Earl’s Court, London: 1973-2013

Earl's Court, London
The Beaver Hotel, Earl's Court

I've visited and lived in the Earl's Court London neighborhood a lot over the past 40 years, and I keep going back. Maybe this once-Australian neighborhood has a boomerang effect.

My first time in London was in late 1973 as part of ACM’s (Associated Colleges of the Midwest) “London-Florence” study program. Our rooms were on Harcourt Terrace south of Old Brompton Road, about 15 minute’s walk from the Earl’s Court underground station.

In the summer of 1975, I returned to meet up with my then boyfriend, Tom, who was studying in a University of Minnesota theater program. I got a job where he was staying, doing housekeeping and serving breakfasts, saving up and killing time until we were ready to head across Europe. The scene was The Beaver Hotel on Philbeach Gardens. That’s across Warwick Road, on the Exhibition Hall side of the tube stop.

We returned shortly after we were married in 1977, and ended up finding a flat for three months just across the street from The Beaver Hotel. The neighborhood then seemed tired and lacking in identity. Xenophobia and racism were in the air, or perhaps that was just the expression of our landlady. Subsequent trips have taken us back to Earl's Court neighborhood for short stays.

Earls Court, London
Philbeach Gardens, London SW5

This month, though, we returned to the very same Beaver Hotel at 57 Philbeach Gardens. The hotel is much the same, still filled with young travelers and students from Asia, India, and North America. The street looks bright with fresh white paint. The cars parked out front are more upscale. Earl’s Court Road is busy, lined with grocery stores, restaurants, a couple pubs, and several small, practical shops. Laundries and ethnic restaurants speak to the transient nature of the neighborhood, and housing up and down the street includes a women-only boarding house and apartments largely taken up by Somali immigrants.

Jan Lis, the owner of the Beaver (and my former employer, it turns out), talked about the history of the hotel and changes in the area. Lis came to London in 1947, at the age of seven, from his native Poland. (“The name’s John Fox in English.”) Having lived in the hotel, Earl’s Court, and nearby Holland Park neighborhoods all these years, Lis seemed surprised to be asked about changes in the area.

Earl's Court, London
St. Cuthbert; photo by www.saintcuthert.org

“Warwick Road is one-way traffic now,” was the first thing he could think of. In fact, Earl’s Court has always been a first stop for new immigrants. Warwick and Cromwell streets were the ‘Polish Corridor.' Lis bought the hotel from one of the many “Overseas Visitors Clubs” which supported newcomers to London.  Up until 1973, South African clubs were the center of the OVC scene. The Beaver Hotel was a Canadian center, the Kangaroo was for Australians, and the Kiwi for New Zealanders. Later in the '70s, the area was home to many Indian, Thai and Pakistani residents. These days, Lis sees more Middle Easterners. The Russians, he said, instead take to London's center, and buy the higher-end properties.

The late 19th Century architecture of the townhouses along Philbeach Gardens (originally offered for sale in 1890) remains largely intact. Across the street is a section of rather ugly 1950s and 1960s flats, filling in the holes left by World War II bombs. Next to the Beaver Hotel is the stone church, St. Cuthbert, a Church of England parish offering high mass in a highly decorated interior. The church’s original copper roof has been replaced with dull slate. It was the only building on the street kept in place when the development was laid out.

Lis doesn’t hesitate when asked what it is that keeps Earl’s Court healthy. “It’s convenient to everything. We’re a ten minute walk to the underground, and then under a half hour to Piccadilly.” He suggested we walk up to Holland Park, and recommended a gastro pub on the way. We took the enjoyable stroll north through Japanese gardens in Holland Park, and recalled spending Christmas Day, some 35 years ago, walking through Brompton Cemetery to the south. We also took the Underground from Earl's Court to Leicester Square TKTS (yes, under 30 minutes) to buy our half price theater tickets, just as we've done on every previous visit.

Earl's Court, London
Holland Park near Earl's Court

Throughout London, especially on the South Bank, signs of 2012 Olympic and Jubilee face-lifts are obvious. Pedestrian signs are better than ever; more central streets are closed to cars. There is talk of Earl’s Court Exhibition Hall being changed over to an arena-style venue. (Pink Floyd had a long run there when I first visited.) And, Lis pointed out, the “classic pub culture has been killed” by the smoking ban, which means more pubs now offer outdoor seating–or standing–room.

Prices, of course, are nothing like they were before. While we paid 30 pounds for a week’s rent in 1975, we paid about three times that for a night at the Beaver. A pint, which was 21 pence in the ‘70s is now over 4 pounds.

Earl's Court, London
Coq au Vin at A Little French Restaurant, Earl's Court

Although you may or may not agree with Lis that “London is better for food these days than Paris,” Earl's Court continues to benefit from the influx of people with their variety of foods and customs. Even the local pub that once sold only buffet-style bangers and mash now offers a nice breakfast menu, including scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. Gone were our favored Hot Pot restaurants and the walk-up Fish and Chips. The best meal of our stay turned out to be at The Little French Restaurant right off Earl’s Court Road. We shouldn’t have been surprised.

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26 thoughts on “Earl’s Court, London: 1973-2013”

  1. Next time in London, I’ll have to spend a little time in the Earl’s Court Neighborhood. Sounds interesting. Wonderful that you got to spend time back the Beaver Hotel. Those memories are priceless, aren’t they?

    Reply
    • Cathy, yes, the memories are even better because we’re able to visit and update our impressions. Living memories, indeed. It was so fun to look into the history of the neighborhood and hear first hand accounts from residents through the decades. And it is gratifying to see that it is still an ethnic hodgepodge.

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  2. My first visit to London was as a 15 year old when my father taught for a year in Wiltshire as an exchange teacher. We spent the Christmas break in London, staying at Madame Zurita’s guest house, out in Clapham Common. I returned for the first time(!) in 2008 with our younger son who had just completed a semester in Barcelona. We stayed in Kensington. The weather was very warm and we had to keep the window of our ground floor room open to get some air. All day and most of the night, people walked by. Over three fourths of them were speaking languages other than English–a big change from 1969. Yes, the food had improved, but I can’t say the bar was very high in that regard. In 1969, my younger sister was diagnosed with malnutrition after a week of eating out in London.

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    • That, unfortunately, was not my problem, Suzanne. I put on about 6 pounds while we were in England and Ireland. I’m blaming the beer and potatoes. Mostly the beer, which I have a tendency to indulge in. And the cider. And fish and chips. I should just avoid the place altogether. I have no will.

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    • Suzanne, I can imagine that being a teen in the middle of England would have been trying enough without the swimsuit and race! Congrats on the victory. I love there’s still pride in it, as there should be. We were lucky to visit Wiltshire on this trip, too. OMG, there are still awkward teens there! Most have striped hair. You are right about Kensington, too. I guess pretty much all of central London is international, but I’ll always appreciate internationalism in its raw form at Earl’s Court.

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  3. Our first taste of London was at Earl’s Court because of a delayed flight. .. had a tiny room that was so small the bathroom door couldn’t open beyond the bed spread, but what a wonderful taste of London we had. . .been back several times since, thanks to Earl’s Court!

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  4. Last time I was in London, I attended the Book Fair which is held at the Exhibition Hall in Earls Court. I’d planned to check out the neighborhood — it has such an impressive name — but after being on my feet all day, I had no energy to do much else but walk to the station, which is almost directly across the street. After reading your post, i’ll definitely have to check out Earl’s Court next time I’m in London. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Marcia. Your post “Time for Church” will inspire me to visit the church on Philbeach Gardens next time I’m in the Earl’s Court area. I’ve walked by it hundreds of times and never stepped inside. Next time!

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    • Debbie, I’m listening to your version of Guantanamera as I write. Haha, very slow, dreamy version! I love the photo of you and your mother with all the sand, too. I hope you get to Earl’s Court again someday, but mostly I hope I get to the Canaries. Thanks for the note.

      Reply
      • You’re welcome and thanks for reading my post too. Comments are always appreciated there as well. :-) Sorry about the poor sound quality of the video, but, I couldn’t find it online and it just HAD to be part of the story! ♥ The closest we’ll get to England this year is Germany, where I was born. We’re going in Sept.
        Cheers!

        Reply
  5. I came to this from the Trip Down Memory Lane post by Boomeresque. I enjoyed your post but it’s ironic that they picture of the Coq au Vin got my mouth watering and craving it! Thank you for sharing :)

    Reply
    • Thanks for finding Travel Past 50. I was a little disappointed in my photo of the Coq au Vin, but I guess it did it’s job! You might like reading about a tasting menu I had in Ontario earlier this summer–and I’m looking forward to checking out Past My Curfew! Great name.

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  6. researching something and came across this page.i was a young london copper or bobbie as tourist used to say.it was a very exiciting and interesting time to be a police officer. i worked the led zeplin pink floyd and rolling stones concert to name a few at the earls court arena. with rich kensington high street one side of the division and earls court the other you dealt with every type imaginable.you had the young aussi , south african and others in earls court plus large gay community and arabs coming over for medical treatment,in kensington you had royality, the rich ,actors and movie stars etc you allso met middleage americans returning with their wife for the first time since the end of world war 2.these americans loved the english police and they left a great impression on me.but we were also under attack from the IRA and due to a time of change many demonstrations became violent besides having to deal with violent soccor crowds converging on earls court at the weekend.but looking back best time of my life.

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  7. I lived in Earls Court from 1974 through to the eighties. When last there in 2010 I found it far more English, it appeared a lot of bedsit land and returned to being apartments. I recall actually being quite surprised at how many mothers with strollers around the area.

    I fondly recall many a night in one of the Hot Pot restaurants, (OP mentions)there were three in the area. The most popular probably being on the Earls Court Road, before Brompton Street. A omelette and chips could be has for 22 pence.

    A very popular place to stay in 74/75 until it closed down was 5 Warwick Road. Greenwood was the owner, an Eton educated gent that trawled the street on his scooter to entice what we now call back packers back to his place.
    He have two beds per room and a number of foam mattresses hidden under the beds, that were pulled out each night for up to about half a dozen more to sleep on the floor.
    Sounds a bit gross, but loads of fun, especially the diverse range of travellers that stopped by, like us, for a few nights and ended up stating several months.

    Earls Court was so much fun in those days. Probably the most cosmopolitan place lived in ever, besides being the gay centre of London as well. A real eye opener for someone from a small town the other side of the world.

    I took my partner there to stay in 2001, but the magic was mostly gone. Even more so in 2010. So many changes. More sterility. One of my favourite coffee shops of all time, The Troubadour in Brompton Road, had largely changed its format, besides becoming much bigger. Less cosmopolitan as well. I found Holland Park, rather quiet. In fact couldn’t get around just how few people were there on a lovely day compared to even the nineties.

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  8. I was in Earls Court in the 70’s, I worked at The Salisbury Court Hotel, later Park Royal Hotel, the area was full of young people from all over the world, places like Duke of Richmond, The Trobadour, Cafe des Artists , The Hungry years, and the Indian takeaway were very popular. Top bands used to perfom at Ears Count Exibition, I was 18-25 years old then, people were very open, it was a fabulous time.

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  9. Just stumbled again on this thread after so many passing years. Fully agree with the post under mine, just how easy it was to connect in those days and how ‘free’ it all appeared.
    There seems to be far more wariness around these days or is it that life is lived more online?

    Anyway I always found it a great location. That and Bayswater, W2. I guess more of the action has moved eastwards in more modern times.

    Be great to hit base with any others around at that time.

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  10. I love reading memories of the Earl’s Court area. My friend and I stayed many times at Hunter’s Lodge on Trebovir Rd…in fact after a 2 month NAT camping tour in Europe and Russia in 1978, we returned to Hunter’s Lodge where we lived and worked serving up breakfast and cleaning rooms. We were paid 27 pounds/week of which 23 pounds was deducted for room and board. Needless to say we filled up on free breakfast at the Lodge, skipped lunch and discovered the Hot Pot where we could have a huge filling supper for 1 pound each night. Great memories..wish we could turn back the clock to simpler times!

    Reply

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