The Heath History (2) - HAMPSTEAD HEATH - 2016***

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The Heath History (2)

Hampstead ponds began as a string of reservoirs of the Hampstead Water Co., which was established to supply London in 1692.

They were made by damming Hampstead brook, one of the sources of the Fleet, just as Highgate ponds were made from a more easterly source in St. Pancras.

There were two ponds on Lower Heath by
1703 (fn. 85) and in 1745, three by 1786, and four by 1810.

The New River Co.'s rights in the smallest and southernmost one, whose drainage was sought by the residents of South Hill Park, were acquired in
1892 by the L.C.C., which filled it in, to provide a grassy approach to The Heath from the nearby railway station.

The Vale of Health Pond was dammed when the supply system was extended in 1777.

The Leg of Mutton Pond on West Heath was probably dammed as part of a plan, reported in
1816, to employ the poor.

The nearby Sandy Road was sometimes known as Hankins's folly, after further relief work was carried out under Thomas Hankins, surveyor of the highways 1823- 4.
The pond was marked simply as a reservoir in 1891, although already known by its modern name.

The Viaduct pond, crossed by a viaduct begun in
1844 and finished in 1847, was on Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson's freehold and created as part of his abortive preparations to build there.

Whitestone pond was originally a small dew pond, called the horse pond and later after a milestone.

In 1875 it was enlarged and lined by the vestry and by 1890 artificially supplied with water.

Some small ponds on the edge of The Heath near the town disappeared after the building of the covered reservoir near Whitestone pond in
Branch Hill pond was filled in c.

Fine sand, not found farther east at Highgate, was estimated in
1813 to cover Hampstead Heath to an average depth of 10 ft.

Digging and quarrying were carried on from the Middle Ages.

A pilgrim's flask was found in the bed of a sandpit at Holly Hill,  in 1597 a gravel pit lay near the beacon,  and in 1680 there was a sandpit at Branch Hill.

The lord sold large quantities of sand and gravel to the Islington turnpike trustees in the early
18th century.

One, Anderson, had leave to dig loam and sand on The Heath in
1787 but the conditions in the lease were not kept: the steward threatened prosecution in 1806 and the copyholders who had prompted him to do so recorded that pits begun by the late Alexander Anderson had not been filled up and that David Anderson ought to make smooth and sow a slope near 'the second pond'.

They pointed out that payments to the lord for digging would be small in comparison with a fall in the value of the copyholds, since the pits were dangerous and 'the whole face of The Heath is become so mutilated that the prospect of beauty is nearly destroyed'.

Not all depredations could be blamed on the lord.

There were presentations for unauthorized digging in
1773 and a suit for trespass was brought by Sir Thomas Wilson in 1781 against Lady Riddell, who claimed a tenant's immemorial right to dig for the improvement of a copyhold.

Further actions in 1801 and 1802 led to a judgement in 1806 that the taking of turves, while it might be a custom, would be unreasonable if it tended towards the destruction of the common.

The sand was of a quality to be used by both builders and iron founders.
Digging continued, bringing the lord payments on 20 cart loads a day
c. 1811 and on 7 or 8 loads in 1813. Its effects at Branch Hill pond on the edge of West Heath were depicted by Constable in 1821.

On Sandy Heath they were so marked that Spaniard's Road was described as a lofty causeway in
1823, although The Heath still rose in places on either side, as it no longer did in 1856.

Old workings were not necessarily eyesores: the mixture of vegetation with patches of bright red and yellow sand was admired in 1823, picnickers enjoyed the ridges and hollows.

Dickens thought that a few made an improvement, and later they were often seen as picturesque.

The most thorough excavations, an episode in the struggle to preserve Hampstead Heath, followed the sale by Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson of ¼ a. of sand and ballast in strips along Spaniard's Road to the Midland Railway Co. in 1866-7.
The company, which could not obtain materials from farther afield until it had completed its tunnels, paid a stiff price and in places delved 25 ft. deep.

Exploitation ceased when The Heath became public property, until in 1939 large pits were dug near the Vale of Health and on Sandy Heath for the filling of sandbags.

The new pits were filled with rubble at the end of the war and their sites thereafter marked only by a different flora.

The Heath was of value not only for its natural resources but from its mere situation, as a commanding height near London.

It was the site of a beacon, erected as part of an early warning system by 1576, and later was used both for military manoeuvres and firing practice. The county elections were held there from 1681 to 1701 and in 1836.

It was also associated with highwaymen, from the late 17th until the
early 19th century, and long remembered for having been chosen for the exemplary display of the body of Francis Jackson, who was hanged in 1674.

The  gibbet probably stood at the top of the hill leading down to North End Way, although the 'gibbet elms' depicted in the 19th century were farther down the slope.

The famous highwayman Francis Jackson was hanged in 1674…his body was exhibited on the left of the road from Jack Straw's Castle to North End.

The gibbet stood between two trees, the Gibbet Elms, one of which survived until 1907, when it was blown down in a gale, and the district was known for many years as Gibbet Hill

A healthy situation and fine outlook were appreciated earlier than the heath's own scenery.

1709 one of the assets of the newly fashionable spa was 'a fine heath to ride out and take the air on' and in the 1720s Defoe praised the air, although too rarefied, and prospects in fine weather.

1734 the ground's rapid drying out made it a pleasant place for walks and later the views were often illustrated and praised.

The Heath's interest, however, was still seen to lie in its composition and resources rather than its scenic beauty by Hampstead's first historian, J. J. Park, in 1813.

The Heath and, by association, much of its neighbourhood, appeared in a more romantic light from the
early 19th century.

Some of the appreciative language, as in the protests against digging in
1806, expressed little more than the copyholders' concern for agreeable surroundings and assured property values.

The more romantic view was soon pioneered by Leigh Hunt, who arrived in 1812 and wrote the first of his five sonnets To Hampstead, invoking its 'sweet upland', while in prison in 1813.

The Heath itself was a major, although not the only, local source of Hunt's inspiration.
Shortly after his release he settled in
1816 at the Vale of Health, where Shelley, who particularly admired the sunsets, Keats, and Byron were among his visitors.

The poets were soon followed by painters, notably Constable, who probably knew Hampstead from c. 1812 and stayed first near Whitestone pond in 1819, John Linnell from 1822, and William Collins from 1823.

A newspaper attack on the plan of 1816 for poor relief, as the work of 'tasteless improvers', celebrated the heath's artistic appeal; it praised not only the panorama but the 'bold inequalities' of the foreground, claiming that, like Shakespeare and Newton, it was the property of Europe.
Constable, whose first, serene, views were probably done before
1819, came to occupy a succession of second homes in Hampstead.

He soon found his main inspiration in The Heath's openness to the elements.

He studied the sky, whose moods the land merely reflected, and in
1829 included a sandpit on East Heath among four mezzotints of his works engraved by David Lucas, an experiment which led to the reproduction of other views in 1830-1 and later.

The Heath thus became, in literary and artistic circles, a recognized beauty spot.

Its attractions can only have been enhanced by the growing contrast between its breezy heights and the grime of London, as recalled in
1835 by Wordsworth.

More important, for the future of The Heath, was its popularity with day trippers.

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