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Town Hall urged not to knock down historic home built for school pioneers

Women who helped form Camden School for Girls used to live in house now wrecked by fire

03 July, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The empty building in Daleham Gardens

IT stands wrecked and empty, a haunting silent reminder of a fire which brought tragedy to Belsize Park.

But council chiefs have been urged ot step away from their plan to bulldoze 31 Daleham Gardens, amid claims that they have failed to realise the heritage value in the property.

It should properly be known as “Stagshaw”, the council has been told, and special consideration must be made for its first residents: sisters Annie E Ridley and Jane Taylor Ridley.

Both fought for women’s rights in the Victorian age and had significant roles working with Suffragist Frances Mary Buss when she founded Camden School for Girls. Annie E Ridley went on to be a governor for more than 20 years at the school in Sandall Road, Camden Town.

Their home had been commissioned by their inventor father John Ridley and designed by Horace Field, one of the best-known architects of his era.

The story of how Camden School for Girls was formed is passed down through the generations but there is no mention of the Ridley sisters in an appraisal of whether their former home should be demolished. Camden now owns the block and says it is too expensive to repair and maintain after a fire in 2017.

It had been split into flats later in the 20th century.

Frances Mary Buss

One of the tenants, Magdalena Fink, died in the blaze. Police briefly treated the fire as suspicious and even circulated an image of a man seen near the scene. A coroner later criticised council checks on fire safety. Camden’s application to its own planning department says the “burnt remnants of the building clearly indicated the site no longer makes a positive contribution to the conservation area within which it is located.”

But an anonymous historian has now contacted the council asking it to do more research before bringing in bulldozers.

“Miss J T Ridley was a prominent suffragist who devoted her life to furthering girls’ education,” their warning message said. “With Frances Mary Buss, she founded Camden School for Girls and was an assessor for ­Cambridge University, helping less privileged girls to win places in a male dominated institution.” It added that it would be “ironic if it [Camden] gave itself permission ro demolish a locally important heritage asset owned by the ratepayers.”

A council spokesperson said: “Cabinet are due to consider the options for the future of 31 Daleham Gardens in September and a decision will be required by cabinet before any future proposals can begin.”

The council’s application said “there is no previous planning history which has any impact on the current development proposal”.

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