William Eades favoured warm red brick when he had the large country house built near the top of Holly Hill in 1693. His father was a bricklayer, a practical man, and the home reflects the taste of an artisan more than that of an architect despite its size and imposing exterior. Joshua Gee bought the house in 1706. He was a Quaker linen merchant who also traded in iron ore, one of the founding members of a company created to have pig-iron produced in Maryland for sale in England. At one stage in the company’s history, he went into partnership with the father of George Washington.


The house got its current name when James Fenton purchased the property one hundred years after it was built. The Fenton family had made their fortune exporting coal from the city of Riga in Russia back to England. The family was very large and social, sponsoring weekly dancing classes for the girls. In 1829, James Fenton presided over a meeting of Hampstead tenants to protest a last effort by Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson to develop Hampstead Heath. Fortunately, his heir ceded his rights to the Heath and it passed into public ownership in 1871.


Fenton house and its grounds served as a gracious home for a number of different families until it was bought for the last time by a Lady Binning in 1934. She bequeathed the estate, and her fine collection of porcelain, to the National Trust in 1952. As well as chinaware, Fenton House is the repository for Benton Fletcher’s exceptional collection of early keyboard instruments and the art collection of the late actor, Peter Barkworth, a resident of Hampstead for over forty years.



Major Benton Fletcher, who amassed the harpsichords, clavichords, virginals and spinets, bequeathed the instruments on condition they were played regularly. If you pass an audition you may be allowed a tinkle; otherwise you can attend one of the concerts that take place throughout the year. The National Trust houses have just re-opened after a winter hibernation, and I was lucky enough to be going through when a local pianist dropped by to give an Italian harpsichord a beautiful workout.



The formal gardens, with lawns, clipped hedges and flowery bowers give way to a more practical fruit, vegetable and herb garden in summer, making up of a 300-year-old orchard. There is a two pound donation requested in the honesty box to tour the garden, which is spare this time of year but very elegant all the same.

The National Trust’s only public-access example of international modernism, Number 2 Willow Road, is the middle house in a terrace of three houses designed by Hungarian-born émigré architect Ernö Goldfinger. During his studies in Paris, Goldfinger was strongly influenced by Le Corbusier’s former mentor, Auguste Perret, an expert in designing reinforced concrete structures.

In the early 1930s, Goldfinger met and married Ursula Blackwell, heiress to the Crosse & Blackwell fortune. The remainder of his career would be based in the UK. Hampstead was a popular place for artists and architects after the War, and the family home near the Southern end of the Heath was completed in 1939. Ernö and Ursula stayed at Number 2 for the rest of their lives. Goldfinger’s view that ‘the most significant thing about a house is the view from within it’ springs to mind when you look from the huge windows toward the Heath.


His choice of location incurred the wrath of an MP and other local grandees opposed to the project. The most notable of those offended was, of course, Ian Fleming. Fleming had been among several of the objectors to the pre-war demolition of the cottages in Hampstead that were removed to make way for Goldfinger’s house, but it was a chance encounter on the golf course between Ian and Ursula Goldfinger’s cousin that led to his decision to use the name for a villain in his book by the same name.


The architect consulted his lawyers when “Goldfinger” was published in 1959, which prompted Fleming to threaten to rename the character ‘Goldprick’, but eventually Erno decided not to sue; Fleming’s publishers agreed to pay his costs and gave him six free copies of the book.

Goldfinger did make a modest attempt to fit the home in with the Hampstead aesthetic. Although it is made of reinforced concrete, the building is clad in red brick. The only real harmony, however, is on the inside. You can see what the architect was attempting to do with his easy-to-clean hospital floors and careful window and skylight placement for optimum natural light. He loved space-saving gadgets, pocket doors, hidden storage and fold-up beds. He was aiming for clean lines and lots of natural light. Unfortunately, my visit happened on a morose, rainy day, so I wasn’t able to enjoy its best feature.


What makes this house unique is that everything remains as he left it when he died in 1987. He and Ursula were friends with a number of artists from Paris and London. Paintings and sculpture from Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp, Roland Penrose and Henry Moore and others decorate the home. The colour scheme is unusual and certainly striking, but not unsettling. The furniture, designed by Goldfinger and his associates, looks a little dated now; the only room that really appealed to me was the dining room with its wonderfully deep windows.



The volunteers are enthusiastic, however, more than making up for Goldfinger’s reputation as a prickly personality. The short documentary about his life and times is worth watching. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the house, so I have been forced to rely on the work of others for this post. It would be hard to imagine two more different homes representing domestic architecture, and it is easy to see them both on the very same day. In between there is a nice long walk through the heart of Hampstead.