The History of Hampstead
The name Hampstead derives from the Saxon words 'ham stede', which meant home farm and identifies it as probably Saxon in origin. For centuries it remained a sleepy rural village, where the principle means of employment was farming. Unlike most other villages in England, however, Hampstead was on the edge of what was to become one of the mightiest cities in the world.
In the late 17th century Hampstead began to grow up fast as wealthy Londoners fled the squalor of the crowded city. Many fled the plague of 1665 and the fire of 1666 to outlying villages, far enough for safety, but close enough to visit London regularly to carry out their business and enjoy the various amenities there.
Fenton House , built in 1693, is a fine example of this migration. It is named after Philip Fenton, the wealthy 18th century merchant who one lived there. ‘Taking the waters’ was a fashionable pastime in Georgian society and any place boasting healing waters could enjoy an economic boost. When Dr Gibbons discovered that water from a spring there in the 18th century, and claimed it had healing properties, Hampstead became a spa town. The 18th century saw numerous impressive properties go up in Hampstead as the wealthy began to flock to the now fashionable hamlet on the hill to the north of London. Kenwood House was originally built in 1616 but was subsequently rebuilt for the First Earl of Mansfield by Robert Adam in the 1760s. Burgh House , which now houses a museum, was built in 1702. It was during this construction boom, in the 18th century, that a marsh at Hatches Bottom was drained. The water was diverted away in the 1770s and in 1800 it was euphemistically renamed Vale of Health and was developed. Oil fired street lamps came to Hampstead in 1774, these were replaced in 1824 by gas.
Hampstead expanded at a pace in the 18th century and by the first official census of 1801 it recorded a population of 3,343. Although this seems small by modern standards, Hampstead had a larger population that many important provincial market towns at the time. Hampstead’s growth shifted up a gear after the construction of the first railway station there in 1852. The railways made it so much easier for those living in Hampstead to commute quickly to London. At the time even the relatively short ride into London by carriage would have been slow and uncomfortable. By the time of the late 19th century Hampstead was considered an affluent suburb of London.
Hampstead became associated with famous writers who congregated there. Art tended to be the preserve of the wealthy in the 18 and 19th centuries so it is no surprise that they chose an affluent and fashionable suburb like Hampstead as their chosen haunt. Keats (1795-1821) lived in Wentworth Place in what is now called Keats House . He wrote his poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ while sat in the garden of the house. Another of Britain’s famous classical writers, D.H. Lawrence moved to 1 Byron Villas in the Vale of Health in 1915, just 15 years before his death. Lawrence was later to become a very controversial figure in Edwardian society when he penned Lady Chatterly’s Lover. The book was considered pornography at the time and was subsequently banned. The writer Katherine Mansfield had a home at 17 East Heath Road and the artist John Constable (1776-1837) resided at 40 Well Walk. John Galsworthy , the wealthy author who wrote ‘The Forsyte Saga’ also lived in Hampstead.
In the 19th century the large open spaces of Hampstead Heath attracted Londoners seeking leisure away from the dirt of the city. Fortunately the Metropolitan Board of Works purchased Hampstead Heath In 1871 and ensured it remained open as a public park. Hampstead was absorbed into the the county of London in 1889. Hampstead Garden Suburb, a residential development, was created in Hampstead from 1907. Hampstead remains one of London’s most affluent areas to this day.