HAMPSTEAD Northern Line (Edgware)
A LONDON TUBE RAMBLES WALK
There is so much to see in Hampstead that I have only mentioned the most outstanding buildings – just keep your eyes open for intriguing bits and pieces as you go, as well as beautiful ironwork and windows. The Underground station itself is interesting. It’s the deepest in London and the ticket hall retains the moulded olive green tiles of 1907. Although actual walking distance is only about 2 miles, you should allow a whole morning for your explorations.
At New End Square you will find Burgh House (1703), now the local history museum. Continue up Well Walk and cross Christchurch Hill to the nineteenth-century Wells Tavern. No. 40 is the house where Hampstead’s most famous artist, John Constable, lived. A little further up, No. 46 has a charming Gothick bay window. On the other side of the road is a drinking fountain of 1882 commemorating the springs which by the end of the eighteenth century had ceased to operate, having lost favour with the more fashionable patrons due to rowdy behaviour and a reputation for immorality.
Behind the fountain is a passageway . Follow this through to the steps at Well Road. Almost opposite, to the right, is narrow Cannon Lane and the old Parish Lock-up (in use from about 1730 to 1829). Where the lane forks, bear left and then turn into Cannon Place. Here you will find Cannon Hall. Prior to the formation of the police (see below) it was occupied by a series of judges who presided over a courtroom in the house. Later it became home of the actor Gerald du Maurier. Cross Christchurch Hill and continue up to Hampstead Square. Like the other squares in Hampstead, it is hardly large enough to be dignified by the name, but its few early eighteenth century buildings are well worth seeing. Continue ahead up through the square. Soon you will come to a dark red brick block. This was built c 1730 and converted in 1986 to 'homes for the aged’. Next door is a Friends Meeting House in Arts & Crafts style. Bit mystified by the heavy black porch on the front of this otherwise pleasing building.
Go down the small road to the left. At the end look across the road (Lower Terrace) to see the pretty house (No. 2) that John Constable stayed in for a short time in the early 1820’s. It was from here that he produced his painting of The Grove. Return to Admiral Walk and go right down Hampstead Grove, which becomes Holly Bush Hill. On the way is Fenton House (National Trust) with a walled garden. This late Georgian merchant’s house has an outstanding collection of early keyboard instruments. The main road at the end of the hill is Frognal. Facing you is Mount Vernon. The dramatic blocks of flats that rear up in over-confident French chateau style were originally built in the 1880’s as a TB hospital to take advantage of Hampstead’s famous clean air (the top of Heath Street, is 420 feet above sea level). Cross Frognal with care and take the railed path above the street to the left of the flats. From here there is a good view of artist George Romney’s house – the one with the weatherboarding. This was originally the stabling of No. 6 Cloth Hill. Continue on the raised path past Mount Vernon Cottages. Next door to these is the house, formerly a girls’ school, where Robert Louis Stevenson once lived. By the side of the house is a downward path, Holly Walk. The Watch House near the top, was home to the first Hampstead Police Force, formed in the 1830’s. Some unfortunate additions in the shape of so-what-ish spindly iron balconies.
A bit further down is an unusual Roman Catholic Church. St. Mary’s (1816) is tiny, but impressive. The tall stuccoed façade is a later addition of 1850 and has a niche with statue of the Virgin, plus a bell cote above. It is not just unusual architecturally speaking, but is an early example of a Catholic church, since it was not until 1829 that 'Papists' were granted full civil rights in England, Wales and Scotland. Although the somewhat out-of-scale facade sits slightly uneasily in the middle of a plain terrace, it is a most appealing set of buildings. Keep going down the fairly steep slope, past a churchyard. At the end of the road, cross Church Row to the brick-built Parish church of St. John (1745-47) and have a wander round that graveyard. There is a helpful sign near the west door with a list of the graves of prominent people.You will find John Constable’s tomb in the south-east corner of the churchyard, up against a brick wall. To the right of the sign, by the path, is John Harrison's tomb, with an explanation of the importance of his famous marine chronometer. Go back to the road via the ornate iron gates, and turn right to see splendid Church Row. These terraces were built in the early eighteenth century and were used as country retreats for Londoners and by visitors to the spa. An oddity - on the north side No. 5 has a large weather boarded bay added later.
At the bottom of Church Row turn left down Hampstead High Street and make your way back towards the Underground. But don’t go home just yet! Walk past the Tube station (Heath Street) and up the hill for about five minutes to discover the old workhouse/hospital, a large brick building just before the New End turning. Just before you reach it, notice the French watchmaker's sign above the last of the little shops. If you look through the iron gates that come next, you will catch a glimpse of a large round structure. This is the Rotunda (1880’s) a huge circular ward with central chimney.
Turn into New End for the hospital buildings of 1849. These have been converted into gated housing units, so unfortunately the view of the Rotunda is limited. The Gothick style building opposite (now a synagogue) was once the mortuary - there is a tunnel under the road which was used for the discreet conveyance of corpses. Continue down the road. The building dated 1853, was once the dispensary and soup kitchen and the plaque on the corner (turn right) records that it was erected in thanksgiving for the parish’s escape from the cholera epidemic of 1849. Now a prep school. Continue down the hill, where the architecture is an entertaining assortment of styles. Turn right again down Streatley Place, an alleyway. This is dominated by the old workhouse chimney and by New End Primary School. This massive building, designed to cater for 612 children, is one of the most daunting Edwardian examples of a London Board School. It is still in use, with a roll of about 400.Now for Mansfield Place - look for the wrought-iron lamp arch - one of many in the area - on the right. This is one of the strangest ‘streets’ of Hampstead, being a cul-de-sac lined with cottages which ends with steps up to the front door of a larger house. The access to the cottages is only a flagstone wide, while the ample gardens with their wooden fences seem to belong to a country town. Towering over all, is the forbidding mass of the old workhouse/hospital. On the other side of Streatley Place are blocks of Victorian tenements. Once back in Heath Street go left to return to the Underground.
Access: although it's great that Hampstead has retained a lot of its pre-Victorian tangled street layout, it does make it slightly difficult to navigate, so you might like to print out the map before you set off. Also, please note that because Hampstead is built on a hill, the various slopes and steps involved might make this route tricky for those with walking difficulties or pushchairs.
Note: As you might expect in such an up-market area, there are a number of tempting cafes and patisseries - but they do tend to be on the expensive side.
Hampstead is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings even in the most unpromising areas covered by the outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you enjoy this page, you might like to click on the ink above to see the other destinations explored. You'll be amazed at what's out there!