Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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HAMPSTEAD.—CAEN WOOD AND NORTH END.
"When the sweet-breathing spring unfolds the buds,
Love flies the dusty town for shady woods;
Then Tottenham fields with roving beauty swarm,
And Hampstead halls the City virgins warm."—Gay.
The Etymology and Early History of Hampstead—"Hot Gospellers"—The Hollow Tree—An Inland Watering-place—Caen Wood Towers—Dufferin Lodge—Origin of the Name of Caen (or Ken) Wood—Thomas Venner and the Fifth Monarchy Men—Caen Wood House and Grounds—Lord Mansfield—The House saved from a Riotous Attack by a Clever Ruse—Visit of William IV.—Highgate and Hampstead Ponds—The Fleet River—Bishop's Wood—The "Spaniards"—New Georgia—Erskine House—The Great Lord Erskine—Heath House—The Firs—North End—Lord Chatham's Gloomy Retirement—Wildwood House—Jackson, the Highwayman—Akenside—William Blake, the Artist and Poet—Coventry Patmore—Miss Meteyard—Sir T. Fowell Buxton—The "Bull and Bush."
In commencing this chapter we may observe that there are two ways by which the pedestrian can reach Hampstead from Highgate—namely, by the road branching off at the "Gate House" and running along the brow of the hill past the "Spaniards," and so on to the Heath; and also by the pleasant footpath which skirts the grounds of Caen Wood on its southern side. This pathway branches off from Millfield Lane, nearly opposite the grounds of Lady Burdett-Coutts, and passing by the well-known Highgate Ponds, winds its course over the gently undulating meadows and uplands which extend westward to the slope of the hill leading up to Hampstead Heath; the pathway itself terminating close by the ponds of Hampstead, of which, together with the charming spot close by, called the Vale of Health, we shall have more to say presently. For our part, we shall take the first-named route; but before setting out on our perambulation, it will be well, perhaps, to say a few words about Hampstead in general.
Starting, then, with the name, we may observe that the etymology of Hampstead is evidently derived from the Saxon "ham" or home, and "stede" or place. The modern form of the word "homestead" is still in common use for the family residence, or more generally for a farmhouse, surrounded by barns and other out-buildings. "Homestead," too, according to the ingenious Mr. Lysons, is the true etymology of the name. "Hame" is the well-known Scotch form for "home;" and the syllable "ham" is preserved in "hamlet," and, as a termination, in innumerable names of places in this country. West Ham, Birming-ham, Oldham, and many others immediately suggest themselves; and we can easily reckon a dozen Hamptons, in which the first syllable has a similar origin to that of Hampstead; while, under the modern German form, heim, we meet with it in Blenheim. There are two Hampsteads in Berkshire, besides Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. The name, then, of the solitary Saxon farm was applied in the course of years to the village or town which gradually surrounded it and at length took its place. Who the hardy Saxon was who first made a clearing in this elevated part of the thick Middlesex forest, we know not; but we have record that this wood afforded pannage or pasturage for a hundred head of swine, which fed on the chestnuts, beech-nuts, and acorns. In 986 King Ethelred granted the manor of Hamstede to the Abbot of Westminster; and this grant was confirmed by Edward the Confessor, with additional privileges. We are told by Mr. Park, in his "History of Hampstead," that in early times it was a little chapelry, dependent on the mother church of Hendon, which was itself an incumbency in the gift of the abbot and monks of the convent of St. Peter in Westminster. To this day the Dean and Chapter of Westminster own a considerable quantity of land in the parish, whence they draw a considerable income, owing to the increased and increasing value of property. Before the Reformation, it is clear that the Rector of Hendon was himself responsible for the cost of the keep of "a separate capellane," or chaplain to serve "the chapell of the Blessed Virgin at Hamsted;" this, however, was not a very heavy cost, for the stipend of an assistant curate at that day was only from six to eight marks a year; and in the reign of Edward VI., the curacy of Hampstead itself, as we learn casually from a Chancery roll, was valued at £10 per annum. It is not at all clear when the benefice of Hampstead was separated from that of Hendon, but the ties of the one must have been separated from those of the other before the year 1598, when the churchwardens of Hampstead were for the first time summoned to the Bishop of London's visitation, a fact which looks like the commencement of a parochial settlement. It is probable that the correct date is 1560, as the register of baptisms, marriages, and burials commences in that year.
In the reign of Edward VI. the manor and advowson of Hampstead were granted by the young king to Sir Thomas Wroth, Knt., from whose family they passed, about seventy years later, by purchase, to Sir Baptist Hickes, afterwards Viscount Campden, whose descendant Baptist, third Earl of Gainsborough, alienated them to Sir W. Langhorne, Bart., in 1707. They passed from the Langhornes by descent through the hands of three females, to the family of the present patron, Sir Spencer Maryon-Wilson, Bart., of Charlton House, Kent.
At the time of the dissolution, Hampstead, it
appears, was a very small village, inhabited chiefly
by washerwomen, and for the next 150 years its
history is almost a blank. In the Puritan times
the "Hot Gospellers," as they were nicknamed,
often preached under the shade of an enormous
elm, which was certainly a great curiosity, its
trunk having been occupied by some virtuoso
unrecorded in local history, who constructed a
winding staircase of forty-two steps within the
hollow, and built an octagonal tower on the
summit, thirty-four feet in circumference, and
capable of holding twenty persons. The height
from the ground to the base of the turret was
thirty-three feet, and there were sixteen side lights.
There is a curious etching, by Hollar, of this
"Hollow Tree at Hampstead." The exact locality
of this tree is a matter of doubt. The copy of
the etching in the royal collection at Windsor
forms part of a "broadside" at the foot of which
is printed "To be given or sold on the hollow
tree at Hampstead." One Robert Codrington,
a poetical student, and afterwards a Puritan, inspired by the tree, wrote an elaborate poem, in
which he says,
"In less room, I find,
With all his trusty knights, King Arthur dined."
Hampstead is now nearly joined to London by
rows of villas and terraces; but within the memory
of the present generation it was separated from
town by a broad belt of pleasant fields. Eighty or
a hundred years ago it was a rural village, adorned
with many fine mansions, whither retired, in search
of health or recreation, some of the most eminent
men of the age. The beauty of its fields is celebrated by the author of "Suburban Sonnets" in
Hone's "Table Book:"
"Hampstead, I doubly venerate thy name,"
for it seems it was here that the writer first became imbued with the feeling of love and with the spirit of poetry.
It is the fashion to undervalue the suburbs of London; and several clever writers, proud of their mountains and their lakes, have a smile of contempt ready for us when we talk of our "upland hamlets," our fertile valleys, and our broad river. The fact is that the suburbs of London are beautiful as compared with the suburbs of other great cities. But so long as the breezy heath, and its smooth velvet turf, sloping away to the north and east, remain unbuilt upon, Hampstead will never cease to be the favourite haunt and home of poets, painters, and artists, which it has been for the last century or more. There still attaches to the older part of the town a certain stately air of dignified respectability, in the red-brick spacious mansions; and the parish church, though really not old as churches count age, with its spacious churchyard, bears record of many whose names are familiar to us all.
Hampstead, it has been observed, is in every respect a watering-place—except in there being no sea there. With that important drawback, it possesses all the necessary attributes: it has its donkeys, its bath-chairs, its fashionable esplanade, its sand and sandpits, its chalybeate spring, its "eligible" houses "to be let furnished," its more humble "apartments," its "Vale of Health," where "parties" can be supplied with "hot water for tea," at various prices, from twopence to fourpence per head; its fancy stationers' shop, with the proper supply of dolls, novels, and illustrated note paper; its old church and its new church; its chapel of ease; its flagstaff—ready to "dip" its colours to steamers, which, from the nature of the case, can never appear in the offing; its photographic pavilion, with portraits "in this style" (a style which would effectually prevent any sensible person from entering the place of execution); its country walks and rides; its residents, so exclusive; its troops of visitors; its boys, fishing for tadpoles with crooked pins in the (freshwater) ponds; its tribes of healthy children with their nurses and nursemaids;—in fact, it has all that can make the heart glad, and place Hampstead on the list of seabathing places, with the trifling omission mentioned above.
With these remarks, we will once more take up our staff and proceed.
Leaving Highgate by the turning westward close by the "Gate House," and passing by the Grove, we make our way along the high road which connects the village with Hampstead. The old way being narrow, and nearly impassable, a new and more direct road was made, affording a splendid panoramic view of vast extent. In the formation of the new road, too, its course in one or two parts was slightly altered. On the slope of the hill to the left, and standing on ground which originally formed a portion of Fitzroy Park, is Caen Wood Towers, the handsome villa residence of Mr. Edward Brooke, the patentee of the magenta and other dyes. The building occupies part of the site of Dufferin Lodge, formerly the seat of Lord Dufferin, which was pulled down in 1869. The present house, which was completed in 1872, from the designs of Messrs. Salomons and Jones, is built of red brick with stone dressings; and with its bay windows, gables, and massive towers, stands out prominently amid the surrounding trees.
Pursuing our course along the Hampstead road, we reach the principal entrance to the estate of Caen (or Ken) Wood, the seat of the Earl of Mansfield. Though generally regarded as part and parcel of Hampstead, the estate lies just within the boundary of the parish of St. Pancras, and was part of the manor of Cantelows. It is said by antiquaries to form a part of the remains of the ancient forest of Middlesex. Lysons is of opinion that the wood and the neighbouring hamlet of Kentish Town (anciently Kentestoune) were both named after some very remote possessor. There was, he says, a Dean of St. Paul's named Reginald de "Kentewode," and "the alteration from Kentwode to Kenwood is by no means unlikely to happen." Mr. Howitt looks for the origin of the syllable in the word "Ken," a view. As, however, we have stated in previous chapters, (fn. 1) the word Ken or Caen may be an equivalent to "Kaen" or Ken, which lies at the root of Kentish Town, Kensington, &c.
The earliest mention of the place, remarks Mr. Prickett, in his "History of Highgate," appears in Neale's "History of the Puritans," where it is spoken of as affording shelter for a short time to Venner and his associates—the "Fifth monarchy men." In the outbreak of the "Fifth monarchy men," under Thomas Venner, the cooper of Coleman Street, in January, 1661, these fanatics having fought one engagement with the "Train-bands," and expecting another struggle next day, took shelter for a night in Caen Wood, where some of them were taken prisoners next morning, and the rest were dispersed. As probably few or none of them were killed, the spot where the encounter took place cannot now be identified by any discovery of bodies hastily buried, as is commonly the case in the neighbourhood of battle-fields.
From the first volume of "Selected Views in London and its Environs," published in 1804, we glean the following particulars of this demesne:—"Caen Wood, the beautiful seat of the Earl of Mansfield, is situated on a fine eminence between Hampstead and Highgate, and its extensive grounds contribute in no small degree to enrich the neighbouring scenery. These, with the wood which gives name to them, contain about forty acres, and are laid out with great taste. On the right of the garden front of the house (which is a very noble mansion) is a hanging wood of tall spreading trees, mostly beeches; and on the left the rising hills are planted with trees, that produce a pleasing effect. These, with a sweet shrubbery immediately before the front, and a serpentine piece of water, render the whole a very enlivening (sic) scene. The enclosed fields adjoining to the pleasure-grounds contain about thirty acres more. Hornsey great woods, held by the Earl of Mansfield under the Bishop of London, join this estate on the north, and have lately been added to the enclosure."
Mr. Howitt, in his "Northern Heights," gives the following interesting particulars about Caen Wood and House:—"Caen House," he writes, "is a large and massive building of yellow stone, impressive from its bulk and its commanding situation, rather than from its architecture, which is that of Robert Adam, who was very fashionable in the early part of the reign of George III. Caen Wood House has two fronts, one facing the north, with projecting wings; the other facing the south, extending along a noble terrace, and has its façade elongated by a one-storeyed wing at each side. The basement storey of the main body of the house is of rustic work, surmounted by a pediment supported by Ionic pilasters, the columns of the wings being of the same order. Within, Adam, as was usual with him, was more successful than without. The rooms are spacious, lofty, and finely proportioned. They contain a few good paintings, among which are some of Claude's; a portrait of Pope, the poet, with whom the first earl was very intimate; and a full-length one of the great law lord himself, as well as a bust of him by Nollekens. The park in front, of fifty acres, is arranged to give a feeling of seclusion in a spot so near to London. The ground descends to some sheets of water forming a continuation of the Highgate Ponds, lying amid trees; and a belt of fine, wellgrown wood cuts off the broad open view of the metropolis. Here you have all the sylvan seclusion of a remote country mansion; and charming walks, said to be nearly two miles in extent, conduct you round the park, and through the woods, where stand some trees of huge growth and grandeur, especially cedars of Lebanon and beeches. A good deal of this planting, especially some fine cedars yet near the house, was done under the direction of the first lord himself. A custom is kept up here which smacks of the old feudal times. Every morning, when the night-watchman goes off duty, at six o'clock, he fires a gun, and immediately three long winds are given on a horn to call the servants, gardeners, and labourers to their employment. The horn is blown again at breakfast and dinner hours, and at six in the evening for their dismissal.
"This charming place had been in the hands of a succession of proprietors. In 1661 it was the property of a Mr. John Bill, who married a Lady Pelham, supposed to be the widow of Sir Thomas Pelham, and a daughter of Sir Henry Vane. It must afterwards have belonged to one Dale, an upholsterer, who, as Mackay, in his 'Tour through England,' says, 'had bought it out of the 'Bubbles'—i.e., the South Sea affair. This was in 1720. This Mr. Dale, unlike the majority of speculators, must have been a fortunate one. It then became the property of the Dukes of Argyll; and the great and good Duke John, whom Sir Walter Scott introduces so nobly in the scene with Jeanie Deans and Queen Caroline in 'The Heart of Midlothian,' who had lived in the reigns of Anne and Georges I. and II., and who had fought bravely at Ramillies, Malplaquet, and Oudenarde, and who afterwards beat the rebel Earl of Mar and drove the Pretender from Scotland, resided here when called to London. The property was then devised by the Duke of Argyll to his nephew John, third Earl of Bute, who is only too well remembered in the opening of the reign of George III. for his unpopularity as a minister (fn. 2) of the Crown.
"Lord Bute married the only daughter of the celebrated Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who, of course, resided much here as Countess of Bute. It is observed that in Lady Mary's letters to her daughter, she always spells the name of the place 'Caen.' The earlier possessors spelt it 'Ken,' and it is curious, too, that though in the patent of the earldom granted to Lord Mansfield it is spelt 'Caen,' Lord Mansfield himself, in his letters, to the end of his life spelt it 'Ken.'
"The Earl of Bute sold Caen Wood, in 1755, to Lord Mansfield, who, on his death, devised it, as an appendage of the title, to his nephew (and successor in the earldom of Mansfield), Lord Stormont, whose descendants now possess it. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's daughter brought Lord Bute seven sons and six daughters, so at that time the house and grounds of Caen Wood resounded with life enough. It is now very little occupied, its proprietor being much fonder of Scone Palace, his Scotch residence."
Among the trees mentioned above are four fine cedars, planted in the reign of George II.; they are now upwards of a hundred feet in height.
Mr. Thorne, in his "Handbook of the Environs of London," says that among the treasures that are preserved here, are "the charred and stained relics saved from the fire made of Lord Mansfield's books, by the Gordon rioters, in 1780."
Coleridge, in one of his letters to Mr. H. C. Robinson, speaks of being "driven in Mr. Gillman's gig to Caen Wood, and its delicious groves and valleys—the finest in England; in fact, a cathedral aisle of giant lime-trees, and Pope's favourite composition walk when staying with the Earl of Mansfield." As, however, Pope died at Twickenham, in 1744, and Lord Mansfield did not come into possession of Caen Wood until ten or eleven years after Pope's death, it is clear that there must be some discrepancy here.
Although born in Scotland, Lord Mansfield seems to have turned his back upon his native country at a very early age; indeed, Dr. Johnson, if we may believe Boswell, "would not allow Scotland to derive any credit from Lord Mansfield, for he was educated in England; much," he would say, "may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young."
In our account of Bloomsbury Square, (fn. 3) we have spoken of the burning of Lord Mansfield's house, and of the escape of his lordship and Lady Mansfield. Maddened by this and many other unchecked excesses, the word of command was given "to Ken Wood," the rioters evidently intending that this mansion should share a similar fate. "The routes of the rabble," writes Mr. Prickett, in his work above quoted, "were through Highgate and Hampstead, to the 'Spaniards' Tavern,' kept at the time by a person named Giles Thomas. He quickly learnt their object, and with a coolness and promptitude which did him great credit, persuaded the rioters to refresh themselves thoroughly before commencing the work of devastation; he threw his house open, and even his cellars for their entertainment, but secretly dispatched a messenger to the barracks for a detachment of the Horse Guards, which, arriving through Millfield Farm Lane, intercepted the approach northward, and opportunely presented a bold front to the rebels, who by that time had congregated in the road which then passed within a few paces of the mansion. Whilst some of the rioters were being regaled at the 'Spaniards,' others were liberally supplied with strong ale from the cellars of Ken Wood House, out of tubs placed on the roadside. Mr. William Wetherell, also, who attended the family, happened to be on the spot, and, with great resolution and presence of mind, addressed the mob, and induced many to adjourn to the 'Spaniards' for a short period. The liquors, the excitement, and the infatuation soon overcame the exhausted condition of the rabble, who, in proportion to the time thus gained by the troops, had become doubly disqualified for concerted mischief; for, great as were their numbers, their daring was not equal to the comparatively small display of military, which, the leading rioters felt, would show them no mercy; they instantly abandoned their intentions, and returned to the metropolis in as much disorder as they quitted it."
In 1835, King William IV., accompanied by several members of the royal family, the Duke of Wellington, and many of the leading nobility, paid a visit to Caen Wood. A grand entertainment was given by Lord Mansfield on the occasion, and a triumphal arch was erected on Hampstead Heath, under which the king received an address from his loyal subjects.
In the lower part of Lord Mansfield's grounds are several large ponds, of which we have spoken in our account of Highgate; four of these are within the demesne of Caen Wood, and the other three are in the fields lying in the hollow below Fitzroy Park and Millfield Lane, as we have stated previously. The three outside Caen Wood are known as the Highgate Ponds. The stream which feeds the seven extensive and well-known ponds, and gave its origin to the Hampstead Waterworks, takes its rise in a meadow on the Manor Farm at Highgate, and forms a spacious lake in Caen Wood Park, whence it approaches Hampstead, and so flows on to Camden Town and London. Its waters are of a chalybeate character, as has been ascertained from the circumstance of a large variety of petrifactions having been met with in its channel, more especially in the immediate vicinity of its source. The mineral properties of this streamlet are of a ferruginous nature, its medicinal virtues are of a tonic character, and are said to be efficacious in cases of nervous debility.
In the summer season these ponds are the resort of thousands of Londoners, more especially the possessors of aquariums, for the sake of waterbeetles "and other interesting abominations," whilst the boys fish in them for tadpoles and sticklebats, or sail miniature boats on their surface.
Half a mile further to the south-west are the other large sheets of water, known as the Hampstead Ponds, which form great centres of attraction to the visitors to the heath. These ponds, we need scarcely add, are familiar to the readers of "Pickwick," the origin of the "tittlebats" or "sticklebacks" in them being among the subjects on which at least one learned paper had been read before the Pickwick Club. It is a matter of interest to record that the originator of these ponds was no other person than Paterson, the founder of the Bank of England.
The Fleet River, or the River of Wells, of which we have spoken in a previous chapter, (fn. 4) had its rise in this locality. This river, we are told, was the same as the Langbourne, which flowed through London and gave its name to a ward of the City. It was called the Fleet River down to the commencement of the present century.
The authorities of the City of London, remarks Mr. Howitt, in his "Northern Heights," were prohibited by their Act of Henry VIII. from interfering with the spring at the foot of the hill of Hampstead Heath, which, he says, "was closed in with brick for the use and convenience of the inhabitants of Hampstead." At the same time the Bishop of Westminster was authorised to search for springs on the heath, and conveyed water from them to his manor of Hendon. From some cause or other, as Mr. Lysons tells us, the water company and the people of Hampstead fell into disputes about what the Americans call their "water privileges," and the inhabitants amongst themselves even proceeded to law about the year 1700. Park found that the present ponds existed in the seventeenth century, being mentioned amongst the copyholds—the upper pond on the heath stated to contain three roods, thirty perches; the lower pond one acre, one rood, thirty-four perches. The pond in the Vale of Health was added in 1777. "The ponds," he adds, "have been fatal to many incautious bathers, owing to the sudden shelving of their sides." In the Vale of Health are visible, or were till recently, two rows of wooden posts, which, it has been suggested, might be the remains of a bridge either leading across the water, or to some aquatic pleasure-house built upon it.
On the north side of Hampstead Lane, facing the entrance to Caen Wood House, is Bishop's Wood. This wood, with one further to the north called Mutton Wood, and another to the west known as Wild Wood, was, as we have already shown, a portion of the great wood attached to the estate and castle of the Bishop of London, at Highgate. (fn. 5) In 1755 it was purchased by Lord Mansfield, and left as a wild copse; it has since been strictly preserved as a cover for game.
The "Spaniards," a well-known tavern by the roadside, just as it emerges upon Hampstead Heath, stands on the site of a small lodge once occupied by the keeper of the park gate—the tollgate at the Hampstead entrance to the Bishop of London's lands, of which we have already spoken. It is said by some writers to have derived its name from the fact of its having been once inhabited by a family connected with the Spanish embassy, and by others from its having been taken by a Spaniard, and converted into a house of entertainment. The Spanish Ambassador to King James I. wrote whilst residing here, complaining that he and his suite had not seen very much of the sun in England. Later on, its gardens were "improved and beautifully ornamented" by a Mr. William Staples, who, "out of a wild and thorny wood full of hills, valleys, and sand-pits, hath now made pleasant grass and gravel walks, with a mount, from the elevation whereof the beholder hath a prospect of Hanslope steeple, in Northamptonshire, within eight miles of Northampton; of Langdon Hills, in Essex, full sixty miles east; of Banstead Downs, in Surrey, south; of Shooter's Hill, Kent, southeast; Red Hill, Surrey, south-west; and of Windsor Castle, Berkshire, to the west. These walks and plats this gentleman hath embellished with a great many curious figures, depicted with pebble-stones of various colours." Such is the description of the "Spaniards" in a MS. account of the place, quoted by Park, in "History of Hampstead," and by Prickett, in his "History of Highgate;" but the statement must be received with caution, for certainly no resident of Hampstead, so far as we can learn, has ever been able to descry the steeple of Hanslope, or of any other church, in Northamptonshire. "The 'Spaniards,'" says Mr. Thorne, "still has its garden and its bowlinggreen; but the curious figures are gone, and so has (is) the mound, and with it the larger part of the prospect, partly, perhaps, owing to the growth of the neighbouring trees, and the erection of two or three large houses between it and the Heath." It was the brave landlord of this inn who, as we have said before, saved Caen Wood House from being wrecked by the mob during the Gordon riots. As we have stated above, he detained the mob here by a ruse till the military arrived. Curiously enough, the "Spaniards" not mentioned in Mr. Larwood's otherwise exhaustive "History of Signboards," in connection, at all events, with Hampstead.
Another place of entertainment in this neighbourhood in former times, though now quite forgotten, was a cottage, with gardens attached to it, which rejoiced in the name of New Georgia. It has been identified with Turner's Wood, now enclosed in Lord Mansfield's grounds, opposite the western lodge of Caen Wood. From the same MS. from which the above description of the "Spaniards" was taken, we learn that "here the owner showeth you several little rooms, and numerous contrivances of his own to divert the beholder; and here, the gentleman is put in the pillory, and the ladies are obliged to kiss him, with such other oddities; the building is irregular and low, of wood, and the ground and wilderness is laid out in a romantic taste." Among the "numerous contrivances" was a chair which sank into the ground on a person sitting in it. In 1748, these singular grounds, like "Spring Gardens," (fn. 6) were interspersed with representations of various reptiles, so connected with mechanism, as to make efforts of attack upon parties who unsuspectingly trod upon a board or spring. It is not improbable that the consequences of those frights to the ladies caused the disuse and decay of New Georgia, for about the year 1770 this species of mechanism seems to have been entirely discontinued.
The house next to the "Spaniards," and close by the entrance of Hampstead Heath, is called Erskine House, as having been the residence of the famous advocate, but less famous chancellor, Thomas Lord Erskine. The building is a plain white house, with a long portico opening upon the roadway. Of the house itself but little is seen from the road, excepting one end; a high wall shuts in what little garden it has on that side, and another high wall shuts out from observation the spacious gardens and grounds formerly belonging to it on the opposite side of the road. The house itself, says Mr. Howitt, is "simply a bald, square mass, shouldered up again by another house at its back. We see, however, the tall windows of its large drawing-room on the second floor, commanding a splendid view over Caen Wood and some part of Highgate. Yet this was the house inhabited by Thomas Lord Erskine, contemporary with both the law lords, his neighbours, Mansfield and Loughborough. Here he converted the place from a spot of no account into a very charming residence, laying out, with great enthusiasm, its grounds, and so planting it with bays and laurels, that he called it Evergreen Hill. He is said also to have planted with his own hand the extraordinary broad holly hedge separating his kitchen-garden from the Heath, opposite to the Fir-tree Avenue." The garden on the opposite side of the road was connected with the house by a subterranean passage. This garden, however, has long been taken into Lord Mansfield's estate.
Lord Erskine's account of his residence, where Edmund Burke was a frequent visitor, is too amusing to be omitted here. It is told by Mr. Rush, in his "Court of London:"—"When we got to Mr. Trotter's, Lord Erskine kept up his sprightly vein at table. 'I believe,' said our host, 'the soil is not the best in that part of Hampstead where your seat is.' 'No; very bad,' he replied, 'for although my grandfather was buried there as an earl near a hundred years ago, what has sprouted up from it since but a mere baron?' He alluded, of course, to his own title. He mentioned, however, a fact which went to show that although the soil yielded no increase in titles of nobility, it did in other things; for in his description he referred to a chestnut-tree upon it, which, when he first went to live there, was bought by his gardener for sixpence, but now yielded him thirty pounds a year."
"Here," says Mr. Howitt, "during the intervals
of his arduous professional labour, Lord Erskine
was zealously engaged in planning and carrying out
his improvements. With his old gardener, John
Barnett, he took his spade, and schemed and dug,
and planted and transplanted; and no one who
has not tried it can tell the immense refreshment
derived from such an active diversion of otherwise
exhausting trains of thought. To men compelled
to spend long days in crowded, ill-ventilated courts,
the health and spirits given by such tastes is
incalculable. No doubt, from these occupations
Erskine returned with tenfold vigour of body and
mind to his pleadings, and to his parliamentary
conflicts." Lord Erskine, at one time, contemplated cutting down a renowned group of elmtrees, nine in number, which flourished in all their
picturesque beauty near his mansion; but the great
lawyer thought better of his purpose, and the trees
were spared. Cowper commemorated their escape,
in a poem, in which we find that the Muses (sympathising, perhaps, with the number nine) interfered:—
"Erskine (they cried) at our command
Disarms his sacrilegious hand;
Whilst yonder castle [Windsor] towers sublime,
These elms shall brave the threats of Time."
In the same poem the poet of the "Task" refers
to another performance of the Muses in the same
locality, in relation to another great lawyer, the
first Earl of Mansfield:—
"When Murray deign'd to rove
Beneath Caen Wood's sequester'd grove,
They wander'd oft, when all was still,
With him and Pope, on Hampstead Hill."
Lord Erskine's first rise in his profession, as he himself told Samuel Rogers, was due to an accident—the fact that he was suddenly called upon to defend Captain Baillie, in a matter of contention between himself and the authorities of Greenwich Hospital. His astonishing eloquence and energy, joined to the right being on his side, gained the day; and the all but briefless barrister went home that night with sixty-seven retaining fees in his pocket.
From an account by Sir Samuel Romilly, quoted by Mr. Howitt, we see not only what sort of men frequented his house in those days, but also the nature of Erskine's curious hobbies:—"Here he gave gay parties, of which he was the life, by his good humour and whimsicalities. I dined there one day, at what might be called a great Opposition dinner. The party consisted of the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Grenville, Lord Grey, Lord Holland, Lord Ellenborough, Lord Lauderdale, Lord Henry Petty, Thomas Grenville, Pigot, Adam, Edward Morris, Lord Erskine's son-in-law, and myself. If the most malignant enemies of Erskine had been present, they would have admitted that nothing could be more innocent than the conversation which passed. Politics were hardly mentioned. Amid the light and trifling topics of conversation after dinner, it may be worth while to mention one, as it strongly characterises Lord Erskine. He had always felt and expressed a great sympathy for animals. He has talked for years of a bill he was to bring into Parliament to prevent cruelty to them. He has always had several favourite animals to which he has been much attached, and of whom all his acquaintances have a number of anecdotes to relate. He had a favourite dog, which he used to bring, when he was at the bar, to all his consultations; another favourite dog, which, at the time he was Lord Chancellor, he himself rescued in the street from some boys who were about to kill it, under pretence of its being mad. A favourite goose, which followed him whenever he walked about his grounds; a favourite macaw; and other dumb favourites without number. He told us now, that he had two favourite leeches. He had been blooded by them when he was dangerously ill at Portsmouth; they had saved his life, and he had brought them with him to town—had ever since kept them in a glass—had himself every day given them fresh water, and formed a friendship for them. He said he was sure they knew him, and were grateful to him. He had given them the names of Howe and Clive, the celebrated surgeons, their dispositions being quite different. He went and fetched them for us to see; but without the vivacity, the tones, the details and gestures of Lord Erskine, it would be impossible to give an idea of this singular scene." Apropos of Lord Erskine's consideration for dumb animals, Twiss in his "Life of Eldon," tells the following anecdote concerning his lordship:—"On one occasion, in the neighbourhood of Hampstead Heath, a ruffianly driver was pummelling a miserable bare-boned hack horse. Lord Erskine's sympathy provoked him to a smart remonstrance. 'Why,' said the fellow, 'it's my own; mayn't I use it as I please?' and as he spoke, he discharged a fresh shower of blows on the raw back of the beast. Lord Erskine, excessively irritated, laid his walking-stick sharply over the shoulders of the offender, who, crouching and grumbling, asked what business he had to touch him with his stick. 'Why,' replied Erskine, to whom the opportunity of a joke was irresistible, 'it is my own; mayn't I use it as I please?'"
His lordship's witty sallies, indeed, rendered his society particularly enjoyable, and doubtless would have filled a volume of Punch. Of those which are on record, we cannot do more than quote one or two.
On one occasion, when Captain Parry remarked that "when frozen up in the Arctic regions they lived much on seals," "Yes," observed the exchancellor, "and very good living too, if you keep them long enough!" Being invited to attend the ministerial fish dinner at Greenwich when he was chancellor, "To be sure," he replied, "what would your dinner be without the Great Seal?"
Mr. Howitt, in his notice of this place, says:—"On the staircase of the house possessed by Lord Erskine, and the copyhold of which he transferred to Lord Mansfield, there is a window of stained glass, in which are emblazoned Lord Erskine's arms, with the baron's coronet, and the motto which he assumed, 'Trial by Jury.' The tunnel under the road, which connected the premises with the pleasure-grounds on the other side, is now built up, Lord Mansfield having resumed the grounds on his side. Baron (Chief Justice) Tindal at one time lived in this house."
Heath House, the residence next to that of Lord Erskine, and overlooking the Heath, was successively the abode of Mr. Edward Cox, the author of some poems, published at the beginning of this century; and of Sir Edward Parry, the Arctic voyager.
The next house, called The Firs, was built by a Mr. Turner, a tobacconist of Fleet Street, who planted the avenue of Scotch firs, which so largely contribute to the beauty of this part of the Heath. Mr. Turner also made the roadway across the Heath, from The Firs to the pleasant hamlet of North End and Golder's Green, on the slope of the hill looking towards Hendon, whither we now proceed.
A large house on the eastern slope of the hill leading from Hampstead to North End and Hendon, is that in which the great Lord Chatham lived for some time in gloomy retirement in 1767. It is now called Wildwood House, but formerly bore the name of North End House. The grounds extend up the hill, as far as the clump of Scotch firs, where the roads divide; and in the highest part of the gardens is a summer-house surmounted by a dome. Recently the house has undergone considerable alteration, having been raised a storey, besides having had other additions made to it; but some part at least of its interior remains unaltered. Mr. Howitt, in his "Northern Heights," says:—"The small room, or rather closet, in which Chatham shut himself up during his singular affliction—on the third storey—still remains in the same condition. Its position from the outside may be known by an oriel window looking towards Finchley. The opening in the wall from the staircase to the room still remains, through which the unhappy man received his meals or anything else conveyed to him. It is an opening of, perhaps, eighteen inches square, having a door on each side of the wall. The door within had a padlock which still hangs upon it. When anything was conveyed to him, a knock was made on the outer door, and the articles placed in the recess. When he heard the outer door again closed, the invalid opened the inner door, took what was there, again closed and locked it. When the dishes or other articles were returned, the same process was observed, so that no one could possibly catch a glimpse of him, nor need there be any exchange of words." It may be added that in making the alterations above mentioned, the condition of the room occupied by Lord Chatham was as little interfered with as possible; and even in the boards of the floor the marks caused by his lordship's wheeled chair are still preserved. In this house, in more recent times, lived Mr. Tagart, the minister of Little Portland Street Unitarian Chapel, and author of "Locke's Writings and Philosophy," "Sketches of the Reformers," &c.
On the opposite side of the road towards Hendon, over against the summer-house mentioned above, an elm-tree marks the spot where formerly stood a gibbet, on which was suspended the body of Jackson, a highwayman, for murdering Henry Miller on or near this spot, in May, 1673. "In 1674 was published," says Park, in his "History of Hampstead," "Jackson's Recantation; or, the Life and Death of the notorious Highwayman now hanging in chains at Hampstead," &c. Park adds that he was told that the post of this gibbet was in his time (1818) remaining as a mantel-tree over the fire-place in the kitchen of the "Castle" public-house on the Heath. One of the two trees between which the gibbet stood was blown down not many years ago. Hampstead, we may add, was a well-known place for highwaymen, who waylaid persons returning from the Wells as they rode or drove down Haverstock Hill, or across the Heath, and towards Finchley. We are told in the "Cabinet of Curiosities," published by Limbird in 1822, that Lord Kenyon referred to a case in which a highwayman had the audacity to file a bill before a Court of Equity to compel his partner to account to him for a half-share of his plunder, in which it was expressly stated that the plaintiff and his partner, one Joseph Williams, continued their joint dealings together in several places—viz., at "Bagshot, in Surrey; at Salisbury, in Wiltshire; at Hampstead, in Middlesex, and elsewhere, to the amount of £2,000 and upwards." It is satisfactory to learn that the insolent plaintiff was afterwards executed, and one of his solicitors transported for being concerned in a robbery.
Golder's Hill, at North End, was the residence of Mark Akenside, the author of "Pleasures of the Imagination." The son of a butcher at Newcastleon-Tyne, he was born at that place in 1721, and was educated at the grammar-school of that town. He afterwards went to Edinburgh, in order to qualify himself for the ministry; but preferring the study of physic, he took his degree of M.D. in 1744, by royal mandate from the University of Cambridge. In that same year he produced the poem above mentioned, and it was well received. In the following year he published his first collection of odes. His life was uneventful. He practised as a physician with but indifferent success, first at Northampton, afterwards in Hampstead, and finally in London. At length, just as bright prospects were opening upon him, he was carried off by an attack of fever, in 1770. He was a man of great learning, and of high character and morality; and the style of his poetry is lofty, chaste, and classical. Akenside lies buried, as we have seen, (fn. 7) in the Church of St. James, Piccadilly.
At a farmhouse close by, just on the edge of the Heath, William Blake, the artist and poet, used to lodge. Linnell, the painter, frequently occupied the house during the summer months. Mr. Coventry Patmore, too, lived for some time at North End; Mrs. Craik, the novelist (formerly Miss Dinah Muloch), likewise formerly resided here, in the house afterwards occupied by Miss Meteyard, the authoress of the "Life of Joshua Wedgwood" and other antiquarian works. Collins' Farm, at North End, has often been painted. It is the subject of a picture by Stuart, exhibited in 1830. The large house on the right of the avenue, descending from the Heath, was for some time the residence of Sir T. Fowell Buxton, whose name became associated with those of Clarkson, Wilberforce, and other kindred spirits, in effecting the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the slaves throughout the colonial possessions of the British empire.
The "Bull and Bush," a well-known public-house in North End, was, it is said, the frequent resort of Addison and his friends. The house has attached to it some pleasant tea-gardens, in which some of the curiously constructed bowers and arbours are still to be seen.