Swiss Cottage, Camden
A well-endowed amenity zone serving a wide catchment area north of St John’s Wood, but with pockets of deprivation in its immediate vicinity
Finchley Road and Avenue Road converged here in the 1820s and Adelaide Road cut across Eton College’s land in 1830.
By 1841 the Swiss Cottage tavern stood on the island formed at the junction of the three roads. It has since been rebuilt and enlarged while retaining its chalet style.
A steady programme of housebuilding on the Eton estate accelerated after the opening of Swiss Cottage station in 1868. This was the terminus of a line that was intended to be extended later to Hampstead but instead went to Willesden Green in 1879. Shops progressed northwards along Finchley Road in the 1880s.
In the late 1930s a bulky Odeon cinema and the flats of Regency Lodge filled out the tavern’s island site.
Bombs aimed at the railway line did extensive damage during the Second World War and 35 acres of the Eton estate were afterwards redeveloped with high- and low-rise blocks of flats.
In 1957 the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art moved from the Albert Hall into Swiss Cottage’s Embassy Theatre and its associated buildings. Following several phases of expansion, it is now the University of London’s drama conservatoire: the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
A library and swimming pool and a new home for Hampstead Theatre opened in the early 1960s. When some of the local amenities needed 21st-century renewal, Camden council invested in Swiss Cottage on a scale not seen since the days of Victorian municipal largesse. An £85 million project includes a leisure centre, community centre, social and private housing and a park.
The council also provided new stalls with credit card payment facilities for Eton Avenue market. There’s a farmers’ market here on Wednesdays and a general market on Fridays and Saturdays.
Located on Avenue Road, Swiss Cottage school is the largest special educational needs school in London. Ofsted has repeatedly rated the school ‘outstanding’. The neighbouring UCL Academy opened in 2012.
Swiss Cottage has a diverse ethnic make-up, with no group constituting a majority. Non-British whites make up an unusually high proportion of the population, including significant numbers from North America, Ireland, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.
Based on a childhood experience, Wilkie Collins made the Swiss Cottage turnpike the setting for a pivotal scene in his 1862 novel The Woman in White.
The ‘Swiss Cottage slickster’ was a greased-back hairstyle that flourished briefly in the early 2000s.