7 Secrets Of Hampstead Heath

7 Secrets Of Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath is one of London's most popular green spaces — and considering the views it offers, that's hardly surprising. From writers to revolters, find out some lesser-known facts about the Heath.

Hawthorn blossom on Hampstead Heath. Photo: Laura Nolte

Have a break

Hampstead Heath has always been a popular place for authors and poets. The Kit-Cat Club, an 18th century literary and political group often met at The Upper Flask pub on East Heath Road (which no longer exists today). Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot, Richard Steele, and later John Keats, Percy Shelley and Leigh Hunt, were frequent visitors.

The castle that's not a castle

Jack Straw's Castle. Photo: Matt Brown

While Jack Straw's Castle (previously a pub, now a block of flats) doesn't really look majestic, there is a noble story behind it. During the Peasant's Revolt in 1381, Jack Straw spoke to a group of people of Hampstead Heath from the top of a hay wagon. The wagon was dubbed 'Jack Straw's Castle'. Later, in June that year, Straw would lead the Essex detachment through Aldgate.

Saving the Heath

In the 19th century, local landowner Maryon Wilson planned to transform the Heath into an estate. Locals, unsurprisingly, were set against the idea, and in what was one of the first land preservation campaigns, managed to win the legal battle again Wilson. The Heath remained. Ironically, Maryon Wilson Park nature reserve, and Maryon Park are named for the guy who nearly destroyed Hampstead Heath.

The story behind the viaduct

The Hampstead Heath viaduct. Photo: Laura Nolte

The Hampstead Heath viaduct was built by Wilson, who wanted to use it as the entrance to his planned estate. The land was saved and the estate never built, but the viaduct still stands today.

Crucifixion on the Heath

One of the more sinister happenings on Hampstead Heath is the crucifixion of 30-year-old Joseph deHavilland in 1968. DeHavilland has convinced three of his friends to nail him to a cross, with eight-inch nails in order to 'make the world a happier place'. He survived.

Just around the river bend

Hampstead Heath's ponds are some of its main attractions — but did you know that the River Fleet, London's lost river, runs right through there? You can hear it flowing on the west side of Hampstead Heath, the Vale of the Health. This was originally called Hatchett's Bottom and was the source of the River Fleet.

Winter wonderland

London got its own version of the Winter Olympics in 1950, when a ski jump was built on Hampstead Heath. A joint venture between the Ski Club of Great Britain and the Oslo Ski Association, the ski jump was installed for  a weekend of competition and snow.

Last Updated 01 August 2017