Hilary and Andrew Walker - St Ann's Terrace 1988
Hilary & Andrew Walker
Buying the house
We arrived back in London in May 1988 from a five year stint in Hong Kong, looking for a home to replace our previous house in Wembley. St John’s Wood was our choice. It offered wide tree lined roads, was on the north of London (which suited our family travel commitments) and was an easy drive to the City. Wigmore Hall and the Royal Opera House were readily accessible to cater for our musical interests. 1988 was close to the peak of the property boom, and St John’s Wood was no exception. Having been gazumped on one house, we offered the asking price for a house in St Ann’s Terrace, only to be told that someone had offered considerably in excess of the asking price. Meanwhile, the first house came back onto the market with a price tag £50,000 above what we had agreed to pay! The atmosphere was frenetic. We eventually decided to buy another house in St Ann’s Terrace, which had been on the market for six months because it needed a substantial amount spending on it.
The house was Grade II listed and dated from around 1840, being one of three set under a single pediment, set on giant Corinthian pilasters to give the impression of a palace, which originally was embossed with the old name for the road, UpperYork Place. The other house in the Terrace which we had attempted to buy had had a fifth floor added to it. We decided that such an extension would enhance our accommodation. Planning permission was required and our application was opposed by The St John’s Wood Society. English Heritage, with whom we had to deal, were helpful and sensible. They required us to hip back the front wall of the extension to ensure it was not visible from the road. We were also allowed to replace the Crittall window in the basement with a more appropriate replica.
The house had been used by the previous owners for bed-sitter lets. The width of the house was about 17 feet, which meant each floor contained two, or at most three, rooms. We altered every one of the existing floors and finally had our kitchen and dining room in the basement, sitting room and study on the ground floor, double drawing room on the first floor, main bedroom and bathroom on the second, and guest bedroom and bathroom in the new space in the roof.
We loved the period features, deep skirting boards, high sash windows with shutters intact, cast iron grates and decorative cornices. The last required steam cleaning to remove many layers of paint.
A fireplace, boarded up and painted white, was opened and stripped to reveal a lovely marble surround, whilst another in a similar condition was in fact sandstone. The stuccoed exterior, however, proved a mixed blessing with its tendency to hide water ingress problems. Seeking to eliminate damp from the third floor bedroom, removing the plaster from one wall revealed Victorian workmanship leaving something to be desired; the brick walls had been augmented by the inclusion of old pipes to bulk them up!
We became friends with our neighbours, the Morleys and the de Sarignys. Mrs Morley was Vera Elkan (1908 – 2008), a famous photographer who at the time of the Spanish Civil made the silent film “International Brigade” (1938) for the Progressive Film Institute. . The film was a shot much like a home movie and showed the daily existence and training of the International Brigade in Madrid. Peter de Sarigny (1911 – 1999) was a film producer and amongst other films responsible for Fame is the Spur (1947) Brighton Rock (1947) Seven Days to Noon (1950) and Waltz of the Toreadors (1962)
We enjoyed our time in St. Ann’s Terrace which was handily close to a post office and library and an excellent butcher and fishmonger, as well as dry cleaners, hardware store, hairdressers and Panzers, the good, if expensive, delicatessen and greengrocer. Over the period of the next 20 years, the character changed considerably in that the more utilitarian shops were increasingly replaced by clothes shops, bars and cafes serving a younger and increasingly cosmopolitan generation. This was reflected in the nature of St John’s Wood population, with fewer long-term families and more transient residents.