Tom enjoys some good kombunations at Ham

Finally it was my time to sample Ham, the new upmarket restaurant on West End Lane, which arrived to plenty of interest, and with a chef with a reputation. Ham kindly invited me to try it out and the welcome from David and the team was very warm.

We gazed around at the interior, with its soothing colours and neat yet homely feel. Somehow a little different to anything else locally, yet it blends in very well with the West Hampstead feel (then again what do I know about interior design!?)

To warm up, sourdough again showed itself as the boss of breads; perfectly stretchy and chewy, and our wine selection proved successful before even sampling it, as its label featured – errm – a Japanese ninja, and blood (OK, from the colour, let’s say candle wax) dripping down onto an otherwise elegant pair of diners!

I was curious about my starter of Buffalo mozzarella with seaweed and kale; the combination certainly new to me, and it absolutely worked. The kale was fried crispy, releasing a hit of flavour as it dissolved into oil against the fresh mozzarella. Highly seasoned, yet subtle at the same time – a delicate and enjoyable intro.

I tried a little of the Norfolk quail, artichoke, pearl barley and kombu; rich and powerful. What occurred to me again was the depth of flavour and seasoning; a really salty, punchy affair in which the pearl barley created a satisfying background. I asked how the dish was made, not being familiar with kombu, and it was evident that a lot of thought and effort had gone into it.

Fried kale tops buffalo mozzarella


My cod with verjus sauce and mussels was exquisitely cooked and again the balance was perfect, the sauce being deep and decadent; there is a reason why salt and pepper is not present on the table at Ham (though I was assured they’ll provide, if requested). Devon beef (medium rare) with black sesame, soy and turnips also went down well; it occurred to me that these ideas would be popular with those familiar with another fantastic, high-calibre local – Le Petit Corée – which also takes a fusion approach and succeeds greatly with it.

Cod with mussels

Beef with soy and turnips

Broccoli was perhaps a little firm for me, but then the extra freshness acted as a counterpoint for the delicious smoked cheese sauce, so perhaps that was the idea. A salad of magnificently grand red leaves added an element of palate refreshment.

Broccoli (you knew that though)

It’s called Ham – something had to be pink

Dessert of chocolate tart, blood orange sorbet and mint might have been missing the mint, on recollection, but it was marvellous anyway. We appreciated its contrast of bitter notes against sorbet sharpness, without too much sweetness.

Staff were enthusiastic and knowledgeable; and the atmosphere was buzzing. The restaurant should do well; yes, you need to have three courses and pay a little more than the average, but I feel people will return to experience this type of offering. There’s a reason why the likes of, for example, Wet Fish Cafe and Sarracino have been around for years; diners trust the quality to be present each time, and hence these establishments remain firm favourites.

Ham’s found a home here, and the neighbours have noticed!

George Rose: Death in the Caribbean

Actor George Rose travelled an unusual path from Bicester to Broadway. He lived in West Hampstead for the best part of a decade while he learned his craft from great actors and directors such as Tyrone Guthrie, Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook and John Gielgud. And after a very successful career on the stage, he died a tragic death in the Caribbean.

George was born in 1920 in the market town of Bicester, 15 miles north of Oxford. The son of a family butcher, he was educated at Oxford High School and went to see plays in the city every week. George left school at 16 to work as a secretary at Oxford University and then tried farming. After serving in the Army during WWII, George studied music at the Royal School of Music where he saw an advert for singers at the Old Vic and joined the company. With a letter of recommendation from Lawrence Olivier he got a one-year acting scholarship at the Central School of Speech and Drama; which was then at the Royal Albert Hall, moving to Swiss Cottage in 1957. Rose worked in Shakespeare at Stratford before joining Peter Brook’s productions at the Haymarket and the Phoenix theatres.

By 1948 Rose was living at 49 Howitt Road in Belsize Park before moving to 109 West End Lane in 1951. He stayed in West Hampstead and was at 21 Lymington Road in 1957, leaving by 1959.

He made his New York debut in the 1946 production of Henry IV, Part 1. He did two further Broadway productions, Much Ado About Nothing (1959), and A Man for All Seasons in 1961, when he moved permanently to New York. Rose became very successful on Broadway and won two Tony awards for his performances in a revival of My Fair Lady (1976) and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1986). He was particularly good at comedy roles ranging from Shakespeare to light opera, and in 1981 he appeared in The Pirates of Penzance with Kevin Kline and singer Linda Rondstadt.

Friends loved him for his warmth and eccentricities. Fellow actor Paul Scofield said George had ‘a smile like a big log fire’. In New York, George lived in a flat in Greenwich Village which he shared with a lynx, a mountain lion and other wild animals. His working life was devoted to theatre while his spare time was spent reading, cooking and listening to his collection of 17,000 records.

About 1979, George bought a holiday home in Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Friends warned him about the dangers of living there but he loved the country life as a break from New York. In 1984 he adopted a fourteen-year-old local boy called Juan and in 1986 made him heir to his $2 million estate.

In May 1988, the New York Times reported that George had been killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, but the local police soon said it was not an accident. Juan, now 18, his natural father and two other Dominican men confessed to having murdered the actor for fear that Rose had turned his attentions to a younger boy and was about to alter his will. The police said George had been held prisoner for eight hours. The men faked the car crash to try and hide the fact that George was beaten to death. They did not stand trial for the murder, though all but Juan were imprisoned for several years.

A few days before his death George had asked an American friend on the island to take him to see a lawyer as he wanted to change his will as he realised that Juan did not really care for him. But he never made the meeting. In a private settlement after George’s death, the penniless Juan received the house in Sosua, which he promptly sold and then he disappeared. He reappeared on the island in 1997, the year the three men were released from prison.

The Dominican authorities gave out little information about the murder as they wanted to protect the valuable tourist industry. This meant George’s friends and family were unaware of the details of his death for some time.

In June 1988, 800 people gathered in New York’s Shubert Theatre to celebrate George Rose’s life in a memorial service. Theatre producer Joe Papp referred to him as a Broadway legend. Henry Fonda once described his artistry as a marvel, and Jack Lemmon said Rose’s performances had given him the most pleasure in theatre. Cleo Laine, who appeared with him in Edwin Drood, recalled his singing and encyclopaedic knowledge of music. Lynn Redgrave said he taught her everything she knew about playing comedy and was the first person she phoned when she arrived in New York. In 1964, after George stole the grave scene from Richard Burton when they played together in Hamlet, Burton humorously said ‘Never share the stage with animals, children or George Rose’.

George Rose also appeared in more than 30 films – his IMDb entry lists 76 performances in film and TV between 1952 and 1988, and this does not include his many stage performances. Alix Kirsta wrote a very good article about Rose in the Sunday Times on 25 May 1997 which is available (along with many photos) on her website.

There was revived interest in Rose in January 2016, when Ed Dixon wrote and starred in a one man play Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose, which was performed in small theatres in New York. Dixon said he wanted to take the audience on his personal journey. In 1973, Ed had met and become friends with George who was 30 years older, when they toured together in The Student Prince. Dixon said, ‘He was famous and gay, powerful and gay, rich and gay. People couldn’t say no to George. His personality was overwhelming’. Dixon was in awe of Rose and the first hour of the play looked at his career with anecdotes and impressions of famous actors such as Laurence Olivier and Katharine Hepburn. In the last half hour Dixon tells how George had invited him to Sosua. Here, Ed said he felt uncomfortable with the young men at the house and he returned to New York. A short time later he heard about George’s death, and he was stunned and horrified as he learned the truth about his friend, mentor and idol.

The artist and the punks of West Hampstead

In April 1977, Tony Drayton moved to London from Cumbernauld, a new town in Scotland between Glasgow and Edinburgh. From 1976 to 1979, Tony was the editor of the early punk zine, Ripped and Torn. He lived in London, Paris, and Amsterdam and had a very varied career, including fire eating. In the summer of 1978, his sister Val joined him in London. After living in several squats, in the autumn of 1979 they met some punks in West Hampstead. One was Adam Ant’s (Stuart Goddard) ex-wife Eve (Carol Mills) and one was Kevin Mooney, a bassist who later joined Adam and the Ants. They let Tony and Val move into an empty flat at 33 Sherriff Road, a house run by the West Hampstead Housing Association (WHHA).

Also sharing the house were Andi, the singer, and Ross, the bass player, of Australian band The Urban Guerrillas, and Dave Roberts, later a member of the band Sex Gang Child. There were more: Leigh Kendall, Andy Groome and Malcolm Baxter, who were members of The Last Words, another Australian punk band. They earned £6 a day by delivering leaflets and Tony said they spent most of it drinking in the nearby pub, The Railway, or listening to the punk bands at the Moonlight Club which was run at the pub by Dave Kitson from October 1979 until 1993.

Brett and Val on Westbere Road c1981

Tony began to edit a new punk zine and the first edition was produced for Adam and the Ants’ 1980 New Years Day gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. The run of 500 copies sold out on the night and had to be reprinted. Tony and his friends, who called themselves the Puppy Collective, produced six issues up to 1983. Tony also wrote articles for the Record Mirror, New Musical Express, and Zigzag. In the summer of 1980, Tony and Val moved to another WHHA house at 39 Westbere Road. Artist Jo Brocklehurst lived in the same street and saw them as they passed by her home. She thought they looked fantastic and invited them to her studio where she made wonderful pictures of them.

Tony Drayton, fire eating c1986 (Tony Drayton archive)

Jo Brocklehurst moved into 12 Westbere Road in the 1960s and stayed there until her death on 29 January 2006. She was born Josephine Blanche Brocklehurst in Lambeth in 1935. She was a very good athlete, and in the 1950s she competed for the Selsonia Ladies Athletic Club in the shotput and discus.

A precocious talent, Jo first entered St Martin’s School of Art shortly before her 14th birthday, on a junior art scheme. Having left the school at 18, she was a regular visitor to the costume life classes in the fashion department. From the late 1990s, Howard Tangye, then St Martin’s head of women’s wear and a close friend, invited Jo be a visiting lecturer to work with his students.

In the 1960s, Jo sketched jazz musicians such as George Melly, and worked in commercial fashion before becoming swept up in the punk scene. She is best known for her paintings of the early 1980s and her subjects included the punks in West Hampstead, The Blitz Kids, Siouxsie Sioux, Marc Almond, Philip Salon, Boy George, and, in Berlin, the dance company of Pina Bausch.

Her first one-woman show was in Amsterdam in 1979. Following her big breakthrough at the ICA’s Women’s Images of Men show the following year, Jo had considerable success with her drawings, showing twice at the Francis Kyle Gallery in London in 1981 and 1982, and later at Leo Castelli in New York and the Connecticut State University Gallery.

In 1994 the V&A (which holds a collection of her work), showed a series of her figure drawings in Street Style. Brocklehurst began to spend more time in Europe, especially in Amsterdam and Berlin where she sketched in the clubs.

Her friend Isabelle Bricknall said, ‘She liked Berlin because it was very punk in a lot of ways; it was before the wall came down. There’s so little known about her here, but in Germany and Poland at the arts festivals, they all knew her. She played artist in residence – she’d be sketching on a daily basis for newspapers such as Berliner Zeitung, drawing different acts from theatre to art. She also made some very good friends in Berlin.’

Although sometimes compared to the Austrian painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Jo was an original and she drew people without the aggression of Schiele’s work. Jo was always drawing. She never minded being stuck on a bus for hours in traffic, as she always carried paper and pens. She drew places, situations and people. She enjoyed landscape, and would regularly cycle to Hampstead Heath.

Tony and Val at the Jo Brocklehurst Private View, 1980s

In her house in Westbere Road there were vibrant pictures of characters from Alice through the Looking Glass, each with more than a hint of the fetish club. She was fascinated by Charles Dodgson’s alternative persona as Lewis Carroll and called the work ‘Brocklehurst through the Looking Glass’.

Isabelle Bricknall met Jo through Colin Barnes, a lecturer at the Royal College of Arts, St Martins, and Nottingham Trent where Isabelle studied for her MA in fashion and textiles. Jo was a lecturer with Colin Barnes in fashion illustration.

Isabelle worked in the fashion industry with many top designers, such as Zandra Rhodes. She has been a fashion designer, textile designer, artist and model, working in many art different mediums including fabrics, glass, steel, film, and photography. This drew Jo and Isabelle together to create with each other’s art work. Starting with Isabelle modelling her own designs and Jo drawing them, to working on art exhibitions and other art projects, and helping Jo to archive her work. She and Jo visited clubs together and their creative relationship lasted until Jo’s death.

A retrospective exhibition of Jo Brocklehurst’s work, Nobodies and Somebodies, was shown at the House of Illustration, King’s Cross London from 3 February to 14 May 2017. It was co-curated by Isabelle Bricknall and Oliva Ahmed.

We would particularly like to acknowledge the help of Tony and Val Drayton, and Isabelle Bricknall. Anna Bowman helped us with information about the WHHA.

Tom does it Mon Way

The arrival of Mon Way Bistro on Mill Lane seems to have caused a bit of a stir (especially the soups!), and somehow captured the imagination of a broad range of diners. It’s often very busy, sometimes with customers having to wait to get a table, and inside it’s relaxed yet buzzing, with diners really enjoying themselves.

Specialising in vegetarian, and often completely vegan food, and presented via an ‘all you can eat’ buffet (something that always appeals to me!), I was curious to see whether the eating experience would live up to their tantalising photos on Twitter and Facebook.

Chatting with owner Andrea and one of her chefs, Mihaela, it became apparent very quickly that this is an operation run with real enthusiasm and commitment. The food is excellent. Enticing salads, reminiscent of those at the charming Clock Café on West End Lane (previously Lena II), with key items such as aubergine; pasta dishes, grains (yes, this is NW6, there’s quinoa!), couscous with raisins etc. – there’s plenty of choice, and everything is prepared with care, vegetables cooked well, sauces and dressings well-seasoned. I ate ton of food, then promptly marched back to the buffet for seconds.

Now desserts must be tricky to do from a vegan perspective; without eggs they can be a little dense, however I actually quite like this quality, and the unctuous feel it gives to brownies and things. Indeed, brownies were present, and delicious, but I was also intrigued by emerald cakes (or whatever they were called) which feature spinach. These were delightful, and very moreish, I think due to being well-balanced with not too much sugar.

This style of food is becoming more and more popular. It only takes a quick Google to learn of all sorts of people endorsing it – including professional rugby players, who clearly need a pretty solid helping of protein and nutrients.

For me, it’s grub of which you can enjoy generous quantities, and still feel great afterwards. Fantastic after a workout, or just as a healthy alternative for any occasion. And that feeling of healthy empowerment then makes it all the more justifiable to enjoy a huge curry and a bottle or two of red wine in the evening (not that those are unhealthy, of course).

Dry January? F**k that. But eating at Mon Way every day for a month? – I could do that, happily.

Ed – Mon Way is now offering the vegan buffet during the week as well as at weekends. It was £6, and will be rising to £9 (still very reasonable).

The best new fitness classes in West Hampstead

New Year, new round-up of West Hampstead’s fitness and gym options (would you believe, this is our most popular article year in, year out). Most of you will already know about the main local gyms to help you shed those post-Christmas pounds (or kilos): Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre, Virgin Active at the O2 and the Gym up by Fortune Green.

However, West Hampstead is getting a reputation as the place for specialised fitness classes. Classes such as HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) and similar interval-based training classes have proven an effective way to get fit and into shape. The festive period inevitably leads not just to a more generous girth, but also a sluggish feeling, so having an instructor telling you exactly what to do is a sure fire way to get a work out that works.

We have reviewed three very different local fitness boutiques in the area to find out which class is best for you and we have some West Hampstead Life exclusive discounts below.

Studio Society

The Studio Society boasts live and fully immersive, interactive classes with virtual instructors. You can do mountain climbers and feel like you’re on top of a skyscraper in Manhattan or take the shivanasa yoga pose feeling like you’re amongst the temples of Bali.

The instructor is video linked and you can see their posture from three different angles, so you do see their side profiles too, and with digitally inserted overlays you get a bit of extra instruction on which areas of your body you are targeting. Of course, unlike a live class, you can’t ask the instructor a question or have them spot you if you need an extra pointer, however, the instructions are quite intricate and detailed.

You may wonder whether there’s much difference between this and taking a class at home on YouTube. Being in a group environment is actually quite motivating and Studio Society has chosen to run these classes with specialised high-quality instructors. However, if you really need a real person to get you going, then there are “live” classes too.

There are a wide variety of classes (both virtual and live), including a range of HIIT sessions, in bursts of 30 or 45 minutes, sculpting, strength and conditioning as well as pilates, yoga and even mindfulness and meditation. There is also a spinning room, with a variety of scenes on the screen – with a motivational instructor getting you to sweat to the max.

Studio Society has proven very popular since opening last summer, which can mean some quite big classes in its two huge studios and a fully packed spinning room.

The facilities are excellent and feel new. There are plenty of showers and toilets, a big changing area and lots of lockers.

It’s a short walk away (right next to the Gym actually) up by Fortune Green. Its classes start early in the morning, carry on throughout the day and finish in the evening.

There’s no contract, and £26.95 a month gives you unlimited classes. There’s a January offer of no joining fee and a 50% discount on your first month’s subscription with the promo code Jan1

Great for: Value, variety of classes and excellent facilities
Less great: Distance from the station, large classes, a little less personal
January offers: £26.95 a month for unlimited classes no joining fee and 50% discount on your first month’s subscription with the promo code Jan1

The HIIT Gym

Intense, varied, fun and impactful all come to mind when it comes to the HIIT gym. HIIT is fast paced, high energy and gets results.

Although intense, I would say these classes are suitable for all levels. They are really motivating, as the instructor talks you through every minute and the exercises change so you’re never doing anything long enough to hate it. You can tailor the exercises to your level somewhat, for example by choosing heavier weights, and sometimes the instructor gives you modifications. Included in the classes are intervals on the treadmill and rowing machines, so you get to incorporate cardio into your workout.

Although the classes always follow the same format, they always feel different and never boring.

Class sizes are around 20 max which is about right, and there is just the one class every hour. I’ve very rarely had any problems getting into a class, and there are plenty of classes outside working hours. It is also conveniently tucked away on Broadhurst Gardens, only a quick hop around the corner from all the stations in West Hampstead.

The facilities are quite limited, this is more of a walk in – walk out place but you can shower if you need to.

HIIT gym is a little more expensive at £45 a month for 4 classes a month, £65 for 8 classes month or £99 a month for unlimited classes. They also offer pay-as-you-go classes and transformation packages.

HIIT gym has given us West Hampstead Life exclusive offers:

Great for: High energy, effective classes, 1-minute walk from West Hampstead station
Less great: Limited facilities, fairly big classes at peak times so less personal attention
January offers: No joining fee plus West Hampstead Life discounts (see above).

The Tone Room

New kid on the block (on Mill Lane actually), The Tone Room offers intense and specialised workouts to get you to your strength and toning goals. With tiny classes of no more than six people, trainer Sanjay offers an experience tailored to your needs, and also offers nutritional and postural expertise. It’s as good as having a personal trainer.

The Tone Room is the next level up from a HIIT class, with less room to ‘get away with it’ if, like me, those burpees tend to slow you down! There is plenty of adaptation, however, if you need modifications to suit your fitness and strength levels. If you’re feeling like you’ve plateaued with bigger classes and want to take your workout seriously, the Tone Room can help you get to where you want to be.

Sanjay has done a great job building this boutique and intimate fitness space, and his passion for health and transformation really shows.

Facilities are limited with no showers and limited changing space, however, there is room to leave your things and it feels like a safe space.

The Tone Room is offering £10 for your first class and £45 for three classes. However, if you register for your first £10 class and mention this article, you can get a West Hampstead Life exclusive offer of three classes for £35

Standard prices are: single class £25, 10 classes £175, 20 classes £280, 50 classes £600, yearly £1,500, monthly unlimited £150

Great for: Personalised attention to get you to your fitness goals
Less great: No shower facilities and limited changing facilities, a little far from West Hampstead Stations
January offers: Exclusive West Hampstead Life offer (see above).

Good luck!

It was 56 years ago today, Decca said the Beatles couldn’t play

On a very cold New Year’s Day in 1962 the Beatles arrived in West Hampstead for their audition at Decca Studios.

The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein had several record shops in Liverpool and had a meeting with the marketing people at Decca. They told Dick Rowe – Decca’s A&R (Artists and Repertoire) manager – about The Beatles and he sent his assistant Mike Smith to Liverpool to see them at The Cavern on 13 December 1961. Smith was very impressed by the audience reaction and an audition was arranged in London for 1st January 1962.

Back in 1962, New Year’s Day wasn’t a public holiday but Dick Rowe was away, and it was left to Mike Smith to organise the session. Brian Epstein travelled to London by train, but John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and drummer Pete Best, had to drive down the previous day in a van with their equipment. The freezing weather, with fog and snow, meant the journey took ten hours instead of the usual five. After getting lost, The Beatles finally arrived at the Royal Hotel in Woburn Place around 10pm on New Year’s Eve. Pete Best (who was replaced by Ringo Starr later that year) recalled what happened:

“Brian Epstein had read the riot act to us before we went down to London. You know, be good little boys, you mustn’t be out after 10 o’clock. And there we were with everyone else in the middle of Trafalgar Square as drunk as skunks. We were late getting to the Decca Studios the next day. Brian was there before us. He was livid and tore a strip off us left, right and centre. John said, Brian shut up, we are here for the audition’. (From: Love Me Do; the Beatles ‘62, TV documentary 2012).

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The boys arrived at the Broadhurst Gardens studio at 11 o’clock and were not at their best after a long journey and a night of heavy drinking. Mike Smith was more than hour late himself, having been held up by the snow, and Epstein was very annoyed. They briefly met Tony Meehan who went into the producer’s box. He had grown up in West Hampstead and been the drummer with Cliff Richard and the Shadows before working as an assistant producer at Decca. The Beatles started to set up their equipment but the Decca engineers asked them to use the studio amplifiers as the group’s were in poor condition.

Over the next few hours The Beatles played 15 songs, mostly cover versions; only three were Lennon and McCartney originals (Like Dreamers Do, Hello Little Girl and Love Of The Loved). Epstein had persuaded them to do a set that he thought would show their range of ability, including Besame Mucho, The Sheik Of Araby, Money and Till There Was You. Lennon and McCartney later said they had wanted to include more rock numbers. Epstein thought the audition had gone well and he treated the boys to a meal at a restaurant in Swiss Cottage recommended by Mike Smith.

Mike Smith at Decca

Later that same afternoon, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes auditioned at Decca. After the auditions Mike Smith wanted to sign both groups but Dick Rowe said they could only take one and told Smith to choose. He went with the Tremeloes because their audition was better than The Beatles’ and he thought it would be easier to work with a Dagenham band than a Liverpool-based group. Smith lived nearby in Barking.

The Tremeloes at Decca

After numerous phone calls, Epstein was invited to lunch with Dick Rowe and the head of marketing on the 6 February. He was told that Decca had decided not to sign The Beatles. In his autobiography Epstein said he couldn’t believe his ears.

“You must be out of your tiny little minds! These boys are going to explode. I am completely confident that one day they will be bigger than Elvis Presley!”

He said that Rowe told him:

“Not to mince words, Mr Epstein, we don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out …. Your boys are never going to get off the ground. We know what we’re talking about. You really should stick to selling recordings in Liverpool.” (From: Brian Epstein, A Cellarful of Noise London: Souvenir, 1964).

Dick Rowe strongly denied that he said this, and believes that Epstein was so annoyed that the Beatles had been turned down that he made it up. But the story stuck and Rowe went down in history as ‘the man who turned down the Beatles’. But this is unfair because it was Mike Smith who made the decision. And he wasn’t alone; as Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham pointed out in his autobiography, “Everybody turned them down. Columbia, Oriole, Philips and Pye turned the Beatles down, based on what they heard from the Decca session”.

Epstein left the Decca meeting with the tapes of the audition. He stayed in London for a few days and on 8 February he met Bob Boast, the manager of the large HMV record shop in Oxford Street. They knew each other from a seminar in Hamburg and got on well. Boast was not very impressed with the recording tapes in Decca boxes and suggested that Epstein go upstairs where there was a studio that could make copies onto disk. He thought these would look better when Epstein approached the other record companies. The disk-cutter Jim Foy was impressed by the fact that Lennon and McCartney had composed three tracks, as it was unusual at this time for a band to write their own material. Foy told EMI’s head of publishing Sid Coleman who arranged a meeting with George Martin, who was then the head of A&R at Parlophone, part of EMI.

You can listen to 10 tracks from the Decca session for yourself in the video at the top of the article.

Most critics agree that it’s hard to appreciate the Beatles’ potential from this material. They didn’t perform well nor did their unique talent emerge. The original tapes were recently sold at auction to a Japanese collector for £35,000.

You can hear Mike Smith, Pete Best and Brian Poole talking about their memories of the audition after 40 years:

Epstein met George Martin on 13 February 1962. Martin was not particularly impressed by the Decca sessions demo either, but he admired the confidence Epstein had in the Beatles and he was struck by the freshness of the three original compositions. In May, Martin told Epstein that he wanted to sign the group and the deal was done on 4 June, two days before their audition at Abbey Road. The band recorded their first hit, Love Me Do, there in September. It was released on 5 October and reached number 17 in the charts. Their second single, Please Please Me, was released on 11 January 1963 and reached number 1 in the NME and Melody Maker charts.

Liked the Rolling Stones
Although Decca did not sign the Beatles, it did get the Rolling Stones. On 10 May 1963, Dick Rowe and George Harrison were judges at a local talent competition at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool. George told Dick Rowe about a band he had seen who were very good. Dick returned to London and saw the Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond where they had a residency. Four days later he signed them to Decca. Their first single was Chuck Berry’s Come On, which was re-recorded at Decca Studios and released on 7 June. It reached number 21 in the charts. Shrewdly, manager Andrew Oldham wanted to retain the performing rights of the music and he produced most of the Stones’ other records at independent studios and then leased them to Decca.

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Despite being lumbered with the tag of the man who turned down The Beatles, Dick Rowe in fact had a long and successful time at Decca. He went on to sign The Animals, The Moody Blues, The Zombies, Them (with Van Morrison), The Small Faces, Lulu and Tom Jones among many others. He died from diabetes in June 1986 at his home in Greenwich.

A rich history
What of the studio itself?

The building in Broadhurst Gardens was built around 1884 as a workshop and then converted into West Hampstead Town Hall. Despite its name, this was not a public building but a private venue that could be rented for weddings and concerts.

In 1928, it became the recording studio of the Crystalate Record Company. During the depression of the 1930s, small independent record companies struggled to survive. Decca and EMI bought most of them and became great rivals. EMI opened its Abbey Road studios in November 1931, and in 1937, Crystalate was acquired by Decca which moved all its recording to Broadhurst Gardens. Thousands of records were made here by Decca until the company left in 1981. As well as many classical records, these included sessions by David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Tom Jones, Lulu, Van Morrison, The Moody Blues, and Eric Clapton with John Mayall.

In its final form there were three main studios at Decca:
Studio 1: straight ahead as you entered the building, with the control room upstairs above the studios. This was used for many pop records.
Studio 2: a smaller room, was downstairs and was the main rock & roll and blues studio.
Studio 3: was opened in 1962 at the back of the building, and was large enough to take a full orchestra. Bing Crosby made one of his last albums, Feels Good, Feels Right, here in August 1976.

In 1974, The Moody Blues did a deal with Decca and took over Studio 1 as their Threshold Studios. They had made their previous albums at Decca and they recorded Long Distance Voyager at Threshold.

In 1980, Sir Edward Lewis, who created Decca in 1929, died. The company was sold to Polygram, and is now part of the Universal Music Group. The building on Broadhurst Gardens is now Lilian Baylis House, used by the English National Opera who took it over in November 1981.

Back in October 2017, I was asked by a Dutch radio station to give them a tour of the old Decca studios – it was also filmed and you can watch it here (the first bit is in Dutch, but the rest is all in English)

Mt Rushmore

From Kilburn to Mount Rushmore: The story of Gutzon Borglum

Mt Rushmore

Mount Rushmore: Photo by Brian Sandoval on Unsplash

It’s Thanksgiving in America, so what better time to dig into the link between Kilburn and the man behind one of the most iconic landmarks in the US.

American artist and sculptor Gutzon Borglum lived and worked at Harlestone Villa in Mortimer Road, Kilburn from about 1897 to 1902. The property was later renumbered as 6 Mortimer Place but was damaged in 1944 by the V1 flying bomb which destroyed North Hall, the house next door. Both buildings were demolished and today the site is covered by Halliwell House on the Kilburn Gate estate.

While at Harlestone Villa, Borglum painted murals for private homes but he is best known as the sculptor who produced the giant heads of US presidents carved into the summit of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Gutzon Borglum in 1919

Born in a frontier town in Idaho in 1867, Borglum was of Danish extraction. His father was a Mormon with two wives who were sisters. Borglum ran away from home to study art in California, and at the Julien Academy and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he was influenced by Rodin.

He arrived in London in 1896 and rented a studio in West Kensington before moving to Kilburn. Although gaining recognition as an artist he was not earning a lot of money. He said, “I have had the disturbing pleasure of being called Master by the French critics and some Americans, yet at the moment I cannot spend sixpence without wondering where the next one will come from.”

In 1901, the daughter of a Californian friend came to stay at Harlestone Villa. Her name was Isadora Duncan and at a party she danced for Borglum on the villa’s large lawn, scattering rose petals behind her.

Borglum received a commission for twelve painted panels to be installed in the Midland Railway Company’s new hotel in Manchester. The fee was five thousand guineas (today worth about £550,000). In 1903 he supervised installation of the panels which were made in America. They depicted scenes from ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ and the court of King Arthur.

Returning to America, Borglum became a very successful sculptor. His politics were crude; he was anti-immigrant and a racist. He criticised other artists and even called for the destruction of a public statue. Borglum courted the press and they loved him. In 1915 he put his reputation on the line and promised to make a huge monument to Southern Confederacy at Stone Mountain in Georgia. His patrons, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, did not have sufficient funds so he mortgaged his 500-acre estate in Connecticut. But after ten years he had completed less than a tenth of the carving and was fired by the Stone Mountain Association, accused of wasteful expenditure and having an ungovernable temper. The Association claimed ownership of his models and put out a warrant for Borglum’s arrest. He destroyed the models and became a fugitive, deeply in debt and publicly humiliated.

Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, had read about the large numbers of people travelling to Georgia just to watch Borglum at work. He believed that a mountain carving could put the little known South Dakota on the map. He wrote to Borglum suggesting a project in the Black Hills, perhaps carvings of the western explorers Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill and Chief Red Cloud. Borglum replied that national heroes would be better and it should be the Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt (a personal friend of Borglum). But the attempt to raise $50,000 as seed money from the public only realised $5,000. The project became a joke. One paper said, “Borglum is about to destroy another mountain, thank God it is in South Dakota where no one will ever see it.”

President Calvin Coolidge was persuaded to spend a summer holiday in South Dakota and this helped raise the total to $42,000. Coolidge pledged the government would provide additional funds. In 1929, Borglum began work with only about a tenth of the money he needed. He didn’t even know if the project was feasible as it was 500 feet to the top of Mount Rushmore and the weather in winter would make work impossible. Using jack hammers and dynamite Borglum thought the figures would take four years to complete. But money ran out and work slowed down.

In 1931 the Rushmore Association was in debt with little chance of raising any further funds during the Depression. Worse was to follow, after a severe drought created the Dustbowl. People left the state in droves and work stopped completely in 1932. Borglum and Senator Peter Norbeck persuaded influential contacts to obtain federal funds from the National Park Service and work recommenced after a year’s delay. Borglum’s 21 year old son Lincoln, who was very popular with the 400 workmen, was the site supervisor when his father was away.

In March 1941, just as he was completing the sculptures, Gutzon Borglum died suddenly from complications after surgery. He was 73. Congress stopped all funding as the United States joined the Second Wolrd War that December but Borglum’s son Lincoln finished the project, which had taken 14 years and involved removing half a million tons of granite to form the four 60-feet high figures.

Here is a film showing Gutzon Borglum working on the mountain:

An Insight into: Curled Leaf

Curled Leaf is a café on Mill Lane that has a cool, quirky, health-conscious vibe. It’s run by Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and her husband Luli Mripa and is very much a joint effort. Alketa has lived in the area for 20 years, arriving in 1997 to study art at St. Martins. When the Kosovan war broke out in 1998 she applied for asylum and ended up putting down roots in London.

As well as running the café , doing yoga classes plus being a wife and mother, Alketa is also a practising artist. Recent works include creating ‘Traces project’, recognising the 20,000 women who were raped in the Kosovan war and very recently ‘Refugees Welcome’, which deals with the current refugee crisis. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s just done a TED talk in Tirana.

Luli runs the café with Alketa and practises acupuncture in an on-site treatment room. He arrived in London when he displaced by the earlier Bosnian war in 1991. He was studying in Italy when the war broke out as was called up for the draft, but was advised by his parents and friends not to return and ended up in London.

Curled Leaf specialises in teas, particularly herbal teas as Luli is a herbalist, and offers a staggering 52 different types. For the first couple of years, the café didn’t serve coffee, preferring the ‘ceremony of tea’ but eventually gave in to  customer demand. It also serves healthy seasonal vegetarian food and delicious, if not quite so healthy, cakes.

The arty (and veggie) Curled Leaf on Mill Lane

What first brought you to West Hampstead?
“Luck really,” said Alketa. “Although I had lived around north-west London since I arrived, living in Kilburn, and on the Finchley Road. I was looking for somewhere to open a café and saw this place on Mill Lane”. Luli ended up in north-west London when he arrived, just down the road in Maida Vale, but it was Alketa who brought him to West Hampstead.

What’s your first memory of the area?
“I remember it as being a really nice area with small cafés and boutiques plus the charity shops. I liked it and hope that it will stay like that”, said Alketa. Luli’s answer is shorter: “La Brocca.  I remember fondly the live music there.”

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
“It seems that the area has changed quite quickly, ” said Luli. “It always had those little places, which you thought would survive for longer, but they are gone.” Alketa is more wistful. “I’m not really happy to see lots of change as it loses that vibe and energy and sense of community, where people know each other and help each other. Being a mum myself, I feel West Hampstead is particularly a place where mums are welcome and I would hate to lose that”.

Feeling hungry?

What’s for lunch?
“Here it’s a variety of things! We do seasonal vegetarian dishes. The house speciality is grilled aubergine, or we are offering quinoa with courgette. Also popular is our special corn and spelt bread with spinach. If we go somewhere else, then eggs benedict at the Wet Fish is a favorite or a vegetarian Pad Thai from Banana Tree.”

West Hampstead in three words?
Beautiful, sense-of-community, mums-welcome (yes , Alketa rather stretches the definition of three words).

No nonsense for Tom at Nona

A visit to Nona on Fairhazel Gardens seemed a decent idea, as it meant stopping off for drinks beforehand at The Arches, the most charming bar in the area and a venue of even more stature and importance since the closure of the much-missed La Brocca. And so, after a really excellent glass of Sauvignon Blanc, on to the restaurant…

To start, chargrilled sardines, which I could happily eat as a main, in large quantities; these were a pleasure to devour. A little baked mushroom dish also appeared, the mushrooms filled with ricotta and spinach, with a cream sauce – quite rich for a first course, and satisfying. Nothing high-brow, but piping hot and well seasoned.


Baked mushrooms

For a main course, as I was dining with a vegetarian, I decided I’d join in the fun (?) and try something veggie myself. This wasn’t too difficult a decision once I noticed a salad of chargrilled aubergines and roasted tomatoes with feta. The dish worked well because the salad element featured plenty of coleslaw, which added substance and a crunch factor. The aubergines were perhaps a little firm (also noted in the risotto) but I guess that was due to grilling rather than frying.

Aubergine salad

Across the table, risotto alla caponata (more aubergine, garlic, feta and tomato sauce) was also enthusiastically received, and sides of sautéed potatoes and ciabatta (oddly spelled incorrectly on the bill!) provided further carb relief. Nona’s menu is appetising, with a great deal of variety even down to the side dishes, which causes chaos for greedy types like me who generally want to eat everything. In both choice, and value, it’s along similar lines to the equally appealing and ever-popular Little Bay (side note: extremely sad to see the Farringdon branch of LB closed).


For inexplicable reasons, we didn’t drink Italian wines, instead opting for a French Pinot Noir at £25 then a Rioja at £5.85 a glass; both enjoyable, the latter the better one.

This is a fun, upbeat restaurant serving gratifying plates of straightforward food at very fair prices, perhaps meaning one can pop back into The Arches afterwards and browse its wine list. Or, as we did, finish up with a drink directly outside Nona, in this very likeable, leafy little location. No room for puds on this occasion, but the website sagely advises that “saving room for dessert is an extremely wise move” – so good reason to return soon.


The beauty queen and a mysterious maritime death

Frank Vosper

Frank Vosper was born in December 1899, just two weeks before the turn of the century. He was born at 24 Gondar Gardens in West Hampstead – the house where Nobel prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing lived for more than 30 years before her death in 2013.

Vosper’s father Percy was a surgeon at Kings College Hospital, having come from Plympton in Devon to study medicine in London. In 1894, Percy married Blanche Permain, whose father was a fine art dealer and they had moved to Gondar Gardens at the end of 1896.

Frank would have had a comfortable upbringing, yet the story of his premature death at just 36 would have made as good a film as any he might have acted in, with a cast list that included Ernest Hemingway and Miss Great Britain.

24 Gondar Gardens

Frank Vosper was educated at Haileybury School in Hertfordshire. He wanted to be an actor, and when he left school at 17 he called on a theatrical agent who had previously been a pupil at his old school. Incredibly, just on the basis of this shared experience, the agent got him work and young Frank appeared in ‘Julius Caesar’ in March 1919 at the Pavilion Theatre in Mile End.

Frank was talented, and became a very successful actor. After working with actor-manager Sir Ben Greet’s Shakespeare Company, Frank first appeared in the West End in ‘The Young Visitors’ in 1920. After this he left on a theatre tour of India and the Far East. On his return in 1922 he played a succession of both modern and Shakespearean roles. In 1926, Frank joined the Old Vic Company and worked with some of the great actors of the day including Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness, Margaret Rutherford, and Dame Edith Evans.

He appeared in ‘Yellow Sands’, Eden Philpotts’ very successful play which ran for more than 600 performances. Frank was best known for playing Henry VIII in ‘Rose Without a Thorn’, a 1933 play about the relationship between King Henry and Catherine Howard. There is a short film of him getting into costume as Henry, plus clips of his performance.

After leaving the family home, Frank got a small flat at 7 Upper St Martin’s Lane in Seven Dials, where he lived from 1925 to 1927. He became friends with John Gielgud and they appeared together in ‘Hamlet’.

In his 1939 autobiography, Gielgud wrote:

As soon as ‘The Constant Nymph’ had settled down to a certain success, I persuaded my parents to let me leave home. Frank Vosper was shortly to move from a little flat in Seven Dials where he had been living for some time. I greatly admired this flat and arranged to take over from him the rest of his lease. The flat was full of character, and I stayed there for eight years. There was no proper kitchen, and the bathroom, with a rather erratic geyser, was down a very draughty flight of stairs. But otherwise the place was charming. The sitting-room walls had been covered with brown hessian by Vosper, and there was a ceiling in one of the bedrooms painted by an artist friend of his (under the influence, I imagine, of Braque), with large nude figures sprawling about. This I thought very modern and original.

In January 1933, Frank Vosper had a major role in a play called ‘The Green Bay Tree’ by Mordaunt Shairp. This was very controversial. Frank, who was not openly gay, played a homosexual aristocrat who adopts a working-class boy and remodels him in his own image. Mordaunt Shairp was a schoolmaster who lived with his wife at 13 Heath Mansions in Hampstead and had taught at University College School in Frognal from 1920 to 1933 when he left to become a full time playwright. The title of ‘The Green Bay Tree’ is taken from Psalms 37:35. ‘I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree’.

In the play, Frank Vosper played Mr Dulcimer, a wealthy man who bought an 11-year-old boy from his working-class parents for £500. He raises Julian as his stepson and the boy becomes addicted to Dulcimer’s Mayfair way of life. Julian then has to choose between marrying his fiancée Leonora, or staying with Dulcimer.

Although never directly stated, a homosexual relationship is clearly implied. Shairp said he wanted it to be a modern morality tale based on Dr Faustus. The play was very successful and played for six months at the St Martin’s Theatre. It was also very popular when it opened on Broadway in October 1933 when a young Laurence Olivier played Julian and Jill Esmond, who later became Olivier’s wife, played Leonora. It was frequently revived on Broadway and was produced in London at the Jermyn Street Theatre as recently as December 2014.

Vosper’s work on stage got him excellent reviews and he began to work in films. He appeared in more than 20 including, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1934), where he played Ramon the assassin (this was also Peter Lorre’s first English film). Hitchcock remade the film in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day. In 1934, Vosper had a starring role in Michael Powell’s early low-budget thriller, ‘Red Ensign’.

Peter Lorre and Frank Vosper in The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934

In addition to being an actor, Frank wrote several plays. His first was ‘Spellbound’, which he produced in 1927. He later rewrote it as ‘People Like Us’. In Who’s Who in the Theatre, Vosper amusingly describes his recreations as ‘criminology and blackberrying’. He was a regular visitor to the Old Bailey and ‘People Like Us’ is based on the notorious Thompson-Bywaters case: in October 1922, Edith Thompson persuaded her young lover Freddie Bywaters to murder her husband. The pair were executed in 1923, although many people thought Edith was not guilty of murder and should not have been hanged. The play had a very brief run at the Strand Theatre in 1929, but was banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s office because of the subject matter. It was not performed again until 1948.

Vosper persuaded Agatha Christie to let him adapt her short story into the play ‘Love From a Stranger’. The first night was so tense there were reports that some of the audience fainted. It received very good reviews and ran from March to August 1936. He then took the play to Broadway where it ran for another couple of months later that year. The play was twice turned into a film and was televised by the BBC in 1938 and 1947. A radio version was also broadcast on the BBC Home Service in 1945. Another of his plays ‘Murder on the Second Floor’ was filmed in 1932 and again in 1941 as ‘Shadows on the Stairs’.

By 1935, Frank Vosper was living at 34 Acacia Road in St Johns Wood with his partner, the actor Peter Willes. Willes was born in London on 30 April 1913. He was the son of a lawyer, and educated at Stowe. By now, Vosper was at the height of his career and on 9 September 1936, he and Peter sailed on the SS Aquitania to New York where Frank’s play ‘Love From a Stranger’ was to appear on Broadway. Then in December, Frank and his sister Margery went on holiday to Jamaica and were joined in Mexico by Peter, who had been in Hollywood acting in the film ‘Call it a Day’. After Margaret returned to London, Frank and Peter journeyed on to Havana, Hollywood, and then to New York.

From left Olivia de Havilland Ian Hunter Bonita Granville and Peter Willes, Call it a Day 1937

All at sea
On 6 March 1937, Frank and Peter returned to England having sailed from New York on the SS Paris. Other passengers included the American writer Ernest Hemingway and Muriel Oxford, Miss Great Britain 1935, who – after a couple of small parts in films had been undertaking film tests in Hollywood. Here is a film clip of Muriel at a beauty contest.

In the early hours of that Saturday morning, just before the ship was due in to Plymouth, Frank was reported missing. Just over two weeks later, his body was found more than 200 miles away near East Dean in Sussex.

Drawing of finding the body Illustrated Police News 1 April 1937

The papers speculated wildly about what had happened. Peter Willes told reporters that he had met Muriel Oxford at a party on the ship, and that she invited him to her state room where they were joined by Frank. As they drank champagne, Frank had gone into the adjoining lounge where they believed he had climbed out of a window and fallen into the sea. But was it an accident or suicide?

Did he slip, or did he jump?
At the enquiry, Muriel confirmed Peter’s version of events. She had been at a party in the ballroom the night before the ship was due to dock. She had danced with Peter Willes before ordering a bottle of champagne to be taken to her state room. Although she hadn’t met Peter or Frank before, she explained that she asked them to her join her as they were the only Englishmen onboard. Willes had returned to the cabin that he shared with Vosper who reluctantly agreed to go to Muriel’s state room. They sat talking and after about 20 minutes, Vosper got up and walked across the state room to the private lounge. Muriel thought Frank wanted some air and she showed him how to open the window. Later when she and Peter couldn’t find Frank, they raised the alarm.

Peter Willes believed that Frank, who was very short sighted and had broken his glasses, must have thought the low sill of the window led to the boat deck and not straight into the sea. He said Frank always preferred to leave parties unobtrusively so as not to appear rude. But he could not believe Frank had committed suicide. He was far too keen on his work and had spent the whole journey writing a new play.

William Pengelly was Frank’s solicitor and he was determined to find out exactly what had happened. In scenes foreshadowing today’s Crimewatch, he asked Muriel and Peter to reenact the scene on the SS Paris in his Gray’s Inn office. Pengelly also went to Paris to interview Ernest Hemingway who had been travelling on the ship. Hemingway occupied a state room opposite Muriel and strongly denied the press stories that Vosper had argued with people during the voyage, or that Willes had been very attentive to Miss Oxford and that Vosper could have jumped out of the window in a fit of jealousy.

Around the same time, and before a body had been recovered, Peter and Muriel went to Le Havre to help the French examining magistrate by reenacting the events onboard the SS Paris itself. The Magistrate ruled out foul play believing that Vosper committed suicide.

Frank’s badly damaged body was identified by his father Percy. At the beginning of the inquest in Eastbourne, Percy said that Frank was always bright and cheerful and was particularly level headed. He was not keen on parties, and did not stand alcohol very well. But he was not quarrelsome and his father had never seen him drunk. When asked, Percy said he was not aware that Frank had any love affairs. None of the stories in the newspapers revealed that Willes and Vosper were partners.

The inquest, which had begun at the end of March, resumed on 6 April as the jury had decided it could not reach a verdict based only on Muriel and Peter’s evidence. They wanted to hear from the ship’s staff. The court was packed as Robert Cubillare, a night steward, speaking through an interpreter, said that at about 2.15am he had gone to Cabin 243 occupied by Mr Vosper and Mr Willes, and Miss Oxford was there. A lady in an adjoining cabin had complained about the noise, and the steward asked them to keep quiet. A few minutes later the three of them went to Miss Oxford’s state room.

Charles Carbon, the night steward to the state room, said he was summoned at 2.45am. Miss Oxford and Mr Willes were lounging on the divan and were a little merry. Mr Vosper was standing motionless in front of them. When asked if Vosper was laughing or joking, he said Frank was quite silent. Carbon took a bottle of champagne from Miss Oxford and went to put it on ice. When he returned, Frank was missing. He and Mr Willes went to look for Vosper and when they couldn’t find him, the Captain was informed.

The Captain said he was told about Vosper’s disappearance about 3.10am, but he did not think anyone could have got through the small window, and as nobody had seen a man fall overboard, he thought that Frank had simply left the cabin to take some air on the deck. He only reported Frank’s disappearance when they reached Plymouth in the morning. Questioned by Mr Pengelly who represented the families, the Captain admitted he had found some marks on the white window sill.

In his evidence, Mr Pengelly said he known Frank Vosper for 11 years and his financial position was good. He confirmed Vosper was rather sensitive about his poor eyesight and would never wear his glasses in public. Pengelly said he thought it was perfectly possible to step through the window despite what the Captain had said. To demonstrate, he placed a cardboard frame the same size as the window easily over his shoulders. He thought that if Vosper believed there was a deck on the other side then he could have fallen by accident.

The coroner in addressing the jury, said there appeared little doubt that Mr Vosper had gone through the window. The only question that remained was whether he had done so deliberately to end his life, or was he under the impression that there was a deck on which he would land, in which case it would have been an accident. If it was a case of suicide, it must have been a sudden impulse because he had sent a cable from the ship that afternoon to an old friend saying he was landing the next morning.

The jury took just 25 minutes to reach an open verdict on Frank Vosper’s death. They decided that he met his death by drowning, but it was impossible to say how he got into the water.

What became of the other cast members?
After the inquest, Muriel Oxford, white-faced and angry, told reporters, There was no love making in my state room. These stories are the hardest thing to bear. We were not lying on the settee; we were sitting side by side with our backs against the wall. I deny the stories that Willes and I are in love.

In November 1937, she successfully sued the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror for making libellous claims about her morality. The solicitors representing the newspapers apologised and said there was no intention of making such aspersions. There was no mention of any financial recompense, though there may have been an out-of-court settlement.

The disappearance of Frank Vosper gave rise to the cruel saying, ‘Never get on a ship with Peter Willes’, which was still in circulation in the 1960s. Willes would go on to have a successful career nonetheless. He appeared in ‘The Dawn Patrol’ (1938) with David Niven – a classmate at Stowe, and ‘Idiot’s Delight’ (1939) with Clark Gable. After a distinguished war service, in 1947 he became the tour manager for popular comedian Vic Oliver. This proved good training for his TV work at Associated Rediffusion as a talent scout and producer. Willes produced TV plays by Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’. From 1966 to 1978, he was the innovative Head of Drama at Yorkshire Television and produced several Joe Orton plays. Willes became a good friend of Orton’s but disliked Orton’s partner Kenneth Halliwell who eventually killed Orton and then committed suicide in August 1967. Peter Willes himself died in Gloucester in 1991.

In his will Frank Vosper left £10,463 (worth about £600,000 today), to his solicitor and executor, William Pengelly.

There is a short news clip about Frank Vosper here:

In 1939, Sir John Gielgud wrote about his friend Frank:

His tragic death two years ago was a great shock to all his friends, and I miss him continually. I knew him well for nearly fifteen years. As a companion he had inimitable gaiety and charm. He was generous to a degree, a delightfully Bohemian and charming host and, as an artist, completely free from jealousy of any kind. He often gave the impression that he behaved selfishly in doing exactly as he liked, but in reality he enjoyed nothing so much as giving pleasure to other people. … His happiest time, while I knew him, was during the brilliantly successful run of his own play, ‘Murder on the Second Floor’. His diversity of talents created quite a sensation with the production of this play, and he was hailed by the public and idolised by his company. His dressing-room at the Lyric Theatre was always crowded with friends and acquaintances, and after the play there would be endless parties which went on till the small hours. But Frank was equally happy with just one or two intimate friends, and later he bought and furnished a beautiful little house in St. John’s Wood, ceased to entertain so widely, and settled down to a positively domesticated existence, writing, doing enormous jigsaw puzzles, and joking about how busy everyone else always seemed to be.

Unfortunately, we are left not knowing what really happened to the multi-talented Frank Vosper, who tragically died aged just 36.

Studio Society opens its doors

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Who buried the body? The sad tale of “The Kilburn Mystery”

Pembroke Place was a cul-de-sac of four-roomed houses off Granville Road in South Kilburn. It has long been demolished – today the St Augustine’s sports centre occupies roughly the same site. In the early 20th century, it was described as a mean and congested neighbourhood, where domestic violence often erupted. The properties were so small they were sometimes referred to as cottages and they were home to an endless succession of poor families. But even here, people were shocked by the skeleton under the floor.

Granville Road showing Pembroke Mews in Red 1890

Granville Road showing Pembroke Mews in Red 1890

In late July, 1919, Henry Hill – the tenant of No.12 Pembroke Place – became concerned about the foul smell in the house and found bones and a skull buried under the kitchen floor. The press immediately called the discovery ‘The Kilburn Mystery’. Initially it was believed there were two bodies and Sir Bernard Spilsbury, a pathologist who first came to public notice during the 1910 Crippen trial, was called in. Unfortunately the police removed some valuable evidence before Spilsbury arrived, but he soon identified the bones as those of a single young female.

Almost immediately, neighbours told the police they knew who it was. They believed the remains were those of sixteen-year-old Constance Grant, known to friends and family as Connie.

William John Grant and Alice Maud White, had occupied the house for just over a year before leaving that January. What unfolded over the next few weeks was a tragic story of neglect, poverty and cover-up.

William was born in London and worked as a labourer, but by 1919 he was employed as a boiler cleaner in a gas works. In 1888 he had married laundry worker Rosina Pyle. She died in 1907 and a year later William met widow Alice White. The couple decided to live together as common law partners. Between them the couple already had 12 children: William had eight and Alice four, and they went on to have another five children together. Their youngest was Doris. William and Alice were living in 12 Pembroke Place by Christmas 1917, sharing the small house with their own children and also Ada and Connie Grant, William’s daughters by his first wife. There were reports of quarrels, and some physical violence.

In January 1919, William and Alice separated. He moved in with a married daughter in Harlesden while Alice and the five children born to the couple, eventually ended up sharing two rooms with her daughter Ethel May (known as Maggie) at 16 Malvern Road, just a few minutes walk from Pembroke Place.

After the bones were found, an excited neighbour’s child ran round to Malvern Road and told Alice: “They are saying you murdered two children and buried them under the floor!” To which Alice replied, “They will have to prove that”. Alice promptly dressed herself and young Doris and went out with her friend Sara Harris. Sara said Alice intended to pawn a watch or neck chain for money, to pay for a meal that evening. Alice left Sara in the Harrow Road but didn’t return home.

The police were naturally very anxious to speak with Alice and circulated a description:

Alice White, also known by the names of Grant and Watts. 42 years old, around 5 foot 5 inches tall, dark complexion, dark eyes, full face, and medium build. Last seen with a black hat, wearing a long light-coloured overcoat and carrying a baby about two years old.

Clearly wanting to contribute something to the mystery, Sara Harris told reporters that on the day, Alice “seemed all of a flutter”. She also said Alice had told her she had found Connie dead.

With the exception of the absent Alice, everyone was questioned by the police as soon as the bones were found. The answer to when they last saw Connie varied from family member to family member. “I last saw her round about Christmas 1917 then she was gone”, said Alice’s son James. Alice told him Connie had run away. If that was the case, asked James, why not go to the police? Alice replied she’d already been and that, “Connie had been picked up and she will come back some day”.

Connie’s father William swore he didn’t know anything about her. He had last seen her sweeping the kitchen on 1 June, 1918. After that, Alice always made an excuse when he wanted to see his daughter, saying Connie was upstairs or at the local recreation ground with the other children. But the police were suspicious that William accepted his daughter’s absence so readily.

The latest sighting was reported by Maggie who said Connie was around the day her parents moved out of No.12, in January 1919. But with the different dates they couldn’t all be right.

The truth was that by the time the family left Pembroke Place, Connie had been missing for months. William’s elder son, Corporal Albert Grant, who was serving with the Air Force in France, told the police that when he was home on leave in January 1919, he went with his father to look for Connie at Pembroke Place. He said;
“We made a search of the house and found that all the furniture had been removed with the exception of a child’s cot. We noticed an unpleasant smell, but did not pay any particular attention to it. My father and I searched for Connie for some time but could obtain no news of her.”

They returned with a policeman but it was the next tenant of No.12 who discovered the bones. Henry Hill told the inquest that he had complained to the house agent about the persistent bad smell but eventually took matters into his own hands. He bought some carbolic acid and took up the floor boards by the kitchen fireplace. At first he and his son George thought they had found a rotten turnip but further excavation unearthed the skull, which “smelt most offensively”.

Pembroke Place and Henry Hill (circled)

Pembroke Place and Henry Hill (circled)

Alice’s comment to her friend Sara, as well as her rapid exit from Kilburn, convinced the public that she had murdered Connie before making a run for it. Maggie was interviewed again and this time she said she wanted to tell the truth. As result of her new statement, she was arrested.

Maggie told the police that in October 1918, she had found Connie’s body in the coal cellar (actually a cupboard under the stairs). She was sitting upright and looked very thin. Maggie screamed and when her mother came to see what the matter was, Maggie ran away. Later she crept back into the house, looked in the cupboard and the body had gone. She never asked her mother what had happened to the corpse. The papers seized on this new twist:

“It is now practically certain that Constance Grant, whose remains were found under the floor of the back kitchen at No.12 Pembroke Place, was not murdered. It will probably be found that she died of self-imposed starvation, due to her mental condition.”

Connie had learning difficulties: one report of the inquest bluntly described her as “an imbecile”, while newspapers said she was “not very bright in intelligence, but good-natured and amiable”. Maggie swore that Alice thought the world of Connie. This was backed up by her brother James, who said Alice treated her own children and her step-children with equal affection.

The police redoubled their efforts to find Alice, and even planned to drag the Grand Junction Canal, as a woman and baby answering their description had been seen walking along its bank. Then a week after she had left Malvern Road, Alice calmly walked up to a policeman in Lewisham, saying she was wanted in connection with the Kilburn mystery.

Alice’s statement to police differed significantly from the information supplied by daughter Maggie and partner William Grant. The couple were arrested and appearing in court, where Alice stood in the dock with baby Doris in her arms. William sobbed as they were charged with manslaughter and illegally disposing of Connie’s body. Alice was hissed by the public when the skull was produced by the pathologist. Maggie was accused of taking part in illegally burying or disposing of Connie’s body, but this charge was later dismissed.

William Grant

William Grant

The inquest and subsequent trial at the Old Bailey revealed the truth behind the family’s sad life. It wasn’t straightforward; family members contradicted each other, timings were inconsistent and most important, the medical evidence was inconclusive.

Connie was described as, “wearing glasses, short and thin, very dull and very dirty”. James said his stepfather William had hit Connie more than once for being slovenly. James remembered Connie’s foot being swollen and black around Christmas time, 1917. He thought she had chilblains, but her condition was more serious than that. One of her toes broke off as her father bathed her foot; William denied this and challenged James saying, “You are telling lies.” James saw Connie a couple of days later but then she disappeared.

Connie’s sister Ada Grant appeared in court to give evidence. She was malnourished and very small for her age. Chief Inspector Haig of Scotland Yard called her a “little mite”, and in court the jury was assured that despite appearances, she was actually 14-years-old.

Ada Grant

Ada Grant

Ada said Connie did not go out to play and spent most of her time indoors, where they shared the top back bedroom. She’d last seen her when her foot was bad. After that, she never saw her again and when she asked Alice where she was, she was told Connie was in the front room which was always kept locked, with a curtain over the fanlight. Ada remembered Alice saying Connie was in bed the night before they left Pembroke Place. Alice was hissed again when she urged Ada, to speak the truth.

It was Alice who provided the most likely explanation of mystery. She said that after trying to bath Connie’s foot, it became inflamed and Connie couldn’t walk. So she slept in the living room for about a week. Alice said, “I gave her some cake. In the morning I went into the room and found Connie lying dead on the couch. I locked the door and let her lay there and I never told anyone.” Alice said this all happened not in December but March 1918. The reason she was so certain was because a few weeks later on 30 April, she said she gave birth to Doris. Alice said when she had recovered from the birth, she buried Connie’s body under the floorboards in the kitchen.

It is not clear how much William knew. He certainly lied about when he last saw his daughter alive, presumably to protect himself. Alice gave conflicting reasons for concealing Connie’s body: “I did not know what to do. William was a man she could not tell anything to.” But she also said, “I did this to save her father, as I did not want William to get into trouble”. She told her neighbour in Malvern Road that she didn’t want any reconciliation and had once threatened to take poison. But there was some evidence to indicate it wasn’t completely one-sided, that Alice could be a force to be reckoned with. William told a friend, “I am frightened to death. If I left her she would swear my life away.”

Given the condition of the bones, it proved impossible for Dr Spilsbury to establish exactly when poor Connie died. He concluded death occurred sometime between Christmas 1917 and March or April, 1918. The police claimed the bones had been buried as bones. Spilsbury said bluntly that “he could not form any idea as to the cause of death”. Connie might well have died from blood poisoning, given the condition of her foot.

The pathologist concluded that if the body had been placed in the manhole he had seen in the passage and covered with an air tight lid, “nine months would have been sufficient to have cleared the bones”. Perhaps Alice first placed Connie under the manhole, then later removed the bones and buried them. But she always maintained she had put Connie’s intact body under the boards: “The child was put down absolutely whole.” When asked to account for the absence of three ribs, Alice replied that the place was overrun by rats.

At the Old Bailey on 13 Sept 1919, William and Alice were found not guilty of manslaughter but guilty of wilful neglect and disposing of the body. The judge said he was “unable to draw any distinction between the prisoners as to the degree of their guilt.” Although he had encountered worse cases of neglect, he had “never heard of a worse case of thwarting the ends of justice by disposing of a body. This gave rise to grave suspicions which nobody could pretend were cleared away. They had disposed of the body to avoid an inquiry.”

William and Alice were both sentenced to 18 months in prison with hard labour. Four of their children were put in the Willesden workhouse before the trial was held. But we don’t know what happened to baby Doris.

Grab yourself a FREE yoga class at Yoga London Club

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Yoga London Club is West Hampstead’s brand new premier boutique yoga studio, situated in the heart of West Hampstead on Broadhurst Gardens. To celebrate the opening of the studio we’re offering all West Hampstead Life readers a FREE taster session during August* To try out a class for free just drop Matt an email to get your taster session booked in.

And there’s more good news from Yoga London Club, once you’ve had your free taster session you are then eligible for our fantastic intro offer of month-long unlimited yoga sessions for just £40.

Yoga London Club offers a wide range of yoga styles including Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga and beginners, taught by our amazing super-friendly team backed by a wealth of experience. The class timetable includes our unique Yoga Express classes, which are just 45 minutes long and ideal for those wanting a quick post-work or lunchtime stretch, with the longer XL evening and weekend classes for folk wanting a longer workout.

Inside the Yoga London Club studio on Broadhurst Gardens

Inside the Yoga London Club studio on Broadhurst Gardens

Each class at the Studio will have 12 spaces available to allow for a much more intimate yoga experience for the student. So whether you are an absolute beginner or a seasoned yoga pro, Yoga London Club will have the perfect session for you.

Yoga is fast becoming the go-to complete mind & body workout the world over. The practice helps to release both the physical and mental tightness and tension that have somehow become the default settings for human beings. In Yoga London Club’s classes, mind and body are balanced and a deep sense of peace and calm is created.

Yoga London Club founder, Matt Ryan

Yoga London Club founder, Matt Ryan

At Yoga London Club, we believe passionately that yoga is for everyone regardless of size, shape, age, sex or experience, and take pride in creating a welcoming environment for all.

Yoga London Club
192 Broadhurst Gardens,
West Hampstead,
London NW6 3AY
*for first-time students of the studio only

Tom’s talking Italian at Quartieri

The latest Whampdinner took us down the KHR and (via the ever-splendid Black Lion) into Quartieri, to see what all the fuss was about regarding apparently authentic Italian pizzas…

It’s cheery inside, smart but laid-back, with one wall housing a remarkable array of herbs and chilis, quite a sight, and wonderful to know they’re going straight into the dishes.

Quartieri herb garden

Browsing the menu in advance I immediately got the impression these were ‘serious’ pizzas, as many appeared simple, without too many toppings, and no additional ones (though there were some less-standard choices available, and a special, a lemon-based one which sounded intriguing).

My table quickly devoured a charcuterie board, and looking across the room I noted an elegantly presented salad indicating care and attention. This seemed to have what looked like crisps placed on top; Mark noted several comments on these, in some cases accompanied by quirky Italian terminologies for fried this or that, but I think we’re all in agreement that yes, those were crisps!

Quartieri charctuerie

The bruschetta was good, as was the gnocchi (we tried some as a bonus starter) – somehow light yet rich, with a tantalising softness to it and just a little ‘edge’ as well. For both these dishes, I’d have liked a touch more salt, but then I’ve probably mashed my tastebuds due to decades of, well, getting mashed.

Quartieri Bruschetta

Quartieri gnocchi

I selected the Puttanesca pizza. With simple pizzas there’s nowhere to hide, so there has to be seasoning and taste; and indeed this was delicious, with strong flavours and satisfying dough. For sure, it had a touch of class and confidence to it, which I think is is what we were hoping for with this type of venture.

I was puzzled by all the toppings being in the centre (from the menu: Agerola fior di latte, slow food capers, and Caiazza black olives from Selanova), and although I admired the intention of these dark, intense olives being unpitted, this did inevitably mean it wasn’t easy to get a taste of everything in one bite. More puzzling was the omission of the stated Casa Marazzo organic tomatoes, especially as the whole menu sings-out “tomatoes!” throughout. The bonus addition of basil added a nice dimension though. Whatever, I’d happily have been back to try other options at 8am for breakfast given the opportunity. (Well perhaps 10am).

Quartieri pizza puttanesca

Service, via the friendly but professional Luka, was efficient, and we enjoyed a chat with the effusive founder, Tony, who seemed to be an exact 50-50 Italian / English mix. Us simpletons were amused and confused in equal measure initially, when Tony read menu options in vibrant Italian before sounding like a Kilburn pub landlord moments later.

We tried two reds: Aglianico Quartieri 17 – “savoury, meaty notes and plum fruit characterise this dry house red” – indeed it was dry, quite a refreshing wine to start off with, then Piedirosso Pompeiano 20 – “a medium bodied red with hints of strawberry on the nose and strawberry & blackcurrant on the palette” – a similar lightness (12.5% ABV) but with rather more to it, to match up against the grub.

A note about the chili oil – it was excellent. That sort of heat which creeps up, transpiring to be far more complex and indeed spicier than expected. Now, I tried to stitch-up poor old Goetz on my table, by assuming a nonchalant manner and suggesting “put tons of it on, it’s very mild” – however, as Goetz already knows I’m an idiot, he saw through my devious plan immediately – dismissing it with a chuckle and a bite of his calzone. Doh!

High quality pizzas, then lounging about in The Black Lion a couple of doors down – sounds like a sensible Kilburn-based evening, does it not? Welcome, Quartieri – we look forward to next time.

Finishing line is in sight as Studio Society nears completion

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As 37 Fortune Green Road – aka Studio Society – nears the end of its 8-week build, this 8,000sqft empty space has been transformed into state-of-the-art group exercise studios. As the physical build draws to a close, the technicians are now taking control, installing multiple projectors and creating a floor-to-ceiling cinematic visual experience like you’ve never seen or experienced in fitness before.


The changing rooms are already almost complete with both wet and dry change areas tiled and painted. Everything is sleek and simple to allow the highest efficiency in cleanliness. GHD hairdryers and mirrors surrounded by light bulbs help you feel like a superstar before you leave to start your day! The sheer size and finish from the moment you walk through the door is stunning to say the least and it is now clear that the focus of these studios has had the members’ experience at heart.

We are no ordinary health club. We strive for a harmony between physical exercise and sensory motivation. Our immersive fitness studios transport you to another world. One minute you step off the tube, the next, you’re in our studio, working out on a tropical Thai beach. Think of it as your calorie burning, muscle toning, cardio-vascular paradise. Floor-to-ceiling 360-degree video, cinematic Bose® surround-sound, synchronised lighting and even the scent of sunscreen and coconut filling the air. It’s an extraordinary fitness experience for individuals who want healthier bodies and happier minds. It’s where technology meets fitness meets your imagination – the perfect ying-and-yang of exercise and inspiration.

Studio Society
37 Fortune Green Road
West Hampstead

Tracking down Kilburn’s misplaced cinema

Many buildings in Kilburn have interesting stories, but few can match 248 Kilburn High Road. The site, now demolished, has recently been given permission for two new-build blocks of flats. Residents will be living on top of a slice of media history.

In October 1908, American-born George Washington Grant and two partners formed the Biograph Theatre Company. They saw cinema as the growing medium and opened two Biograph cinemas in the Holloway Road and Peckham in 1909. The busy working-class area of Kilburn was a good place for their next venture. The partners approached Madame Goubert of 65a Brondesbury Villas (who owned several plant nurseries in Kilburn), and suggested opening a cinema and adjoining skating rink on her nursery ground behind Brondesbury Villas and the High Road. An application was made in her name on 19 November 1909, but it was refused by Willesden Council. Biograph persevered and in May 1910, The Biograph Theatre with 600 seats opened on the other side of the Kilburn High Road at No.236. The trade newspaper, Era, said, ‘It is doing remarkably well and is prettily decorated in brown and gold and is very cosy.’

By then the group had a chain of nine small cinemas in London. Unusually, the manager of the Kilburn branch was a woman, Mrs McCullah. However, the cinema had a short life and closed in 1917, unable to compete with the nearby Oswald Stoll-owned Grange Cinema. This had opened at the end of July 1914 with more than 2,000 seats, making it the largest purpose-built cinema in England. It was superseded in December 1937 when the iconic Gaumont State opened across the High Road with more than 4,000 seats. Biograph found it difficult to keep its chain profitable, and in 1922 the partners voted to voluntarily wind up the company.

Initial researchers of early cinema believed that the Biograph was situated behind today’s Speedy Noodle restaurant at 236 Kilburn High Road, on the corner of Grangeway. However, Grangeway was built after 1914. After the Biograph closed, 236 is not shown in the street directories until 1921 when Gerrard Costumiers opened there. The costumiers appeared again the following year, but in 1923 it appeared to have moved to 248 Kilburn High Road. In fact, it hadn’t moved at all – but this section of the High Road had been renumbered. The correct position of the original Biograph cinema is opposite Buckley Road, (near today’s Tricycle Cinema). Access was from the present day 248, with the cinema building reaching back behind the narrow shop front, almost as far as Grange Park. Several buildings lay behind the shop fronts.

From 1926, the cinema building was for many years a billiard hall run by W. Jelks and Sons. They made billiard tables in their Holloway Road factory and ran halls around London. The numbering of the building changed several times and was shown at various times as 246, 246a and 248.

Sadly, no photos of the old cinema seem to exist and all we have of this section of the High Road is one taken in 1979. This shows Mobile Press Photos who were at No.248 from about 1951 to the early 1980s. The long wall of the building behind the shop originally housed the old cinema.

Mobile Press Photos at 248 Kilburn High Road by Jean Smith, 1979

Mobile Press Photos at 248 Kilburn High Road by Jean Smith, 1979

In 1931, Joseph Littman, who became a millionaire property speculator, bought the shop at 248 for his wife Evelyn as a gown and costumiers. Joseph had been born into a poor peasant family in Poland in 1898, had no schooling and had difficulty reading and writing. But he had a very good memory for figures and knew how to deal with people. The family first migrated to New York and Joe Littman came to London in the early 1920s. He married Evelyn Gold in 1925 in Paddington and was naturalised as a British citizen in 1935. Over the years he acquired large numbers of properties on the High Road and elsewhere in Kilburn. Then he bought properties in Oxford Street and the West End. Modestly, Littman said, ‘I have done pretty well for myself in ten years, but I would have still been keeping shop if I had not been willing to take the risk.’

He pioneered a funding technique of sale and leaseback that is widely used today, known as the ‘Littman Cocktail’. He sold the property to a large financial institution such as a building society, leased it back on a long-term lease of 99 or 999 years, and then sublet it to the occupier on a short lease. That way he made money as the property increased in value over time.

Joe was a modest man who lived a simple life dedicated to his family and friends. Towards the end of his life he suffered from poor health and died of lung cancer in one of his hotels, the Palace Court Bournemouth, on 20 August 1953, aged 55. He left £3.2 million, worth about £82 million today.

Fast-forwarding 50 years, in January 1986, Steve Flood and Stuart Colman opened Master Rock Studios at 248 in the old cinema building. Stuart Colman was a musician who produced hits for Shakin’ Stevens, The Shadows, Kim Wilde, and Alvin Stardust. He also worked as a presenter at the BBC before opening Master Rock Studios. Flood and Colman were soon joined by studio manager Robyn Sansone who came from New York. An amazing number of musicians recorded, or had their albums mastered here including Elton John, Jeff Beck, U2, Eric Clapton, Roxy Music, Simply Red, Oasis, Robbie Williams and Suede.

Flood and Coleman wanted the very best quality mixing and recording equipment so they bought a Focusrite console. Focusrite was founded in 1985 with the aim of producing the highest-quality recording console available at the time, regardless of cost. The prohibitively expensive design, however, limited production to just two units. One console was delivered to Master Rock Studios in Kilburn and the other to the Electric Lady Studio that Jimi Hendrix had built in New York.

Bernard Butler, the guitarist with Suede, who recorded at Master Rock said, “Master Rock Studios was originally haunted by buying one of the only custom-made Focusrite consoles. It arrived several months late so left them without business for a long time and despite being used on everything after it arrived, I don’t think they recovered.”

Despite being busy, the studio had financial problems and in 1991 the business was put up for sale, eventually closing in March 2000.

248 High Road by Dick Weindling, September 2013

248 High Road by Dick Weindling, September 2013

State-of-the-art fitness studio opens in West Hampstead this July

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Forget everything you know about fitness studios – the revolution is coming – and the first in line can get a fantastic pre-opening offer.

For the team behind Studio Society, a brand new next-generation fitness studio, there was no other place to launch than West Hampstead which has a tendency to favour specialist boutique businesses.

Studio Society swaps the mundane for the extraordinary, tearing up the rulebook to bring an exciting twist to your fitness regime.


Situated by the park on Fortune Green Road, West Hampstead’s new health club promises to take you to another place.

A world combining the latest sports science with immersive entertainment for an optimised, turbo-charged fitness experience.

It’s the perfect harmony of physical exercise and sensory motivation. The ultimate natural performance enhancer you didn’t know you needed.

Step off the tube and straight into a tropical beach for your workout. You’ll work harder than you ever thought possible, as floor-to-ceiling video and synchronised lighting consume your senses and drive you faster towards your goals.

Cinematic sound adds another dimension to the environment, the scent of sand and sea permeating the air takes you beyond captivation into another world.

This is more than just fitness. This is a new frontier.

Unleash your true competitive streak to compete with other cyclists at Spivi® using real-time performance technology.

Bring your A-game to one of the POWER classes and fire up your metabolism with high intensity, dynamic workouts.

Relax your body and your mind with a calm group fitness class – perfect for those who want to slow down the pace, stretch and rediscover their inner calm.

With over 100 live and 100 fully immersive classes per week – including favourites like Body Pump, HIIT, Body Combat, Yoga and Pilates, the path to a healthier you is made easy.

It’s where technology meets fitness meets your imagination. An extraordinary fitness experience exclusive to West Hampstead.

The studio opens its doors next month, and members who join now can take advantage of a limited pre-opening offer. For just £20/month you will have access to unlimited classes, pay no joining fee and not be signed into a contract. That’s 200 classes to choose from and an instant saving of over £50. There are limited places available at this price.

Sign up now to lead the revolution.

Studio Society
37 Fortune Green Road
West Hampstead

Miss Compton Collier – West Hampstead’s pioneering society photographer

3. Miss Compton Collier with her plate camera_top

For fifty or even sixty years, Miss Compton Collier, based at West End Lane, Hampstead, has toured the English countryside. With her haversack of heavy photographic equipment, wooden camera and tripod she has stalked the great English families in their lairs.” – Cecil Beaton.

In The Tatler magazine from 1916 to 1948, photographs regularly appeared by ‘Miss Compton Collier, West End Lane’. The earlier pictures were of popular actresses, and then from 1920 onwards they were of society celebrities in their houses and gardens. At the time, she was one of the few woman photographers.

Dorothy Marguerite Cuisset Collier was born on 24 January 1899 at 1 Goulton Road Clapton, near Hackney Downs. She was the only child of Edward Allen Collier who was a distillery manager. By 1911 the family had moved to 28 Victoria Mansions in Willesden.

In November 1919, at St Augustine’s Church in Kilburn, Dorothy married John Davis, a 35-year-old business manager who lived at 22 Kilburn Park Road. She had left home and was living at 115 West End Lane. The witnesses at the wedding were Owen Nares and his wife Marie Pollini, both very popular actors. For most of the 1920s, Nares was Britain’s favourite matinée idol and silent-film star. Dorothy had befriended them during her work for The Tatler, and her photo of them appeared in 1918.

Owen and Marie Nares, Tatler 1918

Owen and Marie Nares, Tatler 1918

In 1922 Dorothy and John moved just six doors down to 103 West End Lane. Dorothy continued to use the professional name she had created of ‘Miss Compton Collier’. Sadly by 1931, their marriage failed and the couple divorced.

In 1966, renowned photographer Cecil Beaton wrote an article called, ‘The Woman who made me want to be a photographer’. This provides the best insight into Miss Compton Collier, and how her pictures influenced the young Beaton:

Many of my adolescent glimpses of the grand world came through the photographs in The Tatler which bore the credit line ‘Miss Compton Collier’. They invariably showed us delightfully fair-haired ladies caught in a silvery light enjoying, in a leisurely manner, the herbaceous borders, clipped yews, stone garden seats and sundials of their country houses. Pouring over these reproductions week after week I came to know Miss Compton Collier’s taste extremely well.

Daphne Du Maurier, Tatler, 4 July 1945

Daphne Du Maurier, Tatler, 4 July 1945

Wherever possible she chose to photograph her subject standing on a piece of flagged path… Balustrades, terraced steps and rustic bridges were also other favourite haunts. Occasionally Miss Compton Collier would sprinkle a successful actress or two among her aristocratic sitters, but these too, would be photographed as far as possible from the atmosphere of the theatre and would be found on holiday, leaning against a gate surrounded by cow parsley, or holding a sheaf of corn in some stable yard. In fact, my earliest family snapshots were mostly made in emulation of Miss Compton Collier…Trying to appear the Ladies and Honourables, or stage stars ‘on holiday’, my wretched schoolgirl sisters would then be made to pose by garden urns or sundials, or among the Japanese anemones and harebells. But, try as I might, my sepia prints, brought from the wash basin of hypo, never acquired the silverpoint effect of the original inspiration.

Other photographs that appeared in The Tatler were attributed to ‘Rita Martin’ and ‘Lallie Charles’ and ‘Basano’, so why, I wondered, should it be ‘Miss Compton Collier’. Who was this lady? I was intrigued to discover her whereabouts but I knew of no one who had ever met her, and her name was not listed in the telephone book.

It was many years after Miss Compton Collier’s photographs had ceased to appear that I heard that she had continued her career with unimpaired zest, and each spring would send to people of high rank an itinerary of her summer tour stating that she would be in the neighbourhood during a certain week in case she were needed for an ‘at home’ sitting. I was intrigued to know that this mysterious lady still existed, so I wrote to ask if she would deign to include me professionally in her schedule and take some pictures of my mother and myself in the garden at Broadchalke. Miss Compton Collier graciously announced her willingness to oblige me. [Ed: this was in 1955].

Miss Compton Collier with her plate camera

Miss Compton Collier with her plate camera

Miss Compton Collier proved to be an extremely agile spinster of over seventy with a pale brown face of minor distinctiveness with the flesh solid and shiny. She was dressed in old-fashioned clothes, somewhat like a land girl of the 1914 war, with large felt hat and flowing skirts. She projected a personality that brooked no nonsense, and no interruption; her main objective was to seek out the nearest flagged path and the most lichen-mottled stone garden ornaments. A slightly forced giggle was part of her stock-in-trade. This softened any of her criticisms and enabled her to make all sorts of observations that, without it, might have caused offence; it was certainly not a giggle from the heart. I felt that Miss Compton Collier did not approve of the decoration of my house; she was only interested, and that for utilitarian reasons, in the bathroom, and the quicker outside the better.

Miss Compton Collier is extremely knowledgeable about gardens: ‘After all, I have photographed eleven thousand of them!’ She knows her England well: ‘Dorset has the best little manor houses. Oxford is where the nouveaux riches live in gardens planned by Sutton’s. That thatched wall is typical of Wiltshire; we must take it quickly – but, oh dear – the horrid sun is coming out! I hate the hard light it gives. Such a bad week last month – sun every day! I loved the summer before rain all the time! People can’t believe it when I photograph them in a downpour. But I say: “I’ll give you your money back if you don’t like it!” Recently in Scotland she had placed a whole tribal family in the garden under umbrellas, and at a given moment ordered the gillies to rush up to take away the umbrellas while the exposure was made.

Miss Compton Collier took pictures of my mother and myself obediently sitting on an old stone seat with the dog at our feet. Behind the camera her performance was dynamic – even acrobatic. In order to stimulate the interest of her subjects she would jump up and down, wave an arm, squeak a rubber dog, and hum in a high musical voice. Suddenly, with a heavy click, the shutters of the lens would open and close. ‘Got it!’ shouted Miss Compton Collier in triumph. Her face was now a matter-of-fact, rather sullen mask. The switch from such inspired enthusiasm to the merely businesslike was somewhat of a shock.

At lunch she told us that for many a donkey’s lifetime now she has lived in a small house in West End Lane, Hampstead, tended by an old servant of seventy-six. Miss Compton Collier appears so strong and healthy that one knows it is true that when she goes to bed it is to sleep so soundly that nothing will disturb her: – not even a bomb. In fact in one raid when the roof was blown off the house and all her rooms but two were destroyed, Miss Compton Collier went on snoring. [Ed: this was the V1 that hit West End Lane in June 1944].

‘Every day of my summer is taken up with work; from April to October I’m busy, so I leave everything else that has to be done to my winter months. I only do shopping in January: if a cup gets broken it has to wait till the first of the year. But I hate shopping in any case – it bores me. Now these clothes I’m wearing were bought fifteen years ago. I never read the papers: they’re so vulgar. I’ve never listened to the radio; I hear everything I want to hear. And I wouldn’t dream of doing the usual things like filling in a census or having a ration book. I just haven’t time. I hardly ever go to a play, but when I do I ring up and find out first if it’s got a nice happy ending because I hate all these squalid dramas that are so much the fashion. I loathe magazines and won’t contribute to them any more now that they’re full of Communist propaganda. I’ve never worked for the Press; if, in the old days, my pictures were used in The Tatler, it was I who chose the people to photograph: I never took people especially for the paper.’

How did you become a photographer?’ I asked. ‘I had a weak heart at school and wasn’t allowed to play games. Someone gave me a camera and I suppose that the artistic feelings, always in my family, came out in my generation in this different way. In another century I would have been a painter.’

Cecil Beaton by Miss Compton Collier, 1955

Cecil Beaton by Miss Compton Collier, 1955

Miss Compton Collier does most of her own photographic processing, and said she was up till three o’clock last night developing plates. All her paraphernalia is entirely obsolescent. She climbs under a dark red velvet cloth attached to her wooden 1895 camera with its long rubber tube with ball-shutter release. Hanging from the wooden tripod is a large bag containing a menagerie of toy dogs, mice and other pets to attract the attention of her aristocratic children and animal sitters. Miss Compton Collier has never visited a photographic exhibition, and shows complete ignorance of the work of other photographers. She had never heard of the work of Steichen, Bill Brandt or Cartier-Bresson. Although she has no further ambitions, she is never bored with her work; each sitting is a thrill for her.

In the silvery prints that resulted from her visit to Broadchalke both my mother and I appeared calm and leisurely, our faces smoothed and our hair silken. We were not only amused, but delighted.

Miss Compton Collier lived in her own closed world with little regard for current events. She took no newspapers; did not own a radio and did not watch television; she relied entirely for news of the world on her Kilburn bank manager. Her bank manager, not unreasonably, said: ‘I shall need some guidance, Miss Collier. If I am to provide you with news of the world, could you give me examples of what you mean?’ ‘Oh, yes’, she said, ‘it is perfectly simple. I mean the death of the sovereign or the outbreak of war’.

103 West End Lane, May 2017

103 West End Lane, May 2017

Dorothy continued to live at Number 103 West End Lane until her death on 27 June 1977 at ‘Chilton House’ a nursing home near Aylesbury. She left £60,361, worth about £340,000 today.

An Insight into: Brinkworth Dairy

London Farmers’ Market, which runs the West Hampstead market, has an annual competition to find customers favourite stall at each market. In West Hampstead, the winner (again) was Brinkworth Dairy. So who better for WHL’s next Insight.

Brinkworth Dairy is run by Ceri and Chad Cryer (helped by their young three boys and other family members) from Hill End Farm, which has been in the family for five generations since 1910. It’s a small 180-acre farm in North Wiltshire, with 100 grass-fed pedigree British Friesians dairy cows. Future plans include offering camping on the farm (and updating the website to include the award of West Hampstead’s farmers market favourite stall).

Every morning Chad gets up at 4.30 to bring in the cows for milking and at the weekend he then gets ready to set off for farmers markets in West Hampstead (Saturday) and Queen’s Park (Sundays).  He’s helped out here sometimes by a local friend, although this weekend he brought along two of his boys, who were selling jars of Chad’s honey – and sold it all.

Brinkworth Dairy, favourite stall at West Hampstead Market

Brinkworth Dairy, favourite stall at West Hampstead Market

Chad, what brought you West Hampstead?

London Farmers’ Market brought me here. Originally I had a stall with them at Queen’s Park as well as Marylebone, they were finding new venues and about four years ago they asked if I wanted to try their new market at West Hampstead. It was a good market from the start – some other markets start off well but then tail-off – but here things started well and continued to grow.  I like to do the work myself so decided to stick to West Hampstead and Queen’s Park and leave Marylebone.

What is your favourite memory of the area?

It was actually when I needed to go Sainsburys to buy some sugar for the stall and I kept on being greeted by customers. It was strange that here I was walking through London, but it felt like being back in my own village. Nice memory.

What was your first impression of West Hampstead?

I set up at the first market with my friend Seb, who had grown up here and so have mainly seen it through his eyes. He was amazed how much it had changed, and rather regretted his parents had sold their house here.

The first customers were really pleased that the space outside the station was being used. I knew a few of them from Queen’s Park market, they were also pleased they didn’t have go so far for their coffee, cheese and yogurt.

Cheese, glorious cheese, milk, yogurt and butter. Highly recommended by @thewetfishcafe

Cheese, glorious cheese, milk, yogurt and butter. Blue cheese highly recommended by @thewetfishcafe

What has surprised you about the way West Hampstead has changed?

Even in the short space of time I have been coming I have seen the skyline change. When I chat to someone new, often a couple, buying a coffee I’ll discover that they are looking at property in the area.

What’s for lunch?

A pizza from Napoli, the new pizza stall – usually with a samosa from Mumbai Mix (they have the stall next to mine at Queen’s Park). Otherwise it might be a burger from James, or a sausage roll.  But pizza is the new thing.

Conversely, when I’m setting up my stall at 8.45 all the other stallholders are polite enough but what they are really saying is ‘hurry up, please, I want my coffee!”

West Hampstead in three(ish) words?

Nice sense of community.

Farmers’ market update

For those of you that have read this far – changes to the farmers’ market are on the cards. There is talk of extending to Sunday and even running it some weekday evenings.





Victim or thief? The strange story of the West Hampstead diamond broker

Leonard Tom – Leon to his friends – was a diamond broker. He was born in Amsterdam in 1890, but lived at several addresses in West Hampstead during his life. His family came to England in 1896, and when Leonard was 16 he joined his father in the diamond trade.

After his marriage in 1922 Leonard lived at 57 Greencroft Gardens. He was already well respected in Hatton Garden, where brokers acted as middle men, taking jewels on approval from merchants to show to prospective clients for sale on commission. In the 1930s it was common for the brokers to meet on the street or in kosher cafes around Hatton Garden to look at the goods and agree the price on a handshake. This practice continued until the war, when trade moved behind closed doors in secure premises. The London Diamond Bourse opened in 1940 in Greville Street near the junction with Hatton Garden.

In February 1932, Leonard Tom was living at 190a West End Lane (near today’s Tesco Express). At 10.30am on February 5th, Leonard Tom visited Messrs M. Gerder and Co. at Hatton House in Holborn. It was a trip he had made many times before. On this day he chose several pieces of jewellery valued at £12,350 (about £700,000 today). He then went to a café in Charles Street in ‘the Garden’ and then on to Old Bond Street to try to sell the diamonds. But the trade, like many others during the depression, was going through a difficult time and the diamond mines in Africa had closed down. There were no buyers at the right price and after lunch at Maison Lyons, a restaurant on Oxford Street opposite Bond Street Station, he decided on the spur of the moment to turn down Gilbert Street.

Oxford Street in the 1920s

Oxford Street in the 1920s

Leonard was halfway down this quiet road which runs between Oxford Street and Brook Street, when he was attacked by two men outside St Anselm’s School. They covered his face with a ‘treacle plaster’- brown paper covered in treacle which stopped him seeing anything. It was a technique copied from a famous ‘Treacle Plaster Robbery’ of a cashier in 1912.

The robbers snatched Leonard’s briefcase containing the diamonds and got away in a stolen car, which was later found abandoned in Cavendish Square. Henry Stenner, the school caretaker, witnessed the attack. He said the car had been waiting outside the school and described the men. The police were soon able to arrest Alfred Philpot and William Baldock who Stenner picked out from a line up. At their trial they were found guilty of robbery and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Baldock was a 34-year-old piano finisher with a scar on each cheek and tattoos of a snake, a dagger, a tombstone, flowers, a woman and Buffalo Bill on his back. Philpot who was 28, had five previous convictions for stealing cars and an assault on a policeman.

The thieves may have been found, but the jewels were not. Gerder and Co., which was a very large company with an international reputation, claimed on its Lloyds insurance policy but the underwriters declined to pay. They pointed to a clause that exempted them from liability for any loss caused by theft or dishonesty by a broker. In short, they were saying that Leonard Tom, who had a spotless reputation, had stolen the diamonds.

A year later, the civil case came for trial to be heard before Justice Humphries without a jury. By now, Leonard had moved to 16 Cleve Road. The defence barristers talked about the normal day-to-day work of brokers in Hatton Garden, where millions of pounds worth of jewellery was traded in coffee shops, and where gangs of crooks were on the lookout for a chance to snatch a bag or briefcase. In the witness box, Leonard described the attack, which was so quick he had no time to react before his case was snatched.

Philpot was brought from Chelmsford Prison to give evidence. Standing with warders next to him in the box, he said that in January 1932, Leonard Tom had met him, Baldock and another man called Mark, who he assumed was the gang leader, and two other un-named men, in a teashop in Hatton Garden to plan the robbery. He said Leonard had taken them to Gilbert Street to survey the scene. Philpot was the driver tasked with stealing a car in Camden Town. After the attack, he said they met in a pub in Smithfield where they divided £200 for their part in the robbery. Leonard was pressed very hard by the barrister, and admitted that times were difficult and that in the previous six months he had earned only about £100 (today worth about £6,500). But he denied planning the attack with the gang and said he was completely innocent.

In his summing up, the judge said that if this had indeed been a real hold-up it was a most remarkable thing. He made much of the fact that the attack happened in a quiet side street where the thieves were waiting beside their car. How could they have known Leonard Tom would take that route unless he had told them? It was also strange that Leonard did not defend himself, although he had fought in the war, where he was promoted from a private to a lieutenant in the Tank Corps. The judge visited Gilbert Street and concluded the robbery must have been pre-planned. After carefully weighing all the evidence, Justice Humphries said it was a painful decision because of the consequences for Leonard Tom, but he found in favour of Lloyds against Messrs Gerder.

As a result, Leonard Tom was arrested on 20 June 1933 for conspiring with two men to commit a bogus robbery, and committed for trial at the Old Bailey. In July the jury listened to the same evidence that Justice Humphries had heard, but could not reach agreement, and a new trial was called. At the second trial the new jurors heard a director of Messrs Gerder say they still had complete confidence in Leonard’s honesty. This time the jury agreed and found him not guilty. Leonard stayed at Cleve Road until his death on 24 June 1943. He left £876 (worth about £35,000 today), to his widow Dora.

What do you think – was he innocent or did he arrange the bogus robbery?

We love leafy West Hampstead, let’s keep it that way.

Recently the Mayor’s office published this map of all the street trees in London – colour coded. This dendrophile’s wet dream covers all of London but if you put your postcode in the top-right corner then you can zoom in on West Hampstead.

From City Hall's tree map of London

From City Hall’s tree map of London

By unclicking certain dots you can see what West Hampstead would look like without, for example, its Plane trees. This could really happen as all London’s magnificent Plane trees (e.g along the Embankment) are coming to the end of their lives.

Leafy West Hampstead

Leafy West Hampstead

To find out more about trees in West Hampstead WHL spoke to Riccardo Arnone, Camden’s tree officer for this part of the borough (area 2 to be exact).  For each area the Tree Department has a three-year programme of inspection and replacement; our next one is due in 2018/19. He deals with trees on streets, on council estates and in parks, but not those on private land.

Did you know that if you see a diseased, dying or dead tree you can report it to Camden via the trees section website. And if you really care about trees, you can help water the newly planted ones. We are having another very dry spell but the watering contract hasn’t started yet so any young trees around are getting very thirsty. It costs about £100 to plant each tree, but for Riccardo it’s not just about the money but also about the loss of something living. “It’s a shame to lose a tree”.

It’s a bit too early to be 100% sure of the underlying reason, but Camden’s Tree Department is having to adjust its tree stock due to the impact of changes in the climate. There are new pests and diseases, such as the Oak Processionary moth as monitored on Fortune Green back in 2015, and longer dry periods such as we are experiencing now. That, plus managing subsidence risk, means Camden is planting smaller varieties such as Amalanchier. Although this is a fine tree (with delicious berries) it isn’t a true replacement for the trees we are losing as it doesn’t provide much shade on a hot summer’s day.

They look fine now, but long term the Plane trees are too close together.

They look fine now, but these Plane trees are too close together.

West Hampstead has also lost a number of established trees to recent redevelopments, and despite promises at the time they don’t seem to have been replaced. Yes, there new trees outside the Ballymore development in West Hampstead Square, indeed they are Plane trees. Great, given the prospect of many of the older ones reaching the end of their lives, except… they are planted too close to each other. Sigh.

If you like our trees, and they are what makes makes West Hampstead nice and green, then look out for the tree walk the Friends of Fortune Green have lined up for the autumn. The last one they organised was a few years ago and more than 60 residents joined – the highest number Camden had ever had for a tree walk. In the meantime here’s a reminder of one of the area’s greatest trees.

Image via Louise O'Keefe

Image via Louise O’Keefe

Did the Kilburn sun shine on Summers dining?

There been a ‘pop-up’ take-over of our usual food reviewer’s spot, Tom’s Diner, as WHL pulled rank to review Summer’s dining.

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, three young guys have taken over the Sir Colin Campbell on Kilburn High Road and are collaborating with Ruairidh Summers, an ex-St. John’s chef on his first solo venture. Perhaps we were too enthusiastic in promoting it because when we tried to book a table in the restaurant there was only room downstairs in the bar, but by time we arrived a table had become available upstairs.

WHL had some friends over from Neukolln in Berlin (it’s where people from Hackney move now that Hackney has been come too gentrified and expensive). How did they find Summers?

They certainly felt at home with the decor which had East End/Berlin/Williamsburg distressed paintwork furnished with simple chairs and tables plus an extensive gin menu and choice of beer and cider. No Hoxton cider though, as it was out of stock.

Kilburn via Hackney/Williamsburg/Berlin

Kilburn via Hackney/Williamsburg/Berlin

When it came to ordering food, the suggestion is that dishes are ordered ‘for sharing’. Ruairidh is Irish, so appropriately – for a pub in Kilburn – there is an Irish flavour to the menu, with crubeens (deep fried pigs trotters) as one of the starters. We also ordered asparagus (nice and seasonal) with whipped cod’s roe, which had a slight flavour of bacon, and rabbit terrine with pickles. Oh and the spouting broccoli too. Plus home baked sourdough bread. Monika wasn’t a great fan of the cod’s roe but I loved it. And we polished off the lot.

For mains it was pork belly with carrots, brill with samphire and clams, plus a side of colcannon. I meant to order the pearl barley, wild garlic and goats curd as well but though we were told we had ordered it, it turned out we hadn’t.

Mains are always the most difficult part of the menu to get right, you don’t want to be kept waiting too long after the starters have been cleared away, but not rushed either and they are the most complex dishes to cook. Summers was still in the soft opening period and could harden this aspect up a little for the next visit. Also on the menu was a beef shin and Guinness pie, which looked really good – and I don’t eat beef – and as it comes for two is truly a dish for sharing.

Haven't had a carrot this good since Noma.

Haven’t had a carrot this good since Noma.

Service was from two young waitresses who were a little nervous and still getting to grips with menu and space. However, they needn’t have worried quite so much, they were charming and did a fine job. When a restaurant has certain buzz it adds to the enjoyment the meal, and Summers had it. The room was full of 20-30somethings enjoying their meals, with a gentle backdrop of 80s Indie music, shared with the pub downstairs.

Mmmm. Desserts went down rather well.

Mmmm. Desserts went down rather well.

After mains it was into the home stretch of desserts – we shared an apple crumble and rice pudding with rhubarb. Not being a huge fan of rice pudding I took a cautious bite, and then another one and another one – I might not have been a huge fan before, but I am now.

There are subtle changes to the menu each night, so you might not get the same starters or desserts we had, but I’m pretty sure they will be just as good. And how did our Berlin friends like it? Sehr, sehr gut.

Don’t trust an MP who says they’re a “regular person”, says Tulip

Where's the NHS money Boris? Image credit: Tulip Siddiq/BBC

Where’s the NHS money Boris? Image credit: Tulip Siddiq/BBC

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, is a busy working mother and her baby daughter Azalea is going through a naughty, determined, stage at the moment. After her mother’s recent haranguing of “smirking” foreign secretary Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, perhaps we know where Azalea gets it from. We sat down with Tulip to talk politics, Brexit, spin and, of course, West Hampstead.*

Juggling political life

At the moment, Tulip and husband Chris both have full-on jobs, and a baby to bring up. She laments that they are often like ships passing in the night and sometimes don’t get to see each other much. When they do, it’s a multilingual affair. Tulip talks to Azalea in Bengali, while Chris talks to her in Mandarin (he is a fluent speaker) to give her a good grounding before she starts learning English. Interestingly, if Chris talks in Bengali, Azalea refuses to answer him. Poor kid is probably baffled!

Juggling home and work life sounds pretty standard for most people, but Tulip is not impressed by those politicians who profess to be just ‘normal regular people’. To become an MP is quite a struggle – in her case with what she describes as a gruelling selection process (particularly bitter as “you are up against your friends”), followed by contesting a tight marginal seat, which can be a vicious experience. It is an unusual existence, and Tulip suggests you shouldn’t trust anyone who suggests they are just a regular woman, or man, who just ended up there by accident.

Tulip revealed that it was a Conservative who gave Tulip her first break in politics. Andrew Marshall, now an independent councillor for Swiss Cottage, is the man responsible, according to Tulip. Back in 2007 there was a council by-election in Fortune Green, following the death of councillor Jane Schopflin. At an informal hustings for candidates, Tulip says that Andrew was impressed enough to email Anna Stewart, then the leader of the Camden Labour, saying very complimentary things about Tulip. This, she says, is what got her noticed and she was then selected for Regent’s Park ward, made a Camden cabinet member, selected as parliamentary candidate and is now our MP. Andrew himself has no recollection of the hustings or the email.

Unity and division 

It may sound strange to outside ears for a member of one party to openly praise a member of another. But the reality is that parliament is not always as partisan as it appears. Tulip has worked with Conservative MP Maria Miller on a cross-party bill on sex and relationship education, and also actively supports Harrow MP Bob Blackman’s private member’s Homeless Reduction Bill. She even shares a corridor (and long chats) with Chris Philp, who many readers will remember as the Tory candidate who came just 42 votes short of toppling Glenda Jackson in Hampstead & Kilburn in 2010.

Tulip is also working on another cross-party bill with Conservative MP Oliver Dowden who, like Tulip, has a constituent imprisoned in Iran. West Hampstead resident Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent almost a year now in prison in Iran and Tulip say she is trying hard to get a meeting with the government to discuss her case, but claims Boris is stalling.

Lest we should think that all is sweetness and light across the house, Brexit of course remains divisive. Tulip was one of the Labour rebels who opposed the bill (and stepped down from the shadow cabinet as a result), and she is disappointed with the Tory response. She suggests that some Conservative MPs talked a good game but when push came to shove only Kenneth Clarke voted against the bill.

There are 17,000 EU nationals in Hampstead & Kilburn, one of the highest number in any constituency. Of course they don’t get to vote in a general election, but Tulip argued that “I’m not here to get votes, I’m here to help people.  I am your MP. If you live here I will represent you”. Of course in an area that voted some 3-to-1 in favour of Remain, far in excess of her victory margin, voting against the bill hardly seems like political suicide. Tulip does point out that it is becoming harder not to be very guarded when making public statements given the volume of nasty attacks that ensue if you say something even mildly controversial (that’s you Twitter trolls). A recent Guardian interview with her and anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, gives some insight into the intensity of vitriol women in particular can face, and the lengths public figures like Tulip have to go to to keep themselves safe.

Brexit has predictably led to a big jump in EU casework – for example she is trying to help a Spanish constituent who has custody of her child whose father is British. Will she be allowed to stay? None of these implications were discussed by the Leave campaign at the time of the referendum, and as Brexit minister David Davis frankly admitted, there has been a complete lack of preparation.

Even this week, Tulip voiced her Brexit ire in the House of Commons, criticising Boris Johnson for “smirking at the British public” over the claim that £350m would go to the NHS.

Thankfully, Tulip is generally amused by Speaker John Bercow cutting MPs down to size in the chamber. “His comments are so funny,” she says (the clip includes a good example).

If proposed boundary changes go ahead, which would on paper suit the Conservatives, then perhaps her rebel stance will help her. Even if there is no change, the national polls don’t look good for Labour under its current leadership. Of course, she is fighting the proposals anyway – which would see Kilburn drop out of the constituency and leafier suburbs to the north and east come in.

Tulip’s main concern is splitting the Kilburn High Road across two constituencies. It is, she points out, already under-represented, particularly  since it straddles two boroughs – four if you go far enough north and south. She became particularly aware of the problems Kilburn faces when her constituency office was there and she became involved in all sorts of local issues: HS2’s ventilation shaft in South Kilburn, payday lenders and loan sharks targeting the area and even parking for Eid prayers.

What about West Hampstead?

Whatever boundary changes, West Hampstead will remain in the constituency, and so the conversation turns to our own neighbourhood. Tulip says that she was sorry to see long-standing Lib Dem councillor Keith Moffitt go, but that Labour’s Phil Rosenberg has carried on the tradition of working hard for the community. As a former local councillor, she is well aware of the problems local councils face at the moment: “The government doesn’t care about local councils, if you haven’t been a local councillor you don’t know the full impact of the decisions they are making.”

On the thorny issues of fortnightly waste collections in the area, Tulip politely demurs that she doesn’t know the full details, although she says that she understands the concerns and lots of people are coming to her surgeries about the issue. She does point out that councils have to make difficult choices and not everyone is aware of the level of services the council provides in other areas – much of which is statutory and cannot be cut.

As the conversation draws to a close, a school bus passed by, which Tulip said she had used as a 16-year-old – yes, she’s lived here that long. Of course, she still finds out new things about the area in West Hampstead Life, which she kindly says plays an important role in keeping locals informed (whether or not we say nice things about her personally). “I always read things where I think ‘I didn’t know that.'”

*this interview took place before the tragic events around Westminster last week


Lucy Worsley grabs local kids’ attention with tales of Victorian intrigue

Words like ‘history’, ‘church’ and ‘books’ don’t always conjure up images of children’s happy, smiling faces. Especially in combination. However, the rapt attention of 300 schoolkids from Emmanuel, Beckford, Francis Holland, South Hampstead High, St Anthony’s and Rainbow Montessori schools told quite a different story this Tuesday.

History royalty rocked up to Emmanuel Church in the form of TV presenter/Chief Curator of Historic Palaces and all-round jolly good egg, Lucy Worsley.

I know, Miss! I know!

I know, Miss! I know!

Lucy was here at the invitation of West End Lane Books, to talk about her latest foray into children’s fiction, My Name Is Victoria, her imagined account of the youth of Queen Victoria.

The kings and queens, princes and princesses of West Hampstead

The kings and queens, princes and princesses of West Hampstead

Forget ‘We are not amused’; Lucy had the kids agog and in stitches from her thrilling intro: ‘The most exciting thing a historian can ever find is a letter ending ‘burn this”, to her creation of a Victorian family tree with much audience particpation to the final show stopper – a photograph of her Royal Highness’s, er, knickers.

The children were certainly won over. “I don’t really like history,” said Lina (11), “but I did enjoy the talk because it was interesting, and actually it was funny!”.

“I found it interesting finding out about the first toilet”, said Chynna-Lee (10). You know you’re going to strike gold with children if you’ve got some toilet-based material. She added, “I thought it was funny that one of the dukes had a pineapple-shaped face.”

As you’d expect from the hugely enthusiastic Lucy Worsley, My Name is Victoria, which has been reviewed as ‘Wolf Hall for kids’, is crammed with authentic period detail, packed with intrigue, secrets, treachery and is a ripping read. Although the plot pivots on the relationship between the young monarch and a young commoner who is sent to be her companion, the boys in the audience seemed every bit as interested in it as their female counterparts

And the finale of a successful book talk.

And the finale of a successful book talk.

The queue of kids wanting their book signed at the end of the talk is further testament to Lucy’s persuasive touch. Yes, people, history can be fun. Ask your kids. And if yours didn’t attend the talk, signed copies of My Name Is Victoria (suggested reading age 9-13), are available at West End Lane Books.

Lucy herself clearly had a good time too.

An Insight into: Cocoa Bijoux

Cocoa Bijoux is an, erm, bijou, little chocolate shop down on Broadhurst Gardens. Except it isn’t just a chocolate shop. Stuart Daniel, the owner, wanted it be more interesting than a pure chocolate shop. It’s a good source if you are looking for a special present to take friends who’ve invited you for dinner. Or want to satisfy your own chocolate craving.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

Pizza. I was having a pizza at Sarracino, where we had been coming for years, then one day I saw this beautiful little shop, right next door to this great cigar shop (another of West Hampstead’s hidden gems) and said to my wife “I’m going to open up a shop” she replied, “you are crazy”.

I’d been in the confectionary distribution business for over 25 years and the bit I liked best about it was visiting the shops as well as the sourcing and discovering. So I thought the time had come to try something different and open my own shop.

I never wanted to open a pure chocolate shop though, I find them a bit boring. I’m a foodie and like other indulgent products too; biscuits, olive oil, jams, cakes (Ed – and even biltong, Stuart hails from South Africa). I wanted the shop to allow customer to “explore and discover a world of indulgence”.

First or fondest memory of West Hampstead?

Those pizzas at Sarracino!

Aow, wouldn't it be loverly? Lots of choco'lates for me to eat.

Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly? Lots of choco’lates for me to eat.

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

I haven’t been here that long, opening the shop in 2011, so it is difficult to know. Even in that short space of time though I’ve notice that the young couples that came in when I first opened have moved away and been replaced more and more by wealthy ex-pats. But West Hampstead is still perceived as a young person’s area, it has a young vibe.

Talking of change, I’d like to move into one of the new units when Mario’s further up Broadhurst Gardens gets redeveloped. It would be good to have more space, with somewhere for the customers to properly sit down and have one of our hot chocolate drinks.

When I look back at pictures of the shop, which at the time I thought was great, I now think it was terrible! The shop has matured, you have to respond to people’s wants and everything evolves.

What’s for lunch?

Mostly a beigel from Roni’s to go with soup I bring with me.

West Hampstead in three words?

Young, well-located and eclectic

Indiana Jones and the West Hampstead conman

Mitchell Hedges in adventurer and gentleman guises

Mitchell Hedges in adventurer and gentleman guises

In 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there is a brief mention of a real person. Our eponymous hero says that while he was studying at the University of Chicago, he was fascinated by the work of a man called Mitchell Hedges, a real-life adventurer and explorer who found a crystal skull. Although the writers of the film say they did not use Mitchell Hedges as a model for Indiana Jones, there are some interesting parallels between the real and the fictional characters – and a link with a West Hampstead conman.

Hedges was born in Islington in 1882 as Frederick Albert Hedges, the son of a dealer in gold, silver and diamonds. He added ‘Mitchell’ from a family name on his mother’s side and to his friends he was known as Mike, Midge or Mitch Hedges.

Young Frederick was educated at Berkhampstead prep-school in Cheltenham before moving to University College School in 1896 (the school was in Gower Street then, moving to its present site to the north of West Hampstead in 1907). He left school at 16 and joined a copper-prospecting expedition to Norway. When he returned to London, he briefly worked as a clerk in the stock exchange before going to New York at the end of 1901. After nearly five years in America he returned, and lived at 42 Kensington Park Gardens, Notting Hill Gate. In November 1906 Frederick married Lilian Agnes ‘Dolly’ Clarke. They had no children and with all his travelling she often did not see him for long periods. Frederick started a stock-broking business in partnership with others, but he went bankrupt in 1912.

After this failure Mitchell Hedges travelled extensively and lived a colourful life. He claimed he was captured in Mexico by the revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1913. In October 1914, he had an illegitimate son, Frederick Joseph, born at the Paddington home of the child’s mother, Mary Florence Stanners. Three years later, he was back in North America and claimed he met Trotsky in New York. He also adopted ten-year-old Anne-Marie ‘Anna’ Le Guillon, the orphaned daughter of some friends from Ontario.

Hedges met Lady Richmond Brown, who was separated from her husband (their marriage was annulled in 1930 on the grounds of Lady Brown’s adultery with Hedges), and the two travelled together on several Indiana Jones-style expeditions funded by Lady Brown and London newspapers. In the 1920s they were in British Honduras (today’s Belize) with archaeologist Thomas Gann and in 1924 they visited Lubaantun on the Rio Grande in the south of the country. This is a ruined Maya city dating from the 8th and 9th centuries. Hedges later claimed he had discovered the city, but Gann had actually discovered them more than 20 years earlier.

Mitchell Hedges and Lady Richmond Brown at Lubaantun

Mitchell Hedges and Lady Richmond Brown at Lubaantun

The Hold Up on the Ripley Road
By 1927, Mitchell Hedges had became famous, writing about his adventures in newspaper articles and books. On 14 January he had a busy day in London lecturing to Bank of England employees and doing a radio broadcast. He dined at the National Liberal Club and was being chauffeured to his home at Sandbanks Parkstone near Bournemouth, accompanied by his friend Colin Edgell.

On Ripley Road in Cobham Woods, Surrey, the car was stopped by a man waving them down in the headlights. He said his friend was injured and needed to go to hospital. Kenneth Taylor, the young chauffeur went to help and when he did not return Hedges and Edgell went to look for him. They were astonished to find Taylor lying by the side of the road with his hands tied behind his back. Suddenly, they were set upon by six men but after a fight their attackers ran off into the darkness. Returning to the car Mitchell Hedges found his brief case containing papers and six shrunken heads had been stolen. Before returning to London the three men drove to Guildford police station to report the theft.

The day after the robbery, Hedges received a letter at his usual suite at the Savoy Hotel that said the entire escapade had been a hoax. The writer said that he and five other young Liberals had objected to Hedges’ remarks in a recent speech at the National Liberal Club, where he spoke about the lack of grit in the British youth of today. “You did not suspect that the six ruffians who attacked you in Cobham Woods were six of these very weaklings whom you were reviling with their lack of enterprise and pluck.” His bag was returned intact and Hedges said he accepted it as practical joke.

There the matter appeared to rest, but a week later, an article appeared in the Daily Express followed by another in the Sunday Express that included an interview with the gang’s ring-leader, Clifford Bagot Gray. The articles said that Hedges had colluded with the young Liberals to gain further notoriety for himself and to help drive publicity for Bagot Gray’s ‘Monomark’ monogram service.

Hedges sued the papers for libel and the case was heard in the High Court in February 1928. The defence barrister pressed Hedges hard, claiming he was an ‘impostor’ who had exaggerated his exploits in his publications. Witnesses were called who had taken part in the hoax, saying it had been rehearsed several weeks earlier in Cobham Woods. The jury, without leaving the box, found in favour of the defendants and Mitchell Hedges lost the case and was ordered to pay costs.

The West Hampstead connection
On 12 February, 1928, during the trial, Mitchell Hedges was contacted at the Savoy by a Major MacAllan who said he could help with the case. A meeting was arranged and MacAllan was accompanied by a man he introduced as his solicitor Mr Astor. He claimed to have met Mitchell Hedges in Buenos Aires where he was the head of the MacAllan Construction Company. “You are in a hell of mess and you are going to lose your case. I want to do the best I can to help you,” said MacAllan.

It was suggested that if the verdict went against him, Hedges could lose all his friends and be ostracized. MacAllan said that he had helped people in previous high profile libel cases, for a fee. Even better, as his cousin was on the jury they could win the case, but it would cost Hedges £1,000. After they left, Hedges immediately contacted Scotland Yard. A second meeting was arranged for the next day. Four detectives hid in a small adjoining box-room listening on headphones to a microphone hidden in Mitchell Hedges’ Savoy sitting room. When MacAllan asked for £500 now and £500 the following day, the detectives rushed into the room and arrested him and Mr Astor.

In court the men were identified as James MacAllan (who was not a major), 59, a civil engineer of Dennington Park Road and Frederick George Arnold (a.k.a. Mr Astor), 60, a fancy toy dealer of Tachbrook Street in Pimlico. They pleaded guilty to attempting to obtain money by false pretences, and were each sentenced to six-months imprisonment with hard labour.

A serial conman
Information on the Dennington Park Road conman is scant. Before World War I, he had worked as a civil engineer in Argentina and by 1928 he was a secretary for the London and Provincial Greyhound Racing Association. But he became a career conman, sentenced to 12-months imprisonment in October 1926 for defrauding five people by claiming valuable mineral deposits in Yorkshire. There were numerous complaints that he had run up debts with tradesmen pretending to be a major. In February 1927 he received a four-month sentence for stealing £250 from a woman he had promised to marry.

Nine years after the Hedges incident, he was in court again, charged with obtaining £125 by false pretences from Elsie May Andrewartha of Vincent Square, Westminster. This was a callous case. Miss Andrewartha was a nurse who attended MacAllan while he had an operation on his leg in Westminster Hospital. After he was discharged in October 1936, she cared for him at his home. MacAllan told her he was an engineer with a secretary and two offices and that he was working on a big scheme at the Brighton seafront involving the mayor and worth £3 million. He offered Elsie the opportunity to invest in the syndicate he was forming. In November and December 1936 she gave him two cheques totalling £125.

She did not see him again until June 1937, when he told her the Brighton scheme had failed because they could not raise enough money. However, he reassured her that he was now working on another project in Huddersfield where he had invested her money. Miss Andrewartha was very annoyed and asked for her money back. In court the police said MacAllan was a persistent and very dangerous man, and they had received numerous complaints of fraud about him. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months.

Who was the ‘Major’?
His full name was James Cator Scott MacAllan and he was probably born in Scotland about 1868. He was separated from his wife and lived at several London addresses with his daughter Marjorie (born in 1897) who was a shop assistant. At the time of the attempted con of Mitchell Hedges in February 1928 he was living in Dennington Park Road. In 1933, he and Marjorie were in Christchurch Road Streatham, but by 1936 they had moved back to West Hampstead – living at 16 Fairhazel Gardens. During the war they lived at 5 Fordwych Road, before Marjorie moved to Hendon. By 1947 James MacAllan was living on his own at 6 Thayer Street in Marylebone and the following year he was renting a single room at 24 Nelson Square, Southwark. He died at the end of 1948 in Westminster.

What about that crystal skull?
Mitchell Hedges wasn’t averse to some deceit himself. He and his adopted daughter Anna claimed they found their famous 3,000-year-old Mayan crystal skull at Lubaantun on her 17th birthday – January 1st, 1924. In fact Frederick bought the skull in auction at Sotheby’s on 15 November 1943 for £400 (about £1,600 today).

Skull in Sotheby's Catalogue 15 Oct 1943

Skull in Sotheby’s Catalogue 15 Oct 1943

Recent research by Jane MacLaren Walsh, from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, has looked at Eugène Boban, a key figure who owned several crystal skulls that were probably made for him in Mexico. This French antiquarian worked for several years in Mexico and exhibited two crystal skulls in Paris in 1867. In the 1870s he opened a shop in Paris selling Mexican artefacts before moving to New York in 1885. The following year Tiffany and Co. bought one of his skulls at auction for $950 and sold it in 1898 to the British Museum at the original price.

Some time before 1934, Sir Sidney Burney, a London antique dealer, purchased another crystal skull, almost identical to the one the British Museum bought from Tiffany’s. Jane MacLaren Walsh believes it was based on the one in the British Museum and probably made in Europe between 1910 and 1930, and that Boban, who died in 1908, was not directly involved with this second skull.

There is no information about how Burney acquired his skull, but it is very similar to that in the British Museum, with more detailed modelling of the eyes and teeth, and a separate lower jaw. In fact this was the skull bought by Mitchell Hedges at Sotheby’s. Despite his claim to have found it at Lubaantun in the 1920s, he first mentions it as a ‘new acquisition’ in a letter to his brother dated 1943.

When confronted about this discrepancy, Hedges said he had given the skull to a friend, who put it up for auction at Sotheby’s, so he bought it back. This far-fetched explanation is typical of the stories he made up and included in his biography, Danger is My Ally, published five years before he died of a stroke in Devon in June 1959. His daughter Anna exaggerated the story further and claimed alien and supernatural powers for the ‘Skull of Doom’ which she periodically exhibited. In fact there is no evidence that Anna went to Lubaantun in the 1920s and she simply inherited the skull after her father died. Anna herself died in 2007 aged 100, and the huge mythology about the powers of the skull has continued to flourish. Today, the skull is in the possession of her close friend Bill Homann.

Tom tackles a taco at One Bourbon

Strange things have been happening in the world of tomato ketchup. First, upon requesting some whilst enjoying a magnificent fish & chips in The Beehive, Crawford Street, the waitress apologised that they didn’t have any ketchup, “however we do have this…”, she said, before disappearing for a moment and returning with several sachets of sauce instead of a bottle. Absolutely fine, false alarm!

Second, what is this nonsense whereby ketchup is suddenly on the sugar-police watch list? Facebook is annoying enough without that sort of rubbish. As if you sit there drinking three bottles of the stuff, for goodness’ sake?

Anyway… musing these condiment-related anomalies, I dived into One Bourbon for a spot of lunch after challenging myself as to whether salmon tacos could possibly be any good? The idea sounded odd, but given there were a couple of side dishes I liked the sound of, I steeled myself and took up residence near the window with a reassuring wine list.

Salmon tacos

Salmon tacos

I was curious as to how slabs of salmon and crunchy cabbage would work, however the former was scrambled into morsels and the latter pickled and shredded; things were starting to make sense. Watercress was present, but a little more of the coriander and onion would have boosted the salsa’s flavour. Generally, these tacos seemed a fresh and healthy way to accompany a couple of reds (probably not the best match, but who cares?), and aside from the slight weirdness of the dish being partly warm, partly cold, I was all too pleased to scoff everything.

A side of chips added to the fun, with, would you believe it, Heinz tomato ketchup! I’d half expected it to be banned by that point after the “very serious health-scare”. Just in case, One Bourbon also provides other punchy ketchups, such as the sweet and mellow Smoggy Hog Smoked Chilli.

Ketchup as it was meant to be served

Ketchup as it was meant to be served

I’ve no idea if desserts were an option, as none were apparent on the menu – a pity, as although three tacos proved a relatively satisfying meal, a toffee pudding or something would have been suitable as a sort of mobile central heating solution for the walk home.

Being serious for five seconds, it does appear One Bourbon is trying to offer some variation on the menu, which is a positive thing; I’d like to try their huevos rancheros, and the smoked tofu & quinoa main (thankfully fleshed-out with butternut squash, peppers, and kidney beans) might be decent for vegetarians or those planning on a curry later (ooh that’s got me thinking…)

For now though I’m off to stock-up on tomato sauce before it’s too late!

An Insight into: Achillea Flowers

Our last Insight focused on one man with two businesses. This time we’re talking to two women who run one business: Kate Rader and Clare Emburey who run Achillea, the florist on Mill Lane.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

Clare: We actually met at the tomato stall at Queen’s Park market. Kate, who has known me since I was a child, asked me if I loved my job (as a florist), I did but was ready for a change. “Great”, said Kate, “That’s the answer I was looking for. Let’s open a business and we’ll just have fun; if we feel like it one day we can dress up like geishas!”

The next step was to meet for a coffee on Mill Lane; we looked at a couple of sites, but none was quite right. Walking back, we passed this corner shop which I said looked ‘sick’. Kate had no idea I meant cool.

The builder saw us and asked if we were looking for a shop. He invited us in to take a look and when we said we wanted to open a florist he told us his wife was one! He gave us the number of the landlord, who we called immediately and we agreed on the spot to rent the shop.

Within one week it had gone from concept to actually renting a shop for the business.

Kate: People said Mill Lane is a difficult street and it won’t last. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was all very serendipitous.

Clare: It’s a good idea we didn’t have time to stop and and think, but I’m really glad we did it. Never did the dressing up as a geisha, although we did do halloween costumes one year.

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

What is your first/fondest memory of the area?

Kate: The glass shop opposite us, run by Derek. I’ve been using it for 35 years, plus the framers next door.

Clare: I just loved that I could be myself – and of course the first time I met my fiancé at the Kitchen Table. Now we are getting married – a Mill Lane marriage, that’s a first!

At this time of year some eye-popping colour to brighten your day. Perfect.

At this time of year some eye-popping colour to brighten your day. Perfect.

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead had changed?

Kate: It used to have really useful things, but that’s gone, although I don’t really use West End Lane much. Here on Mill Lane you can still get useful things: your keys cut, physiotherapy if you need it, or yoga at Curled Leaf.

Clare: I don’t feel it has changed that much – West Hampstead is a great place that is quite settled, rather than a cool place full of egos.

What’s for lunch?

Either the Kitchen Table or Curled Leaf, although we have had some quite enjoyable nights at the Alliance for our Christmas dinners.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Better than Hampstead

An Insight into: Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Co.

John Padalino runs not one but two local businesses – and they are next door to each other. Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Coffee on Broadhurst Gardens. If you don’t know them already, they are a couple of the ‘hipper’ businesses here, but with a mix of typical West Hampstead customers.

What brought you West Hampstead?

The C11 bus from Brent Cross.

It was literally by accident. I had moved up to London from Devon, and was searching for a while for somewhere to set up a men’s salon. I trained at my dad’s salon in Devon, which has just celebrated it’s 55th anniversary. I ran it for a while but the pull of London was too strong.

Back in 2010 I was shopping in Brent Cross, and I randomly got on a bus to explore. The bus was a C11, and I got off at this place that had a nice vibe and looked interesting; West End Green. I wandered down West End Lane and at the bottom saw a salon called Matrix, which was empty in a parade of shops opposite the tube station. I thought that it was a pretty good site next to three stations.

Then I went in to Café Bon next door and checked online for leases available in West Hampstead. The first lease that came up was … Matrix!

I immediately called Network Rail, which was  offering a three-year lease with a six-month break clause. I could see there was the potential for redevelopment but the other local shopkeepers said there had been talk of it for 15 years and nothing had happened. So I took the risk and signed the lease.

What happened next?

Business got off to a good start but just three months later a letter arrived giving me my notice! West Hampstead Square was going to be built and our little parade of shops was going to be knocked down. It was pretty stressful having only just got the business off the ground but one of my clients, a surveyor, said, “Face it, London is evolving, it’s going to change, don’t fight it.”

By the time we moved, 18 months later, I had already found a new place round the corner for rock, in what had been the Millennium café. However, my old place was going to be empty for three months so I negotiated with Network Rail to open a pop-up coffee shop there.

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

What’s your fondest memory of the area?

Getting up at 5.30am and opening the door on that pop-up coffee shop. It opened from December 2011 until February 2012. We decided to focus on the coffee – pure and true – so we decided to work with a great roaster. Tom, my business partner’s dad, made all the furniture but you could still tell it had been a barbers; there were still mirrors on the wall.

Tom and I would start off serving coffee in the morning then pop round to Rock to cut hair! From day one people responded really positively and we got so much encouragement. So when the shop next to Rock became available, my landlady asked if wanted to take it on and the pop-up coffee shop suddenly had a permanent home. I was amazed at how things turned around from just two years earlier.

It is not just Tom and his Dad that helped, but our partners too.  It was a team effort.  Likewise now I couldn’t do it without the baristas at Wired and the other stylists at Rock.  I’m proud of them all.  Also, having a very local website like West Hampstead Life really helped too.

Wired Co. - they really know their coffee.

Wired Co. – they really know their coffee.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

What has surprised me was the nice mix of customers. With the connections to the City and Canary Wharf we have customers who work in the city, but we also have guys who work in TV and sportsmen. From conservative to cutting edge – a nice mix of everyone.

Broadhurst Gardens has changed even since we arrived but the businesses offer something a bit different, from a pizza cooked in a wood burning stove, bespoke chocolates, violins, and great coffee and food in Wired.

The regulars  really encourage us to improve and change; we’ve introduced V60 and aeropress [Ed – new ways of making of coffee]. Currently, we are seeing demand for plant-based foods and are jointly developing those with our food producers.

What’s for lunch?

Normally I have a smoked turkey, avocado and harrissa sandwich and one of our chia pots for dessert. But this month being VEGANuary, I’m going more vegetarian with our carrot, courguette and hommous on rye with a flat white with cashew milk.

If I go out, I like Pham just a couple of doors down, the food is excellent. Or popping in for a drink at the Gallery.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Evolving, supportive and responsive.

The Cambridge Spies’ West Hampstead connection

During the 1930s, Soviet intelligence recruited a group of young, idealistic Cambridge students who saw themselves supporting Communism against the spread of Fascism. After university, they held important posts in the Foreign Office and the Intelligence Service and passed secret information to the Soviets. They were not discovered until 1951 when two of them – Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean – escaped to Russia before they could be arrested.

Another member of the group, Kim Philby, grew up in Acol Road, and this is the story of him and the other famous “Cambridge Spies”, who met regularly at a flat in West Hampstead.

Kim Philby
The Philby family lived at 18 Acol Road from 1925 to 1950. Harry St John Philby was a diplomat who mainly worked in India and the Middle East. His son Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as Kim (from the Rudyard Kipling novel of the same name), was born in India in 1912. Educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, Kim was recruited as the first of the ‘Cambridge Spies’ in 1934.

After a spell as a journalist for The Times and the Daily Telegraph, Philby began working for the Special Operations Executive (an espionage unit) at the beginning of the war and by September 1941 , was seconded to the section of MI6 responsible for counter espionage. After the war, in September 1949, Philby was posted to Washington in a key position as the liaison officer with the CIA.

When his fellow Cambridge spies, Burgess and Maclean, defected to Moscow in 1951, Philby was suspected of being ‘the third man’. He was interviewed by MI5, at which point he resigned from MI6. In September 1955, the Sunday News named Philby as the third man. On the 7 November, Harold Macmillan, then Foreign Secretary, announced in parliament there was no evidence that Philby had warned Burgess or Maclean, and he was not a spy. With typical bravado, Philby called a press conference at his mother’s flat and calmly denied any involvement. You can see a short film clip of the press conference here:

Although he had survived the third-man episode, MI5 was still very suspicious about Philby and continued to investigate him. In January 1963, as the net was closing in, Philby disappeared from Beirut, where he was working as a journalist, and gained political asylum in Moscow. Once in Russia, Philby discovered that he was not a colonel in the KGB, as he had been led to believe. He was placed under virtual house arrest with all his visitors screened by the KGB and paid only a small allowance.

It was ten years before Philby even visited KGB headquarters, where he was given a little work talking to trainee spies. He died in Moscow, very disillusioned, in 1988 aged 76.

Kitty Jarvis and Conway Stewart Pens
Catherine Florence Bishop, known as Kitty, was born in Kensington in 1884. She was the daughter of Charles and Catherine Bishop. In 1891 they were living at 108 Norfolk Terrace (today’s Westbourne Grove). Her father was in charge of a branch post office and worked as chief telegraphist and a Morse code expert, before moving to the Civil Service. By 1901 the family had moved to 39 Ladbroke Road and Kitty aged 16, was a probationary telegraphist.

In 1907, Kitty married her childhood friend, Francis Charles Jarvis, known as Frank. Born in 1881, he was the son of Edward Jarvis, a stationer and newsagent who worked for W.H. Smith for 20 years before taking over a shop called ‘Wade’s Library’ at 25 High Street Kensington in 1888. Frank worked in the shop himself and then joined Henry Mead and Sons, a large wholesale stationer. In 1905, the young Frank Jarvis set up a new business, Conway Stewart, to produce elegant pens. His partner was Howard Garner. Exactly why they chose the name is not clear, but the company became very profitable. In the 1911 census Frank and Kitty were living at 28 Hargrave Villas, Hartswood Road, Ravenscourt Park, and Howard Garner lived next door at No.30.

During WWI, Frank joined the Royal Army Service Corps and was based at Aldershot as a captain and adjutant. He was a keen sportsman; he taught himself to ride and won several equestrian events on a horse called Spider. He also loved boxing and was a keen amateur fighter. On a business trip to the United States in 1919, he watched the world championship match when Jess Williard lost his title to Jack Dempsey.

About 1930, Frank and Kitty moved to ‘Allendale’ in Oxhey Road, Bushey. This was an elegant house with its own tennis court. But the marriage was unhappy as Frank was devoting most of his time to the business and Kitty felt neglected. His love of oysters brought about Frank’s premature death in December 1932, when he contracted typhoid fever after eating a contaminated batch. In his will he left £12,870, worth about £750,000 today.

Douglas Court today

Douglas Court today

From the beginning of WWII until 1957, Kitty lived in Flat 12 Douglas Mansions (now Douglas Court), on the corner of Quex Road and West End Lane. During the war she worked in the Cipher Division of Military Intelligence and was the personal assistant to Anthony Blunt at MI5, where she shared the outer office with Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. Blunt was the fourth Cambridge spy.

Kitty was known affectionately as ‘Mater’, friendly and efficient, with an almost motherly approach to the young men. Bond creator Ian Fleming was a regular visitor to the office and there is even some speculation that Kitty was the inspiration for Miss Moneypenny although a recent discovery of Fleming’s letters suggests that in fact Moneypenny could be based on Loelia Ponsonby, the wife of the 2nd Duke of Westminster.

On many evenings, Kitty and her daughter Audrey were taken out to dinner by Burgess and Maclean. In retrospect, this was a good cover, as Kitty did not suspect they were gay. Kitty even lent her flat in Douglas Mansions to Burgess, Maclean and others when they told her they needed somewhere for a private discussion of military intelligence matters. Other guests included Ian Fleming, John Cairncross, Noel Coward and Lord Rothschild.

Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb often came to see Kitty in Douglas Mansions as he had virtually been adopted as a child by Frank Jarvis when his own father died. In Gibraltar during WWII, Buster became an expert frogman for the Royal Navy and in April 1956 MI6 asked him to dive and explore the propeller of the Russian cruiser in Portsmouth harbour that had brought Khrushchev and Bulgarin on a diplomatic mission to Britain. Buster disappeared under suspicious circumstances and his body was only found over a year later when it was caught in fishermen’s nets. Ian Fleming, who knew him well, used the incident in Thunderball, when James Bond dives under a boat and has a dramatic underwater fight.

Another frequent visitor to Douglas Mansions was nicknamed ‘Oscar’. This was Jacky Hewit (1917-1997), an actor, singer and dancer who had been in West End shows such as No No Nannette. He was the lover of Blunt, Burgess and Christopher Isherwood. Jacky became good friends with Kitty and often took her to the theatre leaving Burgess and Maclean alone in her flat.

On the morning of 25 May 1951, when Jacky was living with Burgess at Clifford Chambers, 10 New Bond Street, he took Burgess a cup of tea and then left for his office. Maclean had only recently told Burgess that he thought he was in trouble, pointing out two men who were following him in Pall Mall. Later that day, Burgess received a phone call from Western Union relaying a telegram from Kim Philby in Washington about a car he had left behind there. In reality this was a coded message informing Burgess that Maclean was about to be interrogated. Burgess hired a car and collected Maclean from his house in Surrey. At 9pm the two men drove to Southampton where they took the cross-channel ferry to St Malo, the first stage in their journey in defecting to Moscow. They remained in Russia for the rest of their lives. Burgess died from chronic liver failure due to alcoholism in 1963, and Maclean died of a heart attack in 1983.

In 1964 while Kitty was living with her daughter Audrey in St Albans, she was interviewed by two men from MI5 about Anthony Blunt’s activities. Kitty was shocked as she greatly respected Blunt and knew nothing about his spying. She died in 1971 in St Albans before he was publicly exposed as the fourth man in 1979. John Cairncross was named as the fifth member of the Cambridge spy ring in 1990.

Thanks are due to Lomond Handley and Charleen Miller for information about their grandmother Kitty Jarvis. To Stephen Hull for information about Conway Stewart, and to Don Hale who introduced me to Lomond and Charleen and told me about the link with Buster Crabb.

For more on Conway Stewart see Stephen Hull’s history of the firm, Fountain Pens for the Million (2011). For more on Buster Crabb, see Don Hale’s well researched book, The Final Dive: The Life and Death of Buster Crabb (2009).

An Insight into: The Sherriff Centre

The Sherriff Centre, which opened in 2014, has settled in well and is now one of the most popular features of the area – especially with parents.  It was, and still is, a church, but after some extensive internal modernisation it now offers a host of community facilities: a post office and shop, a café with lots of comfortable seating and Hullabaloo (the kids soft play area, and the reason why it is so popular with parents – and perhaps less popular with people looking for a quiet coffee!).

As I waited to talk to Jane Edwards, the manager, it was particularly busy with long queues for the post office counter, the café was full and kids were enjoying the soft play. Plus lots of Christmas lights. All in all a great atmosphere.

Jane, the sheriff (i.e the manager) of the Sherriff Centre

Jane, the sheriff (i.e the manager) of the Sherriff Centre

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I first came to West Hampstead in the mid-90s and rented a flat with my then boyfriend (now husband). We loved the flat and area so much that we begged the landlady to stay and offered to decorate the flat and look after the garden to keep the rent affordable! Eventually, we moved to West London but we always said if we could ever afford it we would move back to the area.

And we did move back, about 12 years ago; first to Sumatra Road, and then up to Gondar Gardens, where we are now. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

What is your first memory of the area?

I loved the feel of West End Lane. Especially the area round West End Green and the fire station, which my parents call ‘Trumpton’! Even though you are in London it doesn’t feel like you are in London.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

It has fewer independent shops, although that is perhaps inevitable. I loved the record shop and Dizar the gift shop. And instead of Atlanta we now have all the supermarkets and soon an M&S food shop. But nothing has surprised me, everything changes.

One of the things we try to do at the Sherriff Centre is strike the right balance between keeping it community-oriented and being commercial; we are a social enterprise/business. We innovate with things like the quiz and would like to try supper clubs as well as other ideas for events, especially as the building really comes into its own at night.

The shop stock - a good source of presents and cards.

The shop stock – a good source of presents and cards.

People still come in and pray and light a candle outside of ‘church’ hours and others notice when the colour of the cloth on the altar changes and ask why. So we still have the link to it being a church.  Yes it has changed but it is still an inspiring place, quite calming with a history.

What’s for lunch?

Something from the café, most probably their daily dish (lasagne is a particular favorite), unless they have sold out that is.

And I do go out too! As I live locally I go out to local places at the weekend. So for a weekend lunch? I miss La Brocca, we always used to go there for weekend brunch. Currently, I like the Black Lion and also the Alliance for their Sunday roasts but I like to try new places too.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Unique, vibrant and community







Tom dives in to Nautilus

After a few drinks with locals in the splendid glow of the Green Room, two things occurred to me in a flash of uncharacteristic inspiration. First, that I was extremely hungry, and second, that I’d (shamefully) never eaten in Nautilus, Fortune Green’s acclaimed fish restaurant and takeaway. I’d heard interesting things and was rather intrigued by its apparent bare-bones approach to pretty much everything.

The first thing to point out is that Nautilus does not deep-fry their fish in batter; rather, they favour a matzo breadcrumb coating. My thoughts on this to follow, but there were other quirks I discovered which added to the experience.

Service was delivered by two charmingly polite older ladies, and the interior is certainly traditional café or diner style – very casual, very unpretentious. Further bonus points for having tomato sauce in bottles – none of those stupid little mini-bowls which last for only about 3 or 4 dips-worth of chips!

The menu is as simple as one can imagine; you can have a glass of wine – red or white, no further choice. I chose the latter, which was fine, and spent a few moments deciding what to order. I absolutely love salmon, and decided this would be an interesting test of the cooking technique.


Dinner duly arrived, and my first thought was “goodness me, that’s a large portion, even for me!” but I soon discovered that the matzo coating was deliciously and deceptively light, and so crisp, too – an absolute joy in combination with the salmon. Enthusiastically tucking-in, I found the fish to be nicely gauged; not overcooked, still fleshy and supple. Really, a revelation; I felt a little silly for not having previously eaten fish fried in this manner, and honestly I was already thinking about what to have on my next visit.


A side salad of tomato, cucumber and onion included some added olives (always a positive thing), but my portion of chips was the only minus point of the visit (I shall hereby rename them ‘blips’). Previously when I’ve grabbed chips from Nautilus as a post-pub refuel, they’ve been fresh and sizzling hot, whereas these were noticeably flabby and insipid and far from piping hot. A bit of an oversight given the nature of the establishment, so hoping this won’t be the case next time.

Less chip, more blip

Less chip, more blip

In summary, enjoyable. Somewhere fun and relaxing where you can relish the simplicity of very fresh fish cooked in a style Nautilus have really mastered (pending better chips next time).

As I’m always saying, I only choose the best for the captain’s table… All aboard!

The downfall of a Kilburn doctor

This is the story of a doctor with a good practice in Kentish Town who ended up living in poverty in Kilburn and who died in prison.

Arthur Raynor was born in 1848 in Hull where his father was a linen draper. He qualified as a doctor in 1870 and by April had set up a practice at 16 Warden Road in Kentish Town. His cousin Alfred, a druggist and chemist, shared the house as well as his parents.

On 9 Dec 1873, at St Matthias Church in Earls Court, Arthur married Sarah Ann Bolton. He was 25 and she was a 32-year-old widow. Born Sarah Ann Rowell in Boulogne France in 1839, she had married William Bolton in Paris in 1856 and they had three children. Arthur is shown with Sarah and two step-children at 16 Warden Road in the 1881 census, along with a medical assistant and three female servants. It was a comfortable house, with nine large rooms.

Dr Raynor enjoyed a good life. He was a member of several universities, and had a meteoric career as a consulting specialist in London’s West End. He became notorious for his extravagant life and as an owner of racing horses and steeplechasers. He particularly liked greys and, in the course of his professional duties, acquired a pair from a Duchess. These high-stepping animals and Raynor’s smart carriage were well-known for some years in Rotten Row, Hyde Park.

Rotten Row in the 1890s

Rotten Row in the 1890s

The case of Henry Harbert
Raynor regularly appeared in newspaper reports as he attended victims of local accidents or crimes, and he also performed port mortems. Indeed, he was at the height of his career when he became involved in an unpleasant court case. In March 1887, Constance Elizabeth Coleman, who lived near Raynor in Prince of Wales Road, accused 19-year-old Henry Joseph Harbert of drugging her with gin and raping her. Eighteen-year-old Constance told the court she was a singer in the chorus at the Empire Marylebone and the Elephant and Castle theatres. She was engaged to Henry and testified that on 8 January 1887, she agreed to go to his lodgings in Grafton Road for supper with him and his sister. His sister failed to show up.

After supper, Henry poured Constance some ‘Hollands’ (gin) and said he would be angry if she didn’t drink it. She did, but said it made her feel giddy and she passed out. When she came to, Constance was convinced that, as she put it, something had been done to her. The following week she went to his room again and this time she consented to sex. A few days later Harbert said they should break off the engagement because he didn’t love her and he wanted to go to America. It was soon after that Constance discovered she was pregnant. Harbert’s defence was that he had moved from his room in Grafton Road to Inkerman Road on the 6 January, so couldn’t have committed the offence on the 8th. He believed that Constance had made up the story as revenge because he had called off the wedding.

Raynor gave evidence and verified Constance’s allegations. When Harbert came to trial at the Old Bailey on 29 March he was found guilty and sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.

Henry Harbert’s older brother, who was confusingly called Harry, was furious with the verdict and determined to do something about it. His opportunity came six months later when, on 31 August 1887, Dr Raynor married Constance at St Pancras Parish Church. People began to gossip. Harry made enquires and found out that Raynor’s first wife Sarah was still alive and they were not divorced. In September 1887, Harry put Raynor into custody for bigamy.

Who was the bigamist?
When Raynor was arrested he told the police, I have not committed bigamy. Do you think I would run my head into a noose? He said it was Sarah Ann who was the bigamist. She had not heard from her husband William for 11 years, so assumed he was dead and married Arthur, but in fact William was still alive.

The British Consul in Paris gave evidence that William had died on 24 Jan 1877 in Neuilly-Sur-Seine and so was alive when Sarah had remarried. In court, it was pointed out that Raynor’s testimony had helped convict Harry’s brother: the prisoner was put into custody out of spite. Because his first marriage was not a legal one, there could only be one verdict. Raynor was found not guilty of bigamy.

However, Raynor’s practice suffered badly as a result of the case and he was drinking heavily. His barrister said his client had been almost ruined. The judge agreed: he hoped the inhabitants of the neighbourhood would now change their opinions regarding the gentleman.

But Harry Harbert determined to fight on. He started an appeal on behalf of his brother and asked the Home Office for a review of the case. Following police inquiries, the Home Secretary released Henry and he was granted a free pardon on 29 October 1887. Eighteen months later he married Agnes Jane Pickard and they later had five children. In 1901 they were living in Islington where Henry was a commercial traveller.

Medical malpractice?
As Dr Raynor descended into drunkenness, his practice suffered further and he was forced to move his family first to a series of rooms in Kentish Town and finally to 83 Palmerston Road in Kilburn. There it seems he worked from a rented surgery in Kilburn High Road. Arthur and Constance probably moved to Kilburn about 1906 and their two daughters Marie aged 6 and Grace aged 12, started at Netherwood School that September.

Later that year, Raynor was arrested at Palmerston Road. On 8 November 1906 he appeared at Marylebone Police Court charged with the murder of Mrs Anne Lillian Martin, who had died on 28 October. The coroner ordered that her husband George Martin should appear in court, but he had disappeared and the police could not find him.

Raynor was due to appear at the Old Bailey when the Grand Jury threw out the charge of murder which was changed to manslaughter. At the trial, Annie’s mother said she and her daughter had visited Dr Raynor at his surgery in Kilburn High Road in September 1906. They had previously known Dr Raynor in Kentish Town. Several weeks later Annie had companied of pains and on 18 October Dr Raynor and his wife Constance visited her at home in Malden Road Kentish Town and he treated her. The following day Annie miscarried. She complained of feeling ill and Dr Raynor visited her again and gave her some medicine.

On 28 October she was so bad that her husband George called two local doctors who decided they had to operate immediately to remove foreign matter. But Annie died the following day of blood poisoning and acute peritonitis. The post mortem found that an illegal operation had been performed, in other words an abortion, which had caused a wound and an abscess. The prosecution argued that the instrument used by Raynor to induce the miscarriage was dirty. They also suggested that he was drunk. In court, Raynor was grey-haired and appeared very haggard and worn. He walked badly with a stick and when he went into the dock he pleaded in a weak voice, I am innocent.

At the trial Detective Inspector Arthur Neil of ‘Y Division’ based at Holmes Road Kentish Town, said over the years he had received frequent complaints of medical malpractices by Dr Raynor. The police had continued to watch him and try to find sufficient evidence to bring him to justice. Inspector Neil said the two rooms Raynor and his family occupied in Palmerston Road were in a deplorable state, not a penny in it to buy food. Feeling sorry for her, Neil and his officers had given Constance cash from their own pockets. (Later, Neil who had a very successful career, became one of the ‘Big Four’ Superintendents in charge of the CID at Scotland Yard).

On 10 December 1906, after hearing the evidence, the jury at the Old Bailey, found Raynor guilty of illegal abortion and the manslaughter of Mrs Martin. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment. But before completing his sentence, he died of throat cancer in Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight at the end of August 1908. His wife Constance and her daughter Marie emigrated to Canada in December 1916. Constance remarried and died in Vancouver in 1941.

The sad coda to the story was that on 7 January 1907, more than two months after he went missing, George Martin’s body was found in a ditch at North End, Hampstead Heath, in just nine inches of water. A note in his pocket said, “God bless my children: my heart is broken. God bless my mother.” The cause of his death was suffocation from drowning. The verdict of the inquest jury was suicide, but they expressed no opinion about his state of mind. We do not know what happened to the two orphaned children of George and Annie.

The improbable history of 1 Woodchurch Road

No. 1 Woodchurch Road in October 2016

No. 1 Woodchurch Road in October 2016

No. 1 Woodchurch Road – the rather grandiose building towards the Priory Road end of the street – was for many years called ‘New Place’ and has been the home of several famous residents. Today of course it is divided into flats, but there can be few extant buildings in the area with such a distinguished collection of former residents.

Originally, it was the home of the famous artist John Seymour Lucas. He moved there from Long Acre in 1882 and the house with its purpose-built studio was designed by his friend, the artist and architect Sydney Williams-Lee. Lucas was a full Royal Academician, a group of only 80 people who are elected by their peers.

John Seymour Lucas by John Singer Sargent (1905)

John Seymour Lucas by John Singer Sargent (1905)

He was known as a ‘genre painter’, his canvasses generally depicting scenes from the 17th and 18th Centuries. He also painted portraits, including some local residents such as his friend and neighbour the architect Banister Fletcher, and Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe the newspaper publisher. Lucas exhibited at the Royal Academy numerous times up to 1923. His wife Marie Elizabeth Cornelissen was a portrait and figure painter, who illustrated children’s books, and his daughter Marie Ellen, also became a painter. Both women exhibited at the Royal Academy.

The Gordon Riots, 1780 by Seymour Lucas, (1879)

The Gordon Riots, 1780 by Seymour Lucas, (1879)

The house features a Queen Anne doorway which still survives today. When Fairfax House in Putney was demolished, Lucas bought the door with its beautiful shell cupola and installed it in West Hampstead.

The shell cupola over the doorway

The shell cupola over the doorway

In September 1891 Lucas was on a painting holiday in Spain and was involved in a serious train crash near Burgos. Initial communications at first said that he was dead, but this was not true. He was travelling with three friends: Herbert Fletcher, son of Banister Fletcher, William Cotton who lived at ‘The Knoll’ in West End Lane, and Maurice St Clair Long from Netherhall Gardens, son of the painter Edwin Long. Two trains collided; Maurice died at the scene and William a few days later. Maurice had been persuaded to go on the trip although his mother had wanted him to stay in England, following his father’s death just four months earlier. The survivors returned home, transported in specially adapted railway carriages. Lucas suffering from a badly broken leg. In 1894, Lucas and Fletcher each received £80 compensation; William’s and Maurice’s families were awarded £120.

Mrs Lucas died in 1921 and John two years later, in May 1923. After his death another painter moved into the house and studio – Albert Henry Collings. Collings was born in Shoreditch in 1869, the son of a calligrapher and heraldic artist and was a very accomplished portrait painter who exhibited in Paris in 1893, and from 1896 onwards at the RA and other exhibitions. In 1936, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Prince Edward VIII ready for his coronation but of course Edward abdicated because of his relationship with Mrs Simpson, so the portrait was never shown. With Edward’s brother George now in line to be king, rather than start again, Collins just painted over Edward’s head and replaced it with that of the new King George VI. Collings died on 6 May 1947 at a nursing home in Buxton.

Another famous occupant of No. 1 was Noel Johnson, the actor who played both Dick Barton and Dan Dare on the radio. He lived at the house for ten years from 1948. Dick Barton: Special Agent, was first broadcast on 7 October 1946. An astonishing 15 million people eagerly tuned in every weekday at 6.45pm to listen to the show (and its famous signature tune The Devil’s Galop). Dick and his chums Snowey and Jock thrilled their fans by solving crimes, escaping from dangerous situations and saving the nation from disaster. The series ended after 711 programmes on Friday 30 March 1951 to be replaced later by The Archers. Johnson had a very long career in films and then TV, with more than 100 roles. He died aged 82 in a small village outside Cardiff on 1 October 1999. We wrote a whole article about the Dick Barton phenomenon back in 2012.

In July 1959, the Irish playwright and novelist Brendan Behan was fined 5 shillings and a further 15 shillings for the doctor’s fees, for being drunk in Lansdowne Row Mayfair. He gave his address as No.1 Woodchurch Road. Well-known for his heavy drinking, he humorously called himself: a drinker with a writing problem. Behan was staying, as he always did, with his best friend Desmond MacNamara, the Irish sculptor and stage designer, who lived at 1b Woodchurch from about 1957 till his death on 8 Jan 2008. Later MacNamara remembered the incident and said, I had to bail him out of a West End police station. When I arrived, I found Brendan and all the police having a party around two crates of pale ale. MacNamara taught art at the Marylebone Institute and wrote a biography of Eamon de Valera.

On the mantelpiece in Woodchurch Road was his life-sized brass bust of Behan, with his jaw jutting out, hair tousled and his nose thrust forward like a hatchet ready to strike. He and Brendan talked about substituting the bust for that of one of the many politicians in London parks. They were sure nobody would notice. After several attempts, they abandoned it as it was too awkward to carry!

Kilburn butcher who saved two lives

West Hampstead Life is less local than you might think. One of our Australian readers, Barry York has been in touch to ask if we could help find any descendants of George Ross Huckstepp.

Apart from having a great surname, Mr Huckstepp was a butcher in Kilburn in the 1940s and 50s. He lived at 2e Dyne Road. He also saved Barry’s life.

Barry’s mother Olive did not have a happy marriage. She married in 1947 but by 1952, when Barry was just a baby, she had reached a depth of depression that made her suicidal.

Mother and son. Image credit: B. York

Mother and son. Image credit: B. York

Forty years later, Olive told Barry how, when he was a baby, she took him with her to a bus stop opposite the local butcher’s shop (in Dyne Road/the Kilburn High Road) and stood there waiting for the bus; not to catch the bus, but to jump under it. With him. What saved her life, and Barry’s, was the kindness of the butcher, Mr. Huckstepp, who knew her as a customer. On seeing her standing there in a distressed state, he read the situation, and quickly came out of the shop.

As his mother recalled “He saved me from killing you and suiciding myself. He came out and said ‘What is the matter?’ and he said ‘You go for a walk, a short walk. Then come back and I’ll give you two ounces of liver’. The thought of that was in my mind and I thought ‘Oh, liver, how lovely, two ounces off my ration book’. I went back and he gave me a good talking to and he said ‘You go back home and you cook that liver’.”

She returned home, cooked the liver as instructed and shortly afterwards emigrated with her family to Australia. “It’s funny how life can turn out” pondered Barry. He’s trying to track down more information about the kind butcher. All he knows is that George Huckstepp was born in Kilburn in September 1900 and died in 1967 at ‘Plovers’, Sandhurst, Hawkhurst, Kent. He and his wife, Kathleen, retired from the butcher’s shop around 1960.

Does anyone remember him? Are any of his descendants out there? Apparently George Huckstepp had a son and a daughter. Barry would like to thank them for saving his life. If you do have any information please email Barry.

Remembering West Hampstead soldiers who died in WW1

Earlier this year, on the anniversairy of the battle of the Somme, our local historians alerted us to the London War Memorial. This is an online database of the thousands of Londoners who died in WW1. On Armistice Day, we thought it would be a good opportunity to remember the 1,000 men of Kilburn and West Hampstead who died in WW1.

War Memorial in Hampstead Cemetery

War Memorial in Hampstead Cemetery

Of those listed online, only 81 had identifiable local addresses, many in Kilburn. You can find out a bit more about them by going onto the database and searching using name or location. We thought it would help bring it closer to home to see the street, name and age of the soldiers when they died.

The amount of information on each soldier varies considerably, but for those who were known to have died in specific batttles, more detail is given. For example, Victor Hough who lived at 74 (or 4) Linstead Street (or Road) was a private in the 2nd East Surrry (2nd batallaion, East Surrey regiment) died on 27th April 1915 in the battle for St. Julien.

Spurred on by the success of their gas attack on 22nd April, the Germans struck again, two days later on the northern sector of the Ypres salient at St. Julien.  Once more they used chlorine gas and despite a resolute defence the British and Canadians were pushed back and St Julien was lost.”

On 25th April the main German attack fell on the spur between the main Ypres ridge and a stream called the Strombeek, where 2nd East Surrey and 3rd Royal Fusiliers were in the line. It started at 5am with an artillery bombardment. Shrapnel swept the bare slopes for 4 hours after which came gas and high explosive. At 1pm, from trenches only 70 yards away the German attacked the right of 2nd East Surrey, on a ¼ mile stretch between the top of the ridge and the railway cutting.  They broke in at several places but elsewhere they were either captured or driven off.  In the centre of the line a company of 8th Middlesex moved up in support but the Germans remained in occupation of 60 yards of breastworks on the left where all the officers had been killed.  Two attempts to dislodge them (at midnight and at 8.30am on the 26th April) failed despite the help of two companies of 2nd Shropshire Light Infantry.  To prevent further German progress a trench was dug round three sides of the captured line. 2nd East Surrey suffered over 200 casualties on these two days. On 27th April 2nd East Surrey again tried to expel the enemy from the positions they had captured two days earlier but to no avail other than the deaths of another 14 men”.  Victor Hough, of West Hampstead, was one of the 14 who died.

For nearly 2 weeks the fighting continued on this front. The Germans persisted with their attacks, the British fought desperate rear guard actions and launched many counter attacks but gradually they were pushed further and further back. Eventually, during the night of 3rd & 4th May the British forces were withdrawn from their forward positions and took up a new defensive line closer to Ypres”.

He is remembered at St. James Church here in West Hampstead and also at the Menin Gate in Ypres. He was 24 years old.

The full list of soldiers with identifiable addresses is below:

Around Mill Lane

Arthur HARRIS (33), 93 Broomsleigh St
Charles KING (20), 85 Broomsleigh St.
Harry OTTAWAY (34), 13 Sumatra Road
Gustave REESEG (31), 47 Solent Road
Harold BARNES (20), 1 Midland Cottages, Mill Lane
Alfred BALLAM (37), 4 Lithos Road

Towards Kilburn

Thomas CAHILL (19), 2 Dynham Road
Herbert PEACH (20), 47 Dynham Road
Oswald HYDE (27), 33 Gascony Ave
Victor HOUGH (24), 4 Linstead Road * (died at battle of Ypres)
John DUCKETT (19), 44 Messina Ave * (died at battle of Loos)
Henry DICKERSON (24), 17 Iverson Road
Richard WINTLE (40), 113 Iverson Road
Thomas INCE (-), 8 Loveridge Mews
Arthur CORNELL (40), 11 Lowfield Road
Henry SELF (26), 6 Lowfield Road
Albert FELTON (31), 17 Lowfield Road
Arthur GREEN (19), 24 Lowfield Road
Alexander HARROLD (21), 8 Medley Road *(died at battle of the Somme)
William MORLEY (19), 101 Priory Park Road
James COUGHTREY (19), 6 West End Lane

South Hampstead

Robert MONTIER (19), 5 Fairhazel Gardens
Alfred PRUCKEL (25), 119 Belsize Road
John ROWE (20), 106 Belsize Road

An Insight into: The Kitchen Table on Mill Lane

It’s been ten years since the Kitchen Table opened, yes ten years, and since then it’s become a firm favourite for many a local. Almost all the business is from regulars, some that move abroad but still pop by on their visits home. Having done it for ten years, Jennie Vincent and Tom Leslie are perhaps thinking about a change (anyone want to buy a thriving, well-established business?), but for the moment it’s business as usual.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

First alcohol, then love. In 1999 I was learning about wines and working in the Grog Blossom (a wine merchant on West End Lane where Nail Suite is now).  Tom, my now husband, came in to sell his bike to the owner of the shop and that’s how I got to know him. He sold a bike and gained a girlfriend. Tom was brought up here and after we married in 2003, we stayed in the area. In 2006,we took over a café in Mill Lane and had a vision of cooking and selling the food I like.

It's Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

It’s Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

What is your first memory of the area?

Years ago I used to live in Hampstead with my parents. My Dad was an inveterate walker and at weekends we would explore the area. Sometimes he would bring us down over this way and I particularly remember coming to Cotleigh and Dynham Roads, which were weird and hilly. It was all a bit run-down, but it intrigued me.

Oh yes and how can I forget – there was a burger place near West End Green called Jenny’s Burgers!

What has surprised you most about the way West Hampstead has changed?

I’m a little sad that West Hampstead feels like it is losing its individual identity and becoming more corporate. It used to be full of independents and was an interesting area with interesting things like a record shop and a jewellery shop. It’s still got some of that – a very good bike shop, the best bookshop in the world, but I’m worried that with the addition of West Hampstead Square and yet another supermarket it is losing its identity.

Mill Lane still has some of this interest. Yes, in the past 18 months a few business have closed down but each for their own good reason. Independent businesses can still afford to be here and there is a still a good selection.

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

What’s for lunch?

I never stop for lunch! For me, if I’m lucky, a cup of tea and piece of cake. In the café it’s our peak time with lots of regulars, many of whom work round here so we have a changing selection for lunch, plus there are the diehard soup fans. Also popular are breakfasts, BLTs and brownies and of course cakes are best sellers – new customers love the fact that the cakes are all home made.

Of other places I’d go, if we are going out in the evening I’ve heard good things about The Petite Corée and on Saturday it was Lily, my daughter’s, birthday so we went to Franco Manca on the Kilburn High Road.

West Hampstead in three words?

Community, ever-changing and… gossipy

Looking back at West End Lane in 1916

One hundred years ago, West End Lane was a very different place – though there were some similarities with today’s busy commercial street too. At the end of this article is the street directory from 1916.

Looking down West End Lane from West End Green (1927)

Looking down West End Lane from West End Green (1927)

There were far fewer eating places and bars in 1916 than there are today – though some still exist. The dining rooms at Nos. 291 and 327 are still restaurants (One Bourbon and Thunderbird Bar respectively). The Railway Hotel is still there at No. 100, having gone through several changes, and The Black Lion is much older still, though in 1916 it was just another unnamed beershop. Further down towards Kilburn, another unnamed beershop at No. 12 was the Bird in Hand, which is now a residential building.

In 1916, coal was still an important domestic fuel, brought by train and unloaded in West Hampstead’s extensive railway sidings before being delivered to your door. Coal merchants were prominent either side of Iverson Road and opposite, at Nos.144, 154 and 156.

The seven large houses between Acol Road and Woodchurch Road (38 to 50 West End Lane), were destroyed by a V1 flying bomb on 20 June 1944. This was the first of nine Doodlebugs that landed in West Hampstead and Kilburn. This one killed 18 people and caused huge damage. It was left as a bomb site until Hampstead Council opened Sidney Boyd Court in 1953. Sidney Boyd was a doctor, local councillor and mayor of Hampstead for seven years throughout the war.

The railways that define so much of West Hampstead’s landscape were of course already up and running by 1916, and all three stations existed, though the train lines were all different. The Jubilee Line was the Metropolitan Railway. The Overground station was “West End Lane” station on the London and North Western Railway, while the Thameslink line was the Midland Railway.

Today, we all know that estate agents dominate West Hampstead. A hundred years ago there were just two: Ernest Owers at 106 West End Lane (now Benham & Reeves), and Massey, Souray and Co. at 247 West End Lane (now Insight Opticians). Massey, Souray and Co. later moved to No. 192 – where Parkheath is today.

Ernest Owers and Williams had opened in 1872 and was influential in the development of West Hampstead and Golders Green. In December 1931, Ernest Owers was the victim of a violent attack at the West End Lane office. He had notified jeweller Ernest Phillips that the mortgage on his shop must be paid off. Phillips came to the office yelling at Owers, You are a robber and a thief and I shall put you away. Then he suddenly threw nitric acid into Owers’ face, which narrowly missed blinding him. In court, Phillips said he was sorry, but the judge said a severe punishment was called for and sentenced him to three years imprisionment. Ernest’s wife died a few months after the attack, while he moved to Brighton where he died in 1938. Ernest was an extremely wealthy man and left the equivalent of around £19 million and as he had no children, most of the money went to hospitals and other good causes.

No.90 West End Lane was the West Hampstead Police Station which opened in 1882 at a cost of £3,971. This is now a council-run hostel (on the corner of West End Lane and West Hampstead Mews. The police station had an inspector’s office, a charge room, a waiting room and three cells. The largest cell was known as ‘the drunk tank’. The police station moved to its current location in Fortune Green Road in 1972.

Perhaps the most striking difference between 1916 and 2016 is the huge variety of independent shops that existed a hundred years ago; from the usual grocers, butchers and bakers; to boot makers, a photographer and a cycle shop. Charles Debenham at No.222 was a member of a photographic family; his father William Elliott Debenham had studios at 158 Regent Street and Haverstock Hill. In 1916, much of their work would have involved photographing members of the armed forces, leaving for the Front. Edward Pond at No.349 had taken over from the Delevante Cycle Works which opened in 1892. Pond, who diversified to include motorcycles, traded here until 1939.

Today’s West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables, at No.243 was a chemist for many years. Alban Atkin took over from a homeopathic chemist in 1904. A local councillor, he is buried in Hampstead Cemetery and was succeeded in the business by his son of the same name. The shop closed around 1990 and was a timewarp right to the very end, with large glass fronted wooden cabinets and beautiful glass apothecary jars. The dispensary was at the far end of the shop, under a huge clock. The window display was a low key one, and for many years its centrepiece was a red neon sign advertising Yardley cosmetics.

There were also a large number of doctors and dentists scattered along West End Lane. The large houses attracted professionals.

Given today’s debate about 156 West End Lane, it’s interesting to see that back then it was the home of the Canforde Lawn Tennis Club – which was on open land behind 156, though only from 1914 to 1917.

Here is the full street directory. It is a little hard to follow in places, as it swaps between the east side and west side. However, the cross-street names and of course the numbers, make it reasonably easy to decipher. One road name change: Chislett Road was renamed as a continuation of Companyne Gardens in 1936.


Vera Lynn to Verdi: Go backstage at the ENO’s remarkable building

Welcome to the Tardis of West Hampstead.

Outside, people scurry past its flaking blue paint, barely noticing it’s there. But find a ruse to get in the door and you could get lost exploring for hours. There is a Bible Archive, but no holy books. There is a Rail Store and a Crew Room, which have nothing to do with the tube station across the road.

ENO building - Lilian Baylis House on Broadhurst Gardens

ENO building – Lilian Baylis House on Broadhurst Gardens

This is Lilian Baylis House, the English National Opera’s (ENO) rehearsal rooms tucked unassumingly down Broadhurst Gardens, and it is an unusual place. A meandering corridor concealed by Escher-like steps, which you must climb in order to descend, opens out into a vast hangar-like space. It’s disorienting. Are you underground or above? Which way did you come? And where is that singing coming from?

“Everyone who works here seems to love it because it’s so full of character,” says my guide Natasha Freedman. “There is something about the quirks of the building that make them nice spaces to work in.”

Perhaps its past plays a role. These walls have absorbed a century of celebrated musical history, with the ENO just the latest chapter.

Constructed as Victorian craftsmen’s workshops, the building served for a while as West Hampstead’s own Town Hall before becoming a recording studio in the 1920s for Vera Lynn and other big names of the day. Decca Records bought it in 1937. For almost half a century it recorded classical music and popular artists here, from big band leader Ted Heath, to Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.

Broadhurst Gardens could have been as famous as Abbey Road given its history – but Decca only had itself to blame for missing that chance. In one of the music industry’s most notorious mistakes, its talent men auditioned The Beatles here in 1962 but turned them down. “Guitar bands are on the way out,” the band’s manager was told.

The studios closed in 1980 and were bought the next year by the ENO, which had outgrown its Coliseum home near Trafalgar Square. Today, it still needs to hire other rehearsal venues, despite three large spaces here. The site is now a confusing warren of different levels, stairs and corridors connecting three converted studios, all of it adapted to new uses rather than rebuilt.

ENO named the building after theatre producer and manager Lilian Baylis, who in the first half of the 20th century ran companies that evolved into the ENO, The Royal Ballet and the National Theatre.

Studio 2, deep in the bowels of the building where Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli once played, now has a grand piano, a wall of mirrors with barres – and a basketball hoop high on the wall that seems in keeping with the premises’ lived-in feeling.

“There is still evidence of the past, like the glass window in Studio 2 behind which all the recording equipment was,” says Freedman, who heads the ENO’s outreach division, simply called Baylis, which aims to bring opera to people who could not afford it or might never think of it.

“The building takes a good punishing, we’re moving equipment around all the time,” Freedman says.
Old soundproofing tiles still cover walls and ceilings, layered with pipes and cables that zigzag around the ENO maze. Doors in all directions are fitted with blue signs announcing the function of the rooms they guard, inside which are more discoveries.

“You can open a cupboard and it’s full of organised buttons – or another full of gentlemen’s shoes of every style,” says Freedman. “There’s one near our room full of underwear of all shapes and sizes.”
The building is long and thin and full of corners that never see daylight. It seems huge, having been extended to the back in the 1960s to house Decca’s giant Studio 3, which can fit a mock-up of a whole Coliseum stage.

During the opera season, the director, conductor, lead singers and chorus are here rehearsing for any of the three shows the ENO runs at one time. The singing you might occasionally just hear from outside will nearly always be in English, the language the company performs in.

The singers get fitted for their costumes here, occasionally giving a sense of time travel. “Walk down a corridor and you can hear a singer in one room having coaching and in the next, members of the costume department are doing fittings with their tape measures and pins,” Freedman says. Mozart’s doomed seducer Don Giovanni was here the other week to be measured up to meet his fate. Soon it will be the turn of the pitiful pirates and blundering bobbies of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance.

Since 2015 “LBH”, as its inhabitants call it, has got more crowded. The ENO’s off-stage staff – marketing, communications, administration and Baylis – all moved in from offices in St Martin’s Lane to help the cash-strapped company save money.

Lovely as West Hampstead is, can West End Lane really compete with the West End as a place to work?
Freedman smiles. “Um… for [my team] it’s great being close to the rehearsal rooms,” she says diplomatically. “Stuff is being created and made all the time. This increasingly feels like our home.”

Freedman says long hours mean there has been little time to explore the attractions of the area but named three ENO favourites: The Sherriff centre “very good church-cum-post office-cum-wonderful whatever a real community centre should be”; Wired coffee shop outside their front door; “We love Wired, everyone goes there to keep going”; and Vietnamese restaurant Pham House – “really lovely people and delicious food”.

Unsurprisingly, West Hampstead itself is not a priority for the ENO, although Freedman says she would love to find local partnerships to help reach teenagers who have never thought of opera before. “Camden as a borough is relatively well served in terms of the arts. Our focus is more on Brent, which is very poorly served.”

The ENO has links with secondary schools in the neighbouring borough. Students regularly come to the studios to watch rehearsals and see what goes into a production, from making hats to shifting stage sets.
Around 50 students spent a week here in the summer to create a project linked to ENO productions which involves performance, set and costume design and investigating some of the moral dilemmas shown on stage.

“Opera’s not just a museum piece written 200 years ago but is storytelling through music, drama and design,” says Freedman. “Once you start talking about opera like that with young people they totally get it.”

LBH is not open to the public, so how can a local get in to have a look? You could join the 110-strong no-audition-needed ENO Community Choir which meets here on Wednesdays (and where warmup exercises, to stick to the Dr Who theme, can include singing like a Dalek).

Frenchman Julien Molinet, a West End Lane resident since the summer, joined the choir after checking out the ENO – which he had never heard of – online. “It all looked a bit derelict and at first I thought it was a closed factory,” he said. “It was a real surprise when I walked in, the size of this place!”

Or you could email Baylis to join its community mailing list and be alerted to the next “Know the Show” in the spring – a one-day singing and drama workshop open to anyone who wants to get a feel of what it’s like to be an opera chorus member. For details of these events, email .

In case you never make it but were wondering about those rooms … well, the Rail Store is for clothes rails and the Crew Room is for stagehands. And the Bible Archive? For “costume bibles” from every production going back decades, minutely detailing all the designs, sketches, photos and alterations so that one day, it can all be brought back to life.

An Insight into: La Mer on Broadhurst Gardens

La Mer, the fishmongers on Broadhurst Gardens is open only two half days a week (10am to 2.30pm Friday and Saturday), because 95% of Karim Thobani’s business is wholesaling to restaurants in central London (and some local restaurants too). This involves a 2am start to get supplies from Billingsgate market, although some supplies are delivered, which causes great excitement for the local seagulls.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

My parents. They brought me to West Hampstead as a two-year-old in the 1960s when they moved from Tehran to England, more specifically West Hampstead and a flat on West End Lane. Later, they bought a take-away fish shop called Saffron, which was a bit further up West End Lane (where Paya is now). They sold it when they retired in the ’70s.

By 1988, I’d been to uni, worked in a hotel and by fluke started the business wholesaling fish. At the time I was selling frozen spinach and my customers were asking for fish as well; so I set up the business with my then girlfriend (now wife).

I lived back in the area at the time too but sold that flat and moved – not that far away – to Willesden Green.



What is your first/fondest memory of the area?

I can remember Broadhurst Gardens as a child – it was not as lively as it is now. There was a chemist here and a Nat West Bank round the corner by the tube station. I can also remember the Railway in its musical heyday.

Growing up I remember enjoying playing in my local park, Kilburn Grange, where I played tennis.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

Over the years it has changed a lot and will change even more with the opening of the new (Ballymore) flats.

One change that has surprised me a lot is how much property prices have risen. My parents bought the flat on West End Lane in 1974 for £8,000. It’s now apparently worth 100 times that. Crazy.

But change is good, people are always moving in and out. My customers often move away from the area because it is becomes too expensive, but they still come back to get their fresh fish from here.


What’s for lunch?

I miss La Brocca and their pizzas! Otherwise, sometimes I pop up to the Alice House (it is one of the local restaurants he supplies, La Petit Corée is another).

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Very busy and changing.

Tom finds fragrant food at Fiddies

I don’t need much persuading to dive into a bowl of gnocchi, devour some sea bass, or demolish considerably more pizza than is really necessary, so I was all too pleased to join Jonathan on a visit to Finchley Road’s Italian relative newcomer, Fiddie’s. Having heard impressive claims from locals, we were curious to find out whether the food could reveal the same good-time vibes as the cheery, colourful furnishings, and ubiquitous film-star prints on the wall..

Starting with some decent bread, oil and vinegar already mixed, and an enjoyable overflowing bruschetta, we browsed an appealing menu full of my favourite types of things (as I write this, I’m busy scoffing spaghetti with an overdose of garlic, plus olives, tomato sauce and salted anchovies..) – and ordered a Chianti. Fiddie himself [we have no clue if that’s his name!] was charismatic, jovial and happy to chat, and with the open kitchen in view I gauged a feeling of pride and confidence in what they were doing (which was to be demonstrated rather forcefully later…!)

Overflowing bruschetta

Overflowing bruschetta

I certainly enjoyed my sea bream en-papillote (or whatever you call it in Italian) – the outer wrapping of foil was peeled-back at the table (as should always be the case, of course), revealing lightly cooked, fragrant fish, which was accompanied suitably by a side of vegetables that were perfect; broccoli, mange-tout and roast potatoes clearly prepared by a chef who understands the importance of such things. My side salad was fresh, though perhaps a little more variety would have been nice – I always like a little raw onion…

Sea bream en papillotte

Sea bream en papillotte

Jonathan, eyebrows raised in appreciation, seemed very impressed with his oxtail in a rich tomato sauce (no company should be allowed to use that term on a tin of beans), but wondered whether his rigatoni was perhaps just the wrong side of al-dente. Upon hearing of this, an amusing scene ensued (not quite Faulty Towers, but still comical) whereby Fiddie brought out a side-plate taster of pasta from chef, with the idea (presumably) being to demonstrate that it was done exactly the same every time – to perfection! Jonathan maintained that some of the pasta had indeed been slightly undercooked, but I quite liked the self-belief and conviction chef had in his cooking.

I noted several vibrant-looking plates arriving at other tables; everything appearing colourful and inviting. The menu has plenty for vegetarians, too, with a broad range of pizza and pasta dishes. The restaurant was busy, with plenty of atmosphere; it seems this little place has caught-on quickly.

One can never have too many Italian eateries in the neighbourhood, and I’m looking forward to returning to Fiddie’s soon. As the old saying goes… if a diner’s tired of Italian food… that diner’s clearly tired of life.

An Insight into: Peppercorns

Health food store Peppercorns used to be located opposite the tube station, but when Ballymore began construction of West Hampstead Square, it had to move. Now it’s up by West End Green. We spoke to the owner Mukesh Patel, who has been there for 20 years.  He runs it with his brother Nilesh, who joined him in 2002.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I had been working in the area since 1982, down on Belsize Road. I had a newsagents and nearby there was a health food store called Abundance, which sold natural foods. I thought it would nice to work in a business like that, that you really care about.

How did I end up at Peppercorns? It  was started in 1982 by the Steeles, a New Zealand couple. She was the first person in the UK to import Manuka honey and by the mid-90s they were expanding the wholesale side of the Manuka business. In 1996 they put their two health food shops up for sale; one in Hampstead and one in West Hampstead. I happened to be reading Dalton’s Weekly and saw this health food business for sale – in West Hampstead! It was local, I was interested so I came to check out the place – with my bank manager.

Mukesh at Peppercorns

Mukesh at Peppercorns

What is your first (fondest) memory of the area?

I can’t remember, it’s that long ago! I remember that Abundance sold muesli by the kilo [Ed – or lbs as was then], which I saw when I went in to buy my veggie lunch.

What’s surprised you about how West Hampstead had changed?

I remember passing down West End Lane and it was a bit run down. There was Atlanta and Jenny’s burgers where Nando’s now is. It was quite down-market, but it has really gentrified.

The arrival of the big chains does make it a bit like every other high street, a bit of a monoculture. The worrying thing is that it really makes it difficult for the independents to pay the rent.

Gail’s probably paid a bit over the market rate but other landlords see that and think they can raise the rents they charge. Independents can’t survive if they can’t afford to pay the rent.

What’s for lunch?

I buy my own ! We have loads of healthy, vegetarian takeaways.

If I don’t eat here I used to go to Dylan’s or sometimes to Bella Luna who do a very good pasta lunch special.

West Hampstead in three words?

Lively, friendly and increasingly health-conscious

The truth behind Priory Road’s millionairess typist

In 1929, Bernard Sheker was a 29-year-old clerk at a firm of paper makers in Holborn. He was ‘walking out’ with Hilda Lewis—a slim, pale girl. She was 19, and working as a typist for a firm near Finchley Road. Bernard had first made contact with Hilda about 18 months previously, when she telephoned orders from the printers.

Hilda Lewis (Daily Mirror 3 April 1930)

Hilda Lewis (Daily Mirror 3 April 1930)

Hilda told Bernard she was the daughter of a plumber, and had been adopted by a wealthy Indian tea planter named Cunningham. He had died two years ago, bequeathing her all his money on condition that she did not marry without the consent of her guardians or until she was 25. Hilda said she was a millionairess and showed Bernard photographs of her luxurious Green Street house in Mayfair. She also gave Bernard’s mother Rose expensive bouquets of flowers.

Later, Hilda said her guardians had died and an arrangement had been made for Lady Howard, the mother of the Duke of Norfolk, to chaperone her during the London season. The Shekers weren’t surprised when Hilda appeared in an evening gown, saying she had just slipped away from a smart party.

But if she had so much money, asked the family, why did she need to work? That was simply a way to pass the time, said Hilda, until she came into her fortune. She spent some of her time at a boarding house on Priory Road only to be close to her employers, the printers Baines and Scarsbrook at Nos.75-77 Fairfax Road.

Printers Baines and Scarsbrook 75-77 Fairfax Road (OS 1953)

Printers Baines and Scarsbrook 75-77 Fairfax Road (OS 1953)

Bernard, the eldest of four children, tried to persuade his parents that he should marry Hilda, even though she was not Jewish and ‘she was much above his station’. His father Aaron, who was deaf and dumb, was a ladies tailor, and the family lived at 70 Church Street in Stoke Newington.

Hilda wrote to Bernard about her society connections and explored the difficulties of their romance across class lines:

“We must stick it and get through: to part would be no remedy whatever. It would only bring more sadness and we would be wronging ourselves. I would still go on living, visiting, and entertaining and spending much money, but in reality I would be a beggar, just slipping through life and missing its real beauty.”

Instead, she saw a life where they were “perfectly united, sharing the same hopes and aims and desires, enjoying the same sunshine and weathering the same storms.” She ended the letter by saying, “I have a vision of happiness which fills me with joy.”

On 18 October 1929, Hilda took a major step towards realising her dream. That evening, she brought four cash boxes wrapped in brown paper to Bernard. She said she had lost the keys and asked him to force them open. He took the money and cashed some of the postal orders, a total of just over £138 – worth about £7,500 today.

The next day, Baines and Scarsbrook discovered their cash boxes were missing and Hilda and Bernard were arrested.

In March 1930, the jury at Marylebone Court believed Bernard’s story that Hilda had completely fooled him and his parents. He was discharged.

A trembling Hilda admitted stealing the safe key. She had hidden in the office until everyone had gone home and taken the cash boxes. Hilda was detained until the magistrates received a medical report on her. At the next session, Dr Morton, the governor and medical officer at Holloway, said Hilda’s letters contained extracts from several popular romantic novels by John Galsworthy, Muriel Hine and Marie Corelli. Morton said he had seen this kind of fantasy before and that Hilda was perfectly normal.

The chairman of the magistrates, Sir Robert Wallace KC, warned Hilda not to indulge her over-active imagination again and bound her over for 18 months probation on good behaviour.

When her love letters were read out in court the audience were convulsed with laughter. Writing for the Daily Mail, Beverley Nichols chided their reaction and pointed out that Hilda was physically and emotionally overwhelmed when she was forced to appear in the dock. Nichols had previously covered the sensational 1922 trial of Edith Thompson and her young lover Freddy Bywaters who had murdered Edith’s husband. This case had also demonstrated the dangers of fantasy and reading cheap fiction. Nichols asked his readers to have a “spark of imagination” and to empathise with Hilda. They should think of her writing to Bernard from her lonely room at Priory Road, imagining that stealing the money could provide a better life for them both.

42 Priory Road (Aug 2016)

Of course Hilda’s story was a complete fantasy. Ironically, she was the daughter of a police constable and had been born in 1910 at 30 Fleet Road, Hampstead. By the time of her trial, Hilda Lewis had worked for four years as a typist at Baines and Scarsbrook and her home was 42 Priory Road, a boarding house she shared with eight other women.

The court experience had clearly shocked Hilda. She stayed out of trouble and in 1941, she married Frederick Charles Maynard, a Kilburn man, and they lived at 25 Holmdale Road. What of Bernard? By 1939, he was living on Old Street and running a tobacconist and confectioner’s shop. His wife, Pauline, was a shorthand typist.

An Insight into: Monsters of Art on Mill Lane

Last month we started a series of interviews with local independent shop owners. This month we’re talking to Dan Gold from Monsters of Art, a tattoo studio and art gallery. Dan has been a tattoo artist for 25 years, learning his art across the world, so how has he ended up in Mill Lane?

What brought you to West Hampstead?

We had lived in Muswell Hill, the East End and had shops in Islington and King’s Cross but one day I was riding down West End Lane and instantly fell in love with it and decided to move here. Why the shop on Mill Lane? Well, we ended up living in Narcissus Road where I had a private studio but I got too busy. I know Ian, who owns this shop and he said the charity Best Beginnings was leaving and was I interested. That was four years and seven months ago!

Dan at Monsters of Art

Dan at Monsters of Art (with Simon in the background)

What was your first (fondest) memory of the area?

It was seeing West End Green, the fire station and thinking ‘wow!’. I had commuted up and down the Finchley Road for years and just didn’t know it was here. West End Lane lies nestled between the the bigger Finchley Road and Shoot up Hill. I still have clients who come that have no idea West Hampstead is here.

What has surprised you the most about how West Hampstead has changed?

It’s almost becoming like Hampstead. I’ve seen the houses round Sumatra Road being converted back from bedsits to family houses and I’ve seen this (gentrification) reflected in the people. When we started we sold edition prints but we are selling more and more one off pieces, we see a real difference.

Mill Lane as a whole is undergoing change at the moment. We miss Bake-a-boo. It was the sort of unique business that drew clients to it. Hen parties would come there and then come back to other businesses. Mill Lane needs shops like that, destination shops to help the others that survive on passing trade. Although we are lucky that parking is OK round here. I have clients that are are here for seven or eight hours.

I’m lucky because I have my own loyal client base [Ed – a client had just arrived from Portsmouth, to have Queen Nefertiti tattooed on her leg and this is how it turned out].

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

How do you feel about the changes that are coming to the area?

There is a real resistance to change, but sometimes change is good. Everywhere in London is always changing, personally I feel it will have a positive impact and West Hampstead has a good future.

We sometimes forget we are very lucky we don’t have the problems of the Caledonian Road or Kings Cross or Chapel Market, where I had previous shops. I was sometimes concerned for my safety (I was held up at gun point!) and that of my clients. But that is not a worry here, West Hampstead has the balance just right.

We could do with more local independent shops but it is tricky to find a niche that isn’t covered by the big brands and supermarkets.

What’s for lunch?

Well, we are spoilt for choice! It can be a BLT from the Kitchen Table, a salad from West End Lane. It’s one thing that is great about West Hampstead you are never short of something good to eat.

West Hampstead in three words?

very pleasant indeed

They shot the wrong man!

Sue Stephens

Sue Stephens

In November 1982, 25-year-old model Sue Stephens moved from 29 Victoria Road Kilburn to share a room with a girlfriend above Lately, the bar at 175 West End Lane. Sue had left her Devon home at 17 and come to London to work and she had, for some time, been the girlfriend of David Martin.

During their relationship, a staggering series of events unfolded, including several shootings, a chase down West End Lane, and an arrest in a tube tunnel. So dramatic, it would eventually be turned into a film.

In July 1982, David Martin stole 24 handguns and ammunition from Thomas Bland and Sons, a gunsmiths in Covent Garden. Martin, 36, was also making and selling pirate videotapes and was spotted when he broke into Colour Film Services, a film processing laboratory in Portman Close to use the copying machines. The police were called. Martin calmly tried to talk his way out by saying he was a security officer called David Demain. But when two policemen tried to detain him, he drew a pistol from his waistband and shot one of the officers.

The Flying Squad also suspected Martin had carried out a £25,000 armed robbery in the City when a security guard was shot. They watched his flat in Crawford Place near Baker Street, but saw only a tall blonde woman leaving the building. Then the police found out that Martin was a cross-dresser and realised the blonde woman was actually Martin. On December 15, the police moved in to arrest him and in the scuffle Martin shot and seriously wounded a constable. Martin himself was also wounded in the neck and taken to hospital where he recovered.

By Christmas Eve 1982, David Martin was on remand at Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, but he escaped. He walked over the rooftops as far as the London Palladium, entering the empty theatre through a service entrance. Martin, who was a skilled lockpicker, boasted that ‘no prison could hold him’, and indeed had escaped four times previously, earning him the nickname of his hero ‘Houdini’.

He was now of course a most wanted and dangerous man who had shot and seriously wounded two policemen. The operation moved from Baker Street to West Hampstead and the Flying Squad set up surveillance of Sue Stephens’ room at West End Lane from an empty flat above the NatWest Bank, which then was on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane, where the convenience shop is now.

On 14 January 1983, police saw her being collected at 4pm by two men in an apple-green Ford Capri. Six unmarked police vehicles followed the Capri down West End Lane through Maida Vale as far as the Portobello Mini Hire in Kensington Park Road. One of the men drove off in the Capri while the other hired a yellow Mini. Sue and a third man, who the police thought was David Martin, got into the car. The police followed the Mini and when it came to a halt in traffic in Pembroke Road Kensington it was surrounded by armed officers on foot. They thought the man in the front passenger seat was reaching for a gun and fired 14 shots into the car, six of which hit and severely wounded him.

The police had made a dreadful mistake. The passenger wasn’t David Martin, it was Steven Waldorf, who bore a striking resemblance to Martin. Despite being severely wounded and one of his lungs filling with blood, Waldorf recovered after several operations. He later received £120,000 compensation from the Metropolitan Police. Waldorf was a 26-year-old assistant film director and a friend of Sue Stephens, but had never even met David Martin. Incredibly, Sue Stephens and the second man in the car, Lester Purdy, were not injured in the hail of bullets

David Martin on the left and Stephen Waldorf on the right

David Martin on the left and Steven Waldorf on the right

The two detectives who fired into the Mini were charged with wounding Steven Waldorf with intent to do him grievous bodily harm and their trial took place in October 1983. The jury found them not guilty of all charges and acquitted both men.

Stephens was understandably very shaken by the incident and agreed to help the police. She told them that Martin had phoned under an assumed name and asked to meet her in the Milk Churn – a restaurant at 70 Heath Street in Hampstead on 28 January. Police observation posts were set up in the Nags Head pub opposite the restaurant and at the Kingswell flats, 58-62 Heath Street.

The police were taking no chances and a total of 35 officers and numerous vehicles were waiting for him. When they saw Martin approaching, detectives flooded the road, but he realised something was wrong and dashed into Hampstead tube station. He ran down the 320 stairs and into the train tunnel.

Passengers were startled as Martin ran through the carriages of a train closely followed by armed officers. He was eventually trapped and arrested in the tunnel between Hampstead and Belsize Park – and for once, he wasn’t carrying a gun.

Gordon Stevenson, the owner of Lately, said Martin frequently visited Sue Stephens in her flat above, sometimes in drag. The tenants had a payphone in the corridor outside Gordon’s flat on the first floor, and he overheard Sue’s conversations with Martin and the Daily Mail reporters who paid £10,000 for her story after the shooting.

Stephens was later sentenced to six months imprisonment for handling stolen goods, but served only 18 days after the sentence was suspended by the Court of Appeal in May 1984. She had taken a large volume of Martin’s stolen goods to Pickford’s warehouse in Fulham and had also placed items in a safe deposit box rented by Martin in Selfridges under a false name. The box was found to contain stolen cash, guns and jewellery.

Martin meanwhile was charged with several robberies and the attempted murder of a policeman. He appeared at the Old Bailey in a 14-day trial in September and October 1983. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. He repeatedly asked Sue Stephens to visit him in prison, but she refused and went back to her parent’s home in Exeter.

Just five months into his sentence, on 13 March 1984, Martin was found hanged in his cell at Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight. He left a note for Sue saying: ‘All I have is death to take away the pain of not being with you’. His solicitor said that Martin had not expected such a long sentence and was very depressed, spending days lying in his cell doing nothing. Although he did become friendly with a fellow lifer from north-west London: the serial killer Dennis Nilsen who had killed at least a dozen men and boys (and lived at 195 Melrose Avenue, near Gladstone Park Willesden).

In 1994, LWT made a feature film, directed by Paul “Jason Bourne” Greengrass, called ‘Open Fire’. It starred Rupert Graves as David Martin and Kate Hardie as Sue Stephens. West Hampstead resident, Jim Carter, played a Detective Superintendent from the Flying Squad, and there are scenes of him chasing Rupert Graves down Heath Street into the Tube station. But the drama did not use West End Lane, or anything like it, to show where Sue lived. The full-length film is on YouTube (in nine parts).

Jim Carter in Open Fire

Jim Carter in Open Fire

For more information there is also a very good book called The Wrong Man by Dick Kirby (2016).

An insight into: Insight Opticians

One of the things that gives West Hampstead its character is the independent shops and local groups. We though we’d plan a series (and let’s see where this goes) asking them a few questions about their experiences of the neighbourhood.

Where better to start for an insight into West Hampstead than with Kiran Vyas. Kiran has just celebrated 30 years on West End Lane running Insight Opticians.

Kiran at Insight

Kiran at Insight Opticians

What brought you to West Hampstead?
Chance brought me to West Hampstead! Back in 1986, Julian Leveson, who had previously run the business passed away suddenly. Julian was from South Africa and his family didn’t know what to do with it. They asked a friend for suggestions, that friend happened to be a friend of mine, so he asked if I was interested in buying it.

At the time I had just qualified and was working at my brother’s practice down in Wimbledon, but was looking to open my own practice. I was living in Edgware (where I had relocated after being expelled from Uganda in 1972, and still live) and so having the option of my own optician’s practice closer to home was good timing.

There has been an opticians on this site since 1948. It was originally opened by Irving Shoot, who owned it until about 1965. He sold it to Daniel Martin, who moved to Canada. Daniel sold it to Stephen Isaacs, who made millions as For Eyes opticians. Julian bought it in about 1980. I then took it over and renamed it Insight Opticians.

What is your fondest memory of the area?
There are a number of shops I remember, but the one I miss most is the old apothecary, where the fruit shop is now. It was a quirky little shop with old wooden fittings run by an interesting old fellow called Arthur who was a herbalist as well as pharmacist. Unfortunately, he got robbed and was tied up; he sold up shortly afterwards.

Insight at 30

Insight Opticians – Happy 30th birthday!

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
In some ways it is that the community feel that was there then is still here today. Since the arrival of the chain stores it is becoming a little more impersonal but change is inevitable – a necessary evil. The older population still retains this community feel. The challenge is to change the business in a way that encourages the new younger clients, but still retains the older clientele.

What was for lunch?
We are spoilt for choice! The neighbouring Banana Tree is always good, Lena’s up West End Lane is good and the fruit and vegetable shop is also good and is an inspiration to become healthy.

West Hampstead in three words?
Awesome, vibrant and friendly

Tom overindulges on aubergine at Feng Sushi

A friend of mine remarked recently: “Aubergine? The problem with that stuff is it soaks up all the oil?” To which I responded “That’s the idea, idiot!” Anyway…

I was in a bit of a dilemma the other evening. Planning a king-size curry later on, I needed a reasonably light yet sustaining late luncheon somewhere, and decided Feng Sushi would be a sensible option. Quickly settling in, I admired the ever-pleasing view of West End Green, and the list of tantalising sake options on the menu.

In fact, I chose a French white wine, which was quaffable, and then faced my next dilemma… what to select from a range such tempting dishes? I sometimes find this style of cuisine can be a little lightweight, but that was alright given my planned assignation with a king prawn jalfrezi with paratha and things later. I was to be surprised!

My side dish of Miso Dengaku (aubergine with ginger miso dressing) was first to present itself on The Captain’s Table (still not bored of that one), and I was immediately struck by the stunning presentation, and considerable portion size (here I go again!) Sampling the dish, I’m pleased to report a genuine ‘food moment’ – absolutely sublime. Though aubergine can be difficult to cook really well at home (at least with my abilities), this was executed with precision; neat batons, fried with care, resulting in a satisfying snap to the skin, and so harmoniously matched with the dressing, which was thick in texture, and intense in flavour.

Miso aubergine and tuna/avocado maki start to fill Tom up

Miso aubergine and tuna/avocado maki start to fill Tom up

My Japanese-style fish and chips (splendid idea!) arrived looking stylish and highly appealing; three fresh-looking battered filets contrasted by some darker, very honest looking chips. I’d opted for six tuna and avocado maki as a side (which were most agreeable, as such things always are when of decent quality) and by this time I was rapidly realising that my “light lunch” was evolving into a bit of a feast!

And the tempura fish & chips finish off the job

And the tempura fish & chips finish off the job

Comparison with the British version of fish & chips? The batter is a lighter tempura style, and the fish much firmer and compact. Different, but very… “eatworthy”. The chips were not fancy triple-cooked variants or anything, rather more traditional, and sensibly, tomato ketchup was provided. To summarise, I’d happily order the same three plates again, as soon as possible.

Inspiring food – left me feeling genuinely uplifted (I’m a simple soul). As for the curry – that wasn’t required in the end, though I did make up for it with two curries in two days the following weekend.

Get along to Feng Sushi, for goodness “sake” !

“Coal dust everywhere”: Lithos Road’s ghostly chimneys

There’s a great 1910 film on YouTube of a train journey from Baker Street to Uxbridge and on to Aylesbury. Part one is here:

And part two is here:

As the train pulls out of Finchley Road station, at 1m 44 sec, two ghostly chimneys loom up on the right of the screen. They are 130 feet high and were in Lithos Road, at Hampstead’s very own electricity plant.

Several companies wanted to supply Hampstead, but in 1882 and again in 1889, members of the Hampstead Vestry (the precursor to the council), argued against adopting any scheme on the grounds that “the science of electricity is not at present sufficiently developed”.

Then in December 1892, the Vestry decided to open its own power plant, run as a private municipal company. On the evening of October 1st 1894, the electricity was switched on and an enthusiastic crowd in Finchley Road watched 22 street lamps light up simultaneously for the first time.

This postcard was designed for Hampstead’s Electricity Department to send to its customers. The elegantly dressed couple are having dinner surrounded by electrical appliances, including a heater, fan, iron and coffee pot.  (c) Historical Publications

This postcard was designed for Hampstead’s Electricity Department to send to its customers. The elegantly dressed couple are having dinner surrounded by electrical appliances, including a heater, fan, iron and coffee pot. (c) Historical Publications

Despite hopes it would help reduce the rates, the plant made only a small profit, never exceeding £2,000 even in a good year. The original power station had cost around £30,000 and by 1897 it was necessary to borrow a further £30,000 to increase the generating capacity and lay more cables. Two years later, a further £67,000 was spent. By 1914, Hampstead had invested around half a million pounds in its electricity system. It remained in Hampstead’s control until nationalisation but the plant ceased generating in 1922.

The Lithos Road building was replaced by new offices for the London Electricity Board in 1975. The opening ceremony was attended by 82-year-old Arthur Munden, who remembered taking lunch to his dad at the original coal fired power station.

“Coal used to be brought to a railway siding then taken by horse and cart to be dumped in bunkers. There was coal dust everywhere and no showers.”

In fact, the station burned 10 tons a day and locals complained of the fumes. Arthur himself began working at Lithos Road the year the film above was made. In 1983, the LEB offices made way for housing.

Tom curates West Hampstead’s curry choices

Given that the weather will soon (already has) turned ominous, I thought a quick round-up of a few local curry establishments would be in order (though they’re listed in no particular order). Not that there’s anything wrong with eating such things on a hot summer’s day of course…

All hail the Tin

All hail the Tin

Predictably, I’ll start with the take-away only Tiffin Tin. It’s not that these guys give me back-handers (bribery would work, it’s just that no-one’s offered yet), it’s simply a case of wonderful food, and remarkable consistency. The dishes feel healthy, yet robust, with hunger-bashing portion sizes and appetising aromas of freshly ground spices. The Tin has only ever got one order wrong, delivering some lamb samosas I hadn’t ordered – but those rich, flavoursome morsels were impressive all the same. My favourite dishes; the Goan salmon (tantalising flavours, perfect heat) and the koshi machhi. Note also the excellent vegetable-based dishes – brilliantly done.

On Dyne Road

On Dyne Road

A comparable alternative might be Holy Cow in Kilburn. My findings a while back were of high-quality ingredients and assured cooking. Strangely, their delivery menu appears identical in parts to the Tin’s. The consensus on Twitter has generally been that it’s good quality, but on the pricey side.

Bengal Spice West HampsteadBengal Spice on West End Lane offers a more traditional experience, with a wide range of old favourites served in the same way I remember as a greedy teenager. Recently I enjoyed a tangy, vibrant prawn madras but if this had a hotness rating of two chilli symbols on the menu rather than three, then I respect the bravery of whoever tries the vindaloo! The salmon tikka starter was also excellent.

Of a similar style, Ruchi in Kilburn seems to have been around for as long as Bengal, and again seems to please those looking for the tried and tested options, done very well. I haven’t eaten there many times, but Jonathan’s often mentioned it and praises it as the best of its type in the area. [JT: if you want old-skool done well, then Ruchi is your go-to restaurant.]

Ruchi is tucked away with a loyal fan base

Ruchi is tucked away with a loyal fan base

Fortune Green's finest

Fortune Green’s finest

Bombay Nights in Fortune Green, again long-established, features a joyful logo and a nice balance of expected and less-common selections, which include scallops and crab in addition to a wide range of chicken and lamb plates. I’ve enjoyed dinner there, and am impressed by its enthusiasm in updating its Facebook page with colourful and tempting photographs – the owners seem proud of what they do.

Returning to a slightly more modern take on this fantastic cuisine, Guglee is the sort of place that makes one proud to live in the area. The interior design is gorgeous, the atmosphere buzzing (the kitchen is visible to diners and the camaraderie of chefs and other staff is evident), and the food is classy, inspiring, all-round delicious. Railway lamb (Rogan Josh style) and prawn kadai stand out – and although the food is refined, the portions are generous! And let’s not overlook that delightful Indian Shiraz, which we’ve raved about many times on here. [JT: Also does the best Indian chaat streetfood starters. Agree with Tom, this is one of the gems of West Hampstead.]

Modern font, modern food

Modern font, modern food

Mill Lane's other curry option

Mill Lane’s other curry option

Spice Tree (formerly Babur Empire) is somewhere I’ve enjoyed a hearty takeaway king prawn jalfrezi from on occasion, but I haven’t eaten in the restaurant recently. I do tend to order from the aforementioned Tiffin Tin as its vegetable dishes are at a level above most of the competition. Spice Tree has a very smart new outside terrace, so perhaps it’s worth going along to try it out while the weather is still… errm… well, take an umbrella or something (Brits talking about the weather again – yawn – sorry!)

There are of course plenty of other Indian restaurants to try in NW6; we’re lucky in having such choice, and maybe this continues to drive quality? Everyone who enjoys a curry has their own personal tastes and preferences, whether it involves an overload of chicken (Jonathan), or proud, glowing prawns (me).

Well, I’ve worked-up quite an appetite absorbed in all that… time to grab a corkscrew and a spice-orientated delivery menu ASAP.

Insanity or cold blood? A wartime Belsize Road murder

It was May 1942 when Pauline Barker was murdered at 184 Belsize Road. In the midst of war, the story received scant attention in the press. But it is a sad tale of unhappy marriages and unclear motives.

Pauline Barker was born in Islington in 1899, the daughter of Frederick Charles Barker and Lydia Care, who had married the year before He was a solo harpist and she was a leading contralto with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, they married in London in 1898. Frederick left Lydia in 1910 because of

Her violent temper and ungovernable behaviour and constant and habitual use of filthy, disgusting and obscene language and constant disagreements for ten years which have rendered his married life most unhappy. He has continued to supply her with funds for the maintenance of her and the children, and is willing to continue to do so.

Lydia was willing to let bygones be bygones but Frederick was having none of it.

Dear Sirs, do not waste your eloquence. There is not the remote chance of my returning to my wife. My bitterest enemy could not wish me a worse wish!
Go on with your divorce. It is the only possible remedy.

Lydia bought up Pauline and her two younger siblings in a house on Highgate Hill and Frederick saw them every other Saturday.

Pauline became an accomplished solo harpist like her father. Aged 18, she married 47-year-old George Longfield Beasley (he invented the Beasley-Gamewell system, an integrated fire and police alarm used in Windsor Castle and by several local councils), but after three years, George sued for divorce on the grounds of Pauline’s adultery.

Two years later Pauline married Harry Lowe, who was a viola player and later the conductor of the BBC Theatre Orchestra. But on a boat journey in 1931, Pauline had an affair with a ship’s officer and she and Harry separated, divorcing ten years later, the year before her death.

Pauline’s work flourished as her relationships stumbled. She had engagements with the Russian Ballet and the BBC and played on numerous radio broadcasts from 1924 to 1930, mostly from Belfast. This was where she first met Achilles Apergis, who was a garage proprietor. His full name was Achilles George White Apergis, but he used the name Arthur Anderson. He was brought up in a middle-class family in south London, educated at Dulwich College, and served in the Greek cavalry. His father was a captain in the Greek Army who married an English woman and he became a naturalised British subject.

In 1931, after his Belfast garage failed, Arthur came to London and contacted Pauline again. He worked as a motor engineer with various firms in Kilburn and Cricklewood and then briefly ran the St John’s Wood Garage at 9 Abbey Road. Arthur and Pauline began living together, firstly at 19 Alexandra Road where they stayed for six years. Then Pauline’s mother Lydia, bought 184 Belsize Road, which Pauline ran as a guest house.

184 Belsize Road before the Abbey estate was built

184 Belsize Road before the Abbey estate was built

The relationship did not run smoothly. The couple often quarrelled and Arthur liked to drink heavily in the local pubs. Lydia told the police she heard Arthur using foul language and struggling with Pauline in the bedroom at Belsize Road. He released her when he saw Lydia, saying sarcastically, ‘I didn’t know you had your ‘seconds’ around’. Pauline told her mother this was not unusual and that Apergis was frequently aggressive.

Katherine Maher, one of Pauline’s lodgers, said the relationship between Apergis and his wife was unhappy and she often heard them arguing. He used to hit her and on two occasions she heard him threaten to shoot her. Pauline had even asked Katherine to sleep in her room to prevent her husband coming in.

On 27 May 1942, after a particularly heated row, Arthur packed up his things and left. Pauline told Katherine it was because he was jealous of her talking with one of the lodgers, Philip Sedgwick, who had moved in less than three weeks earlier. Pauline said she was glad Arthur had gone and hoped it would be for good, although she was surprised he left so peacefully without threatening her. She showed Katherine bruises on her leg and thigh where Arthur had pushed her over in the kitchen the previous night.

At about 1pm on the afternoon of 31 May, Katherine and Pauline were talking in the kitchen when they heard Arthur shout ‘Pauline’ from downstairs. Pauline called back, ‘I am just serving lunch, I will be down in a minute – what do you want?’ He said, ‘I want to speak to you a minute.’ She went downstairs and when she came back she told Katherine that Apergis had said he wanted to shoot her. Katherine looked out of the window and saw Arthur at the front of the house. He started to enter the gate but then changed his mind and walked in the direction of the Princess of Wales public house.

The Princess of Wales, on the corner of Belsize Road and Abbey Road, stood here the Lillie Langtry is today. Alfred Rice, the landlord, said in his police statement that he had known ‘Andy’ Apergis for the past five years and he also knew Pauline Barker and that although they lived as man and wife, they weren’t married. At about 7.05pm the evening of 31 May, he saw Apergis in the saloon bar and thought that he’d been drinking but was not drunk. Apergis said, ‘Rice, I may not see you anymore; I am going to commit a murder’. Rice said, ‘Don’t be a fool, pull yourself together’. Apergis said, ‘All right’ and left.

Princess of Wales pub looking down Belsize Road

Princess of Wales pub looking down Belsize Road

That evening, Philip Sedgwick was in the lounge on the ground floor when the man he knew as Mr Barker opened the lounge door asking for Mrs Barker. Sedgwick replied that she was upstairs in the kitchen. Mr Barker walked out and shut the door. Two minutes later Sedgwick heard a loud bang, followed by someone running down the stairs and the front door slamming. When he went up to the kitchen, Sedgwick found Pauline lying on the first-floor landing. There was a strong smell of gunpowder. Finding no pulse he telephoned 999 and told the police what had happened. He waited at the front door until an ambulance and the police arrived.

Arthur had gone back to the pub – just six houses away, confessing to Alfred Rice: ‘I have done it.’ Rice said, ‘You haven’t!’ Apergis said, ‘On my honour as a Greek she is lying stone dead. My honour as a Greek means more than anything. It was a clean shot, all she went was ‘ough’. I put a pillow under her head to make her comfortable.’

Arthur took the loaded Colt 45 from a holster at his waist and handed it to Rice. ‘I don’t want to get you into trouble’, he said,’so if you want it I will tell the police I threw it away.’ In order to get the gun off him Rice said, ‘Thanks old boy, I will have it.’ Arthur took the empty cartridge case out and then gave Rice the gun and the holster. He also gave him a book of National Savings Certificates; ‘this should cover the three or four pounds I owe you.’

Then he said, ‘Buy me a double scotch because I may not see you again, and I am waiting for the police to come.’ The barmaid handed Apergis a double scotch which he drank at the bar. When Rice went into the office to phone Apergis’s brother, Apergis followed him and put 16 bullets into Rice’s jacket pocket. Then Rice heard an ambulance outside and realised that something serious had really happened.

Rice left the pub and met Detective Sergeant Pilgrim at 184 Belsize Road and told him Apergis was waiting in the pub bar. At 7.33pm Dr Rees, the police divisional surgeon arrived at the house and found Pauline Barker had been shot through the heart. At 7.45pm Apergis was arrested in the pub and taken to West Hampstead Police station, which was then on West End Lane next to the Railway Hotel . Rice later gave the police the gun, the bullets, the holster, and the book of certificates.

The next morning, Detective Inspector Herbert Cripps charged Apergis under the name of Arthur Anderson. He made no statement. The post mortem, carried out later that day, showed that the gun had been fired at close range, the single bullet passed through her heart and Pauline died instantly.

On 29 June, at the Old Bailey, Arthur Anderson, 52 was charged with the wilful murder of Pauline Barker. He pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ by reason of insanity. In court, his brother Dr Apergis said there was no insanity in the family. The defence called two eminent psychologists to demonstrate that Anderson was insane at the time he committed the offence, but the jury was not convinced. The medical officer at Brixton Prison also said that in the 26 days the prisoner had been in his charge there had been no evidence of insanity. The jury, which included four women, found Anderson guilty of murder. But they added a strong recommendation for mercy knowing that he would be sentenced to hang.

On 16 July, the Home Secretary informed the Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard that even after a special medical inquiry into his mental state, there were not sufficient grounds to advise His Majesty to interfere with the due course of law.

Following the decision, Arthur Anderson was hanged at Wandsworth Prison by Albert Pierrepoint and Herbert Morris at 9am on 21 July.

After reading all the evidence from the Metropolitan police files, we still don’t know why Arthur killed Pauline. The house has since been demolished as part of the Council redevelopment in the area.

Ed: We’re delighted to welcome back Dick & Marianne to West Hampstead Life, where we’ll be exclusively publishing their local history articles. They’ve been active while WHL was on hiatus, and you can catch up with the stories you’ve missed here, and read the History archives on this site here.

Tom gives the thumbs up to Pham House

Given my love of loud, obnoxious music and dark attire, and the colour of Jonathan’s new car (he paid me to mention it), one could say, we’re back in black! At least until our new editor Mark realises how utterly ridiculous Tom’s Diner is and promptly closes it down…

"Shimmering" papaya salad

“Shimmering” papaya salad

Rolling up to the new Vietnamese restaurant on Broadhurst Gardens, one remembers this isn’t the easiest place to maintain such a business. Our much loved, much missed Spiga put up a brave fight and, more recently, Mamako weathered an early storm to regularly win praise.

I’d honestly thought the eatery was named Phan Tom, which appealed to my gormless sense of humour for several reasons; however once we started eating, we found nothing too ghoulish in the fare. Wonderfully addictive salt & pepper squid lifted our souls, accompanied by a brilliantly flavoursome green papaya salad, positively shimmering with its multidimensional dressing.

Morning glory

Morning glory

A side of chargrilled aubergine worked well with everything else, and the Morning Glory greens with plenty of garlic were generously seasoned, demonstrating how delicious such simple vegetables can be, their naturally bitter tones complementing the sweeter tastes on the table.

In fact my main of wok-fried pho noodles with prawns was perhaps the one dish which lacked a little firepower. Maybe it suffered somewhat from Whamplord and I spending ages over the starters as we enthusiastically argued over how much the décor had or hadn’t changed (true rock ‘n’ roll rebels, us two) – arriving with the crustaceans slightly tired (not unlike me the next morning) – and with the dish needing a resounding bang of something to elevate it.

In a rare turn of events, Tom ordered prawns

In a rare turn of events, Tom ordered prawns

However, Jonathan was satisfied with his beef curry, which was pleasingly warming and vibrantly yellow. Subtle and enjoyable rather than head-zinging, but as he said, “that’s just fine for a relaxed meal with friends.” We washed down everything with a bottle of Chenin Blanc from the restaurant’s short but perfectly acceptable wine list.

Not head-zinging, but definitely yellow

Not head-zinging, but definitely yellow

Charlotte, West Hampstead Life’s new Social Queen, happened to drop by a day or two later and reported that, “The prawn summer rolls were fresh and full to brimming. Great dipped in their tangy sauce. The papaya salad was refreshing (without swimming in dressing) with that necessary spicy kick and a generous topping of peanuts (and something else crispy that tasted delightful). For mains, I had the crispy pancake which was good, and John enjoyed his hot and spicy curry with the house red. Overall, we were well looked after and it was very reasonably priced for a Saturday evening out in West Hampstead!”

All things considered, then, a rather positive start. Front of house was warm and enthusiastic, and the food had a sense of class to it, but without being minimalistic or silly; all nicely gauged.

And if they won’t call it Phan Tom, who cares, that’s what I’m calling it. We’re back in business, #whampers!

Tom’s warmed by Cedar’s Lebanese treats

Feeling a little light-headed after too much sun (OK, wine), and in need of something a little different to seek out, two of us headed to Cedar, the immediately popular new Lebanese restaurant on West End Lane.

First impressions were promising; the interior seemed bright and airy, and very relaxed, so much so that one customer decided to enjoy a couple of cigarettes actually inside the premises! He was right by the open frontage though, and not really doing any harm – it was early evening and unusually quiet.


Fatayer – a baked pastry stuffed with spinach, onion and herbs proved a decent start, and then kibbeh yakteen was also a hit; deep fried pumpkin and crushed wheat shells housing a pleasing combination of spinach and chickpeas. Spicing was well-judged, with that satisfying ‘warm’ taste and aroma I associate with this sort of food.

Hummus, pita and falafel were fresh and pretty much as one would expect, and cheese rikakat, deep fried haloumi in filo pastry, added something else to proceedings. Shank leesh, (aged cheese with tomatoes, onion, green pepper and thyme), had its own character with stronger flavours – probably my favourite plate. That said, I absolutely loved the little intro of pickles which arrived soon after we sat down; I learned these included turnip slices pickled with beetroot juice – quite delicious.

With each dish tried being around £5 or under, and plenty of variety on the menu, Cedar is a welcome addition to the local scene. And I’m going to have to return soon, as browsing the menu online, I’ve now learned they even do pizzas – “both Italian and Lebanese in flavour”…

…Lebanese-style pizza? Seriously, what’s not to like!?

The Mouseman of Kilburn – No, not that one!

Many people know about Robert Thompson, the furniture maker known as the Mouseman of Kilburn. But he lived in Kilburn, North Yorkshire. But it’s a fair bet hardly anyone knows that Kilburn in North West London had its own Mouseman.

Thompson, born in 1876, dedicated his life to the craft of carving and joinery in English Oak, and after hearing one of his craftsmen say that they were, “All as poor as church mice.” he carved a mouse on the church screen he was working on. The mouse became his company’s trademark and survives to this day.

Kilburn London’s Mouseman was interviewed by a reporter for the Willesden Illustrated Monthly at his lodging house in Kilburn in 1937. He was well known locally as he had spent years in Kilburn and Willesden exhibiting his ‘mouse circus’ in the streets. He said that his best days were Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with markets the best pitch for his performances.

The reporter simply records his real name as S. Jackman, giving no more detail than that. It’s a sympathetic article, looking beyond Jackman’s “rugged and weather-tanned features” to reveal a man of “astonishing intelligence and more than ordinary fibre and independence, a story full of surprises.”

Mouse Man image

The reporter and Jackman sat in the yard besides his “extraordinary paraphernalia”, the large box on wheels that Jackman trundled round the streets. In the photo, the long rod protruding from the box served as the ‘stage’ for a troop of white mice that performed gymnastic feats. There was also a small stuffed dog, Jackman’s faithful companion on the road until it died 15 years previously. From that time, it was exhibited in a straw bed on top of the box. It was one of the Manchester breed, said Jackman; ironically a type of terrier well known for its skill as a rat catcher!

Jackman supplied very few biographical details. His parents were English and emigrated to America, where his father worked in the Chicago stock yards. Jackman was born there but returned to England as a young man. It’s hard to establish what he did next, but he told the reporter he entered the armed forces, serving nearly 12 years in the Navy and Army, including World War I.

I joined the Coldstream Guards and was with the Russian Relief Force, in which I was a sergeant. I went to Murmansk and to Lake Onega.

He worked as a cook and often served meals to General Henry Rawlinson. At the end of World War I, Rawlinson was sent to Russia as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces who were attempting to overthrow the Bolshevik government. In August 1919, Rawlinson organised the evacuation of the Allied Forces from Murmansk and Archangel.

General Rawlinson

After the War Jackman started performing as a member of ‘Lord’ John Sanger’s Circus.

My job was that of a pot-pourri clown. I played 123 instruments – making music on almost everything. I got music out of a revolving bicycle wheel with piano wires stretched across it. I could make anything play.

Sanger’s Circus was started in the 19th century by the charismatic, self styled ‘Lord’ George Sanger and his brother John. They soon went their separate ways, dividing their circus property and setting up their own tented shows.

Jackman said he left Sanger’s “when they had the big fire at Tunbridge Wells.” But he was confused, in fact the fire broke out in the Big Top at Taunton, one hot July afternoon in 1920. About 1,500 people were watching the show when it’s thought a member of the audience dropped a lit match. It set fire to the grass and then the flames spread to the tent. Four people died and many others were badly hurt.

Sangers programme

Jackman had worked as a piano tuner, but by 1937 there was very little demand: “I blame the wireless” declared Jackman. He had also been employed for a while as an inspector at a company making wirelesses. “I can do anything”, he confidently told the reporter, even including television among his many interests.

Jackman had started his ‘mouse circus’ after leaving Sanger’s in 1920. Before settling in Kilburn, he’d often walked to London from Southampton, pushing his box, accompanying the shows by playing a fiddle.

Where did the mice come from? Jackman said his sister in Tunbridge Wells kept his stock of 400 white and brown mice, and when he needed new performers he simply went and got them from her. One free source was now denied him:

In my piano tuning days I frequently discovered mice inside pianos and would capture them and train them.

The reporter asked Jackman why his hair was so long.

Well, so as to be different from anybody else.Colonel Cody (Buffalo Bill) and Barnum had long hair. It makes me look more like a showman.

Jackman never charged for his shows but passed round the hat at performances. His ambition was to buy a large tent and tour the country with his circus:

But the tent would cost £35 and the Mouse Man will have to find silver or many more coppers in his hat before he is able to realise his dreams.

World War II almost certainly put paid to Jackman’s street performances but other than the facts reported in the article, we haven’t been able to find out any more about the man. Does anyone know what had happened to him and his performing mice?

Tom must have mussels at Kilburn’s Black Lion

I’m a bit late with this one but wanted to give an overdue shout-out to the Black Lion in Kilburn. I regularly enthuse about the place before even getting to the food and wine; it’s such an appealing venue to chill out in, worth looking silly taking photos of the ceiling for, or indeed any elements of its charming Grade II listed interior (I’ve just learned that from the website!)

mussels tagliatelle BLK

I tucked into mussels tagliatelle; celery, tomato, white wine, cream and Parmesan merging nicely together to coat very well-judged pasta. Plenty of it, piping hot, proper food. Friends eagerly devoured a Parma ham-wrapped salmon with elegant little lentils shimmering like jewels in a yoghurt-based sauce, and a veg wellington which was apparently really decent; such an encouraging sign when fair attention is given to vegetarian options.

A bit odd not to show sides on the menu, but we were able to order some greens and things; the waiter was entertaining and polite at the same time, ensuring we all had a thoroughly splendid time.

veg wellington boot BLK

Wine was excellent, and our only regret from the evening was not quite being able to manage dessert; full of my favourite things like brownies, crumble (apple and blueberries are on the current menu – sounds lovely), banoffee or key lime pie… And as for the cheeseboard, last time I chose that option, mellowing out on a leather sofa one lazy Sunday afternoon, it proved such a generous portion I didn’t eat again all day… fantastic!

Black Lion Kilburn… I raise a hearty glass of Malbec in your direction – and we’ll see you again soon.

The Navvies are Coming!

Our recent story of a Girls Laundry that was based for a few years in Old West End House, also mentioned the building of the Midland Railway (today’s Thameslink). The engineering work caused immense disruption to the neighbourhood. It changed the face of West Hampstead forever and blighted many people’s lives – we’ve taken a look at how the railway line came to be and the impact the men who built it had on both the local community and the buildings of West Hampstead.

In Dombey and Son (1848), Charles Dickens included a powerful description of the building of the railway line to Euston that cut through Camden Town. Its progress was more destructive than the Midland line but it gives an idea of what the residents experienced.

The first shock of a great earthquake had, just at that period, rent the whole neighbourhood to its centre. Traces of its course were visible on every side. Houses were knocked down; streets broken through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground; enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up. Here, a chaos of carts, overthrown and jumbled together, lay topsy-turvy at the bottom of a steep unnatural hill. Everywhere were temporary wooden houses and enclosures in the most unlikely situations; fragments of unfinished walls and arches, and piles of scaffolding, and wildernesses of bricks, and giant forms of cranes and tripods straddling above nothing. … In short, the yet unfinished and unopened Railroad was in progress.

The Act authorising the Midland line from Bedford to St Pancras was passed in July 1863. The Company began buying land and the track was divided into sections, completed by different contractors. Joseph Firbank was responsible for two sections, around five miles between Kentish Town to West Hampstead (which included the Belsize Tunnel), and on to Hendon.

The line cut a large swathe across Hampstead parish. Along with the excavations came brick making, which was noxious and very smelly. On 27 January 1865, during a snowstorm, the Midland’s deputy chairman laid the first brick on the site of a shaft in the Belsize tunnel. The rails emerged from the tunnel at Finchley Road, where there was a station.

In the early twentieth century the railway created a new entrance to Finchley Road station through an arched entrance and down steps behind a cluster of small shops called Midland Crescent. Some were originally coal company offices where householders could go and order coal, (transported by the railway). In 1990 the shops included a record shop (far left), ‘men’s hair stylist’, café and antique shop (far right). They survived until quite recently behind a hoarding immediately north of the entrance to the O2 shopping centre.

In the early twentieth century the railway created a new entrance to Finchley Road station through an arched entrance and down steps behind a cluster of small shops called Midland Crescent. Some were originally coal company offices where householders could go and order coal, (transported by the railway). In 1990 the shops included a record shop (far left), ‘men’s hair stylist’, café and antique shop (far right). They survived until quite recently behind a hoarding immediately north of the entrance to the O2 shopping centre.

Having passed south of West End village with its cottages and houses centred on West End Green, the line curved northwest under Mill Lane and on to Cricklewood and the Welsh Harp. Extensive sidings were built on either side of West End Lane but there was no local station when the line opened to traffic in 1868. ‘West End’ station was a later addition, opening on 1st Match 1871 in a converted villa on Iverson Road. Access to trains was via a footbridge over the lines. The station was renamed ‘West End and Brondesbury’ on 1st April 1904, but then became ‘West Hampstead’ on 1st September 1905. The new station’s entrance was on West End Lane.

The Midland Railway Company buys local property
Under the Act, the Midland Railway Company was legally required to buy properties that stood close to their line. In West End, there were two recently completed mansions north of the proposed route. John Marrian and William Greenwood were business colleagues and friends. They built their houses on opposite sides of West End Lane; Marrian’s was called Sandwell House and Greenwood’s villa was Canterbury House. The house names recalled the birthplaces of their wives: Louisa Greenwood in Kent and Ann Marrian in Birmingham. A local resident recalled the houses as being ‘in the Italian style of architecture with square towers.’ The two families arrived in 1862 and showed every intention of staying. But when the Midland Railway Act was passed, Marrian and Greenwood were concerned the value of their property would fall. So they took advantage of the fact the Midland was obliged to buy their houses, and left. The properties were subsequently let to a series of tenants.

South of the line, the Midland Railway also bought Old West End House (the mansion used for the Girls Laundry School) and the three villas opposite, on what became Iverson Road. These overlooked the railway cutting and the easternmost villa was eventually converted into the railway station.

Tough men…
It’s almost impossible to visualise today, but the fields on either side of West End Lane, from the Green south to Iverson Road, were more or less on a level until the Midland line was built in a deep cutting. Modern basement excavation has nothing on the hundreds of tons of earth that were shifted by hand. The railway workers were called ‘navvies’, tough, hardworking men who travelled the country, sometimes accompanied by their families. (They were given the name ‘navvy’ earlier in the century when excavating the canals or ‘navigations’ as they were also called).

The muck (the navvy’s word for all the earth and rock) would be removed by wagon; one man could shift 20 tons a day by shovelling over his head into the truck. Where a cutting was concerned, ‘barrow runs’ were created up the steep side of the embankment. ‘Making the running’ was one of the most dangerous jobs a navvy could do and was reserved for the strongest among the workforce. Once it was full of muck, a rope was attached to the barrow and the navvy’s belt, then run up the siding, over a pulley and fastened to a horse. The horse then pulled the man and his barrow to the top of the cutting. A successful run relied on the navvy keeping his footing on the muddy plank and the horse pulling steadily. The return journey was made with the barrow behind the man, with the horse keeping the rope taut as the navvy descended.

Men worked day and night in relays. In 1865 a visitor descended a shaft of the Belsize tunnel. (Some shafts were large enough to accommodate horses, lowered to the tunnel floor to pull wagons). He walked towards a distant light, and after about 80 yards saw a dozen men tearing at the clay, some with pickaxes, others with their bare hands. After 12 feet had been excavated, centre supports were put up and the bricklayers moved in.

Railway building in Camden Town showing the excavation of the deep cutting at Park Village (by John Cooke Bourne, 1836)