Vale of Health, Camden
A hamlet in north Hampstead with more to it than most maps suggest
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.
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