Biba Story, 99 Kensington Highstreet

99 Kensington High St: Tom’s Local store to Biba Fashion PowerHouse

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Derry & Toms and the beginning of 99 Kensington High Street

Joseph Toms setup a small cloths and textile store in Kensington High Street in 1853. Ten years later, brother in law Charles Derry joined Joseph to set up Derry & Toms. Within 17 years of Joseph Tom’s first store, Derry & Toms occupied 7 of the surrounding stores, providing goods to the upper classes.

99 Kensington High St: Tom's Local store to Biba Fashion PowerHouse 1
(linked from https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/tag/f-h-warren/)

John Barkers & Co Department store next door to Derry & Toms

The Building next door to number 99, was a department store too and displays the name BARKERS in the stonework, that can still be seen to this day. At the start of the 1920s, John Barker & Co bought Derry and Toms, keeping the original name people knew it as.

Bernard George chief architect and Chicago Interior architect C A Wheeler

At the start of the 1930s plans for a new building on the site of 99 Kensington High street went to the chief architect at the inhouse design team at Barkers, Bernard George. He designed the new building in the grand Art deco style. The Managing director of Barkers, Trevor Bowen appointed American Architect C A Wheeler to design the interior layouts of the building and equipment, this appointment was much prompted by Trevor Bowens own like for the typical layout of American open space department stores. 99 Kensington became one of the first department stores in London to be planned along the lines of the American horizontal system, each floor appearing open and stretching to infinity.

Most famous roof garden in London you Cannot get too

Running the full length of the rood on the new building, a roof garden was to be built, and for this part of the project, Ralph Hancock, landscape designer was commissioned to do the work. Ralph was a Welsh landscape gardener who did work both in the UK and America over a 30 year period between 1920 and 1940. The roof garden on the Derry & Toms department store goes down as one of Ralph Hancock’s finest works, he also designed the garden atop the Rockefeller Centre in New York.

In fact it was a trip by Trevor Bowen to the New York Rockefeller centre where he saw Ralph Hancock’s work first hand and made the decision to commission Hancock to work on the new London department store building being built.

The roof garden was completed in 1938 at a cost of £25,000, in comparison, a suburban house in the suburbs of London could be brought for just shy of £900 pounds. The garden was built with two under coats, stones for drainage, 36 inch layer of top soil and over 500 plants, trees and shrubs.

Visitors paid a shilling to stroll through the roof garden. 99 Kensington High street, has a roof top area of 6000 m2 / 1.5 hectare. The money raised by the garden was donated to local hospitals, and over 30 years amounted to £120,000 in donations being raised.

part of 99 kensington High street roof garden edge
part of 99 Kensington High street roof garden edge

Biba Fashion and the 1970s

The Designer Barbara Hulanicki, vintage images about Biba can be found by clicking this link; Vintage Images of Biba House

Please click this link; Biba Interior  which has some wonderful photos of the interior of Big Biba

The Intro appears #OnThisDay 10th September https://wp.me/p9H7Q3-19D

Biba fashion was based on inspirations from Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Kitsch. Bell swooping sleeves one of their signature shapes.

The Designer Barbara Hulanicki and Simon Fitzsimon her husband spent a million or so on refurbishing the store. It was known as “Big Biba”. The shop not only stocked the Biba clothes and accessories, it also sold,  a mixture of other goods. For example,  furniture, household goods, decorating materials, sports goods, things for children, food and hosted a restaurant. It was not like the conventional stacked, looking clinical type of store. It was artistic in its design interior and themes. Big Biba closed on that site around 1975.

The grand art deco building opened in 1933.

99 Kensington Highstreet the former Derry and Toms department store
99 Kensington Highstreet the former Derry and Toms department store.
99 side entrance Kensington High street
99 side entrance view rooftop edge-on view, Kensington High street
Barkers Department store next door to 99 Kensington High St
Barkers Department store next door to 99 Kensington High St
Top area Barkers Department store next door to 99 Kensington High St
Top area Barkers Department store next door to 99 Kensington High St
Side of Barkers department store
The side of Barkers department store
Top with Union Jack flag, Barkers department store
Top with Union Jack flag, Barkers department store
Side View of Barkers opposite 99 Kensington High street
Side View of Barkers opposite 99 Kensington High street

99 Kensington High st Design Features

Bernard George was the Architect. Walter Gilbert designed metalwork embellishments, his handwork also seen to the Gates of Buckingham Palace. Panels with Bas-relief depicting animal’s nature entitled “Labour & Technology” by CJ Mabey.

Decorative Stone embellishments

99 Kensington Highstreet stone embellishment
99 Kensington High street stone embellishment
99 Kensington Highstreet stone embellishment
99 Kensington High street stone embellishment
99 Kensington High street building stone embelishment
99 Kensington High street building stone embellishment

Other design features of the building

Windows 99 Kensington High street
Windows 99 Kensington High street
Decorative underside to window bays 99 Kensington High St
Decorative underside to window bays 99 Kensington High St

Towards the end of the 1930s

They charged the Public a shilling to enter the gardens when they opened in 1938; it had a tea pavilion, themed areas. Gardens were themed as, Spanish, English Tudor. Archways, trees, ducks, Flamingos, lavender, vines, pond, palms.  The money went back into Charity for medical causes.

99 Kensington and the 1970’s

The Kensington & Chelsea Council placed a preservation order on the trees of the garden and the roof gardens, in around 1976.

The 1980’s

The buildings became grade II English Heritage listed in 1981. Around this time, the roof garden area developed into a nightclub. Towards the end of the 90s, further registrations were awarded.

The Millennium years

In 2001 the company Virgin transformed it into the Babylon Restaurant.  Virgin ended the business in January 2018. It is closed now to the public. Speculation that the lease would not be renewed despite Virgin Maestro Branson wanting to renew. Other sources say the business was at a financial loss and not renewed. They invited the Family of the Landscape gardener to view the area before it closed. Short notice seems to have surrounded its closure, leaving many people not able to say farewell or take memento photos.

99 Kensington Today

Today the building has many companies and stores that use parts of the buildings. The Numbers carry over M&S for example being 113 Kensington High street.

Part of the building at 101-111 Kensington High street Is hosted by Japan House London. https://www.japanhouselondon.uk/

The Kensington Society

See their interesting link about the roof garden

Here is an Arial view of the Kensington rooftop gardens at No. 99, 

taken by specialists who use small flying gadgets.

Where to find 99 Kensington High Street

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