I rode the line of misery, against an inner voice, ’Twixt Balaam and the Angel, with little other choice. Just a little further on – knee-deep in freebie news And smoking-cough late risers – emerged from blackened hues. You cannot flash yer Hampsteads without a bluish plaque Of pioneering vagueness, an army stretching back. Their motors squeeze the Spaniards (built in 1593). ‘Is this the way to Kenwood, mate? Where Dido was set free?’ The architectural apple of Adam’s eye is there. He built a place of happiness for Mickey and Jack Bear, Merlin’s wizard rollerskates must have been quite nifty. They also did a breakfast for only £6.50. In Repton’s red-book rhapsody, the rays of spring were blinking. How many miserable journeys end in Eden? I was thinking.
‘Eden’ reflects a journey to visit Kenwood House in Hampstead, north London, using the London Underground Northern line (known by some as the ‘misery line’) from Balham to Hampstead via Angel.
Hampstead has some impressive residences, but it seems to me there is a slight ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ aspect to the proliferation of blue plaques, with many dedicated to slightly obscure historical figures.
Along the Spaniards Road, where the road curves and narrows into Hampstead Lane, sits the Spaniards inn. The structure was built in the 1580s but first operated as an inn during the early eighteenth century. Some say the famous highwayman Dick Turpin used the Spaniards as a hideout, and apparently he still does, as his ghost is rumoured to haunt the bar where there is a framed pistol ball ‘fired by him’.
The inn has many artistic connections. The Romantic poets Blake, Byron and Keats are all said to have drunk here. Indeed, Keats’s famous ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is said to have been written at the inn. British rock band the Faces claim to have formed at the Spaniards.
The Spaniards inn faces the grounds of Kenwood House. This historic residence was designed in the eighteenth century by the architect Robert Adam, with gardens by Humphry Repton. A place with superb views of London, its beauty made ‘Mickey and Jack Bear’ very happy, according to a plaque on a garden bench.
The black slave girl Dido Elizabeth Belle lived at Kenwood House for thirty-one years. Born in 1761, the daughter of British naval officer Sir John Lindsay, she was adopted by his uncle, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, who owned Kenwood House. As Lord Chief Justice he presided over several notable trials that influenced the abolitionist cause. Dido Belle was officially granted freedom on his death in 1793. After complaints from Hampstead residents in 2006, Kenwood sadly ended its famous series of classical summer concerts.
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