Tag Archives: Earls Court

Going, going nearly gone

It’s nearly gone. The sky can be seen, and clear light is in the area. The views are changed. Way over in Hammersmith, the Novotel is visible from West Brompton station.

Earls Court is almost down, and with it our hopes of ever seeing this part of London look as it does are down, too.

With them, all of them, goes part of our identity. It’ll soon be the case that it won’t be enough to say to anyone from abroad that one lives in or near Earls Court, to explain whereabouts one comes from in London – ‘in London’ meaning anywhere from Harrow to Hayes or from Woodford to Weybridge. Too many times one will have to answer something other than simply “London” when one is asked where one’s from. Before too much longer, the understood rider of “Earls Court” will mean nothing at all.

Of course, the developers will be glad to see the back of the unsightly old lady. But will those of us who have lived in its shadow for years be as glad? Would we be as comfortable if we were living with the ‘deconstruction’ of Whitehall or the Houses of Parliament? And yet, people live in their shadow, just they do here, in the shadow of Earls Court.

For now, the illusion lives on. Even on the trains – overground as well as underground – the announcer still advises travellers to ‘alight here for the Earls Court Exhibition Centre’, when there hasn’t been an exhibition at the centre for ages. Indeed, the ‘centre’ hasn’t been there for ages. It’s being ‘deconstructed’.

The developers will be glad to see a a new ‘district’ emerge. But how long will that take? And how many of us want to live in its shadow? The old Earls Court was good enough to entertain many of today’s, and yesterday’s, most popular acts. How many will flock to see who perform at what in the new ‘district’?

Earls Court was a good place to be, years ago. Now it’s becoming the same as anywhere else in London. It never had much of an identity, but now it has even less.

The sky may be clear, but the future – at least round here – is somewhat murky.

 

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Raising the roof

Led Zeppelin. David Bowie. Pink Floyd. Bob Dylan. Genesis. Take That. Kylie Minogue. Even the BRIT Awards.

They’ve all done it at one time or another; metaphorically raised the roof at Earl’s Court.

Now the developers are doing it; quite literally. And they have the temerity to emblazon their hoardings with the slogan: EARLS COURT A new district for London”.

The cheek of it. Earl’s Court has been a London district for generations.

That isn’t all. They contend that they are going to create a new district, when all they are really doing is building a lot of housing for the super-rich and adding on a bit of stuff that will be of use to the local community. It’s a bit like making a luxurious fur coat and finishing it with cheap buttons. The body will keep someone warm, but the whole thing is likely to flap open at any moment, exposing the wearer to the chilliest of winds.

Living, as I do, locally, the whole business fills me with a degree of dread. I dread what will happen to the local community when its prime source of income is gone for good. I dread the noise and disruption once the ‘de-construction’ (Capital & County’s word, not mine) is complete and the new blocks start going up. I dread the style of the new stuff, for it will (no doubt) echo all that’s gone up in London in the last decade or so. And I dread the over-shadowing of what is still an attractive part – or district – of London.

Earl’s Court will never be the same again.

Roof, or no roof.

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Living with legends

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. Earls Court

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.

In the meantime, life goes on and – thankfully – some things haven’t changed. Bob Dylan

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.

Lost opportunities

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.

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