ONCE LONDON’S HAMPSTEAD had two pubs or taverns named ‘The Flask’. This should not come as a great surprise as Flask used to be a common name given to pubs. One of them, The Upper Flask, used to be located at the top (northern) end of East Heath Road and the other, The Lower Flask’ was (and still is) on Flask Walk, a street leading off Hampstead High Street.
The Upper Flask used to be a remarkable establishment. Once called ‘The Upper Bowling Green House’ because of its good bowling green, it was a meeting place favoured by fashionable and ‘cultured’ men (mainly) and women during the 18th century. It was a summer meeting place for The Kit Kat Club, which thrived in the early 18th century and whose members included literary figures and political personalities, who supported the Whig Party. The Upper Flask figures several times in “Clarissa”, a lengthy novel by Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), first published in 1747. The place ceased operating as a hospitality business in the 1750s, when it became a private residence (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp81-91). In 1921, it was demolished to clear the site for building the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital (https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/queenmaryhampstead.html), which has since become the site of a luxury housing complex.
The Lower Flask (in Flask Walk) is also mentioned in “Clarissa”, but unflatteringly as:
“… a place where second-rate persons are to be found often in a swinish condition,” (quoted from “Old and New London”, by Edward Walford, about 1880).
Unlike the lost Upper Flask, the formerly named Lower Flask is still in business, but much has changed since Richardson published his novel.
Located at the eastern end of the pedestrianised stretch of Flask Walk, the former Lower Flask, renamed The Flask, was rebuilt in 1874 (and extended in 1990; https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1322190). Formerly, it had been a thatched building and was a place where mineral water from Hampstead’s chalybeate springs was sold. It and Keith Fawkes’ second-hand bookshop are the only things in Flask Walk, which were in existence when I used to visit Hampstead regularly in the 1960s and 1970s. In those, now far-off, days, I remember that there used to be another second-hand bookshop and a butcher, both on the south side of the passageway. Before the 20th century, there used to be a fair held for a few days in August on the triangular open space a few yards downhill from The Flask pub. Close to The Flask, also on Flask Walk, miscreants could be found languishing in the parish stocks. Both the stocks and the fair are now but long distant memories recorded only in books published many decades ago.
Oddly, despite visiting Hampstead literally thousands of times during the last more than 65 years, it was only on Halloween 2021 that I first set foot in the Flask pub, and I am pleased that I did. The front rooms of the pub retain much of their Victorian charm and the rear rooms are spacious. Although we only stopped for a drink, I could see that the Sunday lunches being served to customers around us looked delicious. We hope to return there soon.