From “Hampstead, its historic houses, its literary and artistic associations”
Anna Maxwell (1912)
Pitt House, known in the eighteenth century as Wildwoods and North End Place, has now attained its due name of honour, for here once lived the great statesman. It was during the retirement of the first Earl of Chatham, from 1766 to 1769, that he sought here perfect seclusion, owing to the diseased melancholy of his mind. This Prime Minister, who had previously infused his fiery energy into every department of the Government, now shut himself up in one room at Wildwoods, and refused to see any man, even causing his meals to be served through a hatch- way, from which he was invisible ; the means for this arrangement still remain in the house. The King, however, saying that he could not do without him, forced his rough entrance into the bedchamber of this ” great Commoner,” of whom Lord Macaulay said that
” he made himself the first man in England, and England the first country in the world.”
A recent owner of this house, who bought it in 1899, was Sir Harold Harmsworth ; but the previous resident, one who was active for the public welfare, was Mr. Samuel Figgis. It was during Mr. Figgis’s time at Wildwoods that his neighbour, Sir Spencer Wells, died, and Golder’s Hill House and its grounds of unparalleled beauty were about to be sold to a builder.
The time-honoured oaks and trees of every variety, the homes of nightingales, thrushes, and blackbirds were to be cut down ; the velvet lawns, flower-gardens, meadows and orchards made into brickyards, desecrated by scaffold poles, and turned into terraces of small houses ! It was at this threatening moment, on the eve of the execution, June, 1898, that the master of Wildwoods opened his house for a meeting of alarmed residents, whose object was to preserve the thirty-seven acres for Heath extension. Sir Henry Harben acted as chairman of the committee ; Mr. Brodie Hoare, M.P., was one of the chief supporters ; so also was a former friend of Heath extension, the Right Hon. G. Shaw-Lefevre. In forty-eight hours the purchase-money was guaranteed ; in a month it was paid. The writer remembers that in July a garden-party was given in aid of the funds, and that the amazing loveliness of Golder’s Hill garden first broke upon the majority of the Hampstead residents then invited. On this occasion members of the Vestry
voted 10,000, the London County Council 12,000 ; the Duke and Duchess of Westminster were present, contributing 500 ; and many public bodies, as well as private persons, subscribed generous sums, thus completing the necessary amount. The first purpose for which the house was used was that of a convalescent home for the invalided soldiers from South Africa, alter which it was devoted to the use of the general public.