I wanted to do a walk that was as random as possible from the nearest (what I considered) historic point of interest to where I live. The fact that I decided that the walk should be random meant that it was in fact not random at all (one for the Philosophy module I think), however to add some unpredictability to it, I decided that once this historical point of interest was reached I would continue thus: first left, second right, first left, second right etcetera for two hours. T-junctions, cul-de-sacs, crescents and blind alleyways would be dealt with such that the next available turn (within the parameters set) would be taken. No map would be followed. Any points of interest would be noted.
The Walk Proper
The walk took place on Sunday 23rd October 2016 at 11:37. The starting point was Kington House on the Mortimer Estate, North West London. Upon this block is our first historical point of interest, which is a green plaque dedicated to George Orwell.
The block upon which it is placed looks like this:
The house adjacent to this block looks like this:
Thus it could be speculated that the house George Orwell lived in looked similar. Orwell and his wife Eileen moved here in mid-1942. Orwell was writing for the Observer at the time while Eileen was working for the Ministry of Food. The flat was larger than the one they had been use to covering both the basement and ground floor ‘in an area comprising the kind of lower-middle-class ambience that Orwell thought was London at its best’. (Crick, 1982, pp. 432–433)
Incidentally the Mortimer estate was built after the second world war by eminent post-war architect Sir Robert Matthew OBE from 1951-1954. Whose work included the Royal Festival Hall on London’s south bank development. (Brent and Kilburn Times, 20/08/2015, Front page). Prior to the estate’s construction the area was heavily bombed as be seen on the following map. (http://www.bombsight.org/bombs/31855/)
The next historical point of interest is the road called Kilburn Priory. As the name implies there use to be a priory in this area. Details regarding this are scant. What I managed to find out was that the priory was the first known building in Kilburn and was established as a small Benedictine nunnery in 1134. It use to stand near the junction of today’s Belsize road and Kilburn vale (incidentally near this spot is a pub called The Priory Tavern). A brass tablet can be found in nearby Saint Mary’s church in Abbey road which is believed to represent Emma de Sancto Omero who was prioress around 1400. (Colloms and Weindling, 2001, p.11)
Brass tablet thought to represent Emma de Sancto Omero. 1400c
Below is a picture showing how Kilburn Priory looked in 1750. For 400 years the nuns provided food and shelter for pilgrims and travellers on their way to St Albans. About 200 meters away is the Kilburn High Road (the A5) which was the road originally built by the Romans (known at Watling street) to gain access to Verulamium or as it is known today St Albans. The priory had several buildings including a church, a house, a brewery and bake house. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the priory became a house and farm until the remains were pulled down in 1790. (Colloms and Weindling, 2001, p.11)
The part of Kilburn Priory on my route passes over the railway line running from Euston station to the North. According to one elderly resident there use to be a grave yard here. The picture below is taken from the road Kilburn Priory. It shows Kilburn High road station. The white house in the bottom right hand corner would have been opposite the priory.
Part of the route takes me onto Abbey road and past the church of ‘St Mary with all Souls Kilburn’, which is the church mentioned earlier that has the brass tablet of Emma de Sancto Omero.
As you can see from the church clock I am a full 23 minutes into my walk. I think there could be a book in this.
The walk takes me onto Broadhurst gardens, which runs along the side of the railway tracks that accommodate the Jubilee line, the Metropolitan line and the Chiltern line. One particular stretch has a small parcel of land with vegetation growing wild that absolutely stinks.
The walk then takes me across the Finchley road (A41) and into NW3 Hampstead (very posh). I end up in Netherhall road and I see my first blue plaque (the first one was green). The plaque showed that Sidney and Beatrice Webb lived here and were social scientists and political reformers. The plaque was placed by the GLC (Greater London Council) which no longer exists.
The house on which this plaque is placed is quite stunning and deserves to be seen in its entirety.
The next part of the walk had me crossing the Finchley road another two times, mainly because of the geography of the area in that the roads do not run straight and some curve in on themselves and the fact that I must have got disorientated while trying to stay true to my own self-imposed rules. Such a situation I feel would not happen in a more structured city like that of New York with its grid system. As such I imagine the walk would be less interesting.
I obviously looked a bit lost because four kids (three boys and one girl aged about ten to twelve) came running out of the playground at the end of Lithos road (which happened to terminate there) asking if I needed any help. I didn’t want to say that I was trying to randomly walk about within defined parameters, etcetera, so I told them I was looking for Finchley road tube station; which they insisted on showing me. Nice Kids.
Part of the walk brought me onto Rosslyn hill opposite Hampstead police station which has been closed down. I doubt if it is because Hampstead has a very low crime rate thereby negating the need for one, although it would not surprise me if the reported crime rate was a lot less than the national average. As can be seen it is a very substantial building, no doubt worth millions of pounds profit to a property developer. When it was originally opened in 1913 it was described as being ‘oversize, but very pretty’ (Wade, 1989,p.105).
What I noticed on my walk is that in and amongst these multi-million pound houses is the abundancy of stand alone garages. These would obviously have a high net worth in terms of property development and yet here they stand. They’re not even aesthetically pleasing.
The walk has now taking me alongside the Heath, therefore I have decided not to take any pathways that lead me on to it. There are quite a few that lead onto it from where I’m walking which is Willow road into Christchurch hill. Although these do not show up on the maps that I have included in this blog.
The next point of interest is the pub called the Wells Tavern on Christchurch hill. There are also two roads called Well road and Well walk. There’s obviously a bit of a theme developing which leads me to believe that were wells around here. Indeed there were, Hampstead was well known for its springs as early as 1697. In 1698 the Earl of Gainsborough, Lord of the Manor of Hampstead granted six acres of swampy land at the edge of the Heath ‘for sole use, benefit and advantage of the poor of the parish of Hampstead’. The land is what in now the Well Walk area. (Wade,1989, pp. 20-22).
Another thing I’ve noticed on this walk is that every so often you come upon a council estate. Literally around the corner from The Wells Tavern is this estate on Well road. I like to think that Camden council being a labour run council are doing a good job of not letting Hampstead becoming totally gentrified by selling off their estates and thus cleansing the area of the less rich.
I’m still on Well road and have come across my first black plaque. As can be seen it was for Daphne Du Maurier and placed by the Heath and Hampstead society.
As I walk up Cannon lane I come upon the least expected and the gem of the whole route. The one cell parish lock-up built into the side of a wall.
These lockups were closed down in favour of the larger police stations that were being built such as the one on Rosslyn hill mentioned earlier.
Another blue plaque, this time dedicated to Gerald Du Maurier (whom was the father of Daphne). He was an actor/manager and lived in this house which has now been converted into a hospital called Queen Mary’s hospital.
Not all the houses in Hampstead are huge and mansion like as illustrated by these rather conservative looking cottage type houses in Squires mount. I’m sure there’s nothing conservative about their prices however.
The walk has now taken me onto East heath road opposite the Vale of Health and past my final blue plaque. I would have loved to have gone down the Vale of Health (which I think is a great name for a road) but alas “rules is rules” and I had to turn in the opposite direction. The plaque in question was dedicated to husband and wife John Middleton Murray (who was a critic) and Katherine Mansfield (who was a writer). I imagine there wasn’t much friction in that marriage then. This photo was actually quite difficult to get as I had to place the camera between a high gate and a fence. The current occupiers are obviously not too keen on letting the general public know who the previous incumbents were.
Due to the nature of the geography in this area and the fact that I had only two minutes left before the two hours were up I decided to break my own rules and take the next available turning which was left onto a substantial path (a mud road really) onto the Heath where the walk terminated.
Where the walk ended.
The map of the walk I took (covers two pages). The actual route is indicated in red.
The map route part 2.
No walking with turtles for me I’m afraid. While I found the walk incredibly enjoyable and unexpected, there were frustrations. Though it was a relatively quiet day and in a predominately residential area, there were people getting in my way, mainly because they were transfixed reading their smart phones. It’s no wonder I am a fully paid up member of the Facebook group “I secretly want to punch people who walk slowly in the back of the head”. On that bases I am definitely not a Flaneur. A lot of the roads were busy with traffic requiring me to move rather quickly. Other things I noticed included smelly drains, Poterloos on the sides of roads due to lots of building works taking place. During the walk I noticed a lot of train traffic in the guise of the Tube and the Overground, some of which resulted in me coming to a dead end and having to backtrack. I was conscious of the fact that sometimes I would end up walking behind women and so crossed the road so as not to make them feel uneasy. In Hampstead I was hearing a lot of American accents. A sign that I was in a prosperous area?
When I considered doing the walk I had an idea that I may end up further North West in London, possibly Hampstead, however looking at the map upon which I drew the route of the walk on afterwards, this did not look to be the case. From the map I traversed the Finchley road (A41) three times. This is a busy road with four lanes of traffic. I put this down to myself getting disoriented and the fact that there was a lot of backtracking due to T-junctions, cul-de-sacs, crescents and blind alleyways.
However for my next walk I plan to go to the second nearest point of historic interest to were I live and go in the opposite direction. That is, first right, second left, first right, second left, etcetera for two hours. This should take me to………………………………well I don’t really know.
Colloms, M and Weindling, D Images of Kilburn and Cricklewood (GB: Tempus Publishing Ltd., 2001)
Crick, B George Orwell: A Life (London: Secker & Warburg, 1980)
Wade, C Hampstead Past: A visual history of Hampstead (GB: Historical Publishing Ltd., 1989)
(Brent and Kilburn Times, 20/08/2015)
Bomb Site V1.0 (www.bombsight.org) 6/11/2016