Holly Lodge Estate was created on land formerly part of the medieval St Paul’s Cantelowes Estate which covered a large area of what is now Camden from Euston to Highgate. The area now occupied by the Holly Lodge Estate was incorporated into the Ashurst Estate in 1703.
In 1798 Sir Henry Tempest built a villa on a sunny terrace east of Highgate West Hill, then known as Highgate Rise. The house, later called Holly Lodge, occupied the site just to the north of Holly Lodge Gardens.
In 1809 ‘an entrancing young actress’, Harriot Mellon took over the lease of Holly Lodge. She married the elderly banker Thomas Coutts in 1815 (to some consternation as well as support) and subsequently ‘used some of his vast wealth to enlarge the house and beautify the grounds’.to designs by John Buonarotti Papworth. When she died in 1837, Harriot left the majority of her vast fortune to Angela Burdett (1814-1906), Thomas Coutts’ grand-daughter.
Angela became the wealthiest woman in England after Queen Victoria, and reputedly the Prince of Wales considered her ‘after my mother the most remarkable woman in the kingdom’. From 1849 to 1906, Holly Lodge became world famous as the rural retreat of this great philanthropist. In 1871, in recognition of her great charitable works, she became the first woman to be made a Baroness in her own right and took the title of Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Brookfield and Highgate.
The Ordnance Survey Map of 1870-73 shows the layout of Holly Lodge, gardens and estate. The carriageway sweeps uphill from Highgate West Hill, rises through woodland, and at the top the drive turns left to the house and right to the stables. Landscaped gardens with lawns and specimen trees fall away to the south. Approximately In the centre of the estate Bromwich Walk cuts the grounds into two parts and connects Swain’s Lane to Highgate Village; the house, gardens and orchard lie to the west and the kitchen gardens and outer kitchen gardens to the east. At the southwest corner of the orchard a hermitage is marked. Traitor’s Hill (so named by popular myth that the supporters of Guy Fawkes in 1605 watched out from it for the explosion of the Palace of Westminster) is shown as a knoll with a tree-lined path leading to it. A service/access route leads onto Swain’s Lane to the east, meadows lie across the southern part and there is a wooded margin to the perimeter of the estate.
At this time Holly Lodge was still located within a semi rural landscape, the Village to the north, cemetery to the east, Holly Village to the south-east and large houses between the Highgate West Hill and Highgate Ponds. By the time of the OS map of 1894 grids of terraced houses were expanding northwards and the St Pancras Infirmary was built beside the cemetery. By the time of the First World War, development of the northern parts of Dartmouth Park were underway.
After Baroness Burdett-Coutts’ death her husband, who had taken her name, put the property on the market, but the sale was unsuccessful and the estate was withdrawn. It was auctioned again, and sub-divided into several lots, in 1922 after his death. South Grove House, Holly Terrace and Brookfield Stud were sold, but the estate as we know it today remained unsold. In March 1923 it was sold for £45,000 and the purchaser resold it at the same price to London Garden Suburbs Ltd. Later that year the Central London Building Co. Ltd demolished the old house and started building work.
The preceding decades had seen a revolution in town planning ideas with the emergence of the Garden City model, pioneered by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1898, and realized at Letchworth (founded 1903) and Welwyn Garden City (founded 1919). They sought to provide self contained green cities with distinct residential, commercial and industrial zones as an alternative to overcrowded cities or rural life. They also aspired to provide accommodation and occupations for people across the social spectrum.
Smaller residential developments were inspired by this philosophy and Garden Suburbs began to be established on the outskirts of major cities in rural settings. These contained wide roads and verdant settings, and they also aspired to inclusion of all social classes. In London, Hampstead Garden Suburb (LB Barnet) was founded in 1906 by Henrietta and Samuel Burnett, founders of Whitechapel Art Gallery and Toynbee Hall – a settlement providing help, education and opportunities for the working classes in the East End. Further east the ‘Exhibition Estate’ or Romford Garden Suburb in LB Havering was promoted by three Liberal MPs and founded in 1911.
The Central London Building Co. Ltd of 24 Grove End Road, St John’s Wood and London Garden Suburbs Ltd were both development companies owned by Alderman Abraham Davis JP of St John’s Wood. Of Polish garment worker origin, the Davis brothers had assembled a substantial London property empire that began in the East End and moved progressively north and west. Abraham was the family member most attracted to novelty and innovation. He had founded London Garden Suburbs Ltd in 1910, inspired by the principles of Letchworth and garden suburb developments. The Lady Workers’ Homes Company was also his brainchild, founded in 1914 which addressed the changes in women’s working lives and residential needs. By 1923 his career in property was approaching its end, and the Holly Lodge Estate was his swansong as he died in January 1924, leaving the project to be completed by his son-in law Frank Myers.
The land was the last large open space to be built on in the Borough of St Pancras. The concept behind the plan for the site was a garden suburb. The design included both detached and semi-detached houses. Work started at the southern, Swain’s Lane, end of the site and Abraham Davis himself is credited with the design of the parade of shops in Swain’s Lane. The lower part of Hillway (originally Main Avenue) and Bromwich Avenue were completed first. The houses were in the Arts and Craft tradition, which embodied a practical and honest simplicity which respected craftsmanship yet was tailored to modern needs.
The Arts and Crafts movement, founded by the artist and writer William Morris, flourished from the 1860s and continued its influence in architecture and design until the 1930s. It was largely based on a reaction against the impoverished state of the decorative arts and the industrial conditions by which they were produced. The philosophy advocated nurturing traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It also promoted economic and social reform, and hence was an appropriate architectural expression for the aspirations of the garden city and suburb movement.
The rendered elevations and sweeping tiled roofs, stained glass windows and cottage gardens seen at Holly Lodge are expressions of the English vernacular style that the Arts and Crafts movement developed. The regularity of the grid layout here may have been in response to the views that the southern slope provided.
After the work had started on the houses Lady Workers’ Homes Ltd acquired part of the Estate on which to build flats. Following the First World War there was a greater demand for housing for single women. Also rising building costs, problems with infrastructure on the steep site and underground streams led to a decision to replace around 30% of the planned houses with flats. The site was adjacent to the cemetery and on the steepest part of the site. Development began on the lower slopes. Langbourne Mansions was built first and provided 88 flats; Makepeace Mansions containing 269 flats were built next and, finally, Holly Lodge Mansions, with 408 flats. The flats were built four or five storeys high in black-and-white Tudorbethan style, with modernist austerity at the backs of the properties.
From 1925 the ‘Lady Workers’ were able to buy shares in the enterprise themselves. In the words of The Times this was ‘the kind of thing the woman-worker has dreamed of, but never hoped to see at the price.’ The facilities provided by the Lady Workers Homes Ltd included a range of communal spaces and opportunities: reading rooms, a theatre, a car service from the bottom of the hill, tennis courts and landscaped gardens exclusively for their use. Although most flats were single bed-sits with shared ablutions, some in the first scheme in Langbourne Avenue were two- and three-bedroom flats for female families or groups of women to share.
As the scheme progressed up Hillway, so the architectural forms shifted, away from the Arts & Crafts inspired style to so-called mock-tudor, with black and white details.
At the top of Hillway the largest houses with widest plot widths, and most elaborate ‘olde English’ details look out over the lawns and cedar of the former Holly Lodge landscape.
Although considerably eroded in form by the housing development, parts of the landscaped garden of Holly Lodge were retained, together with a pair of extraordinary decorative iron gates. The parkland in front of the the former Holly Lodge mansion now forms a luxuriant wooded oasis within the formality of the residential development, and pathways remain on their original routes to the south of Holly Lodge Gardens. At the top of the hill, the junction of Hillway and Holly Lodge Gardens marks the eastern end of the original carriage drive
The ordnance survey map of 1935 shows the layout of the completed Holly Lodge Estate marked ‘Holly Village’. The Estate appears self-contained, and the layout is generous with wider frontages and much larger gardens than the encroaching terraces of the expanding metropolis. This is most clearly seen on the Urban Grain Plan (Map 8) based on the current OS plan. This plan also shows the proximity to the Highgate Cemetery, Hampstead Heath, and Waterlow Park open spaces.
Originally there were no gates to the estate. These were placed at the entrances to the Estate in the 1930s, following a petition by residents to prevent people using the roads as a cut-through to Hampstead Heath. The main support posts to the gates appear to be original. The metal gates are replacements of the crossed timber pattern of the original, that had 45 degree decorative arcs rising at either end above the main frame, approximately a metre above the height of the posts. The gates still define the boundaries and create a sense of enclosure and separateness from the surrounding area.
Until the Second World War, the estate was manned by a warden, based in the small hut still in existence at the main entrance from Swain’s Lane. A restaurant was also built on Makepeace Avenue and a car was provided to take the ladies up the hill to the flats. Both of these facilities were popular and well supported. However towards the late 1950s the restaurant fell into decline.
After the war, the social revolution that had prompted the initial development had worked itself through. Lady Worker’s Homes Ltd was bought out by Grovewood Securities; their interest, in turn, was taken over by the Peachey Property Company Ltd who built the line of single story garages below Langbourne Avenue. In 1964 the flats together with the derelict restaurant building were taken over by the Metropolitan Borough of St. Pancras, and were subsequently inherited by the London Borough of Camden in 1965 on a 150 year lease.
When the London Borough of Camden bought the lease, the opportunity arose for the re-development of the restaurant block. It was proposed to demolish the building and construct a block of 19 flats, garages and a children’s playground. However, these proposals were in breach of the covenants on the site and an application had to be submitted to the Lands Tribunal for modification of the covenant. Although there were over 90 objections from local residents the issue was resolved by agreement, primarily between the council and the most greatly affected plot holders. The covenants were duly amended, permitting Camden to erect a block of 19 flats.
In July 1972 the London Borough of Camden gained further consent for the construction of a block containing 25 one-bedroom flats for the elderly; these, together with communal facilities, form the westernmost block on the south side of Makepeace Avenue.
By the 1980s it was proving impossible, given social changes and pressing housing needs, to restrict tenancies in the Holly Lodge flats to single women, and the rationale for that development ended.
The London Borough of Camden had to undertake urgent remedial works that included the removal of many of the balconies and the repair and introduction of fire escape bridges between pairs of mansion blocks. The London Borough of Camden has since undertaken works to modernise and enlarge the flats. In 1990, for example, Camden altered 50 bed-sitting rooms in the Holly Lodge Mansions into 15 self-contained flats, accompanied by a refurbishment of common areas in buildings and of the gardens. Also from 1990 onwards, the freeholds of the mansion blocks were sold to a number of property companies by the Peachey Property Corporation, who had acquired them at the winding-up of Lady Workers’ Homes Ltd in 1959. In 2011 major refurbishment works were undertaken by Camden to Makepeace Mansions.
Source: Holly Lodge Conservation Area Appraisal, London Borough of Camden