Buckingham Mansions

Buckingham Mansions brochure, West Hampstead
Buckingham Mansions, West Hampstead
Buckingham Mansions, West Hampstead

We know Buckingham Mansions

Buckingham Mansions is one of the finest examples of the mansion block art, a lasting testimony to the vision, creativity and skill of its prime mover and builder, Edward Jarvis Cave, and its architects, Edward Boehmer and Percy Gibbs.

Built in 1897 and 1898 as part of Edward Cave’s ‘Cannon Hill Estate’, in the triangle formed by Cannon Hill, Finchley Road, and West End Lane, it had all of Boehmer and Gibbs’ continental-inspired trademarks, including the big-boned bay windows, and artificial stone as decoration on deep-red brick. It was fortunate that Cave’s creations boasted greater longevity than his business empire. For all his ‘colonisation’ of Hampstead and Maida Vale over some 35 years, in 1900 he went bankrupt owing £504,787 with assets of £28,253. But then again, Cave’s buildings have a deserved reputation for durability and solidity of construction and his blocks of flats are still regarded as striking and distinctive landmarks more than a century later. Buckingham Mansions was particularly notable for its ‘sunflower balconies’, although apparently at the time, not everyone appreciated the commanding grandeur of Cave’s latest undertaking. London County Council had initial complaints about the height, the fence, even the porches!

Those porches have stood sentinel over the usual diverse ebb and flow of mansion residents – doctors, naval commanders, army colonels, an RAF officer, a cigar merchant, an engineer, a charity officer – and even the Sheriff of Cardiganshire in Wales. Why he was living in West Hampstead and not West Wales, no-one really knows!

In the 1930s and ‘40s, you might have been forgiven for thinking that Buckingham Mansions was an unlucky place to be in the proximity of. In 1935 a lorry left standing outside the entrance started to run down the steep hill and, after narrowly missing a bus, crashed into a taxi, overturning it. The lorry then careered into the courtyard of the West Hampstead Fire Station and ran into a wall. Amazingly no-one was seriously hurt! Sadly, the same can’t be said for two residents during the Second World War. While many had left, some had stayed and in February 1944, as the tide of war turned in the Allies’ favour, high explosive bombs and incendiaries fell on Buckingham Mansions, killing a mother and baby.

One well-known resident was Don Tyerman who lived at 41 Buckingham Mansions from about 1970 to his death in 1981. He was a former editor of The Economist and also assistant editor of, and lead writer for, The Times. As shown by letters he wrote to The Times in 1972 he cared for editorial independence and responsibility, and balance and perspective in the media. One can only wonder at the letters he would write if he were still alive today!

Mirroring the bankruptcy of Edward Cave some eight decades earlier, the block’s landlord company in the late 1970s, the Stern Property Group, collapsed, leaving the flats vulnerable to speculators. A plan was drawn up to safeguard the flats but the tenants were divided over differences in flat prices. With the help of Camden Council the tenants finally agreed a formula for buying their homes, opting to work as a cooperative rather than negotiating separately with the liquidators. Once again, Buckingham Mansions proved it had far more staying power than its erstwhile owners!

The Property Ombudsman