Hampstead Heath History
The modern Hampstead Heath is normally considered to be the entire open space of nearly 800 acres, 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. and thence to The Corporation of London.
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. (to see historical maps of The Heath, CLICK HERE)
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.
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-
In 1680, when Charles the second was on the throne, Hampstead was a very small town and The Heath belonged to The Lord of The Manor.
At that time, East Heath stretched down to what was then known as Pond Street and only ONE of the Ponds then existed...the lower one, now filled up.
There was a track across The Heath, from Well Walk to Erton Road, known as "The Road".
The Elms was then Mother Hough's Tea Shop and North End was simply known as the north end of The Heath.
An hostelry called "Ye Green Man" stood where The Manor Hospital now stands and "ye crose between Hamsted and Hendon" was close to where the statue is at the entrance to Golders Hill Park, today.
On the high ground to the west of The North End Way cutting Jackson, a highway man, had been hanged in 1674.
His body was left there hanging in chains and in 1680, "ye
Gibbet" was visible right across West Heath, it being moorland then...with no houses and no trees, (as mentioned elsewhere in this article)
The Heath was built on principally around the spa area of Well Walk and the higher ground .
Fenton House, in Hampstead Grove, was described as being ON The Heath in early deeds.
During the fashionable era of Wells Walk, there was a race course on West Heath, an egg-
There was a windmill on Windmill Hill, (mentioned in a 1680 survey), another at New Grove House, near Fenton House, and another on Parliament Hill, then known as Traitors' Hill.
Much of Hampstead town was built on encroachments or inclosures from The Heath, which lay to its north and east.
In 1703 c. , supporting more than 50 houses, were noted as having been taken, leaving c. 313 acres. 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 to c. 220 acres.
The town had spread north of New End and west of Heath Street in the early 18th century.
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 North End Way).
The practice of permitting inclosures in return for annual payments to the lord without the homage's consent was a grievance in 1806.
The Heath in 1871, although divided by nothing more than roads or tracks consisted of sections with well established local names.
East Heath lay east and north-
It formed an irregular strip, being separated from the St. Pancras boundary by c. 60 acres 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 acres.
The description of Upper Heath, as opposed to Lower Heath, was sometimes given to the high ground of Sandy and East Heaths and possibly of West Heath.
The physical appearance of The Heath was chiefly due 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-
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-
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.
It was first recorded as 'a certain heath' in 1312, when it supplied brushwood normally worth 2s. a year, and was called Hampstead Heath in 1543, when its springs were to supply London, and in 1545, when hunting and hawking were forbidden over a wide area in order to preserve game for the king.
It was also known as Hampstead Heath to the herbalist John Gerard (1545-
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 and the Apothecaries' Company in 1734 was said to have seldom failed to come for its spring 'herbarizing feast'.
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 and controversial municipal attempts at improvement from the late 19th century.
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-
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. 85) and in 1745, three by 1786, and four by 1810.
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.
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-
The pond was marked simply as a reservoir in 1891, although already known by its modern name.
The 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.
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.
Branch Hill pond was filled in c. 1889.
Fine sand, not found farther east at Highgate, was estimated in 1813 to cover Hampstead Heath to an average depth of 10 ft.
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, in 1597 a gravel pit lay near the beacon, and in 1680 there was a sandpit at Branch Hill.
The lord sold large quantities of sand and gravel to the Islington turnpike trustees in the early 18th century.
One, Anderson, had leave to dig loam and sand on The Heath in 1787 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'.
Not all depredations could be blamed on the lord.
There were presentations for unauthorized digging in 1773 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.
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. 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.
Old workings were not necessarily eyesores: the mixture of vegetation with patches of bright red and yellow sand was admired in 1823, picnickers enjoyed the ridges and hollows, Dickens thought that a few made an improvement, and later they were often seen as picturesque.
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-
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.
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.
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, and later was used both for military manoeuvres and firing practice. The county elections were held there from 1681 to 1701 and in 1836.
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.
The gibbet probably stood at the top of the hill leading down to North End Way, although the 'gibbet elms' depicted in the 19th century were farther down the slope.
The famous highwayman Francis Jackson was hanged in 1674…his body was exhibited on the left of the road from Jack Straw's Castle to North End.
The gibbet stood between two trees, the Gibbet Elms, one of which survived until 1907, when it was blown down in a gale, and the district was known for many years as Gibbet Hill
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' and in the 1720s Defoe praised the air, although too rarefied, and prospects in fine weather.
In 1734 the ground's rapid drying out made it a pleasant place for walks and later the views were often illustrated and praised.
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.
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, 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.
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.
The poets were soon followed by painters, notably Constable, who probably knew Hampstead from c. 1812 and stayed first near Whitestone pond in 1819, John Linnell from 1822, and William Collins from 1823.
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.
Constable, whose first, serene, views were probably done before 1819, came to occupy a succession of second homes in Hampstead.
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-
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.
More important, for the future of The Heath, was its popularity with day trippers.