This London family residence was home to the nation’s most revered lady of letters for more than 70 years.
When Elizabeth Jenkins passed away in 2010 at the age of 104, many felt the world had lost its last tangible link to a bygone age. This was a woman who had counted Leonard and Virginia Woolf as personal friends, and who had done her bit for the war effort, helping displaced refugees and those affected by air raids during the blitz.
In London’s most celebrated and exclusive community, Hampstead estate agents are no strangers to marketing properties that have had famous owners. But few retain the spirit and essence of their former custodians, or are so intrinsically linked to them, as this early 18th century home that was built in the Georgian Gothic style.
Who was Elizabeth Jenkins?
Born in 1905 to a schoolmaster father, Jenkins was an acclaimed novelist in her own right. Her debut novel, Virginia Water, was famously described as “a sweet white grape of a book” by Virginia Woolf, and the 1934 follow up, Harriet, won her the Prix Femina award in 1934.
However, it was her work as a biographer that really put her on the literary map. Works detailing the lives of Jane Austen, Elizabeth the First and many others were praised for their ability to see through the usual historical source materials and really understand her subjects, their thoughts and their motivations.
A long life at Downshire Hill
In 1939, Ms Jenkins’ father bought her the house on Downshire Hill in Hampstead that would remain her home for the remainder of the century, until she was forced through ill health to move to a nearby Hampstead nursing home in her twilight years.
The 2,400 square foot residence has four bedrooms, five reception rooms and two bathrooms. Abundant ornate fireplaces and balconies add to the gothic feel, while the solid wood floors and sash windows are perfectly in keeping with its age and splendour.
The house evidently meant everything to Ms Jenkins. In 2004, at the age of 98, she took up her pen for her last major project, The View from Downshire Hill. This very personal account describes her decades of experiences at the property. In one memorable chapter, she talks about buying cheap Regency-style furniture in the post war years from homes that had been damaged in the blitz. She remarks that the location of her house and the opulence of the furniture led many to assume that she was very wealthy, when the truth was that she was struggling to earn enough from her writing to make ends meet.
A slice of history
Hampstead has many homes that are steeped in history, but this must be the only one that has had one famous resident for so many years, and that have been given its very own biography by a writer acknowledged as being among the best in her genre.
The house is on the market at an asking price of £4,250,000. Whoever buys it will be the lucky owner of a unique slice of Hampstead history.