The Holly Lodge Estate is an estate located on the site and grounds of a villa built in 1798 by Sir Henry Tempest on the south-facing slopes of Highgate, London adjacent to Highgate Rise, now known as Highgate West Hill. The estate lands included Traitor’s Hill, reputedly where members of the Gunpowder Plot had met to watch the Palace of Westminster blow up although since known to be false. This villa was later to be known as The Holly Lodge and in 1809 a young actress, Harriot Mellon, took over the lease on the property. She married the banker Thomas Coutts in 1815 and enlarged the house and grounds by buying adjacent properties. The grounds were landscaped by John Buonarotti Papworth in 1825. When Harriot Mellon died in 1837 she left the house and her fortune to Mr Coutts’ granddaughter, Angela Burdett.
Between 1849 and 1906 Holly Lodge became world-famous as the rural retreat of one of the most remarkable women of the 19th century with grand galas and festivities taking place in the house and the meadows. Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens were both regular visitors to the estate.
Angela Burdett-Coutts had married in 1881 and after her death her husband put the property on the market. Being four miles (6 km) from the City it failed to sell and in 1907 was put on the market again, divided into several lots. It still failed to sell, and it was not until 1922, after the death of her husband, that even outlying parts of the estate were sold: South Grove House and Holly Terrace to the North (the latter mostly unchanged in appearance since then) and Brookfield Stud to the south (now replaced by housing). Eventually, in March 1923, the remainder of the estate, advertised as and subsequently always referred to as the Holly Lodge Estate, was sold for £45,000 and resold at the same price later that year to London Garden Suburbs Limited with the building of the first road of houses, on Bromwich Avenue, being started by the Central London Building Company Limited later that same year. The former ‘lodge’ was demolished during the building of the new roads of houses and no trace of the building now remains, apart from a plaque at the entrance to the gardens taken from the north wall.
Initially, the plan was to build houses on the entire estate but due to slow sales and the need for drainage from the higher ground the land to the east of the new central road was acquired by the Lady Workers’ Homes Limited to build blocks of rooms and flats for single women moving to London in order to work as secretaries and clerks in the city on the Eastern side of the estate. The local Alderman and others involved in the project are commemorated in an inscription on the ornamental pond in the central garden area.
The Modern Era
Ownership of the mansion blocks was transferred a number of times and, by the early 1960’s under the ownership of Peachey Properties, many of the blocks were in a state of disrepair. The Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras took them over on a 150-year lease in 1964 which devolved to the London Borough of Camden the following year. Whilst Camden looks after the mansion blocks and the gardens in between the blocks, the remainder of the estate is managed and maintained by the Holly Lodge Estate Committee. The whole area remains a private estate and has been a Conservation Area since June 1992. Between 2004 and 2006 the exteriors to all the mansion blocks were renovated.
As the bedsitting rooms and flats in the Makepeace Avenue and Oakeshott Avenue mansion blocks were built without kitchens a block was built at 30 Makepeace Avenue to serve as a centre for the community and included a restaurant, reading and meeting rooms and a small theatre. Behind it were three lawn tennis courts (with another two below Langbourne Avenue) where annual tennis tournaments were held.
Towards the late 1950’s this community block fell into decline and by the time Camden bought their lease on the mansion blocks it was derelict. After a Lands Tribunal the block with its unique facilities was sadly demolished and a new building with 25 one-person flats for the elderly, together with some communal facilities, was constructed on the site. Minutes of the Council at the time state that the community facilities would be replaced in the new building, however this failed to materialise and only a small community centre on the ground floor now serves the estate.
For many years Camden retained the policy of only placing women on the estate but that has since lapsed. The only known other estate built for single women was in Wandsworth but has since been demolished.
Langbourne Mansions was built first and provided 88 self-contained flats which have changed little in the intervening years. The mansion blocks on Makepeace Avenue and Oakeshott Avenue though were designed from the outset as bed-sitting rooms, sometimes with bedroom or kitchen alcoves, and offered an acceptable way for single women to live near to London on their own. Only three flats in the whole of Makepeace Mansions and Holly Lodge Mansions had their own bathroom (one for a particular tenant, one for the caretaker and the remaining one for the stoker for the central boiler). The remainder all had shared bathroom and toilet facilities, which is still the case for seven of the blocks even today. Makepeace Mansions originally provided 269 rooms and Holly Lodge Mansions on Oakeshott Avenue had 408 flats but later conversions have seen this number reduced as bedsits have given way to self-contained flats.
The design of the mansion blocks on each avenue follow the same design concept with variations from group to group. From a distance they appear as ‘Tudor Cliffs’ as they tower above the adjoining houses and which is aided by the topography with not only the fall of the hill to the south but also to the east adjoining Highgate Cemetery.
The blocks are four or five stories in height and are united by timber details, gable roofs with finials, red tiles and casement windows usually with south-facing balconies. The rear and side elevations are in a very different plain and minimal style and overall reflect the modern design of the 1920’s.
Originally there were no gates to the Estate, and damage to the residents’ gardens and grass verges was caused by rowdy people using Bromwich Avenue as a through way to and from the Heath, especially at Fair times. A petition signed by all the residents was presented to the London Building Company Limited asking for gates to be put up for their protection and to preserve the privacy of the Estate. The then Mayor of the Borough, who lived on the opposite side of Swains Lane, which, on the opening of the Estate, had been relieved of this unwelcome traffic, endeavoured to get an injunction to prevent the gates being put up. But the London Building Co had the gates put in position ovemight before the injunction could be heard and eventually permission was granted by the London County Council for the gates to remain. The footpath gates were locked and the residents had keys. It was not until after the war that the practice of locking the pedestrian gates fell into disuse. In recent years, an electronically operated barrier has been placed across the West Hill entrance of the Estate to prevent unauthorised access. This allows vehicles to leave the Estate at all times but to come in by remote controllers between 23.00 and 11.00 when the barrier is closed.
The value of trees to the townscape needs no emphasis. And how much more delightful still when the trees are set off by grass below them. We are particularly fortunate in having wide road verges with both trees and grass giving such a pleasant aspect to the estate.
The trees on the estate fall into three main groups. Firstly the trees on the Burdett- Coutts Estate which are present in the Holly Lodge Gardens and in Robin Grove. The Cedar Garden has been incorporated in its entirety and the Cedars are still quite magnificent.
Secondly, we have the trees planted when the estate was developed in 1927. Although, some may argue that the developer chose the wrong trees, he must be forgiven because of the amount of space he was prepared to devote to both trees and lawns.
The limes in Hillway now some 70 years old, would have grown far too large to be manageable and they are now pruned quite regularly The labumums, which have been planted, are unsuitable trees in that their shape is inartistic and they are only attractive for a short period. We are replacing these gradually with white beams and other species. Only one tree of botanical merit seems to have been planted by the developer and that is the Maidenhair (Ginko Biloba) on the roundabout at the top of Hillway This is probably the third best specimen of this tree in the country only being surpassed at Oxford and Kew.
The last trees to be mentioned are those planted on the east side of the estate against the cemetery wall. The high cemetery wall was a safeguard against grave robbing, ended by the Anatomy Act of 1832. The plane trees were planted probably as a screen against the sight of the tombs and graves, many people finding it unpleasant constantly to be reminded of their mortality It was unfortunate that the plane tree was chosen although it certainly produces a first-class summer screen, growing to an enormous size.
The plot-owners have a special responsibility to each other to maintain their gardens, as the maintenance of their gardens in good condition adds very considerably to the appearance of the Estate and so contributes to the general well-being of everyone. lt is advisable to avoid excessive areas of concrete; keeping lawns in trim lends a note of smartness. There is also a tendency to allow hedges to overgrow the footpaths, and this destroys the regularity of vistas. We would also like each plot-owner to feel some responsibility for the tree in front of his propeny, not only when new trees are planted, running the risk of vandalism, and shortage of water, but to report any general damage to a tree, broken branches and the like, with which our gardeners could help.
Plot-owners appreciate the debts that we owe to the past and realise that these created new responsibilities lor the future. An important and sometimes expensive part of the Estate Committees work is maintaining its appearance, and consequently the value of the Estate, but above all, preserving the pleasure of living under such excellent conditions so near the centre of the metropolis.
Estate Financial History
When the Holly Lodge Estate was founded it was laid down in the covenants that each of the 285 plot-owners should statutorily pay annually, to the trustees of the estate, the sum of £2.50 with which the trustees would discharge their duty of maintaining the roads, footpaths and grass verges of the Estate, together with the ornamental gardens in Holly Lodge Gardens. The flats were reckoned as 97 “plots” at £5 each and the annual income thus derived by the trustees amounted to £1,188.
Up to the end of the Second World War this income proved adequate; the roads did not need much maintaining in those early days and all went well. Gradually, however, a situation developed in which it was clear to the trustees that the £2.50 rent charge had become quite inadequate and that repairs and renovations on a fairly large scale (for example the gates were in bad state) would be needed.
So they applied their minds to see whether the rent charge could be raised. Could, for instance, a sliding scale be introduced to vary with the cost of living index?
Counsels opinion was taken, but the trustees were advised that it would be unwise to try to get the rent charge raised statutorily: there was no guarantee of success and the legal charges in which the plot-owners might have been involved would have been prohibitive. The trustees therefore decided, in january 1952, to set up first, a Reinstatement Fund, to which plot-owners could contribute either, a lump sum down, or annually and secondly, a Voluntary Maintenance Fund (VMF). These, of course, were to be in addition to the annual rent charge.
Gradually the two funds were merged; more and more the plot-owners realised the good sense behind the VMF and soon practically 100% of the plot-owners were contributing, including Camden Borough Council, the owners of the flats. Plot-owners and Camden contribute approximately 50% each to the Estate’s income, and accounts are circulated at each of the Committee’s AGMs.
Management of the Estates affairs has now become both demanding and costly, however, the Committee is confident that, given the continuing support of the plot-owners, including Camden Council, it is possible to maintain the Estate to the high standards we have always enjoyed. Given the present age of the estate, costs are likely to increase considerably Their aim is to leave the estate, its roads, paths, grass verges and gates, in such condition that our property will not depreciate, and to leave it in better condition than that in which they found it.