Tag Archives: Hampstead

Keats House, Hampstead

Keats House in Hampstead was the home of the poet John Keats for part of his short life. Saved from demolition when there were plans to replace the house with a row of flats in 1920, the house became a museum in 1925, a role which continues to this day. Keats House is now the responsibility of the City of London Corporation.

My father photographed Keats House in 1951:

Keats House

Sixty six years later I made a return visit to photograph Keats House on a warm and sunny April day:

Keats House

The house has hardly changed apart from the foliage around the door and some restoration work, the latest of which was a Heritage Lottery Funded redevelopment in 2009 and Arts Council supported work in 2015.

I love finding small details in these photos. In the lower right corner of the 1951 photo is a push lawnmower. I remember these from childhood as about the only way of cutting the lawn in a normal garden.

Keats House is a short walk from Hampstead underground station. Walk down Hampstead High Street and continue where the high street becomes Rosslyn Hill until a turning on the left  with the name of Downshire Hill, past the Keats Group Practice (the association with Keats is very popular here) till the junction with Keats Grove where there is a handy pointer to the museum.

Keats House

A short distance along Keats Grove we find Keats House standing in the middle of a large garden, looking wonderful on a spring afternoon.

Keats House

The house was built between 1815 and 1816 and at the time was called Wentworth Place. Although it has the appearance of a single house, at the time of Keats occupation it was divided into two homes.

The large building on the right was completed in 1931 over the original stables and kitchen garden. It was built as a branch library of Hampstead Library and also to house a collection of Keats books and letters donated by Sir Charles Dilke.

View of Keats House from the rear. The flat-roofed building on the left in the photo above and right in the photo below was built about 20 years after Keats left Hampstead. When he was in residence this would have been part of the garden.

Keats House

The plaque above the main entrance door at the front of the building, also to be seen in the 1951 photo. It was installed in 1895.

Keats House

John Keats had a tragically short life and his work did not achieve the level of recognition it has today until long after his death.

He was born on the 31st October 1795 at the Swan and Hoop Livery Stables in Moorfields. He was the eldest of four children, with two younger brothers (George and Tom) and a sister Frances Mary, or Fanny.

His father died in 1804 which resulted in a period of change as the children were moved around, first to Enfield then after the death of his grandfather, to Edmonton.

His mother died in 1810 of tuberculosis, a disease that would come to haunt Keats.

In 1810 Keats whilst still in Edmonton, was apprenticed to the surgeon Thomas Hammond and in 1816 he passed his exams at the Apothecaries’ Hall which enabled him to practice in the medical professions, however whilst working as an apprentice he had also been writing poetry. The same year he was introduced to the writer and poet Leigh Hunt who the following year introduced him to Shelley.

With the encouragement of the writers and poets in his circle of friends, he made the decision to concentrate on poetry and give up the medical profession. He moved to Hampstead in 1817, and the following year he moved into Wentworth Place – or Keats House as it is now.

In 1818 his brother Tom died of tuberculosis.

Whilst staying in Wentworth Place he met Fanny Brawne, who with her mother would also move into the other half of Wentworth Place in 1819. Keats and Fanny Brawne fell in love and became engaged but were unable to marry due to Keats lack of money.

During his time in Hampstead, Keats was also travelling extensively, including Chichester, Bedhampton, the Isle of Wight, Winchester and also taking temporary lodgings in Westminster.

In January 1820 his brother George returned from America for a short visit to sort out issues with their inheritance. John Keats traveled with him to Liverpool to see him off on his return to America. On Keats return to Hampstead from London, he fell very ill having traveled on the outside of the coach as this was the cheaper option.

His friend Charles Brown found him stumbling and feverish.

Keats was spitting blood and recognised the signs of tuberculosis which had killed both his mother and brother. In July 1820 his Doctor recommended that Keats travel to Italy in the hope that the warmer weather would help his condition.

Keats found it hard to leave Fanny, he wrote to her “I feel it almost impossible to go to Italy, the fact is I cannot leave you”. Just before leaving, Keats and Fanny exchanged gifts, a diary, a ring, books and a lock of hair.

He left Gravesend on the 18th September 1820, but the journey to Italy was beset with problems. Bad weather required a stop at Portsmouth, there was a further stop in Dorset and the ship did not reach Naples until the 21st October where it was then held in quarantine for 10 days, not ideal in autumn weather on board a ship for a person suffering from tuberculosis.

Keats finally reached Rome on the 15th November. A time of year when the hoped for warm weather had finished. Keats had a relapse on the 10th December and died on the 23rd February 1821 at the age of 25. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

John Keats by William Hilton, oil on canvas, © National Portrait Gallery, London:

Keats House

Keats published three books of poems – “Poems” in 1817, “Endymon” in 1818 and “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and other Poems” in 1820. During his lifetime his work did not achieve any recognition and he was branded by critics as a “cockney poet”, probably due to his origins in Moorfields. It was after his death and throughout the rest of the 19th century that his work gained a wider readership and his reputation grew to the point that he is now considered as one of the greatest of the romantic poets in the English language.

He lived a very short time in Wentworth Place, Hampstead, but it was here that he met Fanny Brawne and where they lived together in separate parts of what at the time was a divided house.

Following Keats death, the house went through many changes in ownership. The division was removed making it into a single house, the flat-roofed extension was built on the left of the house and the large library building built to the right.

The visitor entry to the house is at the rear of the building and there are three floors to explore, basement, ground and first floors. Whilst none of the furniture or decoration is from the time that Keats occupied the house, it does set the scene and there are many Keats related artifacts throughout the house.

Starting on the ground floor is Charles Brown’s Parlour. It was Charles Brown who occupied part of the house and rented out a parlour and bedroom to Keats from December 1818 to September 1820.

Keats House

The largest room on the ground floor is the Chester Room, named after the actress Eliza Jane Chester who built the room 20 years after Keats death so in his time this was part of the garden.

Keats House

John Keats’s Parlour – it was during his time at Wentworth Place that Keats wrote much of the poetry that would be considered his greatest work. The surroundings, Fanny Brawne and Hampstead Heath all providing inspiration.

Keats House

There are a number of quotes from Keats work around the house including the following written on the 28th August 1819 in a letter to his sister Fanny – 200 years later and it would still be hard to beat this combination..

Keats House

In the basement one room shows a film about Keats whilst the other two rooms are configured as the kitchen and servants quarters they would have been at the time, although part of this area would also have been a coal store.

Keats House

Charles Brown who rented rooms to Keats had an affair with Abigail O’Donaghue, one of the servants in the house. This caused a stir and they may have later married. Abigail had a child in 1820. Brown later moved to Italy with the child and they later emigrated to New Zealand, apparently without Abigail and there is no record of what became of her.

Keats House

Coal store:

Keats House

One of the paintings on show in the house – Keats listening to a Nightingale on Hampstead Heath by Joseph Severn:

Keats House

Painted by Joseph Severn in 1849, he was a friend of Keats and had traveled with him to Rome and had been with him in his final days. Severn would complete a number of paintings of Keats, including some which referenced his work, including the above alluding to Keats poem “Ode to a Nightingale”.

Fanny Brawne’s room.

Keats House

Fanny lived in this half of the house with her widowed mother and younger sister and brother. She was 18 when she first met Keats.

Charles Brown’s bedroom:

Keats House

John Keats’s bedroom:

Keats House

It was in this bedroom where Keats was in bed after returning from London in February 1820 when he started coughing up blood. Through his medical training he knew that this was arterial blood – a clear indicator of consumption, or tuberculosis, which he had also seen in his mother and brother.

On the landing is an example of Regency plumbing that may have been here in Keats time. A small lead sink which held rainwater collected from the roof.

Keats House

Keats House is a wonderful museum. He spent a very short time at the house but it was where some of his best work was completed and where he met the woman who had such an impact on him. His death, along with that of his mother and brother all from tuberculosis is a reminder of how harsh life was in the 19th century.

I was surprised to learn that the house had to be rescued from demolition in the 1920s. It is not just recently that it seems that anywhere in London is at risk of being converted into luxury apartments.

I visited Keats House after Fenton House. There is a Waterstones bookshop on Hampstead High Street, a secondhand bookshop in Flask Walk, some excellent pubs and restaurants and the weather was fantastic so I was able to follow Keats recommendation to:

“Give me Books, fruit, french wine and fine weather”

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Fenton House, Hampstead

On the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures on an April day reached 25 degrees in central London, I headed out to Hampstead to visit Fenton House, a wonderful 17th century house with a glorious garden and views over London.

The reason for this visit was to see if the photo of the entrance to the house has changed much since my father took the following photo in 1951.

Fenton House

Sixty six years later and the same view today.

Fenton House

The scene is almost identical apart from some cosmetic changes, including the lamp and metalwork arch over the entrance gate.

Fenton House is now owned by the National Trust, hence the signs around the entrance and the house and gardens are open including the balcony that offers a superb view over central London.

Fenton House is a short walk north from Hampstead underground station, along Holly Hill, Holly Bush Hill then into Hampstead Grove. There are two entrances into Fenton House, the first from Holly Bush Hill that leads through an ornate gateway and garden to the front of the house, and the second entrance which is the view in the above two photos in Hampstead Grove.

The photo below shows the full view of the house from Hampstead Grove.

Fenton House

Fenton House was built around 1686 by William Eades. At the time, the land around Hampstead was being developed with individual large houses being built for the aspiring professional classes who wanted a house close to London but away from the congestion and pollution of central London.

The following extract from John Rocque’s map from 1746 shows the village of Hampstead and the enclosed gardens of large houses can be seen spreading to the north, west and east of Hampstead. One of these is Fenton House although I have tried to identify which one, also comparing with later maps, but I cannot work out which one is Fenton.

Fenton House

In Old and New London, Edward Walford described the house: “Hard by the house of Joanna Baillie is an old mansion named Fenton House, but generally known as ‘The Clock House’ from a clock which adorned its front, now superseded by a sundial; the house is chiefly remarkable for its heavy high-pitched roof, not unlike that of many a château in Normandy. It now belongs to a member of Lord Mansfield’s family.”

The position of the old clock and later the sundial is still marked by the circular plaque above the entrance, as still visible in the photos above. A 1780 view of the house from Old and New London is shown below:

Fenton House

From the late 17th century, the house went through a series of owners. Mary Martin brought the house around 1756 and it was during her time at the house that the clock was added. The house was purchased by Philip Fenton in 1793 and remained with the Fenton family until 1834. The Fenton family gave the house its current name – I am not sure why the Fenton family name has survived when the house has been through multiple owners since 1686. I assume the Clock House name was not relevant after the removal of the clock, the Fenton’s named the house after their family name, and future owners did not want to change the name, or were not in residence through multiple generations.

Philip Fenton was a Yorkshire man who became a Baltic Merchant exporting to England. Prior to his purchase of the Clock House as it was, he was based in Riga (now the capital of Latvia but then part of Russia) along with his nephew James who married in Riga and had seven children. After Philip purchased Fenton House, he was later joined by James and his family, and James inherited the house after Philip’s death. It was James who added the colonnaded porch above the entrance from Hampstead Grove shown in the photos at the start of this post, the only substantial change to the house since the 17th century.

James Fenton was involved in the protests against further development of Hampstead Heath. In 1829 the Lord of the Manor, Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson tried to get an act of parliament passed against the restrictions preventing building on the heath. This was a battle that ran for many years, continuing after James’ death as the Heath only passed into public ownership in 1871 when the heir of Sir Thomas sold his manorial rights.

After James Fenton, the house continued through a succession of owners, all apparent;ly making little if any changes to the fabric and appearance of the building. The last owner of the building was Katherine, Lady Binning who purchased the house in 1936. Lady Binning was a widow, her husband the heir to the Earl of Haddington had died in 1917. The family had a number of houses in the Scottish Borders and in London at 49 Berkeley Square and she appears to have spent very little time at Fenton House and after purchasing allowed Robert Broussons to stay in the house (he had leased the house from the previous owner) and in 1937 she let the house to a Dr. Abercrombie.

Lady Binning had an extensive collection of porcelain, furniture and needlework and before the second world war had entertained the idea of leaving the house to the National Trust as a museum to display the collections. This was formalised after the war and on Lady Binning’s death in 1952, Fenton House passed to the National Trust. It was opened to the public in 1953.

My father’s photo of the entrance is from 1951, so the last full year of Lady Binning’s ownership.

The house today continues to display Lady Binning’s collection and the National Trust have added the George Benton Fletcher collection of early keyboard instruments and the Peter Barkworth art collection.

Time for a walk around Fenton House. The Dining Room with a Shudi and Broadwood harpsichord dating from 1770:

Fenton House

Part of the porcelain collection:

Fenton House

A Johannes Ruckers harpsichord from 1612:

Fenton House

The Drawing Room:

Fenton House

Two large display cabinets in the Drawing Room display more of Lady Binning’s porcelain collection:

Fenton House

Lady Binning – the last owner of Fenton House, and thanks to her donation of the house to the National Trust, the house and gardens are now fully open to visit and explore.

Fenton House

Landing between rooms:

Fenton House

On the east side of the house, above the entrance from Hampstead Grove there are two balustraded flat roofs and one of these is open to provide spectacular views across Hampstead to the City of London. Fenton House is built on one of the highest points in Hampstead, roughly 124 meters above sea level, with the land rising by an additional 10 meters further north on the heath. To the south the land falls away to provide the following view which greets you as you step out.

Fenton House

Close up of the view across to the City. St. Paul’s Cathedral to the right of centre along with the Shard. To the left are the towers of the City with the unmistakable shapes of the Walkie Talkie and the Gherkin. The total height of St. Paul’s Cathedral is about 111 meters and the ground height is 11 meters giving a total of 122 meters so standing on this balcony we are a few meters higher than the very top of the cathedral.

Fenton House

Roughly half way between the dome of St. Paul’s and the Walkie Talkie and slightly lower down can be seen the clock tower at St. Pancras Station. The chimney of the old Bankside Power Station is on the far right.

In the brickwork behind the balcony a number of initials and dates have been carved, including the following from 1693, a couple of years after the completion of Fenton House:

Fenton House

Then in the 18th century:

Fenton House

And finally in the 19th century:

Fenton House

The carvings show how long this has been a place to look out over Hampstead and London. I also find it strange to be pleased to find these old dates and initials carved into the fabric of old buildings, when if someone did this today it would be considered an act of vandalism.

Fascinating though to think of the changes since those 1693 initials as London has gradually expanded to take in the village of Hampstead, the long years of St. Paul’s Cathedral dominating the city skyline followed by the recent rush of tower blocks.

I wonder what the same view will look like in 100 and 200 years time?

A panorama from the balcony (click on the photo for a larger version):Fenton House

As well as the house and the view, Fenton House also has some superb gardens. The view from the balcony:

Fenton House

Walking back down from the balcony, an indicator board manufactured in Clapham Junction:

Fenton House

The gardens are divided into two main sections – a formal part of grass and hedges and an adjacent kitchen garden. Spring is a perfect time for walking through a garden, but the weather on this April day made this extra special as the garden was full of life and the bright sunshine made the natural colours of spring all the more vivid.

The Kitchen Garden:

Fenton House

Path through the Kitchen Garden:

Fenton House

Pathways, hedges and a brick wall:

Fenton House

The formal garden – view from the far end looking back towards Fenton House:

Fenton House

The lawn on a sunny April day:Fenton House

I left Fenton House by the Hollybush Hill entrance. I suspect that this is the entrance by which the majority of visitors would have entered the house. Facing onto the street leading up from the main Hampstead roads, an impressive entrance gateway with a long path leading up to the house.

Fenton House

A visit to Fenton House is highly recommended. The house and gardens provide a good example of the developments that took place across this part of the heath from the mid 17th century.

Standing on the balcony with three centuries of initials on the brickwork behind and the view of London in front, makes you think of all those who have also lived in or visited Fenton House and also looked over the changing city – and how the city will continue changing.

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Church Row – Hampstead

I have featured Hampstead in a number of posts and for this week I am back in Hampstead looking at a street which, architecturally, has hardly changed in the past 67 years. The street is Church Row which turns off from Heath Street as you walk up towards Hampstead Underground Station.

Church Row leads up to the parish church of St. John-at-Hampstead with a central, narrow avenue of trees that separates two rows of terrace houses in the section of road closest to the church. These houses were mainly built during the 1720s.

The following photo was taken by my father in 1949, standing outside the church and looking back up towards Heath Street.

Church Row 1

And the same view in 2016 (although I should really have waited a couple of months for the trees to be in full leaf).

Church Row 4

I thought that using black and white for the 2016 photo would emphasis how little Church Row has changed over the past 67 years, with one exception – the car and on-street parking.

A common challenge with taking photos of the locations today that my father photographed many years ago is trying to capture the same scene without traffic obscuring the view. With locations such as Church Row it is impossible to photograph without the on-street parking.

Car ownership and use across London has grown considerably over the last 70 years. Central London has always been busy, however the ongoing growth in traffic and need for parking has spread out from the centre to cover all parts of the city.

It is interesting to compare car ownership statistics to understand the growth of car use across London. The County of London Plan published in 1943 stated “In England, the ratio of cars to population is about one to twenty-two; in America it is one to six or seven. It is perhaps doubtful whether this country will equal America in this respect, but it is generally agreed that there is every likelihood of a rapid approach to the American figure and that the increase in the number of vehicles will far outstrip the 500 cars per day increase which was taking place in the days preceding the present war.”

This statement from the 1943 plan just shows the difficulties in trying to predict the future. The plan suspects it is doubtful that this country will get to a car ownership level or one car per six or seven of population, however for London in 2012, from the Transport for London report “Roads Task Force – Technical Note 12. How many cars are there in London and who owns them?” there are currently:

  • 2.6 million cars registered in London and 54% of households have at least one car
  • this gives a ratio of approximately 0.3 cars per adult
  • car ownership varies widely across London with the lowest percentage (13%) in the City of London and the highest (75%) in Richmond upon Thames
  • for Hampstead, the Borough of Camden has an ownership percentage of 38%, however I suspect this varies widely across the Borough

The above 2.6 million excludes the cars that travel into London during the day. I have been unable to find any reliable figures for the total number of cars across the whole of London.

This volume of cars all need to be parked somewhere so we see the streets of London changing as Church Row has done between 1949 and 2016.

The following photo from 1949 is looking back down Church Row towards the church. The above photo was taken from just outside the entrance to the churchyard.

Church Row 3

And the same scene in 2016:

Church Row 7

These two photos are interesting as they show the challenges with taking exactly the same photo and how using different cameras and lenses impact the perspective of the photo.  The 1949 photos were taken by my father using his Leica IIIc and a 50mm lens. I am using a Nikon D300 digital camera with an 18 to 200mm zoom lens – two very different camera systems and this is very noticeable in the perspective differences.

My 2016 photo looks further away from the church than my father’s however I walked up and down the street a number of times to find the same combination of manholes. In the 1949 photo there are two round nearer the camera and a rectangular manhole furthest away. I found the same combination, and although the paving slabs look to have been changed, there are the same number of rows of paving slabs between the various manholes so I am confident I found the same location although the perspective looks slightly different (and perhaps by counting paving slabs and manholes I am starting to take this project a bit too seriously !!)

My father sold the original camera to purchase a Leica IIIg which I still have along with the original 50mm lens which was transferable between different Leica camera bodies. On my to-do list is to learn how to use this entirely manual camera and start taking photos using the Leica and the original lens that may father used.

As you walk down Church Row, towards the church, on the left is a house with a plaque. The house in 1949:

Church Row 2

And the same house in 2016 (although I forgot when taking the photo that the original was portrait rather than landscape).

Church Row 5

Only very minor cosmetic changes, for example the change in rainwater down-pipe, apart from the burglar alarm and the car parked in front.

The plaque was installed in 1909 by the Hampstead Antiquarian and Historical Society. Formed in 1897, the “objects of the society are the study, and as far as possible, the recording of antiquarian and historical matters, especially in regard to the Borough of Hampstead, and also, should necessity arise, the protection of any historic landmark from needless violation.”

I cannot find exactly when the Society closed, however the Camden local history archive has the minutes, cashbooks, annual reports and papers of the society up to 1940 and I can find no record post 1940.

Thomas Park was an engraver, poet and antiquary who lived in Church Row for 30 years until his death. His son, John James Park published “The Topography and Natural History of Hampstead in the County of Middlesex with Appendix of original Records” in 1818. It was the first book dedicated to the history of Hampstead.

According to “London” by George Cunningham, H.G. Wells lived in number 17, the house to the right of that of Thomas Park, in 1912. His stay was obviously too short to justify a plaque.

The Hampstead Antiquarian and Historical Society plaque to Thomas Park and John James Park:

Church Row 6

As with the buildings along Church Row, there are some other aspects of London that change very little. Whilst reading the section on Road Transport in the 1943 County of London Plan I found the following paragraph:

“In 1927 the late Mr Frank Pick stated that the London General Omnibus Company lost, through delay and congestion on the roads, one million pounds a year in actual out-of-pocket expenses. This figure does not take into account the cost of time lost to passengers. Other estimates include those of a large catering firm, which estimated the cost of calls in congested periods at 6s 8d compared with 3s 4d outside those periods, and of Mr. Shrapnel Smith, who estimated the cost of delays in central London, within a three mile radius of Charing Cross, at over eleven million pounds a year. Uncomfortable and slow traffic, resulting from congestion and lack of system, is inefficient and bad for business.”

Multiply the financial values several times and those exact words could be written today. Some thing never change !

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Holly Bush Hill – Hampstead

After visiting the Chalybeate Well in Hampstead which I featured in my post of two weeks ago, I stayed in Hampstead and walked to the other side of Heath Street to visit Holly Bush Hill.

Sixty seven years ago in 1949, my father took the following photo looking up Holly Bush Hill from the walkway that leads up to Mount Vernon.

Holly Bush Hill 2

And in 2016, Holly Bush Hill looks much the same.

Holly Bush Hill 1

Turning to the right in 1949, the view looking down from Holly Bush Hill.

Holly Bush Hill 4

And the same view in 2016.

Holly Bush Hill 3

As with many of the side streets in Hampstead, there has been very little change over many decades. Both photos highlight the major change since 1949 which is how much cars have taken over the streets. In 1949 there were very few cars to be seen and street parking was minimal, however in 2016 cars are everywhere and the side streets are lined with parked cars.

I cannot find the origin of the name Holly Bush Hill. Many of the streets in this area use the name Holly, for example Holly Bush Vale and Holly Mount so there must be an original local meaning, perhaps the growth of holly bushes at the top of the hill. Other possible sources of the name refer to the local pub, The Holly Bush. This pub name has several possible meanings including the use of the Holly Bush by the Romans during their Saturnalia celebrations and also the custom of hanging a green branch or bush over the door of a building that sold wines and beers for advertisement.

Whatever the original source of the name, the holy on the pub sign has reduced over the years from a full holly bush in 1949 down to a sprig of holly in 2016.

old and new pub signs

Holly Bush Hill was not the original name of the street. George W. Potter in Hampstead Wells – A Short History Of Their Rise And Decline published in 1907 states that the original name was Cloth Hill “no doubt because it was anciently used as a drying or bleaching ground”.

George Potter records that before becoming a very fashionable area, Hampstead was the location for a large number of laundry businesses set-up to serve London. Hampstead was a perfect location due to the availability of a large number of springs with a good supply of clean water. No doubt the windy heights of Hampstead also helped with drying.

In the first 1949 photo there is a pub sign on the left and on the wall on the right the brewery name Benskins.

This refers to the pub “The Holly Bush” which, as can be seen by the 2016 pub sign, is still in existence and down the side street Holly Mount. The Holly Bush is a lovely old pub, built-in 1643 and a grade II listed building, one of the London locations that Dr. Johnson and Boswell drank in. Today it is a perfect stop after a walk around Hampstead.

Holly Bush Hill 8

In the top photo, look just along the street to the buildings on the right, these are also much the same.

Holly Bush Hill 7

On the far left of the buildings there is blue plaque recording that the artist, George Romney lived here. George Cunningham in “London” (1927) records the history of this building:

“Formerly the house and studio of George Romney. In 1796 George Romney, the artist, bought an old house and stable here, and in 1797-8, when his health had begun to decline, he built a new house and studio on the site and on land he had purchased at the back of it. Romney lived here until 1799, when he went back to Kendall to the wife he had deserted some thirty-five years before. This was his last London residence, and his stay here was a period of constantly increasing illness. The property was sold in 1801 and in 1807 it was purchased for use as assembly rooms and until 1860 it was a social centre for the neighbourhood. The Hampstead Literary and Scientific Society was formed here about 1833, and among its lecturers Dr. Lardner, Dr. Ure, Professor Lindsey, John Constable and others of equal prominence. The Conversazione Society was established in 1846 and held its meetings here. Since 1886 the Constitutional Club has been here.”

George Romney was a society portraitist, completing portraits of many prominent people of the time. A very skillful draughtsman, initially he did not have the confidence for major works of art, however in 1782 he met Emma Hart, the future Lady Emma Hamilton who became Lord Nelson’s mistress.

At the time of Romney’s meeting with Emma Hart, she was the mistress of Charles Greville who took her to Romney to have her portrait painted. Romney was fascinated by her, and she became his “artist’s muse”, sitting for him many times and featuring in a large number of Romney’s works.

Self portrait of George Romney, oil on canvas, 1784.

by George Romney, oil on canvas, 1784

©Trustees of the British Museum

One of George Romney’s drawings of Lady Hamilton.

Lady Hamilton

©Trustees of the British Museum

On the assumption that you may have stopped for a drink in The Holly Bush, when you come out, turn left along Holly Mount, then down Holly Bush Steps to Heath Street. Cross over, walk a short distance up Heath Street then stop , turn round and look back. This was the view in 1949.

Holly Bush Hill 6

And in 2016 (my apologies for the quality of the photo, it was a very sunny day and despite waiting for the sun to drop behind the buildings it still presented some contrast problems).

Holly Bush Hill 5

The entrance to Holly Bush Steps is just behind the furthest car in the 1949 photo.

Heath Street is an incredibly busy road and despite waiting for almost half an hour there was not a break in the traffic, however if you ignore the cars and focus on the buildings, the scene is almost exactly the same. I am sure that the trees in front of the white building on the right are the same.

The side streets of Hampstead have changed very little over the years. Take away the cars and I suspect George Romney would not find too many differences if he was to return to his house and studio.

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The Chalybeate Well – Hampstead

The high ground of Hampstead Heath, to the north of central London has a fascinating geology which helped to drive Hampstead’s original development and is also the source of rivers such as the Fleet and the Westbourne.

The highest point on the heath reaches some 133 meters above sea level. If you stand on the heath, under your feet will be a thick layer of sand and gravel, known to Geologists as the Lower Bagshot Sands, which at the highest point is 24 meters thick. The thickness of this layer fluctuates across the heath, for example when the shafts were sunk for the Hampstead Underground Station, the layer was found to be only 5 meters thick, and the layer disappears as height descends running down from Hampstead.

Underneath the layer of sand and gravel is a layer of sandy clay which extends for 15 meters at the thickest point. Underneath this layer is the thick and impermeable London Clay which extends over much of London.

The following map from “Hampstead Heath – It’s Geology And Natural History” by the Hampstead Scientific Society published in 1913 shows the area covered by the Bagshot Sands.

Chalybeate Well 13

Hampstead and the heath can therefore be considered as a sandy peak sitting on top of a layer of thick clay.

It is this geology which gives rise to the large number of springs which can be found across the heath. Rainwater can easily pass through the layers of sand before reaching the layer of London Clay which presents a barrier. Water then runs horizontally along the boundary between the sand and clay to come back out from the ground in the form of a spring at the point lower down the heath where the sand layer stops.

When emerging from the ground, the water carries with it the properties of the sand through which it has passed, and it is these springs and the properties of the water that have been so important in Hampstead’s development.

So what relevance does this brief geological introduction to Hampstead have to this week’s post? Among my father’s photos is this photo of a well taken in 1949:

Chalybeate Well 1

The same well in 2016:

Chalybeate Well 3

This is the Chalybeate Well in Well Walk, Hampstead. In the context of water, the name chalybeate means that the water contains iron.

The springs of Hampstead have a long history of providing supplies of water for the rest of London. Conduits were built to channel water from the springs along the heath to the centre of the city. During the search for sources of water, the chalybeate springs must have also been found, and whilst not suitable for drinking water, the high iron content gave rise to the believe that the water had medicinal properties.

On the 20th December 1698 the infant Earl of Gainsborough and his guardian and mother, the Countess of Gainsborough gave six acres of land in the region of the Chalybeate Well, to be used to benefit the poor of Hampstead. The deed that transferred the land refers to “the Wells lately made there for medicinal waters”. The transfer was to a charity managed by 14 trustees.

This gift of land is recorded on the plaque on the Chalybeate Well:

Chalybeate Well 5

The land in this area of Hampstead was poor quality and rather boggy due to the number of springs. Despite the gift of the land, there was little from the land that would benefit the poor of Hampstead, apart from the springs and it is these that the trustees started to develop.

An advertisement posted by the trustees in the “Postman” on the 18th April 1700 reads:

“The Chalybeate Waters at Hampstead being of the same nature and equal in virtue with Tunbridge Wells and highly approved of by most of the eminent physicians of the College, as likewise by many of the gentry who formerly used to drink Tunbridge Waters, are by direction of the Trustees of the Wells aforesaid, for the conveniency of those who yearly drink them in London carefully bottled up in flasks and sent to Mr. Phelps Apothecary at the Eagle and Child in Fleet Street every morning at the rate of 3d per flask and if any person desires to have them brought to their own houses, they will be conveyed to them upon their leaving a note to Mr Phelps’ aforesaid at 1d more, and to prevent any person being imposed upon the true waters and nowhere else to be procured unless they are sent for to the Wells at Hampstead, and the said Mr Phelps to prevent Counterfeits hath ordered his servants to deliver to each person who comes for any of the waters aforesaid, a sealed ticket viz: a wolf rampant with 7 Crosslets. Note! the messengers that come for the waters must take care to return the flasks daily.”

So the Chalybeate Wells of Hampstead were in competition with those of Tunbridge Wells. It also provides a fascinating insight into the need to guarantee that the waters provided in flasks were original – the use of a sealed ticket with a wolf rampant sounds very dramatic.

The waters were bottled on the site of the present pub “The Flask” on Flask Walk which leads directly into Well Walk.

The source of the water that was sold in London was not from the existing Chalybeate Well in Well Walk, the source was a spring and pond (filled in about 1880) about 100 yards further up the hill.

As well as the sale of the water in London, the trustees also looked at other opportunities for how they could gain further benefit from the 6 acres of land.

On the 2nd June 1701, a John Duffield was granted possession of the land for a period of 21 years for an annual rent of £50. John Duffield must have realized the opportunities that the land and the associated springs provided with their close location to the rest of London. He immediately started building work, constructing buildings that would enhance the local springs with a Great Room or Long Room, Assembly Rooms and a Pump Room. To these rooms were soon added a tavern, chapel and shops along with formal gardens and a bowling green.

The following map from George Potter’s “Hampstead Wells” published in 1907 provides an overview of the area around 1761. The original source for the Chalybeate waters is at point C. The walkway between Well Road and Well Walk terminates on Well Walk directly behind the current Chalybeate Well so the locations of the Great Room, Pump Room etc. can be positioned along the current Well Walk.

Chalybeate Well 12

The type of entertainments provided in these rooms can be identified from another advert in the “Postman” on the 9th September 1701:

“In the Great Room at Hampstead Wells on Monday next being the 15th, exactly at 11 o’clock of the forenoon will be performed a Consort of vocal and instrumental Musick by the best Masters, and at the request of several gentlemen, Jeremy Bowen will perform several songs and particular performance on the violin by several masters. Tickets to be had at the Wells and at St. Stephen’s Coffee House in King Street, Bloomsbury at 1s per ticket. There will be dancing in the afternoon as usual.”

A later advertisement mentions that the room will hold 500 people which gives an indication of the size, and also at 1s per ticket the amount of money that the new buildings at the Hampstead Wells were generating.

John Rocque’s map published in 1746 shows the village of Hampstead still as a village surrounded on all sides by fields and the heath. The new developments around Well Walk are to the upper right of the village.

Chalybeate Well 11

The rear of the Chalybeate Well in 1949. On the left of the basin is a chain which presumably had a cup attached to allow the waters to be drunk from the basin.

Chalybeate Well 2

The rear of the well in 2016. The chain and cup have disappeared. Just above the right hand-side of the basin is a modern push button which appears to offer a pump-action to bring water to the basin – I tried it several times but there was no water.

Chalybeate Well 4

The chalybeate waters, the Long Room, Pump Room etc. enjoyed a number of years of great popularity with those who could afford to travel and pay for the entertainments, with Londoners flocking to Hampstead. However after a number of years their popularity declined, there were a number of scandals and trouble at the tavern. It was also found that the poor of Hampstead who should have benefited from the original grant of land had not received anything as John Duffield had not been paying his annual £50 rent, and by the 1720s when the situation could not last for much longer, eleven of the original fourteen trustees had died so the trust had also become rather ineffective.

After this initial development of the grant of the 6 acres of land, and the chalybeate waters, the area continued under the management of what became the Wells Charity. Continued efforts were made to promote the waters and the entertainments that were provided in the buildings along Well Walk and during the 19th century the houses that currently line Well Walk gradually replaced the 18th century buildings, constructed to promote the spring waters.

The original public basin that held the spring waters was on the opposite side of the road from the current Chalybeate Well which was built around 1882. Water has never run freely from the well. Digging of sewers in the road and other building works appears to have disrupted the underground flow of water. Even if water was flowing into the well, it would not be wise to drink.

A Dr. Atfield analysed the water from the well in 1884 and found that it contained:

analysis

There was a note at the bottom of the above table which read:

“Note – This appears to be chalybeate water mixed with ordinary surface water. If this could be excluded a purely chalybeate water would probably be obtained.”

Not that there was much to drink. In 1907, George Potter of the Wells and Campden Charity recorded that:

“The traveler requiring a draft of it would have to spend at least an hour to obtain a moderate one from this source, and when he had obtained it he probably would not relish it very much.”

So, despite the new well being constructed, there was very little water and what was available was not very drinkable.

George Potter tried to find other sources of water which could be run to the well. A number of shafts were sunk in the gardens of houses along Well Walk and spring water was found, however on analysis it was found that:

“With reference to the analyst’s report on the two samples of water, Nos 2 and 3, a copy of which I forwarded to you on the 10th, it appears to me that I cannot allow it to pass without representing to those in whom is vested the Chalybeate Spring that persons drinking this water run a serious risk of injury to their health.”  (Letter from Dr. Herbert Lttlejohn, Medical Officer of Health to George Potter on the 17th November 1902.)

George Potter described his disappointment with these results: “The handsome new fountain in Well Walk, a fountain without water, is now only a monument – a monument to commemorate the memory of the departed glories of the once famous Hampstead Spa. But even now I am not without hope that a supply of this water, practically pure, may yet be found and let to this fountain – a fountain only in name at present.”

The Well Charity continues to this day in the form of the Hampstead Wells and Campden Trust. Although having been through amalgamation with other charities and changes in status, the charity is rooted in the original donation of 6 acres of land by the Earl and Countess of Gainsborough

The well provided a common source of street names in the area. Chalybeate Well is on Well Walk. Just behind the well is Well Passage which leads up to Well Road.

Chalybeate Well 6

Well Walk has been the location for a number of drawings and paintings of Hampstead over the years. The following print being an example, and reads: “A Prospect of Hampstead from the Corner of Mrs Holford’s Garden, opposite the Well Walk” and shows Hampstead in 1745 (print by William Henry Toms)

816585001

©Trustees of the British Museum

The following print by a Captain Thomas Hasting is from 1828 and titled Near the Well Walk Hampstead”

1169785001

©Trustees of the British Museum

Hampstead has also long been the residence of artists. A blue plaque along Well Walk identifies one of the two houses in which the artist John Constable lived in Hampstead. He frequently visited Hampstead in the summer then moved there permanently until his death in Hampstead in 1837. He took the lease on the house in Well Walk from the summer of 1827 until 1834.

Chalybeate Well 7

Constable delighted in the view of London from his house in Well Walk and worked on a number of paintings of the view. The following is a watercolor painted in the drawing-room at 6 Well Walk looking across to the City and St. Paul’s Cathedral. An inscription on the rear of the painting reads: “Hampstead. drawing Room 12.oclock noon Sept.1830”

9206001

©Trustees of the British Museum

Walking back into Hampstead, at the junction with Christchurch Hill is the Wells Tavern. This was built on the site of the original tavern, the “Old Green Man” which was pulled down in the late 1840s.

Chalybeate Well 8

At the Hampstead end of Well Walk, the road splits into Flask Walk and Gayton Road. Follow Flask Walk towards Hampstead to find The Flask. Both the walk and the pub are named after the flasks that were filled here with spring water ready for dispatch to London.

Chalybeate Well 10

The Chalybeate Well is a reminder of how the geology of a location has played a part in the development of London. The springs helped the early development of laundry services in Hampstead, the waters were channeled to the City through conduits and they have shaped the development and natural history of the heath.

I hope to cover this in more detail in future posts (and it provides a good excuse to walk more in Hampstead and visit Hampstead pubs).

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • Springs, Streams and Spas of London by Alfred Stanley Foord published in 1910
  • Hampstead Heath. Its Geology and Natural History by the Members of the Hampstead Scientific Society published in 1913
  • Hampstead Wells – A Short History of their Rise and Decline by George W. Potter published in 1907
  • For the poor of Hampstead for ever – 300 years of the Hampstead Wells Trust by Christopher Wade published in 1998

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