Sandwiched between Kilburn and West Hampstead, bordering Finchley Road and often mistaken for Swiss Cottage – even by those who live there – lies South Hampstead. It’s a compact collection of streets that, although no way near as ancient as Kentish Town, is respectably old, most of the houses dating back to the early 1800s.
As a recent immigrant, I was initially sceptical of claims that not only did a place called South Hampstead exist – but I was actually living in it. My postal address is Kilburn, West End Lane is a mere ten minute walk away and, as the election leaflets clogging up my hallway demonstrated, Camden Council is under the impression we are in Swiss Cottage. Also, the name South Hampstead appears nowhere except on the underused overground station. And a station does not a neighbourhood make.
But half a day with Guy Stocker convinced me I was wrong. Exotic animal handler, BBC sitcom writer, professional artist and long term South Hampstead resident, Guy has been promoting the use of the proper name for years. Slowly but surely he has noticed local businesses and residents revive the name, due in no small part to his own efforts – painting and photographing the area, exhibiting in his home and writing letters on the issue to local papers.
Guy’s home in Greencroft Gardens is well known for the photographs and informative articles on the area he posts in his front garden, a community notice board of sorts.
Taking a tour of South Hampstead with Guy was pretty enlightening – although short; South Hampstead is pretty small. But it has a distinct vibe, more genteel than its environs. Its cafes and restaurants are casual and chilled and it’s less hectic than Kilburn, West Hampstead and certainly Finchley Road. Houses tend to be towering three storeys red bricks – some even have their own turrets.
The leafy streets have an impressive, though utterly random, revolutionary pedigree. A blue plaque on Compayne Gardens marks the home of Nahum Sokolow, author and Zionist statesman. The 43 Group, an anti-fascist group of Jewish ex-servicemen after WW2 who broke up right wing marches and fought fascists in the streets, was founded here. And in the 1970s, ETA, the Basque separatist group and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation used houses here too.
On a slightly less revolutionary note, the area has a disproportionate number of Aussie celebrity residents. Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage, don’t you know) and Natalie Imbruglia being two (semi)notables.
Urging locals to use the name South Hampstead is not a cynical attempt at rebranding. It’s historical correctness. The area around Fairfax Road has been called South Hampstead since at least the 1880s. As Guy points out, using the name South Hampstead is a way of strengthening a local sense of community and promoting local businesses. Sceptics should look to the successful efforts of Steeles Village, which is no longer known as the arse end of Haverstock Hill but a destination in its own right. And though small, South Hampstead has lovely cafes and restaurants and some intriguing furniture design shops. And a Tesco Express.
So if you’re brunching in West Hampstead or slumming around Kilburn, take the short stroll down to South Hampstead. Those of you who pop to Waitrose on Finchley Road on a Saturday are even closer. Come for a look around. It won’t take long.
Just don’t ask the locals if it’s the south part of Hampstead proper; they really don’t like that.
Words & Photos: Louise Hogan
Why It Matters comes in association with Discount Insurance,whose boss is a fan of our daily digest and lives in NW5 (not NW6)