College Cresent, NW3

Road in/near Belsize Park, existing between 1842 and now

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Road · Belsize Park · NW3 ·
JANUARY
22
2016

College Crescent lies on the boundary between Swiss Cottage and Belsize Park.


The Eyre family, local landowners, was always anxious to promote building and in 1794 a plan was drawn up on the model of Bath, with a crescent, circus, and square. The plan was never executed but from 1802 development on the Eyre estate was directed by John Shaw, a young architect inspired by the town-planning ideals of the late 18th century. In 1803-4 he exhibited views of a projected circus and in 1807 building began on the Marylebone portion.

In 1819 Col. Eyre began the first of several attempts to promote the construction of a public road through his estate, ultimately successful in the Finchley Road Act of 1826. Finchley New Road and Avenue Road, the southern part of which existed by 1824, thrust northward into the Hampstead portion of Eyre’s land and were built by 1829. The Swiss Cottage tavern was built at the apex of the two roads by 1841.

Building spread northward in the salient formed by the Finchley and Avenue roads. A building agreement was made in 1838. Several houses, called Regent’s Villas, stood in the Hampstead section of Avenue Road by 1842. Between 1845 and 1852, 33 houses were built in Finchley Road, 13 in the road parallel to it, St. John’s Wood Park, 16 in Avenue Road, 28 in Boundary Road, the east-west road joining them at the southern boundary, and 13 stuccoed terraces with iron balconies built by W. Wartnaby, in College Crescent to the north.

The buildings included the school for the blind, built in 1848 at the southern junction of College Crescent and Avenue Road and enlarged in 1864, 1878, and 1912; of brick with stone dressings, it had an Italianate central block with two wings.

The North Star public house was opened at the northeast tip of the estate in 1850 and, enclosed by the curve of College Crescent, the New College of Independent Dissenters, for training ministers, was opened in 1851 in a building designed in an early Tudor style by J. T. Emmett. He also designed the college’s Gothic chapel, opened soon afterwards to the south, at the junction of Avenue Road and Adelaide Road.

In 1871 F. J. Clark had suggested a new road direct to Hampstead and in 1872 Spencer Maryon Wilson was hoping to create a ’truly imposing road’. In 1875 he contracted with John Culverhouse, who since 1871 had been the tenant at will of the two main demesne farms, to make Fitzjohn’s Avenue, from College Crescent off Finchley Road to Greenhill Road, and to plant ornamental trees.

Originally the street has three names along its length. From the North Star it was "College Villas Road". The following section was "College Terrace". Only the final section near to the Blind School was it "College Crescent".

Samuel Palmer, of the biscuit firm, lived at no. 40 College Crescent, a large house called Northcourt built in 1881.

New College and much of College Crescent were pulled down in 1934 and replaced by Northways, two concrete blocks of flats and shops by London & City Real Estate. The whole of the Swiss Cottage site between Finchley Road and Avenue Road was redeveloped with the building in 1937 of the Odeon cinema and, after 1938, of Regency Lodge flats by R. Atkinson.


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Belsize Park

The Manor of Belsize dates back to 1317, with the name is derived from French bel assis meaning 'well situated'.

Belsize Manor was built by Daniel O'Neill for his wife, the Countess of Chesterfield, in the 17th century. Urbanisation took place largely between 1852 and 1878, by which time it extended to Haverstock Hill. After World War I, the construction of blocks of flats began, and now a great many of the larger houses are also converted into flats.

Belsize Park underground station was opened on 22 June 1907 by the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway as an intermediate station on its line from Charing Cross to Hampstead. It is served by three lifts and there are 219 steps. The station was designed by Leslie Green and has his familiar facade of ox-blood faience with four round arched windows. It remained largely untouched until the late 1980s when the lifts were replaced and a new ticketing system installed.

It was during the 1930s that Belsize Park contributed most to the artistic and intellectual life of Hampstead. Artists associated with the Mall studios included Dame Barbara Hepworth from 1927 to 1939, her first husband John Skeaping and second Ben Nicholson from 1931 to 1939, and Henry Moore, who lived at no. 11A Parkhill Road from 1929 to 1940. They were members of Unit One, a group of artists and architects founded in 1933 by Paul Nash (1889-1946), who lived at no. 3 Eldon Grove from 1936 to 1939. Sir Herbert Read, the poet and art critic, who lived in 1934-5 at the Mall studios, which he described as a 'nest of gentle artists', published the group's manifesto, a theory of modern style.

Another centre was no. 37 Belsize Park Gardens, meeting place of MARS, an architectural group, and home of Jack Pritchard, who founded Isokon, a firm making modern furniture designed by people like Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, refugees who brought a European dimension to the abstract design movement in the arts. Others included Piet Mondrian, the Dutch painter, who stayed with the Pritchards before moving to no. 60 Parkhill Road (1938-41). Pritchard also commissioned Wells Coates in 1934 to build the Isokon or Lawn Road flats, partly to house artistic refugees, on a site which he owned. Built in concrete in a functional style, the flats came to be recognized as 'a milestone in the introduction of the modern idiom into London'.

In World War II, a large underground air-raid shelter was built here and its entrance can still be seen near the tube station at Downside Crescent. The area on Haverstock Hill north of Belsize Park underground station up to Hampstead Town Hall and including part of a primary school near the Royal Free Hospital was heavily bombed.

Belsize Park these days is a lively area with many restaurants, pubs and cafés along Haverstock Hill and also England's Lane.

Glossary: A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, edited by C R Elrington.

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