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Colet House

Colet House

Originally 46 Colet Gardens and now 151 Talgarth Road Colet House is part of our terrace of houses that was originally known as 1-9 St Paul’s Studios. It was built circa 1885. The eight individual studios were built a couple of years later than Colet House. All nine houses have huge windows catching the north light. Colet House is much the largest and is differently designed from its neighbours. It has two spacious ground floor studios and an exceptionally large studio on the first floor – 10.5 metres by 22.5 metres (35ft x 75ft), comfortably long enough for a cricket pitch. There is a symmetry that is almost exact with one side of the house being virtually the mirror image of the other. The present main staircase was a 1938 addition, there being, originally, two staircases at the rear. There are still stone turret staircases at the east and west perimeters. Behind each ground floor studio is a rear room, probably once intended for domestic use and suggesting that the ground floor was originally suitable for division into separate accommodation.

Top Studio (22m x 10m)

Top Studio (22m x 10m)

Sir Coutts Lindsay, a painter and founder of the first Grosvenor Gallery in Bond Street, then something of a rival to the Royal Academy, is reputed to have been the builder of the studios. What is now Colet House, from the start, had a multiplicity of occupants, mostly painters. The best known was Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867- 1956). Son of a Welsh architect, he was born in Bruges, Belgium, and came to London, aged 10. He was apprenticed to William Morris, travelled widely, establishing himself first as an illustrator, but turning also to design of furniture, stained glass, metalwork and much else. By early 20th century Brangwyn had built a new reputation as a painter and etcher but also as creator of large – very large – works! His main studio was at his house just off Hammersmith Broadway and there it was big enough for him to handle most of his commissions, including a set of wall paintings for the House of Lords (these were never hung where intended but ended up in the Guildhall in Swansea). But one commission was clearly too large for his available space. In the early years of the 20th century, Gordon Selfridge was planning his huge department store on Oxford Street.   Brangwyn was commissioned to design mosaics for the building’s dome, which was to be 70 ft in diameter. It is thought that it was to create this work that Brangwyn acquired space at Colet House. He is reported to have described the ‘Baron’s Court Studio’ as ‘a wonderful place … the finest studio in London … a place fit for Michelangelo himself…’ In fact, the Selfridge dome was never built — its potential weight was judged to be so great as likely to cause the whole store to sink onto the Underground tracks running beneath!

One of the two Studios on the lower floor (8.5m x 10m)

One of the two Studios on the lower floor (8.5m x 10m)

Many artists continued to occupy Colet House studios until the mid-30’s when dancers began to have classes in its fine studios. Nicolai Legat, the Russian ballet master, held classes there with Margot Fonteyn, Ninette de Valois, Anton Dolin and Serge Lifar reportedly amongst his pupils. The Russian influence in the house increased and in 1938 P D Ouspensky, the philosopher and writer chose it to be the headquarters of his work. It was at Colet House that he founded a society, today known as The Study Society, or to give it its full name, the Society for the Study of Normal Psychology. Large gatherings assembled in the top floor studio that was then equipped with plush tip-up seating. A printing press (since removed) was put into the basement. At the start of World War II the building was requisitioned by the Admiralty and returned in time for Ouspensky’s last lectures in 1947. Shortly afterwards it was leased to the Royal Ballet, their main school being next to Colet House (now housing the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art or LAMBDA) to the west. In 1957, with the ballet’s own premises enlarged, the house was for sale and was again acquired by Study Society.

There are lots of other rooms, like the Blue Room (6m x 6m)

There are lots of other rooms, like the Blue Room (6m x 6m)

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