How did the Royal Borough go from nice to the nasty mean Local Authority which ignored the needs of the victims of the Grenville fire? Having lived in the Borough for more than twenty years, I watched it change. I saw the seeds sewn. I left. I wept.
I moved into Burnaby Street, Chelsea SW10 in 1978. Incredible street! Rundown motley houses, many owned by the infamous Nicholas Hoogstraten who was known by the ignorant as the Most Evil Man in Britain. I liked him. He had no deceptions about him – as soon as you met him, you knew precisely what you were dealing with.
Unlike Theresa May.
This part of Chelsea is called the World’s End. Probably because the part where the rich people live, which is SW3, is the World.
Across the road the Official Burglar had his store, where he sold all the products of his profession. Which was fine. A great place to score a Victorian chair for under £2, or a cooker for a fiver. I only lost my love of Terry, the Official Burglar, when I returned from a visit to Germany to find two of his guys carrying my beloved Infinity speakers down the stairs toward his shop.
The denizens of Burnaby Street and the surrounding maze of streets were then hippies, artists, single mums, working class, window cleaners, writers…a cacophony of delightful chaos. Echoing the long history of Chelsea as a place of artists, potters (famous!) ne’er do wells. Most of the riffraff, the Council tenants, lived in the high-rise brick jumble called the World’s End Estate, right where the Thames takes an easy loop to the West. Stunning views of the river. These are properties the rich would die for. Or kill for. Especially now the Chelsea power station nearby has stopped pumping out the noxious black poisonous clouds which for so long hung like Armageddon over the whole of the World’s End, keeping speculators away. The Power Station, needless to say, like its much bigger brother the Battersea Power Station further to the East, has since been redeveloped and sold for billions. Probably to Qataris.
Watch the World’s End estate get sold off to the rich. If it hasn’t happened yet (I am too nervous to Google it) it will.
Gentrification was slow in coming to Burnaby Street. In fact Nicholas offered me the whole house for £15,000 in 1978. If only….the value of the house must exceed £4 million now.
I lived there until 1986 when my life changed hugely. To put it honestly, I got rich. My career careered from penniless hippie to Marketing Manager for a timber firm to CEO of my own Music Publishing company via diamonds, the Wall Street Journal, music business… and then (cutting several corners in the story) my cousin offered me half-ownership of his one bedroom flat in Cheyne Row for about £32,000, because he was moving to America. Cheyne Row! One of the most fashionable and posh parts of fashionable posh Chelsea. So up those stairs I went. Wrote my novels. Had my twenty minutes of fame.
I finally moved out in 2001. Cousin needed his half to buy property in the USA. So I sold up for about £340,000 and blessed the rich for having driven prices through the roof. With my fat profit (divided by half) I went off to Chiswick.
The same flat has just been sold for £1.2m. That’s a one bedroom flat on the fourth floor of a Victorian conversion. No lift. Tiny kitchen.
But my ties to Chelsea remained. I still trained in Karate at the Sasori Club at the Chelsea Town Hall Sports Centre. One of my best friends, Esther Anderson, continued (and continues) to live in her flat in Cheyne Row. My hospital remained the beloved Chelsea and Westminster. So I popped in and out of my former High Street, the King’s Road, like a magnetised iron ball, always drawn to the part of London I still loved and missed terribly.
So I watched as Chelsea became Evil.
Demons moved in, bought properties, moved out to watch the empty Georgian magnificence double, treble, quadruple in value. All down Sidney Street, see the houses with their blank windows and no soul, yearning for love. Kensington and Chelsea has the highest number empty homes in Britain; £664m in value. In the last ten years it has grown by nearly 25%. Tell that to the people made homeless by the greed of those who fitted flammable cladding to the outside of their homes. (http://www.cityam.com/263284/london-borough-most-empty-homes)
Brutalists took over vast classical edifices in South Kensington and elsewhere which were often Grade 2 listed. They expelled the inhabitants. They shuttered them up. Waited for them to deteriorate, degrade, become dangerous. Then they could get permission to tear them down from a delighted Council and build glass and concrete Ikea-filled monstrosities which they could sell for billions.
Devils (who, to be honest had always been there) saw the opportunity to increase rents twofold, threefold, fourfold to the shops and restaurants on the King’s Road, and all the other properties in their inflated portfolios. As a result, prices in the whole Borough climbed. Few shops lasted more than a year. Greatly beloved institutions like the fabulous Chelsea Kitchen collapsed and died.In fact it was the cheaper end of the restaurants that went first, leaving nothing but Trendy Dining in their wake. The last to go, the Stockpot at the less fashionable part of the King’s Road, has just shut after 30 years of providing affordable meals for normal people.
And even my dear old Karate Club has shut up shop and moved to another location, as of next Saturday, because the rent the greedy Chelsea Sports Club were charging has just trebled. When Sensei informed Management he was leaving after 30 years, they shrugged. Oh goodie, they thought. We don’t have to have these poorass Martial Artists around any more.
So property prices just keep on rising in the Royal Borough.
The sleeky rich have of course bought up Burnaby Street and the whole of World’s End, and turned the charming rundown workers’ houses into mini mansions. Nowhere is safe. All traces of sweetness and light, of originality or humanity have been ruthlessly burned out of the Borough by the march of the mania of Money.
And don’t think the Recession caused even a blip in their world-domination programme. Babe, the Recession caused Austerity for the poor and money for the rich. Those who caused it did not suffer it.
Small clusters of the poor hung on in the remote parts of the Borough. In Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove there remain Council houses, immigrants, poor people, gangs, crime. And a load of people just trying to get by in a harsh, loveless world. Where they were kept hidden behind their flammable cladding with something like embarrassment and unease by a Tory Council anxious to provide pleasant views and financial orgasms for the rich.
Around a hundred or so of these humans were burned to death or jumped to their deaths on a night of utmost horror in the Grenville Tower.
Incredibly, in the election a Labour MP was chosen for the first time ever, ever. By 20 votes. Just before the fire. Had the election happened after the fire, what would have been the result?