St. Mary’s Town and Country School

School in/near Belsize Park, existed between 1937 and 1982

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School · Belsize Park · NW3 ·
October
7
2015

St. Mary’s Town and Country School was an independent, non-denominational, co-educational progressive day and boarding school.

St. Mary’s Town & Country School logo as a woven badge
It was founded in Belsize Park, London in 1937. It closed at the end of 1982.

The school was owned and run by Mrs Elisabeth Paul PhD (née Selver), assisted by her husband Henry Paul, both of German-Jewish origin. In 1937 they bought the school, originally called St. Mary’s School, at 1 Belsize Avenue. The school curriculum was biased toward the learning of languages and the arts from an early age, and the pupils, aged 4 to 18 years, were primarily the children of artists, musicians, writers, film producers and actors.


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St. Mary’s Town & Country School logo as a woven badge
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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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