The History of My Hand-drawn Map at the Museum of London

Hand-drawn London Exhibition, Museum of London

To my utter disbelief I am currently in an exhibition at the Museum of London. No, I’m not a time traveller or old enough to feature in stories of the Blitz or even the Brixton Riots, I’m not even an artist, but somehow my hand-drawn map is in the most recent temporary exhibition at the Museum of London, ‘Hand-drawn London‘.

Me & my map in the exhibition

The exhibition is a collaboration with the Londonist website, and features ten hand-drawn maps hand-picked to represent different Londoners views and perceptions of the city they live in. There is a lovely depiction of Brixton as a tree, a very humorous insight into the world of an over-seas student whose world focuses on the Bloomsbury area with unmapped territory surrounding, and an intriguing look at London’s firsts mapping events and inventions that were premiered in London. You can find a preview with images of all the maps on the Independent website here.

My map is ultimately very simple (seemed the best idea due to my artistic constraints), and is probably one of the few without much annotation. With my interest in local history and my love of North Kensington I used the hand-drawn map project as an excuse to research the long gone Kensington Hippodrome, a Victorian racecourse that stretched from Holland Road to modern-day St Quintin’s Avenue.

When I first created the map I wrote a blog on the maps that influenced my final creation can be found here, but I’d thought I’d take this opportunity to share a bit more history of the Kensington Hippodrome.

A Notting Hill racecourse was the brainchild of local entrepreneur called John Whyte. Situated on 200 acres of the Ladbroke lands, leased from James Weller, the Kensington Hippodrome boasted a larger capacity and closer proximity to London than the other famous racecourses, Epsom and Ascot. It opened on 3 June 1837 to much praise and acclaim from the sporting and national press, and it was soon considered to be a very fashionable place to be and be seen.

"The last grand steeplechase at the Hippodrome racecourse, Kensington" oil on Canvas, by Henry Jnr Alken, Wikigallery

However, there had been an oversight in Whyte’s plans and it turned out that his racecourse intercepted an ‘ancient public way’. Though apparently situated in a sleepy and leafy area, the Hippodrome had actually been built next to one of the worst slums in London’s suburbs, the Potteries, possibly represented by the chimney in the background of this painting. And this public way, or footpath, had become popular with the inhabitants of the Potteries and the nearby area as they attempted to avoid Pottery Lane, affectionately nicknamed ‘Cut Throat Lane’, to give you an idea of the undesirables that resided there.

Whyte tried to block this footpath, but the locals were having none of it, and continued to protest, campaign and also dismantle any obstruction there. For the press this became a matter of class warfare, and to them it seemed acceptable that people should have a few hours enjoyment at the races without seeing the dregs of society, who kept breaking into the Hippodrome for free through the footpath.

This wasn’t the end of Whyte’s problems, and though the Hippodrome had become fashionable (visited by the Grand Duke of Russia and other foreign dignitaries) and extended in 1841; the jockeys weren’t keen on the clay soil and began to shun the racecourse. Eventually Whyte admitted defeat and gave up the lease in 1842. With this Weller turned to the builders and the Ladbroke Estate was subsequently built over the racecourse. This wasn’t the end of racecourses altogether in the area and there was a course also called the Kensington Hippodrome built as part of Portobello Pleasure Gardens, featuring a track around the axis of Talbot Road. Also in the early 1850s there was a third Kensington Hippodrome, this time an equestrian extravaganza amphitheatre on the site of De Vere Gardens.

Hippodrome Place, W11

Today the ghost of the Kensington Hippodrome still lingers in the area. There is of course street names, Hippodrome Place at Clarendon Cross, between Portland Road and Pottery Lane, and also Hippodrome Mews, former stables. There are also several pubs in the area that date back to the 1840s and probably have origins in Hippodrome business; the Prince Albert in Notting Hill Gate at the entrance to the racecourse, and the North Pole on North Pole Road at the other end of the racecourse. Parts of the Ladbroke Estate were also built along features of the racecourse, most notably that the Notting Hill grassy knoll, that became the ‘natural grandstand’ is now where St John’s Church is situated, accessible by a gate which is now the main entrance to Ladbroke Square Gardens.