The Lawn Road flats

well_chuffed, Going Postal
The Lawn Road Flats, Isokon Building, Hampstead, by Gary Denham

The Lawn Road flats in Hampstead, also known as the Isokon Building, were built in 1934 in the style known as Bauhaus or Le Corbusier. This is often known these days as brutalist and you wouldn’t even design a car park like that these days. It consisted mainly of bedsit style flats, about 25 square metres in size with a few slightly larger flats and a communal area. But I digress, this is not so much about the flats but the people who lived in them. You may notice the odd name you have seen or heard before, this is because it was chocca with communist spies and fellow travellers. Even Agatha Christie lived there, oddly enough she wrote her N or M spy thriller at this time. This book included a Major Bletchley which led to her being questioned by MI5. Perhaps she knew a bit more than she let on.

The design of the flats was “deck-access” where external walkways were used to access the flats, a style since copied by many blocks of council flats. The site layout was dictated by two railway tunnels running close together under the site. The, at the time, London County Council would not allow more than one story to be built above the tunnels. Hence the long and thin plus at an angle siting of the block on the plot. Having got into the block by one of the staircases it would not be easy to see where a visitor went. The block was set away from surrounding buildings so watching any of the residents would not have been easy. This strikes me as something written after the event rather than a conscious choice of people who wanted to lie low, the commies probably flocked together a bit like birds of a feather.

The flats were opened in 1934 by the then Conservative MP for Islington, Thelma Cazalet. As an example of the BS spouted by the left here is a quote from the architect who designed the flats, remember they were not very big to say the least.

‘We cannot burden ourselves with permanent tangible possessions as well as with our real new possessions of freedom, travel, new experience – in short what we call “life.”’

One of the earliest residents was Robert Kuczynski, a leading member of the KPD (German Communist Party) who had fled Hitler’s purges. He was the father of Ursula , better known as Sonya, and Jürgen, yet another Soviet agent. Melita Norwood’s mother, Gerty, helped arrange for Robert’s family to also move to England. It was Jürgen who recruited Klaus Fuchs but Klaus had been a communist for years so it would not have been very difficult.

The Kuczynski family was a nest of communists. Robert, the father, had fled Germany in 1933 and ended up as a lecturer at the LSE. He was later an adviser to the Colonial Office. He had four children we can be interested in, Jürgen, Ursula, Barbara and Brigitte. Jürgen moved to England in 1936, another communist and continued working for the KPD and the Russians. He was interned as an enemy alien in 1939 where he bumped into Klaus Fuchs and later introduced him to his sister Ursula. Jürgen was released after pressure from the Americans and then went on to work for American Intelligence. Ursula, better known as Sonya, was working for the Lucy Ring in Switzerland when she was ordered to marry one of the Englishmen working for her. She married Leon Beurton, a Spanish civil war veteran and was then ordered to England where she became an agent handler. Brigitte had met Alexander Foote, also Lucy Ring, when he was recruited, Ursula being unable to do the meeting herself. Barbara, apparently the only one who was not working for the NKVD, was married to Duncan Taylor, a member of the CPGB and an RAF Intelligence Officer.

In 1934 Arnold Deutsch arrived at Lawn Road, he was yet another Austrian communist refugee. He was the main recruiter of the Cambridge spies. Coincidentally his cousin Oscar was the owner of the ODEON chain of cinemas. ODEON was sometimes referred to as Oscar Deutsch entertains our nation. Arnold recruited Philby, on Edith Tudor-Hart’s recommendation, then Maclean and Burgess. He was their handler until 1937 when Theodor Maly took over. This was when Arnold was recalled to Moscow and only just managed to escape with his life, this was the time of the great purges.

In 1935 an Irishman Brian Goold-Verschoyle and Charlotte Moos, yet another communist refugee from Germany took up residence. Both of these were NKVD agents. Brian was less than successful as an agent, he spent time in Moscow with his brother, took up with a Russian lady whereupon he was leaned on heavily to return and be a spy. It all rather fizzled out. Brian and Charlotte were seen socialising with Edith Tudor-Hart who live in a flat at the end of Lawn Road.

Edith Tudor-Hart was a refugee from Austria, born Edith Suschitzsky, she married Alex Tudor-Hart in Austria so she could escape to England. Having arrived here, she stayed in London while her husband worked in as a GP South Wales. Not a very close relationship. She had studied photography and had a studio. She supplied the Woolwich Arsenal spies with cameras. She also introduced Kim Philby to his first wife, another Austrian called Litzi Friedman who fled Austria with an English passport courtesy of her marriage to Kim. Edith was also prominent in recruiting the Cambridge spies and introduced Kim to Arnold Deutsch. Edith also supplied the cameras the Woolwich Arsenal spies used to photograph the plans they betrayed.

Andrew Rothstein (the Lenin’s knee man) was also a resident as was Eva Collett Reckitt, the Colman-Reckitt mustard heiress who also owned a leftwing bookshop in Charing Cross Road. The sculptor Henry Moore also lived there for a while but was probably not working for the Russians.

There was a club called the half hundred club in the “isobar” where members could eat. The Chef was Philip Harben who later presented the world’s first cookery programme on the BBC, a kind of forerunner of the celebrity chef genre. No whiff of scandal attaches to Mr Harben but there was a dumb waiter arrangement whereby cooked food could be delivered to those residents who were too busy to cook for themselves.

The flats had been commissioned by Jack and Molly Pritchard, a Canadian couple who are described as progressive. Notice that the terminology has not changed that much. Jack and Molly also lived there. Edith Tudor-Hart was a frequent visitor to Arnold Deutsch and the Pritchards. Her sister Beatrice, another extremist, ran a nursery school for the Pritchards. Beatrice was also Jack Pritchard’s lover, the left do like to put it about a bit, or even a lot.

Some of these names will pop up in later articles but the Lawn Road flats, or the Isokon Building, were the centre for Soviet spying during the 1930s. If any resident was not working for the Russians then they were probably on MI5’s payroll keeping an eye on the other residents; the exception being of course Agatha Christie whose stay there did not overlap with Arnold Deutsch’s sojourn though his uncle Hermann was around for a while.

Having fallen derelict and abandoned in the 1990s, the flats were taken over by a housing association and refurbished in 2003 for use by “key workers”, that will be the chubby nurses who raid the food banks then. It has to be said that the refurbished version does not look as much like the Lubyanka as the original version did.

The name Isokon comes from the way the block was built, Isometric Unit Construction, even though the word does sound distinctly foreign.

© well_chuffed 2018

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