Monday 28 April 2008

Fenton House front and back...

I posted the other week about what was the oldest house in the local patch and Fenton House still seems to be the front runner

I've taken two pictures here: one of the front (small angle lense so slightly arty tilted angle to get as much in a poss) and then what I tjhink is propably more interesting and less seen anyhow is the picture of the back of the building.

I am now clear that these two pictures do little to reflect the full glory, and after the election, I'll be padding round with my big proper camera to gain the full picture.

Of course there is a risk that I'm interested in the architecture and in fact the main selling points of Fenton House are great collections of ceramics, paintings and musical instruments. All this and in addition of course the garden which is beautifully and lovingly tended.

Also I have noticed that most fo the promotional views of Fenton House are of the other 'front entrance' so lots to get my teeth into photographically...

But it does look like Grove Cottage is vying to be the oldest building in the patch - I'm there later this week so pictures to follow.

(Thanks for the lead on this from Robert Doyle on

Friday 25 April 2008

The Bergheims of Belsize Court

A brief trip into Daunt Books yielded the latest contribution to local history - Finding the Bergheims of Belsize Court by Mary Shenai.

It's a great romping read of the discovery of a family and a house - now all gone from the landscape of Belsize. Essentially this is the story of the author's journey in finding out about this family - Mary Shenai lives locally and was given a album of photographs and sought to find put the story behind the people and the places.

I found myself enjoying the booklet, and it has lots of little observations and comments that reflect on just how much the author enjoyed writing it. The text might have benefited from tighter editing, but that would have risked losing the intimacy that comes through of Mary's role and passion in tracing the story through the decades.

It's worth getting for anyone interested in Belsize, late victorian England, musical history and the issues around informal patronage, german and jewish migration and a few other sideline stories that are gripping (the murder is an amazing piece of spice!).

The Bergheims were clearly a family of substance, respected, established up-standing people of the community. The folk of whom Victorian England was often so pleased and through the pages their story leaps out - Jerusalem, the maids and valet so common to the era, musical recitals and the daily routine of waited-upon house service and the crisis of maintaining the heated greenhouse for orchids during the first world war... It is 'of a type' and quite a special insight into the life and times.

There are some special local links - St Stephen's Church, volunteering at New End Hospital during the war and some are left teasingly hanging: "Another later occupant of Belsize Court was Mathew Foster [MP]".

I found myself slightly wanting at the end - no pictures or full details of the photo album itself - I so wanted to see it, hold it, have that sense of smell and that is probably the only gap for me ... But this publication is an endeavour of love and my tube journeys to work have been the richer for it.

So get down to your local Daunt Bookshop - or other independent bookshops - at £9.99 it is a great read and well produced.

Finding the Bergheims of Belsize Court
By Mary Shenai
Belsize Conservation Area Advisory Committee, 2007
ISBN 978-0-9539421-1-4

Thursday 24 April 2008

Outdoor preaching in Kilburn...

It's been a while since I blogged on ye olde history of Kilburn and have been meaning for follow up this particular thread - the outdoor preaching of Kilburn Vale and links to religious fervour down the years.

This site has talked about the development of the priory and it's subsequent demolition during the disolution of the monasteries.

Well I wondered about how these 'locations' remained religious over the years? The same principle/approach applies for post pagan England - there is considerable evidence that generally celtic religious sites became Roman ones and they in turn became Christian and so it continued in use.

So what happened in Kilburn after the fall of the priory and in the development of what we now see as the thriving Kilburn High Road?

Well, the strategic significance of the crossing of the Westbourne river remained - we have hermit place, the pubs (at least The Cock and the Red Lion and probably others) and the arterary road (old Watling Street) increasingly known as Edgware Road.

All the evidence points to Kilburn and in particular this point of the Kilburn High Road was a crucial staging post for travellers heading north.

Well I think an insight into what was happening in Kilburn is revealed by this old church hall (picture above) in Kilburn Vale - just opposite Hermit Place and near The Priory Tavern.

You can see the plaque on the left of the building on which is written

"Ebenezer Chapel was erected by Margaret Creswick in memory of her brother Thomas Creswick who departed this life August 31st 1868. He laboured daily among the sick and in the open air at Kilburn, St John's Wood and Primrose Hill. His first sermon was preached from a platform in the Abbey Fields 1859. His last sermon was delivered at the bridge near this spot one week before he fell asleep in Jesus. 'the memory of the just is blessed' This stone was laid July 18th 1870 John Fordham, builder"

The Abbey fields appear to have been behind the Red Lion pub - in Springfield Lane? - and have been a gathering point for people, open air discourse, I suspect like a speakers corner but in Kilburn.

It would have been busy, lively, possibly some street traders, a real sense of hustle and bustle and have been a gathering point for travellers fefore heading north - a focus for local people in regency and then victorian Kilburn... and here in Kilburn Vale on the side of an old chapel (that feels dis-used?) is a plaque giving some hint of that open air tradition.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

The oldest building in the area?

What is the oldest building in Hampstead and Kilburn?

A daft question you might think but with no remaining habitable fragment of Kilburn Priory and no surviving medieval church I think this is a harder question that might be thought...

My instinct and guess is that it is Fenton House in Hampstead.

It is dated to 1693 - Willam and Mary are on the throne of England, the dodo becomes extinct in this year, France is at war with the Palatine (Germany) and John Harrison, a famous clockmaker buried in Hampstead parish churchyard is born.

The house was owned by Joshua Gee who was a silk merchant (i.e. wealthy) and this was a classic mansion house of it's period. The name of the house however comes from Philip Fenton another merchant who bought the house in 1793. This family made a number of the changes and features that survive today in particular the walled garden.

Some pictures of the house and gardens can be found here

But more to the point, is there anything older in Hampstead and Kilburn?

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Those day-to-day wall tiles

A new genre for this site and I think a slightly unlikely one, but here it is...

Entrance tiles.

With so many late-victorian and early-edwardian houses in the patch it is not surprising to find quite so many doorway/hallway entrance tiles.

They are all around but often you just don't really notice them. Having lived for a time in Stoke-on-Trent I have a small understanding of just what was involved in both effort, skill and scale in the production of these.

But also the designs and the colourings are so so rich and varied.

I have captured a small crop here on the theme of green and brown and am now on the hunt for the more flamboyant and colourful... but as a local feature they do look great.

There are others much much more specialised in this field:

The tiles I have shown above of course are glazed wall tiles - I.e. not suitable for floor tiles and there is a whole firing process involved. I had a tour round a factory a few years back that was still doing tile glazing in a traditional way - it was a real education and totally fascinating.

And of course the modern copies are widely available:

Monday 21 April 2008

The 13th train line colour for London

When does a bench mean more than just the bench itself...?

Well here at Hampstead Heath Station (now in zone 2 - hurrah!) the benches have been repainted this orange (ish) colour for the new Overground livery colours.

It got me thinking about the other colours of the map and a bit of research (not tricky research you understand) yielded that the London Underground map has twleve colour coded lines and this makes a 13th on the famous TfL map of London:
  • Bakerloo Line (Brown)
  • Central Line (Red)
  • Circle Line (Yellow)
  • District Line (Green)
  • East London Line* (Orange)
  • Hammersmith & City Line (Pink)
  • Jubilee Line (Silver)
  • Metropolitan Line (Purple)
  • Northern Line (Black)
  • Piccadilly Line (Dark Blue)
  • Victoria Line (Light Blue)
  • Waterloo & City Line (Pale Blue)

Harry Beck famously takes the credit for the first meaningful diagramtic map of the transport system in 1933. There are all sorts of little features that might go un-noticed at first glance. For example the Thames is either a straight line or at 45 degrees. There is a direct differentiation between stops and interchanges. The map itself at concept was very controversial and within London Transport management structures quite political and laden with personal relationships.

The reality however is the impressive map we have today and one of the results is that the benches at Hampstead Heath station have been repainted as part of the livery coding that started with Harry Beck working in his spare time to design a better map...

Saturday 19 April 2008

What is it about West Africa?

When this site first started I had not long got back from an amazing trip to Sierra Leone - well the pause in service this last week has been a trip to The Gambia.

It's very similar to Sierra Leone, both climatically and culturally, and I find the mix of relaxation and intense hustle and bustle totally intoxicating.

I'll post more over the next few days but here is one picture that sums up the trip for me...

Thursday 10 April 2008

Come on St Stephen's...

At the top of Haverstock Hill, on Rosslyn Hill, at the bottom of Hampstead High Street, at the top of Pond Street, opposite the bottom of Lyndhurst Road sits St. Stephen's Church - you will gather that it's quite well placed on a key junction.

It is without a doubt one of the more intimidating architectural features in the local landscape.

It is both heralded by those who love it and openly damned by those who loathe it - I'm ambivalent in terms of preference for it, but am genuinely impressed by the dark, heavy and looming demeanour of it. I'm told it's early French Gothic style...

Designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon it is considered to be his masterpiece, even his magnum opus, but he died soon after it's 1869-1871 construction and so didn't see the full splendour in use by worshippers - one church census has 1,372 present in 1886.

As part of the restoration fundraising I went on a tour on one of the open days - organised and co-ordinated by Stephen Taylor it has become a work of love. The building inside is stunning (a great staging of Shakespearean plays is relatively frequent) and the tiling, the carving and painting is just breath taking as well as the much survived stained glass.

I'm sure it needs a full photographic and architectural study and this no doubt will follow with the opening which I think is in the near future.

The church became redundant in 1977 and has now been taken over by the St Stephen's renovation trust - they are converting back into use as a community type centre with rooms and space for markets, bazaars and the like as well as performances as well as digging in a basement for the next door school.

It is this basement that you can see in two of these pictures taken from the side (from the Hampstead Green side).

Not unsurprisingly really the building is a grade 1 listed building and when you pause and see the carved angels on the exterior you realise why...

I don't give naked plugs on this site but the restoration of this building to it's glory is a benefit to all and a massive enhancement of this part of the area:
Mr Michael Taylor, St Stephens, Pond Street, London, NW3 2PP
Phone: 020-7433 1272
Fax: 020-7433 1272

If you can help or donate etc then please do get in touch - it's taken a long time to get to this stage but it's so so worthwhile. And what's the alternative? - a better view of the Royal Free Hospital - I don't think so!

If you're interested in this sort of restoration then have a peek at the buildings at risk register:

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Hampstead cemetery as a place to visit...

The tradition of taking a stroll around a graveyard has faded - it was a sunday norm for my grandparents and their parents, but it still remains a fascinating activity.

Hampstead cemetery is no exception. Located at the top of Fortune Green Road (West Hampstead) it is over 25 acres of land.

First purchased in 1875 it saw pretty fast development - the population of the area had grown significantly and demand was high. The lodge and chapel also date from this time and were built by Charles Bell.

This picture was taken at a time when it was slightly over-cast so perhaps doesn't draw out the architecture - well worth a visit.

The graves themselves are pretty impressive - whether it's for the famous and household names, the astonishing wealth of nature and wildlife that thrives here or the design and grandeur of many of the graves themselves.

There is a Friends of Hampstead Cemetery - details of which i'll add when I can locate them easily.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

The 100th and the 50th anniversaries of liberalism

Today 8th April is the 100th anniversary of the accession of Herbert Asquith as Prime Minister.

For the occasion I can bring a picture taken just last week of a group of descendants, Henry Brand (great-great grandson), Virginia Brand, nee Bonham Carter (great grand-daughter), me (unrelated), Violet Brand (great-great grand-daughter), Baroness Jane Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (great grand-daughter), Lady Leslie Bonham Carter (Mark Bonham Carter's widow) and Adam Ridley (Mark's nephew and Asquith's great grandson).

It's all quite appropriate as it follows fast on the heels of the 50th anniversity of the Torrington by-election which saw the election of Asquith's grandson Mark Bonham Carter.

So I'm uploading here some of the pictures we took on this gathering of the Asquith descendants...

The star of the show was of course Leslie, Mark's widow, but it was drawn together by daughter Virginia.
Lady Bonham-Carter (Leslie) brought along the family scrap book which was just amazing to flick through and appreciate.
A stunning evening rather amusingly in the Lloyd George Room not the Violet Bonham Carter Room. :-)

Monday 7 April 2008

Snow in April...

Okay, waking up on Sunday morning to a thick coating of snow in London was a bit of a shock - but a great opportunity to get out there with a camera.

Here is a small selection from either my balcony, Kilburn Grange park or the neighbouring streets.

I'm especially pleased with capturing the Kilburn State cinema tower in snow - looks pretty iconic and stunning...

The layer on Kilburn Grange was really deep and I counted at least 9 attempts at snowmen

The kids out playing in the snow was very special - i was struck how many of the children were from differing countires across the world, either un-used to snow or very familiar...

Makes it much easier planning for the Christmas card this year when it handily snows in April - usually I get to October or November and end up scrabbling around for an image or picture to convert...

I'm more than little aware that there is a whole science to weather reporting and you can get much much more here

which inlcudes confirming that although snow in April felt odd and uncommon it in fact isn't and the last time it snowed in England in April was 2000

April 2000

"Snow fell across much of central England although, except in some upland areas (notably the Pennines), it did not settle for long. At Lyneham in Wiltshire snow was reported for 18 consecutive hours. Although not a common event for April, similar snowy conditions have occurred at Lyneham as recently as 1998."

Friday 4 April 2008

Glengall and Pessell anyone?

A brief stroll down Glengall Road, Kilburn/Queen's Park and I found this - clearly marked Glengall Chambers a smallish (I guess three or four flats) residential building - you can see the name plaque visible over the main entrance.

But in the tiling at the entrance is Pessell Chambers.

  1. It raised three things with me... Glengall?
  2. Pessell?
  3. but also to what extent were these late victorian residential expansions actually for commuters or for people who worked locally? It seemed quite possible to me that at one point this was in fact a chambers for a company (law firm) or an admin HQ for a stationers etc.
The best I can locate is that Glengall is an Irish peerage dating from 1816 so it's quite possible that there is some connection there and Pessell is a fairly common-ish surname.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Tesco building quite impressive - shock!

The artistic design of Tesco here in Willesden Lane is quite a revelation - a modern Tesco in the right setting CAN look good.

I certainly sense that this building could feel quite iconic. It was build quite quickly and I was there the other day and with a short burst of sunshire was really struck at how good it looked.

It leaves a few questions - why don't we have more buildings like this? How come new development is so often lacking flair and design? and on the negative will the structure be of the quality that will last?

Too many buildings in the modern past have had to be pulled down due to shoddy quality and is this facade the cover for poor lifespan? Time will tell...