Display tells how Hampstead Heath was almost sold for development

Walking into Burgh House years ago was a life-changing moment for one Hampstead resident.

Since multi-media expert Nick Hillel read the history of Hampstead Heath by Alan Farmer, he has worked tirelessly to launch a project to tell the story of how the Heath was nearly lost to development and to involve the public in its future.

Mr Hillel, 35, of Fortnam Road, Archway, who grew up in Hampstead and spent his childhood years splashing in the ponds, said: “I was fascinated by how we nearly lost the Heath to rich villas in the 19th century.

“The person who owned the land was about to sell it all off and luckily that was stopped by philanthropists who in 1871 bought it and gave it to London.

“For me it’s a fire in the belly thing about how strongly I feel about the place.”

To celebrate the continued preservation of one of the last remaining wilderness areas in London, a website and exhibition named Heathlife started at Burgh House yesterday.

It contains art, photography, film and oral histories from a community that is inspired by the Heath.

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The project, curated and managed by Mr Hillel, is growing rapidly as memories are added and is expected to remain a resource for the future.

Mr Hillel is keen to ensure the Heath’s continued existence. “It’s important that it remains wild and doesn’t become a manicured garden like other London parks,” he said. “And it’s important to remind people not to take it for granted.”

Heathlife also features downloadable audio guides to its geology and history and “sound sculptures” of birdsong and lapping waters of ponds.

n Heathlife is at Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, until April 1. The site is at www.heathlife.co.uk.