Standing proudly over looking Regent’s Park on Prince Albert Road at the foot of St John’s Wood High Street, North Gate is an elegant Edwardian mansion block built circa 1907 on the site of Portland Terrace. At the turn of the 20th century it became popular for wealthy families to live in mansion blocks, largely due to the invention of the hydraulic lift.
The style copied trends in fashionable European cities and the architect was Edward Prioleau Warren, (1856 – 1937) who was also responsible for Hanover House on St John’s Wood High St, built two years earlier. An Art Deco extension was added in the 1930s.
The flats were heated by coal (and coke later on in Clean Air London) which was delivered to manholes on the pavements, yard porters asking residents by speaker tube what their requirements for the day were. They delivered it to back doors of flats at the rear of the building, initially by hand cranked lifts, which were later converted to electric power.
Second World War
During the Second World War, North Gate and most of the other blocks in Prince Albert Road were requisitioned by the government and North Gate housed American troops, guarding the US ambassador in Winfield House in Regents Park. US Marines who guarded the Embassy were based round the corner in Allitsen Road until the 1980s. A bomb landed on the back of the building in 1942 and caused much damage; in the subsequent rebuilding an entrance on to the High Street was constructed.
A job on the staff was highly coveted and in post war years there was a large staff, including two resident stokers who kept the central heating and hot water boilers running twenty four hours a day. Each lobby had its own 24 hour porters who saw in guests and kept the lobby fires burning in winter. They wore blue uniforms except for a period when the entrance hall woodwork was stripped back to natural pine and new brown carpet was laid, though one porter, Bill Ryan, refused to wear a brown uniform , saying that was the colour of the suit that he would be buried in. Today, 12 porters in dark suits embroidered with North Gate in gold are part of a team which also includes maintenance staff and cleaners providing a twenty four hour service. Staff tend to stay for many years. David Rapson, born in 1936, who retired in 2007 had joined the staff when he was 22. The current manager who succeeded him, Greg Phillips, joined in 1997.
In the 1950s North Gate was owned by the London county Freehold and Leasehold Properties Ltd and in an unsuccessful attempt to ward off an unwelcome takeover by MEPC in the late 1960s it was decided to break up the residential investments by selling flats on 99 year leases. Lordsgate Properties was formed to acquire the building and bought the freehold for £75,000 from First National Finance Corporation who had acquired North Gate and various properties from MEPC. Funds were raised by appeals to residents, 50 of whom became shareholders. Garages at the rear were bought with a £100,000 loan from Barclays Bank.
“A Lady of the Night”
Apart from the bombing the block has escaped major trauma but one incident recalled by long term residents was that of “ a lady of the night” who took up residence in a flat at the rear; legal attempts to oust her failed, so management contrived to erect scaffolding around her entrance, forcing her customers to come through the very public front lobby. She quickly moved.
The interiors and exteriors have featured in film and photo shoots, including the late 1960s series Callan starring Edward Woodward as a secret service agent. The 1970s film A Severed Head, based on a novel by Iris Murdoch starring Claire Bloom, Lee Remick, Richard Attenborough and Ian Holm, was also filmed there.
North Gate residents have been wide and varied; there was a temporary influx of Iranians after the Shah was deposed in 1979, Americans have always found the block attractive because of the proximity of the American School and now Middle Eastern families make up a meaningful proportion of residents.
Famous people who have lived in the flats include Sir Jocelyn Hambro, John Bedford, chairman of Debenhams, and Jack Solomons the boxing promoter, Joe Loss the band leader, Mantovani and Bud Flanagan, Mr Pearl of Pearl & Dean Advertising, Prince Nazeem the boxer, and a maharajah who married a showgirl, – an event included in a forthcoming novel by a descendant.