Variously called ‘Tower’ (after ‘Mr. Tower of London’), ‘The Tower’ or ‘The Towers’. Archie insisted it was called ‘Tower’, but Gracie slips between ‘Tower’ and ‘The Tower’, I like to think it was just to annoy him !
A Tour of ‘Tower’ by ‘a visitor’
The dream of our most popular comedienne, Miss Gracie Fields, has come true.
‘Tower’ is situated in two acres of bracken covered ground, with massive old oaks as sentinels. The house is built of red brick with Portland stone pillars.
The architect is Miss Gracie Fields’ husband, and the arrangements and decorative schemes have been the joint passion of both. They thought about the design for more than a year before the first brick was laid, and since then they have spent every spare hour in finding the very fittings they desired.
Passing through the big double mahogany doors you step into the wide square hall, the parquet floors which reflect your passage as does a mirror. The walls of the hall are distempered in greens and cream, a light oak staircase sunlit through a massive dome-like window is almost irresistibly inviting, but you will turn to the left and enter the dining room.Rich dark oak panelling reaches to within three feet of the rough plastered ceiling, which is supported by heavy beams of the same timber. The furnishing is simple but rich, and takes the mind back to that of Tudor times. A Persian carpet on each side of the table is the only floor covering. The antique hide-covered chairs, an old sideboard and a few unchased silver vases enhance the richness of age.It is a room of medieval times, its only betrayer being the electric light.
From here you step across the corridor into the smaller breakfast room, furnished in light unvarnished oak, so brightened by the morning sun to give anybody an appetite. Through its windows a glimpse is caught of the wooded garden at the front of the house, with its clean gleaming crazy path which winds in and out the massive oaks. Not another roof in sight. But it is in the kitchen you will become ‘green with envy’.
It is I should say, about sixteen feet square with well-scrubbed deal tables in the centre. It is fitted with refrigerators and every other known idea to keep food wholesome and relishing. There is a place for everything, and the good Lancashire cook whom Mr and Mrs Pitt are seeking will find herself installed in ‘Paradise Kitchen.’ Just off the kitchen is the maids’ sitting room, bright and comfortable with deep seated easy chairs, whose only danger is that the bell may not always be heard.
You are now back in the hall, immediately on the left of which is an automatic lift, installed not primarily as a passenger lift (for who could not tread the few carpeted stairs to the principal bedrooms on the first floor?) but to save the servants’ legs. In a cupboard, a cleverly hidden under the stairway are stored electric vacuum cleaners and mobile baskets for soiled linen which a child could wheel into the lift. Verily, a servant’s haven! Then there is a telephone casket equipped with a switchboard to a telephone in every room, and the bathrooms, of which there are several. One of the doors on the other side of the hall admits you to the most beautiful ballroom I have ever seen. Nothing bizarre, no glaring, yet all the brightness is there to gladden the nimble footed. Its walls are silver and gold panels, and its spring floor mirrors fantastically the rich mauve and gold hanging curtains. But you must not tarry there too long, as the orchestra has not yet arrived and dancing time is not yet come. Humming your favourite waltz or foxtrot, you now enter the library, again in light oak and so the reader will be protected by the light by green shades.
Now you will mount the stairway which in front of the great dome like window branches away to the left and right. You will save the most wondrous delights until the end, and first enter the spare bedroom. Twin beds in green and gold enamel and rich figured silk counterpanes are in front of you. Behind a curtain is a hidden wardrobe, all in shining white. Drawers for everything, mirrors, glass covered dressing tables: not a thing of comfort omitted, not an inch of space wasted, and yet spacious enough. By pressing a switch the little chamber is suffused with light that is not hurting to the eyes by a concealed installation.
But you cannot linger in every room for time presses. You must pass into Miss Fields’ boudoir a spacious room done in delicate green lacquer, even to the baby grand piano. Gold, green and purple meet the gaze in a happy combination, and now you enter the most enviable room of all. Where is he or she who does not crave the possession of a luxurious bathroom? Enter it.
White, black-grained marble to the ceiling, a bath in which one can splash (and into which one climbs two steps), untarinshable fittings, inviting mirrors and a plate-glass encased shower bath. I will say no more, for its presence takes one’s breath away.
And now pass into the bedroom of the happy pair who have realised their dream. It is large, airy and spacious and at least 30 feet long. Again, the floor is covered in green plush, the window curtains are gold with pleasantly coloured embellishments. At the far end a heavy gold curtain hangs. Pull a cord on either side of its crescent shape and it unfolds, as if by magic, revealing the twin beds in rich oaks on a semi-circular platform reached by two steps.
Beautifully rich counterpanes cover the twin beds, which when encircles, as it were by the drawn curtains, are lighted in the day by windows overlooking the garden, and at night by shaded lamps which throw out a soft glow. From off this room are Mr and Mrs Pitts’ private bathroom, Mr Pitts’ plainly but effectively equipped dressing room, and also his private study.
You could now leave ‘Tower’ satisfied completely that you had seen the most wondrous modern house, but there are two suites of rooms you have not visited. Across the corridor you will enter a surprisingly neat sitting room, its floor covered in rich purple plush. It is the private sitting room of Gracie Fields’ brother Tommy, also an actor and it serves as his principal reception room to his beautiful, three-roomed, self-contained flat in this house of twentieth-century marvels. From it you go into his simple but perfectly equipped bedroom, and from that, through another door, you enter his private bathroom.
Miss Lipman, who is private secretary, musical director and confidante to Gracie Fields and her husband has a similar, and her bedroom is filled with blue and gold Chinese lacquer furniture. Her bathroom is white and green.
This does not complete the happy family, for in addition to Gracie, her husband, Tommy and Miss Lipman, is Cousin Margaret, who makes all Miss Fields’ dresses. A floor above these splendid apartments are the servant’s bedrooms and bathrooms. All are tastefully furnished and are the acme of comfort which every maid aspires. Going downstairs you find you omitted to inspect the drawing room, with its great invitation, but there are many things you will miss in a hurried inspection.
You did not notice, perhaps, that every room is fitted for wireless reception. And step into the garden -almost as nature intended it, and as I hope Gracie Fields and her husband will leave it except to plant some scattered flowering plants. In the tree over there is a parrot, cheeky but intelligent. Archie Pitt will tell you that when he went to Skegness in search of talent he could not find anything better than Polly, but even she has a greater clarity of enunciation than most Americans on the ‘talkies’.
There is no danger of her flying away, for she is a ‘knowing bird’ and as Gracie might say, ‘knows on which side her bread is buttered.’ It was Gracie Fields herself who confided to me the defects of her splendid home. ‘What we are short of now is a motherly sort of housekeeper, who will keep the house spotlessly clean and also a real good Lancashire cook. If we can find these two people, our home will be the paradise we have planned and worked for.’
The later history of ‘Tower’ after Gracie and Archie left is a complicated one to unravel.
By 1936 the ‘Tower’ grounds have been divided up, and another house has been built on a plot at the far end of Tower’s garden, which by 1968 is referred to on maps, as ‘Hospital’, and by 1970 as ‘Tower Maternity Annex – North Middlesex Hospital’. So it seems that Gracie’s house was not the maternity home after all as is so often cited, but another building in the grounds.
By 1960 ‘Tower had been renamed, and opened as ‘Heinrich Stahl House‘ a Jewish Care Home, and the main house had been much extended with single story rooms
By 1968 a further nine houses were built in the middle section of the Tower’s former gardens, each a miniature ‘copy’ of Tower in one way or another. Sadly those that face The Bishops Avenue are as of March 2014 empty and dejected.
By 1996 the Maternity annex had been demolished and an enormous house was built without proper permissions. This too is now abandoned, overgrown and boarded up.
In 2004/5 ‘Tower’ was demolished and the three blocks of luxury apartment that fill the former site of ‘Tower’ were built.
A [Link] to a Guardian film about the dereliction of the houses on ‘The Bishops Avenue‘, with a look inside the house erroneously named as ‘Tower‘.
2nd November 1929 – an amalgam of several news paper reports . . .
MISS GRACIE FIELDS ROBBED
BURGLARS BORROW A LADDER
FURS, CLOTHES & JEWELLERY TAKEN
While Miss Gracie Fields was appearing in ‘The Show’s The Thing’ at the Lyceum Theatre last night burglars were ransacking her bedroom.They obtained an entrance to her house in the quiet Bishops Avenue, just off Hampstead Lane by putting a ladder borrowed from a neighbours house up to an open window.They got away with valuables worth £1,000. Three men servants were in the house at the time, but they heard nothing.
says ‘My wife and I discovered the robbery upon returning from shopping !]
‘When my wife and I returned home after midnight we went upstairs’, Mr. Pitt told an Evening News correspondent today, ‘we found that two of the doors of the bedroom, which is a very large one, were locked on the inside, I said to my wife, ‘I’ll bet we’ve had burglars. We had’.