Hampstead: Vale of Health

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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T F T Baker. Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot, 'Hampstead: Vale of Health', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington, (London, 1989), pp. 71-73. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp71-73 [accessed 19 June 2024].

T F T Baker. Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot. "Hampstead: Vale of Health", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington, (London, 1989) 71-73. British History Online, accessed June 19, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp71-73.

Baker, T F T. Bolton, Diane K. Croot, Patricia E C. "Hampstead: Vale of Health", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington, (London, 1989). 71-73. British History Online. Web. 19 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp71-73.

The Vale of Health.

East of the road across the heath to Spaniard's was an area of bog (fn. 1) called Gangmoor, described towards the end of her life by the sculptor Joseph Nollekens's wife (d. 1817) as 'a stagnate bottom, a pit in the heath'. (fn. 2) There Samuel Hatch, a harness maker presented for building a shop on the highway at Jack Straw's Castle and dumping his hides, built a workshop and in 1714 was granted a piece of waste. (fn. 3) By 1720 he had a cottage at what was subsequently called Hatch's or Hatchett's Bottom. (fn. 4) In 1762 a single enclosure, approached by an unfenced track from Heath Street, contained a barn, stable, and cowshed, for which ground rent was payable to the lord of the manor, and possibly a cottage next to a small pond, which may have been Hatch's cottage and was not listed as copyhold. (fn. 5) In 1777 the Hampstead Water Co. enlarged the pond and drained the marshy ground, and three cottages were built there for the poor in 1779, (fn. 6) to replace those which passed into private ownership at the increasingly fashionable Littleworth. Thomas Naylor, the occupier of the enclosure of 1762, had tan pits at Hatch's Bottom in 1777. (fn. 7) The enclosure, which was leased by the lord of the manor like demesne, had by 1808 become the site of a varnish factory. (fn. 8) A chimneysweep had by then built a cottage adjoining it to the north, possibly Chestnut Cottage, which was later rented from the lord by a chimneysweep. (fn. 9) The place was also used for laundering and in 1839 the Vale had the highest number of clothes posts in the parish. (fn. 10)

The name the Vale of Health, recorded in 1801, may have originated as a euphemism which was exploited or as a new name invented in a deliberate attempt to change the image of the place. Such an attempt might have been made by John Rudd, a builder, who acquired most of the grants of waste made during the later 18th century and probably built the seven houses and two cottages which were sold at his death in 1801. (fn. 11) The enclosure recorded in 1762 was subleased in 1808 to William Woods, a carpenter, who had built two cottages there by 1810. (fn. 12) The middle-class element became increasingly important from the early 19th century. In 1801 the attractions of the area included 'unbounded prospects' of Kent and the river Thames, and screening, presumably by trees and the lie of the land, from north winds. (fn. 13) By 1821 the inhabitants, petitioning for the removal of the poor houses, observed that the neighbourhood had 'greatly increased in respectability' through the 'improvement of property'. (fn. 14) Sir Samuel Romilly (1757-1818), the law reformer, retired to a cottage in the Vale. (fn. 15) In 1815 James Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), on his release from prison for libelling the Prince Regent, went to live in the Vale where he stayed until 1819, returning again for a brief period in 1820-1. His home became the centre for most of the leading literary figures of the day, including Byron and Shelley, who were supposed to have shared a cottage there, where they inscribed lines on a window. (fn. 16) The Vale, with its modest but picturesque cottages surrounded by the heath, was the perfect setting for the romantic poets, and Hunt's circle was important in establishing the literary and politically radical tradition later associated with Hampstead. (fn. 17) During the period 1825-32 the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and George Crabbe visited the Vale and the publisher Charles Knight (1791- 1873) lived there 1830-5, as from 1831 did his friend Matthew Davenport Hill (1792-1872), lawyer and radical M.P. and brother of Rowland. Knight and Hill together established the Penny Magazine in 1832 and formed the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. (fn. 18) Prince Esterhazy was said to have taken a house in the Vale in 1840. (fn. 19)

The hamlet grew from 4 houses and 10 cottages in 1815 (fn. 20) to 18 houses in 1851, of which 5 were larger houses. In 1841 the population of 112 included 5 gentry and 26 domestic servants. The population dropped to 87 in 1851 possibly because some of the larger houses were used as country retreats: several were empty or occupied only by caretakers. Although described in 1852 as a 'range of indifferently white-washed cottages . . . relieved by clothes-props and lines', the Vale became increasingly desirable, both for permanent residents and visitors, especially after the opening of the Hampstead Junction Railway in 1860. (fn. 21)

Several cottages at the northern end of the Vale have been claimed as Hunt's home, which cannot be certainly identified and was probably one of the northern group of 2 houses and 10 cottages which had belonged to Rudd, passed to the Munyard family, and was enfranchised in 1860 when it included Vale Lodge and House, Woodbine, Pavilion, and Rose cottages, and four cottages which had been turned into tea rooms. Helen, countess of Dufferin (1807-67), a granddaughter of Richard Sheridan and herself a poet, lived in Pavilion Cottage at some time between 1848 and 1860. Although the Munyards retained the ownership of nine houses in the Vale in the 1890s, Thomas Munyard lived in Munich and Henry Milton, who was his tenant in 1860, may have been responsible for building on the estate. Milton (d. 1883), described as a carpenter in 1851, 'proprietor of houses' in 1861, and retired builder by 1871, owned 8 houses in 1861 and 15 in 1881. (fn. 22)

To the south-west four pieces of waste, granted between 1791 and 1807, had been acquired by Donald Nicoll (d. 1872) who obtained their enfranchisement in 1858. (fn. 23) In 1856 Nicoll bought the freehold site, where the parish poorhouses had stood, probably nearby. The existing buildings were demolished and nos. 1-6 Heath Villas built in 1862 by Culverhouse with high Gothic gables; farther east the Suburban hotel (also called the Vale of Health tavern) with towers and battlements and accommodation for 2,000 was built in 1863, nos. 7- 12 Heath Villas by 1868, and the Hampstead Heath hotel, between the two groups of villas, by 1869. Separating the new buildings from the pond to the east were grottos and arbours which, like the tea gardens, boats and fairground, provided for the crowds of summer visitors. (fn. 24)

The buildings called the Villas on the Heath were built at the southern end of the Munyard estate during the 1860s. George Samuel Jealous lived at no. 1 by 1869: a radical, with interests in the co-operative movement, temperance, vegetarianism, ragged schools, and the Peace Society, he acquired the Hampstead and Highgate Express and is credited with stimulating the interest of the Harmsworth family in printing. Alfred Harmsworth, a lawyer, went to live in Rose Cottage in 1870 with his three sons Alfred, later Viscount Northcliffe, Harold, later Viscount Rothermere, and Cecil, later Baron Harmsworth (d. 1948). In 1893 Ernest Rhys, editor of Everyman's Library, rented Rose Cottage, which in 1895 he renamed Hunt Cottage, believing it to have been Leigh Hunt's house. (fn. 25)

A few houses were built to the west and south in 1870 but building on the waste ended in 1872 when the M.B.W. bought the heath. Copyholders and freeholders could still build on their estates, so the Vale grew within the existing confines. (fn. 26) Between 1875 and 1887 the 19 houses built (fn. 27) included nos. 1-6 the Gables in the north in 1883 and Hollycot in the south, one of the last built; from 1906 to 1913 J. L. Hammond (1872-1949) and his wife Barbara, the social historians, lived at Hollycot. By 1890 there were 53 houses in the Vale. (fn. 28)

The two hotels failed as speculative ventures. The large Vale of Health tavern, originally intended as a hotel and sanatorium, was sold in 1876, became associated with the fair, was let as flats, and c. 1900 became a hotel again on a smaller scale, with the upper rooms let as studios. In 1877 the smaller Hampstead Heath hotel passed to Henry Braun, who opened it as the Athenaeum club, the members including many foreigners and political radicals. In 1882 the upper half of the building was let to the Salvation Army and in 1883 there were complaints about the noise and ugliness of the Vale, a compound of the swings and roundabouts, accompanied presumably by quantities of drink, with Salvation Army processions. Another hotel was opened next to the Athenaeum in the late 1880s but it had closed by 1903 and was replaced by Byron Villas. The Athenaeum, which had become an Anglo-German club by 1908, closed in 1914 and was used as a factory. (fn. 29)

Although the Vale of Health was described in 1911 as vulgarized by its tavern, tea gardens, merry-gorounds, and slot machines, (fn. 30) it continued to attract distinguished inhabitants. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Indian poet and mystic, lived at no. 3 Villas on the Heath in 1912, the author D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) and his wife Frieda at no. 1 Byron Villas in 1915, Cyril Joad, the philosopher and broadcaster, at no. 4 the Gables in 1923-4, and the writers Edgar Wallace (d. 1932) at Vale Lodge, John Middleton Murry at no. 1A the Gables in 1926, and Stella Gibbons at Vale Cottage in 1927- 30. Sir Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972), who lived at Woodbine Cottage from 1937 to 1943, summed up the attraction of the Vale for writers: 'village life half an hour from Piccadilly Circus was a continuous refreshment and stimulus'. The artist Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953) lived at no. 1 the Gables in 1907 and among others who used the studios in the Vale of Health hotel were Henry Lamb, who painted his portrait of Lytton Strachey there in 1912, Stanley Spencer from 1914 to 1927, and Sir William Coldstream in the 1930s. (fn. 31)

The Vale of Health studios closed in 1939. (fn. 32) Inhabitants since the Second World War include Norman Bentwich (1883-1971), the exponent of Jewish ideals, and his wife Helen (d. 1972), chairman of the L.C.C. and the Vale's historian, who lived in Hollycot from 1931, Sir Leon Bagrit (1902-79), the Russian-born industrialist, and Sir Paul Chambers (1904-81), the banker, at Vale Lodge in the 1950s, and Alfred Brendel, the pianist, at North Villa in the 1970s. (fn. 33) Since 1945 the Vale has changed less than any other district in Hampstead. Luxury flats (the Athenaeum) replaced the old Athenaeum in 1958 and Spencer House (flats) replaced the Vale of Health hotel in 1964. (fn. 34) The changes did not alter the generally village-like atmosphere of the Vale, with its narrow streets, isolated on the heath. Listed buildings included the early 19th-century group from Rudd's estate, Vale House, Cottage, and Lodge, North and South Villas, Hunt Cottage, and the weatherboarded (possibly 18th-century) Woodbine and Old cottages; Chestnut Cottage to the west, from before 1812, with the Vivary and Lavender cottages opposite, which were probably built either in 1845 by William Hooper or in 1846 by H. Hill; the Villas on the Heath, dating from the 1860s, and Byron Villas, from 1903. (fn. 35)


  • 1. Marked on 1680 map: C.H.R. xi. 21.
  • 2. J. T. Smith, Nollekens and His Times (1949), 52.
  • 3. D. Sullivan, article on Littleworth in H.H.E. 25 May 1979.
  • 4. M.M. & M., Lib. C, pp. 18-22. Hatch's Bottom still identifiable: C. W. Ikin, Hampstead Heath, 16.
  • 5. S.C.L., Man. Map and Fieldbk. no. 223.
  • 6. H. C. Bentwich, Vale of Health on Hampstead Heath (1968), 15, 23; below, local govt.
  • 7. G.L.R.O., E/MW/H/I/1938.
  • 8. Ibid. H, old no. 31/8 (leases 1787, 1808).
  • 9. Ibid. H. old no. 21/18 (rental 1820); 26/34 (rental 1871); C.H.R. x. 18.
  • 10. Barratt, Annals, ii. 268; below, econ. ind.
  • 11. G.L.R.O., E/MW/H, old no. 27/15 (sales parts. 1801). For the Vale in 1804, below, plate 5.
  • 12. G.L.R.O., E/MW/H, old no. 21/18 (rental 1820).
  • 13. Ibid. 27/15 (sales parts. 1801); cf. illus. 1804: Hampstead One Thousand, 53.
  • 14. G.L.R.O., P81/JN1/15, s.v. 3 Sept. 1801. For the Vale in 1825, see Phillips, Shepherd's Lond. plate 16.
  • 15. D.N.B.
  • 16. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 34-7; Cunningham, Lond.: Comprehensive Surv. 756-7; G.L.R.O., E/MW/H, old no. 27/15 (sales parts. 1836).
  • 17. Thompson, Hampstead, 28.
  • 18. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 39, 41-2; Cunningham, Lond.: Comprehensive Surv. 757.
  • 19. W. Besant, Survey of Lond. ix (1911), 364.
  • 20. Poor rate bk. 1815.
  • 21. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 47-51; C.H.R. x. 17-18.
  • 22. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 54-7; C.H.R. x. 17-18; J. Wyld, Map of Lond. and Environs (1848); G.L.R.O., E/MW/H, old no. Locker 24 (rental 1890-1900).
  • 23. G.L.R.O., E/MW/H, old no. 37/8 (enfranchisement 1858).
  • 24. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 58-62; Images of Hampstead, 73; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Lond. VII (1870 edn.); below, social.
  • 25. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 63-6; C.H.R. x. 17-18.
  • 26. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 67; C.H.R. x. 17-18.
  • 27. D.S.R.
  • 28. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 67, 85; Wade, Streets of Hampstead, 81.
  • 29. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 67-84; below, social.
  • 30. Besant, Survey of Lond. ix. 364.
  • 31. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 86-93; Wade, Streets of Hampstead, 80-2.
  • 32. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 88.
  • 33. Wade, Streets of Hampstead, 81-2; D.N.B. s.v. Bentwich, Bagrit; Who's Who (1981), s.v. Chambers; Dict. Business Biog. (1984), i, s.v. Chambers.
  • 34. Bentwich, Vale of Health, 12, 83-4; Wade, Streets of Hampstead, 80-1.
  • 35. S.C.L., Town and Country Planning, 52nd List of Bldgs. (1974); Pevsner, Lond. ii. 192; Wade, Streets of Hampstead, 81-2; D.S.R.; Map on notice bd. at Vale. For Chestnut Cottage, above.