Artist Harry Jonas was helped by actor Oliver Reed in a campaign to save buildings on Maple Street

An early campaigner to preserve the Georgian and Victorian buildings in Fitzrovia was artist Harry Jonas, who lived at 35 Maple Street.

Modern building.
35 Maple Street (opposite the telephone box) was demolished around 1970 and redeveloped.

Our attention was drawn to this recently from a reader who is researching the life of artist Harry Jonas (1893-1990) and wanted to know if we had any information on the campaign to save buildings on Maple Street. We don’t — and all we had to go on was a single snippet of information.

In Cliff Goodwin’s biography Evil Spirits: The Life of Oliver Reed (2000) mention is made of a lunchtime chat during 1968 in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Post Office Tower, now the BT Tower.

According to Goodwin, a conversation between Reed and his guests turned to the subject of London’s built heritage and how much of it was “being swept away and destroyed by property developers”.

As the restaurant swung around one of the diners pointed out of the window and down at the roof of 35 Maple Street which was under threat from developers who wanted to demolish it and replace it with shops and flats.

Row of buildings.
Number 35 Maple Street (with arched window) as it looked in 1969. Source: London Metropolitan Archive.

Number 35 was the studio of 75-year-old artist Harry Jonas who welcomed in Reed and sat him down for tea in his first floor studio with a double height window while telling him how he had weeks earlier received notice to quit. He explained that the building had been home to many famous Bloomsbury artists: Sir William Orpen, Augustus John, Charles Conder, Ambrose McEvoy, and Sir William Rothenstein. “It was even possible Thackeray used it at the model for the studio in The Newcomers (sic),” wrote Goodwin. (It was actually The Newcomes)

Reed told Jonas that he would do all he could to save the building and within a week he had raised a fighting fund of £5,000 to save the building.

But nothing else is known about the campaign which subsequently failed with the result being the modern building of flats and offices that stands today on the corner of Maple Street and Fitzroy Street.

All we know is that there were planning applications and permission granted for redevelopment by first the London County Council and then Camden Council in the mid-1960s.

Number 35 can be seen on this post-war map which shows the extend of bombing damage in the area after World War Two. But number 35 and its neighbours were intact.

The three corners of the junction of Maple Street and Fitzroy Street were redeveloped mostly for student flats. Number 35 was redeveloped for Sovereign House, 19-23 Fitzroy Street which is what is on the site today — a mix of flats and offices.

That street corner was thick with artists at one time as this passage mentions.

“The activities of the artist and writers who talked and squabbled in its pubs are immortalised in Julian Maclaren-Ross’s Memoirs of the Forties, and in 1949, when Adrian and Corinne Heath moved to a flat with two studios at 22 Fitzroy Street, its ramshackle, war-damaged houses were still honeycombed with rickety studios which had been in occupation by successive generation of artists since the 18th century,” wrote Jane Rye

There are planning applications which cover 35 Maple Street as part of the 19-23 Fitzroy Street redevelopment (Ref: CTP3071 in 1964) and (Ref: TP77943/7091) in 1967.

The documents mention the site was on the Cartwright Estate (purchased in 1958) and the applicant was West London and Suburban Property Investments Ltd — part London Merchant Securities and today’s Derwent London who still own the site and are still busily knocking down and redeveloping buildings that were built in the 60s and 70s.

Sadly the planning documents do not include an officers’ report or mention of any objections. However, there would have been a report and a record of representations to the London County Council in 1964 and Camden Council in 1967. We’re minded to think that Holborn Library and other archives may contain more information.

If anyone knows anything about Jonas and Reed’s campaign to save 35 Maple Street, please get in touch.

Update, 7 April: Anthony notes via Twitter: Referred to as Thackeray House in Hilary Spurling’s biog Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time, and the location where Nina Hamnett painted portrait of Powell. “He sat for her in a squalid rented studio.”

Update, 8 April: additional information about the Cartwright Estate added.

Update, 8 April: Nick Bailey adds…

There’s quite a lot on the development of the Cartwright Estate in Oliver Marriott’s book The Property Boom.

The 5.5 acre Cartwright Estate was the “bulk of four city blocks in the grid iron of streets touching and just to the west of Tottenham Court Road. This was a case of the end of a family estate, sold to pay death duty when a tree fell on the car of Mr Cartwright and his son, killing them both”.

It was acquired for £320,000 before going to auction by Max Rayne, later founder of London Merchant Securities (LMS), and developed with funding from the Church Commissioners who were then entering into a number of property deals. The redevelopment of the entire estate cost £4m and by 1966 was valued at £11m. LMS was taken over by Derwent London in 2006.

Many of the office buildings were designed by the architect C H Elsom who formed the practice, Elsom, Pack & Roberts (EPR), which worked closely with LMS for many years.

There is very little known about the Cartwright Estate. It covered the area between Tottenham Court Road and Charlotte/Fitzroy Street, north and south of Chitty Street and possibly up to Maple Street. I’m not clear how this estate related to land owned by the Southampton Estate in the area, and possibly the Bedford Estate, which owned land near the Cleveland Street workhouse.