HAMPSTEAD walk to BRENT CROSS
2 1/2 hours
The Underground line between Hampstead and Golders Green in 1907 and was extended to Brent Cross in 1923. It was integrated into what is now the Northern Line complex in the 1920s. The line was not a big success because there was much competition from cheaper private bus companies and it was bought by the Government in 1933.
Routing note: This walk connects in Hampstead with Northern line walk 6 and in Brent Cross with Northern line walk 8.
The station opened in 1907 on the new Underground lane. It has the deepest platforms of any London station at some 55 m below ground level.
The station building is one the many designs required from Leslie Green, the company architect, who was supposed to design no less than 50 stations within a few years. He therefore used a standard design with occasional variants. The scheme involves a steel frame housing the concourse, which made it cheap and quick to build, with outside walls covered in glazed terracotta. The colour (“ox blood”) was quite popular at that time and has the advantage that it did not look too dirty when covered in soot.
On exiting the station, cross High Street and take L Heath Street (following the small black signpost for Church Row)
In the late 19th century, Hampstead had turned into a rather fashionable suburb with professionals and artists. This motivated developers to build particularly imposing structures along the two main streets of the successful suburb. Many buildings have a core of red bricks with ornaments like cornices or window arches in grey stone, the signature style of commercial construction in late Victorian times. It was also a period when straight roof lines were seen as particularly dull and when you would add as many fancy gables, balconies and roof windows as possible.
R Church Row
This early Georgian street exemplifies how much taste had changed over 100 years between the 1800s and the 1900s. Georgian house fronts combine dull red bricks with just a glimpse of lighter shades around windows. You also avoided any conspicuous protrusion at roof level and the only decoration outside was the house door with a light above it and a modest set of neo-antique columns. Being brash and in your face like in the 1900s would have been the utmost of bad taste.
The road leads to the parish church. 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 lived in Hampstead but my pictures show other monuments because I found them more impressive, in particular the somewhat sinister cenotaph with the bones. If you like creepy stories, what about a vampire rising from this grave in a foggy night ?
R Holly Walk
The road leads past the small Roman Catholic chapel for Hampstead. When it was built in 1816, it was a rarity because the authorities very seldom allowed a new “popist” church. It had been allowed in Hampstead because there were quite a number of refugees from Napoleonic France. Most had returned to France by completion of the chapel though. You can see that it is only a chapel as it not a stand-alone building and it has no bells.
At the end R uphill Mount Vernon, the narrow street turns L staying at the top of the hill
You have an unusual view of Georgian houses here because you are higher than the main road. Looking at roofs in particular, you see how the original Georgian style was to make the roof invisible from the street. It was hidden behind the straight wall of bricks. Nowadays, many Georgian town houses have been extended with an additional flat under a steeped roof but this is often not visible from below.
Ahead Windmill Hill (a narrow road starting level and rising uphill later)
When the road crosses a larger road called Lower Terrace, you have reached a part of Hampstead that feels quite far out of London. Looking at the picture, you realise why parts of Hampstead have been so popular with rich people living stressful lives like leading artists.
When Windmill Hill ends, continue ahead across the first small open space keeping to the higher ground, then ahead into West Heath.
This part of Hampstead Heath is the wildest part as it is more difficult to reach by public means of transportation and also has few parking spaces. The informal paths are just paths, not wide tracks. A celebrity was questioned by police a few years ago in connection with activity on West Heath and press reports made people aware that this “remote” location is particularly popular at night with thrill-seeking homosexuals. Honestly, now that there are so many Internet sites you can use to find a like-minded soul, going into the Heath is clearly a case of thrill seeking.
If you keep the same direction, you will come to a well trodden track passing underneath the ruin on my picture
This ruin is the garden part of a major mansion, Inverforth House. The sprawling property was rebuilt around 1900 in a bombastic Edwardian style for a very rich businessman, one of the founders of the company we now know as Unilever. The mansion itself was converted to luxury flats in the 2000s. A formal garden extended between the mansion and a raised pergola, the structure you see on my picture. A pergola was an extremely popular item in an Edwardian park because it enabled ladies to walk around in the shade and preserve a very pale skin, a sign that they were distinguished persons that did not need to toil outside.
It is accessible to visitors but opening times are limited and the structure is apparently in a very bad shape despite renovation efforts having started. I am also under the impression that the pergola is only accessible by walking first to the mansion, which is not part of my route.
Before reaching the end of the ruin, the path forks. Take the left-hand fork.
After a while, you will see a brick wall on your right. The path forks again soon with the right fork rising slightly uphill along the wall. Take the left-hand fork again.
This track leads in a nearly straight line to a gate through the fence of Golders Hill Park.
I suggest you walk around the park in an anticlockwise manner (first R). This gives you a better chance to enjoy the views, the formal garden and the animal enclosures before reaching at the bottom of the park the lower pond and the corresponding exit.
The park is managed by the City of London and is technically an extension of Hampstead Heath. The City has high tax income compared to the other boroughs and is therefore tasked with managing a number of large green spaces in London. Golders Hill Park is one of the few formal parks managed within this scheme and is well worth a leisurely tour. Attractions include a deer enclosure and several sculptures.
There is also a reasonably large formal garden with colourful flower beds around a basin with a pretty sculpture of a child playing with fish. The planting scheme is mediterranean. As usual, I cannot resist the temptation to give you a number of pictures of the garden at different seasons.
Going downhill towards the lower pond, you will walk past the duck enclosure. The duck house was delightfully themed as a beach house complete with deck chair.
The lower pond is interesting for the planting, including a few Australasian fern trees. I was a little surprised to see them as they are very sensitive to frost. As you can see on some of the pictures, frost and a bit of snow definitely happen in this park.
Exit the park near the pond
R West Heath Road
L West Heath Avenue
R West Heath Drive
At the end of the road, you walk past a rather forbidding church. The website of the parish extends a strangely worded “massive welcome” but does not mention much about the building. It is a work from 1933 by major architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, better known in London for building the Battersea Power Plant. He had a very personal style mixing plain geometric shapes so popular in the 1930s with a strong sense of verticality. As a result, his designs are not conventionally beautiful but work well as landmarks.
In Golders Green, the massive tower over the altar dwarves the nave and the choir. It looks a little like a threatening fortress with crenellations and the Church of England would be uneasy about such a symbol if it had to chose a design nowadays. A dominant dome or tower above the altar was fashionable for major churches in the 1930s; there are particularly striking examples of this style in Brussels.
L North End Road (the main road)
Just before reaching the station forecourt, you might notice the sprawling structure known as the Hippodrome. Despite the name, it has no history of horse racing, it was a theatre built in 1913. The neo-classical front is rather bombastic and this makes sense in order to draw attention to the entertainment venue, but the colour scheme, plain ivory, is very unusual for Edwardian times. In the 1960s, the theatre had a short bout of fame for appearing as a prop in a controversial nudist film. It was later bought by an evangelical church, a frequent case for former theatres, but it is apparently being converted currently to an Islamic centre.
The Underground station is off North End Road at the back of the large bus station
The station was the terminal of the original Underground line when it opened in 1907. The line was extended towards Brent Cross in 1923. In both cases, the railway was opened in order to develop a rural area and not to serve existing suburbs.
The station building is a massive brick affair. There are some decorative elements (columns, cornices and arches) but they do not stand out because of the sheer size of the pile of red bricks. For a building from 1907, it is surprisingly lacking in ornamentation or colour contrasts.
Continue a little bit on North End Road beyond the large crossroads
The crossroads is graced with a central roundabout with a large clock on a massive concrete structure. It is a typical structure from the 1920s and is actually the war memorial for Golders Green as well as the public clock. Interestingly, the memorial committee had serious difficulties raising funds from the local community until they came upon the successful idea of staging a lavish evening at the Hippodrome theatre with artists appearing pro bono.
Soon R Golders Green Crescent
Shortly after crossing under the tracks
R Hoop Lane
Cross the main road following the sign for Golders Green Crematorium, you are still on Hoop Lane
The Crematorium is one of the finest cemeteries in London. It is a listed monument with many buildings built along the road between 1902 and 1939. Seen from the grounds inside, the architecture is really unusual for London and reminds a lot of cloisters in Italy. The square towers with squat roofs even remind of Roman watch towers. The style was probably chosen on purpose in order to convey a feeling of dignity but to avoid any reference to a religious background.
I do recommend that you take the time to walk around the grounds. The further you go from the main entrance, the nicer and the more romantic the park is. There is an absolutely lovely “Childrens Garden” with stone teddy bears on a bench.
There is also an elegant landscaped area around a pond that is supposedly a Japanese garden although I definitely think there are other gardens in London that are much closer to the original Japanese concepts.
The planting includes an interesting selection of camellias and azaleas, so that the park is at its best in early May.
Walking around, you might see the one or other interesting monument although they are less numerous in a crematorium than in a conventional burial ground. The picture shows “Into the Silent Land”, a 1905 work by Henry Alfred Pegram in a very good interpretation of the flowing shapes of Art Nouveau.
There are not many celebrities who have graves in the Crematorium but a specific category does have. People who feel estranged by the role of religion in society, in particular Communist Party leaders but also some Labour politicians, preferred to be cremated in Golders Green.
After touring the grounds of the Crematorium, continue along Hoop Lane
An unusually elaborate roundabout marks the entrance of Hampstead Garden Suburb.
You are here in the core of the Garden Suburb, easily identifiable as the low, elongated houses have gables in a country cottage style and are set off from the road by lush hedges rather than by fences or railings. A large tract of land was bought in 1906 by an education activist, Henrietta Barnett, and put in trust with strict bylaws approved by Parliament in order to create a kind of “ideal suburb”. It was not meant as a self-contained garden city unlike Letchworth or later Milton Keynes as there was strictly no ground planned for commercial or industrial activities.
An essential part of the scheme was that houses would be surrounded by greenery with roads being narrow and unsuited for through traffic. As you can see on my selection of pictures, it is definitely one of the most beautiful suburbs of London. Although Mrs Barnett had envisaged a mix of social classes, it is obvious that properties in this suburb are far from affordable for the common man nowadays. I did enjoy the mature bushes, lovely rhododendrons, well kept lawns etc.
At the top of the hill, you reach the core of the garden suburb with the school and the churches. As Mrs Barnett had a strong interest in education, particularly of girls of modest means who were badly served by the existing system in the 1900s, she founded the school as a state school reserved for girls. It is definitely one of the best schools in England in the public system and has often been ranked best overall. The buildings are suitably grand. Interestingly, they have a heavy tinge of neo-clacissism and remind a little of American public buildings or Georgian mansions.
There are three churches at the top of the hill, an interesting situation as it was not typical to have any other church standing on an equal footing with the Anglican parish church. The parish church is that with the pointy steeple, St Jude’s. From the side, it has strangely deep roofs extending all the way to the ground. From the front, it is more traditional and reminds of early 18th century churches. Although it is a work by star architect Lutyens, it does not remind of his usual, very bulky designs in concrete.
The church is normally closed except for services and occasional concerts. You see clearly on my picture that the church tower has no bells. This was a specific provision by Mrs Barnett who did not want denominations to compete with bells and disturb the peace of the suburb.
The other main church is the “Free Church”. It is also a work by Lutyens who obviously took great care that the two churches would be as different as possible. The Free Church is closed as well outside of services; according to pictures, it reminds of late 17th century churches such as those built in the City of London after the fire of 1666. The outside appearance is quite massive and actually somewhat similar to St Alban’s in Golders Green.
The third church is the Quaker Meeting House, awarded an unusually prominent location for a faith keen on avoiding any sense of pride and bombast. The building itself is suitably modest, a little like a cottage with a nice little front garden.
Walk past the two churches and the open spaces around them. Behind the second church, take Erskine Hill
L Temple Fortune Hill
R Hampstead Way, soon turns L
The road ends on the main road between solid, tall buildings that come as something of a surprise after the atmosphere of the garden suburb. They were meant from the onset in 1911 as the commercial core of the area serving the garden suburb behind. Technically, they are considered to be rather part of an area called Temple Fortune. I was intrigued by the name for years as it reminded me a little of Chinese “fortune cookies” but it is actually an ancient name that means “suburb of the Templar Knights” (“tune” in Fortune is similar to the Gaelic word “dun” for a settlement).
I have been wondering why the two “service buildings” for the garden suburb have three levers rather than the one or two levels commonly seen in shopping streets in suburbs. I think this is because Mrs Barnett wished to provide office rooms for professionals such as lawyers and doctors in the vicinity of the suburb.
Cross the main road into Bridge Lane and follow the road over a longer distance
L Cranbourne Gardens
R Park Way
Ahead into Princes Park, exit the park between the tennis courts on Oakfields Road
The park is a small neighbourhood park but is an important respite from the lengthy rows of suburban houses in the area. I don’t remember any remarkable features like statues or flower beds but I enjoyed the mature trees.
R Oakfields Road
At the end R Leeside Crescent
L Princes Park Avenue
L Golders Green Road
You get a picture of a pub located on this road because I found the wall colour quite peculiar. Mint green at its best. What is more interesting is the elaborate trompe-l’œil landscape that is supposed to put patrons in the peaceful atmosphere of a boating pond in the home counties -rather than a mini-terrace along a main road.
R Highfield Avenue
The station opened together with the line extension in 1923 and was originally called plain Brent after the local river. The name was changed in 1972 on request by the shopping centre that was being built nearby and that hoped to attract more clients in this manner. There are few other occurrences of a train or Underground station being renamed after a massive shopping centre is built nearby but it does happen, e.g. with “Stone Crossing for Bluewater”.
The building is a modest pavilion hiding behind a very impressive neo-classical colonnade. The company architect, Stanley Heaps, had been the assistant of Leslie Green and his designs in central London stations are in the tradition of his mentor. He chose an other style for Brent Cross, wanting to stress the suburban character by building a portico supposedly reminiscent of a sports enclosure. I personally think the colonnade looks very urban and formal. This being said, it is a seriously nice design.