I HAVE BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH INDIA since my earliest days. This association was unconscious for the first 18 years of my life, that is before I met Indians, including my future wife, at university. During my childhood and until I was 30, I lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) in the shadow of the tall conical spire of St Judes Church. This brick edifice that can be seen from all around the HGS and many other places in northwest London was designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) the husband of Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton (1874–1964), who was a daughter of the 1st Earl of Lytton, a former Viceroy of India. It was Lutyens who was given the task of designing New Delhi, the new capital of British India, between 1912 and 1930.
The construction of St Judes began in 1909, a year after our family home at 36 Hampstead Way was built. The church was consecrated in 1911, but not completed until 1935, after Lutyens had finished working on New Delhi. The north side of the church lines one side of the grassy Central Square, which was also laid out by Lutyens. The north side of the square is lined by the south side of the Free Church, a domed edifice designed by Lutyens. Its construction began in 1911 but was not fully completed until 1960. As a child and for many years later, I had no idea that Lutyens had an important connection with India. In general, I do not like the buildings designed by Lutyens in either HGS or in New Delhi. The only one of his buildings that appeals to me is Castle Drogo in Devon.
A recent visit to the HGS brought back several memories that I will share with you. Our house at 36 Hampstead Way looks much as it did when I was a child. In those days, and still today if you look carefully, the name ‘Inverugie’ can be discerned above the front porch beneath layers of whitewash. When my parents bought the house back in the early 1950s, they did not like the name and had it covered with paint. Despite many repaintings, it can still be seen if you know where to look.
When I was a child, our neighbour on Hampstead Way was the elderly spinster Miss Reinecke. Our other immediate neighbours on Hill Close were the very elderly Mr and Mrs Palmer. They sold the house to a young family, Mr and Mrs ‘S’. I used to babysit their children when I was a teenager. It was an easy way to make some pocket money because their children were always asleep when I arrived, and they never woke up while I was on duty. On one occasion, I was baby-sitting long enough to listen to the five long-playing records (LPs) that contained an entire performance of Wagner’s “Mastersingers of Nuremberg”. We rang on the doorbell the other day. Although Mr S could not recognise me at first, once he knew who I am, he remembered all sorts of things. He told me that all of the other houses in Hill Close have changed hands, sometimes several times, since we sold the house in the early 1990s.
A house at the top end of Hill Close used to be occupied by one of my father’s colleagues at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’), Professor Percy Cohen (1928-1999). He was born in Durban, South Africa, and after obtaining a degree in social anthropology, he moved into the field of sociology. Occasionally, he used to stop his car and pick me up to give me a lift a part of the way to University College London, where I studied for many years.
A few steps lead up from the Cohen’s end of Hill close to a footpath that runs between hedges. When I lived in HGS, there was a tennis court on the south side of the path. All of the houses on Hill Close, including ours, had access to this court. In the second half of the 1960s, I used to play tennis there after school with three of my friends. We used to play in the fading light of the late afternoon. What with poor light and the well-worn markings on the hard court, there were often arguments about whether a ball had landed inside or outside the lines. Today, the court has disappeared and has been replaced by a well-manicured lawn, which is used by residents of a block of flats on South Square.
The footpath that begins at the end of Hill Close disgorges at South Square. A house on the corner of the footpath and South Square was once occupied by the Zacharias family. Mr Zacharias was a US diplomat. My sister and his daughter, Missie, became good friends. I enjoyed spending time with Missie’s brother, and my parents got on well with his. Occasionally, we would be invited to parties at their house. At one of these, we were introduced to Patrick Gordon Walker (1907-1980), who was an important British Labour politician. I remember being impressed at the time. I realised he was a famous person but had no idea why he was. Eventually, the Zacharias family returned to the USA. Just before they left, they came to our house to give us many half empty bottles of liqueurs and spirits. My parents stored them in a cupboard in my father’s study. They were not keen drinkers. The bottles remained untouched, gathering dust for many years. They were still there when my father sold the house. I hope someone managed to enjoy their contents rather than chucking them away.
Henrietta Barnett School and the HGS Institute line the eastern side of Central Square. Until our recent visit, I had never noticed a stone plaque inserted in the wall of the school building. It reads: “This stone was unveiled by Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret on 2nd July 1957 to commemorate the jubilee of The Hampstead Garden Suburb, 1907-1957”.
I was 5 years and two months old on the 2nd of July 1957. I remember that day well. I was spending the day at my mother’s sisters house near Wildwood Road in HGS. Sometime that morning, she took me and my young cousin to Wildwood Road and seated me on a piece of street furniture, a metal cupboard fixed to the pavement, which contained equipment needed for telephones. She handed me a Union Jack flag attached to a blue wooden stick. When the fancy car carrying Princess Margaret drove past, I waved the flag. You might wonder how I remember so much about that flag. The reason is that it was stored in my aunt’s downstairs bathroom for many years afterwards and I saw it each time I used the room.
Southway leads east from the south-east corner of Central Square. Harold Wilson (1916-1995), Prime Minister between 1964 and 1970 then again from 1974 to 1976, lived in a semi-detached house on Southway until 1964, when he moved to 10 Downing Street, closer to his workplace. Unlike his minister Gordon Walker, I never met him. The brickwork on the former Prime Minister’s home in Southway includes three bricks inscribed with letters. One reads “HCP”, another “AEP”, and the third “1909”, which might be the year the house was built.
Bigwood Road intersects South Way and leads south to Meadway, crosses it, and then becomes Meadway Close. One of my father’s close colleagues at the LSE, Lionel Robbins (1898-1984), lived in a substantial semi-detached house on this cul-de-sac that ends close to the Hampstead Heath Extension. Lord Robbins was an important twentieth century British economist. I cannot tell you about his contributions to economics because I only knew him as a friend of our family.
Lionel was over six feet tall and his wife, Iris, was truly short. He drove a tiny Mini and Iris drove a far larger vehicle. My mother knew that Robbins was fond of spaghetti. My parents were fond of Italians, and often invited my father’s Italian postgraduate students, amongst which was the former Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, to our home for dinner. Almost always, they invited Lionel Robbins as well. This was because my parents knew that most of my father’s Italian students were in awe of the great Lionel Robbins. At these dinner parties, my mother served spaghetti which Robbins enjoyed, and the young Italian guests sat around the great man enjoying his presence and the opportunity to chat with such a famous economist.
Almost opposite the home of the Robbins was the home of my school friend at Highgate School, Timothy Clarke. Tim is the younger brother of Charles Clarke, who became head boy at Highgate School before studying at Cambridge University. A member of the Labour Party, Charles served as Home Secretary between 2004 and 2006 in Tony Blair’s government. Once a Head Boy, always a Head Boy! I lost contact with Tim after we left Highgate. Whenever I pass his childhood home, I remember that there was a stylised metal sailing ship attached to its front door. When I passed it recently, I noticed that the door was no longer decorated with a ship.
We had parked our car near the intersection of Hampstead Way and Meadway, opposite a house on the north-east corner of the intersection. The building is a kind of terrace containing three or four houses. I never knew anyone who lived there, but I do remember that whenever there was to be a general election, somebody in that group of houses always put up an orange poster promoting the Liberal Party. Despite this and Harold Wilson living in the Suburb, the majority of voters in the Hendon South Constituency, in which HGS is located, always voted for the Conservatives. When I was young, our MP had a memorable name: Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (1903-1985). I wonder whether his name subconsciously inspired me to take up dentistry. He held Hendon South from 1945 until 1970, when he retired from politics.
We drove away from the Suburb, a place that I found dull in my youth, with many memories revived in my head. I hope that you have enjoyed the selection I have shared with you.