Finding Boy George and Bliss in north London

DURING THE COVID19 PANDEMIC, when travelling far afield has been discouraged for public health reasons, I have been exploring one of my old haunts, Hampstead, and have been becoming increasingly more interested in its attractions and historical associations. I invite you to join me on one of my rambles through a part of this intriguing area of north London.

Detail of house where Sir Arthur Bliss lived

East Heath Road runs eastwards, then southwards, relentlessly downhill from Hampstead’s Whitestone Pond towards South End Green, close to the Royal Free Hospital. The road marks the eastern edge of the spread of Hampstead into Hampstead Heath. Except for three well separated blocks of flats, there are no buildings on the eastern side of the Road. A winding lane leads off the road to the small settlement of the Vale of Health, an enclave which is surrounded by the Heath.

The block of flats facing Whitestone Pond at the top end of East Heath Road (‘EHR’) is called Bell Moor. Built in 1929, this edifice stands on the site of the home where the historian Thomas J Barratt (1841-1914) lived from 1877 to 1914. He was Chairman of the Pears soap manufacturing company and a pioneer in brand marketing as well as a historian of Hampstead. His “Annals of Hampstead”, published in 1912, is a detailed, monumental, beautifully illustrated, three volume account of Hampstead’s history. In addition to a plaque commemorating Barratt on Bell Moor there are two others. One of them records that the great conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) lived there from 1937-1941 and the other is placed to record that the surface of the soil at Bell Moor is 435 feet above sea level or 16.5 feet higher than the top of the cross on the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Moving downhill, all the older houses are on the west side of East Heath Road. The writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) and her husband, the critic John Middleton Murry (1889-1957), lived at the end of a short Victorian terrace, at number 17 EHR (formerly ‘Portland Villas’). Next door to this, there is a picturesque ivy-clad building, Heath Cottages, with one wall covered in wood cladding and a small balcony above one of its centrally placed pair of front doors. Barratt included a drawing of this building in his book but makes no comment about it.

A large house, The Logs, with an extravagant brick tower, eye-catching but not attractive, is reached further down EHR. This was built in 1868, designed by JS Nightingale for the drainage and water supply engineer and Justice of the Peace for Middlesex Edward Gotto (1822-1897; http://www.icevirtuallibrary.com/doi/pdf/10.1680/imotp.1897.19422). It has also been home to the comedian Marty Feldman and later the popular musician Boy George. The Logs neighbour is Foley House, which I have described elsewhere (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/01/15/a-house-a-spa-and-grays-anatomy/).

Proceeding down EHR, we pass several large brick-built terraced houses until we arrive at the corner of a lane called Heathside. A large house on the corner of this and EHR bears a plaque that notes that the composer Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) lived here in East Heath Lodge from 1929 to 1939. It was in this house that the painter Mark Gertler (1891-1939) painted the composer’s portrait in 1932 (https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw07115/Sir-Arthur-Bliss). During his residence on EHR, his musical compositions began to be come less avant-garde and he became a musical successor to the composer Edward Elgar. I wonder whether living in a house with views over Hampstead Heath might have influenced his change in composing style.

East Heath Lodge appears to have been divided into two residences. Bliss occupied the half of the building next to the Heath. It was built in about 1785 by the local builder Henry White and modified in about 1820 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1342097). A large bell hangs under a metal canopy outside the western half of the building, which bears the name ‘South Lodge’. West of East Heath Lodge along Heathside, there are some large cottages built in about 1814. South of Bliss’s former home, EHR is flanked to the east by a large public car park and to the west by a triangular green space whose apex is at the point where Willow Road meets the southern extension of EHR, South End Road. Just before it does that, EHR meets the eastern end of Downshire Hill soon before it crosses Willow Road.  

Number 2 Willow Road, a modern looking two-storey building can be seen across the grass from EHR. Modern it looks although it was designed and built by the architect of Trellick Tower Ernö Goldfinger (1902-1987) in 1939. In 1942, Goldfinger, who had Marxist sympathies, hosted an exhibition of leading artists in his new home in order to raise funds for “Aid to Russia” (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/who-was-ern-goldfinger).  Now owned and maintained by the National Trust, it is well worth visiting this superbly designed living space. Incidentally, Goldfinger’s house was constructed on the site of some 18th century cottages that were demolished to make place for it.

South of Willow Road, EHR becomes South End Road. The houses lining this road’s western side, but set well back from it, are in complete contrast to Goldfinger’s residence just north of them. Each of the houses is separated from the pavement by long strips of beautifully cared for gardens. Most of the dwellings have names: Hartley House (no. 103), where the architect Oswald Milne (1881-1968) once lived; Heath Cottage (no. 101); Guernsey Cottage (no. 93), home of the 19th century translator of “Heinrich Heine’s Book of Songs”, JE Wallis; Bronte Cottage (no. 89), home of the artist Mary Hill (1870-1949); St Johns Cottage (no. 87); Rose Cottage; Leighton House (no. 73), and Russell House (no. 71), an early 19th century house with a late 19th century enclosed veranda by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857-1941), one of his earliest projects. Beyond these, there is Keats Grove, across which a line of shops commences. The architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, who lived in Hampstead, described this row of buildings as:
“… a pleasant irregular sequence of early c19 houses.”

And that is a good description of them.

South End Road, the continuation of EHR, becomes Fleet Road and heads south east towards Chalk Farm. We end our ramble at Pond Square, where once there was a cinema, its site now occupied by Marks and Spencer’s superb food store. Just north of it is Hampstead Heath Overground Station, which is close to a pub with fake half-timbering called the Garden Gate. In 1855, a pub on this site was called ‘The Perseverance’. It was renamed ‘The Railway Tavern’ by 1871 and got its present name more recently. Closed at present because of the covid19 pandemic, the best place to refresh yourself, after walking down from Whitestone Pond and enjoying the varied architecture along the way, is the Matchbox Café next to the small, cobbled bus yard in Pond Square. Its friendly owner Mirko prepares good hot drinks and sells a variety of tempting snacks. And before you leave the area, pick up some great fruit and vegetables from the  well[stocked stall next to the station ticket office.

2 thoughts on “Finding Boy George and Bliss in north London

  1. All, or rather most (95%) of my outings over the last 13 months have been by taxi to the Royal Free Hospital, the rest to my GP, Barnet General, Finchley Memorial and Edgeware Hospitals. The trip to the Royal Free always ends up along EHR, the trip back is usually via EHR but is dependant on the whim of the taxi driver. I enjoyed your bog, but have a feeling you mixed up your East and West sides of EHR. All the best to the three of you. I may be wrong.

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