Trace 400 years of Hampstead names and places with new web resource

Newly-translated records cast light on how Hampstead - and much of Camden - transformed between the 16th and 18th centuries

Newly-translated records cast light on how Hampstead - and much of Camden - transformed between the 16th and 18th centuries - Credit: V. Bainbridge, by permission of London Metropolitan Archives

Want to know who owned property in Hampstead in the 16th and 17th centuries?

Or which businesses first began to spring up on the High Street?

The Camden History Society (CHS) has recently completed a landmark project translating court documents dating back hundreds of years – and these are now available online for the benefit of budding amateur historians. 

A map of the manor of Hampstead and some of its constituent areas produced by the Victoria County History Project

A map of the manor of Hampstead and some of its constituent areas produced by the Victoria County History Project - Credit: Reproduced with permission from A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington, Victoria County History, London, 1989. © University of London

Dr Virginia Bainbridge, an expert in manorial documents, completed the project for the society, while Dr Peter Woodford indexed them and helped make them available on the CHS website. 

The CHS project began several years ago, after a donation from Hampstead's Robert Linger was earmarked for the translations. Pauline Siddall began the job of pouring over documents held in the London Metropolitan Archives, but was unable to finish the job and Dr Bainbridge stepped in.

One of the bound copies of Hampstead manorial court records held in the London Metropolitan Archives

One of the bound copies of Hampstead manorial court records held in the London Metropolitan Archives - Credit: V. Bainbridge, by permission of London Metropolitan Archives


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At a talk celebrated the project, CHS's Malcolm Holmes introduced Dr Bainbridge and the project.

He said: "Robert gave a very generous donation to Camden History Society for us to do as we wished.

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"It took some time for us to debate what it would be used for and the idea that came up was that there was all this material inaccessible to the average user as it was written in Latin."

Dr Bainbridge told the Ham&High: "This is one of the few long series of court rolls in the UK. 

"Now it's fully searchable and if you are at all interested in urban history and how the various villages and hamlets in the area began to be built up it's invaluable. 

"Some things like pubs have been there for centuries."

Dr Bainbridge said the court rolls, which cover the area of the old Hampstead manor, are an incredible resource, and that they help track the area''s development from a "rural village" to a growing London suburb. 

The Latin text in the old Hampstead court rolls

Latin script in these court documents has been translated first by Pauline Siddall and then Dr Virginia Bainbridge to shed light on Hampstead's past - Credit: V. Bainbridge, by permission of London Metropolitan Archives

The manor of Hampstead stretched far further than the boundaries of modern-day Hampstead itself. Its boundaries were St John's Wood in the west, North End in the north, Chalk Farm in the east and Camden in the south. 

The manorial court rolls document the proceedings of the "court baron" and "court leet" which met to, under the jurisdiction of the lord of the manor, control issues such as the transfer of tenancies and who had licenses for selling alcohol.

In her talk, Dr Bainbridge said the newly translated records of "Court Book C" provide insight into NW3's social history.

She said: "[It] also records the development of the Hampstead High Street area, where courtyards, tenements, shops and business premises provided prosperous customary tenants of the manor with rental income from sub-tenants."

Much of the treasure trove features property transactions, and Dr Bainbridge said: "If you go through the court rolls that have been translated from the 16th and 17th centuries that's a long series of property transactions. You can see things, including what the sort of property it was, on the lease."

Beyond property, the names and kinds of businesses mentioned on the documents can give us a clear idea of how the area has changed. They help keen historians to see how far back into Hampstead's past their family connections go. 

Dr Bainbridge discussed how the 18th century had seen a higher class of resident in much of the area. 

She said: "Several [areas of land] were newly enclosed by brick walls and within the walls were built gentry residences with stables and outhouses.

"Some also had parcels of meadow, presumably for grazing coach or riding horses. The social status of the owners and occupiers of these customary holdings had also risen.

"The new tenants were generally of a higher social status than the tenants from whom they were taking over, and included professional people and even aristocracy."

To access the documents visit camdenhistorysociety.org/research-room

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