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Review: Hampstead and Highgate in 50 Buildings by Lucy McMurdo. A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

59384343Hampstead & Highgate in 50 Buildings is the latest of six books by Lucy McMurdo which have included Islington & Clerkenwell in 50 Buildings, Chiswick in 50 Buildings and Bloomsbury in 50 Buildings. The author is a blue badge guide who has combined two of her major loves; London and history, when writing these books.

Lucy’s descriptions of the chosen buildings Hampstead and Highgate – a mixture of Georgian, Victorian and modern – show that she has an in-depth knowledge of the area and of the buildings in particular. A well-written introduction sets the tone, summarising the story of these two ancient villages and how they evolved. The 50 buildings chosen for inclusion are, I believe, a true reflection of these two areas. Her descriptions are really interesting as she shares the back history and vignettes, where appropriate, of some of the people who have lived within them.

The author begins the narrative with The Spaniard’s Inn, Spaniard’s Road, Hampstead, which was constructed by a Toll Road adjacent to the Bishop of London’s estate around 1585 and ends with the Arundel Centre in Highgate, part of Channing School’s new performing Arts Centre, which opened in 2018. In between, she covers both secular and non-secular buildings, recording studios, museums, cemeteries, schools, hospitals both present and past, the houses of famous writers, poets, artists and architects, well-known public houses of historic interest and various lanes and alleyways. She also narrates both factual and possibly the fictional stories of how they came to be.

The book is amply illustrated with beautiful colour photographs taken by Lucy’s husband Alex McMurdo, which bring her descriptions and history of the buildings to life.

There appears to be a slight emphasis on Hampstead rather than Highgate, but this didn’t bother me as I believe there are more historical buildings of interest in Hampstead. If one were to use the book as a guide to the areas, it could be a little distracting since the author has chosen to list the buildings in chronological order according to the time of their original construction. As a result , the book does tend to wander from Hampstead to Highgate and back again. However, there is a map and a key to the whole area included towards the front of the book. Since each chapter corresponds to a number in the key and on the map, it is easy to find the building being discussed if one does get a little lost.

This book covers both the architecture and social history of Hampstead and Highgate as well as many other aspects of life in these districts over the past 400 years or so. As the author herself says “the reader will undoubtedly appreciate what a difficult task it has been to select only fifty buildings for the book. There is such a wealth of interesting buildings, so many stories to tell and truly stunning architecture.”
I am sure anyone, whether a resident of Hampstead or Highgate, or a visitor, will find this book of as much interest as I did.
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Hampstead and Highgate in 50 Buildings (96 pp, 100 illustrations) by Lucy McMurdo is published in paperback by Amberley with a cover price of £15.99 but available for less.

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