Josephine Bacon - Memories of Avenue Lodge
Avenue Lodge is a block of flats with two entrances, situated near the junction of Avenue Road, St. John’s Wood Park and Adelaide Road at Swiss Cottage. It once had distinctive white globes on the gateposts that were lit at night but I believe these have now gone. It stands back-to-back to an identical block, Park Lodge, the frontage of which is on St. John’s Wood Park, on land that was once part of the Eyre Estate. One of the first changes to St John’s Wood Park was the destruction of two houses at the northern end of the road to permit the construction of flats in 1933-34. Avenue Lodge was on the site of a large Victorian mansion occupied by none other than the famous French tightrope-walker, Charles Blondin. I believe he had the house built especially for him, as he made a lot of money during his sensational career. He practised his tight-rope walking his garden, enabling him to cross the Niagara Falls. This garden backed on to 16 St John’s Wood Park, where the famous authoress, Mrs Henry Wood (1814 – 1887) had lived from 1866 – 1887, sharing it with her son, Arthur, plus a cook, two housemaids and a dressmaker.
Avenue Lodge and Park Lodge were designed by architects Wimperis Simpson and Guthrie, which also built Fortnum & Mason and the Grosvenor House Hotel, as well as 47, 49, 63, 67, 69, 71 and 75 Avenue Road, plus Winfield House (the American Ambassador’s home) in Regent’s Park. The flats were built to the highest standard, with teak window-frames and window-sills, in an attractive dark red brick.
Ours was a four-bedroomed flat, one of only two with a tiny balcony over the entrance to the building, as in the photo above. It had the typical wasted space of the period with long corridors separating the front of the flat containing the reception rooms (living and dining room) from the rear containing the master bedroom, another bedroom (mine) and the main bathroom. Next to this was the kitchen and behind the kitchen was the “maid’s room” which had its own separate bathroom.
The surrounding area
My parents had lived in Hendon before World War 11, but their house was bombed, and they moved first to Grove End Gardens, where I was born in 1942, and then moved to Park Lodge, but this was too small when my brother was born. Neither Avenue Lodge nor Park Lodge were bombed in World War II, though other houses nearby were badly damaged, as was the church on the corner of Adelaide Road. Another abandoned church, an ugly Victorian building, stood next to Avenue Lodge and was riddled with dry rot. This gave my father perpetual catarrh as he was found to be allergic to the spores.
I went to Sarum Hall School in Eton Avenue, then sited in a Victorian horror of a building looking like Dracula’s castle but still thriving today in a brand-new purpose-built building at the opposite end of Eton Avenue, and my brother went first to Arnold House, in St. John’s Wood, where the boys allegedly had to call their female teachers “Sir” to prepare them for public school where all the teachers would be male, and then on to Highgate School. He studied law and worked with my father but hated it so much he went back to medical school and became a doctor. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia, his wife is a psychiatrist and his daughter is an endocrinologist. As languages are in my family, I won a scholarship to the French Lycee and languages became my career as a translator/interpreter.
The grand Victorian houses in Avenue Road were abandoned during World War 11 and most were eventually demolished, as was the church next door (much to my father’s relief!) and a block of flats called The Polygon was erected in its place. We thought the rent for each flat – £25 a week! -was astronomical! My parents left Avenue Lodge for good when my father retired from his solicitor’s practice in 1970, at which time they were paying a whole £9 a week in rent and the landlords (the Prudential Assurance) even threw in a refrigerator! There was much post-war redevelopment on the street. My mother was worried that some huge block would be built facing us but, in fact, the building that eventually replaced the derelict house was Frank Barnes School.Because it was a school for disabled children it was all at ground level, so we still had a lovely view of the trees beyond it. All that has now been replaced by the new school that is so extensive and so unnecessary in that part of London.
Avenue Road, which runs from Swiss Cottage to Prince Albert Road, opposite Regent’s Park, had always been affluent and during my childhood, then, as now, it was full of ambassadorial residences (Israel, Pakistan, Cambodia) and private houses owned by millionaires (I believe one particularly imposing residence was owned by Stavros Niarchos). The road is lined with the sycamore-plane tree hybrids that do so well in London because pieces of their bark is perpetually shed, taking with it much of the pollution in the air. The trees are now so large that those on opposite sides of the road meet overhead, creating a very attractive bower effect; when I was young they were not as big.