Features & Comments

Plant a Tree for the Queen’s Jubilee 6/2/2022

Barbara Abraham, our Committee’s tree expert, writes:

We announced in last August’s Newsletter that the Belsize Society was hoping to participate in the tree planting initiative marking Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 and plant some extra trees in public areas in Belsize. We drew up a shortlist of four possible locations and put the proposals to Camden tree department and to our three Belsize Councillors. Our Councillors are enthusiastic and supportive of the project and have suggested that we apply for Local CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) funding for the tree planting, and we have begun the application process.

A spot at the junction of Eton Avenue, Lancaster Grove, Lambolle Place and Eton Garages

In discussion with Councillors Steve Adams and Tom Simon, we have narrowed down the shortlist to a single location: the triangular-shaped island at the junction of Eton Avenue, Lancaster Grove, Lambolle Place and Eton Garages. This island currently has one medium-sized mature tree and a bench but its main use is as a dumping ground for Christmas trees once a year. BelSoc is proposing planting a cluster of native fruit trees (cherries, apples or pears) with a view to transforming this under-utilised site into a small green park – a mini-orchard. The existing mature tree and the bench would be retained, and an additional bench or two added. As well as providing a more environmentally attractive space, the grouping of trees would improve air quality in the vicinity and create a wildlife habitat.

We are excited about the project but it is at an early stage. Crucially, a survey needs to be carried out using detecting equipment to identify the presence of any underground infrastructure, such as pipes and cables, and determine if space is free to plant a tree. The successful locations are then marked and the second phase of the survey, involving trial excavations, can take place to ensure that the proposed locations for tree pits are in fact free of services and other obstructions. Until we know the results of the surveys we cannot be sure that the tree planting project is feasible – but we are optimistic!

Focus on Hampstead Theatre 6/2/2022

What’s coming up at Hampstead Theatre?

Next on the Main Stage – The Forest
At this turning-point of his life, Pierre finds himself tormented by the conflicting demands of family, career and sexual desire.

The World Premiere of Florian Zeller’s uncompromising and mysterious play is translated, as ever, by Christopher Hampton and directed by Jonathan Kent, who re-unites with Zeller after his production of The Height of the Storm, which was critically acclaimed in London and on Broadway.

Next on Downstairs – The Animal Kingdom
Sam is struggling. Being a human has never been simple for him. Sam’s family don’t understand. But then they barely understand themselves.
The world premiere of Ruby Thomas’ The Animal Kingdom, directed by Lucy Morrison, is an observation of family dynamics told with wit and compassion. Ruby Thomas returns to Hampstead Theatre, following the premiere of her first full-length play Either in 2019.

Coming soon
The Fever Syndrome, 19 March – 23 April

Alexis Zegerman’s vivid, new play directed by Hampstead Artistic Director Roxana Silbert is a thrilling portrait of a brilliantly dysfunctional family.

Some Old Street, 2 April – 7 May

Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence are an artistic partnership, known collectively as Bunny. Expect interviews with real people, homemade songs and double act comedy antics.

Folk: Hampstead Theatre Production with Belsize Connections 6/2/2022

I’ll tell you one more thing. I got more songs in my head than I ever told you. I got enough to sing for days…

Readers may well have seen Nell Leyshon’s play Folk at Hampstead Downstairs. Louie and Lucy are sisters whose mother has recently died. They live in South Somerset and make just enough to live on as glovemakers. The two sisters have been handed down an abundance of songs which they know by heart and which they sing in homage to the traditional rural life to which they feel bound. The songs are an inheritance from their mother and help them to temper their grief and reflect on their loss.

When Louie takes a job as a maid in a large house, she meets Cecil Sharp who has come to Somerset to record folk songs. Louie sings to him and he writes down the songs which are published. Louie regards the publication as a betrayal: the songs are not commodities but part of the very essence of the community which owns them and passes them down. The physical act of singing is an emotional reflection of the fields, gates and landscapes of the countryside. Better to lose the songs than to tie them into a world that excludes those who are their true guardians.

A Blue Plaque marks Cecil Sharp’s house in Maresfield Gardens

A play about Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) has a special resonance for Belsize residents. In 1896, he was appointed as the Principal of the Hampstead Conservatoire of Music at 64 Eton Avenue. The building was later the Embassy Theatre and is now part of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – right opposite the Hampstead Theatre. The Principal’s job came with a house: Sharp lived in Maresfield Gardens as marked today by an English Heritage Blue Plaque. Sharp stood down as the Principal in 1905 to concentrate on collecting folk songs. His life and work is now celebrated at Cecil Sharp House at 2 Regent’s Park Road in Primrose Hill. He died at his home in Hampstead and is buried in Golders Green Cemetery.

Louie and Lucy are based on real women: Louisa Hooper (1860-1946) and Lucy White (1849-1923). Sharp collected songs from them in 1903. The play includes ever-more evocative singing, dancing and piano playing from its small, multi-talented cast. Louie is played by Mariam Haque whose voice is a real treat.

For further information on Cecil Sharp, visit: https://www.efdss.org/cecil-sharp-house. For information about Louisa Hooper and Lucy White, visit https://cecilsharpspeople.org.uk/. For the BBC’s coverage on Front Row, visit https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00139cw. Folk is directed by Roxana Silbert; details at https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2021/folk/.

Helping our Newsletter to Thrive 6/2/2022

We would welcome help to maintain our popular Newsletter. Do you go to concerts, exhibitions or plays in the Belsize area? If so, perhaps you would like to write a review? We would then complement your review with details of other forthcoming related events, helping to publicise the wonderful arts in the area as they emerge from lockdown.

And we are dependant on our trusty Newsletter deliverers to make sure that you get your copy delivered to your front door. Do please let us know if you are able to help with delivery – which involves a pleasant walk around a small part of the area covered by BelSoc four times a year.

Do you have desktop publishing experience or other IT skills? We would like to hand over the layout of the Newsletter to new blood. Please volunteer if you are interested.

For further information, please contact info@belsize.org.uk.

Celebrating 50 years of the Belsize Society and its predecessors 20/11/2021

We asked Averil Nottage, former Chairwoman of the Belsize Residents Association, to address our 50th anniversary event.  Here is what she said. 

As we celebrate 50 years of the Belsize Society and its predecessors, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of our key achievements.  So here is a whistle stop tour of 50 years in five minutes.

Our greatest achievements were usually secured through campaigns.  Our first campaign, in 1971, was probably the most significant.  There was a plan to build a London Motorway Box that would cut through Belsize, destroy swathes of Victorian houses and St Peter’s Church, and split the community in two.  Fortunately, faced by widespread opposition, the plan was dropped.

Amongst other successful planning campaigns, we helped to:

  • conserve six significant houses in Haverstock Hill as co-operatives to house local homeless single people
  • preserve Hampstead Town Hall, St Stephen’s Church and the Spence-Webster houses in Belsize Park Gardens
  • save public spaces in Belsize Wood and Swiss Cottage
  • persuade Camden to ban estate agents’ boards in the Belsize Conservation Area.

Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t stop planning permission being granted for the 24-storey tower block in 100 Avenue Road.

Our campaigns have also had a significant impact on traffic and parking in Belsize.  We argued forcibly, and successfully:

  • to stop a complicated one-way system being introduced
  • for parking controls to stop people from outside the area parking near the local underground stations
  • to pedestrianise Belsize Terrace and so block a busy rat run and create a peaceful oasis in Belsize Village
  • to support the introduction of green travel plans for local schools
  • to improve pedestrian crossings
  • to reduce the planned impact of HS2 traffic in the area.

We hope that the results of our recent survey of air pollution will help to inform future traffic policy.

Taking part in campaigns about public services has had mixed success.

  • The first four campaigns to save Belsize Library as part of Camden’s Library service were successful although the opening hours were reduced.
  • The fifth campaign in 2012 failed, but we are fortunate that the Winch stepped in to run the library as a community resources.
  • Sadly, we were unable to save the sub post offices in Belsize Village and England’s Lane.  We were very pleased to regain a sub post office in Budgens on Haverstock Hill.
  • Campaigns to save local police and fire stations unfortunately failed.
  • Wheelie bins were introduced despite our protestations.

When the Society was formed 50 years ago, it was called the Three Roads Association. Shortly afterwards, it became the Belsize Residents Association.   In 2019 the Belsize Society took over its role, structured in a way that is better suited to the contemporary world.   It is impossible to count the tens or hundreds of thousands of hours that committee members and other volunteers have devoted to conserving and improving Belsize over this time.

Alongside conservation we have always seen it as important to organise social activities to bring people together.  Some key events were:

  • the Belsize Festivals that were held annually from 1973 to 1989 until a series of washed-out events dampened the organisers’ enthusiasm
  • annual garden parties and carol singing
  • historic, architectural and tree walks
  • new members’ lunches and local neighbourhood get-togethers.

Apart from the Belsize Festivals, the most popular event was the jointly sponsored premier of David Percy’s first Belsize Story film at St Stephens.  Although nearly 300 seats were available, we still had to turn more than a hundred people away! 

But that is probably enough history for now.  I hope you’ll agree that after fifty years we have plenty of achievements to celebrate.

For our account of “Shaping Belsize and the BRA campaigns” see our website at www.belsize.org.uk/features/2021/shaping-belsize-and-the-bra-campaigns


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