Here I am outside 153, Cromwell Road in Kensington where Alfred lived for thirteen years. I doubt the road was so busy in December 1926 when he moved in. He was 27 years old, had just married Alma and moved into the two top floors of this four-storey building. There was no lift but over 90 stairs. The third floor was a lounge, kitchen and dining room and the top floor was bedrooms. The brickwork is grimy.
Alfred was already directing films when he lived here, working on film projects on the lounge table. He lived here for a year before his first commercially successful film came out and his career accelerated. How did he wind up living here as a director at just 27 (aren’t film director’s normally much older?) Oddly when he was a teenage he wanted to be an engineer and aged 14 enrolled in night classes at the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation. His dad died and he, his brother and his sister had to find work to support their mum. Alfred took a job as an office clerk while keeping up his night classes (he was too young to enlist when World War I erupted.) Aged 20 he read in a trade paper that a film company was opening a studio in London. He made and sent them drawings for the title cards and they took him on. Just after the war talented people were scarce and he ended up co-writing, directing and co-producing at least 18 silent films. When the film company decided to pull out of London the 22-year-old Alfred was hired as an assistant director by Gainsborough Pictures. As a determined mature youngster he was designing sets, writing scripts and producing films. By 26 he was being asked to direct films and was 28 when his first thriller The Lodger came out. It was typical Hitch: the hunt for a serial killer who is going round murdering young blondes.
A few people came out of this building as I took photos, mostly Orientals. When Alfred moved in here in December 1926 he’d married Alma only days before at Brompton Oratory nearby. They’d just come back from a honeymoon in Paris, Lake Como and St. Moritz. Their only daughter Patricia was born here about 18 months later.
They enjoyed married life here. This was their first home together and both had only lived in their respective family homes. They’d spent their courtship travelling long distances to meet up (he from Leytonstone, she from Twickenham.) Alfred designed the interior himself. Furniture and fabrics came from Liberty’s and he had technicians from the studio to carry out his designs. The flat bore a conservative English style and was cosy rather than imposing. The furniture was traditional stuff - lots of polished wood and brass.
Alfred preferred writing at home than at the office and spent many hours here, writing scripts, working on film projects, having assistants visit and meeting scriptwriters. At the time Knightsbridge wasn’t a popular area and everyone was telling the Hitchcock’s to move to Mayfair but they said they didn't want to live above his class. When Patricia was born they bought a weekend retreat called "Winter's Grace", a Tudor farmhouse set in 11 acres in Surrey for £2,500 (about £150,000 in today’s money.)
The Hitchcock’s lived at Cromwell Road for 13 years until they left for Hollywood in March 1939. Aged 80 Alfred was knighted but was too ill with arthritis to travel to London (he’d also had a pacemaker fitted.) Only weeks later he died of kidney failure at his home in Bel-Air and his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
In August 1999 Patricia returned to unveil the blue plaque marking a century since her dad’s birth. I had a good look at the place before moving on. Kensington was probably grubbier, slower-paced and quieter when the Hitchcock’s lived here. There’s a contemporary Kensington Marriot Hotel nearby which doesn’t follow the lines of Victorian architecture, nor does the hospital across the road. Only foreign-looking people came out of the heavy-looking red door of the flats which go for about £800,000. I looked at the third floor window where Alfred had dreamt up the first seminal films we know today, did a hearty salute and left.
The Hitchcock’s had just got married when they moved in here…
Alfred, Alma and a production assistant in the flat…
Looking up and down Cromwell Road…