EVERY SCHOOLDAY MORNING between 1965 and 1970, I boarded a single-decker, route 210 bus at Golders Green Station. First, we travelled up North End Road southwards to Jack Straws Castle, near Whitestone Pond. Then rounding the Hampstead war memorial, our direction changed from south to north-east as the bus travelled along the straight Spaniards Road, just a few yards more than half a mile in length. Invariably, the bus slowed down near the Spaniards Inn, where the road narrows because of the presence of a disused, historic tollhouse directly across the road from the inn. During my five years of travelling this route, I never wondered about the history of the Spaniards Inn, the tollhouse, and the area around them. Now, many years after leaving Highgate School, to which I was heading every morning on the 210, my interest in historical matters has been fired up, as has my desire to share that with anyone who has time to read what I write.
Spaniards Road and its eastern continuation beyond the tollhouse, Hampstead Lane, have long comprised an important route connecting Highgate and Hampstead. Spaniards Road, unlike Hampstead Lane, runs level without inclines or declivities. It runs along a ridge between the south and north facing slopes of Hampstead Heath. At its western end near the former Jack Straws Castle pub, it reaches the highest point in Hampstead, about 440 feet above sea level. At its eastern end by the Spaniards Inn, it is three feet lower. East of the inn, Hampstead Lane descends considerably and only begins to rise again within about three hundred yards of the centre of Highgate Village.
The tollhouse, the cause of an almost continuous traffic bottleneck, narrows the road width considerably so that it is only broad enough to admit one vehicle at a time. The tollhouse was built in the 18th century to collect tolls from those passing through the western entrance to the Estates of the Bishops of London, which they owned for almost 1400 years. Because of its tendency to slow the traffic, the idea of demolishing it or moving it a few yards from the road was mooted in the last century. The debate about shifting the tollhouse even reached the House of Lords, where on the 2nd of February 1966, Lord Lindgren (George Lindgren: 1900-1971) suggested:
“My Lords, to move this building two yards would, I think, be a tremendous waste of time, effort and labour. In actual fact, the lorries going by day by day remove the brick, and if we leave it long enough it will not be there.”
Luckily, the small building remains intact and although not particularly attractive, it adds to the charm of the area.
The Spaniards Inn, across the narrow stretch of road from the tollhouse, is believed to have been established in about 1585. It stands on the old boundary between Finchley and Hendon. Today, the Inn is in the Borough of Barnet and the tollhouse is in that of Camden. In former days, the inn marked the entrance to the Estates of the Bishops of London. The building that houses the inn is 17th century brickwork with some wooden weatherboarding, which is best viewed from the pub’s carpark. It is according to the historicengland.org.uk website:
“An altered building, but one that still has great character.”
The origin of the pub’s name is not known for certain. One suggestion is that the building was once owned by a family connected with the Spanish Embassy. Another is that at some stage, the house was taken by a Spaniard and converted to a house of entertainment. Edward Walford, writing in the 1880s, relates that whilst the Spanish Ambassador to King James I (ruler of England from 1603 to 1625) was residing there, he complained:
“…that he and his suite had not seen very much of the sun in England.”
The Spaniards Inn was the scene of an event during the Gordon Riots in mid-1780. The causes of the riots were several, but they included anti-Catholic sentiments following the passing of an act of Parliament passed in 1778, which ‘emancipated’ the Roman Catholics. At that time, Kenwood House, which is just east of the Spaniards Inn was one of the homes of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-1793), an important lawyer, reformer (his reforms included objections to slavery), and politician. He was Lord Chief Justice when the act was passed and just prior to the outbreak of rioting, he had treated a Catholic priest leniently in a court of justice. A group of rioters attacked and burned Mansfield’s home in Bloomsbury Square:
“The furniture, his fine library of books, invaluable manuscripts, containing his lordship’s notes on every important law case for near forty years past … were by the hands of these Goths committed to the flames; Lord and Lady Mansfield with difficulty eluded their rage, by making their escape through a back door … So great was the vengeance with which they menaced him, that, if report may be credited, they had brought a rope with them to have executed him: and his preservation may be properly termed providential.”
So, wrote a correspondent in the “Lady’s Magazine” in 1780 (www.regencyhistory.net/2019/09/the-gordon-riots-of-1780.html).
Not happy with burning down Mansfield’s London home and its owner’s escape from their clutches, rioters set off towards Kenwood where they planned to destroy his rural retreat. They made their way to the Spaniards Inn, which was then kept by a publican called Giles Thomas. This shrewd fellow was quick to assess the reason for the rabble’s arrival and being a man of quick thinking, he opened his house and his cellars to the mob, offering them unlimited refreshment before they continued to undertake their planned work of devastating Kenwood House. As soon as they began enjoying Thomas’s generous hospitality, the canny publican sent a messenger to a local barracks to raise a detachment of the Horse Guards. At the same time, he arranged for other rabble-rousers to be supplied with liberal amounts of strong ale from the cellars of Kenwood House. A Mr William Wetherell, who was on the spot, encouraged the rioters to adjourn to the Spaniards Inn. By the time that the military arrived, the rioters were in no fit state to either resist the soldiers or to carry out their planned attack on Mansfield’s residence, which was a good thing not only for Mansfield but also for posterity because by 1780, the house had already been worked on by the architect Robert Adam, who had made improvements of great artistic value.
The Spaniards Inn stands amongst a cluster of historic buildings. Its next-door neighbour is a plain building, Erskine House (also once known as ‘Evergreen Hill’). This stands on the site of an earlier house of the same name built in about 1788. It was the home of the lawyer and Whig politician Thomas Erskine (1750-1823), Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain between 1806 and 1807. By all accounts, he was a brilliant man. He was involved in many important trials. One of these that attracted me because of my interest in Indian history was during the impeachment proceedings (in 1785) against Warren Hastings after his time as Governor General of Bengal. Mr Stockdale, a publisher in Piccadilly, issued a pamphlet by John Logan which defended Hastings, and following that was tried for libel expressed against the chief opponents of Hastings, Charles Fox and Edmund Burke. Stockdale was defended successfully by Erskine in a case that helped to pave the way to the passing of the Libel Act 1792, which:
“… laid down the principle that it is for the jury (who previously had only decided the question of publication) and not the judge to decide whether or not a publication is a libel.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Erskine,_1st_Baron_Erskine).
In addition to being involved in many other important cases, Erskine was an animal lover as well as a great wit. For example, when he saw a man on Hampstead Heath hitting his miserable-looking sickly horse violently, so Edward Walford recorded, he admonished the cruel fellow. The latter replied:
“Why, it’s my own; mayn’t I use it as I please?”
Hearing this, Erskine began beating the miscreant with his own stick. When the victim remonstrated and asked him to stop using his stick, Erskine, who could not suppress making a witty remark, said:
“Why, it’s my own; mayn’t I use it as I please?”
Erskine’s former home was located between the Spaniards Inn and a house, which still stands today, Heath End House, which was occupied by Sir William Parry (1790-1855), the Arctic explorer. The sign on its outer gate reads ‘Evergreen Hill’. Later, it was a home of Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936) and her husband Canon Samuel Barnett (1844-1913). Both were deeply involved with the creation of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Although I lived in the ‘highly desirable’ Suburb, I would have much preferred to have lived in the Barnett’s lovely house by the Spaniards Inn. Had I lived there in amongst that historic cluster of houses, maybe I would have walked to school instead of boarding the 210 bus in Golders Green.