Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb, Barnet

The most architecturally successful of London’s planned suburbs, situated to the north-west of Hampstead Heath

Hidden LondonL Quadrangle housing, Hampstead Garden Suburb, by Julian Osley

Henrietta Barnett, who lived at Hampstead’s North End, had witnessed the effect of the arrival of the railway in other parts of London and did not like the result – monot­o­nous streets of middle-class housing laid out with little attempt to preserve any of the existing landscape, produce distinc­tive indi­vidual designs or provide homes for a variety of social classes, as a pre-existing village might have done.

A handful of pioneering settle­ments had shown that things could be done better, like Rowntree’s village for its workers at New Earswick near York and London’s co-oper­a­tively created Bedford Park, although each of these was socially uniform in its own way.

Faced with the impending arrival of the under­ground railway at Golders Green, Dame Henrietta set up the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust in 1906 and with the support of her influ­en­tial contacts and the London County Council acquired the freehold on 243 acres of Eton College’s land at Wylde’s Farm.

Parlia­ment passed a special act to waive Hendon’s building regu­la­tions so that some of the roads might be quaintly narrow and houses of varying heights could sometimes be grouped together without the need for party walls to project above the roofline.

The suburb was planned and built in several phases, beginning with an ‘artisans’ quarter’ extending to the east side of the Finchley Road at Temple Fortune. A central square was laid out at the suburb’s highest point, with churches and communal buildings. More popular attrac­tions like a pub, cinema or even shops were not permitted – and are still not – which has impaired the square’s potential to act as a community hub.

Nearer the extension to Hampstead Heath (which Dame Henrietta had earlier success­fully campaigned to create) grander houses were built to help generate revenue for the whole scheme. The trust acquired addi­tional parcels of land before the First World War and these were mostly developed after the war by co-partners, who built commer­cially but had to follow strict guidelines.

Raymond Unwin became the suburb’s principal architect after the dismissal of the Ital­ianate-inclined Edwin Lutyens, but many other practices played a part and all worked to the same harmo­nious ends. A vernac­ular Arts and Crafts style permeated the earlier phases, giving way to neo-Georgian when profit became the primary motivation.

Hidden London: two neo-Georgian houses in Hampstead Garden Suburb

Hampstead Garden Suburb was intended as a utopian haven for Londoners of all classes but the typical resident is now likely to be white, married, middle-aged and univer­sity-educated. The suburb’s signif­i­cant Jewish minority (38 per cent at the 2011 census – the highest such propor­tion in London) provides the only evidence of diversity.

However, to give these uniformly middle-class people credit, many of them exhibit a community spirit lacking in other parts of London. When Barnet council withdrew funding from the Market Place library in April 2012, more than 70 residents volun­teered for staffing duty and within a few days it was reopened (by local resident Jonathan Ross) as a community library.

The artist William Ratcliffe, a fringe member of the Camden Town Group, lived here and his painting of the suburb is in the possession of Tate Britain.

The actress Elizabeth Taylor grew up at 8 Wildwood Road.

Postal districts: NW11 and N2
Population: 15,929 (Garden Suburb ward, 2011 census)
Further reading: Mervyn Miller, Hampstead Garden Suburb: Arts and Crafts Utopia, Phillimore, 2006
Website: Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association
* The picture of the quadrangle housing in Hampstead Garden Suburb at the top of this article is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Julian Osley, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.