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Well Walk - centre of the spa village of Hampstead. John Constable lived just over the road.

The groundwaters of the upper Fleet amass beneath the steep slopes to the west of Hampstead Heath, once bursting to the surface via springs and the Chalybeate Well.

The Chalybeate Well at Well Walk in Hampstead contains water with high iron content. In the mid 17th Century when the well was discovered, such water was considered good for the health. The powers that be decreed that the waters should be used to benefit the poor of the parish of Hampstead.

An eighteenth century version of a mini entertainment’s emporium sprung up around the well, featuring a long room and ballroom. Whilst the success of the entertainments waned by the end of the eighteenth century, they had done enough to establish Hampstead as a salubrious and desired location.

Well Walk is the most celebrated spot in Hampstead, for here flow the famous chalybeate waters, which rivalled those of Bath and Tunbridge Wells, and in their best days drew an amazing army of gay people to the spot.

The earliest mention of the spring is in the time of Charles II., when a halfpenny token with the words "Dorothy Rippin at the well in Hampsted" on the obverse was issued. In 1698 Susanna Noel with her son Baptist, third Earl of Gainsborough, gave the well, encompassed by six acres of ground, to the poor of Hampstead.

It was in the beginning of the eighteenth century that the waters first became famous. Howitt says they were carried fresh every day for sale to Holborn Bars, Charing Cross, and other central spots; but their palmy days did not last very long, for in 1734 there was an attempt to revive interest in them by a laudatory pamphlet.

However, while they were at the height of their popularity many persons whose names are well known were attracted by them.

It was at the Long Room, Hampstead, that Fanny Burney (afterwards Madame D'Arblay) came to stay, and here she made her heroine Evelina attend balls. Her book gained her such a circle of admirers that it is said her second work was expected as eagerly as a novel from Scott.

The chief building was the Pump Room, on the south side of the street, near where the entrance to Gainsborough Gardens now is. The first recorded entertainment here was on August 18, 1701, when a concert was given.

Concerts and entertainments of various kinds were kept up during the season.

There was also a bowling-green nearby.

This house dated from about the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1733 it was converted into an episcopal chapel, and was so used until 1849.

There was another chapel called Sion Chapel in the vicinity, though its exact situation is unknown; here couples could be married for five shillings, provided they brought with them a license.

The license was not always insisted on.

The Pump Room was later used as a guard-room of the West Middlesex Volunteers, and was pulled down in 1880 to make way for the road above mentioned.

It was then discovered by the intervening wall that the adjacent house was of still older date, and it is thus proved to be one of the oldest remaining in Hampstead. It has a graceful spindle porch and delightful old-world air, though the side adjoining Gainsborough Gardens has been refaced.

Just opposite is a solid drinking fountain of polished granite, with inscription to the effect that it is in memory of Susanna Noel's gift, and here the chalybeate waters may still be tasted.

One or two old houses are on the northern side of the Walk, and one of these, a long, low, red-brick edifice called Weatherhall House, deserves special notice.

It contained the Long Room where dances and assemblies were held, and even after the fame of the waters declined it still held its place. Perhaps this is the room referred to by Seymour as having been built in 1735. He describes it as "60 feet long and 30 feet wide, well adorned with chandeliers.

The manner of being admitted into it is by a ticket, of which every gentleman who subscribes a guinea for the season has one for himself and two more for two ladies; all those who have not subscribers' tickets pay 2s. 6d. each at the entrance every night.

And Sunday nights in the same room is an assembly where the gentlemen and ladies who lodge in the town are entertained with tea and coffee at sixpence per head, but no other amusements are allowed on these nights."

Here Mrs. Johnson came, and Mark Akenside, poet and physician of the eighteenth century; Dr. Arbuthnot, friend of Swift, a man ranked high among the wits of his day, and holding the appointment of physician to Queen Anne; Fanny Burney, and many others. The house is now a private residence.

Vintage pictures of Well Walk and Chalybeate Well
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