High Street ken

98/POSTCODE FROM THE EDGE

Given the inverted epithet bestowed upon it by London Underground, it's hardly surprising that High Street Kensington has become known for its function rather than its form. To carrier bag-wielding pragmatists, it will always be High Street Ken, a thinned-down Oxford Street where it's still possible to make one's way between shops using the pavement rather than the bus lane. But to purists and historians (such as the editors of the London Encyclopedia, who know a thing or two about such matters), it's Kensington High Street, the emphasis resting resolutely on the old town rather than the modern thoroughfare. And a community it remains, a living, breathing place with peace to be had in churchyards, residential squares and an extraordinary garden in one place you wouldn't think of looking - on top of British Home Stores and M&S.

The one-and-a-half-acre roof garden was built in 1938 as a glorious appendage to Derry and Toms, then one of London's finest department stores. Although from street level it may beggar belief, the garden contains a stream, ducks and fully grown trees, whose leaves one can glimpse from the pavement below. A pair of male pink flamingos also live here, abandoned by their female companion which flew off a few years ago. The garden incorporates three distinct styles: a formal Spanish arrangement with a court of fountains; a red-brick Tudor layout; and an English garden. All this perches on a mere two and a half inches of soil - water comes from an artesian well 500ft below street level, while a fan-shaped system of drains prevents any leaks through the ceiling into the underwear department of M&S beneath. It is now owned by the Virgin group, who use it as a private club, but is open to the public when not in use, and entrance, via Derry Street, is free (0171-937 7994).

Despite the boldness of its roof, the former Derry and Toms building is unremarkable alongside the 1930s art-deco scheme of Barkers next door, the other great store on Kensington High Street. The current building was constructed between 1929 and 1931, and owes much to Chicago architect CA Wheeler. Barkers' executives of the time admired the planning and design of American stores, and had doubtless been impressed by Selfridges, which was completed in 1928 following the designs of Daniel Burnham, also from Chicago. The building has a vibrancy missing from most of the rest of the street due, in part, to its projecting tower staircases and a continuous canopy at street level which picks up the natural curve of the road.

Kensington Square, in contrast, is the oldest residential square in London. Originally called Kings Square, it was laid out in 1685 by a woodcarver and joiner called Thomas Young, and became highly fashionable when William III bought nearby Nottingham House and converted it into Kensington Palace. Distinguished former residents include John Stuart Mill, who lived at No 18, and the political philosopher Thomas Carlyle. Today, the pretty garden square is still remarkably peaceful given its proximity to the shops and traffic - it has a view of the roof garden, and nearby Thackeray Street is a good stopping-off point for an implausibly priced cup of coffee.

St Mary Abbott's churchyard, on the other side of the high street, is another wonderfully tranquil spot with shaded benches and cool walkways, and can be found along the alley opposite M&S.

So, if trudging along Kensington High Street leaves you feeling short- changed, there are plenty of fascinating alternatives that won't cost you a penny.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

    £30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

    Application Engineer - Flow Metering

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Application ...

    Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

    Project Manager,Conduct Risk,London,£5-600pd

    £500 - £600 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on