Niddry Lodge: not the Tower of Babel

The original Niddry Lodge was one of the buildings built by Stephen Bird on the patch of land currently occupied by Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall and the Central Library. Bird built a house called Hornton Villa (later known as the Red House) for himself and kept most of the rest of the property as his garden. But he built a second stucco villa at the north western section of the house with a smaller but still generous garden. Its first occupant was a general. He lived there till 1843 but it was the next owner the  Dowager Countess of Hopetoun who must have given it the name Niddry Lodge after one of her husband’s other titles.

This photo shows the two houses in 1972 just before their demolition. Niddry Lodge is on the left.

01 TH construction 1972 Jan KE73-94

The Survey of London devotes just a paragraph to Niddry Lodge ending with the owner who followed the Countess in 1854.

The house was in some ways an ordinary early 19th century suburban villa. The inhabitants lived quiet comfortable lives we can probably assume. Here is a view of the south front in 1954.

Niddry Lodge south front 1954 K60-62 - Copy

But the most interesting part of the house’s history occurred in the last decade of its life.

Niddry Lodge Campden Hill Road 1972 K74-111 - Copy

As you can see the sign on the gateway now reads The Linguist’s Club / School of English. Beyond those unassuming walls lay a unique establishment.

Niddry Lodge - Linguist's Club  poster K62-404 - Copy

The Linguist’s Club was founded in 1932 by A T Pilley (Ari Thaddee, known as Teddy) who had been born in Paris of Polish emigree parents who moved to London when he was 4 years old. The Club was intended as a meeting point for linguists, translators, language students and anyone with an interest in languages. It was also a club for dancing, watching films, travel and general socialising.

During the war Pilley served in the RAF and at Bletchley Park. Afterwards he became well known as a linguist, and the co-founder of the International Association of Conference Interpreters and the Institute of Linguists.

I don’t think it would be overstating the matter to say that he believed in promoting international co-operation and understanding through the teaching of languages. The Linguist’s Club motto was: Se comprendre, c’est la paix (Mutual understanding is peace)

Cartoon in Evening Standard 1960

[Cartoon and article from the Evening Standard in 1960]

The Linguit’s Club had premises in Holborn and in Grosvenor Place but when the Club moved to Niddry Lodge in 1965 the larger premises allowed Pilley room to fulfill all his aims for the club on a bigger scale.

Class in progress

Formal teaching.

Prospectus image featuring Mr Pilley and Mrs RossInformal gatherings.

Niddry Lodge - AT Pilley and students from prospectus K64-240

Talking to the students.

Interviews.

Untitled-6

outdoor class

Outdoor teaching and discussions in the still substantial garden.

Untitled-10

High tech aids – these look quaint to us but Pilley was actually a pioneer in this area and had designed portable equipment for simultaneous translation at international conferences.

The Club stayed at Niddry Lodge until 1972 when the Council needed to demolish it as part of the development of the new Town Hall.

contact sheet 1972

I have a few images from this time on contact sheets.

Niddry Lodge 1972 contact sheet K72-507 400dpi - Copy

This one shows the main entrance with the Club name still above the door.

Below some assorted pieces of furniture with one of the original fireplaces.

Niddry Lodge 1972 contact sheet K72-507 400dpi

Finally, a view of the site before demolition began.
Niddry Lodge - the Red House 1964 K64-165

Niddry Lodge just visible between the trees, safe in its garden for a short while longer.

 

Postscript

My thanks to Eleonora Pilley who first told me about the Linguist’s Club and her father Peter Pilley who sat down with me to talk about his father Teddy and the Club. Once again the blog has introduced me to people with a fascinating story to tell.

The name Niddry Lodge lives on in the section of the Town Hall building which has been rented out and now has its own address, 51 Holland Street.


4 responses to “Niddry Lodge: not the Tower of Babel

  • David Malster

    My parents were the caretakers at Niddry Lodge from about 1959 to closure. I spent a very happy childhood meeting people from all nations and this memory has stayed with me . We lived in The Cottage next to the Lodge , my bedroom was above the old stables .
    Looking back , I can`t believe such a beautiful building could be demolished but I suppose the land was a prime site for redevelopment .
    Living next door to the Linguist`s club taught me the importance of international friendship . I have kept that alive .

  • Lucie

    Hello. I would like to use some of these images from this web page. Would it be possible? Thank you.

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