Published: 28 June, 2012
by GERALD ISAAMAN
With the future looking so gloomy, it’s no wonder people enjoy looking nostalgically at the past.
And they are doing so by taking a trip to Hampstead’s Burgh House to rediscover scenes of what the Heath and the village looked like through the eyes of local artists.
An exhibition last November entitled Old Hampstead Rediscovered received an enthusiastic response. Quotes in the visitors’ book included: “What a discovery!” “So interesting.” “ Wonderful to see these hidden works,” and “Please let us have more access to the Camden collection.”
And that is exactly what is happening with the opening tomorrow (Friday) of a second exhibition of paintings, drawings, prints and photographs normally locked away in the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, based at Holborn Library.
“The first exhibition centred on the Heath, and the contrast between art and modern photography presented a fascinating insight into the way it has developed over the years,” says Burgh House Museum curator Rebecca Lodge.
“The exhibition was really well received, and judging by the comments in our visitors’ book, people were delighted to have been shown little-seen artwork from the wonderful collection of Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre.
“This second exhibition is even more exciting, with more contemporary photography and a focus on Hampstead village itself. A carefully selected and researched collection of art will be on display, thanks to the hard work of the Heath and Hampstead Society.”
Such a treasure trove is available thanks to the fact that Hampstead has always attracted artists up the hill not only to live there but also to record the local landscape with pictures that now so evocatively reveal what it looked like in the past.
Among them in particular were Mary Hill (1870-1947), John Philipps Emslie (1839-1913) and Patrick Lewis Forbes (1893-1914), the latter exhibiting 11 times at the Royal Academy during his years living in Willoughby Road and Rosslyn Hill.
The most significant pictures are those undertaken to capture the local landscape prior to major changes, especially the Hampstead town improvements of 1886-1888, which swept away a maze of dilapidated old buildings in the heart of the village to improve the road system.
These were virtually slums between what was known as Little Church Row and the modern junction with Hampstead High Street, their removal enabled the creation of a new road linking Fitzjohns Avenue with the original part of Heath Street.
A total of 436 people were displaced from some of the overcrowded properties, some of which are captured in scenes on display in the new exhibition.
Other paintings were to record the proposed disappearance of buildings like the Long Room in Well Walk, an integral part of Hampstead’s 18th-century days as a spa that attracted gamblers, girls and revellers galore to take the far from beneficial chalybeate local waters.
The Long Room made way for the building of the flats that now adjoin Grade I-listed Burgh House, which itself dates from 1713, making them a real reminder of the past.
To help visitors recognise the locations as they are today, the exhibition displays modern photographs by Andrew Morley, who has attempted to take pictures from the actual positions from which the artists painted the scenes.
• Old Hampstead Rediscovered: Village Scenes is at Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, NW3 1LT, June 29-September 9. Sponsored by Knight Frank and organised by the Heath and Hampstead Society. Burgh House and Hampstead Museum opn Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday 12-5pm, Saturday – Ground floor Art Gallery only, 12-5pm