Streets of London: West End Lane, NW6
Time Out visits a friendly corner of West Hampstead where Queen Victoria used to take her country walks
Winding its way down from the traffic-choked Finchley Road, passing the junction with Abbey Road (the one immortalised on The Beatles’ album cover) to Kilburn High Road, West End Lane is one of the area’s oldest thoroughfares. Until the mid-nineteenth century it was lined with hedgerows and passed through the village of West End, now West Hampstead. These days, owing to the proliferation of restaurants, cafés, shops and housing, not to mention bikes, buses and cars, it’s difficult to imagine the scene 150 or so years ago when the lane was so serene that this was where Queen Victoria chose to take her country strolls.
After World War II the majority of the Victorian houses along West End Lane and surrounding streets were converted into cheap bedsits and flats, the low rents attracting artists and musicians. But even before that the area had been associated with creative types: Walter Sickert lived on Broadhurst Gardens; Joseph Randall-Tussaud (grandson of the famous Madame and a chief modeller at the waxworks) lived on Iverson Road and TS Eliot stayed for a short period during 1915-6 in Compayne Gardens.
Today the northern half of West End Lane is dominated by eateries. There are a few chains – Nando’s, Pizza Express and Gourmet Burger Kitchen, plus the ubiquitous Starbucks and Costa – but it’s the independent places that steal the show. At weekends the Wet Fish Café (a former fishmongers at No 242), Walnut (No 280), La Brocca (No 273) and J’s (No 218) buzz with chatter from twenty- to fortysomething-plus locals enjoying breakfast, brunch, a long lunch or dinner. Yet 15 years ago – before those with disposable incomes began moving in and renovating Victorian conversions – this area was somewhat down at heel.
A visitor would more likely have seen endless laundrettes rather than the independently run shops that reflect the village vibe of the area: the recommended West End Books (a rare non-chain bookseller at No 277), Alexis Bakery (No 272) opposite the listed 1901 fire station, the Cycle Surgery (No 275) and Flowerstalk florist (No 230). In the past year or so the opening of North-West Deli (No 333) and That Organic Place (No 35 Mill Lane) has meant local foodies needn’t trek to Finchley Road Waitrose to buy organic sourdough, marinated olives and other essentials. Although this isn’t a party area by any stretch of the imagination, new nightspot Ooolaalaa (No 291-293) has joined the well-established Gallery bar-restaurant on Broadhurst Gardens (No 190).
The popularity of West End Lane and its surrounding streets owes no small debt to its fantastic transport links – three train stations plus decent bus routes into town – and plans are afoot to create one gigantic station-cum-shopping complex. Property along the northernmost portion of West End Lane is, in the main, mansion flats and Victorian terraces (most of which were converted into flats in the ’60s and ’70s).
Housing stock, particularly on the roads leading off or parallel to West End Lane that are close to the amenities, is obviously the most popular; places along Honeybourne Road or Crediton Hill, for instance, have a high proportion of owner-occupiers and places tend to sell or get rented out quickly.
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