Elm Tree Road from 1870s to the end of WW1

1868 map of Elm Tree Road
Westminster City Archives
St John's Wood School of Art
Montgomery Eyre
House used by Henry James for The Tragic Muse
Bridget Clarke
Elm Tree Road 2013
Bridget Clarke
Lewis Waller
Israel Zangwill
Westminster City Archives
Merely Mary Ann by Israel Zangwill illustrated by Mark Zangwill.
Oscar Ashe
Dornford Yates
Courtyard 2013
Bridget Clarke
Application for new sewers
Westminster City Archives
Application for new bathroom
Westminster City Archives
Application for new drains
Westminster City Archives
Spring 2013
Bridget Clarke
Spring 2013
Bridget Clarke

1868 Map

An 1868 map shows that many of the Elm Tree Road houses had been extended to give more accommodation and also shows how many trees there were in the immediate surroundings.

1871 census

The 1871 census provided the first clue that the road was becoming an artistic enclave. David Lee, a faience painter, was the first artist to feature, living next door to the omnibus yard. At no 7  lived Abelardo Alvarez Calderon,  born in Lima, Peru and aged 32, with his wife and 2 sons, and one lodger, Bernard E Ward who went on to be the Head of the, as yet, unfounded  St Johns Wood Art School. This School of Art gradually spread over 2 plots of 2 double houses at numbers 6 and 7. on the bend of the road,  and in 1881 no 6 had 2 students, Thomas B Garnie and James Brownlee, living there, although it was not named as a School until the 1901 census.

The needs of artists also meant that 1875 and 1878 were years when the Eyre estate consented to conversions and extensions to provide studios where artists J.G. Brown, Ernest Parton (a landscape painter)  and Sophia Smith and Ethel Wright lived. In the 1881 census David Lee still featured,  and Arthur May, portrait painter, was at No 9.  However, the majority of residents were  still of the professional class, or fundholders, and many stayed for long periods of time.  For example, at number 13, Thomas Williamson, barrister,  was listed in  1871, 1881  and 1891, as was  Charles Wilson, egg merchant, at number 18;   number 19 had Captain James L Norton of the  3 Dragoon Guards residing there in 1881, 1891 and 1901 and at number 21 Charles Jarvis, glass merchant, resided there in 1861, 1871  and 1881. In 1881 the MCC was first mentioned, as John Murdoch the Assistant Secretary was living at number 17.

The Macmillans and Henry James

Frederick Macmillan, (1851 – 1936), eldest son of the founder of Macmillan publishers, lived at No 2 with his American wife Georgiana,  plus a cook, housemaid and parlourmaid.  He had become a partner in the firm in 1876, having had experience of all aspects of the business – printing, bookselling and publishing, and built up a world wide business, and was prominent in the establishment of the “net book agreement” of 1890. He was knighted in 1909 and was a friend of many distinguished authors and artists, including Whistler and Henry James. Henry James made many visits to St John’s Wood and thought of buying David Lee’s home, which he used as a setting for his novel The Tragic Muse.

1891 census

In 1891 the gardener and florist were still at numbers 3and 4 and a house painter and dressmaker were at number 1a, which retained the more commercial aspect of the road, but 5, 6 and 7 were called studios, and Ethel Wright, artist, lived at number 8.

Number 9 housed William Lewis, better known as actor Lewis Waller,  aged 30,and his actress wife, Florence West, aged 28, their small son, and, in 1896, a daughter, and looked after by a cook, a housemaid, a parlourmaid and a governess.  By the late 1880s Waller was famous for romantic leads, in Shakespeare and costume drama, and had a vocal fan club of female admirers known as the K.O.W. (Keen On Waller) Brigade. (As a teenager, Agatha Christie was one of them.)  He became actor manager of the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the mid 1890s. Among the roles he created was Sir Robert Chiltern in Oscar Wilde’s comedy of 1895, An Ideal Husband.  He was praised by critic Hesketh Pearson for his good looks, his virile acting and his vibrant voice which rang through the theatre like a bell and stirred like a trumpet.

There was another theatrical connection at number 15, which  was the home of Bronson Howard, (1842 – 1908)  American playwright and brother in law of actor Sir Charles Wyndham, who was living up the road in St John’s Wood Park.  Howard‘s first important play was Saratoga, (1870), the first of a long series of successes.  He had homes in New York, and London, where his plays were equally successful.

But there were still a solicitor, a barrister, a cigar merchant, a cement manufacturer, a retired army captain and a retired civil servant  living in Elm Tree Road.

With the turn of the century St John’s Wood retained its country feel – The sky seemed wider and lighter than anywhere else in London … Nowhere else in London were there so many trees to the acre and such quiet gardens near its busy centre (Ernest Raymond)

1901 census

By the 1901 census the artistic element in the road had increased. Lowes Luard, (1872-1944) lived at no 20 with his parents and  his artist aunt Elinor Eckford. He had been born in Calcutta where his father was a Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and decided to study art at the Slade School instead of going to Oxford. He became well known in Paris for his paintings and drawings of horses and served throughout the First World War, being awarded the DSO and the Croix de Guerre. His book The Horse, its action and anatomy was the first study of the skeleton and muscles of the horse since George Stubbs’ treatise The Anatomy of the Horse.

Charles Whyllie (1853 – 1923) lived at 8a; he was a landscape and marine painter, brother of the more famous W.L.Whyllie.

The Zangwill family

lived at no 5.  Israel Zangwill (1864 – 1926) had been born in London to a family of Jewish immigrants from Czarist Russia, and dedicated his life to championing the oppressed, whether Jews or women. Educated at the Jews’ Free School in Spitalfields, he later taught there while studying for a BA Honours at the University of London.

He virtually created the Jewish genre novel with Children of the Ghettto (1892), and his play the Melting Pot (1909) had a great success in the United States, its title adding a new phrase to the English language.

The hero in the play says America is God’s crucible, the great melting-pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming — God is making the American. He also wrote a Victorian locked room classic, the Big Bow Mystery, and argued  that everything in a mystery novel solution must derive logically from clues given to the reader.

By the time of the 1911 census the Zangwill family are living in nos 5 & 6. Louis Zangwill (1869 – 1939) was a novelist who wrote The Beautiful Miss Brooke,  and his brother Mark was an artist, who illustrated brother Israel’s books.

The number of artists was increasing.  Maud Earl,( 1864 – 1943) from a family of animal painters, was pre-eminent in painting dogs. Encouraged by her father to study animal anatomy, she drew their skeletons to improve her skills, studied at the Royal Female School of Art and had a painting accepted by the Royal Academy in 1884.  Her select clientele included Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra and she painted King Edward VII’s famous fox terrier, Caesar, twice.

At number 1 artist Assur Michaelson lived with his mother.

At number 9 was Charles Ritchie, born in 1864 in Australia, a barrister who gave up the law to study art in Paris and then lived in London with his wife Emma.

At number 13 was one of the richer inhabitants, Hugh Holman, a naval architect who employed a butler as well as cook, maid and lady’s maid.  There was another manservant in the road, the valet at number 10.

Connections with Lords Cricket Ground and the MCC.

In the 1901 census there had been two connections with Lords: William Slatter, clerk of works, with his wife, daughter and two sons were at no 21 and John Murdoch, assistant club secretary, his wife, son, daughter and grandson were still at no 17. In the 1911 census William Slatter was still there, a widower looked after by his daughter, but  Murdoch had died aged 54 in 1907 and the new chief clerk at no 17 was Arthur Cornwall Legh  (b. 1872) aged 38  living with his wife and three servants.  He died in 1917.

At no 16 was the Secretary to MCC, a  glamorous figure: Francis Eden Lacey (1859 – 1946), the first man to be knighted for services to cricket  (and indeed for any sport ) in 1926. He was a barrister who had played cricket and football for Cambridge and, in 1887, had scored 329 for Hampshire, the highest score ever in a minor counties match. He had been married to Helen Carnegie, daughter of the Earl of Northesk but she had died in 1908 so he lived with his 17 year old daughter, a cook, parlourmaid, housemaid, kitchen maid and lady’s maid

Oscar Asche

Oscar Asche (1871 – 1936) was at no 22. He was an Australian actor, director and writer, who had arrived as a ship’s cook and slept on the Embankment before he made his London debut in 1893.  He acted with both F.R.Benson’s company and Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company, playing many Shakespearean roles.  He married actress Lily Brayton in 1898 and they became managers of the Adelphi Theatre in 1904 and His Majesty’s Theatre in 1907.   He is best known for having written, directed and acted in Chu Chin Chow, starring himself and his wife for an unprecedented 2,238 performances from 1916 to 1921. He was an innovator in stage lighting, one of the first to use it as a dramatic factor, and was known for his use of colour. Unfortunately as a result of his highspending lifestyle, he was declared bankrupt in 1926 but continued to act, including parts in several films, until the mid 1930s.

Dornford Yates

was a barrister who began to publish stories in 1911 and after army service in the First World War became famous for his Ruritanian style adventure stories which featured “clubland heroes” Jonah Mansel and Richard Chandos and for the amusing “Berry” books about the Pleydell family. From 1914 to 1922, he lived at 22 Elm Tree Road (which was re-numbered 6 in 1921 and later ruined by an incendiary bomb in the WW2, and replaced by a new house in 1952). At first he lived with his parents but after his mother died he thought of marriage and met (presumably because he was a neighbour of Oscar Ashe) an American actress Bettine Edwards who was appearing in Chu Chin Chow; Yates and Bettine married in 1919 and  their son Richard was born at Elm Tree Road in 1920.

In his 1922 dedication of Jonah & Co before moving to France he wrote: Better men than I will sit in this study and pace the lawn in the garden with the high walls. The lilies and laburnums and all the gay fellowship of flowers will find a new waterman.  The thrushes and blackbirds and wood pigeons will find a new victualler. The private forecourt, so richly hung with creeper, will give back my footfalls no more. Nine years ago there was a farm upon the opposite side of the road—going out of my door of a morning I used to meet ducks and geese that were taking the air. And horses came home at even, and cows lowed.  Now the farm is gone, and a garage has taken its room.

A visitor from Australia later tried to find  his house, not knowing the number had changed, and was disappointed with it; but when I reached No. 6-ah, there was complete satisfaction of fitness at the first glance! A picturesque, two-storied little grey house, with green shutters, and some happy kinks and corners, peeped up from behind a brick wall, into which a green door was set. The garden behind the wall was as sweetly pretty as an English garden can be, with a pleasant pattern of paths and flower-beds, and colours blending as softly, as harmoniously as the chiming of church bells heard across distant fields. Why should a romantically minded author ever have forsaken this grey house of poetic expression for the big white one at the end of the road? Then I discovered the figures 22 on one of the green doorposts, and the mystery was solved, and my conclusion certified as correct, a week later, in a letter from Yates.

“Yes, you are quite right. I lived at 22 Elm Tree-road for seven years, before some fool decided to renumber it. Then it became 6. It was a most charming residence, and the years I spent there were very happy. … I am sorry you could not see the house itself, and the fore- court and garden. They were, all three, very delightful.”

Modernisation of some houses

It was during this period that various alterations took place to reflect the need for modernisation; more sewers were needed, in 1915 an application was made for permission to build a garage and there were various plans submitted for the addition of new WCs or an upstairs bathroom.


Examples of Maud Earl, Lowes Luard and Assur Michaelson’s paintings can be seen on BBC Your Paintings.

This page was added on 01/06/2013.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.