Ham & High

London A-Z - Hampstead

Less than two hundred years ago Hampstead was a secluded village surrounded by lush fields and apple orchards. Cattle grazed, gypsies camped, and Maison Blanc was under different management. Now it draws visitors from all over the world, eager to gawp at the gothic architecture or bathe in Hampstead's rich local history. Sadly many have to turn round and go home because there's nowhere to park.

As the location for The Everyman, Hampstead boasts the capital's best arthouse cinema. Actually, Hampstead never boasts that would be vulgar. The High Street possesses the poshest McDonald's in the world an original van Gogh hangs from the wall, employees speak eight languages and all meals come with a glass of Mot. The village's best kept secret is the Holly Bush, a pub impossible to find without a relief map or divining rod. Still, for all its village activity Hampstead is probably best known for its heath an ideal place for walking, cycling and meeting MPs.

Down from the Heath lies The Spaniard's Inn. This is reportedly the birthplace of highwayman Dick Turpin, a man famous for holding up groups of wealthy travellers (he had very strong arms). If you happen to own a dirty dog, take it to The Spaniard's on a Sunday. Then sit back, sip a crme de menthe and let a crack team of dog washers do the rest. It is true that the narrowing of the road by the Spaniard's can be annoying for motorists, but hopefully they'll build a bridge over it soon, thus preserving the original architecture whilst easing the passageway.

Hampstead's glittering alumni include Peter Cook (often spotted in his dressing gown), Charles de Gaulle (a man with a nose for politics) and painter and policeman John Constable. Sigmund Freud moved to Maresfield Gardens in 1938 specifically to interpret dreams, though he didn't last long. Romantic poet John Keats spent a number of his 25 years in Hampstead, but was tragically and prematurely struck down by TB (that's tuberculosis, not Tony Blair). These days you are just as likely to witness Thierry Henry va-va-vooming through the village, or Glenda Jackson with her clothes on.

If Hampstead were a person, it would be Hugh Grant perfectly charming, impossibly upmarket and smaller than you think.

© copyright 2008 Saul Wordsworth
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