In the late 1940s, Australian born archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe lived in an iconic, modernistic building in London’s Belsize Park. The resident of the opposite flat was Agatha Christie. The five storey Isokon Flats, also known as the Lawn Road Flats, had opened in 1934. It became a centre of artistic and intellectual life. But what was the particular attraction for Childe and Christie?

In Agatha Christie’s case it was very much driven by WWII. She owned a home in London, but it had been bombed. With her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan serving in North Africa, the reinforced concrete flats provided a perfect bolt-hole; promoted as the safest place to live in the city. Christie resided in the flats from 1941 until 1947, producing a huge amount of work. The long running play The Mouse Trap was written here, and also Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. The latter was completed at this point to farewell Poirot, just in case his creator did not survive the war.

The five storey flats where Vere Gordon Childe and Agatha Christie resided in the 1940s.

For Childe, a middle aged bachelor, living in the fully serviced building was no doubt more about convenience. There was a dumb waiter to deliver meals from the in-house restaurant and he could even have his bed made and his shoes shined. He moved to the flats in 1946, when he became Director of The Institute of Archaeology. Max Mallowan was a member of the staff, and I wonder whether it was he who recommended the building to his associate?

Both Childe and Christie were avid observers and students of society. Childe was a Marxist, and one of a number of left wing intellectuals to live at Lawn Road.

Advertisement for the Lawn Road Flats.

The building was designed by Ward Coates. It was the brainchild of the British furniture entrepreneur Jack Pritchard and his wife Molly, as an experiment in city living.

There were minimalist interiors as opposed to the heavy ornamentation of the Victorian era. Plywood was used extensively.

The essential furniture for living was built ‘in situ’ in each apartment. The idea was that each occupant take only their personal belongings and find everything you need to start work already done, the table, the chair, [the bed] with spring mattress and blankets, radiator, carpet, lights, mirrors, fridge, stove, hot water centralized, cleaning and general manager for the needs of the departments. How perfect for two busy people.

An example has survived of a delightfully playful menu, from the in-house restaurant on the ground floor.

Menu from the Isokon restaurant  in the building where Vere Gordon Childe lived.

Note the plywood furniture in the restaurant. It was produced by Pritchard’s company.

The Lawn Road Flats, where Vere Childe and Agatha Christie lived in the 1940s.

Childe and Christie were both prolific writers. Childe wrote 28 books on archaeology. One was titled, What Happened in History (1942). It sold 300,000 copies in the first 15 years. He turned down an offer from Oxford University Press and had it published by Pelican as a paperback, so that ordinary people could afford it. Of course this hardly compares with Christie’s output, which includes 66 murder mysteries and sales now topping two billion! But still….not bad

Best selling book by Vere Gordon Childe.

As an outspoken Marxist, Childe was under surveillance by MI5. He was not a spy, but there had been earlier residents who were, including Arnold Deutsch, the man who recruited Guy Burgess.

Agatha Christie was not above suspicion either. While living in the Lawn Road Flats she wrote the spy mystery N or M? in which there was an unpleasant character by the name of Major Bletchley. MI5 were concerned that this was some sinister reference to top secret Bletchley Park, the wartime code breaking centre. They were relieved to discover it was mere co-incidence. Christie had given the character the name because she had once been stranded at Bletchley during a train journey. 😎

Agatha Christie wrote this spy novel while living at the Lawn Road Flats.

Christie and Childe also shared a passion for contract bridge. and played as partners.


By the 1990s the building had fallen into disrepair and for some years it was uninhabited. Fortunately it received a Grade I heritage listing in 1999. Despite this protection it took a dedicated public campaign to prevent demolition. As part of a subsequent restoration project the old garage was turned into a museum, preserving the wonderful history of the flats, and of residents such as Agatha Christie and Vere Gordon Childe.



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