For those of a certain age, and with an interest in legal affairs, the name Gloucester Road sums up images of Horace Rumpole (Rumpole of the Bailey) shuffling home to Froxbury Mansions from his chambers (or more likely Pomeroy’s Wine Bar, with a bottle of Chateau Thames Embankment tucked under his arm) to She Who Must Be Obeyed, in his battered hat, muttering lines from the Oxford Book Of English Verse (The Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch edition).
This is not, however, all that Gloucester Road has to offer in terms of interesting buildings and the people who have occupied them down the years. The station itself well repays inspection: it is arguably the tidiest and best maintained of all underground stations, and is a generally pleasant place to be. The oldest part: that which formed part of the Inner Circle, as it was then known, was opened 1st October 1868 as Brompton (Gloucester Road) Station, a full two months before South Kensington, and 6 months before Earls Court, which is a strange thing, given that South Kensington is east of Gloucester Road, and should have therefore, by rights, have been opened first (the extension of the district line is all tied in with the great push out of the centre of London). The disused platform is used for Art on the Underground for installations.
The exterior of Gloucester Road reveals that it is, in fact, two stations amalgamated: on the right hand side as you look at it, there is the cream building of the Metropolitan & District Railway, and the left, we see the ox blood red building of the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, which housed the entrance to the Piccadilly line, though it is now all used for retail and both lines have the same entrance. This is a useful thing, as it very clearly shows us that the underground was not actually a complete thing run by Transport for London from its inception, but rather was a lot of little railways which eventually joined together.
The two halves of Gloucester Road
Proceeding up Gloucester Road, crossing the Cromwell Road, we come to St. Stephen’s, Gloucester Road, a daughter of St. Mary Abbot’s (about which, more later) together with Christ Church about 5 minutes walk away. The living is in the patronage of the Guild of All Souls, and their annual Requiem and AGM is held there every year in November.
The church is a couple of years earlier than the station, but it is interesting to note that the church aims for Gothic, whereas the station aims for modernity. It boasts some fine work by Bodley (reredos and possibly font cover), and a Rood by Tapper. As well as several baroque bits and pieces, probably acquired in the usual fashion: by the Vicar going on his holiday and seeing something he liked.
One of the churchwardens of St Stephen’s was the legendary T.S. Eliot, author of such delights as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The church boasts a fine memorial to him.
Heading back down and turning left onto Cromwell road, we have a little bit of a walk ahead of us, until we reach Baden-Powell House, which is in marked contrast to our two other buildings, being opened, as it was, in 1961, by HM the Queen, with much fuss, pomp and a live BBC broadcast . It serves as a hostel and conference centre.
The bulk of the money was raised by the Scouting movement and it was built by Ralph Tubbs, architect behind the Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain 10 years previously. There is also a fine granite statue (the only one in London) of Lord Baden-Powell, at a height of almost three metres. It was carved by his friend Don Potter.
Gloucester Road does also boast the homes of the painter Millais, now Zambia House, which was built for him, and boasts some very fine big windows, and also the home of W.S. Gilbert.