The Boroughers, 06/01/19: Kensington and Chelsea Two years resolution

Happy new year! And all that. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you: welcome to this, part 16 of my and Helen’s 2018 new year’s resolution... taking place exactly a year to the day after we started it with a visit to Lewisham. Our quest to visit all of London’s boroughs took a large back seat due to many, many parts of life getting in the fucking way but hey – Sadiq actually awarded the first two London Borough of Culture awards, so taking two years to visit them all feels pretty reasonable. And by that metric, hitting the halfway point now puts us back on schedule. So, it’s the first weekend of 2019 and we went to Greenwich.

Wait. No, no we didn’t. We searched through our remaining boroughs for candidates which mostly comprise indoors things that are open during winter and initially thought our Greenwich centrepiece was perfect, but in actuality the damn thing was shut. Camden, Islington, and Westminster all disappointed similarly and with no desire to head out to the sticks we were left with the RBKC.


That’s the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to you miserable lot. London’s smallest borough yet spectacularly densely populated, researching what to do under our vague “rules” – specifically, try not to do anything we’ve done before – proved difficult, what with Albertopolis, aka the museum district, falling within its boundaries.

But first.. oh, that’s right. Pardon me, it’s been 4 months and I’ve almost forgotten the format for these things. Let’s get on with some borough facts before I diarise the day.


  • The first ever sumo tournament held outside of Japan took place in RBKC, at the Royal Albert Hall
  • in the 1800s hot cross buns were a wildly popular purchase at The Bun House, so much so that on the final Good Friday of its existence it sold - depending on who you believe - 24k or 250k of the things in a single day. Two different King Georges used to go there to buy ‘em.
  • the poet Dante Rossetti got told off for keeping noisy peacocks in his flat in the 1860s

Sounds like an interesting place, right? Let’s see.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

First up, our traditional picnic. While I put SD cards back in the garden wildlife cameras and took out the bins Helen got cracking on our sandwiches. She’s very proud of the painful double pun, which makes me wince to type no less than it did to hear or say at the time. Behold, Ken-Stilton and Cheese-lsea. You heard.

It were nice, though thanks to my insistence on calorie control we both agreed there was nowhere near enough cheese present. It could be a long year.

South Western Railway to Clapham Junction, London Overground to Shepherd’s Bush, and some counter-intuitive bus stop finding led us onto the 316, away from Westfield in Hammersmith & Fulham and straight into RBKC, round a roundabout off which you must not ride animals. We wind through roads of rapidly alternating prosperity levels but only for a while, getting off to walk down a road under the Westway and past the impromptu reggae-and-food-and-bouncy-castle gathering in the park next to it. Not very January, is it?

Beyond the road that now runs where Rillington Place used to be – John Reginald Christie ‘n all that – a left turn and we arrive at our centrepiece cultural attraction. It’s a museum we’ve never been in, a moderately tough task as previously mentioned, and we have to pay £9 to get in because our Art Passes aren’t valid here. Bah!

Its full name is the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. Ignoring the café, and genuinely forgetting about the room at the back sponsored by Shell, it’s essentially just one long tunnel: the Time Tunnel. This is a chronological walk through displays of, err, brands, packaging, and advertising. Also radios. Many, many radios.

Normally here I’d pepper in a few photos of the actually very interesting displays, but no photography is allowed. This is a real shame: we’re pretty captivated by each display in order, calling out to each other “darling, have you seen this?” “Sweetheart, check this out!” And so on. It starts in the latter half of the Victorian era, with easy jigsaws (maps of Europe where the pieces are entire countries) and Horse Lawn Mower adverts in newspapers which used 15 fonts on a single page yet without appearing ugly, since the text adds structure rather than confusion.

It seems that product packaging kicked in late in the 1800s or perhaps the start of the 1900s. There are jars and boxes and bottles of things like Extract of Meat or Beef & Malt Wine, with contact details of the make written right there: telephone number 200.

The First World War stuff is amazing: war was completely commercialised and monetised and exploited. The food rationing campaign guarantees “complete victory if you eat less bread” while kids are encouraged to play a board game called “Obliterating Germany”. Recognisable brands start to appear, like golden syrup tins that look merely dated and a Perrier bottle that wouldn’t be out of place on a shelf right now.

Then, radios. Lots and lots of radios. There’s a whole set of shelves dedicated to the BBC and all the equipment you could buy to tune in, as well as things like the BBC Handbook that you might get if you worked there. Early editions of the Radio Times appear, alongside cigarette adverts promising that Craven A should be smoked for your throat’s sake.

Between the wars it’s mostly terrible board games: “Jolly Post Office” and “LUT”, which appears to be an actual way of playing Mornington Crescent in a Harry Beck era. But then World War II kicks in and we’re back making money off “pin the tail on the Goering” or a dartboard where you aim at Hitler’s arse. I really hope it was officially called Hitler Arse Darts but I doubt it was.

Immediately after the war finished things got futuristic, hopeful, expansionist. Space becomes a big thing, with rocket ships and Dan Dare and stuff. If it sounds like I’m talking a lot about games and toys that’s because I am - alongside radios, which appear in most cabinets, and a few posters and issues of TV Times it really is mostly stuff for kids. We neither of us read the little panels so aren’t sure if this was explained or not.

Come the late 50s and there are more TVs and a whole lot of tacky nonsense. Things become a bit more aimed at adults, reflecting increased prosperity and optimism as well as mass entertainment. Album covers start to appear, and a vast array of things tied in with celebrities – TV shows, footballers, musicians, etc. All this is interspersed with ever more modern looking shelves full of products, like Frosties boxes with badly drawn Tony Tigers and that. By the 60s and 70s we’re seeing the depths being plumbed, but I can’t help but desperately want a real physical copy of the George & Mildred board game.

Once decimalisation is out of the way with games on how to count in base 10, and beyond a freakishly apt display on the importance of voting the right way in an in/out EU referendum, we hit the 80s and beyond. For both of us, as soon as we recognise literally everything it becomes staggeringly uninteresting. There’s a bit of nostalgia as I’m, like, “I had a Spectrum+!” countered with “I had an Acorn Electron!” by Helen but otherwise we get no real joy from seeing products we’re familiar with. And so, we leave.

It really is a good museum and I’m gutted we couldn’t take photos. Oh well. Back outside it’s warm enough that Helen’s OK with walking to our next stop, which is good because as well as the low calories I’m also insisting on walking over 10k steps every single day this year (with some caveats for days when I spend 15 hours or whatever on planes). Much to my genuine surprise there’s a large hill we have to walk up. Big hills in central London? Since when was that a thing?

Down the other side, past several semi-circular streets of huge townhouses, across the main road by Holland Park tube station, I lead us up Holland Walk assuming that it will take us into Holland Park the park. It does, but takes a while to do so, and is another hilly hill. What gives, RBKC?

Once we’re inside Helen wants a sit down and some Kenstilton. The sun’s not out but it’s not a wholly unpleasant day, certainly for early January. I mean fucking hell, that day we went to Harrow last year...

I realise that André, who really likes my blog/diary, lives in this borough and I should have given him a shout. Shit. Sorry André. Forgive me. But me, you, Tom and Paul should go for a pint sometime. Y’know, like I said we should back in bloody July or whenever it was. Anyway, moving on.

There’s a few animals about. Blue tits, coal tits, parakeets, and squirrels. We have all of those things in our own back garden so aren’t fussed by any of them. There’s an ecology centre over the way though, beyond the Dutch garden and the vague ruins (“fragmentary”, the website says) and the giant chess board.

The playground next to the Ecology centre is closed and being rebuilt. The Ecology centre itself is just closed. Bugger. No peacocks or pigs for us. Back through the rest of the park we admire some of the architecture, and a tree.

There’s weird art around the place. Like this.

And this.

Holland House (I think?) looks alright. There’s a very posh looking restaurant, and an orangery we’re not allowed in. Helen’s spending fantasy lottery wins on stuff like this.

Leaving Holland Park we wander through the back streets, past ludicrously huge blocks which, according to numbers and doorbells, only have 29 flats in them. They must be ENORMOUS. Everything around this part of town is absolutely dripping with money, and as we wander I suddenly get a whiff of recognition - hang on, hang on, there’s a pub up here I used to drink in every Friday. Yes! It’s the Elephant & Castle, chosen watering hole of Yahoo! UK & Ireland’s staff every Friday in late 1999 and early 2000. Blimey. The offices themselves are nowhere to be seen though, since the whole of Lancer Square is now a mahoosive building site.

Do You Yahoo!? No, you don’t.

A few seconds later we’re crossing a street full of armed police and NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs, being a posh road full of giant embassies, and then we’re in Kensington Gardens. Hello, Kensington Gardens. I’m racking my brains out loud, trying to recall what exhibition or something we came up here for early in our relationship. Helen has zero recollection of such a thing and is convinced I’m remembering something with one of my other women. Pah. In the end I can’t recall any more details so LET’S JUST DROP IT.

Despite being later than twelfth night, the palace hasn’t taken its Christmas trees down. They have ostentatious baubles the size of your fucking head.

There’s a sunken garden to walk around, which I protest isn’t really sunken since you have to go up steps in order to be above it. So it’s kind of really just a normal garden with a balcony. Anyway, it’s Diana, Princess of Wales themed, in tandem with an exhibition about her fashion sense that’s on indoors at the moment. Supposedly the plants and flowers have been chosen to match. Does this look like the people’s princess’s dress to you?

Facetiousness aside it’s really very pleasant, and would be considerably more so were it sunny. But it’s not sunny. Leaving the non-sunken sunken garden we head towards the big pond just beyond the lady screaming her head off to get one of her unruly puppies to come back to her. But as we approach I realise where we are... this is the border. We are NOT ALLOWED to go look at that pond and all those thousands of geese and swans and ducks. I forbid it! The large faux-road path is where Kensington Gardens becomes Hyde Park, and RBKC becomes Westminster.

So, we go north and back into the gardens. I mean the pond wasn’t on the list anyway, really we’re looking for a big tree surrounded by railings. It’s the Elfin Oak, an oak tree with loads of elves and other figures carved into it. Y’know, like this.

Good innit? No idea what the point in it is, mind. We had also wanted to go visit the pet cemetery but the last time it was open to the public was for a single day in 2017. Shame.

All this walking is good for the 10,000 step count as well as earning me the right to eat a few more calories. Ideally, just outside the park is where we’re going to stop for food and drink, at Cafe Diana. It’s a Princess Diana theme cafe that’s been there for 30 years. I first saw it when running two laps of the park on International Women’s Day in 2014, while Helen waited dutifully for me with a change of clothes and some water at Speakers Corner, listening to some lunatic Men’s Right Advocate twat do his thing. D’oh.

Anyway, much to my sadness, half of Cafe Diana is closed for refurbishment and it’s the half covered in newspaper clippings about her. So now it just looks like a normal cafe. Oh.

We didn’t really fancy going in, tbh. What’s more, by now it was about 3.15pm meaning time was short if we wanted to see one more thing before it got dark. So, we walked up to Notting Hill past a branch of Music & Video Exchange, the sight of which made me reminisce loudly about “a newspaper version of eBay called Loot” to a thoroughly disinterested Helen. But! But! Loot! Music and Video Exchange!

Whatever. Down to the tube and round the circle line to Sloane Square. The machines don’t want to let me out, telling me to seek assistance numerous times. This episode is made trickier by the lack of any staff from whom assistance can indeed be sought. Eventually someone shows up; he asks me to tap my phone again, screws his face up a bit when he sees the code the barrier is telling me, and instructs me to just keep trying because eventually it’ll work. Thanks for the assistance mate.

Outside we get straight on a 319 bus down the King’s Road, past what used to be a shoe shop called R Soles. I miss that shop. Jumping off the bus a stop early due to the very slow traffic, we pop down one of the roads leading to the river and our last cultural thing of the day, a wander along Cheyne Walk. This street, on the Chelsea Embankment, has had a phenomenal amount of famous people living here right up to the present day. There are a few plaques, and the houses do seem very nice, but the road is busy and there’s not much else around here.

Oh, wait, hang on. The river. Albert Bridge. That’s a border. Is there a welcome sign? We looked for one up by Lancaster Gate station near the Elfin Oak to no avail, maybe we’d have more luck here once we get past the sign telling troops how to walk.

There! Up there! It’s a welcome sign! Look!


OK so it doesn’t actually say welcome, but do most of them? I don’t really care, but it makes me unreasonably happy to have found a whatever-it-is sign. Certainly happier than I am about the art thing of a boy with a dolphin entitled “boy with a dolphin” next to the car dealership.

Back in the borough itself we walk away from the water, spluttering at the cost of bangers and mash in Chelsea side-street pubs. Back up at the King’s Road we find a Lebanese eatery, basically a posh kebab house. Let’s eat.

Helen has a fattoush salad with a glass of Lebanese wine, I get a soujok wrap with a bowl of rice with minced lamb plus a bottle of Heineken. They have a reputation to uphold, being commissioned as one of the caterers to the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations, and the place is exceedingly busy with people eating in, popping in for a takeaway, or deliveries being sent out. The food is nice, though I hold back personally from describing it as delicious. But it definitely hits the spot, and completes our visit to this borough. Best get on with scoring. We can remember how to do this, right?


Right. Yes. That’s it. We rate our subjective experiences on a scale of 1-7 across three categories, then argue about the combined score and how on earth we’ve rated it the same as Croydon. Oops, spoiler alert.


  • Fun: 5. The day was fun. Two points deducted for closed status of ecology centre, lack of pigs, and wrong borough birds.
  • Learning: 3. Lots of interesting stuff, but didn’t learn much.
  • Nice: 6. Very pretty, lots of birds, squirrels and green spaces.

Total: 14


  • Fun: 6. Yay! We’re back out boroughering!
  • Learning: 4. Just the museum, which was kinda middling as it fluctuated between informative/thought-provoking and just a “look at that!”-fest.
  • Nice: 5. The disparity of prosperity is jarring, and the really posh bits aren’t, like, amazing – but the parks are very nice indeed.

Total: 15

Total total: 29/42. Same as Croydon. That’s Kensington scoring the same as Croydon. Who saw that coming?

Right. We’re back on the boroughering horse. Let’s keep the momentum going shall we.. oh, wait, I’m busy for the next 3 weekends. Maybe mid-February then...

Created By
Darren Foreman

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a copyright violation, please follow the DMCA section in the Terms of Use.