THE HEATH AT WAR!
The first German air attack took place in London on the evening of the
7th of September 1940!
Thence began a chapter of history where Hampstead Heath, with its neighbouring villages of Hampstead and Highgate, had a role to play in those dangerous days between 1939 and 1945, before peace was declared.
However, it has not just been the warfare and battles of recent times that The Heath has had a strong association with.
Indeed, it is highly probable that The Heath played its part in defining pugilistic action as early as the Anglo Saxon period.
There are ancient ditches and boundaries still visible today across both West Heath and East Heath and there seems to have been an ancient battle between a London based tribe and one in St. Albans, where oncoming tribesmen would be clearly visible on the Heath's higher ground.
Parliament Hill (figure1) offers fantastic views of London and the surrounding countryside.
Some believe that Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators stood upon the hill looking towards parliament waiting for it to explode.
However, a more likely explanation is that Parliament Hill was a point of defence during the English Civil War for troops loyal to parliament.
From 1808 to 1814 Hampstead Heath hosted a station in the shutter telegraph chain which connected the Admiralty in London to its naval ships in the port of Great Yarmouth.
Telegraph Hill, originally part of Hampstead Heath, is situated on high ground near West Heath. (figure 3)
During the Napoleonic War period the Admiralty needed a faster means to communicate to its fleet moored on the South Coast of England than could be achieved by a rider on horseback.
Their solution was to create a network of signalling stations that linked the Admiralty, in central London, with the respective fleet ports spread along the South Coast. (see figures 4 & 5)
Thus, during this time the cottage at the summit of the hill (figure3) was used as the signalling station and formed part of the chain that linked the Admiralty with Great Yarmouth on the East Anglian Coast, hence named Telegraph Hill.
In 1798, during the Napoleonic Wars, a LOYAL Hampstead Association was formed and its captain was Josiah Boydell.
"Battery" originates from the area being their training and shooting ground. (see figure2)
There are old references to "ye Becone stafe" that may refer to the Armada beacon and this site is by the present day Flagstaff.
A map in Lombard's Perambulation of Kent shows how the Beacons of Kent could pass the warning to Shooter's Hill, near Woolwich, and then across London to "Hamsted".
The map above shows that the Hampstead Beacon was a cresset or an iron basket on a pole. (see figure6)
Telegraph Hill is on the high ground beside West Heath Road.
From 1808 to 1814, the Admiralty Telegraph stood, which was a relay station between Chelsea Hospital and Woodcock Hill, Elstree, on the line to Great Yarmouth.
In 1798, the Military had previously authorised to provide a line of twelve field telegraph stations (Gamble's Irradiated Telegraph) from The Duke Of York's headquarters to the east coast.
The Admiralty Telegraph used a series of shutters. (figure 4)
In the Rathbone print (figure 5), The Telegraph has five arms with discs on the ends.
Throughout the nineteenth century, many regimental parades and tributes took place around Hampstead Heath.
The present Everyman Theatre in Hampstead was, before 1920, the Hampstead Drill Hall of the 3rd Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps and, in 1858, Burgh House was the officer's mess of the Royal East Middlesex Militia.
An inspection can be seen of The Middlesex Militia, in Hampstead in 1851. (figure7)
(figure8) shows The 2nd Warwickshire Volunteers, practicing battle on Hampstead Heath, in 1860.
This regiment, stated Lord Leigh, was "a credit to the country and stood second to none in the provinces."
The regiment took part in events all over London, including Battersea Park, where "evolutions were gone through with great military precision."
Other regiments that took part in demonstrating their skills in the field were The London Scottish Rifles, the 18th Middlesex (Hornsey Rifle Volunteers), The Essex Corps, The Essex and Uxbridge Yeomanry Cavalry and Artillery and many other metropolitan corps.
(figure9) shows a Highgate reception for the Belgian Volunteers, in 1867 at Holly Lodge, Highgate.
A legion of about 2000 volunteers was formed in Belgium to help Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg in his attempt to become Emperor of Mexico.
His wife, Empress Charlotte, was a daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians.
The legion was mainly composed of soldiers with Belgian nationality, but also 79 Germans, 64 French and 27 Luxembourgers.
The Boer Wars (1880/81 and 1899/1902) proved to be unpopular and drawn out and had been thought to be an easy victory for the British Empire.
The picture opposite (figure10) shows local Reservists parading in Hampstead High Street, before departing for South Africa.
Britain and its Empire moved slowly into the new era of the twentieth century.
The commonwealth of Australia was founded, Queen Victoria died and Edward V11 was crowned, following the end of The Boer War and then succeeded, in 1911, by George V.
In 1906, Britain launched HMS Dreadnought, the first turbine-
Then, on August 4th, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and so began the war of all wars: "THE GREAT FIRST WORLD WAR"!
On 1 July 1916, the British and French attempted a mass infantry attack on German lines along the north bank of the River Somme.
Almost a quarter of a million shells were fired at German positions in an hour that morning.
The noise of this massive barrage was so intense it could be heard on Hampstead Heath.
During World War 1, it became increasingly necessary to take over large well known buildings in both Hampstead and Highgate for military establishments and hospitals.
New End Hospital, Hampstead, was one example.
(figure16) shows the frontage of New End Hospital, with a military ambulance outside. The building, designed by H.E. Kendall, was erected in 1849-
The nature of the fighting during the Great War led to a huge number of injured soldiers and the existing Military medical facilities in the United Kingdom were soon overwhelmed.
A solution had to be found quickly and many civilian hospitals were turned over to military use, a large number of asylums were also converted to military hospitals, with the asylum patients being sent home, often to unprepared families.
As demand for beds grew, large buildings such as Universities and hotels were transformed into hospitals and wooden huts sprang up in hospital grounds and at army camps to cope with the huge numbers.
Additional nursing staff was needed and this was met by a mixture of qualified nurses and volunteers.
Another example was Mount Vernon Hospital.
When the First World War began a military hospital was set up at Kenwood at the suggestion of the Grand Duke and of Lord Mansfield.
In November 1915 a mobile brigade of anti-
German troops were bombing London from zeppelins and the anti-
To defend against the nightly raids, weapon systems were placed at the highest point in Hampstead Heath, among other places.
During The Great War, many marches and military maneuvers took place on Hampstead Heath as can be seen opposite and below. (figures 13, 14 & 18)
"CLICK HERE to see an old Pathe News Film of soldiers playing on Hampstead Heath, 1914-
"CLICK HERE to see an old Pathe News Film of soldiers having a snowball fight 1914-
During The First World War, allotments were permitted on The Heath, near Gospel Oak Station, on The King's Meadow, on a small piece of land near Vale Of Health Pond known as "Soldiers' Allotments", on the slopes facing Highgate and on The Heath Extension.