The Lawn Road Flats

March 2014
32 black and white illustrations
309 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
History of British Intelligence
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS037070, HIS015000, ARC005000

The Lawn Road Flats

Spies, Writers and Artists

David Burke

eBook for Handhelds
The story of a modernist building with a significant place in the history of Soviet espionage in Britain, where communist spies rubbed shoulders with British artists, sculptors and writers
The Isokon building, Lawn Road Flats, in Belsize Park on Hampstead's lower slopes, is a remarkable building. The first modernist building in Britain to use reinforced concrete in domestic architecture, its construction demanded new building techniques. But the building was as remarkable for those who took up residence there as for the application of revolutionary building techniques.
There were 32 Flats in all, and they became a haunt of some of the most prominent Soviet agents working against Britain in the 1930s and 40s, among them Arnold Deutsch, the controller of the group of Cambridge spies who came to be known as the "Magnificent Five" after the Western movie The Magnificent Seven; the photographer Edith Tudor-Hart; and Melita Norwood, the longest-serving Soviet spy in British espionage history.
However, it wasn't only spies who were attracted to the Lawn Road Flats, the Bauhaus exiles Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy and Marcel Breuer; the pre-historian V. Gordon Childe; and the poet (and Bletchley Park intelligence officer) Charles Brasch all made their way there. A number of British artists, sculptors and writers were also drawn to the Flats, among them the sculptor and painter Henry Moore; the novelist Nicholas Monsarrat; and the crime writer Agatha Christie, who wrote her only spy novel N or M? in the Flats. The Isokon building boasted its own restaurant and dining club, where many of the Flats' most famous residents rubbed shoulders with some of the most dangerous communist spies ever to operate in Britain. Agatha Christie often said that she invented her characters from what she observed going on around her. With the Kuczynskis - probably the most successful family of spies in the history of espionage - in residence, she would have had plenty of material.

DAVID BURKE is a historian of intelligence and international relations and author of The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage (The Boydell Press, 2009).

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Table of Contents

Foreword -
Remembrance of Things Past, Hampstead Man among `The Modernists'
'National Planning For The Future' and the arrival of Walter Gropius
1935: `Art crystallises the emotions of an age.' Musicology, and the art of Espionage
Arnold Deutsch, Kim Philby and Austro-Marxism
The Isobar, Half Hundred Club and the arrival of SONYA
The Plot Thickens: Jurgen Kuczynski, Agatha Christie and Colletts Bookshop
Refugees, The Kuczynski Network, Churchill and Operation Barbarossa
Klaus Fuchs, Rothstein once more, and Charles Brasch
Vere Gordon Childe
The New Statesman, Ho Chi Minh, and The End of an Era


Burke's book is constructed like the building itself: each chapter has at its centre a life story of one or other key resident of the ISOKON, and these stories are as interconnected as were the tenants at the Lawn Road Flats. ... [Its] history has now been meticulously restored by David Burke. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
A fascinating book. CHARTIST
Burke intersperses his painstakingly detailed research with fascinating glimpses of life at the time, drawing on stories and letters that bring his account into vivid relief. TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT
A lively and vivid chronicle of a generation shaped by war, political upheaval and idealism. HISTORY TODAY
Cocktails, glamour, spies - Bond would love it. SAGA MAGAZINE
Burke proves to be a brilliant sleuth...and is insightful on the...daily detail of a spy's life. TIMES
This book, like the Lawn Road flats themselves, is full of surprises. SUNDAY TIMES [Lynn Barber]
Reveals the staggeringly rich artistic and political machinations that took place within. FINANCIAL TIMES

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