King’s Road, SW3
Synonymous with fashionable, trendy London, King’s Road runs from Sloane Square in the east to the junction with Wandsworth Bridge Road where it becomes New King’s Road, terminating at Putney Bridge station. In all, it runs for 1.9 miles – the trendier end being the eastern. Property prices are astronomic, even for London, although I managed to rent a small flat there for a few months in the 1980s.
As its name suggests, it has royal connections. It was the private thoroughfare by which Charles II was able to travel to Kew and back without the attentions of the great unwashed. Although the road could be used by people with royal connections it was not until 1830 that it was opened up to the hoi polloi. This restriction to usage meant that by London terms the buildings along the road are relatively modern, dating from the 19th century.
Perhaps one of the most vivid examples of climate change are the pictures and reports of people skating on the frozen wastes of the River Thames. During the course of the 19th century temperatures rose and nature’s skating rinks were a thing of the past. But skating had caught the popular imagination and the race was on to develop the first artificial ice rink. In 1844 one such was opened on Grafton Street, just off Tottenham Court Road, which provided an “area of artificial ice [which] is extremely convenient for such as may be desirous of engaging in the graceful and manly pastime of skating”. Unfortunately, the surface was made of swine lard and chemical salts and the stench was such that it soon put off even the most ardent aficionado.
The first vaguely successful commercial ice rink known as the Glacarium did not appear until 1876 and was housed at 379, King’s Road. John Gamgee had developed a process for creating ice whilst working on a way to preserve meat which was transported from down under. He patented the first deep freezer in 1870 and saw another application for his invention.
The rink measured 40 feet by 24 and had a concrete base as a floor. On top of this was placed a layer consisting of dirt and cow hair and some wooden planking, above which was placed oval shaped copper tubing. Gamgee then pumped through the pipes a solution of glycerine, nitrogen peroxide, water and ether and filled the structure. Using pumps the solution was pumped through the pipes and froze the water, producing a smooth, glass-like surface. To add to the sense of theatre, the walls of the glacarium were painted with images of the Swiss Alps and there was a balcony where an orchestra could serenade the skaters or where onlookers could admire the skills on show.
It was a great success and Gamgee opened two more rinks, the largest of which, located at Charing Cross, measuered 115 feet by 25. But the process of making the ice was expensive and created a mist which was off-putting to the skaters, numbers dropped and Gamgee was forced to pull the plug by mid 1878. The site is now occupied by the hideous Moravian Tower.
Thomas Arne is said to have composed Rule Britannia whilst living at no 215 and Ellen Terry, the actress, lived in the same house, although not at the same time, in case you were thinking I had unearthed a scoop, In the 1960s the King’s Road was “where it was at”, frequented by mods and hippies. A decade later, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s boutique, Let It Rock which later became SEX and then Seditionaries, was the honeypot around which the leading luminaries of the nascent punk movement congregated. These days, though, the area has been gentrified and is stuffed full of expensive shops and restaurants.
Bring back the ice rink, I say.