We feel incredibly lucky to have our business in Hampstead - arguably, it’s one of London’s most beautiful and charming areas, full of tiny backstreets, impressive architecture, boutique stores and, of course, the huge green expanse of Hampstead Heath to boot.
But what lots of the people who come to stay with us at La Gaffe don't know too much about is the history of our area. And once we started reading up, we realised there was plenty we didn't know either.
As a result, we’ve decided to write a series of blogs for our website on the history of Hampstead - from hundreds of years ago up until present day.
In this respect, we’ll all get to know more about our neighbourhood - why the streets are so named, why the area became so popular, even centuries ago, and why people still yearn to visit and live here.
We could go back to the 12th or 13th century but we’ve decided to start just a few hundred years ago…in the 17th century, before La Gaffe as a building even existed. Yes, our guest accommodation was once a shepherd's cottage, but more on that another time…
We’ll start with the Great Plague of London in 1665, when people in the centre of the city began fleeing to greener areas, where the air was better and they thought they might have an improved chance of survival!
Indeed, today, not far from us, there’s a steep road named ‘Judge’s Walk’. How did it get this name? Well, according to William Howlitt, who wrote “The Northern Lights of London” this was where Judges who usually worked in Westminster came to Hampstead, to hold their courts in this green and airy place!
After all, it was well known at this time that both the air of the green heath was good and also - apparently - Hampstead had its share of fine physicians.
Kenwood, today, is one of Hampstead’s great attractions but back in the day it was a stately home. However, the first house on the site was - architects think - a brick structure. The original Kenwood was erected in 1616 by a man named John Bill, who was the King’s Printer, and he named it Caen Wood House.
By the end of the 17th century, it was bought by William Bridges, for the princely sum of £3,400! He demolished it and rebuilt it but what most people don't know is that the original brick structure is still intact today - just under the facade that was put up much later.
This new house was a red brick building, on two storeys, with large sash windows, a ‘hipped’ roof (where all sides sloped downwards) and a central section which was triangular shaped. He even added an orangery for good measure!
Well Walk, which is just down the road from us, was known historically as Hampstead Wells, and was founded as a charity in 1698. What was special about this area was that it boasted chalybeate springs. The water in the springs contained iron and according to those who sold it, drinking it was supposed to be good for one’s health!
This, along with the pure air, gave Hampstead a reputation for being a healthy spot to visit, and commercial exploitation of the waters was a good way to make a fast buck. Indeed, by 1700, the Flask pub (today located on Flask Walk, close to Hampstead tube) already existed in two forms - the fashionable ‘Upper Flask’ on northern Heath Street (where La Gaffe has its home) and the ‘Lower Flask’ which was nearer to the High Street.
One of the highest points in London, this enormous green space runs all the way from Hampstead to Highgate and is a marvellous place to walk, ramble, swim (there are bathing ponds), fly kites and admire views of the City of London from Parliament Hill.
The history of the Heath can be traced back to 986, when King Ethelred the Unready gave one of his servants ‘ five hides of land’ at ‘Hemstede’. By 1086, the Domesday Book (Britain’s earliest public record) recorded the land as now being owned by St. Peter’s Monastery of Westminster Abbey and then as the ‘Manor of Hampstead’.
Later on, during the reign of Henry II, this manor passed into the private ownership of Alexander de Barentyn who, interestingly enough, was butler to the King!
That’s all for now but - if your appetite has been whetted - don’t fear because we will be back soon, tracing Hampstead’s settlement growth from the 1700’s onwards…and this is when things really start to get interesting.
Interested in visiting London and seeing all this for yourself? Here at La Gaffe Hotel Hampstead, we offer comfortable and reasonably-priced guest accommodation just three minutes from Hampstead tube and, because we’re family-owned and family-run, you’re assured of a warm welcome and a very personalised experience.
Give us a call on 0207 435-8965 or feel free to book our hotel rooms directly with us on our website.