The History of Cholmley Gardens

 

Almost all the building that took place in West Hampstead between the two World Wars was carried out in the north of the area. One major part of this work was the creation of Cholmley Gardens. Cholmley Lodge, which had stood on the grounds for more than a century, was demolished in 1921.

 

On its grounds was then built seventeen blocks of flats fronting the four boundary roads: Mill Lane, Aldred Road, Hillfield Road, and Fortune Green Road. These blocks were put up between 1922 and 1927 and constituted Cholmley Gardens. Parts of the original lodge are still to be found in the extensive gardens of Cholmley Gardens. In particular, the main entrance steps and patio can still be found leading to the tennis court at the northern end of the gardens. Many of the retaining walls within the grounds were built using materials from the original house. Within the walls of the estate, one can find interesting pieces of the old building, including bricks with unusual markings, parts of the old coping stones and pieces of what were once pillars.

 

1927-1971: Inter-war years, War years and post-War years

It is not currently known who owned and occupied the flats from the 1920s to 1933. But on 3rd October 1933 a lease for the estate was made out to Associated Westminster Flats for 99 years from 25th March 1933, at a rent of £4,000 (£24 per flat). Leases for individual flats, however, were made out for only fifty years. It is known that forty-six leases expired in 1971, which implies they were set up in 1921, when the first flats started to be built.


The flats were advertised sometime between 1927 and 1933 as follows:

 

High-Class Residential Flats.

Completely self-contained and well-fitted. Sound proof and fire proof.
  • Marble floored entrance halls and staircases, oak front doors and balustrades.
  • Bath rooms have tiled walls and floors.
  • The accommodation comprises: four very good bed rooms, large lounge or
  • reception room, large dining room, kitchen and bath room, two W.C.s,
  • and box room. Kitchens are exceptionally well fitted with cupboard
  • accommodation.
     

Terms: Leases for 50 years will be granted at the nominal rental
of £24, inclusive of porterage and cleaning, lighting of the
staircase, use and upkeep of the gardens and tennis courts, in
consideration of a cash payment of between £1,500 and £1,700
according to floor and position.

Flats now ready for decorations to choice. Lock-up garage will be available 

on very reasonable terms. The charming grounds are being laid out to
include rock gardens, hard tennis courts and facilities for other games.
Each ground floor flat has a private garden attached.
 

Situation: Just off Finchley Road at West End Lane,
5 minutes' walk West Hampstead (Met. Station),
Two Electric Tram and Five 'Bus Services all within 2 to 5 minutes' walk."

 

Note the mention of marble entrances and stairs, which in the 1990s had carpets glued onto them.

 

Also note the reference to the West Hampstead Underground Station as a "Met. Station". This is because, until 1939 the station was served only by the Metropolitan Railway Company (which become the Metropolitan line of London Underground in July 1933). In 1939, the Bakerloo extension was brought into the station; the following year, the Metropolitan line ceased to stop there; and in 1977 this branch of the Bakerloo line was renamed the Jubilee line.

 

1971-1977: The Tenants Association

On 29th May 1971, the Cholmley Gardens Tenants Association had its inaugural meeting in Flat 2, hosted by Mrs Speelman. The purpose was to do battle with the then landlord, as the minutes reveal:

"The purpose was to form an Association of tenants in order to protect them against the representations of the Landlords, the Freshwater Group. Many flats (46 in all) out of an approximate total of 150 which had had their leases fall in, were originally approached by the Landlords and invited to sign new leases, many at an exorbitant increase, and notwithstanding the negotiations that were going on, the Landlords had themselves applied for the intervention of the Rent Officer, before negotiations were completed. The Camden Rent Officer ... inspected a number of flats, studied the figures provided by the landlords, and then proposed a rental in most instances of a high nature. The Officer's name was Mr Gordon Smith."

 

During the course of the 1970s, the financial crisis that engulfied Britain brought the collapse of the Stern Property Group, which owned Cholmley Gardens. The relationship between Stern and Freshwater is not clear, except that William Stern married into the Freshwater family group. (After the collapse, Mr Stern rose again from his record-breaking bankruptcy. And fell again. William Stern and his son Mark Stern were disqualified from acting as company directors in April 2000. The High Court found he and his son were unfit to be company directors. William Stern, whose second property empire went into liquidation with debts totalling more than £14 million, was disqualified for 12 years and Mark Stern was disqualified for 4 years.)

 

With the landlords in liquidation, the tenants association fought and won a battle to purchase Cholmley Gardens on a co-ownership basis. Mr Nicholas Holcombe was chair at the time. On 27th January 1977, the property was purchased by the Association for £825,000. Cholmley Gardens Ltd was formed later that year.

 

About 110 of the 160 tenants each paid on average £9,500 for a 99-lease on the flats they had previously been renting. The combined sum paid the purchase price (£825,000) plus a kitty for immediate repairs. The other 50 tenants were unable to find the money to buy their flats, and remained as tenants. But now their landlords were the benign Cholmley Gardens Ltd.

 

1977 to present: Cholmley Gardens Limited

Cholmley Gardens Ltd (CGL) is the present owner of the estate. All leaseholders are shareholders of this limited company. There is no other landlord. A board of ten directors is elected from among the leaseholders. There is an Annual General Meeting, which is usually held in the autumn.

 

Mansion blocks in general

London's first mansion blocks were built in the Nineteenth Century, providing luxury residences for the growing urban upper middle classes. As the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Europe it brought about a population boom in the major cities, and mansion blocks were devised to provide quality housing for wealthy white-collar workers. As the centre of the cities became increasingly crowded, the blocks provided this growing class with housing that had impressive entrances, generous elevations and balconies reminiscent of mansions. They were a particularly popular in polite Parisian Society.
Despite their popularity on the continent, Londoners were initially sceptical about this new style of accommodation.

 

Early Residents of Cholmley Gardens

According to Dr A Grenville, a long-term resident and historian of the Association of Jewish Refugees, the flats provided refuge for a number of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. A number of the flats are still occupied by former refugees from Central Europe, as well as a considerable number of children of those immigrants - himself included. 
 

Famous residents

Various famous people have been residents of Cholmley Gardens.

  • Naum Gabo, the eminent Russian-born constructivist sculptor, lived in Flat 101 in the 1930s. After leaving Russia, he spent the years 1922-32 in Berlin, 1932-35 in Paris, and 1935-39 in Cholmley Gardens before going on to Cornwall and thence to America in 1946, where he took American citizenship.
  • The following anecdote is from his wife, Miriam Gabo, concerning a visit by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian: "When he came to our flat in Cholmley Gardens, he was quite interested in my realistic paintings and portraits and landscapes but gave me a solemn lecture in his broken French-English on how to set about becoming an abstract painter (try first painting the landscape or portrait all in one colour!)."
  • Jack Warner, the actor who played Sgt George Dixon in the BBC television series Dixon of Dock Green.
  • In 1949 in the Ealing film The Blue Lamp, Warner had first played the figure of Dixon as a warm, avuncular policeman. British playwright Ted Willis, who with Jan Read, had written the screenplay for The Blue Lamp, subsequently revived the figure of Dixon for a stage play and then wrote a series of six television plays about the policeman. This led to a total of 429 episodes of the BBC television series.
  • Elias Canetti, the Bulgarian-born novelist who was awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature. Among his works is Notes from Hampstead.
  • Ruth Ive, war-time telephone censor on the only Trans-Atlantic telephone link between the UK and the US. Often had to censor the conversations of Winston Churchill. Lived with her mother in Flat 134.
  • Cyril Stapleton, band leader.
  • John Hillaby author of books on walking all over the world.
  • Greg Smith, producer of the West-End show Buddy
  • Alan Keith, BBC radio presenter.

West Hampstead Library

Hampstead's first public library opened in 1901 on the corner of Sarre Road and Westbere Road. The building was destroyed by a fire bomb in 1940.

 

For the next 14 years a 'temporary' library was set in a commercial premise (a former Lloyds bank) on the corner of Mill Lane and Fortune Green Road, in part of the existing Cholmley Gardens mansion block.

The permanent building on the corner of Dennington Park Road was originally the site of a mansion set in grounds and known as Gothic Lodge. Gothic Lodge was demolished in the late 1880s and replaced by shops (with living accommodation above) on West End Lane and houses in Dennington Park Road.

 

In February 1944 the area was seriously damaged by a bomb, which killed all but one of the members of a wedding party being held in a flat over one of the shops. The survivor was the father of the bride who, it was rumoured, had left the party to visit an outdoor toilet. The redevelopment of the site in the early 1950s took the form of a block of flats and the new Library.

 

The premises occupied by the library in Cholmley Gardens is now the commercial flat 119.

 

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