This is a pretty little winding passage, with, unsurprisingly, a lot of steps that run from the main Hampstead streets up the hill to Holly Mount and the locally famous Holly Bush pub.

This part of Hampstead is littered with Holly Bush references, but that seems to be a later addition.

George Potter writes in Hampstead Wells, published in 1904, that the streets around here were originally named Cloth Hill, as the area was well known for its wells and, hence, as a location for laundries serving the Royal Household in Whitehall. Cloth Hill is described as being so named as it was used as a drying or bleaching ground in Tudor times.

When it dropped, the Cloth in favour of Holly is unclear, but the oldest maps I can find with street names all show Holly references in the 1860s, and the oldest reference in the London Gazette is from 1851. I’d guess there was likely a prominent holly tree somewhere, and as the area gentrified, the locals wanted to turn their backs on the laundry past and sought a vegetated present to rename the area.

Starting on the main Heath Street, looking at the alley can seem a bit daunting, as it’s clearly very well named, with a narrow slope interspersed with lots of steps.

Paved with a mix of stone setts within flagstones and lined with old rough brick walls, it’s quite an atmospheric passage and doubtless looks very petty in the rain or snow — even if less pleasant to walk through. A small fork about halfway up leads to more houses down a small side passage, which is private and gated off, but head up and past the two cottages that face out to the now very tall blank brick wall on the other side.

A newish looking handrail that runs up the side of the alley may prove to be very helpful at this point.

Heading further up, the alley narrows and takes on a slight air of modernity- well, by the standards of this part of London, you can see modern pebble dashing on the walls and the backs of some 1960s-style houses.

Oh, and if the residents are recreating their ancient laundry heritage and doing the washing, do watch out for the head-height vent from their kitchen, which gave me a surprising blast of steam as I walked past.

The alley curves around yet another corner, and you think you’re at the top, but no, another slope to walk along, and finally, the last set of curving steps to get right up to the top.

This takes you to Holly Mount, a fairly posh street lined with old grand houses. The Georgian manor house at the top of the hill was recently up for sale, and has pretty good views over London from the roof terrace.

For use less rich folk, you can just about get an almost as good a view from the end of the street.

At the other end of the street is the Holly Bush pub. Although the building dates to the 1790s, it was originally a stables for Romney’s House, later converted into kitchen for Romney’s House meeting hall, and into the Holly Bush pub.

Apart from the painted pub name replacing an older wooden board, the exterior hasn’t changed at all since 1943. It’s a good pub to stop at and recover from the hike up the hill.

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  1. Mark Baldwin says:

    You have a typo (maybe not) – use less rich folk

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