Mercury Theatre

Theatre in Notting Hill, existed between 1927 and 1987

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Theatre · Notting Hill · W11 · Contributed by The Underground Map
MAY
29
2015
Click to enlarge image.
The inside of the Mercury in the days of the Rambert Ballet
Credit: Rambert Dance Company Archive

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

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.

Source: Ladbroke Association



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VIEW THE NOTTING HILL AREA IN THE 1750s
The 1750 Rocque map is bounded by Sudbury (NW), Snaresbrook (NE), Eltham (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
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VIEW THE NOTTING HILL AREA IN THE 1800s
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VIEW THE NOTTING HILL AREA IN THE 1830s
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VIEW THE NOTTING HILL AREA IN THE 1860s
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VIEW THE NOTTING HILL AREA IN THE 1900s
The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.

 

 
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Go to Notting Hill

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.


LOCATIONS ON THE UNDERGROUND MAP
Acklam Road Adventure Playground:   Acklam Road Adventure Playground was created in the 1960s.
All Saints Church:   All Saints church was designed by the Victorian Gothic revival pioneer William White, who was also a mountaineer, Swedish gymnastics enthusiast and anti-shaving campaigner.
Basing Street (SARM) Studios:   SARM Studios is a recording studio, established by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.
Coach and Horses:   The Coach & Horses was situated at 108 Notting Hill Gate.
Kensington Hippodrome:   The Kensington Hippodrome was a racecourse built in Notting Hill, London, in 1837, by entrepreneur John Whyte.
Kensington Park Hotel:   The KPH is a landmark pub on Ladbroke Grove.
Ladbroke Grove:   Ladbroke Grove is a road in the North Kensington/Notting Hill. Running from Notting Hill itself in the south to Kensal Green in the north, it straddles the W10 and W11 postal districts.
Ladbroke Square Garden:   Ladbroke Square communal garden lies in Notting Hill.
Luxurious sewers:   The effluent society
North Kensington Library:   North Kensington Library opened in 1891 and was described as one of London’s finest public libraries.
Notting Hill:   Notting Hill: A place whose fortunes have come, gone and come again...
Notting Hill Gate:   Notting Hill Gate tube station is a London Underground station on the Central Line.
Prince Albert:   The Prince Albert has been a Notting Hill feature since the 1840s.
St John’s Hill:   St John’s Hill is the highest point in the area.
St John’s, Notting Hill:   St John’s Notting Hill is a Victorian Anglican church built in 1845 in Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill.
The Apollo:   The Apollo pub was located at 18 All Saints Road, on the southeast corner of the Lancaster Road junction.
The Bedford family at 3 Acklam Road:   From the 19th century up until 1965, number 3 Acklam Road, near the Portobello Road junction, was occupied by the Bedford family.
The Brittania:   The Brittania was situated on the corner of Clarendon Road and Portland Road, W11.
The Crown:   The Crown was situated at 57 Princedale Road.
The Tabernacle:   The Tabernacle is a Grade II*-listed building in Powis Square built in 1887 as a church.


PHOTOS OF THE AREA
Albert Hotel (1900s):   The Albert Hotel, on the corner of All Saints Road and Cornwall Road (now Westbourne Park Road).
Pembridge Road (1900s):   This is the view looking north down Pembridge Road from Notting Hill Gate.
Political meeting (1920s):   Meeting in front of the Junction Arms situated where Tavistock Road, Crescent and Basing Road met.


NEARBY STREETS AND BUILDINGS ON THE UNDERGROUND MAP
Addison Avenue, W11 · Airlie Gardens, W8 · Alba Place, W11 · All Saints Road, W11 · Arundel Gardens, W11 · Aubrey Walk, W8 · Bangor Street, W11 · Basing Street, W11 · Bedford Gardens, W8 · Berkeley Gardens, W8 · Blenheim Crescent, W11 · Bulmer Mews, W11 · Bulmer Place, W11 · Cambridge Gardens, W10 · Campden Hill Towers, W11 · Campden Street, W8 · Chepstow Corner, W2 · Chepstow Crescent, W11 · Chepstow Place, W2 · Chepstow Villas, W11 · Clarendon Road, W11 · Clydesdale Road, W11 · Codrington Mews, W11 · Colville Gardens, W11 · Colville Mews, W11 · Colville Road, W11 · Colville Square, W11 · Colville Terrace, W11 · Colville Terrace, W11 · Convent Gardens, W11 · Cornwall Crescent, W11 · Dale Row, W11 · Darnley Terrace, W11 · Dawson Place, W2 · Denbigh Close, W11 · Denbigh Road, W11 · Denbigh Terrace, W11 · Edge Street, W8 · Elgin Crescent, W11 · Elgin Mews, W11 · Evesham Street, W11 · Farm Place, W8 · Farmer Street, W8 · Folly Mews, W11 · Freston Road, W11 · Golden Mews, W11 · Hayden’s Place, W11 · Hayden’s Place, W11 · Hedgegate Court, W11 · Hillgate Place, W8 · Hillgate Street, W8 · Hillsleigh Road, W8 · Holland Park Avenue, W11 · Holland Road, W11 · Holland Walk, W11 · Holland Walk, W8 · Horbury Crescent, W11 · Horbury Mews, W11 · Hunt Close, W11 · Jameson Street, W8 · Kenley Street, W11 · Kensington Church Street, W8 · Kensington Mall, W8 · Kensington Park Gardens, W11 · Kensington Park Mews, W11 · Kensington Park Road, W11 · Kensington Place, W8 · Kingsdale Gardens, W11 · Ladbroke Gardens, W11 · Ladbroke Grove, W11 · Ladbroke Road, W11 · Ladbroke Square, W11 · Ladbroke Terrace, W11 · Ladbroke Walk, W11 · Lambton Place, W11 · Lancaster Road, W11 · Lansdowne Crescent, W11 · Lansdowne Cresent, W11 · Lansdowne Rise, W11 · Lansdowne Road, W11 · Lansdowne Walk, W11 · Ledbury Mews North, W11 · Ledbury Road, W11 · Linden Gardens, W2 · Lonsdale Road, W11 · Lorne Gardens, W11 · Lucerne Mews, W8 · Mcgregor Road, W11 · Needham Road, W11 · Newcombe House, W11 · Norland Place, W11 · Norland Road, W11 · Norland Square, W11 · Notting Hill Gate, W11 · Olaf Street, W11 · Peel Street, W8 · Pembridge Crescent, W11 · Pembridge Gardens, W2 · Pembridge Mews, W11 · Pembridge Place, W11 · Pembridge Road, W11 · Pembridge Road, W2 · Pembridge Square, W2 · Pembridge Villas, W11 · Pencombe Mews, W11 · Penzance Place, W11 · Portland Road, W11 · Portobello Green, W10 · Portobello Road, W11 · Pottery Lane, W11 · Powis Gardens, W11 · Powis Mews, W11 · Powis Square, W11 · Powis Terrace, W11 · Princedale Road, W11 · Princes Place, W11 · Queensdale Crecent, W11 · Queensdale Crescent, W11 · Queensdale Place, W11 · Queensdale Road, W11 · Queensdale Walk, W11 · Rabbit Roe, W8 · Rede Place, W2 · Rosehart Mews, W11 · Rosmead Road, W11 · Royal Crescent Mews, W11 · Royal Crescent, W11 · Royal Cresent Mews, W11 · Sheffield Terrace, W8 · Silvester Mews, W11 · Simon Close, W11 · St Anns Villas, W11 · St James Gardens, W11 · St James’s Gardens, W11 · St John’s Mews, W11 · St Lukes Mews, W11 · St Luke’s Mews, W11 · St Luke’s Road, W11 · St Mark’s Place, W11 · St. Johns Gardens, W11 · Stanley Crescent, W11 · Stanley Gardens Mews, W11 · Stanley Gardens, W11 · Swanscombe House, W11 · Swanscombe Road, W11 · Talbot Road, W11 · Tavistock Crescent, W11 · Tavistock Mews, W11 · Tavistock Road, W11 · Testerton Walk, W11 · Uxbridge Street, W8 · Vernon Yard, W11 · Victoria Gardens, W11 · Walmer Road, W11 · Wellington Close, W11 · West Cross Route, W11 · Westbourne Grove Mews, W11 · Westbourne Grove, W11 · Wilby Mews, W11 · Wilsham Street, W11 · Wilsham Street, W11 · Yorkshire Grey Place, NW3 ·


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Central London, north west.
Stanford's Geographical Establishment. London : Edward Stanford, 26 & 27, Cockspur St., Charing Cross, S.W. (1901)

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London Underground Map (1921).  FREE DOWNLOAD
London Underground map from 1921.
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