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.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
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

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

    £17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

    Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?