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Holly Village, Highgate, North London. Listed Building. H. A. Darbishire. 1865. Holly Village, designed by the architect Henry Astley Darbishire for Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, consists of a group of eight buildings built around a green, comprising four detached houses and four pairs of adjoining cottages. The houses were apparently intended (though there is some dissent here) as an economic rather than a charitable venture — as Camden Council puts it, for "private rent to those on considerable incomes." Also according to Camden Council, it was built by William Cubitt, rather than the more commonly cited Thomas Cubitt.
Left: House with a Tower in Holly Village. Right: Entrance to the village.
The development would have been visible from Holly Lodge, the Coutts's splendid country villa on Highgate's West Hill (long since replaced by a mock-Tudor garden suburb still called the Holly Lodge estate). Thus Darbishire, who worked in quite a different, far more utilitarian style on model housing for the poor, was here requested to create a sort of Gothic fantasy which could be enjoyed both as a view and as a residential community for future tenants. No expense was spared in the materials, which included fine quality teak wood and Portland stone, and Italian craftsmen were employed for the wood carving. Both in the stonework and the woodcarving there are many "picturesque and fanciful" details (Weinreb and Hibbert 400), including contrast patterning in the exterior walls, crenellations, pinnacles, dormers, small heads (on window corbels etc.) and small animals (e.g. as gargoyles, also visible in the close-up of windows).
Left: Carved wooden bargeboards and decorated chimneypots. Middle: Gothic Revival window decoration. Right: Statue of Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
The latter designs reflect Burdett-Coutts's love of animals, which led to the founding of the RSPCA. The diamond-shaped Coutts coat-of-arms appears prominently in Portland stone on each building, and over the entrance archway is inscribed, "Holly Village Erected By A. G. B. Coutts A.D. 1865." The sculptures on either side of the archway are idealised, classically-robed representations of Burdett-Coutts herself and her governess and long-time companion, Hannah Brown. Burdett-Coutts holds a pet dog, and Mrs Brown holds a dove.
With its "huge indulgence in flamboyant detail" (Davies 315), Holly Village is a unique example of full-blown Victorian Gothic in a residential complex. The wrought iron gate beneath the entrance archway makes it perhaps the first example of a gated housing development.
1-12, Holly Village, Camden. Viewed 27 September 2012.
Davies, Gill (with John Reynolds, photographer). One Thousand Buildings of London. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 2006.
"Holly Village," BBC broadcast on 27 December 2006, and available here.
Weinreb, Ben and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. London: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1992.
Last modified 9 October 2012