St John’s Wood

Abercorn Place, St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-41-positive_2400
Abercorn Place, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-41

Long ago St John’s Wood was a real wood, part of the Forest of Middlesex, and was the property of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem who were based in Clerkenwell. Pregiously it had belonged to the Catholic Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (better know as the Templars) who were suppressed in 1312. Henry VIII grabbed the land in 1539 when he dissolved the monasteries during the Reformation, but Charles II gave it to one of his mates in settlement of a debt of £1300, and eventually most of it was sold to a city wine merchant, Henry Samuel Eyre in 1733, and much of the area remains the Eyre Estate. Other parts belong to Harrow School.

Development on the Eyre estate began in 1809 The area was developed as an area for the growing upper middle class, with many detached and semi-detached villas with large gardens, the first garden suburb anywhere in the world. Some later were replaced by blocks of flats and terraces of housing, but the area remains one of the most expensive around London. It’s not an area where I often felt at home.

In 2011 I was able to go behind some of the high walls and photograph the ‘Secret Gardens of St John’s Wood‘ in a project initiated by Mireille Galinou of the Queens Terrace Café and shown there in November 2011, but there were still many impenetrable behind high walls, some protected by security guards with suspicious bulges in their clothing. But in 1988 I kept to the streets.

These flats are at the west end of Abercorn Place at its corner with Maida Vale at the rear of Wellesley Court, architect Frank Scarlett, built in 1938. Perhaps surprisingly the St John’s Wood Conservation Area is carefully drawn to exclude this set of expensive private flats.

Nugent Terrace, St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-43-positive_2400
Nugent Terrace, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-43

There are still shops in Nugent Terrace, but I think this rather high-class cobblers is long gone. I was amused at how the figurines chosen matched the area.

Hill Rd, St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-46-positive_2400
Hill Rd, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-46

This remarkable mansion block, Mortimer Court, on the corner of Hill Road and Abbey Road is certainly not typical of the area, and I have to apologise that my picture fails to record the full horror of its architecture, best appreciated from the opposite side of Abbey Road. It can be seen on the web sites of many of London’s estate agents.

Onslow Ford, memorial, sculpture, Andrea Carlo Lucchesi, Abbey Rd, Grove End Rd, St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-35-positive_2400
Onslow Ford, memorial, sculpture, Andrea Carlo Lucchesi, Abbey Rd, Grove End Rd, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-35

English sculptor Edward Onslow Ford RA (1852—1901) was one of the leaders of the British New Sculpture movement of the 1880s, becoming famous for portrait busts and roundels of many leading figures including Ruskin, Millais, Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer. A number of his statues including that of Rowland Hill remain on public display.

He produced a long series of “bronze statuettes of adolescent girls in poses loosely derived from mythology or allegorical themes” some of which were also sold widely in smaller scale copies for Victorian homes, though they might not be appreciated now. The monument in St John’s Wood, close to his home was sculpted by his former studio assistant Andrea Carlo Lucchesi and based on one of Ford’s sculptures.

Abbey Rd Studios, Abbey Rd,  St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-21-positive_2400
Abbey Rd Studios, Abbey Rd, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-21

It is probably a punishable offence to go to Abbey Road and not take a photo of the now famous studios, though I resisted any urge to photograph the famous pedestrian crossing nearby.

Abbey Road Baptist Church,Abbey Rd,  St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988  88-7e-24-positive_2400
Abbey Road Baptist Church,Abbey Rd, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-24

The Baptist Church on Abbey Road was founded in 1863 by a Mr Stott, a preacher from Hyde Park, who engaged leading church architects Habershon & Pite to build this Grade II listed structure in a ‘Free Byzantine’ style.

In 1874 the Abbey Road and St John’s Wood Mutual Benefit Building Society was formed in what was then the Free Church. This later became Abbey Road and St John’s Wood Permanent Building Society and in 1944 joined with The National Building Society to beceome the Abbey National Building Society, which sadly demutualised in 1989 and in 2004 become wholly owned by the Spanish Santander Group.

Abbey Rd,  St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988  88-7e-25-positive_2400
Abbey Rd, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-25

This adjoining pair of gate-posts is no longer on Abbey Road, and the block of flats at No 20 have had something of a face lift since 1988. But to me they looked so much like an adult and child – and were perhaps a deliberate attempt to outdo the Joneses.

Abercorn Place, St John's Wood, Westminster, 1988  88-7e-11-positive_2400
Abercorn Place, St John’s Wood, Westminster, 1988 88-7e-11

This small group of three houses on Abercorn Place at the corner of Violet Hill stood out among the fairly varied architecture of the street for the flower motifs above their first floor windows – a reminder, like the name Violet Hill, that this was the first garden suburb.

The gateposts, one of which is at right of the picture I think used to have a more obvious pattern on them, unfortunately out of focus in my image, which made them appear less crude.

My wanderings around St John’s Wood on a Saturday in July 1988 will continue in a later post. You can click on any of the pictures here to go to a larger version in my album 1988 London Photos, from where you can browse the album.


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