Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
HAMPSTEAD (continued).—THE TOWN.
"A steeple issuing from a leafy rise,
With balmy fields in front, and sloping green,
Dear Hampstead, is thy southern face serene,
Silently smiling on approaching eyes.
Within, thine ever-shifting looks surprise,
Streets, hills, and dells, trees overhead now seen,
Now down below, with smoking roofs between—
A village revelling in varieties.
Then northward, what a range—with heath and pond,
Nature's own ground; woods that let mansions through,
And cottaged vales, with pillowy fields beyond,
And clumps of darkening pines, and prospects blue,
And that clear path through all, where daily meet
Cool cheeks, and brilliant eyes, and morn-elastic feet."—Leigh Hunt.
Description of the Town—Heath Street—The Baptist Chapel—Whitefield's Preaching at Hampstead—The Public Library—Romney, the Painter—The "Hollybush"—The Assembly Rooms—Agnes and Joanna Baillie—The Clock House—Branch Hill Lodge—The Fire Brigade Station—The "Lower Flask Inn"—Flask Walk—Fairs held there—The Militia Barracks—Mrs. Tennyson—Christ Church—The Wells—Concerts and Balls—Irregular Marriages—The Raffling Shops—Well Walk—John Constable—John Keats—Geological Formation of the Northern Heights.
The town of Hampstead is built on the slope of the hill leading up to the Heath, as Mr. Thorne, in his "Environs" styles it, "in an odd, sidelong, tortuous, irregular, and unconnected fashion. There are," he adds, "the fairly-broad winding High Street, and other good streets and lanes, lined with large old brick houses, within highwalled enclosures, over which lean ancient trees, and alongside them houses small and large, without a scrap of garden, and only a very little dingy yard; narrow and dirty byways, courts, and passages, with steep flights of steps, and mean and crowded tenements; fragments of open green spaces, and again streets and lanes bordered with shady elms and limes. On the whole, however, the pleasanter and sylvan character prevails, especially west of the main street. The trees along the streets and lanes are the most characteristic and redeeming feature of the village. Hampstead was long ago 'the place of groves,' and it retains its early distinction. It is the most sylvan of sub urban villages." Besides these avenues or groves, almost every part of "old Hampstead" is distinguished by rows of trees, of either lime or elm, planted along the broad footpaths in true boulevard fashion. Mr. Howitt, in his "Northern Heights," in writing on this subject, says: "Its old narrow roads winding under tall trees, are continually conducting to fresh and secluded places, that seem hidden from the world, and would lead you to suppose yourselves far away from London, and in some especially old-fashioned and old-world part of the country. Extensive old and lofty walls enclose the large old brick houses and grounds of what were once the great merchants' and nobles' of London; and ever and anon you are reminded of people and things which lead your recollection back to the neighbouring capital and its intruding histories."
Like Tunbridge Wells and other fashionable resorts of the same kind, Hampstead was not without its inducements for the "wealthy, the idle, and sickly," who flocked thither; and "houses of entertainment and dissipation started up on all sides." The taverns had their "long-rooms" and assemblyrooms for concerts, balls, and card parties; and attached to them were tea-gardens and bowlinggreens. On the Heath races were held, as we have stated in the previous chapter; fairs were held in the Flask Walk, and the Well Walk and Church Row became the fashionable promenades of the place. But to proceed.
Leaving the Lower or East Heath, with its pleasant pathways overlooking the Vale of Health, the "ponds," and the distant slopes of Highgate behind us, we descend Heath Mount and Heath Street, and so make our way into the town. On our left, as we proceed down the hill, we pass the Baptist Chapel which was built for the Rev. William Brock, about the year 1862. It is a good substantial edifice, and its two towers are noticeable features in its architecture. This fabric, or rather its predecessor on the same site, is not without its historical reminiscences. "The Independent congregation at Hampstead," says Mr. Howitt, "is supposed to owe its origin to the preaching of Whitefield there in 1739, who, in his journal of May 17, of that year, says, 'Preached, after several invitations thither, at Hampstead Heath, about five miles from London. The audience was of the politer sort, and I preached very near the horse course, which gave me occasion to speak home to the souls concerning our spiritual race. Most were attentive, but some mocked. Thus the Word of God is either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.' The congregation experienced its share of the persecutions of those times. The earliest mention of the chapel is 1775." It was some time leased by Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who relinquished her right in 1782. The present fabric is called Heath Street Chapel.
In a house on the same side of Heath Street is the Hampstead Public Library. After undergoing many vicissitudes of fortune, this institution seems to have taken a new lease of life with the commencement of 1877.
On our right, between the High Street and the Heath, lived—from 1797 to 1799, George Romney, the famous painter. He removed hither from his residence in Cavendish Square. (fn. 1) He took great pains in constructing for himself a country house, between the "Hollybush Inn" and the Heath, with a studio adjoining. He did not derive, however, any great pleasure from his investment, for he entered the house when it was still wet, and he never enjoyed a day of good health afterwards. Allan Cunningham, in his "Lives of British Painters," says that Romney had resolved to withdraw to the pure air and retirement of Hampstead "to paint the vast historical conceptions for which all this travail had been undergone, and imagined that a new hour of glory was come;" but after a few months—a little more than a year—finding his health growing worse and worse, he made up his mind to return back to the wife whom more than a quarter of a century before he had deserted, and who nursed him carefully till his death. The great artist's studio was subsequently converted into the Assembly Rooms. These rooms were erected on the principle of a tontine; but all sorts of legal difficulties arose, and no one knows who is now the rightful owner. Here for many years—1820 to 1860—were held, at first every month, and subsequently every quarter of a year, conversazioni, to which the resident artistic and literary celebrities used to lend all sorts of works of art to enliven the winter evenings. The cessation of these pleasant gatherings was much regretted. About 1868 an attempt was made to revive these gatherings by means of a succession of lectures during the winter, but these also came to an end after the second season.
The "Hollybush" is not at all an uncommon sign in England, and as it is generally found near to a church, we may conclude that it points back to the ancient custom—now so generally revived amongst us—of decking our houses with evergreens at Christmas. It is said that this custom is as old as the times of the Druids.
The sisters Agnes and Joanna Baillie lived in the central house of a terrace consisting of three mansions facing the Assembly Rooms at the back of the "Hollybush Inn." The house is now called Bolton House, and is next door but one to Windmill Hill, a name which points to the fact of a windmill having stood there at one time. Joanna Baillie, who is well known for her "Plays on the Passions," enjoyed no small fame as a poetess, and was the author of several plays, which were praised by Sir Walter Scott. Basil and De Montfort, however, were the only tragedies of Miss Joanna Baillie that were performed on the London stage, though The Family Secret was brought out with some success at the Edinburgh Theatre.
In Mr. H. Crabbe Robinson's "Diary," under date of May, 1812, we find the following particulars of this amiable and accomplished lady:—"Joined Wordsworth in the Oxford Road (i.e., Oxford Street); we then got into the fields, and walked to Hampstead. … We met Miss Joanna Baillie, and accompanied her home. She is small in figure, and her gait is mean and shuffling; but her manners are those of a well-bred lady. She has none of the unpleasant airs too common to literary ladies. Her conversation is sensible. She possesses apparently considerable information, is prompt without being forward, and has a fixed judgment of her own, without any disposition to force it on others. Wordsworth said of her with warmth, 'If I had to present to a foreigner any one as a model of an English gentlewoman, it would be Joanna Baillie.'"
Indeed, according to the testimony of all those who knew her, Joanna Baillie was a plain, simple, homely, unpretending woman, who made no effort to dazzle others, and was not easily dazzled by others. She loved her home, and she and her sister contrived to make that home for many years a centre of all that was good, as well as intellectual.
"I believe," says Miss Sedgwick, an American lady, "of all my pleasures here, dear J. will most envy me that of seeing Joanna Baillie, and of seeing her repeatedly at her home—the best point of view for all best women. She lives on Hampstead Hill, a few miles from town, in a modest house, with Miss Agnes Baillie, her only sister, a kindly and agreeable person. Miss Baillie—I write this for J., for women always like to know how one another look and dress—Miss Baillie has a wellpreserved appearance: her face has nothing of the vexed or sorrowful expression that is often so deeply stamped by a long experience of life. It indicates a strong mind, great sensibility, and the benevolence that, I believe, always proceeds from it if the mental constitution be a sound one, as it eminently is in Miss Baillie's case. She has a pleasing figure, what we call lady-like—that is, delicate, erect, and graceful; not the large-boned, muscular frame of most English women. She wears her own gray hair—a general fashion, by the way, here, which I wish we elderly ladies of America may have the courage and the taste to imitate; and she wears the prettiest of brown silk gowns and bonnets, fitting the beau-ideal of an old lady—an ideal she might inspire, if it has no pre-existence. You would, of course, expect her to be free from pedantry and all modes of affectation; but I think you would be surprised to find yourself forgetting, in a domestic and confiding feeling, that you were talking with the woman whose name is best established among the female writers of her country; in short, forgetting everything but that you were in the society of a most charming private gentlewoman."
The Quarterly Review also gives her the credit of having borne a most tasteful and effective, though subordinate part, in that entire and wonderful revolution of the public taste in works of imagination and in literature generally, which contrasts this century with the latter half of the last. "Unversed in the ancient languages and literature, and by no means accomplished in those of her own age, or even of her own country, this remarkable woman owed it, partly to the simplicity of her Scottish education, partly to the influence of the better part of Burns's poetry, but chiefly to the spontaneous action of her own powerful genius, that she was able at once, and apparently without effort, to come forth the mistress of a masculine style of thought and diction, which constituted then, as it constitutes now, the characteristic merit of her writings, and which contributed most beneficially to the already commenced reformation of the literary principles of the century."
We learn from Lockhart's "Life," that Sir Walter Scott, too, on being asked whether among poets born north of the Tweed he preferred Burns or Campbell, gave no direct answer, but said, "If you wish to speak of a real poet, Joanna Baillie is now the highest genius of our country." In fact, Scott was one of her most ardent admirers. Mentioning in a letter at the time his own "House of Aspen," he says, "The 'Plays of the Passions' have put me entirely out of conceit with my Germanised brat." His esteem of the talents of the author led, in Miss Baillie's case, as in that of Miss Edgeworth and others, to Scott's acquaintance and friendship with the woman. The cordial and agreeable intimacy between Miss Baillie and Scott, which ceased but with the life of the latter, dates from his introduction to her at Hampstead, in 1806, by the translator and poet, Sotheby. Joanna Baillie herself, many years afterwards, described the interview to a friend as one of the most remarkable events of her life. She, from that period of their first acquaintance, became a continual correspondent of the mighty minstrel; and some of the most entertaining letters he ever wrote are addressed to her. The author of the "Man of Feeling" was also her friend. The prologue to the play of The Family Legend was written by Scott, the epilogue by Mackenzie. Joanna Baillie was honoured also from Lord Byron with the remark that she was the only woman who could write a tragedy.
When her "Plays on the Passions" were first published, they appeared without a name, and great was the speculation of the public as to who the author could be. Mrs. Piozzi stood almost single-handed in maintaining that they were the work of a woman; and she tells us, what is in itself a proof of the faulty taste and judgment of her age, that no sooner was their authorship owned by "an unknown girl" than the work fell so much in value as to become almost unsaleable.
William Howitt, who knew her in her Hampstead home, calls her a "powerful dramatic writer," a "graceful and witty lyrist," and a "sweet and gentle woman." Miss Berry says that her tragedies were highly appreciated by that connoisseur of literature and art, Sir George Beaumont, who sent them to Charles James Fox, and that the latter was in such raptures about them that he wrote a critique of five pages upon the subject.
Miss Lucy Aikin has preserved a few traits of her character, having been acquainted with her through meeting her at Mr. Barbauld's house. She was shy and reserved to a degree, for the "expression of all emotions, even the most gentle and the most honourable to human nature, seems to have been the constant lesson taught by her parents in her Presbyterian home." The first thing which drew upon Joanna the admiring notice of Hampstead society was the devoted assiduity of her attention to her mother, then blind as well as aged, and whom she attended day and night. But this part of her duty came at length to its natural termination; and the secret of her authorship having been at length permitted to transpire, she was no longer privileged to sit in the shade, shuffling off upon others her own fair share of conversation. Latterly her discourse flowed freely enough; but even then it was less on books than on real life and the aspects of rural nature that she loved to talk. "Her genius," writes Miss Aikin, "had shrouded itself under so thick a veil of silent reserve, that its existence seems scarcely to have been ever suspected beyond the domestic circle when the 'Plays on the Passions' burst upon the world. The dedication of the volume to Dr. Baillie gave a hint in what quarter the author was to be sought; but the person chiefly suspected was the accomplished widow of his uncle, John Hunter. Of Joanna, at all events, no one dreamed on this occasion. She and her sister—I well remember the scene—arrived on a morning call at Mr. Barbauld's; my aunt immediately introduced the topic of the anonymous tragedies, and gave utterance to her admiration with that generous delight in the manifestation of kindred genius which always distinguished her. But not even the sudden delight of such praise, so given, would seduce our Scottish damsel into self-betrayal. The faithful sister rushed forward, as we afterwards recollected, to bear the brunt, while the unsuspected author of the 'Plays' lay snugly wrapt up in the asylum of her taciturnity."
Miss Aikin remarks that in spite of her long residence in the neighbourhood of London, Joanna Baillie retained her Scotch predilections to the last. She died in 1851, at the age of ninety, carrying with her to the grave the love, reverence, and regrets of all who had enjoyed her society.
Hard by the house of Joanna Baillie is an old mansion named Fenton House, but generally known as "The Clock House," from a clock which adorned its front, though now superseded by a sundial; the house is chiefly remarkable for its heavy high-pitched roof, not unlike that of many a château in Normandy. It now belongs to a member of Lord Mansfield's family.
The large red-brick house, on the left in ascending from Hollybush Hill towards the Heath, is called Branch Hill Lodge. It was in part rebuilt about the year 1745 for Sir Thomas Clark, Master of the Rolls. The house was afterwards the residence of Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, and subsequently, among others, of Lord Loughborough, before his removal to Rosslyn House, where we shall presently speak of him again. At the close of the last century it was purchased of Colonel Parker, a younger son of Lord Macclesfield, by Sir Thomas Neave, who, as Lysons states in his "Environs of London," here had "a very large and most valuable collection of painted glass, a great part of which was procured from various convents on the Continent, immediately after the French Revolution."
At the junction of Heath and High Street is the Fire Brigade Station, an attractive building of coloured bricks, with a lofty watch tower and clock, erected by public subscription in 1870; it commands a view over a large extent of country. Mr. G. Vulliamy was the architect.
On the east slope of the hill, and covering the ground on our left as we descend Heath Street and the High Street, lies that portion of the town which may fairly lay claim to being called "Old Hampstead." Our approach to this once fashionable quarter is by a narrow passage out of the High Street, which brings us at once to the "Lower Flask Tavern," which we have incidentally mentioned at the close of the previous chapter.
The "Flask" is a very appropriate, and therefore a very common, sign to mark a house devoted to the service of topers. There was a celebrated "Flask" in Pimlico; and the "Upper" and "Lower Flasks" at Hampstead are historical.
Flask Walk, which runs eastward from the tavern, is a long straggling thoroughfare, in part planted with trees along the edge of the broad pavement. In the triangular space near the end—now a pleasant grass-plat—an annual fair was formerly held. It was noted for its riotous character; conducted as it was much on the same principle as the celebrated "Bartlemy Fair" in Smithfield. An advertisement on the cover of the original edition of the Spectator is as follows:—"This is to give notice, that Hampstead Fair is to be kept upon the Lower Flask Tavern Walk, on Friday, the first of August, and holds (i.e., lasts) for four days." Formerly the Flask Walk was open to the High Street, and was shaded throughout with fine trees; many of these, however, are now gone, and small houses have taken their place. In Flask Walk were formerly the parish stocks. Not long ago some busy-bodies wanted to change the name of the thoroughfare, but common sense ruled otherwise.
One of the chief sources of the Fleet, as we have already stated, was in Hampstead; it rose in a spring nearly under the walls of Gardnor House, at the east end of Flask Walk, and within a hundred yards westward of the old Wells. At the junction of Flask Walk and Well Walk, and nearly opposite the "Wells Tavern," are the Middlesex Militia Barracks, a spacious brick building, partly formed out of an old mansion, called Burgh House, two projecting wings having been added. The barracks was built in 1863, from the designs of Mr. Henry Pownall.
In a house at the corner of Flask Row, opposite to the Militia Barracks, the mother of the poet Tennyson spent the last years of her life; and here she died about the year 1861. It is almost needless to add that up to that date Alfred Tennyson was a constant visitor at Hampstead, and was frequently to be seen strolling on the Heath wrapped up in thought, though he mixed little with Hampstead society. Mrs. Tennyson lies buried in Highgate Cemetery.
Close by this spot, on the sloping ground leading up to Squire's Mount, is one of the many religious edifices of the town, Christ Church, a large Perpendicular building, with a lofty spire, which serves as a landmark for miles around; this church was built in 1852. In the same neighbourhood is the new workhouse, a large and well-built structure of brick and stone, together with the other parochial offices.
Both Flask Walk and Well Walk have an air of fading gentility about them, and, like many of the other streets and lanes in the village, they are planted with rows of shady limes or elms, which every year, however, are becoming fewer and fewer.
Well Walk (which connects Flask Walk with the lower portion of East Heath) and the "Wells Tavern" still serve to keep in remembrance the famous "wells," which commanded an open view across the green fields towards Highgate.
In the days of the early celebrity of its "waters," Hampstead must have rivalled Tunbridge Wells and Epsom; and its Well Walk in the morning, with all its gay company of gentlemen in laced ruffles and powdered wigs, and of ladies in hoops of monstrous size, must have reminded one of the Mall in St. James's Park, or the gardens of Kensington Palace. At the time when London was surrounded by "spas" and "wells"—when the citizens resorted to Bagnigge Wells in the morning, to Sadlers' Wells and the White Conduit in the evening, and to Tunbridge Wells, Bath, and Cheltenham in the summer and autumn—the springs of Hampstead were in great repute, and they were, no doubt, exceedingly beneficial to people whose principal complaints were those of idleness, dissipation, and frivolity. A local physician wrote a long account of these valuable waters, describing them in terms of extravagant hyperbole, and lauding their virtues to the skies. The analysis which he publishes is, however, a curious practical comment on his rapturous enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, the water was and is simply exceedingly pure spring water, with a faint trace of earthy salts such as those of iron, magnesia, and lime. The total amount of solid matter is but seven grains to the gallon—about as much as is to be found in the water of the Kent Company, and about a fourth of the quantity held in solution by the water of the companies which derive their supply from the Thames. Other physicians were to be found who were as ready as him of Hampstead to trumpet the merits of the spa. Says one of them, "It is a stimulant diuretic, very beneficial in chronic diseases arising from languor of the circulation, general debility of the system, or laxity of the solids, or in all cases where tonics and gentle stimulants are required, and in cutaneous affections. The season for drinking it is from April to the end of October."
The "Wells," we need hardly say, formed one of the leading features of Hampstead in its palmy days. As far back as the year 1698 they are spoken of by the name of "The Wells;" and two years later it is ordered by the authorities of the Manor Court, "that the spring lyeing by the purging wells be forthwith brot to the toune of Hamsted, at the parish charge, and yt ye money profitts arising thereout be applied towrds easing the Poor Rates hereafter to be made." It was not long before they came into fashion and general use. The Postman of April, 1700, announces that "the chalybeate waters of Hampstead, being of the same nature, and equal in virtue, with Tunbridge Wells, are sold by Mr. R. Philps, apothecary, at the "Eagle and Child," in Fleet Street, every morning, at threepence per flask, and conveyed to persons at their own houses for one penny more. [N.B.—The flask to be returned daily.]"
Early in the eighteenth century we meet with advertisements to the effect that the mineral waters from the wells at Hampstead might be obtained from the "lessee," who lived "at the 'Black Posts,' in King Street, near Guildhall." They are also to be had at ten or twelve other houses in London, including "Sam's Coffee-house, near Ludgate, and the 'Sugar Loaf,' at Charing Cross."
In 1734, Mr. John Soame, M.D., published some directions for drinking the Hampstead waters, which he designated the "Inexhaustible Fountain of Health." In this work the worthy doctor placed on record some "experiments of the Hampstead waters, and histories of cures." Hampstead has long been celebrated for the choice medicinal herbs growing abundantly in its fields and hedgerows; and Dr. Soame in his pamphlet tells us how that "the Apothecaries Company very seldom miss coming to Hampstead every spring, and here have their herbalising feast. I have heard them say," he adds, "that they have found a greater variety of curious and useful plants near and about Hampstead than in any other place."
For the first ten or twelve years of the last century the Wells seem to have been in full favour, for at that time dancing and music were added to the attractions of the place. In the Postman, of August 14–16, 1701, it is announced that "At Hampstead Wells, on Monday next, being the 18th of this instant August, will be performed a Consort (sic) of both vocal and instrumental musick, with some particular performance of both kinds, by the best masters, to begin at 10 o'clock precisely. Tickets will be delivered at the said Wells for 1s. per ticket; and Dancing in the afternoon for 6d. per ticket, to be delivered as before." In September the following advertisement appeared:—"In the Great Room at Hampstead Wells, on Monday next, being the 15th instant, exactly at 11 o'clock forenoon, will be performed a Consort of vocal and instrumental musick, by the best masters; and, at the request of several gentlemen, Jemmy Bowen will perform several songs, and particular performances on the violin by 2 several masters. Tickets to be had at the Wells, and at Stephen's Coffeehouse in King Street, Bloomsbury, at 1s. each ticket. There will be Dancing in the afternoon, as usual." In 1702, the London Post, for May 5, has this advertisement:—"Hampstead Consort. In the Great Room of Hampstead Wells, on Monday next, the 11th instant, will be performed a Consort of vocal and instrumental musick by the best masters, with particular entertainments on the violin by Mr. Dean, beginning exactly at 11 o'clock, rain or fair. To continue every Monday, at the same place and time, during the season of drinking the waters. Tickets to be had at Stephen's Coffeehouse, in Bloomsbury, and at the Wells (by reason the room is very large) at one shilling each ticket. There will be dancing in the afternoon as usual." The Postboy, of May 8–10, 1707, informs "all persons that have occasion to drink the Hampstead mineral waters, that the Wells will be open on Monday next, with very good music for dancing all day long, and to continue every Monday during the season;" and it further adds that "there is all needful accommodation for water-drinkers of both sex (sic), and all other entertainments for good eating and drinking, and a very pleasant bowlinggreen, with convenience of coach-horses; and very good stables for fine horses, with good attendance; and a farther accommodation of a stage-coach and chariot from the Wells at any time in the evening or morning." No. 201 of the Tatler, July 22, 1710, contains the following announcement:—"A Consort of Musick will be performed in the Great Room at Hampstead this present Saturday, the 22nd instant, at the desire of the gentlemen and ladies living in and near Hampstead, by the best masters. Several of the Opera songs by a girl of nine years, a scholar of Mr. Tenoe's, who never performed in public but once at York Buildings with very good success. To begin exactly at five, for the conveniency of gentlemen's returning. Tickets to be had only at the Wells, at 2s. and 6d. each. For the benefit of Mr. Tenoe."
Gay, author of the "Fables" and the Beggar's Opera, drank of the waters and rambled about the Heath in 1727, and was cured of the colic; but his friend, Dr. Arbuthnot, had less success a few years afterwards, perhaps from medical want of faith. While he was staying there, Pope used to visit him; and then it probably was that the worthy doctor enjoyed those meetings with Pope's friend, Murray, which Cowper celebrated.
In more than one novel, written about the middle of the last century, we are treated with some remarks upon the visitors to the Wells at Hampstead, where we get a glimpse of the vulgar cockneyism which had succeeded to the witty flirtations of the fine ladies and gentlemen of fifty years previously. One author tells us how Madame Duval, rouged and decked in all the colours of the rainbow, danced a minuet; how "Beau Smith" pestered the pensive Evelina, who was thinking only of the accomplished and uncomfortably perfect Lord Orville, and much annoyed at the vulgar impertinence of the young men who begged the favour of "hopping a dance with her." Of the Long Room our author says: "The room seems very well named, for I believe it would be difficult to find any other epithet which might with propriety distinguish it, as it is without ornament, elegance, or any sort of singularity, and merely to be marked by its length." This building was used for many years previous to 1850 as a chapel of ease to the parish church; and a few years later was fitted up as the drill-room for the Hampstead (3rd Middle-sex) Volunteers.
Nor is this all that we have to say about the Wells. From an advertisement in the Postboy, April 18, 1710, it appears that Hampstead rivalled for a time Mayfair (fn. 2) and the Fleet (fn. 3) in the practice of performing "irregular" marriages, and that the "Wells" even enjoyed sufficient popularity to have a chapel of their own.
"As there are many weddings at Zion Chapel, Hampstead," we read, "five shillings only is required for all the church fees of any couple that are married there, provided they bring with them a licence or certificate according to the Act of Parliament. Two sermons are continued to be preached in the said chapel every Sunday; and the place will be given to any clergyman that is willing to accept of it, if he is approved of."
The lessee at this time was one Howell, who was commonly spoken of as "the Welsh ambassador," and under his management irregular marriages were frequently celebrated. The advertisements of the period show pretty plainly what was the nature of the proceedings here. One notice which appeared in 1711 announced that those who go to be married must carry with them licences or dispensations, a formality which we may readily imagine was not unfrequently dispensed with. In Read's Weekly Journal, September 8, 1716, it is announced that "Sion Chapel, at Hampstead, being a private and pleasure place, many persons of the best fashion have lately been married there. Now, as a minister is obliged constantly to attend, this is to give notice that all persons upon bringing a licence, and who shall have their wedding dinner in the gardens, may be married in that said chapel without giving any fee or reward whatsoever; and such as do not keep their wedding dinner at the gardens, only five shillings will be demanded of them for all fees."
The exact site of this chapel is no longer known, but in all probability it adjoined the Wells, and belonged to the keeper of the adjoining tavern. There can be little doubt that it was a capital speculation before the trade in such matters was spoiled, a century or so ago, by the introduction of the "Private Marriage Act," so cruelly introduced by Lord Hardwicke.
This being the condition of the place, we need not be surprised to learn that its popularity with certain classes was unbounded. In fact, so much was Hampstead the rage at the beginning of the last century, that in the comedy of Hampstead Heath above referred to we find one of the characters, "Arabella," the wife of a citizen, thus telling us what she thinks of the place:—
"Well, this Hampstead's a charming place, to dance all night at the Wells, and be treated at Mother Huff's; to have presents made one at the raffling shops, and then take a walk in Caen Wood with a man of wit. But to be five or six miles from one's husband!—marriage were a happy state could one be always five or six miles from one's husband."
This, we need scarcely remark, is a sentiment very congenial with the morals—or rather want of morals—which marked the age. The "Mother Huff" referred to so admiringly by the lady, was better known in the gossiping literature of the time by the even less euphonious name of "Mother Damnable." As we have seen in a previous chapter, (fn. 4) she appears to have been a person of accommodating disposition, who fixed her modest abode near the junction of the roads leading to Hampstead and through Kentish Town to Highgate, and made herself useful and agreeable to such modish ladies as Arabella and her witty friend.
The "raffling shops," also alluded to, are mentioned in the Tatler, in which Mr. Isaac Bickerstaffe, otherwise Sir Richard Steele, the "Christian hero," thought fit, as censor of public morals, to call attention to them. Writing in August, 1709, he says:—"I am diverted from my train of discourse by letters from Hampstead, which give me an account there is a late institution there under the name of a Raffling Shop, which is (it seems) secretly supported by a person who is a deep practitioner in the law, and out of tenderness of conscience has, under the name of his maid Sisly, set up this easier way of conveyancing and alienating estates from one family to another."
The Wells continued to be more or less a place of resort for invalids, real and imaginary, down to the early part of the present century, when their fame was revived for a time by Mr. Thomas Goodwin, a medical practitioner of the place, who had made the discovery that the Hampstead waters were possessed of two kinds of saline qualities, answering to the springs of Cheltenham and Harrogate; but the tide of popular favour seems to have flowed in another direction, after the visit of George III. and his Court to Cheltenham, and Hampstead soon became deserted by its fashionable loungers, notwithstanding the efforts of the doctors, who missed their guineas, and those of the proprietors of the ball-rooms and the rafflingshops, to resuscitate its fame. Dr. Soame complained that the royal family visited the wells at Islington, then achieving a temporary popularity, and neglected Hampstead; and he also seized the opportunity of levelling his shafts at the habit of tea-drinking, then a comparatively modern innovation. "I hope," he says, "that the inordinate drinking of tea will be retrenched, which, if continued, must bring a thousand ills upon us, and generations after us—the next generation may be in stature more like pigmies than men and women." What would Dr. Soame have said could he have lived to see the members of the Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, every fine fellow of which corps drinks tea every day, performing feats of prowess and agility while skirmishing among the furze-bushes and gravel-pits of his beloved Hampstead?
But no amount of appeal or puff direct could make Hampstead what it was in its aristocratic days. The wells and ball-rooms remained, and were well attended, but by another class. Their prestige was gone, and the world of fashion resigned them to the London aborigines dwelling east of Temple Bar. The waters of Hampstead are no longer taken medicinally, and their former celebrity is now only remembered in the name of the charming little grove called Well Walk, which leads from Flask Walk towards the eastern side of the Heath, and where there has been set up, as though in mockery of the past, a modern drinking-fountain.
Well Walk was in former times the fashionable morning lounge for the visitor to the "Wells;" and here the gallants of the period could enjoy the fresh air in the shade of the tall lime-trees, which still remain along the edge of the raised pathway. In Well Walk, between the "Long Room" and the "Wells Tavern," lived and died John Constable, the painter. Like Gainsborough and Crome, Constable always proved himself a heartfelt lover of an English homestead. "I love," he said, "every stile, and stump, and lane in the village; as long as I am able to hold a brush I shall never cease to paint them." "The Cornfield or Country Lane" and "The Valley Farm," both in the National Gallery, may have suggested to Leslie the following passage:—"There is a place," says this most sympathetic of critics on simply English art, "among our painters which Turner left unoccupied, and which neither Wilson, Gainsborough, Cozens, nor Girtin so completely filled as Constable. He was the most genuine painter of English cultivated scenery, leaving untouched its mountains and its lakes." His tomb in the old churchyard records that he was "many years an inhabitant of this parish." He died in 1837. Mrs. Barbauld, too, at one time, lived in Well Walk, where she was visited, not only by literary folks, but by men of high scientific attainments, such as Josiah Wedgwood. She afterwards lived at the foot of Rosslyn Hill, where we shall presently have more to say concerning her.
It was in Well Walk that John Keats wrote both his "Endymion" and his "Eve of St. Agnes;" and it was probably after hearing the nightingale in the adjoining gardens that he wrote those wellknown stanzas, in which he apostrophises "The light-winged Dryad of the trees."
Hone, in his "Table Book," writes of this place: "Winding south from the Lower Heath, there is a charming little grove in Well Walk, with a bench at the end, whereon I last saw poor Keats, the poet of the 'Pot of Basil,' sitting and sobbing his dying breath into a handkerchief—glancing parting looks towards the quiet landscape he had delighted in so much—musing as in his 'Ode to a Nightingale.'"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge would sometimes come over across the green fields, by way of Millfield Lane, from Highgate, to have a chat with Keats on his seat at the end of Well Walk; and when he last shook hands with him here, he turned to Leigh Hunt, and whispered, "There is death in that hand." And such was too truly the case; for John Keats was in a consumption; and he went abroad very soon afterwards, to die beneath the sunny skies of Italy.
"And wilt thou ponder on the silent grave
Of broken-hearted Keats, whom still we love
To image sleeping where the willows wave
By Memory's fount, deep in the Muses' grove;
Shaded, enshrouded, where no steps intrude,
But peace is granted him; his dearest boon;
And while he sleeps, with night-time tears bedew'd,
'Endymion' still is watched by his enamoured moon."
The copyhold property in the rear of Well Walk belongs to the trustees of the Wells Charity, who are bound to devote its proceeds to apprenticing children, natives of Hampstead, under a scheme lately approved by the Court of Chancery.
Although it has not been attempted in these columns to enter into details respecting the geological structure of the localities which we have described, yet we ought not to omit to mention, with respect to Highgate and Hampstead, a few facts of interest to those who have the least taste for that branch of science.
It is well known to most readers that the whole of London lies on a substratum of chalk formation, which is covered by a higher stratum of a stiff bluish clay. On this again, there is every reason to believe, there once lay a covering of gravel and sand, which in the course of long ages has been washed away by the action of water, at a time when, probably, the whole valley of the Thames was an arm of the sea.
The "Northern Heights" of Highgate and Hampstead, if their formation is considered in detail, throw considerable light on this statement. Their summits exhibit a top coating or "cap" of gravel and sand, which, by some chance or other, has not been so swept away, but has maintained its position unchanged. This gravel and sand rest on an undersoil of a soft and spongy nature, from which issue springs of water, which appear to be squeezed out of the sides of the hills by the weight of the superincumbent mass.
These spongy soils gradually die away into a blue clay from thirty to five hundred feet in depth, in which, both at Hampstead and at Highgate, a variety of fossils have been found, proving the existence here of plants, trees, and animals akin to, but still differing from, those of our own age and latitude; some of these are of a marine and estuarine aquatic nature, showing that a sea must at one time have washed the sides of the heights that we have been climbing. As an instance in point, it may be mentioned that, in 1876, in boring a well through the clay at the brewery in High Street, the workmen came upon a fine specimen of the nautilus. Other marine shells of a smaller kind have been constantly dug up in the same stratum about these parts.