History of the Gates by Pamela Taylor

I live at 40 Prince of Wales Road, the first house in the terrace between Hampstead Gates and the railway bridge, and I’m one of the writers for Alan Godfrey who publishes reprints of large-scale OS maps with accompanying historical notes.  

The map dates range from the 1860s to the 1930s, the scale is usually 25 inches to the mile (though there’s a 5 foot to the mile at Camden Lock), and If you don’t already know the series now is definitely the time to discover it – www.alangodfreymaps.co.uk. He’s published a lot of local sheets (you may have seen some in the Owl bookshop) but it’s a national series with strong coverage of many other areas. The firm that prints the maps is currently closed but online sales are holding up well – lots of people using their time to explore local and family history – and Alan’s working on new titles and enlarging his newsletter. He asked me to write a short piece of general interest for the newsletter, but most of it is very close to home. Here’s a slightly edited extract:  

Prince of Wales Road was put through in the early 1840s and very topically named: the future Edward VII was born on 9 November 1841 and created Prince of Wales on 8 December. (Try picturing the dubbing!) We are in the end house of a c.1850 terrace and our non-terrace neighbour is the building which opened in 1849 as the Asylum for Aged Governesses. The building itself is lovely, Grade II listed and designed by the highly reputed architects Thomas Henry Wyatt and David Brandon. So this was not a cheap production, which in itself signals that governesses were an unusual category.  

They were servants but genteel, and while most were bound to retire into spinster poverty their gentility made them particularly appealing candidates for upper-class charity. The asylum was funded by the Governesses’ Benevolent Institution, whose full-page advertisement for the opening, performed by the Duke of Cambridge, lists over 120 royal and aristocratic patrons. It also describes in detail the penury of ‘ladies, many reared in affluence, and all accustomed to the customs and luxuries of at least our middle ranks’, who had selflessly devoted their incomes to supporting parents, siblings, and orphan nieces and nephews. It continues ‘There is something inexpressibly sweet in the idea of providing a haven for the storm-beaten mariner – a shelter for the weather-tried traveller – a place of rest for the wearied wayfarer’.  

But the haven was very soon disrupted by the Hampstead Junction railway, which announced its plans in 1854 and opened across the other end of our not very long terrace in 1860. The line is now part of the London Overground and goods trains on the bridge regularly shake our cheaply constructed house – indeed viaducts rather than cuttings are a sign of a cheap area and if the Institution had known how rapidly Lord Southampton would lower his sights for his West Kentish Town development they would perhaps have been less beguiled by the ‘sweet air that used to come from Hampstead and Highgate’ and immediately looked elsewhere. Instead the governesses suffered a decade of dirty steam and the disturbance of ‘this once peaceful home with shrill shrieks at all hours of the day and often of the night’ before departing to safely secluded Chislehurst, where land was purchased in 1870 and the new haven officially opened in 1872. At least the governesses missed the heat and sparks when the mainly wooden station (Kentish Town West) burnt down in 1872.  

The Institution sold the edges of the Kentish Town site very profitably for development – the site stretched east to Grafton Road so Ryland Road is part of the result – and Frances Buss, one of the greatest pioneers of female education, bought the building and its immediate grounds. It initially housed North London Collegiate School (which she had founded in 1850), and then from 1879, and with a large extension, Camden School for Girls (which she had founded in 1871). After that too moved on, in 1956, it became part of St Richard of Chichester RC secondary, which was closed down in 1997. It was then sold for conversion to flats, and for us this is where things become personal. The OS maps are so brilliant that comparing the 1870 and 1894 surveys gives the detail of the 1879 extension, and comparing 1894 with 1913 shows that between those dates the school had absorbed our house.  So it became part of the conversion. We still sometimes meet people who were pupils at St Richard of Chichester and remember the house very well, especially when it was used as a separate unit for pupils needing extra attention.  

Pamela Taylor