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 Hampstead and Highgate by following the  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. 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. 

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 from here. The BBC Concert Orchestra performed here. Some episodes of Monty Python were recorded at the Hippodrome 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.

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