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.

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).

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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:

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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).

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

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.


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.

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).

“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.

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.

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?

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)

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

Navvies were rarely welcomed and often encountered great hostility from local residents, as they had a well deserved reputation for drinking and fighting. Of course, not all of them were rowdy, but reports of their anti-social behaviour grabbed press attention.

In 1846 a group of Irish navvies were charged with starting a riot during the building of the ‘Round House’, the large railway turning shed at Chalk Farm. Hundreds of English workers were engaged in bricklaying on the site and hundreds of Irish were working near Euston station, (the contractors employed equal numbers of each nationality). The battle between the English and the Irish began with a trivial incident at the Round House gates when an Irishman was refused entry by the policeman on duty. A fight broke out which escalated quickly, and despite the efforts of the police who were called out from several police stations, it lasted three hours. The fight was vicious and bloody and although nobody was killed, many men were maimed and three were crippled for life. Twenty Irish men (but no Englishmen), were arrested and seventeen were found guilty at the Old Bailey and received sentences ranging from three to nine months imprisonment.

During the building of the Midland line in 1867, Hampstead Vestry (the precursor of the Council) received a complaint that; ‘several persons had recently been stopped or interfered with whilst passing along West End Lane, by men having the appearance of navvies, and that greater protection was required from the Metropolitan Police.’

But so far as West End’s experience was concerned, there are no reports of major disturbances. This wasn’t the case further up the line towards Hendon: in 1867, some 300 to 400 navvies ‘took complete possession of the Upper Welsh Harp (public house) and made themselves complete masters of the place, broke the windows and did immense damage.’

The manpower required to build the railways was immense: in June 1865 the Midland advertised for navvies; 500 to 1000 men were required for the Kentish Town section of the line with ‘good wages paid.’ It was in a contractor’s interest to be selective, he needed men who would work both hard and fast. And the money had to be good, to compensate for the poor working and living conditions.

…in harsh conditions…
In an age before Health and Safety regulations there were many accidents. ‘When making the tunnel, from Finchley Road to Haverstock Hill, a man by the name of Dale was working in a shaft at Fitzjohns Avenue when they cut through the Conduit spring and the water rushed in and he only saved his life by clinging to a beam until he was rescued by some of his fellow workmen.’ (No date).

In January 1866 an inquest returned a verdict of accidental death on Charles Austin, age 52. He died when he fell into an unprotected pit at the railway works near West End. There were four shafts, each 30 feet deep, but only two were covered. Charles had worked all night and when he wanted to go home at 5am, found his way blocked by three railway trucks that needed moving. He wouldn’t wait, took another path and fell into the pit. ‘Between four and five feet of water had collected at the bottom. Great difficulty was experienced in extricating him, and when brought upon the line Dr Brown pronounced life extinct from drowning.’ It was recommended the pits be covered at night; the accident took place in December when it would still have been dark at 5am and Austin didn’t see the edge of the pit in time.

Near West End, the main issues centred on the health and sanitation problems experienced by the navvies, the brick makers and their families, including large numbers of children. One old resident recalled the West Enders were unwelcoming: ‘the villagers would not associate with the navvies and not one would take any of the workmen as a lodger.’ So James Firbank built a number of two-room wooden huts in the fields between Finchley Road and Mill Lane. He was one of the better contractors, but it was inevitable that the accommodation quickly became squalid and insanitary. He charged his workers six shillings a week rent, but it’s not clear if this was per family or per hut. In return they got free coal and furniture.

The following information is taken from the Hampstead Vestry Minutes and shows the appalling living conditions of the navvies.

June 1865
The Hampstead parish surveyor inspected 15 temporary huts inhabited by railway labourers in the lower brickfield west of Finchley Road. He reported the huts stood on the edge of two open sewers, but none of the huts had proper drainage or a water supply. Their inhabitants relied on open privies built alongside the sewers. Firbank agreed to provide more privies, better and covered cess pools.

July 1865
It was reported there was; ‘No special disease as yet’ among the ‘great influx of navvies and artisans which the railway operations had brought into the Parish.’

October 1865
Hampstead’s Medical Officer of Health (MOH) informed Firbank that many of the large number of children living in his huts still needed to be vaccinated.

November 1865
Firbank gave notice to the hut dwellers, forbidding them to take in more than six lodgers, (previously eight had been the limit and in some cases more). As a result more accommodation was needed for his workers. So Firbank ‘fitted up four houses on the West End House estate as room tenements for the workmen, their families, and lodgers.’ (These were the Iverson Road properties previously mentioned). Firbank also agreed with the parish surveyor to improve the paths in front of his huts; ‘with a view to the regulations respecting over-crowding and other matters being strictly carried out, a Police Constable from Scotland Yard had been engaged for this special duty.’

January 1866
Overcrowding was still rife among the hut dwellers and in some cases they operated a ‘hot bed system’ where; ‘relays of men appeared to occupy the beds by day that had been occupied by night.’

June 1866
The MOH appeared overwhelmed in the face of so many problems. He reported that; ‘the crowded and ill constructed huts used by the navvies and brick makers still caused him much alarm, and demanded constant vigilance’ but went on, despairingly, ‘One dreaded to touch the huts of navvies and brick makers, and could only hope that some good angel might keep disease far from their doors.’

The ‘good angel’ did not appear and unfortunately small pox broken out in the huts near Mill Lane. The MOH recommended that the ditches and privies near the huts be disinfected.

…but with kind hearts
A resident recalled the help offered by a local vicar: ‘the navvies had a champion in the Reverend Henry Sharpe.’ He was minister of the Holy Trinity Church in Finchley Road, then working from a temporary mission church in Belsize Lane.

‘Both Mr and Mrs Sharpe would go down in the clayey railway cutting and speak to the men, encouraging them and helping them. A great many would get Mr Sharpe to mind a part of their wages, so that it was impossible for them to spend the whole in drink as some of them did.’

The North Star pub on Finchley Road was their watering hole, by choice in this instance. While some contractors insisted their workers take part of their wages in beer, Firbank gave them water and oatmeal. It didn’t stop them drinking: Firbank recorded that on average, one of his navvies consumed 2 pounds of meat, 2 pounds of bread and 5 quarts of ale every day, while ‘he once knew a man to drink seventeen quarts in an afternoon.’

Rev. Sharpe gave the men tea in his church: ‘some of the navvies would say, look at our dirty clothes, Sir. Mr Sharpe would reply, never mind your clothes, come as you are’. He did however provide some washing facilities before they all sat down to tea. On the spiritual side, Reverend Sharpe took the church to the navvies, preaching to them in the Belsize tunnel, 60 feet underground. ‘The roughest among them would not hear one word spoken against Mr Sharpe, for if anyone attempted to do so, they had to expect a very rough time of it.’

In 1867, Reverend Sharpe was presented with a gift by officials and navvies: ‘a handsome pianoforte (the cost of which was 55 guineas) and a music stool, “as a token of their high regard and esteem for his services as chaplain to the company.” ’

After the line opened
Once the line opened in 1868, the temporary huts and cottages were quickly cleared away and the navvies moved on to other jobs. But the April 1871 census shows the Midland Railway was still using the old mansion and two of the Iverson Road houses as accommodation for railway staff and their families; 45 people in all, with the men working as platelayers, signalmen and porters. The third house had become the railway station which had only been open a month and doubled as home to stationmaster Thomas Beswick and his wife.

The Railway Company soon moved its employees out of the Iverson Road houses and rented them to private tenants and the old mansion was demolished. By 1874, the company had built Midland (Railway) Cottages on Mill Lane, 10 small properties perched high above the railway cutting, to help replace the lost accommodation. The 1881 census shows five families had moved there from Iverson Road. In the 1890s the Company built a further 10 houses, Heysham Terrace on Iverson Road, providing more housing for their employees.

Today, Ellerton, a block of flats, occupies the site of the Mill Lane cottages. The two Iverson Road houses were demolished in the early twentieth century. Heysham Terrace still stands, renumbered as part of Iverson Road. The extensive railway sidings on either side of West End Lane have been redeveloped as housing or retail space and West Hampstead station has been relocated – back in Iverson Road!

West Hampstead’s remarkable women

West Hampstead women

The incomparable Edward Petherbridge has put together a wonderful short film about the women of West Hampstead, focusing on the early part of the 20th century.

It’s well worth watching and has some great old photos and some local history you may not have known… such as the West Hampstead building that was the first physical training college in England.

There’s also mention of Eustace Miles, who we wrote about last year.

Edward’s own website also refers to another West Hampstead woman, the “prominent socialist and feminist”, Dame Margaret Postgate Cole.

Hampstead Cricket Club is 150 not out

Hampstead Cricket Club (HCC) is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2015. There was a charity dinner at Lords on Thursday night, and other events are planned throughout the year both on and off the Lymington Road ground. All have been organised by West Hampstead resident and club chairman, Jim Carter, inbetween filming series six of Downton Abbey!

Hampstead residents have been playing cricket – or forms of the game – for hundreds of years. They used cleared land on the Heath or any other open space for informal games before clubs were established. In August 1802, 11 gentlemen of Highgate challenged 11 gentlemen of Hampstead to a match, for a purse of 500 guineas. This was a huge amount of money, equivalent to about £40,000 today. Highgate won by 54 runs, noting ‘even betting at the start.’ A few weeks earlier, many of the players had been part of a combined Hampstead and Highgate team that played for the same prize money and beat the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club – the governing body of cricket as well as a team) by 112 runs.

The Hampstead Cricket Club that we know today wasn’t the first to use the name. By 1851, there was a club of that name renting a field north of England’s Lane and membership was limited to 60 players. When the land was built on, around 1870, the club closed or amalgamated.

The nearby Eton and Middlesex Cricket Ground was open by 1857. It started close to the northwest slopes of Primrose Hill, but migrated westwards as building crept ever closer. Eventually it covered 16 acres, roughly the western end of the present Elsworthy Road and Wadham Gardens, over towards Avenue Road. As far as we can tell, the St John’s Wood Club that played here became Hampstead Cricket Club. In 1871, the club moved to St Mary’s Fields, open land north of the church of the same name on Abbey Road, and was renamed as the St John’s Wood (Hampstead) Club.

The Club’s new landlords were the Maryon Wilson family, lords of the manor of Hampstead. But when the line of Priory Road was agreed and building plans were made for the land between there and Finchley Road, the club was again forced to leave. They relocated to the present site on Lymington Road in 1877, then described as a cultivated arable field with growing crops of turnips, mangold wurzel, potatoes.

The move to West Hampstead – or West End as it was called then – coincided with the adoption of a new name and colours: the St John’s Wood (Hampstead) Club became the Hampstead Cricket Club. The setting was still rural: no Alvanley Gardens, Lymington Road or Crediton Hill, and sweeping views towards the wooded Hampstead slopes. The approach to the new field was improved into a track of sorts, leading from Finchley Road to the cricket pavilion. The £1,000 moving costs included transporting the original pavilion from the pitch on St Mary’s Fields. It was rebuilt in 1879 and enlarged in 1896.

View from the ground, 1879, looking towards Hampstead

View from the ground, 1879, looking towards Hampstead

In May 1878 it was agreed that,

A cask of beer should be kept on the ground for the benefit of Members only and it was decided to sell temperance drinks at 4d a bottle and to put up a notice in the booth (at the side of the clubhouse) that no beer or spirits were sold on the ground.

With free beer, it’s no wonder HCC was very popular!

Over the years, the managing committee considered many schemes for buying the ground, but while the rent was nominal, the asking price for the freehold was always too high. Crunch time came in 1924 with rising land values. That July, the club was given until December to either purchase the freehold or leave. The landlord wanted £18,000 and the club decided to raise £25,000, to allow for necessary improvements to buildings and grounds. With help from generous donations, the money was eventually found and the freehold purchased.

Many great cricketers played at the HCC, which established itself as an important London club. Hockey was played until 1894 and tennis courts were built alongside the pavilion. Members held regular social events, including an annual black tie dinner and family sports day.

The pavilion about 1902. This was replaced by the current club house in 1927

The pavilion about 1902. This was replaced by the current club house in 1927

The Highest score on record!
On 3 August 1886, a match was played between HCC and the Stoics. At the time, declarations were not allowed and Andrew Ernest Stoddart batted for just over 6 hours, making 485 runs. This was the highest individual score ever recorded at the time – not just at Hampstead, but anywhere ever. His feat was all the more amazing because he’d been playing cards the night before and hadn’t been to bed.

Born in South Shields, the son of a wine merchant and colliery owner who moved to London in the 1870s, Stoddart was a very talented sportsman. He played rugby for England and, after joining the HCC in 1885, played 16 Test matches, captaining England in eight games. He played regularly for HCC until 1902. From the time of his marriage in 1906 to 1911 he lived at 24 Crediton Hill, which backed onto the club ground. After dropping out of the limelight, Stoddart suffered from declining health and financial worries. He committed suicide at his Clifton Hill St John’s Wood home in 1915, a few weeks after his 52nd birthday. His wife Ethel told the inquest her husband had lost a great deal of money (he’d been dealing in stocks and shares before war broke out), and was very depressed. Employed as secretary to Neasden Golf Club and then Queen’s Tennis Club, ill health forced him to resign in 1914 and he had not worked since.

On 3 May 2015, HCC will hold a match against The Stoics and former England captain Andrew Strauss will unveil a new bronze statue of AE Stoddart.

World War One
In 1915 the ‘Hampstead Heavies’ trained with their horses on the HCC grounds. Officially they were called the 138th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, which had been formed in the autumn of 1915, with the Mayor of Hampstead spearheading the campaign to recruit 200 men. On 13 April 1916, the Battery embarked for France, reaching Le Havre after a rough crossing. They travelled by train to Bethune. Equipped with 60-pounder field guns each weighing over 5 tons, conditions in the mud were often appalling for both men and horses. The Heavies served in many of the key battles of World War One and suffered considerable losses. Of the men who landed in France with the original Battery, only one officer and about 30 other ranks had survived when the last round was fired in November 1918.

Charity Matches
For many years matches were played at HCC to raise money for charity. The teams were made up of well known musicians, actors and writers. Many famous stage and film actors took part, such as Owen Nares, who made 39 films between 1914 and 1941. He was a heart throb of his generation. He married the actress Marie Polini and they lived at 29 St John’s Wood Park in the 1930s.

Sir Charles Aubrey Smith, known to film-goers as C. Aubrey Smith, was also an England Test cricketer. He was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the best bowlers to play the game. His oddly curved bowling run-up, earned him the nickname ‘Round the Corner Smith’. When he bowled round the wicket his approach was concealed from the batsman by the umpire until he emerged, leading W.G. Grace to comment ‘it is rather startling when he suddenly appears at the bowling crease.’

As an actor he played officer-and-gentleman roles, and appeared in the first ‘talkies’ version of ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ (1937). In Hollywood, in the 1930s Smith organised English actors into a cricket team, playing matches on a pitch turfed with imported English grass. He attracted fellow expatriates such as David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Nigel Bruce, Leslie Howard and Boris Karloff to the club as well as local American players.

Sir Cedric Hardwicke played in several HCC matches. He made 110 films from 1913 to 1964. One of the great character actors, he was knighted in 1934. He was reputedly George Bernard Shaw’s favourite actor but later Shaw said he was his fifth favourite actor – after the four Marx Brothers!

The comedian Stanley Holloway also played for the actors’ team. He appeared as Alfred P. Doolittle in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ in the West End and Broadway. As a character actor he was in many films such as, ‘Brief Encounter’, ‘Passport to Pimlico’ and ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’. He is particularly remembered for his monologues such as ‘The Lion and Albert’, based on a news item about a boy who was eaten by a lion in the zoo.

The annual charity matches were suspended during the two world wars. But the tradition continues today with an annual match of star guests against the first XI to end the season.

Jim has commissioned an illustrated full-colour 48 page book about HCC, to which we contributed material on its early history, but as the book says, the club is “celebrating the past and building for the future”.

Steve’s Strange moniker from West Hampstead postman

Steve Strange, frontman of 1980s band Visage, has died in Egypt following a heart attack. He was 55 and best known for the Visage hit Fade to Grey.

Local historian Dick Weindling recalls how Strange (real name, Steven Harrington) picked up his unusual name:

“In 1978, Jean-Jacques Burnel the bass player with The Stranglers lived in Tower Mansions, 134-136 West End Lane. He had been with the group since they formed in 1974. Steve Strange had just arrived from Wales where he had previously met JJ Burnel at a Stranglers gig. Steve and Billy Idol squatted in the basement of Tower Mansions. One day the local postman saw Steve and his girlfriend Suzy with their dyed spiky hair and said, ‘You two are an odd looking couple, you’re Mr and Mrs Strange’. They liked the idea and called themselves Steve and Suzy Strange. After playing in several other bands, Steve formed Visage in 1979.”

Help trace Mr Glassup’s class of 1962

A few weeks ago the BBC ran a story about that first democratic camera, the Brownie. The article triggered some readers to send in their own Brownie photos and these included a couple of photos taken by Merryl See Tai in West Hampstead. Merryl’s on a quest to try and identify the people in one of the photos – the 1961/62 class at St Mary’s school on West End Lane taught by the astonishingly well loved Mr Glassup.

Merryl See Tai now lives in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, but at the start of the 1960s, Merryl and his family were in West Hampstead

Our family (parents, older brother and sister) left Trinidad and Tobago in 1959 and travelled to England by boat. I was eight years old at the time and entered primary school. My brother joined the RAF and my sister entered secondary school. The Brownie 127 Model 2, was a gift from my father shortly after we had arrived. I remember keeping it spotlessly clean, practising, without film, to hold it firmly and steadily and to gently squeeze the shutter button rather than pressing it. My mother and I returned to Trinidad and Tobago in 1962.

Merryl See Tai in West Hampstead 1960/61

“I was 10 years old in this picture taken by my sister in 1960/61 in our back garden at 43 West End Lane, West Hampstead, London.”
Merryl See Tai

In 1962, aged 11, Merryl was a pupil at St Mary’s Church of England school. Today, the school is on the corner of Quex Road and West End Lane, but back then it was much further down West End Lane, almost as far as Kilburn High Road, where Teddy’s Nursery is now. The photo below was taken in mid-1962, just before Merryl and his mother returned to Trinidad & Tobago. Merryl is keen to trace as many people as possible in it. He has never seen any of them since.

“I’ve tried off and on over the years to search on the internet for some of the names that I remembered but without success. I did come across some references to Simon but thought that the USA was the wrong place. I would love to get in contact with some of the old classmates to see how they are doing now. The BBC articles have triggered some serious nostalgia.”

St Mary's School Kilburn 1962_labelled_700

Mr Glassup’s class of 1961/62 at St Mary’s Kilburn. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, Merryl has been able to put some names to faces and furnished a little more detail that might jog someone’s memory.

“Simon De Groot lived in the council flats at the corner of West End Lane and Kilburn Place. His friend Lawrence Harris lived in a flat there also. Peter Carter’s father had a greengrocer shop nearby on Belsize Road. Michael Schaeffer’s father was an American pastor and they lived close to the Abbey Road Studios. There was another Michael and his brother Gerald, I think? There were two girls named Louise and another girl whose surname was Turner. There was also Barry Carter and his sister June, and Andy Patel had a taller brother called David.”

The BBC article actually reached Simon de Groot, as well as Sarah “Betsy” McClain, who was two years ahead of Merryl at St Mary’s, and her brother Andrew who was a year younger than Sarah. Sarah recalled the class teacher Mr Glassup very fondly.

“It is very nice for me to share knowing Mr. Glassup with somebody. I wrote to him until he died in about 1980 or 1981. He used to talk in class about his experiences as a prisoner of war. I remember so much. I know that on the last day of school I was devastated that it was over.”

Mr Glassup, class teacher at St Mary's Kilburn in 1962

Mr Glassup, class teacher at St Mary’s Kilburn in 1962

Simon de Groot also extols the virtues of Mr Glassup.

“I look back on Mr. Glassup as the best teacher I ever had. He and his colleagues not only did a terrific job of giving us the basics of the “3 Rs” but they, especially Jim Glassup, somehow made school challenging and fun at the same time. Truly unsung heroes in a lot of ways.”

Can you help? Were you at St Mary’s School in the early 1960s? Do you know any of these people, or are you any of these people? Do please leave a comment below, or alternatively drop us an e-mail and we can pass your details on to Merryl, now 64, pictured below with his wife Margaret.

Merryl See Tai 2015

Conjuring up the past of Belsize Road’s David Devant

David Devant, one of the world’s greatest illusionists, lived at 2 Belsize Road from 1899 to 1911 although his blue plaque is at Number 1 Ornan Mansions on the corner of Haverstock Hill (now called Ornan Court).

David Devant pulling a rabbit from the hat

David Devant pulling a rabbit from the hat

He was born as David Edmonstone Wighton on 22 February 1868, at 4 Boston Terrace, opposite the Boston Arms pub in Junction Road, Holloway, the eldest of James Wighton’s seven children. James, a Scottish artist, painted for the Illustrated London News and other magazines, using the family as models, but he wasn’t well paid and the family struggled. They moved several times around north London. As a boy, David was entranced watching magicians perform and he decided this was what he wanted to do. But before he could realise his ambition, he had to earn a living.

After school David began work as a pageboy for a middle class family in Bartholomew Road, Kentish Town. Aged twelve, he polished shoes and cleaned the house. His next job was selling fruit and chocolate in Euston Station, but he was sacked when he was discovered practising conjuring tricks instead of working. Then he worked as telephone operator in the City and a gas lighting salesman.

All the time he practiced conjuring, spending any spare money on magic books and tricks. When he visited an art gallery and saw a French biblical painting called ‘David devant Goliath’ he thought this would be a good stage name, not realising that ‘devant’ meant ‘in front of’.

In 1883 David was very impressed when he saw the Maskelyne and Cooke’s magic shows at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. He did not know that ten years later he would top the bill there.

He began giving shows at parties and his first public performance was at a bazaar held in a schoolroom in Kentish Town Road. Several professional magicians were in the audience and they were impressed by the young David Devant. Encouraged, he advertised his magic shows and hired a local hall.

One of his best tricks was the Vanishing Lady. He asked two women in the street if they would help him. Surprisingly, they agreed and became his assistants. The trick worked very well: one woman partnered Devant while the other concealed herself in the gallery. When Devant pulled a cloth off the women seated on the stage, she disappeared, only to miraculously ‘re-appear’ in the gallery. But one night it all went badly wrong. When he pulled the cloth away his assistant on stage refused to disappear, but the second woman did her part and appeared in the gallery! Quickly the curtain was brought down. Devant later discovered the two women had fallen out over a box of chocolates sent by an admirer!

David made his music hall debut at the Albert Palace near Battersea Park in 1886. His act went down well with audiences and he began to perform around the country. In his autobiography My Magic Life, he says that in about 1888, in Margate, he met Annie Marion Gosling who used the stage name Marion Melville, and they were married three weeks later. But it seems they just lived together as there’s no record of their marriage until 1904 when their daughter Vida was born. Marion worked as Devant’s assistant.

David Devant's Sylph trick

David Devant’s Sylph trick

In 1891, Devant made his first appearance at the London Palladium and the Oxford Theatre. But he was sacked from the Oxford when he dropped a rabbit during his act. The manager used the mistake as an excuse to get rid of Devant, as he had booked another conjuror. Devant lost six months of work.

In 1893 John Maskelyne asked Devant to appear at the Eygptian Hall. This was his big break and the men later became partners as Masklelyne and Devant. Devant took over the running of the hall and organised tours around the country. He was fascinated by cinematography and bought a projection machine from R.W. Paul, becoming the first independent operator in Britain with shows at the Egyptian Hall and three touring companies. In 1904 the hall closed and they moved to St George’s Hall, Oxford Circus.

Devant devised many original illusions. One of his favourite tricks was the Magic Kettle, which produced any drink the audience chose. In The Artists Dream (1893), a portrait of a young woman comes to life. The woman was his wife Marion Melville. The Sylph has a person floating in mid-air while Devant passes a hoop all the way round to show they’re not being held up by wires. In the Mascot Moth (1905), a woman dressed as a moth appears to dissolve and then disappear as he comes near her with a lighted candle.

Devant became the first President of the Magic Circle when it was formed in 1905. By 1912 he was a world famous illusionist and was chosen to represent magicians at the first Royal Command Performance before King George V in the Palace Theatre. He appeared with his young daughter Vida and Maskelyne’s grandson, Jasper. Devant borrowed a bowler hat from a member of the audience and began producing eggs from it. The eggs were passed to Vida and then to Jasper, but as Devant produced them faster and faster, Jasper started dropped them on the stage, proving they were real. The floor around him quickly became covered in broken eggs and the show was held up as the stage hands cleaned up the mess.

David Devant in 1913 with his daughter Vida and Jasper Maskelyne (from My Magic Life)

David Devant in 1913 with his daughter Vida and Jasper Maskelyne (from My Magic Life)

When he appeared in Manchester in 1919, Devant asked a boy from the audience to come on stage and copy everything that he did. He was puzzled when the boy started shaking a handkerchief he’d been given, until he looked down at his own hand and saw it was shaking. This was the first stage of a nervous palsy which got progressively worse and forced Devant to retire in 1920. He continued to write articles and magic books until 1937, when he was admitted to the Royal Hospital for Incurables in Putney. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and died in October 1941 aged 73. The Times obituary says he was the foremost magician of his time.

In Devant’s time, Belsize Road joined Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage Station was on the corner. Number 2 Belsize Road was a large house behind the station. It was destroyed by a German bomb on 12 November 1940, that killed one of the occupants. Other properties were also damaged. The area was rebuilt in 1956 as the Harben Estate and Belsize Road was slightly re-routed.

T.S.Eliot’s “gloomy” West Hampstead home

T.S. Eliot – arguably the greatest poet of the 20th century – lived for two years in Compayne Gardens.

Local actor and writer Edward Petherbridge has put together a short film, While the Music Lasts, about Eliot’s time in West Hampstead, which is well worth six minutes of your time.

In 1915, Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in Hampstead Registry office and the couple moved in with Vivienne’s parents in Compayne Gardens. “A house Eliot found rather gloomy, with long dark corridors”.

It was during this time that The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was published, although Eliot had written it a few years earlier and – the video claims – the seeds of The Waste Land were sown during his time in West Hampstead.

Edward Petherbridge’s original article is here.

The struggles of West Hampstead’s 19th Century laundry school

West End House was built in the mid-17th Century and was originally the home of the Beckford family. It stood approximately where Rowntree Close is today, opposite the Thameslink station, and has an interesting history, including a four year spell as a philanthropic laundry school.

Don’t confuse this West End House with another building of the same name, which was the home of the Miles family near West End Green. To help distinguish between the two, locals sometimes called the Beckford property Old West End House and the Miles’, New West End House.

West End House, 1865 OS map

West End House, 1865 OS map

The Beckford house was much modified by successive owners and stood on a low hill. In 1842, West End House was described as a three-storey building with nine rooms on the top floor and seven on the floor below, with a balcony. There was a drawing room and a study on the ground floor plus kitchen and servants’ hall – and a water closet. The house came with upwards of 20 acres but by the 1850s it was available to rent with just a small amount of land.

Daniel Whittle Harvey
In 1855 the last tenant to rent the mansion as a home moved in. Daniel Whittle Harvey had been a radical MP who founded The Sunday Times, and now held the prestigious post of Commissioner of the City of London Police. But the neighbourhood was changing and he stayed only a couple of years. After Whittle left, the property’s slow decline began and by June 1857 it stood empty.

The setting of West End House was irreparably damaged by railway building. What we now call the London Overground was originally promoted as the Hampstead Junction Railway in 1853. By 1856, the railway company had purchased five acres of land immediately south of West End House. The Act authorising the Midland Railway’s extension to St Pancras was passed in 1863 and its route lay in a cutting immediately opposite the old mansion. Railway building was very disruptive and unlikely to appeal to most tenants.

The philanthropic brewer

Under these circumstances, landlords looked for alternative rentals, maybe a school or similar concern.

Robert Culling Hanbury

Robert Culling Hanbury (1823-1867) was an extremely wealthy partner in the old brewing firm of Truman, Hanbury and Burton. At one time their brewery in Brick Lane was said to be one of the largest in the world. He helped set up the Reformatory & Refuge Union in 1856, and the following year the Union decided to create the Girls’ Laundry & Training Institution for Young Servants. Then as now, many households sent their laundry away to be done. The Institution was the idea of “some ladies who had considerable experience in the work of female reformation”, so this training was aimed at a specific group.

In November 1857, The Times published an appeal for £500, which was needed to set up the laundry “for the employment of females from the London refuges and reformatories, who are of sufficient age to leave these institutions, but require further training or protection from bad parents.”

The Institution was described as an “industrial home” – not a reformatory or a refuge – it would provide the trainees with “protection, employment and prepare them for future service”. Girls from poor and broken homes could look forward to, at best, marriage and children; and at worst, prostitution. The difficulty in “reclaiming” girls who had “left the path of virtue” was mentioned, as was the fact that there were few opportunities for any woman to earn a regular and living wage. If the girls could be trained, in this case for laundry work, they’d have a skill to offer, “as would enable them to undertake engagements either in families or in washing establishments, or as wives. It is proposed that the girls should be properly cared for, and receive necessary teaching of other descriptions”.

Needlework, housework and plain cooking were also on the curriculum. It was hoped the Institution would gain a reputation such that respectable working men would also send their girls for instruction. As was common for the time, religion and strong moral beliefs pervaded the running of the Institution.

There were regulations governing the selection of girls to be admitted. Nothing was free. A girl certainly couldn’t just turn up and ask to be trained. The Ladies Management Committee, which almost certainly included Mrs Hanbury among its members, vetted the entries. Admission was £10 for each girl, payable quarterly in advance, unless there were special circumstances or she had worked in a laundry before. The intention was for the girls to earn enough to cover their day to day expenses and make the business self-supporting. A few critics raised doubts – at least one recent attempt by another philanthropic organisation to train girls for laundry work had failed.

By January 1858, £268 had been raised and the committee searched for premises. This took some time. It decided West End House was the most suitable “on account of its airy situation, (good for laundry and inmates’ health), distance from surrounding buildings and capability of accommodation in the house”.

A lease was signed, but the rent was higher than the committee had intended paying, at £150 a year. Given the known proximity of the Hampstead Junction Railway and the dirt associated with steam engines, the committee’s decision to rent West End House was questionable, especially as more money had to be spent to create the girls’ accommodation. Then there were the further costs associated with providing laundry facilities and equipment, all this before the business could be launched.

Old West End House, Girls Laundry Training School

Old West End House, Girls Laundry Training School

The Training Institution took possession of West End House on 5th July 1858, and began building the wash house. The first three girls were admitted a week later on the 12th. In January 1859, an article in The Philanthropist described progress so far. The number of girls had risen to just seven, as it was decided not to admit more until all modifications had been completed. The plan had always been to open the enterprise with a few girls who already had laundry experience, get a few clients and then take in trainees. As regards their moral welfare, the girls sometimes attended services held at Christ Church in Hampstead; the Reformatory and Refuge Union had given books for a library and the Bible Society had likewise donated a number of bibles. But the article concluded with the ominous statement that “the sum which was generously contributed last year is entirely exhausted”, spent on fitting up the wash house and furnishing the Institution to receive 40 girls. And as yet, no laundry work had been done; for the past six months the girls had been doing needlework “necessary for the house and laundry”.

There were more appeals for pecuniary aid. In April 1859, Hanbury said he believed the enterprise would “realise very favourable results”. That September, when the laundry business had barely got underway, the entire estate, including the house, was put up for sale. But as the Institution’s lease still had an unexpired term of 28 years to run, it continued working while the land around it was slowly developed.

The greatest care had been taken in selecting a matron who would not only instruct the girls in laundry work but also be responsible for their moral training. Accordingly, the Union advertised for “a person of sound religious principles, influence and tact.” Miss Sarah Woodhams was the matron in January 1859 but by 1861, the laundry was being managed by Susan Beech, a 50-year-old widow born in Islington. Her live-in staff comprised two assistants and a porter. Mrs Beech was in charge of 25 girls, far fewer than the 40 originally intended. Of these, 21 were “under training for laundry services”, and the remainder, “under training for domestic services”. Their ages ranged from 14 to 17.

The laundry folds

A track off West End Lane became Iverson Road, and in 1862 three large houses were being built there. In March that year, the laundry was in trouble with the local authorities over a blocked drain, but the committee blamed the builder working on the land opposite, saying he had diverted the drain. In May, a bazaar was held to raise funds for the Institution but by September 1862 West End House stood empty once again. Matron Beech, her staff and the girls had gone. There is no record of the laundry relocating elsewhere, so almost certainly it had closed. Presumably the business had been unprofitable, which meant that unless expenses and salaries were covered by donations, it couldn’t keep going. Inadequate funding appears to have been a problem from the very start.

The Midland Railway Company bought West End House and the three large houses built opposite, and used them as temporary accommodation for its workers, the navvies who built the line to St Pancras. The mansion was demolished around 1873.

Today’s visitor to Iverson Road will find no trace of West End House or the three Victorian villas. It took 25 years for the site of the mansion and the land round it to be built on and the area has undergone extensive redevelopment in recent years. Two of the villas were demolished around the turn of the 20th Century; the third was adapted for use as the first Midland Railway station and demolished after the station was relocated on West End Lane.

Back in East London, Robert Hanbury was well known for supporting good causes. He had donated £100 of his own money to help establish the West End Laundry. But his wealth couldn’t protect against personal tragedy. In September 1863, two of Robert’s sons, Francis (11), and Herbert (7) contracted scarlet fever and died while on holiday in Eastbourne. Robert’s wife Caroline died just a week later. Press reports of her death give no cause of her death other than to say that it was not scarlet fever and that it followed what one paper called her “unwearying nursing” of her sons. Robert Hanbury married again and died in 1867, after suffering from rheumatic fever for several weeks.

Truman Hanbury and Buxton Brewery in Brick Lane, 1842

Truman Hanbury and Buxton Brewery in Brick Lane, 1842

Teachers are now pupils at former West End Lane school

The London Diocesan Board for Schools has taken over the old St Mary’s School in West End Lane to use as its training centre. Over the years St Mary’s School has occupied four different buildings, all within a short walk of each other.

The West End Lane school site today

The West End Lane school site today

Until the mid 1870s all new churches provided their own day school. The foundation stone for St Mary’s Church in Abbey Road was laid in 1856 in the midst of open fields. When the main building opened in 1862, the neighbouring streets were still being built. Once the money was raised, the church tower and spire were added ten years later.

The first St Mary’s School was established near the corner of Upton Road and Kilburn Priory, backing onto the railway line. Upton Road was the original name given to the stretch of Belsize Road between Abbey Road and Kilburn Priory. The school appears in the 1861 census as St Mary’s District School and on the 1866 OS Map as St Mary’s National School. It occupied rooms that stood behind 1 Upton Road, today’s 195 Belsize Road. The OS Map made the unsubstantiated claim that this had been the site of Kilburn Priory.

The site of the school in 1866 marked in red

The site of the school in 1866 marked in red

Scenery painter Charles Marshall lived at 1 Upton Road from at least 1853 to 1855. He was employed by several theatres, including Drury Lane and Her Majesty’s. He originated and developed transformational scenes and is credited with introducing limelight on the stage. Marshall also exhibited his paintings at the Royal Academy. His studio was the space referred to in the 1859 sales particulars for the property, when specific mention was made of a ‘large school room or studio’ adjoining the house. This was the space occupied by the first St Mary’s School until Spring 1868.

In 1869, £510 was paid for the freehold of an existing ‘incommodious’ school that served St Paul’s Chapel in Kilburn Square. The school stood at the Kilburn end of West End Lane. The old building was demolished and the second St Mary’s School was built on its site by Manley and Rogers, at a cost of £1,648. Until it opened in 1870, pupils were taught in rented rooms in Priory Mews. When the school opened the school mistress originally lived on site: in 1871 it was 24 year old Emma Watson, when the school roll was 162 boys, 70 girls and 80 infants.

Over the years the buildings were extended and improved but the site was very restrictive and finally a new school was opened at the corner of Quex Road and West End Lane in November 1991. Costing £1.75 million, the school was designed by Professor Hans Haenlein and was one of the most modern in the country. The hall is in a central covered courtyard with a slide back roof, the classrooms opening off the hall on three sides. Ex-pupils of the old school include the actor Peter Egan and Fred Housego, the taxi driver, who won Mastermind.

The old building at 2 West End Lane was taken over by ‘Teddies Nursery’ in 2004 for about 100 children. This was one of a chain of nurseries run by BUPA. In 2014 the London Diocesan Board for Schools (LDBS SCITT), took the building to train teachers. It works with more than 70 Church of England schools in London to provide school-based training for students.

“They had no choice”: Kilburn’s Animal War Memorial Dispensary

The recent commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War has focused many people’s thoughts on the service men and women who fought, died and survived the conflict. Ten years ago, attention centered on the millions of animals and birds that served alongside British, Commonwealth and Allied troops in all conflicts during the twentieth century. The memorial to Animals in War in Park Lane was unveiled on 24 November 2004. An inscription reads, ‘They had no choice.’ But Kilburn is home to a much earlier – and more active – memorial to the nation’s service animals.

RSPCA Cambridge Ave NW6

Horses, dogs and donkeys were the most commonly used animals – mainly for transport and haulage, but camels, elephants, pigeons, bullocks, dogs and goats were all pressed into service. They suffered from exposure, lack of food and disease, dying alongside their human companions.

The Park Lane memorial was the fulfilment of an idea that dates as far back as the early 1920s when the RSPCA proposed a memorial for animals that had served in WWI. A committee was set up, funds were raised and the site chosen was Hyde Park corner. In 1925 photographs of the proposed memorial were submitted to Westminster City Council but there the project appears to have stalled.

Instead the RSPCA decided on a more practical commemoration, in the form of the Animal War Memorial Dispensary in Kilburn, where, in the words of a contemporary report, ‘the sick, injured or unwanted animals of poor people could receive, free of charge, the best possible veterinary attention, or a painless death.’

It took many years to find a site for the Animal War Memorial Dispensary. The RSPCA acquired 10 Cambridge Avenue in March 1931 and that May, the freeholders allowed a change of use from a private house to a ‘free dispensary for sick and injured animals.’

The memorial inscription on the Kilburn building is echoed by that in Hyde Park: ‘To all animals who suffered and perished in the Great War knowing nothing of the cause, looking forward to no final victory, filled only with love, faith and loyalty, they endured much and died for us.’

Thirty one sculptors entered the competition for a memorial design for the main facade of the building. Frederick Brook Hitch of Hertford was the winner. The panel over the entrance had to be removable, as the RSPCA only held a lease, not the freehold of Number 10 Cambridge Avenue.

RSPCA plaque on the outside of the Dispensary in Kilburn

RSPCA plaque on the outside of the Dispensary in Kilburn

A local paper recorded the official opening on 10 November 1932, by the Countess of Warwick. But the dispensary had been at work for over a year, during which time 6,000 animals had been treated. The ceremony was preceded by a meeting at St Augustine’s School in Kilburn Park Road, presided over by the Chairman of the RSPCA, Sir Robert Gower.

By the mid 1930s, more than 50,000 animals and birds had received attention at the Dispensary. At the rear of the well-equipped premises were glass fronted kennels and catteries with a loose box for horses. There was accommodation on site for vet and an assistant, providing 24 hour care. In 1936 alone, 9,756 animals passed through the doors.

Plaque side 1 RSPCAThe RSPCA clinic at Cambridge Road is still open. The main door is flanked by two marble memorial panels. They record that 484,143 animals were killed by enemy action, disease or accident and that 725,216 animals were treated by the RSPCA during WW1. We now know the overall mortality figures were far higher, with an estimated 8 million horses dying in WW1.

Plaque side RSPCAThe horse is the animal most often associated with the European conflict. In 1914, the British and German armies had a cavalry force of some 100,000 men, but the development of trench warfare rendered cavalry charges unviable as a military tactic. But horses and mules were still needed to transport materials and supplies and to pull guns and ambulances. The animals also had to be fed, watered and tended. Strong ties developed between horse and rider. The Daily Mail on 31st December 1914, carried an article by a Welsh soldier serving in the Royal Field Artillery. He’d been with his horses for several years before war broke out. He said;

I could talk to them just as I am talking to you. There was not a word I said that they did not understand. And they could answer me – I was never once at a loss to know what they meant. Early in the retreat from Mons, a shell crashed right into the midst of the section with which I was moving. My gun was wrecked. I was ordered to help with another. As I mounted the fresh horse to continue the retreat, I saw my two horses struggling and kicking on the ground to free themselves. I could not go back to them, I tell you it hurt me. Suddenly a French chasseur dashed up to them, cut the traces, and set them at liberty. I was a good way ahead by then, but kept looking at them, and I could tell they saw me. Those horses followed me for four days. We stopped for hardly five minutes and I could not get back to them. There was no work for them but they kept their places in the line liked trained soldiers. They were following me to the very end. Whenever I looked, there they were in the line, watching me so anxiously and sorrowfully as to make me feel guilty of deserting them. Whether they got anything to eat, I do not know. I wonder if they dropped out from sheer exhaustion – I hope to Heaven it was not that. At any rate, one morning when the retreat was all but over, I missed them. I suppose I shall never see them again. That’s the sort of thing that hurts a soldier in war.

During the Gallipoli campaign, horses became so weak they collapsed and died in the mud and shell holes. When the New Zealand Forces were sent home, their horses were divided into three classes. Some mares were kept for breeding purposes; other horses were transferred to the British Army. Of the final group, many were destined to be butchered for meat.

Dead horses in 1918 (image copyright free via the Imperial War Museum)

Dead horses in 1918 (image copyright free via the Imperial War Museum)

Dogs accompanied sentries on patrol, carried messages and worked as scouts, ‘sniffing’ out the enemy ahead. Others acted as medics, sent onto the battlefield equipped with basic supplies that allowed a wounded man to tend to his own injuries. They might also stay with a fatally injured soldier until he died.

Pigeons were very reliable when it came to sending messages. It has been calculated that they had an astonishing 95% success rate getting through to their destination. The Government even issued a special ‘Defence of the Realm Regulation’ to prohibit the shooting of homing pigeons. Offenders were warned they faced six months imprisonment or a £100 fine.

A pigeon named ‘Cher Ami’ was awarded the Croix de Guerre for work in the American sector around Verdun in 1918. On her last mission, Cher Ami was shot but delivered a message that gave the co-ordinates of 194 soldiers cut off behind enemy lines. The men were rescued. Cher Ami recovered and was sent back to the USA where she died in 1919. Her body was put on display at the Smithsonian museum, Washington D.C.

There is newsreel footage of animals in service during WW1; but be warned many of them make for unpleasant viewing.

Did Jack the Ripper live in West Hampstead?

In the summer of 1888 a series of horrific murders was committed in the East End of London. They were attributed to an unknown man who was given the name of Jack The Ripper. Further murders occurred in the area up to 1891.

Last week a new book came out. In Naming Jack The Ripper, author Russell Edwards claims to have identified the killer as Aaron Kosminski, a Polish hairdresser who lived in Whitechapel. Kosminski was one of a long list of suspects, but the police didn’t have enough evidence to charge him. He was committed to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1891 and died in Leavesden Asylum in 1919.

Aaron Kosminski

Aaron Kosminski

In 2007 Russell Edwards bought a blood-stained shawl thought to belong to Catherine Eddowes, one of the Ripper’s victims. He worked with Dr Jari Louhelainen from Liverpool John Moores University, who was senior lecturer in molecular biology and an expert in genetic evidence from historical crime scenes. He obtained DNA from blood stains and semen on the shawl. They found a descendant of Catherine Eddowes and the DNA matched the blood stains. Eventually Edwards tracked down a descendant of Kosminski and they claimed her DNA matched that from the semen. From these results Edwards believes he has identified the murderer as Kosminski. But Ripperologists have raised a number of questions and are not convinced that the case is solved. There are suggestions that there may have been cross-contamination of the shawl.

In 2002 best-selling US crime novelist, Patricia Cornwell published, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. She was convinced that he was the artist Walter Sickert. Cornwell reputedly spent about £2 million trying to prove her case by buying Sickert’s desk and some of his paintings. Her experts compared DNA believed to be Sickert’s with saliva from a few of the 250 letters sent to Scotland Yard at the time of the crimes, but there was no match. However Cornwell claimed a match was found between the DNA from a Ripper letter and two of Sickert’s letters.

So what has all this got to do with West Hampstead? Most of the Ripper letters were postmarked in the East End, but some were from Kilburn, and mentioned Palmerston Road and Finchley Road.

The key is that Sickert, who Cornwell is sure was the Ripper, lived here at the time of the murders.

Walter Sickert 1911

Walter Sickert 1911

Walter Sickert lived at 54 Broadhurst Gardens after his marriage on 10 June 1885 to Ellen Cobden, the daughter of Richard Cobden, the social reformer. They had to wait until the new house was finished and moved in just before Christmas 1885. The marriage was not a happy one and Ellen sued for divorce in 1899. She cited Walter’s desertion in 1896 and adultery in 1898 with ‘an unknown woman at the Midland Grand Hotel in London,’ (the building above St Pancras Station). She alleged further adultery in London and Paris in 1899. Sickert did not defend the case and a decree nisi was issued on 27 July 1899. Sickert’s artistic work, particularly from the music halls, has been increasingly appreciated.

In 1894 the Manchester, Liverpool and Lincolnshire Railway bought a large number of houses on the north side of Broadhurst Gardens including Number 54, to build their line to Marylebone. Today it is covered by the ‘Broadfield’ blocks of flats.

Intriguing as the thought may be that Jack The Ripper lived in West Hampstead, Cornwell’s case for Sickert was dismissed by many Ripperologists. It remains to be seen if Edwards’ claim that Kosminski is the real killer will gain wider acceptance.

Charles Dickens’ brother lived in West Hampstead

Alfred Lamert Dickens, Charles Dickens’ younger brother, was born in Chatham in April 1822, the son of John and Elizabeth Dickens. From February to May 1824 John Dickens was in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison, where he was joined by Elizabeth and the three youngest Dickens children including Alfred. At the time a debtor’s family could move in if they could afford to pay for a private room. Charles Dickens was sent to lodge in Camden Town.

Peter Ackroyd, in his excellent biography of Dickens, says that Alfred was the only one of Dickens’ siblings to make something of himself. Alfred became a civil engineer and during the 1840s, was engaged on the construction of the York, Malton and Scarborough Railway. He also engineered the Malton and Driffield Railway, which opened in 1853 and which eventually was amalgamated into the North Eastern Railway. Charles Dickens knew the village of Malton through his lifelong friendship with solicitor Charles Smithson, who lived there. It seems probable that Dickens helped his brother get his position with the railway companies.

In 1846, Alfred married Yorkshire-born Helen Dobson, who was a minor, at St Andrew’s Holborn. Between 1847 and 1853 they had four children, all born in Malton. Alfred had an office there in the Market Place, and lived at Hillside Cottage, Greengate, Malton and they later moved to Derwent Cottage, Scarborough Road, Norton.

Sketch of Alfred Lamert Dickens

Sketch of Alfred Lamert Dickens

His wife Helen and children were at Derwent Cottage on the night of the 1851 census, when she describes herself as an ‘engineer’s wife’. At the time Alfred was in London, at 34 Keppel Street, the house of a Dr Davey. His mother and father had been lodging there when John died on 31 March after a botched operation, a few days before the census was taken. Alfred had travelled to London to attend his father’s funeral at Highgate Cemetery.

Alfred and his family left Malton and came to live in London after the amalgamation of the railway lines in 1854. The birth of his daughter Augusta in Hampstead and his report on the sanitary conditions in Canning Town both date from 1855.

It’s likely that Alfred stayed in London but the family returned north. He used his civil engineering experience to become a Superintending Inspector appointed to administer the Public Health Act. In addition to the Canning Town report, he appears six times in the London Gazette between 1855 and 1857, where Alfred Lamerte (sic) Dickens is reported as visiting various districts to look at their sewerage, drainage, water supply and other public heath criteria, as preparatory work to establish a Local Board of Health. He visited Mistley and Brentwood in Essex, Bradford, Wheatley in Oxfordshire, Ynyscynhaiarn in Carnarvon and Scarborough in Yorkshire.

We know Alfred was living somewhere in Hampstead in 1855 when his daughter Augusta was born and that he was renting Lawn Cottage on West End Lane in 1859. This was one of a pair of houses on the Lane towards Finchley Road, uphill from West End Green. The whole area at the time was known as West End, not West Hampstead.

Lawn Cottage, 1865

Lawn Cottage, 1865

Lawn Cottage (marked in red on the map) and Fern Cottages were opposite the Cock and Hoop pub.

Children on West End Green, about 1882. Lawn Cottage is in the background on the right

Children on West End Green, about 1882. Lawn Cottage is in the background on the right

Peter Ackroyd says Alfred was working as an engineer in Manchester when he died of pleurisy on 27 July 1860. Alfred left a widow and five children. Charles Dickens provided for them. He confided to a close friend, ‘Day after day I have been scheming and contriving for them, and am still doing so, and have schemed myself into broken rest and low spirits.’

Charles brought Alfred’s family back to London for the funeral at Highgate Cemetery. The probate record shows that Alfred was still living at West End at the time of his death. It seems likely he was visiting Manchester and the fact that he died at a pub and hotel, the ‘Moseley Arms’, seems to corroborate this. He left less than £600, worth about £46,000 today.

A year later, Alfred’s widow Helen and the children were living with Charles Dickens’ widowed mother Elizabeth, at 4 Grafton Terrace in Kentish Town. Charles paid for the house and for Helen to look after his mother, who was suffering from dementia. Dickens wrote in a letter:

My mother, who was also left to me when my father died (I never had anything left to me but relations), is in the strangest state of mind from senile decay; and the impossibility of getting her to understand what is the matter combined with her desire to be got up in sables like a female Hamlet, illumines the dreary scene with a ghastly absurdity that is the chief relief I can find in it.

Elizabeth Dickens died in 1863. In 1871, Helen Dickens was living round the corner from Grafton Terrace in Queen’s Crescent. She died in 1915.

We were very surprised to find Dickens’ brother had lived in West End, if only for a short period of time before his death.

We have just set up a new blog for stories which are based in Kilburn and Willesden.

Wife murdered with a chopper in Kilburn… in 1897

In September 1897 the newspapers reported ‘a shocking tragedy’ at Kilburn. In the early hours of Saturday the 11th, and after an evening spent drinking, James Harris killed his wife Annie and tried to kill his seven-year-old daughter May. He also assaulted his son, 10-year-old William and then attempted suicide. Annie died, but the children survived and Harris was later sentenced to be hanged for his crimes.

Kilburn murder (Illustrated Police News 18 Sept 1897)

James Harris was born in Buckingham around 1864. He came to Kilburn and worked for John Wicks, a local builder who lived in Hawthorn Villa a detached house just north of Kilburn Brewery. Today this would be on the Kilburn High Road close to Dyne Road. Here he met John Wicks’ eldest daughter Annie, or Mary Ann. She was about eight years older than James and when she became pregnant they were married at Holy Trinity Church in Kilburn on 2 June 1879.

James said he was of full age, but in fact he was about 16. They had five children but three died in infancy. The two who survived were William and May, both born in Kilburn. After staying with John Wicks at Hawthorn Villa, they lived at various addresses in the neighbourhood and by 1891 they were all sharing one room at 35 Palmerston Road. By 1897, the family had moved to number 30 and James Harris had then been employed for five years as a platelayer on the nearby Midland Railway. He seemed happy in his work and had an allotment garden by the railway line.

30 Palmerston Road was a three-storey terraced property in a generally respectable working class neighbourhood, but sanitation was poor and most properties were split between several families. Over the years Palmerston Road gained a bad reputation and featured frequently in reports by Hampstead’s Medical Officer. There were many manual workers among the street’s residents: labourers, shop workers and servants, with some employed by local businesses such Kilburn Brewery or working on the buses, as there was a large bus depot in the road. In 1897, three families shared number 30; the Harris family lived at the back of the house in one room on the second floor. The 1901 census shows five households of varying sizes in the property, a total of 20 people.

It seemed that the Harris’s home life had been unhappy and turbulent. In fact, the family’s behaviour was so objectionable that the landlord had given them notice to quit, having received complaints from other tenants in the house. Annie and the children were subjected to beatings by Harris but the violence escalated to another level the night of September 11th.

James Harris’s neighbour George Brown had returned to No. 30 around 10pm and wanted to go to bed but met Annie Harris on the stairs. She said she was scared of her husband, fearing he’d batter her when he returned home. Brown waited up until Harris came in. He judged Harris had been drinking but he certainly wasn’t drunk. When the two men went up to the family’s room, Brown saw ten-year-old Willie but no one else. Annie had hidden herself and May in the toilet on the landing. Willie was sent out for beer by James who seemed upset because there was no food, until Brown pointed to some fish on the table, which William had brought.

After having a drink, James went to ask Annie to come back to their room. When she refused, James took an axe and split the door panel, forcing Annie out of the WC. After another drink he accused Annie of being unfaithful with his brother and punched her in the face. Brown managed – with some difficulty to disarm Harris, who picked up first a chopper, then a wooden mallet and lastly a knife, rushing at Annie, saying he would ‘chop her bloody head off and knock her bloody brains out.’

Brown remembered Harris saying, ‘Annie, between this and five o’clock to-morrow morning I will kill you stone dead.’ ‘Now the light is growing dim, now is the time the deed must be committed.’ As he was restraining Harris, Annie said, ‘George, if he wants to do it, let him do it.’ Harris gradually became calmer and said he’d go to bed, but made no move to do so. Instead, he sat with his feet on a chair and his head in his wife’s lap. Brown stayed until he was certain that Harris was asleep, even waiting outside the door for a while. Then, as he put it, ‘Harris seemed all right, so I went to bed.’ He was woken by a violent knocking at his door around 4.45am. There stood the two Harris children. The little girl’s face was covered with blood but the boy seemed unhurt and he said: ‘Oh, Mr Brown, do come up, father is killing mother and cutting his own throat!’

Brown went to find a policeman, calling up neighbour Mr King on the way. When they rushed upstairs they found the Harris’s door was locked and broke it down. Brown described the scene:

We then saw a fearful sight. The woman was lying in a pool of blood, with her head nearly cut off, and the man was lying across her. His throat was cut in a dreadful manner. Everything in the room had been knocked about, showing there had been a desperate struggle for life on the part of the woman.

Amazingly, Harris was unconscious but still alive.

The children were taken to Hampstead Workhouse at New End where they were visited by a reporter. He was impressed how well they recalled what had happened. William, poorly clothed, neglected and very dirty, proved to be a good witness. But given his young age and upbringing, the following statement shows signs of being edited.

I remember everything that took place on Friday, because my mother had been crying very much, and had been saying to me and my sister that she wished that she was dead, and that she would soon be ‘done for.’ My father, although he said he was a teetotaller, was very far from being so, and although many people thought he had taken nothing intoxicating for five years, they were quite wrong. For a very long time he had been drinking heavily. His treatment of my mother was awful, and time after time – I know I am only a little chap, but so it was – I have been the means of preventing him doing her a serious injury; not by my being able to by my strength to do so, but by begging him not to hurt her.

William said he was particularly scared that night, because his father had taken a chopper to have it sharpened, ‘and it was this with which he finally hit my mother and went for May and me.’

William claimed his father was drunk when he came home. The children tried to sleep as James and Annie kept up their violent and noisy quarrel: ‘Father kept hitting mother and did not leave off, although she cried very much.’ Eventually things got quieter and his mother climbed into bed with her children.

William was woken by a dreadful scream. His father had hit Annie with the chopper and then set about William, hitting him on the back, arm and head.

I think he thought he had settled me, for he turned and hit my sister three terrible blows, and then looking at mother, who was screaming, said, “I’ll do for the lot of you, and you first.” He struck her three times under the ear with the chopper and at last she fell out of bed and lay in front of the fire-place with only her petticoat on her.

Fortunately James had hit his son with the flat side of the blade and the boy was badly bruised but otherwise unhurt. William managed to get past his father, unlock the door, grab his sister and go downstairs for help but on the way he dropped the key. Here William’s story is a little at variance with George Brown. William said that Mr King came upstairs and tussled with his father who was trying to find the key to lock them out.

William’s closing paragraph makes sad reading.

My mother told us, on her last birthday, that she was thirty-four and that she was “tired of her life.” My father was always cruel to us and I and May are all the children that are left out of five that my mother had. But father was always beating us.

The reporter also spoke to May, whose head was heavily bandaged. Clearly in shock, she had blotted out the climax of the night’s horrors as her memories stopped before the attack began. ‘I saw mother wring her hands and say: “It is all over.” After that mother locked me in a cupboard and said, “Do not move, or your father will kill you.” I stopped there for a very long time.’ She said she was released by her brother on Saturday morning.

James Harris was taken before the magistrates on October 16th, accused of having murdered his wife, attempting to murder his daughter and trying to commit suicide (which then was a crime). Harris had inflicted a serious injury to his neck and throat: ‘He presented a pitiable sight, and was so weak and ill that he had to be carried into the court.’ The magistrate was surprised Harris had been discharged from hospital so quickly. Medical opinion was that he would never speak again. Harris was remanded and sent to gaol.

At his second court appearance on November 6th, it was suggested that because Harris still could not speak he could write down his answers, but it transpired he could neither read nor write. The magistrate questioned whether it was actually possible to put Harris on trial, as he was unable to instruct his solicitor, let alone plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’ But on balance he decided to proceed with the evidence. A doctor told the court that James was unlikely to regain his speech but might be able to whisper.

A workmate said James believed his wife was having an affair with his brother George, who had stayed with the family for a few months when he came out of the army. When George Harris said this was untrue, James became very agitated but could not speak. William Young, a stableman, lived in the room next door to the Harris family. He testified that on the night of the September 10/11, he was disturbed by noises from their room. It eventually went quiet around 3am, but he was woken around 4.45am by Mrs Harris yelling, ‘Mr Young, Mr Young, murder!’

As Young bravely opened their door, Willie and May rushed past him. Mrs Harris was sitting on the side of the bed and her husband was searching for something near the coal-box. Young beat a hasty retreat and went to Mr King’s house, a couple of doors away, where he was joined by George Brown and they all went to find a policeman. William also gave evidence, saying he was woken by his father hitting his mother and May with a chopper.

When James Harris appeared at the Old Bailey on November 22nd, the question of his ability to stand trial was again discussed as he couldn’t communicate with his solicitor. The judge asked the jury to decide, adding that if they thought Harris was unfit, to also determine ‘if the incapacity is by reason of his own unlawful act.’ The jury answered ‘yes’ on both counts. Harris was asked if he was guilty or not guilty and shook his head. He also managed to say ‘no’ but this was only audible to someone standing immediately besides him.

The trial was adjourned until January 12th 1898. The picture then painted of James was a positive one – a hardworking teetotaller, a family man. A couple of workmates testified that James had told them he was leaving Kilburn, because his brother and wife were ‘too thick.’ George said his brother James was kind to his children and his wife but again denied any ‘improper intimacy’ with Annie. Several witnesses said James had been teetotal, only ‘giving way to heavy drinking’ shortly before the night in question. It’s hard to balance these opinions with those expressed by young Willie Harris. Could the boy have exaggerated? Maybe James was a hard working man, driven to drink by his belief his wife had an affair with his brother, resulting in weeks rather than years of mistreatment of Annie and his children.

The jury held James Harris responsible for his actions and found him guilty. However, they must have believed the character evidence, as they added a strong recommendation for mercy. Harris was sentenced to death but reprieved a week later: ‘He showed signs of intense relief when the news was conveyed to him that he was not to die.’ He would have been imprisoned or held in an asylum, but no records have surfaced of what happened to him after the trial.

Annie Harris was buried at Hampstead Cemetery on Fortune Green Road on September 18th 1897. During the trial, it was reported that William Harris was a pupil at the Westminster Union Industrial School in St. James’s Road, Tooting. This was a workhouse school and presumably he had been sent there by the Hampstead authorities. In the 1901 census, May – now 11 – is shown as a visitor with George Plant, a stoker at a refuse destructor, and his family in Oldham. George Plant, like James Harris, was born in Buckinghamshire, so he may have been a friend or distantly related.

In just a few moments this horrific murder destroyed a family.

West Hampstead’s tennis world champion (and food fanatic)

As we wait and hope that Andy Murray can repeat his Wimbledon success of last year, few people know that West Hampstead had its very own tennis world champion in the 1890s and 1900s.

New West End House (later called West End Hall) faced West End Lane, near the Green. The house has a long history but we’re concentrating on the Miles family who owned the property for more than 70 years. (The mansion and its grounds were built over from the late 1890s, to create Fawley Road, Honeybourne Road and Crediton Hill).

Publisher John Miles married Ann Chater in 1810; and the couple moved to West End three years later, where they stayed and brought up their eleven children. Eustace Hamilton Miles was their grandson, and was born at West End in 1868.

Eustace Miles

Eustace Miles

He went to Heath Mount school (near Whitestone Pond) and Marlborough College, where he played tennis and squash and was a member of both cricket and football teams. Eustace went to Kings College Cambridge in 1887, gaining a B.A. and M.A.. At Cambridge he began his distinguished career in racquets (an early form of squash), and real tennis, playing against Oxford.

Eustace won an amazing number of English and world titles, including a silver medal at the 1908 Olympics in real tennis.

Real tennis or ‘jeu de paume,’ was a precursor of lawn tennis, and was played in an indoor court. This was the only time the game was included in the Olympics. (For more on real tennis, read Historical Dictionary of Tennis, by J. Grasso (2011)).

Grasso acknowledged Miles to have been one of the best players ever. Eustace was still playing competitively in his 40s and winning tennis matches against far younger players. In 1910 Miles wrote to the Times,

People seem to imagine that after 30 a man is no good. I am in my 42nd year, and am thoroughly fit, I hope. Men ought to be in their prime – at least for strength and endurance and nerve – at 35.

A few years later he said,

Some sports are best given up at an early age. Football would be the first to go, and that when a man is about 25 years of age, racquets should follow. To cricket and tennis, however, I would by no means place any limit.

Eustace’s other great interests were diet, health and, not surprisingly, regular and targeted exercise for adults and children. He became a prolific writer on aids to learning, sport, religion and history as well as dietary regimes with nearly 80 books under his name (or joint authorship); his wife has an additional 20 titles to her credit, largely dealing with the subject of vegetarian food.

Eustace told a reporter that he, ‘loathed and detested’ the word ‘vegetarianism.’

I dismiss that word. It stands for cranks and bewhiskered gentlemen and other undesirable people. My slogan is a “balanced, meatless diet.” I eat vegetables, eggs and cheese like yourself and others, in their right proportion.

He embraced this diet early in his sporting life, ascribing his many successes to his food regime:

He had lost tennis matches from cramp believed to be due to the eating of flesh, and that he has won a racquets match on a glass of hot milk fortified by two teaspoons of mild powder. His habit is to take no breakfast and only a light lunch. At his evening meal he takes salad, Hovis bread, and fruit, with sometimes a cup of tea.

Eustace married Dorothy Beatrice Harriet Killick (known as Hallie) in March 1906 at St Clement Danes church in the Strand, where her father Rev. Richard Henry Killick had been Vicar during the 1860s. When Hallie was struggling with depression after her father’s death in 1903 she was helped by reading Eustace’s book Expression and Depression, and was inspired to write a book about her own experiences. She found Eustace’s address and contacted him: “The friendship grew, and Miss Killick, having been finally converted to Mr Eustace Miles’ methods of diet, decided to adopt vegetarianism and marriage“.

Eustace took his interest in food to the next level, starting The Eustace Miles Restaurant Co Ltd with Miles as managing director. Included among its shareholders were Eustace’s old school and college friend, novelist E. F. Benson, playwright George Bernard Shaw and the headmaster of Eton. The Eustace Miles Restaurant opened its doors at 40 Chandos Street in May 1906.

The aim is not simply to avoid meat and other flesh foods, but it is primarily to select a variety of nourishing and sustaining foods which may take the place of flesh foods as builders of the body.

Miles supported the suffragette movement and the restaurant became a meeting place for and a favourite of Sylvia Pankhurst. Talks were held there and suffragettes released from Holloway Prison were taken to Chandos Street for breakfast. Edith Craig campaigned for Votes for Women from a pitch outside the restaurant.

The restaurant’s windows were dressed with tins and packets of food produced by another of Eustace’s companies or copies of Healthward Ho!, his monthly magazine. The menu included references to ‘N’ ‘N.N’ and ‘F.U’, meaning the dish in question was ‘nourishing’, ‘very nourishing’, or ‘free from uric acid’. A 1914 review was favorable but said some dishes lacked flavour. They may well have tasted bland compared to the rich and highly seasoned food of the period. However, the restaurant prospered during WWI when meatless cookery became common, offering “balanced meals, nourishing and sustaining”.

People poked fun at Eustace and what they viewed as his dietary fads. In 1906, a poem appeared in praise of the mutton chop:

I love it! I love it! Let those who please
Enjoy a diet of nuts and peas;
Let Shaw compose his dramatic scenes
On cabbage, tomatoes and kidney beans
Let Eustace Miles find muscular force
In carrot cutlets with Plasmon sauce,
Or other equally messy slop –
But give me my old fashioned mutton chop.

Plasmon was another Miles’ food product, advertised as 30 times more nutritious than its only ingredient, milk.

The restaurant, ‘where people who look like garden pests eat like garden pests’, merited a wry mention by E.M. Forster in Howards End when Margaret Schlegel says to Mr Wilcox,

Next time you shall come to lunch with me at Mr Eustace Miles’s.
With pleasure.
No, you’d hate it,’ she said, pushing her glass towards him for some more cider. It’s all proteids and body-buildings, and people coming up to you and beg pardon, but you have such a beautiful aura.

Despite expanding into healthfood shops, opening a second restaurant in the Kings Road and a guest house in Carshalton, Eustace’s business empire eventually crumbled. He talked a lot of sense on many subjects but there wasn’t enough support for his food, ideas and books; he’d been “unduly optimistic” said a judge at one of the bankruptcy hearings. Chandos Street closed in December 1933, the victim as Eustace saw it, of “an age of luxury”.

People today would rather spend 5sh on having their hair waved, or on cigarettes, or on entertainment than on good meals. When it comes to spending a mere shilling on healthy food, they prefer a sticky bun and a cup of coffee for five pence and the rest for amusement.

Eustace was declared bankrupt the following January and the restaurant furniture and equipment was auctioned off. Among all the items of cutlery, table linen and kitchen utensils were six pianos!

Eustace and Hallie lived for many years in Ridgmount Gardens, off Tottenham Court Road. After the bankruptcy they moved to Fulham and then south of the river to Battersea. Hallie died in 1947 and Eustace just a few days before Christmas 1948.

An obituary of Eustace Miles said:

He was original, independent and ingenious in all he undertook, and his own entry in Who’s Who, with its reference, among his recreations to “punning, riddle-making and patience” was characteristic.’

When he died he left only £175, which today is worth about £5,250.

Eustace Miles’ sporting achievements
1898-1903: amateur real tennis champion of England
1898-1903: amateur real tennis champion of the world
1900: the first non-American winner of the real tennis US Championship
1900: amateur racquets champion of America
1900: amateur racquets champion of England
1902: amateur racquets champion of England
1902, 1904, 1905 and 1906: amateur racquets champion of the World (doubles)
1905: amateur real tennis champion of the World
1905-1906: amateur real tennis champion of England
1906: amateur racquets champion of the World (singles)
1908: Olympic Silver Medal. He had coached the winner, Jay Gould II, during his stay in America in 1900-2.
1909, 1910: amateur real tennis champion of England

West Hampstead’s astonishing football pedigree

West Hampstead FC 1903

As the World Cup kicks off a continent away, we cast our eyes back to Victorian times – and the little-known fact that West Hampstead and Kilburn played an important role in the Football Association and early football.

There are three parts to this story: Arthur Pember, was the FA’s very first Chairman back in 1863. He lived in Carlton Road, later called Carlton Vale, and he established a team called No Names Kilburn.
Cuthbert Ottaway was the first captain of the England football team and is buried in Paddington Cemetery, off Willesden Lane. And finally, West Hampstead Football Club, which was banned from joining the FA and once had a Scottish “ringers” on its books.

Arthur Pember was born into a wealthy family in 1835 at 4 New Park Road off Brixton Hill. In 1848 the family moved to Clapham Park where Arthur was educated by a governess with his four sisters and his brother George. Arthur became a stock broker and joined his father at Jones Loyd and Co. Arthur was very energetic and as a keen mountaineer, he climbed Mont Blanc and later wrote and lectured about the ascent.

Arthur Pember and His Incredible Moustache

Arthur Pember and His Incredible Moustache

On 13 March 1860, at St Mark’s Church on Hamilton Terrace in St John’s Wood, he married Elizabeth Hoghton, the daughter of a fellow stockbroker who lived at 7 Abbey Road. After their marriage they moved to 26 Carlton Road, Kilburn (later renamed Carlton Vale), close to Elizabeth’s parents. Sadly, following a miscarriage, Elizabeth died in December 1860. Arthur was devastated and moved to 30 Carlton Road where he lived alone apart from three servants. He married his second wife in 1862. Seventeen-year-old Alice Mary Grieve was the daughter of William Royal Grieve, a wealthy wine merchant who lived at 3 Waterloo Cottages on the Kilburn High Road. They had four sons.

About 1863, Arthur formed the No Names Club of Kilburn. The unusual moniker may have been a play on words based on Arthur’s stockbroking background where investors were typically known as “Names”. The team played on fields opposite his home in Carlton Road. These fields later became Paddington Recreation Ground. NN (Kilburn) appears to have continued until 1870. Apart from Pember, the only other NN players we know are CM Tebbut, Lawson and A. Baker.

Football, in various forms, had been played for many years, but there was no agreed version of the rules. In October 1863, a letter in The Times sparked a debate about establishing a universal code. Further letters followed from several public schools, such Eton, Harrow and Rugby, but with no enthusiasm for a single version of the rules.

The first meeting of the Football Association was held at the Freemason’s Tavern, Great Queen’s Street, on the 26 October. Arthur Pember, from No Names Kilburn, was the chairman, and the secretary was Ebenezer Morley from the Barnes club. A series of further meetings were held in November and December 1863. Although the public schools were invited, they didn’t attend. There was considerable debate, with the main point of discussion focussing on whether the ball could be carried or not. Pember and Morley pushed ahead despite opposition from Rugby and other public schools, to say that under the FA rules players could not carry the ball and that hacking and tripping was not allowed. This effectively distinguished football from rugby.

In September 1864, there were 18 teams in the FA, including No Names Kilburn. Very few sides outside London used the FA rules for several years. In 1866 NN Kilburn complained that there were so few clubs adhering to the new code that they were able to play matches only against Crystal Palace and Barnes that year. Arthur Pember was the FA chairman until 1867 when Morley took over.

In 1868 Pember decided to take his family to New York where he worked as a journalist. To obtain material he worked in disguise in the poorer parts of the city. He looked at prostitution and gambling and in 1874 wrote a book about his ‘undercover sleuthing’ adventures. He died in 1886 in North Dakota.

Cuthbert Ottaway was born in Dover in July 1850, the only child of James Ottaway, a surgeon and former mayor of the town. Cuthbert had a privileged upbringing and was educated at Eton and Brasenose College Oxford. He was a very talented all-round sportsman who represented Eton in racquets and in their annual cricket match against Harrow. At Oxford he became the only student who was awarded Blues for football, cricket, racquets, athletics, and real tennis. After Oxford he practiced as a barrister. He played cricket for the Gentleman against the Players and opened the batting with W.G. Grace on many occasions.

Cuthbert Ottaway, England's first football captain

Cuthbert Ottaway, England’s first football captain

Although playing several sports at a very high level, Ottaway gained most fame as a footballer. He led the England team against Scotland in what is now recognised as the first international football match on 30 November 1872. He was again captain in the England vs. Scotland match in 1874. Like many others in the early days of amateur sport, he played for several teams, and took part in three successive FA Cup finals between 1873 and 1875. He was a centre forward and particularly noted for his speed and skill at dribbling.

In 1872 during an England cricket tour of Canada he met and fell in love with 13-year-old Marion Stinson. She was sent to England to finish her education and when she was 17 they were married in Ottawa. They returned to London and lived at 34 Westbourne Place, Eaton Square. But less than a year later, in April 1878, Cuthbert died aged only 27 while Marion was pregnant. The cause of his death is not clear. It was said that he caught a chill after a night’s dancing and died from complications. But diabetes ran in his family and this may have contributed to his susceptibility to respiratory diseases. It is also possible that he had earlier contracted TB. When he died his personal estate was less than £800, worth about £64,000 today.

A memorial for him was erected at Paddington Cemetery in August 2013. The grave is in Section 1F, grave number 5628. There is a website for more information at

Ottaway memorial celebration at Paddington Cemetery (Simon Inglis, August 2013)

Ottaway memorial celebration at Paddington Cemetery (Simon Inglis, August 2013)

The first record of West Hampstead Football Club is an 1895 newspaper report when the team was due to play Wood Green. In 1897, West Hampstead FC joined the Second Division of the London League alongside Fulham and Orient and that season they finished fifth out of ten clubs. The following year, after promotion to the First London Division, they finished eighth of the nine clubs. In 1900/01 they won the Middlesex Cup beating London Caledonians.

The following season – 1901/02 – the team joined the superior Southern League Division Two, and finished fifth out of nine teams. The division included Fulham (the current club), Shepherds Bush, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Wycombe Wanderers.

Problems arose during the 1902 season when Shepherds Bush FC complained about West Hampstead FC. This was a time when there was considerable disagreement betweem those ‘gentlemen’ with sufficient income to play as amateurs and working class players who wanted to be paid.

The FA held a commission of inquiry in January 1903 which concluded that Mr J.C. Christie, Sec. and Treasurer of West Hampstead FC, did not provide the commission with evidence or hand over the books relating to the management of the club, although repeatedly being asked to do so. Because of this he violated the rules of the FA and would not not admitted to membership of the FA, nor to take part in their football or football management until further order.

Five members of the club’s committee were suspended until the end of the 1903/4 season. One of these men, Joseph Comodonico, was a blacksmith who lived in Agamemnon Road and who later worked for the Hampstead Council. The club captain, a W. Denham, was declared a professional and was suspended for one month

Perhaps most bizarrely, the FA said, “The fact of bringing in players under the names of Gray, Craig, Barber, and Reid (whose proper names are believed to be respectively: Graham, Adams, McDonald, and Nesbitt), from Scotland, will be reported to the Scottish FA.” In other words, the club had brought in four ‘ringers’ from Scotland who they paid to play for West Hampstead.

Even though the FA had legalised professionalism as far back as 1885, the London FA was one of the last county associations to deny membership to professional clubs. In 1907 this issue caused a split when they broke away from the FA to form the Amateur Football Association. The AFA continued until 1914 when it rejoined the FA.

West Hampstead FC in 1903

West Hampstead FC in 1903

The photograph shows the team as the winners of the Middlesex Cup and the Hospital Charity Shield, 1902-3. We know that some of team members were the four Westley brothers, who are probably some of the men with moustaches in the photo. These were, Harold Charles Percy Westerly, outside left, Arthur John West Westley, fullback, Francis Joseph Westley, goalkeeper, and Herbert Oscar Westley, no position given. They were the sons of John Westley, of Lee in Kent. He was a cashier to a foreign banker. None of the brothers seem to have lived in West Hampstead. There were six Westley brothers in all, who signed up together for the Boer War. One brother, Gerald was killed.

The man holding the ball is the captain Herbert Kingaby, who was born in August 1880 in London. Kingaby initially worked for a woollen manufacturer. After he played part-time for Clapton Orient he was sold to Aston Villa for £300 in March 1906. Here he was paid the football maximum wage of £4 per week but after two months, Villa were not impressed with his ability. They were unwilling to lose their £300 with a free transfer, so offered to sell him back at half price but there were no takers. His wages were stopped and he was placed on Villa’s retained list which effectively stopped him earning a living in the English League, so he joined Fulham in the Southern League. At the start of the 1910/11 season he re-joined Clapton Orient. That year the FA and the Southern League agreed to mutual recognition of each other’s retain and transfer systems. Villa now disclosed that Kingaby was still on their retained list and demanded £350. This prevented a move to Croydon Common but he eventually joined Peterborough City in 1910 for one season.

In March 1912 Kingaby brought legal proceedings against Villa for preventing him from playing. The Player’s Union funded his legal costs, but his counsel concentrated on Villa’s use of the transfer scheme and made no use of the law on restrictive practices. The suit was dismissed and the Union were almost financially ruined. Kingaby played with Croydon Common from 1913 to 1916, when he seems to have ended his career. He died in 1957 in London.

Wondering where the football ground was? We’re not sure exactly. In October 1896, Hampstead Council agreed to write a letter to the secretary of West Hampstead FC complaining about the excessive noise from supporters at their matches on land near Hampstead Cemetery. This interfered with services taking place at the Cemetery on Saturday afternoons. So at this time they clearly played close to the Cemetery. The Victoria County History says that West Hampstead Football Club had a new ground at Willesden Green in 1898. We haven’t been able to find where this was. A football ground is shown off Cricklewood Lane on the 1912 Ordinance Survey map.

We would like to thank Dil Porter, De Montfort University Leicester, and West Hampstead resident Simon Inglis, the editor of the Played in Britain series, for their help with this story.

John Lewis is 150… but what’s the Kilburn connection?

This year sees the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis shop on Oxford Street. Named after its founder, there’s a local connection as John Lewis built a mansion in Hampstead and his son John Spedan Lewis was living in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, during the 1920s.

John Lewis worked as a draper’s apprentice in Wells, Somerset before borrowing a pound – or a sovereign as it was then called – and coming to London to seek his fortune. He worked as an assistant and then silk buyer and then in 1864 bought 132 Oxford Street, on the corner of Holles Street, the shop where his business blossomed and expanded. In 1906 he bought the Peter Jones store in Sloane Square.

John Spedan Lewis was his eldest son, born in 1885. The name ‘Spedan’ was chosen to commemorate Ann Speed, John junior’s great aunt. The family home was Spedan Tower, a turreted mansion set in three acres at Hampstead, overlooking Branch Hill. John Spedan led a very sheltered childhood with few friends; his father rarely entertained and holidays were generally spent with the family at Weston-super-Mare. Instead of going to university, 19-year-old Spedan entered his father’s business and it was he that began to develop the partnership model, after he realised that the income he, his father and his brother Oswald were receiving far exceeded the total payroll of his father’s staff.

John Spedan Lewis

John Spedan Lewis

John senior wasn’t having any of it and nothing much could be done until 1914, when John Spedan was put in charge of Peter Jones, which was making large losses. His father insisted Spedan spend his working day at Oxford Street, stipulating he could travel to Sloane Square only after 5pm. Losses continued at Peter Jones but when John Lewis insisted his son give up the shop, Spedan refused. Instead he traded his lucrative partnership with his father for an uncertain future, namely complete control of Peter Jones. Despite dire predictions of bankruptcy, Spedan turned the business round and by 1919 he had converted an annual loss of £8,000 into a profit of £20,000, and began plans to introduce his Partnership idea. His financial success prompted reconciliation with his father, who declared, ‘That place is a great credit to the boy – a very great credit!’ In 1923, Spedan rejoined his father in partnership at Oxford Street.

Spedan believed women had an important role to play in business and that year he married Sarah Beatrice Mary Hunter, a graduate of Somerville College, Oxford. She’d joined the company before her marriage and continued to play an important role. Spedan and Sarah moved from 37 Harley House on the Marylebone Road to North Hall in Kilburn (even then, estate agents called it St John’s Wood). They lived there from 1925 until 1930. The large detached property, built in 1861, stood where Mortimer Place now meets Mortimer Crescent. Lewis also owned the house opposite, 6 Mortimer Crescent, which was used as staff quarters.

Spedan Tower plaque

Spedan Tower plaque

John Lewis snr died in June 1928, aged 93. The Hampstead home went to Spedan who sold it. Spedan acquired his brother Oswald’s share in the business and, while he was living in Kilburn, he launched the John Lewis Partnership in April 1929. He transferred the equity capital to trustees on behalf of the employees by means of an interest-free loan of nearly a million pounds, to be gradually repaid out of profits. But he was cautious and until the plan proved sound enough to hand control to those who worked in it, Spedan retained a controlling interest. This meant he could end the experiment any time he wanted. The final handover was delayed by the war until 1950.

There is a short film where John Spedan Lewis outlines his business philosophy:

The extensive grounds surrounding North Hall allowed Spedan Lewis to indulge his life-long love of natural history and wild animals. An ‘owlery’ was built to house his collection of pheasants and owls (managed by a Mr Gander!), as well as various animal enclosures and a kennel run. Spedan Lewis financed expeditions to collect rare species, which he bred in captivity and gave to zoos. In 1927 and 1928, he wrote in the ‘Gazette’, the firm’s house journal:

‘The Birds at North Hall’
I have here a small collection of birds which are, for the most part, rather exceptionally interesting. To see them properly takes about three-quarters of an hour or a little more. The birds can be seen without going through the house, so visitors in this way need not have any fear of causing inconvenience.

Although an appointment was necessary, ‘partners would be very welcome to bring friends, especially children.’

Spedan Lewis also collected wild animals. A colleague described what happened during regular games of tennis at North Hall: “He had a tennis court made with cages at each end in which he kept lynxes. One of those cages was up against the back netting so if you went to pick up your ball, there was a lynx about a foot away.”

In 1929, Lewis moved his family and menagerie from Kilburn to the Leckford estate in Hampshire (today owned by Waitrose). North Hall and 6 Mortimer Crescent (‘the cottage’) were put up for sale by the John Lewis Company in 1932. The details give some idea of the scale of the property.

Very quiet situation: sunny aspect: good garden and first-rate hard tennis court, billiard room, panelled drawing room (patent dancing floor), panelled dining room, fitted library. 7 bed rooms, 3 bath rooms, electric light; central heating; drains all recently put into perfect order; garage for 2 large cars; cottage opposite divided into maisonette for 2 married servants.

Despite the “first rate” tennis court, there was a lack of buyers and the company tried to develop the site. A proposal was made in 1933 to replace the main house with seven smaller ones, and although the authorities were inclined to give permission, instead the house was reported as sold in January of the following year, for just under £3,000, worth about £175,000 today.

Constance Lynn was Spedan Lewis’ secretary and housekeeper from 1928 to 1961. She reminisced about her employer and her punishing work regime.

We used to work in London during the week and go to Leckford, Mr Lewis’s country house, at the weekends, still working. It was a seven-day-a-week job. We were sometimes expected to work until midnight and produce the answer at the breakfast table. Hours and weekends were nothing to Mr Lewis. And holidays were, in his own words, ‘plainly inconvenient’. We didn’t get any rest. Occasionally I was allowed a weekend off and went home. We just grabbed what we could. Really, we gave our whole lives to Mr Lewis. I think it was the pure magic of the man. We could have murdered our boss at times but we had the many perks which most secretaries don’t have, like being taught to ride, taught to drive a car, taken to Switzerland. I shall be ever grateful for the education I got with him.

The Lewis skiing holidays might last a month, but although enthusiastic, Spedan wasn’t very good.

In 1955, John Spedan Lewis retired on his 70th birthday, (a move he later regretted and tried to reverse) and lived at Longstock Park, Hampshire, until his death in 1963.

What was he really like? Undoubtedly a reformer and altruist, Constance Lynn revealed Spedan was also a demanding employer. The preface to ‘Retail Trading’ (1968), a privately published collection of John Spedan’s memoranda, put it even more bluntly:

He was vain and cantankerous … sometimes cruel in the intellectual arrogance with which he treated individuals who were his mental inferiors … he certainly sacrificed his family to his dream of partnership.

For a more balanced view his Times obituary said:

To the last an unrepentant and indeed aggressive individualist, he yet created one of the most distinctive and successful co-partnership organisations. A man of high purpose, unbridled imagination and great courage, he was outspoken but had in many respects the most kindly and generous disposition. He was an all-round sportsman, an omnivorous reader, greatly interested in natural history and music.

Even the John Lewis Gazette acknowledged his views were like salt, “that can either sting or give savour”. It concluded, “His was simply the uncompromising voice of a great individualist.”

In 1941, North Hall was unoccupied and was being used by Hampstead Council as a temporary furniture store when it was badly damaged by a V1 flying bomb. (The same bomb forced George Orwell to vacate his flat across the road, at 10a Mortimer Crescent). The site was subsequently cleared and now forms part of the Mortimer Estate. Spedan Tower in Hampstead was requisitioned by the War Office and in 1947, became home to a number of German scientists undertaking ‘secret research work for Britain.’ The house has been replaced by houses and flats. A Heath & Hampstead Society plaque commemorates John Lewis and John Spedan Lewis near the site of their old home.

“I only meant to stun him” – A 1930s Kilburn murder

On 12 May 1937, the whole country was excited when George VI was crowned King after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII. Two days later at 4.30 am, a taxi driver went to buy petrol at the Lion Service Station at the corner of Greville Road and Kilburn High Road – Today, the site of the garage lies under the block of flats next to the new Kilburn Library.

Site of Lion Gararge, corner of Greville Rd and Kilburn High Road

Site of Lion Gararge, corner of Greville Rd and Kilburn High Road

Entering the office, the taxi driver was horrified to find George Cotton, the night attendant, slumped on the floor with blood streaming from his head. He called a policeman and George was taken to Paddington Hospital. George, who had served in the Royal Army Service Corps in WWI, didn’t regain consciousness, dying the next day and unable to tell anyone what had happened. He had been living with his wife Ethel at 94 Alexandra Road. She sobbed bitterly at the inquest, confirming George was unable speak to her at the hospital.

The police began a major hunt for the murderer, issuing descriptions of three men and a request for information about a blood-stained wheel spanner found at the garage. £16 and 10 shillings had been taken from the till, worth about £850 today. But the trail appeared cold until Allan Gregory walked into West Hampstead Police Station, (then a few doors away from the Railway Hotel on West End Lane).

Allan was interviewed by Detective Inspector Isaac Spash of New Scotland Yard and admitted that he’d killed George Cotton. Spash was a career detective who had joined the Metropolitan Police in 1914 and worked his way up to be the Divisional Inspector at Golders Green.

Allan was a 35-year-old motor mechanic from Maygrove Road who’d needed cash badly. So in the early hours of Saturday night he’d gone to the other end of Kilburn to ask his friend George Cotton if he could lend him some money, as he’d done before. When Allan got to the service station he found George asleep in the chair behind the desk. Allan said:

I watched him for several minutes and he was not disturbed. I thought the till would be full because of Coronation time, the temptation was too great for me and I found a screwdriver and forced the till open. The noise of the drawer snapping open disturbed George and I ducked down so that he would not see me. After waiting until he settled down I picked up a spanner, when George turned and looked at me. I dashed forward and took the money from the till. George started moving again. I got into a panic because I did not want George to see me and I hit him with the spanner. He fell out of the chair onto the floor. I had no intention of killing him; I went there to borrow money. When I hit him I only meant to stun him. I lost my head and slashed out at him, not realising what I was doing. I have known George for a number of years, the last thing I wanted to do was kill or seriously injure him.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the eminent pathologist who conducted the post mortem, said that George Cotton had died from three violent blows to the head with a heavy weapon which had badly smashed his skull. After 20 minutes the jury at the Old Bailey on the 19 July found Gregory not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The eventful life of singer and composer Turner Layton

Turner Layton was a great black singer, pianist and composer, who lived in Aberdare Gardens from the 1930s to 1978.

He was born John Turner Layton Jr. on 2 July 1894 in Washington D.C., the son of a singer, hymn composer and director of music at a local school. In 1915 John married Emma Lee and they had a daughter. John was studying at Howard University dental school when his father died in November 1916. There was no money to continue paying the fees and the family moved to New York. Here John began to sing and play the piano to make a living.

In 1917 he teamed up with Henry Creamer, who wrote the lyrics for the music Layton composed. They achieved success with some of the most popular songs of the day including; ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans’ and ‘After You’ve Gone’ which became a million selling record for Sophie Tucker in 1918.

Layton wrote songs for stars such as Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor and made his own first recording in 1921 for the Black Swan label.

In 1922 he formed a double act with Clarence Johnstone and they achieved considerable success when Layton played piano and they both sang. Layton and Johnstone performed in Harlem and were in demand for society events, including parties held by the Astors and Vanderbilts. They showed a more refined musical technique than most other black artists of the time and when Lord and Lady Mountbatten heard them sing, they suggested Layton and Johnstone should try their luck in England.

Turner Layton (l) and Clarence Johnstone (r) in 1933

Turner Layton (l) and Clarence Johnstone (r) in 1933

In May 1924 they opened at London’s Queen’s Theatre, in the revue ‘Elsie Janis at Home.’ They were an overnight success, partly because Edward, Prince of Wales raved about their performance and engaged them to play for his guests at St James Palace. Soon all of Britain wanted to see Layton and Johnstone. After topping the bill across the country, they decided to stay in England. The duo made more than a 1,000 recordings with sales exceeding 10 million records. Their BBC radio appearances meant they were equally popular at exclusive West End clubs such as the Café de Paris as in music halls such as the Hackney Empire, where they played to full houses. They were also popular in Europe and played in Berlin and Paris.

In the early 1930s, Clarence Johnstone had an affair with a married white woman. Raymonde Sandler was the wife of Albert Sandler, violinist and leader of the orchestra at the Park Lane Hotel. The Sandlers lived at 233 Goldhurst Terrace until they parted in March 1933.

Johnstone had signed a letter for Albert Sandler in May 1932 saying that he would leave Raymonde alone and giving his word that he would not see her again. But Sandler was later given evidence by Johnstone’s chauffeur of the dates when they had met. The public turned against Johnstone after the high profile divorce in 1934, when he was ordered to pay damages of £2,500.

Even though he married Raymonde in December 1935, bookings were cancelled and Layton and Johnstone faced demonstrations outside theatres they were playing.

Layton decided they had to dissolve the partnership and Johnstone was declared bankrupt in 1936. During the hearings it was revealed that between 1928 and 1935 they each had annual earnings of £64,000 worth about £3.5 million today. Johnstone had frittered his money away. In 1931 when his flat at Castelain Mansions, Maida Vale was burgled, it was reported he lost furs, a large diamond pendant, a diamond ring plus a platinum and diamond watch worth more than £6,000. After the divorce case, Johnstone and Raymonde returned to America, but he failed to revive his career and ended up working as a janitor. In 1939 he broke down and spent some time in a sanatorium. Raymonde divorced him and later remarried.

In contrast, Turner Layton continued to both work and tour successfully, from 1936 to the 1950s. He appeared in several films and during WWII he boosted troop morale with concerts and recordings. He retired soon after being the guest on Desert Island Discs in 1956. Layton’s description by a record executive as ‘a cultured fellow and a collector of early Augustus John drawings,’ was echoed by a friend who said he was, ‘a modest, soft spoken, and quiet individual – genteel, polished and cultivated.’

Turner Layton lived at 77 Aberdare Gardens and died at the Royal Free Hospital on 6 February 1978. His daughter A’Lelia Shirley Layton inherited his musical estate and left the copyright and royalties to Great Ormond Street. In the 1993 BBC Radio 4 play ‘After You’ve Gone,’ Layton was played by Clarke Peters and Lenny Henry took the part of Johnstone.

You can hear Layton’s wonderfully smooth tone singing ‘Deep Purple’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’.

“British Schindler” was born in West Hampstead

Nicholas Winton, who was instrumental in getting more than 650 children out of Czechoslovakia right before the outbreak of WW2 was born in West Hampstead. He’s still alive today and many would like to see him be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nicholas Winton with a rescued child courtesy of Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority

Nicholas Winton with a rescued child courtesy of Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority

Nicholas Winton was born Nicholas George Wertheim. His family came from Prussia, (part of the German empire) but by 1871, his grandfather was working as a clerk and living in Manchester. By 1895 he had moved to ‘Stonecroft’, 5 Cleve Road, where the family remained until 1933. His son Rudolf, a bank manager, took over the house in the early 1900s and Nicholas George was born on 19 May 1909. With anti-German sentiment on the rise, the family changed its name to Winton in October 1938. Nicholas lived briefly at 5 Belgrave Road Marylebone and he was at 20 Willow Road Hampstead by 1938.

In December 1938, aged 29, Nicholas Winton was getting ready to go on a skiing holiday in Switzerland when he received a phone call from his friend Martin Blake who said: ‘Cancel your holiday and come with me to Prague. I have a most interesting assignment and I need your help. Don’t bother bringing your skis.’

When Winton arrived in Prague he was asked to help thousands of refugees who were enduring appalling conditions in camps. That October, Hitler had annexed the Sudetenland, a large part of western Czechoslovakia. On the night of November 9th, there were violent Nazi attacks on German and Austrian Jews. This was Kristallnacht, ‘the night of broken glass’. Almost a hundred people were killed and more than 30,000 were put in concentration camps. Winton and many others believed that war was inevitable.

After Kristallnacht, the British Government agreed to support ‘Operation Kindertransport’ to help children at risk. The Refugee Children’s Movement organised extensive fund raising and on 2 December 1938, the operation began in Germany and Austria. Eventually almost 10,000 children were rescued and given shelter with foster parents in Britain. But the scheme didn’t extend to Czechoslovakia.

When Winton was told there was no organisation in Prague to deal with refugee children, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He found that to get an exit permit, each child had to have a family willing to look after them in Britain and £50 (a large sum at the time), had to be deposited with the Home Office. Applications rapidly increased from anxious parents, and Winton who’d started in a small way using a dining table in his Wenceslas Square hotel, had to rent an office.

Leaving two Englishmen to run the Prague end, he returned to London, working by day at the Stock Exchange and devoting evenings to his evacuation plans. He was helped by his mother, his secretary and a few volunteers, who fundraised and found foster homes. But the Government’s response was frustrating, as Winton explained: ‘Officials at the Home Office worked very slowly with the entry visas. We went to them urgently asking for permits, only to be told languidly, “Why rush old boy? Nothing will happen in Europe.” This was a few months before the war broke out. So we forged the Home Office entry permits.’

On 14 March 1939, the first children left Prague by plane for Britain. This was followed by seven more rail transports, the last leaving on 2 August, bringing the total to 669 children. On 1 September, the largest group of 250 children left Prague but on the same day Hitler invaded Poland and all the borders controlled by Germany were closed. Winton said: ‘Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared. None of the 250 children aboard was seen again. We had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain. If the train had been a day earlier, it would have come through. Not a single one of those children was heard of again, which is an awful feeling.’

After the war Winton, who was a very modest man, didn’t tell anyone, not even his wife Grete about his rescue efforts. In 1988 Grete found a scrapbook in their attic with photos and names of the children and Nicholas told her what had happened. Grete shared the story with Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust historian and the wife of Robert Maxwell, the Czech born newspaper magnate. The amazing story appeared in Maxwell’s newspapers and Winton appeared on Esther Rantzen’s ‘That Life’ TV programme and some of the children, now adults, appeared with him.

‘Winton’s children’, as they call themselves, included the film director Karel Reisz who made ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ and Vera Gissing who wrote ‘Pearls of Childhood’ and was a co-author of ‘Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation.’

In 1993 Nicholas Winton was awarded an MBE and in 2002 he was knighted by the Queen for his services to Humanity. Today he lives in Maidenhead where he celebrated his 104th birthday in May 2013. There is a campaign to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Several films have been made about Nicholas Winton and are available on YouTube.

Nicky’s Family 2013 trailer:

That’s Life 1988:

Authors recognised as Ballymore apartment blocks named

It’s been a long time coming, but Ballymore has finally announced the names of its tower blocks, following the competition West Hampstead Life ran back in August.

Only the first five blocks have been named so far and Ballymore hasn’t decided which name will go with which block. I’m told that the two rear blocks (which contain the affordable housing component of the development) will be named in line with the others though they’re still deciding on those names.

Ballymore has chosen authors with local connections as the theme, and the winner of the competition is Ed Fordham, who suggested three of the five names and was, coincidentally, also one of the original agitators for the names to be chosen in this way. All submissions were sent to Ballymore anonymously however.

The first five blocks will be called Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Lessing and Milne.

All five authors lived at one time or another (and for varying lengths of time!) in West Hampstead.

Here come the boys... (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

Here come the boys… (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

And here’s the Nobel prize-winning Doris Lessing in 1975. Lessing died in November last year having lived in West Hampstead for some 25 years.

More than 50 people submitted offical suggestions for the seven blocks with varying degrees of seriousness. More people left comments on the original article (including one who got most of the names that won). I won’t list all the entries, but here are a selection of the thoughtful, amusing and cheeky.

Classical references were popular: Seven wonders of the world, seven against Thebes (niche), and the seven hills of Rome.

Ephesus Adrastus Aventine
Giza Amphiaraus Capitoline
Alexandria Capaneus Esquiline
Babylon Hippomedon Quirinal
Halicarnassus Parthenopeus Palatine
Rhodes Polynices Caelian
Olympus Tydeus Viminal

The developers had said that “Connections” was their keyword in marketing, and some played on the transport links both at home and abroad

Marylebone Marais Paris
St Pancras Vendome Toulouse
Fenchurch Concorde Lyon
Kings Cross Vosges Marseille
Euston Bastille Strasbourg
Paddington Madeleine Avignon
Waterloo Châtelet Grenoble

Famous people loomed large, many living, some dead. Lots of submissions covered broadly similar ground with Dusty Springfield, Gerry Anderson, Emma Thompson, and Dirk Bogarde all featuring prominently. Camila Batmanghelidjh always seemed like a stretch though.

No-one would be surprised that Ballymore didn’t choose trees varieties, the suggestion of a few people (well before the tree dispute earlier this year). However two more unusual “vegetation” suggestions came in the form of English grape varieties and… inevitably… cucumber varieties.

Bacchus Vectina
Huxelrebe Olympian
Ortega Fountain
Seyval Blanc Marketmore
Rondo Corinto
Reichensteiner Kekiri
Madeleine Angevine Wautoma

Some of the odder suggestions came from people who got hung up on there being 7 towers. The seven dwarves (“Hi, I live in Grumpy House”), the seven days of the week, and the seven colours of the rainbow were all suggested twice. We had the last seven monarchs (which gets confusing with two Georges and two Edwards), seven planets and seven (rather than 8) points of the compass.

My favourite “whacky” suggestion though was to name the tower blocks after the Secret Seven: Peter, Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin. Genius.

There were surprisingly few, shall we say, “satirical” entries, though someone did suggest “Totally, Out, Of, Keeping, With, West, Hampstead”. I don’t think that made the shortlist.

Alongside the winner, a genuine special mention to Jamie Murray, who put some serious thought into it and chose names linked to William Beckford. Beckford, whose name will appear on one of the buildings, owned West End House, which stood on the site of the development. Here’s Jamie’s submission in full:

As the towers in the West Hampstead Square development are to be built on the site of the old West End House, surely their names should be selected to commemorate eccentric author William Beckford, “The Sultan of Lansdown Tower”, who grew up there? So “Lansdown” is one obvious suggestion, but what about “Fonthill”, after the abbey Beckford built himself in Wiltshire?

Vathek, the antihero of the gothic novel for which Beckford is best remembered, is probably a bit too gothic, but what about “Carathis”, surely the most memorable character in the book? She’s based on Beckford’s own mother, Maria, who ended her life at West End House. And how about “Istakar”, after the destination of Vathek’s quest? It’s an old name for Persepolis, and has a lovely ring to it.

We ought not to forget “Azemia”, the heroine of one of Beckford’s more satirical works. Finally, while northwest London is already graced with a Mozart estate, we really must remember Beckford’s music tutor somehow: so what about “Amadeus” or “Wolfgang”?

So my suggestions are: Lansdown, Fonthill, Carathis, Istakar, Azemia, Amadeus, Wolfgang.

But the winner is Ed Fordham whose full list was: “AA Milne, George Orwell, Gerry Anderson, Thomas Hardy, Dusty Springfield, Joe Orton, WH Ainsworth”. Well done Ed, a meal for two at The Wet Fish Café awaits.

West Hampstead’s magic shop vanished long ago

I was recently looking in a street directory of 1911 and was surprised to see a conjuring trick manufacturer called Stanyon and Co. at 182 West End Lane. An internet search revealed several books about magic tricks written by Ellis Stanyon. His first book was Conjuring for Amateurs, written in 1897; his later book is available for all to read.

William Ellis Stanyon

William Ellis Stanyon

William Stanyon was born in Husbands Bosworth, a Leicestershire village, in 1870. When he married Catherine Eleanor Fairs in November 1893 in Westminster, he was a clerk living at 57 Bolsover Street in Marylebone.

The Stanyons moved to 76 Solent Road, just off Mill Lane, in about 1900 and in the 1901 census William was listed as a jeweller’s clerk. In his other role as a magician he called himself Professor Ellis Stanyon, of Stanyon’s School of Magic, Solent Road.

Ten years later, the next census showed the couple at the same address with five children aged between four and seventeen. Now William said he was a toy dealer. He’d opened a shop in West End Lane in 1906 at what was then called 9 Lymington Parade but was renumbered as 182 West End Lane the following year. Stanyon kept the shop until 1919 and sold toys, conjuring tricks and foreign stamps. After this date he sold goods by mail order from Solent Road.

Stanyon became interested in magic after seeing a show at his school and reading a book of magic tricks. He became an important professional magician who edited a monthly magazine called Magic, which ran for 177 issues from 1900 to 1920 (pausing for WWI) and contained news and tricks. It was described as “The only paper in the British Empire devoted solely to the interests of Magicians, Jugglers, Hand Shadowists, Ventriloquists, Lightning Cartoonists and Speciality Entertainers.”

The Levitation trick from Stanyon's Magic book

The Levitation trick from Stanyon’s Magic book

Fellow magician Sid Lorraine, who visited Stanyon at his home in Solent Road about 1928, wrote:

My knock on the door was answered by the great man himself. He had a waistcoat and rolled up sleeves and was wearing slippers. A short, somewhat stocky fellow with a friendly smile, he welcomed me, informed me that his family were out for the day and we had the house to ourselves. As an avid reader of his Magic magazines I had dozens of questions, all of which he answered willingly. He did a number of sleights with a billiard ball, most of which completely fooled me, because as I learned later, many of the moves were pantomimed (as he had ditched the ball several minutes earlier).

I queried the safety of his publishing how to do The Devil’s Whisper. This is the effect where you snap your fingers and the result is a loud bang. I had used it in theatres for a couple of years with great success. I had followed the instructions in his booklet very carefully as I believed what he had written about the dangers of using such explosive material. There had been many who had accidents; Mr Paine of the Chicago Magic Company had lost a hand. Stanyon excused himself for a moment left the room and came back with two bottles. He made a cushion pad from a sheet of paper and mixed the two powders using a feather. Then for the next five or ten minutes dipped his finger and thumb in the mixture and walked around the room snapping his fingers, he produced loud revolver-like reports that I was certain would have the neighbours complaining or the police invading. Neither happened. The neighbours were either away at work or accustomed to the Stanyon cacophony.

After this demonstration, Stanyon poured water on the mixed chemicals and then buried them in the back garden. A practice he assured me he had done hundreds of times.

William Ellis Stanyon lived at 76 Solent Road until his death in 1951 when his son Cyril took over The House of Magic business. William was buried at Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road on 6 September. He left £1,927, worth about £50,000 today. His wife Catherine was buried there on 25 April 1963, but today there is no visible headstone.

Number 182 West End Lane no longer exists as separate premises. It became part of The Pine Shop, and is now where the Tesco ATM magically dispenses crisp £10 notes upon entering a secret 4-digit code.

Stanyon’s book, Magic, giving details of hundreds of tricks (spoiler alert!), is available free.

Did Jimi Hendrix owe it all to West Hampstead’s Linda Keith?

Without a Cholmley Gardens resident, Jimi Hendrix might never have made it over to England and global stardom and almost certainly wouldn’t have ended up hitting the ceiling of Klooks Kleek, the club over what is now The Railway.

A new biopic about Hendrix’s pre-fame years, All Is by My Side, has just been released in the US starring André Benjamin (aka André 3000) as Jimi, and Imogen Poots as his West Hampstead girlfriend Linda Keith.

Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years A Slave) said he was inspired to write and direct this film after hearing an obscure instrumental recording by Jimi in 1970 called Send My Love to Linda.

In 1941, Linda’s actor father Alan (who had changed his name from Alexander Kossoff – he was the uncle of Paul Kossoff, the guitarist with Free) married Pearl Rebuck and together with Linda and her brother Brian, the family lived in 81 Cholmley Gardens from 1951 to Alan’s death in 2003.

Linda, who was born in 1946, had a far from conventional life. At 17, she became a model after she was discovered as an assistant at Vogue. Her first photo shoot was modelling hats for a spread in the Observer. She was photographed by David Bailey on numerous fashion shoots. Here she is in Soho in 1967 modelling an Ossie Clark outfit.

Her best friend was Sheila Klein, the daughter of a psychiatrist who lived in Frognal. Sheila was dating and then later married Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ manager. Linda was encouraged by Sheila to talk to the shy Keith Richards at a party and he fell in love with her. Linda said they had a shared interest in blues music.

West Hampstead Life reader Paul Ernest contacted us with his recollections:

Around 1964/65, I briefly dated a very pretty girl called Linda Keith who lived in Cholmley Gardens. She had a gold pendant that said Linda on one side and Keith on the other. She told me she was also dating Keith Richards and he was apparently tickled by the fact that their names were thus intertwined. Our dating came to nothing but I recently read in Keith Richards’ autobiography that she was the love of his life. I also heard that another friend, Neil Winterbottom, was driving her in his Mini for 1964’s midsummer dawn at Stonehenge, but he fell asleep and wrecked his car on a roundabout. Linda was thrown through the windscreen and suffered cuts and bruises. She said that in the hospital Keith Richards lent down and kissed her on the face, showing that she was not ‘a monster’.

Linda travelled with the Stones on their American tours and this was when she saw Hendrix. Arriving a month before the Stones she explored the New York music scene. Linda is interviewed in the documentary, Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’. She said she first saw him in May 1966 at the Cheetah Club in New York:

“I couldn’t believe nobody had picked up on him because he’d obviously been around. He was astonishing – the moods he could bring to music, his charisma, his skill and stage presence. Yet nobody was leaping about with excitement. I couldn’t believe it.”

Linda invited Jimi back to her apartment on 63rd Street where she played him a promotional copy of Hey Joe, a new record by Tim Rose. He was playing with Curtis Knight and the Squires because he didn’t own a guitar having pawned his. Linda lent him a white Fender Stratocaster that belonged to Keith Richards.

Jimi formed his own band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames and Linda invited Sheila and Andrew Oldham to see Jimi but it was not a good evening. “It was a dreadful night,” she said. “Jimi was dishevelled in his playing and the way he looked. Andrew was weird as well. He didn’t want to know.”

Linda believed in Jimi’s unique talent and in August 1966 she invited Chas Chandler to hear Jimi play his regular mid-afternoon set at the Café Wha? Linda said that when Chas heard Jimi play the opening chords of his version of Hey Joe it just blew his mind.

Chas was still touring with The Animals, but then he brought Jimi to London and success. Keith Richards was concerned by Linda’s drug use in New York  (his own was yet to develop), and phoned her father Alan. Linda said, “When he walked into the Café Au Go-Go, I thought, God that looks like my father. He took me by the arm and marched me out.” Back in England her parents made her a ward of court and she had compulsory psychiatric treatment.

The relationship between Linda and Keith Richards had turned sour in the spring of 1966 when her drug habit came between them and she began to use acid and cocaine. Keith and Brian Jones wrote Ruby Tuesday in January 1967 about Linda.

Jimi’s visit to West Hampstead came when he sat in with the John Mayall band at Klooks Kleek on 17th October 1967. During the break, the drummer Keef Hartley remembers talking to a young American guitarist in what passed as the Klooks dressing room. “He was so shy that he did not respond to me. His manager, Chas Chandler, was showing him round the British clubs.”

It was agreed that Jimi could sit in for the second set and borrow Mick Taylor’s guitar. But when he picked it up he accidentally hit the low ceiling. After checking there was no damage to the guitar, Jimi Hendrix played a blistering set holding the right-handed guitar upside down, as he was left-handed. As he played he smiled as his Afro hair style got caught in the low hanging lights of the room.

In 1968, Linda made headlines when she went to an apartment in Chesham Place that Rolling Stone Brian Jones was using because it was close to his recording studios. She phoned a doctor, told him where she was and that she had taken an overdose. The police arrived and found Linda unconscious.

Brian came back to the flat after working all night and not knowing what had happened. He was shattered when the landlord asked the police to remove him. He protested to no avail that he only rented the flat for his chauffeur and had paid six months in advance. Linda recovered remarkably quickly and was released from hospital the next morning.

Linda lost touch with Jimi Hendrix but she said that just before his death he wrote to her saying he had written a new track called, See Me Linda, Hear Me, I’m Playing the Blues.

Linda now lives in New Orleans with her husband, record producer, John Porter. Jimi is currently framed on the wall of The Wet Fish Café.

Jimi Hendrix by Ben Levy

Jimi Hendrix by Ben Levy

Battling Barbara Buttrick and the Kilburn Empire

In the 2012 London Olympics, Nicola Adams won Britain’s first gold medal in women’s boxing. Until recently, however, boxing was not seen as a sport for women. More than 60 years ago, The Kilburn Empire, which was at the southern end of the High Road – where the Marriott Hotel is today, played an important part in this story.

Barbara ButtrickIn February 1949, there were numerous press reports about “battling Barbara Buttrick”, a boxing typist from Hull who was due to fight Bert Saunders in an exhibition match at the Kilburn Empire. The bout was scheduled for March 7th, and she would become Britain’s first professional female boxer. But the fight was opposed by the Variety Artists Federation. Defiantly, Nat Tennens, the licensee of the Kilburn Empire said, “the show goes on”. Barbara’s promoter Micky Wood said, “There are women lion tamers, snake charmers, and trapeze artists. Why should this girl not box? She lives for boxing.”

After continued pressure from the Variety Artists Federation and the British Boxing Board of Control, Tennens wrote to the London County Council saying the match was cancelled and that instead Barbara would now give an exhibition of training, shadow boxing and punch-ball work. Further attempts were made for “Battling Butt” to fight female opponents at other venues in 1950.

She toured the country and Europe on the carnival circuit challenging women to fight. “I liked it,” Barbara said, “You worked hard but it was better than a nine-to-five job.” Born in North Yorkshire in 1930, Barbara, who was only 4’11”, was called The Mighty Atom of the Ring.

She found a new trainer, Len Smith, who she eventually married and they moved to America in 1952. In 1957 Barbara became the first women’s world boxing champion. She was delighted and very proud when, in 2010, the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame added her to its roll of honor – alongside Muhammad Ali.

Watch a 3-minute interview with her from 2013 from Adjust Production – she’s still got some moves! And below, some footage of Barbara in her youth.

Hippopotamus Murray

Oaklands Hall was a large house on West End Lane, near the corner with today’s Hemstal Road, with extensive grounds that ran down the hill to what is now Kingsgate Road. The last occupant of Oaklands was Sir Charles Augustus Murray who retired there in 1872. He was born on the 22nd November 1806, the second son of George Murray, the 5th Earl of Dunmore, an ancient and eminent Scottish family.

Sir Charles Murray

Sir Charles Murray

Charles grew up in Glen Finart, Argyllshire, though the family spent the winter months in London. In 1815 he was sent to Eton to join his elder brother Alexander Edward Murray, later the 6th Earl. Charles made many visits to Hamilton Palace, the home of his uncle the Duke of Hamilton, where he met Walter Scott and William Beckford, some of many writers that he was to meet during his life.

From Eton Charles went to Oxford where he obtained a BA in 1827 and an MA in 1832. Little is known about his college years, but contemporaries remember him as charming, active, strong and a skilled horse rider – he once rode the 120 miles from Oxford to London and back in 16 hours.

In 1834 Murray set sail for America on board the Waverly to investigate his father’s claim to some lands in Virginia. The voyage was a disaster. A gale blew the ship off course and when it sprang a leak, the cargo was thrown overboard and everyone had to take their turn at the pumps. Worse followed as the masts blew down and the ship drifted helplessly until it encountered a second ship, which took a few passengers back to England.

Murray decided to stay on board together with 150 Irish emigrants who waited to see what “the young Scotch Lord” would do. He managed to persuade them back to the pumps when they tried to raid the whisky stores and, after 21 days at sea the ship reached the Azores without loss of life. It took a month to complete repairs and set sail for New York, during which the Irish quarrelled with the Portuguese islanders.

The Waverly took six weeks on a voyage that normally lasted 16 days, with the rations of mouldy biscuits and filthy water running very low. Fourteen weeks after leaving Liverpool, the ship docked at New York to much rejoicing as everyone had assumed it had been lost at sea.

Murray travelled widely in America where he was angered by the slavery he encountered in Virginia. On an expedition up the Hudson River, his companion was the American writer, Fenimore Cooper.

Having recovered from a life-threatening bout of cholera, Murray was having dinner with officers at Fort Leavenworth, the most westerly military outpost of the US Army, when 150 Pawnee Indians arrived suddenly. Though they had never seen white men before, they shook hands, sipped Madeira and smoked cigars. Murray was fascinated and, together with his valet, he returned with the Pawnees to their camp 14 days ride away. There he found around a thousand braves and their families living in 600 lodges, which they packed up to follow the buffalo. Murray spent two months travelling with them, surviving an attack by 200 Cheyennes.

Murray returned to St. Louis and again travelled widely across America. At Niagara he met and fell in love with the 19-year-old Elsie Wadsworth and asked her wealthy father for permission to marry. But her father refused and forbade Elsie to see or communicate with Charles ever again.

Elsie Wadsworth, 1834

Elsie Wadsworth, 1834 by Thomas Sully

By 1836, Murray was back in England and in July 1837, he took up a post at Windsor Castle as Groom in Waiting to Queen Victoria, having driven some American ponies at speed from London to Windsor as a present to the young Queen. From 1838 to 1844 he became Master of the Household and during this time he wrote a best selling romantic novel called ‘The Prairie Bird’. The heroine was based on Elsie with whom he was still deeply in love. (Murray wrote several best sellers and was an amazing linguist, being able to read and write 15 languages).

In 1845 he took up a post in Naples as Secretary to the British Legation, and the following year was sent to Egypt as Consul General. At the time there was a craze for exotic animals and London Zoo asked Murray if he could get a hippopotamus. This would be the first hippo ever seen in England, a great crowd puller and money spinner for the zoo. The Pasha of Egypt arranged for the capture of a young hippo calf on the White Nile, near the island of Obaysch.

Obaysch the Hippo was taken to Cairo where he spent the winter in a special tank, before being transported on the P&O steamship Ripon to England. Hippo mania followed Obaysch’s arrival at London Zoo on May 25 1850, and ten thousand people a day came to see him. Queen Victoria brought her children and wrote about the hippo in her diary. Silver hippo necklaces were sold and the ‘Hippopotamus Polka’ was a big hit.

Obaysch 1852 (Wikicommons)

Obaysch 1852 (Wikicommons)

Obaysch lived at the zoo for 28 years during which time ‘Hippopotamus Murray’, as he became known, visited frequently. Shouting to him in Arabic, the hippo always recognised Murray and replied with loud grunts. Obaysch died in 1878.

By chance, Murray met Elsie Wadsworth in Scotland soon after her father’s death and the couple were married in December 1850. During their honeymoon in Egypt he instructed a servant to inscribe her name into the wall of a temple at Abul Simbel, where it can still be made out today. A year later she gave birth to their son but tragically, she died a week later.

The heartbroken Murray accepted a series of diplomatic appointments all over Europe. In 1861 on a visit to London to see his friend the Pasha of Egypt, he met and married Edythe Fitz-Patrick. In 1866 he was appointed as Minister at Copenhagen where he became friends with yet another writer, Hans Christian Andersen.

Murray bought Oaklands Hall in 1872. He extended the house to accommodate his large collection of books and prints and retired there on a pension of £1,300 a year in 1874. He spent time writing and visiting the health spas of Europe but had no intention of dropping out of public life altogether; fortunately the house was conveniently placed for the centre of town.

Oaklands West End Lane in 1880 (Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre)

Oaklands West End Lane in 1880 (Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre)

Murray added his coat of arms to the Lodge walls facing West End Lane. A minor disagreement with the Vestry over widening of the Lane was resolved but problems arose for Murray when new roads were built north of Oaklands Hall. The level of Hemstal Road was higher than he hoped in relation to his boundary wall. Presumably he was worried about trespassers or overlook and, to add further insult to injury, as his fence bordered the road he later had to contribute to the cost of paving part of it. Murray put Oaklands Hall up for sale, but it took nearly four years to find a buyer.

The Murrays moved to The Grange, Old Windsor, a house they’d built for their son Cecil. Life at Oaklands Hall hadn’t been all bad, as Murray reflected in a letter he wrote to his wife from Baden-Baden, “We had some happy days at Oaklands together”.

In 1883 they took a villa in Cannes, which they used each winter. Murray remained very active and continued travelling, even visiting America again. In 1895 he died suddenly during a trip to Paris. His body was taken for burial at Dunmore. Murray left £308,461, worth an astonishing £30 million today.

After the estate was bought by the United Land Company, Oaklands Hall was pulled down in October 1882. Roads were created, followed by a sale of building plots on 23 March and 16 April 1883 at the Victoria Tavern, on the corner of Kilburn High Road and Willesden Lane. The auction realised more than £24,000, worth more than £2 million today. The houses built on these plots are those that make up the present Hemstal, Dynham, Cotleigh, part of Kingsgate and part of West End Lane.

The Railwayman: Life and times of George Tombs

Old Black Lion (Camden Local History Archive)

Old Black Lion (Camden Local History Archive)

George Tombs was the station master at the Midland Railway station on Iverson Road. When it opened in 1871 the halt was called ‘West End’, the original name for the neighbourhood before ‘West Hampstead’ was adopted.

The station stood roughly where the garden centre and tyre workshops once traded, adapted from one of three large villas built before the railway was constructed. George married Ruth Simpson in 1869 and they had several children. At the outset the couple lived in Marylebone before moving to Bakewell shortly before the 1871 census, when George was working as a Midland Railway porter. He made a significant step up the career ladder when he was promoted to West End’s station master.

The birth of son Harry in 1874 shows the couple still living in Derbyshire but the family moved to West End shortly after. In August 1881, eight year old Harry was killed in a tragic accident. Two Watney’s drays, each drawn by three horses, were delivering beer to the Old Black Lion pub near West End Green. Several boys were playing nearby and a witness said he saw one of them give the driver apples in return for a ride. A few of the boys climbed onto the drays while others ran behind, as the wagons went off at a trot down West End Lane. Harry was swinging on a chain at the back of the first cart when he dropped his school slate. He tried to pick it up but fell onto the road and the wheels of the second dray went over him, crushing his head and stomach.

George Tombs was in his garden when he heard shouting. Poor man, he picked up his son and took him home. Harry died the next morning but not before he’d told his father he could have got out of the way, but had wanted to save his slate, which had a lesson written on it. The driver of the dray, 25 year old Robert Coulsey, was charged at Marylebone Court with causing the death of Harry Tombs.

The inquest jury at the Railway Hotel pub in West End Lane decided it was an accidental death and Cousley was released. In his turn, George Tombs was called to give evidence at inquests investigating railway deaths. In 1895, the decapitated body of 18 year old Arthur Edward Hudson, son of a Hampstead builder, had been found by the Midland tracks. Tombs told the court that the young man had ‘evidently knelt before an advancing train, as there were mud stains on the knees of his trousers. His hands were clasped.’ A verdict of ‘suicide during temporary insanity’ was returned.

The 1891 census shows two of George’s children employed by local industries. 22-year-old Lucy was a ‘wick cutter in a night light factory’: Samuel Clarkes’ pyramid night light factory was just a short walk away on Cricklewood Lane. Leonard, 14, worked as a ‘pianoforte stringer’, probably in Kentish or Camden Town, both centres for piano manufacture. As told by his father, Leonard was also a member of a cricket club who played on Fortune Green. In 1895, George gave evidence at an enquiry to determine the status of the open space. The locals claimed it as common land, a long established venue for games played by West End residents. Tombs said he’d been station master for twenty-one years and had known Fortune Green for thirty five. He used to walk up to the Green, ‘in former years every night during the summer to see the cricket. Quoits and rounders were also played.’

Then living in Sumatra Road, George died in June 1899, his wife Sarah died the following October. The couple are buried at Hampstead Cemetery Fortune Green, in the same grave as three of their sons.

Musicians in West Hampstead and Kilburn – part three

Since publishing two stories last year (part one, ask part two), readers have suggested more musicians who lived in the area. Some stayed only briefly as their career was just beginning and they had young families.

Hank Marvin – Greville Place

Guitarist Hank Marvin was born in Newcastle as Brian Robson Rankin. When he was sixteen he came to London with his school friend Bruce Welsh and in 1958 they joined Cliff Richard’s band The Drifters after meeting their manager at the 2Is coffee bar in Old Compton Street. The band also included drummer Tony Meehan who had grown up in Sidney Boyd Court on West End Lane. After changing their name to The Shadows because of the US group called The Drifters, Cliff and the band achieved considerable success. Hank and his first wife Beryl were married in 1960 and lived in Greville Place about 1962. They had moved to Hendon by January 1963 when he legally changed his name to Hank Brian Marvin.

Ginger Baker – Mowbray Road, Brondesbury

In his autobiography, Hellraiser, Ginger Baker says he lived in Mowbray Road for a short period. He left the house because his wife Liz was pregnant and no children were allowed. At the end of November 1960, he moved to share a basement flat with fellow drummer Phil Seaman (who Ginger called ‘God’), in Ladbroke Grove. In 1966 Ginger formed Cream with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.

Cream was one of the most successful British Supergroups and played their own mix of blues and jazz. In 1966 Eric Clapton was playing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Jack Bruce was in the Manfred Mann band and Ginger Baker was with the Graham Bond Organization (GBO). Because of Graham’s drug problems and erratic behavior, Ginger was effectively running GBO and wanted to form his own group. The three of them met at Ginger’s house, 154 Braemar Avenue, in Neasden to rehearse. The first Cream gig was at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel on 29 July 1966. Then on Sunday 31 July they played at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival and although it poured with rain, Cream caused a sensation. Their manager Robert Stigwood thought they would have a similar appeal as the GBO and had booked them into a number of clubs on the Blues circuit. So two days after their success at Windsor they played their first London gig at Klooks Kleek in West Hampstead on 2 August. They left the small clubs and were soon filling stadiums. (For more information see our book Decca Studios and Klooks Kleek).

Brian Jones – Weech Road

As is well known, Brian was a guitarist in the Rolling Stones. He was born in Cheltenham and came to London at the beginning of 1962 where he met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at Alexis Korner’s blues club in Ealing. Brian’s young girlfriend Pat Andrews arrived in April with their baby son Julian who was born in October 1961 and named after Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, the great American sax player. They had a short stay in a flat in Weech Road, opposite the Hampstead Cemetery, but were asked to leave because of the baby. Then they found a flat in Powis Square and Brian got a job in a civil service clothing store. Pat went to work in a laundry. But in September 1962 she took the baby and left Brian and he moved into the infamous Edith Grove flat with Mick and Keith.

About this time Brian took a job in the sports department of Whiteleys, the large store in Bayswater. The Stones became famous under their manager Andrew Oldham, but a rift developed between Brian and Mick and Keith. Then on the morning of 2 July 1969 Brian aged 27, died under suspicious circumstances in the swimming pool of his home in Cotchford Farm in East Sussex. Three days later the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park and Mick read a tribute to Brian. The Stones went on to become one of the most successful bands in the world.

Rod Mayall­ – Sherriff Road

Rod was the half brother of John Mayall from the second marriage of their father Murray Mayall, a jazz guitarist. Both the brothers became keyboard players in the 1960s. Rod played with several Manchester bands including Ivans Meads. In 1969 he was in the band Flaming Youth with a young Phil Collins. Rod said that he lived in Sherriff Road about 1970/71.

Doris Troy – Cholmley Gardens

Doris was an R&B singer and songwriter who was born in the Bronx and sang in her father’s Pentecostal choir. She sang with many soul singers before she co-wrote and recorded ‘Just One Look’ which reached US Number 10 in 1963. The song has been covered by The Hollies, Linda Ronstadt, and Bryan Ferry. She was a backup singer for James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Cary Simon and Nick Drake. In 1969 she came to England and signed with the Beatles Apple Records and released her first album the following year. Throughout the 70s she worked in England and was known to her fans as ‘Mama Soul’. With her sister she wrote ‘Mama, I Want To Sing’, a musical based on her life which ran in both New York and London – Chaka Khan played her aunt in the London production. She was interviewed at her flat in Cholmley Gardens in 1974. Doris died in her home in Las Vegas in 2004.

Chaka Khan – Hilgrove Road, near the Belsize Road roundabout

Born as Yvette Marie Stevens in Chicago, Chaka Khan has had a singing career since the 70s. Known as the Queen of Funk, she has sold about 200 million records. In 1973 she was the lead singer in the band Rufus and the following year, their record ‘Tell Me Something Good’, reached Number 3 in the US charts. Between 1974 and 1979 with Chaka’s powerful voice they had six platinum selling albums. Her first solo album was in 1978. In 1980 she appeared as the church choir soloist in The Blues Brothers film with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. In a wonderful career Chaka has won 10 Grammy Awards and collaborated with people such as Ry Cooder, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. She has lived in London since the 1980s and was in Hilgrove Road, by the early 90s.

Chaka Khan, 2006, WikiCommons

Chaka Khan, 2006, WikiCommons

Jon Moss – Burrard Road

Drummer Jon Moss was born in the Clapham Jewish Boys Home and was adopted when he was six months old by the Moss family in Hampstead. He went to Highgate School from 1970 to 1975. He had several jobs after leaving school, including working in his father’s clothing store, and as a tape operator at Marquee Studios. In 1976, after meeting Joe Strummer in Camden Town, he tried out as a drummer with the Clash. But this did not work and he joined Riff Regan in a band called London. After an injury in a car crash on New Year’s Eve 1977, Jon joined The Dammed. In 1981 he and Boy George formed Culture Club and achieved considerable success. Since then Jon has played in many other bands. In 1977 he was living in a flat in Burrard Road which he said was terrible; with no heating and no hot water and an electric meter. There was another local connection when he held his wedding reception in the wine bar on the corner of Aldred Road and Mill Lane.

Miles Tredinnick – 94 Fortune Green Road and Shootup Hill.
Steve Voice – Crediton Hill

Miles was a musician who called himself Riff Reagan in the 70s. In 1976 he put an advert in the Melody Maker for a drummer, which was answered by Jon Moss who had briefly been in The Clash. Jon came to Miles’ flat in Fortune Green Road in his father’s gold Rolls Royce and Miles thought it was a windup at first. With Steve Voice, who lived in Crediton Hill, they formed the punk band London. They rehearsed in a lockup garage just off the Kilburn High Road. Managed by Simon Napier-Bell, they played at the Marquee and toured with The Stranglers. The band broke up and Miles went on to be a writer of stage plays and scripts for Frankie Howerd. In the 80s he moved to Shootup Hill.

Steve Voice became a successful record producer. In 1985 he married Liza Rosen who had been Billy Fury’s lover for 14 years until he suddenly died in their St John’s Wood home in 1983. Liza and Steve had famous friends such as Paul and Linda McCartney and Morrissey sang at their wedding. But after eight years of marriage Steve, using large amounts of cocaine, became very violent and beat Liza up. They were divorced in 2000 and he died in America in 2003.

Charlie Dore – 3 Lymington Mansions

Chalie Dore is a singer, songwriter and actress who appeared in The Ploughman’s Lunch (1983). Her biggest hit was the 1980 ‘Pilot of the Airwaves’ which received considerable airplay in the US and reached Number 13. It was also the last record to be played on 5 November 1990 by Radio Caroline as an offshore radio station. Her songs have been recorded by Tina Turner, George Harrison and Celine Dion. Charlie lived in Lymington Mansions from 1978 to 1984.

Natalie and Nicole Appleton – Cheshunt House, Mortimer Estate, Kilburn
Melanie Blatt – Priory Road

Mel Blatt and Shazney Lewis formed the group All Saints in 1993.  After Simone Rainford left the group the Appleton sisters joined in 1996. Nic and Nat were two of the four daughters of Ken and Mary Appleton who had moved to Canada in the mid-1960s. About 1980, when Nat was seven and Nic was five, their parents split up and Ken returned to London with Nic and older daughter Lorri, while Nat and Lee the eldest child, stayed in Toronto with their mother. Eventually, the family reunited and the girls were brought up in Canada, New York and London. About 1981 they lived in Cheshunt House in Kilburn. Nic and Nat attended the newly opened Sylvia Young Stage School where Melanie Blatt became a friend of Nat’s.

All Saints, who were named after the road near the ZTT studio, had their biggest worldwide hit with ‘Never Ever’ which was Number 1 in the UK charts in January 1998. They became one of the most successful groups of the 1990s with sales of over ten million records, including nine top ten singles and platinum and gold albums. The group broke up in 2001 but reformed in 2006 to record a third studio album. However they did not tour as a group and each went on to have solo careers.

Nicole was married to singer Liam Gallagher and they lived in Hampstead. They split up in 2013. Natalie is married to Liam Howlett, the bass player with The Prodigy. Melanie Blatt had a daughter with Stuart Zender who had been a bass player with Jamioroquai. Mel and Stuart spilt up in 2006. She recently lived in Priory Road.

Roisin Murphy – 40 Brondesbury Villas

Roisin is a singer songwriter from Ireland. In 1994 she became part of the duo Moloko with her then boyfriend Mark Brydon and they released their first album in 1995. ‘The Time is Now’ was their most successful single reaching Number 2 in the 2000 UK charts. After they broke up Roisin continued with a successful solo career. She was living in Brondesbury Villas until recently.

Nick McCabe, Simon Jones, Peter Salisbury and Simon Tong – Brondesbury Villas

Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe, Simon Jones, and Peter Salisbury formed The Verve in 1989 in Wigan. Guitarist and keyboard player Simon Tong joined them later. At one time all the band, apart from Richard Ashcroft, lived in Brondesbury Villas. Their single ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ became a world wide hit in 1997. The band recorded four albums between 1993 and 2008 and broke up and reformed several times.

Thanks to ‘PostmanNW6’, John McCooke, Rod Mayall, Frida Siton, Jeff Banister, Paul Stone and Keith Moffitt for additional information.

The Kilburn Thunderbolt

On Thursday night 5 July 1877, a huge storm burst over London. Just after eight o’clock, people in Kilburn saw a vivid flash of lightning and heard a loud burst of thunder, this was followed by a second and then a third. After the third peal of thunder, a ball of fire struck Bridge Street at the bottom of Kilburn on the Willesden side of the High Road. (This street has now been demolished). Residents said, ‘the terrific crash sounded like the discharge of one of Krupp’s guns or the Woolwich Infant’. This is a reference to the 35-ton Armstrong, the most powerful gun in the world, made at the Arsenal in 1870 for HMS Devastation.

For some seconds, the whole area seemed to be enveloped with flame; people screamed and some fainted with shock. The telegraph wire running from Mr Carpenter’s post office and shop in Manor Terrace to Kilburn Park Road was completely fused. Molten liquid poured down and instantly coagulated into lumps of clinker on the ground. Choking, thick, bluish-yellow smoke filled the air. A little girl called Elizabeth Frost, who lived at 6 Bridge Street, had her hair severely burnt. The volume of the clinkers which ranged from the size of a walnut to a man’s hand, was thought to have been about two bushels (equivalent to 16 gallons). Some of these were shown on display in the offices of the Kilburn Times in Carlton Road.

43 Kilburn High Road - what was part of Manor Terrace

43 Kilburn High Road – what was part of Manor Terrace

Despite the sudden violence and shock, surprisingly little damage was done to people or property – just a few windows were broken in Mr Brown’s, an undertaker in Oxford Road.

In 1888 George Symonds, a leading scientist, read a paper at the Royal Meteorological Society called ‘The Non-Existence of Thunderbolts’. As you can tell from the title, he argued that thunderbolts did not exist. He noted various examples, and used the Kilburn incident as his main argument that material did not fall from the sky during thunderstorms, which were just electrical discharges. He said that the clinkers in Kilburn were from the fused telegraph wire. The nature of thunderbolts has been a controversial issue for many years: but the Kilburn fire could have been caused by ball lightning.

They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but on 14 July, l810 the Watford coach was hit by a ball of fire as it passed the Kilburn Wells. The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that a woman passenger was hurt and the ring on her finger was melted.

A clipping has emerged (via @Tetramesh) from New Zealand’s Taranaki Herald, describing the incident (via the National Library of New Zealand’s archive)


Iverson Road in 1940

This morning I was sent a scan of an unfinished drawing of Iverson Road. It was found in the Kilburn High Road offices of MP Moran – the plumbing supplies merchant – and on the back it reads “18th March 1940. Unfinished due to police interference.”

This was of course less than a year into the war, but before the first bomb fell in the area (that happened in August 1940).

The viewpoint is from west of the railway bridge looking back towards West Hampstead. The land to the left where the truck is parked is MP Moran’s West Hampstead yard, which may explain why the drawing found its way into the company’s Kilburn High Road office.

If anyone knows any more about this, or can shed light on the signature bottom-right, do please let me know. I shall try and pop out tomorrow and take a photo of what the site looks like today – or you can look at the Google Street View image.

Making Music in West Hampstead and Kilburn

Our next book, ‘Decca Studios and Klooks Kleek’ will be published by The History Press in November 2013. This is the first history of Decca Studios, which were in Broadhurst Gardens from 1937 to 1980 and where thousands of well-known recordings were made. From 1961 until it closed in 1970, Klooks Kleek was the famous jazz and blues club run by Dick Jordan and Geoff Williams on the first floor of the Railway Hotel, next to the Decca Studios.

This blog is the first of two stories about music in West Hampstead and Kilburn. The area has a surprisingly rich history of music. The first instalment looks at music production and the recording studios and record companies who operated here. The second, to be published later, will cover the many musicians who lived there.

The Crystalate Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company
Crystalate took over West Hampstead Town Hall in Broadhurst Gardens in 1928 and moved their recording studio there. That year the Crystalate Manufacturing Company appears at 165 Broadhurst Gardens for the first time in the phone book. Today the building is used by English National Opera.

In August 1901 the Crystalate Company was founded at Golden Green (note, not Golders Green), Haddow, near Tunbridge in Kent , by a partnership of a London and an American firm. The British company had begun by introducing colours into minerals and making imitation ivory. The American company which had made billiard balls and poker chips started making gramophone records from shellac. In July 1901 the American George Henry Burt, applied for a trademark on the word ‘Crystalate’ for all their plastic products. The secret formula to make Crystalate substances was kept in a sealed iron box which required two keys to open it. Burt had one and Percy Warnford-Davis, the English director, had the other. It is said that Crystalate made the first records to be pressed in England in 1901/2; but there is no direct evidence of this apart from the 1922 recollections of Charles Davis, the works manager.

In 1926 they moved their office and recording studio from 63 Farrington Road to Number 69 which was named ‘Imperial House’ after one of their record labels. In 1929 they moved again to 60-62 City Road which they called ‘Crystalate House’. T he company made records for some of the very early labels such as Zonophone, Berliner and Imperial. Crystalate also produced large numbers of records for Woolworths under various budget labels, including Victory and Rex. At first they cost a shilling which represented very good value for the enormously popular artists of the day such as Gracie Fields, Larry Adler, Billy Cotton and Sandy Powell. Also on the label were American stars: Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, and Cab Calloway.

During the Depression many of the record companies ran into financial trouble and they were bought up by either EMI or Decca. In March 1937 the record side of Crystalate was sold to Decca for £200,000, or about £10 million today. The Crystalate engineers were very relieved when they found out Decca had decided to close their existing studio in Upper Thames Street and move to Broadhurst Gardens.

Decca Studios, today used by English National Opera

Decca Studios, today used by English National Opera

Decca Studios
The Decca studios were in Broadhurst Gardens from 1937 to 1981 and our new book will provide a detailed history. Stars such as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Billy Fury and the Moody Blues were recorded here. On 1st January 1962 the Beatles auditioned at the studios, but after travelling down from Liverpool in a van, they’d gone out to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and their playing did not impress Decca. Other labels also turned them down until EMI Parlophone, Decca’s great rival, signed them in June 1962. The Beatles first single, ‘Love Me Do’ was released on 5 October 1962 and peaked at Number 17 in the charts.

Gus Dudgeon, engineer and producer Lymington Mansions and Kings Gardens, West End Lane
When he left school Gus (Angus) had several short-term jobs before he got a job as the tea boy and junior assistant at Olympic Studios near Baker Street. He was ‘blown away’ by the power of the studio speakers with their tremendous bass and treble ranges. Desperate to play with the controls he said ‘I was terrified at the idea of ever getting onto the recording console.’ But he managed to get a job as an engineer at Decca Studios in 1962. At the time Gus was sharing a flat at 2 Lymington Mansions in West Hampstead where he stayed until 1965. The blues singer Long John Baldry slept on a bed in the hallway.

During his five and a half years at Decca Studios, Dudgeon engineered the Zombies’ hit ‘She’s Not There’ (1964) and the celebrated John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (1965), known as the Beano album from the cover, where Eric is pictured reading a copy of the comic. Early sessions included recordings for Marianne Faithfull with producer Andrew Loog Oldham and session guitarists Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, later of Led Zeppelin.

His first co-production credit came in 1967 with the debut album of Ten Years After. A year later, encouraged by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, he left Decca to found his own production company. He worked on all the classic recordings by Elton John, including such hits as ‘Your Song,’ ‘Rocket Man,’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. In 1969, he produced David Bowie’s first hit, ‘Space Oddity,’ and later, albums by such artists as Chris Rea, Lindisfarne, and XTC.

In the 70s Gus joined Elton John and formed Rocket Records. In the early 80s he built SOL Studios in Cookham Berkshire which he later sold to Jimmy Page.

From 1967 till 1973 Gus lived at 3 Kings Gardens in West End Lane. He then moved to Surbiton. The record world was shocked in July 2002 when Gus Dudgeon and his wife Sheila were killed in a car crash.

British Homophone, 84a Kilburn High Road
This building was behind the present Sainsbury’s in Kilburn High Road. Before British Homophone opened their recording studio there in 1929, it was the site of a large house called St Margaret’s.

The last owner and occupier of St Margaret’s was the builder Robert Allen Yerbury who rented the house about 1877. He soon bought the freehold as well as a large piece of land adjoining his grounds and built Colas Mews (behind the present Iceland store). He then used the garden in front of the renamed St Margaret’s Lodge as the site for a terrace of shops. Although completely hemmed in by the shops on the High Road, Yerbury was able to rent the house to a series of tenants.

By 1903 a hall and conservatory had been added to the back of St Margaret’s Lodge. ‘Professor’ Sidney Bishop ran ‘The Athenaeum’ for dancing there from 1902 to 1914.   During WWI it was used as a forces recreation room and in the 20s the Hall became the Kilburn branch of the Church Army, with successive secretaries living in the old Lodge.

The site was next adapted as a recording studio for the British Homophone Company Ltd. William Sternberg was the director of a company that had been selling gramophones under the trade name of Sterno for some years. They had used the masters and distributed records of the Homophon Company of Berlin since 1906, and also produced Sterno records from 1926 to 1935. On 24 May 1928 the Times announced that British Homophone was issuing a share capital of £150,000. In a contract dated 21 May 1928 , Sternberg put all his assets into the new company of British Homophone, for £37,500 worth of shares. They moved into 84a Kilburn High Road the following year.

British Homophone advert, 1928

British Homophone advert, 1928

Lots of well known performers and dance bands of the time were on the Sterno label including Mantovani, Oscar Rabin, and Syd Lipton. The most important artist on the label was the pianist and band leader Charlie Kunz who was selling an astonishing one million records. He became the highest paid pianist in the world earning a £1,000 week. Born in America , he came to England in 1922, and during the 1930s he lived in Dollis Hill.

Charlie Kunz record on the Sterno and British Homophone label

Charlie Kunz record on the Sterno and British Homophone label

In 1934 the BBC studios in Maida Vale sent recordings by telephone lines to British Homophone in Kilburn who recorded them onto wax discs. They were able to offer the BBC a quick turnaround of 12 hours for programme repeats.

But like other companies in the Depression, British Homophone struggled financially and in May 1937 Decca and their rival EMI jointly purchased all the British Homophone masters for £22,500. When British Homophone left Kilburn in 1939, the ladies clothing chain, Richard Shops, who had been at Number 82 since 1936, took over Number 84 and probably the studio as well.

William Sternberg lived at ‘Mondesfield’, in Exeter Road Kilburn, from 1924. When he died on 14 June 1956 , his addresses were Exeter Road and Seddscombe , Sussex . He was buried at the Willesden Liberal Jewish cemetery probably with his wife Eva who died in 1925. He was a wealthy man and left £19,379, today worth about £900,000.

Sterno and Canned Heat
As an interesting aside, Sterno was also the name of an American campsite cooking fuel made from jellied alcohol. During the Depression, and strained through cloth, it was used as a cheap substitute for whisky and popularly known as ‘Canned Heat’. The early bluesman, Tommy Johnson, wrote and recorded ‘Canned Heat Blues’ in 1928, and the famous American band Canned Heat, which was formed in Los Angeles in 1965, took their name from the song.

The Banba
The studio building was used from 1951 to 1968 by Michael Gannon who ran the famous and very poplar Irish dance hall there called ‘The Banba’ (taken from a poetic name for Ireland ). In 1971 the property was demolished with Sainsbury’s redevelopment of the entire site. Marianne can remember being taken to the Banba. She was bought a coffee made from Camp Coffee Essence, which Wikipedia describes as: A glutinous brown substance which consists of water, sugar, 4% caffeine-free coffee essence, and 26% chicory essence. She left it untouched after the first sip.

British Homophone after the buyout
Despite the 1937 buyout by Decca and EMI, the British Homophone name continued into the early 1980s, but was no longer based in Kilburn. By 1962 it was at Excelsior Works, Rollins Street, SE15, New Cross. The new company pressed some of the early records for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records about 1965. Edward Kassner the boss of President Records owned the pressing plant. Eddy Grant and ‘The Equals’ were signed with President Records. Eddy set up Ice Records and a studio called the Coach House and bought the pressing plant in New Cross from Kassner in the late 1970s, where he pressed his own records until the early 1980s, when he left England.

Island Records, 108 Cambridge Road
Island Records was formed by Chris Blackwell who was born in London, but grew up in Jamaica. In 1958 after trying various jobs and using money from his parents, he decided to record Lance Hayward, a young, blind jazz pianist who was playing at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay. The record was released in 1959, and this was the beginning of what would later become Island Records. The following year Blackwell had a hit with Laurel Aitken’s ‘Boogie In My Bones’. Using the money from the sales he set up a small office in Kingston.   In 1962 Blackwell moved to London and began selling records to the West Indian communities in London, Birmingham, and Manchester from the back of his Mini-Cooper.

Blackwell took the name of Island Records from Alec Waugh’s novel ‘Island in the Sun’. Island Records Ltd began in May 1962 with four partners who invested a total of £4,000: Chris Blackwell, Graham Goodall, an Australian music engineer living in Jamaica, the Chinese-Jamaican record producer Leslie Kong and his brother.

From March 1963 to 1967 Island Records had their office at 108 Cambridge Road , since demolished as part of the South Kilburn redevelopment plan. Originally a barber’s shop run by the Gopthal family, when accountant Lee Gopthal bought the house, he rented it out. Chris Blackwell converted the premises into offices managed by David Betteridge, who was later made a director of Island. Initially the records were pressed by British Homophone and then at the Phillips factory in Croydon. In 1962, the basement store at 108 had been a recording studio set up by Sonny Roberts of Planetone Records. Blackwell introduced additional labels such as Black Swan, Jump Up, Aladdin, Surprise, Sue Records and Trojan which was run by Lee Gopthal .

Rob Bell describes his time at Island from 1965 to 1972 in a series of articles. See He said that Island were releasing about half a dozen records a week. The new release sheets were printed by Mr Reed who had a small print shop a few doors up Cambridge Road. Rob said he and others used to eat at Peg’s Café over the road and drink at The Shakespeare pub next to the office. In 1968 when business picked up with the popularity of reggae, together with the compulsory purchase for the South Kilburn redevelopment, Island moved to the much larger Music House at 12 Neasden Lane.

In 1963 Blackwell decided to bring the fourteen year old Millie Small to London. Looking for a suitable song for her to record, he found a copy of American singer Barbie Gaye’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’ which he had bought five years earlier in New York. Recorded at Olympic Studios with a ska arrangement, the record was leased to the Phillips’ Fontana label and in 1964 it sold six million copies worldwide. It reached Number 2 in the UK and the US and became the first international Jamaican hit. Marianne heard Millie sing the song at one of the regular Saturday morning music sessions at the Kilburn State , held in their dance hall with an entrance in Willesden Lane.

Other successful records followed with Jimmy Cliff and the Birmingham band, the Spencer Davis Group who had several hits leased to Fontana such as, ‘Keep On Running’ (1965) and ‘Gimme Some Lovin’. Building on these hits, Island moved to new offices at 155 Oxford Street. In 1970 they moved again to Notting Hill where they had established their own studio in a former church at 8 -10 Basing Street. From here they expanded massively, with artists such as Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, Fairport Convention, Free, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Grace Jones and U2.

In 1989 Blackwell sold his stake in Island and eventually resigned in 1997. His mother Blanche was Ian Fleming’s longtime lover and Blackwell now owns the writer’s house, Goldeneye, in Jamaica . He bought it from Bob Marley. For a beautifully illustrated book see, ‘The Story of Island Records’, edited by Suzette Newman and Chris Salewicz (2010).

Ritz Records, 1 Grangeway
Grangeway is the small road leading off the Kilburn High Road into the Grange Park. Mick Clerkin ran Ritz Records here which began in about 1981. They produced Irish records and had big hits with Joe Dolan and Daniel O’Donnell. Clerkin had previously worked as a roadie for the popular Mighty Avons Showband, and then in 1968 he set up Release Records. Ritz were still at Grangeway in 1996 but had moved to Wembley by 2000. The company went into liquidation in 2002.

New building in Grangeway today, the site of Ritz Record

New building in Grangeway today, the site of Ritz Record

Master Rock Studios, 248 Kilburn High Road
In January 1986 Steve Flood and Stuart Colman opened their studios in Kilburn High Road. 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 were recorded here including: Elton John, Jeff Beck, U2, Eric Clapton, Roxy Music, Simply Red and Suede. The music for the film ‘The Krays’ was also recorded at Master Rock.

They wanted the very best quality recording equipment so they bought a Focusrite console. Focusrite was founded in 1985 by Rupert Neve and the Forte console was developed in 1988. The idea was simply to produce the highest-quality recording console available at the time, regardless of cost. But the prohibitively expensive design limited the production to just two units, after which Focusrite got into financial difficulties. One console was delivered to Master Rock Studios in Kilburn and the other to the Electric Lady Studio in New York .

The Focusrite Forte console at Master Rock Studios

The Focusrite Forte console at Master Rock Studios

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.”

Bernard was right. Despite the Master Rock Studios being busy, there were financial problems and in 1991 the business was put up for sale. Douglas Pashley bought it and became the CEO in 1992. But problems continued and eventually they closed in June 2000. Number 248 Kilburn High Road has since been demolished.

248 Kilburn High Road today, site of Master Rock Studios

248 Kilburn High Road today, site of Master Rock Studios

West Heath Studios, 174 Mill Lane
The composer and conductor Robert Howes, who worked with Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson on the Alan Parsons Project, said he was doing lots of work in different studios and decided that he needed to build his own. He had previously lived in Welbeck Mansions and knew the West Hampstead area. He found a building in West Heath Mews which ran along the top of a row of garages, and set up his studio there at the end of the 1980s to record his music for TV. He did ‘Songs for Christmas’, the theme music for Kilroy and Rescue and lots of other programmes. Then he leased the studio to Eric Woolfson who later built his own studio in Cricklewood Lane . Woolfson had met Alan Parsons at the Abbey Road studios where Parsons had recorded Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.

West Heath Studios, 2013

West Heath Studios, 2013

West Heath Studios is currently owned by Edwyn Collins who took it over in 1995. Edwin was born in Scotland and had hits with the Glasgow band Orange Juice. His major success was ‘A Girl like You’ which became a worldwide hit in 1994. After he and his wife Grace moved to Kilburn, Edwyn suddenly had a stroke in 2005 which left him paralysed. But he has since made a remarkable recovery and started to perform again. His cofounder and recording engineer Seb Lewsley kept the studio going. Edwyn’s friend Bernard Butler who lived locally in Fawley Road, recorded Duffy’s Rockferry album (2008) at West Heath. Edwyn recorded his latest album Loosing Sleep at the studio in 2010.

Have a look at YouTube for some amusing episodes of ‘West Heath Yard’.

Shebang Studio
This was a small studio in Coleridge Gardens, a mews off Fairhazel Gardens, run by Nigel Godrich. Nigel is a recording engineer and producer, best known for his work with the band Radiohead. He has also worked with Paul McCartney, Travis, Natalie Imbruglia, U2 and REM. Bernard Butler said, “Nigel Godrich’s studio was off Fairhazel Gardens where it meets Belsize Road and was called Shebang. He shared it with Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns who later became Zero 7. They were all assisting / engineering at RAK Studios at the time, which is where Radiohead and I met Nigel.” RAK Studios is in St John’s Wood and was started by Mickie Most in 1976.

The next blog story will look at the musicians who lived in West Hampstead and Kilburn.

The Road to West End Lane

Sadly, I couldn’t make the grand unveiling of the plaque to George Orwell last week, but mercifully (and appropriately), Danny from West End Lane Books could – and kindly penned a few words about it.

“I’ve got something in common with George Orwell it seems! I gleaned this priceless piece of dinner-party ammo the day that Kilburn Historic Plaque supremo Ed Fordham triumphantly brought Richard Blair to town to unveil a tribute to his father, the mighty George Orwell, on the Kilburn estate they briefly inhabited before being bombed out in WW2.

Nowadays, the building is called Kington House in Mortimer Crescent and Blair, not the slight, pale figure I imagined, but a broad avuncular man of old-school bank manager appearance, admitted he didn’t really recall it — unsurprisingly since he was an infant the last time he laid eyes on the place.

A good crowd had gathered to meet the man whose father has so enriched us all and confirmed that Orwell did indeed work on Animal Farm while living in our postcode.

After the unveiling of the plaque Blair and Fordham braved rush hour traffic to hotfoot it over to West End Lane Books where another eager crowd had gathered and was treated to a reading from Orwell’s Bookshop Memories essay — and that’s where I learned of mine and George’s shared experiences!

Bookshops, Orwell remarked of his time working in one, were places ‘you can spend a long time without spending money’. Yep, that bit still rings sadly true. And although our customers aren’t of the ‘motheaten’ variety that Orwell depicts and nor do we regard children’s books as ‘horrible things’ (they obviously didn’t have Puffin, Walker, Usborne et al in those days), his description of the ‘brutal cynicism’ of the marketing of Christmas, in particular the order form for advent calendars displaying ‘two dozen Infant Jesuses with rabbits’ brought a blush of shame.

Orwell went on to describe life with George as his (adopted) father, noting that while he was always Eric Blair to at home, he was only ever George Orwell to his friends and professional contacts (‘the name change was to protect us,’ said Blair.) and often the two camps were not aware of the other; some family members remaining ignorant of George’s alter ego even as his books were published and word began to spread of his work.

Blair recalled his father as an affectionate man who often read to his son—classics such as AA Milne (also honoured by a Kilburn plaque) and Beatrix Potter, but also his own little stories and poetry, none of which survives to our loss. While retaining the then-customary stoicism about his struggles with TB (‘he was slightly vague about it’), Blair told us that his father was nonetheless constrained by his illness and felt that physical contact with his son needed to be minimal for his own safety.

Orwell also read aloud chapters of Animal Farm at home to his wife and Blair reminded us that even this literary colossus had initial trouble finding a publisher. Blair himself was not allowed to read 1984 until some time after his father’s death when he was 11 and when asked when he first became aware of Orwell’s status, he remembered it as a form of osmosis around the same age.

Listening to Blair’s recollections of Orwell doing bits of woodwork, rolling fags with newspapers when he ran out of cigarette papers and all of the everyday trivia family life is filled with, I for one had a few frissons: this man lived with Orwell…this man knew Orwell!

What an honour to have Richard Blair in our shop. What an honour for NW6 to have such a connection! Major thanks to Ed Fordham for making this happen.”

Klooks Kleek and Decca: help needed

Local historians Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms are writing a book about the history of Klooks Kleek, a jazz and blues club which ran at the Railway Hotel, West Hampstead, from 1961 to 1970. The book will also look at the history of Decca Studios which was in Broadhurst Gardens until 1980.

If you worked at Decca, or have any memories or stories about KK which they could use in book please email Dick at,

In the meantime, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, do read my quick rundown of West Hampstead’s musical heritage.

West Hampstead’s Olympicks

No, no spelling mistake here. On Wednesday evening I joined about 40 other locals at West End Lane Books to hear local author and historian Simon Inglis and University of Southampton academic Martin Polley talk about the history of the Olympics in the UK. Polley’s book “The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612-2012“.

Local actor Paul Brightwell added a dramatic touch and theatrical timbre as he read out extracts from some of the early marketing literature for local variants of the Olympics. This included West Hampstead’s very own contribution to the story around the end of the 18th century when a fair was held on West End Green, sponsored by the Cock & Hoop pub, which stood where Alexandra Mansions is now.

Simon and Martin explained the political and social context in which local communities held what would today be termed “Village Games” using the Olympick banner largely tongue in cheek.

You really should buy Martin’s excellent book (from West End Lane Books of course) for the full story. I really recommend it – I went to this talk expecting to find it mildly interesting, but in fact it was very engaging indeed.

Sadly, West Hampstead’s part in the story came to light too late to make the book. But fear not, there will be more on the West End Green Games coming out later this year, and I’m hoping that Simon will be writing something about this for West Hampstead Life in the very near future.

Olympic History: COMPETITION

Next Wednesday, July 4th, local author and sports historian Simon Inglis will be at West End Lane Books together with Dr Martin Polley to talk about when the Olympics came to West Hampstead, drawing on Polley’s new book “The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612-2012“.

The event is free, but please contact West End Lane Books if you’d like to attend as space is scarce ().

In the meantime, you can win a copy of the book (worth £17.99) courtesy of West Hampstead Life. You just need to answer a simple question.

Which village was the site of the first games of the post-classical era to adopt the formal title “Olimpick”?

To enter, just with the subject line “Olympic Quiz”, and include your answer and name. Winners will be drawn Tuesday the 3rd.

Good luck – it shouldn’t take too much sleuthing to find the answer!

Mind the (mental) gap

Apart from being a bon viveur, my food and drink correspondent Tom also has a predilection for the paranormal. Of course I’m drawing no correlation between the amount of red wine he drinks and his willingness to see the supernatural.

Anyway, he drew my attention to this snippet from The Fortean Times back in 2009 in an article about “floating platforms” in West Hampstead.

“The same, or a very similar, floating platform was seen again nearly 40 years later on the afternoon of 18 October 1955. The Reverend Pitt-Kethly was travelling on the Uxbridge train line to East Harrow, London. When the train had stopped at the West Hampstead viaduct, he noticed a reddish-brown and grey platform the size of a small bus. It was silent and travelled at a height of about 120ft (37m).

There were approximately 20 helmeted men dressed in khaki uniforms standing on the platform, which moved at about 20mph (32km/h) and was in sight for three or four minutes. The Reverend did “not doubt the evidence of his own optics”.”

Sounds like the reflection of the top deck of a double-decker bus to me. But what do I know. The only time I’ve seen a floating platform is while trying to change tube lines at Baker Street after far too many drinks.

Remember when it was all fields?

Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms quite literally wrote the book(s) when it comes to local history. And now they’re taking their work online with a new Kilburn History website.

The first story to appear concerns a wartime murder at Kilburn station, but it’s not all blood and guts. Dick tells me that subsequent stories will include a Professor of Swimming and the now extinct Kilburn Baths, a painting of a Kilburn farm by an artist who was also an astronomer, and South Pacific tribal objects.

Dick Weindling talks about A.A.Milne back in October 2010

If you haven’t come across Dick and Marianne’s books then you are missing out. Their Kilburn and West Hampstead Past book is essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in learning more about this part of London. I wholeheartedly recommend it. Also worth a read, although published by the Camden History Society, is The Streets of West Hampstead, which is a bit more of a gazeteer, but is a handy reference.

Having heard Dick speak at the unveiling of the green plaque to A.A. Milne in October 2010, I can attest to his engaging manner – this is no dusty historian.

The two of them have a book due out in July called Camden Town and Kentish Town: Then and Now, and one next year called Bloody British History: Camden, with lots of blood and gore, which will cover the whole of the modern borough of Camden. It’s fairly gory around Camden Town most Saturday nights today if you ask me. They clearly have a slight fascination with the macabre; one of their other books is called The Good Grave Guide to Hampstead Cemetery.

Stories from all these books and more will pop up on the new blog I’m told. It’s a very welcome addition to the local blogosphere.

A Tale of Two Lions

The Old Black Lion on West End Lane was established in 1751. It was a beerhouse not a tavern, meaning it could sell only beer.

The Black Lion on Kilburn High Road is older. It dates back to 1666. (The Red Lion on Kilburn High Road dates back to 1444! Thankfully now it’s called The Westbury).

Both pubs were rebuilt around the start of the 20th century. The Black Lion in 1898 and The Old Black Lion in 1912.

Click for full-size, taken from The Streets of West Hampstead, Camden History Society

When I first moved to Kilburn, the Old Black Lion was a Rat and Carrot. Yes, carrot. The Railway was a Rat & Parrot. The Rat & Carrot chain was fairly short-lived if I recall. It reverted to being the Old Black Lion.

Only a few years ago, the Old Black Lion underwent a transformation from fairly straightforward pub showing sport to The Lion – which always reminded me a bit too much of an All Bar One.

The Black Lion meanwhile became very popular, and I believe its ceiling is actually listed – if you can list a ceiling.

A few months ago, rumours were flying around West Hampstead that The Lion was closing and being sold. I contacted Greene King, the owners, who assured me this was not the case. It was being refurbed and would be all new and shiny and exciting. It took a while for that to actually get started but the refurb is taking place at the moment.

Then today I was followed on Twitter by @TheBlackLionNW6. Its bio clearly says it is in West Hampstead. The Black Lion in Kilburn (also in NW6) tweets – albeit rarely – under @BlackLionLondon (which might have pissed off some of the other Black Lions within the M25).

“Black Lion” search in Google Maps. “B” is Kilburn’s. West Hampstead’s isn’t there yet

This afternoon, The Black Lion (West Hampstead), tweeted a couple of photos of its dinner and lunch menus. They look quite expensive – it’s competition for The Alice House, not The Railway. At the bottom of the menus (very sensibly) is a website address: Don’t confuse this with The Black Lion’s (Kilburn) website:

I visited the website (of the Black Lion West Hampstead). It’s obviously not quite fully fledged yet, but it does have a contact page, giving its address (295 West End Lane) and a handy Google map. Which shows the location of The Black Lion in Kilburn.

West End Lane is suddenly the Kilburn High Road

With a degree of irritation, I pointed this out to the good people at the new (Old) Black Lion who said that that was indeed a mistake and they’d correct it asap. Hurrah.

In the meantime, the pub opens on April 26th. I am prepared to spend a lot of time explaining to people that there are two Black Lions (like there used to be) on two different roads but in the same postcode area. Before the internet this clearly wasn’t a problem as both coexisted for about 250 years. Now, everyone needs a unique identifier and perhaps “NW6” wasn’t the best one to pick. For a start why not go back to The Old Black Lion, or even call it “The New Black Lion”.

I shall leave the last word to Shannon, whose common sense could have saved the day.

Finchley Road’s glacial history

A chance tweet yesterday drew my attention to this local fact: the glacier that covered almost all of the British Isles in the last age stopped – just like the Jubilee and Met Lines (and moving at about the same speed as the Jubilee earlier this week) – at Finchley Road. Change here for “milder temperatures”.

Thanks to @Tetramesh for then sending me the link to this BBC documentary where no less a glaciologist than Alan Titchmarsh explains more (ff to 23m57s)

A trip down Kilburn’s memory lane

I got sent a fantastic link via Twitter this morning. It was to a photograph taken in 1965 of the State building on Kilburn High Road. The photograph is interesting, but the history site that it’s part of turned out to be a treasure trove.

Click on any of the seven photos of Kilburn taken around the same time, and you’ll find a few dozen comments from people who grew up in the area. It takes a bit of diving into the site to find all of them – some are comments to the initial memories, and so on. They paint a picture of post-war Kilburn that in many ways we could recognise today: a lively, bustling, rough-around-the-edges neighbourhood that people generally have an affection for, with characters such as Biff Lewis (who of course gets into a fight) and Susan the Swedish employee at Woolworths.

Naturally there are also some big changes – not least in the number of cinemas. One person recounts four different ones: the Ionic, the Grange, the Essoldo and of course the State.

I shall leave you to browse the site, but here’s one of my favourite excerpts as Fred Parker’s recalls trips to the cinema:

“Every Saturday evening I would go to the ‘pictures’.. with a group of friends. Often we would have to queue to get in and maybe stand for some time once we got in. We sat in the 1/6d seats. Films ran continuously in those days and we often saw the end of the film before we saw the beginning. We would walk home after the cinema and probably buy a bag of chips plus a pickled onion if we were flush.”

Thanks to Jon Kelly for the original link. Look out for an architecture competition on the blog in the next day or so. And if you want to read about some West Hampstead history, check out this post about how our part of London fared during the Second World War.

Update 4.30pm, 20th Century London sent me a link to some more great old photos of Kilburn including one of the Rolling Stones backstage at the Gaumont State.

The Plaque at Pooh Corner

“A party for Me?”
thought Pooh to himself.
“How grand!”

There can be very few people who have not encountered Winnie the Pooh. One of the great characters of children’s literature and I can’t help but feel also a precursor of Homer Simpson. Lovable, of “little brain”, and ever so slightly obssessed with food.

Pooh’s creator of course was A.A.Milne and – who knew – he was born in Kilburn in 1882. The house where he was living was destroyed in the war when a V1 fell in the vicinity and the site is now occupied by Remsted House, part of the Mortimer Estate, at the junction of Mortimer Place and Kilburn Priory.

Lib Dem worthy and sometime local historian Ed Fordham has launched a Historic Kilburn Plaque Scheme. Appropriately enough given the area’s Irish heritage, the plaques are green. The unveiling today of Alan Milne’s plaque was the first of what Ed hopes will be “at least 20” such plaques to be dotted around Kilburn.

Under gloriously blue skies an impressive crowd was gathering for the big moment. Milne’s granddaughter Clare was present.

Ed kicked off with a few booster words for the area, before local historian Dick Weindling (he literally wrote the book) gave a short explanation of the heritage of the area – formerly the Greville Estate (and much earlier part of a 12th Century priory).

Weindling explained that Milne’s father had bought and ran a private school – Henley House – on the site at which 13 boys boarded. Four years later, A.A. Milne was born. In 1889, H.G. Wells was the science teacher there for a year and despite being highly critical of the type of education at Henley House he praised Milne’s father as a “really able teacher”. The Milnes sold the school in 1893, apparently concerned that “the neighbourhood was going down”.

Michael Brown, chairman of the Pooh Properties Trust and wearing an approriate Pooh-themed tie, then said a few words about A.A. Milne himself. Of course he is famous for the Winnie the Pooh books, but he also wrote successful plays and adult books and was very much part of the literary elite in the interwar period.

It was time for the unveiling – suitably to be done by two kids. “Either the string will break, or the tape will stay up, or something will go wrong,” said Ed.

But really isn’t that what would have happened to Pooh? Piglet would have pulled with all his Strength. Rabbit would have advised from the sidelines and Eeyore would have pointed out all the things that could have gone wrong. The strings were pulled, the curtain fell, some tape remained and Pooh would have been a very happy bear.

West Hampstead at war

As London commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Blitz, I thought I’d take a look at how West Hampstead fared during the war. There are tales of amazing rescues, tragic stories of wedding parties, and some explanation for the streetscape we all inhabit today.

The old borough of Hampstead was not as affected as badly as some parts of London as it had no major military targets. Nevertheless, more than 200 people died in the borough as a result of bombing. The density of the railway lines around here probably contributed to some of the munitions that fell in NW6, a tiny number of which are mapped below.

View West Hampstead WW2 sites (a small selection) in a larger map

West Hampstead itself escaped widespread damage, and large-scale rebuilding was not needed. Indeed, much of the 19th and early 20th century character of the area remained intact. But that is not to say that life was easy for residents during the two main periods of bombing raids: 1940/41 and 1944/45.

The first bomb to fall in the area hit Birchington Road at the end of August 1940, but the first serious damage in West Hampstead happened a couple of weeks later. The sirens sounded at 10pm on September 18th, and in the early hours of the 19th seven bombs fell between Mill Lane and Sumatra Road killing 19 people. In a macabre conicidence, 19 was also the number of houses destroyed. These included 76–86 Sumatra Road and 9–17 Solent Road.

It was a sharp wake-up call for wartime whampers many of whom – like people across the country – were only starting to believe that the war was ever going to be a direct threat to them.

A week later, another seven bombs struck in Broadhurst Gardens – the first strike of many for this road. Amazingly just three people died but only a few houses escaped damage. Ten days later, on October 7th, the central library on Finchley Road – now the site of the Camden Arts Centre – was badly damaged and a female warden on duty at the observation post was killed. This was a night of heavy bombing across the country. A wing of Hampstead School in Westbere Road (then Haberdashers School) was damaged; this plaque marks the event.

(photo courtesy of Ed Fordham)

The Blitz lasted until May 1941, killing some 20,000 Londoners. Tube stations provided natural bomb shelters and Hampstead and Belsize Park were especially popular due to their depth. War artist and famous sculptor Henry Moore made some evocative sketches of people huddled together in Belsize Park tube. Residents had to get to these stations fast though as space was limited.

Swiss Cottage also served as a shelter, although initially there were no toilets and people had to take the train to Finchley Road to use facilities there. Councils began to realise that people were going to use the stations regardless so began to make them more comfortable, installing bunk beds, toilets and providing some refreshments.

Quite a community built up among the regular occupants of Swiss Cottage and they produced their own magazine called (honestly) The Swiss Cottager. There was a lobbying component to this publication. Bulletin No.2 claimed that “the installation of three-tier bunks on tube platforms would be hailed with relief by the thousands of people who nightly use the tube-station platforms as dormitories.”

The group also politely requested that shelterers refrained from bringing their own deck-chairs and suggested people were being “far too generous” with their litter.

Such doughty spirit was part of the reason Hitler turned his attention to other fronts and large-scale bombing of Britain subsided. He had failed to crush either the morale of Britons or sufficient industrial sites. Even during this lull in bombardment there was the occasional mishap: in 1943, a barrage balloon caught fire and fell onto houses on Gascony Avenue.

On Saturday February 19th, 1944 bombing began again. A bomb at the corner of West End Lane and Dennington Park Road struck a wedding party. The Camden History Society’s excellent Hampstead at War gives a full description of the explosion, which killed 10 people including two babies.

“In a flat over a butcher’s shop, a party was in progress attended by relatives and friends of the occupier’s son, a soldier who was to be married later that day. The company remained during the alert in unprotected rooms, no doubt lulled into a false sense of security by the long period of aerial inactivity. A high explosive bomb fell at ten past one in the morning demolishing the upper part of the premises over the shop… The premises were soon burning furiously and the rescuers were forced back time and time again.., The only survivor from the party was the father of the bridegroom who had left the room and gone to the rear of the house just before the bomb fell.”

The site wasn’t rebuilt until 1954, and today houses West Hampstead’s library.

That same night, eight bombs fell within 100 yards of each other at Agamemnon Road and, although only three exploded, 16 people were killed at what is now a terrace of three-storey houses built in 1952.

A few months later aerial bombardment intensified again when the V1 flying bombs entered service. Hampstead borough took 10 hits from V1s. Hampstead Town Hall was a vital observation point to track the V1s, and wardens would follow the bombs right to the point of impact – even if that was just yards from where they sat.

The first flying bomb hit a West End Lane house used as a hostel for refugees. Three houses were completely destroyed but the damage extended across five roads. Rescue efforts lasted two days and although 17 people died, a woman was found alive 48 hours after the bomb exploded.

The site was used to build Sydney Boyd Court in 1953, the large council estate that hugs the curve of West End Lane between Acol Road and Woodchurch Road.

In late June 1944, Broadhurst Gardens was struck again, at almost exactly the same point as in 1940. The following day, a building in Mortimer Crescent was hit – it was used to store furniture for people whose own houses had been destroyed. This was probably the same attack that forced author George Orwell out of his Mortimer Crescent home, where he had written Animal Farm. Further doodlebugs hit Fortune Green Road, Mill Lane (damaging an ambulance station) and Parsifal Road where a District Warden headquarters was damaged.

Broadhurst Gardens suffered yet more damage in August 1944 when a V1 fell in the gardens between Broadhurst and Compayne Gardens just 50 yards from the previous bomb. The road was the worst affected in the borough, which is why large stretches of it are occupied today with council housing.

More than 1,300 V2s fell on London (only Antwerp was targeted more) killing 2,750 people. Britain never developed effective countermeasures for these supersonic missiles. Of those 1,300 V2s only four had an impact in this area, with one causing particularly widespread damage.

Superlocal blog Northwest 6 covered wartime memories a couple of years ago. One reader, John Lewis, recalled “I was staying with my grandparents at 25 Gladys Road towards the end of WW2 when a V2 came down about 250m away in Iverson Road. I was covered in soot, dust and broken glass but unharmed.”

In 2004, the Camden New Journal printed an anecdote from Gladys Cox, who also recounted a bomb in Iverson Road. Although her account said it was in January 1944 it seems likely it was in fact the 1945 attack.

“After lunch, it stopped snowing, and as the air was invigorating we walked, or slithered in the slush, down to Iverson Road. Here, rows and rows of small houses had been blasted from back to front; doors, windows, ceilings all one. Whole families were out in the street standing beside the remains of their possessions, piled on the pavements waiting for the removal vans; heaps of rubble everywhere, pathetically showing bits of holly and Christmas decorations.”

The bomb actually fell on the railway embankment, but both sides of the railways suffered. The driver of the first rescue vehicle on the scene found one of the dead – his own 19-year-old daughter. One woman was rescued eight hours later after the rescue teams had almost given up. She was found jammed under a sink in the scullery.

Iverson Road was by far the worst affected street, but damage extended to Sheriff, Maygrove, Ariel, Loveridge and Lowfield Roads, Netherwood Street and West End Lane. Although only three people lost their life, 1,600 people required some form of assistance and 400 had to be temporarily rehoused. There’s another personal account of the attack at Northwest 6.

Seventy years later, it can all feel rather like a numbers game. So many people died, so many houses were damaged. It is impossible for most of us who have grown up in a peaceful western Europe to wrap our heads around the permanent sense of fear that must have underpinned lives for millions and millions of people across Europe during the war. The work of the civil defence organisations and rescue services should not be overlooked. They may not have received the plaudits of the fly boys in the Battle of Britain, or Monty’s Desert Rats, but their commitment to the lives of ordinary Londoners was astonishing.

Hampstead at War, Hampstead 1939-1945, pub Camden History Society, 1995 (first published in 1946)
Wartime Camden, Life in Camden during the First and Second World Wars, compiled by Hart, V. & Marhsall, L, pub. London Borough of Camden, 1983
‘Hampstead: West End’, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9: Hampstead, Paddington (1989), pp. 42-47.

Rock on the High Road: Kilburn’s music then and now

The arrival of The Betsy Smith – a pub/music venue – on the Kilburn High Road is yet another indication that the old Roman road is finding its way back onto the musical map.

After my brief round-up of West Hampstead’s musical heritage, I was delighted to be invited to join accredited blue badge guide Simon Rodway on a walking tour of Kilburn’s musical treasures. This was organised by Camden council, who are putting together a self-guided podcast. October is also Camden mayor Jonathan Simpson‘s Music Month, so what better time to catch up on music on the very edge of the borough – an area often overlooked in favour of Camden Town and Chalk Farm.

We kick off outside the iconic State building. Recently taken over by the Ruach Ministry on condition that the decorative interior was restored. When I first moved to Kilburn and lived round the corner from the State it was a bingo hall, but when it opened in 1937 it was Europe’s biggest auditorium , seating 4,004 people. Anyone and everyone has played there and The Who’s live performance there is a DVD classic. It is also home to one of the largest working Wurlitzers in the country and this too will be restored to its former glory.

The Rolling Stones backstage at the State Nov 19, 1963

Working our way north up the High Road (bizarrely with a full police escort, which makes us look like VIPs but does nothing to suggest that this is a perfectly safe part of town) we pause outside the National. This enormous venue was built in 1914 and was a cinema and ballroom initially. In the 1980s and early 1990s bands including Suede, Nirvana, The Smiths and Blur played here. It too was taken over by an evangelical church – the Victory Christian Centre – but this ran into all sorts of problems. At the moment the building is used by another church movement, the UCKG.

The next stop on the tour is not really music-related, but it is the epicentre of Kilburn’s cultural revival. The Tricycle Theatre is certainly one of the most respected off West End theatres in London, with a reputation for staging political plays that often transfer to larger theatres or go on tour.

From the Tricycle, with its “opened by Emma Thompson” plaque we head across the road to the Sir Colin Campbell. I’ll be honest, this is one of those pubs that I always thought you’d have to pay me to go in. It looks like an old-man Irish pub and upon entering there is indeed one old man sitting at the bar. The landlord looks surprised to see us, and does a double-take when the police escort walks in. But when prompted to tell us about the music at the pub he is more than happy to tell us about the sessions on a Friday night. It all sounds genuinely Irish and not tourist Oirish, and actually the sort of place that could be a good night out if you threw yourself into it.

We walk up to The Good Ship, the first of Kilburn’s cluster of live music venues. John, the owner, is there to meet us and give us the lowdown of the low stage. The Good Ship tends to have younger up-and-coming bands. John tells us of the night Adele and Kate Nash shared the bill, and explains that bands like the back projection that lets them have more imaginative visuals.

I throw in a good plug for the Monday night comedy. What I like about The Good Ship is that it’s completely lacking in pretension. It is also willing to try things out and has hosted spoken word events and quizzes as well as music. Right now, it’s the most reliable comedy club in the area and at £4 an absolute bargain. Recent better known acts have included Josie Long, Milton Jones and an unbilled impromptu opening from the great Ed Byrne. But back to the music.

We turn off the High Road to a place none of us has ever even heard of. The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance is a living and breathing rock school. It offers full BMus degrees as well as diplomas, foundation courses and specialist courses. We actually gatecrashed and they’re weren’t expecting us but the college’s CEO Paul Kirkham appeared and gave us a quick talk about the college. Its aim is not to churn out the next X-Factor winner or Simon Fuller band, but rather to give students a sustainable career in music. He cited the fact that half a dozen or so students were at Glastonbury this year as backing singers/musicians. The college was originally in Acton before moving to its rather swish Dyne Road premises, of which it is taking over more and more floors.

By now, Andy at The Luminaire was ready for us. Modest to a fault, he ascribed the venue’s success to the fact that there are clean towels in the dressing room. The club, above the Kings Head bar, has the biggest pulling power in the area. It has a slight tendencey towards bluesy/folky musicians, but also hosts its fair share of pop & rock bands. The Libertines, Editors, James Morrison and Jarvis Cocker have all played there, while some months ago I saw the last living Delta bluesman David Honeyboy Edwards at what may well be his final London gig.

The Luminaire’s famous “silence during the music” policy is almost a trademark and although it’s often ignored during the support acts, it has undoubtedly contributed to the fact that artists like the place. Punters like it because as well as good acts, the managemnt is conscious that they often have to get home on public transport, so sets tend to be over in time to catch the tube or train. Put it all together and it’s not surprising that Time Out and Music Week have both given it Music Venue of the Year awards. It also has an excellent website (something a lot of London’s music venues would do well to emulate).

The last stop on our Camden musical tour was meant to be Powers. Owned by former Mean Fiddler founder Vince Power, it is a more intimate music experience and again focuses on up-and-coming acts. Sadly, we were a bit early to have a snoop around and as this was the one place I hadn’t been to I had been intrigued to see inside.

We’d managed to spend several enjoyable hours exploring the musical legacy and contemporary scene along the Kilburn High Road (with the exception of The Westbury). It’s great that a street that inspired the name of Ian Dury’s first band and that has let Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain entertain its residents, is still rocking.

UPDATE May 2011 – Camden has produced a PDF map of the musical heritage of the High Road.

The Railway’s musical legacy

It’s common knowledge that The Beatles auditioned at Decca studios on Broadhurst Gardens, now the English National Opera premises. The New Years Day (1962) session didn’t go as well as manager Brian Epstein hoped and resulted in the now infamous rejection: “The Beatles have no future in show business”.

Also fairly well known is that The Railway pub on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane had an upstairs function room that played host to big name acts including the Rolling Stones and London’s adopted guitar hero Jimi Hendrix. During this time it was called the Klooks Kleek and was a key component of the capital’s burgeoning blues scene. Supergroup Cream even recorded its first live album there. Along with Mick, Eric and Jimi, luminaries such as John Mayall and Georgie Fame graced the stage at Klooks – or would have done if there had actually been a stage. This article from Down the Lane tells the whole story.

Klooks was like an old Victorian drawing room, some 20 metres square and unlike other venues had no stage at all. The floor was carpeted, the walls curtained in red velvet and covered in flock wallpaper, all making for very good acoustics. There were no mixing desks, lighting rigs, sound/ lighting engineers or even sound checks, the bands just tuned up and played. It was a bit like a gig in your own front room

What I did not know until this morning was that even in the 1970s and 80s the venue was still pulling in big names. In 1979, an up-and-coming rock group played The Moonlight – as it had been renamed. It appears to be the first time Paul, Dave, Larry and Adam had gigged outside Ireland. The U2gigs site contains this short review of the set from an Adam Symons.

U2 were very intense and Bono was mesmerising. The small hot club with its low ceiling was claustrophobic in a good way, if that is possible. Their short set left a great impression on me…”

The Moonlight was also on the small circuit of London clubs that hosted the occasional southern forays by the new wave of Manchester bands. The Dark Circle Room blog has some of the recordings from Joy Division’s Factory by Moonlight gigs (note the spelling mistake in the sleeve notes of the live album).

Here’s a faster loading set list, photos of the entrance as it looks now, and an extract from the NME about the impending refurb of the club.

Of course West Hampstead has other musical claims to fame. Artists as diverse as Dusty Springfield and Slash were both born here; and that Decca audition might have put the Fab Four off NW6 but it didn’t stop them from recording some of their most influential material just down the road by the world’s most famous zebra crossing.

Live music can still be found from time to time along West End Lane: at the Lower Ground Bar, The Wet Fish Café, Pizza Express, even – once in a while – at The Railway itself. But local music fans have to trot down to Kilburn venues such as The Luminaire, The Good Ship or Powers, or hold out for the OxjamKilburn festival for their fix of anything redolent of the days when Keith Richards riffed through the clouds of his own cigarette smoke at Klooks Kleek.