The tall, black hoardings have gone up. The great displays boasting of “creating legends since 1937” are shrouded. The few lights left on look like candles that someone forgot to blow out.
It is the beginning of the end. Earls Court has closed for good. The deconstruction process has begun.
A shedload of memories
For over three-quarters of a century this vast shed and its more recent sister building, Earls Court 2, have played host to the great, the good, the sometimes bad and the occasionally nonsensical acts and activities that have been part of our lives over that span of time.
For many of us who’ve lived with this venue as our neighbour, Earls Court was always the home of the Motor Show, the Boat Show and the Ideal Home Exhibition.
We were used to seeing the annual procession of expensive limousines on low loaders, the incongruous sight of luxury yachts being towed through our streets and whole houses being shoehorned into the cavernous interior of a building which, on many occasions, became a kind of three-ring circus full of raucous folk hawking their wares and hoping we’d buy their sometimes outrageous offerings.
There was, too, the Royal Tournament, an event marked for locals by the early morning sight of the Household Cavalry exercising their horses along Lillie Road, past the Brompton Cemetery and up Warwick Road.
And then, of course, there were the bands.
Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, George Michael, David Bowie and a host of other big names; they all played Earls Court. It was, after all, the only venue in town big enough to hold their vast, adoring audiences.
And there was the trade.
For many local businesses – particularly those in Earl’s Court’s lively hotel and restaurant trade – the exhibition centre was a hugely important source of income. The manager of the long-since-closed L’Artiste Affamé once told me that visitors to the Boat Show brought in almost enough revenue to keep him going for eight or nine months.
A new community
Now we are faced with a different prospect; the creation of new “villages” featuring high-end residential properties whose doubtful value to the community is to be offset by new doctors’ surgeries and – it’s said – a new school.
The proof of this particular pudding will, of course, be in the eating.
The Troubadour, for example, is now a double-fronted establishment with an associated wine shop. Yet – in the basement where a young Bob Dylan and Paul Simon both performed – there is still live music several nights a week.
Response, the community project founded in the late 1970s by Neil Barnett and James Evans, still functions, albeit with a changed role reflecting Earl’s Court’s fluctuating population and fluid character.
The pubs are still busy. One – until recently a branch of O’Neil’s – has been refurbished and reverted to its original name: The Bolton.
While we may legitimately mourn London’s loss of an internationally recognised entertainment venue within an Olympian stone’s throw of Harrods, we can at least hope that this cosmopolitan part of the capital will not lose its identity along with its memories.
Who knows but that another legend may be born in the basement of the Troubadour. Or that a busker will appear at the entrance to the station and, catching the eye of a passing stranger, once more turn Earl’s Court into a place where small dreams become big realities.