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Today, Kensington is known to be well-manicured, exclusive, and unaffordable for the average young, single Londoner. In the 1960s it was a much different place. The city was still recovering from World War II, and Kensington was actually affordable for young people, and quite popular among them. Its residents included some now-legendary figures, who were no more than rebels and renegades in their time.
Kensington became one of the city’s hippest and culturally productive neighbourhoods. The Victoria and Albert Museum is currently hosting an exhibition called ‘You Say you Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’, which explores how that era continues to affect us now. But why not get out and see for yourself? Donovan said it best: “Come loon soon down Cromwell Road, man.”
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From Hotel Indigo London Kensington, head south down Earl’s Court Road, and turn right onto Old Brompton Road.
Behind a thick, black, intricately-etched door lies a slice of ’60s folk culture. Since 1954, The Troubadour has played host to many major stars, most notably Bob Dylan, who appeared here as ‘Blind Boy Grunt’ in the winter of ’62. Today the Troubadour has expanded into the spaces on either side, but the unpretentious, old-fashioned basement performance space still has the feel of those old glory years.
Walk west up Old Brompton Road and turn left onto Gloucester Road.
Gloucester Road Underground Station
This area was once home to both John Lennon and The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. At the height of the original Beatlemania, Lennon lived at No 13 Emperor’s Gate, north of Cromwell Road. He and first wife Cynthia didn’t like it much, so they moved to the suburbs in July of ’64 after just nine months.
Jones lived at 1 Courtfield Road, right by the tube station, in from 1966-67 with girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. “One of the best things about visiting was watching them get ready to go out,” wrote Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. “What a scene! They were both dauntless shoppers and excessively vain. Hours and hours were spent putting on clothes and taking them off again.”
Both buildings have been demolished, but the area remains physically much the same.
Walk east along Cromwell Road to the Natural History Museum.
The Cromwellian Club
The Romanesque splendour of the Natural History Museum takes all the attention on this block, but turn around for a glimpse of No 3 Cromwell Road. Although it doesn’t seem like much these days, it was once one of London’s most important clubs, The Cromwellian. In 1966, in this very basement, Jimi Hendrix played a set just after landing in London. He never looked back.
Walk up Exhibition Road and turn left onto Kensington Road.
The Royal Albert Hall
London’s most famous concert hall has hosted a number of significant rock concerts. Among the most well-known performances is Cream’s notoriously sub-par farewell concert in November of ’68. Guitarist Eric Clapton was quite taken with the place and continued returning to perform solo through the ’80s and ’90s.
Continue along Kensington Road until you reach Palace Gate.
The Countdown Club
Now a casino, this used to be the site of The Countdown Club, where a group known as The Tea Set played a residency in the spring of ’65. You may recognise the group’s evolved iteration: Pink Floyd. “We had only played two or three nights when the club was served with a noise injunction,” wrote drummer Nick Mason later. “We were so desperate for the work that we offered to perform acoustically.”
Head down Kensington High Street and then turn into Kensington Church Street.
This boutique had a number of homes during the Sixties, but none were more famous than 19-21 Kensington Church Street. Biba was famous for setting trends at low prices. “I wanted to make clothes for people in the street,” said founder Barbara Hulanicki. “I always tried to get prices down.” Fans of the shop included pop star Cilla Black. This site is now home to a Reiss location.The brick and mortar legacy of ’60s Kensington may be gone, but remnants of its spirit still remain. Plug in your headphones and rock down the streets that many of the greats once walked.