How soon people forget that the original Mermaid Theatre was founded in St. John’s Wood by the actor Bernard Miles in the mid 1940s. He and his actress wife Josephine Wilson and their three children lived in Duff House, a large property entered off Acacia Road and bordered by Ordnance Hill, Norfolk Road and Woronzow Road. I lived with my family “over the back garden wall” at 19 Woronzow Road. My father Mark Raphael, a well known lieder singer, had taken over the lease in l928 from the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey.
Duff House (now destroyed) was a large Regency building complete with a tower and in the garden was a large studio. Bernard Miles decided to turn this studio into a small theatre in which to perform opera. He persuaded the world famous Norwegian singer Kirsten Flagstad to open the first performance in Purcell’s “Dido Aeneas” and it was a great success. I was about 14 years old at the time and would hop over the wall to join Bernard’s daughter Sally as an usherette at the performances. Eventually a new Mermaid Theatre was built in the city and that sadly has been pulled down. His son John became a famous racing driver.
The original semi detached houses in Woronzow Road were pulled down some time in the late 1950s or early 1960s and the world famous conductor Georg Solti came to live there.