Community Responses to Infrastructure Projects in Notting Dale22 minute read

The history of Notting Dale has been characterised by multiple large-scale infrastructure projects. Each development has inflicted acute destruction of physical space and necessitated a renegotiation of everyday life; but has also led to the creation of new communities and places, and generated senses of community through opposition to state neglect. This project therefore seeks to forefront community responses to large-scale infrastructure projects: acknowledging the power dynamic and inflicted nature of the terms of the developments, but, above this, locating how Notting Dale residents (both old and new) adapted to and confronted these changes. The project proceeds in a largely chronological fashion, locating and discussing three infrastructure projects that I believe to have had enormous formative effects on the geographical space, subjective place, and everyday life of residents. The first of these is the advent of sewerage and drainage in Victorian London, and the second two concern transport projects: the building of the Hammersmith and City railway line in the mid-19th Century, and the Westway during the latter half of the 20th Century.


Locating the Site

The site chosen for this project is that visible in Figure 1, while Figure 2 displays swatches of historic maps of Notting Dale. The site is bounded by the Hammersmith and City line, the West Cross Route (A3220), and the Westway (A40), along with their large flyover on the northern side. Immediately, the impact of the latter two infrastructure developments discussed herein is visible.

Figure one. The chosen site.
Figure 1: The chosen site (image: Google, 2018)

 

Figure two. Maps of Notting Dale, 1750-present.
Figure 2: Maps of Notting Dale, 1750-present

Methodology

As aforementioned, this project seeks to forefront community responses to infrastructure developments, while acknowledging the power imbalances in the decision-making processes. In terms of reading Notting Dale as a palimpsest, one could easily identify the historic ‘scars’ present in the contemporary space that are resultant from the projects at hand. However, I believe that a more genuinely palimpsestuous reading would identify not only the scars, but how the various communities contemporary to their infliction responded to them, and renegotiated places in the process. This is not to disregard the destruction – contoured by classist, racist, and gendered assumptions – but instead to give voice to those who reclaimed spaces, who are frequently silenced by those who read dominant literature without a palimpestuous lens. To achieve this, I have sought to use sources ‘from below’ where possible.

However, this has been difficult, especially with the earlier infrastructure projects due in large part to the lack of sources and their style of history-production. For example, I have noticed that both the Victorian philanthropist and the architectural geographer can have a propensity to either belittle or invisibilise the people in their histories. Further, it has been difficult to provide a palimpsestuous reading of the dominant literatures of earlier eras (in the style of Dillon, 2005) due to the lack of understanding of the authors and the authored, given the dearth of records or secondary texts. It is assumed that a certain level of understanding of the relationality between the author(s) and the authored is required (beyond that which can be assumed, given obvious power dynamics) to ‘queer the palimpsest’ (ibid.).

One final significant limitation which has structured my choice of methodology is my lack of attachment to the site, having not lived in the area, nor having spent a significant amount of time there beyond a handful of visits to inform this project.

Given these limitations, both personal and theoretical, I have chosen to utilise a polyvocalist approach where possible (Llewellyn, 2003). This entails a conscious effort to use sources that fall beyond the dominant discourse (see Figure 3). Similarly to After the Planners’ (Figure 4) polemic on the unilateralism of development and planning in 20th Century cities (Goodman, 1973), Llewellyn calls for an approach to planning that considers the concerns and needs of residents and other constituencies (2003). I wish to extend Llewellyn’s approach to how we create histories and discussions of places (i.e. beyond the instrumental concerns of planning and building, and into the discursive, even epistemological, realm), otherwise we can reproduce and/or entrench the very same power imbalances that characterised the projects and developments themselves.

Figure three. Interpretation of potentially polyvocalist sources.
Figure 3: My interpretation of potentially polyvocalist sources are in the darker font.

 

Figure 4: The UK edition’s cover actually features a Westway re-housing protest
Figure 4: The UK edition’s cover actually features a Westway re-housing protest

 


The Advent of Sewerage in Victorian Notting Dale

It is difficult to overstate the transformative effect that the advent of sewerage and drainage had on Notting Dale. In the early 19th Century, the area was referred to as the Piggeries and Potteries, owing to the presence of unregulated pig-fattening and brickmaking operations (Velten, 2013: 28). Not only were these industries unregulated, but the entire area of Notting Dale was in practice unenclosed (Borrow, 1907: 231), with residents like Stephen Bird – one of the most successful brickmakers – freely building their homes on the land. Brickmakers dug the earth from the ground, compacting it to make bricks which went on, palimpsestuously, to be used to build the most affluent areas of Kensington and beyond (Survey of London, 1973: 58-76). This almost anarchic, peripheral, “secluded” space is what drew pig-keepers to the area, for they had been displaced from their previous homes near Marble Arch (Milton and Morrison, 1972; Survey Of London, 1973: c.XIV).

However, the coexistence of these two professions, and the lack of infrastructure, led to terrible sanitary and safety issues. The land was covered in craters dug by the brickmakers, which were then filled by liquified pig manure run-off. What today is Avondale Park was in the 19th Century referred to as The Ocean, given the size of the crater: “nearly an acre in extent” (Gladstone, 1969: c.7; Figure 8). Beyond the sanitary issues this presented, unmade roads and a potholed landscape led to treacherous walking conditions, to such an extent that “inhabitants did not venture out after dark” (ibid.). On one January morning in 1860 the body of a woman was found in the middle of Latimer Road, who died having “stumbled into one of the miry pits” (ibid.). Supposedly, other residents could hear her cries for help, but daren’t respond in concern for their own fate: a striking illumination of how infrastructure (or lack thereof) impacts mobility.

Figure five. Bottlekiln that remains on Walmer Road.
Figure 5: Bottlekiln that remains on Walmer Road. Photo: author, 2018

 

Figure six. Plaque on the kiln.
Figure 6: Plaque on the kiln. Photo author, 2018

The area had long been subject to the gaze of the wealthier residents and authorities of Notting Hill and Kensington proper [fn1], attracting a “notoriety perhaps unsurpassed by any other part of London” (Survery of London, 1973: 340). Charles Dickens claimed that the “discontent, dirt, filth and misery” was “unsurpassed by anything known even in Ireland” (1850); perhaps alluding to a colonial imaginary (cf. Kuchta, 2010).

This derisory discourse came to a head during the cholera epidemic of 1848-9. Miasmic paranoia led Dickens to label the area a “plague-spot […] generating large quantities of poisonous gasses” (1850), illuminating how Notting Dale was presented to more affluent Londoners as a spatial embodiment of disease and filth. Interestingly, many of the characterisations of the East End described in Jones’ Outcast London (1971) can be located in Victorian-era literature regarding Notting Dale, leading me to assert that this area was represented as somewhat of a microcosm of the issues that sparked moral panic about East London.

In response to both the moral panic and the extant threat posed by the cholera epidemic, the Metropolitan Commissioners begun construction of the sewers in the winter of 1850-1, with significant portions of the work completed by the aforementioned Stephen Bird (Survey of London, 1973: 58-76, 340-355). The sewerage and drainage constituted a linear, subterranean extension of infrastructure from the core of London, but it is argued here that social control was also extended by the sewer. Following the advent of the system, local authorities became committed to eradicating the piggeries and potteries, and did so under the auspices of the Nuisances Removal Act (ibid., 1973: 342), along with the assistance of the Vestry and Victorian philanthropists [fn2] such as Mary Bayly (White, 2007: 423). Bayly’s Mother’s Society was set up in 1853, with the help of a missionary of the London City Mission (Bayly, 1860), and epitomised the religiously moralistic style of Victorian philanthropy, along with its affinities to the tactics of colonial missions.

Notting Dale residents responded to the eradication of their foundational industries by pursuing new ones, most notably laundries, to the extent that the area became referred to as ‘Laundry Land’ around the turn of the 20th Century (Porter, 2000: 199; Milton and Morrison, 1972: 3). This reminds us of the continual interplay between the wealthy residents of South Kensington, and the poorer residents of Notting Dale; in this case deriving subsistence from providing cleaning services to their wealthy neighbours (this broader theme is noted in Jones, 1971: 86). Furthermore, laundries almost exclusively employed women, representing a peculiar inversion of the stereotype of the suburban male-breadwinner model, reflected in the supposed local proverb in North Kensington that claims ‘the best ironer gets the worst husband’ (Malcolmson, 1986: 39).

The piggeries and potteries era of Notting Dale was characterised by a distinct lack of infrastructure, with immense sanitation problems and no proper roads or paths. The extension of linear sewerage networks to the formerly rural area coincided with, and enabled, the eradication of the piggeries and potteries through increased ‘nuisance legislation’ and punishment (Atkins, 2016: 46). As such, the sewer was a vehicle not only for cleaning up health issues, but also the perceived social ills that were projected onto the area by its wealthier neighbours. The local community responded by establishing new industries, most notably the laundries; though a reliance on the custom of their wealthy neighbours – “a sort of bi-lateral trade in goods and services” (Vague, 2012) present too in the era of the brickmaker – continued.

Figure seven. A small laundry on Walmer Road.
Figure 7: A small laundry on Walmer Road. Photo: rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com, 1969

 

Figure eight. Sign at Avondale Park.
Figure 8: Sign at Avondale Park.

 

Figure nine: Pottery Lane sign

The Railways: Notting Dale as Suburb

As sewerage enabled the local authorities to exercise greater control over Notting Dale, the construction of the Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City railway, which opened in 1863, again transformed the social fabric of the area, most notably from a semi-rural space into a nascent suburb.

The building of the railway, though acutely destructive, created new streets and spaces (such as Lockton Street), and bounded others. A concrete example of how communities engaged in, and re-negotiated, place-making to account for the built form of the railway is the use of the arches by the London Romani community (Griffin, 2008). The Potteries (or Koromengreskoe Tan [fn3]) were home to the “second grand Gypsyry of London”, a de facto headquarters of the London Romani people on the ‘Middlesex side’ of the Thames (Borrow, 1970: 228). According to Borrow, the ‘Gypsyry’ resembled “a little, open bit of ground, chock-full of crazy, battered caravans of all colours” (ibid.: 228-229). The arches of the railroad served not only as physical boundaries, but as shelter under which tents were erected, providing relief from both the “scorching rays of the sun” and the “drenching rain” (ibid., 234).

More broadly the Metropolitan railway, constituting the northern limit of Notting Dale, generated a huge influx in people to this formerly rural area. Despite the initial failure of the railways to decentralise the population and employment of London’s working class (cf. Jones, 1971: 217), by the late 1880s the Cheap Trains Act (1883) had begun to achieve its task in suburbanising London (Abernethy, 2014). While some of the new residents of Notting Dale were the roughly three-hundred navvies who built the line in the 1860s (Gladstone, 1969: c.7), a more significant portion were those forced out of central London following the slum clearances, such as those under the ‘Cross Act’ (1875) (ibid.).

Charles Booth writes of this process in Notting Dale, claiming that there was an inflowing “tide […] consisting of the very dregs of more central London”, who had been “stirred up and dispersed by the improvements or alterations involving the destruction of old rookeries…” (1903, 151). The process Booth refers to was the forcible clearance of at least seventy-five thousand people from the central area of London, through both the physical removal of slum clearances, but also the realities of rising rents (Jones, 1971: 215). As such, this “tide” of displaced central Londoners now came to constitute a geographical periphery in their habitation of Notting Dale – a historic area of refuge – as well as a social periphery; no doubt contributing to the area being called ‘A West-End Avernus’ (Daily News, 1893).

Today the arches, which once provided shelter for Romani, are being developed as part of the Silchester Estate project, which was led by the Peabody Trust and RBKC (Figure 10). In association with Transport for London (TfL), the Lockton Street arches are to be transformed into artist’s studios and commercial use, under the creative direction of artist Nathan Coley (Haworth Tompkins, 2018). This next chapter of local-authority-backed development in Notting Dale will surely transform the social fabric once again, with the heavy involvement of creative agencies and artists perhaps alluding to continued gentrification (cf. Newman and Smith, 2000; also Whitelegg, 2002).

It is clear, then, that the building of the railway lines in late 19th-century Notting Dale was of great importance, generating a housing boom and the influx of residents both from central London, but also from other parts of the country and the world. The formerly rural, swampy space of Notting Dale became home to a broad range of people due to the railway, both through the more macro process of suburbanisation and concomitant slum clearance, but also through the direct usage of the railway’s physical form, as in the case of the Romani people of Koromengreskoe Tan.

Figure ten. Lockton street arches.
Figure 10: Lockton street arches
Photo: author, 2018

Confronting the Westway

The building of the Westway was an enormous project, in which “…the rational plan of optimum traffic flow was superimposed on the many previous layers of city habitation” (Robertson, 2007). In real terms, this meant the destruction of homes, the “obliteration” of whole sections of streets such as Walmer Road (Walker, 2013; Figure 13), and the displacement of people: “that’s when a lot of families got broken up”, says local resident Charlie Phillips (2015). While the building of the Aldwych subordinated the lives of central Londoners to the insecurities of Imperial Britain in the face of French modernity, it could be argued that the Westway similarly placed the image of (American) modernity above that of local communities. The proximity of the Westway to houses, and the GLC’s refusal to consider re-housing those who lived on streets such as Oxford Gardens (see Figure 12), galvanised local residents who “linked together road, housing and conservationist protests” (Wiggins, 1971: 19) to oppose the works:

“as they were building the flyover, it encroached … you could virtually lean out the window and touch the motorway, the Westway… and, they weren’t going to pull the houses down; they were quite adamant, the local council and I think it was the GLC at the time… and so the people that lived there, they demonstrated.” (Allan Tyrrell, 2015)

“we had several demonstrations to demand rehousing […] eventually they gave in an re-housed us anyway […] people pulling together is wonderful” (Rose Madden, 2015).

Figure eleven. Protestors surround Michael Heseltine at the opening of the Westway.
Figure 11: Protestors surround Michael Heseltine at the opening of the Westway

 

Figure twelve. Mrs Terry looks at a spur road which overshadows her garden.
Figure 12: Mrs Terry looks at a spur road which overshadows her garden
Figure thirteen. Westway under construction.
Figure 13: Westway under construction. Images 11-13 flashback.com

 While the planning and building of the Westway destroyed streets and homes, from the ‘rubble and weeds’ (Ballard, 1974: 5) below and around it emerged new communities, who made new places. The Romani people, who formerly used the shelter provided by the railway arches, also made homes in the built form of the Westway flyover, and continue to make places – homes – underneath the ‘non place’ (Auge, 2008) of the motorway to this day (Griffin, 2008; Figure 16). Furthermore, the building of the Westway allowed a broad spectrum of local groups to coalesce in their opposition to the project and its lack of consultation. These community action groups, though often temporary, seemed to produce communities in themselves, and the concessions they won continue to pattern the fabric of Notting Dale.

An example of one of these community groups is the North Kensington Amenities Trust – consisting of “around 40 or 50 organisations” (John O’Malley, 2015) – which secured significant concessions from the Greater London Council (GLC) (Duncan, 1992). Upon learning that there had been little consideration to the use of the land below the Westway other than its designation as a Car Park (John O’Malley, 2015; Robertson, 2007), residents came together to pressure the GLC to give them control over the land. After a “long struggle between the community groups […] and the Council”, the GLC “set up an organisation called the North Kensington Amenities Trust” (John O’Malley, 2015). Under this banner, the medley of local groups came together to decide on the future of the site, ultimately agreeing on a large sports facility, which still exists today (Figure 14). This helped to remedy the lack of open space provision that had been an issue for local children thus far, resulting in “a lot of road accidents in the streets” where children played (ibid.).

Figure fourteen. An outdoor court at the Westway Sports Centre.
Figure 14: An outdoor court at the Westway Sports Centre
Figure fifteen. Street sign.
Figure 15. A sign

Residents also came together to oppose the state’s neglect of local housing provision. Local resident John O’Malley (ibid.) recounts the story of Maggie O’Shannon, a mother who had been told she would have to continue living in a house, in which the toilet from the flat above flushed straight into her family’s kitchen, for seven years. Maggie decided this treatment, common of the private landlords, was unacceptable, and on 18th January 1969 she squatted a house on Camelford Road in protest (Wates and Wolmar, 1980: 17; Jan O’Malley, 2015). Fellow residents helped barricade the building and post guards, and media addresses and negotiations were conducted from the first-floor window. The proximity to the “new telly barracks of the BBC” (MacInnes, 1959: :46) across the Westway made their ability to get press coverage much easier, because, in the eyes of John O’Malley, the reporters were “lazy” and so would happily cover a local issue (John O’Malley, 2015). After a couple of months, the GLC conceded, agreeing to re-house those living in derelict properties sooner, handing compulsory purchase orders to the private landlords. This success not only benefited the residents of the unfit properties, but also demonstrated the efficacy of squatting as a way of drawing attention to state neglect (ibid.); especially given that the expensive Westway development was the short-term cause of dereliction.

Figure sixteen. Children at the traveller’s site below the Westway.
Figure 16: Children at the traveller’s site below the southbound Westway ramp.

Eight years after Maggie O’Shannon squatted 7 Camelford Road, Notting Dale became home to another group of squatters. They inhabited the “derelict area of houses that had been evacuated by the GLC” (Shelley Assiter, 2015), which had been cut-off from the rest of Latimer road due to the building of the Westway (Walker, 2015). Some Notting Dale residents, such as Alan Tyrrell, thought of these squatters as “hippies”, “free thinkers” (2015). The squatters, who declared the area the Independent Republic of Frestonia in their 1977 UN secession attempt [fn4], were keen to stress their actions were a response to the housing crisis. Joe Rush explains: “I moved to the area because there was a lot of empty houses here and I didn’t have any money” (Joe Rush, 2015), while Shelley Assiter notes that the community consisted of “about 150 people… all of us needing a place to live” (2015). Having collectively changed their surnames to ‘Bramley’, the somewhat “anarchic” (ibid.) group of squatters ultimately secured re-housing by the GLC; another significant success for a Notting Dale community. Today, the statue shown in Figure 18 is displayed atop a block of housing on the Silchester Estate, and is artist Nathan Coley’s nod to the radical antecedents to the more institutionalised Peabody Trust estate.

It is clear that the construction of the Westway was met by concerted community and cross-community responses, as well as re-negotiations of space and place by specific groups such as travellers. By way of demonstrating that place-making is ongoing and contested, it is worth drawing attention to a recent campaign against the Westway sports facility by Grenfell Action Group (2014). While the facility was in the 1970s hailed as a victory by organisers in Notting Dale, contemporary community groups point to the health issues, and symbolism, of having open-air sports facilities under a major flyover. This brings my somewhat eclectic survey of the effervescent community responses to state-led infrastructure projects to a fitting end.

Figure seventeen. Entrance to Frestonian Gallery
Figure 17: Frestonian Gallery

 

Figure eighteen. Coley’s ‘Bramley Tree’ sculpture.
Figure 18: Coley’s ‘Bramley Tree’ sculpture

Conclusion

Through a conscious search for people’s histories, such as those of the Romani people and the oral histories of Notting Dale residents, we can disrupt the top-down tendencies of dominant histories. In this project, a polyvocalist approach (Llewelyn, 2003) has revealed that the prima facie unilateralism of state-led infrastructure projects obscures a more palimpsestuous reading of the history of Notting Dale, in which new communities have emerged, and existing communities have resisted and responded to these projects through coordinated action and the renegotiation of places.

Figure nineteen. author’s photos of Notting Dale today (2018).
Figure 19: author’s photos of Notting Dale today (2018)

 

Josh Hardman


References

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Mitton, Roger, and Elizabeth Morrison. 1972. A Community Project In Notting Dale. London: Allen Lane the Penguin Press.

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O’Malley, Jan (2015) ‘North-West Ken Stories’. Interviewed by students of Kensington Aldridge Academy, 2015. Available at: http://www.nwkenstories.org.uk/interviews.html

O’Malley, John (2015) ‘North-West Ken Stories’. Interviewed by students of Kensington Aldridge Academy, 2015. Available at: http://www.nwkenstories.org.uk/interviews.html

Phillips, Charlie (2015) ‘North-West Ken Stories’. Interviewed by students of Kensington Aldridge Academy, 2015. Available at: http://www.nwkenstories.org.uk/interviews.html

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Robertson, Susan. 2007. “Visions Of Urban Mobility: The Westway, London, England”. Cultural Geographies 14 (1): 74-91. doi:10.1177/1474474007072820.

Rush, Joe (2015) ‘North-West Ken Stories’. Interviewed by students of Kensington Aldridge Academy, 2015. Available at: http://www.nwkenstories.org.uk/interviews.html

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‘The Phillimore estate’, in Survey of London: Volume 37, Northern Kensington, ed. F H W Sheppard (London, 1973), pp. 58-76. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp58-76 [accessed 5 April 2018].

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Footnotes

[1] Juxtapositions between the affluent, civilised residents of south Kensington and those of North Kensington are common in the literature. Dickens, for example, prefaces his ‘plague-spot’ comments by noting that the Potteries exist “in a neighbourhood studded thickly with elegant villas and mansions” (Dickens, 10th August 1850).

[2] While Jones characterises the large flows of charity in Victorian London as occurring in a largely West-to-East fashion, the case of Notting Dale differs. The London City Mission, for example, found support from those living in grand houses a few streets to the east of Notting Dale (see White, 2007: 423).

[3] This simply means ‘the place of the fellows who make pots’ in the Romani dialect present at this ‘Gypsyry’ (Borrow, 1970: 229).

[4] The group even requested military and financial aid from the UN, with Assiter explaining ‘we didn’t feel like the local council was looking after us” (Assiter,2015)

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