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.