Music by the River Thames

A ROW OF HOUSEBOATS is moored alongside the bank of the River Thames that runs past Cheyne Walk in London’s Chelsea. The floating dwellings are faced by Lindsey House, one of the oldest buildings in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Built in 1674 by Robert Bertie, 3rd Earl of Lindsey (1630-1701) on land that was once part of Thomas More’s riverside garden, it was remodelled by Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf (1700-1760) for London’s Moravian community in 1750. Five years later, the edifice was divided into separate dwellings. Today, they are numbered 96 to 101 Cheyne Walk. The American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) lived in number 96, and the engineers Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) lived in number 98. My friends Kit and Sheridan lived in a ground floor flat in number 100.

Lindsey House, Chelsea, London

I first met Kit and Sheridan during one of our annual family holidays to Venice. Kit, who was a colleague of my father at the London School of Economics, and her husband Sheridan used to stay in the Pensione Seguso that was next door to the Pensione La Calcina, where John Ruskin (1819-1900) once stayed, and we always stayed in Venice. During one of our holidays when we stopped on the Fondamente Zattere to talk with Kit and Sheridan in Venice, they asked me whether I liked classical music. When I told them that I did, they said that they would invite me to their musical evenings held some Saturdays in their home. I attended quite a few of these during the second half of the 1960s.

On arrival at 100 Cheyne Walk, Kit used to welcome the guests by offering us coloured sugar-coated almonds, which she described as ‘stones of Venice’, an illusion to Ruskin’s book about Venice (“The Stones of Venice”), where the almonds had been purchased. After discarding coats, all of the guests, twenty to thirty in number, had to find somewhere to sit in the large, low-ceilinged living room. I was always directed by Kit to the same seat. She used to want me to sit next to the telephone. She always told me:

“If it rings during the music, dear, lift the receiver and say: ‘Sorry, we are having a party. Please ring again tomorrow’”

It never did ring, but I used to sit nervously in anticipation of having to perform my important duty.

Sheridan was a fine ‘cellist, who knew many professional musicians, all of them quite famous. He used to invite several musicians, anything from two to four, to perform a couple of chamber works with him. Kit knew what was to be performed at each soirée, but the invited musicians were not told until they arrived (at the same time as the audience). Without prior rehearsal, Kit and his musical guests performed chamber works, often by Brahms and Beethoven, beautifully and, except for Sheridan, from ‘scratch’. The acoustics of the 17th (or 18th) century living room were perfect for the music performed. These wonderful evenings engendered my enduring love of the chamber music of Brahms. During the music, Kit sat a few feet away from Sheridan on his right. Her eyes never wandered from him and she always smiled sweetly as he played. Whenever we saw them in Venice, they were always walking hand-in-hand like two lovers.

I believe that Kit and Sheridan married late in life. Sheridan told me once that he was pleased when he married, because as a married man he was able to perform a service, for which only married people were eligible at the time. He was at last able to become a marriage guidance counsellor.

Sheridan told me once that there was a lot of planning before putting on each musical evening. He ensured that none of his guest musicians ever played the same piece together more than once. Also, he tried to make sure that nobody in the audience ever heard the same combinations of pieces more than once. He did this by recording who had played what and who had heard what in a set of notebooks.

Two works were played at each soirée. During the interval, everyone stood up, many relieved to get off the not always comfortable seating provided. Kit served glasses of red wine and crackers with pieces of cheese that contained cumin seeds. Every soirée, the same refreshments were provided. 

A few of the musicians that I can remember hearing playing with Sheridan included the violinist Maria Lidka (1914-2013) and her son, a ‘cellist; individual players from the Amadeus Quartet; and once the pianist Louis Kentner (1905-1987). At the end of the evening when Kentner had played, Kit asked him to give me a lift part of the way back to north west London. He agreed, but as we drove together, I had a distinct feeling that this famous pianist was not at all keen about giving me a lift and said not a word to me during the short journey.

As Sheridan grew older, he became increasingly frail and began looking gaunt. During the last few concerts I attended, I noticed that he covered his hands with woollen fingerless gloves. Maybe, he had a circulation problem. Sheridan died in 1991. Kit lived on another seven years. I believe that the last time I spoke to her was just after I married in late 1993, but she showed little interest in my news. 

Whereas back in the 1960s, when I used to attend the musical evenings at Lindsey House, one could walk from the street to the front door, today this is impossible without being able to unlock a gate leading into the grounds of the house. Currently owned by the National Trust and rented to tenants, Lindsey House is rarely opened to the public. Fortunately, we did once manage to attend one of these openings, but all seemed to have changed since I last listened to chamber music being played close to the river.

So much history in such a small space

VISITING HAMPSTEAD IN north London is always a pleasure. Although many of its residents might disagree, this small hill town surrounded by heathland and the rest of the metropolis has retained much of its history and charm. We have taken to walking from West Heath Road to South End Green by way of Holly Hill, Hampstead High Street, and Rosslyn Hill. Each time we ramble along this route, I spot things that arouse my interest. Here are a few of them near where Pilgrims Lane meets Rosslyn Hill.

According to GE Mitton in “Hampstead and Marylebone” (publ. 1902), Rosslyn Hill was originally named ‘Red Lion Hill’ after a pub that used to stand on this thoroughfare just across the road from the western end of Willoughby Road, but was no longer in existence when Mitton was writing. Rosslyn Hill is most likely named after Rosslyn House, a mansion with extensive grounds that lay between Rosslyn Hill and the present Fitzjohns Avenue. Lyndhurst Avenue marks the northern boundary of the now non-existent Rosslyn estate. It was once the home of Alexander Wedderburn, 1st Earl of Rosslyn (1733-1805), who was a lawyer and politician. He served as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain from 1793 to 1801.

The Red Lion no longer exists. Neither does the police station that once stood on its site. Today, a pink granite drinking fountain stands by the side of the pavement where the pub used to be. It was probably constructed in the third quarter of the 19th century. Inscribed with quotations of a Christian nature, it provides a tap and basin for humans and below it at floor level another for animals. The lower basin is surrounded by the words:

“The merciful man is merciful to his beast”.

The fountain appears to be out of action currently.  It bears no evidence of which organisation placed it there.

Further down Rosslyn Hill, we reach the corner of Pilgrims Lane, a street that leads east to Willow Road. On a map surveyed in 1895, most of what is now Pilgrims Lane, was once named ‘Worsley Road’. Only a short, curved stretch near Rosslyn Hill had its present name. The lane is not named after pilgrims in general but in memory of Charles Pilgrim or his father James (died 1813), who had once owned part of the local Slyes Manor (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp91-111).

A former branch of Lloyds Bank stands on the north corner of Rosslyn Hill and Pilgrims Lane. The entrance of this handsome building is on its corner. It is surmounted by a hemicircular pediment in which there is a bas-relief crest bearing the letters “LBL”. Above this there is a sculpture of a beehive, the symbol of industriousness and:

“… for Lloyds Bank from 1822 until 1884, when the bank took over Barnetts Bank in 1884 and adopted its symbol – a black horse.” (http://manchesterbe.es/index.php/2016/03/07/king-street-bees-and-beehives/)

‘LBL’ stands for Lloyds Bank limited.

The bank building, now converted to a block of flats, was designed in 1894/95 by Horace Field (1861-1948), who designed several banks for Lloyds. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, a resident of Hampstead (at North End), described the Queen Anne-revival type of building as:

“… accomplished Wrennaissance style …”

Part of the building facing Pilgrims Lane must have always been residential as the painter and printmaker Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949) lived here between 1904 and 1906. His son was the well-known artist Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), who was married to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Part of Ben’s education was in Hampstead at Heddon Court School, which is now in Mill Hill (www.hamhigh.co.uk/lifestyle/heritage/heritage-ben-nicholson-was-one-of-a-nest-of-gentle-3444214).

A short distance away from the former bank there is a non-descript house on Pilgrims Lane, where the ‘cellist Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) lived between 1970 and 1975. Opposite the bank building is number 2a Pilgrims Lane, which is a big house largely hidden by a high wall. Its door bears the name “Rosslyn Hill House”. From what I could see of it, it looks quite old, probably early 19th century (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1139059). It was the home of Edward Henry Nevinson (died about 1850 in Hampstead), Paymaster to the Exchequer. At one time, this was the home of another Nevinson, the journalist and essayist Henry Woodd Nevinson (1856-1941; http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp15-33 ). He married the British suffrage campaigner Margaret Wynne Nevinson (née Jones; 1852-1932). Their son, the artist Christopher RW Nevinson (1889-1946), was born in their family home in nearby Keats Grove.

Proceeding a few yards down Rosslyn Hill, we arrive at a large redbrick building with white stone trimmings on the south corner of Downshire Hill. This was built as the ‘Hampstead Police Station and Magistrates’ Court’ in 1913 to the design of architect John Dixon Butler (1861-1920), who:

“…was appointed Architect and Surveyor to the Metropolitan Police in 1895, following the retirement of his father, who had held the post since 1881. Dixon Butler was articled to his father, John Butler, and hence had an excellent education in the design and planning of police-related buildings…” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1130397).

It has been re-purposed. A doorbell next to a side door on the Downshire Hill side of the edifice is still labelled “Magistrates”.

I have described several buildings and an old drinking fountain, all with historical interest. They are all located within 100 yards of each other. I have not included the remnants of Vane House, which I have described elsewhere, nor the 18th century Cossey Cottage on Pilgrims Lane near to the ‘cellist’s former home, which are within this short distance. This concentration of places of historical interest is yet more proof of my feeling that Hampstead is richly endowed with physical evidence of its fascinating past.