An article appearing in "Black And White", March 18th, 1896
The average Britisher, and even, to his shame be it written, the average Londoner, is all too slightly acquainted with the beauties of Hampstead. There are those who pride themselves on knowing it because they have visited it on a Bank Holiday; and the popular idea confirms them in the folly of their views.
'Tis supposed that the Heath comes into existence, as it were, on Whit Monday and on the first Monday in the torrid month of August, so that weird, unruly girls in wonderfully-feathered headgear, and costers in "pearlies" and Chevalier costumes, with the Chevalier walk and the Chevalier stoniness of eye, regale themselves on ginger-beer or liquids less innocuous and engage in pastimes no less amazing to the spectator than enthralling to those who join in them.
That particular view is all very well in its way. Certainly the man who has an opportunity to see Hampstead on such an occasion is very foolish if he does not once in his life take advantage of it.
Lovers of London should see the magnificent city in all its phases, and a sunny August Bank Holiday on Hampstead Heath is a spectacle as typical as any to be seen betwixt Shepherd's Bush and the remotest East.
But these overwhelming intrusions of the Democrat prepared to enjoy himself in his own fashion, and of those energetic caterers who provide him with the wherewithal to amuse himself, altogether conceal for the time the distinctive charms of the Heath.
The pictures wherewith this page is adorned - albeit they show the place in its wintry and most unattractive aspect - might pass for representations of regions altogether remote from the stir and strife of London streets.
A three-penny bus fare from the very centre of traffic takes you to the Swiss Cottage, whence 'tis an easy walk to the Heath.
Once you are there, there is hardly a pleasure denied of you of those which Londoners are usually denied.
The air is fresh and invigorating, because it comes to you over wide spaces of the open country.
You feel the very winds of heaven, and not a more or less malicious draught coming betwixt lines of ugly houses, from all of which it borrows smuts and grime.
If you have not been so long a denizen of London as to have forgotten the absolute folly of being at all times and in all places prudent, you may enjoy on sunny days the completest pleasure, upon the whole, which is common man; and who shall say that is a small thing to look forward to?
You may sail boats if you be a boy, or fling sticks into the water for your dog if you be an adult, when you will enjoy the discomfiture of the casual passer-by, whom the genial beast splashes as he rids his coat of superfluous water.
But if you be wise, you will enjoy the new pleasure of feeling yourself no longer shut in by houses, and of looking out to a horizon which is a little further removed from you than the red-brick walls of the house across the way from the window of your suburban residence.
You will lie on your back and meditate - most wisely if it be on a subject no more troubling than that of the reason why the sky is blue - until you have had your fill of quiet.
Then you will wend your way back to the Swiss Cottage, and dine at a Piccadilly restaurant with all the pleasure he gets from a decent dinner who has been long in regions where they merely feed and do not dine at all.
The glittering lights and gaudy decorations which have a way of palling on you at ordinary times will have the attraction of things once familiar seen again after a long interval during which they have been missed.
Even the crowd of more or less noisy diners, and the publicity of the whole thing, will have a certain charm, and you will sip your coffee in a mood of contentment rarely achieved by men.
Perhaps you will be pleased to reflect in a mood of after-dinner benevelence upon the lovers, less shy than the London stars that watch them, who have now invaded the Heath, to wander in Arcady awhile until the last bus bears them home to the sleep that shall prepare them for the morrow's inevitable toil.
(Our illustrations are from photographs by H. R. Gibbs)