Belsize Park is an area of the London Borough of Camden (the inner north-west of London), England. Electorally it gives its name to a ward of the borough, Belsize mainly overlapping; however some is part of Hampstead Town and Haverstock when that ward name is used.
It is in the south-east of the parish of Hampstead, 3.4 miles (5.5 km) north-west of Charing Cross. It has a station on the Northern line of the London Underground. Some nearby localities are Hampstead village to the north and west, Kentish Town and Gospel Oak to the east, Camden Town to the south-east and Primrose Hill to the south. An expensive residential area, it has restaurants, pubs and cafés lining Haverstock Hill and England's Lane. Hampstead Heath is a 10- to 12-minute walk away. Primrose Hill park is a 5-minute walk from England's Lane, one of two green ridges which have views south towards central London and beyond.[n 1]
The name is derived from French bel assis meaning 'well situated'. The area has many thoroughfares bearing its name: Belsize Avenue, Belsize Court, Belsize Crescent, Belsize Gardens, Belsize Grove, Belsize Lane, Belsize Mews, Belsize Park (the road), Belsize Park Gardens, Belsize Place, Belsize Square, and Belsize Terrace.
The Manor of Belsize dates back to 1317, when as a subdivision to the Manor of Hampstead it was left to the Roman Catholic monks of Westminster Abbey. The original manor consisted of a number of subdivided farms, which were rented out for income. Hence after the reformation, King Henry VIII returned the estate to the newly constituted Anglican Dean of Westminster Abbey. By 1600, including the manor house there were at least three other properties on the estate, with diplomat and courtier Sir Isaac Wake (1581 – 1632) having a substantial property built on the west side of the main London to Hampstead road. Inherited by his daughter and her husband Charles West (1626–1687) the fifth Baron de la Warr, it passed through various hands into the ownership of William Paget the 6th Baron Paget by 1714, who had a substantial formal garden constructed.
The name Belsize Park comes from the 17th-century manor house and parkland (built by Daniel O'Neill for his wife, the Countess of Chesterfield) which once stood on the site. Rebuilt in 1663, it was sublet by 1721, when the parklands opened as pleasure gardens for those looking to escape the dirt and grim of the City of London, with concerts, singing dancing and country sports such as fishing and racing. In 1722 magistrates were instructed to act to stop riotous behaviour, although the parkland remained open until 1745. Belsize House was rebuilt in 1746, after which additional large country houses had been built on the surrounding farmlands for wealthy lawyers and merchants.
Between 1679 and 1714, the number of houses on the estate had increased from 8 to 14, and by 1808 there were still only 22 recorded. However, the formal division of the state in 1808 into eight separate lands - based on the structure of the underleases pertaining to the estates formal houses - allowed the church to maximise its income, and hence to allow additional substantial houses to be built on the lands. This income allowed the church to have Belsize House rebuilt in 1812 for additional letting income. The wealthy leaseholders soon enabled themselves to purchase the freehold from the church, allowing the accelerated development of Belsize as a Victorian country urban suburb of London. One of the new land owners George Todd redeveloped what was known as the White House in 1815 as a substantial Georgian stucco-villa with portico, and two lodges. Known as Belsize House, it was later sold to Matthew Forster (1786 – 1869) the Whig MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed as Belsize Lodge - it was demolished in 1937.
Victorian development started along the main London to Hampstead road from 1815 through the works of Edward Bliss, a self-made man who had leased and then bought the southeastern-located Newman's House lands, on the west side of Haverstock Hill north of England's Lane. Bliss not only built properties to lease out, but also allowed construction subleases. In 1829 Eton College advertised villa-sized plots on Haverstock Hill. The college then started developing an axis road to Finchley Road, naming it after Queen Adelaide. Development halted in the 1830s due to the proposal for the lines of the London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) to be built through Belsize Park, but Eton College successfully argued via Parliamentary lobbying for the railway to be tunnelled underground via Primrose Hill, which was then designed and engineered by Eugenius Birch. All the 38 houses on the Newman's House lands had been built by 1830.
The passing of the Ecclesiastical Leases Act 1842 allowed all church lands to be let on long term construction leases, which unlocked the accelerated urban development of Belsize Park. The opening in 1851 of Hampstead Road railway station on the L&BR prompted William Lund in 1852 to agree a 99-year construction sublease on the former Forsyth estate. He proposed developments to the west of Haverstock Hill, although his plans were curtailed by construction issues associated with building over both the Pond Street sewer and the L&BR tunnel. In 1852 Charles James Palmer, a Bloomsbury-based solicitor bought the lease of Belsize House. In 1853 he proposed demolition of the main house, with Daniel Tiley taking the lead role in constructing Belsize Square and associated properties. Palmer commissioned architect James Piers St Aubyn to design St Peter's Church. In 1864 the church bought-back the lease on the undeveloped backlot of the Bliss lands. Tiley gained agreement from Palmer and Eton College to buy the construction lease from the church, and hence extend development south of Belsize Square to connect with the college's estate. Mimicking the then fashionable styles of Kensington and Bayswater, between 1851 and the late 1860s he built over 250 8-10 bedroom semi-detached stucco houses with large porticos, aimed at the middle classes. The church undertook a similar agreement in 1857, reacquiring full control over the portion of Todd's lease north of Belsize Lane in 1865, and again selling it to Tiley. With construction almost complete, fashion changed and Tiley went bankrupt in 1870.
Of the original eight lands defined by the church in 1808, the three leased to Thomas Roberts remained substantially undeveloped throughout much of the Victoria era. South End Farm continued as a farmhouse, whilst although Rosslyn House was sold in 1816 to the undertenant, it remained in place with its formal gardens until the house was demolished between 1896 and 1909. In 1855 Henry Davidson exchanged his lease for life of the Rosslyn House lands for a 99-year building lease. Due to issues associated with construction over the L&BR tunnels, in 1859 he sold Rosslyn House and it extended formal gardens to Charles Henry Lardner Woodd. Woodd decided to sublease the house out for income, with its occupiers until 1893 including Sir Francis Freeling (1764 – 1836) who was Secretary of HM General Post Office, and General Sir Moore Disney. Davidson developed his part of the Rosslyn lands, undertaking a mixed development of large semi-detached properties similar to Belsize Park, slowed by a lack of labour through both the substantial development of the neighbouring Maryon Wilson land and the 1860s housing rush.
Developing housing resulted in the need for facilities, including the Metropolitan Railway from 1860 (Hampstead Heath and Finchley Road), and the L&BR form 1868 (Swiss Cottage and Finchley Road). From 1873 William Willett - the father of William Willett the tireless promoter of British Summer Time, who helped his father from 1881 onwards - took over the church's leases after the bankruptcy of Daniel Tiley. Willett redeveloped much of the former Eton College estate with newer, smaller but still substantial properties inspired by Queen Anne style architecture. By 1900, most of the residual country mansions and their gardens had been demolished, now to make way for smaller terraced houses.
After World War I, the construction of blocks of flats began, and now a great many of the larger houses are also converted into flats. In World War II, a large underground air-raid shelter was built here and its entrance can still be seen near the tube station at Downside Crescent. The area on Haverstock Hill north of Belsize Park Underground station up to Hampstead Town Hall and including part of a primary school near the Royal Free Hospital was heavily bombed. When the area was rebuilt, the opportunity was taken to widen the pavement and build further back from the road.
The nearest stations are:
- Belsize Park (Northern line)
- Chalk Farm (Northern line)
- Swiss Cottage (Jubilee line)
- Hampstead Heath (London Overground)
The lyrics of the international chart hit "Kayleigh" by rock band Marillion in 1985 include the line "loving on the floor in Belsize Park". It is also in the short film "Les Bicyclettes de Belsize" (although mainly filmed in Hampstead Village), of which the title song was covered by Mireille Mathieu, Engelbert Humperdinck, and others. Belsize Park is also referenced on Sleeper's 1995 debut album "Smart" in the song "Lady Love Your Countryside" with the lyrics "And we could spend our lives puking in Belsize Park". Cozy Powell's 1974 single "Na Na Na" suggests that "You're a wizard of Wembley Central, You're the J. S. Bach of Belsize park". The Camden Town Group artist Robert Polhill Bevan and his wife Stanislawa de Karlowska lived at 14 Adamson Road from 1900 to 1925. Kirsty MacColl's song "England 2 Columbia 0" features the line, "we went to a pub in Belsize Park and cheered on England as the skies grew dark..." It is also the place of residence for the Jewish community targeted by Hitler during the Second World War in the novel The Morning Gift. Novelist Peter Straub entitled his 1983 poetry collection "Leeson Square and Belsize Park" in part after his time in residence in the Belsize Park region of London. Belsize Park and the surrounding quarters were the setting for a long-running radio drama, Waggoner's Walk. This daily serial ran from April 1969 to May 1980 each weekday on Radio 2. Belsize Park is mentioned in the Hitchcock thriller, Dial M for Murder (1954) by the lead character Tony Wallace played by Ray Milland when coercing his accomplice, C.A. Swann into murdering his wife. Belsize Village was recently (2014) the setting for a Direct Line Insurance advert featuring Harvey Keitel.
There are records of a Belsize Park Rugby Club in North-West London since the 1860s. In 1871, Belsize was one of the clubs at the inaugural meeting of the Rugby Football Union, and therefore pioneers of the game of Rugby Union. In 1878, Belsize moved to form Rosslyn Park RFC, becoming one of England's leading clubs. In 1971, Belsize Park RFC was re-established by a group of local players. The club is now one of the most central of all London Rugby Clubs, playing and training in Regent's Park. There are five regular teams playing every Saturday during the season as well as a touch rugby squad in the summer time.
- Zeinab Badawi, television presenter
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Notes and references
- "Belsize Walk: Primrose Hill to Parliament Hill". London Borough of Camden. p. 4. Archived from the original on 9 April 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2009.
- Bellotti, Alex (21 August 2014). "The Bulgarian asylum seeker who became BBC icon John Simpson's right hand man in Iraq and beyond". Hampstead & Highgate Express. Archived from the original on 22 January 2015.
- Mance, Henry (22 December 2016). "Martin Freeman on Sherlock, politics and why he's not on Twitter". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
- Osley, Richard (23 February 2014). "Belsize Park pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, the world's oldest known Holocaust survivor, dies aged 110". Camden New Journal. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
- Law, Cheryl (23 September 2004). "Hallinan, Hazel Hunkins (1890–1982), campaigner for women's rights". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/63871.
- Wood, Natasha (12 April 2013). "Famous folk at home: Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's home in London". mylusciouslife.com. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
- Pettitt, Josh (16 March 2013). "Cameron 'going out of his way to upset Tory supporters', says Daily Mail columnist Andrew Pierce". Hampstead & Highgate Express. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Belsize Park.|
- Baker, T. F. T.; Bolton, Diane K.; Croot, Patricia E. C. (1989). "Hampstead: Belsize". In Elrington, C. R. (ed.). A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington. London: Victoria County History. pp. 51–60 – via British History Online.
- "Belsize conservation area statement". London Borough of Camden. 2003. Archived from the original on 11 June 2015. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- "Deep level shelters in London: Belsize Park". bunkertours.co.uk.
- "Belsize Residents Association".
- "Belsize Park Rugby Club".