Growing up in Hampstead, London in the 70’s and 80's

Sophie Duncan
4 min readJan 31, 2021

as published in The Hampstead Village Voice, London

Almost fresh off the Dun Laoghaire ferry, I arrived in Hampstead as a four year old in 1969.

Hampstead was in full celebration of a new wave of cosmopolitan and bohemian lifestyles, nourished from overseas via the more ‘out-there’ Notting Hill. Beatniks still skulked in and out of basement flats around Willow and Willoughby Road, where we were fortunate enough to live for a time. Bearded intellectuals and artists partied and shifted in and out of each other’s homes and sometimes each other’s beds. It was a beautiful world. Rationing was long over and sex for mutual pleasure was becoming acceptable. Football teams were topping the charts and British music was giving Yankee rock a good pasting.

From my child’s eye view, all that was background noise to an almost idyllic Mary Poppins village atmosphere which stole the limelight, for me at least. The tramps were important fixtures. East Enders that came to Hampstead to sell flowers and clean windows hinted at a wider world. Beneath the multifaceted break out of rock, media, and fashion, the Hampstead that captured my childish attention was of its strongly rooted trustful, progressive tradition.

Hampstead genuinely was the quintessence of what the middle classes like about themselves. Education was valued above all other things. A fact I am warmly reminded of every time that I see (with relief) that my primary school, New End School hasn’t been turned into New End flats.

These memories flooded back to me as I watched local hero and brilliant mimic Ricky Gervaise’s Humanity. In one of his spiels he explains, in no uncertain terms, and repeatedly he alludes to the ‘Hampstead c***’, and that he would never want any child of his to be one.

I tried to reconcile this with my enchanted childhood. As I had wandered home from school as a child, bedraggled hair, scruffy battered shoes, grasping my bulging plastic bag that overflowed with disordered clobber, old ladies would loiter at their gates and try to lure me inside to use their libraries. When we made a Guy Fawkes so that we could scrounge for pennies Michael Foot would stop and give us a friendly lecture on the history of our Guy. Acts of subversion, rebellion and…

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Sophie Duncan

I write about France, Oxford, dogs, love and more. Sign up for my newsletter today, find Beyond Paris - a Short Guide to Rural France on Amazon