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Walking in Lockdown

Belsize Square to St John-at-Hampstead circular walk

Route: Start in Belsize Square; walk via Belsize Crescent onto Fitzjohn’s Avenue and then to Church Row. Visit the Churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead and the Additional Burial Ground. Walk down Frognal back into Belsize Park. Keep a lookout for the following features.

Trees in Belsize Square

Autumn in Belsize gives us the opportunity to look at the changing trees. In Belsize Square, there are two juvenile Malus Rudolph trees (Crab Apples) which currently display yellowing leaves and red fruit which are easily seen from the pavement. You may have spotted their beautiful pink flowers in spring. They are deciduous and part of the Rosaceae family. You will also see juvenile Sweet Gum trees (Liquidambar Styraciflua; family: Hamamelidaceae) with stunning maple-like leaves in different shades of red. They too are deciduous.

A walk up the hill

Now walk through the Village (noting the Ginkgo tree). Stretch your legs by walking uphill via Belsize Crescent and Akenside Road onto Fitzjohn’s Avenue and to Church Row Hampstead. Go into the Churchyard.

Malus Rudolph


Liquidambar Styraciflua

St John-at-Hampstead Churchyard

Follow the path around the Church to the memorial to John “Longitude” Harrison (1693-1776). The fascinating text on the memorial says that, as a young man, Harrison learned to clean and repair clocks and made a few clocks from wood. He went on to become the inventor of the Gridiron Pendulum and discovered a method for preventing the effect of temperature on clocks by using two bars of different metals fixed together. He introduced the secondary spring to keep clocks going while winding up. In 1735, his “first Time keeper” was sent to Lisbon. In 1764 his “much Improved fourth Time keeper” having been sent to Barbados, the Commissioners of Longitude “certified that it had determined the Longitude within one Third of Half a Degree of a great Circle, having erred not more than 40 Seconds in Time”. In March 2006, HRH Philip, Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a memorial stone for Harrison in Westminster Abbey. This is located near the graves of George Graham and Thomas Tompion, famous clockmakers, in the centre part of the nave.

You can also take the opportunity to see the gravestone of artist John Constable and his family, which is lower down the Churchyard.

Additional Burial Ground

Cross over to the Additional Burial Ground and walk uphill to the back corner. Here you will see a memorial to local artist Randolph Schwabe (1885-1948) who was Slade Professor of Fine Art at University College London from 1930. When the lockdown ends, you can learn more about Schwabe by visiting Burgh House whose exhibition “A Nest of Gentle Artists. Randolph Schwabe and his Hampstead Contemporaries” will run until 7 March 2021. See the back page of this Newsletter for details.

The memorial to Schwabe, which covers his ashes, is a statue of an angel by the sculptor Alan Durst (1883-1970). A member of the London Group of Artists, Durst contributed work to (among other places) cathedrals around the United Kingdom.

A wooden columbarium

Near the statue is the grade 2 listed columbarium, which was built of wood in 1940 to cater for the new demand for memorial tablets. There are very many tablets attached to the wood, of different styles and from different decades. You can read about the columbarium on the nearby metal plaque.

Walking down Frognal

Walk back to Belsize Park by dropping downhill on Frognal. Among the plaques to famous residents is one erected in memory of illustrator Kate Greenaway at 39 Frognal. The artist died here in 1901. The house was designed for her by architect Norman Shaw. English Heritage describes the house as an asymmetrical, tile-hung, gabled design reflecting the popular Arts and Crafts movement of the time.  English Heritage’s website also tells the following story: “While living and working there, Greenaway was often visited by the artist John Ruskin, whom she had become close friends with. They had been introduced in 1880 and Ruskin had swiftly adopted Greenaway as one of his circle of female art protégées. Their correspondence continued for some 20 years, though much of it was left up to Greenaway. Ruskin even refused to write the address ‘Frognal’, remarking – ‘It might as well be Dognal-Hognal-Lognal – I won’t’ – and Greenaway was forced to keep him supplied with envelopes she addressed to herself for their correspondence” (see

A Prime Minister and the founder of psychoanalysis

From Frognal, cut back to the centre of Belsize Park via Maresfield Gardens, looking out for the plaque where Herbert Asquith lived at No 27 and plaques commemorating Sigmund and his daughter Anna at the Freuds’ home at No 20. The Freud Museum which now occupies the house is currently closed due to the lockdown, but you can keep an eye on to find out about future opening plans. The statue of Sigmund Freud at the end of Belsize Lane is a further reminder of the refugees who settled in the area after fleeing Nazi Germany, and of the long association of Belsize Park and Swiss Cottage with psychoanalysis. Walk back into the Village and then to St Peter’s Church in Belsize Square to complete the circle.

A Celebration of Robert Stephenson

Peter Darley of the Camden Railway Heritage Trail introduces us to local industrial heritage.

There had never been a project approaching the size and complexity of the London & Birmingham Railway (L&BR), the first railway authorised to extend into London as far as the New Road (now the Euston Road) for passenger services. Yet Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) was appointed engineer-in-chief for the whole line in September 1833, when not yet thirty.
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New Book about Belsize: The Harlots of Haverstock Hill 

The drama series “Harlots” features Georgian London’s most valuable commercial activity – sex. Series one and two will be aired back to back on BBC Two from August. Significantly, Belsize had its own Harlots in the 18th century, and this fascinating story is told in the new book by David S Percy, The Harlots of Haverstock Hill.

The Harlots of Haverstock Hill is an account of the remarkable life of “Moll” King, an 18th century madam or brothel-keeper, an ambitious and opportunistic woman who rose from humble beginnings in the streets of London to become one of the first settlers in  Belsize Park. Moll became a wealthy landowner with several properties on Haverstock Hill in the days when there were no more than a handful of houses along this country road to Hampstead. Her legacy remains there to this day.

Bold and opportunistic, Moll King was a woman who mixed with harlots, courtesans and lords of the land, who was painted by Hogarth and defied the norms and restrictions of the day to pursue wealth and success on her own terms. This account of her life, written in part in the first person as she might have recorded it, includes new information and facts which have never before come to light regarding what happened to Moll King’s Belsize houses – especially her villa.

“Moll” King and her Belsize Houses by David S Percy, with a foreword by Dan Cruickshank, will be out on 1 September and available in all Daunt bookshops plus Waterstones, Hampstead, £10.99.

Belsize Park air quality survey – the results are in

Teresa Poole, BelSoc Committee Member who oversaw the pollution monitoring project, writes:

Results from the community air quality monitoring study in Belsize Park / Swiss Cottage show three of our 10 locations breached the annual legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and several other sites experienced high levels during winter months.

(The survey was funded by the Community Infrastructure Levy and Belsize Society was supported by Camden Council’s Air Quality Officers, to whom we owe our thanks. The coronavirus lockdown meant we could not hold the planned public meeting with Camden’s officers to discuss the survey results so instead Tom Parkes, Senior Air Quality Officer, kindly responded to questions submitted by the volunteers and you can find responses here. ) Continue reading

Essay: The Broader Perspective

We asked writer and philosopher Alain de Botton for something to inspire us in these difficult and unusual times.

At some point in the 1650s, the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal jotted down one of the most counterintuitive aphorisms of all time: ‘The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he cannot stay quietly in his room.’

Really? Surely having to stay quietly in one’s room must be the beginning of a particularly evolved kind of psychological torture? What could be more opposed to the human spirit than to have to inhabit four walls when, potentially, there would be a whole planet to explore?

And yet Pascal’s idea usefully challenges one of our most cherished beliefs: that we must always go to new places in order to feel and discover new and worthwhile things. What if, in fact, there were already a treasury inside us? What if we had within our own brains already accumulated a sufficient number of awe-inspiring, calming and interesting experiences to last us ten lifetimes? What if our real problem was not so much that we are not allowed to go anywhere – but that we don’t how to make the most of what is already to hand? Continue reading

Belsize poetry

We asked Belsize poet Robert Ilson for some reflective words in the age of lockdown. Here is what he sent us (originally published in Ham & High in April).

At Liberty

If you step into the World today
Remember to use your eyes
To grasp the myriad shapes and hues
Of earth and trees and skies
And should you in a thoroughfare
See someone smile at you
Recall that to return a smile
Is perfectly legal too
And when your path brings you back home
Your freshened memory
Will keep you in good spirits till
We’re all at liberty!