Ballet Club” to give performances to the public, forming a dance troupe from her own pupils. It was the first classical ballet company in Britain. The company first performed at the Lyric, Hammersmith, but in 1931 started putting on performances at Horbury Hall, which remained its home for the next 23 years. Ashley Dukes remodelled the building to meet the needs of both the Ballet Club and the ballet school.

As there was no room for an orchestra, a pianist provided the music from a corner in front of the stage, sometimes accompanied by a harp, oboe or bassoon. People could dance on the stage following the performance. There were parking problems. One programme in the 1930s apologizes “for the joint activities of the Metropolitan Water Board and the Borough Council which have momentarily made Ladbroke Road a devastated area. You will shortly be able to put your car outside as before”. In fact, the council seem soon afterwards to have insisted that patrons should park down the middle of Kensington Park Road.

By 1938, Ashley Dukes had acquired numbers 1-7 Ladbroke Road opposite, together with the land behind (now Bulmer Mews) and patrons were instructed to park there. When war broke out the following year and an air raid shelter was erected in Bulmer Mews, patrons were directed to a garage opposite the end of Horbury Crescent.

Despite its modest premises and facilities, the Ballet Club attracted some major guest artists to supplement the Club’s own company. Alicia Markova, the star British ballerina of her age, gave her support and danced there regularly in the early days. The company also included the young dancer Frederick Ashton, subsequently Britain’s foremost choreographer. Others who appeared there included Robert Helpmann (in 1934 and 1939) and Margot Fonteyn (in 1936).

In the beginning, only members and their guests could attend performances. The Ballet Club depended largely on subscriptions from its members (as well as subsidies from Ashley Dukes, who had made a lot of money from his West End successes). By the end of its first year, it had 1150 members, each paying a subscription of 12s.6d. Club status was a legal necessity both because until 1933 the theatre had no public performing licence, and to by-pass the restrictions in Britain on Sunday performances.

At first, the theatre had no name and was known simply as the Ballet Club. In 1933, Ashley Dukes, who was never afraid of experimentation, decided that it should become “The Nameless Theatre”. This name did not take off, however, and by the end of 1933 it was renamed the Mercury.

In 1936, Ashley Dukes bought the two houses next door to the theatre, numbers 2 and 4 Ladbroke Road. This enabled the facilities at the theatre to be considerably improved. A new entrance was created through No. 2 Ladbroke Road and proper bar facilities installed. The bar was decorated with an excellent collection of ballet and theatrical prints and drawings.

On the outbreak of war in September 1939, London theatres closed. But the Mercury quickly reopened (one of the first London theatres to do so) with a season of ballet in November 1939. The following year, however, the Ballet Cub merged with the Arts Theatre Club and moved to the Arts Theatre. Marie Rambert nevertheless remained very much a presence at the Mercury.

Although the Ballet Club had moved out of the Mercury, Ashley Dukes continued to put on plays almost throughout the war, including more Plays by Poets.

After the war, the Ballet Rambert (as it had become) had outgrown the Mercury and needed a larger stage. It became largely a touring company, making Sadlers Wells its London base and giving only occasional performances at the Mercury (it moved finally to its current headquarters in Chiswick in 1971).

In 1951, Marie Rambert’s daughter and son-in-law, Angela and David Ellis, set up a “Ballet Workshop” at the Mercury for new and experimental ballet productions. The Ballet Workshop continued until 1955 and Ashley Dukes also continued to put on short seasons of plays at the theatre until his death in 1959, although less and less frequently. Other companies also took the theatre for short periods.

It was hired out for events whenever possible. In 1968, it was one of the locations for a Beatles photo-shoot by the veteran photographer Don McCullin. The Beatles had decided that they wanted some new “photographs with a difference” for the media and asked Paul McCartney’s then girlfriend to choose five “random” locations in London, one of which was the Mercury. The Theatre also appeared in the film Red Shoes, where it was used to portray the venue at which the young ballerina played by Moira Shearer was discovered.

In 1987, the Ballet Rambert decided to sell the theatre. There were no takers for it as a theatre, and it was reluctantly agreed that it could be converted into a private house. The building was by then in a bad state. It was purchased by a developer, who completely rebuilt the façade on Ladbroke Grove and transformed the entire building into an impressive and idiosyncratic dwelling.

Main source: Ladbroke Association
Further citations and sources


The inside of the Mercury in the days of the Rambert Ballet
Rambert Dance Company Archive

Norman Norrington
Norman Norrington   
Added: 19 Jan 2018 14:49 GMT   
Post by Norman Norrington: Blechynden Street, W10

In the photo of Blechynden St on the right hand side the young man in the doorway could be me. That is the doorway of 40 Blechynden St.

I lived there with My Mum Eileen and Dad Bert and Brothers Ron & Peter. I was Born in Du Cane Rd Hosp. Now Hammersmith Hosp.

Left there with my Wife Margaret and Daughter Helen and moved to Stevenage. Mum and Dad are sadly gone.

I now live on my own in Bedfordshire, Ron in Willesden and Pete in Hayling Island.

Have many happy memories of the area and go back 3/4 times a year now 75 but it pulls back me still.

Mary Harris
Mary Harris   
Added: 19 Dec 2017 17:12 GMT   
Post by Mary Harris: 31 Princedale Road, W11

John and I were married in 1960 and we bought, or rather acquired a mortgage on 31 Princedale Road in 1961 for £5,760 plus another two thousand for updating plumbing and wiring, and installing central heating, a condition of our mortgage. It was the top of what we could afford.

We chose the neighbourhood by putting a compass point on John’s office in the City and drawing a reasonable travelling circle round it because we didn’t want him to commute. I had recently returned from university in Nigeria, where I was the only white undergraduate and where I had read a lot of African history in addition to the subject I was studying, and John was still recovering from being a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese in the Far East in WW2. This is why we rejected advice from all sorts of people not to move into an area where there had so recently bee

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Maria Russ
Maria Russ   
Added: 7 Dec 2017 09:46 GMT   
Post by Maria Russ: Middle Row Bus Garage

My mum worked as a Clippie out from Middle Row Bus Garage and was conductress to George Marsh Driver. They travel the City and out to Ruislip and Acton duiring the 1950’s and 1960’s. We moved to Langley and she joined Windsor Bus Garage and was on the Greenline buses after that. It was a real family of workers from Middle Row and it formed a part of my early years in London. I now live in New Zealand, but have happy memories of the early years of London Transport and Middle Row Garage.
Still have mum’s bus badge.

Happy times they were.

Julia elsdon
Julia elsdon   
Added: 22 Nov 2017 18:19 GMT   
Post by Julia elsdon: Shirland Mews, W9

I didn’t come from Shirland Mews, but stayed there when my father was visiting friends, sometime in the mid to late forties. As I was only a very young child I don’t remember too much. I seem to think there were the old stables or garages with the living accommodation above. My Mother came from Malvern Road which I think was near Shirland Mews. I remember a little old shop which had a "milk cow outside". So I was told, it was attached to the front of the shop and you put some money in and the milk would be dispensed into your container. Not too sure if it was still in use then. Just wonder if anyone else remembers it.yz5

David Jones-Parry
David Jones-Parry   
Added: 3 Oct 2017 13:29 GMT   
Post by David Jones-Parry: Tavistock Crescent, W11

I was born n bred at 25 Mc Gregor Rd in 1938 and lived there until I joined the Royal Navy in 1957. It was a very interesting time what with air raid shelters,bombed houses,water tanks all sorts of areas for little boys to collect scrap and sell them questions asked.A very happy boyhood ,from there we could visit most areas of London by bus and tube and we did.

Debbie hobbs
Debbie hobbs    
Added: 19 Sep 2017 09:08 GMT   
Post by Debbie hobbs : Raymede Street, W10


Susan Wright
Susan Wright   
Added: 16 Sep 2017 22:42 GMT   
Post by Susan Wright: Bramley Mews, W10

My Great Grandmother Ada Crowe was born in 9 Bramley Mews in 1876.

David Jones-Parry
David Jones-Parry   
Added: 7 Sep 2017 12:13 GMT   
Post by David Jones-Parry: Mcgregor Road, W11

I lived at 25 Mc Gregor Rd from 1938 my birth until I joined the Royal Navy in 1957.Our house sided onto Ridgeways Laundry All Saints Rd. I had a happy boyhood living there

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Notting Hill

Notting Hill: A place whose fortunes have come, gone and come again...

Notting Hill is a cosmopolitan district known as the location for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, and for being home to the Portobello Road Market.

The word Notting might originate from a Saxon called Cnotta with the =ing part indicating "the place inhibited by the people of" - i.e. where Cnotta’s tribe lived. There was a farm called variously "Knotting-Bernes,", "Knutting-Barnes" or "Nutting-barns" and this name was transferred to the hill above it.

The area remained rural until the westward expansion of London reached Bayswater in the early 19th century. The main landowner in Notting Hill was the Ladbroke family, and from the 1820s James Weller Ladbroke began to undertake the development of the Ladbroke Estate. Working with the architect and surveyor Thomas Allason, Ladbroke began to lay out streets and houses, with a view to turning the area into a fashionable suburb of the capital (although the development did not get seriously under way until the 1840s). Many of these streets bear the Ladbroke name, including Ladbroke Grove, the main north-south axis of the area, and Ladbroke Square, the largest private garden square in London.

The original idea was to call the district Kensington Park, and other roads (notably Kensington Park Road and Kensington Park Gardens) are reminders of this. The local telephone prefix 7727 (originally 727) is based on the old telephone exchange name of PARk.

The reputation of the district altered over the course of the 20th century. As middle class households ceased to employ servants, the large Notting Hill houses lost their market and were increasingly split into multiple occupation.

For much of the 20th century the large houses were subdivided into multi-occupancy rentals. Caribbean immigrants were drawn to the area in the 1950s, partly because of the cheap rents, but were exploited by slum landlords like Peter Rachman, and also became the target of white racist Teddy Boys in the 1958 Notting Hill race riots.

Notting Hill was slowly gentrified from the 1980s onwards now has a contemporary reputation as an affluent and fashionable area; known for attractive terraces of large Victorian townhouses, and high-end shopping and restaurants (particularly around Westbourne Grove and Clarendon Cross).

A Daily Telegraph article in 2004 used the phrase the ’Notting Hill Set’ to refer to a group of emerging Conservative politicians, such as David Cameron and George Osborne, who were once based in Notting Hill.

Since it was first developed in the 1830s, Notting Hill has had an association with artists and ’alternative’ culture.
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