Hidden Hampstead | Hampstead
Hampstead is one of the prettiest parts of London. Narrow, winding, hilly streets of tall, slim townhouses, oversized lanterns, ancient pubs and cobbled streets. It’s unspoilt and impossibly atmospheric and provides a welcome respite from the endless rows of Victorian architecture that characterise so much of London.
One of the best ways to discover Hampstead is with the help of London’s Hidden Walks, one of our favourite London guide books. The book eschews the showy, famous London, focusing instead on the hidden treasures and history-laden, quiet lanes off the main thoroughfares.
Until the mid 17th century Hampstead was a tiny village sitting on top of a hill looking down on the city below. When the diseases came, wealthy Londoners moved up the hill to take the water and the air and to escape the dread of cholera, consumption and smallpox. It’s fascinating to think that such a gentile, pretty town emerged from something so vile and destructive. By 1800 Hampstead had become a suburban town and soon the relentless march of Victorian development flooded up the hill from London and gobbled it up.
Hampstead’s cultural heritage is everywhere to see. The number of writers, poets, artists, photographers, musicians, actors and film makers that have lived there is really quite overwhelming and impossible to keep track of. Blue plaques seem to be on every other building, the houses wearing them with nonchalant pride like rows of Brownies who earned their badges of merit a very long time ago.
Hampstead oozes literature through every brick. On the walk you will discover where Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale and see the former homes of DH Lawrence, JB Priestly, Daphne du Maurier, HG Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson. You will walk past the home of Lee Miller and innumerable houses that Constable lived in. There are also those of more modern residents such as Jim Henson, Boy George and Dame Judy Dench.
There are delightful old pubs hiding down alleys. Gloriously unmodernised with that inviting warm, beery smell which makes you want to curl up in front of a fire. Then there is the eerie, overgrown graveyard where Constable is buried and where Bram Stoker located Lucy Westenra’s grave in his book Dracula.
The walk ends at the fabulous Fenton House, a 17th century merchant’s house set in an unfeasibly large garden, given its location. Wandering around the gnarly orchard and past the farm-type buildings, it is easy to imagine you are in the middle of the country.
A walk around Hampstead makes for a rather lovely break from London, without having to actually leave London at all.
The Well Walk Pottery