In February 1960 my parents, my brother, Jonah, my sister, Deborah, and I moved from 22 Mansfield Street, St Marylebone, to 25 Cavendish Close, in St John’s Wood. It was quite a different place then from now. In 1960, St John’s Wood still retained remnants of its early 20th century bohemian reputation – plenty of mistresses were housed there, plus artists, writers and musicians and Army officers from the Royal Artillery Barracks, in Ordnance Hill. So, it was rather a surprising choice for my father, who was quite a conventional lawyer, and a politician. The decision, however, was made as St John’s Wood was on the way to Hampstead where my father’s parents, my grandparents, lived and, also, in the right direction for my father’s constituency in Hertfordshire. [Sir Derek Walker-Smith 1910 – 1992 was M.P. for East Hertfordshire, a barrister and QC, a baronet in 1960 and received a life peerage in 1983].
My mother was very unconventional; she had been an actress before marrying my father. She desperately wanted a garden, so the area’s reputation did not bother her at all, plus St John’s Wood had plenty of houses with lovely gardens from which to choose. 25 Cavendish Close was, and still is, an early Victorian house, in a small cul-de-sac, behind Lord’s Cricket Ground. The cul-de-sac is owned by the Eyre Estate, and our neighbours were a bookmaker called Mr Rose (I never knew his first name), and Dame Myra Hess, the celebrated concert pianist, whose wonderful playing used to drift over the garden wall.
Not too long after we moved in there was huge excitement, for me, at least, if not my parents when Paul McCartney moved into a house a few doors away around the corner in Cavendish Avenue. From then on, we had Beatles fans, as well as cricket fans, visiting the area.
St John’s Wood High Street and Lord’s cricket ground
The main hub of the neighbourhood was St John’s Wood High Street, but the principal visitor attraction was, of course, Lord’s Cricket Ground. The High Street was a high street in the old-fashioned sense with mostly food shops: butcher, greengrocer, cake shop, chemist, newsagent, haberdashers, shoe repairers and so on, but not really any fashion, or clothes shops, that I remember. There was, and still is, the legendary Panzer’s Delicatessen around the corner from the High Street, in Circus Road. My mother adored it and went there on an almost daily basis. The aftermath of food rationing following WW2 was still etched in my parents’ memories, and the wonderful, plentiful foods, such as could be obtained at Panzer’s, were irresistible. The cricket ground was, literally, on our doorstep, and we could clearly hear the match crowds from our garden.
St John’s Wood Church is where I was married, in 1967. The Wellington Hospital had not been built in the 1960’s, but there was, and still is, St John and St Elizabeth Hospital, at that time run by nuns. St John’s Wood Underground station, which was then on the Bakerloo line, was nearby, and the 159 bus, stopped in Wellington Road, outside Lord’s. Despite the relatively good transport, St John’s Wood, in the 60’s was definitely considered a long way from the centre of town.
I lived at home in St John’s Wood with my parents until my wedding day. Over the years since then, I have watched the area become a fashionable, up-market place to live, with a thriving High Street. On occasions, when I return, as one of my grandsons attends Arnold House School, I think it has still retained much of its’ unique neighbourhood atmosphere – changed, but, in essence, still the same.