Sandy Heath

Sandy Heath, Camden

The part of Hampstead Heath that fills the angle formed by North End Way and Spaniards Road

Sandy Heath in winter

Sandy Heath’s name reflects its ear­li­er char­ac­ter, before huge quan­ti­ties of clay, sand and grav­el were exca­vat­ed in the 1860s for mak­ing bricks and lay­ing rail­ways – espe­cial­ly the Mid­land Rail­way Com­pa­ny’s line into St Pan­cras. The Illus­trat­ed Lon­don News vivid­ly described the extra­or­di­nary extent of the extrac­tion in 1871:

“The very body of the earth has been cut away to an amaz­ing depth … Holes are scooped out close to the high road thir­ty or forty feet deep, and big enough to bury the corpses of a nation for half a cen­tu­ry … but ugly enough to deter the bold­est sur­vivor from approach­ing so ghast­ly a spot.”*

The destruc­tive exploita­tion of the Clay­gate Beds and Bagshot Sands of Sandy Heath was autho­rised by Sir Thomas Mary­on Wil­son, the noto­ri­ous­ly rapa­cious lord of the manor who sold 21-year leas­es to the extrac­tors.

Mary­on Wilson’s per­sis­tent attempts to prof­it from his stew­ard­ship of the com­mon land prompt­ed the cam­paign that led to the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Board of Works’ acqui­si­tion of Hamp­stead Heath in 1871.

Sandy Heath’s land­scape is now low-lying and hum­mocky, with bogs and pre­cip­i­tous hol­lows. The once despoiled ter­rain has been colonised by birch, beech and oak trees that pro­vide a favourable habi­tat for nest­ing birds like long-tailed tits.

Hidden London: Iron Pan Ponds in winter

An inter­con­nect­ed set of ponds in the mid­dle of the heath is called Iron Pan Ponds** – also known col­lec­tive­ly as Sandy Heath Pond.

Despite some steep climbs, Sandy Heath is pop­u­lar with walk­ers and horse rid­ers. A raised path for­mer­ly known as Rot­ten Row, but now an exten­sion of Sandy Road, runs across the heath from North End to Spaniards End (or from the Old Bull and Bush to the Spaniards Inn, if you seek refresh­ment).

The route of the raised path is shown in the satel­lite image below. Vol­un­teers from Heath Hands help with gorse man­age­ment, so that all the paths remain pass­able.

Postal district: NW3


* Quoted in Deborah Wolton and David McDowall, Hampstead Heath, Frances Lincoln, 2007
** iron pan – a hard soil layer that is cemented with iron oxides and that usually consists of sand or sand and gravel (Merriam-Webster)