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A close-up of a letter written by John Keats to Fanny.

After a visit to Hampstead Heath, it’s not difficult to see why this beautiful location has provided inspiration to many famous writers and artists.

Poets

During the Romantic period of the early nineteenth century the village of Hampstead became popular with many influential writers and poets. The poet Leigh Hunt moved to the area in 1815 and mentions Kenwood, Spaniards Road and his home the Vale of Health in his sonnets. Hunt was well connected in literary circles and many of his friends visited him in the Vale including Byron and Shelley. Around the same period Samuel Coleridge the poet, who along with his friend William Wordsworth founded the Romantic Movement in England, lived in Highgate from 1817 until his death in 1834 and wrote about Kenwood describing the ‘grand cathedral aisle of giant lime trees’ on the terrace.

John Keats

The great poet John Keats also knew Leigh Hunt and visited him on several occasions at the Vale of Health. It was not long before he moved to Hampstead and it is said that he composed his great “Ode to a Nightingale” after hearing the bird’s unique liquid warbled song whilst living in the area. At this time nightingales did nest on the Heath, especially along Millfield Lane where Keats is known to have walked with Coleridge. Keats moved to a house in Hampstead and lived there from December 1818 to September 1820 before moving to a warmer climate in Italy after falling ill with tuberculosis. He succumbed to the disease in February 1921, and died in Rome aged 25.

Keats House  in Hampstead was restored as a museum to the poet and is now open to visitors who can learn more about how the Heath inspired him.

Painters, writers

The beautiful landscapes of the Heath also moved painters to capture its dramatic beauty. The most famous of these was John Constable who lived in Hampstead for many years from 1827 and painted numerous landscapes both from sitting in the upper level of his house at nearby Well Walk, and from on the Heath itself. Constable liked the wild and unspoilt landscape of the Heath and his portraits are important historical evidence of what the Heath once looked like. His pictures show a very open landscape, covered in heather and gorse with very few trees. The Heath continued to inspire into the 20th century and CS Lewis was moved to write "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" after wandering over Hampstead Heath on a snowy winter's day and imagining his fictional land of Narnia.

Philosophers, dancers

It was not just artists and writers who were enthused by the beauty of the Heath. Many brilliant minds from all walks of life have lived around its peripheries and visited its picturesque open spaces, including Karl Marx, whose favourite family outing was a trip to the Heath. Anna Pavlova, the Russian ballerina also chose to live bordering Golders Hill Park when she moved to London in 1912. Her home, Ivy House was featured in the film "Anna Pavlova" and is now the London Jewish Cultural Centre.

Sculptors

The Heath has also been used as a place for the public to enjoy the arts. In 2005 a 30ft sculpture of a table and chair by Italian artist Giancarlo Neri was given a temporary home on Parliament Hill for four months. Thousands of people were captivated by this giant scale model named "The Writer." In the summer of 2012 Sacrilege, a life-sized, bouncy replica of Stonehenge by the artist Jeremy Deller also made a visit to the Heath delighting an audience of all ages.

The same summer, Visitor I, a sculpture, by local artist David Breuer-Weil, of a submerged head also took up temporary residence in the Lily Pond at Golders Hill Park. It is clear to many that the Heath is a very special place and we hope its beauty will continue to inspire for generations to come.

Published:
01 October 2015
Last Modified:
30 August 2019

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