Jack Straws Castle, Hampstead

Jack Straws Castle (below) is probably one of the best known pubs and landmarks in North London, as it is situated in a most prominent position at the north western corner of Hampstead Heath at the junction of Heath Street and Spaniards Road. It is also close to Whitestone Pond, and the site of regular bank holiday funfairs on Hampstead Heath.

The pub itself is believed to be the highest above sea level in London, and extensive views can be seen across ‘the Heath’. Now a grade II listed building it was originally a coaching inn built in 1721, the pub name and location deriving from Jack Straw, who was a comrade of Wat Tyler, leader of the 1381 peasants revolt against King Richard II . ‘Jack Straw’ addressed groups of peasants on Hampstead Heath from a hay wagon, which at the time was known as Jack Straw’s Castle.

During World War II the pub was extensively damaged after being bombed by a landmine, and rebuilt for the second time in 1962. There are now several bars on three floors which are used for functions, including local band practice sessions. There is also a garden and free car park adjacent to the pub making it an attractive stop for visitors to Hampstead. The pub also provides a refuge or quite escape from the nearby busy village pubs, and as such is often frequented by celebrities from television, music, and the media.

Jack Straws has very recently been sold to an independent company who it is believed intend to restore the building to its original status as a hotel, restaurant, and public house.

The Bull and Bush (above) is just a short walk from Jack Straws Castle and can be found on North End Way. This exceptionally attractive pub is Grade II listed, with its origins dating back to the reign of Charles I. A farmhouse stood on the site when Hampstead was a small village with the original building dating from 1645. The earliest record of a licence to sell ale for the farmhouse is 1721. During this period a number of English painters were attracted to the area by magnificent local views. One such painter was William Hogarth who laid out the pub garden.

In 1867 Henry Humphries became the licensee and obtained a music licence, thereby introducing sing-songs and concerts in the gardens. In the late 19th century the pub became famous for its pleasure gardens and music. During the Edwardian era the Bull and Bush became a popular venue for Londoners on a day out to the country. Florie Ford made the pub world famous with her music hall version of the song ‘Down at the Old Bull and Bush’ which reflected the atmosphere of the pub.

A little known aspect of the pub’s history is the Bull and Bush Station on the Hampstead tube. The underground electric railway built from Charing Cross to Hampstead in the late 19th century was extended to Golders Green with the new line opening in June 1907. However, during construction a station was partly built and never completed which is situated between Hampstead and Golders Green. The station name was originally North End but was later changed to Bull and Bush. Today the station platforms can still be seen by careful observation on the right side, from a south bound Northern Line train between Golders Green and Hampstead Heath. At street level, in an adjacent road Hampstead Way, is the only visible link to the old station, an entrance (see photo on page 8) ‘disguised’ as an electricity sub station. This is believed to have been previously used in connection with nuclear defence, and is now a flood control point for the London Underground.

The present pub dates largely from a reconstruction in 1924 by Ind Coope when part of the old garden was converted into a car park, and a last refurbishment in 1987.

As the summer draws to a close, an excellent walk which can be as long or short as desired, can be made by taking in the following three pubs: The Spaniards Inn, The Bull and Bush, and Jack Straws Castle before returning to Hampstead High Street and station. Reference to local maps will provide a variety of routes utilising Hampstead Heath.