Walk 1 ST. PANCRAS INTL. to WEST HAMPSTEAD THAMESLINK
2 1/4 hours
This walk connects in St. Pancras International with Thameslink walk 5. It will also connect there with Metropolitan line walk 1, Northern line walk 10, Picadilly line walk 1 and Victoria Underground line walk 3.
It will connect in Kentish Town with Northern Line walk 1.
Finally, it connects in West Hampstead Thameslink with walk 2. It will also connect there to London Overground walk 7 and to Jubilee line walks 1 and 2.
The time indication does not include visiting three attractions in Hampstead. You need just a few minutes for Burgh House and 30 to 45 minutes for the house in Willow Walk. To fully enjoy Fenton House, you need up to 2 hours plus any time spent listening to a concert. Note that Burgh House is closed on Saturdays.
The train line opened in 1868 when a major train company operating in the Midlands decided to open its own line into London considering that competitors where not willing to share their own tracks on acceptable terms. The company built both a terminal for long-distance trains and a tunnel junction to allow some trains to join the Metropolitan line. The present Thameslink station platforms are located on this tunnel.
Trains originally stopped at additional stations between St. Pancras and West Hampstead. The first station after St. Pancras terminal was called Camden Road and was located several hundred yards North of the present Camden Road station, which is on a completely separate train line. Camden Road was closed in 1916 because of staff shortages during World War I and was never reopened.
Trains then stopped at Kentish Town as they still do. They stopped later on at Haverstock Hill, close to the present underground station called Belsize Park. Haverstock Hill was also closed in 1916.
Finally, trains stopped at a station closed Finchley Road very close to the present underground station of this name. The station survived World War I and closed in 1927 due to competition from the Underground and proximity to West Hampstead.
ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL
The station is actually a large complex with four separate sections that can be easily identified looking at the buildings:
– The international station used by Eurostar trains, arriving in the site of the original main concourse
– The high-speed domestic station used by trains to Margate and Dover, arriving on new raised platforms on the East side of the station
– The traditional domestic long-distance station used by trains to Nottingham and Derby, arriving on old raised platforms on the West side of the station
– The underground station used by Thameslink trains and entered by gates in the middle of the station shopping mall
The best-known part of the complex is the imposing neo-gothic building on Euston Road. I intend to comment on it in the course of walk 5 as the Thameslink station entrance is at the other end of the complex.
The main line trains depart from platforms way above ground level because trains need to cross a canal shortly after leaving the station. Originally, the trains ended obviously in the main concourse close to Euston Road exits, but the layout had to be changed when the station was chosen as the Eurostar arrival point considering that Eurostar platforms are security and customs controlled. As a result, new platforms for domestic main line services were added. The building housing these new platforms is utterly utilitarian, actually little more than a glass and metal box, but it is still quite new and therefore still very clean and airy.
Originally, the train company had rented the space underneath the platforms for commercial storage, in particular to a major Midlands brewery. The whole space has been converted into a T-shaped concourse and a shopping mall. Goods on sale are somewhat different from other large stations because the shops cater also to people about to leave for Europe via Eurostar who may want to buy a variety of last-minute English goods rather than only sandwiches and books.
The Thameslink platforms are underground and the only hint visible at street level is therefore the row of turnstiles at the end of the shopping mall. There are only two platforms; I am willing to admit that they are comfortably wide but I still find them very gloomy, probably because there is no outside light at all.
One amusing thing in this station is that a number of the trains are built with carriages belonging to different companies (Southern and First Capital Connect). This is rare in London and the reason is that the Thameslink line is the only one crossing central London and therefore linking different networks.
Exit the station building on the East side underneath the platforms for the high speed trains to Margate / Dover.
L St Pancras Road
(Ahead) Camley Street
Detour R into Camley Street Natural Park
This is a small wildlife reserve that got established on former industrial premises when they were abandoned in the 1970s. Fortunately, the area seems to have been in public ownership so that the Council was able to give it in 1984 to a nature conservation charity, the London Wildlife Trust.
As the nature reserve is not a park despite being named a “natural park”, it is only open when the charity can get funding and staff. If the park is open, you should certainly detour into it. It is small but it affords an excellent view of St. Pancras canal lock and the park itself has been lovingly laid out with a very neat circular path around a marshy section. It is actually considered quite successful as it houses a number of unusual plants and birds.
Continue afterwards passing underneath the railway tracks.
Detour L up the steps into St Pancras Churchyard and to St Pancras Old Church.
According to fanciful legends spread by local enthusiasts in Victorian times, this is supposed to be the site of one of the oldest places of worship in England. The present “old church” (in order to distinguish it from a newer St Pancras church on Euston Road) is of Norman origin but was nearly completely rebuilt in the 19th century as the original church had been pretty much abandoned when local residents moved to Kentish Town due to problems with flooding and well quality.
You can have a look inside but the really interesting feature of the church is actually the very impressive and ornate gate on Pancras Road. Once you are at the gate, you can have a short look at the somewhat gloomy building on the opposite side of the road, Goldington Street Estate. It looks pretty much like an Art Déco estate from the 1930s but it is actually more interesting; it was built by the Borough in 1949 to replace a 19th century housing estate destroyed by world war II bombs. The late construction date is given away by the height as 1930s estates rarely go beyond 6 floors (lifts being still a luxury at the time). But the stairwells and particularly the protruding white lights over the entrances are purest Art Déco.
You can go back now into the churchyard. It was a bit special in the 19th century as it was one of not many churchyards accepting roman catholic burials. As a result, it was patronised by many immigrants such as composer Johann-Christian Bach. Most monuments have been transferred to a new cemetery opened in the 1870s in Finchley but you will certainly have noticed the very conspicuous monument to Sir John Soane with the canopy and the balustrade. The whole set is crowned with a pineapple, a popular design in antique art.
Soane was a leading architect in the 1820s and has left several extremely influential designs in the neo-classical style like Dulwich Picture Gallery but most of his buildings have been demolished later on. The grave is actually one of his own designs. The architect is also well remembered through his town house in London, now the Soane Museum.
One of the trustees of the museum in the 1920s was major architect Giles Gilbert Scott who was inspired by Soane’s monument when he designed a telephone box for the Post Office. His design was accepted and became the ubiquitous red box that the modern Post Office is forced to keep near touristic attractions because all foreigners keep asking for it although everyone uses mobile phones nowadays.
Actually, phone boxes have nearly disappeared on the Continent or are derelict, but I did notice while living in London that there is a surprising number of persons of modest means who use cash phones – I suppose they cannot afford either a line at home or a mobile phone. This would be anecdotal proof that income inequalities are higher in Britain and that real poverty does exist to a significant extent.
There is an other, more minor attraction in the churchyard. The so-called “Hardy tree” has grown roots over tombstones in a picturesque, slightly macabre way. The tombstones were obviously not laid in this haphazard manner originally and are actually a sort of rubbish dump set by workers when the churchyard was transferred in the 1870s. It was considered normal to transfer only the bodies and not the tombstones. The Hardy connection refers to poet Thomas Hardy who was originally an architect and had been tasked with transferring the churchyard in anticipation of the construction of the St. Pancras railway.
Go back to Camley Street and follow the street to the bridge crossing Regent’s Canal.
L down steps to the canal towpath.
This section of Regent’s Canal was opened in 1820. It was an essential link between the Docks and the Grand Union Canal towards the Midlands, bypassing the congested and winding section of the Thames through Central London. The canal was extremely busy until the 1920s, when coal began to be delivered by train and lorry rather than by boat. The private company who owned the canal managed to replace dwindling coal traffic through transportation of iron products for export as well as a large series of supplies for factories in the western suburbs of London. The canal was nationalised in 1948 but this also marks the start of the decline as the Docks began to move downstream.
The canal is now popular with joggers, cyclists and boating tourists. The concrete towpath also covers important electricity cables. You are not supposed to cycle on the towpath without a permit, but I have never heard of any cyclist bothering or being controlled. What I did notice is that cycling is slow and not easy unless you are ruthless in threatening pedestrians out of your way.
The towpath passes a colourful mural advertising a cellar bar. This is obviously connected to the whole area of Camden Town being a leading location for clubs nowadays although the present route only skirts the commercial and entertainment district.
Follow the towpath to the second bridge and climb then to
R Royal College Street
This “Royal College” is the Royal Veterinary College and is part of the University of London. It was opened in 1791 on a location judged to be at the time far enough from the city centre to minimise temptations to students. Considering what Camden Town has changed into as a hotbed of alternative lifestyles, I am sure the location does not fit now what the original founders planned.
You do not pass the college buildings, passing instead under the Overground railway tracks in front of Camden Road station. The small green space after the station, which I think is called College Gardens, looks rather dreary on my picture. It is nice to put a park bench in this garden but I am not sure the heavy traffic on the road is conducive to horticultural enjoyment.
Follow this main road as it merges into Kentish Town Road.
You pass former South Kentish Town Road tube station. This station was served by the Northern Line between Camden Town and Kentish Town and this explains the typical dark red glazed brick pattern of the façade. The station had a rather strange history. It opened in 1907 and everyone had been told it would be called Castle Road, but the name was changed at the last minute. The station was very little used due to the vicinity of several train stations. In 1924, a strike at the power station serving the Northern Line forced temporary closure of the line – but this proved a convenient excuse for the underground company and this specific station was never reopened. The platforms are still functional and can be used in case of emergency evacuation of the tunnel.
At the corner with Bartholomew Road, the brown church with white window surroundings is a Greek Orthodox Cathedral. There is an other cathedral of the same denomination in Camden because there were many immigrants from Cyprus (a British colony at the time) who settled in Camden. I am slightly surprised that you can have two cathedrals in the same part of town but I think bishop titles in the Orthodox church do not come with an exclusive territory in the manner they do in the Anglican or Roman Catholic church.
The building was originally a plain Anglican church until the 1960s. Orthodox churches are sometimes open to the public and have beautiful iconostasis paintings, but this church was closed when I was in the area.
The road leads to
The station opened in 1868 like the train line. It was an important station with a large depot because the trains switching to the Underground connection in St. Pancras needed to switch here to special locomotives.
In 1870, a junction opened in order to provide direct services from the City of London (via Moorgate terminal and the St. Pancras underground junction) to the new suburbs around Crouch Hill and later Tottenham. This junction closed in 1981.
A connection with a new London Underground line (now the Northern line) was opened in 1907 with a separate station building. When the train platforms were rebuilt in 1983, the original station building was demolished. All passengers enter now through the underground station building with its dark red glazed tiles typical of the Northern Line. On the road bridge itself, there is a large canopy over some modest seating, this may well have been salvaged from the platform awnings.
R Leighton Road
L Leverton Street
The street is very popular in the area for the villagey feeling given by the low pastel houses. They look rather small to me but still sell for about 700,000 £.
Ahead Lupton Street
A section of the street is pedestrianised in order to protect a school entrance. There are very nice railings both on the street and at the school gate itself.
L Raveley Street
Ahead Lady Somerset Road
R College Lane (a footpath)
This is a good example of a path that does not directly appear logical on a map as it is extremely close and parallel to a large road. As it ends near a church, I suppose it is an old parish path that cannot be closed because of rights of way. I found such paths extremely useful on my walks in London as walking along main roads is often boring and in any case terribly noisy.
Ahead Grove End
Ahead Grove Terrace
merges into Highgate Road
There is a very nice leafy atmosphere here. You clearly feel that you are nearing the posh suburbs of Highgate and Hampstead.
Pass the tennis courts, then
L cycle track into Parliament Hill Fields passing a school and an athletics track
The present route remains at the very bottom of Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath because I have kept crossing the heath at leisure for other routes. The heath was preserved as a green space because it was given in the 1150s by King Henry II to his butler Alexandre de Barentin (named after a village in Normandy). It was a common and could have been built over in the 19th century like most commons in the London area, but it was sold very slowly and this enabled public authorities to buy most of the heath unscathed in 1875.
Parliament Hill was long called Traitors’ Hill, probably because of gallows, and got its present name when Parliament troops camped here during the Civil War. It is now managed by the City of London for technical reasons (it is the richest borough in London as it has high tax income and few residents, so that it has been tasked with managing most of the large green spaces).
Ahead Nassington Road
Ahead along the railway to Hampstead Heath station
The station is part of the Overground network. I took a picture of a fruit stand and you will easily guess the period of the year if you notice the stash of pumpkins for sale.
R South End Road
Ahead and L Willow Road
House No. 2 Willow Road is not particularly pretty but is an interesting National Trust property. You have the choice between guided tours in the morning and visiting independently between 3 and 4:30 pm. As the rooms are small, guided tours can fill up quickly if you are unlucky and cannot be booked in advance.
The property is fun to visit as it was built in 1939 by outrageously modern architect Ernö Goldfinger for his family. The house is built in concrete but this is hidden behind bricks in order to avoid clashing with the area. The most striking feature from outside is the long first floor window. Goldfinger had studied in Paris in the 1920s and was friends with Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, other leading Modernist architects. Goldfinger specialised later in housing estates.
I took notes of what I found interesting inside: a circular central staircase, sliding doors between the rooms, furniture with simple, straight lines, a good collection of small paintings and sculptures as Goldfinger was friends with many artists living in Hampstead. All of this should not delay you by more than 45 minutes but is well worth it if you are a National Trust member. Otherwise, 6 £ is a bit high.
There are several magnificent houses in the lower part of Willow Road with huge front gardens. This explains possibly why Goldfinger had difficulties convincing the building permit officers that his design was acceptable.
Continue on Willow Road
Ahead and R New End Square
You pass on your right a large house with a comfortable front garden, Burgh House. It contains the local museum; most of it is used for temporary exhibitions but there are a few information panels about the history of Hampstead. Unfortunately, there are hardly any actual objects to look at and it feels nearly like looking at a (nice and informative) book in a library. The house is reasonably imposing from the outside but there is nothing of historical value inside.
The house itself has a distinguished history as it was built in 1704 at a time when a well in Hampstead became popular as a spa. It was used by a series of upper middle class families until it became a little worn out and was sold to the militia in 1858 to be used as barracks.
As Hampstead became ever more fashionable, the house was bought and renovated by an art expert who had the garden redone by celebrity designer Gertrude Jekyll (only the terrace remains from this period).The house was bought by the council in 1946 but dry rot was detected and Hampstead residents had lots of difficulties convincing the reluctant Council to foot the bill – they ended up getting the property lease as they were willing to pay 50,000 £ to repair the building in 1977.
L New End (a public footpath along cottages)
R Heath Street (the main road)
L Holly Bush passage (parallel to Heath Street)
Turn L at the end of the passage, then L again in
L Hampstead Grove
You will find a major attraction on the right side of the road, Fenton House. It is actually best approached through an access lane further downhill, but you can look at that when you leave the property as the entrance is on Hampstead Grove. This National Trust property is well worth the entrance fee even if you are not a member.
The decoration of the house is not particularly worthwhile, but there are some very nice pieces of furniture, a lovely (and not too big) collection of china, an exceptional collection of silk embroidery and a world-class collection of musical instruments, particularly clavichords. You can listen to a few pieces of music thanks to loudspeakers, but I was a little frustrated at all the other instruments that remain mute. If you are lucky (particularly on weekend afternoons), you might hear a gifted amateur play some of the instruments as this is allowed on reservation.
After visiting the house, you certainly should spend the time to walk around the lovely garden. Due to the hilly landscape, it has several levels of terraces. It was not customary to have flower beds in the 17th century when the house was built (you would just plant individual flowers in conspicuous places in order to wonder at how exotic they were and at how well connected the owner must be). Instead, there is a labyrinthine network of perfectly tended hedges and a lovely small orchard. In keeping with my love of gardens, you get a number of large pictures even if October was not the best period to enjoy flowers.
If you exit the house through the original lane to the South, you will exit the grounds through the nice cast iron gate on Holly Hill. Continue downhill to the crossroads near Hampstead tube station.
R Heath Street (not High Street)
R Church Row to the parish church
This is a very distinguished parish church as you can imagine in such an elegant part of London. The present building dates in part back to the 1720s but was extended several times in the 19th century among much controversy as there were many very opinionated parishioners from the construction, architecture or art trade. Unfortunately, the church is usually closed; this is a pity as a recent refurbishment gave it a pleasant pastel-coloured interior reminiscent of 18th century colours.
The churchyard is well worth a closer look as it contains the graves of a number of celebrities as well as some ornate and interesting monuments. The best known grave is that of painter John Constable who is duly mentioned in the museum at Burgh House as he lived in Hampstead.
Go down the staircase just outside the churchyard
The stairs merge into Frognal Way
This is a very unusual road for London as it is unpaved. There are two particularly interesting houses here, one of them with a plaque telling you about the actress who lived here. This house has an interesting central protrusion which is clearly inspired by Dutch canalside houses. The ugly antenna on the chimney is an unfortunate addition.
The other interesting house has an unusual design with triple windows in the palladian style combined with a nearly flat roof. I was unable to find details in Internet about the house.
Ahead Frognal Lane
L Alvanley Gardens along a green space
R Lymington Road
L West End Lane for
WEST HAMPSTEAD THAMESLINK
The station opened in 1871, a few years after the train line, as “West End for Kilburn and Hampstead”. This was much more conveniently shortened in 1903 to “West End”. This must have been confusing as it was extended again six months later (!) to “West End and Brondesbury”. One year later, it was changed again (!) to “West Hampstead”.
Unfortunately, this was confusing as there is an Underground station with the same name and the name was extended slightly to “West End Midland” in 1950. When the train companies were privatised, the new owner managed to change the name again to “West End Thameslink” in 1988 as the station is not served by the Midland company at all. I have not yet found an other train station in London to have had six different names.
Technically, there is no direct interchange with the Jubilee line or with Overground trains, but both stop in the immediate vicinity and it is easy to interchange using West End Lane for a few yards.
I don’t know when the original station building was demolished. As far as I can remember, there is no building now and even the platform shelters are very small.