Westbourne Grove London, in the 1880's. At this time the Grove was the place to be, just look at the Brougham's and Hansom's outside Whitley's shop. Whitely was a man who knew how to bring in the customers. Very much influenced by the Great Exhibition of 1851 Whitley was determined to open a store providing goods from across the globe, and make a name, and money, for himself. He succeeded! His personality did however bring problems, seven times his stores were burnt down, and while he left behind a very smart building around the corner from this photograph he himself was shot dead in the building shown. A young man believed Whitley had used his mother and he was the result! In some degree of anger at the store owners attitude to his mother he took it upon himself to converse with the man he believed to be his father, took out a pistol and shot him dead. Sadly he was mistaken, sadly he was also sadly hanged. I suspect however more people felt sympathy for the gunman than for Whitley!
This was the place to be seen in London. Not far off lay Kensington gardens and Hyde Park. There folks would promenade just to be seen. Royalty and the people that mattered might pass by, or rub shoulders in these very shops, common types were not required. The houses nearby were very much the 'Upstairs Downstairs' type. many a butler or footman would be employed in the large dwellings, servants occasionally being allowed out to see the sky above, and the sumptuous flats would enjoy possession by London's elite. Shops remained open until late in the evening, indeed this was common throughout the land I believe, and assistants were housed, and strictly controlled in employers dwellings. Their conditions were poor, as were the wages, the hours long. A 'Punch' cartoon shows a shop owner grumbling at an assistant because a lady left without buying. 'We had nothing she wanted' says the lass. The owner informs the assistant she is there to 'Sell what I stock, not what she wants!' Typical of the service of the day, which we are told constantly was better than now. I see little change myself.
I spent many years in this area, not as a butler or during the heyday of wealth. Somewhat rundown and ill treated the area has however been popular with the trend setters of the day. While I lived in a small flat, paying a cheap rent and being told 'It's cheap,' whenever a roof was requested, today the flats have all been modernised to a very high standard. They have to be, the cost of a small one bedroom apartment ranges from half a million to almost a million! Rich trendy pop folks, media people, and country dwellers looking for a 'townhouse' fill the gap left by derelicts like myself. Not sure if I can afford to return.....