Painting in the Mall

BETWEEN HAMPSTEAD AND Belsize Park, there is a narrow footpath running north from Tasker Road. One side of it is lined with a terrace of low buildings known as Mall Studios. Built in 1872 by Thomas Battersby, they were designed as artists’ studios. Each of them contained small waiting rooms; costume rooms; and a lobby. Each studio had three skylights and large north facing windows to capture the kind of light favoured by many artists. Following the advice of the artist Walter Sickert, who had lived there, the artist John Cecil Stephenson (1889-1965) settled into number 6, Mall Studios in March 1919.  It was to remain his home until he died. In 1927, Barbara Hepworth became his neighbour in number 7, and at around that time, the influential art critic and writer Herbert Read moved into number 3. Nearby, Parkhill Road became home (for various lengths of time) to other artists including Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Piet Mondrian, Hans Erni, and other artists who have since become famous.

By John Cecil Stephenson

Whether it was the proximity of his artistic neighbours, who were pioneers of 20th century modernist art, or something else in his artistic evolution, Stephenson departed from his previous ‘straightforward’ portraiture and landscape painting and created works characteristic of what is now known as the ‘Modernist’ style. Although some of his works created after the late 1920s are to some extent figurative, most of his output was mainly abstract and constructivist. During WW1, Stephenson left London’s Slade School of Art temporarily to work in munition factories in Bishop Auckland (County Durham), the town where he was born. His experiences of working with industrial machinery and observing the efficiency and speed of the mechanised production processes is reflected in some of the paintings he produced later.

Stephenson, son of a grocer, was less well known than his neighbours. He produced art that bears favourable comparison to the works produced by them. Until the 18th of September 2022, there is a wonderful small exhibition of his works in a gallery within Hampstead’s charming Burgh House. The catalogue, edited by Sacha Llewellyn, Paul Liss, and George Richards, not only contains a fine collection of photographs of the exhibits but also provides a superb introduction – better than others I have seen – to the story of the pioneering role of Hampstead in the evolution of modern art in England. Burgh House, which contains several rooms comprising a museum of the history of Hampstead, also hosts excellent exhibitions such as the current survey of Stephenson’s works. Its well illuminated Peggy Jay Gallery provides a space for contemporary artists, many of them local, to display their works. Beneath the two storeys of cultural experiences, the basement of Burgh House is home to a pleasant café where anything from a cup of coffee to a wholesome meal can be obtained. And amongst the interesting range of books in the small bookshop, you can find copies of my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” on sale (if they have run out, tell them to ask me for more, and then get your copy from Amazon).

Rudyard Kipling, Hampstead, and Cambridgeshire

WIMPOLE HALL IN Cambridgeshire is according to the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner:

“Without doubt the most spectacular country mansion in Cambridgeshire…”

Chapel at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire

Much of the mainly red brick building dates from the 17th century, although more was built in the 1740s. It contains many splendid rooms including a large library; a chapel decorated in 1724 by the painter James Thornhill (c1675-1734), who decorated the Painted Hall in Greenwich; and a large ‘salon’ created by Sir John Soane. These are a few of the wonders that can be viewed within the house, now maintained by the National Trust. The grounds of Wimpole are also superb and include a magnificent walled garden and a ‘Gothick’ folly.

Despite the visual attractions of Wimpole Hall, I was fascinated by its last owners: George and Elsie Bambridge. George Louis St Clair Bambridge (1892-1943) was a British diplomat and a soldier. In October 1924, he married Elsie Kipling (1896-1976), the second daughter of the famous writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).

After living in several places outside the UK, George and Elsie came to London. Between 1933 and 1937, they lived in Hampstead. Their home in that lovely district of north London was the elegant Burgh House, which was built in 1704. In an epilogue to a biography of her father by Charles Carrington, Elsie wrote of Burgh House:

“In 1933 we returned to England, and our life in the delightful old house which we rented in Hampstead was a source of happiness to him to the end of his life.”

The person to which she was referring (i.e,, “him”) was her father, Rudyard Kipling.  

On the 12th of January 1936, Rudyard and his wife (Carrie) visited George Bambridge, who was in bed at Burgh House, suffering from bronchitis. It was to be Rudyard’s last outing because on the following day he was admitted to Middlesex Hospital where he underwent hazardous surgery for a haemorrhage. He died in hospital on the 18th of January.

The Bambridges moved from Hampstead to Cambridgeshire in 1937. They rented Wimpole Hall between 1937 and 1942, when they purchased to property. George died in 1943, and his widow, Elsie, continued living in Wimpole Hall until her death. When they moved in, the place was empty of contents. They bought pictures and furniture, much of which can be seen today. After her husband’s death, Elsie used the substantial royalties from her father’s books to refurbish the house. On her death, she bequeathed the house and its vast estate to the National Trust. It is well worth visiting if you are anywhere near Royston or Cambridge and it is no more than one hour’s drive from central London.

A house where music has been played for many centuries

Burgh House, Hampstead, London

Burgh House stands high above the southwest end of Well Walk in north London’s historic village of Hampstead. Here is a little bit about it, an extract from my new book about Hampstead:

“… Burgh House is entered from a steep side street called New End Square. The house, built in 1704, is close to the Hampstead Well Spa (see below). According to Bohm and Norrie, the House is named after its 10th owner, The Reverend Allatson Burgh (1769-1856), who was the vicar of St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. Burgh, who was keener on music than looking after his parishioners, neglected both them and his house. Thomas Barratt wrote:

“Mr. Burgh was a rector in the city, and the composer of a work on church music, published by Longmans. Burgh House is depicted on five pieces of the Wedgwood service, made in 1774, for Catherine II., Empress of Russia.”

Between 1858 and 1884, Burgh House became the headquarters of the Royal East Middlesex Militia. After having been put to a variety of uses, the house became used as a cultural centre in 1979. It now contains a small art gallery, a café, a shop, and a Hampstead Museum. The Reverend Burgh would have been pleased to know that today his former home also hosts many fine concerts of classical music.

From the bottom of the garden of Burgh House, the ‘Wells Tavern’ pub can be seen dominating the view along the gently inclined Well Walk. Known as ‘The Green Man’ until 1850, when it was rebuilt and renamed the ‘Wells Tavern’, a pub has stood on his spot since at least 1762. The pub’s name reflects one of the reasons that Hampstead became popular in the 17th century.  Apart from enjoying clean air, people were attracted to the mineral water springs issuing chalybeate (iron-rich) water that were beginning to be exploited in Hampstead at that time…”

My book is called

“BENEATH A WIDE SKY: HAMPSTEAD AND ITS ENVIRONS”

YOU CAN BUY the paperback or ebook (Kindle) from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

A Sunday afternoon in Hampstead and a bit of marketing

FROM CAMDEN TOWN, home of the busy Camden Lock and other popular markets, the 24-bus route more or less follows course of the now buried River Fleet, and ends at Hampstead’s South End Green. We disembarked at the Lawn Road bus stop on Fleet Road and walked the short distance to the Lawn Road Flats, also known as The Isokon. This building, inspired by the avant-garde housing projects in pre-WW2 Germany pioneered by the Bauhaus and similar institutions, was completed in 1934. A relatively bomb-proof structure, it was home to many people involved with cultural activities, including the author Agatha Christie (1890-1976), who wrote several of her novels whilst living there. The modernist block of flats still houses tenants. On Saturdays and Sundays, a small museum illustrating the history of this amazing edifice is open to the public. It contains photographs, information panels, and historical furniture items, all connected with the Isokon and its illustrious tenants. There is also a small, but well-stocked bookshop. It was here that I left several copies of my new book about Hampstead to be available for sale to visitors.

Bust of Agatha Christie at the Isokon Gallery in Hampstead

From the Isokon, we walked past South End Green and up Willow Road, which ascends ever more steeply as it approaches its northern end just near to Flask Walk and our next port of call, Burgh House. The house was constructed at the beginning of the 18th century. Here, we viewed the latest temporary exhibition, “John Cecil Stephenson: A Modernist in Hampstead”, which started at the beginning of April 2022. I will write more about this in a separate piece. Burgh House is home to a museum of the history of Hampstead and to a pleasant and popular café, which serves drinks and both hot and cold foods. The house also contains a small bookshop, well-stocked with a variety of books about Hampstead and artists associated with the place. I left several copies of my book about Hampstead to be sold there.

After spending a relaxing time in the Burgh House café, we wandered along Flask Walk, passing Keith Fawkes antiquarian bookshop, where copies of my book are on sale. Then, we walked onwards along the High Street and Perrins Court, where my father and I used to eat lunches at the Villa Bianca Italian restaurant. Reaching Heath Street, we passed the The Village Newsagent, which stocks my book (can you spot the theme emerging here?), and then entered Church Row. Halfway along it stands St John’s Parish Church.

The neo-classical church was completed in 1747. Twenty-three years before this, the “St Johns Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was first performed in the Church of St Nicholas in Leipzig. At 5pm on Sunday the 3rd of April (2022), we listened to a good performance of this wonderful piece of religious music in the Church of St John in Church Row. With a small choir, a competent orchestra, and excellent soloists, the acoustics were excellent. Very thoughtfully, foam rubber cushions are provided for improving the comfort of the seating in the wooden pews. I was pleased to note that the current (April) issue of the parish newsletter includes a note about my new book.

After watching a colourful sunset, we took a bus to Paddington, where we enjoyed a tasty meal at the Malaysian Tuk Din restaurant not far from the station.

My book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” is available in Hampstead at the following locations:

THE CAMDEN ART CENTRE (Arkwright Road)

KEITH FAWKES (Flask Walk)

ISOKON GALLERY (Lawn Road)

THE VILLAGE NEWSAGENT (Heath Street)

BURGH HOUSE (New End Square, near Flask Walk)

The book (and Kindle) is also available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92)