Hampstead: St. John's Wood

Pages 60-63

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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St. John's Wood.

The Hampstead portion of the St. John's Wood or Eyre estate, low-lying and not easily accessible, never attracted seats as Belsize had done (fn. 1) and even the farm buildings lay on the Marylebone side of the border. The Eyre family was, however, always anxious to promote building and in 1794 a plan was drawn up on the model of Bath, with a crescent, circus, and square. The plan was never executed, probably blighted by the French wars, but from 1802 development on the Eyre estate was directed by John Shaw, a young architect inspired by the town-planning ideals of the late 18th century. In 1803-4 he exhibited views of a projected circus and in 1807 building began on the Marylebone portion. (fn. 2) In 1819 Col. Eyre began the first of several attempts to promote the construction of a public road through his estate, ultimately successful in the Finchley Road Act of 1826. Finchley New Road and Avenue Road, the southern part of which existed by 1824, thrust northward into the Hampstead portion of Eyre's land and were built by 1829. (fn. 3) Swiss Cottage tavern was built at the apex of the two roads by 1841. (fn. 4) At the western end of the estate Abbey Road was driven northward by 1829. (fn. 5)

Building spread northward in the salient formed by the Finchley and Avenue roads. A building agreement was made in 1838 (fn. 6) and in 1841 the vestry was discussing the boundary with Marylebone at Avenue Road and St. John's Wood Road (probably St. John's Wood Park) where houses were being erected. (fn. 7) Several houses, called Regent's Villas, stood in the Hampstead section of Avenue Road by 1842. (fn. 8) There was a second agreement in 1845, followed by a burst of building activity in the later 1840s and 1850s. Between 1845 and 1852, 33 houses were built in Finchley Road, 13 in the road parallel to it, St. John's Wood Park, 16 in Avenue Road, 28 in Boundary Road, the east-west road joining them at the southern boundary, and 13 in College Crescent to the north, bordering the Belsize estate. Except for the last, which were stuccoed terraces with iron balconies built by W. Wartnaby, most houses were detached, even imposing, built in small groups by a number of builders: C. C. Cook, E. Thomas & Son, Thomas Clark, and Wartnaby. (fn. 9) The buildings included the school for the blind, built in 1848 at the southern junction of College Crescent and Avenue Road and enlarged in 1864, 1878, and 1912; of brick with stone dressings, it had an Italianate central block with two wings. (fn. 10) The North Star public house was opened at the northeast tip of the estate in 1850 and, enclosed by the curve of College Crescent, the New College of Independent Dissenters, for training ministers, was opened in 1851 in a building designed in an early Tudor style by J. T. Emmett. He also designed the college's Gothic chapel, opened soon afterwards to the south, at the junction of Avenue Road and Adelaide Road. (fn. 11) Immediately south of the blind school a large house, Sunnyside (later St. Columba's hospital), with a Greek Doric porch, was built by 1862 and possibly in 1847. (fn. 12) St. Paul's church was built on the western side of Avenue Road in 1859. (fn. 13)

In 1851 the estate, like Chalcots and Belsize, housed mainly the professional and commercial classes: merchants, an Italian banker, retired manufacturers, people of private means, and some tradesmen, almost all with several servants. Coachmen, grooms, and servants were housed in Regent's Villa Mews. The writer James Buckingham (1786-1855) lived in Avenue Road, (fn. 14) where William Collins, the landscape painter, had lived at no. 20 from 1839-40. William's son Wilkie set one of the scenes of his novel The Woman in White, published in 1862 but based on childhood recollections, at the turnpike at Swiss Cottage. (fn. 15)

The character of new housing, to serve a slightly lower social level, began to change after 1851, with westward expansion along roads parallel with the railway and at the western end around Abbey Road and its side-roads. (fn. 16) Apart from Adelaide Road, the St. John's Wood portion of which was later called Hilgrove Road, (fn. 17) the westward-thrusting roads were Boundary Road and Belsize Road, where 41 houses were built in 1851-2, some by Robert Yeo, who was later to build at Chalcots. Yeo also built some of the 17 houses of those years in Victoria (later Fairfax) Road, which ran from Finchley Road to Belsize Road at the north end of the estate; another 19 were built at the same time in Albion (later Harben) Road, between Victoria and Adelaide roads. Bridge (later Loudoun) Road, with 8 houses, ran from the northern group across the railway to Boundary Road and St. Marylebone. At the western end of the estate 19 houses were built in Abbey Road, and 4 in Belgrave Road and Boundary Mews were begun. (fn. 18) By 1862 most of the area between Avenue Road and Bridge Road was built up with detached and semi-detached houses. (fn. 19)

West of Bridge (Loudoun) Road the land sloped to a shallow trough before rising again beyond the Eyre estate. The slope, together with the narrowness of the remaining sites imposed by the railway and estate boundary, contributed to higher-density, mostly terraced housing. (fn. 20) On the northern boundary two stables were built at Victoria (Fairfax) Mews in 1852, and North End Road (later Fairhazel Gardens) provided access by 1855. (fn. 21) Eventually there were 57 stables there, for omnibus horses, and Britannia Terrace, in Belsize Road, and Victoria (Fairfax) Road were built during the later 1850s and early 1860s for the stable staff and drivers and conductors. A similar development took place in the south-west at the opposite end of the estate, with stabling and terraces in Bolton and Holtham roads (1858-66), Belgrave Gardens, Alexandra Mews, and part of Boundary Road. With transport assured, close-packed middle-class housing followed in the centre, especially in Boundary Road, in Springfield Road to the south, and in Alexandra Road (built after the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863) and Belsize Road to the north. (fn. 22) By 1866 building was virtually complete. (fn. 23)

In 1871-2 five houses were built in Belsize Road, 14 in Alexandra Road, and one in Bolton Road, followed by one house and six stables in Boundary Mews in 1873. A few more houses were built in Abbey and Boundary roads in 1880. (fn. 24) In 1881 the mews were still overwhelmingly inhabited by stablemen and the like, although the streets surrounding them also housed small craftsmen, clerks, agents, and tradesmen, while professional people and businessmen occupied the other roads. (fn. 25) By the end of the 1880s, the mews, off Fairfax Road, Loudoun Road and in the south-west, were no longer service areas on the edge of the housing, which had moved beyond them, but pockets classified as 'fairly comfortable, good ordinary earnings'. The earliest developed area, Finchley Road and roads to the east, were 'wealthy, upper middle- and middle-class', while the rest of the estate was 'well-to-do, middleclass'. (fn. 26) Inhabitants included Lillie Langtry, a cousin of the local politician Philip Le Breton, who lived in Leighton House in Alexandra Road in the 1870s, the Harmsworth family at no. 94 Boundary Road from 1874 to 1888, and Herbert Spencer, the philosopher, at no. 64 Avenue Road from 1889 to 1897. (fn. 27) Samuel Palmer, of the biscuit firm, lived at no. 40 College Crescent, a large house called Northcourt built in 1881. (fn. 28)

By 1900 lodging houses and institutions had begun to take over some of the larger houses. In Avenue Road, for example, Sunnyside was taken for the Friedenheim hospital (later St. Columba's) in 1892; the Home Treatment of Disease by Diet was at no. 7, the Yoga School at no. 12, and the Theosophical Society at no. 19 c. 1903. (fn. 29) In 1908 nine shops were built in the corner between Finchley and Fairfax roads. (fn. 30) The general social status of the estate had declined by 1930. One mews, by then called Fairfax Place, was singled out as one of the worst parts of the borough for overcrowding. The other mews areas, Loudoun Road Mews and the south-west, were occupied by 'skilled workers and similar', but so, too, were the whole of Belsize Road, much of Alexandra Road, and part of Hilgrove Road. The rest was still middle-class and wealthy. (fn. 31)

The Hampstead portion of St. John's Wood did not feature in the artistic flowering of the 1930s but it housed the Hungarian film producer Sir Alexander Korda at no. 81 Avenue Road from 1933 until 1939. (fn. 32) The estate shared in the flat-building of the decade. The first major project was the building of 14 blocks by A. Clarke on the south side of Belsize Road from 1932 to 1936. From 1933 flats replaced the old houses in St. John's Wood Park and Avenue Road, including in the south near St. Stephen's church, a district transferred to Hampstead by boundary changes, the Poplars estate (1934) and Avenue Close (1935, by Stanley Hall, Easton & Robertson); some houses were also built in Avenue Road in 1935-8. (fn. 33) At the northern end of the estate New College and much of College Crescent were pulled down in 1934 and replaced by Northways, two concrete blocks of flats and shops by London & City Real Estate. (fn. 34) The whole of the Swiss Cottage site between Finchley Road and Avenue Road was redeveloped with the building in 1937 of the Odeon cinema and, after 1938, of Regency Lodge flats by R. Atkinson, 'good, though a trifle stodgy'. (fn. 35)

There was extensive rebuilding after 1945, mostly for local authority housing. The whole area suffered war damage (fn. 36) and houses were dilapidated through tenementation and neglect. About 1955 the Communist party designated Bolton Road a black spot and described the Belsize Road area as overcrowded, with damp and crumbling houses; there were said to be 2,372 people in 369 houses. (fn. 37) The L.C.C. acquired land for housing 4,000 people on the west side of Finchley Road in both Hampstead and Marylebone in 1946, arousing fierce objections by its threat to the middle-class character of the neighbourhood. (fn. 38) The whole area around Finchley Road and Avenue Road was transformed by flats and and Avenue Road was transformed by flats and public buildings, mostly in the 1960s. Centre Heights, a concrete and glass block designed by Douglas Stephen and Panos Koulermos and containing shops, offices, and flats, was built on the west side of Finchley Road in 1961. (fn. 39) Two special schools, F. D. Roosevelt and John Keats, were opened in 1957 and 1958 respectively, on the west side of Avenue Road. (fn. 40) St. John's Wood Park Investment Co. built on 9 a. facing Boundary Road and St. John's Wood Park c. 1955 (fn. 41) and two thirteen-storeyed blocks and terraced housing were erected on each side of Boundary Road between St. John's Wood Park and Finchley Road in 1962. (fn. 42)

Redevelopment of the site previously occupied by the school for the blind, St. Columba's hospital, and the New College Chapel, all on the east side of Avenue Road, was considered in 1957. A scheme for a civic centre was published in 1959 by the architect, Basil Spence, and part of it, the library and the adjoining swimming baths, was opened in 1964. (fn. 43) In 1962 Hampstead theatre opened on a site north of the library that had been intended for civic buildings. (fn. 44) At the southern end of Avenue Road, St. Paul's church was replaced by the Polygon flats in the early 1960s. (fn. 45) During the same period a large council estate was built on the west side of Finchley Road, stretching from Boundary Road northward to Belsize Road and centred on Hilgrove Road from which it took its name. (fn. 46) Adjoining it on the north was the Harben council estate, planned between 1954 and 1959 by Norman & Davison for 170 flats. (fn. 47) The work, which included building five blocks in Harben Road, itself truncated by the Hilgrove development, and two new closes, Naseby and Marston, north of Fairfax Road, was not carried out until the late 1960s. (fn. 48)

In 1954 the borough council planned a modest 22 dwellings in Abbey Road. (fn. 49) In the 1960s, in conjunction with the L.C.C., it rebuilt the entire western portion of the estate, west of Abbey Road, from which the new development took its name; high-rise blocks obliterated the street pattern of the old service area. Later phases, by the borough architect S. A. G. Cook, dated from 1970 and 1973 and included a multi-storeyed car park, shops, a community centre, and health centre in Belsize Road. (fn. 50) Two large developments in the 1970s have transformed the centre of the area. The G.L.C. built the Ainsworth estate east of Abbey Road, north of Boundary Road, mostly by 1970. (fn. 51) Private rebuilding in Alexandra Road aroused considerable opposition and Camden L.B.'s architectural department took it over in the mid 1970s. Alexandra Road west of Loudoun Road made way for pedestrian walks and stepped concrete housing. (fn. 52) Other recent construction has been of pastiche Georgian or Victorian houses in Fairfax Road and the eastern part of Belsize Road and in Hilgrove Road and of striking blocks of flats and offices: no. 133 (Cresta House) Finchley Road (before 1985), (fn. 53) no. 100 Avenue Road by Levy Benjamin Horvitch (1986), (fn. 54) and the glass and red painted building at the corner of Finchley Road and Eton Avenue (1986).

No part of the St. John's Wood estate in Hampstead was included in a conservation area in 1975 (fn. 55) and only the Swiss Cottage public house, itself much altered, was among listed buildings. (fn. 56) The overwhelming impression in 1986 was made by flats, especially by large-scale schemes dating from after 1945. Surprisingly some of the mid-19th century houses remained, including a dilapidated but handsome terrace in Belgrave Gardens, transferred from Hampstead to St. Marylebone, and a terrace with shops on the western side of Abbey Road on the southern border. Other survivals were mainly on the better built eastern side of the estate, including most of the north side of Belsize Road and nos. 11-15 (odd) on the south side at the east end, the southern side of Hilgrove Road east of Loudoun Road as far as its turning southward, and several houses in Fairfax Road. Except for the high Gothic red-brick pair, nos. 22 and 24 Hilgrove Road, all the houses were stock brick and stuccoed in a classical or Italianate style similar to those of Belsize or Chalcots.


  • 1. Thompson, Hampstead, 110.
  • 2. Ibid. 66; J. Summerson, 'Beginnings of an Early Victorian Suburb' (MS. of lecture 20 Feb. 1958).
  • 3. Thompson, Hampstead, 110-24; Cruchley's New Plan (1829); Wade, More Streets, 58.
  • 4. Map of Marylebone (1832); Laurie's Plan of Lond., Westm. (1842); P.R.O., HO 107/674/2; below, social.
  • 5. Newton, Map of Hampstead (1814); Cruchley's New Plan (1829).
  • 6. Thompson, Hampstead, 247.
  • 7. Vestry mins. 15 July 1841.
  • 8. Laurie's Plan of Lond., Westm. (1842).
  • 9. D.S.R.; Thompson, Hampstead, 248; J. Wyld, Map of Lond. and Environs (1848).
  • 10. P.R.O., C 54/16950, no. 11; S.C.L., H 371.911, Lond. Soc. for Blind, Rep. 1928-9.
  • 11. D.S.R.; Hampstead Annual, 1905-6, 120, 123, 127; Wade, More Streets, 59, 67.
  • 12. Below, pub. svces.; Pevsner, Lond. ii. 201-2; Stanford, Libr. Map of Lond. (1862 edn. with additions to 1865), sheet 5.
  • 13. Below, churches.
  • 14. P.R.O., HO 107/1492/5-6; D.N.B.
  • 15. Wade, More Streets, 59. For the turnpike, see Map of Marylebone (1832).
  • 16. Thompson, Hampstead, 248.
  • 17. St. John's Wood hos. indistinguishable from those in Chalcots in D.S.R.
  • 18. D.S.R.
  • 19. Stanford, Libr. Map of Lond. and Suburbs (1862 edn. with additions to 1865), sheet 5; Wade, W. Hampstead, 51.
  • 20. Thompson, Hampstead, 248-9.
  • 21. D.S.R.; vestry mins. 15 Jan. 1855.
  • 22. Thompson, Hampstead, 248-53; Wade, W. Hampstead, 49.
  • 23. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Lond. XV (1866 edn.).
  • 24. D.S.R.
  • 25. P.R.O., RG 11/173/7/1/11.
  • 26. Booth, Life and Labour, maps.
  • 27. Wade, W. Hampstead, 47, 49; Wade, More Streets, 59.
  • 28. Wade, More Streets, 68.
  • 29. Ibid. 59; L.C.C. Mun. Map of Lond. (1913); below, pub. svces.
  • 30. D.S.R.
  • 31. New Lond. Life and Labour, i. 423; vii, maps 8, 10, 11.
  • 32. Wade, More Streets, 59.
  • 33. Pevsner, Lond. ii. 202; D.S.R.
  • 34. D.S.R.; Wade, More Streets, 67.
  • 35. D.S.R.; Archit. of Lond. 45; Pevsner, Lond. ii. 201; below, social.
  • 36. Hampstead 1939-45 (Camden History Soc. 1977).
  • 37. S.C.L., H 331.833 Housing file, Hampstead Communist party, Homes for Hampstead [c. 1955].
  • 38. Ibid.; The Times, 4 Oct. 1947, 6b.
  • 39. Archit. of Lond. 51.
  • 40. Wade, More Streets, 59; below, educ.
  • 41. Hampstead Communist party, Homes for Hampstead [c. 1955].
  • 42. The Times, 18 Oct. 1962, 23a.
  • 43. Ibid. 17 Dec. 1957, 9d; 21 Feb. 1959, 9b; 22 Nov. 1960, 20; 10 Nov. 1964, 6e; Archit. of Lond. 51; below, pub. svces.
  • 44. Hampstead One Thousand, 138; below, social.
  • 45. Wade, More Streets, 58-9; Kelly's Dir. Lond. (1960, 1965).
  • 46. Kelly's Dir. Lond. (1960, 1965); O.S. Map 1/10,000, TQ 28 SE. (1974 edn.).
  • 47. S.C.L., H 711.13, Council Housing Reps., Hampstead Boro. Rep. on Housing (1954); P. B. Housing, Camden Gen. file, MS. list of Camden housing est. (1971); W. Barnes, Century of Camden Housing [1972].
  • 48. Kelly's Dir. Lond. (1965, 1970); Official Street Plan of Camden [1980].
  • 49. Hampstead Boro. Rep. on Housing (1954).
  • 50. Thompson, Hampstead, 253; O.S. Map 1/10,000, TQ 28 SE. (1974); S.C.L., P. B. Housing, Camden Gen. file, MS. list of Camden housing est. (1971); Architectural Design, 3/1972.
  • 51. MS. list of Camden housing est. (1971); Wade, W. Hampstead; Kelly's Dir. Lond. (1970).
  • 52. Hampstead One Thousand, 136; C. McKean and T. Jestico, Guide to Modern Bldgs. in Lond. (1976), 38; Architects Jnl. 8 Sept. 1978.
  • 53. Kelly's Dir. Lond. (1980, 1985).
  • 54. Inf. from Levy Benjamin Horvitch Ltd.
  • 55. Camden Boro. Plan, Hampstead and Belsize Area, Spr. 1975, Area 4; W. Hampstead and Kilburn, Spr. 1975, Area 5.
  • 56. S.C.L., Town and Country Planning, 52nd list of bldgs. (1974).