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)

Hampstead and the Tate Britain Gallery

THE TATE BRITAIN pleases me far more that its younger relative, The Tate Modern, and its cousins in Liverpool and St Ives. I do not know why, but I feel far more comfortable in the old institution on London’s Millbank. Today (31st of March 2022), I took a leisurely wander through some of the Tate Britain’s galleries. I was on the lookout for works by artists, who have been associated with Hampstead in north London. My only disappointment was that there were no works by John Constable (1776-1837) on display. Buried next to Hampstead’s parish church, he worked and lived (for several years) in Hampstead. I had better luck with one of his contemporaries, George Romney (1734-1802). His “A Lady in a brown Dress: The Parson’s Daughter” hangs in the Tate. “Roadside Inn” was painted in about 1790 by George Morland (1763-1804), who used to visit Hampstead to teach. The gallery also contains a picture, “Punch or May Day”, by the painter Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846), who is known to have visited Hampstead, where he met the essayist and critic Leigh Hunt and walked with the poet Wordsworth.

By Mark Gertler

It was the painter William Rothenstein (1872-1945), who found accommodation for, and looked after the great Indian literary genius Rabindranath Tagore, when he stayed in Hampstead briefly in 1912. The artist, who also lived in Hampstead for a while, is represented by at least two of his paintings in the Tate Britain: one was painted in 1891 and the other in 1899-1900.

It was during the first five decades of the 20th century that Hampstead became a mecca for artists, who are remembered today and whose works are displayed in Tate Britain. “The Merry-Go-Round”, a colourful painting created by Mark Gertler (1891-1939), who had a studio in Hampstead, depicts a fairground attraction on Hampstead Heath. It was painted in 1916. Gertler studied at the Slade School of Art at the same time as the painter Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), who had a studio in Hampstead’s Vale of Health for a while. It is therefore apt that Gertler’s painting hangs next to one by Spencer: “The Resurrection, Cookham”.

Another juxtaposition is a wooden sculpture by John Skeaping (1901-1980) and a painting by Ben Nicholson (1894-1982). Both worked in Hampstead in the 1930s and both were married to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). She divorced Skeaping to marry Nicholson. One of her sculptures is on display close to another artwork by her second husband. I spotted one more work by Hepworth. That was a painting, a sketch for a sculpture she was planning in 1957. The three artists all worked at various times in the Mall Studios near Parkhill Road.

David Bomberg (1890-1957), who, like Gertler and Spencer, studied at the Slade, lived in West Hampstead between 1928 and 1934. There are several of his dazzling, colourful paintings hanging in the Tate Britain.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), who lived for a while in Hampstead, is the best represented of all the artists who lived or visited that locality. Tate Britain has many of his sculptures on display and some of the sketches he made during WW2. These images depict people sheltering in deep Underground stations to be safe from the bombs being dropped by the Luftwaffe. Moore lived for a while in the modernist and relatively bomb-resistant Lawn Road Flats (‘The Isokon’) near South End Green (and, incidentally, near the Mall Studios). I have read that it is likely that Moore made some of his dramatic wartime sketches in the nearby Belsize Park and Hampstead Underground stations.

It was fun visiting the Tate and seeing pictures by some of the artists, whom I have written about in my new book about Hampstead: “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”. This work contains two chapters detailing Hampstead’s myriad artistic connections. If you wish to learn more about this and about other aspects of Hampstead and its surroundings, my book (and Kindle edition) can be obtained from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).

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.

The blind beggar and his dog

AN ELIZABETH AND AN ELISABETH figured in my mother’s life during my childhood years. One was the cookery writer Elizabeth David (1913-1992), whose recipes my mother followed faithfully. The other was the sculptor Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993). Although she never met the cookery writer, she was a good friend of the sculptor. Between 1954 and 1962, Frink taught sculpture at St Martins School of Art, which was then located in Charing Cross Road. During that period, my mother, a sculptor, worked in the sculpture workshops in St Martins. It was probably then that she and Elisabeth became friends. ‘Liz Frink’, as we knew her, visited our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb as a dinner guest regularly and I remember meeting her on these occasions. My memory of these meetings was revived when visiting London’s East End this month (March 2022).

We were walking eastwards along Roman Road from Globe Road towards the Regents Canal when we passed the Cranbrook Estate, a collection of six rather bleak looking blocks of flats. The buildings are arranged around Mace Street, which is in the form of a figure of eight. The estate was built on land which had formerly accommodated a factory, workshops, and terraced houses. The blocks were completed by 1963. They were designed by Douglas Bailey and Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990). Born in Georgia (Russian Empire), Lubetkin lived in Russia during and after the 1917 Revolution. He studied in Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg), where he became influenced by Constructivist architectural principles. In the 1920s, he practised architecture in Paris, and by 1931, he had emigrated from the USSR to Great Britain, where he mixed with the artistic community then based in Hampstead (see my book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92). In London, he founded Tecton, an architectural practice. He is particularly well known for his Penguin Pool at London Zoo and his luxurious block of flats in Highgate: High Point. The flats he designed on the Cranbrook Estate were for social housing.

Various other buildings and features have been added to the estate. One of these is a triangular garden surrounded on two sides by rows of single storey houses (bungalows for the elderly). In the middle of this, the Tate Garden, there is a pond with a fountain. Perched on what looks a bit like a diving board made of concrete discs piled one above another, there is a sculpture of a man and a dog. As soon as I saw this, I was reminded of Elisabeth Frink’s sculptures. Later, when I investigated it, I discovered that it is a sculpture by her. Entitled “Blind Beggar and his Dog” and cast in bronze, Liz Frink created this in 1958, which was when she and my mother must have already become friends. A sculpture depicting the Blind Beggar and His Dog, who figure in a tale that gained popularity in Tudor times, was commissioned in 1957 by Bethnal Green Council. Incidentally, there is a Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel Road, where in 1966, the gangster Ronnie Kray shot dead a member of a rival gang, George Cornell.

We had visited the area near the Cranbrook Estate to see a small exhibition. As it had not taken long to view it and it was a warm sunny day, we took the opportunity to roam around the area. Had we not done that, I doubt that I would have become aware of this sculpture by an old friend of my mother.

Czech it out

JAN GARRIGUE MASARYK was born in Prague (Czechoslovakia) in 1886. Son of the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), Jan was Foreign Minister of his country between 1940 and 1948, when two things happened. First, the Communists began tightening their grip on Czechoslovakia and possibly connected with that, Jan Masaryk was found dead in his pyjamas in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry in Prague on the 10th of March. By 1948, Prague already had a reputation for defenestration. Whether or not Jan was pushed out of a window remains uncertain. Two years earlier, a large non-descript house in Hampstead’s West End Lane became home to the recently formed National House, a meeting place for Czechoslovaks (mainly war veterans) in London. Now, it is known as Bohemia House. Its website (https://bohemiahouse.london/beginning-of-national-house/) explains:

“After communist revolution in 1948 and the USSR invasion to Czechoslovakia in 1968, providing the homely atmosphere as well as traditional cuisine. Converted into public house in mid 80’s, the National House serves also as a traditional restaurant showcasing Czech & Slovak cuisines to the public.”

It was in the 1980s that I first began visiting the place to sample Czechoslovak food and drink. After many years, I revisited the place recently (in March 2022).

If it were not for the sign advertising Pilsner Urquell beer projecting above a tall privet hedge, most passers-by would hardly notice that they were passing what is now a bar and restaurant. Immediately after entering via the front door, I noticed several commemorative plaques. One of them honours the British historian RW Seton-Watson (1879-1951), who fought for the rights of the Czechs and Slovaks and other subject people/nations of the former Austro-Hungarian Empireafter WW1. Next to that, there is a large metal plate remembering the Czechoslovak “soldiers, airmen, and patriots”, who fell in WW2. It makes special mention of the Czechoslovak men who flew from Leamington Spa and were parachuted into their Nazi-occupied country to assassinate Heydrich (see https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/11/25/leamington-spa-heydrich-and-the-tragedy-at-lidice/).

A doorway from the hallway leads into a front room used as a formal dining room. This is decorated in a mildly baroque style. A gold-framed portrait of TG Masaryk faces the door. Various other framed portraits including one of Queen Elizabeth II hang on the walls. A metal bust of TG Masaryk stands on a mantlepiece next to a credit card machine and a metal sculpture of a Czech airman and there is an old-fashioned gramophone with an LP on its turntable between the two metal sculptures. The formal dining room is separated by a folding screen from a much larger room behind it. The latter, with tables and chairs, a pool table, and a table-football unit, is a less formal space, which I do not remember from the 1980s. In those days, food was served to ‘outsiders’ in the formal front room.

The larger, rear room with windows overlooking the back garden has several interesting objects on its walls. A sombre-looking metal plate covered with many names lists those who “gave their lives for Freedom” between 1939 and 1945. On the wall facing this, there are two posters with photographs of Alexander Dubček (1921-1992), a Slovak Communist politician, who tried to reform the Communist government during the Prague Spring of 1968, which ended after a few months when the Soviet Army invaded his country. On a wall behind the table-football unit, there are two large, colourful, framed maps. One is of the Czech Republic and the other of the Slovak Republic. Between the end of WW1 and 1993, the two now independent countries were parts of one country: the former Czechoslovakia.

A visit to the toilet involves climbing the stairs to the first floor. After ascending the first flight of stairs, the next short flight approaches a huge painting depicting TG Masaryk dressed in a flowing light beige coat and sporting a straw hat with a black ribbon tied above its rim.

Today, Bohemia House continues to welcome guests, both from the lands, which were once Czechoslovakia, as well as others. Its bar offers a range of beers, spirits, wines, and soft drinks, from that region of Central Europe. I sampled a can of Kofola, a carbonated Czech soft drink, whose taste vaguely resembles Coca Cola. The pint of Pilsner Urquell beer was more enjoyable. We also tried a variety of dishes typically cooked in the Czech and Slovak republics. They were enjoyable enough, but I prefer the cuisines of both Poland and Hungary. However, do not let this comment put you off paying a visit to Bohemia House, where you will receive a warm welcome from its charming staff. And … if you wish to know more about Hampstead’s Czechoslovak, other Central European, and Soviet historical associations, you could do no better than to read my new book about the area, available from Amazon [https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92] and bookdepository.com [https://www.bookdepository.com/BENEATH-WIDE-SKY-HAMPSTEAD-ITS-ENVIRONS-2022-Adam-Yamey/9798407539520]).

Hampstead lies slightly west of the Greenwich Meridian

ST JOHNS CHURCH in Hampstead’s Church Row lies 0.1811 degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian. Its longitude is 0.1811 W. This fact is unimportant to most people living in the area because Hampstead is high above sea level. However, an accurate measurement of longitude (and latitude) is extremely important to seafarers.

Tomb of the Harrison family in Hampstead

I am no expert in navigation, so please excuse me if the following explanation seems oversimplified. Latitude can be assessed measuring the positions of fixed astronomical objects such as the sun and the North Star and relating them to the horizon. Longitude proved far harder to measure because it involves relating the local time to the time at a reference position, now at the commonly accepted Greenwich Meridian.  The difference in the time at a position in the sea and that at Greenwich is the way that the calculation of longitude is made. Local time can be measured by means such as observing where the sun appears in the sky. Until the 18th century, no clocks existed that could reliably record the time at the reference position whilst at sea. The uncertainty involved in assessing longitude resulted in many unfortunate disasters at sea. In 1714, the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act of 1714, which offered prizes for a simple and practical method of assessing longitude out at sea.

To solve the problem, a clock that accurately recorded the time at Greenwich was required. This clock had to remain accurate despite the many changes that it would encounter as it moved across the seas. It had to record Greenwich Mean Time accurately and reliably despite changes in temperature, humidity, air pressure, motion of the vessel, and so on. Major advances in the solution of this demanding technical problem were made by a carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776), who was born near Wakefield in Yorkshire. For over 40 years, he worked on the problem, producing ever more reliable chronometers, which were tested at sea. Eventually, his H4 design became the prototype for what was best suited to the job. With the help of his son William Harrison (1728-1815), Harrison was rewarded with much of the financial reward offered in the wording of the Act passed in 1714.

When he died, John Harrison was living at his home in Red Lion Square in Holborn, whose longitude is 0.1186 W. He is buried in the same churchyard as the great artist John Constable: in the cemetery next to St Johns Church in Church Row, Hampstead. His tomb, which close to the south wall of the church, is of Portland stone and decorated with pilasters in the style of the architect Robert Adam. The north side of this shoebox shaped monument has an inscription that gives a brief biography of John Harrison. His wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1777, aged 72, is also commemorated on this tomb. The south side gives a short biography of his son William, who is also buried here. In addition to helping his father test his chronometer, he was also a Governor of the Foundling Hospital in London and High Sheriff of Monmouthshire (in 1791).

According to Christopher Wade in his “Buried in Hampstead”, several persons, who were not resident in Hampstead were interred in the churchyard of St John. The Harrisons figure amongst these. Wade states that there is no evidence that John Harrison and his family had any connection with Hampstead. He speculates that they obtained a burial plot there because they were “… affected by the charm of this particular graveyard.”  

The graveyard still retains its charm. It contains the resting places of many people, who have achieved fame in diverse fields of activity. Some of them are mentioned in my new book about Hampstead, which is available as a paperback from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92) and as a Kindle e-book.

Hepworth and Mondrian in Salisbury

IN THE 1930s, both the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and the painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived in Hampstead (north London). Hepworth and her two successive husbands lived and worked in the Mall Studios near Parkhill Road. Mondrian lived at 60 Parkhill Road. According to one of Hepworth’s biographers, Eleanor Clayton, writing in “Barbara Hepworth. Art and Life”:

“The beginnings of a friendship between Hepworth and Mondrian can be seen in her letters to Nicholson at the time: ‘so glad Mondrian said nice things about me & work. Goodness U did learn a LOT.’”

Visitors to the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral can see an abstract sculpture at the southeast corner of the grassy space enclosed by them. At first sight, it looks like a sculptural version of a painting that might have been created by Mondrian. It is a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth called “Construction (Crucifixion)”. This bronze artwork was created in 1966, and then donated by the artist to the Cathedral in 1969. It is according to a notice by the sculpture:

“… Hepworth’s response to Christ’s Crucifixion …”

The interpretation of the piece’s symbolism is far from simple, as a website text (https://www.salisbury.anglican.org/news/the-crucifixion) explained:

“What we see are 3 verticals linked by a single horizontal bar, and by 2 other horizontals at different heights.

A large circle, attached to the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines, is painted citrus yellow on one side and blue on the other. At the bottom of the central vertical, we see red on its own beneath the blue side of the circle, and red and white beneath the yellow. On the yellow side, a metal hoop encircles the point of crossing.

Hepworth wrote that she found it ‘very serene and quiet’, but that doesn’t have to guide what we make of this piece. We could see the yellow circle as the sun, the blue circle as the moon, the red paint as blood, the 2 verticals on either side as the crosses of the 2 men crucified with Jesus.

Or we could contemplate its hardness, weight, size (12ft tall and 2-and-a-half tons) and stark simplicity. We could seek to find meaning here, or we could stand before it and try to imagine the experience of meaningless horror and sheer emptiness which brutality of any kind must impose on those who witness it. For us, it need not seem ‘serene and quiet’ as for Hepworth. On the contrary this cross might confront us with the tragic lack of meaning which has so often afflicted humanity since the cross of Christ was first set up.”

Whatever its symbolism, Hepworth’s piece is attractive and looks good surrounded by the gothic architecture of the cloisters. Above all, its appearance immediately brings to mind thoughts about thw works of art created by Mondrian. One website (https://artistscollectingsociety.org/news/barbara-hepworth-sculpture-returns-salisbury-cathedral-permanent-display/) describes the piece as “Construction (Crucifixion): Homage to Mondrian” and then continued as follows:

“The sculpture is thought to explore the duality of Jesus Christ in its use of geometric symbols and features bold colours borrowed from the palette of ACS member Piet Mondrian, referenced in the artwork title.”

I was very pleased to see this work once again in March 2022, soon after publishing my book about Hampstead, past and present, in which I have included a substantial chapter about the modern artists who lived and worked in the area between the two World Wars. There is a good chance that Hepworth’s encounters with Mondrian and his work whilst they were both in Hampstead is reflected in the appearance of this abstract Crucifix, which stands in the cloisters at Salisbury.

PS My book, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” is available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).

A poet in Hampstead and Rome

THE SHORT-LIVED POET, John Keats (1795-1821) resided briefly in Hampstead in what is now called Keats House. In my new book, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” *, Keats:

“… took a great liking to Hampstead and settled there in 1817. He lived in Wentworth House, which was later renamed ‘Keats House’. The house in Keats Grove was built in about 1815 and divided in two separate dwellings. One half was occupied by Charles Armitage Brown (1787-1842), a poet and friend of Leigh Hunt and the other half by Charles Wentworth Dilke (1789–1864), a literary associate of Hunt and a visitor to his home in the Vale of Health. Keats became Brown’s lodger. This was after Keats had visited his neighbour Dilke, with whom he became acquainted following an introduction by the poet and playwright John Hamilton Reynolds (1784-1852), who was part of Leigh Hunt’s circle of friends.”

Keats remained in Hampstead until 1820, when, ailing, he left for Italy to try to improve his health. Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), who lived in Hampstead’s Vale of Health, noted in his autobiography that Keats died in Rome and was buried in the English Protestant cemetery near the monument to Gaius Cestius. Amongst his graveside mourners was the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who also had spent time in Hampstead.

Had Keats not travelled to Italy, he would have probably died in Hampstead. If that had been the case, it would have been likely that he would have been buried in the graveyard of St John’s, Hampstead’s parish church on Church Row, where the artist John Constable rests in peace.

Bust of Keats in St Johns, Hampstead

Within the church there is a memorial to Keats, a bust, dated 1894, within 100 years of the poet’s birth. A gift from admirers of Keats in the USA, it was the first memorial to Keats in England. The story of the bust is related on the church’s website (https://hampsteadparishchurch.org.uk/data/keats_bust.php) as follows:

“Anne Whitney, a Boston sculptor (1821-1915) carved her original bust of Keats in 1873. The marble bust was inscribed Keats and not signed. It was exhibited the same year at Doll and Richards, Boston. It was owned by the artist until 1915 when it was bequeathed to Fred Holland Day. Day exhibited it at Boston Public Library in the loan exhibition of his Keats memorabilia in 1921 to mark the centenary of the poet’s death. The Keats bust was given by Fred Holland Day to Keats House and Museum shortly before he died, and its arrival was acknowledged by Fred Edgcumbe the curator of Keats House and Museum on 2 November 1933, the day of Day’s death. The marble replica of the bust inscribed KEATS AW (monogram) 1883 was carved by Anne Whitney in 1883. It was exhibited by F. Eastman Chase, Boston, and presented by Americans, as the first memorial to Keats on English soil, to Hampstead Parish Church on 16 July 1894. The bust remained in position until March 1992 when it was stolen. It was seen by Judith Bingham, the composer, when it was about to be auctioned at Finchley in May 1992. It failed to reach its reserve, Judith Bingham recognised its identity and it was returned to the Parish Church.”

The Keats bust is near the Lady Chapel, in which I saw a remarkable painting by Donald Chisholm Towner (1903-1985), who lived in Hampstead, in Church Row from 1937 until his death. The church’s guidebook revealed:

“The Altar Piece in the chapel was painted by Donald Towner of Church Row, in memory of his mother. True to the medieval tradition Towner used a local resident as the model for Mary, his nephew for John and his own mirror image for Christ.”

What is remarkable is that the three figures are depicted standing in Church Row. St John’s church can be seen in the background.

Apart from the bust and the painting, the church is well worth visiting to see its lovely architecture and to enjoy its peaceful atmosphere.

*My book is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

John Constable and a bookseller’s grave

ST JOHN’S IS the parish church for the C of E parish of Hampstead. The present building, designed by Henry Flitcroft and John Sanderson, was dedicated in 1747. It stands on Church Row, which is lined with elegant 18th century houses and links Heath Street with Frognal.

Church Row, Hampstead, London

The church is at the northern edge of a graveyard well populated with funerary monuments, including the grave of the artist John Constable (1776-1837). This grave is in the old part of the church’s cemetery, which was hardly used after 1878, when it was officially closed. A larger, newer graveyard is on a sloping plot across Church Row and north of St John’s. This is the burial place for a host of well-known people as well as the family of Hampstead’s Pearly Kings and Queens.  

When I used to visit Hampstead in the 1960s and early 1970s, I used to ‘haunt’ a most wonderful second-hand bookshop on Perrins Lane, which leads east from Heath Street. It was owned by an old gentleman, whose name, Francis Norman, I only learnt many years after he died. Recently, I met a member of Mr Norman’s family. He told me that Mr Norman died in 1983 and is buried in the cemetery at St Johns, describing the location as: “by a wall near Harrison and the children’s playground”.

I was not sure to whom he was referring when he mentioned “Harrison”. At the church, we asked a lady about Mr Norman’s grave.  Hearing that he had died in 1983, she suggested that we looked in the newer part of the cemetery. This has a wall that borders a children’s playground. When I looked around carefully, I found  neither any monument to Harrison nor Norman’s gravestone.

On returning to the church and explaining our unsuccessful quest, the lady sent me to see another church official, who was working in an office attached to the church. This lady knew exactly where Mr Norman was buried. She took me into the older part of the cemetery and showed me the gravestones of Francis and his wife Sonia, which lie next to each other. They are next to a small wall and close to a large monument to the clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776). He was the inventor of a marine chronometer, which solved the problem of how to ascertain longitude whilst at sea. His story can be read in “Longitude” by Davina Sobell.  Norman’s grave is not far from that of John Constable.

Francis and Sonia Norman are amongst the few people buried in the old cemetery after it was closed in 1878.  My helpful informant at the church did not know why they had been interred there instead of in the newer part.

Francis Norman was a kindly, wise, and friendly fellow, who did not mind me and several of my friends spending hours in his shop, often spending very little on his extremely reasonably priced books. I have fond memories of the time that we spent in his presence, which are described in my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).  So, it was with great pleasure that I met one of his family and was able to pay my respects at his grave.