Surprising Art Deco in a north London suburb

HAMPSTEAD GARDEN SUBURB (‘HGS’) in north London, where I spent my childhood and early adulthood, is a conservation area containing residential buildings designed in a wide variety of architectural styles. It first buildings were finished in about 1904/5. Despite this, many of the suburb’s houses and blocks of flats were designed to evoke traditional village architecture. Much of HGS contains buildings that do not reflect the modern trends being developed during the early 20th century, However, there are a few exceptions. These include some houses built in the ‘moderne’ form of the Art Deco style, which had its heyday between the two World Wars.

In Lytton Close

A few Art Deco houses can be found in Kingsley Close near the Market Place (see https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2022/02/07/art-deco-in-a-north-london-suburb/), and there is a larger number of them in the area through which the following roads run: Neville Drive, Spencer Drive, Carlyle Close, Holne Chase, Rowan Walk, and Lytton Close.  The part of HGS in which these roads run was developed from about 1927 onwards, mainly between 1935 and 1938. So, it is unsurprising that examples of what was then fashionable in architecture can be found in this part of the suburb. According to an informative document (www.hgstrust.org/documents/area-13-holne-chase-norrice-lea.pdf) about this part of HGS:

“… A relatively restricted group of established architects undertook much development such as M. De Metz, G. B. Drury and F. Reekie, Welch, Cachemaille-Day and Lander, and J. Oliphant. H. Meckhonik was a developer/builder and architects in his office may have designed houses attributed to him.”

Most of the Art Deco houses on Spencer Drive and Carlyle Close leading off from it are unexceptional buildings, whose principal Art Deco features are the metal framed windows (made by the Crittall company) with some curved panes of glass. Fitted with any other design of windows, these houses would lose their Art Deco appearances. Number 1, Neville Drive displays more features of the style than the houses in Spencer Drive and Carlyle Close. There is, however, one house on Spencer Drive that is unmistakably ‘moderne’: it is number 28 built in 1934 without reference to tradition. It is an adventurous design compared with the other buildings in the street.

Numbers 13 and 24 Rowan Walk, a pair of almost identical buildings which stand on either side of the northern end of the street, where it meets Linden Lea, stand out from the crowd. They have flat roofs and ‘moderne’ style Crittall Windows. Built in the 1930s, they are cubic in form: unusual rather than elegant.

I have saved the best for last: Lytton Close. This short cul-de-sac is a wonderful ensemble of Art Deco houses with balconies that resemble the deck railings of oceanic liners, flat roofs that serve as sun decks, curved Crittall windows, and glazed towers housing staircases. Built in 1935, they were designed by CG Winburne. I have to admit that although I lived for almost three decades in HGS, and used to walk around it a great deal, somehow I missed seeing Lytton Close (until August 2022) and what is surely one of London’s finer examples of modern domestic architecture constructed between the two world wars. Although most of the Art Deco buildings in HGS are not as spectacular as edifices made in this style in Lytton Close and further afield in, say, Bombay, the employment of this distinctive style injects a little modernity in an area populated with 20th century buildings that attempt to create a village atmosphere typical of earlier times. The architects, who adopted backward-looking styles, did this to create the illusion that dwellers in the HGS would not be living on the doorstep of a big city but instead far away in a rural arcadia.  

Wavy walls and Hercule Poirot

SADLY, THE CHARTERHOUSE was closed to the public when I walked through London’s Charterhouse Square on a Monday in July. As I walked clockwise around the grassy space in the middle of the (not so square) square, I spotted a building with a curvy brick façade with windows, many of which have both curved steel frames and glass panes.

The building, a block of flats which has Art Deco features, is called Florin Court. Although it looks recently built, it was constructed in 1936. It was designed by Guy Morgan (1903-1987) and Partners. Morgan had worked with the better-known architect Edwin Lutyens until 1927. Two years earlier, Morgan and Partners designed another block of Art Deco style flats in Highgate Village: Cholmeley Lodge. Although I was unable to enter Florin Court, I have read (on Wikipedia) that it contains 120 flats; it has a communal library, roof garden as well as a basement swimming pool. The reason that the structure looks so new is that it underwent extensive restoration work in 2013.

Florin Court has a connection with the author Agatha Christie as the following (from https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1390634?section=official-list-entry) related:

“Best known as ‘Whitehaven Mansions’, its exterior used as the residence of Hercule Poirot in the television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels.”

I have never watched this television show, but I am pleased that I stumbled upon this lovely example of Art Deco architecture in the heart of one of the older areas of the City of London.

Dwellings in Globe Town

ROMAN ROAD IN east London is a section of a road running northeast from Shoreditch. It is part of a Roman road, once known as ‘Pye Road’, which ran from London to Venta Icenorum that was near Norwich. The modern road passes through an area known as Globe Town, which lies just east of Bethnal Green Underground Station. Known as ‘Eastfields’ until the start of the 19th century, the area was then called Globe Town, probably because there was a pub with that name in the area. The area was developed in the late 18th century to accommodate French Huguenot and Irish silk weavers. The weavers had looms in their homes.

By the late 19th century, Globe Town had become an overcrowded slum. Then, there were not only weavers in this run-down district but also dockworkers and people considered to be disreputable: thieves, prostitutes, and vagrants.

At the start of the 20th century, some of the slum buildings were replaced by improved habitations. Some of these can be seen whilst walking along Globe Road, which runs north from Roman Road. The buildings along Globe Road were mainly constructed by the East End Dwellings Company (‘EEDC’) between 1900 and 1906. This philanthropic company was founded in 1882 to create model dwellings. One of its founding fathers was the vicar of St Judes Church in Whitechapel, Samuel Augustus Barnett (1844-1913). Samuel and his wife Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936) unwittingly played an important role in my childhood and early adulthood. For, it was their idea to create the Hampstead Garden Suburb (in north London), where I lived for almost 30 years. Interestingly, the Anglican church in the Suburb is also dedicated to St Jude.

The aim of the EEDC was to house the poor economically, yet not without making some modest profit. The company’s first project was Katharine Buildings in Aldgate, which were opened in 1885. The buildings in Globe Road were completed between 1900 and 1906 and are still in use. Apart from the EEDC buildings, Globe Road offers the visitor a few other treats. One of these is The Camel pub, whose menu includes a range of pies. Nearby is another pub, The Florist Arms, which offers stone-baked pizzas.  If these food items are not to your taste, The Full Monty Café offers tasty snacks, Opposite the latter, there is a small second-hand bookshop, which raises money for a Buddhist organisation. The London Buddhist Centre is housed on the corner of Globe and Roman Roads. A short distance east of Globe Road, Roman Road crosses the Regents Canal, which is flanked on its east side by pleasant parks.