View all blog posts

The View from the Heath

Isolation | Michael Lowndes

Friday 17 April 2020

These strange and worrying days are not without some consolation. My self-isolation exercise is a daily dog walk that takes me across the hills and fields and through the woods and vales of Hampstead Heath. I have witnessed spring unfurl itself with a never before experienced intimacy.

I have had time to revisit the familiar landscape and only now properly understand that an old ditch is actually the ancient boundary between Hampstead and Tottenhall (as in Tottenham Court Road) first recorded in 986.

The View from the Heath

That a deep and beautifully wooded gully just south of Kenwood is a source of the Fleet River.

That an incongruous brick viaduct over another deep vale is evidence of a failed speculation for 28 villas in 1840 for what would have been one of the earliest ‘rus in urbe’ suburban developments in London.

The Heath was preserved for public use in perpetuity by the far sighted actions of public bodies and private individuals in the 19th and 20th Centuries. It now provides an amenity of incalculable benefit in physical and mental health terms.

In these last few weeks I have seen lots of Londoners taking refuge on the Heath and in its generous spaces. Just as they did in 1349 to escape the Black Death (they died); in 1524 to watch a predicted great flood destroy all London (they went home dry); in 1736 to wait for the forecast end of the world (it didn’t); in 1780 during the Gordon Riots when the stormed the Heath to burn down Kenwood House (they went home drunk instead) and on the last night of 1999 when they assembled to see London become stricken by the Millennium Bug (nothing happened).

The View from the Heath

However as we look down on the City in 2020 we suspect that nothing will ever be the same.

In the context of the current crisis it is now abundantly clear that we need to plan London with a greater generosity of space, internal and external, public and private. We will need to put health and wellbeing at the centre of all our considerations.

Michael Lowndes words and photos
The Architecture Club member