Features & Comments

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


Fiftieth Anniversary Event: The Story of Moll King’s Belsize Houses 20/11/2021

On 4 November, we celebrated our 50th anniversary with a very special event, hosted at the Belsize Community Library. David Percy presented his illustrated production about Moll King’s Belsize Houses. It was our first indoor event for many months: it was wonderful to see our members face-to-face again and within Belsize Library. 

Projected onto a big screen, David’s production is a mix of historical analysis and images with a series of readings from David’s book “The Harlots of Haversack Hill”. It starts with the early origins of Moll King as she begins to develop her businesses including running houses of disrepute. The story of Moll is brought to life, most vividly by a series of readings by Dame Janet Suzman from the text of David’s book.

The presentation charts decades and centuries of a part of Belsize, the stretch of Haversack Hill as it climbs towards Hampstead, particularly between Chalk Farm and Belsize Avenue. The film’s careful consideration of the history of the area, drawing in the evidence from maps, paintings and photographs, is as strong as David’s past studies of Belsize history. By focusing in on the changes in Haverstock Hill, the production has a different richness, introducing us to the cluster of buildings (Dawsons Villa, Field Cottage), and to a history of the people (Tom King, Moll’s son, through to to the modern owners). 

In questions after the screening, David explained how the production was a development of his book, and his own pleasure at seeing the character of Moll King voiced so perfectly by Dame Janet Suzman.

After the event, wine and nibbles were served. We were treated to a speech by our former chairwoman Averil Nottage who gave us a poignant history of BelSoc and its predecessors over the years.

Streaming “The Story of Moll King’s Belsize Houses”, 20 Dec-6 Jan 

David Percy’s presentation will be available to stream online over the seasonal period, in case you would like to see this excellent presentation again or were unable to go to the recent screening. David has kindly allowed his illustrated production to be available for a limited period, streaming from 20 December to 6 January. We’ll email the details and provide links online nearer the time.

Society’s Historical Walk around Belsize 20/11/2021

We were delighted to be able to resume our hitherto regular historical walks in September, having been prevented for so long by events from organising these. On the day the weather seemed distinctly unpromising, but the rain happily relented in the afternoon. We were rewarded with a large attendance. 

On this occasion, our former Chair Averil Nottage conducted a stroll through parts of Belsize that gave an insight into some representative aspects of our locality’s rich social and architectural history, dating back 1,000 years. Starting in Belsize Terrace and taking in Belsize Square, Lambolle Road, Eton Stables, Eton Avenue and finally Chalcot Gardens, we learned how the name “Belsize” came about, how what was originally forest became farmland and then, with London’s expansion over the centuries, its transformation into a middle-class suburb, with reference in particular to the changing fashions in housing that we still see. 

It was very apparent afterwards (over tea and cakes!) how pleased everyone was to able to participate after so long in a collective event of this kind, and one which was so informative and instructive. We owe our sincere thanks to Averil and to those of our members who made and served the tea and cakes. Some very good news is that Averil is planning a further walk for May next year, this time centred around the artists, refugees and spies (!) who lived in the Parkhill and Lawn Roads areas of Belsize (off Haverstock Hill, round the corner from the tube) in the 1930s. Watch this space….

From the archives: celebrating 50 years 20/11/2021


Over the last 50 years, we have aimed not only to contribute to the amenity of Belsize Park but to bring residents and supporters of the area together. The summer garden parties – hosted in the gardens of our members – have proved enduringly popular with legendary cakes baked by members and enjoyed by everyone.  There was a Jubilee Garden Party in Mary Shenai’s garden at 1 Belsize Park in May 2002 which featured a brass band.  We are hugely grateful to all our hosts over the years and to our loyal bakers and servers without whom we simply could not hold this event.  

A highlight of the calendar has been community carol singing in Belsize Village.  This started as a last minute idea in December 2003 under the talented leadership of Handley Stevens, BRA Chairman.  Over 100 people attended, joining in the singing, eating mince pies and giving money to the local Marie Curie hospice. This set the pattern and tone from then until now.  The weather has not led to any dampening of spirits!  In December 2012, it rained non-stop but Belsizers simply raised their umbrellas and carried on.

Handley and his family continued to lead the carols until 2017.  Choir leader Matthew Watts led the carols in 2018 and 2019 in great style before the pandemic led to the cancellation of this event in 2020.  We will be celebrating Christmas again this year with carols in Belsize Village on Saturday 18 December.  The generosity of everyone in giving donations to Marie Curie has been consistent.  For instance, over £300 was raised in 45 minutes of singing in 2019.  

Although the annual meetings with Belsize Councillors are open only to Committee members, we have for many years held successful hustings in advance of local elections.  Candidates in the Belsize area from across political parties have spoken and been questioned by the audience on local issues.  Venues for our hustings have included Hampstead Town Hall on Haverstock Hill, Sarum Hall School in Eton Avenue and latterly Belsize Square Synagogue.

The archives cover hustings in location elections in the 2000s. In 2002, the hottest issue was the proposed market at the end of Eton Avenue, which the meeting overwhelmingly supported. Other issues included the Belsize Library’s future and the proposal for a 20mph speed limit which was substantially supported by the audience. In 2014, questions from BRA members concerned 100 Avenue Road, HS2, local amenities and social housing.

TYCT over the years

The archives record how, in December 1993, a committee member “will really get it done soon”, with the “it” being a Tradesmen’s List. Updated regularly, TYCT has been very useful and always popular. During much of its history, it boasted illustrations by Tony Gollop (who also provided material for the newsletter), with earlier issues having images of Belsize House, in 1845.

The BRA and BelSoc: The 5th Decade 10/11/2021

A history of the Fifth Decade of the BRA/BelSoc supplements the story of the BRA prepared for our 40th Anniversary in 2011 and may be read here

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