Belsize House and other local country mansions – the story of the Belsize Estate before the 1850s.
Join us for a guided walk led by Averil Nottage.
Belsize means beautifully situated. Surrounded by countryside and with fine views of London, it was a perfect location for an aristocratic country estate. Belsize House, a mansion surrounded by a 25 acres walled garden, was occupied by aristocrats in the 16th and for much of the 17th centuries. In 1720 it became a pleasure garden which was at first very fashionable and then became notorious for bawdiness and gambling.
At the beginning of the 19th century the whole of the Belsize estate was sub-divided into 8 to create mini country estates within the reach of successful businessmen. During the walk you will hear the story of Belsize House and how the sub-estates were developed. Few of those buildings remain, but they have, nevertheless, left their mark on Belsize as we see it today.
Welcome to the February BelSoc Newsletter.
It was good to see many members at this year’s carol singing. We were joined by Primrose Hill Community Choir, raising funds for Marie Curie. In January, local historian Martin Sheppard attracted a large audience when, at a joint event hosted with the Friends of the Belsize Community Library, he spoke about Belsize during the Second World War. An interesting talk included some music from the period.
This Newsletter features a piece by Averil Nottage about Belsize House, other mansions and the development of Belsize since the 16th century. There is to be a local history walk around this theme in May led by Averil and the Newsletter also gives details about how you can book for this using Eventbrite or by contacting us if this option is not possible.
Whether there is adequate provision for those in our community who are not online has become a concern as Camden considers removing paper visitor parking permits. The Newsletter covers our contribution to the consultation where, with other resident bodies, we are raising the need for scratchcard permits for those unable to access services online. This Newsletter also covers the consultation on the Camden Local Plan, and has a piece about what’s on at Hampstead Theatre.
We are getting ready for the AGM. Papers are with this Newsletter, and you’ll also see an article about our request at the AGM to raise the membership fee level. There is a request for volunteers, especially if you are interested in joining the Society’s committee. We would also be grateful for any member recommendations for Tradesmen You Can Trust, with a form enclosed with this Newsletter.
We hope you enjoy this Newsletter.
On the main stage – Double Feature – From 8th February
Alfred Hitchcock – the world’s most celebrated filmmaker
Tippi Hedren – Hitchcock’s muse and leading lady
Michael Reeves – brilliant new director trying to prove his worth
Vincent Price – seasoned hero of the horror genre
Two stories splice together seamlessly, exploring the glamour – and the grit – associated with the silver screen. Where does the power in Hollywood truly sit: with the star on screen, or in the director’s chair? John Logan is an American playwright and screenwriter with first-hand experience of the movie world having written the screenplays for The Aviator, Skyfall and Gladiator. His stage work includes the Tony Award-winning play Red (West End and Broadway), Peter and Alice (West End) and the book for Moulin Rouge (West End and Broadway)
Jonathan Kent returns to Hampstead where his previous productions include Good People, The Slaves of Solitude and The Forest.
Next on Downstairs – Out of Season – From 16th February
The band is back in town! Michael, Chris and Dev are returning to Ibiza and the hotel where it all began thirty years ago… But Michael’s stuck in London, Dev’s got a bad back and Chris… well, he’s just Chris. And it turns out that none of them are in their twenties anymore! As this middle-aged trip down memory lane is about to hurtle off the tracks, Holly and Amy arrive, so down-to-earth they might just save our feckless heroes from really humiliating themselves…
Neil D’Souza’s comedy picks over the gulf between past aspirations and present realities – how we can come to terms with the past and find a way to face the future. D’Souza’s other plays include Small Miracle (Colchester) and Coming Up (Watford).
Alice Hamilton is Hampstead Theatre’s Associate Director. Her credits include the Downstairs productions of Every Day I Make Greatness Happen and Paradise, and The Dumb Waiter and The Memory of Water on Hampstead’s Main Stage.
In this article Averil Nottage provides a short taster of her local history walk on 12 May
Belsize means beautifully situated. Surrounded by open countryside and with fine views of London, Belsize was a perfect location for an aristocratic country estate.
Belsize House, situated near the junction of Belsize Park and Belsize Avenue, was probably built at the end of 15th century. In 1568 the house had 24 rooms, including a hall, long gallery, and a great chamber. Its 25 acres park was enclosed in a pentagonal wall surrounded by over 200 acres of farmland. The estate was leased to William Waad, an eminent statesman and diplomat whom Queen Elizabeth entrusted with her most delicate missions.
After the Restoration the house was rebuilt, and the estate passed to the Chesterfield family. By the early 18th century, they had moved out and the house was sublet. In 1720, with a flourish of trumpets, James Howell opened the house and grounds as a pleasure garden. It offered fine dining and wines, music, dancing in the lavish ballroom, fishing, hunting and betting. Initially it was very fashionable, and the Prince and Princess of Wales dined there, but soon after it was described as a “scandalous Lew’d House.” Magistrates intervened to prevent unlawful gaming and rioting.
It wasn’t until 1746, when the house was rebuilt as a private residence, that the area regained its respectability. After Ken Wood, it remained the pre-eminent park on the northern heights for another century.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries several houses were built around Belsize Lane. In 1794 Baron Loughborough, the Lord Chancellor, bought one as his country residence. It was a substantial mansion in 21 acres and had a private drive. He held extravagant banquets there with guests including the Prince of Wales. The house was renamed Rosslyn House after he received an earldom in 1801.
Queen Victoria visited it to see whether it would be a suitable place for her children to spend their summers. In 1808, when the 5th Earl of Chesterfield needed to clear his debts, the Belsize Estate was sold off as 8 sub estates. These miniature country estates, with “capital mansion houses” set in a few acres of park and surrounded by meadows, would be within the reach of successful businessmen.
The lease for the most northern plot went to George Todd, a Baltic merchant who had made his fortune in Riga. He demolished a house in 16 acres of land to build a magnificent mansion called Belsize Court. Opposite the mansion, William Tate build a large cottage orne with gothic towers on the site of a “Chinese” cottage. Now known as Hunters Lodge, it remains on the corner of Belsize Lane and Wedderburn Road. Todd also built a grand house between Belsize Lane and Belsize Avenue called Ivy Bank.
Edward Bliss, who made his fortune by manufacturing gun flints in the Napoleonic War, bought the sub-estate between England’s Lane and Belsize Grove. He leased individual plots to builders, creating a piecemeal development.
Nearly 38 houses were built by 1830 and occupied by “persons of quality”. Three “post Waterloo” houses at 129-133 Haverstock Hill, and a row of 1820s stuccoed houses on the south side of Belsize Grove, remain. John Maples, who owned the furniture store, lived for many years in Bedford House, a substantial property on the corner of Belsize Grove. It was advertised in the Times in 1905 as comprising of 13 bedrooms with dressing rooms, three bathrooms, dining, drawing, morning and billiard rooms, a library, conservatory, stabling for five horses and a garden with lawns, greenhouses etc.
By the middle of the 19th century London was extending northward, creating demand for suburban housing. Belsize House was demolished in 1853 and replaced with the large stucco villas that characterise Belsize Park. In the 1860s land from the Rosslyn Estate and Belsize Court was taken to build Lyndhurst Gardens. Gradually other grounds and mansions made way for housing. Rosslyn House was sold to developers in 1896. In the 1920s the site of Ivy Bank became a motor car garage. Belsize Court was demolished in 1937 and replaced by blocks of flats of the same name. The houses on Bliss’s estate were mainly replaced by flats in the 1960s and 70s to meet the needs of the time. Bedford House wasn’t demolished until the 1980s. But whilst the mansions and estates have gone, we can still see their traces all around us when we know what was there before.
Historic England has let us know the details and background of a new listing of a Belsize house designed by architect Georgie Wolton
No. 34 Belsize Lane, designed by Georgie Wolton (1934-2021), has been listed at Grade 2 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of Historic England. It is the first building by Wolton on the National Heritage List for England – the official record of all buildings and structures of national architectural and historic interest. The listing includes the boundary wall to Belsize Lane.
34 Belsize Lane was designed by Georgie Wolton as a home and studio for herself and her family in 1975-1976. It remains a private house. It is one of a small number of buildings by the architect, who increasingly specialised in landscape design as her career progressed. Wolton had a pivotal, though short-lived role in the formation of the architectural practice, Team 4 in the early 1960s. She went on to work in independent practice, one of few women architects in the post-war period to do so.
Georgie Wolton’s buildings are little known, but she made an important contribution to post-war Modernism in England. 34 Belsize Lane is a very personal work which has survived remarkably intact. There is no street frontage. Behind an unassuming boundary wall (which you will have passed many times going into or out of Belsize Village) lies a small masterpiece – a house she called the “last of the English follies”, one totally in touch with the exciting architectural zeitgeist of its day, but also unique and uncompromising.
34 Belsize Lane captures many of the ideas which influenced her practice as well as her skill as a designer. Bomb-damaged sites and the subdivision of large houses and their gardens offered challenging but affordable plots for young architects after the Second World War. Wolton chose to create a single-storey house almost completely hidden from view, shielded behind the old brick boundary wall which extends along Belsize Lane. Behind the wall, the brick and glass building sits nestled amongst greenery with three distinct courtyard gardens created around it so that every room feels connected to the outdoors.
Wolton was interested in creating a strong relationship between inside and outside and needed plenty of wall space to display her personal collection of Turkish kelim rugs. She introduced rooflights, bespoke sliding timber shutters and conservatory-like antechambers into her design – these areas illustrated the concept of what she called “pause” spaces separating the living and working parts of the house.
Wolton had a longstanding interest in buildings designed to function as both domestic and work spaces. Two of her three key buildings were designed as working houses: Cliff Road Studios and 34 Belsize Lane, both in Camden.
The following biographical details have been supplied by Historic England. Georgina Cheesman attended Epsom School of Art before studying architecture at the Architectural Association, London between 1955 and 1960. She married publisher David Wolton in 1962 and had their daughter, Suke, the same year.
In 1963, after a brief stint working for Middlesex County Council, she formed the architectural firm Team 4 with Richard Rogers, Su Rogers, Norman Foster and her younger sister Wendy Cheesman (later Foster). It was Wolton who allowed the practice to function, being the only member of the group who was at that time a fully qualified architect. She moved on very swiftly however, partnering for a short time with Adrian Gale, formerly of Mies van der Rohe’s studio, before spending the rest of her career as a sole practitioner.
Her Fieldhouse in East Horsley, Surrey (now demolished) was built in 1968 with a corten (weathered) steel frame. It is amongst the first domestic uses of corten steel in the UK. It was one of several of the houses designed by British architects in the 1960s and ‘70s which were heavily influenced by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois.
Wolton’s Cliff Road Studios, Phase I (1969) and II (1971-2), are her best-known work. The scheme drew admiration in architectural circles for its reference to early European modernism and Parisian studio houses of the 1920s.
As a landscape designer Wolton worked for private, public and commercial clients. She completed many schemes for her longstanding friend, Richard Rogers, as well as others at Dartington Hall, Devon and The River Café, Hammersmith.