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Peter York’s family have lived in London’s most charming corner for a century. He has watched the bankers come and the artists go

Features | By Peter York

Constable lived at 40 Well Walk

Rise and fall of arty Hampstead

My involvement with Hampstead started in the 1890s. My grandmother Lizzie Whittington, a London girl, and a talented pianist, ended up in a deeply unhappy marriage in South Africa. She hated South Africa, not because of any awakening sensitivity about race but because it wasn’t a patch on London or Paris. She negotiated a life where she could go back to get the children brought up in England; my grandfather sort of commuted. Two of her daughters were then remorselessly drilled in classical music as the core of a future string quartet – violin and viola – and later went off to London to study. And, inevitably, unstoppably, they migrated to Hampstead. Hampstead in the late 1930s was the obvious place for young classical-music students who wanted to do the new things – play new work from new composers such as Elisabeth Lutyens, play difficult music from memory, go to...

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