Category Archives: Features

Commemorative tree for Consuelo Phelan at St Peter’s Church

Anne Stevens, Committee member, updates us:

Rowan from Belsize Park

Very many members of Belsoc will recall Consuelo Phelan’s love of trees, and the care she took to ensure that applications to fell or prune them were rigorously monitored and trees preserved and protected whenever possible. Her family in Melbourne were keen that a tree should be her memorial and kindly passed funds from her friends and themselves to BelSoc so that we could arrange this in the neighbourhood she loved so much.

A Mountain Ash (Rowan) tree has been planted where many of us frequently walk by. Do look out for it in the north east corner of St Peter’s church garden, close to the corner of Belsize Park and the east side of Belsize Square: it’s sparse and bare now, but will have delicate leaves, white blossom in spring and red berries in autumn. We are very grateful to Kenneth Robbie, the churchwarden, and to Paul Nicholson, the vicar, for arranging this.  In a short ceremony in late November, which was necessarily limited to a few members of the Belsoc Committee and a an equally small number of Consuelo’s friends, her ashes were buried at the foot of the tree.  We are delighted to have a beautiful reminder of her and so are her family, who will visit as soon as  conditions allow.

News from Friends of Belsize Library

Belsize Community Library Zoom talks
Pat Holden writes:

Thanks to Zoom, the Friends of Belsize Community Library have managed to continue with their monthly library talks since September. 

Stephen Duncan, the son of Beata (Susanna) Duncan, spoke about his mother’s early life in Germany during the turmoil of Weimar Berlin and read from her poetry collection Berlin Blues (Green Bottle Press) reflecting that period . Beata also wrote poems about her life during the London blitz in Breaking Glass (WriteSideLeft.) Beata was a long time resident of Belsize Park and a strong supporter and campaigner for Belsize Library. 

Tudor Allen, the archivist, took us on a historical tour of Swiss Cottage and we saw some of the enormous changes that took place during the twentieth century.

Karin Fernald, the actor, writer and performer described and illustrated how Englishwomen such as Mary Wollstonecraft, who were critical of their own society, crossed the Channel early in the French Revolution with high hopes. We saw paintings, portraits and caricatures by French and English artists.

The actors Colin Pinney and Noelle Rimmington performed the story of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath using the couple’s own words to show their marriage and its conflicting passions.

The talks are held on the third Thursday of each month at 7.30 and we have the following planned.

February 18  Laura Spinney, the writer and science journalist will talk on “Pandemics old and new: parallels between the ‘Spanish’  flu of 1918 and Covid-19”:
March 18 Josh Levine, who worked on the script of Dunkirk (topic to be agreed)

If you would like to be on our mailing list and receive the Zoom link, please email                      


Belsize Poetry

Belsize Poetry

In these difficult times, we asked Belsize poet, Robert Ilson, for something to give us hope.  We are very grateful for the poem which he sent us. 


When children cluster round you, say
It hasn’t always been this way :
There was a time when you could meet
Your friends and neighbours in the street
And go with them to have a meal.
It was no fantasy ; it was real.
The children may begin to ask
Did everybody wear a mask ?
Not then, you’ll say, and shed a tear
Recalling many a former year.
The children will as children do
Try all they can to comfort you
But you’ll remind them nought can stay
For ever as it is today
And just as winter yields to spring
There is a seed in everything
That will if given patient care
Make all things better than they were.

Robert Ilson

Abacus Belsize Primary School Online Auction

We have been asked on behalf of Abacus Belsize Primary School to let you know about their annual online auction. Local businesses big and small, as well as members of the Abacus community have very kindly donated goods, services and unique experiences for anyone to bid on. Any funds raised  in the online auction will go towards the Shakespeare drama project at school in spring 2021, which all year groups take part in.

The auction will run between 23 November and 6 December:

Looking at Camden’s tree register

We know we live in a leafy part of the city, with Primrose Hill and the Heath attracting countless Londoners to relax attracted by these green spaces. However, a recent research project has placed Camden in the top 20 places in England and Wales with the most tree cover. Gardens, tree-lined streets as well as the parks, place our Borough ahead of rural areas, which the study finds have the least tree coverage, including parts of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.

The mapping experts – the credit for study goes to ESRI and Bluesky – use aerial images to detect trees, finding around 400 million in England and Wales. They report that almost a third of Camden is covered in trees, with the northern portion of Hampstead Heath being the most verdant and the Kings Cross areas and the Borough south of Euston Road being least. Belsize is a sea of green with the roads being discernible.

Looking at trees from above provides a valuable story about the nation’s greenery but for many of us the pleasure is through walking around our area and seeing trees in their setting or enjoying relaxing in the open spaces. The Council has released data about our trees, very much at ground level. Its list of Council-managed trees, mapped at the site, corroborates the results of the study, listing over twenty thousand trees in the Borough. This total excludes those on the Health and in the Royal Parks.

In Belsize ward, there are 686 trees listed, of which 375 are mature, 157 are middle-aged and 142 are juveniles. In the Fitzjohn’s and Frognal ward, there are 1,320 trees, of which 564 are mature, 492 middle-aged and 223 juvenile. The lists locate each tree both in terms of the street or park and the exact geolocation. The height and spread of the trees is noted.

Also, the list highlights the importance of environmental impacts, recording the carbon stored in each tree and the amount of carbon and pollution captured each year. A copper beech tree in St John’s cemetery (which you may see on the walk described in this Newsletter) stores the most carbon (6 tonnes) across the two wards of Fitzjohn’s and Frognal and Belsize; the London planes on Belsize Avenue are storing slightly less but head the list for that ward. The plane trees lining Eton Avenue, Fitzjohn’s Avenue as well as Belsize Avenue are important in removing pollution with the data indicating each tree – and there are over a hundred in the area – removes around a kilogram of pollution each year.

In our Newsletter article in May, we highlighted some of the notable trees of the area. These are documented in Camden’s list, allowing you to locate both the mature examples recommended in the Newsletter and to see the newer plantings. Further, that article indicated some website applications available to guide you around Belsize and see some of our best trees (you can put your postcode into the website which will design a walk for you).

Trees in Primrose Gardens

Originally, Stanley Gardens was named after a Dean of Westminster of that name, the Deans being landowners here. At one time, it was used by Hampstead Cricket Club. The houses of Stanley Gardens were built in the 1880s.

The garden was acquired by Hampstead Borough Council in 1920, the name changing to Primrose Gardens in 1939. The garden consists of two railed enclosures with grass and trees with a small central paved seating area between. All the trees in the garden are documented in the council’s list. A pair of beech trees (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’) are central to the garden, their leaves colouring well through the winter. Three birch trees (Betula pubescens) are also in the garden, in their yellow autumn colour.

Mapping Primrose Gardens’ trees

Facts from the tree register

  • The tallest tree in Belsize is in the Adelaide Road Nature Reserve, a small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata) rising to 45m, lat-long (51.543707, -0.160565)
  • A London plane tree (Platanus x hispanica) in Belsize Avenue has the largest diameter at 1.33m, lat-long (51.549665, -0.169023)
  • But a London plane tree in Eton Avenue captures the most pollution each year, removing 1,300 grams, lat-long (51.543865, -0.17458)
  • The trees in Belsize ward are diverse: there are 61 varieties amongst the 375 mature trees
  • The newest plantings – juveniles – have maintained that diversity with 60 varieties in 142 trees in Belsize ward.

Walking in Lockdown

Belsize Square to St John-at-Hampstead circular walk

Route: Start in Belsize Square; walk via Belsize Crescent onto Fitzjohn’s Avenue and then to Church Row. Visit the Churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead and the Additional Burial Ground. Walk down Frognal back into Belsize Park. Keep a lookout for the following features.

Trees in Belsize Square

Autumn in Belsize gives us the opportunity to look at the changing trees. In Belsize Square, there are two juvenile Malus Rudolph trees (Crab Apples) which currently display yellowing leaves and red fruit which are easily seen from the pavement. You may have spotted their beautiful pink flowers in spring. They are deciduous and part of the Rosaceae family. You will also see juvenile Sweet Gum trees (Liquidambar Styraciflua; family: Hamamelidaceae) with stunning maple-like leaves in different shades of red. They too are deciduous.

A walk up the hill

Now walk through the Village (noting the Ginkgo tree). Stretch your legs by walking uphill via Belsize Crescent and Akenside Road onto Fitzjohn’s Avenue and to Church Row Hampstead. Go into the Churchyard.

Malus Rudolph


Liquidambar Styraciflua

St John-at-Hampstead Churchyard

Follow the path around the Church to the memorial to John “Longitude” Harrison (1693-1776). The fascinating text on the memorial says that, as a young man, Harrison learned to clean and repair clocks and made a few clocks from wood. He went on to become the inventor of the Gridiron Pendulum and discovered a method for preventing the effect of temperature on clocks by using two bars of different metals fixed together. He introduced the secondary spring to keep clocks going while winding up. In 1735, his “first Time keeper” was sent to Lisbon. In 1764 his “much Improved fourth Time keeper” having been sent to Barbados, the Commissioners of Longitude “certified that it had determined the Longitude within one Third of Half a Degree of a great Circle, having erred not more than 40 Seconds in Time”. In March 2006, HRH Philip, Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a memorial stone for Harrison in Westminster Abbey. This is located near the graves of George Graham and Thomas Tompion, famous clockmakers, in the centre part of the nave.

You can also take the opportunity to see the gravestone of artist John Constable and his family, which is lower down the Churchyard.

Additional Burial Ground

Cross over to the Additional Burial Ground and walk uphill to the back corner. Here you will see a memorial to local artist Randolph Schwabe (1885-1948) who was Slade Professor of Fine Art at University College London from 1930. When the lockdown ends, you can learn more about Schwabe by visiting Burgh House whose exhibition “A Nest of Gentle Artists. Randolph Schwabe and his Hampstead Contemporaries” will run until 7 March 2021. See the back page of this Newsletter for details.

The memorial to Schwabe, which covers his ashes, is a statue of an angel by the sculptor Alan Durst (1883-1970). A member of the London Group of Artists, Durst contributed work to (among other places) cathedrals around the United Kingdom.

A wooden columbarium

Near the statue is the grade 2 listed columbarium, which was built of wood in 1940 to cater for the new demand for memorial tablets. There are very many tablets attached to the wood, of different styles and from different decades. You can read about the columbarium on the nearby metal plaque.

Walking down Frognal

Walk back to Belsize Park by dropping downhill on Frognal. Among the plaques to famous residents is one erected in memory of illustrator Kate Greenaway at 39 Frognal. The artist died here in 1901. The house was designed for her by architect Norman Shaw. English Heritage describes the house as an asymmetrical, tile-hung, gabled design reflecting the popular Arts and Crafts movement of the time.  English Heritage’s website also tells the following story: “While living and working there, Greenaway was often visited by the artist John Ruskin, whom she had become close friends with. They had been introduced in 1880 and Ruskin had swiftly adopted Greenaway as one of his circle of female art protégées. Their correspondence continued for some 20 years, though much of it was left up to Greenaway. Ruskin even refused to write the address ‘Frognal’, remarking – ‘It might as well be Dognal-Hognal-Lognal – I won’t’ – and Greenaway was forced to keep him supplied with envelopes she addressed to herself for their correspondence” (see

A Prime Minister and the founder of psychoanalysis

From Frognal, cut back to the centre of Belsize Park via Maresfield Gardens, looking out for the plaque where Herbert Asquith lived at No 27 and plaques commemorating Sigmund and his daughter Anna at the Freuds’ home at No 20. The Freud Museum which now occupies the house is currently closed due to the lockdown, but you can keep an eye on to find out about future opening plans. The statue of Sigmund Freud at the end of Belsize Lane is a further reminder of the refugees who settled in the area after fleeing Nazi Germany, and of the long association of Belsize Park and Swiss Cottage with psychoanalysis. Walk back into the Village and then to St Peter’s Church in Belsize Square to complete the circle.

A Celebration of Robert Stephenson

Peter Darley of the Camden Railway Heritage Trail introduces us to local industrial heritage.

There had never been a project approaching the size and complexity of the London & Birmingham Railway (L&BR), the first railway authorised to extend into London as far as the New Road (now the Euston Road) for passenger services. Yet Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) was appointed engineer-in-chief for the whole line in September 1833, when not yet thirty.
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In Memoriam: Consuelo Phelan

It is with considerable sadness that the Belsize Society has learnt of the death of Consuelo Phelan. Many members will remember her as a very longstanding committee member who especially loved and cared for the trees and plants of Belsize. She kept a very close eye on all planning applications related to trees, and it is certainly thanks to her efforts that some of our beautiful trees were spared the axe. Members also often saw her at the gates of the garden party or the AGM; she only stood down from the committee at the most recent AGM last March after many years of service. Continue reading

New Book about Belsize: The Harlots of Haverstock Hill 

The drama series “Harlots” features Georgian London’s most valuable commercial activity – sex. Series one and two will be aired back to back on BBC Two from August. Significantly, Belsize had its own Harlots in the 18th century, and this fascinating story is told in the new book by David S Percy, The Harlots of Haverstock Hill.

The Harlots of Haverstock Hill is an account of the remarkable life of “Moll” King, an 18th century madam or brothel-keeper, an ambitious and opportunistic woman who rose from humble beginnings in the streets of London to become one of the first settlers in  Belsize Park. Moll became a wealthy landowner with several properties on Haverstock Hill in the days when there were no more than a handful of houses along this country road to Hampstead. Her legacy remains there to this day.

Bold and opportunistic, Moll King was a woman who mixed with harlots, courtesans and lords of the land, who was painted by Hogarth and defied the norms and restrictions of the day to pursue wealth and success on her own terms. This account of her life, written in part in the first person as she might have recorded it, includes new information and facts which have never before come to light regarding what happened to Moll King’s Belsize houses – especially her villa.

“Moll” King and her Belsize Houses by David S Percy, with a foreword by Dan Cruickshank, will be out on 1 September and available in all Daunt bookshops plus Waterstones, Hampstead, £10.99.

Belsize Air Quality – Questions and Answers

The survey was funded by the Community Infrastructure Levy and Belsize Society was supported by Camden Council’s Air Quality Officers, to whom we owe our thanks. The coronavirus lockdown meant we could not hold the planned public meeting with Camden’s officers to discuss the survey results so instead Tom Parkes, Senior Air Quality Officer, kindly responded to questions submitted by the volunteers: Continue reading