Elgin Avenue before the flats

Victor Gollancz lived on Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale

Victor Gollancz, the publisher, was born and brought up at 258 Elgin Avenue, one of the terraced houses directly opposite Ashworth Mansions. Writing in his memior “Journey Towards Music”, he described life before the mansions blocks were built.

 “We were living in Elgin Avenue, off Maida Vale, and, unbelievably, part of it was still semi-rural. From a point a few houses further down than ours up to a point not far short of the Paddington and Maida Vale High School [now City of Westminster College], which I went to till I was about ten, there was a gap in what would nowadays be called the built-up area, given over to ups-and-downs, fields with clover in them and market-gardens.

 “I loved the smell of the clover but disliked picking it….. The market-gardens pleased me more, particularly in the autumn, when enormous multi-coloured dahlias sparkled like the morning dew…. As for the ups-and-downs, these were small hillocks and valleys on either side of the road where pavements ought to have been: I spent a lot of time running up and down them…. Little piles of flints lay alongside them for building purposes and I would go searching for fossil sponges, which happened to be particularly abundant in that part of the Thames Valley the flints came from.

“I was standing [on the stone balcony of the Elgin Avenue house] one August, a boy of six or seven, and suddenly found myself caught up I knew not wither as hussars came riding down from a neighbouring barracks, and the paving stones echoed to their horses’ hooves, and the street was afire with the afternoon sun, and everything was silent.”

Gollancz loved Wagner and (stretching things a little) declares that Rheingold brought to his heart “the sense of newly mown grass at the Paddington Recreation Ground, and of clover in my fields by the ups-and-downs, and of glistening dew on those great purple dahlias in the market gardens beyond Elgin Avenue.”

Victor’s father worked at Aldwych and took the train to the City from Edgware Road station [Maida Vale station was not opened until 1915]. Sometimes, as a treat, Victor would spend the day at his father’s office.

“In the evening we would take the Underground back from Aldgate to Edgware Road, and then catch the ‘bus home: and it might happen in winter that a suggestion of fog hung about us on our way to Aldgate Station. The question was, would it get thicker and thicker? I used to worry about this all the way back, but might find, on coming up into the open at Chapel Street, that ‘you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face’.

“Then the real fun would begin. My father – we would be walking, with the ‘buses long since at a standstill – might decide…. to bargain with a link-man..and… engage him to guide us home. The link-men were veryy attractive: they carried enormous flares, smelling of acetylene, which streamed in the wind of their movement like the strands of a woman’s hair. Streaming flares, muffled footsteps, mouths tightly shut,: a murky smell, lights suddenly looming, accidental bumpings,  scraps of conversation from people unseen… each new enchantment was more ravishing than the last. And the final one was still to come; for suddenly, as we felt a wall with our hands, or peered at a name-plate by the light of a flare, we might realise, my father to his consternation, and I to my delight, that we had missed our turning and were lost….. “

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