The Swiss Cottage pub: From rural inn to city icon

Previously unpublished photographs included in a book about London’s past have revealed how the bucolic Swiss Cottage became swallowed up by the city but still remains a unique icon of the area.

The images are captured in Panoramas of Lost London by Philip Davies, a former director of English Heritage with responsibility for the capital.

The Swiss Cottage was originally built in the 1840s as a coaching inn on the outskirts of London, where it was surrounded by fields.

It served traditional English bitters to working men coming in and out of London, and also housed a dairy selling milk and cheese.

Mr Davies explained that it had been built during a craze for “cottage orn�e” a popular fantasy movement harking back to a rural vision of old.

“There are a few dotted around the country but to have a full-blown Swiss cottage is unique in London,” he said. “It’s remarkable that it survived being engulfed by suburbia.”

Most were private residences, including one used by Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight. But Hampstead’s alpine-style lodge has been a pub for more than 170 years.

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In the 1880s, well-to-do residential mansions sprung up around it in Eton Grove, Finchley Road and St John’s Wood.

Transport links improved when Swiss Cottage Underground station opened to serve the residents.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the area changed dramatically as a huge new cinema was built and granite roads were widened and resurfaced to accommodate motor cars.

“The whole height and scale of the area changed,” said Mr Davies.

“Cinema was the most popular form of entertainment and it would have been one of the focal points of the community.”

Today, following a major road widening in the 1960s, the surviving Ye Olde Swiss Cottage pub is a modest drinking hole surrounded by lanes of traffic and dwarfed by the imposing Art Deco cinema.

“It’s lost its context and its rural charm,” said Mr Davies. “But it is a distinctive local landmark which has given its name to the local area and shows the history of the development of the suburbs.”

Owing to its Grade II listed status, it is protected from development and its future is secure.