We all have our special places or cities. A special attachment to a place, a place which cheers you up, where you are alive, where you are yourself and you shed all your worries and concerns. Hampstead in London is one such place for me, which raises my spirits
Hampstead has a special place in my heart, with its woodland and walking paths, heritage homes, museums, cafes and streets bustling with people. Hampstead is very charming, often referred as Hampstead Village, with its cafes, high street shops and the heath with its vast green meadows spread out like a velvety carpet, little ponds, tall trees are a very pleasing treat for the eyes. I have a very vivid memory of me and a friend of mine walking in to Hampstead heath, one summer weekend, to talk about daily drudgery and monotony of our life. We settled on a bench facing the pond, we could see and hear kids squealing in joy and playing Frisbee on the other side of the pond, the water of the pond was glistening in the sun, and then a swan gracefully land on to the pond, there was a combined noise of swishing wings, water and the swift landing ,creating beautiful ripples in the shimmering water. We both sat there sitting silently, watching the beautiful moving feast in front of us. Nature has a very subtle yet powerful way of reminding us the simple truths about life and bringing about the profound silence of the mind. I had read a quote by Rabindranath Tagore many years ago ,“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.” Though it was no way near the time for Sunset, but I truly understood and felt what the quote meant. I have many times walked in to Hampstead on a gloomy overcast day, my mind buzzing with my list of to-dos and my brain already on an overdrive, a little walk in the Flask Walk, with its antique Bookstore, little cafes and fragrance of flowers from the florist on Flask walk, are enough to brighten my day and make me cast aside the worries. Hampstead has many activities to offer, one could go on a walk to explore Hampstead village, there are many interesting museums and heritage properties to visit Keats House, Kenwood House,Freud Museum, ISOKON building, Burgh House, Fenton House, and 2 Willow Road and it is also good spot for a bit of people watching, find a cosy corner in a café by the window , with a coffee.
Hampstead has been often called as residence of the intelligentsia. When I first heard the word I had to look up in a dictionary to find out what it meant, it refers to intellectuals or a group of highly educated people, who are critiques and guides and considered to have the power to influence culture and may be politics. It includes writers, architects, painters, teachers ,composers , artists, intellectuals etc. Many famous artists have lived for a short while in Hampstead and there are a many who have made it their home. To name a few Rabindranath Tagore, is believed to have lived in Hampstead for a short while, Agatha Christie is said to have lived for a few years in ISOKON building, Roland Penrose, famous Artist, Historian and known for surrealist movement in England, modernist Architect Erno Goldfinger whose home is now a museum.
Another reason I have an affinity to Hampstead is because of the two house in National Trusts care, where I volunteer from time to time. It is through these two houses that my love for Hampstead began. 2 Willow Road, home of Erno Gold finger, is one of the earliest Modernist properties in London. It is because of this house, I have learnt about the surrealist Movement of art, modernist art and architecture. Erno ,an Austro-Hungarian by birth , studied in Paris, married an English woman,who moved to London, built this house for himself and his young family. He had to face a lot of opposition, from the local residents and council, who were not very keen on having a modernist property in the area. But he persevered, made a bit of modifications on his original plans and got his plan approved from the council. The house is here today, standing the test of time, as a testimonial of perseverance and standing up for what you believe in. It is said that one of the petitioners against this modernist property, was the famous Ian Fleming, and it is rumoured hence he named the villain in one of his books as Goldfinger. However, there is no concrete evidence as to why he used the name. Ian Fleming is known to use names that he has come across in his life in his books. The house has a certain quality about it, it grows on you and you fall in love with it over the time. It is a very functional house, unlike its contemporaries it is not ornate, with ample natural lighting, plenty of storage, and everything in the house is much thought through. And the house beyond doubt is way ahead of its time, given the fact that house was completed in 1939. Often visitors say it is hard to believe that it belongs to that era. I love volunteering at the house , I meet people from different walks of life, some of them have immense knowledge about arts, and I end up learning something from them, some share their anecdotes from another property and sometimes standing by the large windows with the view on to the Heath, I just watch the dynamic painting in front of me, meadows with daffodils and other new spring blossoms, and as the season progress the scene through the window keeps changing, yet never fails to enthral me.
The other house I volunteer at Hampstead is a 17th century house called Fenton House. It is very different to 2 Willow Road, it houses three different collections from three different collectors. The house was left to National Trust by the last owner of the house, Lady Bining, with its large porcelain collection. The house has been furnished by the trust taking in to account the era, and some based on photographs published in the Countrylife magazine. When the trust opened the house to public, it housed the porcelain collection and a collection of musical instruments, by another collector named Benton Fletcher. He had nothing to do with the house, it is just that his collection of musical instruments is housed in Fenton House. Later on there was a collection of paintings bequeathed to the house by another collector by name of Peter Bakworth. Now the house has three collections, porcelain, musical instruments and paintings. Its a pleasure to volunteer when someone comes to play the instruments, or there is a musical tour in the house, the music brings the house alive and I find it very uplifting. The house has amazing views of London skyline from the balconies of the house on a clear day. The house also a beautiful garden, a kitchen Garden and Apple orchard. I am waiting with anticipation for the apple blossoms to come next month. Every autumn, the trust organises an event called Apple Weekend. It is a fun filled event for the entire family, you can taste the apples from the orchard, there is storytelling for kids, badge making, you can buy apple products, food stalls and the garden is dotted with deck chairs for you to relax and unwind.
It is through this opportunity of volunteering, I have met some wonderful people, I started learning and know a great deal about modernist and surrealist movements, I got introduced to visit and explore Hampstead, which I have come to love now and I have had some memorable experiences. Just last week, while volunteering, I had an amazing cup of coffee at Willow Road while watching the daffodils swaying in the breeze from the windows of the living room, which an visitor mentioned makes the house more dynamic, because the house is being experienced in its truest sense. I couldn’t agree more.