Old Hampstead Rediscovered at Burgh House

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Old Hampstead Rediscovered at Burgh House


Fri, 12/06/2015 - 11:42


South End Green and Hereford House
11 June, 2015

THE effect is like stepping into a time machine, offering a tantalising glimpse of days gone by. This week, the fifth show in a series of paintings of old Hampstead opens at Burgh House, and focuses on views long lost.

Curated by Malcolm Holmes, the borough’s archivist from 1963 until he retired in 2008, the paintings are by a selection of amateur or semi-professional artists.

Organised by the Heath and Hampstead Society, previous shows featured Hampstead Heath, Hampstead street scenes, Hampstead pubs and the work of a little-known Victorian artist called Patrick Lewis Forbes.

This time the exhibition looks at changes – and using the extensive collection of Camden Council’s local studies archive, Mr Holmes has sourced 26 paintings of views that have greatly altered since the artist set up their easel and dipped their brush into the paint.

It includes a painting from 1902 by Mary Anne Bailey of the house of the Post Master General Rowland Hill, the man credited with inventing the postage stamp. Bailey’s work also offers a tantalising glimpse of South End Green before the Hampstead General Hospital was built on what is now the Royal Free.

Another image features The Pryors on East Heath (pictured, above) – with donkeys grazing in the foreground – while a study of St John’s in Church Row by Harold Lewes was completed in 1886, and includes buildings that were swept away as part of the Hampstead Town improvements when Heath Street was joined to Fitzjohns Avenue. 

“These paintings are so attractive because you can see changes that have taken place,” says Mr Holmes. “Hampstead had a lot of amateur artists who painted their locality and wanted to record what was going on around them.”

To help the visitor understand where the works were completed, the show includes photographs taken today from the spot the artist stood.

The growth of urban development is not solely responsible, says Mr Holmes, for the alterations. “One painting has the vista from North End to Harrow,” he explains. “You can’t see it any more because of the trees that have grown since. And views on the Heath have also been greatly altered by tree growth. In the past, people protested vehemently about trees being planted because of this. They thought trees spoilt the appearance of the Heath. Today, it is the other way round.”

The rich store of paintings in the borough’s archives come from the combined collections of the old Hampstead and St Pancras councils, which became Camden Council in 1965. 

“Since the libraries were established in the 1890s, the councils collected all sorts of material,” says Mr Holmes. “Pieces were bought cheaply or items were donated. It is a treasure trove and we are so fortunate that many artists, amateur and professional, chose to record Hampstead scenes for us all to enjoy today.”

• Old Hampstead Rediscovered is at Burgh House, New End, NW3, from June 11-September 13, open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday 12-5pm. See www.burghhouse.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/old-hampstead-rediscovered-5-changing-scenes

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