The novelist and biographer Elizabeth Jenkins lived in the house on Downshire Hill, a pretty road of Regency houses leading from Hampstead Village to Hampstead Heath until a few years before her death, aged 104, in 2010.
The property was bought for her by her father in the late Thirties.
She wrote the majority of her 24 books – both fiction and non-fiction – while living there, including a 2004 memoir titled The View from Downshire Hill.
Jenkins’ book Harriet won the Prix Femina in 1934 and her novels, including 1954’s The Tortoise and the Hare have been admired by everyone from Virginia Woolf to Hilary Mantel.
Downshire Hill has a rich cultural history.
Surrealist photographer Lee Miller and her artist husband, Roland Penrose, lived at number 21.
They hosted artists and poets including Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian and Man Ray, as well as the Cambridge spies Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean
Other cultural figures who lived on the street include:
- The Muppets creator, Jim Henson
- Actress Flora Robson
- Molecular biologist, physicist and x-ray innovator, John Desmond Bernal
- Wimbledon men’s finalist Henry Wilfred ‘Bunny’ Austin
Despite her successful writing career, Jenkins nonetheless found herself living in relative poverty. The house was decorated gradually and cheaply with Regency furniture bought from houses of the period destroyed during the war.
The Victorian kitchen remained and the house was heated by one-bar electric fires in an environment described in an obituary as little different from Keats House across the road.
When Hampstead house prices started to spiral in the Eighties, Jenkins found herself in the position – fairly common in an area that once prided itself as a haven for intellectuals and artists – of living in an extremely high-value property without the means to run it.
Earlier in the century the composer Martin Shaw, who wrote All Things Bright and Beautiful and Morning Has Broken, and the stage designer Edward Gordon Craig shared rooms at the house. Together they set up the Purcell Operatic Society.
The four-bedroom, two-bathroom semi-detached house is one of a pair dating from the early 19th century, believed to be two of the oldest houses in the street.
It has been given a full interior makeover since Jenkins lived there, with a light-filled rear extension leading to a peaceful mature back garden.
Pointed arch sash windows, wood floors, panelled doors and working fireplaces add to the period charm of the house.