A village in the city
For hundreds of years, wealthy Londoners have sought sanctuary from the city’s bustle in leafy Hampstead. The merchants and gentry who holidayed here in the 17th century have been replaced by a more international set — a prominent French population is drawn by the nearby Collège Français Bilingue de Londres — but the village feel remains.
Spared the horses and carts of their Tudor forebears, today’s residents can take the underground from Hampstead to central London in less than half an hour.
Perched above Hampstead are the Thomas Mawson-designed Hill Garden and Pergola. Usually empty and wonderfully varied, the garden is one of the finest spots on Hampstead Heath, a 320-hectare expanse unfurling south from the hills of Hampstead and Highgate like a verdant picnic blanket.
In one of the heath’s overgrown backwaters you can find the river Fleet. Its gurgling source feeds a pair of ornamental ponds before emerging as the mixed bathing pond. For a more secluded dip, the ladies’ and nearby men’s bathing ponds on the eastern perimeter are unbeatable, the latter hosting a Christmas Day race for hardy swimmers.
If you like to keep your toes in sight there is also a stunning, Grade II-listed lido. It was renovated in 2005 to incorporate a stainless steel bottom, lending the pool a shimmering effect.
The dead famous and the famous dead
Hampstead has more than its fair share of celebrities — playing host to comedian Ricky Gervais, musician Liam Gallagher, the late pop star George Michael and innumerable Arsenal footballers in recent years — but it’s the historical residents that catch the eye.
The Blue Plaque signs indicating a location’s historical links to famous people are abundant. Writer George Orwell, composer Edward Elgar, painter John Constable, British prime minister Herbert Asquith and French president Charles de Gaulle are among former residents. Keats House, now a library and museum, was once home to the eponymous poet.
Homes for all ages
With five centuries spent hosting the affluent, Hampstead boasts enviable housing stock. On the high street alone there are 18 Grade II-listed properties among the area’s distinctive red-bricks, while the Isokon building down the hill displays an altogether more modern aesthetic.
Another modernist masterpiece, Erno Goldfinger’s nearby 2 Willow Road is managed by the National Trust, the UK conservation charity. Sitting atop West Heath is Kenwood House, a grand, stucco-fronted wedding cake of a home with an exceptional art collection, and tucked in the twisting roads off Hampstead high street is Grade I-listed Burgh House.
Photographs: Ethel Davies/Alamy; Arcaid Images/Alamy; Roberto Herrett/Alamy; Loop Images/Alamy; Alex Ramsay/Alamy; Dreamstime
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