Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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'Hampstead: Belsize and Frognal', in Old and New London: Volume 5, (London, 1878) pp. 494-504. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp494-504 [accessed 4 March 2024]
HAMPSTEAD (continued).—BELSIZE AND FROGNAL.
"Estates are landscapes gazed upon awhile,
Then advertised, and auctioneered away."
Grant of the Manor of Belsize to Westminster Abbey—Belsize Avenue—Old Belsize House—The Family of Waad—Lord Wotton—Pepys' Account of the Gardens of Belsize—The House attacked by Highway Robbers—A Zealous Protestant—Belsize converted into a Place of Public Amusement, and becomes an "Academy" for Dissipation and Lewdness—The House again becomes a Private Residence—The Right Hon. Spencer Perceval—Demolition of the House—The Murder of Mr. James Delarue—St. Peter's Church—Belsize Square—New College—The Shepherds' or Conduit Fields—Shepherds' Well—Leigh Hunt, Shelley, and Keats—Fitzjohn's Avenue—Finchley Road—Frognal Priory and Memory-Corner Thompson—Dr. Johnson and other Residents at Frognal—Oak Hill Park—Upper Terrace—West End—Rural Festivities—The Cemetery—Child's Hill—Concluding Remarks on Hampstead.
On our right, as we descend Haverstock Hill, lies the now populous district of South Hampstead, or Belsize Park. It is approached on the eastern side through the beautiful avenue of elms mentioned at the close of the preceding chapter; on the west it nearly joins the "Swiss Cottage," which, as we have seen, stands at the farthest point of St. John's Wood.
It is traditionally stated that the manor of Belsize had belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster from the reign of King Edgar, nearly a century before the Conquest; but it is on actual record that in the reign of Edward II. the Crown made a formal grant to Westminster Abbey of the manor of Belsize, then described as consisting of a house and 284 acres of land, on condition of the monks finding a chaplain to celebrate mass daily for the repose of the souls of Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and of Blanche, his wife. This earl was a grandson of Henry III.; he had taken up arms against Edward, but was captured and beheaded. His name survives still in Lancaster Road.
About 1870 the Dean and Chapter of Westminster gave up the fine avenue above-mentioned, called Belsize Avenue, to the parish of Hampstead, on condition of the vestry planting new trees as the old ones failed. A row of villas is now built on the north side, and at the south-east corner, as stated above, a new town-hall for Hampstead was erected in 1876–7.
At the lower end of the avenue stood, till very recently, a house which, a century ago, enjoyed a celebrity akin to that of the Vauxhall of our own time, but which at an earlier period had a history of its own. An engraving of the house soon after this date will be found in Lysons' "Environs of London," from which it is reproduced in Charles Knight's "Pictorial History of England." It stood near the site of what is now St. Peter's Church, facing the avenue above mentioned, at right angles.
Upon the dissolution of the monasteries one Armigel Wade, or Waad, who had been clerk to the Council under Henry VIII. and Edward VI., and who is known as the British Columbus, obtained a lease of "Old Belsize"—for so this house was called—for a term of two lives. He thereupon retired to Belsize House, where he ended his days in 1568. There was a monument erected to his memory in the old parish church of Hampstead. His son, Sir William Waad, made Lieutenant of the Tower, and knighted by James I., also lived at Belsize and died in 1623. Sir William had married, as his second wife, a daughter of Sir Thomas Wotton, who, surviving as his widow, got the lease of the house and estate renewed to her for two more lives, at a yearly rental of £19 2s. 10d., exclusive of ten loads of hay and five quarters of oats payable to Westminster. She left Belsize to her son, Charles Henry de Kirkhaven, by her first husband; and he, on account of his mother's lineage, was created a peer of the realm, as Lord Wotton, by Charles II., and made this place his residence.
That old gossip, Pepys, thus speaks of it in his "Diary," under date August 17, 1668: "To Hampstead, to speak with the attorney-general, whom we met in the fields, by his old rout and house. And after a little talk about our business, went and saw the Lord Wotton's house and garden, which is wonderful fine: too good for the house the gardens are, being, indeed, the most noble that ever I saw, and such brave orange and lemon trees."
The gardens, indeed, were quite fine enough to offer temptations to thieves and robbers, for soon after this date we find that an attack was made upon the place. In the True Protestant Mercury of October 15—19, 1681, we read—"London, October 18. Last night, eleven or twelve highway robbers came on horseback to the house of Lord Wotton, at Hampstead, and attempted to enter therein, breaking down part of the wall and the gate; but there being four or five within the house, they very courageously fired several musquets and a blunderbuss upon the thieves, which gave the alarm to one of the lord's tenants, a farmer, that dwelt not far off, who thereupon went immediately into the town and raised the inhabitants, who, going towards the house, which was about half a mile off, it is thought the robbers hearing thereof, and withal finding the business difficult, they all made their escape. It is judged they had notice of my lord's absence from his house, and likewise of a great booty which was therein, which put them upon this desperate attempt."
On Lord Wotton's death the Belsize estate fell to the hands of his half-brother, Lord Chesterfield. The latter, however, did not care to live there, but sold his interest in the place, and the house remained for some time unoccupied. In the reign of George I., however, we find Belsize in the hands of a retired "sea-coal" merchant, named Povey, to whom the then French ambassador, the Duc d'Aumont, offered the (at that time) immense rental of £1,000 a year on a repairing lease. It transpired that the duke wanted the place because it contained or had attached to it a private chapel. On this the coal-merchant refused to carry out the bargain, on the ground that he "would not have his chapel desecrated by Popery." For this piece of Protestant zeal he hoped that he would have been applauded by the magistrates; his surprise, therefore, must have been great when, instead of praise, he received from the Privy Council a reprimand, as being an "enemy to the king." It is recorded that when the Prince of Wales (afterwards George II.) came soon afterwards to see the house, Povey addressed to him a letter, informing his royal highness of these particulars, but the prince never condescended to vouchsafe him a reply. Povey, we may add, made himself notorious in his day by the publication of sundry pamphlets exposing the evil practices of Government agencies. He also took to himself great credit as a patriot for having refused to let his mansion to the French ambassador, and modestly put in a claim for some reimbursement from the nation, for having "kept the Romish host" from being offered in Hampstead, at a cost to himself of one thousand pounds. Our readers will hardly need to be told that Mr. Povey got no thanks for his pains, any more than he did shortly afterwards for his equally disinterested offer of his house and chapel for the use of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, "for a place of recess or constant residence." Not obtaining an answer to his impertinent intrusion, he seems to have turned Belsize to good account pecuniarily, and perhaps, at the same time, to have "paid out" his neighbours for their coolness to him, by allowing it to be opened as a place of fashionable amusement.
For a period of about forty years—in fact, during the reigns of George I. and George II.—Belsize ceased to be occupied as a private residence, being opened by a Welshman of the name of Howell as a place of public amusement, and sank apparently down into a second-rate house of refreshments and gambling. In the park, which was said to be a mile in circumference, were exhibited foot-races, athletic sports, and sometimes deer-hunts and foxhunts: and it is said that one diversion occasionally was a race between men and women in wooden shoes. Upon the whole, it is to be feared that Belsize was not as respectably conducted as it might have been and ought to have been; the consequence was that its customers fell off, and in the end it was shut up.
The newspapers of the period announce that the house was opened as a place of public entertainment "with an uncommon solemnity of music and dancing." It is somewhat amusing to note that the advertisements wind up with an assurance that for the benefit of visitors timid about highwaymen "twelve stout fellows completely armed patrol between Belsize and London." Notwithstanding that the house had been the residence of the lord of the manor, better company (we are told) came to it in its fallen estate than before. A year or two after it was opened to the public grievous complaints were made by the people of Hampstead of the multitude of coaches which invaded their rural solitude. The numbers were often as many as two or three hundred in a single night. We glean from Park's "History of Hampstead" the following particulars concerning Belsize House as a place of amusement:—"Of Belsize House, as the mansion of a manorial district in the parish of Hampstead, I have already spoken; it is introduced again here as a place formerly of considerable notoriety for public diversions. The following extracts will give some idea of the nature and character of these amusements, and indicate that it was the prototype of Vauxhall, Ranelagh, and many other more modern establishments:—'Whereas that the ancient and noble house near Hampstead, commonly called Bellasis-house, is now taken and fitted up for the entertainment of gentlemen and ladies during the whole summer season, the same will be opened with an uncommon solemnity of music and dancing. This undertaking will exceed all of the kind that has hitherto been known near London, commencing every day at six in the morning, and continuing till eight at night, all persons being privileged to admittance without necessity of expense,' &c., &c.—Mist's Journal, April 16, 1720.
"A hand-bill of the amusements at Belsize (formerly in the possession of Dr. Combe), which has a print of the old mansion-house prefixed, announces Belsize to be open for the season (no date), 'the park, wilderness, and garden being wonderfully improved and filled with variety of birds, which compose a most melodious and delightful harmony. Persons inclined to walk and divert themselves, may breakfast on tea and coffee as cheap as at their own chambers. Twelve stout fellows, completely armed, to patrole between Belsize and London,' &c., &c. 'Last Saturday their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales dined at Belsize-house, near Hampstead, attended by several persons of quality, where they were entertained with the diversion of hunting, and such other as the place afforded, with which they seemed well pleased, and at their departure were very liberal to the servants.'—Read's Journal, July 15, 1721.
"In the same journal, September 9, 1721, is an account of his Excellency the Welsh ambassador giving a plate of six guineas to be run for by eleven footmen. The Welsh ambassador appears to have been the nickname of one Howell, who kept the house.
"'The Court of Justices, at the general quarter sessions at Hickes's-hall, have ordered the highconstable of Holborn division to issue his precepts to the petty constables and headboroughs of the parish of Hampstead, to prevent all unlawful gaming, riots, &c., at Belsize-house and the Great Room at Hampstead.'—St. James's Journal, May 24, 1722.
"'On Monday last the appearance of nobility and gentry at Belsize was so great that they reckoned between three and four hundred coaches, at which time a wild deer was hunted down and killed in the park before the company, which gave near three hours' diversion.'—Ibid., June 7, 1722."
In 1722 was published, in an octavo volume, "'Belsize House,' a satire, exposing, 1. The Fops and Beaux who daily frequent that academy. 2. The characters of the women who make this an exchange for assignations. 3. The buffoonery of the Welsh ambassador. 4. The humours of his customers in their several apartments, &c. By a Serious Person of Quality." The volume, however, is of little real value, except as a somewhat coarse sketch of the manners of the age.
According to this poetical sarcasm, Belsize was
an academy for dissipation and lewdness, to a degree
that would scarcely be tolerated in the present
times, and that would be a scandal in any; but
some allowance must probably be made for the
jaundiced vision of the caustic writer. We find in
it the following brief description of the house:—
"This house, which is a nuisance to the land,
Doth near a park and handsome garden stand,
Fronting the road, betwixt a range of trees,
Which is perfumed with a Hampstead breeze;
And on each side the gate's a grenadier,
Howe'er, they cannot speak, think, see, nor hear;
But why they're posted there no mortal knows,
Unless it be to fright jackdaws and crows;
For rooks they cannot scare, who there resort,
To make of most unthoughtful bubbles sport."
The grounds and gardens of Belsize continued open as late as the year 1745, when foot-races were advertised there. In the course of the next generation, however, a great change would seem to have come over the place; at all events, in the "Ambulator," (1774), we read: "Belsize is situated on the south-west side of Hampstead Hill, Middlesex, and was a fine seat belonging to the Lord Wotton, and afterwards to the Earl of Chesterfield; but in the year 1720 it was converted into a place of polite entertainment, particularly for music, dancing, and play, when it was much frequented, on account of its neighbourhood to London, but since that time it has been suffered to run to ruin."
After the lapse of many years, during which little or nothing is recorded of its history, Belsize came again to be occupied as a private residence, and among its other tenants was the Right Hon. Spencer Perceval, afterwards Prime Minister, who lived here for about ten years before taking office as Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, from 1798 to 1807. Mr. Perceval was the second son of the Earl of Egmont. Having first applied himself to the study of the law, he entered Parliament, in 1796, as member for Northampton, and under Mr. Addington's administration, in 1801, was appointed Solicitor-General. Next year he became AttorneyGeneral, attaining also great distinction as a Parliamentary debater. On the fall of the Duke of Portland's Administration, in 1809, Mr. Perceval was appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he was still in office when he was assassinated by Bellingham, in the lobby of the House of Commons, in 1812. (fn. 1) A portrait of Mr. Perceval, painted by Joseph, from a mask taken after death by Nollekens, is to be seen in the National Portrait Gallery.
In more recent times Belsize House was occupied by a Roman Catholic family named Wright, who were bankers in London. The old house, originally a large but plain Elizabethan mansion, with central tower and slightly projecting wings, was remodelled during the reign of Charles II., and subsequently again considerably altered. Its park, less than a century ago, was a real park, somewhat like that which encompasses Holland House, at Kensington. It was surrounded by a solid wall, which skirted the south side of a lane leading from the wood of the Knights of St. John towards Hampstead.
Belsize seems, on the whole, to have been rather an unlucky place. The mansion was pulled down about the year 1852, and the bricks of the house and of the park wall were used to make the roads which now traverse the estate, and to form the site of the handsome villa residences which now form Belsize Park; and at the present time all that is left to remind the visitor of the past glories of the spot is the noble avenue of elms which, as we have stated, once formed its principal approach.
On the 21st of February, 1845, Mr. James Delarue, a teacher of music, was murdered by a young man named Hocker, close by the corner of Belsize Park, in the narrow lane leading from Chalk Farm to Hampstead. The lane, at that time, as may be imagined, was very solitary, seeing that, with the exception of Belsize House, there were no houses near the spot. The crime was perpetrated about seven o'clock in the evening. Cries of "murder" were heard by a person who happened to be passing at the time, and on an alarm being given, the body of the murdered man was quickly discovered. Hocker, it seems, had in the meanwhile gone to the "Swiss Tavern," and there called for brandy and water; but on the arrival of the police and others, Hocker too appeared on the spot, inquired what was amiss, and, taking the dead man's hand, felt his pulse and pronounced him dead, and gave some bystanders money to help carry the corpse away. Mr. Howitt, in noticing this tragedy in his "Northern Heights," says, "The murder was afterwards clearly traced to Hocker, the cause of it being jealousy and revenge, so far as it appeared, for his being supplanted by Delarue in the affections of a young woman of Hampstead. On the trial Hocker read a paper endeavouring to throw the charge of the murder on a friend, whose name, of course, he did not disclose, and added an improbable story of the manner in which his clothes had become stained with blood. The reading of this paper only impressed the court and the crowd of spectators with an idea of Hocker's excessive hypocrisy and cold-bloodedness. He was convicted and executed." Miss Lucy Aikin alludes to this murder of Delarue in one of her letters to a friend: "I rather congratulate myself on not being in Church Row during the delightful excitement of this murder and the inquest, which appear to have had so many charms for the million. . . . . But I think the event will give me a kind of a dislike to Belsize Lane, which hitherto I used to think the pleasantest way from us to you."
We have stated above that the manor of Belsize belongs to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster; we may add here that "Buckland" Crescent and "Stanley" Gardens, which now form part of the estate, are named after deans of that collegiate establishment, and that St. Peter's Church is so dedicated after St. Peter's Abbey itself. It is a neat cruciform building, in the Decorated style of architecture, with side aisle and tower, and was erected in 1860.
In Belsize Square lived for some time, and there died in 1875, Henry Malden, M.A., formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and for forty-five years Professor of Greek in University College, London. The son of a surgeon at Putney, he was born in the year 1800, and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was elected to a Craven Scholarship, together with the late Lord Macaulay. Whilst at Cambridge, he contributed to Knight's Quarterly Magazine, and wrote a poem entitled "Evening," which was published in a volume of poems edited by Joanna Baillie. In 1834 he published a small work on the "Origin of Universities and Academical Degrees," which was written as an introduction to the Report of the Argument before the Privy Council in support of the application of the University of London for a charter empowering it to grant degrees.
On the western side of the Belsize estate, at the angle of the Finchley and Belsize Roads, stands New College, a substantial-looking stone-built edifice, erected about the year 1853, as a place of training for young men for the ministry of the Independent persuasion. Not far from it, at the top of Avenue Road, is a handsome Gothic Chapel belonging also to the Nonconformists, and known as New College Chapel.
Down till very recently, Hampstead was separated from Belsize Park, Kilburn, Portland Town, &c., by a broad belt of green meadows, known as the Shepherds' or Conduit Fields, across which ran a pleasant pathway sloping up to the southwestern corner of the village, and terminating near Church Row. On the eastern side of these fields is an old well or conduit, called the Shepherd's Well, where visitors in former times used to be supplied with a glass of the clearest and purest water. This conduit is probably of very ancient date. The spring formerly served not only visitors but also the dwellers in Hampstead with water, and poor people used to fetch it and sell it by the bucket. There used to be an arch over the conduit, and rails stood round it; but since Hampstead has been supplied by the New River Company the conduit has become neglected, and the spring is now only a small and dirty swamp.
Towards the close of the last century, Lord
Loughborough, who, as we have seen, was then
living close by, desired to stop the inhabitants
from obtaining the water, by enclosing the well, or
otherwise cutting off all communication with it;
but so great was the popular indignation, that an
appeal was made to the Courts of Law, when a
decision was very wisely given in the people's
favour, and so the well remained in constant use
till our own times. In this we are reminded of
"Some village Hampden that, with dauntless breast,
The little tyrant of the fields withstood;"
but who the "village Hampden" was on this occasion is not recorded by local tradition.
From Hone's "Table Book" we glean the following particulars concerning this well:—"The arch, embedded above and around by the green turf, forms a conduit-head to a beautiful spring; the specific gravity of the fluid, which yields several tons a day, is little more than that of distilled water. Hampstead abounds in other springs, but they are mostly impregnated with mineral substances. The water of 'Shepherd's Well,' therefore, is in continual request; and those who cannot otherwise obtain it are supplied through a few of the villagers, who make a scanty living by carrying it to houses for a penny a pailful. There is no carriage-way to the spot, and these poor things have much hard work for a very little money. … The water of Shepherd's Well is remarkable for not being subject to freeze. There is another spring sometimes resorted to near Kilburn; but this and the ponds in the Vale of Health are the ordinary sources of public supply to Hampstead. The chief inconvenience of habitations in this delightful village is the inadequate distribution of good water. Occasional visitants, for the sake of health, frequently sustain considerable injury by the insalubrity of private springs, and charge upon the fluid they breathe the mischief they derive from the fluid they drink. The localities of the place afford almost every variety of aspect and temperature that invalids require; and a constant sufficiency of wholesome water might be easily obtained by a few simple arrangements." It may be well to add, however, that the want of good water is not among the requirements of Hampstead at the present day; and also that what Lord Loughborough was unable to effect in the way of stopping the supply of water from this spring, was partially accomplished about the years 1860–70, through the excavation of tunnels under the hill on the side of which it stands, when the spring became almost dried up.
The fields which we have now before us are those over which Leigh Hunt so much delighted to ramble, and which, no doubt, he found far more pleasant than the interior of Newgate, in which he had been immured for calling the Prince of Wales "a fat Adonis." In these fields Hunt would often meet with the genial company of his fellow-poets. Shelley would walk hither from his lodgings in Pond Street, and Keats would turn up from Well Walk. Here the three friends once frightened an old lady terribly: they thought themselves quite alone, and Shelley, throwing himself into attitude, began to spout the lines—
"Come, brothers, let us sit upon the ground,
And tell sad stories of the deaths of kings."
The old lady made off as quick as her feet could carry her, and told her friends that she had met in the fields three dangerous characters, who, she was quite sure, were either madmen, or republicans, or actors! It was the view of Hampstead from these fields that suggested to the mind of Leigh Hunt the following lines, descriptive of their beauties, and which are well worthy to appear among his various poems on the scenery of this neighbourhood:—
"A turret looking o'er a leafy vine,
With hedgerow styles in front, and sloping green,
Sweet Hampstead, is thy southward look serene;
And such thou welcomest approaching eyes.
To me a double charm is in thy skies
From her meek spirit, oft in fancy seen
Blessing the twilight with her placid mien."
In 1874–5 it was proposed by some of the inhabitants of Hampstead to purchase a portion of these grassy slopes, and to devote them to public use, in the shape of a "park" for the working classes of the neighbourhood; but the plan was brought to an abrupt termination by some speculative builders, by whom the greater part of the ground was bought and laid out for building purposes, a broad roadway, called Fitzjohn's Avenue, being made at the same time across their centre, thus connecting the town of Hampstead with St. John's Wood, Kilburn, and the west end of London. It is not a little singular that just a hundred years previously—namely, in 1776—the construction of a new road was proposed from Portman Square to Alsopp's Farm, across the fields, and on through a part of Belsize, to the foot of Hampstead Town.
In these fields and in those lying between the southern terrace of the churchyard and the lower portions of Frognal, rise two or three springs, which form the sources of the brook which we have already seen trickling through Kilburn, and by Westbourne Green down to Bayswater, where it forms the head of the Serpentine river.
Leaving the Conduit Fields and Fitzjohn's Avenue on our right, and making our way down College Lane by some neat school-buildings, which have been lately erected there, we emerge upon the Finchley Road, close by the "North Star" tavern, whence a short walk along the road, with pleasant fields and hedgerows on either hand, brings us to the western part of the village of Hampstead. On our way along the Finchley Road we pass, on our right, the large, new, and handsome church of the Holy Trinity; and on our left, the Finchley Road stations on the Midland and North London Railways, which here again emerge into daylight, after passing through tunnels, as already stated, under the Belsize and Rosslyn estates. A footpath, cut diagonally across a sloping meadow, between some venerable oaks, takes us from the main road, behind Frognal Priory, to West End Lane, a narrow carriage-way connecting the Finchley Road with the village of Hampstead. This lane is in parts overhung at the sides by tall elms and quickset hedges, and has about it altogether that quiet air of rusticity which Constable so delighted in painting.
Frognal, as the neighbourhood of the western slope of Hampstead is called, is still, happily, a "beautiful and suburban village," just as it is described by the Rev. J. Richardson in his amusing "Recollections." He writes: "The view from the upper part of this locality is one of the finest in England [he should have said in the neighbourhood of London]. The late Dr. White, who held some years back the living of Hampstead, and also that of Nettlebed, in Oxfordshire, used to affirm that on a clear day, with the aid of a good telescope, he could discern the windmill at Nettlebed from his garden at Frognal, the distance between the two places being about thirty-five miles in a direct line."
This neighbourhood is full of gentlemen's seats and villas, standing in their own grounds. On our right, as we ascend the hill, we pass the site on which, from the close of the last century down to the year 1876, stood a curious building—an absurd specimen of modern antiquity—in the gingerbread Gothic style, a not very successful imitation of Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill, pretentiously styled Frognal Priory. Mr. Howitt, in his "Northern Heights," published in 1869, gives the following particulars of the eccentric house, and its still more eccentric owner:—"This house, now hastening fast to ruin, was built by a Mr. Thompson, best known by the name of 'Memory Thompson,' or, as stated by others, as 'Memory-Corner Thompson.' This Mr. Thompson built the house on a lease of twenty years, subject to a fine to the lord of the manor. He appears to have been an auctioneer and publichouse broker, who grew rich, and, having a peculiar taste in architecture and old furniture, built this house in an old English style, approaching the Elizabethan. That the house, though now ruinous, is of modern date, is also witnessed by the trees around it being common poplar, evidently planted to run up quickly. Thompson is said to have belonged to a club of auctioneers or brokers, which met once a week; and at one of these meetings, boasting that he had a better memory than any man living, he offered to prove it by stating the name and business of every person who kept a corner shop in the City, or, as others have it, the name, number, and business of every person who kept a shop in Cheapside. The former statement is the one most received, and is the more probable, because Thompson, being a public-house broker, was no doubt familiar with all these corner-haunting drink-houses. Having maintained his boast, he was thence called 'Memory,' or 'Memory-Corner Thompson;' but his general cognomen was the first. Thompson not only asserted that he built his house on the site of an ancient priory, continuing down to the Dissolution, and inhabited as a suburban house by Cardinal Wolsey, but, as an auctioneer, he had the opportunity of collecting old furniture, pieces of carving in wood, ebony, ivory, &c. With these he filled his house, dignifying his furniture (some of which had been made up from fragments) as having belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of Scots, and other historical magnates. On the marriage of Queen Victoria, he offered for sale a huge old bedstead, as Queen Elizabeth's, with chairs to match, to Her Majesty, but the queen declined it. It is said, however, to have been purchased by Government, and to be somewhere in one of the palaces. This bedstead, and the chairs possibly, had some authentic character, as he built a wing of his house especially for their reception. Thompson had an ostensibly magnificent library, containing, to all appearance, most valuable works of all kinds; but, on examination, they proved to be only pasteboard bound up and labelled as books. The windows of the chief room were of stained glass, casting 'a dim, religious light.' And this great warehouse of articles of furniture, of real and manufactured antiquity, of coins, china, and articles of vertu, became so great a show place, that people flocked far and near to see it. This greatly flattered Thompson, who excluded no one of tolerable appearance, nor restricted visitors to stated hours. It is said that, in his ostentation, he used to leave five-guinea gold pieces about on the window seats." But this last statement is mythical. The best, and indeed the only good portion of the house, was the porch, a handsome and massive structure, in the ornamented Jacobean style, and which had formed the entrance of some one of the many timber mansions still to be found in Cheshire and in other remote counties, and which Thompson had "picked up" as a bargain in one of his business tours. It was surmounted with the armorial bearings of the family to whom it had belonged, and was often sketched by artists. After his death, at the age of eighty years, a sale of his goods and chattels took place; but the principal part of his wealth descended to his niece, who married Barnard Gregory, the proprietor of the notorious Satirist. Gregory, it seems, on the death of his wife, did not pay the customary fine to the lord of the manor, and Sir Thomas Wilson recovered possession by an injunction, intending to remove the offices of the manor thither. From a fear, however, of the appearance of some heir of Thompson after he had repaired it, which was at one time a possibility, Sir Thomas left it in statu quo ante; and the house having gone rapidly to decay and ruin, was, in the end, wholly demolished. A few trees, forming a sort of grove, and the remains of a small lodge-house, now profusely overgrown with ivy, are all that is left to mark the site of the singular edifice heretofore known as Frognal Priory.
In a cottage close by the entrance to the Priory, as we have stated in a previous chapter, Dr. Johnson stayed for a time as a visitor; and here Boswell tells us that he wrote his "Town," and busied himself during a summer with his essay on the "Vanity of Human Riches." It is not a little singular, however, that neither of these poems bear much trace of the inspiration of the Hampstead Muses. The fact is that the burly doctor preferred society to scenery, and with the winter returned to Fleet Street, and presented himself once more amongst his friends, in whose company he felt, we may be sure, much more at home than amidst the breezes of Hampstead, and in whose conversation more gratification than in the songs of all her nightingales. Park says the house at which Dr. Johnson used to lodge was "the last in Frognal southward, occupied in his (Park's) time by Benjamin Charles Stephenson, Esq., F.S.A." The house has been rebuilt, or, at all events, remodelled since that date.
At Frognal lived also Mr. Thomas William Carr, some time solicitor of the Excise, whose house was the centre of literary réunions. Here, Crabb Robinson tells us in his "Diary," he met Wordsworth, Sir Humphrey Davy, Joanna Baillie, and some other persons of note. One of Mr. Carr's daughters married Sir Robert M. Rolfe, afterwards Lord Chancellor Cranworth.
Frognal Hall, standing close to the western end of the church, was formerly the residence of Mr. Isaac Ware, (fn. 2) the architect, and author of "A Complete Body of Architecture," and of a translation of "Palladio on the Fine Arts," &c. Although Mr. Ware found a patron in the great Lord Burlington, he is stated to have died at his house near Kensington Gravel Pits in "depressed circumstances." A French family, named Guyons, occupied the hall after Ware quitted it; and it was subsequently the residence of Lord Alvanley, Master of the Rolls, and some time Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. After passing through one or two other hands, Frognal Hall became the residence of Mr. Julius Talbot Airey, a Master in the Court of Common Pleas, and brother of General Lord Airey. The adjoining seat, that of Miss Sulivan, is known as Frognal Mansion, and was originally the manor house of this district. A part of the manorial rights attached to this property consists of a private road leading past the north side of the parish church, with a private toll-gate, which even royalty cannot pass without payment of the customary toll. It is nearly the only toll-gate now remaining in all the suburbs of London.
It was probably in the upper part of Frognal that Cyrus Redding for some time resided; at all events, it was in a lodging on the western slope of the hill, as he tells us himself, that he began in 1858 his "Fifty Years' Recollections, Literary and Personal." His windows commanded a charming and extensive view. He writes picturesquely:—"Before me palatial Windsor is seen rising proudly in the distance. The spire of Harrow, like a burial obelisk, ascending in another direction, brings before the glass of memory eminent names with which it is associated—Parr, Byron, Peel, and others, no longer of the quick, but the dead. The hills of Surrey southward blend their faint grey outline with the remoter heaven. The middle landscape slumbers in beauty; clouds roll heavily and sluggishly along, with here and there a break permitting the glory of the superior region to shine obliquely through, in strong contrast to the shadowy face of things beneath."
To the west of Frognal there is some rising ground, which the late Mr. Sheffield Neave laid out for the erection of about twelve handsome houses, called Oak Hill Park. One of these has been frequently occupied during the summer months by Miss Florence Nightingale. Near the entrance of this park is a house which was occupied for many years as the Sailors' Orphan Girls' Home, before the transfer of that institution to its new buildings between Church Row and Greenhill, and Prince Arthur's Road. To the north of Frognal is the Upper Terrace, which screens this portion of Hampstead from the bleak winds that blow across the Heath. In this terrace a house known as the "Priory" was the residence of the eminent sculptor and Royal Academician, Mr. J. H. Foley. In another house in this terrace lived Mr. Magrath, one of the founders, and during its earlier years the secretary, of the Athenæum Club.
Half a mile westward, beyond Frognal, lies West End, a group of houses surrounding an open space which is still a village green. This used to be the scene of a fair held annually in July; but the fair was suppressed about the year 1820 on account of the disorderly conduct of its frequenters. There is extant in the British Museum a curious handbill, dated 1708, and entitled "The Hampstead Fair Rambler; or, The World's Going quite Mad. To the tune of 'Brother Soldier, dost hear of the News?' London, printed for J. Bland, near Holborn, 1708." From this it is clear that, like most rural and suburban fairs, it was remarkable chiefly for its swings, roundabouts, penny trumpets, spiced gingerbread, and halfpenny rattles. Occasionally, however, its proceedings were varied; under date July 2, 1744, we read: "This is to give notice that the Fair will be kept on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday next, in a pleasant, shady walk, in the middle of the town. On Wednesday a pig will be turned loose, and he that takes it up by the tail and throws it over his head shall have it. To pay twopence entrance, and no less than twelve to enter. On Thursday, a match will be run by two men, a hundred yards, in two sacks, for a large sum. And to encourage the sport, the landlord of the inn will give a pair of gloves, to be run for by six men, the winner to have them. And on Friday, a hat, value ten shillings, will be run for by men twelve times round the green; to pay one shilling entrance; no less than four to start. As many as will may enter, and the second man to have all the money above four."
This, doubtless, was the locale of the scenes mentioned in the public prints of June, 1786:—"On Whit Tuesday was celebrated, near Hendon, in Middlesex, a burlesque imitation of the Olympic Games. One prize was a gold-laced hat, to be grinned for by six candidates, who were placed on a platform with horses' collars to grin through. Over their heads was written 'detur tetriori'—'The ugliest grinner shall be the winner.' Each party had to grin for five minutes by himself, and then all the other candidates joined in a grand chorus of distortion. The prize was carried by a porter to a vinegar-merchant, though he was accused by his competitors of foul play, for rinsing his mouth with verjuice. The sports were concluded by a hog with his tail shaved and soaped being let loose among some ten or twelve peasants, any one of whom that could seize him by the queue and throw him across his own shoulders was to keep him as a prize. The animal, after running for some miles about the neighbourhood of the Heath, so tired his pursuers, that they at last gave up the chase in despair. We are told that on this occasion a prodigious concourse of people attended, among whom were the Tripoline Ambassador, and several other persons of distinction and quality."
The Rev. Mr. Richardson, in his amusing "Recollections," states that as lately as 1819 the fair was attended by about two hundred "roughs" from London, who assaulted the men and the women with brutal violence, cutting their clothes from their backs. The Hampstead magistrates were obliged to call the aid of special constables in order to suppress the riot. This riot, however, had one good effect, as it helped to pave the way for the introduction of the new police by Sir Robert Peel. There is a tradition that the last Maypole in the neighbourhood stood on this green. A good sketch of a dance round a country Maypole will be found in Hone's "Every-Day Book," under "May-day."
West End, for the most part, lies low, and the houses are but poor second and third-rate cottages; and there is a public-house bearing the sign of the "Cock and Hoop." Here is a small Gothic structure, forming at once a village school and a chapel of ease for the parish.
A new cemetery for the parish of Hampstead was formed on the north of West End in 1876; it covers twenty acres of ground, and is picturesquely laid out; and close by is a reservoir belonging to the Grand Junction Waterworks Company.
A little further on the road to Hendon is an outlying district of Hampstead parish, known as Child's Hill, consisting almost wholly of cottages, dotted irregularly around two or three cross-roads. Here a small district church was erected about the year 1850; it is a Gothic edifice, consisting of a nave and chancel, with a small bell-turret. The road, here branching off to the right, will take the tourist through a pleasant lane to the north-west corner of the Heath, where the gorse and furze bloom in all their native beauty. Following this road, and leaving on his right Telegraph Hill—the site of a semaphore half a century ago—he will find himself once more at the back of "Jack Straw's Castle," whence a short walk will take him back into the centre of Hampstead.
Having thus far made our survey of the parish of Hampstead, little remains to be said. The place, as we have endeavoured to show, has long been considered healthy and salubrious, and, therefore, has been the frequent resort of invalids for the benefit of the air. From the annual report of the medical officer of health for Hampstead, issued in 1876, we learn that the death-rate for the previous twelve months had been only 15¾ in a thousand—a very low rate of mortality, it must be owned, though not quite so low as it stood in the preceding year, when Dr. Lord gave to the parish, in allusion to its lofty and salubrious situation, the name of Mons Salutis.
The parish extends over upwards of 2,000 acres of land, of which, as we have stated, between 200 and 300 are waste. In 1801 there were 691 inhabited houses in the parish, and the number of families occupying them was 953; and the total number of the inhabitants was 4,343. In 1851 the population had grown to 12,000. Ten years later it had increased to 19,000; in 1865 it had reached 22,000; and at the present time (1877) its numbers may be estimated at about 40,000.
On more than one occasion, when silly prophets and astrologers have alarmed the inhabitants of London by rumours of approaching earthquakes, and tides that should swallow up its citizens, the high ground of Hampstead and Highgate has afforded to the crowds in their alarm a place of refuge and safety. An amusing description of, at all events, two such instances will be found in Dr. Mackay's "Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions," in the chapter devoted to the subject of "Modern Prophecies." It may sound not a little strange when we tell our readers that one of these unreasoning panics occurred so lately as the first year of the reign of George III. It is only fair to add that a slight shock of an earthquake had been felt in London a month before, but so slight, that it did no harm, beyond throwing down one or two tottering stacks of chimneys.
Apropos of the gradual extension of the limits of the metropolis, of which we have already more than once had occasion to speak, we cannot do better, in concluding this part of our perambulations, than to quote the following lines of Mr. Thomas Miller, in his "Picturesque Sketches of London." "Twelve miles," he writes, "would scarcely exceed the almost unbroken line of buildings which extends from Blackwall to far beyond Chelsea, where street still joins to street in apparently endless succession. And yet all around this vast city lie miles of the most beautiful rural scenery. Highgate, Hornsey, and Hampstead, on the Middlesex side, hilly, wooded, and watered; and facing these, the vast range called the Hog's Back, which hems in the far-distant Surrey side from beyond Norwood; . . . . whilst the valleys on both sides of the river are filled with pleasant fields, parks, and green, winding lanes. Were London to extend five miles further every way, it would still be hemmed in with some of the most beautiful country scenery in England; and the lowness of the fares, together with the rapidity of railway travelling, would render as nothing this extent of streets."