Two freedom fighters in London’s Hampstead

PLATTS LANE WINDS its way between London’s Finchley Road and West Heath Road in Hampstead. It follows the route of a track between Hampstead Heath and West End (now West Hampstead). This track was already in existence by the mid-18th century. According to a historian of Hampstead, Christopher Wade, the thoroughfare was first called Duval’s Lane to commemorate a 17th century French highwayman. Louis (alias Lodewick alias Claude) Duval (alias Brown) who was, according to another historian, Thomas Barratt, famed for being gallant towards his victims, many of whom he robbed on Hampstead Heath. Barratt related:

“It used to be told that, after stopping a coach and robbing the passengers at the point of the pistol on the top of the Hill, he would, having bound the gentlemen of the party, invite the ladies to a minuet on the greensward in the moonlight.”

Duval was hung at Tyburn soon after 1669.

Over time this track’s name became corrupted to Devil’s Lane. A pious local resident, Thomas Pell Platt (1798-1852), probably put an end to that name after he had built his home, Childs Hill House, nearby in about 1840.

Platt graduated at Trinity College in Cambridge in 1820 and became a Major Fellow of his college in 1823. While at Cambridge, he became associated with the British and Foreign Bible Society and was its librarian for a few years. He was also an early member of The Royal Asiatic Society (founded 1823) as well as a member of The Society of Antiquaries of London. In 1823, he prepared a catalogue of the Ethiopian manuscripts in a library in Paris. In addition, he did much work with biblical manuscripts written in the Amharic and Syriac languages. Apart from being a scholar, he was an intensely religious man. He died not in Hampstead but in Dulwich.

Platt lived near the lane named after him for quite a few years. The same cannot be said for a later resident of Platts Lane, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), who was born in Moravia (now a part of the Czech Republic). Masaryk added the name Garrigue to his own when he married the American born Charlotte Garrigue (1850-1923) in 1878. A politician serving in the Young Czech Party between 1891 and 1893, he founded the Czech Realist Party in 1900. At the outbreak of WW1, he decided that it would best if the Czechs and Slovaks campaigned for independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire. He went into exile in December 1914, staying in various places before settling in London, where he became one of the first staff members of London University’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, then later a professor of Slavic Research at Kings College London.

In London, Masaryk first lived in a boarding house at number 4 Holford Road in Hampstead (http://tg-masaryk.cz/mapa/index.jsp?id=285&misto=Pobyt-T.-G.-Masaryka-1915-1916). In June 1916, he moved from there to number 21 Platts Lane, which was near to the former Westfield College where his daughter Olga was studying. The house, the whole of which he rented, became a meeting place for the Czechoslovak resistance movement in England. Masaryk stayed in Platts Lane until he departed for Russia in May 1917. It is possible that he returned there briefly when he made a visit to London in late 1918. On the 14th of September 1950, the Czechoslovak community affixed a metal plaque to the three-storey brick house on Platts Lane, which was built in the late 1880s. It reads:

“Here lived and worked during 1914-1918 war TG Masaryk president liberator of Czechoslovakia. Erected by Czechoslovak colony 14.9.1950”

Actually, Masaryk only used the house between 1916 and 1917. The year that the plaque was placed was a century after Masaryk’s birth year. The day chosen, the 14th of September, was that on which he died in 1937.

Not too far away from Masaryk’s Hampstead home, there is a place on West End Lane that used to be called The Czechoslovak Club before it became the Czechoslovak Restaurant and currently Bohemia House. Here you can see a portrait of Masaryk and enjoy yourself sampling Czech beers and food. The establishment is within the Czechoslovak National House, which was founded as a club in 1946.

The houses where Czechoslovakia’s freedom fighter lived in London still stand in Hampstead. However, that is no longer the case for another freedom fighter and founder of a new nation, who lived near Platts lane on West Heath Road, the wealthy barrister and founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948). In the 1930s, Jinnah practised law in London. One of his biographers, Hector Bolitho (1897-1975) wrote (in 1954):

“One day in June 1931, when Jinnah was walking in Hampstead, he paused before West Heath House, in West Heath Road. It was a three-storied villa, built in the confused style of the 1880s, with many rooms and gables, and a tall tower which gave a splendid view over the surrounding country. There was a lodge, a drive, and eight acres of garden and pasture, leading down to Childs Hill.

All are gone now, and twelve smaller, modern houses occupy the once-pretty Victorian pleasance. Nearby lives Lady Graham Wood, from whom Jinnah bought the house; and she remembers him, on the day when he first called, as “most charming, a great gentleman, most courteous…

… In September 1931 Jinnah took possession of West Heath House, and he assumed the pattérn of life that suited him. In place of Bombay, with the angers of his inheritance for ever pressing upon him, he was able to enjoy the precise, ordained habits of a London house. He breakfasted punctually and, at nine o’clock, Bradbury was at the door with the car, to drive him to his chambers in King’s Bench Walk. There he built up his new career, with less fire of words, and calmer address, than during the early days in Bombay.”

It was at West Heath House that Jinnah entertained Liaquat Ali Khan (1895-1951), another of Pakistan’s founding fathers and its first Prime Minister, who had arrived from India. Bolitho wrote:

“A great part of the fortunes of Pakistan were decided оn the day, in July 1933, when Liaquat Ali Khan crossed Hampstead Heath, to talk to his exiled leader.”

Bolitho recorded that Liaquat’s wife recalled the occasion:

“Jinnah suddenly said, ‘Well, come to dinner on Friday.’ Sо we drove to Hampstead. Іt was a lovely evening. And his big house, with trees—apple trees, I seem to remember. And Miss Jinnah, attending to all his comforts. I felt that nothing could move him out of that security. After dinner, Liaquat repeated his plea, that the Muslims wanted Jinnah and needed him.”

At the end of the evening, Jinnah said to Liaquat:

“’You go back and survey the situation; test the feelings of all parts of the country. I trust your judgment. If you say “Come back,” I’ll give up my life here and return.’”

Jinnah returned to India in 1934, and Pakistan was created in August 1947.

Judging by Bolitho’s description, Jinnah’s Hampstead house could not have been very far from the house which Masaryk rented in Platts Lane, which, like Jinnah’s garden, is close to, or more accurately on, Childs Hill. I have found Jinnah’s house marked on a map surveyed in the 1890s. It was located on the west side of the northern part of West Heath Road, about 430 yards north of Masaryk’s residence on Platts Lane.

It might come as much of a surprise as it was to me to learn that the founders of two countries, each of which was founded soon after the ending of World Wars, both lived in Hampstead for brief periods in their lives.

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