Earls Court is a district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, England. It is an inner-London district centred on Earl's Court Road and surrounding streets, located 3.1 miles (5 km) west south-west of Charing Cross. It borders the sub-districts of South Kensington to the East, West Kensington to the West, Chelsea to the South and Kensington to the North. The Earls Court ward had a population of 9,659 according to the 2001 Census. It is home to the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, one of the country's largest indoor arenas and a popular concert venue. Former residents include Diana, Princess of Wales, Freddie Mercury, Stewart Granger, Alfred Hitchcock, and Benjamin Britten. Current residents include Gary Barlow.
- 1 History
- 2 Population
- 3 Notable people
- 4 Film locations and novels
- 5 Local attractions
- 6 Neighbourhoods
- 7 Architecture
- 8 Gay area
- 9 Nearby places
- 10 References
- 11 Other Earls Courts
- 12 Bibliography
Earls Court was once a rural area, covered with green fields and market gardens. The Saxon Thegn Edwin held the lordship of the area prior to the Norman Conquest. For over 500 years the land, part of the ancient manor of Kensington, was under the lordship of the Vere family, the Earls of Oxford and descendants of Aubrey de Vere I, who held the manor of Geoffrey de Montbray, bishop of Coutances, in Domesday Book in 1086. By circa 1095, his tenure had been converted, and he held Kensington directly of the crown. A church had been constructed there by 1104. The earls held their manorial court where Old Manor Yard is now, just by the London Underground station. Earls Court Farm is visible on Greenwood's map of London dated 1827.
The construction of the Metropolitan District Railway station in 1865–69 was a catalyst for development. In the quarter century after 1867, Earls Court was transformed into a densely populated suburb with 1,200 houses and two churches. Eardley Crescent and Kempsford Gardens were built between 1867 and 1873, building began in Earls Court Square and Longridge Road in 1873, in Nevern Place in 1874, in Trebovir Road and Philbeach Gardens in 1876, and Nevern Square in 1880.
Following WWII a number of Polish immigrants settled in the Earls Court area leading to Earls Court Road being dubbed 'The Danzig Corridor'. During the late 1960s a large transient population of Australia and New Zealand travellers began to use Earls Court as a UK hub and over time it gained the name 'Kangaroo Valley'. It was at the time one of the cheapest areas close to central London, and up until the 1990s remained a somewhat down-at-heel district compared to its more upmarket neighbours to the North and East. The area was, for a long time, the place to buy and sell the ubiquitous VW camper van. This moved off in the direction of the New North Road (near Old St EC1) in the 1980s. Today, while there are still significant numbers of students or other people on temporary visas, many of the Australians and New Zealanders appear to have moved on to now-cheaper areas further North and West. The name "Kangaroo Valley" lingers on in the usage of older ex-patriate Australasians and Australasian visitors, as does the alternative nickname "Kangaroo Court".
The change in the area's population is largely owed to rocketing property prices and the continued gentrification of the area. The scale of change is illustrated by the economic divide between the eastern and western areas of Earls Court.
- Howard Carter (1874–1939), English archaeologist, Egyptologist and primary discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun, lived at 19 Collingham Gardens.
- Benjamin Britten (1913–1976), English composer, conductor, violist and pianist, lived at 173 Cromwell Road.
- Edwin Arnold (1832–1904), English poet and journalist, lived at 31 Bolton Gardens.
- Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980), English filmmaker and producer, lived at 153 Cromwell Road.
- Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby (1861–1936), British soldier and administrator famous for his role during World War I when he led the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in the conquest of Palestine and Syria, lived at 24 Wetherby Gardens.
- Dame Ellen Terry (1847–1928), leading Shakespearian stage actress in Britain in the 1880s and 1890s, lived at 22 Barkston Gardens.
- Sir William Orpen (1878–1931), Irish portrait painter, lived at 8 South Bolton Gardens.
- Norman Lockyer (1836–1920), English scientist and astronomer credited with discovering the gas helium, lived at 16 Penywern Road.
Other notable residents
- Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–1997), the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, lived at 60 Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, from 1979 to 1981. The 3-bedroom flat was bought for her by her parents for £50,000 as an 18th birthday present. Diana, who shared the space with three room-mates who paid her £18 per week rent, once said it was where she spent the happiest time of her life. Diana lived there until February 1981 when she moved into Clarence House, the Queen Mother's residence, on the night before her engagement to Prince Charles was officially announced. In the 1990s, Diana regularly returned to the area to work out at Earls Court Gym (now part of the Soho Gyms chain) next to Earls Court underground station.
- Freddie Mercury (1946–91), flamboyant lead singer with the world-renowned rock group Queen, lived, and died, at a house at 1 Logan Place, just off the Earls Court Road
- Stewart Granger (1913–1993), Hollywood actor, was born in Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, and spent most of his childhood there.
- Horace Donisthorpe (1870–1951), British myrmecologist and coleopterist, lived at 58 Kensington Mansions, Trebovir Road. Memorable for championing the renaming of the genus Lasius after him as Donisthorpea, and for discovering new species of beetles and ants, he is often considered the greatest figure in British myrmecology.
- Major Sir William Palliser (1830–1882), Irish-born politician and inventor, Member of Parliament for Taunton from 1880 to his death, lived in Earls Court Square.
- Gary Barlow (1971), English singer, has a home in Earls Court.
- H. G. Pelissier (1874–1913), English theatrical producer, composer and satirist, lived at 1 Nevern Square
- Howard Spensley (1834–1902), Australian lawyer and British Liberal politician, lived in Earls Court Square.
- John Barrowman (1967), British entertainer, has a house with his partner Scott Gill in Earls Court.
Film locations and novels
- Kensington Mansions, on the north side of Trebovir Road, was the mysterious mansion block in Roman Polanski’s movie Repulsion (1965), in which the sexually repressed Carole Ledoux (played by Catherine Deneuve) has a murderous breakdown. The film won the Silver Berlin Bear-Extraordinary Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival later the same year.
- 64 Redcliffe Square is featured in An American Werewolf in London (1981). The movie is a horror/comedy about two American tourists in Yorkshire who are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals admit exists. The flat in the Square belongs to Alex (Jenny Agutter), a pretty young nurse who becomes infatuated with one of the two American college students (David Kessler), who is being treated in hospital in London.
- Earls Court was the setting for the 1941 novel 'Hangover Square: A Tale of Darkest Earl's Court' by novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton. Often cited as Hamilton's finest work, it is set in 1939 in the days before war is declared with Germany. The hero George Harvey Bone innocently longs for a beautiful but cruel woman called Netta in the dark smoky pubs of Earls Court, all the while drowning himself in beer, whisky and gin.
- 26 Courtfield Gardens was mentioned in Richard Curtis' About Time (2013) and was the location for one of party's scene.
Earls Court is within easy walking distance of High Street Kensington, Holland Park, Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College, the Natural History, Science and Victoria and Albert Museums.
The largest draw for visitors to Earls Court is the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, opened in the present building in 1937, with its striking Art Deco facade facing Warwick Road. A new entrance to Earl's Court tube station was constructed to facilitate easy access to the Exhibition Centre, including direct entrance from the underground passage which connects the District and Piccadilly lines. This was however closed in the 1990s at around the time the capacity of the Exhibition Centre was expanded by the construction of a second exhibition hall, Earls Court 2, which was opened by Princess Diana, herself a former Earls Court resident.
In its heyday the Earls Court Exhibition Centre hosted many of the leading national trade fairs, including the annual Motor Show and Royal Agricultural Show, as well as Crufts dog show and the military Royal Tournament. The biggest trade fairs migrated to the National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham International Airport when it opened in 1988. The longest-running annual show is now the Ideal Home Show in April, which still attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Otherwise, it has increasingly been used as a live music venue, hosting events such as the farewell concert by then boy-band Take That. At the other end of the scale, it has been used for arena-style opera performances of Carmen and Aida. Archive Movietone newsreel footage (which can be seen on YouTube) captures a unique and powerful rehearsal of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler playing the end of Brahms' Fourth Symphony during a post-War reconciliation visit to London.
Capital & Counties – the owner of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre – has the intention of closing the venue, and it is expected that the site will be redeveloped by 2020 with a mixture of office and residential buildings.
A further landmark building is the Empress State Building, located in Lillie Road, which was completed in 1962, and is a unique triangular office building with concave bow facades. It was occupied by the Ministry of Defence for 30 years. It underwent extensive refurbishment and updating prior to its occupation by the Metropolitan Police around 2003.
The multi-award-winning Finborough Theatre, which opened in 1980, is the neighbourhood's local theatre.
The Troubadour is a coffee house and a small music venue, which has hosted emerging talent since 1954 – including Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Costello. In 2009 Les Routiers UK gave The Troubadour their Best UK Cafe Award.
Earls Court Village is the centre of the Filipino British community, where it has a number of Asian restaurants, Filipino supermarkets (many of which also serve take-away food), and Filipino banks.
The area is also home to the UK's only real-life "TARDIS", so called because it resembles The Doctor's time machine in the BBC television series Doctor Who. The blue police box located outside Earls Court underground station in Earls Court Road is actually a modern day replica of the traditional GPO police signalboxes that were once a common sight in the UK until the early 1970s. Used as a kind of specialised telephone kiosk for policemen on their "beat", the boxes were eventually phased out with the introduction of personal radios in the police force.
East Earls Court
"East Earls Court" lies to the south of Cromwell Road and to the east of Earl's Court Road (a main North-South artery which bisects Earls Court) and is home to many multi-million-pound apartments and houses in smart garden squares and residential streets. The southern boundary of Earls Court is Old Brompton Road, with the area to the south being West Brompton, and the area to the south east being The Beach Area of Chelsea. Here, (based on sale prices per square foot), The Boltons, has some of the most costly real estate in Europe. Houses in The Boltons' have sold for up to £20 million. The eastern boundary of Earls Court is Collingham Road, east of which is South Kensington.
West Earls Court
"West Earls Court," lying to the west of Earls Court Road, is notably different in architecture. White stucco fronted “boutique” hotels in Trebovir Road and Templeton Place, and the impressive late-Victorian mansion flats and town houses of Earls Court Square, Nevern Square and Kensington Mansions, contrast with the area’s remaining cheaper hotels and apartment houses full of bedsits (also known as bed-sitters or bed-sitting rooms).
There are some impressive examples of early- to mid-Victorian architecture in the Earls Court ward. Gardens such as Bramham Gardens and Courtfield Gardens are beautiful traditional residential squares with many imposing properties fronting onto them and in the case of Courtfield Gardens, traditional cast iron railings around the enclosed gardens have just been restored (the originals having been removed in 1940 for scrap iron during World War 2) creating a more authentic Victorian ambience. Further west, Kensington Mansions, Nevern Square and Philbeach Gardens are built around impressive formal garden settings (access limited to key holding residents). Collingham Road and Harrington Road, also have some unique buildings, many of them very large and currently used as Embassies. A little further north, just south of the Cromwell Road, the tranquil conservation area comprising Childs Place, Kenway Road, Wallgrave Road and Redfield Lane contains fine examples of more modest terraced townhouses painted in pastel shades in a very picturesque setting with some fine floral displays. Hidden in the middle of this area is London's smallest communal garden, "Providence Patch" built on the site of former stables serving the surrounding houses, which were destroyed by a bomb in 1941. A glimpse of the (private) gardens can be seen via the original stable entrance way in Wallgrave Road
Earls Court preceded Soho as London's centre of gay nightlife, though the number of businesses aimed mostly at gay men has dwindled to a couple of retail outlets, as Soho and Vauxhall established themselves as the focus of gay nightlife. The first public nightclub aimed at a gay clientele, The Copacabana, opened in Earls Court Road in the late 1970s, but was re-themed as a general venue in the late 1990s. The bar upstairs, Harpoon Louie's (later Harpo's and later still Banana Max), was until the late 1980s among the most popular gay bars in London. It is now a Wagamama restaurant.
In 1964, The Lord Ranelagh Pub (opposite the former Princess Beatrice Hospital) spearheaded the local demand for live entertainment. A young, non-gay, male band, The Downtowners, attracted considerable attention. They persuaded many of the local cross-dressers to come into the pub and perform. Thus, the Queen of the Month contest was born. Every Saturday night the pub was packed to capacity. The show ran from September 1964 until May 1965 when the News of the World ran an article entitled 'This show must not go on.' On that Sunday night the pub was so packed that every table and chair had to be removed. Crowds spilled out on to the pavement onto Old Brompton Road. The police closed the show. Many well-known celebrities were among the clientele and the Lord Ranelagh is considered to have played a role in the history of gay liberation. The pub underwent several different incarnations as a gay nightclub, the last as "Infinity", but is now closed.
The Pembroke pub, formerly the Coleherne, dates from the 1880s and had a long history of attracting a bohemian clientele before becoming known as a gay pub. A lifelong resident of Earls Court Square, Jennifer Ware, recollects as a child being taken there to Sunday lunch in the 1930s, when drag entertainers performed after lunch had finished. In the 1970s it became a notorious Leather bar, with blacked-out windows, attracting an international crowd including the likes of Freddie Mercury, Kenny Everett and Rudolf Nureyev. It also became infamous as the stalking ground for three separate serial killers from the 1970s to the 1990s: Dennis Nilsen, Michael Lupo and Colin Ireland. It sought to lighten its image with a makeover in the mid-1990s to attract a wider clientele; to no avail, as in December 2008 it underwent a major refurbishment and repositioned itself as a gastro pub with a new name.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Earls Court.|
- Office for National Statistics Neighbourhood Statistics. Neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk.
- Victoria County History of England, Middlesex, vol. I, 116-7.
- Richard Thames, Earls Court and Brompton Past. Historical Publications, London, 2000
- Survey of London. Vol XLII Southern Kensinton: Kensington Square to Earls Court. General Editor Hermione Hobhouse. The Athlone Press, London, 1986.
- To the World's End: Scenes and Characters On a London Bus Route, director Jonathan Gili, BBC, 1985.
- "History of Nevern Square,". Nevernsquaregarden.co.uk (23 July 2005).
- UK | No takers for Diana's flat. BBC News (19 August 1998).
- Princess Diana's Flat. Shadyoldlady.com.
- Princess Diana – Gym – Earls Court, west London. Prints.paphotos.com (21 August 1997).
- Colherne Court East in 1913 – 20th Century. Rbkc.gov.uk (20 April 2005).
- Film locations for Repulsion (1965). Movie-locations.com.
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- h2g2 – The Earl's Court Police Box, London, UK. BBC.
- Nethouseprices.com. Nethouseprices.com.
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Other Earls Courts
Other Earls Courts are located across the world, some places include:
- AA Illustrated Guide to Britain, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 5th edition, 1983, p. 240-1.