Cleve House

Cleve House brochure, West Hampstead
Cleve House, West Hampstead
Cleve House, West Hampstead

We know Cleve House

Cleve House was a late addition to Cleve Road, constructed nearly 60 years after the road was first laid out and sharing a name inspired by the Kentish estate of the then owners of this part of West Hampstead, the lavishly wealthy, big game hunting Powell-Cottons.

When it comes to older properties, we often think ‘if only walls could talk’ and with mansion blocks in particular, with their diverse case of resident characters, what an amazing social, political and historical tapestry we could weave if all those walls found a voice. Thankfully, Cleve House has given up some of its secrets and given us a tantalising hint of the lives within the walls.

In 1938 resident and club manager Matthew Lyttleton was involved in a midnight raid by the police on Maitland Bridge Club. He was charged with being found on the premises of ‘a common gaming house’ because of the gaming machines used in the club. His defence was that he was ‘highly respectable’ and was ‘in dock only because of the automatic machines on the premises’. He was fined the sum of £25.

A year later, as Europe descended inexorably into war, a series of adverts placed by the resident of 17 Cleve House hinted at the increasing desperation some felt to escape the tide of Nazism. In April 1939 an initial advert told of ‘a young girl of Prague’, 19, ‘domesticated’, spoke English, German and French, fond of children’ who was seeking a post and ‘pocket money’. In August 1939 another advertisement appeared for a ‘gentlewoman still in Germany, fond of children’, able to do all household work and claimed to be an excellent cook, speaking perfect English and French, seeking a post in a household. A third similar advert was placed later in the month, the assumption being that the placers of the adverts were systematically trying to get women to safety in England before war broke out.

Interestingly, in 1943 a notice appeared in The Times about the naturalisation of another resident of 17 Cleve House, Ferdinand Reis. It’s likely that number 17 served as some sort of safe haven for refugees during the War.

Twenty years later, Cleve House generated what would today be classic tabloid fodder. Admittedly the headlines back in 1964 – Screaming in Hampstead Flat – perhaps lack that modern red top relish, but the story nevertheless was a fascinating one. It involved a Mr Rand of 19 Cleve House, who found himself in court for breaching both his lease and a Court order restraining him from ‘permitting or suffering one Mrs Seger to scream’ in the flat. His 90-year-old mother-in-law, Mrs Hermione Seger, had had a stroke and was paralysed; she was often sedated but short of gagging her Mr Read could not stop her from screaming sometimes. The landlord was sympathetic but had no choice but to protect the interests of the other tenants. Thankfully the case was eventually shelved as the old lady – serendipitously one must feel – became less noisy.

Cleve House is only within a short walk to the popular West Hampstead Village that offers a large variety of local shops, bars, restaurants and excellent public transport links.

The Property Ombudsman