Elm Tree Road from 1920s to 1960s

Cricket, art and the professions

Elm Tree Road from the 1920s to the 1960s remained the preserve of people connected with the arts and with cricket, plus those with professional connections. A massive elm tree still grew at the Circus Road end, forcing a gap in the old brick wall until the Dutch disease finally had its way. The ten houses on the southern side that backed on to Lord’s were still owned by the MCC and the Eton and Harrow match at Lord’s was one of the events of the season, with people watching it  from carriages parked on the Mound behind no 8. The small cottage-like houses were overshadowed by Elm Tree Mansions (now Court) which was built for professional ladies, who still made up the majority of tenants in 1961.   As Ernest Raymond put it, a  block of flats like a crimson many windowed mansion (rose) above the little square houses in their walled gardens.This was a major change in the road  but  there were many minor ones as residents wanted improved living conditions, shown by the many applications to the Eyre Estate for permission for alterations.

 Modern alterations       

At no 26 a WC was added to a bathroom off a bedroom and in fact there were many new bathrooms.  One of the MCC houses had a glass covered way to the outhouse, and in 1926 architect Curtis Green made many alterations to no 12 and 14 for a member of the Astor family.  As Dornford Yates had complained earlier, there were so many changes in the numbering of houses over the years that it is sometimes difficult to work out which number appeared where in the road.

The road was still in a Victorian time warp with a lamplighter who came round with a long pole to pull the switch to turn the steet lights on, a muffin man who sold delicious muffins, and a knife grinder and chair caner calling to work on the spot. There were cobbles everywhere and dairy cows going by. At one time a tramp lived in a shack up against a cottage, who put a loose brick on top of the wall to show when he was at home.

Sir Louis Gluckstein

moved into Elm Tree Road in 1926. He was a barrister who served in both World Wars and a MP from 1931 to 1945 but had artistic connections too. His mother was American opera singer Francesca Halle, and his sister was Hannah Gluckstein, a portrait painter who had studied at the St Johns Wood School of Art. His children were born in the house, where there were open fires downstairs and one bar electric fires in the bedrooms. In July 1939 one of the children, a little boy with a talent for draughtmanship, wrote to Wyndham Lewis from No 39 about a drawing  competition:

Dear Mr Lewis, thank you for judging the drawings I won the prize and I like the poems inside the book, love from David  (from Some sort of genius by Paul O Keefe 2011)

Second World War 1939 -45

The census taken on 29 September 1939 provides a snap shot of residents at the beginning of the war.

Nos 3, 6, 8, 18, 23 and 23a, 24,29, 30, 34 and 39 were empty.  In No 1 George McConst?? aged76  was living with his wife and cook  and in  No 14 was 60 year old Amy Lloyd living on private means with a cook and maid.   Isabell Clarebell aged 60, a chocolate manufacturer was with Sheila Storm a stenographer and a domestic in No 31 and in No 41 John Dulanty, High Commisioner for Ireland (and Ambassador in 1950) was with his wife Anne and 3 closed records.

In No 7 comparatively young Ernest Wonnacott was with his 33 year old wife Vera and In  No 9 George Mayer aged 42 was with his wife Grete.   in No 27 Charles Edwards, managing Director aged 41 of an Artificial Stone co with his wife.  In No 28,  42 year old Prince Nicholas Galitzine, journalist and artist, was with his wife Elena and Pauline Dennistoun Swerd aged 27 , all living on private means plus a parlour maid. In No 26 Cecil Gilmour Wood, a managing director of an Estate Agent in Hanover Square, was living with his actress wife Phyllis and Katherine Gere, age 65 who was incapacitated.

Fewer residents in this street seemed to have joined any groups offering to help. Vera Armitage  in No 25  with 1 closed record was helping at the Metropolitan Police Canteen and in No 11 Roy Warnford Davies, (a director of Decca records who had selected Gracie Fields as a possible world beater and had been a captain in 4th Dorsetshire Regiment,)  was in the Territorial reserve , going on to be a Major in the Warwickshire Regiment, and his wife Josephine was an ARP warden,  leaving 1 closed record to be looked after by a cook and a nurse. In No 12 Percy Springham, the chauffeur was a part time Air Raid Warden, leaving a ladies maid, cook and parlour maid to look after Grace Clarke aged 73 together with 2 State registered nurses, one of whom, Jessie Morrison was in the Territorial army Nursing service.

In the two houses, N0 20 and No 22, belonging to the MCC  were  Viola Aird with a cook and housekeeper and a child (her husband was Colonel Ronald Aird, MC, Assistant Sec from 1926 who was with the Army at Barnstaple) and Helen Rait Keir (married to Colonel Rowan Rait Kerr MC, who had been a Captain in the Royal Engineers and was Secretary to the MCC) ) with a child Diana who went on to be the first full time curator of the MCC, and cook, house parlour maid and house maid.

In No 9 was George Mayer -Marton, (1897 – 1960) a Hungarian Jewish artist with his wife Grete , a gifted pianist. He had been a significant figure in Vienna between the Wars , painting in oils and water colour but was forced to escape in 1938. In 1940 his studio home was burnt by an incendiary bomb and the majority of his life’s work went up in smoke; his wife never recovered mentally from this blow. She died in 1952 and he was able to take up a post as senior lecturer at Liverpool College of Art, where he pioneered the technique of Byzantine mosaics in England.

In No 33 was Joseph Oppenheimer aged 63 and his wife Fanny who had joined the WVS.  A friend of Whistler and Sargent ,he had persuaded them to take part in the Berlin Secession Exhibition in 1899. From 1896 he had a studio, the Pheasantry on Kings Road in London and belonged to the Chelsea Arts Club. He moved to Berlin after his marriage but spent much of the year in England. He became a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters after  moving permanently to London when Hitler came to power and became a British citizen. In 1949 he moved to Canada to be near his daughter.

In No 35 was Arthur Loewental, artist and medallist(1879 – 1964), with his wife Rosa and I closed record, and in No 32 Joseph Otto Flatter, artist,  his wife Hilda, a pianist and Raphael Levine aged 38 a rabbi at the Jewish synagogue. Flatter  was an Austrian who had served in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914-18 war but had had to flee to London in 1934. He was interned for a while on the Isle of Man in 1940 but released and worked as a cartoonist for the Ministry of Information 1940 -45 and also was a member of the Home Guard.  Flatter drew very rude and funny cartoons about Hitler; one of his books was entitled “Heckling Hitler” and some of his work can be found in the Imperial War Museum.

The many garages that had been added to the houses were transformed into air raid shelters during the war and gardens were turned into vegetable patches with hens scratching round. His daughter Jean Gluckstein remembers the chickens who regularly commuted from their house in Shiplake in a little trailer attached to my father’s car.  I was working at the BBC in the Religious Broadcasting Department as a typist and the Buzz bombs necessitated us diving under our desks during that period. I well remember being part of the enormous crowd outside Buckingham Palace on VE day.   My Father was an MP at that time and insisted on taking Roy , David, my mother and myself down to Buckingham Palace to celebrate VE Day.   It was very scary being in the middle of the enormous crowd – but also very exciting.!!!!!     My parents had insisted that we should remain in England, and if necessary die together.  

There were many doctors living in the road including Arthur Dickson Wright on the corner of Circus Road, Dr Rupert Vaughan-Hudson, a specialist in thyroid surgery and Dr John Hunt, (Lord Hunt of Fawley) who was pivotal in starting the Royal College of General Practitioners, living near the Circus Road end with his two daughters and twin sons, who later became GPs. He had returned from serving in the RAF as a neurologist and despite opposition from other Royal Colleges of medicine encouraged 20,000 GPs to form their own.

The MCC connections

There was some bomb damage in the street; for example no 6 which belonged to the MCC had been partially destroyed by an incendiary bomb.  The MCC decided to demolish it in 1952 and build a new house for their new assistant secretary, Jim Dunbar, which was ready by the summer of 1952. David Dunbar, his son, who grew up there says that Part of the charm of this side of Elm Tree Road was the view one had of Lords. From the  upstairs bedrooms in no 6 in winter one could see over the  single tier A Stand towards the  scoreboard.  When the trees in the back garden were covered in leaf the walled back garden could have been in the country.  And there was still a line of mature pear trees. Opposite was still the original one storied farm  house  with a yard at the side.

The old stables with their rings for tethering cows were now used as an overflow garage for Hamilton Motors who sold cars in the Edgware Road.

Nos 6 and 8 shared a pathway into Lords which had a gate at each end.

No 4  was occupied by successive Assistant secretaries and their families, starting with Billy Griffith (Stewart Cathie Griffith 1914 – 93) in 1952. He had played for Cambridge, MCC and England and won the DFC at Arnhem. His time at Lords, which ended when he retired as Secretary in 1974, saw the abolition of amateur status and the introduction of one day cricket. Donald Carr, a Derbyshire and England cricketer, succeeded Billy and so he and his wife Stella moved in to no 4. The Griffiths moved to number 20 in 1962, as it was the designated accommodation for the Secretary.   Shadowed by the back of Grand Stand, it had a somewhat sombre aspect, not helped by the green painted windows. Colonel Rowan Rait Kerr M.C. (1891 -1961) who had a distinguished army career  before becoming secretary of the MCC in 1936. His daughter Diana became the first Curator of the MCC and one of the first elected lady members of the club in 1999.

Previously, the Secretaries were allotted a grander early 19th century house next-door at number 22.      MCC raised money by selling this property which, with its large garden, had space for three little  modern houses.

Artistic connections

The Anglo-French Art Centre flourished in Elm Tree Road from 1945 to 1951, having been set up by painter Alfred Rozelaar Green (1918 – 2013) as a visionary art school that brought famous French sculptors and painters such as Fernand Leger and Germaine Richier to teach in London and revolutionise British art by keeping the avant garde alive. Green had been born in London but studied in Paris in 1938, fleeing the Nazis when war broke out. When the war ended he used an inheritance to finance a 35 year lease on 29 Elm Tree Road, the site of the former St John’s Wood Art School.

The centre maintained the old St John’s Wood Art School’s practice of inviting famous artists of the day to teach, to criticise the students’ work and to present prizes.  These included new British artists like Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Jacob Epstein, Ronald Searle, Victor Pasmore and Graham Sutherland.  The famous Saturday night parties included Paolozzi, John Minton, John Craxton, Keith Vaughan and Louis Macneice. However by 1951 the inheritance had been spent and the Arts Council withdrew its grant so the centre closed and Alfred went to live in France  until his death in 2013.

Musical and other connections – by Paul Strang

I went to live at no. 11 Elm Tree Road in September 1951, when I had just left school and was beginning my period of articles as a student solicitor.The house belonged to Emmie Tillett, who at that time owned the famous music agency Ibbs and Tillett, the most important classical artists’ agency in that era. My mother, who had been a professional singer, was a great friend of Emmie’s and was living on the South Coast at the time, so I needed board and lodging in London during my period of law studies. Emmie very kindly and generously provided this, and we became very close friends.

It was Emmie’s husband , John, who signed up to  the house in 1949, but he sadly died before completion. He had chosen to live there because it was so close to Lord’s, whither  he and some of his artist clients ( notably the accompanist Gerald Moore and Roy Henderson,Kathleen Ferrier’s teacher) were wont to repair when they could escape unnoticed from their professional duties.

No. 11 was an unusual house in an unusual street. The artistic associations of both go back a long way. It seems (according to Mireille Galinou) that the house (when it was numbered 2)had been the home of a the member of the Macmillan family , who published Henry James, the latter being  a frequent visitor to the house in the late 19th century, where he was often invited to dine. A long drive led off the street through large wooden gates to a garage , presumably of later construction, which was home not only to Emmie’s Jaguar car (she was a fearless and fearsome driver) but also to the assorted belongings of various of her artist clients.

The entrance to the house was off the driveway and led into a long narrow  hall, with windows on the southern side looking on to the pretty front garden, which had an ornamental fountain which I don’t remember ever seeing running.  The hall led into a large roughly square reception area with a glass roof, and which must at some stage have been a working studio. It had no other natural light except from French windows, which I don’t think opened, looking out to  the  garden. To the right was a large dining room looking out on to the rear garden,  and the left a sitting room, where Emmie had her baby grand Steinway piano, on which famous visitors used to practice, including Shura Cherkassky when he was passing through London  and  Stephen Kovakevich ( then a pupil of Myra Hess who lived round the corner in Cavendish Close). At the far end of this room there was an alcove which I think was a later addition to the structure ; immediately above it was a small open terrace, leading off Emmie’s bedroom, at which one could breakfast while  watching  the gathering crowds queuing for Lords’ on important match days.

The upstairs was laid out as two suites, each with bed, bath and dressing room, with a large inter-connecting lobby over part of the ground floor studio. One of the dressing rooms was big enough to serve as  an occasional bedroom for visitors. Projecting  into the garden was a large kitchen at ground floor level, and staff quarters on two floors to the rear with boiler-room etc, a dark cavernous area to which one seldom penetrated. It looked out on to the rear garden which was overshadowed by the looming presence of apartment-block Elm Tree Court., the flank wall of which was so close that  no windows in it could be opened so as  to protect the privacy enjoyed by no. 11.

Emmie was a more-than-full-time business woman ; after her day in the office (six days a week), she was more often than not at evening concerts, mothering her artists and fending  off other predatory agents. So she needed living-in staff. There was Mona, who was there when I arrived ,and who stayed with Emmie for the rest of her life . Mona had lived in London before the war, but uinfortunately went home to Germany in August 1939 and was trapped there on the outbreak of war. She came back to London shortly after it was over . Mona was fanatically loyal to Emmie and indispensable to  her entertaining activities at home. Mona kept a diary of all the artists who visited , with  notes about their gastronomic likes and dislikes. She fed me well and copiously during my time with Emmie, though some of her visitors were less enthusiastic about her cooking than others. There was too a succession of cats, each in turn being called ‘Miss Tillett”.

Opposite no.11 is no. 8, said to be the oldest still surviving house on the Eyre Estate. It was then the home of Dr. Reggie Hilton and his wife Gwen. Hilton was a well-known doctor to whom Emmie introduced Kathleen. Gwen was a radiographer who supervised Kathleen’s various periods of treatment at UCH.

   

Reggie was a great character. He spoke nearly all European languages (except I think Basque), and was of great help to Emmie in interpreting foreign musicians ; I remember an especially hilarious evening when Kodaly came to dinner and composer and doctor struggled with each other to make themselves understood in anglo-hungarian. Reggie was also a not very good  amateur violinist, and he begged Emmie to introduce him to John Barbirolli, a keen cellist, so that they might make chamber music together. The musical result of this encounter is said to have been somewhat grim. Reggie also had a collection of valuable  violins  which he said he kept under his bed. He also drove a veteran Rolls-Royce.

Round the L-bend in Elm Tree Road, I remember also the very tall Dr Rupert Vaughan-Hudson and his wife Esmée, whose house I think has now been demolished and replaced by a more modern building. V-H was the most  distinguished expert in thyroid surgery and treatment of his  day. He was based at the Middlesex Hospital.

Emmie was very good at describing people as her ‘chums’, even if her acquaintance with them was less extensive than she might have implied. In this category were the Glucksteins who lived round the corner, and with whose two sons I had been at school ; and part of the Astor family, who lived roughly opposite no. 8 in an old and very elegant-looking house.

Although I left Elm Tree Road in 1957, I remained very close to Emmie for the rest of her life. She died in 1982, having by her will offered the use of her  home to her dear friend Solomon the pianist, who had suffered a severe stroke while at the height of his career. Solomon felt however that he did not want to move from his home in Blenheim Road and declined the offer. No. 11 was sold shortly after Emmie’s death.

Elm Tree Road and the  formation of the St John’s Wood Society 1956

This was brought about by the change to street lighting by the Council in Elm Tree Road in 1956.   Two residents of Elm Tree Road, taking a stroll one evening, found their lips had turned black and their cheeks a putrescent green; the woman’s red coat looked a khaki colour and the man’s blue tie a dirty grey. Beside the iron Victorian lamp-post  outside their gate stood a thick concrete pole with its neck twisted like a snake about to spit at its victim.

A public meeting was called at the old (and now defunct) St John’s Wood Arts Club, and the residents formed themselves into the St John’s Wood Preservation Society. Doctors, lawyers, architects, writers and musicians pitted their wits against the Works Committee of the Council, to which it had never occurred that street furniture could be of any aesthetic importance. 

A petition was signed by 3,000 inhabitants, alternative schemes were put forward, and the battle was on. Public protest was not then a habit or even the political football it has since become. The residents were reasonable  people, they loved their neighbourhood and, finally, after  two years of incessant  fighting, they were granted modern lighting that was more acceptable, if not ideal.   (with thanks to Jeanne Strang)

 

 

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This page was added on 08/09/2013.

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