Hampstead, commonly known as Hampstead Village, is an area of London, 4 miles (6.4 km) north-west of Charing Cross. It is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area.
The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words ham and stede, which means, and is a cognate of, the Modern English “homestead”.
Early records of Hampstead can be found in a grant by King Ethelred the Unready to the monastery of St. Peter’s at Westminster (AD 986) and it is referred to in the Domesday Book (1086) as being in the hundred of Ossulstone.
The growth of Hampstead is generally traced back to the 17th century. Trustees of the Well started advertising the medicinal qualities of the chalybeate waters (water impregnated with iron) in 1700. Although Hampstead Wells was initially most successful and fashionable, its popularity declined in the 1800s due to competition with other fashionable London spas. The spa was demolished in 1882, although a water fountain was left behind.
Hampstead started to expand following the opening of the North London Railway in the 1860s (now the London Overground with passenger services operated by Transport for London), and expanded further after the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway opened in 1907 (now part of London Underground’s Northern line) and provided fast travel to central London. Much luxurious housing was created during the 1870s and 1880s, in the area that is now the political ward of Frognal & Fitzjohns. Much of this housing remains to this day.
In the 20th century, a number of notable buildings were created including Hampstead underground station(1907), the deepest station on the Underground network, the Isokon building (1932)and Hillfield Court (1932) to name but a few.
Keats House, Hampstead, where Keats wrote his Ode to a Nightingale.
Cultural attractions in the area include the Freud Museum, Keats House, Kenwood House, Fenton House, The Isokon building, Burgh House, and the Camden Arts Centre. The large Victorian Hampstead Library and Town Hall was recently converted and extended as a creative industries centre.
In recent years, it has been home to many French homeowners, thanks in part to the presence of French schools in the area.
To the north and east of Hampstead, and separating it from Highgate, is London’s largest ancient parkland, Hampstead Heath, which includes the well-known and legally-protected view of the London skyline from Parliament Hill. The Heath, a major place for Londoners to walk and “take the air”, has three open-air public swimming ponds; one for men, one for women, and one for mixed bathing, which were originally reservoirs for drinking water and the sources of the River Fleet. Local activities include major open-air concerts on summer Saturday evenings on the slopes below Kenwood House, book and poetry readings, funfairs on the lower reaches of the Heath, period harpsichord recitals at Fenton House, Hampstead Scientific Society and Hampstead Photographic Society.
Hampstead is well known for its traditional pubs, such as The Holly Bush, gas-lit until recently; the Spaniard’s Inn, Spaniard’s Road, where highwayman Dick Turpin took refuge; The Old Bull and Bush in North End; and The Old White Bear (formerly Ye Olde White Bear). Jack Straw’s Castle on the edge of the Heath near Whitestone Pond at the brow of the Heath has now been converted into residential flats.
Hampstead’s rural feel lends itself for use on film; a notable example being The Killing of Sister George (1968) starring Beryl Reid and Susannah York. The opening sequence has Reid’s character June wandering through the streets and alleyways of Hampstead, west of Heath Street, around The Mount Square. The Marquis of Granby pub, in which June drinks at the opening of the film, was actually The Holly Bush, at 22 Holly Mount. Another example is The Collector (1965), starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar, where the kidnap sequence is set in Mount Vernon.
The 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth, starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, was shot, in large part, in Hampstead Heath.
Some scenes from An American Werewolf in London (1981) are shot on Hampstead Heath, Well Walk and Haverstock Hill. Harry and Judith are killed in Hampstead Heath, behind The Pryors on East Heath Road. Before David kills them, Harry and Judith get out of the taxi on East Heath Road at Well Walk.
More recently Kenwood House is the set of the “film-within-the-film” scene of Notting Hill (1999). Outdoor scenes in The Wedding Date (2005), starring Debra Messing, feature Parliament Hill Fields on the Heath, overlooking west London. Parliament Hill also features in Notes on a Scandal (2006) together with the nearby areas of Gospel Oak and Camden Town. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) features the old Hampstead Town Hall on Haverstock Hill. The cult film Scenes of a Sexual Nature (2006) was filmed entirely on Hampstead Heath, covering various picturesque locations such as the ‘Floating Gardens’ and Kenwood House.
A musical specifically focusing on the area, Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1968), tells the story of a young man’s cycle journey around Hampstead. After crashing into a billboard poster, he falls in love with the fashion model depicted on it.