An experiment in modern living

HERE ARE TWO brief extracts from my new book about Hampstead. They are from the chapter about the ‘modern artists’ who lived in Hampstead between the two World Wars and, also, the Lawn Road Flats, the Isokon, a revolutionary block of flats, built in the 1930s. The extracts are as follows:

Extract 1

“…  the painter Paul Nash (1889-1946) lived at number 3 Eldon Grove between 1936 and 1939. Close by at 60 Parkhill Road the artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived and worked between 1938 and 1941. Prior to moving to Parkhill Road, Mondrian had lived with a remarkable engineer and furniture entrepreneur Jack Pritchard (1899-1992).

Jack and his family lived at 37 Belsize Park Gardens, having moved there from Platts Lane. Pritchard, who studied engineering and economics at the University of Cambridge, joined Venesta, a company that specialised in plywood goods. It was after this that he began to promote Modernist design. In 1929, he and the Canadian architect Wells Coates (1895-1958) formed the company, Isokon, whose aim was to build Modernist style residential accommodation. Pritchard and his wife, a psychiatrist, Molly (1900-1985), commissioned Coates to build a block of flats in Lawn Road on a site that they owned. Its design was to be based on the then revolutionary new communal housing projects that they had visited in Germany, including at the influential Bauhaus in Dessau. The resulting Lawn Road Flats are close to both Fleet Road and the Mall Studios in Parkhill Road. Completed in 1934, they were, noted the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, ‘… a milestone in the introduction of the modern idiom to London’ …”

Extract 2

“… T F T Baker, Diane K Bolton and Patricia E C Croot, writing in “A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington”, noted that the Lawn Road Flats were built partly to house artistic refugees, who had fled from parts of Europe then oppressed by dictators, notably by Adolf Hitler. Some of them had been associated with the Bauhaus. These included the architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer, the architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969), and the artist and photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946). All three are regarded as masters of 20th century visual arts.

Despite both having come from bourgeois backgrounds, the Pritchards aimed to free themselves from middle-class conventions. The concept and realisation of the Lawn Road Flats were important landmarks in their quest to achieve a new, alternative way of living. The atmosphere that prevailed in the community that either lived in, or frequented, the Lawn Road Flats and its Isobar was predominantly left-wing, and extremely welcoming to cultural refugees from Nazi Germany. Probably, it had not been anticipated that the place would become a convenient place for Stalin’s Soviet spies to use as a base. According to a small booklet about the flats, “Isokon The Story of a New Vision of Urban Living”, published in 2016, the flats were home to the following espionage agents …”

“BENEATH A WIDE SKY: HAMPSTEAD AND ITS ENVIRONS” by Adam Yamey is available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92), bookdepository.com (https://www.bookdepository.com/BENEATH-WIDE-SKY-HAMPSTEAD-ITS-ENVIRONS-2022-Adam-Yamey/9798407539520), and on Kindle.

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