Alexandra Mansions

Alexandra Mansions brochure, West Hampstead
Alexandra Mansions, West Hampstead
Alexandra Mansions, West Hampstead

We know Alexandra Mansions

As the date over the door proudly declares to the world, Alexandra Mansions was built in 1902, an early commission for the up and coming young architect Ernest Bates.

Ernest Bates was only 27 when he devised his design for ‘residential flats of a high class character’ on West End Lane, a far cry from the site’s earlier occupier, the famous Cock and Hoop tavern.

Bates may have been influenced by Dutch architecture in his design but the internal specification was very much geared to the British ideal of a modern mansion flat – spacious, airy accommodation with seven rooms plus a compact domestic service area, electric lighting, new drains, lifts and even a speaking tube for the servants and tradesmen.

There were originally 24 flats, the last of these becoming available in 1904 and with one given over to a caretaker. Historical records show that as with mansion blocks across the capital, so it was here – the residents over the years providing a social tapestry. So many ordinary people and some less ordinary, so many different jobs and life experiences and interests. Initially it was business and professional people with young families, and some people of private means. Before the Great War there was a stockbroker, an architect, a manufacturer, a music publisher, a grain broker, and even an ‘explorer’!

Between the wars residents included a solicitor, accountant, dentist, wine merchant, a commercial traveller, bank clerk and a dock foreman, as well as a number of bachelors and older couples, though there were still extended families and families with domestic servants in the block. All life really was in Alexandra Mansions!

And then war broke out again in 1939 and that life changed. Two-thirds of the flats were empty during the Blitz with hardly any pre-war tenants living there from 1944 onwards. The Mansions themselves were not hit directly by bombs or rockets, but with many falling nearby windows were inevitably blown out. Remarkably several flats today still boast the ‘war damage’ glass supplied by the authorities to repair the broken panes of seventy years ago.

Hard to believe, given the modern love of space and style, but after the Second World War there was a falling demand for larger flats and so the original 24 flats were subdivided between the 1950s and 1968. The present front flats consist of the old reception rooms and kitchen, while the rear garden flats have the old servants’ quarters and the bedrooms. By 1973 the residents’ association was the effective owner of Alexandra Mansions and it eventually bought the freehold.

In amongst a century of ‘ordinary’ mansion dwellers sat a couple more notable names. The painter, Ivon Hitchens (1893 – 1979) lived at number 14 with his parents, Alfred and Margaret, in the early part of the 20th century. A friend of artistic luminaries Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, and Barbara Hepworth, he is well-known for his frescos and watercolours of flowers, landscapes and nudes and has paintings at the Tate Gallery. British composer Patric Standford lived at number 23a in the 1960s. A former pupil of the Guildhall School of Music and both a violin and viola player, he has been involved in conducting, composing, directing and arranging a wide range of music for films, television and West End shows.

Named after the then new queen, Alexandra Mansions has been making its own regal process through the ages since 1902. It has many stories to tell… but possibly not as many as the Cock and Hoop tavern!

The Property Ombudsman