Open house 17: Hampstead garden suburb

Posted on September 22, 2017 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

free church central square

Free church and Central square

 

I have long wanted to explore the Hampstead Garden Suburb, and so I was quite excited when I saw a guided walk of the area listed on Open House London. With the housing crisis in London worsening, it is time to review what went wrong and examine ideas and schemes from the past to see what could be learned from them.

Described by American historian, sociologist and philosopher, Lewis Mumford, as 'a masterpiece and an artistic triumph', Hampstead Garden Suburb was founded in 1907 by the social reformer, Dame Henrietta Barnett. It was an ambitious and ground-breaking social experiment and town planning for that period.

After setting up Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust Ltd, the Trust bought 243 acres of land near the Hampstead Heath Extension from Eton College, hoping to transform it into a beautiful, healthy, and friendly neighbourhood that accommodated all classes of the society. The planning was created by Raymond Unwin and Richard Barry Parker (both were involved with the Arts and Crafts movement), emphasising on nature, community and harmony.

Despite the project's initial utopian and noble intention, the aim to create a neighbourhood for all classes somehow failed; and now, the area with over 5000 properties is one of London's most affluent areas.

 

Free church

Free church

The Grade I listed Free church was design by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1911

 

I guess there were many curious Londoners like me who wanted to explore the area, because the walks were oversubscribed, but our guide (a resident of the suburb) was not too bothered by this. We started off at the open and tranquil Central square, where the two Grade I listed churches are located: St Jude's church and Free church.

 

St Jude's church

St Jude's church

St Jude's church

St Jude's church  Walter Starmer at St Jude's

Walter Starmer at St Jude's

The Grade I listed St Jude’s was also designed by Edwin Lutyens. Building began in 1909 and did not complete until 1935. The murals and paintings were done by Walter Starmer

 

Opposite the Free church is the former house of Dame Henrietta Barnett, and there is a memorial nearby (see below) which is also Grade II listed. On one side of square stands another grand building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The Henrietta Barnett School is a voluntary-aided state grammar school for girls founded in 1911 – during a time when educational opportunities for women were severely limited. As part of her master plan, Dame Henrietta Barnett built the School on the principle that education should be open to girls from different backgrounds to study and learn together and from each other, regardless of social, economic, cultural, ethnic or religious background. Now the school is considered to be one of the best schools in the country.

 

The Henrietta Barnett School

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Top: The Grade II listed Henrietta Barnett School; 2nd row left: Henrietta Barnett memorial

 

After the introduction, we spent the next two hours walking around the quiet and leafy neighbourhood, passing by many interesting houses built in the arts & crafts style.

 

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb

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One fascinating aspect of the suburb is its hedges and trees. Henrietta Barnett insisted on using hedges to mark boundaries, so they play an important role in the area. Every house also had two fruit trees planted in the garden (what a wonderful idea!). Consent is required by residents for significant changes to gardens, erection of garden sheds, removal of hedges and felling or pruning of trees.

We also visited two hidden community allotments in between the houses; but more surprisingly, two ancient woodlands – Big wood and Little wood – that have existed for over 1000 years.

 

Hampstead Garden Suburb

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Hampstead Garden Suburb  Hampstead Garden Suburb

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The suburb's rurual countryside atmosphere, big houses, and proximity to Hampstead heath have turned it into a popular residential area for the wealthy. It is a far cry from Henrietta Barnett's utopian ideal, which is a shame. However, we can still appreciate her paradigm and determination, and how it may help us to re-evaluate the housing problems that we are facing today.

 

Hampstead Heath extension

Hampstead Heath extension

Hampstead Heath extension

Hampstead Heath extension

 

After the walking tour, we had just enough time to visit the nearby Grade II listed Waterlow Court, which was designed by the renowned A British Arts & crafts architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott in 1904 and completed in 1909. The development was a project of Sir Sydney Waterlow's Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, and was initiated at the request of Henrietta Barnett. The fifty flats (vary in size) were designed for single working women who would not be able to keep servants, but would benefit from some degree of co-operative living. The co-living space included a communal dining area, a communal kitchen, a small common room, and servants' (including a housekeeper's and porters') quarters. Before this visit, I have never heard of this place before, but I find the concept very intriguing and I think it could still work in this day and age.

 

waterlow court

waterlow court

waterlow court

waterlow court

 

As soon as I walked through the lychgate, I was immediately impressed by dark timber-framed roof and the arts and crafts style lighting. The next thing I noticed were the round arches that are featured throughout the compound, and they create a 'cloister' effect which resemble a convent or monastery or Cathedral. The covered walkway leads to the quadrangular building with a large courtyard in the middle.

 

waterlow court

waterlow court

waterlow court

 

Our guide first gave us a tour of the back garden, which features not only some cool hedges, old trees and interesting plants, it also houses an air raid bunker.

 

waterlow court garden

waterlow court garden

waterlow court garden

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The garden of Waterlow Court and the entrance to an air raid bunker

 

Nowadays, the flats are no longer limited to females only, but the community spirit still thrives. We spoke to a few volunteers/residents on the day and they all seem to enjoy the tranquil setting and the friendly co-living atmosphere. However, most of the complaints were related to the tiny kitchens (probably because the working women didn't cook much back then) and either tiny or oversized bathrooms.

 

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waterlow court

waterlow court

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The corridor and a flat at the Waterlow Court

 

Accommodation is arranged in three to five room flats, designed with plank doors, mullioned windows and some open fireplaces. The original fittings, door and window furniture were made by J Pyghtle White of Bedford for Ambrose Heal of London. A resident kindly opened up and showed us her flat, and despite its small size, it is functional, cosy with original features are rare to find in London these days.

 

Corringham Road HAMPSTEAD GARDEN SUBURBS

Corringham Road HAMPSTEAD GARDEN SUBURBS

Corringham Road

 

I believe that the example of Hampstead garden suburb and Waterlow Court can provide us with some indications on how to strike a balance between nature, architecture and community. Aside from this balance, the housing needs to be (really) affordable... sadly, I can't see this happening in the near future. Perhaps we need another visionaire like Henrietta Barnett to instigate and implement changes, changes that we urgently need.


This post was posted in London, Architecture, British designs, Architectural conservation, Design, British heritage and was tagged with London, architecture, open house, heritage, Hampstead garden suburbs, arts & crafts movements

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