Belsize, or Bel Assis in old French, means beautifully situated. The Manor of Belsize, a subdivision of the Manor of Hampstead, was left to the monks of Westminster in 1317. Henry VIII returned the estate to the newly constituted Dean and Chapter of Westminster in 1542 after the dissolution of the monasteries. In modern terms the estate extended from the top of Rosslyn Hill to England’s Lane and from College Crescent to Haverstock Hill, with additional land projecting east towards Parliament Hill.
By the middle of the 16th century, the estate consisted of a number of farms and a manor house. Belsize House, which stood in an irregular five-sided park, had 24 rooms including a hall, long gallery and great chamber. It was the only “aristocratic” house in the parish of Hampstead at that time. It was situated between the present day St Peter’s church and the junction of Belsize Park and Belsize Park Gardens. It could be reached from “The Great Road to Hampstead” by a carriage driveway along what is now Belsize Avenue.
The house was rebuilt in 1663 in the restoration style and two diarists, Samuel Pepys and Sir John Evelyn, recorded visits there.
The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:
Open location in Google Maps: 51.548156, -0.171146
"The name is derived from French bel assis meaning 'well situated'. The Manor of Belsize dates back to 1317....The name comes from the original 17th century manor house and parkland (built by Daniel O'Neill for his wife, the Countess of Chesterfield) which once stood on the site. The estate built up between 1852 and 1878, by which time it extended to Haverstock Hill." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belsize_Park#History
"The Belsize estate, with its frontage on both sides of Haverstock Hill, was an early magnet for merchants and others who wanted a country house within easy reach of London. Apart from the manor house of Belsize, there was one house on the estate by 1549, probably on the eastern side of Haverstock Hill, near the southern boundary of the parish....A large house, assessed at 16 hearths, was built between 1650 and 1664 on the north side of Belsize Lane. (fn. 65) Thomas Hawley or Haley (d. 1681), the London mercer who lived there, left it to his nephew to sell. (fn. 66) In 1714 it was called the White House and untenanted. Hawley may have built one or more houses nearby, which in 1714 were leased to Mrs. Hall." http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?comp…
In 1786 J Cary showed a "Mr. Richardson" at the house at the end of Belsize Lane south of Hampstead (upper right on this segment of the MAP OF 15 MILES ROUND LONDON )
An extract from The Belsize Story Volume 1
The first Belsize House was a manor with a generous courtyard and extensive, walled grounds and gardens that once occupied the area of today’s central Belsize for hundreds of years. The house and grounds were bounded by 1,400 yards of walls, and the grand carriageway to the house is today’s Belsize Avenue.
The Manor was a long-established country retreat within reasonable reach of London. So how far back can we trace the Manor House? At least to 1496, the dawn of the Tudor Period, when the Abbey in Westminster ordered a large number of building bricks locally in Belsize.
The property was rebuilt and improved upon many times during the centuries that followed. There were at least four successive manors, all called Belsize House. Tenants came and tenants went. It was probably in 1663 that one of the richest men in England, Colonel Daniel O'Neil, began building a mansion for his wife, Katherine, the Countess of Chesterfield – by a previous marriage.
With projecting wings, and added central tower, the manor now spanned about 120 feet – as depicted in this wood engraving.
The diarists Sir John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys both recorded visits to the estate. Pepys called upon Lord Wotton in 1668, and this is what his diary for the 17th of August says:
“…Went and saw the Lord Wotton's house and garden, which is wonderfull fine: too good for the house the gardens are, being, indeed, the most noble that ever I saw... ”
The gardens were said to be on a par with other great gardens in London such as New Spring Garden – later called Vauxhall Gardens.
Deer hunting was introduced to the park – all part of the pleasure activities of Belsize House. The Daily Post of 1720 (founded by Daniel Defoe) stated that: The "ancient and noble house" had been fitted up for entertainment during the summer season, and to be opened with "dancing and music."
Many people we know from the Diary lived at Belsize Manor. Highlights from
A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
Hampstead: Manor and Other Estates -- Pages 91-111
In 1557 the 99-year lease from the dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey for Belsize Manor to Richard Goodrich (Goodwike) was conveyed to Amb. Armagil Waad (Wade), clerk of Queen Elizabeth's council, 'the English Columbus', and man of letters.
Belsize Manor may have been built of brick on a much larger scale in 1496.
Amb. Waad died in 1568, leaving the lease of Belsize Manor to his son William (d. 1623), also a clerk of the council, lieutenant of the Tower of London for King James, and a diplomat, who was knighted in 1603.
In 1568 the Belsize manor house contained 24 rooms, including the hall, long gallery, great chamber, and two counting houses.
In 1623 William Waad left his property to his son, James, a minor, subject to his widow Anne's right of residence; in 1633 James surrendered his interest in Belsize Manor to his mother, who obtained a new 21-year lease in 1634 and another in 1642 when she married Col. Thomas Bushell -- and they mortgaged Belsize to raise money for King Charles' cause.
The Waads subleased part of Belsize Manor estate but retained the house, set amid parkland.
Anne Waad Bushell died possibly in 1643 when the tenants were told to pay their rents to the Hampstead parliamentarian, Serjeant John Wilde.
By 1650 there were still remains of a moated site, a wooded park, and a walk, but Belsize Manor House had evidently suffered from the poverty of the royalists and depredations during the Commonwealth.
In 1651 Anne Waad Bushell was said to have 'passed away her whole interest' in the estate to her son-in-law, John Holgate, who was listed as farmer of Belsize from c. 1644 to 1653 and who 'purchased the inheritance of the contractors'.
In 1650 Armenigilda Waad Mordaunt, daughter of Sir William and Lady Anne Waad, occupied Belsize Manor and some of the estate. She was probably the widow of Charles Mordaunt of Hempstead. He was a younger son of Henry Mordaunt (c 1626 – c 1664) of Wembish, Essex, according to the Visitation of the county of Essex 1664, and Lettice Holgate (c 1631 - ?) of Walden at St Peter le Poor, London, in 1649. He married Armenia Gilda Waad at Manuden, Essex on 8 April 1628. http://www.mordaunt.me.uk/tudor.html
The dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey rejected a request by Lady Anne Waad’s second husband, Thomas Bushell, for a renewal of the lease in 1660.
Instead in 1661 they leased Belsize Manor for 21 years to Daniel O'Neill, a royalist whose great wealth made him a more desirable tenant. Daniel died in 1664, leaving the lease to his widow, the post mistress Lady Katherine Wotton Stanhope van der Kerckhove O'Neill, Countess of Chesterfield.
Belsize Manor House and garden were 'built with vast expense' by O'Neill; the house, which contained a fine gallery, formed four sides around a courtyard. It became a Dutch Renaissance building with a central tower and entrance, two storeys, and dormer windows.
The east front, from which the north and south ranges projected, faced a brick court and was approached from the London road by a wooded avenue. A gravel walk along the west side may have been the remnant of a 'highway to St. John's Wood' that had been mentioned in 1650.
The stabling and kitchen garden lay to the north and formal gardens to the south, at a lower level than the house and centered on a fountain; there was a cherry orchard to the west. The whole area, 25½ acres, was enclosed by a brick wall.
The building seems to have enlarged the house from 16 hearths to 36, although O'Neill died in 1664 -- the year that the assessment of 16 hearths was made.
When Lady Katherine died in 1667 she left Belsize Manor to Charles Henry Kirkhoven, Lord Wotton, her son by her second husband, who obtained a lease for lives [sic] from the dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey.
Pepys, who visited in 1668, was particularly enthusiastic: ‘went and saw the Lord Wotton’s house and garden, which is wonderfull fine: too good for the house the gardens are, being, indeed, the most noble that ever I saw, and brave orange and lemon trees'. https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1668/08/17/
Evelyn, in 1676, was more impressed by the contents of the house, notably the porcelain and Indian cabinets, and thought the gardens 'large, but ill kept; yet woody and changeable; the mould a cold weeping clay, not answering the expense'.
After childless Charles Henry Kirkhoven, Lord Wotton's died in 1683, Belsize Manor passed to Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Chesterfield (1634 - 1714), Lady Katherine's son by her first husband, who obtained a new lease in 1683. (He was Barbara Villiers Palmer’s first lover in 1658.)
The 2nd Earl of Chesterfield's son, Philip, Lord Stanhope, renewed the lease of Belsize Manor in 1707, and again in 1715, as the 3rd Earl of Chesterfield. Normally I would have ended the story before now, but ...
By 1714, when the 25½ acres were called the Wilderness, they were in the hands of Charles Povey, who was accused in that year of having ruined Belsize Manor by cutting down timber and demolishing outbuildings and of selling thousands of bricks from the walls and all the pipes and lead that 'played the waterworks' and of having filled in the fountain.
Povey, a belligerent man who published pamphlets against all who offended him, claimed that he had found the mansion house and outhouses 'little more than a heap of rubbish', the land overrun with briars and weeds, and the walls ready to fall down. He had spent £2,200 on repairs, replaced the old pipes, and renewed the walls so that everything was in good order.
The Earl of Chesterfield was threatened with a pamphlet if he insisted on taking Povey to law.
In 1717 Belsize Manor was 'now turned into a public house',
and in 1718 Charles Povey, a rabid Protestant, claimed that he had sacrificed £1,000 a year by refusing to lease the house and park, which included a newly-erected chapel, to the French ambassador because it would have been used for Catholic masses.
Hurt that his patriotic gesture was not appreciated by the government, he offered the house to the prince of Wales, which was not acknowledged,
So in 1720 Povey opened Belsize Manor as a place of entertainment.
In 1726 the Earl of Chesterfield's agent claimed that Belsize Manor’s 'Great House' was far from having brought any profit for more than 40 years.
In 1733 the dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey permitted Chesterfield to pull down and replace the ruinous Belsize manor house.
Was this Charles Povey related to Pepys' Povey? Possibly. He never claimed it.
To counter the above bad biography, read his fascinating entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46, because one of Povey's ventures has 9,000,000 customers today:
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.