Site unseen / Admiral's House, Hampstead

Andrew John Davies
Monday 11 September 1995 23:02

If you want to win a spot-the-celebrity quiz, ignore nightclubs like Stringfellows or Tramp. The sure-fire way to success is a wander through Hampstead in north London. Boy George, Michael Foot, John le Carre, Melvyn Bragg, Glenda Jackson - the star-studded list of Hampstead residents goes relentlessly on.

This is not new. Although originally famous for its pig farms, Hampstead's lofty position, high above London, soon brought it a reputation for health and prolonged life.

The fashionable flocked here - so many in fact that there aren't enough blue plaques to go around - and they have kept on coming.

The weight of celebrities who throng the pavements mean that Hampstead's less obvious and glitzy pleasures are often overlooked. In a quiet corner of St John's churchyard, for instance, lie the remains of painter John Constable and his family, while across the road is the grave of the beautiful and much- loved actress Kay Kendall.

Up Holly Walk is a delightful Catholic church where General de Gaulle worshipped during his war-time exile. Around the corner is that gem of a cul-de-sac, Holly Mount, whose tranquillity offers a vivid contrast to the bustle of Heath Street.

Keep going up Hampstead Grove, past Fenton House built in 1693 (possibly by Wren), and down on the left is one of my favourite London residences, namely the Admiral's House, which was often painted by John Constable.

Why the Admiral's House? Because its roof was shaped into a quarter-deck by an 18th-century resident who had been a naval lieutenant with aspirations to Admiral rank. In the 19th century, the house was occupied by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (of St Pancras and Albert Memorial fame), who complained that hilly Hampstead was rather too cold for his taste.

But to go back to the Admiral. Yet another Hampstead resident was the writer PL Travers, author of a novel published in 1934, that later spawned a phenomenally successful film. Guess which one? Absolutely right, Mary Poppins.

Apart from Julie Andrews, the film is memorable for the figure of Admiral Boom, who perpetually unleashes his cannon to the discomfort of everyone nearby.

Travers had, in fact, got this idea from the Admiral's House because, so legend has it, the Admiral always fired a broadside to salute a British naval victory.

Hampstead residents have never been ones to waste a good story.

Admiral's Walk, London NW3

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