Belsize Park remembered in social history homage to ‘beautiful’ neighbourhood
PUBLISHED: 11:00 17 October 2016
How do you remember Belsize Park? Was it the leafy parks, brilliant architecture or community spirit that first attracted you to the neighbourhood? Or perhaps it was something entirely different.
Rich and varied responses to such questions have been collected for a new book, Belsize Remembered, that seeks to capture memories of Belsize Park from the twentieth century.
The project lead, Ranee Barr, was inspired to embark on the social history project when she retired five years ago.
Ms Barr, who lives in an Art Deco block of flats in Belsize, said: “Everyone has a story to tell. This project brings the community together.
“The way people live, work and shop changes. Buildings come and go. Memories can disappear.
“It’s a generational project in a way. We’ve managed to bring out the stories of a lot older people.” The eldest contributor, Ellie Schiffer-Beutel, is 100-years-old. She arrived in the area as a German Jewish refugee during the Second World War.
“She gave a wonderful story about making chocolates during the war in a basement at the corner of Belsize Grove and Haverstock Hill.”
“It gives them a chance to reminisce and feel a part of something. Otherwise as people get older they can feel forgotten - it is sad.”
Ms Barr moved to the area over 40 years ago from Colombo, Sri Lanka. “I was fortunate I came straight here. I just fell in love with the place. It’s very green, we have Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill within walking distance and it has light and airy streets with beautiful and varied architecture.
“It has attracted many famous artists but it is home to ordinary people too, who all have unique stories.”
Another contributor, local poet Paul Birtill, said: “My first memories of Belsize Park were marching up Haverstock Hill with other London Anarchists, surrounded by Police, chanting ‘Bash the Rich’. It was of course their annual Bash the Rich march, and that year 1985 they chose Belsize Park to demonstrate.
“I remember thinking it was a lovely part of London, very leafy with wide pavements and quaint little coffee shops. I didn’t think I’d get a council flat here a few years later.”
The film-maker David Percy has come on board to compile old photographs and prints of the area for the book. In 2012 he completed his own local homage to the area with his documentary The Belsize Story, which was narrated by television presenter Fiona Bruce. The actor Sir Derek Jacobi has written the forward.
Ms Barr has already collected over 70 stories, but she is still welcoming contributions from anyone with memories of Belsize Park from the twentieth century. They are also seeking donations towards the costs of producing the book, which is due to be published in autumn next year. Anyone who donates more than £25 will receive a free copy.
Ms Barr said: “It’s satisfying to hear people say ‘thank you - you really got me thinking’. The book creates a little memoir for them - in a way they are becoming an author.”
Anyone who would like to contribute their story can contact Ms Barr at email@example.com
or on 07904 092828.