The City of London is often referred to as the Square Mile but its Corporation is responsible for much more land than that. One of the things that is less well known about the City of London Corporation is that it looks after a great number of green spaces. These include Hampstead Heath; Epping Forest; Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common; Highgate Wood; West Ham Park; Queen’s Park; seven commons in the south of London: Ashtead Common, Farthing Downs, Coulsdon Common, Kenley Common, Riddlesdown, Spring Park, West Wickham Common; and finally the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium , a stunning Grade 1 listed landscape in the heart of East London.[i]
Three years ago, when I was Chairman of the Events Committee for Master Sally Muggeridge, she asked me to come up with a City Walk with a difference. I thought of the Green Spaces and for a change we had our City Walk in the country, guided round Burnham Beeches by the Rangers. So this year I decided to repeat the trick and chose Hampstead Heath for our City walk with a twist. I briefed John Steel of Tour De Force[ii], an excellent tour guide who is also a professional actor. He responded magnificently to the challenge as it was the first time he had had such a request and so could tailor a bespoke tour.
Last weekend, despite all the efforts of public transport to hinder us, 25 intrepid members and guests met at Hampstead tube station and set off to explore Hampstead before climbing up to the Heath. Early records of Hampstead can be found in a grant by King Ethelred the Unready[iii] to the monastery of St Peter’s at Westminster (AD 986) and it is referred to in the Domesday Book (1086). The growth of Hampstead is generally traced back to the 17th century. Trustees of the Well started advertising the medicinal quantifiers of the chalybeate waters (water impregnated with iron) in 1700. Although Hampstead Wells was initially most successful and fashionable, its popularity declined in the 1800s due to competition with Spas further afield like Bath and Cheltenham. The spa was demolished in 1882, although a water fountain was left behind.
It was the opening of the North London Railway in the 1860s followed by the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway in 1907 that led to the expansion of Hampstead. Particularly luxurious housing was created during the 1870s and ‘80s, much of which survives. Just four miles from the centre of London Hampstead still has the character of a country village.
The village attracted notable people with intellectual, artistic, musical and literary associations. After 1917, and again in the 1930s, it became base to a community of avant garde artists and writers and a refuge to a number of emigrés and exiles from the Russian Revolution and Nazi Europe.
Amongst the people who were born In Hampstead are politician Nigel Lawson; racing driver Damon Hill; actors Stephen Fry and Dirk Bogarde; and novelist Evelyn Waugh. The painter John Constable; the inventor of the marine chronometer, John Harrison; the Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell; the film star Kay Kendall; the writer and comedian Peter Cook; and Gerald du Maurier, the actor and manager and father of Daphne du Maurier, are all buried in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead and John showed us Constable’s tomb.
The list of writers who’ve lived in Hampstead is extraordinary and includes: Kingsley and Martin Amis; Alan Ayckbourn; Enid Blyton; John Betjeman; Lord Byron; Agatha Christie; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Charles Dickens; Daphne du Maurier; T.S. Eliot; Ian Fleming; John Fowles; Antonia Fraser; Carlos Fuentes; John Galsworthy; Aldous Huxley; John Keats; Marghanita Laski; D H Lawrence; Katherine Mansfield; A A Milne; John Mortimer; George Orwell; J B Priestley; Percy Bysshe Shelley; Edith Sitwell; Stephen Spender; Robert Louis Stevenson; Evelyn Waugh; and H.G. Wells. Some of these may have come for the air rather than the water. Keats, whose memory is preserved in a museum in the house where he lived and wrote five of his six great odes, and Orwell both suffered and then died of tuberculosis. Keats left Hampstead for Italy at Shelley’s invitation, where he died at the age of 26. Shelley drowned there two years later aged 29. Robert Louis Stevenson too had ill health throughout his short life. He travelled widely to try to find a place where his health would recover and described Hampstead as ‘the most delightful place for air and scenery in London’. He died aged 44 of a cerebral haemorrhage in Samoa.
Among musicians who’ve lived in Hampstead are the American harmonica player, Larry Adler; classical composers Arthur Bliss, Sir Edward Elgar and Frederick Delius; England’s finest ever classical French Horn player, Dennis Brain; the great Austrian pianist, Alfred Brendel; the great cellist, Jacqueline du Pré; Marianne Faithfull; Britain’s greatest contralto, Kathleen Ferrier; the Irish tenor, John McCormack; Yehudi Menuhin; Anna Pavlova; Paul Robeson; and pop stars Boy George; Liam Gallagher of Oasis; Nick Mason, the Pink Floyd drummer; and Sting.
From the film and theatre word residents have included Dame Peggy Ashcroft; Peter Barkworth; Dirk Bogarde; Richard Burton, who used to drink there with Peter O’Toole; Benedict Cumberbatch; Dame Judi Dench, whose cottage on Hampstead Heath burnt down in 1993; Ricky Gervais; Lawrence Harvey; Jeremy Irons; Michael McIntyre; Harold Pinter; Ralph Richardson; Ridley Scott; Alastair Sim; and Dame Elizabeth Taylor.
Many leading figures of the world of visual arts and architecture have also made Hampstead their home. These include Cecil Beaton; John Constable; Lucian Freud; and the Hungarian born architect, Ernő Goldfinger, whose house on the side of the Heath is now a design centre. Ian Fleming hated Goldfinger so much that he used his surname for the villain in the eponymous novel changing his forename to Auric. There were also Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School; Barbara Hepworth; the American photographer, Lee Miller; Henry More; Piet Mondrian; the celebrated portrait painter, George Romney, whose muse was Emma Hamilton; and several generations of the Gilbert Scotts. Sir George Gilbert Scott designed the Midland Hotel at London St Pancras and the Albert Memorial. His son George Gilbert Scott was also an architect but gave it up and died of cirrhosis of the liver in the Midland Hotel designed by his father, and is buried in St John’s-at-Hampstead. But his son Giles Gilbert Scott left his mark with Waterloo Bridge, Battersea Power station and the red pillar box.
There is a long list of politicians and social activists, particularly those of a left wing bent, who’ve made Hampstead their home. It includes Herbert Asquith, Liberal Prime Minister; Labour ministers Aneurin Bevan, Anthony Crosland, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, Douglas Jay and Lord Longford; Labour party leaders Michael Foot and Hugh Gaitskell; Ramsay MacDonald, Labour Prime Minister; Muhammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan; Lord Leverhulme, founder of Lever Bros and Liberal Party politician; William Pitt the Elder, Prime Minister; Sidney and Beatrice Webb, co-founders of the London School of Economics and the Fabian Society, forerunner of the Labour Party. Charles de Gaulle lived there during his exile in the Second World War. We saw the unusual Roman Catholic chapel where he worshipped.
Famous scientists and medical workers who’ve lived there include Sigmund Freud; Andrew Huxley; Julian Huxley; Florence Nightingale and Marie Stopes, the birth control pioneer. There are also a number of less well known but equally distinguished Nobel Prize winners.
More millionaires live in Hampstead than any other part of London. Their numbers have been boosted in recent years by many of Arsenal’s foreign players including Andrey Arshavin; Cesc Fabregas; Thierry Henry; Samir Nasri; and Robin van Persie. Other famous celebrities who’ve resided there include Sir A. J. Ayer, the philosopher; Sir Richard Burton, the explorer; the art historians Lord Clark and Sir Ernest Gombrich; King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece while in exile; Clement Freud; Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, brewing magnate and philanthropist; Rowland Hill, postal reformer; Charles Saatchi; and Michael Ventris, who deciphered Linear B.
We passed The Magdala public house where Ruth Ellis shot her lover, David Blakely, a racing driver already engaged to another woman. She immediately gave herself up to the police, took full responsibility at her trial and was hanged at Holloway prison. She was the last woman to be executed in the UK. While John was telling this tale a passer–by lingered. He said he had lived in the street all his life, was ten at the time and came down to see the police arrest Ellis and clear away the dead body. He described it as a crime passionnel. The bullet holes can still be seen in the pub wall.
We then made our way up Parliament Hill to see the wonderful view across London to the City and beyond to the hills on the south side. This is one of the six protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral. The others are from Alexandra Palace; Kenwood House; Primrose Hill; Greenwich Park and Blackheath Point. The St Paul’s Heights Policy came in in 1938 but there are 39 existing buildings which infringe it.
There are many famous pubs in Hampstead and on the Heath. There’s the Spaniard’s Inn frequented by Dick Turpin and other highwaymen, immortalised by Dickens in Pickwick Papers and where Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale; Bram Stoker allegedly got the idea of Dracula from one of the pub’s ghost stories. We saw the Holly Bush Inn where a ghost is reputedly seen regularly to this day. But we finished up in The Garden Gate for traditional fellowship and good food and drink.
[iii] In the Middle Ages Unready meant ill advised.