Rillington Place is a small street with an infamous history.
The macabre story of the post-war Rillington Place murders by John Christie are all over the internet. A film with Richard Attenborough in the leading role was made in 1970.
But, first built in 1869, the street spent nigh on one hundred years out of the limelight. A small cul-de-sac of tightly-packed houses with a factory at the end of it.
In recent years, you wouldn’t have found it on a modern printed map. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1970s and new streets laid on top of the old pattern.
Before the 1850s, two farmhouses stood alone in the fields, the only two buildings in what was to become North Kensington. One was called Portobello Farm
and the other, Notting Barns Farm . Notting Barns Farm was largely given over to pasture and it stood where the modern St Mark’s Road
and Basset Road meet.
During the 1860s, the Hammersmith and City Railway constructed a line between Paddington and Kensington. It split the fields of Notting Barns into two, and the company placed a station on the brand new Ladbroke Grove
called Notting Hill – later renamed Ladbroke Grove
The area was now directly connected to the City of London by rail and the value of the agricultural land of the farm leapt. It was ripe for building.
Just before the coming of the railway, speculative builders had built Lancaster Road
during 1855 and 1858
Crayford Mews was built around 1865. The early properties were two storey mews houses and were used to provide shelter for horses, carriages and drivers of that era with a first floor flat for human accommodation and stabling for the carriages and animals underneath.
A little side street off of St Mark’s Road
and between Lancaster Road
and the railway, and opposite Crayford Mews, was built in 1869. It was named Rillington Place.
Twenty cramped little houses were built along the cul-de-sac and the site of the James Bartle Western Iron Works
occupied the end. The 1901 census lists a Bartle family as living at no 3 Rillington Place.
Unusually, instead of odd numbers on one side of the street and even numbers on the other, the north side of Rillington Place was numbered 11-20 and the south side 1-10. Number ten was cheek-by-jowl with the wall dividing the end of the street from the works.
A slightly larger building stood on the end of the street on the corner of St Marks Road
beside the railway bridge became the Rainbow Café and on the opposite corner, a printing company.
Until the Christie murders and for nearly one hundred uneventful years, Rillington Place was a normal little street. After the murders, it could not escape its infamy.
As regards location, it is perhaps not surprising that confusion exists:
The local residents were justifiably unhappy with the association of the name, and visitors coming to see for themselves caused considerable annoyance and disturbance. The Borough had received a petition signed by eighty-three residents of Rillington Place.
It became Ruston Close – the new name coming from the street opposite the St Marks Road
end called Ruston Mews
. Ruston Mews
was itself a new name for Crawford Mews after 1900. It became a “Close” instead of a “Place” to further disassociate the road from the crimes.
After the road was renamed, 10 Ruston Close was converted into a series of meeting rooms for the Methodist Church.
Once the prospect of the 1970s movie bringing more morbid sightseers to the street was forseen, Kensington Council moved on with plans to redevelop the whole area. The demolition squads moved in during 1971.
A new road, Bartle Road
, named after the owner of the works, was built to the junction of St Mark’s Road
. taking a slightly different course. The intention was to obscure the position and layout of the old road thereby preventing a newly-built house being blighted by being readily identifiable as occupying the same plot upon which the old house once stood.
A cul-de-sac called Wesley Square
took advantage of the demolition of the factory to bring more new homes.
But 10 Rillington Place lingers on. A few years ago, where the modern Wesley Square
turned a corner, a new house was built right on top of the position of the old house. It became renamed “10 Rillington Place”. You can now see this on Google Maps.
After the murders, it was renamed Ruston Close for a time.
Then the whole area was bulldozed in the 1970s.
Note: Before the building of the Westway
, Rillington Place would have been classed as “North Kensington”. Now on the other side of the motorway to the rest of North Ken., it is part of a different council ward covering Notting Dale.
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A view down Rillington Place towards "Andrews Garage" in the 1940s.
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From Pigs and bricks to Posh and Becks...
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As houses were springing up all over the rest of northern Kensington, one corner of the borough was developing into a slum whose notoriety was probably unsurpassed throughout London
It lay at the foot of the hill on which the Ladbroke estate was laid out, directly north of Pottery Lane, on badly draining clay soil between the Norland Estate and Notting Barns Farm.
Its first occupants were to give it two infamous names: the brick makers, who seemed to have arrived in the late lath century, and the pig-keepers, who moved there in the early l9th century.
To make bricks and tiles involved large excavations, which soon filled with stagnant water. The keeping of pigs entailed collecting refuse and offal from the kitchens of hotels and private houses, feeding most of it to pigs and boiling down the fat.
The combination of both bricks and pigs spelt disaster for the area.
Samuel Lake of Tottenham Court Road, a scavenger and chimney sweep by occupation was the first to keep pigs here and he was soon joined by the pig keepers of the Marble Arch area who had been forced out of their area by building development. The colony was at first sufficiently isolated to be able to go about their business unfettered; and by the time streets were being built nearby, the piggeries were so well established that developers simply steered clear.
Shacks sprang up wherever convenient for there was no building control in London at that time, and inevitably they were jumbled together with the pigs and the ponds: indeed often the three were combined, with humans sharing their roofs with animals and living directly over stagnant water: the animals at one stage outnumbered people by three to one.
The area’s unsanitary conditions had become so notorious that Charles Dickens ran a special feature on it in the first edition issue of his magazine Household Words
The Piggeries and Brickyards were far from the sight and concern of the Vestry and its duties were taken up by charities, both religious and secular. But it was Kensington’s first Medical Officer of Health, Dr Francis Goodrich, who was given the formidable task of cleaning up the area. Goodrich stated that it was one of the most deplorable
spots not only in Kensington but in the whole of the metropolis.
Rather than manufacturing bricks, locals started to concentrate more on the making of pottery, mostly drainpipes, tiles and flower pots to supply the local building boom. This trade, however, gradually declined and business ceased by 1863, the same time as when the stagnant ’Ocean’ was filled in.
As far as the Piggeries were concerned strong opposition to a clean up came from the pig keepers themselves, as that was their only livelihood. And perversely the Vestry did not want them to lose the pigs because the families then could become a charge on the poor rate.
By 1878 Goodrich’s successor Dr Dudfield managed, however, to gradually reduce the number of pigs but it was not until the 1890’s that the last pig was banished.
The area nevertheless remained notorious. Instead of pig keeping the men turned to living off what their women could earn as laundresses, initially at home (especially in
the Stoneleigh Street area) and later in small laundries. A local saying in this area declared that ’to marry an ironer is as good as a fortune’
But change was coming.
The 1860s at last witnessed the opening of schools, (such as one in Sirdar Road), the paving of streets and the construction of proper sewers. But it was not until 1888 were public baths and washhouses provided at the junction of Silchester and Lancaster Roads.
In 1889 the Rev C E Roberts of St Clements Church and the Rev Dr Thornton of St Johns appealed in a letter to the Times for an open space for the children of this area. As a result the old brickfield and the area of the ’Ocean’ became the start of Avondale Park opened in 1892 and named in memory of the recently deceased Duke of Clarence and Avondale.
But even then, a year after the park was opened that the Daily News described the area adjacent to the park as ’Avernus’ (the fabled gateway to hell!). The article identified Wilsham Street, Kenley Street, another two streets now replaced by Henry Dickens Court and part of Sirdar Road as ’hopelessly degraded and abandoned’.
The dense rows of artisan houses in these streets were massively over-occupied or else were the most primitive lodging houses in which a bed on the floor cost a few pennies per night. Local residents made a living as best they could but it was a close knit community who seemed to scrape together enough money to pay for visits to the music hall and for summer day trips.
By 1904 new low cost tenements were built and the Improved Tenements Association bought 64 year leases of four houses in Walmer Road in 1900, and these were modernised and divided into two room tenements to accommodate 13 families for rents of 5 shillings a week. Other housing associations followed such as the Wilsham Trust formed by Ladies- in-waiting at Kensington Palace.
The poverty and hardship of the Potteries and Piggeries is very much a thing of the past. Now the neighbourhood is an attractive, leafy, peaceful backwater made up of rows of well kept two and three storey Victorian brick terraced houses and cottages, in the shadow of the graceful golden weather vane and clock of St Clements Church.
The area has come a long way.
The Notting Hill & Holland Park Book by Richard Tames
Kensington & Chelsea by Annabel Walker with Peter Jackson
Notting Hill and Holland Park Past by Barbara Denny
Survey of London: Northern Kensington: Vol:XXXVII for the Greater London Council