London’s mountain green
Hampstead is ‘the most nearly perfect example’ of a garden suburb, says Eleanor Doughty
SIX miles north of London’s Charing Cross lies a neighbourhood rarely spoken about. An idyll in the north of the city, with no Tube lines rattling underneath it, Hampstead Garden Suburb (HGS) has two areas of woodland: Big Wood and Little Wood, with designated nature reserves.
Garden suburbs, are, as Nikolaus Pevsner put it, the English ‘speciality’—hampstead, he said, is ‘the most nearly perfect example of that invention’. HGS was conceived by Henrietta Barnett, the wife of an East End cleric, in 1907, following the examples of Ealing’s Brentham and Chiswick’s Bedford Park in west London.
Barnett’s vision was an Arcadian alternative to the povertystricken housing of her husband’s parish; she set about building a neighbourhood at low density, with houses separated by hedges on wide, tree-lined streets. More than a century later, her vision has succeeded: a powerful residents’ association keeps the suburb in good order.
Mark Pollack, a resident of 20 years and an agent at Aston Chase (020–7724 4724), describes living in HGS as a ‘genu- ine privilege’. However, that doesn’t mean that HGS is a compound for the super rich: ‘Yes, there are some very highvalue properties in the area, but the beauty of it is that there’s a mix of cottages, apartments and houses.’
There are, naturally, pockets of extreme affluence. The Bishop’s Avenue in N2 is referred to as ‘billionaires’ row’ thanks to its large proportion of extravagant mansions. On it, developer Harrison Varma has built Buxmead, a selection of penthouses, duplexes and apartments with their own private swimming pool, spa facilities and gym. Prices start from £6.9 million. Otherwise, property values are ‘slightly underrated’, says Mr Pollack. ‘On average, a house in the suburb today goes for about £1,000 per square foot, but it can extend to £1,200–£1,500 for heathfacing properties.’
The open space on offer in the suburb is a major attraction for residents. Aside from Hampstead Heath itself, there’s the heath extension, Big Wood (18 acres) and Little Wood (three acres), plus Golders Hill Park just to the south. ‘You only need to look at an aerial map of the area to see that the amount of green space is disproportionate to the number of residences,’ Mr Pollack says. This element of garden-suburb living is so compelling that, ‘once you live in the area, it’s quite hard to move out again. It’s such a high quality of life’.
Hampstead is almost, but not entirely, unique in being a sliver Hampstead Garden Suburb is a secret slice of countryside in north London of the countryside in a big city. For its green space, Richmond, in south-west London, is almost a contender, with its own park, as well as Bushy Park. However, even if it were a garden suburb —and not technically a town— the congestion of Twickenham Road and air pollution from Heathrow airport rule it out as a countryside idyll.
Nowhere else in the country has the garden-suburb movement taken off so well as in north London. Oldham Garden Suburb in Greater Manchester, two miles south of Oldham town centre, was started by Mary Higgs, the wife of a Victorian minister and the first woman to study science at degree level (at what would later become Girton College, Cambridge), and, in 1909, was officially opened. Its residents’ association remains active, but the area is yet to achieve the fame of NW11 and N2.
Back in Hampstead, where the H2 bus winds its way in a leisurely loop from Golders Green station, the world is at peace. This is truly the country in the city.