Published: 16/08/2022Hampstead today is home to many celebrated figures. From actors to artists to writers and public figures, Hampstead has been desirable for many years. You may not know that Hampstead has over 1000 years of recorded history.
The earliest known inhabitants of the area settled here in around 7000BC, with Mesolithic forest hunters populating the area. Their campsites were excavated in the ‘70s and ‘80s. A barrow on Parliament here tells us there might have been a Bronze Age settlement here. And the straight line of Kilburn High Road tells us of Roman occupation, as it was built on the Roman Watling Street.
The recorded history of Hampstead begins with Anglo-Saxon charters and grants. The Doomsday Book of 1086 shows that Hampstead, which means homestead, was centred on a small farm, valued at fifty shillings. In the middle ages, two windmills and a chapel appeared on the hill. A small priory was built in Kilburn.
After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, the priory was closed down and the manor was transferred from the Abbey to lay hands. Hampstead was a rural community until the end of the 17th century.
In 1698, “Six acres of wasteland” on Hampstead Heath “lying and being about certain medical waters called the Wells” were granted at a yearly rent of five shillings (25p) to trustees of the Wells. This was on the condition that it was applied “for the sole use benefit and the poor of the parish of Hampstead”. The healing value of the waters began to be advertised by the trustees in 1700.
On the south side of Well Walk, a Long Room was erected. It comprised of a pump room where the water could be drunk and also an assembly room for concerts, dancing, and other forms of entertainment. There was a tavern nearby and raffling shops.
However, despite its initial success, the combination of its distance of the Wells from London, rowdy behaviour, and competition with other London spas, caused its popularity to decline. The long room closed and was demolished in 1882. The waters could still be drunk as the fountain, basin, and fittings were moved to the building next to the Wells Tavern. In the 1730s a new long room and ballroom were built. Although this was also closed by the end of the century, it had established Hampstead as a healthy and attractive place to say. The wells period encouraged significant development to the area.
The 19th Century saw rapid expansion for Hampstead. The arrival of the North London Line in 1860 brought day-trippers to the heath. The estates around Oakhill Park, Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Willoughby Road, and Reddington Road were developed in the two subsequent decades. Fitzjohn’s Avenue was linked to the High Street in 1886. This work saw the slums of central Hampstead cleared. By 1891 the population of Hampstead was around 68,000, over double that of 1871. New amenities included chapels, schools, churches, a large workhouse, police and fire stations, water supply, a sewage system, a cemetery. It also contained a fever hospital, a TB hospital, and homes for orphaned daughters of Crimean War servicemen. At the same time, parish administration improved. Hampstead was made a Parliamentary Borough in 1885. Three years later, it became part of London.
Notably, after its inclusion in London, several notable modernist houses were built, and not without controversy, including the Isokon building and Erno Goldfinger’s 2 Willow Road. WWII brought heavy bombing and rebuilding was slow, with the area’s first council block being built in 1948. Recently, luxury homes and flats have been built on the fringes of Hampstead.
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