Hampstead: Hampstead Heath

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: Hampstead Heath', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington, ed. C R Elrington( London, 1989), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp75-81 [accessed 23 July 2024].

T F T Baker, Diane K Bolton, Patricia E C Croot, 'Hampstead: Hampstead Heath', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington. Edited by C R Elrington( London, 1989), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp75-81.

T F T Baker, Diane K Bolton, Patricia E C Croot. "Hampstead: Hampstead Heath". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington. Ed. C R Elrington(London, 1989), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp75-81.

Hampstead Heath.

The modern Hampstead Heath is normally considered to be the entire open space of c. 800 a., (fn. 1) most of it added to the original heath bordering Hampstead town, the administration of which passed from the L.C.C. to the G.L.C. (fn. 2) It stretches from Highgate Road across northwestern St. Pancras and the northern part of Hampstead, and at two points reaches well beyond the Hendon boundary. Less than half of the area lies within Hampstead, as is recognized by the restricted use of the name Hampstead Heath on many maps. (fn. 3) The origins of the lands added on the east side of the heath, Parliament Hill, Parliament Hill Fields, and Kenwood, belong to the history of St. Pancras; those of the north-westerly additions, the Golders Hill estate and Hampstead Heath Extension, to that of Hendon. (fn. 4)

The first part of the heath to be taken into public ownership, the kernel of the existing open space, was itself smaller than the waste of the medieval manor of Hampstead. Much of Hampstead town was built on encroachments or inclosures from the heath, which lay to its north and east. In 1703 c. 27 a., supporting more than 50 houses, were noted as having been taken, leaving c. 313 a. as 'remains of the heath unimproved'. The deductions noted took no account of many established copyholds which probably represented inroads made much earlier. By the time that encroachments ceased on its purchase by the M.B.W. in 1871, the heath had been further reduced (fn. 5) to c. 220 a. (fn. 6) The town had spread north of New End and west of Heath Street in the early 18th century. (fn. 7) Other losses had been to outlying settlements described above, notably Hatch's Bottom (later the Vale of Health) and Littleworth (later Heath Brow), or to private residences such as the Firs near the Spaniards inn and Heath Lodge in North End Road (later Way). (fn. 8) Most of the later grants were very small: 219, covering 37½ a., were made between 1799 and 1870. (fn. 9) The practice of permitting inclosures in return for annual payments to the lord without the homage's consent was a grievance in 1806. (fn. 10)

The heath in 1871, although divided by nothing more than roads or tracks consisted of sections with well established local names. (fn. 11) East Heath lay east and north-east of the town, around the Vale of Health, and south-east of Spaniard's Road. It formed an irregular strip, being separated from the St. Pancras boundary by c. 60 a. of manorial freehold known as East Park and by part of Lord Mansfield's Elms estate. North or Sandy Heath filled most of the triangle between Spaniard's and North End roads, and West Heath most of that between North End Road and West Heath Road; together they covered c. 150 a. The vague description of Upper, as opposed to Lower, Heath was sometimes given to the high ground of Sandy and East heaths and possibly of West Heath. (fn. 12)

The physical appearance of the heath was owed chiefly to the fact that its summit was a sandy ridge, running from Highgate to Hampstead, resting on a belt of sandy clay, which protruded at the edges and was underlain by water-resistant London Clay. Rainwater penetrated the sand only to be forced out by the clay, creating a landscape much of which was easily dried out but which had many springs and, partly as a result of man-made excavations, swampy hollows. (fn. 13)

Although there had been a Mesolithic settlement and some Neolithic cultivation of West Heath, the medieval heath was left mainly as rough moorland, in contrast to the demesne farmland south and west of Hampstead town. Divided from St. Pancras by Whitebirch wood, which the lord cleared in the 17th century for farmland which became East Park, the heath was of value to the commoners for their grazing, gathering, and digging rights. (fn. 14) It was first recorded as 'a certain heath' in 1312, when it supplied brushwood normally worth 2s. a year, (fn. 15) and was called Hampstead Heath in 1543, when its springs were to supply London, (fn. 16) and in 1545, when hunting and hawking were forbidden over a wide area in order to preserve game for the king. (fn. 17) It was also known as Hampstead Heath to the herbalist John Gerard (1545-1612), who in 1597 described plants which he had found there, some native to marshes and others to 'dry mountains which are hungry and barren'. (fn. 18) Such a varied habitat within easy reach of London attracted many later plant hunters: Gerard's editor Thomas Johnson (d. 1644) described an expedition made in 1629 (fn. 19) and the Apothecaries' Company in 1734 was said to have seldom failed to come for its spring 'herbarizing feast'. (fn. 20)

Changes were effected over the centuries by tree felling and later by planting, which included John Turner's firs near the Spaniard's inn from the 1730s (fn. 21) and controversial municipal attempts at improvement from the late 19th century. (fn. 22) Other changes, which came to appear natural, resulted from exploitation of the water resources and of the soil.

For all its springs, the heath until the end of the 17th century had no large ponds. Nothing was done under the Act of 1543 for London's water until the lord mayoralty of Sir John Hart, 1589-90, whom Gerard accompanied to view the springs and who 'attempted' some unspecified works. (fn. 23) Hampstead ponds began as a string of reservoirs of the Hampstead Water Co., which was established to supply London in 1692. They were made by damming Hampstead brook, one of the sources of the Fleet, just as Highgate ponds were made from a more easterly source in St. Pancras. There were two ponds on Lower Heath by 1703 (fn. 24) and in 1745, (fn. 25) three by 1786, and four by 1810. (fn. 26) The New River Co.'s rights in the smallest and southernmost one, whose drainage was sought by the residents of South Hill Park, were acquired in 1892 by the L.C.C., which filled it in, to provide a grassy approach to the heath from the nearby railway station. (fn. 27) The Vale of Health pond was dammed when the supply system was extended in 1777. (fn. 28) Leg of Mutton pond on West Heath was probably dammed as part of a plan, reported in 1816, to employ the poor; the nearby Sandy Road was sometimes known as Hankins's folly, after further relief work was carried out under Thomas Hankins, surveyor of the highways 1823- 4. (fn. 29) The pond was marked simply as a reservoir in 1891, although already known by its modern name. (fn. 30) Viaduct pond, crossed by a viaduct begun in 1844 and finished in 1847, was on Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson's freehold and created as part of his abortive preparations to build there. (fn. 31) Whitestone pond was originally a small dew pond, called the horse pond and later after a milestone; in 1875 it was enlarged and lined by the vestry and by 1890 artificially supplied with water. Some small ponds on the edge of the heath near the town disappeared after the building of the covered reservoir near Whitestone pond in 1856. (fn. 32) Branch Hill pond was filled in c. 1889. (fn. 33)

Fine sand, not found farther east at Highgate, was estimated in 1813 to cover Hampstead Heath to an average depth of 10 ft. (fn. 34) Digging and quarrying were carried on from the Middle Ages: a pilgrim's flask was found in the bed of a sandpit at Holly Hill, (fn. 35) in 1597 a gravel pit lay near the beacon, (fn. 36) and in 1680 there was a sandpit at Branch Hill. (fn. 37)

The lord sold large quantities of sand and gravel to the Islington turnpike trustees in the early 18th century. (fn. 38) One Anderson had leave to dig loam and sand on the heath in 1787 (fn. 39) but the conditions in the lease were not kept: the steward threatened prosecution in 1806 and the copyholders who had prompted him to do so recorded that pits begun by the late Alexander Anderson had not been filled up and that David Anderson ought to make smooth and sow a slope near 'the second pond'. They pointed out that payments to the lord for digging would be small in comparison with a fall in the value of the copyholds, since the pits were dangerous and 'the whole face of the heath is become so mutilated that the prospect of beauty is nearly destroyed'. (fn. 40)

Not all depredations could be blamed on the lord. There were presentations for unauthorized digging in 1773 (fn. 41) and a suit for trespass was brought by Sir Thomas Wilson in 1781 against Lady Riddell, who claimed a tenant's immemorial right to dig for the improvement of a copyhold. Further actions in 1801 and 1802 led to a judgement in 1806 that the taking of turves, while it might be a custom, would be unreasonable if it tended towards the destruction of the common. (fn. 42) The sand was of a quality to be used by both builders and iron founders. Digging continued, bringing the lord payments on 20 cart loads a day c. 1811 and on 7 or 8 loads in 1813. (fn. 43) Its effects at Branch Hill pond on the edge of West Heath were depicted by Constable in 1821. On Sandy Heath they were so marked that Spaniard's Road was described as a lofty causeway in 1823, although the heath still rose in places on either side, as it no longer did in 1856. (fn. 44) Old workings were not necessarily eyesores: the mixture of vegetation with patches of bright red and yellow sand was admired in 1823, (fn. 45) picnickers enjoyed the ridges and hollows, (fn. 46) Dickens thought that a few made an improvement, (fn. 47) and later they were often seen as picturesque. (fn. 48)

The most thorough excavations, an episode in the struggle to preserve Hampstead Heath, followed the sale by Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson of ¼ a. of sand and ballast in strips along Spaniard's Road to the Midland Railway Co. in 1866-7. The company, which could not obtain materials from farther afield until it had completed its tunnels, paid a stiff price and in places delved 25 ft. deep. (fn. 49) Exploitation ceased when the heath became public property, until in 1939 large pits were dug near the Vale of Health and on Sandy Heath for the filling of sandbags. The new pits were filled with rubble at the end of the war and their sites thereafter marked only by a different flora. (fn. 50)

The heath was of value not only for its natural resources but from its mere situation, as a commanding height near London. It was the site of a beacon, erected as part of an early warning system by 1576, (fn. 51) and later was used both for military manoeuvres and firing practice. (fn. 52) The county elections were held there from 1681 to 1701 (fn. 53) and in 1836. (fn. 54) It was also associated with highwaymen, from the late 17th until the early 19th century, and long remembered for having been chosen for the exemplary display of the body of Francis Jackson, who was hanged in 1674. (fn. 55) The gibbet probably stood at the top of the hill leading down to North End, although the 'gibbet elms' depicted in the 19th century were farther down the slope. (fn. 56)

A healthy situation and fine outlook were appreciated earlier than the heath's own scenery. In 1709 one of the assets of the newly fashionable spa was 'a fine heath to ride out and take the air on' (fn. 57) and in the 1720s Defoe praised the air, although too rarefied, and prospects in fine weather. (fn. 58) In 1734 the ground's rapid drying out made it a pleasant place for walks (fn. 59) and later the views were often illustrated (fn. 60) and praised. (fn. 61) The heath's interest, however, was still seen to lie in its composition and resources rather than its scenic beauty by Hampstead's first historian, J. J. Park, in 1813. (fn. 62)

The heath and, by association, much of its neighbourhood, appeared in a more romantic light from the early 19th century. Some of the appreciative language, as in the protests against digging in 1806, (fn. 63) expressed little more than the copyholders' concern for agreeable surroundings and assured property values. The more romantic view was soon pioneered by Leigh Hunt, who arrived in 1812 and wrote the first of his five sonnets To Hampstead, invoking its 'sweet upland', while in prison in 1813. The heath itself was a major, although not the only, local source of Hunt's inspiration. (fn. 64) Shortly after his release he settled in 1816 at the Vale of Health, where Shelley, who particularly admired the sunsets, Keats, and Byron were among his visitors. (fn. 65)

The poets were soon followed by painters, notably Constable, who probably knew Hampstead from c. 1812 (fn. 66) and stayed first near Whitestone pond in 1819, John Linnell from 1822, and William Collins from 1823. (fn. 67) A newspaper attack on the plan of 1816 for poor relief, as the work of 'tasteless improvers', celebrated the heath's artistic appeal; it praised not only the panorama but the 'bold inequalities' of the foreground, claiming that, like Shakespeare and Newton, it was the property of Europe. (fn. 68) Constable, whose first, serene, views were probably done before 1819, came to occupy a succession of second homes in Hampstead. (fn. 69) He soon found his main inspiration in the heath's openness to the elements: he studied the sky, whose moods the land merely reflected, and in 1829 included a sandpit on East Heath among four mezzotints of his works engraved by David Lucas, an experiment which led to the reproduction of other views in 1830-1 and later. (fn. 70) The heath thus became, in literary and artistic circles, a recognized beauty spot. Its attractions can only have been enhanced by the growing contrast between its breezy heights and the grime of London, as recalled in 1835 by Wordsworth. (fn. 71)

More important, for the future of the heath, was its popularity with day trippers. As early as 1829, when battle was first joined to prevent building, a writer from Gray's Inn stressed the need for all classes to escape from noise and dirt to one of the few remaining 'lungs of the metropolis'. His hope that a public asset might be preserved, if only for the sake of private rights, found support in the House of Commons and in a well known cartoon by George Cruikshank, showing the advance of bricks and mortar. (fn. 72) The general good was again emphasized in 1844: Lord Chief Justice Denman, supporting the local property holders, declared that thousands of Londoners daily enjoyed the heath during the fine months. (fn. 73) The claim was perhaps exaggerated. Eighteenth-century races had presumably attracted outsiders but many early sporting contests concerned only local or visiting teams, while parties, as opposed to individual walkers, may have been drawn more by the inns and pleasure gardens than by the heath it self. (fn. 74) Donkey riders, numerous from the 1820s or earlier, were often shown as middle-class in the 1850s. (fn. 75) There were also, however, crowds of humbler visitors and even all-night revellers. (fn. 76) Together with riders and picnickers, they had attracted cartoonists before the Hampstead Junction railway made the heath accessible to thousands of poorer families who lived beyond walking distance. (fn. 77)

The opening of Hampstead Heath station in 1860 (fn. 78) assured the heath's future as a playground for London's East Enders. There followed yet more published accounts and illustrations of popular pastimes, (fn. 79) including copies of Watkin Williams's song 'Hampstead is the Place to Ruralise' c. 1863. (fn. 80) An informal fair presumably had already benefited from the closure in the 1850s of Bartholomew, Camberwell, and Greenwich fairs; (fn. 81) it was held near the Vale of Health, where the first hotel was built in 1863 in order to profit from the crowds brought by the railway. (fn. 82) The trend was encouraged by Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson, who, in his campaign against the gentry, licensed an ice-cream vendor to build a wooden refreshment room at the foot of Downshire Hill in 1861 and assigned a large site for a fair ground in 1865. (fn. 83) The writer William Howitt complained in 1869 that Sunday evening revellers swarming homeward down Haverstock Hill could be heard from his house in Highgate. (fn. 84) Such popularity was perhaps decisive in the parliamentary battle to prevent building. (fn. 85)

Acquisition as a public open space was followed closely by the Bank Holidays Act, 1871, which created three holidays in months when it was possible to enjoy the heath. Enormous crowds gathered, as on Whit Monday 1872, when the fair covered the whole of East Heath to Spaniard's Road, from which height carriage visitors could look down on the working class at play. (fn. 86) Damage, particularly fires among the furze, and rowdiness were often a problem in the 1870s, when there might be 30,000 visitors at the August holiday and 50,000 on a fine Whit Monday. (fn. 87) Violence was also a problem at the bonfires and processions held from before 1850 on Guy Fawkes day, until in 1880 a committee was set up to regulate them. (fn. 88) Numbers reached 100,000 in the 1880s, although that estimate for 1880 included trippers to Parliament Hill Fields, which were not yet part of the heath. (fn. 89) The crowds were thickest in the south-east corner near the station, where in 1892 nine people died in a rush to escape from the rain. 'Appy' Ampstead became a nationally known phrase in the 1890s, when celebrated in a song by Albert Chevalier and in the cartoons of Phil May. (fn. 90) The heath was the L.C.C.'s most popular open space in 1899 (fn. 91) and bank holiday pleasures at other London parks were mere 'modifications' of those at Hampstead in 1901. (fn. 92)

The scene had grown more respectable by 1910, when there were fewer assaults and thefts at what had become gigantic children's parties'. Attendance records were broken on Easter Monday, always the heath's busiest day, with an estimated 200,000; on the following August holiday, 50,000 came by railway alone. (fn. 93) In 1920 Queen Alexandra drove slowly by, to view Easter Monday's 'traditional festivities and licence', and promenaders still thronged Spaniard's Road on a fine Sunday. (fn. 94) The survival of the fair ensured the heath's continuing popularity during and after the Second World War. (fn. 95)

The public acquisition of the heath in 1871 ended more than forty years of uncertainty. (fn. 96) Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson, restricted by his father's will to granting leases of no more than 21 years on his Hampstead property, sought wider powers through successive estate Bills, all of which were defeated. His proposals alarmed substantial local residents, who successfully presented them to a wider public as threats to an increasingly popular heath. The battles in the press and parliament left Sir Thomas, a stubborn and irascible man, with a long lasting reputation as a would-be despoiler. Only in the 1970s, in the most detailed account, was it pointed out that Sir Thomas was singularly unfortunate in meeting such powerful opposition. His story showed the rights of property, at a time when they were normally paramount, being overridden in the name of the public interest. It also showed how motives could be disguised by confusing the issues of the copyholders' rights, the lord's freehold, and public enjoyment of the heath.

Sir Thomas's first estate Bill was withdrawn from the House of Commons in 1829, after local opposition and a campaign in the press on the need to preserve open space. In reality his desire to obtain the power to grant 99-year building leases on all his Hampstead lands did not arise from plans for the heath as it then existed, where the copyholders could insist on their rights of pasturage, but for his 60 a. of exclusive freehold which were later known as East Heath Park or East Park. Building there, along the St. Pancras boundary, would have hemmed in the heath and threatened the views of many Hampstead gentry and of Lord Mansfield from Kenwood. Lord Mansfield therefore joined the opposition and in 1830 helped to defeat a second, modified, Bill in the House of Lords. It was probably the House's first division on an estate Bill, all the more notable for taking place in an unreformed parliament. Despite Sir Thomas's disavowals of plans for the heath itself, a third estate Bill had to be withdrawn in 1843 and a fourth, to permit the sale of all his Hampstead property, was defeated in 1844. A fifth Bill was defeated in 1853 and a sixth, concerned only with land along Finchley Road, in 1854. When a seventh Bill was overtaken by the Leases and Sales of Settled Estates Act of 1856, making it easier to change strict settlements, an unprecedented clause was inserted to debar Sir Thomas, as a previous applicant, from taking advantage of the new law. (fn. 97) Further debates followed in 1857, 1859, and 1860, as lawyers' attempts to remove the clause were frustrated by metropolitan M.P.s, whose constituents were making increasing use of the heath.

When the struggle began there was small likelihood of reaching a fair and logical solution by buying the heath with public funds. In 1853, however, the vestry, ahead of its time, resolved that it was in the interests of both the parish and the metropolis that the government should buy the heath 'with such portions of the adjoining ground as are essential to its beauty'. (fn. 98) The proposal was made after public discussion of a plan by C. R. Cockerell to lay out a park on the enlarged heath, which would have come to resemble Regent's Park. (fn. 99) Public purchase was urged on both the M.B.W. and the government in 1856 by the reformed vestry, which in 1857 promoted an unsuccessful Bill. The climate changed in the 1860s, as threats to other open spaces led to the conferment of new powers on the M.B.W. by the Metropolitan Commons Act, 1866. (fn. 100) The Act was a result of pressure by the Commons Preservation Society under George Shaw-Lefevre, which included Gurney Hoare, Philip Le Breton, and other Hampstead campaigners among its members. In Hampstead the danger was acute. Sir Thomas's only obtrusive building had been of the viaduct begun in 1844, (fn. 101) which was to bring a road to East Park and which came to be misrepresented as a design against the heath, (fn. 102) although both the viaduct and the intended 28 villas were on his exclusive freehold. (fn. 103) In 1861, however, he threatened to commercialize the heath, a process which he began by building on the summit and selling the sand along Spaniard's Road. East Park was also despoiled, by brickfields. (fn. 104) He went on to reject compromise offers not to oppose building on his land along Finchley Road in return for the abandoning of plans for East Park. In consequence a Hampstead Heath Protection Fund was established under Gurney Hoare, to defray the expenses of a suit which was started against Sir Thomas in Chancery in 1866 and was ended only by his death in 1869. The ability of his brother and heir Sir John to break the restrictive settlement, which renewed the danger, and the inflamed state of public feeling then compelled the M.B.W. to buy the heath for a stiff but not extortionate price.

The Hampstead Heath Act, 1871, authorized the M.B.W.'s purchase of nearly all that survived from the original common, (fn. 105) (East, North-West or Sandy, and West heaths), which was ceremonially taken over early in 1872. (fn. 106) A few small additions were soon made, including Judges' Walk, (fn. 107) and in 1879 its estimated 240 a. made Hampstead Heath the largest of the M.B.W.'s open spaces after Blackheath. (fn. 108) The Act did not allay all the fears of those who had resisted building, since the right to lay roads across the heath had been reserved in the sale, which did not include East Park or other adjacent lands. It would still have been possibly to hem in East Heath with buildings, as shown by the construction of South Hill Park between the lower ponds and Parliament Hill Fields. Fortunately for preservationists, the Maryon Wilsons concentrated their resources on the area around Fitzjohn's Avenue. (fn. 109) Meanwhile the Act had secured an inviolable core of open space for public recreation and set a precedent by sanctioning its purchase with public funds.

The story of the heath after 1871 was one of its expansion and of the changes which were brought about by public ownership. Expansion was largely in response to the spread of housing north and west of the heath, where open country survived in the 1880s, and its full value became apparent only as the ring of building was completed in the 20th century. (fn. 110)

The first move towards extending the heath came in 1884 with the establishment of a local society's open spaces committee, with C. E. Maurice as secretary. (fn. 111) Its aim was to acquire East Park, where building was likely to be most obtrusive, and c. 200 a. from the neighbouring southern part of Lord Mansfield's Kenwood estate. The committee, stressing social and sanitary needs, soon won support from such reformers as Lady Burdett-Coutts and Octavia Hill. A Hampstead Heath Extension committee was then formed, with the duke of Westminster as chairman; it was ready to pay the market price and, through Shaw-Lefevre, reached agreement with the landowners. The Hampstead Heath Enlargement Act, 1886, amended in 1888, (fn. 112) allowed the application of public and charitable funds, after Hampstead vestry, which supported the extension committee, (fn. 113) had voted a contribution, followed by St. Pancras. The M.B.W. adopted the Act shortly before its own extinction in 1889, leaving a monument as important as the Thames Embankment in the form of a heath doubled in size by the addition of East Park, Parliament Hill and Fields, and part of Lord Mansfield's Elms estate.

The next addition was that of the 36-a. Golders Hill estate, at North End but in Hendon parish (fn. 114) and adjoining West Heath. Funds were sought in 1897 for the purchase of 20 a. and in 1898 for the whole estate, although it was saved from speculators only when the local historian Thomas Barratt bid beyond the guaranteed total. Barratt conveyed his contract to the guaranteeing committee, which, strengthened by the duke of Westminster and Shaw-Lefevre, recouped its expenses after a public appeal; the L.C.C. promised £12,000 and Hampstead vestry £10,000. (fn. 115) The property was conveyed in 1898 to trustees appointed by the committee and in 1899 to the L.C.C., (fn. 116) whose parks committee drew attention to the damage which might have been done if building had been allowed to press too close, as at Clapham common. (fn. 117)

Similar arguments, and a similar mixture of public and private contributions, secured the addition of c. 80 a. in Hendon, adjoining Sandy Heath. (fn. 118) The campaign to buy the land, which was part of Eton college's Wyldes farm, was stimulated by plans for a tube railway under the heath, with a station at North End and the consequent prospect of building. Hampstead Heath Extension council was formed in 1903 by Henrietta Barnett, with Shaw-Lefevre as president, and public contributions were permitted by an Act of 1905. (fn. 119) Although support from the L.C.C. and Hampstead borough council was inadequate, Hampstead bearing a much smaller proportion of the cost than in 1898, the 80 a. were bought in 1907. They came to be known as the Heath Extension, while the rest of Wyldes farm was taken for Hampstead Garden Suburb. (fn. 120)

The last major additions, on the east side of the heath, resulted from the break-up of Lord Mansfield's estate, first projected in 1914. The Kenwood Preservation Council in 1922 raised money to buy 100 a., of which 9 a. east of Millfield Lane were resold to the owners of Caen Wood Towers and Beechwood subject to a ban on building. Ken wood itself and the lakes south of the mansion, 32 a., were also bought, vested in the L.C.C., and in 1925 opened by George V. Kenwood House and 75 a. around it were saved from the builders by the earl of Iveagh (d. 1927), who settled them on himself for life. He installed art treasures and left the mansion in trust as a picture gallery, which was opened in 1928. The grounds were left to the L.C.C., as part of the heath. (fn. 121) Kenwood House was taken over by the L.C.C. in 1949. (fn. 122)

In 1925 the Paddock, 1¾ a. at North End, was bought from Lord Leverhulme's executors with subscriptions. (fn. 123) Further small but important additions followed the Second World War as a result of bombing, demolitions, or changes of use. They included the sites of Fern Lodge and Heathlands north of Jack Straw's Castle in 1948 and 1951, the gardens of Pitt House, 3 a. when the Elms became a hospital, the Hill gardens of Heath Lodge, and in 1967 the tollhouse at the Spaniards. (fn. 124) The many changes helped to account for slight variations in the figures given for the acreage. In 1937 the heath, including the Extension and Golders Hill Park, was estimated by the L.C.C. at 287.5 a., Parliament Hill at 270.5 a., and Kenwood at 195.2 a., a total of 753.2 a. (fn. 125) In 1951 the heath was said to be 290.5 a. and the other two areas were unchanged. In 1971 the G.L.C.'s estimated total was 802 a. (fn. 126)

The appearance of the heath continued to cause concern after the possibility of direct private exploitation had been eliminated. One controversy was about the moorland character of the old heath, in which it differed from most of London's open spaces and from the additions made after 1871, which were either farmland or parkland. Another was about the threat from traffic across the heath and from inappropriate buildings overlooking it. Neither question was finally laid to rest.

Some landscaping was needed, if only to repair the harm done by digging, which had made much of the ground 'one collection of dangerous and unsightly pits'. The Times, regretting the M.B.W.'s six-month delay in producing any measures of ornamentation or regulation, looked forward to a tasteful conversion into 'one of the most exquisite parks in the world'. (fn. 127) Philip Le Breton, however, as chairman of the parks committee, favoured the restoration of natural beauty, which also met his colleagues' desire to economize. (fn. 128) By 1875, with the scars of excavation largely grown over, the M.B.W. won praise for a judicious neglect which had not made the heath 'prim or park-like'. (fn. 129)

The success of resistance to the plans of public authorities may have owed much to the prominence of many of the heath's local defenders. The L.C.C., warned by Octavia Hill in 1890 against attempted improvements, adopted schemes for tree planting, in 1894, and tidying up, both of which brought petitions signed by distinguished protesters. (fn. 130) Critics were told that the need to provide shelter for visitors must affect views from some houses but were assured that it was desired to preserve the rusticity of West Heath and that gorse cutting was pruning. (fn. 131) The Hampstead Heath Protection society was formed in 1897, with the aim of co-operating with the L.C.C.; further planting was prevented, although thinning was not conceded until 1918. (fn. 132) An action group was formed in 1978 to stir up what had become the Heath and Old Hampstead Protection society, after the G.L.C. in its turn had been accused of wanting to turn the wilder parts into a typical park. (fn. 133)

The threat from new roads and obtrusive buildings was lessened by the acquisition of East Park in 1889, which made it possible for access roads reserved in the Act of 1871 to be left as no more than tracks. The L.C.C. at first hoped to make wider ways, with cinders from the dismantled East Park brickfields, but retreated after protests by Octavia Hill and others. (fn. 134) Sandy Road, skirting West Heath and bisecting Sandy Heath from West End Lane to the Spaniards, was closed to motor traffic in 1924 and thereafter formed two bridle paths. (fn. 135) The main roads across the old heath, Spaniard's and North End roads, were kept free of public transport services until 1922. (fn. 136) A proposal to demolish the tollhouse opposite the Spaniards in 1961 was successfully resisted, partly on the grounds that it would lead to more and faster traffic. (fn. 137)

Tall or incongruous buildings overlooking the heath had caused alarm since William Howitt's attack on the 'Tower of Babel' bulk of the castellated hotel in the Vale of Health. (fn. 138) The flats called the Pryors, in East Heath Road, were similarly criticized in 1903. Projected seven-storeyed flats at Bellmoor were limited by the L.C.C., to make them fourstoreyed, in 1929, but there was a possibility of new blocks at the Old Court House and Heath Brow, near Jack Straw's Castle, in 1938. The L.C.C.'s London development plan of 1951 would have permitted bigger buildings around the heath, only to be disallowed by the government, and redevelopment on the bombed site at Heath Brow was averted by its purchase for a car park. (fn. 139) The acquisition of such plots as the Hill gardens brought further protection. Vigilance was still needed in 1984, however, when fears sprang mainly from plans for houses in the grounds of Witanhurst, on the Highgate side of the heath. (fn. 140)

In the 1960s Hampstead Heath's 'romantic abrupt scenery, a bit like the hilly parts of Shropshire', was thought to give maximum effect in the smallest area. (fn. 141) It continued to be praised in the 1980s for its variety and in particular for its wildness. (fn. 142) Its future management was uncertain, after the abolition of the G.L.C. in 1986. Proposals for a division between Camden, Barnet, and Haringey L.B.s were unwelcome to local residents and to the Heath and Old Hampstead society, as was management by the City of London to Camden and by Camden to the government. Other possibilities were for the London Residuary Body, temporarily in charge, to be succeeded by a joint committee from three local authorities, or by a new authority, or a local trust. (fn. 143)


  • 1. Varying acreages have been given: below. 804 a. is the figure in C. W. Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1985), 32.
  • 2. Maps showing the heath in 1680 and 1871 and successive purchases under the M.B.W. and L.C.C. are in A. Farmer, Hampstead Heath (1984), 6, 105, 142-3. For revised maps, see Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1985), 8, 16-17.
  • 3. e.g. O.S. Map 1/10,000, TQ 28 NE. (1976 edn.).
  • 4. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 37-47, 132, 135-7, 140-1; V.C.H. Mdx. v. 11, 21.
  • 5. Thompson, Hampstead, 13-14, 16-17, 23; G.L.R.O., E/MW/H/I/2311A; above, settlement and growth.
  • 6. Baines, Rec. Hampstead, 145. Thompson's figure, 240 a., may inc. land near Telegraph Hill retained by the lord and freed from rights of common.
  • 7. C.H.R. xi. 20-1 (inc. earliest map of heath, 1680, in S.C.L.); Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 16; above, growth, Hampstead town.
  • 8. Above, growth, Vale of Health; North End.
  • 9. Thompson, Hampstead, 140.
  • 10. G.L.R.O., M/81/6 (mins. of mtgs. of copyholders), 3 Mar. 1806.
  • 11. Para. based on Thompson, Hampstead, 13 (map), 155; Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 61; C. W. Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1971), 6.
  • 12. Called North Heath by Thompson, who estimates E. Heath as c. 90 a. and N. and W. heaths as c. 150 a.: Thompson, Hampstead, 102, 155.
  • 13. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 12.
  • 14. Ibid. 7-8; below, econ., agrarian; woods.
  • 15. Kennedy, Man. of Hampstead, 118-19.
  • 16. 35 Hen. VIII, c. 10; below, pub. svces.
  • 17. Tudor Royal Proclamations, ed. P. L. Hughes and J. F. Larkin, i (1964), 356.
  • 18. J. Gerard, Herball (facsimile edn. 1974), ii. 971, 1199.
  • 19. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 10.
  • 20. J. Soame, Hampstead Wells (1734), 27.
  • 21. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 31; Images of Hampstead, 68, illus. 145-7.
  • 22. Below.
  • 23. Gerard, Herball, i. 466.
  • 24. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 15-16.
  • 25. Rocque, Map of Lond. (1741-5), sheet 12, which, however, marks Highgate ponds as Hampstead ponds.
  • 26. Baines, Rec. Hampstead, 208.
  • 27. Images of Hampstead, 79; L.C.C. Ann. Rep. 1894-5, 69.
  • 28. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 16; above, growth, Vale of Health.
  • 29. Baines, Rec. Hampstead, 208; Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 54; vestry mins. 22 Sept. 1823.
  • 30. Baines, Rec. Hampstead, 208; Stanford, Libr. Map of Lond. (1891 edn.), sheet 1.
  • 31. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 72; below.
  • 32. Baines, Rec. Hampstead, 208; Images of Hampstead, 78, 85; below, pub. svces.
  • 33. 'Last winter': Baines, Rec. Hampstead, 214.
  • 34. Park, Hampstead, 45.
  • 35. Barratt, Annals, ii. 214.
  • 36. Gerard, Herball, ii. 1061.
  • 37. C.H.R. xi. 20-1. For brickmaking, below, econ., ind.
  • 38. Barratt, Annals, ii. 215.
  • 39. G.L.R.O., E/MW/H/I/2280.
  • 40. Ibid. M/81/6 (mins. of mtgs. of copyholders), 12 May, 24 Nov. 1806, 16 Nov. 1807.
  • 41. S.C.L., Hampstead manor min. bk. (1742-82), pp. 357, 361.
  • 42. G.L.R.O., M/81/8, 2 Dec. 1801, 27 Mar. 1802, 3 Mar. 1806.
  • 43. Images of Hampstead, 95; N. & Q. 12th ser. i. 46; Park, Hampstead, 45. Casters could mould the wet sand, which dried hard but fell loose at a tap: inf. from Mr. Ikin.
  • 44. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 57, 92-3; Images of Hampstead, 95.
  • 45. V. de Soligny [i.e. P. Patmore], Letters on Eng. ii (1823), 266-7.
  • 46. Images of Hampstead, illus. 250 (lithograph of 1856).
  • 47. Ikin, Hampstead Heath, 21.
  • 48. e.g. H. Clunn, Face of Lond. (1951), 354.
  • 49. Thompson, Hampstead, 192-3, plate 7.
  • 50. Ikin, Hampstead Heath, 21.
  • 51. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 10.
  • 52. Below, social.
  • 53. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1660-90, i. 309; Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831), ii. 305.
  • 54. Lond. Gaz. 27 Dec. 1836, p. 2643.
  • 55. Baines, Rec. Hampstead, 225; Images of Hampstead, 59.
  • 56. A bearing to the gibbet is given in the field bk. of 1680: C.H.R. xi. 20-1.
  • 57. J. Macky, Journey through Eng. (5th edn. 1732), i. 89. The description is repeated in Camden, Magna Brit. (1738), iv. 45.
  • 58. Defoe, Tour, i. 384.
  • 59. Soame, Hampstead Wells, 27.
  • 60. e.g. views across heath by Chatelain, 1745: Images of Hampstead, illus. 6, 10.
  • 61. Lond. & Its Environs Described, iii (1761), 134; Lysons, Environs, ii. 527.
  • 62. Park, Hampstead, which has chap. on nat. hist.; Thompson, Hampstead, 151.
  • 63. Above.
  • 64. Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, ed. H. S. Milford (1923), 235-7. His Description of Hampstead followed in 1815.
  • 65. Thompson, Hampstead, 153-4; Works of Shelley, ed. H. B. Forman, viii (1880), 118; above, growth, Vale of Health.
  • 66. C. Wade, Constable's Hampstead (1976), 2.
  • 67. Thompson, Hampstead, 152.
  • 68. Above; Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 54.
  • 69. Wade, Constable's Hampstead, 3, 9-11; above, growth, Hampstead town.
  • 70. Images of Hampstead, 89-91, illus. 234-9.
  • 71. Extempore Effusion upon the Death of Jas. Hogg (pub. 1835).
  • 72. The Times, 17 June 1829, 3b; Thompson, Hampstead, 144-5, plate 4.
  • 73. Thompson, Hampstead, 165.
  • 74. Below, social.
  • 75. Ibid.; e.g. Images of Hampstead, illus. 278.
  • 76. Images of Hampstead, illus. 280 (servants' outing illus. by Phiz); A. Mayhew, Paved With Gold (1858), 144-8, 195.
  • 77. Images of Hampstead, illus. 278, 280-1, 283-4; above, communications.
  • 78. Above, communications.
  • 79. Images of Hampstead, illus. 275, 277.
  • 80. Ibid. illus. 279.
  • 81. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 112.
  • 82. Below, econ., ind.
  • 83. Thompson, Hampstead, 175; Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 114.
  • 84. W. Howitt, Northern Heights of Lond. (1869), 94-5.
  • 85. Thompson, Hampstead, 169.
  • 86. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 114.
  • 87. H.H.E. 10 June, 12 Aug. 1876; Walford, Old and New Lond. v. 453.
  • 88. N. & Q. 11th ser. iv. 526; Bentwich, Vale of Health, 79.
  • 89. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 114; H.H.E. 3 Apr. 1880.
  • 90. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 114-16, 120; D. Cuppleditch, Phil. May (1981), 76; below, plate 8.
  • 91. L.C.C. Ann. Rep. 1898-9, 127.
  • 92. G. R. Sims, Living Lond. (1901), ii. 119.
  • 93. The Times, 29 Mar. 1910, 4a, b; 2 Aug. 1910, 8c.
  • 94. Ibid. 6 Apr. 1920, 7a; C. R. Smith, Hampstead As It Was, i (1981), 15.
  • 95. Smith, Hampstead As It Was, i. 19; F. R. Banks, Penguin Guide to Lond. (1968), 489.
  • 96. Following 3 paras. based on Thompson, Hampstead, 132-209.
  • 97. 19 & 20 Vic. c. 120, clause 21.
  • 98. Vestry mins. 22 June 1853.
  • 99. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 75 and illus.
  • 100. 29 & 30 Vic. c. 122.
  • 101. Above.
  • 102. e.g. Barratt, Annals, ii. 205.
  • 103. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 71 and illus.
  • 104. Below, econ., ind.
  • 105. 34 & 35 Vic. c. 77 (Local). Land near Telegraph Hill was left to Sir John and other small pieces were omitted.
  • 106. H.H.E. 20 Jan. 1872.
  • 107. Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1971), 24.
  • 108. M.B.W. Rep. (1879), 43.
  • 109. Thompson, Hampstead, 196, 202, 209, 307-10.
  • 110. Ibid. 335.
  • 111. Para. based on ibid. 325-33; Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 123-7.
  • 112. 50 Vic. c. 41 (Local); 51 & 52 Vic. c. 151 (Local).
  • 113. Vestry mins. 16 July, 19 Nov. 1885.
  • 114. V.C.H. Mdx. v. 11.
  • 115. Barratt, Annals, ii. 221-6.
  • 116. Ibid. 225-6; inf. from Mr. C. W. Ikin.
  • 117. L.C.C. Ann. Rep. 1898-9, 127.
  • 118. Para. based on Thompson, Hampstead, 336-7; Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 134-7.
  • 119. 5 Edw. VII, c. 206 (Local).
  • 120. V.C.H. Mdx. v. 13.
  • 121. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 140-1; Survey of Lond. xvii. 114, 131; inf. from Mr. Ikin.
  • 122. L.C.C. Lond. Statistics, N.S. i. 145.
  • 123. The Times, 25 Sept. 1925, 14d.
  • 124. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 144; Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1985), 32.
  • 125. L.C.C. Lond. Statistics, xli, map of open spaces.
  • 126. Ibid. N.S. i. 156; inf. from Mr. Ikin.
  • 127. The Times, 12 Dec. 1871, 8f.
  • 128. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 107.
  • 129. Thorne, Environs, 292.
  • 130. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 130.
  • 131. L.C.C. Ann. Rep. 1895-6, 67; 1896-7, 91.
  • 132. Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1971), 18.
  • 133. The Times, 25 Apr. 1978, 20e.
  • 134. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 130.
  • 135. Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1971), 23.
  • 136. Above, communications.
  • 137. S.C.L., H 728.5/Spaniards.
  • 138. Howitt, Northern Heights, 94.
  • 139. Ikin, Hampstead Heath (1971), 21.
  • 140. Farmer, Hampstead Heath, 144, 167; V.C.H. Mdx. vi. 138.
  • 141. I. Nairn, Nairn's Lond. (1966), 217.
  • 142. e.g. Images of Hampstead, 17.
  • 143. Camden Mag. Sept. 1986, 11.