in fact and fiction
The land on either side of Hill Road was originally part of the Eyre estate and the houses are in a similar style to the rest of St John’s Wood, for they were built by James Ponsford who had worked on the estate. No 10 (formerly 5) was a haunt of the St John’s Wood Clique, and No 12 ( formerly 6) was where Mrs Newton had lived with her sister Mary Hervey before moving in with James Tissot, the artist, in Grove End Road.
If a taxi had lurked in any of the melancholy streets through which John was making his way to Hill Road he would have taken refuge in it gratefully, for there was no atmosphere that preyed upon his mind with such a sense of desolation as the hour of evening prayer in a respectable northern suburb. The occasional footsteps of uninspired lovers dying away into by-streets; the occasional sounds of stuffy worship proceeding from church or chapel; the occasional bark of a dog trying to obtain admittance to an empty house; the occasional trend of a morose policeman; the occasional hoot of a distant motor-horn; the occasional whiff of privet shrubberies and of damp rusty railings; the occasional effusions of chlorotic gaslight upon the raw air, half fog, half drizzle; the occasional shadows that quivered upon the dimly luminous blinds of upper windows; the occasional mutterings of housemaids in basements – not even John’s buoyant spirit could rise above such a weight of depressing adjuncts to the influential Sabbath gloom. (Poor relations Compton Mackenzie 1910)
John was visiting his brother James and sister-in-law Beatrice and their home does not sound particularly appealing.
For some years now James with his wife and a fawn-coloured bulldog had lived in furnished apartments at 65 Hill Road, a creeper-matted house of the early seventies which James characterized as quiet and Beatrice as handy; in point of fact it was neither, being exposed to barrel organs and remote from busses. A good deal of the original furniture still incommoded the rooms; but James had his own chair, Beatrice had her own footstool and Henri Beyle the builldog his own basket.The fire-place was crowned by an over-mantel of six decorative panels, all that was left of James’ method of applying gold lacquer to poker-work. There were also three or four family portraits, and a drawer-cabinet of faded and decrepit dragon-flies. Some bookshelves filled with yellow French novels gave an exotic look to the drab room, which whenever James was not smoking his unusually foul pipes, smelt of gravy and malt vinegar except near the window, where the predominant perfume was of ferns and oilcloth. Between the living room and the bedroom were double-doors hidden by brown plush curtains, which if opened quickly revealed nothing but a bleak expanse of bed and a gray window fringed with ragged creepers. When a visitor entered this room to wash his hands he used to look at Jame’ fishbone clock under its bell-glass on a high chest of drawers and shiver in the dampness; the fireplace was covered by a large wardrobe, and one of Beatirce’s hats was often on the bed, the counterpane of which was stenciled with Beyle’s paws. John, who loathed this bedroom, always said he did not want to wash his hands, when he took a meal at Hill Road.
The house in Hill Road in 2013 are unlikely to be damp and bathroomless and have been repaired, renovated and repainted, with particular attention having been given to delightful gateways. The fog has gone, as have the housemaids in the basement.