The North London House That's Partly Shaped Like A Ship

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 18 months ago

Last Updated 09 December 2022

The North London House That's Partly Shaped Like A Ship
Photo: Mike T

On the quiet Hampstead back street of Admiral's Walk, one house stands out from the rest. It's a white-washed building, three storeys in some parts, four or even five storeys in others, something of an eccentric shape. It's not as odd as it used to be though.

The house was built in around 1700, but the ship's deck wasn't added until almost 100 years later, when naval officer Fountain North bought the house. Pining for his seafaring days, he added a main deck and a quarter deck to the roof, because — well, why the hell not? All that seems to exist of the house's naval past today is the top floor balcony — designed to resemble the stern of a ship.

Despite the obvious seafaring ties, the house — and the road, Admiral's Walk — are something of a misnomer. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the house was often confused with that of Admiral Matthew Barton, who lived nearby in Hampstead, but never in this house. The misnomer, however, stuck.

This image from The Tatler shows the house in 1940. Image © Illustrated London News Group. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board.

There are reports of cannons being stored on the roof, and fired on the King's birthday and other important days. However, these cannons were actually Barton's doing, fired from his roof rather than North's — let's face it, Hampstead's been a hotbed for eccentrics over the years. There's no specific address for Barton, but perhaps that's how nearby Cannon Place got its name?

The house has inspired many creatives, and featured in a painting by John Constable (on display in the V&A) which he painted from his own house on Lower Terrace. It also inspired Mary Poppins author P L Travers — the eccentric Admiral Boom, a retired Naval Officer who fires guns from the roof of his house, was inspired by the myth of this odd abode.

It's also had some other notable residents. Architect Sir Gilbert Scott — he who was responsible for designing St Pancras station — is commemorated by a plaque on the house, and Windsor Castle archivist Sir John Fortescue lived here with his writer and actress wife Winifred.

The gardens have their own claim to fame — there's reportedly a tunnel in the grounds which links directly to Hampstead Heath. Even more outlandish is the claim that Dick Turpin made use of this passage (he is, after all, a figure with more myths than most).

A 1925 newspaper article about the house being up for sale mentions the Dick Turpin passage. Image © Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board.

Today, the house is Grade II listed. Presumably it's still used as a domestic residence, but we didn't like to knock on the door and check — the past residents may not have been such a fan of cannons as legend suggests, but there's no speaking for the current inhabitants.