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Diplomats, Spies and Refugees

Moving on from the village of Acol and nearby ‘Cleve Court’ in Thanet to Acol Rd, West Hampstead is like a game of chess. Thinking of the next move may take you on a course not planned, or even a dead end. My course seemed quite political and almost surreal. It took me past the novels of George Orwell and poems of T.S. Eliot who both lived close by, to the political high offices of Edward Carson, Earl of Mayo, and wartime Leader of the Opposition  His close friendship with Winston Churchill was notable. Churchill visited Edward at his two homes in Birchington, `Orion Bungalow` and `Cleve Court`.

 Many of the houses in Acol Rd, West Hampstead were originally part of the Powell-Cotton estates, developed in the 1880`s. Later the large residential properties were converted to flats, which we might call `penthouse` apartments. In this area the Acol Bridge Club was housed and it was also home for leading diplomats, including St. John Philby. He was well travelled and a supporter of Arab nationalism, living here with his family, notably his son, Kim Philby. In later years Kim was to become a highly controversial spy, and double agent. My father, who also worked in the Foreign Office post-war, used to tell me about Burgess and Maclean, being contemporary, but in those days their secret activities were not yet revealed. The era of Ian Fleming`s novels was based on the irony of much intelligence, scarcely believable.

The flats or apartments were often designed with a caretaker`s residence within the premises, and many of the documents held at the Museum come with superbly drawn architectural plans. These often bear the name of `Banister Fletcher`, who lived at Anglebury, West End Lane. He was Professor of Architecture at King`s College, London. It seems he was responsible for the development in this area in the 1930`s. On one of the documents for `Gothic House`, Chislett Rd, there was a reference to the `Office of Public Trustees`. We puzzled over this, and then noted that all mention of sale or rent was only to be advertised in the `Jewish Chronicle`. This was in 1935, two years after Hitler came to power, but four years before the outbreak of war. It seems that some of these conversions were in preparation for future refugees, with possible government approval.

Further research by Hazel Basford has revealed that Isaac and Alice Lenkiewicz, themselves refugees from Poland and Germany in 1939, opened Hotel Shemtov in Fordwych Rd, in Kilburn, as a home for refugees and concentration camp survivors. Much of Fordwych Rd was developed from Powell-Cotton land. Some 50 years later, in 1987, the AJR Day centre was opened at Cleve Rd, for members of the Association of Jewish Refugees. Political VIPs have continued to live in this area, including Glenda Jackson, actress and one-time MP, and in Kingsgate Rd, ex-Leader of the GLC and Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

This eclectic mix of MPs, diplomats, spies and double agents together with refugees would credit another Matt Damon film - The Bourne Mysteries- part V- the Powell-Cottons again.

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