FROM THE STREET, the Victorian gothic façade of Hampstead’s Heath Street Baptist Church is unremarkable. Over the past more than 60 years, I have walked or driven past this place of worship, but it was not until today (20th July 2021) that I entered it for the first time.
The church was designed by the architect and surveyor Charles Gray Searle (1816-81) and completed 1860-61. Searle was himself a Baptist. He had been apprenticed to the renowned master builder Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855), who bought stone from his father, John Searle, who owned a quarry near Wapping. Charles set up his own practice in about 1846.
“An early print of the proposed chapel shows buttresses but in its method of construction it was more modern, cast iron being used not only for the pillars and probably for the whole interior framework, but also for the gallery fronts and the mouldings of the pew-ends. The strength of the building is based upon this framework formed by the cast-iron pillars in church and hall below and their linking beams. The brick walls cling to the framework and have tiebars linking the hammer beam roof.”
Cast iron, which has high compressive strength, began being used to create buildings at the end of the 18th century. Pillars made of this material can be made slenderer than masonry columns required to support the same load. The slender nature of the columns in the Heath Street Chapel is immediately evident when you enter the building. What is less obvious is that the decorative fronts of the gallery that surrounds the nave are also made from cast-iron. The material has hardly been used for structural elements of buildings since modern steel and concrete became available at the start of the 20th century.
If you do visit this church, do not miss the fine art-nouveau stained glass window at its western end.
Although the Heath Street Chapel was certainly not the first church to be built using cast-iron structural elements, it must have been one of the first buildings of its kind to have been built in Hampstead, which is why I have given this short piece the title “A High-tech Church in Hampstead”.
WEST HAMPSTEAD, FORMERLY known as ‘West End’ in the time, before the 20th century, that Hampstead was a small town separated from London. Now, yet another of London’s numerous suburbs, West Hampstead has several churches as well as a synagogue. One of these places of worship, St James Church, is worth entering because it is not what it seems from its external appearance.
On entering the church through its electrically operated glass sliding doors, you will be surprised by what you find beneath its fine hammer beam timber ceiling. The west end of the nave is occupied by a post office, the first main-branch of a UK post office ever to be housed within a church. The north aisle of the church contains a children’s ‘soft play’ area, appropriately named ‘Hullabaloo’. The floor of the nave is filled with tables and chairs occupied by people of all ages, some enjoying refreshments from the church’s Sanctuary Café. All these things that you would not normally expect to find inside a church are part of The Sherriff Centre, a community organisation that began operating in 2014 (https://thesherriffcentre.co.uk/). The Centre’s activities also include a stationery store, a free food bank, live music as well as other events, free wi-fi, debt advice, and more.
Jesus is said to have thrown the moneychangers and others involved in commercial activity from the Temple in Jerusalem (“The Holy Bible”, John, Ch 2, v 13-16). However, he might have approved of the commercial activities within St James because profits from the sales outlets in the Centre are used to help finance charitable work. In addition to everything that I have already described about what goes on within St James, there is one more thing to mention. Despite the activities that you might not expect to find inside a church, regular religious Church of England services are held there. It is wonderful that St James, instead of becoming yet one more barely used Victorian church in London, has become a vibrant and beneficial part of a local community, catering to more than only just its by now small congregation.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (1792-1822), the poet, was a friend of the literary critic and essayist James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), who lived at various times in Hampstead, north London. Shelley’s poetry and other writing attracted the attention of radical thinkers including, for example, Karl Marx, who wrote:
“The real difference between Byron and Shelley is this: those who understand them and love them rejoice that Byron died at 36, because if he had lived he would have become a reactionary bourgeois. They grieve that Shelley died at 29, because he was essentially a revolutionist and he would always have been one of the advanced guard of socialism.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/eleanor-marx/1888/04/shelley-socialism.htm)
Hunt, who knew him well, wrote of the poet:
“Shelley was not only anxious for the good of mankind in general. We have seen what he proposed on the subject of Reform in Parliament, and he was always very desirous of the national welfare.”
I mention this about Shelley because it chimes with what is to follow.
A few months ago, I acquired a copy of Leigh Hunt’s wordy but fascinating autobiography. After being released from a spell in prison in 1815 having libelled the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, Hunt moved to the Vale of Health in Hampstead. Shelley often used to visit Hunt there, sometimes staying at his home for several days. Hunt wrote that Shelley:
“… delighted in the natural broken ground, and in the fresh air of the place … Here also he swam his paper boats on the ponds, and delighted to play with my children…”
Hunt was returning to his home in the Vale of Health one evening after having been to the opera when he heard a woman shrieking and a man’s voice coming from within his house. The woman’s voice was that of a lady, whom Shelley had found lying:
“… near the top of the hill, in fits. It was a fierce winter night, with snow upon the ground; and winter loses nothing of its fierceness in Hampstead. My friend, always the promptest and the most pitying on these occasions, knocked on the first house he could reach, in order to have the woman taken in.”
Shelley’s request was turned down. Hunt continued:
“The poor woman was in convulsions; her son, a young man, lamenting over her. At last my friend sees a carriage driving up to a house at a little distance. The knock is given; the warm door opens; servants and lights pour forth…”
And Shelley asks for help employing the voice:
“… which anybody might recognise for that of the highest gentleman as well as of an interesting individual …”
He relates his story to the elderly gentleman emerging from his carriage and asks whether he will go and see the distressed female. The passenger replies:
“No, sir; there’s no necessity for that sort of thing, depend on it. Impostors swarm everywhere: the thing cannot be done; sir, your conduct is extraordinary.”
To which Shelley replied to the astonishment of the man who refused to provide assistance:
“Sir, I am very sorry to say that your conduct is not extraordinary; and if my own seems to amaze you, I will tell you something that will amaze you a little more, and I hope will frighten you. It is such men as you who madden the spirits and the patience of the poor and wretched; and if ever a convulsion comes in this country (which is very probable), recollect what I tell you: – you will have your house, that you refuse to put the miserable woman into, burnt over your head.”
By ‘convulsion’ Shelley meant revolution, something that England did not suffer as had France or later Russia and elsewhere. Leigh’s reporting of what Shelley said may help to show that whatever Marx saw in his writings was in harmony with his own ideas.
As for the poor woman, she was:
“… brought to our house, which was at some distance, and down a bleak path (it was in the Vale of Health); and Shelley and her son were obliged to hold her till the doctor could arrive.”
In case you are wondering how the woman got into such a sad state, Hunt informs us:
“It appeared that she had been attending this son in London, on a criminal charge made against him, the agitation of which had thrown her into fits on her return. The doctor said that she would have perished, had she laid there a short time longer.”
Now, I am no reader of poetry. I find that I enjoy it more if it is read to me. Further, I must confess that I am unfamiliar with Shelley’s works, but this story related by Hunt, has begun to endear the poet to me. Shelley not only met Hunt in Hampstead but also in Italy on the 1st of July 1822, where they, along with Lord Byron, made plans to start a new journal “The Liberal”. On the 8th of July, Shelley died at sea when the boat he was travelling in sunk.
THE TOWER OF BABEL greeted anyone who climbed the staircase at my childhood home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Well, actually it was a large engraving of the tower as imagined by Dolf Rieser (1898-1983). Dolf, who was born in King Williams Town in South Africa, was related to my mother’s grandmother Hedwig Ginsberg (née Rieser). My mother and Dolf were cousins. Even though they lived not far from us in north London, I saw little of Dolf and his family until about 1976 when I began studying dentistry. It was then that my uncle Sven, married to my mother’s sister, and his daughter told me that they were about to join the printmaking classes that Dolf held in his studio above his home in Sumatra Road, West Hampstead. As I liked drawing and painting, I signed up as well. The three of us attended the weekly evening classes that Dolf held on Tuesdays. Out of a class of on average six to eight students, three of us and the teacher were all closely related.
At the top of the stairs leading to the studio, there was a small colourful image created by the artist who is now very famous. It was a gift to Dolf given by the artist when both were living in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Dolf, who had studied biology in Switzerland and was awarded a PhD in 1922 (https://dolfrieser.com/), began studying art in Munich in 1923, and then moved to Paris to study print-making in Atelier 17, the studio of the great surrealist painter and etcher Stanley Hayter (1901-1988) and the engraver Jozef Hecht (1891-1951).
In the compulsory half hour tea breaks during the classes, we used to sit with Dolf whilst he regaled us with tales about his life in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. Every winter, he used to go to Switzerland to ski. He used to enter the railway station carrying his wooden skis, and Parisians would stop him to ask what they were. For, in those days, it might surprise you to learn, the average Frenchman was unfamiliar with skiing. Dolf used to visit the Café Les Deux Magots in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district of Paris, where he would enjoy the company of other artists. He told us that he often saw Pablo Picasso there, sitting at one of the tables. Dolf said that being a junior and relatively unknown artist at the time, he had to sit at a table near to Picasso’s, which was reserved for the ‘upper echelon’ of the artists community in the city. I cannot recall all that he told us, but much of it was both informative and highly entertaining, if not always entirely suitable for polite company. One bit of French that I learned from him during these entertaining intervals in the class was ‘poule de luxe’, which you can look up for yourself.
Dolf’s lofty studio had several large tables where we worked on our copper and zinc plates. At one end of the studio there was a raised platform, a gallery, on which there was a couch or bed. The tables were surrounded with a great assortment of stuff, both works of art by Dolf and the plethora of materials and equipment need to make prints, not only on paper but also on plastic and silk, techniques he developed. There was a table with large shallow trays containing nitric acid in which plates of zinc prepared for etching were bathed. The acid in the trays was of variable concentration, unknown even to Dolf, who used to periodically chuck in unmeasured dollops of concentrated acid from brown glass Winchester bottles whenever he felt (rather than knowing for sure) it might be necessary. Often, he did not tell us when he was about to strengthen the liquid. This could prove difficult if someone were trying to make small delicate adjustments to his or her zinc plate. Occasionally, one or other of us would shout, dismayed:
“Oh, Dolf, you didn’t say you were adding acid. Now, see: the acid has eaten deeper than I was expecting.”
But the ever-ingenious Dolf usually always had a way of remedying what looked to be disastrous at first sight. Today, I doubt that the studio would have passed health and safety rules. There were no extractor fans above the acid baths to remove the toxic fumes emitted when a plate was in the acid. This did not bother any of us.
One end of the studio near the acid baths was dominated by a large, hand operated printing press. The etched or engraved plate was placed on a soft woollen cloth, after having been inked up. A sheet of damp paper was placed over the plate, and this was covered by another cloth. Then, Dolf or one of us turned the large wheel that drove the plate between a pair of metal rollers that applied high pressure to the dampened paper, driving it into the ink-filled grooves on the etched or hand-engraved plates. When Dolf turned the large wheel, always moving his body rhythmically, he often used to say in Swiss German:
This referred to a slightly lewd joke he often told us. It went like this. Two Swiss peasants come to Zurich, where they decided to employ the services of a prostitute for the first time in their lives. To save money, they agreed that only one of them should pay for the experience. When the chosen one had finished with the prostitute, he joined his friend, who asked him how it was. The other fellow replied that it was quite pleasant, adding: “Aber die Bewegung is immer die glierchen.”
Printing was always a messy business. To remove the ink from one’s hands, we used a petroleum-based jelly often used by motor mechanics, which Dolf kept in his studio. Removing the ink from one’s hands was easier than removing the lacquer that was painted on to zinc plates to prevent acid from reaching parts that were not to be etched. To explain, a zinc plate is covered with lacquer, which is then removed with tools of varying sharpness to expose parts of the plates which the artist requires to be etched. This is of course an oversimplification. Dolf who was very inventive showed us many other techniques for producing etched plates. It is likely that his early training in science helped him to develop interesting new ways in printmaking. Dolf maintained an interest in science, as is exemplified by his book “Art and Science”, published in 1972. Its opening words are:
“Art and science are generally considered totally different disciplines. The aim of this book is to draw attention to some of the qualities they share.”
Dolf was a superb teacher. Although the students in our classes were of mixed ability, he brought out the best in each and every one of us. I found that he was particularly good on critiquing composition. The compositions and ideas embodied in his own creations were mostly superb. He used to look at one’s work, immediately understand what we were trying to achieve, and to nudge us gently and constructively in such a way that we ended up with what we were hoping to produce and express.
Once, he held an exhibition of our, his students’, work in his studio and asked us to invite our friends. At the end of the evening, Dolf had sold several of his own prints, but none of us managed to sell any that we had created. Dolf told us off, saying that none of us had worked hard enough, if at all, on getting our friends to buy our works.
After Dolf’s wife died, he continued the classes, but used to be reluctant to see us leave at the end of the evening. I liked Dolf so much that I was always sad when the classes came to an end. However, after he became a widower, we used to follow the classes by walking with him to a Turkish restaurant nearby in Willesden, where we all enjoyed a late supper with him.
The last time I saw Dolf was when he was lying in a hospital bed near the end of his life. Even in hospital, he was in reasonably high spirits, telling his visitors stories and jokes. His house in Sumatra Road still stands. I do not know whether his wonderful studio is still being used to create works of art, but it is with Dolf and his students that I will remember it.
Finally, having read the above, I hope that you will not get the wrong idea when I invite you to “come up and see my etchings”. Many years ago, a young lady did accept this invitation when I made it; she is now my wife.
THE PAINTER GEORGE ROMNEY (1734-1802) moved to Hampstead in north London for health reasons near the end of the 18th century. His home on Holly Hill, originally named ‘Prospect House’ because of the views over London that could be seen from it, still stands today, even thouh it has been altered since Romney occupied it. During 1792, he made frequent visits to Hampstead and the following year he decided to move to the suburbs north of London. In June of that year, he took lodgings at a place he called ‘Pineapple Place’ near Kilburn. Dissatisfied with his Kilburn abode, and having been persuaded that it would be better to buy an existing building rather than to build from scratch, he bought the house on Holly Hill, an old house and its stables, in 1796. It is this building that bears a plaque commemorating his residence there. The Holly Hill house contained his studio, which was completed after the artist had spent £500 on alterations to his new home. While the alterations were being carried out, Romney lived in a building called The Mount on Heath Street, so the informative historian Barratt reveals in Volume 2 of his encyclopaedic history of Hampstead.
The works that Romney had paid for resulted in the creation of:
“…strange new studio and dwelling-house … an odd and whimsical structure in which there was nothing like domestic arrangements. It had a very extensive picture and statue gallery …”
“At last Romney got rid of the builders and decorators, and all his town treasures —paintings, casts, statues, canvases, and what not—scores of cart-loads of them—were deposited in the new house and gallery, and the painter began to think that his higher aims were about to be attained.”
But this was not to be. His health failed and in January 1799, he shut up his Hampstead abode and travelled to Kendal. He returned to Holly Hill briefly but returned to Kendal after the 28th of April. He died in Kendal. His house in Hampstead was sold and by 1808, it contained ‘Assembly Rooms’ and three years later it became home to ‘The Constitutional Club’. Barratt revealed that the rooms in Romney’s house were:
“…For sixty years these rooms were practically the Town Hall of Hampstead and the centre of the town’s municipal life. The Hampstead Literary and Scientific Society, formed about 1833, met here, and many learned men at its invitation gave lectures in the rooms …”
Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, author of “George Romney” published in 1904, wrote of FRomney’s Hampstead dwelling:
“…externally the building, which is covered over with a kind of wooden boarding, has the appearance of a large stable; but within are some remains of the great gallery in which the artist placed his collection of casts, and handsome columns decorate this room; it is now a Conservative Club, and appears to be well attended by the residents of that portion of Hampstead. As a living house it must have been supremely uncomfortable; and one no longer has the advantage of the view over London from the upper windows from which Romney loved to look out and watch the distant dome of St. Paul’s lying in the Thames Valley below; the great city has crept up and around Holly Bush Hill, and crowded out the prospect which gave the great painter almost the last solace in his melancholy decline of life.”
Recently, I wrote an essay (see https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/04/29/artists-in-hampstead-londons-montmartre/) about some artists who lived in Hampstead and mentioned George Romney. Someone who read it wrote to me and reminded me that Romney’s former home was also the abode of another artist, the Welsh born architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978), most famous for his creation of Portmeiron in western Wales. At about the same time as my correspondent mentioned Williams-Ellis, I found a copy of the architect’s autobiography, “The Architect Errant”, in a disused telephone box, now being used as a book exchange, in Madingley, Cambridgeshire. Although I have not yet read the whole book, I have found what he wrote about his time living in Romney’s former home in Holly Hill. He bought this building in 1929 and redesigned it considerably.
Clough left Chelsea for Hampstead. He wrote of Hampstead and its proximity to the Heath:“It was this love of spaciousness that had propelled me first from South Eaton Place … to Hampstead where the desire for bracing air, a garden, and good schools for the children, were factors determining our choice.
From the edge of a plateau high above the dome of St Pauls we looked southwards from George Romney’s old house across the maze of London …”
The autobiography provided a description of Romney’s house as it was when Clough lived there:
“The fine old house, much altered and adapted to our curious habits, being far too large either for our needs or means, was proportionately delightful to inhabit, and with two ex-billiard rooms (it was once a club) at the disposal of the children, its size had compensations.”
Referring to Romney’s picture gallery, Clough added:
“For myself I had taken the immense old picture gallery as my studio, and I did not hesitate to play up to the magnanimity of its proportions in my embellishments … my wife was surprised and a little shocked at my choosing to work in what she not unjustly called my ‘ballroom’…”
He noted that Romney’s former home was “… splendid for large parties…”, and he held many of them. For example, Clough hosted:
“… dances every so often, a show by Ballet Rambert, David Low drawing large cartoons and selling them for charity. We also gave a party to meet the Russian Ambassador, M Maisky, who made a speech from the gallery balcony …”
The balcony can be seen clearly in a photograph on the RIBA website (www.architecture.com/image-library/RIBApix/image-information/poster/romneys-house-hollybush-hill-hampstead-london-romneys-studio/posterid/RIBA71050.html).
Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky (1884-1975) was the Soviet Ambassador to the Court of St James from 1932 until 1943. Unfortunately, the party referred to above does not get a mention in Maisky’s diary (as edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky), which is perhaps not surprising in view of the huge number of events an ambassador is obliged to attend. A year before Maisky became the ambassador:
Rather oddly, Clough does not mention this trip in his autobiography.
Clough wrote that the South African-born scientist Sir Solly Zuckerman (1904-1993), who was studying primate behaviour:
“… wished one of his research baboons on us, as he wanted to study its reactions to ‘bright, intelligent young society’. He was then writing his rather ambiguously entitled book “The Sexual Life of Primates” – so Betsy had quarters on the flat roof at the top of the house for several months.”
The book referred to above was probably “The Social Life of Monkeys and Apes”, published in 1932. Betsy’s stay in Romney’s old house was not entirely successful. It was not:
“… the social success that we had hoped, unresponsive and dirty, we bade our little lodger farewell without regrets. The experience may have been good for Betsy, but I don’t think our children benefitted markedly from the association.”
Clough and his family left Hampstead for Wales at the outset of WW2, keeping a London ‘pied-a-terre’ in Carlton Mews, now demolished. His and Romney’s house in Holly Hill, an edifice altered for Romney by Samuel Bunce (died 1802), has since been used as the studio for an architect’s firm, Hancock Associates, in the 1970s (information from Beth Portwood) and other purposes. In 2012, the architect’s firm ‘6a’ worked on the building to modernise its interior and restore it to a single family dwelling as it had been when Romney acquired it (www.6a.co.uk/projects/more/romneys-house).
The house stands amongst a small cluster of buildings near Fenton House and this charming ensemble makes me think that externally little has changed since these houses were built in the 18th century.
JUST AS MONTMARTRE in Paris attracted artists, particularly painters, so did Hampstead in north London. Best known amongst these were John Constable (1776-1837) and Sir George Romney (1734-1802), who both resided in Hampstead. Constable lived in various parts of Hampstead including Well Walk and Lower Terrace. Reynolds had a fine house on Holly Hill. Since the 18th century, many painters and sculptors have either worked and/or lived in Hampstead.
Although I have visited Hampstead often over a period of more than six decades, it was only yesterday in April 2021 that I first noticed what looks like a small industrial unit with two sloping roofs each with large skylights along one side of Well Road. This is not what it looks like but was formerly artists’ work places, named Well Mount Studios. A commemorative plaque affixed to the building records that the painter Mark Gertler (1891-1939) lived here. I first became aware of this artist when visiting an exhibition at Dulwich Art Gallery in 2013 (www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/about/press-media/press-releases/dulwich-picture-gallery-presents-nash-nevinson-spencer-gertler-carrington-bomberg-a-crisis-of-brilliance/) in which pictures painted by artists who had studied at London’s Slade School of Art were displayed. Amongst these artists was Dora Carrington (1893-1932), whose brief sexual relationship with Gertler was the inspiration for a novel, “Mendel”, by Gilbert Cannan. Gertler painted Cannan in about 1916.
Gertler lived at several other addresses in Hampstead in addition to Well Road: The Vale of Health, 13a Rudall Crescent, and 53 Haverstock Hill (https://rosemaryhallart.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/artists-in-hampstead-part-iii/). His parents were poor Jewish immigrants. Gertler was born in London’s Spitalfields in 1891. Soon after that, his parents and the family returned to Austria-Hungary in 1892, settling in Przemyśl in Austria-Hungary (now in Poland). Then, in 1896, the family returned to London. Mark displayed great artistic talent as a child and in 1906, after leaving school, he studied art first at the Regents Street Polytechnic and then, at the recommendation of the artist Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945), who lived in Hampstead between 1902 and 1912, he entered The Slade. Rothenstein lived at 12 Church Row, where he painted “Mother and Child” in 1903 (www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/rothenstein-mother-and-child-t05075).
While at the Slade, Mark was a contemporary of artists including Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth, C. R. W. Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, Isaac Rosenberg, and Morris Goldstein (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Gertler_(artist)). During his time at the Slade, he met and became infatuated with Dora Carrington.
Mark moved to Hampstead in late 1914. According to Caroline Maclean in her book about the Hampstead Modernists, “Circles & Squares”, Mark moved into the studios near New End, i.e. Well Mount Studios, in 1915, and painted his well-known “Merry-Go-Round” in 1916. This painting that is in the collection held by the Tate Gallery was inspired by a special funfair that was held on Hampstead Heath in 1915 on behalf of wounded soldiers and sailors (www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gertler-merry-go-round-t03846). The painting is believed to reflect that artist’s reaction to war. He was a conscientious objector. He had written to his patron, the art collector Edward Marsh (1852-1953):
“’I am I believe what you call a “passivist”. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I just hate the war”.
Gertler contracted tuberculosis in 1920. He married Marjorie Greatorex Hodgkinson ten years later and they had a son in 1932. Both he and his wife suffered bad health and Mark’s mental stability deteriorated during the 1930s. Tragically, he committed suicide in 1939 in his studio which was by then at 5 Grove Terrace, Highgate Road (near Parliament Hill Fields), London (https://artuk.org/discover/stories/the-genius-of-the-place-mark-gertler).
A relatively early 20th century artistic arrival in Hampstead, Gertler was followed by a host of other 20th century artists from all over Britain and elsewhere. These included well-known creators such as Barbara Hepworth, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, and many others. When I was at the Hall School at Swiss Cottage between 1960 and 1965, one of my fellow pupils was a son of the graphic designer Frederick Henri Kay Henrion (1914-1990) and his wife the sculptor Daphne Hardy Henrion (1917-2003), who was once a close friend of the writer Arthur Koestler (1905-1983). The Henrions lived in Pond Street for twenty years from about 1946 onwards. They had two sons, one of whom attended The Hall with me. I do not recall his first name because at that school everyone addressed each other by their surnames.
Far less well-known than any of the above-mentioned artists was my mother’s cousin Dolf Rieser (1898-1983; https://dolfrieser.com/biography/). Dolf, a fine etcher and engraver, lived in Sumatra Road, West Hampstead. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I used to attend his inspiring classes in the large studio in his house. Some examples of his prolific output are in important collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum, both in London. Apart from being a great judge of composition, my relative Dolf was highly inventive as his son Richard noted:
“Dolf was innovative, experimenting with plaster prints, silk scarf prints for Liberty’s, printing on leather, printing on plastic paper to be laminated table-tops and on fibre glass to create translucent panels. He even designed for the whole side of a building a ‘print’ to be sand blasted into the concrete, at a university Witwatersrand in the form of a Bushman cave painting. Dolf worked with a plastics expert, Richard Wood, to develop the laminated hand made prints and the prints on fibre glass. The prints went off to the factory to be laminated, but the fibre glass he rolled onto the plate which had been inked with specially prepared plastic pigments, then had resin spread on and then another layer of fibre glass. The resin warmed up and emitted a sweet smell, like honey, and when it was set it could be peeled off the plate. A light could be put behind to give a translucent image.” (https://dolfrieser.com/a-personal-memory/)
Working in Dolf’s studio once a week for a few years helped made me feel like I was involved in the Hampstead art scene at least a little bit.
During my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, when we often visited Hampstead, there used to be an annual summer fair of local artists’ works held on the wide pavement of Heath Street near to Whitestone Pond. Most of these artists were far less well-known than the likes of Gertler or even my relative Dolf Rieser, but seeing the exhibition helped to imprint Hampstead’s rich association with visual art firmly in my then young mind.
CLAVICHORDS, HARPSICHICHORDS, VIRGINALS, and other historical musical instruments can be viewed whilst walking through the rooms of Fenton House in Hampstead. When I first visited the house in the second half of the 1960s, anyone could touch the keyboards of these antique instruments even if they had not the faintest idea how to play them. Some visitors with musical skills used to play music on them. Nowadays, visitors are not permitted to touch the instruments without special permission from the management of this house maintained by the National Trust.
Built in about 1693 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1378648), Fenton House is named after Philip Robertson Fenton, a wealthy Riga merchant who exported goods to the UK. He bought it in 1793. Prior to getting its current name Fenton House was known as Ostend, then Clock House. Members of the Fenton family lived there until about 1835. Later residents included a Mrs Selwyn, and, according to Baratt, a historian of Hampstead, also:
“…Mr. Vaughan Davis; Thomas Turner, Treasurer of Guy’s Hospital and the Hon. Mrs. Margaret Murray, afterwards Baroness Gray in her own right, and great-aunt of the sixth Lord Mansfield. Lady Abercrombie also resided in this mansion for a time. Both Baroness Gray and Lady Abercrombie had been ladies-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, and her Majesty visited them on different occasions at Fenton House.”
Lady Binning, widow of Brigadier-General George Baillie-Hamilton (1856-1917), whom she married in 1892, bequeathed Fenton House to the National Trust in 1952, the year of her death.
The musical instruments within the house were collected by Major George Henry Benton Fletcher (1866-1944), who had a varied career including social work; archaeology; art and book illustrating; and soldiering. His collection of keyboard instruments was housed in various locations including Old Devonshire House in Holborn, where he lived until it was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941. Fortunately, his collection of musical instruments was saved because he had evacuated them to Gloucestershire earlier. In 1937, he had donated his house and the collection to the National Trust on the condition that he could live there for the rest of his life. His collection of musical instruments was moved to Fenton House in 1952.
At present (April 2021), visitors cannot enter the house, but are able to see the small but lovely gardens. The rear gardens are on two levels, the lower of these includes a small orchard. The upper level is a lawn surrounded by flower beds. At one end of the lawn, there is a sculpture of a standing figure holding a long, slender staff in his right hand and dressed in what looks like 18th century attire.
In one of the flowerbeds, I noticed three small carved stones that look like small tombstones. Two of these have become almost submerged in the soil. The third has the following carved on it: “ BE??? 1933-1944”, the question marks being letters that were too indistinct to read. The stones reminded me of the small gravestones that I have seen in the pet cemetery on the edge of London’s Hyde Park. The volunteers working at the house confirmed that these stones mark burial sites of pets, who resided at Fenton House. The stone with a visible inscription most probably commemorates a pet owned by Lady Katharine Binning (née Salting), who bought the house in 1936 (https://alondoninheritance.com/london-buildings/fenton-house-hampstead/). As for the other two stones, without digging them up, which would not find favour with the National Trust, we cannot know when they were placed, or by whom. As they are the same design and material as the one inscribed stone, maybe it would be safe to guess that they mark the burial places of other pets owned by Lady Binning.
I look forward to entering Fenton House when covid19 regulations are relaxed in the future. From what I remember of earlier visits, its rooms are filled with interesting exhibits in addition to the lovely old musical instruments.
THE ARTIST CONSTABLE is one of the best-known people to have been interred in the cemetery of St John’s, the parish church of Hampstead. His grave is in the older part of the cemetery which surrounds the church. Across the road from the church and running along the east side of Holly Walk, there is an extension of the cemetery, the Additional Burial Ground, almost completely filled with the graves of people, who died in the 19th century and later. Apart from the graves covering the gently sloping cemetery, there is a pleasant, peaceful sitting area in its south eastern corner and an attractive columbarium (containing wall-mounted memorial plaques) in its north eastern corner. For several centuries, Hampstead has attracted residents from a wide variety of walks of life, and this is can be seen by wandering around the cemetery. Several of the many gravestones attracted my interest and aroused my curiosity about the lives of the people buried beneath or beside them. I have chosen a few to write about because they were clearly notable people, but individuals about whom I knew nothing.
Thomas Frederick Tout (1853-1929) lies buried close to the Labour politician Hugh Gaitskell (1906-1963) and the Austrian born actor Anton Walbrook (1896-1967), both of whom are better remembered than Tout, who is described as “historian” on his gravestone. Born in London, Tout specialised in the history of the mediaeval era. At first, after graduating at Oxford, he taught at the University of Lampeter in Wales, then later at what was to become the University of Manchester, where he introduced the idea, an innovation, of making final year history undergraduates produce a final year thesis based on study of original sources. Just before Tout retired in 1925, he moved to Hampstead where he and his wife lived at 3 Oakhill Park until his death.
Tout lies at the bottom end of the sloping cemetery, while another academic, Randolph Schwabe (1883-1948) is interred at the top end. Schwabe was born in Eccles near Manchester. His paternal grandfather was born in Germany and migrated to England. At the age of 14, Randolph enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art (University College London) and showed great skill in drawing, painting, and etching. During WW1, he was an official war artist. Following the end of the war, he taught fine art at both the Camberwell and Westminster schools of art. In 1930, he became the prestigious Slade Professor of Fine Art at University College and then Principal of the Slade School of Fine Art. When war broke out again in 1939, he became involved in official recording of the war, receiving a special commission to document the bomb damage to Coventry Cathedral. In addition to teaching, Schwabe was a prolific book illustrator. For health reasons, he moved to Helensburgh in Dunbartonshire, where he died whilst still Principal of the Slade. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the cemetery in Hampstead where a beautiful stone sculpture of a woman with bowed head, created by Alan Durst (1883-1970) commemorates him. Schwabe lived close to the cemetery in Church Row (no. 20).
Not far from Schwabe’s monument, there is an ensemble of gravestones remembering the lives of the Matthews family. Bert Matthews (1884-1974), a local rat catcher, was Hampstead’s Pearly King for 40 years (www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/six-things-you-never-knew-about-pearly-kings-queens). In 1905, Bert married Becky in Hampstead Parish Church (https://tombwithaview.org.uk/abg-people/bert-matthews/). They lived in Perrins court. Three years before his marriage, Bert became involved in charity work. Bert and his wife became Pearly King and Queen of Hampstead. The ‘Pearlies’ dress up occasionally in clothes that have been covered with mother-of-pearl buttons and so attired, they collect money for charity. Like royalty, the Pearly Kings and Queens hand on their titles to their offspring. Although dressing up in the pearly button covered costumes is part of the fun, the Pearlies are dedicated to raising money for good charitable causes. Three generations of the Matthews family are buried near to the Holly Walk edge of the cemetery, the bodies of three generations of Hampstead’s Pearly Kings and Queens lie together. To see the Pearlies of Hampstead, watch the video on www.britishpathe.com/video/pearly-kings.
Buried close to the working-class Pearly aristocrats, we find an ostentatious monument commemorating some other aristocrats, who would not have considered themselves working-class. It is in memory of three female members of the family of Frederick Ramon de Bertodano y Wilson, 8th Marquis de Moral (1871–1955). Born in Australia, Frederick went to England in 1895, where he trained as a lawyer. He served as an officer in the British Army in southern Africa during both the Matabele War (1896-1897) and the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Then, he returned to England in 1905 (https://campbell.ukzn.ac.za/?q=node/47011). In 1907, he married Lady Ida Elizabeth Dalzell (1876-1924), who is buried in the cemetery along with their daughter Marie Stephanie Stewart (1911-2009), née de Bertodano. Frederick Ramon is not buried in Hampstead but in Harare, Zimbabwe (www.geni.com/people/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9rik-Ramon-de-Bertodano-8th-Marquis-de-Moral/6000000012386542530). He retired to what was then Southern Rhodesia in 1947. I am not certain why this monument is in Hampstead. The only clue I have found is that Frederic was listed in 1906 as being a Fellow of The Royal Geographic Society living at 43 Belsize Square. However, this was before he married. Marie Stephanie’s brother Andrew was born in Hertfordshire in 1912. I would like to know more about this family’s connection to Hampstead.
The last of the graves of the many fascinating people, whose remains rest in the newer part of the cemetery of The Parish Church, records the deaths of the Llewellyn-Davies family. The barrister Arthur Llewellyn-Davies (1863-1907) married Sylvia Jocelyn Du Maurier (1866-1910), daughter of the cartoonist George Du Maurier, who is buried in the cemetery. They had five sons. After Arthur died, the family’s friend, the author JM Barrie (1860-1937) supported Sylvia and her boys financially. When she died, Barrie became one of the boys’ guardians (https://androom.home.xs4all.nl/biography/p008514.htm). Most readers will know that Barrie is famous for his book “Peter Pan” (first published 1911). Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan was Arthur and Sylvia’s son Peter (1897-1960), who is remembered along with his parents at the family grave in Hampstead. Michael Darling, another character in “Peter Pan” was based on Michael Llewellyn-Davies (1900-1921), who drowned when bathing at Oxford while he was an undergraduate student. You might be wondering about Peter Pan’s companion Wendy. It so happens that I have seen her grave, that of Margaret Henley (1888-1894), who is buried at Cockayne Hatley in Bedfordshire. Her father was a friend of JM Barrie, whom the small child Margaret referred as her “fwendy-wendy”. This caused Barrie to name his heroine Wendy. The Du Maurier family is intimately associated with Hampstead. So, it is unsurprising to find the Llewellyn-Davies family memorial where it is.
Enough of this morbid subject. Now, you need to visit this fascinating cemetery in Hampstead to discover more for yourself. And when you have had enough of looking at the resting places of illustrious corpses or their ashes, it is but a short walk along the attractive Church Row to reach the heart of Hampstead with its numerous cafés, where you can enjoy a life-restoring beverage.
LIKE ROME, HAMPSTEAD in north London perches on several hills. A short street, Holly Walk, leads uphill from Hampstead Parish Church towards the summit of Mount Vernon, one of Hampstead’s ‘peaks’. On the southern corner of Holly Walk and the short cul-de-sac Holly Berry Lane, there stands a house, number 9 Holly Walk, that bears the name ‘The Watch House’. It was from this building, constructed in the early 19th century (c1830), that during the 1830s (1830-1834), members of Hampstead’s newly established Police Force set out on patrol and night watch. The Regency era Windsor lantern attached to the Holly Berry Lane façade is of antiquarian interest (https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/photos/item/IOE01/15703/07). The main entrance to the building was the doorway in Holly Berry Lane; it is surmounted by a bas-relief of a lion’s head. By 1834, the police had moved to the bottom of Holly Hill opposite where the Underground Station stands now.
door to the former police house with its entrance on Holly Berry Lane is a
house in which the composer Sir William Walton (1902-1983) lived in about 1939,
although I am not sure exactly when. Walton used to visit Hampstead in the 1920s
while he was composing Façade (first performed 1923), a musical setting of
poetry by Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), who was living at Greenhill, a block of
flats on Hampstead High Street. Later in life, she lived in Keats Grove.
across Holly Walk opposite the former police station, there is a large,
detached building called Moreton House. This was built in 1894-1896 in what the
architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner describes as “… the style of a
Jacobean manor house.” The house originally had extensive terraced gardens, but
these are now covered with late 20th century houses. It was designed by Thomas Garner (1839-1906). Its
first owner was the art historian and collector Frederick E Sidney, about whom
I have discovered only a little. His
motto, which can be found in various places in Moreton House was “God is in Al
and in Al thinges”. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, he was born before 1855
and died in 1932. In 1903, he published a travel book called “Anglican
innocents in Spain”. In 1937, after his death, Christies auctioned his
collection of ancient and modern pictures and drawings. The proceeds of this
sale were given to the beneficiaries of his will. Apart from the information
that he had a Torpedo model Rolls Royce Silver Ghost made for him in 1914, I
can discover little more about Mr Sidney. It seems that currently Moreton House
is divided into luxury flats.
three buildings I have described are within a few feet of each other. They are
close to the Catholic church on Holly Walk and the cemetery next to it. There
is so much history in such a small area, as is the case for the rest of
Hampstead. This is one of many things that endears me to the small hill town
that has been absorbed into the metropolis of London without losing too much of
its unique character.
DURING THE COVID19 ‘lockdowns’, it is often impossible to venture within a church. On several occasions, especially when there are builders at work within a church, we have been lucky enough to be able to enter it. Otherwise, they are usually locked up. Not too long ago, I wrote about General De Gaulle’s brief period of residence in Hampstead and mentioned that he attended mass at Hampstead’s Roman Catholic St Mary’s Church (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/03/22/french-connections/). Oddly, given how often we have visited Hampstead, I had never seen St Mary’s until we visited it in late March 2021. The church is located on Holly Walk about 180 yards north of Hampstead’s Anglican Parish Church.
St Mary’s is set back from the road and its tall narrow façade is wedged between two terraced Georgian houses. The white painted façade with neo-classical ornamentation and a niche containing a large sculpture of the Virgin and Child, and a belfry with a single bell, has a Mediterranean or southern European look to it. It adds an exotic touch to its otherwise British surroundings. The façade was designed by the architect William Wardell (1823-1899), many of whose creations are in Australia. Born a Protestant, he was influenced by his friend the great Victorian architect Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), who converted to Roman Catholicism. Wardell followed in Pugin’s footsteps and became a Catholic, building several Catholic churches in England, including St Mary’s in Hampstead, before he moved to Australia in about 1858 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wardell). In the 1840s, after becoming a Catholic, he became a parishioner at St Mary’s.
Prior to the construction of St Mary’s, the Roman Catholics in Hampstead worshipped in Oriel House in Little Church Row. When this became too small to accommodate the congregation, the present church was constructed in under a year and was ready for use in August 1816. At that time, the congregation was led by a French refugee, the Abbé Jean-Jacques Morel, whom I described in the article to which I referred above. While he was still officiating at St Marys, a Papal Bull, the “Restoration of the Hierarchy to England and Wales”, was issued in 1850. Included in this document was permission for bells to be rung from Catholic churches in England for the first time since the Reformation. It was this that led to the creation of the façade, designed by Wardell, which we see today.
Fortunately for us the door to the church was open when we arrived. A couple of workmen were doing some repairs and did not mind us entering the small church. According to Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry in their “London 4: North” architectural guide, the interior was altered in 1878, and a sanctuary as well as two side chapels were added in 1907. The nave faces a baldachino supported by four pillars coloured black with gold-coloured decoration. The baldachino was designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882-1963) in 1935. His family were parishioners of St Mary’s. Adrian lived in Frognal Way in a neo-Georgian house called Shepherd’s Well. Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1872), Adrian’s grandfather, also lived in Hampstead, at Admirals House close to Fenton House. There is a painting above the high altar that depicts the Assumption of the Virgin. This was painted by a student of Bartolomé Murillo (1617-1682) and presented to the church by one of its founders Mr George Armstrong.
There is a stone effigy in the northern side chapel, the Lady Chapel. It depicts a figure with hands together as in prayer, with a lion at his feet. Although Abbé Morel had requested to be buried under a simple marble slab, this effigy of him was commissioned by the architect Wardell. The lion at the feet of the cleric indicates that he died outside the country of his birth.
Although the interior of the church is not so old, it evokes the feeling of much older churches I have seen in Italy. As with the façade, the inside of St Mary’s feels as if it is in a country close to the Mediterranean. While visiting its interior, I popped a donation into a box in exchange for a copy of a booklet about the church, from which much of my information has been gleaned. The booklet includes information about some notable members of the church’s congregation, including General De Gaulle, the Duchess of Angouleme, William Wardell, the Gilbert-Scott family, the landscape artist Thomas Clarkson Stansfield (who lived on Hampstead High Street), the novelist Grahame Greene (1904-1991), and Baron Friedrich Von Hugel (1852-1925).
Greene, an agnostic, became converted to Catholicism and was baptised in February 1926, partly because of the influence of Vivien Dayrell-Browning, whom he married in October 1927 in the Church of St Mary’s in Hampstead.
Von Hugel, who lived in Holford Road, which runs east of Heath Street, was, like Greene, a convert to Catholicism. He was born in Florence, Italy, and moved to England when he was 15 years old. He was an influential religious historian and philosopher both inside and beyond the Roman Catholic Church. He was a leading proponent of Catholic Modernism, which:
Less cerebral than Von Hugel, but greatly skilled was Gino Masera (1915-1996), who worshipped at St Mary’s. The booklet describing the church notes that when working at London’s Savoy Hotel:
“His artistic talent was revealed when he was asked to carve a block of salt for table decoration. He regarded the commission to carve the Stations of the Cross [in St Mary’s] as a turning point in his career and went on to carve the statue of Christ the King which stands above the High Altar in St Paul’s Cathedral.”
St Mary’s Church stands above a large burial ground that lines the east side of most of Holly Walk. Less picturesque than St Mary’s, this cemetery contains some interesting gravestones including those of the actor Anton Wohlbrueck (Walbrook) who died in Germany but whose ashes are buried in Hampstead; the cartoonist George du Maurier; and the Labour politician Hugh Gaitskell.
Once again, visiting Hampstead, a district with a rich history has proved interesting. Each time we make a trip to the area, we see things we had not noticed before and this has resulted in gradually expanding our knowledge of a place that has attracted fascinating people as residents over several centuries.