Take the Northern Line towards Edgware, alight onto the platform at Hampstead, and you’ll be 192 feet below one of the most charming places in all of London.
Take the lift or pant up the 320 steps to the top and you will find yourself in a place that feels far from the centre of London. In contrast to the impersonal hub-bub that swarms beneath its hill, Hampstead feels more like a place on holiday. The locals are forever bumping into one another, but only for a chat. People have dogs, but they don’t look like they’ll eat you. Around every corner there’s at least one architectural delight. And on every street there are trees. The eighteenth century spa turned Hampstead into a health resort; the consequent crowds of visitors turned it into a pleasure resort; it has stayed that way ever since.
On Hampstead’s slopes you’ll find buildings of extraordinary architectural quality from every period from the late 17th century onwards. Traditional pubs, eateries and cafes, museums and of course the rolling green acres of the Heath just a short walk away.
Hampstead has long attracted the great, the good, the famous and the infamous. In famous writers and poets alone (and this is the shortlist) Hampstead would fill a library: Keats, William Blake, GM Hopkins, Auden, Dickens, Orwell, Waugh, Eliot, Lawrence, RL Stevenson, HG Wells, Goldsmith, Galsworthy, Priestley, Amis, AA Milne, Ian Fleming, Katherine Mansfield, Aldous Huxley, Agatha Christie, Stella Gibbons, Margaret Drabble.
Add to that famous artists, composers, architects, scientists, actors, prime ministers, presidents, thinkers and pioneers in every field, not to mention the infamous – from the regicide Sir Harry Vane in the 1660s to the Sex Pistols in the 1970s, and you know the place must have something special about it.
Now it is certainly true that Hampstead is not what it was – but then nowhere ever is. In 1898 a local writer bemoaned: ‘Hampstead, like every other part of London, has suffered from the vast and modern growth of London in recent years; still it may well be doubted whether any other part of London has suffered less. Certainly no place within the same easy distance of the City has retained so much of its old charm, so many of its ancient objects of interest, of its quaint nooks and byways, as Hampstead.’
Hampstead has gone through many changes over the centuries, but has still managed to keep its unique identity and rural feel. The aim of the Society is to see that it stays that way.
Did you know?
In the Domesday Book Hamestede was valued at 50 shillings – a small farm with pigs and ploughs.
In the early 1700s Hampstead became a popular spa destination, rivalling both Bath and Tunbridge Wells. It’s bitter ferruginous waters were said to cure gout, gravel, shingles and scrofula.
You can listen for free to music played on the country’s finest collections of early keyboard instruments at Fenton House (built c.1698), Hampstead’s oldest house.
At the village’s highest point Hampstead has its own observatory with a marvellous 6-inch refracting telescope, open and free to public.
During WWII the Borough of Hampstead was hit by 467 bombs and missiles and thousands of incendiaries, it suffered 1,134 casualties, of which over 200 were fatal.
So great was Hampstead author Ian Fleming’s dislike of the modern architectural masterpiece built at 2 Willow Road, he named his most famous villain after the architect: Goldfinger.
At the epicentre of the Hampstead Storm of 14 August 1975, it has been estimated that as much as 200mm of rain may have fallen in 95 minutes – the single greatest inundation over such a short period since records began.
Hampstead, it is said, has more millionaires within its boundaries than anywhere else in the UK.
The largest employer in Hampstead is the Royal Free Hospital, the first in the UK to train female doctors.
There were other reasons for coming to Hampstead in the late 17th century other than for healthy air and water. Protestant dissenters were forbidden to preach within 5 miles of Charing Cross, but in distant Hampstead they found sympathy. They registered a meeting place on Rosslyn Hill in 1691 and on that same site still stands today the Unitarian Chapel.
by Juliette Sonabend. Hampstead has been home to many famous and influential people, from those who have changed the way we think, to those who have changed the way we shop.Read More
The Society has supported a number of important local community projects, such as the saving and renovation of Hampstead Town Hall as an arts and educational centre,Read More
In the late l980s developers applied for permission to raze New End Hospital to the ground. Once again a fine Victorian building seemed doomed to destructionRead More
London’s open air museum: buildings, famous people, nature, social history. HIGHGATE NORTH HILL – The most architecturally diverse residential street in London?Read More
The Northern Heights Partnership is an alliance of four not-for-profit organisations, co-ordinated by the Highgate Society, whose common aim is to protect and promote the historic heritage and natural beauty of London’s Northern Heights.Read More
The Town Committee focuses exclusively on the interests of Hampstead Town, a range of vital and sometimes controversial matters:Read More