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Hampstead through a lens

Hampstead Heath bookA review of Michael Hammerson’s Hampstead Heath by Grace Ellerby

Michael Hammerson’s Hampstead Heath exhibits a delightful collection of previously unpublished photographs of the Heath and surrounding area, spanning from around 1880 to 1890. The 62 images were originally taken by Thomas J. Barratt, a well-known visionary in the late nineteenth century who intended the series of photographs to complement his written works (a three-volume History of Hampstead). As a former resident of Hampstead himself, Barratt was committed to conserving his local area and its history.

Over a century on, Michael Hammerson – a prominent member of the Highgate Society –  revisits the locations of the old, sepia tone images and displays them alongside his own recently captured, modern snapshots. Described as an exciting “new visual source”, the result provides a fresh insight into the landscape of Hampstead and the Heath.

Barratt’s photographs are a wonderfully diverse assortment and Hammerson succeeds in highlighting both the stark differences as well asthe astonishing similarities between the old and present day shots. The degree of noticeable change varies, with some pairs of images maintaining an unmistakable likeness; namely, Heath Street and Whitestone Pond which appear remarkably unchanged. Similarly, the photographs of Church Row could be considered replicas of each other if it wasn’t for the addition of modern road markings and cars lining the street. On the other hand the resemblance between other pairs of photos is virtually non-existent, with some locations themselves being surprisingly difficult to identify and therefore left ‘untitled’.

To accompany each of the fascinating pictures, Hammerson has included a thoroughly written caption that demonstrates his impressive knowledge of the area and provides us with accurate and informed detail. His passion for this area of North London is indisputable and his fondness for the Heath is immediately evident from the introduction through to every carefully written caption.

If interested in local history and intrigued by how some of London’s most renowned open spaces have changed over time then Hammerson’s exploration of Hampstead and the Heath promises to be a fascinating, pleasurable read.

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