A History of Hampstead

By Tim Lambert

Early Hampstead

Hampstead began as a Saxon village. Its name was once hamstede, which meant homestead. For centuries it was just a quiet village like many others in England where the people grew crops and grazed animals.

However, in the late 17th century, Hampstead, like many villages near London began to develop as wealthy people fled the plague of 1665 and the fire of 1666. Rich people wanted to live near the amenities of London but away from the noise and dirt of the city.

Fenton House was built in 1693. It takes its name from an 18th century merchant called Philip Fenton, who lived there.

In the 18th century, Hampstead became a spa town after a certain Dr Gibbons discovered that water from the spring had healing properties. In the 18th century, many grand houses were built in Hampstead. Burgh House was built in 1702. (It now houses a museum). Kenwood House was first built in 1616. It was rebuilt in the 1760s for the First Earl of Mansfield by Robert Adam.

In the 18th century, Hampstead contained a marsh called Hatches Bottom. In the 1770s it was drained and in 1800 it was built upon and it was renamed rather optimistically, Vale of Health.

Modern Hampstead

Hampstead grew rapidly in the 18th century as rich Londoners moved there. By 1801 Hampstead had a population of 3,343. It would seem small to us but by the standards of the time, it was quite a large place. Many provincial market towns were smaller. n From 1774 Hampstead was lit by oil lamps and from 1824 it was lit by gas.

In the 19th century, Hampstead continued to grow rapidly, especially after the first railway station was built there in 1852. (Railways made it much easier for Londoners to live in Hampstead and commute to London). In the late 19th century Hampstead was, in the main, an affluent suburb of London. (Though some of its inhabitants were poor).

Hampstead is renowned for the famous writers who lived there. Keats (1795-1821) lived in Wentworth Place. (It is now called Keats House). Keats wrote the poem Ode to a Nightingale in the garden of the house.

In 1915 D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) moved to 1 Byron Villas in the Vale of Health. The writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) lived at 17 East Heath Road. The famous artist John Constable (1776-1837) lived at 40 Well Walk. Furthermore, John Galsworthy (1867-1933) who wrote The Forsyte Saga also lived in Hampstead.

In the 19th century, Hampstead Heath became a playground for Londoners. Fortunately, it was preserved for the good of the public. In 1871 the Metropolitan Board of Works purchased Hampstead Heath and kept it as a public park. Hampstead became part of the county of London in 1889. Hampstead Garden Suburb was created after 1907.

Sigmund Freud moved to Hampstead in 1938. He died in 1939 but the house he lived in is now a museum.

Today Hampstead remains an affluent suburb of London.