The Heath and Hampstead Society puts out a series of five walking booklets covering a fifteen mile area from Alexandra Palace to Camden Town. They are not free, unfortunately, but they do contain a lot of fascinating information and pictures about various buildings, people, natural attractions and the social history that one encounters enroute.

Last Saturday we followed the rather circuitous route suggested by one booklet to go from Hampstead to Belsize Park. It is only one stop on the Northern line, probably a mile or less, but the tour took us two and a half miles. I read some bits out loud so my wife wouldn’t have to look over my shoulder, which seemed to attract some odd looks from passersby. North American visitors are not supposed to be as eccentric as native Englishmen.

Goldfinger house

While we were stopped in front of Erno Goldfinger’s landmark modern house, two mounted police came riding up and asked what we were looking at, why we were stopped. I explained the home’s significance according to my pamphlet, and related the story of how Ian Flemming was so offended by the demolition of 18th century cottages and the building of this residence that he named his first villain after the architect.

Goldfinger house livingroom

The house has since been acquired by the National Trust as its first “modernist” property. The mounted police people were amused by the story and we had a nice chat. Their horses were patient and beautiful. Belsize Park is a very different area from Hampstead. Many of the houses were built by developers. Now, the horse stables attached to some of those houses are worth a small fortune.

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On Sunday we set off in the opposite direction, heading north toward Hampstead Garden Suburb and Golders Green. Thanks to a lady by the name of Dame Henrietta Barnett, much of the walk goes through the Hampstead Heath extension. It is very muddy this time of year, but the ducks are milling around on the ponds and there are lots of things to see along the way. The route finding is a bit tricky, since Hampstead Heath and the Extension are criss-crossed with trails going in every direction.

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The first section of the route is the highest section of the Heath. There are thick beds of sand, much of which was excavated in the 19th Century for use in mortar for laying brick. During war-time it was used for filling sand bags. A settlement called North End grew up along one side of this part of the Heath; the gem nearby is a house called Wyldes, a home dating from the 17th Century. For many years it was the home of a landscape painter named John Linnell, a contemporary and rival of John Constable and a patron of William Blake. Dickens took refuge here from time to time.

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Among the money men responsible for development of London’s Underground was an American railroad man by the name of Charles Yerkes. His plans to extend the Nothern line from Hampstead to Golders Green included a station near the Wylde house. He did not count on the opposition of Dame Henrietta Barnett, a philanthropist and local resident.

Yerkes

Henrietta was one of the country’s leading protagonists in campaigns to improve the “industrial classes.” With her vicar husband she came to believe in “environmental determinism” – that the poor are brutalised by their squalid environment and so began a lifetime of philanthropic social work in the East End where they built Toynbee Hall and promoted respectable work in household service as an alternative to prostitution.

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She abhorred the kind of suburban development which was springing up around new tube stations, so she set her mind on raising enough money to prevent this one. She raised enough money to buy Wyldes Farm and 80 acres from Eton College. This became known as the Heath Extension, which made the new station no longer viable even though platforms had already been built.

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The village that came into being to the north of Heath Extension became known as Hampstead Garden Suburb. It was a planned community, its architect chosen by Dame Barnett. An imposing church, St Jude-on-the-hill, anchors the southern end of the community to the surrounding landscape. The suburb was strongly influenced by the ideas of Edwin Lutyens, Britain’s leading designer of country houses.

Among its design aims were the following: it should cater for all classes of people and all income groups; there should be a low housing density; roads should be wide and tree-lined; houses should be separated by hedges, not walls; woods and public gardens should be free to all; and it should be quiet, with no church bells.

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Our timing at the end of our walk was perfect. Even without the bells, it was obvious the church service had just ended. We were just in time to elicit an invitation to tour the interior from one of the parishioners. It was a generous invitation, and we were glad to take advantage of it. Our good shepherdess even suggested a place for lunch, a former “convenience station” called Toulous. It was another longish walk, but the risotto was delicious. We caught a bus to Golders Green, then hopped on the tube one stop to Hampstead. It is a good long way between stops, thanks to Henrietta.

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