Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Streets Ahead: A Hampstead Taster

Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker

A taster.

Here’s why you go on quality walking tours. What you get for your money.

It’s a snippet from my (David’s) Sunday morning Hampstead walk.

You’re not on that walk you’re almost certainly not going to find this handsome old house. And if you do happen on it, you’re not going to have the Kansas-to-Oz – the black-and-white to living colour – moment that you get if you see it with my eyes.

Here goes (and yes, I’ve done a teensy bit of redaction, which, surely, is fair enough – this is, after all, an invitation to come up to Hampstead one Sunday morning and go for a walk with me). It’s a verbatim lift, ergo the inverted commas.

“I’ve been inside this house. You can’t tell from the outside but the oldest part of it – the core of the house – is an Elizabethan farm house. Half-timbered, wattle-and-daub. As you can see, it’s been greatly added to – in a delightfully higgledy piggledy fashion – in Georgian times.

“It’s had a hit parade of famous residents.

“The ladies ­_____________ and _______________, for example.

“And in between the two of them (so to speak) _____________________.

What a huge difference maker he was to the life of this country.* And as for his back story…

“He cheerfully admitted that his parents were part of the idle rich. He said there may have been some families who were richer but there weren’t many who were idler.

“Can’t have been many who were richer. His parents owned 49,000 acres and a castle in Scotland. They owned a large sporting estate in Suffolk. They owned grand houses in Perthshire and London. They owned hotels near Monte Carlo. They owned a fleet of yachts.

“Well, you get the idea…”

And that’s just one moment on that great walk. The immediate “entourage” on either side of it is the modern house that pipped the British Library (it took the RIBA award that year), and a “yesterday’s royalty” house (it’s a combination of a castle and a fortress), and a “today’s royalty” house, and a country lane with a spectre walking along it, and an encampment of Mesolithic hunter-gathers (“from their camp it was a short stroll to the summit from where they could see forever”), and a house marked with a deeply shaming moment in the life of the U.S. government.

A morsel (the house). And a slice (its immediate neighbours) of a great walking tour. Representative fractions – small fractions, just a few minutes – out of the whole show, the whole two hours.

*And, yes, the “difference” the “huge difference maker” made is wheeled out. As is the back story that goes with the modern house (what it was about European cities that was the game changer for the American architect). And so on.


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