24 June 2010

The Vale of Health: Literary London #25

The Vale of Health must be one of the best kept secrets in London. A kind of hamlet without any retail outlets, it stands in the south-west corner of Hampstead Heath and just outside Hampstead proper. Once a bog known as Hatch's Bottom, it was drained in 1777 by Hampstead Water Company, and a few cottages were erected for poor people. The picture is very different now, although to walk around this very quiet, very small cul-de-sac is like being in a different time.

In 1915 D. H. Lawrence lived with his wife Frieda at 1 Byron Villas, although the plaque is on another house. While here, Lawrence began the literary magazine The Signature with John Middleton Murry, for which Murry's wife Katherine Mansfield contributed under the pseudonym Matilda Berry. It was against the patriotic spirit of the time, and lasted only three issues. The Lawrences left for Cornwall on 1 December 1915, and persuaded the Middleton Murrys to join them shortly afterwards.

The poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) lived at 3 Villas-on-the-Heath in 1912.

After two years' imprisonment for insulting the Prince Regent, Leigh Hunt then took up residence at Vale Lodge from 1815-1821. During his stay here, he wrote five sonnets in praise of Hampstead, and introduced Keats to Shelley. He is perhaps most noted for Dickens's depiction of him as Harold Skimpole.

Stella Gibbons lived in Vale Cottage from 1927 to 1930, a few years before she became the noted author of Cold Comfort farm (1932).

Compton Mackenzie lived at Woodbine Cottage from 1937 to 1943, during which time he wrote the six volumes of The Four Winds of Love. He noted that village life was only a half hour away from Piccadilly Circus.


pja said...

Love the Literary London especially the Vale of Health

Annie Johnson said...

Great Post something is new thanks for sharing...!!! Duncan Bramwell

Andrew said...

My Aunt and Uncle lived at 4 Byron Villas throughout WWII until the early 50's. As a little boy from Guildford, I enjoyed many a long summer playing on the Heath with the local children, fishing on the Pond and getting to know the Fairs. I wasn't aware of the D.H. Lawrence connection, but my folks knew the Mackenzies, who in turn, entertained Nancy Cunard and Norman Douglas, among others, during the War. Thanks for this excellent site.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thank you for this comment, Andrew. Norman Douglas? Yes, that reminds me that I really must get round to visiting Capri.

edward chaney said...

my attention was caught by your illustration of the Blue Plaque for Tagore and i then found the interesting refs to D.H. Lawrence and Middleton Murry so couldn't resist promoting my new biography: Genius Friend: G.B.Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, which is full of references to all three... Gerald (as I knew him) was, thanks to Murry's belief in him, commissioned by Jonathan Cape to write what would have been the first study of D.H. Lawrence when he was still alive (he abandoned it after Lawrence died). Gerald also knew Tagore, probably through the Elmhirsts of Dartington... He was a regular contributor to Murry's Adelphi magazine but, after a spell in Bolton, directly plays and working for Mass Observation, he ended up a recluse in Dorset where I met him in 1972... I encouraged him to finish his fictional autobiography set in Guernsey; he dedicated it to me and my then wife and I eventually got it published... The Guernsey Society suggested I write his biography which I have now done, courtesy of Steven Foote and Blue Ormer Publishing and we are launching it tomorrow at the Dorset County Museum... do come along...best e

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thanks very much for this very welcome contribution, Edward.