Vale of Health

Vale of Health, Camden

A hamlet in north Hampstead with more to it than most maps suggest

Houses in The Vale Of Health - Des Blenkinsopp

This part of Hamp­stead Heath was orig­i­nal­ly known as Gang­moor, and lat­er as Hatch­es (or Hatchett’s) Bot­tom, after an ear­ly-18th-cen­tu­ry cot­tager. The Hamp­stead Water Com­pa­ny cre­at­ed a pond here in 1777, which drained enough of the for­mer­ly malar­i­al marsh to allow hous­es to be built. For much of its ear­ly exis­tence, Hatch­es Bot­tom was not regard­ed as a pic­turesque vil­lage but as an intru­sive pres­ence on the heath.

Those who wished to attract vis­i­tors or new res­i­dents invent­ed and pro­mot­ed the ‘Vale of Health’ name, which was first record­ed in 1801, although it did not ful­ly sup­plant the old­er iden­ti­ty until the mid-20th cen­tu­ry.

The essay­ist Leigh Hunt lived here from 1816 to 1818 and reg­u­lar­ly host­ed meet­ings of writ­ers and poets, who includ­ed Shel­ley, Keats and Byron. In 1851 the ham­let had 57 adults and 30 chil­dren crammed into 18 hous­es.

With the open­ing of the Hamp­stead Junc­tion Rail­way in 1860, day-trip­pers began to swarm here in sum­mer­time and the Hamp­stead Heath Hotel and Vale of Health tav­ern were built, nei­ther of which has sur­vived. In 1877 the Athenaeum Club opened in a chapel-like build­ing, lat­er becom­ing an Anglo-Ger­man soci­ety with over a thou­sand mem­bers. By 1890 the ham­let had 53 hous­es.

Hidden London: Heath Villas, Vale of Health

The Vale of Health now con­sists main­ly of attrac­tive ter­races of vil­las and cot­tages sep­a­rat­ed by nar­row passage­ways, togeth­er with two small blocks of pri­vate flats.

Vis­i­ble in the satel­lite view below, the north-east cor­ner of the ham­let is a ‘trav­el­ling show­per­sons’ site’ described by the Evening Stan­dard as “sure­ly the most gen­teel infor­mal set­tle­ment in Lon­don.” The same arti­cle said of oth­er Vale of Health res­i­dents that they “all look as though they read the Lon­don Review of Books.”

Res­i­dents formed the Vale of Health Soci­ety in 1973 to resist inap­pro­pri­ate devel­op­ment and marked its 25th anniver­sary by found­ing Heath Hands, the first vol­un­teer corps ded­i­cat­ed to Hamp­stead Heath.

Past residents of the Vale of Health include DH Lawrence, Stella Gibbons, Compton Mackenzie, Edgar Wallace, the Nobel prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and the former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher.

Postal district: NW3
Further reading: Helen Bentwich, The Vale of Health on Hampstead Heath, 1777–1977, High Hill Press, 1977

 

* The picture of houses in The Vale Of Health at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.