'Keeping an eye on travel, environment, licensing and more in Hampstead'

The London plane tree in Oriel Place

The London plane tree in Oriel Place - Credit: Polly Hancock

We are not just about the Heath, you know! Though, to be fair, the society was set up 125 years ago this year (as the Hampstead Heath Protection Society) to preserve the Heath’s wild appearance and prevent it from being turned into, as one commentator put it, “a smug little park”.

Since then, and two name changes later, the society has expanded its remit to cover not only the Heath and its conservation but also “to maintain the character and amenities of Hampstead; and to promote the study of local history…”.

Initially, there were two committees, one to cover the Heath and another to cover Old Hampstead when the society was called the Heath & Old Hampstead Society. Then, after the society changed its name to the current Heath & Hampstead Society on its hundredth anniversary (on the basis perhaps that its aim was to ensure that any changes are sympathetic to Hampstead’s character rather than to set it in aspic), the specialised and onerous workload of the Planning Sub-Committee was separated from the Town Sub-Committee.

So, what does the Town Sub-Committee do? Basically, anything and everything else that is not related to the Heath or planning: from licensing to plaques, to transport, to, literally, (any old) rubbish. It is a repository of a wide and fascinating range of topics.

Just to give you a flavour, one of our committee members was able to come up with a scheme for a very slight adjustment of how the 168 bus might enter the bus terminus at South End Green so that the slip road by the shops could be used for an eatery or as a pedestrianised space instead of the 168 bus stop. The plan has been agreed in principle by Camden Council and Transport for London and we hope to see it implemented when their overstretched resources can be applied to it.

Though we seem to be going through a bit of a lull at the moment, we have another member of committee who assiduously reviews licensing applications. This has been, even in the recent past, a source of controversy, including within the membership of the society. Unfortunately, the proliferation of the supply of alcohol does occasionally cause problems of antisocial behaviour in what is a mixed residential and commercial area and it can spill over onto the Heath. For that reason, the society challenges any alcohol licence application that falls outside Camden Council’s own already extensive guideline hours. Challenging an application does not mean that the society has suddenly become a bastion of militant tea-totalism. Applications can be unclear. A late-night bar with the attendant noise that that might create is quite different from a restaurant. Sometimes a challenge can lead to a helpful discussion at the application hearing and the granting of the licence with sensible conditions accepted by the applicant.

The work done by the plaque committee is outstanding. Over the years, they have unveiled dozens of plaques commemorating notable historical people and locations in Hampstead. The full list is available on the Society’s website: www.heathandhampstead.org.uk/hampstead/plaques-page/.

As the weather improves, you could spend a happy afternoon wandering around Hampstead, tracking down a handful of the plaques that interest you and getting to know some of the rich cultural heritage of the area. The Society also occasionally organises plaque walks, guided tours around some of the more notable plaques. These are usually advertised on the society website. So, if you are interested, keep an eye out for those.

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There will very shortly be new plaques for: philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin; Austrian painter Marie Louise von Motesiczky and author Elias Canetti; and, after that, Henry Kippin, Hampstead’s last chimney sweep.

Committee members can also claim credit for being instrumental in encouraging Camden Council to keep on planting several new trees in Hampstead High Street and neighbouring roads, in ensuring that the renovation of Whitestone Pond was carried out to such a high standard and in promoting the opening up of Oriel Place with its large veteran tree creating a pleasant outdoor space in the centre of Hampstead.

Most recently, the committee has been supporting the efforts of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum and the Hampstead Transport Partnership in a pollution study (www.heathandhampstead.org.uk/new-pollution-survey-by-hampstead-neighbourhood-forum/) and in devising a transport strategy for the area. These connections with other groups in the area is crucial to our work.

Members of the society get to hear about what is going on in the all the sub-committees in the society’s regular newsletter. If you would like to join, here’s a link to the society’s website www.heathandhampstead.org.uk/join-us/.

If you are already a member and are interested in any area of our work mentioned above or in one of the areas that I have not mentioned, such as our relationship with the shops and other local enterprises, we are always looking for new members of the sub-committee. So, why not drop us a line at info@heathandhampstead.org.uk?

Andrew Haslam-Jones is chair of the Town Sub-Committee of the Heath & Hampstead Society.