A century of stories
View and download
as a pdf
Although the Police Station and Courthouse on Rosslyn Hill provided the busy and vibrant operational home of Hampstead’s part of the Metropolitan Police Force for 100 years, it was not the first building to provide a base for policing the area. That appeared at the beginning of the eighteenth century
Hampstead’s first ‘watchhouse’ was built in 1708. As that had already fallen into disrepair by 1748, a replacement was built in Heath Street near its junction with High Street. It moved to the bottom of Flask Walk seven years later, where it stood with its two dungeons before being demolished in 1839.
Hampstead became part of 'S' Division in the newly established Metropolitan Police Force, when the kind of building we all now recognise as a police station emerged as a result of the need to link together detecting crime with holding suspects. The location, planning and appearance of these stations were the responsibility of the Police Surveyors’ Department.
Hampstead’s first real police station was opened at 9 Holly Place, before moving in 1834 to the corner of Holly Hill and Heath Street. This was replaced again in 1870 by a new station next to the Soldiers’ Daughters’ Home on Rosslyn Hill. In turn, this was replaced at the end of 1913 by the station and magistrates’ court building you can see today – at the corner of Rosslyn Hill and Downshire Hill.
The Hampstead Police Station and Magistrates’ Court is typical of John Dixon Butler’s period in charge as Architect and Surveyor, during which he built 200 police stations and court houses in London that soon became synonymous with the Metropolitan Police. It is one of 58 that survive and one of the 21 that have been listed as high-quality examples of his work.
Reflecting some emerging new ideas about police accommodation during the early twentieth century, it was the first time a magistrates' court had been incorporated into a police station, and it was also the first court to have additional rooms specifically for dealing with juvenile cases – the forerunner of the juvenile justice system.
As well as the police station, cells and courthouse, the building also provided lodgings for officers, with two sets of quarters for married couples and accommodation for 30 unmarried men. During peak periods of operation, up to 200 people could be found in and around the building, which was open all day, every day of the year.
The building’s long history has already seen many alterations that reflected the evolving needs of its occupants. External walkways and extensions were added, new routeways were introduced and internal spaces have been subdivided, combined or changed use entirely – stables became offices in one notable example.
Rosslyn Hill remained home of 'S' Division until the police station was decommissioned and closed in 2013. The building remains in public hands and has been owned by the Department for Education since it aquired it specifically for Abacus Belsize Primary School four years ago.
The neighbourhood will feel quite different when the building fulfils its new role and provides a much-needed permanent home to the school. Pupils and staff will be there for much shorter periods of the day than any previous occupants and only during school terms – close neighbours can expect a notable contrast to the unanticipated disruption generated by the perpetual comings and goings of an operational police station and courthouse. And if those who have lived nearby for some years found no disruption during its continuous use as a police station, they will be just as pleased with its considerably lesser use as a school.
Nevertheless, concern about the comfort and convenience of local residents – who may well have become quickly used to the unprecedented quiet of a vacant building – has already played a considerable part in developing plans for the future. All school playing areas will be at ground-floor level, separated from the surroundings by landscape features. And as the school has a car-free policy that promotes sustainable modes of transport there will be no parking spaces on-site and all pupils and staff will be walking, busing or cycling to the school.
The school has been carefully designed to ensure that the areas of significant historical merit and character – not only of the building but also the conservation area in which it is a landmark – are enhanced and maintained, while providing the modern fit-for-purpose school the community has long required.
Abacus Belsize Primary School promises the characterful Grade II listed building as rich and exciting a future as its long and distinguished past.