Author: Julie, 21/07/2016
Gospel Oak is an inner urban area of north London at the very south of Hampstead Heath. The neighbourhood is positioned between Hampstead to the north-west, Dartmouth Park to the north-east, Kentish Town to the south-east, and Belsize Park to the south-west. Gospel Oak lies across the NW5 and NW3 postcodes and is served by Gospel Oak station on the London Overground. The North London Suburb, Gospel Oak, has many schools around it, such as Gospel Oak Primary and Nursery School and Carlton Primary School. The name Gospel Oak derives from a local oak tree, under which parishioners gathered to hear regular gospel readings when the area was still rural. The oak of Gospel Oak marked the boundary between the parishes of Hampstead and St Pancras, and was said to be situated on the corner of Mansfield Road and Southampton Road. The oak vanished sometime in the 1800s and was last recorded on a map of the area in 1801
There are reports that the founder of Methodism John Wesley preached from the oak, with the 18th century farming population meeting there regularly. The small street named Wesleyan Place, off Highgate Road, was the original site of a very early Methodist chapel that was connected with the famous oak
Local resident Michael Palin attempted in 1998 to re-plant a new oak tree for Gospel Oak in Lismore Circus, but the tree has not survived.
The history of Gospel Oak can be traced as far back as the history of Hampstead, which was documented in AD 986 by Ethelred the Unready to the Abbot of Westminster. Situated as it is in the southern part of Hampstead Heath, the area was, in years past, referred to as nearby South End Green. When the now-lost great oak tree of Gospel Oak became famous as a preaching spot in the 1700s, the area was referred to as Gospel Oak, and the name continues today.
The neighbourhood began serious development in the mid-1800s when Lord Mansfield, Lord Southampton and Lord Lisburne were the local landowners. Plans were drawn up for elegant streets radiating from Lismore Circus but after two railway lines were extended across the area in the 1860s the first buildings were two- and three-story cottages, based around present-day Oak Village.
Being so affected by the arrival of the railway lines it was inevitable that a rail disaster would hit the Gospel Oak area. On the evening of 2 September 1861, an excursion train returning from Kew Gardens hit an empty train on the bridge next to Gospel Oak station. The engine left the line and plunged down the embankment, killing 14 and injuring 300.
A curious story of Victorian Gospel Oak relates to a story that appeared in the local press of the time, called “The Elephants of Gospel Oak”. In March 1884, Sangers Circus was booked to perform at Gospel Oak (presumably on Parliament Hill Fields). Four elephants were transported by train to Kentish Town but on leaving the train, two of the elephants bolted and ran up Fortess Road, knocking over a child, running further beyond Tufnell Park station and ending up falling into cellars in Pemberton Gardens. The other two elephants were then drafted to pull out the trapped elephants using ropes. All four elephants then paraded down the streets of Dartmouth Park, accompanied by hundreds of onlookers, arriving back at Gospel Oak where the elephants performed to packed audiences.
Bombing during the 1940s and post-war regeneration affected Gospel Oak considerably. During World War Two, the area around Gospel Oak station was bombed, and on the night of 16 November 1940, Mansfield Road and other parts of Gospel Oak were bombed. The present-day school was subsequently built on the site, and the damaged Victorian houses opposite were torn down to make way for the more modern estates that are seen today.
One of ‘London’s lost rivers’ the River Fleet flows hidden under Gospel Oak, following the line of Fleet Road, and crossing under Southampton Road, Kingsford Road and continuing along the line of Malden Road to eventually meet the Thames.
Oak Village, and its neighbouring road, Elaine Grove, are some of the prettiest residential parts of Gospel Oak. These streets remain relatively unchanged since the cottages were built in the early Victorian period. The Mansfield Conservation area, contained by Roderick, Savernake and Mansfield Roads contains the bulk of Gospel Oak’s larger terraced Victorian and Edwardian properties. Lissenden Gardens, a mansion flat estate consisting of Parliament Hill Mansions, Lissenden Mansions and Clevedon Mansions is a popular residential area of Gospel Oak, with its own interesting and diverse history, famous as the birthplace of John Betjeman. Kiln Place, an estate in Gospel Oak, was built on a former brick kiln, called the ‘Gospel Oak Brick Works’. Waxham, a low-rise estate block running along much of Mansfield Road was completed in the 1970s and is said to be the longest single block of public housing in Europe.
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