A rustic ‘utopia’ in London’s suburbia

MY CHILDHOOD HOME was in the heart of north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’). For those of you who are unfamiliar with garden suburbs, here is a definition (from Collins online dictionary) that might begin to help:

“…a suburb of a large established town or city, planned along the lines of a garden city”

And a garden city is (from Collins) is:

“…a planned town of limited size with broad streets and spacious layout, containing trees and open spaces and surrounded by a rural belt”

In Brentham garden suburv

The garden suburb differs from the garden city in two main ways. (1) The former is part of a city, whereas the latter is separated from other cities by countryside (e.g., Welwyn Garden City). (2) The garden city is exclusively or mainly residential, but the garden city can include all that other cities contain.

The first houses in HGS, which was founded by Dame Henrietta Barnett, were completed in 1907. Our house in HGS bore the date 1908.

Brentham Garden Suburb (‘BGS’) was founded earlier than HGS: in 1901. One of its founders was Ebenezer Howard, the who founded The Garden City Movement in 1899. BGS is located close to the River Brent, where it flows through the Borough of Ealing. Its architecture was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was inspired by the philosophy of the social reformer and designer William Morris.

On a recent visit to BGS, the first for me, I was impressed by the similarity of many of its houses to those which I had grown up amongst in the HGS. The similarities are not surprising when you learn that from 1907 onwards for a few years, BGS’s planning was under the supervision of Raymond Unwin, the architect who planned the layout of HGS. Most of the buildings built after 1907 in BGS were designed by Frederic Cavendish Pearson and George Lister Sutcliffe, who were both in sympathy with Unwin’s ideas.

Most of the houses in BGS were built before the 1920s. This was not the case in the larger HGS, where building on a substantial scale continued into the 1930s. So, whereas Art Deco buildings and some other modern designs can be spotted in the HGS, this is not the case in the more architecturally homogenous BGS. A visit to BGS is worthwhile, especially if you are familiar with other garden suburbs and garden cities.

From Piccadilly to New Delhi

APPLE TREE YARD is a cul-de-sac near London’s Piccadilly. It runs east from Duke of York Street and parallel to Jermyn Street. On its south corner where the Yard meets Duke of York Street, there is an interesting monument consisting of three slightly separated carved basalt slabs with letters inscribed in them. The letters make up the following words, all in capital letters:

“SIR EDWIN LUTYENS ARCHITECT

DESIGNER OF NEW DELHI

LAID OUT HIS PLANS HERE IN APPLE TREE YARD”

Although I have never been to Delhi, I am familiar with the work of Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). I was brought up in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb not far from its Central Square, which is surrounded by buildings that Lutyens designed before embarking on his projects in New Delhi. Although the above-mentioned basalt blocks were completed in 2015, I had not been past Apple Tree Yard  until yesterday (13th September 2022). Next to the inscribed blocks there is an attractive figurative bas-relief carving, also in basalt, mounted on a wall.

The carvings were made by Stephen Cox and he describes them in detail on a web page (www.lutyenstrust.org.uk/portfolio-item/apple-tree-yard-sculpture-honours-spirit-lutyens/). Here is a brief summary of what he wrote. The bas-relief sculpture is called “Relief; Figure emerging”. It was inspired by sculptures in Hindu cave temples, especially those around a town near Chennai (Madras): Mahabalipuram. The basalt that can be seen in Apple Tree Yard was quarried near the south Indian temple town of Kanchipuram. Cox, who has a studio in Mahabalipuram, was assisted by local carvers, when he created the bas-relief.  In summary, the monumental slabs and the nearby sculpture have their roots in India, which is highly appropriate as they commemorate an architect, who worked in India.

I must admit that amongst all the foreign architects, who have made significant buildings in India, Lutyens is not my favourite. Those, whose works I have seen in India and liked, include William Emerson (1843-1924), Frederick W Stevens (1847-1900), Le Corbusier (1887-1965), and Louis Kahn (1901-1974).

Lutyens, who was a former Viceroy of India’s son-in-law, drew up the plans for New Delhi in an office at number 7 Apple Tree Yard. Hence, the location of the monumental stones. Number 7 was for a long time the home of the Royal Fine Art Commission, but it exists no longer. It is now covered by a new building. However, his work in both India and the Hampstead Garden Suburb can still be admired by those who like Lutyens’s work. I feel that Cox’s memorial to him is much more elegant than much that I have seen of his buildings.

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.  

My father the professor

MY FATHER, BASIL Yamey (1919-2020), lived until he was over 101. Between about 1950 and 1991, he lived in our family home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. From my birth until 1982, I lived there, and afterwards I visited my then widowed father almost every weekend.

My graduation in 1973

Dad was an academic, an economist,  at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’). He became a senior professor long before he retired.

Although I have no knowledge of economics even at an elementary level (and this is not me being modest), I lived with an acknowledged leader in the field of microeconomics. Recently, the LSE published some of my memories of living with a professor: my late father. These memories are published on an LSE blog: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsehistory/2022/07/06/at-home-with-basil-yamey-as-recalled-by-his-son/

I hope that you will enjoy these glimpses of the home life of a significant academic.

My childhood home in north London

I LIVED IN A detached house (see the picture) in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb during the first three decades of my life. My bedroom window was that on the first floor facing the street, Hampstead Way. Externally it looks much as it did when I lived there. This is not surprising because the houses in the Suburb are all subject to strict preservation orders,which forbid alterations of the appearances of the exteriors of the Suburb’s buildings.

Although I was privileged to have lived in this part of London, it was never my favourite area of the city because during my youth, it was a dull place to be a child or even an adolescent.

By the way, although the name ‘Hampstead ‘ is part of the suburb’s name, the area is completely different from Hampstead proper: it lacks the vibrancy and vitality of old Hampstead village (or town, if you prefer). As a youngster, and still today, I have always enjoyed my visits to Hampstead Village

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.  

Art deco in a north London suburb

THE HAMPSTEAD GARDEN SUBURB (‘HGS’), which I mention briefly in my new book about Hampstead, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”, began to be built as a Utopian experiment in providing housing for all social classes in about 1904. Many of the earlier homes were built in styles that alluded to traditional vernacular architecture such as is found in East Anglia and other rural areas. Many of the older houses incorporate Arts and Craft style decorative features.

Kingsley Close

Lyttelton Road, a stretch of the A1 trunk road, passes through a part of the Suburb known as the Market Place, one of the few parts of HGS with shops. The main road separates an older part of the suburb south of it from a newer section north of it.  Close to the Market Place but south of the main road, there is a cul-de-sac, Kingsley Close, which contains houses built in 1934 in the art deco (‘moderne’) style. They have curved suntrap windows made by Crittals. The residences were designed by the architects Herbert Welch (1884–1953), Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976), and Felix Lander (1890-1960). Welch did much designing in HGS and in nearby Golders Green. According to the website, http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/welch-herbert-arthur, Welch:

“… also designed the handsome curved terraces of shops and apartments in Golders Green Road that demonstrate the early C20 change of style from vernacular revival to Neo-Georgian. In collaboration with Frederick Etchells (the translator of Le Corbusier’s works into English), Welch, with Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976) and Felix J. Lander (1898–1960), designed the pioneering International Modern Crawford’s Office Building, High Holborn, London (1930), with long bands of windows subdivided by steel mullions, much influenced by the Weissenhofsiedlung.”

The Weissenhofsiedlung was an estate built for an exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927. Apart from influencing Herbert Welch, it also stimulated the design and construction of the Lawn Road Flats (the Isokon) in Hampstead, which is described in my new book.

“Handsome” is not how I would describe the terrace of shops mentioned in the quote. However, I feel that the houses in Kingsley Close are more pleasing to my eyes. There are other art deco homes in the HGS, which I hope to write about in the future.

Book available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

A socialist by the River Thames

ISLEWORTH IN WEST London was until this month, March 2021, a place where I had never before set foot. A road direction sign with the words “Historic Isleworth Waterfront” tempted us to investigate the place and we found it to be a delightful location despite it being under a flight path for aeroplanes coming into land at nearby Heathrow Airport. After enjoying the view across the River Thames from Old Isleworth, my eye alighted on a house with a circular memorial plaque placed to remember someone significant of whom I had never heard.

Arthur Joseph Penty (1875-1937) lived at 59 Church Street in Isleworth between 1926 and his death. The commemorative plaque bears the words:

“Architect and pioneer of Guild Socialism”

Penty was born in York, eldest of the two sons of the architect Walter Green Penty (1852-1902) of York. Arthur first worked in his father’s architectural practice before moving to London in 1902, where he increased his involvement in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Shortly before his move, he met Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934). He was an influential British socialist and a Theosophist. He edited a journal called “The New Age”, which was inspired by Fabian Socialism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Age).

Old Isleworth

In London, Penty collaborated with the architect Raymond Unwin, who was responsible for much of the planning and design of Hampstead Garden Suburb, whose construction began in about 1904. Penty, working in Unwin’s office, is believed to have designed some of the details of two large buildings, Temple Fortune House and Arcade House, in Temple Fortune, as well as aspects of the so-called ‘Great Wall’ that separates part of the Suburb from the northern edge of Hampstead Heath Extension (www.hgs.org.uk/tour/tour00045000.html).

Apart from architecture, Penty was an important exponent of Guild Socialism. Many of his thoughts on the subject were published in Orage’s “The New Age”. I had never heard of Guild Socialism before seeing Penty’s house in Isleworth. Let me see if I can make any sense of this now long-outdated form of socialism, whose ideas were influenced by the great designer William Morris (1834-1896) and his associates. Guild Socialism opposed capitalism. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (www.britannica.com/event/Guild-Socialism), Guild Socialism is:

“…a movement that called for workers’ control of industry through a system of national guilds operating in an implied contractual relationship with the public.”

It began in 1906 with the publication of “The Restoration of the Gild System”, written by Penty. The Guild Socialists believed that industry should be owned by the state but controlled by workers through national guilds organised by their members democratically. The system proposed was a kind of nostalgic revival of the mediaeval guild system. During WW1, Guild Socialism was enhanced by the actions of left-wing shop stewards demanding ‘workers’ control’ of the war industries. The movement declined with the onset of the economic slump of 1921 and the subsequent policies of both the Labour and Socialist Parties in Great Britain.  

As Penty neared the end of his life, he became attracted to the ideas of Fascism that were prevalent in the Europe of the 1930s. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-53509?rskey=IABIgM&result=1) reveals that by the early 1930s, Penty:

“… was attracted to the anti-modernism of the far right. He admired the corporatist* economic organization of Mussolini’s Italy, supported the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, and interested himself in the ideas of Oswald Mosley. At the same time he denounced Italian imperialism in Abyssinia and rejected Nazism for its racial doctrines and its statism.”

Penty, who dedicated his life to the revival of mediaeval craftsmanship and guilds, died at 59 Church Street in Old Isleworth on the 19th of January 1937. This late 18th century building bears the name “Manor House”. According to one source (http://edithsstreets.blogspot.com/2016/10/riverside-north-of-river-and-west-of_12.html), this is neither the manor house nor is it on the site of the real manor house. It was bought by Michael Penty, who also bought the manor of Isleworth. Michael’s father was Arthur Penty (http://www.panoramaofthethames.com/pott/isleworth-2006/59-church-street-isleworth). His name is on the front door, along with a brass plate bearing the words:

“MICHAEL PENTY Solicitor & Commissioner for Oaths

LORD OF THE MANOR OF ISLEWORTH RECTORY”

Had it been open, we would have enjoyed a drink at the riverside pub, “The London Apprentice”, which is a few steps away from the house where Arthur Penty once lived, but it was closed. However, a short walk away across the Duke of Northumberland’s River, we found a small café called South Street that served beverages and locally made ice-cream to take away.

*Note:

“Corporatism is a political ideology which advocates the organization of society by corporate groups, such as agricultural, labour, military, scientific, or guild associations, on the basis of their common interests.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism).

A London square lacking a soul and New Delhi

THE HIGHEST PLACE in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) is Central Square. Designed to be a focal point for people living in the Suburb, this often-windswept square is a dismal failure. Apart from the occasional communal fetes held on this large open space, this area is somewhere that people walk cross usually without stopping to linger. I was brought up in a house not far from the Square and rarely during the 30 or more years I lived in the area could this heart of the Suburb be described as a lively meeting place. Visits since leaving the area over 30 years ago, have never revealed much, if anything, going on in what might have been a wonderful heart for the local community.

Free Church, Central Square

HGS was created by Dame Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936), who was married to a cleric, Canon Samuel Augustus Barnett (1844-1913). The Barnetts lived close to the Spaniards Inn near Hampstead. The architect Raymond Unwin (1863-1940) was important in conceiving the layout and design for the Suburb. Another architect involved with the creation of HGS, especially the environs of Central Square was Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944).  Building commenced in about 1904/5. The plan for Central Square was finalised in 1911 after several changes in its design. These changes have been summarised as follows (https://londongardenstrust.org/conservation/inventory/site-record/?ID=BAR011):

“Raymond Unwin’s first design for the suburb (February 1905) had communal buildings including a church, chapel, hall, library and shops; the site of the square was to be levelled and extended to the north. Unwin and Edwin Lutyens, appointed architect in May 1906, proposed a more formal plan in 1906-7; this and a third scheme by Lutyens did not meet with Mrs Barnett’s approval. The final plan of 1911 of Central Square as built is a variant on Lutyens’ plan for a rectangle broken up into four clearly articulated spaces each defined by a double row of trees and a lily pond.” 

It was a shame that the shops and library never materialised. Had they been included in the final plan, the Square would have had a chance of becoming a vibrant communal centre and maybe the Suburb would not have developed into the staid and rather precious district that it has become. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who lived close to HGS in Hampstead’s North End, did not differ from my assessment of the Square:

“The omission of shops from Central Square has proved a disadvantage; the square has never become a real social centre. Not only shops, but also cinemas, pubs, and cafés have been refused admission. Institute education and divine worship have not proved to be as much of a lively attraction as the social reformers hoped for.” (“Buildings of England. London 4: North” by Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, published 1998)

As for the lily pond, if that ever existed, it had disappeared by the time I was a young child in the 1950s.

Apart from the four lawns separated by footpaths, the Square has the following notable features: a church on its south side; a church on its north side; tennis courts on its eastern edge and near them, a monument to the memory of Dame Henrietta Barnett; and on its east side a large building called ‘The Institute’, which houses Henrietta Barnett School. Central Square is flanked by two equally sterile rectangular open spaces: North and South Squares.

Lutyens was responsible for the design of many of the structures standing around Central Square: St Jude Church with its tall spire, constructed 1909-1911; the Free Church with its dome, begun 1911, but only competed in the 1960s; the Henrietta Barnett Memorial, completed about 1938; and the Institute’s design has some input from Lutyens. And that is not all. Lutyens also designed some of the houses in North Square and in Erskine Hill that leads north from it. Friends of mine lived in a pair of semi-detached houses designed by Lutyens on Erskine Hill. Externally, they were not unattractive buildings, but inside I was not impressed; the ground floor rooms were small and not well fed with daylight. Taken in isolation, one might forgive Lutyens for this defect in his design, but since first seeing my friends’ homes, I have discovered that Lutyens was prone to creating designs that were less than ideal.

When visiting Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed in the 13th century, we saw a couple of lodges that had been designed by Lutyens. A friend pointed out that he had omitted guttering in their design, which is a strange thing to miss out in a country where rain is not infrequent. The result is that over the years water running off the lodges’ roofs have damaged the brickwork of their external walls. The latest “National Trust Magazine” (Spring 2021) highlights a design failure at Castle Drogo near Dartmoor in Devon, designed by Lutyens and constructed between 1911 and 1930 for the founder of Home and Colonial Stores, Julius Drewe (1856-1931). Designed to look like a mediaeval fortress, the place was equipped with the latest of 20th century features including electricity generated by a ‘hydro-turbine’. Despite all of its up-to-date furnishings, it is prone to old-fashioned water leaks. This was largely due to Lutyens’ choice of asphalt, a relatively new material as far as roofing was concerned. In addition, the article in the magazine reveals:

“The windows were designed without windowsills …this leaves little protection from the Dartmoor elements…”

In 1897, Lutyens married Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton (1874–1964), who was daughter of Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton (1831-1891), Viceroy of India between 1876 and 1880. In 1911, the capital of British India shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. And with this move, Lutyens was chosen to head an architectural team to design a new administrative complex in Delhi. His views on the kind of architecture that he considered suitable were disdainful of Indian architecture:

“Lutyens regarded Indian architectural interventions as mere ‘spurts by various mushroom dynasties with as much intellect as there is in any art nouveau’. Indian buildings, according to him, reflected a childish ignorance of even the basic principle of architecture. He also firmly believed that in countries outside of Europe ‘without a great architectural tradition of their own, it was even more essential to adhere strictly to the canons of the architectural style’.” (https://thewire.in/history/friendship-faltered-raisina-hill).

This patronising and denigrating view of traditional Indian architecture that includes treasures like the Taj Mahal and the great stepwells in Gujarat and elsewhere, along with his dogged adherence to certain aspects of European classical architecture, are a poor reflection of Lutyens’ own aesthetic sensibilities and help to explain why I do not rate him amongst the best of 20th century architects. However, many might disagree with my judgement: chacun à son gout, as they say across The English Channel.

Although Lutyens’ creations in New Delhi are much admired, one part of his design showed lack of planning. This is evident in the Viceroy’s House, which he designed. It stands in a complex of buildings on Raisina Hill. Lutyens had wanted the House to stand prominently, like St Judes in HGS, so that it could be seen from all around. Unfortunately, Lutyens:

“…had seen the perspective plan of the buildings earlier but had failed to take adequate notice of the gradient. When he discovered it finally, it was perhaps too late. Lutyens wrote to his wife Emily: ‘I am having difficulty with Baker. You remember the perspective showing the secretariats with Government House. Well, he has designed his levels so that you will never see Government House at all from the Great Place. You will [only] see the top of the dome.’” (https://thewire.in/history/friendship-faltered-raisina-hill)

Well, in my humble opinion, a top-rate architect should never have made such an error and even worse blamed it on his colleague, the eminent architect Herbert Baker (1862-1946). To some outcry in India, there are plans to replace some of Lutyens’ creations in Delhi (www.thehindu.com/news/national/what-is-the-project-to-redevelop-lutyens-delhi-all-about/article29865323.ece)

I have never visited Delhi, New or Old, but I hope that what Lutyens created there is more joyous than the sombre atmosphere that reigns in and around the soulless Central Square in the Hampstead Garden Suburb.

EVERYONE NEEDS GOOD NEIGHBOURS

I HAVE BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH INDIA since my earliest days. This association was unconscious for the first 18 years of my life, that is before I met Indians, including my future wife, at university. During my childhood and until I was 30, I lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) in the shadow of the tall conical spire of St Judes Church. This brick edifice that can be seen from all around the HGS and many other places in northwest London was designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) the husband of Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton (1874–1964), who was a daughter of the 1st Earl of Lytton, a former Viceroy of India. It was Lutyens who was given the task of designing New Delhi, the new capital of British India, between 1912 and 1930.

 

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St Judes Church by Edwin Lutyens

The construction of St Judes began in 1909, a year after our family home at 36 Hampstead Way was built. The church was consecrated in 1911, but not completed until 1935, after Lutyens had finished working on New Delhi. The north side of the church lines one side of the grassy Central Square, which was also laid out by Lutyens. The north side of the square is lined by the south side of the Free Church, a domed edifice designed by Lutyens. Its construction began in 1911 but was not fully completed until 1960.  As a child and for many years later, I had no idea that Lutyens had an important connection with India. In general,  I do not like the buildings designed by Lutyens in either HGS or in New Delhi. The only one of his buildings that appeals to me is Castle Drogo in Devon.

A recent visit to the HGS brought back several memories that I will share with you. Our house at 36 Hampstead Way looks much as it did when I was a child. In those days, and still today if you look carefully, the name ‘Inverugie’ can be discerned above the front porch beneath layers of whitewash. When my parents bought the house back in the early 1950s, they did not like the name and had it covered with paint. Despite many repaintings, it can still be seen if you know where to look.

When I was a child, our neighbour on Hampstead Way was the elderly spinster Miss Reinecke. Our other immediate neighbours on Hill Close were the very elderly Mr and Mrs Palmer. They sold the house to a young family, Mr and Mrs ‘S’. I used to babysit their children when I was a teenager. It was an easy way to make some pocket money because their children were always asleep when I arrived, and they never woke up while I was on duty. On one occasion, I was baby-sitting long enough to listen to the five long-playing records (LPs) that contained an entire performance of Wagner’s “Mastersingers of Nuremberg”. We rang on the doorbell the other day. Although Mr S could not recognise me at first, once he knew who I am, he remembered all sorts of things. He told me that all of the other houses in Hill Close have changed hands, sometimes several times, since we sold the house in the early 1990s.

A house at the top end of Hill Close used to be occupied by one of my father’s colleagues at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’), Professor Percy Cohen (1928-1999).  He was born in Durban, South Africa, and after obtaining a degree in social anthropology, he moved into the field of sociology. Occasionally, he used to stop his car and pick me up to give me a lift a part of the way to University College London, where I studied for many years.

A few steps lead up from the Cohen’s end of Hill close to a footpath that runs between hedges. When I lived in HGS, there was a tennis court on the south side of the path. All of the houses on Hill Close, including ours, had access to this court. In the second half of the 1960s, I used to play tennis there after school with three of my friends. We used to play in the fading light of the late afternoon. What with poor light and the well-worn markings on the hard court, there were often arguments about whether a ball had landed inside or outside the lines. Today, the court has disappeared and has been replaced by a well-manicured lawn, which is used by residents of a block of flats on South Square.

The footpath that begins at the end of Hill Close disgorges at South Square. A house on the corner of the footpath and South Square was once occupied by the Zacharias family. Mr Zacharias was a US diplomat. My sister and his daughter, Missie, became good friends. I enjoyed spending time with Missie’s brother, and my parents got on well with his. Occasionally, we would be invited to parties at their house. At one of these, we were introduced to Patrick Gordon Walker (1907-1980), who was an important British Labour politician. I remember being impressed at the time. I realised he was a famous person but had no idea why he was. Eventually, the Zacharias family returned to the USA. Just before they left, they came to our house to give us many half empty bottles of liqueurs and spirits.  My parents stored them in a cupboard in my father’s study. They were not keen drinkers. The bottles remained untouched, gathering dust for many years. They were still there when my father sold the house. I hope someone managed to enjoy their contents rather than chucking them away.

Henrietta Barnett School and the HGS Institute line the eastern side of Central Square. Until our recent visit, I had never noticed a stone plaque inserted in the wall of the school building. It reads: “This stone was unveiled by Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret on 2nd July 1957 to commemorate the jubilee of The Hampstead Garden Suburb, 1907-1957”.

I was 5 years and two months old on the 2nd of July 1957. I remember that day well. I was spending the day at my mother’s sisters house near Wildwood Road in HGS. Sometime that morning, she took me and my young cousin to Wildwood Road and seated me on a piece of street furniture, a metal cupboard fixed to the pavement, which contained equipment needed for telephones. She handed me a Union Jack flag attached to a blue wooden stick. When the fancy car carrying Princess Margaret drove past, I waved the flag. You might wonder how I remember so much about that flag. The reason is that it was stored in my aunt’s downstairs bathroom for many years afterwards and I saw it each time I used the room.

Southway leads east from the south-east corner of Central Square. Harold Wilson (1916-1995), Prime Minister between 1964 and 1970 then again from 1974 to 1976, lived in a semi-detached house on Southway until 1964, when he moved to 10 Downing Street, closer to his workplace. Unlike his minister Gordon Walker, I never met him. The brickwork on the former Prime Minister’s home in Southway includes three bricks inscribed with letters. One reads “HCP”, another “AEP”, and the third “1909”, which might be the year the house was built.

Bigwood Road intersects South Way and leads south to Meadway, crosses it,  and then becomes  Meadway Close. One of my father’s close colleagues at the LSE, Lionel Robbins (1898-1984), lived in a substantial semi-detached house on this cul-de-sac that ends close to the Hampstead Heath Extension. Lord Robbins was an important twentieth century British economist. I cannot tell you about his contributions to economics because I only knew him as a friend of our family.

Lionel was over six feet tall and his wife, Iris, was truly short. He drove a tiny Mini and Iris drove a far larger vehicle. My mother knew that Robbins was fond of spaghetti. My parents were fond of Italians, and often invited my father’s Italian postgraduate students, amongst which was the former Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, to our home for dinner. Almost always, they invited Lionel Robbins as well. This was because my parents knew that most of my father’s Italian students were in awe of the great Lionel Robbins. At these dinner parties, my mother served spaghetti which Robbins enjoyed, and the young Italian guests sat around the great man enjoying his presence and the opportunity to chat with such a famous economist.

Almost opposite the home of the Robbins was the home of my school friend at Highgate School, Timothy Clarke. Tim is the younger brother of Charles Clarke, who became head boy at Highgate School before studying at Cambridge University. A member of the Labour Party, Charles served as Home Secretary between 2004 and 2006 in Tony Blair’s government. Once a Head Boy, always a Head Boy! I lost contact with Tim after we left Highgate. Whenever I pass his childhood home, I remember that there was a stylised metal sailing ship attached to its front door. When I passed it recently, I noticed that the door was no longer decorated with a ship.

We had parked our car near the intersection of Hampstead Way and Meadway, opposite a house on the north-east corner of the intersection. The building is a kind of terrace containing three or four houses. I never knew anyone who lived there, but I do remember that whenever there was to be a general election, somebody in that group of houses always put up an orange poster promoting the Liberal Party. Despite this and Harold Wilson living in the Suburb, the majority  of voters in the Hendon South Constituency, in which HGS is located, always voted for the Conservatives. When I was young, our MP had a memorable name: Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (1903-1985). I wonder whether his name subconsciously inspired me to take up dentistry. He held Hendon South from 1945 until 1970, when he retired from politics.

We drove away from the Suburb, a place that I found dull in my youth, with many memories revived in my head. I hope that you have enjoyed the selection I have shared with you.