Stephen and Natasha Spender's house in Loudoun Road

Stephen Spender, the poet, and his wife Natasha, a classical pianist, lived in Loudoun Road from the 1940s with their two children Matthew and Lizzie. 

 I was born on 13 March 1945,at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in west London. My birth coincided with the explosion of one of the last German V2 rockets to land on the city.  It fell near Maresfield Gardens so it’s just as well that Mum was busy elsewhere.  Soon after my birth my parents moved  into 15 Loudoun Road, the house in St John’s Wood where they lived for the rest of their lives. It stood at the head of long rows of terraces built down the hill towards Abbey Road. The view down the hill gave a feeling that the original wood  of St John’s Wood was not totally dead. Mum could sit at the piano and look out at greenery and dream of nature.  As I grew up, I got to know the nearest trees as intimately as I knew my bedroom on the top floor.
I can just remember Loudoun Road in the early days, the walls unpapered and the floorboards without their fitted carpets.  But the key memory of my earliest bedroom is a light hanging from the ceiling whose nakedness was not covered by the lampshade…..the bombed London of my childhood smelt differently from how it smells today. There was a fine dust in the air…..vaguely electrical with overtones of mouldy carpet. The war took a long time to fade. At the Church Street market they sold useful war debris, like a mile of tangled copper wire, or a gas mask of crumbling rubber, or a primitive machine for turning old gramophone records into flower pots by warming them over a mould. 

Mother died on 21 October 2010 at eleven in the morning in her bedroom on the top floor of 15 Loudoun Road, the rented house in St John’s Wood where she’d lived for the previous 69 years.  The house had been neglected since my father’s death in 1995. A large crack ran down the external wall the right of the front door. Squirrels nested in the roof next to the water tank. There was a sunken fosse outside the dining room, and ferns grew out of the cracks of the stonework and the atmosphere was dense, as much as could be seen through the iron bars to keep out the burglars. Ferns, and in the spring white flowers that nodded like tender bells, utterly Victorian, the fluttering spirits of so many dead babies.

My father’s study faced the front of the house and his work table stood in front of the window of crinkly Victorian glass.  Against the wall on the left stood a tall glass bookcase with 2 handwritten signs on it. Precious Book Cupboard and Do Not Open (Dangerous Glass).

Up a steep staircase with wobbly banisters were three bedrooms: my sister’s, my parents and my own. The bathroom was decorated with yellow tiles dating from the twenties. My parents’ bedroom held a large framed mirror with, on the left, special brushes for Dad’s hair sold to him by the sadistic barber who sent him home every month with a different coloured rinse.  Large framed reproductions of Blake’s illustrations to Dante hung on the walls.  They were gradually replaced by water colours  by John Piper, whom Dad knew from ages back. My bedroom measured eight feeet by ten, two built in cupboards, one Heals cabinet containing a diorama of my war toys lit by tiny bulbs imitating bursting shells. My sister Lizzie’s room was larger and looked south over the beautiful gardens between Blenheim Road and Marlborough Place.

 

This page was added on 04/10/2015.

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