Picture the City: Hampstead Heath

How does climate change impact the economy?

By Bank of England Museum

One of the Great Ponds between Hampstead and Highgate looking towards the Surrey Hills (1778) by Thomas HastingsBank of England Museum

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Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath is a large open space, including ancient heathland, in north London. 

Victorian era London was in the midst of an industrial revolution. Smoke poured from chimneys, blackening buildings and poisoning the air. 

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Natural spaces like Hampstead Heath were a vital escape for residents. They provided a breath of fresh air and, as Charles Dickens said, acted as the ‘lungs of London.’

Despite this, throughout the 1800s, Hampstead Heath was under threat from development to provide more housing.

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Finally, on 29 June 1871, the Hampstead Heath Act legally declared that the 800 acres would be preserved as an open space for all to enjoy.

In 2021, Hampstead Heath celebrated the 150th anniversary of the act.

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Since 1989, the City of London Corporation have been protecting and conserving the Heath, working together with the community who love it, so the Heath can enrich the lives of those who visit now and in the future.

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In addition to providing fresh air and green space, Hampstead Heath has several large reservoirs or ponds. They were originally created in the 1700s from the springs of the River Fleet to store fresh drinking water for North London. 

Hampstead Heath (2020) by Justin PipergerBank of England Museum

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150 years after the Hampstead Heath Act, the Heath and its ponds are still beloved by many for a swim, a stroll, or a picnic. 

It has inspired generations of artists and authors, from John Keats to C. S. Lewis to Zadie Smith. 

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Today, as climate change continues to worsen, green spaces like Hampstead Heath absorb carbon emissions and excess rainfall. 

Extreme weather has become increasingly common in the United Kingdom and around the world, which can have a severe economic impact.    

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There are over 40 ponds scattered across Hampstead Heath

They no longer provide drinking water, but they are habitats for wildlife as well as being a much loved leisure resource for visitors. Following dam safety improvements, they now manage floodwater during heavy rainfall, protecting lives, homes and businesses in the area.

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What do you value most about access to green spaces?

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London is a green city with many parks, but stopping or reversing climate change requires collaborative action from individuals, businesses and nations. 

Hampstead Heath (2020) by Justin PipergerBank of England Museum

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Legislation, such as the 2008 Climate Change Act promises to cut emissions of greenhouse gases in the UK by 80% by 2050.

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Climate change affects our planet, our economy and our financial system. As such, climate change is relevant to the Bank of England’s central mission to maintain monetary and financial stability. 

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We make sure that banks and insurance companies consider the financial risks that can arise from climate change. And we work with other central banks and other institutions around the world to help reduce the overall risks to the financial system as a whole.  

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What roles can individuals play in tackling climate change?

Five Lewes Pound (2020) by Lewes Pound CICBank of England Museum

Lewes Local Currency

This voucher is an example of local currency from Lewes in East Sussex. The design represents the ideals and values of the people of Lewes. In large letters it states ‘Climate Action’, and on the side it lists goals of Lewes, including ‘Helps combat climate change.'

Polymer Waste Bird Feeder (2019)Bank of England Museum

Polymer Bird Feeder

Polymer banknotes last two and a half times longer than paper notes. This means fewer notes need to be produced, which is ultimately better for the environment. When they do reach the end of their life, there are creative ways they can be recycled, like this bird feeder.

One of the Great Ponds between Hampstead and Highgate looking towards the Surrey Hills (1778) by Thomas HastingsBank of England Museum

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After so much time in the city, you’re grateful for a stroll on Hampstead Heath, which takes you past the many ponds dotting its green expanse. The Heath is being used in so many ways! 

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A child walks with his guardian...

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...a group socialises...

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...and a man fishes.

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London as a city has invested in green space, but it has also invested in its ports and docks. You want to see for yourself where all of the goods come and go from, so you head to where it all begins – the Docklands.

Credits: Story

Picture the City is an exhibition produced by the Bank of England Museum.
Hampstead Heath is stop 7 of 8 in this digital exhibition. The next stop is Docklands. To go to the start of the exhibition, click here.

All images © Bank of England Museum except where stated.
Explore more and discover the sites in real life on our website!

 With thanks to: Thomas.Matthews and Hampstead Heath (City of London).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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