Hampstead: a village in London

By | Category: Travel destinations
swimming pool on Hampstead Heath

the mixed swimming pool on Hampstead Heath

London has areas that have a community spirit and seem more like a village. Hampstead is one of them, and a hidden gem.

Although geographically not far from the West End, it is one of those places that requires an effort to get to. Once discovered, you will be pleased that you did. Hampstead is a nerve centre for artists and the affluent with pretty streets, alleys, and 790 acres of uncultivated parkland known as Hampstead Heath. Curiously, the latter is looked after by the City of London, although not in the City’s financial sector.

The Heath has lots of ponds, some hidden by an abundance of foliage. Three have been converted into open-air swimming pools. For a minimal contribution anyone, as long as they are a proficient swimmer as the water can be very cold, can come and swim. One is mixed while the other two are same sex, one for men and the other for women. Hampstead Heath is one of the highest points in London, and at the top of Parliament Hill people come to fly kites. A plaque gives you an idea of the buildings on the skyline, which includes Canary Wharf, and the transmitters at both Crystal Palace, and Croydon. Events are held on the Heath throughout the year including fungi forays and the Moscow State Circus from 27 September to 1 October.

Kenwood House

Visitors primarily head for the recently refurbished Kenwood House remodeled in the 18th century by Robert Adam, and surrounded by parkland landscaped by Humphry Repton. Worth visiting not just for the architecture and restored Great Library but also for its collection of paintings that includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Constable.  A bonus is the numerous volunteers on site who are eager to impart their knowledge. In the Orangery, there are family activities for children between noon and 4pm. Dogs are allowed in the grounds but not in the house. The adjoining Brewhouse café, where the food is better than you would expect, has an outside area specifically for dog owners, and is frequented by the locals. Maintained by English Heritage, entry is free even if you aren’t a member.

Erno Goldfinger’s House

Hampstead also has several National Trust or Partner properties. Located in South Hampstead. 2 Willow Road was the family home of architect Erno Goldfinger. Locals, including novelist Ian Fleming strongly opposed his building, which is made up of three houses in a concrete frame. It is said that his name was the inspiration for James Bond’s villain Goldfinger. It’s easy to see why, the modernist building is an eyesore in a street of elegant Georgian houses. There is a short film with a guided tour at 11, noon 1 and 2 pm. From 3 to 5pm viewing is self-guided.  Open Wed – Sun.

In complete architectural contrast around the corner Keats House, the Regency villa was home to the Romantic poet John Keats. Wentworth Place as it was originally known was divided into two houses. Keats lived there as a lodger with Charles Brown, and the love of his life Fanny Brawne, the inspiration for some of his finest works, lived in the adjacent building. An interactive display tells the story of his life which sadly ended at the early age of 25. Trails are available at the welcome desk to inspire families, and various events associated with poetry are organized throughout the year. Open Wed – Sun 11am – 5pm

a favourite spot of mine – the Freemason’s Arms

 

Nearby to both Willow Road and Keats House and a few feet from the Heath is dog-friendly gastro pub the Freemason’s Arms where I usually meet friends if in the area. The place has recently been renovated with a smart bar area where you can get a coffee as well as a drink. An added bonus is that they serve food that is more inventive than traditional pub food. Read my review by clicking here or go to https://barkbitetravel.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/gastro-dog-friendly-pub-in-hampstead/

Hidden in the cobbled back streets Burgh House a Grade 1 listed Queen Anne mansion houses the Hampstead Museum and an art gallery. I am ashamed to say that despite frequent visits to the area I had never been inside. Definitely my loss, the museum is fascinating charting the area from prehistoric times to the present day with a collection of artwork, photographs, documents and objects. Entry is free although as a charity they rely on donations. A real bonus is that the house is dog-friendly. Burgh House runs a myriad of events including talks, events, walks and recitals.

the garden at Fenton House

Further up the hill Georgian Grade 1 Fenton House and Garden, another National Trust property, houses various collections including early keyboards, Meissen and porcelain. Volunteers give 10 – 15 minute talks on a particular object. The walled garden with formal terraces and lawns has been immaculately maintained, and includes a 300 year old orchard. From time to time concerts and garden events are organized with an apple weekend on the 23/24 Sep. Open 1 March to 31 Oct. and the four weekends prior to Christmas when the house is festively decorated.

After 1917 and again in the 1930s, Hampstead became the base for a community of avant-garde artists and writers including émigrés and exiles from the Russian Revolution and Nazi Europe. This included Sigmund Freud who settled with his family in Maresfield Gardens and where, until his death in 1939, many prominent people came to visit him. His daughter Anna carried on his work becoming in her own right a pioneer of child psychology. When Freud came to the UK, as an eminent person, he was allowed not only to leave Austria with his family but also to bring his extensive library of books and numerous antiquities. His home, now a museum, has been maintained as it was when he lived there. A home movie shows Freud and his family on their way to Britain.

Hampstead is renowned for its intellectual, liberal artistic, musical and literary associations. Events organized at these and other places in Hampstead throughout the year continue its legacy.

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