Here we reveal the struggle of residents some ten years later, to stop the nearby Fortune Green being built on by speculators. They realised how important it was to save open spaces as public recreational land, in the face of the overwhelming development going on all around them in the late 1880s and 1890s. The Early History of The Green The derivation of the name is unknown. Fortune Green is clearly shown on early maps such as Rocque’s (1746) and was much larger than it is today. In the early nineteenth century, three cottages were built on the Green, next to the ‘Prince of Wales’ beershop, which stood roughly where is now a kitchen and bathroom showroom on Fortune Green Road.
Like West End Green, Fortune Green was part of the ‘waste’ of the manor of Hampstead, meaning it could be used by almost anyone. Without going into the legal complications, it also meant that Hampstead Manor could ‘grant’ or sell the land.
Fortune Green is acquired In May 1870 Henry Dunnett who owned the cottages, was granted what essentially amounted to the whole of Fortune Green. One must ask, how much this had to do with the fact that he was Bailiff to the Lord of the Manor, and it was his job to stake out and measure the grants of waste land. He kept one piece but immediately sold the rest to John Culverhouse (see the previous West End Green blog story), for the nominal sum of five shillings. This strongly suggests a prior arrangement between Dunnett and Culverhouse. When Dunnett died in 1873 his property was inherited by his niece Emily Jane Smith.
The Speculators Not a great deal is known about the two owners. Emily Smith was the wife of a James Gabrall Smith; she had come to Hampstead in 1858, moving into the Estate Office, Manor Cottage Frognal, in 1869. Dunnett, her uncle, also lived there.
John Culverhouse lived at Burcott House, Willesden Lane. He was a speculator and general contractor employed by Hampstead Vestry (the precursor of the Council), to remove rubbish, dust, and ashes from parts of Hampstead parish.
The Hornet’s Nest In February 1888 John Culverhouse and Emily Smith put Fortune Green up for auction. John owned the southern section and its freehold while Emily owned the northern section, its freehold and the three cottages on the Green. The Green was knocked down to the Kent, Sussex and General Land Company for £1,200. However, the sale stirred up what was described as a ‘hornet’s nest’ among the locals. A meeting of Kilburn ratepayers described as ‘the largest ever’ was held in May. The following month, George Tawse, an accountant and Vestryman living in Belsize Road, led a deputation to put pressure on the Vestry and asked them for a full enquiry to restore the Green to the public. In August Brodie Hoare, Hampstead’s MP, raised the matter in the House of Commons. He asked the Secretary of State whether the provisions of the Metropolitan Commons Act 1886 had been complied with and was told that the right to enclose could be raised by action in a court of law.
George Tawse invited Tanton and the directors of the company to attend a special Vestry meeting in August to discuss the ownership of the Green. He also invited Culverhouse and Smith, who declined the offer. At the same time, Alfred Baker, the auctioneer acting for them, wrote continually to the Land Company asking for the rest of the money owed to his clients. He suggested to Tanton, ‘you should take the bull by the horns and advertise the estate in plots - you would see every lot sold. A Hampstead resident told me there is nothing whatever in this hubbub that some of the local people are making.’
However, despite his assurances, at the August Vestry meeting the Land Company agreed that there was no title to the land and dropped out of the sale. Culverhouse and Smith countered by refusing to return their deposit, but when the Land Company took legal action, they settled out of court and gave back the money. Meanwhile, the Vestry had tried to take over the purchase, but Culverhouse and Smith wanted the ‘full building value’ (no figures were quoted). The locals take the bull by the horns Local resistance to the sale took a similar form to that used over West End Green. A ‘Fortune Green Protection Society’ was formed in July 1891. In August they held their first public meeting on the Green, which hundreds of people attended and was covered by the local press. The Chairman, Walter Gulliver (52 Sumatra Road), and the secretary, Charles Downey Richardson (24 Ulysses Road), and many of the other people named in the newspaper report, lived in the new roads around Fortune Green; such as Achilles, Ulysses and Agamemnon.
The Chairman made a rousing speech to an already convinced audience: ‘This common had belonged to the public, and the public alone, for more than 200 years. It had been in their hands and in theirs it should remain’ (this produced loud cheers). George Tawse told the crowd how he had tried, years ago, to resist the encroachments when they first started. Ernest E. Newton (of Achilles Road who wrote much on local history), said he had already obtained 520 signatures on a petition in a few days. At the end of the meeting 90 people joined the Society and the collection raised £1 11s. 1d (worth about £171 today).
The Protection Society kept the pressure up throughout 1892 writing letters to the ‘Ham & High’ newspaper, demanding that the Vestry should buy the Green as an open space.
The Gypsies Matters came to a head in December 1893. A gypsy caravan and tent had been pitched at the northern end of the Green. Gypsies had been coming to the Green for years, but the drawn out fear of the disappearance of the Green and the mobilization of local feeling by the Protection Society against any sign of encroachment meant trouble. It seems likely that the gypsies were used as pawns by Culverhouse and Smith, to establish their rights over the Green. The Protection Society held a public meeting on 9 December and resolved to remove the gypsies, who had refused to leave when asked. The Society posted handbills, calling people to meet at the Green on Saturday afternoon, 23 December 1893.
The ‘Hampstead Record’ newspaper (30 December 1893) gives a good account of what happened. It says there was immense excitement in the exceptionally large crowd, which included several Vestrymen. A strong force of police was standing by in case of trouble. Charles Richardson spoke to the crowd and outlined the history of Culverhouse and Smith’s attempts to sell the land for development. Then George Saxby (who lived at 36 Achilles Road), told the crowd that he had had a great deal of experience in a similar fight over Hackney Marshes. The crowd elected him their leader and he said, ‘They would act peaceably, but the gypsy had got to go’. (Applause). He was ‘prepared to spend Christmas in Holloway’ (laughter and cheers). Two horses were sent for to pull the caravan off, but when they failed to arrive, Saxby led the crowd across to the encampment. He handed an envelope containing his name and address to the chief gypsy. Saxby then proceeded to attack the chain which attached the caravan to a tree, with a hammer and chisel. The gypsies made no attempt to resist the huge crowd, although they were concerned about the safety of their children.
After a few minutes the chain was cut, and ropes were attached to the caravan. ‘Hundreds of willing and strong hands pulled the ropes and the caravan sailed in a stately, though erratic fashion, across a sea of mud into the road, with a strong escort of shouting. After ascertaining that the occupants of the van were all right, the compliments of the season were exchanged with them.’ The other gypsies took down their tent and left. The crowd then gave ‘three cheers for the bloodless victory and three cheers to Mr. Saxby.’
During December, the Vestry had also decided to act, and a line of 50 posts were set into the Green to stop any encroachment. As a result of this, Culverhouse and Smith issued a writ of trespass against the Vestry. Each side began to assemble their case, but before the action came to Court, John Culverhouse died in December 1894. This was probably not unexpected, as earlier his lawyer had written to the Court, ‘John Culverhouse is old and infirm and forbidden by his medical attendant to apply his mind to business of any kind.’ Under his will his son, daughter and son-in-law were appointed his executors and with James Gabrall Smith and Emily Smith, they continued the case against the Vestry.
The Court Case The following is drawn from the Court transcripts preserved at the Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre, Holborn. The case was heard by Mr. Justice Romer in the High Court, Chancery Division on Saturday, 20 and Monday and Tuesday the 22 and 23 July 1895, without a jury. The case made by Mrs. Smith and the Culverhouse’s executors was fairly simple. They claimed ownership of Fortune Green through the grant of waste to Henry Dunnett in 1870 which passed to John Culverhouse and Emily Smith. They wanted removal of the posts put in by the Vestry, no further interference, damages and costs. It was essential for them to show their clear title to Fortune Green so that they could sell it as building land. The evidence put forward by the defendants, the Vestry of St. Johns, Hampstead, was much more complicated. They decided to plead the right to play lawful games on the Green – ‘the rights of recreation.’ For this they had several precedents to draw on. The nearest to home was the 1883 case about playing games on Hampstead Heath. The Metropolitan Board of Works had acquired the Heath for the public in 1871 and passed rules prohibiting games. The residents gave notice of their intention to play cricket there to test their right and the Queen’s Bench decided in their favour, that the right of playing games had been established and could not be taken away. A second case in Bristol in 1892 showed that townsfolk had the right to play lawful games on a Green when ‘the evidence was taken back to the memory of the oldest living inhabitant’. But there was a danger in showing that not only locals, but other inhabitants played as well. Too wide a proof led to the loss of cases over Woodford and Stockwell Commons. These legal precedents were important to the Vestry’s case; namely the memory of playing games by the oldest living inhabitant and that only locals played on the Green. It was also important to prove that West End had an identity as a village and that Fortune Green was its village green or common and that no permission had to be obtained to play games there. To show the identity of West End the Vestry used several maps, among them Rocque’s of 1746 and the one reproduced in Park’s (1814) ‘History of Hampstead.’ To prove the major part of their argument, the rights of recreation, they had to produce as many older inhabitants as possible and trace back their earliest memories about the games they played on Fortune Green. To start the proceedings the Vestry brought on one of their star witnesses, Miss Ann Miles. She had been born in West End House, later called West End Hall, the largest mansion in the village close to West End Green. Her father, John Miles, came there in 1813 and the house remained in the family’s hands until the death of her mother in 1889 at the age of 99 years. (After the sale of West End House, Miss Miles moved to 97 Priory Road, where she was living at the time of the court case). In court, Miss Miles said she was 69 years old and could remember West End distinctly for 62 years. She was asked to describe Fortune Green and West End 50 to 60 years ago (c. 1840). She said that at that time there were only three or four houses on Fortune Green, which was joined to West End by Green Lane, a track, hardly passable in winter. In the farthest corner of Fortune Green was Blind Lane. It was a favorite camping spot for gypsies, as was Fortune Green itself up until a few years before the court case. The gypsies would stay for a few weeks. In the early days, they used tents but later came with horse-drawn vans. She gave a very clear, detailed picture of the village of West End at that time. The counsel for the Vestry questioned her about the village identity. She said she knew everybody in the village, which amounted to about 480 people. (Her estimate seems slightly high; approximate figures from the census show: 1841 about 370 people, 1851 about 420, 1861 about 530 and 1871 about 570). She said it was a very isolated village, it did not mix with outsiders and was separated from everything else. Cricket was played about once a week on Fortune Green by ‘Westenders’. ‘Our groom belonged to the cricket club and was very fond of taking us when we were children, and our ponies, up to Fortune Green, about 60 years ago.’ She said that nobody ever interfered with the playing of games on the Green. Another important witness for the Vestry was the village blacksmith, Robert Spicer, aged 64. His father, Robert Spicer senior, came to West End in 1821 and started a business in Mill Lane, where Robert junior was born. He said that lots of games such as trap ball (where the player strikes a hinged wooden trap to send the ball into the air and then hits the ball), and rounders were played on Fortune Green as well as cricket. He was the secretary of the Cricket Club and produced a book in court, showing the subscriptions. He said that only the locals played cricket, usually in teams of ‘Married vs Singles’ and they used the Cock and Hoop (a pub overlooking West End Green) as their club house. They kept their bats and stumps there and they usually had supper at the pub after a match. It was ‘quite a treat’ to see strangers, when a few came for a day’s outing on Whit Monday or Easter. The next witness was William Winyard, a carpenter aged 64, then living at 77 Ravenshaw Street. He had come to West End in 1837 and lived with his parents at No. 1 Alpha Cottage, close to today’s Old Black Lion. He and his brothers and all his own children had all played cricket and various games, including boxing gloves, on Fortune Green. He belonged to the West End Cricket Club and said, ‘we would turn strangers, people from London, away if they tried to pitch their wickets on Fortune Green, even if we weren’t playing. We regarded the Common as belonging to the village.’ This had happened two or three times. Another witness was the youngest of William Winyard’s sons, Albert Winyard, then aged 25. He spoke about playing cricket on Fortune Green in the club which had changed its name several times (West End, Emmanuel, Anchor, etc.). They had stopped playing there about five or six years ago because of interference from the boys at the new ‘Industrial School’ or Boys’ Home in Hillfield Road (this was on the site of today’s Berridge Mews and the Police Station). The residential school had between 100-200 boys, most of whom had been convicted of an offence by a magistrates’ court, and they were allowed out for two hours on Saturday afternoons. Up to 50 came to the Green and spoilt the matches so much so that the villagers could only practice there in the evenings. They moved their matches to the paddock belonging to Mrs. Thistlethwaite of Woodbine Cottage (opposite Emmanuel Church.) All thirteen witnesses produced by the Vestry told how they had played various games such as cricket, rounders and quoits, etc. on Fortune Green. West End Green was too small for ball games and it also had a shallow pond in the middle which carts drove through and in which the horses were washed. All of the witnesses spoke about the laundresses on Fortune Green - ‘it was a favourite drying area’ - there were about 40 drying poles on the Green outside their cottages. All the witnesses said that West End was an isolated village and that games were played regularly on Fortune Green without having to ask permission from the Lord of the Manor. This was the basis of the Vestry’s defense, ‘the rights of recreation’. During the second day of the case, Mr Cookson Crackenthorpe QC, acting for Culverhouse and Smith, produced his first witness, Charles James Thompson Tupman. A surveyor and estate agent living at 20 Cotleigh Road, West Hampstead, he was the brother of the plaintiff, Mrs. Smith. He had been ‘common keeper of the manor’ working under Henry Dunnett, the agent and bailiff. After Dunnett’s death in 1873, Tupman had taken over as agent and for a while was Steward of the Manor. He claimed that during his 34 years work he knew every inch of waste in the manor. He went to Fortune Green two or three times a week to remove gypsies and vagrants. The laundresses there paid four pence a year for each of the 30-40 posts erected by the Lord of the Manor and removed in 1873. Tupman said that he had never seen any of the witnesses playing cricket on Fortune Green between 1861 and the date of the grant in 1870, although he conceded ‘there may have been an occasional game’. But he did say he had seen the boys from the school, gypsies and holiday-makers from London, presumably in an attempt to show that the Green was widely used by outsiders. Tupman was trying to refute the plaintiffs’ two major points of attack: that locals did not commonly play on the Green and that outsiders were able to use it. At the end of the third day, the judge, Mr. Justice Romer, gave his summing up. He said he was sympathetic to the Vestry in their endeavour to preserve an open space, but this could not affect his judgment. He concluded that there was insufficient evidence to show that Fortune Green had a reputation as a village green. He had been told that laundresses and the gypsies had paid rent to the Lord of the Major and turf was cut and taken away by the owners. On the parts granted as waste, buildings, sheds and laundry poles had been put up. From time-to-time cricket and other games had been played there but the people of West End had no rights at all to the land. Even the Vestry, (and this was a major point) had taken some of the Green to pave Ajax Road. So, Culverhouse and Smith won the case, leaving the Vestry to pay both sets of costs, which totalled nearly £1,000. It seemed the battle was lost and Fortune Green would disappear under the avalanche of bricks that was sweeping over West Hampstead. However, the Green survives today, so the story continues.
Fortune Green or West End Hall Estate? The Vestry and inhabitants of West End were shocked that they had lost, what they believed, a strong case but, undaunted, the Vestry at its next meeting unanimously voted to enter negotiations to buy the land. During September and November 1895, they asked the owners three times to state a price - but received no reply. At this point a new prize appeared. The largest jewel in West Hampstead’s crown; the old Miles property of West End Hall with its 12-acre estate, came up for sale. With a frontage to West End Lane, this approximates to the area covered today by Crediton Hill, Fawley and Honeybourne Roads. At the end of January 1896 a public meeting was held to try to buy the estate as a park. The meeting at the West Hampstead Town Hall (now the English National Opera building in Broadhurst Gardens) was packed. Many of the local gentry were there including Miss Miles, J.S. Fletcher of Treherne House which adjoined West End Hall and Edward Bond, MP. The audience were told that the estate had been sold by the Miles family to General Sir Charles Craufurd Fraser and on his death it passed to his brother, who had died shortly afterwards.
Wealthy Hampstead philanthropist Henry Harben strongly supported the idea of a park and although unable to attend, promised £2,000 and his daughter another £500. Fletcher promised £500 and Miss Miles £300. The total already pledged amounted to £4,000. General Fraser had bought the estate for £32,500, regarded as a sensational price in 1889. But now the asking price for the land was £50,000. John Robert Cooper, a surveyor and auctioneer living at 36 West End Lane, told the meeting he had persuaded the vendors to drop this to £42,500. At this point, George Saxby, who one remembers was one of the prime movers for the acquisition of Fortune Green, said that the £4,000 promised was just a ‘drop in the ocean’ and urged the meeting ‘not to buy at fancy prices’, but he was shouted down. A public appeal was launched to raise the £42,500 needed. The following week’s ‘Ham & High’ carried a letter signed ‘0’, protesting that the asking price was excessive. He pointed out that nearby Woodbine Cottage with 13 acres had been sold to a building syndicate for £13,200. The people putting up money for West End Hall owned property nearby (an obvious reference to Fletcher in Treherne House). The writer went on to ask about Fortune Green, which had no wealthy property owners nearby and so had been forgotten, such that its state was a ‘quagmire and a rubbish tip’. It was due to come up for auction and the writer believed that money was better spent on acquiring Fortune Green than on West End Hall. This letter produced angry replies in subsequent issues of the ‘Ham & High’ urging people to subscribe to the West End Hall fund.
In March 1896 Edward Bond MP, led a deputation to the Vestry to ask them to contribute one third of the money, up to a maximum of £15,000, towards the purchase of West End Hall. Bond was received with applause by the Vestry and he told them that £4,201 had been promised by the public. He described the estate with its well laid out grounds, beautiful trees and a lake and said that it would provide a much-needed park in a very crowded area of Hampstead. The Vestry agreed to contribute £10,000. At the same time, they decided by a narrow margin not to negotiate a price for Fortune Green. This last decision produced a letter to the ‘Ham & High’ accusing some of the West End Vestrymen of going back on pledges they had made and that they should have bought Fortune Green for £3,000-£4,000. By April 1896 contributions to the ‘buy West End Hall’ fund had reached £14,617; this included the Vestry’s £10,000. In May the estate came up for auction. Leopold Farmer, a Vestryman and well-known estate agent in Kilburn, acting as agent for a building society, bid £39,500. The auctioneer was John Robert Cooper, who was strongly in favour of a public park, then withdrew the property as there were no higher bids. Attention now switched back to Fortune Green. In June 1896 Charles Munich, a clerk at the War Office who lived in Achilles Road, led another deputation to the Vestry and presented 840 signatures demanding the acquisition of Fortune Green and asking for £8,000 of public funding. After the deputation left, a sum of £2,000 was suggested by the meeting but the representatives of the West End ward argued for £4,000 and finally £3,000 was agreed, by 27 votes to 20.
In August the recently formed London County Council (LCC) agreed to contribute £3,000, provided the Vestry maintain the Green. The total promised was now £6,475, which included £6,000 from the Vestry and the LCC, £50 from Edward Bond, £50 from Fletcher and £25 from Miss Miles. In September, the asking price was reduced to £7,750 but it emerged that two other buyers were interested.
By October the fund stood at £6,651 and although the asking price was again reduced, the Society was still £300-£400 short. At the end of November grants from the Worshipful Companies of Skinners and Goldsmiths brought the total subscribed to within £250 of the asking price. Frantic letters in the ‘Ham & High’ said the balance had to be found within eight days. Then, at the beginning of December 1896, at the eleventh hour, Henry Harben provided the final £250. On the 26 December Cecil Clarke of Agamemnon Road, in a letter to the ‘Ham & High’ announced, ‘The fate of Fortune Green is now happily sealed. It is pleasant to reflect that this should have occurred on the eve of the joyous season of Christmas.’ He went on to thank everyone including the ‘Ham & High’, who had helped in the long battle. However, it took a further ten months, until the 21 October 1897, before the Vestry Clerk reported that Fortune Green was finally theirs, subject to payment of the Vestry’s £3,000 which they had borrowed from the LCC. The delay had been caused by legal problems between the LCC and the Vestry about who had the right to make by-laws. During January and February 1898, the Green was turfed and paths laid out at a cost of £555, and so the people of West End had their open space at long last.