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Description and History from 1868 Gazetteer

HAMPSTEAD, a parish and suburban district of London, in the Holborn division of the hundred of Ossulstone, county Middlesex, 6 miles N.W. of St. Paul's Cathedral. It has a station on the Kew section of the North London railway. Previous to 1598, it formed a hamlet in the parish of Hendon; but is of considerable extent, taking in the greater part of the populous districts of Hampstead Town, West End, North End, Haverstock Hill, Chalcote, Belsize Park, Downshire Rill, Primrose Hill, the Vale of Health, Kilburn, and St. John's Wood, together containing a population of near 20,000.

It was given by the Saxon king Ethelred to Westminster Abbey, and is mentioned in Domesday Survey as Hamestede, at which time the priors of Westminster had a seat at Belsize. After the Reformation the manor was given by Edward VI. to the Wroths, from whom it came to the Campdens, and now belongs to the Wilsons of Charlton. It is a fine, healthy spot, the highest part of the heath being 400 feet above the sea-level, and commanding a panoramic view of London to the S. From a mound in the garden of the "Spaniards" inn, many distant objects may be clearly discerned, as Hanslop Steeple, in Northamptonshire, Langdon Hill, in Essex, Banstead Downs, in Surrey, Shooter's Hill, in Kent, Red Hill, in Buckinghamshire, and Windsor Castle, in Berkshire. The town of Hampstead stands on the southern acclivity of the hill, on the summit of which is the extensive heath, of 260 acres, much frequented by visitors from London, and divided into the Upper and Lower Heath, the Vale of Health, and other subdivisions. The principal streets are the High-street and Heath-street. Pope, Gay, Johnson, Akenside, Arbuthnot, Coleridge, Liston, and Moore used to frequent this spot, and at the "Upper Flask," noticed by Richardson in his "Clarissa," and then kept by Christopher Kat, the "Kit-cat Club," attended by Steele, Addison, and other eminent literary characters, used to meet. It was also at this house that George Steevens, the commentator on Shakspeare, died. On the left hand side of the entrance into Hampstead from London is a house built in 1571, where Sir Henry Vane dwelt, one of the judges of Charles I., and in which, after the restoration of Charles II., he was arrested. Here, too, resided Dr. J. Butler, Bishop of Durham, author of the "Analogy of Religion." At Rosslyn House dwelt Lord Loughborough; at the Chicken House, where James I. once slept, Lord Mansfield; and at a house close to the "Spaniards," Lord Erskine. On Haverstock Hill, 1 mile nearer London, is the cottage of Sir, Charles Sedley, afterwards occupied by Sir Richard Steele. The greater part of Hampstead is lighted with gas and paved; but there are still many pleasant country walks in and around the village, as Poet's lane, Hendon lane, Highgate lane, under Caen, or Kenwood, the seat of the present Earl of Mansfield, and the fields across to Primrose Hill, under which is a tunnel of 1120 yards, for the London and North-Western railway. Belsize and Rosslyn Parks are now being built over, and application has several times been made to Parliament by Sir Thomas Wilson for permission to build upon his lands adjoining the heath, but has hitherto been refused. Until recently many rare plants grew upon the heath, which previous to 1701 was the place of election for the county members. The town of Hampstead is still a polling-place for the county elections, and head of a superintendent registry district formed out of Edmonton in 1848. Petty sessions are held here, and courts leet and baron. On the Monday before Whitsuntide also a general court-baron, and customary court about six weeks after Christmas. The union poorhouse is situated in the town, as also the Soldiers' Daughters', Home, founded in 1855, the East Middlesex Militia depot and barracks, recently erected after designs by H. Pownall, a dispensary, model lodging-houses, new orphan asylum, savings-bank, police station of the S. division of the metropolitan police, literary and scientific institution, with a library of 3,000 volumes; also the Sailors' Orphan Home for girls, situated in Frognal, the Working Orphan Asylum, and Tailors' Almshouses, at Haverstock Hill, besides an artists' conversazione. On, the eastern slope of the hill are the Hampstead pond, in which the Fleet takes its rise. From these ponds the inhabitants of Kentish Town and part of Hampstead were supplied with water until recently; but they are now superseded by the New River Company, which has a reservoir on the heath and another at Highgate. On the N. side of the hill are several springs falling into the Brent, and in Well Walk is the once celebrated chalybeate spring, containing oxide of iron, muriates of soda and magnesia, sulphate of lime, and a small portion of silex. The mean temperature of the water at the well is 46 to 47 Fahrenheit. The living is a perpetual curacy* in the diocese of London, value 887. The parish church, dedicated to St. John, was rebuilt in 1745, and enlarged in 1844, at a cost of 3,000. It is capable of accommodating 1,600 persons, and contains tombs of Lady Erekine by Bacon, Lord Delamere, Andrews the historian, &c. The register dates from 1560. A new district church called Christ Church was built in 1852, the living of which is a perpetual curacy* in the patronage of trustees. There are besides district churches at Haverstock Hill, the Avenue-road, Belsize, Kilburn, &c. The parochial charities produce between 400 and 500 per annum, partly devoted to educational purposes, and partly to the relief of the poor. The Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and other Dissenting bodies have chapels. There are National, industrial, and infant schools, .belonging to the several districts, besides denominational schools. There are traces of the Roman road Watling Street; and in 1774, sepulchral urns, vases, earthenware lamps, and other antiquities were dug up in Well Walk. Sir Thomas M. Wilson, Bart., is lord of the manor.

[Description(s) from "The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland" (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson 2003]
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[Last updated on 9 Oct 2003 by David Hawgood. 2003]