History

How Betjeman’s birthplace became ‘the coolest council estate in Britain’

IN THE 1890s neighbours were scandalised when a ‘terrible object’ appeared on the eastern edge of London’s Hampstead Heath. The building that caused outrage was the latest in modern living, an estate of mansion flats for the respectable middle classes.

The birthplace of the poet John Betjeman, Lissenden Gardens was built at the peak of the flat building boom of the 1890s. The estate looks very similar to numerous other five storey red brick blocks in Maida Vale, West Hampstead and elsewhere designed by the architects Boehmer and Gibbs.

But Lissenden Gardens’ later history was as singular as its founder, who raised the money for the estate from the first electricity generating company in Hampstead and ended up in court for flouting building regulations.

In the early 1970s, when rented houses in London were being gentrified and flats snapped up by speculators, the residents of Lissenden Gardens drove off the notorious landlords who had bought the estate and then persuaded Camden Council to take over.

Since then, the estate has become home to an increasingly diverse group of people, living happily together in what one resident recently described as ‘the coolest council estate in Britain’.

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