The Lawn Road Flats

The Isokon Building, or the Lawn Road Flats.

The architecture is instantly recognizable. Exterior balconies connecting doors to apartments (known as flats in that insignificant part of the universe called the Rest of the English Speaking World). Unadorned brutal concrete. Inside, dehumanized furniture of the metal stool kind, and a cafeteria called the Isobar, serving cheap food for aspiring proletarians longing to eat communally. Hardly an isotonic.

Cities all over the world are now groaning under the weight of similar buildings. This is the original of the type, the so-called “Isokon” building in Hampstead, London. Designed by Wells Coates, a Canadian under the influence of the bauhaus German, Walter Gropius, who actually lived in the structure for a while after it was built in the 1930s.

If you were told by an eccentric friend that the whole thing was a communist plot to subvert Western Civilization, you might dismiss that as just another unhinged monomania. But you would be wrong. Not only was Gropius a communist, the entire building was riddled with spies and fellow-travellers for decades. The details are in David Burke’s The Lawn Road Flats: Spies, Writers and Artists (2014). The list of these Hampstead spies resident in and around the Isokon building is prodigious:

  • Blewitt, Trevor
  • Blewitt, Phyllis
  • Deutsch, Arnold
  • Deutsch, Hermann
  • Deutsch, Josefine
  • Kuczynski, Barbara
  • Kuczynski, Brigitte
  • Kuczynski, Jurgen
  • Kuczynski, Marguerite
  • Lewis, Anthony Gordon
  • Reckitt, Eva Collett
  • Rothstein, Andrew

Those are just the known agents. There were also a number of resident fellow-travellers of uncertain employment but unwavering sympathies:

  • Childe, Vere Gordon
  • Moholy-Nagy, László

Hangers-on and regular visitors to the building included more Soviet agents, including the head of the CPGB, who was in practice just an agent himself, and the rest of the Kuczynski brood who ran the atomic espionage ring that included Klaus Fuchs:

  • Meynell, Francis
  • Foote, Alexander
  • Norman, William
  • Kuczynski, Berta
  • Kuczynski, Renate
  • Kuczynski, Robert (René)
  • Kuczynski, Sabine
  • Kuczynski, Ursula
  • Beurton, Len
  • Tudor-Hart, Edith (née Suschitsky)
  • Pollitt, Harry

Fellow-traveller visitors who may well have been agents as well included

  • Loeffler, Francis
  • Pritt, D. N.
The Lawn Road Flats by David Burke (2014).

Given this massive concentration of fifth-columnists one would expect MI5 to have been all over the building. Except they weren’t.

It would be useful to expand the above to make a comprehensive list of the known Soviet agents within the UK as a whole over the 1920 to 1990 period. It would of course include the Cambridge Five (Blunt, Burgess, Philby, Maclean, Cairncross) but to these many more would have to be added, including:

  • Blake, George
  • Bossard, Frank Clifton
  • Fletcher, Raymond
  • Fuchs, Klaus
  • Gee, Ethel Elizabeth
  • Hambleton, Hugh George
  • Haldane, JBS
  • Hart, Jenifer Margaret Fischer (née Williams)
  • Houghton, Harry Frederick
  • King, John Herbert
  • Klugmann, James
  • May, Alan Nunn
  • Montagu, Ivor
  • Norwood, Melita
  • Oldham, Ernest Holloway
  • Peet, John Scott
  • Pool, Phoebe
  • Rees, Goronwy
  • Smith, Michael John
  • Springhall, Douglas Frank
  • Stewart, R. J. “Bob”
  • Symonds, John Alexander
  • Vassall, William John Christopher
  • Wynn, Arthur Henry Ashford

Then there is the Oxford ring, never identified, but we know that they existed …

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