Sunday, 6 August 2023

PILGRIMAGE ? A meditation on pilgrimage and walking round my local park.



Geoffrey Chaucer depicted in an early version of his Canterbury Tales.

Between 1386 and 1387 Geoffrey. Chaucer lost favour  with King Richard II. Chaucer’s mentor, John of Gaunt and advisor to the king, was out of the country and the Duke of Gloucester, who disliked Chaucer, was in the ascendancy. Chaucer had time then to reflect and time to write his,” Canterbury Tales.” Perhaps it was the loss of his prestigious jobs alongside this humbling period of his life that put Chaucer in a more contemplative mind. A mind leaning towards pilgrimage and its attendant spiritual benefits. Chaucer felt enabled to say it how it really was. The Monk, The Friar, The Prioress, The Priest and The Wife of Bath, to name a few, are as nuanced human beings as they come, good and bad and perhaps, inadvertently, reveal the corruption in the church and life at the time.

 The reason for ,"The English Reformation," is echoed in many of the things Chaucer highlights. about some of his characters. Profiligate prelates, the selling of indulgences, an ever richer church, it is all there in Chaucers tales. It makes you wonder , reading the obvious cynicism Chaucer has towards the  churchmen in his tales, an internal reformation of the church didn't happen sooner. The actual  reformation rupturing the Roman Catholic Church came later with Martin Luther's  95 theses, causing the setting up of new Christian denominations? But I suppose, equally cynically, if the status quo worked for the church, the government and the crown,   it could  continue and ordinary people, those worst affected by the churches greed and ,"worldliness," could do nothing. "The English Reformation," one hundred and twenty two years later, in 1509, was itself a mixture, of self importance, greed, power, theology, religion. A heady mix. 

It took a King, Henry VIII, who was having marital struggles connected with producing a male heir, to cause a rift with Rome about what he could and could not do. "The English Reformation," was backed by a majority of his top clergy schooled in the new theologies, or who were just merely cowards. Those who opposed Henry's changes among the hierarchy lost their heads. 

Chaucer begins:

“When in April the sweet showers fall

And pierce the droughts of March to the root….

…..Then people long to go on pilgrimages

And Palmers long to seek the stranger strands of far-off saints….”

So Chaucer writes about a longing to go on pilgrimage. 

Definitions of what pilgrimage means are many and various. Recently John Lodge and I, have encountered  The British Pilgrimage Trust and the  250 walks they promote. On their website they describe pilgrimage,

“Pilgrimage is a” Bring Your Own Beliefs,” practice – we exist to ‘advance British pilgrimage as a form of cultural heritage that promotes holistic wellbeing, for the public benefit.’

The nature of pilgrimage

Pilgrimage (n.): A journey with purpose on foot to holy/wholesome/special places. Pilgrimage is for everyone, promoting holistic wellbeing via pilgrim practices and connecting you with yourself, others, nature and everything beyond. To turn a walk into a pilgrimage, at the beginning set your private ‘intention’ – dedicate your journey to something that you want help with, or for which you want to give thanks.

The ,"Trust,"goes on to explain;

"In Britain, natural landmarks such as wells, springs, trees, caves, islands and hilltops, and pagan sites such as stone circles and barrows, as well as ancient churches and cathedrals reveal a diverse and still unfurling cultural landscape, open to all who wish to connect to these pilgrim places. Public Rights of Way in England and Wales and the Right to Roam Act in Scotland – freedoms particular to Britain – give us a unique opportunity to explore a vast network of green footpaths.”

A pilgrimage then can be about going to a place that is special to us.  The destinations for pilgrimage can be limitless.


The Pilgrims Progress.

The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyon, published partly in 1678, is an allegory about the human journey through life from birth to death. Bunyon was a Puritan and a noncomformist. He spent years in prison because of his beliefs. Like ,"Christian," the main character in Pilgrims Progress, Bunyon was  beset by guilt and a strong awareness of sin.  That seems a very destructive stance and not at all good for mental health. Original sin, guilt, constant atonement is a debiltating state to be in. Its about trying to achieve the unachievable perfection that only an imagined god can be. That is such a hopeless desperate way of being.  Life should be joyous. Humans are humans. That is what we have to negotiate. 

John Bunyon has left his influence  though. His writing has made generations think of their lives from birth to death as a pilgrimage. Some of the characters and the places ,"Christian," his lead character, meets and visits on his journey have influenced writers such as  Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. William Makepiece Thackery’s Vanity Fair is named after a location in Bunyon’s Pilgrims Progress. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women reference the Pilgrims Progress in some detail. It was written in simple language and could be read by many.  


To promote holistic wellbeing is a primary aim of The Pilgrimage Trust. Wellbeing is an important consideration in helping us live in the 21st century and that makes The British Pilgrimage Trust attractive to many people. People can go on adventures that affect them positively with regards  to their , physical, sensory and spiritual well being. The physical and sensory experiences are reasonably easy to explain but what of spiritual experience?

I often wonder what that word,”spirituality,” means.  Is it a mixture of physical, sensory and emotional interactions? The word, spiritual, can lead us down many, rabbit holes.  It seems to me to be something outside of ourselves. The sensory experiences and physical experiences are part of it but add emotions, thoughts, and our human interactions and then, are we getting close? In many ways it is best to stop trying to analyse and let,"spiritual," experiences just happen. Many refer to Paul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus in The Acts of the Apostles as the most famous example of a spiritual experience. He imagines God speaks to him. But what sensory, physical, emotional and social experiences brought him to that?

I read some of the posts on The Pigrimage Trust site about short pilgrimage walks, a day in length. One lady  described a silent walk beginning at  the 15th century St Mary’s Church in Chilham, a seven mile walk to Canterbury. She was with a group but they walked in silence. I suppose walking in silence must focus yourself inwards even while being with others. Contemplative orders of Monks and Nuns come to mind. She wrote about her purpose of pilgrimage, experiencing the journey, nature, sounds, sights, the actual experience of physically walking in a given environment.  She experienced the other people through their  proximity to her. You can learn a lot about people just being in their presence without talking. She finally reached the site of Thomas a Becket’s shrine, now an empty space. Even an empty space can hold meaning and experience it seems.

 Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields, Motspur Park (London Borough of Merton)

It got me thinking . Could I go on pilgrimage in the area I live? Could all the elements of what people describe as the process of pilgrimage be experienced, walking from my front door to my local park, Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields and  walking around the playing fields, about a kilometre in circumference and then returning home? I have walked and run this often. It is sensory. The physical act of walking from one place to another, no problem. But what about the spiritual part? There used to be a Chinese gentleman, he must have been in his eighties, who used to stand in the middle of Joseph Hood Park performing tai chi.His body moved rhythmically and purposefully. He looked as though his  mind was engaged and he seemed completely focussed. I once watched a lady sitting cross legged in the centre of the park , straight backed, elbows on knees, hands with fore fingers and thumbs pressed together., meditating, with birds chirping in the trees, the wind blowing gently, the sun shining from a blue sky, the ground warm and firm beneath her. Were these two experiencing elements of pilgrimage entering emotionally and thoughfully into themselves in these ways? The Chinese gentleman and the lady were experiencing something.They both looked at peace and at one with the world.

Immersing in a process ,  becoming lost in a process mentally, emotionally and  physically  is that pilgrimage? Is that spirituality?  Could becoming immersed in a novel, a painting, a poem, a photograph, a play, a film, a song, a piece of music, be aspects of pilgrimage? Pilgrimage, perhaps, is  limitless and experienced in a myriad of circumstances.


My pilgrimage then. 

Out of the front door. Dressed in a T shirt, sports trousers, walking shoes. I turn right down West Barnes Lane towards the park. Silver birch trees line the road on the grass verges. White, paper thin bark. Peeling in parts. Small, pale green blade like leaves fluttering. Garden shrubbery, hydrangeas, climbing roses, box hedges, sometimes interspersed between the roadside silver birches, cherry and copper beeches grow. Sky, sometimes cloudy, sometimes blue. a breeze that lightly touches, cools. Nowadays this area  is covered by roads of mostly 1930s housing with front and back gardens.  Getting into a striding pattern. My walking shoes  cushion against the stones and the  cracks in the pavement. Weeds grow here and there. Some with brightly coloured flowers. Whats the difference between a flower and a weed?  Leroy is outside of his house cleaning his ,"souped up," HONDA CIVIC TYPE R (315 bhp). I tell him ,"Hey Leroy that car should be in an art gallery." He's used to me telling him that. He replies,  "Not this one. It's not perfect." It looks it to me.  The sound of its engine driving down our road is like low rumbling thunder.  I cross West Barnes Lane  between parked cars. Keith is backing his van out into the road. He sees me and waves, continues reversing out and heads off towards Grand Drive. I approach the shops. EKLEE fruit and vegetable store on my right.Shelving along the front of the shop filled with a myriad of coloured fruits and vegetables. EKLEE is an Iranian owned shop. A lovely family run it. They sell a wide choice of fruits and vegetables, some you wouldn’t normally get in a British green grocers. A variety of peppers, ginger roots, a whole range of chillies and a long long shelf of fresh herbs. Strange shaped and coloured tomatoes among the cabbages and the potatoes. 

I turn left down Marina Avenue towards the white pillared and black wrought iron gates to the park. The pillars are 1930s art deco in style.A car park , tree shaded to my left. A large expanse of green grass extends into the distance. 


"Mares tails," in the sky over the Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields. ( Cirrus clouds)

The  grassy area of the park is surrounded by trees. To the right there is the millennium wood, planted in the year 2000,  for the millennium. The foresters who look after the vast number of trees lining roads and  the copses and small forests inhabiting Merton’s parkland  concluded from their evidence that some of the woodland on that sideof the park near the giant unused gasometers, had got to a stage where it could no longer regenerate and that new planting on that side of the park was needed. It is satisfying to know the council cares for our environment. The arguments circle around how quickly change and development should be made to our environment. Too slow, too fast, just right. What to do? It will be uncomfotable. 

My feet pace the grass. Even paced at a comfortable speed. Swish of boots on grass. Grasses interspersed with clover flowers, daisys now and then, a dandelion, buttercups in season, the brown earth seen through thinned out grass. I love soil and what it is. Sycamores shade the pathway, now drooping with the weight of thousandsof ,”helicopter,” seeds clumped in tight groups at the end of branches, at the end of twigs. The crunch of dried twigs underfoot.  I see three Muslim women, dressed in hijabs. One of them leads the other two, who face her,  in exercises. I hear her commands."Squat, trunk twist, hold arms out in front."She gives the commands and invents the exercise movements and  they all copy. Sometimes I see them walking the perimeter of the park like I do. Purposeful striding. I have taken to saying ,"hello." They reply, ,"hello,"and sometimes wave. They  are of different ages, grandmother, mother, daughter, perhaps? They are here every day, bar rain. I come here in the rain sometimes.

Mothers push their young in buggies, often doing laps of the park before attending the playgroup that takes place in the sports pavilion. Many people are in the park walking their dogs, throwing sticks or balls for their dogs to chase and retrieve.  Some joggers. It is a place alive with birds, chirping, as well as  people. Sometimes a jet airliner rumbles overhead coming out of Heathrow. A train passes once in a while  through Motspur Park Station. And I continue, breathing rhythmically, almost imperceptibly, arms and legs moving forward comfortably. It feels like entering into my self. This is a journey of experience and self discovery.


Concider the meaning of ,"existentialism ,"which in turn connects to  ,"natural law."The various religions  are based on ,"natural law,"to a certain extent which is a sort of universal moral standard that comes from nature and what it is to be human.  The various religions  make their own laws, which they say come from natural law but are interpretations  and unbalance the meaning of what is to be , "human." Many people get left out or are marginalised by religions.  Chritianity certainly hasn't got a good record. As one  example the Catholic Church and its attitudes to women. The hierarchy of the church  is a patriarchy. The Protestant Church of England has gone  some way to address patriarchy but still many within its clergy  are against the ordination of women. Attitudes towards the LGBTQ community raise some strong issues too.Christian churches  use the Bible to argue their point. The Bible  causes more problems than it solves.  In the 17thand 18th centuries the Bible was interpretted idealogically promoting the rights of slavery for Gods sake!!!.If we are going to explain creation and the world  and being human through the Bible that is a very poor , week, starting point. It only gets us so far. We have to concider ourselves in the ,"now," to interpret the world. Our moral code should come from simply what it is to be human and have human interactions. 



There are many trees on my walk and I end up meditating on them. They keep me company.

Many religions incorporate the concept of a ,”tree of life.” The Celts, who’s religion pervaded our islands before Christianity revered the oak tree. In reality, whether you think the oak and other trees are religious symbols or not, trees are complex ecosystems that provide life for a whole range of living organisms, birds, insects, lichens, mosses, squirrels; they provide oxygen for our atmosphere and much much more. They even provide food for us and keep us cool in their shade when the planets temperature rises.Over centuries trees have provided building materials and helped add nutrients to the soil. I have hugged a tree. It feels very pleasant. 


Standing inside a forest of ancient trees the feeling is the same you get standing in the aisles of a magnificent cathedral. It is no coincidence that the stone pillars holding up the roof of a cathedral  remind us of the trunks of trees. Often a complex  fan structure of stone ribs support  the roof of a cathedral  and  look like the complex patterns that the branches of trees make.These are connections between nature and religion. So my walk around my local park with oaks, elms, ashes, sycamores and plain trees have religious connections, if you look for them. 

Ancient Assyrian Stone panel depicting the tree of life from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (Room I) 

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Returning to Chaucer's ,Canterbury Tales.

 Chaucers pilgrims walking to Canterbury , have the apparent aim  to reach the shrine of Thomas a Becket and pray for his intercession providing a heavenly favour or gift. The walk Chaucer describes and the stories the pilgrims relate, tell something else. The stories of the pilgrims  become  intrinsic to their pilgrimage and the passage of time; days and weeks. The end is hardly concidered. 

Two examples of the stories that Chaucers pilgrims tell. 

The Pardoners Tale is a story about discovering ,Death.Three friends want to kill , Death,because they have been told that a character called ,Death, has killed one of their friends.They discover gold under a tree on their search for Death. Through avarice and greed for the gold they turn  against each other. 

“Exactly in the way they’d planned his death

They fell on him and slew him two to one. 

Then said the first of them when this was done.

Now for a drink. Sit down lets be merry

And as it happened, reaching for a sup

He took a bottle full of poison up

And drank; and his companion, nothing loth

Drank from it also, and they perished both.”

They indeed find ,Death, when ,Death, of course finds them. The lesson for all the pilgrims from this story is obvious. 

Another story, that of The Wife of Bath, is pertinent. A woman of the Middle Ages, speaks to men and women of today. Her prologue shows she has the authority and experience  to tell us about sex and relationships. She herself has experienced many relationships.She married five times, her marriages being some good and some bad. We learn how she dealt with her various husbands. She is disapproved of by some of the other pilgrims who think marrying five times must be against the laws of god. She adeptly justifies herself by interpretting stories about marriage and married people in the Bible in her own way. The Wife of Bath is a  persuasive talker.

The Wife of Bath.

Her story she sets in the time of King Arthur and a time of fairies. It is about a  Knight who rapes a maiden. Visceral stuff. He is taken prisoner and condemned to death by the King. However the Queen asks for the power to reprieve the Knight if he can answer one question. She asks the knight,

“What is the thing that women most desire?”

The knight is given one year to find the answer.His journey is a journey of self discovery and a developing understating of women. 

An old lady he meets along the way gives him the answer and at the end of the year  he reports back to the Queen.

“ My liege and lady, in general,” said he

“ A woman wants the self same sovereignty 

Over her husband as over her lover

And master him; he must not be above her

That is your greatest wish whether you kill

Or spare me; please yourself. I await your will.”

All the women of the court nod and agree with his statement. He has saved his life.

However he has a promise to keep. He promised the old lady anything she asks.The old lady comes forward and demands that he marries her as a reward for her help. He agrees, although very reluctant because of her old, wrinkled appearance. He actually finds her physically repellent. But she has saved his life. She then gives him a choice. Have her as a young beautiful girl or as the old, shrivelled lady he sees before him and take the consequences of either. As a young beautiful maiden others will be attracted to her and want to tempt her away but as an old lady nobody else will show her interest. After some thought he gives her the choice to make. He gives her mastery over him. She turns into the beautiful young lady ( a fairy). 

He has learned his lesson. Is it realistic though to believe he has become a different person? I am not sure but The Wife of Bath makes an important philosophical point.She was an early feminist surely? 

The stories told by the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales are allegories that explore and explain many of lifes fundamental issues. The relationships between men and women, death,  love, class and religion. Many things  we still discuss and think about today.

There is a strong element of realism in The Canterbury Tales. The characters know how to play," the system." For example,The Monk, is  a sneaky character used to the good life. He uses his charm and hius positon as a monk withn the church to do very well in life offering forgiveness and indulgences for money. 

It is interesting to note that the pilgrims who met at the Tabard Tavern in Southwark were strangers from various walks of life, both male and female. There is something ,"modern," about the Canterbury Tales; a,"melting pot," using an image from the 1960s.

It’s the process of the pilgrimage that really counts in the end, not the arrival at Becket’s shrine.  


The Tabard Inn Southwark in 1810.

The British pilgrim Trust are promoting a newly discovered pilgrim route. They call it the Old Way. It is marked on the Gough Map that is held by The Bodleian Library in Oxford. It is the first known map of the British Isles created in the 1370s. The ,"Old Way,"is a route from Southampton following the south coast to  Canterbury.  The  towns and villages, that still exist today, featured on The Gough Map, are the stopping places on the route. You might wonder why it begins in Southampton? In the middle ages Southampton was a major port, as it remains to this day, linked to European ports. It was a place many merchants from Europe entered England. A port for merchants was also a port for pilgrims from Europe to begin their pilgrimage to  Beckets tomb in Canterbury.

The route is described in detail on the trusts website with maps , transport links and places to stay for the night. John and I must do the ,"Old Way," one day. 


The Gough Map 1370. (THE BRITISH PIGRIMAGE TRUST)   (THE CANTERBURY TALES by Geoffrey Chaucer)



Wednesday, 26 July 2023

Highgate and Hampstead, a leafy land of legends. (part three)

Back in Hampstead with Tony Brown and John Lodge.

28th March 2023 

Between walks the three of us, John Lodge, Tony Brown and myself often search for information and further ideas for our walks. I found a website about self-guided literary tours of London created by a group of tour guides who are passionate about getting people interested in London. A tour of literary Hampstead was among the researched walks on offer. I e-mailed a link to the website to John and Tony. They liked it and so we decided to continue our exploration of Hmapstead and Highgate by following the literary tour. 

John and Tony crossing a road in Highgate.

On Tuesday 28th March we met at our usual rendezvous spot, at 10am under the clock at Waterloo. We got on the escalator to the lower tube station level and found London Transport's tube map displayed. To get to Golders Green station, the start of the literary walk, it was a simple matter of getting on the Northern Line to Edgeware Road. Golders Green is thirteen stops from Waterloo. A long, leisurely ride. We didn't have to stand and the carriages were not crowded.

The web page, "Literary London Self Guided Tour-Hampstead," provided us with a map of Hampstead together with a list of the authors with short biographies, house addresses and a description of the route. This literary tour began outside of  Golders Green Station.

I have never been to Golder Green before. When we got out at the tube staion it was raining. John and Tony had both brought umbrellas. We found a cafe across the road from the station entrance and sat there talking about how we were going to procede. We decided the rain would not stop us. The café was run by a Greek family. A friendly matriarch  chatted to us about the pictures covering the walls of the café. They depicted the places in  Greece the she and her family came from. 

As we sat drinking our coffee we could see across the road,almost next to the station, the large imposing white stucco Golders Green Hippodrome Theatre that this part of Golders Green is famous for. It is a grade II listed building. It was built in 1913 by the architect Bertie Crewe. It was used for many things over the years. It was often where plays and shows were first performed before they reached the West End Theatres. Laurence Olivier and Marlene Dietrich both performed there. Later, Rock groups such the The Kinks,Queen,Jethro Tull and AC/DC performed there too and  the list goes on. The Jam performed an exclusive  concert  for their fans in The Hippodrome, which was filmed and later became a TV special. The BBC took it over for many years. The John Peel show was broadcast form here. The BBC Concert Orchestra performed here. Some episodes of Monty Python were recorded here too. It later became the El Shaddai International Christian centre.  Since 2017 it is The Centre for Islamic Enlightening, a place that is described,  "for Shia enlightenment." Its use for religious purposes has been contentious with the local community which is cosmopolitan but some aspects of different religions obviously clash.

The Hippodrome,Golders Green.

The rain lessened to a damp drizzle and so we decided to start our walk. We turned right, from the cafe, up the North End Road. We wanted to find number 145. Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was born here. He lived in Hampstead on and off throughout his life. I read Brideshead Revisited a few years ago just to find out what sort of a writer Waugh was. It was a terrific book. Before reading it I had an image of it being about posh people and as such superficial. It was about posh people, but it certainly wasn’t superficial.Posh people are analysed and the drama comes often from who they are, how they are and why they are. A great novel. The house he was born and brought up in looked very ordinary and middle class. 

Eveline Waugh lived here.

The tour I had printed off informed us to continue along North End Road to Hampstead Way on our left. On the route there was a lot of traffic, going downhill towards Golders Green. It looked wooded and leafy ahead. We turned down Hampstead Way and came across a cluster of  modernist houses set back within their own leafy landscapes and also there were some older Victorian and Georgian houses . From the North End Road we had turned into an idyllic setting. The road lead down hill and turned sharply right. A rambling old building loomed over us to our right . This is called the Old Wyldes.It was the home of  John Linnell, an artist and a close friend  of William Blake(1757-1827) the artist and poet. Blake, although he lived his whole life in SOHO and Lambeth often visited his friends here at the Old Wyldes and spent weekends with them. Linnell encouraged Blake to become an artist. John, Tony and I walked into the woods behind the Old Wyldes and I wondered if Blake was inspired to write some of his visionary poetry here seeing angels and devils and mythological beasts in the world around him? It is always interesting to walk in the footsteps and space of somebody as amazing as William Blake and wonder how they saw the world you yourself are walking through as they themselves did.  

The Old Wyldes where William Blake often stayed .

The map that was provided with the walk  showed us paths through this wood which should clearly lead us to The Spaniards Inn  where we intended to have a pub lunch. We lost our bearings, it goes without saying. A lady walking her dog was crossing our path and I asked the direction to The Spaniards Inn. She smiled and pointed us the way. We were thankful. On reaching the main road  the inn was ahead of us. The traffic was frequent and we had to time our crossing of the road. There was no pedestrian crossing point. 

And so we entered the famous Spaniards Inn. A small door from the garden area lead us into the timbered interior. No sense of Dr Van Helsing or Mrs Bardell having ever been there. An information sign told us that Keats had sat in the garden here and wrote Ode to a Nightingale but then I have also read that he could have written it in the garden of his cottage , also in Hampstead. A house to visit later.

Here is the first verse of that poem.

“ My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

    But being too happy in thine happiness,—

        That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

                In some melodious plot

    Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

        Singest of summer in full-throated ease.”

I am not sure what this says about the beer on tap at the Spaniards Inn, in 1819.

Jack Straws Castle, is a large oblong building clad in white weatherboarding and is castellated across its top. The present day building was only built in1964. Its name refers to Jack Straw who lead the Peasants revolt in 1381. It has many literary connections but more recently it is mentioned in Harold Pinters play, ,”No Mans Land.”

The three of us walked on and came across Katherine Mansfield’s house at 17 East Heath Road followed by Daphne de Mauriers house at 14 Cannon Place.The de Maurier family appeared to have a number of houses in this part of Hampstead. We turned downhill into Willow Road  with parkland on our left and came across a modernist terrace of three houses. They are owned and looked after by the National Trust nowadays. An architect named Erno Goldfinger designed this terrace and lived with his family in the larger centre one. To build this terrace Goldfinger demolished two ancient cottages. Local people including Ian Fleming, the writer of the James Bond novels, unsuccessfully complained about the demolition. Fleming got his revenge on Goldfinger later. Goldfinger, incidently, was the architect who built the famous Trellick Tower block of flats north of Nottinghill. 

Erno Goldfinger's terrace.

So, eventually we came to Keats’s cottage at number 10 Keats Road. The road has been renamed in more recent times to denote its famous occupant.  The cottage originally was two houses. You can work out the smaller part of to the left of the main cottage. It was in the smaller extension that Keats stayed.Keats lived for a couple of years from December 1818 with his friend Charles Brown. The adjacent house was lived in by a widow who had a daughter called Fanny Brawne. Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote love letters to her from his journey to Rome where he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25.He and Fanny had become engaged to be married.

Keat's cottage in Hampstead. 

Eventually , on this particular days walk we finished  in Admirals Walk.  The house John Galsworthy lived in is next to a taller and larger building with a flag staff and balcony atop its structure called Admirals House. This  is where P L Travers ,who wrote Mary Poppins lived. Admirals House, if you have seen the film of Mary Poppins, or read the book, features as the home of the Banks family and from the roof of which the retired admiral fires off his cannon to mark time.

The day was getting on so we walked back downhill towards Hampstead High Street and Hampstead Station. We had a look into the extensive Waterstones bookshop they have on the high street. We also found a coffee shop  and sat down to rest our legs and chat at the end of our day. Tony felt cynical about the number of blue plaques we came across.They were everywhere in Hampstead.  There were of course the world famous ones but there were so many of people , scientists and mathematicians, for instance, that we had never heard of. They are obviously famous within a different sphere of society. One house we passed was that of the American, Lee Millar, the model and famous World war II war photographer. She had been friends with Picasso and famously posed in the nude sitting in Hitlers bath tub in Berlin after Berlin had been taken by the allies.

21st April 2023

Literary Houses continued and more cemeteries.

A Georgian house in Hampstead.

John was on a trip to Sardinia with Marilana, visiting Marilana’s family. Clive was staying with Marilyn and I over  here from  Canada. He now lives with Barbara in a log cabin on a forty-five-acre plot of forest near the Algonquin Provincial Park with a multitude of small lakes and forests nearby. 

Tony and myself offered to take Clive on our final walk around the literary homes of Hampstead, to complete the walk Free Tours had published on their website. Clive travelled  into London with me on the train from Motspur Park and we met Tony under the clock, our usual rendezvous spot, in Waterloo Station.

Tony, was Clive and my  maths and science teacher at St Edwards School, Cheswardine in the 1960s. Clive and Tony had not seen each other for nearly sixty years. Smiles and handshakes began todays walk.


Clive and myself in a café in Highgate High Street.

We travelled on the Northern Line to Hampstead Station and emerged onto Hampstead High Street for one more time.

Hampstead is similar in look to many other outer London suburban towns. Georgian and Victorian architecture , similar branded shops such as Waterstones and Pret  a Mange coffee shops but Hampstead is special too. Artisan bakers, greengrocers, restaurants, cafes, unique pubs and local breweries, almost effortlessly populate The High Street as though it is it’s right. Other places struggle to copy. I think. When you walk the streets of Hampstead you just know that it is a place for the wealthy. A Lamborghini drove past us. A Ferrari glided past, its throaty voice grumbling. 

Admirals House where P L Travers, the writer of Mary Poppins lived.

To restart our literary tour with we walked uphill taking the raised pavement, high above the road level, from Holly Bush Hill. Hampstead most. Certainly has its steep hills which inform the muscles in your legs in no time. Walking up Holly Bush Hill a wrought iron handrail on our right hand is postioned for those who need its assistance. We walked up at a slow even pace. None of us  needed the assistance of the handrail. The raised pavement is a sign of the areas past and present wealth. Raised pavements were constructed first in the Georgian period so that fine ladies didn’t get their long dresses dirtied in the mud and sludge of the unmettled road surfaces. Only well off towns and villages could afford a raised pavement. 

Clive outsdie the house which is on the site of Edward Elgar's home. (The Dream of Gerontius.)

Once we had gone uphill we walked down hill past Mount Vernon past high brickwalled gardens, that burst with trees and shrubs guarding the fronts of private houses. Who lives in them now?  Nowadays the great and the good of the 21st century reside behind those elegant facades. We could stand and guess but is that worthwhile? Clive, Tony and I  moved on towards Admirals Walk and Admirals house where P L Travers once lived so that we started this days walk at the very location we finished our last walk.

We walked onwards up Windmill Hill. Probably a windmill once stood here. I am sure it did in bygone days. It is an ideal location for a windmill , high on a windy hill. We passed the poet Joanna Baillies house on Windmill Hill. Then we continued downwards. The road merged with Frognal Rise and we kept on until we reached Mount Vernon. At number 7 Mount Vernon. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde once lived. The three of us all read Stevenson’s books as children and have seen the films made from his stories. It was quite a thrill to stand outside of where he once lived. 

We walked on to Holly Walk and then came to a small cemetery on our left across the road from St John’s Church in  Church Row.A larger cemetery encircled the church itself. A sign to the smaller cemetery listed names of some apparently famous people buried in it and showed the location of various graves. We wandered around the gravestones trying to find some of the people listed. We were not too successful.We found some interesting graves all the same. We walked across the road and went into the church. Two gentlemen were talking to  at the front of the church near the altar. I stopped to ask them about the location of Peter Cook’s grave who we had failed to find in the smaller cemetery across the road. They didn’t know. I had better luck asking about H.G.Wells house at number 7. They directed us to it. We found number 7 Church Row. Wells, unusually for the time, divorced his first wife,a cousin, Mary Wells in 1894 after three years of marriage. Wells was a notorious womaniser and had many affairs.. H G Wells and his second wife, Amy Catherine Robbin, known as Jane,  lived in Church Row from 1909 to 1912.He had two sons with, Jane, George Phillip and Frank Richard. Apparently, his family didn’t like seeing a constant stream of funerals passing the front of their house on the way to the church. They moved out in 1912. 

Having failed to find the grave of Peter Cook comedian, satirist, playwright and screenwriter we discovered that he had also lived at number 17 Church Row. He along with Dudley More were part of our youth. I know Clive and certainly myself would have loved so much to find the rave of Peter Cook. But, we saw his house. I researched peter Cook’s grave later and discovered that he had been cremated but a small memorial was to be found hidden away at the back of St John’s Church. We had explored tha far. I remember thinking at the time that there appeared nothing to see in the cramped space at the back of the church and none of us considered looking there .

Clive and Tony outside of Robert Louis Stevenson's house.

In the same street at number 26 Church Row, Lord Alfred Douglas, the infamous lover of Oscar Wilde once lived.

None of these houses had blue plaques commemorating their famous occupants and if hadn’t been for the guide we had printed off we certainly wouldn’t have known about them.

Some house we merely did not have time to even try and find. Aldous Huxley lived at 16 Bracknell Gardens. Sigmund Feud lived at 20 Maresfield Gardens. T S Elliot lived for a while at Fairhurst Compayne Gardens.

We walked west towrads The Finchley Road and found an old Victorian pub called The North Star. We went in and ordered fish and chips. We drank pints of Neck Oil which is brewed by Beavertown brewery in Enfield, a north London Borough. We have found Neck Oil for sale in pubs all over London. It is a fruity IPA called a session ale, meaning it is low in alcoholic strength.Neck Oil is 4.5% alcohol. A couple of pints is acceptable.  It's usually is served in a glass smothered in small, colourful, cartoon skulls. A marketing ploy by the Beavertown Brewery. Session ales are  refreshing, and one pint leads to another and sometimes another. We had two pints each on the day.

We sat in the cool of the pubs Victorian splendour, drank our pints and ate our fish and chips. The three of us walked to Finchley Road Tube Station and got the underground back to Waterloo Station.

 After our four visits to Hampstead we felt we were beginning to know the area. Hampstead is well worth a visit.

A link to the site promoting the literary tour of Hampstead.

Wednesday, 5 July 2023

Highgate and Hampstead, a leafy land of legends. (part two)


John and I in Highgate.

24th February 2023. 

John and I returned to Highgate for a second time and got out at Highgate Tube and walked down the High Street which was becoming familiar territory to us both. We soon found Waterlow Park again and walked through its gardens arriving at the gates to Highgate Cemetery on Swains Lane that cuts the two parts of the cemetery into the older West Cemetery and the newer East Cemetery.    We negotiated the graves of the East Cemetery by ourselves. We bought tickets  to join the tour of the West Cemetery later.

Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839. It was one of the seven cemeteries that were built on the outskirts of London to accommodate the growing number of London's dead. Since Christopher Wren had built his city churches after the Great Fire of London, London churchyards had been the places for London’s dead to be buried. From the late Georgian period into the early Victorian period London’s population was rising fast and the city churchyards could no longer accommodate those who wished to be buried there. ”The Magnificent Seven,” as the new cemeteries were termed, were planned to deal with the exponential increase. Highgate Cemetery alone has an estimated 170, 000 burials. The day John and I were there there was a funeral and burial taking place.

 The cemetery is the last resting place of many famous people and it is easy to get star struck.  Immediately you walk into the cemetery you discover the graves of the literary greats, historians, scientists, actors, artists, publishers and more darkly, past members of the criminal world. 

Bruce Reynolds (1931-2013), the mastermind of The Great Train Robbery (1963)

We walked by ourselves around the newer East Cemetery. Just on our left as we entered we saw, positioned on a slight rise of ground, a small grey granite headstone hollowed out to make a niche for a life size bronze bust of a very serious looking man. It looked life like. It may have been taken from a death mask.  Across the top of the granite stone was written the name, Bruce Reynolds. He was the mastermind of The Great Train Robbery that took place in 1963. I remember it, as an eleven-year-old, in the newspapers and seeing live reports on the BBC on the  black and white television we had at home. The bust of Bruce Reynolds reminded me of the marble busts of Roman senators and emperors Marilyn, and I saw in the Archaeological Museum of Naples a few years ago. It had a sense of somebody serious and all powerful. Looking at the face of Bruce Reynold's bust was a little disconcerting. What is the mind of a criminal?

George Eliot (1819-1880)

We wandered on and found the granite obelisk that marks the grave of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). I have recently read Middlemarch by George Eliot that was first published in 1871.A tale, told from different points of view, concerning marriage, position in life, money and the lack of it and personal development. In many ways it is a novel of realism and portrays the strengths but more often the weaknesses of the many characters. A modernist novel. It can be pedantic at times in describing characters and preaching a moral viewpoint. George Eliot was a genius. She has been an influence on novelists ever since and is one of the great novelists in World Literature.  Other admirers had planted  flowers at the base of the obelisk marking her grave. She is squeazed in among other headstones.  I am sure these others are worth spending time with but, George Eliot took all our attention in this huddled part of the cemetery. I don’t think we looked at any of the other inscriptions on  headstones around her. John and I were definitely  star struck.

John next to Karl Marx ( 1818-1883).

Just beyond the grave of George Eliot, to our right on the opposite side of the path, was the unmissable giant bronze bust of Karl Marx set on a marble plinth. This has become the most famous of all Highgate’s tombs. Maybe it’s the most famous tomb in the world? I suppose the pyramids of Egypt are up there.
These are the words incised on the marble base. They ring  throughout twentieth century history., 

“ Workers of The World Unite.” Karl Marx.

” The Philosophers of the world have only interpreted the world in various ways.The point is to change it.’”

Somebody had  left a copy of ,The Communist Manifesto, and there were many bouquets of flowers covering the base of the plinth.

Marx and his family were  moved to this location in 1954. He, his wife and other members of his family were originally buried in a very ordinary grave with a small headstone about a hundred yards from the present tomb site. John and I tried to find the original grave. We had a map of the cemetery  given to us at the entrance. At first the map appeared simple and easy to fiollow. John and  I stood on a path that we thought was marked on the map.After a while of looking and looking and trying to find points we could recognise we decided that, unfortunately,  the map was not detailed enough. We located another path that was shown to try and get our bearings.We thought we had found the location of the original grave using the marked path and the site of the 1954 tomb we could see before us a little way off in the distance. We got confused and our location didn’t help at all. You have to realise that Highgate Cemetery is set within woodland. Many trees bar your vision and although it was still winter and there were no leaves on the trees the woodland is dense. So finally we didn’t find the original grave and it has left a feeling of failure. We must have been  close. One day, one or both of us will go back and we will find the original grave of Karl Marx. 

Eric Hobsbawn.

We walked on and I saw the grave clearly named of Eric Hobsabwn. He was an academic and a historian.A British historian of the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism and capitalism.  I remember reading one of his books when I did a history unit for my Open University degree in the 1980s.  I was thrilled to see his grave. John had never heard of him. 

I do not find cemeteries sad paces at all.I like to read the names and inscriptions on grave stones. Cemeteries are an affirmation of life and living as well as of death.  They remember people who lead lives that added something to the world we are in. 

Patrick Caulfield. "Step down this way."

Then we came across a grave that made me laugh. This particular grave stone  was that of Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005) a pop artist. It is a smooth piece of black granite.It is shaped as a series of neatly cut steps proceding from the top left to the bottom right. Each step has a single letter of the alphabet incised into it perforating the solid stone. Four steps that read from top left to bottom right, D E A D. There is something visceral, giving you a jolt, in that decisive word. It couldn’t be more precise and exact. A whole philosophy in one word.

So we walked around the East Cemetery. Here are a few more we came across. Robert Keating, another artist. Paul Foot, writer and revolutionary. Alan Sillitoe, author. Who of a certain age hasn’t been affected by Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner? Novels about post war working class life. They probably did as much as anything else to influence politics and life in this country in the1960s. Nearby we passed the grave of Corin Redgrave the actor and film star. We also saw the graves of Anna Mahler, sculptor. Bert Jansch, Scottish folk musician and member of Pentangle, Alan Howard, Shakespearean actor and Jeremy Beadle, the popular TV presenter. The resting place of Jim Stanford Horn has a grave stone in the form of a penguin novel  with two of the iconic penguins side by side at the bottom of the design. He was an avid reader. Those who love reading themselevs find this grave a touching tribute. We had only visited the east cemetery, so far. A lot more to come. Where was George Michael buried? He is definitely here but we didn't find him unfortunately.

Jim Stanford Horn (1976-2010)

The time for our guided walk of the older Western Cemetery was approaching. Like any good park or place of entertainment there are toilets near the entrance to the cemetery. We were enlivened for the next part of our cemetery exploration.

We crossed the road to the entrance to the older west part of the cemetery. We walked through the archway of an impressive Victorian gothic gatehouse into a courtyard where many horse drawn hearses over the centuries must have stood. The entrance provides space for a full turning circle for a horse drawn carriage. It is surrounded by a brick built arcade. I presume mourners could have stood under the arches of the arcade out of the rain and snow and wind if the weather was serving up those particular delights on the day. 

The entrance to the Western Cemetery.

A series of steeps steps lead from this entrance area into the environs of the cemetery. A ,”stairway to heaven.” (A little something for you Led Zeppelin fans.) Coffins are carried up these steps and along the paths  to the site of internment or burial.

The lady leading the tour discussed many of the symbolic elements of the graves. Many  are surmounted by stone funery urns with carved drapery slipping from the top of the urn symbolically releasing the soul of the occupant to heaven. Some have Greek pillars broken in half. They have not been vandalised, they symbolise lives cut short.There are many mausoleums of the great and good in  this part. Generals, admirals and the family crypts of  wealthy families. A massive hound lies at the foot of the grave of his master, Thomas Sayer , the greatest pugilist of the mid 19th century.He was a bare knuckle fighter. He only lost one bout in his career. In 1857 he famously defeated, Willam Perry,  the ,”Tipton Slasher.” He retired in 1860. George Wombwell was a menagerist in the late Georgian and early Victorian period. He travelled the country with a wild animal show. His tomb is surmounted by a life size  carving of his favourite lion, Nero. 

George Wombwell ( 1777-1850) Nero keeping him faithful company.

Whilst our guide stopped  by one of the largest mausoleums in the cemetery and informed us about the overall history of the cemetery and told us about this particular mausoleum partly buried in the ground and extensive enough to accommodate a whole family for generations, I nearly fell over a small gravestone positioned just behind us. I nudged John and whispered,”Look who we are standing next to.” A small granite stone,  severed at a sharp angle across the top like a broken slash was the grave of Alexander Litvinenko. I must admit I felt a slight chill go down my spine. The savagery of Vladimir Putin extends to Highgate Cemetery it seems.

Alexander Litvinenko (1962-2006)

Our guide lead us along a sloping pathway up through the wooded cemetery until we came to a large stone entrance flanked by pillars reminscent of an Egyptian temple. This was the entrance to the Egyptian Avenue.

The entrance to the Egyptian Avenue, leading to a rotunda sunken beneath the surface of the ground.

 A tunnel leading from this entrance passed between the bronze doors to crypts ranged on both sides. It opened out into a rotunda area that appeared sunken into the ground. The central drum was the location of more crypts. A circular pathway circled the central drum with further crypts lining the outer wall. One of these had the title ,"columbarium," above an 18th century door. Columbarium at first seems to refer to doves. Within a cemetery it is where funerary urns are displayed. We could not see inside. The bronze door was shut and a security gate was locked in front of it. The cemetery  has been vandalised on a number of occasions. After exploring this sunken world of the dead we ascended steps to ground level.

One part of the cemetery is not open to the public but our guide had the keys to the padlock which gave us entry to an extensive crypt. A long dark corridor,  lighted in places from small skylights, stretched in front of us. The sides of this corridor were lined, floor to ceiling with shelves of coffins . We could read the brass name plaques on many of them. It was here, on one of these shelves, that Charles and Catherine  Dicken’s  daughter Dora was placed  until her grave was ready within the cemetery. Dickens hated the crypt. It is a gloomy and macabre place.

A long tunnel of shelving for coffins. It was here Dicken's daughter Dora was laid before burial. Dickens hated this place

To finish this bit about Highgate Cemetery, after walking past the graves of Beryl Bainbridge and  Elizabeth Siddell as you do, we came across what some people term, the most beautiful grave in the world.  

The grave of Mary Nichols.

That is subjective of course but the grave to Mary Nichols, 

“The darling wife of Arthur Nichols and fondly loved mother of their only son, Harold,” 

must  be up there. Her  grave is  carved in stone as a bed of softly undulating  fabric depicting the softest feather bed you can imagine with a beautiful angel , wings tucked behind, lying on her side on 
top of it. You look and wonder.

There are so many more famous and infamous graves in Highgate. 

Highgate Cemtery was virtually abandoned in the in the mid 20th century. Some of the impressive mauseleums built and owned by wealthy familys had been  abandoned. Later members of familes had no wish to be buried in Highgate. Some family lines had died out. and so many sites were left to moulder and decay. Wild animals and especially birds got inside some of the mauseleums and quicked their dereliction. The cemetery is now owned by a charitable trust, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery which was set up in 1975. The trust acquired the freehold of both the east and west cemeterys by  1981.A book aout the cemtery , "Highgate Cemetery: Victoian Valhala," by John Gay was published in 1984. 

We completed our second visit to Highgate and Hampstead by walking from the cemetery, uphill, back to Hampstead High Street and found The Angel pub. We wanted to go in here particularly because of the blue plaque on the wall outside. 

Graham Chapman,
”A very naughty boy,” 
8th January1944 to 4th October 1989 
…Member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, 
 drank here often and copiously.

I mean, who could possibly walk past  without going in? I walked up to the bar.
"I hope you don't mind me asking? How much is a pint of beer?"
"£7.50, sir." 

Graham Chapman drank here. 

John and I, remembering the eye watering price of beer in The Flask from our previous visit, decided that just this once that price was acceptable. It was still a little eye watering  We had pints of ,’Neck Oil.” John had fish and chips and I had scampi and chips, to go with our beers. We found a window seat looking out on to the high street. It is quite small inside the pub. 

Blimey, Graham Chapman actually frequented this pub. WOW!!!!!! A real thrill for both John and me.

We then got on the tube at Highgate Tube station and made our way to Waterloo and then our respective trains home.

Thursday, 15 June 2023

Highgate and Hampstead, a leafy land of legends. (part one)


Highgate School

I wonder if anybody will, or perhaps they already have, written a thoroughly researched study of pollution and waste and its influence on urban development? A chapter may include the development of Highgate and how it became a salubrious and wealthy northern suburb of London? Other town developments happened, like Highgate and Hampstead, for very similar reasons. 

John Lodge, Tony Brown and myself are always looking for new walks to take us on new adventures. We started to research Hampstead and Highgate. We decided to give Highgate a go, planning to visit some famous locations such as Kenwood House the High Street, Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery. We also were aware of the literary and  artistic connections. John and I took part in the first two walks which lead on to two more visits, I must admit we had not planned for initially. Tony Brown joined us on our third expedition to this north London Borough. Clive Baugh on a trip here from his ,”homestead,” in the wilds of Canada, near Maple Leaf, joined us for a fourth visit. Why we have had four walking trips to Hampstead and Highgate in North London will be made clear.

The first record of Hampstead is in 1318. It was land owned by the Lord of the Manor of Hornsey who was the Bishop of London. He had a toll gate positioned on the north road leading out of London. As it was located on high land it was termed the, Highgate.
By the 14th century a settlement was established around the ,”high gate.” Rich noblemen and merchants bought land in the area because it had a high position with wonderful views just five miles from the centre of London. By the 18th century, with its close proximity to the city, five miles away, it had become a small town and because of its high elevation which not only brought great views but also clean air away from the ever more polluted, smog prone city, it was still a sought-after address. Because it was a desirable location only the rich merchants and developing wealthy middle classes could afford to move there. South of London was never an option in the 18th century and early 19th century. The north downs, termed the Surrey hills, were just as healthy with a bucolic environment but they were too far out from the centre of London. Nowadays with modern transport that has changed and Surrey has become a wealthy commuter belt too. 

During the 19th century the population of London grew to enormous numbers. The dirt and squalor in many areas increased as commerce, trade and industry increased making  the rich richer of course.. The 19th century also brought new forms of transport such as much improved roads and the railways. Fortunately for those who lived in Highgate the new major road systems and the railways bypassed them. Highgate remained a very pleasant and health providing place to live. The wealthy population of Highgate increased and housing increased but in a more sustainable way leaving Highgate as it is  today still a very desirable place to live.

Highgate High Street

23rd January 2023
On our first trip to Highgate John and I got on the northern line train from Waterloo towards Edgware getting off at Highgate Tube Station. We exited the station, not knowing which side of the station to exit from, so we took pot luck. We walked s onto a road that looked like West Barnes Lane ,the road I live in near Wimbledon. The houses consisted of late 1920’s houses with mockTudor beams.  They were a mixture of  semi detached and detached houses with trees and shrubs in their front gardens. It all felt familiar. But, we didn’t know which way to go.I asked a lady who was emerging from the staiton near us. John and I both felt as though, for those few moments she was in charge.  She directed us back into the station to take an underpass to emerge at the opposite side of the station. With Highgate and Hampstead’s reputation as a place for academics,writers and artists  and television stars, was she famous in anyway? Perhaps a university professor? She was very efficient, quick witted and eager. We were now on track. We were able to orientate ourselves on the  map we had printed off the Hampstead and Highgate website. We headed off down Highate High street towards Waterlow Park. We wanted to find Highgate Cemetery. Also , for later in the day, John had obtained online free tickets to visit Kenwood House set within Hampstead Common.


Waterlow Park , in Highgate, is  difficult to pin down visually. There are many parts to it.. Lauderdale House, which sits to one side of the park was home to the Duke of Lauderdale in 1580. The websites I have found  says the park developed from the time of the house was built. I wondered who might have designed it, but there is no information. It certainly wasn’t  Capability Brown, or Humphrey Repton who came much later in the 18th century  or some other such famous garden designer. There seems to be no  overall plan to the park. There are some open spaces and a lake which seems to suggest ideas about countryside and open vistas blending with a natural environment such as a Brown or Repton landscapes but there are also terraces and small compact garden areas hedged off from each other. The house was built  before the English Civil War (1642-1652) so it predated Inigo Jones and his Palladian ideas of proportion. So it must have started as an Elizabethan knot garden. The park is interesting because of this mishmash of stiles one added to the other. You don’t know what is just round the corner. Curving paths and slopes leading between terraces create an interesting walk. One comment I found says it was the earliest example of a terraced garden and it is located on the side of a hill.

Lauderdale house itself has many stories attached to it. The Duke of Lauderdale himself was a key member of Charles II cabinet and it is reputed that Charles II stayed at the house. Legend has it Nell Gwyn, Charles II mistress stayed there too. Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) the metaphysical poet, once lived in a house within the park. The architect, Sir James Pennethorn (1801-1871) lived in the park and is buried  in Highgate Cemetery nearby.From 1856 Sydeny Waterlow lived in Lauderdale House and while there he bought up all the neighbouring properties to extend the park as it is today. He let the house out as a convalescent home. By 1889 Sydney Waterlow had abandoned the house and gave it to London County Council (LCC) as a public park. He thought of it becoming a, “garden for the gardenless.” 

Philanthropy such as this  has always been a feature of the charitable works of the great and wealthy. Landowners  would provide housing and life time work very often for their estate workers. Schools for the local people in villages and towns might be provided by the church and again the wealthy landowners. This is all well and good but it makes the general population reliant on the generosity of individuals and the wealthy might not always choose to be benevolent. We have great examples of this philanthropy today with  billionaires such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk and the charitable foundations run in their names. King Charles III, our present monarch, is known for beginning The Princes Trust which has done amazing work for young people. His father ,The Duke of Edinburgh, began the award scheme which has also been amazingly successful in developing the lives of young people. This is all well and good but it depends on one person deciding to do this sort of work. The 19th century brought state funded schools. The National Health Service came into being in 1948 after the second world war. These state run organisations financed by everybody through taxes are far more all encompassing and universal and rely on every one of us for their existence. That is a much better situation. The monarchy and wealthy people can continue their philanthropy and I think we should say ,thank you,  but society should not be reliant on them. It would be interesting to analyse philanthropical works. What is their effect on our class system and keeping society divided?

One of the gardens in Waterlow Park.

On this first trip to Highgate and Hamstead John and I had a coffee in the café in Lauderdale House. Within the shell of the building it consists of  a series of white cubes and glass wall  expanses looking outside from within. A local photographer was holding an exhibition in the main room downstairs. He was a little overenthusiastic about engaging us  in conversation. He wanted to make a sale I think. That sort of situation can make you feel pressurised.

Lauderdale House

We walked out onto the terrace looking over the park and then wandered through the winding paths and past the hedges leading downhill to the lake. We skirted the park on the left and over the hedgerows noticed the gravestones within a woodland area. Suddenly, deep within the leafless trees that pervade the cemetery like a small forest,  we caught sight of probably one of the most famous graves in the world. In the distance we could see the large bust of Karl Marx surmounting his tomb. We intended to walk around Highgate Cemetery, which is full of famous people, and see Marx’s grave close up.

The gallery space in Lauderdale House.

We found the entrance to the cemetery just as we exited Waterlow Park. Stone pillars formed a gateway. A small building to the right of the entrance advertised the entrance charge and times for guided walks. We had just missed the start of a walk. John and I discussed our next move and reluctantly decided to return another day.

Highgate and Hampstead  is hilly.  From the cemetery entrance we walked up the steep hill, Swann’s Lane, onto South Grove and Pond Square, near the centre of Highgate. There are early Victorian and Georgian houses in this area. We came to a junction and found a house with a blue plaque commemorating where Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for nineteen years from 1823 to 1834 and where he died. Also in the same house at a much later date the novelist, playwright and essayist J.B. Priestley (1894 -1984), lived.In recent years the fashion model,Kate Moss lived too. Layers of history in one house can bring up some unusual contrasts.   That is aways a thoughtful moment when you come across a house like this. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge(lived here from 1823 to 1834) J.B. Preistley (1894-1984) Kate Moss (1974- )

Across the road, tucked away in a short lane we found a pub called The Flask, where we decided to have a pint and order a lunch. The Flask was first recorded as a pub in 1716. This area north of London near the Great North Road leading to York was a favoured location near Finchley Common for highway robbers. The famous Dick Turpin is reputed to have stabled his horse, Black Bess,  at The Flask. As far as highway robbery goes, John and I settled ourselves into a comfortable nook and cranny within the The Flask. We got served by a friendly waitress. When we heard the price of a pint of beer I think the blood must have drained from our faces,  £9 a pint. The food we ordered wasn’t much more in price. We enjoyed the ambience of The Flask and surmised that perhaps Coleridge himself drank there and perhaps J.B. Priestley too and these thoughts about these famous writers. somewhat softened the financial blow. We enjoyed the pint and enjoyed the food. Our visit to The Flask we will put down to experience.

The Flask

Churches and chapels always have an attraction to go in. Often they are open for passers by to walk in. They can reveal amazing architecture and richly decorated religious artworks. John and I are always keen to explore a church. From The Flask we made our way back towards Pond Square past Pond Square Chapel. We tried the heavy iron door handle on the entrance door but the chael was unfortunately locked. Pond Square Chapel has a non-conformist history going back to the 1665 Five Mile Act. The act stated that any minister ejected from the church of England for their dissenting views could not live within five miles of the church they once preach at. Highgate was located more than five miles from the centre of London so a nonconformist community grew up there among the growing wealthy community escaping London. The Pilgrim s who sailed on the Mayflower to escape persecution for their non-conformist views sailed in 1620 just forty years before the five mile act. It appears, the act, apparently punitive, did allow for some  acceptance of the nonconformists allowing them to continue their preaching and their ideas. Progress from 1620 perhaps.? There is always a sense I think that things political or religious do adapt to the reality of life actually lived rather than forcing people to keep to a set of rules and beliefs that don’t necessarily fit their reality. Of course ew groups, new ideas can create similarly draconian strictures. Religions do tend to set rules and beliefs for their followers. To be human is a life’s adventure, not the following of a set of rules and beliefs that are imposed. Cruelty can set in. I’ve always thought qualities such as kindness, love, understanding and self-awareness are  most important. 

St Michael's Church Highgate. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his family are buried here.

Pond Square has another place of worship, St Michael’s Church. 
In 1818 an act of Parliament for the building and promotion of additional churches in populous parishes was made. St Michaels was one of these new churches.
Inside is a slate tombstone commemorating Samuel Taylor Coleridge(1772-1834) , his wife, his daughter with her husband, Coleridge’s nephew and their son. An extensive  family tomb. Originally Coleridge was  buried in the chapel of Highgate School at the top of the High Street. When a new chapel was built in 1868 it overhung the Coleridge vault. In 1961 Coleridge’s remains were reburied in the crypt of St Marys. The poet John Masefield gave a reading at the reburial. Coleridge had actually worshipped in the new church of St Mary’s and its red door was visible from Coleridge’s house. He was connected to the site of his reburial. Coleridge was the joint founder of the Romantic movement with his friend William Wordsworth.

In the late 18th century Lord Mansfield owned Kenwood House. It was here Dido Belle, the daughter of an enslaved African women, whose father was Mansfield’s nephew Sir John Lyndsey, lived. Dido had been born into slavery in 1761, the daughter of maria Bell, an enslaved woman . Lindsey asked Murray to take on her care and education, and. Elizabeth was baptised Dido Elizabeth Belle in 1766 in London.

It was Lord Mansfield, who some say inadvertently, began the legal process against slavery. The case that Mansfield is most famous for is the James Somerset case. Somerset was a slave owned by an American customs official. While onboard his masters ship at dock in England Somerset attempted to escape but was captured and later put aboard another ship destined for the US. An application was presented to the Court of Kings Bench by three people saying they were Somerset’s godparents. The eventual outcome, after much publicity and strong public opinion on both sides of the argument was given by Lord Mansfield the Chief Justice. He stated that slavery was not legal in England on English soil and that all men were free within England.. All slaves who were on English soil became freed at that moment. 

Lord Mansfield was born in1705 and died in 1793. He was obviously a man of his time. However, in his judgements he looked at the law from the human level disregarding the prejudices and  general held beliefs.  It took an intelligent honest man to make the judgements Mansfield made. What can the law do and how should the law be applied to the human condition? That is a very difficult thing to do but Mansfield managed it in this case. This judgement did not have any effect on slavery and the slave trade outside of England though.

Kenwood House through the trees.

 Lord Mansfield  was also under threat by the Gordon Riots of 1780 lead by the member of Parliament Lord George Gordon. because he defended catholics before the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 and was an important advocate of the act. It was intended to relieve Catholics of some of the discrimination against them. The Gordon Rioters made their way to Kenwood House and threatened to attack it. The story goes that publican at The Spaniards Inn provided free drink to the rioters , they got drunk and the attack on Kenwood was prevented. Whether that story  is apocryphal is debateable. 

Kenwood House is renowned for its art collection and its Robert Adam interiors. It is here in that summer open air concerts are held.  

John and I had  wanted to explore Kenwood but as the day went on we ran out of time to visit. We missed our time slot. We walked along a muddy path leading to the east of the house and had a spectacular view of the house and the extensive parkland it is set in. So, at least we saw it and got some great photographs.

We also came across Highgate School where John Betjeman (1906-1984) attended as a school boy and we saw a blue plaque commemorating him on the side of one of the old school buildings. It reminded us about our visit to St Pancras Station when we were walking The Regents Canal. We took photographs  posing next to Betjeman’s statue on the station concourse.

Jack Straws Castle.

Just outside of Hampstead to the north on the road passing through the Heath  is Jack Straws Castle and to the east of that just south of Highgate High Street  is The Spaniards Inn. We walked past both these famous inns. Both are mentioned in Bram Stokers Dracula and the Spaniards Inn was known to Charles Dickens. The litigious Mrs Bardel in Pickwick Papers sojourns at The Spaniards Inn, on her quest to track down Pickwick. Why would Dickens choose The Spaniards Inn? I suppose  he what he know and inspired him. The Spaniards inn   served his literary purpose. 

Spaniards Inn.

Both places located on the Heath in the 18th century were remote and were often the haunts of Highwaymen. Jack. Straws castle has its own ghost stories. Maybe they inspired Bram Stoker to add his spine chilling imagination .The father and mother of Dick Turpin  ran The Spaniards Inn. Being in the location of famous events and where famous people from our past walked and whose imaginations were inspired makes you feel as though you are being surrounded by the past. You are existing in the same space of past events.

I should think the people of Highgate are used to strangers such as John and I wondering about their village, stopping outside of various houses and staring at the houses and talking about them.

John and I decided we must return soon. Highgate Cemetery and all the abodes of more amous writers were still to come.

So, this is just part one of our adventures in Highgate.