Avenue Mansions

Avenue Mansions brochure, West Hampstead
Avenue Mansions, West Hampstead
Avenue Mansions, West Hampstead

We know Avenue Mansions

Avenue Mansions is your archetypal mansion block. Its broad sweep of architectural symmetry and splendour marks it out as the prodigious child of the fathers of the West London mansion block, builder Edwin Cave and architects Edward Boehmer and Percy Gibbs.

All the trademarks are there – projecting corner turrets, the Jacobean cupola, very big-boned bay windows, and artificial stone decorating deep-red brickwork. As a legacy to their vision and skill, they couldn’t have wished for a finer memorial.

The vast swathe of windows have been the eyes of Avenue Mansions for over one hundred years, looking within and without, observing the revolving door of residential life while historical events formed a rolling backdrop. What have they witnessed?

There’s the fact that in one year 18 out of the 44 flats were occupied by a single woman as the head of the household. Maybe not surprising if the year in question was, say, 2010, but this was actually back in 1900, some years before women even got the vote!

The 1901 census reveals that, while some residents were in the fortunate position of not needing to work, the most common means of earning a living among residents was commerce: nine flat owners are described in the census as ‘merchants’. However, diversity was always a characteristic of mansion blocks so passing the merchants in the corridors we would have had the Secretary to the Consulate General for Sweden and Norway, a builder, two bankers, a barrister and an army officer surgeon.

Avenue Mansions also boasts two examples of that curious phenomenon, the person who has made a remarkable contribution to the world and yet somehow escaped fame. Do you know who James Spratt is? Or Fred Gaisberg? Well, if you have a dog and it likes dog biscuits, you have James Spratt to thank – an American entrepreneur, Spratt’s company became the world’s first large-scale manufacturer of these canine treats!

And if you’re a record lover, then you have an immense debt to Fred. A pioneer of music recording, he was the first person to record the tenor Enrico Caruso in 1902 and the recordings became a sensation. Caruso’s recordings – released in 1903 and the first recordings to feature Nipper, the famous ‘His Master’s Voice’ dog listening to the acoustic horn of a gramophone – turned him into an international star. Perhaps it was the quality of the Caruso records that laid the foundation of the modern record industry, as up to then gramophones had not been taken seriously. Fred then helped to establish 78 revolutions per minute as the standard playing speed in the first half of the twentieth century, and shellac as the standard material for making the discs.

He had a good eye for talent too and in his time with HMV he snapped up young conductor John Barbirolli in 1927 while also helping to launch the career of violinist Yehudi Menuhin. For good measure, Fred was also instrumental in encouraging his friend Sir Edward Elgar to write his Third Symphony and Elgar dedicated his last work ‘Mina’ to Fred. There must be music in the walls of Avenue Mansions – listen carefully one day and you may just hear Fred playing his 78s.

The Property Ombudsman