A NEW book about Hampstead in north London

AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON WEBSITES:

e.g.: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Hampstead is one of the highest places in London. There, the heavens are vast
and wide. Beneath this expanse of sky is an area with an eventful past and a
vibrant present. This book takes a fresh look at the locality and shows that
Hampstead is richly imbued with historical memories and has been home to a
multitude of fascinating and noteworthy people. Many books have been written
about Hampstead. Doubtless, there will be more. This one is different. It looks
at Hampstead from unusual as well as familiar viewpoints and gives the reader
a richer appreciation of what makes the place both delightful and intriguing.
This volume explores a wide variety of subjects, familiar and obscure, as well as
some which have never been described in other books about the locality. Here
is a fresh and at times quirky look at this place on a hill, one of London’s
treasures: a district, which is familiar to many people, yet full of surprises.
Although the bulk of this book is about Hampstead, there are also sections
describing some of its environs.

By reading this book, you can find out why John Constable, Samuel Johnson, Boy George, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, Peter Sellers, Henry Moore, Maxim Litvinov, General de Gaulle, Stanley Spencer, Thomas Masaryk, Lee Miller, Agatha Christie, Jim Henson, Ian Flemming, Ernő Goldfinger, and many others, both famous and familiar, were all connected with Hampstead.

The book has several sections:
1. a brief survey of Hampstead’s general history and geography.
2. an introduction to Hampstead’s main thoroughfares with some
reminiscences of the area as it was during my youth.
3. the largest section of the book is a collection of chapters about
various aspects of Hampstead’s past and present. Recently, a friend of mine
bemoaned the fact that Hampstead High Street and Heath Street are lined with
branches of shops and cafés that can be found all over London. He is right. So,
if you wish to capture the true character of Hampstead, you need to stray into
the side streets and explore, which is what I hope this book will stimulate you to
do.
4. The last few sections of the book deal with some places of interest near to
Hampstead: Primrose Hill, North End, Go
lders Green, and Highgate.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE … 7
INTRODUCTION: OH NO, NOT IN HAMPSTEAD … 7
SOME GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY … 13
HEATH AND HIGH STREETS WITH SOME MEMORIES … 25
SATURDAY STROLLS … 25
PERRINS LANE, THE EVERYMAN, AND LOUIS … 34
DISCOVERING HAMPSTEAD … 41
A HOUSE ON HEATH STREET AND THE KIT CAT CLUB … 41
A CHURCH ON HEATH STREET … 45
FLASK WALK AND THE HAMPSTEAD SPA … 46
MORE ABOUT THE SPA … 56
THE VALE OF HEALTH … 60
POETS AND THE VALE OF HEALTH … 70
FRENCH CONNECTIONS AND ST MARYS ON HOLLY WALK … 76
ARTISTS IN HAMPSTEAD: ROMNEY, CONSTABLE, AND OTHERS 84
MODERN ARTISTS AND THE ISOKON … 95
BOLSHEVISM AND HEATH STREET … 109
A SINGER AND A PHILOSOPHER ON BRANCH HILL … 114
JUDGES WALK … 118
WHITESTONE POND … 122
EAST HEATH ROAD AND SOUTH END GREEN … 126
SIR HARRY AND ROSSLYN HILL … 137
PILGRIMS LANE AND MORE ON ROSSLYN HILL … 143
NEW END, CHOLERA, AND GROVE PLACE … 150
FITZJOHNS AVENUE AND SWISS COTTAGE … 155
SHEPHERDS WELL … 171
CHURCH ROW … 174
GRACIE FIELDS, FROGNAL WAY, AND FROGNAL … 179
WEST HEATH ROAD AND PLATTS LANE … 187
WEST HAMPSTEAD … 193
SHOOT UP HILL … 198
PRIMROSE HILL … 201
NORTH END AND GOLDERS GREEN … 211
NORTH END AND GOLDERS HILL PARK … 211
POETS AND GOLDERS GREEN … 228
LIFE AND DEATH ON HOOP LANE … 232
HIGHGATE … 241
CODA … 273
SOME BOOKS CONSULTED … 275
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS … 278
INDEX … 279

Coiffure at the Club

I HAVE NEVER LEFT a barber’s shop without leaving a tip. This is a habit that was instilled in me by my mother during my childhood. Whether the cut was good or bad, I have always left my hairdresser with a gratuity.

In January 1994, I first visited the Bangalore Club in southern India. A few days before my wedding to a member, my in-laws decided that my hair needed a trim. Back in those days, the Club barber shop was located in a hut behind the Men’s Bar, which until a few years ago did not allow the entry of women and girls. Now renamed, this former bastion of maleness permits all drinkers regardless of their genders.

My haircut was at the very least satisfactory and cost all of 20 Indian Rupees, which was debited to my wife’s club account. In those days one pound Sterling was, if I recall correctly, about 40 Rupees. So, my haircut was remarkably good value compared with what I would have paid for it in London.

At the end of my session with the barber, I fumbled in my pocket to find some money for the tip. All I  could find was a 50 Rupees note, which I handed to the man who had looked after my coiffure.

When I related my experience to my wife-to-be, she was horrified that I had tipped more than twice the fee. I suspect that the barber was delighted.

Buried no longer

THE ITALIAN WRITER and patriot, Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827) was born on Zakynthos when it was part of the Venetian Republic. He became a political activist in what is now Italy and came to London in 1816. In London, he was regarded as a literary celebrity, but this did not always keep him out of trouble. For example, in about 1813 he faced Mr Graham, the editor of the “Literary Museum” in a duel at Primrose Hill. The dispute that led to this was about his ‘Three Graces’.  These three ladies were sisters working in Foscolo’s home near Regents Park. Two of them turned out to be prostitutes, and one of them ran off with his former translator. This led to a duel, whether in Regent’s Park or Primrose Hill is not clear; fortunately, no blood was shed.

Foscolo’s monument in Chiswick

Foscolo lived another few years until 1817, when he died in Turnham Green in west London. He was buried in the lovely churchyard next to the Chiswick church of St Nicholas, where the artist William Hogarth was also interred. The cemetery contains Foscolo’s elegant, well-maintained grave, which is surrounded by a cast-iron railing.

However, Foscolo’s remains are no longer in the old cemetery at Chiswick.

In June 1871, ten years after the Unification of Italy, Foscolo’s remains were dug up and transported to Florence (Firenze). There, they were reburied but within the church of Santa Croce. This is all recorded by words carved on the monument in the Old Chiswick Cemetery.

Great exhibition at Kew Gardens

Well worth seeing: a visually and philosophically fascinating exhibition by Zadok Ben-David at Kew Gardens until 27th of March 2022. See more at:

https://www.kew.org/kew-gardens/whats-on/zadok-ben-david-natural-reserve.

The artist uses delicate models of the natural world to illustrate that life simultaneously has its dark and light aspects. This innovative exhibition has to be seen to be believed. It makes for an intriguing accompaniment to the lovely botanical gardens.

Little green huts

SOUTH OF KENSINGTON Gardens, just west of the Royal Garden Hotel, there is a small green hut with a pitched roof beside Kensington Road. It is one of the thirteen remaining cabmen’s shelters dotted around central London, which were established by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund (‘CSF’) in 1875 and are still maintained by this organisation. Back in those days, cab drivers could not leave a cab stand whilst they were parked there. This made it difficult for cab drivers to obtain food and drink whilst on duty.

The solution to this problem was devised by the newspaper editor George Armstrong (1836–1907) and Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885). They conceived the idea of the shelters to provide cabdrivers with refreshment. By law, the shelters had to be no larger a horse and cart, which explains their small size. That way, they did not encroach on the carriageway too much. In the past, these shelters confined themselves to serving cabmen. More recently, members of the public can buy snacks and drinks at these huts, whose attendants are supposed to make a living from their shelters.  Cabmen can eat within a shelter, but others can only use them for take-away refreshments.

Recently, when passing the shelter on Kensington Road, I noticed that there were a couple of menus attached to it. Next to them was a small blackboard on which the following was written in chalk:

“Till Rolls 3 for 2.50 Receipt pads 4 for 2£”

This is stationery for the exclusive use of taxicab drivers. I was pleased to see this because it means that although they are open to the public, they are still of special use to cabdrivers.

I have never sampled anything at a cabmen’s shelter, so have no idea of the quality provided. Years ago, when I was practising dentistry, one of my patients was a taxicab driver. He was a ‘foodie’ and  told me that he knew great quality, reasonably-priced eating places all over London. I cannot recall that amongst the many places he told me about that there were any cabmen’s shelters.

Look, no hands

WE VISITED TWO churches in Suffolk, and inside them we spotted three things that particularly interested us. The first church is in Cavendish, The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. Standing on a hill above the village, its construction dates from 1300 and was largely completed by 1485. Some restoration work was carried out in the 19th century. One of the two things that fascinated us in this church is affixed to the inside of the north wall. It is a bas-relief depicting the Crucifixion. It is a reredos of Flemmish make, created in the 16th century. It is framed in a Victorian surround designed by Ninian Comper (1864-1960) in 1895. The sculpted reredos was brought to the church from the private chapel of the hymn writer Athelstan Riley (1858-1945) in London, following his death.

Cavendish church

The other curiosity in this church, which has memorials to the philanthropists and local parishioners Baroness Sue Ryder and Baron Leonard Cheshire, is on a wall just behind the 19th century wooden pulpit within arm’s reach of the preacher. It is an hourglass, looking like a large egg-timer, which the priest could use to time his sermon. I had never seen such a thing in a church. Less curious but also fairly unusual are the 13 wooden crucifixes on the interior walls of the bell tower. These were made from wood salvaged from the Western Front during WW1 and each one commemorates one of the men from Cavendish who were killed in the conflict.

The other church we visited on our recent trip to Suffolk was St Mary in Stoke by Nayland, which was sometimes painted by John Constable (1776-1837), who was born nearby in East Bergholt. Built in Perpendicular Gothic style between 1300 and 1481 it is very majestic, like a small cathedral. The church is full of interesting monuments including many fine brasses. It was one of the funerary monuments that particularly intrigued us: the Lady Anne Windsor monument. Anne lived from about 1568 until 1615. A stone carving depicts her lying with her head on a pillow. At her feet, there is a carving of a kneeling man, Anne’s son. By her head, two carvings depict a pair of kneeling women, Anne’s daughters. Look closely at this pair and you will notice that their hands have been broken off. Their arms are merely amputated stumps. What is going on here?

Stoke by Nayland church

The answer is that in 1643, Parliamentary Commissioners visited the church in Stoke by Nayland and destroyed 100 religious images and 7 funerary items. Part of this over-zealous iconoclastic behaviour was the removal of the four hands of the two women on Lady Anne’s monument, as well as those of the recumbent figure of the deceased. All the hands of females on the monument were removed but those of the kneeling male figure were left untouched. Apparently, the female hands were removed because the Commissioners considered them to have been in “a superstitious attitude of prayer”, whatever that meant during the Reformation.

The three items I have described are but a few of the things worth seeing in the two churches. I have chosen to describe them because I have not seen such things in the many other parish churches I have visited in England.

A doctor from China

THE CHINESE MEDICAL College in Hong Kong was founded in 1887 by the physician Sir James Cantlie (1851-1926), who was the inventor of what we now call ‘first aid’ and one of the founders of The London School of Tropical Medicine. One of his first students in Hong Kong was Sun Deming, better known as Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925). In 1878, Sun went to Honolulu to live with his elder brother. There, he was educated well in English at school. Aged 17, he returned to China. After desecrating a temple, he fled to Hong Kong, then under British rule, where he continued his education, joining the Chinese Medical College in 1887, having already studied a bit of western medicine elsewhere. In 1892, he graduated as a medical doctor. He became a friend of Sir James Cantlie.

In 1896, poor health forced Cantlie to return to London. That year, Sun came to England to visit Cantlie. Already out of favour with the Imperial Chinese government because of his revolutionary activities, private agents employed by the Chinese were sent to Liverpool where he landed to follow his movements. The reason for his conversion to political activism are summarised in an on-line article (www.newstatesman.com/international-content/2021/10/the-london-kidnapping-that-changed-china) as follows:

“The contrast between the colonial advancement he encountered abroad and the endemic poverty he knew from home convinced Sun that China needed revolutionary change. Rather than becoming a doctor, he helped engineer a rebellion in Canton (Guangzhou) in 1895. The failure of the uprising forced Sun to go on the run, which is why he ended up in Britain the following year.”

The first person that Sun visited after arriving in London was his old teacher Cantlie, who lived close to the Chinese embassy, which was, and still is, in Portland Place. On his way there, Sun was kidnapped and held captive in the embassy. He would have faced death had not he persuaded the embassy’s English housekeeper, a Mrs Howe, to smuggle a note to Dr Cantlie. An influential man, Cantlie managed to get Sun released, as was described in the above-mentioned article:

“In the end, it was an article about the kidnapping in the Globe that did the trick. On the following day, 23 October 1896, a large crowd formed outside the legation, noisily demanding Sun’s release. While diplomatic and legal wheels moved in the background, the ambassador and his staff realised they had to let their prisoner go. Sun emerged on to the street a national hero. While recovering at Cantlie’s house, he gave a long interview to the liberal-left Daily News, giving British readers their first insights into China’s embryonic revolutionary movement.”

Late last year, we were driving to Buntingford in Hertfordshire when we passed through the nearby village of Cottered. As the traffic was slow-moving, we managed to spot a memorial plaque attached to a house. We did not stop, but we saw enough of it to realise it had something to do with Sun Yat Sen. Very recently, we returned to Cottered to look at the plaque more carefully because we were intrigued that the Sun Yat Sen had a connection with a tiny Hertfordshire village. The plaque attached to a house called The Kennels reads as follows: “Sun Yat Sen “Father of Modern China” was a frequent visitor to this house while in exile from his home country.” Beneath Sun’s name there are three Chinese characters: “孫中山” which Google translates as ‘Sun Yat-sen’.

Curious to know more, we rang the doorbell of the house in Cottered and were greeted by a kindly gentleman, who explained that The Kennels was formerly owned by Sir James Cantlie. An article in an issue of the “The Comet”, a Hertfordshire newspaper, dated March 2017 (https://www.thecomet.net/news/sun-yat-sen-in-cottered-the-father-of-modern-china-5358282) revealed:

“His connection to the property, called The Kennels, comes from his life-long friendship with physician Sir James Cantlie, who owned the house, earlier taught him medicine in Hong Kong – and in 1896 saved him from imprisonment by agents of the Qing monarchy at the Chinese Legation in London.

Dr Sun visited the Cantlies in London and Cottered whenever he was in Britain … Sir James’ son Kenneth recalled one of the statesman’s visits to the village:

‘I must have been about five years old. It was sunset on a summer evening, and Dr Sun was walking up and down in the orchard. He was wearing a grey frock-coat and his homburg hat was tilted forward to keep the level sun out of his eyes. He had his hands behind his back and was pondering deeply. I was about to rush up to him in my usual impetuous way, when I stopped. ‘He is probably thinking great thoughts,’ I said to myself, and I went quietly away. I was not in the least afraid of Dr Sun, who was kindness itself – but my parents and my nurse may have put the idea into my head that here was a great man who must not be interrupted when he was thinking.”

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Cantlie (1899-1986) was about five years old in 1904, which was when Sun was living outside China.

The article continued:

“In 1912, after the success of the Xinhai Revolution – which established a Chinese republic, with Sun Yat-sen as its first provisional president – the doctor wrote with clear affection to the Cantlies. On paper headed ‘The President’s Office’, he wrote: “It makes me feel more grateful to you when from the present position I look back on my past of hardships and strenuous toil, and think of your kindnesses shown me all the while that I can never nor will forget.”

Both Sir James and his son Lt Col Kenneth are buried in the cemetery of Cottered’s parish church close to its southern door. According to “The Comet”:

“After Dr Cantlie died and was buried at St John’s Church in Cottered in 1926, the Chinese minister to Britain, Sao-Ke Alfred Sze, laid a memorial tablet at the church. Dr Cantlie’s grave in the churchyard is engraved with a Chinese translation of the gospel verse Matthew 5:7.

China Central Television visited the house in 2001, and again in 2011 as part of filming for a documentary series on the Xinhai Revolution.”

Sadly, I could find neither the tablet amongst the Cantlie family gravestones nor the engraving in Chinese, which is a translation of “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. Despite this, revisiting Cottered was well worthwhile, and it has for me sparked an increased interest in the birth of modern China. We hope to return to Cottered to see inside its church, which, judging by pictures posted online, looks fascinating.

Art deco in Kensington

FROM THE LATE 19th century until a few years ago, High Street Kensington was a healthily flourishing retail centre. In its heyday, it boasted of three large department stores, Pontings, Barkers, and Derry & Toms. The impressive buildings that housed the latter two still stand and are fine examples of art deco architecture located close to the Underground station, which has been in service since the late 1860s. In recent years, the advent of on-line shopping, high rents, and the proximity of the Westfield Mall at Shepherds Bush (opened 2008), which has good parking, have conspired together to make High Street Kensington less appealing to shoppers. Consequently, at any one time a large proportion of shops remain empty awaiting new tenants. Sadly, what was once (especially in the 1960s and ‘70s) a bustling high street with trendy shops like Biba and the ‘funky’ Kensington Market, both gone, has become slightly dreary.

Barkers building

Barker’s former shop, a lovely art deco edifice, which opened in 1933, was designed by Bernard George (1894-1964). Between 1928 and 1962, he was the chief architect for Barker’s of Kensington in-house design group.  It is worth examining this building closely to enjoy is many attractive details.