The survival of a Suburb

A talk by Ivor Hall at St Jude's on Open Day 21 September 2003

Ivor Hall

I consider myself fortunate to have lived on this Suburb for more than half my life. I hope to enjoy and share with others these pleasures for some time to come.

Some of you here today will have already completed your guided tour of the Artisans Quarter, others will be setting out shortly on that same route. Others include familiar faces of some of my friends and neighbours, who I thank for coming along today to swell the numbers!.

There are also other residents and non-residents with who I do not immediately identify.

It is a pleasure to welcome you all today to St Jude’s on the Hill in the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb on this years London Open House weekend.

My talk today is not only of the architecture of this suburb but of the changes I have seen to the suburbs fabric and its population since I arrived here over 40 years ago.

I have a deep concern for the future of this suburb and of the need to maintain what is left of the ideals of its Founder. Against the constantly, fast changing and demanding world of the 21st century to do so is going to require a concentration of mind not only by those with statutory powers but the Suburb population as a whole.

My talk starts with a little of the background to the beginnings of Hampstead Garden Suburb it then leads me onto the changing face of its population, from there on to its architecture and finally my views on its future.

If I were to ask the question - what makes a suburb such a pleasant place to live in, then a not unreasonable answer must be the peaceful environment it creates and more specifically its architecture.

This answer is only partially correct because, as our founder so clearly realised at an early date, the suburbs architecture is only one of two very important parts of the sum of the whole.

The other important part of this sum is its population, for these are the people who bring the environment and its architecture alive.

I would firstly like to touch on the ideals of its founder Dame Henrietta Barnett whose dream was clearly summarised in an article she wrote in 1903 which was published at the time in a number of newspapers.

I quote from that article:

"a 'garden suburb' not for one class only, but to include people of all degrees: in which houses of the industrial classes will be beautiful. The houses will NOT be put in uniform lines, in close relationship, built regardless of each other, or without the consideration for the picturesque appearance of the whole. Each one will be surrounded by its own garden, and every road will be planted with trees, and be not less than 40 feet wide. Great care will be taken that houses shall not spoil each other outlook"..she she continues"..the syndicate is to develop the estate so that the rich may live in kindly neighbourliness with the poor: the dwellings of both attractive."

You can see from this quotation that, to the Dame, the population was as important a part of the total as was the architecture.

On Thursday, May 2, 1907 Mrs Henrietta Barnett as she then was, dug the first sod for the first house to be built on the suburb to realise her dream.

I turn now to its population.

The population of the suburb has changed dramatically since my arrival in 1960, when the rich lived to the South and the industrial classes to the North. With the escalating cost of property the younger rich have gradually drifted into the Artisan Quarter to the North.

In 1960 many houses were still tenant occupied, at Peppercorn rents, by some of little means, by some in retirement, by some employed by the managing agents of the day and by others who were in manual employment.

These were the people the Dame referred to as the ‘industrial classes’, many of whom she had brought from the East End of London to enjoy a better life in a greener and cleaner environment.

My first home was in Wordsworth Walk in the Artisan Quarter where there were indeed many more tenanted than owner/occupied houses.

Today, these tenants, the industrial classes, have all but disappeared and have been replaced by Owner/occupiers.

This major change in the population has destroyed that part of the Dames dream that the poor and the rich should live together in harmony.

Today, we now have two different classes, the rich who continue to abound to the South but who now also, with the arrival of a younger generation of professionals, have spread themselves across the whole of the suburb.

For many, their aspirations, expectations, requirements and demands for their property and way of life are far greater and more immediate than those hose homes they now occupy.

The other class I would call the longer standing resident who, apart from the unrealisable value of their modest homes, would hardly claim to be rich.

We need to ensure the whole population understands that property values are only a part of the wealth of our suburb. The involvement of every resident in the numerous activities and the affairs of the management and the running of the suburb is essential for its future security.

Any aspirations home owners might have in their wishes to alter and improve their homes, should be tempered by good practice, should show restraint, be based on common sense, and by consideration for ones neighbours.

For the continued wellbeing of our suburb, and in fact for many like Communities there is a need for


Why do I consider the population to be so relevant?. It is because this is the one main element of the whole which cannot be protected by legislation or authority.

I now move on to the Architecture of the Suburb.

Without Raymond Unwin’s imaginative master plan Hampstead Garden Suburb would not be what it is. His Master plan, thankfully, was brilliantly interpreted and turned into reality by a number of fine architects.

I would divide the Suburb into three areas. The South, Central Square and To the North, the Artisans Quarter.

To the South, grand houses for the rich were built on large plots.

I say little of this part of the suburb except that there have been recent examples of houses being purchased, demolished and replaced with larger, more pretentious buildings whose ‘architectural styles’ relate neither to that of their neighbours nor to the reputation for the high quality of architecture for which, quite rightly, the suburb is renowned.

One house in this area has even been converted into a private fitness centre for the Sultan of Brunei’s guests!.

The area of Central Square was the work of Edwin Lutyens and in the square itself he designed two superb churches, in contrasting yet complimentary styles, and between them to the East the incomplete, wingless and therefore rather awkward looking Institute building.

Some of his house designs were also realised on the West side of both North Square and the top of Erskine Hill. Unfortunately not all of his designs for this area were built. The remaining houses around the Central Square area were in the Lutyens style but designed by other Architects.

To the North of the Central Square Complex is to be found what is to me The gem of the suburb, the Artisans Quarter.

I never cease to enjoy the imagination and subtlety of the detail of the work of the numerous architects whose work complimented Raymond Unwin’s master plan for this Quarter. Although there are many Architectural gems to be seen throughout the Suburb, it is within this neighbourhood that I believe the Architects working in the development of the suburb had their finest hour.

They had to combine imaginative design with economy of build.

Their success was beyond all expectations.

Thankfully most of their work remains untainted, but over the past 5 decades there have been two developments which have had a major detrimental effect on not only the street scene but on the population of the suburb.

The first, which took place shortly before I came to the Suburb, is the loss of the CLUB HOUSE, which was originally built to provide a central meeting place for the whole population of the suburb.

Rather surprisingly, in Unwin’s master plan, the CLUB HOUSE was not, as one might have expected, located in Central Square but was sited on Willifield Green in the centre of the Artisans Quarter.

The Club House was irreparably damaged by a land mine in 1940. After the war, instead of rebuilding it, the then head lessees took the war damage payment offered and decided to build other houses on the site with a small but inadequate club house to the rear. This never happened.

In the late 50’s the Trust (not the present Managing Trust) decided to construct a new single storey building, to be called Fellowship House, and alongside it, they allowed a new two storey dwelling house to be constructed.

Fellowship House was built as a club for the elderly, it was a noble idea, but The downside was that it took the place of the original CLUB HOUSE.

Both Fellowship House and the adjoining house were, unfortunately, architect designed in the contemporary style of the day and paid no respect to the delightful red brick houses which adjoin them on Willifield Green.

The second development happened much later in the 70’s. It was the redevelopment of the Orchard, a sub-standard, but architecturally a very valuable residential building, built on backland providing one roomed accommodation for the elderly.

Its antiquated plan with open balcony access at first floor level coupled with the questionable state of its structure desperately needed to be upgraded.

Rather than upgrading or reconstructing it to follow its original quadrangle plan form it was demolished and replaced with an architect designed building, in the contemporary style, providing improved accommodation for suburb residents of comfortable means and for council nominees.

There is however, one saving grace. It is barely visible from the public highways!.

I have also seen constant and subtle changes to the street scene.

  • Original front doors replaced with those of ‘Georgian’ style or fully Glazed.
  • Infils closing important views between houses.
  • Inappropriate side and rear extensions, many visible from the street.
  • Unsympathetic pointing of brickwork to chimney stacks and walls.
  • 6 Meter high shiny aluminium poles carrying TV aerials and ugly and security alarm boxes clearly visible to suit the supplier rather than being modestly sited to suit the building.
  • Front gardens paved over to provide off street parking and front gates removed or replaced with iron ones.

Other external changes have been carried out by Barnet Council who have for years been replacing broken paving stones with tarmac, but, they have, over the past two years, started to dig up the tarmac adjacent to the curbs and replaced it with turf.

These are some of the small, but none the less important changes that have been carried out to the original Architects designs and to the street scene of the suburb.

I would add to my list the latest, large, brash and totally inappropriate street signs which have recently been installed by Barnet. Their installation is now on hold thanks to the numerous complaints from residents and their representatives.

There is today a development in the pipeline on the biggest and most visible site on the Suburb. I refer to the proposed development of the Institute site by the Henrietta Barnet School for Girls.

Over the years the school has changed from one which in the past served the local community and others from within Barnet to a school which because of its ambitions to become top of its group, now trawls up to 50% of its yearly intake from outside the local borough!.

I also mention the imminent departure of the Institute which, by an agreement which terminates in 2004, shares the same site with the school.

This Institute has been in our midst for many years and, like the school has expanded. It now provides some 8,000 students, of whom 2,000 come from within the Suburb, with over 400 different courses in subjects of a variety of length, in both day and evening classes during any year.

Soon it is likely to quit the suburb and be dispersed to various sites around the Borough.

Finally my thoughts as to the future of the Suburb.

I believe it will only flourish and survive as a convivial place in which we can all live together in harmony if there is open dialogue between those who live here, those who represent us that is The Residents Association, and those who ‘control’ us that is Barnet Council and the Suburb management company, the New Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust. There is an ongoing need for us all to COMMUNICATE, To CONSULT and to CONTRIBUTE.

In particular, Communication between and with all residents to ensure they fully understand that it benefits the whole population if we respect and follow the basic ground rules of the suburb for building and alteration works to our properties, ground rules which have served us so well in the past.

We need to CONSULT with our neighbours and those in authority and we must join in and CONTRIBUTE to the numerous activities and to the running of the suburb.

Fortunately we have two organisations that have legal powers to protect the fabric of the suburb and to control excessive demands for alterations to suburb buildings, but they have no control over its population.

Firstly, The Local Authority - Barnet, whose planning department control external extensions and alterations, who cover the requirements of a conservation area and who have additional control overt the detail of these works through an article four direction relating to conservation areas.

Secondly, The New Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust, who, in 1974, were granted the Scheme of Management of the 3,500 properties which make up the Suburb. It urgently needs to expand its membership from the present 759 to ensure that more residents take an interest in and involve themselves in the management of the suburb.

In support of and in constant communication with Barnet and the Trust we have our own, thriving Residents Association who are able to convey to the authorities the views of the population. It has a membership of some 2,200 residents and a Council of 28 unpaid volunteers and additional co-opted experts. The executive committee are supported by a number of sub-committees covering such diverse areas such as Allotments, Conservation and Amenities, Events, a Litter team - of one, Membership, Publications, Roads and Traffic and finally Trees and Open Spaces.

A great support and a mine of information for the residents comes from our own newspaper, the Suburb News. It is now 20 years old is distributed to every house on the suburb, free of charge, by numerous volunteers.

We are fortunate that there is still a bedrock of community spirited residents who care about what makes our Suburb.

A move into the 21st century has brought with it a step change in the make up of its population. By bringing the whole of this changed population on- side the basic fabric and fine spirit of the Suburb we enjoy today should be safe for many years to come.

Thank you.
Ivor Hall
September 21, 2003

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