Biba Roof Garden

Much has been written about Barbara Hulanicki and the Biba era. Type either into any online search engine and you'll get 270,000 and 5.2 million results respectively.

There are countless books, newspaper and magazine articles and websites, dedicated to the rise and fall of Big Biba. 

For followers of Ralph Hancock, the interest is largely in the continued maintenance of his creation during that period. 

Biba Move In

In the Sumer of 1973, Biba, the fashion boutique, started to transform the recently vacated Derry and Toms into the most incredible department store in London. Which, at its height, attracted over one million shoppers weekly. There were different departments, and each floor had its own theme. A children's floor, one for men, a "home" floor selling home furnishings, paint and household goods. There was a book store and even a food hall. The once elegant Rainbow Room was transformed into The Rainbow Restaurant, a major hangout for Rock and Pop stars of the time. It even featured in many pop videos by the likes of David Bowie.

Biba produced its own newspaper giving its readers a glimpse of what lay in-store as eager shoppers poured through its grand entrances. The newspaper also came with a pullout poster.

Each floor had its own logo or sign based on the Biba logo. Each sign was accompanied by a picture illustrating the department type. These were designed by Kasia Charko. The store officially opened in September 1973. But, despite huge success, its doors finally closed to the public in August 1975 with a massive sale.

During its tenure, the gardens continued to flourish under Biba. The once popular tea pavilion was transformed into the design studios of Whitmore Thomas Design. Here the look and feel of Biba was created.

In her excellent blog, Kasia Charko reminisces about the move from Westboure Park in the Spring of 1973 to the Art Deco Tea Rooms. Below are a few selected extracts from that blog, used with her kind permission.

"Our move to the roof garden from Westbourne Park in the spring of 1973 went quite smoothly and we were installed in the big Art Deco style empty tearoom at the southern end of the one and a half acre gardens. The tearoom had ground to ceiling windows facing south, and mirrored walls opposite. Two large doors each end led to the staircases which were at each side of the building. We set our desks up at the windows to catch any sunshine because it was freezing up there with no heat at all. It was incredible up there though, the flowers and trees were beginning to bloom. We took any opportunity to walk around and look at the views of London over the brick walls and Mick and Chris took some photos.

One afternoon however I heard a cockney voice outside the window talking with glee about the ducks, I looked up and there was Twiggy. I believe she was there to do the famous Vogue fashion shoots in the Rainbow Room which was almost finished. The gardens only had ducks at that time , and there were tons of them. It was mating season and their behaviour was terrible, the drakes flew around chasing the females up and down the stream squawking and quacking. They attacked them constantly and it went on all day. Later , the females walked the little ducklings around and it was so cute to see them all in a line,  the problem was they insisted on coming into the tearoom. They would march in through one door walk across the room and out through the other door, we could not chase them out because they might panic and fly everywhere. 

Another wildlife drama happened one beautiful weekend afternoon. Chris and I stepped outside for a ciggie and admire the clear blue sky when we saw a big black cloud in the distance, it was coming towards us and then we heard the buzzing ” it’s ****ing bees!” Chris shouted and we dashed inside to wind up the top windows as they all descended on us hitting the windows like machine gun fire. They must have been attracted by the flowers?"

Below are a selection of photographs taken by Mick Partlett, another of the Biba graphic designers.

Kasia Charko and Mick Partlett on the bridge in the Woodland Garden.                          Kasia at her desk in the Art Deco Tea Pavilion.

Below; The Spanish Garden; The Woodland Gardens and The Tea Pavilion.

The Art Deco Tea Pavilion transformed into the Biba Graphic Design Studio; Taking a cigarette break on the steps; Hard at work.

And finally. A photograph of Uriah, also known as George Spence. He joined Big Biba when the graphic design team moved from Westbourne Park. Uriah cleaned the offices at Derry and Toms as well the Tea Pavilion/Studio space in the roof garden. The legend was that Uriah had walked into the old Biba store in the early days, picked up a broom and started sweeping the place up. 

He was offered a job as a cleaner and carer for Barbara’s dogs, she had two great Danes at that time,  and he had been with Biba ever since.  Here he is with his broom sweeping up. The Design Team generated a lot of waste paper with cut up photo prints, how neat everything would have been with computers.