A History of Belsize Park
You can’t truly know an area until you know its history. Here is a history of the beautiful suburb of Belsize Park to deepen your knowledge of this leafy pocket of London.
The word Belsize, or Bel Assis in old French, means beautifully situated. Then a subsidy of Hampstead, the Manor of Belsize, was left to the monks of Westminster in 1317. As we know it today, that estate ranged between Parliament Hill, Haverstock Hill, Rosslyn Hill, England’s Lane and College Crescent.
In the 1500s, the estate consisted of farms and a manor house. The manor, Belsize House, was rebuilt in 1663 in the restoration style. Then, in 1720, it opened as a pleasure garden with dancing, hunting, fishing, and concerts. Even the Prince of Wales visited there in 1721. However, the magistrates acted the next year to prevent rioting and unlawful gaming. The events continued for two decades until the house was rebuilt in 1746. More manor houses were built on the estate during this time.
From 1815 mansions, villas and terraces were built for gentlemen commuters on the west side of Haverstock Hill. In the 1840s, semi-detached villas of the “John Nash school” were built around Provost Road and Eton Road. Adelaide Road was developed to link Haverstock Hill and the new Finchley Road between 1830 and 1853.
In 1853, Belsize House was demolished and the area around Belsize Square was developed. In the late 1850s and 1860s, Daniel Tidey built classical semi-detached houses with large porticos and lavish stucco to attract the wealthy middle classes. After 1870 stucco gradually disappeared and in the 1880s, William Willett introduced elaborate Queen Anne style red brick houses to Eton Avenue.
By the late 1880s, large leasehold houses were less popular, although Willett overcame competition from the outer suburbs by building more suburban style houses. The trend for apartment blocks had arrived with Manor Mansion in Belsize Grove in 1884. Smaller houses were built round Glenilla Road in the 1900s to attract clerks. By then Belsize had been transformed from farmland and country mansions to a pleasant leafy suburb resembling the one we know today.
After World War I, the construction of blocks of flats began, and now a great many of the larger houses are also converted into flats. In World War II, a large underground air-raid shelter was built here and its entrance can still be seen near the tube station at Downside Crescent. The area on Haverstock Hill north of Belsize Park Underground station up to Hampstead Town Hall and including part of a primary school near the Royal Free Hospital was heavily bombed. When the area was rebuilt, the opportunity was taken to widen the pavement and build further back from the road.