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.
THE HAMPSTEAD GARDEN SUBURB (‘HGS’), which I mention briefly in my new book about Hampstead, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”, began to be built as a Utopian experiment in providing housing for all social classes in about 1904. Many of the earlier homes were built in styles that alluded to traditional vernacular architecture such as is found in East Anglia and other rural areas. Many of the older houses incorporate Arts and Craft style decorative features.
Lyttelton Road, a stretch of the A1 trunk road, passes through a part of the Suburb known as the Market Place, one of the few parts of HGS with shops. The main road separates an older part of the suburb south of it from a newer section north of it. Close to the Market Place but south of the main road, there is a cul-de-sac, Kingsley Close, which contains houses built in 1934 in the art deco (‘moderne’) style. They have curved suntrap windows made by Crittals. The residences were designed by the architects Herbert Welch (1884–1953), Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976), and Felix Lander (1890-1960). Welch did much designing in HGS and in nearby Golders Green. According to the website, http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/welch-herbert-arthur, Welch:
“… also designed the handsome curved terraces of shops and apartments in Golders Green Road that demonstrate the early C20 change of style from vernacular revival to Neo-Georgian. In collaboration with Frederick Etchells (the translator of Le Corbusier’s works into English), Welch, with Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976) and Felix J. Lander (1898–1960), designed the pioneering International Modern Crawford’s Office Building, High Holborn, London (1930), with long bands of windows subdivided by steel mullions, much influenced by the Weissenhofsiedlung.”
The Weissenhofsiedlung was an estate built for an exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927. Apart from influencing Herbert Welch, it also stimulated the design and construction of the Lawn Road Flats (the Isokon) in Hampstead, which is described in my new book.
“Handsome” is not how I would describe the terrace of shops mentioned in the quote. However, I feel that the houses in Kingsley Close are more pleasing to my eyes. There are other art deco homes in the HGS, which I hope to write about in the future.
AT THE EASTERN END of Notting Hill Gate, there is a road called Linden Gardens. In the 1860s, only the eastern part of this existed and it was named Linden Grove. To the west of Linden Grove was Linden Lodge, set in extensive grounds with a large pond or lake. It was designed by the engraver, architect, and property developer Thomas Allason (1790-1852) and constructed in 1826. He lived there until about 1838. In the late 1860s, the Lodge was demolished, and houses were built around the edge of, and on, its grounds. This occurred because of the construction of the Metropolitan Railway in the mid-1860s. The gateposts of the lodge still stand, partially embedded in the buildings at the south end of Linden Gardens.
The website british-history.ac.uk noted that it was probably the peacefulness of the Grove:
“… which attracted two other artists, William Mulready, who lived in the southernmost of the eight paired houses (now demolished) from 1828 until his death in 1863, and Thomas Creswick, who lived at the still surviving No. 42 from 1838 until 1866. In the latter year this house was affected by the building of the Metropolitan Railway. Creswick therefore moved to Mulready’s now vacant house, and also, apparently, occupied the adjoining house to the north (with which it formed a pair) until his death in 1869.”
William Mulready (1786-1863) was the designer of the penny postage envelope depicting Britannia. Creswick (1811-1869) was a landscape painter and illustrator. Someone, who lived in Linden Gardens, told me that some of Queen Victoria’s children received art lessons in a studio in Linden Grove, but I have found no evidence to confirm this. However, it is certain that David Hockney painted Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, a portrait of the dress-designer Ossie Clark (1942-1996) and his wife in their flat in Linden Gardens. The balustrades in the painting are typical of those on most of the first-floor balconies of the houses in the Gardens.
Another artist, Elsa Fraenkel (1892-1975), a German-Jewish born sculptor and Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, who fled from the Nazis, also lived briefly in Linden Gardens, so I was informed by her daughter, who lives in Bangalore (India), where Elsa died.
LANCASTER GATE IS ten minutes’ walk or a three-minute bus ride away from where I have lived for over 29 years. I have passed it innumerable times, yet I have never explored it. Yesterday, the 30th of October 2021, I decided it was high time that I took a closer look at the place. The name refers to an entrance to Kensington Gardens as well as a nearby network of streets. The network includes a long street extending from east to west between Craven Terrace (near Paddington Station) and Leinster Terrace. The section of road between Craven Terrace and Bayswater Road is also called Lancaster Gate. Midway along the long east-west section of the Gate, there is a wide street, almost a square or piazza, that leads to Bayswater Road. This rectangular piazza is south of a rectangular loop to the north of the east-west section, in the centre of which there is a 20th century building called Spire House. If this sounds confusing, then please look at a map!
What I have called the ‘piazza’ opens out onto Bayswater Road. In the middle of it, there is a monument topped with the weather worn sculpture of a seated child, probably male. The sculpture sits above a bas-relief depicting the western façade and the dome of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. Below, on the south side of the pedestal, there is a bas-relief, depicting the face of a man with a bushy moustache and a long luxuriant beard. Weather and/or pollution has worn away details from his portrait. At first sight, I thought that it was a representation of George Bernard Shaw as an old man, but it is not. It is, according to the almost undecipherable inscription beneath it, the face of Reginald Brabazon, the 12th Earl of Meath, who lived from 1841 to 1929. The words on the plinth include that he was “a patriot and a philanthropist”.
Brabazon was Anglo-Irish and born in London (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Brabazon,_12th_Earl_of_Meath). Educated at Eton, he became a diplomat, but resigned from the Diplomatic Service in 1877. Ten years later, he joined the House of Lords as a Conservative peer. Reginald and his wife, Mary, devoted much of their lives to relieving human suffering and ameliorating social conditions. Amongst his many good works was the establishment (in 1882) of a charity called the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, whose aim was the preservation of public open spaces and the creation of new ones, which might explain why the memorial to him faces Hyde Park. The Portland stone monument, known as The Meath Memorial, was designed by Joseph Hermon Cawthra (1886-1971) and unveiled in 1934.
A few feet north of Brabazon’s memorial, which stands on a wide traffic island, there is a slender stone column topped by an ornate octagonal structure surmounted by a shiny metal crucifix. The base of this column reveals that it is was built as a WW1 memorial. In the pavement between the two memorials, the City of Westminster has set several informative panels about the history of Lancaster Gate. The development of Lancaster Gate, originally known as ‘Upper Hyde Park Gardens’, began in the late 1860s, an initiative of the developer Henry de Bruno Austin. Many of the houses he built have rich stucco facades and porches supported by neo-classical style pillars. Quite a few of them are now hotels. These buildings are interspersed with a few newer buildings, presumably where the originals were bombed during WW2. However, most Lancaster Gate’s houses are those built in the 19th century.
The name Lancaster Gate was chosen to honour Queen Victoria, who was amongst many other things, the Duchess of Lancaster.
Before Lancaster Gate was developed, it was mostly agricultural land. Until 1775, the composer, actor, botanist, and playwright John Hill (1716-1775) had his Physic Garden here. By 1795, visitors flocked to the area to enjoy the springs and fresh air at the Bayswater Tea Gardens, which later was renamed the Flora Tea Gardens, and then the Victoria Tea Gardens. This establishment closed in 1854.
At the southern end of the loop and towering above the plaza with its two monuments, there is a tall church tower with a spire. This is all that remains of the Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, whose construction began in 1854. The last service to be held in the church was in 1977, by which time the roof was badly infected with dry rot. The church was demolished, but the tower retained. Where the body of church stood, there is now a block of flats. Opened in about 1983, it is appropriately named Spire House. Its 20th century architecture is quite attractive and contrasts dramatically with the stuccoed Victorian buildings that face its west, north, and east sides. Spire House has external concrete supporting pillars that suggest an updated version of the flying buttresses used in mediaeval church architecture.
Lancaster Gate is a relatively unspoilt example of mid-Victorian town planning and worthy of a short visit. While walking around the area, I only spotted one blue plaque, commemorating a resident worthy of note. It recorded that the “Chemical Scientist” Sir Edward Frankland (1825-1899) lived in Lancaster Gate from 1870 to 1880. He was one of the founders of organo-metallic chemistry and a discoverer of Helium. Also, he took an active interest in the problem of pollution of rivers and the quality of London’s water. I trust that he would be pleased to know that fish have returned to London’s once filthy River Thames.
After exploring Lancaster Gate and its sea of stuccoed facades, head east into Craven Street, where you can find several cafés and at least one pub.
DESPITE THE RAIN, we decided to walk along the path by the River Thames, proceeding upstream from Hammersmith. I had done this before, but never ventured beyond (i.e., upstream) the attractive church of St Nicholas, Chiswick, in whose graveyard you can find the funerary monument to the painter, William Hogarth (1697-1764), whose former home is nearby, and another to the Italian patriot, Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827). After walking along a riverside pathway that passes several recent, moderately attractive, but probably immoderately priced, housing estates, we reached Chiswick Pier at Corney Reach, whose name commemorates the now demolished Corney House, where Queen Elizabeth I was once entertained by the Earl of Bedford, who owned the place (www.chiswickw4.com/default.asp?section=info&page=conhistory29.htm).
Several lovely old houseboats are moored next to the pier. Near the jetty there is a noticeboard explaining the history of each of these vessels. Soon after this, the riverside path enters Dukes Meadow. Up to Barnes Bridge, which is a combined rail and pedestrian crossing over the river, the meadows form a grassy promenade running parallel to the Thames. Beyond the bridge, the meadows widen out and extend to Great Chertsey Road that crosses Chiswick Bridge.
The history of Dukes Meadow is recorded in a detailed essay by Gillian Clegg (https://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/dukes-meadows-the-threats-to-its-rural-survival/), from which I have extracted most of the following. In the past, the Meadow were low lying farmland and orchards prone to occasional flooding. The land was owned by the Dukes of Devonshire and cultivated by the Jessop family, then later farmed by John Smith of Grove Farm. Incidentally, one of the Dukes, William, the 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811), who had owned nearby Chiswick House in the 18th century. He had both enlarged the house (in 1788) and extended its grounds. At one time, the grounds of Chiswick House must have neighboured the Dukes Meadow. Ms Clegg noted that it was miraculous that the meadows survived as such considering the plans that were proposed for making use of it during the early 20th century.
Two plans were conceived for the ‘development’ of Dukes Meadow. The first was a housing scheme that was to be named ‘Burlingwick’. Clegg wrote:
“On 19 April 1902 The Times newspaper reported that ‘an influential body of capitalists’ had negotiated successfully with the Duke of Devonshire for 330 acres of land for a building plan to be called Burlingwick. The promoter, manager and developer of this scheme was Jonathan Carr, the developer of Bedford Park.”
Had this gone ahead, it would have created housing for up to 400,000 people and 330 acres of green land would have been lost to bricks and mortar. Fortunately, for reasons that are not now too clear the scheme was abandoned in about 1906.
1914 saw the next threat to the Meadows. The Brentford Gas Company planned to cover 80 acres of the Meadow with a huge gasworks. The people of Chiswick and other areas raised strong objections. The London “Times” of 6th February 1914 published its doubts about the scheme, which it said went against all the principles of good town planning, suggesting:
“…that land ripe for building – such as the Chiswick orchard farm – near the heart of the metropolis should be utilized for parks and garden settlement.”
The plan was scrapped, but what the “Times” had alluded to was later realised, but in a then novel way.
In 1923, the local council bought 200 acres of land from the then Duke of Devonshire. The land was to be used as a public recreation area complete with a riverside promenade, a bandstand, and a children’s area with paddling pools. All of this cost the council much money. To recoup some of what they had spent, they made an agreement with the Riverside Sand and Ballast Group. As Ms Clegg explained, the company:
“…was allowed to extract at least five acres every year in exchange for £1,500 an acre.”
The extraction of gravel proceeded from 1924 until 1937 and caused considerable damage to the area. Ms Clegg explained that when the land was finally returned to the council in 1948:
“The gravel pits were filled in, mainly with rubbish brought from inner London, and the area re-landscaped. Dukes Meadows has been described as one of the earliest and most impressive examples of restoration.”
Today, the promenade remains but I saw neither a children’s play area nor paddling pools, which still exist. The bandstand, which stands within a sunken circle lined with steps on which the audience can sit has a hexagonal tiled roof supported by six plain pillars. It is flanked on two sides by spacious shelters, also with tiled roofs. All their roofs are designed so that the angle (or degree) of pitch reduces noticeably about two thirds of the way from the top. Judging by their appearance, I would guess that these structures were built back in the early 1920s. This is confirmed by their appearance in a photograph taken during those years. Also visible in this picture are the unusual, twisted railings, looking like sugar-candy, running alongside the water, and supported by concrete posts with rounded tops. These are still in place today as are their concrete supports which bear simple decorative patterns. Some balustrading can be seen lining the waterfront near the bandstand (see quote below).
Part of the promenade leading towards Barnes Bridge from the Chiswick end of the Meadow is arranged in the form of two long steps. I have no idea why, but maybe they were once used by spectators watching boat races on the river. An article written in 1924 describes the popularity the Meadow with people watching the annual university boat race (http://dmtrust.dukesmeadowspark.com/newriversidepleasaunce.html):
“…in fact so many thousands of people availed themselves of this vantage point last Saturday week at the small admission fee charged by the Council, that over £1,000 net was raised towards the promenade project.”
“The Scheme, which received the first prize and was submitted by MR A. V. Elliot, of Chiswick, is reproduced on this page. It shows a series of terraces with a plateau of turf, showing seats and rustic shrubberies at intervals, and with a central feature of a bandstand and stone balustrading including a flight of steps and a causeway admitting to the river at all states of the tide.”
We enjoyed our stroll along the Dukes Meadow promenade even though the sky was grey, trees were dripping, and raindrops were falling intermittently. On our way back along the Thames Path to Hammersmith, we stopped at a charming Italian eatery and delicatessen on Chiswick Mall. The place, which is run by Sicilians, is called Mari Deli & Dining, and merits a visit to enjoy a good espresso, at the very least.
When we were trying to sell a house in Kent many years ago, the estate agent put a “sold” sign outside it when, in reality, someone had made an offer, but only an offer without much commitment. I removed the “sold” part of the sign to reveal the “for sale” part of the sign that was hidden underneath it. Then, I rang the agent, told him off for being premature about advertising our house as being sold. Also, I told him what I had done about it. He replied cheekily: “Good man”, without making any apology. This same agent had told us days after we put our house sale in his hands: “Don’t worry about it. I’ll sell it, okay. Now, you can just go out and spend the money right now.”
The agent’s somewhat infuriating, unapologetic answer regarding his sign was typical of people living in that part of Kent. If, for example, someone caused a problem, such as, for example, scratching your car or blocking you into a parking place, and then you alerted the miscreant to the problem, he (usually) or she would not apologise, but instead say cheekily: “Oh yeah?”
There are two other nonchalant responses that continue to infuriate me after complaining about something or having pointed out a serious problem. These are: “These things happen” and “such is life”.