Gracie Fields House
Dame Gracie Fields had this house made for her. She was Britain�s first iconic movie star between the wars, after being a huge success as a comedian and singer on the stage. She lived here during her successes before she moved to Capri to recover from illness.
Keats House is where the poet John Keats lived from 1818 to 1820, and is the setting that inspired some of Keat's most memorable poetry. Here, Keats wrote 'Ode to a Nightingale', and fell in love with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door.We stumbled upon the house while taking a short cut from Hampstead High Street to the Heath. The house is in a beautiful setting and well worth a look
Dick Turpin's local?
If you've been out for a walk on Hampstead Heath (see seperate tip) you could do a lot worse than visit the Spaniards Inn for a spot of light refreshment.
Built in 1585 as a country house for the Spanish ambassador, it is a lovely old-fashioned pub with a spacious beer garden. Legend has it that Dick Turpin, the famous highwayman, drank here, although historically it is unlikely. Still, let's not let the truth get in the way of a good story!
I am told that the food is very good (if somewhat expensive) although I have never dined here myself.
The small building on the left of the picture is the old toll booth, which is a listed building and cannot be torn down which leads to some horrendous traffic jams on that part of the road..
If you have been walking your dog on the Heath, there is even a doggy wash, would you believe?
I have a particular personal, is somewhat sad, affection for the place as it was here that we had the musicians wake for a very dear friend. The late Bridie Staunton was a long-standing member of a band I played in for many, many years and still jam with occasionally, who sadly passed away in November 2004. The family, specifically her daughter, the Oscar nominated Imelda Staunton, had asked for all her late Mother's musician friends to turn up and have what we call a session. i.e. an informal jam. In the event, so many musicians turned up that they oculd not even accommodate us all in the one room, and we had to set up two different sessions. It was a superb send off and I know Bridie would simply have loved it.
I know this is somewhat off the topic of explaining the plae to you, for which I apologise but I do suggest that if you are in the area that you visit this pub, it is a delightful place with a huge amount of history.
- Beer Tasting
- Food and Dining
- Wine Tasting
Spa water and the spring in the village
In 1703 a Dr William Gibbons first highlighted the medicinal qualities of Hampstead's spa water. He lived at nearby Burgh House but the spring is seen in Well Walk and this was what first attracted people to Hampstead and made it a spa town in much the same way Cheltenham or Harrogate became spa towns. The water was supposed to have health benefits but I understand this spring is no longer used. (There is a natural spring somewhere on the Heath but the water is a reddish colour and has a strange taste).
Water from this pump was bottled and sold for 3d (1.5p) in the pub in Flask Walk - visitors to the village there to sample the waters stayed at the nearby Wells Tavern.
I am not sure why the spa attraction never continued - the nearest spa town is Tunbridge Wells which is over 40 miles away. Perhaps there is a case for re-inventing Hampstead as a spa town.
- Historical Travel
It never fails to amaze me that this beautiful wooded and grassland area is a mere 4 miles from central London and sits in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It is one of the worlds largest urban parks and so large it is quite easy to get lost but as there always many people around it is easy to ask for directions.
The quickest way across the Heath to Highgate is to take the path at the end of Well Walk and then in just 30 minutes after a pleasant walk you arrive at Highgate ponds.
The paths are generally good but after rain can be muddy in places.
The Heath is not safe after dark although it is allegedly patrolled by PCSOs.
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
St Johns, Hampstead
St Johns is a large parish church with an overgrown graveyard though passable on the gravel paths that twist through it. The tomb of John Constable is here who died in Hampstead in 1837 after many years of living in the village. The graveyard is actually eerie and sinister even on a May morning but more so more recently on a dull Sunday morning in November. The gigantic trees and shadowy stillness add to this as you wend your way around the church grounds.
It is thought that this was the graveyard in which Bram Stoker (1847 - 1912) placed the vault that housed the undead Lucy Westenra in Dracula and it is easy to imagine Van Helsing and Dr Seward standing here.
I am not religious but as the church is never locked I always go in - there is a wonderful sense of calm in the church which seems larger inside than it actually is. There is also a WC here that is open for anyone visiting the area.
- Historical Travel
The Whetstone Pond
You will have seen the Whetstone Pond on English TV shows or films that have been set prior to 1939 with typical scenes of nannies taking babies for walks around the pond or boys sailing toy boats in it.
The Wheststone Pond is at the top of Heath Street, past the Observatory, and it was named for its 'white stone', or milestone. This is where the horses who had struggled all the way up the hill would get to drink and recover for a few minutes before carrying on their journey north.
It was empty for many years and a sad reflection of former glories but today busy again - mainly elderly men with very expensive looking model boats or children playing with toy yachts.
There is some seating and this is a pleasant place to sit (despite the traffic) if you have walked up from the village.
The Viaduct on the Heath
I was intrigued to see a large viaduct take a wide path across a pond - I have found out that this viaduct was part of an ill fated plan by a Sir Thomas Wilson (he was Lord Mayor of Hampstead at the time) from 1845 to build 28 villas constructed a strip of land east of the Vale of Health and the Hampstead Ponds.
The villas were never built but the viaduct was and the views from either side of the viaduct are quite interesting. The swamp land was partially drained but a large pond was created on the Hampstead side of the viaduct and this provides a nice photo opportunity with a nice view to Hampstead village.
The Hampstead Observatory is situated near the corner of Heath Street and Hampstead Grove, near Whitestone Pond, at the highest point in London. It is on a high grass covered underground reservoir, enclosed by iron railings.
During open sessions the Observatory is manned by a demonstrator and an assistant who are are on hand to show visitors interesting objects through the telescope, and to answer their questions.
Please see the website for details of opening times.
The Vale of Health
This part of Hampstead Heath was originally known as Gangmoor, and later as Hatches (or Hatchett’s) Bottom, after an early18th-century cottager. The Hampstead Water Company created a pond here in 1777, which drained enough of the formerly malarial marsh to allow houses to be built.
There is still a pond here and it provides a nice vantage point over which you can view this "village" - the Vale of Heath is a small collection of pleasant villas which are colourful and interesting to look at but the area is spoiled by two ugly newish blocks of flats and a caravan park at the end of Byron Villas before you enter the Heath.
Famous residents included DH Lawrence, Stella Gibbons, Compton Mackenzie, Edgar Wallace and the Nobel prize winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
- Historical Travel
The spring on the Heath
If you read my tip on the Chaybeate Well you will read that there is a spring on the Heath still where the famous spa water comes from.
I have only seen one spring on the heath and there is a very small spring between Viaduct Bridge and the Vale of Health pond , close to the path on the right.
Jack Straws Castle
I always used to eat here in the 1970s but it is sad to see today it is a health club. The pub was/ is a 1960s folly - a castelled, weather boarded tavern in Georgian Gothic style .
However it is worth seeing from the outside - rebuilt after war damage in WW2 it is famed for having many famous visitors. The author Charles Dickens was a regular here for example. Also van Hesling and Dr Seward dined here before their midnight vigil at Lucy Westenras tomb ( see my St Johns Parish Church tip).
"Jack Straw" was a generic name for farm labourers and the pub was reputedly the rallying point for Hampstead farm labourers on their way to join Wat Tylers peasant revolt in 1381.
- Historical Travel
Countryside in the town
You might find it difficult to believe that the roadsign pictured is situated within fifteen minutes walk of a Zone 3 tube station, but it is. Amongst the many lovely park areas in London is Hampstead Heath, a huge expanse of grassland and forest which affords superb virews over the City. As the sign attests, there are deer here, although I personally have never seen any.
There are cycle tracks and paths throughout, and it is a great place for a walk or a picnic.
Visitors should be aware that Hampstead Heath is noted as being a gay cruising area in the evenings.
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
A Georgian house built in 1704 that is today a museum founded in 1979 by Christopher and Diana Wade housing over 3,000 objects relating to art and life in Hampstead. A permanent display of two rooms is located on the first floor, tracing Hampstead history from prehistoric times to the modern day.
There are a number of special events through the year involving talks and events.
There is a cafe with outdoor seating in he pleasant garden.
Admission is free but disabled access is not good.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
View unique and intresting art
Gallery K has been in hampstead for nearly 20 years it promotes Contemporary Greek Art in London, as well as non Greek contemporary artists. It shows work in every medium - paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, ceramics - both by new, undiscovered talents and by established artists.
Its current exhibition is of work by Ann Eastman (painting ‘Monarch of the Heath’ pictured) & Greek potter Sotis Filippides runs until the 5th July and is an inspiring take on natural textures and forms.
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits