Whitestone Pond

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Whitestone Pond lies 135 metres above the London Basin, and at the summit of Hampstead Heath marks the highest point in London. This area, lying above the pond, is the source of one of London’s “lost” rivers, the River Westbourne. These headwaters gathered to form the pond before heading off in a southwesterly direction.

The pond takes its name from the old milestone located at the top of Hampstead Grove, it can be seen just to the south and bears the inscription “IV miles from St Giles, 41/2 miles 29 yards from Holborn Bars”.

Originally known as Horse Pond, fed solely by rain and dew, ramps were later added to allow horses to access the pond to drink and wash their hooves. Later it became affectionately known as Hampstead-on-Sea when the pond was used for paddling, floating model boats and skating in winter. A water fountain, once located at the top of West Heath Road, became a local speaker’s corner and was the scene of angry fights between fascist groups and antagonists in the 1930s. Later it became a popular spot for donkey rides.

The adjacent flagstaff behind Whitestone Walk marks the historic location of the Hampstead Beacon, lit to warn of the impending invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588. Spaniards Road, once a notorious haunt of highwaymen in the eighteenth century, became a popular place to be seen promenading in the nineteenth century.

As the twentieth century drew to a close this area increasingly lost its appeal but thanks to restoration works, conceived and instigated by the Heath & Hampstead Society, extensive renovation was carried out over a two year period and completed in 2010 in collaboration with the City of London Corporation, Camden Council, English Heritage and Transport for London.

A book called “Hampstead, its historic houses, its literary and artistic associations” was written by Anna Maxwell and published in 1912. Here is an extract:

Whitestone Pond in the early 1900s.

Walking up the steep Heath Street, past the inn of the “Black Boy and Still,” past the smithy’s forge and the tiny red-tiled shops with large gardens beside them, at the summit the working folk watched the cricketers on the green space of land which, at first level enough, afterwards declined, reaching as far as the sign of the “Three Pigeons,” which stood near the top of Frognal Hill. This red-tiled dwelling is now a private, aged and dignified residence, named Grove Cottage and occupied by Miss Constance Hill.

A cedar tree, under which Edward Irving preached, towers above the garden wall of Tudor House from within, and forms now, as it must have done for hundreds of years, a fine dark foreground to the golden sunset in the west, where Harrow steeple, on the distant hill, has been pointing to the skies since Archbishop Lanfranc consecrated it to God for that purpose eight hundred years ago. Since the death of its owner Tudor House has been bought by the munificence of Baroness Hirsch, to be used as a convalescent home for the suffering men and women of her race. In this retreat the sick and weary aliens dwell, lingering beneath the cedar of Lebanon, which, like themselves, has been transplanted from the East, and found a home in a foreign, but a friendly, soil.

Beyond the cedar and the elm was the site of the Flagstaff always a point of common interest on the summit of Telegraph Hill. Here the bonfires burnt for the communication of public news to distant parts, as when they had burned for the approach of Philip’s Armada from Spain.

Into the Whitestone Pond the tired, unharnessed horses were led to water, while the white stone itself marked the distance, 4 miles from St. Giles’ Pound, 4½ miles from Holborn Bars. The milestone stood near to the stray-cattle pound, and close to the donkey stand, which remains to-day, with its scanty but undying remnant of the Hundred Hampstead Donkeys. Black pigs were plentiful ; and the clerk on Sunday, from the reading desk in the church, would give out, in splendid pomp, that a Court Leet and Customary Court would meet ” on Tuesday next at Jack Straw’s Castle. Notice is hereby given that all pigs straying in the High Street shall be put into the Pound. Let us sing to the praise and glory of God Metrical Psalm 103 ; ” after which the overpowering functionary would sing, with his cheeks blown out like the fat cherubs on the wall behind him, who were puffing the Ten Commandments out of their mouths, while floating, with an affectation of righteousness, on white woolly clouds in the sky. We learn from various accounts that pigs over-ran the whole village.


1 comment

    • paul canty on January 8, 2024 at 3:25 pm
    • Reply

    They have recently re-dug the pond at the bottom of the slope here, this was filled in at the end of the 19c and was one of the sources of the Westbourne River. The pond could be seen in a Constable painting.

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