When the planning restrictions were ended, Westminster City Council needed some sheltered housing for the elderly, but the Conservative Government would not let the council build them. Everything had to be built privately. The Council then made a deal with a developer. In return for permission to build 23 flats for sale, the developer built 20 sheltered houses. Both types are small scale.
The Ranston Street Kick-A-Bout Area
Bombing map of Ranston Road area OS Map
The railway marshalling yards of Marlyebone and Paddington Stations were prime target for the bombing. The area between them, including Ashmell Street and Penfold Street escaped damage during the raids but by the end of the war the houses had become very delapedated and old.
The need for flats and for open spaces.
All four sides of this area were lined with small houses similar to the present Ranston Street ones, but by the end of the Second World War they had been heavily bombed. The houses were old, damaged, and had to be replaced. Many new blocks of flats had built in the area, because they can pack more households into a given space. This area woud have provided room for yet another large block. At the same time local people protested that there were no small open spaces where people could sit quietly in the sun. All was flats, bomb dumps and planned blocks.. There was a demand for some quiet corners of peace where people could rest, children play and teenagers kick a ball about. These requirements were different and each could be small in area. People began to look about and use their imaginations.
The houses at the corner of Ranston Street and Ashmill Street had been bombed and demolished. They had been built with basements, like almost all houses built in gravel soils. Each house had a deep basement with a bridging doorstep to the front door and also stairs down to the basement area and the basement door.
The builders not only built the houses. They also had to build the road and pavements outside. Each house had a long, shallow arch in the basement wall and below it, a coal cellar. Along the street was a row of coal cellars. Each one led to an individual coal cellar so that the coal man could remove the coal cover in the street outside and pour in his sacks of coal into the individual coal cellar. All the householder had to do was to count the sacks to see that he was not being cheated. The coalman and his dirty sacks never came into the house.
Line of coalhole covers
Picture of Keith's Area showing the vertical wall, the steps down, the coalhole door and any other openings under the road.
When the bombed houses and basements had been cleared, someone realised that two vertical basement walls had been exposed. This was a kick-about area with two sunken walls already built. With the gravel and brick rubble reshaped into a slope, it would become a natural arena. Turf laid on this self-draining rubble would be dry and comfortable to sit on, easily mown and cheap to maintain. The whole idea was a good leap of the imagination.
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The vertical walls were irregular and delapidated, showing the remains of the old coal cellars and the long, shallow retaining arches. Merely whitewashed, they would have been repulsive. Some feature was required to turn these meaningless walls into an architectural feature with its own dignity. Therefore a set of wide double doors were created to fit the arches, as if they led to monumental underground wine cellars; perhaps a lost industrial history of railways or waterworks; a magic world, Altenatively, as I once suggested in a different context nearby, there might be a darker past. This area is on the edge of the old Roman Watling Street , which we call Edgware Road . Perhaps these doors hide the gates to Hades, the Roman Hell, a dark rocky path lit by flaming torches, leading down to the River Styx and Charon with his boat, on the road to Hades. Anything might be possible behind such impressive doors.