Building The Estate

Lissenden Gardens was built between 1899 and 1906 by the Armstrong family, on the site of a row of exclusive villas called the Grove, off Highgate Road to the north of Kentish Town. [link to google maps]

Alfred Armstrong was an entrepreneur who made fortunes in the new business of automatic vending, then in electricity generation. His company was the first to generate electricity in Hampstead. Alfred invested the proceeds of his companies in building the flats, following the model developed by his father in law EJ Cave, who built extensively in South and West Hampstead, Maida Vale and elsewhere. After Alfred’s death, the estate was managed by his sons Douglas and Eric, in succession and then by his daughter, Eileen, who won a silver medal for high diving at the 1920 Olympics. Two of Eric’s sons, Raymond and Peter, did the odd jobs around the estate when their aunt Eileen was managing it.

The estate was designed by Boehmer and Gibbs, the architects used by EJ Cave, who were experienced in building middle class blocks of flats. Edward Boehmer trained in Germany, where flat living was much longer established than in London. The 1890s and 1900s saw a boom in flat building, with blocks of middle class mansion flats being building in many areas of London.

The character of the estate derives from William Morris’s “Arts and Crafts” movement. According to local architect Tony Edwards, there are many hand-made features in the estate such as:

  • red brick arches over window, the bricks are tapered by hand;
  • corner feature towers with octagonal roofs;
  • hand-made red clay tiles, some of which are now changed to slate;
  • terracotta foliage panels on 9 and 17 Clevedon Mansions.
  • wrought iron weather vane and railings;
  • stained glass windows;
  • cast iron and tile fireplaces;
  • flower tiles by front doors.

One staircase of ten flats was destroyed during the Second World War. On 26 September 1940 a high explosive bomb hit the southern end of Parliament Hill Mansions and killed 13 people, including several children. Two weeks earlier the estate had been set ablaze when incendiary bombs fell but in that incident no-one was hurt.

1-10 Parliament Hill Mansions was replaced after the war by the six-storey Chester Court, built by architects Anderson, Forster and Wilcox. The utilitarian style of the new block, in contrast to the decorative Edwardian blocks, shows how much society had changed in half a century.

Some original features of the Gardens no longer exist. Some blocks originally had a rubbish chute or small lift on the kitchen balconies. Any rubbish could be placed in the chute, which would then fall down to a large iron bin emptied daily by the caretakers. The service lift would be used for larger items of rubbish, or for lifting coal up to the higher flats. Some lifts were electrically operated while others were worked by hand.

The lifts were large enough to contain a child and, although expressly forbidden, many an illicit ride was taken by the children of the estate. Each flat was also equipped with a speaking tube so that residents on upper floors could attract a caretaker or coal merchant by blowing down the tube, which had a whistle on the end.

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