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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Alcock

A Brief History of Hampstead Heath (Why is it Famous?)

What is Hampstead Heath?

Hamstead Heath is an 800-acre wild park of woodland and meadows, with popular bathing ponds and sweeping views of the city of London.

Hamstead Heath

Hamstead Heath History

Originally this area of London was a small rural village, with the heath (an area of open uncultivated land) providing common land. In the late 17th century, when many wealthy Londoners habitually fled the city to escape the plague, it became a popular destination.

By the 19th century Hampstead had grown even bigger, as roads and railway lines brought the metropolis to the former village. In fact, between the years of 1871 and 1891 the population of Hampstead doubled in size.

Hampstead owed its rise in popularity also to the creation of its wells in the early 18th century. Claiming that its water possessed the medicinal value of chalybeate waters (water infused with iron), the spa was a success, with many city dwellers coming up to the heath for some fresh air and bathing. However, with competition from other London spas and a clinging reputation for rowdiness, the wells began to decline before being officially demolished in 1882.

Today the heath offers a wild park of woodland and meadows, offering some of the most spectacular views of the city.

Though the spa has gone, it remains a place for bathing: the heath offers numerous ponds scattered across the parkland. They are divided up to include the ‘Highgate Ponds’ and the ‘Hampstead Ponds’. Wild swimming in these ponds is very popular, especially in the summer months.

The peaceful nature of the heath has led it to form long and deep connections with artists, writers and actors, including well-known figures such as John Keats and Charles Dickens. Keats lived and practised medicine in Hampstead, and just south of the heath you’ll find Keats House, a memorial to the Romantic poet’s life and works.

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