The Heath is a vade mecum by writer and journalist Hunter Davies of a year in the life of Hampstead Heath (2019-2020).
The author, born in Cumbria, has lived most of his life in Hampstead and is therefore well-qualified to give this well written, enthusiastic and informative account.
He covers the history of the Heath. In Victorian times its owner – who did not live on the Heath itself – tried to develop and enclose the land but met formidable local objections which blocked his scheme.
The Heath passed into public hands but, as it straddles 5 boroughs, there was a problem after the demise of the GLC who ran it.
The Corporation of London took it over assisted by the many volunteers and the Hampstead and Heath Society.
The author lists the famous people attracted by Hampstead and the Heath: artists John Constable, Joshua Reynolds and George Romney to name but three; poets John Keats and John Betjeman; writers Julian Barnes and John le Carré; actors too numerous to mention – though one must mention Gerald du Maurier, who lived in Cannon Hall, where Daphne du Maurier grew up. Hunter Davies’ wife Margaret Forster wrote the best biography of her.
He covers Kenwood with its beautiful grounds and world class art collection, which I know well, but I had never heard of the Pergola and that Lord Leverhulme had constructed a mansion.
He interviews a number of worthies who give of their time like the ecologist Professor Jeff (the writer calls him Prof Jeff) and the animal rescuer who saved a widowed swan.
Hunter Davies is well-known for his fly-on-the-wall account of Tottenham Hotspur (The Glory Game) and his biography of the Beatles.
He is 85 now, survived the pandemic, and mourns the loss of his wife Margaret Forster.
He is a survivor and so hopefully is Hampstead Heath.