Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Walk Through Hampstead

On Saturday night I joined my women's group for a historic pub walk...this was not a pub crawl, although we did stop at two pubs for a pint (kinda have to in England).  Fen couldn't join me as he had to work so we decided to do the walk today in the gorgeous sunshine. I doubt I'm as good as Jan, our guide from London Walks,  but I think I did a fair job.

We started out at the Hampstead Tube station and headed over to Church Row. Below is a photo in 1906 and then a one taken last summer.

What I love about it is how cute and quaint it looks. But I had no idea how unchanged it has been over the centuries. Hampstead  prides itself on being a unique and charming Georgian village. Even with the High Street big name stores and contemporary adornments creeping in it still retains is quaint village feel. This road, Church Row is definitely a perfect example as it still has the original posts for the old oil lanterns that used to hang on the gates. It also has the original gas lamps which have been refitted for electricity but still retain a timeless feel.

Another thing I love about this street are the doors - well, the window panes above the front doors. Way back when houses were not numbered so the panes of glass above the front doors had to be different. The residents of each house had calling cards with the design of the glass on them so when callers came they could identify the house. Very cool. Here's one of my favourite doors:
We moved up the street to the huge, ancient church St. John's of Hampstead and it's graveyard where many famous folks are buried including artist John Constable and John Harrison of Longitude fame, many of the Du Maurier family and Jane Austen's aunt. Next we walked along the graveyard toward St. Mary's Catholic Church. The walk up is dark and kinda spooky. I was lagging at the back (shocking I know) with my buddy Liz. I said to her as we made our way up the hill, 'You know if this was a horror movie we'd be picked off right about now.' She agreed. Here's a shot I found online of the street at night.
On the corner is the first police station - the watch house that was established in 1830. This is where the night watchmen would leave to patrol the streets at night. A few steps further is St. Mary's Catholic church which is tiny - but for a reason. When it was built in 1816 - the parish was founded in 1796 - but at this time Catholics were still not allowed to practise their faith so the church looked like another house on the row. It wasn't until 1826 the sanction was lifted. The bell tower and the statue of Mary were added later. It's a lovely church:
Next we walked by Robert Louis Stevenson's house. Which I loved because he moved Samoa and is buried there. That's were my father in law is from. Here is his house:
On many of the houses are insurance badges like this one:
Homeowners bought insurance from different companies who insured against fire. If you home caught on fire the insurance men were called - if you had the right insurance they put out the fire. If you didn't, you got to watch your house burn! Rather rotten if you ask me, thank heavens that's not the case anymore. But that doesn't stop me from making contributions to our firehouse near our cottage in Pennsylvania every year!

From there we walked over to one of the favourite watering holes in London: the Holly Bush. It was built in 1644 and converted from teh stables and outbluiding of Romney's house (which is behind it). Many famous folks have hoisted a pint or two in this fanastic old pub - it's absolutely quaint with it's bare oak floors, plaster walls and roaring fire. When our group of about 40 descended upon it it filled up fast - it's rather large and it was already full but we all managed to have our pint!
Across the street is Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef's old home. He used to eat here a lot and apparently hung out in front of his house to sign autographs from time to time. He and his crew moved a little while ago.

Speaking of famous people A LOT of famous people have lived or do live in Hampstead including: Dickens, Keats, Hogarth, Dick Turpin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Poppins (well, his creator), Boy George, Peter Cook, H.G.Wells, Daphne Du Maurier, George Michael, Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton, George Orwell, Sigmund Freud and a host others. Hampstead has long been known as a residence of the intelligentsia, including writers, composers, ballerinas and intellectuals, actors, artists and architects — many of whom created a bohemian community in the late 19th century. After 1917, and again in the 1930s, it became base to a community of avant garde artists and writers and was host to a number of émigrés and exiles from the Russian Revolution and Nazi Europe. Interesting.

Many came up to the hills of Hampstead - which is this highest point in London to escape the disease infested streets of central London. It was considered a spa town with its clean water and fresh breezes. I find this ironic as I've had more colds, flus and oh, asthma since I moved here!

From here we went by Burgh House, Ridley Scott's house, and turned a corner to Admiral's House. This was the inspiration for Mary Poppins and the author, P.L. Travers used it as the inspiration for the book.John and Winifred Constable moved to Admiral's House in 1916 after living at 15, Brompton Square for the two years following their marriage. John had been advised by his doctor to find a house with a garden so that when his eyes prevented him from writing he would be able to work outside and not wander around busy London streets. The house had been re-named Grove House during their time but was still known to them and other local residents as Admiral's House. It was built during the reign of George III and occupied by eccentric former naval officer called  Fountain North. He constructed two decks on the roof, a main deck and a quarter deck, and mounted cannons all round them from which he fired salutes on the King's birthday and to celebrate Naval victories (sound familiar?). His cabin, built like the stern of a ship, still existed, high up in the air. There was an acre of garden, since built upon. Through the garden ran a tunnel which was said to communicate with the Heath, and was alleged the escape-way of Dick Turpin.
Next we wound our way over the old jail house - and to Judge's Walk where prisoners would be taken from jail to the courthouse to learn their fate. It was spooky at night but beautiful by day:
Next on our walk was the Hampstead Observatory - which I particularly liked. It's run by the Hampstead Scientific Society. Our guide went in and asked if we could take a peek. They said yes and we all walked up the steps and waited our turn to go inside the tiny round building with a domed room and take a look through the telescope at Orion's belt. I asked if the roof still rotated and the man in charge pulled on some ropes to show us how the roof still moved around, 'Good ole' Victorian engineering,' he cheerfully announced.

The next point was the highest point in London -  Whitestone Pond. There is an original marker which shows that it's exactly 4 miles from center London (Charring Cross I think). The pond was original ramped so weary horses could trot right in for a drink, and the dirty wheels of the carriages could have a quick wash before heading into town - presentation was everything! Here is an old postcard of that:
We finished up with a walk by the old lock up on Cannon Lane. This is where they held prisoners  from 1730-1830 - in the one room lock up before the Watch House opened up.
Next up was Richard Burton and Elizabeth's love nest during the filming of Cleopatra:
Then we looped down through the beautiful streets to Flask Walk and the Flask pub where we had a nightcap.  It has two sides - even today: one side is the working man's side which is cheaper - even though it's still served from the same bar - and the salon side which is plush and larger. Half went to the cheap side and half to the salon. I went salon because that's I how roll! It was a great night. I'm going to put it on my walking tour for guests should we ever have one again! I suggest you take a the Hampstead tour with London Walks Tours, who were our guides,  if you have the time and are in London - it was fantastic!


  1. Wow! What an interesting and amazingly informative post! I love photos like the first one--then and now, because I love comparing the eras, but how interesting how little has changed. I can see why you love the area, so many historically interesting places.

  2. Great photos and very interesting post. You can always rely on a foreigner to tell you more about your country than you already know! Thanks xx

  3. Thank you so much for taking the time to publish this informative post! I adore the history of London (even manipulated my Art History dissertation to include lots of London's social history!) - this is an area I haven't really visited before, but now really want to!

  4. I mainly lived on the south side of the river in my London days so never really knew Hamsptead, even though lots of friends raved about it. Last year I had reason to be there and walked from the tube station up to the Heath and back. It was gorgeous.

  5. I love doing stuff like this! Thanks for taking us along with you :-)

  6. Wow! What a great post! I read this at 3 am when I couldn't sleep. Just found your blog while jumping around. Where is your place in PA? Thats where I am from!!!

  7. I lived in Hampstead and then nearby when I first moved to London from the US. The architecture is gorgeous but the High Street has really changed a lot for the worse. Really sad. It's impossible for regular people to live there now. I find other neighbourhoods far more interesting now. If you are trying to live an authentic life with your family I would suggest looking elsewhere. I imagine your rent is jolly expensive.

  8. so interesting to read your story of hampstead it was very nostagic for me i lived there for about ten years my parents kept a pub there i was married at st marys catholic church my son was born in hampstead.Thankyou


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