The artist’s son in her Majesty’s Indian Navy

ENCLOSED BY IRON railings, the grave of the artist John Constable (1776-1837) stands at the southern edge of the old part of the churchyard of St John’s Church in Hampstead. The famous painter does not lie alone. He is buried with some other members of his family. One of these people is his second son Charles Golding Constable (1821-1879). I became interested in him when I noticed the words “Captain in her Majesty’s (late) Indian Navy”. The inclusion of the word ‘late’ and its position in the inscription puzzles me.

Charles went to sea as a midshipman in the British East India Company’s navy when he was about 14 years old. According to a genealogical website (www.bomford.net/IrishBomfords/Chapters/Chapter33/chapter33.htm/), he:
“…took to the sea, joined the Indian Marine and eventually became a Captain. Around 1836 he left on his first voyage to China and did not return until after his father’s death so missed his large funeral in London. During the 1850s he gained a place in the reference books for having conducted the first survey of the Persian Gulf. He had to struggle with navigation as a youth so he must have shown considerable determination to be entrusted with this survey. Shortly before his survey the Arab sheikhs bordering the southern end of the Gulf gained their income largely by piracy; this was ended by a treaty or truce arranged by the British, and the Sheikhdoms that signed the truce have been called ever since the Trucial States.” A paragraph in the book “Journey to the East” (published by Daniel Crouch Rare Books Ltd.) related this in some detail:
“Commander Charles Constable, son of the painter John Constable, was attached to the Persian Expeditionary Force, as a surveyor aboard the ship Euphrates. On the conclusion of the war [the First Anglo-Persian War: 1856/57], Constable was ordered to survey the Arabian Gulf, which occupied him from April 1857 to March 1860, with Lieutenant Stiffe as assistant surveyor. The survey (Nos. 2837a and 2837b) which contains the first detailed survey of Abu Dhabi, would become the standard work well into the twentieth century. During the time that Constable was surveying the Gulf, the Suez Canal, one of the greatest civil engineering feats of the nineteenth century was under construction.”
Charles was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

While ‘surfing the net’, I found out that sketches made by Charles during his travels have been on sale from time to time in auction houses. His drawings were competent but no match for those executed elsewhere by his famous father.

When John Constable died, his eldest son John Charles Constable became responsible for dealing with his father’s estate. He was then a medical student as well as having studied under the scientist Michael Faraday. According to a website concerning his college in Cambridge (Jesus), John Charles, died suddenly in 1839 after contracting scarlet fever at a lecture in Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital, at which a patient suffering this disease was being examined. After his father died, he was left “… numerous paintings and works of art, some of which were known to have adorned his rooms in College.” (www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/articles/archive-month-constable-chapel).
In his will, John Charles left his collection of drawings, paintings, and prints to his younger brother Charles Golding Constable. In 1847/48, Charles was responsible for supervising the dispersal of his father’s studio collection of artworks.

Like the rest of his family, parents and siblings, Charles had lived at several different addresses in Hampstead. Although he was buried with other members of the family in Hampstead, I have not yet found out where he resided at the end of his life.

An artist and teacher in West Hampstead

WHILE I WAS STUDYING to become a dentist (in the late 1970s), I used to attend an etching and engraving class in a studio in West Hampstead’s Sumatra Road. The class was supervised by the owner of the studio, my mother’s cousin Dolf Rieser (1898-1983). Like my mother, he was born in South Africa. They were both born in King Williams Town, but he was 23 years older than her.

An engraving by Dolf Rieser

Dolf ‘s childhood memories evoke South Africa as it was at the turn of the century (19th/20th) and are recorded in his unfinished autobiography (dolfrieser.com). Here is an extract that gives a flavour of them:


“The climate of King William’s Town was particularly difficult to bear and my mother suffered greatly especially where her nerves were concerned. I vividly remember her awful attacks of migraine when she had to stay in a darkened room. In the end we decided to leave South Africa, as I shall relate later on . My uncle, my mother’s brother, was at that time living on the border of Basutoland. He was running a small trading post and also kept some horses and sheep. This place was right up on the high plateau and was called Moshes-Ford after the famous Basuto chief, Moshes. My uncle invited us up to him for a holiday and I think we first took a train and then had to continue by horse and carriage, which presumably was also the postal service at the time. I remember well an “ooutspan” for lunch near an immense field full of dried bones and skeletons. These were the remains of the “Rinderpest” which shortly before had nearly wiped out the cattle of South Africa. I played football with a cow or ox skull, very much to the annoyance of the grown-ups. The following night we had to spend at the German Pastor’s home and I remember how impressed I was with the enormous bed and unknown eiderdowns.”


The ’Rinderpest’ was a disease that afflicted cattle.

During his classes at Sumatra Road, he would regale us with stories of Paris in the 1920’s and 1930s, when he was there learning etching an engraving in the studios of both Stanley Hayter and Joseph Hecht. One story that sticks in my mind is how he used to attend the same Parisian café as Pablo Picasso. The great master sat at one table alongside the the other leading artists in Paris, and junior artists like Dolf sat close by at another table.

Dolf was an excellent teacher. He showed us how to etch and engrave. However, what impressed me most is that he had the ability to look at his students’ works in progress, understand what we were trying to achieve, and then provide constructive (rather than prescriptive) advice.

I really miss Dolf, even though it is so many years since he died. He had a wonderful sense of humour, was a wonderful raconteur, and, having once trained as a biologist (before becoming an artist), a wonderfully adventurous approach to his métier.

Celebrities and criminals in Hampstead

THE ACTOR AND STAGE impresario Gerald Du Maurier (1873-1934) lived in Cannon Hall (14 Cannon Place in Hampstead) from 1916 until his death. His children, who lived there, included the novelist Daphne Du Maurier (1907-1989). The house was built in about 1720 and altered in the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite these changes, it remains an elegant residence in the heart of Hampstead.

The former lock-up

Steeply sloping, narrow Cannon Lane runs alongside the eastern wall of the grounds of Cannon Hall. About halfway down it (between Squires Mount and Well Road), there is a doorway in the wall. There is one semi-circular window on each side of it. Each of the windows is behind a lattice of metal bars. A plaque nearby informs the viewer that this was once a parish lock-up in which prisoners were held temporarily in a dark cell. The lock-up was established in about 1730. In that era, magistrates held court proceedings in Cannon Hall. In 1829, when a police force was set up in Hampstead, court business and prisoners were held in the Watch House on Holly Walk.

At the bottom of the grounds of Cannon Hall, stands Cannon Cottage, which faces Well Road. This was constructed in the early 18th century. Between 1932 and 1934, Gerald du Maurier’s daughter Daphne lived in this substantial residence with her husband Frederick Browning, whom she had just married.

Further west along Well Road, there is what looks like a small factory with skylights. This was built as artists’ studios in the late 19th century. Known as Well Mount Studios, the artist Mark Gertler (1891-1939) moved into number 1 in 1915, and worked there. I am uncertain how long he remained at this address, but I know he had moved from it before he committed suicide.

The places described above can be seen by walking only about 335 yards. This is typical of Hampstead Village (or Town, according to some), which is literally packed with interesting sites, both historical and contemporary. If you wish to discover much more about this fascinating part of north London, you can buy a copy of my informative book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” (from https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).

A railway station far below the surface at Hampstead

HAMPSTEAD UNDERGROUND STATION, which was designed by Leslie W Green (1875-1908), was opened for passengers in June 1907. Green was responsible for the use of blood red, glazed terracotta tiling on many of London’s Underground stations. The station facades and interiors which he designed, including those at Hampstead, feature many aspects of the British Art Nouveau style. Examples of this style can be seen on Hampstead’s facade, interior tiling, and the ticket office counters.

While I was researching my latest book, “Golders Green & Hampstead Garden Suburb: Visions of Arcadia” (available from Amazon), I came across an interesting diagram in a book by FC Howkins (published in 1923). It shows how the Northern Line tracks rise gradually from several feet below sea level at Embankment (formerly Charing Cross) station to 192 feet above sea level at Hampstead station. However, Hampstead station’s ticket office is about 360 feet above sea level, which is 168 feet above the tracks and platforms (Wikipedia stated that the platforms are 192 feet below the surface). High speed lifts convey passengers between the platform entrances and the ticket office. Originally, these were slow lifts which were entered though brown sliding wooden doors with Art Nouveau inspired cut-outs for ventilation purposes. These old lifts still existed when I was at school in the 1960s, but the newer high-speed lifts with metal concertina doors were the main method of moving between the surface and the trains. Currently, newer lifts have replaced those which were in use between the 1960s (or maybe earlier) and 2014.

If you have a long wait before your train arrives at Hampstead, it is worth wandering to the end of the platform, where you will find the station’s original name, ‘Heath Street’, still on the wall. Today, I disembarked at Warren Street, and noticed that its old name ‘Euston Road’, is still clearly visible at the end of the southbound platform next to its exit.

By 1907, the Northern Line had been extended northward to Golders Green, whose station was opened for passenger use in 1907. It is a long journey between Hampstead and Golders Green stations. An intermediate station near the Bull and Bush pub (on North End Road) was planned. Although the platforms were constructed, they have never been used by passengers, and there is only a small hut on the surface (on Hampstead Way), which contains the entrance to shafts leading down them. Opposition by the founders of Hampstead Garden Suburb and later its residents ensured that the planned ‘North End’ station was never completed.

The Art Nouveau ticket counters at Hampstead station are no longer in use, but they have been beautifully preserved. In each of them, there are information panels detailing the aspects of the station’s history. Other decorative features have been maintained but much of the space in the ticket hall is occupied by the automatic ticket-checking entrance and exit portals. Perched at the top of the High Street, at the point where it meets Heath Street, Hampstead station is an important meeting point and a hard to miss landmark.

Remembering an old friend in London’s Marylebone

MY FRIEND MICHAEL Jacobs (1952-2014) studied history of art at A Level (university entrance examinations) and then later at university. Later, he became a prolific author. When we were in our late teens, we used to visit Hampstead’s second-hand bookshops together. A few days ago (early September 2022), I was walking along Marylebone’s New Cavendish Street when I spotted something that reminded me of one of our bookshop visits in the late 1960s.

There is a building on the northeast corner of New Cavendish Street and Wimpole Street, which caught my eye. As I passed it, I spotted a small plaque giving the architect’s details. It reads: “BANISTER FLETCHER & SONS ARCHITECTS AD 1912” Sir Banister Flight Fletcher (1866-1953) trained at London’s Kings College, University College, the Royal College of Art, the Architectural Association, and Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts. In 1889, he became a partner in the architectural firm founded by his father: Banister Fletcher & Sons. In addition to designing buildings, Banister Fletcher (and his father) wrote a book of great importance.

The book, “A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method”, which was first published in 1896, was republished several times during the 20th century. It was the standard reference work in English on the history of architecture.

Seeing the name Banister Fletcher on the building in Marylebone reminded me of an afternoon in Hampstead during the late 1960s. We were rummaging around the somewhat disorderly collection of books in Francis Norman’s bookshop in Perrins Lane when Michael discovered a copy of Banister Fletcher’s history of architecture, a book that was well-suited for the bookshelf of a student of the history of art. Michael bought it at an extremely reasonable price.

Until I spotted the building on New Cavendish, I had always associated the name Banister Fletcher with that afternoon with Michael in Hampstead. The building I saw is the first example of a structure that I have been able to associate with the author of the history purchased by my late friend.

The underground artist

THE BRITISH SCULPTOR Henry Moore (1898-1968) moved to London’s Hampstead district in 1929. Between that year and 1940 he lived in Parkhill Road, close to the Mall Studios, where the great sculptor Barbara Hepworth had her home and workshop. Many of Moore’s other close neighbours were in the forefront of the modern art world of the years between the two world wars. Not far away, the designer Jack Pritchard (1899-1992) and his family lived in Belsize Park Gardens, having moved there from Hampstead’s Platts Lane.

By Henry Moore, 1941

Quoting from my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”:

“In 1929, he [Pritchard] 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 modernist building, now known as the Isokon, still stands on Lawn Road, which is close to Parkhill Road. It is still used as a block of flats. Completed in 1934, the building included communal areas including a restaurant and a bar called The Isobar where (to quote from my book again):

“… exhibitions were held in the Isobar and, according to an on-line article in ‘The Modern House Journal’ these were attended by artists including Adrian Stokes, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo. The article also noted that this refreshment area was frequented by modernist architects such as Erich Mendelsohn, Serge Chermayeff and, Wells Coates, as well as by left-wing politicians.”

The Lawn Road Flats (the Isokon) was an early British example of a ferro-concrete building with a steel frame. This made it far more resistant to being damaged by bombs than its many brick-built neighbours. In fact, the only damage it suffered during WW2 was a few broken windowpanes. Various people, including the author Agatha Christie, moved into the Isokon to seek protection from the Blitz. Another person doing the same was Henry Moore, who moved there in 1941.

Many people, who were not lucky enough to be able to live in a relatively bomb-proof edifice, sought shelter from the bombs by spending nights on the platforms of Underground stations such as Belsize Park and Hampstead, all of which are far beneath the ground. Henry Moore created a series of dramatic drawing of the people taking shelter on Underground station platforms. It is quite possible that while living in Hampstead, he visited the stations mentioned above to find subjects for his drawings, which provide a vivid record of the terrible times when London was under attack from the air.

Recently, whilst visiting the Tate Britain art gallery, which houses a great deal of British art, I saw two of Moore’s Underground drawings, both dated 1941, and several of his sculptures. The drawings are not accurate depictions of what the artist saw, but they illustrate his reactions to what he witnessed, and as such they emphasise the atmosphere of those fearful times.  Although there is no doubt that Moore was a great artist, on the whole I prefer the works of his contemporary and sometime neighbour in Hampstead: Barbara Hepworth.

Painting in the Mall

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

By John Cecil Stephenson

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

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

A Soviet in Hampstead: Maxim Litvinov in north London

Here is an excerpt from my new book about Hampstead in north London:

For many centuries, Hampstead has been the haunt of people involved in creative pursuits. So, it was no surprise that the former Express Dairy opposite Louis (patisserie) had at least one interesting cultural connection. In February 1916, the Bolshevik revolutionary Maxim Litvinov (1856-1951) proposed to his future wife Ivy Low in the café inside that branch of Express Dairy. Ivy, a novelist, was born, please note, in 1889 (she died in 1977). At the time he became acquainted with Ivy, Litvinov was with Lenin in London. Ivy did occasional typing for Maxim, and it was not long before they were attracted to one another. Passionate about cinema, he took her to watch films with him and one day he ‘popped the question’ in the Express Dairy. After they married, they lived in Hampstead until the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in October 1917. They did not return to Russia immediately because in January 1918 Maxim Litvinoff was made First Proletarian Envoy to the Court of St. James’s.

According to Zinovy Sheinis in his biography of Maxim first published in 1988, Maxim often went to Hampstead to meet his friends the Klyshkos, who lived on Hampstead High Street. Nikolai Klyshko (1880-1937) was a Bolshevik revolutionary of Polish parentage, who had settled in London and was a fluent Russian speaker.  For a brief period, Litvinov lived in Hampstead with Klyshko and his English wife. Sheinis wrote about Maxim’s meeting with Ivy:

“They had met at a friend’s house. Then at a gathering of the Fabian Society. Litvinov was impressed by her knowledge of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Putting on weight, red-haired, of average height, well-mannered, and not very talkative, he made a big impression on the young writer. Her mother, the daughter of a colonel in the British Army, naturally wanted a different match for her daughter and certainly did not want to see her married to an insecure emigre from Russia. As for his religious background, Ivy Lowe simply never gave it a thought. She was herself from a family of Hungarian Jews who had taken part in the Kossuth uprising; in her girlhood she had been a Protestant, then had been converted to Catholicism. The choice of religion was her private affair and concerned no one else.”

After their marriage, they lived in a house, owned by Belgian refugees, in Hampstead’s South Hill Park (number 86). While there, Sheinis related:

“Friends sometimes gathered there in the evenings to discuss the political news; then an argument would flare up, developing into a fierce squabble. It always seemed to Ivy that her husband and his guests would any moment start flinging chairs at one another. At the very height of the dispute, when it was almost at boiling-point, she would leave the kitchen, go into the room, and announce that tea or coffee was ready. The disputants would calm down and drink their tea in peace.”

He also wrote that Ivy:

“… was not interested in and did not understand the political activities of her husband and his friends. To her, it was an alien world. In London, after the October Revolution, she asked her husband if he knew Lenin. Maxim replied that he had known Lenin for a long time. But she had no idea that letters from Lenin were coming to their house and that her flat was the headquarters of Bolshevik emigres.”

Later, they lived in a tiny house in West Hampstead. After that, Litvinov, having become a Soviet diplomat, moved from Hampstead. Despite not being officially accredited by the British, Sheinis   noted:

“The Litvinovs were even invited to receptions. Though Soviet Russia was not yet recognised, its powerful influence reached standoffish London, Ivy Litvinova recollected.”

By 1921, the Litvinovs with their two young children, at least one of whom was born in Hampstead, settled in Moscow. Although Litvinov held high governmental posts in the Soviet Union and outside it (as a Soviet diplomat), he and Ivy, like so many other citizens in Stalin’s Russia, were constantly in fear of being arrested and/or killed.

My book about Hampstead, “BENEATH A WIDE SKY: HAMPSTEAD AND ITS ENVIRONS” is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

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

Holes in a brick wall

WALKING PAST UNIVERSITY College School (‘UCS’) in Hampstead’s Frognal, I spotted something that reminded me of my schooldays, both at the Hall School (in Swiss Cottage) and Highgate School (…in Highgate!).

A part of the brick wall enclosing the grounds of UCS is inscribed with initials. Some of the bricks also have circular depressions. Those which have not been filled in have interiors which are parts of spheres. The bricks on the walls of the schools I attended used to be spotted liberally with similar circular, spherical concavities.

The concavities, which are never more than about 1.5 inches in diameter, were created using the edges of coins. If the edge of a coin is placed firmly against a brick and the twisted left and right repeatedly, the sharp coin gradually wears away the brick and creates a concavity as described.

In the days long before mobile telephones were even the stuff of dreams, mining out brickwork and inscribing one’s initials provided a perfect way for school kids to pass a few idle moments and to leave one’s mark.

Read more about Frognal and the rest of Hampstead in my new book available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92