North London's Cultural Guide

Kentish Town Baths: the star of a new exhibition at Burgh House

Tufnell Park artist Liz Mathews creates architectural portraits of London's small historic buildings

Want to have a nosey at the capital’s best loved buildings – all within the elegant splendour of Hampstead’s Burgh House?

Well, Tufnell Park-based architectural portraitist Liz Mathews can help. A studio potter and lettering artist, her new show, The Prospect Of Happiness, depicts historic piles including Willow Road, Fenton House and Kenwood, as well as Freud’s House, Keats’ House, Euston Arch, Kentish Town Baths, Dickens’ House and even her own house in Tufnell Park. Well, why not?

Burgh House
Burgh House by Liz Mathews. Image: artist’s own.

Some backstory? Liz Mathews has been making house portraits and architectural studies to commission since way back in 1986, from cottages to castles. Her artist’s books are collected by the British Library, as well as the National Library of Scotland and the National Poetry Library; and she’s a selected member of the Crafts Council Directory.

In this exhibition, her detailed miniature portraits in clay and paper are set in the landscape of the imagination, seen by writers and artists who love the city and have lived in the houses.


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Willow Road
Willow Road NW3, Liz Mathews.

The ‘prospect of happiness’ itself is the famous view across London from the heights of Hampstead Heath conjured up by Frances Bingham, while Virginia Woolf also visited the Heath and the newly-opened Kenwood. Dr Johnson, Constable and Keats all commented on the local scene, while Winifred Nicholson colourfully invoked the essentials of a happy home, and Maureen Duffy had a vision of the floating city before plunging into the old Round Reading Room of the British Museum.

And the show has been delayed more than once. “It’s been a long time in the making for me,” says Liz, “having been postponed twice due to successive lockdowns — now it runs from 6th to 17th July.”

Liz on Kentish Town Baths

Kentish Town Baths
The Baths in close-up by Liz Mathews.

“Just down the road from our house is this effervescent building overflowing with joie de vivre – the public baths at Kentish Town (by TW Aldwinckle 1898), described by Pevsner as ‘especially festive’ and full of ‘fun and games’. I have a particular passion for the combination of architecture and text, a lettered façade, and Kentish Town bath-house is labelled in gold Art Deco lettering with its name and function, but also – above the doors, helpfully with the designations: ‘Men’s Second Class’, and (poshest central door) ‘Men’s First Class’.

The other doors to the right that you might expect to be for women (perhaps of first, second and third class) are labelled ‘Public Hall’. (Oh well, we’ll have to bathe in the Ladies’ Pond on the Heath then – ‘No men or dogs beyond this point‘.)

I’ve chosen, somewhat perversely, to make the portrait of this particularly terracotta palace of pleasure on handmade paper rather than in clay partly because of this text, but also because I love a challenge, and I wanted to see if I could capture something of its intriguing façade-articulation and sparkling chiaroscuro in two dimensions, just with a coloured pencil and some modelling, and without the aid of clay. It’s the kind of building that one can pass every day in London, and it never fails to raise a smile.” 

The Prospect of Happiness, 6th – 17th July 2022, The Peggy Jay Gallery at Burgh House, Hampstead, London NW3. Open: Wed, Thur, Fri and Sun 12noon to 5pm Entry is free. To learn more and view the exhibition online, head here.

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.