A HIGHLY DECORATIVE BLOCK of flats stands on the southeast corner of the intersection of Wimpole and New Cavendish Streets. Bearing the date 1892, one of its large bricks was laid by Mary Mason Lithgow.
Mary was the mother of the person who commissioned the building, the lawyer and property developer Samuel Lithgow (1860-1937). Samuel was born in Marylebone and after qualifying as a solicitor, he practised at 42 Wimpole Street. Politically inclined, he represented the West St Pancras ward of the London County Council between 1910 and 1913. A philanthropist, he founded the Stanhope Institute for Men in 1891. In addition, he was a governor of the North West London Polytechnic (founded 1896).
Wimpole House was designed by Charles Worley (1853-1906) in the so-called Belgian Renaissance Style. It is a very florid addition to an area filled with buildings displaying a wide variety of decorative flourishes
The house was built for the successful upholsterer Thomas Gardnor (c1685-1775) opposite the stocks that were used for punishment until 1831 (Barratt, T: “The Annals of Hampstead). He and his family were responsible for the development of several streets and buildings in Hampstead (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp15-33). Thomas was responsible for building terraces of houses in Flask Walk and homes in what is now Gardnor’s Place. His family also:
“…enlarged their property holdings in the area to include Flask Walk, Streatley Place and parts of Heath Street, High Street and New End. The family also owned houses in Church Row on the site of Gardnor Mansions.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gardnor).
During the mid-19th century, Gardnor House was owned by a dealer in chinaware. Later that century, by which time most of the area around Flask Walk was inhabited by poor people, the grand Gardnor House was the home of an architect. Moving forward 100 years, we find that Gardnor House was the home of the authors Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) and Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014). By the time they moved in, their marriage was crumbling as Joseph Conolly, owner of the former Flask Bookshop in Flask Walk, recalled (https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/november-2020/very-amis-very-hampstead/):
“…by the time they were settled in Gardnor House in Flask Walk — also Georgian, though rather smaller and with a modest garden — the gilt was beginning to chip away from the golden couple, and that deterioration was about to accelerate rather rapidly.”
The house that Thomas Gardnor built for himself is one of the larger residences within the bounds of old Hampstead. It is either evidence of his success as an upholsterer and/or as a property developer. Luckily, the house seems to be well-maintained. Many of us, who spent our childhood in or near Hampstead, bemoan it having become a more upmarket area than it used to be, but with its property values rising, the condition of many historic buildings is being well-maintained.