Local Life

History of Hampstead Heath

Fitzjohn’s has the luxury of being a stone’s throw away from Hampstead Heath, a spectacular ancient wild park that is nestled inside Zone Two of north London.

Hampstead Heath, one of London’s largest green spaces, comprises of a mixture of woodlands, ponds, park land and the former stately home Kenwood House. The Heath is an enclave of natural beauty amongst the excitement of the city and retains an “Urban Quiet Park” status granted by Quiet Parks International- a non-profit organisation whose aim is to identify locations around the world that remain free from urban noise pollution for at least brief periods.

The 800-acre heath land was first recorded in history books in 986, when Ӕthelred the Unready, an Anglo-Saxon king granted possession of a portion of the Heath to one of his servants. The next recorded mention of the Heath was in the Domesday Book, which stated that the land, named as the Manor of Hampstead, was owned by the Monastery of St. Peter’s which is known today as Westminster Abbey. Following this, Hampstead Heath fell into private ownership for many years, with the Heath itself remaining as common land. Today Hampstead Heath is managed by the City of London Corporation.

The efforts to preserve Hampstead Heath began in 1829 when a writer implored that the ‘lungs of the metropolis’ be protected to provide a green space for the public to escape the pollution of London. By 1860, Hampstead Railway Junction had opened, allowing thousands of people from all over London, including the working class, to access the Heath. The rising popularity caused the Heath to host fairs and donkey rides and many inns opened nearby to serve the general public.

Hampstead Heath was popular with many artists, writers and poets throughout the years, with people such as Keats, Shelley, Byron and Coleridge all living in Hampstead. The Heath is rich with history and its natural beauty has attracted many illustrious figures to live nearby. As well as its famous residents, the Heath has hosted a number of historic events including the executions of notorious highwaymen in the 17th century.

Set in the south-eastern corner of the Heath is Parliament Hill, which is noted as the highest point in London at 98 metres high and offers some of the best views of the city’s skyline, including St Paul’s Cathedral, the Shard and the Palace of Westminster. The hill is also significant for its ties to London’s history, for legend has it that Guy Fawkes had planned to watch the destruction of the Parliament buildings from the viewpoint on the hill.

Guy Fawkes is not the only notable figure associated with Hampstead Heath. Famous author C.S Lewis was said to have been inspired to write The Chronicles of Narnia whilst walking on the Heath one snowy afternoon. Certainly, on a winter’s morning it is easy to imagine that you are walking through the forest of Narnia when the Heath is covered in snow.

Today, Hampstead Heath is protected by its own police force the Hampstead Heath Constabulary, which was formed in 1992. The constabulary, administered by the City of London, consists of twelve constables and is called upon to patrol the Heath and respond to any incident that disrupts the order of the area.