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Hampstead’s creative community of the 1930s and 40s: 2 Willow Road

Three visitors inside 2 Willow Road looking at items around a room
Visiting 2 Willow Road | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Blissfully isolated from the urban sprawl of London, Hampstead has been associated with artists since the 19th century. But the community of creatives burgeoned once again during the 1930s, soon after Ernő and Ursula Goldfinger took up residence there. Discover more about Hampstead's creative community.

Hampstead intellectuals

Large numbers of progressive artists, writers and thinkers moved from Chelsea to Hampstead in the 1930s, drawn not least by the relatively low cost of housing. The size of the community spiked in the late 30s, around the time 2 Willow Road was built by Ernő and Ursula Goldfinger.

The expression ‘Hampstead intellectual’ characterised middle-class, left-wing idealist thinkers like the Goldfingers.

A creative community

One house on nearby Parkhill Road was home to Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, who became arguably Britain’s best-known artists after the Second World War.

In 1934, Hampstead’s modernist credentials were bolstered by the construction of the Isokon Flats in Lawn Road, designed by the architect Wells Coates. The Isobar – a Bauhaus club on the ground floor of the building – became known as a hub of intellectual dialogue and witty repartee for wealthy creatives.

Political activism

Hampstead’s intensely creative atmosphere led to increasing division between members of the Surrealist and Abstractionist movements. But the Goldfingers helped to unite the two left-wing groups politically by signing the Surrealists’ petition to the government to lift its arms embargo to Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War and setting up fundraising exhibitions for the Spanish Aid committees.

Others in Hampstead were similarly charitable during the Second World War. The Artist’s Refugee Committee near 2 Willow Road was set up by Fred and Diana Ulhman and provided support for artists fleeing Nazi Europe.

Charity begins at home

The Goldfingers embarked on further charitable endeavours during the war. An exhibition held at 2 Willow Road in 1942, for the ‘Aid to Russia’ fund of the National Council of Labour, aimed to help tackle Russian hardship in the face of the Nazi onslaught.

The exhibition highlighted works by Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson and Roland Penrose and featured a total of around 70 pieces, many of which were up for auction. You can see some of those the Goldfingers bought at the auction displayed in 2 Willow Road today.

Visitors at 2 Willow Road, London

Discover more at 2 Willow Road

Find out when 2 Willow Road is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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Explore the objects and works of art we care for at 2 Willow Road on the National Trust Collections website.