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hampstead History

Hampstead History The village-like character of Hampstead is today sought after for its leafy lanes and upmarket quality, but for years it has been a favourite haunt for Londonites looking to get away from city life.

For centuries wealthy city dwellers have made the most of the fields and open countryside in or around Hampstead for sport and leisure pursuits. In the 17th century it was hunting and today it’s to play Frisbee, sunbathe and generally have fun on the open spaces of Hampstead Heath.

However Hampstead’s history dates back much further than the 17th century…

Around 25 years ago local archaeologists discovered evidence of the area’s first inhabitants. Their investigations showed that a Mesolithic settlement stood in what we now call Hampstead dating back to 7000 B.C.

Records of Hampstead’s history though, only date back to 986 A.D. when King Ethelred the Unready gave the areas of Hampstead and Hendon to the monastery of St. Peter’s at Westminster for farming purposes.

Although the land changed hands, it continued to be used for rural purposes until Henry VIII embarked on his dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. When this happened, the land of Hampstead was sold off by the Crown to private buyers.

During the 17th century, villages began to grow around London and Hampstead was one of them. It tried to establish itself as ‘Hampstead Wells’- spa village, but this did not last long due to the competition at the time. Although the area was becoming more popular, pushing the countryside further away from the city dwellers, the countryside was still not too far away for people to venture to Hampstead to hunt.

As the city began to expand in Victorian times, rich merchants built country houses out in Hampstead for its reputation as a healthy and attractive place to stay. However it was not until the 19th century that both London and Hampstead became so built up that they merged - this was in part due to the influx of Irish settlers arriving to escape the potato famine. The merger meant huge expansion for Hampstead and saw the population double in the twenty years following 1871.

The 20th century brought the railways to Hampstead with the station being opened in 1907 by Lloyd George. But the 1900s also brought two world wars which affected the whole of England.

Hampstead repaired the damage and then went on to develop the area building Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage Library as well as bars and restaurants.

As you can see, Hampstead’s past still influences the way Londoners and other visitors still regard this part of London.


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