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Southern entrance to Hampstead Heath

Coordinates: 51°33′47″N 0°10′6″W / 51.56306°N 0.16833°W / 51.56306; -0.16833 Hampstead Heath (locally known as "the Heath") is a large ancient parkland in London, covering 320 hectares (790 acres).[1] This grassy public space sits astride a sandy ridge, one of the highest points in London, running from Hampstead to Highgate, which rests on a band of London clay.[2] The Heath is rambling and hilly, embracing ponds, recent and ancient woodlands, a lido, playgrounds, and a training track, and it adjoins the stately home of Kenwood House and its grounds. South of the Heath is Parliament Hill, whose view over London is protected by law.

The Heath has long been a popular place for Londoners to walk and take the air. Running along its eastern perimeter are a chain of ponds - including three open-air public swimming pools - which were originally reservoirs for drinking water from the River Fleet. Kenwood is the location of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the smallest such site in London; lakeside concerts are held in summer. The Heath is managed by the City of London Corporation, and lies mostly within the London Borough of Camden with the adjoining Hampstead Heath Extension and Golders Hill Park in the London Borough of Barnet.

Contents

History

Highgate model boating pond near Parliament Hill

The Heath enters the history books in 986 when Ethelred the Unready granted one of his servants five hides of land at "Hemstede". This same land is later recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as held by the monastery of St. Peter’s at Westminster Abbey, and by then is known as the "Manor of Hampstead".[3] Westminster held the land until 1133 when control of part of the manor was released to one Richard de Balta; then during Henry II's reign the whole of the manor was given over to the private hands of an Alexander de Barentyn, the king's butler. Manorial rights to the land remained in private hands until the 1940s when they lapsed under Sir Spencer Pocklington Maryon Wilson,[4] though the estate itself was passed on to Shane Gough, 5th Viscount Gough.[3]

Over time, plots of land in the manor were sold off for building, particularly in the early 19th century, though the Heath remained mainly common land. The main part of the Heath was acquired for the people by the Metropolitan Board of Works,[5] with Parliament Hill added in 1888 after it was purchased for the public for £300,000, Golders Hill in 1898 and Kenwood House with its grounds in 1928.[6]

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.

The Heath has been managed by the City of London Corporation since 1989,[7] having been previously managed by the GLC and then Camden Council. The City of London proposes to build a new road on the Heath to service their 'Masterplan' developments. The proposal has met with protests from local residents and celebrities. The dispute continues.[8]

Geography

The Heath sits astride a sandy ridge (around 440 feet or 134 metres high) resting on a band of London Clay running from east to west. As the sand was easily penetrated by rainwater which was then held by the clay, a landscape of swampy hollows, springs and man-made excavations was created.[2]

Most of the Heath (approx 85%) is in the borough of Camden, with the rest, the Extension, in Barnet.

Public transport near the Heath includes London Overground stations Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak and London Underground stations at Hampstead and Belsize Park to the south, Golders Green to the north-west, and Highgate and Archway to the east. Buses serve several roads around the Heath.

The wildlife includes Common Kingfishers, Jackdaws and ring-necked parakeets. Pipistrelles and Daubenton's Bats may be seen over the ponds.

Areas of the Heath

The Heath covers 790 acres (320 ha), with a number of distinct areas. "Boudicca's Mound", near the present men's bathing pond, is a tumulus where, according to local legend, Queen Boudicca (Boadicea) was buried after she and 10,000 Iceni warriors were defeated at Battle Bridge.[9] However, earlier drawings and paintings of the area show no mound other than a 17th century windmill.

In the south-east of the Heath, on the southern slopes of Parliament Hill, is the Gospel Oak Lido open air swimming pool, with a running track and fitness area to its north.

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Highgate and Hampstead Ponds

A pond on Hampstead Heath

There are over 25 ponds on Hampstead Heath, mostly collected in two distinct areas. On the east (Highgate) side is a series of eight former reservoirs (known as Highgate Ponds) originally dug in the 17th and 18th centuries.[10] These include two single-sex swimming pools (the men's and ladies' bathing ponds), a model boating pond, a wildlife reserve pond and a fishing lake.

In the south-west corner of the Heath, towards South End Green, are three further ponds (known as Hampstead Ponds), one of which is the 'mixed pond', where both sexes may swim. These ponds are the result of the damming in 1777 of Hampstead Brook, one of the sources of the Fleet River, by the Hampstead Water Company which had been formed in 1692 to meet London's growing water demands.[2]

In 2004 the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath, tried to close the ponds on the grounds that they were an unsustainable expense and posed a health risk to swimmers. The swimmers challenged this and won in the High Court. To defray costs, the Corporation introduced a charge for swimmers of £2 per session, £1 for concessions. There was some opposition to this and some of the ticket machines were vandalized.[11]

Caen Wood Towers

To the north east of the Heath is a derelict site within the Conservation area comprising the grounds and mansion of the former Caen Wood Towers (renamed Athlone House in 1972). This historic building, currently in disrepair, was built in 1872 for Edward Brooke, aniline dye manufacturer (architect, Edward Salomons). In 1942 the building was taken for war service by the Royal Air Force and was used to house the RAF Intelligence School, although the 'official' line was that it was a convalescence hospital. The Operational Record (Form 540) of RAF Station Highgate (currently in the National Archives, Kew) was declassified in the late 1990s and shows the true role of this building in wartime service. The building received 2 near misses from V-1 flying bombs in late 1944, causing damage and injuries to staff. The RAF Intelligence School remained in Caen Wood Towers until 1948, when the building was handed over to the Ministry of Health. It was then used as a hospital and finally a post-operative recovery lodge, before falling into disrepair in the 1980s. The NHS sold off this part of their estate in 2004 to a private businessman who is currently redeveloping much of the site; however the House and its gardens fall within the conservation area of Hampstead Heath.

Parliament Hill Fields

Parliament Hill Fields lies on the south and east of the Heath; it officially became part of the Heath in 1888. It contains various sporting facilities including an athletics track, tennis courts and Parliament Hill Lido.[12] Parliament Hill itself is considered by some to be the focal point of the Heath,[13] with the highest part of it known to some as "Kite Hill" due to its popularity with kite flyers.[14] The hill is around 321 feet (98 m) high and is notable for the excellent views it provides of the London skyline. One can see the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the City of London, along with St Paul's Cathedral and other landmarks, all together in one view, parts of which are protected views. The main staff yards for the management of the Heath are located at Parliament Hill Fields.[7]

Kenwood

Kenwood House false bridge

The area to the north of the Heath is the Kenwood Estate and House - a total area of 0.5 km² (50 ha; 120 acres) which is maintained by English Heritage. This became part of the Heath when it was donated to the nation by Lord Iveagh on his death in 1927, and opened to the public in 1928. One third of the estate is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, particularly the ancient woodlands, designated by English Nature. These are home to many birds and insects and the largest Pipistrelle bat roost in London.

The original house dates from the early 17th century. The orangery was added in about 1700.

The popular summer lakeside concerts, which started in 1951, ceased in February 2007 after protests from local residents.[15] However, the return of the concerts was announced in March 2008 after English Heritage agreed a number of changes with Camden Council, notably with regard to noise levels.[16]

The Vale of Health

The Vale of Health is a hamlet (named "Hatchett's Bottom" until 1801) accessed by a lane from East Heath Road; it is surrounded entirely by the Heath.

Extension

The Extension is an open space to the north-west of the main heath. It does not share the history of common and heathland of the rest of the Heath. Instead it was created out of farmland, largely due to the efforts of Henrietta Barnett who went on to found Hampstead Garden Suburb. Its farmland origins can still be seen in the form of old field boundaries, hedgerows and trees.

Golders Hill Park

Golders Hill Park is a formal park adjoining the West Heath and is on a site formerly occupied by a large house which was bombed during World War II. It consists mainly of an expanse of grass, but it also has a formal flower garden with a duck pond and a separate water garden, which leads to a separate area for deer, near a recently-renovated small zoo. The zoo has alpacas, maras, red-legged seriemas and white-naped cranes. There are also tennis courts and a putting green.[17]

Unlike the rest of the Heath, Golders Hill Park is closed at night.

Hampstead Heath Constabulary

The "Hampstead Heath Constabulary" consists of twelve constables, four with trained General Purpose police dogs all licensed to ACPO/Home Office standards. They have been responsible for patrolling the Heath 24 hours a day since 1992.[18]

They are attested as constables under Article 18 of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Provisional Order Confirmation (Greater London Parks and Open Spaces) Act 1967 and Section 29 Scedule 4 of the Police Act1996 before a City of London magistrate. This authorises them to enforce the Hampstead Heath bylaws. They enjoy full powers of a constable when in their jurisdiction and have a good working partnership with the local Metropolitan Police. Major incidents or crimes on the Heath are investigated by the Metropolitan Police Service, the territorial police force for Greater London.

Activities

The Heath is home to a range of activities, including 16 different sports.[7] It is used by walkers, runners, swimmers and kite-flyers, and is regarded as the home of cross-country running in Britain.[7] There is an annual 5 km run through the Heath organised by Umbrella,[19] and until February 2007 Kenwood held a series of popular lakeside concerts.

The West Heath is regarded as one of the most notable and safest night-time cruising grounds in London.[20] George Michael has revealed that he cruises on the Heath;[21] an activity he then parodied on the Extras Christmas Special.[22]

Swimming takes place all year round in two of the three natural swimming ponds: the men's pond which opened in the 1890s, and the ladies' pond which opened in 1925. The mixed pond is only open from May to September, though it is the oldest, having been in use since the 1860s.[23]

Facilities include an athletics track, a pétanque pitch, a volleyball court and eight separate children's play areas including an adventure playground.[7]

Culture

In 1971 Jethro Tull published the Song Mother Goose on their Aqualung Album. The lyrics are a pastiche of surreal figures based on images that Ian Anderson saw while wandering around Hampstead Heath. Lyrics excerpt: "As I did walk by Hampstead Fair I came upon Mother Goose -- so I turned her loose --"

Views of the Heath and its cloudscapes were a favourite subject of John Constable, who lived in nearby Well Walk.

John Keats lived in West Heath Road, and his poem Ode to a Nightingale was inspired by a bird he heard while at the Spaniards Inn on the northern border of the Heath.

CS Lewis was inspired to write the famous novel, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", while walking on the heath on a snowy day[24]

The feature film, Scenes of a Sexual Nature (2006), directed by Ed Blum, was shot entirely on Hampstead Heath. Notting Hill (1999) featured scenes shot at the Heath, located primarily around Kenwood House.

Hampstead Heath was featured on the television programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the London area, with a focus on Parliament Hill to the south. The episode was presented by Bill Oddie, who lives in nearby Gospel Oak, and watches birds there regularly.

In 2005, Giancarlo Neri's sculpture The Writer, a 9-metre tall table and chair, was exhibited on Hampstead Heath.

Whilst living in London, Karl Marx and his family would take regular Sunday picnics on the Heath.

In the comedy show, Bo' Selecta, The Bear lived in a tree house on Hampstead Heath and would continually complain of being kept awake at night by 'the bummers'.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Victorian era painter, painted an elaborate night-time scene of Hampstead Hill in oils. Hampstead Heath also provided the backdrop for the opening scene in Victorian writer Wilkie Collins' novel The Woman in White.

A post-apocalyptic Hampstead Heath is the site of the village of Ham in Will Self's The Book of Dave.

Hampstead Heath is the primary setting for the 1983 short novel "The Purple Runner" by Paul Christman (Highgate Lane Press, Boulder, CO). The appearance of a mysterious disfigured runner of incredible talent intrigues the habitués of the heath. This book is considered one of the greatest running novels of all time, having become a cult classic (and very expensive to purchase).

In the television series "Spaced," Hampstead Heath is mentioned in a bit concerning a dog named after Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who hungers for wealthy individuals- Simon Pegg's character, Tim, claims that the dog "now roams on Hampstead Heath, close to the meat."

Gallery

London-panorama-hampstead.jpg

Panorama of London from Parliament Hill

Bibliography

References

  1. ^ "City of London Hampstead Heath". City of London. Last modified: 12 February 2010. http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Environment_and_planning/Parks_and_open_spaces/Hampstead_Heath/. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Hampstead - Hampstead Heath | British History Online
  3. ^ a b Hampstead - Manor and Other Estates | British History Online
  4. ^ thePeerage.com - Person Page 7102
  5. ^ Thompson, Hampstead, 130, 165, 195, 317-18, 329- 30; G.L.R.O., E/MW/H, old no. 27/15 (sales parts. 1875).
  6. ^ The London Encyclopaedia, Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 1983, ISBN 0-333-57688-8
  7. ^ a b c d e Hampstead Heath
  8. ^ "Say No To The Road". http://www.saynototheroad.blogspot.com/. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  9. ^ [1] London, Rob Humphreys, Rough Guides Ltd, 2004, ISBN 978-1843533160
  10. ^ Hampstead Heath
  11. ^ London Pools Campaign: Save the Ponds Campaign
  12. ^ Camden Council: Contact Parliament Hill Fields
  13. ^ BBC - Seven Wonders - Parliament Hill
  14. ^ Hampstead Heath - Sightseeing, Areas & Squares
  15. ^ End of an Era for Kenwood House Concerts
  16. ^ IMG and English Heritage announce stunning line up for Kenwood House Picnic Concerts
  17. ^ Camden Council: Contact Golders Hill Park
  18. ^ untitled
  19. ^ Umbrella - Working For Positive Mental Health
  20. ^ Pink UK's Gay Cruising Areas - Hampstead Heath
  21. ^ Personal Column: 'I go with gay strangers. We have our own code' - People, News - Independent.co.uk
  22. ^ Last night on television: Extras Christmas Special (BBC1) - Battleship Antarctica (Channel 4 - Telegraph
  23. ^ Greater London Authority - Press Release
  24. ^ C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life and Works / by Walter Hooper. By Walter Hooper Published by HarperSanFrancisco, 2005 ISBN 006063880X, 9780060638801
  25. ^ First published by T. Fisher Unwin (London) in 1913 with no ISBN

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